Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Herman Franks

Former Cubs and Giants manager Herman Franks has died at the age of 95. Franks was manager of the Cubs from 1977 - 1979. He had decent years, with the team around the .500 mark each season. His best year in Chicago was his first, 1977, a season in which the Cubs got out of the gate quickly and had a 8.5 game lead in late June. But Bruce Sutter got hurt and was lost for a while and the team went south in a hurry. They ended the season in 4th place, 20 games out of first with a 81-81 record. But it was a fun season.

When he was managing the team, Franks was already a very rich man, having reaped the benefits of many real estate deals in the San Francisco area. So he wasn't there for the money, but for the game. He managed with a sort of "who cares, lets take a risk, I don't care if you fire me" attitude. It often paid off for the Cubs. But eventually the players tired of his attitude and he lost the ballclub. He quit in 1979 with a week left in the season, basically saying "I don't need this anymore."

He returned to the team a GM for a short while in 1981 during the transition between the Wrigley ownership and the Tribune taking over.

He is the second Cubs manager to die in the past few weeks, with Whitey Lockman passing on March 17. I would suggest to Jim Marshall, who served as Cubs skipper between Lockman and Franks, that he make sure all of his affairs are in order.

Future Managers

More from Fleer Cubs sets from the 1980's.

A look through the Fleer Cubs of the 1980's reveals five future major league managers. In typical Cub-like fashion, four of the five ended with career records under .500. The fifth has a pretty good run going (he also had the shortest Cub career). In a strange coincidence, four of the five ended up managing in Pennsylvania, with either the Pirates or Phillies, creating an unusual Chicago - Pittsburgh - Philadelphia triangle.

Davey Lopes - career record 144 - 195, .425
At the end of his playing career, Lopes bounced around with three different teams including the Cubs from 1984 - 1986. When his playing days were over, he coached with several organizations before landing with the Brewers. When their managers position became available, Bud Selig pushed Lopes as a minority hire and Davey got the job. The best he could do with the Brew Crew was 73 wins in 2000. After a 3-12 start in 2002, he was let go. Lopes has since gone on to coach with the Nationals and is currently the first base coach for the Phillies. In February, he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. His prognosis is good, with doctors feeling they caught the cancer early. Lopes is expected to rejoin the team in May.

Lloyd McClendon
- career record 336 - 446, .430
Lloyd McClendon spent three and a half seasons with the Cubs. He was a valuable member of the 1989 team that won the Eastern Division. He was later traded to the Pirates, where he finished his playing career in 1994. He went on to become the hitting coach with the Bucs until he was named manager for the 2000 season. He lasted nearly five season at the helm, compiling a 336 - 446 record. The best he could muster were a couple of 4th place finishes. Its hard to know just how good a manager he was because he never had the talent to work with in Pittsburgh. Lloyd is now serving with his former skipper Jim Leyland as the hitting coach of the Tigers.

Larry Bowa - career record 418 - 435, .490
Larry spent the tail end of his career as the Cubs shortstop, coming from the Phillies in the trade that also brought Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs. He did nothing spectacular in Chicago, but he was a steadying presence in the infield. When his career ended, many baseball people felt his on the field leadership and competitiveness would make him a good manager. They were wrong.

Bowa was named manager of the Padres barely a year after his playing career ended. He was not ready to lead a team. His year and a half record in San Diego was 81-127. It would be 13 years before he was given a chance to manage again, this time returning to Philadelphia. A more mellow Bowa posted a better than .500 record in four season, 337 - 308 but the Phillies finished either second or third. It was tough being in the same division as the Braves. Larry now serves as bench coach for the Dodgers.

Jim Tracy
- career record 562 - 572, .496
His playing career was not so good. His only claim to fame is that he is the second-to-last player to ever wear #23 with the Cubs. He played in 87 games over two seasons and hit .249. After his playing days ended, he bounced around several organization as a minor league manager and coach. He was Davey Johnson's bench coach with the Dodgers and when Johnson was fired Tracy was named Dodger skipper.

He lasted five years in LA, finishing above .500 four of the five seasons. He led the team to the NL West crown in 2004. The team slumped to only 71 wins in 2005 and Tracy was canned. The Pirates hired him right away and he led them for two seasons. He was consistent, as the team won 67 and 68 games in his two seasons. But apparently that wasn't good enough and he was fired. (The 2008 Pirates won 67 games). Jim is currently the bench coach for the Rockies.

Terry Francona - career record 755 - 703, .513
Terry Francona spent only one of his ten season with the Cubs. The Cubs signed him as a free agent for the 1986 season. He appeared in 86 games and hit only .250. He was let go at the end of the year. Francona's playing career ended in 1990.

He then was hired by the White Sox and managed several of their farm teams, including the 1994 Birmingham Barons, with outfielder Michael Jordan. After coaching with the Tigers in 1996, Terry was hired by the Phillies in 1997. He spent four years in Philadelphia, but the best he could manage was a 77 win season in 1999. After the 2000 season he was let go and replaced by Larry Bowa. He then went on to work in the front office or coach in three different organizations.

When the Red Sox fired Grady Little after the 2003 playoffs, Terry Francona was hired as their new skipper. Expectations were high with the near miss in 2003. He led the team to 98 wins and a wild card berth. Using their stirring comeback in the ALCS as a springboard, the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the World Series and ended the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox have averaged 94 wins under Francona and went on to a secord title in 2007. Apparently his one season with the Cubs didn't taint him!

Monday, March 30, 2009

North Side South Side: George Bell

Leaf 1991 George Bell

Outfielder George Bell played only one season with the Cubs. He was signed as a free agent by general manager Jim Frey for the 1991 season after several successful seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. Bell had established himself as a big-time run producer with the Jays. He was an all-star twice and won the AL MVP in 1987, hitting .308 with 47 home runs and 134 RBI's. He was one of three big name signings by the Cubs that off season (Danny Jackson and Dave Smith were the other two).

When the Cubs signed him he was 31 years old. He had a decent year with the North Siders, slamming 25 home runs and driving in 86 runs. But the team finished under .500, the other two big money players were busts, and GM Jim Frey was fired after the season. Former Sox GM Larry Himes was hired to run the Cubs.

Bowman 1991, George doesn't like to wear his hat

1991 Fleer Ultra, warming up before a game

1991 Upper Deck, Bell wore #11 with the Cubs, a number the team has typically given to infielders (Don Kessinger, Ivan DeJesus).

1991 Stadium Club, finishing up his swing

In the spring of 1992, Himes made a deal with his former team. There was a player he had traded for while with the Sox that Himes was still very high on. He wanted that player for the Cubs, so the new GM sent Bell to the South Side in exchange for pitcher Ken Patterson and his main target, a raw outfielder named Sammy Sosa.

Bell had a decent year with the Sox in 1992, knocking out 25 homers along with 112 RBI's. It looked at the time like the Sox got the better of the deal. But in 1993, slowed by knee injuries, Bell played in only 102 games. His home run total dropped to 13. After the season he announced his retirement and that was it. His career was finished.

1992 Topps Trades, again, George doesn't like to wear his hat

1992 Stadium Club, hatless again

1993 Topps, taking a hack with the Sox

The guy the Cubs in the Bell trade got seem to improve a bit and went on to have some decent years with the Cubs. But I'll save his story for another day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Cubs Fact: Ken Holtzman's Perfect Season

Very few pitchers have gone an entire season with at least 8 wins and no losses. Topping the list is Tom Zachary, who went 12-0 for the Yankees in 1929. One-time Cub Dennis Lamp went 11-0 for the Blue Jays in 1985.

Near the top of that list is Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman, who had a perfect 9-0 record in 1967.

Topps 1967 Ken Holtzman - take a close look at the picture, and get ready for some deja vu

What made Holtzman's season so unusual is that he was on active military duty during two-thirds of it. This was the Viet Nam era and many players had military obligations. Some were able to get into National Guard outfits and serve their time during the off season. Holtzman was in the National Guard, but on May 20 he was called to active duty. Up to that point in the season, he had started eight games for the Cubs and had a 5-0 record.

He didn't make another appearance for 84 days, on Sunday, August 13. He had been able to secure a weekend pass from his camp in Texas, and without any practice or competition the past two months, he started and won a 6-2 decision over the Dodgers.

Again obtaining weekend passes, he pitched three more times during the rest of the season and picked up three more wins to finish the season with the previously mentioned 9-0 record. It's pretty impressive to be able to come in and pitch in the major leagues on the weekend and then go back to the Guard the rest of the week.

Topps 1968 Ken Holtzman - does the scene look familiar? Ken must have missed the Topps photographer while away on duty, so they used another pose from last year's photo shoot...

The back of the card makes mention of his weekend duty.

Same picture, this time cropped a bit for the All Star card

And one more time, here on a checklist card. The same picture three times in one year must be some sort of Topps record.

Some may say his perfect season is tainted because he only made 12 starts. I would argue that his perfect season is more impressive because of his time as a weekend warrior.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Clubhouse Lawyers

For some unknown reason, when I was putting together my Bowman team set I forgot to get the 1991 cards. Well, this week I solved that problem and the set arrived in the mail. 1991 was the third year for the Bowman brand, and they were starting to lean more towards rookies and draft picks. Of the 25 players in the Cubs set, seven had no major league experience.

One of the seven was a player I had never heard of, Sean Cheetham. Sean was a high school pitcher taken in the 4th round of the 1990 draft. It must have been his fourth round status that earned him a place in the set. But this would be his only card. He spent 1991 and 1992 in Class A ball with Winston-Salem. He started 17 games in 1991 and had a 4-5 record. Things got worse in 1992. He had an 0-4 record with a 9.76 ERA in seven starts and at the age of 21 his baseball career was over.

But what interested me more than his short career was his last name. As soon as I read the name I thought of that famous law firm of comedy. So with the help of a couple of other players, I present the law firm of



and Howe

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jay Johnstone

More from Fleer, 1980's

Jay Johnstone was known as one of those free-spirit types of player. Nothing says that more than this card from 1984.

Nice hat, huh? And free advertising for Budweiser on baseball cards sold to children. Cards of this type were very rare in this era. Most shots were very traditional, either posed by the photographer or in action shots. We never really got a glimpse of the player as a real person, expressing their personality. Today's cards do a much better job of that.

But there is another Cubs connection with the hat. Because this hat type was invented by former Cub......

...Lou Brock (of course, we would rather forget that he was traded away for nothing to the Cardinals and went on to a Hall of Fame career).

The hat is known as a "Brock-a-brella" and it was patented by Lou Brock and Richard Nielson. You can read the patent here. I rather doubt Lou had much to do with the actual inventing. I just can't picture him coming home from the ballpark and then heading to the garage to tinker around with his idea to create this new hat. I would guess he was lending his name more than anything. But I'm sure he made a few bucks off of it.

Jay Johstone, free spirit

Lou Brock, base stealer, 3000 hit club, Hall of Fame, inventor.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Uniforms of the '80's

More from Fleer Cubs sets from the 1980's.

The Cubs franchise is one that has always been tradition bound. Change occurs slowly and rarely. After all, they have played in the same ballpark for 93 seasons. They were the last franchise to get lights (it only took them 40 years after the second to last team). And then there is their 100 year old tradition of not winning the World Series.

The home uniform are something else that has seen little change in the last 50 years. Since 1957 it has been the blue pinstripes and the Cubs logo on the chest. Changes over the years have been minimal. You can see the lack of change with these cards.

This card of Mike Tyson is from Fleer 1981, which would mean the pictures were taken in 1980. They are in their doubleknit pullover tops. The Cubs logo on the chest and the cubbie bear logo is on the left shoulder. The pants are the style with the blue waistband.

Five years later, Fleer 1986, and we have the Penguin in the exact same uniform.

And at the end of the decade, from Fleer 1990, nothing has changed. A ten year run with the exact same home uniform.

The road uniforms are a different story. They have been changed several times over the past 50 years.

When the 80's started the Cubs were wearing their ugly light blue with white pinstripes uniform. We called them the pajama uniforms. Unfortunately, the Cubs often played like the were asleep. These were the worst looking uniforms in the majors, or at least tied with the White Sox for worst.

In 1982, with new ownership in place, the Cubs went to a different road uniform. They now wore blue tops with the Cubs logo on the chest and white pants. I was never too crazy about these either. They looked like a softball team, not a major league franchise, better suited for a 16" game at Grant Park. It always bothered me that they could have such a classic look at home and look so ugly on the road. The softball uniforms lasted all the way through the rest of the decade, finally getting ditched in 1990.

The Cubs uniforms of the 80's, classic at home, crap on the road.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Harry and Steve

More from Fleer, 1980's

Yes, that Harry. But no, a different Steve.

I knew announcer Harry Caray from his time on both sides of town, with the Sox from 1971 - 1981 and then with the Cubs from 1982 - 1997. Whenever we would try to imitate him (we tried to imitate all the announcers, Jack Brickhouse, Harry, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau), the one catch-phrase of
Harry 's we would use was "He poooooopppppped it up!!" When it was a Cubs or Sox player who hit the pop up, there would always be a tremendous amount of disgust in his voice, especially if there were runners on base.

When I looked at this 1983 card of Steve Henderson, I was drawn to his face. You can see the disgust in Henderson's face as he looks up at the ball. And he seems to be looking more straight up, rather than out. I bet he popped it up. You can hear him swearing at himself.

And I could just hear Harry saying derisively, "He popped it up!"

I miss Harry.

If you do, too, you can go here for some classic Harry Caray moments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blog Bat Around V - Freebies From My Cousin

There are only ten of them. They are not in very good shape. In fact, they all have rounded corners and most have creases. They players are mostly no-names. But these are very specials cards to me.

These Topps 1961 cards were my first baseball cards. They were given to me by my cousin. He someone I looked up to because in the summer of 1961 he was a batboy for the White Sox. My cousin hung around with major leaguers. It doesn't get any better than that in the eyes of a 7-year-old.

He knew I was really into baseball so he gave a stack of cards he had lying around in his room. I thought it was cool because the cards were from 1961 and I was born in 1961. They were as old as me (and unfortunately they haven't aged any better than I have!) These are the cards that got me started. After I got them, I wanted more. I started asking my mom to pick me up a pack when she went grocery shopping. And sometimes she did. My 1969 collection ended up with about 150 cards and many of them survive today in a complete set I put together.

They probably will mean very little to you. But here are my original ten 1961 cards:

Chuck Essegian, #354 His hat says Orioles, but the card say Athletics. Chuck hit two home runs for the Dodgers against the Sox in the 1959 World Series.

Don Lee, #153 Don is hatless because this was the first year for the Twins, having moved from Washington.

Art Mahaffey, #433

Frank Malzone, #445 Frank looks very happy to be on a baseball card

Bill Mazeroski, #430 Bill won the 1960 World Series with a walk-off homer. This was his first card after that. I imagine many Yankee fans who got this card tore it into little pieces.

Jim Perry, #385 The lesser of the Perry brothers.

Chuck Stobbs, #431 Another hatless Twin. Chuck has his game face on. Don't mess with Chuck. There is no Control button on Chuck Norris' Stobbs' computer. Chuck Norris Stobbs is always in control.

Tony Taylor, #411 My favorite thing about this card is that Tony Taylor is wearing a Cubs uniform.

