Joe Rudi 1982 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 24, 2017

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Ahhh 1982 Fleer!

I’ve brought up 1982 Fleer before but MAN, it is one strange series of cards. They were new at the game and I guess did not learn some of the basics of baseball card picture taking.

Did the editor look at the pictures of Joe Rudi and say “I need something that makes him look OLDER and more exhausted! Don’t you have some pic that shows him as a sweating senior citizen?”

There are three kind of pics that usually were stand bys for baseball cards.

1. THE POSE. That is the player pretending to swing, pitch or field their position, usually done on the sidelines before a game.

2. THE PORTRAIT. That is the full face shot, often times a distinguished look.

3. THE ACTION SHOT. Taken during the game, showing the player doing what he does best.

Take a good long look at this pic. How is it ANYTHING other than “Private Investigator hiding behind a tree snapping a picture of the person they are shadowing?”

It is taken from a distance, like all of 1982 Fleer slightly out of focus (because of the printing) and unclear what is happening.

It is not during a game, as Fenway Park is empty behind him. He looks like he finished a windsprint. He was a veteran clinging to the end of his career at the time, but he wasn’t a senior citizen. He was 34. But his hair is a mess (where is his cap?) Plus with the harsh light on the top of his head, it makes his entire head of hair look gray. He looks like he is in his 50’s.

Remember, they CHOSE this picture. There were others they rejected and they took one look at this picture, grabbed the grease pencil and circled it. “Ahhh! I think we got it!”

This card shows Joe Rudi’s lone injury filled season with Boston. He almost came to Boston earlier. Instead he was caught in the cross hairs of Charlie Finley’s war with Bowie Kuhn.

Picked by the Kansas City A’s from Downey California, Rudi made his debut in 1967 and moved with the club to Oakland in 1968.

Along with Bert Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, he was part of a solid foundation of players emerging from the strange team in the East Bay.

As Charlie Finley experimented with team colors, orange baseballs, mules on the field and switching managers every season, Rudi went back and forth between the majors and the minors in 1968 and 1969 before establishing himself in 1970 with a .309 average, 11 homers in 375 plate appearances and solid defense.

By 1971, the A’s were in the playoffs as Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue became the flamboyant headline grabbing superstars. Rudi and Sal Bando became the steady leaders. Rudi led the American League with 181 hits and 9 triples in 1972. He also batted .305 with 19 homers and finished second to Dick Allen for the AL MVP.

The A’s won the pennant over Detroit in a wild ALCS. His role gained importance with the injury to slugger Reggie Jackson. Rudi needed to produce in order for the A’s to have a shot.

He did get a few key hits but his biggest highlight came in Game 2. Reds infielder Denis Menke hit a drive to left field in the 9th with the A’s up 2-0. It was going to be extra bases and put the tying run in scoring position. Rudi went back and timed his leap perfectly, back to the ball and into the sun. He nearly doubled off Tony Perez at first and the A’s held onto the lead.

They win win the World Series in 7 games in 1972 and again in 1973, where Rudi batted .333 in the series against the Mets.

In 1974, Rudi once again was the AL MVP runner up, finishing second to Jeff Burroughs of Texas. He added another All Star Game appearance and a Gold Glove to his trophy case. He led the AL with 39 doubled, clubbed 22 homers, drove in a career high 99 and posted an OPS of .818.

In the World Series against Los Angeles, he hit a key homer in the fifth game that put the A’s up for good. They won 3 in a row and Rudi was as big a reason for that run as anyone.

Of course not all was well in Oakland. Contract squabbles and discontent with Finley made the clubhouse toxic. First Dick Williams resigned. Then Catfish Hunter’s contract was voided and he joined the Yankees.

Next, with the specter of free agency looming, Finley tried to cut it off at the pass. He traded Reggie Jackson to the Orioles before the 1976 season. During the 1976 season, he sold Vida Blue’s contract to the Yankees and sold the contracts to Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Boston.

Rudi and Fingers were issued uniforms and waited in the clubhouse to play for the defending AL Champion Red Sox. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the nemesis for Charlie Finley, voided the deals. He did not want teams dumping star players for cash.

Kuhn overstepped his boundaries but he had the power to do so. Rudi was sent back to Oakland and his time with the Red Sox would have to wait.

After the season, there was an exodus of stars leaving Oakland. Rudi landed with the California Angels. He still had good home run power but injuries took their toll. He did not play in the 1979 playoffs as he was sidelined.

After the 1980 season, he was traded to the Red Sox with Frank Tanana in the deal involving Fred Lynn. Any hope that Rudi could fill Lynn’s shoes were dashed as he only played 49 games in 1981 (and by the look of the picture, those 49 games exhausted him.)

He returned to Oakland in 1982 for one last season and homered in his final at bat.

Rudi remains a fan favorite in Oakland, bringing back memories of the first team to bring a major professional sports title to the San Francisco Bay Area.

He might have left a mark in Boston had Bowie Kuhn let the 1976 deal go through.

Either way, Red Sox fans will have to make due with an injury plagued season 5 years later and this out of focus card showing a senior citizen.

Gene Nelson 1982 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 16, 2017

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A lot has been said about how Tony LaRussa revolutionized the closer role by making Dennis Eckersley a one inning closer for the 9th and giving everyone else assigned roles.

I think another aspect of the genius of how he assembled his bullpens was taking starting pitchers at the end of the line and using them as relievers.

Eckersley was a washed up starter who became a Hall of Famer under his watch. Rick Honeycutt was a former All Star starter who was picked up from the Dodgers, stuck in the bullpen and became an irreplaceable set up man who actually clinched the 1990 ALCS for the A’s.

And not as famous but still valuable and effective was Gene Nelson.

His real name is Wayland Eugene Nelson, which is an awesome name. That name alone would get to number 8 on the country charts, even if he is just blowing a kazoo.

Nelson was picked in the 30th round of the 1978 draft by the Rangers. He never saw a day as a Ranger as he was packaged off to the Yankees in a complex deal that involved Oscar Gamble and Mickey Rivers.

Nelson made 7 starts and a relief appearance for the 1981 AL Champs but was not included on the post season roster. In 1982, he was in Seattle after a deal involving Shane Rawley.

His pitching coach was Dave Duncan that season and there were glimmers of hope for the Mariners, who started pitching a little better than expected.

Between May 22 and June 12, he went on a terrific streak, throwing 2 complete games and going into the 9th another time and going 8 innings in another start. He won player of the week honors and looked like a stud for the Mariners.

Injuries derailed his season and at the end of the year, Duncan left the Mariners to join Tony LaRussa with the White Sox.

Nelson pitched one more year in Seattle and it was a lost season. In 1984, he was traded to the White Sox and reunited with Duncan. He had a pair of rocky seasons as a starter and in 1986, he was moved to the bullpen. He began to pitch more effectively out of the pen. Then, at mid season, in one of the worst moves every made by any front office, GM Ken Harrleson fired Tony LaRussa.

Within seconds of the firing (OK, maybe a little longer) LaRussa and his staff set up shop in Oakland. By 1987, Nelson joined them. Eckersley was picked up in spring training from the Cubs. Rick Honeycutt was picked up at midseason.

LaRussa was putting together his team. Once Jay Howell was dealt to Los Angeles and Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk were put into their roles, the bullpen was assembled.

Nelson gave LaRussa 111 2/3 innings of solid relief. He got only 3 saves, picked up 9 relief wins and was a steady bridge to Eckersley.

In the 1988 ALCS, he went 2-0, setting up series MVP Eckersley.

As the A’s won the Pennant in 1988, the World Series in 1989 and another pennant in 1990, Nelson was steady. He posted a 1.57 ERA in 1990 and picked up 5 saves along the way.

By 1992 he had run out of gas and after comeback attempts with the Angels and Rangers, called it a career, one that featured a World Series title and multiple trip to the post season, a fate that would not have fallen upon a washed up starter in Seattle.

That should be part of any bullpen construction plan. Find that starting pitcher with stuff but can’t quite make it work and give them a new role to shine.

Meanwhile look at the majesty that is the Fleer 1982 series. Fleer had bad printing on their cards so all the pictures looked a little blurry. Plus it was their first year with major league cards, so all the pics look like they were taken from a surveillance crew.

A thing of beauty. Come to think of it, how do we really know that IS Gene Nelson in that pic?

Doug Jennings 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 7, 2017

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Not a lot was going wrong for the Oakland A’s in 1988. The team was teetering on contention in 1987 remade themselves in the off season. Away went veterans like Reggie Jackson and Dwayne Murphy and Mike Davis.

The team had made late season deals in 1987 for Storm Davis and Rick Honeycutt and converted Dennis Eckersley to the bullpen. They traded away Alfredo Griffin and brought in Bob Welch, Dave Parker, Matt Young, Don Baylor and Ron Hassey.

The result was a team that started 6-6 and then went on an 18-1 streak in mid April and into May.

By May 9th, they were up by 8 games. By June 3, the lead was 10 games. A slight dip in July pulled the defending World Champion Twins to within 3 games. But the A’s played .700 ball the rest of the way, winning 104 games, the West and the pennant.

If you were an A’s fan, it was a good time in the East Bay. I was living in Palo Alto at the time and witnessing it. They would go on to clobber my Red Sox in the ALCS.

A bunch of my kids in my high school were basically Bay Area fans. They rooted for the Giants but wanted the A’s to do well, or vice versa. That seemed counter intuitive for this native New Englander, whose love for sports is almost exclusively based on hate.

One kid I went to school with, Joel Pomerenk, was complaining about the A’s. I believe he was complaining DURING their 18-1 streak, which goes to show you can not please everyone.

I pointed out that they had back to back Rookie of the Year winners in Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. (It is almost as if they had a hidden advantage.) Joel complained. “They would have THREE straight if they bothered playing Doug Jennings!”

This is a testament to two things: Great first impressions and assuming that minor league stats will translate to the majors.

Doug Jennings was a minor leaguer in the California Angels organization. He had a terrific 1987 at Double A Midland but was left off their 40 man roster.

The A’s took advantage of the bizarre Rule 5 Draft. This allows teams to swipe any player off of another team’s roster. But there is a catch. They HAVE to be on the Major League roster for the entire season or else they have to be returned to their original club.

Every once in a while a team will hit paydirt. Roberto Clemente was swiped from the Dodgers. George Bell was swiped from the Phillies.

With a revolving door of left fielders in Oakland, why not take a chance on a guy who batted .338, hit 30 homers and had an OPS of 1.067 in Double A?

Jennings made the team out of Spring Training. His big league debut came against his former organization, the Angels. He was inserted as a pinch runner for Mark McGwire and was picked off.

OK, not the best start.

But the next day, he came up as a pinch hitter in the 8th with the A’s down 3-1. He hit a bases clearing double to give the A’s the lead, a game they would hold on to win. That’s more like it.

After another pinch hitting appearance, he made his first ever start on April 13 in Seattle. He reached base 5 times, doubled and homered, driving in 2.

A’s fans, like my buddy Joel, were buzzing. They swiped a gem away from the Angels! Jennings was going to be the left handed line drive compliment to the right handed mashing Bash Brothers.

He made a few more starts in April, and had a bunch of 0-fors.

Jennings was a semi regular left fielder in May, but he got a single hit the entire month and it was against Baltimore, the worst team in the league.

A disabled list stint allowed the A’s to send him to Triple A for rehab and not return him to the Angels. In the end, he hit .208 for the season.

But those early 5 hits made an impression on A’s fans. That excitement that he will translate into a great big league hitter based on his minor league stats and those early games clouded the fact that he was a minor league hitter being overwhelmed by big league pitching.

The A’s would get their third straight Rookie of the Year in Walt Weiss, not Jennings.

Jennings stayed in the A’s organization, played all of 1989 in Triple A save for 4 games on the parent club. In 1990, he appeared in both the ALCS and World Series.

He bounced around between the Cubs organization (including 42 games for the Cubs), the Reds, Royals and Brewers minor leagues, three years in Japan and many years in independent ball. He played with the Long Island Ducks as recently as 2005 as a 40 year old.

So he wasn’t a Rookie of the Year. But he put in 20 years of professional ball, and that should have satisfied Joel.