Pete Mackanin 1981 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 21, 2017

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Often I wonder about people who do not get a shot or are constantly passed over for those with more experience.

In the entertainment world, I’ve seen that left and right. A wonderful actor, singer, comedian or writer is up for a big break but in the end, the powers that be take someone who has done it before. The paradox ensues: They would get hired if they get more experience but how can they get more experience if nobody hires them?

The best answer is “survive.” Pete Mackanin is a survivor who recently got his big break.

The Chicago native was drafted by the Senators in 1969 as an infielder. He bounced around Single A ball for the next few years, not exactly lighting the world on fire with his bat. A promotion to Double A and a cameo in Triple A in 1972 showed no evidence that a trip to the majors was on the horizon. But after finding his stroke with Triple A Spokane, he earned his first promotion to the parent team, now the Texas Rangers.

After two brief big league stints, he got his chance to start with the 1975 Montreal Expos after being a toss in for the Don Stanhouse for Willie Davis deal. He posted career highs in homers (12) and stolen bases) while accumulating 495 plate appearances. He tripled home 3 runs in a September 23 win over the Cardinals and played solid defense.

But as the Expos were forming an impressive team with the likes of Gary Carter, Steve Rogers, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine on the roster, Mackanin was not part of the long term plan.

He battled injuries and minor league demotions in 1978 and 1979 in the Phillies organization before, as this card illustrates, got a new chance with Minnesota.

Mackanin started both of those seasons, but seemed more like a place holder. By 1982, he was a 30 year old in Triple A. He did not get the call back to the majors in 1982 nor 1983 with the Rangers. In 1984, he was in Triple A for the Cubs. As the parent team went to the post season, Mackanin was playing his final games.

When his playing days ended, Mackanin’s survival days began. He became a minor league coach and manager. The Hickory Crawdad and Lynchburg Hillcats called him “skip.”

He coached on the big league level with several organizations, constantly finding himself on staffs but not on the shortlist to manage a team.

While on the Pirates coaching staff, he stepped in to replace manager Lloyd McClendon after he was fired towards the end of the 2005 season. But when a permanent manager was picked, the Pirates went with experience and brought in Jim Tracy.

Mackanin survived, managing in the Florida State League in 2006, awaiting his next big break.

In 2007, he moved to the Reds organization and again took over a big league team as manager when Jerry Narron was fired. Once again, a man with decades of coaching and managerial experience was passed over when the season ended as the Reds opted to hire the experienced Dusty Baker.

He survived, finding himself with the Phillies on their coaching staff when they went to the 2009 World Series. When Charlie Manuel was let go, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg took over the managerial reins. But Sandberg resigned suddenly in 2015 and Mackanin once again became the seat filler.

This time, however, the Phillies did not seek a more experienced name. They removed the “interim” label from Mackanin’s title and he has been the Phillies manager ever since. With the team rebuilding and slowly putting together a new product, it remains to see if Mackanin will remain manager when Philadelphia is a contender again.

But at least a true baseball lifer was able to survive long enough to manage at the highest level and stay there for more than a few months.

He’s earned it.

Now he has experience.

Paul Sorrento 1990 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for April 11, 2017

IMG_9708The setting is Portland, Oregon. The time is just before the 1991 baseball season.

Paul Sorrento, a top prospect for the Minnesota Twins, is sent down to start the season at Triple-A Portland despite having a tremendous season there in 1990. Depressed that he couldn’t make the roster of the last-place Twins, he goes to a fortune teller.

SORRENTO: I need to know, am I going to finish this season in the majors?

The Fortune Teller looks into her ball.

FORTUNE TELLER: I see…I see you in a very strange place in the fall.

SORRENTO: Where?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is a building. It has a canvas roof and something that looks like a blue trash bag covering up folded up seats.

SORRENTO: The Metrodome! So I am going to be in Minnesota. When?

FORTUNE TELLER: It looks like the fall.

Sorrento shakes his head.

SORRENTO: Man, I have to wait to be a September call-up?

FORTUNE TELLER: No. Not September. It is October.

SORRENTO: October? That’s impossible, the Twins were in last place last year.

FORTUNE TELLER: But I hear people saying a phrase over and over again. “Worst to first.” And “Fall Classic.”

Sorrento’s jaw drops.

SORRENTO: The Twins are going to the World Series?

FORTUNE TELLER: Yes. And you are there.

SORRENTO: What happens?

FORTUNE TELLER: I hear people say it is amazing series. Maybe the best ever.

SORRENTO: Do the Twins win?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see…I see a celebration. Someone has won the game for them.

SORRENTO: Did the Twins win?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see a crowd waving handkerchiefs indoors.

SORRENTO: Holy Crap! That’s a Twins win!

FORTUNE TELLER: Yes. I hear the two words: “Game” and “Seven.”

SORRENTO: Wow.

