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Now that relief pitchers are getting the respect they deserve–with recent elections of Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage–fellows like Gene Garber deserve a second look as far as Hall of Fame debate is concerned.  Garber, who landscaped his facial fur a little better than Sutter, was a stellar fireman who pitched just before the creation of the closer.  During his day, he was part of closer-by-committee staffs with fellows like Tug McGraw and Steve Bedrosian.

Originally a 20th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1965, it took Gene several years in the bushes before he found his niche.  Used as a starter in the minors, with various levels of success, Garber seemed to stall out at Triple-A.  The Pirates, believing Gene to be a Triple-A pitcher swapped him to the Royals after the 1972 season.  Royals skipper Jack McKeon remade Garber as a relief pitcher and Gene took to the role like a duck to water.  With Kansas City in ’73, Gene saved eleven games and showed solid resiliency, hurling 153 innings.

After a shaky start to the 1974 season, the Royals made a near-sighted deal and sold Gene to the Phillies where he flourished.  With Philadelphia, Garber posted a 2.06 ERA with a perfect 4-0 record after the deal.  In 1975, Gene won ten games and teamed with McGraw to give the Phillies an amazing righty/lefty fireman tandem: the two men saved 14 games apiece.  Gene led the league in games pitched and games finished.

Garber had his best year for strikeouts in 1976, as he averaged a strikeout per inning.  Just as good in 1977, Gene saved 19 games on a solid 2.36 ERA.  He fanned 78 batters opposed to just 23 walks, employing terrific accuracy while hosing down those pesky fires.  He won Game 1 of the 1977 NLCS but his Phillies lost the series to the Dodgers.  The Phillies traded Garber to the Braves in 1978 for fellow bearded hurler Dick Ruthven, and Gene had a combined ERA of 2.15 and 25 saves.

Garber posted an identical 25 saves with the Braves in 1979 which was good for third in the National League.  In the strike shortened ’81 season, Gene had a trim 2.59 ERA.  In arguably his finest season, Gene saved a career high 30 games in 1982 and posted a 2.34 ERA for Atlanta.  The sensational stopper finished seventh in Cy Young Award voting and even received a few MVP votes as well.

When the injury bug bit Gene in 1983 he lost his closer’s role and joined the closer-by-committee.  The Braves abandoned the committee closer in 1985 when they brought in Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter and used him as their man to nail down lids on the coffins.  Acting as Sutter’s setup man in ’85, Garber posted a 3.61 ERA–far superior to Sutter’s 4.48 mark.  When injury struck Sutter, the closer’s role was Garber’s once again and he didn’t disappoint, posting 24 saves for Atlanta in 1986 on a 2.54 ERA.

When the Kansas City Royals needed a shot in the arm in 1987, they traded a minor leaguer to Atlanta for Garber.  Gene was a godsend for the Royals, nailing down eight saves in just 13 games for the Royals at the end of the season.  Gene pitched one final year with the Royals at the age of 40 before calling it quits.  He currently resides 16th all-time in games finished and 35th in career saves.

THE NUMBERS

W 96/L 113/PCT .459/SV 218/G 931/IP 1,509/H 1,464/BB 445/SO 940/ERA 3.34

One of baseball’s top sluggers during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dolph Camilli had five 100 RBI seasons, four .400+ on-base percentage seasons and reached twenty-five homeruns on six occasions.  Known for his years in Brooklyn, Camilli was a stout slugger and the National League’s MVP the year before the mass exodus of World War II.

When the Cubs gave Dolph his first look in 1933, he was already long-in-the-tooth.  He took his first Major League hacks at the age of 26.  The Cubs at that time had player/manager Charlie Grimm at first base and although Dolph could out-slug Jolly Cholly, he couldn’t excel Grimm in other facets of the game so Chicago shipped him to the Phillies during the 1934 season for Don Hurst.

In Camilli’s first full season with the Phillies, 1935, he led National League first basemen with 25 long balls.  Although he was built like a freezer–compact and filled-out–Dolph managed to lead first basemen in thefts that season as well.  He showed that he could make for a solid Major League slugger in ’35 but fashioned his breakout campaign in 1936.  That year, for the last place Phillies, Dolph drove home 102 runs while leading NL first basemen in homeruns.  Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize slugged at a mighty .577 clip, which Camilli matched.

In 1937, for the third straight year, Camilli led National League first basemen in homeruns.  His lofty .446 on-base percentage was tops in the senior circuit as the mammoth slugger also hit for a .339 batting average, posted a .587 slugging average and had a terrific on-base plus slugging of 1.034.  But all those numbers couldn’t make the Phillies a winner, who finished seventh in the National League.

Saved from the Phillies in 1938, Dolph was traded to the Dodgers for Eddie Morgan and a Wells-Fargo truck full of folding money.  In his first year with Brooklyn, Dolph led the NL with 119 walks, which enabled him to pace NL first basemen in runs scored with 106.  For the fourth season in a row, Camilli scored over 100 runs in 1939 while again pacing the senior circuit in walks drawn.  Dolph kept his prodigious hitting in 1939, swatting 26 homers and driving in over 100 runs.

Camilli’s greatest season came in 1941 when he was named the MVP of the National League.  Dolph led the NL in homeruns and RBI and drew 104 walks which pushed his on-base percentage above the elusive .400 yet again.  After the season, in December, Pearl Harbor was bombed and many players quickly left for the military.

At the time of the war, Camilli was in his mid 30s and had to support seven children, so he wasn’t taken in the draft.  Dolph continued on the diamond in 1942 and socked 26 homeruns with 109 RBI.  But his batting average fell to .252 and when it fell even further in 1943 the Dodgers traded Dolph to the rival Giants and he refused to report.  Camilli decided to retire to his ranch than play ball for the hated Giants.  After sitting out the 1944 season Dolph returned to the Majors for one final year in 1945 with the Red Sox.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,490/R 936/H 1,482/2B 261/3B 86/HR 239/RBI 950/BB 947/SO 961/SB 60/BA .277/SA .492

www.vintagecardtraders.com

A three-time All-Star, Mike “Big Bear” Garcia was often overshadowed on a stellar Cleveland Indian pitching staff that also featured Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Satchel Paige, Early Wynn and Hal Newhouser.  Even though Garcia was an amazing pitcher on his own merits, its pretty easy for a barracuda to get lost in a sea full of sharks.

Garcia joined the Indians during their championship season of 1948 but only appeared in one game.  As a rookie in 1949, Big Bear paced the American League with a 2.35 ERA and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.  The rookie hurler finished third in the league in shutouts and had an amazing .737 winning percentage.

After a so-so 1950 campaign, Big Bear was back terrorizing the American League in 1951.  Mike posted an even 20 victories in ’51, giving Cleveland three 20-game-winners with Feller and Wynn.  Big Bear completed fifteen of his starts but had immense value putting out fires, indicated by his six saves.  His worth meant a great deal to the Indians who could call upon him to toss complete games and water down uprising staged by his mates.  In that solid ’51 season, Big Bear was the most stingy pitcher in the junior circuit as far as coughing up homerun balls was concerned.

Garcia made it back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1952 when he notched 22 victories for Cleveland in ’52.  Big Bear made his first of three straight All-Star appearances while tying for the league lead with six shutouts.  In spite of all the great pitching Cleveland had, Mike led his mates with a 2.37 ERA.  Mike then went 18-9 in 1953 with 21 complete games.

The Indians returned to the World Series in 1954 and Mike had his lone taste of postseason play.  During the regular season, Big Bear led the AL in ERA, shutouts and WHIP while surrendering the fewest homeruns on average amongst AL hurlers.  Mike made one start in the World Series against the Giants and had another relief outing, but New York beat back the boys from Cleveland.

In 1956 Mike spun four shutouts and in 1957 he paced Cleveland starters in the ERA department.  The majority of the 1958 season was lost due to injury and when Big Bear returned he wasn’t quite the same.  The Indians used him as a spot starter in 1959.  After the season he was given his release and he pitched two more middling seasons with the White Sox and Senators before hanging up his spikes.

