Thursday, August 29, 2013

#68 Omar Vizquel

About the Front: It's our second straight player who remained active well into his forties. Though Omar Vizquel was a spry 25 when this picture was taken, he's already got his warmup pullover tucked into his uniform pants. That's some sharp old-man fashion, there.

About the Back: A 12-game hitting streak in A-ball might be the saddest statistic that Topps has unearthed yet in this set.

Triple Play:

1. In addition to his 11 Gold Gloves, Omar also set several defensive longevity records at shortstop. He had the most career double plays turned (1,734), games played at the position (2,709), and seasons played at the position (24). He retired just last season after appearing in 60 games for the Blue Jays as a 45-year-old utility player.

2. Omar received the blessing of Hall of Famer and fellow Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio to wear Little Looie's number 11 when he joined the White Sox in 2010. The White Sox had long since retired the number to honor Aparicio.

3. Vizquel's hobbies include drumming, painting, and keeping exotic animals. His menagerie includes chinchillas, llamas, and kangaroos.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: To my young mind, Omar was one of the dorkiest-looking guys in this set. The high-set cap, the puckered face, the aforementioned warmup tucked into the pants, the fake's not a great look.

Bill James Said: "He's not a good hitter (his .298 slugging percentage was the lowest of any major league regular), but he's a good bunter and will take a walk, so he's not an automatic out either."

On This Date in 1993: August 29. Living Single premieres on Fox. Did you know that it was on the air for five seasons?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#67 Felix Jose

About the Front: By February of 1993, this card was out-of-date. The Cardinals traded Felix Jose and Craig Wilson to the Royals for Gregg Jefferies and minor league outfielder Ed Gerald.

About the Back: Felix was an All-Star in 1991 for the only time in his career. He replaced Andre Dawson in right field in the fourth inning and went 1-for-2 with a single off of Rick Aguilera.

Triple Play:

1. Jose was scouted and signed for the Athletics as a teenager by Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

2. Though he had five straight seasons of double-digit steals, Felix was not a particularly savvy baserunner. His career success rate was just 64% (102 SB, 57 CS).

3. Despite being more or less finished as a major leaguer after the Royals released him in May of 1995, Felix spent an astounding 26 seasons playing pro baseball wherever he was wanted, including multiple stints in Korea, Mexico, Dominican winter ball, and the independent leagues. He made brief returns to the big leagues with the Yankees in 2000 and the Diamondbacks in 2002 and 2003. He was last active with the Schaumburg (IL) Flyers of the independent Northern League in 2009, when he hit .306/.410/.423 in 83 games at age 44.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I don't remember having any strong impressions of Felix Jose. I did have a high school Spanish teacher named Mrs. Jose, but she pronounced it like "Joes". I always thought that was strange.

Bill James Said: "Had a shoulder problem all year which didn't allow him to bat righthanded, thus he hit .094 against lefthanded pitchers (6 for 61)."

On This Date in 1993: August 28. Ong Teng Cheong becomes the first President of Singapore to be elected by popular vote.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#66 John Burkett

About the Front: I think John Burkett is using the Cubs logo on the outfield fence to camouflage the ball coming out of his hand. Pretty crafty, pal.

About the Back: Burkett got a September callup in 1987 after going 14-8 with a 3.34 ERA at AA Shreveport, but earned run averages above 5.00 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League kept him in the minors for the next two seasons.

Triple Play:

1. John rode the support of a very good Giants club to a 22-7 record in 1993, tying Tom Glavine for the league lead in wins despite a slightly above-average 3.65 ERA. He also threw a career-high 231.2 innings, walked only 40 hitters, and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting.

2. In Game One of the 1996 AL Division Series, Burkett earned the first postseason win in Rangers' franchise history with a complete-game, two-run, 10-strikeout effort. It was also Texas' only postseason victory until their 2010 run to the World Series.

3. Wikipedia claims that he was known as "Sheets" when he pitched for the Red Sox in 2002-2003, due to his penchant for organizing NFL betting pools. Sounds legit.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember seeing his 1992 Pinnacle Sidelines card, which depicted the righty excelling at the sport/hobby of bowling. He's reportedly bowled four perfect scores of 300, which is four more times than I've even managed to top 200.

Bill James Said: "As often happens when a pitcher gets a hot hand, he worked harder than he's ever worked before, which may catch up with him this year." John had a 3.62 ERA (110 ERA+) in 1994, comparable to his 3.65 ERA (107 ERA+) the year prior, but wasn't nearly as lucky in wins and losses, going 6-8.

