Rafael Santana 1988 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 25, 2017

IMG_0475

A lot can be read in between the lines with the existence of this card. Rafael Santana played the 1987 season as a member of the New York Mets. The stats on this card go up to 1987.

Between the start of the 1987 season and the beginning of the 1988 season, he went from the New York Mets to the New York Yankees.

He was the first member of the 1986 Mets to be acquired by the Yankees.

He would not be the last.

Truth be told, Santana actually began his professional career with the Yankees farm system in 1976 when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic. But he was sent packing to the Cardinals organization before the 1981 season for George Frazier.

Frazier would go on to lose 3 games in the 1981 World Series for the Yankees, but I digress.

Between 1981 and 1983, he toiled in the Cardinals system where he would be perpetually blocked in the majors by Ozzie Smith. He did indeed make the Cardinals major league roster in 1983, the year after they won the World Series. He was a non factor.

In 1984, the Cardinals cut him and the Mets picked him up to be a backup to Jose Oquendo, who would leave the Mets to become a post season hero for the Cardinals and a mainstay in their coaching staff.

Almost by default, with Oquendo and Hubie Brooks gone, Santana became the starting shortstop for the Mets in 1985.

His timing couldn’t have been better because the Mets were beginning to skyrocket up the standings. Santana hit well but fielding magnificently.

In 1986, he couldn’t hit a lick, batting .218 with a paltry .539 OPS. But he continued to play magnificently in the field as the Mets stampeded to the NL East. He only managed 8 hits in the entire post season but one of them came in the critical 7th inning of Game 7 where his single scored Lenny Dykstra and gave the Mets an insurance run. He would later score on a sacrifice fly.

He was on the field when the Mets won the World Series.

Now remember the significance of that. The Mets had taken over the town. They were the go to team in New York, not the Yankees. The biggest stars were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The veterans who won were not expensive Dave Winfield or Rickey Henderson but Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Ray Knight.

And as the attention moved from the Bronx to Flushing, the house of Steinbrenner seethed.

They continued to cobble together veterans whether they fit or not and made quick fixes at the expense of sending unproven players away for recognizable talent. It was an era that cost the Yankees Willie McGee, Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek and Greg Gagne among others.

After the 1987 season, the Yankees were a team that was good enough to win games but not good enough to win the Division. They struggled to find a solid shortstop to pair with All Star Willie Randolph up the middle, trotting out Lenn Sakata, Wayne Tolleson and Bobby Meachem among others.

Santana was now superfluous with the Mets. Howard Johnson could provide power at shortstop while Kevin Elster could provide the glove work.

On December 11, 1987, the Yankees sent catcher Phil Lombardi, pitcher Steve Frey and outfielder Darren Reed to the Mets for Rafael Santana.

For one season, Santana was a decent double play partner for Willie Randolph, hitting an acceptable .240 (but only a .289 on base percentage.) But in 1989, injuries kept him sidelined for the entire season. His contract was not picked up and in 1990, he was reunited with Mets teammates Jesse Orosco and Keith Hernandez in Cleveland.

After his playing career, Santana, who avoided the scandal ridden reputation of many of his Met teammates, became a regularly employed coach and minor league manager. He was a Domincan baseball instructor, a major league coach with the White Sox and a minor league manager for several organizations.

He also represented the Yankees desire to steal the spotlight from the Mets. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden won rings with the Yankees. So did 1988 Met star David Cone.

Kevin Elster, Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco would also play with the Yankees eventually. Stealing attention from the Yankees is usually an action that the Steinbrenners would not abide.

Rafael Santana was a stop gap whose main qualification was he won a New York World Championship that was NOT a Yankee title. That just will not do.