Thursday, July 30, 2015

Blowing it Up

With the Brewers being godawful terrible right from the get-go this year, it was only a matter of time before the team made some trades. I've talked about it here before -- this iteration of the Milwaukee Brewers had to be blown up.

It started last week with the return of Aramis Ramirez to the Pirates for what qualifies as a lottery ticket.

In that trade, the Brewers received Yhonathan Barrios, a 23-year-old Columbian who started his baseball life as an infielder. He's in Triple-A, has a live arm, but has the typical problem that position players who transition to pitching have -- his fastball is straight and hitters don't really miss it all that much (K/9 in high-A in 2014 was 5.4, Double-A in 2014 and 2015 was 4.2, and Triple-A in 2015 was 5.2).  

The Brewers assigned him to Double-A Biloxi.  Barrios probably is not a prospect -- I mean, how many minor league closers really are prospects?  But, the Brewers probably need to find out quickly what he can do since he will be subject to the Rule 5 Draft if the Brewers don't put him on their 40-man roster.

Then, yesterday, there was this drama:

We learned a couple of things yesterday. First, we learned that Terry Collins didn't mind completely embarrassing one of his players during a very emotional time. I don't care if the trade never was consummated. The fact that Flores was that emotional and the fact that Collins did absolutely nothing to help the guy out before pinch hitting for him in the ninth inning shows me that Collins doesn't care about his players.

We also learned that the Mets were willing to lie to every news outlet in America when they said that they nixed the trade because of Gomez's adductor and hip muscles. Hell, their reasons kept changing, but the story that seems to have emerged -- and was more plausible than a health issue -- was that the Mets asked the Brewers to pick up part of Gomez's 2016 salary and the Brewers refused. Considering that Gomez is on a team-friendly deal for next year, I can't blame the Brewers for refusing.  

Then, tonight, as I sat down to write this post, this happened:
At first, I didn't know what to think, mainly due to my lack of knowledge about the Astros system.  Who are these guys?

Adrian Houser was the Astros second round pick in 2011 out of high school in Oklahoma. He's a 22-year-old who has not shown much at Double-A this year in the Texas League. He's the one guy who isn't universally on prospect lists, but listed him as #21 in the Astros organization as of mid-season.

Josh Hader is now in his third organization in three years. He was drafted by the Orioles in 2011, and the Astros picked him up as part of trading Bud Norris to the O's in 2013. Hader was the Astros Minor League pitcher of the year in 2014 after an excellent year in the California League (and a taste of Double-A) at the age of 20.  He's been very good in Double-A in the Texas League this year, and he'll join the rest of the Brewers top prospects in Biloxi (as will Houser and Phillips). put him as the 14th best Astros prospect as of mid-season.

Domingo Santana is the most advanced of the four prospects in that he is at Triple-A and will be assigned by Milwaukee to Colorado Springs. In Fresno, he was hitting .320/.426/.582 with 16 HRs, 48 BBs, 91 Ks in 326 plate appearances.  It's his second season at Triple-A. He looked terribly overmatched last year when the Astros brought him up for a cup of coffee in September -- as in, 0-for-17 with 14 strikeouts overmatched.  This year, in 14 games, he hit .256/.310/.462 in 42 plate appearances (but, again, a lot of Ks and not many BBs -- 2 BB, 17 Ks).  Coming in to the season, he was rated as the #71 Prospect in baseball by (he dropped to #87 at mid-season), and as of mid-season he was the #7 prospect in Houston's system.

Finally, there is Brett Maverick Phillips.  No kidding. That's his name. It should surprise no one to hear that Brett Maverick was born and raised in Seminole, Florida. He was drafted out of high school in the sixth round in 2012 by the Astros, and he was considered untouchable until the Brewers were willing to put Mike Fiers into the deal.  He's an outfielder who has been raking at the plate over the past two years -- .310/.375/.529 last year in the Midwest League and California League and .320/.377/.548 in the California League and the Double-A Texas League this year. He was rated as the Astros 2nd best prospect at mid-season behind Alex Bregman and ahead of Mark Appel and as the 39th best prospect overall.

