’88 Record Breaker Doug Jones 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 15, 2017

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Baseball is filled with stories of people who display strength and perseverance. Former Cleveland Indians closer Doug Jones is one such story.

A draft pick by Milwaukee in 1978, he toiled through the minor leagues for years save for one quick cameo with the 1982 Milwaukee club.

In the mid 1980’s he found himself in the Cleveland Indians organization but not impressing manager Pat Corrales. The team was filled with young hitting stars like Julio Franco, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Pat Tabler, Mel Hall and Tony Bernazard. But they lacked pitching depth and certainly anything resembling an anchor in the bullpen.

Jones was a 29 year old career minor leaguer who threw in the 80’s. Corrales wanted none of that. He wanted flame throwers on the team and Jones appeared in only 11 games.

In 1987, the expectations for the Indians were through the roof. Sports Illustrated famously picked them to win the American League pennant.

Their pitching staff was a catastrophe and closers Ernie Camacho and Scott Bailes just could not do their jobs. Manager Pat Corrales was fired and new manager Doc Edwards came in.

Edwards was not necessarily thrilled that they had a soft tossing reliever in their pen, but he was a better option than everyone else and he wound up getting 8 saves to lead the team.

For spring training 1988, Edwards told Jones that the front office would rather have a young flame thrower than a 30 year old soft tosser. Jones was told that he would have to win his spot by outpitching everyone else otherwise he would be out of a job.

Jones, now sporting a choice 1980’s mustache, had to fight preconceptions about age, velocity and experience and he had no good will in the bank to cash in. That spring training, he did indeed win the spot in the bullpen.

Edwards began to use him as the closer. Instead of a fireballer coming out in the 9th, Jones’ slow stuff kept everyone off balance. He converted 4 of 5 save chances in April.

On May 11, he pitched 4 shutout innings to get the 4-3 win in 13 innings over the Angels. 2 days later, he threw 1 1/3 innings for a save. Nobody knew it, but he was beginning a record breaking streak.

By May 24th, he had 9 saves, one more than his team lead was for the entire 1987 season.

In June, he made 7 appearances and got saves in every single one. Three of those saves were ones where he entered in the 7th inning. The last one, on June 24th, was the 14th straight appearance with a save, one more than the record set by Steve Bedrosian the year before.

On July 2, he recorded his 19th save and the 15th straight appearance. On the 4th of July, he came into the game in a tie situation, breaking the streak. But a few weeks later, he was named to his first All Star Game.

He finished the season with 7 straight appearances with a save and 37 for the year. His ERA was a solid 2.27 and he struck out 72 while only giving out 13 unintentional walks.

Doug Jones, who was offered a coaching job instead of a spring training invite in 1987, would be named to the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993 All Star Teams.

He pitched for the Astros and Phillies before rejoining Cleveland in time to pitch in the 1998 post season. His final game was in the 2000 Division Series as a member of the Oakland A’s.

Besides playing in 3 different decades, he became a millionaire many times over as well.

If he had listened to what everyone was saying about him, he would have quit in the mid 1980’s instead of playing to 2000 at age 43.

We can all learn a little something from his strength.

League Leaders Julio Franco, Rangers Fleer 1992 – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 14, 2017

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There seems to be a bottomless pit of interesting information regarding the remarkable career of Julio Franco. He played in the Majors until he was nearly 50 years old. His professional career stretched from the late 1970’s until the 2007 season.

Franco was a one and done player on the Hall of Fame ballot but his name is all over the record books. And who knows? If his career didn’t have a few sojourns into foreign leagues, he might have reached the 3,000 hit mark and who knows where that would have led him.

And he also taught me, yes me, an interesting lesson about how RBIs can be amassed.

Franco was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies out of his native Dominican Republic in 1978. The 23 year old Franco made his big league debut on April 23, 1982.

Among the Phillies names in the lineup were Ivan DeJesus, Pete Rose, Bo Diaz, Garry Maddox, Manny Trillo, Sid Monge and Ozzie Virgil. They faced the Cardinals who played Bob Forsch, Gene Tenace, Keith Hernandez, Ozzie Smith and Darrell Porter among others.

