Saturday, July 13, 2019

The 1969 Royals

The Kansas City Royals entered the league in 1969, two years after the Athletics departed for Oakland. They were the quickest of the 1969 expansion class to find success, starting with their first season!

In their infinite wisdom, the American League put both expansion teams (Royals and Pilots) in the same division, guaranteeing that one of the 4 expansion teams would not finish last. Not only did the Royals not finish last, they outplayed the Chicago White Sox, to finish in 4th place in the 6-team division.

In their first 7 seasons, the Royals finished in 4th place 3 times and in SECOND place 3 times. Beginning in 1976, they finished in FIRST place 3 consecutive years, and in 4 of 5 years.

Contrast that to the Padres, Expos, and Pilots:
Padres: Finished in last place for their first 6 seasons, and no higher than 4th until 1984.
Expos: Finished 6th or 5th (thank you Phillies!) in their first 4 seasons, and no higher than 4th until 1979.
Pilots/Brewers: Finished 6th or 5th in 8 of their first 9 seasons (finishing in 4th place in 1970!), but no higher than 4th until 1978.

The Royals finished with a 69-93 record in their first season. They found a few good players that first year:
Lou Piniella led the team with a .282 batting average, and won the Rookie of the Year award.
Joe Foy improved upon his previous season with the Red Sox, leading the team with 71 RBI.
After 2 bad seasons with the Orioles, Wally Bunker regained his old form (if only for 1 season) and posted 12 wins.

Although this is the 1970 card, the photo is most likely of the '69 team.

Here is the pitching staff, in order of innings pitched:

Wally Bunker, Dick Drago, Bill Butler, and Roger Nelson were the top 4 starters, each pitching 190+ innings. Bunker and Drago both had double-digit wins, while Butler led the staff with 156 strikeouts. Drago also appeared in 15 games in relief.

Jim Rooker started 22 of his 28 games as the #5 starter. Mike Hedlund was a swingman, pitching 34 games, but making only 16 starts.The remaining hurlers each pitched less than 100 innings, and made no starts (except for 4 by Steve Jones, and 2 each by Dave Morehead and Chris Zachary). Moe Drabowsky was the team’s closer, notching 11 saves. Tom Burgmeier was the top southpaw in the bullpen.

Rounding out the bullpen were Dave Wickersham, Steve Jones (pictured on a Rookie Stars card below), and Dave Morehead. Pitching less than 25 innings were Don O’Riley, Galen Cisco, Chris Zachary, Jerry Cram, and Al Fitzmorris.

The Starting Eight:

Ellie Rodriguez started 83 games behind the plate. Mike Fiore shared the first base job with Chuck Harrison, with Mike getting 88 starts. Jerry Adair started 105 games at 2nd base and another 8 at shortstop. Jackie Hernandez started 139 games at shortstop, the most for any player at one position.

Joe Foy started 107 games at third base. ROY Lou Piniella started 122 games in left field. The other 2 outfield spots were a mix-and-match. Bob Oliver started 44 games in center field and 41 in right. Pat Kelly also started 44 games in center, and 60 in right. Others below also made several dozen starts in the outfield.

The subs, in order of at-bats:
Ed Kirkpatrick was the fourth outfielder, starting between 20 and 30 games at each of the 3 spots. He also caught 8 games. Paul Schaal made 45 starts at 3rd base, mostly in July and August. Chuck Harrison made 50 starts at first base, with 20 of them in May when Fiore was out of the lineup. Rookie Buck Martinez join the team in mid-June, and was the backup catcher until rosters were expanded in September.

Juan Rios was the backup middle infielder, starting 30 games at 2B and 10 at shortstop. Joe Keough started 17 games each in center and right fields, but spent 6 weeks in June and July back in the minors. Hawk Taylor was primarily a pinch-hitter, only starting 2 games behind the plate in mid-April. Topps decided to call him “Bob” on his 1969 card. Jim Campanis was the early-season backup catcher. He played in 26 games (18 starts) through June 1st, then was sent down in favor of Martinez.

