MLB Leading Firemen 1978 Card – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 12, 2017

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It is harder to get more old school in terms of praising bullpen closers than this “Leading Firemen” card from 1978.

You have a pair of classic relievers, now both in the Hall of Fame, and both quick to point out today what is wrong with closers who only throw one inning for the save.

It is odd to see a clean shaven Gossage, who famously grew out a big mustache to the point where it is mentioned on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Fingers, still sporting his stache he grew for bonuses in Oakland, is seen during his run with San Diego.

It is funny how they are perceived as old school and “the way things should be done” now. In the 1970’s they both represented what, in many people’s eyes, was what was wrong WITH KIDS TODAY!

Besides being dominating closers, what is one thing that both Rich Gossage and Rollie Fingers had in common? They were both early participants in free agency.

Gossage cut his teeth for many years with the White Sox. He spent one year in Pittsburgh before cashing in and signing a multi million dollar contract to join the Yankees. The Yankees already had a bullpen closer, Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle. But he was looked on as a mercenary, chasing the big bucks.

As for Fingers, who was part of the great A’s teams that won 3 straight World Series titles, he also cashed in. He left the team that developed him and made him a star to become a millionaire playing for San Diego, a team that had no chance.

Free agency, supposedly, was going to kill the sport and make sure only the rich teams won and bankrupt small teams. Of course the opposite happened. The 1980’s saw parity like never before in baseball and big market teams were often on the outside looking in.

But think of another element of these two players that would have upset the previous generations. Pitchers were supposed to go nine innings. Relievers were the scrubs not good enough to be starters. These guys were becoming millionaires, making more money than Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford ever made, and they were just throwing 2 innings a game.

Wasn’t this the softness of the new generation out for everyone to see? In MYYYYYYY day, you didn’t even WANT to be a reliever. But these kids today like Gossage and Fingers, they don’t care. Just throw 2 innings a game and get millions. Soft kids. They would never have survived in MYYYYY day.

Now they are the old men.

Of course this was in the infancy of judging relievers. The save stat had only been official for about a decade and people were still trying to figure out how to judge the value of a reliever.

Take a look at the back of the card.

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You see they had essentially the first draft of a formula. Saves plus Relief Wins equal total points. Of course a reliever can get a relief win when they pitch poorly. A save can be a sloppy performance.

Blown saves and losses were not taken into account. Neither were inherited runners scored. But it was an attempt and this sort of statistical analysis was all brand new.

Everything new becomes old eventually. And even two players who may have represented everything WRONG about baseball for one generation could become the beacon of the good old days for another.

Alvin Dark 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 23, 2017

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I am sure I say things now that future generations will call “insensitive” and maybe bigoted or perhaps even racist. Our knowledge of what is appropriate language grows with each  passing years.

Some people complain, whine about “political correctness” or some other euphemism. But as we as a culture evolves to a more tolerant and understanding society, there will always be those who express the points of view of the past.

Transitions will always be hardest for them. But we should not be quick to forgive with the blanket “they are from a different time.” An ignorant statement is an ignorant statement. They should be treated as such. And hopefully the people who say the ignorant statement can learn from their mistakes.

I hope Alvin Dark did. He lived a wonderful baseball life but said something publicly that expressed a point of view of bigoted mindset. Later in Dark’s life, he predicted his statement would be mentioned in his obituary.

He was right.

Dark accomplished just about everything one could hope for in a baseball career. The Oklahoma native grew up in Louisiana. He served our country in World War II, was courted by the Philadelphia Eagles to play football and signed with the Boston Braves. His service time may have cost Dark a shot at the Hall of Fame.

He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1948 and led Boston to the World Series where they fell to the Cleveland Indians. Later he became the captain of the New York Giants under Leo Durocher. He was a part of the 1951 NL champs and 1954 World Series winners. Durocher considered him to be the cement of the team.

After bouncing between the Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies and Braves between 1956 and 1960, he retired and became the manager of the 1961 Giants.

In his second year, the San Francisco squad beat the Dodgers for the pennant and locked horns with the Yankees. Willie McCovey hit a deep foul ball and a line drive with two outs and the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. Had the foul ball stayed fair or the line drive was a foot to the left of Bobby Richardson, the Giants would have won the World Series.

Instead the Yankees won 1-0 and took the Series.

Later he would manage the Kansas City A’s and the Cleveland Indians. In 1974, he joined a turbulent Oakland A’s squad that had just won back to back World Series. Dark was taking over for Dick Williams who led them to the post season in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and won it all in the last two years.

Dark was a lot different than Williams, laying on his Christian faith thick in the clubhouse and going along with all of owner Charlie Finley’s hairbrained schemes. There might not have been a lot of harmony in the A’s clubhouse, but there was success.

Oakland would win the 1974 World Series over Los Angeles. Dark successfully managed both Bay Area teams to the World Series. It should have been the crowning achievement of a long career.

He was let go after 1975 and after a brief stint managing the Padres, as shown in this Topps Card, he retired. He lived until November 2014.

But alas, that isn’t his legacy. His long term legacy is expressing a mindset probably forged from growing up in Depression Era Louisiana but can be still heard from bigots today.

During the 1964 season, he was quoted by Newsday reporter Stan Isaacs complaining about the racial makeup of the San Francisco Giants.

“We have trouble because we have so many Negro and Spanish-speaking players on this team. They are just not able to perform up to the white players when it comes to mental alertness.”

That’s what he was quoted as saying. He was referring to a team featuring Willie Mays, arguably the greatest player in baseball history, plus Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal plus Jesus, Matty and Felipe Alou.

Dark did damage control, claimed his words were “deformed” and he was misunderstood. What is there to misunderstand about this?

The players on his team, including Cepeda, remembered him asking the Spanish speaking players to only speak English. Felipe Alou thought Dark was a nice man who was “totally separated from the reality of the world.”

I bet he just held long unchallenged views that he never expected to have to defend. Either way, his days on the Giants were numbered.

It was not his racial views that got him removed from the team but a hypocrisy of his devout Christian life. The loud Bible thumper was carrying on a long term extra marital affair. The revelation of that mixed with his racial controversy led to his dismissal after the 1964 season.

Was Dark a racist? No doubt he was a product of a racist environment. Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson both defended his character but that does not diminish what he felt comfortable to express as a truism.

It is clear over this year that we have a long way to go with racial peace in this country. There are still plenty of people who hold points of view, whether they are insidious or not, that an entire ethnic group is superior to another.

That must always be combated and the people who express that must be made to understand the folly of their point of view.

Alvin Dark never lived it down but perhaps we can learn from it and improve. Maybe he did. We may never know.

But the player and manager who was ironically nicknamed “Blackie” had his wonderful baseball life tarnished by his words.

Joaquin Benoit 2016 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 24, 2017

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Let me get this out of the way. I hate camouflage uniforms.

I’ve been saying I hate camouflage uniforms for a while. It has nothing to do with a lack of respect for the military. In fact it is BECAUSE of my respect of the military that makes me dislike camouflage uniforms.

Serving our country is more than wearing a costume. And having a ballplayer wear a REALLY ugly uniform to me isn’t a tribute. It is just an eye sore.

Done millions to Wounded Warriors. Give tickets away to these heroes. Hell, I can’t stop crying every time I see one of those ads where the kid of a soldier throws out the first pitch without knowing their father or mother is behind the plate wearing a catchers mask and then the kid hugs them.

I am crying typing that.

But these uniforms are awful. I would rather they are dressed in big American flags than this.

However, I will make the exception with the Padres. I didn’t always have that stance. In 2010, I singled out the Padres and wanted them to throw out the camo unis. Points of view can evolve. I’ve seen the Reds, Mets, Pirates and other teams wear the camo and MAN it looks awful.

Because the Padres have such a connection with the military that I will give them a pass. That is my compromise. If there HAS to be camos, the Padres get to do it. Everyone else, donate. OK?

Now on to Joaquin Benoit.

Unlike most players in this series, Benoit is still an active player. As of this writing he is a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher. But because he is a veteran reliever for a last place team, it is safe to predict he will be sent packing to some contending team.

Benoit has already pitched for 15 plus seasons in the majors. The first seven seasons (plus a game in another year) he was with the Rangers. After 3 years of plus 5 ERAs as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and found some success. He would strikeout more than one an inning and in 2007 won 7 games with an ERA of 2.85.

He no longer started and seldom closed. He was a classic middle man during those years where the Rangers were good enough to have a winning record but not better than the A’s nor Angels for the Division Title.

After missing the 2009 season with a surgery, he landed with the 2010 Rays in time for them to win their second Division Title in 3 yeears. He posted a 1.34 ERA while striking out 75 in 60 1/3 innings. He won a game out of the bullpen in the Division Series but the Rays fell in the playoffs to his old team, the Rangers.

He joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and helped the Tigers win back to back Divisions and pitched in the 2012 World Series.

In 2013, Benoit was inserted into the closer role as Jose Valverde could no longer do the job. With bullpen issues derailing their 2012 World Series hopes, the Tigers needed a reliable anchor to the pen. Benoit was up for the task, saving 24 and seeing his ERA kept to a solid 2.01. He struck out 73 in 67 and saved 2 games in the Division Series including the clincher in Oakland.

Now armed with a reliable closer and their superstar lineup, the Tigers went into the 2013 ALCS against Boston with images of back to back pennants dancing in their heads.

In Game 1, Benoit looked to pitch his way into history. He was going to close out the 1-0 game which was a combined no hitter in the 9th. He did let up a hit but locked down the game and the save.

In Game 2, the Tigers ran up a 5-1 lead but the middle relief could not do their job. Benoit was pushed into service for a 4 out save, facing David Ortiz. And as we all remember, Ortiz hit his pitch into the bullpen, Torii Hunter flipped over, the cop jumped up and down and the Red Sox had tied the game with a grand slam.

Had the Tigers held onto that lead and went 2-0 into Detroit with Verlander rested and ready, chances are Detroit wins the pennant.

Instead Benoit was placed as another name in the Tigers bullpen woes narrative.

He pitched two solid years for the Padres in 2014 and 2015 before moving to the Mariners and Blue Jays in 2016. He wore camo in San Diego, which I will grind my teeth and be find with.

He is in Philadelphia now. By the time I publish this, who knows where he will be.

I hope he won’t wear camo again.