Saturday, January 30, 2016

Senators send-back.

So, the through the mail returns have been coming in recently. I had three waiting when I returned from FanFest last week. One of those was from former Senators hurler Matry Kutyna.

I sent Mr. Kutyna a single 1961 Topps card on January 13th and asked him to sign and return it. My first clue that something was not normal was the fact that my card arrived back home on the 23rd in a large manila envelope, not the small self addressed envelope I included with the request.

Not only did Marty sign and return my 1961 Topps card, he added a trove of goodies to the package and paid the return postage himself. Included in the envelope was this 8x10 summary of Kutyna's career, personalized and signed by Mr. Kutyna himself. Part of the account tells the story of how Marty caught a ball thrown out on opening day by President Kennedy in 1962. JFK signed the ball after Kutyna recovered it. An 8x10 photo of Kennedy signing the ball was included. Mr. Kutyna personalized and signed that photo as well. Next came a photo-copy of a 1961 newspaper article about Marty's efforts with the Senators that year, a print out of the Wikkipedia entry about Kutyna, a print out of his career stats, and an account of his first face-off with Ted Williams.

Three autographs and a great package of information and photos. Can't beat that. It was way more than I expected. Players will occasionally include a custom card or a small note. This was far beyond that. Thanks a lot Mr. Kutyna!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

FanFest, 2016 Recap.

Well, I've had time to recover from the Rangers FanFest last Saturday. Time to offer a recap and review.

Spiff Jr and I got to the ballpark just about 0800 to get in line for the 0900 gate opening. It was a bit nippy standing in line but at least this year there was no wind. Surprisingly, the gates opened about twenty minutes prior to the start of the FanFest. That allowed most folks to get in before things got started.

Unfortunately programs and schedules were not handed out until after entrance. That robbed us of our normal planning time and made the beginning of the day feel a bit rushed as we tried to absorb and process the information we needed to plan our attack. Checking out the autograph schedule gave me the first let down of the day. Jose Guzman, Pete O'Brien, and Eric Nadel were on the schedule. None had been in the list of names released by the Rangers and so I had nothing other than generic Rangers stickers and hologram cards for them to sign. Pete O'Brien was a real kick since he won't sign through the mail and I would like to have him for a couple of team sets I am working on.

This year the autograph sessions did not start until 1100. Initially I was not impressed with this but, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. With a couple of hours before guys started signing, we had time to get in a few things without feeling like we were missing out on autograph chances.

Headed up to the Rangers Foundation sale. Missed it last year but in 2014 they had some great deals. This year they were crammed into the Jack Daniels Club along with the Rangers Futures signings. Made for a very cramped space but folks were good about it all. Picked up a Prince Fielder bobblehead, 2015 Media Guide, a Rangers cereal bowl, and a couple of other small items for $20. Not too bad. If I didn't already have more than enough jerseys I would have grabbed one or two of the $25 ones they had for sale.

After the sale we met up with some friends, checked out the Rangers Hall of Fame museum, and headed down to the visiting clubhouse for the autographs. Got in line for Toby Harrah, Bobby Jones, and Kevin Mench about twenty minutes before they started signing. Good thing too. Unlike previous years, the staff was very prompt to cut the lines at 250 people this year. We ended up making every session except the 1400 one featuring Rusty Greer, Tom Grieve, and Dean Palmer. That line was already full and cut when we finished getting signatures from Jeff Russell and Mike Adams. We went ahead and got in line for the final session, to feature only Darren Oliver. Much to my surprise, not only was Oliver signing but Eric Nadel had been moved down from the previous session and John Wetteland was making an unannounced appearance. I had no card for Wetteland and ended up asking him to sign the Upper Deck Rangers hologram card featured above.

Made a couple more quick stops once the final autograph session ended then stopped by Duane's Sportscards after leaving the park. I needed to replace the 1972 and 1973 Topps Toby Harrah cards I pulled out of team sets for him to sign.

The delayed start of the autograph sessions worked out better than I expected, we got autographs from 13 former players and current coaches, and spent some quality father-son time visiting while waiting in lines. The biggest area to improve next year would be a more complete listing of players who might sign. I would rather have a list, pull cards, and have a player cancel than end up without something for a player to sign. All in all, it was a great day and I am looking forward to going back next year.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1980 Topps - Mike Jorgensen.

