Monday, March 20, 2017

Cards 36-40

Card #36: Eric King
1987 stats: 6-9, 4.89 ERA in 55 games (four starts), nine saves, 89 Ks, 1.47 WHIP

The fashion in which King began his career provides another reminder of how the game has changed in the last three decades. King’s first two major league appearances in 1986 were relief outings of 5 1/3 innings (on May 15, 1986) and six innings (on May 21). Remarkably, he allowed only one hit each time. Over the last three seasons, only five pitchers have two relief outings of at least 5 1/3 innings. Name them!

King never topped his rookie season, when he was utilized as a true Swiss army knife (he recorded three saves and three complete games for the Tigers) while trying to shake his Mark Fidrych-ian reputation as a flake. He set career highs in saves and strikeouts in 1987 and was very solid as a starter for the White Sox in 1989 and 1990, when he went 21-14 with a 3.34 ERA in 50 starts (and served up the first of Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630 homers on Apr. 10, 1989) before scuffling in his final two seasons with the Indians and Tigers. King holds the distinction of being traded for a current major league manager (Bob Melvin) and team president (Kenny Williams). 

Trivia answer: Scott Baker (four times, all in 2014), Steven Wright (three times—once in 2014 and twice in 2015), Vidal Nuno (twice in 2015), Dillon Gee (twice in 2016) and Luis Perdomo (twice in 2016).

Card #37: Marvell Wynne
1987 stats: .250, 2 HRs, 24 RBIs, 11 SBs, .321 OBP, .346 SLG

The 1987 season was the age-27 campaign for Wynne, but he was already established as a bit player who was durable but didn’t hit for much power or get on base. As a 24-year-old in 1984, he finished in the top 10 in the NL in hits and at-bats but had no homers and just 35 extra-base hits in 653 at-bats while being caught stealing 19 times in 43 attempts for the Pirates. 

Wynne produced at that rate as a part-timer for the Padres in 1987, though he garnered some headlines for his power when he homered leading off an Apr. 13 game against the Giants, Tony Gwynn and John Kruk followed with homers of their own as the Padres became the first team ever to begin a game with three straight homers. Alas, the Padres lost, 13-6.

Wynne had his best season as a big leaguer in 1988, when he hit 11 homers and recorded an OPS+ of 116 (the only time he had an OPS north of 100 in nine seasons). He was traded in August 1989 to the Cubs and went 1-for-6 in the NLCS before hitting .204 in his final major league action in 1990. Wynne played one more season in Japan in 2001 before retiring to raise his family, including his son Marvell, who was the first pick in the 2006 Major League Soccer draft and is currently with the San Jose Earthquakes.

Card #38: Dennis Leonard
1987 stats: Did not pitch (retired before spring training)

It’s easy to make fun of the world’s Goose Gossages, who rant and rave about how men were men back in their day. But holy smokes, Dennis Leonard was a man’s man back in his day. Great googly moogly, he sure earned his farewell baseball card.

Leonard threw 1776 2/3 innings from 1975 through 1981, a stretch in which he won more games (120) than any right-handed pitcher while throwing 95 complete games and 20 shutouts. Good God, they’d jail any manager who abused a pitcher like that today! Not surprisingly, no modern pitcher matches any of Leonard’s feats. Care to guess who has thrown the most innings, earned the most wins and thrown the most complete games and shutouts in the last seven years?

No stunner, then, that Leonard’s arm wore out from all that—oh wait, he missed nearly three full seasons with a knee injury suffered while pitching to Cal Ripken Jr. (that seems pretty cruelly ironic). Leonard came back to earn a World Series ring in 1985 by pitching in two games for the Royals before going 8-13 with a 4.44 ERA in his final season in 1986. Even then, he completed five games and tossed two shutouts, something achieved in 2016 by only Johnny Cueto. While his peak wasn’t Cooperstown-worthy, Leonard was deservedly inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame in 1989 and remains a popular presence during the franchise’s off-season caravans in the midwest. 

Trivia answers: David Price (1,529 1/3 innings), Max Scherzer (117 wins) and Clayton Kershaw (24 complete games and 15 shutouts).

Card #39: Marty Barrett
1987 stats: .293, 3 HRs, 43 RBIs, 15 SBs, .351 OBP, .351 SLG

Poor Marty Barrett. A whole spate of things, none of which he was responsible for, went wrong over the final 10 innings of the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox and now he’s stuck in highlight reel hell as the batter whom Jesse Orosco strikes out to clinch the World Series for the Mets. 

Barrett avoided the hangover that plagued the Red Sox in 1987, when he had his usual steady season (including a career-high 22 bunts) for a team that finished 78-84. It was the fourth year in a five-year span in which Barrett anchored the middle of the diamond with a Dustin Pedroia-esque spunk, if not with Pedroia-esque production. Barrett had an OPS+ of 91 from 1984 through 1988 but became known as a pest who did the little things to help the Sox, from delivering in the clutch (he was the MVP of the 1986 ALCS, hit .433 in the World Series and finished the postseason with a then-record 24 hits) to pulling off the hidden ball trick three times

Barrett suffered a torn ACL in 1989 (he eventually received $1.5 million in a lawsuit against Red Sox team doctor Arthur Pappas) and finished his career by appearing in 12 games for the Padres in 1991. His lone highlight with the Padres? A home run off the next player in the set. Barrett was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2012 and lives in Las Vegas.

Card #40: Dave Righetti
1987 stats: 8-6, 3.51 ERA in 60 games, 31 saves, 77 Ks, 1.46 WHIP

The first member of the “Record Breakers” club to get his own standalone card, Righetti continued in 1987 to morph into what we’d recognize today as the modern closer. He racked up 31 saves and was named to the All-Star team for the second and final time. But he also threw fewer innings than the year before for the third straight season, a streak he would continue for three more seasons. His innings count from 1984 through 1990: 107-106 2/3-95-87-69-53.

Righetti, a Bay Area native, signed a three-year deal with the Giants following the 1990 season but recorded just 28 saves for his hometown team as he began to show the wear-and-tear of a decade in the bigs. After bouncing between the Blue Jays and Athletics in 1994, Righetti finished his career as a starter with the White Sox in 1995, when, in one of my all-time favorite bits of arcane baseball trivia, he was the opposing pitcher when Yankees right-hander Jack McDowell flipped off the Yankee Stadium while being booed off the mound

Righetti’s second stint with the Giants has been far more successful. He’s been the team’s pitching coach since 2000, a stretch in which the Giants have won three World Series titles and Righetti has earned a reputation as one of the best coaches in baseball. He is also the father of 25-year-old triplets (two girls and one boy).

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