Carlos Delgado 2003 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 23, 2017

Screen shot 2017-04-17 at 6.24.50 PMIf Carlos Beltran took one more swing in the 2006 NLCS, Carlos Delgado could have become an immortal in the Pantheon of New York October heroes. Instead, he retired this week with little fanfare. Mets fans and the New York press have been respectful of Delgado and his career, but there has hardly been a huge emotional outpouring regarding his career.

His Hall of Fame clock will start retroactively in 2009, but he doesn’t have much of a chance to get in. In another era, his 473 homers and .929 career OPS might be enough. But his numbers paled in comparison to others in the post-strike era.

Delgado was never accused of or linked with any steroids; maybe that will eventually help his cause. Between 1996 and 2003, the height of the Steroid Era, Delgado hit 292 homers, tied with Ken Griffey Jr. Only eight other players hit more: Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez, and almost all of them have been linked to steroids or there is great suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use. (Thome has so far totally eluded connection or strong suspicion.)

He was also one of the true good guys in the world of baseball. A Roberto Clemente Award winner, he raised millions through his Extra Bases. And his protests of the naval bombings of Vieques in Puerto Rico and his opposition of the Iraq War showed he is a man of principles.

His timing for his career was not ideal in terms of postseason play. He was a September call-up for the 1993 World Champion Blue Jays but was not on the playoff roster. (He may have received a World Series ring anyway. I am not sure.)

Delgado arrived and blossomed just as the bloom went out in Toronto. When he arrived in Toronto, World Series heroes such as Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Pat Borders, Ed Sprague, Devon White, Pat Hentfen, Juan Guzman and Todd Stottlemyre were all still there. By the time he left Toronto after 2004, Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay were his teammates.

He was courted by the Mets after the 2004 season but seemed turned off by Omar Minaya’s pitch for Latin players. Instead he went to Florida and made a wonderful 1-2 punch with Miguel Cabrera. He landed in Queens anyway due to a fire sale in Miami. The Marlins netted Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit and someone named Grant Psomas who should be thrilled that he is being mentioned in this article.

The 2006 Mets had all the potential of being a truly special team in New York sports history. Willie Randolph, who grew up in New York, was manager. Minaya, another New Yorker, put the team together. The team had two Puerto Ricans named Carlos at the heart of their line up (Carlos Beltran was the other). David Wright seemed like he was going to be the new prince of the city. Jose Reyes was a flashy style option for those bored with Derek Jeter’s predictable substance. And for a while it looked like a Subway Series was in the cards as the Yankees won the division title and the Mets finally dethroned the Braves.

Given his first taste of postseason play against Los Angeles in the Division Series, Delgado did not disappoint. He went 4-for-5 in the first game, including a home run and the game-winning hit in the seventh inning. He finished the three-game sweep with a .429 average and an OPS of 1.072. If there was a Division Series MVP, he would have won it.

The Mets went to the NLCS, but a strange thing happened on the way to the 2006 Subway Series. The Yankees were shockingly eliminated by the Tigers. Suddenly the Mets were the only game in town.

In the National League Championship Series against a beleaguered Cardinals team, Delgado’s bat remained hot. He batted .304. His OPS was 1.274. He drove in nine runs over the seven-game series. With the Mets down 2-1 in the series and forced to send Oliver Perez to the mound for Game 4, Delgado went to town. He broke a fifth-inning tie with a three-run homer and drove in five runs all together as the Mets won big, 12-5.

By the time the series went the full seven games, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wasn’t confronting Delgado. He drew three walks in Game 7 but the other Mets batters couldn’t drive him in.

During the heart-stopping ninth inning, Adam Wainwright loaded the bases with two outs and clinging to a 3-1 lead. Carlos Beltran, who was having a fine series of his own, was at the plate. Delgado was on deck. All Beltran had to do was not make an out and Delgado would have been at the plate with a chance to win the pennant with one swing of his bat. That swing of course never came and Carlos Beltran struck out looking.

There was no World Series trip for the Mets. No chance at pennant-winning immortality for Delgado. Even if Beltran connected for a walkoff home run or a bases-clearing pennant-winning double, Delgado would have probably been MVP of the Series.

