Tom Lawless 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 23, 2017

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A lot of attention has been given to Yasiel Puig admiring his home run against the Mets the other day. Was he being Bush League? Should he be plunked? Is he showing up the Mets?

I am all for home run celebrations. Why not? It is fun. Players celebrate goals in hockey, dunks in basketball and touchdowns in football. Why is it so forbidden to enjoy the moment in baseball? If you don’t want someone to celebrate hitting a home run, well then step ONE is “Don’t give up Home Runs.”

In honor of that, let’s break down one of the greatest home run celebrations in the history of baseball: Tom Lawless in the 1987 World Series.

OK, here comes the obligatory biography stuff I do on these Card of the Day posts. He was from Erie, Pennsylvania, was drafted in the 17th round by the Reds in 1978 and was a prototype utility infielder and pinch runner with a bad ass 1980’s mustache.

On April 25, 1984, Lawless got the start for the Reds in a game against the Atlanta Braves. In the second inning, he hit a solo homer off of Braves pitcher Ken Dayley. It was his first career homer.

Later in 1984, he became the answer to an interesting trivia question: Who is the only person ever traded for Pete Rose. Lawless was sent packing to Montreal on August 16, 1984 straight up for Rose, who became the Reds manager (and we all know what happened after that.)

After 1984, he was dealt to the Cardinals where he hit well in AAA Louisville. His chances of cracking the Cardinals starting infield were microscopic as Terry Pendleton, Ozzie Smith, Tom Herr and Jack Clark put together one of the best units in the game.

He appeared as a pinch runner in the controversial Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. His spot in the lineup was filled by pitcher Ken Dayley, the same left hander he homered off of in 1984.

Throughout 1986 and 1987, Lawless filled his role as a pinch runner, reserve infielder and jack of all trades. In 1987, he didn’t hit a lick with a slash line of .080/.179/.120 for an OPS of .299.

But the Cardinals infield was banged up. MVP candidate Jack Clark was reduced to a single pinch hitting appearance in the post season. An injury to Terry Pendleton forced manager Whitey Herzog to start Lawless in Game 3 of the NLCS in San Francisco. He managed a hit and was lifted later for a pinch hitter in St. Louis’ come from behind win.

He also reached twice in the Game 7 clincher after Pendleton left with yet another injury.

When the World Series started in Minnesota, the Cardinals tried to put Doug DeCinces on the roster but he was acquired too late in the season to play in October. So Tom Lawless, he with the OPS under .300, was in the starting lineup.

He didn’t play in Games 2 or 3 but got the start again against Twins ace Frank Viola for Game 4.

And THIS was the game that became Tom Lawless’ legacy, at least on Youtube.

St. Louis was down 2-1 in the series and facing Viola who shut them down in the opener. With the score 1-1 in the 4th, Tony Pena walked and Jose Oquendo singled. Lawless was up. He looked like an easy out with pitcher Bob Forsch coming up after him.

With the count 0-1, Viola threw one down the heart of the plate. What exactly would a guy with zero homers and zero RBI for the season do with it.

Do you know what he did with it? He hit it high and deep to left field, clearly deep enough to score Pena from third.

It kept going. Left fielder Dan Gladden went back and saw the ball hit the walkway above the wall and bounce back onto the field. That would be a home run.

Tom Lawless hit a 3 run go ahead homer. That didn’t seem physically possible, but it happened. Pena and Oquendo were giddy as they crossed the plate. Lawless gave long high fives. Injured Jack Clark, whose job it was to hit big homers for the Cardinals, was one of the first out of the dugout to greet him. Busch Stadium was delirious.

Announcer Al Michaels was in shock. The Cardinals would go on to win the game, 7-2. Viola was the losing pitcher. The save was earned by Dayley. They were, at that moment, the only two pitchers to surrender a big league homer to Tom Lawless.

The Twins and Viola would go on to win the World Series in 7, but Lawless’ homer lives on. Why? Because his celebration was simply divine.

The replay showed him staying at home run, admiring the shot, probably in disbelief like everyone else. He wasn’t hustling out of the box like you would think a utility infielder would be doing. Instead he walked slowly up the first base line. When he saw the ball cleared the fence, he casually flipped the bat high in the air and went into his trot.

Tim McCarver, the color commentator for ABC laughed at the bat flip and just said “Look at this!”

Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek was not amused and called out Lawless for his cocky Reggie Jackson like celebration. Then again in Game 6 when Hrbek hit a dramatic grand slam, he celebrated like it was V-J day, so it was “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Lawless explained his bad ass celebration later. He didn’t run up the baseline because he knew Jose Oquendo was tagging up at first and didn’t want to pass him. So he just stayed at home plate and walked slowly up the line.

And when it cleared the fence, he realized he was still holding his bat and tossed it away.

For the record, on August 28, 1988, he reached base 4 times and homered off of Tom Browning which was career homer 3. There would not be a fourth Tom Lawless big league homer.

After his big league career ended, he became a successful minor league manager and briefly was the skipper of the Houston Astros.

But for fans of baseball in the 1980’s he is the man with the most bad ass bat flip for any .299 OPS hitter in history.

And if you don’t like his celebration, then guess what? Keep Tom Lawless from hitting a homer! Lots of pitchers kept him in the yard.

Greg Swindell 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 22, 2017

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The mid 1980’s was a time for misplaced optimism in Cleveland. The Cavaliers seemed to be putting together a great team, the Browns were knocking on the Super Bowl’s door and the Indians were assembling a superteam.

Well, we all know that no title was won by a Cleveland team in the 1980’s. Even the Indians in the movie Major League couldn’t win the World Series.

Greg Swindell was a name right in the middle of the optimism for the Indians. In 1986, Cleveland saw a lot solid offensive players emerge almost simultaneously. Pat Tabler was a .326 hitter, Tony Bernazard was a .301 hitter with power at second, Julio Franco and Brook Jacoby rounded out an outstanding infield. Meanwhile Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Cory Snyder, Mel Hall, Otis Nixon and Carmelo Castillo were part of the deepest outfield outside of Toronto.

They had a winning record in 1986 (If there was a Central Division, they would have been champs.)

The biggest question was their pitching staff. Knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tom Candiotti ate up innings and Ken Schrom won some games but the rest of the staff had inflated ERAs. They needed an ace.

That role seemed to be Greg Swindell’s for the taking. While Roger Clemens was dominating the AL in 1986, the Indians had a left handed fireballer from the University of Texas ready to be their answer to the Rocket. He won 5 of 7 decisions in 1986 and seemed poised to take it to the next level in 1987.

His name is all over the University of Texas record books, was a first round pick and barely played in the minors before joining Cleveland.

With Sports Illustrated picking Cleveland to win the pennant, optimism was sky high for the Indians. Swindell injured his elbow, however and was not much of a factor as they lost 100 games, saw the firing of manager Pat Corrales and had the worst attendance in the American League.

I wonder how much of that 1987 season besmirched the reputation of Greg Swindell. He never did become the next Roger Clemens (who has been?)

But any objective look at Swindell’s career shows he had a very successful MLB life, one that checked off virtually every box on the proverbial big leaguer bucket list.

In 1988, he put up ace like numbers, throwing 242 innings and posting a 3.20 ERA, winning 18 games for a losing squad and throwing 12 complete games along the way.

In 1989, Swindell was named to the AL All Star Team at age 24. He continued to be a work horse, going more that 210 innings in 1990, 1991 and 1992, where he pitched for the Reds.

He cashed in and became a millionaire with the Astros. After 4 seasons in Houston and a brief return to Cleveland, he reinvented himself as a left handed reliever.

He became effective out of the pen for the Twins, Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, pitching in the 1998 post season for Boston (ironically losing to Cleveland) and with the Diamondbacks in 1999.

In 2001, he returned to the playoffs with the Diamondbacks, throwing 1 2/3 shutout innings in the Division Series. After Arizona took the Division Series and NLCS, he finally pitched in the World Series. He threw the final inning of the 9-1 Arizona blow out winning Game 1. He kept the Yankees scoreless in Games 3 and 5 as well. When the Diamondbacks rallied in the 9th of Game 7, Swindell checked World Series champion off his list.

His final major league game was Game 3 of the 2002 Division Series for the Diamondbacks.

Since then, he returned to the University of Texas. He was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame and is an analyst for Longhorn Baseball on TV.

Looking back, he had a 17 year career that saw him become an ace, an All Star and a World Champion. Not a bad legacy I say.

Dan Quisenberry 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 21, 2017

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Dan Quisenberry should never have worn a uniform other than the Kansas City Royals’ uni. He was a quintessential figure in Royals history and one of the most beloved players ever to don those threads.

The Southern California native was hardly a top prospect. Undrafted in 1975, he signed with the Royals organization and didn’t make his big league debut until 1979 when he was 26 years old. While he was toiling in the minor leagues, the Royals lost the ALCS to the Yankees in 1976, 1977 and 1978 with their bullpen letting them down in each series.

Quiz made his debut in 1979 and pitched well, but not in a way that anyone would think was about to change the history of the franchise.

In Spring Training of 1980, Royals manager Jim Frey suggested that Quisenberry threw side armed like Pirates closer Kent Tekulve. The submarine delivery made his change up and sinker ball harder to hit.

While most closers tried to bring heat from the pen in late innings, Quisenberry brought his swooping soft stuff to the 9th. The result was a league leading 33 saves for the AL West champion Royals.

Once again, the Royals faced the Yankees in the ALCS. This time, they had a closer. He allowed 1 earned run in 4 2/3 innings, earning a win in one appearance and throwing 3 2/3 innings for the win in the clinching Game 3 victory. The Royals had finally vanquished the Yankees and won the pennant and had done so with Quisenberry on the mound.

He did not fare as well in the World Series, losing a pair of games in relief, but he finished 5th in the Cy Young vote and was putting together an All Star career.

Throughout the 1980’s, before the bullpen closer became a one inning specialists job, Quisenberry was the elite reliever in the American League. 4 straight years he finished in the top 3 for the Cy Young vote, and in 3 of those years was in the top 10 for the MVP. And he did so pitching nearly 2 innings an appearance.

With the 1985 pennant on the line in Game 6 of the 1985 ALCS in Toronto, Quisenberry wiggled out of trouble for the save. He also came out of the bullpen to close out Game 7, making him at the time the only pitcher to ever clinch a post season series for Kansas City. He was 2 for 2.

In the 1985 World Series, he was credited with the win in the infamous Don Denkinger Game 6. He did not appear in the Game 7 clincher as Bret Saberhagen went the distance with a complete game shutout.

After the 1985 triumph, Quisenberry’s career took a sharp downward turn. He lost the closer job in 1986 and by 1988 was released. The Cardinals signed him to be a set up man and he actually had a fine season in 1989, throwing to a 2.64 ERA over 78 1/3 innings.

He made a cameo in San Francisco for the 1990 season and eventually hung up his spikes.

His post baseball life included writing poetry. A collection of his poems were published in the late 1990s. Sadly he passed away in 1998 from brain cancer.

The clever and witty Quisenberry, always one with a funny quote and beloved by his teammates, did not make it into the Hall of Fame. He barely stayed on the ballot after one go at it, despite similar stats to Bruce Sutter. For a period of time, he was the AL career leader in saves. The Veterans Committee examined his stats twice and still have not let him in.

But he does not need Cooperstown to confirm that he was a great success story, an undrafted superstar who won without the best stuff and someone who finally got the Royals over the hump.