Nolan Ryan Record Breaker Cards 1978, 1988 and 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for November 17, 2017

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There is an amazing alternate reality in history where Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are teammates for life as members of the New York Mets.

Seaver was still an effective pitcher into the mid 1980’s. Nolan Ryan led the league in strikeouts in 1990 at age 43. They could have rewritten the record book side by side from the 1969 World Series, throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s.

Instead both were traded away in deals that were nothing short of disastrous for the Mets.

The Mets drafted Lynn Nolan Ryan out of Alvin Texas High School in 1965. He made a pair of appearances in 1966 before getting to the big leagues for good in 1968.

He was a spot starter and reliever for the 1969 World Champions. He got the save that clinched the NLCS and won the pennant for the Mets. Later, he won Game 3 of the World Series in relief.

Ryan, along with Seaver and company, was a World Champion. He got that checked off his resume at age 22.

Then after the 1971 season, the Mets decided they had enough pitching and needed to shore up their infield. Jim Fregosi came over to the Mets from the Angels. Ryan was one of multiple players sent to Anaheim.

There his career exploded.

I wrote about his career in a blog post back in 2013. I compared him to George Harrison. Trust me, it made sense to me.

But I can think of no better way of demonstrating how wide spread the trade backfired on the Mets than these three record breaking cards. One was issued in the 1970’s, one in the 1980’s and one in the 1990’s as he remained dominant for all those years after he was shipped off.

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In 1977, he broke Sandy Koufax’s record of most games with 10 or more strikeouts. Koufax’s mark was 97. Ryan finished with 104 at the end of 1977. Keep in mind he would pitch for 15 more seasons. He would finish with 148 games of 10 or more strikeouts… in the American League.

The grand total he would reach is 215 when his years with the Mets and Astros are included.

Inexplicably, I tried to draw beard on his face on this 1978 Topps card. Don’t ask me why.

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In 1988, Topps issued THIS Record Breaker card to commemorate Ryan passing 200 or more strikeouts for the 11th time in his career. That would set the all time mark.

To add insult to injury, the pitcher he passed was Tom Seaver. He would eventually pass 200 strikeouts 15 times in his career.

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The final record breaker card honors his 5000th strikeout. He would fan Rickey Henderson no less to reach that mark. To be fair, this highlight would also be in the 1980’s but he would win the 1990 strikeout crown and throw another no hitter in that decade.

Nobody else in history has fanned 5,000 for their career. Randy Johnson’s 4,875 has come closest. And that is a far cry from Ryan’s final tally of 5,714.

Ryan won 324 games, 295 of them for teams other than the Mets. All of these records could have been set in Flushing. He would have been a New York legend.

Instead he had to settle for one of the most famous and beloved stars in the history of baseball and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

A little more value than say Jim Fregosi.

League Leaders Julio Franco, Rangers Fleer 1992 – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 14, 2017

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There seems to be a bottomless pit of interesting information regarding the remarkable career of Julio Franco. He played in the Majors until he was nearly 50 years old. His professional career stretched from the late 1970’s until the 2007 season.

Franco was a one and done player on the Hall of Fame ballot but his name is all over the record books. And who knows? If his career didn’t have a few sojourns into foreign leagues, he might have reached the 3,000 hit mark and who knows where that would have led him.

And he also taught me, yes me, an interesting lesson about how RBIs can be amassed.

Franco was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies out of his native Dominican Republic in 1978. The 23 year old Franco made his big league debut on April 23, 1982.

Among the Phillies names in the lineup were Ivan DeJesus, Pete Rose, Bo Diaz, Garry Maddox, Manny Trillo, Sid Monge and Ozzie Virgil. They faced the Cardinals who played Bob Forsch, Gene Tenace, Keith Hernandez, Ozzie Smith and Darrell Porter among others.

I listed those names to give you a sense of the era he first showed up in. The names in his final big league game would look a lot different.

He only played 16 games with the Phillies in 1982 and in the off season was shipped off in a multiplayer deal to Cleveland, bringing Von Hayes to Philadelphia.

Franco hit well in his first year in Cleveland, finishing as the Rookie of the Year runner up to Chicago’s Ron Kittle. Between 1983 and 1987, he steadily improved each year. He became a consistent .300 hitter, albeit one that didn’t walk much. His OPS climbed to .818 in 1988, he would steal bases and had good gap line drive power.

