Sunday, January 17, 2021

Card #152: Ramón Aviles


Who Can It Be Now?

Ramón Antonio Aviles was born on January 22, 1952 in Manati, Puerto Rico. Not to ruin the conclusion, but Mr. Aviles also passed away in Manati on January 27, 2020. I bring that up because, for this biography, I will be borrowing liberally from the excellent RIP Baseball, which posted a full obituary last year for Mr. Aviles. 

Aviles grew up wanting to be a doctor, but his family's more humble blue collar background (his dad was a police officer) meant that he could not afford to pursue that dream. Aviles attended Fernando Callejo High School in Manati -- a school which also produced Carlos Beltrán and brothers Javier and José Valentín. 

Aviles became an excellent baseball player -- good enough for the Boston Red Sox to sign him in the fall of 1969 as an amateur free agent at shortstop in the years before Puerto Ricans were merged into the draft. As RIP Baseball notes, Aviles got his chance thanks to his pal Juan Beniquez, who convinced the Red Sox to give Aviles the tryout that led to Aviles's signing. 

From there, Aviles began his slow climb up the Red Sox ladder, spending 1970 and 1971 in low-A and high-A ball. After the 1970 season, the Red Sox had identified Aviles as having sufficient potential as a hitter to suggest that he learn 2B and 3B in addition to shortstop with the idea that the versatility for he and a few other infield prospects would aid in their climb up the ladder and into the major leagues. This paid off eventually. Aviles moved up to AA for the 1972, 1973, and 1974 seasons, then ascended to AAA starting in 1975. He played full seasons in 1975 through 1977 in AAA. 

Aviles was on track to make the major league team in 1977, but he was sidetracked when he and Jim Rice collided with one another trying to make a play. Aviles separated his shoulder -- you would expect that the guy who is 5'9" tall and weighed 155 pounds would lose in a collision with Jim Rice. 

The Red Sox did give him a cameo appearance in 1977, calling him up in late June when the Red Sox needed an outfielder. Don Zimmer apparently wasn't told about the call up and only used Aviles one time in a doubleheader against the Brewers in mid-July. He was brought on to pinch hit for Bernie Carbo and executed a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Carlton Fisk to third base and George Scott to second base. For what it's worth, the Sox did not score that inning -- the Brewers walked Butch Hobson intentionally before Rick Miller hit into a flyball double play thanks to Jamie Quirk throwing Fisk out at the plate.

In any event, that was Aviles's only appearance for the Red Sox, who sold his contract to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of spring training in 1978. The Phillies parked Aviles at AAA in 1978, where he played second fiddle to future major leaguers Jim Morrison and Todd Cruz, and for part of 1979. But the Phillies gave Aviles a chance at playing in the big leagues when Manny Trillo broke his arm on May 2, 1979. Aviles had the best hitting stretch of his career -- hitting .480/.536/.560 in his first 9 games with the Phillies before cooling off. He was sent back down to AAA in June after Trillo returned, but the seed had been planted with the team that Aviles could be a fill-in for the Phils. 

Aviles parlayed this opportunity into a three-year stint with the Phillies. He still spent a couple of weeks at AAA in 1980, but he was called up in early 1980 when Trillo got hurt again -- this time a sprained ankle. The team decided this time to keep Aviles around, and him serve as the backup infielder to Trillo and Larry Bowa. Because of his role as the backup infielder, Aviles was the proud owner of a World Series ring for the 1980 Phillies even though he did not appear at all in the Series. 

He struggled in 1981 to hit anywhere near as well as he had in 1979 or 1980. He went back to AAA for a while, and only really appeared as a late-inning defensive replacement. Shortly after the 1981 season ended, however, the Phillies traded him in a minor deal to the Rangers for pitcher Dave Rajsich. 

Neither Aviles nor Rajsich appeared in the majors after the trade and, in fact, both men's major league careers were over before they were traded. Because he failed to make the team out of spring training, Aviles asked the Rangers to trade him. They obliged, and he went back to the Phillies system. 

He played in 1982 there and then served as a player/coach in 1983. That role set the stage for his next chapter: coaching and managing throughout the minor leagues. For the next 25 years, Aviles served as a minor league coach, manager, and roving instructor. He spent most of his time in the low minors, though he did hop up to AAA in 1996 when the Phillies fired Butch Hobson due to Hobson's arrest for cocaine possession. He also managed regularly in the winter league in Puerto Rico and won a number of championships there as well. 

