Is This The Card That Started It All?

I remember too much, it seems. My ex says that I never had a purge button in my brain. As I get older, I find that I may not have as sharp and clear of a memory of certain events if overwhelmed by information, but I still remember scads of stuff. Most unimportant and trivial, yet that’s my modus operandi.

I do recall receiving some baseball cards in 1972. I recall opening packages at my grandparent’s house in Ladoga, Indiana. I can look at my 1972 binder and remember who they were, for the most part. (Tony Perez, John Bateman, Ray Culp, Glenn Beckert, Joe Grzenda, among others….)

I also remember being a total idiot in the late 70′s  (not the first nor last time, albiet to be honest I was just a kid) and gave away some of my older cards like this one to get some of the current set that I was chasing. I wonder if Mike Finney still has them??? Or maybe I gave them to Todd Newkirk?? (They both moved out of town by ninth grade, and I don’t know where they are now. Not that it really matters, but it may be cool to see that my first 1972 Ted Kubiak is out there, somewhere…)

What I expressly remember is seeing this card back in 1972 as part of my first few packs and wondering about why Scherman stuck a finger out of his glove. Mind you, I was all of 6 1/2 so I didn’t have much of a frame of reference, but I thought this was wild and mysterious. Of course, I then started to do it in T-Ball. I then saw a glove that had an opening for an index finger but it wasn’t my size. I never did get one, and I think I stopped putting my index finger outside of my glove after a while.

The way I played the field, though, my glove was mostly a decoration anyway.

Because he was amongst the first players I ever received in a pack of cards, I always tried to follow Scherman. Yet it was hard in the pre-internet, pre-cable TV days. The Tigers weren’t big in Indiana, and by the time I really started to pay attention they were abysmal and Fred as on the move to Houston and then Montreal. Scherman’s last card was in 1976 and I really started my first wave of collecting with the 1977 set and he didn’t warrant a card as the Expos released him in mid-summer.

This card did catch Fred in his maj0r-league peak. He was the relief ‘ace’ for that bunch of Tigers, but of course being a Billy Martin employee meant you had to be up from some wacky stuff. Even though Fred had saved 19 games by mid-September 1971 he was called into the relieve Joe Niekro in the first inning of the second game of a double header against Baltimore and finished the game! Just a few days later he started game two of a doubleheader and pitched a complete game win. Then he went back to the pen, of course.

In 1972 he gave way at times to Chuck Seelbach after some struggles, and then when John Hiller made his miraculous comeback from a heart attack he was just a lefty reliever trying to make it in the crazy world of baseball. After the Expos released him in 1976 he didn’t catch on anywhere, but found a spot in the Pittsburgh chain in 1977 and had a so-so year in Columbus before hanging ‘em up.

Except for those seasons when Billy Martin made him the ‘closer’ (as it was then) there wasn’t anything special about Scherman. Yet he always was someone I remembered and still look up from time to time. Was he my first one? You always remember….

This Card Is A Total Tribute…

Not only is it a tribute to the 1963 design, but look at the helmet and the collar on the shirt.

That’s a total tribute to the 1970′s Topps airbrushing. Gotta love the uneven striping and the blue shadow on the red helmet.

Well done, Topps…

 

 

What Color Is That Anyway?

Now, I’m no artiste, nor a photographer, but I have a question.

Everyone knows that the Mariners (and Brewers – who also had many hats airbrushed in this style) colors were blue. Not sky blue or turquoise but blue blue.

So why did Topps hang this whatever-you-call-it color on several M’s their first year or two?

Did they just not care about the M’s that card over card the colors (and logos) were mismatched?

Wait, don’t answer that.

Pagan’s claim to fame was being part of the ginormous Yanks / O’s trade in 1976 that Orioles out of Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez (hard to think of them as anything else but Orioles) along with Rudy May while the Yanks rented Doyle Alexander, Ellie Hendricks and Grant Jackson and also acquired a punching bag for Billy Martin (Ken Holtzman). While the Yanks won the 1976 pennant the trade was a swindle.

He also was a hard thrower who eschewed the national sport of Canada (hockey) to play baseball. Coming from Saskatchewan that was a big ol’ deal. As an original M he struggled but seemingly put it together after twirling a 3-0 shutout against Oakland in mid-May. But he undid that work by seeing his ERA raise two full points in a month (hard to do) and then being dumped to Pittsburgh for a PTBNL which turned into Rick Honeycutt, after which he was sent down by the Pirates. He pitched one game for Pittsburgh in late September and that was it.

All we have now is this…with whatever the hell color it is? Any one have the Pantone number for it?

You May Remember Him…

I bet you’ve seen this pic around (or one similar to it). Hilgendorf was the Indians pitcher brained with a folding chair during the infamous “10 Cent Beer Night” riot in Cleveland.

Did you know that despite the pro-wrasslin’ style injury (without the benefit of it being a break-away chair) he pitched in the very next game against Texas?

Gamer.

Sometimes When It Goes, It Goes Fast…

Baseball’s a game of micrometers. Not inches, not even millimeters.

One small, itsy bitsy thing can spell the difference between success and failure.

Allen is living proof that the thin line separating a strike and a ball can dictate how a career arcs.

Lloyd was a #1 pick of the Angels in 1968 and zoomed up the ranks quickly. By 1971, Allen, then 21, was the relief ace for the big club. That was no small feat, as Mel Queen, Eddie Fisher and Dave LaRoche were also around and having excellent seasons. Had those California Angels totally cratered on offense (a familiar lament) they could have really made noise in the AL West.

Allen regressed a bit in 1972 but so did the entire bullpen. In fact, the 1972 Angels had 16 saves as a team (and remarkably just seven holds and only 10 blown saves) as manager Del Rice trusted his starters to finish what they started. Still, at age 22 Allen could be tabbed as a rising flamethrowing star (if anyone paid attention to any other Angels pitcher besides Nolan Ryan, that is…)

There were troubling signs, though. In 1971 Allen whiffed 72 and walked 40 (eight intentionally). In 1972, Allen struck out 53 and walked 55 (five intentionally) in 9 2/3 fewer innings.

He needed to throw strikes. He didn’t.

Pitching five times for the Angels in 1973, he was mostly a mess. The worst of it was a game against Cleveland, his penultimate Angel appearance, where Buddy Bell and crew tattooed him for five runs in 1 2/3 innings.

Sent to Texas as part of the Mike Epstein / Jim Spencer deal, the Rangers were hoping he could solve their myriad pitching woes.

No such luck.

Given a start in his first game for Texas (because, why not), he gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings to Cleveland. Because, why not throw him back in there against the team he just was crushed by?

His next start was against Baltimore and he lasted 3 1/3 innings giving up seven runs.

His third start as a Rangers was against Texas. Two hits, two walks, one out, four runs.

Banished to the bullpen, he was clobbered by Baltimore again (three runs in 1 1/3 innings), gave up two unearned runs in an inning against Minnesota, and then ‘earned’ another start for Texas. The Royals clubbed him for six runs in 2 2/3, where he gave up five hits and walked five. His mark for the season at that point was 0-3, 14.40.

On July 3, the Rangers got stomped by Chicago in game one of a doubleheader. Allen relieved Pete Broberg in the second and lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up six runs (four earned) and his ERA dropped to 12.52. On July 7, he allowed the last seven runs (three earned) as the mighty Milwaukee Brewers crushed Texas 17-2 in one of David Clyde’s starts.

The next day, success, finally! Allen pitched three scoreless innings in the second day of a doubleheader.

That earned him another start, with predictable results. Allen was lit up by Detroit, giving up six walks and four runs (only one earned) in 1 2/3 innings as the Rangers lost 14-2.

His line for Texas from the trade to that point? 24 innings, 40 hits, 46 runs, 30 earned runs (16 UN-earned runs, boy that was a bad team on all fronts), 28 walks, 14 strikeouts.

He didn’t pitch for a month (disabled list?) and when he returned he calmed down a bit. He had three pretty rocky outings in September but had seemed to find something. Then came his last appearance of the year, on September 24. Billy Martin was now in charge instead of Whitey Herzog, but the team still stunk to high heaven. Still they had some fight in them as was shown on this night. Down 6-2 after Broberg was beat up by California, Texas scored seven runs in the top of the ninth off of Clyde Wright and Aurelio Monteagudo (I juts love typing that name) and held a 9-6 lead. Bill Gogolewski started the ninth in fine style, retiring Mickey Rivers and Ken Berry. Winston Llenas walked and Bob Oliver singled him to second.

