Saturday, June 15, 2019

Russ Gibson (#297)

Russ Gibson was the Red Sox' starting catcher for 1968-69, basically keeping the gear warm until the arrival of Carlton Fisk.

Russ was signed by the Red Sox in 1957. After ten seasons in the minors, he finally made his major-league debut (at age 27) in 1967, starting 13 of the team's first 17 games. He soon settled in as the Sox' #3 catcher, only making 37 starts behind Mike Ryan (74 starts) and the Bob Tillman / Elston Howard tandem (51 starts).


After the off-season trade of Ryan to the Phillies, Gibson shared the #1 catcher job with Howard, who was in his final season. Each started 60+ games, with Russ Nixon picking up the scraps at #3.

Gibson rose to the top of the pile in 1969, his last season with Boston. He started 78 games (mostly in the first half). The Red Sox were also working rookie Jerry Moses into the lineup, along with Tom Satriano, who was acquired from the Angels in mid-June.

Three days before the 1970 season he was purchased by the Giants, and spent the next 2 years as a little-used backup to Dick Dietz. In 1972 the Giants used rookie Dave Rader behind the plate. Gibson only played 4 games in May and one in September for the Giants, spending much of the '72 season in triple-A.

He passed away in 2008 at age 69.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Cecil Upshaw (#286)

Cecil Upshaw was the Braves’ top relief pitcher from mid-1967 through the 1972 season.

Upshaw was signed by the Braves in 1964, and made his major-league debut on October 1, 1966.

In 1967, he was recalled from the minors when closer Phil Niekro moved to the starting rotation in mid-July. Upshaw remained in the closer role through the end of the 1972 season, except for missing the entire 1970 season with an injury.


In 1970 he tore ligaments in his hand in a freak accident. I had always heard that his ring finger got caught in a basketball net while attempting to dunk the ball, but on Wikipedia it says he and some teammates were walking down a sidewalk, and jumping up to touch overhanging awnings. Then his ring got caught on the awning and that was that.

In any case, Upshaw led the Braves in saves every season from '68-'72 except for 1970. In each season prior to the injury, his ERA was under 3.00, and he won a career-high 11 games in 1971.

After the 1972 season, the Braves acquired reliever Danny Frisella from the Mets, and the following April Upshaw was traded to the Astros for outfielder Norm Miller.

Cecil played just one season (1973) with the Astros, then was traded to the Indians in November for pitcher Jerry Johnson.

By late-April 1974 he was shipped out to the Yankees in a 7-player deal that saw Fritz Peterson and Chris Chambliss change teams. Upshaw played 1 season in the Big Apple, as the #2 reliever behind Sparky Lyle.

He was traded to the White Sox before the 1975 season. He manned the #10 spot on a 10-man staff in his final season, and was released during Spring Training in 1976.

Upshaw passed away in 1995 at age 52, of a heart attack.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Born on the Same Day - 6/9/1939

Another installment in my "Born on the Same Day" series, featuring players who were born on the same day (!) and year. 

A few days ago, I just happened to find 4 other players who shared (2) common birthdays (Dick Egan/Bob Tillman, and Doug Clemens/Julio Gotay).

This is actually the 24th post in the series, but since it comes chronologically after Milt Pappas and Frank Quilici, I'm going to call it post #11.5: Doug Clemens and Julio Gotay - both born on 6/9/1939.

(There are discrepancies on Gotay's date of birth between his 1968 card, Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, and Wikipedia, but I'm going with 6/9/39, which Baseball-Reference and Baseball-Almanac agree on.) 


Doug Clemens played for the Cardinals, Cubs, and Phillies from 1960 to 1968, He was in the majors continuously from 1964-1967, but only had one Topps card (1967).

Julio Gotay was mostly a journeyman infielder for the Cardinals, Pirates, Angels, and Astros from 1960 to 1969, except for 1962, when he was the Cardinals' regular shortstop. He started a career-high 105 games that season. (His next highest number of starts was 35, with the 1968 Astros.)

These two were teammates on the 1960-62 Cardinals.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tom Phoebus (#97)

Tom Phoebus was the first of a “second wave” of starting pitchers to come up through the Orioles’ farm system in the late 1960s.  This group included Jim Hardin (who we just looked at in the previous post on this blog) and Dave Leonhard, and came a year or 2 after the Dave McNally / Wally Bunker / Jim Palmer group.

Phoebus really stepped up for the Orioles in his rookie season of 1967, leading a pitching staff decimated by injuries to McNally, Bunker, and Palmer. (Hardin would join the team by mid-season.)

A Baltimore native, he was signed by the Orioles in June 1960 and played in their organization until making his major-league debut in September 1966. Phoebus pitched shutouts in his first 2 major-league starts, only the 4th AL pitcher to have done so.


Tom led the team with 14 wins in 1967 – the only pitcher with double-digit wins. He was named the Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1967. He also won 15 games in ’68 and 14 games in ’69.

