Monday, January 28, 2013

1981 new york yankees

this post covers the 1981 new york yankees and cards numbered 214 to 219 in the set. here are the fronts:
and backs:
oh look.  it's the yankees.  again.  this is the fourth time they've been featured in the set, and the second time we've seen them in back-to-back years.

what team is this?:  this is the 1981 new york yankees, winners of the american league east in the 'first half' of the season, and american league champions for the fourth time in six years.

why this team?:  isn't it enough that they are the yankees?  at least this team made the world series, as opposed to the 1980 club that was featured previously.  the 1981 yankees were 34-22 when the strike came, but only 25-26 after play resumed.  they finished with the fourth best overall record in the american league east, but qualified for the playoffs thanks to the split-season determination.  they beat the brewers in five games to claim the american league pennant, but lost to the dodgers in a six-game fall classic.  the yankees then missed the postseason for 13 straight seasons.  some yankee fans might say 12 since there was no postseason in 1994, but i'll stick with 13.

which players are featured?: rudy may, bucky dent, dave winfield, lou piniella, rich 'goose' gossage, and tommy john.  of the six, only dave winfield is new to the set.

why these players?:  i'm not altogether sure that this is a good representation of the 1981 yankee squad, as you can tell by the noncommittal text on the backs.  let's break it down.

rudy may had led the league in era in 1980, but posted a 4.14 era in 1981. he had a 6-11 record during the regular season, and was moved to the bullpen for a stretch in august and again at the end of the season.  in the postseason, may was used exclusively in relief as he appeared in one game in each of the playoff series.  in the world series, may pitched in three games, compiling a 2.84 era without any decisions.

bucky dent appeared in 73 of the team's 107 games in 1981.  he hit .238 with 7 home runs as their primary shortstop.  he injured his forearm after being hit by a pitch in late august and missed the remainder of the season, including the yankees' postseason run.  he was replaced in the lineup by larry milbourne.

hall of famer dave winfield joined the yankees in 1981 and quickly got his first taste of new york yankee-dom as the team made the postseason and he suffered the wrath of george steinbrenner.   winfield's .294 average and 68 rbi during the regular season led the team, and his 13 home runs were second behind the 15 that reggie jackson and graig nettles hit.  winfield made the all-star team, won a silver slugger award, and finished 7th in the league mvp voting, but he was just 1 for 22 in the world series, causing the boss to refer to him as 'mr. may'.

lou piniella appeared in only 60 games for the yankees during the 1981 regular season.  he hit .277 as a right fielder/left fielder/designated hitter with 5 home runs and 18 rbi.  he made only one start in the alcs, although he was 2 for 2 as a pinch hitter in the other two games of the series.  in the world series, he started three games and pinch hit in the other three.  overall against the dodgers, piniella led his team with a .438 average.

rich 'goose' gossage dominated in 1981.  he had a 0.77 era with 20 saves in 32 appearances.  he was an all-star and finished fifth in the cy young voting.  he made amends for his one disastrous appearance in the 1980 playoffs with 8 scoreless appearances over the three series.  he had six saves in those games, including saves in each of the first two games of the world series - the only games of the series that new york would win.

tommy john was just 9-8 during the 1981 regular season, but had a tidy 2.63 era over his 20 starts.  john lost his lone start in the division series against the brewers, but bounced back in the alcs to shut down the a's in game 1 on one run in six innings of work.  he made two starts and one relief appearance in the world series, winning game 2 and pitching well as the starter in the decisive game 6 before being lifted for a pinch hitter after just 4 innings.

the stadium on the back is...?:  yankee stadium - the house that ruth built that was renovated around 1973.  although it is shown without the 'brut' advertisement.

did upper deck get it right?: well, i could be cynical and say that this is just a checklist grab - an easy way to fill the checklist with players that are already in the set.  but, the yankees did get to the world series in 1981, so maybe the team belongs.  there definitely could have been better player representation, though.  bob watson, alcs mvp graig nettles, even guys like jerry mumphrey or larry milbourne (not to mention reggie jackson and ron guidry - both for the umpteenth time in this set), would have been better choices than some of the players upper deck featured here.

