Jim Leyland 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 31, 2017

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First of all, I love this card. Leyland looks like an old school “I take no shit” manager in this pic and he is wearing my all time favorite Pirates uniform in the process. Seeing him in the classic flat top “We Are Family” Pirates hat in their last year is a sight to behold.

He just looks better in that kind of uniform.

Compare that to when he wore the “Flash Forward” uniforms the Colorado Rockies wore for a game.

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I would like to think the day he put that uniform on was the day he chose to resign from the Rockies.

 

I am a Leyland fan. The Bonds/Bonilla/Drabek/Leyland Pirate teams of the early 1990’s were one of my favorite Non Red Sox teams of all time.

In my humble opinion, Jim Leyland belongs in the Hall of Fame. He has the resume to back it up and won as many World Series titles as Leo Durocher, Whitey Herzog and Earl Weaver did in their long careers.

He went to the World Series 3 times as a manager in 3 different decades, winning in 1997 with Florida. He also won division titles in 1990, 1991, 1992, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

There were a few at bats that if they went just slightly differently, then his Hall of Fame candidacy would not even be in question.

GAME 6, 1990 NLCS. Carmello Martinez hit a line drive that looked like a game tying, potential elimination avoiding home run. Glenn Braggs leaped above the line to bring it back in. Had that ball cleared the fence, the Pirates would have tied Game 6 and had a chance to force a Game 7.

GAME 6, 1991 NLCS. With the tying run on third in the bottom of the 9th of a 1-0 game against Atlanta, Andy Van Slyke hit a deep drive to right field. It hooked foul. He then struck out to end the game. If the ball didn’t go foul, it would have been a 2 run homer and the Pirates would have won the pennant.

GAME 7, 1992 NLCS. Francisco Cabrera, third string catcher, came up against Stan Belinda with 2 outs. If he did ANYTHING else, like pop up or ground out, the Pirates would have won the pennant. Instead… well… you know.

GAME 2, 2013 ALCS. The Tigers had won Game 1 against Boston and held a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning of Game 2 and had Verlander ready to go in Game 3. Then Big Papi tied the game with the grand slam and Saltalamacchia (sic) won the game with a walk off single. Had they taken the 2-0 lead back to Detroit, the 2013 pennant would have been in the bag.

GAME 6, 2013 ALCS. Another late lead, another sloppy inning. This time it was Shane Victorino who hit the grand slam that put the Red Sox up for good. Winning that game would have forced a Game 7.

A Pirate pennant and a Tiger World Series title would have made his resume undeniable.

There is another aspect of his career that is interesting. Consider about once a decade, a complete fluke World Series winner takes home the trophy. By that I mean a team that is slapped together with parts of other clubs and within a few years the team is disassembled. The 1987 Twins are an example of that. So would be the 2001 Diamondbacks.

Once Leyland was benefited from one of those teams and another time he was the victim of one.

The 1997 Marlins were cobbled together for a quick win. Even Leyland being brought in from Pittsburgh was part of the quick fix. They gobbled up Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Darren Daulton, Al Leiter and a bunch of other veterans for one run at it. It worked. They beat San Francisco, upset Atlanta and won the wild 7 game series over Cleveland and won it all.

When Craig Counsel scored on Edgar Renteria’s hit, Leyland poured out of the dugout, gave a long emphatic point at his wife, jumped in Bobby Bonilla’s arms (his star from 1990 and 1991) and marched around the field waving the Marlins flag.

By the next year, virtually the entire team was playing elsewhere and by the end of 1998, Leyland himself was gone.

In 2013, he was on the bad end of it. The Tigers, consistently one of the super powers in the AL but without a World Series title, had their best shot. But a Red Sox team cobbled together with short term contracts and vagabonds, shocked them with a pair of grand slams and domination from Koji Uehara.

The one year wonders giveth and they taketh away. But all that being said, Leyland is an all time great and should eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Let’s see his greatest moment.

Ralph Houk 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 10, 2017

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My grandfather hated Ralph Houk.

That seems like such a strange thing to say because Ralph Houk was in so many ways a benign and unoffensive figure in baseball history. But my grandpa, the late Dr. R. Edward Vioni of Bridgeport, Connecticut, hated Ralph Houk.

The reason why he hated him is actually quite simple to understand. My grandpa’s favorite figure in baseball was Yogi Berra. My grandpa, or Pa as we called him and how I will refer to him the rest of this blog post, was of Italian ancestry.

Yogi Berra, a paisan, was a star for the many Yankee teams he watched and raised my mother on. The Yankees were the team of Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto and to be sure, Pa loved them too. But Yogi was his guy.

All the years the Yankees won, year in and year out, Yogi was their most valuable player despite never leading the league in any offensive category. Yogi had the goofy persona but clearly had a baseball IQ off the charts.

When Casey Stengel was winding down his managerial career, Pa wanted Yogi to take over as manager.

Instead, when Stengel was let go after the 1960 World Series, the baton was passed to Ralph Houk.

He was a career backup catcher, only playing 31 games total between 1950 and 1954. Yogi Berra did the bulk of the catching and it was hard to argue with the results.

