Frank Viola 1992 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 24, 2017

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Yesterday I did a post about Tom Lawless, who launched a homer off of Frank Viola in the 1987 World Series.

Might as well do the other side and write about Frank Viola and HIS career for today.

Viola was a Long Island kid, born in East Meadow in 1960. A star at St. John’s University, he was drafted by Kansas City in 1979 but did not sign. Who knows if he would have fit in with the Bret Saberhagens and the Mark Gucizas and Charlie Liebrandts of the world and help KC win a few more titles. We will never know.

He made a name for himself dueling Ron Darling in a classic game. Darling held St. John’s hitless until the 12th. Viola pitched 11 shutout frames to win it 1-0. Darling and Viola would later be reunited.

Viola, known as Sweet Music, would be drafted by the Twins in 1981 and was on the big league squad in 1982. He did not light up the world in his first two seasons, posting a 5.21 ERA in 1982 and a 5.49 ERA over 210 innings in 1983.

In 1984, the 24 year old Viola turned a corner, winning 18 games and throwing to a 3.21 ERA, finishing 6th in the AL Cy Young voting.

In 1985 and 1986, he was a steady workhorse for some forgettable Twins teams. Always good for win totals in the teens, he threw a ton of innings, even if the ERA was sparkling.

In 1987, he stepped onto the big stage. He had his best season to date, winning 17, lowing his ERA to 2.90 and seeing his ERA+ grow to a robust 159. He would finish 6th again in the Cy Young vote and his fine season went under the radar as the Twins won a weak AL West and faced the Tigers, fresh off their dramatic regular season finale, in the ALCS.

The Twins stunned the Tigers for a 5 game victory. Viola was not one of the big factors. He gave up 5 runs in his Game 1 no decision and got the win in Game 4 but could not make the 6th inning in his start.

For the World Series, Viola missed his brothers wedding so he could pitch the opening game. I guess he didn’t think he would have plans in October.

He pitched brilliantly in Game 1, allowing a run over 8 innings to earn the win. As I wrote in the Lawless piece, he got clobbered in Game 4, allowing 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings.

Perhaps this is where perception is strange. I always remembered Viola as dominating in October of 1987. But going into Game 7 of the 1987 World Series, Viola had 1 quality post season starts, two mediocre starts and one blow out. His post season ERA going into Game 7 of 5.01, which is terrible.

And lest we forget, the Cardinals were rallying in the second, where they took a 2-0 lead. Bert Blyleven was warming up to come into the game in the second when Viola got Vince Coleman to end the inning. Had Coleman got a hit, Viola’s Game 7 would have been remembered as a disaster for him. He would have been a bust in the post season.

Instead he settled down, the Twins got two blown calls go their way and he pitched through 8 until Jeff Reardon closed out the game and the World Series.

Frank Viola got the World Series MVP, based mainly on his Game 1 and 7 wins. I would have given Kirby Puckett the MVP with his .357 average and .884 OPS, but what do I know.

With the glow of World Series glory surrounding Viola, he went on to capture the AL Cy Young award in 1988. (Basically one bad month kept Roger Clemens from winning 3 in a row. ) Viola went 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA, which is what people looked at when they voted.

The next season, as the A’s were dominating the AL West, Viola suddenly found himself on the trade block. The Mets, unable to land Mark Langston in a deal, focused on the Long Island boy.

The Mets were doing a remodeling of their team, dumping away Lenny Dyktra, Mookie Wilson, Rick Aguilera and other members of the 1986 team. Viola arrived and pitched OK but not great as the new look Mets fell short of the post season.

Their post season hopes in 1990 fell short as well, but don’t blame Viola. He had his best season since winning the Cy Young Award. Winner of 20 games, he led the NL with 249 2/3 innings, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 7 complete games. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young behind Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez. The Sabermetric community would have given it to Ed Whitson who had the highest WAR for pitchers but received zero Cy Young votes. Different times.

He made his third All Star team in 1991 with the Mets, but the team was falling apart by then. He signed with Boston, hoping to make an unstoppable 1-2 punch with Roger Clemens. The two aces pitched well but little else worked in Boston as they faded from contention in 1992 and 1993. Injuries derailed his 1994 and ultimately finished his career in 1996 with cameos in Cincinnati and Toronto.

Since his retirement, Viola has been a coach in the Mets organization, dealing with open heart surgery in 2014. He has a daughter who participated in the 2012 Olympics as a diver and a son who pitched in the White Sox farm system.

But he will be best remembered for that Game 7 performance that led to the Twins first ever title in Minnesota. It was the kind of start that wipes out all memories of disappointment. It was the living example of how those who laugh last laugh best.

Sweet music indeed.

 

 

Neal Heaton 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 17, 2017

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Neal Heaton was profiled by Sports Illustrated when he was a college pitcher at the University of Miami. The copywriters who made the headline of the article managed to make a pun “The Heat is On with Heaton.”

For the record, the article was written 2 1/2 years before Glenn Frey song was released.

The article followed Heaton and his coach Ron Fraser as the pitcher could not be beat and the coach had images of a college World Series dancing in his head.

Someone reading the article would assume Neal Heaton was heading to stardom. And when you consider how many profiles of can’t miss players turn into busts, the fact that Neal Heaton pitched a dozen years in the major leagues and made an All Star Team would denote that the article wasn’t far off.

Heaton was from Queens and dreamed of playing for the Mets. The Mets did indeed select him in the January phase of the 1979 draft but he opted to take his talents to Miami.

He was a legit college star and focused on his pitching, even playing summer ball in Alaska.

Think about that: He went from Miami to Alaska to play baseball. You really can’t have a stranger travel itinerary than that!

The Indians eventually selected him and he spent only 1 1/2 seasons in the minors before he was inserted into Cleveland’s rotation. He had a decent rookie year in 1983 but was hit hard in 1984 and 1985.

In 1986, the Indians had a surprise winning season, but the 26 year old Heaton was not there for the end. On June 20th, he was sent packing to the Twins for John Butcher.

In his second game with Minnesota, he threw 5 1/3 strong innings in relief during an 11-2 blow out from the White Sox. 4 days later, he threw a 3 inning save.

A week later, the Twins gave him a start and he responded with a complete game, allowing 1 run over 9 innings against Baltimore. He took the hard luck 1-0 loss but looked like a solid addition.

Going into the 1987 season, Heaton looked to be a part of a Twins rotation with Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. Instead he was sent packing to Montreal in a deal that brought Jeff Reardon to the Twins bullpen. The 1987 season would end with Reardon clinching the final out of the World Series for the Twins. Heaton, who would win 13 games for the Expos but post a mediocre 4.52 ERA, would be nowhere near the celebration.

After a down year in 1988 with the Expos, Heaton found himself in Pittsburgh for the 1989 season. Used as a long reliever and spot starter, he had a good season, throwing to a 3.05 ERA over 147 1/3 innings pitched. By the end of September he was inserted into the rotation and pitching well with hope for a spot in the 1990 starting staff.

1990 was an interesting year for the Pirates. After years on non contention, they finally had a solid core of players and hope for a Division Title, their first since 1979.

Heaton won his first 6 decisions in 1990 and by June 24th had a record of 10-2 with a 2.89 ERA. The Pirates were in first, battling the Mets and Expos, and Heaton earned himself a spot on the 1990 National League All Star team.

He won only 2 games in the second half, although his ERA for the second half was lower than the first half, oddly. Manager Jim Leyland shifted Heaton to a long relief role down the stretch, making only one start after August 20th. He did not pitch in the NLCS loss against the Reds.

In 1991, he was almost exclusively a reliever for the Eastern champs but again did not make a post season appearance. Between 1992 and 1993, he bounced between the Royals, Brewers and Yankees before finally calling it a career.

After his playing days, he has coached in several baseball academies in New York, helping other kids make it to the show.

Neal Heaton did indeed make it. But what if he didn’t? According to the SI article, if he didn’t make it in baseball, one of his ambitions was to be a shark hunter. He casually described how he and his brother caught a mako off of Long Island.

Could Neal Heaton have had a life where he was Quint from Jaws? I’d like to think so.

Sully Baseball Podcast – The Ervin Santana Quandary for Minnesota – June 13, 2017

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The Twins are in first place and Ervin Santana is a big reason for that. He is also one of the best trade chips in the game right now. Should the Twins go for it or cash in Santana at top value?

Also, in honor of Twins manager Paul Molitor, the Milwaukee Brewers team that should have won.

Should I stay or should I go on this episode of Sully Baseball.

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