Friday, December 4, 2009

1978 Topps Card #15, Hall of Famer Tony Perez!

Today’s card of the day is card #15 of Tony Perez, shown here with the Montreal Expos. Tony looks like he is on the verge of tears in this picture. Perhaps this is because after 16 years, 7 All Star Appearances and 4 National League Pennants with the Cincinnati Reds, the Reds traded him to the Montreal Expos. The Reds picked up an iffy starter (Woodie Fryman) and a decent middle reliever (Dale Murray), but they ended an era of greatness by shipping Perez away, especially to the Montreal Expos. The Spos fielded a decent team in ’77, Tony Perez played first and hit 19 homers and another HOFer, Gary Carter was the catcher and team leader in homers with 31. They also had Ellis Valentine (25 HR), Andre Dawson (19 HR), Larry Parrish (11 HR) and Del Unser (12 HR). It wasn’t a bad team, they finished below .500 and in 5th place in the NL, but it wasn’t because of a lack of offense. In 1977, his first year in Montreal, he batted .283, hit 19 homers and also drove in 91 runs. It was the 11th straight season that Perez drove in 90 or more runs, his best year coming in 1970 when he brought 129 runners home. This is a pretty awful picture for such a great player… I don’t like seeing anyone without a hat on a baseball card, but seeing Perez at 35 years of age, wearing a uniform other than the Reds makes me want to cry to. Fortunately for Tony his sentence in Montreal wasn’t too long. In 1980 he would be a free agent and sign on with the Boston Red Sox and have career resurgence at age 38 playing on a team with 4 future Hall of Fame sluggers and leading that team in homeruns, RBI and hits. Perez would continue on and play for the Phillies, and lead them to an NL pennant in '83, and then returned to the Reds again before retiring after the 1986 season at age 44 on the team that he began his career with. His career lasted a remarkable 23 seasons and over that career he belted 379 homeruns (60th All Time) and drove in 1,652 runs (27th All Time). He never led the league in any one offensive category, he was never an MVP award winner (except for the ’67 ALL STAR game), but he was a fantastic fielding first baseman, a team leader, a winner and one of the classiest people to play the game. He was also one of the most feared hitters of the 70s. He averaged 23 homeruns and 90 runs batted in for the decade. He was also intentionally walked 150 times (including twice his final season), which is good for 42nd in baseball history. This is particularly impressive because Perez always played on strong offensive ball clubs with a lot of depth in the lineup. The “Big Doggy” hit a grand slam in 1985 (at age 43) becoming the oldest player to accomplish that feat, the 1986 Topps card #205 documented that. His 3 years in Montreal were just a part of his storied career. It’s over now Tony, you’re in the Hall of Fame (Class of 2000) and you don’t have to play for the Expos again, wipe away your tears… Now, it is time for the…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Tony Perez, number 24.
Position: First base
Age-Now and Then: 67, he was 35.
Team’s 1977 Record: 75-87, 5th in NL West
Topps Rookie Card: 1965 Topps, card #581, with Kevin Collins and Dave Ricketts.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 23, last card was 1986 Topps #85 (with Eric Davis) - I always considered this a changing of the guard card.
Playball! Foul out.
1977 Stats Line: .283/19/91
Awards in 1977: Neither the Expos nor the Reds made the Playoffs in ’77.
Distinguishing Feature: Sad face.
Similar Modern Player: Carlos Pena.
What I said about this card then: Why so sad Tony?
What I think about this card now: Seriously, you are one of the best players in baseball history, quit your crying and put on a hat!
Back of the card memorable moment: There’s no room with his stats… He had 296 career homers at the start of the ’78 season.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Again, no room. He was born on 5-14-42 in Camaguey, Cuba.
The condition: Near mint.
Grooviness factor: It’s difficult to simultaneously cry and be groovy, but the baby-blue uniform with the red, white and blue M is pretty groovy…
Wow! Factor: Sparky Anderson called Perez the “heart and soul of the Big Red Machine”; I can’t believe that they would trade him. Is nothing sacred?
What’s weird about this card: Well first off there is no crying in baseball; second, seeing Perez in an Expos uniform is pure weird.
Career Accolades: Won two World Series with the Reds. 7-time All Star. Hall of Fame in 2000.
Best Season: In 1970 Perez batted .317 with 40 homers and 129 RBI, scoring 107 runs, posting a .589 slugging % and winning the NL Pennant.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Tony Perez won the Pacific Coast League MVP in 1964 while playing for the San Diego Padres. He batted .309 with 34 homers and 107 RBIs and earned a promotion to the Reds.
Where are they now?: Perez is currently a special assistant to the general manager of the Florida Marlins.
Well, after a long hiatus, the Nitty Gritty Train is moving right along again. Tony Perez is one of my all time favorite players, but this is one ugly card. On deck is card #16 of Yankees outfielder Roy White. 31 years LATER!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Card #14, Lerrin LaGrow!

It is now time for card #14 featuring big right-handed pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. I don’t know how to verify such things, but this is the only person named Lerrin that I can recall ever playing baseball… This card is one of those that I really need to upgrade; it’s creased down the middle and was probably traded back and forth many times before I finally ended up with it. LaGrow was 28 years old and in his 7th big league season in 1977. He had just come to the Chicago White Sox that spring in a pitcher for pitcher trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Sox got Lagrow and the Cards got Clay Carroll. Lagrow had spent the first 5 years of his big league career as a starter with the Detroit Tigers, but in ’77 he moved into the bullpen full-time and won the job as White Sox closer. This was arguably the best season he had in his 10 year career. He won 7 games coming out of the bullpen which was 1 less victory than the personal best he had set in 1974 when he won 8 for the Tigers. It took Lagrow 11 complete games to win 8, he lost 19 that year. When Bob Lemon decided to put him in the ‘pen full time and use him as their closer, it turned out to be a very wise decision. LaGrow had the finest season of his 10 year career in 1977, he was 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA in ’77; he appeared in 66 games, finishing 49 of them. He pitched 98 innings and earned 25 saves finishing in the top five in the AL in games, saves and games finished.
After the Sox LaGrow spent ’79 with the Dodgers and had a pretty good year (5-1, 3/41 ERA) and then signed with the Phillies in 1980. After going 0-2 in 25 appearances the Phillies cut him in July and that ended his 10 year career. He finished with a 34-55 record, a 4.11 ERA in 309 games-he completed 19 of those games and saved 54 of them (250th All Time). LaGrow runs a very successful real estate based business in his home state of Arizona and has had no association with baseball since his retirement in 1980. Now, let’s get into…

The Nitty Gritty
Full Name: Lerrin Harris LaGrow
Position: relief pitcher
Age-Now and Then: 61, was 28 in ’77.
Team’s 1977 Record: 90-72, 3rd in AL West
Topps Rookie Card: 1971 Topps, Card #39, with Gene Lamont.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 8
Playball! Triple
1977 Stats Line: 7-3 with 2.45 ERA. 25 saves.
Awards in 1977: The White Sox closer job
Distinguishing Feature: Ripped plastic sleeves.
Similar Modern Player: Bobby Jenks.
What I said about this card then: There are no kids in my class named Lerrin.
What I think about this card now: Man, I wish the Sox still held spring training in Sarasota AND how did this card get creased this badly?
Back of the card memorable moment: Was Tigers top right-handed reliever of 1973 campaign.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Lerrin ranked among the league’s top relievers last season. The condition is BAD. Soft corners and big crease down the middle. Definitely needs an upgrade!
Grooviness factor: What is groovier than his name, it rolls off the tongue-Lerrin LaGrow…I am pretty sure he is the only Lerrin to ever reach the big leagues that is GROOVY!
Wow! Factor: Was on the Phillies in 1980 but was given his release in July BEFORE they went on to win the World Series… He had 3 saves for the Phillies that year.
What’s weird about this card: Jerseys with collars are bizarre to me, so are the poses that photographers get players to strike.
Career Accolades: His 54 saves is 250th of All Time
Best Season: 1977 when he was 7-3 with 25 saves-3rd in the AL. Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: LaGrow’s most famous pitch during his career came in the playoffs in 1972. It wasn’t a big strikeout or the last out of an inning. It was game 2 of the ALCS, LaGrow was pitching for Detroit and they were facing Oakland. LL came on in the 6th inning in relief. He was the 4th Tigers pitcher of the night and they were down 5-0. In the 6th inning he retired the A’s 7-8-9 hitters in order, but when he started the 7th inning, chaos ensued. Bert Campaneris, the A’s leadoff batter and shortstop led off the 7th inning. Campaneris had a hit in each of his 3 prior at-bats and he had scored twice. The first pitch that LaGrow threw hit Bert Campaneris in the ankle. BC flung his bat at LaGrow on the mound. It was a pretty serious fling, but LL ducked and it went over his head. Of course this led to a benches clearing melee and (of course) Tigers manager Billy Martin flipped out and had to be restrained from going after Campaneris. LaGrow and Campaneris were both suspended from the remainder of the ALCS, Campaneris was replaced by Del Maxvill and the A’s went on to beat the Tigers in 5 games. Campaneris returned for the World Series, but his hot bat was cooled and he batted only .179, but he did win his 1st of 3 World Series rings. LaGrow would never return to the postseason, but he did remain a Tiger and became a starter for them in ’74 and ’75. I for one think it would have been interesting to see BC and LL go at it one on one. LaGrow was 6'5" and weighed about 220 giving him 75 pounds and 7 inches on the smaller shortstop. Campaneris may have been a lot smaller, but he was pissed and I think I would have put my money on Bert. I played in a charity softball game with BC about 10 years ago when he was around 60 years old. He played all 7 innings at shortstop and played the game like it was the World Series, they guy was INTENSE!
Where are they now? He sells real estate in Arizona.
That’s it for card #13. Funny names, collared jerseys and playoff stories oh my. On deck is (duh) card #15 of Tony Perez, then of the Montreal Expos. Thanks for reading, 31 years LATER!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Card Number 13, ART HOWE!

Goodness, it has been about a month since I have posted the card of the day over. Its been nice for Don Aase as he had a nice long run as the card of the day (3 weeks is a very long day), but now it is time to move on (finally!) and catch up with card #lucky 13 of Houston Astros infielder Art Howe. Take away the ridiculous rocket ship, Popsicle costume that they wore in Houston back then and there isn’t too much grooviness going on with this card. Sure he has sideburns, but they aren’t out of control-there’s no afro, no wild sun glasses, no hippies dancing in the background, just a gritty infielder wearing a shirt that he might possibly have borrowed from Rainbow Brite. Howe was signed by the Pirates out of the University of Wyoming in 1971 and he spent parts of 5 seasons in their minor league system compiling a .304 batting average. Before the ’76 began he was sent over to the Astros as the player to be named later in the deal that had sent Tommy Helms to the Pirates. Helms and Howe were very similar players, but Howe was 29 and Helms was 35 and on his way out. Howe split the ’76 season between the big leagues and AAA (where he hit .355 in 74 games) and was up to stay in 1977. The Astros were an even .500 team (81-81) and Art Howe became their everyday second baseman, but also played shortstop and 3rd base on occasion. In ’77 he hit .264 with 8 homers and 58 runs batted in. His total of 58 RBI would be his best over his 11 year career. He would spend 7 seasons in Houston’s infield, playing all 4 positions, but mainly 2nd and 3rd base. The Astros made the playoffs twice during his tenure, in 1980 and 1981. Both times they were eliminated in the ALCS. Howe didn’t have a very successful go in the playoffs-his career postseason batting average is .188 over 32 at-bats. He did hit a home run in the 1981 NLCS off of Burt Hooton in game 3. It would be Houston’s only run as they lost to the Dodgers 6-1 in that game. They lost the playoff in 5 games. That year (1981) Howe appeared on MVP ballots and came in 18th place for the award. He finished ahead of Tim Raines (.304/74 steals) somehow. Art Howe batted .296 with 3 homers and 36 RBI that year. He became a free agent and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984 and played in 89 games at all 4 infield positions for them. He was released the following year after playing in just 4 games. Over his 11 year big league career Howe batted .260 with 682 hits, 39 homers and 266 RBI. After his retirement as a player Art Howe got into coaching in 1985 as the batting coach for the Texas Rangers. He held that post until 1988 and eventually became the manager of his former team, the Houston Astros from 1989-1993. His best season was his first when the Astros went 86-76 for a third place finish. They would also finish 3rd in his final season in Houston. After the Astros he managed the Oakland As from 1996-2002. The A’s made the playoffs in each of his last 3 seasons, but never made it past the ALCS. He would also manage the New York Mets in 2003 and 2004, but he failed to post a winning record. Now, onto…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Art Howe/18
Position:Second Base/Infielder
Age-Now and Then:62/31
Team’s 1977 Record: 81-81
Topps Rookie Card: This is it. 1978 Topps card #13.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 8
Playball! Groundout
1977 Stats Line: .264/8/58
Awards in 1977: Starting 2nd baseman job
Distinguishing Feature: His skippy sideburns.
Similar Modern Player: Jerry Hairston Jr.
What I said about this card then: Who wants it?
What I think about this card now: Your reading it…
Back of the card memorable moment: He hit a single in his first major league at-bat vs. the Braves on 6-10-1974.
Back of the card “fun fact”: In his first 71 at-bats at Charleston .1974, he had 17 extra base hits and a .451 average.
The condition: Near mint.
Grooviness factor: Calling that jersey anything other than groovy would be insulting.
Wow! Factor: There are actually a couple of fans in the stands in the background…
What’s weird about this card: That this is his rookie card. Topps normally issued one right after the cup of coffee.
Career Accolades: 11 years in the majors, a homerun in the playoffs. Won 1,129 games as a manager.
Best Season: 1978, .293/7/55
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Was the manager at the dawn of the Astros Killer Bs era.
Where are they now?: ??? He was the Texas Rangers bench coach through the 2008 season…
Okay, that wasn’t so bad. Glad that is out of the way, now we can move onto card #14 of Lerrin Lagrow! 31 years, LATER!