Cardboard Tigers: Nettles, Oglivie, Pierce

Eleventh 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.

Jim Nettles
Jim Nettles – 1975 Topps #497

Jim Nettles is the younger brother of Graig Nettles, who had a 22-year major league career with the Twins, Indians, Yankees, Padres, and briefly with the Braves and Expos. Graig was a six-time All Star, won two Gold Gloves, and finished in the top six for the MVP award twice. Best known for his eleven seasons with the Yankees, Graig was a solid major leaguer who provided solid defense at third base, and while he didn’t hit for a big average he had some pop in his bat.

Jim’s career, unfortunately, wasn’t as successful. Debuting with the Twins in 1970, the year after his big brother had departed for Cleveland, Jim was a utility outfielder for Minnesota for three years. He spent 1973 in the minors before being traded to Detroit, where he appeared in 43 games in 1974, hitting .227 with 6 home runs and 17 RBI in 141 at-bats. Probably the highlight of his career came on September 14 of that season, when the Tigers played the Yankees. Graig hit a home run in the 1st inning and Jim followed up with one of his own in the 2nd, making them one of only seven sets of brothers to hit home runs in the same game. (The others are Rick and Wes Farrell; Joe and Dom DiMaggio; Al and Tony Cuccinello; Felipe and César Crespo; José and Héctor Cruz; and Bret and Aaron Boone, and all seven pairs hit their home runs playing for opposing teams.)

Jim played in Japan in 1975 (the year this card was printed) and then in the Mexican League in 1976. He spent 1977 in the Pirates minor league system before returning to the majors briefly with the Royals in 1979 (11 games, .087) and the A’s in 1981 (1 game, one plate appearance which was a sacrifice hit so no official at-bat).

Ben Oglivie
Ben Oglivie – 1975 Topps #344
Ben Oglivie
Ben Oglivie – 1976 Topps #659

Ben Oglivie was a Panamanian outfielder and first baseman for the Red Sox and Tigers from 1971 to 1977. Ben didn’t start showing his power stroke until his last two years in Detroit when he hit 15 and 21 home runs.

The Tigers traded him to Milwaukee in December 1977 for pitchers Rich Folkers and Jim Slaton, and he immediately his 29 home runs for the Brewers in 1978 and then led the American League with 41 homers in 1979, becoming the first non-U.S. born player to do so. Ben was a three time All Star in Milwaukee and played in the 1982 World Series against the Cardinals. Over 16 seasons, he compiled a total WAR of 26.4. He finished his baseball career in Japan, playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes for two seasons, hitting 46 home runs.

Ben coached for several organizations after his playing days, including the Brewers, Pirates, Padres, and Devil Rays.

Jack Pierce
Jack Pierce – Topps 1976 #162

Jack Pierce played in 70 big league games for the Braves and the Tigers. This 1976 came after his best – and last – major league season, when he appeared in 53 games for Detroit, hitting .235 in 170 at-bats with 8 home runs and 22 RBI. He played in Japan in 1977 before attempting an American comeback in the Mariners’ AAA team in San Jose in 1978 and 1979.

Jack was a legendary home run hitter in the minors, going deep 395 times, mostly in the Mexican League, where his 294 HRs are the most by a American-born player south of the border.

The back of this card also notes that Jack was “Named athlete of the year at San Jose City College, 1970.” You take your highlights where you can get ’em, folks.

After his playing days, Jack coached in the Mexican League and was elected to the Salón de la Fama (the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame) in 2001. He died of a pulmonary embolism in Monterrey, México, in 2012. He was 63 years old.

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.

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).”

Cardboard Tigers: Holdsworth, Humphrey, Jones, Knox

Seventh 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.

Today I’m featuring the law firm of Holdworth, Humphrey, Jones, and Knox, the names you can trust when it comes to personal injury attorneys.

1974 Rookie Pitchers – 1974 Topps #596

Fred Holdsworth was born in Detroit in 1952 and was both a standout athlete and valedictorian of the class of 1970 at Northville High School, where the Tigers selected him in the 21st round of that year’s amateur draft. Fred chose the Tigers’ contract over scholarship offers to play football or baseball. He spent a couple of years in the farm system before making his debut at the age of 20 in 1972, pitching 7 innings late in the season and piling up an ERA of 12.86. It did get a little better from there, as he had a cup of coffee with the big club in both 1973 (14 2/3 innings, 6.75 ERA) and 1974 (35 2/3 innings, 4.29 ERA).

Before we move on to the rest of Fred’s career highlights, let’s take a look at his colleagues on this 1974 Rookie Pitchers card: Wayne Garland had a decent nine year career with the Orioles (for whom he had his best season in 1976, going 20-7 with a 2.67 ERA and 113 strikeouts and finishing sixth in the Cy Young Award voting) and the Indians (oddly, the next year he led the AL in losses, going 13-19 but with a 3.60 ERA and 119 strikeouts – he was still a good pitcher but now on a lousy team). Mark Littell also played nine major league seasons as a solid reliever with the Royals and Cardinals, which seems appropriate since he was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. But the guy I wanna talk about, the man on everyone’s mind, was Dick Pole. I mean, come on. Dick Pole? I know it’s juvenile, but… Dick Pole? Also, I don’t know how many major leaguers were born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but Dick was one of them. He was born and raised in Trout Creek in the western U.P. county of Ontonagan, played college ball at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. He had an somewhat uninspiring six years in the American League (career WAR of negative 2.4) with Boston and Seattle (he was an original Seattle Mariner!), but Pole was better known for being the coach who helped Greg Maddux become a Hall of Fame pitcher when he was with the Cubs. For this, Braves fans will always be grateful. Thank you, Dick Pole, for being a stand-up guy, wherever you are.

