Friday, June 21, 2013

#26 Skeeter Barnes

About the Front: Here's another truly odd photo. Skeeter Barnes is staring up at his own right hand as he throws the ball, as if to say, "Yep, I've still got the ball. Am I doing this right?". Or possibly, just as he was winding up to throw, a plane buzzed over top of the stadium. Hopefully he wasn't that easily distracted.

About the Back: There's a good visual representation of a journeyman's career. In the eight years from his MLB debut with the Reds to his arrival in Detroit, he totaled 75 games in five seasons, and didn't even get a sniff of the majors in the other three seasons. Besides the Reds, Expos, and Cardinals, Barnes also passed through the Phillies, Brewers, and Pirates organizations before getting his shot with the Tigers at age 34 in 1991. Talk about resilient!

Triple Play:

1. His birth name is William Henry Barnes.

2. His lack of a true defensive position and his struggles in various cups of coffee in the big leagues kept Barnes in the bus leagues for more than a decade despite his minor league batting line of .296/.348/.431.

3. Skeeter has coached in the Tigers and Rays organizations, and is currently Tampa Bay's minor league coordinator for base running.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Skeeter is a great name. You've got to have something to distinguish yourself when you're a utility player.

Bill James Said: "He's now 37 years old, but in great shape, and one of the most reliable bench players in the American League." After going 6-for-21 (.286) in 24 games in 1994, Barnes was sent back to AAA Toledo. He retired at season's end.

On This Date in 1993: June 21. Jeromy Burnitz debuted for the Mets, replacing Bobby Bonilla in right field and in the cleanup spot in the seventh inning of an 8-3 win over the Expos. He struck out looking in his only at-bat, the first of 1,376 punchouts in a 14-year career. (He would also hit 315 home runs, which is pretty swell.)

NOTE: I will be away at the beach for the next week, so the 1993 Topps blog will be pretty quiet for the rest of the month. See you later!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

#25 John Franco

About the Front: In stark contrast to most of the pitcher photos we've seen thus far, John Franco does not look like he's exerting an extraordinary amount of effort in throwing the ball. He has a short, flat-footed stride, and his arm is cocked just enough that it appears as though he's merely lobbing the ball to the catcher. It might just have something to do with the precise moment at which the photo was taken.

About the Back: I didn't realize that Franco was drafted by the Dodgers. They traded him to Cincinnati in May of 1983 along with minor-league reliever Brett Wise for infielder Rafael Landestoy, who totaled 21 hits for L. A. before he washed out of the majors for good. Woof.

Triple Play:

1. John pitched for-freaking-ever, totaling 424 saves (fourth-most ever) with a 2.89 ERA in 21 seasons. He played out the string with the Astros in 2005 at age 44. Oh, the life of a lefty reliever.

2. His son J. J. was drafted by the Mets in the 42nd round of the 2010 draft, but chose to attend Brown University. The younger Franco batted .194 for the Bears and reached base at a .227 clip in 2013, and committed 12 errors in 39 games at shortstop. But hey, he's studying economics.

3. Franco was the third-ever team captain in Mets history, being tabbed for the honor in 2001.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I probably didn't know much about the vagaries of career arcs when I was younger, but I'm sure I would've been stunned to learn that the two Francos in the 1993 Topps set (John and Julio) would both still be active in the big leagues after I graduated college.

Bill James Said: (From Randy Myers' entry:) "Only 28 years old, it's hard to remember that he was once traded for John Franco, who is about 73." Of course, John was 33 at the time, but he laughed last anyway.

On This Day in 1993: June 20. John Paxson's three-pointer in Game Six of the NBA Finals helps the Chicago Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns, 99-98, to clinch their third straight league championship.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

#24 Tim Naehring

About the Front: In case you couldn't tell, those are Tim Naehring's flip-up sunglasses dangling around his neck as he makes a relay (or warmup) throw. They appear to have an elastic band, like sports goggles. I can't imagine why he wouldn't just wear them on his face, with the shades flipped up if it's not too bright. Seems like they'd be a distraction flapping around his neck. I'll hazard a guess that it's the pre-inning warmup, and he'll pull them on when play resumes.

