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.