Thursday, September 25, 2014

Johnny Edwards (#202)

Here is my 220th post on this blog - 5 years to the day after my first post. I first stumbled upon the Google blogging community a day earlier, when I found and commented on this post on the 1969 Topps blog, which was formerly owned by Pack Addict (now known as SociallyAwkwardJellyFish). 

I began this 1967 blog on 9/25/2009 with two posts. Three days later I published FIVE posts! Within that first week I also started the 1960s Baseball and 1968 Topps blogs, and a few weeks later, the 1966 Topps blog. The 1970 and 1963 Topps blogs came along about a year after that. In January 2012 I took over the 1969 Topps blog (from Pack Addict), which had been idle for almost 2 years. 

Along the way, I have learned something about a lot of these players (especially the pre-1967 players, which was before my card-collecting time as a kid), and also “met” a lot of interesting bloggers, starting with Jim @ The Phillies Room, Paul @ Wrigley Wax, Steve @ White Sox Cards, CommishBob @ 1959 Topps, and Matt @ 1976, 77, 78 Topps, to name but a few. 

Anyway, it’s been a great 5-year ride. 

Johnny Edwards had the distinction of keeping the Reds’ catching gear warm for another Johnny (Bench) from 1962 thru Bench’s debut in September 1967. Edwards had a 14-year major-league career: 7 seasons with the Reds, 1 with the Cardinals, and 6 with the Astros.

Edwards was signed by the Reds in 1959, and after 2 1/2 seasons as a starting catcher in the minors, he was promoted to the Reds in late-June 1961, and shared the staring assignments with incumbent Jerry Zimmerman (who was also in his rookie season). Johnny hit .364 with 2 doubles in the 1961 World Series.

Zimmerman was traded to the Twins after the season, paving the way for Johnny to become the full-time catcher in 1962. He started 124 games in ’62, his first of 6 consecutive seasons as the Reds’ #1 catcher. Edwards made the all-star team every season from 1963-65, and won 2 Gold Gloves during that span. The high point in playing time was his 141 starts in 1963, after which he shared the catching load with Don Pavletich (his minor-league teammate in 1961).

Always a top defensive catcher, Johnny put up good offensive numbers until breaking a finger during spring training 1966. Edwards started 84 games that season, with Pavletich starting 46 and Jimmie Coker 30. 1967 was Edwards’ last in Cincinnati. He and Pavletich both started 57 games, but Johnny Bench was called up in late August and started 26 of the final 32 games. The Bench Era had started.

Edwards was traded to the Cardinals after the 1967 season for backup catcher Pat Corrales and minor-league infielder (and future manager) Jimy Williams. After one season backing up Tim McCarver (and appearing in the 1968 World Series), Edwards was traded to the Astros (who had lost both their incumbent catchers (John Bateman and Ron Brand) to the Expos in the expansion draft) for pitcher Dave Giusti and catcher Dave Adlesh.

Johnny spent the next 4 seasons (1969-72) as the Astros’ #1 catcher. By 1972, ex-Reds teammates Lee May and Tommy Helms joined Edwards in Houston, via the Joe Morgan deal.

Edwards began the 1973 season as the #1 catcher, but by mid-June had given way to 2nd-year catcher Skip Jutze, who played the majority of games in the 2nd half. 1974 was Johnny’s final season, and he was relegated to the bench, in favor of ex-Pirates’ backstop Milt May.

One of the SABR gurus has rated Edwards as the 2nd-best defensive catcher in baseball history.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hey Arnold!

After a 3-week absence, Robert over at the $30 a Week Habit blog is resuming his 16-set tournament, where bloggers vote for which set he should complete next. The Final Four is down to the 1959, 1963, 1967, and 1974 sets.

Besides all the reasons given in the previous round, how can you NOT vote for a set with this card?

(I discovered today that this was Earley's only Topps card, despite having played full seasons for the Red Sox from 1962 to 1965.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fred Gladding (#192)

Fred Gladding was a relief pitcher from 1961 to 1973. He played his first 7 seasons with the Tigers, and the last 6 with the Astros. In 450 career games, he only made one start. At age 78, he is the oldest living player from the 1966-70 era that I haven’t featured on my blogs yet.

Gladding was signed by the Tigers in 1956, and pitched in their farm system from 1956 to 1960, mostly as a starting pitcher. Fred also spent most of the ’61 and ’62 seasons in the minors, but was used more and more as a reliever.

Fred made his major-league debut in July 1961, making 8 appearances in July and August. He also played 6 games early in 1962 before returning to the minors.

He returned to the Tigers for good in late-July 1963, and manned Detroit’s bullpen for the next 4 ½ seasons. Gladding was always behind either Larry Sherry or Terry Fox (or both) until 1967, when he led the team with 12 saves. (Wow, that seems low by today’s standards!) He also had a 1.99 ERA that season.

