Glorious Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, 1995 – Sully Baseball Daily Photo at Noon for February 21, 2018

IMG_2451Not all nostalgia in baseball comes from traditional old parks. Kauffman Stadium (formerly Royals Stadium) is one of the best places to see a ballgame. The great fountains in the outfield and the closeness to the field give this a unique feel. While other cities were making cookie cutter parks that are now torn down, Kauffman stands true.

I went there in 1995 when my friend P. J. was getting married in Kansas City. OF COURSE I used it as a way to have an excuse to see a Royals game!

1990 Record Breaker George Brett, 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 11, 2017

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Every play that “What famous person would you want to have dinner with” game? Usually people’s answers are great figures in history like Lincoln or Dr. King or maybe Jesus or maybe a funny person like Groucho Marx.

I always answered “Steven Spielberg.” The reason is in interviews he is very thoughtful and open about his own movies and loves to talk about other movies and great directors.

Another answer for me would be George Brett.

As someone whose understanding of baseball evolved in the late 1970s and the 1980s, George Brett was consistently one of the superstars of the game. In fact this Topps Record Breaker Card celebrates that consistency. He became the first to win batting titles in three different decades.

His run with teammate Hal McRae went down to the last day in 1976. He flirted with .400 in 1980, being above the mark as late as September 19th. And then in 1990, he made it three straight decades.

Brett got his 3,000 hits, an MVP in 1980 and batted .305 lifetime. Only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial have 3,000 career hits and a .300 lifetime average.

He owes a lot of his early success to hitting coach Charlie Lau, who adjusted his swing during his rookie year with the Royals, 1974.

By 1975, he led the league in hits and triples and did so again in 1976, adding a batting title to the mix.

That year he also led the Royals to the AL West title, and he would do so in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1984 and 1985 as well as a Division Series match up in 1981. Twice he hit for the cycle, including once in 1990.

Three times he had the highest OPS total and frequently came up big against the Yankees in the post season.

In 1976, he batted .444 with an OPS of 1.254 in the ALCS. He batted .300 in the 1977 ALCS and hit 3 homers in one game in the 1878 ALCS en route to a 1.444 OPS. His homer off of Gossage in the 1980 ALCS put the Royals into the World Series where he batted .375 with an 1.090 OPS against the Phillies.

His success in October continued in 1985. He hit 3 himers, batted. 348 and hand an OPS of 1.326 against Toronto to win the ALCS MVP and batted .370 as the Royals won their first title over St. Louis.

His lifetime post season batting average was .337 and his OPS was 1.023.

Brett was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 98.2% of the vote.

But there are a lot of superstars from my childhood. Why would I pick Brett to have dinner with? I wasn’t a Royals fan. I didn’t even root for them when they played the Phillies in the 1980 World Series or the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.

Because there is a goofiness to George Brett and a sense of humor about himself that makes me believe sitting with him at dinner would be an evening of great stories and laughter.

He left game 2 of the 1980 World Series with hemorrhoid pain and famously replied the next day “my problems are all behind me.”

Of course he went ballistic in the Pine Tar Game and has a great sense of humor recalling it and seeing it as a funny and positive episode.

There is a sense that he is a big goofy dude who just happens to be a good looking AL Super Star Hall of Famer.

The stories he could tell about the Royals of the 1970’s and 1980’s and the rivalry with the Yankees and other All Stars would be amazing.

And there is no doubt he is itching to tell them (no hemorrhoid pun intended.) Don’t believe me?

OK, the video I am linking below is not safe for work. It is Brett at spring training around 2003 or 2004. He is there instructing the young Royals players. At one point, out of nowhere, totally unprovoked, he tells a hysterical yet disgusting story that I would feel uneasy sharing with my closest friends.

Anyone willing to be THIS open and THIS funny with strangers has got to be a blast at dinner.

I hope Mr. Spielberg doesn’t mind all of the shit jokes.

Whitey Herzog 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 27, 2017

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I love this card of Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog. I am pretty sure he is jawing at someone.

But there is part of me that looks at his picture and it looks like he is yawning.

His brand of baseball used to drive me crazy in the 1980’s. His team was made up of base stealers and one slugger, often Jack Clark.

Guy would get on base. Steal second. Go to third on a ground out. Score on a sacrifice fly. 1-0.

Do that 4 or 5 times a game, and boom! You’ve won the game without an offensive highlight.

Was he yawning watching his own game?

Herzog came up in the 1950’s through the Yankees farm system but never played for the parent team. He made his big league debut with the Senators in 1956. The left handed hitting outfielder bounced between Washington, Kansas City, Baltimore and Detroit before playing his final game with the 1963 Tigers.

Eventually he landed in the Mets organization as a coach and then became a successful Director of Player Development. Several solid big league players were produced through the Mets farm system in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The team itself won the 1969 World Series while Herzog’s farm produced Amos Otis, Ken Singleton and Jon Matlack among others.

He was considered for the role of manager when Gil Hodges died but the job went to Yogi Berra, who led the team to the 1973 World Series.

That started a trend in Herzog’s early managerial career. He was passed over for the more famous name until he became a famous manager himself.

In 1973, he managed the Texas Rangers but was fired mid season in time for the team to bring in Billy Martin. In 1974, he managed the California Angels but was dropped so the Angels could hire Dick Williams

Finally in 1975, he got a chance with the Kansas City Royals and things clicked. After finishing the 1975 season with the team, he managed the club to a 90 win season in 1976. They won the AL West title and locked horns with the Yankees in a dramatic 5 game ALCS.

Led by George Brett and Dennis Leonard, the Royals won three straight AL West titles, peaking with with the 102 win campaign in 1977. That team was 3 outs away from the World Series but lost another heart breaker to the Yankees.

The 1978 squad also lost the ALCS to the Yankees. Seeing a pattern was developing, the Royals let Herzog walk after the 1979 season. While Jim Frey was leading the Royals to the World Series, Herzog was gobbled up by the Cardinals and a proud franchise was about to get a new identity for the 1980’s.

Lou Brock retired and with him went all connections to the great teams of the 1960’s. With the arrival of Herzog, the Cardinals became one of the great teams of the 1980’s.

His first season in St. Louis, 1981, they had the best record in the National League East. But because the strike split the season into first half and second half, the Phillies and Expos played in October and the Cardinals played golf.

The injustice was corrected in 1982. Ozzie Smith came over from San Diego and Bruce Sutter was now the closer. 1979 Co-MVP Keith Hernandez was still there and Rookie of the Year Willie McGee was about to make his mark along side Lonnie Smith in the outfield.

Joaquin Andujar anchored a rotation the may have lacked a Cy Young candidate but had depth with the likes of Bob Forsch and John Stuper.

They won 90 games and swept the Braves in the NLCS. But in the World Series, the Cardinals were clobbered by Milwaukee in Game 1 and fell behind 3-2 heading into Game 6.

Stuper pitched a gem in Game 6 and the bats came to life with a 13-1 blowout forcing a Game 7 showdown. Milwaukee took a 3-1 lead into the 6th. But RBI singles from Keith Hernandez and George Hendrick put the Cardinals on top for good. Bruce Sutter threw the final two innings and Herzog had delivered a title to the state of Missouri… just not the Royals.

The Cardinals would win three pennants in the 1980’s and come tantalizingly close to a second World Series title. The famous blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series haunted the team for decades. In 1987, an hobbled Cardinals team beat the Giants and had a lead in Game 7 of the World Series before the Twins came back.

The only names who played in all three World Series were Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tom Herr and Bob Forsch. Ken Oberkfell and Keith Hernandez gave way to Terry Pendleton and Jack Clark (who was injured in the 1987 World Series.) Joaquin Andujar gave way to John Tudor. Lonnie Smith left and Vince Coleman arrived. Darrell Porter was the MVP of the 1982 World Series but Tony Pena was behind the plate in 1987.

But the changing cast had the steady pilot at the helm. He was The White Rat, a name he prefers to Dorrel, his real first name.

His brand of baseball narrowly beat out the Mets in 1985 and 1987, years where it looked like New York had the superior team. The two teams had a not so friendly rivalry and the 1986 World Series for the Mets was bookended by Cardinals pennants that seemed to show the Mets were underachievers.

That might not be fair, but Whitey Herzog is in the Hall of Fame and Davey Johnson is not.

Eventually, Herzog resigned from the team in 1990 when he felt like he lost his influence.

The 1980’s were a strange time without a dynasty and a dominant franchise. Herzog’s Cardinals and Lasorda’s Dodgers were the closest thing to a dynasty in the decade. The Cardinals won a World Series and had two other pennants. Los Angeles won a pair of World Series. Head to head, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in one of the most thrilling NLCS ever played.

Advantage Herzog.

The White Rat’s style of play for the Cardinals in the 1980’s may have driven me bonkers. But there is no denying it worked.