Friday, November 21, 2014

#326 Gary Varsho

About the Front: You normally don't see a player down in a crouch in the on-deck circle, bat knob resting against his shoulder. I'll give Gary Varsho the benefit of the doubt and assume that there's a pitching change or some other break in the action. I also can't identify the blurry teammates behind him. Both Don Slaught and Mike LaValliere had great bushy mustaches, so the catcher could be either one of them.

About the Back: Varsho is an example of the rare bats-left, throws-right player.

Triple Play:

1. In 1985 and 1986, Gary became the first back-to-back stolen base champion in the AA Eastern League, as he swiped a total of 85 bags in 104 tries for the Pittsfield Cubs.

2. He made 352 pinch hit appearances in eight big league seasons, with a .243/.296/.355 line and four home runs in those situations.

3. Varsho is currently an advance scout for the Angels. He was previously a minor league manager in the Seattle and Philadelphia farm systems, and coached in the majors for the Phillies and Pirates.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never noticed before, but he appears incredibly close to the dugout in the front photo.

Bill James Said: "He's an excellent baserunner and a good outfielder, although he lacks a strong arm."

On This Date in 1993: November 21. Actor and director Bill Bixby, best known for his portrayal of Dr. David Banner on TV's The Incredible Hulk, passes away at age 59 after battling prostate cancer.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#325 Bill Gullickson

About the Front: Bill Gullickson's expression says, "Cecil Fielder just let a ground ball scoot through his legs, and I need to turn around and stare off into space before my eyes roll out of my head."

About the Back: Gullickson led the Giants in wins in 1988, with a sharp 3.10 ERA in 203.1 innings. He made only 15 starts in 1989, dropping to 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA. His manager with Yomiuri in 1988 was Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh.

Triple Play:

1. He was drafted second overall in 1977, right behind top pick Harold Baines. (We'll visit with Harold later.)

2. On September 10, 1980, Bill set a big league rookie record by striking out 18 Cubs in a four-hit, two-run complete game victory. He allowed only two walks, and his record stood until Kerry Wood whiffed 20 Astros in 1998.

3. Gullickson and his wife Sandy have six children, all of whom became involved in athletics. Most notably, daughter Carly is a former professional tennis player. She was active from 2003-2013, peaking with a #123 world ranking in singles and #52 in doubles. Carly and partner Travis Parrott were mixed doubles champions at the 2009 US Open.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Another card from my modest early childhood (pre-fandom) collection that still sticks with me years later is Bill's 1988 Topps card, featuring a tight closeup on his grimacing face, cloaked in shadow from the underbill of his Yankees cap.

Bill James Said: "Opened the season on the disabled list following off-season surgery to both his knee and his shoulder, and struggled most of the year." Gullickson had the worst season yet in his career, with a run support-inflated 13-9 record offset by his 5.37 ERA and 28 homers allowed in 159.1 innings. The 1994 season (4-5, 5.93 ERA, 24 HR in 115.1 IP) would be his last.

On This Date in 1993: November 20. LPGA golfer Heather Farr dies at age 28 after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#324 Willie Randolph

About the Front: This is the final Topps card of Willie Randolph's long career, as he hung up his spikes after spending his age-37 season with the Mets. He had grown up rooting for the Mets, and took #12 as a nod to Ken Boswell, the team's former second baseman.

About the Back: Topps didn't include on-base percentage on its card backs in 1993, so you can't see that Willie reached base at a .373 clip for his career.

Triple Play:

1. He was a six-time All-Star and was widely regarded as a strong defensive second baseman. However, Lou Whitaker and Frank White monopolized the American League's Gold Glove at the keystone during Randolph's prime.

2. Willie's younger brother Terry played defensive back for the Green Bay Packers in 1977.

3. He spent a decade coaching for the Yankees before returning to the Mets as manager. Though he led the team to a .554 winning percentage in three-plus seasons, including a trip to the NLCS in 2006, he was fired 69 games into the 2008 season. Randolph then coached for the Brewers and Orioles through 2011.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never would have guessed back then that I would some day complete the 1975 Topps set, which features Willie's rookie card.

Bill James Said: No he didn't, since as I mentioned, Randolph retired after the 1992 season.

On This Date in 1993: November 19. Joey Gallo is born. The Rangers will draft him with a first-round compensation pick in June 2012, and he will go on to hit 104 home runs in his first 296 minor league games while striking out 429 times. Pete Incaviglia, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#323 Mike Greenwell

About the Front: That's some unusual wristband placement for Mike Greenwell. Do you think his forearms were cold?

About the Back: The use of all-caps for "TOPPS" seems like a bit much. As you can see, injuries abbreviated Greenwell's 1992 season, making it by far the worst of his career.

Triple Play:

1. His first big league hit was a game-winning two-run homer off of Toronto's John Cerutti in the top of the 13th inning on September 25, 1985.

2. Mike set a record on September 2, 1996, driving in all nine of Boston's runs in a 9-8 win over Seattle. He went 4-for-5 with a double, a two-run homer, and a grand slam, wrapping things up with a tiebreaking single in the top of the tenth.

3. Greenwell has had a colorful life outside of baseball. He owns an amusement park in Cape Coral, FL, and a fruit and vegetable farm in Alva, FL. He also got into stock car racing, but gave it up in 2010.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I tended to lose track of players once they headed to Japan. In Mike's case, he signed a lucrative contract with the Hanshin Tigers in 1997, but played only seven games before breaking his foot on a foul tip and retiring.

Bill James Said: "Like his boyhood hero, George Brett, he often starts slowly, and drives his batting average upward."

On This Date in 1993: November 18. Puerto Rico residents vote by a narrow margin to maintain Commonwealth status, rejecting statehood.

Monday, November 17, 2014

#322 Pat Borders

About the Front: I assume this photo was snapped in the dugout, but it looks like Pat Borders could just as easily be sitting at a train station or in the waiting room of a doctor's office. I don't know why he would do that in full uniform, but maybe he's hoping for preferential treatment.

About the Back: Borders slugged .497 and hit .286 in 1990? That's shocking to me. He had a 120 OPS+ that year; his career mark was 77.

Triple Play:

1. Pat seemed to save his best for the postseason, compiling a career batting line of .315/.339/.414 in 32 career playoff and World Series games. He was named the 1992 World Series MVP after reaching base in 11 of 22 trips to the plate, doubling three times, and hitting a solo homer off of Tom Glavine in Toronto's 2-1 Game Four victory.

2. Though he was not a regular starter after the 1994 season, Borders hung around for parts of 17 big league years. In his final MLB game on July 27, 2005, the 42-year-old combined with Seattle starting pitcher Jamie Moyer (also 42) to comprise the oldest starting battery in major league history.

3. He spent all of the 2000 season with Tampa Bay's AAA Durham team, which afforded him the opportunity to represent Team USA in the Summer Olympics in Sydney. The veteran catcher was on the gold-medal-winning baseball team, making him one of four players to earn both a World Series ring and a gold medal (the others being fellow American Doug Mientkiewicz and Cubans Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: There is plenty of photographic evidence that says that I wasn't a fashion-savvy kid, but even I thought that Borders' dirt-'stache and mullet was a bad look.

Bill James Said: "His .285 on-base percentage was the lowest of any regular in '93, and is reflected in his runs scored total." Pat scored a whopping 38 runs in 520 plate appearances.

On This Date in 1993: November 17. The Mets sign free agent outfielder John Cangelosi. He stole 50 bases as a rookie with the 1986 White Sox, but was out of the major leagues entirely in 1991 and 1993. He will bat .252/.371/.288 in 132 plate appearances for New York in 1994 before reviving his career with a two-year stint as a reserve in Houston (.287/.413/.367, 38-for-52 in steals).

Friday, November 14, 2014

#321 Rusty Meacham

About the Front: I've been staring at photos of pitching grips for 10 minutes, and I can't tell whether Rusty Meacham is throwing a two-seam fastball or a curveball. I feel like Jim Palmer's famous quote about Earl Weaver applies to me - the only thing I know about pitching is that I couldn't hit it.

About the Back: Rusty vultured 10 wins out of the Kansas City bullpen in 1992; starter Kevin Appier (15-8) was the only other double-digit winner on a 90-loss Royals team.

Triple Play:

1. He had a 27-inning streak from April 21 through June 8, 1992 in which he did not allow an earned run, spanning 19 appearances.

2. According to his Baseball-Reference Bullpen wiki page, which appears to have been written by one of Meacham's fans, he used to turn the bullpen hose on appreciative fans on hot summer days, a la Dan Quisenberry.

3. Rusty coached at Class A Vermont in the Nationals organization in 2007 and 2008. He contributed to the instructional book The Physics of Pitching, which was published in 2011.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: The name "Rusty" will always make me think of the National Lampoon's Vacation movies.

Bill James Said: "After a wonderful 1992 season he developed a tender elbow, and was never able to pitch effectively."

On This Date in 1993: November 14. Sanzo Nosaka, one of the founders of the Japanese Communist Party, dies in his home at the tender age of 101.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#320 Tim Fortugno

About the Front: Tim Fortugno has something of an Alan Rickman look to him. That's my two cents anyway.

About the Back: I'm not sure how a 30-year-old rookie wound up with a card number ending in a zero. Maybe he was a last-minute replacement.

Triple Play:

1. On July 25, 1992, Fortugno tossed a three-hit, 12-strikeout shutout against the Tigers. He fanned each of the Tigers' 3-4-5 hitters (Travis Fryman, Cecil Fielder, and Mickey Tettleton) three times. This effort was more notable as it came in his second career big league appearance, earning him his first win.

2. He gave up a single to George Brett on September 30, 1992. It was the Royal great's 3,000th career hit. The southpaw subsequently picked Brett off of first base.

3. After hanging up his spikes, Tim became a scout for the Rangers. Among others, he signed Scott Feldman, C. J. Wilson, and John Mayberry Jr.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought this guy looked much older than 30.

Bill James Said: Fortugno spent all of 1993 with the Expos' AAA Ottawa team, so James didn't include him in his book. He did resurface in the majors with the Reds in 1994 and the White Sox in 1995, though.

On This Date in 1993: November 13. In a matchup of the two top-ranked college football teams in the U.S., #2 Notre Dame squeaks by #1 Florida State, 31-24. Both teams had been 9-0 entering the showdown in South Bend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#319 Paul Assenmacher

About the Front: Paul Assenmacher is 6'3", but he looks even taller here. It must be the horizontal photo and the pinstripes.

About the Back: I wonder if the children of ballplayers get a thrill out of being name-checked on the backs of cards?

Triple Play:

1. On August 22, 1989, Paul tied a major league record by striking out four batters in an inning. The quartet of opposing Cardinals was Terry Pendleton, Milt Thompson, Tony Pena (reached on a wild pitch), and pitcher Ted Power (swung through a two-strike bunt attempt).

2. Assenmacher tied with Mike Jackson for the most games pitched in the 1990s, totaling 644.

3. He has served as the pitching coach at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta for eight years.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It may be pronounced "OSS-en-mock-er", but that didn't stop my younger self from snickering.

Bill James Said: "People don't take him seriously because he's ugly, looks sloppy on the mound and doesn't throw 90, but he's never been easy to hit."

On This Date in 1993: November 12. H. R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon's former White House Chief of Staff and a key member of the Watergate cover-up, dies of abdominal cancer at age 67.

Monday, November 10, 2014

#318 Willie Wilson

About the Front: It's unusual to see Willie Wilson without a Royals uniform and a beard.

About the Back: I just spotted another error here. Wilson's 83 steals led the American League in 1979, and his total of 79 swipes was second behind Rickey Henderson's 100 in 1980.

Triple Play:

1. How fast was Willie? Of his 41 career home runs, 13 were inside-the-park jobs. In fact, all 13 came at the beginning of his career as part of his first 16 round-trippers.

2. After the 1983 season, Wilson and Royals teammates Willie Aikens, Vida Blue, and Jerry Martin all pled guilty to misdemeanor drug charges for attempting to purchase cocaine. All four served an 81-day jail sentence in Fort Worth, TX.

3. He retired after the Cubs released him in May 1994. His 668 career stolen bases are 12th all-time.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: His birth name is actually Willie. It's like his parents just didn't bother.

Bill James Said: "He is probably through in Chicago, where they have young outfielders who are better than he is, and I wouldn't bet on him to be on a roster at the end of spring training."

On This Date in 1993: November 10. Carlito's Way, a crime drama starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn, has its theatrical release.