New York Mets Team Picture 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 29, 2017

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Ever see a family picture or some image of a friend after a brutal divorce? Maybe it is the first Christmas with a spouse no longer in the picture. Or perhaps a Facebook post of the first time one of the parents has the kids for the weekend.

Everyone is smiling. Everyone is putting on their best face. But there is an underlying bit of sadness mixed with the happiness and no small amount of resolve.

“Yeah, we know this happened. Yeah, we know the picture is different. But we are still here. We are still going to do the same things we used to do. There just won’t be the one face you were used to seeing.”

That is THIS team picture with the Mets. Because it is the 1978 series, the team picture is of the 1977 Mets. And Tom Seaver, for the first time since before the 1967 season, is not there.

And it was not an amicable divorce. It was not a “Hey, it has been wonderful. Maybe we should leave on good terms and start a new life.” It was a War of the Roses all out knock down drag out break up played through the press, the front office and ultimately the wife of Tom Seaver.

In a turbulent year in New York, including the Son of Sam, a bonkers Mayor election and George, Billy, Thurman and Reggie turning the Yankees into the Bronx Zoo, the lowly Mets only made headlines with the single worst decision in team history.

Contract disputes and clashing egos put Tom Seaver, by far the biggest figure in Mets history and still one of the elite pitchers in the National League, in conflict with the Mets front office and powerful sports writers.

Manager Joe Frazier was dumped 45 games into the season and Joe Torre, who was a player on the team, walked into the managerial office, not realizing it was a buzzsaw.

Eventually, the Mets cut off their nose to spite their face and traded Seaver to the two time defending World Champion Cincinnati Reds. They did get back Rookie of the Year Pat Zachary and other talented players. But it devastated the team and the fanbase.

To make matters worse, on that same day, June 15, the Mets also dumped popular slugger Dave Kingman to the Padres.

The Mets spiraled right afterwards. Between June 17 and July 7, the Mets lost 16 of 20 games. They went on a 6 game losing streak and a 9 game losing streak in that time.

Things didn’t get much better later. They lost 12 of 14 games in late August and finished the season narrowly avoiding 100 losses, 37 games out of first place.

Joe Torre’s first season as manager was a catastrophe. Perhaps this is why people labeled Joe “Clueless Joe” when he took over the Yankees in 1996. First impressions are tough to shake.

But they sat for the picture and smiled. They know that WE know what happened. Everyone knows that beloved Tom is not in the picture. But life goes on.

Nolan Ryan Record Breaker Cards 1978, 1988 and 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for November 17, 2017

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There is an amazing alternate reality in history where Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are teammates for life as members of the New York Mets.

Seaver was still an effective pitcher into the mid 1980’s. Nolan Ryan led the league in strikeouts in 1990 at age 43. They could have rewritten the record book side by side from the 1969 World Series, throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Instead both were traded away in deals that were nothing short of disastrous for the Mets.

The Mets drafted Lynn Nolan Ryan out of Alvin Texas High School in 1965. He made a pair of appearances in 1966 before getting to the big leagues for good in 1968.

He was a spot starter and reliever for the 1969 World Champions. He got the save that clinched the NLCS and won the pennant for the Mets. Later, he won Game 3 of the World Series in relief.

Ryan, along with Seaver and company, was a World Champion. He got that checked off his resume at age 22.

Then after the 1971 season, the Mets decided they had enough pitching and needed to shore up their infield. Jim Fregosi came over to the Mets from the Angels. Ryan was one of multiple players sent to Anaheim.

There his career exploded.

I wrote about his career in a blog post back in 2013. I compared him to George Harrison. Trust me, it made sense to me.

But I can think of no better way of demonstrating how wide spread the trade backfired on the Mets than these three record breaking cards. One was issued in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s and one in the 1990’s as he remained dominant for all those years after he was shipped off.

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In 1977, he broke Sandy Koufax’s record of most games with 10 or more strikeouts. Koufax’s mark was 97. Ryan finished with 104 at the end of 1977. Keep in mind he would pitch for 15 more seasons. He would finish with 148 games of 10 or more strikeouts… in the American League.

The grand total he would reach is 215 when his years with the Mets and Astros are included.

Inexplicably, I tried to draw beard on his face on this 1978 Topps card. Don’t ask me why.

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In 1988, Topps issued THIS Record Breaker card to commemorate Ryan passing 200 or more strikeouts for the 11th time in his career. That would set the all time mark.

To add insult to injury, the pitcher he passed was Tom Seaver. He would eventually pass 200 strikeouts 15 times in his career.

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The final record breaker card honors his 5000th strikeout. He would fan Rickey Henderson no less to reach that mark. To be fair, this highlight would also be in the 1980’s but he would win the 1990 strikeout crown and throw another no hitter in that decade.

Nobody else in history has fanned 5,000 for their career. Randy Johnson’s 4,875 has come closest. And that is a far cry from Ryan’s final tally of 5,714.

Ryan won 324 games, 295 of them for teams other than the Mets. All of these records could have been set in Flushing. He would have been a New York legend.

Instead he had to settle for one of the most famous and beloved stars in the history of baseball and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

A little more value than say Jim Fregosi.

Bobby Valentine 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 1, 2017

IMG_2336I am going to say something that might surprise you when you consider that I am a Red Sox fan.

I LOVE Bobby Valentine. No, I am not being sarcastic. I really do. I think he is great. I have warm feelings about him.

I am not even mad about his one disastrous season as manager of the Red Sox. That horrible season, 2012, set up the magic of seeing my Red Sox win it all in 2013. There was no prolonged agony of the Bobby Valentine year.

The great Boston collapse of 2011 and the insanity and futility of the 2012 Bobby V Sox were the prologue for the Red Sox stunning triumph the next year.

Titles heal all wounds. Yeah, he managed the single worst season in Red Sox history since the 1967 pennant and the beginning of Red Sox Nation. That made 2013 sweeter and made John Farrell look like the second coming of Earl Weaver by comparison.

So thank you Bobby V.

It is a shame that so much of Bobby V’s reputation is tied to that one horrible year. Truth be told, he lived a wonderful baseball life and has a job that he SHOULD be doing right now.

Bobby V belongs on television. He used to be on ESPN. He was WONDERFUL on ESPN. He has a great look on TV, a unique sounding voice and a know it all smirk that can be funny and condescending all at once.

Bobby V could take the role that Howard Cosell once did so wonderfully on his many roles in ABC Sports. You might not agree with him, but he is usually right.

He would reach back from a fertile spring of knowledge. A former first round pick and college star, Valentine played in the Dodgers organization before moving to the Angels and Padres.

In 1977, he joined the Mets as part of the controversial Dave Kingman deal.

Eventually, his career wound down as a player only to become a solid manager in three very different places. He took over as manager of the Rangers in 1985 and by 1986, they had a contender on the field. They finished second to the Angels with an 87-75 record. The team had talented and colorful stars like Ruben Sierra, Oddible McDowell, Mitch Williams, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Guzman, Greg Harris and Bobby Witt.

The team looked like they could contend in a soft AL West but fell short in a disappointing 1987 season and then were frequently buried by the A’s.

But Valentine managed solid All Stars like Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco as well as the return of Nolan Ryan to the American League. The Rangers didn’t go to any Octobers under Bobby V, but they were fun to watch.

When Rangers owner and future President George W. Bush let him go, Bobby V eventually found himself in Japan.

He managed the Chiba Lotte Marines to their best record in years in 1995 but clashed with management and was fired.

In 1996, he returned to America and while managing the Mets Triple A team, he was called up to take over the major league squad from Dallas Green.

The Mets were a disaster and just 3 year removed from arguably the least likable team in franchise history. Under Bobby V, however, the team won 88 games and contended in 1997. In 1998, the team was a Wild Card contender down the stretch again.

In 1999, the Mets won a one game playoff against the Reds to win the Wild Card, stunned Arizona with a walk off homer to clinch the Division Series and took the Braves 6 games in one of the wildest and most dramatic NLCS ever played.

In 2000, the Mets topped the Giants and the Cardinals to win the NL Pennant before losing the Subway Series to the Yankees in 5 hard fought games. Bobby V and Joe Torre were a pair of Italian American managers from the Northeast. One was a smart aleck, the other was a gentle grandfather figure. It was a fabulous compare and contrast.

While Torre had a stern but loving paternal quality to him, Valentine would get ejected and then put on a mustache as a disguise back in the dugout. The remains one of the funniest moments in baseball history.

Bobby V’s Mets were instrumental in the healing post 9/11 and Mike Piazza’s homer against the Braves still resonates in the city. He won the Branch Rickey Award for his charity work. But eventually he and GM Steve Phillips clashed too many times and he was let go in 2002, just 2 years after delivering the fourth pennant in Mets history.

He returned to the Chiba Lotte Marines and led them to the 2005 Japan Series championship, making him a hero for the locals and capping a wonderful managerial career. Bobby V clashed with management again, but when the Marines tried to smear him publicly, the fans were all on the manager’s side.

He returned to America and ESPN. He should never have left or even wanted another managerial job. He should have been like John Madden and let people think “If he got another gig, he’d be great.”

Instead he had the disastrous year in Boston. It would be like remembering Michael Caine only from Jaws The Revenge.

Bobby V had the baseball life to BE a know it all on TV. That should have been his American legacy. He would always be the smartest guy in the studio.

Just ask him.