Friday, August 29, 2014

#272 Kurt Knudsen

About the Front: I like the simple difference between Detroit's white "D" on the home caps, and the orange "D" on the road caps.


About the Back: That's an impressive cleft in Kurt Knudsen's chin. Downright Jesse Ventura-esque.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first big league save on June 8, 1992 with four shutout innings of relief in a 9-2 win over Cleveland.

2. Kurt's big league career ended with a disastrous four-game stint in 1994. He allowed seven hits, 11 walks, and eight runs in 5.1 innings, and only struck out a single batter.

3. Knudsen pitched in the minors through 1997, finishing in the Angels' organization.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I had the pleasure of witnessing Kurt's penultimate game in the majors. The Orioles torched him for six runs in four innings of relief on June 2, 1994, including a Cal Ripken three-run homer.

Bill James Said: "The slugging percentage against him was .500, and lefthanded batters hit him at a .392 clip, with a .725 slugging percentage."

On This Date in 1993: August 29. The Royals outlast the Red Sox, 5-4, in 12 innings. Greg Gagne singles home Wally Joyner with the winning run. George Brett steals second base in the third inning, making him only the third player in MLB history with 3,000 hits, 300 homers, and 200 steals. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were the first two to perform the feat.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

#271 Wally Whitehurst

About the Front: By the time this card came out, Wally Whitehurst was a San Diego Padre. He was one of three players sent out by the Mets in exchange for shortstop Tony Fernandez.

About the Back: 46 strikeouts and 9 walks in 1990 - that's a very good 5.11 K/BB ratio.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first big league save on May 7, 1990 with 2.2 scoreless innings in relief of Frank Viola, who was just featured on card #270. Now isn't that a coincidence?

2. Wally made two starts for the Yankees in 1996, allowing six runs in eight innings to cap his MLB career. I would've assumed that he was the most obscure member of that championship roster, but check it out. Matt Howard? Dave Pavlas? Dale Polley? I'm not even sure those are real people.

3. Whitehurst spent several years coaching in the minors with the Padres and the Pirates. Wikipedia tells me that he's now living in Houma, LA, where he's a salesman in oil and gas.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Is "Wally Whitehurst" the most cartoon character name in the 1993 Topps set?

Bill James Said: "He didn't win, mostly because of his team, and went on the disabled list three times with a strained rotator cuff."

On This Date in 1993: August 28. Juan Gonzalez hits three of the Rangers' five home runs in an 11-1 rout of the Orioles. Doug Strange and Dean Palmer also go deep, with Texas scoring all of their runs off of starter Fernando Valenzuela and reliever Kevin McGehee in the first six innings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#270 Frank Viola

About the Front: The phrase "comically grotesque" comes to mind. Anyhow, Frank Viola is letting 'er rip in Yankee Stadium, where he pitched twice in 1992. I'm leaning toward August 6, because I think this is John Marzano catching in the foreground, and not Tony Pena. If so, he pitched a gem that day, limiting New York to a run on four hits and four walks (but only one strikeout) and coming within one batter of a complete game. He bested Melido Perez and won 3-1.

About the Back: In Viola's first 10 full seasons (1983-1992), he averaged 245 innings per year. Makes my arm ache just thinking about it.

Triple Play:

1. Frank earned MVP honors in the 1987 World Series, as he earned wins with eight-inning efforts in the opener and the clincher.

2. He passed on his athletic talent to his son Frank III, a pitcher at Florida Community College who pitched in the low minors for the White Sox in 2005 and 2007, and his daughter Brittany, a diver who made the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 summer games. Frank Viola III signed with the Blue Jays in 2014 after learning the knuckleball from R. A. Dickey and Phil Niekro, and appeared in nine games in A ball.

3. Viola has been a pitching coach in the Mets' organization since 2011. This past spring, he successfully underwent open-heart surgery.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: For whatever reason, I distinctly remember pulling this card from a blue Series One pack that I bought from a Revco. That's a drug store chain that has been defunct since 1997. I'm a rambling old man at 32.

Bill James Said: "His season was ended by elbow surgery, and there is reason for concern." No kidding. Injuries limited Frank to 15 games beyond 1993, and he posted a 6.19 ERA in 75.2 innings from 1994 through 1996 before walking away.

On This Date in 1993: August 27. The Rainbow Bridge, which connects Tokyo's Shibaura district to the island of Odaiba, is completed. Construction began in 1987.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#269 Todd Steverson

About the Front: Back-to-back Blue Jays! That's a rare occurrence for this set.

About the Back: In case you were wondering, Fenway Park's Green Monster is 37 feet, two inches high, and approximately 310-315 feet away from home plate.

Triple Play:

1. His cousin is former stolen base king Ron LeFlore.

2. Todd debuted with the Tigers in 1995, after being chosen in the Rule V draft. He appeared in 30 games, batting 50 times, with a line of .262/.340/.405, two home runs, and six RBI. He was traded to San Diego the following offseason, and struck out as a pinch hitter in his lone plate appearance with the Padres in 1996. He never made it back to the majors, retiring after the 1998 season.

3. Steverson was a minor league coach in the Cardinals and Athletics organizations. He also managed in the Athletics organization from 2005 through 2008, finishing with an 83-61 mark at AAA Sacramento. He spent two years as Oakland's big league first base coach, and is currently the White Sox batting coach.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Steverson" is a name that seems tricky. You always want to read it as "Stevenson". At least I do.

Bill James Said: Zippo. Young Todd didn't make the cut.

On This Date in 1993: August 26. Relief pitcher Richie Lewis singles in Rick Renteria with the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning, giving the Marlins a 5-4 walkoff win over the Astros. Lewis, who threw one and two-thirds of the Florida bullpen's eight and one-third scoreless innings, earns the win. Doug Jones is the loser.

Monday, August 25, 2014

#268 Derek Bell

About the Front: Seeing this extreme close-up of Derek Bell taking warmup tosses in his road grays brought to mind the time that Joe Carter played a game for the Blue Jays in a misspelled "TOROTNO" jersey. Whoops!

About the Back: In the first round of the 1987 draft, the Jays took UCLA pitcher Alex Sanchez, whose career ERA in a total of four big league games was 10.03. Double whoops!

Triple Play:

1. Bell was the victim of a memorable prank during Toronto's Fan Appreciation Day in 1992. Between innings, it was announced that the team was giving away a vehicle to one lucky fan. Much to Derek's shock and dismay, Joe Carter then drove the young outfielder's green Jeep onto the field.

2. He had a career year with the Astros in 1998, batting .314/.364/.490 with 111 runs scored, 41 doubles, 22 homers, 108 RBI, and 13 steals in 16 tries.

3. Derek's career came to an infamous end in the spring of 2002. The previous season he had batted a miserable .173/.287/.288 in 46 games with the Pirates, so the club informed him that he would have to compete for a starting role going forward. He vented to reporters on March 18, insisting that he had no desire to be judged on his spring training performance, and had never competed for a job in his MLB career. Bell stated that he would go into "Operation Shutdown". He left the team on March 29, was released two days later, and collected $4.5 million from Pittsburgh for his troubles.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember Bell always having heavy bags under his eyes. Did he stay out all night before games, or was that just the way he looked?

Bill James Said: "He had a trial as a third baseman, which went about as well as you would expect it to, and his position at season's end was unclear." Derek committed nine errors in 50 chances (.820 fielding %) at the hot corner, and was exclusively an outfielder for the rest of his career...save for one ugly inning on the mound.

On This Date in 1993: August 25. Rookie catcher Brad Ausmus singles with the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth inning for his first walkoff hit, as the Padres top the Cardinals 2-1.

Friday, August 22, 2014

#267 Keith Miller

About the Front: If this were a work of art, it would be titled, "Utility Player At Dusk". Note Keith Miller's number 16, written on the underbill of his cap. The palm tree in the background tells me we're not in Kansas City.

About the Back: Keith batted leadoff for the Royals in that June 8, 1992 game, and his home run came off Kevin Tapani on the Twins starter's fourth pitch of the game. The second baseman also booted a Chili Davis grounder to contribute to a five-run fifth inning for Minnesota, but Topps was looking on the bright side.

Triple Play:

1. He debuted on June 16, 1987, going 2-for-4 with a stolen base, a run scored, and a dislocated right index finger incurred on a headfirst slide into third base.

2. His tenth-inning home run off of Rob Dibble on August 31, 1991 delivered an 8-7 win for the Mets in Cincinnati.

3. Keith is now a player agent with ACES, the agency that represented him in his playing days. One of his clients is star third baseman David Wright.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember being a bit confused when I came across two Keith Millers in the 1989 Topps set. Keith Alan Miller is our guy for this blog post. Neal Keith Miller had a short 55-game career with the Phillies in 1988-1989, playing all over the diamond and pinch hitting.

Bill James Said: "Miller was scheduled to be the Royals' regular third baseman, but started the season with a groin pull, later had a serious thumb injury and missed most of the year."

On This Date in 1993: August 22. Let's check in with Calvin and Hobbes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

#266 Rene Gonzales


About the Front: Rene Gonzales is taking his hacks in the "new" Comiskey Park, as evidenced by the blurry guys in black-and-white uniforms in the home dugout. Of course, now the park is known as U. S. Cellular Field. Boo to corporate naming rights, yay to taking away the name of the old skinflint who helped drive his players to throw the World Series in 1919.

About the Back: Rene "saw action", alright. He entered the first game of the 1991 ALCS in the eighth inning as a pinch runner for John Olerud, took over at first base in the bottom of the inning, and made two putouts. He played one inning at shortstop in the fifth game, receiving no defensive chances. In between, he did a lot of spectating.

Triple Play:

1. Gonzales had one walkoff home run in his career, a tiebreaking solo shot against Seattle's Mike Jackson on April 29, 1990. It came with one out in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Orioles a 5-4 victory.

2. He played every defensive position except for catcher and center field during his big league career. Yes, that includes pitching; he worked a perfect eighth inning for the Angels in an 11-4 loss at Detroit on June 6, 1993. The utility player dispatched Mickey Tettleton on a foul popup to third base, and got a pair of groundouts from Kirk Gibson and Chad Krueter. It took all of 13 pitches, eight of which were balls.

3. Rene was a manager in the low minors for the Brewers' organization from 2007 through 2009.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always liked that Rene wore number 88, since 8 was my favorite number as a kid and high numbers were so rare among major leaguers.

Bill James Said: "Had a big surprise season in 1992, and was following through in 1993 until a September slump (12 for 67) cut about 20 points off his average." Gonzales was at .267/.364/.342 on September 7, and finished the year at .251/.346/.319. His OPS rounded to .666. Coincidence? Yes.

On This Date in 1993: August 21. Phillies' southpaw Terry Mulholland breaks his right hand punching a water cooler after giving up a second-inning home run to Houston's Scott Servais, but stays in for seven innings. The Astros win 3-2 in extras, with Luis Gonzalez delivering a walkoff single against David West in the bottom of the tenth. Afterward, Mulholland admits that his act of self-injury was stupid, but says that it would've been even dumber if he'd used his pitching hand.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#265 Andre Dawson

About the Front: I've always liked the Cubs logo that appears on Andre Dawson's right sleeve in this photo.

About the Back: As you can see, Andre never walked more than 44 times in a single season, which was a sticking point in his Hall of Fame case for many baseball writers and analysts.

Triple Play:

1. Dawson's athleticism was severely hampered by more than a dozen knee surgeries, the first of which took place after a high school football injury.

2. Frustrated by the collusive acts of MLB owners prior to the 1987 and unwilling to accept a pay cut to return to Montreal and its artificial turf field, "Hawk" showed up at the Cubs' spring training facility insisting that he would sign with the team on a blank contract, leaving it up to the ballclub to fill in the dollar amount. That's how the Cubs landed the 1987 National League MVP for $500,000 base salary and an additional $200,000 in bonuses.

3. While playing alongside each other in the Expos' outfield, Andre and Tim Raines forged a friendship. Dawson reportedly helped his teammate overcome a cocaine addiction. In gratitude, Tim named his second son Andre Darrell Raines.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I wish I'd seen Dawson play in his prime. I only witnessed him as a creaky designated hitter in Boston and a pinch hitter for the Marlins.

Bill James Said: "He needs 370 more hits to reach 3,000, which looks like a thousand." Andre scraped out 144 more hits in 613 at-bats before retiring in 1996.

On This Date in 1993: Righthander Domingo Jean picks up his first - and only, as it would turn out - career win with seven innings of two-run, five-hit ball as the Yankees top the Royals 7-2. Combined with Toronto's 4-1 loss to Randy Johnson and the Mariners, the victory puts New York just one game behind the first-place Blue Jays in the American League East.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

#264 Paul Sorrento

About the Front: Good action shot, bringing a little photographic variety to the set. Paul Sorrento is either racing to the bag for an unassisted putout or to catch a toss from his pitcher. The glove appears to be clamped shut, so I think he has the ball.

About the Back: Rats! I was going to use that tidbit about the first Camden Yards home run later in this post. It was a three-run shot off of Bob Milacki, by the by.

Triple Play:

1. Sorrento was traded from the Angels to the Twins in the deal that sent future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven to the Halos.

2. He hit a career-high 31 home runs with Seattle in 1997.

3. Paul is now coaching in the Angels' organization; he spent some time on the big league staff earlier this season while Don Baylor was recovering from a broken femur.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I perceived Sorrento as a thorn in the Orioles' side, what with the links to Camden Yards history (his second-inning single on April 6, 1992 was the first-ever base hit in the ballpark), as well as his ninth-inning solo homer in Game Three of the 1997 ALDS, which helped delay Baltimore's clinching of the series. But over the course of his career, the first baseman wasn't so great against the O's: .215/.297/.341 in 293 plate appearances, with eight home runs and 38 RBI in 74 games.

Bill James Said: "He is 28 now, past the age at which players normally improve, although there have been cases where players needed a thousand at bats or so before reaching their full potential as hitters." Paul was roughly as productive from 1994-1997 as he'd been in his first two seasons as a regular, but fell off when he arrived in Tampa Bay in 1998 and was finished a year later.

On This Date in 1993: August 19. The Yankees signed 18-year-old Victor Zambrano as an amateur free agent from Venezuela. He went 45-44 with a 4.64 ERA in a seven-year MLB career (2001-2007), though his legacy is as the pitcher that the Mets inexplicably traded prospect Scott Kazmir to acquire.