Dave Stapleton 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 3, 2017

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STAPES!

For Red Sox fans my age who grew up in the 1980’s, Dave Stapleton was a player who perfectly linked the Fred Lynn and Carlton Fisk era to the 1986 World Series.

His place in baseball lore will be the fact that he was sitting on the bench during one of the most infamous (and overrated) moments in the history of baseball.

The Red Sox drafted Stapleton from University of South Alabama in the 1975 draft. He proceeded to be one of many former Red Sox farm hands who stayed in Pawtucket for many years while the major league team remained stacked. He was a .300 hitter with 15 homer power at Pawtucket in 1979 but couldn’t get a call up.

Finally in 1980, he made the club and his .321 average put him among the league leaders. He managed to play all around the infield, mainly subbing for an injured Jerry Remy.

In 1981, he found his role as a super sub. He started double digit games at first, second, third and shortstop. The team was going through an overhaul as Carlton Fisk left and Rick Burleson, Fred Lynn and Butch Hobson were all dealt away. Stapleton’s ability to play all over the field helped the Red Sox restabilize the team. He would get the big hit from time to time, including an inside the park homer in 1982.

In 1983, he became the starting first baseman during Carl Yastremzski’s farewell season but his offensive numbers were plummeting each season. He no longer had the average or the pop to justify being a starting first baseman. In 1983, Tony Armas arrived to give the Red Sox a new powersource. Mike Easler came in 1984 but the needed one more bat at first.

The Red Sox dealt for Bill Buckner, the player with whom Stapleton would be linked to for all of baseball history. The arrival of Buckner meant the end of Stapleton’s time as a starting player. Buckner was a solid hitter and respected veteran. Stapleton’s job was now to fill in for Buckner in late innings when his sore ankles were getting the better of him.

In the post season, Stapleton had a single job: Come in the game for the final innings of a win. If the Red Sox had the lead at the end of the game, Stapleton would be on the field. If the Red Sox were behind, Buckner and his bat would remain int he lineup.

In Game 5 of the ALCS, the “Dave Henderson Game”, Stapleton came in as a pinch runner in the 9th inning. He was driven home by Don Baylor when he launched his often forgotten 2 run shot that set up Dave Henderson’s heroics.

Stapleton would later single in extra innings and would catch the final pop up to end the marathon game.

He filled in for Buckner in Game 6 and came into Game 7 in the third inning when Buckner’s ankles were getting the best of him. Stapleton was on the field when they clinched.

As the Red Sox won World Series Games 1 and 2 at Shea Stadium, each game ended with Stapes at first. He did not come into Games 3 and 4 at Fenway when the Mets won.

In Game 5, Buckner endeared himself to the fans by scoring from second and awkwardly sliding home on a Dwight Evans single. He limped back to the dugout and stayed in the game until the 9th when Stapleton came in.

Then game 6 came about, which has been so unfairly associated with Bill Buckner to this day. Truth be told, Buckner should not have started that game. Bobby Ojeda, a left hander, got the start for the Mets and Buckner was in a slump in the series. Don Baylor should have started at first base. Yes he was a poor defensive first baseman, but using Bill Buckner’s DEFENSE as a reason to start him is a strange argument.

The Red Sox took a 2 run lead in the 10th and reliever Rick Aguilera hit Buckner with a pitch. There was the ideal moment to put healthier legs on the basepaths and make the defensive replacement.

Buckner stayed in the game. Manager John McNamara has stated that he wanted Buckner, a respected baseball lifer, to be on the field when the World Series was clinched.

You know what happened next… or do you? Most people seem to think that if Bill Buckner had made that play, the Red Sox would have won the World Series.

That is factually untrue. The game was tied already after the wild pitch. But that being said, chances are Dave Stapleton would have made that play.

But then what? They would have gone into extra innings, having burnt through their bullpen and Dave Stapleton and his .128 average and .325 OPS would be in the number 3 hole.

As it turned out Game 5 of the 1986 World Series would be his final appearance in the big leagues. He tried out with the Mariners in 1987 but could not supplant Alvin Davis and Ken Phelps and called it a career.

Stapes has since moved back to Alabama where he has his own business. But his spot in baseball history is secure. He was the guy who should have been in the game for Bill Buckner. How much that would have helped is anyone’s guess.

Keith Hernandez 1990 Topps Traded Series – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 6, 2017

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First and foremost, Keith Hernandez did NOT hang himself. That was Aaron Hernandez. A Canadian newspaper mistakenly called Aaron “Keith” in a headline regarding the suicide of the Patriots player in jail.

In case you are getting your news from this blog, I wanted to make sure you were informed.

Now on to this card.

Yup.

