Friday, November 29, 2013

#117 Eddie Taubensee

About the Front: This is an incredible action photo of Eddie Taubensee tossing his mask and springing forth out of his crouch to snag a popup. His eyes track the ball, the sheen of his helmet shows a reflection of the mask, and the batter is forever both safe and out.

About the Back: Taubensee would reach his eighth big league season before hitting his only career walkoff home run. It was a ninth inning tiebreaker against Philadelphia's Darren Winston on April 27, 1998.

Triple Play:

1. The hilarious content of Eddie's B-R Bullpen Wiki entry in its entirety: "Nicknamed "The Model" because of the way he strutted his stuff on the runway when the Astros revealed their new uniforms in 1994."

2. Even Taubensee's turn on the catwalk couldn't ease the sting felt by Houston fans who saw him as the losing half of a trade that sent fleet center fielder Kenny Lofton to Cleveland.

3. He nearly doubled his previous career high in homers in 1999, when he belted 21 for the 96-win Reds. He also reached new heights with 87 RBI and a .311/.354/.521 triple-slash.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Taubensee was always a fun name to say. "Taw-bin-see". Together with "Eddie", it's purely lyrical.

Bill James Said: "Taubensee throws a little better, but (Scott) Servais is probably a better defensive catcher."

On This Date in 1993: November 29. If you wish to catch a movie, your in-theatre options include Mrs. Doubtfire and Addams Family Values.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#116 Mark Lemke

About the Front: My only regret is that we can't get a clearer look at what I'm almost certain are Rec-Specs on Mark Lemke's face. The better to safely see and hit the ball, my dear!

About the Back: That 1991 World Series recap sums up the strangeness and unpredictability of a best-of-seven series pretty well. Lemke had 15 career triples in 3,664 regular-season plate appearances; he never had three in a month, much less a four-at-bat span.

Triple Play:

1. Mark holds the record for most career plate appearahces without being hit by a pitch. I guess he wasn't a big target.

2. In May 1998, he collided with runner Chad Kreuter while trying to turn a double play and suffered a concussion that brought about the end of his major league career. The following season, he joined the independent New Jersey Jackals as an infield coach and...knuckleball pitcher. The results were not encouraging: 5-1 with a 6.68 ERA in 33.2 innings in 1999, and a dozen runs allowed in a single 2.2 inning appearance in 2000. He had 37 walks and only 20 strikeouts total.

3. Mark's still involved with the Braves, participating in the pregame show for the Braves Radio Network on WCNN-AM.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I can add Mark Lemke to the list of players much smaller than yours truly.

Bill James Said: "(A) Gold Glove-type second baseman who hits .250, has a little power and draws 65 walks...Well, that's a winning player."

On This Date in 1993: November 27. Joe Montana, sidelined for the past three weeks with a hamstring strain, declares himself ready to start at quarterback for the Chiefs in tomorrow's game against the Bills.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#115 Robby Thompson

About the Front: Here's my take. Robby Thompson just hit a weak dribbler to the right side of the infield. He's attempting to use Darth Vader's Force Choke to render the opposing second baseman unable to make a play on the ball.

About the Back: Those were the only two grand slams of Robby's career, even though he played into the 1996 season. Baseball, man.

Triple Play:

1. His career year came in 1993, when he batted .312/.375/.496 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI, all career highs, and won his only Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He was already troubled with back problems, and appeared in only 193 games over the next three seasons before walking away from the game.

2. Thompson was born on May 10, and over the course of his career he enjoyed six consecutive multi-hit games on his birthday. In five of those games, he had an extra-base hit.

3. He has worked in various capacities for the Giants, Indians, and Mariners since hanging up his glove and bat. Most recently, Robby spent three seasons as Seattle's bench coach under manager Eric Wedge.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I could have sworn that Thompson was an Indian late in his career. Apparently Cleveland invited him to spring training in 1997, but he ultimately retired instead.