Mike Jorgensen appears here on card 213 of the 1980 Topps set. One of the victims of the early 1980's Rangers roster upheaval, he would not appear in a Rangers uniform in 1980.

Following Pat Putnam's beating Jorgensen for the first base job in 1979, the Rangers traded for Willie Montanez from the New York Mets on August 12, 1979. The Mets were to receive the ever popular players to be named later.

That left Texas with three first basemen: Putnam, Jorgensen, and Montanez. It was not a situation that could long continue but it would last through the end of the season.

On September 18th the Rangers sent Ed Lynch to New York to partially complete the trade for Montanez. On October 23rd Mike Jorgensen got his ticket to the Big Apple as the second player the Mets received for Montanez. The trade that took three and a half months to complete was finished.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Minor League Monday - Brian Romero, 1991 Line Drive.

Coming off a great 1990 season, Brian Romero was trying to continue his climb up the Texas farm system ladder in 1991. Romero, shown here on card 594 of the 1991 Line Drive set, had been a pleasant surprise for a 50th round draft pick who missed his first season due to injury. He would start the 1991 season with the Double A Tulsa Drillers.

Primarily a starter, Romero saw significant relief action for the first time in his career in 1991. In the 23 games he appeared in for Tulsa, only 14 were starts. The season didn't take long to get rough. Over the 94 innings Brian pitched he posted a 4.98 ERA and a 1.532 WHIP. Both were extreme increases from 1990. The 52 walks Romero issued didn't help his cause but at least the 79 times he whiffed opposing batsmen outnumbered the free passes. Romero stayed with Tulsa for the entire season and ended the year with a 6.5 record and one save, the first (and only) of his pro career.

1991 was a rough season for Brian Romero. His impressive climb towards the Majors came to a screeching halt. At least the Rangers did not demote him. They really didn't have that kind of time for a 50th round pick, even a left-hander. Romero would make good, or he would not. Either way, he would do so at Double A. The Rangers left Brian assigned to Tulsa for the beginning of the 1992 season. Time to pull it back together.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Senators Saturday - Tom Grieve, 1971.

Tom Grieve, shown here on card 167 of the 1971 Topps set, missed the franchise's last season in Washington. After taking a look at Grieve in 1970, the club decided to leave their 1966 1st round pick in the minors for more seasoning in 1971. He would not make it back to the Majors until 1972.

Grieve appeared in 93 games for the Triple A Denver Bears in 1971 and made 364 trips to the plate. He put up a .272 batting average and a .365 on-base percentage. Perhaps most eye-catching to the power-starved Senators was the fact that he hit 14 doubles, five triples, and 19 home runs. That came with an 81 strikeout price tag but sluggers always strike out a lot. What remained to be seen was how much of that power was the result of the thin Denver air and how much would translate to the Majors. Tom worked 37 walks as well. He scored 64 runs and bumped in 61 RBI.

Grieve played in the outfield in 85 of the games he played in for Denver. In the course of the season he committed three errors to end up with a .984 fielding percentage.

While Tom Grieve hadn't blown the doors off at Triple A, he had put up a good season. Good enough to warrant a return to the Bigs in 1972, this time as a Texas Ranger. Starting then, he would have to be good enough to win a full-time job in the Rangers outfield.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Getting ready for the fest.

Well, here we are two days out from the Rangers 2016 FanFest. Spiff Jr is busy getting his cards pulled and a sharpie set aside to go autograph hunting. We did well last year, scoring autographs from 19 former Rangers. Bump Wills was one of the players signing that day and he inscribed this 1980 Topps card for me. I'm big on asking for autographs through the mail but getting them in person is much better.

So far I have only been to two FanFests but both have been great and I am looking forward to getting back again this year. Just wish the team would post the list of players attending a little earlier than they do.

