Frank Viola’s first pitch with the Red Sox, Yankee Stadium, April 1992 – Sully Baseball Daily Photo at Noon for May 2, 2018


When the Red Sox picked up Frank Viola, I had images of a Boston pennant dancing in my head. He was going to be an unbeatable 1-2 punch with Roger Clemens.

I was there for his first game with the Red Sox. He pitched against the Yankees. I made sure I got the first pitch he threw. It would be for a magical season.

It wasn’t. Viola had one OK year with Boston but the Sox were terrible.

He only pitched one other season with the Sox. But at least I preserved this moment where he pitched against Bernie Williams of the Yankees.

Frank Viola 1992 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 24, 2017


Yesterday I did a post about Tom Lawless, who launched a homer off of Frank Viola in the 1987 World Series.

Might as well do the other side and write about Frank Viola and HIS career for today.

Viola was a Long Island kid, born in East Meadow in 1960. A star at St. John’s University, he was drafted by Kansas City in 1979 but did not sign. Who knows if he would have fit in with the Bret Saberhagens and the Mark Gucizas and Charlie Liebrandts of the world and help KC win a few more titles. We will never know.

He made a name for himself dueling Ron Darling in a classic game. Darling held St. John’s hitless until the 12th. Viola pitched 11 shutout frames to win it 1-0. Darling and Viola would later be reunited.

Viola, known as Sweet Music, would be drafted by the Twins in 1981 and was on the big league squad in 1982. He did not light up the world in his first two seasons, posting a 5.21 ERA in 1982 and a 5.49 ERA over 210 innings in 1983.

In 1984, the 24 year old Viola turned a corner, winning 18 games and throwing to a 3.21 ERA, finishing 6th in the AL Cy Young voting.

In 1985 and 1986, he was a steady workhorse for some forgettable Twins teams. Always good for win totals in the teens, he threw a ton of innings, even if the ERA was sparkling.

In 1987, he stepped onto the big stage. He had his best season to date, winning 17, lowing his ERA to 2.90 and seeing his ERA+ grow to a robust 159. He would finish 6th again in the Cy Young vote and his fine season went under the radar as the Twins won a weak AL West and faced the Tigers, fresh off their dramatic regular season finale, in the ALCS.

The Twins stunned the Tigers for a 5 game victory. Viola was not one of the big factors. He gave up 5 runs in his Game 1 no decision and got the win in Game 4 but could not make the 6th inning in his start.

For the World Series, Viola missed his brothers wedding so he could pitch the opening game. I guess he didn’t think he would have plans in October.

He pitched brilliantly in Game 1, allowing a run over 8 innings to earn the win. As I wrote in the Lawless piece, he got clobbered in Game 4, allowing 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings.

Perhaps this is where perception is strange. I always remembered Viola as dominating in October of 1987. But going into Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, Viola had 1 quality post season starts, two mediocre starts and one blow out. His post season ERA going into Game 7 of 5.01, which is terrible.

And lest we forget, the Cardinals were rallying in the second, where they took a 2-0 lead. Bert Blyleven was warming up to come into the game in the second when Viola got Vince Coleman to end the inning. Had Coleman got a hit, Viola’s Game 7 would have been remembered as a disaster for him. He would have been a bust in the post season.

Instead he settled down, the Twins got two blown calls go their way and he pitched through 8 until Jeff Reardon closed out the game and the World Series.

Frank Viola got the World Series MVP, based mainly on his Game 1 and 7 wins. I would have given Kirby Puckett the MVP with his .357 average and .884 OPS, but what do I know.

With the glow of World Series glory surrounding Viola, he went on to capture the AL Cy Young award in 1988. (Basically one bad month kept Roger Clemens from winning 3 in a row. ) Viola went 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA, which is what people looked at when they voted.

The next season, as the A’s were dominating the AL West, Viola suddenly found himself on the trade block. The Mets, unable to land Mark Langston in a deal, focused on the Long Island boy.

The Mets were doing a remodeling of their team, dumping away Lenny Dyktra, Mookie Wilson, Rick Aguilera and other members of the 1986 team. Viola arrived and pitched OK but not great as the new look Mets fell short of the post season.

Their post season hopes in 1990 fell short as well, but don’t blame Viola. He had his best season since winning the Cy Young Award. Winner of 20 games, he led the NL with 249 2/3 innings, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 7 complete games. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young behind Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez. The Sabermetric community would have given it to Ed Whitson who had the highest WAR for pitchers but received zero Cy Young votes. Different times.

He made his third All Star team in 1991 with the Mets, but the team was falling apart by then. He signed with Boston, hoping to make an unstoppable 1-2 punch with Roger Clemens. The two aces pitched well but little else worked in Boston as they faded from contention in 1992 and 1993. Injuries derailed his 1994 and ultimately finished his career in 1996 with cameos in Cincinnati and Toronto.

Since his retirement, Viola has been a coach in the Mets organization, dealing with open heart surgery in 2014. He has a daughter who participated in the 2012 Olympics as a diver and a son who pitched in the White Sox farm system.

But he will be best remembered for that Game 7 performance that led to the Twins first ever title in Minnesota. It was the kind of start that wipes out all memories of disappointment. It was the living example of how those who laugh last laugh best.

Sweet music indeed.



Should the Giants trade Tim Lincecum?

Just a few months ago, even suggesting that would be sacrilegious.
The Franchise.
The Freak.
The man who delivered a World Series title to San Francisco.

A man who I thought even back in 2009 could become the most popular sports figure San Francisco had ever seen since Joe Montana.

And here I sit on May 14, 2012 and wonder if he should be on the trade market.

This isn’t simply a knee jerk response to his poor start.
Sure it looks odd that the ONLY Giants pitcher not worth a damn this year has been Lincecum. That The Franchise is teetering while Barry Zito has been effective and giving the Giants quality innings.

But this is more than a panic move.
It could be preventing future panic.

Lincecum will be done with his contract when he is 29 years old at the end of next year. And let me tell you something, dear readers. Pitchers entering their 30s is a very dangerous territory. Even for multiple Cy Young Award winning World Series heroes.

When Bret Saberhagen was 25, he was a 2 time Cy Young Award winner and the hero of the 1985 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.

After age 29, he had a grand total of 2 noteworthy seasons.

By 25, Fernando Valenzuela was a perennial Cy Young contender (and winner in 1981) and a World Series hero.

After 25 he fought injuries and was a fair pitcher but no longer dominant.

More recently Brandon Webb won a Cy Young at age 27 and nearly won a second one in 2008 at age 29. Since 2008, he has thrown 4 innings in the bigs and none since 2009.

Jake Peavy was a young Cy Young winner and after three years of injuries is just now regaining his All Star form.

Josh Beckett was the hero on two World Series winners before he turned 28 but since then has been agonizingly inconsistent.

Need more examples? Ramon Martinez, Steve Avery, Jack McDowell, Frank Viola…

Each looked like difference making studs whose career dipped and did so pretty quickly.

And I didn’t bring up Viola’s name randomly.

In 1987, Frank Viola won the clinching Game 7 of the 1987 World Series. Like Lincecum, he pitched 8 masterful innings to win the title.

Like the 2010 Giants, it was the teams first World Series title in their city despite a rich and talent filled history there.

In 1988, Viola won the American League Cy Young Award, beating out Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Mark Gubicza.

He was THE stud of the Minnesota staff.

In 1989, the Twins traded the 29 year old Viola to the Mets in the middle of the season.

The reigning Cy Young winner was the prize of the trade market and the Mets, in need of a positive jolt, plunked in the Hempstead native into the rotation.

It was a dream come true. And to be fair, at age 30 he did have an excellent season in Flushing.
But that was it. He was a not bad but nothing worth remembering pitcher from 1991 to 1993. And save for a cameo here or there, his career was over after that.

Meanwhile the Twins, who traded away Viola when his value was at its peak, brought in 5 pitchers to their system. One, Rick Aguilera, became the bullpen ace and another, Kevin Tapani, became a solid starter for many years. A third, David West, was a key lefty out of the bullpen and all three contributed to the Twins World Championship in 1991.

The Twins have won two World Series since the Mets last title.

In 1989, that same year, the Mariners flipped their 29 year old left handed stud, Mark Langston, to Montreal and got three pitchers. Langston would up having 2 or 3 good seasons in his 30s but lost a One Game playoff to his former team in 1995, his last good year in the majors. The symbolism was ripe as the pitcher he lost to, Randy Johnson, was acquired in the Langston deal.

My point is this.

Lincecum has been amazing. But pitchers, especially with his slender built and violent motion, can break down faster than you can say Dontrelle Willis.

If what we are seeing is the beginning of that decline, realize that you will never get a better deal than right now.

Not everyone is Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or even Mike Mussina.
Not everyone has the decades long career.

If the next great Giants team can be built partially from the loot that Lincecum would bring, it is at least worth thinking about.

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