Bill James Said: "The best second baseman the Giants have had since they came to the Bay, probably the best they have had since they traded Frankie Frisch in December, 1926."

On This Date in 1993: November 26. The Velvet Underground releases Live MCMXCIII, an album compiled from concert recordings in Paris.

Monday, November 25, 2013

#114 Mel Hall

About the Front: Between his toothy grimace and one-handed follow through, it sure doesn't look like Mel Hall got all of that ball.

About the Back: Despite being "only" 32 at the end of the 1992 season and putting up above-league-average numbers, Hall went to Japan for the 1993 season. He spent a couple of years with the Chiba Lotte Marines and a single season with the Chunichi Dragons, and returned to the U.S. in 1996. An unsuccessful 25-game stint with the Giants (.120/.148/.120 in 27 plate appearances) put an unsatisfying capper on his big league time.

Triple Play:

1. Mel feasted on the pitching of Mark Gubicza (.434/.483/.585 in 58 PA), but had his share of trouble against Roger Clemens (.188/.233/.232 in 73 PA).

2. He was a better ballplayer than a human being. He mentored a young Bernie Williams by continually referring to him as "Mr. Zero", and shouting him down every time the outfield prospect attempted to speak. The soft-spoken Williams was reportedly near tears from this abuse. In hindsight, only one of this pair of players has zero World Series rings, zero All-Star selections, and zero Gold Gloves, and it ain't Bernie.

3. Need more proof of Hall's bona fides as a creep? He is currently serving a 45-year prison sentence for raping two underage girls while coaching their basketball team in the late 1990s. He will not be eligible for parole until the early 2030s.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I didn't grow up watching the likes of Mel Hall and Alvaro Espinoza on the forgettable Yankees squads of the early nineties, but my college roommate (a Yankee fan from central Jersey) did. He often name-checks Mel Hall as proof that he stuck through the bad times before enjoying the team's later run of success.

Bill James Said: Jack squat, since Mel was playing in the Far East in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: November 25. Burgess "Whitey" Whitehead, a reserve infielder from the 1934 Cardinals' "Gashouse Gang" team, dies of a heart attack at age 83. He was the last surviving member of that World Series-winning club. Later in his career, he was a two-time All-Star at second base for the New York Giants.

Friday, November 22, 2013

#113 Thomas Howard

About the Front: Thomas Howard is going full extension for a fly ball in the Cleveland Municipal Stadium outfield. Hopefully he doesn't open his glove too late.

About the Back: Howard was born in Middletown, OH. Also from Middletown: pitcher Charlie Root, who won 201 games for the Cubs in the pre-WWII years.

Triple Play:

1. Thomas was a three-sport athlete at Valley View High School, as he also quarterbacked a league champion football team and played power forward for a league champion basketball team.

2. While serving as the fourth outfielder for the 1995 National League Central-winning Reds, he batted .302 and stole 17 bases, but was caught eight times.

3. On April 11, 2000, Howard hit the first grand slam at Enron Field (now known as Minute Maid Park), erasing a three-run St. Louis deficit with one swing of the bat. It was one of eight pinch-hit homers in his career, and his only grand slam.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: When I looked at this card back in 1993, I probably noticed the clear-as-day white Nike swooshes on Thomas Howard's cleats. I had no way of knowing that Nike (and its competitors) would soon splash their trademarks all over every part of the uniform. Cherish the relative lack of logo creep, young Kevin!

Bill James Said: "I don't remember what I wrote about Mike Felder, but whatever it was, it probably applies here too."

On This Date in 1993: November 22. I'm really enjoying following the player movement of the winter of 1993-1994. Today, Will Clark made headlines by signing a five-year, $30 million contract with the Rangers.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

#112 Brian Barnes

About the Front: The back of Brian Barnes' jersey looks like it says "Barves". He was 20 years ahead of the trend!

