It was all there for Doug DeCinces. On a Sunday afternoon back in October of 1986, he stood on the verge of becoming a hero. The Angels, his team, were ahead 3 games to 1 in the American League playoffs (there was only one round back then). They were playing in front of their fans, who had never seen their team win a pennant before. Their manager, Gene Mauch, had been managing in the majors for a quarter-century without making it to the World Series before. And DeCinces had the ability to change all that.
In the top of the ninth inning, with the Angels one strike away from the pennant, Donnie Moore served up a three-run homer to Dave Henderson. It was a stunning turn of events, but as the home team, the Angels had one more chance. And they took advantage of it by pushing the tying run across the plate and loading the bases with one out. DeCinces, a veteran player and long-time Angel, came to the plate with the hopes and dreams of every Angels fan on his shoulders. There were so many ways to get the winning run in: a wild pitch, a basehit, a deep flyball, a grounder that didn’t turn into a double play, to name just a few. So as DeCinces settled in, the odds were dramatically in his favor.
But for reasons that only Doug DeCinces can explain, he swung at the first pitch. I wrote a piece during the AL playoffs this year, wondering why Ian Kinsler didn’t work the count at least a little bit in a crucial at-bat against the Detroit Tigers. Even though the Rangers still won their playoff series, taking a pitch still seems like a good idea in a situation like that.
Yes, I’m not a player. Anyone who played the game and wants to defend DeCinces will say that, and I accept that on some level. It must have been a really fat pitch that DeCinces saw, to take a swing and give up any possibility that he might see an even fatter pitch later in the at-bat. But he did make contact with the ball, at least.
He hit a flyball to the outfield, but it wasn’t deep enough to score Rob Wilfong–the potential pennant-winning run–from third base. Had Wilfong challenged the well-regarded arm of Dwight Evans in right field, he would have almost certainly lost, and with so much on the line it was wise for Wilfong to hold at third base. But a two-out at bat isn’t as much of an advantage for the offense, and Bobby Grich also failed to get Wilfong across the plate. The game went to extra innings and…most people either already know the rest or can at least figure out what the final result was.
Doug DeCinces came back to the Angels for the 1987 season, but was released in late September. The St. Louis Cardinals picked up the long-time American Leaguer for the final few games of the season, and released him in October. So the baseball card shown above makes as little sense to me as his decision to swing at the first pitch in game five did.
The 1988 Topps baseball cards were apparently already in the planning stages when DeCinces was cut by the Angels and signed by the Cardinals. That explains the “Now with Cardinals” blurb on the left side of the card. It would have been funny if an exclamation point had followed it, like it was a detergent carton: “Now with Cardinals!” But at least here was an acknowledgement that he wasn’t with the Angels anymore.
But the Cardinals released DeCinces in October of 1987. The decision to print a card for him, identifying him as being a Cardinal, makes no sense if he had already been released. This must have been a cause for discussion at the Topps company, but the decision was apparently made to act like DeCinces would re-sign with the Cardinals in the offseason. When this didn’t happen, well, any Doug DeCinces collectors out there may have been happy at the unforeseen bonus card, but no one else could make any sense of this.
A non-sensical card for a player who made an unexplained decision at a critical moment in his career is exactly the kind of thing I like to write about here. Come back again and I’ll try to have something else worth a few minutes of your time.