Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#348 Andy Stankiewicz

About the Front: Free advertising for both Franklin and Easton, plus we get to see Andy Stankiewicz's number 17 written on his bat knob.

About the Back: A 5' 9", 27-year-old rookie? I predict big things for this kid.

Triple Play:

1. Andy had a career-high four hits in five tries while batting leadoff against the Royals on June 24, 1992.

2. He extended his career as a utility player in the National League with Houston (1994-1995), Montreal (1996-1997), and Arizona (1998).

3. He's worked in baseball as a coach and scout since 2002, spending time in the Yankees and Mariners organizations and also at Arizona State University. He was hired as the head coach at Grand Canyon University in 2012.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Stankiewicz" has never not been funny to me. It's not a name that says "top-flight athlete".

Bill James Said: "The Yankees tried to deal Gallego last spring, but had no takers, then Gallego got hot, which left them with an extra infielder." Thus, Andy went from 116 games in New York in '92 to 16 contests (with a humbling 0-for-9 at the plate) in '93.

On This Date in 1993: Norman Vincent Peale, a controversial Christian minister and author best-known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking, dies at age 95 in Pawling, NY.

NOTE: This will be my last blog post until January 5. Call it a Christmas vacation. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

#347 Luis Sojo

About the Front: Either this photo is cropped to exclude Luis Sojo's presumably-dropped bat, or he's pushing an invisible wheelbarrow.

About the Back: R. Howard Webster was a very rich Canadian man who co-founded the Expos and was one of the driving forces behind the group that founded the Blue Jays.

Triple Play:

1. He was a member of five World Series winners with the Blue Jays (1993) and Yankees (1996, 1998-2000).

2. Luis won five Venezuelan Winter League batting titles in the decade spanning 1989-1990 to 1999-2000.

3. He has remained with the Yankees organization since retiring in 2002, which includes a stint as the big league third base coach (2004-2005) and eight years as a manager in the low minors. He spent 2014 on the coaching staff for the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never could describe Sojo's unique physical appearance until my college roommate Mikey (a Yankee fan) mentioned that the second baseman looked like a weathered old pirate. Yarrrr!

Bill James Said: "He's basically a second baseman which, since Alomar rarely misses a game, wasn't much use to the Blue Jays, who needed a backup shortstop and somebody to play third if they pinch hit for Sprague." Sojo played only 19 games in Toronto after they re-acquired him from the Angels, but moved on to Seattle in 1994 and saw more playing time.

On This Date in 1993: December 23. The Athletics sign Dave Righetti as a free agent. It's a doomed pairing, as he allows 13 runs in seven innings and earns his release on April 27.

Monday, December 22, 2014

#346 Chuck McElroy

About the Front: Chuck McElroy's follow-through sees him finish at a 45-degree angle to the mound.

About the Back: As you may have guessed, that was the only triple of Chuck's career. He batted a passable .214 (9-for-42) in his career, with three doubles and no home runs.

Triple Play:

1. While pitching for the Rockies in 1998, he set a new personal high by pitching in 78 games, posting a 6-4 record with two saves and a 2.90 ERA (179 ERA+).

2. In a 13-year career, Chuck pitched in 654 games, and made just seven starts. All of his starts came with the Orioles in 2000-2001, and while the total returns weren't anything to write home about (3-1, 4.41 ERA, 14 BB/12 K/7 HR in 34.2 IP), his debut as a starter was a good effort. The lefty shut out Oakland on three hits over five innings, earning the win in the opener of a doubleheader on September 20, 2000.

3. His son C.J. was the Cardinals' third-round draft pick in 2011. As a 21-year-old outfielder for Class A Peoria in 2014, the younger McElroy batted .267/.342/.298 with 41 steals in 59 tries.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It's pronounced "MACK-uhl-roy", not "Mick-EL-roy", as I used to think.

Bill James Said: "His strikeout rate dropped from 8.89 strikeouts per nine innings to 5.94, and his batting average allowed shot through the roof." That's how you go from a 3.55 ERA to a 4.56 in a year.

On This Date in 1993: December 22. Calvin and Hobbes are at their best when there's implied violence afoot.

Friday, December 19, 2014

#345 Harold Baines

About the Front: In 1992, the Athletics celebrated their 25th anniversary in Oakland with this monstrously ugly logo patch, which can be seen on Harold Baines' right sleeve.

About the Back: After the 1992 season, Harold's knees were in such bad shape that he spent the last nine seasons (986 games total) exclusively as a DH, save for two innings in right field with the White Sox in 1997.

Triple Play:

1. Baines was famously scouted by Chicago owner Bill Veeck when the former was still playing Little League on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. (Veeck lived nearby at the time.)

