Saturday, October 24, 2009
#174 Ray Knight
Who is this player?
Ray Knight, third baseman, Cincinnati Reds
A year removed from replacing Pete Rose at third base for the Reds, Ray Knight began the 1980 season slowly. He was in an 0-15 slump in mid-May when he slammed two homers in one inning in a 15-4 rout against the New York Mets. He still holds the distinction of being the only Red to accomplish this feat. He was selected to the All Star Game, had a hit, walk and stolen base and scored the game-tying run in the NL's 4-2 victory. He played in all 162 games and even though his batting average dipped, he was still fifth in the National League in extra-base hits.
The righthanded hitting Kinght was born in Albany, Georgia, which is still his home today. Part Cherokee Indian, Knight's father was a major influence in Ray's road to the major leagues. A semipro player, the elder Knight would hit ground balls to the youngster for hours on end. The Reds drafted him out of Dougherty High School in the 10th round of the 1970 draft. His minor league career was marked by two serious beanings to his face that slowed his progress to the major leagues. Even though he recovered and made his major league debut in 1974, he spent most of his early career as Rose's understudy.
Largely because of who his was replacing, Knight was not initially popular in Cincinnati. Winning changes everything, however, as the Reds won 90 games and won the National League West. For his part, Knight finished third in the league in batting (.318) and placed fifth in the MVP voting despite several minor injuries. The Reds 1979 ride ended in the NLCS with a three game sweep by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As the Reds fortunes drastically declined in the early 1980s, Knight was traded to the Houston Astros prior to the 1982 season. In his first season as an Astro, Ray was again an All-Star and led the teams in base hits and batting average. He remained in Houston for two and a half years where he was traded again, to the New York Mets at the trading deadline in 1984. He would reach his greatest fame as a member of the Mets as the starting third baseman for the 1986 World Champions. The was named MVP of the 1986 World Series, in large part for scoring the game winning run in the famous Game 6 and his Game 7 home run that gave the Mets a lead they would not relinquish.
In a controversial move, the Mets did not choose to resign Knight following the World Series and he signed on with the Baltimore Orioles. He played his 13th and final season in 1988 in the American League with the Detroit Tigers. In his post-playing days, Knight served as an analyst on ESPN and manager of the Cincinnati Reds in the mid 1990s. Today he is a brodcaster with the Washington Nationals. A commerical that he did for the club can be seen here.
Why I love this card
I have mentioned in previous posts how different it was in 1980 to get a card of a guy without his hat on. This is just the fifth of that type so far out of the first 174 cards. Compare that to some of the late 1960s sets that Jim from Downington is reviewing on his blogs. The 1980 set was an impressive mixture of different styles of photographs and Knight without his hat makes the card stand out much more than if he were merely wearning it. This shot reminds me of the Opening Day Little League parades that we used to have every year before the season began, complete with the rickety stands in the background.
Knight was married to golfer Nancy Lopez in one of the higher profile sports marriages of all time. Sports Illustrated called theirs a "model marriage" in a 1986 article here. Knight even served as caddy for Lopez at a time. Their 27-year marriage came to an end earlier this year.
Finally, thanks to Greg at Night Owl Cards and his new 1975 Topps blog provided me with this scan of a 2005 Topps Fan Favorite of Knight
The polls are open once again on which version is the better Ray Knight. Polls are on the right, fire away.