Danny Sheaffer 1994 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 22, 2017


Danny Sheaffer is a fixture in minor league baseball He has been a coach, an instructor and a manager. He is currently the manager of the Princeton Rays, a Tampa Bay Single A affiliate in West Virginia.

He also once briefly gave Red Sox fans a glimmer of hope and later made me do a double take.

Sheaffer was the 20th pick overall in the January 1981 Draft by Boston. One of these days I will figure out how the hell that secondary draft worked.

Between 1981 and 1986, he worked his way up the Red Sox farm system, batting .340 in 280 plate appearances at Triple A Pawtucket in 1986.

After the 1986 season, Massachusetts native and 2 time All Star catcher Rich Gedman went into free agency. It was a rotten time to go to free agency because the owners were colluding. Everyone knew what was happening. It was as subtle as a volcano erupting.

And Gedman went unsigned and the Red Sox had a gigantic hole behind the plate, at least until May when Gedman could re-sign.

Marc Sullivan, son of the Red Sox GM Haywood Sullivan, was Gedman’s backup in 1986 and given a chance to start as the Red Sox defended their AL pennant. Lots of people cried nepotism. I was one of those people.

Sheaffer was also given a shot. On April 9, 1986, Sheaffer made his big league debut. He homered and got another hit and scored another run. The Red Sox lost the game but fans saw there was a homegrown catcher with power who WASN’T the son of the General Manager.

Despite the solid game, he didn’t play again for another week, with Sullivan getting the start. When he got to play another game, he went 2 for 4 with a double and a pair of RBI.

The job was now his and he started the rest of the month.

Over the next 10 games, he got 1 hit and no walks in his next 26 appearances. When Gedman returned in early May, Sheaffer was sent back to Pawtucket.

In July, he was recalled and got 1 hit in 23 plate appearances. His OPS that month was .091. He played in September and went 2 for 10, his debut home run a far memory.

He spent 1988 in the minors and then was non tendered. Between his debut in 1987 and 1993, he played 7 games total in the majors, all with the 1989 Indians. Sheaffer faded into Red Sox obscurity along with the Roger LaFrancois and Joel Finches of the world.

Then in 1993, the Colorado Rockies were formed. I remember watching their first game, which was played at Shea Stadium against the Mets. The team was introduced and lo and behold one of the players was a catcher named Danny Sheaffer. I did a double take.

“Wasn’t that the guy who homered in his Red Sox debut and for about an hour made Red Sox fans think they found Rich Gedman’s replacement?”

He had a decent year in 1993, starting 57 games for Colorado and batting .278. Later he wound up with the Cardinals and actually played in the 1996 NLCS. Soon afterwards his playing days were over and he began his long managerial and coaching part of his career.

But his debut homer with the Red Sox shows how valuable a first impression can be. He batted .121 with a slugging percentage of .182 with the 1987 Red Sox. He hit 2 extra base hits total. If he had hit a home run in a Red Sox loss in his 20th game instead of his first, there is no way I would remember it.

But because he hit the homer in his debut and Red Sox fans were so longing to have a solution at catcher that was not the son of the GM, it stuck.

I still remember it. It was hope. Maybe false hope, but hope nonetheless.

Matt Merullo 1990 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 21, 2017


“Did you hear about that Matt Merullo kid? I hear he is going to be great.”

I heard more about Matt Merullo, a reserve catcher for the White Sox, than you would ever think short of being a member of the Merullo family.

There was a reason for that. I had recently moved to New York from California to start college in 1990. That meant I spent a lot of time with relatives, various cousins, aunts and uncles in Connecticut. Being in close proximity to relatives I did not see often was one of the reasons I chose to go to school at NYU.

So there were plenty of days 18 year old Sully was sitting with some old timers in Fairfield or Bridgeport Connecticut. The topic of baseball would come up because it was wise for me to avoid politics.

When baseball would come up, Matt Merullo would be a topic. “I hear he is doing great. He is going to be a star player.”

