Wednesday, June 6, 2012

#361 Wayne Garland

Who is this player?
Wayne Garland, starting pitcher, Cleveland Indians
The 1980 season for Wayne Garland began much as the previous three; frustrating and in pain. So much so, that as Spring Training wore on, his future with the Cleveland Indians seemed questionable. Likely due to his historic contract, Wayne earned the final spot on the Indians' staff and was used sporadically to start the season. He even tried adding a knuckleball to his repertoire in an effort to earn a spot back in the starting rotation. Garland was given his first start on June 16th and he responded with a complete game victory against the Chicago White Sox. Three weeks later, he fired a two-hit shutout against the New York Yankees before 73,096. Naturally, the optimists hailed a return to form, but Garland was still cautious. He was unable to build upon these performances and lost his final five decisions of the season. Garland finished 1980 with a 6-9 record and a 4.61 ERA.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Wayne Garland was drafted as a 18-year old graduate of Cohn High School by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. During this period, the Orioles farm system was one of the finest in Major League Baseball, with an emphasis on signing and developing young pitchers. Garland was certainly no exception. He had a fabulous 1971 season at Double-A Dallas-Fort Worth, winning 19 games, posting a 1.71 ERA and leading the Spurs to the Junior World Series. However, he was unable to crack the Orioles deep pitching staff during a times when the O's owned the American League East. When he fired a no-hitter at Triple-A Rochester early in the 1974 season, he was brought up to the Orioles for good.

Wayne spent the 1974 and 1975 seasons in the Orioles bullpen, occasionally given a shot as a spot starter and occasionally earning a save or two. More importantly, Garland established a pattern by hiring an agent and not quickly signing a contract for 1974 as well as 1975. At this time in the game's history, players who had agents were treated with skepticism and criticism by management. By the time 1976 rolled around, Garland again did not sign a contract and since he was not an integral part of the Orioles, it did not appear to be their top priority.

As is now well known, Garland took advantage of the opportunity presented to him in 1976 when the Orioles had a shortage of starting pitchers early in the season. He would go on to win 20 games and post a 2.67 ERA and was among the league leaders in nearly every pitching category. At 25 years old, the righthanded Garland was widely acknowledged as as a coming star and since he finished 1976 without a contract, one of the most desirable free agents. Free agency was new that winter and was by no means as routine as it was today. What happened would stun the media, the baseball world and even Garland himself.

The Cleveland Indians signed Garland to a $2.3 million dollar contract for ten years and the entire landscape changed for major league baseball. Although most point to this contract as an example of free agent "busts" Garland blazed a new trail that generations following him would benefit from. As he often said that year and after why would he turn it down?

However, Garland received criticism from the moment he signed the deal, even from former teammates such as Jim Palmer. He was even criticized for wearing number 23, which was a constant, unfortunate reminder of his contract. Needless to say he was eager to prove that he was "worth it." Unbeknownst at the time, Garland suffered a shoulder injury in his first Spring Training game with the Indians. It was later revealed that he tore his rotator cuff, a death knell for pitchers during this era. Nonetheless, he played through the injury, trying to earn his contract; pitching 282 inning with 21 complete games. However, his cast behind him in Cleveland wasn't the same as Baltimore and he lost 19 games.

The following year, he attempted to again pitch through the pain until he succumbed to surgery. Instead of taking time off to heal, he returned 10 months after surgery in what proved to be a mistake as he never again was able to pitch consistently effectively. It was a testament to his will and courage that he was even able to return to pitch at all even with the added pressure of "the contract" and the fans of Cleveland which by now had grown impatient. So too did Cleveland management, who released him after the 1981 season, effectively ending his 9-year career. He attempted a comeback with Nashville in the Yankees organization, working on his knuckleball with Hoyt Wilhelm. Eventually though, Garland decided to retire outright.

Garland worked in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system as a coach and was named the head coach at Aquinas Junior College in Nashville in 1984. He also coached in the Cincinnati Reds organization. However, health issues continued to plague Garland as six back surgeries by 2003 curtailed his coaching career as well. Today, Wayne Garland is living the Lakeland, Florida area.

Why I love this card
I have mentioned this before, but this card reminds me of Sunday, August 24, 1980. My grandpa had been sick for some time and died that day. I had just bought a pack at the 7-11 and was sitting on the curb with some buddies and this card was inside. My dad and uncle came around the corner in my dad's huge 1978 Buick and gave me the "better get home" look. There are a handful of cards from this pack that I associate with that day and Garland is one. Sorry to be so morbid, but Garland reminds me of Grandpa today.

Something else....
Three of the top pitchers in 1976 were Mark Fidrych, Randy Jones and Wayne Garland. Before Opening Day 1977, all three would have suffered injuries that significantly shortened and ultimately ended their careers. Interesting to ponder what the late 1970s would have been like had all three remained healthy and had longer careers.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#360 Darrell Porter

Who is this player?
Darrell Porter, catcher, Kansas City Royals
After posting one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher up to that point, Darrell Porter of the Kansas City Royals shocked the baseball world during Spring Training 1980 when he disclosed substance abuse problem. Initally, only alcohol was cited as a problem, but Porter also acknowledged a cocaine addiction. He spent the next six weeks in a rehabilitation facility and his return to the diamond was seen as an example of his will and courage. However, his performance was effected by the lack of Spring Training, hostile opposing fans and a brief hospitalization. Despite this adversity, he was still able to help the Royals advance to their first World Series in franchise history. When the season ended, Porter followed former manager Whitey Herzog to St. Louis when he signed a large free agent contract with the Cardinals.

A Midwestern boy, Darrell Porter was born in Joplin, Missouri and became a prep star at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A standout on the diamond and the gridiron, Porter received scholarship offers from 40 schools as a football candidate. Blessed with a powerful throwing arm, he initially signed a letter of intent with to quarterback at the University of Oklahoma before deciding on a baseball future. The Milwaukee Brewers made him their first selection of the amateur player draft in June 1970 and offered him a reported $70,000, a large sum for its time. The left-handed hitting Porter homered in his first professional at bat later that summer and was immediately tabbed as a major league prospect.

Darrell made his major league debut the following season and lived up to his billing by crashing a home run against AL MVP and Cy Young Vida Blue. At the time, he was the youngest player in the major leagues. However, he required some more seasoning in the minor leagues before returning to the bigs for good in 1973. That rookie season his .257 batting average and 16 home runs, placed him third in the Rookie of the Year voting and he was named to the American League All-Star team in 1974. However, Porter began to be plagued by the pressure to live up to his advance billing, and this ultimately was a major part of his substance abuse issue. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals following the 1976 season in a curious move, partly because of Brewers' owner Bud Selig decision to rid the team of a potential problem.

Blessed with a new start in Kansas City, Porter's offensive production increased. He was named an All-Star three seasons in a row (1978-1980) and helped the Royals reach the postseason three out of the four seasons he was a Royal. The one season Kansas City didn't reach the playoffs was Porter's finest (1979) which saw Darrell become only the sixth catcher in Major League history drive in and score 100 runs in the same season. He also led the American League with 121 walks and reached base a league-leading 284 times. For good measure, he also placed among league leaders in sacrifice flies, hit by pitches and triples.

While with the Cardinals, Porter was never able to regain his offensive production of 1979, but he was still a solid catcher able to draw walks and get on base. Despite this, he was given a hard time by the St. Louis fans, even as the Cardinals drove towards a postseason appearance in 1982. Porter rewarded them with a scintillating performance in the NLCS, batting .556 (5 for 9) in the Cardinals three game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. He followed that with a similar performance in the World Series against Milwaukee. With several timely hits, including the game-winner in Game 7, Porter was again named the Most Valuable Player. He was also an inspirational figure, often re-telling the story of his addictions and his conversion to a born-again Christian. His autobiography, Snap Me Perfect! was released prior to the 1984 season.

Porter had his best statistical season in St. Louis in 1983 but the Cardinals were unable to return to the postseason. Injuries began to take their toll as he fractured a finger in '83 and suffered a broken collarbone and thumb in 1984. St. Louis returned to the World Series again in 1985, with Porter again having a good NLCS, this time against the Dodgers. However, Darrell and the Cardinals struggled offensively in the World Series against Porter's old team the Royals, and St. Louis came up short in seven games. Porter would spend the final two seasons as a part-time player with the Texas Rangers before retiring after the 1987 season and 17 major league campaigns.

In retirement, Porter, like many of his contemporaries became a broadcaster for a time, was heavily involved in charity world and dabbled in antiques. On August 5, 2002, Porter was found dead in Sugar Creek, Missouri outside of his vehicle. It was initially believed that Porter's car was stuck on a tree stump and the high heat and humidity played a role in his death when he attempted to push the car. An autopsy concluded that he died of "toxic effects of cocaine" consistent with recreational use and induced a condition called excited delirium that caused his heart to stop. He was only 50 years old.

Why I love this card
First, any All-Star card commanded my immediate respect. Something about the All-Star banner that was on these cards elevated the players in my young mind as a future Hall of Famer. Secondly, I was drawn to the fact that Porter went to bat without any batting gloves. For an aspiring Little Leaguer, this was affirmation, especially during a time when batting gloves were becoming the rage. They are pretty standard now at all levels, but back then it was kind of cool to see an All-Star buck the on-coming trend.

Something else...
Porter and Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane are the only catchers in American League history to draw 100 walks, score 100 runs and drive in 100 RBI in the same season. Porter of course in 1979, Cochrane in 1932.

Also included below is Porter's 1980 Topps Super card. Unfortunately, this was not something that I obtained during the summer of 1980, rather it was something that I stumbled across years later when I stumbled across the whole set.