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: 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: The Managers

First in a series.

I just pulled out a bunch of my old baseball cards. I was fortunate enough to not have them thrown out by my mom in some year’s spring cleaning. So I have all of them and they’re in excellent shape considering almost all of them are over forty years old. And now you get to enjoy them, too, because an occasional blog post about them will be useful when I:

a) can’t think of anything else to write about, or

b) am too irritated to write about politics, or

c) all of the above.

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