Luis Alcaraz spent the season in triple-A, then after his September call-up started 18 of the last 21 games at 2nd base. Fran Healey also played in AAA for the season, then played 6 games (3 starts) in September. Billy Harris also played in triple-A for most of the season, but made 5 pinch-hitting appearances for the Royals – 2 in June and 3 in September. Joe Gordon led this bunch to an unexpected fourth-place finish, then resigned after the season. He had previously managed the Indians, Tigers, and Athletics from 1958-61.

These had Royals cards but did not play for them in 1969:

Dennis Ribant was sold to the Cardinals during spring training. Jon Warden pitched in 28 games for the Tigers in 1968, but never played in the majors after that. He pitched for the Royals’ AAA team in 1969 and their class-A team in 1970.

Dave Nicholson’s last regular major-league action was with the Astros in 1966. He also appeared in 10 games for the Braves during a September 1967 call-up, but spent all of 1968 and 1969 in triple-A. Steve Whitaker was traded to the Pilots in pre-season for Lou Piniella.

Rookie Cards:

Every one of these 15 players appeared for the Royals in 1969. Steve Jones appeared in 16 games (mostly in relief) then was sent down to AAA in mid-June, returning in September. George Spriggs appeared in 23 games in April and September, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

Don O’Riley pitched 18 games in relief, from late-June to late-July, and again in September. Dennis Paepke played in 12 games (7 starts) in June. Fred Rico played in 12 games (9 starts) in September.

Scott Northey was one-and-done in 1969, making 16 starts in center field during his September call-up. Unlike the other six in this last section, Al Fitzmorris had a long career (10 years), starting with 4 games in September.

Transactions from team inception until the end of 1969: 

08/14/68 - Purchased Galen Cisco from the Red Sox.
09/08/68 - Purchased Orlando Pena from the Pilots.

10/15/68 expansion draft:
From the Red Sox: Joe Foy, Dave Morehead, Jerry Adair
From the Yankees: Jim Rooker, Ellie Rodriguez, Steve Whitaker
From the Orioles: Roger Nelson, Mike Fiore, Wally Bunker, Moe Drabowsky
From the Senators: Steve Jones, Ike Brookens
From the Indians: Billy Harris, Mike Hedlund, Fran Healy
From the Tigers: Jon Warden, Bill Butler, Dick Drago
From the White Sox: Al Fitzmorris, Hoyt Wilhelm, Scott Northey
From the Twins: Bob Oliver, Pat Kelly, Jackie Hernandez, Jerry Cram
From the Athletics: Joe Keough, Don O’Riley
From the Angels: Paul Schaal, Tom Burgmeier

10/16/68 - Purchased George Spriggs from the Pirates.

10/18/68 - Purchased John Gelnar from the Pirates.
10/18/68 - Purchased Chuck Harrison and Dave Nicholson from the Braves.

10/21/68 - Purchased Luis Alcaraz from the Dodgers.
10/21/68 - Purchased Dave Wickersham from the Pirates.
10/21/68 - Purchased Chris Zachary from the Astros.

12/02/68 - Drafted Fred Rico from the Orioles in the rule 5 draft.
12/02/68 - Drafted Hawk Taylor from the Angels in the rule 5 draft.
12/02/68 - Drafted Rich Severson from the White Sox in the minor league draft.

12/12/68 - Traded Hoyt Wilhelm to the Angels for Ed Kirkpatrick and Dennis Paepke.

12/15/68 - Acquired Jim Campanis from the Dodgers.
12/15/68 - Purchased Dennis Ribant from the Tigers.

12/16/68 - Acquired Buck Martinez from the Astros.

03/25/69 - Purchased Juan Rios from the Expos.

03/29/69 - Sold Dennis Ribant to the Cardinals.

04/01/69 - Traded John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker to the Pilots for Lou Piniella.
04/01/69 - Acquired Bill Kelso from the Reds.

06/05/69 - Traded Bill Kelso to the Twins.

08/12/69 - Purchased Billy Sorrell from the Mets.

10/21/69 - Traded Dave Wickersham to the Braves for Ron Tompkins.

12/01/69 - Drafted Ken Wright from the Red Sox in the rule 5 draft.
12/01/69 - Drafted Aurelio Monteagudo from the Cardinals in the minor league draft.

12/03/69 - Traded Joe Foy to the Mets for Bob Johnson and Amos Otis.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Final Card: Larry Shepard

This is the 2nd and final card for Pirates' manager Larry Shepard.

Shepard only had a 2-year managing career, from 1968-69 with Pittsburgh. The Bucs finished in sixth place in 1968, and third (of 6) in 1969. He was let go with 5 games remaining in the 1969 season.

I first became aware of Shepard in 1967, the year I started following major-league baseball. He was the Phillies' pitching coach for that one season. (I wonder if he had any input into the trade that sent Jim Bunning to the Pirates in the 67/68 off-season?)

Larry never played major-league ball, but he pitched in the minors in 1941 and from 1946-58. He started out with the unaffiliated class-C Three Rivers (Quebec) Renards, then after missing 4 seasons during World War II, he hooked on with the Brooklyn Dodgers and pitched in their farm system from 1946-51. He was also the team's manager from 1948-51.

He moved on to the Pirates' organization, pitching for their various class-A teams from 1952-56, while also serving as manager from 1953-56.

He was out of baseball in 1957, but returned as the Pirates' triple-A manager from 1958-66, with his team finishing in first place 3 times. Shepard never played above class-A until pitchng in 18 games in 1958, his last as a player.

After a season as the Phillies' pitching coach, he returned to the Pirates for 2 seasons as the big club’s manager.

Shepard was also Sparky Anderson's pitching coach for the Big Red Machine from 1970-78, and for the Giants in 1979.

He passed away in 2011 at age 92.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Final Card: Ramon Webster

This is Ramon Webster's 3rd and final Topps baseball card (#618). He did not have as much playing time with the Athletics as I had expected before writing this.

Ramon was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1963. After 4 seasons in the minors he made his major-league debut in April 1967.

There were no Athletics' first basemen included in the 1967 Topps set, except for the two featured on Athletics' Rookies Stars cards (Webster and Randy Schwartz). Schwartz had cups of coffee in September 1965 and 1966, but was never heard from again. Webster had no prior major-league experience until appearing in April 1967.

The Athletics began the '67 season with Webster alternating at first base with Danny Cater. In June they reacquired Ken Harrelson (who was their 1st-sacker for much of 1965-66) from the Senators. When manager Al Dark was canned in late-August, Harrelson soon followed, and Webster had the position to himself for the rest of the season.

Ramon started 49 games in the first half of 1968, but played the 2nd half of the season in triple-A, only returning to Oakland in September.

He faded further in 1969, only starting 9 games while most of his 64 games were pinch-hitting appearances. He also played in the minors for most of May.

During Spring Training in 1970 he was traded to the Padres for shortstop Roberto Pena. After playing 95 games for the Padres in 1970, bizarre things started happening. He was sold back to the Athletics in October 1970, only to be repurchased by San Diego in April 1971, who then returned him to Oakland 3 weeks later.

The following month he was acquired by the Cubs, and played in 16 games (all but 1 as a pinch-hitter), the last coming on 8/21/71.

Webster played for the Athletics' AAA team from 1972-75, and in Mexico during 1976. After not playing for 2 years, he played briefly for Panama in the Inter-American League in 1979.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Final Card: Dan Schneider

What's this? The Topps airbrusher missed a spot on this Astros' cap!

No, by late-summer 1969, Topps had resolved their differences with the Astros, or Monsanto, or whomever that caused them to identify the Astros as "Houston" on all the 1968 and 1969 cards, and airbrush the '68 and most '69 cards into oblivion. All the late-1969 cards show the player in their full uniform, but I guess they kept the “Houston” label for continuity.

