Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lee Lacy

Here's Lee's 1981 Topps card. Career Stats (as of 1981): 1974 AB, 547 H, 41 HR, 211 RBI, .277 AVG. Born 4/10/48 in Longview, TX.

Lee (whose real name is Leondaus) was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as their second pick in February 1969. He made it into the majors for his first time in '72. Lee was briefly the starting second baseman for the Dodgers until Davey Lopes took over. He was then relagated to work as a utility guy. Lee had a habit of finding himself on World Series teams. He made it there 3 times for the Dodgers in '74, '77 & 78 but he always walked away empty handed. However, Lee found his way back to the World Series in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he signed as a free agent. This time Lee walked away with a World Series ring and was a contributor to one of the most memorable championship teams/FAMILY in World Series history. Maybe one of the reasons Lee appeared on so many World Series teams was his knack for coming through in the clutch. As a pinch-hitter Lee hit five home runs in 1978, including a major league record three in a row. The third coming on May 17, 1978 with the Dodgers against his future team the Pirates beating them 10-1.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

John Urrea

 Here's John's 1981 Topps card.  Career stats (as of 1981): 315 IP, 15 W, 16 L, 183 K, 3.94 ERA.  Born 2/9/55 in Los Angeles, CA.

The back of John's card notes that he answers to the nickname "Chief" and he was drafted as the St. Louis Cardinals #1 pick in 1974.  It wasn't until '77 that the Cardinals brought him up from the minors where he earned a whopping $25,000 that year.  A wise investment by the Cardinals management because it bought them a 7 win, 3.15 ERA effort from Chief and a third place finish in the NL East, 18 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies.  Chief was showing off his talent that led him to be a #1 pick.  So with renewed confidence Chief headed into the 1978 season ready to deliver the Cardinal faithful a much needed winning season.  However, maybe being too confident, Chief went on to throw a big fat 5.36 ERA accompanied by 4 wins and 9 losses and the Cardinals finished 5th in the NL East, 21 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies.  Now making his home in St. Louis, his friends and neighbors were to reassure him with the old "sophomore jinx" excuse.  That was soon thrown out the window when Chief pitched in just 3 games with 4.09 ERA for the '79 Cardinals before being sent down to the minors and being converted into a relief pitcher.  It was a role that seemed to suit Chief who was brought back up to the majors and recorded 3 saves with a 3.46 ERA in 1980. But in 1981 the Cardinals sent Chief packing for the west coast.  He was part of a trade with the San Diego Padres that sent Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley, Gene Tenance and Bob Geren to St. Louis in exchange for his relief services.  The Padres released Chief in 1982 and he hasn't pitched for a major league team since.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dave Stapleton

Here's Dave Stapleton's 1981 Topps card. Career Stats as of 1981: 449 AB, 144 H, 7 HR, 45 RBI, .321 AVG. Born 1/16/54 in Fairhope, Alabama.

This card represents Dave's first year in the majors after spending 7 years in the minors in such locales as Winter Haven, FL, Bristol, CT and Pawtucket, RI. Spending five years in Pawtucket paid off for Dave who led the International League in runs, hits and doubles in 1979. He was also named International League player of the month for May 1980 by Topps. This didn't go unnoticed by the Red Sox brass because they decided that year to give Dave his big shot in the big league. So even though this card says he played second base, Dave was a utility guy who played almost every position. He covered, first base, second base, shortstop, third base even the outfield at times. But it was first base where Dave eventually found a home. He must have been beaming with pride after toiling away on crappy minor league teams year after year playing during cold New England nights. But as soon as Dave got comfortable along came Bill Buckner who replaced Dave at first base from 1984 to 1986. Dave only got a chance to play in 82 games during that time, coming into the game for defensive purposes to replace Buckner who had bad ankles. Most people might remember Dave from the 1986 World Series versus the New York Metropolitans, game 6 to be exact. No one knows how Dave felt on the night of October 25th when John McNamara, the Red Sox Manager at the time, in his infinite wisdom decided to throw away his normal game plan and kept Dave in the dugout and left Bill Buckner out on the field to man first base. No, no one really knows exactly what was going through Dave's mind when in the bottom of the 10th inning, when he would normally be put in the game to safeguard against any defensive mishaps, he was forced to sit on the bench and witness THIS. The Red Sox lost that World Series and they didn't made it back for another 18 years. And it wasn't until 2008 that the Red Sox fans reconciled with Bill Buckner for that play by letting him throw the first pitch in the home opener. I wonder if Dave was watching.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ken Clay

