Willie Davis–Topps Company–1973 (No. 35)
At various times during his career, Willie Davis was known for eccentric behavior. After his playing days, his eccentricities degraded into the realm of the bizarre and the near violent. In March of 1996, the former Los Angeles Dodgers star was arrested after threatening his parents with a samurai sword and ninja-style throwing stars. The 55-year-old Davis demanded that his parents pay him $5,000; when they refused, he threatened to kill them. Davis was booked under investigation of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted extortion. His mother told police that she believed her son was acting so strangely because of an addiction to drugs.
Blessed with power and speed and known for playing aggressively both in the field and at the plate, Davis performed for the Dodgers from 1960 to 1973, establishing himself as one of the game’s better all-around center fielders. His 1973 Topps card is his second to last as a member of the Dodgers; it shows him off balance, apparently the result of a brushback pitch that nearly sent him sprawling. Coincidentally and unfortunately, “off balance” is a phrase that might have accurately described his behavior the night that Davis threatened his parents–and at other times in his career.
After his glory years in Southern California, Davis bounced around with several clubs, including the Montreal Expos, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres. When he first arrived at spring training with the Rangers, he reported directly from a Los Angeles jail, where he had been held for alleged non-payment of spousal support to his ex-wide. While with Texas, some of his teammates noticed his unusual habits and his strange physique. He shared living quarters with an intriguing choice of roommates–a Doberman pinscher with large fangs. He diligently performed yoga as part of an overall conditioning program that left him with an odd physical appearance. Davis had such little body fat that his veins bulged out throughout his body, giving him almost a surreal appearance. As one Ranger beat writer put it, Davis appeared to be all “skin and veins.” One of his teammates dubbed Davis the “Strange Ranger.”
Davis didn’t long in Texas. One day, he engaged in a clubhouse fistfight with manager Billy Martin, who had his own set of personality quirks. Within minutes of the fight, Davis received his walking papers in the form of a trade to the Cardinals.
With his batting and running skills fading, Davis eventually found his way to the Japanese Leagues. It was during his stint in the Far East that he apparently became familiar with the samurai swords and ninja throwing stars that nearly became deadly weapons in his possession. Fortunately, he never used those weapons with the same aggressiveness that he displayed in swinging a bat, running the bases, and brawling with his own manager.
Thankfully, Davis seems to have won the battle with his inner demons. Currently a member of the Dodgers’ speakers bureau, Davis counsels youngsters against using drugs–the same drugs that may have influenced his bizarre behavior at his parents’ house. Like Dock Ellis and so many other retired stars from the 1970s, Davis is doing his best to make sure that others avoid making similar mistakes.
I believe that one underlying factor has succeeded in keeping Willie Randolph in the Mets’ managerial office: there is no logical, ready-made candidate who is primed to step in and take the job. If there were, Randolph would have been fired by now, rather than allowed to twist in the gale-force winds swirling around Shea Stadium.
As many times as I’ve heard Mets fans and members of the media say that Randolph deserves to be fired, I have yet to hear any of those same observers deliver a clear and concise answer as to who should be the next Mets’ skipper. The Mets’ front office seems to be facing the same dilemma. Let’s consider each of the candidates, all of whom carry considerable “buyer beware” tags of one kind or another.
Jerry Manuel: Good organizations usually look within in making mid-season changes. Of all of the Mets’ coaches, Manuel is the only one with major league managing experience. But that came in a non-descript tenure with the White Sox, where Manuel developed a reputation for being too king and laid back with his players. And that is exactly the kind of manager the Mets don’t need as they try to lift themselves out of a malaise filled with bad baserunning, uninspiring effort, and a lack of clubhouse leadership.
Howard Johnson: HoJo is the only other coach the Mets will consider. (Sandy Alomar, Sr. and Tom Nieto are not candidates, nor is pitching guru Rick Peterson, given the sorry history of pitching coaches trying to make the transition to managing). HoJo’s youth and name value will help him in some circles, but he’s had a checkered career as a minor league coach (including a suspension at Double-A Binghamton) and was never regarded as a thinking man’s ballplayer during his days with the Tigers and Mets. Perhaps Johnson will fool me, but I’d proceed with caution before giving him the managerial reigns.
Davey Johnson: He would be a popular choice among Mets fans, based largely on his connection to the Mets of 1986 and ’88. He is smart, knows how to use his 25-man roster, and would bring some credibility to the dugout. But I think he is a pipe dream at this point. He hasn’t worked for the Mets in years; it’s hard to believe that he has many, if any, connections remaining within the organization. He also lacks the fire and discipline that the Mets need right now. Let’s not forget the state of the Mets’ clubhouse when he was let go as manager. It was bad–worse than the clubhouse problems the Mets are currently facing in 2008.
Bobby Valentine: Although he has a brilliant mind and the experience of managing in so many pennant races, his candidacy might be another pipe dream. He’s under contract as a manager in the Japanese Leagues, where he seems quite content. The Mets need someone now, not someone who might be available this winter. I’d be shocked if the Mets were willing or able to bring back Bobby V. at this stage.
Lee Mazzilli: Maz is smarter than most people think; perhaps they don’t give him enough respect because of his thick New York accent. Whatever the case, Mazzilli knows the rulebook better than most managers and has had the advantage of watching every Mets game from his perch in the SNY studios. On the down side, Maz earned only lukewarm reviews for his first managerial tenure in Baltimore. If the Mets hire him now, he will come into the job as a failed manager, something that the media will remind us of time and time again.
Ken Oberkfell: Currently the manager of the Mets’ Triple-A franchise at New Orleans, Oberkfell has quietly worked his way up the organizational ladder. He’s forged a minor league record well above .500, culminating in his selection as Baseball America’s minor league manager of the year in 2005. He’s a diligent, hard worker, but might lack the fire-and-brimstone the Mets would prefer from their next manager. Then there’s his connection to the Cardinals, which really shouldn’t matter, but will definitely be brought up if he replaces Randolph.
Wally Backman: This would be the most interesting–and the most daring–selection for the Mets. Smart and tough, Backman is an excellent motivator who has won at just about every stop in the minor leagues. He also carries nostalgic memories of 1986. But he also brings with him mammoth-sized baggage in the form of a ferocious temper, past legal problems involving spousal abuse, and a reputation for excessively baiting umpires. He could be a powder keg in the Big Apple, one that might light up and explode under the spotlight of the New York media.
So those are the choices–well, at least some of them. Feel free to submit your own. Just be prepared to make a convincing argument to the Mets’ front office. They’re looking for one.
As we continue our look book at cards from the 1973 Topps set, let’s pay tribute to a player who took more than his fair share of hits 35 years ago…
Most baseball fans have heard of the pioneering efforts of Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, two accomplished veteran pitchers who played the 1975 season under unsigned, renewed contracts as part of the players’ efforts to gain free agency. Less well known are the preceding efforts of several players with the Chicago White Sox, including second baseman Mike Andrews. As Society for American Baseball Research members Maxwell Kates and Stew Thornley have pointed in their research efforts, four White Sox veterans took a courageous stand in 1973, two years before McNally and Messersmith put their baseball lives on the line. The quartet of players refused to sign new contracts with Chicago, instead reporting to the White Sox’ training camp under automatically renewed contracts. The group included Andrews, third baseman Ed Spiezio (the father of troubled former major league Scott Spiezio), onetime bonus baby Rick Reichardt, and starting pitcher Stan Bahnsen.
Bahnsen eventually signed a new contract for the 1973 season, but the other three refused, instead deciding to play under the renewed contracts with the idea that they would become free agents after the season. Unfortunately, the strategy did not proceed as smoothly as Andrews did in turning a double play on his 1973 Topps card. The threesome, including Andrews, soon became “free,” but not in the way that they would have desired. All three earned their releases (leaving them unemployed in midseason), as a direct result of their efforts to buck the system. If the Players Association had been as strong in 1973 as it is today, the White Sox likely would have faced a grievance–and the players probably would have gained some form of restitution, if not complete reinstatement of their jobs. Such was not the case in 1973, in the days before arbitration, free agency, and McNally and Messersmith.
