Cardboard Tigers: Seelbach, Sharon, Slayback

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
Chuck Seelbach – 1973 Topps #51
Chuck Seelbach
Chuck Seelbach – 1974 Topps #292

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.

Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1974 Topps #48
Dick Sharon
Dick Sharon – 1975 Topps #293

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
Bill Slayback – 1973 Topps #537

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.

Injury bug bites baseball man, leaves mark

A crazy number of major leaguers have been bitten by the injury bug in the first week of the 2021 season. I know this because nearly half of my fantasy team have already been day-to-day, on the injured list (IL), or are already done for the year. This includes two of the pitchers I drafted fairly high, James Paxton of the Mariners (who is looking at Tommy John surgery which will end his season) and Trevor Rosenthal of the A’s (who is having thoracic outlet surgery that will put him out at least a couple of months if not longer).

While my lineup has been affected pretty hard, fortunately I don’t take it all that seriously. Fantasy baseball – and football in the fall – mostly gives me a reason to keep up with who the players are. I like baseball a lot, but if I don’t have a reason to follow other teams’ lineups, I probably wouldn’t have much of an idea who they were.

For example, I don’t play fantasy hockey and watched the Red Wings play Nashville the past few nights (due to COVID protocols, the NHL is playing mini-series instead of one-off games, as is traditional). After two nights, I still don’t know who most of the Predators are. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Red Wings I’m not too familiar with, too.

What’s the reason for all of these baseball injuries? I suppose it could be over-training, or under-training, or just bad luck. But my guess is it’s how players are handled these days, and it has a lot to do with the amount of money teams have invested in them. When a guy was making $40K per season back in the 1970s and he strained a muscle or tweaked an ankle, he probably would just play through it, partially because he didn’t want to lose his job to the next guy in line and partially because rehabilitation techniques weren’t as sophisticated. Spit on it, rub some dirt on it, and keep playing was the attitude when I played ball in high school. (Full disclosure: I was terrible.)

These days, if a player has a minor injury, he gets held out for a game or two, and if it doesn’t improve right away it’s off to the ten-day injured list. When you’re paying someone hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, you’re going to protect your investment. Understandable, but frustrating to fans – and fantasy players.

Les cadets crient «M’aider!”»

The things you learn when you’re learning another language

The international voice distress call is “mayday,” used to call for help in both in the air and on the water. The word is a phonetic transliteration of the French m’aidez or, in its infinitive form, m’aider, literally “help me!”

The term was coined by the radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, F.S. Mockford, in the early 1920s. Since most air travel was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris at that time, Mockford figured that a word that was easy to remember but had an underlying meaning in at least one of the two languages would be ideal, and “mayday” was born.

I learned the origin of the second word this morning reading a translation of a golf article in Le Journal de Montréal. My iPad translated “caddie” as “cadet,” which it turns out is the French source word for caddie. A cadet is more commonly a trainee military rank, but the Scots borrowed the word in the late 1600s to mean someone who did odd jobs, and eventually it was applied to the person who carried a golfer’s clubs. Incidentally, the derogatory term “cad” also is derived from this Scottish borrowing of “cadet.”

UPDATE: Tigers will not go 162-0. Could go 161-1, trend is now 108-54, though.

The Tigers lost today to the Indians, but ended up winning two of the three games in their opening series. But there goes the perfect season. Rule 5 draftee Akil Baddoo hit a home run in his first major league at bat today, a remarkable thing in itself, but he also did it on the first major league pitch he had ever seen in a regular season game. His parents, who were at the game, we’re very excited. And so was I.

Tigers maintain pace for 162-0

The Tigers beat Cleveland again today, this time 5-3. They’re 2-0 to start the season for the first time since 2016 – I know, it feels like a lot longer than that. Julio Teherán pitched five strong innings to get the win and the bullpen looked good again, with Derek Holland, Michael Fulmer, and Bryan Garcia in control of their innings of work. Tyler Alexander struggled a bit but was able to right the ship before things got out of control. Garcia picked up a very efficient four-out save, not something we’ve been accustomed to very often over the past few seasons. He looks like a closer to me; I think Soto has the stuff to do that, too, but I like Garcia’s sense of calm. In any case, it’s nice to have two legitimate options for the ninth inning.

