Wednesday, March 28, 2018

50 Years Ago - 1968 Opening Day Lineups (AL)

Here are the opening day American League lineups from half a century ago. Teams are shown in order of their 1968 finish.

Pitching aces Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich must have been resting up for their big seasons ahead.  1st baseman Norm Cash is missing too.

Tom Phoebus stepped up as a rookie in 1967 to fill the void when 1966 pitching stars Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, and Wally Bunker all went down with injuries, and was rewarded with the Opening Day nod in 1968. Mark Belanger missed the opener, so Dave Johnson slid over to shortstop.  And why is "Clank" in right field, having swapped positions with Frank Robinson? Hiding bad outfielders in right field is a little league ploy!

Just like the Tigers, the Indians are without their #1 pitcher (Sam McDowell) for Opening Day. Everyone else here was a regular in 1968.

1967 ace Jim Lonborg blew out a knee during an off-season skiing trip, so the Opening Day starting nod goes to .... Dick Ellsworth????  What about Gary Bell?  Dalton Jones and Joe Lahoud are filling in for Joe Foy and Ken Harrelson.

Wow!  I'm surprised to realize the Yankees finished as high as 5th place in 1968. Jake Gibbs, Bobby Cox, and Andy Kosco were the regulars at C, 3B, and RF, but not on Opening Day.

Here are the Athletics in their first season in Oakland, and only Bert Campaneris returns from 1967's Opening Day lineup. Nice mix of airbrushing and capless shots, Topps!  I wonder if any geniuses at Topps ever thought to back-load the Athletics' cards to the later series, after they had time to develop their Spring Training photographs?

The Twins were in the hunt until the last week of 1967, but fell off to 7th place in 1968. They seemed to have good pitching and a good everyday lineup (except at shortstop).

Just like the Twins, the White Sox really bombed in 1968.  After finishing in 4th place (3 games back) in 1967, they finished 8th (36 games back) in '68. They acquired Luis Aparicio and Tommy Davis, but lost Tommie Agee and Don Buford. 

This was the Angels' regular lineup for most of the season, with a few exceptions: Paul Schaal missed the 2nd half of the season following a beaning; Vic Davalillo was acquired in mid-season to play center field; right field was a carousel of 5 different starters.

Ahhh... the Senators.  They finished in 10th place in 1968, but the following year Teddy Ballgame would coax them to 4th place, instilling new life in them just in time for their move to Texas! Bernie Allen was the regular 2nd baseman in '68, and right field was shared by Ed Stroud and Cap Peterson, but the rest of these guys were 1st string.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

50 Years Ago - 1968 Opening Day Lineups (NL)

Here are the opening day lineups from half a century ago. Teams are shown in order of their 1968 finish.

The complete starting lineup for the 1967 World Champs is back on Opening Day 1968.

After trading catcher Tom Haller to LA for Ron Hunt in the off-season, the Giants used 2nd-year Dick Dietz as their regular catcher, but not on Opening Day. Jim Hart’s defensive shortcomings finally pushed him to the outfield.

Did pitcher Fergie Jenkins and 2nd baseman Glenn Beckert miss the team bus?

Johnny Bench started 139 games in 1968, but none until game #6. Alex Johnson was acquired from the Cardinals in the off-season, and won his first every-day job. After 1969 he would be on the move again, in keeping with his career-long pattern of wearing out his welcome every 2 years.

Deron Johnson spent 1 season in Atlanta between his stints with the Reds and Phillies. Rookie Mike Lum replaced Rico Carty (who missed the ’68 season with tuberculosis) in left field.

Jim Bunning was acquired from the Phillies in the off-season and was named Opening Day starter, ahead of Bob Veale. Like Bunning, Veale was usually among the NL strikeout leaders, but was already on the Bucs’ staff for a few years. I guess they had to justify the 4-for-1 trade for Bunning. The rest of these guys were the season-long regulars.

With Bunning traded away to the Pirates, Chris Short became the team’s ace. In his 1st season with Philly, Mike Ryan shared the catching duties with Clay Dalrymple. Rookies Don Money and Larry Hisle were handed the SS and CF jobs in spring training, but flopped in April and were sent back to the minors for a year. As you can see, they both won Topps All-Rookie awards a year later. Dick Allen returned to the lineup after missing the last 6 weeks of 1967 with a hand injury, but played left field in 1968.

For the 2nd straight year, Don Drysdale did not pitch on Opening Day. The Dodgers traded away veteran catcher John Roseboro to the Twins for shortstop Zoilo Versalles, who was a bust in his 1 year in LA. New backstop Tom Haller cost them their 1967 regular 2nd baseman Ron Hunt. I wonder why Jim Lefebvre didn’t play 2B on opening day?

