#CardCorner: 1975 Topps Larry Biittner
First, there’s the name itself. It looks like a typo, a name that probably caused untold headaches for newspaper typesetters across America. There just aren’t too many eight-or-fewer-letter words in English that have consecutive i’s.
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Then there’s the sheer number of Biittner cards out there, thanks to his 14-year career. This 1975 Topps offering features a nice shot of Biittner with his first baseman’s mitt, but the lefty thrower was much more well-known for his work with the bat.
A veteran of two teams that no longer exist, Biittner often seemed to merit more playing time than he received. But as a left-handed hitter who consistently put the bat on the ball, Biittner was always able to find a job.
A native of Pocahontas, Iowa, Biittner was the grandchild of Bavarian immigrants whose surname was changed from “Büttner”. He matriculated to Drake University on a basketball scholarship, but preferred baseball and transferred to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, where he could play both sports.
Selected by the Senators in the 10th round of the 1968 MLB Draft, Biittner was sent to Double-A Savannah, where he hit .286 in 58 games. After missing much of the 1969 season while serving in the military, Biittner played for Double-A Pittsfield in 1970, hitting .325 with a .392 on-base percentage in 102 games. The Senators called him up to the majors for a two-game cup of coffee in July.
Senators manager Ted Williams, liking what he saw of Biittner’s lefty swing, worked with the young outfielder for much of the next year – trying to develop Biittner’s power. Biittner hit .356 while starting the 1971 season with Triple-A Denver, then hit .257 in 66 games with Washington.
But Texas lost 105 games in 1973, and Biittner appeared in only 83 contests, hitting .252.
Following the season, Biittner was traded to the Expos in a one-for-one swap for pitcher Pat Jarvis. Biittner spent most of the 1974 season with the Triple-A Memphis Blues of the International League, hitting .327 in 94 games before earning a late-summer promotion to the big leagues.
He signed a three-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent prior to the 1981 season, becoming the first free agent the Reds signed following the advent of free agency in the fall of 1976.
In 1982 at the age of 35, Biittner hit .310 in 97 games. But the Reds released Biittner following the season, and after hitting .276 in 66 games with the Rangers in 1983, Biittner retired.
Over 1,217 big league games, Biittner totaled 861 hits and 236 walks for an on-base percentage of .359. He totaled 95 pinch hits, which put him in the Top 15 of that all-time list at the time of his retirement.
Though he rarely got the chance to be a big league regular, Biittner was far more than a “bit player” on the big league stage.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum