Tommy Helms 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 22, 2017

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I specifically remember getting a Tommy Helms card back in 1978 when I started collecting baseball cards.

I was 6 years old, a Red Sox fan and opening the world of who the players were and what the teams were. And when I would open a pack and find one of MY players from MY team, I got a rush. It was like being introduced to not only a friend, but like a member of the Super Friends.

If the card had a cursive Red Sox on the lower left hand corner, guess what? THIS WAS ONE OF MY GUYS!

Tommy Helms! Woo hoo!

Not long after getting this card in 1978, I learned that Tommy Helms was no longer on the Red Sox… despite the fact that I had the card that proved “Yes indeed he was.”

As I explained in the Frank Duffy entry from July, I was learning that the players on the cards did not always stay and Tommy Helms’ time with the Red Sox was “Blink and you will miss it” time.

He did indeed play with the Red Sox but very briefly in 1977, enough to get this card produced. It would be the final stop in a big league playing career. Twice in his baseball life he would miss being part of a Reds World Series winner, once as a player and once as a manager.

Tommy Vann Helms (a pretty cool full name if you ask me), was from North Carolina and joined the Reds in 1964 as a 23 year old. It was a good time to come of age in Cincinnati. He was surrounded by players like Frank Robinson and Pete Rose. Soon Tony Perez and Johnny Bench would be his teammates.

In 1966, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year. By 1967, Helms was holding his own with any member of the Reds team. He was a National League All Star in 1967 and 1968, batting .288 at a time when .301 earned you a batting title.

In 1970, Helms was a reliable starter on the Reds when they moved into a new ballpark, Riverfront Stadium, got a new manager, Sparky Anderson, and everything came together.

On May 27th, he got 4 hits in a game against San Diego. On July 1, he went 3 for 4 scoring 3 times in their win over the Braves. Down the stretch he had a 3 hit game over the defending World Champion Mets. The Reds would win the NL East and play in the second NLCS.

In the opener in Pittsburgh, he collected 2 hits and helped the Reds win 3-0. Cincinnati would sweep the Pirates and off they would go to the World Series. He started every game in the 5 game loss to Baltimore but Helms was a part of a Reds team who looked to dominate the decade.

They would do so without Helms. After the 1971 season, Helms would take his multiple All Star games and Gold Gloves to Houston. Lee May and Jim Stewart would join him in the deal that brought future Hall of Famer and MVP Joe Morgan to Cincinnati. Denis Menke, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham and Cesar Geronimo also came over to the Reds and the cast of the Big Red Machine was put into place.

As the Reds won the 1972 pennant and 1975 and 1976 World Series without him, Helms remained a regular player with the Astros and briefly with the Pirates.

The A’s, in total disarray after the 1976 season, purchased Helms contract from Pittsburgh but then traded him right back to the Pirates for a deal that included Mitchell Paige and Tony Armas.

The Pirates cut Helms in June and he was signed by the Red Sox to be a reserve infielder. In the end he was mainly used as a DH, only playing 3 of his 21 games for Boston in the field.

In a game against the Twins on August 27th, he homered, driving in 2. It would be his final big league homer. He failed to make the Red Sox out of spring training in 1978 and his playing career was over.

Helms returned to Cincinnati as a coach in the 1980’s and when Pete Rose was suspended in 1989, he took over as the team’s manager. It was a turbulent time for the franchise who saw the city’s favorite son removed from the game just 4 years after his greatest moment of passing Ty Cobb’s hit record.

Helms had some support of the team to take over as the full time manager in 1990 but Marge Schott fired him and went with Lou Piniella. It is difficult to argue with the results as the Reds won the 1990 World Series title, again without Helms.

After wards, Helms married for a second time and saw some of his sons and his nephew, Wes Helms, play professionally.  He is part of both the Reds and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

And one day in 1978, a young Sully opened a pack of cards and said “Yes! A Red Sox player! I will root for him.” Little did I know it was too late. His career was already over.

Joe Morgan 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 4, 2017

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Walpole Joe Morgan is one of my favorite figures in Red Sox history. He was a local guy who made it all the way to the major league manager’s job and gave Red Sox fans one of their most memorable summers ever and a pair of trips to the postseason.

In some ways, the Red Sox victory in 2004 was perfect. It came right after the Aaron Boone/Grady Little debacle and had the amazing climax of vanquishing the Yankees in a way that nobody thought was possible. And Terry Francona, with his self effacing humor and respect of the clubhouse and fans, was the perfect manager.

But Joe Morgan and the 1988 Red Sox could have been a magical champ for many reasons.

The Red Sox were still reeling from the shock of the 1986 World Series. The 1987 season was lost after injuries, free agent defections and a thinned out rotation. In 1988, John McNamara and company had desires to get back on top with a combination of young players like Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell along with veterans like Jim Rice, Marty Barrett and Dwight Evans. With the trade for Lee Smith done in the winter, Boston looked like a potential contender.

But when the team began 43-42 at the All Star break, the embattled Red Sox front office dismissed baseball lifer John McNamara from the manager’s role. Had the Red Sox got one more strike a year and a half prior, McNamara would have revered as an all time figure in Boston. Now he was disposable.

While Boston searched for another manager, they handed the reigns on an interim basis to third base coach Joe Morgan. He was so anonymous outside of Boston that some outlets reported that they had signed Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.

Nope. It was Walpole Joe. He was a local guy, born in Walpole and who went to Boston College. He had a thick New England accent and a hard edge to him that you would expect him to be someone your family knew at the hardware store and not the manager of the team. He drove a snowplow to clear up the Turnpike for 10 New England winters.

Now of course, he was NOT the 14th caller on WEEI. He was a baseball player who played several years in the majors. He was on the Pirates coaching staff in the 1970’s and managed and coached throughout the Red Sox organizations. While managing Pawtucket, Morgan was a candidate for the Red Sox manager’s job at the end of the 1980 season.

He clearly was a stop gap while a true managerial search was conducted. The team returned from the All Star break in 4th place, a game over .500 on July 15th to play a double header against the Royals.

Boston won both games.

The next day, they won on a walk off homer from reserve outfielder Kevin Romine.

The winning kept piling up. 5 in a row, then 10. They won the first 12 games under Joe Morgan and 19 straight at Fenway Park. The press called it Morgan’s Magic.

He had a heated exchange with Jim Rice when the slumping superstar was pushed further down the lineup, screaming “I’m the manager of this nine!” The interim label was removed.

The team, that was 9 games out at the All Star game, was tied for first on August 3rd.

But then the magic seemed to be gone. A 4 game sweep by the defending AL East champion Tigers pushed them 4 games back and dropped 7 of 9 at one point. A burst in September put Boston in first place by themselves on September 5th and built a lead as big as 6 games on September 18th.

They lost 8 of their last 12 games, stumbling into the post season as the Tigers lost as well, earning the Red Sox the AL East crown. While Boston was swept in the ALCS, they played harder than the 4 and out result would suggest. Games 1 and 2 were 1 run losses at home and Game 3, they took an early lead. The A’s were a little too much for Morgan’s Magic.

But had they held onto those two games at home and rode Clemens, Hurst and Boddicker into the World Series, the 1988 team would have been a beloved team. They had lots of young blood, like Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Jody Reed and Todd Benzinger.

Also Rice, Barrett, Evans, Clemens, Hurst, Wade Boggs, Spike Owen, Bob Stanley, Rich Gedman, Ed Romero and the injured Oil Can Boyd were left over from the 1986 squad.

Picture a combination of young players and beloved veterans winning it all in Boston with a guy who used to drive the snow plow leading the way.

It would have been the stuff of legends.

Morgan led the Red Sox to another down to the wire division title in 1990 before once again getting swept out by the A’s. After 1991, the Red Sox were worried that Butch Hobson (my favorite player as a kid) was too valuable a managerial prospect to let walk to another organization from the minor leagues. So Joe Morgan was canned.

Morgan warned the front office “this team is not as good as you think it is.” He was right as the team bombed under Hobson.

Walpole Joe is still with us, still being celebrated as a Boston folk hero. They didn’t win it all with him, but he gave the team, and all of use fans, a summer of magic.

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – September 8, 2013

Photo: Al Behrman

Photo: Al Behrman

It is the SUNDAY REQUEST on The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

The Reds had a great reunion of the Big Red Machine, honored Joe Morgan (it’s about time) and Pete Rose made the trip.

Lots of thoughts from your pal Sully.
(Why come up with a new nickname for them? The Great 8? What was better than The Big Red Machine?)

Adam Wainwright, Freddy Galvis, Dan Straily and Nick Swisher all owned baseball on September 7, 2013.

To see the up to date tally of “Who Owns Baseball?,” click HERE.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – September 8, 2013