Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Which Al Oliver?

I had this image passed along to me over the weekend, in honor of my Al Oliver post:

This is not one of the Topps Fan Favorite cards that have featured period 1980 reissues, rather a card embossed with a "Topps Archive" stamp in the upper right hand corner. I think that I like this picture of Al in the cage a little better than his base set issue:

Admittedly, I had been out of the card collecting game for almost 15 years and these issues always surprise me. I would certainly appreciate any other information on these cards and if this Oliver card is unique.

I have also put up a poll for the first time in a while, leave your preference for which Oliver card is nicer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

#264 Bill Robinson

Who is this player?
Bill Robinson, utility player, Pittsburgh Pirates
By the time that this card was making the rounds during the summer of 1980, the 37-year old Bill Robinson had slipped into a part-time role with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Splitting time between first base and the outfield, Bill appeared in the fewest amount of games played in the last five years. He was still potent with the bat however, batting .287 and clubbing 11 home runs. Robinson also achieved a milestone in 1980, by achieiving his 1000th career hit on April 18th against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Born in raised western Pennsylvania, Bill Robinson was touted as the best baseball prospect in the state. As a pitcher, he had not lost a game in four years. He had also been All-State in basketball and received over 50 scholarship offers. The Milwaukee Braves signed him to a $20,000 bonus and the team converted him into an outfielder so he could play everyday. The scout told him frankly that had Robinson been white he might have received $100,000.

After five years in the Braves organization, Robinson was peddled to the New York Yankees. On Opening Day in 1967, Robinson clubbed a towering home run and the press was quick to dub him a "black Mickey Mantle." Understandably, Robinson was unable to fulfill such expectations and it invariably effected his play. He batted .206 in three years in New York and hit only 16 home runs. He did not appear in the major leagues in either the 1970 or 1971 seasons and it appeared that his career may be over.

Now with the Philadelphia Phillies, Robinson received the opportunity he needed to revive his career. He grew confident as a hitter and had a breakout season in 1973 (.288 25 65). He was on the move again, traded home in April 1975 to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he would spend the next eight seasons. With the Pirates, Robinson was a righthanded power threat and one of the cogs of the powerful "Lumber Company." He hit over .300 twice, hit 20+ home runs three times and 100+ RBI once. In 1979, he platooned with John Milner in left field as the Pirates won a World Series Championship. Robinson appeared in all seven games of that Series and was on base when Willie Stargell hit his go-ahead home run in Game 7.

Bill left the Pirates in mid-1982 and returned to the Phillies for the final seasons of his 16-year career. He was almost instantly hired as a coach by the New York Mets and he was their first base coach when the Mets won the World Series in 1986. He held the same position in 2003 when the Florida Marlins similarly won the championship. Bill passed away in July of 2007 in Las Vegas Nevada at the age of 64. He was a minor league hitting coordinator for Los Angeles Dodgers and was in town to meet with the team.

Why I love this card
Robinson looks like he really needs a pair of sunglasses in this photograph. That's not my primary reason for loving this card, though. Like Lance Parrish, Bill Robinson's place of birth is McKeesport, Pennsylvania. McKeesport is also where my Dad was born but he grew up in Clairton and Robinson in Elizabeth. My Dad liked Robinson because he went things without a lot of fanfare or recognition yet still got the job done. In retrospect, my Dad's approach to things is very similar.

Something else....
With the recent passing of Jim Bibby, the 1979 Pirates have five players who have passed away. While that may not seem like a lot, the 1980 World Champion Phillies have had only one player pass away.

On this date in 1980:
The horror movie "Dont Go In The House" was released. If you haven't heard of it, it's probably because the movie was awful. I think Mystery Science Theater did a parody of it. For those so inclined, the trailer can be found here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

#263 Dave LaRoche

Who is this player?
Dave LaRoche, relief pitcher, California Angels
After several seasons as the Angels' leading fireman, Dave LaRoche had settled into a different role with the team as the 1980 season got underway. Being used primarily as a setup man, LaRoche excelled during the first half of the season earning and handful of saves and posting an ERA near 3.00. Injuries to the Angels pitching staff led to the lefthanded LaRoche getting more work and he was moved into the starting rotation. A rocky August saw him go 1-3 with a 6.23 ERA, but was effective when returned to the bullpen to close out the season. In his final appearance of the year, he introduced an eephus pitch, one he would later call "La Lob".