In 2005, he hopped into the Brewers system just in time to manage Ryan Braun for Braun's first pro season with the West Virginia Power before he closed out his career as the manager in 2008 with the Burlington Lake Monsters and in 2009 as the hitting instructor for the Hagerstown Suns. 

Aviles suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. He was scheduled to start kidney dialysis to help treat his issues, but he passed away on January 27, 2020 just before that treatment could start. He was 68 years old. 

Family Ties

Aviles's nephew is Mike Aviles, who spent 10 years in the majors as a utility player for the Royals, Red Sox, Cleveland, Tigers, and Marlins starting in 2008 and ending in 2017. 

Trivial Pursuit

According to RIP Baseball's citation to a 2006 profile of Aviles in Florida Today, Aviles was the first -- and perhaps only -- Puerto Rican to win a Caribbean World Series as a player, manager, and general manager. Overall, Aviles won a total of 25 championships in professional baseball as a player, manager, coach, and general manager. 

Nanu Nanu

This is Aviles's final appearance on a Topps baseball card. 

His baseball card history is all over the place. He made his debut on a card in 1978 in the SSPC 270 set as a member of the Red Sox. After his 1979 appearances with the Phillies at the age of 27, Topps put him on the Phillies "Future Stars" card in the 1980 set with Kevin Saucier and Dickie Noles. He appeared in 1981 and 1982 in the Topps and Fleer sets, but he never appeared on a Donruss card.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.

Aviles clearly was a baseball man to his core once it became clear to him that he would never become a doctor. His roles in the Phillies organization from 1983 through 2002 meant that he played an intimate role in developing at least some of the players that would go on to help the Phillies to make the World Series in 1993. 

As was the case for Dave Edwards, I do not have any independent recollections of Aviles as a player. That's probably not surprising. Aviles only played in 117 games, only had 223 plate appearances, and his major league career ended before I hit double digits in terms of age. Even his only appearance against the Brewers took place when I was just five years old and hadn't even started kindergarten.

Feel free to share any memories that you have of him as a player, coach, or manager below. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Card #151: Dave Edwards

Who Can It Be Now?
David Leonard Edwards was born on February 24, 1954 in Los Angeles, California. Edwards was a product of the city of Los Angeles and attended the historic Thomas Jefferson High School, which produced such luminaries as Alvin Ailey, Ralph Bunche, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer, and Etta James outside of sports and umpire Emmett Ashford, former Milwaukee Brave Lee Maye, and 5-time high jump national champion Otis Burrell.

Edwards was drafted in the 7th Round of the 1971 June Amateur Draft by the Minnesota Twins, and he was drafted as a catcher. I suppose he must have skipped a grade or started school early somehow since that meant that he was drafted in the year that he turned 17 years old. 

He spent four full seasons in rookie and A ball -- from 1971 through 1975 -- before getting promoted to AA Orlando in 1976. The Twins promoted him immediately in 1977 to AAA. He spent two seasons in AAA -- one in Tacoma followed by one in Toledo -- with fairly decent results (.764 OPS and a .341 OBP). 

As a result, Edwards was the one and only late season call up for the Twins in 1978 when rosters expanded in September. He made his debut against the White Sox and pitcher Ken Kravec, off whom Edwards got his first major league hit in his debut (a double). 

Calvin Griffith -- much like Charlie Finley -- viewed free agency as financial ruination, though Griffith was known for, as the Star Tribune put it in June of 2020, running the team "in a discount style." Coincidentally, in September of 1978 when Edwards was making his debut, Griffith was spouting off as only an old white racist owner could, stating that he moved the Twins to Minnesota because he "found out that you only had 15,000 blacks here. . . . We came here because you've got good, hardworking, white people here."

Quite the welcome committee. 

The offseason between 1978 and 1979 saw the Twins cheap out and traded one of their best players -- Dan Ford -- to the Angels for Danny Goodwin and Ron Jackson. The Sporting News on January 27, 1979, noted that the Twins intended to have Edwards split time with Willie Norwood in centerfield. 

That changed a couple of months later on February 5, 1979, when the cheapo Twins traded the great Rod Carew to the Angels in exchange for Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens, and Ken Landreaux. Landreaux became the starter in center and Edwards became an extra outfielder. Even so, 1979 was his best year -- 257 plate appearances with an OPS of .711 (OPS+ of 89, making him just 11% worse than league average).