Fred missed out on the Tigers' 1968 championship team, as he was sent to the Astros after the 1967 season to complete an earlier trade for Eddie Mathews.

Gladding missed all but 7 games in 1968, but returned the following season to head up the Astros’ bullpen. At age 33, he was the oldest player on the roster, and managed to lead the NL with 29 saves.

Although he never again duplicated his 1969 numbers, he continued to lead the Astros in saves from 1970 to 1972.

Fred began the 1973 season where he left off in ’72, but after pitching in 16 games by early June, he spent the 2nd half of the season in the minors, and was released in October.

From Wikipedia:
“Gladding has the distinction of having the lowest non-zero lifetime batting average in major league history. For his career he batted .016 (1 for 63).”

Friday, August 15, 2014

1967 Topps Card Set Vying for the Final Four

Robert over at the $30 a Week Habit blog has been running a 16-set tournament, where bloggers vote for which set he should complete next. Last week, the 1969 set fell short by a few votes, so I'm hitting the campaign trail again, this time for the 1967 set.

This set includes the final baseball card for Hall of Fame catcher broadcaster Bob Uecker!

Wait, what? That's not enough for you? I suppose you could continue reading then...

There's also the final card for 76 other players, including Whitey Ford, Curt Simmons, Lou/Lew Burdette, Joe Nuxhall, Smoky Burgess, and Jim Piersall.

The final Topps appearance for Sandy Koufax:

41 future Hall of Famers are in the set, including Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, and Eddie Mathews, none of who are in the 1976 set.

THIRTEEN multi-player cards, the most for any year in that era:

In addition to the well-known high-number rookie cards for Tom Seaver and Rod Carew, the set also includes the rookie cards for Chris Short and Maury Wills (both 8-year veterans by then) and Ken Holtzman. Also, there are more than 40 Rookie Stars cards, the most in any set.

Here are some other guys in the set:

.                            (That's one heck of a sunrise behind Tony C.!)

Vote now! Don't let Robert have to deal with hanging chads at the last minute.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Vic Davalillo (#69)

Vic Davalillo (currently age 78) is one of the 2 oldest living players from 1966 to 1970 that I have not yet featured on one of my blogs. He played for the Indians and five other teams in his 16-year career from 1963 to 1980.

Vic was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. After 4 seasons in their minor-league organization (mostly as a pitcher), he was purchased by the Cleveland Indians and converted to an outfielder.

After playing in the minors in 1962, Vic made his major-league debut with the Tribe in April 1963, starting every game in center field through June 12th. By that time he was hitting .304 and was a front-runner for AL Rookie of the year, but was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist. He didn’t return to the lineup until mid-August, and finished his rookie season with a .292 batting average.

Davalillo was the Indians’ starting center fielder for the next two seasons, then shared the position with Chuck Hinton in ’66 and ’67. Back then, I didn't give Davalillo a second thought (probably because he was on the Cleveland Indians, and not named Sam McDowell), but he was 3rd in AL batting in 1965:

When the Indians acquired Jose Cardenal from the Angels prior to the 1968 season, Vic moved to right field, starting 43 games there until his mid-June trade to the Angels for outfielder Jimmie Hall. Davalillo started 66 games for the Angels, mostly in July and August. By September he was relegated to the bench.

In May 1969, Vic moved on to the Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Jim Hicks. With Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Vada Pinson manning the Redbirds’ outfield, there was little for Davalillo to do. Even the famous departure of Flood after the ’69 season didn’t help him, as the Cards acquired Jose Cardenal, who had taken away Vic’s playing time in Cleveland 2 years earlier. Davalillo rode the bench for his 1 ½ seasons in St. Louis, made 2 appearances as a relief pitcher, but also began his 2nd career as a go-to pinch-hitter.

In January 1971 he and pitcher Nelson Briles were traded to the Pirates for outfielder Matty Alou and pitcher George Brunet. He also played for the Athletics from August 1973 until his release in May 1974. Vic had played in the ’71 World Series with the Pirates, and also in ’73 with the A’s.

He then played ball in Mexico for the rest of 1974 and also in 1975-77. Normally, Mexico or Japan signals the end of the line for someone’s career, but that was not the case for Davalillo.

The Dodgers signed him in August 1977, and was a key pinch-hitter for them for the next 3+ seasons. The Dodgers were well-stocked with pinch-hitters during this time: Davalillo from the left side and Manny Mota (.313 with the Dodgers) from the right side. Vic hit .297 in 158 at-bats for the Dodgers (almost all as a pinch-hitter). Vic hit .333 in both the ’77 and ’78 World Series.