2. His solo home run off of Milwaukee's Chuck Porter on May 9, 1984 gave the White Sox a 7-6, 25-inning win in the longest game in MLB history. It had started the night before, was suspended in the 18th inning, and resumed prior to the next day's scheduled game. The total game time was eight hours and six minutes.

3. Chicago retired his number 3 jersey in August of 1989 after trading the longtime favorite to the Rangers for a package including a young Sammy Sosa. He became the third player to have his number retired while still active, joining Frank Robinson and Phil Niekro. Harold returned to the Pale Hose twice before retiring, for one and a half seasons in 1996-1997 and then again at the end of his career (2000-2001). He has been on the team's coaching staff for the last decade.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Baines was one of my favorite players. Despite being close to immobile by the time he got to Baltimore in 1993, he just kept hitting effectively, all the way up until age 42. Just as with Chicago, he had three separate stints with the O's, and hit a cumulative .301/.379/.502 (127 OPS+) in 666 games with the hometown team.

Bill James Said: "Pulled past 2,000 hits in late July; the odds against his getting 3,000 are about 20 to 1." As I mentioned, Harold hung in there until the 21st century, and finished with 2,866 hits, still good for 43rd-most all-time.

On This Date in 1993: December 19. Cory Snide, an actor and dancer best known for portraying the titular role in the Broadway musical Billy Elliott, is born.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

#344 Jack McDowell

About the Front: The White Sox really do have some of the best cards in this set. Here, Jack McDowell celebrates with Robin Ventura and Carlton Fisk at the end of the game. This game was most likely the August 23, 1992 contest between Chicago and Kansas City. McDowell held the Royals to one run, a George Brett solo homer, and won 3-1. Ventura also homered and hit a double.

About the Back: You couldn't mention Jack McDowell in the mid-90s without referring to his rock star stylings. Wayne Edwards was a reliever with the Pale Hose from 1989 through 1991, and Lee Plemel was a Stanford teammate of McDowell's. Plemel was the Cardinals' fifth-round pick in 1988, but never made it past AA.

Triple Play:

1. Jack was the 1993 Cy Young Award winner in the American League, leading the loop with a 22-10 record and four shutouts. He posted a 3.37 ERA in 256.2 innings.

2. McDowell's last full, effective season came with the Yankees in 1995, following a money-saving trade by the White Sox. He was 15-10 with a 3.93 ERA that, while worse than his previous standards, gave him an above-average ERA+ (118). He infamously flipped off the home crowd in the Bronx after being yanked from a blowout loss, and later gave up the winning hit to Edgar Martinez in the do-or-die fifth game of the 1995 ALCS. Injuries marred his subsequent stints in Cleveland and Anaheim, and he retired after the Angels released him in 1999.

3. He is currently the manager of the Dodgers' rookie league team in the Pioneer Baseball League, the Ogden Raptors.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Black Jack" was the toast of the American League when I got into baseball. I certainly didn't expect his career to derail in 1996.

Bill James Said: "A short list of quality pitchers who had musical careers on the side: Denny McLain, Mudcat Grant, Nelson Briles."

On This Date in 1993: December 18. Omar Bongo (great name) is re-elected as president of Gabon in the African country's first multi-party election.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#343 Doug Henry

About the Front: This photo captures Doug Henry in mid-windup, and shows how he might be able to hide the ball from the batter at that point in his delivery. That's just one of the many things pitchers do to try and gain the advantage on every pitch.

About the Back: The bio mentions Henry's College World Series complete game. Not only did he never throw a complete game in 582 big league appearances, he never made a single start.

Triple Play:

1. During his excellent rookie season of 1991, Doug did not allow a run in his last 14 appearances, limiting the opposition to four hits and three walks in 12.2 innings.

2. In 18 career matchups with Sammy Sosa, he held the slugger to an 0-for-17 collar with a single walk and five strikeouts.

3. He has coached in the Braves and Royals organizations since 2005.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: If I had been able to gaze into the future to see this later-career headshot of Henry, it would have given me the heebie-jeebies.

Bill James Said: "Had 17 saves but seven blown saves, the poorest percentage (71%) in the American League (for a pitcher with 20 save opportunities)."

On This Date in 1993: December 17. What's Eating Gilbert Grape, starring Johnny Depp and a young Leonardo DiCaprio, premieres in theatres.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#342 Erik Hanson

About the Front: Could Erik Hanson look any less at ease? I'm also wondering if the bat rack behind him is full of wax-coated paper cups. Baseball players tend to do crap like that when they're bored.

About the Back: Unfortunately for Erik, there was another 17-loss season in his future. He went 13-17 with a 5.41 ERA for Toronto in 1996, but avoided leading the American League in losses for a second time thanks to Jim Abbott's disastrous 2-18 mark.

Triple Play:

1. In 1990, Hanson became the first righty pitcher in Seattle history to strike out 200 batters.

2. While pitching for the Red Sox in 1995, he made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He was 7-2 with a 3.60 ERA at the break, and finished 15-5 with a 4.24 ERA.

3. Erik last pitched in the majors in 1998, choosing not to endure Tommy John surgery and rehabiliation on torn ligaments in his right elbow. He soon took up golf, and is a talented amateur.
11-Year-Old Kevin Says: That "M's" baseball logo is pretty silly in hindsight. Of course, my favorite team still includes "O's" as part of its branding...

Bill James Said: "If you're looking at me to explain the trade, look somewhere else." The Mariners had just traded Hanson, a year away from free agency, to Cincinnati along with rookie second baseman Bret Boone. In return, they received reliever Bobby Ayala and rookie catcher Dan Wilson.

On This Date in 1993: December 16. The Brazilian Supreme Court bans ex-President Fernando Collor de Mello from holding any political office until 2000 due to corruption.

Monday, December 15, 2014

#341 Mel Rojas

About the Front: Under the shade of his cap, we have a good look at Mel Rojas' eyes, which are pointed forward towards the batter, just like his left elbow, knee, and foot.

About the Back: A 5-3 record down the stretch at Burlington? Topps sure knows how to whip prospect hounds into a frenzy.

Triple Play:

1. Rojas is the nephew of the Alou brothers - Matty, Jesus, and his Expos manager Felipe. His cousin, of course, is former Montreal teammate Moises Alou.

2. He saved a career-high 36 games in 1996, posting a 7-4 record and a 3.22 ERA.

3. For the past three years, Mel has been the pitching coach for the Padres' Dominican Summer League club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I probably would have assumed that Mel was short for Melvin. In fact, it's Melquiades.

Bill James Said: "He had a tough time as a closer and continued to pitch so-so until the break, but posted a 2.04 ERA over the second half, winding up with good stats."

On This Date in 1993: December 15. The White Sox sign Julio Franco to a one-year free agent deal. The 35-year-old will bat .319/.406/.510 with 20 home runs and 98 RBI, winning a Silver Slugger Award, and then jump to Japan for 1995.

Friday, December 12, 2014

#340 John Kruk

About the Front: Sadly, this isn't John Kruk at his grungy 1993 peak, with his long sweaty mullet, goatee, and uniform slathered in dirt and pine tar. It's funny to see how different he looked just one year earlier.

About the Back: Ah, that looks a bit more like the Krukker I remember.

Triple Play:

1. Here's one I just discovered. At AA Beaumont in 1983, John pitched in three games, totaling five scoreless innings. He allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out three.

2. In a losing effort in the 1993 World Series, Kruk batted .348/.500/.391 with four runs batted in.

3. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the spring of 1994, and made a full recovery after having one of his testicles surgically removed. The following year, he abruptly retired from the White Sox after singling in his first at-bat on July 30. The base hit brought his career batting average up to an even .300, and his on-base percentage across ten seasons was .397.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: One of the first great baseball moments I witnessed live was Kruk's heart-stopping at-bat against Randy Johnson in the 1993 All-Star Game.

Bill James Said: "You probably know as much about him as I do, a fun guy with a bad body and a chaw of tobacco that would choke a T-Rex."

On This Date in 1993: December 12. Peter Boross becomes the prime minister of Hungary after the death of Jozsef Antall.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

#339 Mark Clark

About the Front: I wonder if any longtime Cardinals fans felt a chill run down their spines when they saw the tarp lurking in the background of this photo.

About the Back: In this portrait, Mark Clark bears some physical resemblance to current Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Triple Play:

1. Mark four-hit the Padres on July 6, 1992 for his first career shutout.

2. Went a career-best 11-3 with a 3.82 ERA (122 ERA+) for the Indians in 1994.

3. On June 14, 1997, Clark hit his only career home run, a solo shot off of Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I can't believe anyone's parents would be so cruel as to name them "Mark Clark".

Bill James Said: "Before going on the DL he had a 5.70 ERA; afterward (six starts) it was 2.09."

On This Date in 1993: December 11. A block of the Highland Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia collapses, killing 48 people.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#338 Bob Ojeda

About the Front: Bob Ojeda wore #17 with the Dodgers because #19 (which he'd worn as a Met) was retired for Jim Gilliam.

About the Back: As we all know, a nine-hit shutout requires the use of the term "scattered". You can reach back to April 14, 1988 for Ojeda's lowest-hit shutout, a two-hitter against the Expos. In that game, the lefty stranded the bases loaded while clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning.

Triple Play:

1. Bob was the winning pitcher in the longest game in pro baseball history as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox in 1981. He relieved Bruce Hurst in the top of the 33rd inning, got three outs without allowing a run, and benefited from Dave Koza's RBI single in the home half.

2. He beat his former Boston teammates in Game Three of the 1986 World Series, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. He also started the fateful Game Six, yielding only two runs in six innings, but departing with a no-decision.

3. Late in the 1988 season, the tip of Ojeda's left middle finger was severed by an electric hedge trimmer while he was doing yard work at home. The digit was repaired in an emergency surgery, but he missed the playoffs, and the Mets were bounced from the NLCS by the Dodgers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My introduction to Bob Ojeda was as the sole survivor of the tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of Cleveland teammates Tim Crews and Steve Olin in early 1993.

Bill James Said: "Highly traumatic events, however, change people in unpredictable ways; it might make him feel that there is more to life than baseball, or it might push him to a new level of dedication." In Ojeda's case, his career was just about over. He allowed eight runs in three innings for the Yankees in 1994 and that was that.

On This Date in 1993: December 10. The computer game Doom, an influential first-person shooter with cutting-edge 3D graphics, is released by id Software.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#337 Kirt Manwaring

About the Front: This is a pretty good shot of Kirt Manwaring jumping up from his crouch to field a bunt, but the choice to crop only half of the Expos batter is lame. Either zoom in and give us a solo photo of the catcher, or zoom out and let us see the entire scene.

About the Back: The inclusion of that caught-stealing stat from AA is baffling for two reasons: first, Manwaring played for Shreveport in 1987, not 1989; second, a 33% rate is not noteworthy in and of itself.

Triple Play:

1. In 1993, he threw out 45.9% percent of would-be base stealers and had a .998 fielding percentage and a defensive WAR of 2.4. These were the best marks across the board for a National League catcher, and resulted in Kirt's only career Gold Glove.

2. The penultimate of Manwaring's 21 career home runs was hit on July 15, 1999 - his 34th birthday.

3. He is currently the minor league catching coordinator for the Giants.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: "Kirt", as in "dirt", is a weird way to spell that name.

Bill James Said: "I still don't believe he is any kind of a hitter, but the Giants had a great year with him catching, so it will take him years to play himself out of a job."

On This Date in 1993: December 9. Alternative rockers The Verve Pipe release their album Pop Smear, which I mention only because of its disturbingly punny title.

Monday, December 8, 2014

#336 Mike Pagliarulo

About the Front: I assume that Mike Pagliarulo is tracking the flight of a pop-up as he holds up on the basepaths. He looks like he's being tugged in two different directions.

About the Back: If you were listing players with 30-homer seasons, how long would it take you to remember Pags?

Triple Play:

1. In addition to the ALCS homer mentioned on the card back, Pagliarulo also had a go-ahead longball against John Smoltz in the seventh inning of Game Four of the 1991 World Series. However, Atlanta rallied to win that contest.

2. He missed out on the players' strike in 1994, having signed a free agent deal the previous offseason with Japan's Seibu Lions. He batted .263/.362/.418 in 80 games with the Lions, then finished his career back in the majors with the Rangers in 1995.

3. After his playing career ended, Mike had a scouting website known as Baseline Report. He is currently the hitting coach for Pittsburgh's AAA Indianapolis club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Pags was an underrated midseason pickup for my Orioles in 1993, batting .325/.373/.556 with nine doubles, six home runs, and 21 RBI in 33 games down the stretch. I particularly remember his grand slam off of Nolan Ryan.

Bill James Said: "He's a free agent, and I wouldn't touch him with a 20-foot pole."

On This Date in 1993: December 8. President Bill Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into law.

Friday, December 5, 2014

#335 Mark Portugal

About the Front: I should be keeping a mullet count for this set. I can't see the front, but it's definitely a party in the back for the Houston hurler.

About the Back: All the Twins got in return for Mark Portugal was a Player to Be Named Later, who wound up being minor league pitcher Todd McClure. McClure was out of baseball within a year of the deal. Smooth move, Minnesota.

Triple Play:

1. Mark tossed 10 shutout innings against the Phillies on June 11, 1991, allowing six hits and one walk and striking out seven. But Houston failed to score after pinch hitting for their starter and stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth. Roger McDowell walked Ken Oberkfell in the 11th to force in the winning run, at least giving Portugal's team the victory even if he himself was stuck with an unlucky no-decision.

2. He was the 1994 Silver Slugger Award winner as the National League's best-hitting pitcher. In 54 trips to the plate, he hit .354 and slugged .500 with five doubles, a triple, and eight runs batted in.

3. One of the top Google recommendations when I searched for "mark portugal" was "mark portugal sandwich". Intrigued, I clicked around and learned that there is indeed a sandwich named after the pitcher at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, a whimsically-named Houston pub that Portugal frequented during his Astros tenure. The lunch fare was personally created by the righty: Boar's Head roasted turkey, avocado, Muenster cheese, mayo, and bacon on a French roll. It sounds tasty, though I'd probably hold the mayo.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Down the stretch in 1993, I remember Portugal having a personal 12-game win streak, allowing him to finish the season 18-4 with a 2.77 ERA. It was an impressive run: over his last 16 starts he was 12-0 with a 1.99 ERA. Incidentally, it was the pitcher's only 15-win season in 15 tries.

Bill James Said: "He has a complete set of tools - fastball, curve, slider, the famous change-up."

On This Date in 1993: December 5. Doug Hopkins, co-founder and lead guitarist of the Gin Blossoms, commits suicide by gunshot while in the early stages of psychiatric treatment for alcoholism. He is 32 years old at the time of his death.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

#334 Jason Kendall

About the Front: Why so sullen, Jason Kendall? The Pirates were still perennial contenders when they drafted you.

About the Back: Fred Kendall's big league career spanned from 1969 through 1980, primarily with the Padres, and he hit .234/.285/.312. He peaked with San Diego in 1973, with a line of .282/.320/.396, 10 homers, and 59 RBI. You may also recognize the name of Jack Zduriencik, who is now the GM of the Seattle Mariners.

Triple Play:

1. Jason was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates, all within his first five seasons (1996, 1998, 2000). In 1998, he batted .327/.411/.473 with 12 home runs and a career-best 75 RBI. He also stole 26 bases in 31 tries and led the National League with 31 times hit-by-pitch.

2. He broke his ankle in a nasty mishap while running to first base in July 1999 and missed the rest of the season. He returned to play another 11 seasons in the big leagues, but his offensive game soon declined. From 2001-2010 he batted .277/.350/.345 with 30 homers in 1,432 games, compared to .314/.402/.456 with 45 homers in 653 games in the first five years of his career. Ankle injury aside, Kendall had the heaviest workload among modern catchers, topping 140 games eight times. That almost certainly took a toll on his hitting.

3. While with the Royals in 2010, Jason and teammate Willie Bloomquist struck upon a dream of becoming a two-man bobsled team in future Winter Olympics contests. Earlier this year, Bloomquist claimed that they're still hopeful of competing in South Korea in 2018, despite the fact that neither man has begun training in the other sport.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: For whatever reason, it didn't occur to me that a lot of these draft pick photos depicted the young subject in a slapped-together uniform. With a more critical eye, I can now see that Kendall's mesh Pirates jersey with its yellow lettering on white fabric is a bit less than authentic.

Bill James Said: Jason batted .276 with a single home run and 40 RBI at Class A Augusta in 1993, which wasn't enough to put the 19-year-old in Bill's crosshairs for this book.

On This Date in 1993: December 4. A truce between the Angolan government and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels comes to an end. Civil war in the western African nation had begun in 1975, and will continue until 2002.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#333 Otis Nixon

About the Front: Here's an action shot that's pretty cut and dried. Unless my eyes deceive me, Otis Nixon has just laid down a bunt for the visiting Braves against the Cubs. If the bunt landed in fair territory, that would place us on May 5, 1992, a Tuesday afternoon game at Wrigley. In the first inning, Otis unsuccessfully bunted for a leadoff hit, as Mark Grace fielded the ball and tossed to Ryne Sandberg covering first base. In the top of the ninth, with the scored tied 3-3, the first two Atlanta  runners reached against Bob Scanlan. Nixon then bunted back to Scanlan, who threw to Sandberg at first for the putout. It was all in vain, as pinch hitter Jerry Willard was intentionally walked and Terry Pendleton followed with an inning-ending double play. Chicago won it in the bottom of the tenth with a Rey Sanchez sacrifice fly off of Alejandro Pena.

About the Back: At this point in his career, Otis had six home runs and 305 steals. Naturally, Topps talked up a pair of his few deep flies. I guess it's not just chicks that dig the long ball.

Triple Play:

1. His younger brother Donell patrolled the outfield for the Mariners, Giants, and Orioles from 1987 through 1990.

2. Otis set a National League record on June 16, 1991 by stealing six bases in six tries against the Expos, including three successful swipes of third base. In a big league career that spanned parts of 17 seasons, he was 620-for-806 (77%) in steals, 16th all-time.

3. Nixon battled drug and alcohol abuse throughout his career, and was thought to have rehabilitated himself following a suspension for cocaine use in 1991. He opened up his home as a halfway house for paroled felons, but in 2013 was accused of scamming the families of prisoners who were not even parole-eligible and lost his approved designation. A few months later, he was pulled over in Atlanta for erratic driving and was found to be in possession of a crack pipe and other drug paraphernalia. He passed sobriety tests and claimed that the items in question belonged to his son.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Otis was in his mid-thirties by the time I got into baseball, and he looked even older.

Bill James Said: "With men on he tends not to bunt, and this takes away his best weapon."

On This Date in 1993: December 3. Calvin and Hobbes? Don't mind if I do!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#332 Geno Petralli

About the Front: I didn't remember the "T" insignia on the Rangers' helmets being so razor-thin.

About the Back: Here's the box score from the game described. Geno's three-run blast was the go-ahead hit, and came against Mike Schooler. It was one of six pinch-homers in his career, and the only home run he hit in 1992. You might as well make it count!

Triple Play:

1. His father Gene was a minor league first baseman from 1948 through 1953. He batted .274 and slugged .434, and topped out at AAA, where he played 25 games in the Yankees and White Sox organizations.

2. Petralli set a dubious modern-day record in 1987 with 35 passed balls, including six in one game and four in a single inning. As you may have guessed, he had the unenviable task of catching Charlie Hough's knuckleballs that season...or trying to catch them.

3. Geno's son James is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the rock band White Denim. They have released six albums and opened for Wilco on the group's Winter 2012 west coast tour.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Geno looks like somebody shrunk Rafael Palmeiro.

Bill James Said: "Has had a nine-year career as Texas' backup catcher, which is a rarity (the Jamie Quirk of the Rangers?)."

On This Date in 1993: December 2. A couple of big moves on the Hot Stove. Eddie Murray signs a four-year contract with the Indians, and the Phillies trade closer and World Series goat Mitch Williams to the Astros for pitchers Jeff Juden and Doug Jones.

Monday, December 1, 2014

#331 Kenny Lofton

About the Front: Kenny Lofton is showing shades of Willie Mays, who supposedly wore an oversized cap on the field. The idea was that if his cap flew off of his head while he was tearing around the bases or the outfield, he would appear to be even faster than he actually was.

About the Back: Vince Coleman is the major league record holder for steals by a rookie, with 110 in 1985.

Triple Play:

1. Lofton attended the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship, and was a backup point guard to Craig McMillan and Steve Kerr on the Wildcats' 1988 Final Four team. He left college as UA's all-time steals leader in basketball.

2. He led the American League in stolen bases in each of his first five seasons, including a career-high 75 in 92 tries in 1996. In a 17-year career, he totaled 622 swipes, 15th-most in history.

3. Despite his bona fides as a base stealer, an excellent center fielder, and a hitter (.299/.372/.423), Kenny received only 3.2% of the vote when he debuted on the crowded Hall of Fame ballot in 2013 and was rendered ineligible for future election. He now has a TV production company, FilmPool Inc., and has done postgame commentary for Dodgers' TV broadcasts.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It seems like Kenny Lofton robbed the Orioles of at least one home run each time he faced them.

Bill James Said: "Also took 81% of the available extra bases on hits (such as going first to third on a single), the best of any major league player."

On This Date in 1993: December 1. A train accident occurs at Tattenham Corner railway station in Surrey, England. The driver is three times over the legal limit for alcohol consumption and crashes through a wooden station building, but luckily there are no fatalities. He will spend nine months in prison.

Friday, November 28, 2014

#330 Danny Tartabull

About the Front: You can see the seams on Danny Tartabull's pants where the pinstripes meet. It kind of messes up the visual, but what can you do?

About the Back: Tartabull used to torment the Orioles. For his career, he had a batting line of .301/.378/.548 in 96 games against Baltimore, with 22 home runs and 80 RBI. In 1991, he hit .523 (23 for 44) vs. the O's with five homers. When asked about his strategy for facing Danny in an upcoming series that year, Oriole manager Johnny Oates said:

“I’m going to find out what his room number is and call the hotel and say, ‘Cancel my wakeup call’. Then I’m going to call the cab companies and tell them not to have any taxis in front of the hotel; we’ll make him walk to the ball park. Then I’ll tell security not to let him in without an ID. Then I’ll tell Freddy (Tyler, the clubhouse man) to burn his uniform, and if he still makes it, I’ll walk him.”

Triple Play:

1. His father Jose was an outfielder for the Athletics and Red Sox from 1962 through 1970, batting .261/.303/.320 with just two home runs in 749 career games.

2. Danny was the 1985 Pacific Coast League MVP with the Calgary Cannons, Seattle's AAA affiliate. He batted .300/.385/.615 with 43 homers and 109 RBI in 125 games, becoming the first pro shortstop to hit 40 longballs in a season since Ernie Banks.

