Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#23 Mike Heath

Card: This is Heath's fifth Topps card.  His rookie card is one of those awful black and white prospect cards with Brian Doyle and Dave Rajsich in the '79 set

Picture: It looks like Heath is looking at a fly ball to left center.  Technically he should be listed as a C-OF-3B if they consider the number of games by position in '82.

Player: Heath, drafted in the 2nd round by the Yankees in '73, played shortstop in the minors before moving behind the dish in '76.  In June of '78 Heath was called to the big leagues to back up Thurman Munson.  Heath batted .228 in 33 regular season games, made the postseason roster, and appeared in one World Series game as the Yankees knocked off the Dodgers.
The Yankees traded Heath to the Rangers and he spent the first half of the '79 season at AAA Tucson before being traded to the A's.  Oakland kept him in the big leagues and Heath was able to play everyday for the last place A's, rotating beteen rightfield, leftfield and catcher.  Heath batted .256 and made a nice impression by throwing out 11 of 25 runners on steal attempts.
From '80 to '83 Heath's playing time for the A's was consistent, racking up 321 to 366 at bats each year.  His role for the A's was a time share behind the plate with Oakland backstops Jeff Newman and Jim Essian, occasionally playing the outfield, and filling in at thirdbase when needed.  Although he didn't usually hit for much power, he launched homers in three consecutive games Aug 27-29 in 1981.  Heath started two of the A's games in the '81 ALDS but went 0-8. Heath had better personal results in the ALCS getting two hits in six at bats in a losing effort to the Yankees.  Another highlight for Heath was catching Mike Warren's no-hitter on Sept 29, 1983.  Over these four years Heath played good defense and averaged four long balls and batted .251.  Heath was able to play everyday in '84 and '85 batting .248 and .250 with 13 HR each year.
The Oakland A's traded Heath to the Cardinals after the '85 season but the 31 year-old receiver struggled in Senior Circuit.  Batting .206 in August, the Cardinals traded Heath to the Detroit Tigers for Ken Hill.  Heath, back in the more familiar AL, rebounded hitting .265 with four HR in 30 games.  In '87 Tiger manager Sparky Anderson platooned Heath and left handed rookie Matt Nokes behind the plate.  Sparky wasn't afraid to use Heath all over the field playing him everywhere but pitcher.  Heath responded with perhaps his finest season with slash stats of .281/.331/.430 and threw out 39% of would be base stealers.  Heath hit a homerun in game two of the ALCS but the Tigers eventually lost in five games to the Twins.
Heath continued with the Tigers over the next three years, getting more playing time as Nokes was unable to stay in the lineup.  Heath put up familiar stats, between five and ten dingers with averages ranging from .247 to .270.
Heath signed as a free agent with the Braves for the '91 season.  While catching in a game against the Reds on July 2, Heath was flattened by Barry Larkin in a home plate collision.  The violent impact put Heath on the disabled list for the rest of the year.
Coming off an injury and a .209 batting average, the 37 year-old  Heath was unable to make it back to the majors in '92 so he finished his career playing for Oakland's AAA affiliate in Tacoma. 

Flipside: Trying to find five highlights for a part time light hitting catcher is no easy feat.

Oddball: Heath's card from '88 makes him look like an amputee.
Sparky Anderson once said Johnny Bench never threw as hard as Mike Heath did...try living that down.

History: Heath won a championship as a rookie and played on two other division winners.  Heath although not a great hitter was consistent with the bat.  He was a good defensive catcher and filled in when needed in the outfield and third base.  Heath managed for a year and a half in the White Sox chain and now makes himself available as a motivational speaker.


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