Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bill Melton (#481)

Bill Melton was the White Sox' 3rd baseman from 1969 to 1975. He also played for the Angels and Indians. This is his rookie card.

Melton was signed by Chicago in 1964, and played in their farm system from 1964-68. Oddly enough, he also spent part of 1968 playing for the Yankees' AAA team. (I guess the Sox had two 3rd base prospects, and wanted each of them to get regular playing time?)

Bill made his major-league debut with 17 games in May 1968 (presumably that's what the card back is referring to), and another 17 games in September.

Melton held down the hot corner from mid-September 1968 through the 1975 season, except for missing the final 3 ½ months of the 1972 season.

His peak power years were 1970 and 1971, hitting 33 home runs in both seasons. Bill also made his only All-Star team in 1971.

After the 1975 season he was traded to the Angels for 1st baseman Jim Spencer. He was a spot player for California, splitting the DH duties with Tommy Davis and occasionally playing at the infield corners.

Melton moved on to the Indians after just 1 season with the Angels. He only got 133 at-bats over 50 games with the Tribe in 1977, his last appearance coming on August 30th.

He was granted free agency after the season, but did not play again.

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.