Wednesday, December 23, 2015

1971 San Francisco Giants (1st): 90-72, .556, 1Up - NL WEST CHAMPS

In a year known as "The Year of the Fox." manager Charlie Fox, led a team made up of aging stars and rising youngsters to a Western Division title with a 90-72 record. The Giants got off to a fast start, winning 18 of their first 23 games. The energy and raw talents of youngsters like outfielders Bobby Bonds, Gary Matthews and Garry Maddox and shortstop Chris Speier melded nicely with the experience and wisdom of veterans Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. Bonds smashed 33 home runs and 102 RBI. Meanwhile, pitching ace Marichal continued his domination over batters, notching 18 wins. In addition Willie Mays who was now 40-years old slugged four home runs in his first four games. His production didn't let up as he went on to set a National League career record for runs scored in June. Despite such steady play, the team began to wear down near the end of the season. They saw their nine game lead on September 4th dwindle to one game by the 25th. It wasn't until the final game of the season that the Giants clinched the Division title on Marichal's 5-1 gem over the San Diego Padres. The Giants salivated at the chance to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the best-of-five NLCS. They had beaten the Pirates 9-out-of-12-games and seemed likely candidates to win the pennant. The Giants jumped out of the gate full-steam ahead in the series opener, beating the Pirates, 5-4, in front of 40,977 fans at Candlestick Park. Willie McCovey and Tito Fuentes fueled the attack, ripping two run homers in the fifth inning. However, the Giants wouldn't lose the next three games, as the Pirates would advance to the World Series in four games.  (from  I would also add that the Giants finally "broke through" after so many 2nd place finishes since they won the '62 pennant.  This was a great "final run" for the "3M's" (Mays, McCovey and Marichal).  It was also the year that the Dodger-Giant rivalry reignited with both teams battling it out until the final day of the season.  The fact that LA clearly dominated the season series, especially in September (they won 6 of 6) wasn't lost on Giants fans, who were glad to raise the NL West flag as an "I told you so".  The 1971 NL West Pennant race contrasted two teams going in different directions.  The Giants, who held on to win, were heading into a dark decade for the franchise, while the Dodgers were on the ascent for the next 20+ years.

