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

 

 

A Discussion with Sean Kane

Your average fan uses a baseball glove to, you know, catch baseballs. Sean Kane uses them to create amazing pieces of art.

For more than fifteen years, Sean Kane has been creating one-of-a-kind painted glove pieces that have earned him national recognition and a sizable following which includes many of the players he features. It all started in 2001 with a trip to spring training.

“The first glove had bright, playful images on it: a guy eating a giant ballpark hot dog, a pennant with ‘Play Ball’ on it, a ‘Hit it Here’ target and on the inside, a ball diamond scene with players and stadium,” Kane said.

“I left one painted finger on the glove blank where I hoped to get Tony Gwynn’s autograph. As luck would have it, I wasn’t there 5 minutes, walked up to a batting cage, and there was Tony talking to fans. I showed the glove to him, he laughed and said it was cool and he signed right where I imagined he would.”

From there, Kane began creating pieces that showcased his love of baseball stories, baseball graphics, and old baseball gloves. The process can be tedious and time-consuming, but the results are well worth the effort, both for Sean and his patrons. The first step is to acquire the appropriate glove.

Sean Kane Baseball Artist“I aim for gloves from the era to be represented, for the position the player played and for the hand they wore their glove on,” says Kane. “For my recent painting of Lou Gehrig, it took a few years to find a 1920s/30s first base mitt for a lefty, similar to a buckle-back glove I’ve seen a picture of him wearing. The glove is my little time machine, adding another layer to the story being told.”

“I then stare at the glove for what seems ages, looking for the spots where I can apply design and portrait elements. Each glove is unique in this way, with various creases to be avoided and sweet spots for portraits, etc., which complicates the creative process compared to working on a traditional canvas but also adds to my excitement at the possibilities.”

 

Kane spends hours poring over old photos, statistics, and career highlights, looking for just the right things to include. With limited space on each glove, sometimes deciding what to cut out is the most difficult part.

“I don’t always succeed with the ‘less is more’ approach –I’ve done some which seem like the back of a baseball card crammed with info. The editing process is a big part of the design decision-making, for sure,” says Kane.  “I try to highlight just enough info about the player to tell a simple story — enough meat on the bone for the casual fan to be interested and the big fan to have a jumping off point for their own stories about the player.”

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistThat’s the key to Kane’s work. Because the gloves often don’t depict a specific moment in time, viewing them on display can mean different things to different people. His Hank Aaron glove may elicit memories of the 1957 World Series to one person and memories of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record or getting an autograph as a kid to another. There are notable exceptions. Last fall, Sean unveiled a two-glove set to commemorate Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But many of his pieces are celebrations of the player or players depicted. Sometimes it’s an entire team, and that can present its own issues.

Sean Kane Baseball Art“The painting featuring the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers was probably my most challenging,” Kane says. “Since it was featuring an entire team, I wanted to include the entire team, at least by name. Doing so in a way that wouldn’t be a total visual mess was tough and the five portraits wearing pinstripes were very tiny and difficult to paint. I’m pretty proud of that one.”

In the future, Sean will continue to do commissioned work, but he’s also researching stories and acquiring gloves for two different projects. One focuses on Indiana-related baseball history for an upcoming exhibit, and the other will feature Japanese ball players who have made a recent impact on the game in the U.S.

About Sean:

Sean’s paintings have been featured on ESPN. com, NBC Sports. com and MLB Network Radio and reside in the permanent collection of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, The National Pastime Museum, and private collections across the U.S. His paintings have been commissioned by the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Camp and have assisted in fundraising efforts for several charities. Glove paintings have been exhibited at The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and West Virginia University.

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistSean has been a professional artist for over 20 years, creating art for big hitters in the publishing and corporate worlds including The New York Times, Amazon. com, The Wall Street Journal, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Charles Schwab, and Target Stores, among others. He’s a Chicago native now residing near Toronto with his wife and two Little Leaguers. He is a graduate of Butler University and attended Herron School of Art.

Sean was recognized as an ‘Artist of the Month’ by the National Art Museum of Sport in 2016.

For more information, including a look at more of his work, please visit SeanKaneBaseballArt.com

(Mark) Clear as Mud

Not many guys can go from getting seriously knocked around in the Appy League to becoming a Major League All-Star in less than five years, but that’s exactly what Mark Clear did.

Clear was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 8th round in 1974 and spent his first professional summer with the Pulaski Phillies of the Appalachian League. To say it didn’t go well would be a gross understatement.

The 1974 Pulaski Phillies were, to be blunt, terrible. They finished the season with an 18-50 record, led the league in errors and passed balls and their team E.R.A. was 6.07, nearly a run-and-a-half higher than the next closest team.

The manager of this crew was a man named Frank Wren, who had recently left a very successful career as a college coach at Ohio University, where he had helped Mike Schmidt become an All-American. He had to be wondering what he had gotten himself into.

A Clear Problem

If the Pulaski had the worst pitching staff in the Appy League that season, Mark Clear was one of the reasons why. In fourteen appearances, Clear went 0-7 with an 8.65 ERA. He gave up 69 runs (49 earned) in 51 innings while allowing 71 hits, 43 walks and hitting 11 batters. He also threw six wild pitches. He was just 18 at the time, but it wasn’t a great way to begin your professional baseball career. The Phillies felt so too, and on April 2nd, 1975, less than a year after he was drafted, they released him.

Like a Phoenix

Mark ClearBut the California Angels saw something they thought they could work with, signed Clear as a free-agent in June and moved him to the bullpen. It worked. In the rookie Pioneer League, Mark Clear shaved more the six runs off his E.R.A. in 13 appearances. There were still a few rough patches on his ascent, but on April 4th, 1979, four years and two days after being released by the Phillies, Clear made his major league debut and threw two and one-third scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners. Four days later, he got his first win. He would win eleven games in 1979, make the All-Star team, and finish third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind John Castino and Alfredo Griffin.

Eleven Seasons

Mark Clear ended up spending eleven seasons in the major leagues with California, Boston and Milwaukee, compiling a 71-49 record and winning a career-high 14 games with the Red Sox in 1982. He’s a reminder to athletes to never give up and a reminder to teams not to give up too soon on athletes.

 

 

Dream Season: George Brett

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. Next up is George Brett.

March/April 1983

There are quick starts and then there’s the jump George Brett got on the 1983 season. In the first week of the year, Brett hit .440 with a homer and 4 RBI. Then he got hot. He finished April with a .460 batting average, 5 homers and 20 RBI.

May 1979

Compared to April of ’83, Brett’s 1979 May was somewhat pedestrian. For a mortal, though, it was still a helluva month. How about sixteen multi-hit games, including a 5-7 effort against the Orioles on May 28th? Imagine posting 16 multi-hit games in a month and it not being the best month of your career. In May of 1979, Brett hit .388 with 5 homers and 20 RBI.

June 1982

In June of 1982, George Brett played in 27 games. He had at least one hit in 23 of them. He entered the month hitting .278 and finished the month hitting .317. It’s not easy to raise your batting average 39 points in mid-season but for George Brett, it’s no big deal. For the month, he hit .379 with 5 homers and 16 RBI.

July 1985

One of the things that are tougher than raising your batting average by 39 points in June is raising it by 31 points in July. That’s exactly what George Brett did in July of 1985, thanks in part to six different 3-hit games. Brett opened the month by going 8-12 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in a three-game series against Oakland and finished the month going 4-9 against Detroit. The final numbers? A cool .432 batting average with 7 homers and 24 RBI.

August 1980

Brett had his best season in 1980, batting .390 and winning the MVP. On August 17th at home against the Blue Jays, he wrapped up a three-game series by going 4-4 to raise his batting average to .401. He would flirt with the .400 mark for a month before fading at the end of the year but for that month he was on fire, hitting .430 with 6 homers and 30 RBI.

September/October 1981

It’s important to have a strong finish to your season and Brett certainly did that in 1981. Fourteen multi-hit games, five three-hit games and a .362 batting average with 3 homers and 20 RBI is a nice way to wrap up your year.

The Totals:

Add it all up and the totals for George Brett’s dream season look pretty good. He ends up hitting .404 with 31 homers and 130 RBI.

One of the most amazing things I saw when putting this together was the months that DIDN’T make the cut. Over the course of his career, George Brett had 17 different months in which he hit .350 or better.

I also intentionally used only one month from 1980 just to mix things up a bit. If you use his June, July & August numbers from 1980, Brett’s dream season batting average jumps to .423.

Gorman Texas Ranger

“They know when to cheer and they know when to boo. And then know when to drink beer. They do it all the time.” –Gorman Thomas on Brewers fans

There are players who will always be associated with certain franchises. Gorman Thomas is one of those players. He spent time in Cleveland and Seattle, but Gorman will always be a Brewer.

One thing I didn’t realize until recently is that, for a brief time, Gorman Thomas was a Texas Ranger.

Thomas was a first-round draft pick in 1969 but he hadn’t been able to put it together at the major league level. He struggled in his first four seasons, hitting just .193 in 668 at-bats. By 1977, there were indications that Thomas may be the classic AAAA player. Too good for AAA but not good enough for the big leagues. He spent the entire season at AAA Spokane, where he hit .322 with 36 homers and 114 RBI. No one doubted his power but there were questions about his batting average and his propensity to strike out a lot. Then something strange happend.

On August 20th of 1977, the Texas Rangers were in a pennant race and needed to clear a roster spot to call up pitcher Len Barker, so they swapped Ed Kirkpatrick to the Brewers for a player to be named later.

Kirkpatrick served the Brewers well, batting .273 in 29 games but the timing of the move was odd. Why would the Brewers acquire a 16-year vet with a .188 batting average when they were 21 games off the pace? It wasn’t the kind of deal a team makes with an eye on the future.

Player to Be Named Later

“The Milwaukee Brewers officially gave up on Gorman Thomas Tuesday when they sent the once highly promising outfielder to the Texas Rangers.”

-Green Bay Press-Gazette ·  Oct 26, 1977

If trading for Ed Kirkpatrick in August en route to a 95 loss season didn’t make much sense, then sending a prospect, albeit struggling one, to complete the deal made even less sense.

Adding to the intrigue was that Thomas didn’t ever hear from the Rangers until December. “You always hear these stories about being traded. It was my first time and I didn’t hear a thing,” he said. “No ‘Good-Bye, it’s been nice knowing you’ or ‘Hello, it’s nice to see you.’ I felt like a batboy being switched around.”

Be that as it may, the Rangers had to be excited to get a young player with so much potential. Thomas was poised to put up big numbers in the Texas outfield for years to come. The Rangers were so happy to have Thomas that they went out and traded for Al Oliver, Bobby Bonds and Richie Zisk. By the beginning of February, the Rangers roster boasted eleven outfielders. Something was fishy.

No Place Like Home

As it turned out, Thomas’ stay in Texas was a short one. In February of 1978, the Rangers sold him back to Milwaukee. Immediately there were rumors of a side deal which were denied by both sides.

“I heard from (Texas general manager) Dan O’Brien that the Rangers were having trouble signing him and that their outfield situation had changed, ” said Brewers GM Harry Dalton, who wasn’t with Milwaukee when the original deal was made. “I don’t know anything about any arrangements when Thomas went to Texas.”

Gorman Thomas
Once a Brewer, always a Brewer

Back in Milwaukee, Gorman Thomas was a changed man. A Sporting News feature in spring training of 1978 noted that he was a lot more serious. He got married to a Milwaukee girl and had settled down.

Maybe it was the trade, maybe it was getting married or maybe it was maturing. Whatever it was, Thomas finally broke through.  After hitting .193 with 22 homers in his first four seasons with the Brewers, Thomas hit .246 with 32 homers in 1978.  He followed that up by becoming one of the top power hitters in the American League.

 

 

The Best of 2016 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog 364 days ago. Since then, I’ve published 64 posts, including guest posts, for which I’m very grateful.

It’s been a great year and I thought I’d take a look back at the Top 5 posts of 2016 based (unscientifically) on page views.

Number 5: George Brett’s amazing 1980

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Brett was absolutely ridiculous in 1980 and this post tells the story of his remarkable season. If you’re going to hit .400, or even have a shot, it helps to have a summer like George Brett did in 1980.

 

Number 4: Schmidt and Brett in 1971

The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up

The most important day of the 1980 baseball season may very well have taken place in 1971. One decision would have put Mike Schmidt in a Royals uniform and given the 1980 World Series a completely different look.

 

 

Number 3: Missed it by That Much: The Mike Parrott Story

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Mike Parrott was the opening day starter for the Seattle Mariners in 1980. Unfortunately for him, 1980 was just a horrible year, in more ways than one.

 

 

Number 2: You Forgot How Good J.R. Richard Was

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James Rodney Richard was absolutely dominant and 1980 was shaping up to be the best year of his career. Then tragedy struck and he never pitched again.

 

 

 

Number 1: Missed it By That Much: The Drungo Hazewood Story

<a rel=Drungo Hazewood had all the talent in the world. He was a can’t miss prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. Then he missed.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2017!

-J.D.

The Remarkable Rookie Year of Mitchell Page

The Pirates bus sat waiting for a trip to Lakeland when someone told Mitchell Page to report to the team office.

“I knew I was being traded,” he said of the 1977 Spring Training deal. “I just prayed it wasn’t to a contender. I wanted to go somewhere that would offer me an opportunity to play.”

The Oakland A’s of 1977 were a perfect destination. They definitely weren’t contenders which meant Page would get a chance to play every day. The Pirates needed a third baseman and received Phil Garner as the centerpiece of the deal, but they paid a steep price. Along with Page, the Bucs shipped Tony Armas, Rick Langford, Doug Bair, Dave Giusti and Doc Medich to Oakland.

“Garner Prize Catch in 9-Player Buc Deal” read the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the next day. But the A’s were happy with their haul, too and Page began paying off immediately.

Hot Start

Mitchell Page wasted no time showing the Pirates he was ready for the major leagues, going 2-3 in his debut against the Twins.  A’s owner Charlie Finley was so impressed he gave his rookie outfielder a $10,000 raise after Page hit a cool .474 in his first five games.

The next day, as Langford prepared to make his first big league start, Page pulled him aside.

“Rick,” he said. “I’m gonna hit one out for you today. You can count on it.” He did more than that. Page went 3-5 with two homers and six RBI to help Langford get his first win.

“I think I’ve developed to the point where the other team can’t pitch me any one way for long,” Page told the media after the game. “Maybe a Nolan Ryan can throw just one kind of pitch at me but there aren’t many of those pitchers around.”

tsn-coverPage’s hot start landed him on the front of The Sporting News and earned him the respect of the American League.

“They told me I could get him out with an off speed pitch,” said Catfish Hunter after Mitchell homered off him at Yankee Stadium. “Then he showed me that was a lie.”

Hand Injury

Page had to cool off eventually, but a recurring hand injury hastened his fall. For years, Page battled a callus on his palm that made gripping a bat extremely painful. A’s trainers would trim the callus only to have it grow back again.  Surgery was the only solution to the problem but it would also mean missing significant time. That wasn’t an option for 25 year-old in his first big league season.

“I just made up my mind, (bleep) the pain,” he told reporters in May. “An operation… would put me out four or five weeks. So I play with pain and take a day off when it gets too much for me.”

After hitting .366 in April, Page hit just .256 in May and his average dipped again in June. The injury affected him at the plate to be sure, but there was another area where it didn’t seem to matter.

Steals Record

page_autoBy the end of June Page was a perfect 15-15 in stolen base attempts. Don Baylor‘s American League record of 25 was in reach and Page intended to get it. To do so, he enlisted the help of Matt Alexander, who had taken over for Herb Washington as Oakland’s designated pinch-runner. In two seasons with the A’s, Alexander stole 37 bases and had just two hits.

“Matt helped me out a lot,” said Page. “When I haven’t seen a pitcher before, I go straight to him.”

That strategy paid off when the two studied Angels pitcher Wayne Simpson in late July. Page was one steal away from tying the record and looked to his base stealing guru for advice.

“We decided to go on his back leg,” Page said of Simpson. “He takes a little dip. He takes the pressure off it when he goes to the plate.”

That nuance was all Page needed to tie Baylor, despite the fact that the Angels pitched out on the play. In his haste to get off the throw, California catcher Terry Humphrey  dropped the ball and Page was safe at 2nd.

“It seems to me a couple of times I’ve thrown strikes down there to 2nd base against him,” lamented Humphrey. “But he’s always safe.”

Two weeks later the record was all his when he stole 2nd against Mike Flanagan in Baltimore. The streak ended on August 15th when Rick Waits caught him leaning and he was out trying to advance to 2nd.

Check the Video

At about the time Page’s stolen base streak came to an end, his batting average began to climb.

During the season Page befriended a  man named Robert Ricardo who owned a restaurant. Ricardo often recorded sporting events to play in the background at his business. Video analysis was in its infancy in 1977, especially in Oakland as Finley wasn’t fond of spending extra money. But by comparing his stance to Rod Carew‘s, Page discovered a way to alter his stance to take some pressure off his injured hand.

The change paid off. Over a twelve game span, Page hit .487 with 7 homers. The hot streak raised his average by nearly 20 points and brought him back in the hunt for top rookie honors.

Rookie of the Year

As the season wound down, and the A’s fell out of the race the only suspense was whether Page could win Rookie of the Year honors. It was something he took seriously, perhaps too seriously at times.

After a reporter told him he didn’t have the home run numbers to win the award, Page hit three in two days. “That was for you,” he told the writer. “I didn’t like you saying that.”

He finished his rookie season with a .307 average, 21 homers, 75 RBI and 42 stolen bases. Those numbers were enough to earn him the respect of his peers, who named him The Sporting News Rookie of the Year. In the player vote, Page received 106 votes to Eddie Murray‘s 43.

“I didn’t think I’d win by that big a margin,” he said. “But that vote’s got to tell you something. They saw I had a complete game… and that I could beat them with a stolen base, a hit or the longball.”

Unfortunately for Page, Murray earned ROY honors from the baseball writers, despite playing only 42 games in the field. Be it east-coast bias or the fact the Baltimore won 36 more games than Oakland, the results were disappointing.

Take a look and the numbers and decide for yourself:

Player WAR Hits HR RBI Avg. SB
Murray 3.2 173 27 88 .283 0
Page 6.0 154 21 75 .307 42

 

Missed it By That Much – The Mike Parrott story

Every baseball player has bad years. Both Cy Young and Walter Johnson posted 20-loss seasons. Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his first full year. But few players had a year as miserable as Mike Parrott‘s 1980.

Mike Parrott was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Orioles in 1973. He worked his way up to AAA two years later and won 15 games with the Rochester Red Wings in 1977.

“The guy is a major league pitcher,” said his AAA manager Ken Boyer, who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues as a player.

“Poise, character, relaxation, concentration, movement on the ball, velocity – when you break him down in all those areas he’s been outstanding.”

Those traits made him the 1977 International League Most Valuable Pitcher and earned him a September call up at the end of the year. But at the Winter Meetings, the Baltimore traded Parrott to Seattle. What looked like a career setback proved to be the break he needed and he became the ace of the Mariners pitching staff. By 1979, his 14 wins lead the team and as the 1980 season dawned Mike Parrott had his sights set on winning 20 games.

Nightmare Season

Mike Parrott Seattle Mariners
Parrot got the nod on Opening Day

Parrott was the Opening Day starter and despite giving up two home runs to John Mayberry, he picked up the win against the Toronto Blue Jays. But at the end of April his season took a turn for the worse.

On April 30th, Parrott was facing Roy Smalley in the bottom of the 5th inning in Minnesota. The Twins’ shortstop sent a hot shot back up the middle and Parrott was unable to defend himself. The ball hit him squarely in groin. He wasn’t wearing a cup. Parrott collapsed on the mound and was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher. Newspaper reports called the injury a “severe bruise.”

In Rochester, former teammate Ed Farmer advised Parrott that he should get used to wearing a cup because big league hitters are much better at hitting the ball up the middle than minor leaguers are. Parrott wore a cup once and pitched poorly.

“It wasn’t comfortable,” he told the Associated Press after the injury. “But I’m superstitious and I wanted to go back to the old way. Let’s just say I learned a lesson. A very good lesson.”

The injury kept Parrott out of action for a month. It would be tough for your season to get much worse after an incident like that, but for Parrott that’s exactly what happened.

He returned to the mound at the end of May to face the Brewers and didn’t last long. Milwaukee scored six runs on seven hits in just two innings and Parrott’s day was over. On top of that, Cecil Cooper hit a line drive up the middle that nearly hit him.

His next start came against the Cleveland Indians. Parrott allowed five runs in 4.1 innings but only two were earned. Unfortunately the unearned runs came as a result of his own throwing error. By the end of May Parrott’s record stood at 1-6.

Bad Pitching & Bad Luck

His June starts were maddening both for him and the Mariners. The Boston Red Sox knocked him out after just one inning on June 9th. On the 19th, he pitched well enough to win, but Bob Stanley shut out Seattle and Parrott was the losing pitcher. Six days later he gave up two first-inning runs against the Rangers, but then held them scoreless for four innings. Again the Mariners offense didn’t produce, and again Parrott got the loss. Five days after that, he was perfect through two innings but gave up six runs in the top of the third.

“It’s got me down,” he said. “In the first two innings I had better stuff than I had all year. Then six runs. It’s hard on me and it’s hard on the team. This is the worst stretch of my career.”

In two July starts he lasted just 3.2 innings, giving up seven earned runs on ten hits. By the end of the month he was seeking help from a hypnotist.

“I went to see… if he could change my thought train,” he told the L.A. Times. “The hypnotist told me to reach back for something positive. I told him I couldn’t, that it had been so long I just couldn’t think of anything positive.”

The Mariners were also at a loss as to what to do with their Opening Day starter and sent him back to AAA Spokane. The move seemed to work as he gave up just two runs in 22 innings of work in the Pacific Coast League.

The Beat Goes On

He returned in September, made three starts and lost them all, allowing 13 earned runs in 21.1 innings. A move to the bullpen netted him three saves in four appearances but there was more misery to come.

On the final day of the season, Parrott entered the Mariners game against the Rangers with a one run lead and a runner on second. He got Billy Sample to hit a ground ball to 3rd, but Jim Anderson made a throwing error which allowed Bump wills to score to tie the game. Three innings later, Johnny Grubb‘s walkoff double won it for Texas and Parrott’s season from hell was over.

#Mariners pitcher Mike Parrott went 1-16 in 1980 and that wasn't the worst of it. Click To Tweet

Mike Parrott was the Mariners ace heading into the 1980 season. He started on Opening Day and got the win. From then on he lost 16 straight decisions and got hit in the groin with a one hopper that caused him to miss a month. He finished the year with a 1-16 record and a robust 7.28 E.R.A. American League hitters batted .348 against him.

“I think I’ll know how to handle adversity in the future,” he joked after the season was over. “I had enough this year, didn’t I?”

 

 

Rick Langford: Iron Man

Billy Martin strode to the mound at Arlington Stadium to talk to his starter, Rick Langford.

“I think it’s time now,” he said.

It was September 17th, 1980 and the Oakland A’s were up two in the 9th inning with two outs. But Rusty Staub‘s 2-run homer in the inning was followed by a Bump Wills single and a Jim Sundberg walk. Langford was in a jam and Martin felt he didn’t have a choice.

“I went with him as long as I could,” Martin told the media after the game.

Reliever Bob Lacey got Buddy Bell to ground out and it was over; both the game and one of the most remarkable streaks in recent baseball memory. For the first time in four months, Rick Langford hadn’t finished a game he started.

An Odd Beginning

Langford was the Opening Day starter for Billy Martin and the A’s but it didn’t go well. Facing the Minnesota Twins, he surrendered five runs in just three and two-thirds innings and was one of five pitchers Martin used that day. He came out of the bullpen in back-to-back games later in the month but nearly three weeks would go by before he got another start. On April 28th, Langford got the ball and went the distance against the California Angels.

His next two starts were complete games against Detroit and Toronto, the latter of which featured a bench-clearing brawl after Langford hit the Blue Jays’ Al Woods in the back with a pitch. Two more starts followed in which he was pulled after seven and four and two-thirds innings respectively.

The Streak Begins

Rick Langford - Oakland A'sOn Friday, May 23rd, Langford faced Fergie Jenkins and the Texas Rangers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Rangers won the game 3-1, but Langford went the distance. His next start came against the Kansas City Royals and again, Rick Langford went the distance.

In six June starts, Langford posted an 0-6 record with six complete games. Things turned around in July, when he posted a 6-0 record with, again, six complete games, including a 14-inning affair against the Indians on July 20th. Up 5-0 in the top of the 9th inning, Langford surrendered five runs, including a Toby Harrrah Grand Slam to tie it before the .196-hitting Dave McCay singled home Mitchell Page to end the game in the 14th inning. Had the game gone to the 15th, Langford would likely have gone back out.

Still Going Strong

August came and went. Langford made five starts and finished all five of them, going 4-1. The streak hit 19 on August 27th when Langford beat the Yankees 3-1. New York scored their only run in the first inning on a Reggie Jackson single but didn’t mount much of a threat for the rest of the game.

”I just went power to them in the ninth,” Langford told the media. ”I didn’t want to walk anybody. Sometimes that can get a rally started and wind up hurting you more than a home run.”

September

Rick Langford - Oakland A'sThe streak reached 21 on September 6th against the Orioles, and established a modern day record, surpassing Robin Roberts, who threw 20 straight for the 1953 Phillies. Often described as a “sinker/slider pitcher,” Langford didn’t walk a lot of batters and he didn’t strike a lot of people out, which kept his pitch count down. Billy Martin also didn’t have a lot of faith in his bullpen, which was a major factor in Oakland’s pitchers throwing as many complete games as they did.

Just one day earlier, the A’s bullpen allowed six runs in the final two innings of a loss to the Orioles and Martin wasn’t about to let it happen again.

“I wouldn’t have taken Langford out of the game tonight if he had put seven guys on base in the ninth,” Martin said. “Not after last night, I wouldn’t.”

By this point, the A’s had played 245.2 innings in Langford’s starts. He was on the mound for 234 of them.

“I never think about complete games,” he told the media after his 21st straight. “I take it one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. I know I’ll come out of the game sometime, but when I do I’ll walk off the mound with my head high.”

Six days later, he allowed 14 hits, but picked up the win, and another complete game when the A’s beat the Royals 9-5 in Oakland.

The Streak Ends

Langford’s next start came against the Texas Rangers, that team against whom the streak began. Martin stayed with his starter as long as he felt comfortable, but with the game on the line, he had to make a move.

“The only reason I went with him as long as I did was the streak,” Martin said. “I’ve seen him pitch better.”

In his streak-snapping start, Rick Langford went eight and two-thirds innings, allowed four runs on eleven hits, and got the win.

“I didn’t ask him to leave me in,” Langford said of his manager. “He makes the decisions on this club and he’s done a fantastic job.”

He would make four more starts and finish all four, including a 10-inning CG on two-days rest on the season’s final day because Martin wanted to give him a shot at winning 20. He came up short, but still established a season the likes of which will probably never be matched.

In 1980, Rick Langford threw more complete games than 8 MLB teams Click To Tweet

In 1980, Rick Langford went 19-12 in 33 starts. He threw 28 complete games, including 22 in a row. The 28 CGs were more than the combined total of eight different teams. Not too bad for a guy who lead the league in losses just three years earlier.