as for the photos, they all look about right for the period, but we know that the yankees wore a black armband in honor of elston howard in 1981.  that means that dent, piniella, and gossage are definitely not shown as they were in 1981.  the rudy may photo is inconclusive (it is pretty similar to the one that upper deck used for the 1980 subset).  both winfield and john have the armbands (and john's photo is probably from the same game as the one in the 1980 subset), and i would guess that it is highly likely that at least the winfield photo is from his first year with the yankees.

is this team timeless?:  i would say no.  it is the last team of the reggie jackson years, and the last pennant winner for the yankees until 1996, but it is overshadowed by the bronx zoo years of 1977 and 1978.

Monday, January 21, 2013

1981 milwaukee brewers

this post covers the 1981 milwaukee brewers and cards numbered 208 to 213 in the set. here are the fronts:
and backs:
it's been a while since a new franchise was introduced to the set, even though two of the players have been featured before (cecil cooper and rollie fingers).  three of the six players here are hall of famers, which makes for a good checklist.  and can we agree that the 'mb' glove is one the greatest logo of its time?

what team is this?:  this is the 1981 milwaukee brewers, who won the american league east in the 'second half' of the season.

why this team?:  this is the first milwaukee brewer team to reach the postseason.  they wound up with the second best overall record in the american league in 1981 (62-47) behind the oakland a's, but lost to the yankees in the divisional playoff round in 5 games.  i will still categorize them as division champions, just so i don't have to go and create some special label.

which players are featured?: cecil cooper, gorman thomas, paul molitor, robin yount, rollie fingers, and don money.

why these players?:  this is a pretty good representation of the 1981 brewers squad, for the most part.  let's break it down.

cecil cooper led the brew crew with a .320 batting average in 1981, good for 4th in the league.  the first baseman also led the league in doubles (35), won the silver slugger award, and finished 8th in the league mvp voting.  in the playoffs against the yankees, cooper hit .222 with 3 rbi.

gorman thomas, usually the brewers' center fielder, split the 1981 season between center and right field.  he hit 21 home runs (5th in the league) and drove in 65 (8th) in 103 games.  he made the all-star team for the first (and only) time, but was 0-1 in the game with a pinch hit pop out.  in the postseason, thomas hit a home run in the brewers' decisive game 5 loss, but managed just one other hit during the series.

hall of famer paul molitor moved from the infield to the outfield in 1981, spending most of his time in center field for the brewers that year.  unfortunately, he appeared in only 64 games during the regular season and hit only .267.  molly hit just .250 in the alds, but had a big solo home run in the 8th inning of game 4 to break a 3-3 tie and force the series to a fifth game.

robin yount was the only brewer regular to hit over .300 in the postseason.  he hit .316 over the five games, but had only one extra base hit and one rbi in doing so.  he had hit .273 during the regular season with 30 extra base hits and 49 rbi - a down year for sure.  he bounced back in a big way in 1982, however, as we will see in a few posts down the line.

rollie fingers had been traded from the padres to the cardinals after the 1980 season, and four days after that trade was completed, he was shipped to the brewers.  the hall of famer did well during his first season in milwaukee, winning the cy young award thanks to a 1.04 era, 6-3 record, and 28 saves in 47 appearances.  not only that, but fingers also won the mvp award, becoming the first american league reliever to have done so.  the future hall of famer appeared in three of the five alds games, earning the win in game 3 and a save in game 4.

don money is the one player who probably doesn't fit here.  he had played in only 60 games during the regular season, and hit just .216 as the brewers' primary third baseman.  in the postseason, the former all-star saw action in two of the games, going 0 for 3 at the plate.

the stadium on the back is...?:  milwaukee county stadium, home to the brewers from 1970 through 2000.  it had hosted the milwaukee braves prior to that, from 1953 through 1965 after which the braves left for atlanta.  county stadium even hosted a handful of white sox games in 1968 and 1969.

