Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bob Knepper, Should Pitch - 7

In his first year with the Astros in 1981, Bob Knepper knew he had to focus on one thing, his pitching, he told UPI that April.

"When a pitcher starts worrying about how many runs his team scores, he is going to get into trouble," Knepper told UPI after throwing a 1-0 shutout. "I have to only worry about how many hits and runs the opposition makes."

In 1988, Knepper worried about something other than pitching and it got him into a little trouble with women. Knepper twice made comments that year seen by many as insensitive and downright wrong.

When responding on the topic of a female umpire that spring, Knepper said simply that he did not believe women should be in leadership roles. His statements caused an uproar, Knepper getting "little support" from his teammates, according to The Associated Press.

Knepper's career began in 1972, taken by the Giants in the second round of the draft out of Callistoga High School in California.

He started at rookie Great Falls, making AAA Phoenix by 1975. He debuted in San Francisco in September 1976.

Knepper got four starts that first September with the Giants, going 1-2. He got his first win after his old minor league manager John Van Ornum helped him fix his pitching motion over the phone and then in person, UPI wrote.

"I had better stuff on my fast ball than at any time in the past two months," Knepper told UPI after the win.

Knepper returned to the Giants for 1977 and got his first double-digit win season. He went 11-9, with a 3.36 ERA.

He was even better in 1978, going 17-11, with a 2.63 ERA. He stayed with the Giants through 1980, when he moved to the Astros.

His first season with the Astros also proved to result in the first of two career All-Star appearances. He also appeared in the 1988 game.

In 1986, he got his fifth double-digit win year, going 17-12 and helping the Astros to the playoffs. That May, he faced the Astros' eventual playoff opponent, the Mets. He threw a five-hitter.

"I think this was one of the better games I've thrown and this was a key win for us," Knepper told The Associated Press afterward. "They came in playing real well and we lost to them twice up there so we needed to beat them to show them we can play with them."

That October, though, Knepper couldn't beat the Mets in two tries. He went seven innings in Game 3 and into the ninth of Game 6, but he gave up three earned both times for no-decisions. The three runs in Game 6 came in the ninth, sending the game to a marathon clincher for the Mets in 16 innings.

It was in spring 1988 that Knepper got in trouble with his comments about women.

"In God's society, woman was created in a role of submission to the husband," Knepper told The Associated Press after a game umpired by Pam Postema. "It's not that woman is inferior, but I don't believe women should be in a leadership role. I don't think a woman should be the president of the United States or a governor or mayor or police chief."

His comments drew disagreement from teammates. In June, though, he seemingly doubled down, telling Sports Illustrated, according to The AP, that the National Organization for Women "is such a blowhard organization. They are a bunch of lesbians."

Knepper's comments drew condemnation from the commissioner, as well as an apology from Knepper.

"We are offended," NOW Houston chapter president Molly Yard told The AP of Knepper's June comments. "He should pitch and really not talk about something he doesn't know about."

Through all that, though, Knepper did pitch. And he had one of his best years. He went 14-5, with a 3.14 ERA and made his second All-Star team.

For 1989, Knepper moved back to the Giants mid-season, going an overall 7-12. For 1990, got 12 outings, seven starts, with San Francisco, ending his major league career. His final season also included four outings at AAA Phoenix.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,734
Made the Majors: 825 - 47.6%-X
Never Made Majors: 909-52.4%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 358-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:208

Dorn Taylor, As Good - 373

Originally published June 21, 2012
Dorn Taylor had to wait until his sixth professional season to make the majors. Then he had to wait until his fifth start to get his first major league win.

But, on May 20, 1987, Taylor went 6.1 innings, giving up three earned runs. His Pirates went on to win 5-3.

"It's about time," Taylor told The Associated Press afterward. "This feels almost as good as it did when I first got called up."

Taylor ultimately got into 14 games for Pittsburgh that year, starting eight. While he would back to the majors in two more seasons, he would only get two more wins.

