Eric Wilkins – 1981 Topps

February 3, 2012

The Joy Of Discovery

Unlike some people (I loves ya, you curmudgeon), a lot of my joy in collecting is discovering players that I didn’t know existed or who have flown totally under the radar. That’s why I’m a big commons guy and an advocate for a bigger base set like in the good ol’ days.

Now that I’m back to opening up  wonderful packs of cards, I’ve got a better knowledge of who is on each team, who is an upcoming guy and who will be on their way out. For a while when I wasn’t collecting or playing rotiss or obsessively looking at box scores I didn’t know the scrubs and wanna-be’s for some of the lesser teams by name. I read about them in Baseball Prospectus but didn’t commit them to memory.

But I thought I knew most everyone on the old sets I was compiling, then I ran into Mr. Wilkins.

Yeah, he was an Indian during the time when the Indians weren’t good enough or bad enough to raise an eyebrow. The Indians were just…there…

So I thought he was a guy like Eric Raich or Chuck Hartenstein – someone needed to fill out a set that was a bit performer.

And it’s true that he was in AAA in 1980 and not in the bigs. But he also got a card in the 1980 set and seemed to have a pretty bright future in Cleveland even with the one-year detour back to the minors. And if you read the back of the card you wonder why he was in the minors in 1980 and why he had a truncated 1979.

Before, you would either wonder, find your Street & Smith’s preview, or go dive into back issues of the Sporting News to find out. But now, you can hit the old Baseball Reference site for him.

There you discover that 1979 was his only big league year. And for a 22-year old rookie it wasn’t bad.

There you discover that he made the big league club out of the chute in 1979 and his last game was in late July. Had to be an injury.

On the back of the card you see that he pitched about a half season in AAA in 1980.

Then you see that he struggled in AAA and AA in 1981 and that was it. Done. Finished at age 24. Had to be an injury. Even the Indians, in 1981, wouldn’t let a guy go that was that young and had some big league success in the recent past.

What happened?

I looked on Google and Wikipedia. Nothing about this Eric Wilkins. He just vaporized.

I would have had questions had I collected cards in 1981. I have more questions now.

But that’s the beauty of discovering these ‘who is that’ guys. You want to discover, to learn, to find out. The player you discard as ‘who is that’ may become one of the best stories you ever hear – or a mystery you’ll never solve. Either way, it’s a good thing.

 

 

 

 

You Call That A Chaw, Eh?

This is a chaw.

One thing about playing hockey is that you can’t have a chaw like this in your mouth. So when I left BC at age 16 to go play in Covington, Virginia I made it my mission to create the ultimate chaw. I’ll show those guys.

And well…what do you think, eh?

The Last Hurrah…

First off, I wrote something at Bugs & Cranks about the Carlos Zambrano acquisition. Read. Enjoy!

Now..

Jack Brohamer, a career barely alive.

He came into my consciousness sometime in 1975, I think. The Indians and Brewers were playing on the NBC Game of the Week, which I think was a rain game. In this game I remember Jack Brohamer and Gorman Thomas for their names, and that’s about it.

At any rate, Brohamer came up and played every day in 1972 as a rookie (moving up slowly but surely from a 34th round draft pick) and kept in the bigs thanks to his perceived steady defense and, well, why the heck else did teams keep offensive sink-holes like Brohamer in the bigs?

The big issue with Brohamer is that he played second and third. He never played short in the bigs. Not an inning. Ah, it was a different time, but he could have had some reasonable value had he been able to play short. But I guess he had good symbiosis with Frank Duffy, or something.

Brohamer was dealt to the White Sox in 1976 for the immortal Larvell “Sugar Bear” Blanks because they couldn’t fathom another season of Jorge Orta at second. And he responded with a decent season, for Brohamer (2.0 WAR). But in 1977, the Pale Hose said, “screw it”, cast defense to the wind, and went with a DP combo of Orta and Alan Bannister and thus Brohamer backed up Orta and Eric Soderholm. After that season, the Red Sox signed him as a free agent (and paid him well for the time).

