Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Andrew John Rincon was born on March 5, 1959, in Monterey Park, California. He attended St. Paul Catholic High School in Santa Fe Springs, California. As an aside, one of his high school teammates was long-time Oakland A's, New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals infielder Mike Gallego.
According to the book Coaching Baseball Successfully by Mike Curran and Ross Newhan, Rincon was a "cocky kid" with long hair who had a reputation as being a dominant pitcher in Little League. Apparently, he did not play baseball until his sophomore year of high school, when the coach writing the "Get That Hair Cut" vignette heard about his reputation.
As a result and figuring, probably, that he had nothing to lose, the coach pitched him on a Friday against a team that had dominated the school in the past. All Rincon did was throw five shutout innings en route to a 7-0 win. Rincon, though, had to be taught by this coach that the coach was the boss. The team had a rule on hair length, and Rincon had to be kicked off the team until he got a haircut. Again according to that book, Rincon became a three-time league MVP and area Player of the Year as a senior.
After winning those accolades, Rincon was selected in the 5th Round of the 1977 June Amateur Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Rincon signed and was assigned to Calgary in the Pioneer League. He pitched fairly well in a 40-inning stint there, so he was sent to the Western Carolinas League -- Single-A Gastonia -- in 1978. Despite walking 19 more batters than he struck out in 1978, he was sent to the more advanced Florida State League in Fort Lauderdale in 1979. At the age of 20, he pitched 158 innings in St. Pete and finished with a 10-9 record. That led the Cardinals to give him a brief look at Double-A Arkansas in 1979.
In 1980, the Cardinals again assigned Rincon to Arkansas. He pitched very well there, finishing with a 10-7 record and a 3.40 ERA in 172 innings while striking out 138. The Baseball Cube's ranking algorithms put Rincon as the 4th best pitcher in the Texas League that year, behind future major leaguers Brian Holton, Tim Leary, and Fernando Valenzuela.
On the basis of that relative success and at the age of 21, Rincon received a call up to the Cardinals in September of 1980. It was quite the notification to him, though -- the Texas Highway Patrol literally pulled him over on the highway in those days before cell phones to give him the news!
But it was worth it. To say that his career started well would be an understatement. In his first three appearances (all starts), he won all three games while pitching 25 innings, allowing 16 hits, 3 earned runs, and 4 walks while striking out 18. His final start was less successful (6 innings, 6 ER on 7 H) but wow, what a debut! He even won the NL Player of the Week award for the week of September 21, 1980.
The Cardinals probably thought that they could pencil him into their starting rotation for the next 15 to 20 years at that point. He made the opening day roster in 1981, and once again came out like gangbusters. In 5 starts, he threw 35-2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits, 8 runs (7 earned, ERA: 1.77) and walking 5 while striking out 13 with a 3-1 record.
But in that fifth start, Rincon's entire career was thrown off the rails. In the top of the 8th inning of a 13-0 game, Rincon was cruising. Phil Garner stepped to the plate and smacked a line drive right up the middle -- and right into Rincon's pitching arm. At first, it was thought that Rincon had suffered a bruise. After further review of the x-rays, however, it was determined that he suffered a hairline fracture in his arm.
The Cardinals placed Rincon on the 21-day DL, then sent him to Triple-A Springfield and, eventually, Double-A Arkansas to rehabilitate. Because he didn't pitch well at all in those stops (30 innings, 43 hits, 22 ER, 15 BB, 23 K), he did not pitch in the majors after that 13-0 game.
But, based on his track record, the Cardinals penciled Rincon into the starting rotation for 1982 as a swingman/fifth starter. Despite the usual spring training happy talk, Rincon struggled with his control, walking 25 in 40 innings while striking out just 11. As a result, near the end of May in 1982, Rincon was sent down to Triple-A. When that happened, pitching coach Hub Kittle was quoted in The Sporting News as saying that Rincon wasn't challenging hitters; the blog Retro Simba mentioned also that Whitey Herzog was upset with Rincon for failing to hold runners on base well and for missing a hit-and-run sign.
Rincon was replaced in the rotation by John Stuper. Stuper was one of the keys to the Cardinals run to the World Series title in 1982. On the other hand, Rincon never again pitched in the major leagues. The Cardinals chose to give him a World Series ring for his contributions, however, but they eventually cut him after the 1983 season.
Mustache Check: It's nearly impossible to tell for certain on this photo, but most photos of Rincon picture him with a Mustache. So, I'm counting it.
Rincon only appeared on two major release baseball cards in his brief career -- a 1981 Topps Future Stars card and this one. So, obviously, this is his last major league baseball card.
It used to be that Topps tried to put stars on cards ending in zero, with superstars on "50s" and the biggest of stars on the "00" cards. Minor stars often appeared on cards ending in "5." Perhaps Topps bought in to Rincon's work prior to his broken arm and, further, had no reason to believe that Rincon would not rebound, but still -- a guy with 66-2/3 major-league innings who is a starter seems a bit, well, speculative.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I have no real recollection of Andy Rincon as a major-league-baseball player.
And why should I? He threw a total of 106-2/3 innings in his 20-game big-league career, and he did all of his work in the National League. In those days of the early 1980s -- before the ubiquitousness of baseball on TV and the internet and long before interleague play -- it was a rare day to see a major-league game from the other league. That, of course, was what made the All-Star Game and the World Series so special back then.
Rincon was barely over 23 years old when he last appeared in a major league game. He continued to try to get back to the major leagues until after the 1989 season at the age of 30. In a 1989 interview, Rincon explained that he ended up with shoulder troubles that resulted from compensating for weakness in his broken forearm. He had surgery in 1987 to fix a problem with his biceps tendon, then showed up pitching in the Mexican League and for the then-independent Fresno team in the California League.
In that 1989 season, he was back with Arkansas in the St. Louis organization. He blamed his failure to develop a longer career on two things: injuries and his personality -- not being grown up enough. One wonders if he just didn't do all the work necessary to bounce back from his injuries -- or if it was his butting heads with Herzog -- that caused him more problems.
