Thursday, July 31, 2014

Card #84: Rennie Stennett

Who Can It Be Now?
Rennie Antonio (Porte) Stennett was born on April 5, 1951, in Colon, Panama.  Stennett said in an interview last fall (and if you have the time, watch this video -- Stennett is an engaging guy) that he did not get to play all that much baseball in Panama because it was always raining.  Indeed, Stennett said he was a better basketball player than he was a baseball player and, further, that he had a scholarship offer to play basketball at Cal-Berkeley.  

But, Stennett recognized that basketball was unlikely to provide him with a professional sports career because, after all, he was not even 6 feet tall.  As a result, when the Pittsburgh Pirates made him an offer to play baseball, he grabbed it and signed with the Pirates at the age of 18 in 1969. 

Pittsburgh assigned Stennett to Gastonia in the Western Carolinas League.  At the age of 18 and playing against guys who averaged being three years older than him, Stennett hit .288/.320/.389 with 9 steals.  The next year, Pittsburgh sent him to the Carolina League at Salem, again in Single-A, where he hit even better against even older talent -- .327/.359/.426.  Yes, he did not walk all that much, but he went up there and made good contact.  That year earned him a single game with Triple-A Columbus at the end of the year.

The next season in spring training, Stennett was hitting against the big league club and just tearing the cover off the ball.  The way Stennett tells the story, the GM or player personnel director was watching him hit and asked someone standing nearby what league Stennett played in.  When the answer was "A ball", the response was, "not any more.  He's going to Triple-A." He went to Charleston in 1971 and hit even better than he did in Single-A -- .344/.395/.486 with 10 triples, 6 steals, and 26 walks in 353 plate appearances.

Prior to being assigned to Triple-A, Stennett was playing outfield.  When he got to Triple-A, however, he was working with Pablo Cruz, a lifetime minor leaguer from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.  Cruz had seen Stennett play infield before, and told Stennett in Spanish that Stennett should go to the manager and ask to play second base.  He did that, and suddenly Stennett became a middle infielder.

His work in Triple-A in the first three months of the season earned him a call-up to Pittsburgh in July of 1971.  Stennett recalls that the reason he got his opportunity was that the team's regular keystone combination both had National Guard duty during that time of the Vietnam War, so the Pirates needed someone to fill in.  During that first season, Stennett started out pinch hitting a fair amount but then earned a regular spot at second base.  His batting average got as high as .413 on September 6 before a late season slump pushed him back down to .353/.377/.458 (he walked just 7 times) in 165 plate appearances.  While Stennett did not get to play in the 1971 World Series that the Pirates won, he was around a great team at the age of just 20 years old.

And that great team continued winning games and championships -- though usually failing in the NLCS.  The team won the NL East in 1972, 1974, and 1975, and each time the Pirates lost in the NLCS -- to Cincinnati, the Dodgers, and Cincinnati respectively.  Stennett frankly did not play all that well in those NLCS games -- just .196/.226/.196 in 54 plate appearances.  However, Stennett's emergence led the team to trade up-and-coming second base prospect Willie Randolph to the Yankees in 1975 in the big Doc Medich trade.

Things changed for the worse for Stennett in 1977, however.  He predicted in April of that year that he had not had his best year, and manager Chuck Tanner was pegging Stennett to be more of a team leader at the age of 26.  He was enjoying his best season in the major leagues -- .336/.376/.430, 28 SB (18 CS), 5 HR, 51 RBI -- until a fateful night on August 21, 1977 in Pittsburgh.  Stennett slid into second to break up a double play against the San Francisco Giants and came out of it with a dislocated ankle.

After the ankle injury, Stennett simply was never the same player again.  Multiple articles in 1978 and in 1979 about his ankle appeared.  He started getting upset about being asked about the ankle -- as anyone would -- but it hindered him.  He had an operation to set the ankle in 1977 and a second operation after the 1978 season to remove a pin (and a bone spur) from the ankle.  He still played most of 1979, but the Pirates tipped their hands as to what they planned to do moving forward in the 1979 post-season -- giving Stennett one at-bat against the Orioles and none against Cincinnati while Phil Garner played second base.

After the 1979 season, Stennett filed for free agency when the Pirates did not re-sign him. In stepped the San Francisco Giants, who made Stennett a Godfather offer -- a 5-year, $3-million contract ($650,000 a year when taking the $1-million bonus and deferred money into account).  But when he got to San Francisco, he was still the same flawed player that had emerged after the ankle surgeries in Pittsburgh -- no power, no speed, no average, and no walks make for a very bad baseball player.  

As a result, after spring training in 1982 and less than halfway in to the big contract, the Giants decided that they would rather pay Stennett not to play for them instead of paying him to take up a roster spot.  Stennett was released.  

He played for Reynosa in the Mexican League in 1982 after a brief tryout back in Pittsburgh, and then hooked on with the Montreal Expos for 1983.  He played in Triple-A for three months but quit when the Expos did not call him up to the big club after two months as they had promised.  The Expos offered him a player-coach role, but he refused that and moved to Florida (where his wife is from) to retire.

In 1989 at the age of 38, Stennett tried out with the Pirates in spring training.  He claimed in his interview with that he hit .500 that spring -- I can't find stats for spring training from 25 years ago, so I can't verify that -- but that the Pirates still cut him.  He played in the senior league after that, but his MLB career was over after his appearance in 1981 with the Giants.

Mustache Check: It's there, it's real, and it's wonderful.

Nanu Nanu
This card is Stennett's last regular issue Topps card.  Stennett made it into all four major sets that year -- Donruss, Fleer, Topps, and O-Pee-Chee.  I qualified the statement about this being his last regular issue Topps card, however, because he appeared in the Premier (and perhaps only) Edition of Topps's Senior Baseball set as a member of the Gold Coast Suns in 1990.

I can't say that I have that card.  Maybe someone should blog it too.

Trivial Pursuit
Fans of 1970s baseball and 1970s baseball cards may recall his 1976 "Highlights" card, which relays a record that Stennett still holds to this day.  Indeed, he was the only player in the 20th century to collect 7 hits in a nine-inning game -- a 22-0 shellacking of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 16, 1975 in front of less than 5000 of the Cubs closest friends and relatives.  Stennett had 4 singles, two doubles, and a triple as the Pirates racked up 24 hits off the brothers Reuschel, Tom Dettore, Oscar Zamora, and Buddy Schultz.

In his next game, Stennett racked up 3 more hits to set a modern major league record of 10 hits over two games.  The last National League player to hit 9 before Stennett broke the record was none other than Stan Musial in 1948.

