Tuesday, January 27, 2015

1980 Houston Astros (1st): 93-70, 1up

In their 19th season of existence the Houston Astros finally finished in 1st and made it to the post season.  While their expansion counterparts in New York took only 7 seasons to win it all the Astros never seemed to get over the hump called mediocrity.  Manager after manager and regime after regime the only team in baseball to play indoor ball still couldn’t find the right formula for winning.  Then in 1980 the team put it all together and won the NL West over the heavily favored Dodgers and the battle tested Reds.  The dawn of a new decade saw Houston beginning to take their baseball seriously.  The first step in the right direction occurred when they made Alvin Texas’ prodigal son, Nolan Ryan the first $1 million a year ball player.  Ryan might have only finished 11-10 (3.35), but his value to this team was more than statistical.  Ryan was an imposing power pitcher who brought with him a ring (1969 Mets) and most recently a division championship from the previous season in Anaheim.  Ryan was the showcase piece on what would become the #1 staff in the league.  Pitching in the cavernous Astrodome had it’s perks.  You could make a mistake here and there and get away with it.  This staff didn’t make too many mistakes.  Surprisingly 35 year old Joe Niekro was the group’s only 20 game winner.  Phil’s younger brother picked the biggest game of the year (1 game playoff vs LA) to pitch a shutout and win his 20th.  Vern Ruhle (12-4, 2.37) was an unsung hero.  Holdover Ken Forsch (12-13, 3.20) deserved a much better fate  The lone sore spot on this staff would be J.R. Richard (10-4, 1.90), who was the ace of the staff before Ryan arrived.  Richard, suffered two strokes during the season, which eventually turned out to be season and career ending.  What a heartbreaking end to a dominating season and a man’s career.  If that wasn’t sad on its own the media was horrific toward the imposing JR by insinuating that he was faking it and that he was upset that Ryan was getting more attention than he was.  Those piece of sh-t scribes should burn in hell for making those types of accusations.  What man fakes not one, but 2 strokes just for attention.  Baseball was worse off without JR, who was just as dominating and much more imposing than Nolan.

Joe Sambito (17sv) led a pen that had 3 relievers in double digits for saves.  Dave Smith (7-5, 1.93, 10sv) and Frank LaCorte (8-5, 2.82, 11sv) helped make this pen one of the best in the business.  Basically you would have to fight through the starter only to get to one of these ultra tough relievers.  Opposing batters did not get a break when facing the Astros, especially in the pitcher friendly dome.

The offense was much maligned.  They were middle of the pack in average and right near the bottom in power (only 75 homers), but they had a knack for getting the timely hit and they always seemed to put the ball in play, which was evidenced by the fact that no one struck out more than 85 times.  Even though they had just 75 homers, the Stros still have 5 guys who hit double digits.  Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno both hit around .310 and both covered a lot of ground on that carpet.  Denny Walling, Danny Heep and Rafael Landestoy were key clutch contributors coming off the bench and veteran Joe Morgan had just enough left in the tank to provide leadership and some speed.  Speaking of speed the Astros had 6 guys with 20 or more swipes.  Cedeno swiped 48 and Cruz took 36.  This team had balance across the board and never made it easy on their opponents.

After beating the Dodgers decisively in game 163 they went on to play in a classic 5 game series vs the eventual champion Phillies.  Houston took the Phils to the brink and then some.  Some feel that it might have been the greatest 5 game series ever.  Rather than have me do game 5 a disservice I would suggest you click here and watch it on YouTube.  I myself begrudgingly watched it as I was planning on boycotting the series after the Dodgers were knocked out by Houston.  Glad I did watch it, because it was a classic all the way.

Alan_Knicely_HOUBill VirdonBobby_Sprowl_HOUDanny_Heep_HOUDave_Bergman_HOUDave_Smith_HOUGary_Woods_HOUGordie_Pladson_HOULuis_Pujols_HOUMike_Fischlin_HOUScott_Loucks_HOU

This was actually one of the easier sets to complete since it required only 11 cards to complete.  The Fischlin card is a decent colorization that I created 2 or 3 years ago that I needed to reuse.  The Dave Smith card is quite interesting.  First off he’s a pitcher posing with a bat on his shoulder.  Secondly he’s wearing one of those darkish blue/black batting helmets that the team stopped wearing during the early 70’s.  As you can tell I created this set early on because I used the rookie panel card format for Heep, Knicely and Sprowl.  I’m thinking a redo is in the cards.  Many of you are thinking, “Why isn’t there a Nolan Ryan card here, since he wasn’t part of the original 1980 set?”  That’s a great question.  Answer:  I found a 1980 mid season Burger King Card for him and used that one rather than create a new one.

1980 Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd): 92-71, 1GB

As painful as it is to write, I have to admit that the better team (Houston Astros) won the division.  I will say this, the Dodgers showed a ton of heart winning those 3 one run games on the final weekend to force a 1 game playoff with the Astros.  Sure they came up flat (lost 7-1), but the resolve that it took to get to that point was amazing in a pennant race that saw these two team jockey back and forth for the lead.  When they came up short people started comparing this squad, most of whom had been together since the early 70’s, to the 1950’s teams from Brooklyn.  Both found ways to come up short, collapse and lose to the Yankees in the World Series, but that group finally broke through in 1955 to win it all.  This group, to this point, didn’t have that moment to hand their hat on.  When the season ended there was talk of breaking up the core, which featured and infield that had been playing together since 1973 (8 years).  Don Sutton, their ace, was looking to leave via free agency.  The Dodger core was running out of next years, and 1980 looked to be as good as any year for them to win it, not come up 1 game short to the scrappy Astros.  Of course all would be good in one year’s time, but at this point Dodger fans were feeling like they were part of a sinking ship.

Steve Garvey (.304-26-106) had another gold glove / 200 hit season at first base.  Dusty Baker and Ron Cey each had their typical 28-29 homer seasons.  Davey Lopes only stole 23 bases, which for him was a very low number.  Fans started to think he was slowing down big time and might need to be replaced by someone from their star studded farm system.  Underrated switch hitting right fielder Reggie Smith hit .322 with 15 homers in only 92 games.  Great production when he was in the lineup, but due to age and injury he was out of the lineup a lot and the team didn’t have anyone of his caliber to replace him.  Platoon bench vets like Jay Johnstone and Rick Monday more than held their own and did a wonderful job when Smith couldn’t play.  Rookie Pedro Guerrero (.322-7-31) in just 200 AB’s sure made a case to play everyday.  Rookie catcher Mick Scioscia acquitted himself quite well and served notice to vets like Yeager and Ferguson that his time was coming real soon.

As usual, Dodger pitching was top notch.  By 1980 the words:  Dodgers and Pitching were synonymous.  With 4 guys posting 200+ inning seasons the Dodgers had a great front 4.  Jerry Reuss (18-6, 2.51) had the best numbers and was the author of a no hitter vs the hated Giants on June 27th.  Don Sutton (13-5, 2.20) was the ace of the staff.  The grey haired man with the afro, who led the NL in ERA, completed his 15th and final season in Chavez Ravine.  Sutton, who was just a mere rookie way back in 1966 where he was the 4th starter behind Koufax, Drysdale and Osteen, was now at the end of his Dodger tenure with free agency looming.  Winning in 1980 would have meant the world to him after all those near misses that he experienced.  Burt Hooton and Bob Welch had fantastic seasons as well.  The weak link here would be the #5 guy.  Whether it was Dave Goltz (7-11, 4.31) or RIck Sutcliffe (3-9, 5.56) the Dodgers couldn’t get much out of that slot in the rotation.  That would loom large in that 1 game playoff when Goltz was forced to start vs Houston’s soon to be 20 game winner Joe Niekro.  LA might have run out of gas at about the same time it ran out of arms.  Steve Howe (17 saves), Bobby Castillo and Joe Beckwith were more than fine out of the pen.  Don “Full Pack” Stanhouse was putrid (2-2, 5.04) and so was Sutcliffe when he was sent to the pen.  A young chuby kid from south of the border did some fine work for the team down the stretch (2-0, 0.00).  In 10 relief appearances Fernando Valenzuela gave up no runs and frustrated hitters with his screwball.  No one had any idea just what kind of impact he would have in less than one year’s time.

