Monday, June 28, 2010

1980 All Star Ballot

One of the highlights of summer was getting the official All Star ballot. I only went to one game a season from 1979 until 1985 and every single one of them fell either before or after the All Star voting period.

Therefore, the only way I ever got a ballot during those years was through the Gillette display at my local grocery store. The store was called Great Scott!! (yes the exclamation points were part of the store's name). Interestingly, the display was usually located in the isle somewhere, but if you wanted a ballot, you had to ask for one at the welcome desk.

That was sometimes tricky. There was a really crabby lady who usually manned the desk and she wasn't to fond of kids coming in the store and getting something for free. Many times she would say something like "we're out" or pretended that she didn't know what we were talking about.

Thankfully, there was a bagger named Greg, about 19 years old that everybody knew and liked. He knew everybody by their name and greeted you as soon as you came into the store. He would talk to us when we drove our bikes in the parking lot and he would collect the carts. Often times, it was Greg who would get the ballots for us and he didn't mind when we came back a few days later to get another.

Without further ado, here is one of those 1980 ballots:

Sometimes we would punch them and bring them back, other times we would keep and argue about them. Where was Tony Perez? Why was Mike Hargrove in the outfield? People really voted for Jerry Royster? (no offense intended). And it was cool that Jose Cruz got to have his whole name on the ballot.

Who did you vote for? Who would you vote for now?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

#312 Mike Barlow

Who is this player?
Mike Barlow, relief pitcher, California Angels
Midway during Spring Training in 1980, Mike Barlow found himself traded from the defending AL West Champion California Angels to the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite coming off a 109-loss season, there was optimism in Toronto and Barlow was being called upon to provide veteran guidance on the young Blue Jays pitching staff. The imposing (6'6") righthander served primarily as a setup man and sometimes closer. He won three, saved five and posted a 4.09 ERA in 40 games in 1980. A highlight for Mike came on September 7th, when he saved both games of a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox.

An outstanding athlete as a youth, Mike Barlow pitched two no-hitters in American Legion baseball in New York, but he was also an outstanding basketball player. He was such a good hoops player, he received a scholarship to play at Syracuse University. Barlow played sparingly for three seasons with the Orangemen, though he would letter in 1968 and 1969. Illness kept him to only 3 games his senior year. He also stood out on the diamond and was drafted twice (by the Orioles and Dodgers) before signing a free agent contract with the Oakland A's in 1970.

Used mostly as a middle reliever for the majority of his career, Barlow pitched with four different teams; the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Angels and Blue Jays. For nearly every year of his career, Barlow split time between the majors and minors, the only exception being 1979, the season the Angels won their first ever division title. Though he posted a high ERA (5.13), he appeared in 35 games for the AL West champs, including Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Barlow last appeared in a major league game in 1981, bringing to end a major league career that spanned parts of seven seasons. He stayed in the Blue Jays organization in 1982, earning 8 saves in relief for the Syracuse Chiefs. When the minor league season ended, Barlow was not recalled to the major leagues, and Mike left organized baseball.

From 1987 to 1993, he teamed with Syracuse's Doug Logan as the official broadcast team for Syracuse University basketball games. He became the Athletic Director of Bishop Grimes High School (Syracuse) in 2001 as position that he still holds today.

Why I love this card
I loved the backs of cards of players like Barlow. Seeing all the minor league stops all the way made me appreciate how long the road sometimes is to the major leagues. However, later on I became curious as to why they included some player's minor league records and not others. I know that there are space limitations, but I wonder what the decision making process was. Barlow's entire history is here, but for a similar player, say Dave Rosello, only his major league record is listed. Funny what I still waste time thinking about.

Something else....
I am fairly certain that this photograph was taken at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The visitor's dugout in relation to the seats is consistent and the shadows suggest a 1:35 afternoon start. What I cant figure is what Barlow is leaning on. He is above the top of the dugout, so its not that. It appears to be a chair turned the opposite way that he is sitting on, which would be highly unusal for Tiger Stadium at that time. Again, funny what I still waste time thinking about.

On this date in 1980:
One of the worst heat waves in history begins to claim its first victims. In Dallas, record temperatures reach 113 degrees and the drought continues in Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Comparisions to Dust Bowl days of the 1930s are evoked. By the time the summer comes to an end, more than 200 deaths are blamed on the heat in 13 states.

1980 Topps Super Unopened Pack

About a month ago, I picked up an unopened pack of three 1980 Topps Superstar Photo Cards via ebay. With the recent posting of Dave Parker, I thought that this feature would be timely, especially since the Cobra is the one on the top:

Chet Lemon is the card on the back, seen here.

Interestingly, these cards have white backs, instead of the grey ones with the Topps logo that I have been showing. The cards were very popular at first and were distributed in these three card packs. Apparently, hobby dealers tried to snap up cases of these in a bit of mindless speculation. Perhaps due to the unexpected demand, Topps printed all sixty cards again, but this time on thinner gray card stock. These cards were distributed a number of ways, including five card cello packs. I have learned that the white-backed cards are more valuable, although not by a lot.

When I was a kid, I always got these either at 7-11 or Kmart. Does anyone recognize the price tag logo in the top right corner? It is obscuring Tommy John's hat. Someone already blacked out "89" cents for the retail price. We didn't get a Walgreens in Michigan until the late 1990s, I am wondering if that is it?

On the back is a checklist of all 60 cards in the set, some of which have been featured here already. There is also a "Full Series Offer" where with this wrapper and nine bucks you can get the whole set directly through Topps. A quick search of ebay shows that 30 years later, you can still get the set for around the same or less.

I wonder what would happen if I sent this to Topps today and apologized for it being late?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

#311 Roger Metzger

Who is this player?
Roger Metzger, utility infielder, San Francisco Giants
In November 1979, Roger Metzger of the San Francisco Giants was badly hurt when he severed parts of four fingers on his right hand in a sawing accident at his home in Texas. Determined, Metzger reported for Spring Training to reclaim his position on the Giants. He not only won a roster spot by batting .300 during the exhibition season, but the respect and admiration of peers and teammates. Used primarily as a defensive substitute and pinch-runner, Metzger struggled at the plate, batting only .074 (2 for 27). He retired in August, ending his 11-year career, and spent the remainder of the season as a coach on the Giants' staff.