An All-League pick in three sports in high school, Dave LaRoche helped lead his Colorado team to the Connie Mack World Series title. Signed originally as an outfielder by the Angels in 1967, he was converted into an pitcher the following year and quickly made his major league debut, in 1970. In his first appearance, he came in to face Boston legend Carl Yastrzemski in the 16th inning and end a Red Sox threat. He earned the win when the Angels pushed across a run in the bottom half of the inning.

As the role of closer (or "fireman" as it was called at the time) evolved, LaRoche was one of the better relievers of the 1970s. However, since he spent that time with second division clubs (Angels, Cubs, Twins and Indians) much of his work went unnoticed. A two-time All-Star with Cleveland, LaRoche averaged 12 saves a year during the decade and five times finished the season with an ERA under 3.00. He was consistently among the league leaders in appearances, games finished and saves, twice finishing second in that category (1976, 1978).

Dave also earned the stereotypical reputation of lefthanded flake for antics throughout his career. He once almost missed a team flight after running out of gas and another time hit the scoreboard at Anaheim Stadium with a ball to show a coach he was loose. He remains the last pitcher to use the eephus pitch on several occasions, inducing a friendly exchange with Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas in the process.

LaRoche was released by the Angels in Spring Training in 1981 and he was quickly scooped up by the New York Yankees. He spent the final three seasons of his 14-year career in New York where he was popular with the fans. Since 1984, Dave has served in a coaching capacity, twice at the major league level with the White Sox and Mets. Today, he is the pitching coach of the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s in the Toronto organization. His sons Adam and Andy are both currently in the major leagues, at one point teammates in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Why I love this card
In previous posts, I talked about a visit to Tiger Stadium in 1980 where I got some autographs of the visiting Angels. LaRoche was one of the guys who signed for me and he looked exactly as he did on this card. He was wearing a similar warmup and had the same look on his face. Even when his sons are on TV today, I think of the moment that he signed for me in 1980 (here, along with Richie Hebner)

Something else....
According to LaRoche's wikipedia page, he once got into a tussle with Hall of Famer Rod Carew:
(LaRoche) "complained about everything. In fact, they filed a grievance about the choice of ice cream we had in the clubhouse. [He] loved to agitate, and it was not right. He was always negative about everything in the locker room. I finally got tired of it one night...we were having a team meeting and he was constantly interrupting people. I said to him, 'Just shut up and listen to what the guys have to say.' He asked what I was going to do about it, so I challenged him to a fight. There was a broom closet in the back of the clubhouse. I opened its door, turned on the light and said, 'Come on, let's go in.' As soon as he walked in, I turned off the light, closed the door and whaled away at him."

On this date in 1980:
"Silver Thursday" A steep fall in silver prices led to panic on commodity and futures exchanges.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#262 Benny Ayala

Who is this player?
Benny Ayala, designated hitter/reserve outfielder, Baltimore Orioles
Receiving the most playing time of his career in 1980, Benny Ayala achieved career highs in nearly every offensive category. Playing initially only against lefthanded pitching, Ayala blistered the ball in the first half; at one point seeing his average reach .357. Although he did not continue his torrid pace, Ayala earned more playing time at the corner outfield positions and hit two pinch-hit homers for the Birds and three game winning RBI.

In his first ever at-bat in the major leagues, the righthanded hitting Ayala hit a home run for the New York Mets. However, it would take him five seasons to earn a permanent spot on a major league roster. Born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, he was signed as a amateur free agent by the Mets in 1971 and made his debut three seasons later. He played a handful of games for the Mets in both 1974 and 1975 but did not return to the major leagues with New York.

Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977, he appeared in only one major league game and getting a hit off of future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Again, he did not return to the major leagues and the Cardinals shipped him to Baltimore in January, 1979. He was purchased from Triple-A Rochester on April 30th and responded with the 3rd best slugging percentage on the club (.523) as the O's won the American League pennant. Ayala played in four games during the World Series that year, clubbing a home run in Baltimore's Game 3 victory.

Ayala would be one of the primary role players in a successful era for Baltimore. Twice appearing in the post-season, Ayala was a .429 batter and helped lead the Orioles to a 1983 World Series championship. Also during this period, the Orioles came close to two more division titles, winning 100 games in 1980 only to fall short to New York and losing the title on the last day of the 1982 season to Milwaukee. Ayala was there to provide a clutch hit off the bench or a formidable bat against the American League's toughest lefthanded pitchers.

