Chicago White Sox Team Picture 1979 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for December 6, 2017

whitesoxIMG_1003So wait a second. Who the hell was the manager for the 1978 White Sox? It was always very confusing to me as a kid to refer to a series of cards by the one year NOT mentioned on the card.

When I turned over the stats and saw that the card went up to 1978, BOOM! This is his 1978 card. But no. It was the 1979 card.

To this day when I see a card from a series I knew very well, like the 1981 Topps or the 1987 Topps cards, I associate them with the last year on the card not the year it was printed.

Let me put it to you this way. The Academy Awards take place in February or March of the year AFTER the films are released. But last year when Moonlight (or was it La La Land?) won Best Picture, it wasn’t declared best picture of 2017. It was Best Picture 2016.

Some film filling the cinema right now is going to win best picture of 2017 and they will give it out in 2018.

So why not have the CARDS be called that. And a problem happens when they try to be cute, like THIS card.

The card was issued in 1979. Don Kessinger was named manager for the 1979 White Sox. So they were cute. They made it look like he was the manager of the team in the team picture.

And Kessinger was indeed IN the team picture. He was the starting shortstop. But there is a cruel irony of putting Kessinger in this picture: It obscured who actually finished the 1978 season as manager.

The White Sox were a surprise contender in 1977 with Bob Lemon as manager. But many of their stars tested the new free agency for 1978 and the fortunes of the team sagged.

Meanwhile, as everything went bananas in New York for the defending World Champion Yankees, Billy Martin found himself fired. Bob Lemon was lured over from Chicago to fill Martin’s turbulent shoes.

So who played out the string in Chicago to replace future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon? It would be another future Hall of Famer, Larry Doby.

Larry Doby became the second black manager in baseball history, following Frank Robinson.

Something about that should ring a bell.

Larry Doby was also the second black player to cross the color line after Jackie Robinson. Doby went through all the same hardships that Jackie went through but did so without the fan fare, without being a household name and without being a symbol of racial progress.

And with all the boundaries put up to managing in the big league level, Doby once again fought his way to the top in the wake of a great Hall of Famer named Robinson.

And once again, his accomplishment is relatively obscure. The White Sox did not exactly tear down the house in 1978 and Doby did not get the job afterwards.

But couldn’t his name have graced this picture as manager? Wouldn’t that have been appropriate for a great figure in baseball history or always has to lurk in the shadows?

Meanwhile Don Kessinger took over the team and guess what? He didn’t last the year. 106 games into the season as player and manager, he was shown the door in favor of Tony LaRussa.

Thank Goodness they were able to give Don Kessinger his time in the spotlight. Heaven forbid Larry Doby got it.

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.