Tuesday, June 30, 2015

1979 Topps - Jon Matlack.

Brought to Texas as part of a dizzying four-team trade on December 8, 1977, Jon Matlack had an outstanding year for the Rangers in 1978. Matlack, shown here on card 315 of the 1979 Topps set, led the team with his 2.30 ERA and came in second best in the Majors. It's a Rangers season best record for a left-handed starter that still stands. He didn't get a lot of run support though and ended the season with a pedestrian looking 15-13 record. Going into 1979, Texas was hoping Jon could repeat his 1978 performance and the lineup could give him more run support. Neither happened.

On April 1, in Florida, Matlack was warming up prior to facing the Kansas City Royals in his final Spring Training start. He had enjoyed a fine spring and was slated to start the Rangers season opener in Detroit. As he tossed down the rosin bag, Jon felt a pain in his left shoulder. The Rangers shut him down and he didn't make another start until May 1st. He lasted through July 1st, pitching through pain with pronounced swelling after every start. That wasn't working well so the Rangers shut him down again. Late in the season Matlack underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. He wouldn't throw a baseball again until November, 1979.

In the 13 starts Matlack made for the Rangers in 1979, he posted an unusually high 4.13 ERA and 1.329 WHIP.  He lasted just 85 innings and struck out 35 opposing batters while issuing 15 free passes. He ended the season with a 5-4 record.

1979 had been a painful bust for Jon Matlack and the Rangers. The club was convinced the two were linked. Jon had a lot to come back from in 1980 but the front office thought he could do it. Texas was planning on bringing him along carefully in Spring Training but were hoping he would be ready for the regular season. If he could regain anything close to his 1978 form, it would be a huge improvement over the 1979 campaign.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Minor League Monday - Bernie Tatis, 1990 CMC.

Let me say before I go any further in this post, I don't know if Bernie Tatis is any relation to former Ranger Fernando Tatis. I tried to research the question but was not able to find an answer. I do know that Bernie is giving us a nice view of the 89ers uniform number font on the front of card 170 in the 1990 CMC set.

Tatis began his pro career in the Toronto system at Medicine Hat in the Rookie League in 1981. He stayed in the Blue Jays system until the end of the 1987 season, never making it above Double A. In 1988 he played at Triple A for the Pirates and lasted part of the 1989 season at Double A before Pittsburgh let him go. He finished the season in the Mexican League. Texas decided to take a look at him and signed him prior to the 1990 season. He was assigned to Triple A Oklahoma City.

Bernie played in 55 games total for OKC in 1990. As the front of his card indicates, he played primarily in the outfield, 45 games all told, with a fielding percentage of .989. Tatis also made three appearances at second base where he was flawless and a cameo at third base where he flubbed the only chance he saw.

Tatis made 198 trips to the plate for the 89ers in 1990. His .198 batting average was below the Mendoza Line and his .260 on-base percentage wasn't too far above it. Those low numbers were due in part to the fact that he struck out 36 times while working just 18 walks. He did manage four doubles, two triples, and three home runs.

Apparently the Rangers didn't need a full season to see that Bernie Tatis was not going to work out for them. He ended the season at Double A in the Cleveland system. The Indians held on to him until the end of the 1991 season but he never got above Triple A with them either. From 1992 through 1996, Tatis played in the Mexican League. After a two year hiatus, he again played in the Mexican League during the 1999 season. That was it for him as a player. After 17 seasons in the minors, Bernie Tatis finally let go of his dream of playing Major League baseball.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Senators Saturday - Del Unser, 1969.

Apparently the ball Del Unser is looking at on card 338 of the 1969 Topps set is a slow-pitch soft ball. He seems to be looking up as if the ball is on a downward arc.

Del is the second Senator we've seen from the 1969 Topps set with the All-Star Rookie trophy on his card. Unlike Gary Holman, Unser avoided the sophomore jinx and stayed with the team in his second year.

Unser came in second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1968 with a .230 batting average, a .282 on-base percentage, and a .277 slugging percentage. He led the club in plate appearances and pushed veteran Fred Valentine out of a job.

In 1969 Del would keep the starting center field gig. He appeared in 149 games for Washington, all in center. Over the 1250.2 innings he played there he committed ten errors. That gave him a .972 fielding percentage, 10 points lower than the league average.

On offense, Unser would make 649 trips to the plate (second most on the club) and post improvements in almost every category. He raised is batting average 56 points to .286 (second highest on the team), his on-base percentage 67 points to .349, and his slugging percentage 105 points to .382. He scored 69 runs while knocking in 57 RBI. He walked 58 times while striking out 54 times. Of his 166 hits (second most on the club), 19 were doubles (second most on the club), eight triples (most in the American League), and seven were home runs.

