Sunday, January 23, 2022

I love the 80s - 1982 Baltimore Orioles

 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 Orioles came about as close as you can come to the post season without making it in 1981. The strike started with the Orioles trailing the Yankees for first place in the AL East by just 2 games. It was poor timing for Baltimore, as they had been ahead of the pack in late May. In the second half of the season, they finished ahead of the Yankees in the overall standings, but the Yankees played in October instead because the strike determined that the winner of each half would play in the playoffs, regardless of the overall records. 

In 1982, Baltimore again would play the role of the bridesmaid, finishing just a game behind the AL east champion Milwaukee, taking the Brewers to task until the final game of the season. Despite momentum favoring the Orioles who had bludgeoned the Brew Crew in the first three games of the 4 game series to tie up the standings, it was the Brewers that made the statement. Facing Hall of Fame hurler Jim Palmer, the Brewers piled up the runs, taking the final game of the season and the pennant with a 10-2 victory. Among many other highlights for the Orioles in 1982, their young prospect Cal Ripken sat out the 2nd game of a doubleheader on May 29th, then came back to the starting lineup on the 30th and would stay there until September of 1998. 

The Cards
Fleer #175 Jim Palmer - In 1981, Palmer had a disappointing season, finishing with a 7-8 record and looked nothing like the ace of the Orioles' staff as he had been for the last decade plus. He would rebound in 1982 with a 15-5 mark and leading the AL in WHIP. He was once again in elite company, posting an ERA+ of 129 for the year, which helped him finish 2nd in the Cy Young voting. He'd been the Cy Young winner 3 times in his career, as well as a 20 game winner 8 times. He won a game in the World Series in 1966, 1970, and in 1983, with his team taking the whole enchilada each time. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1990 with over 92% of the vote.

Kellogg's 3-D Super Stars #64 Eddie Murray - Steady Eddie was feeling the 2nd Place thing quite strongly in the early 80s. 1981 started a strong of 5 straight top 5 MVP finishes, but not once resulting in winning the award. In '81, Murray led the AL in Homers and RBI and had an OPS+ of 156. In fact his OPS+ was 156 again in 1982, and 83. In '84. he led the AL with a 157 OPS+, while also leading the AL in Walks (and Intentional Walks) and OBP. He was durable and dependable, with 27-33 homers and over 100 RBI as a near lock every season. He'd finish with over 3,200 hits and 504 Homers in his career, and is Major League Baseball's All-Time Leader in Sacrifice Flies. The 8 time All Star was a tremendous defender at 1st base, and was also a first ballot Hall of Famer like his teammate Jim Palmer.

Fleer #169 John Lowenstein - Lowenstein was known for his dry, witty banter with reporters and though he didn't make the National Baseball Hall of Fame, his 1982 Fleer Card shows he's a first ballot Style Hall of Fame member. 1982 was actually one of his best MLB seasons, coming towards the end of his 16 year career. He hit a career high 24 homers and 66 RBI while playing in a platoon with Gary Roenicke. The Lefty hitting Lowenstein got the lion's share of plate appearances and made the most of them. He was used as a utility man for a good portion of his career, which began in Cleveland. It was there that he generated some ironic attention when he publicly declared his disdain for "fan clubs." Some kindred spirits formed the Lowenstein Apathy Club, which involved sending the sardonic super-utility man letter signed in invisible ink that expressed their disinterest in his batting average and baserunning. Some expert-level smart-alecks even designed banners for home games that said "Hey Steiner" followed by 20 feet of blank white cloth. 

Topps #712 Denny Martinez - "El Presidente" was a fan-favorite and a very solid rotation option for nearly 25 years. In 1981, he led the AL in victories, and was the clear-cut heir apparent to the role of staff ace in Baltimore. He followed it up with another fine season with a 16-12 record. Early in his career, Martinez was a big time innings eater. His 18 complete games in 1979 led the AL, and in 2021 it would have been more than everyone in both leagues combined. He struggled with alcohol addiction in the mid eighties, but learned to control his addiction and reinvented himself on the mound. He would have a magical season in 1991 for the Expos, when he tossed a perfect game and led the NL in ERA and shutouts. His 245 career wins are the 2nd most by any Latino pitcher in MLB history, trailing only the legendary folk hero Bartolo Colon. Martinez was the first player born in Nicaragua to appear in a major league game, and he remains the most prolific major league player from that country. He has more complete games than Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, and his 30 career shutouts ranks respectably high among his peers.

Fleer #182 Steve Stone - The 1980 Cy Young Winner was out of baseball by 1982, and it was all thanks to his dominant curveball. Stone was a solid starting pitcher at the back end of the rotation for 4 teams in the 1970s - the Giants, White Sox, Cubs, and finally the Orioles all saw flashes of brilliance, but Stone put it all together in 1980 with a 25-7 record. He won 14 straight decisions at one point, and it was all thanks to his decision that spring training to go all in with his curveball. The fallout from his career high 250 innings pitched was severe elbow tendonitis that limited him to just 12 starts in 1981. He was retired from the baseball diamond by the time his Fleer card was in packs. Stone was done playing but far from done with the game. He became the broadcast partner of Chicago legend Harry Caray, and has been a mainstay with the Cubs and the White Sox on both radio and television broadcasts since 1983.

Fleer #161 Rich Dauer - A self proclaimed "tough out but easy out," Dauer was a light hitting middle infielder with a great glove. Primarily used at second base, Dauer had a streak of 86 games without an error in 1978. The streak included another record of 425 straight chances without committing an error. He was especially tough to strike out, but was a career .257/.310/.343 triple slash hitter, which translated to a below league average hitter for his career. He was actually a hitting star in College with USC, where he helped lead his team to College World Series wins in 1973 and 1974. He didn't have a ton of hitting highlights in the big leagues, but did hit a homer in game 7 of the 1979 World Series, which would be the Orioles' only run in a losing effort.

