Monday, February 29, 2016

Minor League Monday - Frederic Samson, 1991 Line Drive.

Either Frederic(k) Serna Samson's first name is misspelled on card 596 of the 1991 Line drive set or Baseball-Reference has it wrong. Baseball-Reference adds the "k" on the end.

Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 14th round of the June, 1984 draft, Samson did not sign. The Rangers inked him as a free agent in May of 1986. Fred started his pro career that same year with the Rookie League Gulf Coast Rangers. He stalled out at Double A, bouncing from there to Single A in the 1988 and 1989 seasons. In 1990 he spent the entire season with the A+ Charlotte Rangers trying to get up to speed. He would be assigned to Double A Tulsa for one last try in 1991.

Fred appeared in 69 games for the Drillers in 1991 and made 240 trips to the plate. He struggled to a .208 batting average and a .304 on-base percentage. Part of his problem was that he was still looking for the hole in his swing, he struck out 63 times while getting just 25 walks. He had only spotty power: 12 doubles, one triple, and two home runs. Samson did score 31 runs but only accounted for 15 RBI himself.

Primarily a third baseman, Fred played there in 25 games. He committed four errors at the hot corner for a .927 fielding percentage. He also appeared in three games at first base and one game at second base with no errors. He had three miscues in the five games he appeared at short stop for a .909 fielding percentage there. Interestingly, Samson also played outfield for the first time in his pro career in 1991. In 20 appearances in the outfield he botched two plays and ended the season with a .929 fielding percentage.

Unfortunately for Fred Samson, he hadn't been able to deliver with Tulsa in 1991. After failing to hit even .210 at Double A in three stints, he found himself without a team following the 1991 season. He would sign with the independent Salt Lake City Trappers of the Pioneer League for the 1992 season. A single season with the Trappers would round out his professional playing career.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Senators Saturday - Richie Scheinblum, 1971.

I must admit, I have no idea what is going on on 1971 Topps card 326. Outfielder Richie Scheinblum appears hatless in his Indians uniform on the front of the card. That makes some sense, the last time Scheinblum appeared in the Majors before coming to Washington was in 1969 with Cleveland. The part that doesn't make sense is the fact that Topps does a decent job airbrushing a curly W onto Richie's cap for the photo on the back of the card. Why put the worst possible picture on the front of the card?

Scheinblum was one of those players who always appear to be on the cusp of something big. What he needed was a full season as a starter. That was something that never happened with Cleveland. In 1969 he almost caught on but ended the season in the minors. He would spend the entire 1970 season in the minors with the Wichita Aeros of the American Association. A .337 batting average there caught the eye of the offense starved Senators. They purchased Scheinblum's contract on October 23, 1970.

The Senators brought Scheinblum into the 1971 season with high hopes and he started the season with them. Richie played in just 27 games for Washington in the early part of the season and made only 58 trips to the plate. Not a cold weather hitter, he put up a dismal .143 batting average and .263 on-base percentage. He showed he had a batting eye by working eight walks and only striking out five times. He had no power though, hitting just three doubles and no other extra base hits.

Not known for his fielding, Scheinblum played seven games each in left and right field for Washington. He tallied 46 innings in each outfield position and was flawless in left. He did muff two plays in right to drop his fielding percentage there down to .846 as opposed to the league average of .980.

With the outfield crowded and the team struggling, the Senators front office and seen all they needed to of Richie Scheinblum. He was sent down to Triple A Denver for the remainder of the season. Once he was back in the minors, Richie found his bat. In 455 plate appearances over 106 games he hammered out a .388 batting average and a .490 on-base percentage. The thin mountain air also helped his power as he knocked 31 doubles, 10 triples, and 25 home runs for the Bears.

While impressive, Scheinblum's Triple A performance was not enough to get him back to Washington. It was enough to get him another ticket to the Majors though. On October 21, 1971 the Senators sold Richie's contract to the Kansas City Royals. In 1972 KC would give Scheinblum the only starting job he ever held in the Majors. He responded with a .300 batting average, a .383 on-base percentage, and a trip to the All-Star game. It was his one season of glory. The Royals rewarded him by trading him to the Cincinnati Reds during the off-season.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kunkel in, Hamilton out.