The Senators got an excellent follow-up season to Del Unser's rookie campaign. He needed some work on defense but his offense was just what the team needed. Instead of dipping, his numbers improved. Looked like he was a keeper and, if he could keep things trending in the right direction, he should be around for a long time. Washington seemed to have found their center fielder for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rangers out to stop losing streak.

Well, the Rangers have been being hammered the past few days and are now four games behind first place Houston. Texas is 4-6 in their last ten games and is riding a four game losing streak. They are only a half a game ahead of the third place Anaheim Angels.

Tonight Colby Lewis takes the mound to try and salvage a win from the current series with the suddenly hot Oakland A's. Colby's had success in the past against Oakland so he might be able to cool them off a bit. The Rangers need a stopper to end this losing streak before it becomes crippling. Of course, the A's are sending Ranger killer Sonny Gray to the mound with his 1.95 ERA and 8-3 record. That means Texas had better bring their A game or it's going to be sweep time.

In order to help Lewis and the guys out, I am posting this 2002 Bowman Heritage  Jersey card of Ranger great Ivan Rodriguez. If Pudge can't bring a team some good luck and hard nose playing then I don't know what can. Against Sonny Gray you need all the luck and hard play you can get.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Father's Day tragedy.

Most of you have probably already heard that former Ranger Darryl Hamilton was killed this past Father's Day in his home in Texas. Hamilton, shown here on card 467 of the 1996 Upper deck set, played for the Rangers in 1996.

MLB.com's article doesn't have a lot of detail about Hamilton's death but there are two things that stand out to me as particularly tragic.

The first is that Darryl was apparently shot and killed by the mother of his young child before she turned the gun on herself. Again we see a circumstance where someone is killed by a loved one. This should not be so.

The second thing that I noted in the article is that the couple's young child was in the home at the time and was unharmed. Physically that is. This youngster will have to deal with the loss of Dad and Mom, as well as the tragic circumstances of their deaths, for the rest of their life. That's a heavy burden and one that nobody should have to bear.

I don't know much of the story and can't pretend to know what brought this tragedy about. I can't even say who the aggressor was. I do know that home and loved ones should be safe, not a source or scene of violence. We see too much family violence in this day and age it seems. If you know someone suffering domestic abuse; man, woman, or child, take a minute and do something. Make a call, offer a safe place, give support. Don't let a worse tragedy unfold.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

1979 Topps - Jim Mason.

Before I get started discussing Jim Mason's 1979 season let me say I have always found card 67 of the 1979 Topps set amusing. The expression on Mason's faces seems to say he had much better things to do than pose for a baseball card photo. Perhaps he did.

This photo was taken during Mason's second stint with Texas. He broke into the Majors with the Senators in 1971 and stayed with the team for two more years before moving on to the Yankees before the 1974 season. He returned to Texas midway through the 1977 season.

In 1978 Jim was able to take advantage of Bert Campaneris' struggles with the bat and get some more playing time than expected. Mason's .190 batting average did not impress though and Texas decided he was not the answer at short stop. On December 8, 1978 Texas traded Jim Mason to the Montreal Expos for Mike Hart. Jim would play one final season in the Majors before being released by the Expos and ending his playing career.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Minor League Monday - John Barfield, 1990 CMC.

The Rangers selected John Barefield, shown here on card 159 of the 1990 CMC set, in the June phase of the 1986 draft. He worked his way up the farm system and was a September call-up in 1989. He appeared in four games for the Rangers that year and posted a 6.17 ERA over 11.2 innings pitched.

Numbers like that are not calculated to keep one in the Majors and Barfield was assigned to Triple A Oklahoma City to start the 1990 season.

In the course of 19 appearances John made three starts for the 89ers. The rest of his games were in relief. He pitched 43.1 innings and posted a 3.53 ERA and an 1.500 WHIP. His strikeout to walk ratio wasn't very impressive either as he walked 21 while striking out just 25.

It is probably more of a testament to the Rangers lack of pitching at the time than to anything else that they called Barfield up on May 29, 1990. He would spend the rest of the season with Texas and stay there in 1991 as well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Young guns, pitching keeping Rangers afloat.

Delino DeShields headed to the Disabled List yesterday with a left hamstring injury he suffered in Sunday's game. That's a real downer because Delino has been a pleasant surprise in the outfield this year and has been one of the cogs keeping the Rangers running. He'll be gone at least 15 days.