I listed those names to give you a sense of the era he first showed up in. The names in his final big league game would look a lot different.

He only played 16 games with the Phillies in 1982 and in the off season was shipped off in a multiplayer deal to Cleveland, bringing Von Hayes to Philadelphia.

Franco hit well in his first year in Cleveland, finishing as the Rookie of the Year runner up to Chicago’s Ron Kittle. Between 1983 and 1987, he steadily improved each year. He became a consistent .300 hitter, albeit one that didn’t walk much. His OPS climbed to .818 in 1988, he would steal bases and had good gap line drive power.

His defense at shortstop was suspect and was moved to second base in 1987.

In 1989, the Indians dealt Franco to the Rangers in a 3 for 1 move. In Texas he made three straight trips to the All Star Game, winning the Mid Summer Classic MVP in 1990. His power increased while he still stole 30 plus bases a year.

In 1991, as this Fleer Card celebrates, he won the batting title, finishing the season with a .341 mark. His OPS was .882 and he brought home his fourth straight silver slugger award.

But injuries in 1992 slowed him down as he only played 35 games. He came back in 1993 to hit .289 with an OPS of .798. He tested the Free Agent waters after 1993 and landed with a super talented White Sox team.

Manager Gene Lamont put Julio Franco in the cleanup spot behind Frank Thomas. I remember when that happened, I thought he was crazy. “Franco doesn’t drive in runs. He should bat second and be driven in.”

But a funny thing happened. Franco DID drive in runs. He hit a career high 20 homers, hit .319 and his OPS soared to .916. And in the strike shortened season, he drove in 98 runs in 112 games. He would have easily passed 110 or even 120 RBI if there wasn’t labor strife.

It was the first realization I made that perhaps “being a run producer” meant being a good hitter when runners were on base. Maybe putting a good hitter there, and not necessarily a masher, meant producing more runs.

Had the White Sox played a full season in 1994, who knows how far they would have gone? Either way, the strike did hit and in the labor limbo, Franco left MLB for Japan.

He put up big numbers for Chiba Lotte and cashed a nice paycheck. In 1996, he returned to America to rejoin he Cleveland Indians. They were the defending AL Champs and looked to go to the World Series and win it in 1996. Franco contributed a .322 average and .877 OPS for the Tribe and played in his first post season.

Cleveland fell short to Baltimore in the playoffs but looked to come back in 1997. Franco played on that squad as well but was dealt to Milwaukee midway through the season and was not part of the team that lost a lead in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

In 1998, no big league team was interested in a 39 year old DH. He returned to Japan for 1998 and after one at bat with the 1999 Devil Rays, found himself playing a team in Mexico and a team in Korea.

By 2001, he was 42 years old, essentially out of MLB since 1997 and hitting with the Mexico City Tigers.

But man he was hitting. In 110 games and 469 plate appearances, he was batting .437.

That isn’t a typo. The first number was a 4. His OPS was 1.175. Granted, it wasn’t against big league pitching. But the Atlanta Braves, looking to get back to the World Series after a disappointing 2000 playoffs, took a flier.

Franco was back in the major leagues as a 42 year old pinch hitter. Baseball fans all over the country did a double take. “Wait, is that the SAME Julio Franco?”

Yup. He batted .300 in a part time role and hit .301 in the Division Series sweep of the Houston Astros. He homered in the Division Series and NLCS, again falling short of the World Series.

He remained on the Braves as a part time first baseman and pinch hitter, playing in the post season for the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Division Champs. In the 2003 Division Series, he batted .500 and had an OPS of 1.225 in a part time role.

In 2006, the 47 year old Franco signed with the Mets and once again played in October as New York lost a heart breaking NLCS to St. Louis.

The 48 year old Franco played his final game with the 2007 Atlanta Braves. That was 15 years after the featured Fleer Card was issued.

His last game was against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins would not exist until 11 years after Franco’s big league debut. In his final game, not only did they exist, but they had torn down two World Champions and fired Joe Girardi.

The hero of the 1997 and 2010 World Series, Edgar Renteria, was Franco’s teammate in that game. So was Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz.

Players like Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera were playing for the Marlins. They are both still active.

In his final MLB at bat, Julio Franco singled off of Lee Gardner for an RBI single.

Gardner was 7 years old when Julio Franco made his big league debut.

That is quite a baseball life. He amassed nearly 4,000 professional hits, including 2,586 in the majors. Franco is the oldest player to hit a grand slam, a pinch hit homer and 2 homers in an MLB game.

He returned to the Mexican League in 2008 and played 7 games for an independent league as a 55 year old is 2014. In 2015, he was a 57 year old player manager in Japan and who knows? He might be back for a return.

Pat Corrales 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 29, 2017

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Pat Corrales has lived a great baseball life that has stretched a long time.

He signed with the Phillies out of Fresno California in 1959. That gets us the 1950’s. He played in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He became MLB’s first ever manager of Mexican descent in the 1980’s. And in the 1990’s, 2000’s and 2010’s served as a coach for several different organizations.

I think it is safe to say that Pat Corrales has forgotten more baseball than most of us will ever know.

In 1983, he could have had his crowning baseball achievement. Instead he got the rug pulled from under him.

Corrales was a catcher for the Phillies and the Cardinals before landing with the Cincinnati Reds in 1968. He was on the major league roster but so was Johnny Bench.

Bench’s name in the starting lineup meant the bench was where Corrales spent most of the games.He played for the 1970 NL Champions. He had one at bat in the post season. He grounded out to Brooks Robinson for the final out of the World Series. In 1972, he was dealt to the Padres but by the end of the 1973 season, his big league playing days were over.

Eventually he made it back to the majors, being a pioneer Mexican American when he was named manager for the Texas Rangers for the final game of the 1978 season.

In 1979, the Rangers had a winning season and finished in third place in the AL West with an 83-79 record. But after a disappointing 1980 campaign, he was let go.

In 1982, he took over for Dallas Green in Philadelphia. The team had won the World Series just two years before and remained a star studded club with Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt all still producing.

The Phillies got off to a dreadful, going 6-13 in April and were 7 games out by May 1. But then they won 13 of 14 games and got back into contention. By August 4, the Phillies were back in first place and looked primed for another October run. But they finished the season 28-30 and the Cardinals won the Division and the World Series.

Expectations were sky high for 1983. This time the Phillies got off to a fast start but waded through a sluggish May and June.

On July 17, the Phillies lost a 5-2 game to the Reds. The bad news was the loss brought them to just one game over .500. The good news was the NL East was not competitive. The Phillies, despite the 43-42 record, were tied for first place with the Cardinals. The Pirates were 1/2 a game behind the the Expos were just a game back.

The Phillies might not have looked like world beaters, but Corrales had them tied for first place in mid July and primed for a run.

Then he became a pioneer in a much different way that being the first of his ancestry managing in the show. He became the first manager fired with his team in first place.

Expectations were higher than being in first place by default. General Manager Paul Owens took over the team. They went 47-30 the rest of the way and went to the World Series. That could have been Corrales’ pennant. Instead it was Owens.

That same year he was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians. His first 2 1/2 years in Cleveland did not yield much winning. They went 60-102 in 1985. But in 1986, a super talented lineup slugged the Indians to an 84-78 record.

Sports Illustrated famously predicted the Indians to win the AL pennant in 1987. But the team’s pitching was non existent and Corrales was fired after the team got off to a 31-56 start.

He coached for many organizations and got a World Series ring as a member of the 1995 Braves’ coaching staff when they beat the Indians team that DID win the AL Pennant.

Corrales moved to Washington and later the Dodgers and continued being a respected baseball figure. But that 1983 season will always loom as a what if for his career. What if he managed them to the end. Was their a pennant for him as a manager or not?

I guess we will never know.