Monday, May 25, 2020

1997 Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman Wilton Guerrero

A person could spend a lot of time writing about what Wilton Guerrero was not. He was not his brother Vladimir, he was not a Rookie of the Year like Dodger rookies were the prior five years, he was not the second baseman of the future. BUT! Wilton Guerrero was a very talented baseball player who may have been rushed to the big leagues before he was ready. While he may not have become a super star like his brother, he will forever have one thing over him - Wilton was a Topps All-Star Rookie!

Guerrero was a great hitter, with great contact skills. He wasn't a power hitter, but with his speed, he didn't need to be. In 1997, he had 9 triples, which led the Dodgers and was 3rd best in the National League. He was just 22 years old when the Dodgers made him their everyday 2nd baseman. The LA Dodgers were no strangers to starting rookies, and promoting young talent from within. The Rookie of the Year award is named after Dodger great Jackie Robinson. But the issues with Wilton's game were known before his call up. He was still given free reign to learn the finer points of the game on the job. He would start the 1998 season back in Triple AAA Albuquerque.

Signed in 1991 as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Guerrero had raw speed in spades. He also could hit for average. As an 18 year old, he hit .294 with 20 stolen bases in just 60 games in single A Great Falls. Guerrero would continue a steady climb up the Dodgers ladder, winning a batting title in 1995 for the San Antonio Missions. In 1996 with AAA Albuquerque, Guerrero again hit well, with a .344 average and 12 Triples. 

His tenure in LA was marked by decent hitting and speed, but also a series of mistakes that caused other players and coaches to become frustrated with the player they had lauded as a future star. In 1997 he was suspended for 7 games after it was discovered that his bat was corked. Despite stealing at least 20 bases a season in the minors, he stole just 6 bases while being caught 5 times in his rookie year. He would be traded to Montreal early in 1998 to reunite with his brother Vladimir.

With the Expos, Guerrero was not expected to be the everyday anything - he was the every other day everything. He would play all over the infield and occasionally fill in as an outfielder. He continued to hit well, even with limited at bats. He had found his niche as a utility player. He also found that his brother was very competitive. Wilton's last 3 homers as an Expo came on the same day as a Vladimir home run. He continued to hit Triples, ranking top 10 in the league in 1998 and 1999.

Wilton would sign with the Reds as a free agent before the 2001 season, and again had a great season playing all over the field. In 60 games, Guerrero hit a career high .338. He was traded twice in the same day in 2002 - going from the Reds to the Marlins to the Expos, part of a series of deals by the Marlins that sent away Ryan Dempster, Cliff Floyd, and several others. Following his 2nd tour with the Expos, Guerrero played with the Royals in 2004. He had a pair of very good seasons in AAA as well, once again finding his legs, stealing 30 bases with the Reds AAA squad in 2003, and hit .326 in AAA Omaha before the Royals called him up in 2004.

Following his playing career, he co-founded the Guerrero Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic with his brother, and he continues to run the school to help train the next generation of baseball talent. Wilton's son Wilton Jr. is still several years away, but you can see his hitting showcase here.

Do you have any Wilton Guerrero stories? I'd love to read them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I Love The 80s - 1982 Cincinnati Reds

This is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

" . . .  by 1982 the Reds dynasty lay in ruins" -- Anthony Giacalone

"Bards of Cincinnati now prefer the Big Dead Machine" - Bob Kravitz 8/1/1982

1981 saw the Reds very nearly make the post season - they probably should have. They had a better record than both NL play-off teams, but due to the rules set following the strike, they were shut out. They were a half game behind the Dodgers in the first half, and 1.5 games behind Houston in the second half. After finishing with a first place record but still missing the post season, the wheels fell off. 

1982 was the worst performance by a Cincinnati Reds team in franchise history. For a team that keeps records back to 1876, that is saying a lot. So, what went wrong? The team had already adjusted to losing Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Tony Perez to free agency, but the Big Red Machine was just missing too many parts by 1982.v Before the season started, George Foster and Ken Griffey would also depart, leaving the team scrambling to fill their lineup. To make matters worse, their Hall of Fame Ace was having the worst season of his MLB career. 

The Cards:
Donruss #538 Mike O'Berry - The search for "the next Johnny Bench" began in earnest in 1981 when the Reds added Mike O'Berry. At the very least, O'Berry could provide superior defense to give Bench more rest. Despite his defensive chops behind the plate, he was never really able to master hitting at the MLB level. His career MLB batting average was just .191. O'Berry had a successful run as a minor league manager, winning a championship in the Appalachian League in 1992 with the Orioles. 