When his batting average dipped to .212 in 1984, the Orioles did not renew his contract and he caught on with the Cleveland Indians for his tenth and final season in 1985. In December 2009, Grey Flannel Auctions featured several items obtained directly from Ayala, including several World Series worn items and his 1983 World Series ring.

Why I love this card
I always respected guys like Ayala. I think it may be because Topps included their minor league record on the back and it made me appreciate the long journey to majors. To see all these stops along the way, in cities that I wasn't familiar with somehow made the players seem more personal. Also, in researching this post, I came across a "signed" Ayala card with a signature most different from the facimilie one on the 1980 issue.

Something else....
I could not find any information on the circumstances that led to Ayala parting with his World Series ring. I can't imagine why anyone would do that, but who knows? If anyone has any information to share, I would appreciate it.

On this date in 1980:
Current Chicago Cub and former Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Neal Cotts is born in Belleville, Illinois. Happy Birthady Neal.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

#261 Dave Chalk

Who is this player?
Dave Chalk, utility, Oakland Athletics
Shortly before the 1980 season was to begin, Dave Chalk signed a free agent contract to become a member of the Kansas City Royals. The righthanded hitting Chalk appeared in 69 games, primarily at third base when George Brett was injured. He also proved to be a useful defensive replacement and reliable in the clutch. His only home run of the year came in a tense game against the Red Sox where Chalk went 3 for 4 with two RBI as the Royals won 9-8. He appeared in the postseason for the only time in his career that fall, in Game 2 of the World Series as Brett was famously suffering his case of hemorrhoids.

A two-time American League All-Star with the California Angels, Dave Chalk was a versatile infielder throughout his major league career. He was originally a third baseman at the University of Texas, where he once hit four home runs in a double header. Selected in the first round by the Angels in 1972, Chalk was moved to second base in the minor league before finally making the Angels as a full-time shortstop in 1974.

An excellent bunter and contact hitter, Chalk excelled in clutch situations. He was moved to third base during his second full season (1975) and for a time was considered one of the better third sackers in the American League. While he never possessed great power, Chalk was known as a reliable fielder and a professional teammate. In 1976, Dave was the last player to have more than 500 plate appearances without a home run nor a stolen base.

A freak injury put him on the disabled list in 1978, and as the Angels began to dip into the free agent market, Chalk was expendable. He was traded to the Rangers for Bert Campaneris in 1979, but spent only six weeks there before being shipped to Oakland for the remainder of the season. Injuries cut into his 1979 season and he was not offered a contract by Oakland. Chalk spent two seasons in Kansas City (1980-81) before ending his nine year major league career.

In retirement, Chalk was honored by the University of Texas by being inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor. Today, Chalk's daughter is a senior on the Texas Longhorn softball team.

Why I love this card
Remember these in school when we were kids?

A kid I went to school with, Dave Durecki, had a habit of writing his name everywhere and on everything. He always got in trouble but he still did it. Invariably, this was not uncommon:

Kind of self-explanatory.

Something else....
Chalk had one of those stances that was fun to imitate. Check out his pose on the 1980 card. For a guy known for his bunting ability, is there a better way to photograph him than this? It looks exactly the same way my Dad would hold a rake. Great job Topps.

On this date in 1980:
Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador gives his famous speech appealing to men of the El Salvadoran armed forces to stop killing the Salvadorans. This speech would lead to his assassination while celebrating Mass the following day. He is currently in the process to be canonized as a saint.

Monday, March 22, 2010

#260 Al Oliver

Who is this player?
Al Oliver, leftfielder, Texas Rangers
Having already established himself as one of the best hitters in the game, Al Oliver had arguably his finest season to date in 1980. Wearing the number 0 on his uniform, Oliver played in all of Texas' 163 games, and reached career highs in hits (209), doubles (43) and RBI (117) while batting .319. He was voted to the AL All-Star team for the first time and was an outfielder on The Sporting News 1980 AL Silver Slugger Team. On August 17 at Tiger Stadium, he established an American League record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader (four home runs, a double and a triple).

Born the son of a Harlem Globetrotter, Al Oliver was born in Portsmouth, Ohio and attended high school with fellow future major leaguer, Larry Hisle. After his graduation in 1964, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his major league debut in 1968. It was a bittersweet day for Al as his father died the same day. The lefthand-hitting Oliver became the Pirates regular first baseman the following season and was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting. He earned the nickname "Scoop" for his defensive abilities. By 1971, he was installed as the team's regular centerfielder and Oliver helped lead the team to a World Championship.

