Friday, June 27, 2014

Card #68: Roy Howell

Who Can It Be Now?
Roy Lee Howell was born on December 18, 1953, in Lompoc, California.  He attended Lompoc High School, which must have had a hell of a baseball team around that time -- four guys off the 1972 team ended up playing professional baseball, and three -- Roy Thomas, Howell, and Dave Stegman -- played in the major leagues.  

Howell was highly thought of by scouts coming out of high school, and, as a result, was selected by the Rangers in the first round of the 1972 June Draft with the fourth overall pick. He signed immediately with the Rangers, who assigned him to Double-A Pittsfield in the Eastern League straight out of high school.  He repeated that level in 1973 -- totaling basically a full season at Double-A between 1972 and 1973 -- and he hit for some power with a good OBP:  15 HR, .242/.3776/.462.  He struck out too much, to be fair -- 91 times in 277 at-bats for a contact percentage of just 55% (for an explanation of why contact percentage matters and is a good indicator to use for future batting success, read Ron Shandler's article in USA Today from 2008).

Nonetheless, Texas moved him up to Triple-A Spokane in the Pacific Coast League for the 1974 season.  Once again, Howell hit with power -- 22 HR -- and he did improve on his contact percentage -- moving up to 75%.  He walked at a lesser rate as well, but a 20-year-old handling Triple-A as well as he did was a good sign generally.  To reward Howell, Texas called him up to the major leagues for in September of 1974 for a 13 game stint.  Howell did not play in Triple-A again until he was on the downside of his career.

When 1975 dawned, the now 21-year-old Howell broke spring training with the big league club.  In a later interview, Howell stated his recollection that "the Rangers [were] an old ballclub making a transition, and I was in the right place at the right time . . . [to make] the big leagues at age 20." To an extent, that is true: the 1974 Rangers used 7 players at third base in the 1974 season, including 35-year-old Leo Cardenas, 34-year-old Larry Brown, and 32-year-old Jim Fregosi, but they also had 25-year-old Lenny Randle (a utility player, to be sure) and 23-year-old Mike Cubbage there.  Basically, the opportunity was present because the Rangers needed to use the guy who should have been their third-baseman, Bill Madlock, in a trade with the Cubs after the 1973 season to get Fergie Jenkins.

Howell performed decently in 1975, showing a little pop and a decent OBP.  His rookie year, though, showed that he should not play against left-handed pitching -- hitting just .230/.294/.295 against southpaws versus .254/.328/.394 against righties.  His 1976 was not all that much better, though there was some growth in his numbers.  While his walk rate plummeted -- and his OBP went with it -- his contact rate improved from 70.7% in 1975 to 80.0% in 1976.  

Despite that, the Rangers went another direction for 1977.  After the 1976 season, the Rangers signed Bert Campaneris as a free agent and plugged Campy in as their starting shortstop.  This freed up the Rangers hitting star, Toby Harrah, to play third base instead of the more demanding shortstop position.  With that move, Howell became surplus to requirements in Texas and, on May 9, 1977, he was shipped north of the border to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Steve Hargan, Jim Mason, and $200,000.  

The move agreed with Howell.  Given regular playing time, Howell averaged 140 games a season in his three years in Toronto, hitting .262/.323/.397 and making the 1978 All-Star team as the Blue Jays representative.  Coming off this three-year run, Howell was a free agent.  In those days, there was a "free agent re-entry draft" (which is explained here at the Baseball Reference Bullpen), and Howell was selected in that draft by both the Oakland A's and the Milwaukee Brewers.  After negotiations with both teams, he signed with the Brewers on a "multi-year" deal.

The Brewers signed Howell to platoon with the right-handed hitting Don Money at third base.  This move led them to switch Paul Molitor to center field and Gorman Thomas to right field.  Molitor was sidelined in May with knee issues and made it known internally that he would prefer not to play outfield.  As a result, in 1982, Molitor was moved to third base.  

This was bad news for Howell, who did not see a single game at third base in all of 1982. Indeed, at one point during the 1982 season, he asked to be traded.  With a few comments made after the fact, Howell also made it known that he and former manager Buck Rodgers had butted heads a bit, as this August, 30, 1982 Milwaukee Sentinel article noted:
A reporter pointed out that Howell's statistics had improved since [Harvey] Kuenn had replaced Buck Rodgers as manager, and he asked Howell if the managerial change was the reason.  "You just answered your own question," Howell said.  He said Kuenn told him he would DH against right-handers and told Don Money he would DH against lefties.
Howell spent two more years in Milwaukee after the 1982 season.  He stopped being the regular left-handed DH in 1983 when Ted Simmons moved to DH. He played more in 1984, but only because Paul Molitor missed most of the year after elbow surgery.  Otherwise, as this article from spring training in 1984 notes, he probably would have served only as a pinch hitter.  

His four years with the Brewers were not exactly a disaster, but they also weren't what you would call a smashing success either -- 986 plate appearances, 18 HR, .253/.307/.377 slash line.  He requested to be traded both in 1982 and in 1983, and his discontent led to Brewers fans booing him in 1983.  His reaction to it: 
That kind of hurt a little bit.  I'm sorry the fans felt that way.  I love it here.  But I also love to play the game.  I don't cry.  I don't bitch. People think I should be happy just to have a uniform, but that's not where it's at.  I enjoy this team.  I enjoy everything here.  This is the greatest bunch of guys I've ever played with. But everyone wants to play. I'm no different.
Howell's "multi-year" contract was, in fact, a four-year contract which paid him more than $400,000 per year, as that previous link pointed out.  The contract included a team option for one additional year, which the Brewers chose not to exercise.  As a result, after the 1984 season, the Brewers released Howell after he cleared waivers.  

At the age of 31, Roy Howell found himself looking for a job in baseball.  He signed on with the San Francisco Giants before the 1985 season, but the Giants released him during spring training. He hooked on with the Philadelphia Phillies after that and played 68 games for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate in Portland along side Steve Comer.  But 1985 would be the end of his playing career except for a stint in the senior league a few years later.

Mustache Check: somewhere in that mass of red hair on his face is a mustache. Definitely.

Family Ties
Roy's son Daniel played baseball for Oklahoma Baptist University.  After he graduated from OBU, the Seattle Mariners signed him and sent him to their Rookie League team in Arizona in 2013.  He played 6 games there and, in 21 plate appearances, picked up three hits, 1 HR, and walked four times. 

