Thursday, June 30, 2011

#327 Ray Fosse

Who is this player?
Ray Fosse, reserve catcher, Milwaukee Brewers
As the 1980 season got underway, Ray Fosse was not on a major league roster. Six days before the Brewers broke camp, Fosse was cut in favor of Ned Yost. The free agent contract that he signed with Milwaukee prior to the 1978 season had other teams financially avoid him. He was unfortunately seen as too expensive to take a chance on at that point in his career. Fosse resigned himself to the fact that his 12-year career was at its end, taking a position in California with a commercial real estate firm.

A native of Marion, Illinois, Fosse was a heavily recruited high school athlete, especially by the Houston Astros. However, the Indians were part of a scouting co-op and drafted Fosse on the first round of the 1965 draft. Fosse's high school coach handled the negotiations with the Indians and Fosse eagerly signed a deal. He quickly moved up the minor league ladder and developed a reputation as a solid hitter and handler of pitchers. Ray earned the nickname "Mule" among his teammates for his strength and ability to carry a team when necessary.

He was derailed in 1969 when he broke his right index finger, but blossemed in the first half of 1970. By most accounts, Fosse was seen as a rising superstar. He was named to the All Star team, batting .313 with 16 home runs and was part of one of the most replayed All Star moments of all-time when Pete Rose crashed into him to score the winning run in the 12th inning. A fracture and seperation of his shoulder were never detected on the initial x-ray and Fosse gamely continued to play. He developed some bad habits during this stretch to compensate and since then, Fosse has gone one record that he never regained the power and the swing that he had prior to the All Star Game.

Fosse won consecutive Gold Glove Awars in 1970 & 1971 and was even named to his second All-Star squad, but a series of injuries cut into his playing time. The Indians traded Ray to Oakland before the 1973 season and with the A's, he won two World Series ring. He would suffer another serious injury in Oakland, breaking his neck while trying to be peacemaker in a locker room scuffle between Reggie Jackson and Bill North. He would never be a regular player again.

He returned to Cleveland in 1976 in a backup cacpacity and then was traded to Seattle the following season. He signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 1978 season, but he destroyed his knee in Spring Training, limiting him to only 19 appearances the next two seasons. After his retirement in 1980, Fosse became a broadcaster for the A's, a job that he has held since the 1986 sesaon.

Why I love this card
I remember when I got this card. I had no idea who Fosse was and asked my Dad who he was. I vividly recall his response as a sympathetic "Aww." I had no idea about the All Star collision and my Dad told me the story. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it turned me off to Pete Rose, but I do remember thinking more of Fosse than Rose every time I saw that play after that. Still do, in fact.

Something else....
Today, Pete Rose claims that he Fosse is angry with him about the play and doesn't know why. Maybe it has something to do with this.
Anyway, an interesting side note is that a week before the infamous All-Star Game, Fosse narrowly avoided serious injury when a fan at Yankee Stadium threw a cherry bomb on the field and in exploded near Fosse's foot. It was so serious in fact, that the Indians trainer initially thought Fosse was shot.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#326 Bo McLaughlin

Who is this player?
Bo McLaughlin, relief pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Interestingly, Michael Duane "Bo" McLaughlin did not appear in a major league game in 1980 despite appearing in a career-high 59 games the previous year in split duty between the Braves and the Houston Astros. He was philosophical when he was sent to the minors shortly before the season began, even when some of his teammates were not so gracious. Bo dutifully reported to Triple-A Richmond where he was utilized as a starting pitcher until injuries to his neck cut short his season.

McLaughlin was born in Oakland, California but attended high school in Batavia, Ohio. He excelled as a high school athlete and was offered 55 baseball scholarships and seven basketball scholarships. Bo chose Limpsomb University in Nashville, Tennessee because of its integrity and emphasis on baseball. He spent three years in college and represented the United States in the World Games in 1974. Shortly thereafter, he signed with the Houston Astros after they selected him in the 1975 amateur draft.

In his first professional game, McLaughlin pitched 6.2 no-hit innings at Double-A and established himself as a major league prospect. He made his major league debut in 1976 and fashioned an impressive 2.85 ERA in 17 appearances with the Astros. He split time between the bullpen and rotation the following season, but his ERA rose nearly two full runs. When he started the 1978 season poorly he shuttled between the majors and Triple-A before being traded to Atlanta during the 1979 season.