For me, there's a little bit of sadness, of course, in having one of the guys I really tried to collect in Carlos Gomez getting traded. At this point, though, I'm okay with it. I mean, he does have Scott Boras as his agent. So, that means that he would have never re-signed with Milwaukee after his contract expired at the end of next season. He'll be 31 when he starts the season in 2017, so you have to think he'll be looking for a very rich 5- to 7-year deal -- probably with the Yankees or Cardinals just to piss me off.

So, thanks, Carlos, it's been great collecting your cards.

Maybe I should start a Maverick collection.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meet the Brewers #5: Danny Walton

Before I move on to Brewer #5, I would be remiss if I didn't share one further card from Brewer #3, Tommy Harper.  Harper was voted to be the second baseman of the decade for the 1970s for the Milwaukee Brewers franchise. I guess the 30/30 season was better to the selectors (and, throwing in his 1969 season of stealing 75 bases) than Paul Molitor's first two years.  Pickings were pretty slim in that regard.  But, here's the card from 2000 to highlight the achievement:

Now, onto #5.  The fifth Brewer in the April 7, 1970, Opening Day to find himself on the scoresheet caught outs number 2 and 3 in the top of the first inning. Both shortstop Jim Fregosi and right fielder Bill Voss (who found himself in Brewtown in 1971) flied out to left fielder Danny Walton.  

Walton was born and raised in California. Growing up, he was a switch hitter and idolized Mickey Mantle. Walton related and idolized Mantle so much so that his nickname on Baseball Reference is "Mickey." He was drafted in the 10th round of the 1965 draft -- one pick before the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Tom Seaver (but didn't sign him).

Though he struggled as a teenager in the minor leagues initially, Walton emerged as a prospect in 1967. At the age of 19 in the Single-A Carolina League and for a team that hit .231/.325/.363, Walton hit 25 HR and hit .302/.407/.533 -- and he was about 3-1/2 years younger than the average player in the league. He moved up quickly to Double-A and Triple-A. By 1969, he  hit 25 HR (nearly a fourth of the team's 107 HR), drove in 119 runs, and hit .332/.405/.587 in Oklahoma City (to be fair, the league hit .284/.354/.414, but that was still pretty good).  

1994 Brewers 25th Anniversary Commemorative
All that was good for, though, was getting him sent to Seattle with Sandy Valdespino in exchange for former Los Angeles Dodger Tommy Davis.  

For Walton, it was a great move.  He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee. From the stories about Walton that you read from the early 1970s, the way I can describe Walton in terms that I understand as a fan from a decade later is that Danny Walton was Gorman Thomas before Gorman Thomas was. In fact, Walton compared himself to Gorman in a later interview.

By this, I mean that Walton was beloved by the fans in the bleachers behind him for his huge home runs and his big strikeouts: "They gave me a car to drive. I got invited to hunting trips and there was always a place for me to hunt or fish. I'd strike out and get a standing ovation. I'd hit a home run and they'd go crazy."

Indeed, the beginning of his career in Milwaukee -- the first half of the 1970 season, at the age of 22 -- he was very good to start with on the surface: 15 HR, 51 RBI, 40 walks in 344 plate appearances, and hitting .254/.349/.452 in 85 games.  But, those numbers hid a quick decline as pitchers figured "Mickey" out -- .321 AVG and 7 HR in April; .287 AVG and 3 HR in May, and .156 AVG and 5 HR (in a 12 for 77 month) in June.

1970 McDonald's Brewers
Just like his hero, though, Walton's knees failed him. In an interview with Mario Ziino for, Walton stated that he twisted his left knee during batting practice one day -- and shrugged it off as just an ache and pain that ballplayers had to deal with.  In his interview with Todd Newville of, Walton stated that he was hitting and his right foot stayed put while he landed on his left foot.  Newville said Walton tore up his right knee.  

I think Newville misunderstood Walton, but in any case, Walton's knees bothered him greatly. He was never the same player as he was in 1970. Perhaps that's because the league figured him out as an aggressive free swinger, and perhaps it's because he never played regularly again in the major leagues. 

The Brewers got tired of waiting for his health and ability to return, so they traded him in June of 1971 to the Yankees for Bobby Mitchell and Frank Tepedino.  The Yankees parked him at Syracuse in 1971 and 1972. He hit very well and played most every game -- perhaps disproving that his problems were with his knee and lending credence to his problems being his plate approach. 

His play in the minor leagues -- and keep in mind, even in 1972, he was still just 24 years old -- led other teams to want him. The Minnesota Twins sent Rick Dempsey to the Yankees for him, but he only appeared in 37 games in 1973 before injuries caught up again. He crushed Triple-A in Tacoma in 1974 at the age of 26 to the tune of 35 HRs. But, the Twins gave up in 1975 and sent him to the Dodgers for Bob Randall. 

1971 Topps
Walton pulled out his "I can crush Triple-A" routine again in 1977 in Albuquerque -- 42 HRs -- but let's be honest about those numbers: the term "wind-aided" comes to mind. He was traded to Houston for Alex Taveras and Bob Detherage in September of 1977, but was then released by the Astros during spring training in 1978. That led him to sign on with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in the Japanese Central League in 1978. It was disappointing -- .215/.311/.431 with 9 HR in 164 plate appearances.  

But, Walton got a shot with Seattle out of it. He spent 1979 back in Triple-A, and even Seattle said, "no thanks, Danny." Proving, though, that people didn't understand park effects in the 1970s, the Rangers signed him up for the 1980 season. He spent most of the year again in Triple-A at the age of 32 and picked up his last 13 plate appearances during May and in one game in June that year.  The Rangers then traded him in a minor deal in December of 1980, but Walton never appeared for the Reds.

I have three cards of Walton, I think, that are shown above.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fantastic Mail Day

I've made trades through Twitter before. I've won Twitter contests before. I try to follow as many of you as I can find on Twitter as well. On occasion, I'll even post a snarky remark on Twitter directed at Topps, or Harold Reynolds, or some other deserving-of-snark target. 

I have even had people reach out to me to get my address to mail me something through Twitter.  That's what happened a few days back to me when Weston from Fantastic Catch sent me a DM (that's a "Direct Message" for those of you less technically inclined...yes, that was snark/sarcasm) to get my address.  

I tend not to follow too many baseball players on Twitter though. Simply put, most of them are pretty boring to follow. Still, perhaps I should look into following a few of them...maybe the guys whose cards Weston sent?

First, let me get the guys who I just can't find on Twitter out of the way. For any of these guys, if you happen to know their Twitter handle, please let me know and I'll fix this.

Matt Cline

Cline was an All-Star at Brevard County in 2010, but he was 24 in High-A and coming off a lost 2009 season. He crashed and burned at Huntsville in 2012 (after a none-too-impressive 2011), and that was it for him in minor league baseball.

Richie Sexson

Y'all know who he is. Sexson has been out of baseball since 2008, making nearly $69 million between 1998 and 2008 for his troubles. I am older than Richie Sexson by 3 years and 2 days, and I have not made $69 million for my troubles. 

Not yet.

But, I hear you have to buy a lottery ticket to win the lottery. So that probably won't change anytime soon.

Geoff Jenkins

I am surprised by these guys who are, essentially, my contemporaries who apparently view Twitter or computers with such contempt or fear.  But hey, he's on LinkedIn!

Taylor Green

Wow.  This is going badly at this point. I can't find any of these guys on Twitter.  Green made it to the majors for 78 at bats split between 2011 and 2012. He tore a labrum in his left hip in 2013, had surgery, and hasn't been back up in the majors. He's still at it though -- he's at Double-A Biloxi currently.  I predict he'll end up managing the Brewers in 2024.

WAIT -- I really did find some guys!

Komatsu was another High-A All-Star in 2010 at Brevard County. The Brewers traded him to the Washington Nationals in 2011 for Jerry Hairston as a trade deadline pickup. He then got selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Cardinals that Decement. The Cardinals tried to send him down, but the Twins selected him off waivers.  Between the Twins and Cardinals in 2012, he played 30 games in the Major Leagues.  He moved around a bunch last year -- released by Washington, signed and released by the Angels, and then signed and released by the Brewers. 

He's playing in the independent Atlantic League this year, and he fashions himself as a Music Producer.  His latest Twitter post is a mix of stadium announcers saying "now batting" with a Beyonce song. It's actually decent.

DeMuth played college baseball with Kyle Schwarber at Indiana. Schwarber is with the Cubs; DeMuth is in the Midwest League with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He's hitting pretty well there. But, that's the difference between a first round pick and a fifth round pick, I suppose.

