Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Vintage Fridays: John Lowenstein, 1980 Topps #287

I'm counting on you, dear readers, to keep me honest on this blog. When I go nearly two years between John Lowenstein posts, someone has to tell me! Fortunately I can use today to set things to rights, as it is Brother Lo's 65th birthday. Unreal, isn't it?

Speaking of unreal, there's a fair chance that you don't remember how good Lo was in 1982. To set the stage, this was his age 35 season, his 13th in the major leagues. To that point, he had been thoroughly average: .245 AVG/.326 OBP/.375 SLG. A 99 OPS+, if you swing that way. 69 career home runs in 2,548 at-bats, a rate of 37 at-bats per homer. Granted, he'd been more productive since coming on board as a lefty batter in Earl Weaver's most notable platoon, putting up a .271/.361/.426 triple slash and a 119 OPS+ in the previous three seasons. Still nothing that would set the baseball world aflame. It's also worth noting that over that 1979-1981 span, he totaled just 21 home runs in about a full season's worth of trips to the plate (582 at-bats/676 plate appearances), which breaks down to a big fly every 27.7 times at bat.

This has been a long-winded way of saying that no one could have expected John Lowenstein to hit the way he did in the year of my birth. No matter how you slice it up, the left fielder was red-hot. He started off with a .318/.375/.591 April, then exploded for 8 home runs, 19 RBI, and a 1.193 OPS in May. June brought a season-low .222 average in 36 at-bats, but he still reached base at a .349 clip. He batted at least .296 in every subsequent month that season, and put up identical 5-HR, 11-RBI tallies in July and August. His OPS was .971 at home and an astronomical 1.059 on the road, with a bit more road power making the difference there. Without further ado, the 1982 season totals:

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2012.

You're not seeing things; that's a 176 OPS+. Frank Robinson had exactly two seasons with a higher number than that. Among all O's players with 300 or more plate appearances in 1982, Brother Lo was the team leader in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS+. He doubled his previous career high in home runs, and topped his previous best RBI total by 18. He came within one double of his personal best, and set new benchmarks in runs scored and total bases. Once again, he did it all playing part-time. That home run rate I've been blathering about? One every 13.4 at-ats. Eddie Murray, who led the Birds with 32 homers that year, went deep once every 17.2 at-bats...a personal best.

Now maybe I'm assuming too much, and many of you remember 1982 as a great year for Lowenstein. But I can't recall ever hearing much about it. Even though I know I've looked at his numbers before, they were kind of hiding in plain sight, maybe because his platoon status kept the counting stats down. On a 94-win team with its share of stars (Eddie, Cal, Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, the Martinez boys), Brother Lo was an indispensable piece of the puzzle.

One last tidbit to play us out: 11 of John's 24 homers in 1982 either tied the game or gave the O's the lead. Perhaps none was bigger than the two-run walkoff shot he hit off of Jack Morris on Monday, September 20. The 3-1 win helped the Orioles stay within a couple games of first-place Milwaukee, which was crucial when the Brewers came to town a few weeks later for a season-ending, division-deciding four-game set.

1 comment:

Let's Find H-Man A Wife said...

Tonite, tonite, Let it be Lowenstein