Monday, November 8, 2010

Final Card: Bill Hepler

This is the final baseball card for Bill Hepler (#144). His only other card came in 1966, when he appeared on a 7th-series Mets Rookies card.

Until today, I never gave a 2nd thought to Hepler. Sure, I had seen his short career listed on the back of this card, and I knew he didn't have a card after this one, but here's what I learned today: Bill was signed by the Washington Senators in 1965, and spent one season at class-A Geneva, NY where he compiled a 13-10 record in 28 starts.

Based on only one class-A season, two things happened:
1) The Mets selected him in the Rule 5 draft
2) Topps gave him a slot on a 1966 Mets Rookies card

Were the Mets (and Topps) so smart to give him such attention? If he was a phenom, why did the Senators leave him unprotected?

Bill jumped all the way to the majors in 1966 (well he'd have to, being a Rule 5 draft pick), and appeared in 37 games (3 starts) for a total of 69 innings. He also walked twice as many batters as he struck out. This may well explain his one-year major-league career.

After 1966, he spent the next 3 years pitching for A and AA teams in the Mets' system, before wrapping up his career in 1970 with 5 games for the Senators' single-A team in the Carolina League.

Maybe a veteran Mets' fan can shed some light on the fast rise and faster fall of Bill Hepler's career.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

American League Batting Leaders (#239, 241, 243)

Here are the 1967 cards showing the previous season's American League leaders in batting average, RBI, and home runs. The Orioles are well-represented among the league leaders. They won their first World Series in 1966, and their newly-acquired right fielder Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown. Orioles' first baseman Boog Powell chipped in with a 3rd-place showing in both home runs and RBI. The Twins had a lock on 2nd place in each category.

As mentioned above, Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown in 1966. The Twins' Tony Oliva finished 2nd, followed by the Tigers' Al Kaline. (All three are right fielders!). Oliva won the batting title in '64, '65, and '71, finished 2nd in '66, and 3rd three times: in '68 (by 1 point), '69 (by less than 1 point), and '70. Kaline was no slouch either, having won the title in '55, finishing 2nd in '59, '61, and '63, and 3rd in '66 and '67.

The same 3 players appear on both the RBI and home run leaders. 1966 was the only season that Robinson led in either RBI or home runs. Harmon Killebrew led the league in RBI 3 times ('62, '69, '71). Boog Powell never led the league in either RBI or home runs, having the misfortune of playing during the peak production years of Killebrew, Robinson, and the Senators' Frank Howard.

Harmon Killebrew led the league in home runs 6 times ('59, '62, '63, '64, '67, '69).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

National League Batting Leaders (#240, 242, 244)

Program note: Please check out my new 1970 Topps Baseball card blog, which I launched today.

Here are the 1967 cards showing the previous season's National League leaders in batting average, RBI, and home runs. The Braves are well-represented with 4 of the 9 slots, followed to a lesser degree by the Phillies and Pirates. Hank Aaron, who at this time was still somewhat in the shadow of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, was quietly marching toward the career home run record. Phillies' 3rd baseman Richie Allen also appears on 2 cards, and finished 4th in batting (although 25 points behind the leader). 1966 was Allen's last superb season in Philadelphia, as injuries, defensive liabilities, and his general dissatisfaction with the Phillies' management and fan base kicked into high gear in 1967.

The Alou brothers manned the top two spots in batting average, followed by Felipe's teammate, left fielder Rico Carty. Carty would miss the entire 1968 season with tuberculosis, but came back strong in 1969. Rico continued his fine play into 1970, earning a starting all-star berth as a write-in candidate.

Aaron was top dog in RBI and home runs, as Willie Mays began to fade, and Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda were not yet having their breakout seasons. Looking at the card back, we see that the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies each had another player above 100 RBI, as did the Giants' Mays.

Aaron and Allen each had 40+ homers, and Willie Mays (unlike his Yankees counterpart Mickey Mantle) was still cranking out home runs in the upper-30s. The Braves were also well-fortified with other power hitters Joe Torre and Felipe Alou, as were the Giants with Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 1967 Senators

Here is a review of the 1967 Senators squad, as requested by "Spiff" of the Texas Rangers Cards blog back in May.