On This Date in 1993: August 27. John Burkett took a rare loss, falling to 16-8 with a 7-4 loss to Pat Rapp and the Marlins. Florida first baseman Orestes Destrade did most of the damage, touching up Burkett for a two-run single and a three-run homer and adding a solo shot against reliever Jeff Brantley.

Monday, August 26, 2013

#65 Brett Butler

About the Front: Brett Butler looks every bit the 35-year-old veteran that he was at the time of this picture...and that's even with the cap covering up the shock of silver hair on top of his head.

About the Back: Since Topps didn't see fit to list on-base percentage on their cards in 1993, it'd be easy to overlook Butler's value as a selective hitter. He had just posted a career-high .413 OBP in 1992; his career number was .377, which just eked out his career slugging percentage of .376.

Triple Play:

1. Brett was part of one of the more lopsided trades of the 1980s, as the Braves sent him to the Indians along with Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna in exchange for pitcher Len Barker in 1983. Barker pitched only 47 games for Atlanta (10-20, 4.64 ERA), while Butler and Jacoby flourished in Cleveland.

2. In May 1996, Butler was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that affects the tonsils. He underwent surgery to remove a tumor, received intensive treatment to combat the disease, and returned to the field in September. He was also able to play regularly for the Dodgers in 1997, batting .283 and getting on base at a .363 clip in 105 games at age 40.

3. He has managed in the minor leagues since 2004, and has spent the past five seasons piloting Arizona's AAA Reno Aces. Last year the club won the Pacific Coast League championship.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I thought it was weird that there was also a female comedian and actress named Brett Butler. She was born a year after Brett the outfielder.

Bill James Said: "Bunted 82 times in '93; no other major league player was over 50." Butler was credited with 14 sac bunts in 1993, which gives you a rough idea of how many times he laid one down for a hit. He was pretty fast, alright.

On This Date in 1993: August 26. Actress and pop singer Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) was born.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#64 Scott Chiamparino

About the Front: This is the first of two Scott Chiamparino cards to appear in the 1993 Topps set. He was chosen by the Marlins as the 41st pick in November 1992's expansion draft and would appear in the teal and black in Series Two. Oh, the thrill of it all!

About the Back: I missed posting this on Scott's 47th birthday by one day. Damn and blast. (This was true when I started writing on Friday. I didn't post it until it goes.)

Triple Play:

1. The Rangers acquired Chiamparino from the Athletics along with fellow pitcher Joe Bitker in a trade for Harold Baines. A year earlier, they'd dealt away Wilson Alvarez, Scott Fletcher, and Sammy Sosa to obtain Baines. Ouch.

2. Scott started his big league career with two starts comprising twelve scoreless innings, but failed to earn a decision in either game.

3. "Champ" had his career cut short by a pair of elbow surgeries. In fact, he never pitched in the majors again after 1992. More on that when he reappears in Series Two.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought that the Rangers' road uniforms shown above were pretty dull. If only I had known of their early 1980's duds.

Bill James Said: Nothing, since Scott missed the entire 1993 season with elbow surgery number two.

On This Date in 1993: August 25. News outlets worldwide were buzzing about the charges of molestation against pop star Michael Jackson.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#63 Al Osuna

About the Front: Al Osuna is wearing those old-fashioned baseball cleats with the tongues that flop over the laces. I had a pair just like them in Little League.

About the Back: Eight and two-thirds innings of relief in one game. Who says that college coaches abuse their pitchers' arms?

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first career win with two scoreless relief innings against the Dodgers on September 4, 1990. Mark Portugal put his team in a 7-0 hole after just two innings, but Osuna and four other Houston relievers held LA to a single run over the final seven frames. The Astro bats put up a 10-spot by scoring in each inning from the fourth through the eighth to complete the comeback.

2. Al got an unusual save and his only career run batted in on July 17, 1991 against the Pirates. The lefty entered the game as part of a double-switch with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, a runner on first, and the Astros leading 5-2. He retired Bobby Bonilla on a fly ball to left. After Houston added a run in the top of the eighth, Osuna stayed on and retired the side (including Barry Bonds) in order. Thanks to the double-switch, Al batted in the #3 slot formerly occupied by Jeff Bagwell, and thus came to the plate in the top of the ninth with runners on the corners and one out. He swung away and grounded the ball to Pittsburgh second baseman Jose Lind, who booted the ball, allowing Ken Oberkfell to score. Since a double play can't be assumed, Al got the RBI. He later scored on a Ken Caminiti two-run single that padded the Astros' lead to 10-2. Osuna then earned the save with a scoreless bottom of the ninth, having preserved what ultimately was an eight-run margin.

