Monday, January 18, 2010

#135 -- Vada Pinson

Vada Pinson

About 25 years ago there was an older fellow that had a ball card shop in Springfield, Missouri (near where I live) had a piece in the paper about something he'd done in his store called the Call of Fame. He's taken a wall in his store and put up something like plaques for ballplayers who were really good, but not quite Hall of Fame worthy. I remember Ron Santo being there as well as this guy. When the best players of the 60s are rattled off, there were so many great outfielders (Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Frank Robinson, Rose, Clemente...and that's just the National League) that Vada Pinson gets lost.

On Baseball-Reference's Hall of Fame indicators list, he falls just short. When you look at the career comparable players, you see a lot of other guys who would make what I call the Hall of the Pretty Dang Good, guys like Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Al Oliver, Johnny Damon, Bill Buckner, Willie Davis, along with a couple of Hall of Famers (Roberto Clemente, Zach Wheat) a borderline Hall of Famer (Bernie Williams) and Steve Finley. The comparables by age are Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente and Cesar Cedeno. So Vada's in pretty good company.

Vada ranks 47th all time in hits with 2757 and had a career OPS+ of 110 (he didn't walk a lot). He was an All-Star only twice and once was 3rd in MVP voting. Vada was a great complimentary player. He was the centerfielder for the Reds through the 60s with league average range. He had double digits in assists most seasons, which meant he had a good enough arm to throw guys out, but not such a good arm as to keep guys from trying to take an extra base.

The Reds traded Vada in 1968 and he then bounced around from the Cardinals to the Indians, the Angels and finally the Royals, where he ended his major league career in 1976. He had a long coaching career afterwards, finishing up with the Marlins in 1995. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 57 following a stroke.

This card is obviously an airbrushed Indians photo into an Angel uniform after the trade to the Angels. It's another in a long series at that time taken in Yankee Stadium.

I wish that older fellow still had his card shop. It wasn't one with a bunch of display cases full of jersey cards, etc. He just had boxes of older cards from the 50s, 60s and 70s all over the place. That would be a great place to spend a week now.......

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#134 -- Carl Morton

I don't know why, but I always thought Carl looked sad and forlorn in this card. It's almost as if he's thinking, "It's really cool that we get to train here in West Palm Beach (see the palm tree next to the light pole in the background?), but when this is done then we have to go to Jarry Park in cold freaking Montreal and get our brains beat in." Or..." I signed with the Braves thinking I could someday play alongside Hank Aaron in the outfield. Then, moving to the mound, maybe I could be in the rotation with Niekro. Now......hello last place."

Carl didn't make it as a hitter in the minors, but he had a good arm, so they let him pitch and he took to it. He posted good numbers in A and AA for the Braves in 1967-68, so the Expos took him in the expansion draft. He started the season as their number 4 starter. He pitched great in his debut, allowing no runs and 6 hits in 9 innings, but Joe Niekro of the Cubs matched him and Carl took a no-decision (Cubs won in the 12th).

He started getting hit harder and by May 3 he was 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA, so the Expos sent him to their AAA team in Vancouver. The Pacific Coast League in those days was a deathtrap for pitcher stats with the ball flying all over the place in Salt Lake City, Denver, Albuquerque and the other high altitude stops around the league. Carl handled it very well, going 8-6 with a 3.52 ERA allowing only 118 hits in 133 innings.

In 1970, Carl was NL Rookie of the Year, winning 18 games for an Expo team that went 73-89. Unfortunately, he turned that around in 1971, going 10-18 and followed that up 7-13 in 1972. Then he was traded back to the Braves for Pat Jarvis. He finally got to be teammates with Hank Aaron for a couple of years and had three strong years in the Launching Pad, winning 15, 16 and 17 games.

In 1976 Carl signed a $100,000 contract with the Braves. However, when he went only 4-9, Ted Turner got rid of him and he found out his contract wasn't guaranteed (accoring to the Baseball Reference Bullpen). I thought everything was guaranteed in baseball, but I guess not.

Carl bounced around the minors for another couple of years before giving it up in 1979. He tried to stay in shape, but that didn't do him well, either. He dropped dead of a heart attack in his parent's driveway returning from a jog in 1983. Wow. I hear that 65,000 a year die during exercise. Maybe Carl's forlorn look on this card is just some kind of premonition.