3. Recently, Tartabull has received unwanted attention by topping a list of deadbeat dads in Los Angeles. He owed over $276,000 in unpaid child support and failed to show up to serve a 180-day jail sentence in 2013.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember how unusual it seemed to see Danny as an outfielder/second baseman with the Mariners on his 1987 Topps card.

Bill James Said: "Had almost the same stats as Gil Hodges in 1952 (32 homers, 102 RBI, .254, .500 slugging percentage." Tartabull's 1993 stats were 31 HR, 102 RBI, .250 AVG, .503 SLG.

On This Date in 1993: November 28. The British paper The Observer reports that the national government has an existing channel of communications with Northern Ireland's paramilitary organization, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA. The British government had previously denied this.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

#329 Mike Maddux

About the Front: The Padres were one of the early adopters in the MLB's 1990s pinstripe craze. Who actually thought that teams like the Angels and Astros needed pinstripes?

About the Back: Maddux was coming off of the best two-year stretch of his career, appearing in a total of 114 games for San Diego with a 2.42 ERA (153 ERA+).

Triple Play:

1. Mike is the only major leaguer to play college ball at the University of Texas at El Paso. The school dropped baseball in 1985, three years after he left.

2. He started 48 games in his career. His only shutout was a rain-shortened five-inning effort on April 29, 1989. The Reds reached him for only two hits, and the Phillies supported their starter with eight runs, highlighted by a Chris James grand slam.

3. Maddux got right into coaching after his pitching career ended in 2000, spending two-plus seasons with the AA Round Rock Express before a six-year stint as Brewers' pitching coach. Since 2009, he has been the pitching coach of the Texas Rangers.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never thought that Mike much resembled his younger brother Greg. Must be the mustache.

Bill James Said: "Can you name the only other Cy Young Award winners whose brothers also pitched? There were two of them. Gaylord and Jim Perry each had a brother who won the award." Eh, the Niekros were robbed. Plus, if the award had existed in the 1930s, Dizzy and Daffy Dean would make the cut.

On This Date in 1993: November 26. Remember Bob Packwood, the Republican U.S. Senator from Oregon who was charged with sexual abuse and assault towards ten women?  Back on November 26, 1993, he was clinging to his job despite calls to resign. Ultimately, he stepped down in the fall of 1995.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#328 Scott Ruskin

About the Front: Scott Ruskin's eyes are cloaked in shadow from the bill of his cap. Very mysterious.

About the Back: Look at how closely most of Scott's stats align from 1991 to 1992: 4-4 followed by 4-3, 46 and 43 strikeouts, and in both seasons he allowed 31 total runs, 30 of which were earned. Of course, he pitched 10 fewer innings in 1992 than he had in the previous year. Whoops.

Triple Play:

1. Ruskin was drafted as a first baseman/outfielder and batted .297/.363/.483 in 144 games at Class A ball, but switched to pitching after hitting only .223/.278/.317 in 90 games at AA Harrisburg in 1988.

2. He doubled off of Dodgers reliever Ray Searage on July 22, 1990 for his first major league hit, then scored on a Jay Bell single.

3. Scott finally completed his bachelor's degree in computer and information science from the University of Florida in 2003.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Ruskin's name reminds me of Luskin's, a local electronics chain run by Jack and Joe Luskin that claimed to be "the cheapest guy in town"; they went out of business in 1996. Jack Luskin's daughter Jamie co-owned the Dodgers with ex-husband Frank McCourt, but that all ended pretty poorly, as I recall.

Bill James Said: "Ruskin pitched four times for Cincinnati in September, getting a total of three men out, and was released after the season." The Royals signed him in December of 1993, but he never pitched in pro ball again.

On This Date in 1993: November 25. The Miami Dolphins topped the Dallas Cowboys 16-14 in a rare snowy Thanksgiving Day game in Irving, TX. You might remember Leon Lett's gaffe.

Monday, November 24, 2014

#327 Tim Hulett

About the Front: Some day I will tell my children that I watched baseball before there were advertisements all over the dugouts.
About the Back: How many guys can say that they were managed in college by a Hall of Famer?

Triple Play:

1. Fun with small sample sizes! In 39 plate appearances with runners in scoring position during the 1992 season, Tim batted .417/.462/.639.

2. His son Tim Jr., also known as "Tug", played for the Mariners in 2008 and the Royals in 2009, totaling 45 games and batting .194/.270/.254.

3. Hulett has coached the Rangers' low-A level Spokane Indians club for the past eight seasons. He also coaches at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, LA, and has led the Evangel Eagles to five high school state titles.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: On July 22, 1992, Hulett's four sons were walking back to their Cockeysville, MD home from a playground when six-year-old Sam darted into the path of a car and was struck. He died from his injuries the next day. It was a sad and prominent news story in this area.

