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.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Joe Hoerner (#227)

One of the all-time Rule 5 success stories, Joe Hoerner went from barely hanging on with a bad 4th-year team in 1965 to heading up the bullpen for the 2-time NL champion Cardinals from 1966-69).

Hoerner was signed by the White Sox in 1957, and after 5 seasons in their farm system he was selected by the soon-to-join-the-NL Houston Colts .45s in November 1961.

Primarily a starter for his 1st 2 seasons in the minors, he was a swing man for his final 3 minor-league seasons. In the majors, every one of his 493 games was as a reliever.

During his years with Houston (1962-65), Joe mostly played in the minors, but appeared with the Colt .45s for 1 game in ’63 and 7 games in ’64.

Selected by the Cardinals in the November 1965 Rule 5 draft, he immediately rose to bullpen star status. Joe appeared in 45 or more games in each of his 4 seasons with the Cardinals, while fashioning ERAs of 1.54, 2.59, 1.47, and 2.87. He led the team in saves for all 4 seasons as well.

Hoerner also pitched in 2 games in the ’67 World Series and 3 games in the ’68 Fall Classic.

After the 1969 season, Hoerner accompanied Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, and Byron Browne to Philadelphia in exchange for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson. The Phillies’ relief corps had been headed up by Turk Farrell and Dick Hall for the past few seasons, but by 1970 both were gone, with Hoerner and Dick Selma (acquired in the 69-70 off-season for Johnny Callison) in their place.

My recollection of Hoerner’s time with the Phillies is that he was their bullpen ace for 2 seasons, but as I am typing this, I see in that he had the fewest innings pitched of the 5 relief pitchers, and his 9 saves were well behind Selma’s 22 saves. However, Hoerner did make the All-Star team that season (his only time), so maybe he was the situational lefty specialist (pitching 57 innings in 44 games).

He also had 9 saves in 1971, which was good enough to lead the team that season.

In June 1972 the Phillies made another of their bad trades, sending Hoerner and 1st base prospect Andre Thornton to the Braves for pitchers Jim Nash and Gary Neibauer. (Nash went 0-8 for the Phillies, to close out his career. Neibauer pitched 18 innings for the Philles, then returned to the Braves the following season. Meanwhile Thornton hit 250 home runs over the next 14 seasons with the Cubs and Indians!) 

Hoerner pitched for the Braves and Royals for the next 2+ seasons, then returned to the Phillies for the 1975 season. He was just a supporting player in his 2nd stint with Philly, as they now had Tug McGraw and Gene Garber heading up the bullpen.

Joe spent his final 2 seasons with the Rangers (’76) and Reds (’77) before retiring.

 In October 1996 he was killed in a farming accident at age 59.