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.  

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing how many teams will take a chance on a guy because he is still young. His stats were shitty and he had a lot of innings under his belt at a young age. Maybe that was the problem.

    I'm leaving town for Labor Day. Need to remind myself to put away all the knives before I pick up my suitcase.