U.L.’s Toothpick: The Year of the Card–Dane Iorg, 1985
Baseball is a funny game. Every kid dreams of being a star and driving in the World Series-winning run, but of course so few players ever get that chance. And then many times, itâ€™s not a star batting in the key situation. Instead, it often comes down to a journeyman, a guy who battled in the minors for years, got traded, filled a role as a pinch-hitter, rarely held a starting job for any length of time, and are unknown to most fans of other teams. In other words, a guy like Dane Iorg.
Iorg was originally drafted by the Royals in 1968, but he decided to go on to college (Brigham Young University). The Phillies drafted him in 1971, but he languished in their minor league system for years despite some pretty good seasons. He didnâ€™t display much power, but invariably walked more than he struck out and hit for a decent average.
The early-70s Phillies were pretty awful, but they were slowly building a terrific franchise that would win the NL East five times from 1976-1983, as well as two National League titles and the 1980 World Series. Itâ€™s actually amazing how much their arc mirrored the Royalsâ€™ in that time period, right down to the Hall of Fame third baseman. Anyway, Iorg had trouble breaking through, but he finally made the bigs at the start of the 1977 season. And he was in Philly for all of 12 games before he was dealt to St. Louis for Bake McBride*.
*In another twist, McBride killed the Royals in the 1980 World Series, going 7-23 with a key home run in Game 1 and 5 RBI.
In St. Louis, Iorg mainly played as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder. It took until 1980 for him to appear in more than 100 games. It can be rough for a bench player to maintain his hitting when he plays sporadically, but Iorg consistently put up decent numbers, which I suppose was why the Cardinals kept him around.
Iorg would be a key contributor to the 1982 World Series winners, splitting time with Lonnie Smith in left field, George Hendrick in right field, and even playing a few games at first base and third base. Iorg didnâ€™t play in the Cardinalsâ€™ NLCS sweep of Atlanta, but went 9-17 in the World Series with 4 doubles and a triple.
Baseball is a business, though. Iorgâ€™s long tenure with the Cardinals and World Series contribution didnâ€™t keep him in St. Louis long. In May 1984, Iorg was sold (not even traded) to the Royals, who were looking for a backup first baseman and left-handed bench bat. Manager Dick Howser affectionately referred to his bench players (Iorg, Greg Pryor, Jorge Orta, and John Wathan, chiefly) as â€œspare parts.â€ But they were big parts of the Royalsâ€™ division title in 1984.
In 1985, Iorg hit .223/.268/.331 in 138 plate appearances, 29 of which were pinch-hitting spots. Although he only had a .392 OPS as a pinch-hitter, Howser obviously liked using him in those key situations.Â So itâ€™s no surprise that, with the season on the line, Howser turned to Iorg in Game 6 of the World Seriesâ€¦
Dane Iorgâ€™s best games of 1985:
7/19 @BAL: Went 2-5 with 5 RBI and a run scored; drove in the Royalsâ€™ first four runs in a 10-3 win.
7/13 @CLE: Went 2-3 with 2 RBI in a 5-1 win.
5/17 @MIL: Went 1-3 with a solo homer (his only one of the year) in a 3-0 win.
10/26 vs. STL: Drove in the game-winning run, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win. In GAME SIX OF THE WORLD SERIES.
About the card:
Itâ€™s hard to tell where the picture was taken, but my guess is in Yankee Stadium, since it was easier for Topps to wait for all the AL teams to come into New York than go out and get pictures elsewhere. In 1984, the Royals played in New York twice, once in late April and again in mid-July. Looking at the game log on baseball-reference.com makes me think the April series was a two-game set, and one game got rained out. That made the July series a five-game affair, and the Yankees won every single one of those. That was the low point of the season for KC, as they went 45-30 the rest of the way to win the division. Anyway, my guess is that this was taken in April 1984. Iorg sure has a pensive look on his face. He might be wondering why â€œOFâ€ is listed first, since he played more at first base than in the outfield in 1984.
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