Oh, What Could Have Been…

This post by Night Owl inspired me to ponder if Steve Kemp was truly a better player than Tony Armas.

“You fool!” the rabble cries. “Armas hit a gazillion home runs! Kemp was an over-priced bum!”

Well, it ain’t as easy as that, jack.

Kemp’s career was derailed by bone chips and a terrifying injury where he was hit in the eye in batting practice by a ball struck by Omar Moreno. (It may have been the hardest hit ball Moreno ever struck, ironically – yes that’s a joke.)

Those bone chips took a lot out of his 1983 season, and his 1984 was derailed by the lingering effects of the eye injury. Before then, he was pretty nifty on offense. From 1978-82 he piled up 16.4  oWAR. Advanced metrics have him a sub-par outfielder, though. He was a pretty diverse player – decent average, decent power, decent patience.

Tony Armas hit a lot of home runs. That was it. He also was a plus defender at times, but those skills waned. He had lousy peripherals and if he didn’t hit a home run later in his career, he wasn’t helping the team. His total oWAR was 11.1.

Kemp, even with a truncated career, had a higher career WAR than Armas. Without the eye injury he probably would have been better remembered as an pretty good player.

So I can say that Kemp was a better player than Armas. And that’s the name of that tune…

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!

 

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.

Jackson Todd – 1978 Topps

February 27, 2012

 

Geez, Topps!

This isn’t the SAT!

It’s not last name first on baseball cards.

Ken Brett – 1978 Topps

February 20, 2012

Airbrushed! Again!

One thing that I noticed in collecting again is the wonder that is airbrushing.

Some sets are rife with it, such as 1972 (when they basically plastered over any traces of the old Washington Senators) and 1977 (where they had the double whammy of expansion and free agency to deal with). Some players, though, seemed to get airbrushed more often than not.

Case in point, Ken Brett.

He was a well-traveled vagabond who seemed to be good enough for teams to trade for, but not quite good enough to hold onto once a club got him in a trade. And he moved quite a bit. It wasn’t that he was a bad teammate or an attitude problem. He was just one of those guys that teams used as a pawn.

He was traded six times between October 1971 and June 1977, starting with the huge Boston / Milwaukee trade that saw George Scott and Tommy Harper change teams. He then moved to Philly as part of the Don Money deal, was dealt to Pittsburgh for Dave Cash, sent to New York for Doc Medich, then packed to Chicago for Carlos May. His last deal was to the Angels for spare parts, and soon he was to become one of those spare parts – being released and signed three times before his ultimate pink slip with KC in 1982.

In looking at Brett’s cards, I count seven of his 12 Topps base cards that are airbrushed. Two of them (1980 and 1981) seem to be from the same photo shoot. His last card in 1982 is one I’m counting as airbrushed though it may not be. It looks odd, but then I do look at things odd.

I wonder if someone who has over 10 base cards in a Topps set has more cards that have been ‘altered’ as a percentage of their total cards? I think Brett’s era would be the era, with larger base sets, expansion and free agency.

It’s nice to be wanted, but I bet Brett would have rather had baseball cards with less paint and more photo.

Dennis Blair – 1978 Topps

January 16, 2012

One Of Youse Guys Is Gonna Get This Here Card

Yeah, I’m sending cards out again. I went through my shiny / relics and doubles and made about a dozen care packages. Yes, some of the cards I’m sending people may have already but you can deal with it, I know. Besides,  a team / player collector can probably move a double to other team / player collectors they know, or just use the extra Donruss cards as a cheap wallpaper.

I am also debating what to do with my 2011 Topps 60th Anniversary Set. I have it. It’s unopened, and I think I may need to move it for cash or cards. Stay tuned! You could get it!

I am also debating what to do with my Bowman’s. I was disgustipated by the heinous job Topps did on their latest Bowman release (collation, errors, and numbering issues – I thought the regular Bowman release was nifty but this Prospects were just rife with errors) and because I may need to downsize all my Bowman cards may be up for cash or cards. Stay tuned!

