Los Angeles Dodgers Team Picture 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 24, 2017

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I sometimes can’t believe I currently live a few minutes drive from Dodger Stadium. Growing up in New England, Los Angeles seemed like such an exotic and far away place. And the Dodgers were a glamorous and star studded team. They were a lot like the Yankees because they seemed to have an All Star at every position.

Maybe it was appropriate that they played the Yankees in the first few World Series I was ever aware of.

One of the reasons they seemed so exotic to me was I did not get a chance to see them play often. Remember in the days before cable, ESPN or the internet, you basically saw your own local team and maybe the game of the week.

In the suburbs of Boston, the NBC Game of the Week tended to be an American League game that had some connection to the Red Sox pennant race. So there were not a lot of chances to see the players for LA unless it was the All Star Game or the postseason.

Even at the age of 6 or 7, I was aware of who Tommy Lasorda was. He was on TV, he was in the news and eventually he was the Dugout Wizard on The Baseball Bunch.

As I was learning baseball players in the summer of 1978, mainly through Topps cards and my Kellogg’s 3-D Super Star Cards, I kept seeing more and more Dodgers piling up. Reggie Smith was there. So was Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Don Sutton and Burt Hooton.

They had a galaxy of stars. But they were less tangible to me than say the Yankees because at least during the summer, when my family visited my grandparents in Connecticut, I would see the Yankees with Reggie, Guidry, Munson and Nettles on the TV.

This is the team picture of the 1977 NL Champs. The series was a 1978 series, yet another year they won the NL Title. Tom Lasorda won the pennant in his two full seasons managing the club. The two teams were nearly identical, with the exception of Bill North taking over centerfield and the emergence of rookie pitcher Bob Welch.

The results were similar as well. Both years they beat the Phillies in the NLCS in 4. Both years they lost the World Series to the Yankees in 6.

It would be a decade before my family moved to Northern California and in 1991, I finally saw my first game at Dodger Stadium.

Lasorda was still the manager. They still had an exotic and glamorous feel to them. First impressions are tough to shake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Davis 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 21, 2017

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One of the most memorable and significant moments in the history of baseball was set up by a walk. One of the truly universally known World Series finishes would have been a shrug if a slumping player did not look at 4 pitches thrown by a former teammate.

And that same player helped put one of the most unlikely World Series results in history on ice when he swung his bat.

By all reasonable metrics, Mike Davis was a terrible signing by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And yet, he delivered twice in ways that put him in Dodger lore for all time and part of the great baseball narrative.

Davis was drafted by the Oakland A’s out of Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego during the 1977 draft. The A’s were a newly ruined franchise and players like Davis picked into the system were the nuggets of hope for the bleak Oakland future.

Right away, he played well at Medicine Hat in his first year in the minor leagues. He put up huge numbers at Single A Modesto in 1979, earning a promotion to Double A. He split both 1980 and 1981 between Triple A and Oakland, finding it hard to fit into the starting lineup for Billy Martin with an outfield of Dwayne Murphy, Tony Armas and Rickey Henderson. He did get an at bat in the 1981 playoffs for Oakland. By 1983, Davis was in the majors for good.

Right away he showed his stolen base prowess, swiping 32 bags in 1983 along side Rickey Henderson. By 1985, he added power to his bag of tricks. With Henderson traded, Davis played 154 games in 1985 for the A’s, hitting 24 homers, batting .287 and posting an OPS of .832. He added 24 stolen bases for good measure.

When Tony LaRussa had taken over the team in 1986, Davis was a consistent producer, worth 20 homers and 20 steals a year as a left handed hitter.

By 1987, the face of the A’s was forming. Canseco and McGwire were slugging, Carney Lansford was a solid hitter along with Terry Steinbach with Dave Stewart as the ace and Dennis Eckersley was getting a shot to close.

Davis was part of that club but with his contract up, his time with Oakland looked like it was wrapping up as well. His agent, Louis Burrell (yes, related to MC Hammer) got him a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract to go to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that going into 1988 looked like a odd mix of veterans and youth after a few losing seasons.

The A’s and Dodgers made a big deal that sent Bob Welch to Oakland and Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell to LA. Davis probably almost felt at home.

Kirk Gibson also joined the team and the demeanor of the club changed with the transaction.

The Dodgers had a surprising 1988, but it was in spite of Davis. He batted .197 for the first half with a single homer and 11 RBI for the first half, slugging an unheard of .250.

The second half wasn’t much better, batting .194 with 1 homer and an OPS of .564. The totals, an .196 average and a disastrous .530 OPS with 2 homers and 17 RBI, pointed towards the title of Bust.

In the NLCS, he made 4 pinch hit appearances but did not look like he was going to be a factor, even when the Dodgers won the pennant.

With Kirk Gibson injured for the World Series, it did not open a spot for Davis in the starting lineup. Manager Tommy Lasorda opted to go with Mickey Hatcher, a right handed batter, over Davis’ non productive left handed bat.

In Game 1, Lasorda pushed the right button with Hatcher, who hit a 2 run homer in the first off of Dave Stewart. When Jose Canseco hit a grand slam off of the centerfield camera, the A’s took a 4-2 lead. The score was 4-3 going into the 9th when Dennis Eckersley, the impervious A’s closer took the mound.

Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton made quick outs. Two outs. Nobody on. Down by 1 run. Everyone remembers that Kirk Gibson was taking swings in the clubhouse. But Lasorda did not call for Gibson.

Alfredo Griffin was up next. Instead Lasorda called for Davis. Why? I am not 100% sure. Griffin couldn’t hit but neither could Davis. And if Davis made an out, as his .530 OPS suggested was not an uncommon event, then the whole “Gibson was available to pinch hit but Lasorda chose Davis” would have become an urban myth quickly dismissed. “If Gibson was available, then why would he have batted Davis with 2 outs.”

Dave Anderson was on deck as Eckersley nibbled around Davis, who pulled off the walk.

The walk put the winning run at the plate. The walk made what happened afterwards possible. Gibson came up and eventually Davis stole second, making only a single necessary to tie the game.

Well, we all know what happened. Yes, Gibson’s homer would have only been a game tying shot without Davis. But then again there is no Gibson shot if Davis hadn’t been on base. The A’s would win that game and in all probability the World Series.

With the DH in effect in Oakland and facing only right handed starters, Davis was rewarded for his walk by starting Games 3, 4 and 5. In the potential clinching Game 5, Davis rewarded Lasorda and management.

Orel Hershiser was pitching for LA in hoping to clinch. He allowed a run in the third inning to make the score 2-1. With 2 outs in the 4th and a runner on first, Mike Davis came up against Storm Davis. On a 3-1 pitch, he launched a home run into the Oakland stands, like he had done so many times as an Athletic.

Now with a 4-1 lead, Hershiser made the clinching all but a formality, completing the 5-2 final and the title, with a little help from Mike Davis.

Mike Davis played one more season with the Dodgers but his big league career was over. But his place as being one of the sparks for one of baseball’s greatest moments remains secure.

JAY HOWELL – Unsung Post Season Hero of October 19

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OCTOBER 19, 1988 – World Series Game 4

Chances are when you think of the 1988 World Series, the image of Kirk Gibson limping around the bases triumphantly after homering off of Dennis Eckersley comes to mind. That was Game 1. Or maybe you remember the dominance of Orel Hershiser, who threw a complete game victory in Game 2 and in the clinching Game 5.

But the Dodgers won a pivotal Game 4 that neither Gibson nor Hershiser participated in and had they lost, the Series may have gone Oakland’s way.

Sometimes a player can redeem a forgettable post season in one game and go from goat to hero. In the case of Jay Howell, he went from being the face of failure and dishonesty to one of the reasons the Dodgers won the 1988 World Series.

The Dodgers and A’s were linked before the 1988 season began as they were involved in a blockbuster trade that also involved the Mets. Dodgers mainstay Bob Welch was sent packing to Oakland along with reliever Matt Young. The Mets sent closer Jesse Orosco to Los Angeles for a package of minor leaguers and the Dodgers acquired shortstop Alfredo Griffin and reliever Jay Howell. The Dodgers also signed A’s outfielder Mike Davis, who would later figure prominently in the World Series.

Howell was a two time All Star closer for Oakland who they had swiped from the Yankees in the first Rickey Henderson deal. But after an injury in 1987, A’s manager Tony LaRussa had decided to convert fading starter Dennis Eckersley into a reliever. Needless to say that experiment worked and Howell became expendable.