Keeling is a 27-year-old pitcher who ended up in the Braves system in 2013, washed out, played in independent league ball in 2014, and does not appear to be playing this year. Perhaps it was telling that he repeated at Helena in Rookie League ball in 2010 and 2011. His last tweet was complaining to Southwest Airlines about something.

Haven't we all been there before...

Stokes is a very active tweeter. Over his three years on Twitter, he's Tweeted in excess of 14,000 times. I hope he's working on his education, though -- he's not highly thought of in prospect circles and did not make MLB's top 30 prospects in the Brewers system as of midseason.

A little bit of Hunter Morris jersey there for you. He's now in the Pittsburgh organization, and his Twitter home page has just two words that only my wife could love: War Eagle.


When you have over 72,500 followers, I think you qualify for the little blue "verified" check mark. Granted, Topps may think you're Khris Davis, but that's a little thing.  Gomez tweets pretty regularly in what can only be called Spanglish.

I hope he stays with the team at least through the offseason. The Brewers should trade him, but I tend to think that the return will be more if the team waits.

The best card in the envelope -- the black 2009 Topps Update serial numbered to just 58 -- came from the least interesting Twitter follow of the group. Prince has nearly 150,000 followers. He's shared a grand total of 74 Tweets...and of those, I think about 1/3 to 1/2 include corporate sponsor-type stuff like shout-outs to T-Mobile and Sponge Bob.

I think that's why I follow bloggers instead of baseballers.

Like Weston (@cardscrush99).

Weston, thank you very much for the great cards and the excuse to troll through Twitter for a few minutes!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Meet the Brewers #4: Mike Hegan

Some of you may be wondering why I'm writing so many of these "Meet the Brewers" posts at this point in time. The truth is that it is my own fault. I've been self-absorbed with getting my want lists put together. I haven't bought any new cards lately. And, I really haven't sent out many packages lately either.  Finally, I changed jobs again. A firm sought me out to have them join me -- I wasn't looking -- but this opportunity was too good to pass up at this point of my career. So, the more things stay the same, the more they change and all that. But it's been a busy few weeks here at Hiatus Central.

That said, my next post will feature cards I received in the mail! Hooray!  

This post, though, is another history post. In the Brewers first game in Milwaukee on April 7, 1970, the first out the team recorded was a ground ball out, 4-3 on the putout. Leadoff hitter Tommy Harper was the second baseman, and catching the ball at first base for the out was the third hitter in the lineup: Mike Hegan.

1971 Topps
Hegan was a second-generation baseball player; dad Jim Hegan was a five-time All-Star who played seventeen seasons in the major leagues and was the catcher on the last Cleveland Indians World Series Champion in 1949. Jim missed three seasons due to World War II, but lucky for him that Mike was born in the summer of 1942 -- the year before Jim joined the service. 

Mike was raised partly in Lynn, Massachusetts, before the family moved to Cleveland in 1954 so that Jim could focus in his offseason on his appliance store that he started with Browns great Otto Graham. When it came time for post-high-school plans, as his SABR biography mentions, Mike decided to go back east to Worcester, Massachusetts to attend The College of the Holy Cross. 

1971 Topps Coin
He spent one season there (hitting .510...but don't get too excited; they played just 16 games) before signing a contract with the New York Yankees in August of 1961.  He got a brief taste of the majors in 1964, and he was considered to be a fairly good prospect in the minor leagues. The problem, though, was that he played first base and corner outfield. That meant he was behind Joe Pepitone, Roy White, Roger Maris, sometimes Mickey Mantle, and Tom Tresh, among others.  It was not a good situation for him.  

When the Yankees sold Hegan's contract to the Seattle Pilots on June 14, 1968, Hegan -- then in Triple-A Syracuse -- became the first official player under contract for Seattle. He had to stay in Syracuse for 1968, but for Hegan it was light at the end of the tunnel -- he'd finally have the opportunity to play regularly in the major leagues.  Hegan was named as the Pilots representative to the All-Star game in 1969 on the back of a first half in which he hit .293/.426/.463. But, he got hurt in the second half of the season and started in just 9 games.

As a result, Hegan's only full season as a major league starter was 1970. He played in 148 games and hit .244/.336/.366 -- not exactly the kind of production you'd expect from a first baseman, but Hegan was always known more for his glove than for his hitting prowess. Indeed, he set a major league record (since broken) of 178 straight errorless games at first base, starting on September 24, 1970.

1977 Topps
By mid-1971, the Brewers had decided that Hegan was not the answer at first for them. To be fair, the team traded and acquired players during these early years in Milwaukee as if they were the drunk guy at your fantasy baseball draft. 

So it's not entirely on Hegan that his contract was sold to the Oakland A's in 1971. There, he was a backup to the Superjew, Mike Epstein, essentially providing late-inning defense and a lefty pinch hitter off the bench (Career in Oakland: 238 games, 230 plate appearances over 2-1/2 seasons). In 1972, he then claimed another first: he became the first second-generation World Series Champion thanks to his role with Oakland. 

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Before he'd left Milwaukee, Hegan had identified what he wanted to do with his life after baseball. At the age of just 26, he was already working as an offseason announcer and sports commentator in Milwaukee for WTMJ Radio and WTMJ TV Channel 4. Thus, in 1973, it wasn't a surprise when Hegan was penciled into the starting lineup for the first three innings for the Oakland A's radio team when then-announcer Jim Woods wasn't feeling well. 

Soon thereafter, in August of 1973, Oakland sold Hegan's contract back to the New York Yankees. His father, Jim, had been working as the team's bullpen coach from 1962 onward and was still there when Mike came back to New York. While there, Hegan provided even more trivia: he was the last batter in the "House that Ruth Built" before it was completely rebuilt during the 1974 season.  

In 1974, Hegan was platooning with Bill Sudakis for the first several weeks of the season. Then, however, the Yankees picked up Chris Chambliss from Cleveland -- putting Hegan out of a job. So, Hegan asked the Yankees to trade him one of three places: Milwaukee (where he lived in the offseason), Boston (where his wife's family lived), or Detroit (where his father had gone after the 1973 season with Ralph Houk). The Brewers bit, and back to the City of Festivals went Hegan.

1975 Topps

Hegan closed out his career in Milwaukee, backing up George Scott and getting playing time at DH and in the outfield. On September 3, 1976, Hegan provided more Brewers trivia. He became the first Brewer ever to hit for the cycle -- hitting a double, triple, and home run off Mark Fidrych followed by a single off Bill Laxton.  

At the age of 34 in 1977, however, Hegan started to feel as though Manager Alex Grammas really didn't want him to be on the team. Hegan was quoted in an AP story as saying that, "Grammas is a nice guy, but as a manager, he makes a good third-base coach." I'm guessing that was not meant as a compliment. He fulfilled his duties at the All-Star break as the team's player representative, then stepped aside and stepped away from playing.

But his tenure in Milwaukee as a sportscaster continued. He immediately joined the Brewers broadcast team in 1977 and stayed with the club in that role until 1988. It is as the TV Color Commentator -- and as the namesake for Mike Hegan's Grand Slam USA (now Mike Hegan's Field of Dreams) -- that I remember him. 

Yet, he is not remembered now as the Brewers Announcer. After the 1988 season, the Brewers changed their TV affiliation from one UHF station to another. The new broadcaster (then a Fox affiliate, now "My 24") retained the play-by-play announcer, Jim Paschke, but pushed Mike Hegan out in favor of former Cy Young Award winner (and more recently a former Brewer) Pete Vuckovich. 

(A side note: that story about Hegan getting pushed out from Milwaukee quotes Super NFL Draft Genius Mel Kiper saying that Tony Mandarich was "the best offensive lineman I've ever graded." Thanks, Mel!)

1994 Milwaukee Brewers 25th Anniversary Commemorative Set
In many respects, it was a blessing in disguise for Hegan. The Cleveland native went back home to Cleveland. This was brought about by the fact that the general manager for a TV station in Cleveland had left Milwaukee's prior Brewers affiliate for Cleveland. Hegan had his choice from the Yankees, the Indians, the Expos, and the Padres, but Cleveland was an easy choice for him. 

He stayed with the Indians from 1989 until the end of the 2011 season. He left the broadcast booth at the age of 69, saying he wanted to coach his grandson's baseball team. He was also suffering from some health issues. For his work with the Indians and his high school exploits at St. Ignatius High School, he was inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, 2013, Hegan could fight an untreatable heart condition no longer. He passed away at his home on Hilton Head, South Carolina, at the age of 71.

