Wednesday, September 30, 2009

#155 Jerry Remy

Who is this player?
Jerry Remy, second baseman, Boston Red Sox
Long before he was the president of "Red Sox Nation," Jerry Remy was the leadoff hitter and ingnitor of the Red Sox attack. The diminutive lefthand hitting second baseman started the 1980 season slowly, the exploded near the end of April with a four-hit game against Detroit. He had 13 more multi-hit games including another four-hit performance against Oakland on June 6th that took his average to a season-high .358. He was still well above .300 in July when he tore cartilage in his right knee running the bases in Milwaukee. It required surgery and Remy's 1980 season was over.

A New England native, Remy grew up in Somerset, Massachusetts and was drafted by the California Angels on the eighth round of the 1971 draft. After four years in the minor leagues, Remy made the Angels roster out of Spring Training in 1975 and was given the starting second baseman slot. Remy got a hit in his first ever at bat, and was then promptly picked off first by Steve Busby. That first season in Anaheim he batted .258 and led his team in runs scored. He showed good speed on the base paths and by the end of the season was batting leadoff for the Angels.

Remy would finish third in the American League in steals in 1977 and also placed eighth in triples. During his Angel tenure, he averaged 37 steals and 73 runs scored in his three seasons. At the end of the 1977 season, he was expendable after the Halos signed free agent Bobbt Grich. Predictably, he was traded, to his native Boston Red Sox. Remy responded with an All Star season in 1978, the spark plug in the explosive Boston attack. The Red Sox led the AL East for most of the season before their famous fade and one-game playoff loss to the New York Yankees.

The following season, Remy batted .297 but appeared in only 97 games due to injury and was headed towards career bests in 1980 before his season ended prematurely. In 1981, in a 19 inning game against the Seattle Mariners, Remy would pick up an American League record six singles and he would finish the season with a .307 batting average. Remy finished in the top ten in the American League in 1982 in at-bats, hits, and sacrifices. He would play well through pain through the 1984 season when his left knee caused him to retire after a ten year career. From the time of his injury on, Remy would have 10 separate knee operations to repair the damage in his knee.

Remy would later earn cult status in Boston over a 20-year broadcasting career. Starting in 1988 with NESN, "Rem Dawg" is a popular figure on Red Sox telecasts. He earned many local and national awards, was inducted to the Red Sox Hall of Fame and was given a day in his honor in 2008. Remy had a small tumor removed from his lung in 2008 and took a leave of absence in April 2009. He returned to the broadcast booth in August.

Why I love this card
It was a special treat when I would occasionally get a grocery pack. I remember shopping at the local Chatham Supermarket with my dad and he let me choose a pack. What a decision! It seemed like every pack had a Remy card somewhere on the front or the back. Ultimately, I found one with a Tiger (Phil Mankowski) and a Pirate (Ed Ott) on it as my final choice. But the Remy card stuck out for its frequency in those packs.

Something else....
OK, I had to look it up. On the back of this card it says that Remy is only the second player in 44 years to steal 30+ bases in a season for the Red Sox. The other? Dom DiMaggio? Luis Aparicio? Jackie Jensen? Come to think of it, the Red Sox didn't have many guys stealing bases during this period, did they? The answer? Tommy Harper with 54 in 1973.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Which J.R. Richard?

As voted on by the reader of this blog, the 1980 version of the Cecil Cooper card was unanimously selected as the better card. Must be the mutton chops. For those of you keeping score, that's one for the Topps Fan Favorites and one for the 1980 base set.

Up for your consideration this week in Houston Astros legend J.R. Richard. Already featured in this blog as card #50, J.R. was also given a Topps Fan Favorite card in 2005. These cards are remarkably similar, in fact they appear that they could have been taken at the same game.

The 2005 card:

Here is the 1980 base set version:

I have an inkling that this one may be close. Voting booth on the right.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

#154 Lary Sorensen

Who is this player?
Lary Sorensen, starting pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
Beginning 1980 as the Milwaukee Brewers #2 starting pitcher, Lary Sorensen was to be one of the reasons the Brewers were expected to contend in the AL East after their second-place finish in 1979. Sorensen won 12 games in 1980, but the Brewers did not live up to expectations and finished in a distant third. Lary's personal 1980 highlight was his consecutive shutouts in September against the Twins and Angels. At the end of the season, he was part of a blockbuster deal between the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals thought so highly of Sorensen that they sent Rollie Fingers, Pete Vuckovich and Ted Simmons to Milwaukee.

A graduate of L'Anse Creuse High School near Detroit, Sorensen starred at the University of Michigan, twice being named to the All Big Ten team. The Brewers selected him on the eighth round of the amateur draft in 1976. In less than a year, the righthanded Sorensen was in the major leagues. He entered the starting rotation in June 1977, and he won seven games. The following year, he won 11 times in the first half of 1978 and was named to the All Star team, where he pitched three scoreless innings against the NL's best. It later proved to be the best season of his career, winning 18 and placing fifth in complete games and innings pitched.

Lary put together another solid year in 1979, winning 15 games and leading the Brewers in starts, complete games and innings pitched. After his trade to the Cardinals, he split 14 decisions and was traded again, this time to Cleveland. It was later learned that Sorensen was using cocaine during in 1981 and he became a journeyman, pitching for three teams (Indians, A's, Cubs) in four years, never regaining the promise of his All Star season. He was suspended as a result of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials and did not appear in the majors in 1986.
Sorensen pitched two more years (1987-88) with the Expos and Giants before finishing his 11-year career. After his playing days, the demons of addiction began to claim Sorensen. Over a 12 year period, he would be arrested six times for drunken driving and have his driver's license suspended nine times and revoked four times. In the process, he lost his marriage, friendships and his job as a broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.

In early 2008, Sorensen was found by police unconscious in his car in a ditch. He had a .48 BAC and alcohol poisoning. One expert said that half of the population would die with a BAC that high. Amazingly, Sorensen never injured himself or anyone else with his drunk driving. He remains on parole with numerous conditions that can be found here.

Why I love this card
Like some of the other players on this blog, Sorensen was another local boy-makes good story when I was growing up. When my Dad's buddy Buster retired from Chrysler and opened a Stroh's Ice Cream parlor, he claimed that Sorensen "came in all the time." Eventually it became Sorensen's "uncle" and Buster always promised to get me an autograph. In fact, I think that I left a double of this card (and possibly a 1981 Topps) at the store just in case. Needless to say, it never got signed. And yes, Buster was his real name.

Something else....
Apparently, Sorensen lives near me although I am not positive where. As part of his parole assignments, he worked at a McDonald's five miles from my me and at a storage facility within walking distance from my house. I really need to keep my eyes open. His son Mark, pitched for Michigan State and is currently a prospect with the Tigers organization. Here is an interview Lary did in August of 2009.

Friday, September 25, 2009

#153 Tim Blackwell

Who is this player?
Tim Blackwell, catcher, Chicago Cubs
As I was opening 1980 rack packs, Tim Blackwell was enjoying his only season as an everyday catcher. With Barry Foote suffering back injuries, Blackwell was the Cubs' Opening Day catcher. While always a good defensive player, Blackwell worked tirelessly with Cubs legend Billy Williams to improve his offensive skills. Indeed, his 1980 season average was 50 points higher than his career mark. He achieved career highs in nearly every offensive category in 1980 with a season highlight coming in September when a ninth inning single derailed the playoff-bound Houston Astros.

As a high school prep star in San Diego, Tim Blackwell was scouted by former All-Star Ray Boone and was free agent draft choice by the Boston Red Sox in 1970. He became a full-time catcher in 1971 and worked his way through the Red Sox minor league system. When Red Sox starter Carlton Fisk went down with injury in 1974, the righthand hitting Blackwell was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket. Tim split playing time with veteran Bob Montgomery for the remainder of the year and he batted .246 in 44 games.

Blackwell was a member on the 1975 American League pennant winners, but hit only .197 in 59 games. He did not appear in the postseason and was expendable with Fisk as the starting catcher. In Spring Training 1976, he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies and spent most of the season with Triple-A Reading. A little over a year later, Blackwell was part of a multi-player trade with the Montreal Expos. He appeared in only 16 games with Montreal and batted a meager .091.

He came to Chicago as a free agent in 1978 and served mainly as a backup for two seasons, providing excellent defense. He struggled offensively but took full advantage of his promotion in 1980. His performance earned him the Cubs starting position in 1981. His batting average returned to his career level and at the end of the season signed a free agent contract returning to the Montreal Expos. There, he resumed a backup role, this time to another future Hall of Famer Gary Carter.

He spent the final two seasons of his ten year career in Montreal. He signed a free agent contract with the California Angels in 1983, but spent the season in the minor leagues. He then began the second stage of his baseball life with a long career as coach and manager. He was the manager of the St. Paul Saints and most recently, managed the Winston-Salem Warthogs in the Chicago White Sox chain.

Why I love this card
The are a couple of great things here. First is Blackwell's pose and the positioning of his signature - it looks as if he is catching it with his mitt. Secondly, the #52 on the "C" in Blackwell's helmet has always perplexed me. In 1980, I was happy with my Dad's explanation that 52 was merely his number. I found out later that it wasn't and what's worse, there doesn't appear to be a #52 on the Cubs roster during Blackwell's Chicago tenure. I wonder if he just grabbed the nearest helmet during Spring Training?

Something else....
Much of the information for this blog entry is taken from John Vorperian's excellent bio of Blackwell at the SABR website. You can read the entire entry here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

#152 John Fulgham

Who is this player?
John Fulgham, starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Beginning the season as the #3 starter in the Cardinals rotation, the 24-year old Fulgham was regarded as one of the best young pitchers in the league. He pitched a complete game four-hitter against the World Champion Pirates in his second start and had pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings over May and June. Fulgham began to experience shoulder trouble and got into a scrape with teammate Keith Hernandez. He went on the disabled list, returned in August and did not pitch well before being shut down for the season. When the season ended, he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff.

John Fulgham was born in St. Louis and was a prep star at Pattonville High School in Missouri before moving on to the University of Miami. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 1976 and began to work his way up the minor league ladder. Fulgham became a top prospect in 1977 when he won 18 games with a 2.05 ERA in A-ball at St. Petersburg.

He began the 1979 season with Springfield, winning six games before being promoted to the Cardinals. John made his big league debut on June 19 and pitched a complete game shutout. He was the Cardinals best starter from that point forward and each of his ten victories that season were the complete game variety. Overall, he went 10-6 with a 2.53 ERA and ranked seventh in the league in complete games. Despite finishing second among rookies in wins he did not receive a single vote for the Rookie of the Year.

Upon receiving the diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff, he first tried rest before opting for surgery in 1981. He sat out the entire season before attempting his comeback in 1982. Unfortunately, the comeback was not successful and he never returned to the major leagues, ending his two year major league career.

After his playing days, he was the head baseball coach for Rollins College in Florida from 1992 to 1994. He also returned to school and earned his B.S. and an M.B.A. from California Coast University. After spending many years as a financial consultant and advisor, today John is the senior vice president at Rochdale Investment Management.

Why I love his card
The connection to Fulgham's great-grandfather in-law in the cartoon on the reverse. Not only is the ancestry angle kind of neat but I distinctly remember looking at the depiction of the old 1800's player. The mustache was just like Rollie Fingers and the pillbox hat was just like the Pittsburgh Pirates. The more things change....

Something else....
A torn rotator cuff was a death knell for pitchers during this era. Unlike today where the surgery has become very common and pitchers make a return to the mound, back then it almost never happened. In addition to Fulgham, contemporaries Steve Busby, Don Gullett, Doug Rau, Wayne Garland, Mark Fidrych all lost their careers to the torn rotator. Between that injury and substance abuse, it is interesting to think how differently shaped this period in baseball could have been.

#151 Tom Hausman

Who is this player?
Tom Hausman, relief pitcher, New York Mets
Pitching primarily out of the bullpen in 1980, Hausman appeared in a career high 55 games, winning six with a 3.98 ERA. Used in a variety of relief roles, the righthander was most often used as a setup man to closer Neil Allen. A season highlight came in July when he struck out a career high seven batters in a rare spot start against the Astros. Hausman made national headlines in August when he gave up Pete Rose's 3,500th career hit.

Hailing from South Dakota, Hausman was an All-State basketball player in high school and was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as an 18-year old in 1971. After a mixed minor league career, Hausman made the Brewers major league pitching staff in 1975. He began pitching out of the bullpen and earned a spot in the rotation in the second half of the season. His season was limited to a back injury and his future at the major league level was uncertain. Indeed, Tom only appeared in three early season games with Milwaukee in 1976 before being farmed out for the season at Triple-A Spokane.

Hausman spent the entire 1977 season in Spokane as a starting pitcher winning 13 games but was not promoted to the Brewers roster. At the end of the season, he was declared a free agent and on November 21, 1977 became the first ever free agent signed by the New York Mets. He split the 1978 season between the Big Apple and Triple-A Tidewater. He appeared in ten games for the Mets (all starting assignments) splitting six decisions and finishing with a 4.70 ERA. 1979 similarly began in the bushes while also suffering an ulcer problem. Tom was called up to the Mets for good in June. He performed very effectively as a swingman for a pitching-poor Mets team that lost 99 games in '79.

After his breakout 1980 season, Hausman was slowed by an elbow injury in 1981, and made only 20 relief appearances for the Mets. In his limited work, he posted an excellent 2.18 ERA and walked only seven batters in 33 innings of work. The injuries persisted in 1982 as his elbow injury was also compounded by shoulder problems. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves for the Braves NL West stretch drive, but appeared in only three games. It would be the last season in his seven-year major league career.

Hausman was signed by the Pirates for the 1983 season but spent the entire season in the minor leagues. After missing the 1984 season, he attempted a short-lived minor league comeback in 1985 before finally calling it quits. Today, he has residences in Las Vegas as well as his native South Dakota.

Why I love this card
Over time, I have come to appreciate the simplicity of these Spring Training shots. As a kid, I gravitated more towards the action shots of this set, but photos such as Hausman's connect on a more subliminal level. Yes, here is a major leaguer in a major league uniform but he appears to be at a diamond in a park anywhere in the country. It could be yours. The line between reality and fantasy is blurred and that's what its all about when you're nine. Or 38 and collecting cards again.

Something else....
What the heck is in Hausman's back pocket? There is obviously something blue behind him and I can't quite make it out. Batting gloves? Stirrups? A kerchief? OK, I just wanted to work in "kerchief" somehow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Which Cecil Cooper?

As most everyone is aware by now, the Houston Astros fired Cecil Cooper as their manager after roughly two seasons.

That led me to today's post.

Earlier this week, readers voted on the best variations of the 1980 Vida Blue card. The winner (as expected) was the 2005 Topps Fan Favorites with Vida in mid windup. It garnered 75% of the vote. It is a great action shot that would have been off the charts using 1980 as a standard.

This one is a little tougher. Up for consideration is this card, a 2003 Topps Fan Favorite.

And of course, the regular issue, #95 of the 1980 base set:

Both are classic head shots but offer a little variance. Share your vote at the booth on the right as well as your thoughts and comments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#150 Jason Thompson

Who is this player?
Jason Thompson, first baseman, Detroit Tigers
When he began the 1980 season in a slump, Jason Thompson found himself traded to the California Angels in May. He was hitting .214 at the time of the trade and was coming off a 1979 season that saw his offensive production slip. In his first Angel appearance, Jason hit a three run double as a pinch-hitter to win a game against Texas. Comfortable with his playing situation in Anaheim, Thompson rebounded to hit .317 as an Angel with 17 HR and 70 RBI. However, with Rod Carew manning first base and Don Baylor returning from injury, Thompson's playing time with California was to be effected.

Born in Hollywood, California, Thompson went to California State University and was originally a pitcher when an injury moved him to first base. Drafted in the fourth round in 1975 by the Detroit Tigers, the lefthand hitting Thompson was given the Tigers' first base job within ten months. During his 1976 rookie campaign, he showed some power, hitting 17 home runs (the most by a Tiger rookie in 40 years) but batted only .217. He flew under the radar a bit, in the shadow of Mark Fidrych's memorable year, but still made the Topps All-Rookie Team.

During the next two seasons (1977-78), Thompson emerged as a significant power threat and was selected to the American League All Star team both years. He averaged 28 HR and 100 RBI during that span and developed a reputation for prodigious blasts by crushing two home runs that cleared the roof in Tiger Stadium. At the time, he was only the third player to accomplish the feat twice and earned him the nickname "Rooftop." However, he slumped in 1979 when he drove in only 79 runs and batted .246.

Shortly before the 1981 season opened, the Angels were looking to trade Thompson and he was originally headed to the Mets for John Stearns before the deal fell through. Instead, he was swapped to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He regained All Star status in Pittsburgh when he was selected to the 1982 All Star Game and again clubbed 31 home runs and drove in 101. Jason spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, and was a productive major league first baseman averaging 22 HR and 85 RBI. He began to suffer hamstring injuries late in his Pirate tenure and his production dipped.

Before the 1986 season began, Thompson was traded to the Montreal Expos. He appeared in only 15 games with Montreal and he could not overcome his injuries. His 11-year career was at its end. He returned to Michigan upon his retirement and is a fixture at Tiger Fantasy Camps. He also splits time running Jason Thompson Baseball where kids can get hitting and fielding instruction and as an executive with Wachovia Securities.

Why I love this card
Like most young Tiger fans, when Jason Thompson was traded in 1980, I was shocked. I remember getting his card later in the summer after the trade. Usually a Tiger card would elicit excitement and pride. You showed everyone the Tiger you got in a pack. My reaction was similar to the one Thompson showed in this card. Probably the same facial expression. It was one of the first times that the reality of the game slapped me in the face. Guys get traded. Even ones you get attached to. Get over it. He would be the first of many.

Something else....
Apparently, Gene Autry of the Angels was disappointed that the Angels didn't originally sign Thompson when he grew up in their own backyard. He instructed his front office to obtain him whenever the opportunity arose. Later on, he was supposed to go to the Yankees in a three-team trade with the Angels and Pirates. When the Pirates and Angels couldn't agree on players, he stayed in Pittsburgh. There's omething that you aren't going to find at Just kidding.

Monday, September 21, 2009

#149 Tom Hume

Who is this player?
Tom Hume, closer, Cincinnati Reds
While he may not look the part, Tom Hume was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball in 1980. In what was the best year of his career, Hume won nine games and finished a league-leading 62. His 25 saves was second-best in the National League and he was the co-winner of the Sporting News' Fireman of the Year award (with Rollie Fingers). His performance was a major reason the Reds contended most of the season in the NL West. While Cincinnati did not repeat as division champions, the 27-year old Hume solidified the Reds' bullpen.

Tom Hume's road to the major leagues was a long one. A native of Cincinnati, Hume was drafted by the Reds in 1972 and spent five years honing his craft in the minor leagues, Mexican League and the Florida Instructional League. His debut was inauspicious and he struggled for a season and a half as part of the Reds staff. When the Reds hired manager John McNamara, Hume's career blossomed.

Being used exclusively out of the bullpen during the second half of the 1979 season, Hume helped lead the Reds to the NL West crown by recording 15 saves over the last 10 weeks of the season and finishing runner-up to J.R. Richard with a 2.76 ERA. Tom followed up his Fireman of the Year season by having another solid outing in the strike shortened 1981 campaign, compiling a 9-4 record with a 3.46 ERA and chalking up 13 saves.

Hume was off to a fast start to the 1982 season, heading into the All-Star break 3rd in the National League with 16 saves. Hume was named to the National League All-Star team and recorded the save for the NL in a 4-1 victory. Hume injured his knee and made his final appearance of the 1982 season on July 26. He never regained the same status that he enjoyed as one of the games elite closers. Two lackluster seasons (1983-1984) also saw him lose his closer's role with the Reds.

Hume rebounded in 1985 with a solid season as a setup man in the Reds bullpen, but he was dealt after the season to the Philadelphia Phillies. Hume had another good year in 1986, going 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA in 46 appearances. Tom slumped, however, and in 1987 he was dealt back to the Reds in mid-season, finishing where he started and completing a 11-year career. He was the Reds bullpen coach for 11 seasons (1996-2006) before he was broomed by incoming manager Dusty Baker.

Why I love this card
Hume is clearly shown here at Tiger Stadium. A bold photo by Topps. This was very surprising at the time when we got this card - seeing a National Leaguer pictured an AL park in the days before interleague. The Reds and Tigers played each other in an annual exhibition called the Kid Gloves Game where the proceeds would go to Sandlot baseball in Cincinnati and Detroit. It began in 1974 and ended sometime in the late 1980s. Here's a shot of the Big Red Machine in the mid 1970s (notice the Detroit auxiliary scoreboard in the background):

Here's another from 1985:

Something else....
When Johnny Bench decided to retire midway through the 1983 season, the first person he told was Tom Hume after the two went to see the movie Blue Thunder in Pittsburgh. I remember seeing this on ESPN reported by the late Tom Mees. Summer vacation had just started and I was allowed to stay up later with school out. I think I woke my Dad up just to tell him. He didn't share my excitement.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

#148 Manny Sanguillen

Who is this player?
Manny Sanguillen, pinch hitter, Pittsburgh Pirates
While the position flag on this card shows Manny Sanguillen as catcher, he did not appear behind the plate at all during 1980. Used mainly as a pinch-hitter, he reached a milestone by getting his 1500th career hit. Manny also appeared in five games at first base, including the final game of the season. In what would also be the final game of his colorful 13-year career, the popular veteran received a appreciative farewell from the Pittsburgh fans. Though he was included in a winter trade with Cleveland, the Indians were unable to coax him out of retirement.

Born in Panama as Manuel De Jesus Sanguillen Magan, Manny Sanguillen was an aggressive, free-swinging hitter that hit over .300 four times when that was highly unusual for a catcher. He three times placed in the league's top ten in triples and was consistently one of the toughest hitters in the league to strike out. But Sanguillen wasn't solely an offensive threat. He possessed a powerful and accurate throwing arm and was one of the toughest catchers to run on in the National League. However, in an era of Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, he was often overlooked. Even on his own team, he was in the shadow of Willie Stargell and his friend Roberto Clemente.

"Sangy" was a leading batsman on the Pirates when they were known as "The Lumber Company." He hit .303 in his first season as a regular (1969) and .325 the following year as the Bucs won the National League East. When the Pirates won the 1971 World Championship, Sanguillen was named an All Star for the first time and he was sixth in the league with a .319 average. The Pirates again qualified for the postseason in 1972 and by this time Sanguillen was an established All Star and MVP candidate.

When his dear friend and teammate Clemente tragically died after the 1972 season, Sanguillen was slated to take his place in right field. The emotional toll of the loss wore down Sanguillen as his batting average dropped to the lowest it had ever been as a regular. He returned to catching midway through the 1973 season. Nonetheless, Sanguillen was a popular fan favorite in Pittsburgh as the Pirates again made the postseason in 1974 & 1975. Manny collected 28 hits in postseason play and was a .282 hitter in seven separate postseason series.

At the conclusion of the 1976 season, Sanguillen was traded to the Oakland A's for manager Chuck Tanner. It remains the only time in baseball history that a player was ever traded for a manager. He spent only one season in Oakland, where he led the team in hits, at bats and games played and returned to the Pirates in another trade at season's end. He was primarily a pinch hitter in his final three seasons with the Pirates, a highlight coming in the 1979 World Series. In Game Two, Sanguillen's clutch pinch-hit in the ninth inning won the game for the Bucs and evened the Series. Manny would earn another World Championship when the Pirates won in seven games.

Why I love this card
Outside of Alfred E. Newman, only Manny Sanguillen was more famous for his gapped teeth. At least to me. Look at that great smile! Doesn't it scream "What Me Worry?" Indeed it seemed like every year, Topps pictured Sanguillen smiling. I got to see him this year at PNC Park, where he runs "Manny's BBQ". Unfortunately, I didn't have any cards of him to sign and I (my son) didn't want to wait in line.

Something else....
When I was in grade school, one of the books in the very limited sports section at St. Peter's School was Manny Sanguillen - The Jolly Pirate. It was one of those short kid biographies that I must have borrowed ten times during my schooling and I have never seen it since I was a kid. I guess that would explain a lot. Nonetheless, I remember reading the haunting image of Sanguillen diving into the ocean to desperately find Clemente before giving up the search after seeing sharks swimming around the area. Then and now, I can't imagine a major leaguer today doing anything like that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Which Vida Blue For You?

First off, thanks are in order for some folks overdue of acknowledgement:

Carl Crawford Cards - The 1957 Virgil Trucks card is awesome. I didn't realize that actually it is my second signed '57 as I also have a Billy Hoeft. Thanks for a nice addition to the collection.

Jim at The Phillies Room - Our trade helped us put a major dent in our 1979, 1980 and 1987 sets. Predictably, my son was most excited about the stickers you sent along, but he did appreciate the cards. He is sitting with me as I type this so he passes along his thanks. I know I still owe you our end of the deal, I am still trying to dig up more Phillies.

Matt at Project Baseball 1976 - Way overdue thanks for our first follower. I don't even know what happened to the cards you sent as they were given to my son and promptly devoured.

Finally, Night Owl sent along some scans of the 2003-2005 run of Topps Fan Favorites, which leads me to this post.

While I think that this may be fairly one-sided, I will be posting from time-to-time the different variances of 1980 Topps cards that I can find out there. Whether it be the regular issue, Burger King cards, Topps Fan Favorites or custom made, I'll post it and put it up to a vote. I'll try to stay with cards we've covered for now and add along as we go along.

If any of you custom carders want to try your hand feel free. I'm not that adept as of yet. You can email them to me at maxcarey @

First up is Vida Blue, card #30 in the 1980 set.

Here is a shot of the 2005 Fan Favorite Vida that I had never seen before:

Next the actual card issued in 1980

Finally the 1980 Burger King card:

The voting booth is on the right.....Which Vida Blue card is the best??

Friday, September 18, 2009

#147 Terry Puhl

Who is this player?
Terry Puhl, rightfielder, Houston Astros
Statistically the greatest defensive outfielder of all-time, Terry Puhl was shifted from center fielder to right due to a series of off-season moves designed to provide the Astros with their first ever postseason appearance. Indeed, Houston won the NL West in 1980 before falling in a classic five game NLCS. Puhl was a series standout, leading all players with 10 hits and establishing a record by batting .529 (since broken). A season highlight came when he rapped out seven hits in a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves.

One of the few natives of Canada to reach the major leagues, Puhl's high school didn't even offer baseball as a varsity sport. Instead, the lefthand hitting Puhl honed his skills on the sandlots of Saskatchewan and was signed as a free agent by the Astros in 1973. He was promoted to Triple-A in less than two years and established a reputation as a speedy defensive whiz that was difficult to stike out. Puhl was called up to Houston in the middle of the 1977 season and never spent another day in the minor leagues. He appeared in 60 games and batted .301.

1978 was his first full season in the majors and he got off to a torrid start, leading the league in batting at several points during the first half. Puhl was recognized by being selected to his first and only All Star Game. He slumped somewhat in the second half of the year, but finished with a very respectable .289 average and 32 stolen bases. Typically the Astros leadoff hitter, Puhl put up very similar numbers again in 1979(.287 30SB) as the Astros put together a strong challenge to claim the NL West in a race won by the Cincinnati Reds

As an everyday player, Puhl was a very solid contributor. During the period 1977-1984, he could be counted upon to appear in 125+ games, steal 20+ bases, bat .280+ and have a decent on base percentage while providing stellar defense. A fellow blogger, summed up Puhl nicely as "the epitome of being pretty good." Hamstring and ankle injuries took away much of his playing time in 1985 and 1986, but he did appear again in the NLCS in 1986, this time in a supporting role. As the Astros fourth outfielder in 1987, he appeared in over 100 games and batted a career high .303. He played in 121 games in 1989, his last season as a regular player.

Used primarily a pinch-hitter in 1990, the Astros did not resign the popular veteran when he season ended. When he departed Houston, only one other Astro appeared in more games and only three had more hits. He played his 15th and final season in 1991 with the Kansas City Royals. In retirement, he was elected to both the Canadian and Texas Halls of Fame and in 2006 coached the Canadian National team. Today, he is the head baseball coach at the University of Houston–Victoria. A recent interview with Puhl can be found here.

Why I love this card
Very much like Bruce Bochte, at this time, I was under the impression that Terry Puhl was a bigger star than he was. For that, I point to the 1980 Topps Wax Box on which Puhl is prominent. I mean, if you were on the box it had to mean you were a star, right? Reinforcing this for me was that I was lucky enough to get a box in 1980. No, it not what you're Dad asked the clerk at 7-11 if we could have the box when we bought the last two packs. The clerk approved. For years it housed my 1980 cards and I still have it to this day.

Something else....
Technically, Puhl no longer has the highest fielding percentage of all time as an outfielder. Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners has a .994 fielding percentage to Puhl's .993, but Ichiro is still active. While not wishing ill of anyone, let's root for a Ichiro to make a handful of errors before his career is done so that Puhl can keep the record, shall we?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

#146 Bob Welch

Who is this player?
Bob Welch, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
The most important event in Bob Welch's life in 1980 did not come on a baseball field. Welch confronted a problem with alcoholism and spent January and February 1980 at a treatment clinic. Relying more on off-speed pitches, he won six consecutive decisions in April & May including a one-hit performance against the Atlanta Braves in which he faced the minimum 27 batters. Welch was selected to the All Star Game in July at pitched three innings in relief at Dodger Stadium. Even though he missed the last week of the pennant race to injury, Welch blossomed into a solid starter in 1980, winning 14 games and finishing with a 3.29 ERA.

A righthanded flame-throwing product of Eastern Michigan University, Welch was the number one draft selection of the Dodgers in 1977. As a rookie the following season, Welch gained national notoriety when he dramatically struck out Reggie Jackson to end Game Two of the 1978 World Series. Unfortunately, the Dodgers lost the Series in six games. Welch's rookie season was split between starting and relieving, both of which he did well. The sudden stardom eventually led to Welch's alcoholism and his performance suffered in 1979. A Sports Illustrated article about his struggle can be read here.

With his personal problems addressed, Welch became an important figure in the Dodger rotation. Bob made key relief appearances in all three Dodger wins in the 1981 NLCS, including a save in the pennant clinching Game 5. He also appeared in the World Series as the Dodgers earned their revenge against the Yankees. He also authored a book about his alcohol struggles, Five O'Clock Comes Early: A Young Man's Battle With Alcoholism, that was released in 1982.

In his ten year Dodger career, Welch won 115 games and posted a 3.14 ERA. He helped the Dodgers reach the playoffs four separate times. He consistently found himself among the National League leaders in victories and earned run average and led the Senior Circuit with four shutouts in 1987. He also pitched two more one-hitters as a Dodger, one in 1983 and another in 1987. At the end of the 1987 season, he was one of the principals in a huge three team trade that sent him to the Oakland Athletics. He settled in nicely as the #2 starter in Oakland as the A's went to three straight World Series, winning a championship in 1989.

1990 would prove to be the best statistical season of Welch's career. En route to the American League Cy Young Award, he won 27 games, the most in the last 37 years. He was also named the AL starter in the All Star Game and appeared in the World Series for the fifth time. Welch slipped to 12-13 in 1991 and the toll of six straight seasons of 200+ innings began to show. He missed significant time with injuries, in 1992 and posted a 5.29 ERA in 28 starts in 1993. He made his final appearance on August 11, 1994, the day the players went on strike, ending his 17-year career. In 2001, he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks coaching staff when they won the World Series and pitching coach for the Netherlands in the World Classic.

Why I love this card
It makes me think of a lost autograph opportunity. Sort of. It was the early 1980s and our elementary school had its sports banquet. A "special guest" was advertised but was never named. Since Welch was from the the Detroit-area, it was him. I immediately thought of this card when I saw him as it was the only Welch card I had at the time. I had no idea what alcoholism was but he scared the crap out of me when he recounted his experiences. He ended up signing the back of the program for me here. To this day, I still have nightmares about someone signing autographs someplace and I can't find something to get signed. I guess the therapy hasn't worked.

Something else....
I didn't realize that there was a movie version of Welch's book, Comebacker: The Bob Welch Story made in 1988. I also didn't realize that Welch was the third winningest pitcher of the 1980s behind Jack Morris and Dave Stieb.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

#145 Darrell Evans

Who is this player?
Darrell Evans, third baseman, San Francisco Giants
The team captain of the Giants, the lefthand hitting Darrell Evans had a memorable year in 1980. He entered the record books early in the season when he committed three errors in one inning and achieved another milestone when he hit his 200th home run. Typically appearing near the top of the Giants batting order, Darrell turned in a solid 1980 season. In all, the durable and reliable Evans appeared in 154 games, had the most hits in one season in seven years, and clubbed 20 home runs.

The son of an athletic family, Evans first signed with the then Kansas City A's in 1967, fresh from the campus of Pasadena City College. Evans hurt his right arm in his first full season, 1968, trying to come back too soon after six months in the Marine Corps reserve. The Braves drafted him off the A's roster the following year. Evans didn't make it to the big club for good until late in the 1969 season as the Braves won the NL West. It was about this time that he acquired the nickname he retained for quite some time, "Doody" based on his resemblance to Howdy Doody.

By 1971, Evans won the full-time third base position, and began to show power. In 1973, he hit 41 homers, joining teammates Davey Johnson (43) and Hank Aaron (40) as the only three teammates in history to hit 40 or more homers in a single season. Evans' manager Eddie Mathews (a Hall of Fame third baseman) worked diligently to improve Evans' fielding at third, something Evans still credits Mathews with today. He even set a record by participating in 45 double plays in 1974. He never matched the power output of 1973, but did lead the league in walks in two consecutive years (1973-74). In 1976, he was batting only .173 when the Braves traded him in June to San Francisco where he spent the next 7 1/2 years and hit 142 home runs.

In 1983, Evans made the NL All-Star team and hit 30 home runs in what would be his final season with the Giants. During the offseason he became the Detroit Tigers' first high profile free agent and he paid immediate dividends when he smashed home runs on Opening Day and in the home opener. The Tigers roared to a 35-5 start and won the World Series in 1984. The following year, Evans became (at the time) the oldest man to lead the league in home runs when he hit 40 home runs at 38. Despite his advanced age, he was still a formidable bat in the Detroit lineup during his Tiger tenure, also helping lead the Tigers to the 1987 AL East flag. That year he hit 34 HR and had 99 RBI as a 40-year old, a remarkable feat for its time.

