’88 Record Breaker Doug Jones 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 15, 2017

IMG_2060

Baseball is filled with stories of people who display strength and perseverance. Former Cleveland Indians closer Doug Jones is one such story.

A draft pick by Milwaukee in 1978, he toiled through the minor leagues for years save for one quick cameo with the 1982 Milwaukee club.

In the mid 1980’s he found himself in the Cleveland Indians organization but not impressing manager Pat Corrales. The team was filled with young hitting stars like Julio Franco, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Pat Tabler, Mel Hall and Tony Bernazard. But they lacked pitching depth and certainly anything resembling an anchor in the bullpen.

Jones was a 29 year old career minor leaguer who threw in the 80’s. Corrales wanted none of that. He wanted flame throwers on the team and Jones appeared in only 11 games.

In 1987, the expectations for the Indians were through the roof. Sports Illustrated famously picked them to win the American League pennant.

Their pitching staff was a catastrophe and closers Ernie Camacho and Scott Bailes just could not do their jobs. Manager Pat Corrales was fired and new manager Doc Edwards came in.

Edwards was not necessarily thrilled that they had a soft tossing reliever in their pen, but he was a better option than everyone else and he wound up getting 8 saves to lead the team.

For spring training 1988, Edwards told Jones that the front office would rather have a young flame thrower than a 30 year old soft tosser. Jones was told that he would have to win his spot by outpitching everyone else otherwise he would be out of a job.

Jones, now sporting a choice 1980’s mustache, had to fight preconceptions about age, velocity and experience and he had no good will in the bank to cash in. That spring training, he did indeed win the spot in the bullpen.

Edwards began to use him as the closer. Instead of a fireballer coming out in the 9th, Jones’ slow stuff kept everyone off balance. He converted 4 of 5 save chances in April.

On May 11, he pitched 4 shutout innings to get the 4-3 win in 13 innings over the Angels. 2 days later, he threw 1 1/3 innings for a save. Nobody knew it, but he was beginning a record breaking streak.

By May 24th, he had 9 saves, one more than his team lead was for the entire 1987 season.

In June, he made 7 appearances and got saves in every single one. Three of those saves were ones where he entered in the 7th inning. The last one, on June 24th, was the 14th straight appearance with a save, one more than the record set by Steve Bedrosian the year before.

On July 2, he recorded his 19th save and the 15th straight appearance. On the 4th of July, he came into the game in a tie situation, breaking the streak. But a few weeks later, he was named to his first All Star Game.

He finished the season with 7 straight appearances with a save and 37 for the year. His ERA was a solid 2.27 and he struck out 72 while only giving out 13 unintentional walks.

Doug Jones, who was offered a coaching job instead of a spring training invite in 1987, would be named to the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993 All Star Teams.

He pitched for the Astros and Phillies before rejoining Cleveland in time to pitch in the 1998 post season. His final game was in the 2000 Division Series as a member of the Oakland A’s.

Besides playing in 3 different decades, he became a millionaire many times over as well.

If he had listened to what everyone was saying about him, he would have quit in the mid 1980’s instead of playing to 2000 at age 43.

We can all learn a little something from his strength.

League Leaders Julio Franco, Rangers Fleer 1992 – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 14, 2017

IMG_2355

There seems to be a bottomless pit of interesting information regarding the remarkable career of Julio Franco. He played in the Majors until he was nearly 50 years old. His professional career stretched from the late 1970’s until the 2007 season.

Franco was a one and done player on the Hall of Fame ballot but his name is all over the record books. And who knows? If his career didn’t have a few sojourns into foreign leagues, he might have reached the 3,000 hit mark and who knows where that would have led him.

And he also taught me, yes me, an interesting lesson about how RBIs can be amassed.

Franco was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies out of his native Dominican Republic in 1978. The 23 year old Franco made his big league debut on April 23, 1982.

Among the Phillies names in the lineup were Ivan DeJesus, Pete Rose, Bo Diaz, Garry Maddox, Manny Trillo, Sid Monge and Ozzie Virgil. They faced the Cardinals who played Bob Forsch, Gene Tenace, Keith Hernandez, Ozzie Smith and Darrell Porter among others.

I listed those names to give you a sense of the era he first showed up in. The names in his final big league game would look a lot different.

He only played 16 games with the Phillies in 1982 and in the off season was shipped off in a multiplayer deal to Cleveland, bringing Von Hayes to Philadelphia.

Franco hit well in his first year in Cleveland, finishing as the Rookie of the Year runner up to Chicago’s Ron Kittle. Between 1983 and 1987, he steadily improved each year. He became a consistent .300 hitter, albeit one that didn’t walk much. His OPS climbed to .818 in 1988, he would steal bases and had good gap line drive power.

His defense at shortstop was suspect and was moved to second base in 1987.

In 1989, the Indians dealt Franco to the Rangers in a 3 for 1 move. In Texas he made three straight trips to the All Star Game, winning the Mid Summer Classic MVP in 1990. His power increased while he still stole 30 plus bases a year.

In 1991, as this Fleer Card celebrates, he won the batting title, finishing the season with a .341 mark. His OPS was .882 and he brought home his fourth straight silver slugger award.

But injuries in 1992 slowed him down as he only played 35 games. He came back in 1993 to hit .289 with an OPS of .798. He tested the Free Agent waters after 1993 and landed with a super talented White Sox team.

Manager Gene Lamont put Julio Franco in the cleanup spot behind Frank Thomas. I remember when that happened, I thought he was crazy. “Franco doesn’t drive in runs. He should bat second and be driven in.”

But a funny thing happened. Franco DID drive in runs. He hit a career high 20 homers, hit .319 and his OPS soared to .916. And in the strike shortened season, he drove in 98 runs in 112 games. He would have easily passed 110 or even 120 RBI if there wasn’t labor strife.

It was the first realization I made that perhaps “being a run producer” meant being a good hitter when runners were on base. Maybe putting a good hitter there, and not necessarily a masher, meant producing more runs.

Had the White Sox played a full season in 1994, who knows how far they would have gone? Either way, the strike did hit and in the labor limbo, Franco left MLB for Japan.

He put up big numbers for Chiba Lotte and cashed a nice paycheck. In 1996, he returned to America to rejoin he Cleveland Indians. They were the defending AL Champs and looked to go to the World Series and win it in 1996. Franco contributed a .322 average and .877 OPS for the Tribe and played in his first post season.

Cleveland fell short to Baltimore in the playoffs but looked to come back in 1997. Franco played on that squad as well but was dealt to Milwaukee midway through the season and was not part of the team that lost a lead in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

In 1998, no big league team was interested in a 39 year old DH. He returned to Japan for 1998 and after one at bat with the 1999 Devil Rays, found himself playing a team in Mexico and a team in Korea.

By 2001, he was 42 years old, essentially out of MLB since 1997 and hitting with the Mexico City Tigers.

But man he was hitting. In 110 games and 469 plate appearances, he was batting .437.

That isn’t a typo. The first number was a 4. His OPS was 1.175. Granted, it wasn’t against big league pitching. But the Atlanta Braves, looking to get back to the World Series after a disappointing 2000 playoffs, took a flier.

Franco was back in the major leagues as a 42 year old pinch hitter. Baseball fans all over the country did a double take. “Wait, is that the SAME Julio Franco?”

Yup. He batted .300 in a part time role and hit .301 in the Division Series sweep of the Houston Astros. He homered in the Division Series and NLCS, again falling short of the World Series.

He remained on the Braves as a part time first baseman and pinch hitter, playing in the post season for the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Division Champs. In the 2003 Division Series, he batted .500 and had an OPS of 1.225 in a part time role.

In 2006, the 47 year old Franco signed with the Mets and once again played in October as New York lost a heart breaking NLCS to St. Louis.

The 48 year old Franco played his final game with the 2007 Atlanta Braves. That was 15 years after the featured Fleer Card was issued.

His last game was against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins would not exist until 11 years after Franco’s big league debut. In his final game, not only did they exist, but they had torn down two World Champions and fired Joe Girardi.

The hero of the 1997 and 2010 World Series, Edgar Renteria, was Franco’s teammate in that game. So was Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz.

Players like Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera were playing for the Marlins. They are both still active.

In his final MLB at bat, Julio Franco singled off of Lee Gardner for an RBI single.

Gardner was 7 years old when Julio Franco made his big league debut.

That is quite a baseball life. He amassed nearly 4,000 professional hits, including 2,586 in the majors. Franco is the oldest player to hit a grand slam, a pinch hit homer and 2 homers in an MLB game.

He returned to the Mexican League in 2008 and played 7 games for an independent league as a 55 year old is 2014. In 2015, he was a 57 year old player manager in Japan and who knows? He might be back for a return.

1990 Record Breaker Carlton Fisk 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 13, 2017

IMG_2002

Carlton Fisk played more games with the Chicago White Sox than he did with the Boston Red Sox.

Doesn’t that sound strange. I mean unless you are Jimmy Pardo or grew up on the South Side of Chicago, when I say Carlton Fisk, you think of the Red Sox. His hat on his Hall of Fame plaque is a Red Sox hat. His lasting image in baseball history is that of him waving the ball fair in the 1975 World Series.

He was born in New England, grew up in New England. He idolized the Red Sox. He was one of us.

And if someone coldly looked at his stats, they could make the case that the hat on his plaque should have read S-O-X, as in Chicago.

It would be a tough argument to have him wear the curly Q C hat that he wore with the totally forgettable White Sox uniforms shown on this record breaker card issued in 1991. The card commemorates when he homered off of Charlie Hough, another old timer, to pass Johnny Bench for most homers ever by a catcher.

How did that happen? How did a New England legend spend so much time in Chicago when he should have been breaking records and playing in the post season with Boston for his entire career?

The answer is simple. I have often criticized the Red Sox management at the time for being racist and immoral. But let’s not discount how stupid they were either.

It had to do with a postmark.

Fisk was born in Vermont and grew up in Charlestown New Hampshire. Already he was the perfect Red Sox star. He could represent 3 New England states right out of the gate. He was a basketball and baseball star and wound up being drafted by the Red Sox in 1967.

After making cameos in the big leagues in 1969 and 1971, he was up for good in 1972. He won the Gold Glove, smashed 22 homers, led the league with 9 triples, batted .293 and had an OPS of .909 as the Red Sox contended for the AL East until the final day of the season. He made the All Star team and was named Rookie of the Year.

A star was born.

Along with the Yankee’s Thurman Munson, he had a not so friendly rivalry among the AL’s best catchers. He also faced his share of injuries but excelled when he was on the field. Between 1972 and 1980, all of his full years with the Red Sox, he missed the All Star Game twice.

Ironically one of the years he wasn’t an All Star was 1975, the year of his immortality.

The Red Sox had an offensive nucleus of Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Jerry Remy, Rick Burleson and Carlton Fisk in 1980. My favorite player, Butch Hobson, was wonderful but injury prone. It was an All Star team that needed a few pitchers to win the East.

Guess what? They wanted to get paid. It was the era of free agency and the Red Sox were a team that had money. Hey! Why not keep the team together?

Well this was the Red Sox, who felt compelled to shell out big dough for Bill Campbell, Mike Torrez and Tony Perez but suddenly got cost conscious when it came to their own star players.

Fisk wanted a significant raise. Haywood Sullivan (no relation to me), the GM of the team balked and a stand off took place. Eventually the Red Sox mailed him a contract.

There was one problem. The post mark was a day after the free agency deadline. Now there are two explanations of what happened: The Red Sox management intentionally mailed it a day late to create the optics that they tried to keep Carlton Fisk while actually letting him walk… OR… they stupidly forgot to put it in the mail.

EITHER ANSWER makes the Red Sox look stupid. Do you know what also made the Red Sox look stupid? The fact that Carlton Fisk continued to produce like an All Star as a member of the White Sox.

He signed with Chicago before the 1981 season and always seemed to homer against the Red Sox when he returned.

In 107 career games against Boston, he batted .310, had an OPS of .967, homered 27 times (appropriately his number with Boston).

He made four more All Star teams, finishing third in the 1983 MVP vote when he helped lead Chicago to the ALCS. His 37 homers in 1985 earned him a Silver Slugger Award. He was a Silver Slugger in 1988 as well, finished 15th in the MVP vote in 1990 and made the 1991 All Star Team.

The Red Sox did develop another home grown native New Englander All Star catcher with Rich Gedman. But Free Agency derailed his career, specifically collusion. The Red Sox could have resigned Fisk, but declined to because they were one of the colluding organizations.

So, when Fisk’s career wrapped up in 1993, he played 1078 games over 9 plus seasons in Boston and 1421 games in 13 seasons for Chicago.

214 of his 376 career homers were as a White Sox catcher.

He should have been a Red Sox catcher for life. He should have been on the 1986 pennant winner and the 1988 and 1990 Division Champs, teammates with Evans for all three and Rice in 1986 and 1988.

Instead a contract was put into the mail a day late and we had to see Fisk wear all sorts of crappy looking White Sox jerseys.

So we’ve all seen the Fisk homer in the 1975 World Series. Let’s see him homer in his return to Fenway, putting the White Sox up in the game late. It was a huge middle finger to Red Sox management as he got a standing ovation from the Boston fans.