Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Card #148: Mickey Klutts

Who Can It Be Now?
Gene Ellis Klutts was born on September 20, 1954, in Montebello, California.  The New York Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the 1972 June Draft straight out of El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California.  

Klutts signed immediately and, as a 17-year-old, played for Johnson City in the Appalachian League.  Even as a young player, though, Klutts was destined to be a utilityman.  The Yankees played him at 2B, shortstop, and 3B as he worked his way up through the system. 

He played more short than third, but he never really seemed to be the Yankee's top choice for either position.  With Graig Nettles at third, of course, shortstop became where he would be more likely to play.  His opportunity appeared to be coming in 1977, though. He had debuted in New York at 21 in 1976, and incumbent Fred Stanley did not appear to be an impediment to Klutts stepping into the starting role.  Then, on a play at second in the spring of 1976, Klutts made a tag at second and pulled his hand away in pain. 

The Yankees told reporters that Klutts had a "jammed-sprain."  The reality was that he had a broken finger, but the Yankees apparently were not convinced Klutts could be a starter and were negotiating to trade for Bucky Dent with the White Sox.  They feared the price for Dent would increase if the White Sox were aware of Klutts's injury, so out came that Yankee version of news-speak.  Dent became the Yankees' starting shortstop and broke Red Sox hearts in 1978; Klutts went on to be the co-MVP of the International League in 1976.

As it turned out, Klutts never got the chance to play in New York -- coming to bat just 24 times over three seasons before being traded at the trade deadline in 1978 to the Oakland A's for Gary Thomasson.  

Injuries hampered his career as well, lending credence to nominative determinism (the theory that a person's name can have a significant role in determining key aspects of job, profession, or even character).  According to Baseball Library, Klutts was disabled "at least ten times" and "suffered one injury when he ran into a tarp." One article in 1978 mentioned that he went on the DL when he broke his left thumb "while warming up relief pitcher Ken Clay in the bullpen . . . ."  The title of that article? "What a Klutts!"

Klutts spent most of four seasons with the A's before they too decided at the end of the 1982 season that Klutts was not the answer to their third-base needs.  In fairness, Klutts was never the starter -- he only kept the position warm for real players like Carney Lansford. After 1982, Klutts signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.  He received 45 plate appearances there before his major league career ended.

Mustache Check:  Yes, indeed.  Gene has a mustache.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Other than his incredibly memorable name and all the jokes that went with it, I knew and thought very little of Mickey Klutts as a kid.  I mean, look at his stats -- does that appear to be the stat line of a guy who made an impression on opposing teams' fans? Not particularly, I'd say.  

I found an old blog that may or may not have a basis in reality about how Gene Klutts got to be known as Mickey.  The theory here was that the Yankees touted him as Mickey in order to draw parallels to Mickey Mantle. They wanted to teach Klutts to switch hit, supposedly, and then become the center fielder.  Now, I don't know how much credence to put into this story, but I have no other information as to how "Gene Ellis" became "Mickey".  

I also haven't the foggiest idea what Klutts has done since retirement. He apparently is a pretty good TTM signer, since I've seen a number of autographs of his online. He lives in Lake Isabella, California, according to "Contact Any" (and, not to be too disparaging, but if Klutts is on that site, they may not be kidding by saying you can contact ANY celebrity).  And, despite featuring for just 20 at bats in New York over three seasons, he still comes back and is invited back to the Bronx for those Yankee Old-Timers games.

Anyone else have anything to share?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Card #147: Denny Walling

Who Can It Be Now?
Dennis Martin Walling was born on April 17, 1954 in Neptune, New Jersey. He attended community college in New Jersey before attending a second community, Clemson University in South Carolina. 

He was drafted initially after his junior college days in the 8th round by the San Francisco Giants in 1974.  He did not sign and went to Clemson for a year where his efforts and ability made him the first pick overall in the 1975 June Secondary Draft by the Oakland Athletics. After signing with the A's, he went straight to the major leagues, going 1-for-8 in limited duty in September of 1975 for the AL West Champions.

Perhaps due to their "win-now" mentality, or maybe Walling just wasn't what they thought he was when they drafted him, but the A's gave Walling a grand total of 19 plate appearances over two year before trading him with cash to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline in 1977 for Willie Crawford.  

Crawford played the rest of 1977 with the A's, played two years in Mexico, and was out of baseball.  In comparison, Walling became a long-time Astro pinch-hitter for those Houston clubs of the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.  He averaged less than three plate appearances per game played for Houston (1072 G, 2929 PA) over eleven-and-a-half seasons (not counting his 3 game cameo in 1992 at the very end of his career).

Walling was never much of a power hitter, and he hit just 49 homers in his entire career. Some of that had to do with the cavernous Astrodome, certainly, but Walling was a guy who would come to bat and be willing to take a walk or, often, get the bat on the ball.  He struck out in less than 10% of his plate appearances in his career.

During the 1988 season, Walling was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bob Forsch. Apparently, the teams wanted to swap a hitter near the end of his career for a pitcher near the end of his career.  Walling stuck in St. Louis as a bat off the bench through 1990, played in Texas a little in 1991, then hung up his spikes after the 3-game, 3-plate appearance performance in Houston in 1992.

Mustache Check: Mr. Ginger, oh your mustache has grown. Don't you know that you're the only one to say, OK.  (Figure out that reference...)

Family Ties
According to the Bullpen, Denny Walling's older brother Gregory Walling played 47 games for Covington in the Appalachian League in 1967 in the Astros system. He walked a lot, but Gregory's .225/.363/.265 slash line did not convince the Astros to keep him beyond that one season.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Yes, I am going to resurrect this blog a bit.  I miss the history aspects of it.  

I remember Denny Walling from watching the postseason in the early 1980s and again in 1986.  Walling struggled mightily against the Mets in the National League Championship Series in 1986 -- .158/.158/.211 in 19 AB -- but he was far from the only one who struggled. Of players with more than 10 at bats for the Astros, only Craig Reynolds -- 4 for 12 -- hit better than .300.  Walling ended up picking up four at-bats in the epic game 6 of that NLCS -- the one that went 16 innings and finished with the Astros coming up one run short in their rally to tie the game again after the Mets scored 3 in the top of the 16th off Aurelio Lopez and Jeff Calhoun.

Since his retirement as a player, Walling has been a coach. He spent time with the Oakland A's and New York Mets when old pal Art Howe was the manager.  After that and from 2007 to 2014, Walling was a hitting instructor in the Orioles system -- first as a roving instructor, and then as the Triple-A Norfolk Tides batting coach from 2012 through 2014.  After the 2014 season, Walling -- now 60 years old -- decided to retire.