A lesser-known record -- but one that is unbreakable -- is one of which Stennett was only one part in nine.  On September 1, 1971, Manager Danny Murtaugh had Stennett hit leadoff. After Stennett, the rest of the lineup was Gene Clines, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez, and Dock Ellis.  It was the first time in major league baseball history that a team started an all-minority lineup.  And the Pirates won, 10-7.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Rennie Stennett to me has always been Mr. 7-for-7.  Early in my card-collecting life, I obtained one of his Topps 1976 Record Breaker cards, so he was always that guy for the rest of my childhood.  

To others in baseball -- at least in the early years of free agency -- Rennie Stennett was considered the biggest flop in free-agent history.  Indeed, that is exactly the headline on this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July of 1983.  The story mentions that Stennett thought that his contract and its duration was big enough and long enough such that San Francisco recognized that it would take more time for him to get back to being the player he was in the 1970s.

In that story, Baltimore Orioles GM Hank Peters is quoted as saying:
There have been four or five free-agent signings that quickly come to mind when you think of the bad ones.  There was [Wayne] Garland. And, of course, [Don] Stanhouse and [Dave] Goltz. And [Bill] Travers has never done it again.  But Rennie Stennett was the very, very worst.  He'd had a broken ankle. He couldn't move as he once had. His range was gone. No one else wanted him.  The Giants were bidding against no one. Stennett's agent [Tom Reich] did a very, very good job of selling.
On one level, you see where the Giants are coming from.  They were sold a bill of goods, and that bill of goods was totally wrong.  

On the other hand, you also feel a bit for Stennett.  He really believed he would be given time to heal and regain his old self -- if it was there.  In that same story, Stennett is quoted at length about this issue:
I didn't realize the money business. I didn't realize everyone would be so conscious of it. The fans look at you through a telescope. I was a whipping boy. I needed a chance to play myself back. I needed time to learn how to do different things because of my ankle. But the managers [Dave Bristol and Frank Robinson] resented the money I got. I never did anything to them, but they resented me, especially Robinson. I wanted to prove I was worth it, but you can't do it in one year.  It was the worst experience of my life. I don't regret it, because it gave security to my family. I'm just sorry it turned out the way it did because of jealous people. The money, it changes a lot of people. They look at you different, and you can't say anything.  My name was in the papers every day, even when I didn't play.  Once I didn't play for a whole month.  It didn't matter.  Always it was Rennie, Rennie, Rennie.
Yeah, he got paid, but his peace of mind was shot.

Since he retired, he has been working with the Brazilian baseball team.  He also has held baseball camps for kids.  These days, though, he has three grandchildren and spends his days in complete retirement.  He's earned it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Card #83: New York Yankees Future Stars

Who Can It Be Now?
The three players on this card all played in the majors, and two of the three had reasonably long and successful careers.  The guy who didn't has a tragic story to explain why.  Here we go.

1.  Stephen Charles Balboni was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, on January 16, 1957.  He grew up a Red Sox fan (with a wicked accent, as the interview in 1980 with former umpire Ron Luciano to which I've linked shows) in New England, and he attended Memorial High School in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was not drafted directly from high school.  As a result, he headed south to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.  There, he led the Tritons to the NCAA Division II College World Series in 1977 while being named to the Division II All-American team as a designated hitter.  

His hitting exploits led the Yankees to select Balboni with the 52nd pick overall (at the bottom of the 2nd round) in the 1978 June Amateur Draft.  The Yankees assigned him to Fort Lauderdale in the Florida State League, where the expansive ballparks ate Balboni's flyballs alive during his first season.  But, 1979 proved a different story -- Balboni crushed 26 home runs to lead the league by 8 over second place Lloyd Moseby.  Only 7 hitters had double-digit homeruns in the FSL in 1979, so that was some accomplishment.

He moved up to Double-A Nashville the next year and continued his hitting exploits -- 34 HR, 122 RBI, 162 Ks, 82 BBs, and a .301/.399/.553 slash.  The Yankees moved him to Triple-A Columbus in 1981, and it was more of the same.  This led to him getting his first taste of major league baseball in 1981, with two games in April followed by two games in September.  

Despite his minor league hitting, the Yankees just seemed not to like Balboni.  Perhaps it was his prolific strikeout rate, but rather than giving "Bye Bye" a chance in 1982, the team used a combination of John Mayberry, Dave Collins, Lee Mazzilli, Dave Revering, and Butch Hobson instead. Then, in 1983, the Yankees found a guy they liked much better than Balboni -- and can you blame them? -- in Don Mattingly.  So, after the 1983 season, Balboni was traded to the Kansas City Royals with Roger Erickson in exchange for minor leaguer Duane Dewey and Mike Armstrong.  

With the Royals, Balboni finally got to play.  He led the team in home runs in its World Series year of 1985 -- leading the league in strikeouts as well with 166.  He stayed there until 1988, when the Royals released him at the end of May.  A couple of days later, he signed with the Mariners.  Then, at the end of spring training in 1989, Balboni was traded back to the Yankees for a minor leaguer, Dana Ridenour.  

He stayed in New York through the end of spring training in 1991, when the Yankees released him.  The Rangers then picked him up and parked him at Triple-A Oklahoma City as an insurance policy at DH and 1B for Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco, and, to an extent, Jose Canseco and Juan Gonzalez.  With that logjam, it should come as no surprise that Balboni only got a cursory call-up at the end of the 1993 season.  That was the end of his major league career.

Mustache Check: You bet.  Balboni looks like an extra from the Super Mario Brothers game.

2.  Andrew Joseph McGaffigan was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, on October 25, 1956. He grew up in WPB, attending Twin Lake High School, and starred in baseball there.  He was drafted for the first time in the 36th Round of the 1974 Draft by the Cincinnati Reds -- one of just 8 picks in the round -- and did not sign.  As he said in an interview with, the money on offer was nothing to speak of -- $500 a month, no bonus, no guarantees -- so McGaffigan's father urged him to attend college.  

So Andy signed on with the local Palm Beach Junior College for a couple of seasons.  Midway through his second year at PBJC, the White Sox drafted McGaffigan in the 5th round of the January Regular Draft.  Once again, because the money on offer was nothing -- pretty much the same as the previous offer -- McGaffigan turned it down to finish his degree.  

