Benny Distefano – 1990 Fleer

September 19, 2010

“Distefano”

Distefano

Why don’t you come to your senses?

You’ve been out riding buses

For so long now

Benny was a baseball lifer as a player. He tried everything to stay in the majors. He played a year in Japan. He played in Hawaii for three years (darn…) and one year in Vancouver (double darn…Vancouver’s a great town.)

The most unique thing about Benny was that in 1989 he caught in three games for the Pirates. You’re going: So what?

Benny threw lefthanded. He’s the last lefty to play catcher (which is only an issue when trying to throw to third if a righty is in the box). Before Benny, Mike Squires caught in two games for the 1980 White Sox. (Squires also played 14 games at third.)

Of course, Jim Leyland had some issues behind the dish that year. Spanky LaValliere was out for 2 1/2 months and the Bucs were forced to play Junior Ortiz every day with Dann Bilardello and Tom “The Not So Fresh” Prince as backups.

So here’s to you, Benny “I’ll Catch Even Though I’m Lefthanded” Distefano.

Steve Rogers – 1981 Fleer

September 18, 2010

You too can have the exciting life of a starting pitcher!!!

I’d love to have the backstory behind this picture.

There’s the scowl, the lean, the look. Was he bored? Upset? Was it in pre-game?

Steve Rogers assumed the mantle of Expos ace in the mid and late 70’s. Of course, that meant logging a ton of innings in front of not-so-good teams, and it showed (15-22 in 1974, 7-17 in 1976). If he was on a good team early on, and his managers didn’t have to rely on him so much, he could have had a few more years, had a better record, and made it to Cooperstown. He had that talent.

But that’s not the way it went down. Parc Jarry was a hitter’s park and the defense behind him was less than stellar. With better run and defense support, he would have definitely had better stats.

Maybe that’s why he’s scowling, or leaning, or bored, or something?

WTF is up with the straight hat brim?

I don’t get it.

I never will get it.

It would bug me to no end if I wore my hat like that.

I used to spend countless minutes trying to get my hat to have the proper ‘curve’, and now, Cordero (and about 9/10ths of the young Orioles hurlers) want a perfectly straight brim.

Kids today with their MRIs and straight brims and iPods.

Wait, I like iPods.

But still – my lawn – you know – vacate yourself pronto. Dig?

(Yes, I know Cordero has been around a while – don’t step on the material, son…)

“Something’s Missing”

Well, I was missing yesterday. I was getting ready for my seven day trip, which is in progress now. Mostly business; some pleasure; all good!

It used to be, back in the day when I first collected as a child, that baseball cards projected the image of a player as a hero, or at least a baseball player. They were hitting, pitching, fielding, and throwing and succeeding! Yes, there may have been a random one or two where there may have been ‘issues (such as Bob Stinson arguing with the ump in 1974) but mostly it was positive.

Then, with the explosion of baseball cards in the 1980’s and 1990’s companies had to be different. Upper Deck seemed to be the leader of the ‘quirky’ card brigade, and it continued through the card recession post-strike and the consolidation of card companies. Now, even with Topps having a exclusive agreement, they can still have some fun (witness the Prince Fielder card this year), so at least the cards are no longer the ‘you’re a pitcher, you just struck out Willie Montanez, give me that look…’ posings off to the side.

So it’s refreshing to see this.

And it’s apt. Cruz hit .223 with an OPS+ of 64 in 2006. So a broken bat is a perfect representation for his major league season.

Of course, he growed up to become an All-Star (FWIW, as I wrote earlier), but not every year was sunshine and roses for every player.

PS – On Amazon you can get a Marco Scutaro 2007 Upper Deck card (‘in mint condition in a protective case’) for $3.95. $3.95! I can find that in my 30 for a $1.00 bin (that I’ve decimated) in one of my local card shops. YEESH!

Greg Gagne – 1991 Score

September 14, 2010

“Jesus is a friend of mine”

Greg Gagne was recently inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. He was a decent, steady shortstop that made all of the routine plays and had a little pop, especially for 1980’s shortstops not named Ripken.