As I hinted in the title, in one of my care packages this here card will be making its way to someone who needs it. Hopefully this card will be needed more than the Expos seemed to want Mr. Blair.

Blair rocketed through the Expos chain, hitting AA Quebec City at age 19 and then making the bigs after a 5-0, 1.83 start at AAA Memphis the next year.

All he did as a 20-year old rookie for a struggling team was go 11-7, 3.27 (118 ERA+). His only warning sign was walking 72 while just striking out 76.

Those 1974 Expos had a young, hungry staff (age 25.7 average). They were on the verge.

Montreal took a little step back in 1975, and Blair was the recipient poor run support and some control issues. His record was 8-15. But, his ERA was 3.80 (102 ERA+). His teammates scored just 2.8 runs per start. He walked 106 in 163 innings, which was his only black mark, and he was 21.

The Expos changed managers in 1976 and became even worse of a train wreck than their expansion years. Instead of allowing Blair to get more experience in the bigs, Montreal decided that guys like Don Carrithers, Steve Dunning, Dan Warthen and a out-of-gas Clay Kirby were the answers. They were just bigger questions.

Until September, Blair fumed down in AAA. I am assuming he was fuming. Why wouldn’t he be irate. He didn’t do so bad, considering he was pitching in Denver (4.50 ERA). He struck out more than he walked, but he waited and then pitched 15 2/3 lackluster innings in Montreal.

Back to the minors in 1977, the Orioles snagged him in mid-season. Technically, he was loaned to Rochester and not dealt until after September as the PTBNL in a deal for Fred Holdsworth.

Somehow, he got this card in the 1978 set, so Topps was hoping that Earl Weaver and his crew would give him a legit chance. Well, he may have gotten a chance but Blair didn’t respond. He didn’t pitch in the bigs, and was heinously awful in Rochester (0-6, 8.05). In 1979 he went from the Orioles to the Padres, and made his way back to the bigs in mid-1980.

He made one start (after a decent and awful relief appearance) in the second game of a double header against the Braves. Now, an Atlanta / San Diego double-header in 1980 wasn’t the most exciting way to spend a day, but it was a big league game and Blair did a big league job as the teams battled to stay out of the basement of the NL West.

He went 7 1/3 innings, leaving with a 2-1 lead, but John D’Acquisto let in the tying run, so Blair didn’t get a win. I bet he got an atta-boy or two.

Of course, this was Jerry Coleman’s Padres, and Blair didn’t get another chance to start. He had two desultory relief appearances (the first THREE DAYS after his start) and was sent back to Hawaii. After 1980, he retired.

Why wouldn’t you?

Twice, for no real reason except for ineptitude, he was sent to the minors in favor of inferior alternatives. It’s enough to make a guy consider the alternatives.

Lightning In A Bottle

Before 1977, the only thing memorable about Lerrin LaGrow was that he was the recipient of a gift from Bert Campaneris in the 1972 ALCS. The gift? Campy’s bat. LaGrow didn’t accept it though, mainly because it was flying at his head.

That was a memorable incident. Of course, going 16-38 with a 4.51 ERA, an 87+ ERA, and giving up 45 unearned runs in the three seasons after 1972 didn’t really leave an impact on the baseball viewing public.

In the spring of 1976, the Tigers shuffled him off to St. Louis, who exiled him to Tulsa until September. He had some good appearances for the Cards and so next spring he was flipped to the rebuilding White Sox for Clay Carroll. Lagrow fit right in with that rag-tag bunch of Pale Hose. He was unwanted, unloved, and had a chip on his shoulder (just look at the photo). And he responded with 25 saves, a 168 ERA+ and a 3.5 WAR.

Of course, the next season was pretty much downhill and he was gone by 1980. But at least he wouldn’t be remembered as the guy that Campy threw the bat at.

Ron Pruitt – 1978 Topps

December 16, 2011

The Bloodclots. Never A Good Look.

You know, I like the hat, and I like the font a bit.

But I could never deal with the all-red uniforms. The bloodclots, as it were.

How much weed were they smoking in the Indians front office when they decided to wear THOSE?

And notice that Pruitt is also wearing red spikes, though I wish he’d have red stirrups as well. Red tops are just never a good look, though, and all red uniforms are even worse.

Pruitt was probably happy to don those bloodclots, though. He was happy to don any major league uniform, because while he could hit singles and get on base, he was defensively challenged at catcher (-0.9 dWAR as a catcher in 1978) and didn’t have enough power to be a corner outfielder. He probably would have been best served as a pinch hitter and third-string catcher / fifth outfielder in the NL during an era where he could thrive doing that. But he didn’t get to the NL until the very end of his career.

The Indians, of course, were mostly to blame. They couldn’t decide on whether Rick Cerone, Alan Ashby, Gary Alexander, Bo Diaz or Ron Hassey was their catcher of choice and by the time they settled on a catcher he was already on his decline. And Pruitt was insurance for whoever the catcher du jour was.

Ah, well, he got his mug on some cards and made some nice coin for a while. I don’t think he’s got the blood clots still hanging in his closet though, unless they’re Halloween costumes.

 

 

Terry Puhl – 1978 Topps

December 9, 2011

Presence

I’ve been thinking a lot about tunes lately. Music is kind of a big deal in my life. My iPod runneth over (it really does, I have about 40GB too many songs for my classic, not counting the stuff on my Jazzpod (my nano with my jazz).

Recently, for some reason, I found myself wanting to listen to the one Led Zeppelin album that no one remembers. You know it – I guess:

Presence.

It was an album that came after the huge double album. It was the album that they couldn’t tour to support because Robert Plant was injured in a car accident. It was an album that didn’t spin any huge radio songs (well “Achilles Last Stand” probably would have been a huge radio hit had it not been 10 minutes long). And sure, none of the songs hit the peak that Zep had to offer.

But it’s pretty darn good – not a clinker cut in the bunch. There aren’t any indulgences or wayward noodling or detours into hippy-dippy land. Just solid rock-and-roll from start to finish and a very underrated album.

Underrated is an over-used word though, especially when describing baseball players. Terry Puhl, before he got waylaid by hamstring and ankle injuries, was underrated, even moreso than his more famous underrated compadre, Jose Cruz.

Puhl was a Canadian hitting machine that unfortunately played for the Astros when the Astrodome sucked the offense out of everyone. He wasn’t extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination. But he always was a solid player that never seemed to disappoint.

I remember that I never wanted to see Puhl hit against the Cubs in the late innings, because inevitably he’d line something over the second baseman’s head and the Cubs motley collection of outfielders would play it into a double, or worse – and the rally would be on.

He definitely was a Presence.

Thanks, Billy! This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things!

(This is going to be a long one, but I think you’ll like it…)

You know, it wouldn’t be a discussion with Jack Morris on the radio without him grousing about pitch counts. Oh, and Bert Blyleven throws in his disdain as well, even though he recites pitch count numbers  every 29 seconds on broadcasts.

You know, Jack and Bert, I can give you a litany of pitchers ruined by managers allowing young arms to throw foolishly high pitch counts in stress situations (lots of men on base, cold weather, short rest) or with horrible mechanics or by overusing pitches that tax the arm instead of fastball and curves.  (You know why no one uses the split-fingered fastball anymore? They saw the DL record of the SF Giants in the 80′s and 90′s.)

Yes, Jack and Bert, you threw lots of innings. But in your era you had a bigger strike zone, lineups with at least one or two automatic outs and only one or two power hitters, and managers that used relief pitchers wisely (like, when the game was on the line – even though it was the 7th and the score was tied). And because of that, when you were up 8-3, you could stay in there forever.

Oh, and Jack, when you threw 246 innings for the 1991 Twins, you threw an average of 107 pitches a game. Your arm was developed, and you had great mechanics. AND YOU WERE ALSO AN OUTLIER! You think everyone can be Randy Johnson, or Nolan Ryan, or Mickey Lolich if they built up their arm properly. No, they’re freaks of nature. All you need to do is ask Frank Tanana, or Dave Rozema, or Mark Fidrych, or…or….or….

And you suffered as well, Jack, you suffered as well. The first year there are pitch counts available at B-R (1988) you threw 161 pitches in a game on April 14, a 2-1 loss where you walked nine. The next three starts you compiled an 8.64 ERA and teams slugged .500 off of you. Ya think you’re arm was a bit weary? Ya think if you didn’t throw 161 pitches that it wouldn’t have taken you until game 160 until your ERA was under 4.

Jack, next time I hear you on the radio and talk about pitch counts, I’m going to call in. I’m going to remind you of those stats. I’m going to remind you of Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen and what Dallas Green did to them in the Mets system. I’m going to remind you of Tim Leary in Wrigley.

I’m also going to just mention the names Norris, Langford, McCatty, Keough and Kingman.

Billy Martin took over the A”s in 1980. Charlie Finley had to do something, otherwise the A’s would sell for two bits with a nickel change. The 1979 A’s were last in the league in runs scored and 13th in ERA. Only Dave Hamilton had an ERA+ of over 100.

Martin did notice that the rotation (listed above) was going to be good as soon as they had support behind them (and Norris got off the drugs and got over his arm issues). He also was damn sure he wasn’t going to give Mike Morgan, at age 19, one inning of major league time much less 13 starts, since the memories of him trying to manage David Clyde at Texas was still fresh in his mind.

Billy’s inherited bullpen was Hamilton (a journeyman lefty back for a second stint in the Finley circus), Bob Lacey (who allowed 37% of his inherited runners to score AND compiled a 5.85 ERA), Dave Heaverlo (noted for his bald head, wearing #60 before the Pirates started throwing everyone out there in spring training numbers, and compiling 11 losses and eight blown saves in 1979), veteran Jim Todd (who compiled a 1.963 WHIP and a 6.56 ERA in 81 innings) and long man Craig Minetto (who was out of organized baseball entirely in 1975 and 1976 after a short stint in the low minors for Montreal but somehow made the bigs for Oakland in 1978).

So yeah, instead of firemen, it was pyromaniacs with kindling, kerosene, and a welding torch.

But only Todd was let go from that staff. You may wonder why since now it seems that every team churns through pitchers like there’s no tomorrow in the offseason, with non-tenders, DFAs, non-roster invitees, and the like. But you must remember one thing – Finley was cheap. He wasn’t about to take on any payroll right before selling the team, and no free agent would want to go play in Oakland for Finley and Martin unless he had no other choice.

Martin turned around the A’s, big time. They went 83-79 thanks to a lot of Rickey!, Dwayne Murphy, Tony Armas, and Dave Revering, and those five stud starters.

Oakland starters completed 94 games. Langford completed 28 of his 33 starts and went 19-12 with a 3.26 ERA. The irony is that on April 10, he was knocked out of the box in his first start and didn’t make his second start until April 28. On July 20 he went 14 innings against Cleveland but it was an easy 14 (just eight hits allowed and one intentional walk).

Norris and Keough also completed also 20 or more games. McCatty completed just 11 and Kingman just 10. Slackers.But McCatty started back to back games in April against Seattle. He was knocked out in the second on April 14 and then turned around the next day and threw 8 1/3 excellent innings

All five threw over 200 innings.  They started 159 of the 162 games (Lacey, Hamilton and Minetto made the other starts, and Lacey threw a shutout in his spot start).

As for the pen, from what I guess, Martin started with Hamilton, Lacey and rookies Jeff Jones and Rick Lysander in the pen, and maybe another rookie in Mark Souza (who didn’t pitch until mid-April but may have been available). Heaverlo was waived late in the spring, the day before the season started.

And early on, all seemed normal. The A’s did complete six of their first 11 starts but they all were well pitched games. But then they had seven straight games where they used the bullpen, with the nadir being a pleasant Sunday afternoon in late April where the Twins planted 10 runs in the first on Kingman and Hamilton, then five in the third off of Souza and Lysander.

I imagine that Billy visited all of his old watering holes in Minnesota, and consumed mass quantities on the flight and said, “Screw it…I can’t trust Lacey and he’s who I trust the most. Jones is green but I like his stuff. Hamilton’s arm is a noodle, and Lysander and Souza should be back in Ogden chasing Mormon chicks.”

So he decided to use just Lacey and Jones out of the pen, and Hamilton in case of emergency. The other two guys can get meal money and pitch batting practice.

A pattern developed. CG for Langford, Keough and Norris. Short relief only for McCatty and Kingman.

It took 20 days for Lysander and Souza to appear in another game – another game where the A’s starter was knocked out early. That was the last we saw of them in Oakland.

The pen shrank to four, I suppose, as Ernie Camacho was recalled and debuted when Keough was drilled early against Kansas City. Camacho was soon back in Ogden and Alan Wirth took his spot.

Martin’s “patience” on Hamilton wore out and after he was a punching bag after McCatty was drilled against New York, he sat for 22 days. Minetto was recalled at some point and the pen grew to five as doubleheaders were looming.

Jones pitched three times in a month then of course was used three days in a row. Now, they’d make sure Jones was down in AAA getting regular work. But he stayed up there.

Lacey was the only one getting ‘regular’ work, every five days or so.

The second breaking point had to be an extra inning loss to the Angels in mid-July. Hamilton lost that, and his ERA was the APR of my credit card. Wirth faced just one batter and that was Bobby Grich, who hit the game winner. Martin had to have lost it, and sent Hamilton and Wirth back and calling up fresh meat in Rich Bordi and Mike Beard.

And he resolved to not let the bullpen, except for Lacey and maybe Jones, anywhere near a game that wasn’t out of total control, and then that it was only when McCatty or Kingman were pitching did those two get near the mound. This is a total 180 from what Tony LaRussa would have done – he probably would have finagled the roster to basically have a 20-man bullpen using options, DLs and other means. But not Billy.

Bordi pitched just once, and it was back to Utah. Martin was impressed by Beard, but like Jones, he didn’t trust rookies at all, especially 20-year old 2 1/2 seasons away from Medicine Hat (and chasing cheerleaders in Doraville, GA) and one that had a 6.40 ERA in the PCL.

After Bordi and Beard made their virgin appearance, the A’s threw 8 straight complete games, even one where Keough gave up six runs to Toronto. Lacey went nine days between stints, as did Beard. Minetto made his spot start in a double header after 10 days of rust, and true to form only Jones and Lacey came in to relieve him. That was Jones’ first appearance in 10 days and it would be 22 days before we see Minetto in a box score again.

I conjecture that Bordi was returned to Ogden, since he’s done in this narrative, joining Camacho, Lysander, Wirth and Souza as characters whose role is  already finished in this play.

On August 1, actual modern bullpen usage broke out in Cleveland. Kingman threw six innings of excellent baseball (3 hits, one walk, one run) and was done. (Was he sick?) Jones, Lacey and Beard closed it out with excellent relief work. The next game (after a rain-out, there was a DH), Keough lasted just 6 1/3 but Jones and Lacey held on.

After that spurt of activity, it was back to ‘normal’. Between game two of August 3 and August 19, Martin went to the pen once.

Once, in 14 days.

ONCE IN 14 DAYS! Holy Old Hoss Radbourn, Batman!

On a hot August night, Beard made his first appearance in 17 days, and Minetto showed up for the first time in 22. The latter lost the game after shaky performances by Lacey and Jones, who were appearing in a game for the first time in 10 days.

During that fortnight, did they even go OUT to the bullpen? What did bullpen coach George Mitterwald DO anyway?

After that long stretch, it became semi-normal again. Lacey normally went 3-4 days between appearances and the others went about a week to 10 days. Minetto made his last appearance on August 29. I don’ t think he was sent down, as Ogden was in last place so there were no playoffs there. He probably just was left on the bench to rot, much like Kenny Holtzman was when Martin managed the Yanks.

As the calendar moved to September, the A’s had another week-long stretch of complete games. Jones went 8 days between outings and then appeared in back to back games. Beard went 14 days without pitching and also then threw in back to back games.

What would the GM do NOW if you had your two best pitching prospects in the major leagues going 2 weeks between outings in the bullpen? Amazing.

