Fourteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.
Chuck Seelbach was the Tigers’ closer in their 1972 American League East championship year, appearing in 61 games, finishing 34 of them and picking up 14 saves, which was 7th in the league. The role of “closer,” as we know it today, was quite different in the early seventies, and the key relief role that Seelbach filled was usually a multiple-inning job and didn’t always translate into a save opportunity. The “save” had only been an official MLB statistic since 1969, and teams had only started to play with the idea that a single pitcher might finish every close game that his team was leading as is common now.
In any case, Seelbach was effective in the late innings for the 1972 team and a big reason why they were able to win the division. He went 9-8 with a 2.89 ERA in addition to his 14 saves. He appeared in a total of one inning over two games in the American League Championship Series against Oakland, giving up four hits and two earned runs for an ERA of 18.00. 1972 was the last season without the designated hitter in the AL, so Seelbach also had 26 plate appearances in his career, hitting .143 with two doubles.
In 1973 he starting having arm problems which limited him to just 7 innings that year and 7 2/3 innings in 1974. He spent some time back in Toledo in ’73 as well. He retired at the age of 26 and went on to teach history at his alma mater, University School in Hunting Valley, Ohio, for 39 years. One of his sons, Michael, has been an actor in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, including Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Reefer Madness, and Wicked.
If you had to guess where Dick Sharon grew up from either of these cards, but especially the 1975 one, you’d have to say “California,” right? The dude looks like a lost member of Fleetwood Mac. Sharon was born in San Mateo and grew up in Redwood City, which eventually became part of Silicon Valley and now is the headquarters of companies like Oracle, Electronic Arts, Evernote, Box, and Informatica. But back in the early seventies, the only worries Dick Sharon had were where to point his bat to indicate where his next hit was goin’ or showin’ off his awesome follow-through.
Unfortunately for Dick, as much as he looked the part, he had limited success when he actually got to the big leagues. Drafted by the Pirates in 1968 as a third baseman, he was traded to Detroit before the 1973 season for Jim Four and Norm McRae. He hit .242 with seven home runs in 91 games for the Tigers in 1973, then dropped to .217 with only two dingers over 60 games in 1974. He was part of the three-way trade involving Ed Brinkman and Bob Strampe that brought slugging first baseman Nate Colbert to Detroit after the 1974 season.
Sharon played 91 games for the Padres in 1975, hitting .194 with four home runs and 20 RBI. He was traded three times in the next offseason, first to the Cardinals in October; then to the Angels in January; and finally to the Red Sox in March. He spent the 1976 with Boston’s AAA farm team in Pawtucket before retiring.
The notes on baseball cards can be kind of desperate for something nice to say sometimes. Sharon’s 1974 card notes that he “has excellent baseball instincts.” Well, you’d hope so. On the 1975 card Sharon is described as “a sure-handed ballhawk, Dick improved his Batting Average (no idea why that’s capitalized) in each of his four minor league seasons.”
Sharon became a expert fly fisherman in Montana after his major league career ended, owning an equipment shop and leading trips all over the world.
Bill Slayback was another member of the 1972 AL East champion Tigers, starting 13 games in his rookie season and going 5-6 with a 3.20 ERA. He also finished five games, though he didn’t record a save. Slayback was drafted in the 7th round of the 1968 amateur draft out of Glendale Community College in California. He moved up the Tigers’ system with stops in Batavia, Lakeland, Rocky Mount, Montgomery, and Toledo before getting called up to the big club in June, 1972. His major league debut on June 26 against the Yankees was a masterpiece, as he threw seven innings of no-hit ball before giving up an eighth-inning single to Johnny Callison as the Tigers went on to win, 4-3.
He spent most of 1973 back in Toledo, then all of 1974 in the majors. Two more seasons (1975 and 1976) in the Tigers’ new AAA affiliate, the Evansville Triplets, finished Slayback’s professional career.
In 1973, Slayback co-wrote a song with Tigers radio play-by-play legend Ernie Harwell called “Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry),” that got some airplay in the U.S. and Japan. Slayback performed the vocal and played most, if not all, of the instruments, was about Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record.
The song was mentioned in one of Aaron’s biographies, with author Tom Stanton describing Slayback as “something of a Renaissance man. He sang, played numerous instruments, painted, sketched, and made furniture.” In 2006, he released a new CD that got a positive review from then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who knew Slayback from when he was a minor league manager in the Tigers’ system in the seventies. Slayback didn’t look like he should be in Fleetwood Mac, like his teammate Dick Sharon, but he’d have been more useful holding a guitar or playing keyboards alongside Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood, and the McVies.
Bill Slayback died on March 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. He was 67 years old.