Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#361 Wayne Garland




Who is this player?
Wayne Garland, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians
The 1980 season for Wayne Garland began much as the previous three; frustrating and in pain. So much so, that as Spring Training wore on, his future with the Cleveland Indians seemed questionable. Likely due to his historic contract, Wayne earned the final spot on the Indians' staff and was used sporadically to start the season. He even tried adding a knuckleball to his repertoire in an effort to earn a spot back in the starting rotation. Garland was given his first start on June 16th and he responded with a complete game victory against the Chicago White Sox. Three weeks later, he fired a two-hit shutout against the New York Yankees before 73,096. Naturally, the optimists hailed a return to form, but Garland was still cautious. He was unable to build upon these performances and lost his final five decisions of the season. Garland finished 1980 with a 6-9 record and a 4.61 ERA.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Wayne Garland was drafted as a 18-year old graduate of Cohn High School by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. During this period, the Orioles farm system was one of the finest in Major League Baseball, with an emphasis on signing and developing young pitchers. Garland was certainly no exception. He had a fabulous 1971 season at Double-A Dallas-Fort Worth, winning 19 games, posting a 1.71 ERA and leading the Spurs to the Junior World Series. However, he was unable to crack the Orioles deep pitching staff during a times when the O's owned the American League East. When he fired a no-hitter at Triple-A Rochester early in the 1974 season, he was brought up to the Orioles for good.

Wayne spent the 1974 and 1975 seasons in the Orioles bullpen, occasionally given a shot as a spot starter and occasionally earning a save or two. More importantly, Garland established a pattern by hiring an agent and not quickly signing a contract for 1974 as well as 1975. At this time in the game's history, players who had agents were treated with skepticism and criticism by management. By the time 1976 rolled around, Garland again did not sign a contract and since he was not an integral part of the Orioles, it did not appear to be their top priority.

As is now well known, Garland took advantage of the opportunity presented to him in 1976 when the Orioles had a shortage of starting pitchers early in the season. He would go on to win 20 games and post a 2.67 ERA and was among the league leaders in nearly every pitching category. At 25 years old, the righthanded Garland was widely acknowledged as as a coming star and since he finished 1976 without a contract, one of the most desirable free agents. Free agency was new that winter and was by no means as routine as it was today. What happened would stun the media, the baseball world and even Garland himself.

The Cleveland Indians signed Garland to a $2.3 million dollar contract for ten years and the entire landscape changed for major league baseball. Although most point to this contract as an example of free agent "busts" Garland blazed a new trail that generations following him would benefit from. As he often said that year and after why would he turn it down?

However, Garland received criticism from the moment he signed the deal, even from former teammates such as Jim Palmer. He was even criticized for wearing number 23, which was a constant, unfortunate reminder of his contract. Needless to say he was eager to prove that he was "worth it." Unbeknownst at the time, Garland suffered a shoulder injury in his first Spring Training game with the Indians. It was later revealed that he tore his rotator cuff, a death knell for pitchers during this era. Nonetheless, he played through the injury, trying to earn his contract; pitching 282 inning with 21 complete games. However, his cast behind him in Cleveland wasn't the same as Baltimore and he lost 19 games.

The following year, he attempted to again pitch through the pain until he succumbed to surgery. Instead of taking time off to heal, he returned 10 months after surgery in what proved to be a mistake as he never again was able to pitch consistently effectively. It was a testament to his will and courage that he was even able to return to pitch at all even with the added pressure of "the contract" and the fans of Cleveland which by now had grown impatient. So too did Cleveland management, who released him after the 1981 season, effectively ending his 9-year career. He attempted a comeback with Nashville in the Yankees organization, working on his knuckleball with Hoyt Wilhelm. Eventually though, Garland decided to retire outright.

Garland worked in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system as a coach and was named the head coach at Aquinas Junior College in Nashville in 1984. He also coached in the Cincinnati Reds organization. However, health issues continued to plague Garland as six back surgeries by 2003 curtailed his coaching career as well. Today, Wayne Garland is living the Lakeland, Florida area.

Why I love this card
I have mentioned this before, but this card reminds me of Sunday, August 24, 1980. My grandpa had been sick for some time and died that day. I had just bought a pack at the 7-11 and was sitting on the curb with some buddies and this card was inside. My dad and uncle came around the corner in my dad's huge 1978 Buick and gave me the "better get home" look. There are a handful of cards from this pack that I associate with that day and Garland is one. Sorry to be so morbid, but Garland reminds me of Grandpa today.

Something else....
Three of the top pitchers in 1976 were Mark Fidrych, Randy Jones and Wayne Garland. Before Opening Day 1977, all three would have suffered injuries that significantly shortened and ultimately ended their careers. Interesting to ponder what the late 1970s would have been like had all three remained healthy and had longer careers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#360 Darrell Porter
















Who is this player?
Darrell Porter, catcher, Kansas City Royals
After posting one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher up to that point, Darrell Porter of the Kansas City Royals shocked the baseball world during Spring Training 1980 when he disclosed substance abuse problem. Initally, only alcohol was cited as a problem, but Porter also acknowledged a cocaine addiction. He spent the next six weeks in a rehabilitation facility and his return to the diamond was seen as an example of his will and courage. However, his performance was effected by the lack of Spring Training, hostile opposing fans and a brief hospitalization. Despite this adversity, he was still able to help the Royals advance to their first World Series in franchise history. When the season ended, Porter followed former manager Whitey Herzog to St. Louis when he signed a large free agent contract with the Cardinals.

A Midwestern boy, Darrell Porter was born in Joplin, Missouri and became a prep star at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A standout on the diamond and the gridiron, Porter received scholarship offers from 40 schools as a football candidate. Blessed with a powerful throwing arm, he initially signed a letter of intent with to quarterback at the University of Oklahoma before deciding on a baseball future. The Milwaukee Brewers made him their first selection of the amateur player draft in June 1970 and offered him a reported $70,000, a large sum for its time. The left-handed hitting Porter homered in his first professional at bat later that summer and was immediately tabbed as a major league prospect.