Fleer #163 Rick Dempsey - Dempsey was also known as defensive wizard just like Dauer. His skills behind the plate gave him the opportunity to play regularly for the Orioles in the 1983 World Series, and he responded with 4 doubles and a homer to earn MVP honors. Dempsey would play for another World Series winner in 1988 as a backup to Mike Scioscia in Los Angeles. His career OPS+ of 87 wouldn't impress many, but his 2 world championship rings certainly makes him the envy of all his peers. 

Topps #21 Bob Bonner / Cal Ripken, Jr. / Jeff Schneider - 
Bobby Bonner was a great fielder at short, but unfortunately for him the prototype of the new "Slugging Shortstop" was coming up right next to him. The Orioles had its share of all-glove no hit guys on the team with Dauer and Dempsey. Bonner and Ripken were both up for the same spot to take over for long time Orioles Short Stop Mark Belanger, who was also famously fielding rich and power poor. Bonner couldn't keep up with Ripken's bat and ended up finding a different calling - he became a missionary and trains other missionaries and ministers in Zambia. 

Jeff Schneider saved one game for the Orioles in 1981, by giving up a walk and double but still managing to get the final out for a 6-5 squeaker of a win. That off-season, he was the throw-in player in a deal with the Angels for Dan Ford. Ford hit a clutch homer in the 1983 World Series for the O's, so Baltimore fans can thank Jeff Schneider for his small contribution there! Schneider was called up in the same transaction that resulted in Cal Ripken's call-up as well, so it's fitting to see him alongside Ripken on this card.

Cal Ripken played a bunch of games for Baltimore, most of them in a row. People think that's pretty neat.

Donruss #579 Cal Ripken, Sr. - You may have noticed in recent posts that 1982 Donruss was not one of my favorites. I will say that what I love about that set is the inclusion of coaches (not just managers! individual coaches). It didn't hurt that Cal Jr. was the #1 prospect in game. Even though they didn't know he'd be the AL Rookie of the Year, they had a pretty good hunch that he'd be in the conversation. Ripken Sr. was a baseball lifer, long-time coach in the Orioles organization, and would even become the manager for a brief period in 1987 and 88. The elder Ripken was a catching prospect, but a shoulder injury that did not heal properly ended his playing career early on. He became a coach and scout for the Orioles in 1961, though he still played sparingly when teams in the org needed a catcher. He had a tough and competitive personality, and his ethos as a coach influenced generations of Orioles players from Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray to his sons Billy and Cal, Jr. to many many others.  

ok  ok here's the card I didn't put in the 9 pocket sleeve

that's what it would have looked like if I wanted to give myself a heart attack thinking about this card just chilling in a binder all loosey goosey - I couldn't even take a decent picture of it!

Note - my ancient laptop, which I've used with my scanner to post in this blog for the last 5 years or so, has finally bought the farm. I decided to do this post using my phone's camera instead of my scanner, probably will not post again until I can find a more permanent solution.

Monday, January 17, 2022

1999 Topps All-Star Rookie Second Baseman Warren Morris


Many Topps All-Star Rookies have a fun anecdote or two about their path to the big leagues, and Warren Morris is no different. He's best known for his College World Series heroics, and he was also an Olympian, helping Team USA Baseball win Bronze in the 1996 Summer Games. Three years later, he was the Pirates' everyday second baseman as a rookie. His offensive stats were just about league average for a second baseman, but coming in his rookie year, average is very good. His 73 RBI led all NL rookies and were the most by a Pirates' rookie since Ralph Kiner! He collected his first major league hit on Opening Day, a double. He had a torrid first half, hitting .301 with 11 doubles, 9 homers, and 47 RBI. All this made him the obvious choice for the Topps All-Star Rookie team.

The Pirates acquired Morris along with former top prospect Todd Van Poppel from the Rangers close to the Trade deadline in 1998. Morris would be given the chance to be the team's second baseman when the Pirates decided to part ways with Tony Womack before the start of the 1999 season. Morris made his case for the spot in the Arizona Fall League in '98, leading the short season league in slugging percentage, a stat that was never Womack's strong suit.  

Morris was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers out of LSU in the 5th Round of the 1996 June Draft. Morris still found time to lead Team USA in homers in the 1996 Summer Games while hitting a robust .409. Before winning Bronze in the Olympics, Morris was the hero of the 1996 College World Series. He had missed two months of the season and was batting ninth in the order for LSU after breaking his hamate bone early in the season. The Junior would come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Miami with two outs, a man on third, and his team trailing by a run (which was knocked in by future Red Sox Skipper Alex Cora). Morris swung at the first pitch curve ball, hoping to make solid contact and keep the line moving, but the ball kept carrying and sailed over the fence for a dramatic walk off win. 

Morris' rookie season with Pittsburgh would be his best in the big leagues. After hitting 15 homers in his rookie year, he'd hit just 3 in 2000. Much was made of his slugging ability in his previous stops in College and the Olympics, and he also had 19 homers and 103 RBI in 1998 for the Rangers and Pirates' AA affiliates. He had a 5 hit game in June of 2000, and a 4 hit game in September, but he wasn't able to translate that to consistent success at the big league level. While he had a career high 31 doubles in 2000, the rest of his offensive stats dipped and the sophomore slump was enough for the Pirates to move on from Morris to former Twin Pat Meares at second in 2001. He would split the 2001 season between AAA and the Pirates, and hit well in the minors, with a .305 average and an OPS over .800, which made him an intriguing option for several teams the following year.

In 2002, the Minnesota Twins picked up Morris after being released by the Pirates, but he was used by the Twins in just 4 big league games. In June, he was traded from the Twins' AAA affiliate to the Cardinals minor league system, and by the end of the season had found his way to Pawtucket via waivers, now playing for Boston's AAA affiliate. He played well enough to pique the interest of the Detroit Tigers, who gave him the everyday 2B job for the 2003 season. He was still a sneaky power bat at the bottom of the order, and had developed into a very good defensive second baseman. He was helped along the way under the wing of Bill Mazeroski, whose tutelage helped Morris to lead the NL in Range Factor for 2B in 2000. For Detroit, Morris appeared in 97 games and added another 6 homers to his career totals. In 2004, he spent the entire season in AAA Toledo, again showing signs of a decent bat and a slick glove. Both Cleveland and Milwaukee gave him a look in the minors in 2005, but Morris decided to call it a career at that point. He returned home to Alexandria, LA to his wife and infant twin daughters and took a job with a local bank, where he's been employed ever since. His degree from LSU is in Zoology- Geaux Tigers!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

I love the 80s - 1982 Kansas City Royals

 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!