Anyone else planning on attending the Rangers FanFest, or one for another team? Let me know if you've already been to one for another team and what you thought of it. As always, if you are planning on attending this year's Rangers FanFest and would like to meet up in person, just drop me an email (or a comment with your email address) and we can work out the details.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

1980 Topps - John Henry Johnson.

John Henry Johnson, shown here on card 173 of the 1980 Topps set, came to Texas from Oakland on June 1979. The A's got utility infielder Dave Chalk, minor league catcher Mike Heath, and some cash in return for the young starter.

Befitting his name, Johnson was known for his fastball. He did not disappoint in his first two appearances for the Rangers. In his first start for Texas, John Henry struck out ten Angels over five innings before leaving the game with a sore ankle. He picked up the win there and in Oakland when he made his second start. The bottom fell out from there though and Johnson ended the season 2-6 for the Rangers with a 4.92 ERA. Apparently he needed some work. Texas decided to focus on helping him develop a curve ball and changeup.

John Henry was impressive in Spring Training in 1980, but his secondary pitches still needed work. Texas assigned him to Triple A Charleston to start the season. Johnson made 11 starts for the Charlies and seemed to be continuing his troubles from the previous season. He struggled to a 4.55 ERA and a 2-8 record before the higher-ups decided a change needed to be made. John Henry moved to the bullpen and found his niche. His ERA dropped to 2.25. The improvement was enough that the Rangers called him up in early July as their bullpen crumbled.

The young lefty made 33 appearances out of the bullpen for the Rangers in the remainder of the 1980 campaign. He posted a 2.33 ERA and an 1.086 WHIP over the 38.2 innings he pitched. The fastball was still live as he struck out 44 while walking just 15. John Henry ended the season with a 2-2 record.

1980 had been a season of progress for John Henry Johnson. He appeared to have found his role as a reliever. The Rangers would be looking to the fire-balling left-hander to help solidify the bullpen in 1981. If Johnson could continue his success from the latter half of 1980, he might be able to nail down a permanent job.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Senators Saturday - Jim French, 1971.

Jim French appears in a classic catching pose on the front of card 399 in the 1971 Topps set. He does not seem all that thrilled though. Perhaps he had reason.

French had been a backup each of the previous six seasons he played for the Senators. That assignment would continue in 1971 as he started the season as backup to first-string catcher Paul Casanova.

Jim appeared in 14 games for Washington, all at catcher. Over the 115.1 innings he caught, French committed just one error. With his limited playing time it was enough to drop his fielding percentage to .985. That wasn't too far off the league average .988. French was known for his ability to control the running game and that continued in 1971. He caught four of the eight runners who tried to steal on him and his 50% caught stealing rate was well above the league average 39%.

Jim's defense had never been a problem. His bat is what plagued him. That also continued in 1971. In 49 trips to the plate French posted a light .149 batting average and a dismal .271 on-base percentage. He hit just one extra base hit, a double. Jim walked and struck out seven time for an exact balance. He scored six runs while bumping in just four RBI. Even though he was not known as a good hitter, these numbers were distressingly low.

Casanova had the starting job locked down. Unfortunately for French, rookie Dick Billings was making a push to unseat Casanova. In the process he also unseated French. Following an 0-for-4 game on May 14, 1971, the Senators sent Jim down to Triple A Denver. He played just six games there and was lent to the Braves for 53 games at their Triple A affiliate before ending the season in the minors.

On September 27, 1971 the Washington Senators released Jim French. It marked the end of his playing career and made this card his last.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Random day.

Lots of random today, starting off with this random Rangers game-used 2005 Leaf Cornerstones card #CM6. The card is numbered 25/50 and supposedly features swatches from the uniforms of then Rangers Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock. I have to admit, I do like the tri-color piece for Tex.

The Rangers have seven players who filed for arbitration. Normally Texas does not get to the hearing process with any of their players but there are one or two I might be tempted to try it with this go round. The list of Rangers filing includes Shawn Tolleson, Jurickson Profar, Jake Diekman, Tanner Scheppers, Tom Wilhelmsen, Mitch Moreland, and Robinson Chirinos.

How Profar can expect his salary to do anything other than go down is a mystery to me. Tolleson, Moreland, Diekman, and Chirinos probably deserve raises. Scheppers was pretty bad last season. Not sure how Wilhelmsen stacks up. Regardless, the Rangers will likely try hard to reach agreements with all these players before the arbitration. The last player they went to arbitration with was Lee Stevens in 2000.