Trivial Pursuit
Roy Howell's struggle to make an impact in Milwaukee may have sworn the Brewers off signing free agents.  Indeed, as it turned out, the Brewers did not sign another free agent between December of 1980 -- Roy Howell -- and December of 1989 -- Dave Parker. 

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I never really liked Roy Howell. It wasn't so much that he was terrible -- his stats were decent, he filled a role, and generally was okay as a player.  His fielding at third base was never great, but that is not something that sticks out.  

I think Daniel Okrent put it best in his excellent book, Nine Innings: The Anatomy of a Baseball Game:
[To] Milwaukee fans . . . Howell was stone-handed, remote, and simply not the stuff of hero worship.  They loved Gorman Thomas, who played to the crowd and embodied all the Milwaukee virtues: blue-collar, beer-drinking, unfancy, and, despite his South Carolina Tidewater origins, somehow ethnic. They also swooned for the good-looking, boyish Molitor, for Robin Yount, whom they had seen grow up on the County Stadium field; for the elegant Cecil Cooper.  Howell? He was a body.
As Okrent's book pointed out, Howell didn't exactly endear himself to Brewers fans or, at times, to his teammates.  During spring training in 1982, when Molitor was moved to third base, Howell requested a trade immediately.  General Manager Harry Dalton tried to trade Howell -- a little -- but only if it would help the Brewers immensely.  Again, from Nine Innings:
Still, despite [Dalton's] displeasure with Howell's reaction to Molitor's insertion at third, Dalton began to look for a deal -- but only a deal that would otherwise enhance his club's prospects.  Which is to say, he looked halfheartedly, and with the aces in his hand, not Howell's.  Even this strategy was complicated by Howell's very visible displeasure during the exhibition season in Arizona.  Quiet and remote to begin with, Howell fell into a sulk.  He told those who offered their good wishes, "In the dictionary, sympathy comes between shit and syphilis." During pregame practices, he visibly loafed, and Dalton felt impelled to tell Howell that the more he made it clear that his heart was not playing for Milwaukee, the less interested would be the scouts who came to appraise him.
Add to it the news stories that came each year that I cited above about how Howell requested trades every year in 1982, 1983, and 1984 and how he generally was unhappy, and you can see why I would not take much liking or have great memories about him.

After Howell retired, he started a financial service business in San Luis Obispo, California. He did that for 14 years until an early morning call from Ted Simmons -- then a special assistant to the general manager for the San Diego Padres -- led to Howell getting back into baseball as the hitting instructor for Double-A Mobile in 2000.  He coached for six years at various levels in the Padres organization, then went back to San Luis Obispo to manage in the California Collegiate League (a wood-bat summer league partially funded by major league baseball) for three years.  

He spent 2011 as the manager for an Atlantic League team before joining the Seattle Mariners organization as the hitting coach at Single-A High Desert. Finally, in 2014, he was named the manager for Triple-A Tacoma.  That occurred because the Mariners needed Rich Donnelly to move up to coach in the major leagues when former Mets catcher John Stearns had to step down as being the third-base coach due to his health.  As it stands today, the Tacoma Rainiers are in last place in the PCL Pacific Northern Division, but their record is only 4 games under .500.  Howell's staff there includes former Cleveland Indian Cory Snyder and former Milwaukee Brewer pitcher Jaime Navarro.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Card #67: Rich Gale


Who Can It Be Now?
Richard Blackwell Gale was born on January 19, 1954 in Littleton, New Hampshire.  He was not drafted coming out of Littleton High School, so he attended the University of New Hampshire.  At 6'7" tall, it should not be a surprise that he attended UNH on a basketball scholarship, only performing with the baseball team on the side.   

Gale believes that he was noticed while he was playing in the Cape Cod League in 1974.  As he put it in an interview with "The thing that probably made the biggest impression on people, that got me noticed, was playing in the Cape Code League in 1974.  I had a real good season.  I got a tremendous amount of exposure playing against top college competition.  In college, we were in the old Yankee Conference in New England.  We had some good players from there, but it is not like some of the Southern and Western schools."

His performance in 1974 led the Kansas City Royals to draft him in the fifth round of the 1975 June Draft -- 6 picks after Lou Whitaker.  The Royals assigned Gale to their Gulf Coast league team after he signed, and he pitched decently.  He really picked up his game, though, once he was sent to Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A Omaha in 1977.  His 12-7 record and 2.36 K/BB ratio -- along with his 7.7 K/9 innings -- tipped off Royals brass that Gale could pitch in the big leagues.

So, at the end of April in 1978, the Royals brought him up to start a game against the Brewers.  He pitched very well -- holding the Brew Crew scoreless for 7 innings while striking out four, walking only one, and giving up 6 hits.  He got the win in that game and got the win in four of his next five starts.  He finished his 1978 season with an excellent 14-8 record and a 3.09 ERA.  That was good enough to gain him some consideration for the Rookie of Year Award -- which rightfully went to Lou Whitaker -- and even a couple of points in the AL MVP race -- good enough to tie for 34th place.

Unfortunately for Gale, 1978 would be the best year of his career.  Using sabermetric tools, one can see very clearly where the problem was here.  The cracks in the edifice -- the ones that make that win/loss record and his ERA a pleasant mirage -- are apparent.  His K/BB ratio was below 1 -- in 192-1/3 innings, he walked 100, struck out just 88 for a K/BB ratio of 0.88.  

It takes a bit more math, but there was one huge issue against his repeating 1978 ever again: Gale was very lucky in terms of his opposition's batting average on balls in play.  Using the formula of BABIP = Hits minus Home Runs divided by (at bats minus strikeouts minus home runs plus sacrifice flies), hitters against Gale in 1978 hit just .265 on all balls in play that did not clear the fence.  As FanGraphs and others have pointed out (all relying on the excellent work that Voros McCracken did fifteen-odd years ago), typically around 30% of all balls in play against a pitcher fall for hits -- i.e., BABIP for pitchers normalizes to around .300. 

Gale recognized that his defense was outstanding.  In the interview with and in the context of discussing a one-hit shutout he threw against the Texas Rangers, Gale gave credit to Royals manager Whitey Herzog: 
Whitey Herzog was amazing at the charts he kept on the hitters.  We took a lot of hits away from people because of our defensive positioning. If you look at the chart on Al Oliver, it was almost totally dark up the middle that our shortstop and second baseman took hits away from him all the time.
Now, in fairness, the rest of the quote describes how the defensive positioning led to the only hit of the game for the Rangers -- Oliver tripled -- but you get the point. One variable in BABIP is how efficiently the defense behind a pitcher turns balls in play into outs, and Gale was giving us the heads-up that Herzog might have had something to do with Gale's "lucky" BABIP.

Whatever Whitey did in 1978, though, it did not work in 1979.  That year, Gale produced a season that looked horrible by his 1978 standards -- 9-10 record, 5.65 ERA, 1.629 WHIP -- In reality, that year was more along the lines of what should have been expected -- his BABIP was .299

Similarly, Gale had what appeared to be a bounceback season in 1980.  He finished at 13-9 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.295 WHIP.  Once again, Gale was carrying a four-leaf clover and a rabbit's foot with him to the mound -- balls in play fell for hits only 25.6% of the time (BABIP of .256, if you like that number style better).

Then came 1981.  That year had to be one of the worst years in Rich Gale's life.  He finished 6-6 with a 5.40 ERA, striking out just 47 in 101-2/3 innings while walking an acceptable 38. He was still lucky on balls in play -- likely due in large part to the excellent, fast Royals defense behind him -- but even that number rose to a BABIP of .275.  Gale gave up more home runs per nine innings than ever before.  And, well...more on what made the year truly bad is below.  

After the 1981 season, the Royals decided to go in another direction with their pitching staff. They traded Gale along with Bill Laskey to the San Francisco Giants for Jerry Martin. Gale had his final year as a starter with the Giants in 1982, but ended up traded again by the time the next season rolled around -- this time to the Reds in exchange for Mike Vail.  He did not impress the Reds in 1983, so they released him in November of 1983.  

Gale then signed as a free agent with the team he cheered for as a youth -- the Boston Red Sox.  This came about in large part because Lou Gorman -- the man who had scouted and signed Gale for the Royals in 1975 -- became the Red Sox' Vice President of Baseball Operations and signed Gale.  He spent much of that 1984 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he showed he could get kids in their mid-20s out.  In the American League in 1984, though, Gale had problems getting big leaguers out.  As a result, the Red Sox cut him loose after the 1984 season.  

After crashing out of the Major Leagues in 1984, Gale spent two years with the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese Central League.  He did not pitch terribly, and he got to see first hand the exploits of American Randy Bass in 1985 -- 54 home runs in 126 games -- and in 1986 -- when Bass hit 47 more!  Gale and Bass were the only players who did not have Japanese names on both of those teams (I'm not going to look through the whole roster to determine if there were any Japanese gaijin on that team...).  

When his two years in Hanshin were done, Gale came back to the United States.  He pitched again in 1989 with the Red Sox Double-A affiliate in New Britain and then again in 1991 with the Pawtucket Red Sox (for whom he was serving as pitching coach).  But, he never pulled on a major league uniform as a player after 1984.

Mustache Check: Rich Gale's wispy red mustache chalks up another point for the hairy lip society.

Family Ties
Rich Gale and his wife Susan had two sons who played baseball at fairly high levels.  Rich's older son Christopher was selected in the 30th round of the 2000 June Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Chris instead chose to attend college at the University of Virginia and pitched there.  He eventually played independent league ball in San Diego, Texas, and Maryland in the mid 2000s.

The younger of the two boys to play ball was Andy Gale.  Andy went to Phillips Exeter Academy -- a fancy boarding school that the Economist magazine says belongs to "an elite tier of private schools" that counts Eton and Harrow in England as a peer.  Andy was drafted out of high school in the forty-third round of the 2004 June Draft by the Expos but chose instead to attend the University of North Carolina as a freshman to play baseball.  After his freshman year, Andy decided to transfer to the ugly-ass orange and blue of the University of Florida, where he was limited by injuries.

The Verdict
A bizarre item that came up in my research was that Rich Gale was arrested on charges of indecent conduct in Maine in May of 2000.  According to the newspaper story about the arrest, Gale was charged with "allegedly exposing himself to undercover Maine state trooper Sgt. Thomas Arnold at the Interstate 95 rest stop in Kittery."  

Gale's defense to the charge, according to the Bangor Daily News in October of 2000, came in a motion filed by his attorney to challenge the evidence for the charge.  According to the newspaper account, "[t]he motion suggested that there would have been no charge if the trooper had not 'voluntarily stuck his head in the defendant's vehicle.'"  

This begs the question as to why Gale had his pants down to begin with, it seems, and, as a result, the last word on the issue came in January 25, 2001.  The Bangor Daily News reported then that Gale and prosecutors had reached a plea agreement on a lesser charge.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I teased the idea that 1981 had to be the worst year in Gale's career above.  During the 1981 strike, Gale had to take a job to pay his bills.  After all, he wasn't exactly a star making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year -- which was big bank in the early 1980s.  Needing to stay in the Kansas City area for when the strike was resolved, he took a job as a bartender at the Hyatt Hotel in Kansas City.

He had been working there only two to three weeks when catastrophe struck.

If you have never heard of this disaster before, it is worth reading about.  As the Wikipedia article regarding the disaster states, it was the worst structural collapse in U.S. History prior to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.  The cause for the collapse was a poor structural design in the steel tie rods of the walkway.  This disaster today still is a case study in the incorporation of proper safety factors in structural engineering design and in proper reviews of submittals presented by trade contractors for incorporation into the project.

Rich Gale was there.  He was 40 feet from the dance floor where literally over a thousand people were engaged in a dance contest.  Gale spoke frequently about his feelings in the days that followed:
It was frustrating.  Here I am a big, strong professional athlete and I can't lift anything to help anybody.  It was tough to take . . . seeing people underneath there.  I saw some gruesome things.  It was the worst thing I've ever seen or imagined.
Even in 1984, when discussing the aftermath, the words did not seem to come easily:
Here I was complaining about how hard it was making car payments.  It was a real selfish conversation, as it turned out a few minutes later.  . . .  It was like the roof caved in. I was numb, like everyone else.  No one knew what was happening. Within a few seconds, I ran out into the lobby to help.  It's something I will never forget.  I pulled bodies out of the pile of rubble and covered one of the unfortunate souls who perished.  For 30 minutes, it was all a nightmare.  My life has never been the same since.
Even his pitching suffered, Gale believed:
Before it happened, I was running every day and throwing at least four days a week.  I had a good season going before the strike and I wanted to get it over. After the tragedy, I couldn't work out.  I became irritable with my wife and had to get away from Kansas City -- so I went home to my folks' cottage in upstate New Hampshire.  
I realized how fragile life can be.  I also saw what had happened in my life - where baseball became more important than my family.  It took a bigger role and after the tragedy, I kept thinking just how unimportant baseball really is.
Gale did return to baseball, and stayed in baseball for most of the rest of his career.  He has served as a pitching coach both in the minor leagues and, for two seasons, in the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1992 and 1993.  His last position was with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds in the Milwaukee Brewer organization.  For some reason, he walked away in the middle of June in 2011 and, from all indications, that was the end for his baseball career.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Card #66: Houston Astros Team Leaders

Who Can It Be Now?
It's Astros team leaders Art Howe and his .296 batting average and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan for his 1.69 ERA from 1981.

