Saturday, March 27, 2010

Maury Wills' Rookie Card

Two days ago marked the 6th-month anniversary of this (my first) blog, and this is my 100th post. For the occasion, I'm posting my most recent acquisition - the 1st Maury Wills card from Topps. Yes, after 8 years, Wills finally got his "rookie" card. It's only taken me 43 years to get it!

Maury Wills (#570) was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and played 7 seasons in their minor-league system before even advancing to triple-A (in 1958). After a year and a half in triple-A, Maury made his major-league debut on June 6, 1959. Don Zimmer had been the Dodgers' starting shortstop, but from July 4th on, Wills was making most of the starts there. (They each started 70 games at shortstop that season.)

From 1960 to 1966, Wills started 140 or more games at shortstop for the Dodgers each season (except 1963). The Dodgers inexplicably started Dick Tracewski at shortstop for long stretches of games in 1963, while Wills was either starting at 3rd base or was out of the lineup. (Maybe an old-school Dodgers fan can shed some light on that?)

In 1962, Wills actually started 164 of the Dodgers' 165 regular-season games that year! That season, he set a record with 104 stolen bases, and won the MVP award. He also led the league in plate appearances, at-bats, and triples that season.

After the 1966 season, Wills was traded to the Pirates for third baseman Bob Bailey and minor-league shortstop Gene Michael. He played 3rd base during his 2 seasons in Pittsburgh.

Maury was selected by the Expos in the expansion draft following the 1968 season, and after starting 46 of the Expos' first 50 games at shortstop in 1969, he was traded to the Dodgers (with outfielder Manny Mota) for outfielder Ron Fairly and infielder Paul Popovich. The Dodgers, who had been getting by with Ted Sizemore and Billy Grabarkiewitz at shortstop, returned Wills to his familiar post. Maury started all but 6 games at short for the rest of the season.

Wills was the Dodgers' starting shortstop until April 28, 1972 when Bill Russell took over the position. Wills remained with the team for the rest of the season as a backup, and was released in late October.

He later managed the Seattle Mariners for parts of 1980 and 1981.

11/10/2018 edit: Here is the No card for Wills story.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fence Busters (#423)

How great is this card?

In 1967, Topps produced a multi-player card like this for 11 of the 20 teams (with the Indians and Orioles getting 2 each). Why were the other teams left out? Who knows! The following year, there would only be 3 such cards, and two of them would feature players from multiple teams.

Mays and McCovey were the backbone of the Giants' team during the 1960s, with both among the league leaders in home runs and RBI for many seasons.

I always liked this card. This now reminds me that when I was a kid, I also had the plastic model of Willie Mays making "the catch". (And I wasn't even a Giants fan!)

Final Card: Billy Hitchcock

This is the last card for Billy Hitchcock (#199). Billy was an infielder for several American League teams in the 1940s. After managing in the minors and coaching in the big leagues, Billy managed the Orioles for 2 full seasons (1962 and 1963).

His 2nd (and final) stint as a major-league manager came midway through the 1966 season, when he took over the Braves.

Hitchcock almost made it to the end of the 1967 season, but was fired with 3 games remaining.

(I never understand why teams do that. Why not let a guy finish out the string? There's no way the interim guy can do anything in the last 3 games, with the team in 7th place!)

After scouting for the Expos for a few seasons, Billy was the president of the Southern League from 1971-80.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Final Card: Chuck Estrada

This the final card for Chuck Estrada (#537). Because this was a rare high-number card, and he had no card after this year, Estrada was one of several players I knew nothing about (for the same reasons) until getting their 1967 cards many years later; (players such as Joe Adcock, Jack Sanford, Johnny Klippstein, Doug Camilli, Andre Rogers, Don Demeter, Dick Egan, Bob Duliba, and Jim Owens).

Chuck was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956. After 3 seasons in the minors (1957 with the Braves, 1958-59 with the Orioles), Estrada made his major-league debut with the Orioles on April 21, 1960.

Thus started a string of fine starting pitchers promoted to the big club during the 1960s, which would include Dave McNally (1963), Wally Bunker (1964), Jim Palmer (1966), Tom Phoebus (1967), and Jim Hardin (1968).

Chuck finished a distant 2nd to teammate Ron Hansen for 1960's American League Rookie of the Year. He also led the staff in wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. In his sophomore season, he also led the staff in strikeouts, and was 2nd to Steve Barber in wins and innings pitched.

According to the back of his card, he injured an elbow in 1962, and it appears the wheels fell off his career after that season. He spent most of 1965-1969 in the minors, while only pitching 9 games for the Cubs in 1966, and 9 games for the Mets in 1967.

