Gary Lavelle 1986 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 30, 2017

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This picture of Gary Lavelle was clearly taken during spring training. Seeing it is the 1986 Topps edition, this must have been taken at the 1985 Spring Training camp for the Toronto Blue Jays.

What always struck me about this card was his hat. For some reason it looked awkward on his head. Maybe ill fitting. Maybe it was brand new and not broken in yet. Maybe he wasn’t used to having a Blue Jays logo on top of his head.

There was something oddly appropriate about that. After 11 seasons of being a mainstay in the San Francisco Giants bullpen, Lavelle arrived in Toronto for 1985 and his first shot at post season glory.

He would not achieve such heights in the majors. But for a high school in Virginia, he might as well be a Hall of Famer.

The left handed thrower was from Pennsylvania, graduating from Bethlehem Liberty High School when the Giants picked him in the 20th round of the 1967 draft. Oddly, the Giants were his favorite team. But perhaps that makes sense as the local Phillies team gave fans little to cheer for.

20th round picks don’t normally play in the majors for a decade. Lavelle was an exception. The Cubs would have been better off selecting Lavelle with the second pick over all rather than Terry Hughes, but I digress.

The 18 year old Lavelle did well in Salt Lake City Rookie Ball and steadily worked up the Giants farm. In 1968, the 19 year old Lavelle was in Medford. In 1969, Decatur. By 1970, he struggled in AA Amarillo but after 2 seasons made it AAA Phoenix.

One thing was sure. He was not going to make it to the majors as a starting pitcher. With the Giants in full rebuild mode, Lavelle was moved to the Phoenix bullpen in 1973. In 1974, he made it the show and in 1975 was there to stay. The 26 year old left hander began to make a name for himself in San Francisco.

He saved 12 games and won 10 for the 1976 Giants, not exactly a powerhouse, but he threw 110 1/3 innings of relief to a 2.69 ERA.

1977 was his peak. He saved 20 games for the Giants, finishing with a 2.05 ERA and was named to his first All Star team. In the Mid Season Classic, he faced Hall of Famers George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson and Carlton Fisk and got them all out.

His solid relief work continued in the 1978 season when the Giants were surprise contenders. In 1979, Greg Moonman Minton blossomed as a reliever and the Giants had a 1-2 punch with Minton and Lavelle coming out of the pen. Between 1980 and 1982, Minton got the majority of the saves. In 1983, they saved 20 games each.

But with the fortunes of the teams falling after the 1982 pennant race, having two bullpen closers was a luxury the Giants of the mid 1980s just could no longer afford.

After 11 seasons with the Giants, Lavelle was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays just before Spring Training of 1985. In other words, right around the time this picture was taken, Lavelle had to put on a new hat.

The hat didn’t quite fit.

The Blue Jays were a rising team, winning 89 games in 1984 and looking to make their move in a very talented AL East. The Tigers were the defending champs and the Yankees added Rickey Henderson to their star studded roster. But with an outrageously talented core of players, including Dave Steib, George Bell and Willie Upshaw, the Blue Jays looked like they were putting together a powerhouse.

Their bullpen needed an anchor and they dealt for Lavelle to be their reliable closer. He had a shake start with the Blue Jays but settled down and put up outstanding numbers in May and June as the Blue Jays took off. As it turned out, the bullpen for Toronto evolved into a strength. Bill Caudill, Jim Acker and Tom Henke all put up double digit save totals with solid ERAs. Lavelle saved 8 on his own and Dennis Lamp went 11-0 as a middle reliever.

Injuries kept Lavelle from matching his San Francisco numbers but he did get to pitch briefly in the ALCS against Kansas City, his lone post season appearance.

He missed the entire 1986 season with injuries and didn’t quite recover in 1987. He was released by the Blue Jays and finished his career with a cameo on the Oakland A’s.

Eventually, Lavelle found himself coaching for the Greenbrier Christian high school team in Cheasapeake Virginia. For a quarter of a century, he has been a rock, coaching kids and winning his share of games at the high school level. He left the school for 7 years to work in the Yankees organization as a pitching instructor but has since returned and picked up where he left off, picking up conference championship after conference championship.

No doubt he is an inspiration to the kids he coaches. Nothing impresses more than a coach who once did it themselves, and retiring four future Hall of Famers in the All Star Game is no simple feat.

I hope his new hat fits him well.

Harold Baines 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 29, 2017

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Harold Baines had a baseball career that reminds me of actor Jack Warden.

Please bear with me. It makes sense.

Harold Baines, the first pick over all in the 1977 draft, had lots of ability right from the start when he entered the White Sox organization. By age 21, he was in the majors for good. By age 23, he was on the rising 1982 White Sox, clubbing 25 homers and 101 RBI.

