Monday, April 5, 2021

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman Miguel Cairo

There are players in Major League history with more eye-popping stats than infielder Miguel Cairo, but very few of them were unanimous selections for the Topps All-Star Rookie team. Cairo was playing his first full MLB season at the age of 24 in 1998. He was already playing for his 4th MLB franchise, but it was because lots of teams wanted him! The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays needed talented players to fill out their roster - and Cairo fit the bill at second base.

His rookie season included 138 hits (26 doubles and 5 Triples) and 19 stolen bases in 150 games. He was the 8th pick in the Expansion draft, plucked from the Cubs organization. 

Cairo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a minor league free agent when he was just 16 years old out of Venezuela. He made a big impression after a great year in High A Bakersfield in 1994 - he stole a career best 44 bases while hitting .291 in 155 games. From then on he was an intriguing target for various teams looking to improve their org's speed and/or defense. Seattle picked him up in a trade with the Dodgers after the 1995 season, then flipped him to Toronto less than a month later. He had a strong season in AAA for the Jays, and made his MLB debut in April of that year. He then came to the Cubs in time for the 1997 season, and he spent another year mostly in AAA, now in Iowa. He had 159 hits for the AAA team, and once again showed decent speed with 40 steals. The Devil Rays felt he was ready to take the next step and handed him the starting 2B job for 1998.

His most prolific seasons came as Tampa's starting second baseman, where he hit .275/.319/.356. He wasn't a power hitter, is what I'm saying. But he did pile up the singles and was a talented defender. He'd end up back in the Cubs organization in 2001 after the Devil Rays wanted to give Brent Abernathy a shot as the everyday 2nd baseman. Cairo was released in November by the Devil Rays, then picked up by Oakland, and was traded late in Spring training to the Cubs. The Cubs provided Cairo with the opportunity to re-invent himself from a light hitting second baseman into a light hitting utility infielder. This would be a key development for Cairo, as his versatility would allow him to prove his usefulness to many more teams for many more years. 

After a season with Chicago (split between AAA and the big league club), Cairo caught the eye of the Cardinals' Tony LaRussa. The Cubs placed Cairo on Waivers and the Cardinals snapped him up in time for the 2001 post season run. Cairo would pick up a hit and a stolen base against the eventual World Series Champion Diamondbacks in the 2001 NLDS. The following year, Cairo would play all over the diamond, appearing at every position except pitcher, center field, and catcher. He filled the Super Utility role that was a vintage LaRussa strategy. He would give anyone and everyone a day off when called upon, and was a valuable double switch option in the National League. 

In the 2002 NLDS, Cairo reached base in all 5 plate appearances. He'd add 5 more hits in the NLCS, but the Cardinals fell just short, losing to the Giants


Cairo had a great season with the Yankees in 2004, again playing all over the infield. He appeared in a career high 122 games, and topped 100 hits for the first time since his days as an everyday player in Tampa. He would go on to play for the Mets, then back to the Yankees, then the Cardinals again, then Seattle and Philadelphia before finally settling for a 3 year stint in Cincinnati. His time with Philly included his only World Series experience, though he was on the roster he did not get a plate appearance. In all, Cairo played in 17 MLB seasons, and collected over 1,000 career hits and scored over 500 career runs. 

This year Cairo has re-united with Tony LaRussa to serve as the bench coach for the Chicago White Sox.

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

Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

I Love The 80s - 1982 Los Angeles Dodgers

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 Dodgers climbed to the top of the NL West and then toppled Houston, Montreal, and finally the Yankees to win the World Series in six games. Southern California was enthralled in "Fernandomania" - the Rookie left hander threw a shutout on Opening Day and never looked back. The entire starting rotation had winning records, and each had at least 1 shutout on the season.

The following season was very good, just not as good as 1981. They would finish in 2nd place in the NL West, just 1 game behind the division winners. The rotation was a little top heavy in 82, but still excellent. The team also ranked 4th in the NL in Runs Scored. making for a balanced and formidable roster. Manager Tommy Lasorda was in just his 5th season as the team's skipper, but had already led the team to 3 NL pennants, and narrowly missed in 1980 (after a 1 game playoff) and was just one game short in 1982. 

The Cards

Topps #642 Mike Scioscia - 1982 saw growing pains for Scioscia, who was now the primary catcher after supplanting Steve Yeager. It was Scioscia's worst offensive season, slashing .219/.302/.296 for an OPS+ of just 80. But the season provided great experience for the young backstop as he learned the finer points of the game and the demanding position of catcher. He tore his rotator cuff and missed most of the 1983 season, but came back to spend the rest of his playing career as the Dodgers #1 catcher. The 2 time All-Star also had a long and productive managerial career with the Angels, including a 2002 World Series win.

Fleer #25 Rick Sutcliffe - The 1982 squad definitely missed the arm of Rick Sutcliffe, who was traded to Cleveland the prior December. Sutcliffe won the AL ERA title in 1982, and had a 14-8 record. Despite winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1979, Sutcliffe and manager Tommy Lasorda famously did not get along well. during the 1980 and 81 seasons, Sutcliffe's role on the team diminished and ultimately led to his trade. He was one of the better starting pitchers of the 1980s, including winning the NL Cy Young in 1984, and finishing his career with 171 victories. The 3 time All-Star had the reputation of being a very good hitting pitcher, thanks in no small part to his home run in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS. 

Topps #410 Ron Cey - It would be his final season in Los Angeles in 1982, but Cey was not resting on his laurels. In '81, the season concluded with Cey and the Dodgers as World Champions. Cey was the Co-MVP for the World Series. Cey still showed he had excellent range at 3rd base, even at age 34 in 1982. He ranked in the top 5 in most defensive categories in the NL that season. Cey was a 6 time All-star, making the NL squad every year from 1974 through 1979. 

Topps #375 Dusty Baker - A baseball lifer, Baker has been part of more than a few of the game's biggest moments for the last 5 decades. Baker was on the receiving end of the world's first official "high five" from Glenn Burke. He was in the on deck circle when Hank Aaron hit home run #715.  He was MVP of the 1977 NLCS, and had a good case for repeating as NLCS MVP again in 1978, going 4-5 in the deciding victory. Later, as a Manager, he'd lead the Giants to a World Series appearance (facing his old teammate Mike Scioscia), then Managed the Cubs during the infamous "Steve Bartman" incident. Baker returned to coaching in 2020 and despite a regular season record below .500, led the Astros all the way to the ALCS. 

Fleer #27 Fernando Valenzuela -  His rookie season of 1981 was a tough act to follow, but Valenzuela had a terrific sophomore season with the Dodgers. Already the established ace of the rotation, Valenzuela won 19 games, and appeared in the 2nd of what would become 6 straight All-Star games. His 8 shutouts in 1981 were a rookie record, one that will be very tough to beat now. Valenzuela would miss the post season in 1988, but was a maintstay in the Dodgers rotation throughout the 80s. He performed very well in the post season, with a career ERA of 1.98 over 63 and 2/3 innings. Valenzuela could hit as well, with 10 career homers and a .200 average, quite good for the limited at bats for a pitcher. 

Donruss #84 Steve Garvey - The 1982 season was a "last hurrah" for several key members of the Dodgers of the 1970s. That included Steve Garvey, who would sign as a free agent with the Padres following that year. Garvey was the modern "Iron Horse," having played in the most consecutive games among active players. The streak was also marked with excellent offensive production - Garvey was a career .301 hitter with the Dodgers over his first 14 MLB seasons. The well rounded Garvey was the 1974 NL MVP, was a 4 time Gold Glove winner and a 10 time All-Star. He was named MVP of the All-Star Game twice. He is often the subject of discussion as one of the best players that are not inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Topps #545 Reggie Smith - Reggie formed a powerful nucleus of hitters along with Garvey, Cey, and Baker. In 1977, all 4 players hit at least 30 homers, the first time in MLB history that 4 teammates all reached that milestone in the same season. By 1982, Smith was a 17 year veteran in his final MLB season. Smith spent 1982 with Giants, and had a bounceback from a disappointing 1981 campaign in which he hit just .200 for the Dodgers in 41 games. Smith's career began in Boston, where he teamed with Yaz and the rest of the "Impossible Dreamers" for the 1967 team that captured the AL pennant in dramatic fashion. He was the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, and hit a pair of homers in the '67 World Series against the Cardinals. The 4th World Series appearance for Reggie was the charm, making just a pair of plate appearances in the series, but sharing in the success of the 1981 Dodgers. Reggie is criminally underrated, finishing his career with a 137 OPS+, as well as displaying excellent defense throughout his 17 MLB seasons. His counting stat totals place him squarely in the Hall of "Very Good," over 2,000 hits, 314 homers, over 1,100 runs scored and over 1,000 career RBI.

Fleer #29 Steve Yeager - Yeager had the Catching job in 1981, lost it to Mike Scioscia, then won it back in 1983 when Scioscia tore his rotator cuff. A career .228 hitter, Yeager provided power and defense behind the plate. His offensive improved in the post season, where he hit .254 and slugged .449, which was nearly 100 points higher than his career regular season slugging mark. In World Series play, he slashed .298/.323/.579 over 4 trips to the fall classic.  His 2 homers in the 1981 World Series helped him to a share of the MVP award with Ron Cey. He had an excellent arm as well, twice leading the NL in caught stealing pct. Fun fact - his cousin is the famous test pilot Chuck Yeager, who was the first person to have broken the sound barrier in flight. 

Topps #338 Dave Lopes - Davey left the Dodgers following the 1981 World Series win, traded just before the season began in 1982 to Oakland. His 1981 season was a rough one, playing in just 58 games and hitting a career low .206. A late addition to the 1984 Cubs roster, and a deadline acquisition of the Astros in 1986, Lopes played in the NLCS six times in his career, and five times in the World Series (4 of those coming with the Dodgers, of course). Lopes was known as a speed threat, leading the NL in stolen bases in 1975 and 76, as well as compiling 556 steals over his 16 year career. Along with Garvey, Cey, and Bill Russell, Lopes formed the longest lasting intact infield in MLB history. The group appeared together in same lineup and same infield for roughly 10 straight seasons.

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

Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Fixin a Hole (in my set build)

Oh don't mind me, just trying to finish last year's Heritage set. What's taking so long, you may rightly ask?

Elvis has entered the building, but he is part of a large group of MLB players that are found only in the artificially rare "SP" series that makes up cards 401-500 in the set.

I've been not so patiently waiting for the price to come down on these short printed cards. While I was waiting, Topps released an extension to the 500 card set, as it has done for several years, which they call the "High Numbers" set. I was ready for this! I pre-ordered a hobby box of the stuff way back in 2020, so I would receive the cards promptly in early 2021. Ernie Banks has an insert set in the High Numbers section of this mammoth set. Just found one in the box.

There's a 1971 World Series highlights subset, Award Winners, and Now & Then, which is a common Heritage insert set.

The "Hits" were a pair of plain white fabric swatches. I've pulled Hoskins before in something else, can't recall the product but I sent that away some time ago.

Freddie Galvis was in the box as well. I added the Adam Eaton (Springfield, OH represent!) and the Eddie Rosario as eBay singles. 

The box topper was pretty sweet, if difficult to store. Greatest Moments was a similarly oversized offering back in the day, and it's always a welcome sight to add a super prospect like Luis Robert.

The one oddity? Well, if you notice Freddy Galvis is both a SP from the regular set AND a High Number card. I believe there are a couple more examples of this, but another indication of the sloppy and/or indifferent quality control at Topps. One of those cards could have been a missing player. Then again, with 725 cards, there's plenty of roster spots!

Have you attempted to complete one of these Heritage sets? Are you working on 2021 right now? 

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

In Rod We Trust

Rod Carew is an All-Star's All-Star. In 19 MLB seasons, Carew was an All-Star 18 times.

Topps made Carew an All-Star Rookie, but he was also an All-Star for the American League, and the AL Rookie of the Year. Carew's hitting really started to take off in 1969, when he hit .332 for the season to win the AL batting title. He'd win 6 more batting titles before his retirement in 1985, including 4 straight from 1972 thru 1975. 

Carew was traded before the 1979 season began. People point to the notoriously cheap Calvin Griffith for trading Carew before he had to pay him a free agent's salary, but the fact was that Carew already wanted to be traded. Articles at the time talk about Carew being comfortable in Minnesota, but contract negotiations going poorly between the two parties. What the vast majority of the articles do not bring up is Calvin Griffith's appearance at The Lions Club in Waseca, MN in 1978 when he said "I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 Blacks here. Black people don't go to baseball games, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. We came here because you've got good, hardworking White people here." A bit of context here - Calvin is the adopted son of Clark Griffith, who ran the Washington Senators for decades before turning over operations to Calvin. One of the main tenants of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C.? The Homestead Grays, a Negro National League franchise that often outdrew the MLB Senators/Nats in the 1940s. Clark Griffith was opposed to integration mostly because it directly impacted him financially. Integration would cost him a profitable tenant. As a lifelong fan of Twins baseball, I have come to terms with how they arrived in Minnesota, knowing that their existence is a product of some warped thinking. That same warped thinking cost the Franchise several seasons of one of their best players. Carew knew about the comments, as a reporter attending the dinner recounted those comments, along with Griffith specifically calling Carew "a damned fool" for playing in 1978 for just $170,000. After reading this in the paper, Carew's response was "The days of Kunta Kinte are over" as well as "I refuse to be a slave on his plantation and play for a bigot."

Carew would appear in six more All-Star games after that trade, collected his 3,000th career hit against the Twins, and helped the Angels reach the post season in 1979 and 1982. In the 1983 All-Star Game, Carew started and hit lead-off. He collected his final 2 All-Star hits, going 2-3 with a walk, 2 runs scored, and an RBI in a 13-3 American League romp. For his career, Carew ranks behind just Aaron, Mays, and Musial for most All-Star games played. He set a record with 2 triples (1978) in the same game, and ranks 4th in runs scored, 3rd in stolen bases, and 4th in walks all-time in All-Star game history.