Monday, May 18, 2015

#428 Todd Zeile

About the Front: The Cardinals road uniform didn't have stripes or piping on the sleeves or the pants. That's a rarity in modern times.

About the Back: I didn't realize that Todd had such modest power numbers early in his career.

Triple Play:

1. Zeile set a big league record by hitting home runs for 11 different teams. In order, they were: Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, Rangers, Mets, Rockies, Yankees, and Expos.

2. Todd is also the career home run leader for players with surnames beginning with "Z", as he went deep 253 times in 16 seasons.

3. He's married to 1984 Olympic gold medal gymnast Julianne McNamara.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When the Orioles acquired Zeile and Pete Incaviglia from the Phillies in late 1996, en route to breaking the single-season team record for home runs, it seemed like piling on. I didn't mind.

Bill James Said: "If you drive in a hundred runs people will stop talking about the things you don't do, or at least, other people will." Bill was of course ahead of the curve on the misleading nature of RBI.

On This Date in 1993: May 18. Janet Jackson's album janet. is released. It will debut at number one on the Billboard 200.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#427 Bob MacDonald

About the Front: Bob MacDonald's left hand, the one gripping the ball, is cut off. Whose idea was that?

About the Back: Bob was one of four players chosen in the 19th round of the 1987 draft to make it to the major leagues. The others were reliever Jeff Carter, shortstop Rafael Bournigal, and pitcher Mike Fyhrie, who chose not to sign out of high school and caught on with Kansas City in the 12th round of the 1991 draft.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first career win on June 23, 1991, with two and a third flawless innings of relief against the Indians.

2. MacDonald's pro baseball career ended unceremoniously in 1997, when he allowed six earned runs in seven and a third innings spanning nine appearances for the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's Central League.

3. If you'd like to read about Bob's prowess in semi-pro softball, recreational basketball, and beer pong, read his highly entertaining Wikipedia entry, which I assume was written by a friend of his.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Toms River, NJ was Bob's home when this card was printed. That didn't mean anything to me at the time, but I wound up dating a girl from Toms River during my last two years of college.

Bill James Said: "He was in danger of not making the Blue Jays roster at the end of spring training, so a trade was arranged to send him to Detroit, where he led the staff in appearances."

On This Date in 1993: May 15. The Expos retire Rusty Staub's #10 uniform, and celebrate by winning a squeaker against the Mets, 2-1.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#426 Nigel Wilson

About the Front: Nigel Wilson's photo isn't very interesting, so I'll take this opportunity to talk about the Marlins uniform. I'm glad we've freed ourselves from the 1990s shackles of teal and purple as desirable color elements for team logos and uniforms. The cap and jersey lettering are already way too much teal, but wait until we get to the traded set and you get to see teal spring training jerseys, teal sleeves underneath the vests on the alternate home duds, and teal batting helmets. Thankfully the Marlins started incorporating more black into their scheme almost immediately.

About the Back: I didn't remember that Nigel was Canadian. I don't know if it's a more recent development, but it seems like the Blue Jays are always seeking out native Canucks to pump up local interest in the team.

Triple Play:

1. Wilson's father was a cricket player from Trinidad.

2. In cups of coffee with the Marlins and Reds, Nigel went hitless. His final shot at the big leagues came in September 1996 with the Indians. After an 0-for-25 skid to start his MLB career, he broke through with a pinch-two-run-homer on September 8, 1996. In all, he went 3-for-12 in Cleveland with a walk, a pair of home runs and five RBI, giving him a final career batting line of .086/.111/.257.

3. In 1997, he jumped to the Japanese League, where he enjoyed three seasons of 30-plus home runs for the Nippon Ham Fighters. On June 21, 1997, he became the second player in league history to go deep in four straight at-bats, joining the legendary Sadaharu Oh.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I recall a lot of hype about Wilson, primarily from the card companies. I guess that has something to do with him being Florida's first expansion draft pick.

