Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ron Brand (#549)

Here is Montreal Expos’ catcher Ron Brand, shown in a late-series card in his brand new Expos uniform. Not only that, but we have an “in-action” shot (rare for 1960s’ cards) that includes his full catching gear. Now THIS is a card!

Brand split the catching duties for the upstart Expos with John Bateman, just like he did for the past few years with the Astros.

Brand was signed by the Pirates in 1958, and labored in the minors for 7 seasons, although he also saw action in 46 games with the Bucs for part of 1964. He mostly played 2B and SS for his first 3 seasons in the minors, then began catching in 1961 (while still playing infield).

After the 1964 season, the Astros selected him in the Rule 5 draft, and he played the next 3 full seasons with the Astros, getting significant playing time in 1965, but was clearly Bateman’s backup in ’66 and ’67.

In 1968, he dropped to 3rd-string behind Bateman and Dave Adlesh, and spent part of the season in triple-A.

1969 brought a change of scenery for him, but unfortunately, Bateman followed him to Montreal. Although Brand caught more games in 1969 than Bateman or the 3rd “B” in the catching corps (John Boccabella), Ron was glued to the Expos’ bench for all of 1970 and 1971, and when he did play, it was usually as the backup shortstop.

He played for the Expos’ AAA team during 1972, then managed class-A teams in the minors from 1974-1976 for 3 different teams (Pirates, Dodgers, Reds). He also played 31 games in 1975 for the Dodgers’ class-A team in Bakersfield.

Also check out Brand's 1968 card.


Does anyone remember “The King Family Show” from the mid-1960s? About 3 dozen members of this family had a musical variety show on TV for a year or so. The older ladies comprised “The King Sisters”, a popular quartet during the big-band era in the 1940s and 1950s.

Some segments of the show featured them, while other segments featured the teen cousins (pictured below) singing the top pop hits of the day while wearing matching white sweaters with their names (like in the Mickey Mouse Club). There were also segments featuring the smaller children, and the entire family.

Why do I bring this up? Ron Brand is married to the King cousin named Candy (4th from the left below).

The most well-known cousin was Tina Cole (far right). She was on the "My Three Sons" TV show for several years as one of the sons’ wife. Tina, Candy, and 2 of the other girls have toured in recent decades as “The King Cousins”, following in their mothers’ footsteps.

Other King Family trivia:  Liza (tallest one above) is the mother of Arcade Fire musicians Win and Will Butler. The more you know...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Astros are Back

After a season and a half of ugly Astros Houston cards, the Astros cap logo re-appears in the later 1969 series cards.

For continuity, Topps still used the team name "Houston", but no longer felt the need to use capless photos or butcher the photos with ridiculous airbrushing techniques (such as the "let's not even try" method of completely blacking out the cap).

Most of these players are featured in their road uniforms, which complied neatly with the edict, while only Larry Dierker is shown in his (somewhat obscured) home uniform.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mike Cuellar (#453)

Well, this is the 769th post I’ve made across my 1963 to 1970 blogs, and I’m just now getting around to Mike Cuellar. (That’s just not right!)

I have Cuellar’s ’67, ’68, and ’69 cards, but the 1968 Astros cards are a disaster, so it’s down to his ’67 or ’69 card. I was initially going to post his ’67 Astros card because it’s something of a novelty, but this guy IS an Oriole, so here we go…

Before signing with the Reds in 1957 (I did not know he was with the Reds!), Mike Cuellar pitched for the Cuban Army team, and tossed a no-hitter in 1955. He played his first 5 pro seasons for Cincinnati’s AAA team. From 1957 to early 1960, this was on his home turf of Havana, Cuba.

During the 1960 season, the Havana team relocated to Jersey City, then to Indianapolis in 1961. Mike also played 2 games for the Reds in April 1959.

Cuellar spent the 1962 season pitching for Monterrey in the Mexican League.

He returned stateside in 1963, now playing for the Jacksonville Suns, the Indians’ AAA team. In 1964 Jacksonville became a Cardinals’ affiliate, so Cuellar was now a Cardinal. He was promoted to St. Louis in mid-June, and appeared in 32 games, mostly working out of the Cards’ bullpen.