You'd think the Rangers would call up an outfielder to replace DeShields on the roster. Not so. Roughned Odor, shown here on card 23 of the 2013 Topps Heritage Minor League set, got the call from Triple A. Roogie was the Rangers starting second baseman at the beginning of the season but struggled in the field and at the plate. He was batting just .144 after 29 games when Texas sent him down. He did well at Round Rock though and the Rangers decided to give him a second look.

The call-up meant moving Hanser Alberto from second over to third base to cover for the injured Adrian Beltre and sending Joey Gallo to left field to take over for DeShields. It seemed to work for the Rangers.

Facing the Dodgers in his return, Odor went 3-for-3 with two RBI and made a couple of very nice plays in the field. That helped give starter Yovani Gallardo four runs of support. That was all he would need as he cruised through seven innings of scoreless ball. Par for the course, the bullpen did allow one run but the Dodgers could not climb back into the game. Final, 4-1 Rangers.

Nice to see a strong start out of Gallardo. The starting rotation has been tremendous for Texas recently. Couple that with Gallo, Alberto, DeShields, and now Odor giving some strong support and the result is a 34-30 record. Just a few weeks ago the Rangers were near the bottom of the division and a .500 season seemed out of reach. Now they are four games over, in sole possession of second, and just 2.5 games behind first place Houston. The season suddenly got interesting.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Minor League Monday - John Russell, 1990 CMC.

John Russell, shown here on card 161 of the 1990 CMC set, joined the Rangers organization as a free agent on May 7, 1990. He had Major League experience with the Phillies and Braves before coming to Texas and was released by Atlanta after refusing a minor league assignment following Spring Training.

Texas sent Russell to Triple A Oklahoma City following his signing. He played in six games for the 89ers in 1990 and made 24 trips to the plate. In that limited sample he hit .409 with a .458 on-base percentage. John walked twice and struck out three times while hitting four doubles and two home runs.

Russell caught in five of the six games he played for OKC. He made just one error to tally a .969 fielding percentage.

Six games is a pretty limited sample size but it was enough for the Rangers. On May 17, 1990 the Rangers purchased John's contract from the 89ers. He was back in the Majors.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

1979 Topps - John Lowenstein.

John Lowenstein, shown here on card 173 of the 1979 Topps set, came to Texas in February of 1978 as part of the trade that sent David Clyde and Willie Horton to Cleveland.

Lowenstein was blocked in the outfield and served primarily as a backup in 1978, appearing in just 77 games. Blocked in the crowded Rangers outfield, John got most of his action at third base behind Toby Harrah and as the designated hitter.

The Rangers were swamped with weak-hitting utility players and Lowenstein's .222 batting average during the 1978 season did not make him stand out from the crowd. Texas placed him on waivers at the end of the season and the Baltimore Orioles claimed him on November 27, 1978. He was gone before this card was printed.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Minor League Monday - Mike Berger, 1990 CMC.

Card number 160 of the 1990 CMC set is a bit confusing. If you read the front of the card, Mike Berger is listed as playing first base/outfield. If you know anything about baseball you realize from the picture that he's in a catcher's crouch with a catcher's mitt.

I have no idea why CMC listed Berger's positions the way they did. He played outfield and first base for most of the first part of his career. Mike was a catcher in 1980 when the Pirates drafted him and returned to the position in 1989 with the 89ers.

The Rangers were Mike's third franchise (Pittsburgh and Montreal also had him in their systems), by the time he arrived he was experienced and could play a number of positions. In 1990 he played in six games in the outfield, 33 games at first base, and 38 games behind the plate for OKC. His .984 fielding percentage at first base was the highest of the three positions with .977 at catcher coming in second. His .889 fielding percentage probably explains why he didn't play more out there.

Overall Berger appeared in a total of 83 games for Oklahoma City in 1990 and made 306 trips to the plate. He posted a batting average of .236 and and on-base percentage of .325. He did walk 35 times but struck out 64 times as well. He also didn't have a lot of power as his 15 doubles, six triples, and five home runs showed.

Mike Berger was 27 years old in 1990 and had been in the minors since 1980. He really needed to blow the doors off if he ever wanted to make the show. That hadn't happened and he was consigned to Double-A Tulsa to start 1991 as another minor league season.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rangers roundup.

Lots going on in Ranger land the last few days. Good and bad news. Here's the run down.

The Rangers did call up phenom prospect Joey Gallo to fill in for Adrian Beltre at third. Gallo made his Major League debut Tuesday evening. He went 3-for-4 with a double, a home run, and four RBI as the Rangers hammered the White Sox 15-2. The ChiSox got their revenge last night, beating Texas 9-2 but they couldn't keep Gallo down. He launched a long ball in the ninth inning for his second home run in as many games. Right now Joey is carrying a .500 batting average through eight at-bats. That's not a large sample size, but the fact that his four outs have all been whiffs is something to keep an eye on.