3. Osuna did not have the long career that might have been suggested by his early big league success. After posting a 3.20 ERA in 44 appearances out of the Houston bullpen in 1993, he totaled just 12.2 innings in 25 games with the Dodgers (1994) and Padres (1996).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I wasn't a big hip-hop fan, or else I might have associated this guy with Naughty by Nature. "Hip hop hooray, ho, A.O.!" (Don't worry. I haven't given up my day job for a career in comedy yet.)

Bill James Said: (Regarding his demotion to AAA Tucson to start the 1993 season.) "On return he pitched better, allowing only 5 of 44 inherited runners to score, the best percentage in the National League."

On This Date in 1993: August 22. Jack McDowell wins his 20th game of the season in style, scattering eight hits and striking out ten batters in a 1-0 complete-game shutout of the Twins. Jim Deshaies holds the White Sox to three hits in eight innings himself, but is a hard-luck loser thanks to Frank Thomas' first-inning solo home run, his 33rd of the 1993 campaign.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#62 Rafael Belliard

About the Front: It's Wrigley Field again! There are few, if any, stadiums that are more easily identifiable in photo backdrops for cards. And how odd is it that the Braves put red piping with a navy blue outline on their belt loops?

About the Back: As you can see, Belliard had hit one home run in parts of 11 seasons (777 games, 1,871 plate appearances) to start his career. It was a three-run homer off of San Diego's Eric Show on May 5, 1987. (Maybe the ball really was juiced that year.) He added his second, and final, career round-tripper in the seventh inning on September 26, 1997 - a game-tying, two-run shot off of Brian Bohanon of the Mets. In all, he went 2,043 plate appearances between home runs to set a big league record.

Triple Play:

1. Rafael's cousin is Ronnie Belliard, the somewhat more offensively-inclined second baseman who played for the Brewers and five other clubs from 1998 through 2010.

2. Belliard appeared in 11 postseason series in his time with the Braves, putting up typical numbers for him: .227/.263/.240 in 88 plate appearances, with a lone double as his extra-base output. The Braves won their only World Series of the Bobby Cox Era in 1995 with Rafael going 0-for-16 with a pair of sac bunts as the starting shortstop.

3. He has been the Tigers' infield coach since 2006, working for skipper Jim Leyland, who managed the ex-shortstop in Pittsburgh.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I loved his "Pac-Man" nickname. I can't find a definitive source for the moniker, but I assume that it was a reference to his diminutive stature and his tendency to "gobble up" balls that were hit in his direction. But as a kid, I thought that he physically resembled the popular video-game character. Made sense to me at the time.

Bill James Said: "Has the lowest ratio of RBI per game of any player in history in 800 or more games (except pitchers)."

On This Date in 1993: August 21. NASA loses radio contact with the Mars Observer orbiter three days before the space probe was schedule to begin orbiting the red planet. Rats.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#61 Gene Larkin

About the Front: "Come on now, Gene! Show us your angry face! Where's your angry face? There it is! Who's a scary man? Gene's a scary man! Oh yes he is!" All joking aside, this is Gene's last Topps card, as a strained left Achilles tendon limited him to 56 games in 1993. He retired in 1994 without playing another game.

About the Back: Rate stats like batting average and slugging percentage are subject to wide fluctuations. Larkin's numbers are eerily consistent. Look at his batting average for the first four years with the Twins: .266, .266, .267, .269. I don't know what this means, but it seems important.

Triple Play:

1. Gene attended Columbia University in New York. When he debuted with Minnesota in 1987, he became the first product of the Ivy League school to reach the big leagues since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939.

2. His only career two-homer game was on May 26, 1990 against Mike Boddicker and the Red Sox. The second of his two home runs was an inside-the-park job, the only such four-bagger in his career.

3. I am so glad I Googled Gene Larkin. Now I know that a) there is a largely Minnesota-centric website dedicated to celebrity drawings of giraffes, and that b) Larkin isn't much of a wildlife artist. The Internet.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: To my simple young mind, Gene was "the other Larkin". You know, the one that wasn't a future Hall of Famer. Perhaps if I had watched the 1991 World Series I would feel differently.

Bill James Said: "He draws a few walks, but what he does really well is take at bats away from guys who can actually play." Zing.