Fred Holdsworth – 1975 Topps #323

Oh yeah, Fred Holdsworth. Well, from there it was off to Baltimore and then Montreal for a few more years, then ending up briefly back in the Tigers system (pitching for AAA Evansville and AA Montgomery in 1979) before finishing his career in Milwaukee and on Oakland’s farms in 1980. He pitched in a total of 72 games, starting 15 of them, and compiled a 7-10 lifetime record with an ERA of 4.40.

After leaving baseball, Fred went back to school, got his accounting degree, and eventually became the Vice President of Finance for Comcast’s Midwest Division. So for about a year in 2008-09, Fred and I worked for the same company. I wonder if he still has a Comcast ball cap like I do?

As of 2018, Fred lived in the Chicago suburbs and was still playing baseball in the Chicago North Men’s Baseball League. He doesn’t pitch anymore, both because he’s in his late 60s and because he had a bad shoulder, so he mostly plays the infield.

Terry Humphrey – 1976 Topps #552

Terry Humphrey was, along with Johnny Wockenfuss, a backup catcher for the Tigers in 1975. As noted in the last exciting edition of Cardboard Tigers, Terry was traded to Detroit by the Expos (along with Tom Walker) after the 1974 season for Woodie Fryman. He played in 18 games for Detroit that year, hitting .244 with one RBI in 41 at-bats. By the time this 1976 card came out, he’d been sent to the California Angels (along with Leon Roberts, Gene Pentz, and Mark Lemongello) for Dave Roberts (not the Dodgers manager, but a pitcher), Milt May, and Jim Crawford, in one of those deals teams used to agree to just to move players around to see if they’d play better if they just got a “fresh start.” Most of the time, the answer was no, and it certainly was for Terry.

Lynn Jones – 1984 Topps #731

Lynn Jones is another guy who missed out on the 1984 Tigers World Series win, after toiling as a reserve outfielder for five seasons. He played in 303 games from 1979 to 1983, hitting .252 with 7 home runs and 91 RBI. Though he has a 1984 Topps cards showing him in Tigers garb, he was traded to the Royals before the season, which meant he did get to play in the 1984 ALCS against his former team, going 1 for 5 as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, and defensive replacement. He also got to play in the 1985 World Series with Kansas City, going 2 for 3 in a similar role but getting to cash a winner’s share check and getting a World Series ring.

The thing I remember about Lynn was the huge glasses he wore. Ballplayers rarely wear glasses, so his were particularly noticeable. You can see them in the main photo on this 1984 card, though not in the smaller portrait, in case you’re looking really hard for them.

After retiring, Lynn coached with the Red Sox and as a minor league instructor with the Braves before joining the coaching staff at his alma mater, Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania, in 2013.

John Knox – 1975 Topps #546
John Knox – 1976 Topps #218

The back of John Knox‘s 1975 card notes that he “Spent 1974 with Tigers.” That he certainly did, sticking with the big club all summer while only appearing in 55 games, mostly as a second baseman with a few games logged at third and as designated hitter (I’m guessing he pinch-ran for Al Kaline and ended up as the DH in the box score after staying in the game). He only had 88 at-bats but hit .307, his best mark in the majors, with one double, one triple, and 6 RBI. He also stole 5 bases.

John appears to have been a pretty good player overall. I remember him mostly because I’ve always been a fan of utility players, having been one myself (it sounds better than bench-warmer), and John was the utility guy on a team full of them in 1974, the year many of the aging leftovers from the ’68 team retired and were replaced by big names like Gary Sutherland, Gerry Moses, and Dick Sharon.

Ralph Houk baseball card

These days, managers like to get their bench players into games every few days, just to keep them sharp in case of an injury. Ralph Houk, who took over as Tiger manager in ’74, had a different style. He tended to run the same eight position players out there, day after day, often with the same lineup. It worked for him with the Yankees (at least until it didn’t), and the Major was gonna dance with who brung him. So guys like Knox didn’t play much.

Houk (who I also discussed in this post) learned this method firsthand playing for Casey Stengel in the fifties. For many years, Yogi Berra was the Yankees catcher, not only the best one in baseball but a perennial MVP candidate. Houk was the third-string catcher, which meant he mostly warmed up relief pitchers in the bullpen. Charlie Silvera was the second catcher, and he only averaged 20 games a season, so Ralph had to settle for less than that. Over a four-season run from 1950 to 1953, he appeared in 5, 10, 3, 9, and 8 games, followed by just a single appearance in 1954. And it’s not like he was spending the rest of the time killing the ball in the minors. He spent the whole year in New York. He just didn’t get to play.

John played college baseball at Bowling Green State University, where he’s a member of their Athletic Hall of Fame. As far as I know, he’s still alive (he’d be 72), but he’s done as solid a job of being invisible to Google searches as he was to box scores when he was with the Tigers.