It took 18 cards to complete the full set

Not to be confused with future Yankee great with the same name, Williams played in a total of 102 major league games in parts of four seasons, batting .192 with four home runs and 15 RBI in 172 at bats. In addition to his appearances in the outfield he was often used as a pinch hitter. Unfortunately, he never came close to achieving the success which he had displayed in the minor leagues. Of his four home runs, two were pinch hits.  After his major league career, Williams found much more success in Japan playing for the Hankyu Braves. In six seasons for the Braves, from 1975 until 1980, Williams batted .258 with 96 home runs and 294 RBI. He was selected to the Pacific League All-Star team in 1976.  (from wikipedia)
Arnold hit .231 (3-13) for the '71 Giants in September after dominating AAA with a .343 average in Phoneix. Two of Arnold's four career home runs came against Hall of Famers. One came in his third major league at bat, against Phil Niekro on September 10, 1971. The other came against Steve Carlton on May 1, 1974. One of the other two was a pinch-hit grand slam with two out in the bottom of the 9th inning during a comeback victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 1, 1973.  Arnold finished his MLB career with a lifetime batting average of .237, 4 home runs, 51 RBI, and 47 runs scored in 273 ballgames. He later played three seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Japan, batting .274 with 43 home runs and 174 RBI.  (from wikipedia)
21 year old rookie Chris Speier stepped up from the minors in 1971 to play in all but 5 of the Giants games.  While his .235 average was a bit on the low side, his glove was superior to the middle infielders the Giants had in the past.  Simply put he found a home by the Bay.  The next three seasons would see him hit All-Star Status.  Midway through the '77 season he was sent to Montreal for Tim Foli.  For the next 8 years he would be the Expos regular shortstop.  By the mid 80's he moved around a bit, but in 1977 he returned to the Giants just in time for them to win 2 division titles in 3 years.  After the '89 season he retired at the age of 39, after 19 major league seasons.
The imposing 6'6" Kingman rocketed through the Giants minor league system in less than year to reach the big club.  After hitting 15 homers at AA-Amarillo (in 60 games) and 26 homers at AAA-Phoenix (in 105 games) the Jints promoted him to the biggs.  Less than two years before he was a pitcher at USC.  Only the Babe himself made the conversion from pitcher to slugger faster.  Well "Kong" never hit anything near 60 homers like the Babe, he eventually emerged into the biggest home run threat of his generation.  Unfortunately he was as big a threat to make an error in the field or to strikeout swinging.  In 1971, as a 22 year old rookie, he hit .278 with 6 homers and 24 RBI's (41 games) and really added some life to the fading Jints.  With the Giant franchise in disarray in the mid 70's he was traded to the Mets where he had back to back season with 36 and 37 homers.  1977 would prove to be an interesting season for him as he had the misfortune to play for and hit honmers for 4 different franchises (NYM/SPD/CAL/NYY).  In 16 years in the biggs he hit 442 long balls.
The 22 year old lefty hitting Rader batted .314 in AAA-Phoenix and was a late season call up batting just 4 times in 3 games without any success.  The following season he was given the starting catcher's job and he finished 2nd in the NL-ROY voting.  1973 was an even better season  for him power wise (9 homers), but his average slipped to .229.  The next three season saw him platoon behind the plate as his average soared to .291.  After the '77 season he was dealt to the Cardinals where he hit .263 (2nd year in a row) as Ted Simmons backup.  The following season he became the Cubs starting catcher and hit just .203.  He hit one point higher in '79 as the Phils 3rd string backstop.  His final stop would be in 1980 with the Red Sox where he posted his highest average ever (.328) as Carlton Fisk's backup.  Curiously he was cut at the end of the season.  The Angels picked him up, but he was cut in late April without playing a game
After an abysmal September in 1970 (2-1, 7.36) the Giants still had faith in this 21 year old righthander.  Manager Fox used Carrithers in a spot starter / long man role and he delivered a 5-3, 4.03 record in 22 games (80 IP).  1972 and 1973 would show complete regression, so he was shipped off to Montreal where he posted 3 solid seasons.  After a brief (7 games), but bad '77 shot with the Twins he was released.  Returning to his roots the Giants gave him a two year chance at AAA-Phoenix to right his ship.  After two sub-par seasons both he and the Giants came to the conclusion that it was best to part company.
Goodson hit just .190 in 42 at bats for the Jints in '71.  The next 3 seasons were quite good, which led most Giants fans to think he was going to be their 1B or 3B for a long time.  Then in 1975 his bat went cold dropping from .272 to .208.  The Giants must have had more than just an inkling that this was not an aberration, because they shipped him to Atlanta where he didn't fare much better.  After failing in Atlanta he moved on to the hated Dodgers for two nondescript seasons.  Cleveland took a shot by signing him in 1978 and he hit .327 for their AAA-Portland affiliate, but never got the call to return to the majors.  After the '78 season his career was over.
Journeyman minor league outfielder Floyd Wicker missed 2 years of playing time due to military service during the late 60's.  As a major leaguer he served mostly as a (ineffective) pinch hitter.  For the '71 Jints he hit .143 (3-21).  In parts of 4 major league seasons he hit just .159 with 1 career homer.  Due to the fact that I couldn't find any photos of him as a Giant I went against my normal distaste for the BHNH shot and used this one.  I changed the color of his turtleneck to match the Giants black instead of the Expos blue.
1971 was the future broadcaster's first full season in the biggs.  In 93 AB's as the Giants 3rd string catcher he hit .280.  The following year he would drop to .152 and was sent to KC where he put together some solid years as a back up.  Then the fun starts.  Midway through the '76 season he found his way to the Bronx to backup Thurman Munson.  Healy did that for two seasons and even found a role as intermediary between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.  After getting just one AB in '78 he was finished with baseball as an active participant.  His next role was that of broadcaster.  For almost 30 years he broadcasted both Met and Yankee games.  He now works for he MSG network on their 365 show.
Duffy played just 21 games for the Giants in 1971 (.179), but he will always be remembered as the guy they got for George Foster.  Duffy's tenure by the bay lasted just 21 games before he was dealt to Cleveland along with Gaylord Perry for Sam McDowell.  He had some nice years as Cleveland's starting shortstop before moving over to Boston for another two seasons.
During the 70's the Giants showed little patience with young outfielders.  Foster was the first of the bunch that they gave up on.  After hitting .267 in 105 AB's he was sent to Cincy for Frank Duffy...and the rest was history.
Barr pitched in just 17 games for San Fran and posted a 1-1, 3.57 record.  For the next 7 years he would be a top of the rotation guy for them.  In 5 of those 7 years he would eat 200+ innings and win double digits.  He would move down the freeway for 2 seasons with the Angels before moving back to the Jints for 2 final seasons to end a solid 12 year career.
Howarth parlayed one above average AAA season (.363) into 4 separate stints with the parent club.  In all 4 seasons he was barely competent.  In 1971 he hit .231 in 7 games as a spare outfielder.  The following season he got into 74 games and barely improved (.235).  By 1974 he was back in the minors for all but 6 games and then out of baseball completely.
After going 14-9, 3.35 at Phoenix-AAA Willoughby earned the right to spend September with the big club.  He didn't see much action (2 games), but it was a great learning experience for the following season where he pitched in 11 games as a starter and went 6-4, 2.36.  Oddly his major league numbers were twice as good as his minor league numbers (9-8, 4.66).  For the next few seasons he would shuttle back and forth between San Fran and Phoenix before getting a chance to pitch for a pennant winner in Boston in 1975.  After 3 seasons in Boston he wound up with the White Sox in 1978 and then back in the minors for all of 1979 before being released.
After 6 1/2 years in the minors Rosario finally got his chance to play for the big club.  In 92 games he hit just .224 (43-192) without any homers while manning all 3 outfield spots when needed.  The following season he played in just 7 games.  Then it was back to the minors for 4 more years with a brief opportunity (15 games) to play in Milwaukee.  After 1 year in the Japanese leagues he spent 5 seasons in the Mexican league.
1971 was Cumberland's big chance to make it as a major leaguer.  At the age of 24 he looked like he really put it all together by throwing 185 innings and going 9-6, 2.92.  Giant management thought they found a guy who was going to be perfect in the back of their rotation.  What they got was a career minor leaguer who plummeted to 1-5, 7.71 the following season and 0-4 8.64 the season after that.  Moving to both STL and CAL did nothing to improve his fortunes and after the '74 season was over he was gone from baseball.
The master of the "folly floater" pitched his best ball as a New York Yankee from 1963-1970.  Hamilton arrived in New York at the tail end of the Yankee dynasty, then stuck around to be the anchor of their pen during their "down years".  Midway through the 1970 season he was shockingly released by New York and picked up by the White Sox.  At the point of his release he had a 4-3, 2.98 record.  Chicago traded him to the Giants in the offseason and he responded with a fine 2-2, 3.02, 4sv campaign in 1971.  After the Giants were eliminated in the NLCS by Pittsburgh Hamilton was waived.  He would head back to Chicago, this time the North side, to finish out his career in 1972.  He is one of 2 baseball players who pitched in the World Series and played in the NBA finals.
Steve made his major-league pitching debut on April 8, 1971, starting against the San Diego Padres at San Diego. The first batter he faced, Dave Campbell, singled, and the next, Larry Stahl, hit a home run. Two of the next three batters got hits and Stone was down, 3-0, after the first inning. He held the Padres scoreless in the second and third innings and was lifted after a leadoff double in the fourth. The Giants went ahead with three runs in the seventh, but the Padres pulled out a walk-off victory in the ninth. Appearing in 24 games for San Francisco, with 19 starts, he won 5 games and lost 9, with a 4.15 earned-run average. Before the season was over, the Giants sent him down to Phoenix, where he went 6-3 with an ERA of 3.98. Returning to the Giants in 1972, he was 6-8 in 27 games, 16 of them starts, with a good earned-run average of 2.98. A sore arm cropped up during the season, and after the season, the Giants traded Stone and outfielder Ken Henderson to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Tom Bradley.

1971 Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd): 89-73, .549, 1GB

After sitting out pennant races from 1967 on the Dodgers went from being the marquee NL franchise to a bunch of afterthoughts.  1970 saw the Dodgers post a nice record, even though they really didn't contend for the NL West Flag.  That probably had more to do with Cincy's dominance than the Dodgers lack of prowess.  1971 looked like another middle of the pack finish until the team caught fire in September and the 1st place Giants began leaking oil.  As late as September 5th the Giants held a comfortable 8 game lead over the Dodgers with no expecting any miracles.  See in this rivalry, which spanned almost a century and 3,000 miles the Dodgers were the boys who had the big leads (1951 & 1962) and the Giants were the chasers.  With the situation totally reversed no one gave it an afterthought.  Then the Dodgers caught fire with an 8 game winning streak.  Simultaneously the Giants went cold going 1-7.  A seemingly insurmountable 8 game lead was now a tenuous one game difference.  Game on...With 2 weeks to go the race was now up for grabs and LA had all the momentum.  Those young guys who were finally coming to harvest from a farm that had been replenished were making it happen.  The old vets in San Fran, making one last run, were going to have to summon up all of their guile and talent.  Baseball couldn't ask for more.  The only advantage the Giants had was the fact that they had no games left with the Dodgers, who just swept 6 games from them over the course of a week and a half.  That advantage played out as neither team could gain advantage and separate themselves from each other....And so it came down to the final game of the season.  If LA wins and SF loses, we get a one game play in.  The Giants only need to win to clinch the division.  The Dodgers held serve as ace Don Sutton defeated the Astros in front of 53,000 fans on a Tuesday night.  It all came down to what the Giants did at San Diego.  With a tiring Dominican Dandy on the mound the Giants felt confident.  Staking their ace to 5 runs the Giants clinched the division and ended the only true pennant race in baseball during the 1971 season.

It took 14 cards to finish off the Dodgers card set.

After a half decade of injury plagued seasons with the Yankees, A's and Brewers the baseball world figured 30 year old Al Downing was through.  Well the tough lefty wasn't in agreement.  A change of scenery from the AL to the NL did him wonders.  Downing not only recovered from his ailments he enjoyed his best season ever going 20-9, 2.68 with 5 shutouts.  It was a magical season for the native of Trenton except for one tragic moment in game 161.  With the season on the line and the Dodgers needing a win to tie the Giants he lasted just an inning and a third before being chased.  Houston scored 4 big runs off of him and the Dodgers never came back.  He picked the worst time to have his shortest outing of the season.
In 108 games rookie Billy Bucks hit a solid .277.  The Dodgers moved him between the corner OF slots and first base.  This would foreshadow his 8 years in LA where he never had a firm position.  Management loved his line drive bat, but the concern was that he would never hit for enough power to play those 3 positions regularly.  After hitting .301 in 1976 he was dealt to the Cubs for Rick Monday in a deal that helped both clubs.  In total he would play 22 seasons and finish with a lifetime .289 average.  He came up 285 hits shy of 3,000 hits, but he is arguably most remembered for the ball that went through his wickets in game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Darwin started out as a pitcher and after almost a decade in the minors he realized that he wasn't going to cut it.  The Dodgers noticed he could actually swing the bat, so by 1971 he was in the process of converting over to being an outfielder.  Of course with LA's OF situation already crowded he wasn't going to get a shot there.  After 11 games in LA in '71 he was traded to Minnesota where he had some success as a regular outfielder.  The knock on him was that he could hit the long ball, but he also struck out a lot, which was proven by the fact that he led the AL 3 straight years in K's from 1972-74.  During that stretch he also knocked in 80, 90 and 94 runs respectively.  After getting such a late start as an everyday player his career wound down pretty fast and by 1978 he was out of baseball.  
Bobby V was the pro-typical hard nose utility guy.  He hit .249 in almost 300 AB's, while playing ever position.  In the same role the following season he hit .274, and at the ripe old age of 22 his future had nowhere to go but up.  The Dodgers, who were in search of a big time arm packaged him up in a huge blockbuster deal for Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen.  Right out of the gate he was on fire with the stick in '73 hitting .306 and hell spent on proving the Dodgers wrong for trading him.  Then on May 17th tragedy struck.  While attempting to rob Oakland's Dick Green of a home run he got his spikes caught in the Big A's chain link fence.  A horrific leg injury was the result, which forced him to miss the remainder of the season.  Upon healing he would never regain his speed.  After bouncing around baseball as a utility man Bobby's career would come to an end after playing for Seattle during the '79 season.  At the age of 29 he was ready to embark on his new career as a coach.  After coaching for the Mets he took the next step up by 1986 as the Rangers manager.  Bobby spent 16 years in the dugout for the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox.  He is now an ESPN color commentator.

23 year old knuckleballer Charlie Hough saw just 4 games worth of action during the '71 season.  He would see even less time the following season.  By 1973 he had earned himself a regular slot in the Dodgers pen.  For the '76 and '77 seasons he saved a combined total of 40 games.  Midway through the '80 season the Texas Rangers purchased his contract from LA.  After a season and a half in Texas he was moved to the starting rotation, where he would spend the rest of his career.  In 25 major league seasons he compiled a 216-216, 3.75 record.  Fun Fact:  In 1993 he was the expansion Marlins first winning pitcher ever.  He beat LA in the team's first ever game.
By the early 70's the Dodger franchise had more young live arms than they knew what to with.  Alexander, who was 6-6, 3.80, was deemed expendable at season's end, and traded to Baltimore for an aging Frank Robinson.  188 wins later the Dodgers probably wished they could have had that deal back.  While a Dodger Alexander pitched in 17 games.  12 as a starter and 5 out of the pen.
After hitting 23 homers in just 345 AB's in 1970 for the Indians the Dodgers acquired the 30 year old Sims to be there starting catcher for the next 3-5 years.  Sims actually boosted his average 10 points to .274, but he hit 17 less homers and eventually became a platoon player.  Midway through the '72 season he was cut and picked up by Detroit.  He bounced from Detroit to the Bronx mid 1973 and in the final game ever in Old Yankee Stadium he hit the final home run in the "cathedral of baseball".  Sims then wound up in Texas in '74 and hit .208 and was released.  Still his name comes up in trivia contests all the time.
The ageless 48 year old knuckleballing reliever arrived in LA just in time for the stretch run going 0-1, 1.02, 3Sv.  LA needed reief help to catch the Giants and he provided it.  In one of the biggest moments of the season on 9/14 with the Dodgers clinging to a one run lead and a runner on second Wilhelm struck out the immortal Willie Mays on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.  That was his 3rd save in 6 days.  I created this card, by using a book cover photo with some airbrushing.
In his first glimpse of extended action Ferguson hit just .216-2-7 in 102 AB's.  After a breakout 1973 season he would level off and regress, which is why he was shipped out to STL midway through the '76 season.  He would return midway through the '78 season just in time for the pennant run, but he was cut before the '81 championship run.  His final 2 years were with the Angels as a bit player.
Dodger scouts drafted Strahler out of the the Phillies organization not to long after he was in the process of recovering from kidney surgery.  Strahler wasn't ready to let loose, but the Phillies were.  The Dodgers saw potential and Strahler rewarded them, or at least their Spokane farm team, with some great seasons.  In each of his 3 callups with the big club Strahler did nothing to hurt his status as a prospect.  What did hurt was the fact that LA had cornered the market on arms by the early 70's and there just wasn't a spot for him.  In just 6 game of action in '71 Strahler didn't have a decision, but sported a fine 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings.  The following season in 47 innings of work he was 1-2, 3.26 (19 games).  Knowing there just wasn't going to be a full time slot for him, LA shipped him to the Angels in the blockbuster deal that brought back Andy Messersmith.  By late April the Angels sent him to the Tigers where he put up below average numbers (4-5, 4.37).  He would bounce around the minors for the next two seasons before being released by the Indians after going 0-2, 4.29 at Oklahoma City-AAA.

Mikkelsen, now in his 3rd season with the Dodgers, won 8 games while losing 5 in 41 games out of the pen.  A reliable right handed sinkerballer, Mikkelson owed his career to Yogi Berra who spotted his unique talent for getting ground ball outs, back in Spring training (1964).  The following season his ERA would balloon and the Dodgers chose to let him go in order to provide more opportunity for younger arms.  He gave four years of good service to the Dodgers with 24 wins and 20 saves in 155 appearances. In 1969–70 he averaged a 2.76 ERA for each season, despite missing the beginning of the '70 season due to hepatitis.
A short 2 game 2 at bat glimpse was all we would see from the "Penguin" in 1971.  LA would have to wait two more seasons (1973) for Cey to have his breakout year and claim ownership to third base for the next decade.  As a Dodger, Cey would be a 6 time All-Star and frequent MVP candidate.  In total he would spend 17 years in the majors hitting 316 homers with .261 lifetime average.

Dodger fans during the 70's likened Paciorek to being the "righty version of Buckner".  Both guys had solid line drive bats, but neither posessed the power required to be a corner OF/IF type.  Paciorek made a brief appearance in LA (1-2, 2G) during the 71 season.  It would take two more years for him to see extended action, but by then LA was loaded with too much talent to overcome.  At the conclusion of the '75 season he was dealt to Atlanta, where he had some fine season before moving to the AL and becoming a solid DH type for the next decade or so before retiring at the age of 40 sporting a lifetime .282 average.

In his only season in SoCal and the majors O'Brien was 2-2, 3.00 in 42 innings (14 games). The impatient 21 year old was sent down to Spokane (AAA) and faltered heavily (3-5, 6.35).  The Dodgers, with their plethora of arms sent him to Baltimore as part of the Frank Robinson deal.  In two minor league seasons with the Orioles he was less than stellar.  Moving on to Tacoma (MIN-AAA) his number again were less than impressive.  A final shot in '75 with the Dodgers AAA-Alburquerque team netted a 0-1, 8.50 record and an unconditional release from baseball.

To create this card I had to colorize a grainy B&W photos that I found via Google search.

