Friday, July 29, 2011
Who is this player?
John D'Acquisto, relief pitcher, San Diego Padres
As the 1980 season wore on, John D'Acquisto was pitching in middle relief for a San Diego Padre team that floundering in last place. The 28-year old's solid, if unspectacular, output caught the eye of the Montreal Expos who traded for D'Acquisto in August to strengthen their bullpen for the stretch drive. John fashioned a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings with Montreal, but it belied the fact that he walked nine and had five wild pitches. Nonetheless, the California Angels came calling after the season and signed John to a multi-million dollar contract.
Born in San Diego on Christmas Eve in 1951, D'Acquisto grew up a Giants fan in the days before San Diego had major league baseball. Like most major leaguers, D'Acquisto excelled in high school at several sports, earning 144 college offers for football. Baseball, however, was his first love and he was selected in 1970 by the San Francisco Giants. The following spring he attended Spring Training, largely based on his ability to throw consistently at 100 MPH, a rare feat at that time. However, he was sent to the minors for some seasoning before returning to the bigs for good two years later.
He had his best season in 1974. Inserted into the Giants rotation, he won 12 games, finished in the top 10 in strikeouts and won the Sporting News Rookie Pitcher of the Year award. While he showed some wildness (was second in walks allowed), there was a general consensus that D'Acquisto had the "stuff" to be a great power pitcher. Unfortunately, he injured his arm, damaging nerves and missed nearly all of the 1975 season. Doctors even suggested that he may not even play again.
D'Acquisto struggled in his return to the majors and unfortunately, teams were not as patient then as they are today. Traded from the Giants to the Cardinals and finally to the Padres in less than three seasons, John transitioned into a relief specialist. In 1978, he had an excellent year as Rollie Fingers' setup man, a season that saw the Padres record their first ever winning season. He switched to the American League for the 1981 season in the hopes of helping the Angels return to the postseason, but injuries limited his effectiveness and 1982 was the final season of his 10-year major league career.
In retirement, John D'Acquisto has found a variety of experiences. After working in banking during his playing days, he transitioned into a second career as an investment banker. In 1996, he was sentenced to 63 months in prison for investment fraud, a crime proven later that he did not commit. He also worked as a fireman in San Bernadino for five years and was the pitching coach for the US Navy Baseball Team. After many years, D'Acquisto earned his Doctorate in Exercise Science and Physiology in 2004 and several of his studies have been published. Today, he is the Director of the Agriculture Division for Sorganics, Inc.
Why I love this card
I have admitted my ignorance for much of the NL West during this span of my youth, simply since we never saw the Padres in the midwest. What stuck me about this card was the following; I never thought that I was pronouncing D'Acquisto's name correctly; the yellow and brown were (and still are) mesmorizing; and like the cousin on the back of this card, I too have one that wears exactly the same shirt. Then and now.
D'Acquisto tied an NL record with three wild pitches in one inning on September 24, 1976. I know it's not much...I must still be mesmorized by the brown and yellow.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Who is this player?
John Wockenfuss, utility, Detroit Tigers
To merely designate John Wockenfuss a catcher as his 1980 Topps card indicates, would not accurately describe Wockenfuss' contributions to his ballclub. Appearing in a career-high 126 games, "Johnny B." would see action at catcher, first base, designated hitter and two outfield positions. His versatility allowed him to see action nearly every day and 1980 was by far the best statistical season of his career. A popular fan favorite, Wockenfuss was very handy for the Detroit Tigers.
Born in West Virginia, John Wockenfuss was a very late round selection of the Washington Senators in 1967 and signed for $500. He began his professional career as an outfielder and switched to catcher at Double-A Pittsfield in 1972. Johnny promptly led the Eastern League in putouts, assists and chances accepted that season. The following season, the Senators, now the Texas Rangers, included him in a trade that brought Jim Bibby to Texas. Before 1973 was over, he was traded again, this time to the Detroit Tiger organization.
It was with the Tigers that Wockenfuss earned his name in the majors. He broke in during the 1974 season and tied a major league record with an unassisted double play on June 21, 1975. With the Tigers in a position of transition with the retirement of Bill Freehan, Wockenfuss initially saw action behind the plate. In time, however, his versatility at several positions made him a valuable asset.
In 1977, he established his unique batting stance, which can be viewed here. After the 1980 season, he never saw as much action in a single season yet nonetheless was a very popular player. As the captain of the "Riders of the Lonesome Pine," Wockenfuss was the unofficial leader of Tiger reserves such as Champ Summers, Mick Kelleher, Lynn Jones and Stan Papi. As the Tigers of the early 1980s improved Wockenfuss felt that he was instrumental to their success and should be paid accordingly. When he wasn't, his frustration boiled over to the media when he called his teammates "clowns" during Spring Training 1984.
His displeasure known, the Tiger brass made it a point to trade him before the season began. With Glenn Wilson, Wockenfuss was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman. Hernandez would become the Cy Young and MVP in 1984 and Bergman a valuable role player. Wockenfuss played two seasons in Philly, retiring after 12 years in 1985. Johnny managed in the minor leagues for several years with the Pirate and Tiger organizations and today operates a baseball instructional school in Maryland.
Why I love this card
I cannot overstate how popular John Wockenfuss was in the Detroit area when I was growing up. Maybe it was the batting stance which invariably, every kid copied during pickup games. Maybe it was because he was known by his middle initial. Maybe it was the blue collar, play-everyday-wherever-I'm-asked attitude that resonated with Detroiters. I always felt a little bad for Wockenfuss that he missed out on the 1984 season and a World Championship. He got a little revenge in 1989 when at age 40 he pitched 5 innings and earned the win in relief in a Toledo Mud Hens exhibition against the Tigers.
Check out the youtube link of Wockenfuss' stance. I happend to be the guy that posted it. I don't want to toot my own horn, but...toot, toot.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Who is this player?
Carney Lansford, third baseman, California Angels
The June 1980 issue of Baseball Magazine touted Angels' third baseman Carney Lansford as one of the players most likely to be a star in the 1980s. Indeed, when the season began, it was thought that he would be a cornerstone of the franchise. After all only one year earlier, the Angels refused to part with him as part of the Rod Carew trade. However, the Angels changed their stance after a .261 15 80 season and traded him to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for All Star veteran Rick Burleson.
A native Californian born to an athletic family, Carney Lansford's little league team from Briarwood played in the finals of the 1969 Little League World Series. He was a three-sport star in high school, primarily in baseball. This drew attention from several teams and the California Angels drafted him on the third round in 1975. He spent a little over two years in the bushes, where a .332 average at El Paso in 1977 earned him a call to the majors for good. He made the Angels squad the following season as starting third baseman. His .294 average, speed and exceptional fielding drew raves, as well as a third place finish in Rookie of the Year voting.
He was a major piece of the 1979 AL West Champions, clubbing 19 home runs while typically batting second in the lineup. After his trade to Boston, he had a breakout season, leading the league with a .336 average and earning his only career Silver Slugger Award. Remarkably, Lansford was the only righthanded batter to lead the AL in an 18-year span (1971-1988). However, the emergence of Wade Boggs numbered his days in Beantown and he was traded again, this time to the Oakland A's for All-Star slugger Tony Armas.
It was in Oakland that Lansford earned his most renown. Although today he primarily remembered for his role on the dominant A's teams of the late 1980s, Lansford starred for them during many of the previous lean seasons. He was a .288 career hitter for Oakland, three times topping .300. He led baseball with a 24-game hit streak in 1984 and was named to the AL All Star team in 1988. Injuries and personal tragedy periodically interrupted his bottom line figures, but Lansford rightfully earned a reputation as a professional hitter with an excellent glove and a reliable teammate. The culminated in 1989 with a Worlds Championship as Oakland defeated the San Francisco Giants.
After the 1992 season, Lansford retired, completing 15-years of major league service. He transitioned into coaching, first as a bench coach with Oakland (1994-1995) and then with St. Louis (1997-98) and served as manager of the 1999 Edmonton Trappers. He left coaching to focus on the careers of his son's (both of whom are in the minor leagues) before returning in 2008 as hitting coach of the Giants. After a somewhat controversial tenure there, he now serves in the same capacity for the Colorado Rockies.
Why I love this card
I was always a fan of warm-up jerseys, primarily because you never really got to see them. The only time you could is if you showed up early for batting practice (which they never allow these days) or on cards. The Angels one always intrigued me. I don't know if they were the first to have them, but I am stretching to think of another.
Lots of interesting tidbits about Carney. First he is a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake and is also a distant cousin of Tex Ritter. Second, he is one of only seven men to play in both the Little League and Major League World Series. Finally, he had a cameo appearance in the 1994 movie "Angels in the Outfield" as White Sox slugger Kit "Hit or Die" Kesey
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Who is this player?
George "Doc" Medich, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Although his card refers to him by the given name, George was widely known as Doc in baseball circles. Doc had a solid reason for the otherwise disappointing Texas Rangers, leading the club in victories with 14. He also logged his most starts and innings pitched in five seasons and was the most consistent starter on the staff. and 1980 was also the year, Dr. George Medich began a five-year residency in orthopedics at Fort Worth Children's Hospital while still pitching for the Rangers.
Born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Medich was a three sport star at Hopewell High School in basketball, football, and baseball. He gained most of his fame as a pitcher enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. Doc was the Panthers’ punter and starting end on the football team for three seasons. In 1967 he had 23 pass receptions for 269 yards to rank third on the team. He also kept his hand in as a 6'-5" 225 pound power pitcher for the Panthers, consistently ranking as one of the top collegiate hurlers in the East. He was drafted by the Yankees in 1970 and was called up to the major leagues after two seasons in the minors.
Medich quickly became the Yankees best starting pitcher, bursting on the scene in 1973 to win 14 games and post a 2.95 ERA, fifth best in the American League. The following year, he won a career high 19 games and went the route 17 times. Although he won 16 games in 1975, the Yankees used him as trade bait to acquire a second baseman. They found one in Pittsburgh in a 3 for 1 deal that had possibly the only Doc for Dock trade in baseball history.
He had a disappointing season in his hometown and was traded again, this time to Oakland before the 1977 season. Medich was in medical school at the time and was upset with the trade since he was enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. He bounced around that year to the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets, before signing a free agent contract at the end of the year with the Rangers. Medich would spend five seasons in Arlington, the longest stop of his 11-year career.
Doc won 50 games in a Ranger uniform, leading his league in shutouts in 1981. However, he also tended to make the league leader board in losses, home runs allowed and wild pitches. Texas sold him to Milwaukee in 1982 for the stretch drive and he appeared in the postseason for the first time, pitching for the Brewers in the World Series. He left baseball after that to begin a career in orthopedics, and drew attention in 1983 for false prescriptions and was suspended from his staff privleges in 1992. In 2001,. he plead guilty to 12 counts of possession of a controlled substance and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine suspended Medich's licence. His attorney stated at that time that Medich had been battling addiction for some time.
Why I love this card
Any time you can find a skull on a baseball card, it is a huge plus for a nine-year old. It stood out because I remember opening a pack where the backs of the cards were visible first and I scanned this card before flipping them over to see who I got.
Twice during his playing career, Medich went into the stands to aid fans who had suffered heart attacks. He performed CPR on one fan in 1976 (unfortunatley, the fan died later in the day) and in 1978 he revived a man who was suffering a heart attack. I think it's safe to say that we will likely never see a ballplayer today transition into medicine later in life.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Who is this player?
Willie McCovey, reserve, San Francisco Giants
As the only active member of the illustrious 500 Home Run Club in 1980, pulling a Willie McCovey card that summer was a fairly big deal. After all, he was a future Hall of Famer and bonifide legend. Despite his senior status, there were calls in the media for "Stretch" to step aside. When Mike Ivie was slow recovering from injury, McCovey saw some starting action and in the process, became the eighth man in history to plan in four decades. Willie struggled and was replaced at first by Rich Murray. Shortly thereafter, he announced his retirement. Later that season, a day was held in his honor and his #44 was officially retired by the Giants.
Originally signed by the New York Giants, McCovey made a historic debut in 1959 against fellow future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Going 4-4 with two triples, he instantly became a fan favorite in San Francisco en route to winning the 1959 Rookie of the Year Award. He was inconsistent over the next three seasons, primarily due to a deep talent pool the Giants had at the time. He was a role player on the 1962 NL Champions, playing primarily outfield and occassionally first base. McCovey showed signs of things to come when he banged 20 home runs and slugged .590 in just 229 plate appearances.
In 1963, Willie led his league in home runs and topped the 100 RBI mark for the first time. He slowly evolved into one of the most feared hitters of his era and he moved to first base full time when Orlando Cepeda was injured and subsequently traded. During a six-year period (1966-1970), Willie hit 226 home runs and averaged 100 RBI per season. Making this accomplishment even more remarkable was that it was done during the so-called "second dead-ball era" where pitchers dominated the landscape. He was the National League MVP in 1969 when he batted .320 and led baseball with 45 home runs and 126 RBI. Willie was also the MVP of the 1969 All-Star Game when he crushed two home runs en route to a NL victory.
Willie helped lead the Giants to the 1971 NL West title, but the long effects of arthritis in his knees began and other injuries began to take their toll. In his prime, Willie admirably played in pain much of the time, but as he aged, that became more difficult to do. The Giants mistakenly thought that McCovey was near the end of the road, and traded him to the San Diego Padres. Willie would go on to play eight more seasons and hit 108 more home runs. McCovey led the Padres in home runs both full seasons he played there, but they sold him to the Oakland A's lat in the 1976 season. Willie only appeared in 11 games with Oakland.
He made a trimphant return to the Giants in 1977 where he became a mentor to younger players, helping the 1978 team to a memorable summer in contention. That season he hit his 500th home run and finished his career with an NL record 18 grand slams. In retirement, he became a Giants consultant and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1986. The Giants have annually awarded the Wille Mac Award to honor his spirit and leadership and a statue has been dedicated to him at AT&T park. The inlet of San Francisco Bay beyond the right field, historically known as China Basin, has been famously redubbed McCovey Cove in his honor. Although confined to a wheelchair today due to numerous surgeries, McCovey is still a fixure at the ballpark.
Why I love this card
First off, it's McCovey, what kid wouldn't be excited to get this card. It is also McCovey's second in this set, the other being a highlight card. But I will admit, Willie's signature on this card always bugged me somewhat. The little loop that hooks down onto the bill of his cap seemed out of place. Kind of reminded me when a hair would get loose on a movie screen and flickered in the corner...just enough to be annoying.
McCovey is known in popular culture for a famous Peanuts cartoon and his bat was a focal point of Mick Foley's book "Scooter." However, I will always remember McCovey with a connection to my son. In the summer of 2007, he was six years old and we were playing wiffle ball in the back yard. He hit it over the neighbors fence for the first time and it landed in their in-ground pool. He extended both arms over his head and exclaimed "Into McCovey Cove!!!" I don't think I will ever forget that.
Finally, Willie's wikipedia page has a picture from Willie's last game that I thought I would include:
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Who is this player?
Jim Beattie, starting pitcher, New York Yankees
After spending two frustrating seasons in New York, by the time 1980 began, Jim Beattie was wearing the uniform of the Seattle Mariners. The 25-year old right hander was the key man in a six player deal that sent Ruppert Jones to New York. Given an opportunity to start regularly, Beattie was immediately installed as the Mariners #2 starting pitcher. However, Jim struggled in his first season as a Mariner, with an ERA well over 5.00 for most of the season. He finished the campaign with a 5-15 record and a 4.85 ERA as the Mariners finished last in the AL West. However, it was still generally felt that there was a strong upside to Beattie and that his 1980 performance was not indicative of his true talent.
Born on the Fourth of July, Jim Beattie starred both on the baseball diamond and basketball court at Dartmouth University before he was selected by the New York Yankees in 1974. With a deep wealth of pitchers on the Yankees, it took some time before Beattie could break into the major leagues. He did so in style in 1978 defeating future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in his debut. He begane the year slowly, but was instrumental in the great Yankee comeback that season, winning won four of his six decisions in September and finishing his rookie season with a 6-9 record. He followed that performance with a win in the ALCS against the Royals and a complete-game victory against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series.
However, the chaos of the "Bronx Zoo" management did more to impair Beattie's improvement and he was shuttled between the majors and minors in 1979. He was on the mound when Carl Yastzemski collected his 3000th hit, but the year was otherwise forgettable. The trade to Seattle was welcomed by Beattie, and although he did not pitch well in 1980, his health improved the following year. As Beattie told Baltimore Sports and Life:
My improvement came as a result of two things, getting healthier and pitching more. In 1980 my shoulder did not allow me to throw easily and hard although I kept going out to pitch and tried to battle through it. When I got healthy during the 1981 season (pitching in the minor leagues during the strike) I came back a different pitcher
In 1982, Beattie set a club record for a starter by pitching 19 consecutive scoreless innings and finished in the top ten in strikeouts. On September 27, 1983, Beattie threw the first one-hitter in Mariners history and the following year was fourth in the American League in complete games. However, it was difficuly for Jim to post a winning record because he pitched for poor Mariner teams. The final two seasons of his nine-year career were marred by injuries and when he retired after he was released by the Mariners at the end of the 1986 season.
Beattie returned to school where he earned his Master's Degree and began a long career in baseball administration. He returned to the Mariners in 1989 as Director of Minor League Operations and help oversee the M's rise in the 1990s. He moved on to the Montreal Expos as their General Manager and later assume the same role with the Baltimore Orioles. Today, he is a employed as a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Why I love this card
Beattie signs his full name on the facimile autograph on this card. This was the way that we had to sign things in school. Complete first name "no nicknames," as Sister Julie would say, with middle inital. I wonder if Jim Beattie hated signing his full name as much as I used to back in 1980.
Beattie was Director of Minor League Operations when they drafted Alex Rodriguez. He was also the GM when the Montreal Expos traded Pedro Martinez to the Boston Red Sox (granted, he had little choice in the matter). He also drafted future All-Stars Grady Sizemore, Milton Bradley, Jason Bay, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Who is this player?
Jim Norris, reserve outfielder, Cleveland Indians
Even before the 1980 season would get underway, Jim Norris had already switched uniforms, traded from the Cleveland Indians in January to the Texas Rangers. A useful utility man, Norris could play all outfield positions and occasionally first base. While he did not start regularly, he contributed a game-winning hit against the Yankees in May and drove in the winning run of a 13-inning marathon against the White Sox in July. Jim would appear in 119 games in 1980 and bat .247.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jim Norris was a star at the University of Maryland before his career was slowed by injuries. He was drafted by the Indians in the fifth round of the 1971 player draft and was given a mere $2500 bonus. It took Norris quite some time to make it to the major leagues. A six year odyssey in the minors saw Norris suffer numerous injuries including a broken collarbone, shoulder, left arm, right arm, right hand, and right thumb, not to mention torn cartilage and ligaments in his right knee. Nonetheless, he demonstrated patience and perseverance, even being named a player-coach during his time at Triple-A Toledo.
Norris became the "feel-good" story of Spring Training 1977 when he survived the final cut and made the Indians roster. The fairy tale continued into Opening Day, where his two singles and dazzling outfield catch help lead the Indians to a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox.
As the Indians' starting centerfielder that season, he batted .270 and led the team with 26 stolen bases. Because of his Opening Day heroics, he quickly became a fan favorite and was even voted the Indians "Unsung Hero" by the Cleveland press. The following season, he saw action mainly a fourth outfielder, a role he would have for the remainder of his stay in Cleveland. He gathered a reputation as a fine fielder with excellent speed despite his many injuries.
His 1980 season in Texas would be the final one of his brief four year major league career. He was unable to make the club in 1981 and spent the season with the Wichita Aeros. At age 32, he called it a career. In 1989, Norris and his wife established Norris Sales & Marketing Inc in Burleson, Texas. According to records, it is a private company categorized under Building Stone Products. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $2.5 to 5 million.
Why I love this card
Actually, I think my Mom would have loved this card more than I did. The jacket that Norris is wearing under his uniform reminds me of all the Little League games I played in April in Michigan when the weather was terrible. My mother insisted that I wear the jacket under my uniform, which made me feel soooo awkward. When I saw this card, I couldn't help but wonder if Norris' mom made him wear a jacket as I had to. Again, a small innocuous connection that drew baseball a little closer to the nine year old. And I got the last laugh as I didn't have to wear a jacket over my Stormtrooper costume that Halloween.
Norris' card stood out for me because it was one of those Double Printed cards. If you need a small refresher, there were a couple old posts here and here.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
I am sad to report that former major leaguer and Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams has died. He was 82 years old.
It is being reported that Williams died today at his Las Vegas home from what was believed to be an aneurysm.
A 2008 Hall of Fame inductee, Williams is the second manager in major-league history to win pennants with three different teams; the Boston Red Sox (1967), Athletics (1972-73) and San Diego Padres (1984). He had a 21-year major league managing record of 1,571-1,451 (.520). He also managed the California Angels, Montreal Expos and Seattle Mariners.
He also played for 13 seasons (1951-1964), primarily as an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. He also played for the Red Sox, Athletics and Indians.
Featured here is Williams on the 1980 Montreal Expos team card.
Our sympathies go out to the Williams family.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Who is this player?
Enrique Romo, relief pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
As one of the trifecta of relievers that helped the Pirates to the 1979 World Championship, Enrique Romo's role in 1980 was clearly defined. As the righthanded setup man to closer Kent Tekulve, Romo appeared in 74 games, good for fifth in the league. Known for his wixed screwball and a fiery temper, Romo won five games and recorded eleven saves in helping the Pirates stay in contention well into September. A highlight came on October 1, when he hit a grand slam home run to help defeat the New York Mets.
Born in Mexico, there had be periodic questions of Romo's true birth date over the years. The brother of major league pitcher Vincente Romo, he followed his older brother's path, first to the Mexican League where he became a star hurler. Romo pitched for 11 seasons in south of the border helping lead the Mexico City Red Devils to three championships. Romo evolved into the ace of the Devils staff with a truly outstanding season in 1976. Recording a 20-4 record with a 1.89 ERA, Enrique earned the attention of major league scouts.
Signed by the Seattle Mariners in their inaugural season, Romo was a bright spot on an otherwise struggling pitching staff. He led the team in saves his first two seasons in the Emerald City and was a factor in 36% of the Mariners victories in those early days. The Mariners traded him to Pittsburgh in the winter of 1978 for a package of players and it was with the Pirates that Enrique would make his lasting contribution.
Appearing in a whopping 84 games in 1979, Romo was second only to teammate Tekulve in that category. After a slow start to the season, Romo was a rock during the summer, winning seven games in a row and pitching 19 2/3 scoreless innings at one stretch. He suffered a minor hamstring injury, which hampered is effectiveness in the postseason, but he still appeared in four postseason contests. Nevertheless, his contributions were vital to the "Family" and team captain Willie Stargell dubbed him "Pancho Villa."
Romo's effectiveness began to decline after the 1980 season, as his ERA swelled over 4.00 in 1981 and 1982, and his strikeout rate similarly fell. Despite that, he managed an excellent 9-3 record in 1982 and was expected to return to the Pirates the following season. Despite numerous requests, he never reported when Spring Training began in 1983. Several theories for this exist, including an apparent threat on his life if he returned to Pittsburgh. Romo's six year career was over and he apparently vanished to his native Mexico. However, he returned to the spotlight briefly when he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Why I love this card
I am glad to see that Topps maintained the consistency in the cartoon on the reverse to show Romo in his Pirate pillbox hat with brother Vincente.
Interesting stat: both Enrique and Vicente finished their major league career with identical totals in losses (33) and saves (52). Vincente also had a huge gap between appearances, pitching for the San Diego Padres in 1974 and with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1982.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Who is this player?
Richie Hebner, third baseman, New York Mets
For the first time in his career, Richie Hebner would be playing in a new league in 1980. Traded to the Detroit Tigers in November, 1979, he was slated to be the Tigers' cleanup hitter and third baseman. Hebner shifted to first after the trade of Jason Thompson and responded with an All-Star worthy first half, among the league leaders in RBI. An aggravated knee injury cut into his production in the second half, where he spent most of the final month of the season in a pinch-hit capacity. Nonetheless, he finished the year with a solid .290 batting average and respectable 82 RBI (a career high) in 104 games.
The Grave Digger. Today, the native of Walpole, Massachusetts is best known for his off-season training regimen that saw him working as a gravedigger at a cemetery run by his father at a time when major league ballplayers often held other jobs, earning $35 a grave. But it was his athletic ability that drew interest not only from baseball scouts, but hockey ones as well. Hebner was one of the top scholastic hockey players in the country and he was offered a contract by both the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him on the first round in 1966 and signed him for $40,000, Hebner days on the rink were over.
Within two seasons, Hebner was in the major leagues, coinciding with the Pirates dominance of the NL East in the early part of the 1970s. Hebner was a integral performer on the Bucs as their starting third basemen and particularly elevated his game in the post season. He hit a game-winning home run off of Juan Marichal in Game 3 of the 1971 NLCS and helped lead the Pirates to a World Championship. He would leave Pittsburgh after nine seasons as a free agent to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977. Hebner would switch to first base and be part of two division-winning teams in Philly. In all, Hebner would play for seven division champions during the 1970s.
When Pete Rose arrived on the scene, Hebner was off to New York, traded to the Mets. Hebner was unhappy in New York and was traded again to Detroit, where he spent three seasons as a first baseman/DH. The Tigers sold Richie to the Pirates midway through 1983, where Hebner began the transition into being a part-time player. While he had some notable contributions, he was counted on to provide a big hit off the bench. He signed on as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1984 season, where he made one final postseason appearance. Richie's 18-year career came to an end when he was cut in Spring Training, 1986.
Hebner began a second career in baseball by becoming a manager and coach. He was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1988 to become a manager in the minors. When his good friend Joe Morgan took over as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Hebner was installed as hitting coach for three seasons. He returned to the Blue Jays organization to manage a Triple-A Syracuse and was a coach for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001. Most recently, he managed the Frederick Keys in the Baltimore Orioles system and was on the Norfolk Tides coaching staff in 2010.
Why I love this card
This card is what this blog is all about for me. Every boy has a favorite player and in 1980, without question, Hebner was mine. Here's why. Hebner was a new Tiger with Pittsburgh roots. My Dad was a transplanted Pittsburgher, I can imagine when he saw this ad in the Spring of 1980, it peaked his interest.
So my Dad took me and to meet my first major leaguer. It was a significant moment in my young life, because things like this didn't happen all the time. Hebner was very nice and asked me about my Pirate hat. I asked him about Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. He signed my autograph book and gave me every indication that this is what a professional ball player looked and sounded like. I can't recall how many times I looked at this card during that summer and thought of this day.
Here was a photo from that momentous occasion, yours truly with Mr. Hebner (note the Pirate hat and Tigers jacket)
No post about Hebner would be worth its salt without a mention of his batting stance. Every time he would step in, he would reach around and tug on the back of his collar. Every time. It would be one of those things we would mimic, like Carew's crouch or Stargell's bat twirl. There is a small video of it here, but not until the 7:55 mark.
Finally, since Hebner was traded early in the off-season, Topps OPC was able to amend his card to mention he was now on the Tigers. What I would have given to have this card in 1980.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the 1980 Topps set, rather a remeberence of my father, who was the original inspiration for this blog. Periodically, I will break away from the 1980 set, to include these entries as a tribute to the man who started my card collection and my interest in the game.
The Fourth of July was one of my Dad's days. I guess that we all like certain holidays over others, but this one was one of his favorites. Like most, he liked to grill and he liked having family over. He always made a mention somehow of our service men/women and the sacrifices that they make. Year after year, pretty much the same thing. You knew what you would be doing on the Fourth. It was set.
Today was the first one without him. We did the same things, we had family over. Except this time, my brother-in-law did the grilling. I could see how tired the whole affair made my Mom, but she did it primarily to keep the tradition going, keep memories alive.
So what does this have in common with a 1986 7-11 Slurpee coin?
I found this today when I was going through an old shoe box of stuff. Slurpees also remind me of summer. I can remember sitting on the curb being impressed with the stats on the back. A 2.00 career ERA? It's hard to explain how huge Dwight Gooden was in those days. He was the man. A Strikeout Machine. A lock for the Hall of Fame.
Now I was no Mets' fan, but as baseball coverage and cards began to really escalate in the mid-1980s, Dwight Gooden was The Next Big Thing. It was a great summer to be a fan with several new products out (granted some were junk) and games all over cable TV. For a baseball-hungry boy, there was plenty to choose from.
Of course, my Dad was not as impressed with only two seasons. "Let's see what happens," is what he probably said, a reminder that its the body of work that counts, not just the highlights. He told me about Herb Score and how his flame was snuffed and reminded me about Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan and how teams gave up on them and how, over time, they established themselves as the greatest pitchers in the game.
I begrudingly agreed. When Gooden's star fell, my Dad didn't gloat or "told me so." He did point out when guys like Ryan or Carlton did well or were elected to the Hall of Fame.
Which brings me back to today.
I can see why my Dad didn't gravitate towards Gooden as I had. Why it didn't excite him as much as it did me. For him, it was about consistency, working hard. Reliability. Knowing what to expect and counting on it. Year after year, pretty much the same thing.
And all this time, I thought that he was talking about pitching.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Who is this player?
Al Cowens, rightfielder, Kansas City Royals
Two new teams, a brawl and an arrest warrant shaped the 1980 season for Al Cowens. Traded to the California Angels before the start of the season, he was shipped to the Detroit Tigers in May because Jason Thompson (a Gene Autry favorite) was available. He was in Detroit for less than a month when he charged and struck Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Farmer in retaliation for a beaning the previous season. In an unusual move, a warrant was put out for Cowens' arrest, but the controversy ended in September when Farmer and Cowens buried the hatchet. He rebounded from his slow start with the Angels to hit .280 with Detroit and finish the year at .268.
Alfred Edward Cowens Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California and initially earned local renown as a football player at Centennial High School in Compton, CA. He was teammates with fellow future major leaguer Mitchell Page. The Kansas City Royals drafted Cowens on the 84th, yes 84th, round of the 1969 June free agent draft. He worked his way up the minor league ladder, first garnering attention in 1971. Cowens led the California League in fielding percentage that season and later was named Southern League Player of the Year in 1973. That performance earned him a promotion to Kansas City and he would spend the next 13 seasons in the major leagues.
An exceptional athlete, Al's tools were very subtle and often unnoticed by the media. His teammates, however, appreciated Al's skills in the field and at the plate. He was an integral part of a Royals team that won three consecutive AL West flags in the late 1970s, consistently providing stellar defense, speed on the basepaths and a timely bat when needed.
Cowens' best season came in 1977 when he was MVP-runner up to Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Playing in all 162 games, Al hit .312 that season with 189 hits, 23 home runs and 112 RBI. He was also recognized for his defensive excellence with his first (and only) Gold Glove Award. Cowens was a durable .282 hitter in his six Kansas City seasons rarely taking time off unless he was truly hurt. One such occasion came in 1979 when a pitch from Farmer (then with the Rangers) broke his jaw. Cowens felt he was hit intentionally and certainly Farmer did little to change that perception. Those bad feeelings would culminate in their 1980 brawl.
Al was sold by Detroit to Seattle prior to the 1982 season and he experienced ups and downs in Seattle. Most often, he was a productive outfielder contributing decent power and average as well as good defense. The only exception would be his slump during the 1983 season that saw him hit only .205. The Mariners were not a good ballclub during this era, but Al was a bright light in an otherwise dismal situation. As young players in Seattle began moving up, the veteran Cowens soon saw a decrease in playing time and his release in 1986. In retirement he scouted for his first team, the Royals and coached high school kids in California. Sadly, Al Cowens passed away from a heart attack in 2002 at the young age of 50. Today, his son runs the Al Cowens Heart Healthy Foundation.
Why I love this card
Being from Detroit, I remember the fight. What I remember more though was that no one seemed to understand what and why it was happening since it happened when both Farmer and Cowens were with different teams. I had the pleasure of meeting Cowens and getting his autograph the following season at Tiger Stadium and distinctly recall how polite and patient he was with all of the kids gathered. That will be the Al Cowens that I remember.
Below is a version of Al's 1980 OPC card that designates him a member of the California Angels. With a traded set a year away, there would not be any mention of Cowens as a Tiger until 1981.
I neglected to include Tom Underwood's 1980 OPC card in his post the other day, which I will show now and add to his post.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Who is this player?
Bert Roberge, relief pitcher, Houston Astros
One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. Such was the case for Bert Roberge during the summer of 1980. He failed to make the Astros final cut in Spring Training and spent the first half of the season pitching out of the bullpen for the Tuscon Toros. When J.R. Richard had his unfortunate stroke that ultimately ended his career, Roberge got the call to replace him on the roster. Bert appeared in 14 games for the eventual NL West Champions, winning two games in relief.
A native of Lewiston, Maine, the righthanded throwing Roberge stayed in his home state and attended the University of Maine. He had dual dreams in those days, to be a major league and to be accepted into dental school. During his four years as a Black Bear, Bert set the school career ERA record (1.82) and is tied for the career shutouts mark (six). His collegiate performance drew the attention of the Houston Astros who drafted him on the fourteenth round in 1976. While he was accepted, dental school would have to wait.
Roberge made his major league debut in 1979 and spent most of the summer with the Astros as they challenged for their first NL West title. While the Astros fell a little short, Roberge pitched tremendously in 26 appearances. He fashioned a 1.69 ERA, winning three games and saving four more. A highlight of the season was back-to-back saves against the Giants in mid-season that helped Houston maintain it's lead in the NL West race.
It appeared the Roberge earned a spot in the Houston bullpen, but acquistion of Frank LaCorte and the signing of Nolan Ryan to the already pitching-rich Astros moved Roberge down the depth chart. Bert did not appear in the majors in 1981 but he returned to Houston in 1982, mostly in a long relief capacity. He again did not pitch in the major leagues in 1983 and he was granted free agency at the end of the season. Bert signed with the Chicago White Sox where he picthed well, if unspectacularly in middle relief.
He moved to Montreal in 1985 where he achieved career-highs in most picthing categories, including appearances and innings pitched. He struggled in 1986 and split time between the majors and minors for the third consecutive seasons. He retired from professional baseball at the end of the season after six major league seasons. Bert has since been recognized as one of Maine's greatest athletes and was part of the 1988 class of the Auburn-Lewiston (ME) Sports Hall of Fame.
Why I love this card
The cartoon on the reverse. Something about someone in their cap and gown with a diploma in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. Made everything seem so simple. For a nine-year old boy, the possibilities were limitless. By the way, is this card airbrushed? Roberge's hat looks strange to me.
Today, Roberge is a sucessful businessman for Curran Company, where he and two of his brothers oversee the operations. The company specializes in fresh cut vegatables and has been in Roberge's family for over 40 years.
Friday, July 1, 2011
What is this card?
Team Card, Minnesota Twins, Gene Mauch Manager.
The Minnesota Twins were a surprising team in 1979, finishing over .500 despite losing several star players over the past couple of seasons. Although they were not seriously expected to contend in 1980, most observers believed that Minnesota's young talent should continue to develop.
As was their pattern, the Twins lost another key free agent over the off-season, this time Dave Goltz to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished April with a .500 record, but in the AL West at that time, it was good enough to be three games back. The Twinkies completely collapsed in May and never truly recovered. Their home attendance of 769,206 was the worst in the American League and the Twins had a net loss of $1 million dollars, at the time the deepest loss in club history.
Gene Mauch, pictured here, did not even finish the 1980 season, choosing to resign on August 24th. Johnny Goryl was named manager on an interim basis and he guided the Twins to a 12-game September winning streak that earned him the job for 1981. Minnesota finished the year at 77-84, a distant third, 19.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals.
Other highlights of the season included Ken Landreaux's 31-game hitting streak and selection to the American League All-Star team; Jerry Koosman finishing in the top 10 in victories for the second season in a row; and work beginning in earnest at the Twins' new ballpark, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
For those of you who forgot the old Metropolitan Stadium, here it is again.
Why I love this card
I have mentioned previously about my first game and this Twins team was the one that I saw. One player that stood out for me was their relief ace Mike Marshall who completely mowed down the Tigers that night. Turns out that Mike Marshall didn't have a baseball card in 1980. Turns out that he didn't have a card in the 1978 or 1979 set either. No one really had cards older than that, so I found it odd that he didn't have a card. He is pictured here, on the sitting in the first row on the far right.
Staying with the Marshall theme, he was the Twins player rep and an extremely vocal advocate for the Player's Association. Despite setting an American League record with 90 appearance in 1979 the Twins released him in June 1980. The official reason was his age and performance, but Marhsall contested the decision and won. He never returned to baseball, due to actions such as this. I just can't imagine something like this happening to say, Mariano Rivera.