Here is Ken Clay's 1981 Topps card. Career Stats: 253 IP, 8 W, 17 L, 97 K,4.70 ERA. Born 4/6/54 in Lynchburg, VA.

A teammate of Jim Kern's, Ken was drafted by the New York Yankees in June of 1972. It wasn't until 1977 that Ken made it to the majors. It was a mad time for the young Virginian to be living in the Bronx zoo. The Son of Sam was lurking and the Bronx was burning. Ken, probably shaken by the strange ways of city folk, could only muster a 4.34 ERA out of the bullpen. Even with David Berkowitz behind bars, the following year was no better for Ken. Once again out of the bullpen he gave the Yankee faithful a 4.26 ERA for their troubles. An ERA, which I'm positive gave Billy Martin, the manager of the Yankees, an ulcer. Despite Ken's performance during the year contributing to Martin's drinking problem, he didn't give up on the young reliever. So on October 3, 1978 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against those pesky Kansas City Royals, Kenny ran out to the mound in the 6th inning and threw a no-hitter through 3 2/3 innings, earning himself only the second save of his career and the Yankees a lead in the series. The Yankees went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series that year and Ken got to show what a World Series ring looks like to all his buddies back in Lynchburg. Unfortunately, Ken got cocky and when he came back to New York in 1979 he pitched a horrendous 5.42 ERA. This performance earned him a one way ticket to Arlington, Texas to play for the Rangers in a trade for Gaylord Perry. Whether it be the decrease in smog, the absence of that burning building smell or the lack of a hostile fan base, Ken got a win in his debut for the Rangers against the Detroit Tigers. However, that didn't prevent him from throwing another season of over 4.00 ERA ball. 1980 saw him pitch a 4.60 ERA for the season. One thing about Ken is no one could accuse him of being inconsistent. Texas, sensing that they might have gotten hoodwinked in that deal with the Yankees, sent Ken north to a new Seattle club where he was to finish his major league career.

On the back of Ken's card it notes that he worked as a basketball referee in the off-season. Also it says the he lists Carl Yastrzemski as his toughest individual opponent. Really Ken. You don't say.

And finally, as a cautionary note, see below what a career 4.70 ERA can do to a man.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

John Henry Johnson

Here's John Henry's 1982 Fleer card. Career stats: 20 wins, 27 losses, 3.74 ERA 416 IP, 239 K. Born 8/21/56 in Houston, TX.

John Henry was a steel drivin' man who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 15th round of the '74 amateur draft. Not to be confused with the John Henry Johnson of Pittsburgh Steeler fame, baseball John Henry played his first game in the majors in 1978 for the Oakland A's after being part of a trade that sent Vida Blue to the San Francisco Giants. As part of that '78 A's team, which finished with a 69-93 record, the Steel Driver contributed 11 solid wins but also contributed 10 losses. Not too shabby for someone who spent the last four years in the minors in places like Great Falls, MT, Cedar Rapids, MI & Fresno, CA. The A's saw value in Mr. Johnson's arm and brought him back for their '79 season. That same arm delivered 2 wins and 8 losses and an ERA as big as his afro, seen here, at 4.34. As a result the A's management saw fit to send him home to Texas to pitch for the Rangers. John Henry, apparently uncomfortable with the idea of being back pitching in front of his home crowd, sheepishly delivered just 2 wins, 6 losses and a rotund 4.94 ERA. The Rangers were a decent team at the time and decided it might be best if John Henry drive steel in the minors for a year. It wasn't until 1980 that the Rangers brought John Henry back to the majors where he was reborn as a reliever. He was a new man, sporting a 2.31 ERA with 2 wins and 4 saves. Under the watchful eye of Ferguson Jenkins, a teammate during the '81 season, John Henry continued his success out of the bullpen with a 2.63 ERA.