You can see in this post the 6 cards of Mike Hegan that I could find reasonably quickly that I own.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Meet the Brewers #3: Tommy Harper

Identifying the first two Brewers was fairly easy. There can only be one first pitch and, since that pitch wasn't hit, the next logical person to highlight is the catcher. But who's next? To be fair, the answer is the same whether I look to the defensive record (which is what I am following) or to the lineup.

Angel leadoff hitter Sandy Alomar Sr. grounded out to second base to lead off the game. Manning second base and throwing Alomar out was Brewers leadoff hitter and, frankly, their only star in 1970: Tommy Harper.

Harper was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, but his family moved to the West Coast while he was still in school. He attended Encinal High School in Anaheim, California, where his teammates included outfielder Curt Motton (himself a Brewer, briefly, in 1972) and future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.

Thank you, Stargell-Meme.

Harper was signed initially by the Cincinnati Reds in 1960 and made it to the major leagues in 1962 for good. The Reds tried him at third base, then moved him to right field, had him play some centerfield, and eventually settled on left field for him.  Even with the moving around, Harper had some pretty good seasons in Ohio, leading the National League in runs scored in 1965 and finishing fifth in walks drawn, fourth in strikeouts, and fourth in stolen bases that year with 35 -- 59 behind leader Maury Wills.  

Taking credit for this breakout season was Dick Sisler, who said that he "wanted to change Harper's swing" and did so by showing Harper "sequence pictures of [Al] Kaline, how he held the bat fairly close, then reached back for his power."  Sisler credited Harper with working hard over the offseason to make the changes, but then rewarded Harper by moving him to leadoff to "take advantage of his speed, and ability to get on base."

By 1968, though, the Reds decided that they liked up-and-coming left fielder Alex Johnson better than they liked Harper and traded him to Cleveland. Harper struggled in Cleveland, or so it would appear on the surface with his .217/.295/.374 slash line at the age of 27. But, in that year of the pitcher, the American League as a whole hit .230/.297/.339 -- putting Harper as at least average to slightly above average hitter nonetheless.  

Harper was left unprotected in the American League expansion draft, and the Seattle Pilots snatched him up with the third pick overall.  Harper was allowed to run wild by Joe "Pound them Budweisers" Schultz to the tune of stealing 73 bases in 91 attempts -- a mark which still stands as the Pilots/Brewers franchise record for most stolen bases in a season.  

Harper topped himself in 1970, joining what was then an elite club. Before 1970, only four players over five seasons -- Ken Williams (1922, St. Louis Browns), Willie Mays (1956 and 1957), Hank Aaron (1963) and Bobby Bonds (1969) had enjoyed seasons in which they hit 30 or more home runs and stole 30 or more bases in the same season -- the 30-30 club. 

The stolen base part was simple for Harper, even though his success ratio in 1970 (38 for 54) was pretty bad.  The surprising part was that Harper hit 31 home runs -- seemingly out of nowhere, since his previous best had been 18 and his previous year he hit 9. Indeed, after Harper in 1970, it took until 1983 (Dale Murphy) for a new member to join the club, even though Bobby Bonds put up four more 30-30 seasons.

Harper was named to the All-Star team in 1970 for the only time in his career. He wasn't exactly thrilled about the honor, though. The game was held in Cincinnati -- which the story to which I've linked says was not one of Harper's favorite towns. Indeed, Harper said that he really wasn't excited at all for the honor: 
I don't have any childhood dreams about playing in this game like some other players do. I happened to be an athlete with some ability, and mostly I was good at baseball. So that's what I play because that's where I can make the most money. The All-Star game is just another game. I'm not all excited about it. It's a lot of hard work.
After that incredible year, the Brewers apparently low-balled Harper on the first contract they offered to him. Harper let his displeasure be known when he came to town for the winter promotional tour. The deal was done eventually, and Harper enjoyed a decent year in 1971.

In the team's early years, however, the only thing that everyone knew would come for sure for the Brewers was change (and that line for me came from Love Spit Love's "Change in the Weather"). As I mentioned in Lew Krausse's bio, Harper was traded to the Red Sox after the 1971 season in a major deal for both teams.  

Harper played for three years for Boston before they traded him to the Angels for Bob Heise (by that time, Heise was a former Brewer too) after the 1974 season.  He split 1975 between his hometown California Angels and the Oakland A's before finishing up his career in 1976 with the Orioles.