What followed was a long, sometimes under the radar, but incredibly steady career. When his career began, players like Willie Stargell, Carl Yastremzski, Luis Tiant and Willie McCovey were still active. Carlton Fisk was still in Boston and not his teammate yet in Chicago.

Chet Lemon was his teammate, along with White Sox mainstays Alan Bannister, Claudell Washington, Britt Burns, LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson, future announcer Ed Farmer and for a pair of games Minnie Minoso and Baines shared a box score.

When his career ended, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Jimmy Rollins, CC Sabathia and eventual World Series hero Scott Podsednik were already in the majors.

That stretches quite a career and different eras.

During that time he seldom was the marquee player. He only led the league in a major category once, the AL in slugging in 1984. Usually there was another big star and slugger who overshadowed him.

Yet he provided steady production and kept it going for a long time. As I wrote in Bleacher Report in 2012, Baines played 22 seasons in the majors. If he got 7 more hits a year in each of those seasons, he would have cleared 3,000 hits and he would be in the Hall of Fame.

Instead he has the consolation prize with his 2,866 hits by having his number retired by the White Sox and a statue erected in his honor in whatever the hell the stadium is called now on the South Side.

Some years he gave his solid batting average and 22 home run a year average to a playoff team. His sacrifice fly clinched the 1983 AL West for the White Sox.

Later he got big hits in the post season for  the 1990 and 1992 A’s. He homered for the Orioles in the 1997 Division Series and ALCS for Baltimore and batted .357 for the 1999 Indians in the Division Series, also homering. In 2000, back with the White Sox, he doubled and scored in the Division Series.

I bet you forgot he even was on some of those rosters. Each of those teams had dazzling super stars. But when they acquired Baines to hit along side Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar or Frank Thomas, the consensus feeling was always “Yeah, he will help. He is always reliable.”

He also played for some awful teams. A lot of the White Sox clubs he played for were dead in the standings and filled with players who did not live up to their potential.

He wore the collared jerseys of the early 1980’s, actually made the dreadful S-O-X across the chest look good, then wore the unis shown in this 1988 Topps card that were so deadly dull.

Baines career featured a Silver Slugger Award and 6 trips to the All Star Game (plus a World Series ring as a coach on the 2005 squad) but also had his name attached to an infamous deal, the one that sent Sammy Sosa to Chicago from the Rangers.

Harold Baines had a good solid career, tons of respect for those who know the craft if not a household name. And along the way he did it for so long with such a varied cast of people that one can’t help but say “Man, I can’t believe he is STILL doing it.”

That was Jack Warden. The New Jersey born actor and former paratrooper in World War II, had his break through role in 1953. He was featured in a memorable role in the Best Picture winning From Here To Eternity. A few years later, he stole the spotlight from Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb no less as the obsessed baseball fan in 12 Angry Men.

What resulted after that was solid work, year after year, decade after decade, in films and television projects where other people were the stars but Warden gave solid support.

Whether it was his Emmy Winning performance with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams in Brians Song, or his Oscar Nominated roles in Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait with Warren Beatty, Warden was always solid.

His scene where he dresses down Robert Redford in All The President’s Men is one of my favorite scenes in any more ever.

In 1979 alone he was in the classic tear jerker The Champ, stole scenes from Al Pacino in And Justice For All, and played the President opposite Peter Sellers and Oscar winning Melvyn Douglas in Being There.

In 1994, he had some of the most memorable scenes in Woody Allen’s last masterpiece Bullets Over Broadway.

Sometimes he was the best part in questionable material, like 1980’s Used Cars. Other times he was picking up a check in a truly terrible project, like Problem Child or the unwatchable baseball chimp move Ed.

He was in a film called Chairman of the Board starring Carrot Top. His last film was the unwatchable football comedy The Replacements.

Other times he was good in flawed projects from solid directors. Barry Levinson’s Toys didn’t work but it wasn’t Jack Warden’s fault. Warren Beatty’s Bulworth missed the mark but Jack Warden was a highlight.

As the 1950s became the 1960s became the 1970s became the 1980s became the 1990s, Jack Warden was reliable and delivered the goods. Other stars might have won the Oscar instead of him but Warden always provided the support.

Like Harold Baines, many casual fans might not have noticed his contributions over the years but might perk up from time to time and say “Wait, is that the same guy? He’s been doing this forever.”

Would anyone call Harold Baines or Jack Warden the best in their profession or even the best in their era? I doubt it.

But they have the respect of people who know how hard it is to be that good for so long and so consistent over so many years.

And THAT is why the comparison makes sense to me.

Dave Revering 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 28, 2017

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Dave Revering was a solid prospect on the Cincinnati Reds in the mid 1970’s, which was not a great time for a Reds prospect who wanted to make a big league club, especially a first baseman.