Monday, December 21, 2015

1971 Atlanta Braves (3rd): 82-80, .506, 8GB

As a manager Lum Harris had just 2 winning seasons in his 4 1/2 years in Atlanta.  You will no hear his name bandied around in a conversation that compares the great bench lords of his time.  This is a given.  Since Harris is one of those footnotes in baseball history it's tough for him to get credit for finishing 82-80 in 1971.  Using pytagorean numbers he managed a team that was 10th in pitching (out of 12) and deceptively bad in hitting to a +7 and a winning record.  Since the Braves finished well out of the money in 3rd place Harris won't get any mention.  If Earl Weaver had accomplished this we would probably be talking about it.  In most cases, only the true baseball afficiando would know what a Lum Harris is.  Now to start off, other than Phil Niekro (15-14, 2.98) and Ron Reed (13-14, 3.72) his rotation did not have anyone who eclipsed 200 innings.  This was in an era where 250 innings was the norm and in many cases 300+ innings was not a shocker.  4 of the 6 guys who logged significant time in the rotation were of the part time variety.  Tom Kelley (9-5, 2.96) only pitched 143 innings in 20 starts + 8 relief appearances.  In fact every starter, with the exception of Reed (isn't that ironic) logged at least 3-4 relief appearances.  This was more common in past eras, but by the 70's starters didn't throw relief outings during their off days.  After looking at the stat line for their relief corps I can see why this was a necessity.  Cecil Upshaw (11-6, 3.51, 17sv) wasn't the problem.  He wasn't a top reliever, but he wasn't kerosene either.  His supporting cast was weak, which explains why Niekro, Pat Jarvis and Jim Nash (starters) all have saves.  Steve Barber was a 33 year old with a chronic sore arm.  His 4.80 ERA in 39 appearances instilled zero confidence in anyone, including his manager.  Bob Priddy (4.22) an Ron Herbel (5.23) weren't any better.  Lefty Mike McQueen (4-1, 3.54) looked to be fine, but his ability to let inherited runners score didn't affect his ERA, but managed to help lose games just the same.  With the lack of pitching Harris still found a way to keep the team at or near .500 all season.  After a modest 5 game winning streak the team was only 5 1/2 games out of first on September 18th.  With one week left to go in the season they had games against the Dodgers (2nd place) and the lowly Padres.  After splitting a 4 game set in LA they came home to split a brief 2 game set with San Diego to drop to 7 out.  Then a 3 game sweep at the hands of the streaking Dodgers sealed their fate.  Winning the final two vs the Reds ensured a winning season.  Based on what we just looked at it's simple to blame the 10th ranked pitching staff for this team's mediocrity.  How can you blame an offense that was 2nd in homers and 5th in runs scored ?  When you dig deeper you can surely see that they should shoulder some of the blame.  First off the Braves, playing in the Home Run friendly "Launching Pad" were feast or famine.  Being 2nd in homers is definitely a good thing, but being 1st in strikeouts tells us that they were swinging for the fences every chance they got.  Finishing 4th in hits is impressive, but they were also 8th in OBP, which means they weren't getting enough people on and when they did they were stranding them on base and quite possibly winning games via the blowout and losing the tight ones.  It all makes sense now.  It tells me Harris got more than was expected out of what he had.  He was also missing his most consistent bat man in Rico Carty who missed the whole year thanks to an injury in winter ball.  Of course Hank Aaron was the star of the team.  The 37 year old future immortal moved from RF to 1B and hit a robust .327 with 47 homers and 118 RBI's.  Don't blame the Hammer for the lack of timely hitting.  In fact don't blame him for the k's, because he walked more times (71) than he fanned (58).  Throw some blame on management for poor planning.  Orlando Cepedea, who was the team's primary 1B for the past 2 seasons was being squeezed out since Hank was staring to play more 1B.  Cepeda, who was only 33, hit .276-14-44 in just 250 AB's.  Project his line over a full season and he hits 30 long balls and knocks in close to 100.  Mike Lum, who made a living as a 5th OF'er/1B/PH got extended action for the only time in his career and did fine (.269-13-55), but you can't help but wonder how much better they would have been with Carty in that slot.  Youngster Ralph Garr finally got his chance and hit .343 with 30 swipes, but the biggest story was ROY Earl Williams (.260-33-87).  The numbers he posted had superstar written all over it.  The fact that he was a catcher made it that much more impressive.  Well it did and it didn't, because Williams was not really a catcher by trade and the staff didn't like throwing to him.  In fact he was error prone and he wasn't quick enough to block balls in the dirt as evidenced by his 15 PB's and 24 WP's. in just 72 games behind the dish (he also played 1b/3b).  The lineup also had weak bats in Marty Perez (SS), a young Darrell Evans (3B) and Sonny Jackson in center.  Between the three of them they combined for an OBP that was around .300, which meant not enough tablesetting for the big bats.

It took 16 cards to finish off this set.

After two cups of Joe Evans got extended time in 1971 and finally showed enough to stick with the big club.  With veteran glove man Clete Boyer scheduled to be the starter at 3rd Evans expected '71 to be another wasted year.  When Boyer, who was an "old 34", partied himself out of the league Evans (.242-12-38) was given the full time job.  No one could have seen it coming that he would hit 41 homers 2 years later and win an All-Star bid.  Evans wouldn't hit 40 homers again for another 12 seasons, which marks the biggest gap in MLB history for this stat.  After watching his numbers drop steadily the Braves dealt him to the Giants in the middle of the '76 season.  Evans, never a big average guy, was a great power bat and above average glove at 3rd.  When the Ginats gave up on him in the early 80's he moved over to Detroit where he found the fountain of youth and was a key contributor in their wire to wire 1984 championship run.  The following season, at the age of 38, he led the AL in homers.  Two years later at the age of 40 he hit 34 homers.  1989 would be the final season in his 21 year career.  Fittingly he returned to Atlanta to finish it all out.  Evans hit 414 pre-steroid lifetime homers and had 19 straight seasons in double digit.
General Dusty was just a lowly private back in 1971 where in his 4th cup of coffee he hit just .226 (14-62).  1972 would be his breakout season and for the next 4 years he would be a solid mainstay in the Braves outfield.  After the 1975 seasons the Braves traded him to LA (along with Ed Goodson) for Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster and a fast fading Jimmy Wynn.  For the next 8 seasons he would be a core member of those great Dodger pennant winning squads.  After the '83 season he moved to the Bay area and played one year in SF and two in Oak before retiring after the 1986 season to embark on his next career as a major league manager.
1971's NL ROY came out of nowhere and exploded on the scene with a fantastic year at the plate (see above).  Unfortunately for Williams his glove was his nemesis.  After just 2 seasons in Atlanta he was dealt to Baltimore for some aging players and some spare parts.  Earl Weaver traded him back to the Braves after two sub par seasons with both the bat and the glove.  The change of scenery didn't help much as his numbers just kept dwindling.  After a below average (.241-13-38) 1977 season in Oakland he moved on to the Mexican League where he played two non-descript seasons before calling it a career.  The knock on Williams as being a terrible defensive catcher is an unfair one.  How can you blame a guy for being told to play a position he NEVER played before.  In 5 minor league seasons, prior to 1971, he only played 1st or 3rd bases respectively.  He was setup for failure by the Brave brass.
After only 3 games this 48 year old future HOF'er was given his unconditional release.  Considered washed up, which his 15.43 ERA might have attested to, the Braves let him go.  At 48 it looked like the end of the road was finally here.  To his credit Wilhelm kept in shape and practiced his craft in time to sign a late season deal with LA and save 3 key games down the stretch as the Dodgers were chasing the Giants.  He would pitch one more season and retire at the age of 49 with nothing left in the tank and certainly nothing left to prove.  The well traveled (9 teams) HOF knucleballer would eventually find himself enshrined in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Breazeale was drafted by the Atlanta Braves with the eighth pick of the first round of the January 1968 Major League Baseball Draft.  He played four seasons in the Major Leagues, three with the Braves (1969; 1971–1972), and one for the Chicago White Sox (1978). In his MLB career, Breazeale played 89 games with 179 at bats and 40 hits. He had three home runs, 33 RBIs, 20 runs, and a .223 batting average. He played his final game on July 19, 1978 with the White Sox.  (from wikipedia)
Foster had one of the more unfortunate debuts in Major League history, when playing his first game for the Braves against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium on July 9, 1971. Fielding at shortstop, he commits an error on the first ball hit to him. After flying out in the 3rd inning, Foster hits into a double play in the 5th inning, followed by hitting into a triple play in the 7th inning.  (from wikipedia).  The 20 year old Foster played in just 9 games for the Braves in 1971 and didn't get a hit in 10 AB's.  He spent all of '72 in the minors and most of '73 as well.  In 72 games with the Braves as their primary utility-man he hit a paltry .196 (22-112).  On April 4, 1975 he was dealt to the Mets for catcher Joe Nolan.  In two seasons as the Mets utility guy he hit a combined .216 with just one homer in 134 AB's before being traded to Boston, where he never played a major league game.  In 48 games with Boston's AAA affiliate Pawtucket he hit .239 and was given his release.  The following season he played in the Puerto Rican league and hit .205. On a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Foster in 1975 at Shea Stadium where he signed my program before a Met game.  He was polite and cordial and while the big stars were nowhere to be found he signed every last autograph which I still remember 40 years later.