On This Date in 1993: August 20. The Oslo I Accord is signed in private in Norway, marking the first face-to-face agreement between the government of Israel (led by Yitzhak Rabin) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (headed by Yasser Arafat).

Monday, August 19, 2013

#60 Roberto Kelly

About the Front: Roberto Kelly is wearing a shin guard on the inside of his left leg, ostensibly to protect himself from his own foul tips. Safety first!

About the Back: Reaching on catcher's interference must have been Roberto's heretofore-unknown sixth tool.

Triple Play:

1. After spending the first six seasons of his MLB career as a Yankee, Kelly became a frequent traveler. His post-Yankee stops: Reds, Braves, Expos, Dodgers, Twins, Mariners, Rangers, and Yankees again. That's eight teams in eight years, and it doesn't count his unsuccessful spring training stops with the Dodgers and Padres in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

2. Roberto finished his big league career with a .290 average, .337 on-base, and .430 slugging in parts of 14 seasons. Batting average isn't everything, but he reached the .300 mark in five different seasons.

3. He managed the Giants' Class A Augusta GreenJackets team from 2005-07. In 2008, he was promoted to the major league coaching staff, and has been San Francisco's first base coach ever since.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I became a fan during the 1993 season, when Roberto mysteriously started going by "Bobby". He missed half of the season with injuries, and switched back to Roberto. I've never heard of another player doing that.

Bill James Said: "He's 29, too old to talk about his potential, but I still think he hasn't had his best year yet." Sorry, Bill. Kelly had a few more solid years, but his Yankees oeuvre turned out to be his peak.

On This Date in 1993: August 19. Norwegian metal musician Varg Vikernes is arrested and charged with the murder of fellow musician Oystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, who was stabbed to death outside of his apartment on August 10. Vikernes will ultimately be sentenced to the maximum 21-year prison sentence, and will be released on parole in early 2009.

Friday, August 16, 2013

#59 Carlos Martinez

About the Front: This is a different sort of photo, with Carlos Martinez leisurely stretching his legs in the outfield grass. You can see his cap resting on the ground in front of him.

About the Back: A little more detail on Martinez' hitting streak: he batted .381 (24-for-63) with a .403 on-base percentage and a .508 slugging percentage during the streak. He had two doubles, two home runs, and nine RBI.

Triple Play:

1. He was nicknamed "Cafe", due to his love of coffee from his native Venezuela.

2. Martinez hit the ball that famously bounced off of Jose Canseco's head and over the outfield fence for a home run on May 26, 1993.

3. Unfortunately, Carlos is the first player I've covered on this blog who is now deceased. He died at age 40 in 2006, reportedly of AIDS.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I thought that Carlos' pose and facial expression made it look like he was pouting on this card.

Bill James Said: "He can play third base about as well as he can perform brain surgery, and the addition of the Indians' young players (Thome and Ramirez, in particular) will probably push him off the roster." If you have to go, it may as well be in favor of a couple of guys who go on to hit 1,167 home runs between them.

On This Date in 1993: August 16. Nike head honcho Phil Knight graces the cover of Sports Illustrated. Inside the magazine, Steve Wulf discusses the recent proliferation of bench-clearing brawls, inspired by the instantly-famous August 4 dustup between Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

#58 Jose Melendez

About the Front: Jose Melendez has his uniform number (48) printed on his glove. I love that.

About the Back: Topps really reached back for that 1986 All-Star nod in Class-A ball, didn't they?

Triple Play:

1. Three batters each hit a home run in their only at-bat against Melendez: Ken Griffey, Jr., Ron Karkovice, and Cal Ripken, Jr. One of these things is not like the others...

2. Jose earned his first career win with a two-hit, eight-inning start against the Astros on May 31, 1991.

3. In 1992, he led Padres' pitchers with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.1-to-1.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I think the only thing I knew about Jose Melendez was that the Padres had traded him to Boston for Phil Plantier, an ex-prized prospect who went on to hit 34 homers in his first season in San Diego. I figured that Jose must be pretty good to get dealt even-up for such a budding power hitter.

Bill James Said: "He has pitched consistently well since coming to the major leagues, and should be a big help to the Red Sox bullpen in '94." Instead he allowed 11 runs in 16.1 innings (6.06 ERA) and never pitched in the bigs again. Baseball is funny, by which I mean unpredictable and cruel.

