Monday, September 15, 2014

Highs and sighs.

The 2014 season has contained a lot of sighs for the Rangers and their fans. It hasn't had a lot of highs. One of the few has been Colby Lewis, shown here on card 83 of the 2004 Topps Total set. Lewis was expected to have to fight for the fifth starter's spot this year while trying to come back from hip re-surfacing surgery. No other player has ever made it back to the Majors after such a surgery. Needless to say, nobody expected much from Lewis.

Those expectations have been dashed. Colby's been the anchor of the rotation this season and seems to be getting better as time passes. All the other starters are gone due to injury and Lewis is the last man standing. He's standing pretty well too.

Yesterday Colby got the ball in the final game against the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are (were?) in the National League wildcard hunt when they rolled into Arlington on Friday. Two losses later the Rangers turned to Lewis to try and finish out the sweep. Colby went seven innings and gave up just one run. When the patchwork Rangers lineup broke the game open with six runs in the fifth the writing appeared to be on the wall for Atlanta. Two more runs in the sixth brought the Texas run total to its final of 10. The Braves got two off the bullpen after Lewis left the game and he got his 10th win of the season, 10-3.

The last time the Rangers got a sweep was in late April with a lineup that's long since hit the Disabled List. Great to see the team still fighting and managing to pull off a sweep against a contender. The young guys in the lineup got to try out their bats as all but Adrian Beltre and Daniel Robertson (a replacement in the 5th) got hits. I'm not worried about Beltre or Robertson since I know both can hit.

This being 2014, the day could not be one of just a high, there had to be a sigh somewhere in the mix. It came courtesy of Michael Choice. Choice hit a double in the fifth inning. As he came into second base he pulled up and grabbed his left leg. A trainer and interim manager Tim Bogar carried him off the field. Initial word is a hamstring strain with an MRI today. I haven't heard the results of the MRI but I'm guessing Choice is out for the rest of the season. Michael has been struggling this year and he needs all the experience he can get to set the stage for next season. It's rather disappointing to see him go down this close to the finish line.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Senators Saturday - Willie Kirkland, 1966.

On the back of card 434 in the 1966 Topps set Willie Kirkland is referred to as "One of the game's top power hitters..." That description was accurate at one point in Willie's career but he suffered a power outage in 1964. He saw a resurgence of sorts in 1965 and the Senators were hoping to see more of the same in 1966.

Serving primarily as a fourth outfielder in 1966 Kirkland saw service in left and right field. He played 174.1 innings in left over 50 games and 126 innings in right over 19 games. He committed just one error in right field and none in left. That averaged out overall to a fielding percentage on par with the rest of the league.

Willie made 182 plate appearances with the Senators in 1966 and that is where the wheels really fell off for him. He managed just a .190 batting average and .261 on-base percentage. The fact that he stuck out 50 times while working just 16 walks spoke of his past as a power hitter. The two doubles, one triple, and six home runs made it clear that he was a power hitter in the past and not present.

Apparently the Senators decided Kirkland was not going to be able to regain his early career form. They released him on October 18, 1966. That was the end of the line for Willie Kirkland's Major League career.

Even though they released him, Washington must have offered Kirkland one last chance. He spent the 1967 season playing with the Senators Triple A affiliate, the Hawaii Islanders. He found his form there and slugged 34 homers over the course of the season. That wasn't good enough to get back to Washington but it was good enough to get a contract with the Hashin Tigers of the Japanese Pacific Coast League. Willie spent six season with the Tigers in the role of slugger. He never hit .270 and he never had a slugging percentage under .400. He retired as a player after the 1973 season with 126 home runs to his credit in the JPCL. That was just 22 less than the 148 long balls he tallied over nine season in the Majors. Apparently the jump to Japan worked out well for Willie.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

1978 Topps - John Ellis.

By 1978 John Ellis, shown here on card 438 of the 1978 Topps set, was firmly ensconced as the backup to starting catcher Jim Sundberg. He was also still working on fully coming back from the devastating injury he suffered in 1976.

In 1978 John played in 22 games as catcher and seven as the team's designated hitter. He started 17 games behind the plate with the remainder of his appearances coming in replacement situations after Sundberg had been lifted.

Over the 157.2 innings he played behind the plate Ellis put together a .958 fielding percentage and caught four of the 13 runners who attempted to steal on him. Both his fielding percentage and caught stealing percentage were below the league average but were understandable with the lack of use.

In 104 trips to the plate Ellis posted a .245 batting average and a .282 on-base percentage. The batting average was ten points higher than 1977 while the on-base percentage was a point lower. Some pop was still in the bat as evidenced by John's four doubles and three home runs.

Obviously, John Ellis' days of having a shot at a regular starting gig were past. The presence of Jim Sundberg and Ellis' own decreased mobility as a result of his past injury both conspired to keep him on the bench. What he needed to do was make the most of the situation for as long as possible.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Minor League Monday - Steve Allen, 1990 ProCards Tulsa Drillers.

Starting off on the 1990 ProCards Tulsa Drillers team set today. This set is a bit unusual because it uses the regular ProCards numbering but seems to be a special set of just the Drillers. The cards use slightly different photos from the regular set cards. Also, on the back of each card in this team set is an advertisement for Tulsa's Baseball Card Store. Two locations are given - 51st and Peoria and 68th and Memorial. Does anyone know if either of these are still open?

Kicking off the team set is pitcher Steve Allen on card #1148. Allen had been with the Gastonia Rangers at Single A in 1989. He's actually been featured here on a second card for his 1989 season. He got the promotion to Double A Tulsa to start the 1990 season.

Steve was a reliever and mostly a back of the bullpen guy. He made 54 appearances for Tulsa in 1990 and finished 23 games. Over the 89.1 innings he pitched he put together a 3.83 ERA and a 1.556 WHIP. His strikeout to walk ratio was a very respectable 2.00 as he struck out 84 opposing batters while walking 42.

Allen's ERA was up from the previous season in Single A but that was to be expected with the increased ability of the batters. Perhaps it was a bit too much of a jump for the Rangers. They traded Steve and fellow minor leaguer David Lynch to the Dodgers for Jim Poole on December 30, 1990.

After leaving the Rangers organization, Allen pitched for four more seasons with in the minors with LA and Colorado. He topped out at Triple A and hung up the spikes following the 1994 season.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


By now it's likely that everyone knows about Ron Washington, shown here on card 274 of the 2014 Topps Heritage set. Yesterday afternoon, without warning, the Rangers announced Wash's resignation as manger. The departure was attributed to an off field personal issued. The only details the club would give are that this is not a repeat of the 2009 cocaine issues. General Manager Jon Daniels said he was disappointed in Ron's decision but understood. Most everybody else on the team expressed shock and disbelief.

Those connected with the team weren't the only ones in shock. I used Spiff Jr's response to the news as the title of this post. At ten years of age he doesn't remember any Rangers manager other than Ron Washington. I know how he feels. When the club fired Bobby Valentine in 1992 I felt like I was lost. Bobby was the only manager I had ever seen in the dugout and his firing tilted the world off axis. I'm sure it's the same with Spiff Jr and Washington. The thought of Ron not in the dugout has not been entertained in that young fan's mind and now it's happened. I have to admit, I'm pretty stunned by the news as well.

The eight seasons of Washington's tenure have been a bright spot in Rangers history. He was the longest serving Rangers manager, managed the most games for Texas, and has the highest winning percentage of any Rangers manager staying for more than a season or two. He also took the club to three post-season appearances and two World Series. He will be missed and leaves a big hole.

Even as the club named bench coach Tim Bogar the interim manager, the chuckle-heads were out. Some were glad to see Washington gone. He wasn't a good manager anyway they claim. Seems Jon Daniels (who many of those folks also despise) was able to assemble a team that could win consistently in spite of Ron. The tinfoil hat variety of ding-dongs claim Jon Daniels forced Washington out because Ron was a Ryan guy. That makes about as much sense as the guys who are happy to see Wash go. Jon Daniels hired Washington a year and a half before Ryan made the scene. If JD wanted to cut him he could have several times before this point and simply needed to wait until the end of the season to not give him a new contract. Both view points are out of touch with reality.

The reality is, we have just seen one of the best managers in Rangers history take his leave. I respect Ron's right to have his personal matters private and am hoping he can get whatever it is taken care of. Thanks for the memories Wash, all the best as you move on from here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Random (sort of) Rangers game-used.

Not much going on with the Rangers right now. The losing continues and their magic number to avoid 100 losses remains at 10. They've now set a franchise record for the number of players used in a season and may be looking at a Major League record before long. Not exactly the type of happenings to inspire blog posts.

Decided to post a random Rangers game-used card today. Well, not totally random. I did decide it would be a random card of Ivan Rodriguez. This 2001 Upper Deck Legends Legendary Lumber card won the randomness.

This card is fitting in several ways. First, Pudge really is a legend. He's still revered in Texas and just the site of him or mention of his name will raise a cheer in The Ballpark. Two, Ivan's wearing the red uniform here. I know, the Rangers won in red. The Senators also did a lot of losing in red before the team moved to Texas. Right now the team is playing more like the red-wearing Senators than the teams of the late 90's.

Perhaps the best reason to post this card is to remind folks that I still have several Ivan Rodriguez game-used cards left on my tradelist. This one isn't one of them and none of them area of him in a Rangers uniform but if you are a Pudge, Tigers, or Marlins collector you should check it out. Let me know if you see anything you like. I'm always looking to pick up Rangers game-used cards so I'm sure we could work a deal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

1978 Topps - Dock Ellis.

Dock Ellis, shown here on card 209 of the 1978 Topps set, was a man on the move in 1977. He started the season with the Yankees before being traded to the A's on April 27th. On June 15th the Rangers purchased his contract from Oakland. Ellis went 10-6 with a 2.90 ERA down the stretch. Texas was hoping for more of the same in 1978.

The 1978 season turned out to be a mixed bag for Dock. He made 22 starts and ended the season with a 9-7 record. In the course of 141.1 innings pitched Ellis compiled a 4.20 ERA and a 1.252 WHIP. The fact that he walked one more batter than he struck out indicated he was having control issues.

On the face of it, 1978 looked bad for Ellis. He had the fewest innings pitched and the highest ERA of any Rangers starter. It didn't start out that way. Up through the end of June he had a 7-3 record and things seemed to be going well. However, he struggled the last half of the season and lost a month due to a groin injury. After coming back in late August he wasn't the pitcher he appeared to be earlier in the season.

If Dock could have stayed healthy and on track through the whole 1978 season his numbers might have looked much better than they ended up being. The Rangers certainly hoped for a healthy Dock Ellis to help bolster the rotation in 1979. If he wanted to stay in Texas for any length of time Ellis needed to stay healthy and address the control issues that cropped up in 1978.