Thursday, May 30, 2013

#11 Eric Karros

About the Front: (Oops! I forgot to post this before I ducked out to Oriole Park yesterday. Just pretend it's still May 29...)Here's another first in the set - first Rookie Cup! Topps has been designating an "All-Star Rookie Team" since 1960, and in most years a trophy or cup logo has appeared on the front of the chosen players' cards. There was a full batter-on-top-hat trophy design from 1961 through 1972, and a simple gold or silver cup from 1975-1978, and again from 1987-present.

You'll also notice Eric Karros' jersey number (23) written on the knob of his bat. It's always amusing to see a player's name, nickname, or number scrawled on a piece of equipment. It's an easy way to keep your teammates from walking off with your stuff, and it saves needless guesswork by clubhouse managers, but it's one of the few informal touches that keeps pro baseball tethered to its childhood origins.

About the Back: Here's the box score from the game featuring Karros' walk-off three-run pinch homer, served up by Stan Belinda. Eric went on to hit 284 career home runs, but only three of those were game-enders. The others were a two-run shot off of the Reds' Rob Dibble on August 6, 1993 and a solo bomb off of Arizona's Byung-Hyun Kim on September 20, 2000. The latter home run resolved a scoreless tie.

Triple Play:

1. The Dodgers have traditionally had more than their share of Rookie of the Year winners. Jackie Robinson won the first award in 1947, and the boys in blue have taken home the prize 16 times total. Los Angeles had four straight ROtYs from 1979 through 1982, but Karros was the first of FIVE straight Rookies of the Year for the Dodgers. He was followed by Mike Piazza (1993), Raul Mondesi (1994), Hideo Nomo (1995), and Todd Hollandsworth (1996). Funnily enough, the team hasn't had another player win the award since.

2. In his first two postseason series, Eric's performance varied wildly. In the 1995 NLDS, he batted .500 (6-for-12) with a pair of homers, a double, and four RBI, but the Dodgers were swept by the Reds. The following year, he went 0-for-9 with a pair of walks, and this time the Braves swept L.A. out of the NLDS.

3. Karros now covers MLB games as a color commentator for Fox, where he has gained attention for his gravity-defying helmet of hair.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It was always an extra little thrill to see that gold Rookie Cup on the front of a card. It was a shorthand way of telling you that this guy was something special. As we'll see later, that wasn't so much true. (Looking at you, Pat Listach.)

Bill James Said: "I would see him as a minor star, at best, and I suspect that he might be better cast as a platoon player." Karros had a short peak and a slightly above-average 107 OPS+ for his career, but he did finish fifth in MVP voting in 1995, when he hit .298/.369/.535 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI.

On This Date in 1993: May 29. Jose Canseco made his infamous pitching debut for the Texas Rangers, allowing three runs on two hits and three walks in mop-up work. Boston romped 15-1, and Jose underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in July.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#10 Will Clark

About the Front: Why am I doing this blog? One reason is that it forces me to look at these cards closer than I have in decades, and sometimes that means finding a detail that had previously escaped me. For instance, Will Clark is pointing at someone or something with his left hand as he rounds the bases. Is he acknowledging a coach or teammate during a home run trot? Is he telling the opposing catcher that he's gunning straight for him? Or is it a completely involuntary contortion of the digit? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

About the Back: That pair of seven-RBI games is impressive enough, but Will also shined on a bright stage in Game One of the 1989 NLCS. He went 4-for-4 with a walk, a double, a pair of home runs, and six RBI in an 11-3 rout of the Cubs. The first baseman's fourth-inning grand slam off of Greg Maddux blew the game open.

Triple Play:

1. Though he often missed time with injuries in the second half of his career and didn't put up gaudy home run numbers, Clark was a very productive player to the end. He batted .319/.418/.546 (145 OPS+) in his swan song in 2000, with 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 130 games with the Orioles and Cardinals. After the July 31 deal that sent him to St. Louis, Will was even better: .345/426/.655 (167 OPS+) in 51 games, helping the Redbirds reach the NLCS.

2. Nicknamed "Will the Thrill", Clark homered in his first career game (actually, on his first major league swing, famously victimizing Nolan Ryan) and in his last regular-season contest.

3. The fourth Google result for Will is this unflattering memoir from sportswriter Jeff Pearlman, who was publicly browbeaten by the Thrill for daring to print the bigoted things that ex-Braves reliever John Rocker said in an interview for Sports Illustrated.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In December of 1993, Clark was one of the first big-ticket free agents pursued by Baltimore owner Peter Angelos. I remember being disappointed when he signed with the Rangers, because he was more of a household name than Rafael Palmeiro, who ended up going from Texas to the Orioles in a separate free-agent deal. As it turned out, the O's got their money's worth from Raffy. More on that later.

I also remember being amused to no end when I learned from Will's 1991 Donruss card that his middle name was "Nuschler".

Bill James Said: "He's 30; many or most players' best years are behind them at 30, but certainly if he's healthy, he's going to drive in more than 73." Despite playing in only 110 games thanks to the 1994 players' strike, Clark drove in 80 in his first season in Texas.

On This Date in 1993: May 28. Super Mario Bros., starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the eponymous Italian plumbing duo, is released in theatres. It is the first feature film based on a video game, and regrettably not the last.

Friday, May 24, 2013

#9 Kent Hrbek

About the Front: Kent Hrbek looks especially pleased with himself for walloping the baseball. He's also lathered up with eye black, although he's got nothing on Bryce Harper.

About the Back: For a guy who looks and plays the part of the beefy slugger, Hrbek had pretty good bat control too. In the last seven years of his career, he walked 136 more times than he struck out.

Triple Play:

1. He made his major league debut on August 24, 1981, going 2-for-5 with 2 RBI. His 12th-inning solo home run off of George Frazier gave the Twins a 3-2 win at Yankee Stadium.

2. Kent is infamous among Braves fans for a controversial play in Game Two of the 1991 World Series, when he tagged Ron Gant out on a play at first base. Hrbek seemed to lift Gant off of the bag, but the "out" call stood. In 2011, the Twins gave away a bobblehead commemorating the 20th anniversary of that incident.

3. Hrbek hosted "Kent Hrbek Outdoors", an outdoor sports program that aired on local network FOX-9 in Minnesota for six years, ending in 2009.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember hearing that Kent was an Oriole killer, and his career splits bear that out. In 138 games against my O's, he slugged .553 with 35 homers and 105 RBI. Those are his best numbers against any opponent. Maybe he held a grudge after Cal Ripken beat him out for the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year award.

Bill James Said: "His best years are clearly behind him, his contract expires at the end of 1994, and he has expressed a willingness to retire." Bill's on the money here. After batting .270/.353/.420 with 10 HR and 53 RBI in 81 games in 1994, Kent hung up his spikes.

On This Date in 1993: May 24. The African nation of Eritrea formally declared its independence from Ethiopia after a three-decade civil war.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

#8 Mark Wohlers

About the Front: It's our first instance of pitcherface, the endlessly amusing phenomenon of pitchers contorting their faces into gruesome and goofy expressions in the process of hurling a ball at great speeds. Mark Wohlers has only mild pitcherface - puffing of the cheeks and scrunching of the chin. All kidding aside, the side angle and the up-close zoom make for a pretty good photo.

About the Back: Mark's 1991 season is a master class on climbing two levels to reach the majors. Five earned runs allowed in 57.2 innings at AA and AAA, with 66 strikeouts. It looks like he was being groomed to close games, as he finished 48 of the 51 games he appeared in that year in the minors.

Triple Play:

1. Wohlers claimed the Braves' closer role in 1995 and saved 97 games in a three-year span. Most impressively, he struck out 100 batters in 77.1 innings in 1996 while walking only 21.

2. In 1998, he completely and inexplicably lost the ability to throw strikes, colloquially known as "Steve Blass Disease". He issued 33 walks in 20.1 innings with Atlanta, posting a 10.18 ERA. The Braves optioned him to the minors, where he walked another 37 batters in just 13.1 innings with a sky-high 18.90 ERA. Mark eventually worked his way back, but wasn't nearly as effective as before. He spent a few seasons as a mediocre reliever with the Reds, Yankees, and Indians, and retired after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003.

3. Wohlers had a memorable cameo with several other MLB players on the December 13, 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live. He had a few lines of dialogue, questioning the sexuality of a young boy played by Chris Kattan after the latter took issue with his lackluster attempt at inspirational advice.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Though I've always been a fan of my hometown Orioles first and foremost, I also followed the Braves rather closely during the mid-1990s due to their ubiquitous appearances on TBS. I was disappointed when they lost to the Phillies in the 1993 NLCS. I can only imagine how I'd have felt if I'd been watching and rooting for them in the two prior World Series.

Bill James Said: "He pitched far better than his 4.50 ERA would suggest, and will again this year." Bill was a year off on this one. He had a 4.59 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP in 1994, but lowered it to 2.09 with 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 1995.

On This Date in 1993: May 23. Ramon Martinez tosses a three-hitter as the Dodgers beat the Rockies 3-0. Eric Davis hits a home run for Los Angeles.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#7 Pete Incaviglia

About the Front: Hey, it's Inky! Get a load of him mashing a baseball with those Popeye forearms. I'm also keen on his white baseball spikes. Remember when only the Athletics wore white shoes? I'm thinking that this photo was snapped in Spring Training, since 1) Pete Incaviglia is wearing the Astros' navy blue warmup jersey and b) there are at least two out-of-focus figures just hanging out in foul territory. The quite-large gentleman behind the plate is likely a coach, and I'm not sure about the bare-legged, skinny individual to the right. Equipment boy?

About the Back: Pete is the namesake of the "Pete Incaviglia Rule". After the Expos drafted him eighth overall out of Oklahoma State University, he refused to play in the minor leagues. Montreal traded him to Texas for pitcher Bob Sebra and infielder Jim Anderson, and the Rangers met his demands by promoting him immediately to the majors. Afterwards, MLB instituted a rule that forbid teams from trading a player for the first year after they are drafted.

As you can see, Inky was a prototypical all-or-nothing hitter. He finished his career in 1998 with 206 home runs and 1,277 strikeouts.

Triple Play:

1. Pete had a record-setting collegiate career, totaling 100 home runs in 213 games. In 1985, he established NCAA records with 48 home runs, 143 RBI, and a 1.140 slugging percentage in 75 games!

2. He's stayed involved in baseball since retiring as a player. From 2004-2006, he was the hitting coach for the Erie Seawolves, the AA affiliate of the Tigers. He's been a manager in the independent American Association since, serving as skipper of the Grand Prairie AirHogs and the Laredo Lemurs. How are you liking these minor league team names?

3. Rather than wait out the players' strike, Pete signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan for the 1995 season. He did not take well to his new surroundings, batting .181/.263/.325 with 74 strikeouts in 243 at-bats.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My first exposure to Inky was as the righty half of a left field platoon with Milt Thompson for the rough-around-the-edges Phillies team that surprised most people by capturing the 1993 National League pennant. It was Pete's all-around best year, as he batted .274, slugged .530, and hit 24 homers with 89 RBI in 116 games.

Bill James Said: "One of the most amazing statistics of the 1993 season: Philadelphia sixth-place hitters-sixth-place hitters-drove in 133 runs in '93." The Phillies' #6 batters were Jim Eisenreich (59 games), Inky (46), Wes Chamberlain (33), Milt Thompson (17), Todd Pratt (4), Kim Batiste (2), and Mariano Duncan (1).

On This Date in 1993: May 22. Riddick Bowe knocks out Jesse Ferguson in the second round to retain his heavyweight boxing title. The match was held at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#6 Jeff Tackett

About the Front: So it is that Topps gives us the first "common" player in the set after a run of five legends. At least they made up for it with a great photo. Jeff Tackett kneels in a cloud of dust at home plate, preparing to palm a ball that momentarily hangs in the air. Based on his expression and body language, and the blurry figure in the visitor's dugout who seems to be applauding, I'll make an educated guess that Jeff was just bested on a play at the plate.

About the Back: Yeowch. As you can see, Tackett was a defense-first catcher. Only one pro season with an average above .240, and he didn't hit a single home run until his sixth year in organized ball. Terry Tackett played in just 198 minor-league games from 1961 through 1965, and batted .199 with a .309 slugging percentage, so Jeff at least outplayed his dad.

I get a kick out of the note about his interests. Motorcycles and surfing...sounds like a California guy through and through.

Triple Play:

1. Jeff's true claim to fame was small cameo roles in the films "Bob Roberts" and "Dave". In each of those movies, he was the Orioles' catcher tasked with snagging a ceremonial first pitch tossed by the fictional President of the United States. Chris Hoiles may have been a better hitter, but he was never in the pictures.

2. He pitched one inning of mop-up relief on August 11, 1993, as the O's were getting battered 15-5 in Detroit. He got Gary Thurman to bounce out to shortstop, walked Scott Livingstone on five pitches, induced a Rich Rowland lineout to right field, surrendered a bloop single to Chris Gomez, and then stranded both runners on a Tony Phillips fly ball to center field. He was the only Baltimore pitcher to go unscored upon that day.

3. Tackett's final big league game was August 2, 1994, the week before the players' strike that lasted until the following spring. He had the rare distinction of hitting a home run in his final MLB at-bat, connecting for a solo shot off of Mike Trombley of the Twins in the seventh inning.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I interpreted this photo differently as a kid. Tackett's open-mouthed pose and the ball flip projected an image of nonchalance.

Bill James Said: "He is a defensive catcher, and threw out 44% of opposing baserunners, which is excellent, although the ERA when he was catching was not good (4.75)." Catcher ERA has been discredited as an effective tool for evaluating backstops in recent years. If you're curious, Baseball Reference actually lists Tackett's C-ERA as 4.71, with starter Chris Hoiles at 4.08 and fellow backup Mark Parent at a ghastly 5.29.

On This Date in 1993: May 21. Dayanara Torres, an 18-year-old from Puerto Rico, was crowned Miss Universe.

Monday, May 20, 2013

#5 Tony Gwynn

About the Front: As Night Owl observed in the comments of Friday's post, Topps really front-loaded the 1993 set with big stars. Tony Gwynn makes for five straight all-timers right from the start. I haven't peeked ahead at the full checklist, but I bet we'll be in for a run of ordinary Joes sooner or later to balance things. As I sat and wondered about the player selection, it occured to me that 1993 marked the first year since 1984 that Topps did not include a "Record Breakers" subset in their flagship baseball product. From 1987 through 1992, these cards led off the set, allowing for a star-studded opener without cutting into the amount of big-name cards available for the rest of their 792. So perhaps Topps was overcompensating for the lack of Record Breakers.

As far as this card goes, Tony Gwynn looks downright svelte. It could just be a flattering photo, bolstered by the thinning effect of the Padres' pinstriped home threads. There are plenty of other Gwynn cards from 1993 that portray the outfielder with a huskier physique.

About the Back: Tony's left hand is barely inserted in his glove at all. No wonder he needed to use both hands to make that catch.

Gwynn really was a remarkably gifted hitter. That .289 average in his 54-game debut in 1982 remained his lowest mark throughout his career, as he retired in 2001 with a .338 lifetime average. His second-lowest was .309, in both 1983 and 1990. I found it odd that they mentioned hit streaks as relatively brief as 15 and 18 games on the back of this card, but indeed Tony peaked with that 25-gamer in 1983. His next-longest streak was 20 straight, lasting from May 20 to June 10 in 1997. It just goes to show you how arbitrary "streaks" can be in sports.

Triple Play:

1. Unfortunately for Tony Gwynn, Jr., his father's keen batting skills don't seem to be a matter of genetics. Gwynn the younger has batted .244/.312/.318 in the major leagues (2006-2012), with his batting average peaking at .270 with the 2009 Padres. As of this writing, Tony Jr. is at .274/.344/.333 in 37 games with the Dodgers' AAA Albuquerque club in 2013.

2. Gwynn has been the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University, since July 2002. He took over for his former coach, Jim Dietz. Entering the 2013 season, Tony had accumulated a 290-311 record with the Aztecs, which included a trip to the NCAA Regionals in 2009.

3. During his playing days at SDSU, Tony became the only two-sport all-conference player in Western Athletic Conference (WAC) history. He was a point guard for the Aztec basketball team, setting school records with 221 assists in one season and 590 assists in a four-year career.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Before I really dived into card collecting in 1993, I had a small stash of cards given to me by family members. It was mostly 1986-1990 Topps, and I remember Tony Gwynn's 1988 All-Star card being among them. The guy on that card doesn't even look much like the one on this card. Gwynn is one of those people who looks totally different with facial hair.

Bill James Said: "...Plays right field as well as anyone, although he may move to first." Gwynn stayed in the outfield throughout his career.

On This Date in 1993: May 20. Television viewers bid farewell to fictional bartender and ex-Red Sox pitcher Sam Malone and the rest of the Cheers gang, as the final episode of the popular sitcom aired. The show had an 11-season run from 1982 through 1993.

Friday, May 17, 2013

#4 Roger Clemens

About the Front: We get a really good look at Roger Clemens' pitching grip, but I'm terrible at identifying that kind of stuff. His index and middle finger are very widely spaced - would that be a split-finger fastball? The other item of note is the blurry runner dancing away from first base in the background. There's no way of telling who the opposing team is. I'm offering all sorts of insight today.

About the Back: The write-up is a bit monotous, no? It's also odd that they mention the pair of four-hitters, and yet fail to point out that the April 12 and July 18 games were two-hitters. This does give us an excuse to look back at the stats and notice that Roger led the American League in shutouts five times in a six-year stretch. In 1989, Bert Blyleven topped the junior curcuit with five shutouts.

Triple Play:

1. Clemens' seven Cy Young Awards match Barry Bonds' seven MVPs. A fitting bit of symmetry for two of the biggest poster boys for the steroids panic. If you're curious, Bonds faced Roger eight times and went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts, one hit-by-pitch, and five walks (three intentional). That makes for a fascinating slash line of .000/.750/.000.

2. If you dislike Roger Clemens as much as I do, you might take comfort in knowing that he used to rub Icy Hot on his groin before he pitched. Hmm..."comfort" was probably not the word to use there.

3. Roger's spent the last decade dithering over retirement and comebacks. In 2012, a 48-year-old Clemens started a couple of games for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, supposedly as a favor to Skeeters' manager Gary Gaetti. He tossed three and a third scoreless innings against the Bridgeport Bluefish on August 25, and four and two-thirds scoreless innings against the Long Island Ducks on September 7. His son Koby, who had signed a one-day contract with Sugar Land, was his catcher in the second game.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was always being on the lookout for players that shared my birthday of August 5. (Oh, the days before Baseball Reference.) I remember being greatly disappointed to learn that I missed out on "the Rocket" by a single day. Obviously, that was before I realized what an unlikable horse's ass he was.

Bill James Said: "It is very likely that Clemens will bounce back and have more 20-win seasons."  He did indeed post 20-win seasons in 1997, 1998, and 2001, whether he had pharmaceutical help or not (and he did).

On This Date in 1993: May 17. Calvin and Hobbes discuss the finer points of slugs and worms.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

#3 Ryne Sandberg

About the Front: I gushed about the first two cards, but this photo is a real dud. The camera is zoomed in so tightly on Ryne Sandberg that we have no idea of the context. He could have just received a throw from the catcher and might be preparing to tag a sliding base stealer, but since we can't see any other player, it just looks like he's standing stock-still on the bag, hunched over at the waist. It's none too exciting. Plus, the shadows from the afternoon sun at Wrigley Field are covering Ryno's eyes.

About the Back: 19 triples in 1984? That's wild. Kenny Lofton, for example, never had more than 13 three-baggers. That '84 season saw Sandberg win the NL MVP, as the Cubs captured a rare Eastern Division crown. It's also worth mentioning that Ryne's consecutive-hits record didn't even last a full season. From June 30-July 2, 1993, Sammy Sosa hit safely in nine straight at-bats.

Triple Play:

1. In mid-June of 1994, Sandberg stunned the baseball world by retiring a few months shy of his 35th birthday and walking away from the last two and a half years of a four-year, $28 million contract. He was hitting .238 with five homers and 24 RBI in 57 games, and cited frustration at his own subpar performance. It certainly couldn't have helped that the Cubs were in last place. After taking a full season off, he returned in 1996 and played for two more years, batting .253/.313/.426 with 37 homers and 156 RBI total.

2. Ryno has managed in both the Cubs and Phillies farm systems, and took the AA Tennessee Valley Smokies (2009) and the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs (2011) to their leagues' respective championship series. Prior to the 2013 season, he was named the Phillies' big league third base coach and infield instructor, and he's thought to be next in line to manage Philadelphia.

3. His final game at Wrigley Field (September 21, 1997) was also the last home game for Harry Caray, as the legendary Cubs' announcer died the following February. Ryne went 2-for-3 with an RBI double, and Miguel Cairo pinch-ran for him after his fifth-inning single.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: No thoughts about this card, really. I knew that Ryne Sandberg was a big deal, and that was about it. Apropos of nothing, "Ryno" isn't a very creative nickname.

Bill James Said: "He's got years left as a quality player." Hindsight is 20/20, I suppose.

On This Date in 1993: May 16. Randy Johnson loses a no-hit bid with one out in the ninth inning when Oakland's Lance Blankenship drops a single into short right field. The Big Unit also walked a pair of batters, but sealed his one-hitter with strikeouts of Eric Fox and Ruben Sierra. The Mariners won 7-0.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#2 Barry Bonds

About the Front: Two cards in, Topps gives us our first look at the horizontal format for 1993. Topps began mixing horizontally-oriented photos back into their base sets in 1991 (they had last done it in 1974), and have done so nearly every year since. I've never been a big fan of horizontal cards, probably because they don't display well in nine-pocket binder pages. But Topps made some great photo choices in this set to optimize the landscape look.

The photo itself is quite good: Barry Bonds is doing what he does best (besides being an enigmatic pain in the ass): destroying a baseball. The photographer captured the moment that the future home run king* made contact, and the blurring of the simultaneously incoming/outgoing ball makes it look as though the ball is bursting apart from the force of the blow. Barry is wearing the red and blue throwback threads of the 1939 Pirates, complete with the centennial sleeve patch that celebrated the great lie of Abner Doubleday's 1839 founding of the game. We can also see that the extensive body armor that allowed Bonds to crowd home plate was already in his arsenal in the early 1990s; even his batting gloves seem to be padded. Lastly, Barry appears to be wearing wristbands bearing his own likeness. He wasn't the only player to go that route in this era.

*= Yes, he's the home run king. Deal with it. Babe Ruth didn't have to hit against the best black pitchers, Hank Aaron took amphetamines, nobody's an angel. He did what he did, and it's done.