Baltimore had many good, young starting pitchers come up in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it seems that most of them also experienced arm trouble early, with only McNally and Palmer ever fully recovering.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yankees Rookies: Stan Bahnsen / Bobby Murcer

This is the first of 3 Yankees Rookies cards in 1967.

Stan Bahnsen was signed by the Yankees in 1965, and played 3 seasons in the minors (plus a 4-game call-up to New York in 1966) before joining the Yankees permanently in 1968, when he compiled a 17-12 record and won the American League Rookie of the Year award. That was good enough for Topps to name him to the All-rookie team.

He played for the Yankees through the 1971 season, then pitched for 5 other teams through the 1982 season.

Bobby Murcer..... After blowing through so many "next Mickey Mantles" (Roger Repoz, Steve Whitaker, Bill Robinson, etc), Murcer was the closest thing to a next Mickey Mantle during the late 1960s/early 1970s for the Yankees.

Like Mantle, Murcer was from Oklahoma, played shortstop in the minors, and became a star center fielder with the Yankees. He was signed by the Yankees in 1964, and played 3 seasons in the minors (with brief call-ups in 1965 and 1966).

After missing the 1967 and 1968 seasons while in the Army, Murcer returned to the Yankees as their opening-day 3rd baseman in 1969. After a month as the regular 3rd baseman, Bobby moved to right field, where he started most games until the end of August. For the final month of the season, he took over as the starting center fielder. He remained at that legendary position until May 28, 1974, when he moved over to right field for the remainder of the season (to make room for Elliott Maddox).

From 1975-79, Murcer played for the Giants and Cubs, before returning to the Yankees in June 1979. His final game was June 11, 1983, with the Yankees releasing him 9 days later.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Final Card: Arnold Earley

Here's relief pitcher Arnold Earley (#388), now with the Cubs, but still in his BoSox uniform.

Earley was signed by the Red Sox in (late?) 1952, and began playing in their farm system in 1953. After missing 2 seasons while in military service, Arnold returned to the minors in 1956, where he stayed until making his major-league debut on September 27, 1960 with the Red Sox. (Oddly enough, the record shows that he spent most of the 1960 season with the Phillies' triple-A team in Indianapolis.)

Arnold spent 5 full seasons (1961-65) in the Red Sox' bullpen, but never as the ace. (Dick Radatz had that role nailed down from 1962-65).

After the 1965 season, Earley was traded (with outfielder Lee Thomas and pitcher Jay Ritchie) to the Braves for pitchers Dan Osinski and Bob Sadowski. In early 1966, he was forwarded on to the Cubs (with outfielder Marty Keough) for outfielder John Herrnstein.

Arnold spent most of 1966 and 1967 playing in the minors, with the triple-A teams of the Braves, Cubs, and Astros. (He was traded to the Astros in June 1967). His last major-league game was on July 25, 1967.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Final Card: Lou Clinton

This is Lou Clinton's final card (#426) and final major-league season.

Lou was signed by the Red Sox in 1955, and made his big-league debut with them in April 1960. Lou started more games in right field than anyone else, but he only hit .228, so the Sox sent him back to triple-A for most of 1961, this time to Seattle (where Boston's triple-A team had relocated since the Twins set up shop in Minnesota that season).

Clinton returned to the majors full-time in 1962, and took over as the regular right fielder for the next 2 seasons, peaking at 146 starts in 1963.

In June 1964, Lou was traded to the Angels for right fielder Lee Thomas. As in Boston, Clinton became the main right fielder, starting 83 of the 113 games after his trade.

Lou split the right field starts evenly with Albie Pearson in 1965, until he was claimed off waivers by the Athletics on September 8th. After 1 game with Kansas City, for some reason that deal was voided, and the next day the Indians took a crack at him. Lou played 12 games with the Indians for the remainder of the season, then was traded to the Yankees in January 1966 for catcher Doc Edwards.

After 80 games in 1966 (mostly as a pinch-hitter and backup right fielder), and 12 games in 1967, Clinton's major-league career was over. He played the remainder of the 1967 season with the Phillies' triple-A team in San Diego (which was also hosting former major-leaguers Terry Fox, Ed Roebuck, Dick Stigman, John Tsitouris, Dick Bertell, Jim Gentile, Bobby Klaus, Roberto Pena, and Marty Keough).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Final Card: Doug Camilli

Doug Camilli (#551) was a 2nd-generation major-leaguer. His father Dolph was a 1st baseman for the Cubs, Phillies, and Dodgers in the 1930s and 1940s. Doug was signed by the Dodgers in 1957, and spent 5 full seasons in their minor-league system, with brief call-ups in 1960 and 1961.

