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!

 

Case Of The Blahs…

That’s what I’ve had. I’ve been overwhelmed by work and the NCAA tourney and some personal stuff and well, you know.

I did crack open a few things of Heritage and like it even though my retinas are burned by the back of the card.

So why not showcase my blah with Steve Braun in a blah card? I always liked Braun because of his on-base skills, but his skill set doesn’t fit the positions he was asked to play the most (third and corner outfield). And defensively, as a third baseman he was a decent left fielder. (Yes, you read that right).

Even though he was seemingly a Gene Mauch type of player, the Twins left him exposed in the expansion draft after the 1976 season and he wasn’t taken until the 38th pick, after the M’s selected notables like Dan Meyer, Frank MacCormack, Carlos Lopez and Juan Bernhardt. He flopped in Seattle (a .315 SLG as a LF was a bit too much to ask for even an expansion team) and re-invented himself as a pinch-hitter deluxe with Kansas City and St. Louis.

But yeah, bleah.

I need to get fired up before the bleah-ness subsumes my soul and I start posting non-ironically about guys like Tommy McMillan.

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.

The Epitome Of Cool

George Hendrick was the coolest, baddest dude on the mid-70’s Indians.

No, he didn’t have a name like Charlie Spikes, or a nickname like “Sugar Bear” Blanks. No, he didn’t have Oscar Gamble’s afro.

But he was the man.

As you know, the mid-70’s Indians unis were, well, um….

“Blood Clot!”

I didn’t mind the font, especially on the hat, but the bright red (magenta? fuschia? whatever…) uniforms were just not good at all. The sight of Frank Robinson and Boog Powell cavorting in them were also sad reminders of how unfortunate sartorial choices can make the most distinguished men look like clowns, and the stoutest of men look like marshmallow men.

Hendrick, while he may have donned the uniforms, never had a card that featured him in one.

His ‘blood clot’ era cards featured him in a jacket, covering up the mess underneath.

But that’s not why he’s the coolest. I mean, Don Hood is in a jacket in his 1977 card.

It’s not the well-sculpted fu manchu either, though it’s pretty rad.

It’s the combo of everything, with the kicker of wearing a visor instead of a hat.

In this card, he’s wearing a visor as you can see. He’s saying,¬† “I’m not going to pose unless I do it my way. With my jacket and my visor.”

He’s bad…

 

Intimidation, They Name Is James Rodney Richard…

I would not want to see that in the batters box.

Most everyone knows the sad take of J. R. Before the era of 24-hour info cycle, the news of Richard’s plight did spread quickly. If I recall, a lot of the media members took the Astros side that Richard was malingering. That, of course was ghastly wrong, and Richard’s life was forever altered.

But before that fateful day, Richard was the most intimidating pitcher in baseball. I contend that he was even more intimidating than Nolan Ryan. Richard had the wildness, the heat, and he had the added factor of being 6’8 and looked like he could be playing linebacker for the Houston Oilers.

Just look at this card. Did you want to stand in there and have him throw 99+ MPH ‘near’ you. He didn’t hit many batters, but he was wild enough to keep batters honest and not comfortable.

I know it’s easy to speculate “What if” a dozen different ways with Richard, but sometimes I like to remember ‘What was”. And what it was, for any of us lucky to see him pitch, was incredible.

 

I Had Glasses Like That…

It didn’t help my fastball one whit though.

Nor was I ever plucky, gritty, crafty, or even a proven veteran.

 

He Was A Rated Rookie? Really?

I received this card today from Hilfew, who while I argue about advanced metrics with him I dig that he’s a Rockies collector (and baseball fan, naturally) so I have a home for any of my Rockies bling. He also took care of one of my set needs and whacked a few others down to size. Good job, internet trade!

I was surprised when I saw that Fraser was a ‘Rated Rookie’. Fraser was one of those guys that my AL Rotiss League never drafted, and we had 12 teams in the league! He was a roster filler, and the Angels had no shortage of pitchers like that in the 80’s.

He had a very fast rise in the Angels farm system, either by design or desperation. A first round pick in 1985 (out of Concordia College – Bronxville (Yo!)), he spent 1985 being cuffed around in the Midwest League (maybe it was culture shock to go from New York City to the Quad Cities), but had a decent 1986 in AA and AAA before matriculating to the bigs for one forgettable start during the Angels’ pennant year of 1986 (six hits and four runs in 4 1/3 against Cleveland in September).

The Angels fell apart in 1987, though it wasn’t Fraser’s issue. He was 10-10 as a swingman with an ERA+ of 111 and a 1.9 WAR. Pretty good numbers for a rookie. But 1988 was a disaster (12-13, 5.41, 71 ERA+, -1.8 WAR) and after that he was relegated to the back-40 of the bullpen. His 1989 and 1990 were decent, but he never instilled confidence for the Angels to use him when they had a lead (only 20 of his 89 appearances where when California was ahead). He then was part of the bounty the Blue Jays received when they stole Devon White in exchange for Junior Felix and Luis Sojo.

From there, he went here, there, everywhere, and hung ’em up after spending most of 1995 in lovely Ottawa, Ontario.

Seeing ‘Rated Rookie” on Frasier’s card (and seeing him called Will, not Willie) was just a shock. I just remember him as a vagabond and an afterthought, but for a brief time he was a prospect.

You have to remember that it’s baseball, though, except for the few fame is fleeting. But we have the cards – yes we have the cards.

“Hey Vinnie….”

“We gotta get a lot of White Out. This guy changed his name…”

“No, really, he did! To Giancarlo.”

“WTF do I know? Just get Staples on the phone for about 1,000 cases of White Out…stat!”

We Spawned A Monster…

And I’m not talking about Jesse Jefferson’s visage, or countenance, or that wonderful airbrushing (I’m sure the Topps artists were beside themselves when the Blue Jays logo was revealed). (Jesse does look like the son of a Hapsburg in the photo (and that’s not a compliment).)

I’m talking about us!

I realized it again when I went through the Rubbermaid containers that contain my binders of cards so I could mark what sets are in which container. That way, when I put them in storage in the garage when the girlfriend arrives down here I know which sets are which.

But it struck me as I went through them how many sets I’m chasing (well, not so much chasing now as in please peeps send me the cards) and I forgot how many sets I started thanks to those re-packs at Target. It’s no wonder that baseball wanted to get a handle on it because even after a lot of companies came and went Upper Deck was really diluting things with all the sub-sets that seemingly showcased the same players in different poses.

Just too much when you added that in with what Topps was doing, IMHO. Of course, us adult-type collectors clamored for it back in the day.

Now, people are grousing that there’s no competition to Topps, and well, they may be right, but there’s still a lot of product out there. And because of my financial shape, I’m only doing the base set, update, Heritage and either Gypsy Queen or A&G (or maybe neither one) as of now.

And I’m thinking of turning my Bowman, Opening Day, and a lot of those small subset type sets back to the marketplace, though I’m not a huge fan of eBaying it. I may rely on you all, but that’s an aside.

Really, though, I think we’re mostly responsible. We, as adults who are pursuing our hobby. We wanted more premiums, more shiny, more autos, more relics, more, more more and when something wasn’t right we turned internet-tough guy and wrote expletive filled blog posts to show our displeasure.

We lost our way a bit in this hobby and it hit home collating those binders and reading some of the screeds this past year about the damn squirrel and the ‘game changing’ hype. (It’s hype, and it doesn’t concern me, and it’s nothing to get all angsty about. It’s marketing. Whoop-de.)

I think we forgot something. I went back to this hobby because it reminded me of happier times as a child in a tough time personally. Jesse Jefferson was part of those happier times, warts and airbrush and inflated ERA and all. The junk wax era isn’t junk to me because it’s another happier time for me as a person and baseball fan, right out of college and into four rotiss leagues.

Yes, I think we lost the real reason this hobby grew.

It’s to make us happy. Not make money. Not race to collect bling. But to be the kids collecting mementos about your favorite player, team or sport. I really don’t have much to complain about with most all that I trade with because they’re seemingly doing it for the right reason and not trying to make a fast buck or two. You all aren’t pawing through the cards at Target, or setting the prices so they’re out of reach of the kids and fans. You collect teams and players and sets and if you like shinys or parallels or things you collect them because you LIKE them, not for profit.

It just hit me today. The industry ate itself because it lost sight of the 12-year olds. Including the 12-year olds in 46-year old bodies.

I feel good when I see this Jesse Jefferson card, and I don’t care that it doesn’t have three parallels and a purple refactor.

Of course, I think Paul Richards cared about Jesse’s ERA, which is why Jesse is airbrushed into that wonderful hat.

Jackson Todd – 1978 Topps

February 27, 2012

 

Geez, Topps!

This isn’t the SAT!

It’s not last name first on baseball cards.