I'd never suggest that the 1981 Baseball Strike was a good thing, but there were teams that took advantage of the break to change their fortunes. The Kansas City Royals had a miserable 1st half of 1981, falling 10 games under .500 and slipping to 5th place in the standings. The second half was another story. The Royals finished the second half in first place, securing a spot in the post season. They were bounced quickly by the Oakland A's in 3 straight games, but the Royals showed the fight that made them major players from the mid 70s through the mid 80s.

1982 was in many ways a more successful season than '81 for the Royals, with one big difference. This time, they would miss the post season altogether, though they finished with a 90 - 72 record. DH Hal McRae set a franchise record with his AL-Best 133 RBI, Dan Quisenberry paced all closers with 35 saves, and the franchise took a step towards securing a brighter future by drafting pitcher Bret Saberhagen. They missed the postseason in 1982, but were poised to return again soon.

The Cards:

Topps #495 Dennis Leonard - Leonard was the Royals' Ace in the late 70s. He was a 3 time 20 game winner, leading the AL in Starts and Innings Pitched in 1981. He was the only AL pitcher to exceed 200 innings pitched that season, given the time lost to the strike. He was also 3rd in Strikeouts and had a pair of shutouts, both of which came during a stretch of 7 starts in 26 days following the strike. The heavy workload and a pair of broken fingers made for a less than stellar 1982, in which his ERA ballooned about 5.00 for the first time in his career. The following season, the injury bug struck again and he'd essentially be out of baseball until 1986. He tore his patella tendon in a 1983 start, missed all of 1984, and would only make a pair of starts in 1985 for the Royals. Leonard continued his rehab, and returned to the team to make 30 starts at the age of 35. He retired as the Royals' All-Time Leader in Games Started, Innings Pitched, Complete Games, and Shutouts.

Fleer #408 Rich Gale - Gale was a 1978 Topps All-Star Rookie, but didn't get a trophy on his card as Topps decided to leave out the Cup from 1979 through 1986. That season, Gale won 14 games and finished 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He started a pair of games in the 1980 World Series, with a no-decision and a loss. He and Leonard were an effective one-two punch in the late 70s for the Royals, but Gale had a rough time in 1981. He would be traded to San Francisco that off season, and by 1985, found himself pitching in Japan. He was on the mound for his team (the Hanshin Tigers) in their 1st ever Japan Series clincher. Gale is probably known more readily today for his work as a pitching coach, both in the big leagues and for a handful of teams in the minors.

Topps #693 Cesar Geronimo - Geronimo came to the Royals in 1981 as a role player after spending nearly a decade in Cincinnati as the primary Center Fielder for the "Big Red Machine." Geronimo was a 4 time Gold Glove winner in Cincy, and was closing out his career as a 4th outfielder for the Royals in the early 80s. His Gold Gloves weren't mirages or based on the success of his team. He passed the "eye test" in Center Field, sure, but also had favorable rankings in some of the new-school metrics as well. He was annually at or near the top of the leaderboard in Total Zone Runs and Range Factor. Geronimo joined the Reds from the Astros in the same trade that sent Hall Of Famer Joe Morgan to Cincinnati. Following his playing days, Geronimo co-founded a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic that focuses on teaching its students about life skills, English as a 2nd Language, and fiscal responsibility along with the standard fare of baseball training. He helped to establish a similar Academy in Japan for the Hiroshima Carp, that focused more specifically on baseball, as the students also attended a separate school. 

Fleer #422 Dan Quisenberry - The Early 80s were the peak years for the Royals' closer. Dan Quisenberry was the AL Saves leader 5 times, and Royals' Managers loved to give opposing offenses a Pop "Quiz." He was known for his unorthodox submarine-style delivery to the plate, and for writing poetry off the field. For a detailed and engrossing biographical essay, check out this link from the SABR Bio Project He appeared in all 6 World Series games in 1980, and had 4 appearances in the 1985 World Series, including a victory in Game 6. He's the Royals' All-Time Leader in ERA, and is 2nd in team history in Saves. Quisenberry, like his former Manager Dick Howser, passed away from brain cancer. 
Fleer #427 Willie Wilson - If you look up "triple" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Willie Wilson there to help illustrate the concept. Wilson led the AL in Triples 5 times, and finished his career with 147. That's 56th overall in MLB history, but 3rd overall if you're looking at players whose photo is in color, behind just Roberto Clemente and Stan Musial. His 1980 season was historic. In addition to his 15 triples, he totaled 230 hits and scored 133 runs. Those figures all were best in the AL. He was 2nd in Stolen Bases with 79. He'd go on to win a batting title in 1982. He did all this while playing an elite Left field. Similar to Cesar Geronimo, Wilson was a regular visitor atop the league leaderboard in range factor and total zone runs. Wilson is the Royals' All-time leader in stolen bases, with 612. 

Fleer #426 Frank White - The late 70s and early 80s were a who's-who of the greatest Royals of all time and I don't mean Prince Charles. Frank White was the Royals' second baseman throughout their decade plus run of contending for the AL West title, starting in 1973 until his retirement in 1990. White was a defensive dynamo, racking up 8 Gold Gloves. The 5 time All-Star wasn't a slugger like Brett or a burner on the bases like Wilson, but he was a steady presence up the middle of the diamond for nearly 2 decades. His 2,006 hits are 2nd all-time in Royals history. 1982 was probably his best offensive season overall, hitting .298 with 11 homers and 10 stolen bases and a 114 OPS+. He terrorized the Yankees in 1980, earning ALCS MVP honors by hitting .545 in the series including a homer and stolen base. It was his defense that made him an all-time great. Reggie Jackson quipped of White "he's saved as many runs as I've driven in."