Taylor's career began in 1981, signed by the Pirates as an undrafted free agent, out of Pfeiffer College.

Taylor started play in 1982 at single-A Greenwood. He went 9-8 in 24 starts, with a 2.30 ERA. He stayed in single-A through 1984, making AA Nashua in 1985.

He then got his first look at AAA in 1986, with five starts at Hawaii. Taylor started 1987 back in the minors. But, by the end of April, he was in Pittsburgh.

Taylor appeared in 14 games for the Pirates that year, getting eight starts. He went 2-3, with a 5.74 ERA. He played out the rest of the year in the minors, amounting to just 12 outings between AA Harrisburg and AAA Vancouver. That off season, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his elbow.

He played all of 1988 at AAA Buffalo, amounting to 22 starts. He went 10-8, with a 2.14 ERA. But he didn't return to Pittsburgh. Going into 1989, Taylor continued his success in the spring. Pirates manager Jim Leyland began to take notice.

"When does his turn come?" Leyland told The AP of Taylor, noting his success at AAA the previous year. "Sometimes we forget much of what Dorn Taylor has done."

Taylor started the year with the Pirates, but just lasted three games. In 4.2 total innings, he gave up five earned runs. Called back in September, he got into six more innings, giving up just one earned run.

In 1990, Taylor returned to Buffalo. This time, he went 14-6, with a 2.91 ERA. But he wasn't called up to Pittsburgh until September. That June, the Pirates were calling on other pitchers, but not Taylor.

"I think I deserve a chance," Taylor told The AP in June. "I have so much more confidence than I've ever had before. I think I can pitch up there."

Taylor, though, pitched in the majors just four more times, just 3.2 more innings. He gave up one earned run. He didn't return for 1991.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Julio Bruno, Loves Baseball - 2046

Spokane manager Gene Glynn was impressed with his young infielder Julio Bruno in 1990, according to The Spokane Spokesman-Review.

The 17-year-old showed maturity, Glynn told the paper.

"You can tell he loves baseball," Glynn told The Spokesman-Review. "With his great work habits, he's brought a lot of respect from the other players."

Bruno took those work habits to a long career as a player, spending more than a decade as a pro. Those work habits, though, weren't enough to get him to the majors.

Bruno has since taken his love for baseball and returned to the game as a coach. For 2014, he's serving as a coach in the Royals system at rookie Idaho Falls.

Bruno's career began that year in 1990, signed by the Padres as a free agent out of his native Dominican Republic.

He played his first season between short-season Spokane and single-A Charleston. He hit .245, with 27 RBI. He knocked in a run on a single in an August game.

He moved to single-A Waterloo for 1991, then made AA Wichita in 1993. That year in 1993, Bruno hit .295 between Wichita and high-A Rancho Cucamonga.

In 1994, he made AAA Las Vegas. That spring, the third baseman Bruno had a good diving catch down the line. "I just kind of reacted," Bruno explained to The Associated Press later.

That April, Bruno doubled and scored the extra-inning winning run in a game. Overall, Bruno hit .260 at AAA that year, with six home runs and 52 RBI.

After playing the next two seasons between AA Memphis and Las Vegas without seeing San Diego, Bruno got into one more year in affiliated ball in the Tigers organization. He played his final three years in Mexico, last playing in 2000.

By 2008, Bruno was back in the game, serving as manager of the Royals entry in the Arizona League. In 2012, he was hitting coach at single-A Kane County.

Bruno not only coaches, but he helps his Latin players assimilate into the culture, according to The Kane County Chronicle.

"Not only in the baseball area, but also as a person," Bruno told The Chronicle, "I feel like I can teach about my past, my life and I think that will help."