These days, Rincon resides in Pico Rivera, California. The various hobby forums which track through-the-mail autographs list Rincon as a reliable signer who returns the cards fairly quickly -- within a couple of weeks. Rincon is also listed as the principal for a company called AJ's Mall. Dun & Bradstreet do not have any sales or credit information for that company, so I have no clue what the company does or if it is active.
Finally, he was inducted into his high school's baseball hall of fame in 2008, alongside Mike Curran, Jamie Quirk, Mike Gallego, and Andy Stankiewicz. So, if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe Springs, perhaps you can check out the St. Paul Catholic High School Swordsmen Hall of Fame!
Thanks for reading, and have an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday with your family, friends, pets, or alone!
Monday, November 24, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Darnell Glenn Ford was born on May 19, 1952, in Los Angeles, California. He attended Fremont High School, the same high school attended by such baseball luminaries as Bobby Doerr, his own future manager Gene Mauch, Bobby Tolan, Bob Watson, George Hendrick, Chet Lemon, and Eric Davis, among others. When Ford was a Freshman, Hendrick was a senior, and Lemon was a freshman when Ford was a senior.
Based off his high school exploits, the Oakland A's selected Ford with the 18th pick overall in the 1970 June Amateur Draft. The A's assigned Ford to Burlington in the Midwest League in 1971. In 107 games, he hit 14 HR, drove in 80, stole 12 bases in 18 attempts, and slashed at .267/.361/.446 -- not too bad for a 19-year-old in a league of 21-year-olds. He repeated the level in 1972 and played in just 72 games that season -- but he made the most of them: 292 plate appearances, 18 HR, 9 SB (4 CS), and .354/.438/.667 slash line. Just some gaudy numbers.
The A's promoted Ford aggressively in 1973, skipping him over Double-A, and in retrospect you have to wonder why they did that. Sure, Ford hit fine -- 21 2B, 12 3B, 14 HR, 16 SM, and .292/.371/.480 slash -- but the outfield in Oakland was both young and very good. Perhaps Ford could have been the DH on the 1973 or, in particular, the 1974 World Champion team, but the A's did not even give Ford a late season call-up in 1974. In fact, by the end of the 1974 season, Ford has fallen so far out of favor that the A's traded him to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for the 27-year-old 1B-DH Pat Bourque -- who never took another swing in the major leagues after 1974 and moved to Mexico City. Truly a head scratcher.
The Twins, on the other hand, said "thank you, A's" and plugged Ford into their lineup as an outfielder. He stayed with the Twins for four productive years in his early and mid 20s, totalling 57 HR and slashing at .272/.331/.435 in over 2200 plate appearances. While in Minnesota, he made what one commentator called the worst play in team history: he scored a run from third base on a single to the outfield on which the man who was on second -- Jose Morales -- scored before him and got called out. Ford trotted in from third and neglected to touch home before Morales slid in safely. As a result, Morales was called out for passing Ford on the basepaths, and the Twins lost a game 4-3 that they easily could have won otherwise.
Perhaps unsurprisingly after negligence of that nature, Ford soon found himself in a different uniform. Now, to be fair, Ford demanded the trade in the wake of comments made by the Twins then-Owner, Calvin Griffith. Griffith was quoted as saying, among other things, that he moved the team to Minneapolis from Washington after learning that the Twin Cities had only 15,000 black people in its metropolitan area in the early 1960s. Griffith said that the move was justified because blacks just don't go to baseball games.
Also, the other team in the trade -- the California Angels -- really wanted Ford too. After the Angels' rising star OF Lyman Bostock was murdered in September of 1978 in Gary, Indiana, the Angels continued tapping the Minnesota pipeline. In the late 1970s, the Twins appeared to serve the Angels in the way that the Kansas City A's served the Yankees in the early 1960s: as a glorified major-league version of a Triple-A team. Bostock had signed from Minnesota after the 1977 season, and in the 1978 offseason, the Twins and Angels made two trades. The first saw Dan Ford join the Angels in exchange for Ron Jackson and Danny Goodwin, and the second was the trade in which future HOF member Rod Carew joined the Angels.
Ford went from a mediocre Twins club to a team that would lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS, serving as the Angels starting right fielder and putting up his best statistical season at the age of 27. He hit 21 HR (career high), drove in 101 runs (career high), and hit .290 (career high) with an OBP of .333 and an SLG of .464 (career high).
His final two seasons in California, though, saw Ford struggling through injuries and ineffectiveness. He got suspended for corking his bat, and started a fight with A's catcher Mike Heath when Heath tried to grab the bat to claim it was corked.
With his attitude and the controversies he stirred up -- such as posing for a centerfold for Playgirl magazine -- the singing cowboy Gene Autry lost patience. And, once again, another team really wanted Ford. This time, it was the Baltimore Orioles. Looking to open up third base for a highly touted rookie named Cal Ripken, the Orioles traded their incumbent third baseman Doug DeCinces to the Angels with pitcher Jeff Schneider for Ford.
Ford spent the final four seasons of his career in Baltimore, though injuries again claimed a significant portion of his final two years as an Oriole. He did win a World Series ring as part of the 1983 Orioles even though he struggled at the plate in that series. But, after a 1985 season in which he appeared in just 28 games (and after a similarly limited 1984 season), Ford called it quits at the age of 33.
Mustache Check: Though it is tough to see on this photo, Ford definitely is mustachioed here.
Everybody Wants You
We haven't had one of these in a while, so I thought I'd resurrect this category to represent the fact that Ford was traded after his card was finalized to the Baltimore Orioles on January 28, 1982.
In 1976, the New York Yankees reopened the newly renovated House that Ruth Built. The Yankees had spent the entirety of 1974 and 1975 playing their home games in Shea Stadium. The reconfigured stadium opened on April 15, 1976, when the Yankees opened their home slate of games against the Twins.
Dan Ford hit second for the Twins that day. Jerry Terrell walked to start the game. Ford stepped up and hit a fat pitch from Rudy May over the wall. That home run was the first home run in what some folks call "Yankee Stadium II."
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Dan Ford had a distinctive batting style with a very closed stance at the plate. I remember mimicking his stance while playing as a kid in the wake of the 1979 ALCS. If you never saw it, that "Batting Stance Guy" tries to do it in his video here, though I feel like that one is more of a caricature than a real representation. For comparison's sake, here's Ford against Jim Palmer in game 1 of the 1979 ALCS. Ford's stance wasn't as bent-over as the BSG dude makes it appear, and Ford's back is turned much further toward the pitcher as well.
Ford never hit well against the Brewers. He only hit 3 of his career 121 HR against Milwaukee, second fewest ahead of only the Red Sox. His AVG was .255 -- third worst ahead of only the Tigers and Twins. And, his SLG was against second worst ahead only of the Red Sox. I have no logical explanation for how this worked.
Dan Ford has one of the best nicknames of that late-1970s era: Disco Dan. The alleged story behind that nickname -- which appears in Angels Journal: Year by Year and Day by Day with the Los Angeles Angels -- is that Ford got the nickname because he had a financial stake in a disco club in 1979. Another book, Oriole Magic: The O's Of 1983, claims that Ford got the nickname because "he came from California and had a little more style and flair than the conservative Baltimore Orioles clubhouse was used to."
No offense to Mr. Thom Loverro, who wrote that Orioles book, but I tend to believe the first explanation over the second. I distinctly recall Ford being called "Disco Dan" during the ALCS in 1979. Now, certainly, that could be my overactive imagination from 35 years ago kicking in, but that is my recollection.
After his career ended, he stayed away from baseball for four years and helped run his family's ranch in Louisiana. He says that he did not enjoy that job and found it difficult to judge talent, so instead he got out of baseball. He and a man named Darryl Jackson (no idea if it is the former Twins pitcher, whose name is Darrell Jackson...but that misspelling is an easy one to make), started an intervention program to work with what Ford calls "tough kids."
Hopefully, they made a difference in at least one person's life.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Patrick John Underwood was born on February 9, 1957 in Kokomo, Indiana. He attended Kokomo High School in Indiana, and it is not hyperbole to say that he had an incredible high school pitching career. He still ranks first in Indiana High School baseball history in career strikeouts (637) and career shutouts (22), and he is still amongst the top 5 all time in complete games (40), consecutive scoreless innings (75), innings pitched (338), career no-hitters (6), shutouts in a season (8), and career ERA (0.58). Granted, that didn't make him a football star -- he was the quarterback who led Kokomo High School to an 0-10 season as a senior.
But, his baseball ability led him to a crossroads. He signed a National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Missouri on a baseball scholarship in 1976. But, the Detroit Tigers came calling with a $75,000 signing bonus after selecting Underwood with the 2nd overall pick in the June 1976 draft (one spot after Floyd Bannister).
Underwood took the money over the scholarship and signed with the Tigers. The Tigers assigned him to Lakeland in the Florida State League in 1976 after asking Underwood whether he would rather pitch in the lower-level Appalachian League. He pitched well there -- 6-2 record, 2.22 ERA in 77 innings with 32 walks and 45 strikeouts. That led the Tigers to push their young sensation to Double-A Montgomery for 104 innings in 1977, where Underwood's pitching got him promoted to Triple-A Evansville. While that 50 innings was not impressive, Underwood was nearly 5 years younger than the average player in the American Association. There was no need to rush him.
Perhaps Detroit agreed, or perhaps Underwood was injured in 1978. I can't find anything specific on it, but I am guessing that injuries limited Underwood to 104 innings at Evansville in 1978. In the late 1970s, teams weren't all that concerned with limiting innings and for a predicted future star like Underwood to pitch just 106 innings smacked of injuries.
By the time 1979 rolled around, however, Underwood must have been ready to go. He did not make the major league team right out of spring training. But, near the end of May that season, the Tigers summoned Underwood from Evansville and slotted him into the starting rotation. The need to call up Underwood came from the injury problems that plagued Mark Fidrych and caused the Bird to be put on the 21-day DL.
Underwood made his first start and major-league debut on May 31, 1979 in front of just 12,423 fans at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. On the mound for the Blue Jays was none other than Pat's older brother, Tom Underwood. In the end, the younger brother Pat went 8-1/3 innings, allowed just 3 hits and one walk, and struck out four to earn the win over his brother. Tom was undone by allowing a Jerry Morales solo home run in the top of the 8th inning -- the only run scored in the game. The Underwoods were also lucky that several members of their family and friends from Kokomo were able to attend.
Underwood started 15 games in 1979, throwing 121-2/3 innings for the Tigers at the age of 22 and just three years removed from his high school graduation. He spent all of 1980 with the Tigers, starting just 7 games for Sparky Anderson's team. Anderson preferred Dan Schatzeder to Underwood for his lefty in the starting rotation, and further preferred Jack Morris and Dan Petry to Underwood for other rotation spots.
1981 was a lost season in some respects for Underwood. He spent the entire year in Triple-A Evansville again. His strikeout rate had declined to just 4.9 per 9 innings in 1981 from his previous stints in Triple-A in 1979 (6.6 K/9), 1978 (6.3 K/9), and 1977 (6.7 K/9). Something seemed wrong.
It became apparent what was wrong in 1982 and 1983. Underwood was suffering from elbow trouble. Even in spring training in 1983, an AP story about the Tigers mentioned that Underwood was hobbled with a sore elbow but that he, "continues to throw, defying doctors' advice." The Tigers flew team physician Dr. Robert Teitge in to look at Underwood late in spring training, and he missed his last regular turn in the spring rotation.
Sadly for Underwood, the elbow problem eventually ended his career. He hooked on with a number of minor league clubs into 1984, but he was not able to pitch effectively. As a result, at age 27, he was out of baseball.
Mustache Check: Underwood has a mustache that only a 25-year old would grow.
As I mentioned above, Pat's older brother Tom Underwood pitched in the major leagues and, indeed, enjoyed a far longer career than Pat. Unfortunately, Tom passed away from cancer in 2010.
Pat's nephew -- Tom's son -- J.D. Underwood -- was a 5th round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. He has pitched pretty unsuccessfully in the Pioneer League the past two years in Ogden.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that these Underwoods are related to country singer Carrie Underwood. Otherwise, I would put a photo of her here rather than just linking to this gallery of her on the beach.