Bo became a free agent and in 1981 moved on to the Oakland Athletics who won the AL West that season. McLaughlin's season was derailed by a horrific injury in which a ball batted by Harold Baines hit him squarely in the face. Traveling at an estimated 125 MPH, the ball broke his cheekbone and eye socket. He had to endure two surgeries and there was some concern that he would not survive. The 1981 Players Strike enabled Bo to recuperate and he returned to the A's later that season. Understandably though, he was unable to completely get into pitching shape and 1982 was the final year of his six-year career.

McLaughlin spent three years in the minors attempting to come back, but his heart was never truly in it. He moved to the Phoenix area and began a baseball school and real estate company. He returned to baseball in 1992 at the request of Jim Lefebvre, then-manager of the Chicago Cubs. For the first time in seven years he pitched batting practice and then began his second career as a coach with the Chicago Cubs, Expos and Orioles. Most recently, he has been the roving pitching instructor with the Colorado Rockies.

Why I love this card
What I recall about this card was not anything related to baseball. I didn't have WTBS yet, so the Braves did not resonate with me. There was nothing about the card that jumped out at me, nor anything on the back. No, what got me was "Bo." Before all the "Bo Knows" hype, the only Bo (other than this one) that I knew or cared about was this one:

Yes, I watched. Every Friday night. I've admitted to worse.

Something else....
McLaughlin goes into a little more detail about the injury here. It's very interesting to read how it effected Harold Baines as well has how their two paths would cross again nearly two decades later.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Twelfth 25: A Roster

A brief look back in team form at the last 25 player cards in the 1980 set (#300 through #325) as if constructing a fantasy league team.

Manager - Tom Lasorda

1B - Keith Hernandez
2B - Mike Edwards
SS - Chris Speier
3B - Denny Walling
OF - Dave Parker
OF - Steve Kemp
OF - Claudell Washington
C - Butch Wynegar
DH - Dan Driessen

Glass half full:: Incuded here are the two most recent NL MVPs in Parker and Hernandez, an All-Star performer in Kemp and a Rookie of the Year in Wynegar. Washington at the time was loaded with potential and there are solid veterans in Speier and Walling. You can interchange Driessen and Hargrove at the DH without losing anything.

Glass half empty: Substance issues plague this team as will injuries. Many of the players in the lineup are at their peak right now (1980) and see a bit of a decline after this, despite some longevity.

Bench: Mick Kelleher, Mike Hargrove, Roger Metzger, Johnny Grubb, Mike Anderson

Glass half full:: Good balance of glove men and potent bats off of the bench. Grubb and Hargrove are former All-Stars.

Glass half empty: Can't really complain about this group, however, there isn't a backup catcher which would have been nice.

Ron Guidry
Jerry Reuss
Dennis Eckersley
Randy Jones
Larry McWilliams

Glass half full:: Three Cy Young winners here and four left-handed starters. Very solid group, whether it be for 1980 only or for career value. If Jones gets' hurt, Honeycutt come out of the pen.

Glass half empty: Not a dominant righthander unless Jones is on and to be fair Eckersley would win his Cy Young 12 years later.

Bullpen: Rick Honeycutt, Tom Underwood, Bill Castro, Mike Barlow Bob Lacey, Tim Stoddard

Glass half full:: Good balance here of guys that can jump into the rotation if need be, do an inning or two as setup to the closer Stoddard. Underwood and Honeycutt can both start and relieve effectively.

Glass half empty: Stoddard gets the job by default simply because no one else here has experience as a closer. Would have been nice to have a Gossage or Quisenberry, but you can't get greedy.

OVERALL: Nice group here with a Hall of Fame manager (Lasorda) leading the way. This group would be a very competitive team and is stocked with guys with major league pedigrees. The only thing keeping it from an A is the lack of a backup catcher and the fact that this team could have been so much better if not for substance abuse issues.


Monday, June 27, 2011

#325 Dan Driessen

Who is this player?
Dan Driessen, first baseman, Cincinnati Reds
As the regular first sacker of the defending National League West champions, Dan Driessen had a secure position with the Cincinnati Reds. The left-handed hitter had established a reputation as a steady performer with a reliable glove. He began the 1980 season slowly, but batted .345 in May and raised his batting average to .291 by the All Star break. The Reds remained in contention for much of the season before finally fading after Labor Day and Drieseen led the NL in walks and was fifth in on-base percentage.

A native of Hilton Head, South Carolina, Driessen's path to the major leagues was not a traditional one. Driessen never played on his high school baseball team, primarily because his school didn't have one. He cut his baseball teeth on the South Carolina sandlots playing with men's semi-pro teams. The locals contacted major league scouts about the young spray hitter and he was given a tryout and impressed the Reds' brass, who signed him to a contract in 1969. He feasted on minor league pitching and earned a major league promotion in 1973.

Almost instantly, Driessen was hailed as the next star hitter for the Big Red Machine. His .301 average in 102 games earned him some Rookie of the Year consideration and the Reds tried him full-time at third base in 1974. He was a solid performer in his early years with the Reds, but the general perception was that, if given the chance to play regularly, Driessen could be a star. Driessen enhanced that reputation in 1976 when, as the first designated hitter in World Series history, he batted .357 in a four game sweep of the Yankees.

This prompted the Reds to trade veteran Tony Perez prior to the 1977 season, enabling Driessen to take over first base, full time. Driessen paid immediate dividends, batting .300 with 17 home runs and 91 RBIs. He would hold the down position for seven years, helping the Reds win the NL West in 1979 and the best record in baseball during the strike-shortened 1981 season. During that span, Dan would three times lead NL first basemen in fielding percentage but eventually became the subject of consistent trade rumors.

Shipped to Montreal in 1984, Driessen became a part-time player for the remainder of his 15-season career. From there, he went first to San Francisco, then Houston and finally St. Louis. He even spent time in the minor leagues in 1986 and 1987 to work his way back. When Jack Clark was injured late in the 1987 season, Driessen was inserted as his replacement in the NLCS and World Series. It was a nice comeback story despite the Cardinals seven-game loss in to the Twins. Today, Driessen remains in South Carolina as a high school coach. He is the unlce of former Major Leaguer Gerald Perry and the cousin of Reggie Kinlaw, an NFL nose-guard for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.

Why I love this card
Much like the Tom Hume card, here is a shot of a Cincinnati Red at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. As I mentioned in the Hume post, seeing a National Leaguer pictured an AL park in the days before interleague was a big deal. 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. This shot of Driessen was taken before the April 23, 1979 game in which the Tigers beat the Reds 14-3.

Something else....
In other time when I enjoyed the nicknames Chris Berman would periodically throw out in the early days of ESPN, I admit that I always liked Dan "Salad" Driessen. I even said it to myself when I saw he was the next card for this blog.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

#324 Tom Underwood

Who is this player?
Tom Underwood, starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
When this card was being pulled from packs during the 1980 season, Tom Underwood was already long gone from Toronto. The lefthanded pitcher was traded as part of a package to the New York Yankees shortly after the 1979 season ended. He began the season in the bullpen to fill a role on the staff and did so well he remained there, much to his chagrin. When he returned to the Yankees rotation, he was their best pitcher, winning five straight starts. Nevertheless, he remained unhappy how he was used, despite winning 13 games for the AL East Champions.

The Kokomo, Indiana native was a three-sport athlete in high school, going 25-1 in American Legion ball and helped his team to a state championship in 1972. That attracted the attention of the Philadelphia Phillies who drafted him later that summer. Tom never had a losing season in the minor leagues and he made his major league debut in the summer of 1974. He was inserted into the starting rotation the following year and he had the best year of his career, winning 14 games and being named to the Topps All-Rookie Team. His performance that season led to predictions of stardom.

Underwood was never able to equal the performance of his first full season, despite being part of the Phillies 1976 NL East Champions. In fact, he was on the mound when the Reds clinched the NL pennant. Midway through 1977, Underwood was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bake McBride, and he was subsequently dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays after that season. He pitched decently for horrible Blue Jays teams but Toronto saw him as a chip to trade for some veteran players.

After a rocky start to the 1981 season, he was traded to the Oakland A's. Pitching as a swingman during the second half he again appared in the postseason, this time with the AL West champions. The following year, Underwood put together an effective 1982 season. Again splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation, Underwood forged a career best ERA of 3.29, won ten games, and saved seven others for Billy Martin, who liked his versatility and willingness to pitch in any role. Underwood played one more year in Oakland and another in Baltimore before his ten-year career came to an end in 1984.