Brohamer had to start the last part of the season at third because Butch Hobson’s fielding just became too much to handle. They won eight games in a row with Jack at third before the fateful game 163.

Time was running out for Jack, though. He was back on the bench in 1979 and after a few weeks in 1980, the Red Sox reunited him with Lake Erie and he closed out his career.

What is stunning about this shot is that it probably says “generic 80′s Cleveland Indians player” more than anything. The mangy hair, the scruffy beard, the look of resignation. That’s Cleveland Indians baseball, baby. Well, at least then…

 

Yawn All You Want, But Do YOU Have An Effect Named After You?

My girlfriend is a baseball novice. As in, she never really paid attention to it at all. She’s a pop-culture and dance music freak, a karaoke star, and an insane hockey fan when she’s drunk, “FIIIIGHT YOU BASTARDS!”  But today watching the Twins win over the Padres, I patiently explained why leagues have different rules (no damn good reason except someone back in 1973 was an idiot and convinced other idiots to do that DH thing deal bit), why some teams don’t have names on the back of their jerseys (it’s old school and cool) and some basic nuances of the game.

A Pads pitcher committed a balk and I restrained myself from wasting five hours of her time on all of the balk rules.

Thank goodness I have refrained from discussing my fantasy teams. (To be honest, I’ve refrained from paying attention to them recently thanks to some travel, etc.) I can just imagine that her “not impressed face” would be permanent.

I think I could win her back though by explaining that even the most journeyman of journeyman players can have something named after them.  And it’s one of the most important rule of thumb in fantasy baseball.

It’s “The Littlefield Effect”

This Effect was first noticed in the first ever Rotisserie baseball season. (Maybe it was in the second, but it was prominently discussed in the first book on the subject.)

They had their draft right after the season started. In the olden days that made the most sense – you wanted to have the final rosters before you drafted and even before the days of USA Today it was possible by taking a Sporting News with a roster and diligently studying agate type. Since it was a 10-team all NL league (which was a 12-team league), there weren’t that many players orphaned (they drafted 230 of 274 active players, but they also drafted some DL guys). And as it is now, saves were a premium. Miss out on the closers, and you’re totally screwed unless you make lopsided trades or hope for NL teams trading for AL players.

Oh, and in those rules (the best), you couldn’t drop players unless they were demoted, traded to the AL, or injured, or you bid on a player incoming from the AL or one that was called up and not claimed already. So drafting was a premium. The worst thing that could happen was having a player get buried deep into a doghouse so far that the team didn’t release him or demote him just for spite.

With that lengthy prelude, the Littlefield Effect was noticed in the 1981 season.

Littlefield was a 30th round pick by the Cards who made the bigs in 1980 and pitched pretty well. He went 5-5 with 9 saves and had a 3.14 ERA. Those nine saves led St. Louis. That was a train wreck of a season – a retrenchment for St. Louis where Whitey Herzog after being hired as manager and GM pulled himself out of the managerial role to concentrate on the GM role to try and fix his team.

The pitching staff needed big time help. They had the worst ERA in the NL and didn’t have a rotation as much as a “are you healthy, ok you start” philosophy. Fourteen pitchers started games, but Littlefield wasn’t one of them. He was one of eight pitchers that recorded saves (they were last in the NL in that department as well).

Whitey’s insane trades in late 1980 sent Littlefield to the Padres. Herzog knew that Littlefield’s low strikeout rate would come to haunt him, and some team would overlook that.

So John joined the 1981 Padres, managed by Frank Howard. Oh, what a squad. They hit 32 home runs in 110 games, led by Joe Lefebvre’s eight. The staff ace was Juan Eichelberger. Wins and saves would be very hard to come by.

The Padres began the year in San Francisco on April 9 and 10. On April 9, Littlefield saved a 4-1 12-inning win. The next day, he saved a 4-2 win. On both occasions, Gary Lucas was used in tie games before Littlefield shut the door.

So, the rotiss mavens had no doubt that Littlefield was THE closer. Of course, this was the days before Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, MLB Network and bloggers galore. You had the Sporting News, but they even didn’t focus much on the Padres bullpen. But in the world of Rotiss, Littlefield’s two saves were all they needed to pounce on him, since they were before the draft.

He blew his next save opportunity, on April 12. Of course, he was gunning for the 3-inning save. That’s how they rolled then.

The next game, the Reds touched him for three runs. And by this time, Big Frank liked Gary Lucas, a lot, though Littlefield was still in the mix. He then lost two straight games at the end of April. At the end of April, he was 0-2, 2 saves, 1 blown save.

On May 22, he recorded a hold. On May 23, he blew another save. On September 12 he recorded another hold. On September 13, he blew another save. At the end of the season, he recorded two additional holds, and they were in both ends of a doubleheader. But remember, no one knew holds existed them. So big whoop-de in rotiss leagues.

Those two saves? The only saves he recorded.

Thus, the Littlefield Effect.

Basically, don’t get your panties in a wad about an extremely small sample size. As in, two games.

The poor schmuck who bid on Littlefield (for $34 dollars, BTW) had to keep him the entire year.

Ack! It’s enough to curdle yer Yoo-Hoo!

Lenn Sakata – 1981 Fleer

December 21, 2010

Outfield?

Ah, the 1981 Fleer trainwreck rolls on. Sakata an outfielder?

There are many things I know about Sakata. Which tells me that I need either a life or a purge button:

1. He wore braces when he was in Milwaukee. I remember a little blurb in either Street & Smith’s or the Sporting News. He didn’t have his card with them on, unlike Drew Hall.

2. He was Hawaiian, which was kind of an oddity back in the 70′s and 80′s. Mike Lum was Hawaiian. Now Charlie Hough was born in Hawaii as was Milt Wilcox, but they weren’t Hawaiian. I mean, does Hough look like someone who wore flowered shirts?

3. He was the poster child for Earl Weaver’s weakness. Weaver used to take a shine to one or two  players that weren’t that great and he kept them around for a while. Tom Shopay, Tony Muser, Larry Harlow and Kiko Garcia also come to mind.

4. He was most famous for a game on August 24, 1983. The Orioles were playing host to the Blue Jays, and even though Joe Altobelli  was the manager he was definitely in Weaver mode. Baltimore was behind 2-1 going into the late innings and Altobelli had Jim Dwyer hit for Todd Cruz (someone else on the Weaver weakness list, for sure). Joe Nolan pinch hit for Rick Dempsey in the 7th as well.

The chain reaction to those moves were that Sakata went to play second, Rich Dauer moved to third (not really that unusual) and Nolan went  into catch. The Blue Jays got another run in the 8th so it was 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth.

Baltimore had six bench players to start the game: Shelby, Dwyer, Sakata, Nolan, Roenicke, Ayala. Shelby ran for Ken Singleton earlier as DH. Dwyer was already used (see above) and Sakata and Nolan were in the game. Down two in the ninth, though, you may as well go for it.

With one out, Shelby beats out a bunt against Jim Clancy. Altobelli pulls Dauer for Roenicke, who whiffs. Sakata was the last hope for Baltimore, and he drew a walk.

With two on and two out, and Nolan at the plate Bobby Cox makes a move to the pen and puts in Dave Geisel, his situational lefty. Nolan wasn’t helpless against lefties but he wasn’t great (actually he had a good 1983 against lefties, but it wasn’t the ‘percentage’ move). Benny Ayala is in the league only because he hits lefties. So Ayala pinch hits.

A great move, as Ayala singles home Shelby. Geisel stays in to face Al Bumbry, another lefty. Bumbry wasn’t normally platooned, but Altobelli doesn’t have any bench players anyway. Bumbry smacks a single, scoring Sakata to tie the game. Geisel out, Joey McLaughlin in, and he whiffs Disco Dan Ford to end the threat.

Now what. Altobelli doesn’t have a catcher, nor does he have a third baseman. He replaced them with two corner outfielders more noted for hitting than defense. But, it’s defensible because you can’t save anyone for extra innings if you don’t get there, right?