Topps #429 John Wathan - John Wathan was a rare breed - a catcher would could steal a base! In 1982, Wathan had a career high 36 steals, almost unheard-of for a backstop, and set a major league record for the position. Wathan was also able to hit for average, including a .305 mark in 1980, when he even garnered a few MVP votes. Following his 9 year playing career, Wathan was a coach and then Manager for the Royals and Angels. Since 2008, he's held the role of 'special assistant to the Director of Player Development' for the Royals. He's a baseball lifer, having worked as a scout, roving instructor, coach and a really fast catcher!

Fleer #405 George Brett - I won't share that infamous George Brett Story, or that other infamous George Brett Story - but suffice it to say, Brett is famous and infamous. He's Mr. Royal, leading pretty much every offensive category in team history, as well as being the leader of the team's first rise to prominence in the 70s and 80s. Brett's 3,000th hit is a bit of a funny story - he was picked off first base after getting it. But what was impressive to me is that it was his 4th hit of that game. That's on-brand for George Brett, going a bit above and beyond. Brett was a triples machine in his own right - when Wilson wasn't the league leader, Brett was leading the league in the late 70s / early 80s, including 20 triples in 1979. His 1980 season was even better, as the AL MVP led the league in all three triple slash categories, going .390/.454/.664 and an OPS+ of 203. Brett won 3 batting titles, in 3 different decades - 1976, 1980, and 1990. The 13 time All-Star was of course a first ballot Hall of Famer, joining the Cooperstown club with fellow 1975 Topps rookie Robin Yount in 1999.

Topps #625 Hal McRae - McRae moved from outfield in Cincy to become a slugging DH in the American League, providing much needed balance to the Royals' offensive attack in the 1970s. McRae was a key member of the Royals through the 1986 season, and later became manager of the team, known for his fiery demeanor and will to win. While his homer totals don't appear eye popping, McRae was still the premier DH for the majority of his career. His Career OPS+ of 123 shows how he was a step above the rest of the league at the plate. McRae finished his career with over 2,000 hits and over 1,000 RBI. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Right Handed Pitcher Kerry Wood


If you see this from the batter's box, you are in for a long day. Kerry Wood in 1998 was the NL Rookie of the Year, so of course he was Topps' first choice for right handed pitcher on their All-Star Rookie Squad. That season, Wood piled up the strikeouts (the most by a Chicago Cub since Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins in the 1970s), and won 13 games. He had one Complete Game,  which was a shutout, but we'll talk about that game in a bit.

Topps went as far as to say that Kerry's rookie campaign was comparable to Dwight Gooden's phenomenal debut season, and the story of Kerry's season was second only to his teammate Sammy Sosa's chase with Mark McGwire to un-seat Roger Maris as the single season Home Run King. He led the NL in H/9 and K/9, but his electric stuff could be a little tough to harness at times. His 85 walks ranked in the top ten in the NL that year as well as hitting 11 batters and uncorking 6 wild pitches. Sometimes a little wildness can go a long way towards baffling the opposing batters.

The Cubs made Kerry a first round pick in 1995, selecting him out of high school in Grand Prairie, TX. Wood would start to show signs of the pitcher he'd grown into as a senior, when he fanned 152 batters in a little over 80 innings. He had a 0.77 ERA and was a perfect 14-0. His first full professional season came at the age of 19 for the High-A Daytona Cubs. He went 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA, striking out 136 batters in 114.1 innings pitched. The Cubs were willing to take the good with the bad, as the walks piled up alongside the Ks throughout his minor league career. In 1997 with the Orlando Rays and Iowa Cubs, he allowed a combined 131 walks in 151.2 innings. Despite the wildness, Wood returned in 1998 with a mission to make the big league roster. He would make just one start at AAA, striking out 11 of the 17 batters he faced before being called up to the Cubs.

Wood's magical rookie season was curtailed by "elbow soreness" that kept him out of the rotation for the final month of the season. He'd return to make a start against Atlanta in the NLDS, taking the loss after allowing a single run over 5 innings. In Spring Training of 1999, Wood tore his UCL, nearly ending his career. A season of rehab and recovery was needed to get him back on the mound and he was able to rebound to have several excellent seasons in the Cubs' starting rotation.

From 2001 - 2003, Wood averaged 200 innings pitched with 700 Strikeouts and an ERA+ of 122. He pitched a gem similar to his rookie season masterpiece (which we'll get to in a bit), when he tossed a 1 hit, 14K shutout against the Brewers in May of 2001. Along with Mark Prior, Wood formed a fearsome 1-2 punch at the top of the Cubs' Rotation and helped propel the team to within one game of the World Series. Wood was the starter of Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS against the Marlins, and even hit a home run to try to help his own cause, but the curse of the Billy Goat was still lurking in the shadows of the Friendly Confines. The Cubs would lose an ugly 9-6 game to the Marlins, and the following season the injury bug would bite Wood again. He would miss nearly 2 months of the 2004 campaign with a strained triceps muscle. 2005 ended prematurely with an injury in August, and 2006 and 2007 were nearly lost completely due to knee injuries and then a torn rotator cuff. 

Wood made the decision to shift from the rotation to the bullpen, and in 2008, he made a big splash, saving 34 games for the Cubs and striking out 84 batters in 64.1 innings. 

Following the 2008 season,  the Cubs opted not to sign Wood and he tested the free agent waters, landing in Cleveland. He would serve as the closer again, saving 20 games and sporting a league average ERA+ of exactly 100. He was traded at the 2010 trading deadline to the Yankees, where he pitched in middle relief setting up Mariano Rivera. He was his old electric self again with New York, recording a 0.69 ERA over 24 appearances. He allowed just 2 runs over 26 innings, striking out 31 batters down the stretch. In the Post-Season he allowed 2 more runs, 1 to the Twins and 1 to the Rangers, but overall pitched very well.

Wood returned to the North Side in 2011, and pitched the final two years of his career in the Cubs' bullpen. He's 3rd All-Time in strikeouts for the Cubs, even though he's 28th in innings pitched. 

