Monday, September 30, 2013

#79 Dick Schofield

About the Front: Dick Schofield doesn't appear to be very sure of himself as he dances off of third base. Maybe he forgot his contact lenses and he can't make out the coach's signals. FYI, the "S" patch on his left sleeve is in honor of attorney William A. Shea, the namesake of Shea Stadium.

About the Back: NASA has had a team of scientists working around the clock for 27 years to figure out how Schofield ever hit 13 home runs in 1986.

Triple Play:

1. His father, who also went as Dick (or "Ducky") Schofield, was an infielder for the Pirates, Cardinals, and five other teams from 1953 through 1971. The younger Schofield is also the uncle of current Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth.

2. Dick was valued for his glovework at shortstop, leading his league in fielding percentage four times.

3. He has coached in the Diamondbacks and Angels organizations and spent 2013 serving as hitting coach for the Reds' AA Pensacola club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: If I were a less mature child, I'm sure I would have taken great prurient glee in the father-son nickname combination of Ducky and Dick. If.

Bill James Said: "He's not Phil Rizzuto, and when he broke his forearm and the Blue Jays got Tony Fernandez to replace him he disappeared forever from the Blue Jays' starting lineup."

On This Date in 1993: September 30. Pittsburgh's Tim Wakefield blanks the Phillies on four hits and six walks in a 5-0 victory. It is the first time Philadelphia has been held scoreless in 174 games, a new National League record. It's also Wakefield's last game as a Pirate. The 26-year-old knuckleballer will spend the 1994 season at AAA Buffalo, and the Pirates will release him in the spring of 1995. He'll latch on with the Red Sox, for whom he will win 186 games over the course of the next 17 years.

Friday, September 27, 2013

#78 Greg (A.) Harris

About the Front: For several years running, Greg Harris was baseball's foremost "Weird Al" Yankovic lookalike.

About the Back: "Straight Outta Lynwood", released in 2006, was Weird Al's first-ever Billboard top ten album. Harris, as you can see, was born in Lynwood on November 2, making him a Scorpio. Yankovic was born October 23, making him...a Scorpio. The plot thickens.

Triple Play:

1. Greg tossed 5.1 innings of relief in Game 3 of the 1984 World Series and was charged with no earned runs. He entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third inning and the Padres trailing the Tigers 4-1. His second pitch hit Kirk Gibson to force in a run, but he retired Lance Parrish on a liner to center field to strand three runners. The San Diego bats could not rally, and the Friars lost 5-2.

2. Harris is famously the only pitcher in big league history to throw both righty and lefty in a game. The natural righty was ambidextrous, and wore a custom either-handed glove on the mound to tweak former Red Sox GM Lou Gorman, who had shot down the idea of his pitcher delivering from both sides of the mound in a game situation. It wasn't until September 28, 1995, in the penultimate game of Harris' career, that he was permitted to perform the unique stunt in a game that counted. The then-Expos pitcher started the ninth inning tossing righty, retiring Reggie Sanders of the Reds on a grounder to shortstop. He switched arms and walked Hal Morris, then got Eddie Taubensee on a dribbler that was handled by the catcher. Finally he flip-flopped once again and put down Bret Boone with a comebacker.

3. Relieving seemed to suit Greg more than starting. In 98 starts, he posted a 4.44 ERA and 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. In 605 relief appearances, his ERA was 3.24 and his K/9 was 7.5.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: The Gregs Harris were my first lesson in homonymous ballplayers. This is Greg Allen Harris; we'll meet Padres righty Gregory Wade Harris later on in the set. Topps could've added their respective middle initials and cleared up some of the headache.

Bill James Said: "He pitched OK overall, but attempted to move into the closer role while Russell was out with an ankle injury, and that went very badly." Harris blew a staggering 10 saves in 1993 and saved his worst for the stretch run, going 0-3 with a 9.50 ERA (19 ER in 18 IP) after September 1 to inflate his overall ERA from 2.67 to 3.77. He was 4-for-8 in save situations during that span.

On This Date in 1993: September 27. Randy Myers finishes the Cubs' 7-3 win over the Dodgers with 1.1 perfect innings to become the first-ever National League pitcher with a 50-save season. He will finish with 53 saves, thanks in part to a season-ending streak of 18 straight successful saves (1.86 ERA, 23-3 K/BB in that span).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

#77 Junior Felix

About the Front: Hey, it's a rare all-Junior action snapshot! That's Junior Ortiz of the Indians trying to slap the tag on Junior Felix. My sleuthing puts us in the top of the fourth inning on Saturday, May 2, 1992. Felix led off with a single off of Dennis Cook, moved to second on a Hubie Brooks grounder, and scored on Gary Gaetti's single. There was a throw home, which allowed Gaetti to advance to second base. Cleveland went on to win a 3-2 squeaker thanks to an RBI single by Paul Sorrento in the bottom of the eighth. And now you know.

About the Back: Topps was all about that early-season four-game series between the Angels and Indians. The April 30 game was of course two days before the contest pictured on the front of the card.

Triple Play:

1. In his major league debut (May 3, 1989) Junior became the 53rd player in MLB history to homer in his first at-bat, taking California's Kirk McCaskill deep on the first pitch he saw. He was only the 12th big leaguer to homer on the first pitch of his career.

2. Felix was the starting right fielder in Dave Stieb's September 2, 1990 no-hitter at Cleveland. He went hitless in three at-bats, but caught the final out of the game.

3. Junior joined the Tigers in 1994 and was having a career year when the strike brought everything to a halt. In 86 games, he batted .306/.372/.525 with 25 doubles, 13 home runs, and 49 RBI. It was his final big league season, though he continued playing in Mexico until 2001.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This was one of the few cards in the 1993 Topps set that did not have its featured player as the primary focus. It was easy to confuse it for a Junior Ortiz card. My younger self would have had a field day with 1973 Topps.

Bill James Said: "Felix's listed age, 26, is believed to be a fiction, and his skills seem to slip another step backward every season." The outfielder had just hit .238/.276/.397 in an injury-plagued 57-game swing with the Marlins.

On This Date in 1993: September 26. Randy Johnson becomes the 12th pitcher in the 20th century to notch 300 strikeouts in a single season when he fans Ruben Sierra in the ninth inning. The Big Unit whiffs 13 batters in 10 innings, but also serves up a pair of solo homers to Dave Henderson. Steve Ontiveros takes the loss for Seattle after issuing a bases-loaded walk to Henry Mercedes in the top of the 12th inning.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Brief Hiatus.

As the title of this post suggests, I won't be updating this blog for the next week-plus. Tomorrow I'm getting married, and then my lovely bride and I are skedaddling away to my family's lakeside cottage in Northeastern Pennsylvania for a week without Internet access, cable television, or other people. I'll be back roundabouts September 23 with more silly 20-year-old cards. Bye for now!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#76 Kevin Appier

About the Front: Is the palm of Kevin Appier's hand facing his elbow? I hope for his sake that it's an optical illusion. My wrist hurts just looking at this photo.

About the Back: Appier was the ninth overall pick in the 1987 draft, sandwiched between Dan Opperman (Dodgers) and Kevin Garner (Padres), neither of whom ever played in the major leagues. Evaluating baseball talent on the amateur level is a tricky proposition.

Triple Play:

1. It seems like an obsession with won-lost records kept awards voters from recognizing Appier's talents during his peak. In 1990, he posted a 2.76 ERA despite a so-so 12-8 record. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Kevin Maas. In 1992, he went 15-8 with a 2.46 ERA and received two runs of support or less in 14 of 30 starts and didn't receive a SINGLE Cy Young vote. The next year, he led the league with a 2.56 ERA, had more strikeouts (186) than hits allowed (183), and had a streak of 33 consecutive scoreless innings. He was 18-8 and finished a distant third in Cy Young balloting behind Jack McDowell (22-10, 3.37 ERA) and Randy Johnson (19-8, 3.24 ERA).

2. He was hit hard in both of his starts against the Giants in the 2002 World Series, but the Angels came back to win both games and capture the championship four games to three.

3. Appier was born in Lancaster, CA, as was Monday's featured player, Steve Buechele. They are two of the three MLB players to ever come from Lancaster (early 2000's pitcher Sean Douglass was the other).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember the impatience and excitement I felt on the strike-delayed Opening Day of the 1995 season. It was April 26, and the O's were visiting Kansas City. Kevin Appier no-hit the Birds for 6.2 innings, but was pulled after 98 pitches due to the truncated Spring Training schedule. Leo Gomez singled off of reliever Rusty Meacham with one out in the eighth, but the Orioles lost 5-1 and I gained some grudging respect for Appier's abilities.

Bill James Said: "Probably the best starting pitcher in the American League, if Clemens isn't 100%." Appier had just won the ERA title by a comfortable margin (2.56 to 2.95) over Wilson Alvarez, a year after his 2.46 mark fell just shy of Clemens' league-leading 2.41.

On This Date in 1993: September 11. Another big debut, as the Braves' prized shortstop prospect takes the field as a ninth-inning defensive replacement for Jeff Blauser in a 13-1 Atlanta rout of the Padres. Chipper Jones doesn't even get a ball hit in his direction, but it's the first game of 2,499 in a great career.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#75 Juan Guzman

About the Front: Juan Guzman's forearm is cocked back at a 90 degree angle to his upper arm. I'll say again: it's actually a wonder that there aren't MORE pitcher injuries than there already are.

About the Back: I wonder what brought about the grimace on Juan's face. Maybe someone just told him that he'll never win 16 games in a season again.

Triple Play:

1. In 1996, Guzman led the American League with a 2.93 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.11 to 1.

2. Juan was an Oriole for one calendar year, going 9-13 with a 4.20 ERA. But the Orioles acquired him at the trade deadline in 1998 for a pair of prospects that didn't pan out, then flipped him to the Reds in 1999 for raw pitching prospect Jacobo Sequea and rookie reliever B. J. Ryan. Ryan was a mainstay in the Baltimore bullpen for the next six and a half years, and was phenomenal in 2004-2005 (2.35 ERA, 39 saves, 12.7 K/9).

3. He threw a league-high 26 wild pitches in 1993, joining Tony Cloninger (27 in 1966) as the only pitchers post-World War I to toss more than 25 wild pitches in a single season.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Was I the only one who thought that Guzman kind of looked like Little Richard?

Bill James Said: (Regarding Juan's all-time best winning percentage of .784 and 40-11 career record) "That's the kind of record which is held by many people in turn, each of whom surrenders it as soon as he has a tough season." Guzman had just a .429 win percentage (51-68) in the remaining seven seasons of his career, leaving him with a less-gaudy .535 mark overall.

On This Date in 1993: September 10. Greg Maddux wins his 18th game, striking out nine Padres in a 3-2 victory. Fred McGriff hits his 32nd home run, victimizing the San Diego club that traded him away earlier in the season. With the win and the Giants' 6-2 loss to the Cardinals, Atlanta gains a share of first place in the National League West for the first time since April 14. The Braves had trailed San Francisco by ten games on July 22 and were nine back as late as August 11 before really catching fire.

Monday, September 9, 2013

#74 Steve Buechele

About the Front: Steve Buechele shows us the proper technique for catching a pop-up. Though I have to wonder why he didn't flip his shades down first.

About the Back: Topps takes great care to avoid mentioning that Steve's first home run as a Cub was his only home run in 65 games with the team in 1992. Quite a significant power outage by his own standards.

Triple Play:

1. Steve was routinely ranked among the top defensive third basemen in the league.

2. Buechele appeared in the postseason once, with the 1991 Pirates. In their seven-game NLCS loss to the Braves, he hit .304 (7-for-23) with four walks.

3. He has managed in the Rangers' organization since 2009, and has piloted their AA Frisco club since 2010.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Middle-schooler Kevin loved the Simpsons almost as much as adult Kevin, so he'd appreciate this: "I was saying Boo-chele."

Bill James Said: "He's 32; a player of this type often hits the wall in his early thirties." Wouldn't ya know it, Buechele batted .177/.262/.215 in 1995 and was released by both the Cubs and the Rangers, ending his career.

On This Date in 1993: September 9. Jim Edmonds makes his major league debut, starting in left field and batting seventh for the Angels in a 6-0 win at Detroit. He goes 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, but he'll go on to collect 1,949 hits and 393 home runs in a 17-year career.

Friday, September 6, 2013

#73 Mike Moore

About the Front: Mike Moore's Athletics home whites look like a million bucks, but he wound up pitching for the Tigers in 1993 after signing a 10 million dollar three-year deal as a free agent.