Darrell made his major league debut the following season and lived up to his billing by crashing a home run against AL MVP and Cy Young Vida Blue. At the time, he was the youngest player in the major leagues. However, he required some more seasoning in the minor leagues before returning to the bigs for good in 1973. That rookie season his .257 batting average and 16 home runs, placed him third in the Rookie of the Year voting and he was named to the American League All-Star team in 1974. However, Porter began to be plagued by the pressure to live up to his advance billing, and this ultimately was a major part of his substance abuse issue. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals following the 1976 season in a curious move, partly because of Brewers' owner Bud Selig decision to rid the team of a potential problem.

Blessed with a new start in Kansas City, Porter's offensive production increased. He was named an All-Star three seasons in a row (1978-1980) and helped the Royals reach the postseason three out of the four seasons he was a Royal. The one season Kansas City didn't reach the playoffs was Porter's finest (1979) which saw Darrell become only the sixth catcher in Major League history drive in and score 100 runs in the same season. He also led the American League with 121 walks and reached base a league-leading 284 times. For good measure, he also placed among league leaders in sacrifice flies, hit by pitches and triples.

While with the Cardinals, Porter was never able to regain his offensive production of 1979, but he was still a solid catcher able to draw walks and get on base. Despite this, he was given a hard time by the St. Louis fans, even as the Cardinals drove towards a postseason appearance in 1982. Porter rewarded them with a scintillating performance in the NLCS, batting .556 (5 for 9) in the Cardinals three game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. He followed that with a similar performance in the World Series against Milwaukee. With several timely hits, including the game-winner in Game 7, Porter was again named the Most Valuable Player. He was also an inspirational figure, often re-telling the story of his addictions and his conversion to a born-again Christian. His autobiography, Snap Me Perfect! was released prior to the 1984 season.

Porter had his best statistical season in St. Louis in 1983 but the Cardinals were unable to return to the postseason. Injuries began to take their toll as he fractured a finger in '83 and suffered a broken collarbone and thumb in 1984. St. Louis returned to the World Series again in 1985, with Porter again having a good NLCS, this time against the Dodgers. However, Darrell and the Cardinals struggled offensively in the World Series against Porter's old team the Royals, and St. Louis came up short in seven games. Porter would spend the final two seasons as a part-time player with the Texas Rangers before retiring after the 1987 season and 17 major league campaigns.

In retirement, Porter, like many of his contemporaries became a broadcaster for a time, was heavily involved in charity world and dabbled in antiques. On August 5, 2002, Porter was found dead in Sugar Creek, Missouri outside of his vehicle. It was initially believed that Porter's car was stuck on a tree stump and the high heat and humidity played a role in his death when he attempted to push the car. An autopsy concluded that he died of "toxic effects of cocaine" consistent with recreational use and induced a condition called excited delirium that caused his heart to stop. He was only 50 years old.

Why I love this card
First, any All-Star card commanded my immediate respect. Something about the All-Star banner that was on these cards elevated the players in my young mind as a future Hall of Famer. Secondly, I was drawn to the fact that Porter went to bat without any batting gloves. For an aspiring Little Leaguer, this was affirmation, especially during a time when batting gloves were becoming the rage. They are pretty standard now at all levels, but back then it was kind of cool to see an All-Star buck the on-coming trend.

Something else...
Porter and Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane are the only catchers in American League history to draw 100 walks, score 100 runs and drive in 100 RBI in the same season. Porter of course in 1979, Cochrane in 1932.

Also included below is Porter's 1980 Topps Super card. Unfortunately, this was not something that I obtained during the summer of 1980, rather it was something that I stumbled across years later when I stumbled across the whole set.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

#359 Randy Moffitt

















Who is this player?
Randy Moffitt, relief pitcher, San Francisco Giants
After spending most of the 1970s as one of the San Francisco Giants' most reliable relief pitchers, Randy Moffitt entered 1980 battling a mysterious ailment. He had lost nearly 25 pounds since the start of the 1979 season and doctors had been telling him that it was all in his head. Others thought that his arm simply went dead. He went through frequent bouts of vomiting, bleeding ulcers and had difficulties with his stamina. However, Randy was found to be suffering from a rare and frequently fatal intestinal parasite, Cryptosporidia enteritis.  Only 100 humans are known ever to have contracted this lethal disease which is typically found in barnyard animals. Moffitt was told that, if he lived, it might take him two years to recover and was advised to rest and return for periodic tests. The Giants put him on the disabled list and he appeared in only 13 games in 1980.

Randy Moffitt came from an athletic family as his older sister was tennis star Billie Jean King. He was a prep star in Long Beach, California, winning the Connie Mack World Series. Randy was a two-time all league choice in three seasons at Long Beach State University where he set career records for innings pitched and strikeouts. The Giants made him their first pick of the 1970 amateur draft.

As a slider-sinker specialist, Randy's reputation was a ground ball pitcher. He also was known to deliver his pitches from a variety of angles, including sidearm. He was converted into a reliever after his first professional season and within two years he was in the major leagues. Moffitt quickly became the Giants' most reliable short reliever. In an era where saves are not as emphasized as much as today, he notched 54 in a four year stretch (1973-1976) that saw him place in the top ten in the league each season. For example, his fifteen saves in 1974 was second best in the National League.

He was also a very durable pitcher, averaging 61 appearance a season between 1973 and 1978. However, most of these achievements were done in anonymity as the value of a reliable late inning reliever would not be recognized often during Randy's career. By the time it began to, he began to fall ill with the fungus that would essentially cost him three seasons of his career. Moffitt, a horse enthusiast, surmised that he contracted the virus hot walking racing horses. At one time, he worked on the backstretch of Bay Meadows track near San Francisco and also earned a groom's licence.

While still on the disabled list during the 1981 season, the Giants released him, figuring his career was over. But he signed a minor-league deal with the Houston Astros and made a comeback with them late in the 1982 season. The Astros did not keep him as they were going towards younger players and he was recommended to the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a fine season with Toronto in 1983, appearing in 45 games and saving 10. Curiously, he did not appear again in a major league uniform after that season, ending his 12-year major league career.