The release (or as some would say, retaliation) ended Spiezio’s career; he would fail to land another major league job. The other two players fared only slightly better. Reichardt signed on with the Kansas City Royals, but didn’t catch the fancy of manager Jack McKeon, who released him the following season. As for Andrews, he did manage to a mid-season contract with the Oakland A’s, the game’s defending World Champions and favorites to repeat as winners in the American League West. The A’s would indeed return to the World Series in the fall of 1973, but Andrews’ participation in the Fall Classic would result only in bitter memories. After making two critical errors in Game Two against the New York Mets, A’s owner Charlie Finley coerced Andrews into signing a false affidavit that indicated his shoulder was injured–thus the reason for the errors. In essence, Finley had “fired” Andrews so that he could replace him with the younger and more talented Manny Trillo. The classless handling of the episode so incensed Oakland manager Dick Williams that he told his players he would resign at the end of the Series. Andrews was eventually reinstated by the Commissioner’s Office, but the affair left him embarrassed, angered Finley only further, and eventually triggered Andrews’ off-season release. This time there would be no reprieve from baseball’s highest office. Callously cut loose from the World Champions, Andrews would never again play in a major league game.
Whenever “Lurch,” the gigantic but loveable butler on the “Addams Family,” felt motivated to offer a negative opinion in response to the happenings in Gomez’ and Morticia’s mansion, he groaned pathetically in his uniquely baritone voice, “Uhhhhhhhhhh.” That’s exactly how I’m tempted to answer when asked to assess the performance of the Yankees over the first 45 games of the season.
At this writing, the Yankees are 20-25–and boy, have they earned every bit of that dismally disappointing record. While the injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada haven’t helped, they only begin to scratch the surface in accounting for the Yankees’ abysmal effort over the first quarter of the season. Even when A-Rod and Posada have played, the Yankees have struggled to score runs. Other than Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu, Yankee batters don’t work the count and draw walks like they once did. When they do put runners on base, they don’t deliver clutch hits. Defensively, the Yankees always seem to be a step short, whether it’s Derek Jeter’s lack of range and his scattershot arm, Jason’s Giambi’s imitation of Dick Stuart at first base, Johnny Damon’s ragtag Venus de Milo arm, or Abreu’s bizarre fear of outfield walls. (Doesn’t he know that most of the walls are padded these days?) Then there’s the starting pitching, which has been mostly brutal on days when Chien-Ming Wang and Darrell Rasner haven’t pitched, and has been lowlighted by the dismal efforts of heralded right-handers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.
In addition to the tangible deficencies, the Yankees have displayed little in terms of attitude and atmosphere. They play most nights without energy, enthusiasm, or urgency, another symptom of a team that is too old in too many positions. Unfortunately, management has done little to address the situation. Jor Girardi seems to have a mortal fear of putting on the hit-and-run or the stolen base, while GM Brian Cashman has mostly sat on his hands since re-signing A-Rod, Posada, and Mariano Rivera.
When it comes to blame in the Bronx, fingers can accurately be pointed in many different directions…
At times, Mike Piazza could be one of the most arrogant and aloof of athletes, especially when it came to dealing with (or simply avoiding) basic questions from the media. He also lost some respect in a few circles when he essentially went through the motions in trying to learn first base late in his career with the Mets. But none of that should detract from this simple fact: Mike Piazza was the greatest hitting catcher the sport has ever seen. (Johnny Bench is the best I’ve ever seen on the defensive side of the ball, but Bench didn’t hit with the kind of consistency or plate discipline that Piazza had in his prime.) Piazza is such a leadpipe cinch to be elected to the Hall of Fame after his five-year waiting period elapses that it’s almost pointless to engage in a debate about his merits for Cooperstown; he’s as worthy as Bench, Berra, Josh Gibson and the other catching icons of the last 70 years. Perhaps as much as anything, I’ll remember Piazza for that classic follow-through on his maximum effort swing, an approach that gave him remarkable power to both center and right field. They’ll be showing highlights of that trademark swing for years to come in the Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater…
On a completely different note, the Hall of Fame has settled on a keynote speaker for its upcoming annual symposium on baseball and American culture. The choice is longtime New York Times columnist Ira Berkow. While I’m no fan of the Times, Berkow is an excellent selection. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of more than ten books, including a tome on legendary sportswriter Red Smith.
I was distressed to read the Sunday edition of the New York Post, which featured a story about former Pirates and Yankees ace Dock Ellis. One of the key contributors to the Bucs’ world championship in 1971, Ellis has lost 60 pounds since last fall, when he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Ellis needs a liver transplant soon; otherwise, the outlook is dire.
Over the first half of the 1970s, Ellis carved out a reputation as one of the National League’s better right-handed pitchers. With his sinking fastball and steely grittiness, Ellis became the co-anchor of the Bucs’ rotation (along with Steve Blass) and the emotional leader of the pitching staff. He also emerged as one of the Pirates’ most colorful characters, Outspoken to a fault, Ellis provided comic relief with his clubhouse imitations of Muhammad Ali and his on-field habit of wearing hair curlers. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn’t care for the radical fashion statement, but many observers appreciated the humor of the incident at Wrigley Field.
Ellis has made more than his fair share of mistakes over the years, including pitching a game while under the influence of LSD, intentionally throwing at Reds hitters in an infamous 1974 game, and repeatedly undermining his managers. But almost all of that behavior occurred during Ellis’ playing days in the sixties and seventies, while he was trapped in a haze of alcohol and drug abuse. After his retirement in 1980, Ellis successfully abandoned his drug addiction and used his experiences to become a counselor against drugs. An emotional public speaker, Ellis has worked diligently to advise youngsters not to repeat his own mistakes. Beginning early in his career, Dock has also made efforts to help prisoners in the Pennsylvania state penal system, soliciting their input in making suggestions for prison reform.
Considering his own personal reforms and the social consciousness that Ellis has displayed, he has become one of the game’s good guys. Let’s say a prayer that he receives some financial help for his mounting medical bills, which have become more problematic given his lack of health insurance. More importantly, let’s hope Dock receives that much needed liver transplant–quicker rather than later.
A fine article written by Steve Treder of The Hardball Times, regarding the career of stone-gloved Leon Wagner, has prompted a few Internet diehards to nominate selections for an all-hit, no-field team. Unable to resist the temptation, I’ve jumped into the fray with my own picks. In order to make my team, players needed to meet two conditions: 1) they must have played at least 100 games at the position and 2) they must have performed horrendously in the field.
(Catcher) Cliff Johnson: He was a good backup catcher to have, a strong hitter, with the ability to deliver pinch-hit home runs, but his stone hands and popgun arm prevented him from playing the position every day. Did I say he could hit?
(First Base) Dick Stuart: I never actually saw “Dr. Strangeglove” play, but I’ve heard so many stories of his lack of defensive prowess that some of them must be true. Besides, he managed to make 29 errors in one season, a simply remarkable achievement for someone playing first base.
(Second Base) Jorge Orta: An outfielder in a middle infielder’s body, Orta possessed hard hands and a slow turn on the double play, a lethal combination.
(Shortstop) Alan Bannister: His versatility and live bat made him a useful player, but not at shortstop. In 1977, the White Sox used Bannister and Orta as their primary double-play combination, creating some interesting defensive adventures for the South Side Hit Men.
(Third Base) Jim Ray Hart: Better suited to play the outfield, Hart played more games at third base than at any other position, much to the chagrin of Giants pitchers who threw sinkerballs. Hart lacked the hands and range to play third, and by his own admission, didn’t take a lot of interest in his fielding.
(Left Field) Greg Luzinski: “The Bull” played like a “bull in a china shop” in left field combining incredibly slow feet with a weak arm. Having to play on the fast carpet of old Veterans Stadium only underscored Luzinki’s deficiencies. It remains a mystery why the Phillies ever moved him from his original position at first base.
(Center Field) Willie Montanez: Another former Phillie, Montanez lasted only two seasons in center field before management mercifully moved him to first base. An honorable mention goes to Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr, who would have won the balloting at this position if only he had played more than 63 games in center field.
(Right Field) Pedro Guerrero: Given the demands of the position, it’s hard to find someone truly awful for this spot, but Guerrero fits the bill. Like Hart, Guerrero didn’t care much for fielding–and it showed. Guerrero could throw, but everything else proved a challenge.
(Utility) Curt Blefary: Nicknamed “Clank,” Blefary was a jack-of-all-trades who mastered the art of making the error. He could catch, play first, or the outfield, but the sound of the ball smacking his iron glove resonated everywhere.
(Pitcher) Tommy John: A borderline Hall of Famer in terms of his pitching, John lacked mobility and coordination when it came to handling batted balls. If John was on his game, the best way to beat him was to bunt–again and again and again.
Once again, we travel 40 years back in our baseball-card time machine…
Chico Salmon was never more than a utility infielder for those great Orioles championship teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but he was one of the game’s genuinely colorful characters. (He also had a funny name that kids in the 1970s butchered with regularity. I used to say his name like SAH-Mun, as in the fish, but it was actually pronounced Sahl-MAWN. Little did I know about Spanish accents and pronunciations back then.) Born Ruthford Eduardo Salmon, the native Panamanian forged a nine-year career as a utilityman in the sixties and early seventies, but earned most of his notoriety for his rather extreme fear of ghosts. Salmon was so fearful of otherworldly spirits that he refused to sleep in the dark. Salmon’s trepidation apparently stemmed from his childhood, when his mother and other adults warned him that ghosts could enter rooms at night if the windows were left open or keyholes in the door were left unplugged. Salmon maintained his extreme fear of ghosts well into his adult years. It wasn’t until 1964 that Salmon overcame his fear of sleeping in the dark. A stint in the military will do that; the Army wouldn’t let Salmon sleep with the lights on in his barracks.
Having conquered his sleeping “phobia,” Salmon experienced his first major league tour of duty that same year. As a part-time player with the lowly Indians from 1964 to 1968, Salmon earned the nickname “Super Sub,” a tribute to his ability to play seven positions–the four infield spots and all three outfield locations. Here he is seen in his 1968 Topps card, his final as an Indian. Doesn’t he appear to be looking around the corner, perhaps out of fear that a ghost might be coming down the third base line?
After the 1968 season, Salmon was drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots, but he never did suit up for the Pilots’ team made famous by Jim Bouton in Ball Four. Tommy Harper won the Pilots’ second-base battle during spring training, making Salmon expendable and leading to a trade with the Orioles, who acquired him in exchange for journeyman pitcher Gene Brabender. Although Salmon had lost out on a chance to play regularly (what with Boog Powell, Dave Johnson, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson ahead of him), he did become the primary utility infielder on those Orioles’ teams that won three straight American League pennants from 1969 to 1971, including a World Championship in 1970.
Unlike most utility infielders, Salmon posed more of a threat with his bat and his legs than he did with his glove. As one of his Baltimore teammates said in 1970: “If Chico’s hands get any worse, we’ll have to amputate.”
Although Salmon’s fielding and his worries about ghosts often made him a prime target of clubhouse barbs, he did earn respect for his baseball intellect and his commitment toward youth baseball. After his playing days ended in 1972, Salmon worked as a scout and served as a manager of the Panamanian team in the World Amateur Baseball Series. He continued to guide and help amateur teams in his homeland right up until his unexpected death from a heart attack in the year 2000. Not only did that Chico Salmon have a good name; he was a good man, too.
For today’s installment of “Card Corner,” we turn back the clock forty years…
There must have been something about baseball in the 1960s that encouraged players to don the “jack of all trades” label for a day. The first two players in major league history to play all nine positions in a game performed the feat during the course of the rebellious and radical decade. On September 8, 1965, Kansas City A’s rookie Bert “Campy” Campaneris, usually a shortstop and occasionally an outfielder, became the first man to accomplish the positional merry go-round, doing so in a 13-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Three years later, a lesser known, but more versatile player, joined Campaneris as one of the game’s unusual record holders.
Cesar “Pepi” Tovar started his professional career with the Reds’ organization before being traded to the Twins in a 1965 deal. Almost immediately, Tovar’s “happy-go-lucky” personality made him popular with three of the game’s most important constituencies: the players, the media, and the fans. Tovar insisted that everyone call him “Pepi” or “Pepito,” Spanish nicknames that exemplified his upbeat, energetic manner. As with most Latin American players of the era, Tovar faced limitations with the English language, but overcame them with his free spirit and his eagerness to communicate with the writers who covered his teams. “He was very articulate,” says Bob Fowler, formerly a beat writer for the Twins. “Very good to talk to.”
Tovar’s outgoing personality may have contributed to his rather unusual personal life. According to the book, Seasons in Hell, rumors swirled that Tovar had three different wives in three different countries by the time he joined the Rangers in 1973. Three wives–and the ability to play every position on the baseball diamond.
Another one of Tovar’s eccentric but less scandalous habits exemplified his caring nature. At the end of each season, Tovar gathered up all of his equipment rather than turn it in to the team. Collecting dozens of bats and balls and a myriad of gloves, Tovar shipped the items to his hometown in Caracas, Venezuela. Tovar usually told others that he wanted the equipment for his winter workouts, but in reality, he gave the equipment to underprivileged children in Caracas. If not for Tovar’s generosity, many of the youngsters would have been left without the equipment needed to play.
In his first major league season, Tovar played sparingly with the Twins. He then moved into a kind of “super utility” role, playing almost every day, but usually at different positions. He might play second base one day; on another day he moved to shortstop; at times, he would patrol the outfield. Tovar quickly gained a reputation as a hard-nosed “play-me-anywhere” foot solider who approached the game with boundless enthusiasm and determination. (Although he was not a great defensive player, he was not as bad as his 1970 Topps card might indicate; the glove that Tovar is wearing in that photograph appears to have a major hole in the webbing!)
The undersized Venezuelan also impressed the Twins’ brass with his speed, aggressive bat, and willingness to sacrifice his 155-pound body. Although he weighed relatively little, he had a strong, muscular build, with little body fat. He seemed to enjoy getting hit by pitches, which provided him with another way to reach first base. His willingness to cradle fastballs in his ribs reminded some of rough-and-tumble players like Ron Hunt and Don Baylor, who were also known for being frequently hit with pitches. “It was a proud thing with Tovar to get hit,” says Fowler, “and not flinch. Even if Nolan Ryan drilled him, he refused to flinch. He’d run to first base and say, ‘You can’t intimidate me. You can’t hurt me.’ “
In 1967, Tovar enjoyed a breakthrough at the plate, scoring 98 runs while leading the American League in at-bats. The following season, with Tovar enjoying another solid season but the Twins well out of contention in the AL pennant race, team owner Calvin Griffith decided to use advantage Tovar’s versatility for his own promotional purposes. Griffith outlined a plan that would have Tovar play one inning at each of the nine positions, including pitcher and catcher. Griffith decided that the Tovar “experiment” would take place on September 22 in a game against the Oakland A’s.
Tovar began the game as the Twins’ starting pitcher. Coincidentally, the first batter that he faced was Campy Campaneris, the pioneer of playing nine positions in a game. In his one inning on the mound, Tovar allowed a walk and committed a balk, but permitted no hits or runs. He also struck out Reggie Jackson, Oakland’s top left-handed slugger.
In the second inning, Tovar became the Twins’ catcher. Donning oversized catching gear that made him look like a Little League player, Tovar drew laughs from fans–the few that showed up–and fellow players as he took his position behind the plate. “It was absolutely hysterical,” says Fowler, “because he came out in the catcher’s garb, and the bottom of his chest protector almost dangled on the ground. The place was just howling with delight at the sight of Cesar coming out of the Twins first base dugout in that catching garb. It was just hysterical.” Although he didn’t look the part of a catcher, Tovar handled the job flawlessly, committing no errors or passed balls while recording a putout.
Having handled the two toughest positions on the field, Tovar then proceeded to make his way around the infield, starting at first base. He played each infield spot from the third through sixth innings, then moved to the outfield in the final three innings, playing left, center, and right in succession. Tovar played brilliantly in displaying his versatility; he completed the game with five putouts, one assist, and no errors–his only miscue being the first-inning balk. As a bonus, Tovar had a productive game at the plate, collecting a hit, a run, and a stolen base in three at-bats.
Forty years later, Tovar’s position-per-inning stunt remains his legacy, obscuring the reality that he was a legitimately versatile player–and a good one, too. During a 12-year career that included stints with the Phillies, Rangers, Yankees, and A’s (the same team that he played nine positions against, only now relocated to Oakland), Tovar played over 200 games apiece in the outfield, at third base, and at second base. He also made 77 appearances at shortstop, the most demanding of the infield positions.
Just as significantly, Tovar set the table as the Twins’ leadoff man in the late sixties and early seventies, hitting in front of Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew and 1960s standout Tony Oliva. Playing in nearly 1500 games overall, Tovar batted .278, scored 834 runs, and stole 226 bases. He also gained a reputation as a late-inning killer of no-hitters, breaking up five potential pitching gems over his career.
On the night that Tovar died from pancreatic cancer in 1994, the Twins did not forget him; they announced his passing and a held a moment of silence for him at the Metrodome. Although their former player was never a star, he succeeded in making plenty of friends in the Twin Cities from the mid-sixties through the 1972 season. And for one day in 1968, Cesar Tovar assumed an intriguing place in baseball history.
Just how vulnerable are the Yankees to left-handed pitching? Well, let’s consider the lineup that Joe Girardi made out on Sunday, a lineup that featured Derek Jeter as the cleanup hitter. With only one home run this season, that coming after a long drought, Jeter has to be one of the unlikeliest cleanup men used by any team in 2008. Jeter’s presence in the four-hole is also an indictment of Shelley Duncan, who has hit poorly in spot duty after giving the Yankees a second-half booster shot in 2007. Thankfully for the Yankees, Sunday’s game in Detroit was rained out, thereby avoiding the necessity of Jeter batting cleanup for only the second time in his career…
Cincinnati’s Jeff Keppinger will never become a darling of scouts (because of his lack of power and speed) or Sabermetricians (because of his inability to draw walks), but he has emerged as one of the few bright spots for the disappointing Reds. Keppinger garnered headlines on Saturday night, when he went 5-for-5, with all of his hits being singles, in a win over the Mets. With his average well over .300 and Alex Gonzalez still on the disabled list, the surehanded Keppinger has staked claim to the Reds’ starting shortstop job. Keppinger’s success really shouldn’t surprise too many folks, given that he has hit at almost every level of minor league ball. The Pirates, Mets, and Royals, three organizations that previously unloaded Keppinger at low prices, are probably regretting their miscalculations on the versatile and valuable middle infielder…
Goose Gossage is currently in the midst of a visit to Cooperstown, as part of his orientation for this summer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Gossage, who played golf at the Otesaga Resort Hotel on Sunday, will tour the Hall of Fame later today as he learns about the Hall’s preparations for his induction in late July. The outspoken Gossage will be a refreshing addition to the Hall of Fame’s membership rolls. In contrast to recent inductees, most of whom are conservative and politically correct in what they have to say, Gossage prefers a “shoot-from-the-hip” style with the media. And if need be, the Goose won’t be afraid to ruffle the feathers of his fellow Hall of Famers, a trait that could make Hall of Fame Weekend a livelier and more colorful occasion.
Over the years, I’ve seen some questionable instances of “charging the mound” by overly offended hitters, but none as jaw-dropping as Richie Sexson’s decision to attack the Rangers’ Kason Gabbard on Thursday night. Gabbard’s pitch, while high, didn’t come within a yard of hitting Sexson. But it nonetheless caught the attention of Sexson, who was obviously thinking about some batters who had been hit earlier in the night. MLB responded quickly by announcing a six-game suspension for Sexson, which he will appeal. I hope that the six-game ban is upheld; Sexson deserves to sit out every one of those half dozen games, if not more…
Kei Igawa looked simply awful in his return to the big leagues tonight. The Yankee left-hander left most of his pitches up and in the middle of the strike zone, allowing the Tigers to batter him for 11 hits in three-plus innings. Given his performance tonight, it appears that Igawa learned little about the importance of keeping the ball down during his early-season stint in the minor leagues. It’s hard to believe that Igawa was as successful as he was in Japan; are the Japanese hitters so incompetent that they can’t handle high curve balls and change-ups?…
Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi has taken his fair share of hits over his tenure in Toronto, but let’s credit him for making two good moves on Friday. In adding veteran bats Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench at low cost, he acquired two players capable of contributing in a platoon role. Wilkerson is not the player he once was in Montreal, but he still has legitimate power against right-handed pitching and enough versatility to play the outfield corners and first base, while Mench has always been able to handle left-handers. The Jays still need more offense, but Wilkerson and Mench are two small steps in the right direction.