Thursday, August 28, 2014

Card #98: Terry "Bud" Bulling

Who Can It Be Now?
Terry Charles Bulling -- known to friends and family as Bud -- was born on December 15, 1952 in Lynwood, California. Bulling went undrafted out of Lynwood High School.  As a result, he attended Golden West College (a junior college) in Huntington Beach, California before transferring to Cal State-Los Angeles. 

He finished his collegiate baseball career at CSULA and was drafted in the 14th Round of the 1974 June Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He signed with the Twins and was assigned to the Midwest League.  He stayed there for the next two seasons. He earned a promotion to Double-A Orlando after a 1976 season in which he hit .310/.463/.426 -- yes, that OBP is correct and came on the strength of a 102 walk/33 strikeout season. Even though Bulling was 2 years older than the average player, that's still a good batting eye.

The next season, in 1977, Bulling was called up midway through the season. The Twins pretty clearly viewed him as a backup catcher candidate, and they did not need much more than that from him. After all, they had 21-year-old All-Star Butch Wynegar on the roster. Indeed, Bulling coming to Minneapolis was purely a function of necessity: backup Glenn Borgmann got injured and placed on the disabled list, so the Twins called up Bulling to watch Wynegar catch. 

The next season, however, Borgmann was healthy. Perhaps Bulling's .158/.270/.188 slash line also helped with the decision, but Bulling was sent back to Double-A Orlando.  The Twins felt pretty well set at catcher going forward -- not only with Wynegar but also because of the fact Bulling got passed in the organizational set up by Sal Butera -- so, near the end of spring training in 1979, the Twins sold Bulling's contract to the expansion Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners had just begun play as a franchise two seasons earlier, and their catching situation was far less settled. Having cycled through catchers Larry Cox, Bob Stinson, Bill Plummer, Kevin Pasley, and Skip Jutze by the end of 1978, Bulling had to be pleased to go to another organization -- especially one closer to his West Coast upbringing.  He joined Triple-A Spokane for the 1979 season and played for the Indians for two seasons.  

Finally, in 1981, the Mariners gave Bulling the opportunity to break camp as a major leaguer. He played in the first game of the season, and he platooned at catcher with lefty hitting Jerry Narron. Bulling performed decently in that strike-shortened season, hitting .247/.341/.305 (an OPS+ at 85% of league average) with two homers, 15 RBI, 21 BB, and 20 Ks. 

That performance was enough to keep him with the Mariners for the 1982 season, but the Mariners again changed up their catching situation in 1982 -- with switch hitter Rick Sweet joining Bulling and veteran Jim Essian as the three main catchers in Seattle. The team also called up their "catcher of the future" (who didn't last long in Seattle, mind you) Orlando Mercado for a 9-game stint. In other words, for the Mariners, it was chopping and changing once again.  

Bulling's hitting slacked off a bit in 1982, dropping to .221/.306/.286 and just 1 homer in 173 plate appearances. Thus, it should not have been a surprise when, in early 1983, the Mariners gave Bulling just 5 at-bats in the first 10 days of the season before sending him down to Triple-A Salt Lake City. He spent the 1983 season in Utah, and that was the end of his career.

Mustache Check: Indeed, Bulling is bedecked with a mustache.

Trivial Pursuit
While Bulling caught just 133 games during his entire career, one of them was immortalized on a 1983 Fleer card -- even though Bulling himself did not have his own card in that set. That's because he was the catcher for the Mariners when Gaylord Perry won his 300th career game against the New York Yankees on May 6, 1982.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Bud Bulling was not a player who made a big impact on most baseball fans for his playing career. I mean, he was never the sole starter for any major league team on which he played, he was not a great hitter, and he did not have any major episodes that were splashed over the front page of any sports section other than catching Gaylord Perry's 300th win.

After his retirement from baseball, Bulling became a bit more difficult to find.  One collector trying to put together the entire 1983 Fleer set with autographs was interviewed on Yahoo in 2009.  He cited Bulling as one of the more difficult players to find at that point because he had heard that Bulling was living in an RV at the time.  Shortly after the story ran, that collector was contacted by one of Bulling's mother's cousins to help get the autograph. Indeed, Bulling's Facebook page contains only two photos of Bulling: one taken by his computer, and one of Bulling with his mother next to his RV. 

Unfortunately, Bud Bulling fought prostate cancer for a long time. On March 8, 2014, he lost that fight. He was survived by his mother Iada and his children Casey, Joshua, and Karissa. Please donate to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to help find a cure for this disease -- guys, we're the ones who get this, so step up and do something. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Card #97: Paul Moskau

Who Can It Be Now?
Paul Richard Moskau was born on December 20, 1953, in St. Joseph, Missouri. He moved to Tucson, Arizona, as a child, where he was an all-star in Little League, Pony League, and Colt League.  He then attended Rincon High School in Tucson and was named to the All-City and All-State baseball teams.  

Strangely, despite making All-State in a baseball hotbed like Arizona, Moskau was not drafted directly out of high school. Instead, he attended his hometown university -- Arizona State.  He eventually left and went to Azusa Pacific however.  In the process, though, he finally received attention from scouts and was drafted twice -- first by the Cleveland Indians in the 1974 January draft (he did not sign) and, eventually, by the Cincinnati Reds in the 3rd round of the 1975 June Draft.

On signing, Moskau made one start in the Pioneer League before going to Low-A Eugene in the Northwest League. He dominated at these low levels, putting up a 10-2 record with a 1.53 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 88 innings.  Moskau spent 1976 in Double-A at Trois-Rivieres in the Eastern league and again appeared to dominate -- 13-6, 1.55 ERA. But, his strikeouts per nine innings dropped by over 3 -- from 9.9 K/9 to 6.2 K/9.  Still, it was an excellent season that showed Moskau might have some promise.

At the beginning of 1977, the Reds sent Moskau to Triple-A Indianapolis. By June 11, the Reds had scuffled to a .500 record (27-27), and decided that there was a need to shake things up a bit. By June 16, the Reds were 5 games into a 7-game winning streak and had remade the pitching staff. Gone were Gary Nolan, Mike Caldwell, Rawly Eastwick, and Pat Zachry. In came Doug Capilla and Tom Seaver.  

That math obviously didn't work out completely, so Moskau got the call from the Reds to report to the major leagues.  He made his first major league start on June 21 against the Phillies. It was rough going at first -- his ERA after his first four major league appearances was 10.45 thanks to the Dodgers tattooing him for 6 runs in 1/3 of an inning on June 26. By the end of the season, however, Moskau had put up creditable numbers -- 108 innings, 6-6 record with two shutouts, 71 strikeouts against 40 walks and a 4.00 ERA (3.77 FIP).  

Surprisingly, though, Moskau found himself back in Indianapolis for the start of the 1978 season. He did not pitch well in spring training -- Cincinnati magazine said that his work in the spring was "a little to casual for Red brass, who, despite their affection and esteem for [Moskau], found him more expendable than pitchers Dale Murray or Manny Sarmiento." Moskau was back with the big club by early May, however, and put up similar numbers to his previous season.  The Reds did very well in his starts -- 18-7 overall -- despite Moskau's overall 6-4 mark.  Still, one red flag appeared in June -- he had to leave a start against the Pirates with a "stiff" shoulder.

His 1979 season looked very similar as well. By this point, he had established a baseline of being pretty close to an average pitcher -- slightly below average, actually, in terms of ERA+ (a normalized measure comparing him to the league and adjusting for his home ballpark). But, 1979 continued the shoulder problems that would end Moskau's career by the end of the 1983 season.  Moskau was about to be sent down to Indianapolis in early August, but a medical exam revealed that he was suffering from "some inflammation in the rotator cuff" of his pitching shoulder.

The next season, however, Moskau spent the entire year in the major leagues. He tallied his career high in innings with 152-2/3, wins with 9, and strikeouts with 94. Still, troubled loomed. In a game on August 28, the game story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started with the following opening two paragraphs:
With the first slider he loosed, Paul Moskau received a message of distress from his tender right shoulder. "Knock it off," the message read, "or I quit."
A prudent man, Moskau heeded the warning. "I think," he told his catcher, John Bench, in the Cincinnati Reds' dugout following the first inning of last night's game, "we had better stick pretty much with the fastball and the curve."
The story went on to note that Moskau had received a cortisone injection in his pitching shoulder the previous week and, further, that Bench then knew that the injection had not relieved Moskau of his pain. 

Well, no kidding. It should come as no surprise that, in October of 1980, Moskau went to visit Dr. Frank Jobe in Los Angeles. He had a portion of his right collarbone removed in the surgery. While the initial thought was that Moskau would be ready for spring training, "ready for spring training" really meant that he would be throwing on the side for much of the spring and that he did not make his debut in the spring until midway through March.

Due to the shoulder issues, Moskau started only one game in 1981. He did not pitch particularly well or, for him, particularly poorly either. He finished with a 4.94 ERA, but his FIP was 4.19 -- which was almost the same FIP as in 1979.  He just could not control his walks in 1981.  

The shoulder problems, though, led the Reds to decide to move on with rebuilding their team in 1982 without Moskau. In early February of 1982, the Reds traded Moskau to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a player to be named later which turned out to be utility infielder Wayne Krenchicki.  

This trade did not go well for Moskau. By the end of spring training, he was on waivers. Luckily for him, he always seemed to pitch well against the Pittsburgh Pirates, so the Pirates claimed him. He pitched okay in Pittsburgh, but his shoulder issues flared up again. On June 27, the Pirates placed Moskau on the 21-day disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. He gave the team permission to send him to Triple-A to rehab the shoulder, but he only made it back to the major leagues with Pittsburgh for one game in late September. After the season ended, he was released.

The Chicago Cubs decided to take a flyer on Moskau to see if he could help them for the 1983 season. He made the team and made 8 starts for the Cubs. He gave up runs in every start, and after his appearance on May 31 against the Astros -- a 3-1/3 inning, 8-hit, 5-earned-run appearance -- the Cubs sent Moskau down in a transaction that only made it to the agate print

Then, after 11 terrible appearances in Triple-A at Iowa, the Cubs cut the cord on Moskau on August 8, 1983, giving him his unconditional release.

Mustache Check: This card is a whisker-free zone. Kids, say no to 'stache.

Nanu Nanu
Despite the fact that Moskau made 13 appearances in 1982 with Pittsburgh and 8 more with the Cubs in 1983, this 1982 Topps card is the last Topps card on which Moskau appears. He didn't even make it into the Traded set later in the year.

Louisiana Cooking
I will count this because it is cooking. Moskau's Facebook page lists him as working for his old pal Mike LaCoss at "". On YouTube, there are a number of videos posted under the iBaseballChannel name, many of which look like they could be very interesting.  One of these videos is Paul Moskau making his Holiday Peanut Brittle.

Family Ties
I THINK that Moskau's son Ryan Paul Moskau played at the University of Arizona and, then, in the Dodgers system in the late 1990s. I think this because I think this photo is Paul during Ryan's wedding in Atlanta in 2002.  And, I think Ryan is or was a police officer in the Atlanta area. But, I could be wrong.

Yes, another category. I think that it was this Paul Moskau who appeared on one episode of the Michael Landon made-for-those-over-the-age-of-75 series "Highway to Heaven." The episode was called "Popcorn, Peanuts and CrackerJacks" and Moskau was credited as Game Announcer.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Moskau never pitched in the American League in a game that meant anything. In fact, I doubt he ever faced Milwaukee unless the Brewers played against Arizona State in a spring training exhibition. I have no recollection of Moskau except for his name and the fact that I keep wanting to call him "Paul Moskau on the Hudson."

After Moskau quit as a player, he spent time as an assistant baseball coach in Tucson for Sabino High School.  He also spent the years between 1985 and 1988 as the general manager for the Tucson Toros. Otherwise, relying on his spartan LinkedIn biography, Moskau spent 18 years as a school administrator.

Moskau's LinkedIn page also refers to him being the current President of A&P Sports Marketing and Development. If I had to guess, I would guess that A&P refers to "Anna & Paul" Moskau (since that photo from the wedding 12 years ago shows him with a woman I would guess is his wife lighting a candle for use in the ceremony...I'm a sleuth like that).  

He does appear pretty active on Facebook, for what it is worth, and he recently befriended noted NFL Referee -- the one with the guns -- Ed Hochuli. His friend list includes a lot of former players -- everyone from Benny Ayala to Johnny Bench -- so feel free to run through his Facebook friends to see where some of those guys from 30 years ago are today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Card #96: Royals Team Leaders

Who Can It Be Now?
It's George Brett leading the Royals with a .314 batting average and Larry Gura's 2.72 ERA showing the way on the pitching staff.

Unlike most expansion teams, it did not take the Royals very long to begin contending. Starting in 1971 -- with a second place finish and a twenty-game improvement over their previous season -- the Royals finished the season under .500 in just 5 seasons and never finished worse than 10 games under .500.  It never hurts when you have a Hall of Famer at third base to pace your club, and with solidly above average outfielders and pitching, you get an excellent team overall.

