Monday, January 28, 2013

Ducky, Doc, Kid, and the 1901 Tigers

1901 was the maiden year of the American League and the Detroit franchise had graduated from the Western League and was one of eight teams in the circuit.  With a roster filled with the likes of Ducky, Doc, and Kid they had a lineup that sounded more like Snow White's dwarfs.  In reality they were National League defectors, castoffs, and eager ballers Detroit brought with them from the Western League.

According to the Tigers history page on the season started in grand fashion:

On April 24, 1901, the Tigers prepared to take to the field for their first official American League game. A standing room only crowd was anticipated at Bennett Park, but unpredictable weather postponed the opening by a day.
On that historic afternoon, April 25, 1901, in front of 10,000 fans, the Tigers entered the ninth inning trailing Milwaukee, 13-4. A series of hits and miscues followed, moving the score to 13-12 with two runners on. With two out, Tiger Frank "Pop" Dillon faced reliever Bert Husting, and the lefthanded hitter rapped a two-run double to complete a 14-13 comeback win.

That's a tremendous way to start a season and team history but what always got my attention about the Tigers first team was the awesome nicknames on the team.  Here is a breakdown of the roster:

Frank "Pop" Dillon 1B: Tabbed "Pop" due to his premature graying hair, he hit the game winning two run double in the opener which was his fourth two-bagger of the game.  He batted .288, and although at 6'1" was the biggest positional player in the lineup, hit just one home run.  That's understandable since most of the circuit jobs in those days were inside the park numbers.  He became a well known manager in the Pacific Coast League.
Daniel "Davey" Crockett" 1B: Apparently dubbed Davey after the frontiersman of the previous century, he filled in for Dillon for a month, played 28 games and was released.  In those day teams typically carried a very light bench with a backup catcher and a utility player.  Crockett would play in the minors until 1912 but never played in the majors again.
William "Kid" Gleason 2B:  The switch-hitting Gleason led the team with 12 triples and at age 34 was actually the elder statesman on the team.  Players of the era who were smallish (Gleason was 5'7", 155lbs) and showed a lot of youthful energy were often named Kid.  As a pitcher he won 138 games until shifting to the infield in 1895.  Long before it was popular, Gleason worked out at a gym in the off season to stay in shape which allowed him to play into his 40's.  Despite his lengthy playing career he is probably best known as the skipper on the 1919 Black Sox.  Later Connie Mack's right-hand man in Philadelphia, he remained a popular figure in the game, and was mourned by over 5,000 at his funeral in 1933.
Norman "Kid" Elberfeld SS:  Elberfeld was the same size as Gleason but eight years his junior. This Kid was a wild, brawling, umpire baiting firecracker and gave the Tigers a double play Kid-duo.  He was known for disinfecting his spike wounded shins with whiskey.  The longer crown of "Tabasco Kid" aptly described his hot temper but he had talent too.  He hit .308 and led the team with 76 RBI and 3.7 WAR.  In 14 years of major league action he piled up 30.4 WAR and, no doubt aided by his personality, was hit 165 times by pitches.  In 1936, Elberfeld took a turn at bat as a 61 year-old for the Fulton Eagles, the D-League team he managed.
James "Doc" Casey 3B:  Casey was called "Doc" on the basis of his medical schooling at the University of Maryland.  Casey batted .283, scored 105 runs, and played good defense at the hot corner.  He played six more years in the majors and continued in the minors as a player-manager until leaving the game in 1912 to become a dentist and pharmacist.


Frederick "Fritz" Buelow C:  Buelow was born in Germany and like most catchers of the era didn't hit much, batting .224 while playing in 70 games. He had a strong arm throwing out 50.4% of runners attempting to steal which was good for second in the league.  He rarely overthrew the bag as he led the AL in fielding percentage for backstops with a .967 mark.  Fritz played until 1907 and retired with a sub-.200 batting average.

Al "Shoddy" Shaw C:  Born in England, Shaw and Buelow gave the Tigers a pair of European born catchers.  Although he didn't have the same defensive prowess as Buelow, "Shoddy" was a take on his last name and not pertaining to his defense.  He was released April and brought back in June and played in 55 games batting .269.