Not only is this a high-numbered card (#656), but his 1967 card was also in the high-numbered series.

I have been meaning to post Dan Schneider's card for about a year now, but there was always someone else cutting in line for one reason or another.

Schneider was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in June 1962, fresh off being named to the College All-American Team while playing for the University of Arizona. He started his pro career in triple-A, and by the following season was with the Braves, pitching 30 games beginning in mid-May.

He spent most of 1964 in the minors, but did pitch in 13 games for the Braves, mostly in June and September. (He also appeared in a 14th game as a pinch-runner.)

After playing all of 1965 in the minors, Dan found his way back to the Braves (now in Atlanta) for 14 games in June and July 1966. After the '66 season he was traded to the Astros with pitcher Tom Dukes and 2nd baseman Lee Bales for a trio of minor-leaguers.

Dan appeared in 54 games out of the Astros' bullpen in 1967, leading the staff in appearances.

Surprisingly, he spent all of the following season in the minors. Injury rehab? I don't think so – he pitched in 48 games. Oddly enough, he played for the Pirates' AAA Columbus team, and must have been on loan because he was back with the Astros for part of 1969.

Schneider only pitched 6 games for Houston in 1969, the last on April 27th. Sporting a 13.50 ERA by that time, he was quickly sent down to the minors, and at some point was traded to the Cardinals.

He never made it back to the majors after that season, retiring after 1970.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

50 Years Ago - 1969 Opening Day Lineups (AL)

Here are the opening day lineups from half a century ago. Teams are shown in order of their 1969 finish.

East Division:

After a 2-year hiatus (because of injuries to the pitching staff and Frank Robinson) the Orioles are once again kings of the American League.

The 1968 World Champs finished in second place the next year. By mid-season, Mickey Stanley was back in the outfield.

Opening Day was Tony C’s first game since getting beaned in August 1967.

The Senators had Ted Williams at the helm in 1969. At least he got Ed Brinkman to hit over .200.

The Yankees embarked on their first season without Mickey Mantle since 1950. This was Bobby Murcer’s rookie season. By mid-season, they settled on Jerry Kenney at 3B, with Murcer in the outfield.

Topps never made a baseball card for Tony Horton. This custom card is by John Hogan at the Cards That Never Were blog.

West Division:

Graig Nettles split the Twins’ left field job with Bob Allison. The next season Nettles was traded to the Indians and began a long career as a third baseman.

This was the Athletics’ second year in Oakland. Once again, the Topps photographers were caught napping.

After 2 years in Japan, Dick Stuart returned to the States to play for the Angels. After playing 22 games in the first 2 months, his career was over.

In their infinite wisdom, the American League put both expansion teams in the West division, guaranteeing that at least 1 of the 4 new teams would not finish last. The Royals' one bright spot was Lou Piniella, who won AL Rookie of the Year.


Jim Bouton’s favorite team! By mid-season, Tommy Harper moved to 3B, John Donaldson was at 2B, and rookie Wayne Comer was playing center field.  In Spring training the Pilots traded disgruntled rookie Lou Piniella to the other expansion team. (That’ll teach him to be an upstart! heh heh) All he did was win the ROY. Just one of many bad moves by the Pilots.

NL Opening Day lineups are here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

50 Years Ago - 1969 Opening Day Lineups (NL)

Here are the opening day lineups from half a century ago. Teams are shown in order of their 1969 finish.

East Division:

The Mets finished in 10th place five times and 9th place twice in their first 7 seasons, then jumped to World Series champions in their 8th season. Looks like RF Ron Swoboda had the day off.

The Cubs were in first place until the Mets passed them on September 10th.  After 3 seasons with Adolfo Phillips in center field, rookie Don Young started just over half the games there in 1969.

The Pirates started rookies at the infield corners in 1969 (rookie Al Oliver was the primary 1st baseman), and 2nd-year man Fred Patek took over for veteran Gene Alley.

