Tom Seaver 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 23, 2017

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Tom Seaver pitched for the Mets?

I actually asked that out loud once. For me as a kid, my first introduction to Tom Seaver was as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

Now stop and think about this for a second. As a kid being introduced to baseball, I thought of Tom Seaver as a Red but had trouble picturing Tony Perez with the Reds.

1978 was the first year I was collecting baseball cards and getting familiar with the players and where the stars aligned in baseball. The stats on those cards went to 1977. So the first time I saw Seaver, he was a Red.

I associated him with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and the greatest Red of all, George Foster. (Remember, I was being introduced to baseball with 1977 stats.)

My cousin Dave is a big Mets fan and I remember either in 1978 or 1979 spending part of the summer with him. He mentioned Tom Seaver as his favorite player and I think maybe that was the time I said “Tom Seaver pitched for the Mets?”

For some Met fans that would be the same as me saying “I mainly think of Michael Jordan with the Wizards.”

Now if you have read the first 200 words I have typed for this blog post, which you clearly already have, then you do not need me to write a long biography on Tom Seaver. You know who the hell Tom Seaver is. For a long time he was the closest thing we had to a unanimous Hall of Fame selection.

But one thing over the years, stepping back and seeing baseball as a continuous and evolving storyline that goes back to the past, lives in the present and moves on to the future, it is clear what Tom Seaver represented to New York.

He was more than a great pitcher. New Yorkers have seen many great pitchers but you can argue that Seaver was the greatest pitcher to ever wear a New York uniform. (Before you throw Christy Mathewson in my face, Matty deserves discussion but I am always slow to praise players from a preintegrated game.)

He was more than a charismatic star, one who arrived at the same time as Joe Namath but had many more brilliant seasons.

He was actually even more than a franchise player, even though he would almost certainly be a unanimous choice for the title “Greatest Met of All Time.”

Tom Seaver was the third act of redemption for a great baseball tragedy in New York. Baseball fans who grew up loving the Giants and the Dodgers had a glorious middle of the 1950’s. Each won a World Series and each had the greatest teams and most beloved players in their history.

And then a few years later, before the decade was up, the teams were taken away from them and sent to California. And it was a kid from California who turned the story around.

The formation of the Mets in 1962 gave National League fans in New York a fresh start and a team to root for. Once they moved to Shea, the team had a neutral site for the Giants and Dodgers fans. Dodger fans no longer had to call the Polo Grounds their home field.

With the Mets terrible and the Yankees fading, New York needed a baseball savior. Seaver was the Rookie of the Year in 1967 and solid in 1968, but the Mets remained terrible.

Then 1969 happened. Seaver dominated in every way. Seaver won the Cy Young. He pitched 10 innings in the Mets critical World Series Game 4 win. And was one of the first on the field when the Mets won it all.

Listing stats and individual games won’t do justice for what the title meant. 12 years after the Dodgers and Giants were taken from them, their fans, rivals joined together, had a World Series championship and a New York superstar to call their own.

It was a team of the present and the future to heal the wound of the past. A decade that began with no NL team in New York and the prospect of rooting for the Yankees or following a team in California ended with a fan base on top of the World.

It was Tom Seaver who delivered that. It was Tom Seaver who, in his own way, helped heal the wounds caused by the move of the Giants and Dodgers. And using the rule of 7, anyone born after the Giants and Dodgers move had a team and a title of their own.

Seaver went on of course to win 3 Cy Youngs, win 311 games and has the 6th most strikeouts of any pitcher in MLB history. He was dealt to the Reds in one of the stupidest moves in baseball history.

Oddly he last appeared in uniform as a member of the Red Sox watching the Mets win their first World Series since 1969. Later he became one of the best foils for Phil Rizzuto on Yankee games.

George Thomas Seaver was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He was also one of the biggest and most significant sports figures in New York history.

So naturally my first memory of him was as a Red.

Turns out he was a Met.

Mackey Sasser 1990 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 11, 2017

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I admit that I am fascinated with the New York Mets post 1986 World Series. It has nothing to do with the Red Sox loss to the Mets in the World Series and jealousy.

OK, maybe at one point it did, but not anymore. I’ve seen my team win 3 World Series since then.

But the post 1986 years, especially the disastrous decisions in 1989, was the derailing of what could have been and should have been one of the greatest and most beloved teams in New York history.

And players like Mackey Sasser, for better or for worse, rightfully or unfairly, personified that transition.

The 1986 Mets had swagger, acted like bad boys, partied hard, won big and did so with a flair for the dramatic. In otherwords they personified the 1980’s. And with the Yankees on a downturn and unable to get back into the post season and no one team dominating the game, they had all the ear marks of a dynasty.

Contending in 1984 and 1985, the team came together with Strawberry and Gooden, Carter and Hernandez, Mookie and Lenny, Darling and Ojeda… the names were memorable and so were their personalities.

It is tough to quantify personalities and of course had Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight or Mookie Wilson had popped up, the Mets would have been labeled underachievers and their personalities would have been called the reason why they LOST.

But the swagger of the team started to go away when some of the personalities were taken out of the club, like a combination of Rotisserie Baseball and Jenga. And it seemed there was always a kind of boring, nondescript white guy who was getting at bats.

Granted, David Cone, who was not on the 1986 squad, seemed to fit right in. Gregg Jefferies did at first before he had the persona of a whiner.

But there were other players who were statistically fine and did a good job, but just seemed boring as hell. Dave Magadan and Kevin McReynolds were quality additions but hardly had the quality of being a New York Met a la 1986.

Of course there were practicalities that went along with some of these changes. Gary Carter was not a spring chicken anymore and needed someone who could fill in for him.

After the 1987 season, the Mets zeroed in on Mackey Sasser. A product of a Alabama community college made his debut with the 1987 Giants. The left handed hitting catcher was coveted by Pittsburgh and was picked up in the deal for Don Robinson.

Sasser became expendable in Pittsburgh when Mike LaVailiere developed and he went to the Mets during Spring Training, 1988. The Mets would be his third team in 2 years.

He hit well in 1988, batting .285 and an OPS of .719 while starting 30 games. The Mets made it back to the post season in 1988 and Sasser played in 4 games of the NLCS loss to Los Angeles.

Then 1989 happened. That year the Mets basically stripped down many of the most popular players, shipping out Wally Backman, Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson. The players they got back were mainly nondescript who did not capture the Mets fans fascination or they were stars like Frank Viola or Juan Samuel who initially underperformed.

Super sensation Gregg Jefferies disappointed in 1989 and the Met fans saw that Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez were winding down.

And Mackey Sasser, who would supplant Gary Carter, couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. It was bizarre. Some called it the “yips.” But he just couldn’t do it. He would triple pump and float it back.

Base runners would take advantage of the pumps and delay steal off of him. There was nothing he could do.

And you will can imagine that Met fans were not thrilled that the person replacing their beloved Hall of Fame catcher couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. He unfairly became a symbol of a lack of toughness on the new team. Fans would mock him by counting out loud all the times he pumped the ball. He could throw the ball back in the bullpen, just not at the plate.

He hit well, batting over .300 in 1990, but was a defensive liability for the team. By 1992 his career with the Mets was over and after a few attempts with the Padres and Mariners, he hung up his spikes.

Doctors have since diagnosed he had some sort of trauma that subconsiously was preventing him from making the throws. It has nothing to do with mental toughness or weakness. But that was not the sort of thing that people talked about or thought about in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Sasser was a butt of jokes throughout his career even though he was a major league player and a capable hitter. Sadly, because many of those jokes were about his perceived weakness, it has been the reputation that follows him.

He was a good player who needed help. Those 1986 Mets didn’t strike me as the type of people to turn to for help.

Rafael Santana 1988 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 25, 2017

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A lot can be read in between the lines with the existence of this card. Rafael Santana played the 1987 season as a member of the New York Mets. The stats on this card go up to 1987.

Between the start of the 1987 season and the beginning of the 1988 season, he went from the New York Mets to the New York Yankees.

He was the first member of the 1986 Mets to be acquired by the Yankees.

He would not be the last.

Truth be told, Santana actually began his professional career with the Yankees farm system in 1976 when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic. But he was sent packing to the Cardinals organization before the 1981 season for George Frazier.

Frazier would go on to lose 3 games in the 1981 World Series for the Yankees, but I digress.

Between 1981 and 1983, he toiled in the Cardinals system where he would be perpetually blocked in the majors by Ozzie Smith. He did indeed make the Cardinals major league roster in 1983, the year after they won the World Series. He was a non factor.

In 1984, the Cardinals cut him and the Mets picked him up to be a backup to Jose Oquendo, who would leave the Mets to become a post season hero for the Cardinals and a mainstay in their coaching staff.

Almost by default, with Oquendo and Hubie Brooks gone, Santana became the starting shortstop for the Mets in 1985.

His timing couldn’t have been better because the Mets were beginning to skyrocket up the standings. Santana hit well but fielding magnificently.

In 1986, he couldn’t hit a lick, batting .218 with a paltry .539 OPS. But he continued to play magnificently in the field as the Mets stampeded to the NL East. He only managed 8 hits in the entire post season but one of them came in the critical 7th inning of Game 7 where his single scored Lenny Dykstra and gave the Mets an insurance run. He would later score on a sacrifice fly.

He was on the field when the Mets won the World Series.

Now remember the significance of that. The Mets had taken over the town. They were the go to team in New York, not the Yankees. The biggest stars were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The veterans who won were not expensive Dave Winfield or Rickey Henderson but Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Ray Knight.

And as the attention moved from the Bronx to Flushing, the house of Steinbrenner seethed.

They continued to cobble together veterans whether they fit or not and made quick fixes at the expense of sending unproven players away for recognizable talent. It was an era that cost the Yankees Willie McGee, Jose Rijo, Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek and Greg Gagne among others.

After the 1987 season, the Yankees were a team that was good enough to win games but not good enough to win the Division. They struggled to find a solid shortstop to pair with All Star Willie Randolph up the middle, trotting out Lenn Sakata, Wayne Tolleson and Bobby Meachem among others.

Santana was now superfluous with the Mets. Howard Johnson could provide power at shortstop while Kevin Elster could provide the glove work.

On December 11, 1987, the Yankees sent catcher Phil Lombardi, pitcher Steve Frey and outfielder Darren Reed to the Mets for Rafael Santana.

For one season, Santana was a decent double play partner for Willie Randolph, hitting an acceptable .240 (but only a .289 on base percentage.) But in 1989, injuries kept him sidelined for the entire season. His contract was not picked up and in 1990, he was reunited with Mets teammates Jesse Orosco and Keith Hernandez in Cleveland.

After his playing career, Santana, who avoided the scandal ridden reputation of many of his Met teammates, became a regularly employed coach and minor league manager. He was a Domincan baseball instructor, a major league coach with the White Sox and a minor league manager for several organizations.

He also represented the Yankees desire to steal the spotlight from the Mets. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden won rings with the Yankees. So did 1988 Met star David Cone.

Kevin Elster, Bob Ojeda and Jesse Orosco would also play with the Yankees eventually. Stealing attention from the Yankees is usually an action that the Steinbrenners would not abide.

Rafael Santana was a stop gap whose main qualification was he won a New York World Championship that was NOT a Yankee title. That just will not do.