Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#396 Rich Sauveur (Gold)

About the Front: The piping down the sides of Rich Sauveur's pants is juuuuust a bit thinner than his stirrups, which is probably driving the type-A personalities among you crazy.
About the Back: If Topps' most recent career highlight for you is a seven-year-old minor league shutout, that strikes me as the definition of "damning with faint praise".

Triple Play:

1. He debuted with the Pirates on July 1, 1986, pitching into the seventh inning against the Phillies and allowing two runs on seven hits and three walks. Philly prevailed 5-4 in 12 innings.

2. Rich had a bizarre major league career. He pitched in six different seasons for six different teams, often years apart: Pirates (1986), Expos (1988), Mets (1991), Royals (1992), White Sox (1996), and Athletics (2000). He totaled 46 innings in 34 games with a 6.07 ERA, and had a record of 0-1. Of all of the winless pitchers in MLB history, the lefty holds the record for having pitched for the most teams.

3. He's been a minor league pitching coach since 2003, working for the Oakland and Boston organizations.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never saw this card as a middle schooler, but I would've wondered why somebody who had debuted in 1986 couldn't get a rookie card until 1993.

Bill James Said: El Zilcho. Sauveur only pitched five games in 1993, all for Cincinnati's AAA Indianapolis club.

On This Date in 1993: March 25. The "Spring Break Quake", a 5.7 earthquake, hits the state of Oregon. The epicenter is just outside of Scotts Mills along the Mount Angel fault line.

Note: I'll return with the first post of Series Two on Tuesday, March 31. See you then!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#395 Jim McNamara (Gold)

About the Front: I wonder how much that eye black helps when you're looking straight up into the sun, without even the brim of a cap to deflect the rays.

About the Back: Prior to his scouting career, Jim Fairey was an outfielder for the Dodgers and the Expos (1968-1973), batting .235/.279/.317.

Triple Play:

1. On April 17, 1992, McNamara went 3-for-3 with a walk, a home run, and four RBI in just his third career game. It was his only three-hit game and his only round-tripper in the major leagues.

2. He collected one hit in four career at-bats against Greg Maddux. That's more than Felix Jose, Greg Colbrunn, Matt Franco, and Bob Melvin can say, and they each faced Maddux at least ten times.

3. Jim is now a player agent, having founded the McNamara Baseball Group.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Like Bernardo Brito before him, Jim's only Topps card is a parallel insert. I probably would've thought that was as cool when I was a kid as I do today.

Bill James Said: "McNamara, who wouldn't be considered a good-hitting pitcher if he was a pitcher, is a backup catcher at Phoenix who somehow got into a few major league games." Indeed, Jim had a .591 OPS in nine minor league seasons, and his four-game cup of coffee with the Giants in 1993 (1-for-7 at the bat) was the coda on his MLB experience.

On This Date in 1993: March 24. The comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 is discovered. In July 1994, it will break apart and collide with Jupiter.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#394 Bernardo Brito (Gold)

 About the Front: So here we are, the first of the fringe players who had the honor of replacing the checklist cards in the Gold parallel set. Bernardo Brito looks every bit the 28-year-old rookie he was, having endured a dozen pro seasons and over 1200 minor league games before getting his first taste of the big leagues.

About the Back: Bernardo seemingly spent more time in Portland than Clyde Drexler, logging five straight seasons with the Twins' AAA club (including 1993).

Triple Play:

1. He won six minor league home run titles, leading the New York-Penn League (1984), Midwest League (1985), Eastern League (1986, 1987), and Pacific Coast League (1990, 1991). In all, he hit 295 home runs in 16 minor league seasons.

2. Brito hit four of his five big league homers in a 27-game stint in Minnesota in 1993, including two in consecutive at-bats against Oakland's Mike Mohler on August 15.

3. Bernardo spent half the 1995 season and all of 1996 with Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters, blasting a total of 50 home runs in 182 games and batting .272/.353/.525.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never saw this card as a kid. When I was first getting back into collecting in 2007, I bought some bargain-priced early 1990s packs from a hobby store on my way home from work one day and grabbed a pack of 1993 Topps for old time's sake. I certainly didn't expect to find Bernardo, but there he was, filling a long-forgotten hole in the set.

Bill James Said: "Has poor plate discipline and is a butcher in the field, but could help a team as a righthanded DH or pinch hitter if he got a manager who could pick his spots and live with the strikeouts."

On This Date in 1993: March 23. Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin are killed in a boating accident on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, FL, as Crews strikes a pier at dusk. Fellow pitcher Bob Ojeda suffers major lacerations to the head, but survives and recovers.

Friday, March 20, 2015

#396 Checklist 3 of 6

About the Front: Here we have it, the anticlimactic final card of Series One. Three Hall of Famers on the front of the checklist - Andre Dawson, Tom Glavine, and Cal Ripken. Rafael Palmeiro and Edgar Martinez are out in the cold. Darryl Kile regrettably adds to the deceased tally.

About the Back: Wade Boggs saves us from a Hall of Fame shutout right at the end. I suspect that Ivan Rodriguez will join him in the next few years. Mike Flanagan is the last dearly departed member of the first series. So the totals thus far are 20 Hall of Famers and seven deceased.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: This checklist doesn't acknowledge the three fringe players that Topps inserted in the Gold parallel set in place of the checklist cards. I wasn't lucky enough to pull any of those three back when, but I've tracked them down since and will post them next week.

On This Date in 1993: March 20. Sloane Stephens is born in Plantation, FL. She will go on to become a pro tennis player in 2010. To date, she has ranked as highly as 11th in the world, and in 2013 she scored upset wins over Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#395 Checklist 2 of 6

About the Front: Three Hall of Famers in Frank Thomas, Dennis Eckersley, and Greg Maddux, with Ken Griffey, Jr. almost certainly making a fourth next year. Steve Olin is the only now-deceased player to appear.

About the Back: Four more Hall of Famers on the back - Kirby Puckett, Gary Carter, Paul Molitor, and Carlton Fisk. Jeff Bagwell is a notable snub who will hopefully get the call soon. Puckett and Carter are also two of the three deceased players on the card back, along with Jose Uribe. So now we're up to 16 Hall of Famers in the set and five deceased players.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I assume they used the Cubs color scheme for the name bar at the bottom because those were the colors of the card packs. Series 1 was blue, Series 2 was red.

On This Date in 1993: March 19. The unemployment rate in the United Kingdom falls for the first time since May 1990, but there are still 2.97 jobless in the UK.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

#394 Checklist 1 of 6

About the Front: The good news is that we've finally reached the end of the first series, but the bad news is that the rest of this week's content are these fairly dull checklists. At least they're easy to read. It's probably a good time to review Series One of 1993 Topps. The front of the first of our three checklists for this series contains seven Hall of Famers, and that doesn't include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who absolutely belong in Cooperstown.

About the Back: Cards 58-132 include only two Hall of Famers - Barry Larkin and Dave Winfield. But Derek Jeter is a shoo-in, and you could make a case for Larry Walker. Sadly, this list also includes the first two now-decased players in the set, Carlos Martinez and Russ Swan.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: You'd better believe that I filled in the boxes on my original copies of these checklist cards, in some combination of blue, red, and black ink. (Whichever color pen was handy at the time.) If the originals weren't buried in boxes of duplicates, I might show them here.

On This Date in 1993: March 18. The FBI's standoff with cult leader David Koresh at his Branch Dividian compound in Waco, TX is now in its third week. The FBI broadcasts a message to Koresh's followers, promising that they will be treated fairly if they come out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#393 Ron Gant

About the Front: I almost feel sorry for the baseball that Ron Gant is preparing to hit. That's a strong-looking dude.

About the Back: Gant batted .277/.372/.529 with the Durham Bulls in 1986 and slugged 31 doubles, 10 triples, and 26 homers with 102 RBI. He was 35-of-44 in stolen bases to boot.

Triple Play:

1. In the second game of the 1991 World Series, Gant was tagged out at first base on a controversial play; he lost a wrestling match with Kent Hrbek. The Twins won the game (and eventually the World Series) by a single run.

2. He broke his leg in a dirtbike accident and missed the entire 1994 season, with the Braves releasing him that spring. He eventually signed with the Reds and was the 1995 National League Comeback Player of the Year, as he hit .276/.386/.554 with 29 home runs and 88 RBI in 119 games.

3. Ron is now an in-studio analyst for the MLB Network, and has also appeared on Braves telecasts.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: It seemed so strange to me that Gant had played second and third base when he first came to Atlanta. I was so used to him as an outfielder.

Bill James Said: "Most-similar season ever: Dale Murphy, 1982." The tale of the tape has Murphy in the first of his back-to-back MVP years batting .281/.378/.507 with 113 runs, 23 doubles, 36 HR, 109 RBI, and 23-of-34 in steals. Gant was the fifth-place finisher in the 1993 MVP race, and had a line of .274/.345/.510, 113 runs, 27 doubles, 36 HR, 117 RBI, and 26-of-35 in steals. Murphy had the better year by virtue of his high OBP and his value in center field, but the offensive stats are quite cosmetically similar.

On This Date in 1993: March 17. Actress Helen Hayes, "The First Lady of the American Theatre", dies in Nyack, NY at age 92. She was one of 12 people to date to win an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony Award (EGOT).

Monday, March 16, 2015

#392 Travis Fryman

About the Front: The orange "D" on the Tigers' road caps and helmets (as opposed to white on their home duds) was always a neat little design touch.

About the Back: It's been a while since I fact-checked Topps' wonky draft information. In this case, Travis Fryman was Detroit's third pick in 1987, but thanks to free agent compensation, he was still taken in the first round (30th overall). Sheesh.

Triple Play:

1. He hit for the cycle in a 12-7 loss to the Yankees on July 28, 1993, going 5-for-5 with a pair of doubles, a triple, a homer, and five RBI.

2. Fryman had his best season in 2000 with Cleveland, batting .321/.392/.516 with 38 doubles, 22 home runs, and 106 RBI. He made the All-Star team for the fifth and final time in his career, and won his only Gold Glove at third base.

3. Travis has been managing and coaching in the Indians' organization since 2008.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I remember Fryman being one of the seeming dozens of power hitters assembled by the Tigers. Even today, I was shocked to review his career stats and see that he never had a 30-homer season.

Bill James Said: "One of the best players in baseball over the next five years." I guess I wasn't the only one fooled by Travis. He averaged 21 home runs and 93 RBI over the following five seasons (1994-1998), batted .274/.334/.452, and his OPS+ was a middling 101.

On This Date in 1993: March 16. Kid Rock releases his second album, The Polyfuze Method.

Friday, March 13, 2015

#391 Derrick May

About the Front: I like the contrast-colored uniform numbers that appear on the front of the Cubs' road jerseys. This is a look that's largely associated with the Dodgers, whose red front numbers are the only break from blue in the team's entire color scheme.

About the Back: Dave May was an outfielder for the Orioles, Brewers, and three other clubs, 1967-1978. He was an All-Star for Milwaukee in 1973, when he batted .303/.352/.473 with 25 homers, 93 RBI, and a league-best 295 total bases. The following year, he was famously traded to the Braves for Hank Aaron.

Triple Play:

1. Derrick's best big league season was 1993, when he played a career-high 128 games and batted .295/.336/.422 with 10 home runs and 77 RBI.

2. May finished his career in Japan, playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines (2001-2003) and batting .274/.343/.496 with 59 homers in 298 games.

3. He has coached in the Cardinals' farm system since 2005, including his current position as the club's minor league hitting coordinator.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Derrick was born on July 14, so sadly he couldn't follow in the footsteps of 1970s outfielder Carlos May (born May 17) and wear his birthdate on his uniform.

Bill James Said: "The Cubs have many fine young outfielders, and May's secondary offensive skills (speed, power, walks) are very limited."

On This Date in 1993: March 13. Federal elections in Australia result in the Labor Party holding onto power despite the country's poor economy.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#390 Wade Boggs

About the Front: A few cards ago we had "25" on Devon White's bat, now we have "26" on Wade Boggs' cleats.

About the Back: You can see that Boggs had his worst offensive year by far in 1992, falling below .260 after never previously batting less than .302 in the first decade of his career. Fans must have been wondering whether it was a fluke or the beginning of his decline.

Triple Play:

1. He always seemed to draw a lot of attention for things that he did off the field. There was the famed superstition that had him eating chicken the day of every game, the ugly $12 million legal fight with his former mistress Margo Adams, and the legendary claims that he downed "at least" 64 Miller Lites on a cross-country flight while with the Yankees.

2. Boggs retired after a 1998-1999 stint with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, finishing with a triple-slash of .328/.415/.443 and 3,010 hits. His 578 doubles are still good for a #20 all-time rank.

3. He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame choice in 2005, joined on the dais by Ryne Sandberg.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Wade keeps crossing over into my other decades-long fandoms, with a memorable 1992 guest appearance on The Simpsons and a cameo at the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, where he posthumously inducted longtime personal friend "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig. Boggs credits the pro wrestler with saving his life, helping to carry Wade to safety after the latter severely cut his leg on barbed wire during a hunting trip.

Bill James Said: "Has about a 50-50 chance to get 3,000 hits."

On This Date in 1993: March 12. The Athletics release Jeff Ballard seven weeks after signing him. The Stanford lefty, who was 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA at age 25 with the 1989 Orioles, will catch on with the Pirates in late April and finish his MLB career with a couple of uneven seasons in the Pittsburgh bullpen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#389 Brian Harper

About the Front: Brian Harper didn't look like your prototypical stocky, beefy catcher, which is probably why he logged some time in the outfield throughout his career. Plus, he didn't have a reputation as a very good defensive catcher.

About the Back: You can see the meandering career path of Harper, as he played for six teams in parts of nine big league seasons before finally becoming a regular with the Twins in 1989 at age 29.

Triple Play:

1. Early in his career, Brian was blocked from the Angels' lineup by a formidable veteran cast that included Bob Boone, Reggie Jackson, Don Baylor, and Rod Carew. A trade to the Pirates only left him stuck on the bench behind Tony Pena.

2. Two of his sons, Brett and Lance, played minor league baseball. The former batted .302 with 155 home runs in 910 pro games, but topped out at AAA.

3. He has been a minor league coach and manager since 2001, working for the Angels, Giants, and Cubs.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Brian was in a late-career prime in the early 1990s, so it seemed strange to see 1979 as his debut season on the back of the card.

Bill James Said: "There was a 1930s catcher named Spud Davis who had exactly the same combination of talents as Harper." That's a pretty good, if obscure, comp. Davis batted .308/.369/.430 with single-season highs of 14 homers and 70 RBI.

On This Date in 1993: March 11. Janet Reno is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the first woman to be Attorney General.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#388 Jeremy Hernandez

About the Front: It seems like Topps used the horizontal format for most of the taller pitchers in this set. Jeremy Hernandez is 6'5"; off the top of my head, Ramon Martinez (6'4") and Randy Johnson (6'10") also got this treatment.

About the Back: Marty Keough was an outfielder/first baseman for the Reds and five other teams, 1956-1966. His son Matt pitched for the A's and four other clubs, 1977-1986.

Triple Play:

1. Jeremy earned his first big league win on September 4, 1992, blanking the Cubs for the final two innings of a 14-inning San Diego victory.

2. Following a June 1, 1993 trade to the Indians, he had six wins, eight saves, and a 3.14 ERA in 77.1 innings.

3. He finished his pro career with a 1997-1998 stint with the independent Tri-City Posse of the Western League.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I always thought the name Jeremy Hernandez was unconventional, but apparently his grandparents were Mexican.

Bill James Said: "I suspect that he's going to be one of the better middle relievers in the game over the next two-three years." 1994 went reasonably well (2.70 ERA in 21 games), but he gave up nine runs in seven innings in 1995 and never pitched in the majors again.

On This Date in 1993: March 10. Sherry Davis is hired by the Giants, making her the first woman to serve as a public address announcer in the big leagues.

Friday, March 6, 2015

#387 Devon White

About the Front: Equipment quirks! I spot Devon White's #25 on the knob of his bat.

About the Back: It always seemed to me like Devon was golfing in this photo.

Triple Play:

1. His surname is actually spelled "Whyte", but he went by "White" during his playing career due to a paperwork error dating back to his family's immigration to the U.S. from Jamaica in the early 1970s. His daughter Davellyn played college basketball at the University of Arizona, leaving as the school's second-highest career points scorer. She now plays for the WNBA's San Antonio Stars.

2. White was a seven-time Gold Glove winner in center field, including a five-year run from 1991 through 1995.

3. Devon has worked in the White Sox organization as a minor league baserunning coordinator.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I used to be annoyed that people called him "Devo", because that nickname was also used locally for Orioles outfielder Mike Devereaux. Your own guy is always better, right?

Bill James Said: "In '93 he was 34 for 38 as a base stealer, the best percentage of any major leaguer with at least 20 tries, and was second in the league in doubles, with 42."

On This Date in 1993: March 6. Douglas Marland, who spent two decades as a top writer for several soap operas (most notably As the World Turns), dies unexpectedly at age 58 following abdominal surgery. That one's for my soaps-loving Mom, who doesn't read this blog anyway.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#386 Ray Lankford

About the Front: Is the blurry fan in white seated behind the dugout wearing a bucket hat?

About the Back: Carl Nichols played a total of 96 major league games, batting .204/.274/.247 with no home runs and 18 RBI. I wonder if Ray Lankford teased his uncle at family gatherings.

Triple Play:

1. Lankford posted five 20/20 (steals/homers) seasons in St. Louis, making him the only Cardinal to do so more than once.

2. Ray made the All-Star team just once, getting the nod in 1997 when he batted .295/.411/.585 with a career-high of 31 home runs. However, his career OPS+ of 123 speaks to the fact that he was a consistently reliable hitter.

3. On October 3, 2004, he hit a pinch two-run homer in his final career game, adding to his franchise-record total of 123 home runs at Busch Stadium.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I had a handful of Kenner Starting Lineup figures. Most of these little plastic ballplayers bore little resemblance to their real-life counterparts, but I always liked my Ray Lankford figure. He was posed sliding headfirst into the base.

Bill James Said: "He was bothered by a sore wrist, which put him on the DL for a time in mid-summer, and gave him a slow trigger the rest of the year."

On This Date in 1993: March 4. Patti LaBelle receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#385 Jim Leyritz

About the Front: Close your mouth, Jim Leyritz. You're letting in flies.

About the Back: You don't see many "C-OF-3B" positional designations on cards.

Triple Play:

1. Leyritz was a part-time player for most of his career, but had a knack for big postseason hits. In Game Four of the 1996 World Series, his three-run homer off of Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers tied the game with one out in the eighth inning; the Yankees went on to win it in extras and knot the Series at two games apiece.

2. While playing for the Padres in 1998, Jim homered in three straight NLDS games as San Diego pushed past the Astros.

3. On December 28, 2007, Leyritz, driving on a supsended license, crashed his vehicle into another car in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The other driver was killed, and tests showed that both motorists were under the influence of alcohol. The ex-ballplayer was acquitted of manslaughter charges, as it was unclear whether he or the other driver had run a red light. But he was found guilty of misdemeanor DUI.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: He also sparked a decisive six-run Yankee outburst in their Game Five ALCS clincher against the Orioles in 1996, causing much consternation for yours truly. If only that had been the worst thing he ever did in his life.

Bill James Said: "He was one of the best platoon players in baseball, hitting .336 with a .600 slugging percentage against lefthanders."

On This Date in 1993: March 3. American biologist Albert Sabin, developer of the oral polio vaccine, dies of heart failure at age 86.

Monday, March 2, 2015

#384 Mike Benjamin

About the Front: Mike Benjamin's mirrored shades give us a nifty fish-eye view of the home team's ballpark.

About the Back: In later years, the Benjamins would add son Michael to their family. The elder Mike coached his son's Little League team to the World Series in Williamsport, PA in 2003, and went on to coach him at Arizona State University as well.

Triple Play:

1. Mike must have seen the ball well against Jaime Navarro. In 22 career meetings, he collected ten hits, including three of his 24 career homers, for a .455 average and .864 slugging mark.

2. In a 13-inning win over the Cubs on June 14, 1995, he went 6-for-7 with a double and a pair of RBI. It was part of a torrid three-game streak that saw the normally weak-hitting infielder set a record for the most hits in three straight games, spanning from June 11-14. His totals: 14-for-18 with a hit-by-pitch, five runs scored, a double, a homer, and four RBI (.778/.769/1.000).

3. Benjamin pitched a scoreless inning for Boston on June 21, 1997, needing only nine pitches to retire three Detroit batters in order.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I used to pronounce his last name as "been jammin' " to amuse myself. It never did take much.

Bill James Said: "Excellent defensive shortstop, gets most of his playing time spelling Robbie Thompson, but isn't in line to get the second base job if Thompson is unable to continue."

On This Date in 1993: March 2. The Expos sign corner infielder Jose Fernandez, an 18-year-old amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic. He will go on to hit 374 home runs in a 20-year career in pro baseball that includes stops in Mexico, Korea, and Japan, but none of those homers will be hit at the big-league level. He bats only 52 times in brief stints in Montreal (1999) and Anaheim (2001).