Texas pitchers and catchers report on February 18th. The whole squad is due in Surprise on February 24th. Baseball is just around the proverbial corner. Wahoo! Strat-O-Matic is a great game but it doesn't really replace the real deal during the long winter months. I am ready for some baseball.

Speaking of getting ready, Spiff Jr and I are dusting off the sharpies and getting ready for Rangers FanFest 2015 on January 23rd. So far I haven't seen a listing of the players appearing but, if the past two years are any indication, it should be a great list of guys. This will be our third year going out to the ballpark for the FanFest and it's becoming a tradition. If you are planning on attending and want to meet up, let me know.

Closer than the FanFest, tomorrow actually, is the eighth anniversary of Texas Rangers Cards. I started this blog on January 15, 2008. Eight years later I'm still learning and having a great time. I enjoy every comment and all the support the readers of the blog have given over the years. Hope you will continue to hang around and I look forward to sharing more Rangers cards with you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

1980 Topps - Fergie Jenkins.

The Rangers were hoping for a good 1980 season from Fergie Jenkins following a down 1979 season. Jenkins, shown here on card 390 of the 1980 Topps set, had been an innings eater that year but his ERA topped four for the first time in his career.

Fergie started 29 games for the Rangers in 1980. It was the first season in a Texas uniform that he appeared in less than 30 games. Jenkins walked 52 and struck out 129 over the 198 innings he pitched. He lowered his ERA 30 points to 3.77 and his WHIP to a rotation best 1.222. He ended the season with a 12-12 record.

Jenkins was involved in several headline occurrences during the 1980 season. On May 3rd in Arlington Fergie picked up the win. The victory over the Orioles gave Fergie his 100th win in the American League. He already had over 100 wins in the National League. That made him just the fourth pitcher in Major League history to win 100 games in both leagues.

On May 23rd Jenkins handcuffed his old beating boys, the Oakland A's, to pick up a 3-1 win. That victory gave him the 250th win of his career. He was officially in contention for a spot in Cooperstown.

On July 15th Fergie whiffed 13 White Sox to set a new Rangers strikeout record. Things were moving along well it seemed.

Then came August 25th. The Rangers were en route to play the Toronto Blue Jays. As a native Canadian, Jenkins was returning home. Things got ugly at the airport though as customs officials discovered cocaine in Fergie's suitcase. He protested the drugs were not his and he had no idea where they came from. Unmoved by the now stale excuse, officers arrested Jenkins for possession of cocaine. MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was not impressed. Two weeks after the arrest, Kuhn suspended Fergie from baseball for life. Jenkins appealed the suspension and it was overturned by an independent arbitrator on September 22nd. The ruling was unprecedented and gave Jenkins a new lease on his career.

The Rangers were less than impressed by Jenkins' arrest and suspension. There was an upside though. Perhaps the close call would give Fergie something to prove as he took the mound in 1981. A pitcher of Jenkins' caliber with extra motivation is never a bad thing.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Minor League Monday - Everett Cunningham, 1991 Line Drive.

Coming into the 1990 season, Everett Cunningham was at the make or break point. A fourth round pick in the 1988 draft, Cunningham had confidence issues that slowed his climb up the minor league ladder. He finally seemed to get those bugs worked out and turned in an impressive season for Charlotte in 1989. 1990 had been a mixed bag. The first part of the season was great and earned Everett a promotion to Double A. The second half of the season was not nearly as good and ensured that he would not make the jump to Triple A going into 1991.

Apparently the Rangers decided Cunningham might do better out of the bullpen than as a starter. They moved him out of the Tulsa rotation for 1991. Everett would make 21 appearances for the Drillers, all but one in relief. He pitched 41.1 rough innings and walked 28 opposing batters while striking out just 25. His ERA climbed to a then career high 6.97 while his WHIP reached a career worst 1.790. Those numbers resulted in am 0-3 record.

