Cardboard Tigers: Lemanczyk, Martin, Moses, and Narleski

Tenth 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.

Wow! It’s been almost a month since my last Cardboard Tigers post. Must have been something pretty compelling happening to keep me from doing another one of these. Wonder what it was?

Anyway, today we feature four more legends of Tiger baseball. Let’s get started, shall we?

Dave Lemanczyk
Dave Lemanczyk – 1976 Topps #409

Dave Lemanczyk spent eight years in the American League with the Tigers, Blue Jays, and Angels from 1973 to 1980. Drafted in the 16th round of the 1972 amateur draft, Dave worked his way through the Tiger system, Lakeland (A) to Montgomery (AA) to Toledo (AAA) before making it – very briefly – to the show in late 1973, appearing in one game and giving up 3 earned runs over 2 1/3 innings to post a 13.50 ERA for the season. The Tigers moved their AAA affiliation to the Evansville Triplets in 1974, and Dave started the season in southern Indiana, then got called back up to Detroit. He made his first major league start on August 2, 1974, beating the Brewers 4-1 while giving up only one run over seven innings.

Dave was an original member of the Toronto Blue Jays when they launched as one of two American League expansion teams in 1977 along with the Seattle Mariners. The Jays took Dave with their 43rd pick in the expansion draft, but he turned out to be more valuable than that. He led Toronto in wins in their first season, going 13-16 with a 4.25 ERA and 11 complete games. After a down season in 1978, Dave had his best season in 1979, going 7-5 with a 3.15 ERA by mid-season and making his only All Star Game. The second half didn’t go as well as he had some arm issues, and he finished the year 8-10 with a 3.71 ERA.

He finished his career in Anaheim with the California Angels in 1980, deciding to retire when they released him after the season.

Dave runs a baseball academy in Lynbrook, New York. If you’d like to know more about him, Cooperstowners in Canada did an interview with him in 2016.

John Martin
John Martin – 1984 Topps #24

John Martin was born in Wyandotte, Michigan, and was a member of the 1976 and 1977 Mid-American Conference championship baseball teams while pitching for Eastern Michigan University. He was drafted by the Tigers in the 27th round in 1978 but didn’t make it to the bigs in his first time around with Detroit.

They traded him to St. Louis in 1980 along with Al Greene (8 for 59, .136, with 3 HRs in 1979, his only big league season) for outfielder Jim Lentine (who only appeared in 67 games for Detroit in 1980). This is what is sometimes known as a “parts trade” in baseball; three guys who had some ability but not enough for a solid major league career but who might fit into another organization’s overall plans as pitching or outfield depth, more likely at the AAA level.

John’s another guy with a 1984 Tigers Topps card who was already gone before they started the season 35-5 on their way to a wire-to-wire AL pennant and World Series championship. John spent a couple more seasons in the minors in the Detroit, Baltimore, and Minnesota systems before hanging up his spikes in 1985.

That’s a hell of an ’80s ‘stache, there, though, John.

Jerry Moses
Jerry Moses – 1975 Topps #271

Gerald Braheen Moses was a backup catcher for several teams over eleven years from 1965 to 1975. He hit .251 in 1072 at-bats with 25 home runs and 109 RBI. He broke into the bigs early, appearing as a pinch-hitter in four games for Boston and becoming the youngest Red Sox player to hit a home run when he took Jim “Mudcat” Grant of the Twins deep on May 25, 1965 when he was just 18 years and 289 days old.

Jerry had been a star athlete at Yazoo City High School in Mississippi. He was an All-State quarterback in football and a pitcher and catcher in baseball, where one of his teammates was Haley Barbour, who later became governor of Mississippi. He was good enough to get a visit from Bear Bryant, who wanted him to come to Alabama and play football, but Jerry, while extremely flattered (“Bear Bryant was the John Wayne of my era,” he noted), chose baseball.

In the years before the amateur draft, young talent was free game for any team willing to offer a contract, and Jerry was chased by no less than six teams. A recently added rule intended to limit the wealthier teams from snapping up all of the best players required that any player who received a large signing bonus had to be put on the major league roster within a year or risk being lost in what was known as the “Fall Draft” (somewhat similar to the Rule 5 Draft these days). So after one season in the minors in 1964, Jerry spent most of 1965 in Boston, though he only appeared in those four games as a pinch hitter.

Jerry made it to the majors for good in 1968 with the Red Sox, but mostly served as a backup catcher for the next two seasons. 1970 was his best year, as he hit .263 with 6 home runs and was selected for the All Star Game along with Carl Yasztremski.

After that, he bounced around for several more seasons with the Angels, Indians, Yankees, Tigers, Padres, and White Sox, before finally retiring after the 1975 season. This 1975 Topps card notes on the back that “Jerry holds the distinction of having played the last 5 seasons each with one different team in the Junior Circuit.” I’m not sure “distinction” is exactly the right word in this instance.

Jerry Moses died in 2018 at the age of 71.

Ray Narleski
Ray Narleski – 1959 Topps #442

This is another of the older cards I got from my childhood friend’s older brother’s card collection. I probably traded one of the endless duplicates of Cy Acosta or John Lowenstein I had; it felt like I got one of those guys’ cards in every pack. Somehow my friend didn’t, though, so in order to complete his 1974 collection, he traded me a number of these classic beauties.

Ray Narleski was half of a great bullpen duo in Cleveland in the mid-fifties. He was a tall (6’1″) right-hander who threw smoke and Don Mossi was an equally tall lefty who threw a sweeping curve. Between the two of them, they kept opposing hitters off-balance for five seasons from 1954 to 1958, including All Star appearances for Narleski in 1956 and 1958.

Ray was plagued with arm troubles beginning in 1956 and annually was among the leaders in pitching appearances in the American League, and combined with his preferred style of flame throwing, his arm eventually started to wear out. Traded to Detroit along with his friend and roommate Mossi before the 1959 season (with one of the players heading to Cleveland in return none other than future Tigers manager Billy Martin), Ray had his worst season, posting a 5.78 ERA in 42 games. In addition to the arm troubles, he also was suffering from a bad back that had cropped up in spring training. After spending 1960 on the disabled list, the Tigers offered to send him to AAA Denver in 1961 to rebuild his strength, but Narleski turned down the offer and he was released on March 31, 1961.

The save wasn’t an official stat in baseball before 1969. It wasn’t really needed; until Narleski and Mossi (and their manager Al Lopez) came along, relief specialists weren’t common. Generally, starters went as long as they could and the bullpen would finish the game if they tired. Retroactively, Narleski was credited with 58 saves in his six-year career, and, if the stat had existed then, he’d have led the AL in saves in 1955 with 19.

Ray Narleski died in 2012 in his home state of New Jersey at the age of 83.

Windmill tilting

As you may have surmised from reading my ongoing Cardboard Tigers series (see them here!), I’m a baseball fan, and specifically of the Detroit Tigers. Watching them on TV over the past few years has been tough, mostly because they haven’t been very good, but also because nearly all of their games are televised on Fox Sports Detroit.

The games are very well-produced. The announcers are okay (when they aren’t causing their own drama in the broadcast booth), though I wish they’d talk a bit less (it’s on TV, guys, we don’t need wall-to-wall chatter).

No, the problem has been, as everything seems to be these days, political. Fox Sports Detroit was, up until 2019, owned by 21st Century Fox, which sold most of its entertainment assets to The Walt Disney Company. As part of the agreement with the federal government allowing the sale, Disney, which also owns the ESPN-branded sports channels, was forced to sell the regional sports operations like Fox Sports Detroit. They found a buyer in Sinclair Broadcasting, one of the few companies both big enough to make such a deal while also somehow being even more right-wing than Fox. So both before and after the sale, I was unhappy knowing that my viewing was helping to make Fox – and then Sinclair – any money at all.

