Monday, July 27, 2015

#459 Derek Wallace

About the Front: Here's a very fresh-faced Derek Wallace, first-round draft pick (11th overall) of the Cubs. If you'll recall way back to the beginning of Series One, the Expos' first-round pick (third overall) was also a college pitcher with the surname of Wallace: lefty B. J. Eerie stuff.

About the Back: Derek shares his September 1 birthday with former big league outfielders Garry Maddox and Rico Carty, among others.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first big league win on September 4, 1996, tossing two scoreless frames of relief as the Mets topped the Dodgers in 12 innings.

2. Nine days later - September 13, 1996 - Wallace earned an unusual save by striking out four Braves in the ninth inning of a 6-4 New York victory. He opened the inning by whiffing Terry Pendleton, but the veteran third baseman reached safely on a wild pitch on strike three. He then froze Chipper Jones for the first out before Fred McGriff doubled to put the tying runs in scoring position. The rookie responded by fanning Ryan Klesko and pinch hitter Mike Mordecai.

3. After an uneven debut with the Mets in late 1996 (2-3, three saves, 4.01 ERA, 1.74 WHIP), Derek didn't resurface in the majors until 1999, when he allowed four runs - three earned - in 8.1 innings for the Royals. That was his only other exposure to MLB.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I had never heard of Pepperdine University at that time, and didn't even know where it was located. Malibu, as it turns out. I'm not sure why I never did a campus visit there when I was college hunting.

Bill James Said: Zippo.

On This Date in 1993: July 27. The number of the day is five. John Kruk goes 5-for-5 with three RBI in a 10-7 Phillies win over the Cardinals. Tony Gwynn also has five hits in as many at-bats, doubling twice and driving in three runs in an 8-0 Padres rout against the Cubs.

Friday, July 24, 2015

#458 David Wells

About the Front: Check out the rear view of David Wells! (Heard it as soon as I said it.) Much like Bob Wickman, Wells is a pitcher who really, um, filled out later in his career.

About the Back: Man, am I entertained by the mental image of David Wells surfing.

Triple Play:

1. He idolized Babe Ruth, and wore his number 3 during a late-career stint in Boston. He also wore #33 with the Yankees and four other clubs, and once wore one of the Babe's old baseball caps for a start with the Yanks.

2. Wells was a late bloomer, making three All-Star teams and posting a 176-104 record in 13 seasons after turning 32. His prior career record to that point was 63-53.

3. David hurled a perfect game for New York against the Twins on May 17, 1998, whiffing 11 batters. He famously admitted in his autobiography to being hung over and "half-drunk" during the game from the previous night's activities.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In 1996, during Wells' short stay in Baltimore, one of my classmates ended up sitting by the lefty on an airplane. He said that Wells really seemed like a nice guy.

Bill James Said: "Released by the Jays in the spring because Cito was tired of his overweight biker act, Wells signed with the Tigers and looked like a steal after a 6-1 start, but slumped in June and July and went down with a sore shoulder in August." He finished 11-9 with a 4.19 ERA in 1993, good for a 103 ERA+.

On This Date in 1993: July 24. Enjoy a Calvin and Hobbes strip, why don'tcha?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#457 Tracy Woodson

About the Front: This was Tracy Woodson's first Topps card since the 1989 base set. I can't think of anyone else in the 1993 set who might have had such a long drought.
About the Back: Tracy's single-season home run record still stands at NC State, though Turtle Zaun tied the mark in 1988.

Triple Play:

1. He appeared in seven postseason games for the Dodgers in 1988, primarily as a pinch hitter. Batting for Franklin Stubbs in the top of the seventh inning in Game Four of the World Series, he gave L.A. a 4-2 lead with an RBI groundout. The Dodgers went on to win, 4-3.

2. Tracy had the dubious honor of striking out while pinch-hitting for Dodgers pitcher Tim Belcher, thereby making the final out of Reds pitcher Tom Browning's perfect game on September 16, 1988.

3. Woodson was a minor league manager from 1998-2004, working in the Pirates, Padres, and Marlins organizations and winning the Southern League championship in 2003 with the Carolina Mudcats. He's been a head coach in the NCAA since 2007, first at Valparaiso University, and now at the University of Richmond.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I never did like the no-sideburns look.

Bill James Said: "Stan Royer plays the same position(s) and is a similar hitter, and I'm guessing that Royer will get Woodson's job." After batting just .208 with no power or walks in pinch-hit duty in 1993, Woodson never played in the majors again. He spent three more seasons plugging along at AAA before retiring.

On This Date in 1993: July 23. There's a three-way tie atop the American League Eastern Division, as Boston tops Oakland in 10 innings, the Yankees beat the Angels, and Toronto falls to the Rangers. At 53-43, the Red Sox technically lead the Yanks and Blue Jays (both 54-44) by a single percentage point. Meanwhile, the Orioles, winners vs. the Twins, lurk a half-game behind the trio at 53-44.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#456 Scott Taylor

About the Front: Though this is pretty clearly a spring training photo, Scott Taylor did indeed wear #56 when he made his big league debut for Boston in September of 1992. According to Baseball Reference, he was only the second Red Sox player to ever wear that number, following pitcher Zach Crouch (1.1 IP in 1988).
About the Back: Only one other 28th-round signee from the 1988 draft made it to the majors. Toronto picked pitcher Woody Williams out of the University of Houston, and he went on to enjoy a 15-year career with the Jays, Padres, Cardinals, and Astros.

Triple Play:

1. Born Rodney Scott Taylor, he was one of three pro baseball players who went by "Scott Taylor" and played in the same era. Catcher Scott Michael Taylor played in the minors for the Cubs organization from 1987-1992, and pitcher Scott Michael Taylor spent a decade (1989-1998) in the minors with several organizations and had an MLB cup of coffee with the Rangers in 1995.

2. His first - and only - big league win came on October 3, 1992 when he tossed 6.2 innings of one-hit, one-walk, no-run relief against the Yankees.

3. Taylor last pitched professionally in 1995, going 5-8 with a 4.11 ERA in 27 games for Pittsburgh's AAA affiliate in Calgary.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Pro wrestling has been a guilty pleasure of mine for years, even predating my interest in baseball. If Taylor's career had endured for a few more years, people might have taken to calling him "Scotty 2 Hotty".

Bill James Said: "A sandy-haired 26-year-old lefthander, more of a survivor than an actual prospect."

On This Date in 1993: July 22. Royals shortstop Greg Gagne's ninth-inning home run off of Tigers pitcher Mark Leiter is the 10,000th base hit in the history of Tiger Stadium, the first time any ballpark has reached that milestone. Kansas City outslugs the Tigers, 12-6.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

#455 Chili Davis

About the Front: Chili Davis looks like he's about seven feet tall, rather than his listed 6'3". Maybe it's the pinstripes.

About the Back: Chili was the first Jamaican-born major leaguer, and to date there have only been three others: Devon White, Rolando Roomes, and Justin Masterson. That last one can probably win you a bar bet.

Triple Play:

1. On June 17, 1993, he pitched the final two innings of an 18-2 Angels loss to the Rangers. He retired six of the seven batters he faced, with only a plunking of Jose Canseco keeping him from perfection.

2. Chili retired after the 1999 season with 350 home runs, the fourth-most among switch hitters behind Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones. He batted .274/.360/.451 (121 OPS+).

3. Davis is currently in his first year as Red Sox hitting coach, following a three-year stint in the same position with the Athletics.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: How can you not like a guy named "Chili"? His birth name is Charles Theodore Davis, FYI.

Bill James Said: "A full-time DH, Davis drove in a hundred runs for the first time in his career, which effectively prevented people from talking about all of the things that he can't do." In the first year of his second go-round with the Angels, Chili batted .243/.327/.440 with 27 homers and 112 RBI. He also struck out a career-high 135 times, and his 103 OPS+ was the second-lowest of his career.

On This Date in 1993: July 21. Five years after the Yankees traded him to Seattle for Ken Phelps, Jay Buhner celebrates by going 5-for-5 with a homer, a double, and three RBI in a 10-3 Mariners win over the Bronx Bombers. Ken Griffey, Jr., Tino Martinez, and Lee Tinsley also go deep for the M's, who clobber Jimmy Key and Steve Farr in support of a complete-game effort from Erik Hanson.

Monday, July 20, 2015

#454 John Johnstone

About the Front: I just noticed John Johnstone's thick forearm hair, and now I can't look away. It's positively Verlanderian.

About the Back: John led the Florida State League with his 15 wins and nine complete games in 1990.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first big league win with two shutout innings of relief against the Braves on July 1, 1994, benefiting from a Kurt Abbott walkoff single in the bottom of the 11th.

2. Johnstone was an effective reliever for the Giants in 1998-1999, totaling 132 appearances over those two seasons with a 10-11 record, three saves, and a 2.87 ERA.

3. He retired from baseball due to a back injury in 2000, and spent a few years coaching at Baker High School in Baldwinsville, NY.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Seriously, who names their kid John Johnstone? That's just plain mean.

Bill James Said: "Taken from the Mets in the third round of the expansion draft, Johnstone didn't have a good year at Triple-A, but was called up in September anyway because, hey, who else were the Marlins going to take a look at?"

On This Date in 1993: July 20. Ben McDonald allows only a fourth-inning single by Gary Gaetti, one-hitting the Royals in a 7-0 victory. The Orioles' win, combined with losses by Toronto and the Yankees, gives Baltimore sole possession of first place in the American League East for the only time all season.

Friday, July 17, 2015

#453 Victor Cole

About the Front: Victor Cole is wearing #61. Surprisingly, Baseball Reference says that a dozen players have worn that number for the Pirates, most notably relievers Sean Burnett and Chan Ho Park.

About the Back: Going back to Baseball Reference, it looks like Victor was actually the eighth Russian-born player in MLB history. He was also the first since Izzy Goldstein got a cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1932. There haven't been any more native Russians in the majors since Cole's debut, and he is the only player born in Russia when it was known as the Soviet Union.

Triple Play:

1. After getting rocked for four runs on three hits and four walks in 1.1 innings in his big league debut, Victor strung together three straight scoreless relief outings to earn a look in the Pirates rotation.

2. Cole's father was born in Sierra Leone, but studied medicine in Russia and married a Russian woman.

3. He never pitched in the majors again after 1992, but pitched professionally through 2002, spending stints in the minor leagues, independent leagues, Taiwan, and South Korea.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Two years before this card was produced, the city name of Leningrad was changed back to St. Petersburg. I probably didn't know that at the time.

Bill James Said: Nothing, since Cole was busy getting lit up in the minors in 1993 (combined 1-9 record, 7.24 ERA at AA and AAA).

On This Date in 1993: July 17. Guns N' Roses performs in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the final date of their Use Your Illusion Tour. It's the last time that the original band will perform together.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#452 Bob Wickman

About the Front: I can't even remember a time when Bob Wickman looked that svelte.

About the Back: The other players in that Steve Sax trade were pitchers Domingo Jean and Melido Perez, both of whom went from Chicago to New York, making it a three-for-one deal.

Triple Play:

1. According to Wikipedia (buyer beware), Bob was a jack of all athletic trades in high school, active in football, baseball, basketball, swimming, horseback riding, tennis, and table tennis.

2. On July 29, 2000, the Brewers held a Bob Wickman poster giveaway. However, the team had just traded him to the Indians in a seven-player trade that brought Richie Sexson to Milwaukee, so the hefty pitcher sent his mother and grandmother to the Brewers game in his stead.

3. Bob was a closer for the last decade of his 15-year major league career, retiring after the 2007 season with a total of 267 saves, 31st on the all-time list as of this writing. His high-water mark came in 2005 with the Indians, when he led the American League with 45 saves and posted a 2.47 ERA.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I think it took me a few years to learn that Wickman lost the tip of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. It wasn't quite as obvious as Jim Abbott's physical differences.

Bill James Said: "Showalter was smart enough to realize that his luck was going to run out sooner or later, and moved him to middle relief in the middle of the season." Bob went 14-4 in 1993, but with a 4.63 ERA and a 70-69 strikeout-walk ratio.

On This Date in 1993: July 16. The Expos and Rockies swap pitchers, with lefty Butch Henry going to Montreal and righty Kent Bottenfield heading to Colorado.

Monday, July 13, 2015

#451 Ramon Caraballo, Jon Shave, Brent Gates, and Quinton McCracken

About the Front: Woah, Brent Gates was only in A-ball in 1992? The A's pushed him hard in 1993, as he spent most of the year in the big leagues.

About the Back: Let me try to fill in the blanks on these prospects, and at least give you their 1992 minor league stats. Caraballo batted .287/.338/.382 with 29 steals (in 51 tries, yuck) while splitting time between AA Greenville and AAA Richmond. Shave hit .287/.343/.373 at AA Tulsa. Gates had a line of .321/.414/.465 with 39 doubles and 88 RBI at high-A Modesto. And McCracken batted .280/.347/.353 in 67 games at low-A Bend, with 18 steals in 24 attempts.

Triple Play:

1. Aside from a six-game stint as a pinch runner and defensive replacement with the Braves in 1993, Ramon Caraballo's lone big league experience came in 1995, when he batted .202/.269/.323 in 34 games with the Cardinals. In recent years, he's coached for the Orioles' Dominican Summer League club.

2. Jon Shave had an interesting stat line for his 17-game introduction with the Rangers in 1993. He batted .319, but drew no walks and had a pair of sac flies and three bunts, giving him an on-base percentage of just .306. He didn't re-emerge in the majors until 1998, when he played 19 games in Minnesota. He returned to Texas in 1999, batting .288 in 43 games while playing all over the infield. He spent the following two years at AAA (Oklahoma City in 2000, Pawtucket in 2001) before retiring.

3. Gates is the star of this group, relatively speaking. He jumped to the bigs in 1993 after a dozen games each at AA and AAA. Though he played seven seasons in MLB, he peaked as a rookie, hitting .290/.357/.391 with 29 doubles, seven homers, and 69 RBI. He had an OPS+ of 107, but didn't top 89 in any other season with Oakland, Seattle, and Minnesota. He managed the West Michigan Whitecaps, a low-level affiliate of the Tigers, in 2001. After leaving baseball, he began working in insurance in Grand Rapids, MI.

3a. Quinton McCracken actually played in parts of 12 major league seasons, spanning from 1995 through 2006 with the Rockies, Devil Rays, Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, and Reds. He was just a Marlins stint short of representing every 1990s expansion team. 2002 was his standout year, as he batted .309/.367/.458 (107 OPS+) in 400 plate appearances with Arizona. He also collected four hits in 11 at-bats (.364) in the Diamondbacks' NLDS loss to the Cardinals that fall. Quinton worked in player development for Arizona in 2011-2012, and has been the Astros' Director of Player Development since 2013.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Of all of the prospects on these four-player cards, I'm glad that somebody named "Quinton McCracken" was on the fringes of the major leagues for more than a decade.

Bill James Said: Caraballo - "Mark Lemke is not exactly Roberto Alomar, but Caraballo's batting average wouldn't be a lot better than Lemke's, he has no power, and his poor strikeout/walk ratio and stolen base percentages are significant liabilities."

Shave - "An unspectacular talent, 26 years old with no power and limited speed, but a good fielder with good work habits, and should hit around .275."

Gates - "An argument can be made that a good second baseman who hits .290 with collateral contributions has had a better rookie season than an outfielder who hits 30 homers." It certainly sounds like Bill would've considered voting for Gates (who finished sixth in Rookie of the Year balloting) over Tim Salmon.

On This Date in 1993: July 13. MLB Players Association chief Donald Fehr warns of a possible player strike in September if negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between ownership and players don't start gaining momentum. The 1993 season remained intact, but we wouldn't be so lucky in 1994.

Friday, July 10, 2015

#450 Darryl Strawberry

About the Front: The blurry fans in the background look like they're right on the field. For safety's sake, I'm sure that's not true.

About the Back: Two homers is all well and good, but Darryl had a pair of three-homer games in his career, separated by more than a decade: August 5, 1985 for the Mets and August 6, 1996 for the Yankees.

Triple Play:

1. Late in his career, Strawberry found new life as a part-timer for the Yankees. In 1998, he hit two pinch grand slams during the regular season; only four other players have performed that feat.

2. Darryl is both a recovered drug addict and a survivor of colon cancer. He currently lives in Missouri with his wife Tracy and is a born-again Christian minister.

3. His son D. J. (Darryl Jr.) was a swingman and point guard for the University of Maryland basketball team (2003-2007). He was a second-round draft pick of the Phoenix Suns, and has played pro basketball ever since, spending much of that time in Europe.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Thanks to The Simpsons, I've always suspected that the mocking chant of "DAAAARRR-RRYYYLLL, DAAAARRR-RRYYYLLL" will actually reduce Strawberry to tears.

Bill James Said: "The back injury which has cost him most of the last two years is obviously serious and probably chronic."

On This Date in 1993: July 10. Television screenwriter Sam Rolfe, who co-created Have Gun - Will Travel and also wrote for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Eleventh Hour, dies of a heart attack at age 69.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#449 James Austin

About the Front: The color and texture of the mound looks odd somehow. It seems more like the surface of the moon than a pile of baseball dirt.

About the Back: It's a shame that Topps mentioned Jim Austin's college but not his high school, since he attended Dinwiddie High, and that's just fun to say. He was teammates at Dinwiddie with Mike Christopher, who pitched for the Dodgers, Indians, and Tigers in the 1990s.

Triple Play:

1. He earned his first MLB win with one and a third scoreless innings in a 7-4 Brewers victory over the Twins on April 15, 1992. After Minnesota had tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with three runs against Doug Henry, Austin stranded the winning run at third base by getting Brian Harper to fly out to left field. Milwaukee rallied for three runs of their own in the top of the tenth, and the righty retired the side in order in the home half of the inning.

2. Austin rattled off 18 straight scoreless appearances, July 21 through September 20, 1992, before Oakland reached him for a run in his final outing of the season on October 3.

3. Jim last pitched in the majors in 1993, but subsequently spent time in AAA Buffalo (Indians) and Pawtucket (Red Sox), as well as stints in Mexico and Taiwan, before hanging up his spikes for good.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: I'm just glad that Topps didn't go the Upper Deck route and use a picture of Austin making a grotesque Fire Marshall Bill-type face.

Bill James Said: "Righthanded middle reliever, 30 years old, was sent to New Orleans in July although he had pitched fairly well." Eh, I can see why Milwaukee demoted him. In 31 appearances totaling 33 innings, he gave up 28 hits and 13 walks and struck out just 15 batters. He had a 3.82 ERA, which seems pretty replaceable.

On This Date in 1993: July 9. In the first game I ever personally attended at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles pounded out 14 hits and took advantage of eight walks by White Sox pitchers to win a 15-6 blowout. Chris Hoiles' three-run homer highlighted a seven-run outburst in the sixth inning as the Birds wiped out a 3-1 deficit and never looked back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

#448 Ken Caminiti

About the Front: Is Ken Caminiti catching a pop-up or watching a bird fly overhead and dreaming of flying away himself?

About the Back: Ken shares his April 21 birthday with fellow ex-major leaguers Gary Peters, Al Bumbry, Jesse Orosco, as well as current Dodgers rookie slugger Joc Pederson. Also: Terry Tiffee. I just wanted to say (or type) Terry Tiffee.

Triple Play:

1. From September 16-19, 1995, Caminiti hit a home run from each side of the plate three times in a four-game span. No other switch hitter in big league history has performed the feat three times in a month, much less in four days.

2. He really broke out after a trade to the Padres, winning three straight Gold Gloves and capturing the 1996 NL MVP with a batting line of .326/.408/.621, 40 homers, and 130 RBI. Though San Diego was swept by the Cardinals in the NLDS that year, he added three more longballs in the three-game series.

3. Ken battled numerous injuries and addictions during and after his playing career. His personal demons included alcoholism, prescription painkillers, smokeless tobacco, and cocaine. After retiring from baseball, he admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he had used steroids while in MLB. He died of a heart attack at age 41 in 2004.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Caminiti was the cover boy for Hardball 6, a PC game that I got some mileage out of in my teen years.

Bill James Said: "In about two years he will wake up and discover that he can't get around on a good fastball, but until then he's an above-average regular." Can't be right all of the time.

On This Date in 1993: July 8. Second baseman Billy Doran plays the final game of his 12-year career, collecting a pinch-hit single in the Brewers' 15-3 rout of the Twins. Doran spent the bulk of his time with the Astros, and retired with an OPS+ of 106 (.266/.354/.373) and 209 stolen bases.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#447 Keith Shepherd

About the Front: Well, here's a rarity: a Series Two Rockies card that was shot on a baseball field!

About the Back: As you can see, Keith Shepherd had an altogether different path to Colorado than his teammate David Nied. Entering his eighth pro season, the Rockies would be Keith's six MLB organization.

Triple Play:

1. Shepherd earned his first big league save with two scoreless innings of relief against the Expos on September 14, 1992.

2. On June 8, 1993, he earned his third and final career save the hard way, tossing four innings of hitless relief in support of starter Bruce Ruffin in a 4-1 Rockies victory over the Pirates.

3. If Wikipedia is to be trusted (and why not?), Keith has pitched in the Fort Wayne, IN 18-and-over league since his pro career ended in 1997, and has also been an assistant baseball coach at Wabash High School.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: Shepherd's final taste of the majors came in a monstrously terrible 13-game stint with the 1996 Orioles. While pitching in low-leverage situations, he gave up a whopping 31 hits (six homers), 27 runs (20 earned), and 18 walks in 20.2 innings...that's an 8.71 ERA. It's baffling to me that he got two separate looks on the roster.

Bill James Said: "Another Rockies Pitcher Horror Show, posted a 3.00 ERA on the road, but 10.45 in Denver, which abbreviated his stay."

On This Date in 1993: July 7. I'll drop in a quote from the Baseball-Reference Bullpen: "Mets P Bret Saberhagen throws a firecracker under a table near reporters at Shea Stadium, but no one is hurt."

Monday, July 6, 2015

#446 Luis Mercedes

About the Front: Luis Mercedes is here to welcome yours truly back from vacation! He also seems to think that his curly black hair is just too gorgeous to hide underneath a cap. I'm sure Jim Palmer could commiserate.

About the Back: The idea of an affiliated minor league having a "Rookie of the Year" seems a bit odd to me, but as Luis was nearly three years younger than the average International League player in 1991, he was a worthy recipient of that award.

Triple Play:

1. Mercedes also led the AA Eastern League in batting with the Hagerstown Suns in 1990, with his .334 mark.

2. Late in the 1991 season, Luis was suspended at AAA Rochester for throwing his batting helmet in the face of an opposing player during an argument. Undeterred, the Orioles called him up in September for his big league debut.

3. He last played in Mexico during the 1995 and 1996 seasons, having finished his MLB career with a total of just 70 games played and a batting line of .190/.286/.242.

11-Year-Old Kevin Says: In the early 1990s, I remember hearing Mercedes' name when my father was listening to O's games in the car. His name had a certain ring to it.

Bill James Said: "His skills probably are not a lot different from those of Willie McGee, who has the job that he wants." The Orioles had traded Luis to the Giants for pitcher Kevin McGehee on April 29, 1993, and the speedy, singles-hitting outfielder couldn't crack a San Francisco outfield that included McGee, Darren Lewis, and Barry Bonds.

On This Date in 1993: July 6. Manny Machado celebrates his first birthday. In the present day, he's a Gold Glove third baseman for the Orioles and is in the midst of his fourth big league season. Where does the time go?