From 1962 to 1967, Doug was a fulltime major-league catcher, but averaged only 33 starts per season during that time. After the 1964 season, the Dodgers sold him to the Senators.

Washington released him prior to the 1968 season. He was out of baseball until the Senators re-signed him on September 13, 1969. He caught six innings the following day, then did not play again. He was released after the season.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Final Card: Mike de la Hoz

Mike de la Hoz (#372) was a utility infielder for the Indians and Braves during the early-to-mid 1960s. He was signed by the Indians in 1958 and made his major-league debut in July 1960. He remained with the Indians for the rest of 1960, and all of 1961 and 1963. He spent most of 1962 in the minors, but played 12 games for the Indians that year.

Just before the 1964 season, he was sent to the Braves as the player to be named later in an earlier trade for infielder Chico Salmon. Mike spent all of 1964-67 with the Braves as a backup infielder.

From 1968 to 1970, de la Hoz toiled in the minors for the Braves' and Reds' triple-A teams. He played one last game in the majors in September 1969 for the Reds.

Really, could Topps have put a little more thought into these "posed" shots? We're to believe that Mike is poised to take a ground ball, but not only is the on-deck circle visible behind him, but there's a bat lying on the ground ready for him to trip over. On top of all that, he's in a fielding pose WEARING A BATTING HELMET!
"Few players in the majors can match Mike's determination and desire to excel." Few, indeed!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mel Queen (#374)

Here's a position combination rarely (if ever) seen at the major-league level. Mel began as a 3rd baseman and outfielder, and didn't begin pitching until 1966, his 2nd full season in the big leagues.

Mel Queen was signed by the Reds in 1960, and spent 4 seasons (1960-63) in their farm system as an outfielder and third baseman. His major-league debut came on April 13, 1964. He spent all of 1964 with the Reds as their 5th outfielder. After spending most of the 1965 season as a triple-A outfielder, he returned to the Reds in 1966.

(Mel is so new to pitching in 1967 that Topps doesn't have his pitching record.)

Mel began 1966 as an outfielder, but made 7 pitching appearances for the Reds. After 1966, Queen no longer played the outfield, but in addition to his 31 pitching appearances, he was used many times as a pinch-hitter in 1967. He compiled a 14-8 record as a starter in 1967.

In 1968 Mel only pitched in 5 games, and spent most of 1969 in the minors. (I don't know what his situation was, but the Reds seemed to have many sore-armed pitchers in the late 1960s.)

After the 1969 season, he was sold to the Angels, where he pitched almost exclusively in relief for 3 seasons. His last major-league game was in July 1972, and he spent the remainder of that season with the Angels' triple-A team.

Queen's father pitched for the Yankees and Pirates in the 1940s and 1950s, and Mel is the brother-in-law of former Red Sox' and Phillies' pitcher Jim Lonborg.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Final Card: Jimmie Coker

Jimmie Coker was a backup catcher who hung around for parts of 9 seasons. He was signed by the Phillies in 1955, and except for 2 games in September 1958, he toiled in the Phillies' farm system until the start of the 1960 season.

After using Carl Sawatski, Valmy Thomas, Joe Lonnett, and Jim Hegan (all in their 30s) at catcher in 1959, the Phillies cleared the decks in 1960 and went with rookies Jimmie Coker and Clay Dalrymple, along with veteran Cal Neeman (who was acquired from the Cubs with Tony Taylor). Coker started about half the games, and made the Topps all-rookie team, despite his .214 batting average.

In 1961, reality set in for Coker. Dalrymple was the opening-day starter and started 107 games. Coker spent most of the season at triple-A Buffalo, while making only 11 appearances with Philadelphia.

The good news in 1962 is that Jimmie wasn't in the minor leagues. The bad news is he only played 5 games for the Phillies, losing the remainder of the season to military service. In November he was sold to the Orioles, but before he could get comfortable, he was traded to the Giants a month later (along with pitchers Jack Fisher and Billy Hoeft) for pitchers Mike McCormick and Stu Miller, and catcher John Orsino.

After spending the 1963 season in the minors, the Giants traded him to the Cardinals on October 1st. A week before the 1964 season started, he and Gary Kolb were traded to the Braves for catcher Bob Uecker. (Wow, Ueck commanded TWO catchers in return!)

Coker spent the 1964 season in the minors, until late August, when he was sold to the Reds, and appeared in 11 games down the stretch.

Coker spent his final 3 seasons (1965-67) with the Reds fulltime, as their 3rd-string catcher. He played sparingly in 1965, but saw much more action in 1966 and 1967. In those last 2 seasons, he had more playing time than any season since his rookie year.

Jimmie made his last career start on August 26th, 1967. Two days later, Johnny Bench made his major-league debut, and it was goodnight Coker!