’86 Record Breaker Rogers Clemens – 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 21, 2017


So I guess I have to talk about Roger Clemens. He is a complex subject. I wish he wasn’t. I wish we could just celebrate his greatness.

And we could have.

But now we can’t. And here we are.

It is no accident that I have this specific card to represent his greatness. The 1987 Topps Card celebrates his 20 strikeout masterpiece from April 1986. To paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh, that’s when he announced his presence with authority. Oh sure, William Roger Clemens was a top prospect from the University of Texas and had some success in his rookie year of 1984. But this was his coming out party.

The Red Sox I grew up watching (from 1979 to 1985) could always hit with the best of them. But they lacked the lockdown ace. OK, fine. Dennis Eckersley was an All Star Starter but the Red Sox starting staff always was lacking.

When Clemens took the mound on April 29, 1986, as most of Boston was paying attention to the Celtics in the playoffs, he dominated the Mariners like noone else did. Striking out batter after batter, walking none. First baseman Don Baylor dropped a foul pop at one point, making the batter return to the plate only to be struck out.

At that moment, the Red Sox became a contender. And let me explain to you what that meant for your pal Sully. At age 14, I finally had hope as a baseball fan. Oh yeah sure, the Red Sox kind of contended for a while in 1982 but by September it was a Milwaukee/Baltimore race.

In 1986, Clemens looked like the man who was finally going to deliver a title to Fenway. That whole season, he just dominated when he was on the mound. It became an event when it was his turn.

Normally when I was growing up, Red Sox teams played well until around August then they faded. Keep in mind, my following the Red Sox day in and day out started in 1979. So by the time I was 14 years old, I had NEVER seen them in the post season. (I was too young to remember 1975.)

So when the Red Sox finally won the Division and had a stud starter (plus Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd to round out the rotation) I had hope.

Sure, Clemens had a rough Game 1 and the bullpen blew his 9th inning Game 4 lead. But Clemens won the Game 7 clincher against California in the ALCS. And Clemens was on the mound with a lead in Game 6, a potential World Series clincher.

He got a blister, was lifted for pinch hitter Mike Greenwell and, well, we all know what happened in Game 6.

Even after the disastrous ending of the 1986 World Series, there was hope as a Red Sox fan. The hope was the solid foundation of the team and the great arm of their ace.

Hoping for a World Series title no longer seemed like a far fetched idea. Clemens could lead the way. He won the Cy Young Award in 1987 and would have made it 3 in a row in 1988 if not for one bad month.

Arguably he was AL MVP in 1990 as he almost single handedly pitched the Red Sox into the playoffs for the third time in five seasons. He won the Cy Young in 1991, probably should have won it again in 1992 and led the league in strikeouts in 1996, when he matched his feat of 20 strikeouts in a game.

But the Red Sox DIDN’T win it all. In fact when they made the post season in 1988, 1990 and 1995, they were swept out of October without a single win each time. Clemens’ biggest highlight was being thrown out of Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS. Clemens had the regular season numbers but Dave Stewart would best him in the post season.

All the while, he remained my favorite player in baseball and the symbol of Red Sox hope. But then came his contract dispute with Dan Duquette and being declared a star at the end of his career.

The Red Sox did not sign him after the 1996 season and off he went to Toronto. How big a Clemens fan was I then? I wore a Blue Jays cap the days he started. My loyalty remained with him.

And of course Clemens won the Cy Young Award both years he was in Toronto, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. It was almost as if he had a boost.

After the 1998 Cy Young season, Roger Clemens became a Yankee. Now it is hard for me to logically say I was mad at Roger. After all, the Red Sox all but let him go. But the Yankees were unstoppable and I had found a new hope.

Pedro Martinez had arrived in Boston and with his right arm lay all the hopes, wishes and prayers of New England. And suddenly Roger was the enemy.

It felt wrong. But I loved Pedro so much that somehow, it got me wired to see a Red Sox/Yankees collision in October. Sure, I knew in my heart of hearts the Yankees were better. But Pedro made me believe in a way that I hadn’t felt since Roger’s prime.

When Roger and Pedro faced off in the 1999 ALCS, it was no contest. Pedro was unstoppable and Clemens was bombed out of the game, much to the delight of Red Sox fans. Of course, the Red Sox lost ALL the other games of the series, but those are just details.

The Yankees won the 1999 World Series and Clemens pitched well in the clincher. Like when Boggs won with the Yankees in 1996, I felt some conflicting emotions. Yeah sure, it pissed me off that the Yankees won yet another World Series.

But part of me felt good for Roger Clemens. He deserved a World Series ring in 1986 and now he had one. Now his ring in 2000 was overkill, especially since it involved throwing the bat at Mike Piazza.

Now he had gone full villain and became almost impossible to root for. The player who at one point was my favorite player OF ALL TIME became the subject of ire for me.

I hated his crazy glove he wore trying to get his 300th win and was glad it didn’t happen against the Red Sox. I loved that the Red Sox bombed him in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS only to be furious that Grady Little spoiled the “Pedro beating Roger” storyline by not going to the pen quick enough.

