Thursday, December 13, 2012

Straight A's...NOT

Unless you followed baseball in the 1970's you just can't have an appreciation or lack there of for what Charlie Finley did to his dynasty team.  At the beginning of the decade he assemble himself a team of young superstars who battled opponents on the field and themselves off the field.  From 1971-1975 they won 5 straight AL West Titles and 3 Straight World Championships.  While the A's dominated on the field, they struggled mightily at the gate.  Once free agency hit Finley realized that he couldn't keep everyone, so he went radical and decided to keep no one.  By 1978 the A's gaudy uniforms were the only connection to the teams from just a few years back.  The A's resembled an expansion team sporting has been's, never was-es and young players trying to find their way.  Their feeble attendance at the Oakland Coliseum dropped to the point where they started announcing fans instead of the players (just kidding, but not by a lot).  At 69-93 the A's finished 6th, one slot out of the basement, which they occupied the previous season.

Oakland's offensive was quite offensive to anyone who was forced to watch it.  They finished dead last in batting (.245) and 10th in homers, which translates to very little runs.  That type of output puts a lot of pressure on a good pitching staff.  Oakland's staff was average.  Their won loss records look worse than their actual performance.  They gave up a lot of runs, but not many earner runs, which translates to a lot of bad fielding behind them.

Key players:  Mitchell Page (17) and Dave Revering (16) led the team in homers.  Not good when your home run leaders can't crack the 20 homer plateau.  Miguel Dilone in just 258 at bats hit a poor .229, but when he got on base he was off to the races with 50 stolen bases.  Five Athletics in all had double figures in steals.  The trouble was they just couldn't steal first.

Key pitchers:  The bullpen troika of Bob Lacey (8-9, 3.01), Dave Heaverlo (3-6, 3.25, 10sv) and Elias Sosa (8-2, 2.64, 14sv) were the strength of the staff.  21 year old John Henry Johnson (11-10, 3.39) was the only starter with a winning record.  Rookie Matt Keough (8-15, 3.24) was a hard luck loser, who could have had a reverse record on a better team.

Due to the state of transition that the franchise was in Topps had a hard time choosing which young players should receive a card and which should not.  Because of that challenge and the numerous trades made during the season I needed to make 29 new cards to round out the team set.  A lot of these players were quite obscure, so this required a lot of sleuth work to track down pictures.  Most of those pictures required colorization as well as airbrushing.  This was definitely a fun team to work on !  Erik and Chad discovered early on just how tough it would be to track down the photos, so they defaulted to using '79 or '80 Topps cards.  For the most part I stuck with what they had unless I thought I could find some better shots.

