Monday, September 30, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Left Handed Pitcher Brian Anderson

The 6'1" lefty from Ohio made a big impression in 1994 for the Angels early on. Anderson hurled 8 shutout innings against the Yankees, earning the victory, one of three straight victories to start the season. He was just a year removed from pitching in college for Wright State. If not for a fractured thumb suffered in May, he may have had a much more  impressive rookie campaign. The player's strike ended his season while he was still regaining his early season form.

His swift rise to the majors, his first round pedigree, and his early season success was enough to land him a spot on the 1994 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

Anderson had a stellar college career-- in his junior and senior season he recorded more strikeouts than innings pitched. His final season in 1993 included 98 Ks and just 6 walks. He was a 3rd Team All-American in 1992, and was the Angels' first round selection (#3 Overall) in June of 1993. He set records at Wright State for single season Ks, victories, innings pitched, and complete games.

Anderson spent little time in the minor leagues, as a college pitcher with a track record of success, there was little left for him to prove, and the Angels were anxiously awaiting his arrival. He would only pitch in 4 minor league games in 1993 before his promotion the big leagues.

The quick promotion may have prevented Anderson from developing his craft. Rod Carew is probably reassuring Anderson that at least his doesn't have to pitch to him. In 1996, Anderson was traded to Cleveland for Jason Grimsley after a pair of frustrating but solid seasons at the back of the Angels rotation.

In 1997, Anderson would get his first taste of the post season, and it suited him well. Cleveland used Anderson out of the bullpen, and he made 6 appearances including a win in the ALCS and a save in the World Series. Following this, Anderson was still a pitcher looking for a home, and he was one of the more intriguing arms available in the expansion draft for the Rays and Diamondbacks.

Anderson was the first player selected by the Diamondbacks, and became the first pitcher to toss a shutout for the team. He topped 200 innings pitched in the team's inaugural season, and led the national league with a criminally stingy 1.0/9 inning walk rate. The flip side of that stat was the league leading 39 homers allowed. Undeterred, Anderson would again shine in the post season, going 7 strong innings against the Mets in losing effort in 1999, then again performed well in 2001, limiting damage in 4 appearances, winning a game in relief in the NLCS against Atlanta, and providing a day of rest inbetween the starts from Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in the World Series.

He would return to Cleveland in 2003, and his defense let him down, allowing 27 UNearned runs in his 23 starts. The Royals acquired Anderson for the second half, seeing the better peripheral numbers and the rotten luck. He would go 5-1 down the stretch for the Royals, finished with career bests in victories, ERA, and complete games.

He would finish his career after a UCL injury in spring training for the Rays in 2008. He had been trying to recover from a pair of Tommy John surgeries. The relationship with the Rays would prove fruitful, along with a connection to longtime Reds' announcer Marty Brennaman and has led to his 2nd career, as the announcer for Rays TV.

Anderson finished with 10 Wins Above Replacement, and an 82-83 record in 13 MLB seasons. His 1.96 career walk rate per 9 innings is in the top 100 All-time.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Tale of Two Champions- Part One

The 2019 Minnesota Twins are A.L. Central Division Champions! Their last Division Title came all the way back in 2010, the inaugural season at Target Field in Minneapolis.  Let's compare and contrast those teams, shall we?

Joe Mauer was coming off an MVP season in 2009, and while he didn't hit for power like he did the year before, he had another tremendous season for the Twins as their franchise player. Mauer reeled in his 3rd Gold Glove, 4th Silver Slugger award, and 4th All-Star appearance. He slashed .327/.402/.469 , head and shoulders above the other A.L. catchers racking up an OPS+ of 140.

Mitch Garver set a team record for homers by a catcher, and had 31 total dingers for the season, which translated to an OPS+ of 165! Along with Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo, the Twins' Catchers set an MLB record for homers with 44 from that position.

First Baseman:
Justin Morneau was on his way to his 2nd MVP award when his season was cut short by an unfortunate concussion sliding into 2nd base. In 81 games, he was hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 homers and 56 RBI. The concussion derailed a sneaky stellar career. It would be 4 years before he'd hit above .300 again (actually winning a batting title in Colorado in '14), and like Mauer one year later and Corey Koskie earlier, the concussion altered what could have been an historic season. I still wonder what the post season could have been like with Morneau in the lineup.

C.J. Cron has battled a nagging thumb injury for the 2nd half of the season, and it is a story of two seasons for the righty slugger. Before his injury, Cron was hitting .285/.349/.547 with 17 Homers in 68 games. Since the thumb injury, he's hit 8 homers (one today!) playing in 57 games and his average dropped nearly 100 points and slugging nearly 200(!). The homer today is encouraging, the time off this week leading up to game 1 will be key to determining if Cron will be healthy enough to be a factor.

Second Base:
Orlando Hudson was a big offseason acquisition for the Twins, as the team was moving on from the other Orlando, Orlando Cabrera, who the Twins acquired in a 2009 trade deadline deal. Hudson brought a spark to the top of the lineup and provided timely hitting and some speed.

Jonathan Schoop was coming off a disappointing season in 2018, having split the year between Baltimore and Milwaukee. Schoop came to the Twins looking to have a bounce-back season and re-establish his value. His rifle arm from second base certainly helped the Twins turn more double plays, and his 23 homers look impressive enough on paper. He's managed to be one of the worst hitters in close/late situations, however, and his position as the everyday 2nd Baseman was ceded to rookie sensation Luis Arraez.

Short Stop:
J.J. Hardy came to the Twins in an off-season deal that cost charismatic centerfielder Carlos Gomez. His first season with the team included just 101 games played and 6 homers from a player that was expected to provide much more of both. Whether it was a nagging injury or a clash of hitting philosophy with Twins' coaches, the relationship never quite gelled. Hardy would be dealt to Baltimore for a pair of lottery ticket hard throwing relievers, neither of which panned out.

Jorge Polanco signed a big contract extension during spring training, and responded with his first All-Star selection, and helped anchor the Twins' infield and batting order with exciting play on both sides of the ball. His 186 hits and 40 doubles led the Twins offensive attack, and he finished with a .296 batting average. He set a team record in 2019 for the Highest single season OPS+ by a shortstop, 129. 

Third Base:
Danny Valencia crushes Lefties. The 25 year old slashed .311/.351/.448 in 85 games at the hot corner. against southpaws? He hit .374/.441/.525 as a rookie, and that reputation would be earned throughout his career, and he would move on to a lengthy career with Baltimore and Oakland, among others, playing his final MLB game in August of 2018.

Miguel Sano damages baseballs. He survived a 3-39 slump early in the season, and after re-tooling his swing he has begun to make more solid contact while reducing the number of swings and misses. He missed nearly all of April with a freak injury he suffered in the championship parade of the Dominican winter league, he still cracked 34 homers and drove in 79 RBI in 104 games. Despite having a metal rod inserted in his leg from an injury last year, Sano only grounded into 5 double plays.

Designated Hitter:
Jim Thome spent his age 39 season by leading his team in homers and being the veteran presence among several young and developing hitters. His highlights included passing Harmon Killebrew on the all-time HR list, then Frank Robinson towards the end of the season, but the biggest hit came in August. Facing the rival White Sox, Thome launched a 445 blast that was the game winning homer in the bottom of the 10th. It was the first walk off win in Target Field history, but an MLB record 12th walk off HR for Big Jim.

Nelson Cruz spent his age 38 season by leading his team in homers and being the veteran presence among several young and developing hitters. His highlights included passing Al Kaline on the all-time HR list, recording his first 3-HR game in his career, then his 2nd 3-HR game 10 days later. It was the 4th time he surpassed 40 HR in a season, and his 6th straight season of at least 37 round trippers.

Left Field:

Delmon Young was the #1 Overall Draft Pick by the Rays, and by the time the Twins traded for him, he had been suspended in the minor leagues for hitting an umpire with his bat, and was derided by his critics as unmotivated. The trade to the Twins worked for a while - he led the team in RBI in 2010, and hit 21 homers to go along with 46 doubles and 5 stolen bases. He was a key part of that division championship team, and was better than people give him credit for.

Eddie Rosario was the Twins' 4th round pick in 2010, providing a lone direct link to the 2010 team on the 2019 squad. Rosie led the 2019 Twins in RBI just like Delmon. Another stat that should surprise no-one: Eddie and Delmon are free-swingers. Rosie led the league swinging out of the zone in 2019 with a 45% rate. Not far behind was Delmon's 42% in 2010. Oh, but when they connect! Rosie hit 32 homers in 2019.

