Oscar Zamora – 1978 Topps

January 4, 2011


At least it is to me.

I don’t think the scan does it justice. When you look at it in person, his left eye looks like it’s swollen shut, and the Astros air-brushing is just pitiful.

Zamora was a Cuban emigre who was signed back in 1965 by Cleveland. I don’t think he was draft eligible – in fact he may have been one of the last players to make the majors that wasn’t subjected to the draft. I only conjecture this because he was 20 when he was signed and started in the minors.

For Cleveland, Zamora seemed to be a minor-league roster filler. Though he had great numbers he was bounced up and down between A and AAA. In 1969, Houston signed him and he had a phenomenal year at Cocoa in the FSL – 13-4, 1.15 as a reliever.

He followed that up with a great year in AA in 1970 and then 3 1/2 solid seasons for the Astros in AAA.

Finally, in June of 1974, he got his break when the Cubs purchased his contract. At age 29, he pitched the rest of the season in Chicago and did pretty well, but he was overused big time. From June 18 to the end of the season he appeared in 56 games for the Cubs, throwing 83 2/3 innings. He had a bad stretch in August, so his 3-9 record looks unsightly, but he had 10 saves and seven holds with just three blown saves.

But that was all in 3 1/2 months. Add that to the 11 starts (13 total appearances ) in the minors, and he pitched in more games and innings than he ever did, AND to top it off pitched deeper into the year since the minors ended in early September as they do now.

In 1975, he lost something. His promising start turned to dust. In 71 innings of relief he gave up 84 hits and 17 home runs while striking out just 28 batters. He also allowed 42% of his inherited runners to score. And it fell apart quickly for Oscar.

On June 1, he was 3-0 with 6 saves and a 2.25 ERA. He had a rough outing on the 4th, got hit a bit on the 8th but on the 9th pitched well.

Then came June 13 against the Reds at Wrigley. He entered the game with a 2.84 ERA and exited with a 3.63.

Two weeks later, he came in the 7th against Montreal at Parc Jarry and his ERA raised another point to 4.47. Funny how 5 runs in 2/3 of an inning will do that.

He pitched OK in July, but was shut down on August 1 for 21 days. It didn’t help, because he gave up hits and dingers the rest of the season. What started out great ended with a 5.07 ERA.

1976 was even worse. He’d pitch OK and then get absolutely snockered for crooked numbers. He spent some time in AAA and it didn’t help. He was shut down after getting creamed in a very rare start and ended with a 5.24 ERA, giving up 70 hits in 55 innings.

He was sent down in 1977 and was the closer in Wichita. But what was telling is that while the Cubs season swirled down the drain after Bruce Sutter was hurt, the Cubs never called for their erstwhile closer. Instead, they kept running out Paul Reuschel, Willie Hernandez, Donnie Moore, Pete Broberg, and Dave Giusti to try to fill in the gaps.

So that leads us to this card. The Astros signed him as a minor league free agent and even though he missed a season, Topps gave him a card. In two stints for Houston in 1978, he didn’t pitch well at all and was quietly released from their AAA club. The next year, the infamous Inter-American League started and Zamora pitched for the Miami franchise. Then, he pitched a bit for the independent Miami Marlins in 1982. In a bit of trivia that I just found out, that Miami team featured a brief appearance by a recent Oakland draftee on loan before he shipped up to Idaho Falls, a 17-year old third baseman named…

Jose Canseco.

I feel bad for Oscar, because he fought like hell to get to the bigs, and then after starting so well it all went down in flames. Cubs fans were pretty merciless, and he was subjected to this card as well.

But it probably beat the hell out of living in Cuba in the 60’s and 70’s. I think I’d take abuse from the drunken denizens of Wrigley over living under the Castro regime at that time. Even with the free health care…


2 Responses to “Oscar Zamora – 1978 Topps”

  1. I’m still trying to figure out why…maybe it was this card, maybe it was that he has kind of a funny name, but I went through an Oscar Zamora phase in 1988. I still have a bunch of his ’75 Topps card.

  2. night owl Says:

    It really is a bad card. It almost ruins the whole 1978 set for me — that’s how bad it is.

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