He was released after the 1979 season, and played part of 1980 back in Mexico before the Dodgers re-signed him in July 1980. After his final release following the 1980 season, he once again played in Mexico for the 1981 season.

Vic's older brother Yo-Yo Davalillo played briefly for the Senators in 1953, and for the Reds' AAA team in Havana from 1955-60.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Billy Williams (#315)

Billy Williams was one of the Cubs’ 3 key position players (along with Ernie Banks and Ron Santo) all through the 1960s.

Williams was signed by the Cubs in 1956, and played in the minors for all of 1956-58 and most of 1959 and 1960. Billy made his big-league debut in August 1959, and played in 18 games over the final 2 months of the season. He also appeared in 12 games for the Cubs during late-September 1960.

Billy made the Cubs for good at the start of the 1961 season, and took over the left field duties from the tandem of Ernie Banks (!) and Richie Ashburn. Beginning on June 26th, Williams started the final 100 games in left field. He clubbed 25 homers as a rookie, and won the NL Rookie of the Year award, with 10 of the 16 votes.

He made his first 3 all-star squads early in his career (’62, ’64, and ’65), another in ’68, then two more times late in his career (’72, ’73). Williams hit over .300 five times, including a career-high .333 in 1972, which led the National League. He also led the league in runs (137) and hits (205) in 1970.

Billy was the Cubs’ regular left fielder from 1961 to 1964, then after 2 seasons in right field he returned to his familiar left field post from 1967 to 1973, although he worked in 19 starts at 1st base in ’73. The following season (at age 36) he split his time 60/40 between 1st base and left field.

After the 1974 season, he was traded to the Athletics for pitchers Darold Knowles and Bob Locker, and 2nd base prospect Manny Trillo. Williams spent his final 2 seasons in Oakland as their designated hitter.

In ’75 he also started 5 games at 1st base, but was strictly the DH (and occasional pinch-hitter) in 1976. However, he did play 2 innings in left field that season (on August 27th, for old-times’ sake I guess). Billy played in the ALCS in 1975, but never made it to the World Series in his 18 seasons.

Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. The Cubs retired his #26 the same year.

Billy was well-known for playing almost every game for 8 to 10 years in the 1960s. I decided to research this to see if it was fact, folklore, or just an impression. From 1962 through 1973, Williams played in 1920 of the Cubs’ 1941 games, including 1117 consecutive games from 9/22/63 to 9/2/70.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Matty Alou (#10)

Matty Alou (the middle of the 3 Alou brothers) played the outfield for 15 seasons, mostly for the Giants and Pirates.

Alou was signed by the Giants in 1957, and played 4 seasons in the minors before making his major-league debut in the final week of the 1960 season, 2 ½ years after his brother Felipe joined the team.

Matty spent the next 4 seasons as the Giants’ 5th outfielder, behind Willie Mays, brother Felipe, whichever of Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey wasn’t playing 1st base, and the veteran Harvey Kuenn.

After Felipe was traded away following the 1963 season, it looked like things would open up for Matty, but his younger brother Jesus joined the team that year and jumped ahead of him in the outfield mix.

Not until 1965, when Cepeda missed most of the season to injuries and Kuenn moved on did Alou get a starting position. (Actually, he shared left field with Len Gabrielsen, but Matty’s time as a backup at the other 2 spots pushed him up to #3 in overall playing time.)

After the 1965 season, he was traded to the Pirates for pitcher Joe Gibbon and catcher Ozzie Virgil. Although Alou batted .310 and .292 in part-time duty in ’61 and ’62, it wasn’t until he got to Pittsburgh that his bat exploded (maybe due to the influence of manager Harry Walker?).

Alou was immediately installed as the Pirates’ center fielder, and collected over 575 plate appearances in each of his five seasons with the Pirates. His batting average soared, reaching .342 (NL best), .338 (2nd to Pete Rose), .332, .331, and .297 for those 5 seasons. Alou also made the all-star team in 1968 and 1969, and led the NL in hits (231), doubles (41), and plate appearances (746) in 1969.

Matty’s final games as a Pirate were in the 1970 NLCS. With young Al Oliver waiting in the wings, the Pirates dealt Alou while he was at the top of his game, sending him to the Cardinals (with pitcher George Brunet) for pitcher Nelson Briles and outfielder Vic Davalillo prior to the ’71 season.

Alou started 144 games for the Cardinals in 1971, dividing his time between center field and 1st base. The following season he was the primary first baseman (while also playing in right field) until his August trade to the Athletics. Matty finished out the rest of that season (including the ALCS and World Series) with Oakland, then was traded to the Yankees in the off-season.

Alou played most of 1973 with the Yankees, sharing the first base and right field starting assignments with his brother Felipe. In September Matty was sold back to the Cardinals, who flipped him to the Padres after the season.

