Tim Leary 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 18, 2017


OK, let’s get two things out of the way first. Yes, he has the same name as Timothy Leary, the doctor who believed in therapy using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. No doubt he heard that comparison his entire life.

And the other thing is his eyes look a little glassy, as if he visited his namesake for therapy.

But man, those are beautiful eyes, aren’t they?

Timothy James Leary was a Southern California kid, a graduate of Santa Monica High and UCLA. It is appropriate that he would end up with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he didn’t get there directly.

The Mets made him the second overall pick in the 1979 draft. He was a better pick than the Mariners Al Chambers, who had the top pick. The number 5 pick was Juan Bustabad by the A’s who never got to the majors.

The Mets were a rudderless franchise in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and made irrelevant by the dominance of the Yankees. With Leary, a college star, now in their midst, they rushed him to the majors at age 22 in 1981 after only one year in the minors. Leary appeared in one game with the hype of being the next Tom Seaver. He pitched 2 shutout innings but had to be lifted because of an injury.

That decision cost him the entire 1982 season. He returned to Triple A in 1983 where he pitched 160 1/3 innings but was hardly dominant. In 1984, he returned to the Mets but was in the bullpen as Dwight Gooden became the dominant ace they envisioned Leary would be.

Before spring training of 1985, Leary was involved in a convoluted trade between the Royals, Rangers, Mets and Brewers. When the dust settled, Leary was heading off to Milwaukee and given a fresh start.

After an injury plagued 1985, he managed to win 12 games with an adequate 4.21 ERA for the 1986 Brewers. But a poor 1987 made it seem like perhaps he was never going to meet the potential of a first round pick.

Then LA came to the rescue. The Dodgers sent their one time first baseman of the future, Greg Brock to the Brewers for Leary. The expectations were not high for the 1988 Dodgers. When ace Fernando Valenzuela stumbled through an injury plagued year, they seemed to be destined to finish behind the Giants and Reds.

While Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser get most of the credit for turning the Dodgers fortunes around in 1988, they did not do it alone.

Tim Leary had the best year of his career. He was the NL Pitcher of the Week for July 24th and wound up throwing 6 shutouts, winning 17 overall and throwing to a 2.91 ERA over a career high 228 2/3 innings.

He also batted .269 for the season and earned the Silver Slugger Award.

The Dodgers won the NL West and Leary went on to face the team that drafted him and rushed him.

He pitched in relief in the wild 12 inning 5-4 Dodger victory in Game 4. He lost a potential pennant clinching Game 6 but the Dodgers would win in Game 7.

In the World Series, Leary became an unsung hero for the dramatic Game 1. People remember Kirk Gibson’s homer that ended it. But as I said in the Mike Davis entry of this series, that homer did not take place in a vacuum.

After starter Tim Belcher was lifted when he surrendered the grand slam to Jose Canseco, Leary came in to face the powerful and heavily favored A’s. He threw 3 shutout innings, striking out 3. By preventing the A’s from rallying again, Leary helped set up Gibson’s dramatics.

The Dodgers would win the World Series and Leary would be one of its heroes.

Leary bounced between the Reds, Yankees, Mariners and Rangers between 1989 and 1994. He was part of a lopsided deal as the Yankees gave up Hal Morris to bring Leary into their hole filled rotation.

Since retiring, Leary has been a college and high school coach, earning a spot in the UCLA Sports Hall of Fame. I can not help but wonder what his career would have been like if he was developed properly in the Mets farm system instead of being rushed.

But LA fans are happy he had his best year winning the World Series for his home town team.