Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#342 Erik Hanson

About the Front: Could Erik Hanson look any less at ease? I'm also wondering if the bat rack behind him is full of wax-coated paper cups. Baseball players tend to do crap like that when they're bored.

About the Back: Unfortunately for Erik, there was another 17-loss season in his future. He went 13-17 with a 5.41 ERA for Toronto in 1996, but avoided leading the American League in losses for a second time thanks to Jim Abbott's disastrous 2-18 mark.

Triple Play:

1. In 1990, Hanson became the first righty pitcher in Seattle history to strike out 200 batters.

2. While pitching for the Red Sox in 1995, he made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He was 7-2 with a 3.60 ERA at the break, and finished 15-5 with a 4.24 ERA.

3. Erik last pitched in the majors in 1998, choosing not to endure Tommy John surgery and rehabiliation on torn ligaments in his right elbow. He soon took up golf, and is a talented amateur.
11-Year-Old Kevin Says: That "M's" baseball logo is pretty silly in hindsight. Of course, my favorite team still includes "O's" as part of its branding...

Bill James Said: "If you're looking at me to explain the trade, look somewhere else." The Mariners had just traded Hanson, a year away from free agency, to Cincinnati along with rookie second baseman Bret Boone. In return, they received reliever Bobby Ayala and rookie catcher Dan Wilson.

On This Date in 1993: December 16. The Brazilian Supreme Court bans ex-President Fernando Collor de Mello from holding any political office until 2000 due to corruption.

Monday, December 15, 2014

#341 Mel Rojas

About the Front: Under the shade of his cap, we have a good look at Mel Rojas' eyes, which are pointed forward towards the batter, just like his left elbow, knee, and foot.

About the Back: A 5-3 record down the stretch at Burlington? Topps sure knows how to whip prospect hounds into a frenzy.

Triple Play:

1. Rojas is the nephew of the Alou brothers - Matty, Jesus, and his Expos manager Felipe. His cousin, of course, is former Montreal teammate Moises Alou.

2. He saved a career-high 36 games in 1996, posting a 7-4 record and a 3.22 ERA.

3. For the past three years, Mel has been the pitching coach for the Padres' Dominican Summer League club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I probably would have assumed that Mel was short for Melvin. In fact, it's Melquiades.

Bill James Said: "He had a tough time as a closer and continued to pitch so-so until the break, but posted a 2.04 ERA over the second half, winding up with good stats."

On This Date in 1993: December 15. The White Sox sign Julio Franco to a one-year free agent deal. The 35-year-old will bat .319/.406/.510 with 20 home runs and 98 RBI, winning a Silver Slugger Award, and then jump to Japan for 1995.

Friday, December 12, 2014

#340 John Kruk

About the Front: Sadly, this isn't John Kruk at his grungy 1993 peak, with his long sweaty mullet, goatee, and uniform slathered in dirt and pine tar. It's funny to see how different he looked just one year earlier.

About the Back: Ah, that looks a bit more like the Krukker I remember.

Triple Play:

1. Here's one I just discovered. At AA Beaumont in 1983, John pitched in three games, totaling five scoreless innings. He allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out three.

2. In a losing effort in the 1993 World Series, Kruk batted .348/.500/.391 with four runs batted in.

3. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the spring of 1994, and made a full recovery after having one of his testicles surgically removed. The following year, he abruptly retired from the White Sox after singling in his first at-bat on July 30. The base hit brought his career batting average up to an even .300, and his on-base percentage across ten seasons was .397.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: One of the first great baseball moments I witnessed live was Kruk's heart-stopping at-bat against Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star Game.

Bill James Said: "You probably know as much about him as I do, a fun guy with a bad body and a chaw of tobacco that would choke a T-Rex."

On This Date in 1993: December 12. Peter Boross becomes the prime minister of Hungary after the death of Jozsef Antall.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

#339 Mark Clark

About the Front: I wonder if any longtime Cardinals fans felt a chill run down their spines when they saw the tarp lurking in the background of this photo.

About the Back: In this portrait, Mark Clark bears some physical resemblance to current Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Triple Play:

1. Mark four-hit the Padres on July 6, 1992 for his first career shutout.

2. Went a career-best 11-3 with a 3.82 ERA (122 ERA+) for the Indians in 1994.

3. On June 14, 1997, Clark hit his only career home run, a solo shot off of Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I can't believe anyone's parents would be so cruel as to name them "Mark Clark".

Bill James Said: "Before going on the DL he had a 5.70 ERA; afterward (six starts) it was 2.09."

On This Date in 1993: December 11. A block of the Highland Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia collapses, killing 48 people.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#338 Bob Ojeda

About the Front: Bob Ojeda wore #17 with the Dodgers because #19 (which he'd worn as a Met) was retired for Jim Gilliam.

About the Back: As we all know, a nine-hit shutout requires the use of the term "scattered". You can reach back to April 14, 1988 for Ojeda's lowest-hit shutout, a two-hitter against the Expos. In that game, the lefty stranded the bases loaded while clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning.

Triple Play:

1. Bob was the winning pitcher in the longest game in pro baseball history as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1981. He relieved Bruce Hurst in the top of the 33rd inning, got three outs without allowing a run, and benefited from Dave Koza's RBI single in the home half.

2. He beat his former Boston teammates in Game Three of the 1986 World Series, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. He also started the fateful Game Six, yielding only two runs in six innings, but departing with a no-decision.

3. Late in the 1988 season, the tip of Ojeda's left middle finger was severed by an electric hedge trimmer while he was doing yard work at home. The digit was repaired in an emergency surgery, but he missed the playoffs, and the Mets were bounced from the NLCS by the Dodgers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My introduction to Bob Ojeda was as the sole survivor of the tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of Cleveland teammates Tim Crews and Steve Olin in early 1993.

Bill James Said: "Highly traumatic events, however, change people in unpredictable ways; it might make him feel that there is more to life than baseball, or it might push him to a new level of dedication." In Ojeda's case, his career was just about over. He allowed eight runs in three innings for the Yankees in 1994 and that was that.

On This Date in 1993: December 10. The computer game Doom, an influential first-person shooter with cutting-edge 3D graphics, is released by id Software.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#337 Kirt Manwaring

About the Front: This is a pretty good shot of Kirt Manwaring jumping up from his crouch to field a bunt, but the choice to crop only half of the Expos batter is lame. Either zoom in and give us a solo photo of the catcher, or zoom out and let us see the entire scene.

About the Back: The inclusion of that caught-stealing stat from AA is baffling for two reasons: first, Manwaring played for Shreveport in 1987, not 1989; second, a 33% rate is not noteworthy in and of itself.

Triple Play:

1. In 1993, he threw out 45.9% percent of would-be base stealers and had a .998 fielding percentage and a defensive WAR of 2.4. These were the best marks across the board for a National League catcher, and resulted in Kirt's only career Gold Glove.

2. The penultimate of Manwaring's 21 career home runs was hit on July 15, 1999 - his 34th birthday.

3. He is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Giants.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Kirt", as in "dirt", is a weird way to spell that name.

Bill James Said: "I still don't believe he is any kind of a hitter, but the Giants had a great year with him catching, so it will take him years to play himself out of a job."

On This Date in 1993: December 9. Alternative rockers The Verve Pipe release their album Pop Smear, which I mention only because of its disturbingly punny title.

Monday, December 8, 2014

#336 Mike Pagliarulo

About the Front: I assume that Mike Pagliarulo is tracking the flight of a pop-up as he holds up on the basepaths. He looks like he's being tugged in two different directions.

About the Back: If you were listing players with 30-homer seasons, how long would it take you to remember Pags?

Triple Play:

1. In addition to the ALCS homer mentioned on the card back, Pagliarulo also had a go-ahead longball against John Smoltz in the seventh inning of Game Four of the 1991 World Series. However, Atlanta rallied to win that contest.

2. He missed out on the players' strike in 1994, having signed a free agent deal the previous offseason with Japan's Seibu Lions. He batted .263/.362/.418 in 80 games with the Lions, then finished his career back in the majors with the Rangers in 1995.

3. After his playing career ended, Mike had a scouting website known as Baseline Report. He is currently the hitting coach for Pittsburgh's AAA Indianapolis club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Pags was an underrated midseason pickup for my Orioles in 1993, batting .325/.373/.556 with nine doubles, six home runs, and 21 RBI in 33 games down the stretch. I particularly remember his grand slam off of Nolan Ryan.