21 year old Alan Wirth went 5-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts.  A promising start to what would turn out to be a short career.  Wirth would pitch spearingly with the A's over the next 2 season and not perform well.  He would get sent down to Triple A and pitch just as bad if not worse.  By 1982, at the age of 25, he was cut by Detroit's Evansville affiliate.  It was nearly impossible to find a photo of Wirth.  I finally found a B&W shot, which I colorized and superimposed on top of a shot of the Oakland Coliseum.
 Robinson was in the midst of his best offensive season in the minors (.299), when he was called up by the big club.  In 28 games he hit .250 with basically no pop and was average behind the plate.  In the offseason he was sold to the Yankees where he got another cup of coffee in the biggs before finally being farmed out.  The picture that I have here was actually posted by Robinson on his own site.  It was taken right after he was drafted.
Lefty Craigh Minetto pitched in just 4 games and spent 12 innings on the hill.  He must have impressed the A's hierarchy in this limited action, because he was given a spot in the rotation the following year.  His 1-5, 5.55 record in 1979 facilitated his return to the minors.  He would bounce back and forth over the next two years before being released in 1981.  He would spend the next 3 seasons in AAA impressing no one before he decided to hang it up.  I used his '81 card for this card.
Heaverlo was one tough dude who wasn't afraid to do make a statement.  When everyone in the late 70's grew their hair out, he went Michael Jordan (even before there was a Michael Jordan) and shaved his head.  You need to be a tough and imposing guy when you pitch out of a 6th place team's bullpen.  Heaverlo recorded double digit saves that year and had a fine 7 year career that started in San Fran and ended up across the bay in Oakland.  He arrived in Oakland as part of the Vida Blue deal during the offseason.  Heaverlo never started a game in the majors.  This card was made with his '79 card.
 Originally acquired from he Reds in exchange for Vida Blue.  When Bowie Kuhn cancelled the deal "in the best interest of baseball" the A's send Doug Bair to the Reds and still got Revering who performed well for the lowly A's in 3+ years of service.  In 1981 he was dealt to the Yankees for Jim Spencer and became a backup, which really hurt his confidence as evidenced by his average dropping from the .290 to the low .220's.  Over the next few years he would be trapped in the roll of career backup and eventually he would exit baseball when he was optioned to triple A.  In 1978 as a 25 year old rookie he hit .278 with 16 homers.  The photo used for this card came from a team issued set from 1980.
 Wendell "Dell" Alston burst on the scene with his hometown Yankees in 1977 by getting a hit in his first at bat.  He would hit .325 for the World Champs in 40 at bats.  The following season he was sent to the A's for Gary Thomasson and proceeded to hit .208. Even with their lack of talent on the major league level the A's still weren't impressed and gave Dell his outright release.  He would sign with the Indians and hit .290 in 1979, but then slump back to the low .200's before being released for good.  I used his '79 card photo for this card.
 Dwayne hit just .192 in 52 at bats as a rookie 5th outfielder.  In 2 years (1981) he would win the first of his 6 consecutive gold gloves.  In total he would spend 10 of his 12 seasons in Oakland patrolling the huge cavernous oufield of the Oakland Coliseum.  you could pencil him in for 10-15 homers each year.  in 1982 he hit 27 homers and in 84 he hit 33.  The photo for this card came from a team issue card set.
On April 4, 1978 Sosa was traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a player to be named later and Miguel Dilone to the Oakland Athletics for Manny Sanguillen. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Mike Edwards (April 7, 1978) to the Oakland Athletics to complete the trade. What the A's thought they were getting was a journeyman bullpen veteran.  What they actually got was their 1978 closer.  Sosa logged 114 innings and recorded 14 saves.  He posted an impressive 8-2, 2.64 record for this poor 6th place team.  He was granted free agency at the end of the season and signed with the Expos to become their closer.  Interestingly Sosa is a footnote in World Series history having given up Reggie Jackson's 3rd consecutive homer in game 6 of the '77 Fall Classic.  In 12 major league seasons he would pitch for 8 different franchises.  This card was created from his 1979 card.
After 6 seasons playing across the bay in San Fran Thomasson was dealt to the A's as part of the Vida Blue blockbuster deal.  His time in Oakland was short and not very sweet.  In 47 games he hit .201 with 5 homers.  In June he was traded to the Yankees for Dell Alston and Mickey Klutts.  In 55 games in New York as their 4th outfielder / defensive replacement he would hit .276.  He would also catch the final out of the 1978 World Series.  In 1 season he would go from almost worst to first.  Because of his short time in Oakland it is impossible to find a picture of him in an A's uniform.  I took a photo of him in a Yankee road uniform and did some funky color changing.  I hate this updated card, which looks on a par with the crap that Topps would airbrush.  I'm hoping that somehow by accident I might stumble upon an A's photo of him and update this monstrosity.
Burke arrived in Oakland on May 17 in exchange for Bill North.  Prior to the trade he was the Dodgers 5th outfielder and a key defensive replacement.  Never much with the stick, Burke continued to not impress after arriving in Oakland.  In 200 AB's he hit just .235 with 1 homer.  He would hit just .213 in 1979.  In 1980 he was optioned back to triple A where he hit .226 in 25 games before being released.  Burke's life outside of baseball was tragic.  He would die in his early 40's of AIDS.  Years of heavy drug use started after he was run out of baseball due to his homosexual lifestyle.  Burke claimed, "Prejudice ran me out of baseball".  Others say his .237 career average was the reason.  In either case his life ended in tragedy.  For this card I used his 1979 card.  I found it interesting that he still had a Dodger undershirt on for this picture.
Essian was one of those career backup catchers who always looked good until he played for an extended period of time.  In 1978 he was afforded the starting catcher's position and hit just .223.  After that season he would return to his backup role and do fine.  Essian would hit .244 in major league campaigns and spend 4 years in Oakland during 2 tours of duty.  This card was created with his 1979 card photo.
Joe "Tarzan" Wallis' claim to fame came in 1975 when he was with the Cubs.  With 2 out in the 9th inning he broke up Tom Seaver's bid for a no hitter.  His other claim to fame was the fact that he was traded twice in the same day, which is how he wound up in Oakland.  Given the starting Centerfield job he hit just .237 with 5 homers.  After hitting .141 the following season he was cut.
Another key component in the Vida Blue deal, Johnson would turn out to be the only Oakland starter in 1978 to post a winning record (11-10, 3.39).  Unfortunately for him that would be his best season.  Johnson would be dealt to the Rangers in the middle of the 79 season for Dave Chalk and Mike Heath.  He would battle with arm trouble and health in Texas, Boston and Milwaukee where he missed 2 full seasons.  This card photo came from his 1979 Hostess card.
Murray was a speed merchant who could not find a way to negotiate a regular trip to 1st base.  Acquired in 1977 from the Yankees he spent most of his time as a pinch runner / spare outfielder.  In 1978 he was given a shot to be a full time outfielder, but he once again his below .200.  Even more surprising was the fact that he couldn't steal bases at better than a 50% clip.  The A's quickly surmised that he wasn't going to be in their future plans and sent him back to Ogden (AAA), where he finished out his career in 1980.  I used an airbrushed version of his 1980 card for this one.
The 28 year old Guerrero hit .275 for the A's in 1978 after spending the previous 5 seasons as a part time utility player for 3 other franchises.  Things looked good for him, but unfortunately 1978 would be his one season in the sun.  The following 2 years he would hit just .229 and .239 respectively and wind up being shipped to Seattle, where he was cut in Spring Training of 1981.  In total he spent 8 seasons in the bigs and hit .257.  One interesting footnote:  He became a scout in his native Dominican Republic and discovered Raul Mondesi.  When he wasn't compensated accordingly he sued Mondesi for 1% of his salary.  He eventually settled for almost $650,000, which was probably more than he ever made on the playing field.  THis card was created from his 1979 Hostess card.
This corner outfielder prospect went 1 for 4 for the A's in 1978.  He would spend the next 2 seasons at triple A before getting his final shot in 1981, where he batted .156 in 32 at bats.  This photo came off a rookie panel card photo.
Keough was a young star on the rise.  He was a victim of lack of support, both offensively and defensively as evidenced by his 8-15, 3.24 record.  Anyone who posts a 3.24 ERA in 197 innings should have won at least 15 or 16 games.  Keough almost played himself out of baseball by going 2-17, 5.04 in 1979.  Under Billy Martin in 1980 he turned it around and became a front line starter.  Unfortunately he was overused, like many of Billy's pitchers, and by 1982 he developed arm trouble and never seemed to get it back.  The 250 innings he logged as a 24 year old plus the 40 complete games logged in a 3 year period damaged him.
Dilone hit .229 in 258 at bats in 1979, which was well below the expectations for an outfielding prospect.  However he stole 50 bases with his speed to burn.  Oakland needed to figure out a way to get him on base other than as a pinch runner.  The couldn't, so they sold his contract to the Cubs, who did the same a year later sending him to Cleveland.  In 1980 he would have a huge breakout season hitting .341 with 61 stolen bases in over 500 AB's.  He would hit .290 during the strike season and it looked like he arrived as the next Lou Brock.  Sadly those 2 seasons were the peak of his career.  After 1982 he went into a slump that saw him out of baseball at the ripe old age of 30.  He had a unique "swing and run" batting style that was designed to take full advantage of his devastating speed.  I used his 1979 card photo for this one.
Marshall Edwards' twin brother was a speedy middle infielder, who never had a high success rate for stealing bases.  He hit .273 as the A's starting second baseman in 1978.  He started again in 1979 and dipped 40 points in his average.  He stagnated the following year and lost his job.  He would move on and spend the next 5 seasons playing in the Mexican and Japanese leagues.
The 18 year old Morgan (0-3, 7.30) was rushed to the big leagues and used as cannon fodder.  The following year he went 2-10, 5.94 and was benevolently returned to the minors.  Eventually he was dealt to the Yankees and had limited if no success there.  So started a string that saw him cobble out a 22 year MLB career that spanned 12 different franchises.  His best season, 1993 for the Cubs, saw him win 16 games with a 2.55 ERA in 34 starts.  Morgan was a hyped rookie who never really reached his anticipated potential.  He became a serviceable veteran pitcher who moved around a lot, but pitched until 2002, when he retired at the age of 42.  I could not find any shots of him in an Oakland uniform, so I took a photo of him with the Cubs and did some extensive airbrushing and cropping to give him an Oakland card.
Broberg, who had electric stuff, was originally a #1 overall pick by the A's in 1968.  Instead of signing with the A's he elected to go to college and was an all Ivy league standout.  4 years later the Senators drafted him with the overall #2 pick.  He was rushed to the majors in 1971 to help the struggling Senators at the gate.  Without the benefit of minor league experience Broberg still managed to have a respectable season.  When the franchise moved to Texas he went along with them, but struggled mightily   Stops in Milwaukee and Chicago did not cure him of his wildness and lack of experience.  1978 would be his last shot in the majors.  Broberg would post a respectable 10-12, 4.62 record for the lowly A's.  He was granted free agency at the end of the season and signed with the Dodgers who cut him in Spring Training.  I used his '79 card shot for this card.
Carty previously played in 8 games for the A's in 1973 during their pennant stretch run.  He didn't qualify for their post season roster.  By the time he was dealt for Willie Horton, in 1978, he was on his last legs.  Still he was able to put together a great 6 weeks with the bat and hit .277 with 11 homers in just 41 games.  At the end of the season his contract was purchased back by Toronto, where he would spend the final year of solid career with the stick (.299).
24 year old Steve McCatty pitched 20 innings over 9 games for the A's in 1978.  He was not really considered a front line starter until Billy Martin arrived in 1980 and gave him the baseball every 5th day.  McCatty won 14 games that year and followed it up with a 14-7 season in 1981, where he was the AL Cy Young runner up.  Quickly after that his arm began to fall off thanks to the brutal overused that Martin imposed on his staff.  I used an autographed photo that I found on ebay for this card.
1978 would mark the only season the veteran Renko would spend in Oakland.  After posting a 6-12, 4.29 Renko was granted free agency and signed with Boston.  8 of his 15 seasons were spent in Montreal, where he was the franchises first ace during their expansion genesis.  I found this autographed photo on ebay as well.
Drafted by the Oakland Athletics from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1977 rule 5 draft, Duncan was a light hitting corner infielder who also didn't hit for much average (.257).  In over 300 at bats for the A's in '78 he hit just 2 homers.  He would head back to the minors in 1979 and hit even worse than the .257 he posted in Oakland.  He would move on to 1 season in the Japanese league and 3 in the Mexican league before hanging it up.  This photo came from his 1979 card.

