Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#257 Luis Alicea

About the Front: It looks like Luis Alicea's attempting a no-look flip to the shortstop, but he's already standing on second base himself. Maybe he's signaling to a teammate to back up.

About the Back: Check out Alicea's 1991 stat line with the Cardinals. It's pretty hard to tally zero runs batted in over 56 games, even if you're limited to 68 at-bats. Also, it seems worth mentioning that Luis' first career home run, referenced here, was hit against Don Sutton.

Triple Play:

1. He and his younger brother Edwin were teammates at Florida State University. Ed Alicea was drafted in the ninth round in 1988 by the Braves, and had an eight-year minor league career, splitting time between second base, third base, and the outfield.

2. Luis had a 13-year major league career with the Cardinals, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, and Royals, batting .260/.346/.369 with 47 homers and 422 RBI.

3. After hanging up his spikes, Alicea spent three years managing in the Red Sox organization, and then had brief stints as a big league coach for both the Red Sox and Mets.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I could've sworn he was an All-Star at least once. I guess that's why I look this stuff up.

Bill James Said: "He's a switch hitter who runs well and won't chase bad pitches, witness the .362 on-base percentage, plus his range at second is among the best in the league."

On This Date in 1993: July 23. The Azerbaijani city of Agdam is captured by Armenian separatists. The city's residents are forced to flee, and the separatists will lay waste to Agdam to prevent its recapture by Azerbaijan. The town is still deserted more than 20 years later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#256 Wil Cordero

About the Front: This is a pretty solid action photo, with Wil Cordero preparing to play a tough hop on a grounder in Wrigley Field. I just wish that the ball itself was in the frame.

About the Back: The portrait on the back, however, resembles a mugshot. Cordero has some experience with those.

Triple Play:

1. His lone All-Star season was 1994, when the shortstop batted .294/.363/.489 with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, and 63 RBI. He also earned a Silver Slugger Award.

2. On May 10, 2000, Wil went 5-for-5 with three runs scored, a home run, a double, and four RBI in a 13-9 Pirates win over the Mets.

3. Cordero excelled in a limited role with the Indians in 1999, batting .299/.364/.500 in 54 games and collecting five hits and a walk in 10 trips to the plate in Cleveland's Division Series loss to Boston.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought that the loose way that Wil's jersey hung off his torso on this card made it look like he had a pot belly.

Bill James Said: "Explain this: Cordero struck out less than half as often as we had expected based on his minor league record, but still hit for more power but with a lower batting average."

On This Date in 1993: July 22. Levees near Kaskaskia, Illinois rupture, flooding the town under nine feet of water and forcing everyone to evacuate on barges supplied by the Army Corps of Engineers. Of course, the population was nine as of the 2000 Census (and jumped to 14 by 2010), so I guess it could have been worse.

Monday, July 21, 2014

#255 Orel Hershiser

About the Front: Orel Hershiser is wearing a patch commemorating the 30th anniversary of Dodger Stadium. See it in greater detail here.

About the Back: 15 complete games in 1988. In 2013, Adam Wainwright led the major leagues with five.

Triple Play:

1. Orel pitched out of his damn mind in capturing the 1988 Cy Young Award, NLCS MVP, and World Series MVP. In addition to all of the gaudy numbers you see on the card back above, he ended the regular season with 59 and one-third straight scoreless innings, totaling 30 hits allowed, nine walks, and 34 strikeouts in that span. He had eight straight complete games from August 19 through September 23, and left his final start on September 28 after tossing 10 shutout innings (the Dodgers ultimately fell to the Padres, 2-1, in 16 innings).

2. His career spanned 18 big league seasons, including three years with the Indians and a season each with the Giants and the Mets before returning to Los Angeles for a rough 10-game stint in 2000. Hershiser totaled 204 wins and 150 losses with a 3.48 ERA.

