Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jim Merritt (#97)

Jim Merritt pitched for 11 seasons – 4 with the Twins, 4 with the Reds, and (I didn’t know this until today) 3 with the Rangers. I always think of him as a Twin because that’s where he was when I started collecting cards, but he had his greatest success with the Reds.

Merritt was signed by the Dodgers (the 2nd thing I learned about him today!) in 1961. He went 19-8 for the Dodgers’ class-D team in Erie, PA, but apparently that wasn’t enough to protect him from the minor-league draft. He was selected by the Twins after the ’61 season.

Jim spent the next 3 seasons in the Twins’ farm system, making his major-league debut in August 1965. He made 2 relief appearances in the ’65 World Series vs. the Dodgers.

Merritt was a key member of the Twins’ starting rotation from 1966-68, and was one of 6 pitchers named Jim on their staff in ’66 and ’67.

In November 1968, he was traded to the Reds for shortstop Chico Cardenas. Jim won a career-high (at the time) 17 games in 1969, and topped it the following season with 20 wins. He also made his only All-Star team in 1970, and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. That year he also pitched 2 games in the post-season.

As seems to be the custom with Reds’ pitchers in those days (Gary Nolan, Wayne Simpson, Wayne Granger, Jim Maloney, Sammy Ellis, etc, etc.) Merritt came down with arm troubles (in his case, an elbow injury), and compiled a horrendous 1-11 record in 1971. He was moved to the bullpen after an 0-8 start, and won his lone game in August.

Jim followed that up with a 1-0 record in only 4 games in 1972, while spending most of that season with AAA Indianapolis.

After the 1972 season he was traded to the Rangers for backup catcher Hal King. Merritt pitched 2 full seasons with Texas (5-13 in 35 games in ’73, 0-0 in 26 games in ’74) and was released in July 1975 after only 5 appearances.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tom McCraw (#141)

Here is Tom McCraw, during his last season before becoming the White Sox’ every-day 1st baseman.

Tom was signed by the White Sox in 1960 and played in the minors for 3 ½ seasons before making his major-league debut in June 1963.

In his first 4 seasons, he platooned at 1st base (initially with Joe Cunningham, then Moose Skowron) while also getting in some games in the outfield.

During the first few weeks of the 1967 season, Skowron was traded to the Angels, so McCraw was the every-day first-sacker for the next 2 seasons, starting over 110 games there each season, and a few dozen more in the outfield.

After a few seasons, Gail Hopkins and then Carlos May took over that spot, so McCraw was traded to the Senators in early-1971 for outfielder Ed Stroud (who had begun his career with the Sox a few years earlier).  On September 30th, he made the final out in the Washington Senators’ franchise final game.

McCraw played for 13 years, the first 8 with Chicago. After that, he bounced around frequently. Following only 1 season in Washington, he moved on to the Indians (1972), Angels (1973-74), and back to the Indians (July ’74).

Tom played his last game on 6/24/75, and was released a week later, ending his career.

After his playing days, he spent 23 seasons as a batting coach for the Indians, Giants, Orioles, Astros, Mets, Expos, and Nationals.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Jim Brewer (#158)

I learned something new today – Jim Brewer pitched 3-plus seasons for the Cubs before joining the Dodgers in 1964.

After 4 seasons under the wings of veteran relievers Ron Perranoski, Bob Miller, and Phil Regan, Brewer spent 6 more seasons as the top man in the Dodger bullpen.

Brewer was signed by the Cubs in June 1956. He spent 5 seasons in the Cubs’ farm system as a starting pitcher (except for his first season), and made his big-league debut with 5 games in late-July 1960.

Jim was with the Cubs for all of 1961, starting 11 of his 36 games. His 1-7 record and 5.82 ERA earned him another year in triple-A (1962). That season he only pitched in 6 games for the Cubbies. Although Brewer was a triple-A starter in 1962, when he returned to the majors for good in 1963, he would be a reliever for the rest of his career (except for part of 1967).

He was the only lefthander in the Cubs bullpen in 1963, compiling a 3-2 record in 29 games. After the season he was traded to the Dodgers for Dick Scott, a 9-year minor-league pitcher whose major-league career totaled 9 games. What a steal!

Brewer worked in the Dodgers’ bullpen behind Perranoski and Miller for the next 4 seasons. In 1966 the Dodgers added Regan, who was also ahead of Jim in the pecking order.

After the 1967 season, the Dodgers traded Perranoski and Miller to the Twins, and in early ’68 Regan was sent to the Cubs, leaving Jim as the #1 reliever. Brewer appeared in over 50 games for each of the next 6 seasons, collecting 15, 20, 24, 22, 17, and 20 saves. In ’71 and ’72 his ERA was under 2.00, and he also made his only All-Star team in 1973.

The Dodgers acquired Mike Marshall before the 1974 season, which greatly cut into Brewer’s workload. (Marshall led NL pitchers with ONE HUNDRED SIX games (all in relief), and saves (21) that season, and won the Cy Young Award.) Brewer only pitched 39 innings over 24 games, with no saves.

In July 1975 Jim was traded to the Angels for relief pitcher Dave Sells. Brewer pitched 21 games for the Angels in ’75 and 13 games in ’76, his last coming on May 24th. He retired in 1976, closing out his 17-year career.

In 1987 Brewer died at age 50, after suffering injuries in a car crash.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jim Hannan (#479)

Jim Hannan had a surprisingly long (to me) career, pitching 9 seasons for the Senators from 1962-70, then his final 1971 season split between the Tigers and Brewers. I first became aware of him when I got his 1967 card that year, and always forgetting if his last name was "Hannan" or "Hannah".

Jim was signed by the Red Sox prior to the 1961 season, and after 1 year was lost to the Senators in the minor-league draft. (Sounds a lot like the Glenn Beckert story!)

He made his big-league debut with the Sens in April 1962.  Although spending much of May in the minors, he pitched in 42 games (all but 3 in relief) for Washington during his rookie season.

Hannan started the 1963 season with the Nats, but after 5 relief appearances, he was sent down in early-May, only returning in September.

This MLB/AAA yo-yo ride continued for most of Hannan's career. After playing the entire '64 season with the Senators (49 games, 7 starts), he spent most of 1965 in triple-A, making 30 starts for Hawaii and only 5 games (1 start) for the Senators.

1966? Jim played for the Senators the entire season, splitting his time between the rotation and the bullpen. 1967 was a repeat of his 1965 season – mostly pitching for triple-A Hawaii. (Hey, if you have to be in the minors, that's the place to be!)

The 1968 season was the reverse of '67. Hannan started the season with 7 starts in AAA (this time in cold Buffalo, not sunny Hawaii), then in late-May was recalled to Washington (for good, as it turned out). Jim started 22 games for the Nats and relieved in 3 others.

He was now a regular member of the rotation for the '68 and '69 seasons. (I don’t know if he improved, or the staff in general slipped. He DID have his highest strikeout totals in those 2 years, as well as some of his lowest ERA numbers.)

With the Senators' acquisition of George Brunet prior to the 1970 season, Hannan spent most of that year in the bullpen, only starting 17 of his 42 games (most of them in July and August). He was the #2 man behind closer Darold Knowles.

After the 1970 season, Hannan was traded to the Tigers (with pitcher Joe Coleman, shortstop Ed Brinkman, and 3rd baseman Aurelio Rodriguez) for pitchers Denny McLain and Norm McRae, 3rd baseman Don Wert, and outfielder Elliott Maddox. (This deal seems like a bust for the Senators!)

Jim only lasted 5 weeks with Detroit. After only 7 games (11 innings) he was flipped to the Brewers in mid-May for pitcher John Gelnar and outfielder Jose Herrera. Hannan compiled a 1-1 record in 21 games over the rest of the season, then was released on December 31st. (Happy New Year!)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Dissecting the 1966 Set

Continuing the series I started with the 1967, 1968, and 1969 sets, here is similar information about the 1966 set. 

