Oakland A’s Team Picture 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for December 23, 2017


I love the A’s uniforms of the 1970s and into the 1980s and yet I find this particular team picture card to be someone tragic, and I will explain why partially through an anecdote.

In 1982, your pal Sully was 10 years old and living in the suburbs of Boston. I loved New England but I was drawn to New York City. I used to draw the skyline all the time and fantasized about living in Manhattan.

I was (and am) a Red Sox fan but the history of the Yankees was undeniably powerful. At that time I was consuming every single baseball history book I could get my hands on.

That fall, my family took a trip to Manhattan. It was the first time I ever visited the island and friends, it remains one of the most magical weeks of my life.

This was dirty and grimy Manhattan and STILL it was the most beautiful place I ever saw in my life.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Terminal. At one point I got on the elevator. I looked over and I saw an undeniably recognizable face.

It was Billy Martin.

I knew who Billy Martin was. He was a World Series hero with the Yankees as a player. He also was one of, if not THE most, respected and controversial managers of the day.

I stared at him like he was a yeti.

He saw me, not knowing I was a Red Sox fan, and smiled. “Hey kid.” He said.

I grinned. “Hi” I replied. I always knew what to say. I got off at my floor, floating 4 feet off the ground. It was magical.

What I didn’t realize then and I know now, that he was about to make one of the worst decisions of his life.

Billy Martin is always associated with the Yankees. But because of his, to be kind, combative personality, he actually bounced from organization to organization as a player and as a manager.

He played 7 years with the Yankees, and then 1/2 a year with the A’s, one season with the Tigers, one season with the Indians, one season with the Reds, 6 games with the Milwaukee Braves and the bulk of the 1961 season with the Twins.

Then as a manager he took the Twins and Tigers to the post season and turned around the Rangers before finally becoming the Yankees manager.

After back to back pennants and the World Series title in 1977, he insulted George Steinbrenner one time too many in 1978 and was fired. But wait, in that same season, they announced he would come back.

He returned in 1979 and got in a fight with a marshmallow sales man and got fired again.

Billy Martin had many demons and addictions. He famously battled with alcohol and womanizing. But his greatest addiction was to the Yankees. George Steinbrenner knew that. He knew he could abuse and torture Billy all he wanted because he had the keys to what he needed.

He needed to be in a Yankee uniform and leading them to greatness. He wore many unis but none meant as much to him as the pinstripes. He thought of Steinbrenner as an interloper from Cleveland who bought his beloved team and had the keys to the kingdom.

After the fight with the marshmallow salesman, he was courted by the A’s. Now Billy was originally from the East Bay. And in many ways, returning to Oakland was a homecoming.

The team was an absolute mess when he arrived. The greatness of the 1970’s Swinging A’s was long gone. They barely could attract 500,000 for an entire season and they were rumored to be moving to Denver.

With Finley selling the team, the whole organization was in flux. They responded with “Billy Ball” and having a winning year in 1980.

In 1981, they shot out of the gate and took first place in April and stayed there when the strike hit. Forced to play Kansas City in the stupid first round, the A’s made quick work of it.

Billy Martin had his greatest managerial accomplishment. He brought the A’s, just a few years from being a borderline minor league team, to the ALCS. He showed he didn’t need Steinbrenner or the Yankees.

In an ESPN special, Martin’s son saw how happy he was in the East Bay, free of the New York pressure. He described his dad as getting a tan and developing a healthy gut. He never wanted his dad to go back to the Yankees.

But the A’s were swept by the aging Yankees in the 1981 ALCS. Billy could not exact the ultimate revenge.

And during 1982, as the Yankees went through Bob Lemon, Gene Michael and Clyde King as manager, Billy seemed restless in Oakland. He wore out his pitchers and ultimately his welcome as the Yankees sent trial balloons to California to see if he would be willing to go back.

That fall he negotiated with the Yankees.

That fall I saw him at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. He said hi to me. Then not long after that, he returned to the Yankees to manage the 1983 season.

He never brought the Yankees back to the post season. He managed them in 1983, then in 1985 and then for the first half of 1988. After being fired in 1988, he sat out the 1989 season. Steinbrenner was looking to bring him back for the 1990 season when he died in a truck crash around Christmas time, 1989.

I keep thinking of his time with the A’s. He had NOTHING left to prove with the Yankees. He won the World Series as a manager and lay down the foundation for the 1978 champs. If he stayed with Oakland, would they have ultimately win it all? Would he be the mentor for Rickey Henderson? Would he find satisfaction, peace and sobriety in Alameda County?