3. He spent four seasons as the Rangers' pitching coach before becoming a TV analyst for ESPN's baseball coverage in 2006. He stayed with the network until 2014, when he returned to the Dodgers as a TV analyst for road games.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Hershiser batted .356 (26-for-73) in 1993; his average had peaked at .424 entering September, but he endured a 1-for-14 slump to end the year. I swear that I remember hearing a facetious report that the Dodgers were going to start giving him time at third base to get his bat in the lineup on days that he wasn't pitching.

Bill James Said: "A ground-ball pitcher; over the past four years he is 2-11 on artificial turf."

On This Date in 1993: July 21. Tony Phillips goes 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in Detroit's 7-2 loss vs. the Twins. This is the only time in a 101-game stretch spanning from May 26-September 26 that Phillips fails to reach base at least once. Kevin Tapani gets the win and Carl Willis the save for Minnesota.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#254 Cory Snyder

About the Front: This is Cory Snyder's running face. It is not a flattering face.

About the Back: You probably won't be surprised to learn that two of Cory's three homers on May 21, 1987 were hit off of Bert Blyleven, who surrendered a league-leading 46 that year and fell just short of the record 50 he'd allowed in 1986. Tony Bernazard and Mel Hall also took Bert deep in a 6-3 Cleveland victory. All five home runs were solo shots.

Triple Play:

1. Snyder and Joe Carter were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 1987 baseball preview issue, which touted the Indians as "the best team in the American League". Sophomore Snyder hit a career-high 33 homers, but his batting average plunged by 36 points and the Tribe finished dead-last at 61-101. That April 6, 1987 issue is a popular exhibit in the "SI Cover Jinx" trope.

2. He was the National League Player of the Month in June 1992, when he batted .372/.388/.649 with nine doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 24 RBI in 24 games.

3. Cory managed independent minor league teams in St. George, UT and Maui, HI from 2007-2010 before joining the Mariners organization as a minor league coach.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I hate to bash the guy's looks again, but I always thought Snyder was pretty goofy. The light blond mustache is a thing that very few men can make work.

Bill James Said: "As an overall right fielder he ranks below Sosa, Walker, Gwynn, Justice, Bonilla, Anthony, Merced and whoever else happens to be playing the position."

On This Date in 1993: July 18. With the trade deadline approaching, the Braves grab Fred McGriff from the Padres for a trio of prospects: Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliott, and Vince Moore. That deal worked out pretty well for Atlanta.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#253 Jose Guzman

About the Front: Maybe it's a trick of perspective, but it looks like Jose Guzman has a fairly short stride in his pitching delivery.

About the Back: Guzman won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award for that strong 1991 season, which came after a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder sidelined him for the previous two years.

Triple Play:

1. Jose signed with the Cubs prior to the 1993 season, and in his Chicago debut on April 6, 1993, he held the Braves hitless until Otis Nixon singled with two outs in the ninth inning. He settled for the one-hit shutout, a 1-0 squeaker of a win.

2. More shoulder problems resulted in Guzman throwing his last big league pitch in May of 1994, at age 31. He made a comeback with the unaffiliated Fort Worth Cats seven years later, going 5-2 with a 1.65 ERA. The righty came back down to earth in 2002, but was still competitive with a 6-8 mark and a 4.20 ERA in 17 starts for the Cats.

3. He's done Spanish language radio broadcasts for the Rangers, and attended the team's most recent spring training as a special instructor.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I haven't talked in this space about one of my other favorite sets from this time, 1994 Score. It remains incomplete, which I'm going to blame on A)not being able to focus on one set, instead buying packs from several different brands throughout that year and B)scaling back my interest due to frustration with the players' strike. Anyway, Jose had a pretty great card in that set.

Bill James Said: "In my opinion, Guzman will continue to be a fine pitcher for several years, but the Cubs need to be careful not to push him when the back acts up." How about the shoulder?

On This Date in 1993: July 17. Shawn Hillegas tosses a scoreless inning of mop-up relief for the Athletics in a 9-5 loss to the Yankees, who are tied for first with Toronto in a wild American League East. The Orioles and Tigers are each a half-game behind, and Boston lurks just two games back of the leaders. Why mention Hillegas? This is his final big league game, bringing to an end an uneven seven-year career (24-38, 4.61 ERA, 1.47 WHIP). Shawn is not featured in the 1993 Topps set, so I pounced at the opportunity to run Bill James' hilariously brutal assessment of him. To wit: "A truly dreadful pitcher, having none of the attributes of a major league hurler except for what they say is a live arm. He doesn't have a breaking pitch, his control is poor, and his record is consistently bad for a long period of time. To be honest, I really have no idea what in the hell he is doing in the major leagues."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#252 Xavier Hernandez

About the Front: I'd wager dollars to donuts that Xavier Hernandez is pitching in Dodger Stadium.

About the Back: Xavier is the only player in the 1993 Topps set whose name begins with an "X".

Triple Play:

1. Hernandez made seven starts among his 463 career pitching appearances. He went 0-6 with an ERA of 6.00 before Houston got the hint and slotted him in the bullpen for good.

2. Xavier had an unusual debut on June 4, 1989 with Toronto. Fellow rookie Alex Sanchez got the start for the Jays at Fenway Park, but allowed seven of eight Boston batters to reach base before getting the hook from skipper Cito Gaston. Entering with one out, one on, and his club in a 5-0 hole, Hernandez allowed five more runs, but only two of those were earned, and he soaked up 6.2 innings. That became important, as Toronto dug its way out of a 10-0 hole to take an 11-10 lead on Ernie Whitt's grand slam in the top of the ninth. Blue Jay closer Tom Henke gave the tying run right back to Boston, and it took three more innings for Toronto to eke out the win.

3. He has been coaching since his retirement as a player, spending nearly a decade in the Rays organization before moving on to Houston Baptist University.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember the Orioles agreeing to terms with Hernandez in 1998, only to scotch the deal when a physical revealed a partially torn rotator cuff. Thus began the legacy of my favorite team cancelling free agent deals over medical concerns. Did you know that the owner is a lawyer?

Bill James Said: "Takes a long stride and whips the ball in a long loop, which seems to mesmerize batters."

On This Date in 1993: July 16. Free Willy premieres in theatres across the United States.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#251 Mike Bielecki

About the Front: Mike Bielecki's got a pretty dirty uniform for a pitcher. I'd guess that he was running the bases beforehand.

About the Back: This is Bielecki's last Topps card, despite the fact that he pitched in the majors through 1997. In fact, he pitched a career-high 50 games out of the Atlanta bullpen in his final season. That just goes to show you how Topps threw aside relievers, bench players, and other unsung players when they pared down the size of their base sets in the mid-1990s.

Triple Play:

1. On the heels of his career-best numbers in 1989 (18-7, 3.14 ERA), Mike started Game 5 of the NLCS with the Cubs facing elimination. He took a shutout into the seventh inning before tiring. A Will Clark triple and a Kevin Mitchell sac fly tied the score, and an inning later Bielecki walked the bases loaded with two outs and was pulled for Mitch Williams. Williams, of course, permitted a two-run single to Clark that saddled his starter with a tough loss.

2. After three uneven seasons, Bielecki rebounded with the Braves in 1996, appearing in 40 games (35 in relief) with a 2.63 ERA. He also had six scoreless, hitless appearances in the postseason that year.

3. The first home run Mike allowed as a major leaguer was hit by...Rick Sutcliffe, who would later be his teammate with the Cubs. I wonder if the Red Baron ever needled him about that.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: My uncle often mentioned that he had gone to high school with Bielecki's younger brother. Six degrees of separation and all that.

Bill James Said: "Bielecki at times would pitch very, very well, but like a lot of guys he tended to get hurt whenever he stayed in the rotation longer than a couple of weeks."

On This Date in 1993: July 15. Mike Morgan of the Cubs needs only 99 pitches to dispose of the Rockies, tossing a five-hit shutout in a 1-0 Chicago win. Steve Buechele's RBI double scores Sammy Sosa with the game's lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Colorado has a runner thrown out trying to steal second base to end both the seventh and eighth innings, so Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins certainly earns his share of the credit.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#250 Chuck Knoblauch

About the Front: Twins at Athletics, Willie Wilson ostensibly trying to break up the double play. Can I find the game? Willie's 1992 gamelog tells me that he only reached base in two of his six home games against Minnesota that season. Of those two games, June 28 meets our criteria. In the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Twins waxing the A's 10-0, Wilson drew a leadoff walk against Scott Erickson. Mike Bordick hit a grounder to third baseman Donnie Hill, who tossed to Chuck Knoblauch for the force at second; Bordick was safe at first. The Twins went on to win 10-2, and Knoblauch went 2-for-5 with a double, a steal, and a couple of runs scored.

About the Back: Chuck was the 25th overall pick in the 1989 draft. Using Baseball Reference's WAR statistic, Frank Thomas (73.7) was the only first-rounder that year with more career value than Knoblauch (44.6). That puts him ahead of Mo Vaughn, Ben McDonald, Todd Jones, and Charles Johnson.

Triple Play:

1. His father Ray pitched for eight seasons in the minor leagues (1948-1950, 1953-1957), topping out at the AA Texas League.

2. Chuck won the 1991 A.L. Rookie of the Year Award, but his best all-around season was probably 1996 (.341/.448/.517, 140 runs scored, 35 doubles, league-high 14 triples, 13 homers, 72 RBI, 45-of-59 in steals).

3. The penny-pinching Twins traded Knoblauch to the Yankees after the 1997 season. He famously developed a problem with his throwing accuracy, and was eventually moved to the outfield in 2001. After his hitting cratered in Kansas City the following season (.210/.284/.300 in 80 games), he retired at age 34.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Back when Jon Miller was still the radio voice of the Orioles, one of his favorite impressions was former Twins' PA announcer Bob Casey. It seemed like every time the O's played the Twins, Miller would riff on Casey's exaggerated, nasal pronunciation of "Chaaaauuuuuuucccckkk...Knaaaaaaaablaaaaaauuuuuch!"

Bill James Said: "A great number-two hitter, a classic second baseman." When Bill James says somebody is great in the two-hole, you can bet he's talking about on-base skills (.378 career OBP) and not bunting ability.

On This Date in 1993: July 13. In the 64th All-Star Game, hosted at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the American League dispatches the National League, 9-3. Gary Sheffield, Kirby Puckett, and Roberto Alomar each hit a home run in the first three innings. Puckett also drives in a run with a double and is named the game's MVP. John Kruk famously has a near-death experience with an overthrown Randy Johnson fastball. (Yes, this is yesterday's date. Oh well.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

#249 Tim Burke

About the Front: Tim Burke is dressed all in navy from the waist up and posing in front of a shadowy dugout. Is this the darkest picture in the set?

About the Back: Good for the Burkes! I have friends who are in the process of an international adoption and I can't believe how much bureaucratic red tape they've had to endure. You'd have to be really determined and patient to go through the process three times.

Triple Play:

1. After Jeff Reardon's departure, Tim led Montreal in saves for four straight seasons (1987-1990). He still ranks sixth in franchise history with 101 saves, and leads all Expos/Nationals in games pitched with 425.

2. He was an All-Star in 1989, and tossed two scoreless innings for the National League. That game coincidentally took place 25 years ago today!

3. Burke started only two games in his career, both in August of 1986. He totaled 12 innings, allowing a single run and striking out 11 while issuing one walk. I'm kind of surprised that he didn't get more of a chance to start.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It always looked to me like Tim was in mid-sentence while this picture was snapped. Was he asking the photographer where he or she was from? Or just telling them to hurry up and snap the photo?

Bill James Said: Nothing. Burke signed with the Reds as a free agent after the 1992 season, but promptly retired to help raise his children.

On This Date in 1993: July 11. These are the standings as MLB heads into the All-Star break. The division leaders are Toronto (49-40, 0.5 games ahead of Detroit), the White Sox (45-41, 1.0 GA of Texas and Kansas City), Philadelphia (57-32, 5.0 GA of St. Louis), and San Francisco (59-30, 9.0 GA of Atlanta).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#248 Scott Scudder

About the Front: Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Face!

About the Back: Yes, Topps, but how well did he perform in the 1990 Postseason? Baseball Reference tells me that Scott Scudder had one scoreless relief appearance each in the NLCS and the World Series, totaling 2.1 innings in all. He struck out three and allowed two walks and one hit. How hard was that?

Triple Play:

1. Scudder had a rude introduction to the major leagues. Starting the first half of a doubleheader between the Reds and Giants on June 6, 1989, he walked the first two batters, struck out Will Clark looking, and then surrendered a three-run home run to Kevin Mitchell. He did rebound to complete six innings without any further scoring, but did not factor in the decision. Cincinnati scored single runs in the third, fifth, sixth, and ninth innings for a walkoff win, 4-3.

2. Scott pitched at AAA for most of 1993, all of 1994, and a portion of the 1995 season before calling it quits.

3. In 2010, he joined former Cleveland teammate Dennis Cook on Team Sweden's coaching staff for the 2010 European Championship.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: You can only make one first impression, and the ridiculous expression on Scudder's face made me associate him with gooberdom.

Bill James Said: "He throws hard--who makes the majors at 21 if he doesn't throw hard?--and has a curve which scouts rave about, but batters hit."

On This Date in 1993: July 10. 32-year-old southpaw Fernando Valenzuela, whose last MLB win prior to the season had come in 1990, runs his shutout streak to 23.2 innings as the Orioles top the White Sox 6-0. He allows just two hits and four walks in eight innings while striking out three. Chicago doesn't get a runner to second base until O's reliever Mark Williamson walks Frank Thomas and Ellis Burks singles him into scoring position with one out in the ninth. Robin Ventura follows with a game-ending double play grounder.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#247 Frank Seminara

About the Front: That hands-over-the-head windup isn't something I'm used to seeing in more contemporary times. Did Frank Seminara actually pitch like that, or was he just goofing off during warmups?

About the Back: Those 16 wins and 1.90 ERA led the Carolina League in 1990, earning Frank the league's Pitcher of the Year honors.

Triple Play:

1. He allowed a single unearned run on three hits and three walks in seven innings on September 24, 1992, as San Diego topped Houston 7-1.

2. After posting a 5.40 ERA through six starts to begin 1993, he was bumped from the Padres' rotation. Aside from a spot start in June, he didn't return to the majors until being recalled in September for relief work.

3. Frank made 10 uneven relief appearances for the Mets in 1994 in his last shot in the big leagues. After splitting 1995 between the Brewers' and Orioles' AAA clubs, he was out of baseball.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: 9-4 and a 3.68 ERA would probably have impressed me, especially coming from a rookie. I would've been shocked to see him disappear within two years...of course, it wouldn't have occurred to me to look at his 4.1 BB/9 IP and 5.5 K/9.

Bill James Said: "I'm inclined to think that they pulled the plug on him a bit too quickly, as his ERA for the season wasn't that far from the National League norm, but he throws funny--if you can imagine somebody shot-putting a ball sidearm you'll have it--and people who throw funny don't inspire confidence from the management." Well, I guess that answers my question about his windup.

On This Date in 1993: July 9. Quite a day for movie premieres! We've got In the Line of Fire (Eastwood vs. Malkovich!), Weekend at Bernie's II, and Rookie of the Year. The last of those three films is quite possibly the best movie ever made in the genre of prepubescent boy breaks his arm/discovers he can throw in excess of 100 mph once it heals/goes on to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

#246 Gregg Olson

About the Front: Here's the Otter, Gregg Olson, with a patchy beard. In 1993, he switched to a wondrously awful horseshoe mustache.

About the Back: "Nintendo games". Doesn't that sound quaint? I wonder if Gregg had a Super NES in 1992. He certainly could have afforded it.

Triple Play:

1. Gregg was the 1989 AL Rookie of the Year, as he posted a career-best 9.5 K/9 and allowed a single home run in 85 innings pitched.

2. Even though a torn elbow ligament cut his Orioles career short, Olson is still the team's all-time leader with 160 saves.

3. His only big league hit was a two-run home run off of Florida's Oscar Henriquez on April 20, 1998.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: A friend of mine talked me into trading him my 1989 Topps Gregg Olson rookie card, featuring the curveball specialist in his Auburn Tigers duds. I don't even remember which card I got in return, but I remember being upset about it later. Of course now I've got more worthless '89 Topps than I could ever want.

Bill James Said: "He allowed 48% of his inherited runners to score (15 of 31), the worst percentage in the American League, thus he was charged with only nine runs allowed, but 23 RBI."

On This Date in 1993: July 8. Allen Watson, the Cardinals' 1991 first-round draft pick, wins his big league debut with six innings of one-run ball as St. Louis tops Atlanta 7-1. The young lefty will have a mediocre career, posting a 51-55 record and a 5.03 ERA in parts of eight seasons with six different clubs.

Monday, July 7, 2014

#245 Chris Sabo

About the Front: It just wouldn't be Chris Sabo without those Rec-Specs. Judging from the squinting grimace on his face, he might have needed a new prescription.

About the Back: Pretty underwhelming numbers for Sabo in 1988, when he won the NL Rookie of the Year for those 40 doubles and 46 steals. He got four more first place votes than Mark Grace, who batted .296 with a .371 on-base percentage, but had only 23 doubles, seven homers, and three steals.

Triple Play:

1. Chris was red-hot in the 1990 World Series (get it?), batting .563/.611/1.000 in 18 trips to the plate with a double, two home runs, and five RBI.

2. Injuries severely curtailed Sabo's career. He totaled 147 games from 1994 through 1996 with the Orioles, White Sox, Cardinals, and Reds. His short-lived return to Cincinnati included a seven-game suspension for corking his bat; he claimed the bat belonged to a teammate, but would not name the offending player.

3. Chris was a 2010 inductee to the Reds' Hall of Fame. He's kept a low profile since hanging up his spikes, though he did spend the 2005 season coaching with the Reds' single-A Dayton Dragons farm club.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Sadly my chief memory of Sabo was his single disappointing year in Baltimore, though in hindsight a .465 slugging percentage in 68 games isn't too shabby. He was pushed off of third base by a resurgent Leo Gomez, though, and griped about being shifted to right field and DH.

Bill James Said: "He has lost his speed after a series of ankle and foot problems."

On This Date in 1993: July 7. Hurricane Calvin makes landfall near Manzanillo in Mexico, claiming 34 lives.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

#244 Denny Neagle

About the Front: This is a pretty cool behind-home-plate angle of Denny Neagle winding up, with center field at Three Rivers Stadium looming behind him. I couldn't begin to guess whether the blurry quarter of a catcher in the foreground is Don Slaught, Mike LaValliere, or Tom Prince.

About the Back: Were there actually ten teams in the Big Ten in 1988? They're up to 14 members now. The NCAA drives me nuts.

Triple Play:

1. Neagle peaked in 1997, going a league-best 20-5 while posting a 2.97 ERA for the division-winning Braves. He walked only 49 batters in 233.1 innings and finished third behind Pedro Martinez and Atlanta teammate Greg Maddux in Cy Young voting.

2. Though Denny won just one postseason game in 13 career outings (seven starts), he had a solid 3.44 ERA in playoff and World Series action. That lone win was a four-hit shutout of the eventual World Champion Marlins in Game Four of the 1997 NLCS.

3. Here's a heading you don't want on your Wikipedia page: "Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and legal troubles". Most notably, in 2004 he was nabbed in Denver for soliciting a prostitute for oral sex (thereby allowing the Rockies to invoke a morals clause to void the last year of his five-year, $51 million contract).

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I took a good deal of pride in claiming Denny as a local player, even though I didn't know at the time where Gambrills was. Over the past few years, I've driven down Route 301 to visit friends in Southern Maryland way too many times. Now I can tell you that Gambrills is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Annapolis.

Bill James Said: "After briefly re-acquainting himself with minor league hotel rooms he remembered some things like throwing strikes and using his slider to change speeds, and pitched much better after his return (3.38 ERA over the second half)."

On This Date in 1993: July 3. "Curly Joe" DeRita, ancillary member of the Three Stooges, dies of pneumonia at age 83.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#243 Rob Deer

About the Front: There's so much to like here. Rob Deer taking a big, powerful swing, as was his wont, while wearing his jersey half-unbuttoned and practically streaking his eye black from cheek to cheek. Few cards in this set or any other capture the essence of their subject so well.

About the Back: Those low batting averages. All those dingers. All those whiffs. Deer, Adam Dunn, and Mark Reynolds are all kindred spirits on the same all-or-nothing plane.

Triple Play:

1. Rob's game-tying three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth on Easter Sunday, 1987 spurred a walkoff win, the 12th straight to open the season for Milwaukee. It was his second longball of the game and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

2. Some fun Rob Deer tater facts: 21 career multi-homer games, five grand slams, four pinch-hit jobs, four walkoff shots. He also hit one round-tripper from the leadoff slot in the batting order, though sadly, it was as a mid-game substitute for Tony Phillips. Not even Sparky Anderson was adventurous enough to make Rob his leadoff hitter for a full game.

3. Deer had an unsuccessful 70-game stint in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers in 1994, then spent most of 1995-1996 riding the buses in AAA with the Angels' and Padres' farm clubs. His last glimpse of the majors was a 25-game swing with San Diego in 1996; he hit a positively Deerian .180/.359/.480 in 64 trips to the plate, with four homers and three doubles among his nine hits. 30 of his 41 outs came on strikeouts.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: A little bonus Bill James: in his 1994 Player Ratings Book, he said that Steve Balboni "strikes out like a Deer and runs like a file cabinet". I thought that was hilarious...still do.

Bill James Said: "I wish somebody would let him play 162 games, just to see how many times he could strike out." This was after Rob fanned a league-leading 169 times in just 128 games in his final season as a regular.

On This Date in 1993: July 2. In a seesaw game at Mile High Stadium, the Cubs outslug the Rockies 11-8. Sammy Sosa has a 6-for-6 day with a double, two runs scored, two RBI, and three steals in four tries. The teams combine for 34 hits (including 21 by Chicago), and the Rox lose despite rapping eight doubles.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

#242 Charlie O'Brien

About the Front: Here we see Charlie O'Brien doing his best impression of a flamingo.

About the Back: Who knew that Charlie was a collegiate slugger? He didn't exceed 25 career home runs in the majors until 1995, his tenth season.

Triple Play:

1. He pioneered and popularized the hockey-style catcher's mask while playing in Toronto, as this style offered better impact absorption for foul tips.

2. With the 1996 Blue Jays, O'Brien set career highs with 109 games played, 13 home runs, and 44 RBI.

3. Charlie hit his second (and final) career triple on April 27, 1997, a decade after his first three-bagger. Teammate Dan Plesac quipped that the games were still shown in black and white the last time O'Brien tripled.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I still identify Charlie most by his two years as Greg Maddux's personal catcher in 1994-1995 with the Braves.

Bill James Said: "He is an exceptional defensive catcher, better than Hundley, and would have had a good career if he could have hit .255 consistently." He couldn't; his lifetime average was .221, but he still made it into 800 games in 15 seasons and won a ring with Atlanta in 1995.

On This Date in 1993: July 1. The Braves sign a pair of international amateur free agents, pitcher Bruce Chen and outfielder Andruw Jones. Who would've thought that Chen would be the one from that pair still active in MLB today?