The Best of 2017 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog at the beginning of 2016 as a companion to a book I was writing. I’m happy to say the book is finished and should be out at some point in the summer of 2018. I didn’t post on the blog nearly as much as I wanted to this year because I was finishing my manuscript, but these are the most popular articles.

Number 5: A Discussion with Tim Carroll

 

Tim Carroll ArtTim Carroll takes old baseball cards and cuts them up to create amazing pieces of art. I had a chance to talk to Tim about his art and how he takes “junk cards” and repurposes them.

 

Number 4: Mark Fidrych Roundtable

This was one of my favorites. I had the great honor of talking to authors Dan Epstein and Doug Wilson about The Bird, his career, and his legacy. This was a two-part post. The second part is linked to at the bottom of part one.

 

 

Number 3: Dream Season: George Brett

In 2017, I began taking  individual players’ best months and combining them into one “super season.” If you take George Brett’s best April, May, etc and put them together, it’s pretty impressive.

 

Number 2: The Quest for Razor Shines

Razor Shines spent much of his professional career playing for the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Author Nate Dunlevy spent way too much time and way too much money to recreate one of his jerseys. It was totally worth it.

 

 

 

Number 1: Cecil Cooper and the Forgotten Summer of 1980

Cecil Cooper had an amazing season for the Brewers in 1980. Unfortunately for Coop, very few people outside of Milwaukee even noticed.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2018!

-J.D.

Dream Season: Rickey Henderson

Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. This time I’ll take a look at Rickey Henderson.

March/April 1988

By 1988, Rickey was well established as the premier base stealer of the time, if not ever. A member of the New York Yankees, Rickey started the season off well, hitting .362 with 23 runs scored and 23 stolen bases in 23 games.

He enjoyed his best game of the month on one of the Yankees’ worst, going 5-5 with 4 stolen bases and 4 runs scored in a 17-9 loss to Toronto on April 11th.

May 1982

Nineteen-Eighty-Two was when Rickey took base stealing to another level and I certainly could have used many months from that amazing year to fill his dream season but I wanted to limit myself as much as possible. Having said that, Rickey’s May was pretty impressive.

He hit .304 and swiped 27 bases in 32 attempts. He also drew 27 walks to post an on-base percentage of .443. He had eight games in which he stole two or more bases, including a 4-steal effort against the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader on May 30th. Those four bags gave him 49 on the season in 49 games, en route to setting a new single-season record with 130.

June 1985

In his biography, Confessions of a Thief, Rickey said that when he went to the Yankees in 1985 he didn’t need to run as much and began to focus more on power. For Rickey, not focusing on stolen bases meant he’d only swipe 22 bags in 23 attempts. True to his word, he also hit 6 homers and drove in 17 runs.

He began the month by going 10-18 in the first four games and then cooled off, but only slightly. He played in 27 games and recorded at least one hit in 23 of them, good for a .416 batting average for the month with 31 runs scored, as part of a potent Yankee lineup that also included Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Don Baylor.

The highlight of the month for Rickey came on June 17th. The Yankees team bus was pulled over for speeding on the way to the ballpark in Baltimore, but the officer let them off with a warning after Ron Guidry offered a signed baseball. Once at the ballpark, Rickey turned in the first five-hit game of his career and also drew a walk in a 10-0 win.

Things got so bad for the Orioles that Earl Weaver, coaxed out of retirement, yelled, “Are you ever going to make an out?”

Rickey just laughed.

July 1983

Rickey didn’t hit for as high an average in July of 1983 as he did in June of ’85, but he did record the 2nd best stolen base month of his career.

After being thrown out stealing in his only attempt on June 30th, Rickey reeled off 14 straight steals without being caught until Rick Dempsey finally got him on July 11th. He stole three or more bases 5 times and ended the month with 33 in 34 attempts.

Oakland skipper Steve Boros summed things up succinctly, saying, “With Rickey’s speed, anything is possible.”

August 1983

Rickey didn’t slow down in August of 1983. After batting .327 in July, he hit a remarkable .390 in August with a homer and 9 RBI.

He had four different 3-hit games and two games in which he stole 4 bases. He was at peak Rickey during a two-game series against the Yankees when he went 6-10 with 5 stolen bases in an Oakland sweep. He began to step up his base stealing when the team went into a slump.

“I felt I had to do something,” said Rickey. “I had to make things happen. If I have the opportunity, I’m going for it.”

“He’s a one-man show,” said his former manager Billy Martin. “You really can’t stop him.”

 

September/October 1980

1980 was Rickey Henderson’s first full season in the big leagues and while many young players slow down at the end of their first year, Rickey stepped up his game.

Three months shy of his 22nd birthday, Rickey hit .297 and scored 26 runs in 31 games. That’s impressive but not as impressive as the fact that he stole 34 bases, including a string of 13 bases in 13 attempts over nine games.

Rickey ran wild in the final month of the 1980 season. He stole bases in 21 of the 31 games in which he played and had two different 4 stolen base games, one against Kansas City and one against Milwaukee.

“Stealing is an art to me,” Rickey told UPI. “I’ve stolen 80-90 bases everywhere I’ve been. I’d like to break (Lou Brock’s) all-time record (118 in a season) and I think I can. So does Brock. He saw me steal some bases in Boston and he told me the next person to break the record would be me.”

Turns out they were right. Rickey would steal 130 bags in 1982.

The Totals:

If you add up all of Rickey’s best months and put them into one season it becomes a player you’d pay top dollar for at the leadoff spot. In Rickey Henderson’s dream season, he hits  .348 with 16 homers and 79 RBI. Any team would take that without a single stolen base, but when you add in the 163 bags and 149 runs scored he’s an absolute juggernaut.

Month Year AB Hits Avg HR RBI Runs SB
Mar/

Apr

’88 94 34 .362 3 14 23 20
May ’82 102 31 .304 3 16 26 27
June ’85 113 47 .416 6 17 31 22
July ’83 113 37 .327 2 8 27 33
Aug ’83 82 32 .390 1 9 16 27
Sept./Oct. ’80 111 33 .297 1 10 26 34
Total 615 214 .348 16 74 149 163

 

 

The Quest for Razor Shines

Note: This is a guest post from Nate Dunlevy

My best friend and I just spent dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars to recreate a AAA baseball jersey from 1986 for a player with 81 career major-league at bats.

Context may be required.

Late 80s Indianapolis was a haven for boys who loved minor-league baseball. In between delivering papers and playing “Got it, got it, need it” with our stash of wood-paneled Topps, we went to games and cheered the future stars of the bigs. They never stayed long, especially not the great ones, but even as the roster turned over every few months, there was one constant. The brightest baseball star in town was Anthony “Razor” Shines.

We weren’t old enough to shave, but we all knew Razor. The venerable infielder played part of nine seasons at Bush Stadium, racking up more than 2,500 at bats for the Indians. Whether it was his name, his smile, or his longevity, he became a fixture on the best team in minor league baseball. Shines was so popular, he even had a Pepsi commercial that played locally.

No trip to the game was complete without shouting in unison, “Raaaaaazor” with every trip to the plate. My first game, he was there. All through Little League and adolescence, Shines was there. Eventually, we learned to drive and took ourselves and eventually even girlfriends (once or twice) to the games, and Razor was still always there. He spent nine seasons with the Indians, and we grew up from 9 to 18 during the span.

On the night of his last professional game, we were there. We yelled “Raaaaazor!” one last time. We were not yet grown men, but we were close enough to it, maybe even closer than we are now.

To this day, if anyone says the word “razor”, I hear it in my head the way the PA blared it in 1989. Chad and I reminisced about him often, and I mentioned one day that I was trolling the internet for a throwback jersey from the late-80s Indians because, of course I was. He laughed and said that he had a whole folder made up from when he tried to figure out how to do a custom version.

Realization and nostalgia swept over me in waves. This white whale of mine, an authentic-enough Razor Shines jersey was possible. I didn’t marvel that my friend was also obsessed with finding or creating a Shines jersey. Of course he was.

From then on, nothing would stand in my way. I scoured the internet for the right custom-jersey partner. Eventually, I made way to winning-streak.com and harassed their employees with emails and phone calls. After at least 50 communications including sample jerseys sent to my house, I was finally convinced they were the ones to bring my vision to fruition.

I had a friend recreate the Indians’ logo and font from online sources and sent them off to the good folks in St. Louis, like a prayer into the void. The only catch was that the smallest run I could request was six jerseys. I had to find other people just as insane about Razor Shines as Chad and I were. In less than an hour, Facebook raced to my rescue. Friends and acquaintances grilled me with questions about the authenticity and quality of the jerseys. Razor Shines’ fans are a discriminating bunch, but the promise of a Shines jersey was too much for them resist. With four other commitments to buy in place, I placed the order and hoped that we had nailed all the details.

When the jerseys finally arrived, they were glorious. Part dare, part obsession, the finished product evoked memories of a time when playing minor-league ball in a dilapidated soon-to-be junkyard was everything I could ever have wanted.

 

 

 

Many great players have come through Indianapolis over the years. Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew. Ken Griffey and George Foster. Randy Johnson and Andrew McCutchen. But to children of the 80s, it will always be Razor who shines brightest.

 

 

 

Invincible, Indiana by Nate Dunlevy
Invincible, Indiana
by Nate Dunlevy

ABOUT NATE DUNLEVY: Nate Dunlevy is the author of Blue Blood – The Story of the Indianapolis Colts and Invincible, Indiana a novel about basketball and small-town Indiana. His work can occasionally be found at ColtsAuthority.com and his books can be found at MadisonHousePublishing.com. He tweets @natedunlevy

 

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Busser. You can find Bob’s photographs of ballparks old and new at www.ballparks.smugmug.com. He also is the administrator of the Ballparks, Stadiums_and_Arenas_of_the_past_and_present Facebook group.