Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Card #57: Craig Reynolds

Who Can It Be Now?
Gordon Craig Reynolds was born on December 27, 1952, in Houston, Texas.  He attended John H. Reagan High School there -- a school which also produced Dan Rather and Mary Kay Ash (the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics).  Reynolds starred in both baseball and basketball at Reagan, and in a later interview called basketball his first love.  

But, he was better at baseball and the scouts found him.  His plan coming out of high school was to play baseball in Waco at Baylor University.  The Pittsburgh Pirates changed that plan, however, by drafting him with the number 22 pick overall in the 1971 June Draft.  Reynolds decided that being a professional baseball player was what he wanted to do, and so he signed with the Pirates.  

In his time in the Pirates system, he spent the better part of six seasons in the minor leagues.  To be clear, the issue generally was not whether he could hit.  He reached Triple-A for the first time for a 4-game showing in 1973 at the age of 20, and then spent an additional two-plus years there starting in late 1974 through 1976.  In over 1100 plate appearances at Triple-A for Pittsburgh, Reynolds posted a .301/.343/.375 line. 

The issue to the Pirates, though, was that Reynolds was not a slick-fielding shortstop in a decade of the 1970s which featured a bunch of good-field, no-hit shortstops like Mark Belanger.  Based on advanced metrics for his major league career, Reynolds appears to have had good range (and I understand that sabermetrics still has problems evaluating fielding based solely on numbers, so that observation is not dispositive).  Yet, he was charged with a ton of errors in the minor leagues.  For example, at Single-A Salem in the Carolina League in 1973, he racked up 50 errors at shortstop and added an additional error in one of his games in Triple-A.  

As a result, despite having what appeared to be a major-league bat, the Pirates kept dithering about on whether to call him up or not.  He was called to the majors in 1975, though, and made his first major league appearance on August 1 of that year.  To make room for Reynolds, the Pirates sent down their version of a good-field, no-hit shortstop: Mario Mendoza.   

In his first official major league at-bat on August 3, Reynolds notched his first big-league hit against Tom Seaver.  And, though he played sparingly in September, he did get one at-bat in the NLCS that year in Game 5 of the series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.  It appeared to be the start of something good for the one-time first round pick.

Yet, in Pittsburgh, it was not.  Despite hitting .375 in spring training in 1976, he did not make the club out of spring training -- a move called "the only bona fide shock of the abbreviated spring training" by one sportswriter.  Frank Taveras took advantage of the opportunity he was given and provided more offense than he ever had previously -- perhaps the Pirates were persuaded by his 128 stolen bases over two seasons; it certainly wasn't Taveras's .314 SLG.  Even so, by September of 1976, Reynolds was being told to work at shortstop but also to play third and second base in winter ball in a move that The Pittsburgh Press called, "typical Pirate stuff.  Keep the troops guessing.  Even if they wanted Reynolds as their third baseman, they might not tell him to concentrate on the position until there was a week left in spring training."

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Reynolds didn't make it out of 1976 as a Pittsburgh Pirate.  The team had chosen Taveras as its shortstop -- along with Rennie Stennett at second base and Phil Garner at third base to replace Richie Hebner -- so Reynolds was surplus to requirements.  So, during the winter meetings in 1976, the Pirates sent Reynolds to the expansion Seattle Mariners with fellow shortstop Jimmy Sexton in exchange for 34-year-old reliever Grant Jackson.

Freed from Pittsburgh, Reynolds got the opportunity to play regularly on two terrible Seattle teams.  Reynolds made the Mariner shortstop position his own in 1977 and even made the All-Star team in 1978.  Even so, the Mariners ended up trading Reynolds away after the 1978 season.  During the winter meetings in 1978 and on December 5, the Mariners made another trade with the Pirates and obtained, among others, Reynolds's old foil Mario Mendoza.  Obsessed, it seems, with the idea of having a slick-fielding shortstop who eventually had the .200 batting average named for him, the Mariners sent Reynolds to the Houston Astros in exchange for Floyd Bannister.

To Reynolds, this had to have been a dream come true in many respects.  At the age of 26, Reynolds returned home to Houston to play for the team he had grown up watching as a boy. He made the NL All-Star team in 1979 as a replacement for Garry Templeton, who apparently threw a little hissy-fit when he was not selected by the fans to be the starter at shortstop.  Reynolds also played in three post-season series for the Astros -- poorly in the 1980 NLCS, from the bench in the 1981 NLDS, and well against the Mets in the 1986 NLCS. 

Reynolds stayed in Houston for the rest of his career after 1979 and retired after the 1989 season.  He is second all-time in Houston Astros club history in games played at shortstop with 926. 

Goody Two Shoes
During his career, Craig Reynolds was well-known for being a strong Christian.  In 1979, he received the Danny Thompson Award for "exemplary Christian spirit in baseball."  The award was named for a former Twins shortstop who dies of leukemia in 1977. And, from 1980 through 2002, he served on the Board of Directors for Pro Athletes Outreach -- a group which today includes athletes such as Trent Dilfer, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Josh Hamilton, John Kasay, and Eddie Taubensee on its board.

Trivial Pursuit
According to one web biography, Reynolds was or is the only shortstop in major-league history to be selected to the AL All-Star team in one season and then to be selected to the NL All-Star team in the very next season.  Please don't shoot me if that's not correct, as I did not have time to fact check it!

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Craig Reynolds was one of the few National League players that was not in any way a star whose career I followed and whose name I knew even as a 10-year-old kid in 1982.  The reason for that is simple and personal: he was the only player in the 1982 Topps set with whom I shared a birthday.  Since then, other 12/27'ers have included at least a few more somewhat noteworthy players -- in particular Dean Palmer, Michael Bourn, and Cole Hamels all were born on December 27.  No one, though, was born on the exact same day and same year as me though.

These days, Craig Reynolds has moved on to a second career: he is a pastor at Second Baptist Church's Kingwood campus.  The video from MLB.com at the link shows the huge "campus" at which he is the pastor and speaks at three sermons each Sunday.  If that's a side campus, what must the main campus look like?  Well, Forbes called it the second largest Megachurch in America in 2009 and gave us a picture there, so take a look.

From all indications, Reynolds uses his sports background as a way to make analogies and tell stories to teach others about the Bible and his faith.  He calls getting involved with Second Baptist his "favorite thing [he's] ever done -- even more than baseball."  To be that happy in a job is truly a blessing. 


  1. Bummer..no appearance fee.

    Wow that church is crazy big. I think my church growing up had about 50 people every Sunday.

    1. Yeah, I grew up in a small town, so our little farmer church would get maybe 30 to 50 people, with perhaps a couple of hundred on Christmas Eve.