1970 saw him slump to a 5-5 record, but by that time McNally had returned to his old form (leading the AL with 24 wins in 1970 and in the middle of a 4-year 20-game win streak). The O’s also had Mike Cuellar on board now, who won the AL Cy Young award in 1969 and whose 24 wins in 1970 co-led the AL with McNally. Even Jim Palmer was back on top, beginning a streak of four 20-win seasons in 1970. My point is, Phoebus had done his job from 1967-69, holding down the fort until the big guns arrived.

Phoebus played for 2 more seasons after 1970, but never won more than 3 games again. In December 1970 he was traded to the Padres in a 6-player deal that brought pitcher Pat Dobson to Baltimore (we all know how THAT turned out).

In late-April 1972 he was sold to the Cubs, where he pitched unremarkably for the remainder of his final season.

That October he was traded to the Braves for infielder Tony LaRussa. Phoebus pitched for the Braves’ AAA team in 1973 before retiring.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Jim Hardin (#222)

Jim Hardin pitched for the Orioles from 1967 to 1971. Early-on, he and Tom Phoebus backfilled a rotation decimated by injuries to Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker. After a few years, Palmer recovered and returned to the Orioles’ rotation, and Mike Cuellar was acquired from the Astros. Having served his purpose, Hardin moved on to the Yankees.

Hardin was signed by the Mets, and played in their farm system from 1962-1965. After the ’65 season the Orioles acquired him in the minor-league draft.

He made his Orioles’ debut in June 1967, after the above mentioned injuries decimated the starting rotation (also including Dave McNally).


Jim was 8-3 as a rookie, and won 18 games in 1968 as the O’s #2 starter behind a fully-recovered McNally, who won 22 games.

He slipped to 6-7 in 1969, but by then was the #5 starter behind Cuellar (23 wins), McNally (20), Palmer (16) and Phoebus (14).

Hardin pitched one more full season with the Birds (1970), and although they won the World Series, it was a down season for him personally, posting a 6-5 record. He and Phoebus (5-5) were the forgotten members of the rotation, as the Big Three all won 20+ games and made 40 starts each.

Jim was traded to the Yankees in May 1971, and after another bad season was released the following April. He was picked up by the Braves a few weeks later and pitched 26 games (mostly in relief) in his final season.

After his playing career, Hardin became a small aircraft pilot. He was killed in 1991 when his 6-seat plane crashed in Key West, FL. He was 47.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vern Fuller (#71)

This is the rookie card for Vern Fuller, the Indians' starting 2nd baseman for most of 1967-1969.

Fuller was signed by the Indians before the 1963 season out of Arizona State University (just before the Athletics started using that school as their farm system, producing Rick Monday, Sal Bando, and Reggie Jackson!)

After a season in the minors, Vern missed almost all of 1964 with injuries, playing no minor-league ball and only 2 games with the Tribe in September.


He played all of '65 and '66 back on the farm, save for a September call-up in 1966.

Fuller was up and down between Cleveland and triple-A for the first half of 1967, but was recalled in mid-July and started 62 of the final 73 games at 2nd base, replacing the floundering tandem of Gus Gil, Pedro Gonzalez, and Chico Salmon.

In 1968 Vern split the 2nd base duties with Chico Salmon for the first half of the season, and with rookie Dave Nelson in the second half.

Surprisingly, even though Nelson was named Topps all-rookie 2nd baseman in 1968, he only started 30 games in 1969, mostly from late-July to mid-August. Meanwhile, Fuller started 72 games, with newly-acquired bust Zoilo Versalles playing some games there as well.

Rookie Eddie Leon took over in 1970, relegating Fuller to just 33 at-bats in 29 games for the season. He only made 1 appearance between 6/12 and 8/18, and spent no time in the minors, so maybe he was injured for a good chunk of the season? Anyway, he retired after the season.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

John Hiller (#307)

John Hiller played for 15 seasons (1965-80), all for the Tigers. He pitched in 545 games, all but 43 in relief. The most games he ever started was 12 in 1968 and 8 in 1969.

Hiller was signed by the Tigers in June 1962, and pitched in the minors from 1963-64, before making his big-league debut in September 1965.

He pitched 1 game for the Tigers in April 1966, but returned to the minors for the rest of the season.


John began the 1967 season in the minors, then was called up for the 2nd half of the season. He made the Tigers to stay beginning in 1968. Hiller pitched 2 innings in the 1968 World Series, but gave up 4 runs for a 13.50 ERA.

After having a heart attack in January 1971, he missed all of 1971 and the first half of the 1972 season.

Hiller's best years were 1973 and 1974. In '73, he led the AL in saves (3), games (65), and games finished (60), and had a career-low 1.44 ERA while winning 10 games. He also finished 4th in the Cy Young voting.

In '74 he won 17 games (all in relief) and made his only All-Star team. John led the Tigers in saves from 1973-76, and again in 1978.

1980 was his final season. After pitching 11 games in April and May, he retired as the Tigers' all-time leader in games pitched. At that time, he was 4th on the career saves list, behind Sparky Lyle, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Rollie Fingers.