Too many guys in professional sports take a short-term view and assume that they will have twenty-year careers and make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars playing the game they love. On the other hand, Pat Underwood did something incredibly smart: he took part of his signing bonus and set it aside so that he could fund his future college education. As the story in the alumni magazine for Indiana University at Kokomo mentions, he graduated in 1989 from IUK with a degree in business.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I remember Pat Underwood, mainly because of his brother being a pitcher as well. I was (and I guess I still am) fascinated by the families with such athletic talent that they could produce multiple major leaguers.
That said, and other than Underwood being a high draft pick 6 years earlier, I cannot understand why Underwood got a Topps card in 1982. Sure, he pitched in the majors all year in 1980, but he did not even sniff the big leagues in 1981. It's just a strange inclusion in the set.
The best thing for Underwood was that he was both smart and lucky. He was smart for putting away money enough to fund his education in recognition that he would not be able to play baseball his whole life. He was lucky in that he could re-settle in his hometown, Kokomo, go to college, get married, and get a job as a quality engineer with Delphi Electronics in Kokomo.
This past summer, he also got to play baseball again in a great charity event in Kokomo that involved 30 other former big leaguers such as Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Ferguson Jenkins along with George Foster, Darrell Evans, Mark Whiten, Ryan Thompson, Wes Chamberlain, Anthony Telford, and Ron Robinson. The story quoted Underwood as saying that he was apprehensive about the game because he hadn't "pitched in any kind of competition in 30 years." The event raised money for a charity called The Greatest Save, which is focused on helping kids to be safe and aware and help avoid child abductions and, further, teen dating abuse as well.
In addition to that charitable appearance, Pat and his wife appeared in the local Kokomo Tribute a couple of years ago for adopting a dog that had been seized from a farm in north Kokomo. That farm was the home of an animal hoarder; the ammonia levels from urine and feces in the house were so great that people coming into the house experienced burning eyes and throats.
While Pat's big league career was cut short, he was honored at both the county and state levels in Indiana with induction into their respective baseball halls of fame. Sometimes, as the country song goes, it's good to be itty-bitty and live a good life.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Lee Andrew May was born on March 23, 1943, in Birmingham, Alabama. He was born into a working-class family. His father Tommy made mattresses and springs, and his mother Mildred plucked and washed chickens in a poultry house. Shortly after Lee's brother Carlos was born, however, Lee's parents divorced and he, his mother, and his brother moved in with their grandmother.
Lee was a three-sport star (baseball, football, and basketball) at A. H. Parker High School in Birmingham. Parker is a nearly all-black school -- so much so that when a white girl called Crystal Wadsworth graduated in 2007, she became the first-ever white student to graduate from the school and only the second non-black student to do so (a Latino student graduated in 2006).
May was offered a football scholarship to play fullback at the University of Nebraska. It would have been a tough move in many respects for May. After all, staying close to home was not an option for football. After all, it took the SEC until 1966 to integrate (when Kentucky was the first SEC school to sign an African-American athlete to a scholarship), even if Alabama played against an integrated Penn State squad in 1959 in the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia.
Instead, he chose baseball. As he put it in an interview, "the Reds offered me money and I felt I had a better chance in baseball. Plus, I felt I'd have a longer career in baseball . . . and it was safer." Coming out of high school in 1961, May graduated before the onset of the draft and as a result was signed as an amateur free agent by the Reds.
He was assigned to Class D Tampa by the Reds in 1961. His manager there, former pitcher Johnny Vander Meer, converted him to first base from the outfield. He played only 26 games that season and came back for a second year in 1962. That winter, he set off for Venezuela and Puerto Rico to play winter ball. Again, as Lee put it in his SABR Biography: "They paid you better in Puerto Rico and Venezuela than your own club paid you. ... I made $350 a month in my first year in the minors and $1,500 a month in Venezuela that same winter."
After those two years in Tampa, May moved up to Rocky Mount in the Single-A Carolina League in 1963. He started hitting for more power as he filled out and grew into manhood. That power carried over into Double-A at Macon -- 25 homers at the age of 21 -- and in Triple-A in San Diego in 1965. Indeed, in San Diego, his hitting was outstanding: 34 HR, 103 RBI, .321/.355/.586 with 32 doubles thrown in for good measure. That year earned him a cup of coffee in 1965 and his first ever major league appearance in a game against the Milwaukee Braves.
In 1966, he made the team out of spring training. But, buried behind fellow youngster Tony Perez and veteran Gordy Coleman on a mediocre Reds team, he was relegated to pinch hitting a few times without a hit between April 16 and May 7 and found himself back in Triple-A -- this time in Buffalo -- as a result. But, after 1966, he would never play in the minor leagues again.
On making the team in 1967, May still had the problem of being difficult to slot into a defensive position. He played 80 games at first that year along with 33 games in LF and 16 games in RF. Meanwhile, to make room for May and fellow first baseman Deron Johnson, the Reds moved Tony Perez to third base. May hit okay -- not great -- in 1967. He was slightly under the league average at OPS+ and walked just 19 times in 472 plate appearances. That lack of walking is probably the biggest knock that can be leveled at May over his career. Even so, The Sporting News named May as its Rookie of the Year.
Still, the Reds of the late 1960s were a team that hung around the upper levels of the National League and, in 1969, the National League West without ever getting over the hump. May was an All-Star for the first of three times in his career in 1969, and he hit a ton that year -- 38 HR, 110 RBI (his career high), and slashing at .290/.337/.469.
After the 1969 season and despite coming off an 89-73 season, the Reds let manager Dave Bristol join the Milwaukee Brewers organization to be that team's first manager in Milwaukee. In his place, the Reds hired an unknown for his first major league managing job at the age of 36: Sparky Anderson. All Anderson did was manage the team to 102 wins and a World Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles. May put up good power numbers again -- 34 HR, 94 RBI, 34 2Bs -- but his OBP fell below .300, which made him a barely above-average player despite all the taters.
Coming off that year, the Reds made few changes. May started at first, Perez at third -- just as they had the previous year. Yet, the results did not follow. The Reds went from 102 wins to 79 wins, so GM Bob Howsam decided to make some major changes -- one of which was to trade Lee May in a blockbuster deal to the Houston Astros. It was a risky move -- May was an All-Star again and finished the season 9th in the NL in 1971 in Offensive WAR (5.1), 4th in SLG (.532), 9th in OBP (.864), and 3rd in HR (39).
But the Reds got the better end of the deal. The Astros obtained May along with 2B Tommy Helms and utilityman Jimmy Stewart in exchange for OF Ed Armbrister, P Jack Billingham, OF Cesar Geronimo, 3B Denis Menke, and future HOF 2B (and completely obnoxious announcer) Joe Morgan.
May stayed in Houston for just three years. He was an All-Star in 1972 at the age of 29 while leading the NL in strikeouts at 145; he also had his career high in walks in this season with 52 in 647 plate appearances (12 of those were intentional, however). Perhaps the cavernous Astrodome took away a few HRs, as he went from hitting over 30 HR a year to topping out at 29 that same year. May watched as his former teammates -- bolstered by the trade -- became the Big Red Machine while May's Astros finished 3rd, 4th, and 4th behind the Reds.
At the end of the 1974 season, May found himself on the move again. The Orioles needed to add power to their team, so they traded for the man nicknamed "The Big Bopper of Birmingham". In exchange, the Astros got IF Rob Andrews and OF-3B-1B Enos Cabell. May put up one final big season in 1976, leading the AL in RBI with 109. Still, his OBP was only .312, again reflecting his hacktastic approach at the plate.
May's move to the Orioles provided his second missed opportunity for a World Series ring in 1979, since his Orioles could not close out Willie Stargell's "Family." May only hit one time in that series as Earl Weaver went with switch-hitting future HOF Eddie Murray at first base.
May turned 37 just before Opening Day in 1980. His reflexes slowing were accompanied by Weaver giving May next to zero playing time in the field that season. May played the field in just 7 games that season overall, and 61 of his 78 appearances were as the DH.
On the clear downslope of a long career, May signed a two-year contract with the Kansas City Royals in December of 1980. He made just 68 appearances and tallied only 165 plate appearances over the two years of that contract. At the end of the 1982 season, May's career came to an end. He finished his career with 354 HR (which is currently 87th all time), 1244 RBI (134th all time), and a slash line of .267/.313/.459 in 8219 plate appearances.
It is safe to say that he would not have been an NFL player for that length of time as a fullback.
Mustache Check: Yes, the Big Bopper of Birmingham has a big hairy lip here.
Lee's brother Carlos May played OF and 1B for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and California Angels between 1968 and 1977.
Lee's son Lee May, Jr. was the first round selection of the New York Mets in the 1986 June Draft with the 21st pick overall. Unfortunately for Lee Jr., he was one of just 9 players out of the 28 selected who did not make it to the major leagues from that first round.
Lee's grandson Jacob May was drafted twice for baseball. He was selected the first time in the 39th round of the 2010 June Draft out of high school. Jacob then attended Coastal Carolina University and blossomed. He became the Chicago White Sox 3rd round selection in the 2013 June Draft with the 91st pick overall. Jacob hit .258/.326/.395 at High-A Winston-Salem in the Carolina League at the age of 22 (he was about a year younger than the league average). He's a speedster, stealing 37 bases in 45 attempts last year.
Though he never appeared on the show Cheers according to IMDB, May supposedly crushed a ball off Sam Malone -- the former fictional Boston pitcher portrayed by Ted Danson -- entirely out of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
As a kid, Lee May was an Oriole to me. It was always strange seeing cards for guys like him on other teams to me as a 7-year-old, because my brain was trying to work out how those guys used to play on other teams than the one they were on currently.
May served a few teams as a coach after his career ended. He was the Kansas City Royals hitting coach from 1984 to 1986, a job which allowed him finally to be on the winning side of a World Series in 1985.
After a year away from the majors in 1986, he was the Cincinnati Reds first base coach in 1988 and 1989 under Pete Rose and, later, his old pal and former Reds and Astros teammate Tommy Helms. Indeed, for his time as a player and as a coach, May was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2006.
He was let go as a coach by the Reds after the 1989 season under the Marge Schott regime. If you're not familiar with Schott, she was a piece of work. She was a chain-smoking widow who made her money taking over her late husband's car dealership. She had a Saint Bernard called Schottzie which ran around on the field at Riverfront Stadium before Reds games. She once got upset when a sold-out opening day Reds game was cancelled because one of the umpires had a heart attack and died on the field.
Then add in this; Schott was a female, 1980s version of Donald Sterling -- perhaps with more venom that only going back 25 years in this country can add. From all indications, Schott was a racist, apparently making anti-Semitic comments and calling black players her "million-dollar (moron's word from the 1940s for black person)". As one writer from the Cincinnati Enquirer put it recently in the context of the Sterling episode, "Marge didn't limit her ugliness to blacks. She spread it like buckshot. Schott offended everyone from scouts to Jews, gays to blacks. The litany of her indiscretions was comprehensive and impressive."
Anyway, May was under the misguided impression that he and Schott had an agreement that May would be kept on after the 1989 season. When he found out that that was not the case, he said, "If baseball is coming to the way this lady is doing things, I don't want any part of it."
He ended up back in Kansas City under his former Royals teammate Hal McRae as the hitting coach from 1992 to 1994. Then, when McRae was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays in a terrible 2002 season, May served as the first base coach. As far as I can tell, that was the end of his baseball coaching career. Of course, he was 60 years old at that point, so you can't really blame him for hanging up his spikes.
He also, apparently, had an "Afro hair replacement" done by a guy called Jim Kreuz in Toledo in the 1970s. The fun things you can find in local newspapers.
In any event, May is 71 now. As of 2011, he was working with the Reds doing PR and, otherwise, was enjoying his retirement and his 8 grandchildren.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Stanley Raymond Bahnsen was born on December 15, 1944, in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska. Nicknamed the "Bahnsen Burner" for his mid-90s fastball -- a nickname which is certainly one of the first chemistry-experiment-related nicknames I've heard -- Bahnsen was the only real athlete in his family. His father Raymond was a brakeman for the Union Pacific Railroad, and his mother Viola was a homemaker.
As the Des Moines Sunday Register article linked above mentions, Bahnsen grew up throwing balls constantly at first a piece of canvas with a bull's eye on it and then at the garage door. His throwing at the garage door destroyed the door, according to his brother Jerry, so when Stan signed his first contract, the first thing he did was build his dad a new garage.
Bahnsen was recruited to play baseball for the University of Nebraska out of Abraham Lincoln High School in CB. He spent just one season with the Cornhuskers and was named to the All-Big Eight team and as a third-team All-American. As a result of his college playing, the New York Yankees selected Bahnsen in the first-ever amateur draft in June of 1965 in the fourth round with the 68th pick overall.
Based on his collegiate background, the Yankees sent Bahnsen to Double-A Columbus (Ga.) -- the "Confederate Yankees" (what a great team name, by the way) -- in the Southern League in 1965. He moved up to Triple-A Toledo in 1966 and made his major league debut in a September call-up that year -- notching a save against the Boston Red Sox in his first ever appearance. His next game was a complete game win -- 10-5 -- over the Washington Senators.
He did not make the team out of spring training in 1967 and, further, did not get called up to the majors that year at all either. This failure to make the team was blamed later on a back injury that affected his pitching motion.
The next year -- 1968 -- however, Bahnsen broke camp with the Yankees. All he did was finish 17-12 with a 2.05 ERA (2.64 FIP) in 267-1/3 innings with 68 walks and 162 Ks in what was by most measures (other than wins) his most successful season as a major leaguer. For his efforts, Bahnsen was named as the American League Rookie of the Year, earning 17 of the 20 votes. Del Unser of the Senators finished second, and if you click through that link to Baseball Reference, you might wonder who in their right mind was voting for Unser (.230/.282/.277, -1.5 WAR) over Bahnsen. At least I do.
Bahnsen spent parts of five seasons with the Yankees. He received criticism, according to his SABR biography, for his inability to pitch complete games. He finished "only" 36 of his 139 starts for the Yankees, which in the late 1960s and early 1970s would be considered unmanly, I suppose.
Thus, after the 1971 season and in the pre-Steinbrenner days of flailing aimlessly forward under the ownership of the media moguls at CBS, Bahnsen was traded to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for utility player Rich McKinney. McKinney played 37 games for the Yankees in 1972 before being traded to Oakland after the season.
Bahnsen finished 21-16 for the second place Chicago White Sox, teaming with Wilbur Wood to give the Chisox two twenty-game winners in what amounted effectively to a three-and-a-half man rotation under pitching coach Johnny Sain. Bahnsen started 41 games, knuckleballer Wood started 49 games, and Tom Bradley started 40. The rest of the pitching staff combined for 24 starts, with Dave Lemonds chipping in 18 of those 24 starts.
The White Sox tried the same approach to starting pitching in 1973 with less favorable results -- dropping to fifth place in an American League West Division propped up by the horrible Texas Rangers. Bahnsen lasted just one more season in the Second City. When his ERA ballooned to 4.70 in 1974 and then to 6.01 in 12 starts in 1975, the White Sox traded him to the Oakland A's with pitcher Skip Pitlock for pitcher Dave Hamilton and outfielder Chet Lemon. After 1974 and at the age of 29, Bahnsen never again threw more than 200 innings, topping out at 143 innings in 1976 with the A's.
Once in Oakland, Bahnsen pitched far better than he had in Comiskey and was a part of the 1975 A's team that was swept by the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series that year. Unfortunately for Stan, he did not pitch in that ALCS so he did not get a taste of postseason baseball from the mound.
Bahnsen lasted into 1977 for Oakland. He was traded to the Montreal Expos as part of Charlie O. Finley's complete sell-off of anything that was not bolted down to the ground at the beginning of free agency. In return, the A's got Mike Jorgensen.
With the move to Canada, Bahnsen transitioned from being a rotation starter to being a swingman who might be available for a spot start once or twice a year but otherwise pitched out of the bullpen. Indeed, as the Expos acquired better talent starting in 1978 and bringing up Scott Sanderson and Dan Schatzeder in 1979 and Bill Gullickson, David Palmer, and Charlie Lea in 1980, Bahnsen was pushed further into the bullpen behind Elias Sosa, Woodie Fryman, and Fred Norman.
In 1981, Bahnsen was 36 years old and pitched as poorly as he had since 1977 -- a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings (4.84 FIP) with a K/BB ratio of 1.17. He did get to throw 1-1/3 innings in relief of Scott Sanderson in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Phillies -- holding the line on the Phillies and allowing his Expos to come back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game at 5 (though he did give up a single to allow the score to go from 2-0 to 4-0...), only to watch Jeff Reardon lose the game in the bottom of the 10th inning on a solo home run by George Vukovich.
Bahnsen went to spring training in 1982 with the Expos. At the end of the spring, Bahnsen was among the final cuts. He signed with the California Angels on April 8 only to be released on May 14. The Phillies then signed him on May 31. He spent much of the 1982 season with the Phillies' Triple-A team in Oklahoma City before getting a September call-up that year.
He pitched very well for the Phillies in limited action -- 1.35 ERA (2.04 FIP) in 13-1/3 innings. But, that was not enough to earn him a spot in the majors the next season. After a disastrous 15-game stint in Triple-A Portland in the Phillies' organization in 1983, the Phillies let Bahnsen go and his time in organized baseball came to an end.
Mustache Check: Bahnsen was a good Midwestern boy, not some hippie from the coast. So he's clean-shaven.
Despite appearing in 15 games in 1982 and despite the 792-card sets of the day, Stan Bahnsen did not appear on any additional Topps Cards as a player after 1982. So, this is his sunset card.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Bahnsen barely made any impact on me as a kid because he was a National Leaguer by the time I could remember things for myself. I do remember his 1978 Topps card, for some reason, and I knew his name. But I have no reason why I remember those things other than, perhaps, repetition.
