Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#183 Greg Maddux

About the Front: This is the last contemporary card featuring Greg Maddux as a Cub until 2004, as he spent the interim with the Braves.

About the Back: Maddux would become a repeat 20-game winner in 1993. 1992 and '93 were the only 20-win seasons in his Hall of Fame career, but he won 15 or more every year from 1988 through 2004, and at least 13 in each season through 2007.

Triple Play:

1. Greg won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-1995), and a record 18 Gold Glove Awards. It's entirely possible that he wasn't really the National League's best defensive pitcher in each of those 18 seasons, but he's got the hardware.

2. He's eighth all-time with 355 wins, one ahead of Roger Clemens for the most W's post-Warren Spahn. Maddux is the winningest right-hander in the post-Deadball era (1920-present).

3. Maddux pitched in 23 different postseason series spread out over 13 seasons. In 35 games, including 30 starts, he had an 11-14 record with one save and a 3.27 ERA. He saved his best for the World Series, where he went 2-3 with a 2.09 ERA in five starts, including a two-hit complete game win in the 1995 Fall Classic opener.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When I was picking out a jersey number for Little League in 1994, I had hoped to get #31, just like Maddux and Mike Piazza wore. But it was too small, and I happily settled for #35 (Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas' number).

Bill James Said: "With Clemens' off season, he obviously has to rank as the best starting pitcher in the majors today."

On This Date in 1993: March 25. The Brewers purchase catcher Tom Lampkin from the Padres. He will bat just .198/.280/.321 in 73 games in Milwaukee, but will hang around as a backup in the majors for another decade.

Monday, March 24, 2014

#182 Ron Darling

About the Front: I don't think I've ever realized that the "O" on Oakland's road jersey didn't have a loop inside of it. At least that was the case from 1987 through 1993, according to my just-now research. It looks odd, sitting out there all alone. I'm glad they fixed that in 1994.

About the Back: You can toss a shutout, hurl a shutout, pitch a shutout, throw a shutout, craft a shutout, deliver a shutout...use a thesaurus, Topps!

Triple Play:

1. Darling is the most accomplished big leaguer from Yale University, and famously dueled St. John's lefty Frank Viola for 11 scoreless innings in a May 21, 1981 game before St. John's pulled it out with a double steal in the 12th. It was an incredibly tough loss for Darling, who hadn't even given up a hit before the decisive inning.

2. Do you want to see Ron Darling on the cover of the August 1986 issue of GQ? Of course you do.

3. Ron has been a color analyst for Mets' TV broadcasts since 2006, and has also worked in that capacity for TBS on national broadcasts. He has also worked for MLB Network as a studio analyst.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I only knew Ron Darling as an end-of-the-line veteran in Oakland. I never appreciated how good he'd been in his prime with the Mets.

Bill James Said: "Failed to follow up on his fine 1992 season, winning only five of 29 starts, and might be through as a rotation starter." The A's were so bad in the mid-1990s that Darling lasted two more seasons in their rotation, having a minor bounceback in 1994 (10-11, 4.50 ERA, 98 ERA+) before scuffling his way to a mid-August release in 1995 (4-7, 6.23 ERA, 69 ERA+).

On This Date in 1993: March 24. The final episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. airs on ABC. Whatever happened to that kid, anyway?

Friday, March 21, 2014

#181 John Jaha

About the Front: I'm going to take a half-assed guess that John Jaha's name has the fewest unique letters of any player in this set, with a total of just five (J, O, H, N, A).

About the Back: There's no mistaking Tiger Stadium as the backdrop for this Jaha portrait.

Triple Play:

1. On September 12, 1992, he tied a Brewers team record with four stolen bases in one game against the Orioles. He victimized pitchers Craig Lefferts and Mark Williamson and catcher Chris Hoiles, showing uncommon speed for a slugging first baseman.

2. In his career-best 1999 season, he made his lone All-Star team and was the American League Comeback Player of the Year for Oakland. After a pair of injury-hampered seasons in Milwaukee, he rebounded to play 142 games and hit .276/.414/.556 (152 OPS+) with a personal-best 35 home runs as well as 111 RBI.

3. Jaha is of Lebanese descent. If you believe his unsourced Wikipedia page, he is also developing a line of coffee called "Jaha's Java".

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I should really go through this set and choose an All-Funny Name Team. John Jaha has the inside track.

Bill James Said: "He ended the season hot, hitting 14 homers and driving in 39 runs after August 1."

On This Date in 1993: March 21. More hot and heavy baseball transactions! The Rockies trade pitcher Denis Boucher to the Padres for infielder Jay Gainer. We'll meet both of these players several hundred cards down the line.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#180 Darren Daulton

About the Front: The light blue-on-purple (or is it navy?) name bars for Phillies players are kind of hard on the eyes.

About the Back: In 1992, Darren Daulton became the fourth catcher to ever lead the National League in RBI, following Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, and Gary Carter.

Triple Play:

1. Multiple knee injuries throughout Darren's career made him a "what-if" case. As it was, he topped 100 games played five times in 14 seasons, making three All-Star Games.

2. "Dutch" had a batting line of .281/.413/.516 in 22 career postseason games with the Phillies and Marlins, including three homers and 10 RBI.

3. For an interesting and surreal read, check out the "Personal Beliefs" section of Daulton's Wikipedia page. For example, he believes he's had multiple out-of-body experiences.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When I was younger, I would read pretty much anything baseball-related - newspaper articles, magazines, books, encyclopedias - you name it. I wonder if my adolescent self would have been able to wrap his brain around Daulton's 2007 book, If They Only Knew.

Bill James Said: "Batted 136 times in double-play situations, but grounded into only two double plays (1.5%), by far the lowest percentage in the National League."

On This Date in 1993: March 20. The Mets sign Dominican pitcher Octavio Dotel as an international free agent. 21 years and 13 MLB teams later, Dotel has not yet caught on with a team for the coming season.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

#179 Ken Griffey, Jr.

About the Front: There probably aren't too many guys that I could identify in their catching equipment, but that's got to be Lance Parrish in Angels gear to the left of Ken Griffey, Jr. Strangely enough, Parrish doesn't have his own card in this set despite appearing in 93 games in 1992, the last 69 of them with Griffey's Mariners.

About the Back: You may have heard that not only were Ken Griffeys Senior and Junior born in Donora, PA, but so was Hall of Famer Stan Musial. Junior and Stan the Man also share a birthday!

Triple Play:

1. It's nearly impossible to overstate Ken's greatness during his prime. He won ten straight Gold Gloves in center field. From 1993 through 2000, he batted .294/.387/.606 (152 OPS+) with 351 home runs and 926 RBI. If it weren't for the 1994-95 player's strike and an injury-shortened 1995 season, those numbers would be even more eye-popping.

2. Griffey's body seemed to give out after the trade that sent him to Cincinnati in 2000. From 2001-2006, he averaged just 92 games per season. Despite this injury-fueled decline in his thirties, the former phenom retired in 2010 with 630 home runs (sixth-most in MLB history) and 1,836 RBI (still ranked 15th all-time).

3. In January of 1988, Ken attempted suicide at age 18, mere months after the Mariners made him the first overall pick in the amateur draft. He swallowed 227 aspirin pills, later citing depression and anger stemming from a strained relationship with his father and the pressures of his budding baseball career.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Obviously I loved Ken Griffey, Jr. My outfielder's glove in Little League had Junior's signature stamped in the pocket in gold. I also played the hell out of the Super Nintendo game to which he lent his likeness.

Bill James Said: "Before 1993 no player since 1970 had hit 35 doubles and 45 homers in the same season. Both Bonds and Griffey did it last year."