Of course his signature moment came in his rookie season. Wood fanned 20 Astros in just his 5th career start. There are many tributes written about this game, but here are a few of my favorite tidbits:

-Out of 122 pitches thrown, only 7 were hit into fair territory. 
-Only 3 of those made it out of the infield.
-The lone hit he surrendered was an infield single that kicked off the glove of 3B Kevin Orie. Arguably it could have been ruled an error.
-The very first pitch of the game was a wild fastball that bounced off the mask of home plate umpire Jerry Meals.
-Houston's Shane Reynolds actually pitched a great game himself, striking out 10 and allowing just one earned run over 8 innings.

It has been argued that this was the greatest game ever pitched - even though he allowed a hit and also hit Craig Biggio (then again, who hasn't hit Biggio?). Bill James developed a formula to grade starting pitchers which is widely used and called the Game Score. 

Kerry Wood's game score for this outing was 105, the highest score of any pitched game before or since. 

Compare that to Clemens in 1986, his 20K game had a game score of 96.
Clemens in 1996, his 20K shutout had a game score of 97. 
Don Larsen's Perfect Game in the 1956 World Series? His Game Score was 94.
Sandy Koufax threw a perfect game in Sept of 1965 with 14 Ks - that game score was 101. 

Sunday, January 9, 2022

I Love the 80s - 1982 Philadelphia Phillies

 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!

1981 saw the Phillies attempt to repeat as National League and World Champions. A strong 2nd half vaulted the team into the playoffs, where they came up just short losing the 5th and final game of the NLDS to the Montreal Expos. During the year, Pete Rose passed Stan Musial as the National League's all time hits leader, and Steve Carlton recorded his 3,000th career strikeout. The individual accolades were nice, but the team had higher aspirations.

With the window to win starting to close for the veterans like Rose and Carlton, the team would make a few moves to try to make another championship run in 1982. They cut ties with 33 year old Bob Boone, turning to Ozzie Virgil Jr and Bo Diaz to be the new every(other)day catchers, traded for starting pitcher Mike Krukow to solidify the rotation, and decided to turn to veteran SS Ivan DeJesus to bolster the middle infield. None of these moves would prove fruitful in the long run, with the last trade suffering mightily in hindsight as the return for that investment in DeJesus was future Hall of Fame Second Baseman Ryne Sandberg and veteran Larry Bowa, who provided roughly the same production as DeJesus in 1982. Still a strong presence in the NL East, the Phillies would stay close all season but ultimately finish in 2nd place. 

 The Cards:

Donruss #42 Steve Carlton - In 1982, Carlton was his usual superlative-laden self, winning the Cy Young Award (his 4th), on the back of a league leading 6 shutouts. He was also the NL's best with 23 victories, the last Phillie to win 20 games in the 20th Century, and led the NL in strikeouts for the 4th time. If you're more new school than old-school, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that not only were the counting stats good (Leading all NL pitchers in batters faced, innings pitched, complete games, and Games started), he also led the NL in FIP! Carlton was a no-doubt Hall of Fame case, pairing the 4 Cy Young awards with 2 World Championships. He was a 10 time All-Star, and is one of just 4 players in MLB history to surpass 4,000 career Strikeouts. 

Fleer #251 Tug McGraw - McGraw was another of the Phillies 35+ year old veteran stars in the early 80s. Arguably his finest season came in 1980 as the 35 year old closer for the Phightin' Phils. He finished the regular season with a 1.46 ERA and an ERA+ of 260. He notched 20 saves, but finished another 28 games for the Phillies, striking out 75 batters. He was a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets (but did not pitch in the World Series), and an integral part of the 1980 World Champion Phillies. The 2 time All-Star was a solid to spectacular relief arm for nearly 20 seasons in the big leagues. He struck out nearly twice as many batters as he walked over more than 1,500 innings pitched. McGraw was best known for his signature pitch, a devastating screwball.

Topps #781 Pete Rose - Few players can lay claim to establishing a team's identity the way that Pete Rose did for the Phillies. They were a very good team in the mid to late 70s, but were often on the losing end of battles with in-state rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as Rose's former team, the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds. When Rose left Cincy for Philly in free agency, the fortunes of both teams flipped. As mentioned above, Rose became the all time leader in hits in the National League in 1981, but more importantly, his style of play and leadership helped get the Phillies over the hump against their NL East rivals and win the 1980 World Series. The team hadn't been to the World Series in 30 years, and hadn't won a world series game since 1915! Rose changed that culture in Philadelphia.

Donruss #606 Lonnie Smith - Lonnie Smith is possibly the most underrated player of the 1980s. In the Phillies championship season, Smith led the team in Stolen Bases, but also sported an OPS+ of 130, finishing 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. Used sparingly in 1980 and due to the strike-shortened 1981 season, his first full season would be 1982. He was traded to Saint Louis, where Smith would finally get the chance to play everyday. He was an All-Star and amassed 6.2 WAR, placing 2nd in the NL MVP race. He hit .307 with 68 Steals and scored a league leading 120 runs for the wild run and gun Cardinal offense that won the 1982 World Series. He'd win 3 World Series championships in the 1980s, for three different teams- the Phils in 1980, the Cardinals in 1982, and the Royals in 1985 - playing key roles on defense, at the plate, and on the bases. The last season of the decade was his best- leading the NL with 8.9 WAR, certainly an MVP worthy season. However, he compiled that season for the lowly Braves, finishing well out of contention and out of sight, out of mind for MVP voters.  Time would catch up to Lonnie and his 1990s career paled in comparison to his 1980s numbers. He'd retire with a 118 OPS+, and a triple slash of .288/.370/.420. It amounted to a solid MLB career that doesn't get talked about that often.

Fleer #258 Mike Schmidt - Not too often do you see Schmidt sporting a full beard - nearly mistook him for Bill Walton! The Hall of Fame Third Baseman was right in the middle of his prime career years, the reigning NL MVP from 1980 and 1981. His 1982 season may have seen a slight dip in batting average, but he led the league (again) in OBP and Slugging. He was also right in the middle of a run of 9 consecutive Gold Gloves (he'd add one more before his career was over), and 5 straight Silver Slugger awards. In all, he'd be a 10 time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves, 6 Silver Sluggers, 3 MVPs (80,81, and 86) and is generally regarded as one of the best third basemen of all time. He was the NL HR king 8 times, and his 548 career homers still ranks 16th, even after the steroid era saw 13 more members join the 500 HR Club. 

