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Dan Meyer

February 9, 2010

If the photo on this 1976 card is any guide, I think Dan Meyer may have missed his calling. Replace the bat in his hand with, say, an umbrella, replace the Tigers-related regalia with a cozy-looking turtleneck sweater and a corduroy cap, and airbrush the background from a hazy baseball scene to a misty beach or some leafy trees, slap the photo on an album cover with a title like “Dan Meyer: Feelin’ You Feel” or “Dan Meyer: To Be Your Friend Is What I Wanna Be” or “Dan Meyer: Hold Me Tight Today” and you could stroll up the top 100 on the 1976 charts like Hitler rolling into Czechoslovakia. Years later, instead of being the fodder for some middle-aged creep writing about his childhood baseball cards, Dan Meyer could be featured in a brief clip on an oddly mesmerizing late night infomercial, hosted by two frighteningly mellow members of Air Supply and a large pitcher of never-touched, presumably toxic lemonade, for a several-CD set of Soft Rock love songs. Oh Dan Meyer, had you chosen the path suggested by the photo on this card, insomniacs pushing fifty would now be happening upon the infomercial as they flipped for some safe television haven and would be so moved by the shred of one of your long-forgotten sugary ditties and the memory of it playing on an AM station on the transistor radio as virginity was released beneath the bleachers in the summer of 1976 that installment-based purchase of the set of CDs would be seriously contemplated before being dismissed as a significant and unretractable first step toward doddering senility. 

Alas, Dan Meyer stuck with baseball. It’s not as if he did so without cause. He had begun his pro career with a bang, at 19, tearing up the Appalachian League in 1972 with a .396 average. Within two years, he had reached the majors, swatting three home runs in 13 games during a September 1974 call-up. He became a regular the following year, splitting time between left field and first base on a putrid 102-loss Tigers squad. Meyer’s playing time decreased the following year, as the Tigers showed some signs of life on the wings of All-Star Game starters Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, and Rusty Staub. At the conclusion of the season, the Tigers, along with every other American League team, had to decide which players they wanted to protect from possible selection in the November 1976 expansion draft that would channel bodies onto the rosters of the two brand new AL franchises, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.

In this 1976 card, cuddly would-be AM radio mainstay Dan Meyer is of course unaware that he is about to be deemed expendable. As the photo was probably taken sometime in 1975, he wouldn’t have even been able to see the faint writing on the wall that came with the Tigers selecting USC superstar Steve Kemp with the first overall pick of the 1976 amateur draft in January of 1976. Kemp joined a growing stable of young left-handed sluggers that also included Jason Thompson and Ben Oglivie and that made Dan Meyer, who must have seemed a promising part of the Tigers future back in his pro debut season of 1972, into excess baggage. The Tigers left him unprotected and the Mariners snatched him up with the ninth pick of the expansion draft.

Meyer seems to have epitomized the Mariners’ drafting strategy, which produced a plodding first-year team that rode its ability to hit the ball over the fence with some frequency to a finish that left them atop not only their fellow expansionists the Blue Jays in wins but also above the recently mighty Oakland A’s.

(Is it a good sign or a bad sign that I know the 1977 placement in the standings of the three lousiest American League teams the year I was nine years old without looking it up?)

Dan Meyer hit 22 homers and tied for the Mariner lead in RBI that first season (he and Leroy Stanton both had 90). That proved to be the peak of his career, though he did top the 20 home run mark one more time, in 1979, and stuck around in the majors for twelve seasons in all. I don’t know what else to say about him. He didn’t strike out much.

Meanwhile, the Mariners languished for years after the expansion draft, while their fellow newcomers, the Blue Jays, absorbed the blow of a few horrendous seasons while building for the future, which arrived in the mid-1980s, when the team became a contender for the next decade.

So really there are three teams that can be explored through Dan Meyer. The Tigers got rid of him and began a rise to the top of the standings that crested with a World Series championship in 1984. The Blue Jays neglected to take him and generally shied away from reaching for unwanted sluggers and gradually built from within until becoming an AL East powerhouse. And the Mariners took him and scuffled along without a discernable team-building philosophy for many years, and though they’ve had their moments they still have as many World Series appearances today as they had the day that Dan Meyer became a Mariner.

It could have been so different, if  not for the Mariners then at least for Dan Meyer. There could have been a Dan Meyer song stuck in your head right now, driving you slowly and softly insane. 

16 comments

  1. I’ll never forget the fascination with the two expansion teams in 1977, when I was eight. To this day when I look at the Blue Jays and Mariners, I first think, “Expansion.” It reminds me of Keith Richards complaining that he was a heroin user 30 years ago, but every still thinks of him as a heroin user.


  2. Absolutely hysterical, Josh. You need to get this post to Dan somehow at his log cabin in Idaho and extract a response from him. The baseball and slow jazz worlds deserve as much.


  3. It’s mind boggling to me that a player as bad as Dan Meyer could get 4000 P.A. in the Major leagues. He was a horrible fielding left field/first basemen who had a lifetime .253/.293/.379, ops+86, and an amazingly awful (-8.9) career War.

    When I see some of these old cards from the 70’s, it just reminds me of how awful teams were at evaluating players and production back in the 70’s-80’s.

    His 1978 was unbelievably bad, one of the worst seasons with 450 plus P.A in the last 40 years: .227/.264/.327, 66ops+, horrible fielding at first with a (-3.2) War. The Mariners could have literally picked up any triple A first basemen and finished 3 games higher in the standings.


  4. Josh, it appears you’ve confused Dan Meyer with his alter ego, “England Dan” Meyer. Who is himself not to be confused with contemporary “Disco Dan” Ford. Each spent at least three seasons with three different AL teams from the mid-70’s through mid-80’s, but were never teammates. I can’t help but think that clubhouse boombox dynamics, as well as the well-being of the ladies in any given city, played a role in keeping them at a safe distance….


  5. sb1902:
    I totally agree. For me, the Blue Jays and Mariners are the only expansion teams.

    johnq11:
    I wonder if his staying power derived in part from his low strikeout rate. I think the general thinking back then was that strikeouts were somehow worse than any other kind of outs. If you “made contact” a lot you were doing good. (Meanwhile, of course, as you were making all that contact you were probably not seeing a whole lot of pitches or walking much.)


  6. Josh,

    Yeah good contact was definitely part of it. They saw a guy with some power who made contact and overlooked the other 80% of his game that was awful. It’s just amazing how crude and dumb their evaluation methods were back in the ’70’s-80’s

    Tiger Stadium & The Kingdome slightly inflated his numbers. They didn’t look at on base percentage or put much value in it. They had no way to properly evaluate the impact of his defense.

    Part of it was that he on an expansion team that felt they had limited options. But seriously how do you give a horrible fielding first base/left fielder with a .290 career on base percentage 500 plate appearances a year?

    Also, in retrospect It’s kind of baffling that the Mariners & Blue Jays didn’t take advantage of the “new” free agency that was available back in ’77.


  7. “Is it a good sign or a bad sign that I know the 1977 placement in the standings of the three lousiest American League teams the year I was nine years old without looking it up?”

    You never know when the topic may come up, possibly in a situation involving you, a hot tub, and the cast of “Girls Next Door.” I know which teams (Mets and Padres) finished below the expansion teams in the year I was nine years old. Then again, that was 1993, which is why I’d skip right over the creepy infomercial hoping to find Holly, Bridget and Kendra.


  8. For me, expansion teams mean the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. I am a bit younger than you guys. Expansion teams also mean to me the sweet magic of being on the Little League Senior Minors Yankees to the next year being on the downtrodden Senior Major Marlins because they were one of the two new teams uniforms the league bought. The Marlins and Rockies. Bleck. An all-star pitcher and hitter one year with the Yankees, and then a middling finish and only an alternate player on the All-Star team the next year with the Marlins.

    The song that is slowly and softly driving me insane right now is the Monsters of Folk song, “Say Please.” Just saying.


  9. Is that K-Lite Rock, man?

    Well, turn it up (softly), man!

    I just watched SEMI-TOUGH last night for the first time in at least 15 years. Dan Meyer would have been a smooth fit in that scene, perhaps as one of the B.E.A.T. counselors or driving Bert Convy’s limo. If only there was a 1970s movie that exposed MLB in the same way… but by then, the pointyball was already eclipsing the once-majestic sun with 108 stitches. To everything, turn turn turn.


  10. LS for president,

    It’s kind of interesting that that there was never a baseball film in the style of “Semi-Tough, North Dallas Forty, or even Slap Shot” considering the sports expose really started with Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”.

    There was actually a short lived t.v. show called “Ball Four” that lasted about 5 episodes in 1976.

    The closest they came to a baseball expose in the ’70’s was “The Bad News Bear” but that was based on a children’s little league in California.

    The first baseball expose that I could think of was “Bull Durham” in 1988.


  11. I’m a big fan of both BALL FOUR and all the BEARS movies (well, maybe not so much the one in Japan), having grown up in that era of Toughskins and air hockey. Yes, a BALL FOUR-esque movie is exactly the SEMI-TOUGH vibe I’m thinking of, and I just think baseball was running a distant second to football by that time, which is unfortunate. A cynical unromantic movie of that era, say, based on the A’s (world champs to crappiest of the crappy, they would be great anywhere on the story-telling spectrum) is sorely absent from the culture.

    BULL DURHAM, while fun and well-written, is very much a product of its times. In a greenie-induced haze, Dave Kingman would have beat the shit out of Crash Davis with Dan Meyer’s acoustic guitar, and Davis would have crawled back to Annie, only to find her fucking Rick Manning while Sparky Lyle was leaving his assprint on every frosted surface in the house. Dock Ellis would be rifling through Annie’s closet, looking for extra hair curlers.


  12. There was also Steven Bochco’s short-lived TV show about minor league baseball from the fall of 1983 – “Bay City Blues.” Check it out here: http://www.ask.com/wiki/Bay_City_Blues&qsrc=3044.


  13. Forget the soft 70’s rock angle, I think Mr. Meyer has an evil twinkle in his eye. He looks a lot like the crazy, psychopathic killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry.
    I’m a big A’s fan, so I remember when Dan Meyer came to the A’s in the early 80’s. What I remember most about him was his ritualistic, Nomar-like, neck stretches that he would do when he stepped out of the batter’s box. He would swivel his neck around, trying to crack it, I guess. I found it odd that he had to do it before every at bat…..just a goofy memory I have about this guy.
    Now, next time I catch Dirty Harry on cable, I’ll be thinking of Dan Meyer when Scorpio makes those kids sing about going to get ice cream when he holds them hostage on the school bus.


  14. Josh,

    I’ve let it pass three times. But I can’t let it go by again. The word is discernible. I thought you would like to know.


  15. Duly noted. Thanks.


  16. johnq11:
    In defense of Dan Meyer, take away his cover-your-eyes-awful 1978 and he wasn’t terrible by what expansion teams had to work with back then. For three years of his Mariner prime, he was a .275 hitter who averaged 18 HRs with the aforementioned low strikeout totals… Nothing earth shattering of course, but sabermetrics be damned, as nobody will convince me that you are going to find that production from any triple-A scrub off the streets in the late 70s.



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