Thursday, June 30, 2016

#375 Ross Grimsley

Who is this player? 
Ross Grimsley, starting pitcher, Montreal Expos

Just 18 months after becoming the first 20-game winner in the history of the franchise, Ross Grimsley reported to camp angry at the way he was being used by manager Dick Williams. Still upset after the way he was used down the stretch in 1979, Grimsley made it known that he would rather be traded. He began the season as the Expos' fifth starter and often went long periods of time without being used in a game. Grimsley took to taping a number on his locker to indicate how many days he went being appearances, similar to the Iran Hostage Crisis. By the middle of June, he was moved out of the rotation, with a 2-4 record and 6.29 ERA. Ross did not do much better in the bullpen and within a month was traded to the Indians for what he called "a bag of bats and a couple boxes of Fruit Loops." Despite winning his first three decisions with the Tribe, Grimsley was hit hard and finished 1980 with a 6-9 record and a 6.59 ERA.

The son of a major leaguer with the same name, Ross Jr, was raised in Tennessee and drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1969. Despite his considerable talent, Grimsley became more well known as a metaphor for the flaky, unpredictable nature of left-handed pitchers during this era. To wit:

* One of the primary reasons for his trade from the Reds, perhaps the most conservative team of this era was due to his resistance of the team's strict grooming policies (Grimsley was traded to Baltimore after the 1972 season at age 23 despite being a major part of their rotation).

* While with the Reds, manager Sparky Anderson asked him to stop corresponding with a "witch" who was sending him good luck charms in the mail. Grimsley reportedly refused. He clarified this in a 2013 interview here

* He was often accused of doctoring the ball, primarily throwing a spitball. Many sites on the net attribute Billy Martin as being a primary critic of Grimsley using grease from his hair to doctor the ball. While this accusation is out there (see the links) I have been unable to find a definitive source that cites Martin in 1977. If anyone can pass along, please let me know. 

* With the Orioles in 1975, Grimsley, while warming up in the Orioles bullpen, responded to a Boston fan's heckling by throwing a ball into the right field bleachers. The ball passed through a protective netting, striking a fan. Grimsley was later sued over the issue.

The Indians sent him to the minors at the end of Spring Training 1981 and he did not appear in a major league game that season. He returned to the Orioles in 1982, where he finished his 11-year major league career.

Former Reds teammate Bill Plummer asked Ross to coach with him in the Seattle organization shortly thereafter. From there, he began a long second career as a widely respected pitching instructor and coach. He earned three World Championship rings with the Giants this decade as he was instrumental in the development of several of the Giants' pitchers such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Today, the longtime Baltimore resident provides analysis on the Orioles radio and television broadcasts. 

Why I love this card. 
Just look at it. Very few cards from this set look cooler. If I have to pick something else about it, however, I would say the cartoon on the back makes Ross Sr. look like King Kong Bundy.

Something else...
As much as I loved this card in 1980, Grimsley's 1981 card positively terrified me. I had not known at the time that his nickname was "Crazy Eyes" but I wouldn't have had to be told twice. This card was never, ever, at the top of any pile of cards I owned that season.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#374 Jim Gantner

Who is this player?
Jim Gantner, third baseman, Milwaukee Brewers

Although the front of his card indicates Jim Gantner as a third baseman, he started more games in 1980 at second base as he did at third. This was mainly due to an injury to Paul Molitor who missed a month and an half during the summer and the fact that veterans Don Money and Sal Bando could also play third. He put in a very solid season batting .282 and establishing his career-long reputation as a dependable and reliable player regardless of where he was on the field or where he was batting in the lineup. 

Perhaps it was fate that the Wisconsin native would spend every day of his 17-year career as a member of the hometown team, with only Hall of Famer Robin Yount spending more time in a Brewer uniform. Growing up in nearby Eden, Gantner starred in high school and in college again choosing a school close to home, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. 

He made his major league debut at the end of the 1976 season and was teammates with the immortal Henry Aaron, whom he pinch-ran for in the legend's final game on the final day of the season. 

He is fondly remembered as a member of the famed "Harvey's Wallbangers" 1982 American League champions. Appearing mostly as a second baseman, this team is the most beloved in Brewers history as the only team to reach the World Series. He appeared in all seven games of the Fall Classic, batting .333 (8-24) with five extra base hits. 

Along with Yount and Paul Molitor, Gantner would share a record for most season three players spent as teammates (15) a streak that would end with Gantner's retirement and Molitor's free agent signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.

In retirement, Gantner coached and managed and was honored by the state of Wisconsin and his college with inductions to their Halls of Fame. He also had a variety of interests; he opened a coffee shop, was instrumental in the revitalization of a downtown Milwaukee hotel and owns a auto-repair business in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.

Recently, Gantner, who had his ACL torn twice with take-out slides, offered his opinion of the recent "Chase Utley rule."

Why I love this card
Guys like Ganter would typically have their minor league records on the back. I loved this since it gave me a glimpse of all the other places baseball was played throughout the country. In 1980, there were no minor league teams in Michigan, so seeing other cities intrigued me. 

Some cities, like Newark, I already knew. Others, like Spokane, my dad would help me, often times with an atlas for a visual point of reference. Gantner's card, though provided a conundrum - where in the world was Thetf'd Mines?? It was the only place that my father didn't know or we couldn't find in an atlas. It it wasn't in an atlas, where did Gantner play? Overseas? The Moon? It bugged me the whole summer whenever I came across Gantner's card. 

Today, the internet makes everything so easy....Gantner played in Thetford-Mines, Quebec for the appropriately named Miners. Since my dad's atlas was of the United States, no wonder we never found it. Gantner would be on the last MLB-affiliated team to play in that town.

Something else...
Thetford Mines population is roughly 25,000 people and about two and a half hours east of Montreal. Not surprisingly, they have a hockey team interestingly named the Thetford-Mines Isothermic. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

#373 Dan Petry

Who is this player?
Dan Petry, starting pitcher, Detroit Tigers

When Spring Training 1980 ended, Dan Petry was not on the Detroit Tigers roster as camp broke. It was not, however, due to Petry's performance, rather, the schedule. The first month of the season, off-days allowed manager Sparky Anderson to use a four-man rotation. Rather than have Petry sit out April in the Tiger bullpen, he was sent to Triple-A Evansville where he could get regular work. He was called up the first week in May and would go on to stay in the Tigers rotation for the next eight seasons.

There is a very comprehensive SABR biography of Petry that can be found here. Additionally, there is a 30-minute interview with Petry on Youtube that can be viewed here. Like many of his contemporaries, many modern-era ballplayers have had their histories extensively covered and/or blogged about and Petry is no exception. A couple of fast facts:

* Considered the #2 starter in the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers rotation. He was 18-8 that season, and finished 5th in the Cy Young voting. This comes a year after he won 19 games (a career high) and led the AL with 38 games started. His pitching coach Roger Craig claimed that Petry had the best slider in the American League and he came close to a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians.

* Arm surgery in 1986 essentially ended his career as a top-tier starting pitcher. He was traded to the California Angels before the 1988 season. In the Detroit-area, there was some intrigue surrounding a May Tigers-Angels game as Jack Morris would be facing off against Petry. While it may have been an ordinary game on the schedule, it was exciting for Tiger fans who were treated to a pitching duel between the former teammates.

* He had an offer to extend his 13-year career in 1992 by playing in Italy, but he instead decided to retire. He worked for 16 years as a salesman and also with the Detroit Lions. Today, he appears often on Fox 2 Detroit for special events such as Opening Day and/or postseason appearances as an analyst. He also is an assistant baseball coach for his son Matt, who is the head baseball coach at Orchard Lake St. Mary in Orchard Lake Michigan. Another son, Jeff, is currently playing in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens.

Why I love this card
Petry looks so young in this card. While he would later grow a mustache, and to me look much older, he was still very young during his best years and was 25 in 1984. While 25 may seem like an old man to a 10 year old collecting baseball cards, looking back it makes me shake my head.

Something else....
I met Dan Petry once at the Macomb Mall in Roseville, Michigan where he was making an appearance. I handed him this card (below) a 1986 over sized All Star card. It represented all the players named to the 1985 All Star Game. Being nervous and a dumb kid, I muttered something along the line of "sorry it wasn't the best of games for you." Petry walked the bases loaded in the game and gave up two runs. Rather brusquely, and rightfully so, Petry said "at least I was there." I didn't have any other response than "thank you" and moved on. I am still embarrassed about it to this day.