Shortly after his retirement following the 1984 season, Mr. Underwood met his wife and began a second career as financial advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors. He was elected Howard (IN) County's athlete of the century in 1999 and was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. Mr. Underwood fought a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer which ultimately led to his death in 2010. His daughter has a site dedicated to raising funds for cancer research where you can donate here

Why I love this card
Immediately, this card makes me think of May 31, 1979. Underwood faces his younger brother Pat, who was making his major league debut. Pat outdeuls Tom in a 1-0 decision. Pat was pitching for the Tigers, Tom for the Blue Jays. The local media made a huge deal out of this in Detroit and I always felt a little sorry for Tom. After all, in my nine-year old mind, Tom was the one that pitched the complete game.

Something else....
For most of the 1980 season, the New York Yankees had four lefthanders in their starting rotation: Underwood, Ron Guidry, Tommy John and Rudy May. I cannot recall any team that has done that since.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

#323 Mick Kelleher

Who is this player?
Mick Kelleher, utility infielder, Chicago Cubs
The current first base coach of the New York Yankees, in 1980 Mick Kelleher had a reputation as a tremendous glove man. He appeared in 105 games, primarily as a defensive specialist. His hitting, however, didn't reach the same laurels. He batted only .146 in limited action at the plate (14 for 96) but his best moment at the plate that year came on September 28 against Pittsburgh. Mick's triple drove in two runs and proved to be the game-winning hit as the Cubs downed the Bucs.

A native of Washington state, Mick Kelleher was a scholar-athlete at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. In addition to receiving his bachelor's degree in political science, he was an NCAA Division II All American in 1969 and was named to the NCAA Division II All-Tournament Team the same season. This attracted the attention of major league scouts and he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 1969 player draft.

In the minor leagues, Mick paced league shortstops in fielding during four of his minor league seasons and established an American Association record for shortstops with a .979 fielding percentage in 1972. He glove earned him looks by the parent club, but his hitting typically kept him from sticking at the major league level. He was swapped to the Astros and back to the Cardinals, yet still managed to win two Rawlings Silver Glove Awards (in 1972 and 1975) as the minor leagues best fielding shortstop.

His trade to the Cubs before the 1976 season would be a big break for Mick as he was the Cubs everyday shortstop, appearing in a career high 124 games and committing only nine errors. However, with Ivan DeJesus waiting in the wings, Mick and his durable glove was returned to the bench. In his five seasons in Chicago, Kelleher was equally effective defensively at third base, second base and shortstop. A memorable moment came when the diminutive Kelleher got into a fight with Dave Kingman in 1977. An interview with Mick regarding the fight can be found at our friend's site Johngy's Beat.

In Spring Training of 1981, he was traded to the Tigers where he backed up Alan Trammell. Trammell has credited Kelleher with helping him become a Gold Glove winner and Tram would later repay the favor by appointing Mick one of his coaches when Trammell was manager of the Detroit Tigers from 2003-2005. Kelleher would spend one season in Detroit and he was shipped again, this time to the California Angels. It would be his eleventh and final season in the majors after a back injury curtailed his career. Since his playing days have ended, he has served in a coaching or scouting capacity every season since 1984.

Why I love this card
As a Detroit native, I remember Kelleher's stay in Detroit well. Although he was with the Cubs here, this card would be moved to my Tigers team pile in 1981. We all had those right? Didn't matter what year the card was or what team they were pictured with, if they were on the team at that moment, that card immediately was upgraded as being more "special." After all, he was on the home team!

Something else....
Kelleher is credited with tutoring Derek Jeter in his early days and his primary project for the last three seasons has been Robinson Cano. In 2010, the Yankees led the Majors with a .988 fielding percentage and committed only 69 errors, setting franchise records for highest fielding percentage and fewest errors for a season. The Yanks also set a Major League record with 18 consecutive errorless games in 2009, so Kelleher must be doing something right.

Friday, June 24, 2011

#322 Claudell Washington

Who is this player?
Claudell Washington, rightfiedler, Chicago White Sox
Spring Training for Claudell Washington began with a contract dispute, and the miserly White Sox were not about to sign him to the multimillion dollar deal he was seeking. Already unpopular with White Sox fans who famously hung "Washington Slept Here" signs because of his casual style of play, it was widely believed that it would be a matter of time before he was traded. Indeed, the Sox shipped Claudell to the New York Mets for a minor league pitcher in June. He made history shortly after the trade, becoming (at the time) only the third player to hit three home runs in a game in both leagues on June 20 (he hit three in a game for the Sox in 1979). After the season, he signed the contract he was seeking with the Atlanta Braves, a five year deal worth $3.5 million dollars.