About the Back: Playing out the final year of his contract in Pittsburgh, Bonds had a helluva free-agent audition. Despite missing 22 games, he had career highs in runs scored, doubles, home runs, walks, slugging percentage, and batting average. Of course, he more than doubled those 34 homers in his controversial record-breaking 2001 season.

Triple Play:

1. Bonds won SEVEN National League Most Valuable Player awards: 1990, 1992, 1993, and 2001-2004. It's all the more impressive because he was disliked by many of the writers who voted on those awards.

2. I largely remember Barry as the hulking, stationary slugger he became later in his career. But in his first twelve seasons (1986-1997), he averaged 31 home runs and 35 steals per year. He even hit a total of 20 homers leading off games.

3. I called Bonds "enigmatic" above. Submitted as proof: The time he pretended to be Paula Abdul.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought that the puff of air inflating Barry's jersey was a bizarre optical illusion that made him look cartoonishly barrel-chested. It was reminiscent of Rick Dempsey's Babe Ruth rain-delay pantomimes.

Bill James Said: "You probably don't want to hear this, but Ted Williams was never the player that this guy is."

On This Date in 1993: May 15. The Alamodome opened in San Antonio. The building still hosts sporting events, concerts, and other events, but the NBA's Spurs played there for just a decade before moving to the SBC Center (now the AT&T Center).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#1 Robin Yount

About the Front: This is our first look at the base card design in 1993 Topps. First things first: branding. The Topps logo made its debut on the front of the card in 1979, and has appeared in some form or another every year since, except for 1980. At least here it's relatively small and unobtrusive, appearing in a top corner in either white or black for contrast. The entire design is pretty clean, with a thin white border and the player name in a team-colored bar at the bottom, stacked on top of the team name, which floats in white space. The two bottom corners feature matching diagonal bars that bring to mind the pockets of an old photo album. These corner bars match the color of the team name, though a few teams' are two-toned; I'll touch upon these when we get to them. Naturally, some color schemes were a better fit for their respective teams than others. The Brewers, wearing their classic royal blue and gold threads for the final time in 1993, have some of the better-looking cards in this set.

Topps starts the set off right with a great action photo of a future Hall of Famer. We see Robin Yount, who collected his 3,000th career hit late in the 1992 season, following through on a swing that seems to have found its target. He's watching the flight of the ball (with eyes shielded with eye black), and you can see both the grimace on his face and the name and number 19 on his back.

About the Back: Robin gets the hero's treatment with the first card in the set. Again, the design particulars: the red card number in the upper-left corner is a bold stroke, and the three-dimensional name-and-position banner underneath is reminiscent of 1990 Fleer. For the first time since 1971, Topps includes a player portrait on the back, and this time it's in full color! To the right of the photo is all of the standard biographical information: height, weight, handedness, the player's draft stats, how and when he was acquired by his current team, birthdate and place, and current place of residence...though they stop short of divulging the street address. Complete major league stats for everyone, and minor league stats where space permits. As Yount was an 18-year veteran, only his big league stats appear. (All we're missing out on is his 64-game stint in the New York-Penn League as a 17-year-old in 1973, actually.) Usually you'll see a short bit of trivia below the stats, like some notable single-game performances or hitting streaks. Maybe you'll get to learn about the player's favorite hobbies or some other personal details...what fun! Again, Robin's longevity deprives us of such frivolity. But we do get to see a mess of red ink: one season as the league's foremost hitmaker and top slugging percentage fellow, and two seasons each atop the doubles and triples leaderboards. It's not hard to see why he was the American League MVP in 1982.

Triple Play:

1. Robin famously debuted with the Brewers when he was 18, and hit his first home run on April 13, 1974 against Ross Grimsley of the Orioles. It was just his sixth career game. To date, he is the last 18-year-old to homer in a major league game.

2. Yount's older brother Larry holds an unfortunate big league record. On September 15, 1971, he was summoned from the Astros' bullpen to make his debut in relief against the Braves. The rookie experienced stiffness and pain in his elbow while taking his warmup pitches, and had to be removed from the game before facing a batter. Since he was announced as having entered the game, it counted as an official appearance. Larry Yount continued to pitch in the minors through the 1975 season, but never saw action in the majors. Thus he is the only pitcher in MLB history to make a credited appearance without ever facing a batter. You can see his major league stat line (or lack thereof) here.

3.Robin has plenty of other interests, including golf, motocross, charitable beverages, and hunting. If you don't feel like clicking links, I feel obligated to mention that Yount accidentally shot former teammate and current Cubs manager Dale Sveum in the ear with pellets while the pair were hunting quail this past winter.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Until I heard mention of him on TV, I thought his last name was pronounced "YOONT". I can also guarantee you that I didn't have the proper appreciation for Robin's trophy mullet when I was kid. Heck, thanks to Billy Ray Cyrus, that much-maligned hairstyle was still all the rage in 1993.

Bill James Said: "At this writing, it is expected that he will continue to play." Whoops! Yount retired prior to the 1994 season. In 1993, he hit .258/.326/.379 with an OPS+ of 90, his worst overall season since 1979.

On This Date in 1993: May 14. Actress Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly, School of Rock, Despicable Me) was born. I just had to ask, didn't I?

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Introduction

Hi! I'm actor Troy McClure, speaking on behalf of Kevin! You may remember him from such blogs as Orioles Card "O" the Day, The Great 1965 Topps Project, and Bad Touch Baseball. Today I'm here to tell you about Kevin's exciting new venture in card blogification, the creatively-titled "1993 Topps". You see, this was the first baseball card set that Kevin ever collected, way back when Whitney Houston and Kurt Cobain were still alive and making music! As a precocious middle-schooler, he spent most of his money on those cellophane-wrapped rectangular curios, spending as much as 79 cents for a pack of 15 cards. Thank goodness those prices and quantities are a thing of the past! Anyhow, Kevin has decided to pay tribute to his personal gateway to collecting (as well as his own rapidly-fading youth) by blogging about each and every card in the 825-card 1993 Topps base set. Expect the blog to be updated at least four times per week, as long as his sanity endures. If you behave yourselves, he might even include posts on the six "checklist replacement" players who appeared on Gold cards, but were not featured in the base set. If Kevin's especially pleased with the progress of the blog, he may stretch it out for another few months to talk about the 132-card Traded set. Now if you'll excuse me, I hear that Baltimore has a fantastic aquarium...

Hey, guys, it's Kevin. Sorry about that. In keeping with the 1993 theme, I figured that I may as well make use of one of the great recurring characters of The Simpsons' heyday. But Troy left without giving you the nuts and bolts of this blog. I'm looking to adhere to a simple template for my posts here, and it's one that is ripped off from inspired by Night Owl's peerless set blogs:

About the Front: Any stray observations about the front of the card. Player photo, design elements, what have you.

About the Back: Any eye-popping stats, noteworthy biographical tidbits, career highlights, etc.

Triple Play: I'll share three pieces of trivia about each player featured.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When I first laid eyes on this card, how did I react? Did I think the guy had a funny name? Did I assume he was a bigger star than he actually was? Will I actually remember anything about my adolescence after a couple decades of school, work, and heavy drinking? (Just kidding, mom.)

Bill James Said: One of the most consistently entertaining baseball books I own is The Bill James Player Ratings Book 1994. It provides James' trademark combination of groundbreaking statistical analysis and wry humor, with blurbs, review, and future projections for every major leaguer that was active in the 1993 season as well as several top prospects. I'll quote a sentence from each player profile when applicable. My only regret is that Shawn Hillegas ("To be honest, I really have no idea what in the hell he is doing in the major leagues", James declares) did not have a card in the 1993 Topps set.

On This Date in 1993: Self-explanatory. Game results, world news, pop culture, whatever I dig up that tickles my fancy.

So anyway, here's a project that has been 20 years in the making, in a manner of speaking. Enjoy, and tell your friends!