Friday, August 1, 2014

Card #85: Lynn McGlothen

Who Can It Be Now?
Lynn Everett McGlothen was born on March 27, 1950, in Monroe, Louisiana.  McGlothen grew up on a farm seven miles outside of Grambling, Louisiana, and he attended Grambling High School.  

In high school, McGlothen was a fantastic athlete.  Yes, most baseball players are excellent athletes, but McGlothen was incredible.  He earned sixteen varsity sports letters as a member of the football, basketball, baseball, and tennis teams.  He was named to the football All-State team in 1967, and he was the state high school tennis champion as a sophomore, junior, and senior.  

As the newspaper story from 1974 linked above points out, McGlothen did that while walking to school every day for two years -- seven miles each way every day.  That is dedication.  McGlothen either was shy or was embarrassed by the walking, because no one knew about his daily walks for two full years.  After that, his coaches made sure he got at least one ride a day.

These days, he probably would have turned pro in tennis, or gone to college for football, or maybe just "focused" on one sport, but in 1968 the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 3rd round of the June Draft.  

He signed almost immediately and was assigned to Waterloo in the Midwest League.  As he tried to harness his pitches and to learn control, the Red Sox kept him in Single-A ball through 1970.  Throughout his minor league career, McGlothen struck out a lot of hitters -- averaging over 7.0 K/9 from 1968 through 1973, but control was his bugaboo.  Between his 1969 performance at Winter Haven and his 1970 performance at Winston-Salem, McGlothen cut his walk rate from 5.3 BB/9 to 3.6 BB/9 -- leading to his ERA dropping from 3.92 in 1969 to 2.24 in 1970.  

As a result, he skipped right past Double-A and went to Triple-A Louisville at the age of 21 in 1971.  He did okay there, but his performance (10-10, 3.72, 179 IP, 13 HRA, 98 BB, 151K) did not earn him a September call-up.  The next season, however, McGlothen's control returned, and it earned him a trip to the major leagues when Boston needed a starter at the end of June.

His first major league appearance was a loss to the Brewers, but it took him only three starts to notch his first major league win -- a complete game shutout of the Minnesota Twins on Independence Day in 1972.  Despite pitching reasonably well during his rookie year for the Red Sox, however, he did not have a long leash in 1973.  

It started poorly in spring training, as he hurt his knee trying to get out of the way.  After that, he struggled out of the gate in his first three starts -- 13 innings, 20 hits, 14 earned runs, 6 walks, 6 strikeouts -- so the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen.  McGlothen's results in three bullpen appearances were bad as well -- an ERA of "only" 6.30 with 19 hits allowed in 10 innings of work.  Once it was clear that the knee wasn't healing properly on its own, he had surgery to remove cartilage from the knee and he went to Triple-A to rehabilitate.  

With that demotion, his Red Sox career ended.  On December 7, 1973, he was traded with John Curtis and Mike Garman to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Reggie Cleveland, Terry Hughes, and Diego Segui.  McGlothen enjoyed his three most productive years in the major leagues while in St. Louis, finishing with a 44-40 record, a 3.49 ERA, and a 1974 season in which he was named to the National League All-Star team and pitched a scoreless 8th inning which included striking out Reggie Jackson.  He even got some consideration for the Cy Young Award, picking up a vote, for a season in which Mike Marshall's 200 innings in relief convinced the BBWAA to vote for him as Cy Young -- even though McGlothen, Buzz Capra, Andy Messersmith, and Phil Niekro all had better years.

It was a tumultuous 1976 for McGlothen, though.  First, he was suspended for five days and fined $300 for admitting that he threw at Mets players Del Unser and opposing pitcher Jon Matlack. Matlack retaliated, hitting McGlothen.  As a result and as all the news stories of the day noted, both Matlack and McGlothen were fined an immediate $50 for intentionally hitting a batsman after being warned.  

The year ended with McGlothen having his ties to the Cardinals severed.  As the Cardinals looked forward at the end of that season, they decided that they needed an upgrade at third base more than they needed McGlothen. So, they traded McGlothen to the San Francisco Giants for their former third baseman Ken Reitz because their one-year Hector Cruz experiment did not work out as planned.  

It was not a trade that worked out well for McGlothen.  The Giants were, at best, an okay baseball team, and McGlothen's control issues reared their ugly head once again.  McGlothen suffered from arm problems and spent time on the disabled list.  By mid-1978, the Giants had decided that McGlothen was expendable, so McGlothen packed his bags and made his way to Chicago's North Side with the Cubs.

In Chicago, McGlothen pitched decently -- not great -- and was not helped out by the team's defense.  In both 1979 and 1980 (his two full seasons with the Cubs) McGlothen served as a swingman, starting some and relieving some.  In those years, his FIP was nearly a third of a run lower than his ERA -- and an extra run every 27 innings will make a difference over the course of 400 inning pitched.

The 1981 strike-shortened season saw McGlothen change teams again midway through the season.  This time, though, he only changed ballparks and not area codes, as the Cubs sent him to the White Sox on August 15 -- just days after the strike ended.  By this point, McGlothen was viewed strictly as a reliever.  