About the Back: Obviously there's an error in the writeup at the bottom. I can't track down Tim's college stats, but it would be pretty hard to drive in only five runs on nine homers.

Triple Play:

1. Naehring was a highly regarded but injury-prone infielder early in his career. When he was finally slotted in as Boston's starting third baseman in 1995, he was a big part of the club's return to the postseason. He batted .307 and reached base at a .415 clip in 126 games.

2. Sadly, a serious elbow injury sidelined Tim midway through the 1997 season, and in fact ended his career at age 30. He walked away with a .282/.365/.420 career batting line in 547 games.

3. He worked as farm director and later as minor league field coordinator for his hometown Reds, and in 2007 joined the Yankees organization as a scout.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Tim's awkward facial expression on the front of this card made me think of him as a player unsure of his abilities. Given his track record, he was probably just in pain.

Bill James Said: "The Red Sox infield is solid, and there's no obvious place for him, but I do believe he is a good hitter and a good fielder, and he may just shove somebody out of the way and take their job." As I said, it didn't happen until Boston traded Scott Cooper to the Cardinals in early 1995, but that's another notch in Bill's belt.

On This Day in 1993: June 19. William Golding, best known for writing the novel Lord of the Flies, passed away in Cornwall, England at age 81.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

#23 Todd Stottlemyre

About the Front: This post-release shot of Todd Stottlemyre is a bit terrifying, and not just because of the Joker-esque rictus on his shadowy face. There is some unnatural muscle definition and contortion in that forearm. The more I think about professional pitchers, the more I wonder how most of them are able to live without constant pain after they retire.

About the Back: That near-no-hitter on August 26, 1992 was spoiled by a Dan Pasqua double to right-center field. That was the only one-hit shutout of Todd's career.

Triple Play:

1. You may know Todd as the son of Mel Stottlemyre, a five-time All-Star pitcher for the Yankees (1964-1974) and a longtime pitching coach. If you're a weirdo, you know him as the younger brother of Mel Junior, who pitched 13 games for the Royals in 1990.

2. In 2000, Stottlemyre was given the Lou Gehrig Award and the Branch Rickey Award, each of which is awarded annually for exemplary community service outreach. Todd is active with the Leukemia Society.

3. Todd's 15 wins in 1991 would remain a career high; however, he did notch 200-strikeout seasons in 1995 with the Athletics and 1998 with the Cardinals and Rangers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: On October 20, 1993, I watched Stottlemyre start a wild Game Four of the World Series. He had a 3-0 lead before he took the mound, and quickly gave it back. The Phillies reached him for four runs in the first inning and two more in the second, and was yanked from the game for a pinch hitter in the midst of a four-run Jays rally in the top of the third. Philadelphia scored in each of the following four innings to retake the lead, 14-9. Then Larry Andersen and Mitch Williams happened, and Toronto won 15-14. What I missed was the series of events that led to Todd publicly declaring that Philly mayor Ed Rendell could kiss his ass.

Bill James Said: "The league hit .292 against him, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is bad and gets worse every year, his career ERA is 4.41 and he misses a month every summer with an injury." Quit sugarcoating it, Bill!

On This Date in 1993: June 18. Iraq refuses to let United Nations weapons inspectors install remote-controlled monitoring cameras at two missile engine test stands. I'm sure it's much ado about nothing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

#22 Jim Eisenreich

About the Front: Here's a delightfully unusual action photo, as Jim Eisenreich's feet-first slide has left him practically sitting on top of second base. It's as if he were looking right at the photographer, saying, "I heard that shutter click. That picture better not show up on a card next year." Well, sorry Jim.

About the Back: You'll notice the absence of any major league stats for 1985 and 1986. Eisenreich had suffered from Tourette's Syndrome since childhood, but it went undiagnosed for years. His symptoms, and anxiety resulting from them, worsened early in his career with the Twins. He went on the voluntary retirement list in 1984, and did not return to baseball until 1987. In the interim, he had finally gotten a valid diagnosis and successfully undergone treatment to better control his physical and verbal tics. Jim now has a charitable foundation that works with children with Tourette's.

Triple Play:

1. Eisenreich played in the postseason for both the 1993 Phillies and the 1997 Marlins. In Game Three of the 1997 World Series, his two-run homer in the sixth inning halved the Indians' lead from 7-3 to 7-5. Florida tied the game in the seventh and scored seven in a wild ninth inning. Cleveland's own four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth wasn't enough, as the Marlins won 14-11 en route to the franchise's first World Championship.

2. A broken foot kept Jim out for the final month of the 1996 season, which was shaping up to be a career year. The 37-year-old hit .361 with a .413 on-base percentage in 113 games that season, rapped 24 doubles, and even stole 11 bases in 12 tries.

3. Eisenreich played through the 1998 season, finishing with a career batting line of .290/.341/.404. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who didn't play a full season in the big leagues until age 30.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember hearing about Jim's unusual career path, but I didn't know much about Tourette's Syndrome. I think most children originally hear about it through word-of-mouth and think that it's some oddball thing that makes people scream out profanities uncontrollably. That seems hilarious when you're an immature kid.

Bill James Said: "He had the odd record - 153 games, only 362 at-bats - because he was a platoon player who would be used as a defensive substitute if the Phillies were ahead and a pinch hitter if they were behind." Jim pinch-hit 22 times in 1993 without much success - 3-for-21 with a walk - but overall he batted .318 and struck out only 36 times.

On This Date in 1993: June 17. Baseball owners voted 26-2 in favor of expanding the playoffs from four teams to eight teams starting in 1994 (or 1995, as it happened). Each league will realign from two divisions to three, with the best second-place team in each league qualifying for the postseason as a wild card.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

#21 Luis Salazar

About the Front: As Luis Salazar dances off of second base, it looks like he's wearing forearm bands. I don't know if I've ever seen someone wear wristbands that large/that high.

About the Back: This is Salazar's complete major league statistical record, as he did not catch on with another team in 1993. Even though he didn't reach the majors until 1980, he signed with Kansas City as a teenager in 1973, so two decades in pro ball is nothing to sneeze at.

Triple Play:

1. As the Padres' starting third baseman in the early 1980s, Luis was a good defender. He led the National League in range factor at his position in 1982 and 1983, and also turned a league-high 28 double plays from the hot corner in 1982.

2. He pitched twice in mop-up relief for San Diego in 1987. He finished out a 10-1 loss to the Astros on June 10 with a scoreless inning of work, but allowed a run to the Reds on two hits and a wild pitch on July 29 in a 15-5 loss.

3. Salazar has coached and managed in the Brewers, Dodgers, and Braves organizations. During an Atlanta spring training game in 2011, he was struck flush in the face by a Brian McCann foul ball and was knocked unconscious. Though he lost his left eye as a result of the accident, he was considered very fortunate to have avoided brain damage and other serious injuries.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It's funny to think that I spent my first year as a baseball fan closely poring over the cards of players in this set when some of them (such as Luis Salazar) were already out of baseball. Thanks to an absence of Internet and a more expansive cable platform, I literally didn't know what I was missing.

Bill James Said: Nothin'. As I've made very clear, Luis didn't play in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: June 15. Mike Piazza has the first two-homer game of his career, and the Dodgers rally for 10 runs in the final two innings to blow out the Rockies. It's a 12-4 final.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

#20 Tim Salmon

About the Front: Tim Salmon was fortunate enough to get a solo card in the 1993 Topps set, which is more than 1993's other Rookie of the Year can say. (More on that later.) Not only that, but he got a card number on the 10's. Pretty heady treatment for a rookie, but he had just put up a 1.141 OPS in 118 games at AAA. Topps rolled the dice and it worked out well in this case.

I'd also mention that Tim Salmon was one of those guys who didn't age much cosmetically throughout his career. He looked much the same in 2006 as he did in 1992.

About the Back: The Angels scout who signed Salmon was actually his future big league coach (and current Rays skipper) Joe Maddon. With an "o". No respect from Topps.

