Cardboard Tigers: Trucks, Veryzer, L. Walker

Sixteenth 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.

Virgil Trucks
Virgil Trucks – 1994 Upper Deck #39

This is a special historical card produced by Upper Deck during the 1994 season, which was major league baseball’s 125th anniversary. My son was briefly interested in baseball cards around 2001 or so and traded with a friend for this one because it was a Detroit player. His interest soon faded and I ended up with his small collection, so here ya go.

Virgil Trucks was a very good pitcher for the Tigers from 1941 to 1952, and then again in 1956. He won 114 and lost 96 for Detroit, had a 3.50 ERA, and struck out 1046 batters over 1800 2/3 innings of work. He was an American League All-Star in 1949 and finished in the top 30 for MVP voting twice.

He was known, for obvious reasons, as “Fire,” and at the time this card was printed in 1994, was one of only four pitchers to throw two no-hitters in the same season. His came in 1952, no-hitting the Washington Senators on May 15 and then the Yankees on August 25. He came close to a third, one-hitting the Senators on July 22. Interestingly, Trucks only won five games total that season, finishing 5-19 on a Tigers squad that went 50-104.

The other pitchers who had two no-hitters in the same season are Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds in 1938 (and his were in consecutive games), Allie Reynolds of the Yankees in 1951, and Nolan Ryan of the Angels in 1973 (his second one came at the expense of the Tigers on July 15). In 2010, Roy Halladay of the Phillies threw a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, then he no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. So technically, he threw two no-hitters in the same year, but not in the same regular season, but that’s quibbling. You go throw a no-hitter, then you can split hairs over records.

Halladay died in 2017 at the age of 40 after a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. His lifetime stats certainly were worthy of the Hall: 203-105 record, 3.38 ERA, 2117 strikeouts. But here are Virgil Trucks’ career stats: 177-135, 3.39 ERA, 1534 strikeouts. Somewhat comparable, but Trucks only got two percent of the votes in his only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1964. His “Hall Rating” on hallofstats.com is 82, which is short of the benchmark of 100 the site uses to determine whether someone is Hall-worthy. Halladay’s Hall Rating is 138, so his election was obviously more than just sentimentality after his untimely death.

Trucks was traded to the St. Louis Browns before the 1953 season, and then the Brownies traded him to the White Sox that June. After the 1955 season, they traded him back to the Tigers along with some guys for some other guys. From there, Detroit traded him to the Kansas City A’s before the 1957 season, and the A’s dealt him to the Yankees in June 1958. The Yankees released him during spring training the following year.

He missed the entire 1944 season and only appeared in one game in 1945 due to military service in World War II. He did, however, get to pitch in the 1945 World Series as the Tigers beat the Cubs, four game to three, to win their second championship.

Trucks’ nephew, Butch Trucks, was a drummer and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Two great-nephews are also musicians: Duane Trucks, drummer for Widespread Panic; and Derek Trucks, who performs with his wife Susan Tedeschi as the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

Virgil Trucks died in March 2013 in Calera, Alabama, at the age of 95.

Tom Veryzer
Tom Veryzer – 1976 Topps #432

Tom Veryzer was a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop with Detroit from 1973 to 1977. Billy Martin, who was the manager of the Tigers in 1973, called him “the best looking young shortstop I’ve ever seen.” Others compared him to Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner and predicted he would be one of the five best shortstops in major league history.

And at least in the field, they came close to being right. His career Range Factor at shortstop of 4.84 is 25th best ever. Unfortunately, his batting prowess never matched his skill with the glove. When he was called up in 1973, he mostly rode the bench behind starting shortstop Ed Brinkman. In 1974, he again spent most of the year in the minors, only appearing in 22 games with the big club. The Tigers traded Brinkman before the 1975 season and the job was Veryzer’s. He had a solid season at the plate, hitting .252 with five home runs and 48 RBI in 404 at-bats. Injuries limited him to only 97 games in 1976, then a terrible start to the 1977 season, in which he his .197 overall, found him splitting playing time with Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener. And when you’re losing playing time to Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener, the writing is on the wall.

Detroit traded him to Cleveland during the off-season, which opened the shortstop spot to a youngster named Alan Trammell. In Cleveland, Veryzer had his two best seasons, in 1978 and 1980, hitting .271 both years and playing outstanding shortstop. He finished his career with the Mets in 1982 and the Cubs in 1983-84; if the Cubs had beaten the Padres in the NLCS that year, he might have played against his old team in the World Series.

For his career, Veryzer hit .241 with 14 homers and 231 RBI. He died in July 2014 in Islip, New York, at the age of 61 after suffering a stroke.

Luke Walker
Luke Walker TRADED – 1974 Topps #612T

Luke Walker pitched for eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1965 to 1974, mostly as a reliever with occasional spot starts. His best season was 1970, when he went 15-6 with a 3.04 ERA and finished tenth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. In 1971, he took a no-hitter deep into a game against the Dodgers, but Joe Ferguson hit a home run (the first of his career) leading off the ninth. The Pirates won the World Series that year, and Walker started Game 4, which was the first World Series game played at night. It didn’t go well for him, as he gave up three hits, walked two (one intentionally), and was charged with three earned runs in only two-thirds of an inning, giving him a career ERA in the World Series of 40.50.

Walker was a solid pitcher, but was terrible at the plate. He had only eleven hits in 188 at-bats in his career for an impressive .059 batting average. One day at Three Rivers Stadium, Walker actually got a hit and the home crowd cheered. Hank Aaron, who was near the end of his career in the National League, thought the cheering might be for him and he tipped his cap to the crowd. Walker said, “Put your hat back on, Hank, they’re cheering for me.”

Despite the “TRADED” label on this card (not to mention the snappy airbrushing on his cap and neck piping), the Pirates actually sold Walker’s contract to Detroit before the 1974 season. He went 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 28 appearances, nine of them starts. The Tigers released him at the end of spring training in 1975.

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.

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.