About the Back: My eye is drawn to Brian's stats at AA Jacksonville in 1990. 213 strikeouts in 201.1 innings is no small feat at any level. Moreover, the days of a pitching prospect throwing 200 minor league innings in a year are well behind us.

Triple Play:

1. Fresh off his great year with Jacksonville, Barnes made four starts with the Expos in September of 1990. He earned his first big league win in his season finale, tossing a complete-game three-hitter against the Phillies on September 29.

2. Brian played college ball at Clemson University, just as Jimmy Key, John Curtis, Kris Benson, and Billy Koch did. That's the beginnings of a decent pitching staff.

3. Barnes threw his last big league pitch at age 27 in 1994, but continued pitching in the minors through 2000. He logged time in Albuquerque, Charlotte, Pawtucket, Jacksonville, Toledo, Memphis, Greenville, and Calgary.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Did young Brian Barnes ever get teased because of the alliteration in his name? I wonder only because my parents considered naming me Brian, until my father decided that he didn't like the double-"B" sound.

Bill James Said: "A starter in the minors, he has been hit hard in the majors after passing the 60-pitch mark." Montreal used him mostly in relief in 1993 (44 of his 52 appearances), but he was only so-so in a role that you'd expect to limit his pitch counts (4.45 ERA in 60.2 IP).

On This Date in 1993: November 21. Hot stove! The Giants sign free agent pitcher Mark Portugal to a three-year contract. He will go 15-13 with a 4.03 ERA in one and a half seasons in San Francisco before being dealt to the Reds in an eight-player trade in July of 1995.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

#111 Bruce Hurst

About the Front: Bruce Hurst has the hairiest forearms this side of Justin Verlander.

About the Back: The end came quickly for Bruce. After one season with an ERA over 3.85 from 1986-1992, he only made it into 13 games in 1993 and 1994 combined with a 7.24 ERA. He'd torn his rotator cuff and labrum in late 1992 and was seemingly never the same.

Triple Play:

1. Hurst was the seventh and penultimate Pawtucket Red Sox pitcher to appear in the famed longest game in organized baseball history, a 33-inning affair with the Rochester Red Wings that began on April 18, continued into the wee hours of April 19, and was concluded on June 23. The lefty shut out the Red Wings from the 28th inning through the 32nd.

2. Bruce starred for Boston in the 1986 postseason, winning all three of his decisions and tossing a pair of complete games, including the Red Sox' 4-2 victory in Game Five of the World Series. He allowed three runs in six innings in the decisive seventh game, but the Mets pulled away late against the Beantown bullpen.

3. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2004. Dixie State College, located in Hurst's hometown of St. George, UT, has named their home field after him.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Bruce pitched a fine game on my tenth birthday, allowing one run to the Giants in seven innings in a 4-1 Padres win. He was stuck with a no-decision, as San Diego put up a three-spot in the eighth. I've said it before and I will again: the younger me would have been in baseball geek heaven with at his disposal.

Bill James Said: "...was traded to the Black Hole of Calcutta, also known as Mile High Stadium." Pre-humidor Denver was a death sentence to many a pitcher's career.

On This Date in 1993: November 20. As part of the Savings and Loan Crisis, the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee (how's that for an oxymoron?) issues a stern censure of California senator Alan Cranston for his association with S-and-L executive Charles Keating.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#110 Barry Larkin

About the Front: We are on a roll with some top-notch card photography! This is a less-common angle of a hitter. It looks like the photographer was sitting right in the on-deck circle to capture Barry Larkin as the shortstop intently waits for his pitch.

About the Back: Those are some nifty stats, but Larkin still had some of his best ball ahead of him. In the proceeding dozen years of his career, he earned three Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers (bringing his total to nine), made eight All-Star teams (of 12 total in his career), and was the 1995 National League MVP. So yes, he's a worthy Hall of Famer.

Triple Play:

1. Barry became the first shortstop to have 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same season in 1996 (33 HR, 36 SB).

2. Larkin managed the Brazilian team in the 2012 World Baseball Classic. They were a suprise qualifier after beating Panama, but went winless in the tournament's opening round and were eliminated.

3. His younger brother Stephen was an outfielder/first baseman who played pro ball for 12 years. The Reds called him up in September 1998, whereupon he started at first base on September 27 and batted right behind his brother in the three-hole. That was Stephen's lone major league game. Incidentally, the other two infield positions were manned by Bret and Aaron Boone, giving Cincinnati two pairs of brothers in one infield!

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I don't remember watching Larkin play much during his career, probably because he spent all of his time in the National League. I can't help but think that he was overshadowed in the early years by Ozzie Smith.

Bill James Said: "Since his first full season, 1987, Larkin has missed 21% of the Reds' games, or 34 games a year, with various injuries." If Barry had been a little luckier with injuries, he probably wouldn't have had to wait until his third year on the ballot to make the Hall of Fame. Of course, with the way baseball writers vote, who knows?

On This Date in 1993: November 19. Avert your eyes, Dodgers fans! Los Angeles looks to bolster their infield by trading for Expos second baseman Delino DeShields. In return, Montreal receives a skinny young right-handed pitcher named Pedro Martinez.

Monday, November 18, 2013

#109 Sam Horn

About the Front: This has long been one of my favorite cards in this set. How often do you see a player captured in a moment of deep reflection? Or maybe he's just thinking about what he'll have for dinner that night. I never claimed to be a mind reader. Anyway, two thoughts: 1) Dig the girl in the plastic neon sunglasses in the first row. 2) Sam Horn is a big, big, big dude.

About the Back: Sam didn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for any batting rate stats in 1991. But as a point of comparison, Jose Canseco was the official American League leader with one home run per 13.0 at-bats.

Triple Play:

1. Horn still has a cult following in Boston because of his hot start in a 46-game trial in 1987, when he set a record for the most home runs by a player appearing in less than 50 games. He also homered in each of his first two career games. A popular Red Sox fan site and message board is named "Sons of Sam Horn".

2. Sam had a knack for first impressions. On Opening Day of the 1990 season, he made his Orioles debut and went 4-for-5 with a pair of three-run homers to spur Baltimore to a 7-6 win over the Royals in 11 innings.

3. Horn also achieved a more dubious feat on July 17, 1991, striking out six times in a 15-inning loss to Kansas City. Former O's pitcher Mike Flanagan was credited with dubbing the feat as a "horn", a la the "hat trick" (3 K's) or "golden sombrero" (5 K's).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Sam Horn was one of the few Orioles whose name pierced the bubble of my personal baseball ignorance in the early 1990s. That probably has something to do with his considerable power (a rarity on those O's clubs) and the lyricality of his name. "Sam Horn" just sounds like a heroic athlete.

Bill James Said: "I know I've said this before, but Horn is pretty much the same player as Cecil Fielder; he's just lefthanded and can't catch a break."

On This Date in 1993: November 18. In South Africa, 21 political parties approve a new constitution, expanding voting rights and ending white minority rule.

Friday, November 15, 2013

#108 Jose Lind

About the Front: The deeper I delve into this set, the more I realize that I've taken the horizontal cards for granted. Look at this action-packed scene: Jose Lind blocking the bag, preparing to slap a tag on would-be base thief Delino DeShields as the Expos' speedster slides in head-first in a cloud of dirt. A vertically-oriented card wouldn't be able to capture that moment just so. Anyway, was he safe or out? I checked the box scores from 1992, and "Bop" only attempted one steal with Lind covering second in games at Pittsburgh that year. It was June 21, 1992, and he made it safely against the battery of Jeff Robinson and Mike LaValliere. Just going by the photo, I would have assumed DeShields was out, but I guess Jose still had the ball at eye level while Delino's momentum was carrying him ever-closer to his destination. Or he could've dropped the ball while trying to put down the tag.