Bill James Said: "He's a free agent, and I wouldn't touch him with a 20-foot pole."

On This Date in 1993: December 8. President Bill Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law.

Friday, December 5, 2014

#335 Mark Portugal

About the Front: I should be keeping a mullet count for this set. I can't see the front, but it's definitely a party in the back for the Houston hurler.

About the Back: All the Twins got in return for Mark Portugal was a Player to Be Named Later, who wound up being minor league pitcher Todd McClure. McClure was out of baseball within a year of the deal. Smooth move, Minnesota.

Triple Play:

1. Mark tossed 10 shutout innings against the Phillies on June 11, 1991, allowing six hits and one walk and striking out seven. But Houston failed to score after pinch hitting for their starter and stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth. Roger McDowell walked Ken Oberkfell in the 11th to force in the winning run, at least giving Portugal's team the victory even if he himself was stuck with an unlucky no-decision.

2. He was the 1994 Silver Slugger Award winner as the National League's best-hitting pitcher. In 54 trips to the plate, he hit .354 and slugged .500 with five doubles, a triple, and eight runs batted in.

3. One of the top Google recommendations when I searched for "mark portugal" was "mark portugal sandwich". Intrigued, I clicked around and learned that there is indeed a sandwich named after the pitcher at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, a whimsically-named Houston pub that Portugal frequented during his Astros tenure. The lunch fare was personally created by the righty: Boar's Head roasted turkey, avocado, Muenster cheese, mayo, and bacon on a French roll. It sounds tasty, though I'd probably hold the mayo.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Down the stretch in 1993, I remember Portugal having a personal 12-game win streak, allowing him to finish the season 18-4 with a 2.77 ERA. It was an impressive run: over his last 16 starts he was 12-0 with a 1.99 ERA. Incidentally, it was the pitcher's only 15-win season in 15 tries.

Bill James Said: "He has a complete set of tools - fastball, curve, slider, the famous change-up."

On This Date in 1993: December 5. Doug Hopkins, co-founder and lead guitarist of the Gin Blossoms, commits suicide by gunshot while in the early stages of psychiatric treatment for alcoholism. He is 32 years old at the time of his death.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

#334 Jason Kendall

About the Front: Why so sullen, Jason Kendall? The Pirates were still perennial contenders when they drafted you.

About the Back: Fred Kendall's big league career spanned from 1969 through 1980, primarily with the Padres, and he hit .234/.285/.312. He peaked with San Diego in 1973, with a line of .282/.320/.396, 10 homers, and 59 RBI. You may also recognize the name of Jack Zduriencik, who is now the GM of the Seattle Mariners.

Triple Play:

1. Jason was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates, all within his first five seasons (1996, 1998, 2000). In 1998, he batted .327/.411/.473 with 12 home runs and a career-best 75 RBI. He also stole 26 bases in 31 tries and led the National League with 31 times hit-by-pitch.

2. He broke his ankle in a nasty mishap while running to first base in July 1999 and missed the rest of the season. He returned to play another 11 seasons in the big leagues, but his offensive game soon declined. From 2001-2010 he batted .277/.350/.345 with 30 homers in 1,432 games, compared to .314/.402/.456 with 45 homers in 653 games in the first five years of his career. Ankle injury aside, Kendall had the heaviest workload among modern catchers, topping 140 games eight times. That almost certainly took a toll on his hitting.

3. While with the Royals in 2010, Jason and teammate Willie Bloomquist struck upon a dream of becoming a two-man bobsled team in future Winter Olympics contests. Earlier this year, Bloomquist claimed that they're still hopeful of competing in South Korea in 2018, despite the fact that neither man has begun training in the other sport.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: For whatever reason, it didn't occur to me that a lot of these draft pick photos depicted the young subject in a slapped-together uniform. With a more critical eye, I can now see that Kendall's mesh Pirates jersey with its yellow lettering on white fabric is a bit less than authentic.

Bill James Said: Jason batted .276 with a single home run and 40 RBI at Class A Augusta in 1993, which wasn't enough to put the 19-year-old in Bill's crosshairs for this book.

On This Date in 1993: December 4. A truce between the Angolan government and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels comes to an end. Civil war in the western African nation had begun in 1975, and will continue until 2002.