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.

Joe Carter 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 18, 2017

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If you read a blog like this one, chances are you know who Joe Carter is. Seeing him in a San Diego Padres uniform might be a bit odd, but his legacy in baseball history is secure.

Whether you think he was an elite player or someone whose value was inflated by people’s love for RBIs, Joe Carter will always have a clip shown every October because he hit one of the most dramatic home runs in the history of baseball.

His 3 run homer with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series was just the second season ending homer in history. It was also the second “come from behind walk off” homer in World Series history. Kirk Gibson had the first.

And his joyous free for all dance around the bases has to be one of the greatest and most sincere expressions of pure joy on a baseball diamond in history.

An interesting aspect of his career, that lasted 16 years and saw him named to 5 All Star Teams, was the fact that three times, he was involved in blockbuster and franchise defining trades.

Carter was a star at Wichita State University and was drafted number 2 overall by the Cubs in 1981. He was assigned to the Texas League right away and by 1982, was putting up big numbers. He was crushing the ball in Triple A Iowa when he got a call up with the Cubs in 1983. By 1984, he was continuing to hit Triple A pitching while the parent club was putting together a surprise run for the NL East title.

On June 13, 1984, the Cubs and Indians put together a major trade. Chicago picked up veterans Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Hassey and George Frazier. The Indians got Mel Hall, Don Schulze, Darryl Banks and Carter.

The deal gave the Cubs an ace. Sutcliffe went 16-1 the rest of the way and became an unlikely Cy Young winner in the NL (keeping in mind he spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season in the American League!) Chicago fought with the Mets for most of the season before pulling away and clinching their first post season appearance since 1945.

While the Cubs failed to make the World Series after their meltdown against San Diego, Sutcliffe became a major part of the team. He nearly winning a second Cy Young Award when the Cubs won the 1989 NL East crown.

Meanwhile Carter’s arrival in Cleveland sparked a brief renaissance and hope. Mel Hall became a starter with the team but Carter became the star. He batted .302 with 29 homers and an AL Leading 121 RBI in 1986, and stole 29 bases for good measure in 1986. The Indians posted a winning record and with a super talented lineup, had people believing in Cleveland. Sports Illustrated picked them to win the AL Pennant.

Instead the Indians crashed and burned in 1987. Despite a 32 homer 31 stolen base season from Carter, the Indians lost 101 games.

They had losing records in 1988 and 1989 as well. The team needed a rebuild and Carter, still in his prime but approaching 30, looked like a prime trade chip.

Meanwhile in San Diego, the Padres had an interesting problem. They had the best catching prospect in baseball, Sandy Alomar Jr, in their system. His brother, Roberto, was the starting second baseball for the Padres and they seemed poised to start together for a long time in San Diego. However the Padres also had Benito Santiago, arguably the best catcher in baseball. Plus the Padres had a talented team but looked like they were just a few pieces away from being a legit pennant contender.

After the 1989 season, the Indians and the Padres worked out a swap. Joe Carter would head to the Padres and give the lineup some much needed pop. Sandy Alomar Jr would head to Cleveland. So would infielder Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James.

While James would not factor much into the Indians future, Alomar and Baerga became building blocks. Alomar would become the Rookie of the Year and a fixture in Cleveland as they finally became a playoff team again. Baerga would make 3 All Star teams and be one of the bright stars on the club that went to the 1995 World Series.

The trade was credited with kickstarting the Indians rebuild to contention.

In San Diego, Carter played centerfield in a lineup that included Jack Clark, Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar. Carter homered a bunch and drove in 115. His OPS was an alarmingly low .681, but nobody knew that then. Despite a lot of talent on the team, the Padres could not put a winning product on the field as they stumbled to a 75-87 record.

While that was happening in San Diego, the Toronto Blue Jays could not get over the hump. Despite an organization that scouted and traded with the best of them and a super talented team and academies in the Dominican Republic that gave them access to players that other teams never saw, they couldn’t get past the ALCS.

They lost the ALCS in 1985 and 1989 and saw their teams eliminated on the final day in 1987 and 1990. They were good, but not good enough. The Blue Jays lineup was consistent year in and year out, but maybe there needed to be a shakeup and a change of some faces.

After the 1990 season, the Padres and Blue Jays pulled off a stunning deal. Two Toronto stalwarts, Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, were packaged off to the Padres. Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter landed in Toronto.

The Padres got quality years from McGriff and Fernandez but ultimately dealt them away and other teams got their glory years.

The deal made sense in Toronto where the emerge of John Olerud and Manuel Lee filled in first base and shortstop, making McGriff and Fernandez expendable. Carter would provide power lost from George Bell’s signing with the Cubs and Alomar gave stability to second base, who had a revolving door after Damaso Garcia’s decline.

In the end, it was a culture change in Toronto. Alomar put together the best year’s of his Hall of Fame career as a member of the Blue Jays. And Carter of course put up big hit after big hit, none bigger than the World Series clincher.

The Blue Jays won the Division in 1991 but failed to get past the Twins. In 1992, thanks in part to Alomar’s homer against Dennis Eckersley, the Jays beat the A’s. When they won the World Series in Atlanta, it was Carter who caught the clinching out.

The Blue Jays went from being the perennial “always a bridesmaid never a bride” to winning back to back titles.

A deal involving Joe Carter can be pointed to as one of the big franchise changing moments in Toronto, just like the deals with the Cubs in 1984 and the Indians in 1990.

 

 

Sammy Stewart 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 12 2017

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Sammy Stewart does not look happy in this pic.

Perhaps it was because he joined a Cleveland team that in 1987 looked like it was going to be a good squad but stunk.

Maybe he was still bitter that he sat unused in the bullpen as other relievers kicked away the 1986 World Series.

Either way, he was about to enter a dark part of his life around the time this pic was snapped, one that thankfully he has emerged on the other side from with a smile on his face.

The North Carolina native was signed by the Orioles in 1975. The team was making the transition between the Brooks Robinson days to the Eddie Murray years.

He made his big league debut as a September call up in 1978. He set a new record for consecutive strikeouts in a big league debut on September 1, 1978, when he struck out 7 straight White Sox batters.

By 1979, he was a valuable member of a bullpen in a pennant race. He threw 117 2/3 innings despite making only 3 starts. He won 8 games and saved 1 but many was used in middle relief.

Along side Don Stanhouse, Tim Stoddard and Tippy Martinez, Stewart locked down the innings not thrown by the Orioles stellar rotation. The combination of Dennis Martinez, Mike Flanagan, Steve Stone, Scott McGregor, Jim Palmer and eventual Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan made Baltimore formidable.

In the post season, he appeared in Game 4 of the World Series, throwing 2 2/3 shutout innings. The Orioles would win the game but lose the Series.

He remained a key reliever for the Orioles over the years and found himself back in the post season in 1983. In Game 3 of the 1983 ALCS in Chicago, Stewart pitched 4 shutout innings out of the pen, allowing 1 hit and no walks. He earned the save.

Stewart’s impressive October continued with 5 shutout innings in the World Series against the Phillies. The Orioles would win it all and Stewart would get his ring.

After briefly taking over the closer role in 1984, Stewart found himself dealt to the Red Sox after the 1985 season.

In Boston, Stewart was expected to give the team much needed bullpen depth. Despite losing opening day, Stewart was one of the Red Sox most reliable relievers in the first half of the season. His ERA dipped under 1 for a while in May and was a solid 1.71 in early June when he got sidelined with an injury.

He came back and was terribly ineffective in August and September as Boston clinched the Division.

In the post season, manager John McNamara stuck with Bob Stanley, Joe Sambito and Calvin Schraldi out of the pen. Meanwhile Al Nipper, Steve Crawford, Tim Lollar and Sammy Stewart sat in the bullpen like the Maytag Repair man.

Schraldi and Sambito blew key leads against the Angels in the ALCS, but McNamara held true. Circumstances forced him to use Crawford in Game 5 and he got the win.

The Sox went on to the World Series. Al Nipper got a start and Steve Crawford was added to the World Series mix, leaving Lollar and Stewart as the remaining unsued pitchers.

With the issues of Calvin Scharaldi and Bob Stanley in the post season so pronounced, it is odd that manager John McNamara would not give a pitcher with a 0.00 post season ERA just 3 years prior a shot.

Stewart himself believes that McNamara didn’t like him after an incident where he nearly missed the team bus.

Either way, despite warming up and throwing a few times, Stewart never made it into a game and the Red Sox bullpen lost Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.

In 1987, he joined the Indians and pitched from July on but was not effective, finishing with a 5.67 ERA.

His baseball career ended and his life fell apart. One of his children died of cystic fibrosis. His fortune and family were destroyed as he became a crack addict.

Soon the one time millionaire World Champion pitcher was homeless and he even got stabbed.

His addiction led to years of imprisonment and incarceration. Released from prison now, he is trying to live a simpler life and fight off his additions. He is back in North Carolina and teaches kids pitching.

Stewart also teaches life lessons to avoid his fate.

Lives can be judged based upon the times one succeeds and the times they fall and get up.

Sammy Stewart’s life s a combination of both of those attributes.