On This Date in 1993: March 19. If you're looking to see a movie, new releases are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 and Point of No Return.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#178 Jeff Fassero

About the Front: The shadows caused by the afternoon sun in this photo really show off the definition of Jeff Fassero's forearm muscles. Also, is the blurry guy to the left wearing orange pants?

About the Back: "Thoroughbred"? There's something creepy about comparing teenaged boys to race horses, don't you think?

Triple Play:

1. On July 2, 1997, he became the first Mariners pitcher to ever get a base hit when a popped-up bunt attempt fell safely to the ground.

2. Though he pitched for 16 years in MLB, the last eight years of his career seem to have been possible by a record of past success and a functioning left arm. From 1999 through 2006, he was 34-55 with a 5.39 ERA (86 ERA+) and a 1.59 WHIP.

3. Jeff has been a pitching coach in the Cubs' organization since 2010.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Jeff Fassero had very little impact on my life as a baseball fan until he spoiled my Orioles' would-be ALDS Clinching Party on October 4, 1997 with eight shutout innings at Camden Yards. The O's clinched the next day, but 15-year-old me didn't curse Fassero any less for that.

Bill James Said: "Given up on by the Cardinals, White Sox and Indians, he signed with Montreal as a minor league free agent, and was a pleasant surprise in '91 and '92." And kept right on pitching for 15 more seasons.

On This Date in 1993: March 18. Eddie Murphy marries Nicole Mitchell in New York City. The marriage lasts 13 years.

Monday, March 17, 2014

#177 Lenny Harris

About the Front: I hope that Lenny Harris waited until he made contact to release the bat with his left hand. He's not Reggie Jackson, after all.
About the Back: I wonder if they give out trophies for the Eastern League's Best Defensive Third Baseman? Or maybe a nice gift certificate for Wendy's?

Triple Play:

1. Lenny holds a number of pinch hit records, including: most career pinch hits (212), most pinch hit at-bats in a season (83 in 2001), and most career pinch hit at-bats (804).

2. He spoiled Mark Gardner's no-hit bid on July 26, 1991 with a leadoff single in the tenth inning. Two batters later, he scored the winning run on a base hit by Darryl Strawberry.

3. Like many ex-players, Harris got into coaching, and spent two seasons as the batting instructor for the Nationals. In 2010, he was working for the Dodgers as a minor league instructor when he suffered a massive heart attack while throwing batting practice. He underwent a successful triple bypass and has had no further health problems since.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Before researching him for this blog entry, I couldn't have told you any more about Lenny Harris than I knew as a kid - that he was a pinch hit specialist.

Bill James Said: "He's an awfully good bench player - a lefthanded line drive hitter who can run and play third base or second."

On This Date in 1993: March 17. The Kurdistan Workers' Party, also known as the PKK, declares a unilateral ceasefire in Iraq.

Friday, March 14, 2014

#176 Darren Lewis

About the Front: This is really a pretty lousy photo. Darren Lewis is out-of-focus, oddly cropped, and lobbing a warmup toss to an unseen teammate. Couldn't Topps have done better? (Then again, couldn't I have scanned it better?)

About the Back: The Athletics were actually the third team to draft Darren. In January 1986, the Dodgers tabbed him in the sixth round, and he did not sign. The following year, Toronto used a 45th-round pick on him in the June draft, and again he declined.

Triple Play:

1. Dusty Baker, Lewis' manager in San Francisco, named his own son after Darren.

2. Despite a paltry .645 career OPS, Darren carved out a 13-year career on the strength of his center field defense and his speed.

3. When the Cubs dealt Lewis to the lowly Pirates at the midseason trading deadline in 2002, he chose to retire rather than reporting to Pittsburgh.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Through the 1993 season, Lewis had never been charged with an error in his MLB career. (His streak reached a record 392 games before a Cliff Floyd hit skipped under his glove in June 1994.) I considered that the ultimate sign that he was a defensive marvel.

Bill James Said: "In '91 he walked 36 times in 72 games, but as he has moved up in the lineup the walks have magically disappeared, dropping his OBP from .358 (good) to .302 (bad)."

On This Date in 1993: March 14. The Cincinnati Reds declare that Schottzie 02, a St. Bernard owned by currently-supsended team majority owner Marge Schott, will be barred from the Riverfront Stadium field during the coming season.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#175 Kirk McCaskill

About the Front: Kirk McCaskill appears to be checking the runner. In case you were wondering, runners had a 47% successful stealing rate against him in his career, compared to a cumulative league average of 67%. He picked off 21 runners in 12 seasons, with a high of four in 1990.

About the Back: I'm wincing at Kirk's 1991 won-lost record. He was 7-8 as of June 25, but lost 11 of his last 15 starts. The only no-decision in that span came in a 2-1 loss to the Orioles on July 15; he left after eight innings with a 1-0 lead only to see closer Bryan Harvey surrender a two-run homer to Chito Martinez. When McCaskill suffered loss number 18 on September 4, the Angels pulled him from the rotation for a few weeks to help him avoid the ignominy of 20 L's.

Triple Play:

1. Kirk was an All-American hockey player at the University of Vermont and a fourth-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1981. He played one season of minor-league hockey before choosing baseball full-time.

2. On September 14, 1990, he famously surrendered back-to-back home runs to the father-son combo of Ken Griffey Senior and Junior. He is the only pitcher in MLB history to permit such a familial feat.

3. McCaskill is now the head baseball coach at Torrey Pines High School in California.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Kirk pitched in the first game I ever attended at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, getting bombed for five runs in an inning of relief in a 15-6 O's win. That certainly put him in my good graces.

Bill James Said: "McCaskill has not been an effective pitcher for years, and probably would be out of work by now except that he looks good on the mound."

On This Date in 1993: March 13. The Great Blizzard of 1993 touches down in the Eastern United States; 184 deaths are reported due to the extreme weather. That makes me feel a bit better about the bitter cold winds that swept away our 60-degree temps last night.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

#174 Randy Velarde

About the Front: Randy Velarde's gold necklace is pretty conspicuous. It looks like he's wearing a ring on his right ring finger, too. If you're going to be a top utility infielder, you'd better accessorize.

About the Back: I didn't realize that Velarde was a White Sox draftee. You learn something new every day.

Triple Play:

1. His father Lee was the groundskeeper at Christensen Stadium in Midland, TX for 28 years, and is a member of the Texas League Hall of Fame.

2. He had a career-best season in 1999, despite being dealt from the Angels to the Athletics in midseason. Randy batted .317/.390/.455 with 16 home runs, 76 RBI, and 24 steals in 32 tries. He scored 105 runs and tallied an even 200 hits.

3. Velarde executed an unassisted triple play against the Yankees on May 29, 2000, snaring a line drive from Shane Spencer, tagging out Jorge Posada, and forcing Tino Martinez at second base.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: To this day, I still mix up Randy Velarde and Mike Gallego.

Bill James Said: "Like almost all of the Yankee platoon players, he had his best season, despite a midsummer injury." Randy hit .301/.360/.469 in 85 games in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: March 12. North Korea announces its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and bars inspectors from its nuclear sites.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#173 Andres Galarraga

About the Front: It's odd to see Andres Galarraga in a Cardinals uniform. St. Louis was a one-year blip between his eight years in Montreal and his great five-season stint in Colorado.

About the Back: On June 25, 1995, the Big Cat victimized three different Padres pitchers for his only three-HR game in the majors. He also walked twice and drove in seven of the Rockies' 11 runs.

Triple Play:

1. As you can see on the card back, Andres looked to be in steady decline after becoming a first-time All-Star in 1988. The Rockies signed him in November 1992 and it was just what the doctor ordered. The free-swinging first baseman led the majors with a .370 batting average in 1993 and slugged .602. Mile High boost or not, that's impressive.

2. Galarraga also paced the National League with 47 HR and 150 RBI in 1996, the first of three straight 40-homer seasons that obliterated his previous career high of 31.

3. He missed the entire 1999 season while battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He came back to make his final All-Star team in 2000 at age 39, batting .302/.369/.526 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI for the Braves.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was predisposed to like Andres from the word 'go'. He had a cool name, a cooler nickname, and he put up video game numbers for a shiny new expansion team. Then he played well into his forties, which I've always found endearing.

Bill James Said: "Saw only 2.97 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest of any major league regular." It worked for him...

On This Date in 1993: March 11. Anthony Davis, Jr. is born in Chicago. In 2012, he will be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets (now known as the Pelicans).

Monday, March 10, 2014

#172 Jeff Reboulet

About the Front: Just look at those Metrodome lights glinting off of Jeff Reboulet's batting helmet. Ah, the pastoral beauty of domed stadia.

About the Back: Reboulet struck out in his debut pinch-hit appearance. If Topps had been feeling more charitable, they could have highlighted his first multi-hit game a few weeks later.

Triple Play:

1. His career-best season was 1995, when he came to the plate 246 times in 87 games and batted .292/.373/.398 while playing every infield position as well as the outfield corners for the Twins.

2. Reboulet faced Randy Johnson 66 times in his career, by far his most plate appearances against any pitcher. The righty-batting utility player did pretty well against the Big Unit, batting .273/.375/.436 with two of his 20 career home runs. This led Orioles manager Davey Johnson to start him at second base over Roberto Alomar in Game Four of the 1997 ALDS. Jeff paid off his skipper's gambit with a first-inning homer off of the future Hall of Famer, setting the tone for a 3-1 Series-clinching win by the O's.

3. Jeff co-founded Horizon Wealth Management in Baton Rouge, LA, where he currently works as a financial advisor.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I once gave my younger sister a small stack of 1993 Topps doubles to use at her own discretion. She pasted them onto a portfolio folder in a collage arrangement that I rather liked. Reboulet's card was prominently featured.

Bill James Said: "Reboulet can play shortstop with anybody in the league, plus he works the pitcher like Rickey Henderson, so if he would hit .258 every year, he'd be some player."

On This Date in 1993: March 10. Italian-Canadian pro wrestler Adolfo Bresciano, better known as Dino Bravo, is found shot dead in his home in Quebec. He was 44 at the time of his death. There were seven bullet wounds in his head and another ten in his torso. It is believed that he had been smuggling cigarettes, thereby running afoul of the mafia, but his murder has never officially been solved.

Friday, March 7, 2014

#171 Doug Jones

About the Front: Check out that showcase mullet just flapping in the breeze as Doug Jones lets loose with another sinker. Topps knows that the best mullet is an Action Mullet.
About the Back: Doug's 36 saves in 1992 are now sixth all-time in franchise history. Jose Valverde and Billy Wagner are tied atop the leader board with 44 apiece.

Triple Play:

1. Jones did not become a big league regular until age 30, but the following season he made the All-Star team for the first time as the Indians' closer. He was an All-Star four times in a five-year stretch.

2. Doug spent an ugly 1995 campaign as the closer in Baltimore, finishing with 22 saves and a 5.01 ERA. After allowing six runs to the Blue Jays without recording a single out on August 1 of that year, he responded to the loud boos of the home fans by sarcastically tipping his hat, arguing with one rooter, and disappearing into the dugout.

3. After retiring, he coached in the Diamondbacks organization, at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, and at San Diego Christian College.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Back then I had no idea that Jones was notorious for keeping hitters off-balance with low-speed offerings. There was something about his walrus mustache that seemed wild and intimidating.

Bill James Said: "Whatever the gremlin was (in 1991), it returned last year, and the league hit .298 against him, not really what you're looking for in a closer."

On This Date in 1993: March 7. Former Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges is arrested for stabbing a tenant at his home.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

#170 David Justice

About the Front: That is a mighty awkward running style David Justice has. Is he trying to do the Tomahawk Chop around the bases?

