Dyar Miller 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for February 22, 2017

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I once saw an interview with Mickey Mantle where he was asked about the movie Bull Durham. The interviewer thought Mickey would find the movie to be funny (it is.)

Mickey didn’t think so. He thought it was sad. Asked to explain what he meant, Mickey explained that he knew a lot of Crash Davis type players in minor leagues. There were a lot of players whose paths to the big leagues were blocked and the team never wanted to get rid of them for fear of losing their depth. So they never got the chance in the show.

It was a poignant and insightful observation by the Mick. And that situation reminded me of the predicament of Dyar Miller.

He was a talented right handed pitcher signed by the Phillies organization in 1968. If he had stayed with the Phillies, he probably would have been in the big leagues in no time. But he only threw one game in the Phillies system.

Instead he found himself with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970s. By 1970, he was pitching well for the Double A Dallas Fort Worth squad. But the Orioles had four 20 game winners on their staff in 1971, so there was no rom for Miller.

In 1973 and 1974, he was pitching effectively for Triple A and was no longer super young either. He was 28 years old in 1974 and despite 6 strong minor league seasons, had yet to pitch a game in the Major Leagues. Baltimore was just too pitching rich. Several other teams could have used his arm. He probably would have been a third starter for the San Diego Padres that year. Instead he toiled in Triple A while the Orioles went back to the playoffs with an air tight rotation of Ross Grimsley, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer while using relievers such as Grant Jackson, Doyle Alexander and Wayne Garland.

In 1975, Miller went to Orioles spring training camp hoping to burst through. That spring in Florida he dazzled and posted the lowest ERA of any Baltimore pitcher in the Grapefruit League. At the end of Spring Training manager Earl Weaver informed him he did not make the club.

Miller had a temper tantrum, one that Weaver publicly acknowledged was justified. Everyone knew he pitched well enough to earn a spot on the team. There just was no room on the team, so he remained a minor leaguer.

He was converted to a reliever in the minors and ultimately that was his ticket. On June 9th, 1975, he was brought into the game in the 14th inning between the Orioles and A’s. He let up a run and took the loss.

But two days later he came into a game in the 9th and earned the victory in relief. He pitched well and with solid control out of the pen, posting a 2.72 ERA in his 46 1/3 innings.

In 1976 he also was effective out of the pen but after a shaky start in 1977, he was traded to the Angels for veteran closer Dick Drago.

Now in his early 30’s, Miller was a steady reliever in Anaheim, not getting many wins nor saves but keeping games close.

Between 1979 and 1981, he bounced around between the Angels, Blue Jays and Mets as well as the Expos organization. He kept going in the minor leagues until 1984 before turning to coaching.

Starting 1985 right up through this decade, Miller went from organization to organization, usually in the minor leagues, as a bullpen or pitching coach. He was a big league coach for the White Sox in 1987 and 1988 and in St. Louis when they won the pennant in 2013.

But even in St. Louis, his path to the big leagues was blocked by Dave Duncan, the St. Louis guru coach.

In all, Miller spent a lifetime in baseball including part of 7 seasons as a big league pitcher, which is a lot better than Crash Davis’ month in the show.

But if he was with another team, he might have developed as a starter and who knows? He might have a very different career.

I wonder if Mickey Mantle knew about him.

Don Baylor 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day For February 21, 2017

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Don Baylor made quite an impression on me when I started following baseball. It could be that the first year I REALLY followed the game day in and day out was 1979, the year Baylor won the MVP as a member of the California Angels.

But another thing caught my attention. Starting in 1978, before I really understood the day in and day out flow of a baseball season, I used to look at the backs of baseball cards and see the pattern of how they listed the teams a player played for.

On the back it would say “Year” and “Club” and list a bunch of teams. I would call it the “year club” and I would buy a pack of cards and say out loud “I want to see his year club.”

The year club for Reggie Jackson fascinated me. He was the biggest star in baseball in 1978 and in my mind he was as much a Yankee as Fred Lynn, Yaz, Fisk and Jim Rice were Red Sox. But Lynn, Yaz, Fisk, Rice and Evans only had Red Sox in their Year Club. Reggie had mostly the A’s, one year with the Orioles then with the Yankees.

Then I discovered Don Baylor’s year club. He had many years with the Orioles, one year with the A’s and then off to the Angels. I remember seeing that and thinking “It is like a reverse Reggie Jackson” back in 1978.

Little did I know how close I was.

Baylor, aka Groove, was from Texas and drafted into Earl Weaver’s Baltimore juggernaut. He was the right handed slugger would fill the void left by the departure of Frank Robinson. In 1972, he was a starting outfielder in Baltimore and had power and speed. By 1973 and 1974, he brought his stolen base ability and pop into the post season as the Orioles won back to back divisions but lost to the A’s, and Reggie Jackson, in the ALCS.

By 1975, Baylor had blossomed into a star. The 26 year old combined 25 homers and 32 stolen bases and got MVP consideration for the first time. Then he got caught in the crosshairs of baseball labor.

Reggie Jackson was eligible for the new status of Free Agent after the 1976 season. The A’s and Charlie Finley decided that signing him to a long term contract was not an option. So he needed to get SOMETHING for his star. So, during spring training of 1976, Jackson was bundled in a trade that sent him to Baltimore. Among the players who came back to Oakland was Don Baylor.

The A’s contended late into the season but their streak of consecutive Division Titles ended at 5. Baylor was going to test free agency himself and signed with the Angels. So while Reggie’s “Year Club” had many years in Oakland, one year in Baltimore and then off to the Yankees, Baylor’s had many years in Baltimore, one year in Oakland and then off to the Angels. They mirrored each other.

Baylor, who consistently led the league in hit by pitches, started clubbing homers left and right. By 1979, he became one of the best run producers in the American League. He led the league in runs and RBI. He homered 36 times, stole 22 bases and posted career highs in average and OPS.

The Angels made the post season for the first time that year and Baylor took home the MVP. Of course the voters today would probably have picked someone else. The Sabermetric crowd would not have put him in the top 20. Bobby Grich had the better all around season for the Angels. But in 1979, people looked at homers, RBI, average and if the team made the playoffs, so the award went to Baylor.

In 1982, Baylor and Reggie Jackson became teammates for the first time as Reggie left the Yankees to join the Angels. That year, along with Fred Lynn, Rod Carew, Bobby Grich and Doug Decinces, the Baylor and Jackson combination pushed the Angels back into the playoffs. At this point, Baylor was a fulltime DH. He did not play a single game in the field during the 1982 season.

In the 5 game ALCS, Baylor drove in 10 runs by himself, including a grand slam in Game 4. But the Brewers came back from a 2-0 hole to win the series in 5, preventing Baylor from making the World Series.

He went to Free Agency again and wound up with the Yankees in 1983. Now think about his Year Club. A bunch of years with the Orioles, one with the A’s, then some glory years with the Angels and off to the Yankees. That, save one year overlap in California, perfectly mirrored Reggie Jackson’s bunch of years with the A’s, one with the Orioles, then some glory years with the Yankees and off to the Angels.

After a few years clashing with Steinbrenner while still homering, Baylor made it to 1985 with still no appearances in the World Series.

Then the “Year Club” deviated from Reggie for the first time. The Yankees and Red Sox swapped DH’s as Mike Easler went from Fenway to the Bronx. The idea was Easler’s left handed swing was better suited for Yankee Stadium while Baylor’s right handed bat would take aim at the Green Monster.

For what it is worth, Baylor’s prescience in the club house seemed to have as much an effect as the 31 homers he clubbed. The disjointed “24 men 24 cab” culture seemed to change with Baylor and his Kanagroo court. The Red Sox took control of the Division early in the year and won the first AL East since 1975.

Baylor made his mark in the ALCS, hitting the 2 run homer that set up Dave Henderson’s season saving homer off of Donnie Moore. The Red Sox won the pennant and Baylor saw his first World Series.

He wasn’t much of a factor in the World Series as Bill Buckner famously played at first base over Baylor. We all know what happened in the World Series.

In 1987, the Red Sox went into a transition season. New hitters like Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Sam Horn and Todd Benzinger started to get playing time. Veterans Bill Buckner and Dave Henderson were sent packing to make room for the new sluggers.

At the end of August, it was Don Baylor’s time to be shipped off to Minnesota, who were making a surprise post season push. That trade led to this Topps card with a sloppy airbrushed hat.

In the post season as a part time DH, Baylor made the most of his brief career cameo in Minnesota. His RBI hit Game 1 of the ALCS helped set up the Twins come from behind victory. His three run homer in a do or die Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals helped force a 7th game. In the end he batted .389 in that October posting an OPS of 1.032.

The Twins held on to win Game 7 and take the World Series title, the first one earned in Baylor’s career.

He returned to Oakland in 1988 as a platoon DH but clearly no longer was the feared slugger he once was. He did play in the post season and got an at bat in the 1988 World Series. That made him the first player to play in three straight World Series with three different teams (since matched by Eric Hinske.)

His final appearance as a player was striking out in the 1988 World Series. Afterwards he a long career of managing and coaching, being the original manager of the Rockies and leading the Cubs during Sammy Sosa’s peak.

One last note about his “Year Club.” When he returned to the A’s, he was replacing the outgoing DH. Who was the A’s DH in 1987? That would be Reggie Jackson. They just kept mirroring each other.

 

 

Jason Thompson 1983 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for February 17, 20177

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Nope not the former NBA player nor the soap opera actor. This is the Jason Thompson who played for the Pirates.

Actually he got his big league career started with the Tigers when he got drafted out of Cal State Northridge in 1974. Thompson was a slick fielding first baseman with power who shot up through the Tigers farm system.

In 1976, he was on the All Rookie Team. By 1977 and 1978, he was chosen to the All Star Game.

Thompson hit for power, slugging 31 homers in 1977, drove in a ton of runs (105 one year) and would post an OPS in the mid .800’s, not that anyone knew that back then.

By age 25, he was putting together his best season increasing his average, on base and slugging while still clubbing 21 homers in a season split between the Tigers and California Angels.

He arrived in 1981 as the Angels designated hitter. But the team was moving Rod Carew to that position and recently had acquired Fred Lynn. They were running out of spots for Thompson to play. So before the season began, he was dealt to Pittsburgh.

Right away, the Pirates flipped him to the Yankees. Where he was going to play on the Yankees is anyone’s guess because they had more hitters than spots in the lineup.

The point was moot. The money exchanged in the deal caused commissioner to nix it. So he stayed in Pittsburgh where he had to fill the shoes of beloved Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.

He had a subpar 1981 but 1982 was possibly his best season overall. He clubbed 31 homers, drove in 101, posted a .902 OPS and was part of a potent lineup that featured veterans Dave Parker, Lee Lacey, Mike Easler and Bill Madlock along with young stars like Johnny Ray and Tony Pena. Thompson made the All Star team again and finished 17th in the MVP vote. It would be his peak.

The Pirates would fade over the next few year as would Thompson. After three more seasons and a cameo in Montreal for 1986, his career was over.

This is of course a 1983 Fleer Card, a series so bananas that I wrote about them back in 2008. The pics all were strange, none were action shots, and often were clearly done before a ballgame.

Here Thompson wears his Stargell stars, a remnant of the 1979 title. Is it an action shot or even posed? Of course not. He is being interviewed on CNN, which in 1982 and 1983 was a very obscure cable station.

Makes you wonder what pics they rejected.

He now runs a baseball camp in Michigan. Click HERE for info.