THE NUMBERS

W 142/L 97/PCT .594/G 428/CG 111/IP 2,175/H 2,148/BB 719/SO 1,117/SHO 27/ERA 3.27

www.baseball-almanac.com

A fiery, rawhide tough shortstop, Kid Elberfeld may have personified The Deadball Era better than any ballplayer.  Of slight build, Elberfeld got by on craftiness and hustle and not muscle.  The Deadball Era, characterized by rowdy play, was just right for Elberfeld–known as The Tabasco Kid.  In Ty Cobb’s biography, he credited Kid with “giving him the teach” as a rookie, when Cobb slid into a bag headfirst and Elberfeld educated him with a swift check to his noggin. 

Elberfled began his Major League career with the Phillies in 1898.  The Phillies had slick-fielding Monte Cross entrenched at short so Kid saw scarce action.  The Reds purchased Kid in 1899 and he was used as a utility infielder behind the likes of Hall of Famer Biddy McPhee, star shortstop Tommy Corcoran and third baseman Charlie Irwin.  When the American League established itself as a Major League, The Tabasco Kid finally got his chance to show his stuff.

Kid latched on with the Detroit Tigers in 1901 and hit a nifty .310 with 76 runs batted in.  His batting fell off in 1902, although he finished second to George Davis in RBI among AL shortstops, and early in the 1903 season the Tigers traded him to the New York Highlanders (now the Yankees) for former superstar Herman Long.  Kid hit a combined .301 in 1903 then missed some action due to injury in 1904. 

With the Highlanders in 1906, Kid was the lone .300 hitting shortstop in the American League.  In 1907, he tied for the most triples by an AL shortstop while hitting .271 (nothing to scoff at during The Deadball Era) and driving in 51 runs.  Elberfeld’s 1908 season was a wash-out due to injury and he never again was a frontline player in the Majors.

The Tabasco Kid pilfered 23 bases in 1909 (he had five seasons of 20 or more thefts), his last year with the Highlanders.  The Senators paid $5,000 for his contract in 1910 and he rewarded them by fielding his position at a percentage 13 points above league average.  In 1911, his last year as a regular, Kid led the AL in getting hit by pitched balls while hitting a respectable .272. 

After his playing days, The Tabasco Kid kept baseball in his veins.  He had a lengthy career managing in the Southern Association with the Chattanooga Lookouts and Little Rock Travelers.  He harvested such talent as Burleigh Grimes, Harry Coveleski, Charlie Grimm, Gabby Street and Travis Jackson. 

THE NUMBERS

G 1,293/R 647/H 1,234/2B 166/3B 58/HR 10/RBI 535/BB 427/SB 209/BA .271/SA .339

www.wikipedia.com

Ballplayers that change teams a lot have always been tagged with the nickname “Suitcase,” given their constant moves and the necessity for a packed carry-all on call.  Tommy Davis was a stud with the Dodgers in the early 1960s but when he was traded in 1967 he never stopped bouncing around the league.  Tommy’s career had more mileage and stops than Metallica on a road trip.

Davis made an immediate splash with the Dodgers in 1960 as a 21-year-old rookie.  He hit .276 and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.  His 1961 season was nearly identical to the numbers he posted in 1960 but in ’62, Davis took off like a shuttle at Cape Canaveral.  Named to his first All-Star team in 1962, Tommy won the NL batting title with a .346 batting average while also leading the senior circuit in hits (230) and RBI (153).  Davis accounted for 273 runs on the season, more than Hall of Fame peers Willie Mays (271), Orlando Cepeda (219) and Hank Aaron (255).  Tommy finished just behind eventual winner Maury Wills and Mays in the MVP voting.

To prove that he wasn’t a one-year wonder, Tommy won the batting title again the next season with a .326 batting average.  His heavy-hitting carried the Dodgers to the World Series where LA was embarrassed by the Yankees but Davis hit a robust .400 during the contest with a pair of triples.  Tommy drove in 86 runs in 1964 but his 1965 season was lost to injury–he only appeared in 17 games.