As Eckersley was redefining the role of closer in the East Bay, Howell did a serviceable if unspectacular job for LA who, behind Hershiser and Gibson, won the NL West.

In the NLCS against the heavily favored Mets, Howell blew a Hershiser lead and lost Game 1. After a rain out, Howell again was a bullpen goat for a Hershiser game after he was caught with pinetar in his glove in Game 3. The Dodgers only chance of beating the mighty Mets was to win all of Hershiser’s games. Now thanks to Howell, they have lost 2 of those starts and no longer had a bullpen closer after he was suspended for the rest of the series.

Manager Tommy Lasorda improvised and used Alejandro Pena, Brian Holton and even Hershiser himself to close out games and somehow the Dodgers managed to win the pennant.

In the World Series, now without Gibson except for the one pinch hitting appearance, they looked overwhelmed against Oakland. But a Gibson homer and a Hershiser Game 2 shutout suddenly gave the Dodgers a 2-0 edge.

In Game 3, the Dodgers were trying to take a 3-0 lead  and managed to get the game to the 9th tied 1-1. Howell made his first appearance since his suspension and gave up a walk off homer to Mark McGwire, getting the A’s back into the series. With their ace Dave Stewart going in Game 4 against Tim Belcher, Oakland was all but assured to tie the series at 2. That would mean the Dodgers would have to win at least one non Hershiser start to win the series.

Howell was not only the pine tar cheater, but he may have let Oakland take control. The press wondered if Lasorda should turn to Pena or Orosco as the closer and sit Howell.

In Game 4, the limping Dodger line up took advantage of sloppy Oakland defense and scored 2 runs in the first. The A’s answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the first. In the third, Mike Davis reached base for the second time on an error, this one on Walt Weiss, that scored another unearned Dodger run. LA was not defeating Dave Stewart. The Oakland defense was.

In the bottom of the 7th, the Dodgers were up 4-2 but Oakland was rallying. Dave Henderson doubled to make it a one run game. Lasorda wasted no time to give Howell a chance to redeem himself. He brought his embattled closer into the 7th of a one run game.

The next batters he would have to face: Jose Canseco, Dave Parker and his nemesis from the night before, Mark McGwire.

At first the decision looked like it was going to be a disaster and Howell would have more on his resume of 1988 failures. He walked Canseco and Parker reached on an error that would have ended the inning. Now McGwire faced his former teammate with 2 outs, the bases loaded and LA up by one.

This time Howell won the face off, getting him to pop up to first baseman Tracy Woodson. But the game was not over.

In the 8th, Lasorda stuck with Howell. He got the first two batters out before Ron Hassey singled. But a strike out of Walt Weiss put the Dodgers 3 outs from stealing Game 4.

Orosco and Pena warmed up in the 9th, but once again Lasorda sent out Howell to close the game. With one out, Dave Henderson singled. Jose Canseco came up as the winning run and he was more than capable of joining his Bash Brother McGwire in launching a walk off shot.

With the count full, Howell struck out Canseco swinging. Two outs. With the lefty slugger Dave Parker coming up, bringing in Orosoco seemed like the correct move. Lasorda would have nothing of it. Howell was going to finish the game, even if one swing of Parker’s bat could still end it for the A’s.

On the first pitch, Parker popped it foul to third baseman Jeff Hamilton. Howell had not only saved the game, he had gone 2 1/3 innings to do it, facing at least the tying run with every pitch. He closed it out under the highest pressure situation and did so like a champion.

In the post game press conference, Tommy Lasorda crowed to the reporters who all trashed Howell in their columns, saying he can’t wait to see what they write about him now. He seemed to be on a mission to save Howell’s reputation.

The stunned A’s had now lost both games where Stewart faced off against Belcher and now faced Hershiser in an elimination game. The Dodgers would win it and mob “Bulldog” on the mound for the title (the only franchise to win multiple World Series in the 1980’s.)

Yes it was Gibson’s homer that was the highlight. Yes it was Hershiser who was the MVP. But if Howell did not redeem himself in Game 4, the 1988 World Series might have been that memorable 7 game Oakland victory.

Of the many former A’s players who came back to haunt their team, nobody came up bigger than Jay Howell in Game 4. That makes him the unsung post season hero for October 19.