Dave Johnson 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 12, 2017

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First of all, is it Dave or is it Davey? I am fine with either one, I just want some consensus here.

I wrote Dave Johnson on the title card for this blog post because that is how it is written on the Topps Card. But for the rest of this posting, I will refer to him as “Davey” or “Johnson” because I always thought of him as Davey Johnson.

OK, the next and most interesting question is “What makes a Hall of Fame manager?” Davey Johnson is an interesting case study for what makes a Hall of Fame manager.

Now we know he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. He had a fine career, playing 8 years with the Orioles in their glory days. He won Gold Gloves, All Star Game appearances and finished third in the 1966 Rookie of the Year vote.

That year the Orioles won the World Series, the first in the franchise’s history including their time as the St. Louis Browns.

He played in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 World Series, picking up another ring with the 1970 squad. After some down years and injuries, he returned to Philadelphia and played in the 1977 NLCS against Los Angeles.

In 1978, he hit a pair of grand slams as a pinch hitter, but he was done.

When his playing career ended, he began coaching. He was a manager in the Mets organization in the early 1980’s. Johnson was the skipper at Jackson and later the Triple A squad in Tidewater in 1983.

He was promoted to the major leagues as the Mets manager, probably because the team was having a major youth movement. Johnson had managed many of the young Mets in the minor leagues. Now he was ready to turn the team around.

In 1984, under Johnson’s leadership, the Mets had their first winning season since 1976 and the second 90 win season in franchise history.

Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry blossomed in 1984 and the Mets became the team of New York.

The 1985 squad won 98 games but narrowly missed the playoffs, falling just behind the Cardinals.

Then came 1986. The 108 win team became one of the most legendary and beloved (and reviled) teams in New York baseball history. That’s saying something. They fought and brawled behind the scenes but were the most dynamic and best team in baseball probably for the entire decade.

Of course the Mets won the World Series. You could not be here, 400 words into a blog post that I wrote if that was a spoiler for you.

Now the Mets nearly lost to the Astros. They were losing in the 9th inning of Games 3 and 6. The final game was a 16 inning affair where a swing of the bat by the Astros would have forced a 7th game showdown against Mike Scott.

And maybe you remember how the World Series ended up with the Red Sox. If the Red Sox got one more out in the 10th or held onto their 3-0 lead in Game 7, Johnson would have remembered for his odd managerial decisions and poor bullpen use.

In 1987, a scandal ridden and injury plagued Mets team won 92 games but again came up short to the Cardinals (who had no shortage of injuries themselves.)

The 1988 Mets team should have demolished the Dodgers in the NLCS. They had no holes on the team and even added a phenom with young Gregg Jefferies hitting up a storm. They won against LA in Hershiser’s first two starts and were cruising to a Game 4 victory that would have put them up 3-1.

Scioscia homered, tied the game and this time it was the Mets who lost a marathon game. The Dodgers won the Series in 7. That was the beginning of the end for Johnson with the Mets.

The team had an unnecessary facelift in 1989, dumping Dykstra, Wilson, Backman and many other beloved figures. They fell short of the playoffs again. Johnson was fired the next year with some saying his time with the Mets was underachieving.

Tough crowd.

Where his Hall of Fame discussion becomes interesting, however, is with his post Mets years.

Early in the 1993 season, he was brought in to replace Tony Perez as manager of the Reds. They were in first place in 1994 at the time of the strike and they won the new NL Central in 1995.

The Reds swept Los Angeles in the Division Series before being swept by the eventual World Champion Braves in the NLCS. THe Reds were a winner under Johnson.

But owner Marge Schott had made the decision before the post season that Ray Knight, the MVP of the World Series for Johnson’s 1986 Mets, was going to be the new Reds manager in 1996.

Thanks for the NLCS, now here is your pinkslip.

Johnson jumped to Baltimore and took the team to the post season for the first time in 13 years. In the 1996 Division Series, the Orioles and Roberto Alomar stunned the heavily favored defending AL Champion Indians. The Birds won in 4 and went on to New York.

The Yankees beat the Orioles with a little help from Jeffrey Maier but the Orioles finally brought October ball to Camden Yards.

In 1997, Johnson moved Cal Ripken from shortstop to third base because, well, it made the team better. The Orioles responded that season with 98 wins and a Division Title. They beat Seattle and faced a much weaker Cleveland squad in the ALCS.

It was a wild series involving extra inning games and controversial calls. The Indians would win Game 6 in extra innings, 1-0 and clinch the pennant. But Johnson would be named AL Manager of the Year that off season.

He would also be shown the door again. Johnson and Orioles owner Peter Angelos clashed and he was fired, despite leading two different teams to the League Championship Series in three straight seasons.

In 1999, he arrived in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, now owned by Fox, had spent lavishly and expected to win the NL West. Davey Johnson claimed that the “village idiot” could win with this team.

He would regret that quote. The 1999 Dodgers not only didn’t win the NL West (the Diamondbacks did in their second ever season.) They didn’t finish with a winning record, going 77-85.

The pressure was on Johnson in 2000 and while the Dodgers won more than they lost, they finished 11 games back of the Giants and far behind the Mets for the Wild Card.

Johnson was let go.

He didn’t get another managerial job until he was hired by Washington in 2011. The Nationals were expected to improve but not contend in 2012. Stephen Strasburg, coming off of Tommy John surgery, was going to pitch that year but, as they announced, would be shut down after he reached an innings cap.

Johnson’s Nationals surprised everyone by starting the season strong and not looking back. As the Phillies crumbled due to injuries, the Braves fell short of expectations, the Mets were a mess and the Marlins dealt with internal squabbles, the Nationals took advantage of a chaotic NL East.

The team won the Division with a 98-64 record. The city of Washington, who had no team between 1971 and 2005, had their first playoff team since the 1933 AL Champions.

They also had a problem. Against Davey Johnson’s wishes, management kept their plan of shutting down Strasburg. The Nationals starting pitching in the Division Series against the Cardinals bombed badly and the worn out bullpen blew the save in Game 5.

The Nationals had an astonishing meltdown with the series on the line. The defending champion Cardinals won the series and the Nats still wonder what would have happened if Strasburg had just one October start.

Johnson managed 2013 before retiring at age 70.

So is he a Hall of Fame manager or not? He took over losing teams with the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Nationals and quickly turned all of them into playoff teams.

The fortunes of the Mets, Reds and Orioles all plummeted after Johnson’s departure. If the Nationals got one more strike in 2012, he would have taken 4 teams to the League Championship Series.

He managed for 17 seasons was in the post season for 6 of those years.

Sure Davey Johnson only won one World Series. But that’s all Leo Durocher won. That’s all Bobby Cox won. That’s all Earl Weaver won.

And yes, the Mets squad should have won at least another pennant. But remember when he arrived in New York, the team was a consistent loser. His time changed the mentality so much that NOT winning the World Series was considered to be a let down.

But that title seems to be more of one lost by the Red Sox than won by the Mets in terms of its legacy.

I would have no issue with Johnson being in Cooperstown. I love the managers, like Dick Williams, who are basically Johnny Appleseeds of post seasons wherever they go.

If he won a pennant in Cincinnati, Baltimore or Washington, this would be a much easier question to answer. But for now, it is interesting to ponder.

As for the Dave or Davey question, we may NEVER get to the bottom of that.

Pat Zachary 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 14, 2017

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Pat Zachary reminds me of how I look at the universe and what we control and what we can not control.

Trust me, I am being serious.

Zachary had ups and downs in the early part of his career, as many players do, managed to survive for a while, made some adjustments and played a decade in the majors.

And circumstances he had no control over put him front and center in glories for all time and having his name be cursed by a city from this day forth.

The Texas native was a 19th round pick by the Reds in 1970. 19th round picks are not supposed to make it to the major leagues, let alone have any success. 19th round picks were supposed to fill out minor league rosters and maybe have an outside shot at the proverbial “Cup of Coffee” in the majors.

But the 19 year old Zachary won 12 games and posted a decent 3.21 ERA for the Reds Single A Tampa team in 1971. As the Big Red Machine was having success without a solid ace, Zachary was moving up the minor league chain.

In 1974 and 1975, he was having success with the AAA Indianapolis team. But the Reds teams were so dense that there was no chance for a call up.

Here is an example of Zachary not having control of his circumstances. He pitched well. He did well enough to play on the big league level. If he was with San Diego or Atlanta, he would have been in the starting rotation in 1974 and 1975. But he was drafted by Cincinnati, therefore he was a minor leaguer.

In 1976, he earned a spot on the big league team and made the most of it. He won 14 games, put together a 2.74 ERA over 204 innings pitched. He had pitched well enough to be a major league for the previous 2 seasons and now was showing it.

Because it was his debut MLB season, the 24 year old was a Rookie. He and Padres reliever Butch Metzger tied for the Rookie of the Year. Unlike Metzger, Zachary’s season extended into October. He wasn’t called up to the Padres. He was part of the Big Red Machine.

Zachary was supported by Perez, Rose, Morgan, Bench, Foster, Concepcion, Geromino and Griffey. He had the deepest bullpen in the game saving his starts. Zachary started Game 2 of the 1976 NLCS. He pitched 5 innings and was hardly dominant. But the Reds lineup scored 6 runs off of the Phillies and Pedro Borbon saved it and he got the win.

Zachary pitched into the 7th for the Game 3 win in the World Series and a day later, the Reds were the World Champs again.

Pat Zachary was a young World Champion. Part of that was by his work. He pitched well up through the Reds farm system and did the job well. Part was because of circumstances beyond his control. He was drafted into a team that was already an All Time great squad.

That is similar to how we live our lives. Part of our success or failures are based upon our work and effort and some is based upon factors beyond out control.

In 1977, Zachary got off to a rough start, losing 7 of 10 decisions and seeing his ERA soar to 5.04. But then he was sucked into a vortex of circumstances beyond his control.

A public contract dispute between Tom Seaver and the Mets management in 1977 got ugly and the most popular player in franchise history was traded out of spite.

The Reds, off to a let down of a start after back to back titles, tried to get a boost for their team with a new superstar. So Tom Seaver became a Red. The key part of the trade for the Mets, beyond venom, was bringing in defending Rookie of the Year Pat Zachary.

Zachary did not pitch badly over the second half of 1977 and actually was named to the 1978 All Star Game. But injuries an ineffectiveness hurt him in 1979.

But his decent pitching did not matter. He was NOT Tom Seaver, who continued to dominate with Cincinnati. As the Reds won the Division in 1979, Zachary played only 7 games. Zachary became a symbol of Mets mismanagement and the loss of their beloved player.

Eventually Zachary became a Dodger and pitched well out of the bullpen for the 1983 NL West champs as Tom Seaver returned to the Mets for one season.

But in a way, Zachary shows how the universe unfolds. Somethings we control, others we can’t. Some parts of the perception people have of us are based on effort and others are based on factors that have nothing to do with us.

Zachary was a World Champion and a pariah, all the while having a nice career that he could not totally control.

Joe Torre 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 11, 2017

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Edgar Martinez is inching closer to Hall of Fame election. He reached 58.6% last year and with a big bump, he might get in.

If he does and they have those events when all the living Hall of Famers get together, I hope Joe Torre comes over to him and says “Thank you.”

If it weren’t for Edgar Martinez and his amazing series against the Yankees in 1995, Joe Torre would not be in the Hall of Fame.

Oh don’t get me wrong. If Edgar Martinez did not get that game winning double in the bottom of the 11th in Game 5 of the Division Series, or didn’t bat .571 with a 1.000 slugging percentage against the Yankees, Torre would still be a respected man in baseball.

He was an MVP as a player, part of a proud baseball family with his brother Frank Torre and spent decades as a manager and broadcaster for several organizations.

But he became a Hall of Famer, one of the biggest and most beloved figures in all of baseball and managed a team in the wake of September 11th that led the league in overt dramatic symbolism.

That wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t become the Yankee manager at the right time.

The Brooklyn born Torre overcame an abusive father to follow in the footsteps of his brother Frank and played for the Milwaukee Braves starting in 1960. By 1963, Torre was an All Star catcher, hitting 20 homers a year, driving in 109 in 1964 and hit .315 in 1966 with an OPS of .943 as the Braves moved from Wisconsin to Atlanta.

In 1968, Torre was dealt to the two time defending NL Champion Cardinals in a deal for Orlando Cepeda. At this point, Torre was transitioning to third base. The result was in 1971, he had his best season.

He led the league with 230 hits, 137 RBI and a .363 average. He also had the most total bases in the National League and, though nobody knew it then, had the highest offensive WAR in the NL. He was named the MVP of the National League in 1971.

The Cardinals, who won two titles and another pennant in the 1960’s, stopped winning in the 1970’s with Torre on the roster.

He had a few more All Star seasons after his MVP but his borderline Hall of Fame career was winding down. He was traded to the Mets after the 1974 season. He hit .306 as a part time player in 1976 but by 1977, he was done.

The Mets released him but gave him a different job. He was named manager, replacing Joe Frazier.

He was screwed. Not long after installing him into the job, they traded away Tom Seaver. Then they dealt Dave Kingman. Jerry Koosman was next. It wasn’t a great time to be the manager of the Mets and frankly, Torre did nothing as manager to distinguish himself.

He had very little good will in New York, despite being a native son. The Mets were so bad under him that they got some good draft picks, selecting Darryl Strawberry with one of them. But Torre got the boot after the 1981 season.

He found a landing spot in Atlanta and he got off to the best start a new manager could go on. The Braves won their first 13 games under Torre, a National LEague record. They would need every one of those 13 as Atlanta won the division by a single game over the defending World Champion Dodgers and 2 games over the upstart San Francisco Giants.

Finally Torre was in the post season. It didn’t last long. After Game 1 of the best of 5 NLCS against the Cardinals was rained out after it started, Torre and company went on to be swept. The Cardinals won the title. The Braves won the heart of the South. Dale Murphy would win back to back MVPs and become one of the most beloved players in Atlanta history.

Torre couldn’t get the Braves back to the playoffs however and was let go after 1984.

After Atlanta, he became a solid color commentator, working for both the California Angels and for NBC and ESPN. Torre has a solid set of pipes, a relaxed and personable style and lots of stories to tell. There is no doubt that if his managerial career did not take off, he would have had a long broadcasting life somewhere.

He managed the Cardinals between 1990 and 1995, but they did not go to the post season under his watch. When the year ended, he looked like he was primed to head back to the booth. His reputation secure as a fine former player and a baseball lifer.

Then the Yankees collapsed in the playoffs after Edgar Martinez played like a man possessed. George Steinbrenner, desperate to show everyone he was still boss, did not bring back Buck Showalter, the manager who basically rebuilt the team.

The move to let Showalter go was intensely unpopular, especially after the Yankees had a brilliant 1994 cut short by the strike and had a huge comeback to even get into the post season.

Torre was brought in and was dubbed “Clueless Joe” by the press. The great mind of Showalter was canned for a former Met, Brave and Cardinal manager who had one Division Title to his credit.

The match turned out to be one made in heaven. Torre, knowing this was his last chance to win as a manager, was a calm and even keel father figure for the young Yankee team. He handled the veterans and young stars perfectly and kept the Steinbrenner craziness away from the clubhouse. His brother Frank needed a heart transplant during the 1996 post season and suddenly the grandfatherly figure with the sad eyes became a symbol of love and family in New York.

They won the pennant, the first in Joe Torre’s career. Then he outmanaged that asshole Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees won their first title since 1978 and for Yankee fans, it was one they savored forever.

Had the Yankees lost in the Division Series (and they were losing late in 3 of the last 4 games against Texas), Torre might have been fired. Maybe he would have if they lost to Atlanta.

But they didn’t. Torre was impossible to fire. The World Series titles piled up, winning it all in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

And Torre, wearing the NYPD and fire department hats post September 11th, became a reliable father figure for a wounded country after the attacks. The Yankees took dramatic games against the A’s, Mariners and Diamondbacks before falling in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

By then he was an all time ambassador of baseball. No manager lasted longer under Steinbrenner. Only Joe McCarthy lasted longer in Yankee history.

He would go on to manage the Dodgers to the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 and became the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB in 2011.

In 2014, he was selected to the Hall of Fame as a manager and later the Yankees retired his number.

All of these opportunities would have been denied to him if the Yankees had advanced under Showalter in 1995. If they made it to the ALCS against Cleveland, Buck would have returned. The entire modern history of the Yankees would have been different. Maybe they would have won titles under Showalter. Maybe they wouldn’t have.

But Martinez went on that hitting tear, Showalter lost his job and Torre took over. There is a direct line to that event and Torre being in the Hall of Fame.

I truly hope Torre thanked Martinez.