In 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, Al was a .296 batter, four times batting over .300. He was second in the National League in batting in 1974 and appeared in the postseason five times. He was consistently among the league leaders in hits, at bats and total bases during his Steel City tenure. Following the 1977 season, he was one of the key players in a blockbuster four-team deal that saw him traded to Texas for Bert Blyleven, among others. It was in Texas that Oliver would become the franchise leader in batting average, never batting lower that .309 in four seasons.

Traded to Montreal in 1982, he had a banner season, leading the league in hits (204), doubles (43), batting average (.331) and RBI (109). As the Expos first baseman, he became the first big leaguer to have a 200-hit, 100-RBI season in both leagues and finished third in MVP voting. The following year, his average slipped to .300 (his lowest since 1975), but he still led the NL with 38 doubles. He spent the final years of his 18-year career bouncing between the Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Blue Jays.

Oliver appeared in the ALCS as a member of the 1985 AL East champion Blue Jays and delivered game-winning hits both Game 2 and Game 4. Unfortunately, Tortonto lost the series in seven games. He did not receive a contract offer in 1986 and he retired with 2,743 career hits. Only 33 men in the history of the game had more. Today, Al runs his own website and maintains a foundation. It's mission statement is:
The purpose of this corporation is to enhance the lives of youth, seniors, veterans and individuals with physical and/or mental handicaps through provision of services and activities that promote health and wellness ultimately leading to increased self-esteem.

Why I love this card
I have always been an Al Oliver fan. Below is his 1980 Super Card, complete with "Scoop" necklace. Other than maybe Steve Garvey, I cannot think of another player from this set whose accomplishments have been more passed over. Also, look at the size of that mitt! Had I had one like that in Little League I never would have dropped the ball. Then again, it would have been bigger than my head, but nonetheless.....

Something else....
When Oliver played in 163 games in 1980, I couldn't understand how this was possible. Of course, it is easily explainable today, as Oliver played in a rain-shortend 1-1 tie in Chicago on July 26, 1980. A player appearing in more than 162 games in a season has happened only eight times in history, most recently by Justin Morneau in 2008.

On this date in 1980
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Adrian Adonis fought Verne Gagne and Mad Dog Vachon for the AWA Tag Team Championship.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

#259 Joe Torre New York Mets Team Card

What is this card?
Team Card, New York Mets, Joe Torre Manager

Current Los Angeles Dodger manager Joe Torre was beginning his fourth season as Mets' skipper. Hard to imagine that when this card came out that Torre would compile a Hall of Fame resume as manager, famously of the New York Yankees. He also led the Atlanta Braves and Dodgers to postseason appearances.

A year after posting the worst record in the National League, the New York Mets were sold on January 24, 1980 for an estimated $22 million (the largest amount ever paid for a ball club to that point). Shortly thereafter, longtime Baltimore Orioles' GM Frank Cashen was hired to run Mets. Rarely can a team that lost 95 games claim it was a successful season, but the Mets did improve in 1980. They moved up a place in the standings to fifth and drew nearly 600,000 more fans than the previous year. They hovered around .500 for most of the season until a free fall saw them lose 38 of their last 49 games.

There were several young players that led the Mets, most notably homegrown Lee Mazzilli. He was complimented by Gold Glove winner Doug Flynn, the promising Steve Henderson and All-Star John Stearns. On the mound, Craig Swan, Pat Zachary and Neil Allen held the most promise.

Several youngsters also made their debut in 1980, such as Hubie Brooks, Wally Backman and Mookie Wilson. Backman and Wilson would be important members of the 1986 World Champions. Future Cy Young winner Mike Scott and All-Star closer Jeff Reardon were also Mets in 1980, in the early stages of their careers.

However, the most important Met in 1980 would be their selection in the June amateur draft. With the #1 selection overall, the Mets chose a 18-year old outfielder from Los Angeles, Darryl Strawberry. Almost immediately, Strawberry would begin to evoke comparisons to Ted Williams and he would have a significant impact on the Mets' fortune as the decade wore on.

Why I love this card
Other than the fact that I haven't upgraded this card in 30 years, the white background here confused me. Much like the Chicago White Sox team card, there is a completely white background here. I can't imagine where this photo would have been taken, because I can't imagine an angle at Shea Stadium that would account for this. Must have been Spring Training, I guess.

Something else....
Here is a Kiner's Korner from 1980.

On this date in 1980:
Bob Hope appears on the cover of Rolling Stone. Also in this issue is a in depth look at George Bush, the man who would become Vice President in 1980 and the eventual 41st President of the United States. He was still seeking the Republican nomination for President at this stage in 1980.

Friday, March 19, 2010

#258 Paul Moskau

Who is this player?
Paul Moskau, swingman, Cincinnati Reds
With a last name pronounced like the city in Russia, Paul Moskau began the 1980 season in the Cincinnati bullpen. The righthander was coming off of a back injury that caused him to miss much of the previous year. He occasionally started but pitched most of the first half of the season in relief. Moskau was inserted into the rotation in the second half of the season as the fifth starter. A highlight came on August 28th when he pitched a complete game shutout against the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.

A product of St. Joseph, Missouri, Moskau relocated to Arizona and led his high school team to a state championship. He was a third round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in 1975. In the minor leagues, he was 2-time ERA champion and posted an impressive 13-win season in the Eastern League in 1976. He made his big league debut the following season and was inserted into the Reds rotation in June. He won six games, including shutouts against the Padres and Phillies. Reds' manager Sparky Anderson was a strong supporter and he returned to the starting rotation in 1978.

He won only six games in 25 starts that season, more than likely due to hard luck as the vaunted Big Red Machine began to show signs of age. When Anderson was fired and Moskau missed half of 1979 with a back injury, he had to reclaim his spot in the Reds rotation. Moskau watched from the sidelines as the Reds claimed the 1979 NL West flag, yet lost in the NLCS to Pittsburgh.

Pitching nearly entirely in relief in 1981, Moskau never really found a rhythm and was often used in mop up situations. When the season ended, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, but the O's surprisingly released him in Spring Training before ever appearing in a official game. He caught on with the Pirates, who sparingly used him in relief. He caught on with the Cubs for the 1983 season, and made a return to the starting rotation. However, he was not effective in eight appearances and was released after posting a 6.75 ERA. It would be the final season of his seven-year career.

He became the general manager of the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders and is now an administrator at Fenster School. The Fenster School is a college preparatory boarding high school in Arizona and Moskau serves as the school's director of facilities, security and athletics.

Why I love this card
This was another guy that whose name everyone mispronounced for a while. "Moose-cow," "Moss-Kayo," or "Moss-Kay-U," we tried everything but the correct pronunciation. When we found out how it was supposed to be pronounced, none of us believed it and we settled on "Moose-Cow."

Something else....
Moskau's son played in the minor leagues for a little while and got married in 2002. How do I know this? It's amazing what you can find on the internet. Here is a picture of Paul and his wife at the wedding. Don't get excited, there is nothing controversial.

On this date in 1980:
Mikuni Shimokawa, a Japanese singer and songwriter was born on this day. Don't worry, I don't know who this is either.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

#257 Larry Herndon

Who is this player?
Larry Herndon, reserve outfielder, San Francisco Giants
The versatile right handed hitting Larry Herndon appeared in 139 games in 1980, primarily as the fourth outfielder. He clubbed a three-run homer on Opening Day but struggled in the early part of the season at the plate. A 12-game hitting streak in July but him back on track and he finished the season with a .258 average and career highs in home runs and runs batted in. On September 6, while playing center field, he committed three errors in the same inning, on three different plays.

Born in the tiny Mississippi town of Sunflower, Herndon grew up in a tight family in Memphis Tennessee. After earning numerous letters as a high school athlete, he was chosen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 1971 amateur draft. He rose quickly through the Cardinals system, earning a reputation as a fine defensive outfielder. Larry made his major league debut near the end of the 1974 season, appearing in 12 games and getting a hit in his only at-bat.

Traded to the San Francisco Giants in May, 1976, Herndon responded with a fine season in which he was honored as The Sporting News NL Rookie Player of the Year. As the Giants ' centerfielder in 1976, he hit .288 in 337 at-bats. Herndon would spent six seasons in San Francisco, averaging 114 games a year, but never nailing down a starting position. Despite batting .288 in 1981 and winning a team award for spirit and leadership, the Giants traded to him to the Detroit Tigers on December 9, 1981.

