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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

#263 Vince Horsman

About the Front: With a name like that, you would think Vince Horsman would be better suited as a jockey.

About the Back: Since WWII, Vince is one of only two native Nova Scotians to play in the majors. The other was outfielder Rick Lisi, who played nine games for the Rangers in 1981.

Triple Play:

1. A's manager Tony LaRussa often used Horsman as a lefty specialist, but he earned his only career save with 2.1 scoreless innings against Kansas City on April 15, 1992.

2. Here's an awesome thing I just found out: after pitching in Taiwan in 1997, Vince finished his career back in America, appearing in eight games for the Orioles' AAA Rochester club in 1998. He then served as Baltimore's batting practice pitcher until 2004.

3. He's been a pitching coach in the Toronto organization since 2009; he's currently with the Class A Lansing Lugnuts.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I don't remember any other ballplayers named "Vince" from this era. Just Horsman and Coleman.

Bill James Said: "Horsman, a native of Nova Scotia, was signed by Toronto as part of their unending effort to find Canadian players who can actually play."

On This Date in 1993: August 18. Boston's Danny Darwin settles for a one-hit shutout of the White Sox after Dan Pasqua triples with one out in the eighth inning. The Red Sox win 5-0.

Friday, August 15, 2014

#262 Mickey Morandini

About the Front: Excellent throwback unis, and I believe that's Andre Dawson of the Cubs sliding hard into second base. Working off of that assumption, I've pinned this photo to the June 21, 1992 Phillies-Cubs tilt. There were actually two games in which Mickey Morandini forced out Dawson at second on a double play, but the other was the April 7, 1992 season opener, and I learned that the Phillies unveiled their new uniforms that day. So no throwbacks. That puts us in the top of the fourth inning on a Sunday afternoon. "The Hawk" has just singled on a ball that shortstop Mariano Duncan couldn't come up with, but Philly starter Kyle Abbott responds by getting Mark Grace to hit it to Duncan for a 6-4-3 DP to keep the game scoreless. But three straight Cubbie hits the following inning lead to three runs, and Mike Morgan blanks the Phils until Dave Hollins' too-little, too-late two-run homer in the ninth. Cubs win 5-2. (That's a lot of toos/twos!)

About the Back: There have been three more unassisted triple plays by second basemen in the years since. Randy Velarde (2000), Asdrubal Cabrera (2008), and Eric Bruntlett (2009) all performed the feat. Mickey's was the first unassisted triple play in the major leagues since shortstop Ron Hansen in 1968, and Hansen's was the only one between 1927 and 1992, but there have been six in total since Morandini. How weird is that?

Triple Play:

1. Mickey had quite the amateur resume, playing for Team USA in the 1988 Summer Olympics and setting several team records at Indiana University, including most career runs scored (277), doubles (61), triples (29), and steals (127).

2. He was an All-Star for the only time in his career in 1995, when he batted .283/.350/.417 with 34 doubles. At the break, he was batting .302 with a .370 OBP.

3. Morandini was the head coach at Valparaiso High School for four years before a three-year managerial stint in the Phillies' farm system. Currently he is a coach with Philadelphia's AAA club, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Before I even knew Phillies' play-by-play broadcaster Harry Kalas by name, I knew his prolonged, sing-song pronunciation of "Mi-ckey Mor-an-DI-ni".

Bill James Said: "A better second baseman than Mariano Duncan, but a career .197 hitter against lefthanded pitchers (59-for-300), so there are good reasons to platoon him." Over his entire career, Mickey boosted his average to .221 vs. lefties, but his .586 OPS vs. southpaws was still well below his .728 mark against righties.

On This Date in 1993: August 15. Kirby Puckett has himself a day, going 5-for-5 with a pair of two-run homers in Minnesota's 12-5 rout of the Athletics. Minor league veteran Bernardo Brito also homers twice for the Twins, and Brian Harper and Jeff Reboulet each go deep once; all of this action comes in the first six innings of the game. It's the third of Puckett's four career five-hit games; he also had a pair of six-hit efforts in his Hall of Fame career.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

#261 Bill Wegman

About the Front: I might have to get me a classic Brewers cap. Boy, did Milwaukee screw up their uniforms in 1994 or what?

About the Back: Wegman was the Brewers' ace in 1991, leading the team in ERA and tying Jaime Navarro for the most wins despite making a half-dozen less starts. It was obviously his big-league peak.

Triple Play:

1. On October 1, 1992, Bill earned the win in a 10-inning, complete-game four-hitter against Seattle. The Brewers won 7-2, exploding for five runs in the extra frame.

2. He earned his only career ejection on June 29, 1995, bringing an end to a disastrous relief outing in which he retired two batters before allowing five straight batters to reach and four runs to score. The big blow was a three-run homer by Chicago's Ray Durham; Wegman followed that blast by plunking Ron Karkovice, causing the benches to clear and earning the heave-ho. Manager Phil Garner argued the ejection and was tossed as well. In the ninth inning, Rob Dibble entered the game for the Sox with a 17-10 lead and threw his first pitch over Pat Listach's head, touching off another fracas that saw Dibble and Listach both sent off to the showers. A Milwaukee rally fell short and the White Sox won a 17-13 slugfest.

3. He was known for his good control, finishing top-six in the American League in fewest walks per nine innings five times in eight full seasons in his career.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: One of my favorite baseball movies from this era was "Little Big League", in which a baseball-crazed kid roughly my age became the manager of the Minnesota Twins. Giving in to the pleas of one of his best friends, he started Bill Wedman, a journeyman pitcher, in the season-ending do-or-die game. I always wondered if Wegman was the inspiration for that character.

Bill James Said: "After pitching quite well for two years, he was bothered by an ulcer and a hiatal hernia."

On This Date in 1993: August 14. Righty pitcher Bobby Jones makes his MLB debut for the Mets, earning the win with six innings of five-run ball (one earned run) in a 9-5 victory over the Phillies. New York wins despite committing four errors, as rookie utilityman Tim Bogar hits two home runs and two doubles and drives in four.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#260 Duane Ward

About the Front: There's a small part of me that thinks that the Blue Jays should've had multi-hued blue piping on their stirrups to match the uniform pants. A very small part.

About the Back: Five straight seasons with more than 100 relief innings...there's something you don't see in today's game.

Triple Play:

1. Toronto acquired Ward from the Braves in exchange for Doyle Alexander, who had himself been dealt 15 years earlier as part of a package for Frank Robinson.

2. Duane was instrumental in both of Toronto's World Series triumphs, allowing a total of two runs (one earned) in eight innings while picking up three wins and two saves. He struck out 13 batters and walked only one.

3. His 452 games pitched were a Jays' franchise record until surpassed by Jason Frasor in 2011.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Ward was so dominant in 1993 that I wouldn't have suspected that he'd never save another game going forward. Injuries cost him the entire 1994 season, and he retired after four rough appearances in 1995.

Bill James Said: "He finished 70 of the 71 games he came into, struck out 12.2 men per nine innings and just missed having twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed."

On This Date in 1993: August 13. In Thailand's worst hotel disaster, the Royal Plaza Hotel collapses and kills 130 people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#259 Craig Grebeck

About the Front: This has been a favorite 1993 Topps card of mine for a long time, due to the somewhat unique image of Chris Hoiles setting a target for the unseen Oriole pitcher as Craig Grebeck stands in the box.

About the Back: Lookit those 15 homers for Craig in his first minor league season! Who knew he had that kind of pop at any pro level?

Triple Play:

1. His brother Brian was a 19th-round draft pick of the Angels in 1990 out of San Diego State University. He played pro ball for 12 seasons, but never reached the major leagues.

2. Grebeck, nicknamed "The Little Hurt" by Hawk Harrelson, hit only 19 career homers in a dozen seasons in the bigs. However, he touched up Kenny Rogers three times, took David Wells deep twice, and hit his first career home run off of Nolan Ryan on August 10, 1990.

3. After retiring, Craig became a coach in the Angels' organization.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Standing at 5'7", Grebeck was shorter than I was at that time. It was something of an ego boost for a gawky, unathletic middle schooler such as myself.

Bill James Said: "One of my favorite players, a tiny little guy who takes advantage of his size by forcing the pitchers to pitch to him, and is also strong enough to drive the ball."

On This Date in 1993: August 12. The Indians outlast the Brewers in an 8-6 rollercoaster of a game, thanks to Carlos Baerga's three-run homer off of Jesse Orosco in the 11th inning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

#258 Mike Schooler

About the Front: Mike Schooler is sporting a blue glove. I bet he was crestfallen when the Mariners switched to navy blue and teal in 1993.

About the Back: It's strange to tout Schooler's minor league bona fides as a starting pitcher, since he was exclusively a reliever in the majors.

Triple Play:

1. Mike earned his first big league win with three scoreless innings of relief on June 22, 1988, keeping the Rangers at bay in a tie game until Mickey Brantley's solo homer in the tenth inning gave Seattle the advantage.

2. His 98 saves still rank third in Mariners franchise history behind Kaz Sasaki and J. J. Putz.

3. Wikipedia tells me that Schooler has worked as a middle school gym teacher and a high school baseball coach in California.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: How much was my perception of baseball in 1993 formed by this set? I assumed that Schooler had spent that season with Seattle, only to check Baseball Reference and see that he finished his career in '93 with the Rangers.

Bill James Said: "Schooler saved 33 games for the Mariners in 1989 and 30 more in 1990, but has since had a shoulder injury, tendonitis, and a strained bicep, and hasn't pitched well anywhere."

On This Date in 1993: August 11. Dan Gladden hits a grand slam for the second straight game, becoming the 14th player in MLB history to perform this feat, as the Tigers batter the Orioles 15-5. Travis Fryman, Kirk Gibson, and Tony Phillips also homer for Detroit, who will go on to bash Baltimore pitching for 47 runs in three games from August 10-12.