Monday, October 29, 2012

Cleon Jones (#165)

Cleon Jones was one of the three outfielders selected to the Topps all-rookie team in 1966. Jones was the Mets' regular center fielder as a rookie in 1966, and again in 1967.

Cleon moved over to left field beginning in 1968, after incumbent left fielder Tommy Davis was traded to the White Sox for center fielder Tommie Agee, also a Topps all-rookie selection in 1966. In fact, along with Ron Swoboda (1965), the Mets' entire starting outfield beginning in 1968 were all-rookie selections.

Cleon Jones (who like Agee, Hank Aaron, and Willie McCovey, hailed from from Mobile, Alabama) was signed by the Mets in 1963, and played the remainder of that season in class-A ball. His major-league debut came during a September call-up.

He jumped up to triple-A at the start of 1964, and played with the Mets' Buffalo club for 2 seasons, except for his time with the Mets in April and September 1965.

Jones was a mainstay in the Mets outfield from 1966 to 1974. He finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting, and was named to the all-star team in 1969. He also flashed defensive excellence in the 1969 World Series.

Cleon began the 1975 season as a role player, and was released in late July. The White Sox signed him on April 3, 1976, but released him at the end of the month, ending his 13-year career.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tommy Helms (#505)

Continuing the Reds' string of 7 Topps all-star rookies in 6 seasons, Tommy Helms snared the 3rd base position in 1966.

Helms was signed by the Reds in 1959, and played in their farm system for 7 seasons: the first 2 in class D, followed by 1 season each in B and A ball, then the last 3 (1963-65) at triple-A San Diego. Helms was almost exclusively a shortstop in the minors.

Tommy made his major-league debut in September 1964, appearing in 2 games. He also played in 21 games in 1965, including 7 consecutive starts at shortstop in early September (the only games Chico Cardenas didn't start all season).

Helms began his rookie season of 1966 as the regular 2nd baseman, starting the first 15 games there, while Pete Rose started at 3rd base. By game #18 they switched positions, and Helms started 113 of the final 143 games at 3rd base (with Deron Johnson and Chico Ruiz playing the rest).

Tommy won the Rookie of the Year award, getting 12 of the 20 first place votes. (The Astros' Sonny Jackson finished a distant 2nd with 3 votes.) In 1967, Helms switched to 2nd base (when Rose moved to the outfield), where he would remain for the rest of his career. He also went to his first of 2 consecutive all-star games.

After the 1971 season, Helms was part of a blockbuster trade, going to the Astros along with 1st baseman Lee May and utility infielder Jimmy Stewart for 2nd baseman Joe Morgan, shortstop Denis Menke, pitcher Jack Billingham, and outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister.

After 4 seasons with Houston, he was traded to the Pirates for infielder Art Howe. Following his 1st season with the Pirates, Tommy was sold to the Athletics. What happened next seems very bizarre. Before the next season, the Athletics traded him BACK to the Pirates (with Phil Garner) for SIX PLAYERS (Tony Armas, Doug Bair, Dave Giusti, Rick Langford, Doc Medich and Mitchell Page). WHAAAT? Garner couldn't possibly have been THAT good!

The Pirates released Helms in June 1977, and he spent the remainder of the season with the Red Sox, before retiring.

After his playing career, Helms was a coach for the Reds (on Pete Rose's staff) and managed the team for part of the 1988 and 1989 seasons, during Rose's legal troubles.

Tommy is the uncle of former Marlins' 3rd baseman Wes Helms.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sonny Jackson (#415)

Roland "Sonny" Jackson was the Topps all-rookie shortstop in 1966. (Two seasons later, the Astros' Hector Torres would also be the Topps all-rookie shortstop.)

Jackson was signed by the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, and made an orderly 3-year progression (A, AA, AAA) through their farm system. After each minor-league season, he was called up to Houston, playing in 1, 9, and 10 games in 1963-65.

Jackson took over the starting shortstop job on day 1 of the 1966 season, replacing veteran Bob Lillis (and Eddie Kasko), who had manned the position since the team's inception in 1962. Sonny started 150 games that season, batting .292 with 174 hits and a rookie record 49 stolen bases. He also finished 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to Cincinnati's 3rd baseman Tommy Helms.

In 1967, Jackson's average fell off to .237, his stolen bases down to 22, and after the season he was packed off to Atlanta with part-time 1st baseman Chuck Harrison for pitcher Denver Lemaster and infielder Denis Menke. (Not to worry, in 1968 rookie Hector Torres also landed the Topps all-rookie shortstop slot, but also like Jackson, Torres' rookie season was the high point of his time in Houston.)

Sonny played shortstop for the Braves for the next 3 seasons, but only started a few more games there than Orlando Martinez (in '68) and Gil Garrido (69-70). Jackson was the team's regular center fielder during the 1971 season. (That season, Rico Carty missed the entire year with an injury, and Hank Aaron was starting his 2-year stint as the Braves' 1st baseman.)