Center Field:

Denard Span re-established himself as the everyday center fielder after giving the role to Carlos Gomez the year before. Span had shifted to Right Field in 2009, but was still an above average defender. The move back to Center would be short lived as Ben Revere was on his way. Both Span and Revere would be moving on shortly, as they would both be traded in exchange for pitching when the Twins were desperate to add arms. Span was the team's leadoff man in 2010, and easily led the team with 10 Triples and 26 Stolen Bases.

Byron Buxton came into 2019 following a lost 2018. His season didn't end the way he wanted it to (i.e. healthy), but in stark contrast to his struggles from a year ago, Buxton showed all the tools that make him a game changing talent. In 87 games, he hit 10 homers, stole 14 bases,  and had 30 doubles and 4 Triples. While healthy he was among the best defenders in the league. Buxton's injury history may concern some, however each incident was isolated and can attributed more to bad luck than a chronic condition. Buxton will be primed and ready for a reversal of fortune in 2020.

Right Field:

Jason Kubel was slotted to be a career DH, but the signing of Jim Thome gave Kubel the chance to show his versatility and athleticism. Kubel slashed .249/.323/.427 which may not look impressive, but it was still above league average production. He smashed 21 homers and drove in 92 runs, needed production in the absence of Justin Morneau. He was in the lineup for 143 games, a key stat for the 2010 Twins' outfielders, who all played in over 140 contests.

Max Kepler signed a deal very similar to teammate Jorge Polanco in Spring Training, and like Jorge, Kepler proved it was a smart move for the Twins to lock up their young outfielder. Kepler was responsible for several walk off wins in the last two seasons, including an extra-innings RBI single against a very tough Oakland squad that had pestered the powerful Twins all weekend long at Target Field. Kepler excelled against both righties and lefties, correcting a flaw in his previous seasons by hitting left handed pitching better than he ever had before. Kepler hit 36 homers, and was well on his way to a 100+ RBI season until he had a deep shoulder bruise that has kept him in a reserve role for the last 2 weeks. Kepler is expecting to be back in the lineup for the ALDS against the Yankees.

Part 2 Coming Soon- The Pitchers!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Third Baseman Jose Oliva

The story of Raul Mondesi may have been a Greek Tragedy, Jose Oliva was a tragedy borne from modern times. Oliva was named to the 1994 Topps All-Star Rookie squad with just 19 major league games played. The league did not have many rookies that year playing third base, and while a case could be made for Brewers infielder Jose Valentin, Oliva was given the nod based on his sky high potential.

Oliva came to the Braves via trade, with Atlanta sending veteran pitcher Charlie Liebrandt to Texas. Oliva was a free agent in 1987 out of the Dominican Republic, specifically from baseball hotbed San Pedro de Macoris, home to Pedro Guerrero, Manny Lee, Juan Samuel, Joaquin Andujar, and Jorge Bell to name a few. More recently, stars like Miguel Andujar, Sammy Sosa, Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano came to the big leagues from this city which has a population under 200,000.

Oliva tore up the minor leagues, from the Gulf Coast League, to Butte, Montana, on down to Tulsa Oklahoma. He hit for impressive power and while he struck out quite a bit, the power numbers were legit. Oliva had no shortage of confidence and once boasted that he "could hit the Devil himself." double digit homers for Oliva in 1990, 1991, and 1992 made him an intriguing prospect for Atlanta to add to their lineup. The team had drafted the future hall of fame 3b Chipper Jones as a short stop initially, and adding power prospect Oliva to complement Ryan Klesko was intended to give the team a formidable middle of the lineup.

Oliva's minor league numbers in Richmond for the Braves surpassed everything he'd done to date, pushing his power above the 20 homer plateau in both 1993 and 1994. An injury to Terry Pendleton gave Oliva the chance to play everyday for a few weeks, and he responded with 6 homers while posting career highs for batting average and on base average with the big league club.

With Chipper Jones' arrival in Atlanta, Oliva was dealt in late August 1995 to Saint Louis, with a change of scenery perhaps giving Oliva a better shot an everyday gig. He would appear in 70 games overall in 1995, but hit an abysmal .142 at the major league level.

Oliva would spend the entire 1996 campaign in AAA Louisville, and he hit a career best 31 homers, but once again was stuck behind other established stars on the depth chart. That winter he would have a fantastic short season playing for his hometown team in San Pedro de Macoris, the Estrellas. He would spend the 1997 regular season playing in China for the Taipei, Taiwan team. He hit another 25 homers, and would return again to the Dominican Republic for another attempt to break in with a major league club. Oliva had a minor league offer from Seattle that off season, but sadly Oliva passed following a single car accident in the Dominican Republic. Oliva was survived by three young daughters.

We'll never know if Oliva could have made that come back, or what kind of MLB career he would have had. He passed away 2 months shy of his 27th birthday. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Vintage Bo-nanza

Bo of Baseball Cards Come to Life! and I completed a trade recently, and Bo came through with a life affirming cavalcade of cardboard excellence. I am thinking about how I'd like to build my copycat Hall of Fame binder (stolen from P-Town Tom via Red Cardboard), and this Lou Brock is probably the #1 contender from his playing days to make the cut.

Luis Tiant is one of those guys on the outside looking in to the Hall - he had a brief but brilliant peak to his career, which came after some lean years.

The trade that brought Tiant to Minnesota sent Nettles to Cleveland. He'd get recognition for his superb defense once he made his way further East to New York.

As you can see, Bo shredded my vintage 70s wantlists, working from year to year.

Maybe I've been too tough on the 1973 set? There are some great cards to be found in it.

An upgraded Alou!

Tiant and Vida Blue were in the middle of some serious dominance of opposing hitters. Dick Allen had a fantastic season on the South Side, and Ken Griffey was about to be a World Champion 2X running for the Reds.

Speaking of the Big Red Machine, a fantastic Johnny Bench card coming through the dusty trail. I really love the shot of the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard for the Royals. Pretty good action shots in the 1976 set.

Seriously, this is just scratching the surface of the haul from Bo - a ton of vintage.

Without overloading the servers, there was also a big stack of 90s cards as well.

and Hockey! Believe it or not, this was actually the spark that prompted the trade. Bo emailed me and said he had some Stanley Cup cards, and tossed in a huge lot of Minnesota North Stars / Wild to beef up my NHL collection.

And there you have (again just a sample) the reason for the trade in the first place, The Stanley Cup is getting some serious love from the various card companies.

Thanks again for the trade, Bo! The cards you sent were fantastic and much appreciated!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Page Six - At the Bat Rack Frankenset

The Legend Continues! Page Six of the "At The Bat Rack" Frankenset is here. 

Rules -
9 different players
9 different card sets
9 different teams
player is at the bat rack (or bat pile) in or near the dugout
Have fun (most important)

Page Six!

And the backs:

46 - David Green 1985 Fleer Update
47 - Jeff Bagwell 2005 Bowman
48 - Gorman Thomas 1986 Topps All-Star Collector's Edition
49 - Pat Meares 1998 Topps
50 - Edgar Renteria 2003 Upper Deck Vintage
51 - Robin Yount 1983 Fleer
52 - Bobby Thomson 1992 Action Packed
53 - Greg Gross 1985 Fleer Baseball Star Stickers
54 - Elmer Valo 1957 Topps

OK, so I know I need to replace Robin Yount at card #51 - he's standing outside the batting cage, but not at the bat rack. I really scoured all of the #51's I could find, and so far this is the closest one. The consolation on this page is the grandaddy of them all, Elmer Valo's 1957 Topps Card! This card is the reason the Frankenset exists.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Total Stud-illo

Topps Total is starting to get more than a little repetitive, so I figured I would just focus on one guy for this post - the versatile and dynamic Catcher Willians Astudillo.

Minimum effort on the back - Topps is now selling wave 7 of 9 waves of 100 cards. There are parallels, and even some autographs floating out there -  I might chase some of the parallel Twins if I am comfy with the price. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Print It Again, Sam

Yes, yes, I know Bogie (nor Ingrid) never said "Play it again, Sam" - just like I know these 2 reprint sets I purchased weren't actually made in 1933. I had some interest in these two sets for a long time, and this seemed like the most economical way to add the 1933 DeLong Gum and 1933 Tattoo Orbit sets to my collection.

The back of each DeLong card has a tip about playing baseball, provided by Austen Lake, Baseball Editor of the Boston Transcript newspaper. The 24 card set has 15 Hall of Famers in it!

Here you can see how the cards line up against a modern card; they are a little bigger than the 1951 / 1952 Bowman cards.

There were even a pair of Horizontal Heroes! Compared to some other issues from the pre-war era, these cards are relatively affordable, but you're still looking at hundreds of dollars per card for even passable condition.

Aren't they pretty? Backgrounds were solid yellow, blue, or red. The nameplate came in a contrasting color.

The Tattoo Orbit set is harder to find in the wild than the big set from 1933, Goudey, and even harder to find than the underdog, DeLong. The cards were distributed with gum called Tattoo Gum, from the Orbit gum company.

The card backs had a very clean and succinct tale of the tape of each player, including their given name rather than their nickname.

The cards were nearly square - smaller than DeLong, about the size of a 1948 Bowman card. There are 16 Hall of Fame players (and 1 Hall of Fame Manager, Connie Mack) in the 60 Card set. The set curiously omits the Yankees, Giants, Tigers, and Senators, but makes it possible to find more obscure players not featured elsewhere in the 1933 issues.

The cards are very subtly tinted, to give the faces more of a flesh tone, contrasted with bright vibrant red and yellow backgrounds. Speaking of the backgrounds, you can even line some of them up to make a panorama of the outfield. Some of them are mirror images. I was a big fan of the artistic flourishes in clouds as well.

Are you a fan of reprint sets? Do you have any reprints in your collection?

Monday, September 9, 2019

1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Ryan Klesko

With Bob Hamelin occupying the 1st Base spot already, Topps had to scramble to find a place for the National League's best rookie 1st Baseman, Ryan Klesko. Fortunately for everyone, Klesko was athletic enough to also dabble in the outfield from time to time, and was named to the 1994 Topps All-Star Rookie Team as one of the three outfielders.

He was a 6th Round selection in 1989, and by the time he reached the majors for good, he had built quite an impressive resume and was riding high on the hype train. His Rookie season included plenty of power (slugging .563) and a decent average (.278) for a rookie. He finished 3rd in the NL in the Rookie of the Year voting.

His professional debut came in 1989 with the rookie league Bradenton Braves, playing out the last half of the year after the June draft and even earning a promotion to the Class A Sumter Braves. He'd get a full season in 199, hitting 10 homers in 63 games with Sumter before being called up to High-A Durham and adding 7 more long balls. His power was his big calling card, but he did show flashes of speed and general athleticism, swiping 23 bases across the 2 levels.

1991 was spent in AA Greenville, where Klesko was not only showing power and speed.  He developed patience at the plate, walking 75 times while striking out only 60. His fine season earned another promotion, and 1992 was spent in AAA Richmond. He'd earn a September call-up in '92 and again in 1993, just as the Braves were kicking their dynasty into high gear. A lesser team might have had a need for Klesko sooner, but it was worth the wait to develop his game.

Klesko had a solid Sophomore season in the bigs in 1995, with career highs in Slugging and batting average. 23 homers and 70 RBI were just the appetizer for the post-season. He had a notoriously bad NLCS going 0 for the series, but he hit .467 in the NLDS against Colorado, and in the World Series he hit homers in 3 straight games, all on the road in Cleveland, helping the Braves capture their crown. The feat of 3 straight games with a road homer in the World Series had never been done before, and it would be a lasting legacy for the young slugger. He'd spend the rest of the 90s with Atlanta, and despite not winning another ring, he was a key part of their offense and helped the team reach the post-season every year of his Braves tenure.

He would return to the West Coast in the 2000s, his college days at Arizona State and his high school in Westminster, CA made San Diego a nice destination when he was traded along with Bret Boone in exchange for Reggie Sanders and Wally Joyner. Klesko would have a successful second half of his career with the Padres, including a return of that early speed (stealing 23 bases each in 2000 and 2001). He would make his first All-Star team in 2001, belting 30 homers to go along with those 23 steals, and slugging .539.

Klesko briefly tried to innovate a new game, Basebat, but it didn't catch on. Just kidding, it was extremely popular. Just kidding, it didn't exist. But what a fun card, yeah? Klesko had a couple more trips to post-season play with the Padres, losing to the Cardinals in the '05 and '06 NLDS. His 7 seasons in San Diego had a nearly identical stat line to his 8 Atlanta campaigns. He had more RBI and stolen bases in SoCal, but more Homers and Triples in Atlanta. Klesko also became very involved in community outreach in San Diego, heading up the team's Make-A-Wish partnership, and being the face behind Klesko's Korner, which provided tickets to families with children battling cancer.

Following a major shoulder injury that cost him much of the 2006 season, Klesko signed as a free agent for 2007 with the Giants. In his final MLB season, he'd get into 116 games as a first baseman, right fielder, and pinch hitter.

There you have his final career stats - 1564 hits, 343 doubles, 278 homers and a nice even .500 slugging percentage.  Share your favorite Ryan Klesko memories below!