The autograph returns dwindled to almost nothing this past week. Jeff Kunkel saved the day when he signed and returned this 1990 Topps card and the 1991 Topps card I sent to him on January 23rd. Both cards arrived home last Friday. Only a few requests left out there from my last couple of batches of requests. Just sent out another batch yesterday though. Hopefully it won't be long until they start their returns.

It wasn't long for the Rangers to decide what to do with the ailing Josh Hamilton. Apparently they decided they won't be waiting for the second opinion on Monday. Looks like Josh will be starting the 2016 season on the Disabled List due to inflammation in his left knee. The club is hoping he'll be back by the first of May, if all goes well. It's the second season in a row Hamilton begins on the DL.

That leaves his spot in left field wide open and will spark a scramble for the job. Of course, as discussed yesterday, Texas has several in-house options. They are also still browsing the free agent market for possibilities. One name being bandied about is former Ranger David Murphy. He wants a Major League contract though and Texas is wanting to sign someone to a minor league deal. Understandable since the fill-in is only projected to play regularly until May. The difference could be a deal breaker. At least the pantry is well stocked at home so the Rangers have some options.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

News from Arizona.

Well, the Rangers pitchers and catchers have been in Spring Training for less than a week. Position players are not due to report until Monday and the updates are already starting.

On Sunday the Rangers added former Kansas City Royal Jeremy Guthrie to the starting rotation competition with a minor league deal. He had his first workout with the club the that day. Also throwing in the same bullpen session was Nick Tepesch. Both are in the hunt for the fifth starter spot.

Another pitcher making some practice tosses was Yu Darvish. He threw off a half mound without difficulty. That's good news on the recovery road from Tommy John surgery.

Tanner Scheppers is not throwing. He's back in Texas to have surgery on his left knee to repair torn cartilage. That'll put him out until at least the All-Star break.

Adrian Beltre is in camp early and healthy. He's also very open to a contract extension and would like to stay in Texas past 2016. His agent, and the Rangers, will continue discussions as Spring Training moves on. Hopefully they will be able to work out a deal before Opening Day and remove the contract drama from the season.

Also in camp, but not quite as healthy, is left fielder Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, shown here on 2012 Topps Archive card 190, is still dealing with pain in his left knee. The knee had cleanup surgery during the off-season but the soreness has persisted. Right now the prognosis is that further surgery won't do any good - there's nothing left to do - and it's just a matter of getting the inflamation to settle down. Josh will be getting a second opinion on Monday though and the left field situation is still up in the air. If Hamilton doesn't answer the bell James Jones, Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano, and Joey Gallo could find themselves in the running. Prospects Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara might also be in the mix.

Playing Hamilton at designated hitter regularly might not be an option for the Rangers. Prince Fielder is also in camp early and ready to build on last year's comeback season. He says his neck is no longer a concern and he hopes to have more stamina than he did last season. He's also thinking he'll be playing mostly DH in order to get Mitch Moreland into the lineup at first base.

So far, with the exception of Hamilton's and Schepper's knees, the news out of Surprise has been good. Hopefully the team can continue get the rust off and get things worked out with no further injuries or other major issues.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

1980 Topps - George Medich.

George "Doc" Medich, shown here on card 336 of the 1980 Topps set, was coming off a rough 1979 season and looking for a bounce-back. George was a big part of the Texas rotation plans and the Rangers were looking for him to bounce back as well.

Medich appeared in 34 games for the Rangers in 1980, 32 of those appearances were starts. That was the second most starts in the rotation, behind Jon Matlack. Doc tossed 204.1 innings (second highest on the team) and managed to lower his ERA a bit to 3.92. His WHIP crept up to 1.400 though. He struck out 91 opposing batsmen but also walked 56. He had better luck in his run support than Matlack and ended the season with a 14-11 record.

In spite of giving up a grand slam in the first inning of his first start, George Medich managed to put things back together in 1980. He was not an ace but was a very serviceable starter. The climbing WHIP was a matter for concern but it seemed very likely that Doc Medich would be back in the mix for the Rangers rotation in 1981.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Minor League Monday - Luke Sable, 1991 Line Drive.

In spite of a rather ordinary season in 1990, Luke Sable was promoted to Double A Tulsa for the 1991 season. Sable's 1991 Line Drive card 595 was a great improvement over his card from the previous season. The Rangers were looking for great improvement from Luke on the field as well.

Although he was primarily a third baseman, Sable continued his versatility in the field with the Drillers. Luke appeared in 75 games at third base, committed 16 errors there, and put up a .925 fielding percentage. He also appeared seven games at second base, and two games each at short stop, in the outfield, and as a pitcher. Sable's tours at second and in the outfield were perfect. He muffed one play at short for a .900 fielding percentage there. Luke was obviously an emergency option on the mound. He pitched just two innings and finished one game. His 36.00 ERA and 4.500 WHIP were predictable for a position player.

Sable made 373 trips to the plate over 95 games for the Drillers in 1991. He improved his batting average almost 20 points to .289 and his on-base percentage stayed about the same at .340. He still didn't have a lot of power: 12 doubles and just seven triples during the season. No home runs. Luke scored 32 runs and bumped in 33 RBI. Unfortunately the hole in his swing was still with him, he struck out 53 times while working only 25 walks.

Luke Sable turned in a serviceable season in 1991 for the Tulsa Drillers. Unfortunately, he needed more than a serviceable season to catch a ticket to Triple A in the Rangers system. Texas was set at third base in 1991 with Dean Palmer. In Deano the club already had a third baseman with a propensity to strike out and defense issues. Of course, Palmer also had a lot of power in his bat and connected for quite a few dingers. Sable needed to get the holes in his defense and bat closed or suddenly develop some eye-catching power or he was going to find himself blocked right out of the Rangers farm system. He would have a chance to make those improvements with Tulsa in 1992.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Senators Saturday - Horacio Pina, 1971.

Horacio Pina, seen here on card 497 of the 1971 Topps set, was entering his second season with the Washington Senators in 1971. He performed well in 1970 and Washington was looking for another solid year out of the young hurler.

A reliever, all 56 of Pina's appearances for the Senators in 1971 were out of the bullpen. He was mostly a one-inning guy, tossing only 57.2 innings on the season. He posted a 3.59 ERA (up 80 points from the previous season) and an 1.353 WHIP (down 70 points from the previous season). Horacio was not a power pitcher, as his 38 strikeouts and 31 walks demonstrate. A middle reliever, he notched just two saves and ended the season with a 1-1 record.

The Washington front office had to be a little confused by the dual nature of Pina's pitching stats. He was allowing fewer runners on base but was giving up more runs. It was hard to say exactly what that split meant. Horacio would make the move to Texas with the team but the powers that be would be keeping an eye on him in 1973.

Friday, February 19, 2016

They're Back!

The boys are back! Pitchers and catchers report today! Baseball has returned and the world is a better place.

Former Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shown here on 1990 Upper Deck card 245, is one of the special instructors working with Rangers catchers this spring. Hopefully some of his talent will rub off. Catching seems to be a weak area in Arlington at the moment.

Texas heads into Spring Training this year with several interesting story lines to follow. Of course, everyone is waiting to see if Yu Darvish will be able to make a complete comeback from his Tommy John Surgery. The answer to that will have to wait until later in the year though since Darvish is not expected back in the rotation until May. As such, the team finds a need for somebody to hold down Darvish's spot in the rotation. That competition is wide open.

The composition of the bullpen is also far from set. There are a number of arms looking for a spot in the Texas pen but a final decision on who's in and who's out is likely to wait until the final few days before the start of the season.

For the most part, the starting lineup is set and nobody is really expecting huge roster battles in that area. There is room for surprises however. Rougned Odor and Delino DeShields had good seasons last year. Both are young though and have not yet completely nailed down their starting jobs. Odor could face a challenge from a finally healthy, and still unproven, Jurickson Profar. Outfield prospects Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara could also mount challenges if DeShields shows any weakness or if Josh Hamilton turns out to be less than healthy. Of course, Joey Gallo is always lurking in the wings as well.

The Rangers are also hoping to extend third baseman Adrian Beltre's contract for at least another year before the team breaks camp. 2016 is the final year of Adrian's contract and Texas would like to keep him at the hot corner. Apparently Beltre is open to the possibility but with Scott Boras involved there is no way to tell if the two sides can reach an agreement.

However these various stories work out, I think we can all reach an agreement that it is very good to have baseball, and the boys of summer, back.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

More TTM returns.

So here we are on Spring Training eve and it's time for one final off-season through the mail return report. Of course, I'll be sending out requests throughout the season but hopefully there will be lots of great Rangers news to talk about.

Sent this 1983 Donruss card and a 1983 Topps card out to former Ranger Frank Tanana on January 20th of this year. Got them both back signed on February 11th. Mr. Tanana included a Gospel tract, as is his practice. Also received returns from former Rangers Dave Schmidt, and Jeff Huson and former Texas draft pick Ritchie Moody this past week. Many thanks to all four of these gentlemen for their consideration in signing and returning my cards. I really need to get some pennies saved up and pick up some more stamps in order to keep the returns coming.

Anyone else been passing the off-season requesting autographs? If so, how did it go?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1980 Topps - Jon Matlack.

Jon Matlack, shown here on card 592 of the 1980 Topps set, was coming off an injury-plagued 1979 season that ended in surgery. The Rangers plan called for Jon to be brought back up to full action slowly since he just resumed throwing in November of 1979 after bone chips were removed from his left elbow. It was hoped that 1980 would be a bounce-back year. In fact, the Rangers made Matlack their Opening Day starter to kick off 1980.

Texas expected no more than seven innings out of Matlack per start in 1980. It didn't take him long to trash those expectations as he went 26.1 innings in his first three starts. He allowed just two earned runs during that stretch. All told, Jon ended up pitching into the ninth inning in ten of his starts. He also gained some attention for ending George Brett's 30-game hit streak on August 19th.

During the course season Matlack appeared in 35 games for Texas. 34 of those appearances were starts, the most of any Rangers pitcher. His 234.2 innings pitch also led the pitching staff. His 3.68 ERA was 45 points lower than the previous season and second only to Gaylord Perry in the starting rotation. Of concern was Jon's 1.334 WHIP, five points higher than the year before. Still, he was striking out far more batters than he walked. 142 whiffs for the season (a team best) as compared to 48 walks. In fact, he led the league in fewest walks allowed per nine innings. It was a measure of the run support Matlack received that he ended the season with a 10-10 record. One of those wins was a shutout.

All in all, the Rangers had to be pretty pleased with the season Jon Matlack turned in in 1980. It wasn't his spectacular 1978 season but, it was very serviceable. After being the workhorse of the Texas rotation, Matlack served notice that he was back from his elbow problems and ready to defend his starting spot.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Minor League Monday - Rod Morris, 1991 Line Drive.

Coming off a decent 1990 season, Rod Morris was promoted from Single A Port Charlotte to Double A Tulsa for the 1991 season. Rod looks rather contemplative about the process on the front of card 588 in the 1991 Line Drive set.

Morris spent 102 of the 103 games he appeared in playing outfield. Not sure if he had a set spot out there or played all three positions for the Drillers. He made seven errors in the course of the season to put his fielding percentage at .966. That was eleven points lower than the previous season.

Rod made 420 trips to the plate for Tulsa. He put up a .269 batting average and a .321 on-base percentage. Surprisingly, that was 14 point increase in batting average and the on-base percentage was about the same as the previous season in A ball. Once again, Morris had more speed than power. He hit 17 doubles and eight triples but no home runs. He stole nine bases but also got caught six times. He scored 44 runs and picked up 35 RBI during the course of the season. Of concern were his 60 strikeouts as opposed to just 28 walks.

Rod Morris seemed to have made the transition from Single to Double A well in some respects. In others he still needed to catch up. His defense needed work and he was getting caught on the base paths more than he should. While his bat seemed to have stayed with him, he needed to find and correct the hole in his swing. Too many strikeouts could cause a problem for an outfielder with little power looking to move up the early 1990's Texas minor league ladder.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Senators Saturday - Elliott Maddox, 1971.

Elliott Maddox, shown here on card 11 of the 1971 Topps set, was a new arrival in Washington in 1971. The reason Maddox is hatless in this photo is because he moved from the Tigers to the Senators on October 9, 1970 as part of the ill-considered Denny McLain trade. 1971 would be Maddox's second season in the Majors. He had been in action for just 109 games with the Tigers in 1970.

Even though the front of Elliott's card classifies him as an infielder, he was primarily an outfielder for Washington in 1971. Serving mostly as a backup, Maddox still saw a decent amount of playing time. He appeared in 84 games in center field and played 485.2 innings there. His two errors put his fielding percentage at .989, above the league average .983. He was flawless in 40 innings over 12 games in left field and 76 innings over 10 games in right field. To round out his time in the field, Elliott also played 54.1 innings at third base, scattered over 12 games. He made one error there and his .947 fielding percentage was nine points below the league average.

Maddox made 312 trips to the plate during the season and put together a .217 batting average and .344 on-base percentage. He showed flashes of speed, stealing ten bases, but was also still learning the game, getting caught four times. Elliott had less than average power, hitting just eight doubles, two triples, and one home run. He scored 38 runs while knocking in only 18 RBI.

It's hard to tell if the sophomore slump hit Elliott Maddox in 1971. He hadn't had a super season in 1970 with Detroit so 1971 hadn't been a huge drop off. Defensively he had done well and proved his versatility in the field. One thing was for sure, if he wanted to secure himself a spot with the new Texas Rangers in 1972, he needed to up the offensive game.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Well, the 2016 season keeps getting closer. Pitchers and catchers report on the 19th. Getting down to the final checkups for the players headed in. Jurickson Profar, Derek Holland, and Ryan Rua claim they are healthy and can't wait to get going. Adrian Beltre should also be ready to roll once camp starts. Josh Hamilton's knee is about ready but look for Texas to take things slowly with him to keep him from re-injuring it before it's completely back. Yu Darvish is reportedly on track coming back from Tommy John surgery but likely won't be making any starts until May.

The Rangers have also avoided arbitration with first baseman Mitch Moreland. The deal came just a few hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin. The agreement gives Moreland $5.7 million for the 2016 season. Mitch was the last Rangers player scheduled for arbitration. The deal with him means Texas has not had an arbitration hearing in 16 years.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Topps cards are out. I have yet to pick any up, mainly because I spent my card money on stamps and haven't yet got my stash built back up. Anyone else got any yet? If so, what are your thoughts on the new release?

Speaking of stamps, a few more through the mail autograph requests found their way home this past week. This signed 1983 Donruss card of former Rangers hurler Steve Comer was among the bunch. Returns also arrived from Johnny Grubb, Billy Sample, and Jerry Don Gleaton. Mr. Sample was nice enough to enclose a note wishing me good luck with my collection and blog. Thanks to all four of the players who were kind enough to sign and return cards to a fan.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1980 Topps - Sparky Lyle.

Jim Kern wasn't the only Rangers reliever to suffer through a rough 1980 season. Closer Sparky Lyle, shown here on card 115 of the 1980 Topps set, also struggled. Perhaps there was something in the water cooler in the Rangers bullpen. Perhaps both had been overworked in 1979. Whatever the cause, the Rangers bullpen was a serious weakness in 1980.

Lyle appeared in 49 games for Texas, all in relief of course. He finished 32 of those games but had a 3-2 record with just eight saves. Those poor totals were the result of an ugly 4.69 ERA and 1.550 WHIP. The slider was still occasionally working, Sparky struck out 43 opposing batters, but it was also not working at times, he walked 28.

By late June the Rangers were looking for a bullpen solution. They found at least part of one in youngster Danny Darwin. By the end of June Darwin had displaced Lyle in the closer role. Darwin would end the season with as many saves for Texas as Lyle had.

With Sparky struggling and Darwin apparently the answer to the closer issue, the Rangers appeared to have an extra piece in their bullpen. Philadelphia was on the way to a post-season berth and needed to bolster their bullpen. On September 30, 1980 the Rangers sent Lyle to the Phillies for a player to be named later. Texas received Kevin Saucier in return on November 19, 1980. As for Sparky, he found his groove in Philly and helped them to the playoffs. However, he was acquired too late in the season to be eligible for the post-season roster.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Senators Saturday - Darold Knowles, 1971.

Darold Knowles came to Spring Training in 1971 with the eyes of the Senators front office on him. While there he also got his photograph taken for card 261 of the 1971 Topps set.

The reason the front office was watching Darold closely was because of his confusing 1970 season. Knowles lowered his ERA that year but got hit harder than at any time since he came to Washington prior to the 1967 season.

Darold started off 1971 in the Senators bullpen. After 12 appearances and 15.1 innings he tallied a 3.52 ERA and an 1.500 WHIP. He picked up two saves and was carrying a 2-2 record. He walked six but also struck out 16.

Apparently the front office had seen what they needed to see from Knowles. Unlike the previous season, his numbers were consistent with each other. Both his ERA and WHIP were climbing. It was time to move him before he had no trade value.

On May 8, 1971 the Senators sent Darold and first baseman Mike Epstein to the Oakland A's in exchange for Frank Fernandez, Paul Lindblad, Don Mincher, and some cash. The trade worked out well for Knowles, he got back in the groove and ended up pitching in the American League Championship Series that fall and again in the World Series in 1973. He would return to Texas prior to 1977 and played one final season with the club before being sold to the Montreal Expos before the 1978 campaign.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Interview with Billy Sample.

I recently sent out an autograph request to former Rangers outfielder Billy Sample, shown here on card 577 of the 1983 Fleer set. Sample was drafted by Texas in 1973 but didn't sign until being drafted again in 1976. He played for the Rangers from 1978 through 1984. Sample played with the Yankees in 1985 and the Braves in 1986. Since retirement as a player he has worked as a broadcaster, written a movie, and is working on a book.

For some reason I decided to take a chance and ask Mr. Sample for an interview. I received an email from him agreeing to answer some questions. I sent him a list of questions and he was gracious enough to answer them. Here are the questions and answers.

1. What are your memories of the day the Rangers drafted you in 1976?

The more memorable draft day was 1973, it was the year that David Clyde was the first pick in the draft.  Some high school athlete buddies and I were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina celebrating graduation.  There was Carey Casey (football), Charlie Morgan (basketball), Steve Hammond, Wally Hare and Dave Nave (baseball) and yours truly, (football, baseball, basketball, drama-two plays my junior year, debate J.V., my freshman year, and overall Most Versatile in the class) As impressive as that sounds, at our fortieth class reunion a couple of year ago, Charlie was relentlessly teasing me about my ability to steal the ball from the opposing guard only to blow the layup.  I was the point guard averaging five points per game, he was the shooting guard going to college on scholarship averaging twenty-four points per, thus I had to accept the teasing abuse.  If I drove the lane and you fouled me, you only helped improve my shot.  Anyway, the late, great Rangers' scout, Joe Branzell, tracked me down a couple of days after the draft, (remember there was no or MLB Network) I picked up the phone in the hotel room.  "Bill, this is Joe Branzell of the Texas Rangers, we've drafted you in the 28th round."  Now, I knew I wasn't going in the first round, I thought someone in the teens, at least that's what the other scouts were telling me, but the 28th round?  I didn't know they had that many rounds.  Joe could hear my disappointment over the phone and soothed my hurts feelings by saying, "Well Bill, twenty-three other teams passed over you twenty-seven times!"  As if to say, don't blame us for drafting you.  I'm sure that wasn't the first time Joe used that line;  it was funnier in reflection than at the time, but I don't think Joe really expected or wanted me to sign.  I went to Madison College, later, James Madison University under coach Brad Babcock, whose three year old son, Whit, has grown up to be the athletic director at Virginia Tech.  After honing my skills in the Shenandoah Valley League collegiate summer league, I left college after my junior year when Joe drafted me again, this time in the 10th round, and I knew beforehand I would sign regardless of the round and made my way to the Rangers' rookie league in Sarasota, Florida, coached by Assistant Farm Director, Joe Klein. 

2. What are your memories of your call-up from the minors and your Major League debut in 1978?

I actually detail some of this in a YouTube clip, about my first hit, and I'm also writing about it in my book that should be finished early in the 2016 baseball season.  I submitted a manuscript to a publisher of a large publishing house about twenty-five years ago.  The publisher said it was good, but the person he answered to said that I didn't have enough name recognition ... whatever ... nowadays it is much easier to publish or self publish and I think my brand is large enough that it will be worth my while, and I do like to express through the written word.  Well, let me leave you with this little tease, we (Danny Darwin, Pat Putnam, Nelson Norman, LaRue Washington, Greg Mahlberg and I)  left Triple-A Tucson in the wee hours of the morning, had a stop in Phoenix, flew to Chicago, changed planes and got to Milwaukee just in time for the last part of the pre-game workout.  I walked into the clubhouse and the lineup card for the Rangers, five games out of first place, had me leading off.  Playing immediately didn't bother me, except it had me playing second base.  I hadn't played second base in a year and a half, and didn't play it well then.  Additionally, I didn't even have an infielders glove. 

Here's the link to the YouTube clip Mr. Sample referenced. 

3. The Rangers (and others) compared you to Rod Carew when you were a young player. Were you aware of the comparisons? If so, how did they effect your development and the way you view(ed) your career?