Sonny split the 1972 season between the Braves and triple-A, then returned in 1973, but as a pinch-hitter and backup OF-SS. The remainder of his major-league career consisted of 5 games in July 1974, as he played most of the season in triple-A before getting his release at season's end.

Jackson ended his career in the minors with the Padres ('75) and White Sox ('76).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dave Johnson (#363)

Dave Johnson (I refuse to refer to him by that ridiculous nickname, suited to a small child) was the Topps all-rookie 2nd baseman in 1966.

Johnson was signed by the O's in 1962, and played in the minors for 3 seasons, early-on as a shortstop, before switching over to 2nd base.

Dave made his major-league debut with the Orioles in April 1965, and played in 20 games (including starting every game between 5/10 and 5/20) before being sent down in mid-June.

Johnson took over the starting 2nd base job on day 1 of the 1966 season, starting 125 games there. He finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting. He was the team's regular 2nd baseman until they began phasing in rookie Bob Grich in 1972.

After the '72 season, Dave was traded to the Braves (with catcher Johnny Oates and pitchers Pat Dobson and Roric Harrison) for catcher Earl Williams, the 1971 NL Rookie of the Year.

Johnson spent 2 seasons with the Braves. In 1972 he hit 43 home runs, 25 more than his previous high. After 1 game in 1975, Dave was released by the Braves, and spent the next 2 seasons playing in Japan.

He played for the Phillies from 1977-78, backing up Ted Sizemore at 2B and Richie Hebner at 1B. In August 1978, Dave was traded to the Cubs for pitcher Larry Anderson. After 24 games with the Cubs, he was released at the end of the season.

After his playing career, Johnson managed the Mets (1984-90, winning the World Series in '86), Reds (1993-95), Orioles (1996-97), Dodgers (1999-2000), and Nationals (2011-12).

He was last seen watching his Nationals blow a 6-run lead in game 5 of the NLDS 2 days ago.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

George Scott (#75)

After 4 seasons in the minors, George "Boomer" Scott made his major-league debut on April 12, 1966. Thrown right into the fire, he played every game during his rookie season. After starting 3 of the first 4 games at 3rd base, he moved across the diamond and started all but two of the remaining games at 1st base.

Boomer (he was "Boomer" long before that blowhard on a national sports network was "Boomer") finished the season with a .245 average, 27 homers and 97 RBI, while leading the AL with 152 strikeouts, and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting.

He had similar playing time in 1967, but his average jumped to .303, while his homers (19) and RBI (82) were down. He also cut his strikeout total to 119, and won his first of 8 gold gloves. Scott was 6 for 26 in the World Series that year.

George played 6 seasons with the Sox, and was primarily their 3rd baseman during the '69 and '70 seasons (the only 2 years from 1967-76 that he didn't win a gold glove).

He was traded to the Brewers after the 1971 season (with pitchers Jim Lonborg and Ken Brett, catcher Don Pavletich, and outfielders Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud) for pitchers Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin, outfielder Tommy Harper, and ex-Phillies farmhand Pat Skrable. (Wow, that deal seems so lopsided!)

George played 5 seasons as the Brewers' 1st sacker, then returned to the Red Sox (along with outfielder Bernie Carbo) for 1st baseman Cecil Cooper. After 2 1/2 seasons back at his old 1st base post in Fenway Park, Scott was traded to the Royals in June 1979.

After 2 months in Kaycee, and 1 month with the Yankees, George's major-league career was over. He played in the Mexican League from 1980-1984.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Randy Hundley (#106)

Randy Hundley nabbed the catcher's slot on the 1966 Topps all-rookie team, catching 149 games (144 starts) and playing more innings (1293) than any other catcher that season. He also collected 22 doubles, 19 homers, and 63 RBI. Other rookie catchers that year included Andy Etchebarren and Paul Casanova.

Hundley was signed by the Giants in 1960, and caught in the minors for the next 6 seasons. He also played 2 games with the Giants in '64 and 6 games in '65. After the 1965 season he was traded to the Cubs with pitcher Bill Hands for pitcher Lindy McDaniel and outfielder Don Landrum.

Randy was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie, stabilizing a position that employed 4 "regulars" in the previous season, but none who started at least 50 games. Hundley was a fixture behind the plate for 4 seasons, playing at least 149 games each season.

In 1970 he only played 70 games while missing all of late-April to mid-July. Hundley also missed the entire 1971 season, except for catching 8 games in May, and a pinch-hitting appearance in early April.

Randy returned to the lineup in 1972, and played over 100 games in each of the next 2 seasons. After the 1973 season, he was traded to the Twins for catcher George Mitterwald. Hundley began the season as the Twins' starter, but was soon replaced by rookie Glenn Borgmann, and only played a few games after mid-June.

The Twins released Hundley after the 1974 season, then he found work the following season as the Padres backup catcher.

In April 1976, Randy returned to the Cubs, but only played 13 games that season (all in April and May. His final season (1977) consisted of 2 games with the Cubs in September. After the season, he was released by the Cubs, ending his 14-year career.

Hundley's son Todd caught for the Mets and others from 1990-2003.