Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Padres Pray for Hits

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TRIVIA QUESTION:   Ollie Brown ended up with a decent major league career including his best season in 1970 with 34 home runs and a .292 BA. For what MLB team did Brown play before San Diego?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: When the Angels lost Don Mincher to the Pilots in the 1969 Expansion Draft, their search began again for a new first baseman. While 21-year old Jim Spencer eventually won the job, the man who started at first base on Opening Day in 1969 was aging veteran Dick Stuart (Dr. Strange-glove), who incidentally was playing opposite the man he replaced as the Halo's opened the season against Seattle.

Expansion teams aren't supposed to be contenders right away. Most won't offer a polished pitching staff but most will hit, at least to some degree. Then there were the players of the expansion San Diego Padres. 

The year was 1969 and the new San Diego team was far from it's days of Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield. Gwynn would toy with .400 at one point and offer a lifetime BA of .338. Winfield, before leaving for Free Agency, would hit 154 home runs and lead the NL in RBI with 118 in 1979.  
But that was later and 1969 was now. By the time the 1969 season had come to a close 10 Padres came to the plate and closed the season with a BA of under .200. Included was the team's starting shortstop, Tommy Dean, at .176 in 101 games (308 plate appearances). Few were far better. Starting catcher Chris Cannizzaro stuck it out at .220 while starting second sacker, Jose Arcia batted .215.

On the positive side, powerful Nate Colbert led the team in homers with 24, batting .255 while striking out 123 times (no big deal today but back then over 100 K's was a setback). Downtown Ollie Brown led the hitters at .254, adding 20 dingers, and Ed Spiezio and former Dodger Al Ferrara had double figure home run totals with 27 between them. The basic starting lineup rounded out with Cito Gaston's .230 mark.  

The Padres finished last (12th place) in nearly every hitting category in 1969 including runs, hits, doubles, walks, strikeouts, BA (.225) and every important other percentage statistic including on-base and slugging figures. They were dismal. They finished 52-110, 41 games out of first place. Only eight times did they beat an opponent by five runs or more, but lost by five runs or more 30 times!

Perhaps their season can be summed up this way. Twice they lost to opposing teams 19-0 and twice more 10-0. There were other double digit scoring losses but those embarrassments were the top of the heap for the 1969 Friars. 

The pitching wasn't much better overall but the starters were not bad. Despite losing 20 of 27 decisions 21-year old Clay Kirby finished with a 3.80 ERA. In fact, the four main starters were all under 4.00 in the ERA department. Only one pitcher who pitched any kind of innings however finished with a winning record. Reliever Jack Baldschun was 7-2. 
Of all the players on that inaugural team for San Diego, probably the only offensive player who went on to a strong big league career was Colbert. He hit 173 home runs during his MLB life. On the mound it was Joe Niekro who won 221 games in his career while losing 204. His brother Phil won 318 giving them a combined record of 540-478, which in itself is pretty amazing. 

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