Saturday, September 6, 2014

Card #102: Dan Briggs

Who Can It Be Now?
Dan Lee Briggs was born in Scotia, California, on November 18, 1952. Briggs attended Sonoma High School in Sonoma, California.  Briggs was young for his class -- graduating in 1970 -- but that did not deter the Angels from selecting Briggs in the second round of the 1970 June Amateur Draft with the 34th pick overall.

Briggs was drafted initially as a left-handed pitcher. At Idaho Falls in the short-season Pioneer League in 1970, the Angels had Briggs pitch and play outfield. In 1978, the transition from pitcher to outfielder came up when he tripled and then scored the winning run to push the Red Sox out of first place. Briggs was quoted as saying:
I was a pretty good hitter and the club thought I should become a position player, so I became an outfielder. Pitching is such an insecure job anyway that I felt I would like to become a position player.
Despite minor dalliances on the mound later in his career -- including 7 appearances in 1984 and 1985 in the minor leagues -- Briggs effectively left pitching behind despite putting up a 1.29 ERA and a 2-0 record over 7 appearances (28 innings, 20 hits, 8 runs, 4 ER, 2 HRA, 19 BB, 33 K). Yes, he would have had to learned control, but a 17 year-old striking out 10.6 guys per 9 innings probably shouldn't have given up on pitching so quickly. 

But that's just hindsight talking. His hitting at Idaho Falls was pretty good -- .305/.411/.437 in 224 plate appearances (with 27 BBs but 52 Ks). And that definitely was not a bad showing for a kid who was 2-1/2 years younger than the average player in the league.  

Going forward, though, Briggs appeared to be on the slow-promotion scheme. He played another 51 games in Idaho Falls in 1971 because he fell flat on his face at Quad Cities in the Midwest League -- .171/.299/.195 in 97 plate appearances. The Angels promoted him to the California League in 1972, and he hit just .232/.315/.396 -- suddenly discovering some home
run power but striking out 118 times in 449 at-bats. 

As a result, he started back in the California League in 1973 -- this time in Salinas rather than Stockton -- and he hit well enough to move up to Hitters Heaven in El Paso. In 1974, then, he was 21 and split time between Double-A El Paso and Triple-A Salt Lake City. He hit well at both stops, but the Angels did not give him a September call-up. That had to wait until 1975.

The problem that Briggs ran into was this: even though the Angels were not a very good ball club in 1974 or 1975 or 1976 for that matter, the fact was that Briggs was limited to being a corner infielder/outfielder. In 1975, those spots were filed by guys who had progressed more quickly -- Bruce Bochte (24 years old), Dave Chalk (24), and Dave Collins (22) -- or the veteran Leroy Stanton (29). 

The other problem Briggs had was the fact that he simply appeared to be a Quad-A player -- a guy who ripped Triple-A apart but who could not hit major league pitching. Indeed, over 149 games from 1975 to 1977 with the Angels, Briggs hit just .204/.253/.286 with 3 HR, 23 BBs and 67 Ks in 383 plate appearances.  For comparison's sake, in those same years at Triple-A Salt Lake City (and Indianapolis, where he spent some time "on loan" apparently with the Reds) his batting average was .310.  His hitting in the majors just was not good enough to keep him in Anaheim.  

As a result, the Angels let Briggs go. It took him until the start of spring training in 1978, but the 25-year-old Briggs hooked on with the Cleveland Indians. He spent most of 1978 in Portland -- smacking the ball around as usual (.330/.403/.562; 20 HR, 109 RBI, 6 SB). Even a bad Indians team, however, could not find room for Briggs to play in front of Johnny Grubb or Paul Dade in the corner outfield slots since neither Andre Thornton at first nor Buddy Bell at third would be stepping aside. Then, in September when Briggs got his chance, he only tallied 8 hits in 49 at-bats with 4 walks for a .163/.226/.265 slash line. I mean, you can hit the crap out of the ball all day in Portland, but you better not fall into a slump when you hit the majors.

So, Cleveland gave up on Briggs too. After losing out in a four-way battle for the left field slot in spring training in 1979, the Indians sent Briggs to San Diego for a player to be named later. The Padres actually gave Briggs his only 100 appearance season -- even though he had more plate appearances in 77 games in 1976. Briggs once again disappointed, hitting .207/.277/.357 with 8 of his 12 career home runs and both of his stolen bases.  But at least he didn't play in the minor leagues that year -- the only time that happened for him during his entire career.

At the end of the season, though, the Padres had seen enough and sent Briggs to the Expos with infielder Bill Almon in exchange for Dave Cash. The Expos had Rodney Scott and Tim Raines ready at second base, so they did not need Cash (who played one season in San Diego and was done with his career).  Briggs did not so much as sniff the major leagues in 1980, and the nine games he played in 1981 were all in September or October. Even then, the .091/.091/.091 slash line for the one single that Briggs got in 11 at-bats makes his inclusion in the set a true headscratcher. 

Entering into 1982, Briggs recognized he was on his last chance. The Montreal Gazette quoted Briggs as saying that he had "to hit about .600 during this camp. I have to beat out some very good ball players." The story also mentioned that Briggs had some interest from teams in Japan and almost played there for the 1981 season. He changed his mind, but the story mentioned that Briggs had "taken out stock brokers' papers."

Briggs did not hit .600 that camp. Instead, he ended up traded to the Chicago Cubs during spring training. Once again, Briggs got a bit of a chance to pinch hit and play on the corners. Once again, he failed to impress. After his final at-bat as a major leaguer on July 3, his numbers stood at .125/.143/.125 on the basis of getting hit by a pitch and tallying 6 singles in 48 at-bats, along with a sacrifice hit.  

The Cubs sold Briggs's contract to the Yakult Swallows in Japan midway through 1982. Briggs played all of the 1983 season for Yakult as well before coming back to the States and playing for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees' organization for 1984 and 1985. At the end of the 1985 season, Briggs's playing career came to an end.

Mustache Check: Briggs was a mustache guy for only a few years. He was clean-shaven on the Indians, Angels, and Clippers, but he sported a mustache with the Padres, Expos, and Cubs. So, here, he has whiskers.

Nanu Nanu
It's not entirely accurate to say that this is Briggs's final Topps card. Apparently, since Topps included him in the main set, they felt obligated to update his team status when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. Yes, instead of including Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn, we got Dan Briggs.  But, 1982 is the last year that Briggs appeared on a Topps (or any other) baseball card as a major leaguer.

Don't You Want Me?
I've neglected using this tag for those guys who got cut during 1982. But, here's a great opportunity to use it since, well, I don't have a whole lot else.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
At first, when I saw Dan Briggs's name, I wasn't sure if he was either the Briggs who played with the Brewers in the early 1970s or whether he was related. Then I saw that John Briggs was the outfielder for Milwaukee, and that John is an African-American born in Paterson, New Jersey.  So, I was entirely wrong.

Since his retirement in the mid-1980s, Briggs settled in Ohio. He owned and operated a gym in North Columbus called Fitness Trend from 1984 to 1994. Briggs's LinkedIn profile mentions that this gym was the training headquarters for none other than one of the greatest upset artists in boxing history -- James "Buster" Douglas.  Briggs also served as the Head Baseball Coach at Denison University in Ohio from 1989 to 1999.  During that time and to the present day, Briggs is the co-owner (along with John Pacella) and is the marketing and program director for Big League Baseball School in Worthington, Ohio.

I have no personal recollection of Dan Briggs. However, one blogger from 2009 probably wishes he could say the same thing.  You see, he attended Briggs's baseball school.  What follows are his words and not mine, but it's pretty scathing:
This hideous player hits a big closer to home then [sic] most. You see, Dan Briggs opened up a baseball school here in central Ohio. While Dan could open this academy, titled "Big League Baseball Academy" and host a camp, Dan really could hardly take credit for being a big leaguer.
We always wanted to say that to him. I guess now is our chance. Sure, he's been to the show. He's probably had drinks bought for him, probably seen beautiful women, he's played catch in the outfield of the greatest parks in the world. But being a self promoting hitting instructor when you hit .195 in 325 big league games is about like having a stripper teach a high school health class about abstinence.
It gets worse from there. Feel free to click over and read it, because it's pretty entertaining as a completely scathing take down of Briggs. Certainly, it's written by a less-than-impressed former student, but I personally wonder sometimes about these "baseball camps" that these former major leaguers run. This is a small glimpse inside.

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