Thanks to the split season and despite the fact that one of the five seasons under .500 was, in fact, 1981, the Royals still made the playoffs that season. The Royals never dug out from their 20-30 first half of the season under Jim Frey before the strike. After the strike, Frey led the team to a 10-10 record before being fired. The Kauffmans brought in Dick Howser, and the club responded by finishing the season 7 games over .500 for the second half. In the morass that was the AL West at that point, that 30-23 record was good enough for first place. Still, the Royals were swept in the Divisional Series by Oakland.

Thus, in the offseason, changes were needed. General Manager Joe Burke was pushed out of the player evaluation job and into the Team President role to replace Ewing Kauffman. Whether he was pushed or he jumped, the move let the team promote the new young front office superstar -- the then-41-year-old John Schuerholz -- to General Manager.  

The man who later built the Braves dynasty in the 1990s started turning over the roster some and stocking the minor leagues for the team that won the World Series in 1986. In a busy offseason before the 1982 season, Schuerholz started with what looked like a minor trade -- sending utility infielder Manny Castillo to the Mariners for a player-to-be-named-later.  That player ended up being Bud Black, who spent 7 years in the Royals rotation. Indeed, in total, in the time between the end of the 1981 season and the beginning of the 1982 season, Schuerholz released or traded away 14 players in various deals and received back 10 more. While a lot of these players were on the periphery of the team, it helped to refresh the bench some and get in new blood.

That refreshing process appeared to work. The team spent 53 total days in first place during the season and enjoyed a 2 game lead over second place California as late as September 17. But, the problem was that, starting on September 16 and ending on September 28, the Royals lost 10 of their 11 games starting with game 146 of the season.  That streak included a three-game sweep by the Angels from September 20 through September 22 -- a series which started with the two teams tied for first place. A late 5-game winning streak started too late to salvage the division title, leading the Royals to scratch their heads and play the "what-if" game.

Mustache Check: Team leaders on the Royals don't "do" facial hair. Or at least George Brett and Larry Gura did not on this card.

Pass the Dutchie
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Royals in 1982 had a pretty bad drug problem. Two of the players that John Schuerholz traded for were Jerry Martin and Vida Blue. This story from the New York Times news service details how deeply the problem went. The story mentions that, during the 1982 season, Kansas City drug dealer Mark Liebl had a room he called "The Cooperstown Room" to signify the baseball luminaries that had snorted cocaine there. 

The story mentions specifically the Kansas City "Four" who went to prison -- Blue, Martin, Willie Mays Aikens, and Willie Wilson -- but it also drops the names of other Royals who played on the 1982 team and other players in the league who bought cocaine from Liebl. Such players as Don Hood, U.L. Washington, and Al Cowens.  

While the story does not give all the names of the players, it mentions that Liebl's sworn testimony used in the investigative process named a total of thirteen players other than the four who went to prison, and that these players played on the Royals or on at least three other teams. Indeed, Liebl mentioned that orders for cocaine were placed from the telephone in the Royals clubhouse and that drugs were delivered to the stadium.

In other words, owners were probably relieved in the late 1980s when steroids replaced cocaine as the drugs of choice for major league baseball players. As much as many of us complain about steroids "ruining" the game in the 1990s and early 2000s, cocaine likely had as much of an effect -- and probably a more deleterious effect -- in the 1970s and 1980s.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
The Royals of 1982 were an excellent baseball team. Apparently, as the story above seems to hint at, half of them were snorting cocaine and John Schuerholz's trades in the offseason added to that number. Now, other than the guys mentioned in that story above, I have no idea who was and who was not throwing their money away on drugs, nor am I going to speculate about it.  

How did the Royals blow their lead in September? The most difficult part of that losing streak to understand are the 5 losses in 6 games against the two worst teams in the division -- the Oakland Athletics and the Minnesota Twins. The Twins swept the Royals in a weekend series from September 17-19 before a grand total of 22,850 fans for the three games. 

The Friday night game saw Paul Splittorff give up 4 runs in the bottom of the third and reliever Bob Tufts give up a single run in the bottom of the eighth. That single run meant that the Royals' furious comeback in the eighth and ninth innings off Brad Havens and Ron Davis fell a run short.  In Saturday's afternoon game, Vida Blue and Don Hood both were hit early and often, giving up 10 runs by the end of 6 innings. Hey -- stay away from the nose candy, guys!  Then Sunday, the Royals started Bill Castro -- for only the second time that season and the seventh time in his career -- and hit was hit for 5 runs in four innings.  

In short, it was their pitching that did it -- and, frankly, their pitching had been an issue that season. A team ERA of 4.08 was good enough only for 10th in the league, and the club struck out just 650 batters all year.  That just was not good enough, and it made clear what Schuerholz's next steps had to be -- fixing the starting rotation.

Now, for the Brewers and HOF Countdown:

Former Brewers on the Checklist
There are two.

Ken Brett spent all of the 1972 season as a Milwaukee Brewer after spending four seasons in Boston. The Brewers sent him to the Phillies as part of trading for Don Money. 

Jamie Quirk was traded by the Royals to the Brewers after the 1976 season with Jim Wohlford and Bob McClure in exchange for Jim Colborn and Darrell Porter (boy, did the Royals win that trade) and, then, was traded back to the Royals in mid-1978 for a minor leaguer and money.  

Former Brewers Appearing in 1982 for the Royals But not on Cardboard
Brewers castoff Bill Castro -- who came back to Milwaukee later for many years and served as the bullpen coach and, later, as pitching coach -- appeared in 21 games and made four starts for the 1982 Royals. He pitched 75-2/3 innings in KC in 1982.

Future Brewers on the Checklist
Not a single one.

Future Brewers Appearing But Not on the Checklist
Once again, not a single one.

Future Hall of Famers on the Checklist
There's the obvious one, of course -- the hitter on the front of the card. George Brett had a pretty good 1982, hitting .301/.378/.505. Brett's the only one, though.

Future Hall of Famers Appearing in 1982 but not on the checklist
As was the case for the Astros, no one other than Brett played for the Royals in 1982 that made it to the Hall of Fame. 

The only guy who received some consideration for the Hall of Fame was Vida Blue, but Vida's career numbers were affected both by injuries and, more to the point, his personal drug demons. Certainly, he started off his career with an incredible 1971 -- Cy Young and MVP -- but the 312 innings at age 21 might have caused problems in 1972. He rebounded from that, but, from the age of 32 forward, his "decline" phase looked more like a "collapse" phase. 

