Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ken Suarez (#218)

Ken Suarez was a backup catcher for the Athletics, Indians, and Rangers from 1966-73.

Suarez was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1965 and made his major-league debut in April 1966. He started 26 games as a rookie, behind regular backstop Phil Roof.

He made 22 starts in 1967 (still playing behind Roof) but had to compete with Dave Duncan (3 years younger than Suarez) for the #2 spot.

After the ’67 season he was selected by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft, and spend the next 2 seasons as the Tribe’s 3rd-string catcher.

In 1968 he was with the team for the whole season, but only played 17 games (1 start), with Joe Azcue and Duke Sims doing most of the catching. In ’69, he was behind Sims and rookie Ray Fosse, and spent part of the season in the minors.

After languishing in the minors in 1970, he returned to Cleveland in 1971 and saw his most action to date (50 games, 39 starts, 123 at-bats). Still, he was stuck behind All-Star and Gold Glove winner Fosse.

Ken was part of an 8-player trade with the Rangers after the 1971 season. He backed up Dick Billings in 1972 but started 88 games in 1973 (to Billings’ 67 starts). Unfortunately that was his last hurrah.

In 1974 the Rangers were going to go with rookie Jim Sundberg behind the plate, and after Suarez filed for arbitration he was traded back to the Indians for Chico Cardenas. He ended up sitting out the season due to contract issues, but in mid-September the Indians traded him to the Angels for Frank Robinson. (So in a year where he did not play, he was traded twice for ex-Reds’ All-Stars!) 


Monday, October 12, 2020

Bob Barton (#351)

Bob Barton was a journeyman catcher for the Giants and Padres. His only season as an everyday player came in 1971 with the Padres. 

Barton was signed by the Giants in 1959 and started out with the Class D Hastings (Nebraska) Giants. By 1963 he made it to the triple-A level, where he remained for another 5 seasons. He did get a cup of coffee with the Giants in September 1965. 

He began the 1966 season with the Giants, backing up starter Tom Haller. By mid-season he was demoted to triple-A Phoenix, with veteran 3B/C Ozzie Virgil called up to replace him. Barton alternated with prospect Dick Dietz and veteran Dick Bertell while at triple-A. 

In 1967 the Giants decided to keep Dietz as Haller’s backup, and with another catching prospect (Don Bryant) slated to play for Phoenix, Barton was loaned out to the Cubs’ AAA team for most of the year.


Haller was traded to the Dodgers after the 1967 season, so Barton made the Giants on a full-time basis as the 3rd-string catcher (behind Dietz and Jack Hiatt). Bob played in 45 to 50 games each season, and started about half that many. He was almost never used as a pinch-hitter (whereas Hiatt not only pinch-hit, but played first base too). 

After the 1969 season, Barton was traded to the Padres along with pitcher Ron Herbel and 3rd baseman Bobby Etheridge for pitcher Frank Reberger. This was an immediate promotion to 2nd-string status. He started a third of the games behind the dish in 1970, with Chris Cannizzaro starting most of the other games. 

In 1971 Bob finally made it to the top, starting 111 games, while rookie Fred Kendall and Cannizzaro gave him some days off. He had career highs in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, and walks. Topps even selected him for an “In-action” card in their 1972 set, although I’m not sure how this qualifies as “action":
Barton: “Hey, what’cha doin?” 
Guard: “Not much. What’choo doin?” 
Barton: “Not much.” 
It turned out, Bob was just keeping the spot warm for Kendall, who took over the starter’s job in 1972. In mid-June he was traded to the Reds for Pat Corrales, but did not play for the Reds (or in the minors) in the second half. 

After only catching 5 innings for the Reds in the first month of 1973 (hey, they had Johnny Bench!) he was released in mid-June. As in the previous year, he was idle for the remainder of the season. 

The Padres signed him in April 1974, and he played in 30 games as their 2nd-string catcher, then was released at the end of the season, ending his 10-year career. 

Barton passed away in 2018 at age 76. 


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Frank Bertaina (#131)

Frank Bertaina had a rocky road with Topps up to this point:
1965 – Has his own card (#396)
1966 – Part of a 3-player Orioles Rookie Stars card (#579)

1967 – Not in the set
He returned to the Topps set for 1968-71.

Bertaina was signed by the Orioles in 1961 and began playing in 1962. He pitched in the Orioles' system for most of the next 6 years, getting a few games with the big club in '64 and '65, before really making the team in 1966. That year he pitched 16 games early and late in the season, while spending July and August in the minors.

(He looks like his name should be "Moe")

In late-May 1967 Frank was included in the trade that sent 1st baseman Mike Epstein to the Senators in exchange for pitcher Pete Richert. He started 17 of his 18 games for the Sens that season – part of the team's young staff that included Darold Knowles and Casey Cox (both 25), Barry Moore (24), Bertaina and Dick Bosman (23), and Joe Coleman (20).

In 1968 he made 23 starts as the #4 starter (and top southpaw) in the rotation, although his record slipped to 7-13.

In 1969 he found himself in the bullpen with only the occasional starting assignment. After pitching in 16 games, he was traded back to the Orioles in mid-June for a minor-league pitcher. Frank spent the remainder of the season in triple-A, only appearing in 3 games for the O's during a September call-up.

Bertaina was also relegated to triple-A in 1970, until a mid-August deal with the Cardinals. Frank pitched in his final 8 major-league games in the season’s last 2 months.

He retired after playing for the Cardinals' AAA team in 1971.

Bertaina passed away in 2010 at age 65.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Larry Haney (#42)

Check out the infamous 1968 and 1969 Larry Haney cards.
He’s right-handed! He’s left-handed! He’s ambidextrous!

Larry Haney was signed by the Orioles in 1961, and after 5 ½ seasons in the minors was promoted to Baltimore in late-July 1966. He played 20 games that season.

Over the first 100 games, The Orioles started Andy Etchebarren 86 times, Vic Roznovsky 12 times, and Camilo Carreon 2 times. (Charlie Lau was also on the roster, but by then he was only pinch-hitting.)

Haney was called up in time for game #101, and over the next 2 weeks he started 8 games, giving Etch some much-needed rest. Larry started 15 times over the final 60 games (with Roznovsky making 13 starts). Etchebarren started 32 games, including a 19-game stretch that included both ends of two doubleheaders. (What was the manager thinking?)

Anyway, in 1967 Haney took over as the #2 backstop, starting 45 games.

Haney missed the first half of 1968, with only 3 of his games coming before June 28th. He wasn't in the minors, so was either injured or nailed to the bench. Elrod Hendricks joined the team at the start of 1968, and with "Clank" Blefary also catching 38 games, Haney was relegated to 4th-string catcher.

After the season, Larry was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft. He started 15 of the first 50 games for the Pilots, but by mid-June was traded to the Athletics for 2nd baseman John Donaldson. He finished out the 1969 season with Oakland, but spent much of 1970-73 in the minors, mostly in the A's organization but also on the Padres' farm in 1972.

Haney returned to the majors with the Athletics from 1974-76. In '74, he shared the catching load with Ray Fosse and Gene Tenace. After playing sparsely in 1975, he and Tenace split the catching assignments evenly in 1976 (with Haney catching whenever Tenace played 1st base).

After the 1976 season, Haney was acquired by the Brewers. He started a third of the games in 1977 (backing up Charlie Moore), He was the team’s bullpen coach in 1978 but was activated for the final 2 weeks of the season.

Haney was a coach for the Brewers from 1978 to 1991, and continued to work for the team until 2006.

His son Chris was a pitcher for the Royals and others from 1991-2002.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The 1968 Tigers

The Tigers were the World Champions in 1968, beating the 1967 champion Cardinals in 7 games. In games 1 and 4, manager Mayo Smith sent his ace Denny McLain out to face Bob Gibson and lost both times. Meanwhile, Mickey Lolich won games 2 and 5. Smith switched it up and brought Lolich back early for a game 7 match-up with Gibson, and it paid off.

Another smart move by Smith was moving center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop for the World Series, thereby sending Ray Oyler's .135 bat to the bench in favor of right fielder Al Kaline.

Denny McLain started 41 games and posted a 31-6 record. He also struck out 280 batters, won the Cy Young and MVP awards, and made the All-Star team (obviously). In 1969 he again led the AL in wins (24) and collected another Cy Young award. Mickey Lolich's record was 17-9 in 39 games, with 197 strikeouts. More importantly, he was 3-0 in the World Series.

Earl Wilson won 22 games for the Tigers in 1967, and in fact was the team's Opening Day starter in 1968, but he slumped to a 13-12 record in 38 games. He lost Game 3 of the Series, the only game not started by McLain or Lolich. Joe Sparma rounded out the starting rotation, going 10-10 in 34 games.

