Tom Kelly 1991 Topps and Ron Gardenhire 2007 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for October 13, 2017

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Between the end of the 1986 season and the end of the 2014 season, the Minnesota Twins had 2 managers. 29 seasons plus a few weeks and the manager office was filled by either Tom Kelly or Ron Gardenhire.

Both managed a small market team that people felt was unable to compete. Both had success.

Tom Kelly has a statue at Target Field. Gardenhire got fired.

Which manager was the better Twins skipper?

The easy answer to that would be Kelly. After all, the Twins have won a grand total of two World Series titles since arriving from Washington DC (the franchise as the Senators won the 1924 title.) Both of those World Series titles were managed by Kelly.

They were the high water marks for the team’s history, one being an unlikely band of veterans and the other winning one of the classic World Series in baseball history.

Gardenhire never won a pennant, much less a World Series. His Twins advanced a grand total of one time. So point, set match to Kelly, right?

Well, not so fast. Let’s take a look at the two.

Kelly was born in Minnesota and went to high school and college in New Jersey. He was drafted by the doomed Seattle Pilots in 1968 and after toiling in the minor league for years, he played 43 games as an infielder for the 1975 Twins.

After a few more years on the farm, he became a minor league manager in the Twins organization and in 1983 became a coach for Billy Gardner at the big league level. When Gardner got axed towards the end of 1986, Kelly took over.

Other than the acquisition of Jeff Reardon to shore up the bullpen, there was little reason to be optimistic about Minnesota’s chances in 1987.

The team jumped out to a 12-9 start and had an excellent June. But combined May, July and August, they were a sub .500 team. That didn’t seem to matter as the AL West was subpar up and down. The team was in first place for much of the season.

On August 29, 1987, the Twins and the Oakland A’s were tied for first place. Kansas City was just 3 games back and the Angels were 3 1/2 back.

The Twins finished the season 17-14 for an 85-77 record, 2 games ahead of the Royals. They would have been in 5th place in the AL East, but they were the champs of the AL West.

The team had a wildly disproportionate amount of wins at home and, despite having the worst record of any post season team, had home field advantage in the ALCS over the Tigers and the World Series over the Cardinals.

The Twins won it all and give them credit for beating teams that were, at least in the win loss column, superior. But they did go 6-0 at home and 2-3 on the road. It was one of great World Series flukes in history.

After some lean years and the rise of the Oakland A’s, the Twins hit rock bottom in 1990. Jack Morris came home to Minnesota after the 1990 season and the Twins rebounded.

The Twins squad with a handful of leftovers from 1987 were 7 games under .500 on April 20 and were a sub .500 team as late as June 1. They were in last place at that point and it was another lost year.

Led by Morris and Kirby Puckett, the Twins went 75-43 the rest of the way to capture the AL West crown, finishing 8 games ahead of the White Sox.

They made quick work of Toronto in 5 games and then locked horns with the Braves in one of the best World Series of all time. The Twins won 1-0 in the 10th inning of Game 7 and Kelly had 2 World Series titles in 5 years.

Leo Durocher had one World Series title. So did Earl Weaver. Tom Kelly has two and did so when he was only 40 years old. He was named AL Manager of the Year.

The Twins won 90 games in 1992 but fell short to the A’s in the AL West. After that, the Twins went on a steady slide. 8 straight seasons of losing ball was played in a frequently half empty Metrodome.

Rumors swirled around about the team moving to North Carolina. Ownership slashed payroll. During the 1990’s as big market teams swallowed up free agents, the Twins traded players away for pennies on the dollar.

In 2001, the Twins somehow managed to win 85 games and contend for much of the year before falling short in the AL Central. Suddenly he had a new cast of talented players. But the 50 year old Kelly was burnt out.

10 years after his second World Series and after 15 plus years at the helm, he called it quits.

Coach Ron Gardenhire stepped in and right away was in the hornet’s next. Forget not contending. Forget not signing free agents. The Twins were going to not even exist. The specter of contraction was real. The Montreal Expos were the first clear team to eliminate. And ownership for the Twins seemed willing to cash the check and be bought out and no longer exist.

Public backlash and union pressure caused MLB to step back, but the dark cloud hung over Minnesota. The Twins were on life support. They could not compete in a crumbling stadium and paltry payroll.

But they won 5 of their first 6 games. On May 2, they climbed into first place by themselves. By June 10, they were 6 games up. By July 15th, their lead was 10 games. Forget contraction. This team was thinking post season.

There was no AL Central race as the Twins cruised to a 13 1/2 lead and finished 94-67. Nobody noticed because the AL looked like it was going to be a showdown between the Yankees and the Moneyball A’s in the ALCS. But the Angels stunned the Yankees in the Division Series and Minnesota won a wild 5 game set with Oakland.

When Joe Mays won Game 1 of the ALCS, the image of Minnesota winning the pennant a year after contraction threats became real. But the Angels went on to win the ALCS and eventually the World Series.

What followed was a renaissance in Minnesota. Three straight Division Titles and unlike 1987, all of them were 90 wins or more. The team won the Division on the last day of the 2006 season, lost a one game playoff in 2008 and took a dramatic extra inning one game playoff in 2009, the final year in the Metrodome.

In 2010, the Twins christened a brand new stadium, Target Field, with their 6th Division Title in 9 seasons. Forget not being able to compete. They punched tickets for October every year. Forget moving and contraction, they were in a new ballpark. MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were on the team as was Cy Young winner Johan Santana.

Ron Gardenhire, a former reserve infielder, won the Manager of the Year in 2010, a crowning achievement for turning the fortunes of his franchise around.

And nobody remembers that. They lost the Division Series in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010. The last three times they were swept. Twice they had home field advantage and got swept.

Nobody remembers teams that lose the first round. It is incredible that a team that had the hangman’s noose over the entire franchise would have a fan base that a few years later would be blase about winning a division title.

Gardenhire clashed with modern analytics and eventually lost the club, paving the way for Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to take over.

Both managers had tugs of war with management over budget and the roster. Both had to make over their rosters quickly. Gardenhire had the better winning percentage and took more teams to the post season.

But he never won the big one, and Kelly did that twice.

It is a healthy debate and is safe to say the Twins managerial job was in good hands for nearly 3 decades. Now it is Paul Molitor’s turn.

Lyman Bostock 1978 Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 23, 2017

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Few figures in the history of baseball were as tragic as Lyman Bostock. He had a wonderful budding career that was cut short. And the reasons for his untimely death had nothing to do with bad choices, excess or even bad health. It was horrible timing.

I remember getting this 3-D Kellogg’s card of Lyman Bostock in 1978. The uniform he had on was a member of the Twins. But the team he was listed as playing with on the back was the California Angels.

In the infancy of free agency, Bostock signed the Angels. After the 1978 season, I never saw another Lyman Bostock card. I didn’t know what had happened. Perhaps it is best I didn’t learn until later.

Bostock was the son of a former Negro League star but he was estranged to his dad. He felt like his father abandoned his family and he was going to be a better man.

By all accounts he was. The Twins drafted him out of Cal State Northridge in 1972. He was a left handed hitting fleet foot centerfielder who could hit. He shot up through the Twins farm system, batting .313 in Double A and .333 in Triple A. After hitting .391 in 22 games at Triple A in 1975, he got the call to Minnesota.

He scored 3 runs in his first game and got 3 hits and a walk in his third game.

On July 28, 1975 in a game against the Kansas City Royals, Bostock got 4 hits, including a pair of doubles, scored 3, and drove in the winning run with a walk off single in the bottom of the ninth.

He was a big leaguer. In 1976, he was an elite hitter. He batted .332 with an OPS of .812 in the first half of the season. Down the stretch, he found himself in a four way battle for the batting title with teammate Rod Carew and a Kansas City duo of Hal McRae and George Brett. He batted .326 in September but came up short. Carew, McRae and Brett all finished within 2 points of each other with Brett barely winning.

Carew said later that Bostock wanted to win the batting title more than he did. The next year, Carew won the AL MVP but his teammate Bostock helped protect him in the lineup.

He played 153 games for the Twins and batted .336 with an OPS of .897. His 12 triples and 14 homers helped his slugging percentage climb to .508 and he added 16 stolen bases to the arsenal. His average was second only to Carew and he found himself in the top ten of on base, runs scored, total bases, doubles, triples, runs created, times on base and, although nobody knew it then, WAR.

Because free agency was different then, Bostock was able to test the waters despite only having 2 1/2 years of service time. Gene Autry, whose aggressiveness in early free agency was underrated, signed him to a multi year deal to join the California Angels.

Bostock became a rich man and right away donated money to build a Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama. That was evidently the kind of man he was.

Another sign of what kind of man he was was evident when he started playing in California. He got off to a horrible slump. What did he do? He tried to give his salary back for the month, claiming he didn’t earn it.

When Mr. Autry refused, Bostock donated his month’s salary to charity. Think about what kind of man does that. A great hitter and a solid man off the field? Evidently so.

He rebounded. After hitting .147 in April and .261 in May, he hit a whopping .404 in June with an OPS of .890 despite hitting no homers.

The second half of the year he batted .309 with an OPS of .789 to pull of a respectable 1978.

On September 23, 1978, the Angels played the White Sox. After the game, he had dinner at a relative’s home in near by Gary Indiana. After dinner, he got into a car with his uncle and two acquaintances. Bostock was in the rear passenger seat.

Unbeknownst to him, one of the women in the car whom Bostock barely knew, had an estranged husband who was obsessed with her infidelity. When the car stopped at an intersection, the former husband pulled up along side the car and blasted a shotgun at it.

The blast hit Bostock in the head and he was pronounced dead two hours later.

Leonard Smith, the man who shot at the car, was found not guilty for reasons of insanity and served less than two years in a psychiatric hospital.

Amazingly, the Angels played the day after the shooting. They won behind Nolan Ryan’s pitching. The season was over a week later.

Bostock’s former teammate and friendly batting title rival Rod Carew arrived in 1979.

What could his career have been? How many batting titles would he have won in California, a team that turned the corner the very next year? How much would the fabric of baseball have been improved if a potential batting champion who had a big heart and his priorities straight was able to fulfill his potential rather than be a tragic career cut short?

We will never know of course, which makes his tragedy even greater.

German Gonzalez 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 6, 2017

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In the late 1980’s, I began studying minor leagues and their stars. I began devouring Baseball America, trying to project who the next great star would be and the new beloved players.

And sometimes I would see a player light up the minor leagues with some dazzling numbers. And seeing I was in my teens and new at this, I assumed those great numbers would translate to success in the minors.

That brings us to German Gonzalez.

The Twins won the World Series in 1987 in kind of sort of a fluke. They were a great team at home and downright bad on the road. They won a mediocre AL West and despite having the lowest win total of any post season team, they had home field advantage in the ALCS and World Series.

They went 6-0 at home and 2-4 on the road. BAM! World Champs with a shockingly thin pitching staff.

But with Jeff Reardon, Juan Berenguer and that’s just about it in the pen, there was a player tearing it up in the minors.

Venezuelan right hander German Gonzalez was pitching well and saving games in Single A Kenosha. He got 19 saves in his 47 games, winning 8 as well. I was looking at that then. I put a lot of value on that.

If you had told me that the Twins would win another World Series in 1991 with a totally different pitching staff, I would assume that German Gonzalez would be the pitcher on the mound celebrating.

If my thoughts in 1987 were enthusiastic, 1988 all but clinched it.

As the A’s were dominating the West, German Gonzalez was a superstar budding in Double A Orlando.

He saved 31 of his 50 appearances with only one loss. His ERA was 1.02. He struck out 69 in 61 2/3 innings, He only walked only 8. Gonzalez was going to be automatic in Minnesota, once he got there.

Stardom was eminent when he skipped Triple A and went right to the majors on August 5, 1988.

In his first game, he pitched the ninth in Yankee Stadium. He retired Don Slaught before letting Gary Ward walk and Luis Aguayo single. But he settled down and got Ken Phelps and Randy Velarde out to lock down the game.

Granted, the final was 11-2, so it wasn’t exactly high pressure.

The majors looked like more of the same. He was not scored upon in his first 7 appearances. On September 10, 1988, he struck out Carlton Fisk in the 12th and earned his first big league save. There would certainly be many more.

The A’s clobbered Gonzalez with 6 runs in 1 2/3 innings on September 20th and that made his ERA shoot up from 0.96 to 3.54. It was artificially inflated. He was ready for the big time.

I remember thinking the 1989 Twins were ready to win the AL West. I thought their pitching depth was going to top Oakland and Gonzalez matching up with Jeff Reardon was no small part of my prediction.

Then 1989 happened. Gonzalez looked solid with a 1.69 ERA in April. But his numbers started to climb by May. He did not pitch badly, but he was not a difference maker either. He perfectly mirrored the Twins, who finished the season 81-81. Nothing bad, nothing great.

On September 25, 1988, he allowed score 3 runs over 2 innings of mop up ball, boosting his ERA to 4.66.

Then that was it. His career was over. Gonzalez did not make the team in 1990 and never appeared in the majors again.

The great career projections resulted in a grand total of one major league save. The Twins would put together a terrific team in time for 1991. But Gonzalez was long gone by then.

So was my scouting career.