Neal Heaton 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 17, 2017

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Neal Heaton was profiled by Sports Illustrated when he was a college pitcher at the University of Miami. The copywriters who made the headline of the article managed to make a pun “The Heat is On with Heaton.”

For the record, the article was written 2 1/2 years before Glenn Frey song was released.

The article followed Heaton and his coach Ron Fraser as the pitcher could not be beat and the coach had images of a college World Series dancing in his head.

Someone reading the article would assume Neal Heaton was heading to stardom. And when you consider how many profiles of can’t miss players turn into busts, the fact that Neal Heaton pitched a dozen years in the major leagues and made an All Star Team would denote that the article wasn’t far off.

Heaton was from Queens and dreamed of playing for the Mets. The Mets did indeed select him in the January phase of the 1979 draft but he opted to take his talents to Miami.

He was a legit college star and focused on his pitching, even playing summer ball in Alaska.

Think about that: He went from Miami to Alaska to play baseball. You really can’t have a stranger travel itinerary than that!

The Indians eventually selected him and he spent only 1 1/2 seasons in the minors before he was inserted into Cleveland’s rotation. He had a decent rookie year in 1983 but was hit hard in 1984 and 1985.

In 1986, the Indians had a surprise winning season, but the 26 year old Heaton was not there for the end. On June 20th, he was sent packing to the Twins for John Butcher.

In his second game with Minnesota, he threw 5 1/3 strong innings in relief during an 11-2 blow out from the White Sox. 4 days later, he threw a 3 inning save.

A week later, the Twins gave him a start and he responded with a complete game, allowing 1 run over 9 innings against Baltimore. He took the hard luck 1-0 loss but looked like a solid addition.

Going into the 1987 season, Heaton looked to be a part of a Twins rotation with Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. Instead he was sent packing to Montreal in a deal that brought Jeff Reardon to the Twins bullpen. The 1987 season would end with Reardon clinching the final out of the World Series for the Twins. Heaton, who would win 13 games for the Expos but post a mediocre 4.52 ERA, would be nowhere near the celebration.

After a down year in 1988 with the Expos, Heaton found himself in Pittsburgh for the 1989 season. Used as a long reliever and spot starter, he had a good season, throwing to a 3.05 ERA over 147 1/3 innings pitched. By the end of September he was inserted into the rotation and pitching well with hope for a spot in the 1990 starting staff.

1990 was an interesting year for the Pirates. After years on non contention, they finally had a solid core of players and hope for a Division Title, their first since 1979.

Heaton won his first 6 decisions in 1990 and by June 24th had a record of 10-2 with a 2.89 ERA. The Pirates were in first, battling the Mets and Expos, and Heaton earned himself a spot on the 1990 National League All Star team.

He won only 2 games in the second half, although his ERA for the second half was lower than the first half, oddly. Manager Jim Leyland shifted Heaton to a long relief role down the stretch, making only one start after August 20th. He did not pitch in the NLCS loss against the Reds.

In 1991, he was almost exclusively a reliever for the Eastern champs but again did not make a post season appearance. Between 1992 and 1993, he bounced between the Royals, Brewers and Yankees before finally calling it a career.

After his playing days, he has coached in several baseball academies in New York, helping other kids make it to the show.

Neal Heaton did indeed make it. But what if he didn’t? According to the SI article, if he didn’t make it in baseball, one of his ambitions was to be a shark hunter. He casually described how he and his brother caught a mako off of Long Island.

Could Neal Heaton have had a life where he was Quint from Jaws? I’d like to think so.

Steve Buechele 1992 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 13, 2017

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College roommates are a strange part of people’s lives. I happened to get a good one in Jon Ward. We became friends very quickly when we were at NYU, having similar tastes, senses of humor and love for movies.

Some people struck out and got roommates from hell.

When Steve Buechele went to Stanford in the late 1970’s, he was already an athlete with some attention on him. The White Sox drafted him in 1979 but he decided to go to college instead.

In Palo Alto, he was matched with another potential professional baseball player and one who wound up playing in the Yankee farm system but never made it to the major leagues.

There may have been jealousy from his roommate when the Texas Rangers picked Buechele in the 5th round of the 1982 draft and by 1985 he made it to the major leagues.

Or maybe his roommate didn’t care and his shortcomings in his baseball career would have been healed elsewhere. Buechele’s roommate was John Elway. And while Elway never did make it to the Bronx, it is safe to say he found some success in the NFL.

Buechele became a stead player for a talented Rangers squad that just couldn’t put all the pieces together. Under manager Bobby Valentine, the 1986 Rangers won 87 games with the likes of Scott Fletcher, Pete O’Brien, Oddibe McDowell, Pete Incaviglia and Larry Parrish providing power. Buechele was steady and provided power at third. 20 year old Ruben Sierra looked like a star in the making.

The team had decent if not great pitching as well and contended for a while with the Angels. In 1987, the team slipped and it was a missed opportunity. The 87 wins from the year before would have been enough to win the division and the eventual West champ, Minnesota, went on to win the World Series. Then the A’s under LaRussa took over the West after 1988, taking any Texas chances with them.

Buechele gave the Rangers solid defense and some pop at third as they played out the string in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

In 1991, the Pirates, on the verge of their second straight division title, suddenly had a hole at third base with an injury to Jeff King. The Pirates sent Kurt Miller, the number 5 pick overall in the 1990 draft, plus another minor league pitcher to Texas for Buechele. Suddenly, with a month to play, Buechele found himself in a post season position.

In the thrilling 7 game NLCS against the Braves, Buechele batted .304 with an OPS of .799. He drove in no runs as the Pirates were blanked in Games 6 and 7 at home and came up short of the World Series.

Midway through the 1992 season, he was traded to the Cubs for starter Danny Jackson as Jeff King returned from injury. After a few seasons with the Cubs, he played a handful of games with the 1995 Rangers before retiring.

His post playing days have included being a television commentator, minor league manager and currently on the Texas coaching staff. He also has a son in the Giants organization.

All this makes for an impressive sports life. But not even on his best day could he take the title “Most impressive sports life from his dorm room.”

It is a tough title when John Elway is bunking with you.

Ted Power 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 20, 2017

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I don’t play baseball video games or Strat O Matic anymore. The reason is I am a 45 year old man. I am closer to 60 than 18. The days of playing games are over.

But when I did, I would always try to employ strategies that for ME seemed to be smart but I knew would never fly in the real world.

Switching the lineups daily, using relievers as starters, using starters for an inning on their throw day, tossing out the notion of a closer and bringing in the best pitcher for the circumstances.

My pitching staff stats would look bananas by the end of the year. Guys making 20 starts would have 11 to 12 saves. Guys with 30 saves would have 4 or 5 starts but not go more than 3 innings in them.

I loved the concept of a staff where you had 3 guys go 3 innings each and rotated them so they make about 20 starts, close out 20 games and make 20 middle relief appearances.

I would love to do all of that.

But the real world would make that a near impossibility.

That’s why I was thrilled when I saw how Jim Leyland used Ted Power in a potential elimination post season game in 1990. It didn’t work, but it was straight out of my way of thinking.

The Pirates were down 3-1 to the Reds in the 1990 NLCS but took game 5 with a solid start from Doug Drabek and a save from Bob Patterson (who had 5 saves all season.)

Game 6 was in Cincinnati and was do or die for the Pirates. The Reds were throwing Danny Jackson, whose lone job it was to give Cincinnati 6 strong innings before turning it over to Charlton, Dibble and Myers.

The Pirates were expected to hand the ball to lefty Zane Smith. But Jim Leyland was thinking like your pal Sully.

The Reds heavily platooned their lineup. For lefties, Glenn Braggs and Billy Hatcher would play. Against righties, Paul O’Neill and Herm Winningham got the call.

What if the Pirates started a righty to get one side of the platoon up and then bring in a lefty to force the Reds to consider leaving them in or pinch hitting.

So who did Leyland call on? He called on Ted Power, who had saved Game 1. That’s right. Power was a bullpen closer for the opener and the starting pitcher for the potential elimination.

It was Power’s first start of the year.

The Kansas State alum was a product of the Dodger system and played for the 1981 World Champs (he didn’t get to pitch in October.) Dealt to the Reds for Mike Ramsey, he became an effective middle reliever for manager Pete Rose, saving 27 games in 1985 and settling in as a set up man for John Franco and making spot starts.

In 1987, he was moved to the rotation but was not very effective and became trade bait.

Coincidentally, he was dealt to the Royals in a deal involving Danny Jackson, whom he would be facing in 1990.

Between 1988 and 1989, he bounced between the Royals, Tigers and Cardinals before landing in Pittsburgh.

Power had a decent 1990 for the first Pirates playoff team since 1979. His 3.66 ERA was OK but not great. He saved 7 games.

Like my potential computer pitching staff, Leyland’s bullpen did not have a save compiler. Bill Landrum had 13 saves. Bob Patterson had 5, Bob Kipper had 3, Stan Belinda had 8, Scott Ruskin has 2, Vincente Palacios had 3, Power had 7 and even starter Bob Walk had one. There was no tyranny of the save here.

Power came into Game 1 with the tying run on second and the winning run on third and one out. The Reds tried a double steal. Catcher Mike LaValliere saw he had no shot to get the runner at third and threw out pinch runner Billy Bates at second. Power then struck out Chris Sabo to earn the save.

He made one more relief appearance before getting his surprise start.

Reds manager Lou Piniella saw what Leyland was doing and made his line up a bit of a hodge podge. O’Neill got the start but so did Billy Hatcher. And Hal Morris, who was a cinch to start against the right hander, also sat.

Power wasn’t bombed but was hardly brilliant. He threw 2 1/3 innings, allowing 3 hits and a run.

With one out and one on in the third, Zane Smith came in to relieve with Pittsburgh trailing 1-0. The Pirates would tie the game but a pinch hitter for O’Neill, Luis Quinones, drove the go ahead run in against Smith. Carmelo Martinez almost hit a game tying homer against Randy Myers in the 9th but Glenn Braggs caught it over the wall.

Braggs was not in the starting lineup against Power but came in as a defensive replacement. The game was a 2-1 final and the combination of Power and Smith held Cincinnati to 2 runs into the 7th.

It wasn’t as if Leyland’s strategy failed. It is tough to win when 2 runs allowed is too much.

We thought alike.

Power starts and gets the team into a state of confusion. You need the bats to hit as well to make it really work.

Hopefully someone else will use that train of thought some day.