Dream Season: Wade Boggs

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 Wade Boggs.

March/April 1983

Boggs hit a cool .349 as a rookie in 1982 and didn’t miss a beat heading into his second season. In 19 games, Wade recorded two or more hits ten times, including four different three-hit games. He also drew twelve walks to finish the month with a .378 batting average and a .471 on-base percentage.  He finished the season with a .361 batting average.

May 1986

Nineteen-Eighty-Six was Wade Boggs’ fifth season in the big leagues. It was also the year he won his 3rd batting title. When you hit .357 you’re going to have some big months and May of 1986 certainly was for Boggs.

In 27 games, Boggs hit .471 with three homers and 20 RBI. He also drew 24 walks for an on-base percentage of .567. Included in the month was a 5-6 performance against the Minnesota Twins on May 20th, the first five-hit game of his career. But like any pure hitter, Wade was looking for more.

“I was thinking about six,” Boggs told the Boston Globe. “But I’d never gone 5 for 5, so I didn’t really think much about going 6 for 6. The last time I did 5 for 5 was in high school.”

June 1987

Wade BoggsBy 1987, Boggs had fully established himself as one of the game’s top hitters. He’d won three straight batting titles and four overall. He was on his way to a 5th. In June of that month, Wade hit a cool .485 with an on-base percentage of .581. Boggs played in 26 games in June of 1987 and had at least one hit in 25 of them, including 15 games of two or more hits.

“I just swing, make contact and hope it falls in,” he said. It’s just that easy.

July 1983

Boggs began July of 1983 in a horrible slump. He went 0-4 against the Yankees on July 1st. After that, it was pretty much business as usual. He went 11-17 in a four-game series against the Oakland A’s and finished the month hitting .404.

August 1985

Wade BoggsAnother month, another 49 hits for Wade Boggs. Such was the case in August of 1985. Boggs went 49-123 in the month, good for a somewhat mortal .398 batting average.

In a one-week span, from August 8th through the 14th, Wade hit .485 against the White Sox, Yankees and Royals.

“A lot of luck,” Boggs said. “If the luck keeps up, I’m probably going to hit for a high average. Once I see a pitcher, I know exactly what he throws. And that’s not going to change. Whatever he throws, you know you’re going to see it again.”

It’a good to be lucky.

September/October 1988

A strong season requires a strong finish and Wade didn’t disappoint as he hit .423 to wrap up the 1988 season, one in which he led either the American League or the Major Leagues in plate appearances, doubles, runs scored, walks, intentional walks, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. It’s all part of the challenge of playing the game.

“Once you get out there, it’s one on one,” he told the Boston Globe. “There’s no guy to set a pick for you. No guy to throw a block for you. No guy to shoot the puck over to you. When you get a hit, you’ve won. And the team wins, because you’ve contributed to a winning effort.

“It’s the same way with a pitcher. Why is he trying to get everybody out? To improve his record. But if he does, the team benefits.”

The Totals:

 

Teams benefitted from having Wade Boggs at 3rd base and his dream season comes to an end with some impressive numbers. Added up, it comes to 257 hits in 601 at-bats, good for a .428 batting average with 114 walks thrown in, giving him a tidy .516 on-base percentage.

All-’80s Baseball Hoops Team

It’s NCAA Basketball tournament time and that can mean only one thing: Baseball!

Not only were the ‘80s a great decade for baseball, you could make a pretty solid hoops team from guys who played baseball in the 1980s. Here’s our team:

Point Guard: Tony Gwynn

Not only was Tony Gwynn one of the top hitters in baseball history, he was also a pretty good hoopster. Tony actually skipped the baseball season in his freshman year at San Diego State to focus on basketball. During his time at SDSU he set the single game, single season and career assist record and in addition to being drafted by the Padres, he was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the NBA Draft.

Shooting Guard: Danny Ainge

This is a pretty easy selection. Danny didn’t hit much in his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he did OK once he switched to basketball full-time. He finished his career with nearly 12,000 points, more than 4,000 assists and two NBA championships. He also authored one of the great moments in NCAA tournament history.