Bahnsen has led an interesting post-baseball career. For 20 years, he worked with Norwegian Cruise Lines in promotions. He did promotional work for Arrow Shirts starting in the early 1970s and continued to do so after his playing career took him to other cities.
Amidst all that, Bahnsen continued pitching from time to time. He pitched in the Senior Baseball League in 1989 for the Gulf Coast Suns and in 1990 fro the Daytona Beach Explorers. Then, in the middle of a divorce from his first wife, he decided to be a trailblazer of sorts and moved to The Netherlands to pitch in the Hoofdklasse Honkbal league there. At the age of 48, he moved to Haarlem and became the first former major league pitcher to appear in that league (though Wim Remmerswaal started in the Dutch league before coming to the US).
Over the years and around his job with the cruise lines, he has spent a significant amount of his time teaching kids how to play baseball. You can find photos on Facebook of him in a Yankees uniform working with little kids -- probably 10 or 12-year-olds -- at the Players Edge Baseball Academy a couple of years ago. Bahnsen is a local legend in Council Bluffs. Even today, he has a park in town named for him.
These days, Bahnsen is still in the cruise industry. He organizes baseball-themed cruises for MSC Cruises USA. One cruise leaves on November 29 for a 7-night Caribbean tour with Kevin Seitzer, Juan Marichal, Amos Otis, and John Denny on board (in addition to Bahnsen). Another cruise is scheduled for February 7, 2015; that cruise currently has Art Shamsky and Gorman Thomas scheduled to be on board with Bahnsen. Both cruises depart from and return to Miami after visiting St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas.
So, maybe you can combine your baseball card fun with a trip to make your significant other happy too!
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?
Julio Luis Cruz (Baseball Reference says Louis, The Baseball Cube says Luis) was born on December 2, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in Brooklyn, he played baseball in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn to stay out of trouble. Baseball Reference's Bullpen says (without a cite, unfortunately) that Cruz said that he was not the best baseball player in the neighborhood, but that the players who were better did not avoid trouble.
Well, let me correct that statement a bit. The Bullpen is a great source of information, but they got this one slightly wrong. Cruz did not play baseball as a kid -- he played stickball. The 1984 article linked above mentions that the first time Cruz actually played baseball was not until later in his life -- after his family moved to California. Before that, it was stickball in the street from dawn till dusk until he reached 9th grade.
His family moved to Southern California when Cruz was 16, so Cruz attended Redlands High School in Redlands, California (a suburb of San Bernardino). In high school, Cruz played baseball (of course) and, despite his 5'9" stature, basketball. On that same basketball team and in the same high school class (1972 graduates) with Cruz was Super Bowl winning NFL coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick.
Cruz was not drafted out of high school, and he stayed close to home and played at San Bernardino Valley College. After his second year of school, Cruz was working out with friends at UCLA when a California Angels scout saw him playing. The Angels signed him on as an undrafted free agent in May of 1974.
Cruz was assigned to Idaho Falls in the Rookie Level Pioneer League for the 1974 season. There, Cruz put up a fairly typical Julio Cruz season -- plenty of stolen bases (34, against 11 CS), a so-so AVG (.241), a stellar OBP (.361), and a SLG (.266) based off power numbers (4 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR) that would make Charles Atlas's comic book 97-pound weakling feel okay about kicking sand in Julio's face.
California's organization was intrigued, however, by his speed and his glove, so Cruz moved up to the Midwest league in 1975. He blossomed there in terms of base-stealing -- swiping 60 bases in 68 attempts -- and in getting on base, walking 70 times in 452 plate appearances. That led the Angels to push him more quickly through the organization in 1976, with Cruz going from the California League at the start of the year (68 steals in 81 attempts, .307/.433/.368) to Double-A El Paso for about two or three weeks (13 games) and to Triple-A Salt Lake City by the end of the season.
He struggled some in Triple-A hitting-wise -- .246/.312/.333. Perhaps the quick movement up the ladder was to see if the organization wanted to use one of its roster spots to protect him from the expansion draft. With his relatively poor showing in a small sample in Triple-A, the Angels did not protect him. As a result and in the fifth round of the 1976 Expansion Draft, the Seattle Mariners selected Cruz with the 52nd pick.
After half a season at Triple-A Hawaii, Cruz got the call to the major leagues and appeared in his first game on July 4, 1977. Leading off and playing second base, Cruz started the game with a fly out against his future team, the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Cruz singled off Francisco Barrios for his first major league hit. Cruz was then caught stealing. Oops.
Cruz's Seattle career was marked by three things. First, Cruz was always in the top 4 in stolen bases in the American League without ever leading the league. After his half season in 1977, Cruz finished 2nd in 1978 (59 SB), 3rd in 1979 (49), 4th in 1980 (45), 2nd in 1981 (43), 3rd in 1982 (46), and 4th in 1983 (57 in the season split between Seattle and Chicago).
Second, as soon as Cruz was eligible for contract arbitration, he and the Mariners ended their contractual negotiations every single year in arbitration. The Mariners won three of four years against Cruz in arbitration, but doing that year after year took its toll on Cruz's attitude toward the team. It probably did not help that, as the linked story shows, then-Mariners owner George Argyros was calling Cruz out after the 1982 season and, further, claiming that Cruz shouldn't have won his arbitration case after the 1981 season -- or that, after Cruz won his case that year, GM Danny O'Brien said, "We thought our case was much stronger. Now the pressure is on Julio. He has been very unhappy losing the past two year. Now we'll see how a happy second baseman plays."
The final thing marking Cruz's time in the Pacific Northwest was being a part of absolutely terrible baseball teams. From 1977 through 1982 and through June 14, 1983, the team record was 391-590, a .399 winning percentage. Getting traded on June 15, 1983, to the Chicago White Sox straight up for Tony Bernazard (who was traded to Cleveland after the season ended) had to feel like being paroled from loser's prison for Cruz. The trade was called the 22nd worst trade in Seattle Mariners history by the Seattle Sportsnet blog.
Cruz enjoyed winning the American League West title with the White Sox in 1983 enough to re-sign with the Sox to a 6-year contract worth between $3.6 and $4.8 million. Hailed at the time as a huge victory for the White Sox to retain the player that many called the catalyst for the Sox division title, it turned into an albatross of a contract for the White Sox. Cruz started suffering from turf toe -- in medical terms, a metatarsophalangeal joint sprain (a tear in the connective tissue between the foot and one or more of the toes).
After suffering the turf toe injury, Cruz was not the same player for the obvious reason that speed was literally most of his game. As a White Sox player, Cruz hit .224/.309/.380 over four seasons. After a 1986 season in which Cruz continued to struggle with injuries (playing just 78 games in the field), the White Sox traded for Donnie Hill and Fred Manrique to replace Cruz.
Cruz came to spring training with the White Sox because they could not trade him away to anyone. So, instead, viewing the $900,000 in salary and $5.64 million in deferred payments as sunk costs, the White Sox released Cruz in late March of 1987. Cruz played in 30 games for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque in 1987 with little success at the plate (.174/.319/.217) and followed that up by playing with the independent Fresno team in the California League in 1988 for 41 games. After similarly terrible hitting there -- .199/.305/.213 in Single-A...really -- Cruz did not continue playing in organized baseball.
Mustache check: Cruz is clean shaven. Doesn't he know that this card would be shown 32 years later in Movember?
Cruz tied an American League record in 1981 by stealing 32 straight bases without being caught. Since that time, Ichiro, Time Raines, Paul Molitor, and Brady Anderson have all passed the record, with each of them stealing at least 35 in a row. Ichiro is the AL record holder at 45 straight, while Vince Coleman is the overall record holder with 50 straight steals without being caught.
This Is Radio Clash
From 2002 to 2010, Cruz served as a Spanish-language color commentator for the Seattle Mariners. Yes, despite his continual fighting with the Mariners ownership as a player, Cruz settled in the Pacific Northwest and never left. When he got the job, he joked that he might have problems with the job because:
The thing is, most Latinos out there are of Mexican descent, and some of my words are bad words. I speak sort of a Puerto Rican slang. I could be in trouble. You might hear a lot of beep beeps. People will think it's Ozzy OsbourneA Few Minutes with Tony L.
Julio Cruz was always a player who instilled fear when he was on the basepaths. He was a very smart baserunner when stealing bases. Over the course of his career, he was successful on 343 of his 421 attempts -- a success rate of 81.5%. That's far better than the breakeven point of around 66%.
One thing I do remember, though, was that Cruz never seemed to hurt the Brewers. My recollection on that is backed up by stats for a change: he never homered against Milwaukee and hit just .231/.313/.298 against the Brew Crew.
After his career as a player ended and for the most part, Cruz stayed in the Seattle area. He managed Pulaski in the Appalachian League in 1997 in the Texas Rangers system, but that was his only minor league management experience that I can find. He did coach in the minors for at least three organizations, according to the Seattle Times. A couple of years after his managing experience and in 1999, he became the baseball coach at Eastside Catholic High School in Seattle along with former Mariners pitcher and teammate Bill Caudill.
He was awarded the 2011 Moose Clausen Community Service Award by the Mariners RBI Club as a "past or present member of the Mariners community who has made significant contributions to the community." He remains a much-loved part of the Seattle baseball community today.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Who Can It Be Now?/A Few Minutes with Tony L.
It's a checklist card listing all the cards from 1-132, including the self-referential entry at card 129.
Checklist cards make us old guys' hearts warm. We get to be the people who yell at kids to get off their lawn, with all their shiny cards these days. I mean, remember when Topps didn't spray multiple short prints, parallels, autographs, inserts, relics, and retired players throughout their card sets?
More to the point, remember when Topps itself knew what cards were going to be included in a set long before the set hit the streets?
I know it's unfair in some respects to pick on Topps for eliminating actual checklists. Topps is a business, and consumers drive businesses to provide the types of goods and services that the consumers want. It is simple economics. If collectors are not interested in a product and don't buy it, it's pretty likely Topps will kill the product or put it back into the archives until enough nostalgia or pent-up demand pushes toward a re-release.
You know, like Stadium Club in 2014.
Still, set builders are collectors too. Not everyone wants only to be in a group box break to chase an autograph from Jose Abreu or Kris Bryant or whomever next year's hot rookie/prospect will be.
Personally, I used to have the set-builder mindset. I definitely had that mindset as a kid. When I got back into collecting, I started with the set-builder mentality. Then, I took a look at all the parallels and short prints and the different products available and decided then and there that trying to build new sets was a fool's game. I went the route of player/team collector instead, and I'm happy with that.
But, if every set builder gets discouraged from all the parallels, inserts, short prints, and inserts in every set, what does that mean for the future of baseball card sets?
I think the answer there lies in some of the "special" sets, like Topps Archives for example. In 2014 Topps Archives, you have 20% of the set being short printed. Within the 250-card set, there are twenty-one New York Yankees. There are thirteen Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. And, there are eighteen St. Louis Cardinals. That, right there, is more than 20% of the set for three teams.
On the other hand, there are five Milwaukee Brewers. There are four Miami Marlins. There are four Colorado Rockies. There are three Minnesota Twins. And, there is only ONE San Diego Padre -- team icon Tony Gwynn.
Why are there so many of some teams and so few of others? That should be an obvious answer, but two reasons spring to mind for me.
First, the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cardinals have much longer histories in baseball. When the set is comprised both of active and retired players who are major league "greats", those teams should have more "greats" because they have more players to choose from.
Second, those three teams -- along with a few others -- tend to have very strong fan bases. In other words, Topps prints 21 New York Yankee players in the set as Yankees because they know that team collectors will chase that set. Among the baseball "greats" from the Yankees included in the set are Paul O'Neill -- a good player, but not a candidate for the Hall of Fame -- and Orlando Hernandez, whose story of defecting is far better than his major league record.
But attracting the Yankee team collectors to buy Archives (for example) has to be a major marketing influence for Topps. There literally is no other reasonable reason why the Yankees backup catcher John Ryan Murphy is in the set and Brewers shortstop and 2013 NL All-Star Jean Segura is not.
Throw in the parallels and inserts that Archives has, and it makes set collecting an expensive proposition.
And nowhere to be found is there a checklist card!