Nolan Ryan Record Breaker Cards 1978, 1988 and 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for November 17, 2017

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There is an amazing alternate reality in history where Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are teammates for life as members of the New York Mets.

Seaver was still an effective pitcher into the mid 1980’s. Nolan Ryan led the league in strikeouts in 1990 at age 43. They could have rewritten the record book side by side from the 1969 World Series, throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Instead both were traded away in deals that were nothing short of disastrous for the Mets.

The Mets drafted Lynn Nolan Ryan out of Alvin Texas High School in 1965. He made a pair of appearances in 1966 before getting to the big leagues for good in 1968.

He was a spot starter and reliever for the 1969 World Champions. He got the save that clinched the NLCS and won the pennant for the Mets. Later, he won Game 3 of the World Series in relief.

Ryan, along with Seaver and company, was a World Champion. He got that checked off his resume at age 22.

Then after the 1971 season, the Mets decided they had enough pitching and needed to shore up their infield. Jim Fregosi came over to the Mets from the Angels. Ryan was one of multiple players sent to Anaheim.

There his career exploded.

I wrote about his career in a blog post back in 2013. I compared him to George Harrison. Trust me, it made sense to me.

But I can think of no better way of demonstrating how wide spread the trade backfired on the Mets than these three record breaking cards. One was issued in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s and one in the 1990’s as he remained dominant for all those years after he was shipped off.

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In 1977, he broke Sandy Koufax’s record of most games with 10 or more strikeouts. Koufax’s mark was 97. Ryan finished with 104 at the end of 1977. Keep in mind he would pitch for 15 more seasons. He would finish with 148 games of 10 or more strikeouts… in the American League.

The grand total he would reach is 215 when his years with the Mets and Astros are included.

Inexplicably, I tried to draw beard on his face on this 1978 Topps card. Don’t ask me why.

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In 1988, Topps issued THIS Record Breaker card to commemorate Ryan passing 200 or more strikeouts for the 11th time in his career. That would set the all time mark.

To add insult to injury, the pitcher he passed was Tom Seaver. He would eventually pass 200 strikeouts 15 times in his career.

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The final record breaker card honors his 5000th strikeout. He would fan Rickey Henderson no less to reach that mark. To be fair, this highlight would also be in the 1980’s but he would win the 1990 strikeout crown and throw another no hitter in that decade.

Nobody else in history has fanned 5,000 for their career. Randy Johnson’s 4,875 has come closest. And that is a far cry from Ryan’s final tally of 5,714.

Ryan won 324 games, 295 of them for teams other than the Mets. All of these records could have been set in Flushing. He would have been a New York legend.

Instead he had to settle for one of the most famous and beloved stars in the history of baseball and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

A little more value than say Jim Fregosi.

Bobby Valentine 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 1, 2017

IMG_2336I am going to say something that might surprise you when you consider that I am a Red Sox fan.

I LOVE Bobby Valentine. No, I am not being sarcastic. I really do. I think he is great. I have warm feelings about him.

I am not even mad about his one disastrous season as manager of the Red Sox. That horrible season, 2012, set up the magic of seeing my Red Sox win it all in 2013. There was no prolonged agony of the Bobby Valentine year.

The great Boston collapse of 2011 and the insanity and futility of the 2012 Bobby V Sox were the prologue for the Red Sox stunning triumph the next year.

Titles heal all wounds. Yeah, he managed the single worst season in Red Sox history since the 1967 pennant and the beginning of Red Sox Nation. That made 2013 sweeter and made John Farrell look like the second coming of Earl Weaver by comparison.

So thank you Bobby V.

It is a shame that so much of Bobby V’s reputation is tied to that one horrible year. Truth be told, he lived a wonderful baseball life and has a job that he SHOULD be doing right now.

Bobby V belongs on television. He used to be on ESPN. He was WONDERFUL on ESPN. He has a great look on TV, a unique sounding voice and a know it all smirk that can be funny and condescending all at once.

Bobby V could take the role that Howard Cosell once did so wonderfully on his many roles in ABC Sports. You might not agree with him, but he is usually right.

He would reach back from a fertile spring of knowledge. A former first round pick and college star, Valentine played in the Dodgers organization before moving to the Angels and Padres.

In 1977, he joined the Mets as part of the controversial Dave Kingman deal.

Eventually, his career wound down as a player only to become a solid manager in three very different places. He took over as manager of the Rangers in 1985 and by 1986, they had a contender on the field. They finished second to the Angels with an 87-75 record. The team had talented and colorful stars like Ruben Sierra, Oddible McDowell, Mitch Williams, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Guzman, Greg Harris and Bobby Witt.

The team looked like they could contend in a soft AL West but fell short in a disappointing 1987 season and then were frequently buried by the A’s.