Keith Hernandez finished his career with the Cleveland Indians. It looks strange doesn’t it? Didn’t it seem like he was mainly a Met in his career? Actually he won a Co-MVP as a Cardinal and got his first World Series ring in St. Louis. Maybe he should have been a Cardinal for his whole career.

But if he did stay in St. Louis for his whole career, he would never have appeared on Seinfeld.

“Mex” was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Actually he was not of Mexican descent but actually Spanish on his dad’s side. But Mex is still a cool nickname. He played little league on the Peninsula where one of his teammates was Bob McClure. Those two would meet later in life.

While playing for the College of San Mateo, he was drafted in the 41st round of the 1971 draft. It was one of the great draft success stories ever. 783 players were picked ahead of an eventual league MVP.

Between Single A St. Petersburg and Double A Arkansas, Hernandez was OK but hardly a can’t miss star when he started his minor league career.

But in Triple A Tulsa, his batting average jumped up. He batted .333 in 1973 in his brief Tripla A stint. Then .351 for a full season in 1974 and .330 in half a season in 1975. The Cardinals dealt Joe Torre to the Mets to make room on the roster for Hernandez. By 1976, the 22 year old Hernandez was starting every day. His star was beginning to rise in 1977 when he hit .291 with 15 homers and 91 RBI.

In 1978 he won his first of 11 Gold Gloves at first. Then in 1979, he exploded. He got off to a sluggish start but then in May, batted .356 with an OPS of .970.

Then he got better. He hit .373 in June and his OPS jumped to .994. By comparison, his .333 July with a .908 OPS looked bad but don’t worry. His hit .384 with a .939 OPS in August. Then for good measure, hit .356 with an eye popping 1.009 OPS to finish the season in September.

He led the league in batting and doubles and runs scored and finished with a .930 OPS and 105 RBI and did so with only 11 homers.

Willie Stargell was the emotional leader of the eventual World Champion Pirates that year but he was forced to share his MVP with Hernandez, whose actual stats dwarfed the accomplishments of “Pops.”

Hernandez continued his great hitting, Gold Glove winning defense and league leading run production through the beginning of the 1980’s, where he was named to the All Star Game again.

In 1982, the Cardinals made the World Series and played a star studded if injured Milwaukee Brewers team. In the 7 game series, Hernandez drove in 8 runs. The last two tied Game 7 off of his old Little League teammate Bob McClure. The Cardinals would win the World Series and Hernandez would get his first ring.

But all was not well. Manager Whitey Herzog kind of hated his star first baseman. He felt there was a lack of hustle from him and oh yeah, Hernandez loved cocaine. Lots of people loved cocaine in the 1980’s, but Herzog thought it was a distraction.

As the Cardinals were defending their World Series title, Hernandez was dumped to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey in the middle of the 1983 season. Needless to say, the trade was a bad one. The bad blood between Herzog and Hernandez helped fuel the heated rivalry between St. Louis and the Mets in the mid 1980’s.

Hernandez flourished with the Mets on the field and at the plate and with the fans. He made the All Star team in 1984 and hit above .300 in his first 4 seasons with New York. And the perennial losers in Queens suddenly became contenders.

His name came up in the Pittsburgh Cocaine trials along with many other high profile baseball players.I will say, these cocaine issues seem quaint compared to BALCO.

In the 1986 post season, he hit a critical double that brought the Mets to within 1 run in the top of the 9th and came around to score the tying run in the epic 16 inning clinching marathon game 6 of the NLCS.

Later in the World Series, he got the game tying hit and drove in 3 runs in Game 7 of the World Series as the Mets won and forever cemented their place in the hearts of Met fans. Hernandez was beloved by the fans inspite of, or maybe because of, his party boy image and cockiness. He was beloved by his teammates as well as the fans.

After the World Series, hard partying Hernandez and squeaky clean Gary Carter were named Co Captains of the team, but his best days were behind him.

Knee issues, hamstring problems and the emergence of younger players like Dave Magadan cut down on his numbers. After 1989, he was not given a new contract.

As this card shows, he played his final season with a young Indians team, hoping his veteran leadership would be an inspiration. He was a non factor.

On May 1, 190, Hernandez had his final two hit game in a loss to Toronto. He went hitless on July 24, 1990, his final game.

His post playing career has seen him play off of his good looks and partying reputation and cocky personality as much as his baseball career. He remains a popular Mets broadcaster, does the Just for Men hair color commercials with another former New York party animal Walt Clyde Frazier and of course dated Elaine Benes.

He fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after 9 votes, only twice breaking double digits from the votes. Hernandez remains one of the beloved figures in Mets history, a relic of a fast living era of New York in the 1980s, and to the jealousy of George Constanza, a Civil War buff.

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

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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.