His defense at shortstop was suspect and was moved to second base in 1987.

In 1989, the Indians dealt Franco to the Rangers in a 3 for 1 move. In Texas he made three straight trips to the All Star Game, winning the Mid Summer Classic MVP in 1990. His power increased while he still stole 30 plus bases a year.

In 1991, as this Fleer Card celebrates, he won the batting title, finishing the season with a .341 mark. His OPS was .882 and he brought home his fourth straight silver slugger award.

But injuries in 1992 slowed him down as he only played 35 games. He came back in 1993 to hit .289 with an OPS of .798. He tested the Free Agent waters after 1993 and landed with a super talented White Sox team.

Manager Gene Lamont put Julio Franco in the cleanup spot behind Frank Thomas. I remember when that happened, I thought he was crazy. “Franco doesn’t drive in runs. He should bat second and be driven in.”

But a funny thing happened. Franco DID drive in runs. He hit a career high 20 homers, hit .319 and his OPS soared to .916. And in the strike shortened season, he drove in 98 runs in 112 games. He would have easily passed 110 or even 120 RBI if there wasn’t labor strife.

It was the first realization I made that perhaps “being a run producer” meant being a good hitter when runners were on base. Maybe putting a good hitter there, and not necessarily a masher, meant producing more runs.

Had the White Sox played a full season in 1994, who knows how far they would have gone? Either way, the strike did hit and in the labor limbo, Franco left MLB for Japan.

He put up big numbers for Chiba Lotte and cashed a nice paycheck. In 1996, he returned to America to rejoin he Cleveland Indians. They were the defending AL Champs and looked to go to the World Series and win it in 1996. Franco contributed a .322 average and .877 OPS for the Tribe and played in his first post season.

Cleveland fell short to Baltimore in the playoffs but looked to come back in 1997. Franco played on that squad as well but was dealt to Milwaukee midway through the season and was not part of the team that lost a lead in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

In 1998, no big league team was interested in a 39 year old DH. He returned to Japan for 1998 and after one at bat with the 1999 Devil Rays, found himself playing a team in Mexico and a team in Korea.

By 2001, he was 42 years old, essentially out of MLB since 1997 and hitting with the Mexico City Tigers.

But man he was hitting. In 110 games and 469 plate appearances, he was batting .437.

That isn’t a typo. The first number was a 4. His OPS was 1.175. Granted, it wasn’t against big league pitching. But the Atlanta Braves, looking to get back to the World Series after a disappointing 2000 playoffs, took a flier.

Franco was back in the major leagues as a 42 year old pinch hitter. Baseball fans all over the country did a double take. “Wait, is that the SAME Julio Franco?”

Yup. He batted .300 in a part time role and hit .301 in the Division Series sweep of the Houston Astros. He homered in the Division Series and NLCS, again falling short of the World Series.

He remained on the Braves as a part time first baseman and pinch hitter, playing in the post season for the 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 Division Champs. In the 2003 Division Series, he batted .500 and had an OPS of 1.225 in a part time role.

In 2006, the 47 year old Franco signed with the Mets and once again played in October as New York lost a heart breaking NLCS to St. Louis.

The 48 year old Franco played his final game with the 2007 Atlanta Braves. That was 15 years after the featured Fleer Card was issued.

His last game was against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins would not exist until 11 years after Franco’s big league debut. In his final game, not only did they exist, but they had torn down two World Champions and fired Joe Girardi.

The hero of the 1997 and 2010 World Series, Edgar Renteria, was Franco’s teammate in that game. So was Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz.

Players like Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera were playing for the Marlins. They are both still active.

In his final MLB at bat, Julio Franco singled off of Lee Gardner for an RBI single.

Gardner was 7 years old when Julio Franco made his big league debut.

That is quite a baseball life. He amassed nearly 4,000 professional hits, including 2,586 in the majors. Franco is the oldest player to hit a grand slam, a pinch hit homer and 2 homers in an MLB game.

He returned to the Mexican League in 2008 and played 7 games for an independent league as a 55 year old is 2014. In 2015, he was a 57 year old player manager in Japan and who knows? He might be back for a return.

Bobby Valentine 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 1, 2017

IMG_2336I am going to say something that might surprise you when you consider that I am a Red Sox fan.

I LOVE Bobby Valentine. No, I am not being sarcastic. I really do. I think he is great. I have warm feelings about him.

I am not even mad about his one disastrous season as manager of the Red Sox. That horrible season, 2012, set up the magic of seeing my Red Sox win it all in 2013. There was no prolonged agony of the Bobby Valentine year.

The great Boston collapse of 2011 and the insanity and futility of the 2012 Bobby V Sox were the prologue for the Red Sox stunning triumph the next year.

Titles heal all wounds. Yeah, he managed the single worst season in Red Sox history since the 1967 pennant and the beginning of Red Sox Nation. That made 2013 sweeter and made John Farrell look like the second coming of Earl Weaver by comparison.

So thank you Bobby V.

It is a shame that so much of Bobby V’s reputation is tied to that one horrible year. Truth be told, he lived a wonderful baseball life and has a job that he SHOULD be doing right now.

Bobby V belongs on television. He used to be on ESPN. He was WONDERFUL on ESPN. He has a great look on TV, a unique sounding voice and a know it all smirk that can be funny and condescending all at once.

Bobby V could take the role that Howard Cosell once did so wonderfully on his many roles in ABC Sports. You might not agree with him, but he is usually right.

He would reach back from a fertile spring of knowledge. A former first round pick and college star, Valentine played in the Dodgers organization before moving to the Angels and Padres.

In 1977, he joined the Mets as part of the controversial Dave Kingman deal.

Eventually, his career wound down as a player only to become a solid manager in three very different places. He took over as manager of the Rangers in 1985 and by 1986, they had a contender on the field. They finished second to the Angels with an 87-75 record. The team had talented and colorful stars like Ruben Sierra, Oddible McDowell, Mitch Williams, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Guzman, Greg Harris and Bobby Witt.

The team looked like they could contend in a soft AL West but fell short in a disappointing 1987 season and then were frequently buried by the A’s.

But Valentine managed solid All Stars like Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco as well as the return of Nolan Ryan to the American League. The Rangers didn’t go to any Octobers under Bobby V, but they were fun to watch.

When Rangers owner and future President George W. Bush let him go, Bobby V eventually found himself in Japan.

He managed the Chiba Lotte Marines to their best record in years in 1995 but clashed with management and was fired.

In 1996, he returned to America and while managing the Mets Triple A team, he was called up to take over the major league squad from Dallas Green.

The Mets were a disaster and just 3 year removed from arguably the least likable team in franchise history. Under Bobby V, however, the team won 88 games and contended in 1997. In 1998, the team was a Wild Card contender down the stretch again.

In 1999, the Mets won a one game playoff against the Reds to win the Wild Card, stunned Arizona with a walk off homer to clinch the Division Series and took the Braves 6 games in one of the wildest and most dramatic NLCS ever played.

In 2000, the Mets topped the Giants and the Cardinals to win the NL Pennant before losing the Subway Series to the Yankees in 5 hard fought games. Bobby V and Joe Torre were a pair of Italian American managers from the Northeast. One was a smart aleck, the other was a gentle grandfather figure. It was a fabulous compare and contrast.

While Torre had a stern but loving paternal quality to him, Valentine would get ejected and then put on a mustache as a disguise back in the dugout. The remains one of the funniest moments in baseball history.

Bobby V’s Mets were instrumental in the healing post 9/11 and Mike Piazza’s homer against the Braves still resonates in the city. He won the Branch Rickey Award for his charity work. But eventually he and GM Steve Phillips clashed too many times and he was let go in 2002, just 2 years after delivering the fourth pennant in Mets history.

He returned to the Chiba Lotte Marines and led them to the 2005 Japan Series championship, making him a hero for the locals and capping a wonderful managerial career. Bobby V clashed with management again, but when the Marines tried to smear him publicly, the fans were all on the manager’s side.

He returned to America and ESPN. He should never have left or even wanted another managerial job. He should have been like John Madden and let people think “If he got another gig, he’d be great.”

Instead he had the disastrous year in Boston. It would be like remembering Michael Caine only from Jaws The Revenge.

Bobby V had the baseball life to BE a know it all on TV. That should have been his American legacy. He would always be the smartest guy in the studio.

Just ask him.