Perez arrived in Atlanta via a late October 1970 trade.  H was immediately installed as the Braves regular shortstop, a position he held onto for 5 1/2 seasons.  Never a big bat (.248 with Atlanta) Perez was a serviceable major leaguer who could play every infield position more than adequately.  In 1971 he hit .227-4-32 in 130 games.  Midway through the '76 season he was dealt to San Fran.  His strangest statline was the 1 game he played for the World Champion 1977 Yankees.  He went 2-4 then was shipped out with Dock Ellis & Larry Murray for Oakland's Mike Torrez.  After a subpar season in Oakland (.231) he followed that up with a horrendous start to 1978 (0-12) and was released.  The Mets, picked him up and assigned him to AAA-Tidewater where he hit .261, but was eventually released without ever getting a shot with the big club.
His original card featured one of the most aggregious airbrush jobs ever perpertrated on a professional athlete.  At least on this card he looks like a living a breathing member of the team, if you can call a guy hitting .111 (4-36) "living and breathing".  In all seriousness Staehle was a 29 year old journeyman middle infielder, who was all but out of baseball if not for the good timing of expansion back in 1969.  That afforded him a legit chance with the Expos, who released him after he hit just .281 in 321 AB's for them in 1970.  After the Braves cut him the Padres took a shot and assigned him to their Hawaii AAA team.  In 1972 he hit .294 in Hawaii, but at the age of 30 he was released.
Brown's biggest claim to fame was having a famous brother in the NFL (Willie) and another in baseball (Downtown Ollie).  The Braves had high hopes for Oscar.  After hitting .383 (18-47) in limited action during the 1970 season they expected 1971 to be a breakout year for him.  Instead what they got was a .209 hitting 5th outfielder.  Brown gave them more of the same during the following 2 seasons, which lead to his eventual release after hitting just .252 at AAA Richmond in 1974.  Compare that to his brother who hit .265 in 13 major league seasons as a very productive right fielder.
The Road Runner hit the big time in 1971 with a breakout .343 season in his first shot as a full time player.  Garr was everything the Braves could hope for with the bat hitting .317 in 8 seasons as a Brave including his 1974 All-Star season where he hit .353 and won the batting title while compiling 214 hits and 17 triples.  After the '75 season he was traded to the Chisox and proceeded to have two straight .300 seasons.  Garr would finish his career as a lifetime .306 hitter in parts of 13 big league seasons.  For all the speed that he had his SB % was low and his OBP wasn't much better than his BA.  He was also a subpar or indifferent fielder.  Still for an 8 year period he was one of the toughest outs in baseball and a threat to stretch a gapper into a triple.
His original card was of the BHNH variety, which some may joke meant Bald Head, no hat.  Sporting sideburns and aviator glasses to go along with his thin comb over I felt exceptionally obligated to give him a legit cap and uniform photo in this team set.  Herbel, who had some decent seasons with the Giants during the latter part of the 60's as a swingman was now a 33 year old veteran nearing the final station on his major league train ride.  After going 2-2, 1.38 for the Mets down the stretch in 1970 the Braves figured he had a few good years left.  What they got was a 0-1, 5.23 statline for a guy who pitched 25 games out of the pen (51.2 IP).  After being released by the Braves he caught on with the Twins and spent '72 with their Tacoma AAA Affiliate.  His AAA numbers (6-9, 4.41) weren't much better than his MLB numbers from the previous season.  As a result he was given his release and not invited to any camps in '73.  A notoriously poor hitter, Herbel's .029 lifetime average is the lowest in MLB history for anyone with over 100 AB's.
Former 20 game winner Steve Barber was long past his Baltimore glory days.  By the late 60's he began bouncing around from team to team hoping he could once again catch lighting in a bottle and overcome the "Sore Arm Steve Barber" moniker Jim Bouton bestowed upon him.  From time to time Barber would show flashes of brilliance that made GM's think he was back on track.  In 75 innings or work for the Braves in 1971 he showed little of that former brilliance (3-1, 4.80, 2SV).  Mid way through the following season he was let go only to wind up in California with the Angels where he was 4-4, 2.08.  Once again "fools gold" was looked upon as 14 karrat.  Then of course he slipped back the following two seasons and was out of baseball completely.  After such a prolonged goodbye many neglect to remember how lights out he was during his first 8 seasons in Baltimore (95-75, 3.12).
House's claim to fame would make for a great fun fact / trivia question:  "Who caught Hank Aaron's 715 homer?".  Yes, this bullpen fixture caught the ball served up by Dodgers Al Downing.  He would also go on to be a pretty good MLB pitching coach.  As a player he was a mid level reliever, who had a couple of good years for the Braves during the mid 70's.  In 1971 as a rookie 24 year old he was 1-0, 3.05 in 11 games for the Braves.  His best years were 1974 (6-2, 1.93, 11 SV) and 1975 (7-7, 3.18, 11 SV).  Other than that he was more or less the 10th man on the staff.  After two mediocre years in Boston he added two mediocre years for the expansion Mariners.  To be fair his numbers were better than average for that pitching challenged staff.  Aftre logging the most innings in his career (116) and winning more than he lost (5-4, 4.66) he was released by the M's and out of baseball and off to the Mexican League.  A brief stink in the PCL for the Padres Las Vegas affiliate in 1983 where he doubled as their pitching coach, was the end of his competitive career.
Kelley underwent shoulder surgery in the late 60's and languished in the Minor Leagues for three years before reviving his career with the Atlanta Braves in 1971.  In that season, Kelley made 28 pitching appearances for the Braves, including 20 starts, posting a 9-5 record with a solid 2.96 ERA and five complete games.  He then spent four years in Triple-A with the Braves and New York Mets organizations before retiring in 1976.  In a seven-year career, Kelley went 20-22 with a 3.75 ERA in 104 pitching appearances, including 45 starts, 16 complete games and one shutout, striking out 234 batters while walking 207 in 408 innings of work.  He also went 20-22 with a 3.75 ERA in 104 minor league games.  Following his baseball career, Kelley worked for United Parcel Service for 15 years.  (from wikipedia)  His original card was of the BHNH variety.  This new card does him justice.
By now we all know that this career .199 hitter would eventually win up in Cooperstown...not for his playing skills, but for his excellent managerial skills.  After 5 failed cups of joe with the A's Tony moved over to the Braves in the middle of the season and hit .286 (.2-7) in 9 games.  His best accomplishment during this era would be earning his law degree.  His don't quit attitude was apparent by the fact that he spent the lion's share of '71 hitting .290 in the minors.  He spent all of '72 hitting .308 for Atlanta's Richmond AAA affiliate, but never got a call up from a struggling big club.  In total he would spend 5 more seasons at various team's AAA affiliates until he hit .188 for New Orleans (STL-AAA) in 1977.  At 32 his playing days were done, but the best part of this baseball story was about to be written.
After a season in the Mexican Leagues the 31 year old Versalles was given a chance by the Braves to resurrect his declining career.  After hitting .191 in 194 AB's the Braves realized that his skills were not up to major league level and sadly he was released.  Just 6 years earlier he was the 1965 AL-MVP who won the 2nd of his 2 Gold Gloves.  By 1971 he was a broken down journeyman player who some said was just a flash in the pan.  Not to be discouraged he forged ahead and played in both the Mexican and Japanese leagues until 1974.  A brief shot with the Royals Double AA Jacksonville team in 1973 went unnoticed.  Sadly his after baseball life was one of despair and financial ruin.