Why I love this card
At the time, I loved the idea of an All-Star jersey like the one shown on the back of Moffitt's card, but I'm glad I changed my mind about that. I also had no idea about the Billy Jean King connection at the time, not that it would have mattered to me, though. In looking at this card today, and knowing what I know about what he went through during this period, he does look like he was ill when this picture was taken. However, I could say the same about alot of players who have made ugly faces elsewhere in this set.

Something else....
At the time of Randy Moffitt's release from the Giants in 1981, only two other pitchers in franchise history (Christy Mathewson and Carl Hubbell) appeared in more games than Moffitt. He has since been passed by Greg Minton and Gary Lavelle, but that is still impressive nonetheless. I definitely would have got the trivia question wrong.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#358 Lou Whitaker



Who is this player?
Lou Whitaker, second baseman, Detroit Tigers
After the trade of Ron LeFlore, Sparky Anderson tabbed second baseman Lou Whitaker to be the Detroit Tigers' leadoff batter. Whitaker had difficulty adjusting to the role and slumped badly. He was moved to the ninth position in the order when his average dropped under .200 in early June and the chants of "Loooo" at Tiger Stadium turned into boos. The slump and vision problems kept in out of the lineup for two weeks and he was momentarily replaced in the hearts of fans by Stan Papi. This bothered the normally affable Whitaker who displayed his frustration by hinting at a trade. "Sweet Lou" had modest improvement for the remainder of the season, but his 1980 season was clearly the most disappointing of his career to that point.

Louis Rodman Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, New York but raised in Martinsville, Virgina where he had some success in high school initially as a pitcher. As an 18-year old high school senior, he was selected by the Tigers in the June 1975 amateur draft. The left-hand hitting Whitaker played third base for Lakeland in 1976, earning Most Valuable Player honors. The following year he was promoted to Montgomery, Alabama, where he was switched to second base to team with Alan Trammell. The two would spend the next 19 years as double play teammates. After a solid season with Montgomery, both Whitaker and Trammell made their major league debuts and got their first hits in the same game on September 9, 1977.

The following season, Whitaker broke camp with the Tigers and won the second base job outright before April ended. That first year he demonstrated excellence in the field, a quick bat and speed on tha basepaths. At season’s end, Lou finished the season batting .285 with 71 runs scored and led the league in double plays with Trammell. Whitaker was named American League Rookie of the Year, edging out future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. Another solid season followed in 1979 and the Tigers, in part because of Whitaker, was considered one of the best young teams in baseball.

After a 1980 setback, Lou settled into the bottom of the Detroit batting order and slowly rebuilt his confidence at the plate. By mid-1982, the Tigers, and Whitaker in particular were ready to rise to prominence. Now moved to the leadoff position, Whitaker had arguably his best statistical season in 1983, banging out 206 hits and finishing third in the American League with .320 batting average. He was named an All-Star and won a Gold Glove for the first time in his career. The Tigers meanwhile, won the most games since winning the World Championship in 1968 and great things seemed to be on the horizon.

Whitaker was the catalyst for the 1984 World Series champions and although it appeared that his statistics did not match the previous year, he started his first All Star Game, provided excellent defense and clutch hitting and saved his best for the postseason. That fall, Whitaker showed the nation his skills as a leadoff batter, reaching base six times in the first inning of the Tigers' eight postseason games. He was also a tremendous fan favorite in Detroit, receiving thunderous ovations of "Looooo" on each trip to the plate. His popularity transcended Detroit, as he even appeared on an episode of "Magnum P.I."

For the remainder of the decade, Whitaker was one of the premier second basemen in the game. During one of his All-Star appearances, he forgot to pack his uniform and had to make due with a substitute that is now in the Smithsonian Museum. His power numbers peaked during the middle and late 1980s, averaging 20 home runs a season from 1985-1991. In 1987 the Tigers returned to the postseason, as Lou set a career-high with 110 runs scored. However, Detroit lost the ALCS to the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers contended late into the 1988 season, when an ill-fated dance move cost Whitaker the remainder of the season and the Tigers an opportunity at the post-season.

As the 1990s began, Whitaker remained a fixture in Detroit as his playing time slowly began to diminish. He retired after the 1995 season after speculation that he may return for one final season with teammate Alan Trammell, but the two had already set a major league record by appearing in 1,918 games together. but the two had already set a major league record by appearing in 1,918 games together. He joined Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan as the only second basemen to score 1,000 runs, drive in 1,000 runs, and collect 2,000 hits and 200 homers. Incredibly, he received virtually no support for the Hall of Fame and he was dropped from the writer's ballot after only one season.

Whitaker has periodically returned to Detroit for special appearances and even served as a Spring Training instructor at Alan Trammell request when Tram managed the Tigers in 2003.

Why I love this card
A great shot of Whitaker at Tiger Stadium, apparently during pregame warmups. As a kid growing up in the Detroit area in 1980, all Tiger cards were special, but getting a Whitaker was like having a second birthday.

Something else....
Two things actually, Whitaker became a Jehovah's Witness midway during his career; introduced to the religion by teammate Chet Lemon. As part of these beliefs, Lou would not stand for the national anthem. I found a video of this here:


Secondly, it boggles my mind that Whitaker was not seriously considered for the Hall of Fame. He did nearly everything a middle infielder from his era could do, with the exception of being named MVP. His numbers are very similar to contemporary Ryne Sandberg, who did win the MVP. It is a shame that he is so overlooked.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

#357 Bob McClure






Who is this player?
Bob McClure, relief pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
It is difficult to imagine now, but in 1980, when Bob McClure was was the de facto closer of the Milwaukee Brewers, he still hankered to be used as a starting pitcher. The Brewers were without a "fireman" in the traditional sense, McClure performed the best in that role, saving 10 games and posting an ERA below 3.00 for most of the season. With Milwaukee out of the race late in the season, the left-handed McClure was given an opportunity to start for the first time in his career. He pitched a complete game, six-hitter in defeating his old team, the Kansas City Royals. Bob won four of his five starts down the stretch, giving Milwaukee management new ideas about his versatility.

A three-sport athlete at Terra Nova High School in Pacifica, California, Bob McClure began to attract attention from major league scouts after being named All-American at San Mateo Junior College. He was selected by the Kansas City Royals in June 1973 and reported the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer Rookie League. He led the loop with 10 wins and fired three shutouts. The following year, he was moved to Triple-A ball in Omaha and he picked off an astounding 17 enemy baserunners. By the end of the 1975 season, he was promoted to the major leagues and made his debut with the Royals.

The final month of the 1975 season was a fabulous one for McClure. In 15.1 innings covering 12 appearances, he did not allow a run. It was this performance that defined him as a relief pitcher in the major leagues. The Royals used him exclusively out of the bullpen, but he was moved quickly, traded to Milwaukee in a package deal that landed Kansas City catcher Darrell Porter. It was during this time that McClure established a reputation as a reliable reliever who was tough on left-handed batters. For example, Rod Carew and Fred Lynn, two stars of the era, batted only .227 and .240 respectively against McClure.

McClure led the Brewers twice in saves (1978 and 1980), but the acquisition of Rollie Fingers and Bob's performance as a starter had him moved to the starting rotation. However, tendinitis caused him to miss much of the 1981 season. He did pitch in three games in relief in the Brewers first ever post-season appearance, a ALDS loss to the New York Yankees in five games.

In Milwaukee's pennant-winning 1982 season, Bob was the #3 pitcher in the rotation and won a career high 12 games and 172 innings. He again pitched in the postseason for the Brewers, winning the clinching Game 5 in relief. Bob and the Brewers were not as fortunate in the World Series, however, as McClure lost two games in relief and Milwaukee the Series in seven games. Bob would spend 10 years in a Milwaukee uniform, and by the time of his departure in 1986, he was among the career leaders in several team pitching categories.

As the emphasis on relief pitching accelerated into the 1980s and 1990s, McClure settled into a role a left-handed specialist for several teams. Beginning with the Montreal Expos in 1986, he pitched with the New York Mets, California Angels, St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins before he closed out his 19-year career in 1993.

McClure almost immediately transitioned into a coaching career after his playing days, in both the major and minor leagues. He was the Royals pitching coach for six seasons (2006-2011) where he oversaw the development of Cy Young winner Zack Grienke. He was named pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox for the 2012 season.

Why I love this card
Quite possibly, McClure's card has the best fact on the back. To read that McClure made his major league debut at 1AM was stunning to me. At this point in my life, I don't think that I had ever stayed up later than 10PM. To think that major league baseball games were being played at such a late hour was beyond comprehension. Nobody was ever out that late were they? That was something that was reserved for Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Or burglers. They were out late too. As I may have mentioned, mine was an odd childhood.

Something else....
McClure and Keith Hernandez were teammates in Little League. Even more importantly, this McClure card was a 1980 original from my collection.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

#356 Jerry Coleman San Diego Padres Team Card





















What is this card?
Team Card, San Diego Padres, Jerry Coleman Manager

Certainly, whenever a team announces a new manager, there is excitement for the upcoming season. When Jerry Coleman was named as manager of the San Diego Padres on October, 1979, the word most associated with the decision was shock. In an unexpected move, Padres' GM Bob Fontaine fired manager Roger Craig and replaced him with Coleman, who at the time was the team's play-by-play announcer.

While Coleman had a nine year career with the New York Yankees championship teams of the 1950s, he had never before piloted a baseball team. Despite concerns about their depth, the Padres began the 1980 season optimistically after signing free agent pitchers Rick Wise and John Curtis to bolster the starting rotation and trading for nearly an entirely new infield in first baseman Willie Montanez, second baseman Dave Cash and third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez.

San Diego also had the talents of three future Hall of Famers on the squad (Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers and Dave Winfield). However, the Padres were beset by injuries and a lack of depth to finish 73-89 and a last place finish in the National League West.

The Winfield saga alone was one that hung over the Padres all season. Big Dave was in the final year of his contract and Padre management had hoped to resign him but talks stalled. It seemed clear as the year went on that the Padres best player would be moving on.

Predictably, Coleman's inexperience caused problems with several veterans who criticized him in the press, most notably Rollie Fingers and Gene Tenace. By mid-season Fontaine was fired and replaced by Jack McKeon.

However, there was some standout performances on the 1980 Padres, including:

Leftfielder Gene Richards, who finished second in the NL with 193 hits and stole 61 bases,
Rightfielder Winfield, who was the club's lone All Star representative and led the club in HR and RBI,
Centerfielder Jerry Mumphrey, who batted .298 and stole 52 bases, and
Shortstop Ozzie Smith who set a major league record  for most assists by a shortstop (621).

The Padres set a team record and led the National League with 287 stolen bases, led by Richards, Mumphrey and Smith (57 SB).

At season's end, the Padres lost Winfield via free agency and "Trader Jack" McKeon earned his reputation by dealing most of their veterans including Fingers, Tenace, Bob Shirley and Randy Jones. In return, they would receive catcher Terry Kennedy among others, who would be one of the cornerstones of the 1984 National League champions. Coleman was fired as manager and returned to the broadcast booth, his one year adventure in the dugout over.

Why I love this card
This one is fairly obvious. The fact that there are elephants in a major league team's picture is pretty awesome. Taken at the San Diego Zoo, the elephants detract from the Padres horrible home unis.

Something else....
Former Padre pitcher John Curtis wrote a review about Jerry Coleman's book, which can be found here.

Coleman incidentally, has led a very intriguing life. In addition to being named the 1948 AL Rookie of the Year, he won four world titles as a player and was named an All-Star. He was also 2008 Hall of Fame broadcaster inductee, with more than 50 years of broadcast experience. Coleman also served in the armed forces in World War II and the Korean conflict. While a Marine Corps aviator he flew 120 combat missions, receiving numerous honors and medals including two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Monday, May 14, 2012

#355 Gary Matthews

















Who is this player?
Gary Matthews, right fielder, Atlanta Braves
Coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, for Gary Matthews of the Atlanta Braves, 1980 would prove to be difficult. When the Braves started the year 1-9 and Matthews mired in an 0 for 21 slump, Atlanta owner Ted Turner ordered Matthews benched. From there, management attempted to trade Matthews, but a deal could not be consummated. Later, Matthews filed a grievance over a fine he received when he and some teammates were fined for missing a club luncheon. Upon his return to the starting lineup, Gary rattled out three hits and had the game-winning RBI against the first place Houston Astros and went on to bat .342 during the month of May. The right-handed hitting Matthews would have a solid season in 1980 (.278, 19, 75), but he didn't match his previous output and it appeared that his days in Atlanta were winding down.

Gary Mathews was a lightly-regarded high school pitcher when he was first seen by legendary scout George Genovese. Seeing Matthews as hitter, as well as being impressed with his character, Genovese recommended the San Francisco Giants selected Gary, which they did with their #1 selection of the 1968 amateur player draft. His time in the minor league was short as he quickly worked his way up the ladder and impressed when he was called up to the Giants in September, 1972.

Inserted as the Giants left fielder the following year, Gary had an exceptional season, batting an even .300 and was named NL Rookie of the Year. At the time, the Giants' outfield of Matthews, Bobby Bonds and Garry Maddox was one of the fastest and exciting in the game. Matthews in particular, displayed an aggressive style on the field and was known for his takeout slide and tumbling catches. However, they did not last together long and despite some very productive seasons by the Bay, the poor state of team finances soon hastened Matthews' departure from the Giants, as a free agent after the 1976 season.

At the time, free agency was new and its impact was still being felt around baseball. Matthews' transition to the Braves was not a simple one and there were issues regarding Gary's 2-million dollar deal between Braves' owner Ted Turner and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Turner was suspended one-year for tampering, but Matthews nonetheless became an Atlanta Brave. Gary would spend four years in Atlanta was selected to the All-Star team for the only time in his career in 1979.

With Atlanta unable to trade Matthews during the 1980 season, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 1981 campaign. It was during his Philadelphia years that the nickname "Sarge" really stuck with Matthews and his unsung efforts led the "Wheeze Kids" Phillies to the NL flag. For his efforts, Matthews was named MVP of the 1983 NCLS when he batted .429 and clubbed three home runs. The Phillies, however, fell short in the World Series and the process of replacing veterans in Philly began in earnest. Matthews was one of those veterans.

After three years with the Phillies, the Chicago Cubs traded for him in 1984 and he was one of the veteran leaders on a Cub team that made the postseason for the first time in 39 years. For his part, Gary led the National League in walks and on-base percentage and placed fifth in the MVP voting. Matthews even led the attack in the first game of the NLCS by clubbing two home runs. Again, however, Gary's team failed to advance to the World Series as the Cubs lost in five games. Injuries began to take their toll, as Matthews missed much of the 1985 season and he was released by the Cubs midway during the 1987 season. He caught on with the Seattle Mariners, where he would play 45 games to close out his 16-year major league career.

In his post-playing days, Matthews would spend years in the private sector before returning to baseball. He coached for several teams, including the Cubs, beginning in 1995 through 2006. Beginning with the 2007 season, he has served as analyst on Philadelphia Phillies' broadcasts and is noted for some of his sayings as evidenced here. And of course, his son, Gary Jr., had a 12-year major league career from 1999-2010.

Why I love this card:
For the longest time, I had little to no clue what that was on Matthews' sleeve. In the days before WTBS in my home, I had very little interaction with the Atlanta Braves living in an AL town. It was one of those things that didn't bother me enough to ask about it but enough to be puzzled about it when I saw it. For a while, I thought I was reading the letters "V" and "Y" instead of seeing the feather. It became an optical illusion like the old/young woman or the Montreal Expos "M." Those who know me best will insist that I am still that dumb.


Something else....
Matthews penned an autobiography entitled, appropriately "They Call Me Sarge." In it, he lists some of his "Matthews-isms" which I have shared here:


1.
No high-fives until the late innings.
2.
Play to win, but play clean.
3.
Say what you mean, but pick your spots.
4.
Put personal problems aside when you play the game.
5.
Respect and friendships are the key.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

#354 Rick Auerbach




















Who is this player?
Rick Auerbach, reserve infielder, Cincinnati Reds
Known initially as a good glove man that was swift on the basepaths, Rick Auerbach had been transitioning into a role as a useful pinch-hitter as the 1980 season began. With the Cincinnati Reds, Auerbach didn't see much playing time, but took advantage of the time he did see, compiling a .333 batting average (11 for 33) by midseason. However, the Reds sold Auerbach to the Texas Rangers shortly after the All-Star break. Rick was in the process of getting married when the transaction was completed and he never reported to the Rangers. Texas placed him on the disqualified list for the remainder of the 1980 season and Auerbach returned home. During the winter, he was involved in an 11-player trade that would send him to the Seattle Mariners.

Rick Auerbach was a native of Woodland Hills, California where he was a prep star at Taft High School (which would boast Robin Yount several years later). Originally drafted by the California Angels out of high school in 1968, Rick instead went to Pierce College and was drafted by the Seattle Pilots the following year. Being an expansion team, Rick rose quickly up the ranks as the Pilots moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. His speed was his greatest asset initially and it led him to be invited to the Brewers Spring Training camp in 1971 as a non-roster player. When camp ended, he broke north with the team and found himself in a platoon as Milwaukee's shortstop. By the end of June he was returned to the minors for more seasoning, but it seemed that it would be a matter of time before Auerbach would claim the position as his own.

He did so the following season, winning the shortstop job outright. Appearing in 153 games, he was seventh in the American League in 1972 with 24 stolen bases. However, he batted just .218 and made 30 errors. Shortly after the 1973 season began, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he was primarily a backup for Bill Russell. He would split time between Triple-A and Los Angeles during his tenure (1974-76) but he did appear in the 1974 NLCS and had a pinch-hit double in Game 3 off of Pirates hurler Ramon Hernandez.

Traded to the Mets prior to the 1977 season, he never appeared in a game with the parent club and moved on to Cincinnati in June. He backed up various members of the Big Red Machine and led the National League in pinch hitting in 1978 when he went 7 for 13. He was also one of the few major leaguers of his era to embrace weight training when it was often scorned by major league clubs. In 1979, he had his most at-bats since 1972 in helping the Reds win the NL West championship. Although he batted only .210 he took full advantage of when he was given starting opportunities.

In Seattle for the 1981 season, Auerbach started slowly, batting .155 and his season was ended prematurely, when he was hit by a pitch and broke his right thumb. Although he did not know it at the time, it was the final major league appearance of Auerbach's 11 year career.

More recently, Auerbach has made the news with his bowling exploits in his native California. He took up the game five years ago and his average is about 220.

Why I love this card
Any mention of the Seattle Pilots would garner my attention and there it was on the back of Auerbach's card. I had not discovered "Ball Four" yet, so the Pilots were a mysterious entity to me. Worse, most of the adults I knew could not enlighten me much on the subject either because of the book or because they were not otherwise memorable. For me, though, a card like Auerbach's would begin a life-long curiosity in the Seattle Pilots, of which I am still a sucker for to this day.
 
Something else....
Apparently, Auerbach's issues with the Texas Rangers were not isolated to 1980. After he was traded to the Rangers from the Mets in 1977, the Rangers sent him to the minors after Auerbach was under the impression he would be signing a major league contract. He refused to report to Triple-A and presumably quit baseball. However, when the Rangers sold him to the Reds, he ended his exile and became a productive pinch hitter.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

#353 Andy Hassler












Who is this player?
Andy Hassler, relief pitcher, New York Mets
When Spring Training began in February 1980, it was presumed that free agent signee Andy Hassler would replace the departed Bruce Kison on the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching staff. However, a terrible performance the Grapefruit League shook the confidence of Pirate management. He performance, along the with acquisition of Buddy Solomon, likely would have led to his release if not for his large contract. Hassler appeared in only six games for the Pirates before he was sold to the California Angels in mid-June. Back in Anaheim for the second time in his career, the left-handed Hassler became the Halos most reliable relief pitcher and eventual closer. He saved 10 games and recorded a 2.49 ERA in an Angels uniform and re-established himself as an effective reliever.

A prep star at Palo Verde High School in Tuscon, Arizona, Andy Hassler once struck out 19 of 21 batters in a game and made the All-City team in his senior year of 1969. Shortly after graduation he was drafted by the California Angels, and less than two years later, he made his major league debut at Yankee Stadium. At 19 years old, Hassler was (and is) the youngest pitcher ever to start a game at the venerable ballpark.  Hassler lasted a month on the Angels in 1971 before he was sent back to the bushes for more seasoning.

The Angels were very high on Hassler, and he was the staff ace at Triple-A Salt Lake City. As the Angels added Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana to their major league roster, the Angels envisioned a dominant rotation that included Hassler that would lead them for the remainder of the decade. Despite such promise, however, Hassler was unable to reach the same level of success as his All-Star teammates. Whether it was mechanical issues, poor run support or just bad luck, Hassler won only 10 of 30 decisions in his first five seasons in an Angel uniform and at one point lost eighteen decisions in a row.

Sold to the Kansas City Royals in June, 1976, Hassler's arrival in Kaycee coincided with a Royals run that saw them win three consecutive AL West flags. With renewed confidence and the help of a hypnotist, Andy solidified that back end of the Royals' rotation. In the postseason, the Royals and Hassler struggled as they were turned back by the New York Yankees. Despite his success in Kansas City, a freak injury sidelined him early in the 1978 season when he cut his hand reaching for suitcase (he instead grabbed a knife). When Rich Gale did well in his absences, Hassler was sold again in 1978, this time to the Boston Red Sox.

Hassler finished the 1978 season with Boston pitching mostly out of the bullpen. When he started poorly in 1979, Andy was sold a third time, to the New York Mets. With the pitching-poor Mets, Hassler pitched well, alternately as a starter and reliever. After the season, he signed a free agent contract, rumored to be $750K with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Back with the Angels from 1980-1983, Hassler was now pitching exclusively in relief. He was typically used as a left-handed setup man, during a time before that role was defined as it is today. Andy had an exception 1982 campaign as the Angels won the 1982 AL West title. Appearing in 54 games he won two, saved four and marked an impressive 2.78 ERA. The season ended on a sour note when the Angles lost the ALCS to Milwaukee and there was a minor controversy as to why manager Gene Mauch failed to use Hassler in the deciding game. After this, and an unimpressive performance the following season (0-5 5.45) Andy released. He latched on to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he spent the final two seasons of his 14-year major league career.

Today, Hassler is living in Arizona, enjoying his retirement. He dabbled in real estate after his playing days and is known to reply to his fan mail.

Why I love this card
I was a naive kid in 1980. I knew absolutely nothing about Topps' airbrushing policy and how or why they did it. But I knew it when I saw it and it leaped out at me on Hassler's card. There was just something about his Mets hat that just didn't look right. Looking back now, however, I just can't believe that Topps would waste their time airbrushing when Hassler was in a Mets' uniform for the whole second half of the 1979 season. I mean, they sent someone out to take a picture of Dock Ellis in a Mets uniform, who came on board roughly the same time. Couldn't they have taken the time to find Hassler and snap a photo?

Something else....
Hassler holds an unofficial record for players in the modern era, sold four times. You just don't see that happen today, let alone four times to one player.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Thirteenth 25: A Roster


A brief look back in team form at the last 25 player cards in the 1980 set (#326 through #352) as if constructing a fantasy league team.

Manager - Gene Mauch

Starting Lineup:
1B - Richie Hebner
2B - Jack Brohamer
SS - Harry Chappas
3B - Carney Lansford
OF - Ken Singleton
OF - George Hendrick
OF - Al Cowens
C - Jim Essian
DH - Larry Parrish

Glass half full: Based on 1980 performance alone, this team has the potential to score some runs. Henrdrick was an All-Star, while Ken Singleton and Larry Parrish were at or near All-Star levels. Cowens was three years removed from an MVP-runner up season and Hebner was a consistent run producer. Lansford had shown glimpses of the form that he would show as a future batting champion. A nice middle of the order is on display.

Glass half empty: There is a lack of hitting up the middle, primarily up the middle. Despite being good glove men, Essian, Brohamer and especially Chappas have struggled at the plate. There is also little speed on this team so they would be waiting for the big hit as there isn't much to suggest an ability to sustain aggressiveness on the base paths.

Bench: Dan Briggs, Bob Davis, Johnny Wockenfuss, Willie McCovey, Jim Norris, Ray Fosse, Mike Vail

Glass half full: The veteran presence of Hall of Famer McCovey alone makes this a formidable bench. Even at his advanced age, his bat needs to be respected. There is depth at catcher with Fosse and Davis in reserve. Wockenfuss can play several positions, including first, third, catcher and outfield.

Glass half empty: Not much infield depth here as there isn't anyone to pick up the slack at second or short. Also, a few of these players struggle at the plate so that limits their role off the bench.

Starting Rotation:
George Medich
Jim Beattie
Buddy Solomon
Randy Lerch
Odell Jones

Glass half full: There are some hard-throwers here, primarily Solomon and Jones. Medich put together a successful career, seven times winning 12 or more games in a season. Lerch and Beattie can take the ball every fifth day and provide solid innings.

Glass half empty: With the exception of Medich, none of these starters were given an extended opportunity to succeed in a starting role. Inconsistency has been an issue with Beattie, Jones and especially Lerch. When these pitchers are good they can be very good, unfortunately, the opposite can be true when they are not.

Bullpen: Bo McLaughlin, Bert Roberge, Enrique Romo, John D'Acquisto

Glass half full: Romo would earn the closer role as he has the most experience (and success) in that role. D'Acquisto would likely be the set up man. All four have demonstrated an ability to pitch well in short and long relief.

Glass half empty: A lack of depth here as well. An injury would severely test the entire pitching staff since there are only nine pitchers. At times, there can be a propensity among this group to pitch poorly for extended periods.

OTHER: Checklist #3

OVERALL: If the name of the game is pitching, this group isn't as strong as some previous entries. There is a nice lineup here and a Hall of Famer in McCovey, who is in his final season. However, this squad lacks a ace pitcher and depth on the mound to be effective over the long haul. The lineup isn't enough to make up for its pitching deficiencies. I think that it would be fitting for Gene Mauch to manage this club as that it would be unlikely to win its division in any grouping that we would put together for the first 13 teams.

GRADE: B-

Thursday, May 10, 2012

#352 Dan Briggs


















Who is this player?
Dan Briggs, outfielder/first baseman, San Diego Padres

On the final day of Spring Training 1980, Dan Briggs was informed that he would be starting the season at the Montreal Expos' Triple-A club at Denver. Traded to Montreal from the San Diego Padres after the 1979 season, the left-handed hitting Briggs joined a Denver Bears squad that would be ranked as one of the best minor league teams of all-time. The Bears won 92 games and Dan was named an American Association All-Star. He finished the season batting .317 with 13 home runs and 74 RBI. With the Expos in a pennant race for the NL East flag, Briggs was not called up to the parent club and did not appear in a major league game in 1980.

A prep star at Sonoma Valley high school in Sonoma, California, Dan Briggs had an impressive amateur pedigree. He was named to the Topps All-American High School team in his senior year of 1970 and was also named San Francisco Bay Area Player of the Year. This would culminate in his selection by the California Angels on the 34th round of the 1970 June draft.

Dan began to build an impressive minor league resume, first gathering attention with a .300 season in 1973 and following that with a .352 performance at Double-A El Paso. Moved to Triple-A Salt Lake City in 1975, Briggs was putting in another solid .300+ season when he got the call from Anaheim and made his major league debut late in the 1975 season. He spent the final month of the season with the Halos, mainly as a first baseman.

He would split the 1976 season between Anaheim and Salt Lake City. He appeared in 77 games with the Angels as a first baseman and centerfielder, batting .214 and driving in 14 runs in 248 at-bats. He would begin the 1977 season with the Angels, but his struggles at the plate saw him split time again with the minor leagues. With the Angels moving in the direction of buying high profile free agents, Briggs became expendable and he was traded tot the Cleveland Indians.

Briggs spent the majority of the 1978 season at Triple-A Portland, putting together a fabulous season that saw him bat .330 with 20 home runs and 109 RBI. As his 1980 card indicates above, he also led the league in doubles and total bases. He played for the Indians the final month of the season, but he was on the move again, this time to the San Diego Padres.

In San Diego, Dan received his most extensive playing time at the major league level, although it was acknowledged that he played much of the season in pain and batted only .207. Dan was unable to crack a loaded Montreal lineup and he appeared in only six games for them at the major league level despite leading the American Association with 110 RBI. He was traded again after 1981, this time to the Chicago Cubs. He played in 48 games for the Cubs in 1982, the final season of his seven year major league career.

Briggs would play two seasons (1982-1983) in Japan before returing to the States with the Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees organization. Despite two years in Columbus, he was not called up to the Yankees and he retired after the 1985 season.

After his playing days, Dan Briggs was the head baseball coach for 10 years at Denison University (1989-1999). Today, he runs Big League Baseball School with former major leaguer John Pacella in Worthington, Ohio.

Why I love this card
In prior posts, I have mentioned that animation was just as much at the center of my universe as these baseball cards. Whether it was the Sunday comics, Saturday morning cartoons or comic books, these were just as important. Spider-Man was a always a favorite and the netting behind Briggs here always reminded me of one of the webs that was so prevalent in the comics. Here was what I was thinking of:









Something else....
As Briggs is an alumnus of Sonoma Valley High, also too is former major leaguer John Henry Johnson, featured on Topps card #173.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

#351 Bob Davis

















Who is this player?
Bob Davis, reserve catcher, Toronto Blue Jays
When the Toronto Blue Jays decided to trade starting catcher Rick Cerone to the New York Yankees prior to the 1980 season, it directly impacted Bob Davis' major league career. With Ernie Whitt promoted to starting receiver, Davis was his understudy. Toronto was in the early days of its franchise and Bob was given an opportunity to play; one that he took advantage of with career highs in nearly every offensive category. Although not a strong major league hitter, he was considered a good defensive catcher. Despite this, the Blue Jays released him in December.

An Oklahoma native, Bob Davis starred at Locust Grove High School before moving on to Claremore Junior College. He was discovered there by the San Diego Padres who made him their 6th round draft pick in the 1970 June amateur draft. Bob enjoyed success during his minor league career, leading the Northwest League in home runs and RBIs at Tri-City in 1971. He was given serious consideration in Spring Training 1973 and won the starting catching job for the Padres.

Although he was San Diego's Opening Day catcher, Bob's stay in the majors was short lived and was returned to the minor leagues after only five games. Despite periodic injuries that interrupted parts of some seasons, Davis was still able to put together an All-Star season at Triple-A Hawaii, batting .329 and leading the league in RBI. That strong showing brought him back to the major leagues, appearing in 43 games with San Diego in 1975.

Davis spent parts of the next four seasons in San Diego (1975-1978) earning his spot on the roster as a intelligent backstop and defensive asset. While his hitting may not have matched his defense (he never batted higher than .234 during his Padre days), at that particular time offense wasn't as stressed at all positions (especially catcher and shortstop) as much as it is today.

After the 1978 season, Bob was a Rule 5 draftee, going to the Toronto Blue Jays. As a result, he spent the entire 1979 season with the Jays despite the fact that he batted only .124 in 89 at-bats. Additionally, the aforementioned Cerone and Whitt were ahead of Davis on the depth chart. After his Toronto release, Davis spend most of 1981 with the California Angels' Triple-A club at Salt Lake City. He was called up for one game late in the season and it would prove to be the final game of his eight year major league career.

Currently Bob Davis resides in Locust Grove, Oklahoma not far from a Little League Baseball stadium and complex named in his honor.

Why I love this card
Have you ever gotten the feeling that you were cheated when you received two cards in the same pack. Over the years, that has happened to me more often than I can remember. It happened to my son recently when he was opening a pack of the new Topps Stickers.

I have six 1980 Bob Davis cards. It wasn't double printed so I don't know why I have so many. Anyway, Bob Davis was the first player that ever doubled up for me in the same pack. Whenever I get that feeling when you see two of the same cards in one pack, I think of Bob Davis.

Something else....
On the back of Davis' 1981 Topps card, he lists "snake hunting" as one of his hobbies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#350 George Hendrick



















Who is this player?
George Hendrick, right fielder, St. Louis Cardinals
In the midst of perhaps his most productive season, George Hendrick of the St. Louis Cardinals began the 1980 season productively. He had a 6-RBI performance against the defending world champion Pittsburgh Pirates in April and had 50 RBI by early June. He was leading the league in RBI at the All-Star break and this earned him a nod as a reserve in the All-Star Game. His 6th inning single tied the score in the NL's eventual win. George was a reliable bat in the middle of the Cardinals attack and he finished the 1980 season with career highs in base hits (173), home runs (25) and RBI (109). He was rewarded for his performance with the Silver Slugger Award and finished 8th in the NL MVP voting.

A native of Los Angeles, California, George Hendrick was the first player selected in the January 1968 player draft by the Oakland A's. He immediately led the Midwest League in batting his first professional season and was named an All-Star. When he clubbed 21 home runs and batted .333 in just 63 games at Double-A Iowa in 1971, he was promoted to the parent club. He appeared in sporadic duty that first season but was getting invaluable tutelage from teammate Joe Rudi, whom he credited for improving his defense.

Hendrick made the A's roster again the following season but again played sporadically, typically as a fourth outfielder. Oakland meanwhile was on their way to the first of three consecutive world titles. Hendrick scored the eventual game-winning run on a controversial play that has been largely forgotten today.  Despite reaching the pinnacle of a championship, George was disillusioned the following spring when Oakland wanted him to begin the 1973 season in the minor leagues. When he balked at this, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians.

Given an opportunity to play everyday, Hendrick blossomed in Cleveland, becoming the regular centerfielder from 1973-1976. He was one of the team's primary power hitters, hitting three homers in a game and twice was named an All-Star. It was also in Cleveland that he began a long-standing policy of not speaking to the press, who predictably took him to task about it in their writings. George would eventually be called "Captain Easy" or "Joggin' George" as the press fanned the flames regarding his perceived lack of hustle. Despite being one of the best players on the team, these perceptions invariably led to misunderstandings with management and George was traded to the San Diego Padres prior to the 1977 season.

George had a fine 1977 season with the Padres but his reputation hindered him with his owner, Ray Kroc, and he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1978 campaign. It was with the Cardinals that George would establish himself as one of the premier run producers in the game and become a integral member of the eventual 1982 World Series champions. With the Redbirds, George batted over .300 three times, drove in 100 RBI twice was given MVP consideration four consecutive seasons (1980-1983). Even more importantly, he enhanced his reputation as a "team" player as was considered popular among his teammates.

In an effort to bolster their pitching, the Cardinals traded George to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. He would only spend one season in Pittsburgh before moving on to the California Angels for the final four seasons of his 18 year major league career. He appeared in the 1986 ALCS, a seven-game Angel loss.

After his playing days, George Hendrick became a coach with several stops at the minor and major league level. Currently, he is the first base and outfield coach with the Tampa Bay Rays, a position that he has held since 2006.

Why I love this card
As I was learning about the players during the summer of 1980, several words kept popping up regarding George Hendrick. Sullen. Moody. Withdrawn. I didn't get it. Since I was a National League fan, I loved that Hendrick tied the All-Star Game and respected that he drove in runs. By the bunches. Also, the following year, I got this sticker when Topps decided to branch into that collectible:



















Sullen? Moody? Withdrawn? Who were they kidding? Does Hendrick look any of those things? In my 10-year old mind, they had to be talking about someone else. I sure as heck didn't see it.

Something else....
No post about George Hendrick would be complete with mention of his pant legs. Hendrick is widely credited with being the first player to wear his pant legs very low without the socks showing whatsoever.