On This Date in 1993: August 15. Junko Asari wins the women's marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany with a time of 2:30:03. She is the first female Japanese athlete to capture such a significant victory.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#57 Norm Charlton

About the Front: Yipes. There's pitcherface, and then there's Norm Charlton looking like his head is about to pop clear off of his neck.

About the Back: A triple major? Norm must have wrecked the grading curve for the rest of the class. In an interview with the Seattle Times, he jokingly claimed that his choice of studies was all about the money: he could either talk folks out of their cash, preach it out of them, or beat it out of them.

Triple Play:

1. Charlton's father ran track and taught at Rice University.

2. Today, Norm is spending his retirement hunting and fishing in South Texas.

3. Charlton was last seen in baseball back in Seattle, where he served as the Mariners' bullpen coach during the 2008 season.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember having a vague sense that he was already washed up when I started following baseball. Looking back, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 1993, went 11-21 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in a three-year span after returning...and then my Orioles signed him in 1998, when he was 35 years old. Baltimore's collapse in 1998 is depressingly logical in hindsight.

Bill James Said: "He was 18-for-21 in save situations last year and struck out 12.5 men per nine innings before the elbow finished his season in early July."

On This Date in 1993: August 14. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday hits movie theatres. Yes, there have been three more Jason Vorhees movies released since then. Shocking, I know.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#56 Chad Mottola

About the Front: The "Knights" would be the University of Central Florida Knights. In 1996, Chad Mottola became the first UCF alumnus to make it to the big leagues. Five other players have followed, with the most notable being former Tigers starting pitcher Mike Maroth.

About the Back: Topps really loved Capitalizing the First Letter of Certain Words.

Triple Play:

1. As a rookie with the Reds in 1996, Chad batted .215/.271/.367 with three homers and six RBI in 35 games. He wouldn't resurface in the big leagues until 2000 with Toronto, and he totaled only 24 games with the Blue Jays, Marlins, and Orioles over the rest of his pro career, which ended after the 2007 season.

2. A veteran of exactly 1800 minor league games, Mottola had a minor-league OPS of .797 with 249 home runs and 1,034 RBI.

3. Chad has been coaching in the Toronto organization since retiring as a player. This year, he was promoted to the position of hitting coach for the major league team.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: One of my best friends growing up had a hobby shop on his street. We stopped in there a few times when I would visit over the summer, and I remember the owner raving about Chad Mottola like he was the Next Big Thing. It was an early lesson in the follies of prospecting.

Bill James Said: Nada.

On This Date in 1993: August 13. Rickey Henderson, recently acquired by the Blue Jays in a trade with Oakland, buys his preferred uniform number 24 from teammate Turner Ward for $25,000. Rickey claimed that he was having trouble hitting while wearing #14.

Monday, August 12, 2013

#55 Mark McLemore

About the Front: I love cards with photos taken at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I've spent so much time there over the past 20 years, I feel like I know it by heart. The blurry background behind Mark McLemore is the bullpen area in center field.

About the Back: Who would have ever looked at these career batting stats and predicted that McLemore would play regularly in the major leagues through 2004?

Triple Play:

1. The first home run of Mark's career was a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 13th inning against Milwaukee reliever Mark Clear, giving the Angels a 9-7 win on July 2, 1987. It was the only game-ending homer in his 19-year career.

2. His best overall season was 2001, when he batted .286 with a .384 on-base percentage and stole 39 bases in 125 games for the Mariners. That year, he started games at every position aside from pitcher, catcher, and first base.

3. McLemore is currently part of the Rangers' TV broadcast team on Fox Sports Southwest and KTXA.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember Mark being an unexpectedly productive regular for the Orioles in 1993, with his .284 average (over .300 as late as August 26), .353 on-base percentage, and his odd stat line of four home runs and (a career-high) 72 RBI.

Bill James Said: "He started the year on the Orioles bench but got hot, while the Martinez/Obando platoon didn't do Chito, and McLemore got the right field job." We'll get to Chito Martinez and Sherman Obando later.

On This Date in 1993: August 12. Pope John Paul II presides over his eighth annual World Youth Day at Denver's Mile High Stadium. I guess the Rockies were out of town.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

#54 Mike LaValliere

About the Front: Here's our first photo showing a catcher wearing all of the tools of ignorance. The brick facade behind Mike LaValliere and the headless umpire tells us that we're in Wrigley Field.

About the Back: I wouldn't have expected a player with Mike's...physique to have been a four-sport athlete in high school. I guess you can't judge a book by its cover.

Triple Play:

1. His father, Guy LaValliere, was a minor league catcher in 1952 and from 1955-1961. He hit .296 with 50 home runs in eight seasons.

2. LaValliere won a Gold Glove at catcher in 1987, when he led the National League with a 45% caught stealing percentage and committed only five errors and two passed balls in 112 games for the Pirates.

3. After joining the White Sox during the 1993 season, Mike threw out an astounding 24 of 32 potential base stealers - a 75% success rate.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was greatly amused by LaValliere's nickname. Come to think of it, "Spanky" is still a funny moniker for a grown man.

Bill James Said: "Released by the Pirates because he, and his paychecks, had grown too fat." He went on to mention that Mike got into better shape after being signed by Chicago, but that's just cold.

On This Date in 1993: August 10. Billy Joel releases the album "River of Dreams". Now that the song is stuck in your head, I apologize.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#53 Frank Tanana

About the Front: Frank Tanana is the first of several Tigers in this set who are pictured in 1931 throwbacks. We can't get a clean look here, but the cap features a true rarity - an orange block-letter "D" in lieu of the team's trademark white Olde English "D". I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the odd look on Tanana's face. It's like a half-leer, half-eyeroll that says, "Another day of this crap".

About the Back: Though this is Frank's last Topps card, it does not contain his entire career statistical record. He split 1993 between the two New York teams, putting up a combined 7-17 mark with a 4.35 ERA in 32 games. He retired in the offseason, and I guess Topps didn't see fit to squeeze him into their 1994 set.

Triple Play:

1. Tanana spent the early portion of his career as the lefty half of a hard-throwing duo for the Angels, complementing Nolan Ryan's righthanded heat. It was said that the Angels' starting rotation was "Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin'".

2. He started the first-ever games at both Seattle's Kingdome and Chicago's (new) Comiskey Park,
tossing a shutout in each game. He was also the starter and winning pitcher in the final game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.

3. Frank and Rick Reuschel are the only two pitchers in MLB history to allow home runs to both Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Was his name pronounced like "Madonna" or "banana"? I'm still not sure.

Bill James Said: "Had exactly the same season that Warren Spahn had in '65, when Spahn was 44." Tanana was only 40 in 1993, but like Spahn, it turned out to be his final season.

On This Date in 1993: August 8. Lollapalooza '93 touches down in Los Angeles, with musical acts including Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Dinosaur Jr., Tool, Front 242, Fishbone, and Arrested Development.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#52 Bobby Bonilla

About the Front: New York, New York! That's a lovely cityscape behind Bobby Bonilla, complete with the Empire State Building over his left shoulder. Do you think they actually posed him in front of the skyline, or is that just a photo backdrop in a studio? I'm willing to suspend my disbelief if you are.

About the Back: Bobby originally signed with the Pirates as an undrafted free agent in 1981, and was claimed by the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft in 1985. He debuted with the Pale Hose in 1986 at age 23, but was traded back to Pittsburgh that July for pitcher Jose DeLeon.

Triple Play:

1. Bobby Bo's two stints with the Mets were something less than peaceful. In April of 1993, he challenged New York Daily News writer Bob Klapisch to a fight in the locker room due to a Klapisch column questioning the player's work ethic. Bonilla famously said, "I will hurt you...I will show you the Bronx". When Bobby returned to New York in 1999, he clashed with manager Bobby Valentine over playing time. The lasting image of the Mets' season came in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS. While Atlanta was bringing New York's season to a close in an 11-inning nailbiter, Bonilla and teammate Rickey Henderson were busy playing cards in the clubhouse. The Mets were so desperate to be free of Bobby that they bought out his $5.9 million salary for 2000, with payment deferred for the next decade. From 2011 through 2035, Bonilla will earn $1.19 million per year from the team.

2. Bobby struggled overall in the postseason (.215/.320/.349), but he had a pair of crucial hits for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. His leadoff solo home run in the seventh inning cut the Indians' lead to 2-1 and was the first Florida hit off of Jaret Wright since the first inning. Bonilla also started the game-winning rally in the bottom of the eleventh with a leadoff single against Charles Nagy on an 0-2 count.

3. Bobby finished his career with the Cardinals in 2001, ultimately losing his spot in the lineup to rookie Albert Pujols. Before he left, Bonilla did make his pitching debut at age 38. He took the mound in the ninth inning of an April 17 game against the Diamondbacks, with Arizona leading 15-4. He was touched up for a pair of runs on three hits, a walk, and a balk. The big blow was a solo home run by Erubiel Durazo, but Bobby wriggled out of a jam by coaxing an inning-ending double play grounder off the bat of ex-Marlins teammate Craig Counsell.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was ecstatic when my Orioles traded for Bobby Bo in midseason in 1995. He kept out of trouble during his year and a half in Baltimore and delivered a spark to the team's offense, hitting .300/.371/.506 with 38 home runs and 162 RBI.

Bill James Said: "The Mets moved him back to third base after Hojo's injury, thereby re-establishing the principle that if you ask a player to do something he's not good at, he will fail."

On This Date in 1993: August 7. Indians pitcher Bobby Ojeda allows two runs (one earned) in two innings of relief in an 8-6 loss to the Orioles. It marks Ojeda's season debut after he was injured in a boating accident during spring training that claimed the lives of fellow Cleveland pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

#51 Mo Vaughn

About the Front: Mo Vaughn was always a big dude, but he looks positively svelte here compared to the later days of his career. Mets fans are nodding in sad agreement. We also get a blurry peek into the visitors' dugout, as a few Boston coaches and/or players watch Mo take his hacks.

About the Back: The Red Sox batted .500 in the first round of the 1989 draft. Vaughn was the 23rd overall pick, but Boston also picked in San Diego's #16 slot as compensation after the Padres signed Bruce Hurst away from them. With that pick, the BoSox took outfielder Greg Blosser, who we'll see near the end of the 1993 Topps set.

Triple Play:

1. Mo and his cousin Greg Vaughn were quite the power-hitting duo in the 1990s. Mo's somewhat sudden decline played a part in Greg coming out ahead in career home runs, 355 to 328.

2. Vaughn was a controversial American League MVP choice in 1995, when he batted .300/.388/.575 with 28 doubles, 39 home runs, and 126 RBI. Albert Belle, a narrow runner-up, batted .317/.401/.690 with 52 doubles, 50 homers, and 126 RBI. Both played for division winners, and the supposition is that the surly Belle lost a popularity contest.

3. Mo now owns and operates OMNI New York LLC, which has bought and rehabilitated over 1,100 units of distressed housing in New York City.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember seeing a Starting Lineup collectible figure of Mo Vaughn that looked nothing like him. That was pretty much the norm with those things, but this one was rail-thin. A poor effort even by their own low standards.

Bill James Said: "Mike Easler says that Vaughn will be better than Frank Thomas. He's out of his mind, but Vaughn is certainly a hitter..."

On This Date in 1993: August 6. Torrential rain and mudslides kill 72 people in Kagoshima, Japan.

Monday, August 5, 2013

#50 Roberto Alomar

About the Front: Topps went all out for Roberto Alomar's photo, going with a wide-angle shot of the Blue Jays' second baseman turning the double play in Cleveland as Carlos Baerga slides into the bag beneath him. In the background, you can see Mel Harder's #18 on the Cleveland Stadium outfield wall; the Tribe had retired the star pitcher's number in 1990. I have enough contextual information to tell you that this photo was probably taken on June 28, 1992, in the midst of a 7-6 Indians win. Baerga was wiped out at second on a double play twice that day and was also caught stealing, but he did go 3-for-4 with two RBI. Robbie was 1-for-5 with a double in a losing effort.

About the Back: Who would've guessed that Kelly Gruber had two steals in an All-Star Game? That's probably the only time the former Toronto third baseman has ever been mentioned in the same breath as Willie Mays.

Triple Play:

1. Roberto comes from a baseball family, as father Sandy Sr. played second base and shortstop for 15 seasons for the Angels and five other teams. Brother Sandy Jr. was a catcher for 20 years for the Indians and six other teams. Roberto and Sandy, Jr. were teammates in Cleveland (1999-2000) and with the White Sox (2003-2004).

2. You might remember Alomar's most infamous on-field moment. On September 27, 1996, umpire John Hirschbeck called the Orioles second baseman out on strikes and Roberto argued vehemently. As manager Davey Johnson tried to restrain the irate Alomar, he spat on the umpire. Robbie claimed that Hirschbeck had uttered a racial slur, and claimed that the ump had been embittered by his son's death from the disease known as ALD. Roberto was ultimately suspended for five games and made a $50,000 donation to ALD research, and he and Hirschbeck later reconciled.