The 1966 Topps set had 598 cards, and curiously does not include any World Series cards. There are 20 manager cards (none for the Cubs but 2 for the Astros), 19 team cards (no Astros), 46 rookie stars cards, 12 league leaders, 5 multi-player cards, and 7 checklists. There are also 489 cards of individual players.

Here is the position breakdown of the 489 player cards. Only a few cards have the position abbreviated (mostly 2nd basemen).  The only pitcher abbreviated to "P" is Aurelio Monteagudo (naturally!)

205 cards for Pitcher
52 cards for Catcher
21 cards for 1st Base
22 cards for 2nd Base
23 cards for Shortstop
20 cards for 3rd Base
18 cards for Infield
106 cards for Outfield

That's a total of 467 cards. The remaining 22 cards featured players at more than 1 position (the least amount for any year from 1966-69). Below is a sample of each position:

As we've seen with the other sets so far, no combination of positions is more prevalent than 1B-OF, this time with 4 players: Bob Johnson, Orlando Cepeda, Wes Parker, and Tito Francona. (I was going to use Cepeda's card, but we are already Giant-heavy.)

The opposite combo of OF-1B usually has the 2nd-most players, as it does here with three (Walt Bond, Bob Chance, and the Phillies' John Herrnstein).

Jim Ray Hart is the only player at 3B-OF, while Joe Nossek and the Indians' George Banks check in at OF-3B.

Felix Mantilla (whose card I don't have) is all alone at 2B-OF, and there are none at OF-2B.  Cookie Rojas and (of course) Jim Stewart are the two INF-OF representatives.

There are only two players in the set with positions of C-1B, and they are teammates Joe Torre and Gene Oliver. Since John Boccabella doesn't have his own card yet, there are no 1B-C cards (heh heh).

Harmon Killebrew is the only player at 3B-1B, with none at the opposite position.

Al Weis and the Senators' Ken Hamlin both have a position of 2B-SS, while Roberto Pena is the only SS-2B (and wouldn't you know it - I don't have his card.) The scarcity of players at these two positions continues to amaze me.

These are the only 2 players at these positions, and there are none with the reverse combo.

This position combo is even stranger than Mel Queen's "P-OF" found in the 1967 set. "1B-INF"? Shouldn't that be "INFIELD"?

There are so many quirks in this set that I don't know where to begin:

1. Dick Ellsworth's card has a photo of Ken Hubbs, his Cubs' teammate who died 2 years earlier in a plane crash.

2. There is no card for a Cubs' manager (Leo Durocher).

3. There are 2 manager cards for the Astros. Lum Harris was fired in December 1965, and replaced by Grady Hatton. (Who fires a manager in DECEMBER?)

4. No cards for veterans Maury Wills, Chris Short, Joe Adcock, Dick Hall, Bob Lillis, Frank Bolling, Don Blasingame, Jim Gilliam, Lou Clinton, Ed Roebuck, or Wes Stock. (Here are some custom 1966 cards to fill the gap.)

5. 14 pitchers for the Astros, while most teams had 9 to 11.

6. FOUR catchers and SEVEN outfielders for the Angels, and EIGHT outfielders for the Orioles. (The Angels also have 4 catchers in 1967, and 8 outfielders in 1967 AND 1968 !)

7. No cards for Dodgers' SS, Astros' SS, Braves' 2B, or Senators' 2B (see above comments about Wills, Lillis, Bolling, and Blasingame).

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Steve Barber (#477)

Orioles' starting pitcher Steve Barber is shown about to enter his last full season with Baltimore. Barber played 8 of his 14 seasons with the Orioles, from his MLB debut in 1960 to his July 1967 trade to the Yankees. While with the O's, he was one of the few players to wear #13.

Barber and Milt Pappas held down the team's pitching staff for the first half of the 1960s, before the more well-known Dave McNally and Jim Palmer established themselves.

Steve played in the minors from 1957-1959, then made his Orioles' debut in April 1960. He was in the starting rotation for 7 1/2 seasons, winning 18 games in 1961 and 20 in 1963.

