Sunday, February 16, 2014

RIP Jim Fregosi

Growing up, Jim Fregosi was one of those players whose baseball card you always seemed to have in doubles, even triples. I never really thought he was much of a player, though he had a cool name.

Part of my ignorance was that he was pretty much past his prime when I got interested in baseball in the mid-1970s. By then, the six-time all-star was mostly a backup for the Texas Rangers, his stellar years with the Angels a mystery to me.

Upon his death Friday, however, I learned just how good he was -- an outstanding, gold-glove caliber shortstop on an otherwise average team. A .265 hitter, he also had 151 home runs over an 18-year career. He was anything but a light-hitting shortstop, batting in the middle of the lineup for many years. Heck, the Angels retired his No. 11 jersey.

Mostly I remember him as a manager, first with the Angels and then with the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays. And he was pretty decent, leading the Angels to their first playoff appearance in 1979 and the Phillies to the 1993 National League pennant. In 15 years as a manager, his teams won 1,028 games. (Ok, they also lost 1,094 games.)

The best Jim Fregosi APBA card in my collection is his 1969 card, when he was rated a fast shortstop (10). He batted third for the Angels that year, batting .260 with 12 home runs, 78 runs scored and 47 RBI. When your No. 3 hitter amasses only 47 RBI, is it any surprise the Angels only had 67 wins that year? Fregosi did have a .381 slugging percentage and a higher-than-average on-base percentage of .361.

The Angels were a good match for my favorite team in 1969, the one-year wonders known as the Seattle Pilots. One of the great things about the 1969 APBA reprint set is that it includes a card for every player that year. The Pilots, in all their ineptitude, practically overflow the team card envelope, with 45 marvelous players to choose from. Of course, many of those are for D pitchers and other guys even I've never heard of.

My affinity for this lowly Pilots squad that tallied a 64-98 record during their single season in Seattle is that it allowed car dealer Bud Selig to whisk them away to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers, my favorite team. Among the players who went on to endure some of those brutal early years in Milwaukee were Tommy Harper, Mike Hegan, Skip Lockwood, and Gene Brabender, a Wisconsin native who suffered 15 loses in the Brew Crew's inaugural season.

As I mentioned earlier, Fregosi stands out most in my memory as one of those '70s Topps baseball cards that are now immortalized in Josh Wilker's often-hilarious book "Cardboard Gods," published in 2010. Wilker's website of the same name includes a gem of an entry about Fregosi when he was finishing up his career with the Pirates.

As often happens, this week's news about Fregosi made me look up his APBA card and find a game to replay. On Sept. 12, 1969 the Angels and the Pilots managed to tie 1-1 in a 10-inning game that was the second game of a doubleheader at Sick's Field. Perfect!

With Fregosi batting third, as usual that season, the Angels managed to win the replay 4-1. Pitcher Rickey Clark (DW) got the win, which would have been his first and only that season in his lone start. Ken Tatum finished the eighth and retired the Pilots in the ninth for the save.

Fregosi went 0-for-4, getting on base in the first inning on a two-base error by second baseman John Donaldson. Sandy Alomar and Jim Spencer, two other Angels regulars from that era, provided the bulk of the Angels offense in the replay. Alomar, the leadoff hitter, got on base three times, stole three bases and scored three runs, two of them on singles by Spencer, who drove in three runs.

Also noteworthy in the Angels' lineup was Aurelio Rodriguez, one of my favorite APBA players over the years. First, I had no idea Rodriguez played for the Angels. He'll always be the Tigers third baseman to me. Second, though he was never a high-average hitter (.237 lifetime), he always seems to come through in the clutch. And it never hurt that he was a gold-glover at third. In this replay, he contributed as usual, reaching base on an error and scoring.

For the Pilots, Lockwood got the loss, though only allowing a pair of runs in his five innings. First baseman Don "The Mule" Mincher drove in Steve Hovley for the Pilots' lone score. The Pilots totalled only four hits. No wonder only 5,085 turned out for the game!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Plenty of APBA Highlights in June 15, 2013 Replay

Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe of the Dodgers.  Photo courtesy of Ron Reiring/Creative Commons/Flickr

What better way check out the 2013 APBA baseball card set than to put all the teams in action and see what happens.

So I picked a mid-summer date when nobody has yet thrown in the towel or begun unloading their soon-to-be free agents. I had only two criteria -- Felix Hernandez had to be starting for the Mariners and Yasiel Puig had to be in the Dodgers starting lineup.

Saturday, June 15, 2013 fit the bill, and the games didn't disappoint.

Eight of the 15 games finished in one-run victories, including three walk-off winners. Unfortunately for King Felix and the Mariners, the A's notched one of the come-from-behind thrillers.

And the Dodgers won their showdown with the Pirates 7-3. Puig was a difference-maker, going 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles, one RBI and two runs scored. After driving in the game-winning run with his second double, Puig stole third base and cruised home with an insurance run when Russell Martin's throw skipped into left field. Of course, Puig rounded out his performance with a trio of strikeouts. D'oh!

In what may have been a first in the nearly four decades that I've been rolling for sixty-sixes, the Dodgers hit 10 doubles in the game, including four in the decisive fifth inning. Clayton Kershaw, Skip Schumaker and Puig went back-to-back-to-back, with Hanley Ramirez adding another for good measure. Kershaw got the complete-game victory.

Felix Hernandez. Photo by Keith Allison/Creative Commons/Flickr
Hernandez seemed well on his way to doing the same against the A's. He cruised through the first seven innings, allowing a solo home run by Josh Donaldson while scattering seven hits and working out of several jams. Meanwhile, the M's built an early lead with three runs in the first, including a solo home run by Raul Ibanez. They added another run in the third after Nick Franklin's second double of the game. Kyle Seager followed with an RBI-single.

A.J. Griffin started for the Athletics and didn't look as though he would make it through the third inning, much less pitch a complete game. But Yoenis Cespedes made it a one-run game in the eighth with a two-run homer off King Felix. With the A's trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Chris Young led off with a single, then stole second. Hernandez headed for the dugout, confident that Yoervis Medina could slam the door.

Medina, however, uncorked a wild pitch, sending Young to third. Eric Sogard drove him in with a grounder to first. After getting Coco Crisp to pop to third, Josh Reddick singled. Cespedes did the same, moving the go-ahead runner to second. Brandon Moss then didn't waste any time dropping the M's, smashing a gapper to left center to bring in Reddick. A's win, 5-4.

In one of the other top contests, my favorite Brewers squad gave up THREE two-run home runs to the Reds' Brandon Phillips, including a walk-off dinger in the bottom of the ninth! Phillips drove in six runs, spoiling a showdown in which the Brewers rallied three times before falling 9-8.

Led by Carlos Gomez, the Brew Crew finally tallied three runs in the top of the eighth to take an 8-7 lead. Gomez scored two runs and drove in three with a double and a home run. It was great to see Milwaukee total 12 hits -- without Ryan Braun. The Reds, however, had Phillips.

The games setup was simple enough. I went to for the schedule and boxscores. I played the games in their real-life order, beginning with the Cubs facing the Mets at Citi Field.

Wherever possible, I used actual lineups. In a few instances I had to to substitute for players who had too few at-bats or innings pitched to earn a card. Or, as in the case of Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, I had to use his 2012 card as he spent most of 2013 on the bench with injuries. About a dozen players had to be plucked from other squads as they still hadn't been traded when my June 15 games happened.  Among the notable players who later changed uniforms were Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs/Yankees and Alex Rios of the White Sox/Rangers.

Here are the results and a highlight or two or three ...

