Monday, December 17, 2012

Home on the Range(rs)

As late as July 2nd the Rangers held a share of the lead in the NL West, but then things went drastically wrong and they dropped out of contention.  During that month of July the Rangers would go 10-20 and by August 1st they found themselves 10 games out.  Losing streaks of 8 and 5 games respectively will always harm your pennant chances.  To their credit the Rangers did not give up.  They went 15-2 from September 15th on and finished a respectable 5 games out, but the pennant race (for them) was over two months earlier.

Texas posted above average offensive numbers.  The team was 4th in homers and #1 in walks.  Rent a player Bobby Bonds led the team with 29 clouts.  DH Richie Zisk added 22.  Three other players had double figures.  Newly acquired left fielder Al Oliver led the team with a .324 average.  The bench was light and was led by a trio of .220 hitters, Kurt Bevacqua, John Lowenstein and Bobby Thompson.

The pitching staff was led by newly acquired co-aces, Jon Matlack (15-13, 2.27) and Fergie Jenkins (18-8, 3.04).  Number 3 man Doyle Alexander had a hard luck 9-10, 3.86 record.  The pen was shaky, which would explain why Alexander had a tough time posting a winning record.  Matlack (18) and Jenkins (16) closed games out with regularity, while Alexander put his fate in the hands of the pen.  Reggie Cleveland (5-7, 3.09, 12sv) was the team's closer.  Steve Comer (11-5, 2.30) let a lot of inherited runners score then benefited from the offense handing him a comeback win.  This was a top heavy staff that definitely needed a solid lefty out of the pen and a more prime time closer.

I added 20 new cards to round out the Rangers 1978 set.

In 18 years in the biggs Oliver hit .303.  In 4 years in Texas he never hit below .300.  The man was a hitting machine and in my opinion belongs in Cooperstown.  Oliver cut his teeth as the star centerfielder for the great Pirate teams of the early/mid 70's.  He was dealt to the Rangers on December 8, 1977 as part of a 4 team blockbuster deal that also netted Jon Matlack for the Rangers.  Oliver lived up to all the hype that proceeded him.  He would eventually move on to Montreal and win a batting title.  The man could flat out hit the cover off a ball.  This photo came from a Rangers fan club player profile.  Look at how those eyes are focused on hitting.
Sample singled on his first major league pitch in 1978, made the Topps All Rookie Team in 1979, had his longest hitting streak (19 games) in 1981, was fifth in the A.L. in steals (44 of 52) in 1983, sixth in power-speed numbers and was the tenth toughest to strike out in the league, with only teammate Buddy Bell having hit more home runs of the preceding nine. Sample finished with a career .272 average.  He hit a whopping .467 in just 15 at bats during the 78 season.  A career 4th outfielder/platoon player, who actually did very well when given full time status.  Sample played 7 of his 9 seasons in Arlington.  He hung them up after hitting .285 in Atlanta in 1986 and moved into the broadcasting booth where he is acknowledged as one of the most respected broadcasters in baseball.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
"...and Bobby Bonds could play for everyone".  That was a quote from Terry Cashman's song "Willie, Mickey and the Duke".  By the late 70's Bonds seemed to have player for almost everyone.  After 7 All-Star / Gold Glove years in San Francisco, Bonds was traded to the Yankees in 1975.  That started the carousel of teams that he would wear a uniform for.  He would play for 7 different teams over the final 7 years of his career.  All he needed to do was hang on for another 5 years and he might have had a shot to play with his exceptionally talented skinny son.  In his 1 season in Texas Bonds hit .265 with 29 homers and 37 stolen bases.  Bonds arrived on May 16, 1978 in a trade with the Chicago White Sox for Rusty Torres and Claudell Washington.  Interestingly Washington would turn out to be as well traveled as Bonds by the time his career would end.  This photo came from his 1979 card.
Thompson was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 1972 amateur draft, and played six years in the Rangers Minor league system before joining the big team on April 16, 1978.  In his only major league season, Thompson served as a reserve outfielder for Al Oliver, Juan Beníquez and Bobby Bonds, being also used in pinch-hitting and pinch-running duties while appearing in 64 games. He hit a .225 average (27-for-120), including three doubles, three triples, two home runs and seven stolen bases, while driving in 12 runs and scoring 23 times. He played his last game on September 25. In a six-season minor league career, he hit .273 and 29 home runs in 520 games. This photo came from his 1978 Burger King Card, which was an updated team set issued by BK midway through the season.
Blessed with a rubber arm Darwin could either start or relieve.  In some cased he might do both if his team was playing a double header.  In 1978 this 22 year old rookie went 1-0, 4.15 in just 8 innings of work.  The Rangers would ease him in slowly over the next few years and that strategy would pay them huge dividends.  From 1978-1984 Darwin would go 53-50, 3.58 with 15 saves and 21 complete games.  He would go on to pitch 21 years in the big leagues retiring at the age of 42 in 1998.  He earned his nickname "Dr. Death" from Hall of Fame teammate Nolan Ryan, during his stint in Houston.  This Spring Training photo was found on ebay.
 The Rangers liked Jenkins so much from his first tour in Texas (1974-75), they decided to bring him back for an encore in 1978.  Fergie, who by this time had compiled seven 20 win seasons, was already destined for the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.  At the age of 35 he pitched 249 innings in Arlington and went 18-8, 3.04.  Jenkins would finish his career with a 285-226, 3.34 record, which is exceptionally impressive considering he pitched half of his games in Wrigley field.  He won 20 games for 6 consecutive seasons from 1967-1972.  In 1971 he finally won his only Cy Young Award.  He finished 2nd in the balloting twice and 3rd twice.  I used his 1979 Burger King Update Card here.
Gray hit .240 with 2 homers in 50 at bats as a part time DH for the Rangers in 1978.  He would increase his average to .273, the following season, but exhibit zero pop.  Basically he was a punch hitter without a position.  In 1981 and 1982 he would see extensive action with the Mariners, but deliver mediocre results.  After his tenure in Seattle ended in '82 he left for 5 seasons in the Mexican League.  I found this photo of him taken at Comiskey on ebay.
Mahlberg was signed by the Texas Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 1973 and appeared briefly in the majorsl for the Rangers in 1978-79, collecting two hits in 18 at bats for an .111 career batting average. As a minor leaguer, he batted .241 in 705 games spread over ten seasons (1973–82). This photo came from his minor league card.  In '78 he had just 1 at bat in 1 game for Texas.
Umbarger made his major league debut in April, 1975, with the Rangers, and had a successful rookie season for the team, going 8–7 in 56 games (12 of them starts), with a 4.12 ERA. The following season, Umbarger started 30 games for the Rangers, going 10–12 with a 3.15 ERA.  Prior to the 1977 season, Umbarger was traded to the Oakland Athletics, along with Rodney Scott, for outfielder Claudell Washington. After struggling for most of the season for Oakland, Umbarger was sold back to the Rangers in August, 1977. Umbarger finished the 1977 season with the Rangers and returned for the 1978 campaign, appearing in 32 games and posting a 4.88 ERA. The 1978 season would be Umbarger's last in the major leagues. While in the minor leagues in 1981, he pitched 10 scoreless innings in relief in the longest professional baseball game. This photo came from the scarcely traded 1978 SSPC set.
"Tonight, let it be Lowenstein" was a 31 year old spare part outfielder who arrived in Texas after spending 8 nondescript seasons in Cleveland.  Lowenstein hit in the .220's and was exposed to Waivers at the conclusion of the '78 season.  Baltimore picked him up and Earl Weaver made him a key contributor as a platoon player for 2 pennant winners and 1 World Championship team.  Pictured here is his Burger King Update card from 1978.
Grubb was rescued from Cleveland on August 31st in an exchange for 3 minor league suspects.  In just 21 games in Texas he hit a robust .394 (13-33) as a pinch hitter and spot starter.  Grubb was a rock solid lefty platoon player for Texas for the next 4 seasons.  Later in his career he would win a championship with the 1984 Tigers.  As a 24 year old rookie in 1973 he finished 6th in the ROY balloting while playing for San Diego.  The following season he made his only All-Star appearance.  In 16 major league seasons he hit .278 with 99 homers.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
At one point Matlack was considered the "jewel of the Mets farm system".  He won the NL ROY in 1972 and holds the record for the lowes ERA for a Met in home games at Shea Stadium.  Not too bad considering guys named:  Seaver, Koosman & Gooden also called Flushing home.  After the '77 season Met ownership was in flux.  Their goal was to trade away contracts or expiring contracts.  Matlack was a 27 year old prime time lefty entering his best years.  He was packaged in that huge 4 team deal.  His 15-12, 2.37 season in Texas made an immediate splash.  Unfortunately he was not able to maintain that consistency, plus he developed on again off again arm issues.  By 1983, at the age of 33, he was out of baseball.  He would finish his career 1 game under .500 (125-126, 3.18).  If he only played for teams that hit for him he might have won 200 games.  This is his 1978 Burger King Update card.  His original 1978 card pictured him as a Met.
I found this excellent colorization on the OOTP board.  You can always find some great art work there.  Washington played in just 3 games in '78 and went 0-3.  In '79 he appeared in 25 games and hit .278 (5-18), then disappeared in the minors never to be heard of again.  Being sent down must have crushed him because he was a .300+ hitter in his first tour on the farm.  After being sent down in '79 his average dropped year after year as he switched franchises.
In the early 70's Jorgy had some fine years as the Expos starting first baseman.  He was a slick fielder who posted a decent average with some moderate pop.  After the '76 season the Expos gave up on him and he became one of those well traveled journeyman types.  He was always an asset to the teams that he played on because of his glove.  He was beaned during his second season in Texas and never fully felt comfortable in the batters box afterward.  In 97 at bats he hit just .196 for the Rangers in 1978.  He put together a nice 17 year career and finished up in 1985 as Jack Clark's replacement on the NL Pennant winning Cardinals.  This photo comes from his 1979 card.
Norman started the 1978 season with the Tucson Toros. In mid-May, starting shortstop Bert Campaneris was injured, and Norman was called up to the majors to back up replacement Jim Mason. He made his major league debut on May 20, three days before his 20th birthday. He entered the game in the sixth inning after the Rangers had pinch-hit for Mason. He played three innings in the field, handling one chance on defense, before he was lifted for pinch hitter Mike Jorgensen. Two days later, Norman made his first start and got his first major league hit.  When Campaneris was activated in early June, Norman returned to Tucson. He spent the rest of the season there, batting .284 with 76 RBIs. He returned to the major leagues in September, finishing his first season with nine hits in 34 at bats. Norman won the starting job the following season, but hit .222 and destined himself to being a career minor leaguer.  This photo came from his '78 Minor League Card.
Putnam tore up the Pacific Coast League with Tucson in 1978, batting .309 with 21 home runs and 96 RBIs. He had only two RBIs with the Rangers that season, however, they were both big ones. He managed to drive in the only run in their 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on September 22,[1] and two days later, in the Rangers' 5-3 victory at Arlington Stadium over the Mariners, Putnam hit his first major league home run.  Putnam mostly appeared in the line-up as a designated hitter until on Monday, May 28, 1979, when regular Rangers first baseman Mike Jorgensen was hit in the head by a pitch from Boston Red Sox pitcher Andy Hassler.[2] Putnam took over as the Rangers' regular first baseman for the next month. Putnam made the most of the opportunity and batter .277 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year balloting. In 6 seasons with Texas he would hit .262.  I found this great fan shot of Putnam sitting on his glove during a Spring Training game.
Mirabella was a spare bullpen part going 3-2, 5.79 in 10 games for the Rangers in '78.  He was dealt to his hometown team, the Yankees, after the season and was even worse.  He spent 13 seasons bouncing up and down from the major to the minors and from franchise to franchise as a lefty specialist.  He returned to Texas in '82 for a second, but brief shot.  This shot came from his '83 Fleer card.
Canadian born Reggie Cleveland was the 1971 Sporting News National League Rookie of the Year, while with the Cardinals.  On April 18, 1978 the Rangers purchased his contract from Boston and inserted him into the closer role out of the pen.  He would notch 12 saves with a 3.09 ERA for the balance of the season.  At the conclusion of the season he was dealt to Milwaukee.  This is his 1978 Burger King Update card.
Zisk's original '77 card was one of those horrible air brush jobs straight out of the Crayola Factory.  This photo came from the Polish HOF website.  Zisk signed with the Rangers as a free agent after spending 1 season as a member of the White Sox' famed South Side Hitmen.  He was truly a professional hitter and excellent DH for Texas in 3 seasons before moving on to Seattle where he did the same.
Surprisingly Comer, a 24 year old rookie in 1978, did not finish in the top ten in the AL ROY balloting.  His 11-5, 2.30 season as a swing man between the pen and the rotation should have warranted consideration.  As a full fledged starter he went 17-12, 3.68 the following season   Everyone expected him to be a star.  Like so many young phenoms he developed arm and control problems and was out of baseball by the age of 30.  This photo was supplied by "the elves" and it comes from his '79 rookie card.

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