Matty played 48 games for the Padres in 1974 before his release in mid-July. He then played in Japan from 1974 through 1976.

Alou passed away in November 2011 at age 72.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Orlando Pena (#449)

Orlando Pena (age 80) is the oldest living player from his era that I have not yet featured on my blogs. (This card has his birth year as 1935, but Baseball-Reference and Baseball-Almanac have it as 1933.)

He began his professional career in 1955, playing for the unaffiliated Daytona Beach Islanders in the class-D Florida State League for one year before he was acquired by the Cincinnati Reds. After a season in class-B ball, the Reds assigned him to their triple-A team in Havana, Cuba (his home country) for the next 2 years.

He made his major-league debut with 9 games in the final 5 weeks of the 1958 season. Pena played the entire 1959 season with the Reds, and was their #2 man in the bullpen in games and innings pitched, and 2nd in saves.

In 1960, Orlando was back in triple-A for most of 1960. He began the season in Havana, then the Reds moved the team to Jersey City, NJ due to the Cuban embargo. Pena also played 4 games with the Reds in the last half of September.

Pena began the 1961 season back in Jersey City, then was traded to the unaffiliated Toronto Maple Leafs in the triple-A International League in mid-July for pitcher Ken Johnson. After the season, Toronto (and Pena) became part of the Milwaukee Braves’ organization.

After spending all of 1961 and most of 1962 in the minors, Orlando was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in August for pitcher (and future umpire) Bill Kunkel.

Pena joined the Athletics and made 12 starts and 1 relief appearance over the final 2 months of the season. Pena was a starter for Kansas City during the '63 and '64 seasons, winning 12 games each season, but leading the AL with 20 losses in 1963.

After moving on to the Tigers in June 1965, Pena reverted back to his role as a reliever. With Detroit, he appeared in 30 games in 1965 and 54 games in 1966, all in relief.

After only 2 appearances, Orlando was sold to the Indians in May 1967 and was the Tribe's closer, pitching in 48 games and collecting a team-high 8 saves.

Pena spent the next 2 seasons in the minors, with the Indians', Pilots', and Royals' organizations. The Royals released him during spring training 1970, and it took until mid-June for him to catch on with another team. He worked out of the Pirates’ bullpen for 2 months, until getting his 2nd release of the year in late August.

Orlando played most of 1971 and all of 1972 in the Orioles’ farm system. He pitched 5 games for the O's in mid-season 1971, and another 11 games at the start of the 1973 season.

The Cardinals purchased his contract in June 1973, and he pitched 42 games for them in 1973 and another 42 games in 1974, until his trade to the Angels in September.

Pena wrapped up his career with 11 games in 1975. The Angels released him 4 days after his final game in early May.

In 1979 and at age 45, Pena pitched 1 game for the Miami Amigos in the short-lived Inter-American League.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Russ Snyder (#405)

A few months ago, I found a page on listing the 100 oldest living ex-players. Within the scope of the 1966 to 1970 card sets, the only names listed there were 3 managers. Last week I decided to find out who were the oldest living ex-players from that time period that I haven’t yet featured on my blogs.

As best as I can determine, they are pitchers Orlando Pena and Camilo Pascual, and outfielder Russ Snyder (all age 80), 1B-OF Felipe Alou (79), and pitchers Bob Humphreys and Jim Perry (both 78). Nine others are 77, with Fred Gladding, Vic Davalillo, and J.C. Martin turning 78 later this year. 

Happy 80th birthday today to Russ Snyder! Russ played outfield for 12 seasons from 1959 to 1970, and is best remembered as the Baltimore Orioles’ 4th outfielder from 1961 to 1967.

Snyder was signed by the Yankees in 1953, and played in their farm system through the 1958 season. Three days into the 1959 season, he was part of yet another trade between the Yankees and the Kansas City Athletics.

Snyder made his big-league debut as a pinch-hitter in mid-April 1959, then was sent to the minors. He was recalled in mid-July, and became the Athletics’ starting left fielder from late-July to mid-August, before moving over to center field for most of September.

In 1960, Russ was part of a 3-way tandem in right field (along with Hank Bauer and Whitey Herzog) who replaced the departed Roger Maris.

After the 1960 season, Snyder and Herzog were traded to the Orioles for 4 players, including infielder Wayne Causey and catcher Clint Courtney. Except for being limited to 56 games in 1964, Snyder was the Orioles’ 4th outfielder and got the most at-bats of the non-regulars every season from 1961 to 1967.

Russ bounced around in his last 3 seasons. Traded to the White Sox with Luis Aparicio for Don Buford and others in November 1967, Snyder was flipped to the Indians in mid-season for outfielder Leon Wagner.

After a year and a half in Cleveland, he played his final season (1970) with the Brewers. Snyder was released by the Brewers during spring training in 1971.