About the Back: Lind's three home runs in 1991 constituted a power surge for him, but it was fleeting. In the remaining four seasons of his career, he had only one homer in 1,433 plate appearances.

Triple Play:

1. He was awarded the Gold Glove for his play at second base in 1992, breaking Ryne Sandberg's decade-long death grip on the prize. Ironically, it was Jose's misplay of a David Justice grounder that helped spur the Braves' ninth-inning comeback in Game 7 of that year's NLCS.

2. Lind was an unusual character who kept a set of big knives in his locker in Pittsburgh and would pretend to stab at teammates to startle them. He had problems with alcohol and cocaine that expedited the end of his major league career, but has reportedly been clean since 1997.

3. He managed the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League from 2003 through 2005, winning 200 games and losing 192.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember Lind being referred to often by his nickname "Chico", a moniker that was probably not given to him by WWF wrestler (and Tony Montana knockoff) Razor Ramon.

Bill James Said: "He's a fine second baseman, fairly good range and turns the double play as well as the next guy, but is a complete cipher with the bat." I assume that Bill's going for the archaic definition of cipher, which is a zero.

On This Date in 1993: November 15. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera join the cast of The New Mickey Mouse Club, a series on the Disney Channel. And thus the Seventh Seal was opened.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

#107 John Kiely

About the Front: Could I interest you in a serene shot of John Kiely staring pensively up at an empty Tiger Stadium from the dugout? I'll throw in the windbreaker-underneath-the-1931-throwback uni for free!

About the Back: 18 strikeouts, 28 walks, and a 2.13 ERA? Something tells me that Kiely got a little lucky in the batted-ball department. In his brief big league career, he punched out 24 batters while walking 50. That helps explain the brevity.

Triple Play:

1. John's big league debut was, shall we say, inauspicious. On July 26, 1991, he was brought into a 1-1 game to start the bottom of the eighth inning. His second pitch to Juan Gonzalez was roped down the line for a double, and he was pulled in favor of Paul Gibson. Gonzalez scored later in the inning; the Tigers came back to win in extras, but Kiely was left with an infinite ERA.

2. Jim Thome, Cal Ripken, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Harold Baines, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines, and Carlton Fisk never reached base against Kiely. Of course, that's a combined sample size of 13 plate appearances, but let's not split hairs.

3. He spent parts of five seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens. Klinger would have been proud.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I must not have paid close attention to the back of the card, because the tidbit about Kiely being a sidearmer is new to me. Topps went with a posed portrait on the front, and I was oblivious to his unconventional style.

Bill James Said: "He would benefit from being in an organization which can distinguish between a pitcher and a kumquat." Bonus points for the use of "kumquat".

On This Date in 1993: November 14. Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula sets an NFL record with his 325th career win, a 19-13 squeaker over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

#106 Howard Johnson

About the Front: I'm a big fan of the thick orange and blue piping down the sides of the Mets' uniform, as modeled here by Howard Johnson. It can't be a coincidence that the Mets haven't won a World Series in the years since they ditched it.

About the Back: Given the offensive explosion of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it shouldn't be surprising that Johnson's 117 RBI now put him in a fourth-place tie in Mets history. Mike Piazza and David Wright share the current team record with 124. HoJo and Darryl's 108 runs scored don't even place in the top ten any more; Carlos Beltran's 127 is the new mark to beat.

Triple Play:

1. Howard originally wore #5 as a young player in Detroit, but switched to #20 in 1983 when the Tigers retired #5 to honor Hank Greenberg.

2. As you can see above, Johnson had three 30-homer, 30-steal seasons. The only players to go 30-30 more often than that were Bobby and Barry Bonds and Alfonso Soriano.

3. HoJo coached in the Mets' organization for a decade, including four years (2007-2010) on the big league staff. As of 2013, he was the hitting coach for Seattle's AAA Tacoma Rainiers club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Like any good young baseball fan, I knew of Howard Johnson the slugger before I had ever heard of Howard Johnson the hotel and restaurant chain.

Bill James Said: "There's no reason he shouldn't be Comeback Player of the Year." Sadly, even a move to the friendly confines of Mile High Stadium couldn't revive Howard's career. He batted just .211/.323/.405 with 10 homers in 93 games for the Rockies in 1994, and a similarly poor performance for the Cubs in 1995 signaled the end of the line.

On This Date in 1993: November 13. President Clinton gave a speech at the Church of God in Memphis, TN, the site of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last sermon. The president's speech touched upon the need for effective crime legislation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

#105 Gregg Jefferies

About the Front: The partially-visible memorial patch on Gregg Jefferies' right sleeve bears the initials "JRB" for Joseph R. Burke, who served as the Royals' general manager from 1974 to 1981 and as team president from 1981 until his death from lymphatic cancer at age 68 in 1992.

About the Back: Jefferies was chosen 20th overall in the loaded 1985 draft, coming in behind Barrys Bonds and Larkin and Will Clark, and two picks ahead of Rafael Palmeiro.

Triple Play:

1. Gregg came under heavy scrutiny in New York because of his gaudy minor league numbers (he batted .367/.423/.598 as a 19-year-old in AA) and his fast start in the majors. He addressed criticism from his senior teammates by sending an open letter to sports radio station WFAN. One excerpt: "If only we can concentrate more on the games than complaining and bickering and pointing fingers, we would all be better off." It's like he didn't even realize that he was playing for the Mets.

2. A trade sent him from Kansas City to St. Louis for Felix Jose. During Jefferies' two seasons as a Cardinal, he made the only two All-Star teams of his career while batting .335 and reaching base at a .401 clip.

3. He opened his own sports instructional facility near his current home in Pleasanton, CA.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I looked at Gregg's counting stats in 1993 and figured he was a superstar. A .342 average gets your attention as a kid.

Bill James Said: "1993 was the first of a string of outstanding seasons for Jefferies." Bill thought so too, but Gregg was done as a starter by 30 and out of baseball entirely at 32.

On This Date in 1993: November 12. The first Ultimate Fighting Championship event is held in Denver.

Monday, November 11, 2013

#104 Mike Butcher

About the Front: This photo is well-framed. It looks like Mike Butcher is throwing the ball right at you. Duck!

About the Back: It took Mike seven pro seasons to make it to the big leagues. Just your average 27-year-old rookie.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first career save on July 16, 1993 with 1.1 hitless, three-strikeout innings against the Indians to preserve a 2-1 win for the Halos. 

2. Despite the fact that he never started a game in 115 MLB outings, Mike won 11 games. That's the sixth-highest win total among players born on May 10, which is my convoluted way of saying that I didn't find many interesting tidbits about Mike Butcher.

3. Butcher has been in coaching since at least 2000; he spent three seasons as the Angels' roving pitching instructor before taking Tampa Bay's big league pitching coach job in 2006. The following year, he went back to Anaheim to be their pitching coach, and has held the post ever since.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Mike Butcher sounds like the serial killer in a bad horror movie.

Bill James Said: "Butcher was unable to open the 1993 season because of off-season elbow surgery, and unable to finish it because of bone chips in his elbow." That'll wreck your plans.

On This Date in 1993: November 11. Microsoft releases Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. 20 years later, we're still suffering with Windows in the workplace.

Friday, November 8, 2013

#103 Jody Reed

About the Front: Let's hear it for our second straight awkward photo! Jody Reed looks to me like he's jogging in place or marching in a parade rather than running out a ground ball.

About the Back: Jody Reed hit 129 doubles in a three-year span. That's surprising to me. Less surprising when you consider that he played half of his games at Fenway.

