Cardboard Tigers: Ruhle, Sanders, Scherman

Thirteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Vern Ruhle rookie card
1975 Rookie Pitchers (Vern Ruhle) – 1975 Topps #614
Vern Ruhle
Vern Ruhle – 1976 Topps #89

Vern Ruhle was another Michigan lad who made it with his local team. He was born in Coleman, located between Midland and Clare on U.S. 10. He went to Olivet College and was drafted by the Tigers in the 17th round of the 1972 amateur draft. He progressed reasonably quickly for a pitcher, putting up especially good numbers in his second year in the minors, 1973, which he split between Lakeland (A) and Montgomery (AA), going 12-7 with a 2.44 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 177 innings. He started 1974 in Montgomery, winning all five of his starts and posting a 0.60 ERA, which got him a promotion to Evansville (AAA), where he went 13-5 with a 4.04 ERA, which got him a call-up to the big club when rosters expanded in September. He started three games for the Tigers and won two of them with a promising 2.73 ERA.

In 1975 (the year of this shared rookie card), Ruhle was a regular member of the Tigers’ rotation, going 11-12 with a 4.03 ERA for a team that put up the fifth worst record in franchise history, 57-102. 1976 was solid for Ruhle, but in 1977 he struggled and was eventually sent down to Evansville. Detroit released him at the end of spring training in 1978 but the Astros signed him the next day.

He spent the next seven seasons in Houston, primarily as a starter initially but eventually making most of his appearances out of the bullpen. He pitched in three League Championship Series: He started Game Four in the 1980 NLCS against the Phillies, leaving in the 8th inning ahead 2-1, but Philadelphia came back to win in extra innings and won the series the next day. In 1981, he also started Game Four, this time against the Dodgers, losing a pitching duel against Fernando Valenzuela, 2-1. The Astros again lost Game Five the next day.

He signed with the Indians as a free agent in 1985, then joined the Angels in 1986, where he made his last postseason appearance in relief – and also in Game Four – giving up two runs over 2/3 of an inning; in this case, however, the Angels were the team that came back to win in extra innings.

After his career ended, Ruhle was a pitching coach for the Astros, Phillies, Mets, and Reds. He died in Houston in 2007 after battling multiple myeloma. He was 55 years old.

The other guys on Ruhle’s rookie card:

  • Jack Kucek was drafted by the White Sox in 1974, pitched parts of six seasons with them before spending parts of two more seasons with the Phillies and Blue Jays. 7-16, 5.12 ERA in 205 2/3 innings over 59 games.
  • Dyar Miller was undrafted and signed with the Phillies in 1968 as a catcher. After four minor league games in which he committed two errors, he was released. He then turned to pitching and was able to get the Orioles to give him a shot. Pitching was more successful for him and he finally made it to the major leagues in 1975 as a reliever. He also played for the Angels, Blue Jays, and Mets. 23-17, 3.23 ERA in 465 1/3 innings over 251 games.
  • Paul Siebert had a five year major league career with Houston, San Diego, and the New York Mets. 3-8, 3.77 ERA in 129 innings over 87 games. His father was Dick Siebert, a first baseman mostly for the Philadelphia Athletics in the thirties and forties.
Reggie Sanders rookie card
1975 Rookie Infielders (Reggie Sanders) – 1975 Topps #617

Reggie Sanders was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the second round of the 1968 January Draft from Venice High School in Los Angeles. He made his minor league debut that year with Burlington (A) in the Midwest League, hitting .264 and showing his power potential by hitting 22 homers. He spent 1969 to 1972 in the Oakland system, hitting in the .230s and watching his HR numbers drop, which made it difficult to crack a talented A’s lineup that already had plenty of first basemen.

Traded to Detroit in May 1972 for pitcher Mike Kilkenny, Sanders spent the rest of 1972 and all of 1973 in AAA with Toledo and Evansville before finally making it to the bigs in 1974 as a September call-up. He hit .273 in 99 at-bats with seven doubles and three home runs, playing both first base and designated hitter. He did hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, off Oakland’s Jim “Catfish” Hunter.

The Tigers traded him to Atlanta at the end of spring training in 1975 for Jack Pierce. Sanders spent two more seasons in the minors with the Braves’ AAA team in Richmond, then played for Durango in the Mexican League in 1977 and 1978. He finished his career in the White Sox and Orioles systems before one more season in Mexico with Tampico and Aguascalientes in 1979.

Reggie Sanders died in January 2002 in Los Angeles. He was 52.