The Tigers did not resign him following the 1988 season and he returned to Atlanta in 1989 to wrap up his 21-year major league career. He finished with 414 career home runs and was eighth all time in walks when he retired. Bill James wrote that Evans was probably the most underrated player in history. After his playing days, he held several different coaching positions both at the major and minor league level. Today, he is the manager and director of player personnel for the Victoria Seals of the Golden Baseball League.

Why I love this card
When I first obtained this card in 1980, I am sure I had no idea who Evans was. As the decade wore on, he became one of my favorite players, especially during his time in Detroit. I don't ever remember him being called "Doody" as the Tigers referred to him as "Dad." I was such a fan that my family would go to great lengths - my sister once waited for Evans outside the men's room at a Friendly's restaurant to get his autograph on a napkin.

Something else....
I have so many regarding Evans. The standing ovation the day after he was picked off third in the 1987 ALCS. That he was on base when Hank Aaron hit #715. How big a deal it was when he became the only man in the first 90+ years of the game to hit 40 HR in each league. But I'll go with Evans' famous UFO sighting in 1982 that he credits with turning around his career. You can read more about that here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

#144 Steve Comer

Who is this player?
Steve Comer, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
As the 1980 season began, Steve Comer was part of a crowded situation in the Texas Rangers' starting rotation. With six serviceable starters, the righthanded Comer was expected to fill the bill as the #3 starter due in large part to his 17 victories in 1979. He began the 1980 season poorly, losing three of his first four decisions, with an ERA hovering around 10.00. A sore shoulder sidelined him for much of the June and when he returned a month later, his performance didn't improve. His season ended in late July with a 2-4 record and 7.99 ERA.

A product of the University of Minnesota, Comer compiled a 30-9 record as a Golden Gopher yet was not drafted by any major league team. He was working in construction picking up scrap lumber when the Rangers signed him as a free agent in 1976. Armed with an devastating changeup, he won seven games and posted a 0.90 ERA in rookie ball and was promoted to Triple-A the following year. He made the Rangers staff out of Spring Training in 1978, and he began the season in the bullpen. Comer was very effective in that role and earned a look in the starting rotation.

In his first major league start, he pitched nine innings of shutout ball as the Rangers defeated the Orioles. In his fourth start, he returned to his home state of Minnesota and shutout the Twins. He finished the 1978 season 11-5 with a 2.30 ERA and had began the 1979 season as the Rangers #3 starter. He won 17 games that season, no other AL righthander won more. He also led all Ranger starting pitchers with a 3.58 ERA. Comer clashed with management as well during 1979, openly criticizing Rangers ownership in the media.

With his shoulder healed in 1981, Comer was moved to the bullpen by new manager Don Zimmer and excelled as a setup man and sometimes closer. The thought was that pitching in relief would cause less strain on Comer's shoulder. The move worked as he won eight games, saved six and crafted a 2.56 ERA. However, the inability to develop another pitch to compliment his great changeup would eventually lead to a disastrous 1982. He gave up 133 hits in just 97 innings and his ERA shot up nearly three whole runs to 5.10. At the end of the season, Comer was released by the Rangers.

In 1983, he was signed and released by the Yankees before Opening Day and then signed and released by the Mariners in June. In both cases, he did not appear with the major league club and he was unimpressive. He appeared in only three games with the 1983 Phillies, but was released yet again. He had one last season in the majors, 1984 when he appeared in 22 games with the Cleveland Indians, ending his seven-year major league career. Today, Comer is involved with MetroMark a Electroluminescent Lighting company. Their website is here. He was also known to play occasionally in the Minnesota Senior Men's Amateur Baseball league.

Why I love this card
The jacket that Comer is wearing underneath is jersey. I always felt like an idiot when my Mom would make me wear a jacket playing baseball so when we saw the players on cards do this, we followed suit. Granted we didn't look as cool as a major leaguer, but at least our jerseys were showing. Bonus points for Comer almost daring us not to look at the state of Texas patch on his sleeve. It originally began as a Texas bicentennial patch in 1976, but the Rangers carried it well into the 1980s.

Something else....
I found this blurb about Comer on the net, cannot verify its accuracy, but thought it was funny:
In 1981, relief pitcher Steve Comer became Don Zimmer's closer, but had one very bad day. First, a practice ball ricocheted off a batting cage and into his mouth, busting a couple of teeth. That night, while waiting at a DFW Airport bar for a flight to the next road game, Comer ordered a drink with actual fire on top. He spilled the flaming concoction on his face, in turn torching his beard.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

#143 Bruce Bochte

Who is this player?
Bruce Bochte, first baseman, Seattle Mariners
The lefthanded-hitting Bruce Bochte was far and away the Seattle Mariners' "franchise player" as the 1980 season began. He got off to a fast start the first two weeks of the season and was leading the league in batting with a .429 average. Inevitably his hot hitting cooled but he maintained a .300 average with solid defensive play. The Mariners lost 103 games in 1980 and replaced their manager at mid-season; Bochte led the club in hits, doubles, RBI and average. With two consecutive solid seasons, the 29-year old Bochte was a fan favorite with a bright future.

A native Californian, Bochte was a graduate of Santa Clara University when he was selected by the hometown Angels in 1972. He mastered minor league pitching, never batting below .319, and made his major league debut in 1974. His first manager, Dick Williams, proclaimed Bochte a future batting champion and in his first full season (1975) led the Halos with a .285 average. The 1976 season began strongly as Bruce had 10 multi-hit games out of his first 25. He began to press to live up to expectations and went into a prolonged slump - finishing the year with a .258 average. When the Angels shocked the baseball world and signed three high-profile free agents for 1977, Bochte knew his days in Anaheim were numbered.

When he didn't sign a contract for the 1977 season, Bochte and Sid Monge were sent to the Cleveland Indians. He hit .304 with the Tribe that year, again leading his team. As with the Angels, Bochte was used both at first and in the outfield. He did not resign with the Indians and signed as a free agent with the Mariners prior to the 1978 season. He played five different positions his first year in Seattle, including all three int the outfield, but felt the pressure of being the Mariners' high-priced off-season aqcuisition. Again he struggled and finished the year with a .263 average. However, he found the Kingdome to his liking as his power numbers reached then career highs.

1979 would be Bochte's best season. He finished tenth in the AL with a .316 average and drove in 100. For most of the first half he was among the top batsmen in the league and he was recognized as Seattle's representative in the All-Star Game. With the game held in the Kingdome, Bochte received the loudest ovations of the night, first in the pregame introductions and later when his single off Gaylord Perry in the sixth inning tied the game. Bochte remained a solid and productive player during his five-year tenure in Seattle and again led the team in batting in 1982. Shockingly, he announced his retirement at the end of that season and despite a lucrative offer to play for the New York Yankees, Bochte stayed out of baseball during the 1983 season.

While never confirmed, it was speculated that Bochte, the team's player-rep, was left with a foul taste with baseball after the 1981 Player's Strike. He returned in 1984 and held down the A's first base job until the arrival of Mark McGwire. While he had solid seasons, he didn't replicate the success he had with the Mariners. He retired again for good after the 1986 season and 12 seasons in the majors. Today, Bochte has removed himself from baseball and works as a cosmologist. A good article about his transition can be found here. While this article is eight years old, this is still what Bochte does today.

Why I love this card
Maybe it was the ovation that he got at the 1979 All-Star Game. Or the single. Or the fact that the first 1980 Topps Super Card that I got that summer was also of Bochte. Whatever the reason, when I got this particular card, I was not only convinved that Bochte was a star but a mega-star in the Brett-Reggie-Bench category. This was one of the first cards I put in sheets and it took a while (probably his Oakland days) to convince me he wasn't going to be another Willie Stargell.

Something else....
This was also a DP card which probably also feuled by Bochte-mania because I have four of them. Unlike Gary-Matt Alexander, I never confused this Bruce Bochte with Bruce Bochy which is actually easier to do. Go figure.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

#142 Phil Huffman

Who is this player?
Phil Huffman, starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
As a rookie in 1979, Phil Huffman was a workhorse on a Blue Jays team that lost a league-leading 109 games. Over the winter, the Jays made numerous changes, including the hiring of Bobby Mattick as manager. The righthanded Huffman was on the bubble to crack the new-look Jays rotation. On the final day of Spring Training 1980, he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse, where he went 3-9 in 15 starts for the last-place Chiefs.

Drafted out of Brazoswood High School in Texas, Huffman was original a prospect of the San Francisco Giants. He was drafted in the second round of the 1977 draft but spent less than a year in the organization when he was part of a package traded to the San Francisco Giants for Vida Blue. He spent only five months in the Oakland organization when he was traded once again, this time with Willie Horton to Toronto in exchange for Rico Carty.

It was with the pitching-starved Blue Jays that Huffman would receive his major league break. In only their third season, the Toronto franchise was in their infancy. Huffman made the squad out of Spring Training and was penciled in as the #4 starter. The season began well, for Huffman as he won in his major league debut. It was also Toronto's first win of 1979. After a rough outing his next time out, Huffman won again to raise his record to 2-0. Things went downhill from there, however, as Phil lost 11 of his next 13 decisions and had difficulty getting his ERA under 5.00.

Huffman's 1979 highlight undoubtedly was his August 27th one-hitter against Oakland. However, Phil finished the 1979 campaign 6-18 with a 5.77 ERA. While he was second on the team in starts and innings, his 18 losses led the league and remains today the franchise record. Huffman remained in the Blue Jays minor league system until he was traded to the Kansas City Royals for Rance Mullinks in 1982. He bounced around the minor leagues with the Royals, Mets and Orioles organizations with moderate success through most of the early & mid-1980s.

He made his return to the majors in 1985, appearing in two games with the Baltimore Orioles. He never appeared in the major leagues again. He was a fixture with the Rochester Red Wings in the mid to late 1980s, playing there for three years before finally retiring after the 1989 season. Huffman settled down in Rochester where he lives today. He got a job with the demolition crew responsible for razing Rochester's Silver Stadium, and while I am not certain, I am pretty sure this is him today, working with Jackson Welding Supply. I mean, how many Phil Huffmans can there be in Rochester???

Why I love this card
Interestingly, Huffman has a 1981 Topps card despite not appearing in a big league game in 1980. I love the fact that his full name "Phillip Huffman" is the signature pictured making it all the more formal. Through the magic of, I am pretty sure Huffman is shown here during a June 9, 1979 game against Oakland, a 5-0 win. Good that Topps pictured him during a winning outing.

Something else....
The 1978 Vida Blue trade has been very popular so far in this blog. Outside of Blue himself, four of the seven players traded for him have been featured. Huffman, Gary Alexander (back-to-back!!), Mario Guerrero and Gary Thomasson. I won't spoil the surprise by revealing the other three, but there's nothing earth shattering to report. It is interesting to note that three of the four players would not be on the A's roster in 1980.

#141 Gary Alexander

Who is this player?
Gary Alexander, catcher then designated hitter, Cleveland Indians
The free-swinging Alexander figured prominently in the Indians 1980 plans. He had a poor year defensively in 1979 and lost the starting catching position to Ron Hassey, but the Tribe thought enough of his bat to find a place for him in the lineup. Indeed, he was the Indians cleanup hitter and DH on Opening Day. However, he was soon pushed to the bench upon the ascension of rookie Joe Charboneau and his own propensity to strike out. He was relegated to occasional DH, pinch-hitter and third string catcher. His 1980 highlight was likely a home run against the Yankees that gave the Tribe a victory before a large crowd on helmet day.

Gary Alexander was a righthanded hitter that was selected out of high school by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the 1972 amateur draft. With Decatur in the Midwest League in 1973, Alexander gave an example of things to come, finishing third in home runs (17) and first in strikeouts (126). He also began to learn the catching position in an effort to make the major leagues sooner. As a result, Gary was given a brief look at the end of both the 1975 and 1976 seasons. Even though he was in a handful of games, he was behind the plate when John Montefusco threw a no-hitter on September 29, 1976.

A red hot start to the 1977 season at Triple-A Phoenix earned Alexander and early promotion to the Giants in June and he batted .303 in 53 games. That performance earned him a spot as catcher on the Topps 1977 All Rookie team. He was slated to be the Giants everyday catcher in 1978 but was part of a seven-player package traded to the Oakland A's for pitcher Vida Blue. Alexander quickly established himself as the standout of the group, hitting 10 home runs the first two months of the season and landing a Sporting News cover in the process.

Shortly after his cover story, he was traded again, this time to the Cleveland Indians, where he likely achieved his greatest fame. He hit 17 home runs with the Tribe in '78 and finished the season with 27 home runs which was good for ninth in the AL. He also led all of baseball with 166 strikeouts, a prodigious number for its time. Alexander became a fan favorite with the Indians and in 1979, hit game-winning homers in two games in May. Alexander never hit for a high average in his AL days, never batting higher than .235.

However, Alexander's defense behind the plate began to slip as he led all AL catchers with 18 errors and allowed 80 stolen bases by enemy runners. Although he finished with 17 home runs in '79, he also struck out 100 times in just 358 at bats. These developments were enough to convince Indian management to move Alexander from behind the plate to the DH spot in 1980. When he struggled again to bat .200 in 1980, the Indians included him in a trade to the Pirates for Bert Blyleven. He appeared in only 21 games and batted .213 for the Bucs in 1981, the last season of his seven-year career.

Why I love this card
Alexander's 1980 card reminds me of the first ever baseball book that I owned - The 1980 Complete Handbook of Baseball. My Dad bought me this at the old B&Dalton bookstore in Eastland Mall. It had little bios of all the players and Alexander's confused me. It said his nickname was "Sleepy" (no explanation given) and quoted him saying he didn't care if he struck out 100 times for the next 10 years as long as he got his 25 home runs. Funny that he didn't do either as he was out of the game the following season.

