Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jim Tatum, No Doubt - 1302

Originally published Feb. 28, 2011
Jim Tatum went to Japan in 1997 and he wasn't expecting what he encountered.

What he encountered with the Yakult Swallows, he told The New York Daily News in 1998, were coaches who made him field 100 balls in warm ups each day, then 100 more fly balls.

"At first I thought, 'These guys are trying to kill me,'" Tatum told The Daily News that spring. "Then I became mentally strong. I thought, 'I'm going to survive.' The practices were tougher than the games. That's what they want. They want it so the games just come naturally."

Already a veteran of parts of four major league seasons, Tatum used his experience in Japan to get a fifth, a 35-game stint as a utility man with the Mets in 1998.

Tatum's professional career began in 1985, taken by the Padres in the third round of the draft out of high school. He played that season at short-season Spokane, hitting just .228.

He played the next two seasons at single-A Charleston, then hit AA Wichita in 1988. Skipping 1989, Tatum signed with the Indians for 1990, playing at AA Canton for two months before being released. He finished out the season in the Brewers system.

Tatum hit AAA Denver in 1992, hitting .329 with 19 home runs. He debuted in the majors that September, going 1-for-8 in five games. Tatum soon switched teams again, selected by the Rockies in the expansion draft.

It was with the Rockies in that expansion season that Tatum saw his most major league playing time - 92 games. He was playing winter ball in Venezuela when he was selected.

That May, Tatum hit his first major league home run, a grand slam off Dan Plesac. The grand slam was not only a first for Tatum, it was a first for the Rockies. He went on to hit .204. That was also his only home run.

After a season back at AAA, Tatum returned to the Rockies in 1995, for 34 games. They didn't start well. The Rockies sent him down in May, having to cut their roster.

But Tatum heard about being sent down from teammates, he told The Daily News in 1998. He then left early and was charged with driving under the influence. Called back up in June, Tatum hit .235 on the year.

For 1996, Tatum got into seven major league games, two with the Red Sox and five with the Padres. Then came Japan. He hit .309 and got seven doubles with Yakult, before signing back with the Mets for 1998.

In late April, Tatum hit major league home run No. 2 against the Astros, it was a game-winning, three-run shot. In May, Tatum got another game-winner, a single. It was an at bat that Mets Manager Bobby Valentine made sure Tatum was ready for.

"He asked me three times, 'Are you going to get this guy?' And each time I said, 'No doubt,' '' Tatum told The New York Times after the game. ''He showed confidence in me by sticking with me in a big situation.''

That spring, The Times noted Tatum's playing history, the teams he'd played for and the positions. At some point, The Times wrote, Tatum had played each position in a game.

''I've just been doing whatever it takes to stay in the big leagues,'' Tatum told The Times.

In his 35 games for the Mets in 1998, Tatum hit a second home run, posting a batting average of just .180.

Tatum played two more seasons in the minors, including a 10-game stint in Mexico in 2000, ending his career.

1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,609
Made the Majors: 788 - 49.0%
Never Made Majors: 821-51.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 343
10+ Seasons in the Minors:200

Tom LeVasseur, Came to Play - 129

Originally published May 29, 2011
Tom LeVasseur amassed a 15-game hitting streak his in his first pro year at short-season Spokane. He'd also done well in the field.

Both prompted praise from his manager Rob Picciolo, according to The Spokane Chronicle.

"He's been so consistent physically and as far as emotional leadership on the team goes," Picciolo told The Chronicle. "Every day he comes to play. He performs well every day. I'll take him as far as any shortstop in the league."

LeVasseur came to play for six professional seasons, but he never was able to come to play in the majors. He got as high as AAA, and he also got to play in Italy, but he never got to play in the bigs.

LeVasseur did go on to teach those qualities to younger players, as both a coach and manager in the minors.

LeVasseur's professional career began that year in 1986, selected by the Padres in the 8th round of the draft out of San Diego State University.

With San Diego State that May, LeVasseur helped the Aztecs to a 2-1 win over Hawaii with a sacrifice fly.

"I didn't want to pull the trigger until I got something I could hit in the air," LeVasseur told The Los Angeles Times after that Aztec win. "As soon as I hit it, I knew it was deep enough."