Washington's path to the major leagues was an unusual one. A very talented athlete, he spent most of his youth concentrating on basketball and track. He was working as a janitor while playing on the sandlots of Berkely, California when he was discovered and signed by the legendary A's owner Charlie Finley in 1972. Two years later, he was destroying minor league pitching when the A's brought him up shortly before the 1974 All Star break. After a few weeks getting acclimated, he hit .310 in the final month of the season and helped the A's to their third straight World Series, where he batted .571 (4 for 7) in a five-game victory over the Dodgers.

Handed the leftfield job in 1975, Claudell blossomed into a star and he became a favorite of Finley. He was selected to the All Star Game for the first time and finished fifth in batting and second in stolen bases. He struggled in 1976 as the A's dynasty disintegrated. In March of 1977 Finley peddled him to Texas for cash and two players. He never gelled with the Rangers, so when Texas had a chance to get Bobby Bonds they swapped him to the White Sox in May of 1978. His tenure in Chicago was described as uninspired and underwhelming after so much promise only three years previous.

The Braves gambled that with a long-term deal, Washington would blossom into a superstar. While he did help lead the Braves to the 1982 NL West title and was also named to the 1984 NL All Star team, Washington was a solid, if unspectacular outfielder. In six years with Atlanta, the most he would spend with any team, he hit a cumulative .278 and hit just 67 home runs. One of the possible reasons Washington put up such underwhelming numbers may have been due to a substance abuse issues that he had during these stages of his career.

He was traded to the Yankees in mid-1986 and had a fine year in 1988, hitting over .300 for a second time and playing solid outfield for a contending team. Claudell also earned the unique distinction of hitting the 10,000th home run in Yankee franchise history that season. His 1988 effort earned him his last big free agent contract, this time with the California Angels but his career quickly wound down after that. The final year of his 17-year career was 1990 when he hit .167 in 45 games with the Angels and Yankees.

Why I love this card
I loved this card, because of this card:

This was my first ever Kellogg's card and it came in the Spring of 1980. When I ended up getting his Topps card, I thought I was on to something special...after all, if you had a Kellogg's card, you had to be a superstar, right?

Something else....
In addition to being known as the player that Nolan Ryan has struck out the most (39 times), recently, Washington has been indentified as the player that hit the foul ball that Ferris Bueller caught in the 1986 movie. Ah, Retrosheet, you did it again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Koufax & Drysdale: Beaten on the Same Day

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the 1980 Topps set, rather a small baseball tale that my father talked about for much of my life. Periodically, I will include these as a tribute to the man who started my card collection and my interest in the game.

In the history of baseball, there may have been no greater pitching twosome than Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. These two future Hall of Famers dominated the much of the 1960s en route to three World Championships in seven seasons and accolades too numerous to mention.

However, my Dad insisted that he saw both of them get beat in the same day. And not early in their careers, mind you, but in their prime. Occasionally, I would press him for details about the game or what year this may have happened, but they were sketchy. Some facts did remain constant. The Pittsburgh Pirates won both games at Forbes Field. One of the games went long. Vern Law pitched. But most importantly, both Koufax and Drysdale were the losing pitchers of record and they were in their prime.

For years, this event remained a mystery to me. A mystery, until Retrosheet came out. Through the magic of this incredible site, I was able to fill in the blanks.

The date was Wednesday, September 1, 1965. The place was Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. My Dad was 24 years old at the time and was visiting his family in Clairton, PA. He had left the state and come to Michigan only three years before. But on this day, he was one of the 26,394 to witness this historic event.

In the first game, Koufax started for the Dodgers against Tommie Sisk. Koufax was in the midst of a unanimous Cy Young season while Sisk would make only twelve starts for the Pirates. Despite giving up two early runs, Sisk buckled down and the Pirates managed to scratch across a pair to tie the game. Sisk turned things over to Joe Gibbon in the sixth and he matched Koufax pitch-for-pitch. The game stretched on to the 11th inning, when with two outs, Willie Stargell walked. Pirate catcher Jim Pagliaroni doubled to score Stargell and win the game for Pittsburgh.

Despite the loss, Koufax was still the star of the game. He struck out 10 Bucs and in the process, broke his own single-season National League strikeout mark. He would go on to set the major league record later that year with 382.