did upper deck get it right?: there are no issues with featuring this team since it was the first brewer team to reach the postseason, and it featured a lot of good players.  and, upper deck did well with the player selection outside of don money.  ted simmons, jim gantner, ben oglivie, or pete vuckovich would have been better choices based on their 1981 seasons.  sal bando (who was already on the set checklist) would have even made more sense, as he was the team's third baseman in the playoffs, and his .294 average in the series was second to only yount's .316.

as for the photos, they all look about right for the period (based on the uniforms, hats, and thomas' batting helmet), but i would say that money's photo is from the mid 1970's.  overall, not a bad effort by the folks in carlsbad.

is this team timeless?:  i would say no.  it is overshadowed by the 1982 brewer team that made it to the world series and included basically the same players.

Monday, January 7, 2013

1981 los angeles dodgers

this post covers the 1981 los angeles dodgers and cards numbered 198 to 207 in the set. here are the fronts:
and backs:
no memorable moment card (rick monday or fernando valenzuela would have made a good one), but we have exactly 10 players for the first time in the set, which is the most since there were 11 players featured for the 1969 and 1970 baltimore orioles.

what team is this?:  this is the 1981 los angeles dodger team that won the world series, beating the yankees in six games after the strike-shortened season and two rounds of playoffs.

why this team?:  the 1981 dodgers exacted their revenge on the yankees who had beaten them in two straight world series - 1977 and 1978.  they were 63-47 in the regular season, and their 'first half' record of 36-21 (one game better than the cincinnati reds) assured them a place in the postseason thanks to the strike-altered playoff configuration, despite finishing fourth in the nl west during the second half of the season.  it should be noted that the reds actually won the most games of any national league team in 1981, but they missed the playoffs altogether.

which players are featured?:  steve yeager, burt hooton, dusty baker, jerry reuss, mike scioscia, pedro guerrero, ron cey, steve garvey, alejandro pena, and steve sax.

why these players?:  there was a changing of the guard with the 1981 dodgers, and this is a good mix of the old and the new - especially with regards to the catcher and third base positions where we see both the veteran and the rookie represented.  if only it were the same for the second baseman...  anyway, we have the world series mvp trio as well as the all-star first baseman, nlcs mvp, and other key player represented.  let's break it down.

steve yeager was used in a platoon role with rookie catcher mike scioscia during the 1981 season, playing primarily against left-handed starters.  as a result, yeager appeared in 40 games and started behind the plate just 23 times, and he hit just .209 with 3 homers and 7 rbi in that limited playing time.  then came the postseason.  yeager made one start in two nlds appearances, and was used as a pinch hitter in just one game of the nlcs, but with the yankees featuring southpaws tommy john, ron guidry, rudy may, and dave righetti, yeager saw plenty of action in the world series.  good thing, too, as he hit two home runs, including the game 5 game-winner, and claimed one-third of the series mvp trophy.

burt hooton was named the nlcs mvp in 1981.  before that, however, hooton earned a spot on the all-star team for the first time.  for the season, he was 11-6 with a 2.28 era in the abbreviated season, logging 142.1 innings in 23 starts.  he threw 5 complete games and 4 shutouts to boot, including back to back 4-hit shutouts against the cubs and pirates in august.  hooton made one start in the nlds against the astros, and held them to 3 hits and one earned run in 7 innings as the dodgers took game 3.  he then made two starts against montreal in the nlcs.  in both game 1 and game 4, hooton earned the win by going 7.1 innings and allowing no earned runs. he also made two starts in the world series, going 6 innings in game 2 and allowing no earned runs in the dodgers' loss, and then pitching into the sixth inning and getting the win in their game 6 clincher.  overall, hooton had a 0.82 era in 5 postseason starts in 1981

dusty baker finished third in the national league in batting in 1981 with a .320 average.  he hit the second most singles (99) in the league behind pete rose, and was fourth overall in hits. he was named to the all-star team for the first time, and he also won his first gold glove and second silver slugger award in 1981.  one of his 9 home runs during the regular season was a pinch hit, walk-off home run in the 11th inning of a game against the cardinals.  in the postseason, dusty did most of his damage in the nlcs against the expos, and in fact, in the dodgers' game 3 7-1 victory  in which he was 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored and 3 runs driven in.  in the nlds and world series, he hit .167 with just one extra base hit.