So Sakata moves behind the plate. He’s been a middle infielder only in the minors and majors. But, who else is there? Roenicke and Ayala aren’t flexible enough for sure. Ayala is a boat anchored iron glove, but Altobelli doesn’t want to pull the DH and put Shelby in the OF, so Ayala goes to left. John Lowenstein came up as a second baseman and shortstop, so he moves from left to second base replacing Sakata. And Roenicke, by default goes to third.

The defense for the Orioles features a player who had never played catcher before behind the plate (Sakata), a player at second who last played the position on May 27, 1975 (Lowenstein), a player at third who played third base in the minors, but not since 1977 (Roenicke) and a lumbering mound in left (Ayala).

Tim Stoddard is on the hill, but things don’t go well, but it’s not the defense’s fault. Cliff Johnson slams a home run and then Barry Bonnell singles up the middle.

Tippy Martinez, the ace reliever of the Orioles, comes in to pitch. Martinez was having his best season (and last stellar season) in 1983. He made the All-Star team and got MVP consideration.

Sakata is nervous. Who the heck wouldn’t be when you’ve never caught, the game is on the line and the Jays have a runner with some speed on first in Bonnell, you know they’re running.

Bam! Tippy catches Bonnell leaning and throws to second, nailing him. One out.But Tippy walks Dave Collins, who WILL run.

Tippy does hold down the running game – but usually pitches to Rick Dempsey or someone that can catch and throw. Sakata ain’t that guy. But BAM! Tippy picks off Dave Collins at first.

Two out, but Willie Upshaw coaxes a walk from Martinez. Upshaw had already stolen a base in the game, and with Buck Martinez up there’s no harm in trying another one.

Well, there is when BAM! he’s picked off. Martinez picks off THREE Jays in the inning.

Sakata no doubt ordered Tippy’s libations for the rest of the season.

But wait…there’s more! Down by a run in the bottom of the 10th, Cal Ripken plants a Joey McLaughlin pitch into the seats, tying the game. Sakata may have to catch another inning! Eddie Murray walks, and Lowenstein hits a grounder to first that advances Murray to second. Normally, they’d pinch run for Murray but there’s no one to pinch run or play first if you wanted to pinch run a pitcher.

Shelby is intentionally walked, and Randy Moffitt replaces McLaughlin. The brother of Billie Jean King whiffs Roenicke for the second out, and with two on and two out Sakata strides to the plate. A single may win the game if hit to center or right.

CRACK! Sakata blasts a three run homer into the Baltimore night sky, winning the game and sparing him another inning behind the plate!

That was Sakata’s second home run of the season. He’d only hit 25 in his career.

But outfield Fleer? Lenn played one game in the outfield. In 1984! Yeesh!

Man, when I do these posts, I feel like this d-bag:

Annoying isn’t he?

But not as annoying as this guy.

It’s been almost 20 years and I STILL want to punch him HARD! And I’m a pacifist. I think the Dalai Lama himself would authorize a kneecapping.

To take your mind off of that:

Special thanks to the Night Owl for another package. Woot! Trades in the works with Bo (it’s a clear the decks trade – mainly for him but I’m hitting some of his want lists big time as well), Plaschke’s Argyle Sweater, and some other minor transactions that will be shipped by January 15 or so.  And I’m initiating a trade with Lifetime Topps for…mostly Upper Deck going to him. Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think.

No, it’s not an excuse to add Alanis to my blog. I’m in a mellow mood, despite my threats to dismember an actor from a Subaru commercial, so I’m leaving you with this man…dig it. I listened to it today washing dishes.

 

Just How Hard Was It To Create A Card Set, Anyway??

I know it could be tough before computerized databases. I know there are a lot of players and photos around. I know that when you make a mistake you are loath to admit it, but at least sometimes you try to correct things. But two cards in a set for the same dude, and it’s not an Upper Deck 391,567 card series?

When I was opening my packs of 1981 Fleer that I got from my favorite dealer in the Twin Cities, I noted in my head “Hey, Bill Travers” because in my first foray of serious collecting, he was about the only Brewer worth keeping. Then, his arm fell off thanks to Alex Grammas just keeping him in there. That Brewers team actually HAD a decent bullpen, so there was no reason for Travers to log so many innings.

