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Card of the Week: 1988 Donruss Ron Hassey

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Knuckle Dragging: Hassey displays a daredevil bunting technique in late 1987 game action.
Donruss

This is not textbook bunting form.

Far be it for me to play bunting instructor to a 14-year vet with more sacrifice hits (22) than flies (21) in his career. But there are three apparent flaws:

  1. By gripping the bat like a club, Hassey is exposing his fingers to danger. Unless he exercises terrific bat control on every bunt attempt, sooner or later he’s going to get a dinged digit, likely on his left, “bunt catch” hand, but possibly even, on a breaking ball or foul tip, on his right, “handle pivot” hand. This is not the worst bunting form in history, but it is not from any textbook, and is decidedly dangerous. (Yes, there is the chance that as a longtime catcher, Hassey had already lost all feeling in his fingers, rendering the risk of further damage to digits somewhat moot.)
  2. By holding the handle of the bat higher with his right hand than the barrel with his left, Hassey is positioning the stick to pop up the bunt, rather than deaden it into the ground in front of him.
  3. Hassey is not squaring his frame on the bunt attempt, as a hitter would on a sacrifice attempt. His positioning is as if he is drag-bunting for a hit. The catcher had 14 career steals (zero in 1987, the season this photo was taken) and 10 times caught stealing. It is nigh impossible he is bunting for a hit, even if facing the throwback windup/fall-down delivery of, say, Oil Can Boyd.

Proper bunting form notwithstanding, Hassey was a truly valuable piece for the White Sox as they transitioned from contender-wannabes under GM Hawk Harrelson in 1986 to tanking-before-it-was-de-rigueur in the curly-Q uniforms of the late 1980s.

Huh? A 14.7 career WAR catcher being a key cog for anything but beer & pizza night before an off-day — what gives, Hamster?

Let’s zoom in on a key piece of the puzzle:

In fact, Hassey was traded between the White Sox and New York Yankees three times in little more than seven months.

One of the most interesting aspects of Hawk Harrelson’s run as White Sox GM was his obsessive-compulsive interactions with the New York Yankees.

[For an overall look at Hawk’s GM run, check out our friend RobHart780 and his 2013 overview of Harrelson’s 360-day tenure in the front office.]

Not only was there the trio of Hassey transactions, but before Hawk fired Tony La Russa as manager, he was negotiating with New York to secure Yankees TV analyst and manager-on-call Billy Martin as the new White Sox skipper — negotiations that ultimately failed when the White Sox refused to send compensation eastward for hiring away ... a broadcaster. But that’s a story for another day.

Trade No. 1: Dec. 12, 1985

Hassey initially was acquired by the White Sox along with Joe Cowley for Britt Burns, Glenn Braxton and Mike Soper.

On paper, the deal was fair enough, with Burns as the headliner, coming off of a resurgent 18-11, 3.96 ERA, 4.2 WAR season, the second-best of his career. Problem was, Burns had a degenerative hip condition that worsened in spring training; the lefty would never pitch for the Yankees, and would never pitch another game in the majors. If not for the friendship between George Steinbrenner and Jerry Reinsdorf, the Yankees almost certainly would have filed a grievance over the deal.

As it stood, Cowley went 11-11 in 27 starts for the White Sox in 1986, with a 3.88 ERA and 1.7 WAR, including his bizarre September 19 no-hitter at the California Angels, in which he surrendered one earned run and seven walks along with eight strikeouts.

In addition to Cowley’s 1.7 WAR in 1986, he was swapped for Gary Redus before the 1987 season. Redus would go on to earn a total of 4.2 WAR with the White Sox in 1987 and 1988.

Net WAR in trade: 1.7

Net WAR in subsequent trades: 4.2

Trade No. 1: Feb. 13, 1986

With true Hawk impetuousness, Hassey was dealt back to the Yankees two months later, along with Chris Alvarez, Eric Schmidt and Matt Winters for Neil Allen, Scott Bradley, Glenn Braxton and cash.

Allen would have a phenomenal 1986 with the White Sox, going 7-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.9 WAR; he trailed off badly in 1987, costing the White Sox -0.8 WAR before being released back to the Yankees in August.

Scott Bradley played in just nine games and made 24 plate appearances (-0.2 WAR) for the White Sox in 1986 before Harrelson flipped him to the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later who became ... Ivan Calderon.

Calderon would play for six years on the South Side, earning 8.4 WAR, before being swapped to the Montreal Expos after the 1990 season with Barry Jones for Tim Raines and Jeff Carter. Calderon (3.3) and Jones (0.9) would contribute 4.2 WAR between them in Montreal, while Raines (16.5) and Carter (-0.1) would combine for 16.4 in Chicago.

Oh, and Hassey? He would hit .298 and earn 1.6 WAR in 64 games for the Yankees before being dealt ... back to the White Sox.

Net WAR in trade: -0.7

Net WAR in subsequent trades: 20.6

Trade No. 3: July 30, 1986

Hassey came back to Chicago along with Bill Lindsey and Carlos Martinez, with the Yankees getting Ron Kittle, Joel Skinner and Wayne Tolleson.

As good as Hassey was in the Bronx in 1986, he was better with the White Sox, hitting .353 over 49 games and earning 1.3 WAR. He had that bicep injury in 1987, and his poor season cost the White Sox -0.6 WAR. Lindsey was a non-factor in Chicago, costing the White Sox -0.1 WAR.

Martinez at the time was well regarded, and quite a coup for Harrelson as a lanky, six-foot-five shortstop, but never played the position in the majors and ended up costing the White Sox -0.8 WAR over three seasons.

Kittle played sparingly over a season and change in New York, earning 0.2 WAR. Skinner cost the Yankees -0.6 WAR over three seasons before being swapped to the Cleveland Indians in a package for Mel Hall. Tolleson would earn 1.2 WAR over five seasons for the Yankees.

Net WAR in trade: -1

Net WAR in subsequent trades: N/A

Adding to the absurdity of trading a part-time player three times in seven months, Hassey ended up being a wash for the Hawk as GM. But in the long run for the White Sox, via connections to Redus, Calderon and Raines, Hassey was a huge draw, playing a bit part in 24.8 WAR making its way to Chicago.

Thanks, Ron. You may have bunted like a caveman presuming afterburners, but you were a gift to the White Sox that kept on giving.