Triple Play:

1. Jody joined the Dodgers in 1993 and was underwhelming, batting .276/.333/.346 (88 OPS+) with 25 extra-base hits and 31 RBI in 132 games. For some reason, Los Angeles offered him a three-year, $7.8 million contract extension. Even more foolishly, Reed turned it down and chose to become a free agent. He ultimately settled for a one-year contract with the Brewers for $350,000. The Dodgers filled their hole at second base by dealing a young pitcher named Pedro Martinez to Montreal for Delino DeShields. What a comedy of errors.

2. Reed's teams made the postseason on three occasions (1988 and 1990 Red Sox, 1996 Padres), and were swept out of the playoffs every time. His participation in 11 postseason losses without a win is a record, as long as Joe Mauer (0-for-9 with the Twins) doesn't reach October again soon.

3. Jody has coached and managed in the minor leagues for the Yankees and Dodgers organizations.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: 5'9" with the first name "Jody"...I wonder if he was picked on in school.

Bill James Said: "He had 17 bunts last year, but still grounded into 16 double plays." That's...less than good.

On This Date in 1993: November 8. Paul McCartney releases Paul Is Live, a live album whose cover pokes fun at the decades-old urban legend surrounding his supposed death and the clues that could be gleaned from Beatles album covers, photographs, and songs.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

#102 Brian Hunter

About the Front: Rarely does a picture capture its subject looking so uncertain and awkward fielding his position, especially when that position is first base. Somebody must have had it in for Brian Hunter.

About the Back: Hunter hit 26 home runs in his first 509 big league at-bats. You've probably forgotten that he had that much pop.

Triple Play:

1. Here's another player who had a contemporary who was homonymous: speedy outfielder Brian Lee Hunter played for the Astros, Tigers, and four other teams from 1994 through 2003. Our guy is Brian Raynold Hunter, and his career spanned from 1991 through 2000.

2. Hunter hit seven pinch homers in his career; two of those were walk-off shots.

3. Brian has worked as a scout for the Nationals, Mets, and Braves, and signed pitcher Marco Estrada while with Washington. Estrada is currently a starter for the Brewers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I thought Hunter was one of the odder-looking players of his generation. There was something about his combination of beady eyes with bags underneath and his perpetually underdeveloped mustache that just

Bill James Said: "Exiled to Richmond after the McGriff trade, almost sent to Expos as part of the deal that Denny Martinez vetoed." That near-trade had long since slipped my mind. The deals that were never consummated are often fascinating; who knows how many have slipped through the cracks in the years since?

On This Date in 1993: November 7. An excerpt from that day's New York Magazine: "It has to have significance that Tiffany Trump was born on the same day Woolworth's announced its intention to close almost 1,000 stores and put 13,000 people out of work." Thank goodness that we've narrowed the gap between the haves and the have-nots since then...ahem.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#101 Jim Bullinger

About the Front: Despite what you think, the shadow obscuring Jim Bullinger's face is not being cast by his cap. It's being cast by his eyebrows. Also, the odds are pretty good that the blurry infielder hovering to the right is Ryne Sandberg.

About the Back: What have we here? Yes, the Cubbies drafted Jim as a shortstop, and he converted to pitching in 1989. With good cause: he peaked with a .723 OPS in 78 games in the New York-Penn League in his pro debut.

Triple Play:

1. His younger brother Kirk pitched a total of 49 games from 1998-2000 and 2003-2004 with the Expos, Red Sox, Phillies, and Astros. The Bullingers never did face off in a big league game.

2. Jim had a 25-inning scoreless streak spanning from July 24 to August 11, 1995, helping boost him to a 12-8 record and 4.14 ERA at season's end.

3. In addition to homering in his first career at-bat as mentioned above, Bullinger went deep twice in 1996 and once in 1997. Incidentally, none of his home runs came at Wrigley Field.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Just looking at the Cubs' early-1990s road grays reminds me of "Rookie of the Year", perhaps the best movie ever made about a pre-pubescent baseball fan who breaks his arm and is miraculously able to throw MLB-caliber heat when it heals.

Bill James Said: "A year ago I thought he had little chance, but after a season as a Triple-A closer he was more aggressive, and his curve ball seemed sharper."

On This Date in 1993: November 6. Ed Sadowski, a backup catcher in the 1960s for the Red Sox, Angels, and Braves, died at age 62. He had been suffering from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#100 Mark McGwire

About the Front: What an awesome photo. Years before he shattered Roger Maris' single-season home run record, this wide-angle shot displays the power and force of Mark McGwire's swing. I'm not sure which stadium this is, though. My instinct says Tiger Stadium.

About the Back: Oh, the inadequacy of 1993 Topps' stats on the back. While 1991 was a career-worst year for Big Mac, his ability to draw a walk boosted his on-base percentage to .330. That looks a helluva lot better than his .201 average.

Triple Play:

1. In 1987, Mark shattered the rookie single-season record with his 49 home runs, blowing by the previous record of 38 shared by Wally Berger and Frank Robinson. He gave up a few more cracks at 50 by taking paternity leave for the last two games of the year.

2. I tend to take a liberal stance on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, but McGwire's guest appearance on The Simpsons in 1999 is sublime in hindsight. "Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?"

3. He has been a big league hitting coach for the past four seasons, spending three years back in St. Louis before joining Don Mattingly's Dodgers staff in 2013.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Since injuries limited McGwire to 74 total games and 18 homers in 1993-1994, he wasn't on my radar in the early years of my fandom. It wasn't until the first baseman slugged 39 homers in just 104 games in 1995 that I got an inkling of what had made him a star in the late 1980s.

Bill James Said: "How does a guy 6'5" draw 100 walks a year?"

On This Date in 1993: November 5. The U.K. Parliament passes the Railways Act, laying the groundwork to privatize the British rail system.

Monday, November 4, 2013

#99 Mike Williams

I intended to post this card on Thursday, before I left for a weekend trip. Then I thought I might be able to finish it while I was away. The best-laid plans...

About the Front:  Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like Mike Williams is pitching in Dodger Stadium. Now that I check his 1992 Game Log, I see that the righty appeared in only five games for the Phillies, and only two of those were on the road: at Los Angeles and at San Diego. On July 5, Williams earned his first career win in a 9-3 decision by going the distance against the Dodgers. He allowed only three hits, but a Mickey Morandini error led to a pair of unearned runs. At any rate, that seems like the kind of game that's worth putting to cardboard.
About the Back: It looks like Mike got the Phillies' attention by winning 9 of his 10 starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Pretty underwhelming strikeout totals, though.

Triple Play:

1. Mike joined the Pirates in 1998, and spent the greater part of five seasons as the team's closer. In that time, he earned 140 of his 144 career saves and made back-to-back All-Star teams in 2002 (when he saved 46 of the Bucs' 72 wins) and 2003. In the latter season, he had an abominable 1-7 record with a 6.14 ERA and had an even worse mark of 6.44 at the break. He is still the only pitcher to be chosen for the Midsummer Classic with an ERA above six. Viva the one-player-per-team minimum and baseball's closer fixation!

2. His agent was Bean Stringfellow, who may or may not actually be a minor Harry Potter character.

3. Williams still lives in Giles County, Virginia, in the area where he grew up. He is reportedly active with local Relay for Life charitable causes.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I was a uniform buff from the start. It would've been nice to see the Phils use "Mk. Williams" and "Mt. Williams" on the jersey nameplates of the two M. Williamses on their pitching staff in the early 1990s, but they weren't that particular.

Bill James Said: "Grade C prospect; unlikely to start for the Phillies, but I would not be surprised to see him emerge as a middle reliever."

On This Date in 1993: November 4. A China Airlines Boeing 747 overruns Runway 13 at Hong Kong's Kai Tak International Airport in the midst of a typhoon. 22 people are injured.