Sunday, December 31, 2017

I Love The 80s - 1981 San Francisco Giants

In 1980 and 1981, the Giants were transitioning into a new era. The strategy seemed to be to add some veteran pieces to a fairly young roster - the results were mixed at best. There was some improvement in 1981 - The Giants hired Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to manage the team and brought in Joe Morgan to provide leadership and some star power to the lineup. They finished in 4th place in the NL West, but could hang their hats on a winning record overall. 

here are the backs . . .

Topps Traded #806 Joe Morgan - One of the greatest second basemen of all time, Morgan came to play for the Giants in 1981. He toughed out a down year in the strike shortened 1981 season to have a bit of a late career renaissance in 1982. He won his only career Silver Slugger award that season, hitting 14 homers and reaching base at a .400 clip. He also stole 24 bases at the age of 38.

Fleer #444 Ed Whitson - Whitson came up to the majors with Pittsburgh, and was part of the trade that brought Bill Madlock to the Pirates mid way through the 1979 season. He would miss out on that championship season, but he would get another shot at the post season with the 1984 San Diego Padres. His lone All-Star selection came in 1980 as a Giant, he topped 200 innings pitched but only surrendered 7 home runs on the season. The rate of .3 homers per 9 innings was best in the National League. He would retire in 1991 having given up 2440 hits in 2440 career innings.

Fleer #451 Larry Herndon - Like Whitson, Herndon would play in the 1984 World Series, but Herndon was playing for the AL champion Detroit Tigers. His 2 run Homer in Game 1 would be the decisive runs in the contest, handing the win to Jack Morris and the Tigers. In 1980, Herndon played all three outfield positions for the Giants and racked up 11 Triples on the season.

Donruss #433 Vida Blue - The Giants gave up 7 players and $300,000 cash to get Vida Blue from Oakland in 1978. It wasn't cheap, but may very well have been worth it. Blue came in 3rd place in the Cy Young voting in 1978, but the Giants also settled for 3rd place in the Standings. Despite hurling over 1100 innings for the Giants over 6 seasons, the team never finished better than that during his tenure. He was an All-Star in 1980 and 1981, though he ultimately was unable to match the superlative start to his career with the A's.

Fleer #440 Jim Wohlford - That big leg kick did not translate to big power for Wohlford, who hit just 1 homer per season in 1980 and 1981.  For the Giants, he served as a backup outfielder and in a pinch he played a little third base for the team as well. He was a more regular player for Kansas City in the early to mid seventies, playing primarily Left Field. His career high in hits was 136 which came with KC in 1974.

Drake's Big Hitter's #15 Jack Clark - Clark was the team's big bat for a good part of the late 70s and early 80s. Injuries forced him to leave the outfield for the relative comfort of first base. Though he spent 10 seasons in San Francisco, he is probably better known for his 3 seasons in Saint Louis (or his one season in New York). Clark was the Giants' team leader in homers in both 1980 and 1981.

Topps #648 Darrell Evans - Evans became the poster-old-man for guys that aged gracefully. Evans' 1987 season was memorable because he led the AL with 40 homers, but he was also 38 years old. He was a teammate of Larry Herndon's in 1984 with the Tigers. In 1980 and 1981, he was playing a solid third base and providing his usual 20 plus homer power in the heart of the Giants' lineup.

Topps #279 Bob Knepper - Knepper was traded following the 1980 season to Houston for Enos Cabell. He responded with an All-Star season for the Astros and helped propel the team to the post-season. He would be a key part of the Astros rotation for the rest of the 80s, returning to the Giants as a Free Agent late in 1989. His 1980 campaign was subpar compared to his averages. For his career, Knepper tossed 30 shutouts, leading the NL in the category in 1978 and 1986.