James "Ducky" Holmes LF: I'm not sure how Holmes got his nickname but at 5'6", 170 lbs he was squatty and perhaps waddled a bit when he walked.  While that is pure conjecture on my part what is known is that he was could run well stealing 160 bases after his 30th birthday, a time when most players were slowing down.  He led the Tigers with 28 doubles and four home runs but is best known for an incident that occurred a few years earlier in the National League.  He was suspended for an anti-Jewish slur toward New York Giants owner Andrew Freeman when his visiting Orioles played at the Polo Grounds in 1898.  Known as a well traveled troublemaker, he played ten years in the majors batting .281 with 234 stolen bases.


James "Jimmy" Barrett CF:  Detroit's first star player, Barrett had blazing speed, a rifle arm, a solid bat and patience to boot.  He put up a .298/.385./378 stat line and led the team with 110 runs.  His 76 base on balls were 25 more than his closest teammate.  In 1905 he would suffer a serious knee injury from which he never really recovered.  The injury opened the door for a young centerfielder named Ty Cobb who replaced him in CF.  Barrett played from 1899 to 1908 but earned 16 of his 17.8 WAR from 1900-'04.

William "Doc" "Kid" Nance RF:  Nance was a young sensation in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas where he was known as the Kid but he was known in Detroit as Doc.  The 24 year-old batted .280 and led the AL with 24 sacrifice hits.  His season was highlighted by a six-for-six game on July 13. Although a regular rightfielder for Detroit, he never played in the majors after 1901.  One flaw in his game may have been lack of foot speed as he was the only regular with less than 10 steals.

Lewis "Sport" McAllister Utility: A fine athlete at 5'11" and 180 lbs he had good size, switch-hit, and could do little bit of everything.  McAllister suffered as a member of the famously terrible Cleveland Spiders of 1899 before he came to Detroit.  In 1900 he even umpired a Western League game when the scheduled arbiter was held out in fear for his safety. Sometimes Detroit's only reserve available, Sport backed up at catcher and played everywhere but second base and pitcher.  He got into 90 games and batted .301 in his super sub role.  McAllister was out of the majors by 1903 but played in the minors until 1915, his age 40 season.

Roscoe "Roxy" Miller P: The ace and workhorse of the Tigers staff, Miller completed all but one of his 36 starts and logged 332 innings.  He won 23 games with a 2.95 ERA (130 ERA+) and posted 6.7 WAR, good for 5th in the league.  The 6'2" hurler was the tallest player on the team and apparently a ground ball specialist as the Tigers recorded 21 infield assists in a Labor Day contest . He kept the ball out of the gaps and allowed just one home run on the year.  Miller jumped to the National League in the middle of  '02 to join John McGraw's Giants put pitched poorly for his new team and finished the year with a sup-par ERA and a 7-20 record.  By 1905 he was out of the majors and he passed away in 1913 at age 36 from unknown causes.

Ed Siever P:  The southpaw was more of a power pitcher than Miller and led the team with 85 strikeouts in 288 innings.  Seemingly more aggressive in his pitching, he allowed nine homers on the year.  He won 18 games on the strength of a 3.24 ERA that was ninth in the circuit and led the league with a 1.91 mark in '02.  He was sold to the Browns in '03 but was brought back in '06.  He was the only player from this inaugural squad to reach the World Series with the pennant winning editions at the end of the decade.  In '08 Siever was released and blamed brash young star Ty Cobb for running him out of town.  While that may true, Siever had a 69 ERA+ at the time so it was likely his own fault.

 John "Jack" Cronin P:  At 200 lbs the six-foot Cronin was the heaviest Tiger and their number three pitcher.  His performance was league average and he allowed 261 hits in 219 innings and won 13 games.  He was out of the majors a few years later but was a successful minor league hurler winning 95 games for Providence from '05 to '09.

Joseph "Little Joe" Yeager P:  The slender pitcher was also a backup shortstop playing 12 games there as well as 26 games on the bump.  The '01 campaign was by far his best as a hurler as he won 12 games with a 2.61 ERA (147 ERA+) in 199 innings.  At the plate he had a pair of homers with a .296 average.  By '03 he was finished as a pitcher but played until '08 as a utility infielder.


Emil Frisk P: Like Yeager, Frisk would transform into a position player later in his career. Frisk was a spare pitcher and worked 74 innings in 11 games and showed his batting talent with a .313 average.  He would never pitch in the majors again but was a regular outfielder for the Browns in 1905.  Somewhat of a minor league legend, he was dubbed the "Wagner of the Minors" amassing over 2,000 hits mainly for teams on the west coast.

Frank "Yip" Owen P:  Nicknamed for his home town Ypsilanti, Michigan, Owen was a rookie who would have the best career of these Tiger pitchers.  He pitched 56 frames with less than stellar results for the Bengals but later found great success for the White Sox.  From '04 - '06 he won 64 games with a 2.12 ERA for the ChiSox, but like a lot of players was out the league a few years later.

Ed High P: Besides Siever, the only other lefty to pitch for Detroit.  He debuted on July 4 and filled in for a month logging 18 innings which turned out to be the full extent of his major league career.

George Stallings managed the fairly balanced team which scored 742 runs good for fifth in the eight team league.  The pitching was a little stronger and was third with 696 runs allowed.  Detroit finished in third place with a 74-61 record behind Chicago and Boston.

Roster turnover was high the next few years as the National and American Leagues continued to squabble over player rights. The Tigers would slide to 52-83 in '02 and would not return to respectability until 1905.

The last living member of this motley crew was Sport McAllister who passed away in 1962 at 87 years of age. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

George Kell, Laryngitis, and Major League Ball in Las Vegas

As the 1996 season was set to begin the Oakland Coliseum was still being renovated, forcing the Athletics to play their first six home games at their triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas at Cashman Field.  I came across this video clip of the Detroit Tigers broadcast from April 7 when the Tigers wrapped up a four game series against the A's in the strange setting.

The energetic Jim Price opens things up with a standard pre-amble.  At the 0:35 mark, long time play by play man George Kell starts the intro and sounds like something out of a science fiction movie with his familiar Arkansas drawl deeply effected by laryngitis.  Kell's color man Al Kaline gives Kell the business and seems concerned whether he's up to task.  Kaline, a splendid rightfielder, but just a decent color man reads the lineups and goofs on Jason Giambi's surname, calling him "Yambi". 

Growing up as a Tiger fan, I was fortunate to have Hall of Famer Ernie Harwell and the baritone Paul Carey calling games on the radio.  On TV it was Kell and Kaline who were dubbed as a HOF duo (more on that later).  Jim Price later joined them as a third wheel.  Why stubborn ol' George didn't hand the mic off to Price, I don't know.  Kell sure sounds like his voice needs a break and Price, while not a strong play-by-play man, was certainly capable.  I don't recall watching this game so I don't know if Kell stayed on air long enough to call Geronimo Berroa's two-run walk off home run or not.

The Tigers were a terrible team in '96 going 53-109 and at one point were 13-46.  Sparky Anderson had managed his last game the year prior and the team was run by new skipper Buddy Bell.  Alan Trammell was in his last year and Cecil Fielder would be dealt to the Yankees before the year was over.  Led by Bobby Higginson and Travis Fryman the Tigers could put runs on the board but were terrible on the mound.  Felipe Lira and Omar Olivares were the only two pitchers to start more than 17 games as nominal ace Justin Thompson missed most of the year.  The team ERA was 6.38.  Yes six-thirty-eight.

Oakland still had Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach cranking out homers but they too had pitching woes with a 5.20 ERA and finished 78-84.  It appears Giambi is the last active player from this game.

Back to the Tigers broadcast tandem of Kell and Kaline.  Kell had a certain warmth that made it seem like you were talking baseball with your friendly neighbor.  He had a habit of getting over excited on fly balls that fell well short of the fence and into the mitts of awaiting outfielders.  One time I recall his voice escalating on a pop-up that was caught by the second baseman in short rightfield.  I doubt Kell was trying to be dramatic. I think he just had bad eyes. 

He was also prone to overstating a player's talent, making comments that some average opposing player was one of the best in all of baseball.  Well I suppose on a global scale all players in MLB are the best get my point.  No one was buying Pat Kelly or Vance Law as an All-Star.  Don't get me wrong Kell was a joy to listen to.

Kaline always came through with solid analysis and was big on fundamentals.  Kaline was often mangling guys names which was comical and sometimes frustrating.  Jim Price was on board late toward the Kell-Kaline run and brought a third voice to the booth.  Price still does color commentary on Tigers radio and while he doesn't carry the pedigree of Kell or Kaline on the field or in the booth he's become a friendly familiar voice.

Kell and Kaline were tabbed as the Hall of Fame team and Kaline is certainly deserving.  Kell batted .306 in a 15 year career amassing over 2,000 hits.  He was a ten time AL All-Star and famously edged Ted Williams for the batting crown in 1949.  Kell was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1983 after he never cracked 40% in the writers vote when he was eligible.  His 34.5 career WAR is often cited as one of the Hall's weakest selections.  Maybe it was a lack of third basemen in the Hall that helped his cause.

George Kell was a very good player, a fine broadcaster, and memories of him calling Tigers games will last forever.  After starting in radio in the 60's and then moving on to TV in the 70's the '96 season would be Kell's last behind the microphone.  Kell passed away in 2009 at the age of 86.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

1977 ALCS Program and Keds Shoes

You are looking at a program from the 1977 ALCS which featured the Royals and Yankees.  As you can tell this was sold in Kansas City and displays a wonderful montage of Royals on the cover. I picked this up at a local card shop for only two bucks.  It was the cover that drew me in.  I'm not a Royals fan by any means but the artwork was too cool to pass up. 

Inside it's a typical program with stuff like rosters, a score sheet, and player pics and profiles such as the one here on George Brett.  

Check out this ad for Keds shoes.  What Kansas City fan wouldn't want their own Royals sneakers?
1977 was the second year in a string of three which saw the Royals lose to the Yankees in the ALCS.  The Royals finally made it to the World Series in 1980 only to lose to the Phillies.  They exited from the AL playoffs in both '81 and '84 before finally putting it all together for a championship in 1985.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

1972 Topps Bob Aspromonte

About four or five years ago I stumbled upon a lot of 1972 Topps that I won in an online auction.  It was a tremendous find since it was advertised as a mixed lot of cards from the 70s and 80s.  Previous to this extremely lucky find I had exactly one card from the '72 set in my possession.  I suddenly had approximately half of the 787 card set.  Before then I had never been able to decide whether I liked the eccentric set or not.  After the black borders of the '71 set, the gray borders of '70 and the vanilla '69 set, these rainbow splashes must have popped some eyeballs in '72.  Seeing a several hundred of these colorful cards was quite an experience and I was hooked. 

Since then I have been piecing the set together usually card or three at a time.  Thankfully I have series 1 through 5 knocked out.  The 6th series...well that's a different story.  Back when Topps released their cards in series the final issue was often overlooked.  Kids were going back to school and turning their attention to football.  Therefore the 6th series is pretty scarce and pricey with commons going for about $4-6 on eBay if you want it in decent condition.

Bob Aspromonte, card # 659 is my latest addition.  I need 58 more cards to finish off this beast of a set.  I have the bigger names from the last series like Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, and Steve Garvey

Like a lot of players from that set, I knew little of Aspromonte before getting this card. So I gave it a good look.  Check out that batting glove.  Or is it a golf glove?  Who is that in the background?

As I looked into Aspromonte's career I was a little surprised that although pictured here with the Reds, he never played for them.  After playing for the Mets in '71 he was brought into Reds camp in '72 but didn't make the squad.  Not only did Aspromonte not play with the Reds in '72 he didn't play anywhere instead retiring at 33.  That really isn't that unique but by the time people got their hands on this card, Aspromente's career was well over.

Some intersting facts on Aspromonte:
  • He was the last Brooklyn Dodger player to retire.  He got into one game for Brooklyn as an 18 year-old in 1956.
  • He also was an original Houston Astro or Colt 45 as they were known then. He was plucked from the Dodgers roster with the 3rd pick in the expansion draft.
  • His brother Ken played seven years in the majors.

Sometimes I get frustrated with a the high prices of the cards from the 6th series. After all who wants to pay five bucks for a Luis Alvarado card?  But I am close. I will keep trucking.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hooks Iott and his One Career Shutout

I haven't hit the random page button on lately but decided to give it a spin today.  What turned up was the 1941 St. Louis Browns pitching staff.  I knew of several of the pitchers on the staff but one name at the bottom of the register caught my eye- Clarence "Hooks" Iott. 

I jumped to his page and noticed short stints with the Browns in '41 and time with both the Browns and Giants in '47.  Like a lot players he missed time serving the military during World War II.  His career numbers show a hefty 7.05 ERA and a 1.849 WHIP in 81.2 innings.  What really stood out was his "1" in the shutout column.  Sure enough, according to br's play index Iott has the highest career ERA of any pitcher with a shutout.

Iott's gem was a two-hit blanking of the Cubs in his Giants debut on 6/4/47.  The wild lefty handed out five walks and fanned seven in front of 17,789 Wrigley faithful that afternoon.  The lone safeties were a triple by Peanuts Lowrey in the third inning and a single by Dom Dallassandro in the fourth. 

The 6'2" southpaw first got the attention of major league general managers in 1941 when he struck out an absurd 25 batters in a regulation game while pitching for Paragould in the D-league. A month later he K'd 30 in a 16 inning affair.  By September he was up with the major league Browns but pitched poorly and would have to wait until '47 for another crack at the bigs. 

He started the 1947 season back in St. Louis in the Browns pen.  By June he had pitched in just four games and allowed twice as many runs as innings pitched.  He was released and signed by the Giants and threw his shutout two hours after he rolled into town.  He scuffled the rest of the year allowing 48 runs in 62 innings.  The Giants sold his contract to Hollywood of the Pacific Caost league the following spring.

Iott never returned to the majors but won 175 games in the minors including three no-hitters.  Iott kept pitching until hanging up his spikes at age 37 in 1957.  Iott suffered a fatal heart atack and passed away in 1980.

Minor league stats

Good bio on Iott on Baseball in Wartime

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Profile: Trenidad Hubbard

Who is Trent Hubbard?  I was wasn't sure who he was when I heard his name.  A comment on High Heat Stats mentioned that Trent Hubbard and Jim Rivera are the only two players to play every year from age 30-39 but play no other years. 
It left me scratching my head, I didn't remember Trent Hubbard.  After some digging I quickly realized he is the same guy as Trenidad Hubbard who I barely remembered.  After his long journey through the minor leagues he decided on the more exotic sounding Trenidad but is listed as both Trent and Trenidad depending on where you look.  As a Tigers fan I don't catch a lot of National League games so Hubbard, who played most of his career in the Senior Circuit, wasn't that well known to me.  As I looked at Hubbard's career I became more and more intrigued by his long pro career.

Hubbard had a 20 year pro career as a speedy right-handed outfielder.  He played college ball at Southern University and was a 12th round choice of the Houston Astros in the 1986 draft.  Hubbard split time his first year at low-A Auburn between secondbase and the outfield.  He showed his versatility the next year catching two games and mopping up once on the mound. As his career progressed he played all over the diamond but mainly played secondbase and outfield but continued to catch 10 to 30 games for several years.

Hubbard at 5'8" was not a big guy and his main asset on offense was his quickness on the basepaths. He stole 30-40 bases a year and by '89 had advanced to AAA.  His career was stuck in neutral as he shuttled between AA Columbus and AAA Tucson.  He began to get on base more often and in his 28 year old season in '92 he hit .310/.380/.381 for the Tucson Toros. His window as a prospect however was closing and he was released at the end of the year.  The Rockies picked him up and placed him in Colorado Springs.  An ideal player for any minor league team, he put up an .840 OPS and played all over the diamond. 

Returning to Colorado Springs in '94, Hubbard hit like never before putting up a .363/.441/.538 line in 79 games.  Having turned 30 on May 11, he finally got the long awaited call to the big leagues in July.  His first action came on July 7th but he went 0-3 against the Marlins.  He had to wait eight days for his next chance when he pinch hit and legged out a infield single in a 10-6 win over the Cardinals.  Hubbard continued as a pinch hitter and made a few starts hitting .280/.357/.520 in 28 plate appearances.

His performance in '94 wasn't enough to keep him in the majors and Hubbard found himself back at Colorado Springs in '95.  After putting up a .920 OPS in 123 games he was promoted in August.  He carried his production over to the big leagues with a .926 OPS in 67 trips to the dish for the Rockies. 

In the meantime Hubbard founded a sports apparel company called Game Face, and designed  their logo.  It went bankrupt after three years with major leaguers Brian Jordan and Danny Cox among the investors.

