Jay Howell 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 29, 2017



From a distance, Jay Howell had a surprisingly successful career. He played for 14 plus seasons in the majors, was part of a World Series champion and was named to 3 All Star Games.

He also was featured in two of the biggest trades of the 1980s.

But man he had a strange career, one where bad things kept popping up in glorious moments and his injury led directly to another player becoming a Hall of Famer.

Howell was born in Miami but went to high school in Colorado, foreshadowing the expansion of 1993. The Reds picked him out of high school in the 12th round, but he didn’t sign.

Howell went to college at University of Colorado and was drafted again by the Reds, this time in the 31st round. Most 31st rounders do not become 3 time All Stars, so the scout who signed him deserved a bonus.

In 1976, his pro career began in Eugene. After stops in Tampa, Nashville and Indianapolis, he made his big league debut with the Reds in 1980. He hit the first batter he faced, Steve Garvey. He would then retire Ron Cey, Pedro Guerrero and Rudy Law. It would not be the last time he was associated with the Dodgers.

A week later, he allowed 4 runs while retiring none of the 6 batters he faced, ruining his ERA for his short stint with the Reds.

In 1981, he had another unimpressive big league cameo, this time with the Cubs. By 1982, he found himself on the Yankees, again struggling at age 26. He had a bad season in 1983 as well, posting a 5.38 ERA. If anyone had told you then that he would make 3 All Star games, they would have been committed.

In 1984, Yankee manager Yogi Berra used Howell as a set up man for Dave Righetti and he was effective. Whenever a relatively young player was effective under George Steinbrenner in the 1980’s, there was only one fate for them: They would be packaged in a deal.

Howell was sent packing to Oakland with Jose Rijo, Eric Plunk and Stan Javier for Rickey Henderson. The Yankees got a Hall of Famer and the A’s got some depth.

In his first year with the A’s, Howell saved 29 games, won 9 and posted a 2.85 ERA over 98 innings of relief. He made the All Star Game and gave the A’s a little bit of hope for the future.

In 1986, he saved 16 games and played for new manager Tony LaRussa.

In 1987, Howell got off to a poor start, allowing 10 runs in his first 13 1/3 innings. His May wasn’t much better, posting a 5.14 ERA. In June, however, he struck out 13 batters and did not let up a run for the entire month. That lowered his ERA to 4.20, but still it was too high for a closer.

So naturally he was named to the All Star Game. In front of his hometown fans in Oakland, Howell let up 2 runs in the 13th to take the loss. His July was pretty grotesque along with the national spotlight on his loss.

Including the All Star Game, he lost or blew a save in 6 of his first 7 appearances in July and his first game in August. He pitched to a horrific 12.96 ERA for the month and by mid August, was shut down for injuries.

Needing a closer for the team’s slim playoff hopes, Tony LaRussa turned to washed up starter Dennis Eckersley. If Howell was effective in July and not hurt in August, Eckersley might not have received the chance to revive his career and put himself on the path to Cooperstown.

With Howell no longer needed, he was shipped off again in a 3 team super complicated deal that sent Bob Welch and Matt Young to the A’s, Howell, Alfredo Griffin and Jesse Orosco to the Dodgers and several young pitchers to the Mets.

Expectations for the 1988 Dodgers were not exactly sky high. The Giants and the Reds were consensus picks for the Division. But they jumped out to a 13-7 start and never posted a losing record for the season.

On May 26th, the Dodgers won and Howell got the decision over Philadelphia. They went into first place themselves and never fell back to second for the rest of the year.

Although Orosco began the season compiling saves, Howell would wind up leading the team with 21. Tommy Lasorda spread the wealth around in terms of saves as Orosco notched 9 and Alejandro Pena picked up 12. Even Tim Belcher, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser picked up saves along the way.

When the NLCS began, the Mets were heavy favorites over L.A. In Game 1, with Hershiser pitching and his scoreless inning streak pouring over to the post season, the Mets rallied in the 9th. Howell blew the save and the Dodgers took the loss.

Rain postponed Game 3 and gave Lasorda a chance to start Hershiser again. Howell came in relief and again was ineffective. This time, the umpires found pinetar in his glove. He was suspended for the rest of the series and the Dodgers lost.

LA lost both Hershiser starts and no longer had their closer. The Mets winning the pennant was a foregone conclusion. Instead LA rallied and got saves from Alejandro Pena, Brian Holton and even Orel Herhiser before seeing Hershiser throw a complete game shutout for Game 7.

With Howell back on the roster, he did not help his cause when he let up a walk off homer to Mark McGwire to end Game 3 of the World Series.

In Game 4, the Dodgers trying to curb the A’s momentum, LA sent Tim Belcher out to face A’s Ace Dave Stewart.

Sloppy Oakland defense gave LA an unlikely 4-2 lead in the 7th. The A’s rallied in the 7th and Dave Henderson doubled home Walt Weiss to make it a 4-3 game.

With 2 outs and the tying run on second, Lasorda decided to go to his closer early. Howell did not inspire confidence when he walked Canseco. Then an error put Parker on and the bases were loaded. Mark McGwire, whose homer sunk Howell the night before, was at the plate.

Howell got McGwire to pop up on the first pitch. The Dodgers went to the 8th, up 4-3. In the 8th, he worked around a single to keep the lead.

With Pena and Orosco warming in the pen, Lasorda stuck with his embattled closer. With one on and one out in the bottom of the 9th, Howell faced Canseco, knowing that a homer would win the game and tie the series.

He got Canseco swinging on a full count. Then Howell got Dave Parker to pop up to third base to end the game. Howell earned every bit of his 7 out save. After the game, Lasorda gleefully admonished the writers who trashed Howell in their columns the day before.

Howell was not needed in Game 5 as Hershiser went the distance with another clinching shutout.

1988 was a strange season for Howell where he became obsolete from his previous employer and a disgraced cheat and a walk off loser in the playoffs… and yet ended the season with a high wire act save and a World Championship.

He would make the 1989 All Star team and play until the 1994 strike.

A strange career and yet one with lots of memorable moments, good and bad, and worth honoring.



Alan Bannister 1978 Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars Card – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 5, 2017


How do you pick a favorite player? That question “who is your favorite player?” is a common one to any baseball fan and yet it sometimes seems like a strange one.

Like asking someone “What is your favorite movie?” or “what is your favorite meal?” or “what is your favorite song?”, those are questions that seem like reasonable questions but it opens up a strange can of worms.

In terms of movies, I know intellectually Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is a superior film to Airplane! But in the end, I would rather watch Airplane!

“Favorite” is subjective as opposed to saying “Who is the best player?”

My first favorite player was Butch Hobson. He played on a star studded Red Sox team (Yaz, Fisk, Rice, Lynn, Tiant…) and I liked the tough third baseman mainly because his name was Butch.

I had the brilliant comedian Jimmy Pardo on the podcast in 2016. He is the host of Never Not Funny, one of the best podcasts around. He is a die hard Chicago White Sox fan and he told some funny stories about rooting for the White Sox in the 1970’s. I brought up the number of White Sox featured in the Kellogg’s 3-D card series from 1978.

I brought up Alan Bannister, who I felt was probably the most obscure players who got the 3-D treatment. Jimmy informed me that Bannister was his favorite player as a kid.

Now that I found strange. Bannister’s 1977 season was the highlight of his 12 year career where me mainly played as a utility player. Even his 3-D card listed him as a vague “Infield-Outfield”. He didn’t hit for a high average, not show much power nor speed. Perhaps his versatility was what got him in the 3-D treatment. He led the league with sacrifice flies. He also had the most errors of any shortstop in baseball.

In fact in his career, his fielding at short was actually dangerous. Playing as an amateur in a tournament in Japan, he made a wild throw to first that struck a runner in the head. The runner later died from the wound.

He was drafted by the Phillies as a hyped college prospect from Arizona State in 1973. He played part of 1974 and1975 before being dealt to the White Sox in the deal for Jim Kaat. He played 139 games in 1977 and never met that mark again in a career that included stops in Cleveland, Houston and Texas through 1985.

So why was he Jimmy Pardo’s favorite player?

According to Jimmy, he saw a photo of Bannister leaping in the air turning a double play, and that impressed him. And Comiskey Park in the 1970’s featured many fans waving banners for individual players.

While the Chet Lemons and Richie Zisks of the world had no shortage of banners, Jimmy and his step brother decided to give Alan Bannister some love. They carried the “BANNISTER BOOSTER” sign to Comiskey Park.

Did it make sense that he gravitated to Bannister in a star studded team? Of course not. Nor did it make sense for me to be a big Butch Hobson fan.

But as I said in the podcast “That’s my guy.”

Jimmy agreed, totally understanding what I was saying. “That’s my guy!” he repeated.

Here is Jimmy’s appearance on the podcast.

Mark Davis 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for February 18 2017


The following pitchers never won a Cy Young Award:

Juan Marichal
Nolan Ryan
Curt Schilling
Jim Bunning
Dave Steib
Dave Stewart
Bert Blyleven
Don Sutton
Jack Morris
Jimmy Key
Mike Mussina

Neither did reliever Mariano Rivera.

One San Diego Padre reliever DID win a Cy Young Award. It wasn’t Trevor Hoffman nor Goose Gossage. Nor was it Rollie Fingers (who won HIS Cy Young with the Brewers.)

Mark Davis has a Cy Young Award.

I told that to a friend of mine. He looked at me as if I told him Steve Bannon won an NAACP Image Award.

But it is true. And like a movie that won an Oscar that aged badly (I am looking at YOU, Crash) Davis’ Cy Young looks bizarre on today’s eyes..

The Livermore California native was the number one overall pick in the secondary phase of the 1979 draft. The Phillies, a powerhouse in the 1970’s had that pick so I officially have NO CLUE how they figured out the order of the picks.

As a 19 year old, he made a relief appearance for the 1980 World Champion Phillies and started game 162, giving the regular pitching staff a rest before the post season.

Davis did not fare well in his cameo with the 1981 Phillies and did not play in the majors in 1982.

After the 1982 season, he was sent packing with Mike Krukow to San Francsco for Joe Morgan and Al Holland.

Think about that trade for a second. Mike Krukow is a beloved Giants announcer now and a fan favorite as a player. Joe Morgan is in the Hall of Fame. Al Holland became an All Star closer. And of course we have established that Mark Davis is an eventual Cy Young winner.

Shouldn’t that be remembered as an All Time star studded trade?

While Morgan and Holland found themselves in the 1983 World Series, Davis pitched fairly for the 1983 Giants squad as a starter but got bombed in 1984, leading to his transfer to the bullpen. He was an effective but unspectacular reliever for the 1985 and 1986 Giants but was moved back to spot starting in 1987, where he did not fare well.

Then, with the Giants chasing the Reds for the NL West, Davis was involved in another blockbuster. He was sent with Mark Grant, Keith Comstock and Chris Brown to San Diego for Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts.

Think about that for a second. Mitchell would go on to win the MVP. Davis would win the Cy Young. Shouldn’t that be a legendary trade?

The Padres figured out exactly what to do with the left hander. He was a reliever. Now Lance McCullers and Rich Gossage did the bulk of the closing, but Davis found his role replacing Lefferts as the lefty in the pen.

In 1988, Gossage was gone but Davis still was behind McCullers for the closer role. He would log an occasional save, including going 3 2/3 innings against the eventual World Champion Dodgers on April 12th.

By the end of May, the job was his, and he ran with it. He rattled off 16 saves by the All Star Break. He recorded a 1.93 ERA in July and did not allow a run over 18 2/3 innings in August. Over the second half, he allowed 5 earned runs over 43 innings.

Going into the 1989 season, the Padres were aggressive, picking up Bruce Hurst and Jack Clark in an effort to take the NL West from the Dodgers, Reds and Giants. San Diego held close to San Francisco until they dropped 11 of 12 games in June. They finished the season 20-8 but could never close the gap.

Nobody could blame Mark Davis for the Padres falling short. He picked up where he left off and after a bumpy June, was almost unhittable the rest of the season. He let up no runs in July, pitched to a 1.86 ERA in August and an 0.86 ERA in September, piling up saves along the way.

His dominating performance earned him the Cy Young Award in the off season. The vote wasn’t really close. Davis got 19 first place votes, Mike Scott earned 4 and Orel Hershiser got one more.

Today’s voters would probably give it to Hershiser, who followed up his legendary 1988 with a terrific campaign in 1989. But his win loss record was 15-15, which was all anyone looked at then.

Greg Maddux would also get a lot of consideration today, who also had the old school requirements of 19 wins and being the ace of the Division winning Cubs.

Scott, whose overall numbers were inferior to Hershiser and Maddux, had 20 wins, which everyone loved then.

Now Hershiser and Scott already won Cy Youngs and Maddux would go on to win a closet full of them, so it is tough to feel badly for them not padding their resume in 1989. But there is no way that Davis would win today.

Davis timed his best season with free agency perfectly. Not only was his contract up, but the owners, having been found guilty of collusion, needed to spend big in the off season of 1989.

He signed a massive (by 1989’s standards) contract with the Kansas City Royals. It was a wonderful coup for the Royals. Bret Saberhagen won the 1989 AL Cy Young and now they had the 1989 NL Cy Young winner. It would be the foundation of a wonderful Royals staff.

Midway through April, everything was going according to plan. Davis did not allow a run as he converted his first 3 save chances. Little went well after that. A disastrous May cost him his closer job. By the end of the year, he was used as a middle reliever and spot starter.

He bounced around between 1991 and 1994 between the Royals, Braves, Phillies and back to the Padres. A brief stint with the Brewers in 1997 was the end of his career.

Since then he has been a coach in the Diamondbacks and Royals organizations. All the while played along side All Stars and Hall of Famers in his 13 plus seasons in the majors.

And in his trophy case is a Cy Young Award. Lots of great pitchers can’t say that.

Mark Davis can.