Other guys who could have been considered: Hal McRae, Frank White, Amos Otis, Willie Wilson. As a collective, that is a lot of talent and is the core of a great team. None of them made it past their first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Card #95: Ozzie Smith

Who Can It Be Now?
Osborne Earl Smith was born on December 26, 1954, in Mobile, Alabama. His family moved from Alabama to the now well-known South Central Los Angeles when he was 6 years old. According to his biography on, he learned how to perform his trademark backflips as a kid by doing flips into piles of sawdust at a local lumberyard.

He attended Locke High School in Los Angeles, which at the time that Ozzie was in attendance had one heck of a baseball program.  In a 5-year span, Locke turned out two Hall of Famers -- Ozzie & his teammate Eddie Murray -- and four other major leaguers, including pitcher Larry Demery, Gary Alexander, pitcher Darrell Jackson, and Eddie's younger brother Rich. 

As was the case for Alexander, Ozzie was not drafted out of high school. But, where Alexander went to junior college, Ozzie received a partial scholarship and attended baseball powerhouse Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. He was drafted for the first time in 1976 in the 7th round of the June Draft by the Detroit Tigers, but apparently he did not receive a sufficient contract offer to induce him to sign. As a result, he went back to school for his senior year and was drafted in the fourth round of the June Draft in 1977 by the San Diego Padres.

After Ozzie signed with the Padres, they assigned him to Walla Walla in the Northwest League, a Low-A league. He hit well there, got on base, and made consistent contact -- 12 strikeouts in 333 plate appearances is pretty consistent contact. He never again spent any time in the major leagues after 1977. 

Instead, he made the major league team directly out of spring training in 1978. The Padres had played Bill Almon at short the previous season and did not have a set third baseman. So, Ozzie's play allowed them to put Almon at third, push Tucker Ashford to the bench, and get better defensive play at shortstop. Ozzie played well enough to finish second in the 1978 Rookie of the Year race behind the Braves' Bob Horner -- even though both had fewer WAR than third-place finisher Don Robinson.

In Smith's four seasons with the Padres, the question was always whether Ozzie hit enough to justify playing him. His glove was never the issue, but a .260 OBP and a .262 SLG in 1979 made the case pretty clearly that Ozzie would have to rely on fielding to make his dollars initially. Even by 1980, however, Ozzie's glovework had gained him enough notoriety in baseball to earn him his first of thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves.  He took over the crown of best NL defensive shortstop from Dave Concepcion, and he did not give up the title until Jay Bell beat him out in 1993.

As I said, though, the real question was his bat. He was in the top 5 in outs made in 1978 (4th), 1979 (4th), 1980 (2nd), and 1981 (1st). Perhaps it was just that he was learning how to hit while in the major leagues, but his slash line in San Diego was pretty bad -- .231/.295/.278 and an OPS+ (a normalized rating where the average league hitter is 100) of 66. That's not good.  Despite that, his slick fielding led to his first selection to the All-Star team in 1981 as a back up to Dave Concepcion.

By the end of the 1981 season, however, circumstances aligned to end Ozzie's time in San Diego. The biggest issue was actually in St. Louis, where Whitey Herzog and his shortstop, Garry Templeton, had a major falling out -- as in, Herzog challenged Templeton to a fight after a game at Busch Stadium in 1981 when Templeton flipped off St. Louis fans. 

The other issue was what turned into a common theme throughout Ozzie's career -- an issue, by the way, which I had forgotten about and which often gets whitewashed out of discussions about Ozzie. That issue was Ozzie's salary demands. As this sarcastic article of "Christmas gifts" for athletes points out, Ozzie was complaining that he could not "make ends meet" on the salary he was making in 1981. 

This claim was nothing new. The year prior, in agitating for a better salary, Ozzie and his agent took out a classified ad in the San Diego newspaper in the "part-time help wanted" section. Ozzie even claimed that he might need to take a leave of absence over the summer of 1980 to take a temporary job.  In response to the ad, Joan Kroc replied, tongue-in-cheek, that her gardener Luis Torres could have used an assistant at $4.50 an hour. Indeed, as the news story mentions, he received offers to be a nude dancer at $500 a show and an offer to be a pizza delivery man for $3.25 an hour. He was making $72,500 that year (about $196,000 today).

To make up for this, Herzog offered Ozzie $450,000 a year. Herzog added that if Ozzie didn't like St. Louis, Whitey, or the Cardinals at the end of 1982, then he would release Ozzie. If Ozzie liked it, then they would offer him a 3-year deal. He got the three-year deal a
fter helping the Cardinals win the first of two 1980s World Series. Ozzie signed a 3-year, $3.6 million contract. 

During his time with the Cardinals, Ozzie became a better hitter as well. I cannot tell you whether that happened because Ozzie left the green grass of San Diego for the fake plastic grass of St. Louis, but those Whitey Herzog-managed teams of the 1980s relied nearly entirely on speed, defense, getting on base, and smart baserunning in terms of stealing bases. In many of those respects, the team was built around Ozzie even though Ozzie tended to hit near the bottom of the order. Ozzie had a slash line of .272/.350/.344 in St. Louis, stealing 433 bases and getting caught just 102 times.  He walked 876 times against just 423 strikeouts. He was an All-Star in every year with the Cardinals but one -- 1993 -- though he probably didn't deserve the last three since those were pretty much "goodbye, Ozzie, we love you!" votes from the fans.  

Off the field and outside of his continued caterwauling about money, he was an exemplary character. He won the Branch Rickey Award in 1994 for his exceptional community service. He won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1989 from Phi Delta Theta as the player who best exhibited the character and integrity of Lou Gehrig on the field and off. He was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award in 1995 for combining his good play and strong work in the community. I'm not sure how all those are necessarily different, but they are consistent in showing Ozzie's community work.

As Ozzie's career went on, he continued playing at a fairly consistently high level -- both offensively and defensively -- with St. Louis. His last three seasons were shortened by a strike, injuries, and manager's decision, however.  That last season of 1996 is worth looking at.

Smith got into a disagreement with manager Tony LaRussa, who was in his first year as Cardinals manager, in spring training of that year. Even as recently as February of 2014, Ozzie still seemed to carry a bit of a grudge against LaRussa for the way LaRussa handled the shortstop job that year. I mean, check out this quote: "I've always admired Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. The other guy ... uh, I never really knew him." Okay, Ozzie.

Midway through the 1996 season, Ozzie announced his retirement.  Ozzie reportedly thought about going to another team to extend his career, but instead he retired as a Cardinal and signed a personal services agreement with the Cardinals at that point.  Sitting behind Royce Clayton apparently told Ozzie that it was time to retire. So, he did.

Mustache Check: Yes, Ozzie is sporting whiskers.

Rabbit Is Rich
I'm belaboring the off-field stuff with Ozzie a bit, but I had completely forgotten how many times Ozzie appeared to be whining about money.  But, the real big contract was in 1986. After the 1986 season, Ozzie signed a contract which made him the highest-paid player in the National League for 1988 -- $90,000 more than Mike Schmidt and about $180,000 more than Gary Carter.

Trivial Pursuit
Ozzie Smith is the career leader in Defensive Wins Above Replacement at 43.4 (fully 4 wins better than Mark Belanger). He's also the career leader in most Gold Gloves at shortstop with 13, which is 2 better than Omar Vizquel. 

Finally, he has the most assists career among shortstops with 8375 -- 360 better than Luis Aparicio. For comparison, Derek Jeter has played 20 seasons at shortstop (1 more than Ozzie) and Jeter is more than 1800 behind Ozzie.  

Elvis Andrus has a very, very outside shot at catching Ozzie.  Andrus is 25 and has played 6 seasons already.  Andrus would have to keep up his current pace of assists until he reaches the age of 44 to catch Smith.

This Is Radio Clash
Ozzie Smith served as a Cardinals broadcaster from 1997 to 1999.  No word on whether he advertised for a part-time job in search of more money.

The World According to Garp
Ozzie has written two biographies -- Wizard in 1988 and Ozzie Smith: Road to Cooperstown in 2002 after his election to the Hall of Fame. He also wrote a Jerry-Remy-like book about the Cardinals mascot Fred called, Hello, Fredbird! in 2014.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Honestly, I expected this biography to be much more based around Ozzie's fielding exploits and his home run off Tom Niedenfuer back in 1987. I was struck, though, that the first several stories that came up about Ozzie from his playing days through the Google News archives were about his feuds with Tony LaRussa, his apparent exultation at Whitey Herzog being fired in 1990, and still more contract issues  in 1991 -- when the AP ran a story about how talks had broken down between Smith and the Cardinals and that he would leave after the 1992 season.  He didn't leave obviously, but he was always walking that line.

These days, Ozzie is pretty easy to find. He can be booked through Premiere Speakers Bureau -- the same group that serves as Jim Palmer's speakers' bureau. I can't tell you how much Ozzie charges, though -- the website says that "we are not able to provide this information on the website." But, Ozzie will fly first class from St. Louis to speak to your group, giving either his "Hall of Fame Speech" about perseverance and success or his "Conversation with Ozzie Smith," which is a "light hearted, anecdotal presentation with stories from his childhood as a little leaguer to the present day."

If you're interested in Ozzie for a lower price than his speakers' fee must be, then you can follow him on Twitter (@STLWizard). A quick review of his timeline there shows that he golfs. A lot. 

For kids, Ozzie Smith's Sports Academy is in Chesterfield Mall in the St. Louis area is there with batting cage rentals, sports lessons, and summer camps.

Finally, if you're a collector or fan of Ozzie's -- and I apologize to you if I made you upset with this write-up about him -- then feel free to go to Ozzie's personal website. You can listen to Jack Buck call the NLCS homer when you get there, and then you can go to his memorabilia page to buy a signed baseball for $125 (or $150 if you want it signed "Osborne Earl").

Ozzie was a fantastic defensive player who was slightly below average at the plate over his career. The fact that he made the Hall of Fame essentially for his defense tells you what you need to know about him. I believe that his enshrinement was deserved as well.  

I also believe that it will be a long time before we see a mostly defensive player enshrined again. Teams these days are more willing to live with defensive lapses at key defensive positions, it seems. Or, more to the point, teams are less willing to live with the players that Ozzie was when he first came up -- great fielding and light hitting.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Card #94: Andy Hassler

Who Can It Be Now?
Andrew Earl Hassler was born on October 18, 1951, in Texas City, Texas. He grew up in Arizona, however, and attended Palo Verde High School there, graduating in 1969. In high school, Hassler was named to the All-City Team for Tucson.  

That honor -- and probably some scout -- convinced the Angels to draft Hassler with the 581st pick overall in the 25th round of the 1969 Draft.  Hassler bit the Angels hand off and signed nearly immediately. 

The Angels then assigned the 17-year-old to their rookie league team in Arizona. He didn't pitch exceptionally well, though he was almost 4 years younger than most of his competition -- he had a 2-2 record, 27 IP, 39 H, 19 ER (26 total runs allowed), 13 BB and 24 Ks.  Those pedestrian numbers really fail to explain why the Angels decided to have Hassler skip over A-ball all together and move to El Paso in the Texas League in 1970. Maybe it was just a lack of arms in the system.

Somewhat surprisingly, Hassler acquitted himself well in El Paso -- 10-7 record, 3.88 ERA in 144 innings (62 earned runs, 80 total runs) -- in a notorious hitters environment. Hassler struggle with control, however, allowing 5.4 BB/9 IP. That season earned Hassler a move to Triple-A Salt Lake City in 1971. A 5-1 record convinced the Angels to call him up to the major leagues at the end of May, which meant that the 19-year-old Hassler went from high school to Yankee Stadium to make his debut literally in 2 years flat.

Hassler was done for the year in 1971, however, after June 18. He had surgery on his pitching arm in mid-1971, and ended up back at Salt Lake City for the 1972 season, where he registered a 9-10 record and walked 114 batters in 174 innings. He did not receive a call-up to the Angels -- even in September -- in 1972.  

Back in Triple-A in 1973, Hassler pitched better -- cutting his walks by 1.5 per 9 innings -- with generally decent numbers. The Angels called him up for 4 mid-season appearances, sent him back to Utah, and then gave him another shot in September. His 1973 major league pitching looks facially acceptable on the back of the baseball card -- 3.69 ERA, after all -- but his 1.0 BB/K ratio (19 of each) and his coming unraveled when players made errors behind him (13 earned runs, 10 unearned runs) made for a bad combination for his win-loss record.

Hassler split 1974 between Triple-A Salt Lake City and the Angels.  He finally registered his first big-league win in his 15th overall appearance by beating the Texas Rangers on June 23, 1974. To that point, his win-loss record had been 0-8.  He finished his big-league season by throwing 162 innings, giving up 10 homers, walking 79 and striking out 76.  Once again, Hassler's 2.61 ERA belied much worse peripheral stats -- his FIP was 4.07, and he allowed 17 unearned runs out of 64 runs allowed total.  He was also lucky in that opposing batters hit just .243 on balls in play (BABIP).

