Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Card #88: Biff Pocoroba

Who Can It Be Now?
Biff Benedict Pocoroba was born on July 25, 1953, in Burbank, California.  Biff -- that's his actual first name -- attended Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park, California, and graduated from there in 1971.  The Atlanta Braves drafted Biff in the 17th round of the 1971 Draft with the 401st pick overall, and Biff signed immediately.

The Braves sent the 17-year-old to Wytheville, Virginia, in the Appalachian League. He performed well enough there -- .298/.360/.427 in 136 plate appearances -- so he was sent to Single-A Greenwood the next season.  The Braves were not patient souls in those days, so Biff got a 1 game call up to Triple-A as a 19-year-old late in the 1972 season.  Biff then spent both 1973 and 1974 at Double-A Savannah learning how to hit.

In spring training of 1975, Pocoroba was going to be given "a long look" in spring training because he was a switch hitter and could handle pitchers well.  He attracted attention that spring for, as the Baseball Library says (no citation, I couldn't find anything to prove or disprove either) "when he threw out 11 straight runners in 1975 spring training."  He made the team, but then he did not play for 18 games -- making his debut as a late-inning substitution on April 25, 1975.  

Pocoroba played sparingly for two seasons for the Braves.  As much as the Braves success over the past twenty-five years was built in part thanks to Ted Turner's purse strings and his national cable plan for TBS, the club was a mismanaged cesspool in the mid-to-late 1970s. Part of this mismanagement was not having a clue as to player development.  Almost certainly, Pocoroba would have benefited by playing more than 1 game in 1972 in Triple-A. He certainly would have benefited by playing regularly in Triple-A rather than backing up journeyman Vic Correll in 1975 and 1976.

Finally, in 1977, Biff got his break and played reasonably regularly for a terrible Braves team that finished 61-101.  Even with regular playing time, however, there was trouble on the horizon for Biff that came with the September call-ups in 1976 and again in 1977.  That trouble was named Dale Bryan Murphy, who was an enormous catcher drafted out of high school with the fifth pick overall in 1974. 

The Braves, though, recognized that Murphy might not be a catcher in the future. They apparently were happy with Pocoroba and his very good .290/.394/.445 hitting as a switch hitter in 1977 and, as a result, moved Murphy to first base.  For his part, Biff stirred things up a bit.  

He demanded a trade to the West Coast.  He said he did this because the Braves refused to allow him to play winter baseball.  The Braves responded that Biff just wanted money. I think the Braves were correct here. Nowhere in the newspapers of the day do we see any further Pocoroba-agitation for a trade once Biff got his 6-year, $750,000 contract in May of 1978.  That contract also gave Biff a no-trade clause, allowing him to veto any trades anywhere that he did not want to go.

1978 has to be considered both Biff's greatest and worst seasons.  It was his greatest season because he made the All-Star Game. Some would say that he was one of the worst All-Stars ever.  If I had to guess, I'd say that the reason he made the team and got in the game was the fact that Phil Niekro made the team as well, the manager wanted to have him pitch, and none of the other catchers wanted to catch the knuckler (check out the ninth inning).  

It was his worst season ever because 1978 was when the rotator cuff and shoulder problems that would plague him for the rest of his career -- and sap him of the ability to switch hit -- required surgery for the first time.  I'm not sure if this mention of shoulder surgery in 1979 is another surgery or is still the same one, but in any case, the injury lingered.

Biff was limited to 28 games -- 46 plate appearances -- in 1979 and to 70 games and 96 plate appearances in 1980.  He appeared in 57, 56, and 55 games in 1981, 1982, and 1983 respectively and, in those 168 games, he hit a catcher-appropriate .240/.315/.320.  By this point, Pocoroba had been supplanted by Bruce Benedict as the starting catcher.  Benedict got his chance in 1979 when Pocoroba was fighting the shoulder issues, and Bruce never relinquished that position.

Pocoroba made it to 1984 -- that final year of his 6-year contract from 1978 -- with the Braves.  He made 4 appearances that year and went o-for-4 with 2 walks.  He didn't make it to the end of April with the team, as the Braves released him on April 24, 1984.  And that was the end of Biff's baseball career.

Mustache Check: It's the wispy 'stache of a younger man, but Biff's certainly trying hard enough here to qualify.

Family Ties
Biff's brother Joe Pocoroba played two seasons in Rookie League baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1978 and for the Atlanta Braves in 1979.  Coincidentally, Joe was also drafted in 1978 in the 17th Round of the June Draft -- the same round as Biff was in 1971.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Sure, I knew who Biff Pocoroba was in 1982.  A name like that is nearly unforgettable.  I was partial to Matt Sinatro, to be fair, but Biff had that wily veteran edge about him.

Before I get into frivolity, there is one negative I found about Biff -- he apparently was arrested in DeKalb County, Georgia, in February of 1997 for Assault with the Intent to Commit a Crime.  I have no case disposition on this, no idea what happened, and no idea whether this amounted to anything.  I can't even find a news story for it.  

Let's be honest -- Biff Pocoroba was not a star, but because of his name most people seem to remember him.  I recall that the Rotisserie Baseball Guide -- or some other fantasy guide -- used the term "pocorobas" in lieu of "dollars" for the units one bids in a fantasy baseball auction.  

Since his time with the Braves, Biff has become a punchline of sorts.  Terrible songs have been written with his name as the title (terrible is my opinion; you might like that dreck). Here's the live version, in a high school classroom.  One guy thought that Biff had NOT gotten enough remembrance for his time in the bigs and wrote about him.

And at least one (though, definitely, more than one) website has inducted him into their Name Hall of Fame.

I mean, this blogger even dedicated a post to Biff because two people out of 12 named BIff as the first baseball player to come to mind.

Even 14 years ago -- in 2000, when Lycos was still a search engine that people used -- one newspaper headline writer used Biff as a comic foil.  The headline: "What about Biff Pocoroba?"  The story: who were the top 10 athletes whose names are most often typed into search engines.  By the way, it should come as no surprise that the answer to that question in 2000 was "Anna Kournikova."

I am not entirely sure where Biff Pocoroba is these days.  For a few years, Biff had started a company called Sausage World in Lilburn, Georgia (which is in Gwinnett County outside of Atlanta by about 25 miles).  The problem is that the companies I found tied to a Pocoroba have been administratively dissolved by the Georgia Secretary of State's Office for failing to keep their corporate registrations up to date and paid for in full.   Plus, Sausage World appears to be owned now by a guy known as Sergio Pace.

There is a Biff Pocoroba who has an active United States general freight carrier operating license who is based in Georgia.  There is also a Biff Pocoroba on LinkedIn with ties to a company called RB Enterprises.  The two entities I found in Georgia with that name either have had their corporate registrations voided or are slated to be dissolved. 

I mean, I'm pretty sure that Biff Pocoroba still lives in the Greater Atlanta area. One "people finder" site has him living in Snellville, Georgia -- also in Gwinnett County -- as does this one

In any event, Biff is remembered today for being Biff Pocoroba.  It's a tough name to forget.

1 comment:

  1. That is one of the best names ever. Sounds like a professional wrestler.