Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #272, Eric Soderholm (Article 52)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
I am sure some players get signed or traded to the Yankees and then think, “My career is about to take off.”
That didn’t happen for Eric Soderholm. He became a Yankee at just 31 years old, batted .287 as a Yankee… and then that was that.
To me, because of my strong childhood bias in this regard, Eric Soderholm was never destined to become one of my favorite players. In fact, he was one of a collection of players who I somewhat rooted against – even though he was a Yankee. You see, Eric Soderholm was one of a group of players that included Aurelio Rodriguez, Roy Smalley, and Toby Harrah who were brought in to play some third base in the early 1980s. I didn’t want any of these guys to have any time at third base in the early 1980s. Graig Nettles played there. Nettles was my favorite player and I rooted against any player who was brought into take playing time away from him. This was especially true of Eric Soderholm, not because he wasn’t good – it was because he was too good.
As a kid, I figured that If Eric Soderholm did well, then Graig Nettles’ tenure with the Yankees was in jeopardy.
I didn’t care that Nettles was getting old. I didn’t even know what that meant. I was a kid. All of these guys were old. And in my world, Graig Nettles would never get too old to play baseball. He was a Yankee. My favorite Yankee. Just like I thought I’d be a kid forever, I figured Nettles would be a Yankee forever.
That is unless guys like Eric Soderholm (or Toby Harrah or Ropy Smalley…) came along and took his job away from him.
And Eric Soderholm was a quality hitter, one who seemed a real threat to become the new third baseman.
What I didn’t know was that by the time he came to the Yankees, Eric Soderholm’s days as an everyday third baseman were over. In his career Soderhom had had numerous knee surgeries. It was his bad knees that ended his career prematurely. As such, I need not have worried about Soderholm taking Graig Nettles’ job. While Soderholm played in 95 games as a Yankee in 1980, only 37 of those games were at third base.
In 1980 though, Graig Nettles played in just 89 games. That was the season that he contracted hepatitis and was out from July 23 until the last two days of the season. I didn’t know what hepatitis was, but it was bad enough to get my favorite player out of the lineup for a long long time.
Maybe I saw the writing on the wall.
My hero wouldn’t play forever. (Maybe the only way to protect him was to hope all the players who might replace him would fail.)
Eric Soderholm was a legitimate threat to Nettles, at least as a hitter. And, Soderholm was a right-handed hitter which would have made him the perfect platoon partner for Graig Nettles, a lefty.
As Nettles aged, having Soderholm to split time at third base with him made a lot of sense.
Eric Soderholm was a legitimate 20+ homer guy (as was Nettles). Taking the emotion and the sentimentality out of the equation, bringing in Soderholm was a great move for the Yankees. Here was a legitimate power bat to partner with Nettles – a right/lefty platoon at the hot corner that could have produced some amazing results.
Remember, also, that the year we are talking about is 1980. In 1979, the Baltimore Orioles went to the World Series by effectively using a platoon system that ended up getting more out of each player than they might have. The platoon was the next new big thing – and here was the perfect match for Nettles.
Eric Soderholm’s best season was in 1977. That year he hit .280/25/67 for the Chicago White Sox. That was a special team, The South Side Hit Men. That team won 90 games. They mashed and had fun doing it.
The 1977 White Sox had a few connections to the Yankees of this era:
On the eve of the 1977 season, they traded Bucky Dent to the Yankees
In 1978, their manager, Bob Lemon, become the Yankees manager who guided them to the World Series championship
Their first baseman, Jim Spencer, would also become a Yankee as would their designated hitter Oscar Gamble (who had also previously been a Yankee)
And, of course, there was Eric Soderholm.
As noted Eric Soderholm’s career ended after the 1980 season. A solid hitter, he closed out his career with some impressive swinging over his final four regular season games.
Over those last four games, Soderholm went 8 for 15 (.533) with three homers and eight runs batted in.
In his last game, he hit a two-run homer that gave the Yankees all the runs they would need (and get) in a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Not a bad way to go out!