Shawn Hillegas 1989 Donruss – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 9, 2017

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One of the first Card of Days I did for this crazy series was one for Ricky Horton on January 12. Click HERE if you don’t remember it. There will be a test at the end of the year.

In that entry, I pointed out that the former Cardinals lefty is pictured in a White Sox uniform but he actually didn’t finish the season on the South Side of Chicago. He completed the 1988 season pitching in the post season and earning his World Series ring with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A solid career which saw him part of 2 World Series game 7 losses in St. Louis was capped with a ring. It is odd when a player earns a ring for a team they only played with for a handful of weeks, but I bet the ring fits beautifully on Horton’s finger.

But for every person who jumped on board early to pick up a ring, there is someone who was there for most of the year and didn’t get their chance.

Case in point: Shawn Hillegas.

Shawn Hillegas was the 4th pick overall in the January 1984 draft coming out of Middle Georgia College.

The Dodgers, going through a transition from the 1981 champs, were bringing in new talent without missing a beat in October. They nearly won the division in 1982 and indeed won in 1983 and 1985, all the while bringing in new faces.

In 1984, 1985 and 1986, Hillegas put up solid numbers in the Dodgers system and steadily earned his way up to the big league level. An excellent AAA season in 1987 earned his call up. On August 9, 1987 he made his first start and it was a memorable one.

The Georgia boy pitched against Atlanta in Dodger Stadium. Veterans like Steve Sax, Mike Marshall, John Shelby, Mike Scioscia and Ken Landreaux all were in the lineup for LA.

Hillgas had to face familiar All Star names like Dale Murphy, Ozzie Virgil, Ken Oberkfell and Ken Griffey Senior.

He was up for the challenge. Through 7 he had a 1 hit shutout. He let up a 2 out single to Graig Nettles (he must have been 100) before finally allowing a run in the 9th. Tim Crews got the final out as Hillegas went 8 2/3 innings for the dominating win.

He pitched well over 10 starts and 2 relief appearances to finish 1987 and give the Dodgers some hope for 1988.

Hillegas began 1988 in AAA but by June he was on the big league roster. Once again he threw 8 2/3 innings to win the game. Once again it was against Atlanta. The Braves pitcher? Tom Glavine.

He pitched reasonably well in July of 1988 but got hit hard in some games in August. As the team was gearing up for a post season run, Hillegas’ role seemed to be that of a middle reliever.

Or maybe a White Sox pitcher. Just before August became September, Hillegas was traded for Ricky Horton, who earned his ring. Hillegas made a few nice starts for Chicago and probably watched the World Series from his home.

The career did not take off the way the White Sox hoped after the deal. A full mediocre year in Chicago as a starter led to his conversion to the bullpen in 1990 and another trip to the minors. He bounced between the Indians, Yankees and A’s, playing on the 1992 AL West champs but was not on the post season roster. His MLB career was done in 1993 and after a comeback attempt in independent ball, he was done.

Maybe his fortunes would have fared better in LA. Maybe he would have had the same career. But he would probably have had a chance to play in October… but it was meant to be for Ricky Horton, not Shawn Hillegas.

 

 

 

Ricky Horton 1988 Topps Traded – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for January 12, 2017

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The Traded Series for Topps was a highlight of my year when I was at my baseball card collecting peak during high school. Cards would always show a player with the team they played for the previous season. So when a player signed elsewhere or was traded, I found myself not sure which pile I needed to put someone in.

Yeah, they are in a Cubs uniform on this card but they play for the Braves now… should I sort them with the Cubs or the Braves?

So Topps, realizing that lunatics like me would spend more money to sort their cards, would release a “Traded Series.” These cards were in the same style of that season’s set but now the players were with their updated teams. Also the traded series would include players brought up from the minors.

But sometimes the Traded Series would freeze players on teams that they played for ever so briefly.

This card for Ricky Horton on the Chicago White Sox is an example of that.

The lefty reliever was a mainstay in St. Louis. He had a solid rookie year as a 24 year old in 1984, winning 9 games, saving one and even throwing a complete game shutout as a spot starter.

Horton was a part of the 1985 and 1987 National League Champions, building a bridge to Ken Dayley and Todd Worrell.

After the Cardinals heart breaking loss to the Twins in the 1987 World Series (their second crushing World Series loss in a 3 year span), Horton looked expendable as did speedster outfielder Lance Johnson. They were packaged to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jose Deleon.

While Johnson became a solid player for the White Sox, Horton did not fare well on the South Side. He let up more hits than innings pitched. He walked more than he struck out. His ERA ballooned and the White Sox sunk far behind the Canseco/McGwire 1988 A’s.

After years of meaningful baseball in St. Louis, Horton was going through a lost year in Chicago.

Then at the end of August with the post season roster deadline looming, Horton was swapped to the Dodgers for pitcher Shawn Hillegas. Now he found himself back in a pennant race. While he didn’t pitch particularly well that September, he landed on the post season roster as several Dodgers including Fernando Valenzuela were injured.

The Dodgers were heavy underdogs to the Mets in the NLCS, but they won it in 7. Their bullpen depth was tested, especially after closer Jay Howell was suspended after Game 3 for hiding pinetar in his glove. Horton contributed with 4 1/3 shutout innings, including 2 shutout frames in the dramatic Game 4 extra inning win for LA.

He did not pitch in the World Series but picked up the ring he was denied in St. Louis.

Over the next few years he bounced between the Dodgers, the Cardinals and the Brewers organization before eventually returning to St. Louis as a broadcaster.

Here he is preserved forever as a White Sox pitcher, despite only being Chicago for a few months. He wore the cursive C hat that is as forgotten as Horton’s tenure in the South Side.

But he is preserved as a White Sox pitcher in a more significant and timeless way than this blog. In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s daughter is watching a White Sox game. Ricky Horton is the pitcher on the TV. The announcer refers to Horton as a “southpaw” which prompts the little girl to ask “What’s a southpaw?”

Later in the scene, she revealed that Shoeless Joe was on the field.

Did Ricky Horton prompt his fellow former White Sox players out of the corn? Maybe that is a little too Hollywood. Then again, his season ended with Los Angeles and an ending right out of the movies, so who knows?