Topps #581 Ron Reed - Reed's career in many ways is reminiscent of Dennis Eckersley in miniature. Reed started his career in the Braves rotation and was pretty good. He was an All-Star in 1968 as a rookie, and followed it up with an 18-10 record in 1969. Reed transition from the rotation to the bullpen in 1976 for the Phillies, and became a mainstay in their relief corps until after his 40th birthday. Reed was essentially the team's closer in 1982, saving 14 games and sported a 2.66 ERA over 57 appearances. For his career he started 236 games and finished 300 as a reliever. He faced over 10,000 batters and still had a better than league average ERA+ of 108. Fun fact about Ron Reed - before playing baseball, he played for the Detroit Pistons for 2 seasons, averaging 8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.

Donruss #441 Gary Matthews - "Sarge" came to the Phillies after the 1980 World Championship season from Atlanta in exchange for the legendary Bob Walk. Matthews was known for a blend of power and speed and was extremely durable. He played all 162 games for the Phillies in 1982, and would go on to show his skills at their peak in the 1983 NLCS. His three homers against the Dodgers powered the "Wheeze Kids" to the 1983 World Series, earning him MVP honors in the process. Matthews was the 1973 Rookie of the Year and was an All-Star in 1979 with Atlanta. He'd go on to have a magical season with the Cubs in 1984, leading the NL in walks and OBP, scoring 101 runs to mark his career high. Matthews finished his career with 2,011 hits, 234 homers, and scored 1,083 runs.

Fleer #260 Manny Trillo -You have to be pumped when you can wear a "World Champions" patch on your jacket. Trillo was the Phils All-Star/Gold Glove/Silver Slugger winning second baseman in the early 80s, earning each accolade at least once between 1979 and 1982. Timely hitting in the 1980 NLCS made him the MVP of the Series. He hit .381 with 4 RBI for the Phils against Houston. He won all 3 of his Gold Gloves with the Phillies, but he was highly regarded for his defense throughout his career. He was best known for his rifle throwing arm, somewhat rare for a second baseman. His defensive prowess was so tantalizing that it was the subject of a controversy in Oakland during the team's three-peat in the mid 70s. In 1974, A's Owner Charlie Finley wanted Manny to be on the active roster so badly he tried to coerce infielder Mike Andrews to sign a statement saying he was injured to make room for Trillo on the roster. The move was met with a near team-wide mutiny, and it took a ruling from MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to re-instate Andrews and restore peace in the locker room. Trillo was then traded after the 1974 series to the Cubs in exchange for Billy Williams. 

Donruss #189 Sparky Lyle - Best known for his seasons in Yankee pinstripes. Lyle was a 16 year veteran pitching for elite teams in both leagues. He was a late season acquisition of the Phillies in 1980, and was not eligible for the post-season. His 14 innings of work down the stretch included a pair of saves and a miniscule 1.98 ERA. He's known as the first AL reliever to win a Cy Young award (1977), and one of the first to enter the game with a signature song playing to announce his arrival on the mound. (The same music used by High School graduations all over the country as well as Macho Man Randy Savage, "Pomp and Circumstance") Lyle credits Red Sox great Ted Williams with the advice that made him a big leaguer. Williams told him he'd never make it to the show without a slider. After perfecting the pitch in the minor leagues, Lyle would debut with Boston during the 1967 Impossible Dream Season. Lyle is quoted as saying "when Ted Williams told you something, you tried it."

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Throwback Thursday


Is there anything sweeter than Sweet Lou? How about Sweet Lou, presented by Coca-Cola? One can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar. That's pretty sweet!

This card is from 1981, and of course it has a pretty much identical design to 1981 Topps, save for the Coke logo in the corner. Of course, Coca-Cola and the Tigers have been linked to each other for a long time. The Georgia-based soda giant was one of Tiger great Ty Cobb's first big investments. 

At first glance, nothing too special about these early to mid 70's cards (maybe you notice that the position "Outfield" is missing from Jesus Alou's card), but flip them over and see... 

O-Pee-Chee! I don't really keep any kind of checklist for these, but I picked these up on eBay for a reasonable price. Everything in this post came my way in either November or December.

My brother pointed out this 1963 Fleer to me, and I sent one to him for Christmas. But I kept the saved search in eBay and eventually found this one to add to my own collection. The buy it now prices are out of control right now, but the auctions are the way to go if you can find one. 

Roberto Clemente - good at baseball.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Wallet Card 2022

 It's a New Year, which I love because it is a highly subjective and completely arbitrary unit of time. That means that it's time for another new wallet card!  Here's my 2021 Wallet Card, a 1987 Topps Barry Jones. He looked like he'd seen some things... but he didn't see 2021 coming, did he? Here's all my past wallet cards (I switch them out once a year)- 

2023 is going to fill the first page to signify how long I've been back in the hobby. Exciting! Can you guess what card I will use next year? I've actually already picked my 2023 Wallet card, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at Wallet Card 2022:

We're back on a 1980s Donruss kick, and our future's so dangerous, we gotta wear goggles! Chris Sabo was a favorite of mine - the Reds were my National League team growing up as my dad's side of the family is from Ohio. I've probably owned dozens of copies of this card over the years, but I found a nice clean one to stuff in my wallet for another trip around the sun.

Do you have a wallet card? Do you keep the same one or switch them out every now and then?

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Back on Target (Shelves)


At some point in December I was in the nearby Target and because I had heard that some of them had started to stock cards, I took a peek for myself. I nabbed a blaster of Archives and a Panini box called Chronicles, which was absolutely bonkers, yet somehow the two products were essentially doing the same thing.

Both sets took prior designs from their "Archives" and "Chronicled" them in a mish-mash group of sets. Topps went for realism, while Panini had no choice but to opt for surrealism in response.

I thought the lack of logos would have me seeing red, but the inserts and variety of designs certainly threw everything into overdrive. Clearly, this box was making a real attempt at something. I have no idea what that could be, but it was obvious they were trying.

Oh hi there Jesús Sánchez. No, I wasn't talking to you, my son is also named Jesús Sánchez.

Archives, meanwhile, ran out of designs a while ago, but came through the rookies and traded players 

And of course they loaded up the checklist with long ago retired players. Wait, Pujols is not retired? Jut kidding, I actually went to a game this past season where he hit a home run! Definitely wasn't expecting that at the start of the year.

Here are 80% of the Twins I pulled, I know how much you like to see Twins! The Kirilloff twins and the Larnach twins may or may not share time on the MLB roster in 2022. 

Of course Chronicles came through with a hit, too. My scanner was having a hard time with this one, but you get the idea. The card was super thick, too- I had to dig around for some time trying to find a holder for it.

Monday, January 3, 2022

1998 Topps All-Star Rookie Left Handed Pitcher Jesús Sánchez

 Jesús Sánchez, Pitcher for the Florida Marlins, should not be confused with Jesús Sánchez, outfielder for the Miami Marlins. For one thing, Jesús Sánchez was born in the Dominican Republic. Jesús Sánchez, on the other was born in the Dominican Republic. Wait. Jesús Sánchez bats left handed, and Jesús Sánchez bats.... left handed. Hmm. Let's get more technical here. When Jesús Sánchez was born, Jesús Sánchez had just completed his 4th season of professional ball for the Binghampton Mets. Ah, now I get it. Jesús Sánchez, our Jesús Sánchez for this post, was a member of the 1998 Topps All-Star Rookie squad, while Jesús Sánchez was a literal rookie of life itself in 1998, completing his first year of being!

Jesús Sánchez was signed by the Mets as a 17 year old free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1992, beginning a steady climb through the organization as a lefty with control and endurance. In his debut season of organized ball he finished 3 of his 12 starts. His 1.96 ERA was the lowest for any Mets' pitcher in the entire org that year. He made the jump from AA Binghampton all the way to the Marlins' rotation in one off-season. He joined the defending World Series champs and made 29 starts for manager Jim Leyland, who referred to him as having "the heart of a lion." While his season stats were not eye-popping, the fact that he was just 23 and hadn't pitched above AA previously made his season noteworthy. He saved his best start of the season for his last, scattering 5 hits and 2 walks over 9 shutout innings. The Marlins didn't score, either, and he ended up with a no-decision for his troubles.

By 2001, Sánchez had started 71 games for the Marlins over 3 seasons, but hadn't really found the consistency expected of a Major League starter. Some of it could be attributed to the way he was used - in 1999 he appeared in 59 games as a pitcher, and pinch ran 13 times. Fun fact - Sánchez was a long-distance runner in high school. He was used primarily out of the bullpen in 1999, but started 10 games. By 2000, he was once again in the rotation full time, and tossed a pair of complete game shutouts, but still ended up losing more games than he won. Sánchez had a great pickoff move, nabbing dozens of would-be base stealers in his career, setting a team record with 12 in 1998 alone. 

His pitch mix evolved over the years, with his change-up becoming his best weapon to complement his fastball. He didn't pitch with high velocity, and the transition from the minors to the majors would reflect the difficulty of bringing a less than blistering heater to the big leagues. Strikeout rates decreased, while walk rates, hits/9, and home run rates all increased.  Sánchez spent a good chunk of 2001 in AAA, not returning to the big leagues until late June. By the end of the year, he'd be traded to the Cubs, who viewed him a possible 5th starter / swing man in the bullpen. He'd spent parts of the next three seasons as a AAAA pitcher, shuttling between the big leagues and AAA for Chicago, Colorado, and Cincinnati. He then moved on to pitching in the Dominican Winter Leagues, the Mexican League, spent a year in China with the CBPL where he pitched a sub 3.00 ERA for the first time since 1996, and then returned to the U.S. to pitch in the independent Atlantic League for a pair of seasons, retiring in  2012. Sánchez today is the pitching coach for the Cleveland Guardians' Dominican Summer League team located in Boca Chica, D.R. which is located a few provinces east of his hometown of Nizao. 

Check this out - Sánchez finishes up a then-Marlins record of 7 consecutive strikeouts by tossing an "immaculate inning" - 9 pitches, 9 Strikes, 3 strikeouts!  He gets Greg Maddux with that nasty changeup.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

I love The 80s - 1982 Boston Red Sox

 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, which was more red? The Boston baseball team's faces, or their stockings? The season began without two of the biggest stars for the 70s teams, namely Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn. The deadline for major league teams to tender contracts to their players was December 20th, 1980. The contracts for Fisk and Lynn were not mailed until the 22nd, effectively making them free agents. While the team was appealing the decision, Lynn was traded to the Angels (technically the teams made a separate trade the same day of Lynn's free agent signing, the trade is unofficially viewed as partial compensation for losing Lynn), but Fisk was another story altogether. The team tried to re-sign him, but the catcher found greener pastures in Chicago with the White Sox. Fisk would add the extra twist of the knife Opening Day 1981 by hitting the game winning homer against his old team in his first visit to Fenway. The rest of the 1981 season was not much better - even though the Red Sox finished 10 games above .500, they still managed to end up in 5th place in the AL East.

In 1982, The Red Sox surprised a lot of people by starting very hot, at one point winning 13 of 14 games during a stretch of April ball. After surging into first place, they remained atop the Eastern Division until July. There were a handful of feel-good stories as well, like the homecoming of sorts for Worcester, MA kid Mark Fidrych. "The Bird" signed a free agent deal in February with the Red Sox, but his big league career was over. Ted Williams returned to the field in the Red Sox first ever "Old-Timers" game, making a highlight in the outfield with a shoestring catch. Some might have quipped that he should have been playing alongside Ted in that game, but 42 year old Carl Yastrzemski was having an excellent season, reminding fans of the player they had cheered for two decades in the shadow of the Green Monster. As Yaz was putting the finishing touches on his career, Wade Boggs was just getting his going. While still trying to find a permanent position, Boggs forced his way into the lineup by hitting .349 over 106 games all over the Boston infield, settling at third. The good vibes weren't enough to win a pennant, however, and the Sox finished third behind the Orioles and the Division winning Brewers.

