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.

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