Now I knew damn well that MY chances of being the starting catcher for the White Sox was only slightly worse than Matt Merullo’s. This was not a slight on him. He made it to the major leagues and I was having a sandwich in Fairfield with men 40 years my senior, so clearly he had the upper hand.

The reason Merullo was such a hot topic was he went to school near by and he was a local kid who did well.

Merullo was the grandson of Lennie Merullo, a native Bostonian who went to Boston College and played with the Cubs. He was part of the 1945 NL Champs and lived until 2015 at the age of 98. He was, at the time, the last living player who appeared in the World Series with the Cubs. Now there are quite a few more.

Lennie Merullo was included in the 2015 edition of the Sully Baseball In Memoriam videos which you can see by clicking HERE.

Lennie’s name came up a lot because, well, he was a native New Englander who was Catholic.

His grandson, Matt, attended Fairfield Prep in Connecticut. My dad went there. So did several of my cousins. My Uncles on both my mother and father’s side of the family went there. At one point, I thought I was going to go to Fairfield Prep except for the fact that we didn’t live in Fairfield.

Fairfield Prep was hardly a baseball factory. As far as I could tell, at the time Matt Merullo was the first to make it to the major leagues. No wonder they talked about him like he was the second coming of Carlton Fisk.

He went to UNC Chapel Hill and was drafted in the 7th Round by the White Sox in 1986. By 1989, he was in the big leagues, the first (as far as I can tell) Fairfield Prep grad to make it that far.

In his first ever start, he went 2 for 4 and homered off of Rick Honeycutt in a game against the eventual World Champion Oakland A’s. No doubt they were celebrating at the Seagrape in Fairfield.

When I arrived back in the East Coast in 1990, Merullo was still in the minors, where he stayed the whole season. Remember how I made the analogy to Carlton Fisk. Well, the ACTUAL Carlton Fisk was still starting for the White Sox and doing quite well, thank you very much.

After Fisk was Ron Karkovice, a talented defensive catcher who would start for most teams that the White Sox had waiting in the wings for Fisk’s decline.

Merullo was third in the line of succession. He was the Speaker of the House for the starting catching position on the White Sox. But getting that close was the act of a pioneer in Fairfield.

By 1991, the 25 year old Merullo was back in the big leagues and all of Fairfield rejoiced. While Fisk made the All Star team that year, Merullo managed to get into 80 games, starting 13 times at catcher and 10 times at first base. Getting playing time was rough with Fisk and Frank Thomas still producing.

No doubt someone in Fairfield thinks that it took two Hall of Famers to stop him from being a star.

The biggest game of his career took place on June 2, 1991 once again against the A’s. At this point Oakland was the three time defending AL Champ and Mike Moore was beating the White Sox in the 8th 3-1. Robin Ventura singled to make the score 3-2.

The A’s brought in reliever Steve Chitren to face Sammy Sosa. White Sox manager Jeff Torborg countered by calling in the kid from Fairfield Prep.

That’s right. Merullo pinch hit for Sammy Sosa in a big spot against the A’s in the 1990s. (This was before Sammy was SAMMY SOSA, but those are just details.)

On a 3-2 pitch Merullo slammed a ball into right field, scoring Dan Pasqua and Robin Ventura giving the White Sox the lead.

Merullo would be lifted for a pinch runner and Carlton Fisk was inserted into the game. But the offensive hero of the game was Merullo as the White Sox won 4-3.

After 1991, he had a rough 1992 with the White Sox, batting .180 in 24 games. He only appeared in 8 games for the 1993 AL West champs, going 1 for 20.

In 1994, he played 4 games with Cleveland. Then after the strike and lockout ended, he resurfaced with Minnesota and had the best year of his career. He played in 76 games, starting 37 at catcher. He hit a respectable .282 for Tom Kelly’s team, had a modest 8 game hitting streak and on June 19th had a 4 hit game.

Guess which team he did it against. The A’s.

That was it for his career as he didn’t play in the majors again after 1995 but he made it to the bigs and became a point of pride for everyone in Fairfield.