He hung in there, though and had a great 1979 and a decent 1980. Then he signed a free agent contract with the Angels and his arm woes returned, so his career was cut short. He later became a professional candle pin bowler. Now, that’s esoteric information!

So I knew Travers and was glad to get a card in my packs. Then I opened another on another day and I said, “Hey, Bill Travers”. And then I collated, and noticed something…

Being ‘out of the game’ I didn’t know about all of the flippin’ errors running amok on many sets. I soon learned, but I never suspected this. TWO cards for the same dude in the same card set, without it being issued in series or anything.

But having two photos is interesting. Travers looks like he just got a haircut in the second photo, taken at Fenway, obviously. The first photo looks like he needed a haircut, hippie. In the first photo, his right hand is bandaged. He did miss some time early in the season and is wearing long sleeves. So his hippie phase was early in the season when he was on the DL, and Buck Rogers was just an interim for George Bamberger (who let his players live and let live, thus hippie hair was OK).

Later, Rogers replaced Bamberger on a full-time basis, and Buck was a bit more…anal. So I guess Travers was told to lose the hair.

At any rate…my box of Fleers were shipped out late, when the error on the short-haired card was noticed and corrected.

You see, that card was SUPPOSED to be Jerry Augustine.

I guess all 27-year old Brewers lefties look alike.

Early pressings had that photo of Travers with “Jerry Augustine” emblazoned on them. Errors like that happen all of the time, and it takes guts for a card company to admit that mistake and correct it. (To this day, I’m surprised that Dave Collins doesn’t have curly hair and glasses, since the first card I saw was Collins’ 1977 card where it was actually a photo of Bobby Jones and not Collins.)

But here’s the question.

I am sure you had Augustine’s stats. You couldn’t find a photo of Jerry Augustine? He’d only been a slop-balling lefty in the league since 1975.

My nickel says it’s worse to have two cards of the same dude in the set than to mis-identify one. Two cards in the set means, “we really don’t know what we’re doing here, people.”

Wait, this is 1981 Fleer…

Carry on…

(Editor’s Note: I only scan cards I have doubles of, but I only have one of the short-haired Travers. My 1981 Fleers are somewhere in the closet here in the office, but I need to write on their boxes with Sharpies instead of weenie ballpoints. So I snagged a photo of the card from the ‘net. I do have that card, honest!)

Mike Armstrong – 1981 Fleer

December 10, 2010

Another Entrant In The Milton Waddams Look-Alike Contest

This gives me another excuse to post something from Office Space:

And I found his ID card:

Don’t take his stapler, please!!!

“You Know, I Like It Here. Perhaps They’ll Trade For Me Next Season”

And…they did!

This shot was taken in Toronto, I believe. What other stadium had a covered left field bleachers but a third baseline with no roof?

This could have been either in June or August 1981 – Rance at that time was a seldom used backup for the Royals. He stayed in the bigs for Kansas City all of 1980 and 1981 but only played 50 games with 108 plate appearances those two years.

KC was pretty set with White, Washington (toothpick and all) and Brett around the infield, leaving Rance fighting with Dave Chalk for playing time at the utility spot.

Which is ironic as Chalk and Mulliniks fought for time earlier in California.

In 1977, the Angels went on a spending spree during the first big free agent rush. They signed Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor to add to their base of Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana, Jerry Remy, Chalk, Ron Jackson and Bobby Bonds. This would be the year!

Notice they had both Remy AND Grich. Well, Grich, a gold glover at second, moved to shortstop. He wasn’t horrid, but he was out of position. And he got hurt. Chalk was entrenched at third, and the other young shortstops all fizzed out. So up came Rance from AAA to fill in for the rest of the year.

And he didn’t do poorly, especially for a 21-year old rookie.

Well, in 1978, Remy was traded to Boston. Grich moved back to second. Rance was anointed the shortstop and Chalk was still at third.