Talk in the offseason before the 1980 season had the Twins considering a left field platoon between Edwards and Rick Sofield. The Sporting News on March 29, 1980, ran a story outlining the differences between the two players. Sofield was gregarious -- a football stud who was convinced to spurn the Michigan Wolverines to go to the minor leagues -- while Edwards described himself as "enjoy[ing] listening" and always wanting to be a baseball player. 

This plan got tossed aside when Edwards suffered from an appendicitis in spring training. He fell out of the Twins plans and was traded to the Padres during the December 1980 winter meetings for reserve infielder Chuck Baker (who lasted all of 70 plate appearances in Minnesota). 

The Padres turned Edwards basically into a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder in 1981 and, in 1982, really nothing more than a late inning defensive replacement. He appeared in 71 games in 1982, but started only 12. The Padres released him after the 1982 season. He went on to play in Mexico for two years before calling it a career. 

Family Ties

Dave Edwards had two older brothers who were twins who played in the major leagues at the same time as Dave though at no point in time were all three in the majors at the same time. Mike Edwards beat Dave to the majors by a full season. He appeared in 317 games -- mostly with Oakland -- before leaving the U.S. to play in Mexico and Japan starting in 1982. Mike's twin Marshall Edwards will appear later in this set; Marshall was the Brewers' 5th OF for the 1982 World Series team -- even appearing in one game. Marshall debuted at the age of 28 in 1981 -- the year after Mike was let go by Oakland. 

Trivial Pursuit

In his 1980 interview in The Sporting News, Dave Edwards pointed out that, with Marshall's debut, the Edwardses were the first African-American family to have three brothers all appear in the major leagues. 

A Few Minutes with Tony

I honestly don't have much memory of Dave Edwards other than his ties to Marshall Edwards, of course. It appears that Edwards is pretty good about signing autographs through the mail, though, so maybe I'll take a stab at getting him to sign something. 

Anyone have any good Dave Edwards stories?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Card #150: Ted Simmons

Who Can It Be Now?
Ted Lyle Simmons was born on August 9, 1949, in Highland Park, Michigan. Simmons spent his youth in Southfield, Michigan, where he was a star in both football and baseball at Southfield High School. He was well known to major league scouts as a high school player, and his draft status in 1967 supported that. He was selected tenth overall in the 1967 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. 

He held out for a short while to ensure that he could get sufficient money out of the Cardinals as a signing bonus. He used the threat of attending college over the Cardinals, saying in The Sporting News shortly after the draft that, "The contract will have to be big enough to make it worthwhile for me to pass up college. I'd have to say that I'd want about $50,000 -- although some people have told me it should be $75,000 and some say $100,000." 

He got his $50,000 that he asked for (which he told Daniel Okrent in Nine Innings was "more money than my family had ever seen"). As a result, despite having signed on the dotted line to do so, he did not go to college to play football for the University of Michigan. 

Instead, he used his baseball signing bonus to attend Michigan and, later, Wayne State, in the offseason. As Okrent mentions, being at the University of Michigan from September through April every year from 1968 through 1970 had a distinct effect on Simmons, creating in him a determination not to be seen "as merely a jock." UM in that turbulent time was greatly affected by the anti-Vietnam War activities, as these photos show, and it had an impact.

Still, he signed soon enough in 1967 to play 53 games in rookie level and low-level Single-A baseball. It was enough to earn a promotion in 1968 to Modesto in the Advanced-A California League. Despite being 3.5 years younger than the average player in the league, Simmons dominated offensively -- hitting 28 HR, driving in 117, and slashing .331/.415/.570 and winning the California League MVP. That earned him his first call-up to the big leagues at the age of 19 in 1968, where he got a 4 plate-appearance cup-of coffee.

So, at the age of 19 in 1969, he found himself amongst the grown men at Triple-A Tusla in the American Association. Different league but similar results -- 16 HR, 88 RBI, .317/.365/.495. He got another look in the big leagues as a result -- a 16 plate appearance stint. 

He'd made a mark on ownership with his play in the minor leagues and his short stints in the big leagues that circumstances in 1970 led to his being called up for good. Cardinals third-baseman Mike Shannon was forced to retire at age 30 due to glomerulonephritis (a condition that prevents the kidneys from filtering waste properly). Lacking a good internal replacement at third base, the Cards instead moved their multiple-time All-Star Joe Torre to third base (even though Torre had not played there in the majors before) and called up the 20-year-old Simmons. 

