Monday, July 27, 2020

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie First Baseman Todd Helton

Moving ahead to the 1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Roster and we start with a great one. Todd Helton is a Hall of Fame caliber player, and his value as a hitter was evident from the very beginning. His 97 RBI as a rookie was the 2nd most in a quarter-century. Crow all you like about the "Coors-Effect" but know that few hitters had the success that Todd Helton did in the 2000s. Helton was definitely the easy pick for Topps All-Star Rookie at first base. He finished 2nd in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, leading all NL rookies in hits, average, runs, RBI, Homers, Slugging, OBP, multi-hit games, extra base hits and total bases. 

Helton not only led the league's rookie leaderboards, but also proved to be a team leader in the clubhouse from the start of his career. He was voted by his teammates to be the team's player representative during his rookie season, putting his University of Tennessee education to work!

Helton was ready to shine from an early age - as a college Freshman, Helton made the Team USA roster. He was drafted out of high school by the Padres, but opted to attend Tennessee as a baseball and football player. His first two years, he was the Vols backup QB behind Heath Shuler, then was slotted behind Jerry Colquitt (and ahead of a punk kid named Peyton). A knee injury at QB ended his football career, and he focused his attention squarely on baseball. He was the 1995 National Collegiate Player of the Year (Dick Howser Trophy winner), providing value as a hitter and as a pitcher. He set a Tennessee school record for saves in 1995, and over the course of his collegiate career had a 2.89 ERA in 193 innings pitched. At the plate, he hit .370 for his career for the Vols, and was the school record holder in homers and RBI by the time he was drafted.

Helton was the #8 Overall pick in the 1995 draft, and immediately made his way to the Single A Asheville Tourists. He hit just .254 over 201 at bats and had just 1 homer while striking out more than he walked. Things would turn around quickly, as he blasted AA pitching in 1996. He hit .336 across AA and AAA that year, and walked 62 times while striking out just 49. The following year, He was hitting .352 in AAA for the first 99 games before forcing his way onto the big league roster. His MLB debut on August 2, 1997 found him in Left Field, where he hit his first career homer, and went 2-4 against the Pirates. 

He would hit for the cycle in his 2nd full MLB season, and nearly duplicated the effort 4 other times that year but ultimately fell short. Nevertheless, his stats improved across the board from an already impressive rookie campaign, including an 80 point jump in his OPS. He eclipsed 100 RBI and 100 runs for the first time in his career, which he would repeat each year for the next 4 years. 

During his prime (1999 - 2006), Helton averaged a stat line of .336/.437/.603 with 100 walks, 116 runs, 111 RBI and 32 homers per season. 2000 was his career year - he led the NL in hits, doubles (59!), RBI, batting average, OBP, Slugging, (OPS obviously) and Total Bases. It was his first of 5 straight All-Star appearances, and he also brought home the Silver Slugger award. That 7 year prime included 4 Silver Sluggers and 3 Gold Gloves. Helton had 6 straight seasons of 30 or more homers and was an absolute on base machine. His batting title in 2000 would be his only one, though he was less 1/100th of a point away from a 2nd one in 2003, just behind Albert Pujols. The year 2000 was also his highest finish in NL MVP voting, ending up in 5th place. This could be called the "Reverse Coors Effect" as MVP voters were quick to discount a Rockie's numbers against the rest of the NL. It should also be noted that Pujols and Barry Bonds dominated the MVP discussion for much of Helton's prime years, leaving little room for him to make inroads on the ballot. 

By the end of his career in 2013, Helton was the undisputed "Greatest Rockie of All-Time," leading the franchise in nearly every significant offensive category. For his career he amassed over 2,500 hits, 369 homers, over 1,400 runs, 1,400 RBI, and 1,335 walks. His 592 doubles rank 19th all-time in MLB history, and his career WAR is just below the average Hall of Fame first basemen. He was the first player in MLB history to record 35 or more doubles in 10 straight seasons. His career OPS+ of 133 does take into account his home field advantage and still places him well above the league during his career. 

Does Todd Helton get your Hall of Fame vote? 

Any specific Todd Helton memories you'd like to share? I'd love to read them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

I Love The 80s - 1982 Cleveland

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!

In 1981, Cleveland hosted both the MLB All-Star Game, and the NBA All-Star Game. One of those All-Stars made history in May of 1981 by pitching a perfect game. Lenny Barker's gem is the most recent no-hitter for Cleveland. The team finished a game above .500 with a respectable 52-51 record. In the competitive AL East however, that still meant a 6th place finish. The starting pitching was a strength, but the team was let down by some especially bad offensive numbers. 

1982 started and everyone had cold bats - literally! The home opener required the removal of 500 tons of snow from the field and the game time temp was 38 degrees with a windchill of just 17! The rest of the year was marred by injuries to key members of the team, and the result was a 78-84 record, placing Cleveland squarely back in 6th place in the AL East. While they finished at the same place in the standings, they were 17 games back of the lead instead of just 5 games back in 1981. Manager Dave Garcia resigned at the end of this year, ending a tenure that began in 1977. One bright spot - the broadcast team was joined by Cleveland legend Bob Feller. The team at one point won 11 straight games that season, the longest winning streak for the team in the 1980s. 

The Cards:
Donruss #263 Bo Diaz - Diaz was the backup to Ron Hassey in 1981, but it was Bo that made the 1981 All-Star Roster along with Starting Pitcher Len Barker instead of Hassey. Diaz was the team leader in homers that season... with 7. He did actually have decent power, hitting 18 the following season along with 85 RBI for the Phillies in 1982. He would make another All-Star squad in 1987 as a member of the other Ohio team, the Cincinnati Reds. While he allowed the most stolen bases of any catcher in the NL in 1982, he also had the highlight of throwing out the Giants' Robby Thompson 4 times in the same game. He was from Venezuela, and playing in the VZ Winter League, set a record with 30 homers in the short season that lasted for several decades. Diaz was tragically killed in an accident on his roof in 1990, still just 38 years old.

Fleer #374 Rick Manning - I know they tend to play Fenway's left field shallow, but this seems a bit extreme for Rick Manning, who is obviously shown taking grounders. Throughout his MLB career, he was found all over the outfield, but was the everyday Center Fielder for Cleveland in 1981 and 82. Manning was known to be both speedy (25 stolen bases in 1981), and lackadaisical on the basepaths, being admonished frequently by manager Dave Garcia for not beating out more infield hits. His defense was well regarded, having won a Gold Glove in 1976, but he was not a particularly fearsome hitter, having a career OPS+ of just 85, well below league average. Manning found himself embroiled in scandal early in his career, involving Dennis Eckersley and the Hall of Famer's first wife. Following his playing career, Manning joined the Cleveland broadcast team, starting in 1990, where he still works today.

Donruss #198 Duane Kuiper - Cleveland seems to be a baseball announcer factory - Kuiper is a long-time Giants' commentator, beginning in 1986. Kuiper was Cleveland's second baseman and, similar to Manning, was more adept in the field than at the plate. His 14 RBI in 1981 is somewhat explained by the strike shortened season, but Nelson Cruz is already more than half way there following this weekend's series in Chicago. Kuiper was not expected to drive in runs, however, he was there to prevent them. Particularly in his heyday from 1977-1979, Kuiper was an outstanding defender, twice leading the league in Fielding pct. Kuiper's lone MLB home run came against future White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone. 

Topps #360 Len Barker - On May 15th, 1981, Len Barker threw a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was just 25 years old, but already in his 6th MLB season. The prior year, he finished with a 19-12 record for Cleveland, leading the AL in strikeouts. He'd repeat that feat again in 1981 and make his only All-Star Appearance, with the team hosting the festivities. The perfect game was somewhat surprising given Barker's penchant for wildness. While he sported a blazing fastball, it was at times erratic. His 1980 strikeout crown also came with a league leading 16 wild pitches and 92 walks. Standing 6'5", Len's nickname was "Large Lenny," and his big night in 1981 ended up as one of the team's highlights of the season. He would be traded to Atlanta mid-way through 1983, returning the speedy Brett Butler and third base prospect Brook Jacoby. Barker's career after his Cleveland tenure was rocky - bone spurs in his elbow suffered early in 1983 were never fully addressed medically, and he was not able to regain the success he had in the early 80s. 

Fleer #628 1981 All-Star Game - Less than 10,000 fans witnessed Len Barker's perfecto in May. Things were much different in August, with baseball returning from a strike that had lasted for months. The game set a record for the highest attendance ever at an All-Star Game, exceeding 72,000 attendees. Cleveland's Bo Diaz and Len Barker represented the host city. Fernando Valenzuela started for the NL, and they staged a come from behind victory behind 5 home runs. Montreal's Gary Carter won the MVP thanks to his 2 home runs, though the winning runs were driven in by Mike Schmidt in the 8th inning. Tigers Ace Jack Morris got the start for the AL, much to the chagrin of the Cleveland fans, who wanted their ace Barker to get the honor. Pete Rose set a record by starting at the 5th different position of his career. 

Topps #685 Bert Blyleven - To acquire Blyleven, Cleveland sent a small army to Pittsburgh after the 1980 season. The trade was somewhat bittersweet, as injuries in 1982 limited him to just 4 starts. He was hitting his groove again in 1985, making the All-Star team for just the second time in his career. He led the AL in complete games (24!), shutouts, innings, and strikeouts, departing for Minnesota in the middle of the season. He would finish his career with 60 career shutouts, by far the most of his era, and 3,701 strikeouts, thanks to a fastball that was paired with two different but equally devastating curve balls. Bert continues this team's announcing tradition, having been paired with Dick Bremer on Twins' telecasts since 1996. 

Topps #573 Rick Waits - Waits was known during his Cleveland tenure as a "Yankee killer," though his career splits show a 9-12 record against New York, he did have a 3.35 ERA in 28 starts, including 3 shutouts. He also was an accomplished singer, singing the National Anthem for Cleveland on several occasions. In 1982, Waits had terrible luck, pitching to a 2-13 record, and was done in by a high walk rate, and uncharacteristically shoddy defense behind him. His ERA was more than a full run higher than his FIP that season, which measures his pitching independent of fielding. Following that tough season, Waits was included in the trade that exchanged Rick Manning for Gorman Thomas. In Milwaukee, Waits was converted to the bullpen, and had decent success in the 1984 season, with a 109 ERA+ over 74 appearances. Waits has been a coach in Italy and China, as well as serving as a pitching coach for the Mets and Mariners in the minor leagues.

Topps #54 Ron Hassey - Bo Diaz and Ron Hassey were probably better described as a pure platoon rather than a starter and backup in 1981. Diaz caught 63 games, Hassey 61. Ron actually had more plate appearances, but Diaz was much more successful, hitting .313 to Hassey's .244. The low average was a surprise, as he hit .310 the year before, the highest average for any catcher in the AL in 1980. Hassey had a 14 year MLB career, usually serving as a platoon partner or backup. His best season came with the Yankees in 1985. He hit a robust .296 with 13 homers. He also led the AL in passed balls that year, in no small part to catching knuckleball artist Phil Niekro. He was known for his strong arm, and in 1981 led the AL in caught stealing pct. His career .993 fielding pct is top 50 all-time in MLB history. He caught 2 perfect games in his career, having been behind the plate for Len Barker's gem, later catching the perfect game thrown 10 years later by Dennis Martinez in 1991. Hassey was a member of the 1989 Oakland A's World Series Championship team, though he didn't play in the series. 

Topps #630 Joe Charbonneau - One of the more extreme "Sophomore Slumps" was suffered by Joe Charbonneau in 1981. Following a pleasantly surprising 1980 Rookie campaign, Charbonneau had back issues that sapped his power and speed. He hit just 4 homers and played in just 48 games for Cleveland in 1981, followed by 2 homers in 22 games in 1982. By 1983, Charbonneau was out of big league ball. He missed nearly all of 1983, playing in just 11 games for Cleveland's AAA affiliate, then tried to latch on in 1984 with Pittsburgh, but did not get a call up after 123 minor league games. In 1980 he finished 10th in the AL in OPS and was the AL Rookie of the Year, but the combo of high expectations and injuries made his return next to impossible. He appeared in the film "The Natural" as one of Roy Hobbs' teammates. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Rainbow Intensifies

Oh it's getting real now - The ROSIE RAINBOW is in full effect! For Opening Day, we've got base, Red Foil, Purple Foil, Blue Foil, and a printing plate! For Series 2, you can see the base card, the Minnesota Team Set parallel, then Gold, Rainbow Foil, and Gold Rainbow Foil.

The Gold is numbered to /2020 and here are the backs....

These all look pretty much the same, you can see the Team Set card stands out with the different number. 

Page 2 is a work in progress, but a lot of progress has been made! Here we get into the parallels.

Advanced Stats /300, Vintage Stock /99, Black /69.

Mother's Day /50 (missing!!), Photo Variation, Father's Day /50.

Independence Day /76, Camo (Memorial Day?) /25, and Walgreen's Yellow Parallel.

The Advanced stats parallel shows how Eddie has increased his barrels and his exit velocity every year, which explains in part how he had a career high in homers and RBI in 2019.

Last but not least there were these online exclusive 5X7s of the photo variation. The "base" is numbered to /49 and the "Gold" is numbered to /10.  I assume I missed out on a 1/1 in there too. 

So.... what's left? I have yet to see a listing (active or sold) for the Mother's Day Parallel, even though I've seen plenty for other players in Series 2. I know that Eddie was excluded from the "Clear" /10 acetate parallel, which is a mixed blessing. I would have loved to add that to the rainbow, but part of me is relieved I don't have to pay for one! So all it will take to complete the rainbow is to find the Mother's Day parallel (and maybe find another printing plate). 

Topps Chrome has to be coming out eventually, and I bet there will be another round of Topps mini this year and that will have a bunch of parallels, too. 

How are everyone else's rainbows doing? I know gcrl is working on Kiké Hernandez, and Tom is working on a Vogelmonster Rainbow - anyone else?

Monday, July 20, 2020

NOT 1997 Topps All-Star Rookie Tony Saunders

Before we move on from the 1997 Topps All-Star Rookie squad, there's just one more bit of business. As you know, the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy is placed on cards the year after a player makes the ASR roster. But a funny thing happened in 1998. There were two expansion teams, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. For some reason, Topps decided to slap a Topps All-Star Rookie Cup on Tony Saunders' card. He did have an interesting and productive 1997 season, winning a World Series with the Marlins, and becoming the first overall pick in the 1998 Expansion Draft. 

The back of his 1998 Topps card is similarly weird. This design is a departure from the rest of the set, and I can see what they are going for. So, it's true that Tony Saunders was not a Topps All-Star Rookie. But! He is still worthy of the Highly Subjective and Completely Arbitrary treatment. His story is one worth telling, for sure.

Saunders was the #1 Overall pick in the 1998 expansion draft, but that was the first time he'd been drafted at all. He finished his senior season with the Glen Burnie High School Gophers, and had a scholarship in hand to attend George Mason University. The All-County hurler was eager to get his professional career started instead. Despite being passed over in the 1992 MLB June Draft, he attended an open tryout and was signed for $1,000 to pitch for the Florida Marlins' Gulf Coast League affiliate. 

He pitched well in Rookie ball, where he was used exclusively as a reliever. In 1993, he moved up to the Single A Midwest League, getting 10 starts and pitching to a 2.27 ERA with an impressive 2.72 K/BB ratio. The injury bug would bite hard, and Saunders underwent reconstructive surgery on his elbow, limiting him to just 23 appearances over the next two seasons combined. He flourished in 1996 with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. He had the best W-L record of his pro career, going 13-4 with a 2.63 ERA. His walks were up a bit from prior seasons, but he still had a very good K/BB ratio and was striking out batters at a rate of 8.4 K/9 innings. After a decent showing in the Arizona Fall League, Saunders would be slated to join the Marlins' rotation in 1997.

In 1997, The Marlins had just about everything fall their way en route to a World Series Championship. For Saunders, he was joining a rotation with Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, both All-Stars. The Marlins also had Alex Fernandez, who had a tremendous season, his best since his days with the White Sox. This strong veteran presence gave room for Saunders to grow and learn on the job in the big leagues. He made 21 regular season starts for the Marlins, with just a 4-6 record and a career high walk rate. The positives? He led all rookies with his 8.24 K/9 rate, had a scorching hot month of July (1.44 ERA) and absolutely owned the division-rival Braves. They hit just .176 against him in 4 regular season starts, resulting in 3 victories for Saunders. Looking on the bright side, all of the coaches and teammates agreed that Saunders had the potential to be something really special.  

His regular season success against Atlanta came in handy, when the team faced them again in the NLCS. His Game 3 start may not have set the world on fire, but for 5 and a third innings, he kept a dangerous and battle-tested lineup at bay before giving way to NLCS MVP Livan Hernandez to help shut the door.  

The Marlins' fire sale began almost immediately after lifting the Commissioner's Trophy, starting with the coaching staff. Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild was named Tampa Bay's new Manager, so it came as no surprise to anyone that Saunders was at the top of the Devil Rays' wish list. They made Saunders their first overall pick, and he slotted into their rotation behind the 32 year old rookie and Cuban defector, Rolando Arrojo. 

In 1998, Saunders would get a career high 31 starts and 192 and a third innings pitched. He would lead the league in Walks allowed, but still had a respectable 118 ERA+. The biggest enemy of Saunders' success in 1998 was run support. Despite having Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff in the lineup, the Devil Rays had little to offer beyond that at the plate. It resulted in the worst run support (3.5 runs per 9 innings) of any starter in the American League. Saunders had his ups and downs, but he had 21 starts in which he allowed 3 or fewer runs. It might not seem that impressive on the surface, but there were only 2 pitchers in the AL with more starts like it that season- Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.  

Of course, the story takes a dark turn after this. Early in the 1999 season, Saunders was pitching to Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers. On a 3-2 pitch, Saunders threw wildly, allowing a run to score. But the bigger story was that the errant throw was the result of a fracture in his humerus, which left Saunders in agony. (Normally this would be a time to post a link, but I'll skip that and just say you can pretty easily find it with a youtube search, I won't make it any easier than that.) Saunders was one of four pitchers to have suffered a similar injury in that past decade or so- Dave Dravecky, Norm Charlton, Tom Browning, and John Smiley. Charlton was the only one to pitch significant innings following the injury.

Miraculously, Saunders was on the mound again in 2000, returning in July with stints in AAA and AA. He was awarded the Tony Conigliaro Award as comeback player of the year. But his arm would break a second time in August, just above the first break from a year ago. He would be out of baseball for several years before coming back in 2005 to try out for the Baltimore Orioles, coming full circle back to his Maryland roots. He did not appear in any official Spring Training games as non-roster invitee before being released. He would go on to serve as a pitching coach for a Glen Burnie, MD baseball academy in the 2000s, and even pitched an inning in the 2010 Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown, pitching for team Killebrew. 

Any specific Tony Saunders memories you'd like to share? I'd love to read them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

I Love The 80s - 1982 San Diego Padres

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!

In 1981, The Padres were managed by former Senators slugger Frank Howard. They were 10 games below .500 in the first half, then won just 18 games in the 2nd half following the strike, finishing in 6th place. Ozzie Smith was counted upon to lead the team, and he did win a Gold Glove while being the NL leader in Games played and at Bats. His hitting was not yet refined, however, and the team struggled to score runs. The 1981 draft would see the Padres making great moves to fix that, adding Kevin McReynolds in the first round, John Kruk in the secondary phase, Greg Booker in the 10th round, and a local basketball star by the name of Tony Gwynn in the 3rd Round.

By 1982, the stars had gone out - Rollie Fingers was traded to Saint Louis prior to the 1981 season, Dave Winfield left via Free agency to New York, even Frank Howard was sent packing. Then in December of 1981, they swapped shortstops with Saint Louis, ending the Ozzie Smith era. Despite getting an everyday player for the next 9 seasons as a key position, many would say that the Padres lost that trade big time. But the team defied some dire predictions, and accomplished something they did only once with Winfield and never with Ozzie - they finished the season at .500 with an 81-81 record. It was the 2nd best finish in franchise history, in fact, and would start a string of winning seasons. This was certainly due in part to the June debut of Mr. Padre aka Mr. Tony Gwynn. 

The Cards:
Donruss #472 Luis Salazar - 1981 was Salazar's first "full" season, and he was the Padres' team leader with a .303 average and the team's starting 3rd baseman. Salazar was an enigma on the defensive side. In 1982 he led the NL in Range Factor and Double plays turned at 3rd, but also had 26 Errors, the most by any NL 3rd baseman. He would also see some time in the outfield during his career and developed over time into a utility role of sorts. He stepped in for the Cubs in their 1989 playoff run to fill a big hole at the hot corner, and hit .325 down the stretch. in the 1989 NLCS, Salazar hit well again, going 7 for 19 with a triple and a homer. Salazar became a successful minor league manager after his playing days. A freak accident occurred in 2011, when Salazar was struck by a foul ball, causing several fractures in his skull and costing him his left eye. Miraculously he survived and has thrived as a manager in the Atlanta minor league system. He managed the 2017 Arizona Fall League champions.

Fleer #570 Juan Eichelberger - Known for being "effectively wild," Eichelberger was the 1981 team leader in strikeouts and wild pitches. 1982 was a continuation of his struggles with control, and by 1983 he was traded in a package to Cleveland for prospect Ed Whitson, who became one of the more notable parts of the Padres' rotation in the 80s. If you're a fan of the YouTube/Twitter user Jomboy, you may have caught the recent podcast about Juan's near no-hitter which is an fun an interesting listen starting at roughly 5 and a half minutes. The start from 1982 was a 1-hitter, with the hit coming in controversial fashion. Another unique feature of Juan's career was his unique set position. Eichelberger would come to a set position with his knees bent and in a wide stance and the glove resting at his belt. "Eich" would extend his career by pitching in Japan in 1989 for Yakult, and later came back to the states for two seasons in the Senior league. He was a pitching coach for several seasons in the 1990s.

Topps #65 Terry Kennedy - When Winfield and Ozzie Smith left, it was Terry Kennedy that became the de facto "face of the franchise" - at least until Tony Gwynn would arrive later in June. Kennedy had already made an All-Star team in 1981 for the Padres, hitting .301 as the team's primary catcher that year. In 1982, he broke out in a big way to lead the team in homers, having hit only 2 the prior year. His 21 homers and 42 doubles in 1982 would be career highs, but he did reach double digits in homers for 6 straight years. He was the Padres' primary catcher until Benito Santiago was ready to debut in 1987. Kennedy found himself in Baltimore that year in a trade for pitcher Storm Davis. Kennedy would make his 4th and final All-Star squad, now in the American League. He made his way back to the NL in  time to play in his 2nd World Series, now with San Francisco. Kennedy's father Bob was also an MLB player, and Terry's 1984 World Series RBI was the first time both a father and a son had collected an RBI in a World Series game. He became a successful minor league manager and an area scout for several teams. He managed the San Diego Surf Dawgs to a championship in 2005. 

Fleer #585 Rick Wise - Rick Wise was closing the book on a solid and highlight-filled career when he joined the Padres for the 1980 season as a free agent. He was an accomplished hitter during his heyday with the Phillies and Cardinals. He once tossed a no-hitter and homered twice in the same game, becoming the first MLB player to do both. He was so highly regarded as a young pitcher, that he was traded 1 for 1 in 1971 in exchange for a young Steve Carlton. He would be included in another trade later in his career for another HOF hurler, Dennis Eckersley. Wise was also a very good fielder, completing 5 full seasons without recording an error, though we was not awarded a Gold Glove during his career. The 2-time All-Star hit at least one homer every season from 1968 until he was traded to the American League in 1974. When the Padres released him in 1982, his contract was still guaranteed through the 1984 season, so he took the next two years off with his family before returning to baseball as a coach in the minor leagues. He worked for several franchises throughout the majors, minors, and independent leagues until his retirement in 2008.

Topps #95 Ozzie Smith - By the time this card was in packs, Smith had already closed the book on his Padres career. His reputation in  San Diego was a glove first (and glove second, third and fourth) infielder with great range on defense and great speed on the bases (if he could just get there in the first place). In 1981, he made his first All-Star team, having increased his batting average to .259 for the first half (compared with .233 for his career to that point). Smith certainly was fast, stealing 147 bases for the Padres over his first 4 MLB seasons, but his career OPS+ at that point was a paltry 66 (100 being league average.). A young player like Smith was not destined to be a terrible hitter forever, but a poor 2nd half in 1981 must have indicated more struggles than triumphs to come. This prompted a trade that was both short-sighted and mutually beneficial. If you had told the Padres that Gary Templeton was going to be in San Diego for the balance of the 1980s and contribute over 1,100 hits and score 425 runs, they'd take that for Smith in a heartbeat. Just don't tell them that Smith would end up outslugging Templeton over that same period, and score 991 more runs in his career for the Cardinals. I don't think they'd believe it!

Fleer #579 Broderick Perkins - Standing just 5'10" and slugging just .350 for his career, Broderick Perkins was not a prototypical first baseman. He was the Padres everyday first baseman, though, in both 1981 and 1982. Perkins was the other player in the Ed Whitson trade to Cleveland. This was good news, though, as Broderick would later say that Juan Eichelberger was his favorite teammate. In 1980, he played in just 43 games, but he hit .370 for the Padres and showed the kind of potential that made him a regular in 81 and 82. He played a season in Mexico in 1986, and was a very good hitter at the AAA level, hitting .308 with an .817 OPS over 3 seasons. He was a firefighter for a time in San Diego in the 1990s. Broderick was one of the pallbearers at Tony Gwynn's funeral in 2014. Perkins hit righties much better than lefties for his career, with an OPS nearly 150 points higher against right handed pitching.

Topps #764 Steve Swisher - Much like Rick Wise, Swisher's final MLB seasons came with the Padres in 1982. Swisher was a steady reserve catcher for the Cubs, Cardinals, and Padres. The White Sox made him a first round pick in 1973, but was traded to the Cubs who brought him up to the majors within a year of his draft date. His best season came in 1976 with the Cubbies, when he became the primary catcher and even made the All-Star roster, hitting .268 with 3 homers in the first half of the year. He was Ted Simmons' back-up in Saint Louis, then came with young prospect Terry Kennedy from the Cardinals to the Padres in the Rollie Fingers trade. He played in just 42 games over two seasons for San Diego, with his best game coming against Atlanta in July of 1982 when he went 2-3 with a walk and a solo homer. He was a long time minor league manager as well, with stops in Waterloo, Tidewater, and Binghampton. 

Fleer #572 Tim Flannery - Flannery spent his entire MLB career as a member of the Padres, and by the end of his tenure, he had become a fan favorite. The 11 year veteran announced his retirement before his final game in 1989, and was greeted with a long and loud standing ovation. He was a regular on Padres broadcasts after his career, then became a coach for Bruce Bochy in San Diego and later in San Francisco. He was a utility player from the start - 1982 was his first full season, and he split time between second, third, and short. He appeared in 972 games in his career, and totaled 631 hits. He also formed a band called the Lunatic Fringe and released several albums, most of which were sold to promote charitable causes. 

Donruss #220 Juan Bonilla - Bonilla finished 4th in the 1981 NL Rookie of the Year voting, hitting a respectable .290 as the team's starting second baseman. He was even a Topps All-Star Rookie, but the company wasn't putting the trophies on card at the time. He played in just 45 games in 1982, but was on top again in '83, his most productive MLB season. In 152 games, he had a career best 132 hits and ranked 2nd in the NL in fielding pct. Then, inexplicably in 1984, he couldn't find a job. The Padres went with Alan Wiggins at 2nd, and once the game of musical chairs stopped, he was without a contract. He signed a minor league deal in 1985 with the Yankees, the team that had initially drafted him in 1977. He hit .330 in AAA, and that success gave him a new lease on MLB life. He found a reserve role with the Orioles for 1986, and he embraced it. He started wearing a t-shirt under his uniform that simply said "Whenever" meaning he was ready for whatever the team needed, whenever they needed it. The following season he was back in New York, this time fighting for a playoff spot. His career had plenty of ups and downs, but he had found his niche as a role player. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Page 10 At the Bat Rack Frankenset

Page One

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 . . . 

82 - Travis Fryman 2001 Fleer Ultra
83 - Lou Gehrig 2003 Fleer Greats
84 - Nicky Delmonico 2018 Topps Stadium Club
85 - Honus Wagner 2002 Fleer Fall Classic
86 - Mark Grace 1998 Fleer Legends of Today
87 - Frank Thomas 2018 Donruss
88 - Eddie Mathews 2010 Topps Turkey Red
89 - Juan Rios 1970 Topps
90 - Robin Yount 1992 Topps

Ok - so the big thing here is that the bat racks at Comiskey / Guaranteed Rate Field can be seen from the batter's box. I'm surprised I made it this far before having to "cheat" with one of these White Sox cards like #87 with Frank Thomas. Technically there is a bat rack on the card, it's just not the focus of the card. I'd love for them all to look like #84 and Nicky Delmonico when they are in Comiskey, but for the moment it was as close as I could get. 

Mark Grace has a pretty good card here, but I have to give the crown of my favorite card to the vintage cardboard and Juan Rios. Rios only played in one MLB season, with the expansion Royals. He had a longer minor league career, signed originally by the Mets in 1965. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

1997 Topps All-Star Rookie Short Stop Nomar Garciaparra


With some players, there's very little mystery. Will they have what it takes to perform at the highest level? Do skills at a young age translate to the big leagues? In the case of Nomar Garciaparra, it was obvious from the beginning that something special was happening. Nomar's rookie season was among the best of all-time. He was a complete player right out of the box. He was the AL leader in hits and triples. He hit .306 with 30 homers and he scored 122 runs. He stole 22 bases, while playing excellent defense at a premium position. He ran away with the Rookie of the Year award, so of course he was the selection at Short Stop for the 1997 Topps All-Star Rookie team.

He was an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger award, finished 8th in the MVP vote, and was a unanimous Rookie of the Year for the Red Sox. All of this came after a rough 24 games in 1996 at the big league level. That short stint was all he needed to make the necessary adjustments. He was no stranger to taking a big leap into unfamiliar waters. 

As a college freshman, Nomar was a walk-on with the Team USA Olympic baseball team. He ended up as their starting short stop, and the team finished 4th in the 1992 Summer Games. His college career at Georgia Tech was fairly impressive. He was the 1992 ACC Rookie of the Year, and his 1994 season is one for the ages. He hit .427 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 16 homers, 73 RBI and 33 stolen bases. Not too shabby.

Nomar was selected 12th overall by the Red Sox in the 1994 MLB June draft. His first taste of pro ball wasn't overly impressive. In 28 games for the Sarasota Sox, he hit a respectable .295 with one homer and 5 stolen bases. The following year his hitting took another step back, with a .267 average at AA Trenton, but he did flash the glove and the wheels, stealing 35 bases. Nomar was being promoted each season, but hadn't really had a breakout performance by 1996. In AAA Pawtucket, everything came together quickly. He torched the ball to the tune of .343/.387/.733 in 43 games. The torrid pace forced the Red Sox to make a move, calling the youngster up to the big leagues in August. 

Nomar's rookie season was tremendous, but he wasn't just a one hit wonder. He excelled in his time at Fenway Park, hitting a robust .323/.370/.553 over 9 seasons. His second year, he was the AL MVP runner-up, leading the Red Sox in runs scored and runs batted in. If not for the fact that he was splitting votes with his teammate Mo Vaughn, he might have been the outright winner that season. He followed that campaign up with a pair of batting titles, including an incredible .372 average for the year 2000. He led the AL in intentional walks that season as well. His best season in Beantown is hard to pick - was it his rookie year? His 2 batting title years? 2002, when he led the AL with 52 doubles? 2003 when he had 120 runs scored to go along with 13 triples, 37 doubles, and 28 homers? The Red Sox ran on Nomar for nearly a decade, and his play inspired the team despite not resulting in the ultimate prize of a World Series victory. A wrist injury limited him to just 21 games in 2001, snapping a string of 4 straight top-10 MVP finishes. Injuries would define the end of his Boston tenure, even though they were sandwiched between a pair of productive seasons. 2004 was truncated by an Achilles' heel injury, keeping Nomar out of the lineup until late June. He was hitting .321 for Boston when he was traded as part of a 4 team blockbuster with the Twins, Expos, and Cubs. Boston was after a defensive upgrade, securing the services of Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, and Nomar found himself heading to Wrigley Field. Nomar would miss out on the Red Sox' World Series win, though his former teammates voted to give him a partial share of the World Series pot and sent him a World Series ring. The fact is that the Red Sox might not have attracted the big name free agents like Pedro, Schilling, and Manny Ramirez without a star like Nomar to build around. Ironically the team's egos were mostly sidelined for the championship run, but Nomar's contract extension dispute was the lone exception. While he didn't play with arrogance, the Red Sox certainly treated him like a malcontent before shipping him out. 

The Cubs were disappointing in his year and a half in Chicago, and so was Nomar. He would play in just 62 games for the Cubs in 2005, missing 3 months due to a groin injury. The injuries that slowed Nomar at the end of his Red Sox career were not the same ones that derailed his Cubs career, but hurt his future earnings all the same. Thankfully for Nomar, the Dodgers had deep pockets, and were more than happy to pay for his services. Things were looking up for Nomar in his first full season in LA, and he was coming home after growing up in Southern California just minutes from Chavez Ravine. He would return to the All-Star game for the final time, and racked up 2.5 WAR, his highest total since his 2003 season. He had a 120 OPS+. which was decent, but still a shadow of his former self. The next year his production slipped and he was moved around the diamond to accommodate other players like James Loney at first base. Injuries towards the end of the year didn't help. 2008 was nearly lost before it began for Nomar, when he suffered a microfracture in his hand. He would return to Short Stop for the first time since 2005, but was now relegated to fill-in and bench duty. He would play in just 55 games as his playing time and production fell off dramatically.

He would play one final season in the big leagues, signing a one year deal with the Oakland A's in 2009. Over 65 games, Garciaparra hit .281 as a DH/first baseman. For his career, he was a .313/.361/.521 hitter. if not for several seasons derailed by injury and the general wear and tear, he might have reached 2,000 career hits. He was even better in the post season over his career, hitting .321/.386/.589 in 32 playoff games. His career was cut short by injuries, but his peak was certainly Hall of Fame worthy. He certainly falls short in counting stats over his career, but when he was at his best, there were few players that could match his skills on the diamond.

Any specific Nomar memories you'd like to share? I'd love to read them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

I Love The 80s - 1982 Toronto Blue Jays

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!

In 1981, the Blue Jays had a tough time in the powerhouse AL East. They finished in 7th place in the division, though they had a slightly better 2nd half. The team's record for the season was a forgettable 37-69, and the team's highlight was arguably the game they did not get a single baserunner. Len Barker's perfect game against the Jays in May was one of the more notable days of the year for the Blue Jays. The team also courted controversy when they visited the Angels on a road trip. The Angels' team President was the father of Jays' president Peter Bavasi. Angels' Prez Buzzie Bavasi was not pleased with the play of his team and wanted to fire his manager. Son Peter devised a plan to make history and floated the idea of also firing Jays' skipper Bobby Mattick. Cooler heads prevailed, though a frustrated Mattick would resign at the end of the season, as would Bavasi- forced out by the Jays' top Brass. 

1981 was also notable for the Jays when they signed Choi Dong-won from South Korea. The 23 year old pitcher was the first Korean-born player signed by a Major League Baseball team. Choi ultimately was not permitted to leave South Korea to join the Blue Jays, and instead became one of the great players in the early days of the KBO. 

The following season was the first year with Bobby Cox as the team's manager, and things were certainly looking promising for the Jays, in just their 6th year of existence. While they weren't showing it in the standings yet, the team had several talented young players, and seemed to be just a few pieces away from being a playoff contender in the East. They improved to a 78-84 record and moved one step forward, finishing in 6th place. More exciting for fans, 1982 was the year that the Blue Jays began selling beer at the ballpark. Ontario had previously outlawed serving beer at baseball games, and even after lifting the ban, kept certain restrictions and limits in place to discourage patrons from over-indulging.

The Cards:
Topps #125 Danny Ainge - If you liked the controversies above about gimmicky firings, free agents prohibited from leaving their home country, and restricted beer sales, you're going to love digging in to the Danny Ainge saga with the Blue Jays. Ainge would be released officially by Toronto on November 27th, 1981, but not without some fireworks. The 6'4" Third Baseman / Shooting Guard had struggled in the big leagues .220/.264/.269 over 211 games. That's not his batting average each season, that average/ on base / slugging for his MLB career to date. A Third baseman slugging .269 is a far cry from typical production, but the Jays still felt strongly that Ainge had potential to be great. So did the Boston Celtics, who drafted Ainge in the 2nd round of the 1981 NBA Draft, despite being fully aware that he was under contract with the Jays. Ainge played college basketball at BYU while he was with the Jays, and was tremendous, averaging over 24 points per game as a Senior, and won the coveted Wooden Award, given to the "most outstanding basketball player of the year." Ainge would take the Jays to Court, so to speak (meaning literally), and was granted his release to start his NBA career. 

Fleer #609 Jorge Bell - Bell was the main power bat in the heart of the Jays' lineup for the 2nd half of the 80s. He was originally signed as a free agent by the Phillies, but had already been heavily scouted by the Jays. The team would select Bell in the Rule V draft in 1980 and made him their starting Left Fielder to begin the 1981 Season. He would return for another season in the minors in 1982 (Rule V draftees are required to spend the season on the big league roster), and was a regular fixture in the Jays outfield starting in 1984. He would hit big in the 1985 ALCS (.321), won the 1987 AL MVP when the Jays fell just short of the pennant, and was later named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. In his rookie year of 1981, Bell hit just .233, but offered some promise for big days to come. Cubs fans went from hating to loving him after a lackluster free agent signing. Bell was the player traded to the White Sox that brought Sammy Sosa to Wrigley. 

Donruss #227 Jim Clancy - Clancy was an "original Blue Jay" coming to the team in the 1976 expansion draft from Texas. Clancy was just 21 years old when he made his debut for the Jays in 1977. Clancy was considered a veteran by the time 1981 rolled around, but he was still a relative youngster. 1982 would be one of his best seasons, making the All-Star team and leading the AL with 40 starts. He ranks 3rd on the Blue Jays' all-time wins list. 

Donruss #129 Lloyd Moseby - Along with Bell and Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby formed a strong outfield force known as "the Bs." Moseby once stole 2nd base twice on the same play, but didn't get credit for either one. In a game against the White Sox, Moseby took off and swiped second, with the ball trickling into center field. Short Stop Ozzie Guillen had faked out Moseby so well that he started back towards first base, thinking that the play had been ruled dead. He was nearly thrown out at first from CF, but the throw was wild and trickled into the dugout, so 270 feet later, Moseby was at second base with nothing to show for it for him on the stat sheet. Moseby was an All-Star in 1986, and often combined speed and power on the diamond, leading the league in Triples in 1984, and averaging 17 homers and 29 stolen bases a season. 

O-Pee-Chee #380 Dave Stieb - Gotta have some OPC for the Canadian teams, and who better to represent Canada than Dave Stieb? Dave was the Blue Jays' Ace in 1981 and 1982, tossing 7 shutouts over the two seasons combined. Stieb became the Jays' All-time Leader in victories, was a 7-time All-Star, and won the AL ERA title in 1985. From 1982 through 1985, Stieb was the WAR leader among pitchers each season. Only Jack Morris won more games in the 1980s than Dave Stieb. He also made a notable comeback at age 40 in 1998, pitching 50 innings for the Jays 5 years after his first retirement.  After a pair of 9th inning near misses, Stieb finally tossed a no-hitter in 1990, the first no-no in Blue Jays history.

Donruss #652 Willie Upshaw - Upshaw was another Rule V draftee by the Jays, coming to Toronto from the New York Yankees' system. Upshaw was with the Jays right away in 1978, but just like Bell, spent the following season in AAA getting more time to develop. By 1982 he was the starting first baseman, and he led the Jays in homers and RBI that year. He had some power, averaging 16 homers a season for his career, but ultimately would find his playing time reduced when new prospects arrived like Cecil Fielder and Fred McGriff. Upshaw's final MLB season came in Cleveland, where he hit 11 more homers and reached 1,000 hit and 500 RBI milestones for his career.

Fleer #612 Jim Clancy - Clancy and Stieb would spend a better part of the 1980s battling for the "ace" status with the Jays. His best season was probably 1980, even though he led the league in walks allowed and had a losing record of 13-16. He had an ERA+ of 103 for the Jays, just above league average, but was the definition a workhorse starting pitcher, 2nd all-time for the Jays with over 2,200 innings pitched. Clancy would close out his career in the bullpen for his old Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox, pitching and earning the win in game 3 of the 1991 World Series. 

O-Pee-Chee #107 Juan Berenguer - Señor Smoke was a spot starter for the Blue Jays in 1981, ultimately finishing the season with the AL lead in losses. But Berenguer would find his stride in Detroit in their 1984 championship season, and later became a trusted and vital bullpen option with several teams. He was a World Series champion with the Tigers, the Twins in 1987, and was part of the 1991 and 92 Atlanta Braves pennant winners. It was the Giants in 1986 that converted Berenguer solely to relief duties, and he found that the bullpen was a great place to be. He was also the 1978 International League pitcher of the Year, when he was a starting pitching prospect with the Mets. 

Topps #470 John Mayberry - Before Willie Upshaw, the Jays' big bopper was John Mayberry. He was acquired in Spring Training from the Royals in 1978, and right away changed the dynamic of the offense north of the border. Mayberry already had two All-Star Appearances under his belt and had twice led the AL in walks while in KC. With the Jays he averaged 20+ homers and  nearly 70 RBI a season while sporting a 119 OPS+, thanks again to his excellent plate discipline. His career OBP was more than 100 points higher than his career batting average. He still could hit the ball hard - he had 255 career homers. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A PWEdnesday Post

Let's open the mailbag! Jeff from Wax Pack Wonders sent over an envelope, hitting both vintage and local hero needs. Since it is in the news, I'll offer my very lukewarm take on team names. To me, nothing is sacred about a sports team name or logo. It might be easy for me to say living in an area where the oldest major sports teams started in the 60s, so it's not like there's a huge extended legacy of any of those team names. If any of these teams change their names or logos, it won't make me any less likely to support them. One thing I will say - there are teams that we have these conversations about every few years, and teams we likely never would need to. So, what does that tell you?

Anyway, off the soapbox and into the shoebox with these Minnesota-centric guys. Neal Broten was one of the last members of the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 U.S. Hockey team to play in the NHL. Aaron Sele was born in MN, but went to High School in Washington. Buster Rhymes is from Miami, but what a great card. It's funny, I sent my brother my only copy of this card a few weeks ago, so it was awesome to see Card Karma repaid so quickly!

There are some awesome facts shared on the back of these - for example, Brent Burns had (has?) a pet shark!?! 

Bringing it all back around again, here's another 1976 Topps card from Jeff's envelope- thanks again!

Nick, the king of the Dimebox and the low-key master of the oddball discoveries, recently had this card one of his Free stuff posts. Steinbach was born in MN, went to the U of MN, and finished out his career as a Twin. I'm a big fan of the 1959 Topps design.

Aquino is officially a guy I collect - I have always thought of the Reds as my National League team, and I thought Aquino was a fun story last season. He was compared to Kevin Maas on twitter recently, which, yeah, I can see it with their stats side-by-side. My hope is that he just keeps getting better.

Rounding out the envelope from Nick are several more Twins, Kirilloff might be playing the big leagues this year, as he was placed in the Twins' 60-player pool. It remains to be seen just how many guys will need to get COVID ahead of him, but so far Miguel Sano and Willians Astudillo have caught the bug. Kirilloff is an outfielder with a sneaky good bat, it will be fun to see what he can do. Thanks again for sending these over, Nick!

You might be asking - why would Bo from Baseball Cards Come to Life! send me a Pirates card? Well, look close - this is a bat rack card! Always a treat to find one that I missed. I recently opened a box of this set, 2003 upper deck Victory, but totally missed noticing the bat rack in the background!

Bo also loaded this mailer up with vintage 70s goodness.

Jerry Bell has a bit of a Hugh Jackman/Wolverine look to him! This Jerry Bell is not the same Jerry Bell that is in the Twins Hall of Fame as a long-time executive in the front office during the Twins two World Championships, and helped convince the City Counsel to bill the people of Minneapolis to build Target Field! Snarkiness aside, the Brewers Jerry Bell is a cool looking dude.

1973 Topps has some interesting ideas about action and landscape photography. Hey, I can dig it!

Last but definitely not least, Bo included this Hall of Fame / all-time Great Brooks Robinson! The back references his nickname as the human vacuum cleaner. 

The final envelope in this post comes from SCC of the Sport Card Collectors! I don't think Mascot cards should be inserts / short-prints in Opening Day, to me that release should be for the kids! Nonetheless, it's fun to add TC Bear to the roster. 

Who is going to miss Brusdar Graterol more this year? The Twins, or the Red Sox?

Speaking of Pink parallels, the only parallel (besides 1/1s) that I haven't seen yet in my Rosie Rainbow quest is the Mother's Day Pink parallel numbered to 50. I messed up yesterday and didn't check the eBay auction for the Independence Day Parallel. I put a bid in, with the intention of increasing it later, but forgot. I thought I was being clever by bidding $17.76, but now that I think about it, I am kind of happy I was outbid. Hopefully another one will pop up soon, and I can get it for less than that!

A big thanks to everyone sending cards and everyone reading the blog!