Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Pinch-hitting's Sad Lexicon" (or "Owen to Evers to Chance")

Last night, I did some Baseball-Reference research on my favorite 1980s Seattle SS, Spike Owen. Deep in his batting splits, I came across this position breakdown---and a surprise, one that carried me more than 100 years back in time.

Step one, Spike's splits: what's "other?" They already list DH, PH, and PH as DH. Clicking the career split pointed to 1984, so I checked his game logs.

1984 Topps #413, Spike Owen RC

Spike started almost every day for the 1984 Mariners, appearing just twice as pinch-hitter, including July 21's unusual 9-3 victory over Toronto.

With two runners on base, Toronto brought in Jimmy Key--who spent 1984 as a reliever--and Seattle countered with the switch-hitting Owen. Eight runs later, he batted a second time and ended the inning on a groundout, a rare positional situation noted in their pinch-hitting article.
"If a player acts as a pinch hitter and his team bats around in the inning, he may come to the plate a second time. The second (and subsequent) times he bats in the inning are not considered pinch-hitting appearances."

Hence, Spike batted once as PH and once as "other," as he hadn't replaced Ramos in the field yet. One mystery solved.

Step two, Johnny Evers: in honor of "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," here's the erstwhile Cubs second baseman.

Step three, Frank Chance: the Spike Owen discovery led me to search for other "pinch hitter bats twice in an inning" situations. That, in turn, led to PLAYS THAT PUZZLE, a game story retold by former umpire Billy Evans in Feb, 1934.

excerpt from Reading Eagle, Feb 6, 1934

So here's the conceit.
  • Umpire Bill Evans worked the plate in a St. Louis loss to New York
  • Manager Frank Chance pinch-hit in the 8th & singled to start a rally
  • New York batted around & Chance finished off the comeback one batter early before people realized what happened

Given our dearth of boxscores from Chance's era, it's helpful that the story starts in New York, where Frank only batted in 1913, and Yankee wins over St. Louis on May 19 and 20 seemed our best candidates from B-R's 1913 season results.

The New York Times provides free access to much of their archives, so I combed May 1913 for baseball stories, which produced the promising headline "Browns To Protest Yankees' Victory." So is this the game?

excerpt from New York Times, May 20, 1913

OK, this is substantively the right game, barring embellishments from Billy Evans, who (in 1934) was recalling a 21 year-old contest. Let's check the high points.
  • Was Bill Evans umpiring the game? YES, he worked the game, but Hildebrand received and dismissed St. Louis' in-game protests, according to the Times.
  • Did Frank Chance start the big rally? NO, he grounded out batting for pitcher Ray Fisher.
  • Did Chance bat one batter early the second time around, adding to the 7-run comeback? YES, that's what happened. Claud Derrick should've batted 8th (one spot before Chance) and might've, as Evans claimed, lost track of things in the dugout, or Chance might've run in too early from the third base coaches box.

In short, Frank Chance made history a century ago, pinch-hitting for two different batters in one inning on May 19, 1913, helping his team to a comeback win. An unusual and nuanced story for an unusual and nuanced player.

1914 Cracker Jack #99, Frank Chance

This is first time I've heard of such shenanigans, but baseball's past probably contains more. Add any others you know to the comments!

Monday, June 24, 2013

1977 Dairy Queen Tacoma Twins Baseball #5, Sal Butera

Collectors of baseball cards that feature catching equipment, take note: many minor league team sets have this kind of shot, since photographers liked to surprise players during warm-ups. DROP THE MASK AND SMILE, SAL. GOT IT, YOU'RE THE MAN, SAL.

Card front (blank back)

Butera left that mustache in the 1970s for most of his 9-year MLB career, apart from a brief return-to-form on 1982 cards. Fleer caught his lip caterpillar in this "putting on the mask" moment.

Collectors, if you're going to get that 1982 Fleer card graded, make sure it's a T-E-N.

Tacoma checklisted this DQ-sponsored set by uniform, so player call-ups meant four cards share the same number. (Note future long-time Twins manager Tom Kelly at #10.)
  1. Jim Van Wyck
  2. Wayne Caughey or Luis Gomez
  3. Dave Edwards
  4. Sam Perlozzo
  5. Sal Butera
  6. Hosken Powell
  7. Tommy Sain
  8. Willie Norwood or Tim Loberg
  9. John Lonchar
  10. Tom Kelly, Coach
  11. Eddie Bane
  12. Davis May
  13. Tom Hall
  14. Gregg Bemis
  15. Gary Ward
  16. Gary Serum or Rob Wilfong
  17. Mike Proly
  18. Steve Luebber
  19. Art DeFillippis
  20. Jim Gideon
  21. Jim Hughes
  22. Juan Veintidos
  23. Randy Bass
  24. Bill Butler or Jeff Holly
  25. Dan Graham
  26. Del Wilber, Manager

Value: This #5 cost $3 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. Find most of the other Tacoma Twins at COMC and if you shop for a team set, confirm they include all 30 (with multiple uniform numbers).

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Friday, June 21, 2013

1975 Caruso Spokane Indians Baseball #5, Rick Guarnera (and "peak age")

The baseball peak supposedly comes between 27 and 29, when a player's flower garden of skills, body, and spirit all bloom at once. They see pitches better, swing harder, and run faster. If you're going to have a "best of your career" year, that's when it'll come. So they say.

To sniff-test that idea, I ran the top 5 age 28 seasons by OPS+ and each belongs to an all-timer.
  1. Babe Ruth (1923): 239 OPS+
  2. Rogers Hornsby (1924): 222 OPS+
  3. Barry Bonds (1993): 206 OPS+
  4. Ted Williams (1947): 205 OPS+
  5. Lou Gehrig (1931): 194 OPS+
Indeed, that search's top 20 is all current or potential Hall of Famers, excepting the injury-shortened career of Albert Belle (full Baseball-Reference list). In other words, duh! Great players have great peaks.

Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus dove further into That Peak Age Thing back in 2010. His conclusion: "peak age" is more complicated, especially for management purposes of signing players to contracts and expecting to reap several years of "peak play." My philosophical conclusion: it's good to both be in your late 20s and have the introspection to enjoy being in your late 20s.

Card front (blank back)

This question came to mind because Rick Guarnera turned 28 in 1975, his final pro season. He'd logged 3 years each at A, AA, and AAA, averaging a low-power .250 and playing anywhere they needed a fielder. He made the 1972 Senators-to-Rangers franchise move without changing teams, as their AA affiliate remained in Pittsfield, MA. Rick's "that guy" teams hang onto to fill roles, provide veteran guidance for fast-rising younger prospects, and (who knows?) bloom late. When that didn't happen by 28, Rick and the Rangers went their separate ways.

This is Rick's only known baseball card, one of 21 in Caruso's Spokane Indians team set. (Guys with major league experience in bold.)
  1. Tom Robson
  2. Dave Moates
  3. Rudy Kinard
  4. Charlie Borders
  5. Rick Guarnera
  6. Roy Smalley
  7. Ken Pape
  8. Tommy Cruz
  9. Bob Jones
  10. Doug Ault
  11. Ron Pruitt
  12. Dave Criscione
  13. John Astroth
  14. Mike Cubbage
  15. Rick Kemp
  16. Rick Waits
  17. Jerry Bostic
  18. Mike Bacsik
  19. Dave Moharter
  20. Art DeFillippis
  21. Ron Norman

#6 is the same Roy Smalley who went on to excel for several teams, but as a young Mariners fan, I'll forever remember his "impact" on Mike Parrott's 1980 season.

Value: This #5 cost $3 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. The presence of Smalley, Rick Waits, and other teammates with decent MLB careers make this a higher-demand team set, but I haven't seen enough listings to estimate a value.

Fakes / reprints: This simple design's easy to fake, but I haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

1955 Topps Hocus Focus Baseball #5, Ted Williams

Say brother, can you spare $2500? That's what this tiny, 1" x 1.5" piece of Topps ephemera will cost you on eBay right now (auction link). That's what Ted Williams will do to a guy.

Ted's grayish haze presents poorly compared to other sets, but the "Hocus Focus" process referred to kids self-developing an initially blank image with saliva and sunlight. Spit on the card, rub it with the wrapper's inner lining to add its "developing chemical" (and spread moisture around), then a baseball player slowly appears. Given those dodgy origins, it's a minor miracle when pictures came out evenly exposed. Topps first run of self-developing cards (1948 Magic Photos #5) came out darker brown, but this Williams looks good for what it is.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, read Topps Archives excellent "Hocus Focus" research to learn more about its origins and haphazard cataloging in most collecting resources. Ted's perforated edges make him a "large" (1" x 1-5/8") example, part of a 4-card strip sold for a nickel. "Small" (7/8" x 1-7/16") versions came alone in penny packs, so don't show perforation. (Smalls are also much rarer than larges, themselves already hard-to-find.)

Most fans of history know this card question refers to Ted Williams. It's not one of those "see card #65 for the answer!" gimmicks used in other sets. "5 of 18" is their subset of baseball stars, one of several that comprise the full 96-card set.
  • Westerners (11 cards)
  • World Wonders (10)
  • Sports Thrills (15)
  • Baseball Stars (18)
  • Airplanes (10)
  • Sports Cars (10)
  • Movie Stars (7)
  • World Leaders (15)

It's likely I'll never obtain a Hocus Focus #5, given the rarity and star power. But should my ship come in, watch out, you vendors of tiny cardboard!

Value: Not sure who would drop $2500 on this card, but consider the gauntlet thrown down.

Fakes / reprints: While rare and expensive when sold, I doubt faking this set would pass the skepticism of advanced collectors actively interested in such Topps obscura.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

1974 Caruso Tacoma Twins Baseball #5, Eddie Bane

Eddie Bane, Minnesota's first round pick in spring 1973, leapt directly to the majors from college and debuted on July 4. Skipping the minors was rare then as now and the AP picked up Eddie's quick-moving story by mid-month, though it made some basic errors on his outing against the Yankees (balk scored the tying run, bases weren't loaded, etc.; box score).

In the AP article, Bane said his Twin teammates didn't show any resentment of the direct amateur-to-MLB. Perhaps it's because they knew he'd be paying dues in the minors sooner or later; Eddie broke camp with AAA Tacoma in 1974 and went on to spend most of his pro career there (minor league stats). Today, both he and his son Jaymie work in the Red Sox scouting organization.

Card front (blank back)

Like TCMA, Caruso was an early publisher in the minor league card market, but rarely added any corporate indicia, preferring this plain Jane (plain Bane?) design for mid-1970s sets. As TCMA began with midwestern teams, Caruso debuted on the Pacific coast, with all 1974 teams numbered sequentially, beginning with Tacoma (#1-27).
  1. Jim Obardovich
  2. Dale Soderholm
  3. Craig Kusick
  4. Cal Ermer, Manager
  5. Eddie Bane
  6. Dan Fife
  7. Jim Hughes
  8. Mike Pazik
  9. Frank Schuster
  10. Coley Smith
  11. Earl Stephenson
  12. Juan Veintidos
  13. Dan Vossler
  14. Mark Wiley
  15. Sam Ceci
  16. George Pena
  17. Sergio Ferrer
  18. Doug Howard
  19. Bill Ralston
  20. Rick Renick
  21. Jim VanWyck
  22. Mike Adams
  23. Lyman Bostock
  24. Jim Fairey
  25. Tom Kelly
  26. Ed Palat
  27. Danny Walton

Caruso's "complete set" includes the Spokane Indians (#28-45), Sacramento Solons (#46-63), Albuquerque Dukes (#64-79), Phoenix Giants (#80-90), SLC Angels (#91-100), and Hawaii Islanders (#101-108). It's full of familiar-but-not-famous names, so remains relatively affordable, if scarce.

Value: This #5 cost $3 at MinorLeagueSingles.com, my source for most of the Caruso type cards, and I've seen Caruso team sets on eBay list (but not necessarily sell) at $20-30.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy to fake this design, but hard to imagine someone making money off minor league cards of non-stars.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

1980 TCMA Albuquerque Dukes Baseball #5, Bill Swiacki

You're a three-sport star coming out of high school and get drafted (White Sox, 1974), but stick with more education and go to Amherst. The pros call again after junior year (Red Sox, 1977), but you want the degree and stay in school. Then both the baseball Dodgers and football Giants draft you after graduation, but should you stay in MORE school? At long last, Bill choose stirrup pants and turned pro for LA. And after all that waiting, the denouement: despite five years of fair success at AA & AAA, he never got an MLB call-up (minor league career stats).

Crotch photobomb by the groundskeeping cart. That doesn't happen often.

TCMA's back text hinted the football Giants might've drafted Bill, Jr. because he was son of former NY star Bill, Sr. The 21st century NFL probably takes itself too seriously for this kind of move, but it's nice to see the 1978 version make that nostalgic nod.

Albuquerque's set includes several future major leaguers, including Dave Stewart and Mike Scioscia.
  1. Dave Stewart
  2. Joe Beckwith
  3. Pablo Peguero
  4. Kelly Snider
  5. Bill Swiacki
  6. Ron Roenicke
  7. John O'Rear
  8. Dennis Lewallyn
  9. Doug Harrison
  10. Dave Patterson
  11. Claude Westmoreland
  12. Myron White
  13. Gary Weiss
  14. Teddy Martinez
  15. Mike Wilson
  16. Jack Perconte
  17. Kevin Keefe
  18. Wayne Caughey
  19. Terry Collins
  20. Bobby Mitchell
  21. Mark Nipp
  22. Ted Power
  23. Del Crandall, Manager
  24. Paul Padilla
  25. Gerald Hannahs
  26. Mike Scioscia
  27. Don Crow

Value: This #5 cost $2 at MinorLeagueSingles.com. Given the number of future major leaguers, dealers charge $20-40 for the team set.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several team sets for "collectors kits" in the late 1980s. Original cards (like today's) have blue backs and reprints have black backs.