jerry reuss was 10-4 with a 2.30 era during the regular season.  he was slated to be the dodgers' opening day starter before an injury caused him to give way to fernando valenzuela, sparking fernandomania.  in the postseason, reuss was terrific in three of his five starts.  he made two starts in the nlds against houston, pitching 18 shutout innings against the astros.  unfortunately, his nine scoreless innings in game 2 was rewarded only with a no-decision, as houston won the game 1-0 in 11 innings.  reuss did record the shutout victory in game 5 however, clinching the series win with a 5-hitter at home.  he made one start in the nlcs against the expos (game 3) but was the losing pitcher in that game.  he started game 1 of the world series against the yankees and took the loss after giving up four runs in 2.2 innings of work.  he rebounded to pitch a gem in the pivotal game 5 of the series, holding the yankees to one run in his complete game victory.

mike scioscia started 87 games as the dodgers' catcher in 1981, taking over the primary catching duties from steve yeager in the process.  he hit .276 with a couple of home runs and 29 rbi.  in the postseason, he struggled at the plate, hitting just .154, .133, and .250 in the nlds, nlcs, and world series, respectively.  his lone home run of the postseason came in game 1 of the nlcs, and was the second of the back-to-back home runs hit off of jeff reardon in the 8th inning.

pedro guerrero was the player who homered before scioscia in game 1 of the nlcs, in case you were wondering.  guerrero spent a good part of 1981 in right field covering for the injured reggie smith before moving to third base towards the end of the season (and in the nlds) when cey was injured.  he hit an even .300 with 12 homers and 48 rbi during the regular season, but had less than stellar statistics in the nlds and nlcs.  he did hit a home run in each of those series, but it wasn't until game 3 of the world series that his bat came alive.  with the dodgers down to the yankees two games to none, guerrero broke out of an 0 for 8 skid with a game-tying double in the 5th inning of game 3 that also moved ron cey to third base. cey scored the go-ahead run on mike scioscia's double play grounder, and fernando held the yankees scoreless the rest of the way to give the dodgers their first win of the series.  over the next three games, guerrero was 6 for 11 with a triple, two home runs, and 6 rbi, including 5 in the decisive game 6.  as a result, he was rewarded with a third of the series mvp award.  it's worth noting that even as the series was going on, there were rumors that the dodgers were planning to trade guerrero to the padres for ozzie smith.  i am guessing that his series performance went a long way to putting those rumors to bed.

ron cey hit .288 over 85 of the dodgers' 110 games that year, with 13 homers and 50 rbi.  5 of those homers came against the expos (one was a walk-off), and he also homered off of former teammate rick rhoden.  the highlight home run of the year for the penguin, however, must have been the one he hit at riverfront stadium off of mario soto on may 23rd. that was the 200th homer of his career.  cey missed most of the final month of the season after being beaned by the giants' tom griffin in early september, and he did not play in the nlds against the astros.  however, the penguin returned for the nlcs, where he had an .714 ops and 3 rbi. then, in the world series against the yankees, cey hit .350 and made a memorable fielding play in game 3 to catch a bunt and start a double play late in the game.  later in the series, he suffered a horrific beaning in the head by goose gossage, but his 6 rbi in the series and .958 ops earned him his third of the series mvp award.

steve garvey hit just 10 home runs in 1981, but he led the team in rbi with 64 and runs scored with 63. while he kept his consecutive games streak alive, another streak ended as, for the first time since 1973, garvey did not start in the all star game. he was still named to the all-star team as a reserve, and he went 1 for 2 with a double in the game.  in the postseason, garvey likely would have been named the mvp of the division series had such an award been given. he hit .386 with 2 home runs and an ops of 1.158 in the dodgers five game series against the astros. against the expos in the nlcs, he hit .286 with one home run and an ops of .714. garvey bounced back in the world series against the yankees, hitting .417, and leading both teams with 10 hits. 9 of those hits were singles, however, and he failed to drive in a run. he did get to be the second player to reach the mound during the celebration, and so he is in the iconic 1981 world champion photo with steve yeager and steve howe. speaking of yeager, he shared the series mvp award with pedro guerrero and ron cey, although during the locker room celebration, garvey was mistakenly told that he had won the award, not yeager.