The Rangers had seen enough and decided Cunningham had to go. I'm not sure if he was traded or cut. Either way he did not end the season with the Drillers. Somehow Everett ended up with the Double A Wichita Wranglers in the San Diego Padres system to finish the 1991 campaign. The 16 games he pitched out of the bullpen for Wichita went worse than his time in Tulsa. An 8.17 ERA and an 1.737 WHIP during that stint ensured that 1991 would be the last season of Everett Cunningham's pro career.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Senators Saturday - Curt Flood, 1971.

Today we have an interesting part of Washington Senators history, Curt Flood. He appears on card 535 of the 1971 Topps set. Flood had been a staple of the 1960's Saint Louis Cardinals World Series teams. He won seven consecutive Gold Gloves from 1963 to 1969, and was a All-Star in 1964, 1966, and 1968. His name was usually in the MVP mix.

On October 7, 1969 Curt Flood began to change baseball as we know it. The Cardinals traded Flood to the Philadelphia Phillies. Under the reserve clause, Flood should have reported to the Phillies. He refused to do so and filed suit in court to have the reserve clause invalidated. The case dragged on through the 1970 season as Flood sat it out and waited. On November 30, 1970, with the case still in the courts, the Phillies traded their absent outfielder to Washington.

Flood agreed to report to the Senators and appeared in 13 games for Washington. There were flashes, but the old Curt Flood was no longer there. In 40 plate appearances Curt managed a .200 batting average and a .300 on-base percentage. He walked five times and struck out just twice. There were no extra base hits and Flood scored just four runs while accounting for two RBI.

Washington put Curt in center field, where he played in his glory days for the Cardinals. In 71 innings spread over ten games, Flood committed one rare error to drop his fielding percentage to an unusual .941 - 41 points below the league average. His missed season also appeared to have lowered his range significantly.

The results for Curt Flood in 1971 were disappointing. Manager Ted Williams still had confidence in Flood, but he no longer had confidence in himself. He was still locked in a legal battle he would end up losing to Major League Baseball and the stress of that was taking its toll. In spite of the fact that the owners approved the 10/5 rule in 1970, Curt would never benefit from it. After his slow start to the 1971 season, Curt Flood retired from Major League Baseball.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

HOF musings.

Well, the Hall of Fame ballot results came out yesterday and there are sure to be some critics. Ken Griffey Jr set an all time vote record with only three voters leaving him off their ballots. Mike Piazza also made the cut. Just missing were Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman, and Tim Raines.

Of course, there will be much discussion about the exclusion of Raines, Bagwell, and Hoffman. The only one I really have heartburn about being left out is Bagwell. I wouldn't consider either of the other two unworthy though.

Things should get interesting next year. Bagwell, Hoffman, and Raines will still be at the threshold. Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Ivan Rodriguez will headline the first-timers on the ballot. Potentially six inductees. I doubt Ramirez makes it with the way his career ended under PED suspension. Hoffman will have to go from fifth place this year to get over the mark and HOF voters take time to warm up to most relief pitchers. Bagwell and Raines stand an excellent chance. The issue with Guerrero will be if his extended stay at DH hurts him. That leaves Pudge, shown here on a 2002 Ex Essentials card bearing a piece of one of his cleats.

Rodriguez has never been conclusively linked to PED usage but played in the era and was on the same team with distributor Jose Canseco. Of course, Mike Piazza also played during the same era and his election casts a new light on I-Rod. Like Pudge, Piazza was suspected of PED use by some but was never conclusively linked or named in any investigations. On the field there is no doubt he was never the player Rodriguez was. Offensively he was better but that was it. I-Rod ran circles around him in every other area and stayed pretty close at the plate as well. That seems to bode well for Pudge come voting time next winter. Perhaps we will see another Rangers cap in the Hall in the near future.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

1980 Topps - Johnny Grubb.

Building on a decent 1979 season, Johnny Grubb was planning on locking down a starting gig in the Rangers outfield in 1980. However, the Texas outfield was something of a merry-go-round and determining who was technically a full-timer is a bit difficult. Grubb, shown here on card 313 of the 1980 Topps set, was definitely in the mix though. gives him the starting right field nod.

