Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back on Topps' Radar: Nate Oliver

Nate Oliver (#124) was a backup 2B-SS for the Dodgers in the mid-1960s. After appearing on Topps cards in '63, '65, and '66, he was out of the loop in 1967 before showing up 3 more times starting in 1968.

Nate was signed by the Dodgers in 1959, and spent the next 4 seasons in their farm system before making his major-league debut in April 1963. From 1963 to 1967 he shuttled between Los Angeles and their triple-A team in Spokane, playing a good amount of time in the majors (except for 1965).

Prior to the 1968 season, Oliver and 2nd baseman Ron Hunt were traded to the Giants for starting catcher Tom Haller. After just 1 season in San Francisco, he was shipped to the Yankees for pinch-hitter (and former 3rd baseman) Charlie Smith.

Two weeks into the 1969 season, the Yankees traded him to the Cubs for minor-league infielder Lee Elia. That was his last major-league season. Nate spent the 1970 and 1971 seasons in triple-A before retiring.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Final Card: Jerry Zimmerman

This is the final card for Jerry Zimmerman (#181) the Twins' backup catcher for most of the 1960s.

Jerry was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1952. After 7 1/2 seasons in their minor-league system, the Red Sox released Zimmerman on July 16, 1959. On the same day, he was picked up by the Orioles, who assigned him to their triple-A team, where he played until being released on September 25th (presumably after the end of the minor-league season). Not to worry! For the 2nd time in 1959, Jerry was picked up by another team on the same day he was cut (this time by the Cincinnati Reds).

Zimmerman got a fresh start with the Reds. After spending one season (1960) with the Cincy's triple-A team, he made his major-league debut on April 14, 1961. He ended up being the Reds' #1 catcher as a rookie, starting more games behind the plate (64) than the #2 and #3 guys combined (Johnny Edwards & Bob Schmidt).

What happened after that? The Reds must have liked what they saw of Edwards, because in 1962 he began a string of 6 years as the Reds' #1 catcher (until being replaced by Johnny Bench in September 1967). Zimmerman was shipped off to the Twins in January 1962 for outfielder Dan Dobbek, who had all of 200 major-league games under his belt, but would never play in the majors again.

Jerry played for the Twins for the remainder of his career. From 1962-66 he was 2nd-string behind Earl Battey. In 1967, he was the #1 catcher, as the aging Battey faded drastically in his final season. Oddly enough, in 1968 Jerry dropped to #3 behind the newly-acquired John Roseboro and rookie Bruce Look.

Zimmerman was released in March 1969. (None of the 4 expansion teams needed a veteran catcher?)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Final Card: Lee Thomas

My first recollection of Lee Thomas (#438) is when I got his 1967 card. His position on that card (like this one) was "1B-OF". My young brain then summed him up as:

a) He's a backup
b) He's Ernie Banks' backup, so he's not gonna play.

However, he was a valuable pinch-hitter, and before that, a full-time player in the early 1960s.

Thomas was signed by the Yankees in 1954, then played for seven seasons as an outfielder with their minor-league teams before making his major-league debut in April 1961.

Of course, with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Hector Lopez taking up space in the Yankees' outfield, Lee's prospects for playing time weren't very good. After 2 pinch-hitting appearances, he was packed off to the Angels on May 8th in a 5-player deal.

With the Angels, Thomas had more playing time than he would ever have seen in New York. Alternating between 1st base and the outfield, Lee played 130, 160, and 149 games from 1961 to 1963.

In 1964, after starting 44 of the first 49 games in right field, Thomas was traded to the Red Sox on June 5th for outfielder Lou Clinton (who had been Boston's regular right fielder since mid-September 1961). Lee started almost every game in right for the remainder of the season.

Thomas took over as the Red Sox' regular first baseman in 1965 (due to a combination of Tony Conigliaro moving to rightfield, and long-time stonehands/1st baseman Dick Stuart moving on to Philadelphia).

