Monday, November 2, 2020

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Ben Grieve


Many profiles of our next Topps All-Star Rookie want to know "What happened to Ben Grieve?" If you follow the trajectory of many phenoms / "can't miss" prospects, his story is probably a familiar one. Grieve had an MLB lineage (his father was a first round pick, too), to go along with a stellar prep career that had the scouts ready to fall all over themselves. Grieve backed up the hype in his rookie season with the A's - he set a franchise record for hits by a rookie, and made the MLB All-Star team en route to Rookie of the Year honors in the AL. Of course, that made him an ideal candidate for the Topps All-Star Rookie squad as well.

To give some perspective about how highly the A's thought of Grieve, he had more plate appearances that season than Rickey Henderson. Grieve's 41 doubles led the A's, as did his 168 base hits. Just 22 years old, Grieve was ready to take his place in Oakland A's history. 

The Oakland A's selected Grieve #2 Overall out of high school in Arlington, TX. He grew up with his father Tom Grieve as a 9 year veteran MLB pitcher and later coach and GM. Ben's older brother Tim was also a talented pitcher, and Ben even got the chance to face off against him in the minor leagues. The MLB connection included getting hitting instruction from the then Texas Rangers hitting coach Tom Robson while Ben was in high school. 

As prospects go, few were hotter than Grieve - he was the 1997 Minor League Player of the Year, have forced his way onto the MLB roster to finish the season. He slugged .610 with 24 homers in double A, then surpassed that with a SLG north of .700 in a handful of games in AAA Edmonton. He had already made an impression in 1996, hitting .356 for the season in Modesto. There was little doubt that Grieve was on his way to star status.

Despite the fact that Grieve's 1998 season was his only All-Star Appearance, his entire A's career was a success. Grieve follow up his Rookie of the Year campaign with a career high 28 homers. In 2000 he once again reached 40 doubles, this time with 27 homers, making it the highest slugging of his MLB career to date. He also topped 100 RBI for the first time, finishing the year with 104. That season marked his first appearance in post season play, where he struggled with a 2-17 with 7 strikeouts performance in the ALDS against the Yankees. Over the first 3 full seasons in the big leagues, Grieve was averaging 35 doubles, 25 homers, and over 90 RBI. 

Before the 2001 season began, Grieve was traded to Tampa in a wild three team deal that sent Johnny Damon to Oakland, Angel Berroa and Roberto Hernandez to Kansas City, along with several other players flipping between Oakland and KC. Grieve was the lone player coming to Tampa Bay, and they certainly thought they were getting a steal. It's about this time when people started the "what happened to Ben Grieve" narratives, with his first season with Rays just 11 homers and a 100 point drop in his slugging percentage. After the trade, Grieve had gone from second banana behind Jason Giambi to top dog in Tampa. He was hitting 5th in the order after an older Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn. He was making less contact in Tampa (certainly the roof in St. Pete was less inviting than California sun), setting a career high with 159 strikeouts. The positives? He still rattled off a pair of 30 double seasons, and his walk rate had improved considerably. Maybe the opposition was willing (and able) to pitch around Grieve now that he was the main focus of the lineup? 2003 added injury to insult, as a blood clot in his shoulder required surgery. He would play in just 55 games that year, his last in Tampa. 

He was entering a free agent season after the injury, and was left with fewer options than a former ROY would normally expect. He landed in Milwaukee, where he was used in platoon situations for 108 games. He was on the move again the next year, taking a brief tour of the NL Central division. While the Pirates signed him initially, he would end up playing for the Cubs for a handful of games in 2004 and 2005. He moved to the south side after that, playing minor league ball for the White Sox for two more seasons. 

Do you have any Ben Grieve memories? I'd love to read them in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

I Love the 80s - 1982 Montreal Expos

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!

The Expos clinched their first ever Playoff berth in 1981, despite the team's manager Dick Williams being fired in September by the front office with the team just a game and a half behind the Cardinals in the standings. They would lose 3 of the first 5 games under new skipper Jim Fanning, but squeaked out a narrow half game lead over the Cardinals by the end of the second half. They would go on to beat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in the Divisional round, but fell in 5 games to the Dodgers in the NLCS. The franchise would not return to the post season until after the team moved to Washington, D.C.

Despite missing the playoffs in 1982, the Expos were still a very good team, led by a trio of Hall of Famers. Carter, Dawson, and Raines were joined by fellow Expos Al Oliver and ace pitcher Steve Rogers in the All-Star Game. It was hosted for the first time outside of the United States and the only time in Montreal. Rogers pitched well and recorded the win. Ultimately the team finished third in the standings, behind the Cardinals and Phillies in the NL East. Despite the talented trio and more young players on the way, the team never finished higher than 3rd for the rest of the 80s. 

The Cards:

Donruss #114 Gary Carter - By 1982, "The Kid" was a veteran and a team leader. He was just about midway through a run of 10 consecutive All-Star appearances, and took home his 3rd straight Gold Glove and 2nd Silver Slugger award. He paced the Expos with 29 homers, and led the NL in WAR with 8.6 for the season. His final season in Montreal, 1984, he led the NL in RBI, won his 2nd All-Star MVP award, and posted a career high 175 hits. He'd go on to post season glory following a trade to the Mets, winning the World Series in 1986. Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 6th year of eligibility. His 2,056 games caught ranks 4th All-Time in MLB history.

O-Pee-Chee #379 Andre Dawson - I had to break out the OPC for the Canadian teams! Andre, just like Gary, was celebrating 1982 with his 3rd Gold Glove and had appeared in his 2nd of 8 All-Star games. Dawson had the 2nd Highest WAR in the NL just behind Carter, with 7.9 wins above replacement. He played a sterling center field, including 7 outfield assists that year. He led the NL twice in that category from Center Field. He was the 1977 Rookie of the Year in the NL, thanks to displaying skills at all phases of the game. Before injuries sapped his speed, Dawson would average more than 30 steals and nearly 25 homers a year in his prime. He showed his worth again in his first year in Chicago, winning the MVP in the NL by virtue of leading the league in Homers (49) and RBI (137). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his 9th year of eligibility, with voters citing his lower career totals compared to his healthier peers as a stumbling block. His speed, power, and grace on the field would not be denied!

Topps #3 Tim Raines - While Rickey was dominating the AL on the bases and leading off year after year, it was Tim Raines showing many of the same skills in Montreal. In 1981, Raines had a triple slash of .304/.391/.438 and stole 71 bases in just 88 games (remember, this was a strike shortened season, and Raines was a mid-year call-up!)! Just like his HOF brothers-in-arms, Raines was embarking on a string of numerous All-Star appearances in 1982. It would be his 2nd of 7 straight mid-summer classics. He led the NL in runs scored twice, won a batting title (and OBP title) in 1986, and was the top base stealer in the NL for 4 straight years starting in his rookie campaign. He'd steal at least 10 bases every year for 15 consecutive seasons. He ranks 5th All-Time in the category, with 808 career steals. Raines would have to wait the maximum period of 10 years on the HOF ballot before his induction - he never finished higher than 5th in MVP balloting, didn't have post season success in his prime (though he was a key piece of the 1996 and 98 Yankees teams), and didn't hit for power or reach the 3,000 hit milestone. His final year of eligibility included a successful campaign on behalf of OBP, stolen base %, and the value of a player who rarely got himself out. 

Topps #131 Stan Bahnsen - The 1968 AL Rookie of the year was coming to the end of long and winding road in the big leagues, which included a 20 win season followed by a 20 loss season, and 5 different franchises. 1981 would be his last of 5 seasons in Montreal. He came to the team mid way through 1977 from Oakland, and spent the rest of the year as a member of the starting rotation. He converted to the bullpen in 1978, and had several successful years in that role for the Expos. In 1981, Bahnsen would make his first post season appearance after 15 MLB seasons. He faced 5 batters and retired 4 of them in relief in the NLDS against the Phillies. Like many pitchers to have his staying power, Bahnsen learned how to pitch rather than just throw, as evidenced by the evolution of his nicknames. When he arrived in Yankee pinstripes, he was called "Bahnsen Burner" for his high 90s fastball. Towards the end of his career, he became known as "Stanley Struggle" for getting himself into and then out of jams through wits and guile. He went on to pitch in the Senior League, then in the Netherlands (the first former MLB player to do so).

Fleer #196 Brad Mills - One of the more iconic cards in the 1982 Fleer set, Mills is blowing a big bubble in the dugout. Mills was a rarely used utility infielder for the Expos, playing in 106 total games from 1980 through 1983, giving him plenty of time to work on his chewing gum skills. 1980 was the same year that Mills started professional baseball, going from single A up to the big league club that year. He would play in AAA for several seasons after his last MLB game in 1983. Following an injury that ended his playing career, Mills became a coach and then manager. He led the PCL Colorado Springs Sky Sox to a pennant in 1995, and later managed the Houston Astros for 2 and a half seasons. He's been a close confidant and bench coach in recent years of Cleveland skipper Terry Francona, though Mills sat out during the 2020 season to limit his exposure to the Coronavirus.

Donruss #650 Felipe Alou - Alou joined the Expos organization briefly as a player in 1973, then as a batting coach following his playing career in 1976. Alou would work his way up the ranks with the Expos, and stuck with the franchise even though he was offered a chance to manage the San Francisco Giants in 1985. He would get his chance in Montreal in 1992, and would be the skipper for arguably the best team in Franchise history in 1994. Though the strike ended the season prematurely, the Expos had their lone 1st place finish in Montreal that year. The strike eliminated the chance for the team to play in the post season, and they would not make it back under Alou, who remained the manager until 2001. He retired but was given another shot in San Francisco and led the Giants to a 100 win season in his first year with the club. After his final year as manager in 2003, he continued to work with the club as an instructor and as special assistant to the general manager. 

Topps Traded #7T Tim Blackwell -  Sporting one of the best moustaches of the 1980s, Tim Blackwell was a talented reserve catcher for several teams. He also had a brief period of time as the primary receiver for the Chicago Cubs, posting career highs across the board in 1980. He was drafted in 1970 by the Red Sox, and worked his way into a solid and dependable reserve role while learning the finer points of the game. This would come in handy in his next career choice, managing several minor league teams across all levels. He led the 1991 Columbia Mets and the 1993 Saint Paul Saints to league titles, and finished in 1st place 2 other times. 1982 was his first year in Montreal, and backing up Gary Carter meant not much playing time. He did manage to strikeout against Nolan Ryan in 1983, allowing Ryan to tie Walter Johnson's then record. Ryan would start his own record with the next batter, striking out Brad Mills for #3,509.

O-Pee-Chee #191 Tim Wallach - Like many Montreal Expos, Wallach was under the radar for much of his career. A first round pick in 1979 out of Cal State Fullerton, Wallach played 13 seasons for the Expos, amassing over 1,600 hits and driving in over 900 runs for the team north of the border. He wasn't totally ignored, however, winning 3 gold gloves and appearing on 5 All-Star rosters in his Expos career. His best season was 1987, when he finished 4th in the MVP race behind his former teammate Andre Dawson. That year he led the NL in Doubles while hitting a career high .298 and driving 123 runs. His output may have been directly tied to Dawson's absence in the heart of the Expos order, but he rose to the challenge. He would return to California to close out his career in Dodger blue and a brief stop with the Angels sandwiched between two stints in Chavez Ravine. His 2,054 games played at 3rd base ranks 11th All-Time at the position. He became a coach after his playing career ended and has followed Don Mattingly from the Dodgers to the Marlins as a bench coach. He opted to leave the Marlins for the 2020 season to seek a job in baseball closer to his California home. His son Chad currently plays for the Marlins. 

Fleer #194 Bill Lee - "The Spaceman" was spotted in Canada following a 1979 trade. The crafty and kooky lefty was the team's most successful starter that year, going 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA, his most victories since his heyday with the Red Sox in 1973-74-75. Lee would convert to bullpen duty and showed promise in that role as well, with an excellent run in 1981, posting a 2.94 ERA over 88 innings for the post season bound Expos. His time in Montreal (and his MLB career) came to an abrupt end in 1982 after just 7 games. Lee walked out (in full uniform) in protest for the release of Rodney Scott on May 5, 1982. Scott was one of Lee's best friends on the team, and Lee felt that manager Jim Fanning was exercising a personal grudge against Scott rather than solely a baseball decision. Following his MLB playing career, Lee wrote his (first) autobiography, then continued to pitch semi-professionally for a variety of teams and leagues. At age 65 in 2012, he pitched a complete game for a team in San Rafael, CA.

What is your favorite card of a Montreal Expo from 1982? Doesn't have to be one of these...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Topps NOW 2020 Post-Season Minnesota Twins Team Set


The Topps NOW post season set arrived today in the mail, let's catch up and see how the Twins did!

oh. oh no. They did not do well.

The bad news started before the games even began, with Josh Donaldson aggravating his calf injury during the final week, and not being named to the post season roster.

Byron Buxton played Game 1 despite lingering issues from a concussion suffered during the final weekend of games, then missed most of Game 2 save for a pinch running appearance where he looked visibly groggy. He was picked off first to end a possible scoring chance late.

The good news? Well, the Twins did have a much better starting rotation in 2020, allowing the 2nd fewest runs in the AL during the shortened season. The only problem? The starters don't pitch all nine innings, and they don't field every position either. Maeda and Berrios combined for 10 innings and just 1 run allowed. The bullpen, on the other hand, gave up 6 runs in 8 innings.

Game 1 was a very close contest until Jorge Polanco's error - he fielded a ground ball cleanly, but his throw to Luis Arraez at second pulled him off the bag, resulting in no outs. Houston took advantage and once they saw a small crack of daylight, they pounded down the door on the bullpen, some of the damage was self inflicted (a bases loaded walk by Sergio Romo). 

Luis Arraez was playing on a bad knee, just like 2019 nursing an injury that came late in the season at the worst possible time. He went 0-6 with a pair of walks. Sano, Kepler and Rosario went a combined 1-19, with the icing on the cake coming with Rosario getting himself ejected from Game 2 arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire.

The Twins set a record for futility by failing to win a game, extending their streak to 18 games lost, which is almost beyond comprehension. 

A "sign" that things were not to be this year? Topps did not offer an autograph version of the Twins team set, despite offering auto versions of most of the other 16 post season teams. That's fine, I saved a little money. 

Did your team make the playoffs this year? Would you like to see 16 teams again in 2021, or should it be returned to just the division winners and a pair of Wild Card teams? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trans-Atlantic Triple Break: 2020 Diamond Kings

Matthew and Kevin and I have been sharing hobby boxes for a few seasons now give or take, and one box that always proves to be a fun break is the Diamond Kings brand from Panini/Donruss. Matthew did the honors and broke a 2020 box, with each of us taking two divisions. 

I selected the NL West and the AL Central (gotta chase those Twins!). Diamond Kings comes with a base set of 100 cards and an additional 70 short print base cards. all have the canvas texture and oil painting treatment seen above. As is common for Panini, there are no MLB team logos as the Topps Company has exclusive rights with MLB. The cards are all most likely based on existing photographs, then photoshopped to create that distinct look. 

The card backs this year eliminate the stat line completely - no yearly or career totals are provided. Instead, each card has a short paragraph about the player, usually providing some statistical information along the way. 

Diamond Kings is known for vibrant and inserts, usually featuring a theme that celebrates the visual arts. "The 3000" is a series all about members of the 3,000 hit club. 

I always say a successful break is when we can send all the hits away to each other. I was the lucky winner of the relic in the hobby box, and it is none other than the early front runner for World Series MVP and two-time Doritos Locos Taco Champ, Mookie Betts! Bat Kings is a very matter of fact name for this insert set, which features Bat relics for players in the Diamond Kings set. Bat + Kings = Bat Kings. 

And of course, I have to share the Twins! This is "late career Twins" Bert, with the thick beard he grew in  Pittsburgh and kept throughout the 80s. His first several seasons in MN in the 1970s featured a fresh face. Also, each team in the league had an "All-Time Diamond King," and this year it fell to Harmon Killebrew, who was previously featured as the puzzle in 1991 Leaf packs. They might consider bringing the puzzle back, that might be fun? Or even as an insert set- they could be regular cards, but with jigsaw designs superimposed like a completed puzzle? Overall, I like Diamond Kings, and I just wish they would take these concepts a little further. Sometimes the ideas for the set and the inserts seem unfinished, like the bottom left corner of all of the base cards... All in all a fun break!

Matt never stops there though,  and this time he brings out the big guns, helping me build my fledgling Barry Sanders collection with this awesome patch card! LaDanian Tomlinson is great too. The last time I won a fantasy football league he was on my team...

Last but not least - Big Papi! Sorry for the blurry image, I scanned this without taking it out of the one touch holder. I have lots of autos of "little Papi" (fellow former Twin Kennys Vargas) - but this is my first solo David Ortiz signature. Big Papi will be on the HOF ballot starting in 2021, and it's too early to tell if the rumors of PEDs will keep him out, or if the % of his career spent solely as a DH will hurt his candidacy, but he certainly will get a lot of discussion!

Thanks Matt for another great break!

Do you like 2020 Diamond Kings? If you were making an insert set for Diamond Kings (or Topps Gallery), what would it look like?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Twins in the World Series!!


Uh, well, former Twins anyway. The Rays and the Twins have been mutually poaching each other's coaching ranks and bullpens in recent years, with Rocco Baldelli coming from TB to MIN, and a series of arms heading south to Tampa. Aaron Slegers was a 5th round pick by the Twins, known mostly for his height as a prospect and his high velocity. The Twins lost him on waivers to the Pirates before the 2019 season, and he was picked up by Tampa when the Pirates tried to keep him without adding him to the 40-Man roster. So far this post season he's appeared in 3 games, and held opponents to just 1 run and struck out three batters.

John Curtiss was picked by the Twins one year and one round later than Slegers, though made their MLB debut for Minnesota in 2017. Curtiss reached career highs in appearances and innings this year in Tampa. He left the Twins in 2019 in a trade with the Angels for a low A infielder prospect, Daniel Ozoria, who may or may not have continued to develop in 2020... Curtiss came to Tampa as a free agent. He had a rough time against the Yankees in the ALDS, but bounced back with 4 appearances in the ALCS, allowing just 1 run on a solo homer while striking out 4 batters in 4.1 innings. 

The Twins losing Nick Anderson hurts. The Twins signed Anderson as a minor league free agent in  2015, and he climbed the organizational ladder from Low-A Cedar Rapids up to AAA Rochester, showing impressive numbers at each stop along the way.

There was a roster crunch following the 2018 season, Anderson could have been added to the 40-Man roster but instead the Twins opted to trade the Minnesota-born reliever to the Marlins. They gave him up for another lower level prospect, like the Curtiss trade. Hard to know if the return, infielder Brian Schales, with develop the promising power from his final year in the Miami org. Schales played in three different levels for the Twins in 2019 including AAA, but appeared in just 52 total games. Nick Anderson, on the other hand, was ready to make a big league impact and was a Topps All-Star Rookie, thanks to a 110/18 K/BB rate. Anderson led the Rays in saves in 2020, and had a 0.55 ERA for the season in 19 appearances. his ERA+ was 780. That's not a typo, seven hundred eighty. 100 is league average. Anderson came to Tampa in a mid season trade with the Marlins, that sent the Rays "Opener" specialist Ryne Stanek across the state.

Just one former Twin on the L.A. side, righty fireballer Brusdar Graterol. He originally was going to Boston in a three team deal, the Red Sox were getting Graterol and Alex Verdugo for Mookie Betts and David Price, and the Twins were going to get Kenta Maeda. Instead, Boston decided there was something they didn't like in Graterol's medicals, so they opted to complete a trade with LA that left out the Twins. Lucky for everyone involved, the Twins and Dodgers did come to a separate deal, with the Twins adding Luke Raley, and the Dodgers adding Jair Camargo. Raley was making a homecoming of sorts, as the Dodgers originally drafted him in 2014. Camargo will be a 22 year old catching prospect in 2021. 

Graterol has provided one of the most entertaining highlights of the postseason. Pitching against the Padres, Brusdar avoided a big inning and celebrated the final out by launching his glove and hat at his own dugout and pointing to the heavens. This prompted some spirited debate from former Dodger Manny Machado, who had just made the final out of the inning. Graterol responded to Machado's Machismo by blowing him kisses on the way back to his dugout, and ultimately cooler heads prevailed. 

Graterol made a one appearance in each of the first 3 rounds without allowing a run, but had a little trouble in the NLCS, allowing 3 runs to score in Game 4 while recording just one out. Other than that blip, he's tossed 6.1 shutout innings for the Dodgers in the post season.

I would be sad about that trade (and maybe I still will be later), but I think Twins fans should agree that it was worth it!

Monday, October 12, 2020

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Outfielder Mark Kotsay


In College, Mark Kotsay was the Big Man on Campus, starring for the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the 1995 College World Series. In 1998 with the Marlins, he looked like he might be a fish out of water. Young and unproven, Kotsay was given the tall order of taking over Right Field in place of Gary Sheffield. He finished the season with more games played than any other Marlin, and was near the top of the list in most of the team's offensive leaderboards. His 20 outfield assists were the most in the National League. You better believe that was enough to make Mark a member of the 1998 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

Kotsay found success at every level of play - in 1994 he played in the Cape Cod league following his freshman year at baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. 1995 saw him set a record with a .517 average in the 1995 College World Series. His team would win their 3rd straight CWS, and he walked away with the Golden Spikes award. In 1996, he was selected by the Marlins as the #9 Overall pick in the June draft, played on Team USA in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and made his pro debut for the Kane County Cougars. By 1997, he had made it all the way up to the big leagues for a two week cup of coffee in July. The Marlins organization had big plans for Kotsay - little did he know that the team would win it all in 1997 - then blow it all up for the next season, totally re-making the outfield from the season before.

Kotsay would play 3 full seasons for the Marlins, playing a combo of Centerfield, Right, and 1st base. He didn't have the power numbers he displayed in college, but he definitely still had the contact skills. Kotsay was used near the top of the lineup and he piled up the hits. In the field, he continued to show off a cannon for an arm, leading the NL in assists in his rookie year and again in 1999. He would be traded to San Diego just before the 2001 season began. 

The Padres made Kotsay their everyday Centerfielder, and he continued to display line drive power to the gaps and excellent contact numbers. His outfield assists dwindled down to just 4 in his first season in San Diego, but that was mostly due to the word getting around that trying to take the extra base against him would usually end in embarrassment for the runner. From 2002 through 2004 he would again lead the league in assists as a Centerfielder, surpassing double digits each year. 2002 would also prove to be one of his best offensive seasons, hitting .292 with 17 homers and a 122 OPS+. Following the 2003 season, Kotsay was on the move again, as the Oakland A's traded Terrance Long and Ramon Hernandez to make him their leadoff man and centerfielder. 

Kotsay responded with a career high 190 hits, which was the most by a lefty in Oakland in more than 40 years. He also set a career high batting average, hitting .314 despite playing half of his games with the huge foul territory in Oakland, known to suppress those stats. One reason he was so successful in Oakland was his ability to limit strikeouts. In 2005 he struck out at a rate of once per 11.4 ABs, which was the 2nd best K rate in the American League. He'd get his first taste of post season play in 2006, hitting a home run against the Twins in the ALDS, and adding 4 more hits in the ALCS in a losing effort against the Tigers. The injury bug bit him in 2007, playing in just 56 games and a career low .214 average over that span. 

Kotsay was on the move again after that lost season, traded to Atlanta in January. He'd have a rare highlight for Atlanta in August of 2008, going 5-5 and hitting for the cycle. With Atlanta uncharacteristically out of post season contention, Kotsay was dealt again mid-season, going to the Red Sox to help their playoff push. Kotsay was happy to join Boston, as he listed playing in a World Series as his few remaining goals. He was quoted as saying after the trade "the respect of your peers is what you play the game for, and nothing else." He was eager for another shot at a championship with a talented team. He provided depth in the outfield and a valuable bat in the post season, hitting .300 in the ALDS and adding 7 more hits in the ALCS, but the Red Sox were bounced out by the Rays. He would be used as a reserve in 2009 by the Red Sox, then was dealt at the trade deadline again to Chicago. With the White Sox, he would spend more time as a DH than at any time in his career, and was no longer the everyday player he once was. His reputation was that of a "grinder / gamer" but at this point his goal was to provide leadership and defense when called upon. He'd get another post season shot in 2011 with Milwaukee reaching the LCS again, but falling just shy of the World Series.

He'd finish out his career back in San Diego, closer to his wife and kids in Southern California. He had been not so subtly hinting at a reunion for the past few years with the Padres, stating in an interview that he would call the team himself and inquire about an opening in the offseason. The veteran leadership would segue perfectly into coaching. He would retire in 2014, then return in 2015 as the Padres new hitting coach. He would move on to Oakland in 2015 as a bench coach, and recently has been one of the top names for managerial jobs in Boston, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh recently. Another spot opened up today on the South Side, could he be in line again for the role?

For his MLB career, Kotsay had 1,784 hits, scored 790 runs and drove in 720 more. He had 123 outfield assists, and was widely regarded as one of the better outfield defenders in the league by his peers. He was named to the Omaha (College World Series) Hall of Fame in 2014, and was named College Baseball's Player of the Decade for the 1990s. 

Do you have any Mark Kotsay memories? I'd love to read them in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

I Love the 80s - 1982 New York Yankees

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!

George Steinbrenner found a way to alienate just about everybody with his drive to win championships. The fact that he wanted to win was understandable-  the way he went about it drove the people that were tasked with winning those championships to the edge. In 1981, the team had a pair of future Hall of Fame superstars. One was in the final year of a historic contract, the other had barely seen the ink dry on his. Intentionally or not, Steinbrenner spent the summer of 1981 driving these two stars apart. He effusively praised the newly signed Dave Winfield, while slamming the proven post-season hero Reggie Jackson throughout the regular season. When the team, loaded with talent on offense and on the mound, made their way to another fall classic, victory was in the grasp of Steinbrenner again. However, Winfield's bat had gone cold, and Jackson was inexplicably left out of the lineup for 3 of the 6 contests. 

Steinbrenner's tactic then was lambast them both, driving Reggie out of New York and making Dave Winfield miserable just one year into his ten year deal.

1982 was the end of the "Reggie" era, and Mr. October took the postseason with him. 1981 would be the only World Series appearance of the decade for the Bronx Bombers. The decline of the 1982 team can be traced to Steinbrenner as well - he was more than willing to admit it. The team had three different managers, five pitching coaches, and four hitting coaches. They made a whirlwind of transactions throughout the season, making it difficult for the team to establish any kind of rhythm. The team was no doubt talented, with many of the same veterans forming the core of the prior AL championship roster. They finished 1982 with a losing record, the franchise's first since 1973- which as it happens was the year Steinbrenner first took ownership of the team. Their 9 game losing streak during the season has not been topped again by a Yankee team. One bright spot for the team saw the debut of 21 year old Don Mattingly, who would become the team's captain for the next decade plus. 

The Cards:
Fleer #53 Aurelio Rodriguez - The 1976 Gold Glove winner at third base was certainly known more for his defense than his hitting prowess, but the original A-Rod put on quite the display in the 1981 World Series. His .417 average (5/12) was better than most of the Yankee lineup. During the regular season he was a seldom used utility player, though he did hit a career best .346 when called upon. In the 70s he was a regular at third for the Tigers, and had it not been for playing the same position as Brooks Robinson, he might have had a few more trophies to display. He was regularly among the top ranked 3rd baseman in Range Factor, putouts, assists, double plays turned, and defensive WAR. After his MLB career, he returned to Mexico, where he continued his career as a player then manager. He was elected to Mexico's Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.

Topps #553 Dave Winfield - In 1982, Winfield hit a career high 37 homers, won his 3rd Gold Glove, his 2nd Silver Slugger, and was named to the All-Star team for the 6th straight season. And yet, the season was viewed by Steinbrenner as a failure. Winfield had been playing with a chip on his shoulder after being christened as "Mr. May" by the Yankees owner, but the abuse had yet to reach its apex. Winfield would continue to perform well on the field throughout the 80s, but the team as a whole was not able to make progress towards the ultimate goal of another World Series win. Winfield of course was just as hungry for it as anyone else-- maybe even more so given that he had only made one post season appearance in his career, and it went about as poorly as it possibly could have. Although he never finished higher than 3rd in the MVP balloting, Winfield was a complete player and a star for his entire big league career. He had over 3,000 hits, over 1,800 RBI, and combined 465 homers with 223 stolen bases. He would reach the World Series again before his career ended, winning it all with the Toronto Blue Jays. His 2 run double in the top of the 11th inning of game 6 proved to be the series clincher, making the long journey that much sweeter. 

Fleer #30 Bobby Brown - One of the first of a flurry of trades made by the Yankees in 1982 involved sending Bobby Brown along with three others to Seattle for Shane Rawley. Brown had a rough 1981, playing in just 31 games for the Yankees, and hitting just .226. But speed never slumps, and in Seattle he would crack the league leaderboard with 28 stolen bases. This was doubly impressive given that Brown was used as the team's fourth outfielder. He came to the Yankees from Toronto, and in 1979 was the International League MVP. His best MLB season came the following year, when he hit 14 homers and stole 27 bases. He was also part of the 1984 NL champion Padres squad, and was asked to fill in for the injured Kevin McReynolds. Brown had just 1 hit in 15 at bats in the World Series, then hit just .115 for the Padres in 1985, his final MLB season. He started an ice cream shop in Atlantic City with Jerry Mumphrey after he retired. 

Topps #301 Reggie Jackson -  There was very little action in New York for Reggie Jackson in 1982, as the team failed to extend his contract. George Steinbrenner told Reggie he was too old, so it was not a difficult decision to return to California, now with the Angels. Jackson immediately elevated the team's status as a post season contender. He led the AL in homers, out pacing his former teammate Winfield by a pair of round trippers. He also led the league in strikeouts for 5th time, but that was not concerning to Reggie, he was more focused on the bigger picture. He helped the Angels to a division title (the second in their franchise history), and would keep the team in contention for the next 4 years. He wasn't exactly joining a rag tag bunch of losers, but "The straw the stirs the drink" was the missing piece for a division championship. He joined 1979 MVP Don Baylor, 1977 MVP Rod Carew, 1975 MVP Fred Lynn and the criminally underrated foursome of Brian Downing, Bob Boone, Doug DeCinces, and Bobby Grich. The 82 Angels were a very good team!

Donruss #199 Rick Cerone - Rick was the prototypical journeyman/backup/platoon catcher, playing for 8 different teams in his career. New York was his most frequent stop, as a favorite of Steinbrenner in particular, despite blurting out a hearty F-bomb directed at George following a post season defeat in 1981. Cerone was the primary catcher for the Yankees that year, and again in 1982 prior to the trade for Butch Wynegar from Minnesota. He had his best season in 1980, when he hit 14 homers, drove in 85 runs and finished 7th in the AL MVP balloting. He was a first round pick in 1975 by Cleveland, and made his MLB debut that same year. For his career, he had 998 hits and 59 homers. He founded the independent Newark Bears baseball team in 1998, and sold them in 2003. 

Topps #569 Willie Randolph - Even though the Yankees had a rough stretch in terms of championship teams in the 1980s, where oh where would they have been without Willie Randolph? Willie was the unsung, unspoken leader of the team. Sure, Reggie was the big personality in the late 70s when Randolph was acquired from the Pirates, and Dave Winfield was the big name free agent after Reggie left, and Don Mattingly was the official team Captain after that. But Randolph was the real igniter of their offense, the stalwart of their defense, and the team's best base runner (well, in the years without Rickey Henderson anyway). In 1982, Randolph was the team leader in hits, runs, stolen bases, and games played. That would be a theme throughout his tenure in pinstripes. While he only had one season in which he led the league in anything (walks in 1980), he was a regular top ten finisher in OBP, walks, runs, and stolen bases. He was a six time All Star, which is probably low, and had 4 seasons in the top 10 in defensive WAR. 

Donruss #387 Yogi Berra - Donruss was hard at work to get some big names in its set that Fleer and Topps did not. That meant pulling from the coaching ranks. Yogi Berra had been coaching even before his playing career officially ended in the 1960s. When Billy Martin had him re-join the Yankees as a bench coach in 1976, I'm sure he could have never guessed that he'd see such a tumultuous revolving door of skippers until his own hiring and firing in 1984 and 1985. He'd seen the whole carousel revolve from Billy Martin through Gene Michael, Bob Lemon and back again. Berra's messy divorce from the Yankees in 1985 kept one of the greatest baseball minds away from his rightful home for nearly 15 years. Joe Torre was able to convince Berra to return in 1999 to the delight of the Yankee faithful. He remained a constant presence and a near-infinite source of wisdom and wise cracks until his passing in 2015. Berra, of course, was one of the greatest players of all-time - he captained 10 World Series winning clubs, won 3 MVP awards and was an 18 time All-Star. 

Topps #505 Graig Nettles -  Nettles was 37 in 1982, and appeared to be in the declining phase of his career. He would play one more season in New York before being traded to San Diego just prior to the start of the 1984 season. He had a resurgence in sunny So-Cal, helping the Padres to their first World Series appearance. Nettles of course was a key contributor to the Yankees' success in the 70s, winning a pair of Gold Gloves at third base while providing better than league average production for a position that still rarely included offensive prowess. Even pushing 40 years old, Nettles could still play well at the hot corner - he was in the top 5 in range factor, assists, and fielding percent every season from 1975 to 1985. 

Donruss #409 Tommy John - Is there a more famous baseball player than Tommy John that is eligible but missing from the Hall of Fame? Of course stats should count first and foremost when evaluating the candidacy of a player, but whose name comes up more often during your average MLB broadcast - Tommy John, or Robin Roberts? Eppa Rixey? Burleigh Grimes? Early Wynn? These are all Hall of Fame pitchers (and they happen to have had among the 10 most similar careers to Tommy's). Tommy John's willingness to do something no one had ever attempted before, undergo a risky procedure followed by a painful and arduous rehabilitation for the chance to pitch again . . . that has to count for something. How many careers today have been extended thanks to "Tommy John"? In 2014, nearly a third of all active MLB Pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Heck, I think Dr. Frank Jobe should be in the Hall of Fame too - he devised the procedure (and also did a reconstruction of Orel Hershiser's shoulder in another unique and previously un-tested operation.). But Tommy John did the work of pitching for 14 seasons after being given a 100-1 shot at every pitching professionally again. By 1982 he was 7 years removed from the procedure. He was in the middle of his sixth season with double digit victories of those 7 when the Yankees traded him to the Angels. The waiver deadline deal gave California a veteran "ace" for the playoff push. He pitched well in game 1 of the ALCS, but got knocked around in game 4. The Angels would drop the decisive game 5 the following day despite a good start and a lead heading into the 7th inning. Tommy John finished his 21 year career with 288 victories and over 2,200 strikeouts.

What is your favorite card of a Yankee from 1982? Doesn't have to be one of these...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Flashback Friday with Throwback Thursday


Topps releases a new set once a week online that they call Throwback Thursday. The set mimics designs from past Topps sets, and not just baseball. A recent set caught my eye, featuring some of the fastest players in MLB both today and yesterday. 

I liked the set so much, in fact, that I decided to grab a lot from eBay of the original design the set was based upon - the 1954 Topps "World of Wheels" set. I thought it might be fun to match up the baseball player with a car from the original set. I picked the "Durable 24-Hour Champion" for Mike Trout. Even though he hasn't had post season success yet, he is a perennial MVP candidate and has the kind of popularity that has critics gushing over his sustained excellence.

Luis Robert is a still unproven but exciting prospect that has made an impressive debut. The Belly Tanker is a re-purposed, modified hot rod made from leftover airplane parts. Robert certainly packs the power and speed of a small aircraft!

Byron Buxton is a rare talent, but sometimes can be hard to find in top condition. The Excalibur J is one of the more rare and sought after vehicles. Only 3 were made before new Excalibur models began production in the 1960s. But when you saw one in action, man, there's nothing quite like it!

When I think of Rickey Henderson, I think of an unparalleled all-time great. He's a record breaker of a variety of skills - stolen bases of course, but also walks, runs scored, lead-off home runs... Rickey, it has been argued, could be split in two and both of those players would have Hall of Fame careers. The 300 SL was named the "Sports Car of the Century" in 1999. When the car was put into production for the general public, it was the fastest production car of all time.

Few players combined speed and talent and style like Ichiro. There was something immediately identifiable about him- from his batting stance, to the meticulous care paid to his uniform and equipment, Ichiro was cool and collected at all times. Founded in 1910, Alpha Romeo survived both world wars, and when racing returned after WWII, the car maker began to dominate the field of a new kind of racing, formula one. And they did it with vehicles that performed beautifully with impeccable style. 

You need a centerfielder? A Second Baseman? A Shortstop? A guy that can hit for half a season with broken hand? Trea Turner is your guy. He'll take the extra base, he'll steal a base, he'll hit it over the fence. He's tough, durable, dependable. You know, like a Jeep! Similar to the belly tanker, the Jeep was a product of military engineering. A vehicle that could excel in almost any condition. 

As is often the case with these sets - I think Topps did a pretty good job with the big picture, but missed the mark on the little details. They churn out a new set like this every week, so it may be asking a bit much for some stats on the back or a little narrative blurb. How cool would it have been to have something like sprint speed, or 1st to third times? Or maybe going further into the past to include some speedsters from the 1950s? Like Richie Ashburn, or Luis Aparicio, or Willie Mays, or Minnie MiƱoso? I get that they need to sell this thing, but that's just my opinion..

Have you picked up any Throwback Thursday sets? What do you like/dislike about them?

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Page 11 At the Bat Rack Frankenset

 PAGE TEN (with links to pages 1-9)

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)


and the backs . . .

91 - Joe Carter 1994 Upper Deck
92 - Justin Upton 2015 Topps Update (image variation)
93 - John Blanchard 1962 Topps
94 - Jim Longborg 1975 Topps
95 - Larry Walker 1993 Topps
96 - Orel Hershiser 1985 Fleer Star Stickers
97 - Carlos Lee 2004 Donruss Team Heroes
98 - Jerald Clark 1994 Stadium Club
99 - Wade Boggs 2019 Stadium Club 

Had to use another Comiskey cop-out with #97. Pretty much any regular card with a shot of a batter in Chicago will show a bat rack in the background. Hopefully I will replace that one at some point. Upton and Blanchard are not exactly at the bat rack, but I'll allow it!

I think the Hershiser sticker is my favorite of this bunch, just for the novelty of it. It was fun to have not one, but two pitchers at the bat rack for this page. Fun fact about Johnny Blanchard - he was born in Minneapolis! This card shows him following his best season in the big leagues. He had career highs in almost every offensive category, playing in 93 games for the Yankees. He had an OPS+ of 168 for the season!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A NEW (to me) Kennys Vargas card and a Rosie Relic Rainbow!


"2019 New Face" is an old friend for this blogger. Kennys Vargas spent last season trying to adjust to baseball in Japan, and had a rough time. He hit just 1 homer for the Chiba Lotte Marines, and was even sent down to their minor league affiliate for some time. The front of this card is super sparkly and shiny in the light.

Here's the back - I think all those Cs and Ds might be letter grades for his various skills... ouch. This year, Vargas was poised to be that 26th or 28th man at the end of the bench for the Tigers and his former manager Ron Gardenhire, but he didn't make the squad out of spring training. COVID wrecked any chance for him to impress in AAA action, and he was left of the alternate site squad as well. Hard to know at this point where he will land, but I expect him to play in the Puerto Rican winter league again this off season, and who knows?

These relics are from 2020 Series 1 - Eddie's base card was in Series 2, so I mostly ignored these relics until finding them more reasonably priced on eBay.

The gold is numbered to 50 - both the black border and gold border offerings seemed to be the plain gray swatch variety - I haven't seen any yet that were more colorful.

The red bordered parallel is /25, is probably 3X thick, and has a nice patch that incorporates part of the jersey with a letter on it. Not sure if there are more variations, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was a 1/1 at the bottom of a warehouse somewhere. 

Do you have a player collection of a guy that's still active, but not in the major leagues? 

Thanks for reading!