The other guys on Sanders’ shared rookie card were more successful at the major league level:

  • Mike Cubbage was from a baseball family; his cousins Larry and Chris Haney also played in the majors. He played baseball and football at the University of Virginia. Selected by the Senators in 1968 but didn’t sign, then was selected by them again in 1971 before they moved to Texas to become the Rangers. Major league debut in 1974 with the Rangers but didn’t get his first major league hit until June 20, 1975, when he went 3 for 5 against the Angels. Traded to Minnesota in 1976, hit for the cycle on July 27, 1978. Mostly a utility player, though he was mostly a shortstop in high school, he never played that position in the majors. .258 average with 34 home runs and 251 RBI in 1951 at-bats. Cubbage was a minor league manager and major league coach for many years after his retirement, including a short stint as the interim manager of the Mets in 1991 after Bud Harrelson was fired. He went 3-4 as a big league manager.
  • Doug DeCinces was a third baseman for the Orioles from 1973 to 1981, the Angels from 1982 to 1987, the Cardinals briefly in 1987, and played one season in Japan with the Yakult Swallows in 1988. He had a lifetime average of .259 with 237 home runs. He won a Silver Slugger as the best hitter at his position in 1982 and made the 1983 American League All-Star Team. He hit three home runs in a game twice in a five-day span in August 1982 with the Angels. He was convicted of 13 felony counts related to insider trading in 2017 and sentenced to eight months of home detention and a $10,000 fine in 2019.
  • Manny Trillo played for seven major league teams in his 17 year career: the A’s, Cubs (twice), Phillies, Indians, Expos, Giants, and Reds. I recall him being a bigger part of the 1973 and 1974 A’s teams that won their second and third World Series of the decade, but actually he only appeared in 17 games for them in ’73 and 21 games in ’74. My recollection is probably based on my lifelong fascination with utility players. In any case, he still was considered a rookie in 1975 after being traded to the Cubs, explaining his appearance on the card shown above. He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .248 with 7 homers and 70 RBI and playing 154 games, mostly at second base but with a few appearances at shortstop. He was an All-Star four times: 1977 with Chicago, 1981 and 1982 with the Phillies, and 1983 with the Indians. He won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. He was one of the best-fielding second basemen of his era and had a strong arm. Lifetime average of .263 with 61 home runs and 571 RBI in 1780 career games.
Fred Scherman
Fred Scherman – 1972 Topps #6
Fred Scherman
Fred Scherman – 1973 Topps #660
Fred Scherman
Fred Scherman – 1974 Topps #186

Fred Scherman was a damn good relief pitcher for the Tigers from 1969 to 1973, compiling a 25-15 record with a 3.39 ERA in 212 appearances, all but four in relief. He also had 39 saves for Detroit over that period. Even among older Tigers fans, his name doesn’t come up much, but I’d be happy to see the current team add someone like Scherman to the bullpen.

Scherman was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was signed by the Twins in 1963, and he made his professional debut with Minnesota’s single-A Florida State League team in Orlando that year, mostly as a starter. Traded to Detroit before the 1964 season, he moved his way up through the system over the next five years, just missing out on the 1968 World Series championship as he spent that entire season in Toledo. In the minors, he’d been both a starter and reliever, but when he finally made it to the big club in 1969, it was as a relief pitcher, and he barely got to play. Manager Mayo Smith didn’t appear to want him on the roster; at one point, Scherman sat on the bench for 50 straight days without entering a game. He only pitched four innings in Detroit that season.

He overcame physical problems as a child that required him to wear a metal brace on his left leg. By the time he had the brace removed at age nine, he could barely run but his arms were very strong and he began dominating the Dayton Little League. He was undrafted out of high school and played amateur ball in Dayton for the Wiedemann-Budweiser team, posting a 1.38 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 99 innings, which got the attention of a scout from the Twins.

Scherman was part of the minor brawl that marred Game Two of the 1972 American League Championship Series, which I’ve previously described in this post. Earlier in the game, Scherman had knocked down A’s slugger Reggie Jackson twice on inside pitches, which set up Bert Campaneris’s reaction when Lerrin LaGrow later hit him in the foot with a pitch.

He was chosen as “King Tiger” by the fans in both 1971 and 1972, but by 1973 the emergence of John Hiller as the Tigers’ closer – a relatively new concept in baseball – left mostly mop-up work for Scherman, so the team traded him to Houston after the 1973 season for pitcher Jim Ray and infielder Gary Sutherland. He began to have back issues that eventually resulted in surgery and he was never quite the same pitcher. He was traded to Montréal in June 1975, and they initially tried him as a starter. He played his last game in July 1976; after that game he was asked to report to Denver, the Expos’ AAA farm team, and Scherman refused the assignment, so the team released him. He tried a comeback in 1977 with the Pirates, but despite pitching well in spring training, he was behind Goose Gossage and Terry Forster on the Pittsburgh depth chart, so he was sent to Columbus (AAA), where he was an insurance policy for possible injuries that never happened.

In 1978, Scherman moved his family to Hiroshima, Japan, where he’d been offered a contract with the Carp. It turned out they had too many foreign players and he spent the season in the Japanese minor leagues as a player-coach.

The back of Fred’s 1974 card notes that “Fred likes to tinker with stereo equipment.” Here’s hoping he’s still enjoying the hi-fi sound as he approaches his 78th birthday this summer. Here’s a 2018 interview with him: