Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#132 Preston Wilson

About the Front: Hey, another pick who panned out! Preston Wilson is swinging that sweet Easton aluminum bat for Bamberg Ehrhardt High School in Bamberg, SC.

About the Back: No games played, steals, walks, or strikeouts? That's some shoddy records-keeping...and gathering.

Triple Play:

1. Preston is the nephew and stepson of former Mets outfielder Mookie Wilson. Clear as mud?

2. Wilson debuted with the Mets in 1998, but appeared in just eight games before heading to the Marlins in the blockbuster trade that brought Mike Piazza to New York.

3. In 2003, he led the National League in RBI, driving in 141 in his only full season in Colorado while also achieving career highs of 43 doubles, 36 homers, a .282 average, and a .537 slugging percentage.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I also used Easton bats around this time, while playing corner outfield for the Essex Yankees for two short seasons. Those bats had a grand total of six hits in them for me, none of them leaving the infield.

Bill James Said: N/A. An 18-year-old Wilson with 74 games of rookie-ball experience was not yet on Bill's radar.

On This Date in 1993: December 31. On the last day of the year, MLB's collective bargaining agreement with MLBPA expires. There is no new agreement imminent. The storm clouds gather.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

#131 Dave Winfield

About the Front: This may be one of my favorite photos in this set: Dave Winfield in...Minnesota? Anyway, Winfield is watching his drive with a hopeful sort of grimace, and he is taking up a lot of space as he lunges out of the batter's box. He was always impossibly big, tall, and powerful.

About the Back: At age 40, Dave had just had a throwback season for the World Champion Blue Jays, posting his best all-around numbers since 1988 and earning a Silver Slugger and a fifth-place MVP finish.

Triple Play:

1. Winfield was always an excellent athlete, and chose baseball despite being drafted by clubs in the ABA (Utah Stars), NBA (Atlanta Hawks), and NFL (Minnesota Vikings). He never played a single game in the minor leagues.

2. Dave signed a then-record 10-year, $23 million free agent contract with the Yankees in December 1980. Despite living up to the deal on the field, the outfielder was often a target of owner George Steinbrenner's wrath, taking blame for the team's downturn in the standings throughout the 1980s and being derisively referred to as "Mr. May" after a 1-for-22 struggle in the 1981 World Series. George earned himself a temporary banishment from baseball after paying mob-connected gambler Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield.

3. The Padres retired his number 31 jersey in 2001, the same year that he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember borrowing a book from the library that went into great detail about the dysfunctional Winfield-Steinbrenner relationship. It was fascinating and tawdry stuff to my young eyes.

Bill James Said: (In reference to Dave collecting his 3,000th career hit with the Twins in 1993,) "Here's a prediction for you: between 1990 and 2010, the number of players with 3,000 hits will double." Hey, let's check the numbers! In 1990, the 3,000 Hit Club numbered at 16. Today there are 28 members, but Derek Jeter didn't reach the milestone until 2011. I guess a few of the top hitters of the era let Bill down.

On This Date in 1993: December 24. It's Christmas Eve! That calls for another Calvin and Hobbes strip.

Monday, December 23, 2013

#130 Jeff Montgomery

About the Front: Magenta lettering on the Royals' cards? Whose bright idea was that?

About the Back: I wonder if Jeff Montgomery took any ribbing over his comp-sci degree in the clubhouse. Baseball has not traditionally been peopled with enlightened minds.

Triple Play:

1. The Reds traded Montgomery to the Royals for outfielder Van Snider, who batted .200/.194/.314 in 19 career games. Cue the "game over" horn from The Price Is Right.

2. On April 29, 1990, he dispatched the Texas Rangers on nine straight strikes in the eighth inning after also turning in a perfect seventh. He became the ninth American Leaguer and 23rd pitcher overall in MLB history to strike out the side on nine pitches, and earned a win to boot.

3. Had a 3.20 ERA as a Kansas City Royal, third-lowest in franchise history behind Dan Quisenberry (2.55) and Steve Farr (3.05 in 338.1 fewer innings than Montgomery). Had the best hits-per-nine-innings-pitched ratio for any K.C. player at 8.05, and his 304 saves are also a club record.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: At the time I first laid eyes on this card, I couldn't have told you where Marshall University was located. Thanks to a passing familiarity with college sports, I now know that it's in West Virginia, and is more renowned for the football players it's produced (Chad Pennington, Randy Moss, etc.).

Bill James Said: "For five straight years has pitched 63 to 73 games, 83 to 94 innings, with four of his five ERAs below 2.40."

On This Date in 1993: December 23. French actress Sylvia Bataille, who was active in film from 1930 to 1950 and had been married to writer and Western philosopher Georges Bataille, died in Paris at age 85.

A brief note: For the rest of the month, my posting schedule will be even more sporadic than usual, as I get caught up in the traditional hustle and bustle of the holidays. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and any other December holiday blessings that may apply to you!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

#129 Joe Grahe

About the Front: There's a lot of fans disguised as empty orange seats. It looks as though the Angels were not a hot ticket in '92.

About the Back: Joe Grahe had a more productive career than the player the Halos picked ahead of him, pitcher Kyle Abbott. But both were dwarfed by the next player California grabbed after Grahe...Tim Salmon.

Triple Play:

1. Joe capped his rookie season with a winning effort against Oakland, October 1, 1990.He held the Athletics to only three hits, but lost his shot at a complete game when he walked Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, his sixth and seventh free passes, and departed with one out in the ninth. Trailing by a pair of runs, the A's fizzled against closer Bryan Harvey. Canseco was picked off of second base as Carney Lansford waited on a full-count pitch, and Lansford ultimately whiffed to end the game.

2. Two arm surgeries in a three-year span made it seem as though Grahe had thrown his last big-league pitch in 1995. But he made it back after a stint in independent ball and an unsuccessful open tryout with the Phillies. Philadelphia gave the righty a spring training invite in 1999, and he eventually appeared in 13 MLB games with a 3.86 ERA.

3. Pitcher Joe Grahe is now Florida RE/MAX agent Joseph Grahe.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: How the heck does "-ahe" make the same sound as "-ay"? Are you sure I'll be an English major some day?

Bill James Said: "Grahe opened and closed the year as the Angels' closer; in between he had tendonitis in his right rotator cuff, which gave about a dozen other people a shot at the role." This is slight hyperbole, as four pitchers other than Grahe earned at least one save for the Angels.

On This Date in 1993: December 19. Michael Clarke, drummer for The Byrds, dies of liver failure at age 47 after years of heavy alcohol abuse.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#128 Kal Daniels

About the Front: It's probably a trick of perspective, but the number on the front of Kal Daniels' jersey looks almost as big as the number on the back.

About the Back: It's been awhile since I've seen Game-Winning RBI (GW-RBI) cited as a stat. Back in the late 1980s, Topps put it on the back of every card.

Triple Play:

1. Knee injuries brought an end to Kal's career before the age of 30, as he had undergone six surgeries by the end of 1989.

2. Daniels led the National League with a .397 on-base percentage in 1988, and had a career batting line of .285/.382/.479.

3. In 1989, Kal and notoriously tight-fisted Cincinnati owner Marge Schott settled a salary dispute with a coin flip. Daniels won himself an extra $10,000 to $25,000, based on varying reports. Marge called heads, but it came up tails.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember seeing Kal's birth name (Kalvoski Daniels) on the back of one of his Donruss cards. It sounded exotic, and maybe Russian.

Bill James Said: Not a thing, since Daniels didn't play in 1993.

On This Date in 1993: December 18. Top Yankee prospect Brien Taylor, the #1 overall pick in the 1991 amateur draft, hurts his shoulder in a brawl near his North Carolina home. He will have surgery and miss the entire season following.

#127 Carney Lansford

About the Front: This is the last of Carney Lansford's 15 annual entries in the Topps base set. At least he left behind a sweet-swinging action shot.

About the Back: That's a league-leading .336 average and a paltry 28 strikeouts in 399 at-bats in 1981. What a luxury for the Red Sox to trade him and free up third base for Wade Boggs!

Triple Play:

1. Carney was the leadoff hitter and starting right fielder for Santa Clara, CA in the 1969 Little League World Series finale, which the Americans lost 5-0 to Taipei.

2. He had a cameo role as Kit "Hit or Die" Kesey, a White Sox player who whiffed against pitcher Mel Clark (played by Tony Danza) to clinch the pennant for California in the 1994 film remake of Angels in the Outfield.

3. Lansford has coached for the Athletics, Cardinals, Giants, Blue Jays, and Rockies.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Carney" always struck me as an odd name; indeed, he's the only Carney ever to play in the major leagues.

Bill James Said: Nuttin', honey. Lansford played his last game in 1992.

On This Date in 1993: December 17. Rickey Henderson returns to Oakland for a third go-round, signing a two-year deal for $8.6 million. The A's had traded the future Hall of Famer to Toronto last July for prospects Jose Herrera and Steve Karsay.

Monday, December 16, 2013

#126 Bob Ayrault

About the Front: I can't tell whether Bob Ayrault actually has a double chin or if this is just an unflattering action photo.

About the Back: Yep, it's a double chin.

Triple Play:

1. Bob was drafted by the Pirates in the 26th round of the 1987 amateur draft, but chose not to sign. Two years later, he went undrafted and had to start his pro career with the unaffiliated Reno Silver Sox of the California League before the Phillies took a chance on him.

2. After spending the 1994 and 1995 seasons stuck at AAA, he finished his pro career back where it had started: in Reno, this time with the Western League's Chukars. He pitched in 66 games total in 1996 and 1997.

3. Ayrault may have returned to the independent leagues in part because of his role as a "replacement player", the brand given to minor leaguers who reported to MLB spring training when the players' strike carried on into the early months of 1995 and the owners attempted to start the season with non-union athletes. These players were blacklisted from future membership in the MLBPA. Ayrault had gone to camp with the Pirates, before ultimately working out of the bullpen for the team's AAA Calgary affiliate.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I've never heard his name pronounced aloud, but I've always assumed it was "A-rawlt", with a strong vowel at the beginning. Does anybody know for sure?

Bill James Said: "A survivor, a non-prospect who signed with an independant (sic) team several years ago, moved into the Phillies system, drifted slowly to the top, and earns occasional major league looks when everybody else around has had their shot."

On This Date in 1993: December 16. The Brazilian Supreme Court rules that former President Fernando Collor de Mello may not hold public office again until 2000 as a result of political corruption.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

#125 Pete O'Brien

About the Front: Pete O'Brien looks like he hasn't bought a new pair of glasses since 1977.

About the Back: The Mariners paid $7.5 million for four years of O'Brien, and were "rewarded" with a batting line of .237/.304/.371. That they signed him to that deal with Tino Martinez waiting in the wings tells you everything you need to know about why Seattle was so lousy for so long.

Triple Play:

1. Hit his first career home run off of future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry on September 10, 1982.

2. O'Brien had a reputation as a smooth-fielding first baseman with the Rangers.

3. Pete and his wife Donna live in Coleyville, Texas and own and operate AtPeace Floatation and Massage.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never saw Pete O'Brien play a single game, as the Mariners released him on July 21, 1993, just as my baseball love was reaching its fever pitch. I'm sure one of you readers would tell me if I'd missed out on anything great.

Bill James Said: "He was released by the Mariners in July, having struggled through three-and-a-half years of a four-year contract, signed by a GM who must have been taking happy pills."

On This Date in 1993: December 13. Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell resigns as the head of the country's Conservative Party. Quebecois politician Jean Charest will step in as the party's new leader.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#124 Franklin Stubbs

About the Front: This has got to be one of the first "backwards-cap" photos on a card, not counting old-timey catchers. The same types of people who spend time today grousing about players who admire their own home runs too long used to give Ken Griffey, Jr. the business for wearing his hat backwards during pregame drills. Baseball doesn't need to be protected and coddled, fellas.
About the Back: Check out Franklin Stubbs' Grand Slam Quarterly. The opposing pitchers for those three salamis, in order of mention: Kenny Rogers, Todd Worrell, Scott Erickson. Not a bad trio of arms.

Triple Play:

1. The Dodgers had high hopes for Stubbs after he hit .280/.398/.587 with 32 home runs at AAA Albuquerque in 1985. But in parts of six seasons in L.A., he posted a subpar .695 OPS (94 OPS+).

2. Franklin looked to be out of the majors in 1993, spending the season at AAA Pawtucket in the Boston farm system. He played in Mexico the following year, but made it back with a career-closing 62-game stint with the Tigers in 1995. He batted .250/.358/.397 in Detroit with just two home runs.

3. He's been in coaching since retirement, first in the Braves organization and currently with the Dodgers. He was on the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes staff in 2013.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Stubbs is the first player that I remember seeing in a #0 jersey.

Bill James Said: Diddly squat.

On This Date in 1993:  December 12. In a pair of big free-agent deals, Rafael Palmeiro officially leaves the Rangers to sign with the Orioles for five years and ex-Oriole Dennis Martinez takes a two-year deal to jump from the Expos to the Indians.

Monday, December 9, 2013

#123 Moises Alou

About the Front: I always got the impression that Moises Alou was giving a thumbs-up here, but only now do I see that he's actually gripping the Rookie Cup.

About the Back: Unfortunately, 1991 wasn't the last season that Alou would lose to injury. A torn ACL suffered while working out in the offseason cost him the entirety of the 1999 campaign.

Triple Play: 

1. In keeping with the recent family theme, Moises is the son of former outfielder Felipe Alou, who also managed his son in Montreal and San Francisco. His uncles, Jesus and Matty, were also big league outfielders. Moises and his cousin, pitcher Mel Rojas, teamed together with the Expos.

2. Alou's name is forever linked with that of Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan whose attempt to catch a foul pop hampered the outfielder's own bid to snatch the ball at a pivotal moment in Game Six of the 2003 NLCS. Moises' petulant reaction helped ensure Bartman's infamous legacy when Chicago proceeded to blow a three-run lead en route to losing the game, and (the following day) the series.

3. Moises famously eschewed batting gloves throughout his career, and caused a stir when he disclosed in a 2004 interview that he urinated on his hands to toughen them.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Sure, one man managing both his son and his nephew on the same major league team is impressive...but it doesn't beat Cal Ripken, Sr. managing two of his sons on one team. (I had Baltimore provincialism instilled in me at an early age.)

Bill James Said: "He's a Gary Matthews-type player - a little power, a little speed, can hit .280 to .300, can help a team win if they get enough guys around him having good years." If you're curious, Alou batted .303/.369/.516 in parts of 17 seasons with a 128 OPS+. Matthews batted .281/.364/.439 in parts of 16 years with a 118 OPS+. So even accounting for era, ballparks, etc., Moises was a bit better.

On This Date in 1993: December 9. Randy Johnson, fresh off a 19-8 season with a 3.24 ERA and a league-leading 308 strikeouts, re-ups with the Mariners for three years and $20.25 million.

Friday, December 6, 2013

#122 Joey Cora

About the Front: This is like an inaction photo. Has anyone coined that term yet? Joey Cora's flipping the ball to someone, probably either the shortstop or the pitcher. It looks like it's between plays.

About the Back: Check out the 3-D effect with Cora's right hand coming up out of the inset frame and partially covering the name banner. Shades of 1964 or 1988 Topps...or 1993 Upper Deck. Oops.

Triple Play:

1. This is our third straight player with a younger sibling who also played in the majors! Alex Cora, ten years Joey's junior, was a glove-first infielder for the Dodgers and five other teams between 1998 and 2011.

2. While playing with the AA Beaumont Golden Gators in 1986, Cora got involved in an argument with a few opposing fans while waiting outside the team bus. The men came back with reinforcements and Cora was stabbed once in the stomach and once in the arm. He was rushed to the hospital and made a full recovery, spending six weeks on the disabled list.

3. After retiring as a player, Joey spent a few years managing in the Mets and Expos farm systems before joining ex-teammate Ozzie Guillen's coaching staff in Chicago. He served as third base coach, then as bench coach. He also hired on as Guillen's bench coach with the Marlins. He's since been picked up by the MLB Network as an analyst.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always liked Joey Cora. He was just a scrappy little guy who looked kind of like an easily-startled puppy.

Bill James Said: "If he stays healthy, will hold his job for several years, and will score more than 100 runs in his best seasons." Right on the mark - he started at second base for the White Sox, Mariners, and Indians for the following five seasons, and crossed the plate 105 times in 1997 and 111 in 1998. In the former season, he was named to the All-Star team and also batted .300/.359/.441 with 40 doubles

On This Date in 1993: December 6. Elian Gonzalez is born in Cuba. He will be at the center of a heated custody and immigration battle around the turn of the century after attempting to defect to the United States with his mother.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

#121 Todd Worrell

About the Front: It looks like Todd Worrell was on a one-man crusade to keep the mullet alive as a hairstyle.

About the Back: Lee Smith busted past Worrell's newly-realized team record the very next year, saving 43 games with the Cardinals to bring his own total to 160. Jason Isringhausen left them both in the dust eventually, finishing with 217 saves in St. Louis.

Triple Play:

1. Todd was the near-unanimous winner of the 1986 National League Rookie of the Year award, with Kevin Mitchell receiving a lone first-place vote to act as spoiler.

2. Worrell had a late-career renaissance with the Dodgers, making a pair of All-Star teams in 1995 and 1996 and saving a league-high 44 games in the latter season.

3. His younger brother Tim spent 14 years as a reliever for the Padres, Giants, and seven other teams. He debuted with San Diego in 1993.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Again, I get the sense that I never looked at the backs of these cards as intently as I'd always assumed. It's rare to see a player miss two straight years in total due to injuries, and that should have left a greater impression on me.

Bill James Said: "."

On This Date in 1993: December 5. Rafael Caldera Rodriguez is elected President of Venezuela for a second time, unseating interim leader Ramon Jose Velazquez. He had previously governed the country from 1969 to 1974.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#120 Ramon Martinez

About the Front: Here's another good example of a photo fit for its horizontal orientation. Ramon Martinez looks like he's bent down low so he doesn't hit his head on the top border of the card.

About the Back: I have a vague notion of 1990 as a rare pitcher-dominated season in its decade, but I'm still surprised to see 20 wins and 223 strikeouts for Martinez.

Triple Play:

1. Today Ramon is perhaps best known as Pedro's big brother. The younger Martinez will be appearing several hundred cards from now.

2. On June 4, 1990, Martinez struck out 18 Braves in a three-hit shutout.

3. Ramon is currently a senior advisor in Latin America for the Dodgers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: He was so skinny, with long arms and legs, that he appeared even taller than his listed height of 6'4".

Bill James Said: "Pitches substantially better with long rest than on four days rest." In 1993, this holds true: 1-6, 4.02 ERA with four days rest; 9-6, 3.15 ERA with five or more days rest. His overall career stats don't indicate strong splits, though.

On This Date in 1993: December 4. A sad day for music fans, as Frank Zappa died at age 52 of prostate cancer.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#119 Pedro Munoz

About the Front: Really, Twins? No tilde on "Munoz"? Poor form.

About the Back: The Twins acquired Pedro and infielder Nelson Liriano when they dealt John Candelaria to Toronto prior to the 1990 trade deadline. The 36-year-old Candelaria went 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA in 13 appearances with the Jays.

Triple Play:

1. On August 31, 1993, Munoz ended a 22-inning marathon between the Twins and Indians with his solo home run against Jason Grimsley.

2. More an oddity than anything else - Pedro was successful in each of his first six stolen base attempts as a major leaguer. For the rest of his career, he was just 5-for-15.

3. Munoz drove in seven runs in Minnesota's 21-7 thrashing of the Tigers on June 4, 1994. His outburst included a pair of home runs and a sacrifice fly.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I had this vague sense of Pedro Munoz as a power bat, but his career slugging percentage was .444 with a single-season high of 18 home runs.

Bill James Said: "No star potential now; will have to move his slugging percentage up from .400 in order to increase his playing time." He slugged .489 over the next three seasons, but didn't play again after that due to knee injuries.

On This Date in 1993: December 3. Diana, Princess of Wales, whose marriage to Prince Charles is nearing its end, announces her withdrawal from public life.

Monday, December 2, 2013

#118 David Hulse

About the Front: "Alright, bat." David Hulse whispers. "I don't like you and you don't like me. But get a hit right here, and the next Bud's on me." I would also like to point out that David's last name is neatly printed on his left batting glove at the very least.

About the Back: Hulse appears to have a green-screen backdrop behind him.

Triple Play:

1. David still appears in blooper reels for his actions on October 3, 1992. Facing Joe Grahe of the Angels, the rookie outfielder fouled four straight balls into the same spot in the California dugout, sending Halos players and personnel scrambling.

2. In 1993, Hulse hit 10 triples but only one home run, victimizing Chicago's Alex Fernandez for his first career roundtripper.

3. Here's a juicy trivia morsel: David Hulse hit the only inside-the-park home run that Mariano Rivera allowed in his legendary MLB career, circling the bases against a rookie Rivera on August 1, 1995.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I took one look at David's superficially good .290 average in 1993 and assumed he'd be around for a while. The very next season, Rusty Greer supplanted him as the Rangers' homegrown outfielder of choice.

Bill James Said: "...His positives are his speed and the possibility that he could hit .300; his negatives are his lack of power, his lack of plate discipline, a just-fair arm and a long history of hamstring pulls." When you put it that way, you start to see why he was out of the majors after 1996.

On This Date in 1993: December 2. NASA launches the Space Shuttle Endeavour on a mission to repair an optical flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope.