Twenty-five years ago, the 1987 season became known as the Year of the Home Run. It seems odd now that a jump in major-league home-run production from 37.5 per at-bat to 32.3 brought cries not of “steroids!” but of “rabbit ball!” Perhaps we were naïve then—Jose Canseco was already in the league. In addition to being a year in which both MVP votes still deeply offend me (hey, Hall of Fame voters: Alan Trammell lost the award to George Bell by 332-311, including just 16-12 in first-place votes. Is it possible that just four voters could have been wrong?), it was a year in which Wade Boggs hit 24 home runs, four players went 30-30, and Mark McGwire took the rookie home-run record and shattered it into 49 pieces.
McGwire’s is at least one accomplishment that won’t be getting a big ballpark remembrance this year. In addition, here are 16 1987 first-half anniversaries that probably will go unnoticed before the All-Star break.
February 17: Don Mattingly breaks a record set just a few days earlier by Jack Morris by winning the largest arbitration award in history, $1.975 million. Said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, “'The monkey is clearly on his back… He has to deliver a championship for the Yankees like Reggie Jackson did when he was the highest-paid Yankee. The pressure is on him. I expect he'll carry us to a World Series championship, or at least the pennant… He's like all the rest of them now. He can't play little Jack Armstrong of Evansville, Ind. He goes into the category of modern-player-with-agent looking for the bucks. Money means everything to him.” At this time, the owners were knee-deep in collusion, and Mattingly and Morris were among the few players cashing in. P.S.: In 2005, the Yankees will pay Tony Womack $2 million as a free agent.
February 25: Taking a strong stand against drug abuse, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspends pitcher LaMarr Hoyt for the entirety of the season. Hoyt had had three different arrests in 1986 involving possession of marijuana, Valium, Quaaludes, and other unspecified pills. The Padres had already released Hoyt, saying they would not honor the three years remaining on his contract. A few months later, Hoyt is reinstated by an arbitrator, his suspension reduced to 60 days. The Padres released him again, this time knowing they were responsible for the remainder of his contract. He signed for the major-league minimum with the White Sox, but never pitched in the majors again. Baseball’s next principled stand against substance abuse came, um…
March 27/April 1: Hey, kids! Looking for a reason to come out to Citi Field this season? Join the Mets as they celebrate Ed Hearn-for-David Cone Night! Cone bobbleheads will be given away for practically nothing! Then rejoin us for “Farewell to the First Golden Era Night” as we mark the 25th anniversary of Dwight Gooden’s first positive cocaine test! You think you were disappointed when a generation of players was found to be using PEDs? How about when the pride of New York missed the start of the championship defense because he had to be diverted into rehabilitation? Come out to Citi as we remember a disillusionment so powerful you could feel it tickling your nostrils!
April 3: In a move that triggers the second half of a Hall of Fame career and also will eventually mark an end to all sanity in the usage of relief pitchers, Dennis Eckersley and utility infielder Dan Rohn are traded from the Cubs to the Athletics in exchange for three minor leaguers who will never see the light of day.
April 6: Dodgers general manager Al Campanis goes on “Nightline” and explains to the nation that African Americans “lack some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager.” This set off a storm of criticism that cost Campanis his job and led to a good deal of soul searching about the game’s relationship to blacks 40 years after Jackie Robinson. In many ways, we’ve been looking ever since.
April 15: A reminder that, “There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect” goes one step too far—“There Is No Such Thing As a Pitcher” is probably more accurate—second-year Brewers pitcher Juan Nieves no-hits the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 7-0. Shortstop Dale Sveum of the Brewers hits his first home run of the year in support of Nieves, one of 25 he will hit on the season. Nieves walks five and strikes out seven in the game. A touted prospect, after 1987, Nieves will have just 25 major league games left before arm injuries virtually end his career at 23.
April 18: Michael Jack Schmidt hits home run #500 at Pittsburgh off of reliever Don Robinson. It’s a three-run, ninth-inning shot that erases a 6-5 Pirates lead (Steve Bedrosian, the eventual Cy Young winner, had blown a save) and ultimately gives the Phillies a win.
April 20: Please come out to Miller Park to celebrate Big Tease Night! This evening, we remember the apogee of the 1987 Brewers’ record-setting burst out of the gate. With their win over the White Sox on this date, the Brewers would extend their season-opening winning streak to 13 games. Soon thereafter, they would lose 12 straight. In the end, they finished 91-71, nice for the Brewers in most years, but hardly what their great start seemed to portend.
May 2: Would Tim Raines have done better in his Hall of Fame campaign had he another few hits in the prime of his career? Probably not, but it’s tempting to think about given what happened to Raines as a result of collusion. A free agent during the 1986-1987 offseason, Raines received no offers despite being a six-time All-Star and career .305/.390/.434 hitter to that point. Raines and several other free agents, including Ron Guidry, Lance Parrish, and Andre Dawson, also were victimized by the rule that said if they hadn’t accepted arbitration by early January, they couldn’t re-sign with their old club until May 1 at earliest. Thus Raines sat out, then went directly into the Expos’ lineup on May 2 without benefit of spring training. He went 4-for-5 with a stolen base and a grand slam home run off of Jesse Orosco.
June 2: Ken Griffey Junior is selected by the Mariners with the first overall pick in the amateur draft. The Pirates, drafting second overall, take high school outfielder Mark Merchant, who barely makes it to Triple-A. More successful first-round picks include Jack McDowell (#5), Kevin Appier (#9), Delino DeShields (#12), and Craig Biggio (#22).
June 17: In one of the saddest stories of the year, Dick Howser, who just that spring was forced to call off a comeback from brain cancer, was lain low by the disease. The only manager to win a championship with the Royals (and also piloted the Yankees to 103 wins in 1980) was only 51 years old.
July 5: In December, 1986, the Padres had acquired Kevin Mitchell from the Mets as the centerpiece of a multiplayer deal for Kevin McReynolds. Not quite six months later, they were ready to get him out of town, in part because they didn’t approve of the San Diego native’s friends—at this time, Padres management and ownership spent a great deal of time worrying about the makeup of their clubhouse, far more than they did about winning. In a deal that saw the 1989 NL MVP traded for the 1989 NL Cy Young winner, Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts were dealt to the Giants for Chris Brown, Mark Davis, Mark Grant, and Keith Comstock. The deal helped put the Giants, then playing just .500 baseball, into the playoffs.
July 12: In one of the great moments in New York Yankees history, George Steinbrenner places a phone call. “Lou,” he says to his manager, “I just won you the pennant. I got you Steve Trout.” The Yankees, 55-34 and leading the AL East by three games at the moment of the left-handed Trout’s acquisition, watch as the pitcher goes 0-4 with a 6.60 ERA in 14 games. They follow him down, finishing the season in fourth place, having gone only 34-39 in the Trout era.