Texas-born Roger Metzger was a collegiate star at St. Edward's University in Austin. The switch-hitting shortstop was an All-Conference player and was selected as an alternate to the 1968 Olympic baseball team. In 1969, he batted .414 was was named to the All-American baseball team. This made him the #1 selection of the Chicago Cubs in June, 1969. He was in the major leagues the following season, but only appeared in one game. That winter, he was traded to his hometown Houston Astros, for whom he would play the majority of his career.

As a shortstop, his reputation with the Astros quickly rose; he led the National League in triples in 1971 & 1973, setting a team record in the process. He also developed a reputation as one of the premier defensive shortstops in the league, leading NL shortstops in putouts in 1971 and double plays in 1972. He was rewarded for his fielding excellence in 1973, when he earned the National League Gold Glove Award. He was also named Astros team MVP that season, when he batted .250 and achieve career highs in most offensive categories.

In eight seasons in Houston, Metzger was a popular player, setting a NL record with 59 consecutive errorless games in 1976 (since broken). However, Roger batted a collective .229 during this period. As the Astros built towards contention in the late-1970s, Metzger's playing time diminished and he was traded to the San Francisco Giants midway during the 1978 season. Metzger was a valuable man off the bench for the Giants, often splitting time with Johnnie LeMaster in the starting shortstop role.

After leaving baseball following the 1980 season, he and his wife ran a local restaurant for more than 10 years. He graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1972 and taught math for several years at Brenham High School (TX). Today, Roger works as the job procurement officer at the Brenham State School. The school is home to 400 people with mental disabilities from ages 12–82. His wife also works there as a fundraising coordinator.

Why I love this card
I knew nothing about Roger Metzger's accident when I got this card during the summer of 1980. I don't know why I didn't, but I didn't learn about it until much later. Today though, I am much more in awe of what he has done with his life since 1980 than what he did before. There aren't many guys in this set that I can honestly say that about, but Roger Metzger is one.

Something else....
In 2005, Metzger's jersey #14 at St. Edward's was retired, this first in the history of its athletics program. He had already been inducted into the St. Edward's Hall of Fame in 1987, the first year the hall accepted inductees.

On this date in 1980:
Two future professional athletes are born on this day - Michael Vick (insert your own remark here) and Chris Shelton. Shelton will be best remembered for his prodigious home run output early in the 2006 season. Playing with the Detroit Tigers, "Red Pop" hit nine home runs in the first 13 games of the season; this made him the fastest player in American League history to reach that mark at that point in a season. He dropped off quickly though and was not a factor in the Tigers' World Series run that fall. He currently is in the Houston Astros organization trying to return to the majors.

Friday, June 25, 2010

#310 Dave Parker

Who is this player?
Dave Parker, rightfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates
Although he was considered one of the best players in the game, Dave Parker was a target for criticism, due to his boastful demeanor and million-dollar-a-year contract. Nevertheless, the "Cobra" was elected to start the All-Star Game by the fans and led the Pirates in RBI. But 1980 was not a good year for Dave Parker. Fans threw batteries at him, he played much of the year with a myriad of injuries, went through a divorce and got sued. Although he batted a very respectable .295, it was considered a "down" year for him and it was widely thought that he would bounce back to his previous form.

Born in Mississippi, but growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a youth Parker was given a glove by future Hall of Famer and Red star Frank Robinson. At age 15 he was big enough and good enough to play with a local semipro team and he was a football star in high school. His senior season he tore his knee yet still earned attention from 62 schools that wanted him to play football. Dave decided he had better chances in baseball, but his injury made several teams wary. He was drafted on the 14th round of the 1970 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Parker made an immediate impact in the minors; MVP of the Florida League in 1970 and the Carolina League in 1972. He was in Pittsburgh a year later and it took little time for him to be compared to Pirate greats Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. During a five year period (1975-1979) he won two batting championships, batting a collective .321, won three Gold Gloves, led the league in hits and doubles, was the 1979 All Star Game MVP and the 1978 National League MVP. As the 1980s began, it appeared that Parker was on the road to Cooperstown.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. After the distractions of 1980, Parker slumped at the plate, gained weight and simply did not perform at his previous levels. When his contract elapsed in 1983, the Pirates allowed him to leave as a free agent and Parker signed with his hometown Cincinnati Reds. One of the reasons for his sudden drop in performance was revealed in 1985 when Parker testified at the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. There, he described his heavy cocaine use and how it effected his play. He claimed that he was now drug-free, and he returned to All-Star status in 1985. He led the NL in RBI and was second in the league's MVP vote while batting .312 and clubbing 34 home runs.

After four years in Cincinnati, the productive, but aging Parker was traded to the Oakland A's where he served as designated hitter. His veteran presence helped lead Oakland to the World Series the two years he was there, including a championship in 1989. He was an All-Star again with Milwaukee in 1990 and played for both the Angels and Blue Jays the following year. He was unable to catch on with another team in 1992 and his 19-year major league career came to an end. He served as a first-base coach for the Anaheim Angels, then as a batting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998. Today, he owns several Popeye's chicken franchises in the Cincinnati area.

Why I love this card:
This was a premium card to get during the summer of 1980. Yet, I found it very difficult to warm up to Parker. I knew he was a great player, but I didn't view him in the same light as a Brett, Schmidt or Rice. What I remember most about this was my Dad's shock when Parker wore an earring in his ear. To him, it was disrespectful and distasteful. Remember, it was 1980 and it wasn't as common as today. I too, couldn't figure out why a guy would want to wear an earring.

Something else....
Largely due to his peak years, Parker still receives minor Hall of Fame consideration. I suspect that with the recent inductions of Rice and Andre Dawson, Parker's body of work will get further review. I wonder how much the Drug Trials effected his overall bottom line.

