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

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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.

 

 

Jack Morris 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 27, 2017

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Let me say something very controversial.

Jack Morris had a fine career.

(Sully ducks, expecting someone to throw something at me.)

He did. Even if you do not think he was a Hall of Famer (and I can appreciate both sides of the argument) we all know that there is a huge gray area between “Hall of Fame Immortal” and “Worthless Bum.”

Even Morris’ harshest critics should put him into the that gray area.

There is no reason to breakdown his career bit by bit because between 2000 and 2014, his Hall of Fame candidacy was examined closer than a Supreme Court Nominee.

In review, he won more games than any pitcher in the 1980’s, was the number one starter one three World Champions and threw a dramatic 10 inning shutout to clinch the 1991 World Series. 7 top 10 Cy Young finishes and had the reputation of being a big game pitcher.

AND he had a high ERA, had a lot of offensive support that boosted his win total, did not survive cross examination of any advanced metric and LOST a few critical post season games as well.

We all know that. His debate was a battleground of old school thinkers and new school thinkers. He got to within 8% of the Hall of Fame.

The strange thing about it is he will never be a Hall of Famer (save for a Veterans Committee vote) not because of new stat thinking but because of some old school voting stubbornness.

Think about it. When the Morrs vote was first starting, it was 2000. Who was embracing new stats then? Bill James and 6 guys name Doug who had a Fantasy Baseball League.

His stats never changed. He never won another World Series game between 2000 and the 2014 vote. All the old school writers who championed him had a shot to vote him in then. Morris would have been in Cooperstown and his detractors would use him as an example (like Bill Mazeroski or Don Sutton) of someone who got in because of old school thinking.

But he only got 22.2% of the vote on his first year on the ballot. He dropped to 19.6% in 2001. He did not crack 30% until his 6th ballot.

Why? Because voters don’t like to vote for Hall of Famers on the first ballot. Because they like the twisting in the wind element of it.

It wasn’t until 2010, when new versus old thinking made Morris a Cause Celebre that he even made it to 50%. That was his 11th time on the ballot. The old guard had more than a decade to put the proverbial crown on his head.

At that point, even I, a huge Morris supporter for years, thought “Hmm… maybe there is something to their arguments.”

What sunk Morris for good? Was it the new Sabermetrics crowd? Nope. Once again, the old school guard that did not vote for him right away obliterated his hope on his second to last year on the ballot.

On his 14th and second to last try, Morris was on the ballot again. He had reached 66.7% the previous year (2012) and fell short of 75% as Barry Larkin was the lone Hall of Fame entry that year.

In 2013, there were some big hold overs, including eventual inductees Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

But that was also the first year that Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were on the ballot. Those three who had dared use (or were suspected of using) PEDs to obliterate the record book were on the ballot.

And it was the old school who protested, sending in blank ballots, many voting for nobody. This was a statement to say those players could not cheat their way into Cooperstown and sit along side Mays, Aaron, Koufax and Berra.

OK, fine. But that also meant that Morris once again fell just short. At 67.7%, he was within 10% of election. But with no players elected, that would leave a glut the next year.

Public opinion went against the writers, who seemed petty, and led to a crowded ballot. And even old school writers who use traditional stats were putting Morris in an impossible position in his 15th and final year on the ballot.

Again, none of Morris’ stats changed after the 1994 season, his final one in the bigs. But he would be a victim of comparisons in 2014.

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were both on the ballot. Both had stats that dwarfed Morris’ and both his the magical 300 win mark that Morris fell far short of.

He finished with 61.5% as no doubt the cluttered ballots, many filled with 10 candidates, didn’t have enough room.

So while modern stats exposed the flawed thinking behind Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame hopes, it was bullheaded mindsets of old school writers that kept him out.

If they voted for who they felt was worthy, first ballot or not, he would have been in earlier. If they didn’t make a ham fisted protest, he would have been in later.

Instead, Morris has to console himself with adulation from Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays fans, millions of dollars and three World Series rings.

And a fine career.

Mike Krukow 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 26, 2017

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I associate Mike Krukow so much with the San Francisco Giants that it is almost startling to see him wearing a different uniform.

He had success as a pitcher for the Giants and for a long time has become one of the best broadcasters in all of baseball.

My dad hasn’t missed a Giants game for… um… as long as I can remember. And he always says with great enthusiasm “I am going to listen to Kruk and Kuip.” The combination of Krukow with Duane Kuiper is a perfect combination of baseball knowledge, passion, experience and fun. They are friends.

In the end that is the most critical part of being a great announcer. It has little to do with analysis or stats. It has to do with sitting down with a friend who will watch the game with you and have something good to say.

Phil Rizzuto was that for the Yankees despite offering almost no analysis. Same can be said for Harry Carey. Jerry Remy is a Massachusetts boy hanging out with Red Sox fans.

For the Giants, it is Kruk and Kuip.

Krukow was a SOUTHERN California kid from San Gabriel, near Pasadena. The Cubs drafted him out of Cal Poly in 1973. By 1976, he made his big league debut and was in the Cubs rotation in 1977.

His first 5 games in the 1977 season were brutal, as he posted a 13.11 ERA over 11 2/3 innings, including 4 starts. But instead of being sent to the minors, he bounced back in May, going 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA, averaging 6 innings a start. On May 26th, he threw a complete game shutout against Montreal and two starts later threw another complete game.

Over the next four seasons in Chicago, he was a reliable if not spectacular starter on a few uninspiring Cubs team. Krukow gave the team 205 innings in 1980 and led the league in starts in the strike shortened 1981 campaign.

But he would not be a Cub for life as he was sent packing to Philadelphia as former Phillies manager Dallas Green started raiding his former team as he rebuilt the Cubs. Keith Moreland and Dickie Noles headed to Chicago as Krukow became a Phillie.

He had a nice season in Philadelphia, winning 13 to a 3.12 ERA but his time as a Phillies was fleeting as he was involved in a trade that was eye popping in retrospect (and covered on this blog earlier.)

Krukow and eventual Cy Young winner Mark Davis were packaged off to the Giants for future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and eventual All Star closer Al Holland.

The Phillies would win the 1983 pennant, but Krukow found a home in San Francisco. He became an All Star in 1986, winning 20 and finishing third in the Cy Young vote. He also became a fan favorite, winning the Willie Mac Award multiple times.

In 1987, he helped pitch the Giants to the NLCS and with the team down 2 games to 1, he took the hill in Game 4. The Cardinals threw Danny Cox and it was a tense game with pennant implications left and right. But a pair of late homers gave the Giants the lead and despite giving up 9 hits, Krukow went the distance. He allowed only 2 runs and 1 walk in the 4-2 victory that knotted the series up.

The Giants lost Game 7 of the NLCS and the entire series to St. Louis as starter Atlee Hammaker was bombed. Manager Roger Craig later admitted he had Krukow in mind to pitch Game 1 of the World Series. The Cardinals would play instead.

Injuries slowed down Krukow over 1988 and he pitched his last game in 1989. He was part of the team that won the NL Pennant but not healthy enough to be on the playoff roster.

Almost right away, he became an announcer and has gone from a playoff hero to a daily friend on the radio and TV.

His health is forcing him to reduce his workload but in the end, he will remain an Emmy winning force to be reckoned with in San Francisco.

Just one question though. Take a look at this fun fact on the back of the Topps Card featured today.

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He wrote a song for future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter’s wedding?

Is there some reason that is not sung at EVERY Giants game?