1990 Record Breaker Carlton Fisk 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 13, 2017

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Carlton Fisk played more games with the Chicago White Sox than he did with the Boston Red Sox.

Doesn’t that sound strange. I mean unless you are Jimmy Pardo or grew up on the South Side of Chicago, when I say Carlton Fisk, you think of the Red Sox. His hat on his Hall of Fame plaque is a Red Sox hat. His lasting image in baseball history is that of him waving the ball fair in the 1975 World Series.

He was born in New England, grew up in New England. He idolized the Red Sox. He was one of us.

And if someone coldly looked at his stats, they could make the case that the hat on his plaque should have read S-O-X, as in Chicago.

It would be a tough argument to have him wear the curly Q C hat that he wore with the totally forgettable White Sox uniforms shown on this record breaker card issued in 1991. The card commemorates when he homered off of Charlie Hough, another old timer, to pass Johnny Bench for most homers ever by a catcher.

How did that happen? How did a New England legend spend so much time in Chicago when he should have been breaking records and playing in the post season with Boston for his entire career?

The answer is simple. I have often criticized the Red Sox management at the time for being racist and immoral. But let’s not discount how stupid they were either.

It had to do with a postmark.

Fisk was born in Vermont and grew up in Charlestown New Hampshire. Already he was the perfect Red Sox star. He could represent 3 New England states right out of the gate. He was a basketball and baseball star and wound up being drafted by the Red Sox in 1967.

After making cameos in the big leagues in 1969 and 1971, he was up for good in 1972. He won the Gold Glove, smashed 22 homers, led the league with 9 triples, batted .293 and had an OPS of .909 as the Red Sox contended for the AL East until the final day of the season. He made the All Star team and was named Rookie of the Year.

A star was born.

Along with the Yankee’s Thurman Munson, he had a not so friendly rivalry among the AL’s best catchers. He also faced his share of injuries but excelled when he was on the field. Between 1972 and 1980, all of his full years with the Red Sox, he missed the All Star Game twice.

Ironically one of the years he wasn’t an All Star was 1975, the year of his immortality.

The Red Sox had an offensive nucleus of Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Jerry Remy, Rick Burleson and Carlton Fisk in 1980. My favorite player, Butch Hobson, was wonderful but injury prone. It was an All Star team that needed a few pitchers to win the East.

Guess what? They wanted to get paid. It was the era of free agency and the Red Sox were a team that had money. Hey! Why not keep the team together?

Well this was the Red Sox, who felt compelled to shell out big dough for Bill Campbell, Mike Torrez and Tony Perez but suddenly got cost conscious when it came to their own star players.

Fisk wanted a significant raise. Haywood Sullivan (no relation to me), the GM of the team balked and a stand off took place. Eventually the Red Sox mailed him a contract.

There was one problem. The post mark was a day after the free agency deadline. Now there are two explanations of what happened: The Red Sox management intentionally mailed it a day late to create the optics that they tried to keep Carlton Fisk while actually letting him walk… OR… they stupidly forgot to put it in the mail.

EITHER ANSWER makes the Red Sox look stupid. Do you know what also made the Red Sox look stupid? The fact that Carlton Fisk continued to produce like an All Star as a member of the White Sox.

He signed with Chicago before the 1981 season and always seemed to homer against the Red Sox when he returned.

In 107 career games against Boston, he batted .310, had an OPS of .967, homered 27 times (appropriately his number with Boston).

He made four more All Star teams, finishing third in the 1983 MVP vote when he helped lead Chicago to the ALCS. His 37 homers in 1985 earned him a Silver Slugger Award. He was a Silver Slugger in 1988 as well, finished 15th in the MVP vote in 1990 and made the 1991 All Star Team.

The Red Sox did develop another home grown native New Englander All Star catcher with Rich Gedman. But Free Agency derailed his career, specifically collusion. The Red Sox could have resigned Fisk, but declined to because they were one of the colluding organizations.

So, when Fisk’s career wrapped up in 1993, he played 1078 games over 9 plus seasons in Boston and 1421 games in 13 seasons for Chicago.

214 of his 376 career homers were as a White Sox catcher.

He should have been a Red Sox catcher for life. He should have been on the 1986 pennant winner and the 1988 and 1990 Division Champs, teammates with Evans for all three and Rice in 1986 and 1988.

