Henry Cotto 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 21, 2017

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National broadcasts of playoff games are supposed to be, at least in theory, neutral. Now we all know that is almost impossible.

Announcers want there to be drama. And the drama that keeps people watching a game and builds up the drama of a series is good for the network, the announcers and the game.

Sometimes there is built in drama in a team advancing and history being made. In 1984, the regular season looked like a great old fashioned World Series was going to take place. The Detroit Tigers made a mockery of the AL East from the start and with Sparky Anderson in charge of a young, star studded squad, Detroit was the team to beat.

Meanwhile the Cubs, who hadn’t played in October since 1945, fought hard tooth and nail with the Mets for the NL East. A Tigers vs. Cubs World Series would have been heaven sent.

They would be playing in the same ballparks as the 1945 series (and the 1935 series for that matter.) Two old school teams, wearing traditional uniforms (at least the home unis) and two great sports cities would clash.

As with every championship caliber team, the Cubs got contributions from everyone, from their stars to their role players. 23 year old Henry Cotto was one of the member of that Cubs squad. The Bronx native who went to school in Puerto Rico was a speedster and a solid defensive outfielder. Between 1980 and 1983, he shot up through the Cubs system. By 1984, he was in the majors.

He mainly came off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Veterans Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland and Bob Dernier did the bulk of the starting but Cotto would give manager Jim Frey some young legs off the bench.

In his second ever start of April 8th, against San Diego, he got 3 hits and played all 10 innings in the Cubs win. On August 7th, he got 4 hits in a critical win against the Mets.

The Cubs clinched the NL East. As the Tigers made quick work of Kansas City in the playoffs, it was Chicago’s turn to dispatch the unheralded San Diego Padres for the pennant and have the World Series everyone was waiting for.

Wrigley did not have lights, but the World Series games were scheduled for the evening. Cub fans could not wait to force the Commissioner to change the TV schedule to play World Series games in the afternoon.

The Cubs clobbered the Padres in Game 1, 13-0. Cotto came off the bench and singled as everyone got into the fun. After a Game 2 victory, the Cubs went to San Diego, needing only one win in 3 games to go the World Series for the first time since 1945.

The Padres saved face with a Game 3 win. In Game 4, the Cubs went for the kill. Neither starter, Scott Sanderson and Tim Lollar, made it out of the 5th, making it a battle of the bullpens. The Padres took the lead in the 7th and a tiny bit of panic started coming over the baseball network powers that be. The narrative that sells was slipping away.

When Keith Moreland reached base in the 8th representing the tying run, Cotto came in to run. With the Padres 4 outs away from forcing a deciding Game 5 (and NBC executives gulping wondering how to sell San Diego in the World Series), Cubs catcher Jody Davis doubled off of Rich Gossage. Cotto came around to score and the game was tied.

Lee Smith worked out of trouble in the 8th. But the Cubs put two men on and 2 outs against reliever Craig Lefferts in the 9th.

Cotto came up and was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Ron Cey. A base hit would give the Cubs the lead and be 3 outs from the World Series. Cey grounded out.

In the bottom of the 9th, Tony Gwynn singled off of Lee Smith and Steve Garvey came to the plate. On a 1-0 pitch, he hit a deep drive to right. Cotto chased it to the wall. He jumped up onto the top of the wall, arm stretched. But the ball was well over his head.

Steve Garvey hit a dramatic walk off homer. It forced a deciding game and gave Cub fans and TV executives a hollow pit in their stomach.

The TV announcers, a strange group of future Hall of Famers, Don Drysdale, Reggie Jackson and Earl Weaver, called the shot. Almost right away Drysdale started praising Cotto and his effort to catch the ball.

“Watch this effort, Earl!” exclaimed Drysdale. “If that isn’t major league, I don’t know what is!”

To this day, that bit of analysis in the wake of an unbelievably dramatic homer struck me as odd. I am not one to scream “bias”. I rolled my eyes a lot over the years when people accused announcers of New York and Boston bias. But it was pretty clear that they were throwing something to the many Cub fans and the legion of people who did NOT want to see a Padres pennant.

An inning prior, the Cubs had knocked out Gossage and had the bases loaded and a seasons former LA superstar, Cey, ready to slug them into the World Series. Instead it was ANOTHER former LA superstar, Garvey who got the big hit. So why not praise the backup Cubs outfielder who stretched his glove out to catch a ball 10 feet over his head?

As it turned out, it would be his last game as a Cub. The Padres did indeed win the pennant in Game 5. In the off season, he was dealt to the Bronx, kind of a homecoming, as he gave the Yankees valuable depth on their bench. Between 1985 and 1987, he went back and forth between the Yankees and Triple A Columbus. In 1988, he was dealt to Seattle and saw regular playing time along side Ken Griffey Jr and Jay Buhner.

He bounced between the Mariners, Marlins, Japan and the White Sox organizations before finally hanging up his spikes. Currently he is a minor league manager in the San Francisco Giants organization.

But for one moment of exaggerated effort, he personified hustle, big league desire and the realization that the hopes for a dream World Series were flying out of reality’s reach.

 

Steve Bedrosian 1994 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 20, 2017

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There is an amazing contradiction in baseball in terms of analysis.

Much of how we judge the greatness and worth of a player are based upon numbers. These numbers are not subjective. They are hard fast. They are a record of what the player did and how they played.

Art, music and movies can be subjective. I can love El Greco, Talking Heads and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Someone else can hate them. It is a matter of opinion and taste.

But there is no debating the back of a baseball card. Those are numbers. They are data.

Ahhhh. But there lies the contradiction. The numbers may not change, but the value we give one number over another is in a constant state of evolution.

Take Steve Bedrosian. He was a fine relief pitcher. He was an All Star. He threw the clinching pitch of the 1989 NLCS. He won a World Series ring with the 1991 Minnesota Twins. He pitched 14 seasons in the majors and became a millionaire along the way.

Nothing to complain about here. May we all have a career like Steve Bedrosian.

He won a Cy Young Award.

THAT is what I find bizarre. Juan Marichal never won a Cy Young Award. Curt Schilling never did. Neither did Bert Blyleven.

Neither did Nolan Ryan.

But Steve Bedrosian did. Now I have nothing against a relief pitcher winning the Cy Young. I know some people will never give one to someone who isn’t in the rotation. I am not hung up on that.

Nor am I going to throw a lot of fancy Sabermetrics at you to untangle. I was against Steve Bedrosian winning the 1987 Cy Young Award back in 1987.

The Methuen Massachusetts native found himself on the Phillies when they were in that post “winning titles” but pre “truly terrible” neutral zone of the mid to late 1980’s. They still had Mike Schmidt winning the MVP and lots of stars on the team, they just weren’t as good as the Mets or the Cardinals.

After being a part time closer in Atlanta, “Bedrock” had the job full time in Philadelphia when he arrived in 1986. He did a good job and kept the gig the next year. He stumbled badly out of the gate in 1987.

By April 18, he had blown 2 saves and his ERA was 11.05. He finished April with a 7.84 ERA and one single save. I don’t know what the odds were, but I am pretty positive he was a long shot to win the Cy Young at that point.

He had a solid May, allowing 2 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings and in June and July, he posted sub 2 ERAs in each month. He made 9 appearances in June and saved all 9.

Bedrosian was hardly dominant in August and September, with ERAs over 3.50 each month. He didn’t pitch badly, but he was hardly eye popping.

In the end he had a fine season for a closer. He saved 40 games while averaging more than 2 innings an appearance. He went 5-3, his ERA was 2.83 and he struck out 74 batters. He had a good year for a team that went nowhere.

Today, that would get you a pat on the back.

In 1987 it got him the f—ing Cy Young Award.

AGAIN! I have NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING against Steve Bedrosian. I hope he has the Cy Young Award placed in a proud spot in his home. But COME ON! Mariano Rivera never won a Cy Young with his game difference dominating performances. Neither did Goose Gossage. But Bedrosian had one for a nice season?

Cy Young voters salivated over the win totals in those days with a trend that I think reached its insane peak with Bartolo Colon winning his Cy Young and started turning with Felix Hernandez.

But saves were also given far too much weight as well. Granted, this was just before Tony LaRussa turned the save into a 3 batter and out situation, forever padding the save total for lucky schmoes who happened to be on the mound at the end of the game.

Even in 1987, this save fixation did not sit well with a 15 year old Sully. They may have not have been a Dwight Gooden or Mike Scott dominating the National League like they had in the past 2 years. But there were some fine performances… like by Dwight Gooden and Mike Scott!

Rick Sutcliffe had 18 wins for the Cubs and finished second in the voting. Rick Reuschel, who put up All Star numbers in Pittsburgh and helped the Giants win the Division, got one fewer first place vote than Bedrosian.

Sabermetricians would argue that LA’s 1-2 punch of Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser were actually the two best pitchers in the NL that year. But no doubt writers could not get past Hershiser’s 16-16 record. And Welch had just 3 points in the vote, had a 15-9 record which wasn’t very sexy.

Remember how I listed those great pitchers who never won a Cy Young. Remember how I listed Nolan Ryan. Back in 1987, I said that Nolan Ryan should win the Cy Young.

A few other outlying writers unknowingly agreed with me. Ryan led the league with a 2.76 ERA. He also struck out 270 batters, tops in the league, over 211 2/3 innings.

I did not even realize he had the best ERA+, best FIP, best hits per 9 inning ratio, the nest strikeout per 9 inning ratio and best strikeout to walk ratio in the National League.

Traditional stats and advanced stats showed the Ryan Express had a great year. So why did he finish a distant 5th? He went 8-16 with a terrible Houston lineup.

In 16 of his starts, he got 2 runs or fewer of support. In those games he posted a 3.03 ETA, striking out 111 batters in 95 innings and posting a 1-13 record.

You read that right. In 13 of Nolan Ryan’s 16 losses, the Astros scored 2 runs or fewer. I knew back in 1987 he was robbed of a Cy Young. He never did win one.

Steve Bedrosian did because writers penalized Ryan for a lack of run support and were enamored with the save.

Today, Bedrosian doesn’t crack the top 10 in the Cy Young vote while Ryan, Welch and Hershiser would battle out for the award.

Numbers didn’t change. Just our value for them do.

But let’s end this on a positive note. Here is Steve Bedrosian after his trade to San Francisco clinching the 1989 pennant for the Giants.

Juan Gonzalez 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 19, 2017

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Juan Gonzalez is a two time AL MVP. Stop and think about that and the company he is in. The Baseball Writer’s Association of America began to vote for the American League and National League Most Valuable Player in 1931.

The following players have multiple MVPs since then:

Ernie Banks (2)
Johnny Bench (2)
Yogi Berra (3)
Barry Bonds (7)
Miguel Cabrera (2)
Roy Campanella (3)
Mickey Cochrane (2)
Joe DiMaggio (3)
Jimmie Foxx (3)
Lou Gehrig (2)
Hank Greenberg (2)
Carl Hubbell (2)
Mickey Mantle (3)
Roger Maris (2)
Willie Mays (2)
Joe Morgan (2)
Dale Murphy (2)
Stan Musial (3)
Hal Newhouser (2)
Albert Pujols (3)
Cal Ripken (2)
Frank Robinson (2)
Alex Rodriguez (3)
Mike Schmidt (3)
Frank Thomas (2)
Mike Trout (2)
Ted Williams (2)
Robin Yount (2)

And oh yeah, Juan Gonzalez (2).

Look at the names in that list. They are all either Hall of Famers or their involvement with PEDs will at best delay their entry to the Hall of Fame or Mike Trout who will BE a Hall of Famer provided he stays healthy. I believe eventually Bonds and A-Rod will be in, as will Pujols and probably Trout. Dale Murphy fell short of Cooperstown despite a brilliant peak.

Then there is Juan Gonzalez.

Think about some of the names NOT on that list.

Hank Aaron won it just once. Ken Griffey Jr. only had one. So did George Brett. So did Roberto Clemente. So did Rickey Henderson. Jackie Robinson only took it home once. Wade Boggs never had one. Neither did Derek Jeter. Neither did Roberto Alomar. Neither did Al Kaline. Neither did Dave Winfield.

Babe Ruth isn’t either but remember, this is starting in 1931.

Gonzalez gate crashed a list of the elite players of all time. Has there ever been a two time MVP who has made a smaller impact on the game than Juan Gonzalez?

I think I just demonstrated that the answer is NO.

On the surface, Gonzalez is a huge success story. He grew up in an dangerous part of Puerto Rico and avoided the crime associated with his neighborhood. His dad was a teacher and he and his mom made sure their kids stayed on the straight and narrow. He used a lot of his money to build baseball diamonds in his home town and develop new Gonzalez’s. “Igor” was a great role model, or at least that is what it looked like.

In the late 1980’s, the Texas Rangers were developing many new hitters to fill their developing team. They had to make a choice between Gonzalez and another player they were developing, Sammy Sosa.

The went with Gonzalez and included Sosa in the deal for Harold Baines. The 19 year old Gonzalez made his debut with the Rangers in 1989. After cameos with the team in 1989 and 1990 while tearing up Triple A, Gonzalez was up for good in 1991. He was 21 years old and clobbered 27 homers, drove in 102 and had an OPS of .800. He was teammates with fellow Puerto Rican Ruben Sierra and helped make the Rangers lineup one of the most feared in the game.

He was ready.

In 1992, he led the AL with 43 homers and at the end of the year was teammates with Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro.

1993, the 23 year old Gonzalez had become one of the brightest stars in the game. He was an All Star, leading the league with 46 homers and a slugging percentage of .632. His batting average soared to .310 and his OPS was 1.000 as he finished fourth in the MVP vote.

The Rangers were a rising team, moving into a new ballpark. Gonzalez continued his steady play and in 1996, everything came together. He batted .314, his OPS was 1.011, he hit 47 homers and drove in 144 runs. He led the league in non of those categories but was among the league leaders across the board. After the season, he was named the AL MVP.

Most importantly, the Rangers made the post season for the first time in their history. They were facing a Yankees team that had not won a post season series in 15 years and were still smarting from the 1995 loss to Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr. and the Seattle Mariners.

The one man wrecking crew they would face in 1996 was Gonzalez. In Game 1 of the Division Series, he crushed a 3 run go ahead homer off of David Cone to give the Rangers the lead for good as they took the opener.

Not to be outdone, he hit a solo shot and then a 3 run shot off of Andy Pettitte in Game 2 to give the Rangers the lead.

In Game 3, he tied the game with a homer in the 4th before the Rangers took the lead in the 5th and in Game 4, he greeted reliever Brian Boehringer with a massive homer in the 3rd inning to help Texas pull away early.

In all the 26 year old batted .438 in the 4 game series, slugging a staggering 1.375 while posting a supernatural OPS of 1.901. Gonzalez also matched Reggie Jackson’s single series record with 5 homers. Reggie did it 6 games. Gonzalez only needed 4. He shone brightest on the biggest stage against the biggest market team.

There was only one problem with his performance: The Rangers bullpen. Despite having late leads in games 2, 3 and 4, the Rangers lost all three games and it was the Yankees who advanced, not the Rangers.

1997 saw another solid Gonzalez season. A .924 OPS, 42 homers, 131 RBI but the Rangers fell to the Mariners in the AL West.

Then came 1998. It was the summer of Sosa and McGwire in the National League. Meanwhile in the American League, the Yankees dominated with a 114 win season.

Gonzalez, however, was cruising in the AL MVP race. He amassed 100 RBI before the All Star break. Back then, people really cared about RBI. He led the AL with 157 RBI and 50 doubles while cracking 45 homers and seeing his OPS rise to .997. Once again the Rangers won the AL West and Gonzalez took home his second MVP plaque.

At this point the 28 year old looked like he was a surefire Hall of Famer. He already 301 homers and didn’t look like he was slowing down anytime soon. And while the Rangers were clubbed by the superior Yankees in the playoffs, Gonzalez was now among the elite of the elite.

After the 1999 AL West title was won by the Rangers, Gonzalez looked like he was going to be too expensive for Texas. He was traded in a multiplayer deal to the Detroit Tigers, hoping he would sign an extension. Detroit offered an 8 year $140 million contract. Gonzalez, seeing that he was now in a pitcher friendly ballpark, turned it down.

All of his numbers were down and his free agent value plummeted. He decided to sign a one year deal with the Indians and build his value back up.

He had a rebound season, finishing in the top 5 in the MVP vote as he filled the power void left by the departing Manny Ramirez. He batted .325, had an OPS of .960, clubbed 35 homers and drove in 140.

Gonzalez got a 2 year deal out of that season, returning to the Rangers for 2002. But injuries and declining stats had begun. He never played in more than 85 games again and by 2004, he played in just 33 games for the Royals.

A comeback attempt with the 2005 Indians last one single game. By 2006, he was playing for the independent Long Island Ducks, hoping to catch on for another comeback. He never did. If he had signed with the Tigers, he would have had 2 more years on his deal while he was toiling for the Ducks.

He never played professional ball again.

His former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco mentioned Gonzalez in his book “Juiced” and said he used performance enhancing drugs. Exactly which of Canseco’s allegations turned out to be untrue?

A bag belonging to his trainer was confiscated in Toronto after they found PEDs in it. Gonzalez denied using them and fired the trainer.

Is that why his career, which had an astonishingly effective peak, has faded from our collective memory? He played 15 plus seasons and was an elite slugger in 8 of those years. He had a historic Division Series.

His peak on the Hall of Fame ballot was 5.2% in 2011 before falling off in 2012.

Did we forget him because he is lumped in with the PED era? Is he forgotten because he played in Texas and not a big baseball hot bed? Is he now obscure because his greatest season was overshadowed by McGwire and Sosa? Was his amazing post season performance now an obscure footnote because the Rangers never advanced?

It probably was a combination of all of those factors. But his peak was pretty terrific and worth at the very least a salute here.

Just remember, if someone offers you an 8 year deal worth over $100 million, TAKE IT!

Now let’s enjoy some of his heroics in the 1996 post season.