In the second game, the Dodgers again jumped out to an early 1-0 lead. Pirate ace Vern Law settled down after that and shut Los Angeles out for the remainder of the game. Bill Virdon tied the contest with a homer in the sixth and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth when Maury Wills bobbled Manny Mota's grounder (yes, Mota was with the Pirates).

Virdon and Roberto Clemente each had three hits in the game as Law went the distance to earn his 16th win of the season.

While I haven't done the research, just seeing two Hall of Famers of this caliber on the same day is something special. Thanks for sharing the memory, Dad.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#321 Keith Hernandez

Who is this player?
Keith Hernandez, first baseman, St. Louis Cardinals
As one of the reigning co-MVP's in the National League, Keith Hernandez began 1980 by signing a new five-year contract. Hernandez was also the league's defending batting champion and he was again among the league leaders for nearly the entire season. He was selected to the National League All-Star team and finished the campaign with a sparkling .321 average, second in the league. He won his third consecutive Gold Glove, led the league in runs scored and on-base average and earned his first Silver Slugger Award. Amazingly, "Mex" was able achieve these accolades in a year that, by his own admission, he "went crazy" on cocaine.

The son of a professional baseball player, Keith Hernandez grew up in northern California where he was schooled in the game at an early age by his father. He matured into a star quarterback and first baseman in high school and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 42nd round of the 1971 player draft. Initially, he struggled with minor league pitching, but he developed a reputation as an excellent fielder; one that would become his hallmark. His bat quickly came around and he was the leading batter in AA in 1974 and earned his promotion to St. Louis near the end of the season.

Keith earned a starting position in 1976 and again established a reputation as an excellent fielder with a steady bat. His breakout year came in 1979 when he won the batting title en route to an MVP season and consistently was one of the most feared hitters in the National League. In 1982, his clutch single in Game 7 helped the Cardinals win a World Championship against the Milwaukee Brewers. However, Hernandez's tenure in St. Louis suddenly and shockingly came to an end the following season when he was traded to the New York Mets. Later, it was divulged that he was traded dueto his (and the team's) cocaine issues.

With New York, Hernandez gave up the drug and helped lead the young Mets into contention in 1984. He was in the midst of 11 consecutive Gold Glove seasons and again helped a team to the postseason, this time the Mets, in 1986. Hernandez's veteran presence helped the Mets navigate a tough NLCS against Houston and another clutch hit in Game 7 of the World Series against Boston helped to break open the game and give New York its second championship. Hernandez and the Mets made a return to the postseason in 1988, where they were upset by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Hernandez's cocaine issues became national attention during the summer of 1985 as part of the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. As one of the bigger "names" of the trial, his testimony was widely reported. When he estimated that 40% of major leaguers were using cocaine during that period, he came under fire and had to recant. Unfortunately, it became a significant part of his career that some believe may have kept him from receiving serious Hall of Fame consideration.

He left the Mets following the 1989 season and spent 43 games with the Cleveland Indians in 1990 before ending his 17-year career. In retirement Hernandez became even more popular than he was as a player, mainly due to his famous "Seinfeld" appearance and his "Just for Men" commercials with Walt Frazier. He has been a popular broadcaster since 2006 and despite a flap or two is respected for his keen knowledge of the game.

Why I love this card
OK, I'll be honest. I didn't love this card in 1980. I was a huge Willie Stargell/Pittsburgh Pirates fan and my nine-year old mind was unreasonably angry with Hernandez for the whole co-MVP thing. I had thought that Willie should have won out right and I selfishly blamed Hernandez. Yes, he won the batting title, but I didn't appreciate him at all at the time.

Something else...
Why did Topps give Hernandez card such an odd numbering? As an All-Star and MVP, usually guys like that got a card with a number ending in 0 or 5. It seems odd to give a player of Hernandez's caliber such a common number. Keith also had a Topps Super issue and a Burger King card which are pictured below. Which makes the numbering thing of his primary card all the more puzzling.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#320 Dennis Eckersley

Who is this player?
Dennis Eckersley, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Hall of Fame, Class of 2004

Only 25 years old during the 1980 season, Dennis Eckersley was already in the midst of his sixth big league season. He was the Red Sox Opening Day starter, but began the season with back pain suffered a five game losing streak. He still managed to make 30 starts, including a one-hitter in the next-to-last appearance of the year. True to his nature, "Eck" made no excuses for his inconsistent performance and despite finishing the year with a losing record, he considered one of the bright young pitchers in the major leagues.

