Monday, May 19, 2014

Card #43: Mike Cubbage

Who Can It Be Now?
Michael Lee Cubbage was born on July 21, 1950, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Charlottesville is home to The University of Virginia, or as its alumni -- a group which includes Mike Cubbage -- call it alternatively, it is Mr. Jefferson's University or simply "The University." In an excellent, hour-long interview with Twins Trivia, Cubbage explained that he moved around some early in his life while his father worked for a construction company but that the family moved back to Charlottesville so that he would have stability in his school life. 

Cubbage was drafted initially by the Washington Senators in the 6th Round of the June 1968 draft, but instead went to UVA.  After 3 years at UVA on a baseball scholarship, Cubbage was drafted again by the Senators in the 2nd round of the 1971 June Secondary Draft. Because he was drafted by the Senators previously, the rules at the time required Cubbage to give the Senators permission to draft him again in the Secondary Draft.  He gave permission because, as he said in the interview above, he knew that the Senators needed players and he figured he would have the ability to move up quickly in the system.  

Cubbage signed a contract that summer and was assigned to the New York-Penn League affiliate by the Senators.  For Cubbage's minor league career coming up to the majors, he could always hit for a good average and with great plate discipline.  He never struck out more than he walked in any of his minor league seasons, and, outside of a .281 AVG in 1972 in the Carolina League, he never hit lower than .312.

Of course, this second iteration of the Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season and became the Rangers.  Cubbage broke camp straight out of spring training with the Rangers in 1974 but played only sparingly that April; at one point, Cubbage went 14 days without playing and twice went 14 days without getting an at-bat.  The Rangers sent him down to the minors at the end of May in 1974, recalling him only late in that season.  Despite getting to play in the last series of the season, he finished 1974 with a big donut -- he went 0-for-15 that year with four strikeouts and no walks.

In 1975, Cubbage finally got called up and given a chance by then-manager Billy Martin to play after Martin saw Cubbage and fellow youngster Roy Smalley play in the Instructional League.  After two more hitless at bats, Cubbage finally got his first major league hit off Bill Singer of the California Angels -- and did he ever make that hit count: Cubbage's first major league hit was a grand slam home run.  Despite the slam, the Rangers still lost 12-11 in extra innings.

The 1976 season dawned with the Rangers under the management of Frank Lucchesi. Lucchesi didn't play Cubbage hardly at all in the first two-and-a-half months of the season, giving Cubbage only 39 plate appearances and preferring instead youngster Roy Howell -- another lefty-hitting third-baseman. So, the Rangers traded Cubbage to the other former Washington Senators -- the Minnesota Twins -- at the June 15 trading deadline along with Jim Gideon, Roy Smalley, and Bill Singer (the one who gave up Cubbage's grand slam) in exchange for Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson.

The Twins gave Cubbage a chance to play regularly, and Cubbage put up numbers that one would expect from his minor league numbers.  Cubbage never had much power and hit only 34 homers in his career.  As the game started changing in the early 1980s, opportunities for a light-hitting third-baseman dried up.  

After the 1980 season, Cubbage said that the Twins showed very little interest in resigning him.  As a result, Cubbage signed with the Mets and served mainly as a pinch hitter -- playing only 12 games in the field out of his 67 appearances for the Mets.  His final hit in 1981 for the Mets -- and, as it turned out, his final hit ever in the major leagues -- was a pinch-hit home run off Jeff Reardon in the 8th inning of the final game of the 1981 season.  The Mets released Cubbage after spring training in the 1982 season.  He played in Tidewater that season before ending his playing career at the age of 32.

Nanu Nanu
The 1982 Topps set was Cubbage's last appearance as an active player on a Topps Baseball card. After 1982, Cubbage appeared regularly on minor-league baseball cards and, by 1990, as a coach in the major leagues on baseball cards (including Topps).

Family Ties
Cubbage did not have any children that played major league or minor league baseball. However, he had a cousin who was a major leaguer.  His first cousin was Larry Haney, a card-carrying member of the backup catchers union who finished his career as a Milwaukee Brewer.  Haney stayed with the Brewers as a coach for many years and, in fact, is still a senior special assistant to the General Manager with the Brewers.  Of course, Larry's son Chris is also Mike Cubbage's first cousin, just once removed.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Cubbage was a guy I remember from baseball cards only as a member of the Twins. Cubbage got behind John Castino in the organization's pecking order, so the Twins moved on and went with Castino.

After his retirement after the 1982 season, Cubbage became a baseball lifer.  He managed in the Mets minor league system for several years in the 1980s before becoming the Mets third-base coach in 1990.  A story online at The Hook (a free weekly from Charlottesville) noted that the time that Cubbage spent as a Mets coach -- 1990-1996 -- coincided closely with the time that steroid dealer/clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski.  Cubbage said he "wasn't surprised" that a lot of Mets players were on the list, adding that he should have "put two and two together" with guys hitting all the home runs in the late 1990s.  

At that point in his career, Cubbage was an Astros coach.  He later went to the Boston Red Sox.  For both the Mets and Red Sox, Cubbage served as an interim manager: in 1991 for the Mets after Bud Harrelson was fired and in 2001 for the Red Sox after Joe Kerrigan was fired. For the past several years, Cubbage has served as a scout in Virginia for the Tampa Bay Rays. As the story about him from 2013 notes in the photo caption, Cubbage never held a full-time job outside of baseball.

It's good work if you can get it.

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