For someone like me, who grew up with the baseball played in the late-’80s and early-’90s (from Gibson’s home run to the strike-year and on), looking back through preview guides from the 1970s can seem a little foreign. I know the names and strengths of the players listed, but I don’t know them the same way that I know players from the early-’90s.
If, for example, someone told me that a pitcher reminded them of Ben McDonald, then I know something about that player’s talent because I remember his hot start for the Orioles. Or if they say that someone looks like Terry Steinbach, then I know something else about that player. But if they say that the pitcher reminds them of Catfish Hunter or that the hitter reminds them of Dave Concepcion, then I can only try to understand what they’re saying. I can appreciate that someone might say Troy Tulowitzki looks like Garry Templeton, but I can’t know innately if it’s a valid comparison.
The minor league prospects sections of these magazines are a little different story, though. When I look through these, the Hall of Fame and other notable names pop-out just as much as any other time frame, and the comments and predictions about these players feel just as understated and odd as anyone else. Fewer names of the Chris Sabo or Chilli Davis variety – quality players who didn’t quite reach the annals of immortality – jump out at me, but the All-Star and Hall of Fame names are hard to miss. The names below caught my attention from the 1974 Street and Smith’s preview guide.
Frank Tanana: “Southpaw Frank Tanana was great last year in the Texas League. The 20-year-old posted a 16-6 mark, 2.58 ERA, led the loop in strikeouts (197 in 205 innings), while chalking up 15 complete games.””
Tanana’s career did not take him to Cooperstown’s doorstep, but he was a productive pitcher for 20 years. Pitching for few quality teams, Tanana retired with a 240-236 record and a slightly better-than-average 3.66 ERA. He also had 143 complete games in his career. He did finish high in the Cy Young voting in 1975 and 1976, and he is currently 21st in all-time strikeouts, just behind Mike Mussina and Cy Young and just ahead of David Cone and Tom Glavine. He’s in good company there. The most surprising thing is how well the minor league scouting report does of encapsulating his career.
Ken Griffey: “National League fans had a preview of a leading candidate for 1974 rookie ofthe year honors when lefty Ken Griffey was called up from Indianapolis in late August last season, after hitting .327. Griffey responded by hitting .384 for the Reds and should be Sparky Anderson’s starting rightfielder this year.”
Father of all-time great Ken Griffey, Jr., the senior Griffey was a quality player himself, and a highly touted prospect for what turned out to be the greatest team of all time. Griffey played in 88 games in 1974 and performed adequately. He became a full-time player in 1975 and played very well, earning a starter’s spot for what was to become a 19-year career.
Jim Rice: “A year away are infielder Frank Vazquez, a switch hitter who hit .269 after making the jump from Class A to AAA and outfielder Jim Rice. He’ll be in Triple A after a spectacular Double A campaign at Bristol (.317, 27 HRs, 93 RBIs). He also mashed AAA pitching the last year [sic] of the season.”
Dave Parker: “This time, it’ll be another outfielder, 6-5, 225-pounder Dave Parker. Most talented player in the International League in ’73, Parker hit .317 with 57 RBIs in 84 games at Charleston and gained All-Stars honors, then batted .288 the last couple of months with the Buccos. Keeping Parker out of the starting lineup could be impossible.”
I put Rice and Parker together because, for much of their career, these two were linked. They won matching MVP awards with monster seasons in 1978, and there were three other seasons where they both placed in the top-5 in the MVP voting of their respective leagues at the same time. Though Parker ended up playing in 73 games in the 1974 season, he didn’t get to play a full season until the ’75 season, the same as Rice. Though today Rice enjoys heated discussions on an annual basis about his Hall-worthiness, Parker seems to be forgotten in the discussion despite a similar case (1 MVP award & 7 all-star appearances, .290/.339/.471 with 339 HRs and 1493 RBIs) to Rice (1 MVP award & 8 all-star appearances, .298/.352/.502 with 382 HRs and 1451 RBIs). I think it’s great to see that the two were linked together even during their minor league careers.
Gary Carter: “Also down on the farm is 19-year-old catcher Gary Carter, who hit .253 at Quebec City and led the Expos’ Instructional hitters.”
Here’s where we finally reach our first definite Hall of Fame player from this preview guide. Though Carter didn’t fully reach the bigs until 1975, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, the young Carter was still noteworthy. Having been drafted just a year-and-a-half before, in June 1972, he was moving through the minors quickly on the way to his Hall of Fame career.
George Brett: “Third base is the infield hole [for the Royals]. Vet Paul Schaal batted .288 last year and is the incumbent but is 31 years old and will be challenged by George Brett, an impressive 20-year-old who batted .284 at Omaha.”
“The Royals, whose minor league clubs had an over-all winning percentage of .552, have some other players who may stick. There’s Amer. Assn. All-Star third baseman George Brett (.284), a quick gloveman and only 20 years old.”
Brett is viewed by many as the greatest third-baseman of all time (though that view is probably stronger in the Kansas/Missouri area than in the rest of the country), and is one of three members of the prestigious 1999 Hall of Fame class (along with Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount). He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting this year, and went on to win an MVP award in 1980 and be selected to 13 All-Star teams, among other more memorable events.
Thirty-five years ago, when the above comments were written, it was impossible to know who would live up to their promise, and who would never pan out. The comments on George Brett were just as valid as the comments on Rick Sawyer. And I love the uncertainty and promise of it because it means that any magazine I pick up today or in the future could have the next Gary Carter or George Brett featured in it, hidden under my nose. And it’ll be my pleasure to read the magazines and watch the games and try to figure it all out.