alejandro pena made his big league debut in august of 1981 against the braves.  contrary to my memory, he did not walk the first batter he faced (it seemed like he always walked the first batter he faced when he entered a game) and instead recorded a 1-2-3 inning with his first career strikeout to boot.  pena wound up appearing in 14 regular season games, and was 1-1 with 2 saves and a 2.84 era.  he made the postseason roster, but appeared only in two games of the nlcs, allowing no runs and just one hit in 2.1 innings of work.

steve sax also made his big league debut in august of 1981.  his first appearance came as a starter against the cubs in chicago, and he singled in his first major league at bat.  in all, sax played in 31 games, taking over as the team's second baseman in davey lopes' absence due to injury.  he hit .277 with 2 homers and 15 runs scored.  he also had 5 stolen bases, but was caught an un-lopes like 7 times. lopes was back in time for the postseason, so sax was limited to just one late-inning defensive replacement appearance in each the nlds and the nlcs.  he got a pinch-hit at bat in game 1 of the world series (he flew out against ron guidry) and his final appearance in the series came in game 2 when he pinch ran for reggie smith in the 8th inning.

the stadium on the back is...?:  dodger stadium - home to the dodgers since 1962

did upper deck get it right?:  certainly this team belongs in the set as the world champions in 1981, but there are quite a few dodgers that i would have liked to have seen featured as part of this particular subset that also would have been sensible choices.  in fact, i think that upper deck had some other ideas as well.  typically, the featured players are included in the set in alphabetical order by first name.  the fact that steve yeager is first leads me to believe that someone else was considered - someone whose first name starts with an 'a' or a 'b', and falls ahead of 'burt' in that regard.  bill russell?  bob welch?  bobby castillo?  or was alejandro pena on the checklist all along, and he just got placed out of the regular order?

and who might have been between steve garvey and steve sax before pena was put there? the only person on the roster who fits there is steve howe, who was still around in 2004.  howe would have made a lot of sense because he was also on the 1995 yankees who are featured later in the set.  i personally would have loved a steve howe certified auto.  other players who would have made sense include russell and dave lopes (both featured in other dodger subsets), rick monday (the hero of the 1981 nlcs) and terry forster (who shows up with the angels later in the set, but for some reason was left out of the checklist as a dodger in 1978 and 1981).  of course, the biggest omission is probably rookie of the year and cy young award winner fernando valenzuela.  any of the players i mentioned are probably better representations of the team than pena or sax.

as for the photos, the yeager and guerrero images are definitely from 1981.  in fact, those photos were taken on october 28, 1981 in the visitor's locker room at yankee stadium.  yeager has guerrero's left arm draped over his neck, and you can see ron cey's right eyebrow in the frame as well.  as for guerrero, he is hoisting the series mvp award that was given to him, along with yeager and cey.  hooton's photo is inconclusive, although i would guess it is from later in his career.  the photo used for his 1980 subset card was from 1981 (thanks to the patch on his left sleeve) and he was wearing his stirrups differently than he is in the photo in this subset.  dusty baker's left sleeve doesn't have the los angeles bicentennial patch, so it's not from 1981 either.  reuss, scioscia, and pena have photos in which i can't tell what year they are from, but the cey image is definitely from 1982.  not only is the patch missing from his sleeve, he is wearing a helmet with an earflap which he did not do until after he was beaned by gossage in the world series.  garvey's photo is from 1981 as it has the proper patch, while saxy's photo comes from 1984, i believe, as i think that his left sleeve has the olympic patch on it.

is this team timeless?:  yes - the team of my youth finally won a world series, and they beat the yankees in doing so!  plus, it was the last time that the infield of my youth played together.  good times.