Bill James Said: "In his September callup he went 0-for-16 and struck out 11 times, one of the least auspicious beginnings on record."

On This Date in 1993: May 14. William Randolph Hearst Jr., editor in chief of Hearst newspapers and son of the founder of the publishing empire, dies at age 85.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

#425 Joe Girardi

About the Front: Expansion Player Backdrop Number Two is a brick wall. I can only imagine how poorly rated "Joe Girardi's Def Comedy Jam" would be.

About the Back: Do you suppose that Joe's engineering professors at Northwestern thought he was wasting his potential by playing baseball?

Triple Play:

1. He caught Dwight Gooden's no-hitter on May 14, 1996 and David Cone's perfect game on July 18, 1999.

2. At age 35, Joe was a surprise All-Star selection in 2000, as he batted .302/.374/.415 for the Cubs in the first half before slumping down the stretch.

3. He has worked as an analyst on Yankee broadcasts, and also coached for New York. As a rookie manager in 2006, he led the Marlins to a 78-84 record, keeping them in contention for much of the season despite having the league's lowest payroll. He was named NL Manager of the Year, and promptly fired by meddling team owner Jeff Loria. Girardi has managed the Yankees since 2008, piloting the club to a World Series win over the Phillies in 2009.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I had no idea that Girardi would become an Oriole adversary as the joyless, sour-faced manager of the Yankees.

Bill James Said: "A truly awful player, even for an expansion team. He hit .290, but that's .266 if you adjust for the park, and there was no production there - no power, no walks, no runs, no RBI."

On This Date in 1993: May 13. Romelu Lukaku is born in Belgium. He will go on to play professional football (soccer) with Chelsea and Everton, and represent his native country in the World Cup.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

#424 John Valentin

About the Front: The mustache isn't a good look for John Valentin...or most people, really. You've got to have a thick, Selleck-esque soup strainer to even have a chance.

About the Back: Though his home run on September 30, 1992 (off of David Cone, no less) provided the winning margin, Valentin never did hit a walkoff homer in his career.

Triple Play:

1. July 8, 1994 was a memorable date for John: he went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo home run, and executed an unassisted triple play in Boston's 4-3 win over Seattle.

2. He was the 1995 AL Silver Slugger at shorstop, thanks to a line of .298/.399/.533, 108 runs scored, 37 doubles, 27 home runs, and 102 RBI. Two years later he led the American League with 47 two-baggers.

3. He has coached in the Mets and Dodgers organizations, and is currently manager Don Mattingly's assistant hitting coach in Los Angeles.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Why was his name pronounced "VAL-en-tin", and the Brewers shortstop's surname pronounced "val-en-TEEN"? I guess it's the difference between being born in New York and being born in New Jersey.

Bill James Said: "The new Eddie Bressoud, a righthanded hitting shortstop who had almost the same numbers for the Red Sox in '93 that Bressoud did in '62." There's a comp you don't see often.

On This Date in 1993: May 12. Calvin and Hobbes comic strip time!

Monday, May 11, 2015

#423 Ryan Klesko, Ivan Cruz, Bubba Smith, and Larry Sutton

About the Front: This is our first glimpse at the design for 1993's Top Prospects cards. In an interesting twist, Topps has selected one prospect per position from each minor league level, so you have some idea of how close the players are to the major leagues. They also chose to place these four player portraits over a background image of dirt, as a subtle way of telling you not to pin all of your hopes on unproven minor leaguers. Or maybe I'm reading too much into things.

About the Back: No minor league stats? Not even one line per player for 1992 or career numbers? That's weak sauce.

Triple Play:

1. Ryan Klesko was the only one of these four to have an appreciable big league career, batting .279/.370/.500 (128 OPS+) with 278 homers and 987 RBI in parts of 16 seasons with Atlanta, San Diego, and San Francisco. He was an All-Star with the 2001 Padres, as he bashed 34 doubles and 30 home runs, drove in a career-high 113 runs, and even stole 23 bases in 27 tries.

2. Ivan Cruz had cups of coffee with the Yankees (1997), Pirates (1999-2000), and Cardinals (2002), totaling 41 games. He was the first pro player ever interviewed by Night Owl, one of my favorite journalist/blogger types. In all, Ivan hit 281 home runs in professional baseball, which includes stints in Mexico and Japan.

3. Charles Lee "Bubba" Smith never reached MLB, but spent 16 years playing ball professionally. Some of his statistics from Mexican leagues are not available, but he clubbed at least 367 home runs, with a single-season high of 40 in 123 games for the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization in 1999. 61 of his 117 hits that year went for extra bases.

3a. Larry Sutton's big league career spanned from 1997-2004, but 111 of his 252 total games played came in 1998 with the Royals. Overall he batted .236/.302/.346 (67 OPS+) with 12 home runs and 78 RBI. Like Smith, he had a successful stint in Korea, leading the KBO with 35 dingers in 119 for the Hyundai Unicorns (!) in 2005.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I absolutely didn't think that Ivan Cruz was within three years of the age of the other three men on this card. Maybe it was the mustache.

Bill James Said: Klesko - "A young, white Fred McGriff - a lefthanded power-hitting first baseman, capable of hitting 25-30 home runs in a season."

On This Date in 1993: May 11. Miguel Sano is born in San Pedro de Macoris, D. R. Despite missing all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery, the third base prospect for the Twins would still be listed as Baseball America's #13 overall minor league player entering the 2015 season.

Friday, May 8, 2015

#422 J. T. Snow

About the Front: Nothing screams "rookie" like a position player wearing #60. Though in J. T. Snow's defense, the Yankees have retired almost every number from 1-50.

About the Back: Jack Snow caught 340 passes for 6,012 yards and 45 touchdowns in an 11-year NFL career (1965-1975), and led the league with an average of 26.3 yards per reception in 1967. In 2006, J. T. honored his father by wearing the elder Snow's football uniform number (84) during a 38-game stint with the Red Sox.

Triple Play:

1. From 1995 through 2000, Snow won six straight Gold Gloves at first base with the Angels and Giants.

2. His best offensive season was 1997, when he hit .281/.387/.510 (135 OPS+) with career highs of 36 doubles, 28 home runs, and 104 RBI for the Giants.

3. J. T. might be best-known for his quick reflexes in Game Five of the 2002 World Series, when he yanked Giants honorary bat boy Darren Baker (three-year-old son of manager Dusty) out of harm's way immediately after scoring on a Kenny Lofton hit.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Snow's reputation was mostly built around his defensive skills, so I'm surprised now to look back and see his .357 career OBP and handful of 20-plus homer seasons.

Bill James Said: "Switch hitter, good first baseman, should be a solid #5 hitter to back up Salmon until the end of the century." He may have been, but the Angels dealt him to San Francisco after the 1996 season for pitcher Allen Watson, who went 18-19 with a 5.28 ERA in two years with the Halos. D'oh!

On This Date in 1993: May 8. Four of this Saturday's 13 MLB games are decided in extra innings, highlighted by a brutal Yankees-Tigers tilt. Detroit starter Tom Bolton gets the hook from manager Sparky Anderson after allowing five straight hits to open the game, and the Tigers are trailing 6-0 before they even bat. But the home team claws back with runs in each of the first five innings to take an 8-7 lead. Mike Henneman blows the save by serving up a home run to Danny Tartabull on the first pitch of the ninth inning, and Matt Nokes adds a game-winning two-run shot off of Dave Johnson in the 11th. 10-8 final.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

#421 Curt Schilling

About the Front: Curt Schilling is modeling the new (as of 1992) Phillies uniform, modeled closely after the team's duds from 1950-1969. As you can see, it's the only uniform in MLB to feature a smaller player number on the left sleeve in addition to the larger number placement on the back.