Then Roger retired… or did he? When he signed with the Astros, I felt oddly compelled to root for him again. He got another Cy Young and I remembered why I loved him as a Red Sox pitcher.

I almost can’t equate Roger the Yankee and Roger the Astro to Roger the Red Sox ace. I was 14 and just learning to root for a team in the playoffs when he was a star. I was married with twin boys when he pitched in the 2005 World Series.

Then he came back to the Yankees after retiring again, but this point he was done and he got bombed in his final ever appearance.

And of course he was on roids. Ergo, he couldn’t get in on the first ballot. And he had a relationship with a girl that was at best really really creepy. The parties involved say it didn’t get intimate until she was 21… yikes, that’s the BEST case scenario.

I wish we could just celebrate his 7 Cy Youngs and 20 plus seasons of excellence. Of course we can’t. Of course it has to be more complex.

But my love for THIS image of Roger Clemens will never be complex. It is clear as a New England autumn sky. He gave me hope as a Red Sox fan and I can never let go of that.

Jeff Torborg 2002 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 16, 2017


IMG_2405In 2003, Jeff Torborg began the season as the manager of the Florida Marlins. He had been a manager over several decades and won a Manager of the Year in the 1990’s.

Now a seasoned veteran who had managed for several different franchises, he found himself in Florida in what might have been his last big shot.

That year, the Florida Marlins stunned all of baseball by winning the World Series over the New York Yankees. They did so being led by their veteran manager, a seasoned veteran of many franchises who won a Manager of the Year in the 1990’s.

Only it wasn’t Jeff Torborg who was managing the team when they won.

I couldn’t help but feel for Torborg when Jack McKeon took over the team and got the glory.

A star high school player from New Jersey, Torborg became a backup catcher on the Dodgers during their glory years of the 1960’s. He earned a World Series ring in 1965 and played on another pennant winner in 1966, although he never actually played in the World Series those years.

He played in LA from 1964 to 1970. From 1971 to 1973, he played for the Angels before transitioning to coaching.

In 1977, the Indians fired Frank Robinson as manager and put Jeff Torborg in the skipper role. The Indians had some talent on their squad but it could not translate on the field. His only full season managing Cleveland, 1978, they lost 90 games.

When the Tribe started 43-52 in 1979, Torborg was let go and Dave Garcia came in. The Indians would finish the season above .500.

For years afterwards, Torborg became a fixture in the Yankee coaching staff. Oddly, even though the Yankees averaged at least one managerial change a year, Torborg never got a chance to manage in the Bronx.

The White Sox came calling in 1989 after Jim Fregosi was shown the door. He had a rocky first year but the young talented squad blossomed in 1990, the final year of Comiskey Park.

The team had a combination of veteran hitters like Carlton Fisk, Ron Kittle and Ivan Calderon and young bats like Robin Ventura, Lance Johnson and young phenom Frank Thomas. They also had Sammy Sosa, but he was too skinny and didn’t have enough power.

Bobby Thigpen saved a record 57 games and Jack McDowell, Greg Hibbard, Melido Perez and Eric King made for a solid staff.

By July 7th, they were tied for first place and stayed close into August. The A’s would go on to win the AL West, but Chicago’s 94 win season came out of nowhere and was better than the AL East Champion Red Sox’s final tally.

Torborg won Manager of the Year and became on the shortlist of elite managers. After another winning season in 1991, he was coveted by several teams. He went to New York. The Mets were retooling with the additions of Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen and Eddie Murray and had thoughts of unseating the Pirates for NL East champs.

Now with Torborg replacing Bud Harrleson, the Mets looked to be great again.

Instead 1992 was an abject disaster. Bonilla and Saberhagen were not the stars New York was hoping for and the Mets lost 92 games. They began 1993 13-25 and that was it. Torborg was first and Dallas Green took over. The 1993 Mets are considered to be one of the worst in franchise history.

The taste of being involved in those Mets years seemed to wipe out the positivity of the White Sox success. He did not return to managing for the rest of the 1990’s. He worked as a broadcaster for several outlets.

His friend, Jeffrey Loria, revived his managerial career. When Loria ran the Expos, he brought in Torborg to supplant Felipe Alou to finish the 2001 season. When Loria left the Expos to run the Marlins, he brought Torborg with him.

The Marlins had talent and finished 2002 near .500. But they started 2003 with a new free agent signing, Ivan Rodriguez, and Wild Card aspirations. Instead they stumbled to a 16-22 start.

That prompted the hiring of Jack McKeon and Torborg was shown the door. The Marlins went 75-49 the rest of the way, stunned the Giants in the Division Series, caused agony to Cub fans and caught an exhausted post Aaron Boone Yankee squad off guard.

The Marlins were champs and it was McKeon, who had been Manager of the Year with the 1999 Reds, soaking in champagne.

Torborg retired to New Jersey and now is suffering from Parkinsons.

He had a long and varied baseball life that just barely missed that ultimate pinnacle as a manager.

I hope he got a winners share from the 2003 Marlins.

Sully Baseball Podcast Rewind – June 23, 2014



On June 23, 2014, I talked about the World Cup and tried to see what baseball comparisons could match with America winning the title.

Enjoy this Podcast Rewind

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – June 23, 2014