h1

Jim Dwyer

January 25, 2010

Jim Dwyer spent most of the 1970s bouncing around the National League, never really getting the hang of things in any one place before being swapped for Larry Lintz or shipped across the border with Pepe Mangual or, in his most pornographic-sounding transaction, clustered into a three-way featuring Peter LaCock. By 1978, when this card came out, Jim Dwyer would have been a very unlikely candidate for lasting 18 seasons in the major leagues. If you go on the evidence provided by this card, he was dangerously close to disappearing altogether. Since entering the league in 1973, he had produced just one passable season, and that was in very limited action (a .279 average in 86 at-bats in 1974), and other than that had as many seasons below the Mendoza Line as above it. His existence in cardboard form at this stage was, in fact, bordering on the inexplicable. He was not a slick-fielding infielder or a squat, cannon-armed backup catcher, the two most likely species of position players to persist in the majors despite being unable to hit. Dwyer logged innings in centerfield, but he was basically a corner outfielder, a would-be left-handed hitting specialist, at least until the inevitable moment when someone connected with whatever team he was on noticed his anemic batting stats and wondered why this guy was on the payroll. At that point, Dwyer was then swapped or, as in the case of the late-season transaction that led to this hasty, nausea-inducing job of card-doctoring, simply released.

And isn’t this everyone’s fear? That one day someone will tap you on the shoulder, you will turn, and the question you’ve long been dreading will be asked of you. So, uh, why are you here? And that the stammering answer to this question will be followed by your release?

But Jim Dwyer seems unmarked by any such dread in his 1978 card. Let the world go through its changes, morphing from one thing to the next. What can you do but smile beneath your droopy caterpillar of a mustache and keep swinging?

Also, Jim Dwyer must have believed that, contrary to the evidence on his baseball card, he had what it took to stick in the majors. His itinerant journey through the 1970s had taken him to several minor league towns, too, and in those towns he had been The Man (career minor league average: .334).

But I wonder if his smile finally started to falter in 1978. Halfway through that season, while struggling once again (his batting average at .215), his litany of transactions hit a new low as he became, for the first time, The Player to be Named Later. Thusly completing an earlier deal for someone named Frank Ricelli (who by then had already been dumped by the Cardinals for the immortal Bob Coluccio), Dwyer joined the Giants for their improbable 1978 pennant drive and “hit” .225 as they faded from contention.

By that point I had not paid a moment of attention to Jim Dwyer, except for possibly being briefly hypnotized by the blobs of colors that comprised the cap in this 1978 card. I wasn’t even aware that the Giants were in a pennant race that season, focusing instead on the dire collapse of my own team, the Red Sox, who died at the hands of the Yankees in a one-game playoff at year’s end for many, many reasons, including the absence of both God and Bernie Carbo. Late in the game, when someone needed to come off the bench and get a hit off of Goose Gossage, the best the Red Sox had to offer was a corroded right-handed-hitting statue named Bob Bailey. Nothing against Bob Bailey, who definitely had some fine moments in a long career, but at that place and time he was never going to get a hit off of Goose Gossage. No, what the Red Sox needed at that moment was Bernie Carbo, left-handed hitting specialist and undying hero of just such a moment three years earlier, when his three-run homer had revived the cemetery-bound Red Sox in the 8th inning of Game Six of the 1975 World Series; unfortunately, Carbo had been sold midway through the season by the geniuses running the team. (In case you’re wondering, Goose fanned Bob Bailey on three pitches, ending the latter’s career.)

Perhaps reacting to this need for a left-handed hitting replacement for Bernie Carbo, the Red Sox purchased Jim Dwyer for the 1979 season. His arrival and two-year stay with the team could not stem a descent into relative irrelevancy by the franchise. That descent coincided for me with the first notes of that disorienting atonal symphony, puberty, and I associate my entry into the world of frustration and loneliness with Red Sox teams that carried an autumnal aura of trauma and doom. They were haunted. But despite that, or maybe because of it, I formed an attachment to Jim Dwyer. He was new to the team and so had not been a part of the failures I wanted to think as little about as possible, and also he was, suddenly, a pretty good hitter.

Back then I loved studying the Red Sox stats in the Sunday Boston Globe. Jim Dwyer’s name was always somehow comforting to me in that context. He wasn’t ever right at the top of the list of names that were ranked according to batting average, but he was always far from the bottom. He hit .265 in 1979 and .285 in 1980. I don’t know why, but I loved that latter mark. It wasn’t volatile and rare like, say, .337, and it wasn’t a stinker like .229. It was right there in the B+ range. Solid. If .285 was a person it would be someone you could rely on to come over and help you move a couch. Though I didn’t think it through to this extent at the time, this kind of unassuming .285 steadiness was just what I needed as I turned 12 and started noticing how distant I was from that which I desired. Without even really realizing I was doing it, I leaned on Jim Dwyer.   

And then he was gone, off to Baltimore. But everyone else was gone, too. Fisk, Lynn, Hobson, Burleson. I’m sure it was several weeks into the 1981 season before I even noticed that the stinging mist of absence hovering over the team included the lack of my old reliable .285-hitting pal Jim Dwyer, and then before I could form any thoughts about this development the lengthy 1981 strike occurred, and puberty really took over, and baseball suddenly didn’t seem to mean as much.

As it turned out, Dwyer’s two seasons with Boston proved to be a turning point not just for me but for Jim Dwyer, too, the moment he changed from subpar 1970s National League wanderer to capable 1980s American League left-handed hitting specialist. From the Red Sox he went to the platoon-crazy Baltimore Orioles, peaking with a Lowensteinian effort (.286/.382/.505 in 229 at-bats) for the 1983 champions. He posted his career high in homers (15) four years later, at the age of 37, and avoided his final release all the way until 1990.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Jim Dwyer’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

13 comments

  1. It’s weird that you posted on Jim Dwyer today. I’m currently reading American Pastoral, and one of the main character’s father’s is named Jim Dwyer. Which got me thinking about the lyric in the Pogues Song “Body of An American,” a song about a funeral wake for a dead boxer (So big jim dwyer made his last trip/To the shores where his fathers laid).

    I hadn’t even considered this Jim Dwyer. I wonder if there’s just something semi-tragic about the name.


  2. As I was reading this, I got him mixed up with Terry Crowley. I think that was the guy that Earl Weaver saved from a job in a paint factory.

    That’s a very patriotic uniform he’s wearing.


  3. I’ll never forget that horrific Bob Bailey at bat. My dad was in the basement watching the playoff game with me, and he used to love calling Bailey “fat-ass” I preferred “useless prick” but he was just plain insistent on “fat-ass.” Anyway, Fat-ass was gone before we could blink, and the rest is tragic history.


  4. The name, “Jim Dwyer” always had a special meaning to me because he was part of the trade along with Pepe Manguel that sent Wayne Garrett and Del Unser to Montreal. That trade essentially ended my older sister’s association with the Mets because she was a HUGE Wayne Garrett. I can still see her in my mind in our old living room yelling at the t.v.

    That was just another in a series of pointless trades the Mets were making in the 70′s. Seriously, I never realized that Jim Dwyer had an 18 year career, I never realized that the Dwyer for the Orioles and the Dwyer on the Mets was the same guy.

    This card is bizarre when you think about it because he was on the Cardinals the entire 1977 season so it’s odd that they would have to airbrush his ’78 card. The problem was that he only played 13 games for the Cardinals in 1977 so I guess no one had a photo of him in a Cardinals Uniform. That’s probably a photo of him in a Mets uniform from 1976.

    He had 3 decent years as a part-time player, 1982(Ops+ 147), 1983(Ops+145)-.375 in the World Series, and 1987 (Ops+135). But really there’s no way a guy with his skill set should ever have an 18 year career.

    He didn’t go above (1) War until his 13th season in the majors. He was essentially at or below replacement level the first 12 years of his big league career. He’s lucky that he played during the time he did because if he played today he probably would have never spent more that 4 or 5 seasons in the majors.


  5. “This card is bizarre when you think about it because he was on the Cardinals the entire 1977 season…”

    Though Dwyer logged a few games with the Cards at the end of ’77, he was actually property of the Cubs for most of ’77. He had an outstanding year at triple A, and then the Cubs just cut him loose. (The Cubs already had a couple lefty bats on their bench–Greg Gross and Larry Biittner–so they saw no need to call up Dwyer, I guess, or even keep him around in any capacity.)


  6. “if .285 was a person it would be someone you could rely on to come over and help you move a couch.”

    just beautiful. the orioles were my american league team, and i always had a fondness for jim dwyer because, as you captured perfectly, he was the kind of guy who would come over and help you move a couch.

    the name has stuck with me because one of my favorite newspaper writers back in the 1980s was yet another jim dwyer, the subway columnist for new york newsday.


  7. Josh,

    Good catch on the ’77 season. He’s just list as playing 13 games for the ’77 Cards, I forgot he was still Cubs Property until September 1977 and played in the Minors for the Cubs. That would explain the Airbrush job.

    So he’s either wearing a Cubs ’77 minor league outfit or Mets ’76 outfit in the Photo or maybe it was taken during spring training 1977 with the Cubs.

    What’s odd in retrospect is why the Cubs released him at the end of ’77?? He hit .332/.459/.582 in triple A, the Cubs were pretty terrible in the late 70′s, there’s no reason to just release him. Something must have happened that was never let out.

    Dwyer was the prototypical Quadruple A player, Too Good to stay in the Minors not good enough to get a steady job in the Majors.


  8. Like johnq11′s sister, I was heartbroken and confused by the Dwyer-Mangual for Del Unser-Wayne Garrett trade; probably, more broken up over this trade than I’d be for the Seaver a year later. One thing that made it hurt was their having outfitted the new arrivals in the same uni numbers of the guys they’d traded away.

    Very bad week to be a 10-year Mets fan: Dave Kingman had broken his thumb making an awkward catch a few days before, which interrupted what could have been an historic HR spree. He missed 2 months — I think the injury inspired the Dwyer trade — but still finished 2nd NL in HRs that year.


  9. MBTN01,

    Great recollection on the players trading numbers in that deal.

    I remember sitting in our living room and my sister noticed that Manguel was wearing #11, and for about 10 minutes we were wondering why Garrett would give up his number to the new guy. Then one of the announcers said Garrett and Unser were traded, my sister flipped out and walked out of the room and that was literally the last Met game she watched for about 10 years.

    This seemed like the time period where the Mets were just making trades for the sake of making trades.

    Garrett is kind of a underrated and pivotal player in Mets history. He was a good glove man and used to get a lot of base on balls, I think he finished in the top 10 3 times, so he was at least a average/slightly above average third basemen. It seems like they totally mismanaged his career.

    They spent years trying to find a third-basemen when they had a more than an adequate player in Garrett if they’d just give him the job. But the really bad part was that they traded Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan trying to look for Garrett’s replacement. Then when Foy, Fregosi were a bust, they went back to Garrett and he was a big part of the ’73 Pennant team.


  10. When I was in grade school I was a big Indy car fan. I remember thinking that Del Unser was the brother of Al and Bobby Unser, which was, of course, wrong. Ironically, his father is named Al Unser, a WWII era “replacement player” who played catcher for The Senators and The Reds. When the war ended, so did his MLB career.


  11. Hey, SNY tonight is supposed to show the ’76 Mets highlight film, perhaps Jim will make an appearance… or Wayne, Pepe or Del… but definitely vintage Kingman/Koosman action!


  12. Thanks Mbtn01, I’m going to check it out. They’re showing the ’84 season highlights right afterward.

    It’s actually good for me because I missed a lot of the ’76 & ’84 seasons because I went to France both of those years.

    Another ’76 season trade that was pretty dumb was the Staub/Lolich trade. That was a Dec. ’75 trade but it impacted the ’76 season. I remember being really pissed about that one.


  13. johnq11,

    My guess would be that Dwyer asked for his release from the Cubs. I mean he batted .332 at AAA, but the team didn’t even give him a September call-up.

    I agree with Josh that the mere existance of this card is amazing. What Topps employee said, “Here’s a guy who played 13 games in the Bigs last year – lets put him in the set! What do you mean who do we take out? Put that Dale Murphy kid back onto our quad-rookie cards again, I don’t think he’s going to pan out anyway.”



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 119 other followers

%d bloggers like this: