Hey, it's Gregg Zaun's uncle! I actually had no idea about that until I looked him up on B-R. Dempsey looks positively weather-beaten in this photo. He was only 36 when it was taken but he looks about 10 years older than that. The stylist should have straightened him up a bit, too. Look how askew his chest protector is.
For some reason I remember Dempsey as a much better player than he actually was. He racked up 400+ ABs in a season only once, which makes it all the more amazing that he stuck around the bigs for an incredible 24 seasons. Think about that for a second. 24 seasons for a catcher. Compare him to his nephew, Zaun who has had a very similar career, numbers-wise. Zaun is 37 years old and would have to play 10 MORE SEASONS to match Dempsey.
Volume metrics aside, Dempsey was a really lousy hitter. Over those 24 seasons he 140 more strikeouts than walks, only 96 homers, 471 RBI, and an OPS+ of 87. OK, so we've established he couldn't hit. Well guess what. HE WAS A WORLD SERIES MVP! That's right, in '83 Dempsey hit .385 over the 5 games with a whopping 1.390 OPS. Amazing. That might have been the best 5-game stretch of his career and he did it in the Series.
There is zero chance Joe finished his career without being called the Cowley Lion several times. To perpetuate the animal similarity, Joe looks like a deer in the headlights in this photo. I can't believe that of all the shots they snapped during this spring training session, THIS was the best one. At least we have a nice, new, black Mizuno glove to show for it. AND we have a great look at those retro White Sox unis. Any baseball fan knows the ChiSox have had some bad, bad, bad uniforms over the years, but I still think these look cool. You know, when they're not on a player who looks like he spent all night at Denny's.
I don't know much about Cowley, but I'm not sure why his career fell off a cliff. I'm going to assume injury, because after two consecutive solid seasons:
...Cowley pitched only 11 more innings in the big leagues. And those 11 innings did not go well (15.43 ERA). Those innings came over 4 starts in April of '87, so it's possible he just lost his effectiveness, was sent down and never came back.
As much as he resembles the speedster, unfortunately, Greg has no relation to Lou. But this photo definitely could have been taken during Lou Brock's career. Everything about it looks very 70s.
The low angle with Greg looking off at...something.
The goofy, shaggy haircut with a few locks poking out the front.
The lack of any muscular definition.
No batting gloves.
And I just noticed something. Check out Greg's pinky on his left hand. What is up with that? I'm assuming it's a band-aid, but it almost looks like he's had a new finger grafted onto his hand.
As a player, Greg probably received more at bats than he should have, but he wasn't a terrible hitter. He had two seasons with 20+ homers (both for LA) and he ended up with an OPS+ of just above average (105). The problem was that he was a first baseman, and most teams don't have much tolerance for an average hitter at such an offensive position. Despite his mediocrity and the fact that he managed to contribute absolutely nothing to LA in two postseason series (just one hit in 21 ABs), Brock managed to stick around the big leagues for a solid 10 years. Good for him.
Um, what are you looking at, Bert? If it's the train leaving the station for the Hall of Fame, I'd jump aboard. And what is UP with that goofy Twins logo in the upper left?
And by the way, my earlier sentence isn't an endorsement for Bert's Hall chances, just that after getting nearly 63% this year, I'm positive he will get in soon. But let's look at the reasons why he should and shouldn't be a HOFer.
Why He Should He won 287 games, which would have been well over 300 had he not played for so many crappy teams. He won two World Series with the Pirates in '79 and the Twins in '87 and was a fantastic postseason pitcher, going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA. In fact, he had only one postseason series that wasn't stellar (the '87 ALCS against Detroit), but he still managed to win both the games he pitched, even beating a guy everyone sees as the ultimate big game pitcher (Jack Morris) in the process. He compiled an incredible 3701 strikeouts. That's 5th all time. He pitched 4970 innings. That's 14th all time. And of the 13 guys ahead of him, 5 played either in the late 19th or early 20th century. He has 60 career shutouts. That's 9th all time. And he led the league in SHO 3 times. His 10 most similar pitchers according to B-R are Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Tommy John, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Jim Kaat, Early Wynn, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton. All except Tommy John and Jim Kaat are HOFers.
Why He Shouldn't Despite all the above, he never finished better than 3rd in the Cy Young voting, and only got votes in 4 years. He won 20 games only once, in 1973, when he made 40 starts and went a whopping 20-17. He made only two all star teams. He gave up a LOT of homers. In '86 and '87 he gave up 50 and 46 homers, respectively. That is incredible.
The Verdict I don't think it's even close. The guy should be in. Voters hold that 300-win total as a magical threshold, but when you play for so many awful teams, your win totals are affected. And Bert played a large chunk of his career in a 5-man rotation, which, of course, makes a big difference. Besides, wins are not the real measure of effectiveness anyway. The fact remains, Bert was an excellent, durable starter for a long, long time and should be recognized as such. Voters, get him in!
OK, let's start with the good: It's our first rookie card! And now the bad: It's Tony Walker.
Visually, the card is pretty decent. It's a nice look at the 'Stros uniforms of the 80s, marking the transitional period between the horrific 70s ones (see, it still has those stripes on the sleeves) and the modern day ones (note the predominantly blue and white design). There's not much to say about the photo, it's a pretty standard batter shot.
Now, about the player himself. Um, I got nuthin. Walker had a cup of coffee in '86 after spending 5 years in the minors. He had three minor league seasons with 40+ stolen bases, so the Houston brass must have thought they could make the kid into a leadoff hitter. Unfortunately, he hit .222 in 84 games in '86 an was summarily sent down to Tucson, never to return.
On an unrelated note, I played Babe Ruth League baseball (age 13-15) for the Astros and our manager was a crusty old Asian guy who owned a lamp store. He wasn't a very good manager, and it didn't help that he spit when he talked and had a thick accent that resulted in a lot of embarassing calls to the team, "Assholes, ova hee-uh!" It really sounded like that.
Why was Lee Smith always squinting? Seriously, he's squinting above, here, here, and here. Aside from that, this card is actually pretty nice. Lots of red, white and blue, a nice shot of two Cubs logos and a brand spankin' new Rawlings glove. I'll ignore the fact that the background suggests Smith is standing on a cloud. I think I chose that same background for my 4th grade school photo.
I remember that when Smith was traded to the Sox in '87 I saw him as an old, war-battered veteran who was nearing the end. I don't know why I thought that considering he went to the Sox when he was 30. Smith was one of the first of the modern day closers who you could count on to come in, throw peas and slam the door, while only pitching in close games. Smith was a great pitcher (one who I think should be in the HOF, as one of the first of his kind - Bruce Sutter is the other and he's in), but it shows you how little regard the voting community has for saves when the guy who is 3rd ALL TIME in a major statistical category isn't in the hall. For the record, I don't have much regard for saves either, but I think if Sutter is in, and Eck is in, Smith should be, too.
Another boring, stripey photo with a bat boy checking out DeCinces from behind. That bat boy looks like he's doing some crazy form of yoga. It almost appears as if his right knee is behind is back!
Doug was a pretty solid player for the O's, then the Halos in the '70s and '80s. He was one of those steady, not spectacular, kinda guys who was a fixture in the lineup and occasionally went on season-long tear (3rd in MVP voting in '82). Most notably, he was a part of two Angels teams whose seasons ended in heartbreaking fashion. In '82, the Angels won the AL West and took a 2-0 lead over the Brewers (who had that year's MVP, Robin Yount) in the ALCS. They then proceeded to drop games 3 and 4, blowing a 1-run lead in the 7th inning of game 5 thanks to a Cecil Cooper 2-RBI single. But you can't blame Dougie, he went 3-4 in that game.
Then we all know what happened in '86. The Angels had a 3-1 ALCS lead over the Red Sox and a 5-2 lead in the 5th game going into the 9th. Mike Witt gave up a 2-run shot to Don Baylor (who was on the '82 Angels team). Gary Lucas hit Rich Gedman. Then Donnie Moore (with one out away from an AL crown) gave up another 2-run homer to Dave Henderson, giving the Sox a 6-5 lead. Amazingly California tied it up in the 9th, but even more amazingly, Hendu again victimized Moore (WHO WAS STILL IN THE GAME) in the 11th inning with a Sac fly that ultimately gave the Sox the game 5 win. But you can't blame Dougie, he went 2-5. Boston would go on to win games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 18-5.
I was hoping Mark Davis' middle name was "Nondescript" but it is in fact "William" which manages to be more nondescript than the word "Nondescript." This is reflected perfectly in the most boring of card shots. In fact, it's so boring I'm not even going to break it down. Especially when there actually IS something interesting about his career.
Davis was a below average reliever who ended up with an ERA+ of 89. Not so good. But guess what? HE WON A CY YOUNG AWARD! In 1989, he saved 44 games for the Pads with a 1.85 ERA. And he threw 92+ innings, which is a lot for a closer. Great season. From time to time you will find flukey guys who won Cys mostly because they had a great season for a team who played in a World Series or at least won a division. But the Fathers didn't even win the division that year. And Davis was a reliever. And it's not like he had a history of dominance. And he won the Cy! And it wasn't even close! Davis had 19 first place votes. Second was Mike Scott with 4. Davis has to be one of the worst pitchers to take home the award.
What looks like a nice action shot here is just Carter throwing down to second after some warmup pitches. Knowing that, it's not as cool a photo as it seems at first glance. But it's a decent look at a Hall of Famer who was seen as the premier offensive catcher in the National League during the late 70s and early-mid 80s.
Because of his position, Carter was a bit overrated as an hitter, but he certainly was a gamer. Twice in his career he caught over 150 games ('78 and '82) which is extremely rare in today's game, and even through history stands up as quite an achievement. In fact, Johnny Bench only did it once, Yogi never did it, Fisk did it twice, Bob Boone never did it, Campy never did it...the list goes on.
Yay! More stripes! At least we get a nice look at the Mariners old logo on Young's jersey and in the upper left corner. I actually liked that trident M. But what I don't like is that cheesy glove. Really? You're a starting pitcher for a Major League Baseball team and you're using a freakin' Velcro glove? OK, I know they were popular there for a little while, but come on, Matt.
As a rookie, Matt made the All Start team despite ending the season at 11-15. He did have a nice 3.27 ERA, which is exceptional for a rook. And I'm assuming he was the lone Seattle representative on the AL squad that year. But just for the hell of it, let's look at his splits to see how well he was doing when he was elected to the team, and how well he finished up the year.
Before the Break W/L: 7-8 ERA: 2.86 IP: 116 1/3 GS: 17 CG: 3 SHO: 2
That's a nice first half for any pitcher, let alone a rookie, despite the fact that Seattle's anemic offense refused to help the guy out. Seriously, their best offensive player that year was Pat Putnam, who hit .269 with 19 homers. If you have any recollection of Pat Putnam, you're a better man than me.
After the Break W/L: 4-7 ERA: 3.81 IP: 87 1/3 GS: 16 CG: 2 SHO: 0
He trailed off a bit, but that's still an impressive half season for a rookie starter. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Young was an ineffective starter for the rest of his career. Ironically, his best season came when he returned to the Mariners after a brief sojourn on the west coast (OAK, LA), when he had a 3.51 ERA...and went 8-18. That's criminal.
I remember thinking as a kid that Dick Howser was just a few letters away from having the coolest name in the history of sports. Dick Howitzer. Can you imagine that? There's no way a guy named Dick Howitzer wouldn't be successful. But even with a fairly forgettable name, Howser was an excellent manager. He won two World Series (with the Yanks in '78 and the Royals in '85) and had only one finish lower than second place at a time when there were only two divisions. And that was '86 when he didn't even finish the season due to a brain tumor. He came back for '87, but was unable to manage due to his condition, and ultimately died later that year.
It's a sad story, and an abrupt end to a very successful, albeit short managing career. Fittingly, the last game he ever managed was the '86 All Star Game.
It's difficult not to evaluate the card with all that in mind, but it's a pretty standard manager shot. One leg up on the dugout step, one hand in the back pocking, looking out to the diamond. We'll gloss over the fact that he looks a little too much like Dick Van Patten in this photo.
Funny, he doesn't LOOK like a guy who would leave depraved voicemails. Oh wait, that was PAT O'Brien. With that weird semi-smile on his face, Pete doesn't look quite as ready as the situation might require. He almost seems like he knows his photo is being taken. Hey at least we get a break from the stripes.
There have been three Pete O'Briens in major league history and this Pete was by far the most successful. He had a very consistent career, and was generally one of those .270, 15-20+ homer guys, numbers that seem paltry as we emerge from the steroid era, but he was a pretty well regarded player who was a regular first-baseman for Texas, Cleveland and Seattle.
Aside from the fact that he looks like he's 12 in this photo, I don't have a lot to say about Pat Clements or his card. Decent shot of a Rawlings glove and that goofy Pirates that looks like something you might have seen John C. Reilly wear in Gangs of New York.
Pat was was a reliever for his somewhat brief major league tenure but did make two career starts. One came October 2, 1988, when Pat threw 6 innings o 3-run ball against a Tigers team who finished 1 game out of first in the AL East. He got a no-decision as a guy we just looked at, Dave Righetti, picked up the loss. A year later, this time pitching for San Diego, he gave up 5 runs in 3 innings to St. Louis. No wonder he didn't start many games.
Aside from the fact that the background in this photo looks way too artificially blurry, this is a pretty great card. Claudell has clearly poked what looks like a lazy fly to right and is appropriately taking his time getting out of the box. But not before he kicked up a nice cloud of dirt, a very cool touch. (Thanks for not making this green, Topps!) Plus, it's a great full body shot, with Claudell squarely and completely in the frame.
I don't have many memories of Claudell Washington, but he's a lot older than I thought. I had assumed he came up around 1980, but 1975 was his first full season. Looking at his stats, he had a fairly productive, although somewhat middling career, which explains why he played the As, Rangers, ChiSox, Mets, Braves, Yankees, Angels and Yankees again. He would have been a lot more valuable if he could draw a walk once in awhile (.325 career OBP), but guess what? His career OPS+ was STILL better than Joe Carter (106-105).
Ugh. It would be hard to find a baseball player I disliked in the late '80s more than Dave Stewart. Mostly because he was such a postseason force for Oakland. But man was he a man of two careers. He was a below average pitcher until he moved to the Bay, when he promptly won 20+ games four straight seasons, all after his 30th birthday. I wonder if anyone's ever done that before.
The photo does a good job of capturing that intimidating stare Stewart used on the mound. He looks downright scary in this photo. Although it would be hard to be intimidated by a guy wearing all those goofy stripes. In fact, let's count them.
3 at the collar 3 on the left sleeve 3 at the waist 3 on the left leg 4 counting each side of each stirrup (yes, i consider those stripes)
That's a total of 16 stripes in one photo. I think that's about 12 too many.
Finally, a player I actually liked! Esasky was a pretty productive player and seemed like a solid guy. He had his best season with the Red Sox in '89, hitting .277 with 30 homers and 108 RBI, but suffered from vertigo the next season, tragically ending his career.
Looking at the back, I may have to re-evaluate my assessment of his niceness, because, just like Jeff Sellers, he named his kid after himself. You're killing me, Nick!
Onto the card. Not bad. Decent photo, although I wish you could see a little more of his face. And the way his arms are shot, it makes it look like he has one big arm instead of two normal-sized ones. But overall, the action in the photo is just what you want on a great baseball card.
According to the back, "Jeff and his wife have a son, Jeffrey Doyle, Jr." Here's a new rule. If you suck, you're not allowed to name your kid after yourself. I suppose that would eliminate nearly all legacy names as suckitude is really a prerequisite for having the stones to name your child that way.
Sellers started a few games for the Sox over a few years but didn't do...well...anything. So let's concentrate on the photo. First, we have another brand new Mizuno glove and a background that suggests spring training. It's a pretty bland card, and it's not helped by the squinty, confused look on Sellers' face. Maybe he just couldn't see! Yeah, that's it, he had lousy vision, but didn't realize it because Roger Dorn never played a trick on him that led to Lou Brown discovering Sellers' myopia. Dammit. He could have been the next Wild Thing. Not Mitch Williams, we'll get to him later.
Here is the first of the individual team cards. We'll start with Cleveland, who had a pretty decent year in '86, finished at 84-78, which was a lot better than most of their seasons in the '80s. I never understood the whole white fog thing that's going on with the team cards. Why? To make them seem like some sort of wonderful dream? OK, I can buy that, but who the hell is dreaming of an Indians mound conference? At least we get a shot of HOFer Phil Niekro, who is clearly older than the pitching coach.
On the back of these cards Topps listed the team leaders for a few relevant categories. On this particular one, I learned that Joe Carter had 200 hits in 1986! I actually didn't believe it, so I looked it up, only to find it was true. I'm still in disbelief about that. Joe Carter was a tremendously overrated hitter who struck out a ton, never walked, and ended his career with a .259 batting average and OPS+ of 105. He built his reputation on a few big hits and some decent power numbers. But you have to hand it to the guy, he did have a good '86. .302 with 29 homers, 121 RBI and a 130 OPS+. I won't mention that aside from that one season, he never had one when he reached even 175 hits.
Ah, the first member of the Bob Ojeda "Stunk Until He Left the Red Sox" Association. Cooper did nothing for the Sox for 6 seasons, got traded to Milwaukee for George Scott and Bernie Carbo, then started a run of 7 straight seasons hitting over .300, 3 top-5 MVP finishes, led the league in RBI twice and he even started stealing bases. Jerk.
As for the card itself, the photo is absolutely hilarious. Check out the background. Clearly nobody wants any part of Coop. I don't blame them, he sorta looks like a mini Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and no one likes Kareem.
Alright, I had hoped we would get farther into the set than #9 before we found a guy I had no recollection of, but here we are. Jay Tibbs. But looking at the card, guess what? More stripes! And a nice look at the GIGANTIC 80s Expos logo. When I was a kid, I always thought the logo was a mashed together "elb" which never made any sense to me.
In the photo, Tibbs also has a nice brand spankin' new Mizuno glove, so I'm guessing this was taken in March. That guy on the grassy knoll to the right is also creeping me out. Maybe Tibbs just stiffed him an autograph.
We all remember the MVP for Atlanta version of Pendleton, but here's a shot of the crappy .240 hitter with ZERO power version of TP. But this is actually a nice card. There's some nice symmetry between the catcher (gotta be Gary Carter, right?) and batter, and come to think of it, the fuzzy guy on deck, too. It's also another good example of the ridiculously stripey Cards' unis of the 80s. I hated those stupid striped waistbands, thank god they got rid of those.
I also just noticed something. In the Cards' jersey graphic/logo there are two cardinals. Which, when you think about it makes sense because the team is the St. Louis Cardinals (plural). Are there any other teams who used this strategy? The Red Sox have a secondary logo with two socks, but since the name is spelled with an "x" I don't think that counts. Anyone?
As for the card itself, it's pretty sharp, except for the fact that Topps felt the need to turn up the green on the entire background. Check out the lower left hand corner and you can see that the mound is...green! I assume this wasn't some weird spring training exhibition on St. Patrick's day and that Topps just wanted a lot of green on the card. I also wish they hadn't cut off his foot. I love the cards where you can see the player's entire body. But the photo captures a HUGE leg kick, killer '80s 'stache and a very stripey Cards uni. Love it.
This is a pretty decent card. Nice photo (beautiful, powerful swing with a good shot of the shin guard before it was so popular-hate the guy standing between his legs though), semi-interesting fact (at 20, Sierra was the youngest player to hit HRs from both sides of the plate in a single game). Remember when Sierra was supposed to be a superstar? What happened to that guy? He had that rare blend of power and speed, then before he turned 30 he just stopped...being...good.
