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.

Joe Girardi 1992 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 23, 2017

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I hope Joe Girardi eventually leaves the Yankees as their manager. The reason I want this to happen is because I think he is a fine manager and would have a Hall of Fame resume if only he leaves the Yankees.

It is funny how we all associate Giardi with the Yankees. But he was an Illinois guy who was a Cub. He could have been one of the great Cub figures of all time had he won a World Series in Chicago.

He was an industrial engineer student from Northwestern, again with the Illinois connection, when he the Peoria native was drafted by the Cubs in 1986 draft. The only way he could have been more Chicago would be if he slept in a deep dish and had dialogue written by David Mamet.

Giardi made it to the majors in 1989. When the Cubs made the NLCS that season, Girardi and Rick Wrona split the starting duties in place of the injured Damon Berryhill. He played with the Cubs through 1992 when he joined the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1993. He was a solid defensive catcher and decent hitter, once again seeing post season play with the Blake Street Bomber Rockies in 1995.

Then he became a REALLY unpopular Yankee. Remember that? Girardi was replacing popular Mike Stanley for the 1996 season and was looked upon as fans as a light hitting lightweight.

He won over some fans by catching Doc Gooden’s no hitter on May 14, 1996. Then in the World Series launched the triple against Greg Maddux in the clinching Game 6 that led the Yankees to their first title since 1978.

He remained with the Yankees for the 1998 and 1999 titles, mentoring young Jorge Posada and looking like a manager in waiting.

But he is an Illinois boy and when Posada took over the full time duties, Girardi returned to the Cubs and was named to the 2000 All Star Team. After a cameo with the 2003 Cardinals, he retired.

Did he get folded back into Cubs life? No. The Yankees came calling. He was a color commentator for YES and later a coach on Joe Torre’s staff.

He got his chance to manage in 2006. He took over a Marlins squad that was gutted shortly after his arrival. The team had a payroll of $15, less than several players on the Yankees. They finished with a losing record but were in Wild Card contention, improbably, through the end of the season. But Girardi clashed with Jeffrey Loria and despite winning Manager of the Year for the NL, was fired.

Then came the great crossroad. Joe Torre and the Yankees were losing patience with each other and another Division Series exit did not sit well with the front office. Lou Piniella’s name was floated about as a potential manager to replace Torre.

Meanwhile Dusty Baker and the Cubs management had had it and there was an opening to manage the Cubs.

The Washington Nationals also had a managerial spot open. Girardi found himself as the most valuable managerial commodity going into the 2007 season.

Which team did he manage in 2007?

NONE of course!

Torre agreed to one more go with the Yankees. Piniella went to the Cubs and Manny Acta went to Washington.

Girardi joined the YES broadcast booth and all 2007 looked like the manager in waiting in case Torre called it quits.

As it turned out the Yankees were another Division Series and out team in 2007 and Torre and the Yankees parted ways. The managerial job was going to go to either Don Mattingly, Torre’s bench coach, or Girardi. The Steinbrenner kids picked Girardi and Mattingly went off to LA where Torre replaced Grady Little.

In his first season with the Yankees, which would be the final one in the original Yankee Stadium lot, the unthinkable happened: The Yankees, whom everyone assumes buys every World Series, failed to make the playoffs. Injuries and disappointing pitching kept the Yankees behind the eventual pennant winning Rays and the 2007 World Champion Red Sox. Not a great start to his Yankee career as manager.

In 2009, fresh off a spending spree that brought in CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett, the Yankees stumbled into the new stadium with a weak start. But soon they righted the ship and won the Division. By sweeping the Twins in the Division Series, the Yankees won their first post season series since being stunned by the Red Sox in 2004.

Then they beat their tormentors from 2002 and 2005, the Angels. Finally in the World Series, the Yankees overcame an early hole against the defending World Champion Phillies to win the 27th title in team history.

Girardi changed his uniform number to 28 as a reminder that he is in pursuit of title 28 for the 2010 season.

It is still his number.

The Yankees, as of this writing, have not been to the World Series since 2009. If they fail to win the pennant in 2017, 2018 or 2019, this will be the first decade since the 1910’s to not feature a Yankee team in the World Series.

Now that is not a reflection of Girardi’s ability as a manager. Sure he sometimes goes by the book too much and wears out his bullpen. Sure he seems a little prickly, especially when compared to the media savvy Joe Torre. But he also seems like a decent man who many times plays well with a bloated aging team.

The Yankees missed the post season in 2013, 2014 and 2016, playing in a single Wild Card Game in 2015 which the Astros blanked them. 4 times, a Yankee team led by Girardi played golf in October with a high payroll. But many times that was the fault of fat contracts and past their prime stars.

Now with a young cast and virtually nobody left from 2009 save for Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia, Girardi has the team in first place again.

And if they win with him, he will have ring number 2 plus his Manager of the Year award from Florida.

But here is the thing. He will never get credit for anything he gets done while managing the Yankees. People will point to the payroll and the years they missed the playoffs as blemishes on his resume.

If he took over a small market team, like how Terry Francona turned around the Indians, and wins there, suddenly his October resume padding in New York will enhance his Cooperstown case.

Instead he is with the Yankees where he stinks if he doesn’t win it and people point to payroll if he does.

At one point the job of Yankee manager was one of the least secure positions in the country. As it stands now, in the last 21 seasons, only 2 people have held that title: Joe Torre and Joe Girardi.

Girardi has the 5th longest managerial tenure in Yankee history, following Joe McCarthy, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel and Miller Huggins.

All four of those managers are in the Hall of Fame.

In order to join them, Girardi might have to leave New York.