Triple Play:

1. What Could've Been: The Braves drafted Tim in the 18th round in 1986, but he declined to sign, instead attending Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

2. Salmon played his entire 14-year career for the Angels, finishing with a batting line of .282/.385/.498, 299 home runs, and 1,016 RBI. Remarkably, he never made an All-Star team.

3. In the only postseason of his career, he helped power the Angels to a seven-game World Series triumph over the Giants with a .346/.452/.615 line in 31 trips to the plate. His performance in Game Two (4-for-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB) was instrumental, as the Halos won a wild 11-10 contest.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This guy seems pretty fishy, eh? Huh? Even as an adolescent, I loved terrible puns.

Bill James Said: (After suggesting that Salmon doesn't run or make contact enough to be a great star...) "But he should provide the Angels with a solid cleanup hitter for several years." Bill James is right more than he's wrong, you know.

On This Date in 1993: June 13. The WWF's King of the Ring pay-per-view event took place in the Nutter Center in Dayton, OH. Bret "the Hitman" Hart won the eight-man-tournament to become King, and Hulk Hogan lost the World Heavyweight Title to the 600-pound super-heavyweight Yokozuna. It was Hogan's last match in WWF until 2002. (C'mon, you knew I was going to work in a pro wrestling tidbit sooner or later.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#19 Ed Nunez

About the Front: One of the biggest visual changes to occur in my 20 years of baseball fandom is the cut of uniforms. Players today wear their duds much looser than they did in 1993. Ed Nunez was a big dude (6'5", 235-240 pounds), and he squeezed into those skintight pants. I'd call it a change for the better, but some guys go too far and seem to be wearing pajamas.

About the Back: Because I know you're curious...the trade that sent Nunez from the Brewers to the Rangers was for the infamous Player to Be Named Later. The PTBNL turned out to be minor league pitcher Mark Hampton. I'm sorry for sharing that.

Triple Play:

1. Ed was the youngest player in the league when he debuted with the Mariners in 1982 at age 18. In his second-ever big league game, April 13, he pitched the 12th-17th innings. He allowed one run and struck out five in six innings. The game was suspended in the top of the 18th and resumed the following day, and Gene Nelson took the loss in the 20th for Seattle.

2. In 1985, he was the fifth-busiest reliever in the American League. The righty appeared in 70 games for the Mariners, leading the club with 16 saves.

3. Despite finishing second on the Athletics with 56 games pitched in 1993 (with a 3.83 ERA), Nunez did not make the cut in the 1994 Topps set. He allowed 20 runs in 15 innings in 1994, was released in mid-May, and that was that.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Nunez was another one of those guys that Topps presented differently than other card companies. To Donruss, Fleer, and Score, he was "Edwin". Topps stubbornly stuck with "Ed". Baseball Reference lists him as "Ed", so maybe Topps was in the right here after all. But it was a bit confusing to a kid.

Bill James Said: "Opposing hitters hit .298 against him, but he gave up only two home runs, and his strikeout/walk data was good." Those numbers do seem to indicate that he was walking a tightrope, and fell off in 1994.

On This Date in 1993: June 11. This is taken from the Baseball-Reference Bullpen wiki: "The Yankees-Brewers game at County Stadium is interrupted by some 100 seagulls who swoop down onto the field‚ apparently in search of moths hatching in the infield and outfield grass. The Yankees eventually win the game by a score of 5 - 4‚ winning in the 9th on a two-run pinch homer by Kevin Maas. While no players or seagulls are hurt‚ Wade Boggs calls the situation "terribly dangerous". The seagulls will return for tomorrow night's game‚ but the Brewers will be prepared for the birds. Gus the wonder dog‚ on loan from the Wisconsin waterfowl association‚ will keep them away."

Monday, June 10, 2013

#18 Terry Steinbach

About the Front: Our first Athletics card gives me an opportunity to scratch my head over the inclusion of red in the team's color scheme for this set. The A's hadn't had any red in their uniforms since their Kansas City days. Couldn't Topps have gone with just green and gold? Or even another, darker shade of green?

About the Back: Terry Steinbach was incredibly consistent as a hitter throughout his career, with one incredible exception that I'll get to in a moment. But he usually hit in the .270s with a bit of power and drove in 50-some runs. He was also a three-time All-Star: 1988, 1989, and 1993.

Triple Play:

1. Power hitting was on the rise in 1996, but I still don't know how to account for Terry's 35 home runs and 100 RBI that year. He did have a career-high 571 plate appearances, but he homered once every 14.7 at-bats to blow away his previous best of a home run every 24.4 trips to the plate. Steinbach's peak output otherwise was 16 round-trippers way back in 1987.

2. Terry attended the University of Minnesota, where the baseball team briefly featured three Steinbach brothers in the lineup: Tim at catcher, Terry at third base, and Tom in right field.

3. He finished his career back home in Minnesota, playing for the Twins from 1997 through 1999. In the final month of his career, he caught Eric Milton's no-hitter (he had also been behind the plate for Dave Stewart's no-no in 1990).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This was one of the most elusive cards in the set for me. I completed the entire second series of Topps back in 1993, but even after taking my wish list for Series One to the local hobby shop, I had a dozen or so stragglers that I didn't get my hands on until about 2008. The very first page of my 1993 Topps binder was incomplete! Oh, the humanity.

Bill James Said: "His season was ended by a broken wrist in mid-August; he'll be fine for '94." He was fine indeed, matching 1993's .285 average and increasing his RBI output from 42 to 57 in a comparable number of plate appearances.

On This Date in 1993: June 10. Scientists from California announce that they have extracted genetic material from a weevil preserved in amber that dates back to the time of dinosaurs.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

#17 Dave Hollins

About the Front: It's odd to see Dave Hollins glancing down and to the right as he finishes his swing. You would think that he'd be following the flight of the ball...but maybe that's what he's doing, and he fouled it to the first base side. They can't all be screaming line drives and majestic, arcing home runs.

About the Back: 1992 looked like Dave's breakout year, but those 27 home runs would remain a career high. He played through 2002, but otherwise topped out at 18 homers (in 1993).

Triple Play:

1. In 1996, Hollins was batting .242/.364/.396 with the Twins when they dealt him to Seattle in late August for a player to be named later. He hit .351 with the Mariners and drove in 25 runs in 28 games, but the team missed the playoffs and he departed for the Angels via free agency. The mystery player sent back to Minnesota wound up being David Ortiz.

2. Dave was a selective hitter, averaging 76 walks per 162 games and posting an on-base percentage (.358) nearly a hundred points higher than his lifetime batting average (.260).

3. His final big-league season was 2002, when he saw action in only 14 games with the Phillies. He spent considerable time on the disabled list due to several venomous bites on his left leg from a brown recluse spider. Hollins had diabetes, which slowed the healing process.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was watching on October 13, 1993, when his two-run homer off of Greg Maddux gave the Phils a 4-1 fifth-inning lead en route to an NLCS-clinching victory. I wasn't happy with the Braves getting sent home for the winter.

Bill James Said: "Has scored exactly 104 runs and driven in exactly 93 in each of the last two years."

On This Date in 1993: June 8. A PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party)-declared ceasefire in Iraq ends.

Friday, June 7, 2013

#16 Dan Plesac

About the Front: Second Brewers player already? Whoever put together the checklist must have been from Milwaukee. Today I couldn't see the Brewers getting two cards in a set before the Yankees appear at all. Dan Plesac is halfway through his delivery on a sunny afternoon in County Stadium. It's probably not April, since he's wearing short sleeves.

About the Back: The personal tidbits are always a trip. Sure, Dan Plesac is the Brewers' all-time saves leader, but wouldn't you rather hear about his love of harness horses and R n' B?

Triple Play: 

1. This was Dan's last Brewers card. In 1993, he pitched for the Cubs, kicking off the journeyman phase of his career. He played through 2003, making stops in Pittsburgh, Toronto (twice), Arizona, and Philadelphia.

2. Among his career accolades, Plesac is still seventh all-time in total games pitched with 1,064. He was an All-Star in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

3. If you have cable, you've probably seen Dan as an analyst on the MLB Network, where he brings a mixture of amiable enthusiasm, occasional insight, and irritating jackassery to "MLB Tonight".

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: For years, the one and only 1992 Topps Stadium Club card that I owned was that of Dan Plesac. I always had an inexplicable fondness for that card. He just looked like a friendly guy.

Bill James Said: "He needs to pitch better." Indeed. After a 4.74 ERA in his Chicago debut, Dan pitched to a 3.95 mark over the last decade of his career.

On This Date in 1993: June 7. Prince changed his named to an unpronounceable symbol (dubbed Love Symbol #2). For a while, he was referred to as "the Artist Formerly Known As Prince", but today, he's back to being good ol' Prince. Exhale.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

#15 Marquis Grissom

About the Front: You don't see artificial turf on baseball cards much these days, and I can't say I miss that. I'm wondering what is sticking out of Marquis Grissom's back pocket. He's already wearing his batting gloves; did he have special base running gloves? Is it a pouch of sunflower seeds or tobacco, maybe?

About the Back: Grissom never won another stolen base crown after going back-to-back in 1991 and 1992. But he totaled 429 swipes in his career, 58th-most all-time.

Triple Play:

1. Marquis was one of 15 children. I have a vague memory of him explaining his unusual first name (pronounced mahr-KEES) by claiming that his parents had "run out of normal names". He used some of his baseball earnings to buy homes for each of his 14 siblings, as well as his mother.

2. He won four straight Gold Gloves in center field from 1993 through 1996.

3. Grissom batted .317 in 52 career postseason games with the Braves, Indians, and Giants.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This was probably around the time that my father was driving a Mercury Marquis, a clunky old silver hand-me-down from my grandfather that made a rattling, shimmying noise all of the time. That's the association I make when I see the name "Marquis".

Bill James Said: "He is having a textbook career, getting a little bit better every year than he was the year before." Grissom didn't maintain that momentum, as he topped a 100 OPS+ (league-average) only thrice after 1993: 1996, 2002, and 2003. But he stuck around for another dozen years, and was a regular for almost his entire career, so I'm sure he has no complaints.

On This Date in 1993: June 5. Conway Twitty passed away at age 59 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Conway Twitty.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

#14 Greg Briley

About the Front: We have our first cameo of the set, as a Royals player (I'm reasonably certain that it's Rico Rossy) tries to stop Greg Briley from turning the double play. I don't think he was successful, unless Briley was made uncomfortable by having his thigh massaged in mid-throw. If my assumption is correct that it's Rossy, who wore #32 for K.C., then this play occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning on June 7, 1992. Rico was forced at second on a grounder by Keith Miller, but the batter was safe at first base. Briley went 0-for-4, and the Royals beat the Mariners 4-1. I'll never doubt Rico Rossy's powers of sexual confusion again.

About the Back: You'll note that Greg is listed as an outfielder, even though he's playing second base on the front of the card. He actually played all over the place in 1992: 27 games in left field, 13 in center, 12 at DH, and four each at second base, third base, and right field.

Triple Play:

1. If Baseball Reference is to be believed, Greg's nickname is "Pee Wee".

2. His two-run homer off of Rich Monteleone gave the Mariners a walk-off win in 16 innings on May 5, 1991. The Yankees had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the 16th on a Kevin Maas home run. 16 innings...Kevin Maas...what's not to like about this game?

3. He has been a minor league coach for the Pirates and White Sox since the late 1990s.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Hm. This is the first card in the set with a bespectacled player featured. I wore glasses as a kid, and Greg Briley's performance could not have been encouraging to me.

Bill James Said: "Briley complained in early September about his lack of playing time. Since he had hit .077 in 48 games after the All-Star break, this was construed as bad timing." Though he played in the minors and in Mexico through 1997, Greg never played another game in the majors after 1993.

On This Date in 1993: June 4. Cricket happenings! Australian Shane Warne bowled the "Ball of the Century", baffling veteran British batsman Mike Gatting. I watched the video at that link, and I still don't understand what I saw, but it was pretty impressive.

Monday, June 3, 2013

#13 Esteban Beltre

About the Front: If you look down at the bottom of this post, you'll see that I've added tags to denote when a player's 1993 Topps card is his first appearance in a Topps base set. I'll also make mention when a player's 1993 Topps card is his last in a Topps base set. In the case of Esteban Beltre, it's his only Topps base card, so both apply. C'est la vie.

Anyway, Esteban Beltre is taking some warmup throws on the field. It's not the most dynamic snapshot they could have chosen.

About the Back: Topps was really reaching for career highlights for Esteban. "He played shortstop a lot in AA five years ago" isn't exactly an indicator of great success.

Triple Play: 

1. Beltre hit exactly one home run in the major leagues, a two-run shot off of Bill Krueger on August 4, 1992. Check out the box score - the White Sox outslugged the Twins 19-11. Krueger gave up seven runs in two innings, and was followed by Willie Banks, who coughed up a 10-spot in an inning and two-thirds. Wilson Alvarez got the win despite allowing four runs in three and two-thirds innings of relief, and Donn Pall got a ridiculous save with three runs allowed in four innings.

2. After spending the entire 1993 season in AAA, Esteban served as a utility infielder for the Rangers in 1994 and 1995. In 1994, he batted a career-high .282 and reached base at a .358 clip in 153 plate appearances.

3. Beltre committed 12 errors in only 157 chances at shortstop in 1992. He had a reputation as a strong-armed infielder, but often rushed his throws.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It was interesting to see the long list of minor league stops on the back of Beltre's card. Here was a guy with a few dozen games of big league experience who had been playing pro ball since I was a toddler.

Bill James Said: "His batting record has improved substantially in the last two years, and it might be time for him to receive another shot at a shortstop job." Esteban never did get that shot, settling in behind first Manuel Lee and then Benji Gil in Texas with a bench role.

On This Date in 1993: June 3. Geoff Hooper wins the 66th National Spelling Bee. The word that clinches it is "kamikaze". Piece of cake.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

#12 Lee Smith

About the Front: You can see the rest of the Cardinals' relief pitchers sitting down the right field line. The new Busch Stadium doesn't have foul territory bullpens, but they still exist in a few ballparks. It seems incredibly dangerous; you see corner outfielders and infielders trip over bullpen mounds on a fairly regular basis.

About the Back: Lee Smith passed Jeff Reardon in the 1993 season for the all-time saves lead, finishing the year with 401 and becoming the first pitcher ever to top 400 saves. He had bumped that total to 478 when he retired after the 1997 season, but his record only stood until 2006. It's since been surpassed by Trevor Hoffman (601 saves) and current record holder Mariano Rivera (627 and counting).

Triple Play:

1. In an 18-year career, Smith only pitched in the postseason twice: for the Cubs in 1984 and the Red Sox in 1988. He allowed multiple runs in three of his four games pitched and took costly losses in Game Four of the 1984 NLCS and in Game Two of the 1988 ALCS.

2. Spending almost all of his career as a reliever didn't give Lee many opportunities to bat: he was 3-for-64 (.047) and never exceeded two plate appearances in a single season after 1986. But one of those three career hits was a solo home run off of Phil Niekro on July 5, 1982; it came in Smith's last career start.

3. Lee served as the pitching coach for South Africa in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic tournaments, and is currently a roving pitching instructor in the Giants' farm system.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I really enjoyed watching Lee close for my Orioles in 1994, especially when he started the season with 12 straight successful saves, followed by a blown save in which he was credited with a win, followed by another eight save conversions in a row. But he was noticeably running out of gas when the strike halted the season in mid-August. He blew three of his last nine save opportunities and posted an 8.68 ERA from July 1 onward. Still, it was fun to watch him saunter out of the O's bullpen with his deliberate gait.

Bill James Said: "I think he may have a hundred saves left." He had 77, as it turned out. The Angels replaced him with Troy Percival in the closer role in 1996, and that was that.

On This Date in 1993: June 2. Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny "Big Cat" Mize passed away at age 80.