It was in Motown that Herndon would achieve his most notoriety. He tied a major league record in 1982 with home runs in four consecutive at-bats (over two games) and batted .440 in that torrid two-week stretch. As a full-time left fielder, Larry blossomed in Tiger Stadium, clubbing 20+ home runs and batting near .300 in 1982 and 1983. As the Tigers became a serious contender, Herndon was an unsung, yet significant piece of the championship puzzle.

Larry endeared himself to Tiger fans in 1984 when he hit the game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1984 World Series and caught the final out in Game 5. He did so again in 1987 when his home run off of Jimmy Key on the final day of the season provided the margin of victory at Detroit claimed the AL East. Batting mainly against lefthanded pitching that year, Herndon batted .324 in the regular season and .333 in the postseason. He retired following the 1988 season after 14 years in the major leagues. After a stint in the early 1990s as the Tigers' hitting coach, today he is coaching with the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Why I love this card
I did not really become aware of this card until Herndon became a Tiger. He looked so different in a Giants uniform. I was never much a fan of these "up the nostril" shots that is here on this card. Then and now, I felt that there was so much more Topps could do when photographing a major league player instead of making him appear like the Jolly Green Giant.

Something else....
Like most in the late 1980s, I was a big WWF fan. On one of the TV shows, Randy "Macho Man" Savage was interviewed for an upcoming card in Detroit and he began saying "Larry Herndon, hello." It blew me away as I couldn't figure out the connection. Turns out, Savage, under his given name Randy Poffo was teammates with Herndon in rookie ball in 1971. Poffo played minor league baseball several years before giving it up and concentrating on wrestling full time. Who knew?

On this date in 1980:
President Carter signed into law the Refugee Act of 1980, which had earlier been approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation extended the definition of refugees to include persons from every part of the world and it increased the number of refugees and immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. each year from 290,000 to 320,000. Somewhere Barbaro Garbey smiled.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

#256 Roger Erickson

Who is this player?
Roger Erickson, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins
Despite posting only a 7-13 record in 1980, Roger Erickson was victimized by poor run support throughout the season. The 23-year old righthander consistently had an ERA under 3.00 during the first half, but only won three games. He finished 8th in the American League with a 3.25 ERA. At that moment, he was regarded as the one pitcher on the Twins with the most potential and someone the Twins were looking to build their rotation around.

Erickson made quite an impact on the baseball world in his debut season in 1978. In only his second professional season, the Springfield, IL native was inserted in the Twins starting rotation. He responded with the best season in his six-year major league career, winning 14 games and ranking among the league leaders in innings pitched and games started. Roger even ilicited comparisions to another recent rookie phenom, Mark Fidrych. The local media reported Erickson's quirks as much as his talent in an effort to create a similar sensation. It was even described that Erickson "talked" to his arm on the mound.

Alas, also like Fidrych, Erickson was troubled by numerous injuries, beginning in 1979. He stuggled that year and it was later discovered that he needed elbow surgery when the season was over. He pitched decently in 1981, but the light-hitting Twins were unable to again provide him with much run support and he finished the strike-shortened year with a losing record. Like many Twins before him, he was traded the following season by frugal owner Calvin Griffith who had a history of moving any high priced talent to other teams.

Now with the Yankees, Erickson again began to suffer injuries that would eventually end his career. When he was demoted to the minors in 1983, he refused to report and left the Yankees altogehter. He eventually returned to New York and accepted a position with Triple-A Columbus. He would spend the remainder of the 1980s in with several organizations, but did not return to the major leagues.

Why I love this card
When I was a kid, I thought that all baseball player's bedrooms were like the one depicted here. With a pennant and a trophy prominantly displayed, it had that Richie Cunningham vibe that I completely bought into.

Something else....
Any information on Erickson's whereabouts today would be appreciated.

On this date in 1980:
A jury in Winamac, Ind., found the Ford Motor Co. not guilty of reckless homicide in a case involving the deaths of three teenage girls. All three were killed in August 1978 when the Pinto subcompact in which they were riding burst into flames after it was struck from behind by a van. The prosecution claimed Ford knew of a design defect in the Pinto but failed to correct it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

#255 Dusty Baker

Who is this player?
Dusty Baker, leftfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 1980, Dusty Baker had what can be considered the best season of his career. He was consistently the Dodgers most reliable clutch hitter and his omission from the All-Star team sparked outrage from his teammates. He continued his productive hitting in the second half and was awarded the Silver Slugger Award for his .294/29/97 performance. With the season over, his name was mentioned in trade rumors for the Red Sox' Fred Lynn, instead he signed a five year contract worth four million dollars.

