Sunday, January 24, 2021

NL Batting Leaders (#2, #4, #6)

These are the 1968 NL leaders in batting average, RBI, and home runs. 
 
Matty Alou appears on the Batting Average leaders card for the 3rd consecutive year. He was 1st on the '67 card, 3rd on the '68 card, and 2nd here. (Felipe was also on the '67 card.)
 
Willie McCovey is the only one appearing twice.  (There always seem to be several players on multiple cards in the AL.)  
 
The Cubs are well-represented with Banks, Santo, and Williams.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Final Card: Gus Gil

Here’s infielder Gus Gil, sporting the new Pilots’ uniform on a late-series card. 

Gil was signed by the Reds in 1959, and played 8 seasons in their minor-league system, including the last 3 in triple-A.

After the 1966 season, the Indians purchased his contract and installed him as their Opening-Day 2nd baseman for 1967. After starting 19 consecutive games, he was benched in favor of Pedro Gonzalez. When Gonzalez and Chico Salmon failed to get the job done, Gus started the first 4 games in July, but by mid-month was sent to the minors until a September recall.

Gil spent all of 1968 in the minors, then was traded to the expansion Pilots in May 1969 for infielder Chuck Cottier. He started 27 games at the hot corner and another dozen at 2nd base, but by mid-season the Pilots settled on John Donaldson at 2nd and Tommy Harper at 3rd base. 
 
Gus hung on with the Brewers for parts of 1970 and 1971, then played for the Astros’ AAA team from 1972-74. 
 
After splitting the 1975 season between the AAA clubs of the Dodgers and Padres, he played in Mexico in 1976 before retiring. 
 
Gil passed away in 2015 at age 76.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Final Card: Jon Warden

Jon Warden (#632) only pitched 1 season in the major leagues – for the World Champion Tigers in 1968. 
 
Warden was signed by the Tigers in 1966, and pitched in their farm system for 2 seasons, mostly as a starter. 
 
 
Jon made the Tigers’ squad at the start of the 1968 season, and was converted to a reliever. Until veterans Don McMahon and John Wyatt were acquired in mid-season, the Tigers’ bullpen was mostly rookies and 2nd-year men. 
 
Warden appeared in 28 games for Detroit, posting a 4-1 record. He was with the Tigers for the entire season, save for National Guard assignments. 
 
He only pitched once after August, as the team was battling for the AL title.  With so many relievers (including the veterans), management tried to hide him from the Kansas City and Seattle scouts, fearing he would be lost in the upcoming draft. The Tigers won the World Series, but their stashing of Warden backfired, as he was selected by the Royals in the expansion draft. 
 
An injury during spring training 1969 set him back, and he played all of 1969-70 for the Royals’ AAA team. 
 
Warden moved on to the Brewers' and Cardinals’ organizations in 1971, but never made it back to the majors. Retiring after the 1971 season, he attempted a comeback with the White Sox in 1974 but did not make the team. 
 
Since his playing career he has been a high school teacher and baseball coach, and a frequent attendee at the Tigers’ fantasy baseball camp. 
 
 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Final Card: Ron Willis

Ron Willis was a relief pitcher for the Cardinals and others for 5 (essentially 4) seasons from 1966-70. Willis was signed by St. Louis in 1961, and was an outfielder/3rd baseman for their class-D team that season, playing 65 games but also making 3 appearances on the mound, totaling 5 innings. 

In 1962 he converted to full-time pitching, and worked his way up the organizational ladder as a starting pitcher until converting to relief in 1966. He made his major-league debut in September 1966. 

 

Ron made the Cardinals at the start of 1967, and was a key member of the bullpen for the next 2 seasons, pitching in 65 and 48 games as the Cardinals marched to the NL pennant in those seasons. He appeared in 3 games in each of the 2 World Series. 

In 1969 he fell out of favor, as rookies Mike Torrez and Chuck Taylor, as well as the newly-acquired Dave Giusti and Mudcat Grant received more playing time than Willis. He also spent some time in triple-A, and by early-August was sold to the Astros. 

He only pitched 2 innings for the ‘Stros in the final 2 months, and was returned to the Cardinals in November. 

Ron began the 1970 season with the Cards’ double-A team, then was purchased by the Padres in mid-June. He pitched 56 innings over 42 games in the second half, his last appearance coming on September 29th. 

That was it for his pro career – not even minor-league ball after 1970. I wonder if he was injured in 1971’s spring training. After two (‘67, ‘68) and a half (‘70) good seasons, it seems odd that he would retire at age 26. 

Willis passed away in 1977 at age 34.

 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Final Card: Carroll Sembera

Carroll Sembera pitched for the Astros and Expos from 1965 to 1970. This is his final Topps card (#351). 

Sembera was signed by the Houston Colt .45s in 1961, and played 4 seasons (1962-65) in their farm system before making his major-league debut with 2 games in September 1965. He was mostly a starting pitcher for those 4 seasons.

 
He split the 1966 season between the Astros and their AAA club in Oklahoma City, but was only used in relief by both teams. 
 
Carroll was with the Astros for all of 1967, making 45 relief appearances (2nd on the team behind Dan Schneider). 
 
In 1968 the Astros completely revamped their bullpen, replacing 1967 members Schneider, Barry Latman, Sembera, Dave Eilers, and Larry Sherry with John Buzhardt, Danny Coombs, and rookies Jim Ray, Tom Dukes, and Steve Shea. As such, Sembera toiled in triple-A all season, starting about two-thirds of his games. 
 
After the season he was selected by the Expos in the Rule 5 draft (not the expansion draft). He began the season with Montreal, but by early-June was demoted to the minors, where he remained until his September recall. 
 
In 1970, once again he started the year with the Expos, but after his first outing his ERA was 81.00. He pitched in 4 more games, but this time didn’t make it to May. 
 
After 2 games with triple-A Winnipeg, he was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Bill Dillman. The Cards kept him in triple-A for the rest of 1970 and all of 1971, before trading him to the Reds. 
 
He finished his career with the Reds’ AAA team in 1972. 
 
Carroll was a scout for the Mariners for eleven years after his playing career. 
 
Sembera passed away in 2005 at age 63. 
 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Final Card: Joe Gordon

Unlike the last card posted on this blog (Tom Burgmeier) this is an early-season card (#484), which means an airbrushed gem for an expansion team member.

Joe Gordon made his final managerial stop with the 1st-year Kansas City Royals in 1969.


Much earlier, Joe was the Yankees' 2nd baseman from 1938-43, and 1946 (missing 2 years during World War II). Some of his teammates were Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Bill Dickey.  (He missed Babe Ruth by 4 years.)

Gordon was a 6-time All-Star, and the 1942 American League MVP.

After the 1946 season he was traded to the Indians for pitcher Allie Reynolds. Joe was their 2nd baseman for the next 4 seasons, and made 3 more trips to the All-Star game. In 1948 he led the Tribe in home runs and RBI (as a 2nd baseman!)

He was released after the 1950 season (odd, being 1-year removed from an All-Star appearance, and having played 119 games in 1950).

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Gordon was a player-manager for the PCL’s Sacramento team from 1951-52 then scouted for the Tigers for several seasons before returning to manage the Red Sox' San Francisco team in the PCL from 1956-57.

Joe was the Indians' manager from midway through the 1958 season to mid-1960. In August 1960, he was traded to the Tigers for Jimmie Dykes (a manager-for-manager trade!)

Let go after the season, he managed the Kansas City Athletics for the first 59 games of the 1961 season, before owner Charley Finley canned him.

Gordon scouted for the Angels from 1961-68, then managed the expansion Royals for one season, piloting them to 4th place (ahead of the established White Sox and expansion Pilots), then retired after the season at age 54.

He passed away in 1978 at age 63.

Gordon was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Tom Burgmeier (#558)

Tom Burgmeier was one of the good, young pitchers selected by the Royals in the expansion draft prior to the 1969 season. I thought he began his career in the Angels' organization, but I learned today that he was signed by the Houston Colt .45s in the Fall of 1961.

After 2 ½ season on the Colts' farm he was released in June 1964, but picked up by the Angels the following month.

Tom made his major-league debut with the Angels in 1968. He did not have any baseball cards as an Angel, because Topps missed the boat on many of their young pitchers from 1966-68. A custom card can be found in this blog post. This late-series 1969 card, featuring the new Royals’ uniform is his rookie card.


Burgmeier pitched in 745 games over his 17-year career, all but 3 in relief. He was a key member of the Royals' bullpen from 1969-72, fashioning a 24-16 record in 190 games over those 4 seasons, with 27 saves. 17 of those saves were in 1971, and he led the 1972 team with 9 saves.

It all came crashing down in 1973. He pitched 6 games in the first month of the season, but spent the remainder of the year in the minors.

After the season he was traded to the Twins for a minor-leaguer. Tom pitched for the Twins from 1974-77, and led the team with 11 saves in 1975.

Granted free agency, he signed with the Red Sox in 1978, and spent the next 5 seasons in Boston. In 1980 he led the team with 24 saves, and was named to his only All-Star team.

He played his final 2 seasons (1983-84) with the Athletics. In 17 seasons, his teams never made it to the playoffs.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Mike Kekich (#262)

Mike Kekich is mostly known for his years with the Yankees, but he began his career with the Dodgers.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1964, he pitched 24 games in A ball (and only 1 in AAA) before making the jump to the majors in 1965. He must have been injured that season, because he only pitched 5 games for LA, and 7 in the Arizona Instructional League.

After pitching all of 1966-67 in the minors, Kekich returned to the Dodgers at the start of the 1968 season. He started 20 of his 25 games as the 5th starter in a rotation that included Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen, Bill Singer, and Don Sutton.


After his rookie season, he was shipped off to the Yankees for outfielder Andy Kosco. (Whaaaaaaat?)

Mike played for the Yankees for the next 4+ seasons. After splitting the #5 starter assignments with Al Downing in 1969, and the #4 starter's job with Steve Kline in '70, he was in the regular rotation in '71 and '72. His best season was 1971, posting a 10-9 record with 93 strikeouts. He also won 10 games in 1972.

Kekich began the 1973 season in the Bronx, but was traded to the Indians in June for pitcher Lowell Palmer. He was released during spring training in 1974 but soon hooked on with the Rangers.

He didn’t play in the majors during 1974, splitting that season between the Rangers' AAA team in Spokane, WA and also playing in Japan. He returned to the Rangers in 1975, relieving in 23 games, but with no decisions. He also spent time back in Spokane.

Mike missed the entire 1976 season, then made a comeback in 1977 with the Mariners, playing in 41 games (all but 2 in relief).

He played in the minors during 1978 and in the Inter-American League in 1979 before retiring.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Final Card: Jim Lemon

This is Jim Lemon's 2nd and final card as a manager (#294). It's the same photo Topps used for his 1968 card.

As the comment on the back indicates, Lemon wasn't the team's manager. After finishing last in his only season as a skipper, THREE MONTHS LATER he was canned in favor of Ted Williams, who has a card later in the set.


I'm wondering why, if Topps knew about his firing (to be able to add the note on the back), why did they even include a card for him? Why not pull it and replace it with, oh I don't know, maybe a SENATORS ROOKIE STARS CARD?

Prior to managing, Lemon was an outfielder for the (old) Senators and Twins, which you can read about here. He was also a coach for the Twins from 1965-67, and 1981-84.

Lemon passed away in 2006 at age 78.