Well, the problem was, Dan O'Brien Sr., said those overly flattering remarks about my ability, but Dan was squeezed out of the Rangers' G.M. job and headed towards the Seattle Mariners;  former player, Eddie Robinson, the G.M. negotiating my first contract, was not moved monetarily by the comparison, since he was not the author of it.  I played against Rodney for most of my career and have seen him from time to time afterwards, and I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned the comparison, for fear that he would have to stifle a guffaw laugh in my face. 

4. With baseball being so much of a mental game, did your psychology major in college help you in any way during your playing career?  

I wish. Honestly, I wasn't a very good Psychology student.  Now, in old age, I can think of five other subject in which I should have majored, although the aforementioned Joe Klein, felt that I could become a good baseball manager because of my psychology background.  I did return to school and got my B.S., which are not only my initials, but, well, you know what B.S. also indicates.  

5. You broke your left wrist in 1981 and strained it in 1982. Do you feel those two injuries coming so close together shortened or effected your playing career?  

Well, I had a 19 game hitting streak that lasted 115 days in 1981.  Had a 11 game streak, broke my wrist making a diving catch of a U.L. Washington live drive in Arlington.  The light stanchions at the old stadium were so low, that by the time you fought the line drives out of the lights, the ball was closer to the ground than in normal parks, and I caught the liner low and secured it by rolling on my wrist.  I went on the disabled list for the month of May, came back and hit in seven more games leading up to the labor impasse over Free Agent compensation, which lasted fifty more days and I got a single my first at bat back from the strike.  I later re-broke the wrist and played with it broken, the ulna styloid bone, for roughly five weeks until the end of the season without telling anyone associated with the team.  And my declining batting average brought into question the competence of that decision. 

6. Who was your most memorable teammate(s)?  

I had 195 of them and almost all were memorable in some form or fashion.  I do remember waiting at times for Oscar Gamble to come into the clubhouse in the few months he was a Ranger in 1979, as there was something kinetically enjoyable about his personality.  "Alright, okay, this is it, the big one!"  And he'd finish it with a cackle ... a lively personality and a talented, clutch performer, and how the Rangers lost him during the middle of a pennant run still pains me too much to talk about.  I'd have to pay for more shrink hours ... add to that how they Rangers traded away Dave Righetti and Ron Darling and I will be ready for the Looney Tunes 

7. Which manager did you most enjoy playing for?  

Well, I think it would have been Billy Hunter had he lasted through the 1978 season.  I had eight managers in a little over eight years.  Don Zimmer told it to me about as straight as it could be told.  It wasn't always what I wanted to hear, but I respected him as almost all of the baseball world respected his personality and love of the game.  Plus, the old Brooklyn Dodger was crazier than the players.  

8. Were any of the characters in your movie, Reunion108, based on players you knew?  

Hmm, well, most of the stories portrayed in Reunion 108 are composites from my major and minor league days, and some of the roughly fifteen flashback scenes were personal stories, as in Billy Sample lived those stories.  I believe some author said that the 1980 Rangers team was the second best character team of all time.  Who was number one, the Cardinals Gas House Gang?  Anyway, the Rangers and Yankees gave me good fodder for an irreverent baseball clubhouse comedy.  If I had to base my stories on the Braves' clubhouse, I doubt I could have had an award winning screenplay (Hoboken Film Festival 2011)  The personalities were night and day apart.  

9. What is the most unusual piece of memorabilia you have ever been asked to sign?

I never got the real sexy places to sign, like on some woman's body.  Someone asked me to sign a football once and I don't think they mistook me for Tony Dorsett

10. How has the game changed (if it has) since you played?

I hate to sound like an old-timer, even though I am, but the remuneration has changed drastically.  My first salary was $21,000, during the double-digit inflation days of the late 1970s, took me three years before I made enough money that I didn't have to find a means of income in the off-season.  Currently, the minimum salary in over $500,000 a year, even if you're taking home only $395,000 after taxes, a living from that can be made.  Stating the after taxes amount of compensation is a lesson I learned from the late Rangers team dentist, Dr. Carl Rainone, who died in a plane crash.  While he was repairing my mouth after losing half of a couple of teeth in a collision on the field, he said in the tone of a person who had investment savvy, "You can't spend gross!"  Thus, I've dealt with net only since then.  Also, in almost all sports, there is a greater correlation between offense and revenue, thus, if you are trying to get the kids' discretionary income dollars, a 10-8 game in a small Cincinnati ballpark with five homers, is more attractive than a pitcher's duel in Los Angeles, and the rules will favor more offense.  In my day, if the two hitters in front of me homered, chances are, the first pitch to me might be around the neck, nowadays, in the same scenario, the pitcher could get immediately ejected.  Offense (and revenues) protected.  

Some great answers in there. I will definitely have to give Mr. Sample's book a read when it comes out, seems it will be very interesting. Hope everyone else enjoyed the answers as much as I did. Let me know what you think. Many thanks to Mr. Sample for taking of his time to answer my questions.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Coming and going.

The Rangers are going. Yesterday was truck day at the Ballpark. The equipment is loaded on the truck and now on the way to Surprise, Arizona for Spring Training. Only two weeks until pitchers and catchers report. The 2016 season is creeping closer and I couldn't be more happy. It's been a long winter and I'm ready for some baseball.

While baseball teams are heading out for Spring Training, the through the mail autograph requests keep coming in. Over the last week several requests came back with successes. One such return was this 1986 card that Dwayne Henry was gracious enough to sign and return. It arrived in my mailbox yesterday after I sent it out on the January 23rd.

In addition to Mr. Henry, in the past week I received autographs from former Rangers Bobby Johnson, Bill Stein, Bob Lacey, Scott Fletcher, Mike Mason, Mike Smithson, and Jack Daugherty. It was a great week for autograph returns. Thanks to all these guys for the time they took to sign for a fan and drop the cards back in the mail.

I received another return that was pretty cool as well. I recently sent former Rangers outfielder Billy Sample an autograph request. I included a short note asking for an interview for this blog. I haven't received my cards back but I did get an email from Mr. Sample. He said he was willing to do the interview. I sent him some questions and he replied with some great answers. Should have the interview ready to post tomorrow. Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

1980 Topps - Jim Kern.

Jim Kern, shown here on card 369 of the 1980 Topps set, was coming off an amazing 1979 season. He was lights out that year coming out of the bullpen, made the All-Star team, and garnered some Cy Young and MVP consideration. The Rangers were looking for that to continue in 1980.

The season got off on the wrong foot as Kern injured his elbow pitching against Atlanta in Spring Training. That took the speed off his fast ball and the injury continued to plague him throughout the early part season. About the time the elbow seemed to be on the mend, Jim suffered a pinched nerve in his back in late July. On August 9th he was warming up on the sidelines. After delivering a warm-up toss, Kern looked up at a foul ball. The return throw from his bullpen catcher caught him in the mouth and knocked him off the mound. It took nine stitches to close up the wounds to Jim's mouth and the fall off the mound caused him to hit his head and suffer a concussion. That incident put him on the Disabled List until September 15th and ended his season.

In between injuries, Kern appeared in 38 games for Texas. One appearance was a start, with the rest being relief appearances out of the pen. In 63.1 innings Jim watched his ERA soar to 4.83 and his WHIP climb to 1.737. Obviously he was struggling with his control as he walked 45 while striking out just 40 opposing batters. He would end the season with just two saves, 27 fewer than the previous year.

To say 1980 was a disappointment for Jim Kern would be an understatement. It was a train wreck. Needless to say, the Rangers' expectations had not been met. Of course, injuries happen and the freak injury that ended Kern's season could not be accounted for. What was going to make or break Jim Kern was going to be his comeback in 1981. Would 1980 be the beginning of the end or only a dip in his career?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Minor League Monday - Chris Shiflett, 1991 Line Drive.

Chris Shiflett, shown here on card 598 of the 1991 Line Drive set, had a stabilizing season of sorts in 1990. It wasn't a blow the doors off year but it was better than the rough time he experienced in 1988 and 1989 or his injury-shortened 1986 and 1987 campaigns. The 1990 effort kept the former first rounder at Double A Tulsa for the 1991 season. Texas was looking for Shiflett to make some serious strides forward in his development.

Injury derailed the plan. Chris appeared in just four games for Tulsa in 1991 and pitched only nine innings. He got hammered to the tune of a 5.59 ERA and an 1.241 WHIP. He walked five but also struck out 12.

The Rangers had to be getting frustrated with Shiflett. 1991 was the third season he pitched fewer than ten innings. Maybe the prospect was too fragile to make it to the Majors. Only time would tell but that time appeared to be running out for Chris Shiflett's career.