And the sobriety would not just be for drinking but the ultimate fix for him, being in a Yankees uniform. Sure the green and gold don’t have the legacy and pull of the pinstripes, but he could have done so many great things in Oakland had he stayed there.

I wish I knew that in the elevator of the Grand Hyatt. I would have said “Don’t leave Oakland! You are happier there!”

No doubt he would have listened to me.

Rafael Santana 1988 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 25, 2017


A lot can be read in between the lines with the existence of this card. Rafael Santana played the 1987 season as a member of the New York Mets. The stats on this card go up to 1987.

Between the start of the 1987 season and the beginning of the 1988 season, he went from the New York Mets to the New York Yankees.

He was the first member of the 1986 Mets to be acquired by the Yankees.

He would not be the last.

Truth be told, Santana actually began his professional career with the Yankees farm system in 1976 when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic. But he was sent packing to the Cardinals organization before the 1981 season for George Frazier.

Frazier would go on to lose 3 games in the 1981 World Series for the Yankees, but I digress.

Between 1981 and 1983, he toiled in the Cardinals system where he would be perpetually blocked in the majors by Ozzie Smith. He did indeed make the Cardinals major league roster in 1983, the year after they won the World Series. He was a non factor.

In 1984, the Cardinals cut him and the Mets picked him up to be a backup to Jose Oquendo, who would leave the Mets to become a post season hero for the Cardinals and a mainstay in their coaching staff.

Almost by default, with Oquendo and Hubie Brooks gone, Santana became the starting shortstop for the Mets in 1985.

His timing couldn’t have been better because the Mets were beginning to skyrocket up the standings. Santana hit well but fielding magnificently.

In 1986, he couldn’t hit a lick, batting .218 with a paltry .539 OPS. But he continued to play magnificently in the field as the Mets stampeded to the NL East. He only managed 8 hits in the entire post season but one of them came in the critical 7th inning of Game 7 where his single scored Lenny Dykstra and gave the Mets an insurance run. He would later score on a sacrifice fly.

He was on the field when the Mets won the World Series.

Now remember the significance of that. The Mets had taken over the town. They were the go to team in New York, not the Yankees. The biggest stars were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The veterans who won were not expensive Dave Winfield or Rickey Henderson but Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Ray Knight.

And as the attention moved from the Bronx to Flushing, the house of Steinbrenner seethed.

They continued to cobble together veterans whether they fit or not and made quick fixes at the expense of sending unproven players away for recognizable talent. It was an era that cost the Yankees Willie McGee, Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek and Greg Gagne among others.

After the 1987 season, the Yankees were a team that was good enough to win games but not good enough to win the Division. They struggled to find a solid shortstop to pair with All Star Willie Randolph up the middle, trotting out Lenn Sakata, Wayne Tolleson and Bobby Meachem among others.

Santana was now superfluous with the Mets. Howard Johnson could provide power at shortstop while Kevin Elster could provide the glove work.

On December 11, 1987, the Yankees sent catcher Phil Lombardi, pitcher Steve Frey and outfielder Darren Reed to the Mets for Rafael Santana.

For one season, Santana was a decent double play partner for Willie Randolph, hitting an acceptable .240 (but only a .289 on base percentage.) But in 1989, injuries kept him sidelined for the entire season. His contract was not picked up and in 1990, he was reunited with Mets teammates Jesse Orosco and Keith Hernandez in Cleveland.

After his playing career, Santana, who avoided the scandal ridden reputation of many of his Met teammates, became a regularly employed coach and minor league manager. He was a Domincan baseball instructor, a major league coach with the White Sox and a minor league manager for several organizations.

He also represented the Yankees desire to steal the spotlight from the Mets. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden won rings with the Yankees. So did 1988 Met star David Cone.

Kevin Elster, Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco would also play with the Yankees eventually. Stealing attention from the Yankees is usually an action that the Steinbrenners would not abide.

Rafael Santana was a stop gap whose main qualification was he won a New York World Championship that was NOT a Yankee title. That just will not do.

Don Mattingly 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for February 10, 2017



It is hard to explain to people who did not live in the 1980’s to understand what Don Mattingly meant to Yankee fans of my age. He was more than statistics. He was more than career totals. He represented a hope that did not come. And he was one of the least lucky players ever to play the game.

To understand the significance of Mattingly, you need to understand when he played. The Indiana native was a 19th round draft pick for the Yankees in 1979. He was not exactly a coveted property. But he made it to the Bronx in 1982. The Yankees were the defending AL Champs in 1982, but in name only. The post Reggie turmoil had started in Yankee Stadium.

Three managers helmed the Yankees in 1982, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael and Clyde King. Then in 1983, Billy Martin returned from Oakland. Then in 1984 it was Yogi Berra. In 1985, it was Berra and Billy Martin. In 1986 it was Lou Piniella. There was no stability on the team. General Managers were dumped just as quickly.

Stars like Graig Nettles and Goose Gossage followed Reggie out of town. New stars like Don Baylor and Rickey Henderson showed up. There was no stability with the Yankees.

And yet somehow in the middle of the turmoil stood Don Mattingly, who emerged as a star in 1984 as a star by all the metrics that were used then. He hit for a high average, leading the league in 1984 during a season long race with his teammate Dave Winfield. He piled up hits, RBI and was a 30 home run hitter.

He played with quiet professionalism and, because he played at the same time that another Indiana favorite son was at the top of his game, was compared to Larry Bird. He won the AL MVP in 1985 as he batted .324 and led the league in RBI. He was even better in 1986, posting this highest OPS in the league with .967 (not that anyone knew that then.)

He kept posting All Star numbers and picking up Gold Gloves throughout the rest of the 1980’s. But Mattingly’s effect on the fans was not simply numerical. As his star rose in 1984, another unusual event happened in New York baseball: The Mets began to take over the city.

The Mets were suddenly cooler than the Yankees, and they were becoming more star studded. While Steinbrenner frantically tried to bring stars to the Bronx, two young players captured the imagination of the city. Dwight Gooden was the best pitcher in baseball during the same time that Mattingly was claiming his MVP. And Darryl Strawberry, while not the all around hitter that Mattingly was, played with a flair for the dramatic that began to sway the fair weather fans.

For Yankee fans who stayed true to their team, Mattingly represented hope and a link to the past. He was their homegrown star who was going to lead the Yankees back to the promised land, provided that Steinbrenner did not get in the way. (Back then George was considered a meddling figure.) And as Mattingly kept assembling his Hall of Fame resume, he would add a title and ultimately earn his place among the Yankee greats.

For fans who did not see Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, this was their chance to see a Yankee great from the start. And unlike Reggie, Goose, Winfield and other Yankee stars, Mattingly was not poached from another organization. He was one of theirs. Let the band wagon jumpers go to Shea. Mattingly would make everything good again.

Was their a racial issue? Mattingly stoic and white in contrast to two brash black stars who would face addiction demons. Perhaps. But mainly Mattingly represented the next great chapter in Yankee history. And for fans in the 1980’s, he was THEIR legend.

But man Mattingly had bad timing with his career. As Steinbrenner meddled and kept shifting the managers (between 1982 and 1990, the Yankees would make 10 manager changes) he also traded away young players for established veterans. The result was seeing Willie McGee, Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Fred McGriff and Greg Gagne among others succeed elsewhere in exchange for recognizable players on their last legs.

Despite playing in a winnable AL East, the Yankees could not win their division. The great Yankee juggernaut did not see October between 1982 and 1993. By the 1990’s, the Yankees became one of the worst teams in baseball and Mattingly became hampered by injury.

In 1994,  the Yankees looked poised to win the AL East and possibly the pennant. But the players strike wiped out the post season. In 1995, the Yankees had a losing record in August but stormed into the post season. For the first time, Mattingly was going to play in October. He homered in Game 2, causing a thunderous sound in the Bronx as their hero was finally getting his chance. Seattle would win the dramatic series in a heart breaking (for Yankee fans) extra inning loss.

in 1996, the Yankees and Mattingly parted ways. He could not play every day anymore and the team traded for Tino Martinez, who was instantly vilified for not being Don Mattingly.

The man known as Donnie Baseball retired. He arrived a year too late to play in the 1981 World Series. The year after he retired, the Yankees won the World Series, meaning his career perfectly stood between two pennants.

As Mattingly finished his career without a World Series appearance, the team went on to win 4 of the next 5 titles and 6 of the next 8 pennants. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera became the home grown stars to lead them (along with Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte).

Remember the adulation and love that Jeter got from Yankee fans? For fans my age, they were waiting to shower that onto Mattingly. It never happened for him. His timing was too bad.