LeVasseur spent his first professional year at short-season Spokane. There, he hit .372 in 53 games, including that 15-game hitting streak. That was despite being out three weeks with a finger injury.

He moved to single-A Reno for 1987, hitting 3.275 with 48 RBI. He stayed at single-A Riverside for 1988, then moved to AA Wichita for 1989. At Wichita, LeVasseur hit .270.

But, with a move to AAA Las Vegas in 1990, that average plummeted to .218. It was his last year in affiliated ball until 1994. In the meantime, he played in Italy.

He returned with the Mariners in 1994, playing at AAA Calgery and coaching, The Times wrote. For 1995, he was managing in the Arizona Rookie League. It was starting at the bottom for LeVasseur.

"This is the heart of the game," LeVasseur told The Times of his first managerial gig. "There are no fundamentals here. Anyone who had a command of the fundamentals wouldn't be here."

LeVasseur managed two years in the rookie league, two more at single-A Clinton, then two at high-A Rancho Cucamonga. He's also spent time as a scout.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rob Swain, His Chance - 1301

Rob Swain got into this summer collegiate league game in Kansas in 1982 and he played well.

Swain went 3 for 3, scoring twice and knocking in six as his Dodge City team went on to a 17-9 win, The Hutchinson News wrote.

"When we came to state, it was the first time I ever played on this field," Swain told The News. "In fact, I hadn't been playing very much at all, but ... I got my chance."

Swain ended up getting his chances in college ball and in the pros. He never got his chance at the majors. Swain played six seasons as a pro, briefly making AAA, but never making it higher.

Swain's pro career began in 1985, taken by the Indians in the 21st round of the draft out of Texas A&M University. He went to Texas A&M out of Yavapai College in Arizona.

At Yavapai, Swain hit a two-run home run in a February 1983 game. He then doubled in two runs in an April 1983 contest. That May, as Swain and Yavapai geared up for the state tournament, the team suffered some losses. Swain, though, tried to put a positive spin on them.

"We know that we can be beat by the people in the playoffs so we have to do everything fundamentally correct," Swain told The Prescott Courier

After playing two seasons at Texas A&M, Swain signed with the Indians. He started at short-season Batavia, hitting .206 in 65 games. He made single-A Waterloo in 1986,  then made AA Williamsport for 35 games in 1987.

One of those games at Williamsport was the infamous "potato game," were a Swain teammate snuck a potato onto the field and used it to fake out a runner. The play involved Swain missing the thrown ball/potato at third. The stunt got the player who threw the potato released.

Swain played 1988 at single-A Kinston, where he hit .332 in 63 games. He then returned to AA with Canton-Akron for 1989.

For 1990, he played at Canton-Akron and got 18 games with AAA Colorado Springs. His time that year at AAA was is only time at that level. That season was also his last as a pro.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,609
Made the Majors: 788 - 49.0%
Never Made Majors: 821-51.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 343
10+ Seasons in the Minors:200

Manny Francois, Walk-Off - 1298

By the time this July 1988 game between AA Jackson and Manny Francois' San Antonio Missions was finally suspended at 2:30 a.m., the 25th inning had come and gone.

Neither team had scored.

"I've never played a game like this," the San Antonio infielder Francois told reporters after the game was suspended, "and I don't want to play a game like this game again."

Francois ended up playing a lot of games after that. He played two more seasons in the minors and he went on to a long career in Mexico. His career isn't credited as ending until 2001, as Francois played in Italy.

That July 1988 game between Jackson and San Antonio ended shortly after it resumed - on a bases loaded Francois walk-off single.

Francois' career began in 1984, signed by the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent out of his native Dominican Republic. Francois is also referred to by his given name, Manuel Francois.

Francois started at rookie Great Falls, hitting .299 in 51 games. He moved to single-A Vero Beach in 1985. He hit .277 there while stealing 20 bases.

Going into 1986, Francois was drawing favorable comparisons to Mariano Duncan. His season, though, turned out to be an abbreviated one. He got just 48 games between single-A Bakersfield and San Antonio.

Francois returned for 1987 to Vero Beach, then San Antonio in 1988. At San Antonio, He hit .245 in 123 games.

His one big hit came in the continuation of that July 1988 contest, in the bottom of the 26th. With the bases loaded, Francois ended the game with a single.

"I'm batting in the fifth position, I knew I had a chance," Francois told The Associated Press afterwards. "I got the guys ahead of me who could get on base. In my mind, I just made my swing."

Francois returned to San Antonio for 1989. He then moved to the Indians and AA Canton-Akron for 1990 after a trade. His 1990 season, though, ended up being his last in affiliated ball.

From there, he went to Mexico and Cordoba. He's credited as playing in Mexico in 1992, 1994 and 1997. He got 36 games at independent Thunder Bay in 1995 and 17 more games there in 1997. He's last credited as playing in Italy in 2001.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,608
Made the Majors: 788 - 49.0%
Never Made Majors: 820-51.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 343
10+ Seasons in the Minors:200-X

Oscar Azocar, Free-Swinger - 688

Originally published June 17, 2010
Oscar Azocar earned a reputation in his three years in the majors of swinging at almost everything, as evidenced by the 129 plate major league plate appearances it took him to earn his first walk.

It was a reputation already earned in the minors, shortly after the one-time pitcher left the mound behind for the outfield.

"He doesn't get cheated," Azocar's AA manager at Albany-Colonie Tommy Jones told the Schenectady Gazette in 1988. "The only thing is his strike zone goes from his shoes to his hat."

That Azocar was a free-swinger followed him throughout his career. It also followed him in 2010 to his obituary after he passed away in his native Venezuela.

Azocar's professional career began in 1983, when he was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent. He got as high as short-season Oneonta in 1985 and 1986 before his pitching career fizzled.

Speaking to The Gazette, Jones recalled that Azocar was going to be outright released, until a coach suggested the outfield. Azocar, the coach recalled, was the best he'd seen at chasing fly balls.

Azocar soon took to his new position, connected enough at the plate to resurrect his career. Hitting .359 at single-A Fort Lauderdale in 1987, Azocar earned the promotion to AA Albany in 1988 then AAA Columbus in 1989.

Azocar returned to Columbus for 1990, earning the big call-up that July. In New York, he kept swinging, and he connected.

In his first at bat, as a pinch hitter, Azocar got a hit. The next day, as a starter, he went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run. The home run came off Tom Gordon.

Speaking after the game to the New York Times, Azocar said he was not awed by his first trip to the Yankees.

''There's no difference,'' he told the paper. ''In the minor leagues, there's tough pitching, too, just like here. There's absolutely no difference. The only difference is the people in the stands.''

The next month, Azocar relayed his philosophy to The Times: "Going all the way."

Azocar spoke after helping manufacture and score the game-winning run to stop a six-game Yankees slide. He scored after an error.

''It was the same routine for me," Azocar told The Times. "I play hard.''

Despite his early success, Azocar hit only .248 in 68 games. Azocar also had more home runs, five, than walks, two. The Yankees traded him away that off-season. Azocar landed with the Padres, playing in 38 games in 1991 and 99 in 1992, ending his major league career.

Azocar continued to play, his last reported games in 2001 in the Mexican League. During the Caribbean Series in February, reported, Azocar was inducted into the Venezuelan Hall of Fame.

The cause of Azocar's death has been reported as a heart attack.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Delwyn Young, Racing Home - 1306

Originally published April 3, 2010
Delwyn Young had just stolen second and went to third on a wild pitch. Now, he was stealing home, racing for the plate, according to The Eugene Register-Guard.

Young was safe, a call not without an argument. Three on the opposing team, including the catcher, were tossed. The catcher later stated his firm belief that Young was out.

"The catcher didn't realize we were stealing," Young told The Register-Guard, "And I was safe."

The Register-Guard described Young's dash for the plate as similar to that of a teenager racing for a video game. Perhaps a better analogy would have been something like a new father racing home to see his newborn son.

This was 1982. Barely a month earlier, Young became a father, adding a new suffix his name, Sr. Young would go on to a 13-year career in the minor leagues. But, while the father would never make the majors, his son, Delwyn Young Jr., would.

Young Sr., began his professional career taken in the third round of the 1981 draft by the Reds. He made AA Vermont in 1985 and AAA Toledo in 1988. He played in the Mexican League in 1991 and in Taiwan.

His final minor league games were in 1994 at single-A Appleton, returning the next year as hitting coach, watching over a young Alex Rodriguez. In 1996, Young became hitting coach for the California League's Lancaster team, his son now old enough to be batboy.

Young soon built a batting cage for his son in their backyard. He also did everything else he could to help his son succeed. He also taught his son how to switch hit.

In 1999, the father had high expectations for his son, then a 16-year-old Los Angeles-area high schooler. And while his comparisons haven't quite held up, his son was taken in the fourth round. And he has become a major leaguer.

"My son is doing real well,'' Young told The Los Angeles Daily News in March 1999. "He has been around ballplayers all his life, and at this time I don't think Delwyn would be overmatched at the minor-league level. Realistically, I see him as a high major-league draft choice next year.

"I had Alex Rodriguez when he was 17 years old and Jose Cruz Jr. when he was fresh out of college, and Delwyn is right with them without a doubt.''
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,607
Made the Majors: 788 - 49.0%
Never Made Majors: 819-51.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 343
10+ Seasons in the Minors: 199

Robbie Wine, Lucky Enough - 1295

Robbie Wine ended up getting a full game's worth of action in this September 1986 game for the Astros and he wasn't even put in until the 10th inning.

This was also his major league debut.

"I didn't have time to think and get nervous or tired," Wine told The Norristown Times Herald years later. "I just played and had a good game."

Wine's game's worth of action came as the game didn't end until the next day, and the 18th inning. While that game seemingly never ended, Wine's major league career ended comparatively quickly. Wine saw action in a total of only 23 games played that year and the next.

His playing career over, Wine has gone on to a long career as a coach, including nine seasons spent as head coach at Penn State University.

Wine's career began in 1983, taken by the Astros in the first round, eighth overall, out of Oklahoma State University.

At Oklahoma State, Wine played well enough to earn The Sporting News' Player of the Year honors, along with First Team All-America.

With the Astros, Wine started at short-season Auburn, hitting .242 over 53 games. He moved to single-A Daytona Beach for 1984, then AA Columbus in 1985. In 1986, he made AAA Tucson. He also made Houston.

Called up that September in 1986, Wine went 1 for 3 in his debut. His first major league hit came in the 13th inning. The first base runner he caught stealing came the inning before, Ryne Sandberg.

In nine games with the Astros that September, Wine picked up three hits in 12 at bats. He returned for 14 more major league games the next season, getting three more hits but in 29 at bats.

Wine followed his father, Bobby Wine, to the majors. His father played 12 seasons in the bigs.

"Growing up watching my dad and being around those big leaguers all those years, I dreamed and believed I'd play in the big leagues," Robbie Wine told The Wilmington Star-News in 2005, "and I was lucky enough to get there."

Wine's final big league game came Oct. 3, 1987. He played three more professional seasons, but he never returned to the majors. He played those final three seasons with five different organizations. His final time came in 1990 with the Indians at AA Canton-Akron.

Wine then started his coaching career. He served as a coach for single-A Miami in 1991. From 1993 to 1996, he spent with the Brewers as a coach and instructor.

He returned to Oklahoma State in 1997 as assistant coach, staying there through 2004. For 2005, he moved to Penn State, taking the head coaching job.

In April 2012, Wine watched as one of his pitchers, Steven Hill, threw a no-hitter.

"When you are in the game, you don't really think about it," Wine told afterward. "And still it really hasn't sunk in yet. But for Steve Hill to go out there and do that for the team in such a crucial game, it's huge. For the season it means a lot and for him he'll remember that forever. It's just a fun event and once again, it reinforces why you coach."

Wine left Penn State in June 2013, landing back in the minors. For 2014, Wine is serving as manager at short-season Eugene with the Padres.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,607
Made the Majors: 788 - 49.0%-X
Never Made Majors: 819-51.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 343
10+ Seasons in the Minors: 199
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