After his playing career ended, Harper stayed in baseball and worked for the Boston Red Sox. Well, he didn't start there, as Harper stated in a candid interview in September of 2014 with the Boston Globe.  The Red Sox didn't want to hire him at first, so Harper went to the New York Yankees as a minor league infield instructor. 

But then the Red Sox offered him a job. It wasn't because they really wanted him to be a coach with them, but rather because they needed a black man in the organization as part of a settlement the club made with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Harper was named as the club's Affirmative Action representative without his knowledge, then was demoted from the position and lost the salary benefit that came with it. But, to the outside world, the Red Sox continued to call him their affirmative action representative.

The team was just continuing practices that had been ongoing for years. During his playing days, Harper and Reggie Smith (and this is quoting from news story now) "regularly received racist hate mail as Sox players in the early '70s. They were also targets of racial slurs from Fenway patrons." He and Smith also received disparate treatment from the club in spring training -- as the team provided free guest passes to the all-white Elks Club in Winter Haven, Florida, to all white players but not to their African-American players.  

As Harper said, "The most disappointing thing was that [the discriminatory practice] was never a secret to Red Sox management or the Boston media." The worst part of the practice was that it continued into the 1980s -- with Jim Rice making a joke about it when he was signed to a contract extension in 1985. 

To his credit, Peter Gammons noted the discrimination in his Sox Notes column at the time, and the Globe's Michael Madden dug into the issue further. Harper told Madden about the fact that it had occurred at least as early as 1972. For his part in helping Madden in breaking the story, Harper was barred from spring training meetings, was not given any regular season assignments, and then fired him the week before Christmas in 1985. Harper sued the team and won.

He left Boston after that as a baseball outsider -- someone who had challenged the status quo. The only reason he ended up getting employed in baseball again was because Al Campanis opened his fat, racist mouth on Nightline and claimed that black people "may not have some of the necessities" to be GMs and field managers. That got teams scared, and the Montreal Expos signed Harper as a minor league instructor soon after. 

He rejoined the Red Sox in 1999 when former Expos GM Dan Duquette hired him as a first base coach. Harper had been reassured that everything was better. It was not. Proving this point in 2002, Mike Stanley -- a white former catcher -- was hired to be a coach without any prior major league experience and given a salary $50,000 higher than Harper was receiving. 

To the current ownership's credit, the Red Sox changed things once the Yawkeys were out of the picture. The Red Sox inducted Harper into the team's Hall of Fame in 2010, and to this day Harper still serves in a consultant's role with the Red Sox at the age of 74.

I have three Tommy Harper cards showing him on the Brewers, and those three cards are pictured above.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Meet the Brewers #2: Jerry McNertney

Just as Lew Krausse was the first man wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform to throw a real pitch in the major leagues, the second man to handle the ball was Jerry McNertney.

McNertney caught the first pitch of the game and, as this story from the Milwaukee Journal from April 8, 1970, notes, time was called to replace the ball and ship that ball to Cooperstown.  The game took place one week after Federal Bankruptcy Referee Sidney C. Volinn gave approval for the Seattle Pilots to be sold and moved to Milwaukee -- over the objections of the State of Washington and the City of Seattle (who sued Major League Baseball for $82 million).  

Not that McNertney minded all that much.  He said so himself to the UPI: "I'm glad they made a decision. I don't have the problem of the married guys. But I'm going to miss Seattle. I really liked it and looked forward to more years there.  They do have a better ball park in Milwaukee, which gives the pitchers an advantage. I'm relieved, yet I'm sorry. Seattle deserves better."

Perhaps McNertney deserved better out of his career as well. It took him until the age of 27 to reach the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, the team he signed with initially straight out of Iowa State University in 1958.  The Sox didn't think that much of the young 1B/OF, or, on the other hand, they were doing so well in the big leagues with guys like Roy Sievers, Minnie Minoso, Jim Landis, and Al Smith such that they didn't need another corner guy.  

1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp, from Trading Card Database
Only when he converted to catching in the Sally League in 1961 in Charleston did McNertney become a potentially viable major leaguer.  McNertney's minor league stats show a guy who had a good batting eye but very little pop.  That's the way his big league career turned out as well.  He was an okay player who was left unprotected in the expansion draft in 1968 at the age of 32 years old. The Pilots selected him and made him their everyday catcher.

He spent two years with the franchise -- 1969 and 1970.  As a result, he never appeared on a Topps card as a Brewer. He was a Pilot in the 1970 set and, by the time his card hit the 1971 set, he was listed as a St. Louis Cardinal -- one of the 93 -- because he was traded with George Lauzerique and a minor leaguer for Jim Ellis and Carl Taylor.

McNertney's role in St. Louis was well established. His role in 1971 was to play when Ted Simmons needed a day off.  Those "days off" came when Simmons had to serve his military reserve duty. This earned McNertney the nickname "Weekend Warrior."  

He spent two years in St. Louis before he was released after the 1972 season. He was signed by Oakland for the 1973 season, spent a month at Triple-A, and then went to Pittsburgh. There, he went 1 for 4 over 9 games and was released on July 5, 1973 at the age of 36. 

After his release, he returned to Ames and finished up his bachelor's degree from Iowa State. His career in baseball continued after that in the Yankees farm system before working as the bullpen coach for both the Yankees and Red Sox.   

Later, he got married and had two children -- Jason, who played baseball at Iowa State from 1998 to 2001, and Molly, who played softball for Iowa State from 2000 through 2003.  He was inducted into the Cyclone Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

I have just one McNertney card in my possession, and it is a glorious oddball:

This is actually a detail (to use an art term) from a sheet of 6 that McDonald's in Wisconsin gave away in 1970. There were 6 total sheets, and the set is reasonably available on eBay and through other hobby sources.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cards from Cards on Cards

Recently, Madding from Cards on Cards sent me a great envelope full of Brewers cards. Through the years, despite my own personal grudge begotten by the heartbreaking loss in the 1982 World Series, nearly 100 players have appeared both for the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals in their careers. 

Indeed, I have three of them as player collections -- Ted Simmons, Cal Eldred, and Bob McClure all donned both the Brewers blues and the Cardinal red. And, that "grudge" I have held is irrational -- after all, without the huge blockbuster trade after the 1980 season between the two clubs, I'm not sure that the Brewers get to that 1982 World Series.

Still, despite all that overlap, the envelope from Madding featured just one Cardinal-turned-Brewer that I scanned in:

Braden Looper began his career in the St. Louis system as the 3rd pick overall in 1996 out of Wichita State -- 5 picks before a Brewers draft flop that I highlighted recently, Chad Green.  He reached the majors quickly when the Cardinals turned him into a reliever in 1998. That offseason, he was traded to the Florida Marlins with Armando Almanza and Pablo Ozuna in exchange for Edgar Renteria. 

He was the closer for the Fish in 2003 when they won their second World Series title. Then, the Mets signed him for two seasons before he returned to the Cardinals in 2006. After a season in middle relief, the Cardinals turned him into a starter for two years before, finally, at the age of 34, he signed with Milwaukee and served as their nominal top of the rotation pitcher on an absolutely horrendous starting staff supported by a great offense (a TEAM FIP of 4.84 for a team that finished 80-82). His last appearance in the majors was on October 2 for Milwaukee, picking up the win in St. Louis.

Other than Looper, the great thing about the cards that Madding sent my way is that I needed nearly all of them. I guess those Want Lists help! 

But, then again, who needs a wantlist when you get a complete team set of 1990 Panini stickers?

That's almost as much sticky goodness from Italy as you'll get at your local gelato shop.

Madding also sent me quite a few Brewers from many of the Heritage sets that I missed out on or haven't seen in the wild myself.

It would have helped all of us collectors if Topps hadn't decided to put out the Heritage sets on a basis that puts the card as having the design from thirty-nine years before. Why not an even forty

I can't answer that question. My incredibly limited understanding of copyright law doesn't get me to an answer -- perhaps they simply realized that they needed to reuse their own designs from yesteryear in a way to make sure that their competitors (remember competition?) couldn't use them. Maybe. 

Finally, Madding sent me some nice new stuff too -- refractors and inserts and parallels for PCs!

All of these cards were needed for my player collections.

Madding, thank you very much as always for the great cards. Now, have the Cardinals trade the Brewers a couple of minor league pitchers for Aramis Ramirez and Adam Lind!