Finally, in 1975, Hassler made the big-league team straight out of spring training. He started his year with three good games and two terrible games, leading to a 3-1 record at the end of April. Hopefully, he enjoyed that win on April 29, 1975, because he did not win again until August 6, 1976. By that point, Hassler's contract had been sold to the Kansas City Royals. He had lost 18 straight decisions by that time. I tend not to focus on win-loss records, but when a guy simply loses and loses and loses, it's tough to say that the pitcher is completely blameless in that process.

Strangely enough, Hassler rolled off 4 straight wins in 5 games after his 18-game losing streak, and that no-decision was a game in which he threw 10 innings and allowed 1 run against the New York Yankees. Hassler made two appearances against the Yankees in 1976 in the ALCS and proved that not all left-handed pitchers are automatically Yankee killers -- getting hit for 8 hits and 6 walks in 7-1/3 innings and taking the loss in Game 3 of that series.

Hassler did not pitch terribly in 1977, serving as a spot starter. He missed most of May with an injury, and often was the fifth starter in a four-man rotation. His season -- and the Royals season -- was ended by the Yankees again in the ALCS.  Hassler started and lost Game 2 of the Series, though he pitched better in 1977 than in 1976.

The 1978 season was the start of a strange run of two years for Hassler.  He made the opening day roster and was scheduled to start the second game of the year. But, he lost that spot due to what the Associated Press called a "freak accident" that occurred while he and his wife were packing to go north for the season from Florida. The story I linked to puts it succinctly:

Hassler, a left-hander, suffered cuts on the index and small fingers of his pitching hand Monday night as he and his wife were packing. He reached for a suitcase that was falling off a table and instead grabbed a knife. Hassler required five stitches on his little finger and about a dozen on his index finger. "He doesn't need the little finger to pitch, but the index finger is very important," said trainer Mickey Cobb.
Indeed. I tend to leave knives lying around when I pack suitcases too. Don't you?

By July 24, 1978, Hassler's fingers had healed and he had made 9 starts by that time. But, he was getting hit hard by hitters -- 76 hits in 58-1/3 innings -- so the Royals became the second team to sell Hassler's contract, sending him to the Boston Red Sox. So, for the third straight season, Hassler's season ended with a loss to the Yankees -- but this time, it was the Bucky Dent game. Hassler was the pitcher who came in to replace Bob Stanley immediately after Stanley allowed a home run to Reggie Jackson.  Had the Red Sox come back in the bottom of the eighth to tie/win, Hassler would have been the pitcher of record.

In 1979, Hassler was in his "option" year. The Red Sox were notoriously cheap -- see, e.g., Rick Burleson -- and Hassler was just terrible for the Red Sox that year as well. By terrible, I mean that his stats on June 15 were: 1-2 record, 8.80 ERA, 8 games, 15-1/3 innings, 23 hits, 7 walks, 7 strikeouts, and 15 earned runs (17 total allowed).  So, the Mets thought they'd give Hassler the opportunity to blow up in the National League. As a result, Hassler's contract was sold for the third time. Hassler pitched acceptably -- 3.70 ERA, 80-1/3 innings, 53 Ks against 42 BBs -- and declared for free agency.

Then, the Pirates -- coming off a World Series victory -- somehow determined that a journeyman lefty with career stats of 32-60, 4.04 ERA, 833 innings, 383 BB, 443 Ks -- was the missing link to their repeating as champions. One writer in the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World wrote in June of 1980 that Andy Hassler was a "good hustler." I can't disagree, since he got the Pirates to give him a 6-year, $750,000 contract (about $2.3 million in today's money).  That's not a horrible contract, except that Hassler is the kind of guy today who would bounce from team to team as teams decided not to offer him arbitration and/or as a non-roster invitee on a one-year contract.

What makes it crazy is the fact that Hassler's contract was sold for the fourth time on JUNE 10, 1980.  Talk about buyer's remorse, but the Pirates must have failed in Scouting 100 (watch a pitcher before you sign him) and sent Hassler back to the Angels for cash money.

Hassler stayed with the Angels through the beginning of 1984. He once again saw his team lose in the ALCS in 1982 -- this time, as the bullpen arm not used in Game 5 against Milwaukee. Indeed, as this story from 1987 mentions, Gene Mauch decided to keep right-hander Luis Sanchez in the game to pitch to left-handed hitting Cecil Cooper in the seventh inning of the fifth game of the ALCS with runners on second and third and the Angels ahead 3-2.  Sanchez gave up the two-run single to Cooper, and Hassler came in and struck out Ted Simmons swinging -- once again, coming in a hitter after a key hit was allowed.  Once again, Gene Mauch was excoriated for his supposed managerial failures, and once again, Mauch failed to get his title.  And, once again, Hassler lost an ALCS.

After spring training in 1984, Hassler -- still only 32 years old -- was released by the Angels. The Cardinals picked him up and sent him first to the Texas League and next to Triple-A Louisville. He made three September appearances that year. He made the Cardinals out of spring training in 1985 and pitched reasonably well. But, he was sent down in mid-May and was left off the post-season roster.
Good thing -- otherwise his career would have ended with yet another post-season loss...this time, to the Royals in the World Series.

Mustache Check: OOPS -- forgot about this, mainly because Andy is clean shaven.

Trivial Pursuit
I have not been able to verify this independently, but several websites -- and let's link to a high school alumni site for this fact -- say that when Hassler debuted at the end of May in 1971 at the age of 19, he was the youngest ever pitcher in Yankee Stadium.

Another fun trivial fact is that Hassler is still tied for fourth on the list for consecutive losses by a pitcher.  Of course, Anthony Young's crazy 27 straight losses in the early 1990s for the Mets laps the field. But, there's Hassler -- tied with Mike Parrott, Roger Craig, and Matt Keough with 18 straight losses.

Family Ties
Andy's son Drew Hassler -- picked up here on an old ANGELFIRE website -- pitched 7 games in the Orioles system in 2000 after the Orioles selected Drew out of high school in the 13th round of the 1999 June Draft.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I remember Andy Hassler only for being a major leaguer. Honestly, I don't remember him much and I couldn't have identified him had you paid me to do it.

Back at Greg Gross's card, I mentioned that the pinch-hitter-only position is a dying breed. Hassler, in many respects, represents the guys who took Greg Gross's spot. The Hardball Times had a series called "A History of the LOOGY" -- the "Lefty One Out GuYs".  Hassler's name appears on that list as putting up a "LOOGY" season (as Hardball Times defined it) in 1983 under manager John McNamara.  If he were a true LOOGY, though, it makes me wonder aloud why -- other than not being very good, of course -- he only lasted through 1985 and the age of 33.  I mean, Tony Fossas stayed in the league for over decade after debuting at the age of 30.