For 2014, Bruno is serving as bench coach for the Chukars at Idaho Falls.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,733
Made the Majors: 824 - 47.6%
Never Made Majors: 909-52.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 357
10+ Seasons in the Minors:208-X

Rob Curnow, Two Singles - 2042

The bottom of the Spokane batting order was having trouble at the plate in July 1988, according to The Spokane Spokesman-Review. No. 9 in that order was Rob Curnow.

On this night, though, Curnow seemed to awaken, if just for one night. Curnow picked up two singles, helping Spokane to a 5-1 win, The Spokesman-Review wrote.

"The first six guys in the order have been doing the job," Spokane manager Steve Lubratich told The Spokesman-Review after the victory. "But for us to move, we need the bottom part of the order to get going."

For the catcher Curnow, he never really did get going. He ended the year with a .214 batting average. That ended up being the best average of his three-season professional career.

Curnow's career began that year in 1988, taken by the Padres in the 35th round of the draft out of Cal Poly Pomona. Curnow is also known as Bob Curnow.

With Spokane that first year, Curnow got into 32 games. He knocked in nine runs and stole three bases. He knocked a double in a late July game. In an August contest, Curnow came around for an extra-inning winning run.

In early September, he got hit in the helmet with a pitch, but got back to the dugout on his own, The Spokesman-Review wrote.

Curnow moved to single-A Waterloo in 1989. There, he got into 56 games. He hit two home runs, recording an average of just .167. He also got a brief look at AA Wichita. He went 1 for 8 there in four games.

For 1990, Curnow played at single-A Charleston. In 63 games, he hit just .197. He singled and stole second to set up a run in a May game. It was his final year as a pro.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,732
Made the Majors: 824 - 47.6%
Never Made Majors: 908-52.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 357
10+ Seasons in the Minors:207

Rick Adair, Learned A Lot - 56

Originally published Jan. 15, 2011; Updated July 2014
Playing for the Wausau Timbers in July 1981, Rick Adair picked up his 10th win, going 7.1 innings and giving up four hits, The Milwaukee Journal wrote.

He also picked three runners off first, two in the same inning, The Journal wrote. Adair estimated he'd done that 25 times that season.

"I never realized how important it was to hold a runner close to the base until I went to spring training," Adair told The Journal afterward. "It really helps you in clutch situations."

Adair's playing career wound end in 1985, after seven sometimes injury-plagued seasons. It would also end short of the majors. But he would take the lessons he learned as a player with him, putting them to use as a pitching coach and coordinator in the quarter-century since.

He would also take those lessons with him as a pitching coach in the major leagues.

Adair started his career, selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 1979 draft. He got as high as AAA Salt Lake City in 1983 then wound end with consecutive seasons at AA Chattanooga.

By 1987, Adair was back in single-A, at Waterloo, watching over young Indians pitchers as a coach. By 1989, he was in Colorado Springs, at AAA. And by 1992, at the age of 34, he was in Cleveland.

Among the pitchers he worked with was Jack Armstrong. Under Adair's instruction, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove told The Associated Press, Armstrong learned to loosen his grip a little. By August 1992, Adair was out as Indians pitching coach.

"Mike Hargrove and John Hart gave me a chance," Adair recalled years later to The Seattle Times of his Cleveland experience, "and I was totally, totally overmatched. It took me 100 games to realize I was in a big-league uniform. They took a chance, and I got fired the next year. And rightfully so! I've learned a lot over the years."

After a season as AA pitching coach for the Padres, Adair joined the Tigers system in 1995 as pitching coach at AAA Toledo.

He also took his new pitchers back to basics. He had them take batting practice, The Toledo Blade wrote that May. With Adair back on the mound, he threw them inside, then came back outside, showing them the difficulty of hitting that combination.

"These are American League pitchers and they don't get a chance to hit," Adair told The Blade. "It's easy to forget how a batter feels."

Among the pitchers he saw at Toledo was Kent Bottenfield. While Bottenfield wouldn't make Detroit, He would go on to six more seasons in the majors.

In 1999, Bottenfield won 18 games. And he credited the time he spent with Adair four years earlier with helping him get there.

"He changed my delivery," Bottenfield told The AP in June 1999. "He taught me how to study hitters and make adjustments. He was the best thing that ever happened to me in the game of baseball."

By 1999, Adair was finishing up his second stint in the majors, four seasons with big club in Detroit. He was let go that July.

Adair went on to be a minor league pitching coordinator with the Braves and Rangers, pitching coach at AA with the Blue Jays. He returned to the bigs in 2009, assuming the pitching coach duties with Seattle.

There, he helped Jarrod Washburn with his delivery, getting him to stick his butt out, The Seattle Times wrote. He'd been collapsing his backside in his delivery.

Adair, along with his manager Don Wakamatsu, however, were let go in August 2010. He has since signed on with for 2011, with the Orioles, as a bullpen coach. He stayed with the Orioles through 2013.

Back in 1993, speaking to his hometown Spartanburg Herald-Journal, spoke about his injury-shortened playing career and his coaching career to that point.

"Sometimes, things don't work out," Adair told The Herald-Journal that August. "You have to go on and make the best of the situation."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lance Banks, Ate Innings - 2032

The Spokane Indians needed someone to eat innings in this August 1989 and Lance Banks did just that.

Starter Brice Florie made it in the third inning, but didn't record an out. By the time his line was done, he'd been tagged for nine runs, seven of them in that third inning alone, according to The Spokane Chronicle.

Banks took over and proceeded to give up just three hits over the next five innings, according to The Chronicle. He didn't get a win or a save, but he did his job.

That game was one of 24 times that year Banks went out and did his job for the Indians. For Banks, though, his job only lasted one more season. In three total professional seasons, Banks never made AA.

Banks' career began in 1989, signed by the Padres as an undrafted free agent out of his native Wyoming.

Banks played that first season with the Padres between Spokane and the rookie Arizona League. He got into one  game in Arizona and those 24 in Spokane. Between the two levels, he picked up two wins, one save and a 3.35 ERA.

He gave up an RBI single in a July game and threw a hitless ninth in an August contest.

For 1990, Banks moved to single-A Charleston. In 48 relief appearances there, he picked up seven wins and two saves. He also came in with a 2.82 ERA.

Banks made single-A Waterloo in 1991. He got into 39 games, two of those appearances starts. He went 4-2, with three saves. His ERA came in at 4.58. It was his final season as a pro.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,731
Made the Majors: 824 - 47.6%
Never Made Majors: 907-52.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 357
10+ Seasons in the Minors:207

Monday, July 28, 2014

Induction 2014: Frank Thomas, Speech of Thanks

Frank Thomas giving his induction speech July 27, 2014, in Cooperstown. (G21D Photo)

Frank Thomas was emotional - and thankful - from the start. By the time he was nearly done, he explained why.

"I'm sorry," Thomas told a crowd of thousands as he delivered his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown. "I'm an emotional guy because I wear my heart on my sleeve."

On a beautiful day at the Clark Sports Complex in Cooperstown, NY, Thomas couldn't help but thank anybody and everybody who helped him along on his journey to baseball immortality.

The five-time All-Star and two-time MVP started with his parents, and ended with his teammates. In between, he thanked his wife and children, coaches, managers, general managers, and others.

By the time he was done, Thomas had added another number to his prolific list of career statistics that includes 521 career home runs. He included the number 232. By my count from a Chicago Tribune transcript, that's the number of individuals important to his life and career he named and thanked individually by either formal name or nickname.

From the pre-speech montage on the big screen. In the background are the hills of Otsego County, NY. (G21D Photo)
It was a speech that was informally introduced by White Sox fans in the crowd who were thanking him, rhythmically chanting multiple times "Thank you Big Hurt."

My wife and I attended Thomas' induction Sunday specifically for Thomas' speech. Thomas is the only player from this project to be enshrined so far in Cooperstown. (Read Thomas' Greatest 21 Days feature: Frank Thomas, Dimension of Power)

He is also the first player who spent any significant time in the minors in 1990 to make the Hall of Fame. Hall of Famer Paul Molitor played a single rehab game in Beloit that year.

Thomas was in his second professional season in 1990, having been taken by the White Sox seventh overall in 1989. He started 1990 at AA Birmingham, where he made the CMC and ProCards sets. By that Aug. 2, he was in Chicago. He never looked back.

Thomas' speech of thanks began with the Hall of Fame and the voters, as well as his fellow Hall of Famers.

"I am so humbled and honored to be a part of this historic class of first-ballot Hall of Famers," Thomas said.
Thomas on the big screen at the podium. (G21D Photo)
Then he got to the heart of his speech: Those who helped him become the player he was.

First up were his parents, Charlie May Thomas and his late father, Frank Thomas Sr. Thomas thanked them for giving him their love and support to keep him involved in team sports. Both worked hard to instill core values and worked tirelessly for their children, he said.

"Frank Sr., I know you're watching and smiling in heaven," Thomas said. "Without you, I know 100 percent I wouldn't be here in Cooperstown today.

"Thanks for pushing me," Thomas continued after applause, "and always preaching to me you can be someone special if you really work at it. I took that to heart, Pops, and look at us today."

The emotion in Thomas' voice was constant. My wife, who wouldn't be a baseball fan without me, said at that point, "I don't even know this guy and I'm teary eyed."

To his wife Megan, and his five children, Thomas thanked them "for making life so unforgettable for me. ... You guys are my everything. There are no words to describe how much I love you guys."

Thomas' wife came into his life 15 years earlier, "when life was throwing me a curve ball, one that I could not hit. But meeting you really put a pep in my step and made me believe in love again."
A small section of crowd. Parts of at least four Thomas jerseys can be seen. (G21D Photo)
There were Thomas' siblings. There was his first agent, the late Robert Fraley and others behind the scenes. There were those in the White Sox organization who gave him a chance, then Ken "Hawk" Harrelson who gave him a nickname.

The Athletics and Blue Jays gave him a chance at the end of his career. He thanked them for that.

His coaches at Auburn instilled a will to win. His first hitting coach with the White Sox, Walt Hriniak, was honest with him from the start.

"You taught me to only want to be the best," Thomas said of Hriniak. "You would always say to me, 'Anyone could be good, Frank. But the special ones want to be great.'"

Thomas' first long list of names consisted of his coaches. He named 25 of them. His trainers and clubhouse managers comprised another 20 names.

He named five doctors, with a special thanks to Dr, Richard Ferkel. Thomas recalled sitting on 452 home runs with a fracture many thought should have ended his career. But Ferkel repaired it.
Frank Thomas with his Hall of Fame plaque. (G21D Photo)
Then there were his teammates. Wins need teammates, Thomas said, "and I had the best of them."

By his count, Thomas had 850 teammates in his career. He proceeded to name 138 of them in a rapid-fire list of last names and nicknames. "I know it's long, I'm sorry," Thomas said, coming up for air between Politte and Jenks.

"Yeah, it was real," Thomas said after the longest list of names. "You guys are my family away from home. I miss all of you, I’m glad to have known all of you. I'm sorry I couldn't name the rest of you guys."

Thomas saved his last thanks for the city of Chicago, drawing loud applause from the crowd.

"You guys make the Big Hurt who he was in the greatest sport town in America," Thomas said. "I know I'm biased, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment playing for you all. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

He closed with a message to young ballplayers, the kids: "Just remember one thing from today. There are no shortcuts to success. Hard work, dedication, commitment. Stay true to who you are."

"God bless you all," Thomas concluded, "and I thank you."
The crowd for six Hall of Fame inductees. (G21D Photo
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