Davis returned from his injury to lead the Dodgers with a .313 batting average in 1966, but his power production had completely vanished.  The Dodgers, fearing that he wouldn’t regain his power, shipped him off to the Mets for outfielder Jim Hickman and second baseman Ron Hunt.  His power returned to him in The Big Apple.  Davis clubbed 16 homeruns and legged out 32 doubles.  But this was the time when Tommy’s lifestyle took a nomadic twist. 

He spent 1968 with the White Sox (traded for 1969 World Series hero Al Weis), split 1969 between the Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros, played with three teams in 1970 before catching on with the Oakland A’s in 1971.  With Oakland, Tommy was the only .300 hitter in their lineup during the 1971 season.  The A’s copped the AL West flag and Tommy hit .375 in the ALCS, which Oakland lost to the Orioles.  Davis joined Baltimore in 1972 and was the lone .300 hitting designated hitter in 1973. 

With the Orioles in 1974, Tommy led designated hitters with 181 base hits.  He hit .283 in 1975 with Baltimore but his sporadic power was too sporadic for Baltimore and he was released just before the 1976 season.  Davis played one final year, split between the Angels and Royals, before calling it quits.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,999/R 811/H 2,121/2B 272/3B 35/HR 153/RBI 1,052/BB 381/SO 754/SB 136/BA .294/SA .405

www.legendsrevealed.com

A baseball lifer, Birdie Tebbetts was a four-time All-Star catcher, a big league manager and a military recruiter during his days in the game.  A master of psychology, it was once printed that during World War II, when Birdie was serving with the Army Air Corps as a recruiter, that executives of Major League ballclubs tried to keep him out of their respective cities for fear that Tebbetts had come to get their entire rosters to enlist.  Tebbetts used his mastery of psychology to sign up boys for the war as well as lead a roster of ballplayers during a season of fun and baseball.

Birdie had the misfortune of debuting with the Detroit Tigers when they owned the contract of one Mickey Cochrane–arguably the greatest catcher of all-time.  However, when Mick was beaned in 1937, and nearly died, his career as a player was over and the door was open for a successor.  Tebbetts tried to make the most of his situation but with power hitter Rudy York in town and Hank Greenberg blocking York at first base, Detroit used the brawny York as their catcher even though his reserve, Tebbetts, was a far superior defender.

Birdie began to see more playing time in 1939 and by 1940 he paced American League catchers in doubles while hitting .296.  The Tigers needed Birdie behind the plate but also needed York’s big bat in the lineup, so skipper Del Baker moved Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg to left field, thus opening the door for regular playing time for both Tebbetts and York.  The result was an AL flag.

In 1941, Birdie hit .284 but with the loss of Greenberg to the military, the Tigers fell in the standings.  The following year, Birdie finished as Hall of Famer Bill Dickey’s runner-up in batting average among American League backstops.  After the 1942 season, Birdie entered the military and served three years at the height of his career.  No other catcher was hurt more than Tebbetts by the war.  Bill Dickey and Harry Danning were both at the end of their careers when they served and Yogi Berra had yet to make his debut.  Birdie on the other hand had just hit his prime and made the All-Star team the two years before his military induction.

Stationed at the Waco Airfield, Tebbetts stayed in shape by playing and managing a service club that boasted the likes of Sid Hudson and Bruce Campbell.  When the war was over, Birdie returned to Detroit in 1946 and struggled at the plate, despite his typically exceptional defense–he gunned down 44% of would-be basestealers.  During his career, Birdie averaged a fine 44%.

When the Red Sox needed a catcher in 1947 they made a deal for Birdie.  At the time of the trade, Tebbetts was hitting an extremely poor .094 for the Tigers but rebounded to hit .299 with Boston.  He continued his fine hitting in 1948 by leading AL catchers in batting average, hits, doubles, walks and RBI.  An All-Star in 1948, Birdie received the same honor again in 1949 when he led catchers in stolen bases.  In 1950, Birdie and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra were the only .300 hitting catchers in the American League.