Where are catcher Jerry Grote and left fielder Cleon Jones? Aside from J.C. Martin and Art Shamsky, this is the Mets’ regular lineup that took them to their first post-season a year later. (Robert Barone was probably glad to see Shamsky in the starting lineup!)

The Astros’ regular catchers were John Bateman and Ron Brand, but rookie Hal King got the Opening Day nod. Joe Morgan started the first 6 games, then missed the rest of the season with injuries. For some reason, Jimmy Wynn was the left fielder for the first 2 months, before moving back to center field.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Jerry Grote (#582)

Jerry Grote was the Mets' starting catcher from opening day 1966 through the end of August 1976.

Grote was signed by the Houston Colt .45s in June 1962 and was assigned to their double-A team in his hometown of San Antonio, TX. He showed good power for a rookie catcher thrown into double-A ball by hitting 14 homers in 121 games.

He played for the Colt .45s for all of the 1964 season, starting 88 games behind the dish, while sharing the spot with last year’s incumbent John Bateman, who made 72 starts.

Jerry spent all of 1965 in triple-A, probably due to his .181 batting average the year before. In mid-October he was traded to the Mets for pitcher Tom Parsons (who had just compiled a less-than-stellar 1-10 record with New York). It turned out to be a steal for the Mets!

The Mets traded away 1965's starting catcher Chris Cannizzaro a week before the start of the 1966 season, opening up the starting job for Grote. (Interestingly enough, Cannizzaro would not get significant major-league playing time again until 1969, with the expansion Padres.)

Grote was the Mets' #1 catcher from the start of the 1966 season, until 9/1/76. When rosters were expanded then, rookie prospect John Stearns was called up, started most games in September, and for several years thereafter.

During Jerry's tenure with the Mets, they appeared in 2 World Series, winning in 1969. He caught every inning of both series. Grote made 2 All-Star teams ('68, '74), but never showed the power from his rookie season in the minors, topping out with only 6 home runs in 1969.

With Stearns taking over the catching as of September 1976, Grote was traded to the Dodgers in August 1977. He appeared in 2 post-seasons with LA ('77, '78) while serving as Steve Yeager’s backup.

Grote was granted free agency after the 1978 season, and was out of baseball for 2 years until the Royals picked him up in April 1981. He made 20 starts in that strike-shortened season as John Wathan's backup, but was released on September 1st.

The Dodgers signed him for the remainder of the season, but he only made 2 pinch-hitting appearances, both in October. Grote was released after the season, ending his 16-year career.

He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1992.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Bill Hands (#279)

Bill Hands was a top-3 starter for the Cubs from 1968-72. His best season came in 1969, when he won 20 games for a team apparently headed to the post-season.

Hands began his career in the Giants’ organization in 1959. He pitched in their farm system for SEVEN seasons, and made his major-league debut with 4 games in 1965 (3 in early June, 1 in October).

After the ’65 season, he and catching prospect Randy Hundley were traded to the Cubs for veteran reliever Lindy McDaniel and fading outfielder Don Landrum, in what many Giants' fans consider to be another in a string of bad trades by Giants' management in that era.

Bill was a full-time pitcher for the Cubs for the next 7 seasons. Primarily a starter in ’66 and a reliever in ’67, Hands became a full-time starter in 1968, and responded by winning 16, 20, 18, 12, and 11 games in each of the next 5 seasons. Along with winning 20 games in 1969, he pitched 18 complete games.

After the 1972 season he was traded to the Twins for reliever Dave LaRoche. Hands was primarily a reliever during his 2-year hitch with the Twins, but did not enjoy the same success that he had during his stay with the Cubs.

In September 1974 he was claimed off waivers by the Rangers. He appeared in 2 games for Texas that month and 18 in 1975. Although traded to the Mets in February 1976 for pitcher George Stone, Hands retired before the ’76 season.

 He died in Orlando, FL in March 2017 at age 76.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hank Allen (#426)

Hank Allen is the younger brother of Phillies and White Sox slugger Dick Allen. Dick, Hank, and their younger brother Ron all came up through the Phillies’ farm system.

Hank was signed by the Phillies in 1960, and played in their organization for 5 years, mostly at 1st base but also some time in the outfield. After clubbing 25 and 37 homers in ’61 and ’62 (playing Class B, C, and D ball), he was promoted to single-A Miami in 1963.

Allen only managed 6 homers in 1963 and 12 homers at double-A Chattanooga in 1964. It seems the Phillies may have soured on his power outage, and sold him to the Senators before the 1965 season.

Hank’s power returned somewhat with the change of scenery (23 homers at AAA Hawaii in 1966), and he made his major-league debut in September 1966.

In 1967 Allen split the center field job evenly with Fred Valentine and newcomer Ed Stroud. In 1968, rookie Del Unser started almost every game in center field, leaving little room in the crowded Senators’ outfield for Allen. He spent half that season in triple-A.