The Cards:
Donruss #208 Dave Stapleton - Runner-up for the 1980 Rookie of the Year award behind Joe Charbonneau of Cleveland, Dave Stapleton was a versatile infielder, sharing time with Yaz at first base and with Jerry Remy at second. By 1982, he'd spell Yaz and Tony Perez at first base more often than not, because of his defensive chops. And yes, Stapleton was regularly used as a late inning defensive replacement during the 1986 season. OK, yes, he replaced Buckner in Game 5. But not Game 6. . .   

Fleer #292 Dennis Eckersley - Eckersley recorded his 100th Career Win in 1982, which might not seem like that big of a deal, but it would in hindsight frame the first of two halves of his Hall of Fame career nicely. Eck was still a starter in 1982, going a not-that-lucky 13-13 for the Red Sox. He'd go on to many years of success as a bullpen arm, notably in Oakland with a World Series victory in 1989. He'd finish his career with 197 wins and 390 saves. He was the first pitcher to have both a 20 Win season and a 50 Save season.

Fleer #288 Tom Burgmeier - Born in St. Paul, MN, Tom Burgmeier was an early target for Twins' scouting Director Jim Rantz. It would take a long journey through the Houston minor league system and a few seasons with the Royals before the Twins could add him to their bullpen, and by the time he reached his prime in 1980, he was off to Boston to make his lone All-Star appearance as the Red Sox Closer. After 745 major league appearances, Burgmeier became a pitching coach, serving in that capacity for several organizations over a couple decades starting in 1991 with the Royals.  

Topps #91 Carney Lansford - Lansford arrived in Boston as part of the Fred Lynn trade, and did a lot to take the sting away from losing the former MVP. Moving from California's pitcher friendly Anaheim Stadium to Fenway prompted a significant spike in his batting average. Lansford won a batting title in 1981, but still wasn't a good enough hitter to keep his job as the Red Sox everyday 3rd baseman. Lansford would be traded to Oakland following the 1982 season, and very nearly won a 2nd batting title in 1989. He had an identical .336 batting average in 1981 and 1989, but fell just short of Kirby Puckett's .339. Lansford did beat Boggs by 6 points, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.

Fleer #633 Carl Yastrzemski - As mentioned above, Yaz was playing in his age 42 season in 1982. It was his 22nd major league season, all with Boston. You've heard the stats before, but just as a refresher, he was the Triple Crown winner in 1967, leading the AL in HR, RBI and Average. He was also the MVP that year, and led the AL in Slugging and OBP as well. Oh, and hits, and runs scored. And Total Bases. And he won a Gold Glove that year. And he stole 10 bases, too. He only ground into 5 double plays all season that year. My favorite Yaz tidbit though is from 1965. When Satchel Paige returned to pitch one final MLB game for the Kansas City A's, only Yaz was able to get a hit off the ageless wonder. Paige, supposedly 59 years old at the time, pitched 3 innings and it was the double by Yaz in the first as the only blemish on his scoresheet. 

Fleer #294 Rich Gedman - Another Worcester, MA guy (like Mark Fidrych), Rich Gedman was the 1981 runner up for the Rookie of the Year behind the Yankees' Dave Righetti. Gedman split catching duties with Gary Allenson in 1982, playing an even 92 games each. Gedman had more hits with his bat to ball skills, while Allenson's patience at the plate netted him more walks. Gedman's calling card was throwing out runners trying to steal. He led the AL in caught stealing three straight seasons from 1984 through the championship run in 1986. Following his breakout 1984 season when he hit 24 homers, he earned the reputation of "feared hitter" not unlike his teammate Jim Rice. Gedman drew intentional walks 24 times in his two All-Star seasons, almost twice as many as Rice over the same period. Gedman was set to be a top free agent following the 1986 World Series, but strangely found no takers. (The world would later learn this was a direct result of collusion by the owners, who all agreed not to offer big free agent contracts that offseason). Gedman would re-sign with the Red Sox, but missed the first month of the season and all of Spring Training, which resulted in a career worst .205 average in 52 games. He was most closely comparable to the career of Salvador Perez by age 26, but after the lost season of 1987, he never regained his potent bat or his regular gig behind the plate for the Red Sox. 

Topps #256 Tony Pérez - "Big Doggie" was several years removed from his Big Red Machine years with Cincinnati, and in 1982 managed just 6 homers for the Red Sox. While he was no longer the same hitter he was in years prior, he was still a highly respected and highly coveted bench bat. He would go on to play several more seasons first with Philadelphia then back again to Cincinnati, never far from Pete Rose, just in case he needed someone to drive him in from second base. His is often mentioned as a comp for other power hitters of his era still waiting to get into Cooperstown like Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, and until recently Harold Baines. Pérez was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA in 2000.

Donruss #452 Mark Clear - Another player acquired for Fred Lynn, Mark Clear notched 9 saves and won 8 games for the Red Sox in his first season in Boston. In 1982, he was an AL All-Star selection, and had a career high 14 victories, all coming in relief. Originally signed by the Phillies to be a starter, poor mechanics led to back problems and an early release from his contract. Clear cleaned up his delivery (thanks to his uncle, who was the Angels' bullpen coach) and rehabbed with a back brace before signing a minor league deal with California. Once converted to relief work, he thrived. He was an All-Star his rookie season with the Angels, and was well on his way to a solid MLB career. 

Donruss #109 Dwight Evans - Somehow Evans managed to fly under the radar again in 1982. Despite hitting 32 homers and driving in 98 runs and leading the league with a .402 OBP finished a distant 7th in the MVP balloting (let's be fair, though, the right guy won (Robin Yount)). Evans is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Red Sox. Did you know that he's 2nd all-time in games played by a Red Sox player, trailing only Yaz? Evans also has 8 Gold Glove awards, easily the most by a Red Sox outfielder, and trailing only the best of the best in MLB history- Mays, Griffey Jr., Clemente, and Kaline. He hit more homers in the 1980s (256) than any other AL player.