The Cards were NL Champs in '67 and '68.  They replaced 1st baseman Orlando Cepeda with Joe Torre and RF Roger Maris with Vada Pinson, but finished in 4th place.

The Phillies started three rookies in 1969 (Don Money, Ron Stone, and Larry Hisle).  Money and Hisle had All-Rookie seasons.  Stone?  Not so much. The best month of his career was March 1969.  (Yes, it was Spring Training.)

Surprise!  The expansion Expos finished in last place, 48 games back but only 11 games behind the Phillies. Naturally they were mostly a collection of castoffs, but acquired Rusty Staub in a pre-season trade.

 West Division:

The Braves traded long-time catcher Joe Torre to the Cardinals for 1st baseman Orlando Cepeda, and used rookie catcher Bob Didier for most of the season. Left fielder Rico Carty missed all of 1968 with tuberculosis, but regained his starting job in June 1969 and hit .342.

The Giants' lineup was overflowing with sluggers (Mays, McCovey, Bonds, Hart).

The classic pre-Big Red Machine lineup. Pete Rose and Bob Tolan switched positions in late-June.

In his final season, Don Drysdale made his first Opening Day start since 1965. Regulars Wes Parker (1B) and Willie Davis (CF) were not in the lineup on day 1.

Unlike their fellow 1962-expansion Mets, the 1969 expansion did not help the Astros, as they finished in their customary next-to-last position. This was their regular lineup, except that Jim Wynn started 148 games in center field, with Miller and Alou on the corners.

The Padres brought up the rear.  5-time Topps Rookie Stars selection Bill Davis FINALLY made it to a starting major-league position, but it was temporary.  After 2 weeks as the starting 1st baseman, rookie Nate Colbert took over and Davis rarely played again.

AL Opening Day lineups are here.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Jim French (#199)

A few weeks ago I started watching Netflix, and now every time I get on the computer I get detoured by one show or another, and my card blogging has suffered. With the new season less than a week away, I am making an effort to get back into it. 

Jim French was a backup catcher for the Senators from 1965-71 (but mostly from 1968-70).

French was signed by the Nats in 1963, and spent part of every season from 1963-71 in the minors except for ’69 and ’70. He made his major-league debut in September 1965, but his extended MLB playing time began in late-June 1968.

 (Topps even included his stats from 1956!  LOL)

Jim played 59 games over the second half of 1968, starting 47 of them when regular catcher (and 1967 All-Star) Paul Casanova was given some rest.

French was with the Senators for all of 1969-70, and started 56 and 52 games those seasons as Casanova’s backup.

Jim started 13 games over the first month of 1971, but was sent down to the minors by late-May. Rookie Dick Billings eventually took the starting catcher’s job from Casanova by mid-season, so French was the odd man out.

He played the remainder of that year in AAA for the Nats and Braves, and was released during the last week of September.

French became an attorney after his playing days.

Friday, December 28, 2018

John Boccabella (#466)

John Boccabella played 12 seasons in the big leagues (1963-74). Most of his playing time (376 games) game with the Expos from 1969-73. Earlier, he played 146 games for the Cubs from 1963-68 (with most of that coming in 1966). He finished up his career in 1974 with the Giants.

John was signed by the Cubs in 1963, but played mostly in their farm system from 1963-68. When in the minors, he mostly played 1st base.

1966 was the only season that he spent entirely with the Cubs, and saw action in 75 games. That was also the first year he spent some time behind the plate, both with the Cubs and in the Arizona Fall Instructional League.

He was briefly claimed by the Yankees in the 67/68 off-season, but was returned to the Cubs the following April.

Check out John’s 1968 stats. He played 73 games for the Cubs’ AAA team while only playing 7 games (with 14 at-bats) for the Cubs. Cup of coffee, right? No! He was the Cubs’ #2 catcher that season! How is that possible? Well, Randy Hundley started 156 games that year, collecting 606 plate appearances. Boccabella started 4 games and played 28 innings, while 4 other backstops (Randy Bobb, Gene Oliver, John Felske, and Bill Plummer) split the remaining 40 innings. With all that leisure time in 1968, it’s amazing he even has a card in the 1969 set.

