Monday, February 18, 2013

Final Card: Gary Geiger

After being omitted from the 1968 set, Gary Geiger returns for one final card (#278). Geiger played outfield with the Red Sox from 1959-65, then finished his career with 2 seasons each with the Braves and Astros.

Geiger was signed by the Cardinals in 1954, and played 4 seasons in their minor-league system. After the 1957 season, he was selected by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft, and started 35 games as the backup center fielder to veteran Larry Doby.

After 1 year with the Tribe, Geiger was traded to Boston (with little- used 1st baseman Vic Wertz) for center fielder Jim Piersall, who had been a regular outfielder for the Sox since day 1 in 1953.

(Geiger is incorrectly listed as a right-handed batter on this card.)

In 1959, Gary split time in center field with Marty Keough, then moved to right field the next year, where he shared the position with Lou Clinton. Geiger took over as the every-day center fielder at the start of the '61 season, a post he held until 1963, when he shared center with Roman Mejias.

Gary only played 5 games in 1964, as he was recovering from ulcer-related surgery. He also missed most of the 1965 season, due to a broken hand. After the season, he was selected by the Braves in the Rule 5 draft.

Geiger spent the next 2 seasons in Atlanta, backing up center fielder Mack Jones. He spent all of 1968 with the Cardinals' AAA team, then (after his THIRD Rule 5 selection) made a comeback (of sorts) with the Astros in 1969, playing in 93 games as a backup corner outfielder and pinch-hitter.

Gary spent most of 1970 with the Astros' AAA team, but played his last 5 major-league games in late-June/early-July. He returned to the Cardinals' organization for his final pro season (1971), playing 100 games with double-A Tulsa.

Geiger passed away at age 59 on April 24, 1996.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Final Card: Ken Johnson

Here is the final card for veteran pitcher Ken Johnson (#238).

Back in the day, the only thing I knew about Johnson was that he was "just another Braves pitcher NOT named Phil Niekro". But, he had a 16-year career dating all the way back to 1958 with the Kansas City Athletics (although his best years were 1963-67).

Johnson was signed by the PHILADELPHIA Athletics in 1952, and pitched in their minor-league system from 1952-59 (although missing the entire 1954 season).

Ken made his major-league debut in September 1958, and pitched 2 games with the A's in 1958 and 1959. Ken pitched the entire 1960 season out of the Athletics' bullpen, then was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs (an unaffiliated AAA team) in May 1961. Two months later, he was traded to the Reds for pitcher Orlando Pena.

After the 1961 season, he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the NL expansion draft. For 3 seasons, Johnson was one of the top 2 starting pitchers (along with Turk Farrell) for the young franchise, winning 11 games in '63 and '64.

In May 1965, Ken was traded to the Milwaukee Braves (with outfielder Jim Beauchamp) for outfielder Lee Maye. Johnson joined a rotation featuring Tony Cloninger and Wade Blasingame (no, not THAT Wade Blasingame), and compiled a 13-8 record with the Braves.

In 1966, Ken and Cloninger each won 14 games and led the staff in most categories, although Johnson's ERA was almost a full point lower than Cloninger's. (Where was Phil Niekro, you say? He spent his first 3 seasons as a reliever, not joining the rotation until 6/13/1967.)

The Braves' rotation was in transition in 1967. Ace Cloninger only pitched 16 games that season, finishing at 4-7. Sophomore Pat Jarvis led the team in wins with 15, while last season's #3 starter Denny Lemaster led the staff in starts and innings pitched. Johnson won 13 games, while Niekro began the season as the closer, joining the rotation in mid-season.

Johnson had an off-year in 1968, and lost his starting job by mid-season (replaced by Milt Pappas and Ron Reed). In June 1969 he was sold to the Yankees, and 2 months later he found himself shipped off to the Cubs.

On the 2nd day of the 1970 season, Johnson was released by the Cubs and immediately signed by the Montreal Expos. Two months later, he was released, ending his 13-year career. His final game was a 2-inning relief appearance against the Cubs on April 18th.