César Tovar

On 18 May 1969, a pair of Twins set the record for steals by a club in one inning.  César Tovar stole third and home; Rod Carew did him one better by stealing second, third, and home.  The two steals of home in the inning tied a record, and it is this that seems the most remarkable in the context of the modern game where theft of home has become Mission: Impossible.

A Venezuelan, Tovar is perhaps mostly remembered for the stunt of playing all nine positions in the same game late in the ’68 season.  This has only been done five times in MLB history, so in some ways this is like hitting the cycle blindfolded.  But then again, anyone could rotate through the positions — the only limit is a manager’s interest in having a circus act steal the headline.

Carew steal

A Panamanian, Carew is a hall-of-famer who needs no introduction.  When starting this entry, it was César who I remembered as a guy who could steal home and it came as a surprise to learn that Rod is the one who ranks reasonably high among the career leaders for this.  The list is dominated by old-timers, and the only players on it who were active after the year of my birth are Carew (with 17) and Paul Molitor (10).

One of the topics that interested me when starting this blog was the impact of the Vietnam War on this generation of players.  For instance, the Iowan who took Rookie of the Year honors in 1968, Stan Bahnsen, had to juggle pitching with his Army Reserve duties that summer.  Rod Carew also did a hitch in the reserves, in his case with the Marines.  Along with the large number of reservists, some baseball players performed active service in this turbulent era.

The IBC presentation of baseball in 1968 has no draft or trades, just paired unions of the actual teams.  Sometimes the result is a pretty spectacular lineup, but in the case of the Cedar Rapids Saints it’s a hot mess.  The team’s top hitters are left-handed, which is usually fine but does sap some potency versus portsiders.  The best are Tony Oliva (.289/18/68) and Ted Uhlaender (.283/7/52), but injuries limited these Twins to under 500 ABs.  The third guy, ranking by WAR, is one of my favorite Dodgers, Willie Davis (.250/7/31 and 36 steals), who has the virtue of being able to play every day — but that’s assuming you can stomach his .284 on-base %.  A better option for the third outfield slot is a right, the 33-yo Bob Allison.  He is weak defensively but slugged 22 HRs and hit .247.  The last true outfielder is another lefty, Len Gabrielson (.270/10/35), but he’s more of a DH.

The team’s vulnerability against southpaws is mitigated a bit by a pair of part-time corner infielders that have hit very well in the early going: Bob Bailey (.227/8/39) and 37-yo Ken Boyer (.271/6/41).  They have just 543 ABs between them, but have nice lefty-killer platoon advantages.  However, the infield corners are a mess on this team.  It should be Harmon Killebrew (.210/17/40 and 70 walks) at first, but he got seriously injured in the 1968 All-Star Game and only tallied 295 ABs.  The team’s other options are good fielders who are lost in The Killer's considerable power-hitting shadow: Wes Parker (.239/3/27) and Rich Reese (.259/4/28).  Over at third, Bailey is ok in limited stretches but mostly it’s uber-utility guy César Tovar (.272/6/47 and 35 steals) who is the fixture at the position.  To continue a theme, the lack of power is a serious issue.

It’s sort of a good news/bad news situation in the middle infield.  22-yo Rod Carew (.273/1/42) hits pretty well, but the ‘4’ glove is far from ideal.  Much worse are the options at short, where the hold-your-nose choice is between a pair of 3’s defensively: Paul Popovich (.232/2/25) and Zoilo Versailles (.196/2/24).  Infield depth is provided by Frank Quilici (.245/1/22), whose 229 ABs sort of limit his usefulness.

If you’ve been keeping track, the big bopper thus far is Allison, with 22 homers.  And just three others (Oliva, Killebrew, and Gabrielson) have as many of ten.  So it is with fingers crossed that we look to the catcher slot for some offense.  Alas, neither Tom Haller (.285/4/53) nor 35-yo John Roseboro (.216/8/39) reached double-digits in dingers, but they are still a pretty good duo — my only complaint is that both swing from the left side, so as with the outfield it is hard to work platoon angles when creating a lineup.

Three hitters with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Cedar Rapids 30-man roster.  The pair of lefty outfielders, Ron Fairly (.234/4/43) and Willie Crawford (.251/4/14), just seemed redundant on a team that already had Willie Davis on the bench. Similarly, the lefty-killing Jim Lefebvre (.241/5/31) didn’t add much relative to Boyer & Bailey.  

For a variety of reasons, this is the worst collection of hitters that I have looked at to date.  I suppose their Dodger dogs will be helped a bit by the shift to a neutral park, but this lineup just has too many problems.  

Only four teams are left in my initial lap around the league.  I’ll head to either Iowa City, Sioux City, Waterloo, or West Metro next time.

© John Kisner 2019