Josh Hamilton missed last night's game with a tight hamstring. He had an MRI done yesterday but the club had not made any statements at game time. They finally announced last night that Hamilton is headed back to the Disabled List for four weeks with a strained hamstring. At least the Rangers know they were winning without Josh and should be able to keep chugging in his absence.

Matt Harrison, shown here on a signed 2012 Topps Heritage card, is looking at ending his absence soon. Harrison tossed five innings for Triple-A Round Rock yesterday to begin his comeback bid. A year ago Harrison had spinal fusion surgery that almost everyone expected would end his pitching career. Now it looks like he has a shot to get back into the Rangers rotation before the end of July. That would be a welcome miracle.

Ryan Rua isn't looking for a miracle but he is looking to get going at Triple-A today to start his rehab assignment. Rumor has it he has been taking some grounders at second base in practice. Maybe the Rangers are looking for him to increase his versatility.

Neftali Feliz is expected to begin a rehab assignment soon and should progress rapidly to the point of rejoining the team. With the way he had been pitching I'm not sure if that's good news or bad news.

Well, like I said, good news and bad news. At least there's some good news and guys are looking at coming off the DL. That's a whole lot better than last year and that's good news by itself.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

1979 Topps - Mike Jorgensen.

Mike Jorgensen, shown here on card 22 of the 1979 Topps set, came to the Rangers as a free agent signing in January of 1978. He had a reputation as a slick-fielding first baseman with a light bat. The only time in his career he batted over .300 was 1974. That was fine with Texas. They used Mike mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement for their regular first baseman, Mike Hargrove. That allowed the club to overlook Jorgensen's .196 batting average.

Things changed between the 1978 and 1979 seasons though. The Rangers traded Hargrove to San Diego and first base was wide open. Jorgensen was considered one of the primary contenders for the regular job but so was rookie Pat Putnam.

Apparently Mike's bat cost him the contest with Putnam and he ended up serving as a backup for a second year in a row. Jorgensen did get 177 plate appearances over 90 games in 1979. He improved his batting average to .223 and posted a .293 on-base percentage. The low on-base percentage can be partially attributed to Jorgensen's 29 strikeouts as opposed to just 14 walks. The seven doubles and six home runs were not enough power to overcome the average and on-base percentage.

Jorgensen actually played in fewer games at first in 1979 than he did in 1978. He appeared at first in 60 games for the Rangers and made four muffs in the course of 277.2 innings to lower his fielding percentage to .988. That was four points below the league average. He also played 117.2 innings in the outfield over 20 games without a miscue.

Things were not looking good for Mike Jorgensen's future in Texas. He hadn't been able to get his bat going enough to snag the regular first baseman's job and his fielding was not what it had been. The Rangers weren't sure what to think about Putnam but they had serious doubts about Jorgensen. It looked unlikely he would get a second shot at first base.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Rangers top .500!

Last night in Arlington, Josh Hamilton faced a do-or-die moment. Hamilton, shown here on card WMDP26 of the 2008 Topps Wal-Mart Dick Perez set, had the day off. Well, most of the day. In the ninth inning, with the Red Sox leading 3-2, he got the call to pinch hit. There were runners on the corners and two outs. Josh was either going to tie or end the game. It was his first chance at a walk-off since rejoining the Rangers. Obviously the Sox thought they knew which way this would end, they had just intentionally walked Prince Fielder.

Hamilton swung at one pitch way out of the strike zone and I figured BoSox closer Koji Uehara had him in the bag. Not so. Josh lined a pitch from the former Ranger into the left-center gap for a double. Recent call-up Hanser Alberto scored easily from third. What was really strange was that Prince Fielder chugged his way around the bases to score from first with a head first slide into home. You do not want to get in the way of that train for sure.

Hamilton's teammates mobbed him and the crowd went wild, just like the old days. Texas is now over .500 for the first time since June 6, 2014. Hopefully it is just like the old days and Hamilton can keep providing the spark the Rangers need.

On a down note, Adrian Beltre jammed his left thumb sliding into second base to break up a double play earlier in the game. He was placed on the 15 day disabled list today. About an hour ago the Rangers announced they will be purchasing the contract of prospect Joey Gallo from the Double-A Frisco Rough Riders and bringing him up to stand in for Beltre. This should be a good chance for Gallo to show management what he can do and give an indication if he will be able to live up to the hype or not. He won't be the defensive wizard Beltre is but he might be able to replace his bat in the lineup for a time.