The Cleveland Indians bought the aging Birdie’s contract in 1951 and he served as Jim Hegan’s backup for two years before retiring.  Although retired as a player, Tebbetts wasn’t out of the game long.  His first managerial assignment came with the Reds in 1954.  The Reds of 1953 had a poor .442 winning percentage and Birdie elevated the club to a modest .481 percentage.  He guided his Reds to another fifth place finish in ’55 as his club was the only team in the Majors with two 40 homerun hitters.  His Reds also paced the league in hits.

The Reds caught fire under Tebbetts in 1956 when he led his charges to a fine 91-63 record; two games behind the NL champs.  His Cincy club was the NL’s top slugging club in ’56 as Birdie had a powerful lineup with the likes of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski, power hitting outfielders Gus Bell and Wally Post and 40 homers out of his catching duo of Ed Bailey and Smoky Burgess.  He brought the Reds in fourth in 1957 and was replaced late in the 1958 season.

The Milwaukee Braves brought Birdie in late in the 1961 season to finish out the campaign.  He led the Braves to a winning season in 1962 (86-76) but when he was offered the Indians managerial job in ’63, Birdie left Wisconsin and managed the last team he played for.  The Indians roster had little talent outside flame throwing left-hander Sudden Sam McDowell and Tebbetts never brought the Indians in any higher than fifth place.  Despite the punchless offense, the Indians had a dominant pitching staff.  Tebbetts managed the AL’s top strikeout staff in 1963 and 1964.  Although the Indians finished in the second division Birdie’s four years at the helm, he only had one losing season.  He was replaced by the Indians late in 1966–his last managerial assignment.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,162/R 357/H 1,000/2B 169/3B 22/HR 38/RBI 469/BB 389/SO 261/SB 29/BA .270/SA .358

AS MANAGER

W 748/L 705/PCT .515

www.vintagecardtraders.org

A longtime second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers (or Bridegrooms, or Superbas–take your pick) Tom “Tido” Daly was a fine hitter and serviceable defender… at times.  A member of the 1890 NL Champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Daly was a good on-base percentage player who once led the league in doubles.

Originally a catcher, Daly made his Major League debut with the old Philadelphia Keystones of the Union Association at the age of 18.  He then spent the next couple seasons in the bushes before the Chicago White Stockings gave him a look in 1887.  Tom platooned with veteran Silver Flint on Cap Anson’s club in ’87 but when he failed to establish himself with the bat, Anson released him. 

Tom caught on with the Washington Nationals in 1889 and had his first .300 season.  But the following year he joined Brooklyn and began his long association with the club.  Moved out from behind the plate in 1892, Daly was used as a third baseman that season.  Shifted to second base in 1893, Daly’s career gained some stability as his offense began to grow.  In ’93, Tom hit .289 with 94 runs scored, but his finest year was right around the corner.

Tido exploded in 1894, scoring 135 runs while posting a stellar on-base percentage of .433.  The switch-hitting second baseman had a career best .339 batting average.  Of the Brooklyn regulars, only third baseman Billy Shindle failed to hit .300; he had to settle for a .296 batting average.  Tom’s batting average fell to .280 in 1895 and by 1897 he was back in the bushes thanks to his poor fielding in 1896.

Daly followed his course and the current carried him back to the Major Leagues in 1898.  Back up with Brooklyn, Daly’s bat still had the old stuff  (he hit at least .300 his next three seasons) but his leather was still substandard.  But Tido made up for his inferior defensive work by employing solid offensive exploits.  He posted a .409 on-base percentage in 1899 and a .403 mark in 1900.  In 1901, Tom led the National League in doubles while pacing NL second sackers in batting average, runs, triples, RBI, stolen bases and slugging average (he was the lone NL second baseman to slug over .400).

With the American League glaring at the rosters of the National League like a whino leering through the window of a liquor store, Daly was offered a job with the White Sox in the AL and he jumped his contract (a common practice back then) and signed with the Pale Hose.  But Tido, in his upper 30s, was at the end of the line and he failed to make good with the White Sox.  He finished his career in 1903, splitting the season between the White Sox and the Reds of Cincinnati.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,560/R 1,030/H 1,588/2B 261/3B 103/HR 49/RBI 811/BB 687/SB 403/BA .280/SA .388

www.baseball-reference.com