Sunday, January 8, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #24: Better Call the Plummer

I don't know about where you live, but here at Collating Cards (which happens to be in southwest Idaho), we're enduring our harshest winter in decades. The past couple of mornings have seen negative 14 degree temps and about 14 inches of snow on the ground, with up to another 10 inches (followed by freezing rain) in the forecast for the next few days. Now, Night Owl might not feel sorry for us, but I am concerned that once the weather warms and all this stuff melts I will see water finding its way into this old house's basement. What I need to take my mind off of all of this is a box of cards to break; unfortunately, the roads are lousy. I'm also saving my money for 2017 Topps. We're only 24 days from its release...

I've often thought the toughest job in the major leagues belongs to the pinch-hitting specialist. I mean, to sit there on the bench for (sometimes) days at a time- and then be called upon to get a base knock... not very many people can do it successfully. No wonder you won't find many on MLB rosters. But I'm going to include players in that statement who don't fit the definition of a 'pinch-hitting specialist', guys whose careers span many years without accumulating many plate appearances. Guys like former catcher Bill Plummer.

After three seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, Bill Plummer found himself exposed to the Rule 5 draft, where he would be drafted by the Chicago Cubs. Rather than risk losing the young backstop, the Cubs carried him on their roster for the entire year; he would play in only two games, making only one plate appearance per game. Surely this lack of playing time significantly hindered Bill's development. That didn't stop the Cincinnati Reds from trading for Plummer (along with Kenneth Myette and Clarence Jones) that off season. With a fine young backstop at the major league level, the Reds could afford to have Bill to spend the next three years sharpening his skills at AAA Indianapolis.

Bill broke camp with the Reds in '72, with his role clearly spelled out: he would backup future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. And so, yes, playing time would be tough to come by.

Though he was praised for his work ethic and being an exemplary teammate (as well as being highly respected by opponents), you have to wonder how much better Bill would have been at the plate had his playing time not been so sparse; among all National Leaguers, Plummer holds the record for lowest batting average (.189) during the 1970s. But when he did get regular playing time (such as filling in for an injured Bench in 1972 and 1976), Bill more than held his own at the plate.

Teammates were confident of his ability to fill in behind the plate when needed. Ken Griffey, Sr. commented once that Bill "could have been a starter for anyone else." The Hit King, Pete Rose himself, saw enough of backstop to comment, "I've always wondered how Bill would do if he played two months straight." That ability was displayed during the first two months of the '76 season, when Bill hit .290 while filling in for an injured Johnny Bench.

 Find yourself in need of help during a difficult situation? Call a plumber Plummer. William Francis, that is. Just ask former pitcher Clay Carroll, whom Bill rescued once in a bar fight by throwing a right cross that "floored one rambunctious soul as well as two or three others packed tight behind him."

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