Other positives over the first two games include Robbie Grossman’s patience at the plate. He’s walked six times so far, the first Tiger hitter ever to do that in the first two games of a season (Norm Cash held the record with five until today). Jeimer Candelario seems to be locked in as well, with a nice, short batting stroke that allows him to put the ball where he wants it to go, as he showed today with his sharp opposite field hitting.

Best of all, we’ve beaten Cleveland twice already in 2021. Considering what a pain they’ve been over the past couple of seasons, that’s a reason for optimism. This is still a very young team in most ways, and is likely to get younger as some of the prospects make their way to the major league roster as the season moves along, but they’re fun to watch so far, with a lot of small ball hustle and two strong starts from the front end of the rotation.

Place your bets now: Tigers to go 162-0 this season

The Tigers launched the 2021 season yesterday at home with a 3-2 win over the Cleveland Baseball Team. It was snowing during the first few innings, becoming nearly a whiteout blizzard a couple of times, including when Miguel Cabrera hit the first MLB home run of the season but couldn’t see that it went out so he slid into second:

Kirk Gibson: “Look at the confetti!” LOL.

Matthew Boyd started for Detroit, and while he wasn’t as flashy as Cleveland starter Shane Bieber, who struck out 12 Tigers, he also didn’t give up any runs and got the victory. The Tigers’ bullpen looked pretty good, too, with José CIsnero and Daniel Norris throwing scoreless innings. New closer Gregory Soto gave up a two-run homer to Roberto Pérez in the ninth but still got the save.

So the trend line is obvious: The Tigers have a perfect record after one game, and therefore will finish the season 162-0. Where do I buy playoff tickets?

A more disturbing trend in baseball, and sports in general, is the rapid encroachment of gambling into the broadcasts and the stadiums themselves. Once upon a time, a connection with known gamblers or gambling interests was enough to even get baseball legends like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle banned from baseball back in the early 1980s for working for casinos in public relations capacities.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law that outlawed sports betting in most states in 2018. Since then, all of the leagues have started to get into the gambling business, initially by accepting sponsorships from sports books and gambling companies, and now actively allowing solicitation of all types of bets in their live broadcasts and on their websites and mobile apps. It’s hard to avoid a pop-up asking you to “bet now” if you visit MLB.com or watch a live telecast; yesterday, ESPN’s coverage included sidebars asking how many runs the Dodgers and Rockies would score after the seventh inning, along with a betting website and a code to use to win $5,000.

The Tigers’ broadcast partner, Fox Sports Detroit, become Bally Sports Detroit on March 31. The name change was needed anyway, as Fox no longer owned the regional sports networks that bore their name, having been bought by Sinclair Broadcasting a couple of years ago. They continued to use the Fox name under license, but needed a new one and the deal was made with Bally’s Corporation, a casino, horse track, and online gaming company (and which started as a manufacturer of pinball machines back in the 1930s). The connection between the games and the gaming is now complete.

Personally, I don’t care what they call the network (I still miss PASS Sports, myself). Sports has always had gambling, legal or not. In some ways, maybe having the whole thing out in the open is better. We’ll see. I’m not opposed to gambling, though I don’t do much myself, an occasional lottery ticket when the jackpot gets ridiculous and some penny ante and no stakes fantasy football and baseball. And people have noted that baseball has long been associated with other less-than-virtuous vices, including tobacco and alcohol.

The difference, as noted by Craig Calcaterra in his excellent “Cup of Coffee” newsletter today, is that baseball is now producing gambling-related programs and content for their websites and channels, which is a far cry from the days of baseball’s cleaner-than-clean Mantle and Mays bans:

I’m concerned, but I’m not going to let it get me down. I love baseball. Yesterday’s game was a joy to watch, especially Cabrera’s homer and his remarkable diving play at first base, where he hadn’t played since 2019. Detroit manager A.J. Hinch claims Cabrera is the best defensive first baseman on the team and that he’ll get to play there a few times per week. We’ll see if his troublesome knee will allow that, but for one day, anyway, it was all smiles for the big guy.

1-0! First place, baby! Enjoy it while you can.