Conroy was the Oakland Athletics' first round draft pick after graduating from Gateway Senior High School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania in 1978. He was immediately called up by the A's that June with no minor league pitching experience.
In 7 seasons he had a 18-32 Win-Loss record, 135 games (71 started), 5 complete games, 1 shutout, 21 games finished, 466⅔ innings pitched, 438 hits allowed, 279 runs allowed, 244 earned runs allowed, 47 home runs allowed, 284 walks, 307 strikeouts, 10 hit batsmen, 31 wild pitches, 2,082 batters faced, 13 intentional walks, 2 balks and a 4.71 ERA.  Basically another young arm that the A's rushed to the majors then ruined.  This card photo came from a Donruss card in the early 80's.

In 1962 Fuentes was one of the final ballplayers signed out of Cuba before Castro blocked his stars from leaving.  In 1966 he finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting, but slumped badly in '67 and wound up in the minors.  His career would be a roller coaster of both good and bad seasons.  One year he set the record for best fielding % by a second baseman after leading the league in errors the previous 2 seasons.  Such was the life of the man known best for wearing a headband over his baseball cap.  By 1978 he was on his last legs.  After being cut by the Expos he was signed by the A's hoping to catch lighting in a bottle by returning to the Bay Area.  Unfortunately for him he could not recapture the success he had in his 9 seasons with the Giants.  In just 13 games with the A's in '78 he hit .140.  I colorized this B&W photo and then superimposed it on a background of the Oakland Coliseum.
Horton arrived from Toronto in exchange for the enigmatic Rico Carty.  Basically both last placed teams swapped DH's.  Horton hit over .300 in 32 games, but had little power (3 homers).  He signed as a free agent with the Mariners at the end of the season.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your efforts. The 1977-78 seasons were the first baseball returned to my hometown of Chattanooga and those two seasons, the Lookouts were Oakland farm clubs. Photos from those teams are scarce and these cards are great surprising additions to those of us who collect hometown stuff.