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Frank Viola

Frank Viola

Position(s):
P
Nicknames:
Sweet Music
Born:
April 19, 1960
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
6' 4"
Weight:
200 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-06-1982 with MIN
Allstar Selections:
1987 BR, 1987 WsMVP, 1988 CY, 1988 TSN

Frank John Viola, Jr. (born April 19, 1960 in East Meadow, New York) is a former starting pitcher in who played for the Minnesota Twins (1982–89), New York Mets (1989–91), Boston Red Sox (1992–94), Cincinnati Reds (1995) and Toronto Blue Jays (1996).

A three-time All-Star, he was named World Series MVP with the Twins in 1987 and won the AL Cy Young Award in 1988. Long-time Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said of Viola, "...He's an artist; I love watching him work..." His overall career stats are impressive, with a 3.73 ERA, 176-150 record, 74 complete games, and 16 shutouts in 421 games.

He batted and threw left-handed, and was nicknamed "Sweet Music" – a nickname he picked up after a Minnesota sports writer declared that when Viola pitched, there was "Sweet Music' in the Dome. The nickname was a play on the fact that his last name is also a name of a musical instrument.

Back in 1984, Minnesota Twins pitcher Frank Viola noticed a large banner at the Metrodome that said "FRANKIE SWEET MUSIC VIOLA." He also noticed that whenever the banner appeared, he seemed to pitch well, and, in fact, never lost. According to Sports Illustrated, the banner's creator, a fan named Mark Dornfield, introduced himself to Viola in 1987, and the two talked for two hours. That season, Viola went 15-0, with four no-decisions (all Twins victories) in banner games.

The Twins made the World Series that season, and Viola learned that Dornfield didn't have a ticket. That prompted Kathy Viola, Frank's wife, to call Dornfield up and offer him tickets to Games 1 and 7. As SI reported, "With the banner proudly unfurled, Viola won both games and was named Series MVP."

The banner is now property of the Minnesota Historical Society. It was again displayed when Viola was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. Frank was honored as a member of the Twins' "All Dome" team in 2009.

Biography

Early life
Frank Viola grew up in East Meadow, New York, with his brother John and sister Nancy, and went on to attended and play baseball for East Meadow High School before playing collegiately for St. John's University. Viola was drafted following his freshman year in the 16th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but he did not sign.

Minnesota Twins

Viola signed with the Minnesota Twins after the team drafted him in the 2nd round of the 1981 Major League Baseball Draft. After spending less than a full season in the minor leagues, Viola made his major league debut on June 6, 1982.

Viola came up with the Twins in 1982. After posting a combined 11-25 record and a 5.38 ERA in his first two seasons, Viola posted two consecutive 18-win years in 1984 and 1985, adding a 16-13 record in 1986, when he led the league in starts. Key to Viola's success was a changeup taught to him by Twins pitching coach Johnny Podres; it gave Viola more confidence in his fastball, and would eventually become his signature pitch.

Viola helped pitch the Twins to their second World Series appearance and first World Series win in 1987, finishing the season 17-10, with a 2.90 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 251 2/3 innings. Viola would then sparkle in the post-season, going a combined 3-1 with 25 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings despite a 4.31 ERA. Following the Twins' Game 7 series clinching win, a game which Viola won 4-2, he was named the 1987 World Series Most Valuable Player).

After going 24-7 for the second-place Twins in 1988, Viola got all but one of the 28 first-place votes for the Cy Young Award, beating out Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, and Roger Clemens. His 93 wins in the period from 1984-1988 were the most of any pitcher in baseball.

Viola's humble and enthusiastic approach to the game earned him tremendous popularity in Minnesota. However, Twins fans were greatly offended when his agent wrote a "trade-me-or-pay-me" letter to Twins management in 1989. Local hero Kent Hrbek attacked Viola in the press and third baseman Gary Gaetti chimed in with his negative feelings regarding Viola's contract demands.

Not surprisingly, Twins management elected to give Viola's agent what he wanted, and Frank was dealt to the New York Mets on July 31 for Rick Aguilera, David West, and three prospects. Viola became the teammate of Ron Darling, whom he had bested in a famous NCAA playoff game between Yale and St. John's. Darling no-hit St. John's for 11 innings, but Viola and the Redmen won 1-0 in the 12th.

A native Long Islander, Viola found refuge in New York. In his first full season with the club, "Frankie V" went 20-12 with a 2.67 ERA, leading the league with 249 2/3 innings pitched. But the fickle New York fans soured on their new ace after various nagging injuries contributed to his terrible 2-11 record down the stretch in 1991, and Viola left for Boston via free agency after the season.

Viola's first year with the Red Sox featured one of his most memorable moments -- a no-hit bid against the Blue Jays on September 30, broken up by Devon White to lead off the ninth. Viola retired the next three hitters, taking a one-hit shutout with him. It was one of his team-high 35 starts.

The veteran left-hander had a decent season for Boston in 1993 (11-8, 3.14) but made just six starts in 1994 due to a serious elbow injury that required reconstructive "Tommy John" surgery and appeared to have ended his career. In July 1995, Viola made a comeback attempt with the Cincinnati Reds, who signed the 35-year-old to a minor-league contract. Viola made just three starts for the Reds, and six for Toronto in 1996; his last win came in May at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, the site of his very first.

Batting
Viola's two and a half seasons with the Mets in the National League gave him 179 at bats, enough to accumulate only 25 hits. He would get 6 more at bats in 1995 with the Reds and got 1 hit. Overall 26 for 185 was a .141 batting average. With 3 walks in his career, his on base percentage was .154. However, in his last season with the Mets he became more productive picking up 10 sacrifice hits and 2 doubles. He would end his career with 6 RBI.

Postseason

He only got one chance in the postseason and he certainly made the most of it. It was with the Twins in 1987. After getting past the Detroit Tigers in the 1987 American League Championship Series, Viola and the Twins had to face favorites, the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Viola pitched Game 1, when the Twins blew the Cardinals away 10-1.

Game 4 was his second start, and the Twins went on to lose 7-2. After the Twins tied the series in Game 6 with an 11-5 win under a Don Baylor home run, it was up to Viola in Game 7. He pitched a gem, shutting the Cardinals out after giving up 2 runs in the 2nd inning. Jeff Reardon pitched the ninth inning and the Twins won 4-2 and won the World Series 4-3. Viola was named World Series MVP.

Retirement

In retirement, Viola for a time coached baseball for Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida. He also coached with the Florida College Summer League's Leesburg Lightning. In 2009, Frank assisted the Cleveland Indians as a coach in spring training. Frank was also a part-time booth announcer for the Boston Red Sox international sports channel, With Don Orsillo New England Sports Network (NESN). On January 26, 2011, Viola was hired as pitching coach of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' Single-A (Short Season) team.

Daughter Brittany Viola was a diver at the University of Miami and narrowly missed making the 2004 United States Olympic diving team. Son Frank Viola III pitched in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, but now stars in his own fishing television show titled "Reel Fishing". He is also the founder of TheFishingTube.com a community based website for fishing. During baseball season, he serves as analyst for Bright House Sports Network on their studio show and for their Florida State League broadcasts. Daughter Kaley Viola currently plays volleyball at Winthrop University.

 

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Tagged:
1987 World Series, All Star, Cincinnati Reds, Cy Young Award, Frank Viola, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, Sweet Music, Toronto Blue Jays

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