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.