On April 1, 1987, the St. Louis Cardinals traded for a then 3-time Gold Glove catcher. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent St. Louis their star catcher Tony Pena for OF Andy Van Slyke, P Mike Dunne and C Mike LaValliere. Pena would hit just .214 in his first season with the Cardinals. The 4-time All-Star would eventually earn a 5th selection in 1989 with St. Louis, and a 4th Gold Glove in 1991 playing for the Boston Red Sox.
The Pirates received two key figures for their early 1990s dynasty team in Van Slyke and LaValliere. The Charlotte, NC native LaValliere was nicknamed “Spanky” and had a strong arm at catcher. He would earn a Gold Glove in his first season in Pittsburgh in 1987. From 1990-1992, the Pirates and LaValliere made three consecutive National League Championship Series appearances. In 1990, the Pirates succumbed to the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. In 1991, the Pirates went all 7 games losing a close series against the Atlanta Braves 4 games to 3. In 1992, Pittsburgh faced Atlanta again – with another heartbreak loss coming in Game 7. Ingrained in the memory of every Braves fan alive in 1992, LaValliere was on the receiving end of Barry Bonds’ bottom of the 9th throw to home plate with Spanky just missing a tag by inches on the Braves’ sliding Sid Bream. The result was a walk-off series win by the Braves and Francisco Cabrera.
In 1993, LaValliere would sign with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent and appear in a League Championship Series for a 4th straight year. But his White Sox couldn’t reach the World Series, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in 6 games in the ’93 ALCS. LaValliere retired as a player after the 1995 season.
“Worrell is pitching and I go out to the mound, and he’s like 6-foot-5 and here I am [at 5-9], so we look kind of comical, and I put my middle spike right on his big toe. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Now that you know where I am, try getting the ball to me.’ It’s an attitude thing.”Mike LaValliere when asked what catchers do when they visit pitchers on the mound.
LaValliere was born in Charlotte in 1960 and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1982. Playing primarily shortstop for the UMass Lowell Chiefs, LaValliere would hit .379 during his collegiate career and earn first-team All-New England honors in 1980 and 1981. In 1996 he was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Baseball-Reference.com: Mike LaValliere’s career stats
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Rich Emert)
The Post and Courier, Charleston (Gene Sapakoff)