1987 Player Profile – Tom Lawless

2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the last Whitey Herzog team to reach the World Series, and an occasional look at the men on that St. Louis Cardinals’ roster.

Tom Lawless. 1987 World Series Game 4.  Today they are synonymous to St Louis Cardinals fans.  Before that October night in St Louis, however, one could be forgiven for not knowing who Tom Lawless was.  After the fourth inning on 21 October, however, everyone knew his name.

Tom Lawless is known for two things.  He hit a 3-run HR off Frank Viola in the fourth inning of Game 4, snapping a 1-1 tie and propelling the Cardinals to a 7-2 win.  Well, he’s known for the home run AND the bat flip that accompanied his trot down the first base line.  The other thing?  He was the player Cincinnati sent to Montreal when they got Pete Rose back in 1984.  In fact, he is the only player ever traded for Pete Rose.

Lawless grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and attended Penn State University, Erie, graduating in 1978.  He was drafted in the 17th round by the Cincinnati Reds, and progressed through their minor league system.  He started the 1982 season in Indianapolis with the Reds AAA club, and got called up on 15 July.  Johnny Bench had gone down with an injury, causing regular second baseman Ron Oester to shift to third and leaving a whole at second.  Yes – HOF catcher Johnny Bench played third base in 1982.  Lawless had hit a little bit in the minor leagues, and was hitting .308/.378/.410 when called up; but he struggled to hit major league pitching, posting only a .212/.253/.248 line in 176 plate appearances.

It was the most plate appearances he would ever get in one season at the major league level.

Tom returned to the minors for the entire 1983 season, and seemingly recovered his stroke, hitting .279/.350/.440.  He broke camp in 1984 with the Reds, but continued to struggle to hit.  He appeared in 43 games for the Reds, and after the trade for 11 with Montreal.  He started training camp in 1985 with the Expos, but in late march was traded to St Louis as the player to be named later in the Mickey Mahler deal.

Lawless stuck around the Cardinals for 4 years, never got more than 80 plate appearances in a season, never appeared in more than 50 games.  Still, he won 2 NL pennants in that 4-year span.  Lawless’ best season at the plate for the Cardinals was 1986; he went 11-for-39 for the defending NL champs.  He appeared in both World Series.  First, in 1985, he came on as a pinch-runner in that infamous Game 6 (eighth inning).  Then, in 1987, he started all 3 games Viola pitched.  His lone hit was that home run.

The most ridiculous thing about that home run was the fact that Lawless hit it.  In his entire major league career to that point, he had hit exactly one home run, three years earlier.  Yes Frank Viola had given up 24 regular season home runs to right-handed hitters, but Lawless was not a home run threat.  The event sent a charge through the hometown crowd and shifted the series momentum to St Louis.  The Cardinals would carry that momentum to a 3-2 series lead.

Lawless spent one more year with the Cardinals, then part of two seasons with Toronto, before retiring in 1990.  He has worked as a coach since, and is currently a roving minor league instructor for the Houston Astros.  His playing career may not have become the stuff of legend, but the 0-1 pitch he drove into the left field seats at Busch on October 21, 1987 certainly was.

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