Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Card #91: Carney Lansford

Before I jump into this card, I want to say a few words about Robin Williams. In 1982, Williams had starting making the transition from being a television star whom all the little kids like myself loved to being a serious movie actor. Indeed, in this blog, two of my headlines -- Nanu Nanu and The World According to Garp reference Robin Williams vehicles. He was a very good actor who had a number of incredibly memorable roles -- everything from Mork and Garp to Popeye to Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam and John Keating in Dead Poets Society and the Genie in Aladdin -- and that does not even mention his Academy Award winning spot as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting.

Sometimes, the great ones fade away, and other times they shine brightly and blow out quickly. Williams did neither, but instead fought drug abuse, alcoholism, and depression for much of his life, but he always gave an incredible show. He will be missed.

Now, back to the fun frivolities that are the baseball cards of the 1982 Topps set.

Who Can It Be Now?
Carney Ray Lansford was born on February 7, 1957, in San Jose, California. He was raised in the Bay Area as well, attending Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California.  Lansford grew up a big baseball fan, admitting in 1989 (prior to the Bay Area World Series) that he liked players on both the Giants and the A's. Not only was Lansford a baseball fan, he was also a key player on the Santa Clara Little League team in 1969, which made it to the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA, but lost to Chinese Taipei (as Taiwan was called) in the finals 5-0.

According to this kid-friendly biography, Lansford was "very good" in baseball, football, and basketball in high school. His selection at the top of the third round of the 1975 June Amateur Draft (49th pick overall) by the California Angels put to rest any thoughts of which sport he preferred, however, and he signed near the end of the summer with the Angels.

The Angels sent Lansford to the Pioneer League in Idaho Falls in 1975, then moved him to the more advanced Midwest League at Quad Cities in 1976.  After a good season there with an excellent OBP -- .287/.391/.457 in 501 plate appearances -- Lansford was pushed to the hitter's paradise in El Paso for the 1977 season.  The only thing that might have held him back was his fielding -- a brutal 34 errors in 1976 at Quad Cities (.906 Fielding Percentage) improved to just 15 errors and a .955 fielding percentage at El Paso.  As a result, he was invited to spring training with the big league team in 1978, and he did not play again in the minor leagues until he was rehabilitating an injury in 1991.  

Something I had forgotten about Lansford was that he actually had pretty good speed, and his minor league stats show that he also had very good instincts on stealing bases. In Quad Cities, for instance, he stole 26 bases and he was caught just 7 times -- a 79% success rate. He did even better in El Paso -- 20 steals in 23 attempts for an 87% success rate.

At the age of 21, then, Lansford became the Angels regular third baseman. The issue with his fielding was still there -- 17 errors and a .942 fielding percentage -- and his range was pretty much right on the league average.  But, the Angels and the other teams which employed him throughout his career did not employ him because they expected Brooks Robinson or Graig Nettles. 

Lansford was an immediate success. He finished a distant third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Lou Whitaker (who won easily) and finished one vote behind eventual Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.  In 1979 and 1980, it was more of the same, really -- a decent batting average (though declining from 1978 through 1980), a decent OBP, and a decent SLG. 

Perhaps the decline in his batting average spurred it on, or the Angels really felt that getting Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson was worth it, but for whatever reason, the Angels picked up those two players in exchange for reliever Mark Clear, outfielder Rick Miller, and Lansford. 

Lansford's new surroundings in Fenway Park agreed with him, as his batting average surged to an American League-leading .336.  More importantly, it appeared that he started redeveloping the good batting eye that had marked his minor league days.  He went from walking just 39 times in 1979 (712 plate appearances, BB% of just 5.5%) to 50 times in 1980 (670 plate appearances, BB%: 7.5%) to 34 times in 438 plate appearances in 1981 (BB%: 7.8%).  At the same time, his strikeouts declined precipitously as well -- from 115 in 1978 (K%: 16.2%) to 93 in 1979 (K%: 13.9%) down to just 28 in 1981 (K%: 6.4%).  Yes, in 1981, he got "lucky" on his batting average for balls in play with a .352 mark, but nonetheless he was showing progress.

While 1982 was another good year for Lansford (.301/.359/.444), he still found himself on a new team for the 1983 season.  The Red Sox shipped Lansford to the Oakland Athletics along with minor leaguer Jerry King and utilityman Garry Hancock in exchange for Jeff Newman and Tony Armas.  In retrospect, it's pretty clear that the Red Sox made the correct decision by promoting farmhand Wade Boggs to be their third baseman for 1983 and beyond.  The Red Sox chose that path rather than letting Lansford play out his contract and become a free agent, and with a ready-made replacement in the farm system, it worked out pretty well for them. At the time, though, it was a bit of a gamble.

Nonetheless, Lansford found himself back home in the Bay Area in 1983. The season started out tragically for Lansford and his wife Deborah. In 1981, the couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Nicholas. The baby struggled with kidney disease after that.  Unfortunately, on April 11, 1983, Nicholas lost his fight and passed away at the age of two.  Lansford missed a couple of weeks of the season after that, and fought injuries the rest of the season.  