1. Mets hold on for a 7-6 win over the Cubs. Soriano had a two-run home run in the loss; David Wright scored a pair of runs; center-fielder Juan Lagares drove in three runs with a pair of doubles.
2. John Lackey and the Red Sox earned a 3-1 win over the the Orioles at Camden Yards. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a double and scored, then drove in the game-winner with a single in the second. Big Papi David Ortiz reached base four out of five at-bats; Crash Davis had a solo home run for the O's.
3. The Dodgers dropped the Bucs 7-3 at PNC Park.
4. Jason Heyward drove in the winning run with a double in the bottom of the 10th inning, lifting the Braves to a 5-4 win over the Giants at Turner Field. After being shut out for seven innings, the Giants rallied for four runs, including a pinch-hit two-run homer by Brandon Belt.
5. The Blue Jays defeated the Rangers 7-2 in Arlington. The big blow was a two-out, bases-loaded double by Maicer Izturis, propelling R.A. Dickey to the win. Nelson Cruz had a two-run homer for the home team.
6. The Rays blew out the Royals 11-3. Alex Cobb got the complete game win. Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings each scored three runs; third-baseman Kelly Johnson drove in four runs with a home run and a double.
7. The Reds broke the hearts of any Brewers fans who attended the 9-8 thriller at Great American Ball Park.
8. Tyler Chatwood pitched an eight-hit shutout in defeating the Phillies, 2-0. Nolan Arenado had a solo homer.
9. The Cardinals rallied with two runs in the top of the ninth to defeat the Marlins 6-5. Marcel Ozuna smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that looked to give Florida the victory. But Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday all hit doubles to tally the game-tying and then game-winning runs.
10. Home runs by Conor Gillaspie and Alejandro De Aza helped the White Sox to a comeback win over the Astros, 5-4. Jason Castro had three RBI in the loss.
11. A two-out, three-run home run by Alex Avila propelled the Tigers to a 5-4 win over the Twins. Max Scherzer got the win; Joaquin Benoit earned the save. Home runs by Clete Thomas and Ryan Doumit kept it close.
12. The Yankees exploded for six runs in the top of the 12th inning to drop the Angels 9-3. Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells and Eduardo Nunez all scored a run and drove in a pair.
13. The Mariners suffered the agony of defeat at the hands of the A's.
14. A pair of home runs by Jason Werth led the Nationals to a 5-4 win over the Indians. Ryan Zimmerman got the win; Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for the save.
15. Similar to the Yankees, the Diamondbacks piled up six runs in the top of the 10th inning to score an 11-5 win over the Padres in the day's finale. The D-Backs combined nine walks with 11 hits in the win. The Padres scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 5-5, including a three-run pinch-hit home run by Will Venable and a solo homer by Chris Denorfia.


Friday, February 7, 2014

APBA Replay Honors Hall-of-Famer Ralph Kiner

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Ralph Kiner died Thursday, Feb. 6.

In honor of the former Pirates slugger, I ventured into my APBA baseball game closet for the 1949 set, looking to replay Pittsburgh's game against the New York Giants on Monday, Sept. 19, 1949 at Forbes Field.

The date seemed significant enough during one of Kiner's finest seasons -- he smacked his 50th homer of the season that day, a second-inning solo slam to left against right-hander Kirby Higbe. Unfortunately, the Pirates lost 6-4 that day on the way to a lackluster 71-83 record.

For Kiner, however, 1949 proved to be anything but mundane. Kiner finished the season with 54 home runs, 116 runs, and 127 RBI, while batting .310. The all-star left-fielder finished fourth in the MVP vote that year. In addition to home runs and runs batted in, he led the National League in slugging (.658) and walks (117). He ended his decade-long career with 369 homers and was elected into the Hall-of-Fame in 1975.

The result of all those 1949 numbers is a fine APBA cleanup hitter -- 1-1-5-5-7-10-8-8-9-9 and six 14's. In my replay, Kiner took up his typical spot in the lineup, batting fourth and playing left field.

Although Kiner ended up with a rather lackluster game, the Pirates managed to reverse the real-life result. They defeated the Giants 4-3 on a walk-off gapper to left center in the bottom of the 10th by catcher Phil Masi. He drove in Danny Murtaugh, who had stolen second a moment earlier. 

Murry Dickson got the win in relief over Swede Hansen. Junior Walsh started for the Pirates, holding New York scoreless for the first six innings. He fell behind in the seventh, however, allowing a pinch-hit RBI single by Monte Irvin, followed by a two-run home run by second baseman Hank Thompson.

Pittsburgh was led by John "Hippity" Hopp, who went 2-for-5, including a two-run double to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Shortstop Stan Rojek scored a pair of runs in the lead-off spot.

Kiner went 0-for-5 with a strikeout, only reaching base in the seventh on an error by catcher Wes Westrum.

While Kiner may not have starred in this replay, it provided yet another opportunity to relive the past and remember other players such as Murtaugh (who went on to manage the Bucs, winning more than 1,000 games and World Championships in 1960 and 1971) and the immortal Bobby Thompson of the Giants.

Note: Had Pittsburgh actually won that game, the Pirates and the Giants both would have ended the season at 72-82 -- tied for fifth place in the National League.