Small Forward: Ron Reed

Reed’s path was the opposite of Danny Ainge. After a standout career at Notre Dame, the 6-5 Reed was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1965 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent two season in the NBA, scoring just shy of 1,000 points. Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Reed was playing two professional sports at the same time. After finishing the 1966 NBA season, he pitched in two games for the Braves and went back to the Pistons.

Power Forward: Dave Winfield

Winfield was just a phenomenal athlete. In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, he was also a stud basketball player at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his career, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA. Had he chosen the ABA, he could have teamed up with Moses Malone to form a pretty solid frontcourt.

Center: Tim Stoddard

Stoddard won a state title in high school, where he teamed up with future NBA player Junior Bridgeman, and then went to N.C. State where he teamed up with David Thompson and won an NCAA title by knocking off Bill Walton and UCLA. Not too shabby.

6th Man: Frank Howard

OK, Frank Howard was a coach in 1980, but he was also an incredibly talented basketball player. Howard went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball in the 1950s. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game.  In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.

Baseball Nivrana

I’ve been a collector for my entire life. You never know when you may need a 37-year-old pocket schedule and I don’t want to be unprepared. So I packed up my sons and headed to Chicago for the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular.

The autograph section was busy all day
The autograph section was busy all day

One of the big draws of shows like this is the autograph pavilion. There are always lots of big names with big price tags attached.

Since I spent some time working in baseball I’m pretty spoiled and I don’t like to pay for autographs but there were obviously plenty of people who were there specifically for that. Some of the bigger names on hand included Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Cal Ripken, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams. There were also plenty of members of the 2016 Cubs.

But I had two things on my mind: Soak in as much atmosphere and cool stuff as I possibly could and work on my 1972 Topps set.

1972 Topps Baseball
My White Whale

Baseball cards form the bulk of my collection and my latest project is completing the 1972 set. It’s tough and expensive but I’m in no hurry. Had I been so inclined, I could have easily finished the set. There were multiple dealers there with binders of cards from 1972. The only thing stopping me was the expense of purchasing the cards and the expense of the subsequent divorce when I returned home.

 

Aside from filling want lists, one of the big attractions for me  was just taking in all the show had to offer. Going to a card show is like visiting a museum where everything is for sale. Click To Tweet

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente
Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente

The ’80s were well represented, too.

Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell
Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell

Fans of Olde Tyme Baseball had something to see.

1935 Goudey Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth
Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth

But my favorite part of shows like this is all the oddball stuff you can find.

Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin

It was an outstanding afternoon with my kids and a few of their buddies. My youngest son bought his first T206 card and my older son picked up some relic cards. I got a bit closer to finishing my ’72 set and picked up a signed Bill Madlock photo.

 

As we were preparing to leave, I spotted one last item, a signed Dickie Noles warm up jacket.

Dickie Noles warm up jacket
Dickie Noles warm up jacket

Noles holds a special place in my heart as it was his pitch up and in to George Brett in the 1980 World Series that signaled the beginning of the end of the Royals in the series. Kansas City fans probably have different feelings on Mr. Noles.

If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend attending a similar show near you. You never know what you’ll find.

1984 Topps Cello Packs
What I wouldn’t give to tear into these

George Brett: The Pine Tar Game

Note: This is a guest post from Rocco Constantino

July 24, 1983

The old baseball cliché is that you see something new at the ballpark every time you go to a game. It could be something as simple as a player recording his first major-league hit or achieving a team record; however, sometimes something so crazy will happen that it will be talked about in baseball circles for decades.

On July 24, 1983, fans undoubtedly witnessed the latter. The Yankees and Royals had one of the game’s best rivalries in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The teams met in the postseason in the 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980 ALCS, and the main cast of characters was similar in each series. The Royals were led by George Brett, Frank White, Hal McRae, and Willie Wilson, among others. The Yankees featured Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, and Goose Gossage during that time.

The Background

By 1983, the Yankees were starting to get old but still had some fight in them. The Orioles and Tigers were the up-and-coming teams and would finish ahead of the Yanks in the AL East standings. The Royals finished second that year but were never really in the race, ending the season 20 games out of first. With Wilson, White, and McRae still in their prime, the Royals lineup was tough to negotiate for any pitcher. But Brett remained the focal point of the offense and was an incredibly difficult out for pitchers. “Brett was the toughest hitter I faced in my career,” said Don August, a starter for the Brewers whom Brett went 5-for-11 against. “I remember him standing way off the plate when I faced him, so I put a fastball on the outside corner. He hit it off the center-field wall. Next time up, I tried to come inside, and he turned on it and ripped it into the corner. How do you get Brett out? I guess throw it down the middle and hope he hits it at someone.”

The Yankees had taken two of the first three games in this four-game set and faced off against the Royals in a Sunday afternoon game at Yankee Stadium on July 24. Bud Black and Shane Rawley were the starting pitchers for the Royals and Yankees, respectively, but they would be long gone by the time the events that made this game famous happened.

The Game

The first inning went by without incident, and the Royals were the first to get on the board when John Wathan scored on a groundout by White in the second. The Yankees quickly tied the game up when Dave Winfield homered off Black. The Royals regained the lead in the fourth when White again drove home Wathan, this time with an infield hit. Black settled in after the Winfield homer, only allowing singles to Bert Campaneris and Roy Smalley as the game remained 2–1 through five. In the sixth, the Royals scored again on a triple to center by Don Slaught. The Yankees, however, would finally get to Black in the sixth. Campaneris led off the frame with an infield hit, and Lou Piniella followed with a one-out single to center. Don Baylor tripled to center to tie the game, and Winfield singled to left to give the Yanks a 4–3 lead.

The game stayed that way until the top of the ninth. Despite having Gossage, the Hall of Fame closer, available in the bullpen, manager Billy Martin stuck with Dale Murray, who had retired all eight batters he faced to that point. Slaught grounded out to lead off the top of the ninth, and Pat Sheridan popped up to first for a second out. However, U. L. Washington singled to center, and with Brett due up next, Martin opted to bring in Gossage. Brett launched a long home run to right off Gossage for what was apparently the go-ahead hit. He circled the bases, touched home, and took a seat in the Royals dugout next to Sheridan and McRae. What happened was iconic ’80s baseball.

In a game in 1975, Nettles was involved in a play in which a similar illegal bat was used. According to an archaic rule stating that no substance could be applied to a bat beyond 18 inches from the knob. The Yankees were facing the Twins on July 19, 1975.  In the game, Twins manager Frank Quilici asked umpires to check Thurman Munson’s bat after he hit an RBI single.  The umpires ruled that Munson’s pine tar exceeded 18 inches and called him out.  The rule allegedly was put into place because players were applying pine tar toward the barrel of the bat and then using it to get a better grip. While the application of pine tar was not illegal, rules were changed to limit the application to 18 inches above the knob because too many batted balls were coming in contact with the pine tar and causing otherwise perfectly good baseballs to be thrown out of play because they were stained.

Nettles had approached Martin earlier in the year when he noticed that Brett’s bat had pine tar that was obviously well past the 18-inch limit. The Yankees manager decided to wait until the right time to appeal Brett’s bat to the umpire. The Yanks had played the Royals earlier that year, but Brett didn’t have any big hits in the previous series, so Martin declined to call him on it. The home run he hit on July 24, 1983, was the perfect time.

George Brett Pine TarMartin approached home plate umpire Tim McClelland with his concerns. The umpires convened, and third-base umpire Nick Bremigan suggested that crew chief Joe Brinkman measure the bat against home plate, which is 17 inches wide. It was estimated that the pine tar stretched more than 25 inches past the bat handle, clearly past the limit. The problem that ensued was that there was no specific penalty listed for someone who had applied material past the 18-inch mark. Martin was ready for this and suggested the umpires invoke a rule stating that the umpires have the right to make any decision on any penalties not specifically listed in the rule book.

Slaught was sitting near Brett in the dugout during all of this: “I was sitting right near George, still in my equipment,” said Slaught. “Someone said, ‘Hey I think they’re gonna call you out.’ George said, ‘If they call me out, I’ll kill them.’” At about the same time, McClelland took a few steps toward the Royals dugout, with Brett’s bat in hand. McClelland raised his right hand, pointed at Brett with the bat, and called him out. After that, pure insanity erupted.

George Brett Pine TarBrett jumped off the dugout bench and sprinted at McClelland, arms flailing and furiously screaming at the umpire, who stood 6’6″. Brinkman grabbed Brett with a choke hold, and Brett began screaming and struggling to get loose as the entire Royals bench emptied onto the field. Almost as mad as Brett was Royals manager Dick Howser, who furiously protested the call. In the fracas, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry grabbed the bat from McClelland and handed it down in a relay to a Royals batboy, who went toward the clubhouse. Yankee Stadium security noticed this and, along with the umpires, sprinted down the runway after the illegal bat.

“It was wild,” said Slaught. “Steve Renko and some of the guys were running around the hallways looking for the bat, and security was running right behind them through the halls.” Eventually, the bat was confiscated by the umpires and sent to American League president Lee MacPhail for investigation.

The Aftermath

The Royals filed a formal protest against the ruling and waited for a final decision to be made by MacPhail. MacPhail ruled in favor of the protest, citing the rule’s archaic nature, the fact that the pine tar did nothing to enhance the ball’s contact off the bat, and an incorrect penalty by the umpires. MacPhail stated that the way he read the rules, the umpires should’ve just removed the bat and continued play from there. The bat was eventually returned to Brett. He removed the excess pine tar, drew a line with a red marker around the 18-inch mark, and continued to use it in games. But Perry advised Brett that the incident was so unique that his bat was a baseball artifact and he shouldn’t risk breaking it. Brett agreed and eventually sold the bat for $25,000; however, Brett rethought the transaction and bought the bat back for the same amount. To this day, the bat is still on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As for the game itself, MacPhail ruled that the remaining four outs would be played as part of a makeup on August 18. Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, always the competitors, were livid at the reversal. On August 18, the Royals returned to Yankee Stadium to finish the game. Howser, Brett, Perry, and Royals coach Rocky Colavito were ejected from the original game due to their actions in the melee that ensued during the initial ruling.

“It may have been the most nervous I was for a game in my career, even including the postseason,” said Slaught, who was in his second season in the bigs and went 3-for-4 in the game. “There were more reporters there than any postseason game that I played in. It was a weird, weird game. Gaylord Perry even had T-shirts made up for us and then tried to make us all buy them from him.”

The Conclusion

As the game was about to start, Martin appealed the fact that Brett actually touched every base. He contested that since it was an entirely different umpire crew, they would have no way of knowing that he indeed touched every base. But the umpires anticipated Martin might do this and had a sworn affidavit from the original crew stating that Brett did touch every base. Martin then informed the umpires that he was playing this game under his own protest.

When the action finally started, Martin made some lineup changes. Jerry Mumphrey, the original center fielder in the game, had been traded in the ensuing weeks and so was unavailable to continue. Martin decided to send his ace pitcher, Ron Guidry, out to center. He also inserted rookie Don Mattingly at second base. Mattingly, a lefty first baseman, became the first lefty to play a middle-infield position since Indians pitcher Sam McDowell in 1970. No lefty has played a middle-infield position since. Asked for his reasoning behind the moves, Martin said the resumption of the game was a mockery and he would play it like one.

With George Frazier pitching in relief for the Yanks, the game resumed. McRae, who was the on-deck batter when Brett homered, struck out to end the ninth. Royals closer Dan Quisenberry came on for the save and retired Mattingly, Smalley, and Oscar Gamble in order to finally give the Royals the 5–4 win in front of the 1,200 fans who showed up for the final four outs. Brett flying out of the dugout is something that will live on in the annals of baseball history. Brett, Martin, Perry, and Nettles were some of the most colorful characters in baseball, making the incident even more memorable.

The game itself brought the Royals to within one game of first place, but they went into a midseason slump, and that would be the closest they got to first place for the rest of the year. In the years after, all parties involved looked back on the incident with a sense of humor, accepting their place in baseball history and laughing about the events surrounding the end of the game. Brett went on to have one of the greatest careers in baseball history. He finished the 1983 season with a .310 batting average and went on to record 3,154 hits in his career. He maintained his reputation as an intense player who was willing to do anything he could to play the game and play it well. “Brett was just a regular guy, but incredibly talented,” said Andy McGaffigan, who was Brett’s teammate between 1990 and 1991. “He showed up and played hard and played hurt. He would DH, play third, play first, whatever it took to be in the lineup that day. He had no pride or ego, and that was contagious. It’s what made him a great leader.” Another of Brett’s teammates agreed with that assessment: “He was the best pure hitter I ever played with,” said Jim Wohlford, who played with Brett the first four years of his major-league career. “You just knew the special talent was there, even as a 20-year-old kid.” Slaught also reflected on Brett’s greatness: “George always seemed to hit what we needed,” said Slaught. “It was unbelievable. If we needed single or double, that’s what he seemed to hit. Look at the pine tar game; we needed a homer and that’s what he hit. He was the guy that did that the best of anyone I played with.” There are so many reasons George Brett is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game. His clutch performance in the game and wild outburst after he was called out were two iconic moments in one of the most colorful and productive careers in baseball history.

About Rocco Constantino

515LKDSOtIL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Rocco Constantino is the author of 50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and a writer for www.baseballhotcorner.com.  Released in June of 2016, 50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball examines 50 unique moments from the past 100 years that helped define the sport that we love.  In addition, it also features exclusive interviews with over 40 players who played in each decade from the 1950’s through the 2010’s.  With input from players like Fred Lynn, Rod Carew and Jeff Montgomery, readers get a perspective on these special games directly from the players.  50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s online store.  Rocco Constantino is represented by P.S. Literary.  Follow him on Twitter @MLB100years.

Reggie Jackson Cheated Death in 1980… Twice

Reggie Jackson had a pretty good year in 1980. He hit .300 for the only time in his career, led the AL in homers, including the 400th of his Hall of Fame career, finished 2nd in the MVP balloting and led his team to the playoffs. He also almost died. Twice.

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

On May 31st, Jackson stepped to the plate against Toronto’s Joey McLaughlin in the bottom of 11th inning of a tie game. With Lou Piniella aboard, Jackson hit a walk-off homer to give the Yankees an 8-6 win. Out on the town that evening, Jackson exchanged words with two men in a car that was blocking his way. The other car parked and 25 year-old Angel Viera got out and started throwing things at Jackson.

Two other man recognized Jackson and came to his aid and began to chase Viera, who then turned and fired three shots into the air. Police found three bullet holes in a nearby awning and charged Viera with attempted murder among other things.

“Nothing surprises me in New York, especially at 2 am,” said Yankees manager Dick Howser. “I’m just glad he wasn’t hurt.”

History Repeats Itself

About two months later, Reggie Jackson hit another big home run. This one happened to be the 400th of his career. The blast, along with a tw-run shot by newly acquired Aurelio Rodriguez gave the Yankees a 3-1 win over the White Sox and enabled them to hold off the hard-charging Baltimore Orioles who won their 10th straight game on the same evening.

Becoming just the 19th player in history to reach the 400 homer mark calls for a celebration and once again, Reggie went out to sample the New York night life. Shortly before 2 am, Jackson exited the Jim McMullen bar in Manhattan when he was approached by a young kid with a large gun.

“It was the biggest gun I ever saw,” Jackson told the New York police. “He was pointing the gun at my head. I thought he was going to shoot me.”

The assailant lowered the gun to reach into Reggie’s Rolls Royce and grab the keys. Jackson seized the opportunity to smack the kid with the door of the luxury car, causing him to run away.

“Have you ever had a guy point a gun at your head and thought he was going to shoot you?” Jackson asked. “Let me tell you it’s some trip.”

 

 

The 1980s were a Rough Decade for the Yankees

Note: This is a guest post from Eric Kabakoff

I first started following baseball in 1985, shortly after that year’s midseason players’ strike. My father was a lifelong Yankees fan who’d grown up watching Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford and their teammates dominate baseball for years, and I settled in to watching games with him. For the next few years, if WPIX wasn’t carrying the game as announced by Phil Rizzuto and Bill White, then I put on WABC radio to hear Hank Greenwald and Tommy Hutton tell me how my team was doing. On weekends, I’d often watch games myself and rush out to give my father updates as he trimmed the lawn or did whatever it was he did out there. The Yankees teams of the latter half of the 1980’s were a special mix of coulda, shoulda, and didn’t.