Fleer #57 Johnny Bench - The 1968 Rookie of the year, and 2 time League MVP, Johnny Bench was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career in 1982. he caught 100 or more games for 13 consecutive seasons until the strike shortened 1981. Transitioned from catching to play 3rd Base for the Reds in 1982, Bench still had 13 homers good for 2nd best on the team. His 10 gold gloves as a catcher didn't translate exactly to the hot corner, where he had 19 errors, 5th most in the NL. Bench was one of the first players to have a "farewell tour" announcing his retirement before the end of the 1983 season. Though he was no longer the same player, he was definitely still Johnny Bench, which Cincinnati fans would not soon forget.

Topps #620 Ken Griffey - The outfielders of the Big Red Machine didn't necessarily get the same star treatment as the infield, but they were no less essential to the great Reds teams of the 1970s. In 1976, it was Griffey that hit .336/.401/.450 with 34 stolen bases, and scored 111 runs. He finished 8th in the MVP balloting that year. He had his 3rd All-Star season in 1980, hitting 28 doubles, 10 triples, and 13 homers to go along with 23 steals. In 1981, Griffey hit .311 as the Reds' everyday center fielder. Griffey would be traded following the 1981 season to the Yankees.

Topps #31 Tom Seaver - If you have Tom Seaver at the top of your rotation, what could go wrong? In 1982, just about everything. The 5 time NL stikeout king managed just 62 Ks in 111 innings for the Reds in '82. He would see his ERA climb by more than 3 runs and by any objective measure, the season was a disaster. What made it more shocking was that it came after a season in which he led the NL in victories and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Fernando Valenzuela's historic season. Seaver of course had already won 3 Cy Young awards, and would have a renaissance season with the White Sox in 1985, but his 1982 season was a perfect example of the disaster that befell the Reds organization as a whole this year.

Fleer #630 "Big Red Machine" - George Foster was now with the Mets, Dan Driessen and Concepcion however were still trying to make the Machine hum. Driessen was still just 30 years old and primarily played 1st base for the Reds in 1982. He was the team leader in homers. Driessen was usually not the big power guy like Perez and Bench, and he didn't hit for average, but he did draw a fair number of walks and was tough to strike out. In '82 he had just 64 strikeouts in 606 plate appearances. He would be moving along as well, traded to the Expos in 1984. 

Donruss #421 Dave Concepcion - Though known more for his glove than his bat, the 9 time All-Star Concepcion won his 2nd consecutive Silver Slugger award as a short stop in 1982. He also had a special day during the 1982 All-Star game, hitting the decisive 2 run homer. Concepcion played 2,488 games for the Reds, and earned 5 Gold gloves. His batting similarity scores compares him favorably to Hall of Famers Alan Trammell, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Wallace, and his hero- fellow Venezuelan Luis Aparicio. 

Donruss #273 George Foster - In 1981, Foster finished 3rd in the MVP race, Seaver was 2nd in the Cy Young Voting, and the team finished in 1st place. In 1982, Seaver had a terrible season, and Foster didn't play a single game for the Reds. It's no wonder the season was a disappointment. Foster did play in 1982, of course, but as a New York Met. While it wasn't his best year, he would find his footing and had several more productive seasons in New York. Foster was the 1977 NL MVP with 52 Homers and 149 RBI. He led the league in those categories and runs scored (124) and total bases (388) and slugging (.631). He was the All-Star MVP in 1976. 

Topps #97 Paul Moskau - Like many of the players on this page, Moskau was playing for a different team in 1982. He was traded to the Orioles before the '82 season, but actually played for the Pirates that year after being selected on waivers. Moskau was a spot starter for the Reds in the late 70s, then used in the bullpen in the 80s. Moskau was part of the "Little Red Wagon" Eugene Emeralds minor league championship team in 1975 while the major league Big Red Machine was in its heyday. Moskau gave an interview for Haught Corner in 2018.

 Fleer #67 Ken Griffey - I just liked this card - it's like Griffey is floating in mid-air with the blue sky and fluffy clouds in the background. Just like Concepcion and Foster, Griffey was an All-Star MVP as a Red. For Griffey, the game was 1980, going 2-3 with a homer as a reserve behind Dave Kingman. Griffey would go on to hit a home run back to back with his son, the "other" Ken Griffey, in 1991. He and his son have the most career hits of any father son duo in MLB history. While he did not win a Gold Glove, he was known as an excellent defender, and compares similarly to hitters Melky Cabrera, Amos Otis, Carney Lansford and Keith Hernandez.  

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Taking the Long Road

The last time I added a card to this set build was in January of 2019, and that was because I found a lot on eBay of  4 of the 5 checklists. Since then it's been all quiet on the 1964 Topps Venezuelan front.

I don't really like to build sets by buying them on eBay, it feels a little like cheating. But I decided to spend a little on this set build now since I can't go to card shows or card shops- since I'm limited to online sales anyway, might as well put them to use on this!

These are in pretty typical shape for this set, the cards were printed on less hearty stock, and the photos have a tendency to fade on the front. Not to mention that it's just not the same industry in VZ at it is here to maintain these collections.

I'm now up to 159 cards from the set, which is a little under half. There will be some cards, like Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, etc. that I will likely never find for a reasonable price. Finishing the set will require some kind of savings plan or successful get rich quick scheme...

My scanner chose to pixelate this one, but you can see for the most part these are in good shape for Venezuelan Topps, which were sold with a scrapbook and jar of paste back in '64. Only the Roman Mejias card has signs of being glued into a book previously. Unlike the U.S. release, the trivia answers were revealed in red ink- no need to rub with a coin. The kids of VZ would probably need a translation though, so it wasn't exactly giving the answers away!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Free Stuff Friday #16 Sweet.

Another Friday! This is now month #4 - 16 weeks of free stuff! We start with what little 2005 Topps I have- I even had to sneak in an Opening Day card to make it 9.

Parallels! Karkovice is Gold, Peralta is rainbow foil.


Basketball! see if you can spot MJ. Did you watch "The Last Dance"?

Hockey from different Eras

It's amateur hour for football this week. You never know what might fit someone's collection.

Some Hall of Fame guys. Note that the 79 Carlton was in someone's bike spoke. I upgraded my copy, so you can claim this one for free!

Claim one card or claim them all! If we've never traded, or haven't traded in over a year, please send me your address. I have stacks for GTT, Blog Reader Bruce, and John Sharp that are just waiting for an address.

Contact form is on the blog sidebar (you might need to view the desktop version to see it).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Which 70s Set Should I Build? 1976 Topps edition

I've been trying to decide which 1970s set to start building for my next vintage set build, but I can't seem to make up my mind. So, I'm going to take a little closer look at what I already have in my collection and try to narrow it down.

The biggest Rookie in the set is Dennis Eckersley. He's joined by a motley crew of fan favorites and solid MLB players like John ("The Count of") Montefusco, Kent Tekulve, Lyman Bostock, John Candelaria, Duane Kuiper, Chet Lemon, Willie Randolph (As a Pirate!), Ron Guidry, and 20-Game Winner Mike Norris.

My 1976 Wantlist, but it's not to complete the whole set, it's just a list of cards I thought I'd like to add to my collection at some point.

1976:  1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 12,13, 19, 28, 31, 35, 38, 48, 57, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 70, 72, 85, 85T, 88, 100, 107, 110, 112, 120, 120T, 121, 123, 125, 133,135, 137, 139, 140, 156, 165, 167, 174, 179, 240, 245, 246, 253, 255, 263, 273, 274, 275, 278, 284, 290, 295, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 325, 355, 362, 365, 370, 371, 376, 380, 380T, 385, 400, 405, 435, 446, 455, 465, 475, 478,479, 480, 490, 500, 502, 512, 514, 520, 528, 530, 533, 542, 550, 558, 565, 569, 570, 575, 585, 590, 592, 592T, 599, 600, 613, 615, 639, 640, 650, 652, 653, 657, 659

A few of the special "subsets" from 1976 include the "Father-Son" Combo cards, All-Time All-Stars, The Topps All-Star Rookie Cup, the "Traded" series, and 1975 Highlights.

Here's a page featuring some of my personal favorites from the set that are already in my collection.

This set has a little leg up on some of the other 70s sets in my eyes. I have actually opened a pack of 1976 Topps (even though I'm pretty sure it was re-sealed), which I can only say for three sets from the decade.

I think 1976 takes the vibrant colors of 1975, the quirky position logos from 1973, and makes more room for some more interesting photography. I think a good adjective for this set would be "sun soaked." The only tradeoff is that some cards have some really severe lighting issues with players' faces obscured by shadows. They also continued the tradition of have a handful of images that are cropped very close with the player's head taking up 95% or more of the frame, even though they are being shot in profile.

This set should also be a bit easier to complete than some of the earlier sets, not sure if that is a positive or negative.

What do you think are the Pros and Cons of the 1976 Set? I'd love to hear your opinion!