They had a Hall of Famer at first in Tony Perez and a damn good player in Dan Driessen waiting to take his place.

As this card shows, he would eventually find his way to Oakland.

The path from the Cincinnati farm to the Oakland starting lineup saw him be a strange pawn in a power struggle between two of the most influential figures in baseball in the 1970’s and a trade that could have changed the course of baseball in 1978.

The Reds were defending their NL Pennant in 1971 when they drafted Revering out of his California high school. The left handed hitting first baseman shot up through the Reds farm system and by 1974, the 21 year old was a 20 home run hitting threat at AAA.

But the Perez and Dreissen block in Cincinnati kept him from getting a call up. He stayed in AAA for 1975 and 1976. Who knows? Maybe he could have been a left handed pinch hitter in the World Series those years and picked up a World Series ring for his troubles.

Instead he remained buried in the minors. By 1977, it was getting ridiculous. He hit 29 homers, drove in 110, batted .300 and and OPS of .952. And even with Tony Perez leaving the Reds for the Expos and Cincinnati having a disappointing season behind Los Angeles, Revering STILL couldn’t get a call up to the majors.

On another team, he would be praised as the top hitting prospect. Who knows? Maybe having him in the lineup with the likes of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey and 1977 NL MVP George Foster, he might have put up All Star numbers himself.

Instead he sat, waiting for the call.

Then two of the major teams of the 1970 looked to solve issues. The A’s had Vida Blue, whose contract was about to run out and was furious he was stuck in the now collapsed team in Oakland.

Owner Charlie Finley tried to sell his contract to the Yankees in 1976, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Finley’s nemesis, voided the trade as a cash purchase.

Blue remained the only star on the team after Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris and Ken Holtzman were either traded or tested the new free agent system.

The Reds, still smarting from the 1977 disappointment, wanted to add Vida Blue to a rotation that already had Tom Seaver. Maybe the 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, the best line up in baseball, and an improved bullpen would lead them back to the post season.

The A’s were a young team who were basically trying everything and anything and anyone in their lineup. Revering could start at first base right away.

The deal made perfect sense for both teams. On December 9, 1977, the Reds announced the deal and made their big play for the 1978 NL West title.

There was a problem however. The Reds, along with Revering, had agreed to sending $1.75 million to Oakland. Commissioner Kuhn came down on the deal. The reason he had vetoed the contract purchases of Vida Blue along with Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi a few years before was he didn’t want straight cash for stars trades. There needed to be players involved.

This trade seemed to fit the bill. Blue was dealt for Revering. In addition, some money exchanged hands. It seemed legit. It helped both teams. But the amount of money was too big.

The deal was vetoed, enraging Finley. It was outrageous that the deal was squashed.

Clearly it had nothing to do with the merits of the trade and everything to do with personal feelings between Kuhn and Finley. It would benefit the Reds to have Blue in the rotation. It would have benefited Blue to get the hell out of Oakland. It would have benefited Revering to get a starting job. It would have benefited Oakland to have a good young slugger and some money in their back pocket.

So naturally it was vetoed.

In the end, Revering landed in Oakland in a smaller trade involving relief pitcher Doug Bair and a smaller amount of cash. Blue would eventually be dealt to the San Francisco Giants.

Revering would indeed start in Oakland and hit homers in double digits and had a solid average and decent OPS between 1978 and 1980.

In 1981, he was dealt to the Yankees where he played in the postseason against Milwaukee and his former team, the A’s. (He didn’t get an at bat in the World Series but was on the team.)

The Yankees, Mariners and Blue Jays all employed Revering in 1982 and after a shot in the Tigers organization in 1983, his career was done.

For the record, Vida Blue pitched for a few more seasons after that, saw his career derail with cocaine scandals only to make a comeback with San Francisco.

What would have happened if the trade went through?

The Reds fell short again in 1978 but won the Division in 1979 and had the best record in baseball in 1981 but was not in the playoffs because of the bizarre 1981 post season First Half and Second Half set ups. Could the Reds have won another pennant or two with Vida Blue in the rotation?

We saw the results in Oakland. Revering was a solid if not spectacular first baseman. He clearly belonged in the big leagues.

The what if question for Revering was “What if the Reds traded him sooner?” What if he got a shot in the big leagues when he was tearing up AAA as a 22 year old instead of making his debut at age 25? The Reds couldn’t do any better in those years but Revering could have. Could a last place team like the 1975 Expos or a 1975 Angels team that had a revolving door at first base and DH could have used his bat?

Freed of the block in Cincinnati, could he have flourished in Quebec and Anaheim?

We don’t know. Revering was a victim of the greatness of the best team of the 1970’s and partially hampered by one of the biggest petty feuds of that era.