He moved on from PBJC to Florida Southern College -- the same school that Greg Pryor attended (and both, by the way, are in the Mocs Hall of Fame) -- and had an excellent two years there.  He was a Division II All-American in 1977 and helped lead the team to the Division II College World Series Title in 1978 (wrestling it away from Balboni's Eckerd Tritons!).  So, in 1978 (the same year that Balboni was selected in the 2nd round), McGaffigan was chosen by the Yankees in the 6th Round of the June Draft.

McGaffigan and Balboni were teammates in 1978 in Fort Lauderdale, again in 1980 in Nashville and in 1981 in Columbus. As was the case for Balboni, McGaffigan got a late-season call-up in September of 1981 and pitched reasonably well in middle relief in his two appearances.  Unlike Balboni, however, McGaffigan never played for the Yankees after that.

Instead, he either became the guy who was easy to get rid of or the guy who was always in demand.  

  • He was traded for the first time at the end of spring training in 1982 with Ted Wilborn to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Doyle Alexander.  
  • He stayed with the Giants organization for two years before being traded to the Montreal Expos in exchange for what Baseball Reference called "unknown compensation".  
  • He lasted in Montreal for a half-season before he was flipped to the Cincinnati Reds with a minor leaguer for Dan Driessen. 
  • He stayed in Cincinnati until December of 1985 when the Expos got him back in a trade that saw McGaffigan, Dann Bilardello, John Stuper, and Jay Tibbs go to Montreal for Sal Butera and Bill Gullickson.
  • After 5 years, the Giants decided they wanted him back and sent a minor league PTBNL to Montreal for him in April of 1990.  
  • Three weeks later, the Giants cut him, and McGaffigan caught on with the Kansas City Royals.
  • The Royals released him in July of 1991, and the Brewers signed him and sent him to Triple-A.  
Once the Brewers were done with him, McGaffigan was done with baseball.

Mustache Check: Yup, Andy's got him a crumb collector.

3.  Andre Levett Robertson was born on October 2, 1957, in Orange, Texas, a small town halfway between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Beaumont, Texas, in the heart of oil refinery country.  Robertson was drafted directly out of West Orange High School by the Texas Rangers in the 12th Round of the 1976 June Draft but he chose instead to attend the University of Texas on a baseball scholarship.  He played well enough at Texas to be drafted in the 4th Round of the 1979 June Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, with whom he signed.

For reasons unclear to me -- perhaps the team thought Alfredo Griffin would be their shortstop forever and that Andre would never get by him -- the Blue Jays sold Robertson to the Yankees following the 1979 season.  Robertson moved up the Yankee chain quickly in 1980 -- starting with Fort Lauderdale in the Florida State League and ending in Triple-A Columbus.  Robertson got his 1981 September call-up and played much more than his other two card-mates.  Apparently, by this point in time, the afterglow of Bucky Dent's 1978 homerun had long worn off and the Yankees were looking actively to replace him.  That happened in 1982 when Roy Smalley became a Yankee.  

But, things looked bright for Robertson nonetheless.  By 1983, he was getting decent playing time on both sides of second base -- Willie Randolph struggled with injuries that year.  New York Post hyperbole specialist Dick Young -- also known as the guy blamed for running Tom Seaver out of New York -- waxed poetic in June of 1983 about how the Yankees Andre Robertson and and the Mets Jose Oquendo, "are as good as any two shortstops who ever played in the same town at the same time. Maybe better."  

Probably not, but Dick had to sell newspapers.

For Robertson, his life was twisted and broken by an event that occurred on August 18, 1983.  His friend from college (and the girlfriend of then-Philadelphia Eagles tight end Lawrence Sampleton), Shenikwa Dawn Nowlin, wanted to do some sightseeing in New York with Robertson. Robertson took a curve on the West Side Highway near 72nd Street too fast, and an improperly placed warning sign did not give him enough time to slow down. The result was that Nowlin ended up paralyzed from the waist down (which, by the way, did not stop her from becoming a lawyer in Dallas).  Robertson ended up with a cracked rib, a broken neck, a separated left shoulder, and a bruised right shoulder.

From that point forward, his career never fully recovered.  Whether it was because he lost his ability -- perhaps not, in light of his hitting his final year with the Yankees -- or whether the Yankees moved on without him, Robertson played only another 102 games in the major leagues.  He kicked around Triple-A with various teams -- the Braves (after being traded there in 1986 with Ken Griffey Sr. for Claudell Washington and Paul Zuvella), the Yankees, the Mariners, the A's, and the Rangers -- through 1989, but he did not make any further big league appearances after 1985.

Mustache Check: Robertson makes it a perfect 3-for-3 on this card.

Trivial Pursuit
Balboni still holds the Kansas City Royals team record for most homeruns in a single season with the 36 he hit in 1985.

Robertson was the first African-American to receive a baseball scholarship to play at the University of Texas when he matriculated there in 1976. 

Family Ties
Andre Robertson's brother Roderick Robertson was a third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1986 out of high school.  Rod played minor league baseball from 1986 through 1995.  He never reached the major leagues despite spending four seasons and 380 games at Triple-A as a decent hitting middle infielder.  Rod did get the opportunity to play every position in 1995 for Rochester, though, including pitcher.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
These guys never really became established major leaguers with the Yankees, so it's tough to say that Topps was "correct" in calling these three guys "Yankees Future Stars."  Of course, the Yankees only had 5 guys make debuts in 1981 for them -- three of which are on this card -- and Triple-A Columbus was the place that the Yankees stashed their big-league backups. At least all three players played a decent amount in the major leagues.

These days, the three guys on this card have taken paths as varied as their baseball careers. Balboni went into coaching -- first with the Royals and then with the Expos, for whom he managed the Vermont Expos in 2001.  After that, he was a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in the minor leagues.  Later on, Balboni caught on first with the Yankees and later with the Giants as a scout. 

Andy McGaffigan worked in the nonprofit sector during the 1990s putting together golf tournaments as fundraising events for charity.  Then, in 2001, he started work with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in retirement planning in Lakeland, Florida.  

After Robertson left baseball, he went back home to Orange, Texas, and did what most folks in a small, blue-collar town do -- he went to the local plant and got a job.  In his case, he started working on "Chemical Row" in DuPont's Sabine River Works.  It's the same plant in which his father worked for 38 years as a mechanic after his father was done playing football at Tennessee State University in Nashville.  Robertson's children went the academic route rather than the athletic route, with his son Ryan being the first-ever African-American valedictorian in his high school's history.

From recent interviews and stories about each man, all of them seem happy and, more importantly, fulfilled with how their lives worked out.  None of these guys were ever "stars" as Topps predicted (perhaps Balboni got close), but, just as importantly, all of these guys have contributed to their communities in their own ways. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Card #82: Bob Welch

Who Can It Be Now?
Robert Lynn Welch was born on November 3, 1956, in Detroit , Michigan.  Welch grew up in Hazel Park, Michigan, north of Detroit, the son of an airplane factory worker.  He was drafted by the Cubs in the 14th Round of the 1974 June Draft directly out of high school, but chose instead to attend college at Eastern Michigan University. While at EMU, he and future Padres pitcher Bob Owchinko led the team to its only two College World Series appearances to date in 1975 and 1976. The 1976 team made it to the final but lost 7-1 to Ron Hassey's Arizona Wildcats.

After the 1977 season, Welch was drafted 20th overall in the first round out of EMU in the loaded 1977 June Draft.  The Dodgers pushed Welch immediately to Double-A San Antonio in the Texas League, and Welch did not disappoint.  While he gave up a lot of hits, he had excellent control -- 17 walks in 71 innings for 2.2 BB/9, he struck out hitters -- 56 Ks for a 7.1 K/9, and he controlled home runs (just 3, 0.4 HR/9).  

Thus, despite an ERA that, on its surface, was a less-than stellar 4.44 (league ERA: 4.2o; team ERA: 4.40), the Dodgers moved Welch to Triple-A Albuquerque in 1978.  There, he saw his three-true-outcome numbers slide slightly, as one would expect with the bump upward in talent levels, but his hits allowed plummeted downward by 2.5 H/9.  In other words, Welch saw a regression to the mean there in his favor.

By mid-June, the Dodgers needed pitching and called up Welch. His first appearance came on June 20 against the Houston Astros in relief of Tommy John.  His next appearance came the next day in extra innings and resulted in his first win.  The next appearance after that was on June 24; Welch was credited with his first save against the Reds.  His first major league start took place in the second game of a doubleheader against the Reds 6 days later; it too resulted in a win.  In fact, it took until his 6th appearance against the Astros for Welch to give up a run.

By the end of that 1978 season, Tommy LaSorda began to trust the young right-hander.  He trusted him so much that Welch pitched in four games in the postseason for the Dodgers -- three of which were in the World Series.  Everything seemed to be coming easily for Welch. One news story after Welch's excellent appearance against the Phillies in game 1 of the NLCS quoted Don Sutton as suspecting that Welch sometimes thought he was still pitching for Eastern Michigan.

It was the 1978 World Series, though, where Welch appeared to come of age.  Indeed, one of the two events in his career for which Welch is remembered today is striking out Reggie Jackson at the end of game 2 of the World Series to save the 4-3 game and allow the Dodgers to go to New York up two games to zero:

Welch served as a swingman for the Dodgers again in 1979, and the stress and strain of not having a defined role took its toll on Welch.  He suffered from arm problems that year.  His lack of good results -- and probably the games where he had good results -- led him to drink heavily.  As the Washington Post stated recently, Welch "drank in the clubhouse, had alcohol-induced blackouts and challenged opposing players to fights."  These issues led team officials and teammates to confront Welch about his drinking, and, as a result, Welch spent 36 days in an alcohol treatment facility in Arizona.

That decision probably allowed Welch to have a career, in all likelihood.  The next season, Welch was named to the All-Star team for the first of two times in his career, though he was charged with giving up the only two runs that the NL surrendered in a 4-2 victory

His career with the Dodgers ended after the 1987 season.  The Dodgers decided to make radical changes to their pitching staff in the wake of a very disappointing 73-89 season.  So, they traded Welch and Matt Young to the Oakland Athletics and Jack Savage to the New York Mets.  In return, the Dodgers received Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell, and Jesse Orosco. The A's also sent Kevin Tapani and Wally Whitehurst to the Mets as part of the trade.

The move to the American League appeared to rejuvenate Welch in many respects.  He was a dependable starting pitcher by this point of his career at the age of 31, and he stayed healthy until 1992. In Oakland, or rather, San Francisco during the 1989 World Series, Welch gained a second post-season claim to fame.  Whether you are old enough to remember it or whether you have only read about it, you know one thing about that World Series: 

On the night of the earthquake, Welch was the scheduled starter for the A's.  He never did appear in that series.

The very next season, Welch rode tremendous run support and decent pitching to a 27-win season and a Cy Young Award that WAR says was entirely undeserved (Welch's WAR: 3.0; Roger Clemens's WAR: 10.6).  But, shiny things and loud win totals distracted the BBWAA at that point 11 times out of 10, so the flashy 27-6 record and a 2.95 ERA (FIP: 4.19) got the kudos.

Welch finished out his career in Oakland in 1994.  When the strike hit in early August, it must have seemed merciful to Welch since it put an end to a nightmare season in which Welch finished with a 3-6 record and a 7.08 ERA (FIP: 5.66) driven by Welch's inability to throw strikes consistently and by the fact that the ball was getting hit when he did throw strikes (79 H, 10 HR allowed in 68.2 innings).

At his retirement, Welch finished as a two-time World Series winner, a two-time All-Star, and a Cy Yount Award recipient.  

Welch passed away on June 9, 2014, at the age of 57 after suffering a heart attack.

Mustache Check: Nope.  Nothing.

The World According to Garp
During the 1980 season and offseason, Welch and New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey (who co-wrote Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner's Daughter) collaborated to write the book, Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Young Man's Battle with Alcoholism. Vecsey and Welch updated or their publisher re-released the book in 1991 after Welch's Cy Young Award under the title, Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Cy Young Award-Winner Recounts His Greatest Victory.  

One book reviewer in 1982 talked about the book in glowing terms but warned fans that, "[t]he avid baseball, and/or Dodger fan, will find that there is very little baseball in the book, but the baseball connections are always there in one way or another. . . . this book is the autobiography of an alcoholic who happens to be a big league player, and not the other way around."

Family Ties
Bob's son Riley Welch played baseball at the University of Hawaii.  He then hooked on with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization for five rookie league appearances in 2012.  As best I can tell it at this point, that was the end of Riley's professional career.

A Few Minutes With Tony L.
My memories from 1982 of Bob Welch are tainted by his alcoholism.  That was the year that everyone made a big deal about the issue, and it was the year that his book came out after the season (and after the Dodgers had won the World Series in 1981).  Being 10 years old, I still recall my less-than-kind friend Eric calling him "Bob Belch" and older people making jokes that the type of Welch's Grape Juice that Bob liked was the type that had "aged" a bit. 

And yes, those jokes made me laugh.  I never said I was a saint.

After Welch retired, he went into coaching.  He served as a coach on the major-league level for just one season, but it was a good one.  He was the pitching coach for the 2001 World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks, who beat the New York Yankees in that series.  He later served as an instructor in the Dodgers and A's organizations.

An interesting long-form story on SB Nation came out at the time of Welch's death in June. Writer Rachel Toor met Welch by happenstance in Missoula, Montana, when Welch was working with the Dodgers team there nine years ago, in 2005.  By that point, Welch was divorced, and the two struck up a friendship and relationship.  

From the story, we learn that Welch was not well read but enjoyed learning new words, that he loved fly fishing, stayed in good shape, and was genuinely interested in people.  He also did not like to sign autographs, though he had just gotten paid by one of the baseball card companies to sign a thousand cards.  Finally, that story also mentioned that Welch had built a friendship with Sandy Koufax. Koufax helped Welch with his curveball. 

As was the case for Charlie Lea, Welch left this planet too soon.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Card #81: Jim Palmer In Action

Who Can It Be Now?
It's still Jim Palmer, this time "In Action".  The Action card highlights some of his career achievements in All-Star games, Championship Series, and World Series games and series.

Let's talk, instead, about his baseball cards for a moment.  Actually, one highlight in particular on what is called his "Official Biography" comes on page three of that website.  The first line there states, "In 1994, Jim was part of the Nabisco All-Star Legends, a consumer trading card program which was the largest and most successful in history."  

Being that this blog is a baseball card blog and, indeed, I collect baseball cards, that line piqued my interest.  I looked up that card set, and it's quite the set.  A blog called The Card Investor (which has not been updated since 2013) had a post in 2010 about the 1993 set which I found interesting.  

The Nabisco All-Star Legends cards were available from Nabisco in both 1993 and again in 1994 simply by sending in two proofs of purchase from Nabisco products and $5.  In return, you received an on-card autograph from one of Brooks Robinson, Catfish Hunter, Don Drysdale, Ernie Banks, Phil Niekro, or Willie Stargell in 1993 or from Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, or Duke Snider in 1994.  Each card came with a certificate of authenticity, and, at least for 1993, the autographs were "limited" to 90,000 cards based on what Nabisco asked the Hall of Famers to sign.  

The Card Investor post notes that, midway through his efforts to complete his contract, Don Drysdale passed away suddenly.  That meant that his signed cards carry a premium due to those being limited to 25,000 total.  Catfish Hunter passed away in 1999 and Willie Stargell passed away in 2001, so their certified autographs are very limited in number.  A quick check of eBay on 7/28/2014 shows that these cards generally are not terribly expensive -- just $9.99 for a Jim Palmer, a Phil Niekro for $15.99, and even a Stargell for $26.99 at a BIN price.

If you are a Jim Palmer SuperCollector, the total number of cards that you would need to "complete" your Jim Palmer collection stands currently at 2866 according to The Trading Card Database.  For comparison's sake, that seems to mean that Palmer does not get as much attention from the card companies as guys like Robin Yount (TCDB total: 3753), Paul Molitor (card count: 4463), Bob Gibson (listed at 3301, though probably some mistakes in there) or Tom Seaver (Head Count: 4009) but a lot more attention than Phil Niekro (just 1285) or Robin Roberts (a spartan 687).  

I suppose those numbers are a function of the timing for Yount's and Molitor's careers -- picking up a lot more of the parallel-crazy 1990s versus Palmer's mostly 1970s career -- and a function of the fact that there are several other Orioles who simply engender more fan love than Palmer, such as Cal Ripken Jr. (card count: a massive 12,737) or Brooks Robinson (3117).  

Mustache Check: Nope, Palmer didn't grow a mustache for his action shot, unfortunately.

This Is Radio Clash
Palmer has been a television broadcaster for baseball for many, many years.  The minute that his baseball career ended -- and, indeed, for many years during his career, he served as a color commentator for ESPN, HTS, ABC, and local Orioles games.  His IMDB profile lists him as performing color commentary for the ALCS in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, and 1986; for the All-Star Games in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1993, and 1995; for the NLCS in 1988 and 1995; and for the World Series in 1981, 1985, and 1989.

Palmer's Hollywood good-looks and charm and his broadcasting skills have gotten him many opportunities to appear in documentaries and in acting roles.  His most well-known acting role was playing a broadcaster in one of the funniest movies ever, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!  According to his IMDB profile, Palmer has also appeared as himself in a number of series such as Veep, Commander in Chief, George Lopez, The Chuck Woolery Show, and The Pat Sajak Show (though those last two were talk shows and I'm pretty sure Palmer was flogging a book at that point).

Also, as many folks remember, Palmer served as the spokesperson for Jockey brand underwear for many years in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.  He replaced Phil Rizzuto as the on-camera spokesperson for The Money Store after Rizzuto stopped during the spots in the 1990s.  He got in the shower on camera and pitched Tegrin Dandruff Shampoo in 1983. He also pitched Brylcreem for a while.  Finally, as he aged, he picked up a print-ad spokesperson role for Cosamin DS Dietary Supplement for Joint Health...and all of us who remembered him as a pitcher suddenly felt much older.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
When looking at newspaper articles about Palmer, the thing that tends to come through is that either a bunch of newspaper men are very jealous of Palmer's good looks and money, or else Jim Palmer is an incredibly narcissistic man.  One article written by a woman which appeared in newspapers around the country came out with the title, "From jock to Jockey: 'Hunk' speaks of self".

In that article, Palmer is quoted as describing his personal grooming habits as "fastidious," as preferring water to soda, wine, beer, or liquor, as rarely eating red meat, and as eating fruit for dessert.  The story quotes noted Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell as writing that "some ballplayers snort coke. Palmer won't even drink one."  So, I guess if we add everything together, we can say that Palmer was a metrosexual even before being a metrosexual was a "thing."

Palmer's personal life comes up frequently in these articles as well.  I've found references to him being married to at least three different women -- his high school sweetheart Susan, whom he divorced in the mid-1980s, a photographer named Joni Pearlstone, whom Palmer married in late 1990 and apparently divorced during that decade, and a second Susan whom Palmer met in Palm Beach in 2000.

No matter what the year, though, Palmer is noted for his charitable work.  For instance, with his most recent wife Susan, Palmer has become involved with autism charities since Susan's son from another father is autistic.  The Palm Beach Daily News article linked above noted that Palmer was involved as a spokesperson for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation both in Maryland and nationally since 1970.

A few other random notes which don't fit elsewhere:

  • Though he was adopted, Palmer has never expressed any interest in tracing his birth family in any way.
  • If you wish to hire Jim Palmer to speak at a corporate function, be advised that his speaking fee for a keynote address will run you $25,000 -- $32,500 if you are in Mountain or Pacific time -- and that he will require one first class plane ticket to come to your event.
  • Palmer's comeback in 1991 was an odd occurrence.  Here you have a guy already inducted into the Hall of Fame who wanted to try to pitch again at age 45. 
Finally, did Jim Palmer deserve to be called "the most overrated pitcher in baseball history"? I am not as good at the transposition of players onto different teams as some folks may be.  Certainly, as I mentioned yesterday, Palmer's ERA was always worse than his Fielding-independent-pitching performance -- which would seem to indicate that Palmer was among the luckiest pitchers around.  

But overrated? I guess that depends on where you rate him.

To me, he's about an average Hall of Fame pitcher.  That's still really damn good. Most of his comps in similarity scores are in the Hall of Fame as well.  The only three who are not are Mike Mussina and Jack Morris at numbers 5 and 6 respectively and Andy Pettitte at 10.  All four of these pitchers share the fact that they pitched for great teams with good run support and good support in the field and racked up a bunch of wins over many years.  Should those other three guys be in the Hall of Fame? I don't know, honestly.

Looking further, the pitcher to whom Palmer is closest in similarity score is Bob Gibson with a similarity score of 901. Next is Bob Feller, score of 889.  Then, it's Juan Marichal at 874. None of these guys are extremely similar to Palmer -- just similar enough.  

I don't think Palmer can be considered overrated as a Hall of Famer.  He's dead smack in the middle there.  The only overrating that happened is the over-90% of the ballots on which Palmer appeared in his election.  But seriously, did anyone watching Palmer pitch in the 1970s ever think, "ah, this guy isn't that good"?  

Average Hall of Famer means damn good pitcher to me.  That's all I can say.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Card #80: Jim Palmer

Who Can It Be Now?
James Alvin Palmer was born an orphan in New York City on October 15, 1945. Palmer was adopted two days after his birth by wealthy garment industry executive Moe Wiesen and Polly Kiger Wiesen.  He received the name James Alvin Wiesen immediately thereafter, and he also immediately gained an older sister named Bonnie, who was 18 months older than Jim but adopted around the same time.

Palmer/Wiesen's early childhood was spent first on Park Avenue in New York followed by primary school in Rye and White Plains in Westchester County.  When Jim was 9, Moe Wiesen passed away. Polly moved to California with the kids, eventually settling in Beverly Hills.  There, Polly met a man named Max Palmer, an actor with credits on several television shows (and not the professional wrestler, as the SABR biography for Palmer takes great pains in pointing out).

Jim's family decided to move to Arizona before Jim started high school in Scottsdale.  An excellent athlete, Jim was named to the all-state teams for baseball, football, and basketball and considered his collegiate options strongly.  But, according to the SABR biography, Jim Palmer wanted to be a baseball player. He was given the opportunity to play summer ball in South Dakota in 1963 at the age of 17 on a team with Jim Lonborg, Merv Rettenmund, Bobby Floyd, and Curt Motton.  It was in South Dakota that Palmer caught the eye of Baltimore Orioles farm director (and later GM and Brewers GM) Harry Dalton.

Dalton convinced the Orioles to make Palmer a big offer to sign a contract.  The O's offered a $50,000 contract, which Palmer accepted.  Palmer then used the opportunity to be a teenage groom, marrying his high school sweetheart Susan Ryan.  On signing, the Orioles sent Palmer back to South Dakota to Aberdeen.  There, Palmer was all over the place.  He gave up just 75 hits and 4 homers in 129 innings pitched (including a no-hitter), but he walked an incredible 130 batters.  Baseball Reference does not have strikeout totals for Palmer, though they must have been impressive.

The next spring, Palmer made the jump from Single-A Aberdeen directly to the major leagues at the age of 19 in 1965.  The Orioles coddled Palmer somewhat that season, putting him on the mound for just 92 innings.  The next season, though, the Orioles let Palmer throw 208-1/3 innings in the regular season and, famously, a 9-inning shutout against Sandy Koufax in Game 2 of the World Series in Dodger Stadium.  

Despite the breakout season, however, things took a turn for the worse for Palmer.  He started feeling arm and shoulder soreness in 1966.  The shoulder issue plagued him into 1967, and it led to Palmer being sent down all the way to Single-A Miami.  Palmer spent all of 1968 in the minor leagues, leaving both he and the Orioles wondering if Palmer had become just another flash-in-the-pan flameout who fell victim to "too much too soon." Luckily for Palmer, he got the right treatment for his shoulder -- recall the story from Bob Bailor's biography at Card #79 about Palmer mentioning Dr. Robert Kerlan to Bailor when Bailor's shoulder was injured? -- and Palmer bounced back in 1969.

Over the course of the 1970s, Palmer was certainly one of the best pitchers in the American League and probably baseball as well, though both Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton would have something to say about that.  Palmer won three Cy Young Awards -- 1973 (22-9, 2.40 ERA), 1975 (23-11, 2.09 ERA), and 1976 (22-13, 2.51 ERA).  

By advanced metrics, Palmer was lucky to get two of those awards -- in 1973, for example, Palmer won 73% of the votes despite the fact that WAR says Palmer was no better than 6th place of the pitchers who received votes, and, further, in 1976 WAR puts Palmer at 4th best in the league behind Frank Tanana, Vida Blue, and Mark Fidyrch's amazing 9.6 WAR.  But WAR agrees that Palmer was the best pitcher in the AL in 1975, just ahead of Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter.

Otherwise, the 1970s were very, very good years for Palmer.  His overall record for that decade was 186-103 -- 19-10 was his average year -- with 175 complete games (just shy of 50% of his starts were complete games) and 44 shutouts and 1559 strikeouts in 2745 innings.   He was an all-star in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1978 and a Gold Glove winner in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979.

By the time 1982 rolled around, Palmer was 36 years old but still pitching at a fairly high level.  In fact, 1982 would be his last full season as a starter for the Orioles, as he led the team to a second place finish in the AL East. Unfortunately for Palmer -- and fortunately for the Milwaukee Brewers -- Palmer did not pitch well on October 3, 1982.  Coming into a four-game series over the final weekend of the season, the Brewers needed just one win against the second place Orioles to clinch the AL East.  As the Brewers luck would have it, the Orioles won games one, two, and three of that series to put the teams into a tie at the top of the standings.  That third game was demoralizing -- an 11-3 shellacking thanks to yet another crappy Doc Medich performance.

But a series sweep was not in the cards for Palmer and the Orioles.  The Brewers put their wily veteran, August acquisition Don Sutton, on the mound.  Sutton was helped out by two Robin Yount homeruns -- in the 1st and 3rd innings -- that Yount hit off Palmer as well as a Cecil Cooper solo shot off Palmer to put the Brew Crew ahead 4-1 after six innings.  Palmer was yanked after the Cooper home run, and the game got out of hand in the 9th inning when Milwaukee added 5 insurance runs off Dennis Martinez and Mike Flanagan to seal the title for the Brewers and the MVP Award for Robin Yount.

Palmer added another 94-1/3 innings over the next two seasons to close out his career. Palmer then received 92.6% of the votes cast for the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Mustache Check: No hair on Cakes's face here -- nor do I think I have ever seen a photo of Palmer with a mustache.

Trivial Pursuit
According to his page at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum website, Jim Palmer is the only pitcher who won World Series games in three different decades.  He racked up wins in the 1966 (vs. Dodgers, Orioles win Series), 1970 (vs. Cincinnati, Orioles win Series), 1971 (vs. Pittsburgh, Orioles lose Series), and 1983 (vs. Philadelphia, Orioles win Series).  He did not record a victory (in fact, he recorded a defeat) in the 1979 World Series against Pittsburgh, a series that the Orioles lost.

The World According to Garp
It's been a while since we had an author-player, but Jim Palmer has written a few books along the way.  The most known book is probably Together We Were Eleven Foot Nine: The Twenty-Year Friendship of Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Palmer and Orioles Manager Earl Weaver.  He also wrote the imaginatively titled Pitching in 1975 and tried to capitalize on his good looks and name recognition -- and his hairy chest on the cover -- of a book he wrote in 1987 called Jim Palmer's Way to Fitness

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Because this Palmer card is followed by an In Action card, I have to save some things for that card.  But, I will say that Jim Palmer was not a personal favorite player in large part because he was playing for the Orioles -- the Brewers' big rivals in 1982.  I took great joy in seeing the Brewers use Palmer for batting practice in that last game of the season, but really only because it meant that the Brewers had won the AL East and were going to the ALCS.

When I was a kid, though, I really thought that Jim Palmer was much more of a strikeout pitcher over his career than he really was.  Instead, as I look at his career numbers now, it turns out that Palmer averaged exactly 5.0 K/9 over his 19-season career.  Palmer was very good at not giving up hits, though almost certainly the key factor in that analysis is looking at the infield behind him.  

At third base and from 1965 through 1975, Palmer enjoyed watching Brooks Robinson hoovering up everything in a three-county radius.  Robinson's stint at third was followed by Doug DeCinces -- who also was a very good defensive player.  

At shortstop for nearly all of Palmer's career was one of the best fielding shortstops around in 8-time Gold Glove winner Mark Belanger.  The guy smoked like a chimney and eventually passed away from cancer, if I recall correctly, but boy could Belanger pick it at short.

At second base from 1972 through 1976 was four-time Gold Glove winner Bobby Grich. Once Grich was gone, he was replaced by another good fielding second baseman in Rich Dauer.  

So, what I'm saying is that Palmer always had a great fielding infield behind him.  And, Palmer's FIP bears this out.  He never had a year in which his FIP was lower than his actual ERA.  In other words, FIP says that Jim Palmer was always lucky in the number of runs he should have given up per nine innings based on the three outcomes that Palmer himself controlled -- walks, strikeouts, and homeruns allowed.  

Now, does that mean that I agree with a post from a few years ago on Lone Star Ball which wondered whether Jim Palmer might be "The Most Overrated Pitcher of All Time"? That discussion is for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Card #79: Bob Bailor

Who Can It Be Now?
Robert Michael Bailor was born on July 10, 1951 in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.  (The excellent SABR Biography about Bailor and the Earl McRae biography from the Montreal Gazette provides the background information here.) Bailor was born to a third-generation Polish immigrant family whose name was changed from Bialkowski to Bailor. Bob's father, also named Bob, was a train engineer for his entire life -- completing a three-generation family tradition of working for the railroad companies in Connellsville. Connellsville was also the hometown of Notre Dame and Chicago Bears football legend Johnny Lujack, and that fact gave town kids hope that a Polish kid with athletic talent could get out of the Southeastern Pennsylvania mountains and make something of himself.

Bob Jr. was brought up by his family with a baseball bat and glove in hand.  He learned to hunt and fish at an early age as well.  Bailor's father told the story in 1977 of how little Buzz (as he was called in Connellsville) loved baseball so much that he wanted to play catch in the snow with his dad.  Bob's dad's words oozed parental pride from the pages of the Montreal Gazette profile: "Y'see, this is the first time it's happened to a baseball player. We've had our football stars, Jim Braxton and Bo Scott? Right from Connellsville. But this is the first time a baseball player has gone from Connellsville to the majors. Why, the old ball patches are going to be crawlin' with kids this spring."

Bailor starred in basketball for his hometown Geibel High School, and he played baseball for American Legion teams in the area during that time as well.  That's right -- he did not play high school baseball because his school did not have a team. After he graduated high school in 1969 and to avoid going to Vietnam due to his low draft number, Bailor enrolled at California State College near Pittsburgh and, not having been drafted by baseball with the same vigor as Uncle Sam's draft (that would be, at all), Bailor resigned himself to a life without baseball as an occupation.

But, his American Legion manager, August Herman Welsh, arranged for him to play on a tournament team for a tournament that Welsh knew would draw a Baltimore Orioles scout. Welsh's friend was the scout, and Welsh hoped that Bailor would impress the scout enough to get a contract.  That's exactly what happened, and Bailor signed with the Orioles as an undrafted free agent.

After signing, Bailor slowly and steadily rose up through the Orioles system.  He tried his hand at pitching in his first season in the Appalachian League with Bluefield, and that went horribly, horribly wrong -- 1 inning, 7 hits, 2 walks, 8 earned runs, and 1 strikeout for a 72 ERA -- but his hitting was pretty good.  He never hit for power at any point in the minor leagues, but his batting average was always around .290 and his OBP hovered steadily around .350.  

His 1973 season was cut very short by a severe hamstring pull, however, and that year may have been pivotal for his later development as well.  Because of that injury, Bailor may have missed out on a 1974 call-up to the big club.  As Bailor told The Pittsburgh Press in 1977, 1973 was,  "[a] pivotal year. Baltimore was going to need a utilityman the next season. Tim Nordbrook . . . had a good year, and he got the job."

Bailor got his first taste of major league action in 1975 with the Baltimore Orioles in a September call-up. His family was rightfully proud, as the Montreal Gazette article described:
As soon as the season ended, he went back home to Connellsville, happier than he had ever been in his life, convinced the dream of a lifetime was close.  His mother stuck a color photograph of him in his Oriole uniform on the refrigerator door and his dad wore an Oriole cap when taking his train down to Cumberland.
That winter, after three months of baseball inactivity, he was called and asked to report to Venezuela to play second base for Magallanes.  He was inserted immediately into the lineup at an unfamiliar position and ended up injuring his shoulder -- an inflamed rotator cuff, according to Dr. Robert Kerlan, to whom Bailor was referred by his teammate Jim Palmer.  

The shoulder issue effectively ended his Orioles career. While he made the Orioles roster in 1976, he was unable to play in the field.  Add in the fact that the Orioles had an infield with Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson, and you have the reason that, along with the shoulder issue, the Orioles chose to leave Bailor exposed in the 1976 Expansion Draft. The Seattle Mariners picked Ruppert Jones as their first expansion pick.  The Blue Jays then selected Bob Bailor, making Bailor the first ever Toronto Blue Jay major league player.

Bailor became an instant fan favorite for the Blue Jays.  He went on an early season hitting tear, batting .381 in late May and trailing only all-time great Rod Carew, who was flirting with .400 that year.  Bailor ended up having his best season in the majors in his rookie year.  In 122 games (523 plate appearances), Bailor went up to the plate swinging and making contact.  He slashed at .310/.335/.403, walking just 17 times and striking out a meager 26 times.  He stole 15 bases, hit 5 triples, and hit 5 of his career 9 HR in 1977.  He did all that while appearing in 54 games at shortstop, 15 games in leftfield, 47 games in centerfield, and 2 games in right field.

Bailor's versatility kept him employed in major league baseball, serving both as a curse and as a godsend.  The only positions at which he did not appear in the major leagues were first base (being 5'11" tall apparently led managers not to put him there) and catcher -- and he hit all the other positions including pitcher (3 games) during the 1979 season alone for Toronto.  In his biography for the Fayette County (PA) Sports Hall of Fame, Bailor is quoted as saying that he ended up using his versatility was probably the reason why the Blue Jays selected him:
I think the big reason Toronto took me in the expansion draft was because I could play everywhere. I started out playing shortstop with them, but then when they started building the foundation and getting a new player - well, then I'd move somewhere else - third base and second, centerfield, all over the place. Well, finally they got good and they traded me.
Bailor became a New York Met, traded to the Mets for pitcher Roy Lee Jackson and stayed in New York for three years, where once again he played all over the diamond and hit about .265 with no power and a little speed -- stealing 20 bases in 1982 and 18 in 1983.  

His versatility led to all kinds of compliments from his then-manager, former Brewers manager George Bamberger, who called Bailor "a regular [who] doesn't have one position. He plays wherever I need him."  For his part, Bailor would have preferred one position: "My dad told me the more positions you can play, the better. But it has its drawbacks, too. You never get a starting position."

The small town boy in Manhattan felt out of place but his next move did not make his world get much smaller -- making his way to Los Angeles as the player-to-be-named-later in a trade that involved Sid Fernandez going to the Mets in exchange for Carlos Diaz. When asked around that time about being the utilityman going to the Dodgers, Bailor quipped in response: "I hate to use the term 'utility player.' It sounds like a guy who changes light bulbs."

If Bailor felt out of place in Manhattan, he felt like a TV star going to Los Angeles.  Well, maybe a TV character, as he said in 2010: "Once again, I went from New York City to LA. I felt like Jed Clampett going out there."  Bailor stayed for two seasons with the Dodgers until the owners' decision to go to a 24-man roster cost him his job.  He was the last cut from the Dodgers in 1986, and Tommy Lasorda called around to try to find him a major league job. Finding only Triple-A assignments, Bailor decided to call it a career.

Mustache Check: Being a member of the utility man's brigade must have meant that Bailor kept clean-shaven as a union rule of sorts.  No mustache here.

Trivial Pursuit
Bailor's .310 AVG in 1977 for the expansion Blue Jays was at that time the highest batting average for any player on a first-year expansion team.  I think it is still a record for the highest rookie batting average on a first-year expansion team, but it is not the highest average for any player on a first-year expansion team any more.  In 1993 in the thin air and expansive outfield in Colorado, Andres Galarraga hit .370.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Bailor registered in my consciousness as a kid only to the extent that he was an original Blue Jay.  For whatever reason, I remembered him for his 1979 season when he appeared regularly in the Toronto outfield in right field and, therefore, I always classify him as an outfielder mentally.  

Also for whatever reason, I have a memory of him playing well against Milwaukee.  The numbers don't necessarily support that or deny that -- I mean, he was just about at his own career averages as a player against the Brewers, and it's not like he hit one of his 9 career homers against Milwaukee.  He did walk 8 times against the Brew Crew against only 1 strikeout, so perhaps I remember Bob Uecker making some line about how tough Bailor was to get out.

Since his retirement from baseball, Bailor was around baseball for a little while before getting away from the game entirely.  When the Blue Jays traded him, Pat Gillick told Bailor that "if any when [Bailor] decided to retire as an active player, we would certainly welcome him back in an on-field position." 

After taking a year away from baseball after his Dodgers experience "mostly fishing and water-skiing in Utah", Bailor accepted a position managing the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Florida State League.  He moved up to Syracuse in 1988 and spent four years as the Chiefs' manager.  When the Jays made a managerial change in 1989, he interviewed for the job that went to Cito Gaston.  

Bailor then moved up to the big-league club as the first-base coach in 1992 through 1995, where he won two World Series rings.  When the Jays fired Gaston after the 1995 season, they fired all of his coaches along with him.  Bailor looked for a job for a little while, but then decided to retire.  He and his wife -- a flight attendant for American Airlines whom he met in Los Angeles -- make their home in Palm Harbor, Florida.  Bailor still hunts and fishes in his old hometown and he still has a home there.  

Bailor is small town through and through.  Indeed, as he said in 2010, "if it were up to me, I would probably be in Connellsville full time."  

He's a splendid contrast to his fellow Pennsylvanian, Doc Medich.