Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tom Underwood, 1985 Fleer #194
Tom was a solid major league pitcher for a decade, though he didn't quite reach the heights than many expected after his first few years with the Phillies. He won 14 games as a rookie in 1975, and followed up with a 10-5 record and a 3.53 ERA for the National League East champs the next year. A low point came in 1978-1979, when he was saddled with a combined 15-30 record for some awful Blue Jays teams despite a solid 3.88 ERA. He split his time between the bullpen and rotation for New York and Oakland over the next few years and fared better, then joined the Orioles as a free agent for the 1984 season. Used almost exclusively in relief, Underwood had one win, no losses, one save, and a 3.52 ERA in 37 games. He wasn't unhittable by any means, allowing a .283 average by opposing hitters and giving up nearly 10 hits per 9 innings. But his ERA was also inflated by a disastrous debut; he coughed up six runs in an inning of work on April 7. Without that meltdown, he would have been at 2.80 for the year. Nonetheless, he was released at season's end. He spent 1985 struggling back in the minors for the Yankees, and then hung up his spikes with a career record of 86-87 and a 3.89 ERA.
Long before I knew who Tom Underwood was, he was in my life. When I was a kid I had a small stack of cards that were probably given to me by a relative or friend of the family. Included were four 1982 Topps cards: three Orioles (Steve Stone, Gary Roenicke, and Al Bumbry) and one Athletics (Tom Underwood). Up until a few years ago, I didn't even realize that he had ended his major league career as an Oriole. That card seemed significant; it was the oldest non-Oriole card that I owned until I was in my mid-twenties. What's more, it was from the year I was born. Without looking at the card, I can see it in my mind: Tom stands before the camera with his arms crossed, a warm and bemused smirk on his face. He always looked like a friendly, approachable guy.
You'll be missed, Tom. It doesn't mean much, but one young boy was happy to have your card in his collection.