Saturday, October 1, 2011

1977 Texas Rangers

Prior to working on the Rangers 1977 set I admittedly did not have a deep knowledge of how the team did and the "why" behind it.  To say the Ranger franchise, which moved from Washington in 1972 was typically a doormat in the AL West would be an easy blanket statement to make.  This was the first time the Rangers actually contended.  As late as early September they were only 3 1/2 games behind the Royals, who eventually won the division.  KC got on a roll in September and built up a double digit lead before slackening off after clinching.  Still a 94 win Ranger team that finished 8 games out is something to take note of.  The team went 60-33 under Billy Hunter, who replace Frank Lucchesi, who had the team at .500.  Texas, which has become known as a franchise built around offense finished in the middle of the pack in batting, so why did they contend ?  Pure and simple:  Pitching.  Having 2 future HOF'ers at the top of your rotation will keep you in any pennant race.  Gaylord Perry was 15-12 with a 3.37 ERA in 34 starts.  If the offense could have scored a few more runs here and there the 38 year old future HOF'er could have easily been 20-7.  Bert Blyleven was 14-12 with a 2.72 ERA.  Compared to Perry he was really the "hard luck starter".  Both logged over 230 innings as did Doyle Alexander (17-11, 3.65), who the offense seemed to support much better than the two HOF'ers.  The Adrian Devine led bullpen was average.  It was rounded out with Oakland A's retreads Paul Lindblad and Darold Knowles.  A young Len Barker was solid.

The "human rain delay" Mike Hargrove was the only regular to hit over .300.  Toby Harrah led the team with 27 homers and was the only hitter to eclipse the 20 mark.  The bench was pretty good.  Led by Kurt Bevacqua (.333), and fresh off his bubble gum bubble blowing championship, plus Ken Henderson and an aging Sandy Alomar.

In total I had to create or modify 21 Texas Rangers 1977 Topps cards.  Typically second division teams have a lot of new players or in season trades, but this Rangers squad was not the norm.  To their credit they acquired a lot of good players, which is why they improved over their 1976 offering with 18 more wins and 4 places in the standings.

A perennial All-Star and 3 time world champion with the Oakland A's, "Campy" signed with Texas as a free agent.  At 35 he still had enough left in the tank to play a rock solid shortstop and steal 27 bases.  A major concern has to be that he was caught stealing 20 times.  His 40 sacrifice hits led the league and is further evidence that the Rangers spent the season scratching for runs.  Topps originally issued a horrible airbrush card for Campy.  Every time I looked at it I got annoyed.  Campy signed with the Rangers on Nov 17, which gave Topps ample time to get a picture of him with a Rangers cap and jersey.  Sheer laziness and the fact that the Rangers were not a marquee team led to this occurring.  Now Campy has a legit '77 card.  The photo comes from a signed 8x10 glossy that I found on Google.

Devine's 15 saves led the Rangers staff that season.  His 11-6 record and 3.58 ERA out of the pen would turn out to be the best season of his career.  Devine interestingly shuttled back and forth between the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers having spent 2 tours of duty with each franchise during his 7 year career that ended back in Texas after the 1980 season.

 Cuellar's lone shot at "the show" was his 4 game stint with the Rangers in 1977.  He didn't record a win, but did have a stellar 1.35 ERA and an off the charts 0.900 WHIP.  In essence this would be Cuellar's only Topps Card.  I created it from his minor league card from that season.  Texas' AAA affiliate sported the same color scheme as the parent company.  All I needed to do was airbrush out the Toros logo off the cap and paste on a "T".

 Maury son was the hot rookie that year.  Bump finished 3rd in the rookie of the year voting.  Without any previous major league experience there was no chance that Topps was going to reward him with a card of his own.  I created this one off of a photo used on the cover of Sports Illustrated early in the '77 season.  Wills career had some interesting parables and turns.  In Spring Training of '77 he was given the 2nd base job over Lenny Randle, who then punched out manager Frank Lucchesi, which ruined both of their careers in Texas.  Randle was cast off to the Mets (believe me that's punishment) and Lucchesi eventually got fired early in the season.  Wills and teammate Toby Harrah hit back to back inside the park homers vs the Yankees in the Bronx on August 27th.  It is the only time that it ever happened in MLB history.  Wills would spend 5 seasons in Texas before moving over to the Cubs then retiring from baseball at the age of 29.  Being Maury's son and playing a similar style game can be tough on a guy.  He eventually went over to Japan and played there for a number of years away from his dad's shadow.

 Washington spent basically 1 season in Texas.  Acquired in May for Jim Umbarger and cash Washington was another former Oakland Athletic who Charlie Finley "liquidated" in his late 70's fire sale.  Washington spent time on 9 different teams over the course of his above average 17 year career. One can only speculate why he was so "well traveled".  One thing is for certain:  He could hit and steal bases while he was wearing your uniform.  He hit .284 with 12 homers and 20 stolen bases in '77 and played an above average outfield.  Fittingly he would be traded a year later for the even more well traveled Bobby Bonds.

 The second most famous Knowles in Texas (we have to give Beyonce the nod for #1), Darold arrived as a grizzled veteran who pitched for second division Senator clubs and world champion Oakland A's clubs.  He did a great job getting lefties out in '77 (.213), but righties hit over 100 points higher against him.  In today's modern game he would have slotted in nicely as that "lefty specialist" out of the pen.  Unfortunately for him, in 1977 Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan were about a decade away from revolutionizing the bullpen.  This card features a signed 8x10 glossy that I found on Google.

 By 1977 Dave May was a veteran corner outfielder coming off a sub par year (.215) in Atlanta and hoping to jump start his career.  He got into 120 games, but hit only .240, which while an improvement over his 1976 stats was not good enough to occupy a corner outfield position on a team looking to contend for a pennant.  I used his 1978 Topps Card shot for this update, since the other options on the net were not all that good.

Few remember that Ellis was a dominating pitcher on some fantastic Pirate teams in the late 60's and early 70's.  Urban legend has it that he pitched a no hitter while on LSD.  Later when I'm bored I'll check Snoopes to see if it's actually true and if Paul really did die before Abbey Road was released.  Right now I'm concentrating on the Rangers.  Ellis had an awesome season in '77.  His 10-6 record with a 2.90 ERA would have made him the ace of the staff, but he unfortunately had injuries and possibly other problems, which led to him only starting 22 games.  This would be his last hurrah as a front line starter and in 2 years he would bottom out with a high 5.00 ERA along with other issues.

1977 was the end of the road for Kirkpatrick, who played for 3 teams (Pirates, Rangers & Brewers) that season.  At 32 Kirpatrick was an aged veteran.  Many forget that he made his MLB debut in '62 as a 17 year old with the Los Angeles Angels.  By 1977 he had logged way too many miles behind the plate, and didn't have enough pop left in his lumber to be a corner outfielder or infielder.  He hit .188 in 48 AB's in Texas with no homers, while playing all of the corner positions and behind the plate.  In 1972 Topps issued a separate "set inside a set" that included "action photos" for the first time.  Now of course none of us would consider a catcher picking up his mask and shaking off the dust to be an action shot, but Topps apparently did :) !  This was Kirkpatrick's '72 Action shot while he was in a Royals uniform.  Since the chest protector and the profile view block out the Royal logo I decided to use this for his 77 card.  I pasted a Texas Ranger bi-centenial jersey patch on the sleeve for authenticity purposes :) !

This 20 year old went 2 for 6 in 17 games worth of action for the Rangers in '77.  Miller spent more time as a late inning defensive replacement that season than anything else. After the season he would be shipped off to the Braves as part of a huge 4 team swap that saw almost half the league change uniforms (slight exaggeration).  Miller finished his short career with a .238 average and only 1 career roundtripper.  This updated card took me a while to make.  I took his Atlanta minor league card and airbrushed off the Brave cap and then cut and pasted a Rangers cap on.  It made for a good base photo because the Braves have similar colors to the Rangers and his arms block the logos.

