Wednesday, February 25, 2009

#38 - Dennis Leonard

Could there possibly be more blue in this photo?

Blue jersey.
Blue hat.
Goofy blue trash bag-lookin' jacket.
Blue glove.
Blue sky.

That's a lotta blue.

It's interesting that Topps gave Leonard a card, being that he retired after the 1986 season. I assume he retired toward the beginning of the 1987 calendar year. Regardless, Leonard was off to a nice start before he hurt his knee, which really wrecked his career. From 1976-1980, he won 92 games and threw a ton of innings. He was never a truly dominant pitcher, but before he got hurt, he was very reliable, pitching 20+ complete games in consecutive seasons, 9 of which were shutouts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

#37 - Marvell Wynne

Decent action shot of Marvell Wynne as he rolls his wrists over. It looks to me as if he was a tad ahead of this pitch, but he did manage to stay back. If that makes sense. They guys in the dugout almost look like they're re-enacting that scene from Major League where the players are stomping their feet in unison.

Marvell didn't stick around the bigs for very long, mostly because he wasn't a very good baseball player. I don't know him well as a player, but judging by his stats he seems to fit the profile of a speedy defense-first center fielder. His limitations, which were many are summed up by his 1984 season:

653 AB
.266 BA
0 HR (!!)
.310 OBP
24 steals in, wait for it, 43 chances
.647 OPS (82 OPS +)

Blech. It didn't help that he followed up that season with 337 ABs and an OPS+ of 43. Double blech. Oh well, at least he had a good sports name.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

#36 - Eric King

Well, not a whole lot to say about this card. The shot is about as bland as they come, except for the fact that the placement of the logo makes it look sorta like one of the fans in the background has a tiger head. But not really.

Eric King didn't have much of a career, but he was pretty effective for most of it. He put together consecutive seasons for the ChiSox with 25 starts and ERAs under 3.40. Not bad. But beginning in '91, King lost it and was out of the majors for good after '92.

Some Seattle fans might remember that Eric King gave up the first career homer of their once and future outfielder, Ken Griffey, Jr. Speaking of whom, I hope the kid stays healthy as I think he has one more semi-productive season in him. As long as no one throws him fastballs over 93 MPH.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

#35 - Sid Bream

Ladies and gentlemen, your 1990 Hutch Award winner! Um, what? I had to look that one up. Apparently, the Hutch Award is given annually to "an active player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win." (from Wikipedia). The award was created in honor or Fred Hutchinson, a major league pitcher who died of cancer in 1965. Most of the recipients were players who overcame a tremendous amount of adversity (usually health-related) to be productive major league players. For example, Tony C won it in 1970, 3 years after being hit in the eye. Dave Dravecky won it in '89 after coming back from the removal of a cancerous tumor. And most recently, John Lester took it hom after kicking lymphoma's ass and becoming one of the top lefties in the AL.

So it's not an honor to take lightly. Which is good because if it wasn't for the famous play at the plate that won the Braves the NL pennant in 1992, Bream would be mostly forgotten.

Now the card itself. Ah those stupid Pirates hats. Couldn't be more annoying to a self-proclaimed stripe-hater. Seriously, what was up with those damn caps? Pittsburgh should have just gone all the way and had the players wear pirate hats like the one in the logo. But other than that and the fact that Bream looks like he's trying to take a crap on the first base bag, the card is decent. Bland photo but not terrible.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

#34 - Jose Rijo

Stripes aside, I like this card. It shows a hard throwing right-hander who wasn't yet a star at full physical exertion. Both his glove hand and pitching hand are a little too blurry, but there are some cool things going on. Rijo looks furious as he 's about to let loose, and his right foot looks like it's stepping onto the diagonal border of the card. Cool stuff.

Jose Rijo had an interesting career. He came up to the bigs at 19 years old for the Yankees, seemingly to steal some attention from the Mets' own phenom, Doc Gooden. Looking back, that was far too soon. Rijo struggled for the Yankees and was shipped to Oakland in a trade that brought the Bombers Rickey Henderson. Rijo spent three mostly tough seasons in Oakland as a part-time starter, until he was involved in another big-name trade that sent him to Cincinnati and brought Dave Parker to Oakland. Parker would help the A's win the World Series in '89 but Rijo would later come back to absolutely PUNISH his former club. More on that in a minute.

Keep in mind, at this point Rijo was still only 23, an age when it starts to become clear what kind of ballplayer most guys will become. He got his first start for the Reds June 8th of 1988, tossing 6 innings of 2-hit ball in a 7-1 win. Rijo started the rest of the year and finished at 13-8, 2.39, cementing his place in the Cincy rotation.

In 1990, Rijo took the Reds to the Series against Oakland and absolutely mowed down his former team to the tune of two wins, 15 innings, one earned run, 14 Ks and a 0.59 ERA. Ladies and gentlemen, that's dominance.

Injuries ended a remarkable 8-year stretch when Rijo was just 30, but he would make a comeback a whopping 6 years later. In his first game back after the long layoff, he pitched two innings, giving up no runs and striking out two. What a gamer. He pitched well in a reliever role that year before hanging it up for good a year later.

I know that is about the longest I've written about anyone in this set so far, and I'm sure some of it has to do with a documentary I just saw on the 1990 season, but I've always been a fan of this guy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

#33 - Any Van Slyke

Interesting photo of Van Slyke. The photographer caught him on the backswing after what looks like a foul ball. It COULD have been a swing-and-a-miss judging by the look on Andy's face, but I'm going to stick with a foul ball. The shot makes him look like a real gamer, eye black and all, but it's also Stripe City, and we all know how I feel about stripes at this point. As for the guy on dick, (yes you read correctly, look at the guy), I'm not sure who it is, but Van Slyke batted 8th most of the season, so it could be that game's starter. However, the guy's right arm has a few too many to be a pitcher. So I'm guessing it was a game when Andy didn't hit 8th. If anyone has an idea, let me know.

