Monday, August 9, 2010

#319 Chris Speier

Who is this player?
Chris Speier, shortstop, Montreal Expos
The 1980 season was one of ups and downs for Montreal Expos shortstop Chris Speier. He lost his starting position in late April when he wasn't hitting and wasn't sharp defensively. After nearly a month on the bench, he returned with a flourish, going 11 for 16 with a triple in and five RBI over a five game stretch. He slumped again over the summer due to a finger injury, and at one point his average dipped to .228. But Chris was consistent in the field and as September came, he helped the Expos surge towards the NL East flag. Speier batted .348 during the month as Montreal stayed in the race until the final weekend of the season.

A native of Alameda, California, the righthanded hitting Speier was drafted by the Washington Senators out of high school but turned it down for a chance to play in college. He starred at the University of California, Santa Barbara which caught the attention of the San Francisco Giants. They selected Chris on the first round of the 1970 draft. He played only one season in the minor leagues where he was a Texas League All Star. The next year, he was handed the starting shortstop position and he appeared in 157 games as the Giants won the NL West pennant. Speier batted .357 in the NLCS, including a home run, but the Giants were defeated by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In the early days of his career, Speier was a star; three times being selected to the National League All Star team and even making the cover of Sports Illustrated. He had a reputation as a fiery competitor and was one of the best glove men of his era. Speier had a knack for consistent clutch hitting, batting .314 for his career with the bases loaded. After six full seasons in San Francisco, Speier was traded to the Montreal Expos shortly after the 1977 season began in exchange for Tim Foli.

Speier would go on to spend eight seasons in Montreal, all of them as their starting shortstop. He would hit for the cycle as an Expo uniform in 1978. In 1982, Chris' set a franchise record for RBI in a game with eight. He enhanced his reputation as a fine fielder by consistently placing among the league leaders in putouts and fielding percentage. Chris again appeared in the postseason in 1981 as he helped lead the Expos to an elusive NL East crown and NLCS appearance.

Towards the end of the 1980s, Chris became a journeyman infielder, traded to St. Louis, Minneosta. Chicago (NL) and back to San Francisco to round out his 19-year major league career. It was during this time that Speier again hit for the cycle (1988) and was a member of the 1987 and 1989 NL West championship teams. After his playing days, he became a coach and manager at both the major and minor league levels. He was the third base coach for the 2001 World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks and currently is the bench coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

Why I love this card
This one was easy. Speier and I shared the same first name. Any player, no matter their skill level immediately moved up a notch if they had the same first name. Speier, Chambliss, Knapp - it didn't matter to me. Their cards were special.

Something else....
Chris' son Justin has pretty together a pretty decent career. The 12-year veteran has played for seven clubs, mostly as a middle reliever. He is currently with the Los Angeles Angels. Additionally, in 1993 Speier served as principal of Ville de Marie Academy, a parochial school in Scottsdale, Arizona.

On this date in 1980:
The Top 40 in popular music was released today, the #1 song in the country was "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John. The complete list can be found here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

#318 Jerry Reuss

Who is this player?
Jerry Reuss, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
1980 would prove to be a truly memorable year for Jerry Reuss of the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he did not begin the season as a starter, he pitched excellently in relief to earn a return to the rotation in mid-May. From there, he was the Dodgers' best pitcher and arguably the best in the National League. En route to a Comeback of the Year award, Reuss went 18-6, led his league in shutouts and posted the third best ERA in the NL (2.51). He appeared in the All Star Game in his home park, striking out three batters and earning the victory. However, his individual highlight of 1980 likely came on June 28th when he pitched a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

Jerry Reuss is a Missouri native that played at Sportsman's Park as a little league All Star and led his high school to a state championships in baseball. This would lead to his selection by the hometown Cardinals on the second round of the 1967 baseball draft. He ascended to the major leagues was a rapid one and he made his major league debut late in the 1969 season. He was inserted into the Cardinals starting rotation the following season, but the Redbirds were not patient with the young Reuss and traded him to Houston after only two seasons.

With the Astros, Reuss began to show the durability and consistency that would define his career. He started a league-best 40 games in 1973 and led Houston in innings pitched and complete games. The Astros' however, desperate for hitting, traded Reuss to the Pittsburgh Pirates following the season for catcher Milt May. In Pittsburgh, Reuss found himself on a contending team for the first time and he was an integral part of the Pirates success as they won the NL East in 1974 & 1975. Individually, Jerry was honored by being named the starting pitcher for the National League in the 1975 All Star Game. He averaged 14 wins and 229 innings for the first four seasons of his Pirate career.

Traded to the Dodgers early in the 1979 season, Reuss already had a reputation as an irrepressible jokester, but more importantly, a valued teammate. His affable demeanor helped to defuse many existing tensions in the Dodger clubhouse and it went a long way towards leading Los Angeles to a World Championship in 1981. While the title had been elusive for LA, the presence of Reuss, Jay Johnstone and other valuable role players is what pushed the Dodgers over the hump. Reuss would pitch in Los Angeles for nine seasons becoming a fan favorite and second only to Fernando Valenzuela in the Dodger rotation.

As his 22-year major league career wound down, he made stops with five teams, Cincinnati, Chicago, Anaheim, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Four appearances with the Pirates in 1990 enabled Jerry to become one of only a handful of "four-decade" players in major league history. In retirement, Jerry has worked as a broadcaster for the Dodgers and ESPN. His passion for photography has led to some of his work being seen on Upper Deck baseball cards and today runs his own website. His photography can be seen at his flickr page, here. There are several excellent photos of major league parks here that you will find truly unique.

Why I love this card
What stood out for me about this card was how happy Jerry Reuss looked in this card. Some of the players in this set seemed so serious and stoic and as a kid, I never understood that. Reuss looked how I imagined I would look like on a big league field, with a grin from ear to ear. In looking at Jerry's cards throughout his career, though, I noticed that he is smiling in every card. Thanks Jerry for reminding us that while baseball is a business, it doesn't hurt for all of us to enjoy ourselves along the way.

Something else.....
Remember The Big Blue Wrecking Crew? Neither did I. Apparently, some of the Dodgers cut a record shortly after their 1981 Series triumph. This was five years before the "Super Bowl Shuffle" mind you.

The guys even took their act on the road, appearing on Solid Gold with Andy Gibb and Marilyn McCoo.

After seeing this, I really want to hear the rendition of "New York, New York."

On this date in 1980
Alice Cooper performs at the Kentucky State Fair with special guest Billy Squire. I know, sounded strange to me too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

#317 Mike Anderson

Who is this player?
Mike Anderson, reserve outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Shortly before the 1980 season was to begin, Mike Anderson of the Philadelphia Phillies was sent to the minor leagues. This was not a unique occurrence for Anderson, who had been shuttled between the majors and Triple-A for most of his career. This time, however, Anderson did not return to the parent club. Despite hitting .327 in 84 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City, the Phillies did not recall Anderson for the stretch drive late in the season. He would not see major league action again, concluding his nine-year major league career.

Mike Anderson was from an athletic family that was the pride of Timmonsville, South Carolina. His sister was an All-American basketball player and his older brother played baseball in the minor leagues. Mike was a high school football star and signed a letter of intent to play tight end for the University of South Carolina. When the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the first round of the 1969 draft, he chose a different athletic path.

The righthanded hitting Anderson was a slugging star in the minor leagues and tied a Pacific Coast League record in 1971 by homering in six consecutive games. He was a fearsome batter that combined average with power and his 1971 season numbers were eye popping (.334 36 100, .658 111 runs) and was seen as one of the best prospects in the Phillies organization. In this era, his minor league teammates included Mike Schmidt, Oscar Gamble, Bob Boone and Greg Luzinski and Anderson out shined them all. He was given his first major league look in 1971 and by 1973 was handed the reigns as the team's regular right fielder.

However, for three straight years, his average never rose above .260 and he never reached double-digit figures in home runs. Out of patience, the Phillies traded Anderson to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ron Reed. Anderson performed well in St. Louis, but was essentially a reserve player. After a poor showing in 1977 he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles and wasn't used often. The Phillies welcomed him back into the fold for the 1979 season and he appeared in 79 games batting .231. The Philies released him in October 1980 shortly after winning the World Series.

Mike was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates played one more season in the minor leagues (1981) before ending his baseball career. He returned to South Carolina and coached both high school baseball and basketball. His younger brother Kent, followed him to the big leagues, appearing in 135 games over two seasons with the 1989-90 California Angels. Any current information on what Mike is up to these days would be most appreciated.

Why I love this card
I remember debating the cartoon on the back. Was Anderson supposed to be the cartoon fielder in the foreground or the background. It would seem that he would be in the back since it would make the most sense considering the runner. Then again, most of Topps cartoons back in those days usually tried to show the featured player up front. I've said it before, but the things kids argue about sitting on the curb during the lazy days of August, 1980.

Something else....
Much is made of Anderson's 1969 season at Pulaski. His manager that season in Rookie Ball? None other than Dallas Green, the man who would be at the helm in 1980 and the same man that sent Anderson down in the Spring. I always felt sorry for guys like Anderson that play most of their career with a team and then the year they don't, the win the World Series. It was a shame that he couldn't have at least gotten an at bat or something.

On this day in 1980:
Remember the K-Car?

Regardless of your thoughts, these were a staple of the 1980s. On this day, Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca drove the first one off the assembly line.

The legacy of these cars is that the helped Chrysler rebound from a disastrous era in the late 1970s to a prosperous time in 1980s. What's that line about those not learning from history?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

#316 Bob Lacey

Who is this player?
Bob Lacey, closer, Oakland Athletics
In 1980, Bob Lacey may have been the least used closer of the modern era. While Lacey appeared in a team-high 47 games, finishing 31 he only earned six saves. This was due to Oakland's record-setting starting pitching. In what will likely never be duplicated in today's game, the A's pitched an astonishing 94 complete games in '80, leaving little left for relievers like Lacey. This eventually led to friction with his manager Billy Martin over how he was used. Martin did give Lacey his first ever starting assignment near the end of the season, and he blanked the Milwaukee Brewers. Naturally, it was a complete game.

Colorful. Flake. Eccentric. All of these words and more were used to describe Bob Lacey during his major league days. Like most pitchers with that description, Lacey was a lefthander that once struck out 19 batters during an American Legion playoff game as a youth. He was a late round draft selection of the Oakland A's in 1972, and while he was 13-2 in his first minor league season, he floundered in the minor leagues. However, as the A's dynasty began to crumble as the decade wore on, Lacey found himself given an opportunity at the major league level during the 1977 season.

In just his fourth major league appearance, he struck out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson twice in crucial situation, enraging Jackson and the Yankees in the process. Later, he would engage in a brawl with the Kansas City Royals' Darrell Porter, who called Lacey a "crazy, immature, punk." Despite this, he emerged as Oakland's most reliable relief pitcher and led the American League in appearances in 1978.

No other pitcher in league history inherited more baserunners than Bob Lacey did in 1978 (104). Despite that, he won eight games, crafted a 3.01 ERA and saved five games. He had a disappointing 1979 season suffering with bursitis in his heel, but then again, so did the A's as they lost 109 games. He fell out of favor with Martin and he refused to use Lacey at all during Spring Training. In fact, legend goes that Martin went so far to bar anyone from even playing catch with Lacey. Eventually he was traded to the San Diego Padres in late March. He was with the Padres for three days who in turn traded him to the Cleveland Indians.

Lacey split time between the Indians and Rangers in 1981 and pitched for Satillo in the Mexican League in 1982. He was a late-season call up for the California Angels in late-1983 and pitched in relief for the San Francisco Giants in 1984. He bounced around the minors for the 1985 season before pulling the plug on his seven-year career. He made a comeback of sorts in the late 1990s as manager of the Greensville Blusemen. Not content to just the dugout, Lacey appeared in eight games of relief over the 1998 & 1999 seasons, four games each year.

Why I love this card
What a great pose! I can't figure out exactly what Lacey is doing....pointing to a quarter on the ground? Throwing a paper airplane? Admonishing a small child? Whatever it was, it didn't fit the "traditional" pitcher pose, which I guess is typical regarding Lacey. Added bonus points to "FACE" printed across his mitt.