3. Roberto had many superlative postseason performances, highlighted by his effort in the 1993 World Series against the Phillies: .480/.519/.640, with 12 hits in 25 at-bats. He drove in six runs and stole four bases in the series.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Have you ever heard a player described as the kind of guy you'd hate if he played for someone else, but someone you'd love if he played for your own team? That's how I felt about Alomar. I couldn't stand him when he was with the Jays, but I sure didn't mind him when he was helping the Orioles reach the postseason in 1996 and 1997.

Bill James Said: "His possibilities are endless-could get 4,000 hits or 400 homers or steal a thousand bases." Of course, Roberto did none of the above, as his last good season came at 33 and he was out of baseball at 36. Still, 2,724 hits (.300/.371/.443), 210 home runs, and 474 steals, along with 10 Gold Gloves, were enough to get him to Cooperstown.

On This Date in 1993: August 5. Your humble blogger celebrated his 11th birthday. If I recall correctly, my parents gave me a box of 1993 Topps Series Two...36 packs of cards to rip = the gift that keeps on giving!

Friday, August 2, 2013

#49 Brian McRae

About the Front: I've never been crazy about batting practice/spring training jerseys with a logo on the breast, rather than a team name insignia across the chest. They just look kind of empty and plain to me.

About the Back: Hal and Brian McRae were the fifth father-son manager-player combination in the majors, following Connie and Earle Mack, Yogi and Dale Berra, and Cal Ripken Sr. and Cal Jr. and Billy. They've since been joined by Felipe and Moises Alou and Bob and Aaron Boone.

Triple Play:

1. Prior to the start of the 1995 season, the Royals traded Brian to the Cubs for pitcher Derek Wallace and a minor leaguer. He proceeded to have the two best seasons of his career, batting a cumulative .282/.354/432 with 70 doubles, 29 home runs, 114 RBI, and 64 steals in 81 attempts.

2. Do you remember McRae playing out the string in 1999 with the Mets, Rockies, and Blue Jays, ultimately getting benched in favor of Vernon Wells? I sure don't. Baseball right around the turn of the century was a blind spot for me.

3. Brian spent five years working for radio and also appeared on ESPN's Baseball Tonight.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: McRae was one of those players that I thought was a bigger star than he actually was. I guess that has something to do with the notoriety he got from playing for his dad, and from stealing bases and hitting for a bit of power back when the "back of baseball card stats" were the ones that people noticed.

Bill James Said: "A convert to switch hitting, he is still a vastly better righthanded than lefthanded hitter." That pattern held throughout Brian's career, as he hit .290/.337/.416 righty and .250/.328/.388 lefty.

On This Date in 1993: August 2. A train crashed in a tunnel at Vega de Anzo, Spain, killing 12 people.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

#48 Bert Blyleven

About the Front: Circle me, Bert! The final card of the star pitcher's career looks quite different from his 1971 Topps rookie card, which depicted Blyleven as a fresh-faced teenager.

About the Back: As you may have surmised, Bert is the only member of the Hall of Fame who was born in the Netherlands. He has 287 of the 298 major league wins (post-1900) by native Dutchmen, with Rick van den Hurk (eight wins) and Win Remmerswaal (three W's) covering the rest.

Triple Play:

1. Blyleven spent the bulk of his career pitching on losing teams, which kept him from reaching 300 wins and almost certainly delayed his induction in Cooperstown. However, he did well in his few trips to the postseason, winning five of his six decisions with a 2.47 ERA. This includes a complete-game, 7-1 victory over the Reds in the 1979 NLCS clincher and four innings of scoreless relief in the Pirates' Game 5 World Series triumph against the Orioles.

2. Bert has a substantial presence in baseball's record book, ranking fifth all-time in strikeouts (3,701) and ninth in shutouts (60). He also no-hit the Angels while pitching for the Rangers on September 22, 1977.

3. In case you hadn't heard, Bert loves to fart.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Sadly, I didn't know about that shirt in the previous link when I first laid my hands on Blyleven's card. If I had, I surely would have cherished the card like few others in my collection.

Bill James Said: Nada. Bert retired prior to the 1993 season.

On This Date in 1993: August 1. Here's one my fellow Orioles fans will appreciate. Well, maybe "appreciate" is not the right word. The Orioles lose to the Red Sox, 2-1, with Danny Darwin getting the duke over Rick Sutcliffe. During the game, O's rookie Jeffrey Hammonds lines a foul ball into his own dugout and knocks Glenn Davis unconscious. Davis was already recuperating from a broken jaw. He does not sustain any further injuries.