I created this card by Colorizing a B&W photo of him with Atlanta and superimposing it on top of a blurry photo of Fulton County Stadium.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

1971 Cincinnati Reds (4thT): 79-83, .488, 11GB

After winning 102 games and the NL Pennant in 1970 the Big Red Machine looked more like a little red riding hood.  The '71 Reds were lost in the forest.  Maybe it was pennant hangover ?  Maybe it was complacency ?  Or maybe it was the fact that the machine just wasn't firing on all 8 cylinders.  Whatever the case, the Reds won 22 games less than the year before and finished 11 games out of the money.  After losing their first 4 out of the gate the team won the next 3 and looked to have righted their ship, but a stretch of 7 losses in 8 game sunk their record to 4-11 and it just never got any better.  So what went wrong ?  Where do we affix the blame ?  Lets start out with the fact that starting centerfielder Bobby Tolan and his .316 average was lost for the season thanks to a ruptured Achilles tendon injury that he sustained in an offseason pickup game.  From there it got worse.  Super rookie Bernie Carbo (.310 with a 1.004 OPS) saw his average drop .100 points and his OPS drop over 300 points.  If that's bad enough reigning NL MVP Johnny Bench had an off year where he hit .238.  If you need more evidence that the blame rests squarely on the bats add in Dave Concepcion going from .260 to .205.  The pitching was actually a tad better than the previous season with the exception of 20 game winner Jim Merritt going from 20-12, 4.08 to 1-11, 4.37.  To hammer home the fact that the bats let this team down lets look at ace Gary Nolan.  In 1970 he was 18-7, 3.27.  In 1971 he was 12-15, 3.16.  There's your answer right there.  Nolan was statistically better, yet won 6 less games and lost 8 more.  On the surface Merritt looked like a complete disaster, but if you look closer his ERA was 4.08 when he won 20 went up to 4.37 when he won just one.  Basically the Big Red Machine slugged him to 20 wins, which is why modern pundits feel that wins are not a accurate measurement of a pitcher's value.  Now after reading this I wouldn't go crying a river for the fans at Riverfront.  1971 would be the only time the Reds would fall out of contention during the decade.  In fact the best was yet to come (4 Div Titles, 3 Pennants, 2 Championships).

In total it took 12 cards to create this set.  I love looking at the Reds card photos throughout the decade of Big Fros, Muttonchops and wild hair, because Cincy had strict rules on facial hair and hair length.  By the Mid 70's they really looked out of place when compared to the rest of the league.