About the Back: The trade that brought Schilling to the Phillies sent fungible pitcher Jason Grimsley to Houston, and the kicker is that it wasn't the worst deal involving Schilling. That honor goes to my Orioles, who swapped the talented but immature righty to the Astros along with Pete Harnisch AND Steve Finley, all in return for gimpy Glenn Davis. The Phils kept the tradition alive in July of 2000 by shipping Curt off to Arizona for four players, the best of whom was Vicente Padilla. The Diamondbacks paid it forward to Boston prior to 2004, giving up Schilling for a quartet headlined by Jorge de la Rosa, who was immediately flipped in a trade for Richie Sexson. It makes the head swim, doesn't it?

Triple Play:

1. Nobody asked me, but Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame. In a career that spanned 20 years, he had a record of 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA (127 ERA+) and 3,116 strikeouts (15th most all-time). Consider his postseason record as well: 11-2 in 19 games with a 2.23 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He was the 1993 NLCS MVP and shared MVP honors in the 2001 World Series with Randy Johnson, as he held the Yankees to four runs on a dozen hits in 21.1 innings, striking out 26 and walking TWO.

2. He's long been an avid role-playing gamer, both board games (such as Advanced Squad Leader) and video games (including EverQuest I and II and World of Warcraft). After retiring from baseball, he founded Green Monster Games, later renamed 38 Studios. In 2012, the company released the critically-acclaimed role-playing video game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning; however, the company filed for bankruptcy just months later and Schilling laid off all of his employees.

3. Curt announced in early 2014 that he was undergoing treatment for oral cancer, and as of August 2014 he was in remission. He is currently an analyst on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball telecast.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I'd love to pay a visit to my younger self and explain to him that Schilling saw a post about himself on my other blog, which prompted him to sponsor my entry in the Polar Bear Plunge for a hundred bucks. I wonder which part of that sentence would make the least sense to me.

Bill James Said: "Throws to first base less often than any other major league pitcher, only 17 times in '93 (last among pitchers with 162 innings pitched)."

On This Date in 1993: May 7. Silent film actress Mary Philbin dies of pneumonia at age 90.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

#420 Kevin Tapani

About the Front: It looks like Kevin Tapani has just thrown a split-fingered fastball. In 1997, the strain of throwing that pitch for 13 years would cause him to tear a ligament in his right index finger.

About the Back: The Athletics traded Kevin to the Mets as part of a three-team deal in December of 1987. The Mets also received Wally Whitehurst from Oakland and Jack Savage from the Dodgers. Los Angeles received Jesse Orosco (from the Mets) and Alfredo Griffin and Jack Howell (from the A's). Oakland's haul was pitchers Bob Welch and Matt Young, both from L.A.

Triple Play:

1. Let's talk college! He starred for the Central Michigan University baseball team, going 23-8 overall for a three-time MAC Champion Chippewas club and throwing a no-hitter at Eastern Michigan in 1986. He was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

2. Go figure - Tapani had his best single-season record (19-9) with the Cubs in 1998, when he had a 4.85 ERA and a career-worst 90 ERA+. In his only postseason start that year, he did hold the Braves to one run on five hits over nine innings in Game 2 of the NLDS, but Chicago couldn't solve Tom Glavine either and Atlanta prevailed 2-1 in 10 innings.

3. Since retiring to Minnetonka, MN with his wife and three children, Kevin has been involved in coaching Little League and high school baseball.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: His last name is also a description of the test that doctors use to check your reflexes.

Bill James Said: "Only American League pitcher to give up 50 doubles (he gave up 56), and also led in stolen bases allowed by a wide margin (he gave up 42)."

On This Date in 1993: May 6. Doug Drabek takes a shutout and a 4-0 lead into the ninth inning against the Reds, but is pulled by Astros manager Art Howe after giving up two straight hits to start the inning. Doug Jones is called upon to protect the now-three-run lead, and instead blows the save and gets tagged with the loss after allowing a pair of two-run homers to Kevin Mitchell and Reggie Sanders. 5-4, Reds win.