Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prospect Preview: 1979

Baseball of the 1970s is almost entirely foreign to me. Having been born at the end of October 1980, the Phillies were already World Champs by the time I entered the world, and Ronald Reagan was only one week away from being elected President. For all intents and purposes, then, the last vestiges of the '70s have been gone all of my life.

Looking through the 1979 Street & Smith's preview guide, then, is an interesting exercise. Most of it covers teams and players that I just don't have any knowledge about (the 1976 Rangers? the 1978 Blue Jays?), and so I get a nice little peak at history. But the minor league sections of the magazines, while a little tougher to wade through than, say, the 1996 guide, do give me some insight into a time that I'm familiar with, since most of these players played into the '90s and beyond.

With that in mind, and with the knowledge that greatness lasts forever - after all, we're still talking about some of these players 30 years later, and will be for years to come - I submit these names from the '79 Street & Smith's guide:
Alfredo Griffin: "A sure-shot to stick is young shortstop Alfredo Griffin, who came over from the Indians in a swap for Jays' ace reliever Victor Cruz. Griffin covers plenty of ground and hit .291 with 35 stolen bases for Portland (Pacific Coast). He'll be tough to beat as the starting SS candidate."
The American League Rookie of the Year in 1979, Griffin quickly capitalized on his minor league promise. And although his rookie year numbers were pretty much his career highs, he ended up with a solid, if unspectacular and offensively-challenged, 15-year career, including three World Series rings and a gold glove (in a year that he committed 30 errors at short...)
Kirk Gibson: "Aside from pitching, other prospects can basically be found in the outfield. Like Kirk Gibson, the All-American wide receiver at Michigan State. The club's top draft pick in June '78, lefty-swinging Gibson only hit .240 in his pro baptism, but had seven HRs, 40 ribbies, 13 thefts in 14 tries in 54 games at Lakeland."
The first time I remember hearing Alfredo Griffin's name was during the 1988 World Series, when they mentioned how comfortable he was playing in Oakland's spacious Coliseum since he had only been traded to the Dodgers that offseason. It's funny that I remember that, since the '88 World Series so clearly belongs to Gibby (and of course I remember his moment quite well too). I do love the image of Gibson the wide-reciever. Somehow it goes well with his famous fist-pumping, gimpy home run trot.
Ned Yost: "Ed Yost [sic] is a catching candidate whose AAA duty at Spokane was limited to 89 games because of back problems that have been corrected. Yost, who has an outstanding arm, hit .262 in the PCL."
The Brewers manager on Opening Day 2008, Yost's playing career was never one to write home about (a .212/.237/.329 line in six seasons and 600 at-bats). Some might say the same about his managing career, but I'm not one of them. He absolutely had his weaknesses, but, for a while, he was exactly what the Brewers needed, and we should always remember him for that.
Ken Macha: "But 28-year-old Ken Macha, with a year in the bigs already, can fill in back of the plate, as well as play third and the outfield. He's no golden-glover, but hit .262 at Columbus (International). He also hit .212 with the Pirates, from whom the Expos drafted him."
And here's the Brewers manager for Opening Day 2009. Not that Yost or Macha are all that interesting, especially as prospects from thirty years ago. I understand that. I just thought it was kind of interesting to see the both of them listed as prospects in the same magazine, considering their recent ties to the Brewers. (I also found interim manager Dale Sveum mentioned in the 1985 preview guide.)
Dave Righetti: "The best bet of the newcomers to make it to Yankee Stadium in the near future is southpaw Dave Righetti, 20, who was 5-5, 3.61 at Tulsa (Amer. Assoc.) in only his second year of pro ball. Righetti completed six of 13 starts, had 127 whiffs in 91 innings."
The Yankees Rookie of the Year pitcher in the strike-shortened 1981 season, Righetti had a good career as New York's closer. He saved 46 games in 1986 and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting that year. He's currently the Giants' pitching coach - I imagine dealing with Barry Zito every fifth day might be more stressful than closing in New York City.
Mike Scioscia: "Meanwhile, another catching hopeful for the future is Mike Scioscia (.299 in 58 games at San Antonio in AA)."
The 2002 AL Manager of the Year, and the man that the Angels recently signed to a 10 year contract as manager, started his career in 1980 as the Dodgers backstop. Eleven years later, he would find himself on the Springfield Power Plant's softball team, and eleven years after that he'd find himself winning the World Series and Manager of the Year award in the same year. All in all, not a bad career.
Rickey Henderson: "Outfielder Rick Henderson [sic] is a 20-year-old swifty who stole 81 bases at Jersey City (AA Eastern) last season, when he hit .310. A singles hitter, Henderson did not have any homers, drove in 33 runs. The year before, Henderson stole 90 bases in A-ball at Modesto (California)."
Yes, apparently Rickey was known strictly as Rick back then. I can't imagine... I especially like the categorization of him as "a swifty" (they use the same word to describe Lonnie Smith) and the comments about him being a "singles hitter" with no power. From reading other accounts of Rickey as he was playing, it's clear that he took his career one challenge at a time, mastering one skill after another. I imagine that the 20-year-old Rickey wanted to prove one thing - his speed - before going on to the next. It's a great example of a talented individual making himself even greater. Which is precisely why we're still talking about him thirty years later, and why there was an actual uproar about him not being a unanimous Hall of Fame choice.


The Common Man said...

Wow, this is awesome stuff, lar. Were there any kind of prospect rankings in there? Who were the most highly-touted guys? It would be interesting to see how the mainstream press judged prospects back then. Rickey's transformation into the greatest leadoff hitter ever is really amazing given the description here.

Finally, can you imagine the articles on Gibby if he were playing today? Look at how they gush about Erstad, and he was just a punter.

lar said...

No prospect rankings in the older Street and Smith's. The way they're usually structured is an opening page or two about the state of minor league baseball (and, in the early 80s, there was actually quite a bit going on with how the minors worked) and then a team-by-team write-up, highlighting various prospects. No rankings or other lists. I think they might have some college ball rankings and lists in some magazines.

But you're right... they're fun to look through, and it's definitely best when you find a gem of a scouting report like this one. I think one of my favorites may be the one of Wade Boggs here.

I'm glad you're enjoying them...