Martin hands the ball to Allen. Facing Tommy McCraw, Allen uncorks a wild pitch then walks the vet. He then walks Richie Scheinblum to score Llenas and then walks Charlie Sands to score Oliver. Martin hooks Allen and Jackie Brown comes in. Lee Stanton doubles off of Brown sending Allen and the Rangers to yet another defeat. I can’t imagine how that clubhouse was after that loss.

It was an awful end to an awful year for Lloyd. 0-6, 9.42, 73 hits and 69 runs (again, tons of unearned runs) allowed in 49 2/3 innings, with 44 walks and only 29 strikeouts.

Incredibly, Allen doesn’t spend time in the minors and breaks camp with Texas in 1974, spending three months there before being waived by the Rangers and claimed by the White Sox with a 6.55 ERA. Over the next two seasons he pitches sporadically for Chicago and spends time in AAA for the White Sox and Cards. Lloyd had a good year in 1976 for Tulsa (11-6, 2.81) but never gets back to the bigs thanks to injuries (it looks) and ends his career after a lackluster year at Iowa in 1979.

From just looking at the numbers, Allen seemed to lose command of the strike zone between 1971 and 1973. He threw some wild pitches but not an alarming amount and wasn’t a headhunter. Strike one became ball one, and then of course it all snowballs from there. You get a rep for being wild, you don’t get the calls, and then you either walk people or groove fat ones.

The strike zone’s wafer-thin lines never seemed so big for Allen.

Don’t Mind Him, He’s Just A Peripheral Player In This Saga…

Mr. Montague is a player in this story I will tell, but a bit player. But he’s got a card. And I can tell you that I thought his name was more fitting for a Poe story than a baseball pitcher. He was a fringy innings eater willing to start or relieve and make reasonable coin.

The star of the story is someone I briefly mentioned yesterday, a Mr. Frank MacCormack. But Frank never got a Topps card in his brief career.

If there ever was a Eppy Calvin LaLouche that made the bigs, it was MacCormack. Well, he was the Nook without the K’s.

Signed as an amateur free agent by the Tigers out of Rutgers in 1974, Frank played at Lakeland in 1974, completing 15 games and piling up decent stats (yes they let minor league pitchers actually complete games back then). Moving up to AA and AAA in 1975, he didn’t show an signs of control meltdowns. In 1976, for Evansville he pitched OK but his walk totals edged up. Called up to the show in June and July, things unraveled a bit.

In nine games (eight starts) he threw 32 2/3 innings, giving up 35 hits and 24 runs and whiffed 14. He lost all five decisions, but aside from when Fidrych pitched that was a heinous Tigers team. What the issue was for Frank was his walk total. In those 32 2/3 innings he walked 34. He also threw four wild pitches.

The most notable thing that happened for Frank was the game where he had to bat. It seems on June 27 manager Ralph Houk mistakenly wrote DH by both Rusty Staub and Alex Johnson’s name on the lineup card. The Red Sox caught the error and Staub was forced into the game in right field (where Johnson was supposed to play) and MacCormack had to bat. That was probably his best pitching performance of the year, even though he walked six in six innings he gave up just one run as the Tigers won 4-2 (after MacCormack left the game).

Frank was left unprotected by Detroit and was selected by Seattle as the 16th pick in the expansion draft. He made the big club and his 1977 debut was on April 24. He was removed from the game even though he was pitching a no hitter. Never mind that Frank had walked four, hit two others, threw two wild pitches and gave up a run without giving up a hit. Montague relieved him in the fourth and got a win as Seattle came back to win 4-2 thanks to a big homer by Lee Stanton. It was said that Frank’s performance was, well, LaLouchian, as he threw balls over the umpires head and had KC players ducking every which way.

MacCormack’s next start was on April 28. He again threw four innings, walking six, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch, but again gave up juts one run (on a balk). Rod Carew got the first hit of the year against Frank – a bunt single. Montague came in to start the fifth and the M’s rallied to win again.

Frank’s next  start was on May 3rd against the Red Sox. Walk, wild pich, walk, single, Montague in, Frank out. The Mariners win, but Frank’s major league career is done.