Bill James Said: "He got a chance to play at third base when Gomez was hurt (and not playing well), and hit .300 (with a secondary average of .173)." In other words, Tim hit singles and very little else.

On This Date in 1993: November 24. Mrs. Doubtfire, the gender-bending Robin Williams comedy, debuts in theatres.

Friday, November 21, 2014

#326 Gary Varsho

About the Front: You normally don't see a player down in a crouch in the on-deck circle, bat knob resting against his shoulder. I'll give Gary Varsho the benefit of the doubt and assume that there's a pitching change or some other break in the action. I also can't identify the blurry teammates behind him. Both Don Slaught and Mike LaValliere had great bushy mustaches, so the catcher could be either one of them.

About the Back: Varsho is an example of the rare bats-left, throws-right player.

Triple Play:

1. In 1985 and 1986, Gary became the first back-to-back stolen base champion in the AA Eastern League, as he swiped a total of 85 bags in 104 tries for the Pittsfield Cubs.

2. He made 352 pinch hit appearances in eight big league seasons, with a .243/.296/.355 line and four home runs in those situations.

3. Varsho is currently an advance scout for the Angels. He was previously a minor league manager in the Seattle and Philadelphia farm systems, and coached in the majors for the Phillies and Pirates.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never noticed before, but he appears incredibly close to the dugout in the front photo.

Bill James Said: "He's an excellent baserunner and a good outfielder, although he lacks a strong arm."

On This Date in 1993: November 21. Actor and director Bill Bixby, best known for his portrayal of Dr. David Banner on TV's The Incredible Hulk, passes away at age 59 after battling prostate cancer.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#325 Bill Gullickson

About the Front: Bill Gullickson's expression says, "Cecil Fielder just let a ground ball scoot through his legs, and I need to turn around and stare off into space before my eyes roll out of my head."

About the Back: Gullickson led the Giants in wins in 1988, with a sharp 3.10 ERA in 203.1 innings. He made only 15 starts in 1989, dropping to 7-5 with a 3.65 ERA. His manager with Yomiuri in 1988 was Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh.

Triple Play:

1. He was drafted second overall in 1977, right behind top pick Harold Baines. (We'll visit with Harold later.)

2. On September 10, 1980, Bill set a big league rookie record by striking out 18 Cubs in a four-hit, two-run complete game victory. He allowed only two walks, and his record stood until Kerry Wood whiffed 20 Astros in 1998.

3. Gullickson and his wife Sandy have six children, all of whom became involved in athletics. Most notably, daughter Carly is a former professional tennis player. She was active from 2003-2013, peaking with a #123 world ranking in singles and #52 in doubles. Carly and partner Travis Parrott were mixed doubles champions at the 2009 US Open.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Another card from my modest early childhood (pre-fandom) collection that still sticks with me years later is Bill's 1988 Topps card, featuring a tight closeup on his grimacing face, cloaked in shadow from the underbill of his Yankees cap.

Bill James Said: "Opened the season on the disabled list following off-season surgery to both his knee and his shoulder, and struggled most of the year." Gullickson had the worst season yet in his career, with a run support-inflated 13-9 record offset by his 5.37 ERA and 28 homers allowed in 159.1 innings. The 1994 season (4-5, 5.93 ERA, 24 HR in 115.1 IP) would be his last.

On This Date in 1993: November 20. LPGA golfer Heather Farr dies at age 28 after a four-year battle with breast cancer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#324 Willie Randolph

About the Front: This is the final Topps card of Willie Randolph's long career, as he hung up his spikes after spending his age-37 season with the Mets. He had grown up rooting for the Mets, and took #12 as a nod to Ken Boswell, the team's former second baseman.

About the Back: Topps didn't include on-base percentage on its card backs in 1993, so you can't see that Willie reached base at a .373 clip for his career.

Triple Play:

1. He was a six-time All-Star and was widely regarded as a strong defensive second baseman. However, Lou Whitaker and Frank White monopolized the American League's Gold Glove at the keystone during Randolph's prime.

2. Willie's younger brother Terry played defensive back for the Green Bay Packers in 1977.

3. He spent a decade coaching for the Yankees before returning to the Mets as manager. Though he led the team to a .554 winning percentage in three-plus seasons, including a trip to the NLCS in 2006, he was fired 69 games into the 2008 season. Randolph then coached for the Brewers and Orioles through 2011.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never would have guessed back then that I would some day complete the 1975 Topps set, which features Willie's rookie card.

Bill James Said: No he didn't, since as I mentioned, Randolph retired after the 1992 season.

On This Date in 1993: November 19. Joey Gallo is born. The Rangers will draft him with a first-round compensation pick in June 2012, and he will go on to hit 104 home runs in his first 296 minor league games while striking out 429 times. Pete Incaviglia, eat your heart out.