Hailing from northern California, the young Eckersley emulated Giants' Hall of Fame hurler Juan Marichal and gained a reputation a hard throwing prep star. He was selected by the Cleveland Indians out of high school in 1972 and threw a shutout in his first professional start for the Reno Silver Sox. After only three seasons in the bushes, Eckersley was promoted to the parent club in 1975. The young fireballer paid immediate dividends; not allowing an earned run for the first 28 2/3 innings of his career, a rookie record. His 13-7 record with a 2.60 ERA would have earned him the Rookie of the Year Award had he not been overshadowed by the "Goldust Twins," Fred Lynn and Jim Rice.

Nonetheless, Eckersley future looked bright. He fired a no-hitter in 1977 en route to his first All-Star appearance. He was consistently among the league leaders in strikeouts and ERA and was the unquestioned young ace of the Indians staff. However, behind the scenes, all was not well, Eckersley's wife was involved in an affair with Indians teammate Rick Manning, which ultimately prompted his trade to the Red Sox. Despite this development, Eck responded with a 20-win season in 1978, the year Boston famously lost the AL East title in a one-game playoff. He would go to win 84 games in a little more than six seasons in Beantown, a highlight being named the American League's All Star starting pitcher in 1982.

However, near the end of his Boston tenure, his fastball was not what it once was and Eck was suffering the effects of alcoholism. In 1984, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Bill Buckner, one of many deals that would lead the Cubs to the 1984 NL East title. He was inconsistent for much of his tenure in Chicago and they traded him to the Oakland Athletics in 1987. It was at this time that two developments saved Eck's career and propelled him into the Hall of Fame.

The first was his acknowledgement of his alcoholism after seeing a home video of himself with his daughter during Christmas 1986. It served as a catalyst that changed his life. The second was association with manager Tony LaRussa. LaRussa would eventually insert Eckersley as his closer and together the two of them would establish how that role is used today (one inning of work, only come in with a lead). This would culminate in a World Championship in 1989 and four AL West titles in five seasons.

Eckersley's 1992 season was his best. He was only the fourth pitcher to be named both Cy Young and MVP when he had what is generally regarded as one of the best seasons ever for a relief pitcher. His effectiveness slowly began to wane from then on, and after nine years in Oakland he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He ended his career in 1998 with the Boston Red Sox and at the time of his retirement had appeared in more games than any other pitcher in history. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2004.

Why I love this card
Eck's glare. Every now and then you would run across a card that would just creep you out as a kid and this card was one of them. Yes, I know that they call this "intensity" these days, but those eyebrows were just at weird angles.

Something else....
Of course, no post about Eckersley would not be complete without mentioning Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series. Consider it mentioned. I loved the moment that this home run provided, but if it meant that I wouldn't have to hear the phrase "walk off" ever again (which Eckersley coined) then I would make that trade. Call me old fashioned, but I was never crazy about that term.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

A bit of explanation is probably in order.....

This blog has not been updated in almost a year. Along the way, there were many friends made and several folks who offered well wishes. I probably should have come on here sooner to update and it is amazing how quickly time can get away from you.

Last July, I had a computer crash and had to by a new one. My father, who is the inspiration for this blog, reminded me at the time that "there are more important things in life." It stuck me then, to take his words to heart. I'm glad that I did.

See, my Dad was living with cancer and emphysema. Over 50 years of smoking had taken its toll and in December 2008, he had a cancerous tumor removed from his lung. Fortunately, it did not return. However, effects of chemo and radiation exacerbated the emphysema and his breathing got worse.

He died on Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

Something told me last year to take a step back and focus on spending more time with him and my family. I am glad that I did.

Not knowing it at the time, there were alot of good memories along the way. He got to see his third grandchild born last July. He lived to his 70th birthday and got to tease his son when he turned 40. He watched his team, the Steelers, play in the Super Bowl one last time and didn't get mad when his grandson showed up wearing a cheesehead. We had one last Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We talked about sports, politics, entertainment and life in general. He shared with me things that I had never known about him before. And he died with his family around him the way he would have liked.

So on Father's Day, I return to this blog to begin again. I hope to be more frequent with my sometimes takes funny turns. If you don't mind, I will occasionally throw in a baseball-themed story or two that don't have much to do with 1980, but everything to do about my Dad.

Happy Father's Day Dad, we do miss you.