Something else.....
as a kid, I always confused Gary Alexander with Matt Alexander. They both played for the A's and Pirates, but that's about it in terms of similarity. Also, I couldn't find anything in my research about what Gary Alexander is up to these days, but I got his autograph through the mail a few years ago, so I thank him for that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

#140 Rich Gossage

Who is this player?
Rich Gossage, closer, New York Yankees
Hall of Fame, Class of 2008
One of the most dominant short relievers in the history of the game, in 1980 "The Goose" had perhaps his finest season. The intimidating righthander led all of baseball with 33 saves as the Yankees won the AL East for the fourth time in five years. He slammed the door most definitively in the second half when he earned a save in 17 of his last 22 appearances, including nine in a row. Goose finished third in the MVP and Cy Young voting at the end of the year. This season would be one example Gossage's supporters pointed to when making his case for the Hall of Fame.

Born and raised in Colorado, Gossage was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 1970 amateur draft and was in the major leagues in a little over a year. He earned his famous moniker from former White Sox roommate Tom Bradley, who said he looked like a goose when peering in to get the sign from his catcher. His first season, 1972, he went 7-1 with 2 saves, and an ERA of 4.28. By 1975, he became the White Sox top fireman, getting a league-leading 26 saves and being named to his first All-Star team. The next year, though, he was used as a starter by manager Paul Richards and lost 17 games. When the season ended, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Goose only spent the 1977 season in Pittsburgh where he was third in saves and again an All Star. He signed with the defending World Champion Yankees as a free agent prior to the 1978 season and his presence immediately threatened reigning closer and Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle. Goose quickly established himself as the new stopper as he closed out the AL East playoff, the ALCS and World Series as the Yankees repeated as champions. Gossage, meanwhile, was honored as the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. His 1979 season was cut short when a locker room fight with Cliff Johnson resulted in a broken thumb.

Gossage continued his dominance in the truncated 1981 season, posting a microscopic ERA of 0.77. The Yankees again made it to the postseason, but lost the World Series to the Dodgers. As with most Yankee stars of this era, he had his run-ins with the press and owner George Steinbrenner and when his contract expired at the end of the 1983 season, he signed with the San Diego Padres. He helped lead the Padres to their first ever league pennant and the 1984 World Series. Unfortunately, San Diego fell to the Tigers 4 games to 1. After another spectacular All-Star season in 1985, Goose's effectiveness as a closer began to wane. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the start of the 1988 season.

He bounced around in the final years of his career, with five major league clubs and even one in Japan. He found new life as a setup man with the A's, Rangers and Mariners in the early 1990s. During this period, the still formidable Goose could still be called upon to close out a game or two. His final season was 1994 and he retired after 1002 games, 310 saves and 22 seasons in the majors. After eight years on the ballot, Gossage was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008. Parts of his speech can be found here. It also earned him an appearance on David Letterman, here.

Why I love this card
While I'm not a fan of the simple head shot, here is Gossage without his classic Fu Manchu. In his Yankee years, this is the only shot of Gossage's face as all the others show him pitching. That makes it somewhat historic, I guess. Gossage discusses the origin of the Fu Manchu here. Goose also discusses the "Pine Tar" home run at that link. Finally, Topps did not make a single card of Gossage during his playing days where he was referred to as "Goose" on the front.

Something else....
I must say dear readers, at this point in the blog I am somewhat disappointed. Over the weekend, this card cameo my possession:

Needless to say, imagine my shock/dismay/joy upon seeing this and a couple other similar looking 1980 vintage cards. I was never even aware of this! Now, my absence from the card collecting scene and ignorance of the current product is pretty established. I was told by the vendor about the "Fan Favorite" cards earlier this decade, but I cannot find any information (how many were made in 1980 style) or a checklist(s). I'll give Topps this much - they did improve on the 1980 Gossage as this is certainly a better photo. I can't say the same about Cecil Cooper, featured earlier. His 1980 chops are way better.

Can anyone else provide information about these "Fan Favorite" cards? I'll feature them as I go along if I know who/what is out there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

#139 Dane Iorg

Who is this player?
Dane Iorg, reserve outfielder, St. Louis Cardinals
Best known today for his game-winning hit in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, Dane Iorg was the usual replacement for the oft-injured Bobby Bonds in 1980. He appeared in 105 games in 1980, a career high. An excellent contact hitter, he batted .303 that season also seeing action at first base. He had carved his niche on the Cardinals as a valuable bat off the bench and a dependable player that could play multiple positions.

A product of Bringham Young University, Iorg was one of a long line of Mormons to play Major League Baseball, including his brother Garth. He was a first round draft choice of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1971 draft and proceeded to spend the next six seasons traveling the minor leagues. He finally made his major league debut on Opening Day in 1977 but only spent a month on the roster before being dispatched to the minors again. Unable to crack the Phillies lineup, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in a package that brought Bake McBride to Philadelphia.

Dane spent parts of the '77 and '78 seasons on the major league roster before finally sticking full time with the Cardinals in 1979. He appeared in 79 games that season and batted .291, primarily as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. In 1981, Iorg led the team with a .327 and had 16 multi-hit games. The Cardinals finished with the best record in baseball, however, due to the Strike of 1981, the Cardinals were denied a postseason opportunity due to the split-season playoff arrangment.

Getting more playing time in 1982, Iorg was splitting time in left with Lonnie Smith. The Cardinals won the NL pennant that season, but Iorg did not appear in the Cardinals NLCS sweep over the Cardinals. He was slated to be the Cardinals designated hitter in the World Series against Milwaukee. In those days, the DH ruled alternated year to year rather than the current home team arrangment. Iorg appeared in five Series games and batted an incredible .529 (9-17) as the Cardinals won the Series in seven games. He appeared in only 58 games in 1983 as he chunks of playing time due to a series of injuries. He was sold to the Royals in May of 1984.

As a Royal, Iorg was primarily a role player appearing again as pinch hitter and spot starter. He again appeared in the posteason with the Royals, first in 1984 when Kansas City won the AL West and again the following season when they won their first and only championship. Iorg culminated a furious Game 6 rally with the Royals on the brink of elimination, a game famous for the Don Denkinger "safe" call on Jorge Orta's ground out. He was a free agent following the season, but owner's collusion at the time prevented him from getting serious offers. He signed with the San Diego Padres for his 10th and final season in 1986. Today, he is a salesman with Capital Lumber Company in Salt Lake City as well as working for a health supplement company.

Why I love this card
Post this card in the "I have no idea how to pronounce his name" category back when I got it. For weeks, I called Dane "EYE-ore-Guh." Bonus points for a shot of the Cardnals uniform numbers on the sleeves. Double bonus points for the extensive list of Iorg's minor league career on the back.

Something else....
I still vividly recall Iorg's hit in the World Series. For some reason, that hit is not as famous as some of the other Series moments from this generation. I also recall that when Iorg was interviewed immediately following the game he either had a bloody nose or mouth when he was smashed in the face during the postgame hoopla.