FORTUNE TELLER: And “series-ending pinch hit”.

SORRENTO: Who? Who is it?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is all unclear. There are no names on the back of the Twins’ uniforms. The numbers are hazy.

SORRENTO: What do you SEE?

FORTUNE TELLER: I see someone throwing a ball. Then he is walking away. He looks sad. He has a name on his back.

SORRENTO: That’s the pitcher. What is his name?

FORTUNE TELLER: Peña.

SORRENTO: Peña. Who got the hit?

FORTUNE TELLER: He is standing on the left side.

SORRENTO: Yes?

FORTUNE TELLER: It is very unclear. I hear a phrase. “Seldom-used first baseman.”

Sorrento covers his mouth.

SORRENTO: Oh my God. Tell me more!

FORTUNE TELLER: What does “playing time blocked by Hrbek” mean?

SORRENTO: It means me! Tell me anything more!

FORTUNE TELLER: I’m losing the image. I hear fragments. “Unlikely hero.” “Game Seven.” “Pinch hitting for the pinch runner.” “Series-ending pinch hit.” “Native Northeasterner.”

SORRENTO: That’s me! I was born in Somerville, Massachusetts! I’m a native Northeasterner! I hit on the left side of the plate! I’m a first baseman whose playing time is blocked by Kent Hrbek! I’m going to win the World Series on a hit off of Peña! That must be Alejandro Peña of the Mets.

FORTUNE TELLER: Mets… I don’t hear Mets. Perhaps Atlanta?

SORRENTO: Atlanta? That’s not likely. One last-place team going to the World Series is one thing. Two?

FORTUNE TELLER: Once again. It is cloudy.

Sorrento leaves and finds it amusing, but stops believing once the opponent is revealed to be Atlanta.

During the year, the Twins surprise everyone and surge past Oakland into first place. On July 1, Sorrento is called up to the bigs. But his playing time is blocked by Hrbek, and he is sent back down. On Aug. 28, the surprising Atlanta Braves acquire Alejandro Peña to be their bullpen closer for the stretch run. This catches Sorrento’s attention. Was the fortune teller onto something?

Sorrento was recalled for the stretch run and added to the playoff roster. Sitting on the bench, he kept wondering, “Would I come up against Alejandro Peña with the World Series on the line?” But he brushed it aside as coincidence. Who can believe a fortune teller?

He struck out as a pinch hitter in Game Three of the ALCS against Toronto and celebrated with the team two days later as they clinched the pennant. He looked around at all the veterans on the team. Puckett, Hrbek, Pagliarulo, Gagne, Davis, Harper and Gladden… could SORRENTO become the biggest hero of them all? When Atlanta became their National League opponent, Sorrento got spooked. Peña was the closer. Was it all coming together?

Sorrento made two pinch-hit appearances in the World Series but wasn’t a factor in the first six games. Then came Game Seven. Hrbek got the start. Sorrento looked around. Hankies waving. Could this be what the fortune teller saw?

The game was scoreless through six, then seven. After eight innings, it was clear that the Twins could only win with a game-ending hit. Mike Stanton had relieved John Smoltz. There was no way Sorrento, a left-handed hitter, would pinch hit against Stanton.

The ninth inning began with a leadoff hit by Chili Davis. The run that would win the 1991 World Series was on base. Whomever could knock in that run, represented by pinch runner Jarvis Brown, would be the hero.

Brian Harper bunted off Stanton, who injured himself on the play. Bobby Cox replaced Stanton with Alejandro Peña. Sorrento froze. There were too many coincidences. His moment of glory could be coming.

Shane Mack hit into a double play and third baseman Mike Pagliarulo was walked to pitch to Al Newman, who had pinch run for Randy Bush in the eighth.

Minnesota manager Tom Kelly looked down the bench and called, “Sorrento! You’re batting for Newman!”

Sorrento had the biggest grin in Minnesota. He knew what was going to happen. It was foretold.

Up he strode to the plate and looked up at the waving hankies and the baggie over the right field seats. Here he was, the Native Northeasterner seldom used first baseman who was blocked by Hrbek, in Game Seven pinch hitting for the pinch runner and facing Alejandro Pena. Now all that was left was to deliver the series-ending hit and become the unlikely hero. He was remarkably calm at the plate. Fate was going to deliver this hit.

The count got to 0-2, but there was a grin on his face. Pena threw the 0-2 pitch. Sorrento gave a mighty cut, the cut that would end the World Series and put his name among the great heroes of the game.

But he missed. It was a strikeout. The game went into extra innings.

Scott Leius went into shortstop. Sorrento’s game and season were over. Slumped on the bench, he wondered, “What the hell happened? Everything was aligned perfectly.” Looking up in the 10th inning, he saw the Twins rallying. With the bases loaded and Peña on the mound, it was Brown’s turn to bat. He was the pinch runner from the earlier inning. Instead, Kelly called over to Gene Larkin to pinch hit.

Sorrento nodded. Larkin was a seldom-used first baseman. He was blocked by Hrbek. And here he was pinch hitting for the pinch runner in Game Seven against Alejandro Peña. On the first pitch, Larkin drove a ball to left field for the series-ending pinch hit to make him an unlikely World Series hero.

Sorrento celebrated with his teammates and made his way over to Larkin.

SORRENTO: Geno. I need to ask you something.

LARKIN: What?

SORRENTO: Where were you born?

LARKIN: What?

SORRENTO: I just need to know.

LARKIN: Flushing, Queens. I’m a Native Northeasterner. Why do you ask?

SORRENTO: I know a fortune teller in Portland that you should see.

(This was originally posted in 2011 by me on Hardball Times.)

Jack Morris 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 27, 2017

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Let me say something very controversial.

Jack Morris had a fine career.

(Sully ducks, expecting someone to throw something at me.)

He did. Even if you do not think he was a Hall of Famer (and I can appreciate both sides of the argument) we all know that there is a huge gray area between “Hall of Fame Immortal” and “Worthless Bum.”

Even Morris’ harshest critics should put him into the that gray area.

There is no reason to breakdown his career bit by bit because between 2000 and 2014, his Hall of Fame candidacy was examined closer than a Supreme Court Nominee.

In review, he won more games than any pitcher in the 1980’s, was the number one starter one three World Champions and threw a dramatic 10 inning shutout to clinch the 1991 World Series. 7 top 10 Cy Young finishes and had the reputation of being a big game pitcher.

AND he had a high ERA, had a lot of offensive support that boosted his win total, did not survive cross examination of any advanced metric and LOST a few critical post season games as well.

We all know that. His debate was a battleground of old school thinkers and new school thinkers. He got to within 8% of the Hall of Fame.

The strange thing about it is he will never be a Hall of Famer (save for a Veterans Committee vote) not because of new stat thinking but because of some old school voting stubbornness.

Think about it. When the Morrs vote was first starting, it was 2000. Who was embracing new stats then? Bill James and 6 guys name Doug who had a Fantasy Baseball League.

His stats never changed. He never won another World Series game between 2000 and the 2014 vote. All the old school writers who championed him had a shot to vote him in then. Morris would have been in Cooperstown and his detractors would use him as an example (like Bill Mazeroski or Don Sutton) of someone who got in because of old school thinking.

But he only got 22.2% of the vote on his first year on the ballot. He dropped to 19.6% in 2001. He did not crack 30% until his 6th ballot.

Why? Because voters don’t like to vote for Hall of Famers on the first ballot. Because they like the twisting in the wind element of it.

It wasn’t until 2010, when new versus old thinking made Morris a Cause Celebre that he even made it to 50%. That was his 11th time on the ballot. The old guard had more than a decade to put the proverbial crown on his head.

At that point, even I, a huge Morris supporter for years, thought “Hmm… maybe there is something to their arguments.”

What sunk Morris for good? Was it the new Sabermetrics crowd? Nope. Once again, the old school guard that did not vote for him right away obliterated his hope on his second to last year on the ballot.

On his 14th and second to last try, Morris was on the ballot again. He had reached 66.7% the previous year (2012) and fell short of 75% as Barry Larkin was the lone Hall of Fame entry that year.

In 2013, there were some big hold overs, including eventual inductees Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

But that was also the first year that Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were on the ballot. Those three who had dared use (or were suspected of using) PEDs to obliterate the record book were on the ballot.

And it was the old school who protested, sending in blank ballots, many voting for nobody. This was a statement to say those players could not cheat their way into Cooperstown and sit along side Mays, Aaron, Koufax and Berra.

OK, fine. But that also meant that Morris once again fell just short. At 67.7%, he was within 10% of election. But with no players elected, that would leave a glut the next year.

Public opinion went against the writers, who seemed petty, and led to a crowded ballot. And even old school writers who use traditional stats were putting Morris in an impossible position in his 15th and final year on the ballot.

Again, none of Morris’ stats changed after the 1994 season, his final one in the bigs. But he would be a victim of comparisons in 2014.

Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were both on the ballot. Both had stats that dwarfed Morris’ and both his the magical 300 win mark that Morris fell far short of.

He finished with 61.5% as no doubt the cluttered ballots, many filled with 10 candidates, didn’t have enough room.

So while modern stats exposed the flawed thinking behind Jack Morris’ Hall of Fame hopes, it was bullheaded mindsets of old school writers that kept him out.

If they voted for who they felt was worthy, first ballot or not, he would have been in earlier. If they didn’t make a ham fisted protest, he would have been in later.

Instead, Morris has to console himself with adulation from Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays fans, millions of dollars and three World Series rings.

And a fine career.