Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cards 41-45

Card #41: Bo Diaz
1987 stats: .270, 15 HRs, 82 RBIs, .300 OBP, .421 SLG

Greg Brock’s struggles with the Dodgers might have proved true the old adage that it’s easier to be the guy that follows the guy. Diaz’s success with the Reds might have proved true the new adage (just made up by me) that it’s easier to be the guy that follows the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy. Got all that?

Diaz stopped the post-Johnny Bench revolving door at catcher for the Reds, who employed five different starting backstops in as many seasons before Diaz, whom Cincinnati acquired from the Phillies in August 1985, grabbed hold of the job in 1986. Playing under former teammate Pete Rose — the two were starters for the NL-winning Phillies in 1983, when Diaz hit a walk-off grand slam on Apr. 13 and delivered the game-winning RBI while catching Steve Carlton’s 300th career victory on Sept. 23 — Diaz played a whopping 274 games at catcher over the next two seasons (second-most among catchers, behind Terry Kennedy) and earned his second and final All-Star berth in 1987, when he finished with the second-most homers and RBIs of his career.

Chronic left knee injuries hampered Diaz over his final two big league seasons, but he was still harboring hope of signing with a club for the 1990 campaign when he was killed in a horrifying accident at his Venezuelan home on Nov. 23, 1989. Diaz was trying to install a satellite dish on the roof of his home when the dish slipped and crushed his neck and skull. He died instantly.

Card #42: Gary Redus
1987 stats (w/White Sox): .236, 12 HRs, 48 RBIs, 52 SBs, .328 OBP, .392 SLG

A trade late in spring training in 1987 worked out a little better for Redus than it did for Joe Cowley. While Cowley’s control betrayed him to the point where he’d never throw another major league pitch, Redus played a career-high 130 games, set a career-high in stolen bases and spent the season in the thick of the AL’s only Rickey Henderson-free stolen base race of the 1980s. Redus ended up finishing third behind Harold Reynolds and Willie Wilson and well ahead of Henderson, who was limited to 41 steals due to various leg injuries.

Despite the gaudy stolen base total, as well as the second-best homer and RBI total of his career, Redus was stretched as an everyday player, as indicated by an OPS+ of 89 and the fact he played in as many as 100 games just once over his final seven seasons. But he’s also a reminder of how much the game has changed in the last 30 years. Redus stole 223 bases between his major league debut in September 1982 and the end of the 1987 season. Guess how many players have stolen 223 bases in the last six seasons? None, though Rajai Davis (222) and Dee Gordon (218) came close. Nor did either Davis or Gordon ever hit for the highest single-season batting average in professional baseball history, which Redus did when he hit an absurd .462 for the Reds’ rookie-level Pioneer League club. According to that very entertaining ESPN.com story, as of 2013, Redus resided in his native Alabama.

Card #43: Gene Michael
1987: 68-68 before resigning Sept. 8

The second manager in the set is the second former Yankees manager. Detecting a trend here? While Dick Howser found a sane place to land following his firing by George Steinbrenner. Michael — who succeeded Howser as Yankees manager following the 1980 season and had two stints in the Bronx over the subsequent two seasons — traded one high-stress environment for another in 1986, when he accepted an offer to serve as the Cubs’ manager under boisterous general manager Dallas Green. The two battled almost immediately and Michael resigned — by telling the press before Green — on Sept. 8 after compiling a 114-124 record in one-plus seasons. 

Michael got the last laugh, in more ways than one. By 1989, Green was managing the Yankees under Steinbrenner, who fired him after a mere 121 games. Michael landed back with the Yankees in 1990, when Steinbrenner named him general manager in the owner’s last move before beginning a “permanent” ban (it lasted less than three years) for various nefarious activities that everybody conveniently forgot once the Yankees started winning again.

With the impulsive Steinbrenner out of the picture, Michael oversaw a complete rebuild that allowed the “Core Five” — Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and the perpetually forgotten Bernie Williams — to remain with the Yankees long enough to build the late-‘90s dynasty. Of course, Steinbrenner was still Steinbrenner and demoted Michael following the 1994 season. Michael is still an advisor to general manager Brian Cashman but inexplicably has yet to receive a plaque in Monument Park for putting together the greatest baseball team in the last 40 years. Get on that, Yankees.

Card #44: Greg Harris
1987 stats: 5-10, 4.86 ERA in 42 games (19 starts), 106 Ks, 1.51 WHIP

Long before Pat Verditte, there was Greg Harris. And long before Harris became the first “switch-pitcher” of the 20th century, he pulled off a feat nobody had achieved in more than a decade. Harris recorded 20 saves for the Rangers in 1986 before making a then-career high 19 starts in 1987. In a reminder that specialization was well under way by the Reagan years, Harris’ 19 starts were the most in the decade by a a pitcher immediately after a 20-save season. The previous pitcher to start at least 19 games following a 20-save season? Goose Gossage, who led the league with 26 saves (!!!!) for the White Sox in 1975 before making 29 starts in 1976 (and presumably griping that the pitchers of 1976 had it much easier than the pitchers of 1975).

(Trivia: One pitcher has matched Harris’ feat in the last 10 seasons. Name him!)

Harris’ semi-foray into the rotation interrupted a terrific six-year run of yeoman-like relief work. Even with his subpar 1987 included, Harris produced a 3.19 ERA from 1984 through 1989, which was 27 percent better than the league average. He threw more than 100 innings of relief in the two seasons before and after his rotation stint. Harris then spent the majority of the 1990 and 1991 seasons in the Red Sox’ rotation before re-re-emerging as a dominant reliever in his age-36 and age-37 seasons in 1992 and 1993, when he recorded a 3.15 ERA (that’s an ERA+ of 141!) over 220 innings. For good measure, he made two starts, one of which he completed.

Dude was a machine, never moreso than in his penultimate big league appearance on Sept. 28, 1995, when the right-hander pitched as both a lefty and a righty in the same scoreless inning against the Reds. Did I mention he did it while wearing an Expos jersey and glasses as big as the ones I wore back in the day? Swag. 

While Harris (who has a son, also named Greg, pitching in the minors for the Rays) capped his career by going ambidextrous, Verditte has made his career out of it. The natural right-hander began throwing with both hands as a seven-year-old and found encouragement in Harris’ ability to pull it off. According to this 2015 story at MLB.com, Harris and Verditte communicated regularly during Verditte’s seven-year minor league career. He finally made it to the bigs in 2015 and has appeared in 41 games with the Athletics, Blue Jays and Mariners. The Phillies acquired Verditte from the Mariners earlier this month. 

(Trivia answer: Brett Myers recorded 21 saves for the Phillies in 2007 before making 30 starts in 2008)

Card #45: Jim Presley
1987 stats: .247, 24 HRs, 88 RBIs, .296 OBP, .433 SLG

It’s impossible to explain the mysterious allure of the 1980s Seattle Mariners to anyone who wasn’t around in the ‘80s. Their boxscores, absorbed in print from 3,000 miles away, were filled with robust numbers produced by 20-somethings. They were the perfect team for rabid baseball card collectors on the search for the next big thing.

Except Presley and the Mariners never really turned into the next big thing. Presley looked like a perennial All-Star during his first two full season in 1985-86, when he hit 55 homers and collected 191 RBIs while batting a solid .270 (it was 1986 we didn’t know any better). But the 1986 season, during which Presley made his lone All-Star team and earned MVP votes, proved to be his peak. Presley had his third straight 20-homer, 80-RBI season in 1987, but he’d never hit either milestone again as his plate judgment (a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 859/210 in parts of eight big league campaigns) proved to be his undoing.

He continued to decline in 1988 and 1989 before being traded to the Braves, for whom he had a bit of a bounce-back season in 1990 before finishing his career by struggling in 20 games for the Padres in 1991. Presley was a hitting coach for the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles from 2006 through 2014 and developed a reputation for overseeing a group of homer-happy free swingers, which seems appropriate.

No comments:

Post a Comment