Instead a contract was put into the mail a day late and we had to see Fisk wear all sorts of crappy looking White Sox jerseys.

So we’ve all seen the Fisk homer in the 1975 World Series. Let’s see him homer in his return to Fenway, putting the White Sox up in the game late. It was a huge middle finger to Red Sox management as he got a standing ovation from the Boston fans.

1990 Record Breaker Bobby Thigpen 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 4, 2017

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In many ways, the save stat is a first draft at solving a problem. For years, relief pitchers had been marginalized as failed starters. Their value was unclear in terms of measuring their metrics.

Wins were coveted as starters and relievers often didn’t get wins. Many times they didn’t even pitch when their team had a lead.

Relievers tended to get wins when they let up the lead but then the team scored later. Those were “vulture wins.”

A few attempts were made to award saves but writer Jerome Holtzman came up with the first draft. Pitchers were awarded saves if they finished the game and protected a tight lead.

It became an official stat in 1969 and suddenly a measurement came about to compare relievers.

Pitchers had to protect either a 3 run lead with 3 outs to go, protect a lead where the tying run is on the on deck circle or protect a lead by pitching the final 3 innings of the game, regardless the score.

Not bad. A reliever didn’t have to worry about picking up wins to get anyone’s attention. At first it didn’t seem to affect how managers used their bullpen. They went with the best pitchers available, regardless of their save total.

Five different pitchers recorded saves in the 1973 World Series between the A’s and Mets.

The star relief pitcher emerged from this new stat. Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle and Bruce Sutter all earned Cy Young Awards between 1977 and 1981. So would Willie Hernandez, Steve Bedrosian and eventually Dennis Eckersley and Eric Gagne. Fingers, Hernandez and Eckersley would win the MVP as well, an unheard of possibility before the gaudy save totals impressed voters.

Between 1969 and 1988, a 20 or 30 save total was considered elite. Pitchers tended to go more than one inning for the save and they were considered to be “Firemen” more than “Closers.” They had to snuff out rallies instead of simply slam the door in the 9th.

Dave Righetti of the Yankees saved 46 games, averaging more than 4 outs per save, setting the single season record in 1986.

Then in 1988, manager Tony LaRussa figured something out. If he took his best relievers and gave them defined roles, he could get more games out of them, if not more innings. He would use Dennis Eckersley just for the 9th, Rick Honeycutt just for the 8th and Gene Nelson just for the 7th.

This made sense for the A’s, who turned their factory style bullpen into a well oiled machine.

What that also did was make the save a much less reliable metric. If a good solid pitcher pitches the 9th with a 3 run lead and DOESN’T let up 3 runs, then guess what? They get the save.

With the one inning and out save now the norm, all Save totals exploded. The top 20 All Time save leaders have some Hall of Famers like Eckersley and Fingers in there. There are also pitchers like Todd Jones, Jose Mesa, Troy Percival and Francisco Cordero on there. Nothing against them, but they basically compiled saves and would never be Hall of Fame candidates.

Top 20 all time in any positive category should at least get some consideration for the Hall. Will Francisco Rodriguez, who currently is 4th all time on the list, even get on a second ballot? His 62 saves in 2008 remain the highest all time mark. This impressed the Angels so much that they let him walk in the off season.

Of the 50 highest single season save totals, only Righetti’s 46 in 1986 took place before 1988.

Bobby Thigpen’s 57 saves was a classic save compiling from a fine pitcher who never came close to that total before or afterwards.

The Mississippi State grad would get his 30 some odd saves with a mid 3 ERA every year between 1988 and 1991 with the exception of 1990. That year he averaged roughly 3 outs per appearance and finished the game 73 of his 77 appearances. He kept his ERA down to 1.83 and piled up the 57 saves. He made the All Star team and the White Sox were surprise contenders for much of the season.

Despite the saves, Dennis Eckersley was still considered to be the best closer in the game. Thigpen finished 4th in the AL Cy Young vote.

After 1990, he went back to 30 save seasons with ERAs in the 3’s. By 1993, he was on the Phillies. When Mitch Williams, the save compiler for the team, was scuffling in the post season, the idea of calling on the single season saves champion to take over did not seem to even cross anyone’s mind.

His career was over by 1994.

The save rule needs to be altered to make it tougher to record one. Perhaps make it so the pitcher has to face the tying run. Or maybe some a sliding scale of difficulty in what a save is worth.

I don’t know. It is worth figuring out. The save was a good first draft. But it needs revisions.

Jim Fregosi 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 15, 2017

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The late Jim Fregosi was a baseball lifer who made his way from organization to organization, earning respect wherever he went. The eulogies for him when he passed away in 2014 were over flowing with affection.

An All Star and MVP candidate as a player is a career that spanned 18 seasons, he managed a pair of teams to the post season. One was the first ever Division Title for one franchise. The other was one of the most unlikely pennants in baseball history.

And yet for all of his achievements, he is best remembered for two negative things. He was on the wrong end of one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when he was a player. And as a manager, he made a decision with the season on the line that everyone on the planet Earth knew was going to backfire, and it did.

And frankly that is a shame that those two things overshadow his legacy. But look at what I am doing with this blog post. I can not write about him without bringing it up.

One of many stars to come out of Serra High School in San Mateo, Fregosi played ball at the University of New Mexico when the Red Sox signed him in 1960.

As a farm hand in Boston, he was left unprotected in the first ever expansion draft. The new Los Angeles Angels (not of Anaheim) selected him before their first season in 1961. A 19 year old Fregosi made his big league debut that year.

By 1963, he was a regular. By 1964, the 22 year old Fregosi was an All Star. He hit for a good average as a shortstop and knocked 12 triples along the way. In 1964, he was the first player in Angels history to hit for the cycle.

He would develop into a Gold Glove winning shortstop and lead the AL with 13 triples in 1968, which was one of his six All Star appearances with the Los Angeles and now California Angels.

Fregosi had foot issues in 1971. There was a tumor in his foot that hampered his productivity and one would assume his trade value. That would be a bad assumption. The Angels, hoping to get SOMETHING in return for their injured former All Star shortstop, shopped him around.

They found a willing trade partner with the New York Mets. They sent Fregosi… alone… nobody else… no prospects or anything… to the Mets. The Mets sent four players back. Right there, pat new GM Harry Dalton on the back. Flipping an injured shortstop for 4 players is a nice pick up.

Ohhh… it gets worse Met fans. Three of the players were Frank Estrada, Don Rose and LeRoy Stanton.

The other player was Nolan Ryan.

The Mets gave up on the man who would pitch from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, strikeout more batters than anyone in history and throw more no hitters than anyone in history.

Ryan had barely scratched the surface in his time in New York, which included a pair of critical relief performances in the 1969 post season and World Series victory.

Now the Mets would no long have Ryan and they would watch him rewrite all the strikeout records in the book. Fregosi would struggle through an injury plagued 1972. In 1973, the Rangers purchased him contract from the Mets. A little bit of money was all the Mets had left for Nolan Ryan.

He never played 80 games in a season again as he struggled the rest of the 1970’s with Texas and later the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1978, while being a utility infielder for the Pirates, Fregosi was coveted again by the Angels, the team where he starred. They wanted him to be the manager of the team. The Pirates released him and he took the job.

In 1979, partially because of the splendid pitching of Nolan Ryan, he managed the Angels to their first ever post season appearance. In the ALCS, California took on a powerful Orioles team. They held their own, losing an extra inning game 1 and a one run affair in game 2. They held back elimination with a 4-3 walk off win in Game 4 before losing the final game.

The goodwill in Anaheim was shortlived. In fact it left with Ryan’s departure to Houston. The Angels pitching fell apart without Ryan and in 1981, they lost Frank Tanana was well. Fregosi was fired midway through the 1981 season.

After success managing for Triple A Louisville, Fregosi resurfaced with the White Sox in 1986. The team was floundering after the dismissal of Tony LaRussa. The rebuilding team had some solid veterans like Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk along with rising young players like Jack McDowell, Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Thigpen. But they could not put together a winning season with those curly C hats and he was let go after the 1988 season.

Many of the players he helped develop were on the 1993 AL West Champions. But by 1993, he was on another team’s payroll.

The 1993 Phillies are truly an odd fluke in baseball history. They won the NL East based upon a talent vacuum. The Pirates won the East the previous three seasons but they had lost all of their stars. The Mets were a mess, the Cardinals and Cubs were in transition and the Marlins were an expansion team. The talented Expos team offered the greatest challenge to the Phillies, who won the Division with 97 wins.

They were a strange potpourri of veterans who were OK and a few solid pitchers with post season experience. Everything clicked for that one year as the sloppy, tobacco chewing Phillies went to the NLCS against the 104 win Braves.

Atlanta had just finished their division race with the Giants on the last day of the season. San Francisco had won 103 games and missed the post season. Atlanta, who lost dramatic World Series in 1991 and 1992, brought in Greg Maddux and Fred McGriff to close the deal.

Playing the Phillies in the NLCS was a mere formality before the inevitable World Series rematch with Toronto.

The Braves outhit the Phillies in terms of team batting average, .274 to .227. They out pitched Philadelphia with a team ERA of 3.15 to 4.75. By all metrics, the Braves outplayed the Phillies.

Yet the Phillies pulled of the stunning upset. And they did so in 6 games. Each game Philadelphia won was razor thin. Each game Atlanta won was a blowout. But in the end, the title goes to the team that won 4 games, which is what the Phillies did.

They did so despite closer Mitch Williams blowing two Curt Schilling leads. Schilling was the NLCS MVP despite not getting a decision. They won despite three relievers other than Williams posting ERAs above 9.00.

In the World Series, they took on the defending champion Blue Jays. After three games, Toronto was up 2-1. Game 3 was a surreal affair with the score 4-3 after one inning. The Phillies bats kept scoring inning after inning while the Blue Jays would score in bursts.

Philadelphia led 14-9 with one out in the 8th. A Phillies victory would put Curt Schilling on the hill for Game 5 and a chance to be up 3-2 heading back home. But the Blue Jays rallied off of reliever Larry Anderson.

Fregosi turned to Williams again. The Blue Jays bats torched Williams, the final blow being a 2 run triple by Devon White to take a 15-14 lead.

The Braves had solved Williams and it was clear the Blue Jays were not being fooled by him. It wasn’t like they had Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage in their prime sitting in their pen to replace him. But the time had come to realize loyalty was not as important as recognizing a pitcher was not being effective.

Bobby Thigpen, who had been a closer with Fregosi’s White Sox and a few years prior had set a big league record for saves in a season was in the pen.

The Phillies didn’t need a reliever for a whole season. Just for 3 more wins. Schilling kept his end of the bargain up by going the distance in a Game 5 win.

In Game 6, the Phillies fell behind 5-1 in the 7th and elimination was inevitable. But Lenny Dykstra hit a 3 run homer off of Dave Stewart. Then Dave Hollins got an RBI single to tie the game. A sacrifice fly by Pete Incaviglia gave the Phillies the lead.

They needed 9 outs to force a Game 7 where anything was possible. Roger Mason, who threw a shutout 6th, kept the Blue Jays off the board in the 7th and he got the first out in the 8th.

David West and Larry Andersen wiggled out of trouble in the 8th. Now the Phillies were 3 outs away from Game 7.

Fregosi turned to Williams for the 9th. Williams who had blown save after save was on the mound. Everyone on the planet Earth knew he was going to blow the lead. Rickey Henderson evidently was giddy when he took the mound, knowing at least one run was inevitable.

Henderson walked to lead off the inning. With one out Molitor singled. And then Joe Carter came up.

There was no second guessing. Williams was not the man for the job anymore and the point was moot after Carter’s homer. A crushed Fregosi after the game deflected any notion of not using Williams in that inning by saying “he got us here.”

That’s right. But maybe give the ball to someone else for those three outs.

Either way, he managed a remarkable pennant for a Phillies team that is still beloved by their fans.

He was let go after the 1996 season, criticized for his handling of players. After a stint with, ironically, the Blue Jays in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, his career was over.

While participating in an MLB alumni cruise, he suffered a series of strokes in 2014 and died in a hospital in Miami.

Sadly he is best remembered for the Ryan trade and the 1993 World Series. But his was a baseball life that spanned 5 decades, saw great success and great frustration.

Perhaps that is one of things that made Fregosi so beloved. He wasn’t superhuman. He seemed like one of us.

Either way, he had a career worth celebrating.