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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #217, Tom Underwood (Article 41)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)



When I think of Tom Underwood, the first thing I recall is the 1980 Yankees. The starting rotation for that 1980 team was comprised mostly of left-handers:

· Tommy John – 36 starts

· Ron Guidry – 29 starts

· Tom Underwood – 27 starts

· Rudy May – 17 starts

The only pitcher who started more than 10 games and wasn’t left-handed that year was Luis Tiant, who went 8-9, 4.89 over 25 starts.

The lefties on the staff had and overall impressive win/loss record:

· Tommy John 22-9

· Ron Guidry 17-10

· Tom Underwood 13-9

· Rudy May 15-5

Combined that’s 67-33 overall (though I did not breakdown how many of those wins came in relief roles as Ron Guidry pitched out of the bullpen 8 times, Tom Underwood 11 times, and Rudy May 24 times).

Still, it was probably this starting staff, and my impressions of it, that cemented in my brain this ideal that the best Yankees starting rotations should be composed primarily of left-handers.

People don’t remember the 1980 Yankees as a great team, but they were pretty darn good. The fact that the Yankees were swept by the Royals in the American League Championship Series obscures the fact that the 1980 Yankees won 103 games which was more wins than their World Series teams of 1976, 1977, or 1978.

In fact, those 103 wins by the 1980 Yankees were the most the franchise had in any season over a long period, from 1963 (104 wins) until 1998 (114 wins). Over that 35-year period, the 1980 Yankees were the franchise’s most winningest team.

And Tom Underwood was a big part of it.

It seemed like he’d be a Yankees for a long time…

***

The Yankees acquired Tom Underwood in the Rick Cerone trade with the Blue Jays after the 1979 season. The Yankees wanted Cerone because they needed a catcher to replace Thurman Munson who had died tragically that summer. They were able to get Cerone and Underwood (and minor leaguer Ted Wilborn) in exchange for Chris Chambliss, Damaso Garcia, and Paul Mirabella.

Why the Blue Jays were willing to give up on Tom Underwood is a mystery. Solid lefties don’t grow on trees. Underwood had thrown 227 innings in 1979. Further, he was just 26-years-old.

But, then again, the Blue Jays weren’t the only team to give up on Underwood. Even at this young point in his career, he had already been traded by the Phillies and the Cardinals.

And he also wouldn’t stick in New York.

***

The Yankees in this time period were never content and were always seemingly making deals. After his solid 1980 season, Tom Underwood didn’t get off to a great start in 1981 for New York. After going 1-4, 4.41 in nine games (six starts), the Yankees traded Underwood and Jim Spencer to the Oakland A’s primarily for Dave Revering.

This trade made little sense to me at the time. Revering was a left-handed hitting first baseman. To get him, the Yankees gave up a left-handed hitting first baseman in Spencer. Maybe the Yankees felt that Spencer was past his prime. He had hit just .236 in 1980 and was batting .143 at the time. Spencer was also 33-years-old. Dave Revering was 28 and coming off a season where he hit .290 with 15 homers. Still, the Yankees had a first baseman already in Bob Watson (a right-handed batter) and the lefty-half of the platoon didn’t seem important enough to jettison Tom Underwood with Spencer for the possible slight upgrade.

In the end, Dave Revering didn’t last with the Yankees either. After hitting just .214 in 59 games total games a Yankee, in May 1982, he was traded, to the Blue Jays, for John Mayberry, a 33-year-old first baseman playing in what would be his final season.

None of that made any sense at the time and it still makes no sense today.

Getting back to Tom Underwood… he pitched well for Oakland. Pitching for the A’s through the 1982 season, Tom Underwood appeared in 123 games (30 starts) and compiled an overall record of 22-15, 3.59. The Yankees could have certainly used him – especially because he was so versitile and could start and pitch out of the bullpen.

Underwood then pitched for the Orioles in 1984. That year he pitched in 37 games (making just one start). That year he pitched to a 1-0, 3.52 in 71.2 innings.

And then, that was that. Tom Underwood’s career was over.

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