He was an All-Star in '63 and '66 (despite only winning 10 games in 1966). A bout with tendonitis not only kept him out of the '66 All-Star game, but also the ’66 World Series (not that he was needed – the other 3 starters pitched the 4-game series, including 3 complete game shutouts).

After compiling a 4-9 record in 15 games at the start of 1967, he was traded to the Yankees for backup 1st baseman Ray Barker. This trade is surprising, given the starting pitching woes the team experienced in 1967 (Palmer out all season, Wally Bunker ineffective, McNally also struggling).

Barber dealt with arm injuries for the rest of his career, bouncing around to 6 different teams in his final 7 seasons. After 1 1/2 years as a Yankees starter (replacing the retired Whitey Ford), he spent the 1969 season in the Seattle Pilots' rotation.

He was released after the 1969 season, and spent his final 5 seasons as a relief pitcher for the Cubs, Braves, Angels, and Giants. All but one of those moves were a result of him being released and signed by another team.

Barber passed away in 2007 at age 68.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ray Oyler (#81)

Here is good-field/no-hit Ray Oyler's first solo card. (And when I say "no-hit", I mean NOOOOO-hit.) Before there was the "Mendoza Line", there was the "Oyler Line" (although no one was clever enough to come up with that at the time, to my knowledge).

Ray joined the Tigers in 1965 and hit .186, which turned out to be his 2nd-highest season average. Except for an aberration where he hit .207 in 1967, he never broke the .175 barrier again (much less .200).

That was all well and good in '65 and '66 when Ray was the team's backup middle infielder, but by 1967 veteran 2nd baseman Jerry Lumpe's career was running out of gas, and he was only used as a pinch-hitter for most of his final season. Incumbent shortstop Dick McAuliffe moved over to replace him, which thrust Oyler into the starting lineup for 125 games. On the plus side, Ray boosted his average 36 points over the .171 in 1966.

With Lumpe retired, Oyler started 44 of the first 50 games at short in 1968, but by early June, manager Mayo Smith had seen enough, and switched to a tandem of veteran utility man Dick Tracewski and rookie Tom Matchick. This continued until the season’s final week, when Smith decided to fix the shortstop position by moving center fielder Mickey Stanley in there (for the first time in his career). After a 6-game warmup at his new position, Stanley played there during the '68 World Series, which essentially replaced Oyler’s bat with Al Kaline’s bat!

Oyler did get into 4 World Series games (1 plate appearance), but was exposed to the expansion draft after the season.

Ray was selected by the Seattle Pilots, and started 93 games for them in 1969, mostly in the first 4 months until younger players started getting tryouts. While in Seattle, Oyler had an unusual fan club.

After the season, Oyler and pitcher Diego Segui were traded to the Athletics for infielder Ted Kubiak and pitcher George Lauzerique. Ray's final card is in the 1970 set as an Athletic, but he didn't get a chance to play for them. He was sold to the Angels in mid-April, and finished out his final season playing only 24 games for California, while batting a career-low .083.

Ray was a player-coach in the minors during the '71 and '72 seasons, then retired.

He died in 1981 from a heart attack at age 42.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Orioles Team (#348)

Here is the Orioles' team card for 1966. The 1966 cards were similar to the '67 cards except that they included the team's 1965 finish at the bottom. The Orioles went on to win the World Series in 1966.

(Orioles' pitchers in 1965 include aging veterans Harvey Haddix, Don Larsen, and Robin Roberts.) 

Brooks Robinson led in most offensive categories in 1965, but it seems strange to see Curt Blefary's name as the home run leader.

Prior to 1966, the O's acquired Frank Robinson, who won the Triple Crown in 1966. He also led the Orioles with 182 hits so it was a clean sweep. (We're going to ignore the fact that Luis Aparicio also had 182 hits for the O's, much like everyone ignores the fact that Harmon Killebrew tied Carl Yastrzemski with 44 home rums in 1967, while bestowing the 1967 Triple Crown on Yaz.)

Steve Barber and Milt Pappas were the pitching leaders in 1965, but look at Stu Miller's record - 14 wins as a reliever! In 1966, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer emerged as the top 2 pitchers, with Palmer leading the staff with 15 wins.

Only 4 Oriole hurlers would participate in the 1966 World Series.  Palmer, McNally, and Wally Bunker each pitched a complete game shutout.  McNally also started game #1, and was relieved by Moe Drabowsky, who no-hit the Dodgers for the final 6 2/3 innings while striking out 11.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Duke Sims (#169)

Duke Sims played in the majors for 11 seasons (1964-74), the first 7 years with the Indians before moving around to other teams. Although never an every-day backstop, he got significant playing time with the Indians from 1967-70, mostly platooning with Joe Azcue. 1969 was the only season where he started more than half of his team’s games.

Sims began his pro career on the Indians' farm in 1959. After 6 seasons in the minors he made his major-league debut in September 1964, making 1 start that year on the season’s final day.

After the 1964 season, the Tribe traded starting catcher Johnny Romano to the White Sox, opening up the starting job for Azcue, who was the ’64 backup. Sims also moved up a notch, starting 33 games in his rookie season after spending the first 2 months in triple-A.

Sims was bumped down to #3 catcher in 1966, when Cleveland acquired the veteran Del Crandall (in his 16th and final season) to serve as Azcue's main caddy. The Duke still saw action in 48 games (31 starts).

With Crandall retired, Sims' fortunes improved in 1967. Not only did he return to the #2 slot, but he was on almost even footing with Azcue (77 starts to Joe’s 80 starts).

Their playing time in 1968 is misleading. Although Sims had 71 starts behind the dish to Azcue's 90, Duke began the season starting 14 straight games, and then was the starting 1st baseman for most of July (presumably Tony Horton was out of the lineup with injuries).

Azcue was dealt to the Red Sox during April 1969, meaning a promotion for Sims. He started a career-high 94 games behind the plate, with rookie Ray Fosse and journeyman Ken Suarez picking up the rest. That was to be his last season as a somewhat-regular catcher, as Fosse was primed to take over the job in 1970.

With Fosse catching 120 games in '70, Sims started a few dozen games at 1st base and a similar number in left field, while catching 38 games on Fosse’s days off.

After the 1970 season, Duke was traded to the Dodgers for pitchers Alan Foster and Ray Lamb. In LA, Sims was part of a 3-way catching carousel with Tom Haller and Joe Ferguson in 1971. The following year, he split the catching with Chris Cannizzaro (wait...Cannizzaro was a STARTING catcher for the Dodgers????), until Duke was shipped off to the Tigers in early August (joining 1971 teammate Haller, by the way).

He joined the Yankees for the last week of the 1973 season, and caught the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Sims bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers in 1974, and was released after the season.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mike Shannon (#293)

Here is Mike Shannon, in his final season as the Cardinals’ regular right fielder. After the 1966 season, the Cardinals traded for Yankees’ right fielder Roger Maris, paving the way for Shannon’s move to third base.

Mike is a native of St. Louis, and was a baseball and football star both in high school and at the University of Missouri. He left college to sign with the Cardinals in 1958, and played in the minors for several seasons before making his big-league debut in September 1962.

Shannon began the ’63 season in the minors, then was called up in July and used primarily as a pinch-runner and backup corner outfielder.

In 1964 Mike played with the Cardinals for the season’s first month, then was sent down to triple-A. He returned in late-July and was the starting right fielder for 59 of the final 83 games, and in the ’64 World Series. He collected 6 hits, 1 homer, and 2 RBI against the Yankees as the Cardinals won the Series.

Shannon was the starting right fielder for the first week of 1965, but spent much of the season on the bench due to a prolonged batting slump. He started 45 games in right field and another 11 games as Curt Flood’s backup in center field. Mike also caught a few games due to injuries to both catchers.

He returned to the starting lineup in mid-May 1966, starting 110 games in right field that season. Mike reached career highs in home runs (16) and batting average (.288) in 1966.

As mentioned at the top, Shannon moved in to 3rd base at the start of the 1967 season, and remained there for the final 4 seasons of his career. Mike appeared in 2 more World Series (’67, ’68), homering in each.

In 1970 the Cardinals alternated Shannon and Joe Torre at 3rd base (with Torre also spending time behind the plate). Mike only played in 55 games that season, his last coming on August 12th.

A kidney disease ended his playing career in 1970, but he moved to the broadcast booth in 1971 and has been calling Cardinals’ games ever since. In 2014 he was inducted into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jim Lonborg (#93)

Here is future Red Sox’ ace Jim Lonborg, fresh off his rookie 1965 season where he went a disappointing 9-17 in 31 starts. No matter, after a 10-10 season in ’66, Jim had his career year in 1967.

He posted a 22-9 record (leading the AL in wins), also led the league with 246 strikeouts (interrupting Sam McDowell’s 5-year dominance in that department), won the Cy Young Award, and led the Sox to the World Series. Against the Cardinals in the Series, Lonborg was 2-1 in 3 starts with 1 shutout.

Lonborg tore knee ligaments while skiing in the off-season, and was never the same with Boston. After the 1971 season he was traded to the Brewers (with 1st baseman George Scott, pitcher Ken Brett, catcher Don Pavletich, and outfielders Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud) for Tommy Harper and pitchers Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin.

After only 1 season with the Brew Crew, he and Brett were forwarded to the Phillies in exchange for 3rd basemen Don Money and John Vukovich, and pitcher Billy Champion.

After the Phillies’ shambles of a 1972 season (where Steve Carlton had 27 of the team’s 59 wins), the Phillies began assembling a REAL pitching staff to help Carlton, adding Lonborg and Brett in ’73, Tug McGraw in ’75, and Jim Kaat and Ron Reed in ’76.

Jim pitched for the Phillies from 1973 to 1979, highlighted by winning 17 games in 1974 and 18 in 1976.

I recall Lonnie running out of gas in his later seasons with the Phillies and was released in June 1979, ending his 15-year career.

After baseball, Lonborg became a dentist.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fred Talbot (#403)

Here's Fred Talbot, with the Kansas City Athletics – the 2nd of his 4 teams. For fans my age (specifically if you weren’t a Yankees or A's fan), Talbot is most remembered as one of the zany characters in the 1970 book "Ball Four".

I haven't read the book since 1971, but I remember that Talbot did not get along with author/pitcher Jim Bouton. I can’t remember if Fred was the one that Bouton seemed to be afraid of, and went out of his way to avoid, or if that was Wayne Comer.

Talbot was signed by the White Sox in 1959, and after making his major-league debut with 1 game in September 1963, he was back in the minors to start the 1964 season. Recalled in June, he pitched 17 games (12 starts) for the Pale Hose.

After the 1964 season, Talbot was part of this 3-team blockbuster. He was the Athletics' #1 starter in 1965, leading the staff in starts (33) and innings (198).

In 1966 Kansas City had a youth movement going on, with most of their pitching staff (and all of their starters) aged 23 or younger. I guess Talbot was either considered expendable, or the Yankees were just making another call to their unofficial farm team, but in June Fred and catcher Bill Bryan were traded to the Bronx for pitchers Bill Stafford and Gil Blanco, and outfielder Roger Repoz.

At first Talbot was a starter with the Yankees, but by June 1968 he was relegated to the bullpen for the rest of the season. His 1-9 record may have had something to do with that.

In May 1969, the Yankees traded him to the expansion Seattle Pilots, putting him squarely in the journalistic cross-hairs of his ex-Yankees teammate Bouton.

After 25 appearances with that zoo, Fred was returned to the Athletics (by now in Oakland) in August. He pitched 12 games (mostly in relief) for the A's in '69.

Talbot's final season was 1970, He only pitched 1 game (in mid-June) for Oakland, while pitching 25 games for their AAA team.

Talbot passed away in January 2013 at age 71.