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Mudville: July 19, 2024 10:52 pm PDT

He Was an All-Star?

The 1970’s: Part I

Come July 11th, the eyes of the baseball world will be focused on Seattle and 2023 All-Star Game. Some players will revel in the experience, while others will opt out needing a “rest” during the All-Star Break. For some it will be a return visit to the Midsummer Classic, while for others it will be their 15 minutes of fame moment.

There was a time in Major League Baseball when the annual All-Star Game was a measuring stick for greatness. Future Hall of Famers stood shoulder to shoulder on baselines during pre-game introductions for all to admire. It was baseball pageantry.

The 1970’s was a decade  loaded with some great catchers: Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Biff Pocoroba, Gary Carter.

Whoooaaa. Back up (beep, beep). Biff Pocoroba?

Sure enough, Biff Pocoroba was an All-Star in 1978, though if you blinked you probably missed it as it is difficult to remember Pocoroba as an All-Star as were these grotesque red pinstriped Braves uniforms from the late 1970’s.

A .262 hitter at the All-Star break, the Braves hind snatcher was added to the National League squad by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda on the strength of his skill to handle a pitching staff and the ability to control a running game. Plus, the other catchers most likely said “no thank you Tommy” to the prospect of trying catch Atlanta All-Star Phil Niekro’s knuckleball.

Pocoroba shared catching chores with Ted Simmons and Bob Boone, while an injured Johnny Bench sat on the sidelines. Pocoroba handled future Hall of Famer hurlers Bruce Sutter and teammate Phil Niekro in the 9th inning of 7-3 National League victory in what would be his lone Midsummer Classic.

Biff Pocoroba

And yes, Biff is his legal name.

But before there was a Biff, there was a Buzz, as Braves hurler Buzz Capra also found himself amongst the All-Stars— once. It was 1974 and Capra was twirling his way to a NL leading 2.28 ERA en route to a 16-8 mark for Atlanta.

Unlike Biff, Buzz would not get to pitch in the game that saw the National League down the American League 7-2 at Three Rivers Stadium. But hey, the righty stood amongst the best for one night AND got a free trip to Pittsburgh.

Buzz Capra

And no, Buzz was not his legal name.

During those late 1970s in Atlanta, Capra and Pocoroba matched up for 29 outings which resulted in a 4.98 ERA over 94 innings. Not exactly the stuff that warranted a “Buzz and Biff” promotional t-shirt give-away. Yet, if you close your eyes and listen carefully in your mind you can hear Skip Caray make the call, “Buzz fires a fastball to Biff that is just outside for ball four.”

Looking a lot like a scared turtle popping his head out of his shell, Eddie Brinkman was the epitome of
the “good-field, no-hit” shortstops of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. With a batting average that meandered around a then non-existent Mendoza line, Brinkman was a grinder in the field.

As a 15-year old hurler in the local Babe Ruth League, this 1973 cardboard of Brinkman gave me hope of reaching the big leagues as I believed even I could have struck out the Tiger shortstop or at least induced a weak ground ball to second.

Never a flashy glove man, Brinkman was known as “Steady Eddie” for his consistent play in the skin. A Gold Glover in 1972 with the AL East Champion Detroit Tigers, Brinkman set an American League record for shortstops with 72 consecutive errorless games – a mark that in 1990 would be broken by Cal Ripken, Jr.

As remarkable as that record may seem, upon closer examination of the stats, one will find an absurd number – zero. In ’72, when Brinkman committed just seven errors in 156 games, he erred six times while fielding the ball and once on a catch. Amazingly, not once did any of his 495 throws on assists stray from their target.

Every throw was catchable; from the tosses to Dick McAuliffe at second base on double plays to the long throws from the hole to first baseman Norm Cash. Hurried throws found the glove. Off-balance tosses after charging slow rollers landed in leather. The perfection with his arm was incredible.

His reward in 1972 was 62 points in American League MVP voting, good for ninth place behind the White Sox’ Dick Allen, yet besting eight future Hall of Famers despite his paltry .203 batting average.

The next July he would line up with the All-Stars in Kansas City for his lone Midsummer Classic. Taking over for AL starting shortstop Bert Campaneris of Oakland in the sixth inning, Brinkman would handle one ball, taking the feed from second sacker Cookie Rojas to turn a double play in support of Nolan Ryan. The shrinking violet of a hitter would ground out to open the 8th inning against New York’s Tom Seaver as the National League cruised to a 7-1 victory.

And while Brinkman may have been meek at the plate; he stood tall with his glove – tall enough to be an All-Star.

Ed Brinkman

Growing up a Cubs fan during the 1970’s left little to be excited about. With the failure of the ’69 Cubs smarting for years, the 1970’s Cubs gave us Midwesterners little to cheer about. As Ernie Banks retired and aging future Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ron Santo were traded away, we were left with a cast of players who sporadically went to the All-Star games.

Oh sure, we had batting titles being won by Bill Madlock and several years of Bruce Sutter split-fingering his way to league leading save totals, but becoming an All-Star on the Northside of Chicago usually meant being traded by the John Holland and Bob Kennedy led front office. And then there was Jerry Morales.

A clutch hitter who patrolled centerfield for the Cubs during four seasons, was leading the National League in batting average at .331 come mid-July of 1977, Selected by NL manager Sparky Anderson, Morales would gather one All-Star at bat, where he was plunked in the right knee by Yankee closer Sparky Lyle in the 8th inning. Morales would eventually score the last run for the National League in their 7-5 win over the Junior Circuit. Injuries would plague Morales in the second half of the ’77 campaign as the fly catcher finished with a .290 batting average.

Following the season, in true Cubs fashion, Morales was traded to the Cardinals, then the Tigers and the Mets before returning to the Cubs, never approaching his stellar first half of the 1977 season.

“Psst, Jerry, quit looking at the hot blonde in the stands, the camera is over here,”

Jerry Morales

Add southpaw Claude Osteen to the Rodney Dangerfield, “I Don’t Get No Respect Club” as the former 3-time All-Star’s hat in 1975 cardboard was airbrushed by a Topps artwork intern at Topps that year.

Claude Osteen

And yes, Claude Osteen was an All-Star.

C.J. Carlson is a freelance baseball writer residing in the Midwest and raised on Chicago Cubs baseball, while collecting cards along the way.

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