These four were the core bullpen, all making 27 to 37 relief appearances. Pat Dobson pitched 47 games (37 in relief) and had 7 saves. John Hiller pitched 39 games, all but 12 in relief. He was the top lefthander in the 'pen. Daryl Patterson pitched 38 games in relief along with only 1 start. He collected 7 saves, tied with Dobson for the club lead. Fred Lasher chipped in with 34 games, all in relief.

John Warden pitched 28 games (all in relief) but only 37 innings. This was his only year in the majors. Veteran reliever Don McMahon was acquired from the White Sox on July 26th for Dennis Ribant. This was his 12th season in the majors, and his experience (and 2.02 ERA) helped out. His Tigers' record that year was 3-1 in 20 relief appearances.

In mid-June, the Tigers acquired reliever John Wyatt in exchange for Jim Rooker. Wyatt was the 1967 AL champ Red Sox’ closer the previous season, and appeared in 22 games for Detroit in the 2nd half. He was 1-0 in the 1967 Series, but did not play in the ’68 post-season. Dennis Ribant was acquired from the Pirates in the off-season, but after only 14 appearances was traded for McMahon.

Other pitchers seeing limited playing time were Les Cain (8 games from late-April to mid-June), Jim Rooker (2 games in early-July), and Elroy Face. After 15 seasons with the Pirates, Face was acquired on 8/31 but only pitched 1 total inning (over 2 games on 9/2 and 9/3).

Here are the starting 8 players. The Tigers had 9 legitimate starters, and they tried to fit 4 quality outfielders into 3 spots.

Bill Freehan was an All-Star every year from 1963-73, and again in 1975. He was also the Gold Glove catcher every season from 1965-69. Norm Cash was limited to 127 games in 1968, but still hit 25 homers, tied for 2nd on the team with Freehan.

Dick McAuliffe was an All-Star from 1965-67 (mostly at shortstop) but was the full-time 2nd baseman in 1968. He was the leadoff batter and led the AL with 95 runs scored. Pretty good for only batting .249. Ray Oyler started 70 games at shortstop, the most for any Tiger. He and his .135 batting average were always found in the #8 spot. (He must have been a terrific fielder!)

Don Wert started 147 games at 3rd base, and somehow made the All-Star team, despite his .200 batting average. Willie Horton led the team with 36 home runs and was 2nd in RBI (85). He started 137 games in left field.

Mickey Stanley was the Gold Glove center fielder from 1968-70, and 1973. He started 119 games in center, his first as a full-time regular. Jim Northrup alternated between right field (96 starts) and center field (45). His 90 RBI led the team. He also had 2 homers and 8 RBI in the World Series.

The subs (in order of at-bats):

Al Kaline was in his 16th season, and although an All-Star every season from 1955-67, he was limited to 102 games in 1968. Along with 67 starts in right field, he started 18 games at 1st base. He matched Northrup's 2 homers and 8 RBI in the Series.

Tom Matchick and Dick Tracewski were utility infielders who shared the shortstop job with Oyler all season. Jimmie Price was acquired from the Pirates just before Opening Day 1967, and started 35 games behind the plate.

Gates Brown was the Tigers' pinch-hitting specialist, batting .370 in 86 at-bats. He also started 16 games in left field. Veteran Eddie Mathews was in his 17th and final season. He only played in 31 games (mostly as a pinch-hitter) and missed most of June and all of July and August.

Wayne Comer played in 48 games over the final 4 months of the season, mostly as a pinch-hitter. Dave Campbell played 9 games in early-August.

Lenny Green played 6 games in late June then was released in early-July, ending his 12-year career. Bob Christian had 3 at-bats in a September call-up, then moved on to the White Sox after the season. Mayo Smith managed the Tigers from 1967-70, winning 91, 103, 90, and 79 games in that span.

Mike Marshall spent the entire 1968 season in the minors, posting a 15-9 record and 2.94 ERA as a triple-A starter. He didn’t even get a cup of coffee in September, despite picking up 10 saves in 37 relief appearances (with a 1.98 ERA) in his MLB rookie season in 1967.

This is George Korince's third Rookie Stars card in two years. (That's right folks, he had TWO Rookie Stars cards in the 1967 set!)

Transactions from the end of the 1967 season to the end of 1968: 

11/22/67 - Traded pitcher Fred Gladding to the Astros for Eddie Mathews.

11/28/67 - Traded pitcher Dave Wickersham to the Pirates for Dennis Ribant.

11/29/67 - Traded catcher Chris Cannizzaro to the Pirates.

04/03/68 - Traded pitcher Hank Aguirre to the Dodgers.

04/13/68 - Sold catcher Bill Heath to the Yankees.

04/22/68 - Signed pitcher Dick Radatz.

06/15/68 - Traded Jim Rooker to the Yankees for John Wyatt.

07/06/68 - Released Lenny Green.

07/26/68 - Traded Dennis Ribant to the White Sox for Don McMahon.

08/31/68 - Purchased Roy Face from the Pirates.

09/30/68 - Sold Bob Christian to the White Sox.

10/??/68 - Purchased Dennis Ribant from the White Sox.

10/15/68 - Lost Ray Oyler, Wayne Comer, and Mike Marshall to the Seattle Pilots.
10/15/68 - Lost pitchers Jon Warden, Bill Butler, and Dick Drago to the Kansas City Royals.

10/28/68 - Released Eddie Mathews.

11/04/68 - Traded pitcher Jack DiLauro to the Mets for catcher Hector Valle.

12/15/68 - Sold Dennis Ribant to the Royals.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Bill Landis (#189)

Although his debut came with one game in 1963, Bill Landis' rookie season was 1967, with the Impossible Dream Red Sox. This is his rookie card.  His only other card (in 1969) used the same photo.

Landis was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1961 (I did not know he was previously with the Athletics), and pitched one inning for them in the last weekend of the 1963 season. Otherwise, he spent 6 seasons in their farm system.

In November 1966 the Red Sox selected him in the Rule 5 draft. He was on Boston’s roster for all of 1967, and had a rough start to his career.

Bill pitched in 18 games (all but one in relief) in his first season. He pitched in 7 games between 4/16 and 6/10, often for less than 1 inning per game. His ERA varied from 54.00 to 9.00 in the season’s first half.

After his June 10th appearance he was only used once until late-July. (The Sox had called up another rookie left-handed reliever in early July, who gave them better results.)

Landis settled down during his 7 appearances over the season’s final 2 months. He did not make the post-season roster for the Sox (nor did Lyle, which is surprising given his 2.28 ERA over 27 games).

Bill pitched 2 more seasons with the Red Sox, and was the 5th man in the bullpen both years, making 38 and 45 appearances. He came down with a sore arm late in the 1969 season, which would affect the remainder of his career.

He played the 1970 season with Boston’s AAA team in Louisville, then was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Bill McCool that winter.

Landis pitched only 10 innings for the Cards' AAA team in 1971 before retiring.

Monday, March 16, 2020

John Donaldson (#244)

John Donaldson played 6 seasons from 1966-1970, and in 1974, all for the Athletics except for playing the 2nd half of 1969 with the Seattle Pilots.

Donaldson was signed by the Twins before the 1963 season, and drafted by the Kansas City Athletics after his first season. He played in the Athletics’ farm system for the next 3 seasons, initially as a shortstop until making the switch to 2nd base in 1966.

John made his major-league debut in late-August 1966, playing 15 games over the final weeks of the season.

After starting the 1967 season in AAA, he joined the Athletics in early-June and started 100 of the final 110 games at 2nd base, pushing incumbent Dick Green over to a 3rd base rotation with Danny Cater and Sal Bando.

In 1968 he started 81 of the first 103 games at 2B, then was replaced by Green and only made 9 more starts for the rest of the season, including three at 3rd base.

Donaldson found a seat on the bench in 1969, his only start coming in the first game of a May 30th doubleheader. On June 14th he was traded to the Seattle Pilots for backup catcher Larry Haney. He returned to regular playing time with the hapless Pilots, starting 91 of the final 107 games.

In mid-May 1970, the Brewers traded him back to the Athletics for shortstop Roberto Pena. John returned to the backup role he had from mid-‘68 to mid-‘69.

Donaldson didn’t make the team in 1971, and spent the next 3 years in the minors – bouncing to the Tigers, Orioles, and Padres, but never playing for any of them.

He was released by the Padres in April 1974 and signed with the Athletics. He spent most of his final season in the minors, but did play 9 games for the Athletics in April and May, and one in October.