Sunday, March 30, 2014

Joe Niekro (#43)

Joe Niekro was one of several sets of brothers who played in the majors in the 1960s. Like his older brother Phil, Joe was a knuckleball pitcher.

Joe was signed by the Cubs in 1966, and after only one season in the minors, he made his big-league debut in April 1967. He pitched 36 games (22 starts) as a rookie, and finished 3rd in innings pitched on the Cubs’ staff, behind Fergie Jenkins and fellow rookie Rich Nye.

Niekro was a member of the starting rotation for 2 seasons, then in late-April 1969 he was traded to the Padres for pitcher Dick Selma. Joe finished out the season with San Diego, then was traded to the Tigers for pitcher Pat Dobson.

Niekro spent played for the Tigers for all of 1970-71, and part of 1972. He spent the remainder of 1972 and most of 1973 in the Tigers’ farm system.

When the Braves claimed him off waivers in early August 1973, he joined the Braves for the rest of the season (uniting him with brother Phil), and made 20 relief appearances. Joe split his time between the Braves and their AAA team in 1974, then was sold to the Astros 2 days before the start of the 1975 season.

Niekro enjoyed his greatest success during his 11 seasons with the Astros. In 1979 he led the NL with 21 wins, made the all-star team, and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. He followed up his great 1979 season by notching 20 wins in 1980, and pitching in the NLCS against the Phillies.

Two weeks before the end of the 1985 season, Joe was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Jim Deshaies. Once again, his brother Phil was a teammate, although Phil was traded away after the season. Joe remained in the Yankees’ starting rotation until his June 1987 trade to the Twins.

Niekro pitched for the Twins for the remainder of the 1987 season (including the World Series vs. the Cardinals), but after pitching 5 games in 1988, he was released in early May, ending his 22-year career.

Niekro passed away in October 2006 at age 61.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ted Shows How (#539)

Here's one of the four multi-player cards in the 1969 set. There is also a multi-player card for the Athletics in this set, which the previous owner of this blog posted in August 2009. I stumbled upon it a month later, which was my introduction to Google Blogger. A few days later, I started my 1967 and 1968 blogs.

Here, the Senators' manager Ted Williams apparently is showing young first baseman Mike Epstein the value of choking up on the bat. Epstein came over to the Senators early in the 1967 season from the Orioles, where he was blocked by Boog Powell.

Epstein played 2 seasons with the Nats before Williams' tenure as manager. During their first 2 seasons together, Epstein's stats improved greatly.

Perhaps the best example of Williams' influence on a player's batting was perennial light-weight Ed Brinkman. Prior to Ted's arrival in 1969, Brinkman struggled to reach the Mendoza Line. In fact, in 3 of the 4 seasons prior to 1969, Ed hit in the .180's. In the two seasons under Williams' tutelage, Brinkman's batting average soared to .268 and .262.

He was traded to the Tigers after the 1970 season, where his average plummeted 40 to 60 points below his 1969 high in each of the next 4 seasons.

Here is a post on my 1966 blog, listing all the multi-player cards in the 1966 to 1969 sets.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Duane Josephson (#222)

Today we take a look at Duane Josephson, the White Sox' starting catcher during the late-1960s.

Josephson was signed by Chicago in 1964, and worked his way up the ladder from rookie ball to triple-A from 1964-66. He played a few games for Chicago at the end of the ’65 and ’66 seasons, then made the White Sox at the start of 1967. (The Sox had traded veteran catcher Johnny Romano during the previous off-season.) 

Duane started 10 of 16 games in April, and alternated with J. C. Martin through the month of May. He was out of the lineup for most of June after being run over at home plate. Three days after returning to the lineup, he broke a finger and missed most of July. He finished his rookie season with 53 starts (only 16 less than Martin).

The following season he was the undisputed regular catcher, starting 113 games, while 1967’s 3rd-stringer Jerry McNertney started the rest (Martin having been shipped off to the Mets in November 1967). Duane made his only all-star team in 1968, as a reserve catcher behind the Tigers’ Bill Freehan.

After batting only .247 with very little pop (6 homers) in ’68, Josephson lost his starting job to rookie Ed Herrmann in 1969. They shared the position evenly in 1970, with the right-handed Josephson and the lefty Herrmann both greatly improving their batting averages.

During spring training in 1971, Duane was traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Vicente Romo. Josephson started half the games for the Bosox, alternating with Bob Montgomery. In September, a rookie catcher named Carlton Fisk was called up, and that was the beginning of the end for all other catchers.

Duane only played in 26 games in 1972 (6 starts behind the plate, and 15 at 1st base). His final major-league appearance came on July 2nd. Josephson had been diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammation around the heart. This forced him into retirement in 1972 at age 30.

He died in his hometown of New Hampton, Iowa in January 1997, at age 54.

Duane Josephson profile on the SABR website