17 new cards were created to complete the set.

Bobby_Castillo_LADBobby_Mitchell_LADDave_Goltz_LADDon_Stanhouse_LADFernando_Valenzuela_LADGary_Weiss_LADJack_Perconte_LADJay_Johnstone_LADJoe_Beckwith_LADMickey_Hatcher_LADMike_Scioscia_LADPedro_Guerrero_LADPepe_Frias_LADRudy_Law_LADSteve_Howe_LADTom LasordaVic_Davalillo_LAD

I released these cards due to the deadline for us to start the league.  Some are quite good.  None required any special colorization or airbrushing.  I created this set at the beginning of the project before I was able to dig up my Dodger yearbooks.  Once the season gets going I plan on updating the set with photos that I scan from those yearbooks.  I will definitely replace the rookie orange panel card that I used for Perconte, Scioscia and Fernando.  As the project proceeded I threw away the idea of using the panel card view.  I used it less frequently and only when I had no other choice.  Rest assured Fernando and Mike deserve their own regular card.  I also want to replace the original cards from the 1980 set that have players wearing the road gray uniforms taken at Shea.  I like my Dodgers wearing the whitest of white home uni’s when at all possible.

1980 Cincinnati Reds (3rd): 89-73, 3.5GB

As highlighted earlier the Reds were contenders for most of the season.  After start in August this modified version of the Big Red Machine made up 4 games in the standings and took over 1st place.  August 16th would be the high water mark for the Reds, because from that point on they would cede control of the division to the favored Dodgers and the upstart Astros.  With a week to go in the season they battled back to 2 1/2 games from the lead, but failed to gain ground by losing 2 of 3 to Houston with 5 games left to go.  This Reds team took another step further away from their "Big Red Machine" moniker.  Two years ago they bid adieu to Tony Perez, who left for Montreal.  Last year they lost their heart and soul when Pete Rose headed to the City of Brotherly Love.  This year they dealt two time MVP Joe Morgan back to Houston.  What was left was a fading 32 year old Johnny Bench, who during the previous decade etched his mark into baseball lore as the greatest all around catcher.  By 1980 Bench (.250-24-68) began to breakdown.  Talk of moving him to 1st or 3rd to preserve his legs were swirling around the media.  Bench's greatest asset was the fact that no one else had a catcher who could dominate both sides of the ball.  By this point in his career his offense began to pay the price for all those innings being behind the plate.  Dan Driessen (.265-14-74) was a solid ballplayer, but he was no Tony Perez.  Concepcion (.260-5-77) was still an All-Star at short, but Ray Knight (.264-14-78) was no Rose at third.  The message was clear.  The Reds got younger and added some competent ballplayers, but they were not the dynamic team from the previous decade.  Pitching wise the Reds had to live through a sub par season from 35 year old Tom Seaver (10-8, 3.64), who began to lose that extra giddyup on his famed fastball.  A normal 18-20 win season from "The Franchise" would have propelled the Reds to the division like it did the previous season, but Tom's game was in transition and so was this team.  The rest of the rotation was young and learning.  Frank Pastore (13-7, 3.27) had the best numbers on the staff.  Tom Hume (137 IP) logged a lot of innings in relief to really earn his 25 saves.  Mario Soto (10-8 3.07) was impressive pitching 190 innings while splitting his time between the pen and the rotation.  I can't help but think that if Johnny Mac put Soto in the rotation for the full season the Reds would have found a second consecutive NL West title in their grasp.

15 new cards were added to complete the set.