Oh, and one card separates Detroit Tiger teammates? Not sure what Topps was thinking in 1980 in terms of distribution but one card between Morris and Petry represents the shortest difference between teammates in the 1980 set.

Friday, June 24, 2016

#372 Joel Youngblood

Who is this player, 
Joel Youngblood, outfielder, New York Mets

For the first time in his major league career, Joel Youngblood began 1980 with the aspirations of being a regular. After a breakout 1979 season that saw him emerge as one of the bright spots on a bad New York Mets team, Youngblood was being counted on as the regular right-fielder. In fact, Youngblood said that his greatest thrill as a player came in the 1980 opener when he made a great catch against the Chicago Cubs. Video of that catch is below:

Youngblood would play the majority of 1980 in right field, but his versatility eventually saw him moved all across the diamond; in left field, at third base, in center field and at second base. Even when he did not start, the right-hitter fashioned a .538 average (7 for 13) as a pinch-hitter in 1980. Additionally, his 18 outfield assists ranked third in his league. 

Since there are numerous, well written bios already on the web about Youngblood, I won't rehash. You can find some of the better ones here  and here.

Joel Youngblood, is of course best known for being the only player in Major League history to collect two hits for two teams in two different cities on the same day. This too, has been very well documented. has video of the day's events here, and nearly every article written about him since contains a mention of it. 

During his career, Youngblood represented an interesting dichotomy; is it better to be a bit player on a World Championship team, as he was with the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, or an everyday player on one of the worst teams in the league? As it was, Youngblood's ability to do many things well parlayed into a 14-year major league career with the Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Mets, Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants. 

Youngblood moved on to coach in the majors with the Reds, Brewers and Orioles and managed in the minor leagues during the 1990s. He left baseball for a while to work in sales and returned to baseball earlier this decade as coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where today he is a minor league coordinator. A short interview with him last summer is located below.

Why I love this card
Joel Youngblood was named to the 1981 All Star team, primarily due to the fact that he was leading the NL in batting at the time the Player's Strike hit. One of the things that I did during the broadcast was organize all the cards of the players in the game. The only problem was, I did not have a 1981 Youngblood card. The card above had to do as it was the only one that I had and the fact that he was an All-Star, never mind the reason, he was a cut above. Guys who made the All Star teams during this era, remained a cut above in my mind for years to come by the basis of that. Now I know that they shouldn't have, but that didn't matter at the time.

Something else...
Topps 1983 stickers memorialized the Two Hits in a Day thing with a two-part sticker layout. I hated the Youngblood card, because no matter what, the cut on the stickers had to be off as I could never, I mean ever, get the neck in his jersey to line up perfectly. 

Secondly, this is Youngblood's second appearance on a 1980 Topps Card. His first came on Tim Foli's issue, card #246. Here it is below:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#371 Jack Morris

Who is this player?
Jack Morris, starting pitcher, Detroit Tigers

Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame

There it is. Right off the bat.

No, I don’t have a solid, statistical argument to support my case, nor do I care to present one. What I do recall is that I saw Jack Morris pitch often. What I do recall is that for a period of extended time, he was a standout.

But don’t take my word on it. No less of an authority as Bill James predicted enshrinement for Morris on a couple of occasions, directly in 1995 as Morris’ career came to an end and indirectly as long ago as 1986, in an article for Sport Magazine. Using the formula he developed in that Sport article, Morris should be considered a strong Hall of Fame candidate. The detailed explanation is below.

James’ lists some of the criterion for the Hall of Fame such as a no-hitter....

All Star appearances...

And of course, there was this….

Often times during his career, Morris was seen at the time as a strong Hall of Fame candidate.
From 1979 until 1992, Jack Morris was always in the discussion as one of the top pitchers in the majors. Yes, he never won a Cy Young Award as his detractors claim, but many of those that did during this time frame (Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry, Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola) didn’t have Jack’s longevity and others (John Denny, Steve Bedrosian, Lamarr Hoyt, Mark Davis, Mike Scott, Pete Vuckovich) never matched their top season. Morris was consistently productive and dependable.

He was also the top player on the top team of the 1980s. No team dominated from start to finish like the 1984 Tigers. Ultimately that made them colorless, if not boring. There were no controversies and no drama. Just great baseball every single day. And Morris was at the forefront. And through Morris (and in my opinion Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker as well), that team should be recognized in the Hall of Fame.

Was he a perfect candidate? No, I guess not, but how many times do the perfect candidates come around? So much of baseball and it’s history has been subjective, open to debate. Who was the best? Who belongs in? What team was better? The debates go on and on and it is what makes this sport what it is. All attempts to statistically justify a player helps an argument, but it doesn’t settle one. If a player demonstrates over a period of time that he excelled greater than his peers, that do me is noteworthy. Hall of Fame or not.

Why I love this card
A few cards in this set can take me back to a direct moment. I'm not sure if it was the end of third grade in the spring or the beginning of fourth grade in the fall, but I can distinctly remember sitting on a cement parking block at St. Peter's school and looking at this card. It was sunny, much like the day Morris was photographed. I can also recall how little we cared about condition at that time. My cards were wrapped tightly with a rubber band and in all likelihood, shoved in a jacket or pants pocket. Sometimes I take a little bit of pride in being the last generation not to get all worked up about card condition.

Something else...
One of Morris’ early influences was former Cy Young award winner Vern Law, who’s son Vance was teammates with Morris at BYU. Law’s assistance helped polish Morris into a major league prospect. Similarly, Morris did not learn the split-finger fastball, his trademark pitch from guru Roger Craig. Morris claims it was taught to him by teammate Milt Wilcox, who learned the pitch from watching Bruce Sutter during his days in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#370 Cesar Cedeno

Who is this player?
Cesar Cedeno, first baseman, Houston Astros

While the position on this card indicates Cedeno is a first baseman, Cesar Cedeno began 1980 making sure that there would be no mistake that he is the Houston Astros’ centerfielder. Cesar spent the 1980 season in center helping the Astros to their first ever NL West Championship. Typically batting fourth or fifth, the right-handed hitting Cedeno finished fifth in his league in batting (.309), seventh in slugging percentage and eighth in stolen bases. In the middle of Game 3 of the NLCS against the Phillies, Cedeno fractured his ankle trying to beat out a double play. His injury, along with the absence of J.R. Richard, was instrumental in the Astros not reaching the World Series.

“He’ll end up with decent statistics, but statistics are for people who don't know anything. He's never been the same hitter since that incident.”

An unidentified teammate made that remark to Peter Gammons in 1977 and in many ways it unfortunately encapsulates the career of Cesar Cedeno. An excellent five-tool player scouted by the Astros at an early age, Cedeno earned comparisons to Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays. By the time Cesar was 25 years old, he was already a four-time All Star, a five time Gold Glove winner and a seemingly unlimited future.

As a young boy, it was Cesar's mother who encouraged him to play and even bought him his first glove growing up in Santo Domingo. He was discovered by the Astros at age 16 in 1967 and he quickly worked his way towards stardom. By 1973, he was universally acclaimed as one of the best young players in the league, if not the very best. It was at that point that fate intervened. For most fans of this era, what happened next is fairly well known. Alcohol, a handgun, a hotel room. Cedeno was involved in the accidental shooting death of a 19-year old girl, Altagaracia De La Cruz. The 22-year old Cedeno called police and then fled the scene, but turned himself in the next day, with the support of his father and his wife. He was charged with voluntary manslaughter and jailed for a time until his trial. The charge was later changed to involuntary manslaughter (of which he was found guilty) and paid a fine.

It remained a shadow that followed Cedeno, leading many to speculate it affected his play. While that remains speculation, the fact that the Astros changed the dimensions of the Astrodome in the mid-1970’s severely hampred his power numbers and his aggressive style of play and his temperament was the source of numerous injuries and some consternation. He nonetheless was often a fan favorite and was featured in the 1977 movie Bad News Bears in Breaking Training

When he fractured his ankle in the 1980 NLCS, he never regained his range in centerfield and the transition into the second half of his career had begun. After years of fan abuse regarding the shooting, Cedeno finally reacted by confronting a fan in the stands in 1981. After 12 seasons, Houston traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for Ray Knight. He played for the Reds, Cardinals and Dodgers before ending his major league career in 1986.

In retirement, there were still several issues that continued to dog Cedeno, even as he tried to continue his time in the game. Most recently, Cedeno returned to the Astros organization as hitting coach for the Greensville Astros. Cedeno set Astros' club records for total bases, slugging percentage and steals in a single season during his Houston tenure.

Why I love this card
Promise. Optimism. That's what I recall when I see this card today. I knew nothing about the shooting in 1980, but I knew that getting a Cedeno card represented something. Whether its the promise of a successfully stolen base, the eye-popping color of the Astros' uniforms or the optimism that eventually Cedeno is going home, this card was different than the standard fare. Even if it meant without his helmet or cap, Cedeno is going home. He will score. And everything will be alright. 

Something else...
Cedeno was often included in sub-sets throughout the 1970s: Hostess, Kellogg's etc. Not surprisingly, he, along with Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard were one of the three players to represent the Astros in the 60 card, 1980 Topps Super Set. It is pictured here

Likewise, Cedeno was included in the 1980 Burger King set. The card is essentially the same photo as the regular issue, only a little tighter shot with some of the background cropped out.

Monday, June 20, 2016

#369 Jim Kern

Who is this player?
Jim Kern, closer, Texas Rangers

If you opened a pack of cards during the 1980 season and got this Jim Kern, you had not yet heard the word "closer" yet associated with his position.  In an era where the role of relief specialist was still evolving, Kern had averaged 90 innings pitched a season and was making a strong case as one of the premier "firemen" of the day. Kern's heavy workload proved to be problematic in 1980.  Despite beginning the season in All-Star form, the hard throwing right hander struggled through elbow and then neck injuries. Perhaps the most bizarre occurrence came in August when Kern was hit in the mouth on a return throw from catcher Jim Sundberg. Apparently, Kern was looking into the crowd when the throw struck him in the mouth, knocking him off the mound resulting in a concussion, temporary amnesia and nine stitches in his mouth. Kern struggles were widely seen, perhaps unfairly, as a major reason for the poor performance of the Rangers in 1980.

Growing up in Gladwin, Michigan,  the natural environment of his hometown led a young Jim Kern to be as passionate about the great outdoors just as much as the National Pastime. His path to the majors began in 1967 when he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians with a brief exception in 1969 due to military duty. He would spend seven years in the minor leagues, getting a chance at the majors after going. 17-7 for a 1974 Oklahoma City team that finished 22 games under .500.  That would lead to his major league debut near the end of the 1974 season.

The Indians of the 1970s were not a good team, but by 1976, there was reason for optimism. Led by many young players, including Kern and under manager Frank Robinson, it appeared that the Indians fortunes could be changing. However, poor management in the dawn of the free agent era led to things never quite coming together in Cleveland and Kern saw his way to Texas, traded for Bobby Bonds despite two straight All Star appearances in 1977 and 1978. Kern famously summed up his time in Cleveland with an all-time zinger

The first thing they do in Cleveland, if you have talent, is trade you for three guys who don't.
In Arlington, there was much optimism as the season began as Kern was poised to team with Sparky Lyle in the Rangers bullpen. Indeed, Kern responded with the best season of his career. Appearing in 71 games, Jim won 13, saved an additional 29 and posted a miniscule ERA of 1.57. The 29 saves was the second-best mark in the American League and he finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and won the 1979 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award. He also played an instrumental role in that year’s All Star Game, allowing an eighth inning, game-tying home run to the Mets’ Lee Mazzilli in what was the first pinch-hit home run in All Star history. The NL would win the game 7-6 with Kern taking the loss.

After an injury-plagued 1980, Kern worked out three hours a day six days a week in the off-season, running, exercising, lifting weights, and reported to camp carrying 17 extra pounds of muscle. He told the press:  "I'm in the best shape I've been in since I was with the Marine Corps at Parris Island in '69." Despite this promising start, injuries and the 1981 Players Strike limited Kern that season, although he pitched very well in a limited role. The Rangers, meanwhile, traded Kern to the Mets in the offseason and before he ever suited up, flipped him in a deal to the Reds that netted New York George Foster.

Kern pitched well in Cincinnati, but the team played poorly, prompting public criticism by club officials. This didn’t sit well with the self-dubbed “Emu” and he challenged the Reds policy of no-facial hair. Consequently, he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox before the 1982 season was over. Injuries significantly limited his time in Chi-Town and by early 1984, Kern accused the Sox of ruining his arm during rehab from an injury. Kern was one of several pitchers of this era, who had they pitched today, would have been treated quite differently in regards to their injuries.

Over the last three years of his 13-year major league career, Kern would pitch with the Phillies, Brewers and return to the Indians in 1986. In one of his last games in the majors, with a bad Cleveland ballclub, fans directed their frustrations at him during one particularly ugly loss. Kern, in his irreverent style, tipped his hat to the crowd as he exited the field.

In retirement, he founded and continued to run The Emu Outfitting Company, consistent with his love for the outdoors. He also shares his passion for photography at

Why I love this card
Ok, I will admit that I love this card more now than I did then. Probably because Jim Kern reminds me of Tommy Benvenuti. Tommy was a year older than me, but he looked like he was four years older than me. Even had facial hair similar to Kern as an 11-year old. Ok, maybe not facial hair. But he threw hard, like Kern, and like the batter in the cartoon on the back of this card, scared me to death. I could totally related with the shivering in fear at the thought of getting plunked by an errant Tommy pitch and was comforted in the fact that maybe, just maybe, professional hitters felt the same way.

Something else…
The 1980 Texas Rangers, a popular pre-season selection for AL West Champions used 41 players during the season. 15 of them were an All-Star selection at one point or another during their career.

Friday, June 17, 2016

#368 Willie Aikens

Who is this player?
Willie Aikens, first baseman, California Angels

During the summer of 1980, Willie Aikens was now a key member of the Kansas City Royals. As the Royals were on their way to another AL Western Division Championship and their first World Series appearance, Aikens was their left-handed slugging first baseman. In his second full season in the major leagues, the 25-year old crashed 20 home runs and plated 98 teammates while batting .278. It was in the postseason, however, where Aikens would make his greatest contribution. He batted .364 in the Royals' three game sweep of the New York Yankees in the ALCS, but made a bigger splash in the World Series, becoming the first player ever to hit two home runs in a World Series game twice, in Game 1 and Game 4. Behind the scenes, however, Aikens was at the beginning of a substance abuse problem that would evetually alter his life and career. He would admit to using cocaine after games, even World Series contests. But at that moment, the future looked bright for the World Series hero, unaware that what would unfold was still light years away as the 1980 season came to a close.

Today, Willie Mays Aikens is predominantly remembered for those World Series home runs and his long substance abuse issues and incarceration. His story is now about redemption, one that he tells in an autobiography, "Safe At Home."  However, there is much more to the man and the ballplayer.

Rather than write up the traditional player summary that has accompanied these posts, this can be best served by spending some time with this video currently on-line:

Why I love this card
Like most, it has to be the inclusion of his complete name. How can any kid not be infatuated with a player named Willie Mays Aikens. The questions were numerous. Are they related? Is he as good as his namesake? Regardless, it was a cool card to have.

Something else....
Aikens 1981 Topps card discussed the naming issue as well in the cartoon on the reverse:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

#367 Billy Smith

Who is this player?
Billy Smith, second baseman, Baltimore Orioles

Coming off a season as a reserve for the AL Champion Orioles, Billy Smith began the 1980 season looking for a raise in pay.  After a season where he posted career highs in home runs and RBI, Billy was looking to more than double his salary of  $47,000 at salary arbitration. In those early days of free agency and escalating salaries, negotiations were often times contentious. In what Smith called "the only thing I ever regretted," the arbitration hearing left Smith feeling unappreciated and he took his frustration to the media. He was quoted in the newspapers that if the Orioles didn't value his contributions, he wanted to be traded. His performance in Spring Training was effected and it left him vulnerable. Shortly before Opening Day, the Orioles cut him loose. He was without a job until mid June when he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils sent him to Triple-A Oklahoma City where he spent the remainder of the summer.