Donnie Baseball

Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly was a shining light on some bad ’80s Yankees teams

The 1986 Yankees, whose Opening Day was recapped for us by a classmate on the playground who had a transistor radio, were the first team to be managed by Lou Piniella. A fiery guy in his own right, he learned to manage from the great Billy Martin, who could have been remembered as far greater had he not been so sadly self-destructive. Lou managed the team to 90 wins but finished second behind the Boston Red Sox. Don Mattingly was at the peak of his powers then. Arguably the game’s best player, he was coming off his 1985 MVP season with a .352 batting average (238 hits!) to go with 31 home runs, 113 RBI, and an absurd .967 OPS. Oh, and boy could that man field. The Gold Glove Award could easily have been renamed the Don Mattingly award for his defensive prowess at that time.

Mattingly’s teammates that year included Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, whose fifth straight season of 100+ RBI wasn’t nearly enough to make owner George Steinbrenner like him for any reason, and Hall of Famer and all-time great Rickey Henderson, who scored 130 runs and stole a mere 87 bases. Mattingly batted behind the criminally underrated Willie Randolph and had third baseman Mike Pagliarulo follow him, a man who my father called “Pagliaro.” However, despite the high-octane offense and the closer Dave Righetti racking up a then-record 46 saves, they just didn’t have enough to catch the Red Sox and their young ace Roger Clemens. Clemens went 24-4 that year and won the Cy Young Award, the AL MVP and quite possibly an election or two that we’ve forgotten about. There was just no stopping him that year. The Red Sox also had Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and his .357 batting average, which wasn’t helpful to the Yankees’ cause. The Yankees did have a young pitcher named Doug Drabek. They realized how good he would become, so they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Rick Rhoden. Ron Guidry was in the waning days of his career and the Yankees brought in Tommy John, who won 13 games for them at age 43. At that point, as for nearly every point up until the 2016 season, the Yankees only thought of the present.

The 1987 season dawned and the pitching staff, led by Rick Rhoden, Dennis Rasmussen (until he was traded for Bill Gullickson) and Tommy John, once again couldn’t support the great team offense. The Bronx Bombers finished in 4th place, well behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers (back in the old two-division, 26-team format), Don Mattingly hit a record-tying six Grand Slams that season (remarkably, the only six he ever hit), and also hit home runs in a record-tying eight consecutive games. I heard the 8th one live on my grandparents’ state-of-the-art hi-fi living room radio. Mattingly also batted .327, no biggie. Rickey Henderson was injured for much of the year but still had a .927 OPS, and Dave Winfield drove in 97 runs. The Yankees did promote to the majors a young prospect named Al Leiter, and he showed promise for the team until being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jesse Barfield a few years later.

Tomorrow Isn’t Guaranteed

 What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?
What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?

The Yankees headed into the 1988 season by doubling down on offense, adding St. Louis Cardinals slugger Jack Clark as their Designated Hitter. My friends and I got giddy talking about all the runs the team would score that year. Billy Martin was back for part of the year too, managing the final 68 games of his career in his 5th stint as the team’s manager. Tommy John and Rick Rhoden didn’t have stellar seasons, though, and newcomer John Candelaria wasn’t much help. The team floundered to a 5th place finish. They did have a promising young outfielder named Jay Buhner, so they traded him to the Seattle Mariners for veteran Ken Phelps. The trade proved to be such a disaster in hindsight that later on it literally became a joke on Seinfeld. The Yankees were still focusing on the present, which was becoming increasingly lackluster.

The years of trading off prospects for veterans, which had also included trading away players like Willie McGee and Fred McGriff earlier in the decade, finally caught up to them in 1989. The decade closed with Dallas Green managing to start the season but not finishing it as Bucky Dent replaced him. It’s hard to remember now with the team having had two managers in the past twenty years, but George Steinbrenner was as patient with his managers as he was with his prospects, and Green became just the latest casualty on that front. Dent himself was replaced the following season by Stump Merrill.

Losses Set the Stage for Dominance

Andy Hawkins
Andy Hawkins made history for the wrong reason

The 1989 team shipped out Jack Clark and Rick Rhoden and brought in Steve Sax, Andy Hawkins and Mel Hall. Sax played pretty well for the team, though Hawkins is best remembered for later pitching a no-hitter that he lost 4-0 (since stricken from the record books). Mel Hall is currently spending life in prison as a serial sex offender. Don Mattingly had his final season as an elite player, batting .303 with 23 homers and 113 RBI, before an old back injury sapped his power and effectiveness. Dave Winfield missed the entire season with a back injury. He’d be traded to the California Angels the following season for pitcher Mike Witt. George Steinbrenner’s hatred for his star outfielder escalated to the point that he was suspended for life a year later for conspiring with a gambler to get dirt on Winfield. Or something. In any case, his suspension was lifted two years later. Rickey Henderson was traded in midseason for Luis Polonia, Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk, none of whom can get into the Hall of Fame without a ticket. Mike Pagliarulo, John Candelaria, and Ken Phelps were all traded too, and Tommy John was released in May. The window of these latter-half 1980’s Yankees was now closed.

The team was awful in the early 1990’s as a hangover from all the bad moves they’d made, but that enabled them to draft well. George Steinbrenner’s brief “lifetime suspension” enabled them to hold on to these new prospects until they all came up in the mid-1990’s and heralded a new era of Yankees baseball.

 

Eric KabakoffEric Kabakoff has visited every major league baseball park (35 total) and wrote about the trips in his book “Rally Caps, Rain Delays and Racing Sausages.” He’s done numerous radio and TV interviews about ballparks and has given several speeches on the topic, including at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He lives with his wife and son in New York City and currently writes for the website Baseball Essential.

 

Reggie vs. Koosman

Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but it took a few years after his arrival in New York for the drink to be served.

By 1980, Billy Martin was gone, as was Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers and, tragically, Thurman Munson. The Yankees were finally Reggie’s team and Jerry Koosman may have been responsible.

Jerry Koosman
A Jerry Koosman pitch may have helped Reggie

After an 0-5 day against the White Sox on April 27th, Jackson’s batting average stood at an anemic .177. But then Reggie got hot, going 8 for his next 18, including going 5-9 with a home run in the first two games of a four games set against the Twins in Bloomington.

On May 4th, in the third game of the series, Reggie lead off the second inning against Jerry Koosman, who quickly got ahead in the count 0-2. Koosman’s next pitch sealed his fate in the game, and potentially Jackson’s fate in the Yankee clubhouse. Koosman delivered his 0-2 offering directly at Reggie’s head, causing him to hit the deck at the last second and come up extremely unhappy.  Not satisfied, Koosman brushed Jackson back again, prompting him to tell Twins catcher Butch Wynegar, “If the next one comes in close, I’m going to get you.”

At 2-2, Koosman couldn’t afford to deck Jackson for a third time and his next pitch caught a bit more of the plate. Jackson turned on it and sent it more than 400 feet to straight away center field for a home run. Reggie had hit lots of home runs in pinstripes. He made history in 1977 by hitting three homers off three different Dodger pitchers en route to leading the Yankees to their first World Series title since 1962. But his cockiness rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and there were high profile run-ins with Martin and Munson that caused many people both in and out of the Yankee clubhouse to dislike him.

Reggie Jackson
Reggie follows through

When his blast cleared the center field fence at Metropolitan Stadium, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the game, but more importantly, it may have been the tipping point in Jackson’s relationship with his teammates. As he rounded the bases and headed back to the dugout, Jackson saw a number of Yankees waiting for him.

“I was thrilled to see my teammates standing there,” he said. “Half of them told me they would have gone out there to defend me.”

A Change in Attitude

This was in stark contrast to his first year in New York when, stung by public criticism from his teammates, Jackson snubbed those looking to congratulate him after hitting a home run. All seemed to be forgiven now and the Yankees were rolling. Spurred by Reggie heroics, New York knocked Koosman out of the game after just three and a third innings en route to a 10-1 win. Tom Underwood exacted some revenge by drilling Wynegar in the back the inning after Reggie was knocked down prompting home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio to warn both benches.

The show of support from his teammates, which came in the form of recognition and retribution was a big moment for Jackson and the Yankees. It also added to his reputation as a guy who could deliver in the big moment.

“I guess I haven’t convinced everybody,” he said. “They keep putting me through the test. I must have done it seven or eight times in my career; get up after getting knocked down and then hit a home run.”

“The good ones, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, they’re better hitters when the get knocked down,” said Yankee Manager Dick Howser. “Reggie’s like that.”