Lenn Sakata – 1981 Fleer

December 21, 2010


Ah, the 1981 Fleer trainwreck rolls on. Sakata an outfielder?

There are many things I know about Sakata. Which tells me that I need either a life or a purge button:

1. He wore braces when he was in Milwaukee. I remember a little blurb in either Street & Smith’s or the Sporting News. He didn’t have his card with them on, unlike Drew Hall.

2. He was Hawaiian, which was kind of an oddity back in the 70’s and 80’s. Mike Lum was Hawaiian. Now Charlie Hough was born in Hawaii as was Milt Wilcox, but they weren’t Hawaiian. I mean, does Hough look like someone who wore flowered shirts?

3. He was the poster child for Earl Weaver’s weakness. Weaver used to take a shine to one or two  players that weren’t that great and he kept them around for a while. Tom Shopay, Tony Muser, Larry Harlow and Kiko Garcia also come to mind.

4. He was most famous for a game on August 24, 1983. The Orioles were playing host to the Blue Jays, and even though Joe Altobelli  was the manager he was definitely in Weaver mode. Baltimore was behind 2-1 going into the late innings and Altobelli had Jim Dwyer hit for Todd Cruz (someone else on the Weaver weakness list, for sure). Joe Nolan pinch hit for Rick Dempsey in the 7th as well.

The chain reaction to those moves were that Sakata went to play second, Rich Dauer moved to third (not really that unusual) and Nolan went  into catch. The Blue Jays got another run in the 8th so it was 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth.

Baltimore had six bench players to start the game: Shelby, Dwyer, Sakata, Nolan, Roenicke, Ayala. Shelby ran for Ken Singleton earlier as DH. Dwyer was already used (see above) and Sakata and Nolan were in the game. Down two in the ninth, though, you may as well go for it.

With one out, Shelby beats out a bunt against Jim Clancy. Altobelli pulls Dauer for Roenicke, who whiffs. Sakata was the last hope for Baltimore, and he drew a walk.

With two on and two out, and Nolan at the plate Bobby Cox makes a move to the pen and puts in Dave Geisel, his situational lefty. Nolan wasn’t helpless against lefties but he wasn’t great (actually he had a good 1983 against lefties, but it wasn’t the ‘percentage’ move). Benny Ayala is in the league only because he hits lefties. So Ayala pinch hits.

A great move, as Ayala singles home Shelby. Geisel stays in to face Al Bumbry, another lefty. Bumbry wasn’t normally platooned, but Altobelli doesn’t have any bench players anyway. Bumbry smacks a single, scoring Sakata to tie the game. Geisel out, Joey McLaughlin in, and he whiffs Disco Dan Ford to end the threat.

Now what. Altobelli doesn’t have a catcher, nor does he have a third baseman. He replaced them with two corner outfielders more noted for hitting than defense. But, it’s defensible because you can’t save anyone for extra innings if you don’t get there, right?

So Sakata moves behind the plate. He’s been a middle infielder only in the minors and majors. But, who else is there? Roenicke and Ayala aren’t flexible enough for sure. Ayala is a boat anchored iron glove, but Altobelli doesn’t want to pull the DH and put Shelby in the OF, so Ayala goes to left. John Lowenstein came up as a second baseman and shortstop, so he moves from left to second base replacing Sakata. And Roenicke, by default goes to third.

The defense for the Orioles features a player who had never played catcher before behind the plate (Sakata), a player at second who last played the position on May 27, 1975 (Lowenstein), a player at third who played third base in the minors, but not since 1977 (Roenicke) and a lumbering mound in left (Ayala).

Tim Stoddard is on the hill, but things don’t go well, but it’s not the defense’s fault. Cliff Johnson slams a home run and then Barry Bonnell singles up the middle.

Tippy Martinez, the ace reliever of the Orioles, comes in to pitch. Martinez was having his best season (and last stellar season) in 1983. He made the All-Star team and got MVP consideration.

Sakata is nervous. Who the heck wouldn’t be when you’ve never caught, the game is on the line and the Jays have a runner with some speed on first in Bonnell, you know they’re running.

Bam! Tippy catches Bonnell leaning and throws to second, nailing him. One out.But Tippy walks Dave Collins, who WILL run.

Tippy does hold down the running game – but usually pitches to Rick Dempsey or someone that can catch and throw. Sakata ain’t that guy. But BAM! Tippy picks off Dave Collins at first.

Two out, but Willie Upshaw coaxes a walk from Martinez. Upshaw had already stolen a base in the game, and with Buck Martinez up there’s no harm in trying another one.

Well, there is when BAM! he’s picked off. Martinez picks off THREE Jays in the inning.

Sakata no doubt ordered Tippy’s libations for the rest of the season.

But wait…there’s more! Down by a run in the bottom of the 10th, Cal Ripken plants a Joey McLaughlin pitch into the seats, tying the game. Sakata may have to catch another inning! Eddie Murray walks, and Lowenstein hits a grounder to first that advances Murray to second. Normally, they’d pinch run for Murray but there’s no one to pinch run or play first if you wanted to pinch run a pitcher.

Shelby is intentionally walked, and Randy Moffitt replaces McLaughlin. The brother of Billie Jean King whiffs Roenicke for the second out, and with two on and two out Sakata strides to the plate. A single may win the game if hit to center or right.

CRACK! Sakata blasts a three run homer into the Baltimore night sky, winning the game and sparing him another inning behind the plate!

That was Sakata’s second home run of the season. He’d only hit 25 in his career.

But outfield Fleer? Lenn played one game in the outfield. In 1984! Yeesh!

Man, when I do these posts, I feel like this d-bag:

Annoying isn’t he?

But not as annoying as this guy.

It’s been almost 20 years and I STILL want to punch him HARD! And I’m a pacifist. I think the Dalai Lama himself would authorize a kneecapping.

To take your mind off of that:

Special thanks to the Night Owl for another package. Woot! Trades in the works with Bo (it’s a clear the decks trade – mainly for him but I’m hitting some of his want lists big time as well), Plaschke’s Argyle Sweater, and some other minor transactions that will be shipped by January 15 or so.  And I’m initiating a trade with Lifetime Topps for…mostly Upper Deck going to him. Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think.

No, it’s not an excuse to add Alanis to my blog. I’m in a mellow mood, despite my threats to dismember an actor from a Subaru commercial, so I’m leaving you with this man…dig it. I listened to it today washing dishes.


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