Van Slyke had a pretty short career (he was done by 34) but he was a great player. He didn't come into his own until he was traded to the Pirates with Mike Dunne and Mike LaValliere for Tony Pena, but in 1990 he was one third of a fantastic Pittsburgh outfield of Barry Bonds in left, Andy in center and Bobby Bonilla in right. As we all know (and I'll talk more about when we get to Jose Rijo), that team lost to the eventual Word Series champion Reds in the NLCS. Van Slyke would go on to win 5 gold gloves (nothing to scoff at for a centerfielder) and was 4th in MVP voting twice. Great player.

A fan of Mattingly?

I'm not. But I can say that this is one of the coolest things ever:

Mattingly Mosaic

I have no idea how the hell he did it (is there some application that creates mosaics out of individual image files?). Regardless, it's incredibly cool and is worth checking out, especially as it ties nicely to the 1987 Topps set. So check it out, and thanks to Andy for sending it along.

Monday, February 9, 2009

#32 - Tim Leary

When Leary's on the mound, you turn on, tune in, ground out.

OK, that was a little forced, but it was the only joke I could think of for a marginal major league pitcher who shared a name with a famous proponent of LSD.

Anyway, I remember getting this card when I was a kid and thinking Leary looked a lot more like an actor playing a baseball player than an actual player. The combination of the athletic stretch pose, soap opera looks, strong brow...ok, I'm going to go confirm my heterosexuality...

...and we're back. So anyway, the one interesting thing about this shot is that we get a look at the memorial patch the Brew Crew wore during the '86 season in remembrance of longtime Milwaukee equipment manager Robert "Sully" Sullivan.

Predominantly a starter throughout his 13-year major league career, Leary was ineffective (78-105, ERA+ of 90) with one notable exception. In 1988, Leary went 17-11, 2.91 for the World Series champion Dodgers. Like just about any other LA starter, um, ever, Leary benefited greatly from the dimensions of Chavez Ravine (check out his splits), but even his away numbers that year blew his career averages out of the water. His season earned him the Comeback Player of the Year Award, which, in Leary's case doesn't really make sense because he had no history of success to "come back" to.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

#31 - Braves Leaders

Wow. I, um, wow.

So here we have our second "leaders" card of the set, and it's the Braves. I put "leaders" in quote here because, as I mentioned, it's the '86 Braves, who didn't lead much of anything. On the front we have Glenn Hubbard putting his arm around Rafael Ramirez as both are clad in those awful powder blue pants the Braves wore in the '80s. I know it's the Braves, but come on, Topps. You're telling me you couldn't have chosen to better players than these two? Dale Murphy? Bob Horner? Ken Griffey? Gene Garber? Somehow Topps managed to choose the two LEAST productive Atlanta regulars for their "leaders" card. Hubbard (76 OPS+) and Ramirez (64 OPS+) didn't exactly rake that year.

Maybe this was the only photo with two Braves that looked like they were actually having fun. I have no idea.

Friday, February 6, 2009

#30 - Tim Raines

Remember when "Rock" started appearing as Raines' first name on cards in the early 90s? I never understood that. Did he insist that he be referred to that way in official communications? If he did, I can't say I blame them because I doubt I'd have the stones to disagree with this guy.

This is a nice shot of a great player. We get the full body photo as Raines drives a ball to what looks like right field. You can even see the bat he just dropped and the lines of the batter's box. My only quibble is that I'd rather Topps picked a shot where Raines was either running the bases (they almost never used photos like that back then) or taking off after a line drive.

Raines was one helluva baseball player and it bothers me that most people don't seriously consider him for the HOF. I'm not saying he should be a lock by any stretch, but just that there should be more debate about his qualifications. This is a guy who stole 70+ bases 6 consecutive seasons, something Rickey never did. He also hit .300+ for four straight seasons over that same stretch, another thing Henderson never accomplished. Keep in mind I'm not saying he was a better player than Rickey, but they're closer than people seem to accept. Take a look at their career numbers:

Henderson: .279 BA, 297 HR, 1406 SB, 127 OPS+
Raines: .294 BA, 170 HR, 808 SB, 123 OPS+

Sure, Raines isn't close in SB, but no one is, and Rock IS 5th all time. And despite all those walks Rickey racked up and his superior homer totals, Raines still has an OPS+ right in the same range.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

#29 - Jimmy Key

Not a bad shot at all on this card. It's a good action photo of the lefty's delivery, giving a nice look at the Jays' logo and Jimmy's Rawlings glove. His eyes are in a shadow, but you can still see the focused concentration on his face. Nice card.

Jimmy Key pitched in the AL East at the right time. He spend his entire career in that division for the Jays, Yanks and Os at a time when it wasn't as strong as today. Still, Key was a great pitcher. He won at least 12 games every year from '85 through '97 (except for 1995, which he missed due to injury), and won 16+ games 5 times. He finished his career with a 3.51 ERA (122 ERA+) and was Cy Young runner up twice. The first was in 1987 when Key went 17-8/2.76/1.06. Compare that to that year's winner, Roger Clemens, who went 20-9/2.97/1.18. Key's numbers actually look better, but keep in mind Clemens did his damage for a lousy 78-win Sox team, while Key did it for a great 96-win Toronto team. Add to that Clemens' 256 Ks and you gotta give it to the Rocket.

Key's second near Cy win was in '94 when Key was in New York. He was just barely edged by David Cone who was lights out that year in KC. Cone would join Key in New York the next season.

Overall, it seems as if Key has been all but forgotten over the years, which is a shame, because he was one of the best, most consistent pitchers, in the '80s and '90s.