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.
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