 Gray played in 1 game and had just 2 unsuccessful AB's for the '77 Rangers.  He would go on to play parts of 2 more seasons with Texas before being dealt away.  This card came from the same minor league set as Bobby Cuellar's card.  The tight head shot made it very easy to airbrush the cap and paste on a new logo.

Jim's not smiling in this picture that's for sure.  My guess is that he was ticked off at being back in Shea Stadium where he stunk it up good in 2 seasons with the Mets.  I'm sure being the answer to the trivia question:  "Who did the Mets trade Nolan Ryan for" didn't help.  I'm sure he was also ticked off that Topps neglected to even issue a card for him.  After all he did play for the Rangers in '76.  He would hit .233 in 13 games before being sent to Pittsburgh for Kirkpatrick.  Fregosi, who was an All-Star in the 60's with the Angels was now hanging on to his major league career by a thread.  The photo for this card was chosen from the SSPC set issued in '76.

 Mason, who was the starting shortstop for the '76 pennant wining  Yankees was coming off a .180 season, so he was left unprotected in the Expansion draft.  The Blue Jays "snatched" him up and by the beginning of May he was dealt to Texas for $200k worth of cash and Roy Howell.  What Texas got was a guy who was a former prospect in their chain (back in their Washington days), who could field his position, but hit no better than the famed "Mendoza line".

 Poloni's major league career consisted of 1 start and 2 total games for the Rangers.  He maximized his one shot by gaining a win.  This was another one of those minor league cards that I was easily able to adapt into a Topps card.

 Smith played 23 games in left field and hit .238 with 2 homers.  He would return to the minors for all of '78, then wind up back in the majors with the Cardinals for 2 more nondescript seasons.  The photo for this card came from his 1978 rookie panel card, which explains why it was off center and so grainy.

 If the Rangers were in the business of collecting corner outfielders who were late in their careers and short on skill, Henderson would be the poster boy for that effort.  He arrived in the offseason with Devine, Moret, May and Morton for Jeff Burroughs.  He would be gone in the offseason as part of that big 4 player trade.  He hit .258 with 5 homers in over 200 AB's for the Rangers.  I used his 1978 Topps Card photo for this one.  It looks to me like this was taken in either Oakland or KC.
 You can't ask more from a utility player than the season Bevacqua gave the fans in Arlington.  Playing practically every position he still found a way to hit .333 in just under 100 AB's.  Bevacqua's claim to fame on the baseball diamond would not come for another 7 seasons, when he hit a big home run as the Padres DH in the '84 World Series.  His 1976 Bubble blowing championship Topps card still to this day remains a collector's cult favorite.  This is Bevacqua's 1978 Topps card photo, which was taken @ Yankee Stadium.

 21 year old Barker was 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 47 innings worth of work out of the pen.  His signature moment would come 4 years later when he tossed a perfect game in an Indians uniform.  Barker would spend just 3 seasons in Texas before being dealt to Cleveland as part of a trade that returned Larvell Blanks and Jim Kern.  This photo came from an 8x10 autographed glossy being sold on ebay.  It looks like it was taken in Tiger Stadium or Cleveland.

 Lew's major league career lasted a grand total of 25 games in 1977.  In 32 AB's he managed to hit an unimpressive .219 with no power whatsoever.  Lew split time between right field and left.  This card photo came from the previously mentioned Toros minor league set.

 Over a 3 year period in the early 1970's (72-74) Marshall was the premier relief pitcher in the National League.  1974 would be his peak year, which culminated in his winning the Cy Young Award.  By the time 1977 rolled around Marshall was not that same guy anymore.  100+ appearances in '74 and a ton of innings sucked most of the life out of his right arm.  Prior to that 3 year stint he was well on his way to being a journeyman.  By 1977 that's exactly what he was, a journey man just hanging on for a pay day.  Marshall's 2-2, 4.04 record in 30+ games in Texas were mediocre at best.  Ownership only had to send cash to Atlanta to get his services and hope that a change in league might rejuvenate him.  The photo for this card came from his 1974 Sports Illustrated cover.  I airbrushed out the Dodgers logo on the jersey and the cap and pasted a "T" on the cap as well as colorized the brim to the dark red that the Rangers wore.

 1977 was the start of a nice 6 year career in Texas for Putnam, who never quite hit for enough power to occupy 1st base.  Hitting .306 in 26 games worth of service showed that Putnam had some promise.  '78 was a year that he took a huge step back, but then he finally solidified his slot in '79 when he finished 4th in the AL rookie of the year balloting.  The photo used for this card came from the ever so valuable Toros AAA minor league set.  Since the photo was a profile view I decided to not even bother and airbrush out the Toro logo.  If you look real close you can see that it's a Longhorn, not a "T", but you have to look real close and no what you're looking for.  On initial glance most can't tell the difference.

 After spending well over a decade in Washington and Oakland as one of the AL's top relievers Lindblad was nearing the end of the road when he arrived for his second tour of duty in Texas.  His 4-5 record with a 4.20 ERA in '77 was drastically worse than his '76 stats (6-5, 3.06) and with hindsight we can tell it was a sure fire sign of his rapid decline.  His original 1977 card pictured him with Oakland, before he became another one of those firesale victims that Charlie Finley scattered around the league.  This card shot came from his '78 card.  Shame on Topps for being so lazy and airbrushing this picture when he spent a full season in Texas by that point.  It's one of Topps' better airbrush efforts, but they still have no excuse for not getting a regular shot of him during one of Texas' two trips to the Bronx.

 After 3 solid, but not spectacular seasons in Boston, Moret began to develop arm troubles and was shipped off to Atlanta in 1976 where he bottomed out with a 3-5 record and a 5.00 ERA.  1977 was not much better for him and after 14 innings in 1978 he was gone from baseball at the ripe old age of 28.  The photo used here is from the 1978 Topps set.

 With the Yankees acquiring Willie Randolph in the off season to play second base, Alomar became expendable.  Texas shipped some spare parts and cash off to the Bronx to get themselves a solid veteran to tutor rookie Bump Wills at second and how to be a pro.  Alomar responded with a solid .265 average in part time work.  In his prime he was an excellent base stealer for the Chisox and Angels, while being a rock at second.  Alomar would play one more season then retire and become better known as Robby and Sandy Jr.'s dad.    The photo used here is from the 1978 Topps set.

 Hargan was selected from Texas by the Blue Jays in the '77 Expansion draft then dealt back to the Rangers in the Roy Howell trade.  Hargan's second stay in Arlington was very short lived.  36 days later he was sold to the Braves.  In 6 games he had a 1-0 record with an inflated 8.76 ERA.  In his previous 3 seasons in Texas he compiled 29-27 record with a 3.88 ERA as a mid level starter.   The photo used here is from the 1976 Topps set.

 One week into the season the Rangers traded a marginal pitcher, Steve Foucault, for Detroit's aging superstar left fielder.  Horton had played 15 seasons in Detroit and compiled a .276 batting average and over 260 career homers.  At 34 year's of age, Horton was not in Detroit's rebuilding plans.  The 3 time All-Star never hit less than 10 homers in a season and as Texas' main DH he would keep his streak alive.  Horton would would hit .289 with 15 homers and 75 RBI's for the Rangers and make the deal look exceptionally one sided.  He would spend just 1 season in Arlington before being traded to Cleveland, along with David Clyde for Tom Buskey and John Lowenstein.  The picture for this updated card came from an 8x10 autographed glossy being sold on ebay.

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