Rod Scurry 1982 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 17, 2017

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I always felt badly for players who showed up a year too late for a team. When a club went on a great run and then a dry period shows up, inevitably there is someone who makes their debut as the good feeling of the title lingers but the losing has begun.

That is Rod Scurry. He showed up at the wrong time and saw his life end in a strange manner.

When you look at him in this Topps card, he is all dressed up to be part of the great Pirate teams of the 1970’s. He has the flat cap, the yellow jersey and a classic ballplayer mustache.

Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was humming “We Are Family” while this picture was being taken.

Scurry was a first round pick by the Pirates in 1974, in the middle of their magical run in the 1970’s. Pittsburgh made the playoffs in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1979, winning the World Series in 1971 and 1979. Being a Pirate was a pretty safe bet for making the post season.

He worked his way up through the Pirates farm, making stops in Triple A Columbus and Portland in 1977, 1978 and 1979 but never getting the call to the majors.

The call came on April 17, 1980. He made his big league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals as a member of the defending World Champions.

There were plenty of players left over from the Family of 1979. John Candelaria was the starting pitcher. Enrique Romo, Dave Roberts and Kent Tekulve all pitched in that post season and in Scurry’s debut.

Omar Moreno, Tim Foli, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson, Bull Madlock, Lee Lacy, Phil Garner, Steve Nicosia, Mike Easler and Manny Sanguillen all played that day. All were fitted for World Series rings the previous October.

Willie Stargell had the day off, but he was on the team as well and played in Scurry’s second game. Bert Blyleven and Don Robinson were also still there.

It seemed like Scurry was practically the only player without a ring on the squad. A repeat was not in the cards for Pittsburgh. They won 83 games and finished far behind the Phillies and Expos in the NL East.

Scurry got into 20 games in 1980 and had a solid 2.15 ERA in 37 2/3 innings.

In 1981 and 1982, he was a reliable reliever for the Pirates. 1982 he had his best season. He saved 12 games and had a 1.74 ERA in 103 2/3 innings, all in relief. The Pirates were still a winning team, but finished well behind St. Louis.

Baseball and Pittsburgh during the 1970s were associated with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and many Octobers. In the 1980s, baseball and Pittsburgh were associated with the cocaine trials. Scurry was named as one of the many Pirates who purchased cocaine during the trials.

Interest in the sliding scandal ridden team plummeted and they nearly moved to Denver. Scurry missed The Family but was there in time for the drug trials.

As with many of the players in the drug trials, the Pirates dumped Scurry after the 1985 season. The Yankees purchased his contract and he did not do badly as a middle reliever for manager Lou Piniella in 1986.

Between 1987 and 1989 he bounced between the Yankees, Mariners and Giants systems, pitching 39 games for the 1988 Seattle squad and then his career ended.

Clearly his demons and addictions did not end with his playing career nor with his testimony in the Pittsburgh drug trials. When the Mariners cut him, he was arrested for buying crack in Nevada.

At his Nevada home in October of 1992, not long after Francisco Cabrera sunk the Pirates in the playoffs, Scurry was found being violent in his yard. He was screaming that snakes were all over him. Eventually he stopped breathing and died a week later in the hospital.

It was a sad ending to a life of bad timing and demonized addiction. Had he played a little earlier, who knows what trajectory his life would have gone on?

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.