Tom Lasorda 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 2, 2017


Is Tom Lasorda the best manager of all time?

How does one even make that determination? Wins and Losses can be a bad yard stick. Some great manager have lousy win loss totals when they don’t have the players.

Before Casey Stengel joined the Yankees he was a mediocre borderline bumbling manager. Joe Torre had one Division Title and a lot of bad to mediocre Mets, Braves and Cardinals teams on his resume before going to the Bronx. Terry Francona was just another bland former player filling out lineup cards without much success before coming to Boston.

Great managers like Jim Leyland and Dick Williams had losing seasons with bad teams. Meanwhile Grady Little got the Red Sox to Game 7 of the ALCS and Bob Brenly won the World Series.

Picking one greatest of all time could be an act of futility. Some will say Earl Weaver or Joe McCarthy. Some will point to managers who won in multiple places, like Leo Durocher or Dick Williams or Tony LaRussa.

Lasorda has some interesting points to his argument for at least making the list of the best. He bookended his career as a manager with post season appearances. That means his first full season (1977) and his final full season (1995) he had his team in the playoffs.

That straddles the first year of Free Agency and post 1994 Strike. Needless to say, nobody from the 1977 squad was on the 1995 team.

Sure he inherited a bunch of veterans from Walter Alston’s 1974 NL pennant winner. But Earl Weaver inherited Hank Bauer’s 1966 World Champion Orioles team and nobody seemed to mind.

Besides, a lot of managers take over a talented squad and fall on their face. Lasorda got a bunch of big time stars and no doubt huge egos playing in a time when they finally could cash in with other teams.

He got stars like Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Don Sutton, Reggie Smith et al to play and win. While other teams loaded with superstars like the Phillies, Yankees and Reds had their share of upheaval, the Dodgers had remarkable consistency.

The teams that made the World Series in 1977, 1978 and 1981 were remarkably similar.

But beyond the stars he inherited, the Dodgers under Lasorda were remarkable in producing Rookies of the Year. From 1979 to 1982, LA had 4 straight Rookies of the Year. Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax all won it.

Later in the 1990’s towards the end of Lasorda’s career, he ran off 5 Rookies of the Year in a row with Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo and Todd Hollandsworth.

Sure, that has as much to do with the front office and scouting as it does Lasorda. But having a manager cultivate so much young talent and use them wisely deserves a nod.

As the 1970’s turned into the 1980’s, many of the previous decade’s superteams faded. The Pirates and Reds failed to make the post season in the 1980’s. The Yankees never won the World Series in the decade. The A’s dismantled twice while the Phillies remained strong until 1983.

The Dodgers rebuilt and did not miss a beat. The great infield of Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey was broken up after winning the 1981 World Series. By 1983 and 1985, the new cast of characters were back in the playoffs.

Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Steve Sax and a cast of solid young players kept the hopes up and LA in October. After a few down years, Lasorda had the year that clinched his bid to the Hall of Fame, as if it was ever in doubt.

The Dodgers, hastily rebuilt after a let down in 1986 and 1987, had a makeshift collection of young players and castoffs in 1988. Sure, they had a great season from Orel Hershiser, but lots of teams have great ace caliber performances from their number one starter.

The Dodgers had to face the Mets and the A’s in the post season. The Mets won 100 games, had superior firepower and depth and won Games 1 and 3, both started by Orel Hershiser and his closer, Jay Howell, was suspended.

The Dodgers had NO BUSINESS even seeing a 6th game, let alone winning the series. But without a closer, Lasorda improvised in extra innings, finally calling on Hershiser to close out the game.

They pushed the series to seven and had Hershiser close it out with a shutout. On to Oakland to face the 104 win A’s. Oh yeah. He got his closer back but Kirk Gibson was hurt along with Valenzuela and John Tudor and eventually Mike Scioscia. Their clean up batter and number 2 batter combined for 3 regular season homers.

Everyone remembers the Gibson homer. Few remember that Lasorda and the Dodgers managed to walk through a minefield to keep the game a 4-3 affair going into the 9th to set up the homer.

And Lasorda pitted Tim Belcher against Dave Stewart in Game 4. Every button he pressed worked. His punchless hitters, Mickey Hatcher and Mike Davis, matched their regular season home run production in 5 World Series games. And he leaned on embattled closer Jay Howell who gave him a 2 1/3 inning save.

He outfoxed Davey Johnson and Tony LaRussa for his second and greatest title.

Sure he was a showman and a self promoter. What is wrong with that? He was fun, boisterous and behind the scenes swore so much he would make Joe Pesci blush.

But he won with stars, developed two entire generations of super stars and if management kept Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza, who knows how many more post Lasorda titles would have been won.

Was he the best manager ever? Tough to say. But he deserves the consideration.

Tim Leary 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 18, 2017


OK, let’s get two things out of the way first. Yes, he has the same name as Timothy Leary, the doctor who believed in therapy using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. No doubt he heard that comparison his entire life.

And the other thing is his eyes look a little glassy, as if he visited his namesake for therapy.

But man, those are beautiful eyes, aren’t they?

Timothy James Leary was a Southern California kid, a graduate of Santa Monica High and UCLA. It is appropriate that he would end up with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he didn’t get there directly.

The Mets made him the second overall pick in the 1979 draft. He was a better pick than the Mariners Al Chambers, who had the top pick. The number 5 pick was Juan Bustabad by the A’s who never got to the majors.

The Mets were a rudderless franchise in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and made irrelevant by the dominance of the Yankees. With Leary, a college star, now in their midst, they rushed him to the majors at age 22 in 1981 after only one year in the minors. Leary appeared in one game with the hype of being the next Tom Seaver. He pitched 2 shutout innings but had to be lifted because of an injury.

That decision cost him the entire 1982 season. He returned to Triple A in 1983 where he pitched 160 1/3 innings but was hardly dominant. In 1984, he returned to the Mets but was in the bullpen as Dwight Gooden became the dominant ace they envisioned Leary would be.

Before spring training of 1985, Leary was involved in a convoluted trade between the Royals, Rangers, Mets and Brewers. When the dust settled, Leary was heading off to Milwaukee and given a fresh start.

After an injury plagued 1985, he managed to win 12 games with an adequate 4.21 ERA for the 1986 Brewers. But a poor 1987 made it seem like perhaps he was never going to meet the potential of a first round pick.

Then LA came to the rescue. The Dodgers sent their one time first baseman of the future, Greg Brock to the Brewers for Leary. The expectations were not high for the 1988 Dodgers. When ace Fernando Valenzuela stumbled through an injury plagued year, they seemed to be destined to finish behind the Giants and Reds.

While Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser get most of the credit for turning the Dodgers fortunes around in 1988, they did not do it alone.

Tim Leary had the best year of his career. He was the NL Pitcher of the Week for July 24th and wound up throwing 6 shutouts, winning 17 overall and throwing to a 2.91 ERA over a career high 228 2/3 innings.

He also batted .269 for the season and earned the Silver Slugger Award.

The Dodgers won the NL West and Leary went on to face the team that drafted him and rushed him.

He pitched in relief in the wild 12 inning 5-4 Dodger victory in Game 4. He lost a potential pennant clinching Game 6 but the Dodgers would win in Game 7.

In the World Series, Leary became an unsung hero for the dramatic Game 1. People remember Kirk Gibson’s homer that ended it. But as I said in the Mike Davis entry of this series, that homer did not take place in a vacuum.

After starter Tim Belcher was lifted when he surrendered the grand slam to Jose Canseco, Leary came in to face the powerful and heavily favored A’s. He threw 3 shutout innings, striking out 3. By preventing the A’s from rallying again, Leary helped set up Gibson’s dramatics.

The Dodgers would win the World Series and Leary would be one of its heroes.

Leary bounced between the Reds, Yankees, Mariners and Rangers between 1989 and 1994. He was part of a lopsided deal as the Yankees gave up Hal Morris to bring Leary into their hole filled rotation.

Since retiring, Leary has been a college and high school coach, earning a spot in the UCLA Sports Hall of Fame. I can not help but wonder what his career would have been like if he was developed properly in the Mets farm system instead of being rushed.

But LA fans are happy he had his best year winning the World Series for his home town team.

Todd Burns 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day For August 15, 2017

IMG_1686I may have mentioned this in one of my previous Card of the Day posts. Forgive me, I have written hundreds of them so far, so a detail or two might have slipped through the cracks. But during the post season, I keep track of which players have played and which players haven’t.

