Jason Kipnis 2016 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 26, 2017

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It went foul.

Jason Kipnis stood at the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning. It was Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The score was tied, 6-6.

Aroldis Chapman, the pile of shit domestic abuser, was in his 4,000th inning of work and the inning before had allowed Rajai Davis’ mind boggling game tying homer.

After some sparkling defense in the top of the 9th, the Indians were sending up the top of the order, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. In what was already a cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs game, all the Indians needed was one single run and they would be the World Champs.

Cleveland, who had not had a championship since the 1964 Browns heading into the 2016 season, would have their second of the season following the Cavaliers stunning win over the Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James was in the stadium, going nuts after the Davis homer.

One run. That was all that was needed.

Carlos Santana flew out. One away. Up came Jason Kipnis, who had scored on a 2 run wild pitch earlier and back in Wrigley clobbered a massive home run back when the Indians had control of the series.

With one swing of his bat, Kipnis could not only become one of the most celebrated figures in the history of Cleveland sports but could deliver one of the most dramatic World Series moments ever.

Plus it would give Fox, ESPN, Turner and MLB.com another year to milk Cub misery. (That extra season in 2003 and Aaron Boone made the notion of the Curse and the Red Sox profitable for one more season before the conclusion of 2004.)

With one swing, the failures of 1954, 1995,1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2007 would be washed away.

4 times the Indians lost a final game of a playoff series since their last title in 1948. They lost the 1997 World Series when they had a lead in the bottom of the 9th.

All could be changed with one swing of Jason Kipnis’ bat.

There was something oddly poetic about “Kip” having the fate of the Cubs and Indians in his own bat. An Illinois native, he went to Cubs games as a kid before playing ball at both the University of Kentucky and later becoming a star for Arizona State University.

Selected by Cleveland in the 2009 draft, he quickly became one of the best prospects in the Indians system, becoming a starter in 2012.

The 25 year old Kipnis had a solid rookie campaign, hitting 14 homers, in 2012. But in 2013, his power improved, he stole 30 bases and posted an .818 OPS helping the Indians to the American League Wild Card Game.

A down year in 2014 was followed by a .303 average and .823 OPS in 2015, earning his second trip to the All Star Game.

Then came 2016. His .811 OPS was complimented by a career high 23 homers. The Indians would bypass the Wild Card and win the AL Central for the first time since 2007. Then he helped manager Terry Francona sweep his old team, the Red Sox, with a 1.053 OPS in the Division Series.

A poor ALCS, despite a homer, didn’t keep the Indians from winning the pennant.

In the World Series he kept his average high and his OPS solid and mashed a pair of homers, making it 4 over all in the post season for Kipnis.

And all of that was whittled down to the bottom of the 9th, game tied, 7th game of the World Series, one out, nobody on, 1-1 the count.

Chapman pitched. Kipnis swung. It was a drive to right.

At first it looked like it was going to be one of his line drive homers that parked itself into the right field stands. At first glance it sure looked like a sweet homer.

For a split second, Jason Kipnis looked like he had just clinched the World Series and would etch his name along side Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter as the only players to hit World Series ending homers.

A few seconds later it looked like it didn’t have the height. But if it went into the corner, it would be an easy double, maybe even a triple, that would give Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli or Jose Ramirez each a shot to win the World Series with one dying quail to right.

And then… it hooked foul.

There is no box score that can record what those few seconds feel like. There is no stat to quantify it.

Future baseball fans will read the box score of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series and have no idea of the irrational roller coaster of emotions that engulfed less than 10 seconds of life.

That in less time than it takes a pre schooler to count to ten, Kipnis went from a God to merely a player.

He extended the count to 3-2 before striking out. Lindor popped up on the first pitch. The Cubs scored two after a rain delay to take the lead in the 10th. The Indians countered with one but Chicago clinched the title.

Baseball history was made… and a different history could have been made had a ball not gone foul.

Jack Lazorko 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 25, 2017

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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:

  1. Were there any Red Sox in the pack?
  2. Were there any Yankees in the pack?
  3. Were there any players labeled as All Stars?
  4. 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.

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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.

 

Bobby Witt 1992 Leaf – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 24, 2017

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Bobby Witt had a career that had insanely high expectations. He was expected to be a huge star and was included in one of the most startling trades in recent history.

While he never achieve superstar status, he managed to play for 16 seasons and became a millionaire and a World Champion along the way.

Witt was drafted by the Rangers with the third pick of the 1985 draft out of the University of Oklahoma.

A Hall of Famer was picked right after him with the 4th pick, Barry Larkin. The 6th pick with Barry Bonds.

So yeah, the Rangers could have drafted Larkin or Bonds. Then again, the 5th pick was used by the White Sox to draft Kurt Brown who never made it to the major leagues, so it could have been worse.

By 1986, Witt was in the majors. He had dynamic stuff and huge control issues. He struck out 174 in 157 2/3 innings his rookie season. He also led the league in walks in 3 of his first 4 years in the bigs. His ERA was over 5 that 1986 season but by 1988, the 24 year old Witt threw to a 3.92 ERA and completed 13 games for Bobby Valentine and the Rangers.

By 1990, while teammates with Nolan Ryan, Witt put it together for a 17 win season, going 222 innings, keeping his ERA down to 3.36 while striking out 221. The 26 year old looked like he had turned a corner.

Unfortunately injuries made his 1991 campaign disappointing. An up and down 1992 season ended with a shocker. On the last day of August, he was sent along with Ruben Sierra and Jeff Russell, to the Oakland A’s for Jose Canseco.

Oakland was tired of Canseco’s act and figured Sierra’s bat and some pitching depth was worth a long run in October of 1992. As it turned out, the Blue Jays stunned the A’s in 6 and Witt, throwing one inning in relief.

As the A’s fortunes faded after 1992, Witt posted a pair of mediocre seasons in Oakland. After the strike ended, he split 1995 between the Marlins and the Rangers.

The 1996 Rangers were the first Texas team to make the post season. Witt won 16 games for the squad but did so with a massive 5.41 ERA. The hitters park that was in Arlington plus the steroid era could not have helped his numbers. He got a no decision in his one post season start, getting clobbered by the Yankees over 3 1/3 innings.

Between 1997 and the end of his career in 2001, Witt bounced from team to team. He was teammates with Mark McGwire in his 1998 home run chase in St. Louis. He had a poor season with the 1999 Devil Rays and hurt much of the 2000 season with Cleveland.

Finally in 2001, he joined the Diamondbacks, starting 7 games and relieving in 7 games. He made two appearances in the post season, one in the NLCS against Atlanta and a scoreless inning in the World Series against the Yankees.

Arizona would shock the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series, making first time World Champions out of many veterans, including Bobby Witt.

Retired, he is now an agent and living in Texas. Was his career an all time star one? Of course not. Should the Rangers have picked Barry Bonds? How could it have hurt?

But is a 16 year career ending with a World Series title a career worth saluting? I think so.