The 2006 Mets would have clobbered the 2006 Tigers. With the Joe Torre era winding down, who knows what the confidence of a 2006 World Series would have brought to Flushing?

They probably don’t collapse down the stretch in 2007 and 2008. No doubt both Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya would be untouchable beloved Mets figures. Perhaps the Mets take advantage of a weak National League field in 2007. Or go all the way instead of the Phillies in 2008.

But it would have been Delgado who led them to the World Series. Had his hitting continued against Detroit, he would have been a cinch for the Babe Ruth Award. And winning a championship in New York and having October highlights means a special immortality.

Don Larsen played only five of his 15 seasons for the Yankees. He never won more than 11 games in a season and was essentially a mediocre swingman. But he still gets standing ovations and is considered a Yankee legend for his World Series perfect game 55 years ago.

Len Dykstra’s popularity far exceeds the value of his regular season production. But he was the spark of the 1986 Mets. Players like Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez can have the confusing title of “Real Yankee” bestowed on them despite not being home grown and playing huge chunks of their careers elsewhere.

Reggie Jackson spent just five seasons in the Bronx and yet is often mentioned as a Yankee legend alongside DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle and Gehrig.

So imagine what the love for Delgado would have been had the Mets won that final game. He could have been celebrated for all time in New York baseball lore. Instead he will be remembered as a good player, a good man and will no doubt receive a warm reception in Toronto and New York for Old Timer’s Day.

That, and universal respect, a career devoid of steroid scandal and over $146 million in salaries earned, makes for a nice consolation prize. But it is not the same as immortality.

An earlier version of this post was written for The Hardball Times in 2011.

John Candelaria 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 22, 2017

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John Candelaria had a cool late 1970’s New York quality to him. When he was in his prime, it was almost a waste to have him in Pittsburgh because he seemed to belong in New York.

He was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Flatbush and grew up going to Yankee games. He attended LaSalle Academy in Manhattan where the 6 foot 7 inch Candelaria was a basketball star.

The Pirates drafted him in the second round of the 1972 draft. The Mets drafted Richard Bengston and Craig Skoglund instead of Candelaria. Neither made it to the majors. The Yankees picked Scott McGregor (not a bad pick) and Ken Clay (a big leaguer but no All Star) instead of Candelaria.

Alas the chance for the young tall native New Yorker with the Portugese name starring for a New York team was gone.

What was New York’s loss was Pittsburgh’s gain. The Candy Man shot through the Pirate’s farm system and made his big league debut with the 1975 NL East champs. He started in the NLCS against the Big Red Machine and dazzled them. He pitched into the 8th, striking out 14 and walking just 2. He got a no decision as the Reds went on to clinch the pennant in extra innings, but Candelaria made his mark.

In 1976, he threw a no hitter against a strong Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. By 1977, he was one of the elite pitchers in the National League. Candelaria made the All Star team. The game was played in New York where he looked like a combination of Al Pacino and Freddie Prinze. Man, he would have been a star there!

That season he led the league with a 2.34 ERA, won 20 games and posted 230 2/3 innings for the Bucs and finished 5th in the Cy Young vote.

In 1979, the Pirates returned to the postseason. With Pittsburgh down 3-2 in the World Series and heading to Baltimore, Candelaria faced off against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and was up for the challenge.

Facing elimination, he threw 6 shutout innings, scattering 6 hits and walking none. Kent Tekulve nailed down the 4-0 win and the series was tied. The Bucs would win Game 7 and The Candy Man got his ring.

Save for an injury plagued 1981, Candelaria remained a reliable starter for the Pirates between 1980 and 1984 as the team’s fortunes began to fade. After the 1984 season, tragedy struck his family when his son died in a swimming pool accident.

In 1985, still recovering from the shock of his son’s death, he clashed with management who sent him to the bullpen. By mid season, he was dealt to the Angels. Candelaria was effective in Anaheim, helping them win the AL West in 1986 and winning Game 3 of the ALCS. He was pounded for 7 unearned runs in Game 7 however and the dreams of a California pennant went with the loss.

In 1987, Candelaria and the Angels both had disappointing years. The Angels could not take control over a very weak AL West and the Candy Man’s ERA soared to 4.71.