All told, Johnny made 323 trips to the plate in 110 games for the Rangers in 1980. He posted a .277 batting average and a .374 on-base percentage. The average was up slightly from 1979 and the on-base percentage was up almost 25 points and good enough for second best among Rangers regulars. The fact that his 42 walks outnumbered the 35 times he struck out helped bump his on-base percentage up. Grubb hit 12 doubles, one triple, and nine home runs while accounting for 40 runs scored and 32 RBI.

Primarily a right fielder, Johnny played 454.2 innings there over 62 games. His four errors dropped his fielding percentage to .952, well below the league average .975. Grubb also played 113 innings in 18 games in left field. He muffed two plays there for a .938 fielding percentage, nowhere close to the league average .980. Nine games as the designated hitter rounded out the season totals.

One thing was for sure, the Rangers liked Johnny Grubb's bat. What probably cost him playing time in 1980 was his defense. If he could maintain his offensive stats and improve his defense to at least average, he had a good shot at a regular job. If he didn't get that done, he had another season of riding the merry-go-round to look forward to.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Minor League Monday - Mike Burton, 1991 ProCards.

The Rangers liked Mike Burton's potential. They originally drafted him in the 45th round of the June 1987 draft. He didn't sign. Texas came back in the 17th round of the June 1989 draft and selected Burton again. That time he signed.

Mike began his pro career in 1989 with the Rookie League GCL Rangers. In 1990 he played for Single A Gastonia, as shown here on card 99 of the 1991 ProCards set. He would be assigned to Double A Tulsa for the 1991 season.

Burton appeared in a total of 106 games for Tulsa in 1991 and logged 423 plate appearances. He tallied a .241 batting average and a .344 on-base percentage. While his 56 walks certainly helped with the on-base percentage, his 88 strikeouts did little to help his cause. Scoring 43 runs, Mike was responsible for 49 RBI. He hammered 18 doubles, two triples, and seven home runs during the course of the season.

The front of Burton's card makes it appear as if he played several infield positions. Not so in 1991. All of the 105 games he played in the field for Tulsa that year were at first base. Mike made an astounding 11 errors during the season to drop his fielding percentage to. 989.

1991 was the year Mike Burton's pro career hit a snag. He saw his batting average, on-base percentage, and power at the plate drop. He also struck out more times than in almost thirty games more the previous season. Additionally, his glove seemed to have turned to cement as he committed almost as many errors in one campaign for Tulsa as in the previous two seasons combined.

These were not numbers to warrant a promotion. What they did do was put Mike on the Rangers radar, and not in a good way. Even though he improved his draft spot by not signing the first time around, Texas still expected quick improvement from their young first baseman. This was not quick improvement.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Senators Saturday - Mike Epstein, 1971.

Happy new year folks. Hope 2015 ended well for you and 2016 is starting off on the right note. For Texas Rangers Cards it's going to start off with a look back to the final year of the Washington Senators.

First off, you gotta like the sideburns Mike Epstein is displaying on card 655 of the 1971 Topps set. Classic 70's look there. Mike had a bit of a downer season in 1970, following a great year in 1969. That got him on the front office radar as a player who might be trade material. However, Epstein still entered the season as the starting first baseman for Washington.

Mike ended up playing in 24 games for the Senators in 1971, all at first base. He continued his good defense there with just two errors in 208 innings for a .992 fielding percentage. That was exactly the league average.

In those 24 games, Epstein made 101 trips to the plate and posted a .247 batting average. That, and his .366 on-base percentage, were slightly lower than the previous season. He walked 12 times and struck out 31 times. The power was slow coming that spring as he had just one double, one triple, and one home run.

The cash strapped Senators were always on the lookout for a deal that involved money coming in. Oakland was willing to work with them. On May 8, 1971 Washington set Epstein and reliever Darold Knowles to the A's in exchange for Frank Fernandez, Paul Lindblad, Don Mincher, and cash. The trade turned out great for Epstein. He got to the post-season later that year and again in 1972 when he won a ring with the A's. In November of 1972 Oakland traded Epstein to Texas straight up for Horacio Pina. That stint with the franchise would not last as long as the first. On May 20, 1973 the Rangers sent Mike back to California, along with Rich Hand and Rick Stelmaszek. This time the trade was to the Angels, who sent Lloyd Allen and Jim Spencer back in return.