Vic Davalillo 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for January 11, 2017

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Yup, another 1978 Topps card. I am probably going to do a lot from this set over the course of this year.

I love careers like the one Vic Davalillo had. He checked a lot of key points off the proverbial baseball bucket list and when his career looked all wrapped up, he had an unexpected revival, captured in part with this card.

A native of Venezuela, Davalillo was part of the early influx of Latin and South American players in baseball. His older brother Yo-Yo Davalillo played briefly for the Washington senators. Vic played in minor league towns like Topeka Kansas and Columbia South Carolina in the early 1960s. He pitched for a while and was a 16 game winner in the Florida league. The small and slender Davalillo also ducked away from inside pitches as a reaction to a broken arm sustained after a hit by pitch.

But he was also a slap hitter who could fly, had a great glove and a solid arm. By age 26, he had reached the majors with the 1963 Cleveland Indians.

He quickly became a 1964 Gold Glove winner and a 1965 All Star with the Indians, batting over .300 during an era when very few hitters cracked that milestone.

He wound up going from Cleveland to the Angels and to the Cardinals before having some of his best seasons with the Pirates. He batted .285 as a part time player with the 1971 World Champion Pirates and followed it up with a .318 mark over 117 games in 1972.

Midway through the 1973 season, he arrived in Oakland. While Davalillo didn’t hit much in the regular season, he went 5 for 9 with a double and a triple off the bench in the ALCS against Baltimore. He would play in the World Series against the Mets and pick up another ring.

A poor showing at the start of the 1974 season led to Davalillo’s release from Oakland at age 37. He bounced around the minor leagues and the Mexican leagues between 1974 and 1977, but his fine big league career seemed over. And with 11 plus seasons that featured an All Star berth, a Gold Glove and a pair of World Series rings,Davalillo should have been satisfied.

But in mid August of 1977, the 40 year old Davalillo had his Mexican League contract purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Along with Manny Mota, Davalillo provided a solid bat off the bench for the stretch run.

He lay down a bunt that helped spark a pennant clinching 9th inning rally against the Phillies and before all was said and done, he made two more trips to the World Series.

This card represented the year he arrived in LA, and got an airbrushed hat on his Topps card to boot.

A proud and patriotic Venezuelan, he was proud to represent his country in the majors right through the four years where he was the oldest player in the National League.

He played 7 games in 1980 for the Dodgers before returning to the Mexican League, finishing up nearly a quarter century of professional baseball without much left to prove.

VIC DAVALILLO – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 7

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TOPPS

OCTOBER 7, 1977 – National League Championship Series Game 3

With no Big Red Machine in the 1977 playoffs, the Phillies and Dodgers saw a chance to make it into the World Series. The Phillies won the Best of 5 NLCS opener in Los Angeles with two in the 9th and Don Sutton tied the series with a complete game win in Game 2.

The third game saw both teams exchange collapses, but the Dodgers game winning rally was sparked by a savvy veteran coming off the bench and laying down a bunt.

The winner of Game 3 would be a win away from the World Series. A Phillies win at home would set them up in Game 4 with eventual Cy Young Winner Steve Carlton on the mound and a shot at the team’s third pennant in their history.

Things were looking up for the Phillies when Dodgers starter Burt Hooton was knocked out after just 1 2/3 innings and three straight bases loaded walks.

But Philadelphia starter Larry Christenson could not get through the 4th and Dodgers reliever Rick Rhoden stopped the Phillies offense.

In the 8th inning, the score was tied at 3. With a runner on second, Garry Maddox smacked an RBI single and advanced to third on a bad throw from Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith. The Phillies took advantage of a Ron Cey throwing error to take a 5-3 lead. Philadelphia reliever Gene Garber, who had already thrown two innings, batted for himself in the 8th and took the mound in the 9th, trying to close out the game.

Garber got the first two batters out in the 9th and the Phillies were one out from a 2-1 lead and handing the ball to Steve Carlton for a potential Game 4 clincher.

With the game on the line, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda pulled catcher Steve Yeager and sent up Vic Davalillo as a pinch hitter.

A native of Venezuela, Davalillo was an All Star for the Cleveland Indians in the early 1960’s. Between 1963 and 1974, he bounced around from Cleveland to the Angels to St. Louis to the Pirates and the A’s. Along the way, he picked up a pair of World Series rings, one with the 1971 Pirates and the other with the 1973 A’s.

In 1977, Davalillo was playing for Aguascalientes in the Mexican League when the Dodgers bought his contract. LA used him mainly as a pinch hitter and he did the job well. He batted .313 over 48 at bats while only playing a handful of games in the field.

Now with Veterans Stadium going crazy, Davalillo was called upon to extend the game by at least another at bat.

With the count 0-1, Davalillo slapped a bunt towards second base. It was perfectly placed between pitcher Gene Garber and second baseman Ted Sizemore and Davalillo reached.

Now the Dodgers found new life and Lasorda turned to his other top pinch hitter, Manny Mota, who hit a deep drive to left field. Phillies outfielder Greg Luzinski made a leaping attempt to catch it and for a moment it looked like he clinched the game for Philadelphia.

But he trapped the ball against the wall and made a bad situation worse with a wild throw to second base. Davalillo scored to make it a one run game and Mota found himself at third as the tying run.

Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes hit a chopper that Mike Schmidt threw to first. Initially, Lopes looked out but first base umpire Bruce Froemming called him safe, scoring Mota and tying the game. Phillies manager Danny Ozark and the entire Philadelphia infield argued, but the replays were inconclusive.

Another Phillies error and another Dodgers hit later and LA’s comeback was complete. Reliever Mike Garman closed out the 6-5 win and the next day Tommy John clinched the pennant with a 4-1 complete game.

But the momentum turned with 2 outs in the 9th with a of all things a drag bunt by a 40 year old pinch hitter who spent most of the season in Mexico. That makes Vic Davalillo the unsung Post Season hero of October 7.