Hubbard finally made an opening day roster in '96 and had a pinch-two- RBI double in the Rockies first game of the year, a 5-3 win over the Phillies.  Hubbard struggled in the bench role however, and was hitting just .217 in July when he was demoted to the minors. As usual he clobbered AAA pitching in the thin Colorado Springs air and when the Rockies purchased Steve Decker from San Francisco in August they released him to make room on the 40-man roster.  The Giants filled their vacant spot on the roster with Hubbard.  He played just ten games for the Giants and was sent to the Indians in the offseason as part of the Jeff Kent / Matt Williams deal.

Hubbard played just seven games for the Indians in '97 but proved he could hit at sea level with an impressive .312/.401/.504 stat line at AAA Buffalo.  The Indians unimpressed, let him sign with the Dodgers where he was the surprise starter in centerfield on opening day in '98.  Injuries shelved him for five weeks during the summer months and after a stint back at AAA, he returned to a bench role.  His production on the year was not too shabby as he batted .298/.358/.452 in 208 at bats. 

The Dodgers put Hubbard at AAA Albuquerque in '99 but summoned him to LA in May.  He played well off the bench batting .314 in 105 at bats.  Hubbard even flashed some of his versatility with three innings behind the plate.  He signed in the offseason with Atlanta and was part of a deadline deal to the Orioles.  He hit an identical .185 for both teams but the year 2000 had been a victory of sorts as he avoided the minors for the first and only time in his career.

Hubbard was a late roster cut of the Blue Jays in the spring of 2001 and he signed with the Royals.  He played just five games for KC before he was released.  The Cubs signed him and he spent the rest of the year at AAA Iowa.  He spent the majority of the 2002 season on the Padres bench hitting .209 but was released in September. 

In 2003 Hubbard signed with Oaxaca of the Mexican League and played a dozen games for the Guerreros before they sold his contract to the Cubs.  Except for ten games midyear for the Cubbies he spent the rest of the year back at AAA Iowa. Hubbard spent the entire 2004 season at Iowa batting .330/.409/.463 in 542 plate appearances normally a performance that would have scouts and general managers dreaming of the possibilities.  But at 40 years old Hubbard was about 15 years too old to be a prospect and was just hoping to get another shot in the majors.  Hubbard played for three franchises in 2005- Astros, Cubs, and Rays yet but was unable to make it back to the majors.

After 20 pro seasons Hubbard finally retired.  In 16 of those seasons Hubbard saw action at AAA where he put up a .317/.400/.468 line and overall he had over 1,800 hits in the minors.  In 864 major league plate appearances in the majors he hit .257/.333/.382 with an OPS+ of 86.  Although essentially a replacement level player (-0.4 career WAR) his versatility and on base ability made him a valuable AAA player. 

The well traveled Hubbard wore eleven different uniform numbers in the majors and never wore the same number for two different teams. Currently he is a minor league outfield instructor for the Rockies.  He kept the Game Face name and logo alive and can be found here on Twitter.

By my count Hubbard played in 22 different teams in his pro career.  Here they are in chronological order. Of course he shuttled back and forth making multiple stops in the same city several times along the way.  Note Oaxaca (20) in the Mexican League is below the southern edge of the map

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Homerless Astros of 1979

Ok so homerless isn't exactly correct.  The 1979 Houston Astros did hit home runs, just not very many.  Forty-nine to be exact which wouldn't have looked out of place in the deaball era or the late 40's but was astronomically low for the late 70's.

Jose Cruz led the team with nine homers and Terry Puhl was runner up with eight.  Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, and Art Howe each hit a half-dozen dingers.  These five accounted for 71% of the teams totals. 

The team had two regulars who didn't hit a long ball all year: shortstop Craig Reynolds who hit five the year prior with Seattle and Jeff Leonard who later in his career would muscle up to hit 20 or more three times.  The secondbase position failed to hit a round-tripper as neither Rafael Landestoy or Julio Gonzalez went yard.  Four of the teams taters were hit by pitchers as JR Richard and Joaquin Andujar each hit a pair.

The team did have speed and skipper Bill Virdon had the team running often.  The Astros led the Senior Circuit with 190 bases but had just modest success, getting caught exactly 1/3 of the time  Every regular except catcher Alan Ashby had double digit steals with Cabell, Cedeno, Cruz, and Puhl with 30 or more.

Houston's on base skills were nothing special either as they batted .265 good for 8th in the loop.  No one had more than 72 walks and the team on base percentage of .315 was 10th in the league.  


So you may be thinking with this lack of punch that the team must have been pretty bad.  That was far from the case as the Astros won 89 games and led the NL West for a good chunk of the year before the Reds passed them in the last month of the season. They thrived in the comfort of the Astrodome winning 52 at home versus just 37 on the road. Truth be told they may have been lucky as their pythag record indicates they should have been a .500 team at 81-81.

The Astros had a good pitching staff fronted by Richard who dominated batters with a 2.71 ERA and 313 K's in 292 innings.  Joe Niekro had his knuckler working and won 21 games while limiting hitters to a .228 average.  The pair combined for 76 starts and 556 innings pitched.  Other starters included Ken Forsch who no-hit the Braves on April 7, Andujar, Rick WIlliams, and Vern Ruhle. The team ERA was 3.20 good for second in the league. Joe Sambito had a great year saving 21 with a 1.79 ERA in 91 frames as Houston's ace releiver.  The pitching staff did a good job of keeping the ball in the park but the oppositions 90 home runs nearly doubled up the Astros offensive total.

Teams don't need a lineup full of mashers to compete but this lineup could have used a bit more pop in the middle to help move those speedy runners along.  Power just wasn't their game as they had hit just 70 HR the year before and would hit 75 in 1980. The franchise won their first division crown in '80 after they acquired Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan. Morgan was one of five with 10 or more homers but the Astros lost in the NLCS to the Phillies. 

The 1986 Cardinals who lost their only true slugger Jack Clark to injury mid year, hit only 58 homers, which discounting labor problem shortened seasons is the closest a team has come to matching the low total of the '79 Astros. 

Offensive WAR Leaders:
Cruz 4.4
Puhl 3.2
Reynolds 2.3

Pitching WAR Leaders:
Richard 5.3
Niekro 3.2
Sambito 3.2

1979 Houston Astros on

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Old Hoss and his Middle Finger

Old Hoss Radbourn... To those familiar with baseball's past the name conjures up thoughts of the iron man pitcher.  Charles Radbourn was a butcher by trade but earned his nickname as the workhorse of the Providence and Boston teams in the 19th century National League.  In 1884 he started and completed 73 games winning 59. 

These records are amazing but not the reason for this post.  Recently while researching Bert Blyleven I stumbled upon the history of the middle finger.  You know, the obscene gesture used as a quick and easy way to say F--- You!  Well I personally haven't flipped anyone the bird in years.  However as I read of Blyleven's fondness for flipping the bird I found this nugget:

That's Old Hoss in the back row to the left exercising the middle appendage on his left hand over the shoulder of his Boston Beaneater teammate.

Here is a better look:

Pictures courtesy of

You may be thinking- so what, you don't need to look hard to find a pro athlete or celebrity giving the bird.  What makes this unique is that Radbourne is believed to be the first public figure captured doing it in a photograph.

Radbourne won 309 games in just 11 years, last playing in 1891.  He was accidentally shot in the face by a friend while hunting in 1894 losing an eye and wrecking his health.  He spent three years with a variety of ailments before passing away in 1897.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 but he showed he was a rebel bad ass way back in 1886.

If you think Old Hoss has faded away, think again. A twitter fan tribute account keeps his legend alive.

See also-

Baseball reference page

SABR bio

Wikipedia page


If you've read my 1983 Topps Baseball blog, then you know I'm a fan of unusual, strange, and weird baseball stuff.  Oddballs.  I have a whole section of the blog dedicated to finding some curiosity involving the player I'm profiling. 

Sometimes it is a montage like the evolution of Oscar Gamble's afro

One time I used Google Earth to show where a monster home run off the bat of Dave Kingman landed.

It might be a crazy stat or pictures of Alan Knicely with and without facial hair.

A lot of time I unearth stuff researching for the '83 blog that I'd like to share but it doesn't fit with that blog. I didn't have an outlet.  Until now. 

I make no promises as to the frequency of my posts.  It may be weekly, twice a week, maybe more.   I might refer to something weird I see at a local Great Lakes Loons game.  I might even share something strange from the Little League team I coach or Tigers game I watched.  I have no idea how it will all play out.

You can follow the blog on blogger, follow me on Twitter, save this spot as a favorite or choose to ignore it altogether.

Feel free to offer suggestions for improvements or a subject you'd like to see covered.

Thanks for reading.