Nevertheless, Parker was a star in 1980 and was given a Topps Super Card and Burger King card. I actually like the Burger King version a little better since I think they did a much better job of centering the photo. Both are shown below:

On this date in 1980:
The #1 song in the country on this date is "Coming Up" by Paul McCartney. A largely forgettable song today, it is notable since it is McCartney's first #1 hit after the breakup of his second band, Wings. The video is pretty good and is here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#309 Larry McWilliams

Who is this player?
Larry McWilliams, starting pitcher, Atlanta Braves
In his first full season in the Braves starting rotation, Larry McWilliams made 30 starts and won nine games. The lefthander began the year as Atlanta's #3 starter but he struggled early, losing four of his first six and posting an ERA over 5.00. He rebounded in late June with a stretch of solid pitching, including a nifty three-hit shutout against San Diego on the 4th of July. Two more complete game victories later in the month earned him NL Player of the Week honors. Though he struggled down the stretch, losing his last five decisions, it seemed that McWilliams was part of the Braves' long term plans.

Larry McWilliams starred and Bell High School in Hurst, Texas where he was named his district's Most Valuable Player. He attended Paris Junior College and earned All Conference honors and was selected on the sixth pick in the first round by the Braves in 1974. After an unspectacular minor league career, the pitching-poor Braves gave him an opportunity when they called him up in 1978. Pitching guru Johnny Sain adjusted McWilliams delivery from a slow motion to an accelerated, whip-like delivery. Larry responded masterfully, winning nine games, including his first seven in a row. The highlight of that rookie year game on August 1, 1978 when he and Gene Garber combined to end Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak.

McWilliams was not as successful in 1979, getting shelled in his first seven starts and he missed significant time with an injury. When Larry pitched poorly in Spring Training 1981, he was optioned to the minor leagues and did not return until after the Player's Strike. He pitched well in limited action in '81 and earned him a return ticket to the Braves rotation in 1982. Pitching out of the bullpen, McWilliams again had difficulty and was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in June, 1982

It would be the biggest break of his career as McWilliams did his best pitching in a Pirate uniform. McWilliams peaked in 1983 as he won a career-best 15 games and was named a Sporting News All-Star pitcher. He was fifth in the Cy Young voting and had more strikeouts (199) than any Pittsburgh pitcher since 1969. Larry finished second in the league in winning percentage and shutouts as the Pirates made a serious challenge for the NL East flag.

He suffered arm trouble again in 1985 and was relegated to relief and spot-start duty. He was released by the Pirates in 1987 and picked up again by the Braves. McWilliams moved to four teams in five seasons (Atlanta, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Kansas City). In all cases, these teams were looking for lefthanded pitching and McWilliams was used in several starting and relieving roles. His career came to an end after the 1990 season and 13 years in the major leagues.

Why I love this card
This is the third card in a row to discuss a player's degree or college in the cartoon. Don't think that this fact was lost on me at the time. Bonus points to my Dad as it wasn't lost on him either as he made sure that he drove the point home when my inevitable questions came. Thanks again Dad, for a lot of things, but also making sure that my education wasn't too far away from center.

Something else....
McWilliams is on one of my favorite cards of all-time. Granted it is not a 1980 card, but a 1984 Fleer, but here it is nonetheless:

#308 Mike Hargrove

Who is this player?
Mike Hargrove, first baseman, Cleveland Indians
The Human Rain Delay. Mike Hargrove's deliberate routine at the plate before each at-bat belied the fact that the Indian first baseman was an excellent hitter. Playing in 160 games, Hargrove batted .304 and drew a career-high 111 walks. The Tribe's third place hitter also reached career highs in base hits, plate appearances and RBI. A tough player, he was hit on the forearm on a pitch from Ron Guidry, but was in the lineup the next day. His 23 game hitting streak early in the season was one of the longest of the season and he was clearly one of the best players on the Indians.

Best known today by younger fans as the manager of the Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, Mike Hargrove put together a very respectable career as a major leaguer. Without ever playing baseball in high school, he attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he lettered in baseball, basketball, and football. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of the 1972 amateur draft. After just two seasons in the minors, he reached the majors with the Rangers in 1974, and after hitting .323, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

In five seasons in Arlington, Hargrove was traded to the San Diego Padres even though he was a consistent hitter and solid fielder. Unfortunately, the Rangers were beset with big financial losses and embarked on a housecleaning. Hargrove looked forward to the move, but expressed remorse that he was leaving the Rangers. He struggled in San Diego, batting .192 in 52 games and was traded to the Cleveland Indians in mid-June, 1979.

Hargrove spent seven seasons in Cleveland, and was noted as a patient hitter with a careful eye and took a lot of pitches. He exceeded 100 bases on balls in 4 seasons and typically had one of the highest on base percentages in the league. He was slowly phased out in Cleveland in favor of Pat Tabler. He was granted free agency following the 1985 season that saw him bat .285 but he did not receive an offer from another team. Collusion by the owners was likely the cause and Hargrove's 12-year major league career came to an end.

He became the Indians manager in 1991 and became the franchise's second winningest manager of all-time. Mike led the Tribe to two World Series appearances (1995 & 1997) and five consecutive division titles, the most successful stretch in team history. He came under fire after losing the 1997 World Series, yet his dismissal as Indians manager by GM John Hart in 1999 was controversial with many fans. He moved on to Baltimore for four years and then to Seattle where he abruptly resigned in the midst of an eight-game winning streak saying his passion for the game was gone. He has since returned to baseball, managing the Liberal BeeJays, a semi-professional baseball team in Kansas for which he also played while in college.

Why I love this card
I remember being perplexed by this card. Where was Hargrove when this photo was taken? Was this the inside of a dugout? A garage? His house? The apparent wood paneling in the background, very fashionable at the time, made it tough to determine. I think I love this card even more know as it is a reminder of how much time we wasted as kids passionately debating the most ridiculous things.

Something else....
Between high school, college and his major league debut, all five of the teams for which he played (Perryton High, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Class A, Class AA, and Texas) all shared the same nickname, the Rangers.

On this date in 1980:
David Letterman begins his morning television program on NBC. One of his guests was Andy Kaufman. You can watch it here. Letterman did not connect with AM audiences, but his show would be repackaged and moved to late night. Kaufman would be a staple of the early days of that show as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#307 Rick Honeycutt

Who is this player?
Rick Honeycutt, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
1980 was a tale of two seasons for Rick Honeycutt. The lefthander began the season quickly, winning his first six decisions. When the month of June began, his record stood at 7-1 and his 2.59 ERA was among the league leaders. Rick was rewarded for his performance with a spot on the American League's pitching staff at the All-Star Game. However, Honeycutt struggled from then on, as he would go on to lose 14 of his next 15 decisions. His frustration boiled over in late-September when he was caught scuffing the ball by hiding a thumbtack within a bandage on his finger. He was subsequently suspended for 10 days and in December was part of a multi-player trade with the Texas Rangers.

Tennessee-born Rick Honeycutt led his high school baseball team to State Championship titles in both his junior and senior years. He was originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles after his senior year, but instead decided to attend the University of Tennessee on a baseball scholarship. There, he was an All-American first baseman-pitcher and won the Southeastern Conference batting title with a .404 mark. Honeycutt was drafted as both a pitcher and a first baseman by the Pittsburgh Pirates in June of 1976. In his first game as a professional, he was the starting pitcher, he batted clean-up and he hit a home run in his first at-bat.

Traded to the Seattle Mariners in July, 1977, Rick made his major league debut that season and spent the next 21 seasons in the major leagues. For his first ten seasons, Rick was a starting pitcher, with the Mariners, Rangers and Dodgers and was twice an All-Star. He had his best year as a starter in 1983, winning 16 games and winning the American League ERA title with 2.42, despite being traded to the Dodgers in August. He proved to be a serviceable, if not spectacular starter with the Dodgers and when he began the 1987 season poorly, he was traded to the Oakland A's.

It was in Oakland that he began the second phase of his career and evolved into
one of the toughest left-handed specialists in the game. Under the guidance of Tony LaRussa, Rick often set up closer Dennis Eckersley. Honeycutt helped the A's to the postseason four times, including three consecutive trips to the World Series and a championship in 1989. He continued that role in the mid-1990s with the Rangers and Yankees before reuniting with Tony LaRussa in 1996 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Although he was the oldest player in baseball at this point, he was still effective; he had 65 appearances and a 2.85 in 1996 as the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS.

His 797 appearances is 8th all-time for lefthanded pitchers and his playing career ended in 1997 after elbow surgery. After his playing career ended, he was inducted into the State of Tennessee Hall of Fame and was the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league pitching coordinator from 2002 to 2005. He was named pitching coach of the Dodgers in 2006, a position he still holds today.

Why I love this card
I remember that I got this card right around the time that Honeycutt was busted for the thumbtack. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how or why he would need a thumbtack on the mound. I know my Dad tried to explain it to me, but it was more confusing than ever. I do remember getting a pack of 1980 Football cards at the same time as the transition from summer to fall began.

Something else....
Honeycutt's daughter, Holli, earned a doctorate in physical therapy. The Honeycutt's purchased a 100-acre, 42-stall ranch in northern Georgia that his wife, Debbie, has turned into a retreat for special-needs children, Heartland Ranch.

On this date in 1980:
The Soviet Union announces partial withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

#306 Denny Walling

Who is this player?
Denny Walling, utility, Houston Astros
A valuable role player, Denny Walling was a key player off the bench as the Houston Astros won their first ever National League West title in 1980. Playing mostly first base and outfield, the left-handed Walling batted .299 in 100 games playing primarily against the right-handed pitchers. His 11th-inning sacrifice fly in Game 3 of the NLCS gave the Astros a 1-0 win and a brief 2-1 series lead. Walling scored a game-tying run in Game 5 and later gave the Astros the lead with a 7th inning single, but the Astros fell to Philadelphia in 10 innings 8-7.

Denny Walling was a collegiate star at Clemson University, where he was a two-time All American. The Oakland A's selected him with the first overall selection in the 1975 June secondary amateur draft. Before the season ended, Walling had made his major league debut, batting .125 in limited action with Oakland. He spent most of 1976 in the minor leagues and was traded to the Houston Astros in June 1977 in a deal for Willie Crawford that most did not notice at the time.

It turned out to be the turning point in Walling's career. Denny would spend 13 years in Houston and was a member of both the 1980 and 1986 NL West Champions. Primarily an outfielder on his arrival, Walling would soon find plenty of playing time at first and third base over the years, and although he often platooned, he still managed to appear in over 1000 games with the Astros. A tenacious hitter with an excellent eye for the strike zone, his best season came in 1986 when he batted .312 and reached career highs in several offensive categories. He had the game-winning hit in Mike Scott's division clinching no-hitter in September, but batted .158 in the NLCS as Houston lost a memorable series to the New York Mets in six games.

Traded in 1988 to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Bob Forsch, Walling was used primarily as a pinch-hitter. In 1989, his .344 average in a pinch-hitting role was among the league leaders. He played one more season in St. Louis before moving on to Texas and then back to the Astros for a brief stint in 1992 to finish his 18-year career.

After his playing career ended, Walling remained in baseball as a coach. In the major leagues, he has served as the hitting coach for the Oakland A's (1996-1998) and for the New York Mets (2002-2004). Both times, he served under manager Art Howe, who was his teammate with the Astros. In 2007, he was hired by the Baltimore Orioles as their roving minor league instructor, a position which he currently holds.

Why I love this card
I rooted hard for the Astros in the 1980 playoffs. When Walling had two hits with two runs and an RBI in Game 5, he became a favorite. It probably didn't hurt that Walling's photo here looked a lot like my little league picture, complete with a shot of the parking lot in the background. I know it is a Spring Training shot, but he looks like they stopped him on his way to his car.

Something else....
Walling is listed as being from Neptune. Granted, it is Neptune, New Jersey, but to a eight-year old getting this card and reading that....I guarantee that it was discussed for hours.

On this date in 1980:
Walling goes 2 for 4 as the Astros defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 at the Astrodome. The victory gives Houston a three game lead in the NL West as summer begins. Other division leaders are Montreal, New York and Kansas City.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

#305 Randy Jones

Who is this player?
Randy Jones, starting pitcher, San Diego Padres
On the morning of May 16, 1980 things were looking up for Randy Jones of the San Diego Padres. He had just pitched his third consecutive shutout, defeating the Chicago Cubs. His record stood at 4-2 with a 1.82 ERA. It appeared that he had regained the Cy Young form that had been elusive since 1976. He went on to lose three straight all by one run before being shelled and landing on the disabled list with a rib separation. He pitched poorly upon his return and was shelved again, this time for the season in August. Randy finished 1980 5-13 and the longtime Padre was traded to the New York Mets in December.

As a youngster, the lefthanded throwing Jones received pitching tutelage from Claude Osteen when he was pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Osteen taught him a curve ball and a sinker which would propell Jones into the major leagues. First, Randy earned a Bachelor's Degree in business from Chapman College in California and made the College All-America team as a senior. This attracted attention from the San Diego Padres who drafted him in 1972. He spent a little less than a year in the minors before he was brought to the parent club for good.

Jones became the first Padre-developed superstar and helped bring respectability to the floundering franchise. He won seven of 13 decisions in 1973 with a 3.16 ERA and was named to the Topps Rookie All Star team. He was the team's most effective pitcher in the second half and from then on, was clearly established as the team ace. He suffered a hard luck season in 1974, losing 22 games but was poised to establish himself as one of the games best pitchers.

Indeed, Jones did so in 1975, winning 20 games and being named an All Star and Comeback Player of the Year. He defeated every team in the National League and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Incredibly, Jones improved on his performance in 1976. En route to winning the Cy Young, Randy won 16 games by the All-Star break and was named the NL's starting pitcher. His 22 wins represented nearly one-third of his team's total output for 1976. Known for his quick work on the mound, Jones tied Christy Mathewson's league record of 68 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. He didn't strike out many (93), rather he was a master at inducing an easy ground ball.

Unfortunately, he never achieved the same level of success, primarily due to nerve damage in his pitching arm and poor run support from the weak-hitting Padres. He spent the final two seasons of his 10-year career with the New York Mets and retired after failing to catch on with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1983. Jones has kept busy in retirement; he operates a BBQ business at Petco Park, runs a baseball academy and is the host of Outdoor Channel's "Randy Jones' Strike Zone" television program.

Why I love this card
Unlike the other Padres players featured so far, the Randy Jones card features the player's name in blue ink rather than the customary black. I remember thinking that perhaps this was an error card, but that wasn't the case. At the time, it was more memorable to me than Jones' blond afro.

Something else....
Just as Jones was tutored by Claude Osteen as a youth, Jones himself taught the finer art of pitching to several kids over the years. One of them was a very young Barry Zito, who like his mentor, also won a Cy Young Award, with the A's in 2002.

On this date in 1980:
After 14 seasons, the original Hollywood Squares goes off the air with its final broadcast on NBC. Here is what replaced it. You know, that Letterman guy?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

#304 Butch Wynegar

Who is this player?
Butch Wynegar, catcher, Minnesota Twins
An excellent defensive receiver with a keen batting eye, Butch Wynegar of the Minnesota Twins was seen as a rising star as the 1980 season began. Indeed, The Complete Handbook of Baseball tabbed him as "the next Johnny Bench." He had a solid first half at the plate before tailing off and finished the year batting .255. The popular fan favorite also led all American League catchers with 13 double plays and threw out 44% of enemy base runners. In a sharp departure from club policy, the Twins rewarded Wynegar after the season with a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.

A product of York, Pennsylvania, Harold "Butch" Wynegar took up switch hitting at age eight, emulating his idol, Mickey Mantle. He was an outstanding player in high school and switched to catcher when his potential became apparent. He wound up being drafted by the Minnesota Twins on the second round in 1974. After leading the Appalachian League in batting and fielding in his first season, he topped the California League in RBI and batted .314 in his second. Those performances earned him an extended look in Spring Training 1976 from new Twins manager Gene Mauch.

Mauch installed him as his starter behind the plate and he responded with a .300 batting average most of the first half. This earned him a spot on the AL All Star Team and at 20 years, 121 days, Wynegar became the youngest player ever to appear in the Midsummer Classic. Although his performance in his rookie year was overshadowed by Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, he was named the Sporting News' Rookie of the Year for 1976. Another solid season followed in 1977, with Wynegar again earning another All Star nod.

While the Twins at various times during this period had some exceptional talent, the frugal mindset of ownership kept several players from staying any extended period of time. Rather than pay high contracts to players such as Rod Carew, Larry Hisle, Dave Goltz, Roy Smalley, Ken Landreaux and others, the Twins traded them away. This eventually led to Mauch leaving the club and when Wynegar's production suffered due to bone chips in his elbow, he was next - traded to the New York Yankees.

Butch was the Yankees' starting catcher for three seasons, but he never quite fulfilled the early promised predicted for him. Some of that was due to nagging injuries to his knees and big toe that made it painful for him to squat. The other part was due to the high anxiety of playing in New York and for two emotional managers; Billy Martin and Lou Piniella. Wynegar often stated that Martin in particular made it difficult to do his job due to Martin's incessant ump baiting.

After two season as a part-timer with the California Angels, Wynegar retired after the 1988 season at the age of 32. Like many of his contemporaries, he began a second career teaching the game, both at the collegiate and professional levels. He was the hitting coach of the Milwaukee Brewers from 2003-2006 and has since been the hitting coach for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.

Why I love this card
I bought the Butch Wynegar hype in 1980. Switch-hitter. Two-time All-Star. Strong-accurate arm. This card did little to damage the aura. With the possible exception of Gary Carter, there hasn't been a better shot of a catcher in action so far. I would have given Wynegar the nod simply for the eye black. That and the fact that it appeared the person over Butch's shoulder wasn't wearing any pants.

Something else....
In October 1978, Twins owner Calvin Griffith delivered several salacious comments regarding the Twins and baseball when he appeared at a dinner hosted by the Waseca (Minnesota) Lions Club. Among other things, he stated that Butch Wynegar's drop off in performance in 1978 was due to:
The worst thing that can happen to a ballplayer is to get married and then go to spring training.....Wynegar did the same thing and he's had a miserable year. He was playing 'hands' with his wife during spring training and instead of running around the outfield he did his running around the bedroom. Now, love is love, but it comes pretty cheap for these young ballplayers these days, and I think they should take advantage of that and wait to get married. That's the way I look at it.
I can't imagine any owner getting away with saying something like that today, and those were some of the more milder things Griffith said. An article regarding it can be read here.

#303 Bill Castro

Who is this player?
Bill Castro, relief pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
In what was generally regarded as a disappointing season for the Milwaukee Brewers, righthanded pitcher Bill Castro had perhaps his finest season. Working in a career-high 56 games, Castro provided a solid and reliable arm while much of the Brewer pitching staff was injured or inconsistent. After two months, he allowed only two earned runs and found himself with a 0.67 as June began. He would go on to lead the Brewers in ERA (2.77) and games finished (36). Castro was particularly impressive against division leaders, posting a 2.16 ERA with 2 saves against the eventual champions, the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees.

No man has spent more time in a Milwaukee Brewer uniform than Bill Castro. After spending seven of his ten big league seasons as a pitcher for the Brewers, he became the team's bullpen coach in 1992 and stayed with the club in a coaching capacity until 2009. After 25 years in Brewer colors, Castro was fired in August of 2009, mainly due to the Brewers letdown after a playoff appearance in 2008. Castro was in his first season as pitching coach under new manager Ken Macha and his dismissal was seen by some as making Castro a scapegoat for Milwaukee's disappointing season.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Castro has since told researchers that he is actually a year and a half older than his listed birthday of December 13, 1953. He was signed by the Brewers as a free agent in 1970 and proceed to excel in their minor league system. He led the Midwest League with 17 saves at Danville in 1972. Bill followed that with a Midwest League led in won-lost percentage (.733) and a 1.82 ERA. These showings earned him a late season look by the Brewers in 1974.

Castro quickly became one of the Brewers top pitchers. He led the staff in ERA during the 1975 campaign and had eight saves for the team in 1976. During this time, he was the Brewers' go-to pitcher in several critical situations. However, when the Brewers acquired relief ace Rollie Fingers in December 1980, Castro's time in Milwaukee was over. He left the team as a free agent and signed on to pitch with the New York Yankees. He was demoted to the minor leagues shortly before the 1981 strike and didn't appear in another major league game that season.

Bill moved on to Kansas City in 1982 where he spent parts of two seasons before being released. He returned to the Brewers and spent the remainder of the 1983 season at Triple-A before finishing his pitching career. After his playing days, he served as a scout with the Brewers (1985-87) and minor league pitching coordinator (1989-91).

Why I love this card
I know that I have mentioned that I am not a fan of the headshots in this set, but for some reason, Castro's reminds me of the Olan Mills photographs you would get for your grade school pictures. I know that is supposed to be the blue sky behind Castro, but I think that was also the background for my entire class Grades 4 through 6.

Something else....
When Castro signed with the New York Yankees, most in the media considered the move a sign that New York was looking to deal Ron Davis. Indeed, Davis himself felt the move was imminent. Oakland manager Billy Martin openly campaigned to get Davis, but ultimately the deal wasn't made and Davis continued to set up closer Rich Gossage. The arrangement was successful as the Yankees advanced to the World Series.

On this date in 1980:
After weeks of mounting tension, race riots boil over in Cape Town, South Africa. In one of the most ugly scenes, 34 people die in clash between police and demonstrators.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Yahoo Fantasy Baseball Links Us!

My apologies if this post comes off as egotistical, but we began this Friday with a certain amount of pride regarding this blog.

Since it began, I never really considered who read this blog or who it reached. That was never the intent. I guess it is always in the back of your mind, but it not something you really think about. Much like my childhood, this blog was merely sharing cards and memories among a small group of friends. From time to time, I notice that there is a new follower added and am grateful that there are 32 this morning. Your comments and encouragement keep me motivated and for that I remain appreciative.

In my mind, that was it; 32 like minded baseball card/1980 fans who share in the enjoyment. Imagine my surprise when this link from Yahoo Fantasy Sports was passed along to me last night.

I'm not really into Fantasy Baseball so I didn't understand the connection between Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays to this blog. I read along and the writer, Brad Evans, concludes with the line "For the Love of Dave Stieb." When you click on that it immediately jumps to Stieb's 1980 page!

Now while I'm not into Fantasy Baseball, I know that there are millions who are. Whether intentionally or not, Mr. Evans just sent who-knows-how-many of his readers to this blog! Thank you very much, sir. I am humbled that my meager summaries of a given player's career has been deemed sufficient to appear on a national website.

Again, if this comes across as bragging or much ado about nothing, I apologize. This is fairly new to me and I am sharing the excitement. So if you will indulge me in tooting my own horn, toot, toot!

We now return you to 1980 programming.....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#302 Tom Lasorda Los Angeles Dodgers Team Card

What is this card?
Team Card, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tom Lasorda Manager

A year after falling out of contention in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers began 1980 intent on reclaiming their status at the premier team in the division. The seeds were planted in November, 1979 when the Dodgers signed two free agents, Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse. Later, they added veteran Jay Johnstone. Although they lost pitcher Tommy John via free agency, the Dodger farm was producing several quality pitchers such as Bob Welch, 1979 Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe and promising prospect Steve Howe.

The Dodgers were involved in a three-team race with the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds for much of the season. Although their famous infield got most of the press, outfielders Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker were the two biggest bats in the Dodger lineup. Smith, in particular, was selected to start the All Star Game and was headed towards an MVP-type season. The game was held that summer at Dodger Stadium for the very first time and Smith was joined in the starting lineup by teammates Steve Garvey and Davey Lopes. Pitchers Jerry Ruess and Welch also made the team as reserves, with Ruess earning the win for the National League.

Smith suffered an injury in August that would sideline him for the remainder of the year, but the Dodgers pressed on without him, as the race came down to the Dodgers and Houston Astros. Down by three games going into the final weekend, Los Angeles defeated the Astros three times to force a tie and a one-game playoff. The Dodgers dream came to an end the following day, when Houston won the game and the division in the tie-breaker. The Dodgers finished the year fourth in batting, second in ERA and third in fielding percentage.

End of the year honors went to Howe, who won Rookie of the Year, and to Baker who won a Silver Slugger Award. Garvey led the entire National League in games played and hits, while Don Sutton led in ERA. Sutton would leave the club that December via free agent, but his replacement in the starting rotation would be the youngest player to appear in a National League game in 1980: Fernando Valenzuela. By the end of the year, the Dodgers and their fans had every reason to be excited about 1981.

Why I love this card
Dodger Stadium. By far, one of my favorite NL parks of this era. It seemed that every game was played under the bright sunshine with Hollywood celebrities dotting the crowd. I loved seeing the late afternoon shadows on the national telecasts (like the 1980 ASG) and it was always beautiful on the Saturday Game of the Week. For years, any time I saw a 76 gas station ball, I thought of Dodger Stadium.

Something else....
Dodger legend Duke Snider, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, had his number #4 retired at a ceremony at Dodger Stadium on July 6, 1980.

On this date in 1980:
Led Zeppelin kicks off their farewell tour in Germany. The band played only 14 shows mostly in Germany as a warm up for an American Tour in the fall. That tour never got underway due to the untimely death of John Bonham in September.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#301 Mike Edwards

Who is this player?
Mike Edwards, second baseman, Oakland A's
The year began curiously for the A's Mike Edwards; he went to salary arbitration with the notorious owner Charlie Finley. Edwards likely became the only player in history to ask for less than what any owner offered, $50,000 to Finley's offer of $58,000. Of course, Edwards was not aware of the offer, and signed on to what would be his fourth and final major league season. New skipper Billy Martin used Edwards sparingly and he batted .237. He was not offered a contract at the end of the season and he did not catch on with another major league club.

Mike Edwards was from a baseball family. Two of his brothers made the major leagues as well. Younger brother Dave has a card featured in this set and played the most seasons in the majors (1978-1982). Mike's twin, Marshall, saw postseason action with the 1982 AL Champion Milwaukee Brewers. Mike and Marshall are part of baseball history; only nine sets of twins have both advanced to the major leagues.

The Los Angeles, California native was the first in his family to reach the bigs after a successful minor league career. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1974, he led the New York-Penn League in games played, at-bats and triples while playing for Niagara Falls and later led the International League (AAA) in hits and stolen bases. Edwards also showed his talents in the field, leading the IL in double plays and total chances. He appeared in a handful of games for the Pirates in 1977, but his big break came when he was traded to the Oakland A's in April, 1978.

He made an immediate impact, setting a club record with a 17-game hitting streak and scoring five runs in a game. The defining moment of his career came on August 10, 1978 when he tied the major league record for unassisted double plays by a second baseman. Mike pulled the trick twice against the California Angels. On the other side, he also established a major league record for most time caught stealing by a rookie (21).

His production fell off precipitously in 1979 as his average fell by 40 points and he stole 17 fewer bases. However, that is tempered by the fact that the A's of 1979 were one of the worst teams of the modern era and in a constant state of flux. When he lost his job in 1980, he rebounded and played in Japan in the early 1980s. Any information on his current whereabouts would be most appreciated.

Why I love this card
What a great action shot! I can hear my Little League coach now, "Two hands! Two hands!" By far, the A's lead this set with the best live game photography. Interestingly, the standouts have been of their middle infielders, first Mario Guerrero, then Rob Picciolo, now Edwards. Even if you didn't know who Edwards was or even care about the A's, if this card showed up in your pack, you were guaranteed to spend some of your summer afternoon gazing it over.

Something else....
Here is Edwards' 1979 Record Breaker card:

I ended up getting this card probably in the mid-1980s sometime and wondered what happened to Mike. After all, he set a record, didn't he? My mind couldn't comprehend the 'here today, gone tomorrow' turnover in major league baseball. I'm still wondering what happened to Mike Edwards.

On this date in 1980:
The Blues Brothers debuts on this date in Chicago. I was not fortunate to see this in theatres the first time through, but have seen it a hundred times since. I don't get tired of it (I know, I'm sick) and am glad that this movie introduced me to artists like Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway. Shame, a boy that young goin' bad.....

The Third 100 Cards - A Review

It's been over a year since this blog began and we have just turned the page on card #300. Even though we are not even near the halfway mark, it has been a fun ride and I appreciate the folks that have been following along. I'm glad that we have been able to share in the memories and enjoyment.

As I have done previously, here is a brief review of the third 100 cards of the 1980 set (201-300).

The division leaders so far are:

AL East - Baltimore/Cleveland/Detroit/New York - 13 cards
AL West - Kansas City/Texas - 13 cards
NL East - Pittsburgh/St. Louis - 14 cards
NL West - Houston - 15 cards

Interesting distribution here as I am sure that the League Leader cards have helped The NL teams. How about Cleveland? Holding their own in the AL East with 13 players featured so far.

The Cubs continue to have little love, again with the fewest cards so far, only 9. San Diego and Montreal join them at the bottom of total players featured.

Here is a breakdown of players featured by position

Catchers - 7 (30 total)
Firs Basemen - 5 (13 total)
Second Basemen - 2 (10 total)
Third Basemen - 5 (12 total)
Shortstops - 6 (16 total)
Outfielders - 18 (52 total)
Designated Hitters - 0 (2 total)
Utilitymen - 12 (31 total)
Starting Pitchers - 19 (64 total)
Relief Pitchers - 13 (42 total)
Swingmen - 2 (5 total)
Team Cards - 4 (10 total)
Checklist - 1 (2 total)

Additionally there were seven 1979 League Leader cards featured at in this group as well.

Also in this group, there were 7 regular issues of Hall of Famers (Carlton, Dawson, Niekro, Perry, Schmidt, Winfield, Yount) with Dawson up for enshrinement next month.

Starting pitchers and outfielders were the two most dominant positions featured and the starters maintain their lead overall.

Finally, there is a pretty even breakdown in the type of photo on the card:

First, the traditional headshot of a player - 34 cards (104 total)
A posed "action" shot - 21 cards (65 total)
Game action photos - 33 cards (106 total)

This breakdown has been remarkably consistent with the previous 100 cards with a nice blend of cards shown. There really hasn't been an overwhelming majority of any one card anywhere in the set, and when it seems like there is, a team card or checklist pops up.

Thanks again to all of you who have been following along, as always, I appreciate your comments and support.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#300 Ron Guidry

Who is this player?
Ron Guidry, starting pitcher, New York Yankees
Two years removed from the best season of his career, Ron Guidry began 1980 as the unquestioned ace of the Yankees staff. In "Bronx Zoo" fashion, he started the year by being fined by the club for participating in ABC's Superstars competition. On Opening Day, the southpaw allowed only two singles and retired 20 of the final 21 batters he faced, but earned a no-decision against the Texas Rangers. His performance was streaky for much of the year, but his 17 wins helped lead the Yanks to the AL West flag. Ron started and lost Game 1 of the ALCS, a series that saw New York lose to the Kansas City Royals. When the season ended, his name was involved in trade rumors to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Fred Lynn. Instead, the Yankees renegotiated Guidry's contract and he stayed in New York.

1978, 25-3. Those numbers will forever be linked with Ronald Ames Guidry. His dominating performance that year not only led to a Cy Young Award and an another world championship, but was one of the finest pitching seasons of the modern era. Guidry's defining moment of the 1978 season was his 18-strikeout performance against the California Angels and his .893 winning percentage that year is the highest ever for a starting pitcher. Additionally, Guidry's 1.74 ERA remains the lowest in the American League since 1968. Throw in two post-season victories, including a World Series complete game, and you begin to see just how good Guidry was at his very best.

No one could have predicted such success when the man known as "Gator" was selected by the Yankees in 1971. The Louisiana-born Guidry pitched well in the minors, but found it difficult to crack the starting rotation. There was also a knock against him that he was too small to pitch effectively in the majors. However, he was moved into the starting rotation for good in 1977 and won 16 games en route to a world championship. His blazing fastball found him atop the game's strikeout leaders and he was soon alternately known as "Louisiana Lightning." His size would never again be an issue.

A four-time All-Star, Guidry quietly distinguished himself with class, hardly ever finding himself tabloid fodder like most of his teammates. He won the Gold Glove Award five consecutive seasons (1982-86) and three times won 20 games, leading the league again in 1985. Guidry began to experience some arm trouble in 1981 and despite his high levels of achievement, it effected his pitching. He struggled during the last three years of his 14-year career and retired in 1989 when shoulder surgery did not improve his arm.

His number 49 was retired on "Ron Guidry Day," August 23, 2003. The Yankees also dedicated a plaque to hang in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. He joined Joe Torre's staff as pitching coach in 2006 and was criticized when the pitchers did not perform well in '07 and '08. Though he was interested in returning to the Yankees for the 2008 season, he was not offered a position on new manager Joe Girardi's coaching staff. He has returned to the Yankees as a spring training instructor and remains a popular figure at Yankee events and Old-Timers gatherings.

Why I love this card
When I got this card, I was convinced that Guidry was going to go to the Hall of Fame. This was one of those "hands off" cards that everybody respected. You didn't even bother to ask to trade for it because the unspoken law was that you didn't trade it. After all it was a "hundreds" card. Any card that ended with two zeros (300) was special. You either had it or you didn't. It would be a couple years later when we stopped caring about that and just traded liberally.

Something else....
Guidry was featured earlier on the ERA Leaders card, and he also had two other issues in 1980, first in the Burger King set and again in the Topps Super. Here are both.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Eleventh 25 - A Roster

A brief look back in team form at the last 25 player cards in the 1980 set (#274 through #299) as if constructing a fantasy league team.

Manager - Darrell Johnson

1B - Steve Garvey
2B - Rob Andrews
SS - Tom Veryzer
3B - Dale Berra
OF - Dale Murphy
OF - John Lowenstein
OF - Steve Henderson
C - John Ellis
DH - Don Baylor

Let's look at this glass half full: Garvey, Murphy and Baylor are three solid players in the middle of the order. Four MVP awards, 18 All-Star appearances and 9 Gold Gloves between them. Ellis and Lowenstein provide power and Henderson is a good contact hitter.

Now the half empty: Not one Hall of Famer in the lineup. Ellis, Lowenstein and Henderson at best were part-time players. The middle of the lineup is exceptionally weak and Berra was mainly a shortstop with limited third base experience.

Bench: Rick Bosetti, Paul Blair, Larry Murray, Charlie Spikes, Bruce Bochy, Dave Rader, Jim Spencer, Tim Johnson

Spencer and Blair are defensive specialists, but they are behind Garvey and Murphy who don't need one. There is catching depth with Rader and Bochy, but a solid third baseman would have been more helpful. Spikes and Bosetti could have earned the nod over Lowenstein, or platoon with him. Murphy provides speed off the bench and Johnson infield depth. With this group, however, quantity does not necessarily mean quality.

Gaylord Perry
Jerry Koosman
Larry Gura
Ken Holtzman

Only four needed here as these pitchers eat innings, led by Hall of Famer Perry. Koosman made a career out of being an exceptional second banana. Gura was a solid performer for many years as was Holtzman. These guys are used to finishing what they started, so not much need for bullpen support.

Bullpen: Darold Knowles, Randy Scarbery, Elias Sosa, Dave Rozema

Turns out a strong rotation will be needed as the bullpen depth is a little thin. Knowles was solid in his day, but was at the end of the road in 1980. Sosa would likely be the #1 man coming out of the pen. Rozema and Scarbery can provide both setup and long relief assistance when needed.

OVERALL: Manager Darrell Johnson didn't survive 1980 with the Mariners and I suspect that he wouldn't have done all that better with this group of players either. Despite some excellent individual talent as a unit, this offering has some fairly significant holes. After peaking with an excellent Ninth Team a couple of squads ago, we have been sliding as we approach the 300s.