The current manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Dusty was born Johnnie B. Baker, Jr. in Riverside, California. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1967 and made his major league debut the following year at the age of 19. He was initially compared to teammate Hank Aaron, who Baker acknowledged as a major influence on his career. Dusty had several cups of coffee over the next three seasons and was a .300 lifetime hitter in the minors.

He became a regular in 1973, batting an impressive .321, good for third in the league. The following season, he was the on-deck hitter when Aaron hit his record breaking 715 home run and he improved on his power numbers. Baker and the Braves slipped to mediocrity and he was part of a package trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1975 season. It was with the Dodgers where Baker would earn his greatest fame as a player.

The right hitting Baker was a fixture in LA for the next eight years as the Dodgers went to the World Series three times, winning in 1981. Baker was twice an All-Star, won his only career Gold Glove and was a legitimate MVP candidate. He spent the remainder of his 19-year career in the Bay area, playing with the San Francisco Giants in 1984 and the Oakland A's from 1985-86.

He spent several years as a Giant coach before being named manager in 1993. Despite earning four playoff appearances, Baker's managerial career has been marked by near misses, specifically 1993 and 2003. He has also earned a reputation for employing unconventional strategy. He is noted for rejecting the importance of on-base percentage and is criticized for overusing Cub pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. He will be beginning his third season as Red skipper in 2010, his 17th season as a major league manager.

Why I love this card
As a kid, how can you not love a player named Dusty?

Something else....
Several days after signing his five-year deal with the Dodgers in 1980, Baker surprised two prowlers at his home, detaining one before calling the police. Now that's pretty bad ass.

On this date in 1980:
Last mention of the Winter Olympics, on this date, the iconic photograph of the US Olympic team made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Monday, March 1, 2010

#254 Paul Dade

Who is this player?
Paul Dade, utility player, San Diego Padres
As the 1980 season wound down, so did Paul Dade's six year major league career. In his second campaign with the Padres, Dade saw limited action playing primarily as a reserve. The season was a struggle for Dade as he batted only .189 in 68 games and he made four errors in only 26 chances in the field. He was tried in several different positions with the Padres all with little success. In December, the Padres gave Paul his unconditional release.

An outstanding high school player at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, the righthand hitting Dade twice was the top high school batsman in the state. With the build more akin to a football player, Dade was considered a top prospect when the Angels drafted him with the 10th pick of the 1970 amateur draft. He signed for $60,000 and bought his mother a home before reporting for minor league duty. The Angels hoped that he would man third base in the coming years.

Paul made his major league debut in 1975 but received little playing time with the Angels. He led the PCL in defensive categories and was the league's batting champion in 1976. In the early days of free agency, Dade was allowed to negotiate a contract and signed with the Cleveland Indians for 1977. With Buddy Bell established at third, Dade was moved to the outfield and he performed well in his first season as a regular. Appearing in 134 games he batted .291 and was even assigned a Kellogg's baseball card based on his performance. The following year, however, the Indians traded him to the San Diego Padres for Mike Hargrove.

He never found regular playing time in San Diego and signed to play in Japan in 1981. Paul was released at midseason by the Hanshin Tigers for arguing with the manager over playing time. His playing career ended in the minors in 1982, when he was let go at midseason by the Portland Beavers. Today, Paul lives a modest life in his home state, working for box making company. Like most folks, he is living to make ends meet for his family and is far removed from the major league life.

Why I love this card
I had seven Paul Dade cards at one point. I stress had since I got curious at one point and wanted to see what would happen if you ran over a card with a lawnmower. This Dade card was the unfortunate choice. The results were predictable. The lawnmower won. No wonder I had so many Dade cards, this was a double printed card and we haven't seen one in a while.

Something else....
We've had a stretch where three of the last four guys saw their major league careers over by the end of 1980. Throw in Ted Cox and all of them were done by 1981. After longtime veterans Phil Niekro, Jim Kaat and Jim Clancy, the pendulum has swung the other way.

On this date in 1980:
The San Antonio Spurs fired coach Doug Moe as the Spurs struggled to reach .500. Moe would land in Denver, where he would coach the Nuggets for ten seasons.