Coming in to 1982, the Astros had high hopes.  They had lost out to the eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers in Divisional Series in an epic five-game series in which the Astros blew a 2 games to zero lead.  Whether the team in 1982 suffered from a year-long hang over, or whether they simply got a year older without getting a year better, their 1982 was a year to forget.  

They started their season with Nolan Ryan on the mound against the eventual champion Cardinals at home in the Astrodome in front of just 33,521 fans.  Ryan promptly gave up 6 runs, 8 hits, and 2 walks in three innings before the immortal Gordie Pladson replaced him. To be fair, they rebounded and won the final two games of that series, and were 1 game over .500 -- which was their high-water mark for the season.  They dipped as low as 14 games under .500 on August 8, and "rallied" to finish 8 games under .500 by the end of the year -- a 77-85 season.

The season unraveled for the Astros at the plate.  In 1981, the team finished 9th (of 12 NL teams) in runs scored, 5th in batting average, 6th in OBP, and 8th in SLG.  In 1982, all those numbers regressed -- 11th in runs scored, 11th in batting average, and dead last in the National League in OBP and SLG. 

For its part, the pitching did not help matters either.  The team's ERA jumped from an NL-leading 2.66 in 1981 to a fourth-place finish at 3.42. Strikeouts per nine stayed about the same, but the team regressed in its league standing in batters struck out -- moving from 1st to 6th.  The big problem here came from the bullpen -- by the Wins Above Average ranking, Houston had the worst bullpen in the National League.  Further, the team did not perform well either in one-run games -- 22-29 record, a .431 Pct. -- or in games that were blowouts (winning margin of five runs or more) -- 8-16, .333 Pct.

The only real change of note that had happened from 1981 to 1982 was that the team jettisoned long-time first baseman Cesar Cedeno, trading him to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Ray Knight.  In the end, that trade was pretty much a wash.  Perhaps the biggest problem offensively was that CF Tony Scott proved that his 1981 numbers with Houston -- .293/.338/.396 -- were a smaller-sample-size mirage and that Tony Scott really was the .249/.297/.327 hitter where his career numbers finished.

Mustache Check: Nope, neither Howe nor Ryan sported a hairy upper lip.

Don't You Want Me
On August 10, 1982, Astros chairman of the board John McMullen fired manager Bill Virdon. At the time, Virdon had been the manager of the Astros longer than any other manager in the National League.  The next longest tenure at that time was shared by Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner and Dodgers Manager Tommy LaSorda, each of which was in their sixth season as manager in 1982. 

According to the story about his firing, Virdon predicted at the beginning of the season that the 1982 team would be "the best team I ever had in Houston." Oops.

On his way out the door, however, Virdon diagnosed the team's problem as being exactly what the statistics said it was: the bullpen.  He noted that injuries had decimated the bullpen -- as the Astros lost Joe Sambito to an elbow problem and Dave Smith to back issues while Frank LaCorte was ineffective.  He added in a quote: "we couldn't close out anyone.  The seventh, eight[sic] and ninth innings have been misery."

Virdon landed on his feet, though, as he was named manager of the Montreal Expos just days after the regular season ended and on October 11, 1982.

Totally Gnarly
I don't really like Danny Sheridan of USA Today.  I feel like his statistical models are created in a way that he builds in his own inherent biases to the exclusion of relevant information.  I really did not like how his numbers were used for the BCS College Football determinations either.  

Now, my bias out of the way, it's funny to me to look back when he was making baseball predictions in 1982.  According to his numbers, the Yankees and the Houston Astros should have reached the World Series.  Some other numbers that were off: he said Milwaukee was "good on paper but haven't produced" and that the abysmal Texas Rangers were "deep everywhere, but not overpowering; best third baseman in baseball -- Buddy Bell."  I think George Brett would beg to differ with that assessment.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Since 1982 is a decade and a half before the onset of interleague play, the Astros and Brewers did not play one another.  Looking at the Astros for whom they did play, it is interesting to see against which clubs they played well or struggled.  Keep in mind: the scheduling in 1982 was done at the league level rather than at the Commissioner's Office level.  So, while the 14-team American League had fairly even scheduling -- 13 games against each divisional opponent, 12 games against each team in the other division -- the 12-team National League had weighted scheduling.  That meant playing divisional opponents 18 times during the year versus 12 games against the teams in the other division. 

The Astros had losing records against five opponents, winning records against four teams, and .500 records against two teams. Their two worst records came because the Astros really struggled against the San Francisco Giants (who finished 87-75; Astros went 5-13 against them) and the Chicago Cubs -- with the Astros having a 3-9 record against a team that finished 73-89.  Turn those records around, and the Astros pick up fourteen games against .500.  

Now, it's time for the Brewers Countdown.

Former Brewers on the Checklist
No one appearing on this checklist had pulled on a Brewers jersey prior to 1982.

Former Brewers Who Played in 1982 for the Astros
The Brewers and Astros made a trade at the end of August in 1982.  So, coming to the Astros from Milwaukee and appearing in 1982 for the Astros were two players who had appeared previously for Milwaukee:  outfielder Kevin Bass and pitcher Frank DiPino.  Otherwise, the Astros stayed away from former Brewers, it appears.

Future Brewers on the Checklist
As I mentioned, the Brewers and Astros made a trade at the end of August in 1982.  Going to the Brewers -- and becoming an integral part of the September and post-season rotation -- was thirty-seven-year-old Don Sutton.  Sutton stayed in Milwaukee through 1984.  After that season, the Brewers traded Sutton to the Oakland A's for two minor leaguers and Ray Burris.

Another future Brewer was shortstop Dickie Thon, who finished his career with an 85-game stint in Milwaukee in 1993.

