Sunday, August 18, 2019

#347 Sammy Stewart -Baltimore Orioles

Sammy Stewart appears here on his fourth solo Topps card.  His rookie card was one of those black and white numbers in the 1979 set. Although strangely enough he appeared on a Record Breaker card in the set.  I wonder if Stewart is the first player to appear on a record breaker card before his first base card?
Anyway we see Stewart here in a nice action shot.   I think it could have been better if we could see the ball in his hand.  Stewart's uni-brow is not as evident here as it is on some of his cards.  
The orange and brown borders work beautifully with this card.
Player: Sammy Stewart was drafted in the 28th round of the 1974 draft by the Kansas City Royals but did not sign.  He went undrafted in 1975 but signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Orioles following his second year at Montreat Anderson Junior College in North Carolina.
Stewart had mixed results as a starter in the minors but got his chance in game two of a twin-bill against the White Sox on 9/1/78.  Stewart earned his first MLB win allowing two runs in 5.1 innings pitched.  Most notably he struck out seven consecutive Chisox to set an MLB record for a rookie.

Stewart found his niche as Earl Weaver's long man on the Orioles 1979 pennant winner posting a 3.52 ERA in 117 innings.  Making 28 of his 31 appearances from the pen, Stewart averaged eight innings in his three starts and earned the W in each.  Stew didn't play in the ALCS but had a crucial role in the O's game 4 World Series win.  Relieving Dennis Martinez who was knocked out in the second inning, Stewart held the Pirates scoreless over the next 2.2 innings.  Baltimore mounted a late comeback, winning 9-6 and taking a 3-1 lead in the series.  Alas, the Pirates came back to win it all.

"The Throwin' Swannanoan" as he was known, had an almost identical year in 1980 with a 3.56 ERA in 118 IP with, three starts and 30 relief appearances.  The 1981 season saw a familiar workload although it was condensed into the strike shortened schedule.  Logging 112 innings in 105 games Stew posted a stellar 2.32 which led the AL depending on what you want to believe.

The big right-hander got his chance to start twelve games in 1982 but also found himself on the disabled list with bone chips in his knees.  Although he won 10 games for the first time in his career his ERA swelled to 4.14.  The following season Stewart would make only one start but logged an incredible 144 innings, with a 3.62 ERA.  He excelled in the postseason with 9.1 scoreless innings  including a save in the ALCS.

Used exclusively in a relief role in 1984, Stew was used as a closer part time and saved a career best 13 games.  Stewart made his last career start in October of 1985 but didn't get out of the third.  He was roughed up again three days later.  The two outings raised his ERA from 3.10 to 3.61 and would prove to be the end of his stay in Baltimore.

The Orioles traded Stewart in December 1985 for infielder Jackie Gutierrez.  Never a thin man, Stewart now sported a beer belly but was plugged into the familiar long relief role with the Red Sox. He missed seven weeks of action of the DL mid-year with an arm injury and threw a career low 63 innings with a 4.38.  Stewart clashed with Boston skipper John McNamara and did not see action in the postseason.  The Red Sox let him walk in free agency.

Stewart was unemployed as the 1987 season commenced.  He signed on with the Indians in June and after a brief spell in AAA, Stewart was back in the bigs.  Used mainly as a closer on a putrid Cleveland squad.  Stewart did not pitch well (5.67 ERA in 27 IP) and it was his last action in the majors.  

Flipside:  His weight listed at 200 lbs....C'mon Sammy, put both feet on the scale!

Oddball: According to Stewart's SABR biography by Bill Nowlin, Stewart nearly pitched lefthanded in a game in 1981. This fine Washigton Post piece claims Stewart did throw lefty in a game but I am betting it was in spring training.

History:  When I think of Stewart I think of his uni-brow and effective long and middle relief. Stewart spent 10 seasons in the majors and ended up with an even 10.0 WAR, posting a 59-48 record with 45 saves.  Although he yearned to start he was very effective in the role that O's skipper Earl Weaver and his other managers used him.
Outside of baseball Stewart did not have an easy life. Both of his children were born with cystic fybrosis ultimately losing his son Colin in 1991.  Stewar battled alcoholism throughout his career and drugs after he left the game.  Stewart served time and was homeless for a while.  He seemed to be turning things around when he passed away in 2018.

*Many of the facts from this post come from Nowlin's thorough SABR bio.

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