Rod Scurry 1982 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 17, 2017


I always felt badly for players who showed up a year too late for a team. When a club went on a great run and then a dry period shows up, inevitably there is someone who makes their debut as the good feeling of the title lingers but the losing has begun.

That is Rod Scurry. He showed up at the wrong time and saw his life end in a strange manner.

When you look at him in this Topps card, he is all dressed up to be part of the great Pirate teams of the 1970’s. He has the flat cap, the yellow jersey and a classic ballplayer mustache.

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was humming “We Are Family” while this picture was being taken.

Scurry was a first round pick by the Pirates in 1974, in the middle of their magical run in the 1970’s. Pittsburgh made the playoffs in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979, winning the World Series in 1971 and 1979. Being a Pirate was a pretty safe bet for making the post season.

He worked his way up through the Pirates farm, making stops in Triple A Columbus and Portland in 1977, 1978 and 1979 but never getting the call to the majors.

The call came on April 17, 1980. He made his big league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals as a member of the defending World Champions.

There were plenty of players left over from the Family of 1979. John Candelaria was the starting pitcher. Enrique Romo, Dave Roberts and Kent Tekulve all pitched in that post season and in Scurry’s debut.

Omar Moreno, Tim Foli, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, Bull Madlock, Lee Lacy, Phil Garner, Steve Nicosia, Mike Easler and Manny Sanguillen all played that day. All were fitted for World Series rings the previous October.

Willie Stargell had the day off, but he was on the team as well and played in Scurry’s second game. Bert Blyleven and Don Robinson were also still there.

It seemed like Scurry was practically the only player without a ring on the squad. A repeat was not in the cards for Pittsburgh. They won 83 games and finished far behind the Phillies and Expos in the NL East.

Scurry got into 20 games in 1980 and had a solid 2.15 ERA in 37 2/3 innings.

In 1981 and 1982, he was a reliable reliever for the Pirates. 1982 he had his best season. He saved 12 games and had a 1.74 ERA in 103 2/3 innings, all in relief. The Pirates were still a winning team, but finished well behind St. Louis.

Baseball and Pittsburgh during the 1970s were associated with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and many Octobers. In the 1980s, baseball and Pittsburgh were associated with the cocaine trials. Scurry was named as one of the many Pirates who purchased cocaine during the trials.

Interest in the sliding scandal ridden team plummeted and they nearly moved to Denver. Scurry missed The Family but was there in time for the drug trials.

As with many of the players in the drug trials, the Pirates dumped Scurry after the 1985 season. The Yankees purchased his contract and he did not do badly as a middle reliever for manager Lou Piniella in 1986.

Between 1987 and 1989 he bounced between the Yankees, Mariners and Giants systems, pitching 39 games for the 1988 Seattle squad and then his career ended.

Clearly his demons and addictions did not end with his playing career nor with his testimony in the Pittsburgh drug trials. When the Mariners cut him, he was arrested for buying crack in Nevada.

At his Nevada home in October of 1992, not long after Francisco Cabrera sunk the Pirates in the playoffs, Scurry was found being violent in his yard. He was screaming that snakes were all over him. Eventually he stopped breathing and died a week later in the hospital.

It was a sad ending to a life of bad timing and demonized addiction. Had he played a little earlier, who knows what trajectory his life would have gone on?

Matt Alexander 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 1, 2017

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The first World Series I ever remember watching was in 1979 where the We Are Family Pirates came back to beat the mighty Baltimore Orioles. It was a remarkably fun World Series and no player seemed to have more fun playing on it than Matt “The Scat” Alexander, pinch runner extraordinaire.

A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, Alexander attended Grambling State University on a baseball scholarship. In 1968, the Cubs drafted Alexander in the second round. The scout who recommended Alexander to the parent club was the legendary Buck O’Neil, who had an amazing eye for finding talent.

Throughout the 1970’s, he jumped between Cubs farm teams and serving his Military requirement with the Navy and playing winter ball in Mexico. In 1973, he made it to the Cubs if only for a 12 game cameo.

In 1974, he played 45 games with the Cubs but couldn’t hit a lick. He batted a poor .204 and did not drive in a single run. He did steal 8 bases in a limited role. He was the wrong fit in Chicago but in 1975 found an unlikely home in Oakland.

When he was traded to the 3 time defending World Champion A’s in 1975, he was on a crowded star studded squad. Any chance for him to get at bats were slim. In the end, that was kind of the point. Manager Alvin Dark but more importantly owner Charlie O. Finley loved the concept of pinch running. Alexander with his lightning speed was tailor made for the role.

He played in 61 games for the AL West champs but only 30 plate appearances. Along the way he stole 17 bases and scored 16 times. A late game weapon to cause havoc on the basepaths, Alexander used his time on the base to observe and learn pitchers tendencies to his advantage.

In 1976, he went 1 for 30 at the plate but stole 20 bases. He was a specialist and his new Oakland manager, Chuck Tanner, would remember him.

After one more year in Oakland, he found himself without a team in 1978 after coming down with hepatitis in Mexico. 24 days shy of being eligible for the MLB pension, he went home to Louisiana to learn how to be a barber.

