Since there is no baseball for awhile, here is a look back at some of my favorite baseball memories.
I don’t often write about sports, but I should. I have watch a lot of sports in my life, met players and collected memorabilia. I’m not a sports encyclopedia, that kind of stuff never excited me.
I’ll pick 10 baseball players I enjoyed following and something interesting about them. These guys were all active in the early to mid 1970s. Two of these guys are in the Hall of Fame, several more should be, they all had good careers, although several were cut short by injury. I saw all but one play in person.
Steve Busby. In his eight year career, cut short by injury, Steve Busby had three really awesome seasons. In 150 games started, he pitched 53 complete games, including seven shutouts. In 1060 innings, he struck out 659 batters. He threw two no-hitters in his first two seasons. In 1973, he won 16 games, in 1974 he won 22 games and in 1975 he won 18 games. Injuries limited him to parts of the next five season before he retired. Back in those days, arm and shoulder problems were career-ending, or at least career limiting. Busby battled to regain his strength and control, but it was not to be. He became an instructor and broadcaster for many years. He was the first star of the Kansas City Royals franchise, and a symbol of hard work and commitment.
Bill Buckner. Remembered as the guy who let the 1986 World Series roll through his legs. Unfair. Buckner was a tremendous baseball player who won everywhere he played during his 22 year career. That one play dwarfed everything he accomplished, a .289 batting average, 1,208 runs batted in, 2,715 hits, 174 home runs. In 20 seasons playing first base, he had only 128 errors, a very low total. Buckner was a key member of the Dodger teams of the early 1970s, a team loaded with great talent. He was trade to the Cubs where he solidified the infield and gave them a consistent bat. I watched a lot of afternoon games on WGN in those days. Traded to the Red Sox, he played four very productive season there before playing two seasons with the Angels, two seasons for the Royals and a final turn with the Red Sox, whose fans welcomed him back. Buckner tore up this ankle early in this career and was never the same. A speedy outfielder, he moved to first base, but the injury cost him base running speed for the rest of his career. He played with high top cleats, and never missed a chance to leg out an extra base on a hit. He played every game like it has his last, and he always played in the shadow of his World Series error. I admired his resilience. Buckner passed away at age 69 from dementia.
Amos Otis. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were five-tool players. Amos Otis also had those kinds of skills and while he did not end up in the Hall of Fame, he was fun to watch. A five-time All Star, three Gold Gloves playing centerfield, in a 17-year career. This was the dead ball era, where it was about pitching and speed on the base path. Otis hit almost 200 home runs, drove in over 1,000 runs and stole 341 bases. He hit 374 doubles and 66 triples and more than 2000 hits. Acquired in a trade with the Mets prior to the 1970 season, Otis roamed the outfield for the Royals until 1983. A rare combination of speed and power, Otis was fun to watch, effortless in the field and always a threat on the bases. Otis was also an intense player who sometimes locked horns with management. There were other players on the team that commanded headlines with no-hitters and towering home runs, A-O was ready to hit a double, steal a base or make a spectacular catch.
Dick Allen. Controversial. Successful. Hell of a baseball player. Not always a nice guy. N.L. Rookie of the Year. A.L. Most Valuable Player. A .292 batting average over 15 seasons, with over almost 1100 runs batted in and 351 home runs, during a time when 35 in a season was a lot! He played in one of the dead ball eras, and this has impacted his consideration for the Hall of Fame. He’s gotten as close as one vote short of selection. Allen long had a reputation for being difficult and dividing teams he played for, a factor in his well-traveled career, but many former teammates only praised his leadership and hard work. Hopefully, this will be the year he is selected for the Hall of Fame.
Brooks Robinson. The human vacuum player at third base. The amazing plays he made with his glove, he made it look easy. Sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves. He was the A.L. MVP in 1964. Although he collected nearly 3,000 hits in his career, his lifetime batting average was only .367. Robinson was at his best in the post season, where he batted over .300. In the 1970 post season he did ever better and was the MVP of the World Series. He was the epitome of the clutch player. Playing his entire career in Baltimore, there is a statue of him at Camden Yards. He was one of those guys who typified hard work and selflessness. Steady and letting his play speak. He played in the era before massive contracts.
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. The saddest story on my list. Fidrych played only parts of five seasons, his career cut short by arm and knee injuries. His 1976 season was one of the best any player had. A 19-9 pitching record, 2.34 earn run average, for the lowly Detroit Tigers (74-89 record). Fidrych talked to the baseball and did many unusual things that captivated fans. He was a breath of fresh air. Anywhere he pitched during that season, the parks were packed with fans. He was a media sensation, but he never let it go to his head. He tore up his knee the following year and his rotator cuff, and his career was essentially over. He kept trying to find a way to pitch, but he was ineffective. He retired to his farm, operated a hauling business and was just a regular guy. He died while working on his truck at age 54 in a tragic accident. Mark Fidrych was an example of tremendous peaks and valleys that come in life and how he maintained his humility and values.
Frank Howard. “Hondo” was the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1960. Standing 6’7″, he was imposing and powerful, twice leading the league in home runs. He was a college Aa-American in basketball but chose baseball. He played for the Dodgers, Nationals and Tigers. He hit nearly 400 home runs and over 1,100 runs batted in. For a big guy, he legged 35 triples. He was a manager for two different teams and a longtime coach. Whenever the Tampa Rays came through the area I got an autograph from him. He would gladly sign for everyone, putting down his glasses and smokes, his signature is beautiful and he’d add his home run total or ROY or nickname if asked. Even in his later years he was huge and muscular, but a gentleman.
Jim Palmer. Another Baltimore Oriole. Palmer was part of the Orioles 4-20 game winning rotation. Four 20 game winners! That’s unheard of! Back then, pitchers threw complete games, and Palmer threw 211 of them and 53 shutouts. He had a 2.86 earn run average over 19 seasons, eight times winning 20 or more games. He battled back from serious arm injuries several times. I don’t know how he pitched almost 4,000 innings in his career. Hall of Famer, retired number, statue at the ball park, every possible award.
Tony Olivia. Played 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins. The guy could plain hit. He was A.L. Rookie of the Year and a three time batting champion. A series of knee injuries robbed him of speed and power, and he became a designated hitter. An eight-time All Star and a lifetime .304 hitter, he hit over 200 home runs and nearly 1,000 runs batted in during the dead ball era of the 1960s. His number was retired by the Twins and Tony-O has always been a fan favorite, but has fallen short of the Hall of Fame like Dick Allen. Here a guy who played with guts on bad knees, proud to play the game, he came to the U.S. as a teenager to play baseball.
Rusty Staub. Le Grant Orange! His nickname with the Montreal Expos, as an original member of the expansion team, he was a fan favorite. Staub played 23 years and had over 2,700 hits and 292 home runs to go with his .279 batting average. Staub was beloved wherever he played but especially New York where he had a bigger than life personality. Although Staub played the field during most of his career, he excelled as a pinch hitter in his last years. He was known as a connoisseur of fine foods and wines, was a restaurant investor, and did for his charitable work, including the New York widows and children of police and firefighters, and his efforts to fight hunger. Staub was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame and his number was retired by the Montreal Expos. He was bestowed many honors but it was his charitable work that he found most rewarding. Colorful and as teammate Tom Seaver said, he did everything at 90 miles an hour.