That said, Hassler has made himself somewhat scarce on the internet these days. A 1994 Los Angeles Times feature called "Where are they now?" found Hassler at that time -- at the age of 42, or as Jesse Orosco said, mid-career -- living in Arizona and dabbling in real estate. I'm not sure what "dabbling" in real estate necessarily means, but I'm sure Hassler could tell you.

The most recent information I have is that Hassler still lives in the Phoenix area. In perhaps the most interesting factoid I've discovered about any of these players yet, Hassler apparently was the chairman of the Claims Committee for the Gold Prospectors Association of Phoenix in 2009.  He disappears from their newsletters after that.

Maybe he struck it big. Or, maybe we'll see him on one of those "Alaska Gold Rush" shows.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Card #93: Larry Hisle

Who Can It Be Now?
Larry Eugene Hisle was born on May 5, 1947, in Portsmouth, Ohio. Hisle's story as a youth is one told often for what he had to overcome to succeed. His SABR biography lays out the story in complete detail; I'm borrowing some of the highlights from there.  

Hisle was an only child and was named for Larry Doby by his mother. Hisle's father Hubert suffered a brain hemorrhage when Larry was 10 years old. Hubert never again recognized Larry as his son.  Shortly after his father's hemorrhage, Larry's mother Claudine passed away at the age of 32.  Larry's father passed away in 1962, but for all intents and purposes, from the age of 10 onward, Larry was an orphan. He was lucky, though, in that his aunt took him in at first.   

That lasted only 2 years, though, because the financial burden for his aunt was great. A wealthy couple, Orville and Kathleen Ferguson, took him in first as a foster child and then as their own adopted son. They gave him a good family life, but Hisle credited his birth mother with instilling in him "a will to settle for nothing less than the absolute best that life had to offer." Hisle worked his butt off both as a student and as an athlete. He was an honor student and a high school All-American in both baseball and basketball. Both the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University offered him scholarships in basketball, and he signed a national letter of intent to attend Ohio State.

While his basketball prowess gave him opportunities for scholarships, his baseball abilities earned him immediately money. In the first ever June Draft in 1965, the Philadelphia Phillies drafted Hisle in the second round with the 38th pick overall -- two picks behind Johnny Bench. Up until the time Hisle signed his contract, he swore to the Phillies that they were wasting their time in trying to sign him -- he was going to go to Ohio State.  But dollars mattered, and Hisle recalled in 1978 that he received a signing bonus of $50,000 (roughly the equivalent of about $375,000 today). He was assigned to a low-A club at Huron in the Northern League for his short debut in 1966.

Hisle moved up to the Carolina League in 1967 and had an excellent year there -- .302/.368/.499, 23 HR, 31 SB (only 1 CS!), 43 BB and 119 Ks in 563 plate appearances. Strikingly, he earned a spot on the opening day roster in 1968 with the Phillies directly out of Single-A ball.  That promotion lasted just two weeks in early 1968, but it certainly gave the impression that the Phillies believed that they had a potential star in the making.

Hisle ended up back at Triple-A for much of 1968, however, and suffered from some injuries as well.  But, in 1969, he made the roster once again out of spring training and this time started the whole year in centerfield.  He hit reasonably well -- .266/.338/.459, 20 HR, 18 SB (8 CS) -- but he struck out a lot too: 152 times.  Then again he was a 22-year-old playing his first season in the majors.  

His next year went poorly, however, as he struggled to keep his spot in the lineup. Hisle was quoted later in his career as saying that his 1970 season was the result of his pressing -- that he "started to question" himself and asked himself "if [he] even had the talent to play in the major leagues."  

His SABR biography mentions another issue that arose in Philadelphia: race. If you've seen the movie "42," the villain in the movie in many respects is Phillies manager Ben Chapman. It seems germane to discussing Hisle as well. When Hisle debuted in 1968, it had been just eleven years since the Phillies had employed their first African-American player, John Kennedy. Kennedy lasted just 2 at bats in 1957, and the Phillies did not develop an African-American star until perhaps the 2000s with Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, among others. In an article in The Sporting News to which the SABR biography cites, Hisle -- known as polite, modest, unassuming, soft-spoken, and mild-mannered -- opened up and criticized the Phillies' treatment of its African-American players such as Richie (Dick) Allen and its lack of patience with Canadian black man Ferguson Jenkins.

Hisle said these things on the way out of Philadelphia. The Phillies gave up on the 24-year-old outfielder and sent him to the Dodgers at the end of the 1971 season for Tommy Hutton. Hisle never got the chance to play in the majors for the Dodgers, however, as the Dodgers were loaded with veterans in the outfield. As a result, after the 1972 season, Hisle was traded again.  The Dodgers sent him to St. Louis for a minor leaguer and pitcher Rudy Arroyo; St. Louis wasted no time in trading Hisle a month later and sent him to the Minnesota Twins with pitcher John Cumberland for pitcher Wayne Granger.

The Twins gave Hisle his first chance at regular playing time in the majors in three seasons, and the move paid off. Hisle started hitting again and getting on base. Yes, he still struck out over 100 times, but he put up a .351 OBP and 15 HR/11 SB in 618 plate appearances. He played for five total seasons in Minnesota, and he turned into an excellent speed-power option by the time those years ended in 1977.  He was named to the American League All-Star team for the first time at the age of 30 in 1977, and he led the American League in RBI that year as well.  Aaron Gleeman named Hisle the 27th best Twin of all time a few years ago, and Hisle's numbers support that.

The 1977 season was an odd one businesswise in baseball. A lot of players were technically without contracts and were playing out their "option" year, as the Andy Messersmith arbitration decision called it. Hisle was one of them. After that season, players who had played out their options were eligible for what was called the Free agent reentry draft. Teams were limited in how many different players they could sign, and players could only be selected in the "draft" by a maximum number of teams.  This system went by the wayside after the 1981 strike.

Hisle was selected by the maximum number of teams. He was offered $3 million over 6 years by the Texas Rangers, but turned down that offer to join the Milwaukee Brewers. In that offseason, the Brewers were a major player in free agency because Bud Selig knew that he needed a winning team to draw fans. The Brewers signed Hisle, Don Money, and Sal Bando that offseason. The news story about Hisle's signing noted that the Brewers had Bando and first baseman Cecil Cooper meet with Hisle to try to convince Hisle that Milwaukee was the right place for him. Hisle was quoted as saying that his treatment by Brewers officials and players, the community atmosphere, and the potential to improve all mattered to him -- along with the contract of course.

His 1978 season was one for the ages for Hisle. He had a career year in many respects. The Brewers finished last (sixth place) in 1976 with a 67-95 record under Alex Grammas. After that season, Bud Selig cleaned house -- firing GM Jim Baumer and hiring Angels GM Harry Dalton, giving him a big purse full of money to make improvements. Dalton hired long-time Orioles pitching coach George Bamberger, and it was as if a different team had showed up. The 1978 team finished 93-69, 3rd in AL East behind ESPN's favorite teams (that's the Yankees and Red Sox, in case you don't have cable...they broke their tie for the AL East with the Bucky Dent game).  

Hisle received much of the credit for that change in fortunes. While he did not receive any first place votes for MVP -- those went to winner Jim Rice and second place finisher Ron Guidry -- Hisle did finish third in the voting and a long way ahead of the fourth place finisher Amos Otis. His stats supported it: 34 HR, 115 RBI, 10 steals, 67 BB, .290/.374/.533 slash line. In short, Hisle was a star.

Then, in 1979, it all came crashing down and, for all intents and purposes, Hisle's career went with it. On April 20, 1979, Hisle was in left field for the Brewers and made a throw in to the infield. With that throw, his rotator cuff tore.  He tried to play through it some as a designated hitter, but he was advised to let the shoulder rest. As a result, he sat out after May 4 all but two games.

He came back the next spring, hoping that he would be able to play without surgery. But, on May 19, 1980, he hurt the shoulder again on a slide into second base. Two months later, he had surgery. The Brewers were counting on Hisle in 1981 to be their designated hitter. That worked for a while. Then, Paul Molitor was injured in a game in Anaheim, and Hisle thought the team would need him in the outfield. As Daniel Okrent's Nine Innings detailed, Hisle picked up the ball and began to stretch out his arm by throwing against a wall.  Hisle could not lift his arm for two days after that, and his season was over.

Thus, in 1982, the Brewers no longer were counting on Hisle, figuring that anything he could give the team that season would be a bonus. He played some -- only 9 games -- before that same pain came back and Hisle hit the disabled list for the fourth and final time in his career. His last at bat was a strikeout by Brad Havens.

Mustache Check: I was too taken with Larry's story to notice his full beard and mustache here.

The Message
I have used this heading sparingly, but if anyone got The Message, it was Larry Hisle. This Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article from 2011 is simply inspiring. Hisle is still on the Brewers payroll as a community outreach person, but to call him that does him no justice. Hisle makes himself available to teachers, charities, ministers, and others in need. 

For instance, John Boche, the principal at St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee, said that Hisle helps out the kids there that are their "toughest nuts to crack."

Chuck Jones of Hope Worldwide in Milwaukee was quoted as saying, "Larry Hisle has been a pure joy to work with because of his passion, the way that he loves, the way that he cares. A celebrity is like currency, and Larry has given over $1 million of himself to others."

A teen that Hisle mentored, Jason Dashner II, said, "He came to my house, he ate dinner with us, he took me to Brewers games, and I got to go on the field. He would pick me up in the morning and take me to Concordia College and I would work out with him. I always though of him as a big brother. He made it a goal for me to do better in school and I started getting Bs and Cs. I have my ups and downs, but I'm doing better."

One day, he'll be speaking to an organization that deals with teens caught with guns. The next, he is at the Boys and Girls Club. Or, he's at the youth detention center. 

Or, he's at Children's Hospital visiting children with cancer. One child he met there had the following story:
Eric McLean of Whitefish Bay has an acute form of leukemia and has been in and out of treatment for several years. During one of his hospitalizations, his brother contacted the Brewers to see if a player could stop by and say hello. McLean was hoping for Ryan Braun. The Brewers sent Hisle, who spent hours with him and returned the next day. And the day after that.
"Larry, to me . . . gosh, it's so hard to describe," McLean said. "there's no one else like him that I've ever met in my life. Every time I'm in the hospital, he motivates me to want to get up and do that little bit extra. The cancer I have, the odds are less than 20% to live five years if you have it once. It's come back three times and I think Larry is a big part of the reason why I'm still here. 
"I can honestly say I love him."
McLean lost his battle with cancer in 2012.

Hisle apparently is trying to form his own foundation, though I can't find much else to support that other than this Facebook group.

Family Ties
Larry's son, Larry Hisle, Jr., was a basketball and baseball player of some renown when I was growing up in Wisconsin. In fact, Larry Jr. is around my age.  Larry Jr. is a big kid -- 6'6", 240 lbs. -- and he played independent league baseball in the mid-1990s.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
While hope always sprung eternal during his time in Milwaukee, Hisle's injury plagued the Brewers of my youth.  Hisle's salary -- guaranteed for $3.155 million in 1977 -- was the largest in baseball history at the time that Hisle signed it. Hisle was signed just before Harry Dalton came on board, and his first season gave hope for the future. Once his shoulder went, though, Hisle's salary became an albatross to the Brewers' bottom line.  Then again, it's not like the team got significantly better or signed players after Hisle's contract came off the books after the 1983 season -- the team had its worst year of the 1980s in 1984.

That said, everything I have ever read about Larry Hisle is entirely consistent with my limited interactions with him. After his final injury in 1982, Hisle did not come to the ballpark much, I believe, due to the pain it gave him not to be contributing.  But, when I did meet him, Hisle was patient and made sure to sign everything he could for all the kids. He talked to everyone who had questions, answered everyone honestly and completely, and tried desperately to make sure everyone knew that he cared about them.  

I can still see him in my mind's eye after the first Brewers' game I recall attending -- baseball card day in May of 1982. He signed autographs for at least 20 minutes or so, though I am certain that his family in Mequon would have loved for him to be home sooner after that Saturday afternoon game. But, as I said, Hisle made sure everyone was satisfied before he left.

Hisle spent time as a minor league coach and roving instructor in the Milwaukee system starting in 1983 -- I suppose, after all, that he was still under contract for that season as a player. He spent time as an instructor in the Phillies, Astros, and Blue Jays minor league systems before joining the Toronto Blue Jays as its major league hitting instructor. 

In his first two seasons with the Blue Jays, the team won the World Series -- including one in which his old Brewers teammate, Paul Molitor, was named MVP. As his SABR biography points out, Hisle's emphasis on patience and discipline at the plate was a key to improving the Blue Jays' hitting. In fact, under his watch, the Blue Jays were the first team since 1893 to have teammates finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in batting average -- John Olerud, Paul Molitor, and Roberto Alomar pulling the feat. After his time with the Jays ended, he went back to the Brewers system for a year before calling time on being a baseball coach.  

It was then that he threw himself headlong into his work with children in Milwaukee. That community is a far better place for his efforts.