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Mudville: October 4, 2023 4:46 am PDT

He Was an All-Star? III

Lining up with All-Stars during the Midsummer Classic is a thrill of a lifetime for many average ball players who grab their fifteen minutes of fame. Though for some, taking a place with perennial All-Stars on an everyday basis comes to many players who dot major league rosters.

Case in point is Andy Etchebarren who squatted behind home plate during twelve seasons for the Baltimore Orioles. Along the way, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver would pencil his name on the lineup card that listed annual All-Stars Brooks Robinson (15 All-Star years), Frank Robinson (12 All-Star years) and Boog Powell (4 All-Star years). He would also help guide pitchers Jim Palmer (6 All-Star years), Mike Cuellar (3 All-Star years with O’s) and Dave McNally (3 All-Star years) through All-Star campaigns. Being around All-Stars was not a big deal for Etchebarren.

However, many still feel that he missed his calling.

What an awesome face. Etchebarren could have been a great character actor with his long face, dark features and tough looks. Replace the cap with a fedora, put him in a pin-striped suit and he’s standing behind Bogart just waiting to pistol-whip some sap who double-crossed Bogey. Give him a Winchester rifle, a pair of boots with a high-crowned cowboy hat and he would have been perfect standing alongside Jimmy Stewart on a dusty cow town street.

Unfortunately, Hollywood never called as Etchebarren hid his face behind a catcher’s mask for 15 seasons. Handling primary catching chores during the 1966 and ’67 seasons, Etchebarren landed his two All-Star roster spots during those two years before settling into a career of sharing squats with Elrod Hendricks in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Again, unfortunately American League All-Star managers handed the bulk of the catching duties to Detroit’s Bill Freehan during the two games, as Etchebarren was even shunned for playing time by his manager Hank Bauer in 1967 as only two catchers were on the roster. So yes, Etchebarren was an All-Star, but we never had the chance to see him play in either game.

A defensive-minded catcher, tough sliders from righties used to eat him up, so Etchebarren primarily handled catching duties when the Birds faced southpaws and curveballing right-handers. He finished with a career .235 average in 948 career games.

Etchebarren did have two interesting distinctions during his career, as he called pitches for the famous Steve Barber/Stu Miller combination no-hitter on April 30, 1967. He also is remembered for being the final batter to face Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax – as the right-handed hitter during Game 2 of the 1966 World Series grounded into a double-play to end the sixth inning.

In all, Etchebarren had a nice career on the diamond, though we think he could have had a great career on the silver screen.

Andy Etchabarren Angels Card

Players in the past used to have great nicknames.  Walt “No Neck” Williams, John Wesley “Boog” Powell and one of the all-time favorites… John “Blue Moon” Odom.

The nickname was given to Odom by a grade school friend who thought his face looked like the moon, and the future Oakland hurler could indeed light up like the moon with his beaming smile

Of course, he had a lot to smile about during his career. Blue Moon was a two-time American League All-Star, posted 15 or more wins in three seasons and helped Oakland capture three consecutive World Championships beginning in 1972.

Though Odom was the No. 3 man in the A’s rotation – behind Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman – the hard throwing right-hander shone brightly in ten post-season outings, going 6-0 with a 1.07 ERA. His star also shone brightly in his 1968 All-Star outing as the righty worked two innings of shutout ball, recording strikeouts of future Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron. Unfortunately, his second All-Star outing was a disaster as Odom tossed just one-third of an inning, allowing five runs (four earned) in the 9-3 loss to the Nationals. The big damage came off the bat of McCovey who extracted a bit of revenge when the slugger launched a two-run homer off Odom.

A suburb athlete, Odom was also called upon to pinch-run 105 times during his career and was the last American League pitcher to steal a base prior to the Junior Circuit adopting the Designated Hitter.

Throwing caution to the wind, Odom wore number 13 during his entire career. Yet he could do that, because he was Blue Moon.

One can only imagine the endorsement deal he could have today. Beer and oranges.

“Hi, I’m Blue Moon Odom and I don’t follow those ‘Man Laws.’ I always fruit MY beer. And if you have a problem with that, just step into the batters box… that is, if YOU are man enough.”

Selected to five All-Star Squads, but playing in just four Mid-Summer Classics; Cookie Rojas collected only one hit in four plate appearances… but he sure made it count.

Never the sexy choice at second base  — maybe it was because of his glasses or his nickname of Cookie — Rojas backed up Minnesota’s Rod Carew on four occasions for the American League squad in the early 1970’s.

A strong glove man at the keystone sack and a pesky contact hitter; Rojas delivered a pinch-hit, two-run home run off Montreal’s Bill Stoneman in the 8th inning of the 1972 All-Star Game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The drive barely cleared the fence as a leaping Billy Williams tried in vain to snag the drive that would give the American League team a short-lived 3-2 advantage. The National League eventually won the game, 4-3, in 10 innings.

The native Cuban, whose first name is Octavio, would connect on just 54 long balls during his 16-year major league career; but none was bigger than his All-Star blast.

Cookie Rojas

And while the measure of success during a season is being named to a respective All-Star squad, for a starting pitcher in the past, 20 wins in a season has also been a measuring stick for success. Likewise, pitchers who lost 20 games in a season were considered a failure.

Somehow in 1973, Wilbur Wood managed to be both a success and a failure. The White Sox knuckle-baller won an American League leading 24 games for the Pale Hose in ‘73; while on the other hand also losing 20 games that season, second most in the AL.

With a rubber arm and a fluttering pitch, Wood would also start both games of a double-header on July 20, 1973; losing both games to the Yankees, which is probably why the trick has not been attempted since.

Named to three American League All-Star teams during the first half of the ‘70’s, Wood would only be called on to toss in the 1972 game. The southpaw allowed a run on two hits in two innings, working a scoreless but not clean eighth inning, while blowing the save in the ninth inning. The AL would eventually lose the contest 4-3 in the 10th inning.

Overall, the lefty was a success as he was the first White Sox hurler to register four consecutive 20-win seasons. He also logged 15 or more saves in three seasons of work as a closer. Then again, he also registered 17 or more losses in four consecutive seasons.

Thus, Wilbur Wood was considered the alpha and the omega of pitching in the early 1970s.

Wilbur Wood

And yes, Etchebarren, Odom, Rojas and Wood were All-Stars.

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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