This week’s edition of Blast From the Past is inspired by the playoffs, a time of year that we used to know well here in Toronto.
There is an old saying that applies to most sports, that says offense wins games, but defense wins championships. In baseball, that can be extended to pitching and defense. Though the starting rotation is an extremely important part of a team’s pitching (see Halladay, Roy; Lee, Cliff; Lincecum, Tim), a team needs a good bullpen to succeed.
In 1985 the Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time. They had a very good bullpen, and though there may have been bigger names in the ‘pen that year (Tom Henke, John Cerutti), the biggest piece was the man we are featuring this week – Dennis Lamp.
Lamp pitched in the major leagues for 16 seasons, and though he tasted success before and after 1985, nothing could ever match the magic he produced that year.
He was originally drafted in 1971 by the Cubs and after four fairly successful seasons as a starter, he was involved in a rare Chicago to Chicago trade, as the Cubs dealt him to the White Sox for Ken Kravec. He pitched very well for the Sox from ’81 – ’83, as a “half and half” man – half the time as a starter, the other half as a reliever. The Jays signed him as a free agent in 1984 and converted him to a full-time reliever. It was a move that would pay huge dividends in ’85.
Who can forget 1985. I was only six years old, but I can still remember George Bell catching the clinching fly ball on his knees in lef field, and Tony Fernandez charging out to him to celebrate Toronto’s first playoff spot. Many remember the heroics of Bell, Moseby, Barfield, and Whitt, the dominating pitching of Stieb and Key, and Henke asserting himself as a top-notch closer. But what many forget is that one of the MVP’s of that squad was none other than Dennis Lamp.
His stats speak for themselves. 53 games, 52 as a reliever. A bullpen leading 105.2 IP. An 11-0 record, with a 3.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 68 strikeouts. He even had two saves during the course of the season.
But his biggest contribution came in the playoffs. The 1985 ALCS represented the first taste of the potseason for many of the Blue Jays, while the Kansas City Royals were a seasoned squad. Lamp was one of the few members of the Toronto bullpen with prior experience, getting into three games in the 1983 ALCS with the White Sox. Not sure if he used that experience as a catapult, or if he was simply on a roll, but with the Blue Jay bullpen crumbling around him, he held strong.
Lamp pitched 9.1 innings, and blew away the Royals. Two hits, one walk, zero runs allowed, ten strikeouts. A 0.00 ERA with a 0.32 WHIP. Outstanding.
In the end it wasn’t enough to vault the Jays to the World Series, but it cemented the thought that there is heavy importance in a strong bullpen.
For his efforts in 1985, Dennis Lamp finished 21st in AL MVP voting, one of six Blue Jays to receive votes.
Sadly for Lamp the magic ended in ’85. A poor 1986 lead to his release from Toronto. He moved on to Oakland, spent four years with the Red Sox, and finished his career in Pittsburgh. Though he had good seasons, nothing ever came close to 1985.
But when Jays fans think of the glory years, and the dominant Jays bullpens lead by Henke, Eichhorn, Ward, and Danny Cox, they should also remember where the dominant bullpen force came from – Mr. Lamp.
Oh – and if that wasn’t enough, he had a glorious moustache.
Dennis Lamp: Career Major League Statistics
16 seasons (1977 – 1992)
6 teams (CHC, CHW, TOR, OAK, BOS, PIT)
96-96 record, 1,830.2 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 857 K : 549 BB
*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better. If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.