After spring training in 1982, though, the White Sox had seen enough of McGlothen to feel that he was expendable in another way.  The Sox wanted to add backup catcher Marv Foley to their roster, and McGlothen was the guy who was designated for assignment to make room.  A week later, on April 13, McGlothen cleared waivers and was released.  

The New York Yankees gave McGlothen one last chance, signing him to a minor league deal in May.  He was called up in mid-August and pitched in one close game (giving up a home run in 1/3 of an inning) and three lost causes.  After that quick look, the Yankees decided they had seen enough and released him before the end of the 1982 season.  That was the end of his major-league baseball career.

Mustache Check: Yes, McGlothen went with the closely trimmed look here, but he definitely has a mustache.

Nanu Nanu
This card was McGlothen's only baseball card in 1982 and, therefore, the only card on which McGlothen appeared as a member of the Chicago White Sox.  Well, sort of -- because this uniform looks like a poorly painted version of those old late 1970s White Sox uniforms, I'm pretty sure that the original photo showed him on the Cubs.  It was also his final baseball card during his major league career.

He did have one card in 1992 when The Wiz put out a set of all the Yankees from the 1980s. Otherwise, nothing.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Lynn McGlothen is a player whom I associate with his days on the Cubs in the late 1970s. As my late aunt was a big-time Cubs fan, I would hear about the exploits of King Kong Kingman, Bill Buckner, and Rick Reuschel, so I followed them a little bit -- as much as an 8-year-old with a winning team nearby in the Brewers could.  McGlothen was not someone who made much of an impact, though.

Time for a little "inside baseball."  In researching this or any of the posts here at 1982 Topps, I read through a number of sources -- blogs, videos, interviews, news stories, Google's newspaper archives, and SABR biographies are the main ones -- and I use bits and pieces of those stories that I find interesting and which illuminate my subject. I try to link to all of the sources as well in case anyone is interested in seeing the source material.  

If a blog or news story does not have a link for a particular fact, I do my best to try to verify it. There are times I will be right, and there are times that I will be wrong.  But trying that for Lynn McGlothen was frustrating.  I say that because I found three items of interest or note that I would have loved to write more about or read more about, but which I either could not find a source to back up the written information or, worse, I found the source material incorrect. 

First, what I believe to be an incorrect item. Generally, is a decent source.  It includes only squibs on most players, and McGlothen's biography is no exception. But there was one interesting fact that I wanted to use.  In the BL write-up, the writer says that, "on August 19[, 1975,] against Cincinnati, [McGlothen] struck out the side on nine pitches."  So, I went to Baseball Reference to find the box score and the play-by-play to highlight that feat.  

The problem I encountered was that I could not find an inning in that game in which McGlothen had a one-two-three inning with three strikeouts. I'm guessing that the BL writer may have been referring to the Reds' second inning, in which Cesar Geronimo, Darrel Chaney, and Gary Nolan all struck out looking -- but the problem there is that Tony Perez led off the inning with a single.  That, to me, is not striking out the side on 9 pitches.  Does anyone know if MLB records track that feat and, if so, whether MLB cares if there are hits in the inning?  I mean, theoretically, Chan Ho Park could have struck out the side on 9 pitches in the Fernando Tatis two-grand-slam inning in 1999, but would anyone ever count that toward the record book?

The second item came from a book review on a blog called Sleeping Hedgehog about a book by Dan Epstein called Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America In The Bicentennial Summer of '76. It makes reference to a passage in the book in which the story is about how "icon of the game Joe Torre cold-cock[ed] Cardinals pitcher Lynn McGlothen."  I'm sure that this passage came from oral histories or interviews of some kind that the author had, but I just could not find a reference to it.  That may be my own bad researching, but perhaps I just need to buy that book.

The final item was one of futility.  Recently, Ryan Vogelsong had four straight starts in which the Giants failed to provide any runs in support of him.  In the San Jose Mercury News article about this terrible hitting -- which has cost my fantasy baseball team several wins, I'll add -- the writer said that Vogelsong was "the first Giants starter since Lynn McGlothen in 1977 to get zero runs of support in four consecutive starts."  

My problem here: once again, the game logs do not seem to support this.  I mean, perhaps there were four straight games in which the Giants did not score while McGlothen was on the mound or was the pitcher of record -- maybe the first four games of the year? But even that is contorting facts -- since he won the fourth game of that streak when the Giants scored three in the top of the 7th and McGlothen was credited with the win.  I like statistical quirks as much as anyone, but I also like those quirks to be verifiable.  I just couldn't do it.

I would have liked to have written more about and learned more about McGlothen.  He was a fastball pitcher with some control issues, and those control issues left him as a free agent at age 32.  I could not find why Baseball Reference said he attended Grambling University -- perhaps that was what he was doing after he retired?

In any case, McGlothen passed away far too young.  Less than two years after he retired, his life came to a sudden and tragic end.  He was spending the night with a woman called Gloria Smith Reed in a mobile home in Dubach, Louisiana. The mobile home somehow caught on fire (no foul play was suspected) and Ms. Reed was able to save her two children, but she was not able to save McGlothen or herself. McGlothen and Reed both were overcome by the heat and flames, and McGlothen died of smoke inhalation

He was 34 years old.

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