After two straight 8th-place finishes, the Senators finished in 6th place in 1967. After the season, manager Gil Hodges was hired away by the New York Mets, and the Senators plummeted to the American League basement in 1968. In 1967, the Senators' lone all-star representative was catcher Paul Casanova, who had a better year in 1966 than he did in 1967.

These were the top 4 starting pitchers (in order of starts and innings pitched). Phil Ortega was far and away the workhorse of the staff in 1967, appearing in 34 games (all starts) and pitching 219 innings (55 more innings than Camilo Pascual). His record was 10-10. Pascual, acquired from the Twins in the off-season, compiled a 12-10 record in 7 fewer starts. Barry Moore had a bad season, compiling a 7-11 record and walking just as many as he struck out. 20-year-old rookie Joe Coleman Jr was the 4th starter.

Pete Richert was one of the Senators top 3 starters in 1966, but after making 10 starts in 1967, he was traded to the Orioles for 1st baseman Mike Epstein and pitcher Frank Bertaina. Bertaina manned the #5 spot in the rotation, making 18 starts. Darold Knowles was acquired in the off-season from the Phillies, where he was their bullpen ace in his rookie year. He filled the same role for the Senators in 1967, leading the team with 61 appearances and 14 saves. Bob Humphreys was the long man in the bullpen, pitching 105 innings in 48 games, while compiling a 6-2 record.

Other members of the Nats' bullpen in 1967 included Dick Lines, Casey Cox, and rookie Dave Baldwin, all of whom were used only in relief. Bob Priddy was acquired from the Giants in December 1966 (along with outfielder Cap Peterson) for pitcher Mike McCormick. Priddy started 8 games along with his 38 relief appearances.

Dick Bosman, Jim Hannan, and Buster Narum each pitched in fewer than 10 games for the Senators, and spent most of the year as starters with the AAA club in Hawaii. Mike McCormick's 1st series card shows him as a Senator, but he was traded to the Giants in December 1966. He went on to lead the National League with 22 wins in 1967!

Here are the Senators' regulars for 1967. Paul Casanova, who took over the team's catching duties as a rookie in 1966, continued in that role in 1967, and made the All-Star team. Mike Epstein, who hit 30 homers in class A in 1965 and 29 homers in AAA during 1966 was blocked by Boog Powell in Baltimore, so during spring training he demanded the Orioles to trade him. He was finally accommodated in late May. Bernie Allen was acquired in the off-season from the Twins. Ed Brinkman was the Senators' regular shortstop from 1963-1970. Early in his career, he struggled to bat over .190 (which he failed to do in '65, '67, and '68). Once Ted Williams became the team's manager in 1969, Brinkman's average shot up to .266.

Ken McMullen was the Senators' #2 slugger with 16 homeruns - not much really for a 3rd baseman. Left fielder Frank Howard (The Capital Punisher) was among the league leaders in homeruns with 36. With the departure of Don Lock to Philadelphia, center field became a 3-way carousel in 1967, featuring Fred Valentine, Ed Stroud, and Hank Allen, with Valentine playing the most innings there. He also made 51 starts in right field. Cap Peterson was acquired from the Giants in December, and started 85 games in right.

Tim Cullen started most of the games at shortstop after July 4th, having wrested the job away from weak-hitting Ed Brinkman. Hank Allen (R) and Dick Nen (L) were the primary pinch hitters, and also got 50 to 60 starts as well. Bob Saverine was primarily the backup to Bernie Allen at 2nd base.

Jim King, the team's starting right fielder since 1962, was traded to the White Sox in June for outfielder Ed Stroud. Six weeks later, King moved on to the Indians, where he finished his career at season's end. Stroud, who made his debut with the Sox in September 1966, played 79 games in center field (including 48 starts). Ken Harrelson began the season sharing the 1st base job with Dick Nen, but after Epstein was acquired at the end of May, Harrelson was sold to the Athletics. By late August, his patience was rewarded as Ken was signed by the Red Sox (to replace the injured Tony Conigliaro in right field) as they made their way to the World Series. Doug Camilli managed to start 24 games as Casanova's backup.