Bruce_Berenyi_CINCharlie_Leibrandt_CINDon_Werner_CINEddie_Milner_CINFrank_Pastore_CINGeoff_Combe_CINHarry_Spilman_CINJay_Howell_CINJoe_Nolan_CINJoe_Price_CINJohn McNamaraPaul_Householder_CINRon_Oester_CINSam_Mejias_CINSheldon_Burnside_CIN

Interestingly Sam Mejias is wearing one of those “trucker” type mesh caps that they tried to pass off at the ballpark as “authentic” caps at the concession stands.  I believe I was once told that they issued those caps in Spring training because they felt that they would “breathe” better and because they were adjustable.  I’ll bet it was because they were cheaper and easier to issue to those guys who weren’t going to make the team anyway.  The Reds were known for being tight with their money, so this is quite plausible.  The Don Warner card is interesting, only because the custom card that I created for him when we played the 1977 season, wound up on Hal McCoy’s column this past summer.  Mr. McCoy is a HOF writer, but either he or his staff are lazy or selfish, because they failed to credit the creator (yours truly) for making the card.  One of my buddies said, “He probably had some 19 year old college intern do the research, and that kid didn’t even know it wasn’t a real card”.  If that’s true, I give Mr. McCoy a pass.  If not, he’s on my sh-t list and I will refuse to talk to him again.  Since we don’t exactly run in the same circle of friends, put that last line in your “idle threat” list.

1980 Atlanta Braves (4th): 81-80, 11GB

At 81-80 the Braves finished over .500 for the first time since Hank Aaron was a regular (5 season ago).  Bobby Cox, who was just starting his HOF career on the bench, did a masterful job blending youth with experience to get his team above the .500 mark.  Along the way he managed to get himself fined and tossed from games like on Aug 6 when he argued a call and "accidently" sprayed tobacco juice on umpire Jerry Dale.  The team looked set in the power department with young stallions like Bob Horner and Dale Murphy each hitting over 30 round trippers.  The rest of the lineup was solid through and through with the exception of Luis Gomez (.194-0-24), who had a decent glove at short, but couldn't hit a lick.  Manager Cox eventually settled on Rafael Ramirez (.267-2-11) as the club's shortstop of the future after trying Gomez and Larvell “shootin’” Blanks (.204-2-12) at the most important position in the infield.  Most overlooked was the off season addition of Chris Chambliss (.282-18-72), who came over from the Yankees and brought steady veteran leadership and a great glove at first.  Pitching was another story.  41 year old knuckleballing ace Phil Niekro (15-18, 3.63) led the league in losses for the fourth straight year.  Knucksie would take the ball every 4th day (he pitched in 40 games) and not complain about what was going on behind him.  Doyle Alexander (14-11, 4.20) had the wins, but his high ERA made management worry enough to let him go to the Giants in the offseason.  The pen was above average.  Rick Camp (6-4, 1.91, 22sv) was the closer.  Former closers Gene Garber (5-5, 3.83) and Al Hrabosky (4-2, 3.62) excelled in the setup roles, as did youngster Preston Hanna (2-0, 3.18).  There is no doubt here why Braves fans were looking toward the future with optimism.

19 new cards were created to complete the set.

Al_Hrabosky_ATLBill_Nahorodny_ATLBobby CoxBrian_Asselstine_ATLBruce_Benedict_ATLChico_Ruiz_ATLChris_Chambliss_ATLDoyle_Alexander_ATLEddie_Miller_ATLGary_Cooper_ATLGlenn_Hubbard_ATLLarry_Bradford_ATLLarvell_Blanks_ATLLuis_Gomez_ATLRafael_Ramirez_ATLRick_Camp_ATLRick_Mahler_ATLTerry_Harper_ATLTommy_Boggs_ATL

Look at that cocksure pose that Ramirez has.  You know he was thinking, “Bobby, just put me in the lineup everyday and I’ll be the next Luis Aparicio for you”.  Hrabosky’s beard was so “Duck Dynasty” long before we knew what that even was.  Bobby Cox is even sporting the wild hair.  Many folks forget about his first stint in Atlanta, which should have turned out better.  Glad to see the organization was smart enough to bring him back and watch him orchestrate their greatest franchise successes.  Look at that bat in Luis Gomez’ hands.  No wonder he hit .191.  That bat looked like he found it at a stickball game in Bushwick Brooklyn.