In 1969 Hank was back with the Senators full-time, splitting the right field job with Stroud and Lee Maye. Allen was 3rd among the outfielders in innings played (behind Frank Howard and Unser).

In May 1970 Allen was traded to the Brewers for outfielder Wayne Comer, but spent most of that year in the minors. After the season he was flipped to the Braves for veteran catcher Bob Tillman, but was released in April 1971 and played in the minors that year.

Hank was out of baseball for most of 1972, then was signed by the White Sox when rosters expanded on September 1st. He provided bench depth for the remainder of that year and all of 1973.

In 1974 he played briefly for the Padres’ AAA team in Hawaii, where he had played for most of 1966 as a Senators’ farmhand.

After his playing career Hank became a Thoroughbred horse trainer, and more recently worked as a scout for the Astros.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Darrell Brandon (#26)

I learned today that Darrell Brandon was not always a pitcher.

He was signed by the Pirates in 1959, but was traded to the Cardinals and played for their class-D team in 1960, as a 3rd baseman and outfielder.

After being out of baseball for the 1961 season, he resumed his baseball career as a pitcher. Darrell played in the Houston Colt .45s' farm system from 1962-65, then was traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Jack Lamabe in September 1965.

Brandon made the majors at the start of the 1966 season, and was with the Red Sox for all of ’66 and ’67. He both started and relieved during his first 2 seasons with Boston, but developed arm problems during 1967 that caused him to spend most of 1968 in the minors, although he did pitch 8 games for the Sox that season.

After the ’68 season he was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft. Brandon only played 8 games for the Pilots, and by mid-July was sold to the Twins. He also played for both organizations’ triple-A clubs in 1969.

Released by the Twins in April 1970, he was quickly signed by the White Sox, but played the entire ’70 season for their AAA club.

Darrell returned to the majors in 1971 with the Phillies, following a January trade for infielder Rick Joseph. Brandon pitched out of the Phillies’ bullpen (behind Joe Hoerner and Dick Selma) for the next 3 seasons, appearing in 130 games (only 6 as a starter).

In 1972 he compiled a 7-7 record. His 7 wins was 2nd on the team after Steve Carlton’s 27 wins. (Such was the sad state of the Phillies’ pitching staff that year.)

Darrell was released by the Phillies after the 1973 season. He played for their AAA team in 1974 before retiring.

Fun Fact: Brandon wore #32 for the Phillies in 1971, before switching to #30 with the arrival of Steve Carlton in 1972. Carlton’s number was subsequently retired by the Phillies.

It’s odd that both and refer to him as “Bucky Brandon”. I don’t ever remember seeing his baseball cards without “Darrell” as his name. Although Baseball-Reference will redirect “Darrell Brandon” queries to their Bucky Brandon page, Wikipedia has no knowledge of a “Darrell Brandon”. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Len Gabrielson (#357)

Len Gabrielson was a corner outfielder for 5 teams in the 1960s.

He was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, and made his major-league debut for the Braves with 4 games in September 1960.

After that brief cup of coffee, it was back to the minors until 1963. That season he played 46 games with the Braves (mostly as a pinch-hitter or 1st baseman) in April, May, and September, while spending the middle of the season in the minors.

Len finally became a permanent major-leaguer in 1964. He played in 24 games for the Braves, then was traded to the Cubs in early June for catcher Merritt Ranew. Gabrielson started 71 of the Cubs’ final 84 games that year, taking over the right field job vacated with the trade of Lou Brock to the Cardinals.

In 1965, Doug Clemens (one of the players acquired for Brock in 1964) took over Gabrielson’s starting right field job, so after a handful of games Len was traded to the Giants in late May (along with catcher Dick Bertell) for pitcher Bob Hendley, catcher Ed Bailey, and outfielder Harvey Kuenn. Willie Mays and Jesus Alou had the CF and RF spots sewn up, so Len had to fight for playing time in left field with Matty Alou, Cap Peterson, and others. He did start 88 games there, more than any of the others.

Rookie Ollie Brown joined the Giants in 1966, further eating into Gabrielson’s playing time. After the season he was traded to the Angels for backup first baseman Norm Siebern.

This is where I jumped on the baseball bandwagon. My first knowledge of Gabrielson is his 1967 baseball card showing him as an Angel, but he only played 11 games for them before he was flipped to the Dodgers in May ’67 for utility player John Werhas.

Len was a corner outfield backup for most of his time with the Dodgers. His playing time spiked up in 1968, when Al Ferrara was lost for the season with a broken leg after just 2 games. Surprisingly, Gabrielson led the Dodgers with all of TEN home runs in 1968.

In Len’s final season (1970), he appeared in 43 games, all but 3 as a pinch-hitter.

His father (also Len) played briefly with the Phillies in 1939.