Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Willie Stargell (#86)

Here is Pirates' OF-1B Willie Stargell, who came to be known as "Pops" later in his career.

Stargell was signed by the Pirates late in 1958. He played in the minors for 4 seasons (1959-62), and made his big-league debut with the Pirates in September 1962.

Willie stuck with the Pirates at the start of the 1963 season. He shared the left field job with veterans Jerry Lynch and Bob Skinner, and also started a dozen or so games at first base and right field, when regulars Donn Clendenon and Roberto Clemente got some time off.

Stargell started 105 games in his 2nd season, splitting them fairly evenly between 1st base and left field. He made his first of 7 all-star games, and began a streak of 13 years with 20 or more home runs.

The next few seasons were not “Stargell-like”, but he put up numbers that most players would strive for. Willie was the Pirates’ regular left fielder from 1965 to 1974, except for playing mostly 1st base in 1972.

In 1971, he collected a career-high 125 RBI, and led the NL with 48 home runs. The Pirates also won the World Series that year, although it was still “Clemente’s team”.

In 1973 Willie led the league in doubles (43), homers (44), and RBI (119). He was the MVP runner-up in both ’71 and ’73. After years as the left fielder, Stargell switched to 1st base beginning in 1975, and never returned to the outfield.

His stats drifted downward from 1974 through 1977, but he had another monster season in 1979, clubbing 32 homers and leading the Pirates to their 2nd World Series championship of the decade. He also won the NL MVP award in 1979. Willie played in the post-season in ’70, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, but was at his best in the 1979 post-season, hitting 2 homers in the NLCS and 3 in the World Series, while batting over .400 for the post-season.

That would be it for Willie’s glory days, as he became a part-time player from 1980-1982. He retired after the 1982 season, with 475 home runs and 1540 RBI in 21 seasons.

He later coached for the Braves, then worked in the Pirates’ front office. Willie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.

Stargell passed away at age 61 on April 9, 2001, which was also opening day for PNC Park, the Pirates new ballpark. A statue of Stargell was unveiled that same day at the park.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rich Reese (#111)

Rich Reese played 866 games in a 10-year career spanning 1964-73, all with the Twins, except for 59 games with the Tigers in 1973.

Reese was signed by the Tigers in 1962. After his first season, the Twins selected him in the minor-league draft. Reese played in the minors through the 1966 season, mostly as a 1st baseman, although in most of his 1966 games he was an outfielder. Rich played several games with the Twins in ’64, ’65, and ’66, then made the Twins roster at the start of the 1967 season.

He played 95 games in his rookie season, mostly as a pinch-hitter and occasional defensive replacement at 1st base (only starting 4 games).

In 1968, Harmon Killebrew started 77 of the first 80 games at 1st base, then was out of the lineup from July 8th until mid-September. Reese filled in during this time, and ended up starting 64 games at 1st base.

Rich became the primary 1st baseman in 1969, making 95 starts to Killebrew’s 66. (Harmon played most of his games at 3rd base, since the previous 3rd-sacker (Rich Rollins) was drafted by the Seattle Pilots.) Reese’s playing time increased in 1970, as he started 127 games. He also appeared in the ALCS in ’69 and ’70.

His playing time decreased beginning in 1971, as Killebrew began playing more at 1st base, with Reese clearly the backup by 1972, making only 26 starts.

After the ’72 season, Reese was sold back to the Tigers, where he was the backup at 1st base and left field. After his mid-August release, he was re-signed by the Twins, and finished out the 1973 season with them before retiring.

Reese struck out 270 times in 2,020 career at-bats, but two are part of major-league history. On May 8, 1968 he fanned, completing Catfish Hunter’s perfect game. On September 27, 1973 Reese was Nolan Ryan’s 383rd strikeout victim, enabling Ryan to break Sandy Koufax’ single-season record.

On the plus side for Reese, he had a pinch-hit grand slam in August 1969 against the Orioles, breaking Dave McNally’s 17-game winning streak.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bill Singer (#249)

Here’s Bill Singer’s first solo card.  He previously appeared on Dodgers Rookies cards in 1966 (with Don Sutton) and 1967.

Singer was a hard-throwing right-hander who, as a rookie in 1967, filled the starting rotation slot vacated by the retired Sandy Koufax.  He joined veteran starters Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen, and 2nd-year man Don Sutton.

Singer was signed by the Dodgers in late 1961, and pitched in their farm system from 1962 through 1966, the last 3 seasons at triple-A Spokane.  In his final minor-league season (’66) he was 13-11, but most impressively, struck out 217 batters.  Bill made a few appearances with the Dodgers during September call-ups in ’64, ’65, and ’66.

As a rookie in 1967, he posted a 12-8 record and a 2.64 ERA, with 169 strikeouts and only 61 walks in 204 innings. The next year, his record slipped to 13-17, but his strikeout total soared to 227.

1969 was his best season with the Dodgers, as he posted a 20-12 record, along with a 2.34 ERA and 247 strikeouts.  He also made his first of two all-star teams. Singer only pitched 16 games in an injury-filled 1970 season, but one of them was a no-hitter against the Phillies on July 20th.

Although he was the Dodgers’ opening-day starter in 1971, he had sub-par seasons in ’71 and ’72, then was part of a 5-for-2 trade with the Angels after the ’72 season. Singer, outfielder Frank Robinson, infielders Billy Grabarkiewitz and Bobby Valentine, and pitcher Mike Strahler went to the Angels in exchange for pitcher Andy Messersmith and 3rd baseman Ken McMullen. (McMullen started his career with the Dodgers, but went to the Senators in the Frank Howard trade.)

In 1973 he had his best season since 1969, compiling a 20-14 record, with 241 strikeouts, and a 3.22 ERA.  He also made his 2nd all-star team.

Injuries cropped up again, and he won only 7 games in each of the next 2 seasons.  After the 1975 season, he was traded to the Rangers for 1st baseman Jim Spencer.  The following June, he moved on to the Twins in exchange for pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Singer was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the expansion draft following the 1976 season, and was the Jays’ opening day starter in their inaugural 1977 season.  His performance that year was limited by injuries, and he also missed the entire 1978 season. Toronto released him in December 1978.

After his playing career, he worked as a scout for the Marlins, Pirates, and Dodgers.