Saturday, May 30, 2020

#171 Johnny Groth

Johnny Groth  Detroit Tigers

Career: After drawing attention playing ball on Bob Feller's team in 1945 Groth signed with the Tigers for a nice bonus. He got some looks from the Tigers with three call-ups before he claimed the starting center fielders job in 1949. He had a terrific opening month before cooling off and eventually having his rookie year cut short with an injury. He finished fourth in the RoY balloting.

Groth was an outstanding fielder and hit at or near .300 for his four seasons with the Tigers. He was traded to the Browns in 1956, was beaned (by Billy Pierce 😧) and never played up to the level of his early seasons. He was traded several times and finished with another stint with the Tigers.

In 1960: This was Groth's final spin around the majors. He was serving as a pinch-hitter and doing well in his limited chances (.397 in less than 20 at-bats) when the Tigers optioned him back to AAA with a promise to give him a manager's job in their system the following year.  They made good on their promise and Groth spent a couple of seasons in their lower rungs as a skipper.

Off The Charts: Groth is one of the few players I've come across with more than one entry on the SABR site. This one is the standard (very detailed as always) bio page. The other one is a nice sidebar that looks at his debut month the hype that grew as he got off to a hot start. Both make for entertaining reading.

Friday, May 29, 2020

#133 Manuel Javier Sport Rookie Star

Manuel Javier  Pittsburgh Pirates

Career: Manuel (better known as Julian) Javier, a native of the Dominican Republic, never played an inning for Pittsburgh despite being depicted as a Pirate on his rookie card. He was traded to the Cardinals after moving up the Bucs' system since 1956. He had been deemed expendable because the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski ahead of him. He went on to a 13-year career that included a couple of All-Star squads and two World Series rings. His glovework and speed made him a valuable member of the Cardinals through the 1960s.

In 1960: He began the year as he had the previous four, playing for a Pirates' farm club. But a month into the season he was dealt to the Cards, stepped into the starting second baseman's job, and didn't let go of it until 1971. Playing in 119 games he led the team in stolen bases and was fifth in hits and runs scored.

Off The Charts: The stadium in his hometown of San Francisco de Macoris is named in his honor.

The Card: Javier's birth date on the back of this card is listed as August 9, 1937. Every source I checked gives the year as 1936. It wasn't uncommon for players coming from Latin America to 'fudge' their age a bit. His 1961 card also has the '37 date but after that Topps corrected it to 1936. This is also the only card (of any kind as far as I can find) that has him depicted A) as a Pirate; B) without glasses; and C) as 'Manuel', at least on the front of the card. Topps' 1970 card gives his name as Manuel Julian Javier on the back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#132 Frank Howard Sport Rookie Star

Frank Howard  Los Angeles Dodgers

Career: Howard, who had one of the great nicknames (The Capitol Punisher), was known for his size and prodigious homers. His 16-year big league career was divided between the Dodgers and Senators/Rangers, with a brief spin in Detroit at the end. He had a run of 44, 48, and 44-homer seasons from 1968-1970 when offense was at a premium in baseball. He was also able to keep a .273 career average and hit exactly .296 on three occasions. His homer off Whitey Ford in Game Four of the 1963 World Series helped the Dodgers wrap up a sweep of the Yankees.

Ted Williams took over as manager of the Senators in 1969. He persuaded Howard to lay off pitches that were not in his wheelhouse. Howard responded with a much better ration of walks to strikeouts and upped his batting average while continuing to hit with power.  Howard later said of Williams: “I was ready to hit if it was my pitch, but if it was something other than I was looking for, I took it. I was laying off some bad pitches, getting more counts in my favor, and all because of Ted Williams. He’s one in a million! A marvelous, marvelous, man!”

In 1960: He started the year at AAA Spokane but his .371 average through 26 games prompted a late May call-up to the Dodgers. Hondo didn't disappoint, either. He slashed 23/77/.268/.320 and won Rookie of the Year honors in the NL.

Off The Charts: Howard played for seven seasons with Washington, and he led the team in homers and RBIs in all seven of them. In addition to the interest he drew for his baseball skills Howard was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA following an All-American college hoops career at Ohio State.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

#170 Del Crandall

Del Crandall  Milwaukee Braves

Career: One of the top catchers of his era, Del Crandall kind of gets lost in the shadows behind Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra. But Crandall was an eight-time NL All-Star and won four Gold Gloves after finishing second in the 1949 Rookie of the Year balloting behind Don Newcombe.

Crandall played for 13 seasons with the Braves in Boston and Milwaukee, losing a couple to military service. For an eight-year stretch, from 1953 through 1960, he made seven All-Star squads and led the NL catchers in every defensive category multiple times.

While he didn't hit much in the two World Series that he played in (1957 and 1958) he did homer once in each. 

After a falling out with Braves manager Bobby Bragan Crandall was dealt to the Giants for 1964 and finished his career with single seasons in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He later managed the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners for a total of six years.

In 1960: He had a standout season, hitting .294 and driving in a career-best 77 runs while winning his fourth and final Gold Glove. He also had a homer in the first of the season's two All-Star games.

Off The Charts: Crandall is one of a handful of catchers to be behind the plate for consecutive one-hitters by the same pitcher. He backstopped Sam McDowell's April 25 (vs KC) and May 1 (vs Chicago) one-hit shutouts in 1966. As an added point of interest, longtime AL umpire Bill Haller was behind Crandall for both games.

Before signing with the Braves he was being pursued heavily by the Dodgers. According to his SABR bio "Del rejected their $20,000 signing bonus (about 20 times the family’s income in 1946) because of the “bonus baby” stipulation requiring him to remain on the big-league roster for two years and lose invaluable minor-league experience." It also mentions that his father urged him not to sign with the Dodgers, Yankees or Cardinals because their farm systems were already so stocked with talent.

The Card: That's Wrigley in the background and a Jack Davis cartoon. Crandall's batting helmet has a blue brim and I'm thinking the Braves' helmets usually matched their caps and had a red brim. I need to look closer. Not that anyone else cares. LOL

Sunday, May 24, 2020

#169 Jake Striker

Jake Striker  Chicago White Sox

Career: Not many pitchers could boast of a perfect record but Wilber 'Jake' Striker won his only big-league decision when he beat the Athletics in late 1959. He was with the Indians and had come thru their system after being signed out of Heidelberg College in 1952. Not long after that September win, he was sent to the White Sox in a deal that was headlined by Minnie Minoso going to the Sox and Norm Cash heading to Cleveland. Striker totaled just over 10 innings in the majors and left baseball after a few minor league stops through the 1962 season.

In 1960: He made the Sox staff in 1960 and pitched in back-to-back games against the Tigers in April with one good and one not-so-good result. He headed back to the Sox AA level club and never returned to the majors.

Off The Charts: 'Striker' is a perfect name for a pitcher. He worked for the Timken Company for thirty years after baseball. I found no evidence that he went on to coach high school baseball as the card's cartoon sez was his goal. He passed away in 2013 having survived his wife and oldest child. This is his only Topps card but I came across one newspaper photo of his and his young family. 

The Card: This is probably the fourth copy of this card to pass through the binder. The first one, part of my original lot buy, was brutal. I bought one or two that had flaws that I hadn't noticed in the eBay pics. This one is miscut but it'll do.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

#168 Alex Grammas

Alex Grammas  St. Louis Cardinals

Career: An Alabama native and WWII vet, Grammas spent most of his life in baseball. Originally signed by the White Sox, he played 10 seasons with a variety of NL clubs, mostly in St. Louis. Of his ten seasons he spent three as a regular but was most often filling a utility infielder's role. His versatility and defensive skills kept him in the majors more than his erratic bat. After the 1963 season he stayed in the game as a coach and manager. He took over the Pirates for a few games at the end of the 1969 season and then managed the Brewers, without much success, in '76/'77.

In 1960: This was his second tour with the Cardinals and, after holding down the starting shortstop job in 1959, he gave way to Daryl Spencer. It was his last year to play in as many as a hundred games. He played at short, second, and third as a the spare infielder and hit .245, but he did have a career-high four homers.

Off The Charts: From his SABR bio...After retiring, he was a third-base coach for a quarter-century, mainly for teams managed by Sparky Anderson. Forever proud of his ancestry, Grammas in 1976 became the first Greek-American ever to manage a major-league team for a full season.

His father ran the Magic City Candy Co., and during his early baseball career he would go back to Birmingham and pack candy during the off season. Alex Grammas died last September at the age of 93.

Friday, May 22, 2020

#131 Ed Hobaugh Sport Rookie Star

Ed Hobaugh  Chicago White Sox

Career: Hobaugh was a hard-throwing Michigan State pitching star who signed with the White Sox in 1956 and pitched a no-hitter for his Class B minor league team three weeks later. He served two years in the Army and then pitched for the Sox at AA for a couple of years. He had some success but never got a shot at their big league roster. He was taken by the Senators in the expansion draft and pitched in parts of three seasons in Washington from 1961 to 1963. Hobaugh hung around the minors for most of the decade after that, mainly in the Pirates chain, and then managed in the low minors. He finished with a 7-9 career record in just over 200 innings for the Nats.

In 1960: Pitching for the Sox' AAA club in San Diego, Hobaugh saw his numbers dip from previous seasons which is likely why he was left available in the expansion draft.

Off The Charts: At Michigan State his teammates included major leaguer Ron Perranoski and professional football legend Earl Morrall on a club that finished third in the CWS in 1956.

After baseball Hobaugh became a physical-education teacher and assistant baseball coach (yeah!) – serving under his eldest son, Bradley, the head coach – in the Armstrong (Pa.) School District.