And, while he did not play for the Brewers, Phil Garner spent eight years -- from 1992 through 1999 -- in Milwaukee as the Brewers manager, finishing with a record of 563-617 (.477 Win Pct.). His first season saw the Brewers enjoy a 92-70 record and a second-place finish in the American League East behind the eventual World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays.  

Future Brewers Appearing but Not on the Checklist
He did not get a card in the 1982 Topps set, but second baseman Bill Doran got 100 at-bats in September of 1982.  He finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1983.  Then, in 1993, he capped off his career with a 28-game stint for the Brewers with Dickie Thon.  

Future Hall of Famers on the Checklist
The starting rotation featured two future Hall of Famers -- Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan. Sutton started 27 games for the Astros and Ryan started 35, and both pitched fairly well. Indeed, even though Ryan was 35 to start 1982, he still had another eleven seasons to go in the major leagues.  And, even though Sutton was 37 to start 1982, he pitched for another six seasons.

Future Hall of Famers appearing in 1982 but not on the checklist
No one else on the roster got any real consideration for the Hall of Fame, nor as far as I can tell should they have gotten any consideration.  

The only players with even a shout at being looked at would be Joe Niekro -- who simply did not pile up enough counting statistics in his 22-year career to merit consideration -- or perhaps Jose Cruz, whose career numbers were harmed significantly by playing in the cavernous Astrodome.  Still, that argument for Cruz only gets you so far, and it isn't far enough.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Card #65: Terry Kennedy

Who Can It Be Now?
Terrance Edward Kennedy was born on June 4, 1956, in Euclid, Ohio, and grew up in Mesa, Arizona.  He was the youngest child of five, and like many boys he idolized his father -- the late Bob Kennedy, who played in 16 seasons between 1939 and 1957.  

Kennedy was not drafted coming out of high school at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix.  He watched his best friend, Alan Wirth, get selected by the San Francisco Giants in the third round of the 1974 draft. Kennedy's problem was that he had not figured out how to play baseball in his own body.  As he told The Hardball Times, he grew about seven inches in 15 months between his junior and senior years of high school.  

So, his father, who at that time was the assistant General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, called the two guys whom he knew in the college ranks to get Terry a place to play.  Those two guys were former Cardinal Eddie Stanky at South Alabama and former Brave and Red (and future Mariners General Manager) Woody Woodward at Florida State University. 

Things worked out for Kennedy to attend FSU and, there, he was extremely successful -- he was a two-time All-American there and was named National Player of the Year in 1976. Indeed, he was inducted into the FSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1982 for his baseball prowess.

Coming off that successful college career, Kennedy was selected in the First Round of the 1977 June Draft with the sixth pick overall by the Cardinals (even though Kennedy's dad had, by this time, moved on to the Chicago Cubs to be their General Manager).  In a wire report story from 1977, Kennedy is quoted as saying that the Cardinals "were just about my first choice" and negotiated a contract quickly along with his agent -- his mother.  In that interview with The Hardball Times, however, he noted that it was his father -- the GM of the Cubs -- who negotiated the contract with the Cardinals.

Kennedy moved up the ranks in the Cardinals chain quickly, as one would expect a top-notch college player to do.  He battered the poor high school kids he faced during his 12 games at Johnson City in the Appalachian League to the tune of .590/.673/1.103 -- yes, a patriot OPS of 1.776.  He did not do as well in the Florida State League -- a league known to suppress hitting.  But, that did not deter the Cardinals from moving him up first to Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League and then to Triple-A Springfield in the American Association in 1978. Over those two stops, Kennedy hit 20 HR, drove in exactly 100 runs, and hit .309/.402/.495. 

He earned a late cup of coffee from the Cardinals in 1978 and did not hit well.  That, combined with the fact that the Cardinals already had another good hitting catcher by the name of Ted Simmons, meant that Kennedy started the 1979 season back in Triple A. As his previous results indicated he would, he continued to hit the ball well enough to show he deserved to be in the major leagues.  He got that opportunity in late June of 1979.  Simmons was placed on the disabled list, and Kennedy was called up to take his place on the roster. Kennedy split time with Steve Swisher while Simmons was out, and then Kennedy was sent back down when Simmons returned.

But that did not solve the logjam behind the plate for the Cardinals.  It wasn't like the Cards could move one of them to first base to clear thing up either -- not with All-Star and MVP Keith Hernandez manning that position.  The Cardinals made the best of it, though, during 1980.  Kennedy played 28 games in left field, 41 games behind the plate, and made 17 pinch hitting appearances, while Simmons spent 129 games behind the plate, 5 games in left, and 19 as a pinch hitter.

Apparently, though, Whitey Herzog wasn't particularly impressed with either catcher -- that, or other teams coveted these two catchers so much that he just had to trade them. That's because Herzog traded both Simmons and Kennedy during the 1980 winter meetings. Simmons went to the Milwaukee Brewers, while Kennedy was sent to the San Diego Padres. He was the centerpiece of the deal for the Padres, who also received John Littlefield, Al Olmstead, Kim Seaman, Steve Swisher and John Urrea in exchange for Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenace, and Bob Geren (who was the player to be named later in the trade).  

Freed from the shackles of being a backup catcher, Kennedy blossomed in San Diego.  He caught about 85% to 90% of the Padres games between 1981 and 1986.  He played in three All-Star games -- 1981, 1983 and 1985 -- and was named the catcher on the NL Silver Slugger team in 1983 when he hit 17 HR, drove in 98 runs, and hit .295/.328/.486. He also had some defensive chops -- leading the league twice in baserunners cut down attempting to steal -- though he also was among the lead leaders in most errors by a catcher in 1981 (1st), 1983 (4th), 1984 (2nd), and 1985 (5th).

After the 1986 season, though, the Padres found themselves with a surplus of catching. Hotshot prospect Benito Santiago had torn up the PCL and hit well in a cameo at the end of the year, while Kennedy was 31/turning 32 in June of 1987 and was about to make over $1 million in salary.  As a result, the Padres decided to trade Kennedy and pitcher Mark Williamson to the Baltimore Orioles for Storm Davis.  

With the O's, Kennedy enjoyed a very successful 1987 in which he hit 13 HR in the first half of the year and was named to the All-Star team.  He tailed off after the break, and then saw the Orioles sign reclamation project Mickey Tettleton at the beginning of April.  It probably didn't help that those Orioles were just awful either -- they lost 21 in a row to start the year, remember -- and Kennedy's playing time dwindled as Tettleton's increased.  