Coot Veal, #432 He has one on my all-time favorite baseball names. Coot Veal - how cool is that ?

Frank Thomas, #382 My only Cub in the bunch, which made this my most prized card. Long before the Sox had their Frank Thomas, the Cubs had theirs.

Thank you Warren for giving me these cards and getting me started. I am looking forward to next year's Heritage which will feature this design.

Out of Position

More observations from Fleer of the 80's

Mike Krukow and Bruce Sutter were good friends. They played together in a few minor league stops as well as making it together at Wrigley with the Cubs. The most interesting example of their friendship is described on this Topps cards from 1981. It states that Mike Krukow's most interesting baseball experience was writing a song for Bruce Sutter's wedding

It looks like the friends decided to mess with the Fleer photographer by posing out of position.

In this 1981 Fleer card, Mike Krukow is crouching like a catcher. Yet, he is using his pitcher's mitt. I'm not sure why the photographer would snap a picture with him in this pose.

Bruce Sutter is also out of position, posing as a hitter. This photo was probably taken in 1980. During that season, Sutter had nine at bats in 60 games and actually got one hit. But again, why would they take a picture of an all star pitcher with a bat in his hand?

Some strange goings on in Fleer's first set.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mr. Lincoln, Watch Out for the Catcher!

Many of the posts in the next two weeks are based on observations from the Fleer Cubs team sets from the 1980's.

Growing up in the Land of Lincoln means that there was never school on February 12, Abe's birthday. It also means we learned all sorts of things about our 16th president. We knew many different stories from his life. We also could tell you all about his assasination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.

So, what, you ask, is the Cubs connection? Well, look at these cards of catcher Tim Blackwell. Look at that mustache. Whenever I see these cards, I think of John Wilkes Booth. 115 years later, the long droopy stache of Booth lives on with Tim Blackwell.

Blackwell spent most of his ten year career as a back up catcher. He had a career average of .228 but held his own defensively. But no matter how well he did with the Cubs, I could just never forgive him for what he did to Abraham Lincoln!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Cubs Fact: Yosh Kawano - 65 Years With the Same Team

The name "Yosh" probably means nothing to you if you are not a Cub fan. But a Cubs fan would recognize the name immediately as that of Yosh Kawano, longtime Cubs equipment manager and clubhouse attendant.

Yosh joined the team in 1943 as a clubhouse attendant. Ten years later he was named equipment manager and held that position for 46 seasons, through the 1999. After that he was scaled back and served as an assistant in the visiting team clubhouse. In 2008 he was forced to retire at the age of 87 for health reasons.

Here are some team cards fron the 50's, 60's, and 70's with Yosh in the picture. There would have been more from the 70's and 80's had the Cubs team pictures not been the floating head cards.

Topps 1956 Cubs Team, Topps was kind enough to list all the names. Yosh is third row, far left.

Topps 1958 Cubs Team, again with the names listed. Yosh is third row, far right

Topps 1960, with Yosh third row, far left

Topps 1967, Yosh is in the second row, with the white shirt and blue hat

Lastly, Topps 1975, with Yosh second row, third from left. It is interesting that in every photo he is wearing a Cubs hat. Yet I never saw him at the ballpark wearing anything other than his white fishing hat.

I attended one game at Wrigley last season, June 26. That was the day that the Cubs honored Yosh. He was given some awards before the game and also threw out the first pitch. He later sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. The Cubs got clobbered by the Orioles so the Yosh ceremony was the highlight of the day.

Yosh's trademark was his white floppy fisherman's hat, which has been given to the Hall of Fame. He is also a part of the Cubs Walk of Fame and the home clubhouse has been named in his honor. Urban legend says that when the Wrigley family sold the team to the Tribune, they included a clause in the sale saying that Yosh could not be fired. No proof of that has ever been found, though.

More than half of the teams in the major leagues have not existed or been in the same city for 65 years. Its pretty amazing that Yosh was with the Cubs for that long.