The point is moot, at least right now and at least for me, because my current streaming platform for local channels, YouTube TV, dropped Fox Sports Detroit when they couldn’t come to an agreement over rights fees with Sinclair. Sinclair will also be re-branding their local sports channels, apparently using the Bally name, sometime this year; they were continuing to use the Fox name under license through 2021. Won’t matter to me, they’re still owned by Sinclair, and frankly, the whole intermingling of sports and gambling is also disappointing. I know it’s a big part of sports and always has been, and I’ve been known to place some casual bets with friends and play fantasy sports, but the direct connection and the expansion of legalized betting in Michigan doesn’t strike me as a positive thing. So Bally Sports Detroit, or whatever they end up calling it, isn’t any more appealing than Fox Sports Detroit.

I’m sure executives at Fox Sports Detroit and Sinclair are shaking in their loafers over my extremely quiet boycott of their channel. But it makes me feel better, and I suppose if enough people did it, it might make a difference.

My other windmill-tilt involves CVS, a company I’ve always had good experiences with. Their Marine City store is clean, seems well-run, has good prices on the things I need, and their pharmacy is convenient. (They send a few too many text reminders, but I could stop those if I really wanted to.) However, the last time I went to pick up a prescription, they had a large display of Mike Lindell’s “MyPillow” next to the counter. Mike Lindell, if you’re unaware, is the entrepreneur behind one of the most successful “As Seen On TV” products of recent years, and is also a vocal supporter, both financially and personally, of Donald Trump and the effort to throw out the results of a legally-held election to keep his boy in office for four more years.

So I wrote the following note to the corporate complaint department:

I’ve been a CVS customer for many years. Our local store is staffed by friendly, knowledgable people, I’ve been happy with the value provided by both the local store and CVS.

I was disappointed yesterday, though, when I stopped to pick up a prescription at the Marine City, MI, store. There was a prominent display of the “MyPillow” product next to the pharmacy counter. The CEO of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, is a supporter of the false claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” from President Trump and was also involved as a financial supporter of the rally on January 6 that resulted in a mob invading the U.S. Capitol.

I recognize that Mr. Lindell has the right to sell his products and that CVS has the similar right to select and market whatever products you deem appropriate. I would prefer, however, not to purchase anything from a company that is aligned with someone who is trying to invalidate my vote and cause insurrection. I will be moving my prescriptions as soon as possible.

Again, I’m sure CVS isn’t going to change their decision to sell a popular product because of my complaint. But it felt good to write that measured, yet, quixotic, note.

Now, if you don’t mind, I have to take up my lance and find me a windmill or two.

Cardboard Tigers: Lamont, Leach, LeFlore

Ninth 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.

Gene Lamont
Gene Lamont – 1975 Topps #593

Yes, that’s right. Before he was a coach for the Tigers from 2006 to 2017, before he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1997 to 2000, even before he managed the Chicago White Sox from 1992 to 1995, Gene Lamont was a backup catcher for the Tigers. Interesting how many backup catchers eventually become managers. They have a special connection to the pitch-by-pitch flow of a game because of their playing position, but since they don’t play as often they also spend a lot of time on the bench still thinking like a catcher. Of course, that’s no guarantee of success as a manager: Geno was just a tad under .500 in his eight major league seasons (553-562), though he did win the AL Manager of the Year award in 1993 with the White Sox when they won the AL West before losing in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Blue Jays.

Lamont played parts of five seasons with the Tigers (1970-72 and 1974-75), playing in 87 games and hitting .233 (37 for 159) with four home runs and 14 RBI. He also stole one base. 1974 was his best year, as he appeared in 60 games, starting 29 of them, as the Tigers moved Bill Freehan to first base most of the time and platooned Lamont, Jerry Moses, and John Wockenfuss behind the plate.

He was drafted in the first round by the Tigers in 1965 and hit a home run in his first major league at-bat on September 1, 1970, against Cal Koonce of the Red Sox.

Gene, who was born on Christmas Day, just turned 74 and is currently a special assistant to Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals.

Rick Leach
Rick Leach – 1984 Topps #427

Rick Leach was a standout football and baseball player at the University of Michigan from 1975 to 1979. A four-year starting quarterback for the Wolverines under Bo Schembechler, he beat Ohio State three of the four times he played them, which is really the only yardstick of success that matters at Michigan. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after his senior season in 1978 (behind Billy Sims and Chuck Fusina), and was one of the rare athletes named All-American in both football and baseball.

He chose baseball over football when the Tigers drafted him in the first round, 13th overall, in 1979 (He’d also been pursued by the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL and was drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos). By 1984 – the year of this card – he’d spent parts of three seasons with the big club, compiling a .236 average in 543 at-bats, mostly as a reserve first baseman and outfielder. He’s another guy who has a 1984 Topps card showing him with the eventual champion Tigers, however, he was released by the club in March, 1984, during spring training. He was picked up by Toronto and played in their system through 1988. In 1986, Leach appeared in 110 games for the Blue Jays and hit .309. He finished his career with the Rangers in 1989 and the Giants in 1990. After failing a drug test in August, 1990, Leach was released by San Francisco.

Leach says he never regretted choosing baseball over football. He was named to the Wolverines’ Hall of Fame in 2010.

Ron LeFlore
Ron LeFlore – 1975 Topps #628
Ron LeFlore
Ron LeFlore – 1976 Topps #61

Ron LeFlore was born in Detroit in 1948 (though through most of his baseball career he claimed he was born in 1952 – in fact both of these cards have that birth year on the back). He grew up in and out of trouble with the law and addicted to heroin, and eventually ended up at Jackson State Penitentary after being sentenced to 10-15 years for an armed robbery in 1970.

In prison, LeFlore was introduced to baseball, and quickly showed promise well beyond what might be expected of a relative novice, especially one who was learning the game behind the walls of a maximum security prison. One of his fellow inmates reached out to Jimmy Butsicaris, owner of the Lindell AC bar where many Detroit sports personalities mixed with fans and local tavern patrons. Butsicaris in turn convinced Tigers’ manager Billy Martin to take a look at LeFlore, and a one-day pass was arranged for him so he could do a tryout at Tiger Stadium. Martin was impressed, and the Tigers gave LeFlore a contract that included a $5,000 bonus and $500 per month for the rest of the year, which allowed him to meet the employment terms of his parole. He was sent to Clinton, Iowa, where his first manager was Jim Leyland. Two years later, he made the Tigers out of spring training.

LeFlore was best known for his base stealing ability, leading the American League with 68 in 1978 with Detroit, and then the National League with 97 in 1980 with Montreal. He had a lifetime .288 average with 59 home runs, 57 triples, and 172 doubles out of his total of 1,283 major league hits. He finished with 455 lifetime stolen bases, tied for 52nd place on the all time list with Ed Delahanty. Fielding was his weak spot, though, and he was among the league leaders in outfield errors nearly every season.

He was an American League All-Star in 1976, when he and fellow newcomer Mark “The Bird” Fidrych captivated fans of the Tigers as well as the rest of major league baseball with their speed, ability, quirkiness, and compelling stories.

He was traded to the Expos after the 1979 season for pitcher Dan Schatzeder. After one season in Montreal he signed as a free agent with the White Sox, where his skills seemed to quickly diminish. He admitted that he was actually four years older than he’d originally claimed, which might explain some of the decline, since he was 34 years old in his last season, 1981, not 30.

