Burt Hooton 1978 Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 20, 2017

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I am not going to lie to you. I used to get Don Sutton and Burt Hooton confused. And you can’t blame me.

First of all, when I got my set of Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars Cards, it was 1978. I almost NEVER saw National League games. And I never saw the Dodgers play.

Both names have a one syllable first name and a 2 syllable second name separated by a T sound and ends in ON.

Both were 3-D Super Stars and both played for the Dodgers. And both were white guys with hair sticking out of the side of their respective caps. So yeah, I got the two confused.

Now Hooton wasn’t a product of the Dodgers organization like Sutton, Hooton never appeared on Match Game and Hooton never made it to the Hall of Fame.

But Hooton checked a lot off of his baseball bucket list and etched his way into Dodger lore.

Hooton was the second overall pick in the 1971 draft out of the University of Texas and went to the Cubs organization. Pete Broberg, already a Card of the Day, was first overall. The Cubs picked better.

Hooton went right to Chicago and pitched well in 3 games, throwing a pair of complete games and a shutout to a 2.11 ERA before being assigned to Tacoma.

In 1972, he made the team out of spring training. In his first start of the year and only his 4th start of his big league career, Burt Hooton threw a no hitter against the Phillies. He electrified the crowd who knew the Cubs may finally have a shot. He won 11 games as a rookie and threw to a 2.80 ERA over his 31 starts and 2 relief appearances. Leo Durocher was the manager of the Cubs and Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins were on the team. So were Milt Pappas, Rick Reuschel and Bill Hands to put together a terrific pitching staff.

The Cubs would finish 85-70 and behind the Pirates for the NL East. But the Cubs fortunes slipped in 1973 and 1974. A month into the 1975 season, Hooton was sent packing to the Dodgers in a deal involving Geoff Zahn.

LA was a perfect fit for Hooton. He won 18 games for the 1975 Dodgers over 223 2/3 innings and instantly brought depth to the LA rotation.

By 1977, he was a mainstay in the rotation, giving LA 223 1/3 innings and throwing to a 2.62 ERA. He pitched a complete game victory in Game 2 of the 1977 World Series. But in Game 6, he surrendered the first of Reggie Jackson’s 3 homers and he took the loss.

1978 he was even better. He did not make the All Star team but finished second in the Cy Young vote. This is partially because he went 11-3 with a 2.27 ERA over 15 second half starts. The Dodger staff was super deep in 1978. Hooton was matched with Tommy John, Rick Rhoden, the late Bob Welch and of course Don Sutton, whom I confused with Burt Hooton.

Once again, Hooton won Game 2 of the World Series. And once again, he lost a later game, this time Game 5 as the Yankees won again.

His time to shine in the post season was 1981. In the Divisional Series implemented because of the split season, the Astros were up 2-0 and poised for the sweep. Hooton only allowed a homer and 2 other hits over 7 strong innings to save the season. The Dodgers would go on to the NLCS.

There, Sutton pitched into the 8th in the opener and in Game 4, another potential elimination game. As the Dodgers broke Montreal’s heart, Hooton was named NLCS MVP.

Back to the World Series where the Dodgers once again faced the Yankees. This time Hooton flipped the script. He lost Game 2 but won Game 6, the clinching game in Yankee Stadium, to give manager Tommy Lasorda a long awaited for title.

The euphoria of 1981 would be his apex. Off years in 1982 and 1983 led to a 1984 spent in the bullpen where he had mixed results. In 1985, he played his lone year in the American League as he spent the year with the Rangers in his native Texas.

After his big league career ended in 1986, he became a pitching coach in the Dodgers organization and then went to the Astors farm system and the Padres farm.

A no hitter, NLCS MVP, multiple World Series trips and a ring is nothing to sneeze at  for a career. Being confused with a Hall of Famer comes with the territory.

Pedro Guerrero 1986 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day January 31, 2017

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If I went back in time and told the version of me in 1988 that the Dodgers would wind up winning the World Series that year, two things would be certain:

1. I was not utilizing my Time Travel technology in the most effective manner.

2. Clearly Pedro Guerrero and Fernando Valenzeula would be huge contributors to the Dodgers title.

On the heels of their startling NLCS defeat in 1985, the Dodgers slumped in 1986 and 1987, making people wonder if the Tom Niedenfeuer meltdowns from ’85 were cursing the team.

A rebound season clearly meant that Fernando Valenzeula was back in ace form and Pedro Guerrero was hitting like an MVP contender again.

As it turned out, neither played in that post season that year and the injuries to Valenzeula led to Guerrero being traded in mid season.

Guerrero was one of many Domincan players who saw time with Los Angeles in the 1980’s. But he was not a product of their Academies. Rather the 17 year old Guerrero was stolen from the Cleveland Indians organization for pitcher Bruce Ellingsen, who pitched 16 games for the Tribe in 1974.

Guerrero worked his way up through the Dodgers farm system, posting super high averages and developing power and speed along the way. By 1978 he was in Los Angeles. By 1980, he was a 24 year old starter, batting .322 for the team that lost a one game Divisional playoff game against Houston. He played all over the place in 1980, starting in all three outfield positions, a game at first, nine at second and a few at third.

In 1981, starting mainly in right field, he became a National League All Star. The Dodgers, taking advantage of the ridiculous split season, made the post season. Guerrero did not fare well in the Division Series nor the NLCS. But he finished the World Series with a bang, going 3 for 5 in the Dodgers clincher against the Yankees. He drove in 7 runs in the 6 game World Series and was named Co-MVP along with Steve Yeager and Ron Cey.

The production continued throughout the 1980’s. Three out of four seasons, he finished in the top 5 in the MVP vote. In 1985, he led the league in on base percentage and slugging. He added 33 homers to his ledger that year as well. But the world was putting more weight on batting average and he came in third in the MVP to Willie McGee and Dave Parker.

He missed much of 1986 with injuries but was the Comeback Player of the Year with his outstanding 1987.

When Kirk Gibson had a contract dispute with the Tigers, a Gibson for Guerrero swap was rumored but fell through. Gibson was granted his free agency and wound up in Los Angeles without the need to sacrifice Guerrero, who shifted to third base to make room for the Tigers slugger.

Injuries and ineffectiveness forced fan favorite Fernando Valenzuela to the sidelines. With the Dodgers in need for a solid left handed pitcher, Pedro Guerrero suddenly became expendable. He was shipped off to St. Louis for John Tudor. Injuries caught up with Tudor as well as he left his lone World Series start in the second inning, but the Dodgers won anyway. Kirk Gibson’s dramatic homer set the tone and Orel Hershiser’s dominance finished off the A’s in the 1988 World Series. Guerrero was long gone.

He continued to hit in St. Louis, having an outstanding 1989. But after the 1992 season, his big league career was done. He played in Independent Ball and in the Mexican League in the mid 1990’s but then retired.

Guerrero’s retirement has some ups (he became a manager of the Mexican League team in Vallejo) and downs (he was arrested for buying 33 pounds of cocaine and his lawyer stated his IQ was too low to understand what he did wrong.)

He played a huge part in the Dodgers winning one World Series. One would think Pedro Guerrero would have helped seal the deal for another. But as my time traveling self would find out, he was not even on the team to celebrate the win.

 

Fernando Valenzuela 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for January 8, 2017

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There is a frozen in time quality to all baseball cards. This one of Fernando Valenzuela is a great illustration of that.

The stats for this card go up to 1986 with the classic retro wood panel look and comic book font that Topps used. It has a good solid action shot of Fernando pitching in what appears to be Shea Stadium. He was 25 years old when that pic was taken.

Entering the 1987 season, Valenzuela was still one of the elite pitchers in baseball. He finished second in the Cy Young ballot for 1986, the first year he cracked 20 victories. He finished 1986 with an NL Leading 21 wins and a whopping 20 complete games.

Basically he was putting together what appeared to be a Hall of Fame resume. 1986 was his sixth full season in the majors and was an All Star in all six years. Fernando-mania was still fresh in people’s minds, as the Mexican native who looked like a regular guy from the neighborhood won the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, the pennant clincher and a complete game victory in the World Series mesmerized the baseball public.

And he showed 1981 was not a fluke with three more top 5 Cy Young finishes between 1982 and 1986. He continued to be a solid post season performer with victories in the 1983 and 1985 playoffs.

Going into his 26th year, he just needed to keep up that pace for about 4 or 5 more years and talk of Cooperstown would be inevitable.

Then in 1987, he had a down year. Not terrible, Valenzuela still pitched a ton of innings and to a decent ERA. But he also led the league in walks, hits and wild pitches.

The next year, the Dodgers won the World Series and Fernando got his second ring. But he was not on the active roster for the post season as injuries (and lots of innings piled up) cut down on his effectiveness.

A few mediocre seasons (and a no hitter) later and his days in Dodger blue were over. Between 1991 and 1997, he bounced around between the Angels, Padres, Phillies, Orioles and Cardinals. Every once in a while he captured a bit of the old magic. He won pitcher of the month with the 1993 Orioles and ironically helped the Padres beat the Dodgers for the 1996 NL West title.

His career ended in 1997 and made it onto only two Cooperstown ballots, peaking at 6.2% before dropping off in 2004.

Valenzuela’s consolation prize was becoming one of the most beloved figures in Dodger history. Number 34 is still one of the most popular jerseys sold at Dodger Stadium. He is one of the Spanish language announcers for the team and gets a warm ovation whenever the TV cameras show him on the jumbotron.

But frozen in time in his 1987 card, we see him as a potential Hall of Fame ace, still dominating the NL with a screwball, a wacky motion and a sense that a pitcher who looked like a regular guy could be one of the best in the bigs.