But Valentine managed solid All Stars like Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco as well as the return of Nolan Ryan to the American League. The Rangers didn’t go to any Octobers under Bobby V, but they were fun to watch.

When Rangers owner and future President George W. Bush let him go, Bobby V eventually found himself in Japan.

He managed the Chiba Lotte Marines to their best record in years in 1995 but clashed with management and was fired.

In 1996, he returned to America and while managing the Mets Triple A team, he was called up to take over the major league squad from Dallas Green.

The Mets were a disaster and just 3 year removed from arguably the least likable team in franchise history. Under Bobby V, however, the team won 88 games and contended in 1997. In 1998, the team was a Wild Card contender down the stretch again.

In 1999, the Mets won a one game playoff against the Reds to win the Wild Card, stunned Arizona with a walk off homer to clinch the Division Series and took the Braves 6 games in one of the wildest and most dramatic NLCS ever played.

In 2000, the Mets topped the Giants and the Cardinals to win the NL Pennant before losing the Subway Series to the Yankees in 5 hard fought games. Bobby V and Joe Torre were a pair of Italian American managers from the Northeast. One was a smart aleck, the other was a gentle grandfather figure. It was a fabulous compare and contrast.

While Torre had a stern but loving paternal quality to him, Valentine would get ejected and then put on a mustache as a disguise back in the dugout. The remains one of the funniest moments in baseball history.

Bobby V’s Mets were instrumental in the healing post 9/11 and Mike Piazza’s homer against the Braves still resonates in the city. He won the Branch Rickey Award for his charity work. But eventually he and GM Steve Phillips clashed too many times and he was let go in 2002, just 2 years after delivering the fourth pennant in Mets history.

He returned to the Chiba Lotte Marines and led them to the 2005 Japan Series championship, making him a hero for the locals and capping a wonderful managerial career. Bobby V clashed with management again, but when the Marines tried to smear him publicly, the fans were all on the manager’s side.

He returned to America and ESPN. He should never have left or even wanted another managerial job. He should have been like John Madden and let people think “If he got another gig, he’d be great.”

Instead he had the disastrous year in Boston. It would be like remembering Michael Caine only from Jaws The Revenge.

Bobby V had the baseball life to BE a know it all on TV. That should have been his American legacy. He would always be the smartest guy in the studio.

Just ask him.

Dave Johnson 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 12, 2017

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First of all, is it Dave or is it Davey? I am fine with either one, I just want some consensus here.

I wrote Dave Johnson on the title card for this blog post because that is how it is written on the Topps Card. But for the rest of this posting, I will refer to him as “Davey” or “Johnson” because I always thought of him as Davey Johnson.

OK, the next and most interesting question is “What makes a Hall of Fame manager?” Davey Johnson is an interesting case study for what makes a Hall of Fame manager.

Now we know he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. He had a fine career, playing 8 years with the Orioles in their glory days. He won Gold Gloves, All Star Game appearances and finished third in the 1966 Rookie of the Year vote.

That year the Orioles won the World Series, the first in the franchise’s history including their time as the St. Louis Browns.

He played in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 World Series, picking up another ring with the 1970 squad. After some down years and injuries, he returned to Philadelphia and played in the 1977 NLCS against Los Angeles.

In 1978, he hit a pair of grand slams as a pinch hitter, but he was done.

When his playing career ended, he began coaching. He was a manager in the Mets organization in the early 1980’s. Johnson was the skipper at Jackson and later the Triple A squad in Tidewater in 1983.

He was promoted to the major leagues as the Mets manager, probably because the team was having a major youth movement. Johnson had managed many of the young Mets in the minor leagues. Now he was ready to turn the team around.

In 1984, under Johnson’s leadership, the Mets had their first winning season since 1976 and the second 90 win season in franchise history.

Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry blossomed in 1984 and the Mets became the team of New York.

The 1985 squad won 98 games but narrowly missed the playoffs, falling just behind the Cardinals.

Then came 1986. The 108 win team became one of the most legendary and beloved (and reviled) teams in New York baseball history. That’s saying something. They fought and brawled behind the scenes but were the most dynamic and best team in baseball probably for the entire decade.

Of course the Mets won the World Series. You could not be here, 400 words into a blog post that I wrote if that was a spoiler for you.

Now the Mets nearly lost to the Astros. They were losing in the 9th inning of Games 3 and 6. The final game was a 16 inning affair where a swing of the bat by the Astros would have forced a 7th game showdown against Mike Scott.

And maybe you remember how the World Series ended up with the Red Sox. If the Red Sox got one more out in the 10th or held onto their 3-0 lead in Game 7, Johnson would have remembered for his odd managerial decisions and poor bullpen use.

In 1987, a scandal ridden and injury plagued Mets team won 92 games but again came up short to the Cardinals (who had no shortage of injuries themselves.)

The 1988 Mets team should have demolished the Dodgers in the NLCS. They had no holes on the team and even added a phenom with young Gregg Jefferies hitting up a storm. They won against LA in Hershiser’s first two starts and were cruising to a Game 4 victory that would have put them up 3-1.

Scioscia homered, tied the game and this time it was the Mets who lost a marathon game. The Dodgers won the Series in 7. That was the beginning of the end for Johnson with the Mets.

The team had an unnecessary facelift in 1989, dumping Dykstra, Wilson, Backman and many other beloved figures. They fell short of the playoffs again. Johnson was fired the next year with some saying his time with the Mets was underachieving.

Tough crowd.

Where his Hall of Fame discussion becomes interesting, however, is with his post Mets years.

Early in the 1993 season, he was brought in to replace Tony Perez as manager of the Reds. They were in first place in 1994 at the time of the strike and they won the new NL Central in 1995.

The Reds swept Los Angeles in the Division Series before being swept by the eventual World Champion Braves in the NLCS. THe Reds were a winner under Johnson.

But owner Marge Schott had made the decision before the post season that Ray Knight, the MVP of the World Series for Johnson’s 1986 Mets, was going to be the new Reds manager in 1996.

Thanks for the NLCS, now here is your pinkslip.

Johnson jumped to Baltimore and took the team to the post season for the first time in 13 years. In the 1996 Division Series, the Orioles and Roberto Alomar stunned the heavily favored defending AL Champion Indians. The Birds won in 4 and went on to New York.

The Yankees beat the Orioles with a little help from Jeffrey Maier but the Orioles finally brought October ball to Camden Yards.

In 1997, Johnson moved Cal Ripken from shortstop to third base because, well, it made the team better. The Orioles responded that season with 98 wins and a Division Title. They beat Seattle and faced a much weaker Cleveland squad in the ALCS.

It was a wild series involving extra inning games and controversial calls. The Indians would win Game 6 in extra innings, 1-0 and clinch the pennant. But Johnson would be named AL Manager of the Year that off season.

He would also be shown the door again. Johnson and Orioles owner Peter Angelos clashed and he was fired, despite leading two different teams to the League Championship Series in three straight seasons.

In 1999, he arrived in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, now owned by Fox, had spent lavishly and expected to win the NL West. Davey Johnson claimed that the “village idiot” could win with this team.

He would regret that quote. The 1999 Dodgers not only didn’t win the NL West (the Diamondbacks did in their second ever season.) They didn’t finish with a winning record, going 77-85.

The pressure was on Johnson in 2000 and while the Dodgers won more than they lost, they finished 11 games back of the Giants and far behind the Mets for the Wild Card.

Johnson was let go.

He didn’t get another managerial job until he was hired by Washington in 2011. The Nationals were expected to improve but not contend in 2012. Stephen Strasburg, coming off of Tommy John surgery, was going to pitch that year but, as they announced, would be shut down after he reached an innings cap.

Johnson’s Nationals surprised everyone by starting the season strong and not looking back. As the Phillies crumbled due to injuries, the Braves fell short of expectations, the Mets were a mess and the Marlins dealt with internal squabbles, the Nationals took advantage of a chaotic NL East.

The team won the Division with a 98-64 record. The city of Washington, who had no team between 1971 and 2005, had their first playoff team since the 1933 AL Champions.

They also had a problem. Against Davey Johnson’s wishes, management kept their plan of shutting down Strasburg. The Nationals starting pitching in the Division Series against the Cardinals bombed badly and the worn out bullpen blew the save in Game 5.

The Nationals had an astonishing meltdown with the series on the line. The defending champion Cardinals won the series and the Nats still wonder what would have happened if Strasburg had just one October start.

Johnson managed 2013 before retiring at age 70.

So is he a Hall of Fame manager or not? He took over losing teams with the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Nationals and quickly turned all of them into playoff teams.

The fortunes of the Mets, Reds and Orioles all plummeted after Johnson’s departure. If the Nationals got one more strike in 2012, he would have taken 4 teams to the League Championship Series.

He managed for 17 seasons was in the post season for 6 of those years.

Sure Davey Johnson only won one World Series. But that’s all Leo Durocher won. That’s all Bobby Cox won. That’s all Earl Weaver won.

And yes, the Mets squad should have won at least another pennant. But remember when he arrived in New York, the team was a consistent loser. His time changed the mentality so much that NOT winning the World Series was considered to be a let down.

But that title seems to be more of one lost by the Red Sox than won by the Mets in terms of its legacy.

I would have no issue with Johnson being in Cooperstown. I love the managers, like Dick Williams, who are basically Johnny Appleseeds of post seasons wherever they go.

If he won a pennant in Cincinnati, Baltimore or Washington, this would be a much easier question to answer. But for now, it is interesting to ponder.

As for the Dave or Davey question, we may NEVER get to the bottom of that.