Hal Lanier 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 30, 2017

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The Cam-Am League is an independent baseball circuit with teams in Canada and the northern United States. One of the teams in the league is based in Ottawa with the presumptuous name the Champions.

They were eliminated from Cam-Am playoff contention earlier in September and their manager got ready for the next season. Some players from the league have gone on to the majors. The manager of the Ottawa Champions has already managed at the big league level.

Hal Lanier is the manager of the Ottawa Champions. In the majors he was named Manager of the Year.

The Lanier family is a baseball clan. His father was an All Star pitcher named Max Lanier who led the NL in ERA in 1943 and was part of the 1942 and 1944 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Hal played 8 seasons with some star studded San Francisco Giants teams. He didn’t hit much but could field well. After a few years with the Yankees, his playing days were up.

He became a minor league coach and manager before being named to Whitey Herzog’s coaching staff in St. Louis during the 1980’s. He won a World Series ring after coaching for the 1982 Cardinals and was still on the staff for the 1985 World Series.

Sought after as a managerial prospect, he was brought to Houston where he replaced Bob Lillis as the big league skipper.

The 1986 Astros were a strange combination of aging veterans like Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan and Davey Lopes and solid rising star like Glenn Davis, Bill Doran and Kevin Bass.

The also had Mike Scott in their rotation who was about to explode for the season of his career. For much of the first half of the season, the Astros battled with a surprising San Francisco team for the NL West. But a 7 game winning streak in July helped create some breathing room for Houston. Mike Scott capped off his Cy Young season with a no hitter on September 25th that clinched the NL West.

They finished the season with a 96-66 record and a 10 game cushion. They would face the mighty New York Mets in the playoffs. The strategy was simple. Win one single game NOT started by Mike Scott and have Scott win his three starts and the Astros would win the pennant.

They came so close to doing that. Scott won Game 1, the Mets won Game 2. The Astros had the lead in the bottom of the 9th of Game 3 but Lenny Dykstra hit a 2 run homer to win. Scott won Game 4. The Astros lost Game 5 in extra innings.

Then came the epic 16 inning marathon of Game 6. If they held the 3 run 9th inning lead or scored one more run in any of those extra innings, Scott would have pitched Game 7 and chances are the Astros would have won the pennant and maybe the World Series against Boston.

Instead it became one of many agonizing moments of Houston baseball frustration. He won the Manager of the Year for the solid season and looked like he would be the Astros manager for the foreseeable future.

But he clashed with general manager Dick Wagner and the team struggled to a 76-86 record in 1987. In 1988, the Astros could pitch with any team but couldn’t hit. Houston was in first place on June 13th but would play sub .500 the rest of the season, finishing behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

Lanier had finished his third season as Astros manager and that was it. He was let go after the 1988 season. Art Howe took over.

The one time National League Manager of the Year who just three years before was one of the hottest and most respected young managers in the game, never managed again in the major leagues.

He has been the skipper for many minor league teams and independent leagues, but never got the call to the majors again.

Hal Lanier is managing in Ottawa. He is not part of a major league organization or affiliate. Most of the players he will manage will never go to a big league game without paying admission.

But he still manages. It was what he does. He is a baseball man from a baseball family.

 

Mike Scott 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for January 13, 2017

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Mike Scott was an obscure pitcher for the Mets who almost single handedly derailed their hopes for a pennant in 1986 as a member of the Astros. He won a Cy Young and nearly won another. And then his career was over.

As the Mets were rebuilding in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Scott was just another nondescript pitcher throwing in Queens.

A few seasons, Scott would post sub 4.00 ERAs. But most of the time the Pepperdine University star would lose more than he lost and let up more runs than was worthwhile.

With the likes of Gooden, Darling, Fernandez and Terrell brewing in their system, Scott was expendable and was shipped to Houston for outfielder Danny Heep.

Initially he fared no better in the Astrodome. But in 1985, Roger Craig taught Scott the split finger fastball. And suddenly Houston had an ace.

He threw 221 2/3 innings and pitched to a 3.29 ERA in 1985. His record swelled to 18-8 and he blossomed at age 30.

In 1986, he put on a tour de force season. He led the NL in ERA, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts, where he fanned an astonishing 306. There were whispers of his scuffing the ball but he kept winning.

Roger Craig may have regretting teaching Scott the split finger when he no hit Craig’s Giants to clinch the 1986 NL West title.

If Scott’s haunting of Craig was whimsical, he was a terrifying sight for his fomer club, the Mets.

He threw a complete game shutout in Game 1 of the 1986 NLCS, neutralizing the Mets ace Dwight Gooden. He tossed another complete game victory in Game 4. The Mets, knowing that Scott was unbeatable, desperately clawed to win the other games. Two of the New York victories at Shea were dramatic walk offs. Game 6 of the NLCS was an exhausting 16 inning marathon where the Mets played like it was a Game 7. They knew that if Scott pitched Game 7, there was no for them to win.

The Mets won the NLCS and yet Scott, who struck out 19 in 18 innings while allowing a single run, earned the MVP.

Scott continued his winning ways with a solid 1987 and 1988 before posting his lone 20 win season in 1989. He would be the Cy Young runner up to Mark Davis, a reliever for the San Diego Padres.

After a down year in 1990, he pitched two games in 1991, the year this card was issued. Scott lost both games and his career was over.

Injuries ended his career that stopped almost as quickly as it skyrocketed with a split finger fastball.

This 1991 card of Scott always made me scratch my head. He made his living on the mound and striking out batters. So why not show Mike Scott with a batting helmet on and trying to lay down a bunt?

The .124 career hitter never made much of an impact with that bat!

 

Houston Astros: 15 Most Painful Postseason Losses

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The Astros surprising season hit a speed bump before the All Star Break. But they are just 1 game back heading into late July, better than anyone’s expectations for 2015. The team remains one of the few organizations to have never won a World Series in their lifetime (which began in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s.)

And along the way, they have lost some of the most heartbreaking games in baseball history.

Great pitching chances squandered. The winning run stranded on base. Runners being picked off. Odd bullpen decisions. Eight extra-inning losses.

A bounce here in 1980, a carom there in 1986, an extra hop in 1999, a pop up in 2004 or an RBI in 2005 and who knows? The Astros might have a few World Series banners flying.

These are the 15 most painful playoff losses in the history of the team.

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