Friday, February 21, 2014

#167 Steve Olin

About the Front: Sadly, Steve Olin had already died by the time most collectors saw his final card from Topps. On March 22, 1993, he and a pair of new Cleveland teammates, pitchers Tim Crews and Bobby Ojeda, had spent a day off barbecuing and fishing at Crews' home on Little Lake Nellie in Florida. The trio took the host's 18-foot motorboat out on the water before 8:00 PM and crashed into a new dock while traveling in excess of 50 mph. Olin died instantly, and Crews died the following day; both fatalities were due to head injuries. Ojeda suffered a lacerated scalp and was rushed into surgery; he made a full recovery and returned to the Indians in midseason.

About the Back: Obviously it's not the most important thing, but it bears mentioning that Olin had established himself as Cleveland's closer in his final season.

Triple Play:

1. Steve threw with a submarine-style underhand delivery. When he entered home games from the Indians bullpen, The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" would be played over the PA system.

2. He made his only big league start on September 17, 1990, earning the win with seven innings of two-run ball against the Brewers. Moreover, it came just two days after he'd earned a save with three and two-thirds scoreless innings against the Royals.

3. When the Indians clinched the American League Central Division title in 1995, Mike Hargrove instructed the PA operator to play Olin's favorite song: Garth Brooks' "The Dance".

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I wasn't yet following the daily ins and outs of MLB when Olin was killed, but I remember learning about the accident months later. I imagine that the story would be more heavily scrutinized today, considering that alcohol was so closely linked to the incident.

Bill James Said: Nothing, as only players from the 1993 regular season were included in the book.

On This Date in 1993: February 21. Star Fox is released for the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo video game consoles. It is the first 3D Polygonal Star Fox title developed by Nintendo along with Argonaut Software.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

#166 Tim Scott

About the Front: Oh my God! Tim Scott's right arm is missing! How's that for a fun trick of perspective?

About the Back: Tim shares a November 16 birthday with Dwight Gooden, who is two years his senior.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first career save on September 8, 1993, relieving Kirk Rueter with two outs in the seventh inning and the tying runs in scoring position. He escaped the jam via a Daryl Boston popout, and kept the Rockies from scoring in the eighth and ninth innings as well.

2. Scott collected one hit in 15 career at-bats. It was a single off of Doug Henry of the Mets. Coincidentally, Tim was pitching in relief of Montreal starter Butch Henry.

3. Tim is now a corrections officer at California's Corcoran State Prison. He also served as head baseball coach at his alma mater, Hanford High School. He helmed the team until his son Preston graduated.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: The background design on the card back always looked like fencework to me. I haven't seen many blue picket fences in real life, but that doesn't mean they're not out there.

Bill James Said: "Had the Tommy John surgery when he was 21 (1987), and took several years to get back to full strength."

On This Date in 1993: February 20. Ferruccio Lamborghini dies at age 76. You might be familiar with the car company that the Italian businessman founded.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

#165 Jose Rijo

About the Front: Jose Rijo is rocking back to deliver a pitch in Wrigley, and that outfield ivy doesn't look very lush. His only early-season start in Chicago in 1992 came on May 8, and it wasn't pretty. Jose got chased after allowing three Cubbie runs on six hits in three innings, including a Joe Girardi solo homer. The wind must have been blowing out; the Reds came back to win 10-7 in 12 innings after putting up a four-spot in the final inning.

About the Back: The A's traded Rijo to the Reds along with pitcher Tim Birtsas in December 1987 in order to acquire slugger Dave Parker. Three seasons later, he went 2-0 with an 0.59 ERA against his old team in the Fall Classic. That had to sting.

Triple Play:

1. Jose married Juan Marichal's daughter Rosie in 1987, and subsequently started wearing Marichal's #27 on the back of his uniform. Although the couple divorced in 1991, Rijo kept the number for the duration of his career.

2. He made an incredible comeback at age 36 in 2001 after sitting out a full five seasons with elbow troubles. Pitching mostly in relief for the Reds, the righthander posted a 5-4 record with a 4.60 ERA in 94 total innings in 2001 and 2002. He also became the first player since Minnie Minoso in 1980 to play in the majors after having received a vote for the Hall of Fame.

3. After retiring, Jose worked for the Washington Nationals as a special assistant to GM Jim Bowden. In early 2009, it was revealed that shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez, one of Rijo's Dominican Republic finds, had falsified his identity and was four years older than the Nats had believed him to be. This ultimately cost Jose his position with the team.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I loved Rijo's 1994 Score card, which featured him brandishing a tiny water gun. The next year, Score ran with a picture of the veteran equipped with a larger aquatic assault weapon.

Bill James Said:"A wonderful, wonderful pitcher; one can certainly make an argument that he is the best pitcher in baseball, although I go with Maddux."

On This Date in 1993: February 19. Elton John ends a concert performance in Melbourne, Australia 30 minutes earlier than planned when a swarm of grasshoppers invades the stage.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#164 Leo Gomez

About the Front: The green padded backstop makes me think that we're in Fenway Park. It's even odds that Leo Gomez just cleared the Green Monster. Maybe this was part of his three-game HR streak in Boston in midsummer of 1992.

About the Back: Hey! Leo grew a mustache in the time it took to flip this card over!

Triple Play:

1. His only career walkoff home run was an 11th-inning tiebreaker off of the White Sox' Donn Pall on August 12, 1991.

2. He finished his career with a six-season stint with Japan's Chunichi Dragons, batting .293/.382/.532 with 153 home runs and 449 RBI and retiring in 2002.

3. Gomez returned to the Baltimore organization as a minor league coach in 2009. In 2011, he managed their short-season low-A Aberdeen IronBirds club to a 24-51 finish.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Just looking at this card is enough to make me think of Jon Miller calling him "LAY-o Gomez" on WBAL Radio play-by-play. That brings a smile to my face.

Bill James Said: "He was troubled by tendonitis and a cyst on his right wrist, plus his manager doesn't seem to believe in him, which often resolves itself by a trade." Gomez actually outlasted skipper Johnny Oates in Baltimore, batting .274/.366/.502 in a rebound performance in 1994 but losing his grip on the third base job again in '95 under new manager Phil Regan.

On This Date in 1993: February 18. The Red Sox sign free agent closer Jeff Russell. He will save 33 games in 37 chances with a 2.70 ERA in his only full season in Boston.

Monday, February 17, 2014

#163 Tim Wakefield

About the Front: You can tell that Tim Wakefield is a classy gent because he pitches with his pinky extended.

About the Back: If you feel cheated by Topps' failure to show Wakefield's batting stats, here you go: he batted .189/.328/.308 as a 21-year-old for Watertown. So...learning the knuckleball was probably a good call.

Triple Play:

1. He made his first and only All-Star team in 2009 at age 42, thanks largely to an 11-3 record at the break.

2. Later in his career, Tim had a unique contract with the Red Sox that had a perpetual year-to-year team option. As long as Boston was happy with his performance and he wished to continue, he could come back for another season. He ultimately pitched until 2011, his age 44 season, and retired with exactly 200 wins.

3. Wakefield is part owner of Turner's Yard, a restaurant in Pembroke, MA.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: By the time I caught on in 1993, Tim had already gone from rookie sensation to afterthought. The 186 wins and two World Series rings that he earned from that point forward were a surprise to say the least.

Bill James Said: "He's not a 'safe pick', but I think he'll have a good career." Yeah, you could say that.

On This Date in 1993: February 17. A ferry sinks in Haiti, killing about 1,215 of its 1,500 passengers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

#162 Joe Hesketh

About the Front: I always wondered what was the point of that finger hole in fielding gloves. It seems like it unnecessarily exposes your digit to the ball. What gives?
About the Back: You can see that Joe Hesketh played for three teams in 1990: the Expos, Braves, and Red Sox. Atlanta selected him off of waivers on April 30 and released him on July 24. Boston picked him up a week later to complete the trifecta.

Triple Play:

1. His promising 1985 season ended on August 23, when he tried to bowl over Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia on a play at the plate and instead suffered a broken leg.

2. As a swingman for the 1991 Red Sox, Joe led the league with a .750 winning percentage (12-4). He did most of his damage in the second half, going 10-3 with a 3.00 ERA.

3. He returned to his alma mater of SUNY-Buffalo as a coach during the 2006 through 2008 seasons.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Hesketh's exaggerated grimace on the front of this card sort of gave me the willies.

Bill James Said: "Posted a 2.81 ERA as a reliever (32 innings) and 0.68 in eight games after the All-Star break, but then developed tendonitis in his elbow, and missed the last six weeks."

On This Date in 1993: February 14. Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson suffers a non-fatal heart attack.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

#161 Chad McConnell

About the Front: As you can see, Chad McConnell's Creighton University Bluejays (yep, all one word) have borrowed the "Wishbone C" logo that is most closely associated with the Cincinnati Reds. The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs have also had this eblem on their caps in past years.

About the Back: Chad was the 13th overall selection in the 1992 draft, and it was a rough class for the Phillies. Five of their 50 picks made it to the majors, and that total includes Casey Blake, who did not sign out of high school. Excluding Blake, the rest of Philly's '92 draftees combined for a whopping 2.9 bWAR.

Triple Play:

1. He competed for Team USA at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, patrolling right field for the fourth-place finishers.

2. McConnell never made it to the big leagues, topping out at AA Reading and bowing out of pro ball after the 1996 season. In four minor league campaigns, he batted a cumulative .254/.346/.399 with 39 homers and 199 RBI in 417 games.

3. His signing bonus was a reported $500,000. Hopefully he invested it wisely.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: These draft pick cards drove me nuts. I never liked having to flip a card over to figure out which team drafted the guy.

Bill James Said: Zilch. Chad was too new.

On This Date in 1993: February 12. The beloved romantic comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, debuts in theatres. "I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

#160 Lou Whitaker

About the Front: Lou Whitaker is giving someone the side-eye. Whoever it is, they probably pointed out that Lou's black wristband doesn't fit Detroit's navy-and-orange color scheme.

About the Back: It's odd to see Whitaker's 109 games played in 1981 in red italics, indicating that he tied for the league lead. The midseason strike that year is to blame, of course.

Triple Play:

1. He partnered with shortstop Alan Trammell to form the longest-tenured double play combo in MLB history, as they both played in the Tigers' middle infield regularly from 1978 through 1995.

2. Lou made it to the 1985 All-Star Game in Minnesota, but most of his uniform did not. He left it in his car at the airport in Detroit, and a replacement uniform got lost in transit. He wound up wearing a mesh cap and replica jersey from a merchandise stand at the Metrodome, with a clubhouse attendant stenciling a #1 on the back of the shirt with marker. The second baseman borrowed an Indians batting helmet from Bert Blyleven and got a fielding glove on loan from Cal Ripken, Jr.

3. Whitaker was criminally overlooked by Hall of Fame voters, failing to reach even the 5% mark necessary to stay on the ballot beyond his first year of eligibility. It'll be up to the Veterans Committee to right that wrong in the coming years.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In the odd hodgepodge of late 1980s cards that kick-started my collection, there was a 1988 Topps Big card of Lou Whitaker. That's how I learned of his unusual middle name, "Rodman".

Bill James Said: "Father time will catch him sooner or later, but there is no sign that it's ready to happen."

On This Date in 1993: February 11. President Clinton names Janet Reno Attorney General of the U.S.

Monday, February 10, 2014

#159 Doug Linton

About the Front: Well, that must be Doug Linton. The snazzy personalized script on his glove says so.

About the Back: Woof. 8.63 ERA? That was the worst number for any member of the 1992 World Champs who pitched at least two innings.

Triple Play:

1. His first big league win came on August 13, 1992, when the righty held the Orioles to two runs on three hits and a walk in eight innings.

2. Linton has one of the more bizarre career paths, debuting in the majors at age 27 and not pitching particularly well in parts of five seasons. He missed all of 1997 with an injury, spent 1998 in the minors, and resurfaced with the Orioles in 1999...not pitching particularly well. He was in the minors and in Korea during the 2000-2002 seasons, and returned to Toronto for a brief stint in 2003, his last MLB experience at age 38.

3. Doug has served as pitching coach for the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Asheville Tourists, and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. In 2012, he was named the Rockies' minor league pitching coordinator.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Doug Linton was another one of those elusive Series One cards for me. No matter how many packs I opened or trades I made, it took me years to get around to wrangling ol' Doug. The nerve of a journeyman pitcher holding out on me like that!

Bill James Said: "Grade D prospect; could catch on somewhere."

On This Date in 1993: February 10. Lien Chan is named by Lee Teng-Hui to follow Hau Pei-tsun as Premier of the Republic of China.

Friday, February 7, 2014

#158 Kevin Koslofski

About the Front: This is a strange photo. Kevin Koslofski is staring in the direction of the pitcher (I think), he's holding his batting gloves while he runs, and he's awfully close to the infield grass. I would guess that he's already been put out and he's just jogging back to the Royals' dugout.

About the Back: Eight-plus years of riding buses just to get a peek at the big time. Those 55 games represented the majority of Kevin's MLB career; he totaled 42 games with K.C. and Milwaukee over the next four seasons.

Triple Play:

1. Koslofski hit his first career home run on August 27, 1992. It was a solo shot off of future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

2. Kevin signed with the Royals out of high school and continued his education at Millikin University in Decatur, IL in the offseason, eventually completing his degree 11 years later.

3. In a 2007 interview, Kevin recalled the thrill of seeing himself on a Topps card. He said that he walked into a local hobby shop and the owner let him open packs from a box of 1993 Topps until he found his card.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always got a kick out of some of the more offbeat minor league names. "Baseball City" was the Royals and Cardinals Spring Training complex and a baseball theme park near Orlando, I'm now learning.

Bill James Said: "As a Royals fan, I couldn't understand why he wasn't in the majors last year, since he provides a combination of things that the Royals need - speed, a lefthanded bat on the bench, and a defensive outfielder."

On This Date in 1993: February 7. 33 years after they first appeared on TV, Pebbles Flinstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble get married. My invitation must have been lost in the mail.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

#157 Gary Disarcina

About the Front: Yeah, Gary, I don't think you're gonna get Kenny Lofton this time. If we're assuming Lofton was safe, which I clearly am, the game can be narrowed down to either May 1 or May 2, 1992.

About the Back: Though Disarcina (the "s" is not capitalized, Topps!) debuted in 1989 and appeared in the majors in 1990 and 1991 as well, he played sparingly enough that he didn't make it into Topps' flagship set until 1993. Even rookie-mania had its limits.

Triple Play:

1. Gary was an All-Star in 1995, batting .307 with 28 doubles in 99 games.

2. He wore #33 for five seasons as a nod to Celtics legend Larry Bird.

3. Disarcina will return to the Angels as third base coach in 2014.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This wouldn't have occurred to me in those days, but Garys were already becoming an endangered species in the major leagues. As of this writing, there has not been a "Gary" in MLB since 2010, when reliever Gary Majewski and outfielder Gary Matthews, Jr. were last active.

Bill James Said: "He's pretty much Dick Schofield all over again, a good defensive shortstop but a .240 hitter without too much else to brag about." By the end of his career, Gary got that average up to .258 lifetime, but his noted lack of power and walks left his career OPS+ at a dismal 66.

On This Date in 1993: February 6. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe dies at age 49 due to AIDS-related pneumonia.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#156 Sammy Sosa

About the Front: Which looks more ridiculous - the cap lightly perched on Sammy Sosa's pumpkin head or that creepy pencil-thin mustache on his upper lip?

About the Back: It's pretty hard to imagine the slugging, lumbering Sammy of the turn of the century batting leadoff. But a younger, quicker Sosa led off for the Cubs 28 times in 1992.

Triple Play:

1. Sammy famously hit 66 home runs in 1998, 64 in 1999, and 63 in 2001...and did not lead the league in any of those seasons. Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999, and Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. Of course, Sosa' 50 homers in 2000 were enough to top the league.

2. George W. Bush was fond of joking that trading Sammy Sosa in a package for Harold Baines was the biggest mistake of his public life. Of course, I can think of a few larger-scale gaffes on his part.

3. Have you seen Sosa's sublime official Pinterest page? Go ahead. I'll wait.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In 1993, it seemed like a big deal when Sammy joined the 30-30 (HR and SB) club. In the coming years, he'd make that look like child's play.

Bill James Said: (In regards to the 30-30 feat) "It's been done by at least one player every year since 1987."

On This Date in 1993: February 5. Belgium becomes a federal monarchy. The nation had previously been a unitary kingdom. Riveting stuff, eh?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

#155 Dennis Eckersley

About the Front: I can't think of many pitchers whose deliveries are more suited to a horizontal card than Dennis Eckersley. He's all arms and legs, pointing in every direction, long hair whipping out from beneath his cap, white cleats and dark mustache contrasting. I don't think it was much fun to step to the plate against Eck.

About the Back: A 20-win season AND a 50-save season in the same career? John Smoltz is the only other pitcher in that rarified air.

Triple Play:

1. Dennis no-hit the Angels on May 30, 1977. He struck out 12 batters and allowed only two California player to reach base; Tony Solaita walked in the first inning, and Bobby Bonds reached base on a strikeout/wild pitch in the eighth but was wiped out on a double play.

2. His trademark high leg kick was a nod to Juan Marichal, as Eckersley had grown up rooting for the Giants.

3. Eck is currently a TV analyst for national games on TBS and Red Sox games on NESN.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Everything about Eckersley seemed larger-than-life. He had the hardware, the nickname, the distinctive delivery and look, and the demonstrative fist-pump after nailing down saves. Of course, his best days were behind him when I pulled this card.

Bill James Said: "It is my opinion that he will come back from his 'off season', that he will save 35-50 games again this year." Even without the strike shaving 50-some games off of Oakland's schedule, Eck would have had a hard time reaching 35 saves in 1994. He had just 19 (with a 4.26 ERA) when the season came to a premature close.

On This Date in 1993: February 4. Members of the right-wing Austrian FPO (Freedom Party) leave the group to form the Liberal Forum. The Forum founders are opposed to the FPO's growing nationalistic tendencies.

Monday, February 3, 2014

#154 Wes Chamberlain

About the Front: That's quite a power stroke by Wes Chamberlain. But I'm more interested in the blue Liberty Bell logo that's peeking out from his red stirrup sock. Nice touch!

About the Back: The writeup mentions a go-ahead home run that Chamberlain hit in Wrigley Field, and the photo on the back shows him playing in front of Wrigley's famous ivy-covered outfield fence. How's that for synergy?

Triple Play:

1. Wes starred in the 1993 NLCS, batting .364 (4-for-11) with a walk and three doubles, but had just a pair of pinch-hitting appearances in the World Series. He went 0-for-2.

2. The only walk-off home run of Chamberlain's career was also his last homer as a big leaguer, a ninth-inning tiebreaking shot off of rookie Armando Benitez in Fenway Park on May 9, 1995.

3. He last played in MLB in 1995, and had his last game in the affiliated minors in 1998, but continued playing in independent leagues through the 2004 season. Wes was a Winnipeg Goldeneye, a Schaumburg Flyer, a Long Island Duck, a Newark Bear, and a Gary Southshore Railcat.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: The most notable thing about Wes Chamberlain to a young collector was the erroneous variation of his 1991 Topps rookie card, featuring a picture of Wes' teammate Louie Meadows. I owned a factory set that featured the corrected version, so I've never seen the error card first-hand.

Bill James Said: "The Eisenreich/Chamberlain combination was among the most effective platoons in the majors last year, along with Incaviglia/Thompson and Wilkins/Lake." The Phillies had two of the three combos mentioned, which went a long way towards capturing the NL pennant.

On This Date in 1993: February 3. Major League Baseball suspends Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for the upcoming season and levies a $250,000 fine due to her recent racially offensive comments.