Simmons and St. Louis in the 1970s were synonymous. Simmons became well known for his unique interests in the arts and antiques -- even being featured in a 1978 Sports Illustrated article about him. That article mentioned that he was named a trustee for the St. Louis Art Museum in 1978 thanks in part to his knowledge on 18th century antiques and his position with the Cardinals. 

Something else that article mentioned is Simmons's defensive reputation. Despite it being a human interest puff piece in most regards, it states that Simmons was aware of the misconception that he was "no more than a mediocre catcher," citing to his huge passed ball totals in 1974 and 1975 (he had 28 passed balls, falling one short of tying the league's record in passed balls since 1900). Tim McCarver said Simmons was concentrating on his hitting while catching, which sounds like something Tim McCarver would say. 

That defensive reputation/ability is what led to his trade to Milwaukee. Whitey Herzog came to St. Louis before the 1980 season and came to the conclusion that the thirty-year-old Simmons -- who, by then, had caught in excess of 11,000 innings in his career -- was simply not going to be the catcher for his team in 1981. Herzog, who was also the Cardinals GM, signed his former Kansas City catcher (and former Brewer) Darrell Porter to catch and told Simmons that Simmons would shift to first base (with Keith Hernandez moving to the outfield). 

Simmons did not like that idea all that much, so he asked for a trade. That led to the blockbuster deal of the 1980 offseason. Herzog traded Simmons with the recently acquired Rollie Fingers (who was surplus to requirements in St. Louis thanks to Bruce Sutter's signing) along with Pete Vuckovich to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorensen, Dave LaPoint, and David Green. While the Brewers gave away Lezcano (whom many thought was a rising star) and Green (whom many thought was the best prospect in the minor leagues), they received in return two Cy Youngs (Fingers in 1981 and Vuckovich in 1982) and a soon-to-be two-time Brewers All-Star (Simmons in 1981 and 1983).

Simmons's stay in Milwaukee was a fruitful yet frustrating one. Yes, he got to the postseason twice in his five seasons as a Brewer, but both trips ended in losses and the 1982 trip ended in a loss in his adopted hometown of St. Louis. In many respects, a lot of the issues in 1982 could be placed at Simmons's feet, as he batted a poor .174/.321/.435 in the World Series (4-23 with 5 walks and two homers). Still, watching his former team win both in 1982 and in 1985 had to be somewhat hurtful.

The Brewers decided to move on from Simmons after the 1985 season, and Simba moved to Atlanta as a pinch-hitter who could catch or play first or third in a pinch. Moving back to the NL gave him the opportunity to see the Cards more frequently, and it led to his post-retirement career as well. In August of 1988, Simmons knew he would retire after the season. Before a game with the Cardinals in St. Louis, Simmons spoke with his old pal Whitey Herzog about what was next. Whitey immediately asked Simmons if he would be interested in becoming the Cardinals farm director. That is what Simmons did after the 1988 season and his retirement.

It's not an exact fit for this category, but the story needs to be put somewhere in Simmons's biography. During the 1970s, Simmons's son John had a baseball-crazy best friend named Jon Hamm. Yes, the Jon Hamm of "Mad Men" fame. Thanks to that tie, Jon Hamm's first catcher's mitt was given to him by Simmons -- a Rawlings mitt shipped direct from the factory. Hamm recognized the irony of the 1982 Series as well, saying, "My favorite baseball memory is my best friend's baseball disaster."

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Simmons's entire life has been spent in baseball. Simmons moved from the Cardinals front office to become the GM, but he stepped aside in 1993 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 44. That led him to stop smoking, start exercising, and eat better so, as he put it, he would not be "dead by the time you are 50." He then worked in scouting and/or in the front office for Cleveland, San Diego, Seattle and Atlanta. In addition, he was the bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2008 season -- their first trip back to the postseason since 1982.

Of course Simmons was one of the guys who played a major role for my 1982 Milwaukee Brewers team. As a catcher as a kid, Simmons was a personal favorite of mine -- he and Gary Carter. But, overall, Simmons probably does not rank much higher than 7th or 8th in terms of the favorite players on that team behind at least Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ben Oglivie, Jim Gantner, and Gorman Thomas (and maybe Rollie Fingers too). 

