April 04, 2012

Spanky the Gunner

Mike LaValliere, 1989 Fleer

Sometimes the differences between modern baseball and baseball when I was a kid seem stark. Case in point: Mike LaValliere.

General athleticism has jumped 100 notches in the past 25 years, and it’s hard for me to envision a guy like Mike LaValliere even sniffing a big league roster these days. Granted, he was a catcher, and it was sort of neat and endearing for catchers in the 80s to be a bit stocky and maybe have a mustache, and sure, there are players today who aren’t exactly Adonis … but still. I will use extremes here to make my point, yes, but can you imagine LaValliere sharing a lineup with say, Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton? Also consider this:

Michael Eugene "Mike" LaValliere (born August 18, 1960), nicknamed Spanky

Albert Pujols: Yeah so obviously, I really like our chances this year. We got Torii manning center, climbing walls out there and contributing with his bat and his speed on the bases. Howie’s poised for a big year, I think. And a lot of people are forgetting Kendrys is healthy and ready to pick up right where he left off two years ago. And of course there’s Spanky …

I’m not sure there is anything more 80s than Spanky LaValliere standing on the mound with his mask atop his head, scratching his crotch as he waits for the bullpen car to arrive while “Cruel Summer” plays on the loudspeakers.

Truth be told, LaValliere was apparently a beast when it came to tossing out potential base stealers. So you can have your fancy-schmancy athletic build, but I’ll take all my God-given ability right here in the ol’ right arm socket, if ya’ ask me. According to Wikipedia:

He is definitely had one of the best catching arms to ever play the game.

Thank you, Wikipedia. Thank you for that. I’m glad I used you as a reference to make my point shine. Sheesh.

Anyhoo, when LaValliere gunned down a base runner, according to various opponents and umpires, he would spit out the piece of rawhide he was chewing, put his mask back on, and utter, “Sonofabitch ain’t stealing on Spanky’s watch; not today, not tomorrow, not next week.” Then, as a result of adrenaline, he would become flatulent and the umpire would have to call timeout by pretending he noticed a squirrel on the field.

Of course, these are jokes. Mike LaValliere did not have adrenaline-inspired gas, and also he was pretty darn awesome at playing baseball. He did chew rawhide, though. That is a fact. Also, he was quite slow:

His lack of speed was a frequent source of parody on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. In particular, a stopwatch was used to clock LaValliere going around the bases.

Two things: 1) using a stopwatch to time a slow person rounding the bases isn’t parody; it’s being a dick, and 2) I’d like to see you get around the bases, Ravech. Maybe this year LaValliere can use a counter to click how many times Kruk says something dumb on the air. Oh, Randy Johnson will win 30 games? Click. Brett Myers’ ability to punch his wife in the face will help him pitch better? Clickity click.

I got your back, Spanky.


Jeff said...

Oh, how I long for the days of Mike LaValliere. He was a fantastic defensive catcher and a great "old school" player. His backup was Don "Sluggo" Slaught, who picked up some of the offensive slack. Spanky might not have been the most athletic of all time, but he was a heck of a baseball player.

mkenny59 said...

Yes he was, Jeff. Pretty sure Spanky and Slaught would hold down the fort of any clubhouse, modern or otherwise. Also, "Spanky and Slaught" would make for an awesome sitcom about baseball. Or cops. Or two former baseball players who become cops.

Sean said...

Another thing that 80s players had working against them - as this card makes abundantly clear - were the much tighter fitting uniforms. Seems the jerseys are a bit more loose fitting these days so the pudginess doesn`t show up as much.