After the season, Lee's time in Boston was over, since the Red Sox planned to have minor-leaguer George Scott take over the first base job in 1966. In December 1965 Thomas was traded to the Braves, but the following May he was sent on to the Cubs.

His time with the Cubs was spent as mostly as a pinch-hitter. In February 1968, the Cubs traded him to the Astros for 2 minor-leaguers who never made it to The Show. Lee finished the 1968 season with Houston. He played in Japan in 1969, and finished his career with the Cardinals' triple-A team in Tulsa.

In later years, he would become the Phillies' general manager during the early 1990s.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Final Card: Chuck Hiller

Chuck Hiller (#461) was signed by the Indians in 1957, and played 2 seasons in their low minors before the Giants selected him in the 1958 minor-league draft. After 2 more seasons in the Giants' organization, Hiller made his major-league debut with the Giants on April 11, 1961.

After starting 16 of the first 17 games at 2nd base, Chuck slowly lost his grip on the starting job to Joey Amalfitano, and by season's end, Chuck had 63 starts (to Amalfitano's 88).

Amalfitano was lost in the post-season expansion draft, so Hiller was now in full control at 2nd base, starting 158 games in 1962, and 101 games in 1963 (alternating with the re-acquired Amalfitano).

In 1964, rookie Hal Lanier got the bulk of playing time at 2nd, relegating Hiller to a backup role. Eventually, Chuck was sold to the Mets on May 11, 1965. In New York, he was in a 3-way timeshare at 2nd base with Bobby Klaus and Ron Hunt.

Hunt took over the 2nd base job in 1966, pushing Hiller to his now-familiar role as utility/pinch-hitter. In July 1967, the location changed (Phillies) but not the job.

After the 1967 season, the Pirates selected him from the Phillies in the rule 5 draft. After 11 games with the Pirates in 1968 (the last on June 2nd), Hiller's 8-year major-league career was over.

He spent the remainder of 1968 with the Pirates' triple-A team in Columbus, Ohio before retiring.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bob Rodgers (#433)

I don't care how he's listed in, I'm not calling him "Buck" Rodgers!

"Boog" Powell? yes
"Satchel" Paige? yes
"Yogi" Berra? yes
"Turk" Farrell? yes
"Catfish" Hunter? yes, (grudgingly)
"Mudcat" Grant? (you're pushing it!)
"Oil Can" Boyd? Since I don't have a 1970s blog, no worries!
"Buck" Rodgers? no!
"Bucky" Brandon? no!
"Vinegar Bend" Mizell? heh!

BOB Rodgers was the Angels regular catcher during their first 9 years in existence (although not until September 8, 1961). Rodgers was signed by the Tigers in 1956 as an outfielder (converting to catcher in 1957), and spent 6 seasons in the minors before being selected by the Angels in the December 1960 expansion draft.

Bob spent most of 1961 with the Angels' triple-A team in Dallas-Fort Worth, before making his major-league debut on September 8th. He started 13 of the final 20 games behind the plate in 1961.

In 1962 he took over the Angels' catching job, starting 144 games and finishing a distant 2nd (to the Yankees' Tom Tresh) for AL Rookie-of-the-Year. In 1963, he must have had some nagging injuries because he only played in 100 games, and only 77 of those were as the starting catcher.

From 1964 to 1967, he was back as the undisputed #1 catcher, playing in over 130 games in each season.

1968 was the beginning of the end for Bob. He split the catching duties evenly with Tom Satriano, the Angels' long-time backup infielder/catcher.

By 1969, Rodgers was done. Satriano and Tom Egan split the starting catcher assignments for the first few months. On June 15th, Satriano was traded to the Indians for catcher Joe Azcue, who started most of the games for the remainder of the season. Meanwhile, Bob played more games with triple-A Hawaii (44) than he did with the Angels (18). His final major-league game was on October 1, 1969.