As the third baseman for ten seasons for Oakland, he was a part of those late 1980s teams that made the World Series in 1988, 1989, and 1990 in the steroid-fueled Bash Brothers days. Lansford was not a proponent of the steroid regime and to this day still spews a fair amount of bile against Jose Canseco for his role in tainting the 1989 World Series team.  I guess that simply being Jose Canseco's teammate does not make a player a steroid user -- perhaps that guy that got me upset on the Nolan Ryan entry should remember that.

Lansford was named to the only All-Star team of his career in 1988, as he was hitting .331/.376/.427 at the break.  That year ended horribly for Lansford, though, as his second half was just horrible -- .185/.242/.240 over 220 plate appearances qualifies as horrible, I'd say. But, it was not his worst year with the A's.

No, that year had to be 1991 because that was the year that, at the age of 34, Lansford had to rehabilitate his knee. Lansford tore up his knee in an off-season snowmobile accident at his home in Baker, Oregon. He thought he was not close to his own property line, but he was. He ended up hitting a barbed-wire fence that marked his property line and crashed his snowmobile. As he put it in early 1991, "I'm lucky the knee is all that happened. I could've been paralyzed."

He made his way all the way back and resigned with the A's for the 1992 season. He played 135 games that season and had a league average OPS.  The A's made it back to the post-season that year and lost in 6 games in the ALCS to the Toronto Blue Jays. In the aftermath of that game, Lansford announced his retirement.

Mustache Check: For much of his career, Lansford was a full beard kind of guy. Here, though, he's sporting just a small little mustache.

I have never watched the movie "Angels in the Outfield." I have an aversion to any Tony Danza movies, and when it was released in 1994, I was not its target demographic -- families with younger kids.  

On the other hand, when the movie was released, Carney Lansford's sons would have been right in that wheelhouse -- his son Josh would have been 10 and his son Jared was 8. So, I guess it makes sense and had to be quite a thrill for Carney to appear as Chicago White Sox player Kit "Hit or Die" Kesey in that movie.

Family Ties
I mentioned Carney's sons Jared and Josh above. Both of them played professional baseball. Josh was a pitcher and, before that, a third baseman, in the Chicago Cubs organization from 2006 to 2009 and in the Oakland organization for 2010 and 2011 before he ended up in independent ball. Jared was also a pitcher in the Oakland organization from 2005 through 2011.  Jared and Josh ended up playing together in the Atlantic League with the Long Island Ducks, where both of them have pitched since 2012.

Carney also had two younger brothers who played professional baseball. His brother Phil Lansford was the tenth pick overall in the 1978 June draft, where he was selected by the Cleveland Indians.  He ended up in the Toronto organization in 1979, and he never made it past the Carolina League before his career ended.  

The next year, the third Lansford brother to be drafted was Joe or Jody Lansford (depending on your source). Joe was selected by the San Diego Padres with the fourteenth overall pick in the 1979 June Draft. A large man -- 6'5" tall, 225 pounds -- he made it to the major leagues in 1982 with the Padres as a first baseman and totaled 37 plate appearances. He basically stalled out at Triple-A. Eventually, in 1985, the Padres traded him to the Oakland A's for Tim Pyznarski. The A's cut him and the White Sox signed him. Then, the White Sox cut him. Finally, after the 1987 season back in the Padres organization, he was done playing professionally.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I recall Lansford well from 1982 due to his exploits in leading the American League in hitting in 1981.  That same year, Cecil Cooper finished third at .320, and I guess I sort of resented Lansford for not letting Cooper win after his .352 average the previous season put him second behind George Brett.

I will say that my recollection regarding Lansford rather failed me a bit. For some reason, I really thought that he feasted on Brewers pitching. As it turns out, he really did not.  Quite the opposite.  Against Milwaukee and as compared to how Lansford did overall against the various teams in the American League, Lansford had his fourth-worst batting average, his worst on-base percentage, and his second worst slugging percentage. He hated hitting in Milwaukee County Stadium -- 298 plate appearances led to just 1 home run, 9 doubles, 1 triple, and a slash line of .243/.282/.293.  In other words, the Brewers were fine with him being on the other team.

After Lansford retired and finished his cameo for his movie career, he joined up with Tony La Russa as the bench coach first for the Oakland Athletics in 1994 and 1995 and then for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 and 1998. Lansford then managed for a year in Triple-A Edmonton.  He took a few years off -- perhaps because his kids were in high school at that point -- and came back in 2007 to serve as the hitting coach in Colorado Springs under Tom Runnells.

In 2008, one of his childhood teams, the San Francisco Giants, asked Lansford to be their hitting coach.  He agreed to do it, but that job ended after just two seasons.  When he was fired from the position after the 2009 season, he complained to the San Jose Mercury News that the mistake he made was to take the Giants job "for sentimental reasons" and that he shouldn't have been fired for not turning a bad hitting team into the league's best offense.

He was out of baseball in 2010, but then was convinced by Jim Tracy to take the job of hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies.  Between 2011 and 2012, the Rockies were a terrible team, and that cost Jim Tracy his job. It then cost third base coach Rich Dauer and Lansford their jobs one day later.

In 2014, Lansford is now the A's pre-game and post-game analyst for CSN Bay Area. I'd guess it will take a lot of prodding for him to leave that position after his experiences in San Francisco and Colorado.

1 comment: