Who is this player?
Ed Ott, catcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
Coming off a World Championship season, Ed Ott was the primary receiver for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980. The veteran catcher started approximated two-thirds of the Bucs games and he appeared in a career-high 120 games. His production dropped slightly from years past, but that was primarily due to a foot injury that Ott played through. It cost him nearly 50 points off of his batting average (.307 on August 1st) to finish the season at .260. However, he was an acknowledged team leader, sometimes getting ejected from games in the process. He saved his most stinging criticism for umpire Jerry Crawford, who had issues with Pittsburgh all season. After an ejection on September 8th, Ott said that the second-generation umpire said the National League had to "protect daddy's little boy." Here is a 1980 interview with Ott from late in the season:
Ott's path to the majors was an unusual one, in the the did not play baseball in high school as his school did not have a team. Instead, Ott made his mark as an athlete in wrestling and football, where he made the finals of the state wrestling tournament with a broken hand. For his prowess, he was offered a scholarship to Arizona State University. Despite this, he was drafter by the Pirates in 1970 as an outfielder. He would lead his league in outfield assists, but in time, the Pirates converted him to a catcher and send him back to the minors to learn the position.
When he made it to the major leagues for good in 1977, he found himself sharing the position with Duffy Dyer and later, Manny Sanguillen. He did make himself known that season for his role in a brawl with Mets' infielder Felix Millan. In a brawl at second base, Ott slammed Millan to the ground after Milan punched Ott with the ball in his hand. Millan would suffer a broken collarbone and dislocated shoulder and would never play in the majors again. Ott would also suffer an injury in the fracas, a torn shoulder muscle that would effect his defensive play well into the 1978 season. Here is what seems to be the only recorded image of the brawl:
Over time, Ott would become a key member of the "Lumber Company" that would end up winning the 1979 World Series in come-from-behind fashion. However, by the end of 1980, Ed would be very disgruntled with Pirate management in regards to his contract negotiations, even going so far to tell the press that he would not play if he was not 100% physically. That, along with the emergence of Tony Pena, led the Bucs to trade him before the 1981 season for Jason Thompson. Here is Ott in the glory days of his Pirate tenure:
On incident, widely misidentified, occurred during the 1992 season. Ott by now was coaching with the Houston Astros. The team had a history with Rob Dibble and Cincinnati Reds going back to the previous season when Dibble threw behind batters. When the Astros retaliated on June 24, 1992, Dibble and Ott found themselves in the middle of the fracas. According to reports at the time, Ott told the media:
I watched him turn red; I watched him turn purple; I watched him turn blue. Then I let him up. Maybe now he'll value life. He doesn't know how much damage he can do throwing a 100 mile per hour fastball at somebody. I could have given him another 45 seconds and let him turn black, but I let him go.Ott ended his long coaching career in 2015, where his number was retired by the New Jersey Jackals, a team that he coached for many years in the 2000s.
Why I love this card
The series of things going on in the background. The wooden bleachers, the random tree and of course the ladder that leads to who knows where. Either way, Ott doesn't seem to pleased with his surroundings either. That and the fact that with five letters, Ott has the shortest name in major league history.
For a couple seasons, Ott was often featured in Sports Illustrated subscription cards and advertisements. Ott's hook slide avoiding Rick Dempsey's tag during the 1979 World Series would continually remind me of first favorite team and elevate Ott in my mind as a upper tier player. After all, only stars would be featured in a manner like this, right?