Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back on Topps' Radar: Billy Cowan

This is Billy Cowan's first card (#643) since the 1965 set. Cowan's career spanned 1963-1972, but he only had 5 cards during that time. Billy appeared as a Cub in the 1964 and 1965 sets, as a Yankee in the 1969 set, and an Angel in the '71 and '72 sets.

A member of the Phillies' organization from 1966 to 1968, he spent most of that time (except for the 2nd half of 1967) in the minors, effectively eliminating his chance for a card in the 1966-1968 Topps' sets.

Cowan was signed by the Cubs in 1961, and spent the next 3 seasons in the minors, finally making his major-league debut on 9/9/63. He made a half-dozen starts, spelling Billy Williams in LF, Lou Brock in RF, and a host of center fielders.

In 1964, Cowan was the Cubs' regular center fielder (I didn't know that until today), starting 127 games between Williams in left and Brock in right (with Len Gabrielson taking over after Brock's trade to St. Louis). Billy hit .241 with 19 home runs, but rarely started during September.

Before the '65 season, he was traded to the Mets for ex-Cub outfielder George Altman. In 1965, Cowan was a frequent center fielder for the Mets, until his early-August trade to the Milwaukee Braves (for infielders Ernie Bowman and Lou Klimchock).

Billy was traded back to the Cubs in late April 1966 for future Yankees' 3rd baseman and Braves' manager Bobby Cox. Two months later he was traded to the Phillies, and spent the rest of '66 with the Phillies' AAA San Diego club.

Cowan began the '67 season in San Diego, but a roster spot with the Phils opened up in late June, after the team sold Dick Groat to the Giants. With 4 of the Phillies' 5 outfielders (Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, John Briggs, Doug Clemens) all batting from the left side, Cowan was called up to provide a right-handed bat off the bench.

In 1968, the Phillies' Richie Allen became the regular left fielder, creating a logjam in the outfield. As such, Cowan spent the entire season back in triple-A.

After the season, the Yankees selected him in the Rule 5 draft, marking the end of Cowan's days in the minor leagues. He split the 1969 season between the Yankees and Angels, and played for the Angels for the '70 and '71 seasons. Primarily used as a pinch-hitter, he was also a backup outfielder and occasional 1st baseman.

Cowan was released by the Angels on May 2nd, 1972, having only played 3 games that season.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cookie Rojas (#507)

As usual, playing catch-up on the weekend...

This is the last card for Cookie Rojas as a Phillie. After the season, he would be traded to the Cardinals (with Dick Allen and pitcher Jerry Johnson) for Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, ace reliever Joe Hoerner, and backup outfielder Byron Browne.

After rotting on the St. Louis bench for 2 months, Cookie was traded to the Royals in mid-June, and had a 2nd career as the regular 2nd baseman for the upstart Royals, until the position was transitioned to Frank White during the 1975 season.

Rojas was born in Havana Cuba in 1939, and signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956. He played 7 seasons in the Reds' minor-league system, including two (1959-60) with his hometown Havana Sugar Canes. Some of his teammates on the Havana squad included future major-leaguers Mike Cuellar, Vic Davalillo, Chico Cardenas, Joe Azcue, Orlando Pena, and future Phillies' teammate Tony Gonzalez. During the 1960 season, the team was relocated out of Cuba to Jersey City, NJ.

Rojas began the 1962 season with the Reds, alternating at 2nd base with veteran Don Blasingame until late May, when Rojas was relegated to the bench. Cookie was sent down to triple-A in mid-July, and returned in September. After the season he was traded to the Phillies for pitcher Jim Owens.

Cookie was in the majors to stay in 1963. He played in 64 games primarily as a pinch-hitter and backup 2nd baseman. From 1964-66, Rojas primarily played outfield and 2nd base (with his games at 2B increasing as time went on), but he played other positions as well. He filled in as the team's emergency catcher, and also pitched in a game in 1967, completing his 9-position resume.

By 1967, he was almost exclusively the Phillies' regular 2nd baseman, having won the job away from long-time regular Tony Taylor. Rojas continued as a fixture at 2B through the 1969 season, although missing several stretches of playing time in 1969.

After the 1969 season, the Phillies continued with their roster turnover, parting ways with Rojas, Allen, Johnny Callison, and Turk Farrell. Rojas soon found himself in Kansas City, stabilizing the infield for the 2nd-year Royals, and made the all-star team 4 times while in KC.

Cookie remained the starting 2nd baseball for Kansas City until Frank White joined the team and shared the 2B job in 1975. He played 2 more seasons with the Royals as a backup infielder, retiring after the 1977 season.

After his playing career, Rojas coached for several teams, and managed the Angels in 1988. He is currently the Marlins' Spanish-language broadcaster. His son Victor was an anchor on the MLB Network for several seasons.

Monday, September 3, 2012

John Morris (#111)

Here is the first Seattle Pilots' card to be featured on this blog. John Morris was one of several pitchers who came up through the Phillies' farm system in the mid-1960s, but only got a cup of coffee there before being shipped elsewhere. (Guys like Morris, Joe Verbanic, and Fergie Jenkins - you know, pitchers of that ilk!)

Morris was signed by the Phillies back in 1960, and was a starting pitcher in their farm system for 5 seasons (missing the '63 season with injuries). In 1966 he was converted to a reliever, and made his major-league debut in July that season.

John appeared in 13 games (for 13 innings) during the second half of the season, then it was back to triple-A San Diego for the entire 1967 season. On 12/15/67, Morris was sent to the Orioles as the player to be named later for pitcher Dick Hall, who was acquired by the Phillies one year to the day earlier.

John languished in triple-A for the 1968 season, then was taken by the Pilots as the 52nd pick in the expansion draft. He pitched in 6 games for Seattle in April, but still was evidently not ready for prime time, and spent most of the season at double-A Indianapolis. Morris spent the entire 1970 and 1971 seasons with the (by now) Milwaukee Brewers, and was one of the team's top 3 relief pitchers in '71.

After the '71 season, John was traded to the Giants for 2 minor-leaguers. He spent the next 3 seasons up and down (mostly down) with the Giants and their AAA team in Phoenix. The Giants released him in March 1975, ending his career.

Morris also had cards in 1971 (Brewers) and 1975 (Giants).