Ah, I see why Topps decided to call Davey Lopes "Dave." They didn't want Righetti to be the only record-breaking Dave.
In '86, Righetti set the single-season saves record of 46. That number has been exceeded several times since then, and in '08 K-Rod set the new record with 62. So I'll use this as an opportunity to complain about how overrated K-Rod is. Last year he saved 62 games...in only 68 and a third innings. That's a pretty amazing feat, and you guessed it, he had exactly zero saves of more than one inning. And the first time all year he was left out there to try to close one out for more than an inning, he got the loss in game 5 of the ALDS against the Sox. Yes, he had a pretty good ERA for a closer of 2.24, but he also has had a WHIP that has climbed the last three years, finishing at 1.288 last year. That is NOT good for a guy who's supposed to be an elite closer.
Let's take a look at the WHIPs of the other AL saves leaders in '08:
OK, first Dave Lopes? Not Davey? OK, Topps. But overall this is a great shot of Lopes...on the bench. Which actually makes sense considering he only had 255 ABs in the year he stole 25 bases. Now, that doesn't seem like a lot of ABs for a guy with that many swipes, but then I found the '70s As. I'm too young to have watched these teams, so someone will have to fill me in if they have any firsthand knowledge of how this team played, but WOW. In 1974, Herb Washington stole 29 bases and had ZERO ABs. Zero! The guy played in 92 games...and he never played the field!!! So he pinch ran in all those 92 games. And what's worse, he was caught stealing 16 times! That's a terrible %.
What's more, this was not an isolated year. Check out the 1975 team, 1976, etc. And it wasn't just one wacky manager's philosophy; they did this year after year. Am I the only one who finds this interesting?
Dewey! If you remember Dwight Evans at all, you remember his stance. He came up under the hitting tutelage of Walk Hriniak, who somehow managed to ruin the swing of about half of the Sox hitters in the 80s. But it did mean he looked nutty in the batter's box, putting all of his weight on his back foot, drooping the bat way back and basically breaking every rule of hitting, aesthetic and otherwise. There was a kid on one of my little league teams who use to stand in the dugout and stretch a piece of chewed gum into a long strand, then hold it back like a bat and pretend to be Dewey. I wonder where that kid is now.
Anyway, Evans homered on the first pitch of the SEASON in 1986. This has always confused me, because why on earth was Dwight Evans leading off? According to B-R, he led off for the first 34 games of 1986 and a good portion of '85. That makes no sense to me. Whatever speed he had was gone by the mid 80s, he struck out a ton, and he had the kind of power you'd want in the middle of the order. I guess he did walk a lot, but still. Not your typical leadoff guy.
As you've probably picked up on, the set starts with all record breakers. Good, let's get these things out of the way and get to the real meat of the set.
Here we have the immortal, uh, I mean, forgettable Jim Deshaies. On Sept. 23, 1986, he struck out the first 8 hitters of the game. Of course the card doesn't say what team the Astros were playing, but checking B-R, I can see that it was LA. I was really hoping he pitched a lousy game after striking out all those guys, but I was wrong. He threw a 2-hit shutout and ended up with 10 Ks. Pretty damn good.
And we're off! The first card of the 1987 Topps set is a Roger Clemens Record Breaker commemorating the game when the Rocket K'd 20 Mariners. It's funny seeing such a svelt Clemens after we've had the fat 'roided Roger shoved down our throats the last couple years. Growing up a Sox fan, I can't imagine any athlete going from loved to hated as much as this guy.
Overall, I like the Record Breaker cards, but you'll notice that on some of them, "Record Breaker" is red and others it's yellow. Not sure why Topps did that. Luckily, the record breakers don't diverge too much from the regular design, which is the now legendary wood backgrounds. Doesn't get more classic than that, and as far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been duplicated. More on that later.
Welcome to the '87 Topps blog, a card-by-card look at my first and favorite baseball card set. I'll be scanning in each card and commenting on, well, whatever I feel like. The photo, the stats, any weird memories of the player I have, etc. Enjoy!
Oh, and if you haven't seen it, check out the definitive card-by-card blog here. -BloggerDK