Pat Zachary 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 14, 2017

IMG_0836

Pat Zachary reminds me of how I look at the universe and what we control and what we can not control.

Trust me, I am being serious.

Zachary had ups and downs in the early part of his career, as many players do, managed to survive for a while, made some adjustments and played a decade in the majors.

And circumstances he had no control over put him front and center in glories for all time and having his name be cursed by a city from this day forth.

The Texas native was a 19th round pick by the Reds in 1970. 19th round picks are not supposed to make it to the major leagues, let alone have any success. 19th round picks were supposed to fill out minor league rosters and maybe have an outside shot at the proverbial “Cup of Coffee” in the majors.

But the 19 year old Zachary won 12 games and posted a decent 3.21 ERA for the Reds Single A Tampa team in 1971. As the Big Red Machine was having success without a solid ace, Zachary was moving up the minor league chain.

In 1974 and 1975, he was having success with the AAA Indianapolis team. But the Reds teams were so dense that there was no chance for a call up.

Here is an example of Zachary not having control of his circumstances. He pitched well. He did well enough to play on the big league level. If he was with San Diego or Atlanta, he would have been in the starting rotation in 1974 and 1975. But he was drafted by Cincinnati, therefore he was a minor leaguer.

In 1976, he earned a spot on the big league team and made the most of it. He won 14 games, put together a 2.74 ERA over 204 innings pitched. He had pitched well enough to be a major league for the previous 2 seasons and now was showing it.

Because it was his debut MLB season, the 24 year old was a Rookie. He and Padres reliever Butch Metzger tied for the Rookie of the Year. Unlike Metzger, Zachary’s season extended into October. He wasn’t called up to the Padres. He was part of the Big Red Machine.

Zachary was supported by Perez, Rose, Morgan, Bench, Foster, Concepcion, Geromino and Griffey. He had the deepest bullpen in the game saving his starts. Zachary started Game 2 of the 1976 NLCS. He pitched 5 innings and was hardly dominant. But the Reds lineup scored 6 runs off of the Phillies and Pedro Borbon saved it and he got the win.

Zachary pitched into the 7th for the Game 3 win in the World Series and a day later, the Reds were the World Champs again.

Pat Zachary was a young World Champion. Part of that was by his work. He pitched well up through the Reds farm system and did the job well. Part was because of circumstances beyond his control. He was drafted into a team that was already an All Time great squad.

That is similar to how we live our lives. Part of our success or failures are based upon our work and effort and some is based upon factors beyond out control.

In 1977, Zachary got off to a rough start, losing 7 of 10 decisions and seeing his ERA soar to 5.04. But then he was sucked into a vortex of circumstances beyond his control.

A public contract dispute between Tom Seaver and the Mets management in 1977 got ugly and the most popular player in franchise history was traded out of spite.

The Reds, off to a let down of a start after back to back titles, tried to get a boost for their team with a new superstar. So Tom Seaver became a Red. The key part of the trade for the Mets, beyond venom, was bringing in defending Rookie of the Year Pat Zachary.

Zachary did not pitch badly over the second half of 1977 and actually was named to the 1978 All Star Game. But injuries an ineffectiveness hurt him in 1979.

But his decent pitching did not matter. He was NOT Tom Seaver, who continued to dominate with Cincinnati. As the Reds won the Division in 1979, Zachary played only 7 games. Zachary became a symbol of Mets mismanagement and the loss of their beloved player.

Eventually Zachary became a Dodger and pitched well out of the bullpen for the 1983 NL West champs as Tom Seaver returned to the Mets for one season.

But in a way, Zachary shows how the universe unfolds. Somethings we control, others we can’t. Some parts of the perception people have of us are based on effort and others are based on factors that have nothing to do with us.

Zachary was a World Champion and a pariah, all the while having a nice career that he could not totally control.

Pat Howell 1993 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 19, 2017

IMG_0870.JPG

When it comes to baseball players of the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it takes a lot to stump me.

I was out of my mind following the game, as opposed to my laid back low key fandom that I have now, and I could remember virtually any player from then.

And reaching into the shoe box, I pulled out a 1993 card for Pat Howell.

Who?

Sorry, not one brain cell currently firing in my noggin has any recollection of Pat Howell.

This is especially odd being stumped on this player because he was a New York Met in 1992. Do you know where I was living in 1992?

NEW YORK! And back then, I didn’t have an MLB app or easy access to out of market games, so if I wanted to watch baseball in my NYU dorm room, I would watch the dreadful Yankees or disappointing Mets.

I guarantee you, I saw Pat Howell play.

And yet as I type this, I can tell you nothing about him. Oh sure, I will look him up, find some biographical info on him as I do for all of these Card of the Day entries. But usually when I find a card, I wind up saying “Oh yeah, I remember this card. I have an idea of what I am going to write about him!”

Not Pat Howell.

So after I am done typing this very sentence that you are reading right now, I will pull some info on him.

Let’s start with the back of his card.

IMG_0871

Man, I hate it when Topps made the back of the card vertical and not horizontal.

Looks like he was a switch hitter from Mobile. Played a bunch of years in theMets system. Stole a ton of bases in the minor leagues. Got his call up in 1992 and played in 31 games and didn’t exactly light the National League on fire.

Yup.

Better find out some more stuff.

He made his debut on July 10th in a game between the Mets and the Astros. Howell was put in the lead off spot in his first game and reached base on an infield hit to start off the game off of Pete Harnisch. He then stole second and went to third on the wild throw to second. He would then score on a Howard Johnson single.

It was a great start.

He reached base again in that game on an error by the right fielder and scored again. The Mets came from behind to win the game.

If only the rest of his 31 games went as smoothly. He had 3 multihit games and would steal a handful of games. The 23 year old was then traded to the Twins organization in the off season.

He never made it back to the major leagues. Between 1993 and 2004, he never stopped playing baseball.

Howell played in the Twins organization in 1993, was back with the Mets minor league teams in 1994. Between 1995 and 1997, he was in Mexico playing. In 1998, he was in China playing. Then he returned to America and played well in Independent Leagues between Duluth, Atlantic City, Long Island and several years for Nashua until his last year in 2004.

So here we go. I knew nothing about this guy. Now I know that Pat Howell is a baseball lifer. Maybe not in the majors, but he stayed in the game a long time.

That was a nice thing to learn.

Doc Gooden 1994 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 8, 2017

IMG_0998

I missed one of the most dramatic and unlikely sporting events to hit New York in the 1990’s. I had the chance to see it live and in person. I missed it because of my sense of obligation and commitment to my craft.

I regret it.

To understand the gravity of the event I could have seen live and I missed, you need to understand how big Dwight Gooden was in New York during the 1980’s.

In 1984, New York was in a little bit of a flux in terms of sports. The Giants and Jets were not Super Bowl contenders. The Knicks and Rangers were not winning squat. There was a dynasty happening in sports with a team that called themselves “New York”, but they were the Islanders. They played out in Long Island and while they meant the world for the fans there, they didn’t matter as much in the city.

Baseball wise, the Yankees no longer had Reggie Jackson and seemed to be limping around with Steinbrenner changing managers every season and new stars not quite clicking.

And the Mets? Well they had Darryl Strawberry as the Rookie of the Year in 1983 but the team was not yet a contender. Tom Seaver had returned for one year but by 1984, he had been picked up by the Chicago White Sox.

It was tough to put a finger on who was the face of New York sports.

Then Dwight Gooden showed up. For a region hungry for a superstar to get behind, 19 year old Dwight Gooden was almost too good to be true. The fifth pick in the 1982 draft out of Tampa cut through the Mets farm clubs like a hot knife through butter. He made the leap in 1984 to the big club.

They seemed to use kid gloves with him for his first three starts but in start four on April 25th, 1984, he threw 7 innings, striking out 10 Expos and allowing 2 hits and 1 unearned run. On May 11, he threw a 4 hit shutout, striking out 11 Dodgers. He won 8 games by the All Star break and made the All Star team.

At the All Star Game in San Francisco, Gooden struck out the side, making the most of his national spotlight.

He would lead the league with 276 strikeouts in 218 innings and won 17 to an ERA of 2.60, winning Rookie of the Year.

The Mets contended for much of the year and the combination of Dwight Gooden’s arm and Darryl Strawberry’s bat made Shea Stadium the place to be.

It was a warm up act. Now dubbed “Dr. K” as a play on Julius Irving’s Dr. J, he became “Doc” and turned the 1985 season into his own personal plaything. He won 24 games, completed 16, led the league with his 1.53 ERA, 276 2/3 innings pitched, 268 strikeouts and though nobody knew it then, he had the best ERA+ and FIP.

The coolest and most bad ass player in sports was in New York. He was still a kid and was treating National League batters like they were toys. By 21, he had 3 elite seasons under his belt, a Cy Young award, 3 All Star Games and a World Series ring. He was too good to be true.

He was so huge that a gigantic mural of him pitching was painted near 42nd street. When people got off the bus at Port Authority, the first image they saw was Dwight Gooden in mid pitch.

He was New York of the 1980’s. That meant great things. It also meant excess. It was the decade of The Bonfire of the Vanities. Cocaine scandals and suspensions plus injuries derailed his career and his life. By 1991, his career was in tailspin. By 1994, at age 29, he had a losing record, legal troubles and cocaine issues.

Gooden missed the entire 1995 season from suspensions and his mural was removed from Times Square.

In 1996, he was signed by the Yankees. The main reason seemed to be the fact that George Steinbrenner coveted anything from the 1986 Mets, the team that took the city away from the Yankees. He already pulled the Father Flanagan routine to save Darryl Strawberry. Now he wanted to do the same for Gooden.

The first few games with the Yankees were a disaster and he looked like he was going to be released.

That brings it back to me. I used to have a tradition. I would always go to a baseball game on my birthday. I tended to be in places like New York, the Bay Area or Los Angeles on my birthday where there were two teams, so there was always a choice.

So on May 14, 1996, my 24th birthday, I was going to go to a game at Yankee Stadium. But at the time I was also an aspiring screenwriter. I had signed up for a writing class and that night was the night of my class. I was in the middle of writing a screenplay called Open Mike. It was based upon my struggles as a stand up in New York. In the story, a comic snapped and held a comedy club owner hostage until he got stage time.

It wasn’t a good script.

I wrote a bunch of new pages for my class. I paid a few hundred bucks for the class. And I felt like a REAL artist works on their craft and doesn’t make excuses.

So I spent my birthday at a class in a small room in Midtown Manhattan instead of going to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees play the Mariners.

I read the pages, got critiqued. We read other people’s pages, gave critiques. I felt like a writer.

Afterwards, I went back to my apartment and turned on the Yankee game. There I saw Doc Gooden get the final outs of his no hitter.

He never threw one at his peak. But here, with his career on the line, he reached back, threw a no hitter and was carried off the field, once again king of the city.

I missed it. Yeah, I am a Red Sox fan but I am also a human being. I would have been there for that great turnaround and the comeback.

Instead I worked on my script.

Gooden would be solid for about 3/4 of the season before injuries kept him off of the playoff roster. He spent 1997 with the Yankees and 1998 and 1999 with the Indians, making a few post season starts along the way.

In 2000, he bounced between the Astros and the Rays before returning the Yankees. He found new life as a long reliever and made a few appearances in the post season, picking up his third ring.

Of course it wasn’t all “Happily Ever After” for Gooden. He continues to battle addiction and legal problems. For a stretch in the 1980’s he was the greatest star in New York sports. For another stretch in the 1990’s, he was a story of redemption.

The turn around was startling. I could have seen it. Instead I worked on a screenplay that will NEVER see the light of day.

Enjoy the moment that I missed.