His old Oakland manager, Chuck Tanner, was the new manager of the Pirates. He brought Alexander to Steel Town to once again steal bases. He played enough to earn the pension.

In 1979, he earned a lot more.

The image of harmony of the 1979 Pirates squad was palpable right through the TV screen. Willie Stargell was the emotional leader of the team, Dave Parker was the superstar and the combination of colorful pitchers like Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve kept the score down. Omar Moreno, Phil Garner and Bill Madlock got big hits and Pirate favorites like Manny Sanguillen and Dock Ellis made their last hurrahs in the Family.

Alexander was a role player. He knew his place on the star studded squad… and that was a literal term in 1979. Willie Stargell would hand out stars to the most valuable players for each game to sew onto their caps. Alexander tried and many times succeeded in getting a star with a key steal or important run scored.

He would score and often run across the plate backwards, jumping up and down and endearing himself to the Pittsburgh faithful. And his teammates loved him, appreciating his embracing of his role and doing things like using his barber skills in the clubhouse, trimming players beards and hair.

He even batted .538 in limited at bats, tripling once and driving in a run. (He would drive in 4 in 374 career games.)

Alexander appeared in the playoffs and World Series in 1979. He was caught stealing in his lone World Series appearance but he earned his ring.

After playing 2 more seasons in Pittsburgh, he played in Mexico before retiring, with his pension, to Louisiana.

Pirate fans still remember Matt the Scat, a guy who won games with his legs rather than his bat or glove, and loved every minute of it.

John Candelaria 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 22, 2017


John Candelaria had a cool late 1970’s New York quality to him. When he was in his prime, it was almost a waste to have him in Pittsburgh because he seemed to belong in New York.

He was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Flatbush and grew up going to Yankee games. He attended LaSalle Academy in Manhattan where the 6 foot 7 inch Candelaria was a basketball star.

The Pirates drafted him in the second round of the 1972 draft. The Mets drafted Richard Bengston and Craig Skoglund instead of Candelaria. Neither made it to the majors. The Yankees picked Scott McGregor (not a bad pick) and Ken Clay (a big leaguer but no All Star) instead of Candelaria.

Alas the chance for the young tall native New Yorker with the Portugese name starring for a New York team was gone.

What was New York’s loss was Pittsburgh’s gain. The Candy Man shot through the Pirate’s farm system and made his big league debut with the 1975 NL East champs. He started in the NLCS against the Big Red Machine and dazzled them. He pitched into the 8th, striking out 14 and walking just 2. He got a no decision as the Reds went on to clinch the pennant in extra innings, but Candelaria made his mark.

In 1976, he threw a no hitter against a strong Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. By 1977, he was one of the elite pitchers in the National League. Candelaria made the All Star team. The game was played in New York where he looked like a combination of Al Pacino and Freddie Prinze. Man, he would have been a star there!

That season he led the league with a 2.34 ERA, won 20 games and posted 230 2/3 innings for the Bucs and finished 5th in the Cy Young vote.

In 1979, the Pirates returned to the postseason. With Pittsburgh down 3-2 in the World Series and heading to Baltimore, Candelaria faced off against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and was up for the challenge.

Facing elimination, he threw 6 shutout innings, scattering 6 hits and walking none. Kent Tekulve nailed down the 4-0 win and the series was tied. The Bucs would win Game 7 and The Candy Man got his ring.

Save for an injury plagued 1981, Candelaria remained a reliable starter for the Pirates between 1980 and 1984 as the team’s fortunes began to fade. After the 1984 season, tragedy struck his family when his son died in a swimming pool accident.

In 1985, still recovering from the shock of his son’s death, he clashed with management who sent him to the bullpen. By mid season, he was dealt to the Angels. Candelaria was effective in Anaheim, helping them win the AL West in 1986 and winning Game 3 of the ALCS. He was pounded for 7 unearned runs in Game 7 however and the dreams of a California pennant went with the loss.

In 1987, Candelaria and the Angels both had disappointing years. The Angels could not take control over a very weak AL West and the Candy Man’s ERA soared to 4.71.

Meanwhile the defending World Champion Mets saw their once vaunted starting rotation depleted with injuries and drug suspensions. With the division still within reach in September but the number of capable arms dwindling, the Mets made a rare “post trade deadline” trade. They sent a pair of minor leaguers to California to bring Candelaria back home to New York.

With a staff that included Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez and Aguilera as well as a young David Cone, it was odd seeing Candelaria in a Mets uniform.

His first game, he got clobbered, allowing 5 runs in 1 1/3 innings against his former team, the Pirates.

He pitched well in his other two Mets starts, winning both games and allowing 3 runs in 11 innings. But it was too little too late as the Cardinals went on to win the Division and eventually the National League Pennant.

The Mets did not offer him a contract for 1988 but the Yankees did and he wound up winning 13 games for managers Billy Martin and Lou Pinella.

In the end, he wound up playing for BOTH New York teams… just well after his prime.

In his final 5 seasons, he bounced around between the Yankees, Expos, Twins, Blue Jays, Dodgers and finally back with the Pirates where he finished his career as a left handed reliever.

He had a 19 year career with post season glory and individual accolades. The Candy Man is still a fan favorite for Pirate fans. But he just had the look and feel of a New York star of the 1970’s.