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Sixto Lezcano

September 12, 2007
 

 
I’m sure I’ll soon start droning on at length again about various moments of defeat and longing from my past, but right now I’m kind of sick of the word I. It happens sometimes. It happened in a primordial form all the time when I was a kid, and I escaped my I-ness in various ways, including deep plunges into my baseball cards, especially those that included names so cartoonishly exotic that they could never be confused with being from the same world as my own. 

So here’s the king of those names, Sixto Lezcano, 23 years old, looking young and confident, as if he has never in his life gotten sick of being the person inside the word I. He has just completed a 1977 season in which he swatted 21 home runs in just 109 games. He seems to sense that he and the Brewers are poised on the brink of a breakthrough season.

In 1978, with Lezcano providing stellar defense in right field and a .292 average at bat, the Brewers recorded not only the first winning season in the history of their previously nondescript franchise but a blistering 93-win campaign that would have catapulted them into the playoffs in many other years (or even in the same year had they been a member of the American League West). But this 1978 season by the Brewers has pretty much been lost to history, eclipsed by the battle royale that year between the 99-win Red Sox and 100-win Yankees. The Brewers got even better the next year in what would be Lezcano’s finest season (he drove in 101 runs and finished 15th in league MVP voting), tallying 95 wins, enough to pass both the Red Sox and the Yankees in the standings. Unfortunately, the Brewers’ excellent 1979 season is also obscure, as they finished a distant second in the division behind a Baltimore Orioles squad that won 102 games. It was a tough time to get noticed in the AL East: the following year the Orioles would tally 100 victories and have to settle for second behind the Yankees. The Brewers, still good, still unnoticed, finished far behind both with 86 wins, a dropoff for them that could be attributed to the dip in play of Sixto Lezcano, whose average plummeted from .321 in 1979 to .229 in 1980. 

He was traded in December 1980 and so wasn’t around when the Brewers finally broke through with half of a division win in the strike year, then a trip to the World Series in 1982. In the World Series the Brewers fell to the Cardinals, the team Sixto Lezcano had been traded to, but he wasn’t on that team either, having been traded again to the Padres. The Padres made it to the World Series a couple years later, but by then Sixto Lezcano had been traded to the aging, fading Phillies. The Phillies, composed mostly of geriatric former members of the Big Red Machine, made an improbable run, or walker-limp, to the World Series the year Lezcano joined them, but even though he played well in limited action during the regular season he seems to have been left off the postseason roster (correction: as pointed out in the comments below, Lezcano actually played several playoff games that year). He contributed the next year as a competent part-timer (from playing Strat-O-Matic I know that he generally raked left-handed pitching) but within a year was out of the league for good.

It’s now 30 years since the time of the photo in the card above, 30 years since the dawn of the single golden age of the Brewers. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and the 1982 pennant-winners are remembered, but who remembers all the wins in the preceding years, years when the charisma of newness and promising youth on the team emanated most strongly from the rightfielder with the cannon arm and mesmerizing name. Who remembers the Age of Sixto Lezcano?

26 comments

  1. 1.  I couldn’t help noting that the Ben Oglivie, Ben Oglivie, Ben Oglivie, Ben Oglivie of the disappointing quadruples from your 1975 set evolved into a menacing offensive threat in the Sixto Lezcano/Cecil Cooper era. Must be some sort of life lesson there.


  2. 2.  I have to say, his name was so spectacular it completely obscured how good a player he was, for me at least, until just now. I think my Dad said was named “Sixto” for being the 6th kid in his family and I always believed that, but I’m pretty sure now he must have been kidding or guessing.

    Sixto’s stats show so many good years in his early 20s, but a part-time by late 20s and out at age 31. Wonder if he hadn’t been an age-fudger.


  3. 3.  1 : There may well be a life lesson there, but since I’m taking the day off from those I tried to see if there was a lesson about a particular Brewer GM deserving kudos for amassing such a core of good young talent. But they had several GMs throughout the ’70s, and each one contributed somebody to the team that started making noise in the late ’70s. Marvin Milkes drafted Gorman Thomas and signed (the possibly age-fudging–see 2 ) Sixto Lezcano (no word on whether the scout who signed him had originally come to see Sixto’s older brother Cinquo); Frank Lane drafted Charlie Moore; Jim Wilson drafted Yount; Jim Baumer traded for Cecil Cooper and may have drafted Molitor; and Harry Dalton (who may have been at the helm for the Molitor draft) made the team complete (and reaped the benefits) by trading for Ben “Sisyphus” Oglivie. The lesson, maybe: even if you do something good the results won’t show until after you get canned.


  4. 4.  Actually, Sixto played in eight of the Phillies’ nine postseason games in 1983, and batted cleanup in five of them. I remember watching those games as a White Sox fan and thinking how many hitters we had that year who were better than the Phillie cleanup guy with the weird name.


  5. 5.  So toothsome, so mysterious was the name “Sixto Lezcano,” it may well come to pass that as I leave this mortal coil my last words will be “Sicks-toe? Seeks-toe? Seesh-to?”

    But better that, I suppose, than “Meow meow meow meow, meow meow meow meow…”

    … and it is we who shall remember those Brewers. They had a certifiable gorilla in Gorman Thomas. I remember staring for long periods at the cards of Don Money, Robin Yount, Moose Haas — all fascinating, for different reasons. They had Cecil Cooper, who I vaguely remember doing … well, SOMETHING, something that was so unbelievably funny that it became a staple inside joke between me and Josh for years. And they had Sal Bando. Who pitched 3 innings in a game that year, giving up 2 runs.


  6. 6.  4 : Wow, I totally missed his postseason stats during one of my customarily overstimulated, unfocused visits to baseball-reference.com. On closer inspection, he did bat cleanup in the WS opener against lefty Scott McGregor (behind Mike Schmidt; ya think Schmiddy saw many pitches to hit?), then was moved to second in the order later in the series against lefty Mike Flanagan. He also got into a couple other WS games late. Von Hayes, one of the few Phillies not requiring dentures that year, was Lezcano’s platoon-mate in right.

    5 : Yes, in my mind Cecil Cooper will always be one of the funniest humans ever, on the strength of that incident alone. I can’t quite recall the specifics of it either, but whenever I hear the phrase “mugging for the camera” I think of Cecil Cooper.


  7. 7.  Ooh, Von Hayes. He was traded for Julio Franco and others 25 years ago and had a nice little career that ended 15 years ago. Anyway, the most important thing I have learned this year is that Hayes is eight days younger than Franco.


  8. 8.  Aprapos of nothing other than Brewer memories, I remember playing little league as an 8-year old in suburban Philadlephia in the mid 70s and being the only one who hit with a wood bat, because the pros did.

    While I would have loved to have been able to swing the Phillies giveaway bottle bat–I still have no idea how they were able to get away with distributing 35-inch, 45-ounce black bats with an enormous barrel on one Sunday in 1976–I swung a blue band Don Money model Adirondack. I loved that bat. I remember breaking it on a single to left at the filed across from the Pep Boys service station. I don’t think I hit with wood ever again.


  9. 9.  Sixto is apparently not as unique as I would have thought. My curiosity was piqued, so I typed in “Sixto” on Baseball-Reference and found that there were two minor leaguers with the same first name. Sixto Ortego was with the COL organization from 1999-2002 and Sixto Urena was in the TEX farm system from 2000-2003. Definitley one of my favorite baseball names until Rusty Kuntz came along. Razor Shines & Shooty Babitt are up there too.


  10. 10.  5 So toothsome, so mysterious was the name “Sixto Lezcano,” it may well come to pass that as I leave this mortal coil my last words will be “Sicks-toe? Seeks-toe? Seesh-to?”

    Here I am to prevent that. I met a Sixto once, and he pronounced it “SEES-toe”, where the second S was a very soft S (not a Z) sound and nearly lisped, as in Castillian Spanish, almost like “SEETH-toe”.

    Sixto does mean “sixth”, from the Latin “sextus”, although the Spanish word is “sexto”.

    Lezcano apparently had good trade value; he was part of the package that netted Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers, all important to the aforemention Brewers WS team, and, with Garry Templeton, what brought Ozzie Smith (and a mediocre pitcher) to the Cardinals.

    In today’s game, a 32-year old Lezcano would still be playing.


  11. 11.  9 No one, but no one tops Johnny Dickshot.


  12. 12.  Don’t ask me how I found this web site but it is legitimate:

    http://www.sixtolezcano.com/

    I do think “Tribute to A Legend” is a bit of a stretch however.

    Josh, here’s your big chance to interview a Cardboard God via the email link on Sixto’s site.

    My first question would be whether he named his son Seveno.


  13. 13.  7 : At this point I would hardly be surprised to hear that Julio Franco is older than Von Joshua.

    8 : Yeah, the scariest of the real-sized bat days of the 1970s was at Yankee Stadium, sez I. Here, 50,000 people, here are your large wooden cudgels, now fill up on beer and blazing sun for a few hours then walk in a snarled throng out into the gentle Bronx night.


  14. 14.  Love that Sixto website. Nothing says “I’m goofing off at work,” quite like your computer playing a cheesed-out version of “take me out to the ballgame.”


  15. 15.  13 And why did I just think about “The Warriors”?


  16. 16.  I just spent the last few minutes reading new comments on old posts. These comments appear from time to time, perhaps more than they would if this blog was ever concerned with timely issues. I get happy any time I see a comment on an old post–I set up the “archive by team” sidebar to encourage people to dig through my box of old cards, so to speak. There have been some good comments on old posts, too, but it’s sort of unlikely that anyone is going to know they are there unless they also happen to click on that old post, so I’m going to start using a comment in current posts to note new comments on old posts. Starting now…

    There are new comments on Ben Oglivie (Ramblin’ Pete fleshes out the view of me and my brother’s old bulletin board of fame), Joe Wallis, Reggie Jackson (Yankee card), and Mario Guerrero (1974 Red Sox card). I can’t remember right now any others of less recent vintage, but I did want to direct readers to an entertaining comment that I do recall, attached to the beautiful 1975 Ed Brinkman card.


  17. 17.  Lezcano’s 1979 SOM card …. a freak of nature.

    http://tinyurl.com/349wsz


  18. 18.  I only got to know Sixto in his last year, when he was a Pirate and I admired his name (and those round-topped hats) on his baseball card. I actually didn’t realize until now that he was such a good player in his prime. That’s what being good in 1970s Milwaukee will get you, I guess.


  19. 19.  Sixto has long been a favorite of mine b/c his last name is of Basque derivation, one letter off from my mother’s maiden name. Though he himself was Puerto Rican, I believe.


  20. 20.  I always wished he’d been nicknamed “The Sixto Kid”.


  21. 21.  11 “Pebbly Jack” Glasscock?


  22. 22.  Interesting discussion… sorry I’m so late in arriving. I grew in in Milwaukee in the 70, so of course I remember Sixto very fondly. I even remember the man he replaced – how can anyone forget the great Bobby Coluccio?

    Seriously, though. Am I the only person who remembers hearing that Sixto Lezcano was missing a sizable portion of one (or both) of his feet? The story I read was that he had a hunting accident as a child.

    Is my memory playing tricks on me?

    Beer Please!


  23. Thank you for this post. I keenly remember the Age of Lezcano. I grew up just south of Milwaukee; I began following the Brewers beginning in 1976, after attending a Graf’s Soda Jacket Day game versus the Indians. By 1977 I was falling asleep each summer night listening to Brewer games, awakened to hear the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which generally followed the Brewer broadcasts and generally terrified me. Many Brewers loyalists will remember that Sixto hit Opening Day grand slams in both 1978 and 1980. In 1978 (the year the Brewers debuted new uniforms that EVERY kid worshipped), he slammed vs the Orioles to kick off a series in which the Brewers slammed in each of the 3 games, outscoring the Orioles 40-11, and officially ushering in the new era of Brewer baseball. In 1980, Sixto slammed in the 9th to defeat the Red Sox, causing my neighborhood kids to simultaneously stream out of their houses and into the street, in one of those homeplate moshpits you see all the time these days. Who knew one game in a 162-game season could mean so much to a 12 year old?


  24. Being a Northern Wisconsin kid during the Sixto era, I vividly remember those opening games also. Listening on the radio to Uecker and Merle Harmon was the best. That opening Baltimore series led to one of the funniest baseball stories I’ve ever heard. Molitor was hitting everything that series as was most of the rest of the the Crew, and in a post game chewing out, O’s Skipper Earl Weaver singled out relievers Tippy Martinez and Joe Kerrigan and called them “Famine” and “Pestilence”……”because you’re a couple f’ing natural disasters.”


  25. wisconsinteams:
    Thanks very much for sharing those great memories of the Sixto years. I love the image of the neighborhood kids spilling out onto the street.

    dw17:
    Thanks for that story, also. Hilarious.


  26. Sixto is pronounced Seesh-toe. Or Sees-toe, in some parts of the world. But call him six toe, and I cut off your foot!



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