So, for the 1989 season, Kennedy found himself packing his bags again.  He was traded in a "challenge" trade of sorts, going to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for future major league manager and certified, card-carrying member of the Backup Catchers Union, Bob Melvin.  Kennedy did not play particularly well in 1989, but he did get a second unsuccessful trip to the World Series with the Giants.   He split time in 1989 with Kirt Manwaring, in 1990 with Gary Carter, and in 1991 with Steve Decker and Manwaring.  

He retired at the age of 36 after the 1991 season.  He stated that he was "pretty much done physically.  The catching had taken a tool on my legs and I couldn't generate much offense any more . . . At the end of '91 I knew it was time to go home."  So, he did.

Mustache? Nope, not even a stray wisp shows up on Kennedy's face on this card.

Family Ties
As I mentioned above, Terry's father Bob Kennedy played nearly two decades in the major leagues.  Bob broke in as a 19-year-old with the team of his youth -- the Chicago White Sox -- for whom he worked as a vendor at Comiskey Park, according to Baseball-Reference Bullpen.  Bob is an interesting character himself in that he spent a little over three years in the Naval Aviation and Marine Aviation programs during World War II and trained fellow major leaguer Ted Williams in flying.  

In addition to Bob Sr., Terry's brother Bob, Jr. also played in the St. Louis Cardinals organization (as the wire report about Terry getting drafted also noted).  Bob Jr. later became a scout for the Seattle Mariners, the Chicago Cubs, and the Houston Astros.

Trivial Pursuit
In Kennedy's playing career, he and his father hold the distinction of being the first father-son duo to both have World Series RBI.  I don't know if anyone else has achieved that distinction since.  

In his post-playing career, Kennedy holds the distinction of being the last man to manage Rickey Henderson as a player.  Kennedy managed the San Diego Surf Dogs in the independent Golden Baseball League in 2005 and 2006; Henderson was on the 2005 team.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Because he was a National Leaguer for most of his career, I don't recall having any negative feelings toward Kennedy at all.  In fact, since he was a catcher and I was a little league catcher, I tended to like him.  I liked him enough that I actually sent some cards to him for him to autograph in the mid-1980s, and he was kind enough to send all of them back autographed.

After Kennedy's playing career ended, he did what many ex-players do: stayed in baseball. He was named as the manager of the Cardinals Class-A St. Petersburg team on November 25, 1992.  From there, he managed Vermont for the Expos in 1994, in the Cubs organization for three years in 1997 through 1999, for the Dodgers for a season in 2004, for the San Diego Surf Dogs in 2005 and 2006, and then in the San Diego Padres system from 2009 through 2012.  

Outside of his baseball exploits, Kennedy is realtor for Keller Williams in Chandler, Arizona (and good Lord is that a bad realtor-lean-in photo on that site). His wife also is a realtor. While he did not finish his degree at FSU, he did eventually finish his bachelor's in business administration through the University of Phoenix on what he called the "25-year plan."

Finally, and again drawing from the excellent interview on The Hardball Times, Kennedy said he was/is working on a novel about former Chicago White Sox third-baseman and Black Sox conspirator Buck Weaver and Weaver's overlap with Terry's father Bob on the Chicago sandlots in the 1930s.  If it has been released, I have not been able to find it yet.  

I hope that Terry does write that book and, if not that book, at least a book recounting both his and his father's stories about being in baseball for as long as they both were.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Card #64: Lynn Jones

Who Can It Be Now?
Lynn Morris Jones was born on January 1, 1953 in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  Meadville is in the Pittsburgh/Youngstown, Ohio region in the western corner of Pennsylvania. As Jones told the Lakeland (FL) Ledger in 1979, "Scouts don't get up that way much."  As a result, Jones was not drafted coming out of high school and matriculated at Thiel College (pronounced "teel") in Greenville, Pennsylvania.  

He finally got noticed at Thiel by the Cincinnati Reds and was drafted in the 10th round of the 1974 June Amateur Draft -- 7 picks after Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was drafted by the Detroit Tigers.  Jones signed immediately and was assigned to Seattle in the Northwest League in 1974.

As that 1979 story about Jones mentioned, while the Reds gave him a chance to play professional baseball, that chance was tempered by the fact that the Reds weren't exactly promoting Jones on any kind of fast track.  Jones made it to Double-A ball in 1975 at the age of 22 at Trois-Rivieres -- apparently the Quebecer version of Pittsburgh, since his 1982 Topps card calls it "Three Rivers" -- on the strength of his second year in the Northwest League being a 13 HR year with a .336/.433/.611 slash line.  He stayed in Pittsburgh-Quebec until 1977.  

Jones complained about this career stagnation in 1979, saying, "I felt like they didn't really have plans for me, but I kept progressing through the system.  I was playing well enough so they kept moving me up."  When he got to Triple-A in 1978, he was told that he would be a defensive substitute there but that he should not expect to play regularly.  When injuries hit the big league team, however, the Triple-A roster got shuffled around and Jones got regular playing time that he parlayed into a .328/.386/.459 slash line, 9 homers, 62 RBI, and 20 steals in 532 plate appearances.  

Despite the good year in Triple-A in 1978, the Reds did not add Jones to their 40-man major league roster and left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft.  The Detroit Tigers snapped Jones up and kept him on their roster all year.  Thus, at the age of 26, Jones got the opportunity to be in the major leagues for a complete year.  He hit reasonably well as the Tigers backup rightfielder, splitting time with Jerry Morales.  

When 1980 rolled around, he was splitting time in center field for the first month of the season with rookie Kirk Gibson.  Then, his knee started swelling up on him; he wasn't even sure how he got hurt.  Surgery to repair the knee came next, followed by rehabilitation in Triple-A before getting called back up to the big league team in September.  

Nonetheless, Jones did not lose his confidence.  In spring training in 1981, he declared to the Lakeland Ledger that, "To myself, I'm a better outfielder than anybody we've got.  And I think I can hit.  The only thing I can't do is hit with power.  But after I got hurt, the whole thing changed.  I don't know where I stand now.  I don't know if I'll make the club or not." He added, "It's frustrating, but I don't feel down about it. I think I can play, and I think I have a good attitude.  I'll do whatever I'm asked."

Sparky Anderson must have disagreed with Jones on Jones being anything more than a fourth outfielder.  Who can blame Sparky with guys like Steve Kemp, Al Cowens, and Kirk Gibson in front of Jones?  Those three outfielders saw the majority of time for the Tigers, with Jones filling in for those times when Gibson was hurt with one of his various ailments like "not being able to hit a curveball."  

