Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#257 Luis Alicea

About the Front: It looks like Luis Alicea's attempting a no-look flip to the shortstop, but he's already standing on second base himself. Maybe he's signaling to a teammate to back up.

About the Back: Check out Alicea's 1991 stat line with the Cardinals. It's pretty hard to tally zero runs batted in over 56 games, even if you're limited to 68 at-bats. Also, it seems worth mentioning that Luis' first career home run, referenced here, was hit against Don Sutton.

Triple Play:

1. He and his younger brother Edwin were teammates at Florida State University. Ed Alicea was drafted in the ninth round in 1988 by the Braves, and had an eight-year minor league career, splitting time between second base, third base, and the outfield.

2. Luis had a 13-year major league career with the Cardinals, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, and Royals, batting .260/.346/.369 with 47 homers and 422 RBI.

3. After hanging up his spikes, Alicea spent three years managing in the Red Sox organization, and then had brief stints as a big league coach for both the Red Sox and Mets.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I could've sworn he was an All-Star at least once. I guess that's why I look this stuff up.

Bill James Said: "He's a switch hitter who runs well and won't chase bad pitches, witness the .362 on-base percentage, plus his range at second is among the best in the league."

On This Date in 1993: July 23. The Azerbaijani city of Agdam is captured by Armenian separatists. The city's residents are forced to flee, and the separatists will lay waste to Agdam to prevent its recapture by Azerbaijan. The town is still deserted more than 20 years later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#256 Wil Cordero

About the Front: This is a pretty solid action photo, with Wil Cordero preparing to play a tough hop on a grounder in Wrigley Field. I just wish that the ball itself was in the frame.

About the Back: The portrait on the back, however, resembles a mugshot. Cordero has some experience with those.

Triple Play:

1. His lone All-Star season was 1994, when the shortstop batted .294/.363/.489 with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, and 63 RBI. He also earned a Silver Slugger Award.

2. On May 10, 2000, Wil went 5-for-5 with three runs scored, a home run, a double, and four RBI in a 13-9 Pirates win over the Mets.

3. Cordero excelled in a limited role with the Indians in 1999, batting .299/.364/.500 in 54 games and collecting five hits and a walk in 10 trips to the plate in Cleveland's Division Series loss to Boston.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought that the loose way that Wil's jersey hung off his torso on this card made it look like he had a pot belly.

Bill James Said: "Explain this: Cordero struck out less than half as often as we had expected based on his minor league record, but still hit for more power but with a lower batting average."

On This Date in 1993: July 22. Levees near Kaskaskia, Illinois rupture, flooding the town under nine feet of water and forcing everyone to evacuate on barges supplied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Of course, the population was nine as of the 2000 Census (and jumped to 14 by 2010), so I guess it could have been worse.

Monday, July 21, 2014

#255 Orel Hershiser

About the Front: Orel Hershiser is wearing a patch commemorating the 30th anniversary of Dodger Stadium. See it in greater detail here.

About the Back: 15 complete games in 1988. In 2013, Adam Wainwright led the major leagues with five.

Triple Play:

1. Orel pitched out of his damn mind in capturing the 1988 Cy Young Award, NLCS MVP, and World Series MVP. In addition to all of the gaudy numbers you see on the card back above, he ended the regular season with 59 and one-third straight scoreless innings, totaling 30 hits allowed, nine walks, and 34 strikeouts in that span. He had eight straight complete games from August 19 through September 23, and left his final start on September 28 after tossing 10 shutout innings (the Dodgers ultimately fell to the Padres, 2-1, in 16 innings).

2. His career spanned 18 big league seasons, including three years with the Indians and a season each with the Giants and the Mets before returning to Los Angeles for a rough 10-game stint in 2000. Hershiser totaled 204 wins and 150 losses with a 3.48 ERA.

3. He spent four seasons as the Rangers' pitching coach before becoming a TV analyst for ESPN's baseball coverage in 2006. He stayed with the network until 2014, when he returned to the Dodgers as a TV analyst for road games.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Hershiser batted .356 (26-for-73) in 1993; his average had peaked at .424 entering September, but he endured a 1-for-14 slump to end the year. I swear that I remember hearing a facetious report that the Dodgers were going to start giving him time at third base to get his bat in the lineup on days that he wasn't pitching.

Bill James Said: "A ground-ball pitcher; over the past four years he is 2-11 on artificial turf."

On This Date in 1993: July 21. Tony Phillips goes 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in Detroit's 7-2 loss vs. the Twins. This is the only time in a 101-game stretch spanning from May 26-September 26 that Phillips fails to reach base at least once. Kevin Tapani gets the win and Carl Willis the save for Minnesota.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#254 Cory Snyder

About the Front: This is Cory Snyder's running face. It is not a flattering face.

About the Back: You probably won't be surprised to learn that two of Cory's three homers on May 21, 1987 were hit off of Bert Blyleven, who surrendered a league-leading 46 that year and fell just short of the record 50 he'd allowed in 1986. Tony Bernazard and Mel Hall also took Bert deep in a 6-3 Cleveland victory. All five home runs were solo shots.

Triple Play:

1. Snyder and Joe Carter were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 1987 baseball preview issue, which touted the Indians as "the best team in the American League". Sophomore Snyder hit a career-high 33 homers, but his batting average plunged by 36 points and the Tribe finished dead-last at 61-101. That April 6, 1987 issue is a popular exhibit in the "SI Cover Jinx" trope.

2. He was the National League Player of the Month in June 1992, when he batted .372/.388/.649 with nine doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 24 RBI in 24 games.

3. Cory managed independent minor league teams in St. George, UT and Maui, HI from 2007-2010 before joining the Mariners organization as a minor league coach.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I hate to bash the guy's looks again, but I always thought Snyder was pretty goofy. The light blond mustache is a thing that very few men can make work.

Bill James Said: "As an overall right fielder he ranks below Sosa, Walker, Gwynn, Justice, Bonilla, Anthony, Merced and whoever else happens to be playing the position."

On This Date in 1993: July 18. With the trade deadline approaching, the Braves grab Fred McGriff from the Padres for a trio of prospects: Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore. That deal worked out pretty well for Atlanta.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#253 Jose Guzman

About the Front: Maybe it's a trick of perspective, but it looks like Jose Guzman has a fairly short stride in his pitching delivery.

About the Back: Guzman won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award for that strong 1991 season, which came after a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder sidelined him for the previous two years.

Triple Play:

1. Jose signed with the Cubs prior to the 1993 season, and in his Chicago debut on April 6, 1993, he held the Braves hitless until Otis Nixon singled with two outs in the ninth inning. He settled for the one-hit shutout, a 1-0 squeaker of a win.

2. More shoulder problems resulted in Guzman throwing his last big league pitch in May of 1994, at age 31. He made a comeback with the unaffiliated Fort Worth Cats seven years later, going 5-2 with a 1.65 ERA. The righty came back down to earth in 2002, but was still competitive with a 6-8 mark and a 4.20 ERA in 17 starts for the Cats.

3. He's done Spanish language radio broadcasts for the Rangers, and attended the team's most recent spring training as a special instructor.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I haven't talked in this space about one of my other favorite sets from this time, 1994 Score. It remains incomplete, which I'm going to blame on A)not being able to focus on one set, instead buying packs from several different brands throughout that year and B)scaling back my interest due to frustration with the players' strike. Anyway, Jose had a pretty great card in that set.

Bill James Said: "In my opinion, Guzman will continue to be a fine pitcher for several years, but the Cubs need to be careful not to push him when the back acts up." How about the shoulder?

On This Date in 1993: July 17. Shawn Hillegas tosses a scoreless inning of mop-up relief for the Athletics in a 9-5 loss to the Yankees, who are tied for first with Toronto in a wild American League East. The Orioles and Tigers are each a half-game behind, and Boston lurks just two games back of the leaders. Why mention Hillegas? This is his final big league game, bringing to an end an uneven seven-year career (24-38, 4.61 ERA, 1.47 WHIP). Shawn is not featured in the 1993 Topps set, so I pounced at the opportunity to run Bill James' hilariously brutal assessment of him. To wit: "A truly dreadful pitcher, having none of the attributes of a major league hurler except for what they say is a live arm. He doesn't have a breaking pitch, his control is poor, and his record is consistently bad for a long period of time. To be honest, I really have no idea what in the hell he is doing in the major leagues."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#252 Xavier Hernandez

About the Front: I'd wager dollars to donuts that Xavier Hernandez is pitching in Dodger Stadium.

About the Back: Xavier is the only player in the 1993 Topps set whose name begins with an "X".

Triple Play:

1. Hernandez made seven starts among his 463 career pitching appearances. He went 0-6 with an ERA of 6.00 before Houston got the hint and slotted him in the bullpen for good.

2. Xavier had an unusual debut on June 4, 1989 with Toronto. Fellow rookie Alex Sanchez got the start for the Jays at Fenway Park, but allowed seven of eight Boston batters to reach base before getting the hook from skipper Cito Gaston. Entering with one out, one on, and his club in a 5-0 hole, Hernandez allowed five more runs, but only two of those were earned, and he soaked up 6.2 innings. That became important, as Toronto dug its way out of a 10-0 hole to take an 11-10 lead on Ernie Whitt's grand slam in the top of the ninth. Blue Jay closer Tom Henke gave the tying run right back to Boston, and it took three more innings for Toronto to eke out the win.

3. He has been coaching since his retirement as a player, spending nearly a decade in the Rays organization before moving on to Houston Baptist University.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember the Orioles agreeing to terms with Hernandez in 1998, only to scotch the deal when a physical revealed a partially torn rotator cuff. Thus began the legacy of my favorite team cancelling free agent deals over medical concerns. Did you know that the owner is a lawyer?

Bill James Said: "Takes a long stride and whips the ball in a long loop, which seems to mesmerize batters."

On This Date in 1993: July 16. Free Willy premieres in theatres across the United States.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#251 Mike Bielecki

About the Front: Mike Bielecki's got a pretty dirty uniform for a pitcher. I'd guess that he was running the bases beforehand.

About the Back: This is Bielecki's last Topps card, despite the fact that he pitched in the majors through 1997. In fact, he pitched a career-high 50 games out of the Atlanta bullpen in his final season. That just goes to show you how Topps threw aside relievers, bench players, and other unsung players when they pared down the size of their base sets in the mid-1990s.

Triple Play:

1. On the heels of his career-best numbers in 1989 (18-7, 3.14 ERA), Mike started Game 5 of the NLCS with the Cubs facing elimination. He took a shutout into the seventh inning before tiring. A Will Clark triple and a Kevin Mitchell sac fly tied the score, and an inning later Bielecki walked the bases loaded with two outs and was pulled for Mitch Williams. Williams, of course, permitted a two-run single to Clark that saddled his starter with a tough loss.

2. After three uneven seasons, Bielecki rebounded with the Braves in 1996, appearing in 40 games (35 in relief) with a 2.63 ERA. He also had six scoreless, hitless appearances in the postseason that year.

3. The first home run Mike allowed as a major leaguer was hit by...Rick Sutcliffe, who would later be his teammate with the Cubs. I wonder if the Red Baron ever needled him about that.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My uncle often mentioned that he had gone to high school with Bielecki's younger brother. Six degrees of separation and all that.

Bill James Said: "Bielecki at times would pitch very, very well, but like a lot of guys he tended to get hurt whenever he stayed in the rotation longer than a couple of weeks."

On This Date in 1993: July 15. Mike Morgan of the Cubs needs only 99 pitches to dispose of the Rockies, tossing a five-hit shutout in a 1-0 Chicago win. Steve Buechele's RBI double scores Sammy Sosa with the game's lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Colorado has a runner thrown out trying to steal second base to end both the seventh and eighth innings, so Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins certainly earns his share of the credit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#250 Chuck Knoblauch

About the Front: Twins at Athletics, Willie Wilson ostensibly trying to break up the double play. Can I find the game? Willie's 1992 gamelog tells me that he only reached base in two of his six home games against Minnesota that season. Of those two games, June 28 meets our criteria. In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Twins waxing the A's 10-0, Wilson drew a leadoff walk against Scott Erickson. Mike Bordick hit a grounder to third baseman Donnie Hill, who tossed to Chuck Knoblauch for the force at second; Bordick was safe at first. The Twins went on to win 10-2, and Knoblauch went 2-for-5 with a double, a steal, and a couple of runs scored.

About the Back: Chuck was the 25th overall pick in the 1989 draft. Using Baseball Reference's WAR statistic, Frank Thomas (73.7) was the only first-rounder that year with more career value than Knoblauch (44.6). That puts him ahead of Mo Vaughn, Ben McDonald, Todd Jones, and Charles Johnson.

Triple Play:

1. His father Ray pitched for eight seasons in the minor leagues (1948-1950, 1953-1957), topping out at the AA Texas League.

2. Chuck won the 1991 A.L. Rookie of the Year Award, but his best all-around season was probably 1996 (.341/.448/.517, 140 runs scored, 35 doubles, league-high 14 triples, 13 homers, 72 RBI, 45-of-59 in steals).

3. The penny-pinching Twins traded Knoblauch to the Yankees after the 1997 season. He famously developed a problem with his throwing accuracy, and was eventually moved to the outfield in 2001. After his hitting cratered in Kansas City the following season (.210/.284/.300 in 80 games), he retired at age 34.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Back when Jon Miller was still the radio voice of the Orioles, one of his favorite impressions was former Twins' PA announcer Bob Casey. It seemed like every time the O's played the Twins, Miller would riff on Casey's exaggerated, nasal pronunciation of "Chaaaauuuuuuucccckkk...Knaaaaaaaablaaaaaauuuuuch!"

Bill James Said: "A great number-two hitter, a classic second baseman." When Bill James says somebody is great in the two-hole, you can bet he's talking about on-base skills (.378 career OBP) and not bunting ability.

On This Date in 1993: July 13. In the 64th All-Star Game, hosted at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the American League dispatches the National League, 9-3. Gary Sheffield, Kirby Puckett, and Roberto Alomar each hit a home run in the first three innings. Puckett also drives in a run with a double and is named the game's MVP. John Kruk famously has a near-death experience with an overthrown Randy Johnson fastball. (Yes, this is yesterday's date. Oh well.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

#249 Tim Burke

About the Front: Tim Burke is dressed all in navy from the waist up and posing in front of a shadowy dugout. Is this the darkest picture in the set?

About the Back: Good for the Burkes! I have friends who are in the process of an international adoption and I can't believe how much bureaucratic red tape they've had to endure. You'd have to be really determined and patient to go through the process three times.

Triple Play:

1. After Jeff Reardon's departure, Tim led Montreal in saves for four straight seasons (1987-1990). He still ranks sixth in franchise history with 101 saves, and leads all Expos/Nationals in games pitched with 425.

2. He was an All-Star in 1989, and tossed two scoreless innings for the National League. That game coincidentally took place 25 years ago today!

3. Burke started only two games in his career, both in August of 1986. He totaled 12 innings, allowing a single run and striking out 11 while issuing one walk. I'm kind of surprised that he didn't get more of a chance to start.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It always looked to me like Tim was in mid-sentence while this picture was snapped. Was he asking the photographer where he or she was from? Or just telling them to hurry up and snap the photo?

Bill James Said: Nothing. Burke signed with the Reds as a free agent after the 1992 season, but promptly retired to help raise his children.

On This Date in 1993: July 11. These are the standings as MLB heads into the All-Star break. The division leaders are Toronto (49-40, 0.5 games ahead of Detroit), the White Sox (45-41, 1.0 GA of Texas and Kansas City), Philadelphia (57-32, 5.0 GA of St. Louis), and San Francisco (59-30, 9.0 GA of Atlanta).