On Sept. 18, McCatty was blasted by Texas and Hamilton made an appearance after 66 days of exile. Of course, Martin being Martin he put his relief ace in the game in the THIRD (Lacey). The next day, Kansas City lit up Kingman, so the bullpen quartet all made an appearance again.

By this time the Royals had totally ran away from the rest of the AL West. Martin wanted to finish over .500 and finish second, so instead of easing off the last part of the season he put the hammer down. You’d think that now all of the fuzzy cheeked kids from Ogden would show up, but no.

Remember, Charlie O Finley was cheap. Extra players on the big league roster means hotel rooms, meal money and big league salary. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent Minetto down to SAVE on that stuff in September since Martin wasn’t going to use him anyway.

That, and Martin had already seen and discarded the best pitchers from Ogden except for Morgan. Morgan was already scarred from 1978 and 1979. The rest of Ogden’s staff outside of the bit players in the early ‘pen were dudes like Brian “Father” Abraham (2-8, 5.75, 1.803 WHIP), Randy Green (6-12, 5.87, 1.688 WHIP), Frank Harris (5-11, 5.72, 1.612 WHIP) and John Sutton (5.24 ERA and 1.848 WHIP). And those other bozos didn’t do much (Wirth’s WHIP was 1.820, which made his 6.20 ERA look decent in comparison; Lysander had a 5.05 ERA and a 1.802 WHIP). Souza and Camacho pitched halfway decent, but why call them up just for show?

Anyway, after the Royals eviscerated Kingman and Company, the A’s were 74-75. They went 9-4 to close out the year, throwing 10 complete games. Twice, Kingman came in for a relief stint. Jones pitched once, Lacey once, Beard twice, Hamilton never again.

Yes, the fifth starter pitched more in relief than the ostensible relief ace in the last 13 games.

Amongst those 10 complete games, pitched in late September when the A’s had no pennant race to deal with (I was going to say “meaningless” games but I’m afraid Billy Martin would emerge from his grave, drink in hand, and clock me one like I was a marshmallow salesman or Dave Boswell. There were no meaningless games to Martin. Even if he were trying to get fired he still wanted to win every game 42-o) were these ‘gems’.

Sept. 23 against the White Sox. Langford goes the distance in a 6-4 despite giving up 14 hits, and having three of the four runs score on him in the sixth and seventh and Leo Sutherland hit a double in the ninth with one out bringing the tying run to the plate. 14 hits! Gardenhire would have used five pitchers in the seventh…

Sept. 26 against the Brewers. Mike Norris took a 7-5 lead into the ninth. Now, Francona or Girardi or Scioscia would have used their middle men and set up men in the 7th and 8th when Milwaukee started its comeback and have the closer in the 9th put the hammer down. But Norris was out there to begin the ninth. Charlie Moore singled, but Molitor hit into a force play. However, Yount and Cooper singled to load the bases. Was anyone warming up? I doubt it, as Ben Oglivie hit a grand-slam inside the park home run. (Yes, a grand slam inside the park home run. Ben Oglivie did that.) Still, Norris is in there as Gorman Thomas takes him deep. Vic Harris fans, but John Poff (WHO??) and Jim Gantner single. STILL NORRIS IS IN THERE! Finally, Moore grounds out. Norris gets his CG, giving up 10 runs!

Oct. 2 against the White Sox. Langford struggles, giving up eight runs in the first five innings, but he still completes the game, a tidy 15-hitter, in a 9-4 loss.

The season ended Oct. 5. Guess who started it? Guess?

Langford. On two days rest after giving up 15 hits in a complete game. He doesn’t complete this one though. Because it went 15 innings. Still, it was a sight to behold.

Langford falls behind 2-0 after one inning (not shame, since the Brewers could flat out rake at the top of the order), but settles down and leads 4-2 going into the bottom of the eighth. Vic Harris pops up, but Ed Romero takes Langford deep to make it 4-3.

