Monday, November 11, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Marty Cordova

Marty Cordova had a 9 year MLB career following a 6 year minor league climb. By the time Cordova made the major league roster in 1995, he had learned all the right moves to make him successful at the big league level. He was named the 1995 AL Rookie of the Year after hitting a career best 24 homers and stealing 20 bases. 

Marty would set a record by hitting a homer in 5 straight games; hitting streaks would be a hallmark throughout his career. Cordova arrived in MN fully grown - debuting at the age of 25. I can vividly recall thinking that Cordova looked like the biggest and baddest dude on the team in those early days.

Cordova was a 10th round selection by the Twins in 1989, the same draft that netted 1991 AL Rookie of the Year Chuck Knoblauch, and Twins ace Scott Erickson. Cordova had already been drafted once before in 1987 by the Padres out of high school, but he opted for school at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. Throughout the minor leagues, Cordova flashed considerable power, and shifted from SS to 3B to the outfield. He was the 1992 California League Player of the Year, thanks to 28 homers and 131 RBI to go along with 13 steals. He cleaned up his early defensive struggles as well, making just 2 errors in over 130 minor league games in 1993. Cordova was ranked a top 10 MLB prospect for 3 straight years,  finishing  #4 overall in 1994.

His rookie season was his high water mark for homers, but it could be argued that his 1996 season was even better. He would reach career highs in average, doubles, and RBI that year, filling in as the offensive leader of a team that lost Kirby Puckett to injury and Kent Hrbek to retirement.  Cordova's 23 game hitting streak is still the 4th longest in Twins' history. With Cordova in the outfield and Knoblauch in the infield, the young Twins would show promise throughout the mid to late 90s, but inexperience would be the team's Achilles Heel. Cordova would be hampered by injuries to his back towards the end of his Twins tenure. He would be granted free agency following the 1999 season.

Cordova would sign with Boston in January of 2000, but was let go in Spring Training due to those nagging injuries. He would find a suitor quickly, though, as Toronto swooped in to sign Cordova to a one year deal. He would play in just 62 games for the Jays, hitting a career worst .340 slugging percentage. He was able to have a bounce back season with Cleveland in 2001, topping 20 homers for just the second time in his career. The comeback would earn him a 3 year deal with Baltimore, but he would again struggle with durability, missing the final season of his deal entirely, and playing in just 9 games in 2003. The most notorious injury, of course, was the tanning bed incident, in which Cordova suffered burns on his face when he fell asleep during a tanning session. Cordova would attempt another comeback in 2005 with Tampa, but opted to retire before the end of spring training.

For his career, Cordova drove in over 500 runs in 9 years, despite never hitting 25 homers in a season. His arm in the corner outfield, and his speed early in his career showed the promise of a very talented player.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Not-So-Arbitrary Arbitrary Collection - 1970s

Here now is the 3rd installment of the series, which started 2 weeks ago with the 1950s, and continued last Sunday with the 1960s. The premise is to use card #71 from 1971 Topps, #72 for 1972 Topps, etc etc. I've already broken the arbitrary rule last week since I didn't like the look of a team card on the page, but now I've broken that highly subjective rule by following my original completely arbitrary one. This page has a team card (hey, I had doubles) and also a League Leader card. You still get the idea of the card design on those two cards.

Here are the card backs and here are some fun facts gleaned from them: Sam McDowell outpaced all other AL hurlers with 304 ks in 1970, Bill Mazeroski was the Pirates' team captain in 1971, Ed Herrmann like cars, Harmon Killebrew had the most RBI (140) in a Twins season (still a team record). Ted Simmons caught a Bob Gibson no-no, Willie Crawford was in a pair of World's Series by 1976, Dyar Miller started out as a catcher, and Ted Cox had a base hit in each of his first 6 MLB games, which set an All-Time record.

Ted Simmons is on the "modern era" h.o.f. ballot this year for the veteran's committee. I think he has a pretty good case (frankly, everyone on the ballot has a good case), given that catchers are seriously underrepresented in the Hall.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Swearing a Blue (pinstriped) Streak

So... yeah. That's 16 straight postseason losses by the Twins against New York. There was some reason to be hopeful this time, but ultimately it came down to pitching (or the lack thereof) for the Twins. Jose Berrios was undone by a high pitch count and some poor defense, going only 4 innings in Game 1. He surrendered just 1 earned run, and struck out 6 Yankees, but it wasn't going to be enough on a night where the bullpen was unable to get outs.

Well, you tried...

Berrios had a short start, Jake Odorizzi gave the Twins 5 solid innings in Game 3. He was the only pitcher on the roster with a positive WPA (win probability added). Brusdar Graterol pitched a clean inning of relief with a pair of strikeouts, one of the few highlights of the Twins bullpen in the postseason. Eddie Rosario had a homer in Game 3, the only run the Twins would score. Jorge Polanco was the Twin with the highest WPA, mostly from his 2-3 performance in Game 1. His homer in the first inning gave the Twins their only lead of the series.

Missing in Action . . . 

Luis Arraez had a fantastic rookie season, but a high ankle sprain on the final day of the season put a damper on an otherwise sterling debut. Even with a flat tire, Arraez had 5 hits in the 3 game series, 4 of them doubles. But the injury would be more noticeable on the defensive side, where a pair of miscues in the first game led to a Yankees rally. Marwin Gonzalez, C.J. Cron, and Max Kepler all had a tough time in the series having missed significant time in September due to nagging injuries. Kepler went 0-10 in the series, but did manage to reach base 3 times on walks.

Missed opportunities . . . 