Something else....
One final story regarding Lacey. Apparently he gained too much weight during the 1981 Player's Strike. When asked how he would get back into playing shape, Lacey replied that his plan would be to drive his car with the windows rolled up and heat turned on full blast. With the August heat, Lacey rationalized, he would have a sauna on wheels.

On this date in 1980
Montreal Expos manager Dick Williams wins his 1,000th career game, 11 - 5 over the Mets, at Olympic Stadium. He is 3rd in wins among active managers behind Gene Mauch and Earl Weaver. The Expos overcome the offense of Doug Flynn, who ties the modern major-league record with three triples.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#315 Steve Kemp

Who is this player?
Steve Kemp, left fielder, Detroit Tigers
As the decade began, Steve Kemp of the Detroit Tigers was generally regarded as one of baseball's future superstars. Coming off of an All-Star season, Kemp engaged in a salary squabble with the Tigers' front office who begrudgingly made him the team's highest paid player through arbitration. Kemp responding with another strong year at the plate, batting .293 with 21 home runs 101 RBI; the first Tiger with consecutive 100+ RBI seasons in more than a decade. As the year came to a close, it appeared that Kemp would be the cornerstone on which the young Tigers would be built.

As part of a long lineage of major league stars off the campus of USC, Steve Kemp was considered one of the best. He hit a record .435 in 1974 en route to a College World Series championship and decided to forgo his senior year and made himself eligible for the baseball draft. He was selected with the first overall pick by the Detroit Tigers, and began a quick ascent to the major leagues. He batted .386 at Triple-A Evansville in 1976, with only an ankle injury preventing his major league debut that season. The following year, Kemp found himself in the Tigers' starting lineup.

The lefthanded hitting Kemp quickly became one of the most feared bats in the Tiger lineup as he averaged 20 HR and 93 RBI the first four seasons of his career. He earned a reputation as a hard nosed player who would play hurt and would do anything to win. However, his time in Detroit was shortened by run-ins with management. After winning arbitration before the 1980 season, he filed again and won again. Frugal Tigers GM Jim Campbell likely began looking to move Kemp before his contract came up, a move made easier by a disappointing performance in 1981. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in December 1981 for Chet Lemon.

In Chicago, Kemp put together an outstanding season. Playing in a a career-high 160 games, he batted .286 with 98 RBI and scored a career best 91 runs. Chicago was only a one year stop for Kemp, as he signed a huge free agent contract with the New York Yankees. Big things were again predicted for Kemp as a Yankee, but his season was beset by injuries. The first game in a outfield collision in the season's fourth game. He severely injured his shoulder and it effected his performance. A scarier injury came later in the year when he was hit in the face by a line drive in batting practice. While not known at the time, the cumulative effects of these injuries eventually hastened the end of Kemp's career.

After two disappointing seasons with the Yankees, Kemp was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. He played in only 105 games in two seasons with the Bucs and was released. Kemp, however, refused to give up on his major league ambitions and worked in the minors for most of 1986 and all of 1987. He was given a brief 16-game trial by the Texas Rangers in 1988 before in 11-year career came to a close. Today, Kemp is a fixture on many Detroit Tigers' alumni events, including the fantasy camps the club holds every spring in Florida.

Why I love this card
Steve Kemp taught me the bird. May 1980. Probably my third game ever. I didn't know much about autographs then and stood around the third base line with a bunch of other kids trying to get Kemp's signature. Like many around me, I was unsuccessful. Someone yelled to Kemp that he was a bum and he shielded his mitt around his response, an extended middle finger. I returned to my seat and said "Dad, what does this mean?" fully extending my middle finger to probably all of section 138. My Dad, embarrassed, asked where I learned that, and I replied "Steve Kemp." My father just replied with "Steve Kemp is a very very bad man." To be quickly followed by "Don't tell your mother about that."

Something else....
Kemp had a 1980 Super card that was a prize collectible in my neighborhood, despite the middle finger. I fact, I recall a pretty good shoving match in the 7-11 between Ricky Carneghie and Johnny Reshid that ended with the clerk pulling it away from both of them, leaving neither with the prize and thrown out of the store.

On this date in 1980
A lazy entry today. Watch all about Billy Beer, John Lennon and Caddyshack on this date in 1980 here.