When LeFlore first made it to the major leagues, Jim Hawkins, the baseball beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, co-wrote his story of redemption in Breakout: From Prison to the Big Leagues. The autobiography was made into a television movie for CBS in 1978 as One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story. The film starred LeVar Burton as LeFlore, Madge Sinclair as his mother, and Billy Martin as himself. Other former Tigers also appeared as themselves, including Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Jim Northrup, and Al Kaline.

He managed and coached with several minor league and independent league teams over the years. In 2011, LeFlore, who had smoked cigarettes since he was a young boy, had his right leg amputated at the knee due to arterial vascular disease. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Cardboard Tigers: Krenchicki, Kuenn, LaGrow

Eighth 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.

There sure were a lot of guys who had 1984 Topps cards showing them as members of the Tigers who never played an inning for them that year. It might even be some kind of a baseball card record. Wayne Krenchicki was another guy who played for the Tigers in 1983, got his picture taken in his blue batting practice jersey, then ended up somewhere else while the Tigers won the World Series in ’84.

Wayne Krenchicki – 1984 Topps #223

Krenchicki was obtained from the Reds in June, 1983, played in 59 games for the Tigers, hitting .278 in 133 at-bats, mostly as a utility infielder. He was sold back to the Reds in November, meaning he was only a Tiger for about five months. He also played for the Orioles and Expos over a eight year major league career. He was also a long-time minor league manager, winning the Atlantic League title with the Newark Bears in 2007. Wayne died in October 2018 at the age of 64.

“American League Kings” – Nellie Fox & Harvey Kuenn – 1960 Topps #429

This is one of my favorite cards. Not because the players were Hall of Famers (though Nellie Fox was, and was inducted in 1997; Harvey Kuenn wasn’t but did have over 2000 major league hits), but because both of them are:

  1. Sporting massive chewing tobacco lumps that make them, Harvey in particular, like he’s got a terrible case of the mumps that has settled in their left cheeks;
  2. Inexplicably both wearing their home white uniforms; and
  3. Both staring into their exactly identical baseball gloves.

Now I know there have to be reasons for #2 and #3, but honestly, I don’t want to know. Any explanation is sixty years in the past, anyway, and both men have been dead for over thirty (Kuenn died in 1988 at 57 and Fox in 1975 at only 47). So let’s let them have their secret for this odd moment in time captured on this special 1960 Topps card.

Kuenn played for 15 years in the bigs, starting with Detroit in 1952, then winning American League Rookie of the Year in 1953 when he hit .308, finished 15th in the MVP race, played in the All-Star game as a rookie, and showed some flash at shortstop. He was an ten-time all star for the Tigers over eight seasons (two games were played in 1959 and 1960), finished in the top 20 in the MVP voting in six of those years, and, when the team moved him to the outfield in 1958, turned out to be just as good out there as he had been at short.

He was half of one of the biggest blockbuster trades in baseball history when Detroit shipped him to Cleveland for Rocky Colavito. The trade was notable because Kuenn had just won the AL batting title with a .353 average (the best of his career) and Colavito had led the league in homers with 42. The trade also became known to Indians fans as “the curse of Rocky Colavito” because after trading the very popular outfielder to Detroit, the Indians didn’t finish closer than 11 games from first place for the next 33 years.

Kuenn coached and managed for the Brewers after retiring, even after having his right leg amputated below the knee due to circulation issues. He was the manager of “Harvey’s Wallbangers,” the 1982 Milwaukee team that made the World Series for the only time in the franchise’s history. They lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the Brewery Series, matching the home towns of Miller and Anheuser-Busch.

Lerrin LaGrow – 1974 Topps #433
Lerrin LaGrow – 1975 Topps #116

Lerrin LaGrow was a 6’5″, 230 pound pitcher for the Tigers from 1970 to 1975. He was mostly a reliever in his early years before becoming a regular starter in 1974 and 1975, going 8-19 and 7-14 over those two seasons and likely explaining the noticeable grimace on his face in these two photos. He later became a closer for the White Sox in 1977 and 1978, saving 41 games over those two seasons.

But the moment I shall always remember LaGrow for was the incident in the 1972 American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s (which I briefly discussed here if you’re having some deja vu). LaGrow had had a good year for the Tigers, with a 1.32 ERA in 16 games, and he was brought into Game 2 of the series in the bottom of the seventh and the A’s up 5-0. A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris came to the plate, already with three hits, two stolen bases, and two runs scored in the game. LaGrow’s first pitch hit Campy in the ankle, prompting him to show off his bat-throwing skills, flinging it baton-like at the Tigers’ pitcher, who had the presence of mind to duck as it went by. Let’s hear George Kell and Larry Osterman describe the scene from the WWJ-TV broadcast:

Tigers manager Billy Martin may have wanted to rile up his team, though it was never confirmed that he ordered LaGrow to throw at Campaneris. His reaction afterward, though, was certainly consistent with his managing (and playing) style, and it did seem to work, as the Tigers came back to win Games 3 and 4 before finally losing the five-game series. It also got both LaGrow and Campaneris suspended for the remainder of the series, which, to be honest, worked out much better for Detroit than for Oakland.

He seems happier.

Lerrin finished his career with the Dodgers and Phillies and retired at 31 after the 1980 season. He’s currently a business broker in his hometown of Phoenix. His profile on his Ler’rin Enterprises website says that “During off seasons [Lerrin] returned to ASU to obtain his degree. Retiring in 1980 after a twelve year [baseball] career, he began investing in Arizona Business Opportunities, owning and operating three different companies with the latter a Business Business Brokerage firm. Since 1981 he has overseen the sale of over 2,000 business transactions. He is genuinely dedicated to his industry, its attitudes, professionalism, integrity and you ! He is a member of the Executive Association of Greater Phoenix, (EAGP).”

Some quickies on a Thursday

Let’s see if that headline works as clickbait. 🙂

Racism is still alive and well in baseball

A quick followup from yesterday’s post about MLB “recognizing” the Negro Leagues. Craig Calcaterra goes into more detail about how, even though the color line was broke in 1947, the damage from baseball’s racist policies continued and still has effects on the game today:

MLB’s skimming off of only a small handful of superstars in the 1940s and 1950s, while shunning the vast majority of its players and workers, was enough to crater the Negro Leagues as a business, leading to their destruction and leading to the end of countless on-the-field and off-the-field baseball careers. It also led to a much, much slower and less comprehensive integration of the game than we may have otherwise gotten. That foot-dragging foreclosed the would-be careers of multiple generations of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives which, in turn, foreclosed the sort of intergenerational role modeling and mentoring which would’ve led to a greater number of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives than we have in the game today. Which is to say that even if the sort of racism that motivated MLB’s failure to properly assess the worth of the Negro Leagues back in the 40s and 50s is not apparent in the game now, the legacy inspired by that racism persists.

Craig writes a newsletter on Substack called “Cup of Coffee,” and this is from today’s free edition. Check out the whole thing if you’re interested in a different take on baseball, sports, and everything else. If you like it, subscribe!

Trolling for a pardon

It’s hard to argue (unless you work there, I suppose) that Google might be a just a tad too big these days and that antitrust laws ought to be brought to bear before they (along with Amazon and Facebook) have effectively taken over commerce. But I’d feel a lot better about this lawsuit if it wasn’t being led by the same guy who did this a few weeks ago:

Paxton is under investigation for bribery and abuse of his office. He fired several of his senior staffers awhile back because they might have been collecting information for a whistleblower complaint. Between the nonsense lawsuit (which was quickly dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court because Texas had no standing to bring it in the first place) and now this salvo against Google (another frequent Trump target), it looks like Paxton is trying to show how deserving he is for a pardon. Which means I have some doubts about the legal competence behind this otherwise welcome investigation into the range of influence of one of the world’s most powerful corporations.