Neal Heaton 1988 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for June 17, 2017


Neal Heaton was profiled by Sports Illustrated when he was a college pitcher at the University of Miami. The copywriters who made the headline of the article managed to make a pun “The Heat is On with Heaton.”

For the record, the article was written 2 1/2 years before Glenn Frey song was released.

The article followed Heaton and his coach Ron Fraser as the pitcher could not be beat and the coach had images of a college World Series dancing in his head.

Someone reading the article would assume Neal Heaton was heading to stardom. And when you consider how many profiles of can’t miss players turn into busts, the fact that Neal Heaton pitched a dozen years in the major leagues and made an All Star Team would denote that the article wasn’t far off.

Heaton was from Queens and dreamed of playing for the Mets. The Mets did indeed select him in the January phase of the 1979 draft but he opted to take his talents to Miami.

He was a legit college star and focused on his pitching, even playing summer ball in Alaska.

Think about that: He went from Miami to Alaska to play baseball. You really can’t have a stranger travel itinerary than that!

The Indians eventually selected him and he spent only 1 1/2 seasons in the minors before he was inserted into Cleveland’s rotation. He had a decent rookie year in 1983 but was hit hard in 1984 and 1985.

In 1986, the Indians had a surprise winning season, but the 26 year old Heaton was not there for the end. On June 20th, he was sent packing to the Twins for John Butcher.

In his second game with Minnesota, he threw 5 1/3 strong innings in relief during an 11-2 blow out from the White Sox. 4 days later, he threw a 3 inning save.

A week later, the Twins gave him a start and he responded with a complete game, allowing 1 run over 9 innings against Baltimore. He took the hard luck 1-0 loss but looked like a solid addition.

Going into the 1987 season, Heaton looked to be a part of a Twins rotation with Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven. Instead he was sent packing to Montreal in a deal that brought Jeff Reardon to the Twins bullpen. The 1987 season would end with Reardon clinching the final out of the World Series for the Twins. Heaton, who would win 13 games for the Expos but post a mediocre 4.52 ERA, would be nowhere near the celebration.

After a down year in 1988 with the Expos, Heaton found himself in Pittsburgh for the 1989 season. Used as a long reliever and spot starter, he had a good season, throwing to a 3.05 ERA over 147 1/3 innings pitched. By the end of September he was inserted into the rotation and pitching well with hope for a spot in the 1990 starting staff.

1990 was an interesting year for the Pirates. After years on non contention, they finally had a solid core of players and hope for a Division Title, their first since 1979.

Heaton won his first 6 decisions in 1990 and by June 24th had a record of 10-2 with a 2.89 ERA. The Pirates were in first, battling the Mets and Expos, and Heaton earned himself a spot on the 1990 National League All Star team.

He won only 2 games in the second half, although his ERA for the second half was lower than the first half, oddly. Manager Jim Leyland shifted Heaton to a long relief role down the stretch, making only one start after August 20th. He did not pitch in the NLCS loss against the Reds.

In 1991, he was almost exclusively a reliever for the Eastern champs but again did not make a post season appearance. Between 1992 and 1993, he bounced between the Royals, Brewers and Yankees before finally calling it a career.

After his playing days, he has coached in several baseball academies in New York, helping other kids make it to the show.

Neal Heaton did indeed make it. But what if he didn’t? According to the SI article, if he didn’t make it in baseball, one of his ambitions was to be a shark hunter. He casually described how he and his brother caught a mako off of Long Island.

Could Neal Heaton have had a life where he was Quint from Jaws? I’d like to think so.

Cleveland Fans… MOVE TO FLORIDA!

There are many reasons to move to Florida.
The sunshine… the affordable housing… the wonderful collection of loons that populate the state… easy to comprehend ballots…
But add to that list “Championship caliber sports” almost no matter what kind of sport you follow.
We Boston fans can be a little obnoxious in claiming this decade for ourselves in terms of sports titles.
Detroit fans can crow a lot with the Red Wings halfway to their third Stanley Cup this decade to go with an NBA Title for the Pistons and the 2006 AL Pennant for the Tigers.
But for the joy of rooting for a winner (a feeling that is delayed for 4 1/2 decades and counting in Cleveland) where can you find more winners and in more different categories than Florida this decade?

The Florida State Seminoles won the 2000 Sugar Bowl for the BCS Title
The University of Miami Hurricanes won the 2002 Rose Bowl for the BCS Title
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.
The Florida Marlins won the 2003 World Series
The Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup
The Miami Heat won the 2006 NBA Finals
The University of Florida Gators won the 2006 and 2007 Division 1 Basketball Title.
The University of Florida Gators won the 2007 and 2009 BCS Title

And some other highlights

The Florida State Seminoles played in the 2001 Orange Bowl for the BCS Title but lost
The University of Miami Hurricanes played in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl for the BCS Title but lost
The Tampa Bay Rays won the 2008 AL Pennant but lost the World Series to the Phillies.

And now the Orlando Magic has made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
Practically the only Florida team that HASN’T had a highlight has been the most famous Florida team, the Miami Dolphins.
(OK, fine… the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Florida Panthers haven’t booked a parade route recently.)
I guess the best advice I can give to Cleveland fans is this…
Move to Florida!
Remember that 1997 World Series and 2009 Eastern Conference Final that put a bad taste in your mouth?
In Florida, those were HAPPY occasions!
Not convinced?
Here’s winter in Cleveland.

Here’s winter in Florida.

See the difference?
Come on. Book a flight.

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