Year Clubs. I have talked about my obsessions with that term before but Jack Lazorko’s 1988 Topps card has one of my favorite “Year Clubs” and I didn’t realize it was just the tip of the ice berg.
Let me explain.
When I began getting baseball cards in the summer of 1978, I did not really follow baseball yet. I knew games were on. I cheered for the Red Sox. But I didn’t know about pennant races, Divisions, Free Agency or whatever the hell Bowie Kuhn was doing.
I knew there were players, they played on teams with colorful uniforms and cool sounding names. Remember, I was looking at the bright pullover uniforms and cookie cutter stadiums of the 1970’s as if they were normal, which I suppose at the time they were.
So 6 year old Sully was really interested in 4 things when I opened a pack of baseball cards:
- Were there any Red Sox in the pack?
- Were there any Yankees in the pack?
- Were there any players labeled as All Stars?
- On the back of the card, what was their “Year Club.”
They listed the teams a player played for on the back of the card. They had the year and the team (or club) was listed next to it. So for a bidding list writer, there were long lists for some players and short ones for others. Some players played for one team, others bounced around. I always was fascinated by the ones who played for one team for a long while and then suddenly switched teams.
Reggie Jackson’s Year Club, with his many years in Oakland and one single year in Baltimore before becoming a Yankee caught my eye, but that is for another post.
And because the two words “Year” and “Club” were next to each other, I Christened the list of teams as a “Year Club”. I remember one summer day in Connecticut getting a pack of baseball cards as a gift and enthusiastically opening it saying “Let’s look at the year clubs!”
Even when I learned to read the stats, Year Clubs fascinate me. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I am STILL drawn to seeing the patterns of a player’s career by looking at the year club to this day.
Ten years into my baseball card collecting, I got this Jack Lazorko card. I don’t recall if I knew who Jack Lazorko was. He wasn’t exactly a Cy Young contender. Maybe I saw in an A’s-Angels game.
But his “Year Club” caught my eye.
He played for 4 different teams in his 4 years. He probably played with some terrific players but the New Jersey native bounced around. And as the back of the card denotes, he made his debut in 1984 but did not record a major league win until 1987.
He grew up in Jersey but went to college in Florida and was drafted by the Astros in 1978… the same year I started becoming obsessed with “Year Clubs.”
You will note that the Astros are not one of the teams included on his “Year Club.”
The song “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man” applied to Lazorko, who didn’t make his big league debut until he had logged 6 1/2 years in the minors. His debut was with the Brewers (after a stint in the Rangers farm system.)
On June 4, 1984, he made his first big league appearance, throwing 4 innings of mop up work for Pete Ladd in a Brewers loss to Baltimore.
He faced two Hall of Famers that day, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken. Another Hall of Famer, Robin Yount, was on his team.
For the June, August and September he spent on the big league roster, his role was clear: Mop up in losses. He pitched in 15 games that season for the Brewers. 14 of them were losses and most were games the team was behind when he came in.
The one exception was on August 25th, 1984. In a game between the Rangers and Brewers, another Hall of Famer, Don Sutton started for Milwaukee.
The Brewers took a 7-6 lead into the 9th with Rick Waits trying to close it out. But a pair of hits and a fielders choice put Gary Ward and former podcast guest Billy Sample on base. Lazorko came out of the bullpen to close the game out.
After a double steal put the tying and go ahead runs in scoring position, Lazorko got Buddy Bell to ground out and he notched his first big league save.
He would record another save in 1985 for the Mariners before landing with a star studded Tigers team in 1986 for 3 games. In 1987, in the aftermath of the 1986 ALCS fiasco, Lazorko landed with the Angels.
Keep in mind, he was never traded. He would either be released or his contract was bought out.
On the 1987 Angels squad he made 26 appearances, 11 of them starts. This Topps card reflects his career up until that point.
A Year Club with 4 years and 4 different teams. The next season he returned to the Angels, ruining the marvelous cluttered nature of the back of his card. But that was the end of his big league career after 1988.
He still bounced from team to team, playing in Mexico and Central America, traveling with a team that went to Europe and getting Spring Training invitations.
He excelled in Italy becoming a star in their league but not earning enough there to make it worthwhile to stay.
A wonderful New York Times article by Ira Berkow in 1993 chronicled his travels. It also relates a story about Reggie Jackson, whose year club I memorized, working as a Yankee front office adviser during a Lazorko try out.
As I quote the Article: “This can’t be the same Lazorko who pitched for Seattle years ago,” he said. “Yeah, Reggie, that’s me,” said Lazorko, from behind Jackson.
The baseball lifer never became a star or a millionaire but he found homes for himself over 3 different decades.
Along the way, he had a hell of a Year Club.