About the Back: Those 16 K's against the Yankees were a career high. Moore had only 10 double-digit strikeout games in his career, and his second-best total was 13, in his very next start against the Orioles.

Triple Play:

1. He was Seattle's Opening Day starter three years in a row (1984-1986), following Gaylord Perry and preceding Mark Langston in the annals of Mariner openers.

2. Mike was a two-time winning pitcher in Oakland's World Series sweep of the Giants in 1989, allowing three runs in 13 innings for a 2.08 ERA. His two-run double in Game Four was the first Fall base hit by an American League pitcher in a decade of Fall Classic action.

3. In all, Moore had a 14-year big league career, going 161-176 with a 4.39 ERA. Those lifetime numbers were marred by a miserable final season. In 1995, he led the American League in losses, putting up a 5-15 record and an astronomical 7.53 ERA for Detroit. He allowed 24 home runs, 118 runs (111 earned), and 179 hits in 132.2 innings.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In 1993, I probably didn't even know that the Athletics used to play in Philadelphia and then Kansas City. Compared to its history, the map of MLB has been exceptionally stable in my lifetime.

Bill James Said: "The Tigers scored 6.32 runs/nine innings for him, most in the league." And that's how you post a 13-9 record with a 5.22 ERA and a league-leading 35 home runs allowed.

On This Date in 1993: September 6. Montreal-born pitcher Denis Boucher, formerly of the Blue Jays and Indians, makes his first start for the Expos in a 4-3 win over the Rockies. His catcher is Windsor, ON native Joe Siddall; they are the second-ever Canadian battery in MLB history. The first was pitcher Tip O'Neill and catcher John Humphries of the New York Gothams in 1883.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

#72 Jeff Grotewold

About the Front: Considering that Jeff Grotewold got this one and only card in Topps' flagship sets, it's a good one to have. He was probably just taking a break from warming up a pitcher, but he strikes a somewhat imposing figure in his Tools of Ignorance. He's at Wrigley Field, of course.

About the Back: After reading up on Jeff, I'm stunned that Topps went with the ho-hum biographical information. Though he played 72 games with the Phils, his three home runs were hit on three consecutive days, each in a pinch-hit appearance! The Giants were probably glad to see him go.

Triple Play:

1. Of his aforementioned pinch-hitting power display in San Francisco, Grotewold said, "I might not hit one the rest of the year. I'm a doubles hitter, definitely not a home run hitter. I'm just trying to put the ball in play. If I go up there trying to hit a home run, I strike out." This was a prescient comment, as the rookie batted .132 (5-for-38) with one double and no home runs to finish out the 1992 campaign.

2. Other University of San Diego Toreros to play in the big leagues include former outfielder Brady Clark, ex-Royals catcher and manager John Wathan, and current Orioles lefty Brian Matusz.

3. Jeff's only other MLB experience was a 15-game swing with Kansas City in 1995. Despite a solid .278/.422/.389 batting line, he couldn't stick. He spent 1996 at AAA Omaha before retiring.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I don't think I ever noticed the catcher's mask tucked under Grotewold's left arm until I pulled the card out for this blog entry.

Bill James Said: Nothing, since Grotewold didn't play in the majors in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: September 5. Now that the 1993 season has reached the stretch drive, I'm going to post baseball happenings for each entry this month. On 9/5/1993, John Kruk walks in his first plate appearance in the Phillies' 5-3 win at Cincinnati. It's his 100th walk of the season, making the Phils the first National League team to have three 100-walk players in the same season.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

#71 Ricky Bones

About the Front: I'm pretty sure that Ricky Bones is pitching in Cleveland, since the signage on the blue outfield wall looks a lot like the retired number that's visible on Roberto Alomar's card. Judging from the long sleeves, I'd say it's probably Ricky's relief appearance on April 26, 1992, when he gave up three unearned runs in garbage time in a 9-4 Milwaukee victory. There were two errors (including one by Bones himself), a passed ball, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and two singles. Bruce Ruffin had to clean up the mess. What fun!

About the Back: 1992 was the first of four double-digit loss campaigns for Ricky in a five-year span. He had a 10-9 record in 1994, so only labor strife kept him from a clean sweep.

Triple Play:

1. Bones came up through the Padres' organization and was part of the blockbuster that sent perpetually-disgruntled slugger Gary Sheffield from Milwaukee to San Diego.

2. He was the lowly Brewers' lone All-Star in 1994, by dint of a 7-7 record and a 3.34 ERA at the break. When the season prematurely ended in August, he was 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA.

3. Ricky began coaching in the Mets' farm system in 2006. Last year, he was named bullpen coach for the big league team.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When I first saw this card, I thought his name was pronounced as it's spelled. "Ricky BO-ness" still has a musical quality to it, but he doesn't make the cut for the next Tim Burton movie.

Bill James Said: "He's not a major league pitcher, let alone a rotation starter, and it's a matter of time until the Brewers figure this out." Milwaukee didn't cut bait with Ricky until late in the 1996 season. He made 137 starts for the Brew Crew with a 4.64 ERA and a 47-56 record.

On This Date in 1993: September 4. Yankees' lefthander Jim Abbott no-hits the Indians, winning 4-0. The rare feat is even more remarkable because Abbott was born without a right hand.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

#70 Roberto Hernandez

About the Front: Roberto Hernandez kicks and fires as a Red Sox baserunner (or maybe first base coach?) does some navel-gazing. For the fuzzy Bostoner's sake, I hope this is just a warmup pitch.

About the Back: You might not have known that Hernandez was originally an Angels' farmhand. California traded him and fellow minor leaguer Mark Doran to the White Sox in 1989 for outfielder Mark Davis, whose big league career consisted of two hitless at-bats for the Halos in 1991. Roberto, on the other hand, saved 161 games in parts of seven seasons in Chicago. Not a bad trade for the Pale Hose.

Triple Play:

1. Despite racking up 326 total saves (13th-most in history) over a 17-year career, Roberto never led his league in saves in any season.

2. The University of South Carolina Aiken named its baseball field in his honor in 1993.

3. In 2007, a 42-year-old Hernandez appeared in 28 games for the Indians. One of his teammates was 23-year-old starter Fausto Carmona. It came to light in 2012 that Carmona had been playing under an assumed identity since signing with Cleveland as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2000. He was actually three years older than he'd claimed, and his birth name was...Roberto Hernandez.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: 1993 was Roberto's first full season as Chicago's closer. If I'd been following baseball more closely in the early 1990s, I probably would've been shocked to see Bobby Thigpen deposed from late-inning duties so soon after racking up his record 57 saves in 1990.

Bill James Said: "Bread-and-butter pitch is a hard, sinking fastball. Real hard." That hard sinker helped Hernandez strike out 7.9 batters per nine innings in his career, 42nd-best all-time.

On This Date in 1993: September 3. MLB team owners vote to realign each league into three divisions, with the best second-place team in each league also advancing to the postseason as a wild card. These changes will be effective as of the 1994 season.

Monday, September 2, 2013

#69 John Vander Wal

About the Front: The protruding tongue doesn't really work for anyone but Michael Jordan. Of course, the photographer could've just caught John Vander Wal preparing to spit out a mouthful of sunflower seeds.

About the Back: Civil War history, snowmobiling, and R-C vehicles...Vander Wal is a true renaissance man.

Triple Play: 

1. In 1995, John set a record with 28 successful pinch hits in a season. He batted .389/.471/.681 (28-for-72) with four homers and 17 RBI.

2. Though he spent most of his career as a reserve player, Vander Wal got 461 plate appearances for the Pirates in 2000 and set career highs with 24 home runs and 94 RBI.

3. After he retired in 2004, John became a scout for the Padres.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I wasn't sure if it was "Vander Wal", "Van Der Wal" (as it appeared on his 1992 Donruss card), or "VanderWal". Names are hard.

Bill James Said: "Vander Wal's '93 season isn't as weak as it looks; his secondary average was .293, and he was playing in a pitcher's park and doing a lot of pinch hitting." He hit .233 with a .320 on=base percentage in 244 trips to the plate.

On This Date in 1993: September 2. Snoop Dogg and his bodyguard are charged with the murder of a 20-year-old gang member in an August 25 drive-by shooting. They will be cleared of the charges in 1996.