The Rest of the Cards of the Day will be Team Pictures

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Happy Thanksgiving my readers and followers! Only a few weeks left in 2017 and I will indeed share a baseball card a day with my Card of the Day blog posts.

Between now and the end of the year, I have decided to post cards of Team Pictures.

I used to love getting the Topps team pictures cards. Obviously as a Red Sox fan, I looked forward the most to getting a Boston card. But when I would see pics from far away places, like Los Angeles, San Diego or Seattle, I would wonder what it would be like rooting for one of those teams.

Now I am on the West Coast and the baseball world looks a lot smaller now. But back when I was a kid, these team pictures were windows into fandoms beyond my knowledge.

Every single team will get at least one posting. That includes both the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals. Because there are 39 days left in 2017, a few teams will get more than one post. No doubt some people will claim bias.

I claim math.

So we are in the home stretch of baseball card sharing. Let’s get on with it.

’77 Record Breaker Sparky Lyle, 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for November 18, 2017

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I have mentioned several times that 1978 was my first year of collecting baseball cards and in many ways, my education into baseball. I learned who the players were, what the teams were, who played for whom, who used to play for different teams etc.

I also learned terms and the language of baseball as a 6 year old. Some seemed intuitive. Others fascinated me.

That brings me to this card celebrating the record breaking achievement of Sparky Lyle. The record itself, listed at the top of the card, totally bewildered me.

There was Sparky Lyle. I knew who he was. I mainly knew Red Sox and Yankees players. I knew Sparky was a star on the Yankees. I also knew he pitched with Goose Gossage (remember this was 1978.)

But what was this record?

Most Games… Pure Relief… Lifetime.

Pure in it caught me off guard. I also had a tendency to say “Lifetime” as if I was saying “Lifetiiiiiiiiime.” I said it almost as if I was going to say “Out of sight!” as a punctuation. It seemed very 70’s… or as I thought of it as a kid, the only reality I knew.

Pure. Did that mean he was clean? Did that mean nobody did it better? I had an idea what a relief pitcher did. He came in and replaced the starter.

Was his record that he came in and always gave pure relief… never did anything wrong… and did that all of his life?

That seemed like the only logical explanation.

So for his entire life, he came in and got the job done, got pure relief…. lifetiiiiiiime.

Well, now I understand what it REALLY means. It means that in 1977 Sparky Lyle pitched his 621st game in the big leagues and all were out of the bullpen. He had never made a start. Bob Locker had held the record prior to that year with 576 games, all out of the bullpen.

He would go on to have 899 games of pure relief in his career. (You would think someone could have squeezed in appearance 900 in his career.)

It is a strange record. There have been other relievers who threw more innings or made more appearances than Lyle. Mariano Rivera and Hoyt Wilhelm come to mind. But Rivera made several starts in his rookie year and Wilhelm started some games in his long career.

Lyle, much to my amazement as a kid, began his career with the Red Sox. Why would the Red Sox trade him? Remember, I was young. I didn’t realize at the time how the ineptitude of the Red Sox front office was so often to the benefit of the New York Yankees.

The Sox got infielder Danny Cater out of it and saw themselves have bullpen issues throughout the 1970’s. Meanwhile Lyle blossomed with the Yankees. As the role of the reliever was developing into a more vital position for championship caliber teams, Lyle became the Yankees’ top fireman. He would pile up saves, wins and keep his ERA low, which were the relief metrics at the time.

Lyle had an undeniably terrific year in 1977. He threw 137 innings (pure relief of course), saved 26 games, won 13 and kept his ERA to 2.17. In his league leading 72 appearances, he averaged nearly 2 innings per appearance.

In the post season, he made a ALCS saving appearance in Game 4. With the Yankees on the verge of elimination by Kansas City, the Royals were rallying in the 4th. Ed Figueroa and Dick Tidrow could not hold the KC bats down and Yankee killer George Brett came up with the tying and go ahead runs on base.

Billy Martin brought in his relief ace in the 4th. He got Brett out but now he had to figure out what to do with Lyle.

His solution was novel. Martin had Lyle throw 5 1/3 shutout innings to finish the game and earn the win. That was great but what was he going to do in the do or die Game 5?

Ron Guidry had a poor start in Game 5. This time it was Mike Torrez’s turn to throw 5 1/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen. But when Torrez ran into trouble in the 8th, Lyle came back out with no days rest. He finished the 8th. The Yankees rallied in the top of the 9th to take the lead. Lyle came in and finished the 9th and clinched the pennant.

He was the winning pitcher of the last two games of the ALCS and the first game of the World Series. The Yankees would capture the World Series title but Mike Torrez would have the honor of clinching the final game.

Lyle, a known practical joker and later author of a tell all book about his days with the Yankees, took home the Cy Young Award. The sabermetric crowd would have given it to Frank Tanana of California, who of course got no first place votes.

Because three pitchers all led the AL with 20 wins and that was still the main metric for pitching greatness, perhaps the vote was split.

Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Dennis Leonard and Dave Goltz all got first place votes for Cy Young. So did Bill Campbell who won the Rolaids Fireman Award for best reliever. Lyle won the Cy Young but couldn’t take the top reliever award.

That’s a strange year. It was an even stranger off season for Lyle. He won the Cy Young but lost his job. Steinbrenner signed Rich Gossage from the Pirates, hoping to make a 1-2 tandem in the bullpen. It didn’t quite work and as Graig Nettles said, Lyle went from “Cy Young to Sayonara.”

Lyle was traded to the Rangers in the deal that brought Dave Righetti to the Yankees. He played in the 1981 playoffs for the Phillies before finishing his career with the White Sox.

He couldn’t get that 900th appearance of pure relief in his lifetime (lifetiiiiiiime.)

But what else did he do? He did a chewing tobacco commercial that was aired on TV. The 1970’s were a different time.

Moose Stubing 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for October 4, 2017

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I am so glad that Moose Stubing has an official Topps baseball card. He earned it.

Oh on the surface, it doesn’t look like he did anything positive on the big league level, neither as a player or as a manager.

All he did was live a baseball life for decades only to have just a pair of fleeting tastes of the highest level of competition.

That was worth a Topps card. Even one where he is wearing a strange mesh cap and not a game used Angels hat.

First of all, he was named Moose. OK, that isn’t the name on his birth certificate. That reads Lawrence George Stubing. Somewhere between entering the world in 1938 and the printing of this Topps Card, he was called Moose.

Moose is an underrated nickname. A Moose is big, but not fat. Intimidating but not deadly. Linked to nature but not necessarily cute and cuddly. They take their time getting where they need to go, but don’t mess with them because their antlers don’t tickle.

Not sure which of those qualities Moose Stubing had. But they were enough for a kid from the Bronx and White Plains, New York to play professional ball.

In 1956, the 18 year old Stubing played at Brunswick for the Pirates organization. The next year he was playing for the New York Giants farm club in Selma, Alabama. he batted .296 with 12 homers and 18 stolen bases. But any hope for him playing in New York for the Giants were dashed as the team moved to San Francisco after 1957.

Between 1958 and 1964, the left handed hitting first baseman bounced all around the Giants organization, playing in Selma, St. Cloud, Springfield, Rio Grande Valley, Tacoma and El Paso. It seems like the only place he DIDN’T play for the Giants was San Francisco.

The Giants had Orlando Cepeda and then Willie McCovey at first. There was no room for Stubing, even in 1964 when he hit .316 with 35 homers, 120 RBI and an OPS of 1.062.

He moved to the Cardinals organization in 1965 but once again was stuck in the minors.

As he slogged through the 1967 season, now in the Angels organization, he had played 12 seasons for 9 different minor league teams without one single Major League game on his record.

Then on August 14, 1967, he got the call. He was going to be a California Angel.

The Twins, in the thick of the pennant race, were trying to close out a 2-1 game. But a pair of hits and a passed ball put the tying and winning runs in scoring position. Twins reliever Al Worthington came in to face Angels second baseman Bobby Knoop.

Angels manager Bill Rigney rolled the dice and sent up Stubing to make his big league debut. A base hit would be a game winner and a culmination of all the hard work put in at the minor league level.

He struck out. The game was over.

Stubing made 4 more pinch hit appearances that month. He stuck out 4 times in his 5 at bats. The one time he made contact, he grounded out to the pitcher in a game against the eventual AL Champion Red Sox.

He did not appear in a game in September. Stubing played 2 more seasons in the Angels organization but never got another call up. His big league career consisted of 5 pinch hit appearances, no hits, 4 strikeouts. He never played an inning in the field.

If he were to truly make it in the majors, it would be as a manager. ¬†Stubing’s playing career ended in 1969. Soon afterwards, he was back in the Angels organization as a scout.

Before long, he was managing minor league teams for the Angels. In 1973, he was the skipper in El Paso.  As with his playing days, he bounced around, going from Salinas to the Quad Cities to Salt Lake City. He won minor league titles in El Paso and Edmonton, becoming a fixture in the Angels minor leagues as a manager as much as he was in the Giants minor leagues as a player.

After the 1984 season and a succesfull run with Edmonton, he made it back to the majors. He was going to be on Gene Mauch’s coaching staff with the California Angels. Stubing was there for the 1986 AL West champs who came oh so close to the World Series.

When Mauch’s run ended after the 1987 season, Stubing stayed on with Cookie Rojas as manager. But the Angels faltered in a disappointing 1988 campaign. It was clear a change needed to be made for 1989.

The Angels management fired Rojas with 8 games left. The role of managing the team for the last week or so of the season landed on Stubing.

Stubing worked all of his playing life for shot at the big leagues and got those 5 at bats. Now he worked he way up to major league manager.

The team was mired in a miserable 5-12 stretch and Stubing hoped to end the season on a high note.

His first game, on Friday September 23, Stubing saw his Angels get clobbered by the Twins 7-1.

The second game, he saw the Angels tie the game in the 8th. But he left starter Mike Witt in too long and the Twins won the game in the 9th. They would lose 3 more one run games under his watch.

In all, he managed the final 8 games of the year. The Angels lost all 8 games. The team lost their final 12 games and finished the season 4-19.

Doug Rader was named manager after the season and Stubing stayed on as a coach in 1989 and 1990 before continuing on as a scout in both the Angels and later the Nationals organizations.

He never got a hit as a big leager player. He never played the field. He never won a game as a Major League manager.

Yet he lived a baseball life and one that he can say he reached the highest level of both playing and managing, if only for a moment.

That is not only worth a Topps card but also worth a post on my blog.