Ok, Billy, you’ve got a pitcher on two days rest, pitching in the 8th inning of game 162. You’ve clinched second place. You’ve clinched a winning record. AND HE JUST GAVE UP A HOME RUN TO FREAKIN’ ED ROMERO! ED ROMERO!

Romero hit eight home runs in his career, and that was his first.

Langford gets out of the inning, and the A’s still lead 4-3 going to the bottom of the ninth. It’s time for the closer, right?

No, it’s time for Langford, who gives up a tying home run to Oglivie (outside the park this time) and the game is tied.

The game’s tied at 4-4 going to the bottom of the 10th. Now, isn’t it time for Lacey, or Jones, or Beard?

Nope, Langford.

Finally, Martin puts in a reliever in the 11th. Kingman. The fifth starter. Figures. In the 12th, Beard comes in and pitches well for 3 2/3 before giving up a game winning single to Harris.

The ‘Iron Five’ did its job and the A’s finished over .500 for the first time since the dynasty days. And if it worked once, it would work again. Martin and Fowler did the same thing in 1981, but due to the strike it wasn’t as noticeable. Still, Langford, McCatty, Norris and Keough completed 56 of their 88 starts. Lacey was gone (he was mouthy about his role and Billy exiled him to Cleveland), Jones was the ‘ace’ of the pen. Tom Underwood and Bob Owchinko contributed and Martin trusted them more than the rookie squad from Ogden. Beard was up in September only, and I wonder if Martin was still sore at him for losing game 162 last year. Bo McLaughlin played the Dave Hamilton role complete with 11+ ERA. The A’s made the ALCS but were swept by the Yanks.

So why not another try? Those five were in their peak. Langford was 30 in 1982 – the rest 26 to 28. The A’s were second in the league in pitching in 1981.

They fell to 13th in 1982. All five of the “Iron Five” were basically done. McCatty had the best ERA (3.99) but only pitched 20 games. Langford and Keough gutted it out but they were mediocre to awful (Keough was 11-18, 5.72). Martin quit.

In 1983, McCatty pitched well but still only had 24 starts (he also relieved in 14 games). Norris threw 88 2/3 innings before he was hurt again and out of the majors, seemingly for good.  Kingman was bought by the Giants, and was found to be all used up. He was out of the majors after 4 2/3 bad innings in San Francisco. Keough pitched 44 innings with a 5.52 ERA before he was given to the Yanks on June 15th.

Langford had the most spectacular flameout – at age 31 he still was the ace of the staff going into 1983. He started opening day and lasted 3 2/3 before hitting the DL. Came back a month later for three starts. He threw 6 2/3 innings. TOTAL. A 16.20 ERA and and OPS against of 1.200 led him back to the DL. Back in July for 3 starts, and he actually went five innings in one! But after lasting 1 2/3 against Boston in late July he was done and struggled to return for almost two seasons.

The 1983 A’s Opening Day starter went 0-4, 12.15 and gave up 43 hits and 27 earned runs in 20 innings. He walked 10 and struck out two, none in his last five starts.

So what happened to the Iron Five?

Kingman you know about.

McCatty had 1 1/2 more seasons left in him, but he was a shadow of his 1981 self.

Keough lasted until the late 80′s but was nothing more than a fringe pitcher at best.

Norris had a lot of ink written about him thanks to his redemption from drugs, and his comeback from his arm trouble, and made it back to the A’s in 1990. But after 27 innings he was done. He didn’t pitch in the bigs from August 3, 1983 to April 11, 1990.

Langford tried to come back with all his might after missing most of 1984. He did OK in a brief stint in 1985 but after going 1-10, 7.36 he was released in mid-July. His last appearance came 10 years to the day after his first appearance.

So what does this have to do with pitch counts?

Everything!

Had Martin actually managed his resources with any long-term objectives in mind, he wouldn’t have done what he did. Yes, many teams are probably way too careful with their young arms, and 12-man staffs are the bane of the game, but it shows a lack of awareness about the game as a whole when Morris sits around bemoaning pitch counts when so many young pitchers have broken down from consistent high pitch counts in stress situations.

And all you need to say is Rick Langford, or Mike Norris, or Steve McCatty, or…

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