Since then, pitcher and Fairfield Prep grad Mike Porzio played a few seasons in the majors including a few seasons for the White Sox in the early 2000’s.

No doubt the old timers in Fairfield had some great things to say about him.

Rick Burleson 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 20, 2017


When I first started following baseball in the late 1970’s while living in the suburbs of Boston, there were several players who I just assumed were going to be Boston Red Sox players for life.

I understood that some players leave, some were traded away. But as I studied the backs of baseball cards, I saw there were a bunch of players who ONLY played for the Red Sox.

Yaz had been there since 1961. Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk since the early 1970’s. Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Butch Hobson since the mid 1970’s.

Rick Burleson was one as well. He was ordained a Red Sox for life, permanently inserted into shortstop, never to leave his post.

The Rooster was intense, a solid fielder and seemed to have a reputation the exceeded his actual statistical output.

Like his teammate and fellow Southern California native Fred Lynn, he would eventually be traded to the Angels. Like Fred Lynn he would have success initially with the Angels. Like Fred Lynn his superstar career would be derailed by injuries and both would be on the Orioles around the same time.

Burleson was a first round pick by Boston in 1970 in that strange January draft that doesn’t exist anymore. He was groomed to be a potential replacement for retiring future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.

In 1974, he beat out Mario Guerrero for the job and inserted himself into the Red Sox lineup. He finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year vote, batting .284.

By 1975, with Fred Lynn and Jim Rice sparking the team, Burleson was part of his first pennant race. He batted .252 with an OPS of .634. In 1975, that was good enough to earn him 13th place in the MVP vote. There was a part of Burleson that met the eyeball test but would not impress today’s analysis.

In the post season, Burleson hit .444 with an OPS of 1.167 in the ALCS against Oakland, including getting 2 hits and scoring a run in the 5-3 Game 3 clincher.

He followed that up with reaching base 4 times and driving in a run in the first game of the 1975 World Series. He played every inning of every game of the World Series, which of course is considered one of the greatest of all time.

From 1977 to 1981, he made the All Star team every year except one, 1980. Oddly, that was one of his best seasons offensively.

He played virtually every day and endeared himself to the fans with his intensity. Dubbed the Rooster by manager Don Zimmer, he hated to lose. His teammate Bill Lee said he hated to see the game tied.

After the 1980 season, the concept of lifelong Red Sox players was shattered in my mind. Carlton Fisk joined the White Sox after a contract screwup. My favorite player Butch Hobson was dealt to the Angels. So were Fred Lynn and Burleson.

Burleson signed a long term deal with the Angels and won the Silver Slugger Award in his first year in Anaheim, batting .293. (Looking back, it is amazing that Burleson, often a leadoff batter for Boston, never drew more than 62 walks in a season. Walks were just not valued back then.)

Entering his 30’s in California, Burleson looked like he was going to put together a solid second half of his career. He made up a terrific double play combination with Bobby Grich and the Angels were putting together a star studded team. After the 1981 season, Reggie Jackson joined Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich and Doug DeCinces to form a super lineup. Burleson had found himself on yet another superteam. But an injury cut his 1982 season down to only 11 games. He remained on the sidelines as the Angels lost the ALCS to Milwaukee.

Between 1982 and 1985, he played in 51 games total due to injuries, missing the 1985 season altogether.

He returned to have a good 1986 season as a part time player and once again was in the ALCS. In a cruel irony, he witnessed the Red Sox come from behind to beat his Angels, with Jim Rice and Dwight Evans driving in the final daggers.

After playing 1987 in Baltimore, he retired. He has been a coach and minor league manager for the last few decades, but never finding himself on the short list for big league jobs.

I wonder if Rooster did not get hurt and continued to have solid but statistically unremarkable seasons in California if he would have had a Hall of Fame case by the voters of the later 1980’s, early 1990’s. If they would have said “For a decade he played hard and with grit and gusto” etc.

As it was, he received zero Hall of Fame votes. His former teammate Bill Campbell received one.

He IS a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Maybe it would have been best if he was a Red Sox player for life.