He was rather the forgotten man of the championship Twins, and he felt a bit frustrated at times. He also kept a distance from some of the knuckleheads like Hrbek and Gaetti (well, until Gaetti met Tommy Herr…more on that some day). He was a fan of Christian rock music, though, and because I got nothin’ else I’ll post this little ode that’s been around the ‘net a few times.

You can tell the guitarist really just wants to cut loose with a big ol’ solo.

Steve Searcy – 1989 Score

September 13, 2010

“All of my rookie cards & $4.75 will get me a Caramel Frappuccino”

I started collecting again this year, and I’ve already completed the two sets (well, as complete as I want them, 2010 Topps base and 1988 Topps) and one the way to more. Since the junk wax era collides nicely with the zenith of my baseball interest I often migrate to cards of this era.

Well, that and they’re pretty cheap…

I have received multiple cards of many gentlemen (I think I had 9 of the 1987 Topps Duane Ward) but Steve Searcy kept coming to me in various brands. Most all of them said “Future Star”, “Rated Rookie, “Kick Ass Ninja Warrior” (well…maybe not).

Anyway, baseball card companies were high on Mr. Searcy.

And why not? In 1986 he had a good year in AA Glens Falls. In 1988 he went 13-7 for Toledo. He probably was on track to hit the big club in 1988 had he not gotten the Wilbur Wood treatment in 1987 (i.e. fractured kneecap). Actually, had Searcy not had that injury, it could have been him and not John Smoltz that went to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander.

Wrap your head around that for a minute – how many things would have changed in baseball if it was Searcy for Alexander, and not Smoltz. Yikes – maybe the Cubs would have won the World Series? Maybe the Yankees and Pirates would have changed courses? Right would be left. Lenny Dykstra would be financially solvent. Chip Caray wouldn’t have said ‘fisted’ after every ball hit in the 2009 post-season.

That was a great season in 1988. More K’s than IP, 131 hits in 170 innings. He did walk 4.2 per 9, but still, with a bit more control, the sky was the limit.

Of course, the 1989 season was a disaster for the Tigers, in more ways than one. And it wasn’t too good for Steve.  That was the year Torey Lovullo was going to break through! Instead, that was the year Mike Brumley got 230 at bats with OBP and SLG under .300. And while the narrative is non-existent around the internet, Searcy went all the way down to Class A during the year.

He was rotten at Toledo (2-3, 7.54) and made some start to get his stuff together in Lakeland. He did come up to the bigs in 1989 for the stretch run, but the bloom was off the rose (1-1, 6.04 in 22 1/3 innings).

He did get called up to Detroit in mid-season 1990 and made the team out of spring training in 1991. It wasn’t pretty, and he was DFA’d by Detroit. The Phillies signed him three days later and he closed out the year with them. Overall, he was 3-3 with a 6.59, and went from ‘hot prospect’ to ‘pitching for his life’ in two seasons. He made the Phils out of spring training in 1992, but was hit hard a couple of times, then traded to LA for Stan Javier. He finished his career the next year in Rochester after the Dodgers dumped him, and after being released by the Red Wings he went fishing.

(I am assuming someone from Knoxville, TN likes to fish. I could be wrong…)

This is a typical failed prospect story, right?

Well, except that his confidence was probably shot all to hell in 1988 by Sparky and the Tigers.

That season, the Tigers surged ahead in June, and were leading a 5-team race coming down the stretch. On August 21, they swept the White Sox and were four games ahead.

But then, Le Tigre hit the road, and Kathleen Hanna flaked out (wait, wrong Le Tigre)…and they were swept by the Twins and lost two of three to the Brewers (who were also in the AL East Daisy Chain). On Sunday, August 28, Detroit lost 12-10 to Milwaukee, and there was more trouble. Jeff Robinson was having a great season (13-6, 2.98) but couldn’t answer the bell to start the next day. In fact, he was done for the year (and never the same).

Except for a few spot starts by Eric King and Paul Gibson, the Tigers had a pretty locked in rotation. But someone had to take the ball that Monday in Chicago  to keep the Tigers in the lead.

Sparky called for the kid down in Toledo, Searcy.

Searcy pitched well, though lost 3-2 thanks to homers by Carlton Fisk and Ken Williams. Still, he went 7 2/3 in his first start of 1988 and showed why he was a ‘rated rookie’ or whatever.

He got the ball again for the next start in Robinson’s turn. It was Saturday, Sept. 3, and the Tigers were still in the lead. But they were stumbling, having lost 9 of 11 since the surged ahead by four games.

It was Searcy at home against Tom Filer.

Top of the first –

Molitor single

Leonard home run.

Yount ground out.

Deer walk (three true outcomes again!)

Schroeder hits a grounder to short. Luis Salazar is filling in for Trammell and he boots it.

Joey Meyer singles, scoring Deer.

Sparky goes to the pen – Ted Power comes in and pitches the next seven. The Brewers win 7-3.

Searcy never pitches again in 1988.

Was he hurt? Did he lose confidence? Sparky was trying to win a pennant race, but he vanished from the Tigers that year as quickly as he arrived.

Now I send Searcy cards to my friend Tom, taunting him about “yet another wonderful Tigers pitching prospect.”

Maybe that’s why I don’t have more friends…


“Chicken One Year; Feathers The Next”

I remember that line spoken by Johnny Rutherford one year at the Indianapolis 500 Victory Banquet, on the occasion of finishing last in the race the year after he won it.

And that certainly is apropos for Navarro. He made the All-Star team (as illustrated in this card) on the back of a torrid start to the 2008 season. As late as June 10, he was hitting .342. At the break he was at .310 with a .785 OPS. He slipped down to .295 with a .757 OPS, but looked to be like a rising star.

He was a bit lucky, as he had a .318 BAbip. (Batting Average for balls in play), but still, Navarro seemed to be the infamous ‘backstop of the future’.

Except he wasn’t.

He didn’t just careen off of a cliff – he poured gasoline on himself and held a match. In 2009, he hit .218 with a .583 OPS, and that was a contributing factor in the Rays’ fizzle. He was ‘unlucky’ with a .231 BAbip, though.

This year, the Rays gave him another shot. No dice.

OBP and SLG under .300 – 41 OPS+. He played in 14 of the 17 games in April, and rewarded the Rays with a .136 AVG and one double. At the end of May, he was sharing time with Jaso. By mid-June, he was an afterthought behind Shoppach and Jaso. By July, he was in Durham. He did get called up in September, and started three games but still Jaso and Shoppach are the main catchers. Jaso DH’s some as well – he even leads off sometimes. Shoppach’s BA is fugly but he’s a good defender and has some pop and patience.

I would gather that Navarro’s a non-tender candidate.

But he’s not the only 2008 All-Star to be found wanting in 2010. While Kosoke Fukudome has his moments, the Cubs would be quite pleased if another team took his salary and you could have Alfonso Soriano as well. Milton Bradley is…well…Milton Bradley. There’s talk the Dodgers may want to non-tender Russell Martin. Nate McLouth has been a mess all season. Cristian Guzman is now an after-thought in Texas. Joe Crede’s back has precluded him from finding work.

And of course there’s Brad Hawpe – All-Star in 2009, DFA in 2010. You wonder why they give multi-year contracts to anyone!

Then there was the All-Star game starter for the NL on July 10, 1990. At the time of the start he was 11-3 with a 2.28 ERA.

He wound up 12-9 with a 3.42 ERA. His team made the Series, but the All-Star game starting pitcher didn’t make the playoff rotation and pitched just once, in long relief, in the post-season.

The next year, he went 7-13 with a 5.48. He was traded with Scott Scudder for Greg Swindell. After one year in the AL (6-15, 4.64), he was drafted by the Marlins in the expansion draft, with the 39th pick. After one season in Florida (9-17, 4.49) and a cameo in 1994 for Texas, he was done.

Now, records aren’t the best measure of a pitcher, but it’s telling. Before the All – Star game start he was 17-13 in his career and and as a 25-year old looked to have the world at his feet. Post All-Star start he was 23-52. Yick.

That pitcher, of course was Jack Armstrong. Not saying that Navarro will be a total flame out, but two years in a row isn’t a good sign. There were concerns last year about Geovany Soto for the Cubs and he’s rebounded nicely.

I guess the moral of the story is – All-Stars aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Sometimes, you don’t need to say anything to make a funny!

PS – It looks like he has a QB play chart on his wristband.

Rookie Pitchers – 1976 Topps

September 11, 2010

Just Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Ah, the old school rookie cards. Let’s dissect this one, shall we?

+++++

Steve Grilli earned his place here with 6 2/3 of fairly effective relief for the Tigers in 1975. Well, effective if you don’t count the six walks. But for a 57-102 team, that was effective. Grilli was 11-4 with 12 saves for Evansville in AAA in 1975. Control was an issue in the minors as well, and that’s what killed his career.

He did pitch two full years in the bigs for the Tigers, but was rather much the forgotten man in the pen, appearing in 66 games. He made it back to the majors in 1979, but is now more famous as the father of draft semi-bust Jason Grilli.

+++++

Craig Mitchell was the A’s #1 pick in the secondary phase of the June 1973 draft (it could take PhD. dissertation to explain the various and sundry regular and secondary January and June drafts in the old MLB format). Mitchell made one start for the A’s in 1975 (and was rocked), but with a loaded staff coming back he only made one appearance  in 1976.

Then everyone fled the A’s. But Mitchell stayed in AAA – not a good sign. At age 23  he spent that summer in San Jose, only gathering another cup of coffee. After three jolts of September java, he saw the bigs no more. A closer look at the ’77 A’s saw a decent staff (Blue, Langford and Medich were big league starters,  Bair, Coleman, Lacey, Torreabla and Guisti were a pretty darn good pen), but they had trouble at the back end of the rotation.

Mike Norris was recovering from an arm injury, Mike Torrez was traded early for Dock Ellis, who flamed out (I think Dock didn’t want to be in Oakland – he magically had a 2.90 ERA for Texas after a sale in June). Jim Umbarger bombed. Stan Bahnsen cursed Chuck Tanner for ruining his arm with the White Sox earlier. Paul Mitchell went from highly regarded to craptacular. There was room for Mitchell, but he stayed put. And stayed put in AAA in 1978 and 1979. That was it. Well, giving up 74 runs in 44 innings in Ogden will kill a career…even in the PCL!

+++++

Jose Sosa probably should have been given a regular card in 1976. He pitched 47 innings for the Astros, and while they weren’t high leverage situations he definitely was in the mix for 1976. And if I am not mistaken (I could be) with almost 2 1/2 months of service time and 47 innings he wasn’t a rookie in 1976. Plus, he was a cousin of the Alou brothers, and I am sure they could have made that a splash on the back of a regular Topps card.

He made the big club out of the gate in 1976, but got mashed by the Big Red Machine for five runs in one inning in his first game. He gave up just one more run in 6 1/3 innings, but was sent down in early May to Memphis. He either pouted or there was something wrong, because he got blasted in the IL that year. Back for three ho-hum appearances at the end of the year, he went back to the minors in 1977 and 1978 and hung ’em up.

+++++

George Throop happened upon the scene at the wrong time and place and hurt his arm to boot. While there is certainly room for good arms no matter what the circumstances, George hit the Royals right when they were gunning for pennants and they didn’t have time to nurse a prospect to health in the bigs.

After a great summer in Omaha in 1975 (despite the humidity, bugs and the fact that you’re spending your early 20’s in Nebraska) Throop got into seven September games for the big club. There was definite room for him (and maybe Bob McClure and Mark Littell) on the staff – the Royals traded Nelson Briles and Lindy McDaniel was done.

Littell made the team, but Steve Busby got hurt and the Royals scrambled for pitching, getting Tom Hall and Andy Hassler during the season. McClure made another cameo late in the year, but no Throop. He pitched only a few games in Omaha. He HAD to have been hurt.

He came back, pitching in the minors and making September cameos in 1977 and 1978. At least he got to jump on the pile when they clinched the division. He made the club out of the spring in 1979, got hit hard in four games, was traded for a PTBNL to the Astros (the Royals didn’t have time to mollycoddle a marginal reliever – they were going to be in a RACE, man…), was sent down to Charleston, got called up and whacked around, was sent down and called up again, and then pitched well in July and August until August 21. He gave up two runs in two innings to the Mets (a ground for a benching then – the Mets were AWFUL) and that was it.

And I mean, IT. He didn’t pitch at all in 1980 or beyond. I can’t find anything else about him except his father and grandfather founded and ran a quite successful concrete business in Pasadena.

What’s remarkable is that of the four pitchers listed here, three didn’t pitch in organized ball in 1980. Grilli lasted until 1981. By 1982, they were all gone – part of the endless parade of names and faces that baseball churns through. People complain about the churn of players through a team now – it’s the same as it ever was. The elite stay, the fringe come and go.

Blaine Beatty – 1990 Fleer

September 10, 2010

“That word, I don’t think it means what you think it means…”

Well, not a word, but a phrase.

Some unfinished biz – the back of the Halladay card is regular looking. Someone on the 4-color press went a wee too heavy on the black on the sheet I believe.

As for Mr. Beatty, he’s not quite a contender for the “too many cards in the junk wax era” post because he was a semi-legit prospect and did see some big league time in 1989. He had a great year in AA in 1988 and a decent year in AAA in 1989, but his lack of strikeouts in each level could have been a warning that he was more of a crafty-type left. He also didn’t pitch in 1990, no doubt due to injuries. (I can’t imagine another reason – one day we’ll have that DL data hopefully!)

What struck me was the back of this card. Fleer used to put all of the minor league stats on the back, unlike Topps which only used the minors if someone had just 3-4 lines of big league experience. (Not years, lines, since they gave a line for each team he pitched for if he was traded).

In some cases, that left a lot of blank space, and they needed a “Did You Know?” bubble in the back. In this bubble, it said he was voted the Texas League pitcher of the year, leading the league in W, CG, IP and shutouts. Quite impressive.

But the little blurb starts with this tidbit: “Allowed just one HR in six innings pitched.”

OK, he pitched six innings in 1989 for the Mets, giving up five hits, only one run, walking two and striking out three. That one tater was given up in his only start against the Pirates. Beatty pitched five innings, left with a 2-1 lead after giving up the homer in the 4th, but Randy Myers blew the save in the bottom of the ninth. The Mets did come back to win, though in the 11th off of Bill Landrum.

So all in all, it was a decent performance. And it was a major league lineup for the most part:

Bonds

Bell

Hatcher (Billy Hatcher batting 3rd?? Well, Leyland did platoon him with Andy Van Slyke, but still…Billy Hatcher in the 3 hole??)

Bonilla

Reynolds

King

Lind

Bilardello (not Don Bordello, sorry Ralph Kiner)

Neal Heaton was the pitcher for the Bucs. For a September 30 game, that was a pretty darn solid lineup!

But one home run in 6 innings – extend that to 180 innings.

That’s 30 home runs given up.

That would have led the Mets by far in the dubious HR ALLOWED stat in 1990. Sid Fernandez gave up 21, followed closely by David Cone with 20 and Ron Darling 19.

With 180 innings pitched, Beatty’s 30 extrapolated home runs would have trailed Tom Browning for the lead by just one tater. Brownings modus operandi was like Beatty’s – make ’em hit the ball and limit walks. You can be successful doing that, for sure. But Browning threw almost 250 innings. If Beatty hurled that many, at the 1 per 6 rate – that would have been 41 or 42 homers. Ouch! He would have been the original “Whiplash”, not Eric Milton.

Maybe Fleer should have thought twice about putting that factoid on the back of their car. They could have talked about his successful first start or his 1.50 ERA in the bigs. But to highlight the HR stat when someone who could do math would realize that it’s not the best stat in the world.

And the one home run he did give up? It was to Bilardello. Not Bonds, not Bonilla, nor King nor Reynolds nor even Billy Hatcher. Dann Bilardello. One of his 18 career home runs (with nine of those coming in his rookie year).

Well, that was the last home run stat for both Beatty and Bilardello in the bigs at least.