Cuellar was back in Jacksonville to start the 1965 season, but in mid-June was traded (with pitcher Ron Taylor) to the Astros for pitchers Hal Woodeshick and Chuck Taylor. Mike finished out the season in the Astros’ bullpen, as the rotation was stocked with Bob Bruce, Turk Farrell, Don Nottebart, Larry Dierker, Dave Giusti, and Robin Roberts.

In 1966, Cuellar joined the rotation in late-April, and cruised up the depth chart past all those pitchers, leading the staff with 227 innings pitched, and finished up with 12 wins. Mike was also the staff ace in ’67, winning 16 games and making his first of 4 all-star teams.

After an off year in 1968 (8-11, 170 innings), Cuellar was traded to the Orioles for outfielder Curt Blefary. He joined a starting rotation that also featured Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, and helped power the Orioles teams in the 1969-74 era. Cuellar won the Cy Young award in his 1st season with the O’s, and in 1970 his 24 wins tied him for the AL lead (with teammate McNally). He also led the AL with 21 complete games.

In his first six seasons with Baltimore, he won 23, 24, 20, 18, 18, and 22 games. During this span, the Orioles made the post-season 5 of 6 years, and won the World Series in 1970. Mike hit a grand-slam in the 1970 ALCS, the only pitcher ever to do so.

Cuellar came back to Earth in 1975, fashioning a 14-12 record. After a disastrous 1976 season, where he compiled a 4-13 record in only 107 innings, he was released that December.

Mike hooked on with the Angels in January 1977, but appeared in only 2 games. He was released on May 16th, ending his 15-year career.

Cuellar passed away in 2010 from cancer at age 72.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Joe Grzenda (#121)

Here is Joe Grzenda’s rookie card. Although he played in 20 games for the Kansas City Athletics in both 1964 and 1966, and a dozen games with the Mets in ’67, Topps didn’t see fit to include him until 1969.

My first recollection of Grzenda was in 1967, when I was at a Phillies/Mets game in Philadelphia. When I looked him up in today, I saw that it was on August 15th and was his first game of the season for the Mets. Joe pitched in both ends of a doubleheader that day. (I don’t remember any details of the game – only that I thought “Hey, this guy’s missing some vowels!”)

Grzenda was signed by the Tigers in 1955, and wallowed in their farm system as a starting pitcher for 9 years until he was released in July 1963. His only big-league time with the Bengals was 4 games in early 1961, for a total of 5 innings.

Joe got an invite to the Athletics for spring training 1964, and pitched in their organization for the next 3 ½ years. He played 20 games for Kansas City that summer, and another 21 in late 1966, but spent the balance of his time with their AA and AAA teams. By now he was strictly a reliever, both in the majors and minors.

The Mets purchased his contract on 8/14/67, and the next day he pitched in both ends of a doubleheader in Philly. After the season he was sold to the Twins, but spent the entire 1968 season in the minors.

1969 to 1972 were Joe’s only full seasons in the major leagues. They were also his only years with baseball cards. He pitched in 38 games for the Twins in ’69, as the left-handed short man out of the ‘pen.

He was traded to the Senators the following spring, and pitched in over 40 games in each of his 2 seasons there, the Nats’ final 2 years in Washington. Grzenda pitched the last inning of the last-ever Senators game, on 9/30/1971. After getting 2 outs the fans stormed the field to begin collecting souvenirs, causing the game to be forfeited.

After 1971, Joe didn’t make the move to Texas with the rest of his team – he was traded to the Cardinals for infielder Ted Kubiak, and played his final season with St. Louis.

Grzenda played in the minors in ’73 and ’74 before retiring.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Don Buford (#478)

At age 78 years 8 months, Don Buford is the oldest living player from the 1966-70 era that I have not yet featured on one of my blogs.

He played his first 5 seasons as the White Sox’ 2nd or 3rd baseman, but may be better known for his 5 years as the Orioles’ left fielder during their late-60s/early-70s glory years.

Buford was signed by the ChiSox in November 1959, and played 4 seasons in the minors before making his major-league debut with the Sox in September 1963. He started the final 8 games at 3rd base, replacing Pete Ward, who had started every game at 3rd up to that time.

Don began the 1964 season starting 15 of the first 17 games at 3rd base, then moved over to 2nd base, where he split the job evenly with Al Weis. Both Weis and Buford were switch-hitters, so I don’t know what determined who was starting on a given day.

1965 started out the same as the previous season (splitting 2B with Weis, with a few starts at 3rd base), but Buford was the 2nd baseman for every game from July 17th onward.

Don played 2nd base for the first 2 months of 1966, but in June the White Sox acquired veteran 2nd basemen Jerry Adair and Wayne Causey, moving Buford over to 3rd base for 115 of the final 127 games (including 67 consecutive starts – surprising given how many mix-and-match infielders the Sox had!)

In his final season in Chicago (1967) Don started only 94 games at 3rd, and 39 at 2nd base. The Sox had acquired veteran 3rd-sacker Ken Boyer from the Mets in mid-season, and were also auditioning rookie Dick Kenworthy at the hot corner.

In November 1967, Buford and pitchers Bruce Howard and Roger Nelson were traded to the Orioles for shortstop Luis Aparicio and outfielder Russ Snyder. The O’s already had Brooks Robinson at 3rd base and Dave Johnson at 2nd base, so Buford rode the bench for 2 months in 1968 until finally working his way into the lineup with frequent starts at 2nd base, center field, or left field.

He was the team’s regular left fielder for his final 4 seasons (1969-72). Buford played in the post-season in ’69, ‘70, and ’71, hitting a combined 5 homers with 11 RBI. Although his ALCS batting average was .357, his World Series average was only .207.

After his February 1973 release he played in Japan for 4 years, retiring after the 1976 season.

His son Damon Buford was an outfielder for several teams from 1993-2001.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dave Marshall (#464)

Since I previously posted the Topps All-Star Rookie outfielder Bobby Bonds, today I’m wrapping up this subset with outfielder Dave Marshall. 

Marshall had a 6-year major-league career (7 years, if you count one pinch-running appearance in 1967), mostly for the Giants and Mets. Dave was signed by the Los Angeles Angels in 1963, and played 3 seasons in their farm system before he was traded to the Giants in April 1966 for minor-league shortstop Hector Torres. Marshall worked his way up the Giants’ minor-league ladder for 2 seasons, then made the Giants’ squad at the start of the 1968 season.

Marshall was the Giants’ 6th outfielder in 1968 (having the misfortune of joining the team the same year as rookie Bobby Bonds). The following season, he was promoted to 4th outfielder. (Actually, the Giants had lost Jesus Alou and Ollie Brown in the expansion draft.)

In December 1969 Dave was traded to the Mets (with pitcher Ray Sadecki) for outfielder Jim Gosger and infielder Bob Heise. [WHAT were the Giants THINKING? Surely Sadecki alone was worth more than those 2 players.] Marshall was a bench player for the Mets for 3 seasons (1970-72), missing both the World Championship 1969 season and the NL Championship 1973 season. He never moved above #5 on the outfield depth chart, and was shipped out to the Padres after the ’72 season.

Dave split the 1973 season between the Padres and the minors, a place he hadn’t seen since 1967. In late September he was sold to the White Sox, but never played for them, and retired after the ’73 season.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Del Unser (#338)

Continuing our series on the Topps' All-Rookie Team... 

Besides appearing as the center fielder on the Topps All-Rookie team, this is Del Unser's rookie card. Among its other shortcomings, the 1968 Topps set was missing some key 1968 rookies: Reggie Jackson, Bobby Bonds, Sparky Lyle, Andy Messersmith, Joe Rudi, and Del Unser all played significant roles for their teams that season. (Jackson and Lyle had actually played quite a bit in 1967 as well.)

Unser made his major-league debut on opening day 1968, and started 154 of the Senators' 161 games in center field that season.  Del was the team's leadoff batter for 148 of those starts. His first day off did not occur until May 25th.

Despite only batting .230 and hitting just 1 home run, Unser finished 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

For more on Del Unser's career, check out this post on my 1970 Topps blog.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bobby Cox (#237)

Bobby Cox had a 2-year playing career as the Yankees’ 3rd baseman from 1968-69, then went on to much greater success as the manager for the Braves and Blue Jays from 1978 to 2010. This is his rookie card, and his only card as a player.

