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).”