Other assorted Senators: Jim French made 5 starts, mostly in the last week of the season. Bob Chance played in 27 games, but spent most of the season in AAA. His last start for the Nats was May 7th. The back of John Orsino's card says he spent most of 1966 on the disabled list. That must have extended into 1967 also, because he only played 1 game with the Senators, and 16 games in the minors. Gil Hodges managed the Senators from 1963 to 1967, then was TRADED to the Mets, where he managed for 4 seasons, including the miracle season of 1969.

All but Pete Craig played for the Senators in 1967. Frank Coggins started all 19 games after September 9th at 2nd base. Dick Nold pitched in 7 games in August and September.

Epstein, Stroud, and Allen also appeared on rookie cards in 1967.

Senators deals from the end of the 1966 season to December 1967:

10/18/66 - Released outfielder Willie Kirkland.
11/20/66 - Traded outfielder Don Lock to the Phillies for Darold Knowles.
12/03/66 - Traded pitcher Ron Kline to the Twins for Bernie Allen and Camilo Pascual.
12/13/66 - Traded Mike McCormick to the Giants for Cap Peterson and Bob Priddy.
02/16/67 - Sold infielder Chuck Cottier to the Angels.
05/29/67 - Traded Pete Richert to the Orioles for Frank Bertaina and Mike Epstein.
06/09/67 - Sold Ken Harrelson to the Athletics.
06/15/67 - Traded Jim King to the White Sox for Ed Stroud.
11/27/67 - Traded manager Gil Hodges to the Mets for pitcher Bill Denehy.
11/28/67 - Purchased outfielder Sam Bowens from the Orioles.

Next team review: Chicago White Sox

(click on the "Team Review" label below to see other teams)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Final Card: Gil Blanco

This is the final card for Gil Blanco (#303). His only other baseball card was a Yankees Rookie Stars card in 1965.

Gil was signed by the Yankees in 1964, and started 23 games for class-A Fort Lauderdale, compiling a 12-7 record. In 1965, Blanco spent the entire season with the Yankees, but only appeared in 17 games (fewer than 9 other Yankee pitchers).

After his unimpressive performance in 1965, Gil was back in the minors to start the 1966 season. In June he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics (along with pitcher Bil Stafford and outfielder Roger Repoz) for pitcher Fred Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. Blanco appeared in 11 games (8 starts) for the remainder of the 1966 season, with his September 22nd appearance being his last major-league game.

Blanco continued to pitch in the minor leagues from 1967 to 1971, mostly in the Athletics' system.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wes Westrum (#593)

I always thought that the name "Wes" was a nickname derived from Westrum's last name, but his first name really is Wesley! By the time this card appeared in the 7th series in 1967, Wes was about to be fired.

Westrum was a catcher for the New York Giants from 1947 to 1957, with most of his playing time coming between 1950 and 1953.

Wes managed the Mets from 1965 to 1967. After 95 games in 1965, he took over the reins from Casey Stengel. Westrum was dismissed 151 games into the 1967 with the team in last place. In the team's first 6 seasons, they finished 10th, 10th, 10th, 10th, 9th (thanks to the Cubs!), and 10th. Westrum should have gotten a honeymoon after bringing them in 9th in 1966!

The Mets carried on with an interim manager (Salty Parker, if I recall correctly) and then brought in Gil Hodges in 1968.

Westrum also managed the Giants for the 2nd half of 1974 and all of 1975. He appeared on a manager's inset photo on the 1975 Giants Team card.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Card: John Werhas

"INFIELD"... Is there anything that screams "short-timer" more than "INFIELD"? (other than "INF-OF", of course)

This is the final baseball card for John Werhas (#514). Werhas was signed by the Dodgers in 1960, and after 2 seasons in the low minors, he spent 5 seasons with the Dodgers' triple-A Spokane team, mostly as a 3rd baseman. During this time, he also played 29 games in 1964 and 4 games in 1965 with the Dodgers.

1967 was John's first full season in the major leagues. It would also be his last major-league season. After 7 games with the Dodgers, on May 10th he was traded to the Angels for outfielder Len Gabrielson. Werhas appeared in 49 games for the Angels in 1967, mostly as a backup 3rd baseman to Paul Schaal.

After spending the 1968 season with the Phillies' triple-A San Diego Padres, John played 2 seasons with the Angels' triple-A Hawaii team. He missed the 1971 season, then was back for 2 more seasons in Hawaii (by now the Padres' triple-A team).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Final Card: Ossie Chavarria

Ossie Chavarria (#344) was a utility infielder who played a season and a half with the Kansas City Athletics.

Ossie (from Panama) was signed by the Cubs before the 1959 season, but after only 1 season in their system, was traded to Kansas City. He spent 6 seasons with various Athletics' farm teams. Primarily a 2nd baseman, he also saw significant playing time at 3rd base and shortstop, as well as occasional games at 1st base and in the outfield.

Chavarria made his major-league debut on April 14, 1966, and spent the entire 1966 season with Kansas City. In 1967, he split his time evenly between Kansas City (38 games) and triple-A Vancouver (40 games). His final major-league game was in early August 1967.

Ossie spent the next four seasons in the minors, playing for the Athletics' AAA team in 1968-69, and for the Yankees' AAA team in 1970-71. After the 1969 season, the A's traded Ossie and 1st baseman Danny Cater to the Yankees for pitcher Al Downing and catcher Frank Fernandez.

Chavarria never played for the Yankees. After the 1971 season, he was traded to the Mexico City Tigers for 3rd baseman Celerino Sanchez.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Final Card: Jake Wood

This is the final card for Jake Wood (#394), who played for the Tigers from 1961-67.

Jacob Wood was signed by the Tigers in 1957, and after 4 seasons in the minors he made his big-league debut in April 1961. Wood played in 162 games in his rookie season, starting 160 of them at 2nd base. He led the AL with 14 triples, and also with 141 strikeouts (which at the time, was the record for most strikeouts in a season). He also finished 6th in the Rookie of the Year voting. Sounds great, eh? Unfortunately, that was the high point of his career.

Jake began 1962 where he left off in 1961 - as the regular 2nd baseman. After July 24th, Wood only started 3 games at 2nd base. Dick McAuliffe (who had been the backup SS-3B the previous year) moved over to start the remaining games at 2nd base.

Wood's playing time decreased with each subsequent year. In 1963 he was still the primary 2nd baseman, but only by a slight margin over rookie George Smith. Detroit's acquisition of Jerry Lumpe from Kansas City in 1964 reduced Wood to little more than a pinch-hitter for the next 2 seasons. In 1966, Jake managed to start about 1/3 of the games at 2nd base, while Lumpe started the majority of the games there.

After appearing in only 14 games for the Tigers in 1967, Wood was sold to the Reds on June 23rd. He only saw action in 16 games with the Reds, the last on August 11th. After the season, he was sold to the Indians, but never played in the majors again. Wood spent the 1968 season with Cleveland's triple-A team, and 1969 with Detroit's double-A team before retiring.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Final Card: Hank Fischer

This is the final baseball card for Hank Fischer (#342).

Hank was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. After 3 seasons in the minors, he made his major-league debut in April 1962. Fischer appeared in 29 games (37 innings) for the Braves in 1962, all in relief.

Hank's playing time increased in 1963. While still primarily a reliever, he also started 6 games. In 1964, he made the transition to starting pitcher, and was #4 behind Tony Cloninger, Denny Lemaster, and the 43-year-old Warren Spahn.

Fischer was pushed down to #5 starter in 1965, due to the emergence of Wade Blasingame as a top starter and the acquisition of Ken Johnson from Houston (Spahn was gone). He also made 12 relief appearances along with his 19 starts.

In 1966, the Braves moved to Atlanta, but Fischer hardly had time to unpack. After 14 appearances, on June 15th he was traded to the Reds for veteran pitcher Joey Jay. Exactly 2 months (and 11 appearances) later, he was traded to the Red Sox for TWO players to be named later (pitchers Dick Stigman and Rollie Sheldon).

Fischer was used very little by the Red Sox. After 6 games in 1966 and 9 games in 1967, Hank called it a career. His last game was on August 8, 1967.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The 1967 Cubs

Today I am reviewing the 1967 Cubs, as requested by Wrigley Wax a few weeks ago. Since I was not as familiar with this team as I was with the 1967 Phillies (or even the 1967 Cardinals), this required a bit more research, especially into the details of the pitching staff.

Here is the last Cubs team group photo for awhile. When Topps resumed team photo cards in the 1970s, they used "floating heads" on the Cubs' team card for several years.