Along the way, he appeared in two World Series games, one in 1947 and one in 1952, and picked up additional World Series rings along the way.

He was also a war hero. Houk rose to the rank of Major and earned the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and Silver Star as a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.

A hard working war hero journeyman catcher… and Pa hated him.

Houk played a single game in 1954 and retired as a player. He began to manage in the Yankees farm system. He was successful managing three years in Denver before he rejoined the Yankees as a coach for Stengel.

In 1960, health issues forced the 70 year old Stengel to take some time off. Houk filled in for Stengel and did quite well. Realizing that they had a top managerial prospect in their midst, the Yankees acted proactively.

After the dramatic World Series loss in 1960 to Pittsburgh, Stengel was let go. They did not want another club to swallow up Houk so they named him manager.

THAT is when Dr. R. Edward Vioni, aka Pa, hated Ralph Houk. That job should have been Yogi’s. All they did was win year in and year out with Yogi behind the plate… or was it because of Houk’s 8 games coming off the bench a year?

Houk’s first year as manager was an unqualified success. The Yankees won an eye popping 109 games and Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle spent the season chasing down Babe Ruth. Maris found an ally in Houk as the pressure of the season built up. While other fans saw his handling of the pitching staff, especially Whitey Ford, was a lot less rigid and frustrating as it was during Stengel’s last few seasons.

He was named the American League Manager of the Year for 1961 and the Yankees beat the Reds in the World Series.

Did he win over Pa? OF COURSE NOT! He claimed the Yankees won IN SPITE of Ralph Houk.

Yogi played 119 games that year, mainly in the outfield as Elston Howard was now taking most of the days at catcher.

1962 saw another championship season for Houk and the Yankees. They won 96 games and topped San Francisco in a heartstopping World Series. Mickey Mantle won the MVP and Bobby Richardson was the runner up.

Back to back World Series did not win over Pa.

1963 meant he was 3 for 3 with American League pennants as skipper of the team. They won 104 games and Elston Howard was named MVP. They faced a buzzsaw named Sandy Koufax in the 4 game World Series sweep against Los Angeles, but Houk had established himself as a worthy big league skipper.

Pa was still not a fan.

General manaer Roy Hamey retired after the World Series and Houk took his place. Who took Houk’s place as manager of the Yankees.

FINALLY it was Yogi Berra. Pa could be happy now. The Yankees were under Yogi’s guidance. It was HIS team now.

They won the 1964 pennant in a razor thin chase, finishing 1 game ahead of the White Sox and 2 games ahead of the hard charging Baltimore Orioles.

Yogi’s Yankees lost a hard fought World Series to the Cardinals, but he kept the Yankee streak of pennants alive and it was on to 1965.

But the Yankee management made a decision that seemed shocking at the time and short sighted with hindsight. They fired Yogi Berra and brought in Johnny Keane, the manager of the Cardinals. Perhaps the logic was “Yogi couldn’t win Game 7, so let’s bring in the manager that did.”

Was it General Manager Ralph Houk who made that call or one of his bosses? Does it matter? It didn’t matter to Pa. Ralph Houk, the man who took Yogi’s job in 1961 fired him in 1964.

When Yogi moved to the Mets as a coach and eventually a manager, he took Pa’s loyalty with him.

The Yankees faltered in 1965 under Keane, finishing under .500. 20 games into 1966, it was clear that Keane was the wrong fit and Houk stepped back in as manager. Oh, that must have thrilled Pa.

The Yankees began their biggest post season drought since the arrival of Babe Ruth under Houk’s watch. When he had Hall of Famers in their prime, he won pennants. When they were aging veterans, he couldn’t bring the team over .500.

The team stumbled through the end of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s with no more post season appearances. His final year was 1973, which was George Steinbrenner’s first with the team.

That year all of New York’s baseball attention was on the Mets who won the National League pennant. Their manager? Yogi Berra.

After being let go by the Yankees, he took over the Tigers who were also in full rebuilding mode. The team lost 102 games in 1975 but became one of the biggest draws in baseball in 1976. He was the manager of Mark Fidrych during his magical rookie season. But he managed only one winning season in Detroit, his final one in 1978.

Sparky Anderson took over the club not long after his dismissal and lay down the foundation of the 1984 title team.

I remember Houk managing the Red Sox starting in 1981. Sadly Pa passed away in 1979 and I never got to hear about him complain about Houk there.

He took over a Red Sox team in transition. In his first year, Yaz and Rice were still there. But it was the first year after Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson and Carlton Fisk left.

The teams he managed consistently won more than they lost but were never really contenders save for the second half squad in 1981.

Under his watch players like Wade Boggs, Marty Barrett, Rich Gedman, Bruce Hurst and Oil Can Boyd matured. Roger Clemens was recalled during his final season, 1984. So, like in Detroit, he was planting the seeds of a pennant winner. But unlike his first stint in New York, he was not there to benefit from those seeds blossoming.

Houk was let go after 1984 and save for a few years in the Twins front office was out of baseball for good. He retired to Florida and died in 2010.

For the record, the Yankee manager during Ralph Houk’s final season was Yogi Berra.

He kept the Yankee flame alive for a few more years. Not many managers go to the World Series in each of their first three seasons.

But that wasn’t enough for Pa. He never liked him. He took Yogi’s job.

Gary Pettis 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 12, 2017

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Gary Pettis hit a fly ball in 1986. It went to the wall. Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice caught it at the wall. If it were 20 inches higher, it would have cleared the wall.

If it were 20 inches higher, Gary Pettis would have become one of the great legends of October baseball and maybe alter the lives of many prominent figures in baseball history.

As it was, Pettis played for over a decade in the majors and is now what I would call a Baseball Lifer. He is currently a coach with the Astros and has coached in several organizations. The native of Oakland was an Angels pick out of Laney College and became one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

And yet he was so close to immortality.

Pettis broke in as a call up with the 1982 Angels. By 1984, was as an all glove no bat centerfielder. He batted .227 and posted a .632 OPS. But when he DID get on, he would fly. He stole 48 bases in 1984 and 56 in 1985.

1985 was also the year he won the first of his 5 AL Gold Gloves. He struck out way too much, usually over 100 times a year. And he did not walk enough and had little home run power.

But man he could cover ground in centerfield. Seeing that he was often flanked by not exactly fleet of foot Brian Downing in left and Reggie Jackson in right, Pettis being able to field the whole outfield well was no small contribution.

In 1986, he hit a career high 5 homers and batted his best ever .258 while stealing 50 bags. The Angels won the AL West that year and faced a solid Red Sox team in the ALCS.

In the opener against invincible Roger Clemens, Pettis walked to extend the second inning which turned into a 4 run rally. In the third, Pettis slapped an RBI single off Clemens to make it 5-0. His single off of Clemens in the 8th knocked him out of the game.

In a lineup that featured Reggie Jackson, Wally Joyner, Brian Downing and Doug DeCinces, it was Gary Pettis who drove in the final nail to Roger Clemens.

In Game 3, with the series tied at a game a piece, Pettis came up in the 7th with the Angels leading 2-1 with 2 outs and a runner on first. Pettis launched home run off of Oil Can Boyd, knocking him out of the game with the Angels up 4-1. They would hold on to win 5-3.

Pettis continued to be an offensive force in Game 4. He already had 2 hits when he came up to bat in the 9th with 2 on and 1 out and the Angels down 3-1.

He lifted a fly ball which Jim Rice misjudged and it flew over his head. Dick Schofield scored to make it 3-2 and pinch runner Devon White made it to third and Pettis was at second. It was a key hit as a 2 out hit by pitch of Brian Downing tied the game.

In the 11th, Pettis put down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runner to second and came around to score on Bobby Grich’s walk off single.

The Angels were up 3-1 in the ALCS and Pettis was the star. He was batting .500, had an on base percentage of .563, amazingly slugged .786 and an OPS of 1.348. He was lining up to be the Series MVP.

The Angels looked to clinch the pennant in Game 5 with ace Mike Witt on the mound. Pettis singled in the third and walked in the 7th, coming around to score to make the score 5-2 Angels. It remained that going into the 9th.

And then Donnie Moore gave up the homer to Dave Henderson and the Red Sox had the lead. BUT that wasn’t the game winner.

With a pinch runner on first and nobody out in the bottom of the 9th, Pettis, the team’s hottest hitter, was called on to bunt. He did so. Times were different in 1986. Rob Wilfong hit a game tying single but the Angels could not push across the pennant winning run.

The game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, Pettis came up with 2 outs and Jerry Narron on first.

Steve Crawford, still on the mound and getting outs, was on the mound.

Pettis hit a high drive to left field. It pinned Jim Rice to the wall with his arms extended up. Rice, a great player, was not as fleet of foot as he once was and probably would not have reached much higher above the wall than he did.

If the ball was maybe 20 inches higher, it would have cleared the wall. Pettis would have had the walk off homer to win the ALCS.

Instead the Angels lost the game and were blown out in Games 6 and 7 in Boston.

It would have been “The Gary Pettis Game.” Baseball history would have been different.

First of all Gary Pettis would have become a baseball legend, AND he probably would have won the series MVP.

Dave Henderson’s homer would have been one of those dramatic moments from a losing team, like the Endy Chavez catch or the Rajai Davis homer.

Gene Mauch would have finally won the pennant. Who knows? If that ball was 20 inches higher, Gene Mauch might have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Gene Autry, the Angels owner, would finally have the pennant he wanted all those years in Southern California.

Reggie Jackson would have another team in the World Series, solidifying his Mr October monicker with another Series and another trip to New York no less.

Bobby Grich and Doug DeCinces would have had their glory moments in Anaheim after many solid years.

On the other side, if the ball was a few inches higher, the Red Sox are not in the World Series and Bill Buckner is remembered as a good solid borderline Hall of Fame player who played hard and played hurt.

Entire fan bases would be different and the identities of giants in the game would have been altered if only the ball was 20 inches higher.