One of John Henry's major accomplishments was being named part of Topps 1978 All-Star Rookie Team.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bombo Rivera

Here's Bombo's 1981 Topps card. Career stats: 821 AB, 108 R, 219 H, 10 HR, 83 RBI, .267 AVG. Born 8/2/52 in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Bombo, whose real name is Jesus Manuel Rivera Torres, was signed as a free agent by the Montreal Expos in 1970. He didn't play in the majors until 1975. In 1976 Bombo did alright for the Expos with a .276. However, it wasn't good enough for the 55-107 Expos, who after their last season in Jarry Park (a picture can be found here), was let go. 1977 found Bombo a spectator of Major League Baseball. However, as the saying goes, you can't keep a good Bombo down, so he went on to play for the AAA Denver Bears where he led the American Association with 14 triples. There's no doubt that contributed to the Denver Bears winning their Division that year. This accomplishment didn't escape the eyes of the Minnesota Twins management, so they reached out to Bombo to bring his triple hitting ways to St. Paul for the '78 season. Bombo thanked them and the fans, who he was the darling of, with a .271 avg, 2 triples and a 73-89 season.

Some interesting things you may not know about Bombo is that he has a song written about him called "The Ballad of Bombo Rivera" by Garrison Keillor! (lyrics can be found here) He's also mentioned in W.P. Kinsella's book "Shoeless Joe" (which is the basis for the film "Field of Dreams")

Larry Cox

Here is Larry's 1981 Topps card. Career stats: 341 G, 808 AB (at bats), 179 H (hits), 12 HR (home runs), 85 RBI (runs batted in), .222 AVG. (average). Born 9/11/47 in Bluffton, Ohio.

Larry, seen here as a Catcher, was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a Pitcher in 1966. So Larry was both a pitcher and a catcher. In 1975 the Phillies got tired of Larry's services and dumped him. So '76, despite the Bi-Centennial, was not a good year for Larry. It's unknown if he stuck around for the festivities in Philly or if he went back home to Ohio. What is known is that he took some time away from baseball that year. But in 1977 he was back in the bigs as a catcher playing for the Seattle Mariners in their inaugural season (they finished with a 64-98 record). Larry found his stroke that year because he hit 2 HRs and had a .247 average. In 1978, Seattle did not need Larry as their backstop anymore and sent him to Chicago to play for the Cubs, and with a "I'll show them" attitude went on to hit for a .281 average. So in 1979, with their hat in their hand, Seattle brought Larry back. He then rewarded the Mariners fans with a .215 average that year.

On the back of this card it notes that he once hit 2 Grand Slams with 12 RBIs in a High School game.

Unfortunately, Larry passed away on February 17, 1990 at the young age of 42.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jim Kern

Here's Jim Kern from his 1981 card. Career stats: 294 Games (G), 602 Innings Pitched (IP), 45 Wins (W), 46 Losses (L), 539 Strikeouts (K), 2.95 Earned Run Average (ERA). 6'5" 195 lbs. born 3/15/49 Gladwin, Michigan.

Jim spent 1974 - 1978 in Cleveland as a reliever. Which from what I hear, was a wonderful time to be in Cleveland. It might explain why he looks so sad in this picture. He might have missed the beautiful polluted Lake Erie, the 40 degrees and rain/snow during the first month of the new season. The back of his card notes that Jim often wears a black wide-brimmed Amish hat. It's too hot to wear a black wide-brimmed Amish hat in Texas. It think that probably explains this melancholy moment.

According to his nickname was "Emu" because he looked and acted like a big bird. He was hit in the mouth with a throw from his own catcher while watching a foul ball in Texas in 1980 which caused him to fall backwards on the mound and ended up with a concussion.

Welcome To Stale Bubblegum

Welcome to Stale Bubblegum, a blog that looks at some old baseball cards.  I'll be focusing mainly on lesser known players and discuss their stats, trivia, some background (if I can find any) and maybe an occasional "where are they now".