Jerry Narron 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 15, 2017


In 1979, Jerry Narron looked like he was getting into a great baseball situation. He was a rookie playing for the two time defending World Champion New York Yankees. He was surrounded by superstars and beloved figures in one of the most thrilling baseball crucibles imaginable.

That year he was thrown into an impossible scenario and one that was, probably for the best, short lived.

The Goldsboro NC native was drafted by the Yankees in 1974. He was a left handed hitting catcher and nephew of a former big leaguer named Sam Narron.

By 1977, he was putting up solid offensive numbers at Double A, launching 28 homers and batting .299 with an OPS of .904. He continued his hot hitting in Triple A Tacoma in 1978.

Of course the Yankees had a catcher. Their captain and the soul of the team was Thurman Munson. Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirs the drink, but it was Munson’s team through and through.

Between Fran Healy in 1977 and Mike Heath and Cliff Johnson in 1978, the Yankees had plenty of backups for Munson on the big league level. Narron remained on the farm during the 2 World Series years.

In 1979, after trades of Mike Heath and eventually Cliff Johnson opened the door, Narron got the call to the Yankees.

He made his big league debut on April 13th in a game against the WhiteSox. He didn’t hit much but that wasn’t his job. Every week or so, he’d start and give Munson the day off or let him move to DH or first base to keep his bat in the lineup.

Narron had some moments, like his go ahead 7th inning homer off of Dennis Eckersley in a 6-5 win against Boston on July 1.

On August 1, 1979, Jerry Narron homered off of White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec in Comiskey Park. He got the start in the 9-1 Yankee victory. Munson started at first base. Nobody knew the significance of that day when it happened.

The next day, Munson was piloting an aircraft in Ohio when it crashed. The other two men in the plane lived. He did not.

The concentric circles of grief that engulfed the Yankees with the death of Munson can still be felt. But they were at an intense fever pitch in August of 1979.

The act of carrying on a baseball season, much less a defense of two World Series titles, seemed futile in the wake of Munson’s death. But the Yankees followed through.

On Friday, August 3, the Yankees returned to the Bronx in a daze. Jerry Narron was the starting catcher. There was no more Thurman Munson. No more hard nosed captain, representing the Yankee way. No more heart and soul of the team who took the Yankees to the World Series a year before Reggie arrived with his 1976 AL MVP campaign.

Now it was Jerry Narron.

During the pregame ceremony for Munson, Narron did not take the field. The catcher position was empty out of respect for the fallen captain. When he did play, he struck out both times at the plate. The Yankees offense was shutout by Scott McGregor and they lost 1-0.

The catching duties were split with Narron and Brad Gulden. When Bobby Murcer famously won the game after Munson’s funeral with a 2 run single, Gulden got the start but Narron came into the game.

Narron batted .045 in the month after Munson’s death and .228 in September as the Yankees faded far behind the Orioles.

When the season ended, he was mercifully traded to the Mariners, along with Juan Beniquez, Rick Anderson and former 1978 World Series hero Jim Beattie in a deal that brought over Ruppert Jones. Eventually the Yankees would deal for Toronto catcher Rick Cerone to be the starting catcher.

He struggled offensively as a reserve in Seattle but did not have to play with the label of replacing a legend. Eventually he landed with the Angels and was Bob Boone’s backup for several years.

Narron managed a post season highlight in 1986. In Game 4 of the ALCS between the Angels and Red Sox, Narron got into the game after Boone was lifted for a pinch runner. With the score tied in the bottom of the 11th, Narron led off the inning with a single.

Gary Pettis bunted him to third and Ruppert Jones, now his teammate, was walked. Bobby Grich singled to left and Jerry Narron raced home. He scored and was mobbed at home plate after the Angels took a commanding 3-1 series lead. Narron’s run looked like it all but iced the Red Sox.

Boston would of course come back to win. The final out was made when Boston reliever stuck out Narron to end Game 7 in Boston.

Narron’s baseball career would go on well after his playing days were over. By the late 1980’s, he was managing in the Baltimore Orioles organization. In 1993, he joined the Orioles coaching staff. By 1995, he was on the big league staff for the Rangers.

When Rangers manager Johnny Oates was let go, Narron became the interim manager in 2001 and the full time manager in 2002. He would also manage the Cincinnati Reds for a few seasons as well as coach for the Red Sox, Brewers and is currently on the Diamondbacks coaching staff.

After many decades, Jerry Narron is an accomplished and respected baseball man. But the burden he had in his rookie year would have been too much for anyone to carry.

Marty Barrett 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 17, 2017

IMG_0276The Red Sox have had a lot of post season success in the last decade and a half. Since 2003, they have won 3 World Series titles, an unthinkable number for people raised on the Curse of the Bambino. Throw in ALCS appearances in 2003 and 2008 and short but sweet October berths in 2005, 2009 and 2016, Boston fans have had a lot to cheer for.

And in that time, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Koji Uehara, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell won either ALCS or World Series MVP. (Ortiz won both.)

But for the first 103 years of Red Sox baseball, there was a grand total of ONE Boston player who won a post season series MVP. That would be Marty Barrett. And depending on who you talk to, he almost had two.

The Arcadia California native and Arizona State grad was drafted into the Red Sox organization in the late 1970’s. Along with Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, he participated in the 33 inning game between Pawtucket and Rochester in 1981. He actually scored the winning run.

In 1982, he made his debut with the squad and eventually phased out aging Red Sox star Jerry Remy. As a Sox fan, I remember resenting Barrett for taking over for Remy, but I was eventually won over.

Not a superstar at the plate, he made terrific contact and played solid defense up the middle. He was a .303 hitter in 1984 and the Red Sox, with Boggs, Rice, Buckner, Evans, Armas and Gedman, were assembling one of their top lineups. Barrett’s ability to hit the other way, sacrifice and not strikeout made him a valuable bat in a lineup of sluggers.

In 1986, when the pitching staff caught up with the lineup, Barrett had his best year. He was moved from the lead off spot to the number 2 hole and took advantage of having the best on base percentage player in front of him.

He rewarded the Sox with career highs in RBI, hits, doubles, triples and steals and the Sox took command of the Division early and didn’t look back.

With a galaxy of stars on the roster, it was Barrett who shone brightest in 1986. Sure Dave Henderson had the highlight to end all highlights against the Angels, Barrett’s bat was actually the hottest. He was the ALCS MVP.

Keep in mind what that meant.

There was no official World Series MVP before 1918. The Red Sox won no titles between 1918 and 2004. (Maybe you heard.) The ALCS MVP did not begin until 1980, so there was no official MVP for the 1975 Red Sox series sweep over Oakland.

And then took his hot bat into the World Series.

In the entire 1986 post season, he set the record with 24 hits in 14 games. He batted .433 against the Mets and had an on base percentage .514 and an OPS of 1.014, doing so with only 2 extra base hits.

In the potential clinching Game 6, Barrett reached base 5 times, scored a run and drove in 2, including Wade Boggs with a critical insurance run in the 10th inning that game Boston a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 10th.

Annnnnnnd we all know what happened after that.

He got a hit in the Game 5 finale, finishing the post season with a .400 average and a .929 OPS. But he also finished the post season itself with a strikeout that ended the World Series.

Barrett had a solid 1987 and played in the 1988 ALCS for the Red Sox. But by 1990, he was phased out by the arrival of Jody Reed and Luis Rivera. He was a role player in the 1990 ALCS. After 12 games with the 1991 Padres, Barrett’s big league career was over.

Now I have heard that his 5 times on base in Game 6 made him the player of the game, until of course the Mets rally.

I have also heard conflicting accounts about the World Series MVP. Some said that had the Red Sox held onto the lead, Barrett would have been named World Series MVP, with the hitting numbers to back it up.

Another account had Bruce Hurst, who won his first two starts and logged a complete game in over of them, would get the hardware.

The point is moot and Ray Knight won the World Series MVP. But had it gone Barrett’s way, he would have had all the post season MVP awards in the history of the Red Sox until 2004.

Well in truth he WAS the only winner, but he would have had a nice match.


Tony Armas 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 24, 2017

2017-04-11 07.50.22

I always liked Tony Armas.

He was a classic swing from his heels right handed slugger that when he got a hold of one, it would go a mile.

I liked it when he took his hacks. Twice he led the league in homers and twice he led the league in strikeouts. All or nothing mashers are fun.

Armas had one major obstacle in his career: His health. When he was healthy, Tony Armas was one of the elite home run hitters in the American ¬†League. He just couldn’t stay healthy.

He was still a teenager when he was signed out of Venezuela by the Pirates in 1971. Armas was part of the most colorblind organization who was at the forefront of developing talent from Latin markets in the 1970’s. Armas made his big league debut in September of 1976 with Pittsburgh. But he was not to be a part of their “We Are Family” years. He was shipped off to Oakland in part of their tear down of their great years.

A deal that involved Phil Garner sent Armas to the A’s along with Mitchell Page. While Page made headlines with his stellar rookie year, Armas evolved into a dangerous slugger, ¬†albeit one with health issues. The young Armas reached double digits in homers twice in injury filled seasons in front of thousands of empty seats in Oakland.

When Billy Martin arrived in Oakland, Armas put together his first injury free season. He rewarded the A’s over 158 games with 35 homers and 109 RBI. Along with Dwayne Murphy and Rickey Henderson, Armas was a valuable cog in a dynamic outfield.

The Sporting News named Armas the player of the year in the strike shortened 1981 season. He shared the home run title and helped the A’s win a surprising AL West title.

After the 1982 season, he was dealt again, this time to Boston. The Red Sox sent Carney Lansford to Oakland to help make room for Wade Boggs. Armas would be placed in centerfield between Jim Rice and Dwight Evans. He wasn’t a prototypical centerfielder defensively and he caught the wrath of the boo birds in Boston with his .218 average in 1983.

But in 1984, he won over those fans (including me) with his league leading 43 homers and 123 RBI.

Once again, injuries reduced his playing time in 1985. In the Red Sox pennant winning year of 1986, he had a few highlights, including a two homer night against Cleveland in August. But his defense and health became such a liability that they needed to acquire Dave Henderson for the stretch drive to spell Armas in the late innings.

It was an injury to Armas crashing into the wall in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS that led to Dave Henderson being inserted into the game. Later, Henderson famously homered off of Donnie Moore. Armas never played in the field again in the post season and his World Series contribution was a single pinch hitting appearance.

He finished his career with three seasons as a part time DH and outfielder for the Angels. Even with his reduced playing time, he managed double digit homers in 1988 and 1989. His career ended then and has been a coach for the Venezuelan National team ever since. His son pitched for several different organizations in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

For a stretch between 1980 and 1985, Tony Armas his more homers than any other American League hitter. If not for nagging injuries and disabled list trips, he would have amassed a lot more than the 251 homers he put up.

Either way, he had a fine career and as a fan, his all or nothing approach at the plate was very fun to watch.