Meanwhile the defending World Champion Mets saw their once vaunted starting rotation depleted with injuries and drug suspensions. With the division still within reach in September but the number of capable arms dwindling, the Mets made a rare “post trade deadline” trade. They sent a pair of minor leaguers to California to bring Candelaria back home to New York.

With a staff that included Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez and Aguilera as well as a young David Cone, it was odd seeing Candelaria in a Mets uniform.

His first game, he got clobbered, allowing 5 runs in 1 1/3 innings against his former team, the Pirates.

He pitched well in his other two Mets starts, winning both games and allowing 3 runs in 11 innings. But it was too little too late as the Cardinals went on to win the Division and eventually the National League Pennant.

The Mets did not offer him a contract for 1988 but the Yankees did and he wound up winning 13 games for managers Billy Martin and Lou Pinella.

In the end, he wound up playing for BOTH New York teams… just well after his prime.

In his final 5 seasons, he bounced around between the Yankees, Expos, Twins, Blue Jays, Dodgers and finally back with the Pirates where he finished his career as a left handed reliever.

He had a 19 year career with post season glory and individual accolades. The Candy Man is still a fan favorite for Pirate fans. But he just had the look and feel of a New York star of the 1970’s.

Pete Mackanin 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 21, 2017

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Often I wonder about people who do not get a shot or are constantly passed over for those with more experience.

In the entertainment world, I’ve seen that left and right. A wonderful actor, singer, comedian or writer is up for a big break but in the end, the powers that be take someone who has done it before. The paradox ensues: They would get hired if they get more experience but how can they get more experience if nobody hires them?

The best answer is “survive.” Pete Mackanin is a survivor who recently got his big break.

The Chicago native was drafted by the Senators in 1969 as an infielder. He bounced around Single A ball for the next few years, not exactly lighting the world on fire with his bat. A promotion to Double A and a cameo in Triple A in 1972 showed no evidence that a trip to the majors was on the horizon. But after finding his stroke with Triple A Spokane, he earned his first promotion to the parent team, now the Texas Rangers.

After two brief big league stints, he got his chance to start with the 1975 Montreal Expos after being a toss in for the Don Stanhouse for Willie Davis deal. He posted career highs in homers (12) and stolen bases) while accumulating 495 plate appearances. He tripled home 3 runs in a September 23 win over the Cardinals and played solid defense.

But as the Expos were forming an impressive team with the likes of Gary Carter, Steve Rogers, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine on the roster, Mackanin was not part of the long term plan.

He battled injuries and minor league demotions in 1978 and 1979 in the Phillies organization before, as this card illustrates, got a new chance with Minnesota.

Mackanin started both of those seasons, but seemed more like a place holder. By 1982, he was a 30 year old in Triple A. He did not get the call back to the majors in 1982 nor 1983 with the Rangers. In 1984, he was in Triple A for the Cubs. As the parent team went to the post season, Mackanin was playing his final games.

When his playing days ended, Mackanin’s survival days began. He became a minor league coach and manager. The Hickory Crawdad and Lynchburg Hillcats called him “skip.”

He coached on the big league level with several organizations, constantly finding himself on staffs but not on the shortlist to manage a team.

While on the Pirates coaching staff, he stepped in to replace manager Lloyd McClendon after he was fired towards the end of the 2005 season. But when a permanent manager was picked, the Pirates went with experience and brought in Jim Tracy.

Mackanin survived, managing in the Florida State League in 2006, awaiting his next big break.

In 2007, he moved to the Reds organization and again took over a big league team as manager when Jerry Narron was fired. Once again, a man with decades of coaching and managerial experience was passed over when the season ended as the Reds opted to hire the experienced Dusty Baker.

He survived, finding himself with the Phillies on their coaching staff when they went to the 2009 World Series. When Charlie Manuel was let go, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg took over the managerial reins. But Sandberg resigned suddenly in 2015 and Mackanin once again became the seat filler.

This time, however, the Phillies did not seek a more experienced name. They removed the “interim” label from Mackanin’s title and he has been the Phillies manager ever since. With the team rebuilding and slowly putting together a new product, it remains to see if Mackanin will remain manager when Philadelphia is a contender again.

But at least a true baseball lifer was able to survive long enough to manage at the highest level and stay there for more than a few months.

He’s earned it.

Now he has experience.