Sunday, February 8, 2015

Card #146: Mike Griffin

Who Can It Be Now?
Michael Leroy Griffin was born on June 26, 1957, in Colusa, California.  Griffin was the third-round pick in the 1976 June draft of the Texas Rangers out of Woodland High School in Woodland, California.

After two years in the Rangers system, Griffin was part of a 9-player trade in November of 1978 in which he, Juan Beniquez, Paul Mirabella, and Dave Righetti were traded to the New York Yankees in return for Mike Heath, Dave Rajsich, Larry McCall, Domingo Ramos, Sparky Lyle, and cash. The next year -- 1979 -- Griffin made his major league debut with the Yankees.

Getting traded and moving around was a big part of Griffin's career. He was traded again in 1981 as the player to be named later (along with Doug Bird and $400,000) going to the Cubs in exchange for Rick Reuschel. Bird and Griffin pitched back-to-back 1-run games against the Dodgers in August of 1981, leading to some typical Tommy LaSorda hyperbole: "Who are those guys? Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson?"

No, Tommy. No they are not.

Griffin's stay in Chicago did not last long -- only to the end of spring training in 1982 -- at which point he was traded to the Expos for Dan Briggs.  Griffin never appeared in the major leagues for the Expos, and at the end of August was traded again. This time, he went to San Diego in exchange for future White Sox and Mets manager Jerry Manuel.  

Griffin bounced around the minors for a few years after that -- going to the Rangers system in 1983, to Kansas City's system after 1984, and then to Baltimore after 1986. He made 23 appearances as an Oriole in 1987 for a team in sharp decline and did not pitch very well. 

He was back on the streets as a free agent after the 1988 season, but then the Cincinnati Reds gave him one last shot at the big leagues. He pitched 4-1/3 innings in 3 appearances in 1989, and that was the end of his big-league career.

Mustache Check 
Yes.  It's ginger bristles, but it counts.

Everybody Wants You
To get traded twice in the 1982 season, Griffin had to be wanted by two different teams as well. Because otherwise there's nothing, Griffin is a Wanted Man.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
The only thing I remember about Mike Griffin was this card. As a ten-year-old, I don't think I'd ever seen as many freckles on any one person as appear on Griffin in this photo. As a pitcher, though, he is as memorable as the remnants of a drunken night after 20 shots.  In other words, "he did what?"

Since his retirement as an active player, Griffin has spent most of his time as a minor-league pitching coach. Starting in 1993 with Triple-A Indianapolis, Griffin spent several years in the Cincinnati Reds system as a pitching coach. After leaving the Reds system, Griffin hooked on with the Boston Red Sox in 1999. Griffin coached for 9 seasons (1999-2007) in the Red Sox system before joining the Baltimore Orioles organization. After spending 2008 in Double-A Bowie, Griffin has become a fixture as the pitching coach for Baltimore's Triple-A team, the Norfolk Tides, in the International League and coached there through 2014.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Card #145: Bob Horner

Who Can It Be Now?
James Robert Horner was born in Junction City, Kansas, on August 6, 1957. Horner moved to Arizona as a child and graduated from Apollo High school in Glendale, Arizona. Straight out of high school, Horner was selected with the 357th pick overall in the 1975 June draft (15th round) by the Oakland Athletics. Of course, he turned the A's down and decided instead to attend Arizona State University.  

Horner had an incredible career at ASU, leading him to be awarded the first-ever Golden Spikes Award by USA Baseball and the MLBPA. Horner's success led the Atlanta Braves to select Horner first overall in the 1978 June Draft. Considering that the Braves other options at third base were Rod Gilbreath (lifetime .248/.320/.329) or putting outfielder Barry Bonnell there, the Braves decided that they had nothing to lose and plugged Horner into their major league lineup immediately on his signing. 

Based on his 23 homers in 89 games, Horner was named as the NL Rookie of the Year in 1978, beating out Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith and Pirates pitcher Don Robinson. Based solely on their statistics and using WAR, Robinson should have been named as the Rookie of the Year, but certainly some of the hype going from college to the majors directly had to help Horner's candidacy. That season, the player that similarity scores put as most similar was a 21-year-old Miguel Cabrera. Yeah, it was a very good year.

Horner always had excellent power, and over time his batting eye developed reasonably well also. The problem he had was staying healthy. He played over 140 games in a season just twice -- in 1982 and again in 1986. He was an All-Star once -- in 1982 -- and received votes for the MVP award three times (1979, 1980, and 1983).  Yet the question with Horner was always why he did not live up to the first-overall-pick hype. Certainly, some of that had to do with Horner's less-than-good conditioning, and some of it was just bad luck.

After the 1986 season, the owners' collusion led Horner to get his best contract offer from the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League. In 93 games there, Horner smacked 31 homers and hit .327/.423/.683. Horner came back from Japan after one season -- leaving a number of very derogatory remarks about Japanese baseball in his wake -- and played 60 games for the St. Louis Cardinals before everyone in the major leagues made it clear to Horner that his big-league career was over.

Mustache Check
Nope, the 23-year-old Horner did not join in the spirit of the day and remained clean shaven.

Trivial Pursuit
Horner has a few great trivial points about him.  

  • He is, to my knowledge, the last player to come directly out of college and play in the major leagues. 
  • He famously never appeared in a minor league baseball game. 
  • He hit four home runs in a game on July 6, 1986, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium against the Montreal Expos. In typical Braves fashion for the mid-to-late 1980s (and probably for 2015 too), the Braves lost the game 11-8.
  • He was, as mentioned above, the first winner of the now very prestigious Golden Spikes Award. 
  • Along with Jason Jennings and Buster Posey, he was one of three Golden Spikes winners to be Rookie of the Year. He's the only one to do it in the same year.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Of course I knew who Bob Horner was in the early 1980s. His exploits of coming straight from college to the major leagues made everyone who was a baseball fan aware of him.  A fun fact for me from the back of this card is that Horner is listed as living in Dunwoody, Georgia. Dunwoody is where my wife and I call home now, so that is pretty cool to me.

I met Horner once in my life. He was signing autographs at a construction-industry even on behalf of the Siemens Corporation about 12 or 13 years ago. He was in a reasonably jovial mood at the event.  To be fair, it wasn't a big line or anything either, since the event required registration fees to be paid, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

Horner no longer lives in Dunwoody (otherwise, I might pop over to his that is lucky for him, I suppose).  Horner lives now in Irving, Texas, and has for over thirty years now.  When asked in 2010 "What are you up to these days?" in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, his reply was, "I don't do anything." Another website I found indicated that he does do some things around Irving, though -- he is a food pantry volunteer there.

At least he's not just playing golf.