Jim Leyland 1987 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 31, 2017

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First of all, I love this card. Leyland looks like an old school “I take no shit” manager in this pic and he is wearing my all time favorite Pirates uniform in the process. Seeing him in the classic flat top “We Are Family” Pirates hat in their last year is a sight to behold.

He just looks better in that kind of uniform.

Compare that to when he wore the “Flash Forward” uniforms the Colorado Rockies wore for a game.

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I would like to think the day he put that uniform on was the day he chose to resign from the Rockies.

 

I am a Leyland fan. The Bonds/Bonilla/Drabek/Leyland Pirate teams of the early 1990’s were one of my favorite Non Red Sox teams of all time.

In my humble opinion, Jim Leyland belongs in the Hall of Fame. He has the resume to back it up and won as many World Series titles as Leo Durocher, Whitey Herzog and Earl Weaver did in their long careers.

He went to the World Series 3 times as a manager in 3 different decades, winning in 1997 with Florida. He also won division titles in 1990, 1991, 1992, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

There were a few at bats that if they went just slightly differently, then his Hall of Fame candidacy would not even be in question.

GAME 6, 1990 NLCS. Carmello Martinez hit a line drive that looked like a game tying, potential elimination avoiding home run. Glenn Braggs leaped above the line to bring it back in. Had that ball cleared the fence, the Pirates would have tied Game 6 and had a chance to force a Game 7.

GAME 6, 1991 NLCS. With the tying run on third in the bottom of the 9th of a 1-0 game against Atlanta, Andy Van Slyke hit a deep drive to right field. It hooked foul. He then struck out to end the game. If the ball didn’t go foul, it would have been a 2 run homer and the Pirates would have won the pennant.

GAME 7, 1992 NLCS. Francisco Cabrera, third string catcher, came up against Stan Belinda with 2 outs. If he did ANYTHING else, like pop up or ground out, the Pirates would have won the pennant. Instead… well… you know.

GAME 2, 2013 ALCS. The Tigers had won Game 1 against Boston and held a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning of Game 2 and had Verlander ready to go in Game 3. Then Big Papi tied the game with the grand slam and Saltalamacchia (sic) won the game with a walk off single. Had they taken the 2-0 lead back to Detroit, the 2013 pennant would have been in the bag.

GAME 6, 2013 ALCS. Another late lead, another sloppy inning. This time it was Shane Victorino who hit the grand slam that put the Red Sox up for good. Winning that game would have forced a Game 7.

A Pirate pennant and a Tiger World Series title would have made his resume undeniable.

There is another aspect of his career that is interesting. Consider about once a decade, a complete fluke World Series winner takes home the trophy. By that I mean a team that is slapped together with parts of other clubs and within a few years the team is disassembled. The 1987 Twins are an example of that. So would be the 2001 Diamondbacks.

Once Leyland was benefited from one of those teams and another time he was the victim of one.

The 1997 Marlins were cobbled together for a quick win. Even Leyland being brought in from Pittsburgh was part of the quick fix. They gobbled up Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Darren Daulton, Al Leiter and a bunch of other veterans for one run at it. It worked. They beat San Francisco, upset Atlanta and won the wild 7 game series over Cleveland and won it all.

When Craig Counsel scored on Edgar Renteria’s hit, Leyland poured out of the dugout, gave a long emphatic point at his wife, jumped in Bobby Bonilla’s arms (his star from 1990 and 1991) and marched around the field waving the Marlins flag.

By the next year, virtually the entire team was playing elsewhere and by the end of 1998, Leyland himself was gone.

In 2013, he was on the bad end of it. The Tigers, consistently one of the super powers in the AL but without a World Series title, had their best shot. But a Red Sox team cobbled together with short term contracts and vagabonds, shocked them with a pair of grand slams and domination from Koji Uehara.

The one year wonders giveth and they taketh away. But all that being said, Leyland is an all time great and should eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Let’s see his greatest moment.

Clint Hurdle 2003 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 28, 2017

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Clint Hurdle was a player with insanely high expectations placed on him. He had a fine career but was not the superstar that he was projected to be.

But if a few bounces went here or there in the course of his managerial career, he would have received consideration for the Hall of Fame.

I know that sounds absurd, but bear with me. I am not being hyperbolic.

Drafted by the Royals in 1975 first round, he made his big league debut as a 19 year old in 1977. By spring training 1978, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, touted as the next great baseball phenom.

He played well in 1978, hitting a respectable .264 with an OPS of .746. He batted .375 with an 1.125 OPS in the ALCS loss to the Yankees that year. In 1980, the 22 year old outfielder was a .294 hitters with 10 homers. He helped the Royals win the AL Pennant and hit .417 with an OPS of 1.000 in the World Series.

But injuries and inconsistencies derailed his playing career. He bounded between the Reds, Mets and Cardinals, finishing his career with 3 games with the 1987 Mets. His playing days were over before his 30th birthday.

Actually, his addiction to drinking and partying had as much to do with crushing his once promising career as anything.

He found a home in the Mets organization, building up his managerial credentials. Hurdle managed in Class A, then Double A and finally with the Norfolk Tides Triple A team by 1992.  He needed to prove that his hard partying days were over and he was willing to be an organization man. He did.

When the Rockies expanded into the National League, Hurdle joined the organization as an instructor and later a coach. As he sought help through AA, he worked his way back to the majors as a coach and eventually was named the manager of the Rockies.

From 2002 to 2006, he was as nondescript a manager as anyone could have. Losing records each years did not exactly inspire confidence. Then with the team on the fringe of the Wild Card Race in 2007, they went on their unreal finish.

They won 13 of their final 14 games to force a one game playoff with San Diego for the Wild Card. They won the wild extra inning match up and swept the Phillies and the Diamondbacks to get to the World Series.

Everyone remembers that the Rockies got swept and Game 1 was indeed an embarrassing blow out. But Game 2 was a tense match up. Jonathan Papelbon picked off Matt Holliday in the 8th inning to squash a potential game tying rally.

In Game 3, the Rockies fought to make it a one run game late until the Red Sox pulled away.

In Game 4, the Rockies lost by one single run and had a potential game tying homer caught at the wall in the 9th.

A few balls bouncing one way or another in Games 2 and 4 and the 2007 World Series could have been a much different affair.

He was let go in 2009, a year when Jim Tracy took over and brought Colorado back to the playoffs.

After spending a year in Texas mentoring Josh Hamilton, another former phenom who battled with addiction, Hurdle took over the hapless Pirates for the 2011 season.

The Pirates had not sniffed .500 since the Francisco Cabrera single that ended the 1992 NLCS. After a few near misses in 2011 and 2012, the Pirates finally had a winning ballclub again in 2013. In fact they won 94 games and took the Wild Card Game from Cincinnati.

In the Division Series, the Pirates went up 2 games to 1 against the favored Cardinals. In the bottom of the 9th of Game 4, St. Louis was up by one but the Pirates had a man on base. Andrew McCutchen was up. If he homered, the Pirates would move on to the NLCS against LA.

Instead McCutchen was retired and they lost Game 5 and St. Louis advanced to the NLCS and World Series.

In 2014, they made the post season hosting the Wild Card Game but faced Madison Bumgarner who threw a complete game shutout to shut down Pittsburgh’s hopes.

In 2015, the Pirates won 98 games but still finished behind the Cardinals. In the Wild Card Game, they went against eventual Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta who, like Bumgarner, dominated the Pirates and ending their post season with one game.

Imagine if the Pirates won that Game 4 in 2013 where they were a swing away from doing so.

Imagine if, over the course of 2015, the Pirates won 3 more games. That year, the Pirates looked like the strongest of the NL Central contenders and probably would have beaten the Mets in the NLCS.

Just picture some of those events bouncing one way instead of the other… the Rockies making the 2007 World Series competitive after the dominating ending and playoffs… taking the Pirates to the World Series after decades of futility.

I am not saying Hurdle would be a lock for the Hall of Fame. But being the leader of two franchises that looked hopeless and bringing them to the World Series would be the sort of accomplishment that is honored.

Instead he is a baseball lifer, a man who is a spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous as well as an avid fundraiser and spokesman for Prader Willi Syndrome, which his daughter suffers from.

I am still rooting for him to win it all as a manager. It will make all of these accomplishments a wonderful prologue.

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?