1982 did not go much better for Jones.  Relegated to fourth/fifth outfielder status behind Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon, Glenn Wilson, and Kirk Gibson, Jones came to bat just 150 times all season.  Even he recognized that he was not going to get to play behind those guys, telling the Ludington Daily News in June of 1982 that, "when you look at the outfielders we have on this club, it's obvious that I'm not going to play very much this year.  I still think I can, and do, play a role with this club.  But I'm not going to help the team by complaining all the time ... I like this team and I'm comfortable."  

That comfort ran out after the 1983 season.  He came to bat just 70 times all year for the Tigers that season.  In an interview in October of 1984 with the Eugene Register-Guard, he alluded to problems that he had with the GM in Detroit:  "The general manager and I had our differences in Detroit. They told me if I didn't sign a contract, they'd send me to Triple A. The contract had a raise in it, but not even a cost-of-living raise."  After that year, he signed with the Kansas City Royals.

He played sparingly for the rest of his career in Kansas City, amassing just 332 plate appearances in 224 games for the Royals over three seasons with a .228/.278/.288 slash line.  While he watched his former team the Detroit Tigers win the World Series in 1984, he got to enjoy winning his own World Series ring in 1985 with the Royals.  He went 2-for-3 in the Series against the Cardinals with a double and a triple.  He retired after the 1986 season.

MUSTACHE CHECK: Oh yeah.  A major crumb catcher.

Trivial Pursuit
Some players are front runners and some are mop-up men.  Jones definitely qualifies as a front runner.  In his 527 career games, the teams on which he played finished with a record of 316 wins and 211 losses -- a .600 winning percentage.  That winning percentage is good enough for fifteenth overall for those players playing between 1957 and 2006 whose teams won at least 200 games in which they appeared.  Now that is trivial.

Totally Gnarly
In 2004, Jones was serving as the first base coach for the Boston Red Sox under manager Terry Francona.  Jones was at home working on his water softener when, well, let the Boston Globe tell the story (with my emphasis added):
The Sox lost first base coach Lynn Jones for at least a few games to an eye injury he suffered working on a water softener at his home in Conneautville, Pa., about 90 miles east of Cleveland. Jones lost control of a screwdriver, which stuck him in the eye. He was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was expected to receive stitches.
Thankfully for Jones, it was not so serious as to cost him any of his vision and, further, he kept his job the next year coming off the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory.

Family Ties
Lynn's brother Darryl Jones played 18 games at the age of 28 in 1979 for the New York Yankees. Jones will have one of his numbers that he wore with the Yankees retired in the near future, however, since Jones wore number 2 that year -- 16 years before some kid named Jeter made it his.

A Few Minutes With Tony L.
Certainly, Lynn Jones was never a guy who struck fear in the hearts of pitchers facing him. Putting up a career slugging percentage of .321 does not make many pitchers fear him. He did, however, feast on Brewers pitchers in the 85 plate appearances he had against them -- lifetime percentages of .313/.329/.388 are nothing to sneeze at.

Jones became a "baseball man" after his career ended.  He was the Royals first base coach in 1990 before he became a minor league manager in the Florida Marlins system.  He spent several successful years with the Kane County Cougars -- with the team reaching the postseason twice while he was managing them.  In 2001, the Marlins made him their first base coach.  He did that for a year before managing the Macon Braves in 2002.  The Red Sox then hired him in 2003 to be a coach for the major league team.  The Reds hired him in 2006 at the end of his Red Sox tenure to be their outfield/baserunning/roving instructor for their minor league clubs.  He stayed with the Reds two years before returning to the Atlanta Braves system for three years in the same role.

That said, Jones is doing pretty well these days, it seems.  His wife is on Twitter and has a family photo as her Twitter icon.  Last year, Jones moved back to Western Pennsylvania and went back to his alma mater, Thiel College, to become a member of its baseball coaching staff.

Who says you can't go home?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Card #63: Mario Soto

Who Can It Be Now?
Mario Melvin Soto was born on July 12, 1956, in Bani, Peravia, in the Dominican Republic.  A 1984 Sports Illustrated story about Soto (which covers some interesting times in his career) provides his backstory.  Soto's hometown of Bani is currently a city of about 60,000 people; it was about 40,000 in 1984.  Bani has produced other major leaguers, including Miguel Tejada, Willy Aybar, Erick Aybar, and Luis Vizcaino, among others.

SI quotes Felipe Alou as saying that the area around Bani is not a fertile area, so people work in the salt mines or in hard labor.  Soto's parents separated when he was 8 years old, and his mother made ends meet as best she could by taking in laundry from the Dominican air force.  
Soto dropped out of school at age 14 to become a mason.  During this time, he was playing baseball, but he did not want to miss work to try out for scouts.  Soto is quoted as saying, "Once a scout came to me at work and said he wanted to see me play, but I told him, 'Not unless you pay me what I'm making in construction.' I was making $7.50 a day for 12 hours work."  He was a catcher, but, again in his own words, he couldn't run and he couldn't hit.  As a result, he was converted to pitching and signed a contract with the Reds for $1,000 in 1973 as an undrafted international free agent.

He did not come to the United States to play, however, until after he turned 18.  He was assigned to the Reds Low-A affiliate in Eugene, Oregon and pitched just 5 times.  Soto was the only Latino on the team as far as I can tell from a roster listing, and his inability to speak English made him miserable.  He stuck with baseball, though, and learned English from watching television and movies.

In 1975, he was assigned to Tampa in the Florida State League.  His performance there was nothing short of excellent -- 13-7 record, 1.87 ERA over 197 innings with 124 strikeouts and 80 walks.  Yes, his walks were a bit high and the strikeouts a bit low, but he posted those stats while being 2 years younger than the average player in the league.  

As teams were prone to do in the 1970s, that 13-7 record convinced the Reds to push their 20-year-old phenom all the way to Triple-A Indianapolis in 1977.  He again put up impressive results -- 11-5 record, 3.07 ERA, 123 innings, 109 Ks against 61 BBs.  As a result, the Reds called him up in mid-July to give their playoff run a boost.  Soto was inconsistent in the major leagues -- as you might expect a now 21-year-old pitcher to be.  

He did not establish himself as a major leaguer until 1980, as he spent time in Triple-A in 1978 and 1979.  His 1980 season, though, was one that made him a minor star.  Though he started just 12 games, he appeared in 53 and pitched 190-1/3 innings at age 23.   In those 190+ innings, he struck out 182, walked 84, threw three complete games (including one shutout), saved four games and gave up only 126 hits.  Yes, he gave up just 6 hits ever nine innings and struck out 8.6 per nine.  It should be no surprise, then, that he received a vote in the Cy Young Award voting -- just one, mind you, but Steve Carlton ran away with the award.

After 1980, Soto became a fixture in the Reds rotation.  He led the league in starts in 1980 with 25, completing 10 and throwing 3 shutouts.  Even though the leagues shut down for two months, the 24-year-old Soto threw 175 innings that year.  He led the league in home runs allowed with 13, but that was the only negative stat for him.  He cut his walks by nearly 1 per nine innings -- down to 3.1.  

From there, his career reached its peak in 1982 through 1984.  He was an all-star each year and received Cy Young Award consideration in each year.  Indeed, his 1982 season was excellent (7.5 WAR, second behind Steve Rogers's 7.7 WAR and 2 wins better than Cy Young winner Steve Carlton), yet he finished 9th of 9 pitchers receiving votes because of the sportswriter fascination with win-loss record.  While award-winner Carlton finished 23-11, Soto went 14-13 for a Cincinnati Reds team that finished 61-101.  Soto finished second to deserved Cy Young Award Winner John Denny in 1983 and then came in sixth in 1984.

The year 1984 was a tumultuous one for Soto, however.  He was suspended twice for a total of ten games for two separate incidents.  The first was in Chicago.  In the second inning of the game, Soto had put two runners on base when the Penguin, Ron Cey, stepped up to the plate. Cey yanked a ball that was pretty clearly foul even on the grainy, non-HD replays of the day, yet third base umpire Steve Rippley -- a second-year umpire who became one of the better umpires in the league -- totally blew the call and called it a fair ball home run.  Soto flipped out, and it led to a nearly half-hour melee on the field.  I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.  For his troubles, Soto was suspended 5 games.

A couple of weeks later, he squared off against Claudell Washington in Atlanta.  Washington homered in the first inning off Soto, so of course, the next time Washington came up, he got buzzed inside by Soto.  That led to Soto being warned.  In the fifth inning, Washington gave Manny Machado inspiration and flung his bat toward the mound on a swinging strike.  The benches cleared.  During the melee, Soto chucked the baseball at Washington and hit a Braves coach in the process.  Once again, another 5 game suspension.

Soto's career started going downhill after 1985.  One blogger on Bleacher Report....yeah, it's Bleacher Report, but it such a great conspiracy theory that it's worth repeating...the Bleacher Report guy basically blamed Pete Rose for destroying Mario Soto's career.  Rose became the Reds manager on August 15, 1984.  The evidence for this position is that Rose: (1) had Soto face 39 batters in the last game of the season against Houston, which the Reds won 7-6 (estimated pitch count from Boyd Nation's pitch calculator: 146), on three-days rest and (2) in 1985, Soto started 19 of his 36 starts on three-days rest.  

My response to that is, perhaps.  It's true that Soto rarely pitched on three days rest before 1985.  But, you cannot ignore the workload that Soto racked up in both the minors and the majors from the age of 19 through the age of 27 before Rose became manager.  Soto threw nearly 900 innings from 1980 to 1983 between the ages of 23 and 27. That is a lot of mileage on Soto's shoulder before Pete Rose started betting on games and pitching Soto in those games because Soto gave the Reds the best chance of winning.  While Rose definitely put a lot of strain on Soto, it is at least a bit unfair to blame Rose entirely for Soto's shoulder problems.

Another contributing factor was Soto himself.  In a 1983 story from the Christian Science Monitor, Soto was quoted as saying (with emphasis that I have added):
I challenge hitters because that is the strength of a strikeout pitcher.  You have to make sure that you are in charge, not the batter, even if it means throwing 140 pitches a game.  If you think you are going to be tired, then you probably are going to be tired.  But if you are a strikeout pitcher, you cannot afford to think that way and expect to win.
Soto's career certainly ended prematurely.  By 1988, he had signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason, but two days after signing, he backed out of the deal.  This was after the Reds released him in June of that year.  That was the end of a brightly shining career that was snuffed out quickly.

Mustache?  Nope.  Five O'clock shadow perhaps, but definitely not a mustachioed man on this card.

Trivial Pursuit
Soto holds the Cincinnati Reds record for winning four Opening Day games as a starter in a row from 1983 through 1986.  No other Red has won more than two in a row.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Mario Soto was a guy I recognized in 1982 as being one of the best pitchers in the National League.  I remember him for being a guy who would bust hitters in on their fists without a second thought.  While Steve Carlton was winning Cy Young Awards, Soto definitely seemed more untouchable as a pitcher.

Soto today is in the Reds front office, officially listed as a Special Assistant to the General Manager along with Miguel Cairo, Eric Davis, and Chris Speier under the Major League Operations Staff.  In that role, he has served as a mentor to Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto in particular and has helped them with learning a change up.

In researching this, I found one story from Soto's playing career that made me like him a bit more.  This is borrowed from Deadspin in 2011 (caution: cursing involved), which brought to light an excerpt from Gene Wojciechowski's 1990 book called Pond Scum and Vultures: America's Sportswriters Talk about Their Glamorous Profession.  Back in 1985, ESPN blathering mouth Jay Mariotti was just a baby beat writer for the Cincinnati Post.  Soto was upset after a poor outing in 1985, and apparently threw a temper tantrum.  Mariotti wrote the next day that Soto was hurting the team with his tantrums.

That didn't impress Soto too much.  

Normally, Soto would have confronted Mariotti the next day and they would have gotten to hash it out.  But Mariotti was assigned to cover a golf tournament and didn't return until the next week.  Soto seethed. 

When Mariotti finally showed back up in the clubhouse the next week, everyone told Mariotti he was in trouble.  Soto cussed Mariotti out -- if you want the exact expletives, follow the link -- and started poking Mariotti with a bat.  Johnny Bench intervened (I guess he was on the coaching staff, Reds fans?) and dragged Soto away.

A month later, Mariotti was in the clubhouse and stupidly got talked into "leg wrestling." He was then covered with mayonnaise, Ben-Gay, spit, food, and other items.  Then Soto doused him -- probably with urine.

It's a bit gross, but Jay Mariotti and his ego, well, as we say in the South, "He might could use that today."