After retiring, he was a major-league coach and minor-league manager, before spending 13 seasons as a major-league manager for the Brewers (1980-82), Expos (1985-91), and Angels (1991-94).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Final Card: Jimmie Schaffer

Tonight, my blogs feature another triple-shot of Cincinnati Reds (for no particular reason). However, these 3 cards don't match as well as Zanni-Coker-Nottebart did a few days ago.

Here is the final baseball card for journeyman backup catcher Jimmie Schaffer (#463). After having a card for each year from 1962 to 1965, Schaffer fell off Topps' radar in 1966 and 1967. Now he's back for one more card, though I don't see how he swung it, based on 2 at-bats in 1967!

Jimmie was signed by the Cardinals in 1955, and spent six full seasons and part of 1961 in the minors before making his major-league debut on May 20, 1961. That season, he started 45 games behind the plate - the most by any of the 6 catchers used by the Cardinals that season.

In 1962, Schaffer settled back into the backup role (behind Gene Oliver and Carl Sawataski) that would follow him for the rest of his career. After the season he was traded to the Cubs (along with pitchers Larry Jackson and Lindy McDaniel) for pitcher Don Cardwell, outfielder George Altman, and catcher Moe Thacker.

Jimmie was the Cubs 2nd-string catcher (behind Dick Bertell) for the 1963 and 1964 seasons. He was traded to the White Sox in December 1964, and split the 1965 season between the White Sox and the Mets. That was pretty much the end of Schaffer's major-league career.

Prior to the 1966 season, Schaffer was one of three players the Mets traded to the Phillies for first baseman Dick Stuart. Jimmie spent the 1966 and 1967 seasons with the Phillies' triple-A team in San Diego, getting only a few at-bats in September call-ups each season.

Schaffer only played 4 games for the Reds in 1968, his final game coming on July 11th, He spent most of 1968, and all of 1969 and 1970 with the triple-A teams of the Reds, Dodgers, and Orioles.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Don Nottebart (#171)

Don Nottebart had a 9-year career during the 1960s. To me (having started collecting cards in 1967), he was a Cincinnati Red, but he played more seasons with the Braves and Astros. During his time in Houston he was a starting pitcher. Everywhere else, he pitched out of the bullpen.

Nottebart was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1954. He pitched in their farm system from 1954 until midway through the 1960 season. His major-league debut came on July 1, 1960, his first of five appearances that year.

Don played the entire 1961 and 1962 seasons for the Braves. He appeared in 38 games (11 starts) in 1961, and 39 games (all in relief) in 1962. In November 1962 he was traded to the Houston Colt .45s for first baseman Norm Larker.

With Houston in 1963, Nottebart joined a starting rotation that included Ken Johnson, Turk Farrell, and Bob Bruce. The same four made up the rotation in 1964 also.

In 1965, Bruce was replaced by Larry Dierker, but the rest of the rotation remained the same. Nottebart was 3rd among starters in games started and innings pitched. Curiously, after being a 3-year mainstay in the rotation, he was lost to the Reds in the rule 5 draft after the 1965 season. (Maybe it was due to his 4-15 record?)

Nottebart joined the Reds' bullpen in 1966. He led the Reds' pitchers in appearances (59), while pitching 111 innings. He also picked up 11 saves.

With the arrival of Ted Abernathy in 1967, Nottebart was used less (47 games - all in relief, 79 innings). shows that Nottebart spent all of 1968 in the minor leagues, with the White Sox' triple-A team in Hawaii. Apparently, he remained the property of the Reds, because in October 1968 the Reds sold him to the Yankees.

After 4 games with the Yankees, he was returned to the Reds on April 26, 1969. The next day, the Reds traded him to the Cubs. He appeared in 16 games for the Cubs, his last on September 6th.

Don spent the 1970 season in the Cubs' farm system. His final baseball card was in the 1969 set.