Friday, January 23, 2015

#362 Luis Gonzalez

About the Front: Luis Gonzalez high-stepping it down the first base line in Shea Stadium is not the hippest-looking thing in the world.

About the Back: Gonzo's 24-homer effort at Columbus in 1990 shows that he always had power potential, but if you predicted he'd hit 57 four-baggers in 2001, you might have been on crazy pills.

Triple Play:

1. Luis was a high school teammate of future Yankee slugger Tino Martinez at Jefferson High in Tampa, FL.

2. On July 5, 2000, he became the first Arizona Diamondbacks player to hit for the cycle, boosting the Snakes in a wild 12-9 win at Houston.

3. Of course, his most famous hit delivered the walkoff win for Arizona in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series, and he hit that single up the middle against Mariano Rivera, who was quite good at baseball in his own right.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought Gonzalez was a bit strange looking, with his narrow face, long nose, beady eyes, and everpresent toothy grin. He grew into his looks a bit as he aged, though.

Bill James Said: "He's a lefthanded hitter with a good, level stroke who makes contact, doesn't chase pitches over his head or a foot outside, doesn't bail out against lefties, runs well and hits the ball hard."

On This Date in 1993: January 23. At the 50th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Scent of a Woman wins for Best Film (Drama).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#361 Scott Bankhead

About the Front: Cincinnati is probably one of the most frequently misspelled city names in the country. Luckily for Scott Bankhead, whoever lettered the Reds' away jerseys was on point.

About the Back: Scott tied John Hoover, the Orioles' first-round pick in 1984, for the Southern League strikeout crown in 1985. But Hoover's big league career consisted of a cup of coffee with the Rangers in 1990.

Triple Play:

1. 1984 was a great year for Bankhead, as he went 11-0 for the University of North Carolina and 1-0 with an 0.93 ERA for the USA Olympic Team.

2. The Royals traded him to Seattle in the deal that sent Danny Tartabull to Kansas City.

3. Scott was the only Mariners pitcher to win double-digit games in 1989, when he went a career-best 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Bankhead" was a name that tickled my funny bone. It's like somebody just mashed together the first two things they saw. Try it. Gary Booknose. Joe Mugphone.

Bill James Said: "A useful pitcher in a middle relief role, could probably be a starter if his arm and back would hold up, but they won't."

On This Date in 1993: January 22. The Reds sign Jamie Quirk, 38-year-old veteran catcher. He will not make the club, and will end his 18-year big league career.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#360 Ivan Rodriguez

About the Front: Zeroing in on the details again, we can see Ivan Rodriguez's number 7 on the knob of his bat. He wore #7 for his entire career, save for partial seasons late in his career with the Yankees (#7 retired for Mickey Mantle) and Astros (#7 retired for Craig Biggio).

About the Back: The Rangers had some interesting batteries in 1991, with teenager Rodriguez catching 44-year-old starting pitcher Nolan Ryan and 39-year-old reliever Goose Gossage, among others.

Triple Play:

1. On September 11, 1997, Ivan homered in three consecutive at-bats against the Twins, driving in five runs in a 7-0 Rangers victory.

2. Rodriguez was the American League MVP in 1999, when he batted .332/.356/.558 with career highs of 35 home runs, 113 RBI, and 25 stolen bases (while being caught 12 times, so he probably should've been given the red light). There were many worthy candidates, but my vote would've gone to Pedro Martinez (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 313 K).

3. He retired after the 2011 season with an all-time record for games caught, squatting behind the plate for 2,427 games in all. He racked up 13 Gold Gloves and threw out 45.7% of would-be base stealers; in nine different seasons he led the American League in caught-stealing percentage

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It used to annoy me that people called Ivan "Pudge", because that was already Carlton Fisk's nickname. I felt like he should have to go by something more original. Then people started calling him "I-Rod" at some point, and that was much, much worse.

Bill James Said: "He is still young enough and strong enough to develop 20-home-run power, but then I would have said the same thing about Tony Pena at the same age." From 1996-2004, Rodriguez averaged 22 homers and 83 RBI a year. Of course, offense was in a boom period during those years, for a variety of reasons.

On This Date in 1993: January 21. Here's an especially cynical daily strip from Calvin and Hobbes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

#359 Mike Stanley

About the Front: Mike Stanley settles under a pop-up with a proper two-handed technique.

About the Back: Stanley hit 26 home runs in a (then) career-high 491 plate appearances in 1993, more than doubling his career output in one season.

Triple Play:

1. He is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, and is still the Gators' all-time leader in runs scored and RBI.

2. Stanley hit a career-high 29 home runs in 1998, splitting the season between Toronto and Boston.

3. In 2005, Mike coached the Maitland, FL team in the Little League World Series. The roster included both his own son Tanner and Dante Bichette, Jr., son of Mike's former Red Sox teammate.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Because it slightly predated my years as a fan, it was always odd to see card depicting Stanley as a mustache-wearing Texas Rangers catcher.

Bill James Said: "The new Stan Lopata." Unlike 1950s Philly backstop Lopata, Stanley stayed healthy beyond his breakout season and posted a 120 OPS+ in his remaining seven years, primarily as a first baseman and DH.

On This Date in 1993: January 20. Bill Clinton is inaugurated as the 42nd President of the United States.

Friday, January 16, 2015

#358 Kevin Wickander

About the Front: I could be wrong, but it looks like Kevin Wickander is pitching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. There weren't many American League parks with green fence padding in 1992. If I'm right, this is probably the Sunday, August 9 game. Wickander came on in the eighth inning of a tie game to face Brady Anderson, retiring him on a groundout to second base. He was then replaced by Ted Power, who was charged with the loss in the tenth inning when his runner scored on a walkoff Cal Ripken single.

About the Back: Cleveland's first-round pick in 1986 was Greg Swindell, so in hindsight they had their draft order straight.

Triple Play:

1. The scout who signed Kevin was Eddie Bane, who had pitched parts of three seasons for the Twins in the mid-1970s.

2. He earned his first big league save with 2.2 innings of one-hit, four-strikeout relief against the Rangers on May 6, 1992.

3. Wickander was deeply affected by the death of friend and teammate Steve Olin in a boating accident in the spring of 1993. He struggled to pitch as effectively as before, was out of baseball by 1996, and became addicted to meth. He served time in prison early last decade, but in a 2008 interview, former manager Mike Hargrove said that the ex-pitcher had turned a corner.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never gave Kevin Wickander much thought beyond, "Hey, that guy has my name!".

Bill James Said: "He has three good pitches, a fastball, a curve, and a cut fastball, but his control record is so bad that I question whether he should be in the majors."

On This Date in 1993: January 16. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain has something of an onstage meltdown at the Hollywood Rock Festival in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The bizarre details (and video) are here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

#357 Phil Stephenson

About the Front: I wonder if Phil Stephenson ever dressed as John Kruk for Halloween.

About the Back: This is Stephenson's entire major league stat record, as he never played in the bigs after 1992. With those dreadful numbers in his last season, it's no wonder.

Triple Play:

1. He played at Wichita State University for his older brother Gene, who was the Shockers' head coach for 36 years.

2. Phil set an NCAA record (later broken by Robin Ventura) with a 47-game hitting streak.

3. Stephenson managed the independent Texas-Louisiana League's Abilene Prairie Dogs to a championship in 1996, and also spent a year the Cape Fear Crocs, a low-level affiliate of the Expos. In 2006, he took a head coaching job at Dodge City Community College in Kansas.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: If I had researched Phil's collegiate career as a kid, I would've been shocked to learn that this dumpy-looking guy once stole 87 bases in a season.

Bill James Said: He did not say, as Stephenson split 1993 between AAA Omaha and the Mexican League.

On This Date in 1993: January 15. Musician Sammy Cahn, who cowrote "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", "Love and Marriage", and "High Hopes", among others, dies in Los Angeles at age 79.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#356 Freddie Benavides

About the Front: Is Freddie Benavides that small, or is the lettering on the back of Cincinnati's jerseys that large? I wouldn't expect a nine-letter surname to spread into a player's armpits.

About the Back: He had to have one heck of a glove in order to spend any time in the big leagues. As a minor league player, Freddie had a career batting line of .234/.287/.300.

Triple Play:

1. Benavides was taken by the Rockies with the 28th pick in the 1992 Expansion Draft, sandwiched between the Marlins' choices of outfielder Carl Everett (from the Yankees) and pitcher David Weathers (from the Blue Jays).

2. Freddie had only four career home runs, none bigger than his go-ahead three-run shot off of the Phillies' Roger Mason in the bottom of the eighth inning on August 19, 1993. It capped a five-run rally in a 6-5 Colorado win.

3. He has coached and managed in the Reds' organization since 1999, primarily serving as the minor league infield coordinator.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always loved the name "Freddie Benavides". It's just lyrical, rolls off of the tongue.

Bill James Said: "In Colorado, he hit .387 with a .591 slugging percentage; on the road, .208 and .258." When the major leagues came to Mile High Stadium in 1993, it truly was unlike anything contemporary fans had ever seen.

On This Date in 1993: January 14. The Athletics trade DH Harold Baines to the Orioles for a pair of minor league pitchers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#355 Brady Anderson

About the Front: The sideburns. That's all you need for a classic Brady Anderson card.

About the Back: I lived in Silver Spring for a few months in my mid-twenties. It was also the birthplace of standup comedian Lewis Black.

Triple Play:

1. In 1996, Brady had one of the great fluke home run seasons in history, slugging 50 homers and also reaching career highs in runs (117), RBI (110), and batting average and slugging percentage (.297/.637). He had only 210 total home runs in his career, and otherwise his season high was 24 in 1999.

2. He played 1,759 of his 1,834 career games in Baltimore, and ranks in the top five on several of the team's offensive leaderboards. His 307 stolen bases are the most by any Oriole.

3. Anderson is currently the Orioles' Vice President of Baseball Operations. He has an active and varied role with the team, weighing in on player training and fitness, personnel decisions, and more.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: All of the ladies fawned over Brady. I mean, how many big leaguers had a beefcake poster like this one?

Bill James Said: "Not a big star, but with a .363 on-base percentage, 57 extra-base hits, some stolen bases and good defense in left, he's the kind of multi-faceted player who wins championships."

On This Date in 1993: January 13. The space shuttle Endeavour launches from the Kennedy Space Center, leaving Earth for the third time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#354 Jay Bell

About the Front: Here I'd thought that players wearing a single long sleeve was a more recent development, but Jay Bell took the field in just such a manner back in 1992. Maybe he was a trendsetter.

About the Back: Yes, Jay was an Air Force kid. He mentions it in this excellent interview/article.

Triple Play:

1. The Twins traded Bell to Cleveland as part of a four-player package that netted future Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. The infielder made his big league debut with the Indians on September 29, 1986, facing Blyleven and Minnesota, and took Bert deep in his first at-bat.

2. He was a two-time All-Star, earning honors in 1993 (.310/.392/.437 in 154 games, with a Gold Glove to boot), and then again in 1999 as part of an anomalous year of power production with the Diamondbacks (.289/.374/.557, 38 HR, 112 RBI).

3. Jay retired after the 2003 season, and served as Arizona's bench coach in 2005-2006. He's also been hitting coach for the Pirates (2013) and bench coach for the Reds (2014-present), and in between did some coaching for Team USA in amateur competitions.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My best friend Joe wasn't a huge baseball fan, but he dabbled in card collecting in the early 1990s. He used to complain about how often he pulled Jay Bell from packs.

Bill James Said: "I had him rated as the third-best shortstop in baseball last year, but since Larkin gets hurt all the time, Ozzie's pushing 40, Fryman's defense didn't come around, Blauser's only done it once, and Ripken goes through long slumps without coming out of the lineup, I guess he's got to be the man."

On This Date in 1993: January 12. 1960s British rock group Cream, fronted by Eric Clapton reunites to perform at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ceremonies take place in Los Angeles; other artists enshrined include Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ruth Brown, The Doors, Van Morrison, and Sly and the Family Stone.