Cox was signed by the Dodgers in 1959. After 6 seasons as a 2B/3B in the minors, he was drafted by the Cubs in November 1964. After only 1 season in the Cubs’ system, he was traded to the Braves for outfielder Billy Cowan.

Cox was in the Braves' system for 2 seasons, then was traded to the Yankees in December 1967 for backup catcher Bob Tillman. (One year earlier, the Yankees had traded their 3rd baseman (Clete Boyer) to the Braves.)

After Mike Ferraro started the first 13 games in 1968, Cox was installed at the hot corner in Yankee Stadium, which had been a revolving door since Boyer departed. He started 129 of the remaining 151 games at 3rd base. Although showing little offensive punch for a 3rd baseman (7 homers) and batting only .229, Cox somehow retained the starting job for the entire season, and was named to the Topps All-Rookie team for 1968.

Cox was essentially a one-year wonder, as in 1969 another Bobby (Murcer) returned to the Yankees after a 2-year stint in the US Army and was handed the 3rd base job. After starting all but 1 of the first 32 games at 3rd base, Murcer was moved to the outfield on May 13th. This left Cox and rookie Jerry Kenney to platoon at the hot corner for the rest of the season, with Cox getting 55 starts to Kenney’s 74.

That was it for Cox’ playing career. After batting only .215 in 85 games, he was ticketed to the minors for all of 1970.

Bobby’s managing career began right away, as he piloted various teams in the Yankees’ farm system from 1971 to 1976. In 1978 he became the manager of the Atlanta Braves for 4 seasons, then moved on to manage the Blue Jays from 1982 to 1985.

Cox returned to the Braves’ job midway through the 1990 season, and stayed on through 2010. Along the way, he won the NL pennant in ’91, ’92, ’95, ’96, and ’99, and won the World Series in 1995.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, along with fellow managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hector Torres (#526)

Hector Torres was named as the shortstop on Topps’ 1968 All-Rookie team. The Astros were so high on him, that they traded the 1966 Topps All-Rookie shortstop (Sonny Jackson) to the Braves after the 1967 season to make room for Torres.

Hector was signed by the Giants in 1962, and after 4 seasons playing for the Giants’ class D, A, and AA teams, he was traded to the Angels in April 1966 for outfield prospect Dave Marshall (who we will see on this blog in 3 weeks).

Torres played the next 2 seasons for the Angels’ AAA team in Seattle, then was traded to the Astros for Jim Weaver in November 1967.

With incumbent shortstop Jackson departed for Atlanta, Torres won the starting shortstop job as a rookie, and except for the first half of May and a week in June, Hector started almost every game through the end of August.

This gave the ‘Stros a new-look infield, with Rusty Staub moving in from his outfield post to play 1st base, Denis Menke (acquired from Atlanta for Jackson) playing 2nd base since Joe Morgan missed all but the first week with injuries, and rookie Dave Rader sharing the hot corner with long-time 3rd-sacker Bob Aspromonte.

Torres racked up 128 games, 466 at-bats, and 104 hits as a rookie. It was by far the high point of his career. He wouldn’t see regular action again until 1975 with the Padres. 

With the return of Morgan in 1969, long-time Braves’ shortstop Menke moved across the diamond to shortstop, relegating Torres to the bench and to triple-A for the next 2 seasons.

After the 1970 season, Hector was traded to the Cubs for shortstop prospect Roger Metzger. Although Torres managed to stay in the majors for the entire season, he was stuck behind Don Kessinger, and only started 11 games at shortstop.

In April 1972 he was traded to the Expos, then found himself back with the Astros exactly 1 year later. Torres spent the entire 1973 season backing up Metzger in Houston. Hector was traded to the White Sox after the 1973 season, but spent all of 1974 in the minors.

Just prior to the 1975 opener, he was sold to the Padres. Torres started about 1/3 of the games at shortstop for the Padres in ‘75, and had career highs in batting average (.259) and RBI (26). He backed up Enzo Hernandez again in 1976, receiving slightly less playing time than the previous season.

Hector was traded to the Indians in December 1976, who flipped him to the Blue Jays during spring training in 1977. Torres started 55 games at shortstop for the expansion Blue Jays, more than rookie Bob Bailor or the other 3 players used there.

That was Hector’s final season in the majors. He played for the Jays’ and Pirates’ AAA teams in 1978 before retiring.