John was selected by the Expos in the October 1968 expansion draft, but so were veteran Astros’ catchers John Bateman and Ron Brand, so Boccabella didn’t really get a fresh start in his new location. Still, John managed to stay out of the minor leagues now that he was with the Expos. He was also a favorite of the PA announcer, who got to say “John Boc-a-BELLLLLLLLLLL-a” many times.

He was the #3 catcher in 1969, then was #2 behind Bateman for the ’70 and ’71 seasons.

Boccabella was the team’s starting catcher for the first 2 months of 1972, then rookie Terry Humphrey took over for 2 months. Tim McCarver (acquired in mid-season from the Phillies for Bateman) handled most of the catching over the final 2 months.

Surprisingly (to me anyway), John was the team’s #1 catcher during the 1973 season, starting 106 games. Humphrey got the odd start during the first half, until he was sent down in mid-season. John was out of the lineup for most of September, but finished up with 10 consecutive starts to close the season.

The Expos’ first-round draft choice Barry Foote was going to be the “catcher of the future”, so Boccabella was dealt to the Giants in April 1974, where he finished his career as a seldom-used backup.

The three "B"s of the 1969 Expos' catching corps:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Final Card: Luis Alcaraz

This makes 2 consecutive Royals, which I usually try to stay away from. But I’m wrapping up the remaining "final cards" in the 1969 set and over the next 20 cards to be posted, 6 are Royals, so buckle-up.

I always thought that the early Royals' uniforms looked a lot like the Dodgers' uniforms, with a similar shade of blue and the script lettering on the front. In this case, Alcaraz IS wearing a Dodgers' uniform.

Luis Alcaraz (#437) was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, and a year later was traded to the Dodgers' organization. Luis spent 10 years in the minors, never advancing above class A during his first 8 seasons. In 1967 and 1968 he played in AA and AAA ball respectively, while also playing a few games with the Dodgers in those 2 seasons.

He made his major-league debut on September 13, 1967, starting 17 of the final 18 games at 2nd base. That late-season tryout earned him a roster spot to start the 1968 season, but although he started 27 of the first 37 games at either 2B or 3B, by June he rarely played, and was back in the minors until September.

Purchased by the Royals a week after the expansion draft, he appeared briefly with KC over the next 2 seasons, but spent most of his time with their AAA team in Omaha.

He never played in the majors again after 1970, but during Spring Training 1971 he was traded to the White Sox for veteran 2nd baseman Bobby Knoop.

He subsequently played in the Braves' and Pirates' organizations in 1972, and played in Mexico from 1973-1981, finally retiring at age 40.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Final Card: Chuck Harrison

After being left out of the 1968 card set, Chuck Harrison returned for one last card (#116) – this time as a member of the expansion Kansas City Royals.

Harrison was signed by the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, and made his major-league debut with 12 games in September 1965.

He was the Astros' regular 1st baseman in 1966, playing in 119 games, but 9 home runs and 52 RBI aren't very much for a corner infielder.

After starting 113 games in '66, he spent much of the 1967 season on the bench, only starting 44 games, with newly-acquired Eddie Mathews replacing him at 1st base.

In October 1967 Chuck was included in the trade that sent Sonny Jackson to the Braves in return for pitcher Denver Lemaster and shortstop Denis Menke.

Harrison spent the entire 1968 season playing at triple-A Richmond. Three days after the expansion draft, the Royals purchased both Harrison and Dave Nicholson (also missing from the 1968 Topps set) from the Braves.

Chuck was with the Royals for all of 1969, but only played 75 games, as the team went with ex-Orioles prospect Mike Fiore as their first baseman.

Harrison spent all of 1970 and the first half of 1971 in the minors, before returning to KayCee in June 1971 to play his final 49 major-league games.

He hung up his spikes after playing for the Rangers’ AAA Denver team in 1972.