Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Care #135: Andy Rincon

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.

Nanu Nanu
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!

No comments:

Post a Comment