The major question that gets asked these days is if Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame. My answer is a resounding yes. Looking to the "JAWS" scores from Baseball Reference, Simmons is the highest ranked catcher who is eligible for induction but has not yet been inducted. He's listed as the 10th best catcher overall, and only the recently-retired Joe Mauer ranks higher without being inducted. 

Simmons's main problem is similar to what Tim Raines went through. Simmons played at the same time as the 1st, 2nd, and 4th best catchers in baseball history -- Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk. Bench debuted in 1967, Simmons in 1968, Fisk in 1969, and Carter in 1974. Even if Simmons was the poorest defensively amongst those four, there is a good argument that he is the best or at worst second best offensive catcher of the four. The fact that Simmons played at a time when the game's best ever catchers played, however, should not be a reason to keep him out. 

Simmons is a Hall of Famer, and the voters made a mistake (and continue to make a mistake) in keeping him out.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Card #149: Pat Putnam

Who Can It Be Now?
Patrick Edward Putnam was born in Bethel, Vermont, on December 3, 1953. There have not been many major leaguers born in Vermont -- 38 total as of the end of 2015 -- and only 6 have made their debuts since 1965. Those include Carlton Fisk, Putnam, Len Whitehouse, Mark Brown, Chris Duffy, and Daric Barton.  

As the always excellent source of a SABR biography for him notes, Pat grew up outside Burlington. Luckily for Pat's baseball career, his father's job transferred him to Fort Myers, Florida, when Pat was 8 years old. Pat first attended Miami-Dade North JC on a baseball scholarship, and then went to play at the University of South Alabama under the legendary Eddie Stanky.

After his Junior College graduation, Putnam was selected by the New York Mets in the 12th Round of the 1974 draft but chose not to sign and went to USA (then SAU). The next year, he was drafted in the 1st round of the June secondary draft by the Rangers and chose to sign.

He first reached the major leagues in 1977, but Putnam's major league career took off in 1979. He finished tied for fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting thanks to hitting 18 HR in 139 games for the Rangers. He followed that up in 1980 with a 18 HR season -- both of which were punctuated with an OBP of .319. The problem for Putnam, though, was that the Rangers fell in love with Mike Hostetler in 1982. So, after the 1982 season, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for a journeyman-type pitcher named Ron Musselman.

Putnam looked like a genuine steal for the Mariners in 1983 when he hit 19 HR and drove in 67. But, once again, his team fell in love with a rookie at first base -- this time, in 1984, the rookie was Alvin Davis who was a far better hitter than Putnam, who found himself traded at the end of August to the Minnesota Twins.

At the age of 31 and for the 1985 season, Putnam served as a Triple A insurance policy for the Kansas City Royals. Tiring of that role and not having a family to consider as a single man, Putnam signed on with the Nippon Ham Fighters for the 1986 season. He did so well there -- .286/.355/.478, 25 HR, 78 RBI -- that he stayed another year.  His 1987 season in Japan was his last real professional season, not counting the Senior League.

Mustache Check
It's not the best photo of him, but pretty much every Pat Putnam photo and card available shows Pat as clean shaven. So, I'm guessing that he is here too. 

Totally Gnarly
Putnam had a reputation early in his career as being something of a nutjob. As the 1980 Topps blog noted, the Sporting News from June 7, 1980, said that "Putnam belongs on any all-whacko list for his proclivities of eating dog biscuits, imitating Shamu the Whale in the whirlpool and assorted other eccentricities."

No wonder he's still a bachelor.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Maybe it was just holiday boredom that overtook me, but I decided to post here again today. Maybe if try I do one of these a week or two a month or something, I'll have the time to do it.

In my head, when Pat Putnam's name comes up, he's a Mariner -- despite the fact that he spent less than two full seasons there. That is almost certainly a recency bias on my part. Well, that and the 19-homer season he had that year.

Putnam spent most of his post-baseball life as a businessman in his hometown of Fort Myers, Florida. He started a company called Home Environment Center, which (the SABR biography tells me) specialized in "air and water purification." It appears that Putnam may have retired from that company in the past few years after the SABR biography was written, as the company is no longer an active Florida Corporation.

I'm not 100% sure what Mr. Putnam is up to these days, though it's possible that he is a member of the Lee County Tennis Association who is responsible for dealing with people interested in playing pickleball at Waterway Park on Poetry Lane in North Fort Myers. I mean, I could call the phone number on that page and ask if that person is the same Pat Putnam, but that feels a bit intrusive to me.

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.

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.