Monday, February 24, 2014

Clete Boyer (#489)

Here is Clete Boyer, near the end of his long career. Clete had a Topps card in 1957, and every year from 1959-71. I have all his cards from 1966-70.

Boyer was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 as a bonus baby, and began his pro career on the Athletics’ major-league roster. He played sparingly in 1955, only making 6 starts at 3rd base (behind future Yankees’ teammate Hector Lopez), while also getting a few starts at 2nd base and left field. In 1956 Boyer started 34 games as the A’s backup 2nd baseman.

In June 1957, after appearing in only 10 games (9 as a pinch-runner) and having no at-bats, Boyer was sent to the Yankees to complete an 11-player trade which included pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz going to the Yankees.

Clete spent the remainder of 1957, all of 1958, and June and July of 1959 in the minors, getting the much-needed experience he missed as a bonus baby.

Boyer began the 1959 season with the Yankees, but was sent to the minors for 2 months. When he returned, he was the starting shortstop from mid-August to mid-September. (Regular shortstop Tony Kubek missed 30 games that season, and also played half his games in the outfield.)

Clete rode the bench for the first half of 1960, then won the 3rd base job from long-time Yankees’ infielder Gil McDougald (who was in his final season), and started 92 of the final 118 games at the hot corner.

With the retirement of McDougald, Boyer had 3rd base to himself in 1961, making 138 starts along with another 8 starts at shortstop. Clete continued as the regular 3rd baseman through the 1965 season, while making occasional starts at shortstop.

1966 was a strange season. During the first half, left fielder Tom Tresh (who had played the first 4 ½ months of the 1962 season at shortstop in Kubek’s absence) was moved to 3rd base, with Boyer becoming the regular shortstop. This arrangement continued until late-June, when Tresh returned to left field, Boyer to 3rd base, and Horace Clarke installed as the regular shortstop.

In November, Clete was traded to the Braves for outfield prospect Bill Robinson and reliever Chi-Chi Olivo. Boyer took over the Braves’ hot corner from long-time veteran slugger Eddie Mathews, who was traded to the Astros a month later.

Clete hit a career-high 26 home runs in 1967, and played 4 ½ seasons for the Braves (although missing the last 2 ½ months of the 1968 season). He was released by the Braves at the end of May 1971, after clashing with the Braves’ manager and general manager.

After playing the remainder of the ’71 season for the Padres’ AAA team in Hawaii (nice work, if you can get it!), Clete played in Japan from 1972-75.

Boyer played in the World Series with the Yankees every season from 1960-64, and in the 1969 NLCS with the Braves. He also won a Gold Glove in 1969.

Clete’s brother Ken was a 3rd baseman from 1955-1969 (mostly with the Cardinals). They both played 3rd base in the 1964 World Series. His other brother Cloyd was a pitcher with the Cardinals from 1949-52, and was Clete’s teammate with the 1955 Athletics.

Clete passed away in June 2007 at age 70.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Andy Messersmith (#296)

Here is Andy Messersmith's rookie card. He had a 12-year career as a starting pitcher for the Angels, Dodgers, and others, but may be best remembered as one of the players who finally broke through to free agency.

Messersmith was drafted by the Tigers in 1965, but did not sign. He was the Angels’ #1 pick in the 1966 draft, and played 2 ½ seasons in the minors. Andy pitched for the Angels’ AAA team in Seattle in 1966 and the first half of 1968, and with double-A El Paso in 1967.

He made his major-league debut at age 22 on July 4th, 1968. Andy entered the game with 2 outs in the 2nd inning, with the score 9-4 in favor of Detroit, and the Angels already having burned through FOUR PITCHERS before him. He pitched 5.1 innings in his debut, with the final score showing Tigers 13, Angels 10.

Messersmith didn’t join the starting rotation until September, and started his last 5 games in his rookie season. In 1969, he was a swing man in April, then permanently joined the rotation on May 9th. He finished with a 16-11 record in his first full season, but also led the AL with 16 wild pitches.

After an off-year in 1970, Andy compiled a 20-13 record in 1971, and made his first of four all-star squads (his only one as an Angel). Messersmith played one more season with the Angels, then was traded to the Dodgers (with 3rd baseman Ken McMullen) for outfielder Frank Robinson, pitcher Bill Singer, infielders Bobby Valentine and Billy Grabarkewitz, and pitcher Mike Strahler.

Andy had 3 good seasons in LA, including 20-6 in 1974 (leading the NL in wins) and 19-14 in 1975 (leading the league with 321 innings pitched and 7 shutouts). He also won Gold Glove awards and made the all-star team in ’74 and ’75.

In March 1976, he and pitcher Dave McNally were granted free agency in a landmark case which eliminated baseball’s reserve clause, one year after Catfish Hunter became the first free agent.

Andy signed with the Atlanta Braves, and after wearing #47 with the Angels and Dodgers, he was given #17 with the Braves. In place of his last name, the word “CHANNEL” appeared on his back (because Braves’ owner Ted Turner’s WTBS superstation was carried on channel 17 in Atlanta).

Messersmith had an ok season in 1976 (11-11, and an all-star berth), and an off-year in 1977 (5-4, 4.40 ERA). The Braves sold him to the Yankees in December 1977, but Andy missed all but 22 innings of the 1978 season due to injuries. Following his release, he was signed by the Dodgers but pitched only 11 games (the last on June 1st) before the Dodgers released him in August.

Messersmith’s career ERA of 2.86 is the 5th lowest since 1920, behind Hoyt Wilhelm, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Palmer.

After retirement, Andy coached college baseball.