Here are the Cubs' starters for 1967. The season began with a rotation of Jenkins-Holtzman-Simmons-Culp, with Rich Nye getting the odd 5th start. Because of National Guard committments, Ken Holtzman didn't pitch from 5/21 through 8/12, so the rotation was adjusted in late May to Jenkins-Nye-Simmons-Culp-Niekro. Curt Simmons' final start was on July 7th, and was replaced in the rotation by a combination of Bill Hands, Rob Gardner, and Bob Shaw (the latter 2 acquired from the Mets during the season). By the time Holtzman returned in August, the rotation was Jenkins-Niekro-Hands-Nye-Holtzman (with Ray Culp relegated to the bullpen). From 9/10 through the end of the season, the Cubs went with a 3-man rotation (Jenkins-Nye-Niekro).

Chuck Hartenstein (who was not on Topps' radar in 1967) led the Cubs with 10 saves. He pitched 45 games, all in relief. Bill Hands also pitched 38 games in relief, to go with his 11 starts. Bill Stoneman, Cal Koonce, and Dick Radatz were the other primary relievers. Niekro and Culp also spent significant time in the bullpen.

Bob Shaw was picked up from the Mets in late July and was used mostly in the bullpen. Bob Hendley relieved in 7 games, then was traded to the Mets in mid-June. Pete Mikkelsen was claimed off waivers from the Pirates in early August, and made 7 relief appearances. 37-year-old Don Larsen was called up from triple-A for 2 weeks in July and pitched in 3 games.

Most of the Cubs' starting 8 were all-stars at one time or another. Right fielder Ted Savage began the season with the Cardinals, but joined the Cubs on May 14th. He pulled more starting assignments in RF than Lee Thomas and Al Spangler.

These were the Cubs' primary substitutes, all playing in more than 50 games. Clarence Jones, Al Spangler, and Lee Thomas were all used primarily as pinch-hitters and right fielders. Jones and Thomas also saw some action at 1st base. Paul Popovich was the 2B-SS backup, then was traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Lou Johnson after the season. Since Ron Santo played 161 games at 3rd base, there was no need for a backup there.

John Stephenson came over from the Mets in the Bob Hendley trade in mid-June. John Boccabella's catching resume in 1967 consisted of one 9-inning game. He was mostly used as a pinch-hitter and corner outfield reserve. George Altman spent most of the season at triple-A Tacoma, while Byron Browne played mostly for double-A Dallas-Ft Worth.

Other assorted Cubs' employees: Career minor-leaguer Norm Gigon parlayed a good showing in his major-league debut in 1967 into a late-season Topps Rookie Stars card, then quickly faded away. Utilityman Jim Stewart (replaced by Paul Popovich) was sold to the White Sox in late May. Long-time veterans Joey Amalfitano and Dick Bertell played less than 5 games each, and were released by mid-season.

Leo Durocher was also the Cubs' manager in 1966, but apparently that wasn't enough time for Topps to get a new photo, since he's shown in his Dodgers' uniform here. The other 3 guys didn't play for the Cubs in 1967.

Topps misfired with 3 of these 6 players. Niekro and Nye were solid additions to the starting rotation, and Popovich was a serviceable utility infielder. Connors and Dowling did not play for the Cubs in 1967. (Hartenstein and Stoneman would have been better choices for that card.) Upham appeared in 5 games for a total of 1.1 innings, while compiling a 33.75 ERA. Wrigley Wax recently looked into Upham's short career.

In-season Moves:
4/25 - Acquired Dick Radatz from Cleveland.
5/15 - Acquired Ted Savage from St. Louis.
5/22 - Sold Jimmy Stewart to the White Sox.
5/24 - Released Dick Bertell.
6/12 - Traded Bob Hendley to the Mets for Rob Gardner and John Stephenson.
6/27 - Sold Arnold Earley to Houston.
7/6 - Released Felix Mantilla and Joey Amalfitano.
7/24 - Purchased Bob Shaw from the Mets.
8/2 - Sold Cal Koonce to the Mets.
8/4 - Acquired Pete Mikkelsen from Pittsburgh.
8/7 - Sold Curt Simmons to the Angels.
9/19 - Released Bob Shaw.

Next up: Washington Senators (requested by Spiff from "Texas Rangers Cards")

Do you have a favorite team you'd like me to post next?