By mid May the Reds were starting to realize they needed offensive help.  GM Bob Howsam must have thought he got himself a steal by shipping slumping spare part Angel Bravo for Al "The Bull" Ferrara.  Ferrara himself had been slumping (.118), but after hitting .260 and .277 the previous seasons with some pop (14 & 13 HR's), all evidence pointed toward this being a great deal for Cincy.  Unfortunately at the age of 31, Ferrara's bat had the speed of a guy who was 41.  In 37 AB's for Cincy he hit just .182 and was given his unconditional release.  In fairness, Bravo was horrible in San Diego, so neither team won or lost in this deal.   This card is my favorite from this team set.  I took his Padre photo and airbrushed it to look like a Reds uniform.  I think it looks good enough to almost be real, but still phony enough that you would think it belonged in the set.
1971 would mark Plummer's first (of 7) season as Johnny Bench's backup.  A career .186 hitter in Cincy, Plummer's true value was to give Bench a rest and carry his golf clubs.  In 10 games during the '71 season he was 0-19.  By the '72 season he would replace Pat Corrales, 6 years his senior, as the #1 backup.
Bradford was another May acquisition.  The Reds, who needed someone to play the outfield, traded Kurt Bevacqua to the Tribe for Bradford, who hit just .200 with 2 homers in 79 games in Cincy.  Considering he was a career .226 hitter his lack of production should not have shocked anyone.  By season's end he found his way back to the South Side of Chicago where he amazingly eeked out an additional 5 years as a 4th or 5th outfielder.  Statistically Bradford's 11 year career is completely un-amazing other than the fact that it lasted 11 years.  After finally bottoming out of the majors he landed in the Japanese league and shocked no one by hitting .192.  That marked the end of the road.
Sprague was a rule 5 draft pick of the Cardinals that was sold to the Reds after the 1970 season.  He appeared in just 7 games (11 IP) for Cincy and did not allow a run.  He would have an average 1972 seasons (3-3, 4.13) and was dealt to STL midway through a mediocre 1973 campaign.  As luck would have it he injured his knee in 1975 after having his best season ever in Milwaukee (7-2, 2.39).  After the injury he was never quite right and was out of baseball after the '76 season.  His son Ed, Jr. had a fine 10 year career with the Toronto Blue Jays spanning the 1990's.
In 1971 Duffy gained more notoriety off the field than on it.  On the field he hit just .188 in 17 games for the Reds.  Off the field he and minor league pitcher Vern Geisheit were sent to San Fran in exchange for George Foster.  San Fran was always in search of a middle infielder and Foster was an untapped talent sitting behind emerging superstar Bobby Bonds and the ageless wonder Willie Mays.  To call this a lopsided deal would be an understatement, although Foster would take a few years to pay dividends.  Then in the off season San Fran shipped him and Gaylord Perry to the Indians for rapidly declining Sam McDowell.
As previously mentioned Foster arrived at the end of May.  The 22 year old showed flashes of brilliance (.234-10-50), but no one had any clue just what his potential would be.  By 1974 the lightbulb went on and Foster was a key power source for the Reds for the next 8 years, including 3 years (1977-1979) where he dominated the NL in HR's and RBI.  After playing out his option in 1981 he signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Mets, where he played 5 decent seasons, but was the brunt of the fan's ire, because the Mets weren't winning and his numbers were nowhere near the numbers he posted in Cincy.  Of course in New York he didn't have guys like Rose, Morgan and Bench hitting in front of him.  Sadly for him he slumped heavily in 1986 and was cut by the Mets in mid season, which meant he missed their magical championship run.  All told in 18 seasons he hit .274 with 348 homers and 1,239 RBI's.  His 52 homers in 1977 were the most by anyone in the decade.
After the 1970 season the Reds acquired Garrett from the Angels in exchange for their fading start Jim Maloney.  Moving Maloney at that point is his career was the right move.  Acquiring Garrett in exchange for him, wasn't.  After going 5-6, 2.65 for the Angels in 1970 the Reds expected big things for the 24 year old.  What the got was 0-1, 1.04 in 8 innings of work.  In AAA-Indianapolis he was 2-1, 4.05 in barely 40 innings.  The reds let him go and he wound up in Minnesota's AA-Charlotte affiliate and was less than spectacular and upon season's end he was out of chances.
In his only full season in Cincy veteran lefty bullpen guy Joe Gibbon did quite well.  In 64 innings of relief Gibbon was 5-6, 2.94 with 11 saves, which was a pleasant surprise considering the fact that he was horrible the previous year in Pittsburgh.  Gibbon's Renaissance was short lived and by the following season he was unable to get anyone out for both the Reds and then the Astros.  At 37 his solid MLB career came to an abrupt end.  Gibbon would finish up with a 61-55, 3.52, 32sv career record.  The highlight of his career was winning the World Championship in 1960 for the Pirates in his rookie season.
21 year old Milt Wilcox (2-2, 3.32, 43IP) was a modest contributor for the Reds during the '71 season.  He would not hit his stride until he arrived in Detroit in 1978, where he would become a key contributor (17 game winner) on the 1984 Tigers World Championship staff.
21 year old clean cut Ross Grimsley cracked the rotation and had a rock solid year (10-7, 3.56, 161IP).  He followed that up with 2 more good seasons before the Reds tired of his act and shipped him to Baltimore where he continued to have success.  Grimsley was of that generation of players who wanted to grow his hair out and wear facial hair.  Both were taboo in the Cincy Reds world, but he still tried to push the envelope.  He greatest season would be 1978 where he went 20-11, 3.05 with 19 CG's.  He finished 7th in Cy Young balloting and was an All-Star selection.  The following season he came crashing down to reality after arm trouble set in.  He spent the next 4 seasons trying to get healthy, but his arm was never right.  after taking off the entire '81 season he gave it one last try with Baltimore in '82, but it just wasn't there.
27 year old career minor leaguer Steve Blateric appeared in just 2 games (2IP) for the Reds and sported a huge 13.50 ERA.  He would get 2 more cups of coffee (1972-NYY and 1975-CAL), but neither panned out.  He did post an impressive 92-70, 2.82 minor league record spread out over 13 seasons with his finals season coming for Redwood in A ball in 1980.
The well traveled (5 teams in 9 years) Smith reached the end of the road in Cincy during the '71 seasons.  Traded from the Cubs to Cincy for catching prospect Danny Breeden during the offseason, Smith hit just .164 in 55 at bats before being shown the door.  Smith showed a lot of promise in his first two seasons (1964-65) with the Angels, but never again started more than 100 games in his career.  After hitting .351 for the Reds AAA-Indianapolis affiliate he left the states and played tow successful seasons for Nankai in the Japanese league before retiring.  Hist 1971 card was a BHNH issue that needed to be corrected since this would in essence be his last card issued.