Friday, February 27, 2015

#383 Jerry Browne

About the Front: The gold cross pendant around Jerry Browne's neck is downright subdued compared to those ugly chunky magnetic necklaces that some players wear now.

About the Back: The "VI" in Jerry's birthplace is the Virgin Islands, which has produced a total of 11 big leaguers. The most notable were Horace Clarke, Al McBean, Elrod Hendricks, and Jose Morales.

Triple Play:

1. When he played with the A's, Browne was known as "The Governor". At that time, Jerry Brown was the governor of California.

2. On July 25, 1991, he pinch-hit against Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, one man on base, and the Indians trailing Oakland 7-6. He homered to right field to deliver the winning runs.

3. Jerry has coached in the minors for the Blue Jays, Giants, and Nationals.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This card lists him at 170 pounds, while Baseball Reference bills him at 140. At 5'10", he'd be practically invisible at that lower weight.

Bill James Said: "He didn't play well last year, after missing the first half the year with an injury, and his nomadic career may move on to another stop." Jerry signed with the Marlins in 1994, where his MLB career would end the following year.

On This Date in 1993: February 27. The Orioles sign 32-year-old Fernando Valenzuela. The 1981 Cy Young Award winner and Rookie of the Year had pitched in Mexico in 1992 and had not won a big league game since 1990. He'll start 31 games for Baltimore in 1993, showing flashes of brilliance in an uneven year and finishing 8-10 with a 4.94 ERA (91 ERA+).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#382 Tim Belcher

About the Front: Tim Belcher is facing home plate in mid-windup, but he's peeking at you. Sure, he's probably checking the runner on first base, but it's still a bit unsettling.

About the Back: Tim was the first overall pick in the January phase of the 1984 draft, and it was actually the second time he'd been selected #1. The Twins drafted him with the first pick of the June 1983 draft, but he did not sign.

Triple Play:

1. Belcher won three games for the Dodgers in the 1988 postseason. In his first-ever playoff appearance, he struck out ten Mets in eight and one-third innings in the second game of the NLCS.

2. On May 30, 1995, he allowed Derek Jeter's first major league hit, a single.

3. He has worked in the Indians' front office, and was the club's big league pitching coach in 2010-2011.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When you're in middle school, "Belcher" is a very funny name. When you're 32...it's still pretty amusing.

Bill James Said: "For some reason, the batting average against him with men on base was .295, which cost him dearly." Tim was 12-11 with a 4.44 ERA (92 ERA+) in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: February 25. The Seinfeld episode "The Implant", guest starring Teri Hatcher, airs for the first time. "They're real...and they're spectacular."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#381 Mike Flanagan

About the Front: Back-to-back excellent cards. Here we have a unique behind-the-plate view of Mike Flanagan, having just completed his delivery, watching the flight of his pitch as it comes toward us. Yankee Stadium is the backdrop; assuming this photo was taken in 1992, it would've been during the April 24-26 weekend series between the O's and Yanks. Flanny appeared in all three games, striking out four batters and walking two in three hitless innings of relief.

About the Back: Here you see Mike's entire 18-year major league record. He returned to the Orioles in 1991 in a bullpen role and flourished, but couldn't replicate that success the following year. At age 40, he called it a career. Still, his high ERA in 1992 is a bit misleading; he gave up 21 of his 31 earned runs in four ugly outings (and 2.1 innings) spread throughout the season. In his other 38 games, he allowed 10 earned runs in 32.1 innings.

Triple Play:

1. Among his accolades were an All-Star selection in 1978, the 1979 American League Cy Young Award, and a World Series ring with the Orioles in 1983. He was also the last O's pitcher to take the mound in the team's final game in Memorial Stadium on October 6, 1991.

2. Mike was also known for his wit. During the 1980 season, he referred to himself as "Cy Young" and teammate Jim Palmer as "Cy Old". He also gave former closer Don Stanhouse the colorful nicknames of "Fullpack" and "Stan the Man Unusual".

3. After retiring, Flanagan wore several hats in the Orioles' organization. He served two stints as pitching coach, and was a TV analyst for the team's local broadcasts for a number of years. From 2003-2007, he served as one of the club's top front office executives, in effect a co-GM with first Jim Beattie and later Jim Duquette. Sadly, Mike took his own life with a gunshot to the head on August 24, 2011. His widow Alex later revealed that he had battled depression for years.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Mike's 1986 Topps card was the only Oriole card I owned from that set as a child.

Bill James Said: Flanagan was not active in 1993, and not featured in James' book.

On This Date in 1993: February 24. At the 35th Grammy Awards, Eric Clapton wins three awards for his song "Tears in Heaven".

Monday, February 23, 2015

#380 Todd Hundley

About the Front: That's a great action photo. Todd Hundley's chest protector and pants are streaked with dirt and grass stains, and he's ready to throw from his knees. I'm assuming this was a wild pitch or passed ball and he didn't have time to set himself.

About the Back: As you can see, there wasn't a lot of competition for All-Star Rookie honors at catcher in 1992. But Hundley would have better years ahead of him.

Triple Play:

1. He had a four-year streak of Opening Day home runs from 1994 through 1997.

2. Hundley had a breakout year in 1996, making the first of back-to-back All-Star teams while slugging 32 doubles and 41 homers and driving in 112 runs. At that time, he set a record for most single-season home runs by a catcher (bested by Javy Lopez in 2003) and by a Met (tied by Carlos Beltran in 2006).

3. Todd had an unfortunate homecoming to Wrigley Field in 2001-2002. The Cubs had signed the Illinois native and second-generation player (see below) to a four-year, $24 million contract just before his 32nd birthday, but he struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, hitting .199/.285/.398 in 171 games. He also didn't ingratiate himself to the Chicago fans by flipping off some hecklers early in 2001. He was traded to the Dodgers before the 2003 season, and played only 21 more games in his career.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Topps didn't mention Hundley's father Randy, who caught for the Cubs and three other teams from 1964 through 1977 and had a Gold Glove and an All-Star appearance. I don't remember how long it was before I learned about Todd's parentage.

Bill James Said: "His batting average with runners in scoring position jumped from .157 to .276."

On This Date in 1993: February 23. Joey Lawrence's self-titled debut album is released. Whoa!

Friday, February 20, 2015

#379 Mike Munoz

About the Front: Topps just photographed the entire Tigers pitching staff on Turn Back the Clock Day and called it a wrap, didn't they? Nevertheless, that's an excellent view of the center field fence and stands at Tiger Stadium.

About the Back: Mike Munoz was the first college player drafted by the Dodgers in 1986. With their first two picks, they took high school outfielder Michael White, who never made the majors, and shortstop Dave Hansen, who we'll see in the second series of this set.

Triple Play:

1. Munoz earned his first career save on August 15, 1992, shutting out the Rangers for the final three innings of a 10-3 Tigers win.

2. He appeared in 300 games spanning six seasons for the Rockies, despite an unsightly 5.50 ERA (94 ERA+) in that span. It's hard to pitch in Denver, y'all.

3. Mike collected his only big league hit on May 28, 1995, socking a run-scoring double against Jim Gott of the Pirates.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Munoz's thick black mustache probably reminded me of Super Mario, even if the lefty pitcher didn't have the right build.

Bill James Said: "Was the Tigers top lefthanded reliever in '92, but started out slowly last year, was designated for assignment and found himself the property of the Rockies."

On This Date in 1993: February 20. Jurickson Profar is born. In 2012, he will make his big league debut with the Rangers as a top middle infield prospect.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#378 Orlando Merced

About the Front: Orlando Merced wasn't much of a threat on the basepaths, as his three career triples and 57-for-86 lifetime stolen base rate indicate. What we see here is a pretty awkward attempt at a pop-up slide into third base.

About the Back: Interestingly, baseball is not listed as one of Merced's high school sports...but volleyball is. That's a rarity. Apparently his school had no baseball team, so he only played American Legion ball.

Triple Play:

1. In 1993, he ranked fourth in the National League with a .414 on-base percentage.

2. Orlando hit 103 career home runs. 11 of those were pinch homers, including a walkoff three-run shot on September 12, 1998 that gave the Cubs a 15-12 win over Bob Wickman and the Brewers.