While they weren't noticeably injured, they also had sub par showings in the post season. Sano and Garver went a combined 3-24 with 13 strikeouts. Jonathan Schoop only had 2 plate appearances, striking out both times. Nelson Cruz had a big home run in Game 1, but was held in check for the balance of the series by the Yankees' pitching staff.

Willians Astudillo was not on the postseason roster, but he still had a card in this set. I do enjoy adding Astudillo cards to my collection, but I would have liked to have a Randy Dobnak card, regardless of the outcome of his start.

Here are the card backs for those interested. I do have one more complaint - When these sets were first listed on the Topps website, the Twins were the only Division Champ that did not have an Autograph version of the set. I assumed after checking back a few days in a row that Topps was just going to do the non-Auto version of the Twins set, so I pulled the trigger early. I found out later that an Autograph version was offered, but I didn't want to pay for a whole 2nd set (at a higher price) to get the auto. Thanks Topps.

 It would be easy to complain about the injuries, the Pineda suspension, etc, but the fact is that the Yankees were the better team in that series from start to finish. If the Twins want to get this monkey off their back, they are going to have get more from their starting pitching and have more depth to weather the storm. It's not like the Yankees were all healthy...

It was a short postseason run for the Twins, but the season was still a ton of fun. I look forward to the off season with high hopes for some better starting pitching.

Monday, November 4, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Manny Ramirez

Every team he played for had a "Manny Being Manny" story. Whether it was leaving his paycheck behind in his cleats on a road trip, or leaving the field of play to use the restroom inside the Green Monster. Manny Ramirez was a player who moved to the beat of his own drummer. Antics aside, Ramirez would show from his rookie year on that he was one of the best hitters to ever play the game.

He was a pre-season lock to be the 1994 AL Rookie of the Year, and while he didn't quite meet that expectation, there was little reason to think that he was anything less than a budding superstar. He played in just 91 games in the strike shortened season, ranking 2nd among rookies in Homers, RBI, Doubles, and hits.

Ramirez was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but attended high school in New York City. His family moved to NYC when Manny was 13 years old, and by the time he was a high school Senior at George Washington High school, he was already a legend among those that had seen his offensive prowess. His Senior year, he batted .650 with 14 homers in 22 games. He was a first round draft pick of Cleveland, and made a steady climb up the minors, hitting double digit homers at each stop along the way. Across AA and AAA in 1993, Manny hit .333 with 31 homers and 115 RBI. By 1994 he was ready for the show.

Over his 8 seasons in Cleveland, Ramirez made 4 All-Star teams, and won 3 Silver Slugger awards. He would appear in 10 different post-season series with the team, slugging 13 homers over those games. Even when not hitting, he contributed to his team's offense by scoring runs after drawing walks. While he was never mistaken for an adept fielder in left field, his bat more than made up for his limited range. His Cleveland career included over 1,000 hits and 232 homers with a .313 average. While they did not win a World Series during his time there, the team would not have been the dynasty they became in the 90s without his bat in the middle of the lineup.

In Boston, the young talent matured into a savvy veteran with very few weaknesses at the plate. During his Red Sox tenure, Manny won a batting title (2002), a home run title (2004), and a World Series MVP award (2004). He was an All-Star in all 8 seasons with Boston, and won 6 Silver Slugger awards. In those 8 seasons, he had over 1200 hits and 274 homers.

None was celebrated bigger than this one, a walk off winner in game 2 of the 2007 ALDS.

To many, Manny's time in Los Angeles was disappointing. He was not able to lead the Dodgers to a World Series, even though he hit .391 after being acquired by the Dodgers half way through the 2008 season. He would hit .500 in the NLDS against the Cubs, and .533 against the Phillies in the NLCS in a losing effort. The following season he ran afoul of the league's drug testing, and was suspended for 50 games, testing positive for a drug that can be used to mask steroid use. He would still be eligible for post season play, hitting .308 in the NLDS and a homer in the NLCS. He would run into injury issues in 2010, losing his regular role in LF. After being ejected for arguing strike one with an umpire in a pinch hitting appearance, the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers.

He would finish 2010 with the Chicago White Sox, then signed with Tampa Bay in the off season. He had a strong Spring Training, but struggled early in the 2011 season for the Rays. It was then revealed that he had tested positive for another PED, and Ramirez abruptly retired. He would attempt comebacks in 2012 with Oakland, 2013 with the Rangers, and in 2014 with the Chicago Cubs, but each time he ended the season without a major league at bat.

Is Manny a Hall of Famer? He's already in the Hall of Stats and the Hall of Merit - but those 2 failed drug tests seem to have made the decision for the BBWAA writers already. In his 3 years on the ballot so far, he has yet to reach even 25% of the vote.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Not-So-Arbitrary Arbitrary Collection - the 1960s

Not much suspense involved with this series, which started last Sunday. This weekend we are looking at 9 cards from the 1960s. Where is 1960, you say? Well, I will have a separate page for all the "0" year cards at the end of this project. 9 pocket pages just work better this way.

You can see here that I took some liberties with the '63 entry - I didn't want to use a team card on this page (card #63 is the Reds team card) so I picked card #163 to represent the year to have a base card.
1961 and 1962's backs are "upside down" compared to the rest of the horizontal cards, I hadn't noticed that before now. Tony Kubek was the 1957 Rookie of the Year, and Al Weis was a Topps All-Star Rookie in 1963. Don Larsen is probably the biggest name on the page, thanks to his perfect game in the World Series. The Ted Abernathy card probably has the most creative cropping, but I think my favorite on the page is Steve Hamilton from 1969 - I like the casual feel of the background with his Yankee teammates gathering around the batting cage. Ken Berry likes to collect Rock n Roll records - he's just like you and me!

Next week - the 70s.