A fairly comprehensive biography on Billy Smith currently exists on the SABR website. There is great detail on his early life and prep career in San Antonio, his draft into Major League Baseball and his minor league days. Billy made his major league debut for the California Angels on April 13, 1975 as a pinch runner against the Chicago White Sox. Even though he was thrown out at the plate later that inning, he had a reputation as a speedy switch-hitter with a good glove. While he didn't hit for high average that first season, he appeared in 59 games, but errors in the field proved to he his undoing in Anaheim.

Billy appeared in only a handful of games the following year, spending the majority of the season in the minor leagues. His career took a turn for the better at the end of the season when he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles. Free agency had taken a toll on the Orioles and there was a opportunity for many young players, including Billy. He took full advantage in April 1977, earning him a starting position for a while and placing among the league leaders. A nice article about this time in Smith's career can be read here. He was a fan favorite with the O's, appearing on a local radio show as a weekly guest.

Billy spent the next two seasons in Baltimore, primarily as a reserve, and often times as a reserve for second baseman Rich Dauer. He earned national exposure during the 1979 postseason, appearing in four games during the World Series, collecting a couple of hits and scoring a run. Billy returned to the major leagues for his fifth and final season in 1981 as a member of the San Francisco Giants. He struggled with the bat, hitting only .180.

Shortly after his retirement, Smith was a witness in a drug conspiracy trial of his former agent. Testifying under immunity, Smith indicated that cocaine use was very prevalent among members of he 1979 Orioles and specifically named pitcher Don Stanhouse as a user.  Since his career ended, Billy worked in sales and owned his own roofing company. As of 2015, Billy was employed with a roofing wholesaler and participating in youth baseball clinics.

Why I love this card
As a young kid opening packs, some cards just jumped out. All Star cards of course were a natural. So where league leader cards and Hi-light cards. Checklists too, but for the wrong reasons. Sometimes though, your heart would race when you came across a card of a star player. For a millisecond, that happened with me and Billy Smith's card. Why? Because when I first saw this card, I thought it was of reigning Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan. I just thought they looked similar. Here's a side by side:

Something else....
At Jay High School in San Antonio Billy played on the same high school team as two other future major leaguers, Mickey and Rick Mahler.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

1980 Street and Smith Baseball Preview

Every now and again, something will pop up at a card show that will surprise me.

But before I get into that, I have to go into Abe Simpson-mode and talk about the way things used to be. For those who can remember, card shows are not what they were. At least not how I remember them.

Last weekend, I went to a card show at Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens, Michigan. 25 years ago, it was one of the largest in the area and very well attended regardless of the time of year. Hundreds of dealers and top-notch autograph guests. In the past, Pete Rose, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Hank Aaron, Joe Namath, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Gordie Howe, and scores of other Hall of Famers and legends would visit the show bringing huge crowds and dealers with them. Trying to explain this to my 14-year old son was akin to explaining rotary phones, the VCR or a card catalog.

The internet killed most of the business off, similar to the card shops that used to dot the landscape. There were barely two dozen dealers and for a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I could understand why.

However, today I found something that I had never seen before and scooped up for a dollar.

The 1980 Street and Smith Baseball Preview. Show on the cover is the Orioles Mike Flanagan, the 1979 AL Cy Young Award Winner. I presume that because I lived in an American League town, my area had Flanagan on the cover. A quick Google search showed that alternate covers included Joe Niekro of the Houston Astros or Brian Downing of the California Angels.

Later on, as my baseball obsession grew, I would get one of these every year and devour the information inside. I had never seen a 1980 one before and will add this to my collection.

On of the sections that they included every year was called "Player Targets" that listed active players totals with the All-Time Greats. You could see, for example, how far away Pete Rose was from Ty Cobb or Gaylord Perry was to Walter Johnson. It was often an argument-ender.  I found the list of names on the active player list curious, so I thought I would include them here:

Top 10 Active Hit Leaders (starting 1980)
Pete Rose - Phillies - 3,372
Carl Yastrzemski - Red Sox - 3,009
Rusty Staub - Expos - 2,445
Tony Perez - Red Sox - 2,238
Rod Carew - Angels - 2,215
Willie McCovey - Giants - 2,188
Willie Stargell - Pirates - 2,145
Bert Campaneris - Angels - 2,129
Joe Morgan - Free Agent at press time - 2,015
Lee May - Orioles - 1,933

Home Runs
McCovey - Giants - 520
Stargell - Pirates - 461
Yaz - Red Sox - 404
Reggie Jackson - Yankees - 369
May - Orioles - 344
Johnny Bench - Reds - 332
Perez - Red Sox - 323
Bobby Bonds - Cardinals - 321
Willie Horton - Mariners - 317
Reggie Smith - Dodgers - 280

Gaylord Perry - Padres - 279
Jim Kaat - Free Agent at press time - 264
Fergie Jenkins - Rangers - 247
Tom Seaver - Reds - 235
Jim Palmer - Orioles - 225
Steve Carlton - Phillies - 225
Phil Niekro - Braves - 218
Don Sutton - Dodgers - 217
Luis Tiant - Yankees - 217
Tommy John - Yankees - 192

Perry - Padres - 3,141
Nolan Ryan - Astros - 2,909
Seaver - Reds - 2,887
Jenkins - Rangers - 2,770
Carlton - Phillies - 2,683
Sutton - Dodgers - 2,524
Niekro - Braves - 2,402
Kaat - FA - 2,362
Tiant - Yankees - 2,270
Bert Blyleven - Pirates - 2,082

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

#366 Rob Dressler

Who is this player?
Rob Dressler, pitcher, Seattle Mariners

For the first time in his career, Rob Dressler began the 1980 season on a major league roster. Slated for the Mariners bullpen, Rob was a right-handed control pitcher who most often depended on the ground ball outs. Early in the season, many of his appearances were typically in a mop up role, but for a team that lost 103 games that happened quite often. Add to the fact that the Mariners were second in the AL in errors, many of the ground balls that he was counting on did not become outs. Despite a bloated ERA, he replaced Mike Parrott in the Seattle rotation in late July, and actually did quite well. While he won only four games and lost six in 13 starts down the stretch, he crafted a 3.38 with a 1.189 WHIP and seven quality starts (even if those stats didn't exist in 1980). By the end of the season, he reached career highs in innings pitched, appearances, strikeouts and victories.

A Portland, Oregon native, Bressler was a graduate of Madison High School which also boasts All Star hurlers Rick Wise and Kent Bottenfield as alumni.  He was a first round selection of the San Francisco Giants in June 1972 and reported Great Falls of the Rookie League shortly after his graduation. It was then that Rob began the long odyssey throughout the minor leagues in pursuit if his major league dreams.

Decatur. Amarillo. Lafayette. Phoenix. Phoenix. Phoenix again. Phoenix for four seasons.  Yes, Rob did have a cup of coffee with the Giants in late 1975, and he spent a good chunk of the 1976 season in San Francisco, starting a career-high 19 games, with a 3-10 record and a 4.43 ERA. Somewhere along the line, however, the Giants lost confidence in him as he was relegated to the minor leagues for all of the 1977 and 1978 seasons and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinal organization in July, 1978. Rob was a starting pitcher for much of his minor league career and could be a streaky performer. He was also plagued by inconsistency.

In an interesting transaction, the Cardinals loaned him to the Seattle Mariners in 1979 and the pitching-starved expansion team found a spot for him at the major league level. Starting and relieving, Dressler finished the 1979 season with some good outings and a chance to make the 1980 staff. After his high-water marks in 1980, he pitched poorly in Spring Training 1981 and was released. He did not catch on with another organization and it was the end of his four year major league career.

Today, Rob Dressler still lives in the Oregon area although not much has been reported about his post-baseball career. Any information that can be shared as to his activities over the last 36 years would be most appreciated.

Why I love this card
The All Star uniform on the cartoon pitcher. It has that Bingo Long vibe going even if the pitcher looks more like he is auditioning for Dance Fever than deliver a pitch.

Something else....
In researching Dressler's 1980 season, I was really surprised that he was cut loose by the Mariners. Then as now, pitching was at a premium and at 26 years old, it appeared the Dressler found a groove in the latter part of the 1980 season. It didn't appear that he was injured or something drastic occurred. It is just puzzling that he was given up on so quickly.