3. He has had coaching stints with the AA Tulsa Drillers (a Rockies affiliate at the time) and the Class A West Virginia Power (a Pirates affiliate).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Merced was the only Orlando in the big leagues in 1993. Of course, Orlandos Miller, Palmeiro, Cabrera, Hernandez, and Hudson all debuted in the ensuing decade. It was an Orlando Renaissance!

Bill James Said: "Merced hit .362 before the All-Star break, .242 afterward."

On This Date in 1993: February 19. Army of Darkness, the third movie in Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's Evil Dead series, premieres.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#377 Herm Winningham

About the Front: "Winningham" might seem like a long surname, but at 10 letters, it's not even the longest in this set. William Pennyfeather, Sherard Clinkscales, and Mark Strittmatter lurk in Series Two, with a dozen letters each.

About the Back: Not only did Herm "see action" in the 1990 postseason, but he started in right field for the Reds in Game Two of the NLCS. He went 2-for-4, doubled, stole a base, and scored the winning run in a 2-1 contest.

Triple Play:

1. His middle name is "Son".

2. Winningham's first career home run was a solo shot off of future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on April 12, 1985.

3. After his playing career ended, he returned home to Orangeburg, SC, where he coached high school baseball.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: How could this guy not have been an impact player? He had "Win" right there in his name!

Bill James Said: Since Herm split the 1993 season between AAA Pawtucket and Norfolk, batting .254/.328/.370 in his final year of pro baseball, he didn't appear in Bill James' guide.

On This Date in 1993: February 18. Professional wrestler Kerry Von Erich, facing time in prison following a second arrest on drug charges, commits suicide by gunshot on his father's ranch in Denton, TX. He was 33.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#376 Tom Henke

About the Front: Tom Henke's oversized glasses look like a relic of the 1980s.

About the Back: Big league hitters fared a bit better against Henke than AAA guys, but didn't thrive by any means. In a 14-year career, opposing batters had a line of .211/.275/.326 against him.

Triple Play:

1. Toronto teammate John Cerutti nicknamed Tom "The Terminator" after the duo saw the Arnold Schwarzenegger film together in 1985.

2. He retired at the end of the 1995 season, despite having made his second All-Star team in his first year with the Cardinals (1.82 ERA, 36 SV, 54.1 IP). For his career, he totaled 311 saves, still the 21st-highest total all-time.

3. Tom now lives on a thousand-acre farm in Taos, MO with his wife Kathy. They have four children. He's also on the board of directors with the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In my fandom, Henke was an early example of an unconventional-looking athlete who was dominant. I wouldn't have expected somebody who looked like an accountant to be able to mow down hitters.

Bill James Said: "Henke was born in the same month as Lee Smith (December 1957), and is of similar size (6-5, 225 - Smith is 6-6 but weighs more)."

On This Date in 1993: February 12. In Liverpool, England, three-year-old James Bulger is abducted from the New Strand Shopping Centre by a pair of ten-year-old boys. The older boys torture and kill him, and are convicted of murder later that year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#375 Wally Joyner

About the Front: We have a very artful view of the light standards at Kaufman Stadium at dusk behind Wally Joyner. I couldn't begin to tell you what Wally is looking at.

About the Back: Joyner's strong 1987 campaign created unrealistic expectations of his potential as a power hitter. He slugged only .440 for his career.

Triple Play:

1. He was nicknamed "Wally World", a nod to the fictitious amusement park from the film National Lampoon's Vacation.

2. Joyner's best season other than 1987 came a full decade later, when he hit .327/.390/486 and drove in 83 runs for the Padres.

3. Wally has served as hitting coach for the Padres and assistant hitting and first base coach for the Phillies. Currently, he is the Tigers' hitting coach.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Wally Joyner strikes me as a name I knew before taking a strong interest in baseball. Then again, it's a pretty distinct name.

Bill James Said: "He's as good a defensive first baseman as you'll see, and he's a surprising hitter, often looks overmatched for two or three pitches in a row, and then will turn on the pitch and hit it hard somewhere."

On This Date in 1993: February 11. The Angels sign free agent pitcher Scott Sanderson.