About the Back: Justice nearly doubled his home run total in 1993, finishing with 40 and driving in 120 runs in his first All-Star season.

Triple Play:

1. In Game Six of the 1995 World Series, his sixth-inning solo home run off of Cleveland's Jim Poole provided the only scoring in a Series-clinching 1-0 Atlanta victory.

2. Injuries limited Justice to 14 seasons, and he topped 146 games played only once (1993, 157 games). But he was still productive in later years with the Indians, Yankees, and Athletics, mixing in some DH duty. He retired with 305 home runs, 1,017 RBI, and a 129 OPS+.

3. He was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame on August 17, 2007.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Justice seemed like one of the coolest players of his generation by dint of that 40-homer season, his spot with the perennially-contending Braves, and of course his ill-fated marriage to actress Halle Berry.

Bill James Said: "Fifth player in history to hit 40 homers with 15 or fewer doubles." Indeed, that was David's lowest doubles total in any full season of his career.

On This Date in 1993: March 6. Whitney Houston's single "I Will Always Love You" tops the United States charts for a 14th straight week, becoming the longest-running number one single of all time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

#169 Kenny Rogers

About the Front: Do you see VBL (Visible Boxer Line) bisecting Kenny Rogers' uniform pants, or is it just me?

About the Back: The note about Kenny being named his high school team's defensive player of the year is interesting, as he went on to win five Gold Gloves during his big league career. I guess if you can pick it in center field, you have no excuses when you switch to the mound.

Triple Play:

1. On July 28, 1994, Rogers tossed a perfect game against the Angels. It came exactly three years after Dennis Martinez (then with the Expos) threw MLB's last perfecto against the Dodgers.

2. In an inexplicably boneheaded act, he was charged with misdemeanor assault in 2005 after bullying a pair of cameramen who had been filming his pregame on-field workout. An initial 20-game suspension was reduced to 13 games upon appeal.

3. He pitched in the majors for 20 seasons, retiring after the 2008 campaign with 219 career wins and 156 losses.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was the kind of cool kid who knew of Kenny Rogers the country singer/fried chicken enthusiast long before I knew of Kenny Rogers the southpaw. So I thought it was a silly name for a pitcher to have.

Bill James Said: "He pitched fairly well, and 'won' 16 games because Gonzalez and Palmeiro hit about a hundred home runs for him."

On This Date in 1993: March 5. Larry Bird, who announced his retirement from the NBA's Boston Celtics the previous summer, undergoes back fusion surgery to soothe the sciatic pain that brought an end to his basketball career.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

#168 Kevin Maas

Oops, I didn't expect to be gone for a week and a half. Then again, I didn't expect recovery from wisdom tooth extraction to be as awful as it was. Live and learn.

About the Front: Kevin Maas looks less like he's admiring a home run and more like he's cursing a shallow fly ball.

About the Back: Joe DiMaggio still holds the Yankee rookie homer record with 29 in 1936. But Maas is the team's record holder for most homers by a rookie lefty.

Triple Play:

1. Kevin set the baseball world on fire in the summer of 1990 by hitting ten homers in his first 72 at-bats, setting a record as the fastest player to reach that career milestone.

2. He last played for the Yankees in 1993, and last played in the majors with the Twins in 1995. He spent one fruitless season with Japan's Hanshin Tigers in 1996, batting .245/.320/.386 with eight home runs and 42 RBI in 63 games.

3. After retiring from baseball, Maas returned to his hometown of Castro Valley, CA, where he found work as a financial consultant for Charles Schwab.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Maas must have been a big deal in 1990, because he still had some name recognition for a baseball novice like me three years later.

Bill James Said: "He hit just .205, but his secondary average was .371, and he drove in more runs per at bat than Don Mattingly or Eddie Murray." To the layperson, that means that he walked a fair amount (.316 OBP) with good power (.411 SLG).

On This Date in 1993: March 4. Authorities announce the capture of suspected World Trade Center bombing conspirator Mohammad Salameh.