Saturday, December 21, 2019

Same Old Song and Dance?

It's Saturday, so that means it was Card Show day. I found a dime box to kick things off.

The box had lots of Twins from all over the decades.

But there were even more cards to choose from on other teams. Picked up a big stack for the player collections and some fun cards to send away to other folks.

Next up from the same vendor- serial numbered cards, a quarter each!

Pulled an even bigger stack of these cards, a lot of fun to dig through these.

Then things got a little crazy, as I found some off grade vintage for a steal.

This hi-number 1959 gets me one step closer to finishing the set!

Clyde Milan was a coach for the Washington Senators for this card, his nickname was given to him by Charles Albert Bender.

Last but not least was this Hall of Famer- look familiar?

It's Giants great Mel Ott! If I am not careful I am going to start building these Play Ball sets.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend,  Happy holidays!

Monday, December 16, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman Ray Durham

The Chicago White Sox were hoping that a 23 year old rookie could fill the shoes of the veteran Joey Cora, who had moved on to Seattle. Ray Durham more than fit the role as an excellent defender, lead off hitter with a combination of power and speed, and an exciting style of play that was perfect for the South Side. This article from the Chicago Tribune in 1995 highlights the many reasons why Durham was the right choice to be the Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman for 1995.

Sure, the 5'8" Durham defeated Michael Jordan in a high jump competition in Spring Training, but he'd also have to out hit MJ to get a job in the big leagues. In 1995, Durham slugged 27 doubles, 6 Triples and 7 Homers. He also stole 18 bases, which would end up as the fewest he'd steal in a White Sox uni. His .257 batting average was also the low water mark in his Chicago tenure, but the talented infielder already was showing the potential of a perennial All Star.

Durham was a 5th round selection in 1990 right out of Harding High School in Charlotte, NC. In high school, he excelled in baseball of course, but also played WR and in the defensive backfield. He returned a kick 92 yards for a touchdown as Sophomore (his first H.S. football play!), scored 5 receiving TDs in a single game, and intercepted 14 passes as a Senior.  He made very quick work of the minors, and was nearly 5 years younger than the average player in the league by the time he reached AAA as a 22 year old. He displayed speed and power in large doses, crushing 16 homers while stealing 34 bases for the Nashville Sounds. It was the second year in a row topping 30 steals. He would continue show that speed (and highly efficient base stealing success rate) at the big league level.

Following his Rookie season, Durham found his stride. Over the next seven years, he'd hit double digit homers each year and stole at least 23 bases.

In his White Sox career, Durham made the All-Star team twice, and had 249 doubles, 219 steals, 106 homers, and 53 triples. While he never surpassed .300 for a batting average, his on base percentage for Chicago was a robust .352. He scored over 100 runs in 6 seasons. 

Durham would be a trade deadline deal to Oakland at the height of Moneyball. He was sporting a .390 OBP for Chicago at the time of the trade. He was also hitting a career high .299 average when the deal was struck, sending Durham to the A's in exchange for Jon Adkins. Once in Oakland, Durham's base stealing was curtailed, and he also had a regression to the mean in his batting average and OBP. Even so, the 2 time All-Star was approaching free agency as a 31 year old when that was still considered a positive thing. The 2 homers he hit in the ALDS against Minnesota didn't hurt either.

The San Francisco Giants signed Durham to replace Jeff Kent, and expected him to provide protection in the lineup for Barry Bonds. He would finish the year with just 8 home runs, but his rate stats were right in line with his career averages. He would find his power in San Fran in 2006, hitting a career high 26 homers. He had a rough 2007 with a career low .218 batting average, and the writing was on the wall. Despite a bounce-back season in which Durham hit .293 in the first half, he would be traded to the Brewers for two middling prospects at the trade deadline.

Most people will immediately think of the other deadline deal made that year by the Brew Crew when they acquired C.C. Sabathia for the stretch run. Sabathia was fantastic for the Brewers, posting an 11-2 record with a 1.65 ERA and 3 shutouts to close out the 2008 season. The move to get Durham solidified their lineup and provided a boost from a position that had been struggling at the plate. He would score 21 runs in 41 games, and hit .280 over that stretch. He hit just .125 in the post season that year, which would be his final major league games. Following the 2008 season, Durham was offered a minor league deal to play in the Nats organization, but he chose to retire as a major leaguer.

Durham was a tremendously talented base stealer, and hit for power from the lead off spot. He retired as Chicago's All-Time leader in lead-off homers, and his 273 steals ranks in the top 200 among all major leaguers. He posted a career power-speed number of 225.4, good for 68th All-Time. This stat favors players that can both run and hit for power. Let's hear some of your best Ray Durham stories!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Not-So-Arbitrary Arbitrary Collection - Decade By Decade

So here we have the last page in this mini-collection - showing the zero year from each decade of Topps. I'll be adding another card to this page in a few months, but will I ever finish the page? Will there still be Topps cards in 2040? 2030?

A look at the backs, to give a clear idea of how printing and design has changed over the decades. I may opt to swap out card #70 at some point, as the backs of most 1970 Topps cards have a different look to them. The 1980 set is my favorite design of these 6, but I have to say that 1990 Topps has grown on me a little after repeated viewings. 1960 Topps is of course known as the last fully horizontal set (though my favorite cards from that set are the vertical Manager cards). What is your favorite zero year set?

Monday, December 9, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Right Handed Pitcher Hideo Nomo

The Dodgers were no strangers to great pitching (like Koufax), and no strangers to phenoms (like Fernandomania). With Hideo Nomo, they once again found a player that elevated the game. Nomo came to the Los Angeles Dodgers as just the second Japanese-born player in MLB history. And unlike Masanori Murakami in the 1960s, Nomo came to the United States with no contractual restrictions. Nomo was here to stay.

Nomo was the clear favorite for National League Rookie of the Year, and not just because he played for the Dodgers. Following in the footsteps of Karros, Piazza, and Mondesi, Nomo won Rookie of the Year honors leading the National League in Strikeouts and Shutouts. He broke the Dodger rookie record for Ks, and his 11.1 K/9 rate broke Sandy Koufax's team record. The only factor working against him for the award was the debate over whether or not the 26 year old was truly a "rookie" having excelled for years in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.

In Japan, he had been passed over in the 1988 NPB draft due to "poor control," but he would perfect his signature forkball in the Industrial League in Japan, representing Nippon Steel in Osaka. His performance earned him a spot on Team Japan in the 1988 Olympic games, which finally drew the attention of NPB clubs.
Nomo debuted in professional ball in 1990, leading the league in Strikeouts with 287. Over his 5 seasons in the NPB with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Nomo had 13 shutouts and struck out over 1200 batters in just over 1000 innings pitched. In 1994, Nomo was hurt for much of the year, and pitching for a new coach who believed in pitching through pain. The new coach was an All-Time Great NPB pitcher who commanded a great deal of respect. At the same time, Nomo was eagerly hoping to prove his abilities against a new set of challenges. After consulting with agents in the United States, Nomo opted to retire from the NPB at the age of 26. The rules of the league allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent for any other league. Kintetsu would retain his rights if he returned to pitching in the NPB.

The Dodgers would wring all they could from Nomo's arm, having him toss an average of 200+ innings in his first 4 seasons. Nomo would not reach the dizzying heights of his rookie campaign again, but he would continue to strike out batters at a blistering clip. He joined Dwight Gooden as the only two MLB pitchers to strike out 200+ batters in each of his first 3 seasons. In 1996, Nomo made history again, tossing a no-hitter at Coors Field (this is before the humidor was installed, by the way.). He is still the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter in the rare air of Colorado.

As a hitter? Well, no one would confuse him for Shohei Ohtani, though he would find some power later in his career. He would hit his first MLB home run in 1998, just months before being traded to the New York Mets.

Nomo would bounce around the league after leaving the Dodgers, but he would continue his assault on the all-time strikeout leaderboard. In 1999, Nomo reached 1,000 career strikeouts. He was 3rd fastest to reach the milestone in MLB history. Nomo would also lead the AL in Ks in 2001 pitching for the Red Sox. He would also toss another no hitter, becoming just the 4th pitcher to toss a no-hitter in both leagues. The 2001 No-hitter came at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and he is the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter at that ballpark, too!

Nomo would return to LA beginning in 2002, and he would pitch for 3 more seasons in Southern Califonia. His career in a Dodgers' uniform included an 81-66 record and 1,200 Ks in 1,217 innings.

After being becoming a free agent before the 2005 season, Nomo signed with Tampa Bay and had a less than Nomo-like season, and he was released after 19 starts. That number is significant, as Nomo was due an additional $700,000 if he made 20 starts for the Rays. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal and he finished out the year at their AAA affiliate. He would spend 2006 with the White Sox organization, but did not get a call-up.

His career appeared to be over, but he would appear in the Venezuelan Winter League pitching for his former catcher, now manager Carlos Hernandez. He signed a minor league deal in 2008 with Kansas City, and would make 3 relief appearances for the Royals before being designated for assignment. He would retire officially in July of 2008, with over 200 victories combined between the NPB and MLB. He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

What are your favorite Hideo Nomo stories?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Not-So-Arbitrary Arbitrary Collection - the 2010s

Now we are catching up with the present-day with this series- here is 2011 through 2019. I switched back to double digit numbers to fill this page, which gets us Votto, Devers and deGrom!

Here are the backs, and it looks like Topps has gotten very comfortable with this format- banner on top with name, team, position and card number, followed by a little blurb. A sampling of stats follows, then you've got to give the remaining real estate to the legal department. In my opinion, the 2015 set with its varied colored borders is my favorite of the bunch. The 2019 entry is pretty good too, with a not so subtle nod to the 1982 set. Do you have a favorite set of the 2010s? Do you think the backs are getting stale?

Monday, December 2, 2019

1995 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Garret Anderson

Topps had a host of talented rookie outfielders to choose from in 1995 for their All-Star Rookie Team. AL Rookie of the Year Marty Cordova may have had a better season, but runner-up Garret Anderson was building a resume towards a fantastic career.  The Sporting News did name Anderson as the Rookie of the Year for 1995.

Anderson played in 106 games that season, and finished the season with a hearty .321 batting average. That mark was fueled by a torrid month of July, in which Garret was not only the top rookie, but was named AL Player of the Month for the whole league. He knocked out 19 doubles and smashed 16 homers.

Garret was a 3-sport star in high school in Granada Hills, California - as a Junior he helped lead his team to a Los Angeles City Championship. He was drafted in the 4th Round in 1990 by the Angels, and he made quick work of the minor leagues, climbing a level each year. He was never considered a top prospect in the minors, finishing as the #93 overall prospect in his final minor league season.

Anderson made his MLB debut in July of 1994, going 2-4 against the Oakland A's, with his first MLB hit coming off Starting Pitcher Ron Darling. Anderson appeared in just 5 games for the Angels in 1994, spending the bulk of the season at AAA Vancouver.

Anderson would go on to become one of the Angels' All-Time greats, finishing his 15 year tenure for the Halos as their all-time hits, runs, RBI, and total bases leader. Anderson developed his power over the years, with big numbers in 2002 and 2003. He would win the Silver Slugger award both years, making the All-Star team both seasons as well. Anderson was a key piece of the Angels' Championship Run in 2002 as well.  The injury bug would strike starting in 2004, and Anderson would lose some home run power but continued to hit near the .300 mark for several more seasons.

Following the 2008 season, the Angels would let Anderson go to free agency. He would sign with Atlanta and had another typical season for the doubles happy hitter, though his batting average had dipped to just .268.

Anderson would return to Southern California for his final MLB season, playing 80 games for the Dodgers, primarily as a pinch hitter. He would officially retire as an Angel in 2011, and was inducted into the Angels' Hall of Fame in 2016.

Anderson was a prolific hitter, and was historically unwilling to take a walk when a hit could be had instead. Anderson never drew more than 38 walks in a single season, despite being the Angels' all-time leader in plate appearances. In fact he had more homers than walks in both 2000 and 2001.

Do you have any good Garret Anderson stories?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Not-So-Arbitrary Arbitrary Collection - the 2000s

The legend continues! Seeing Hideo Nomo in a Detroit Tigers uniform is a little jarring, but for the most part these guys are in familiar places. The Pirates and the Giants appear two times apiece. The Jack Wilson card is a fantastic shot.

You'll notice that for the 2000s, I am pulling cards in the 200s from the checklist, rather than starting over with #1... Just making a different choice here on these. I was a fan of the backs in 2001 - 2003. The 2003 cards remind me a bit of the 1984 set, which had my favorite card backs of the 1980s. I think 2003 and 2004 have my favorite designs overall from this decade. How about you? What is your favorite design of the 2000s?