John Montague – 1978 Topps

March 21, 2012

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!

 

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