On May 3, 1978, Rance was hitting just .143. The call was made to the minors, and Carney Lansford came up to play third. Chalk moved to short. Mulliniks moved to the bench, and then back to the minors, where he started to hit again. He was called up in September, but did not get a plate appearance as Jim Anderson was now the backup at short.

Mulliniks won the job again in 1979 out of Spring Training. But after an April which saw him hitting even worse, he was sent back to AAA and Anderson and creaky old Bert Campaneris shared the shortstop duties. Chalk was dispatched to Texas to get Bert after Rance was sent down.

That was the end of Rance’s time with the Angels, even though he hit .343 in Salt Lake City. California was determined to get a pennant for Gene Autry, and youngsters were seen as impediments. Mulliniks and Willie Mays Aikens, both under 25, were sent to Kansas City for proven vet Al Cowens.

Rance didn’t get sent down, but he didn’t get much playing time and never appeared in the post-season for Kansas City. He put up outstanding numbers in the minors, for a shortstop, and the bonus was that he was a lefty hitting shortstop. But there were concerns about his defense at short, and with Onix Concepcion ready for the big-time (allegedly) Rance was dispatched to Toronto for the infamous Phil Huffman.

Bobby Cox was installed as manager in Toronto, and he had nothing to lose. The 1981 Blue Jays were awful (especially in the first half of that split season) but improving and Cox just found the guys with talent and let ‘em play. Aside from veteran catchers, most all of the regulars were under 30 and five under 25.

Cox also found his calling as the platooners platooner. Garth Iorg was another multi-purpose infielder who batted righty. Cox decided that Mulliniks and Iorg could share third base. Thus, Mulliniorg was born!

From 1982-87, that duo platooned more often than not, and helped Toronto to emerge as a team to be reckoned with in the AL East. And when Iorg stopped hitting, Mulliniks kept on as the platoon DH, sharing time with Cecil Fielder. Now, those are two opposite body types playing the same position, for sure!

He was beloved in Toronto, and is now a broadcaster for the team along with such Blue Jays luminaries as Alan Ashby, Pat Tabler and Buck Martinez. Not a bad career for someone the Angels thought was washed up at 24, the Royals traded him to get playing time for Onix Concepcion, and the Blue Jays received for a pitcher that went 6-18, 5.77 in 1979, and was 5-9, 5.50 in Syracuse in 1981.

You just can’t tell, can you?

Young & Hungry

I’m in the midst of my conference season – at another one today in Baltimore. Tomorrow I have an RFP to respond to and a report to get drafted – and then a conference call and a presentation. That’s all before the schmoozing, the flight, the panel discussion, the schmoozing and then another flight before Halloween festivities.

I do not remember Sutcliffe this thin, nor do I remember him without a beard.

And for all of the hype about “The Red Baron”  – his ERA plus was only 98, and to be honest, his Cy Young season of 1984 was due more to Harry! Caray! than anything else.

Now, he’s a beloved figure – an icon for the Cubs and a decent analyst.

However, in 1980, when this photo was taken, he was young and hungry.

Yes, he was ROY in 1979, but as Mike Marshall said in his Master’s Thesis: “Baseball Is An Ass”

In 1980, he was 3-9 with a 5.56 ERA. His WAR was a -2.3.

Heinous.

Awful.

Egregious.

Other words you can find in Roget’s Thesaurus.

Here’s the question:

The Dodgers lost the pennant by a skosh in 1980. Sutcliffe won the ROY award in 1979. Sutcliffe started 10 games. He pitched one shutout, but even with that shutout he had a 7.94 ERA in 10 starts.

If Sutcliffe wasn’t the 1979 ROY, would the Dodgers have won the 1980 pennant?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch Monday! Night! Football! and have some Appetizers! and Beverages!

Tim Foli – 1981 Fleer

October 21, 2010

“And Dat’s De Name Of Dat Tune”

Never liked him.

Never.

Not even as a kid, before I was tainted educated by Bill James. He didn’t take walks, didn’t hit for power, didn’t run. He had a temper, and undermined Karl Kuehl out of Montreal.

But man, look at this photo.

It was the same kind of cool as Robert Blake.

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