Even though Seattle won all three starts, and Frank’s ERA was 3.86, he was exiled to the minors, for good. Montague scavenged three wins thanks to Frank, and probably still sends him Christmas cards.

The rest of 1977 was a disaster for MacCormack. He pitched in two games at Toledo (one start) and threw 2/3 innings, walking seven and throwing two wild pitches. His ERA? 94.50.

Seattle had a Northwest League club in Bellingham, Class A. (They didn’t ramp up the farm systems for expansion teams like they did for the more recent teams – Seattle and Toronto borrowed spots where they could and had one team of their own in low A in 1977). MacCormack threw 27 innings, giving up 25 hits, 31 runs, and whiffed 28. He walked 51 and if the stats are right threw 26 wild pitches. I would tend to believe that, since those catchers were probably ill-prepared to handle something like Frank.

He caught an ebola-like version of Steve Blass disease, it seems.

MacCormack spent 1978 in AAA at San Jose (4-12, 6.31) and had a brief stint in 1979 in the Tigers chain, and that was it.

So here’s to Frank MacCormack, who would be well-known in this day and age but whose story is lost to old, ratty copies of the Sporting News.

 

And here’s to Mr. Montague, who bailed out Frank for three wins in 1977. At least MacCormack can say those Mariners were 3-0 when he started!

 

Case Of The Blahs…

That’s what I’ve had. I’ve been overwhelmed by work and the NCAA tourney and some personal stuff and well, you know.

I did crack open a few things of Heritage and like it even though my retinas are burned by the back of the card.

So why not showcase my blah with Steve Braun in a blah card? I always liked Braun because of his on-base skills, but his skill set doesn’t fit the positions he was asked to play the most (third and corner outfield). And defensively, as a third baseman he was a decent left fielder. (Yes, you read that right).

Even though he was seemingly a Gene Mauch type of player, the Twins left him exposed in the expansion draft after the 1976 season and he wasn’t taken until the 38th pick, after the M’s selected notables like Dan Meyer, Frank MacCormack, Carlos Lopez and Juan Bernhardt. He flopped in Seattle (a .315 SLG as a LF was a bit too much to ask for even an expansion team) and re-invented himself as a pinch-hitter deluxe with Kansas City and St. Louis.

But yeah, bleah.

I need to get fired up before the bleah-ness subsumes my soul and I start posting non-ironically about guys like Tommy McMillan.

Oh, It Was That Bad…

The mid-70′s Braves put the “M” in moribund, even though they were owned by Ted Turner and foisted onto the eyes of the country via the first “Superstation” – Channel 17 in Atlanta.

The 1977 collection was probably the most heinous of those bad Braves squads.

You’d probably point to the pitching as to why they were so rotten. And you definitely could point there as their ERA was the highest in the NL. But that would be a tad bit unfair. The “Launching Pad’ fluffed up ERAs a bit so that Andy Messersmith’s 4.40 slate actually had an ERA+ of 102. Don’t get me wrong, there were issues with injuries (Messersmith and Dick Ruthven missed some time), worn out players wearing out more (Steve Hargan, Steve Kline, Mike Marshall, Buzz Capra) and a reliance on kids that weren’t ready (and never would be) (Don Collins, Mickey Mahler, Mike Davey, Duane Theiss), and the usual suspects (Jamie Easterly, Preston Hanna, and the Frank LaCorte Experience complete with 11.68 ERA).

Yes, pitching bad.

Offense, worse.

Their OPS was good for 11th in the league, which was bad enough, except that this was “The Launching Pad” – their OPS+ as a team was 72.

Second baseman Rod Gilbreath had an OPS+ of 72 that year. Their entire offense hit like Rod Gilbreath.

That figure includes Jeff Burroughs’ monster season (41 home runs, 123 OPS+ and somehow with 114 RBI) and decent seasons by Biff Pocoroba (no fooling) and Gary Matthews.

There was the rest of the bozos on the bus.

Willie Montanez hit 20 home runs, but you want a first baseman with a higher OPS+ than 99. Rowland Office slapped his way to a sub-.300 OBP and a 52 OPS+. Barry Bonnell hit .300 with a .339 slugging percentage in 360 ABs (think about that). There was the infield mess with Gilbreath, Pat Rockett (he of 11 total XBH), Darrell Chaney, Junior Moore and Mr. Royster, pictured above.

Now, my memories of Royster as a player are of a decent enough middle infielder with some speed for the Braves and Tim Flannery’s platoon partner for the Padres. I had a dice baseball game using the 1976 season and Royster wasn’t horrible and he had some stolen base ability.

But for the 1977 Braves, Royster was, well…

Awful. There’s not two ways about it.

Because of the issues with Moore, Gilbreath, Rockett, and Chaney, Royster played 140 games, though he wasn’t the regular at either second, short or third. He got the most time at third where his defense was poor but not totally lousy. He was worse at second but reserved some extra special play for shortstop with a .917 fielding percentage.

Rockett was pretty bad at short too, to be honest, though he made less errors. He just didn’t get to enough balls to make more errors.

All in all, Royster’s dWAR was -2.7. He was bad at three positions and played enough to make it count, or not count, as it were.

On offense, he was fast. He stole 28 bases but was caught 10 times, which is right on the edge where you probably shouldn’t run at all. Royster hit .216 with a .278 OBP and a .288 SLG. Remember, he played 81 games in a place called “The Launching Pad”.

The result was a -4.0 WAR season.

Really, though, those Braves had little option but to keep running Royster out there. It was a year before they drafted Bob Horner. Dale Murphy couldn’t play the middle infield (though he was still trying to catch at that point). Guys like Rockett and Gilbreath where probably better bets than Craig Robinson or Rob Bellior. Royster LOOKED like a baseball player, at least, though his middle-infield hitting prowess was miscast as a third baseman. (And damnit, Chaney was a member of the BIG RED MACHINE, so he knows how to play the game!)

When you look at teams that are bad year-over-year for a stretch, you’ll notice they have a lot of players like Royster hanging around, where they’re stretched to fill holes because others are totally lacking, but in doing so also fall off the cliff performance-wise. When one craters, the entire team just makes a bigger hole in the ground.

Royster did recover and played another decade, thanks to his speed, versatility and perseverance. But man, 1977 was just a bad year on all fronts for him and the Braves. But at least he wasn’t scowling on his card.

The Epitome Of Cool

George Hendrick was the coolest, baddest dude on the mid-70′s Indians.

No, he didn’t have a name like Charlie Spikes, or a nickname like “Sugar Bear” Blanks. No, he didn’t have Oscar Gamble’s afro.

But he was the man.

As you know, the mid-70′s Indians unis were, well, um….

“Blood Clot!”

I didn’t mind the font, especially on the hat, but the bright red (magenta? fuschia? whatever…) uniforms were just not good at all. The sight of Frank Robinson and Boog Powell cavorting in them were also sad reminders of how unfortunate sartorial choices can make the most distinguished men look like clowns, and the stoutest of men look like marshmallow men.

Hendrick, while he may have donned the uniforms, never had a card that featured him in one.

His ‘blood clot’ era cards featured him in a jacket, covering up the mess underneath.

But that’s not why he’s the coolest. I mean, Don Hood is in a jacket in his 1977 card.

It’s not the well-sculpted fu manchu either, though it’s pretty rad.

It’s the combo of everything, with the kicker of wearing a visor instead of a hat.

In this card, he’s wearing a visor as you can see. He’s saying,  “I’m not going to pose unless I do it my way. With my jacket and my visor.”

He’s bad…

 

Intimidation, They Name Is James Rodney Richard…

I would not want to see that in the batters box.

Most everyone knows the sad take of J. R. Before the era of 24-hour info cycle, the news of Richard’s plight did spread quickly. If I recall, a lot of the media members took the Astros side that Richard was malingering. That, of course was ghastly wrong, and Richard’s life was forever altered.

But before that fateful day, Richard was the most intimidating pitcher in baseball. I contend that he was even more intimidating than Nolan Ryan. Richard had the wildness, the heat, and he had the added factor of being 6’8 and looked like he could be playing linebacker for the Houston Oilers.

Just look at this card. Did you want to stand in there and have him throw 99+ MPH ‘near’ you. He didn’t hit many batters, but he was wild enough to keep batters honest and not comfortable.

I know it’s easy to speculate “What if” a dozen different ways with Richard, but sometimes I like to remember ‘What was”. And what it was, for any of us lucky to see him pitch, was incredible.

 

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