I guess it stems from my own lack of playing time in high school that I want everyone to get it. I personally find it sad if someone plays for a team in the World Series and you see their entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia or and see no games played in the post season.

There is a little thrill I get when the last player on the bench or in the bullpen get into the game. There was a moment in the 1988 World Series where Tony LaRussa thought similar to me regarding getting the players in. And that moment turned out to be the last observation one of the great voices in baseball history made in a World Series telecast. And it involved Todd Burns.

The 1988 A’s had an embarrassment of riches. They had a deep outfield, more infielders than they can start, their bullpen was legendary and the rotation, led by Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, was solid.

On June 18, the A’s were 42-34, already 5 games ahead of the defending World Champion Twins and 11 ahead of the Rangers, who were coming into Oakland.

That day, the A’s had recalled Todd Burns from Triple A. The former 7th round pick from Oral Roberts University had made one relief appearance earlier in the year and was basically an unknown quantity for a spot start.

He went 8 innings against a solid hitting Rangers team, allowing 1 run. He didn’t get the decision as the game went into extra innings. (Gene Nelson, who I wrote about a few days ago threw 3 1/3 shutout innings for the walk off win.) But it was quite an impression for Burns.

His next appearance he threw 10 innings. Once again did not get the decision but set up another walk off win.

A week later, after getting no decisions on extra inning wins, karma helped him. HE came into a game in the 12th, threw 4 2/3 innings of shutout relief and got the win.

July also saw him threw a complete game victory against Cleveland followed up by a 7 inning scoreless start for another win over the Tigers.

By August 12, he was 5-0 with a solid 2.71 ERA. The deep A’s had stumbled across an innings eating stud who could do it all. He followed up a September 15 complete game win with a September 23rd save.

As the A’s swept my Red Sox in the ALCS, Burns didn’t get into a game. LaRussa opted to start Dave Stewart twice, Storm Davis once and Bob Welch once. Hard to argue with the results.

His fate was similar in the stunning World Series against the Dodgers. If any game looked like a possibility for him to get in, it would have been game 2. Storm Davis was hit hard and lifted in the 4th. But Gene Nelson, Curt Young, Eric Plunk and Rick Honeycutt got the call, not Burns.

As the A’s were losing Game 5, Hershiser was dominating and it was clear one of the biggest upsets in baseball history was about to be complete, Eric Plunk was pitching in the top of the 9th and Oakland was down 5-2.

With 2 outs and nobody on and light hitting Alfredo Griffin coming to the plate, LaRussa went to the pen. Todd Burns came in to face Griffin.

It was clear that it would be the only chance for Burns to pitch in the 1988 World Series and who knows? Maybe would be his lone chance in his career. He had been a valuable pitcher for the second half of the year and now he got to at least be in a box score.

I remember watching that game and putting a check mark next to Burns. I hated that A’s team. They beat my Red Sox. But I was thrilled for Burns.

Griffin grounded out and the A’s went quietly in the 9th and the Dodgers were champs.

As announcers Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were signing off, they were making their final thoughts.

The combination of Scully and Garagiola was in retrospect a great one. But at the time I found Scully to be grating. Mainly because his voice reminded me of the 1986 World Series.

Garagiola was leaving NBC. (Was he being pushed out? Remember this was the same time they were trying to get rid of Johnny Carson. Out with the old in with the new.)

As he said good bye, he made time in his final sentence to make an observation. It wasn’t about Kirk Gibson’s homer in Game 1 still fresh in everyone’s mind. It wasn’t about the masterful performance by Hershiser.

He brought up LaRussa’s “touch of class” for bringing Todd Burns into the game in the 9th.

Joe got it. He always did.

Well LaRussa’s fears of Burns not getting into another World Series game were unfounded. He pitched in the 1989 and 1990 World Series with the A’s, earning a ring in the Earthquake Series.

With the addition of Mike Moore in 1989, Burns was no longer needed in the rotation so be became an effective long reliever and picked up 8 saves when Eckersley was hurt for a stretch in 1989.

In the end, Burns made 5 World Series appearance. Oddly never once appeared in the ALCS. But appearing in the World Series is cooler.