Fleer #434 Willie McCovey - "Stretch" as he was known in his early days in the Bay Area, played his final game in July of 1980. Appropriately for a Giant, his final at bat led to a victory over the Dodgers, with a pinch hit sac fly. His 521 career home runs equalled that of Ted Williams, and if not for debilitating leg injuries, could have been much more. McCovey is beloved in San Francisco, and his name graces the body of water just beyond the Right Field wall at their home ballpark, christened McCovey Cove. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

And NOW, The 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team

I realize I am skipping ahead in the order here, but a set from Topps Now of the 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team arrived, so I'm going to have a little fun with it. These guys may or may not have been selected by the Youth of America as was the case in the 1960s, but the rookies this season were impressive. Thinking back on all of the selections of years' past, I thought it might be fun to try to find some comparable players to this year's team.

Catcher - Manny Piña
Manny was a 30 year old rookie for the Brewers, which is more common than you might think when it comes to catchers. He had a decent year behind the dish as the team's primary backstop, slugging 9 homers and hitting a respectable .279 with 30 extra base hits.  

For his comp, I picked Bob Geren, who had a similar journey to the majors, though he was initially a first round pick of the Padres back in 1979. Geren also had 9 homers in his rookie campaign and hit .288, playing in a total of 5 major league seasons. Geren went on to a career as a manager and coach, and was the Oakland A's skipper for 5 seasons.

First Base - Cody Bellinger
The National League Rookie of the Year smashed expectations of what a rookie could do, and he did it in style. His 39 Homers were even more impressive considering he was not called up until the end of April. In addition to playing First Base, Bellinger was able to move to the outfield and provide solid defense at all three positions.

I am pretty much stumped for a quality comp for Bellinger, as there are very few rookie seasons that come close to matching his 2017 campaign. I thought about Mark McGwire, but other than the power numbers, it just didn't seem like that close of a comparison. So, instead, I'm picking Willie McCovey,  who managed to live up to the hype and like Bellinger had a deadly swing from the left side.

Second Base- Ian Happ
He's listed as a second baseman, but Happ played all over the diamond for Joe Maddon, like a young man's Ben Zobrist. Happ also brought some impressive power numbers, crushing 24 homers and a .253 average.

For a comp I decided to go with the versatile and powerful Ron Gant, who came up as a second baseman before transitioning full time to the outfield. I could see a similar career path for Happ. Gant's rookie year - 19 homers and a .259 average. Both guys are 6 feet even and roughly 200 lbs. I also considered Gregg Jefferies, but I decided that his rookie season came with a lot more hype than Happ's, Gant was similarly under the radar.

Short Stop - Paul DeJong
Just about any other season, we'd probably be talking about Paul DeJong's ROY trophy. The Redbird's short stop hit .285 with 25 homers and was already a key contributor as a rookie to a veteran team with playoff aspirations. The team didn't quite reach their goal, but they did find their SS of the future, going as far as trading away the promising Aledmys Diaz this offseason to keep DeJong's path clear.

For a comp I toyed with the idea of Nomar, but felt that might be a little too lofty to start. Troy Tulowitzki had a similarly impressive rookie season, but also came in second place for Rookie of the Year, losing out to Ryan Braun, who had one of the better Rookie seasons of all time to beat him. Tulo had 24 homers and 99 RBI his rookie year.

Third Base - Rafael Devers
You can't deny that Devers made quite the impression in a small sample size this season. Like many of the players on this list, hitting homers came quite easily to Devers, who launched 10 bombs in just 58 games, including a memorable shot off Yankees relief ace Aroldis Chapman. He turned a 103 mph fastball into a laser beam heading the other direction, leaving the yard in a hurry. The real impressive number? Devers is just 20 years old.

There have been plenty of young sluggers to come up and make an immediate impression with raw talent (Gary Sheffield came to mind), but I chose Richie Allen as a comp just based on reputation alone. Will Devers become Richie Allen? Maybe not, but there were few third basemen on the list that could match the kind of excitement of Devers at a young age. Allen had a tremendous rookie year at the age of 22, leading the league in Triples and runs scored while hitting 29 homers, including 2 on the final day of the 1964 season.

Outfield - Aaron Judge
This guy. YIKES. I won't waste your time with tales of the longest homers, the hardest hit homers, the most homers by any rookie in the history of baseball. You already know by now. Judge was an absolute beast in 2017.

I thought about McGwire again here, the obvious reason being that Judge passed him for the Rookie home run record, but I think I will go with another outfielder instead, the Bash Brother from another mother, Jose Canseco. I feel the same sort of disgust (and amazement) watching Judge murder baseballs against my favorite teams that I felt watching Canseco as a kid. There's something intangible about these two dudes that just changed the mood at the ballpark whenever they came to the plate.

Outfield - Andrew Benintendi
Similar to DeJong in the National league, Benintendi will go down as the guy who came in second place to a runaway freight train. There's no shame in his season, which saw excellent returns at the plate along with a fearless approach to outfield defense. His sprawling catch against the short wall at Tropicana Field will be shown in highlight reels for years to come.

Benintendi's instant classic reminded me of another reckless left fielder, Washington Senator Bob Allison. Of course, he made his mark in Minnesota and the famous catch came years later in the 1965 World Series, but the mix of power at the plate and superb defense sure seems familiar to me. Maybe could have gone with fellow BoSox phenom Fred Lynn here, but I felt Bob was more apropos.

Outfield - Trey Mancini
Geez, another guy with 20+ homers in their rookie year? Mancini played both corner outfield positions as well as spending some time at first base. His defense didn't exactly set the world on fire, but his bat more than made up for it.

The first guy I thought of was Jay Buhner, but I think I'll go with Jim Rice- beefy power at the expense of speed seems about right here.

Right Handed Pitcher- German Marquez
Well, with all those homers, you'd expect the pitching to be a little harder to find. Marquez had a fine season, and of course pitched in the worst environment for pitchers, let alone rookies, as his home field. He had a respectable 114 ERA+, making him slightly better than league average. He didn't strike out a ton of batters, and did give up 25 homers, though 15 of those came at home in Coors Field.

It took a little research to find a righty rookie All-Star with similar numbers, but Mark Leiter had a similarly solid season in 1991 for the Tigers, sporting an ugly ERA of 4.26 (which was exactly league average that year) and a low strikeout rate. I could also have gone with another Rockie, Jason Jennings, who had a very good career in a very tough ballpark.

Left Handed Pitcher - Jordan Montgomery
Jordan Montgomery was the best of a less than stellar crop of lefty rookie starters in 2017. The opposition was tough! Lots of homers and it can be very difficult for rookies to adapt to that kind of aggressive and unforgiving landscape. He gave up his share of longballs (21), but he kept traffic on the basepaths to a minimum, walking 51 in 155 innings pitched. 

The best comp I could find was Woodie Fryman, the Pirates lefty who had excellent control. Fryman would go on to have a dependable role in bullpens and the middle of rotations throughout the league. He didn't strike out a ton of batters, but was very stingy with walks as well.

Relief Pitcher - Josh Hader
He only pitched 47 innings in 2017, and he wasn't the Brewers' closer at any point, but he was probably their best bullpen weapon. The lefty was devastating to opposing lineups, striking out 68 batters in those 47 frames to the tune of a 2.08 ERA.

The other lefty fireballer that comes to mind? Billy Wagner, who torched the league in 1996 - striking out 67 batters in 51 innings. He would slide into the closer role the following season and never looked back, racking up 422 career saves over 16 seasons.

Let me hear it in the comments if you agree or disagree with these comparisons!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Little Local Flavor from COMC

COMC features cards from all over the world - you can find Venezuelan Topps, Japanese cards featuring NPB players, tons of O-Pee-Chee, and just about anything else under the sun. So how about oddball regional issues from my own back yard?

Halsey Hall is a local sports legend, having covered every Minnesota sporting event for decades. In the 1970's, he gave his name and his anecdotes to a set of cards featuring the Minneapolis Millers and the original Saint Paul Saints of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The Millers had Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Hoyt Wilhelm over the years.

May want to zoom in on those to get the whole story on Hoyt and the greatest ballplayer to ever suit up for the Saints.

A couple more cards of Mays - if the photo selection seems lacking, understand Willie only played in Minneapolis for 38 games!

Just across the river, a few months after Willie Mays left Minneapolis for the Major Leagues for good, Dave Winfield was born. McDonald's restaurants in San Diego released a set of POG sized cards of the team following the 1973 season, Winfield's first in Professional baseball. Winfield bested Mays by skipping the minor leagues completely, going straight from Pitching for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the College World Series to playing for the Padres.

I have to admit that I haven't seen Dave around Saint Paul these days, other than an occasional appearance at TwinsFest, but he's still a legend around here.

Last but not least, a young pitcher looking to make his own mark in the local sports pages, Twins prospect Fernando Romero. I've been doing my best to keep up with all the new releases (certainly I can't and won't keep up with all the parallels, but at least one card from each set), I expect I'll be seeing plenty more in 2018 when he inevitably breaks into the big leagues.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Johnny Claus

John of Johnny's Trading Spot might as well be the real Santa Claus - so many blogging boys and girls know of the generosity that he has shown over the years as a trading partner. I was surprised and not at all surprised that Johnny sent over a bubble mailer with a PWE chaser this month.

Allen & Ginter loves those minis, and so do I!

Landreaux has his head in the clouds on this Kellogg's 3-D All-Star card, one of my favorite cards of the 1980s.

Johnny came through with parallels!

and inserts!

and Horizontal Heroes (that included both parallels and inserts)

He always hits my bat rack collection in style.

Finally, the best that Donruss has to offer these days, Studio!

Thanks again John, and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Secret is Out!

Let me start by saying that (Secret) Santa Claus is a Super cool dude. Jared of Cards My Mom Didn't Throw Out sent over these cards, stuffing the stocking to overflowing proportions! Jack Morris was just inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Tony Oliva has not. No disrespect intended to Morris, but Tony O is overdue, and this big Topps card should remind everyone that it's Tony's turn.

Johan is on the ballot for the first (and quite likely the last), and that too seems like a mistake in judgement. Santana didn't have the lengthy careers of many of the all-time great lefties, and doesn't have the post season resumes of his contemporaries like Pedro and Schilling. What he does have is a stretch of 5 straight 200 K seasons, a pair of Cy Young awards, and a career ERA+ of 136. He easily could have won the Cy Young the year Colon won it, making it 3 straight, but it was not meant to be. He's destined for the Hall of Very Good, not the worst place a guy can end up. Would have enjoyed the debate on his candidacy to continue a few years longer, but it's an overcrowded ballot.

I love Bert Blyleven's expressions during his windup. These 4 cards were all parallels of one form or another, with Corey Koskie being numbered to just 99 copies.

Hrbek was still just watching wrestling in 1982 instead of executing his best moves in the 1991 World Series - Big Dave was still bringing the aggressive swing in 1994, 21 years into his MLB career.

Another Hall of Famer, this time with a sweet tooth!

A nice round of Pucketts, and one big surprise...

Probably should have used a camera instead of the scanner, but this is a very cool piece. The pin packaging has career stats on the back, almost like a baseball card, along with mentioning a few of Kirby's more notable career highlights through the 1991 season.

Thanks so much, Jared!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lanceurs et Voltigeurs

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.

I've got to start with an apology - December has gotten the best of me and I haven't really been posting since the World Series ended. I guess it is the off-season for some of us after. Several folks have sent over cards, and I'll be sharing those over the next week - starting with Douglas from the blog Sportscards from the Dollar Store

O-Pee-Chee is notorious for ragged edges and centering issues, but these cards still look *pack fresh* ! I literally have only seen OPC cards this sharp come out of a sealed pack, and those were from 1978 and 1979.

My scanner cut even more harshly than the Canadians on this 1975 Steve Braun.

On the back, we learn some very personal info about Braun's offseason plans in 1973.

If that wasn't enough, Douglas also included a stack of Twins from more recent stock, including another one of those oddball Hobby game cards.

Last but not least a serial numbered Phil Hughes! This was right after the season Phil set a major league record for his ratio of strikeouts to walks. He fanned 186 batters and walked . . . 16. For the whole season! He's been sidelined following Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but there's always hope in December that he'll return to pitch meaningful innings for the Twins in 2018.

Thanks so much Douglas! I've really been dogging it this month, but you're on my list for return packages in the new year. Happy Holidays everyone!