Tuesday, December 29, 2009

#63 - Fred Toliver

Our string of mediocrity continues. Here we have Fred Toliver, who doesn't look happy. Maybe his undershirt is itchy. I'm not sure why, but he sorta looks exactly how a guy named Fred should look. Good for him. Or his parents.

Toliver is another guy with a career that didn't last. So let's take a look at his homer log. He gave up 21 career homers, and there are some big names on the list, including Craig Biggio, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Dave Parker, Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson. Hey, if you're gunna get beat, it might as well be by guys like that.

#62 - Bobby Meacham

Hey, it's Bernie Williams without his glasses! Oh wait, it's Bobby Meacham. Nothing too notable about this photo, other than the armband Meacham is wearing on his left sleeve. I had to look it up, but Yankees players wore that band in 1986 in memory of Roger Maris, who passed away in December, 1985. By the way, check this out. It's a great resource for information regarding patches and armbands in baseball history.

Meacham had a short career and didn't play much during that time. He was a lousy hitter and not good enough defensively to make up for it, so NY was constantly trying to find guys to replace him. Talking to a Yankee fan, he commented, "I used to think Meacham was the definition of a good shortstop in my jaded, terrible Yankee teams of the late '80s kind of way." I think that sums it up.

#61 - Bobby Thigpen

Aside from Thigpen looking like a giant dork in this photo, it's not a terrible card. We have the cap-logo-next-to-the-card-logo thing, which I love, a nice clear shot of a somewhat broken-in Rawlings glove, and a background that looks almost fake. I seem to remember seeing it on other Chi-Sox cards in this set.

Thigpen is best known for his ridiculous 1990 season, when he notched 57 saves with a 1.83 ERA for a White Sox team that won 94 games. Unfortunately they played in the same division as the As back then, so they didn't have much shot at the pre-wild card era postseason. Due mostly to back injuries, Thigpen was done by the time he was 30.

#60 - Tony Pena

Great card. Nice action shot of one of the best defensive catchers of his time taking a throw to the plate. You even see his eyes concentrating on receiving the throw, the Rawlings logo on his mask and "All-Star" on his chest protector.

A below average offensive player with occasional pop, Pena more than made up for it with his play behind the dish. He won 4 gold gloves (3 in Pittsburgh, 1 in Boston) and handled a staff as well as anyone. When he came to Boston, he was one of my favorite players from the first time he lowered himself into that one-legged crouch. Hopefully the guy gets a chance to manage again someday. He did an amazing job with the '03 Royals, guiding them to 83 wins, despite the fact that they had a staff of immortals like Darrell May, Chris George and Runelvys Hernandez.

#59 - Ken Dayley

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know that I love equipment and shoes. And I HATE WHEN THEY'RE CUT OFF IN THE PHOTO. Seriously, why crop his foot out here? Just scale back a little, and you get Dayley's entire body, and as a bonus, more of the correctional facility in the background.

Once Dayley was moved to the pen for good, he was a pretty effective reliever. From '85-'89 He never had an ERA+ below 113 and was very stingy with the hits. He walked too many guys, but he was a very useful part of the staff for the Cards in the latter part of the '80s.

#58 - Thad Bosley

Now we're talking. This a much more interesting card than the Scott Nielsen one. There's tons of red, blue and white in the photo with Bosley's '80's Cubs uni, the matching logo in the upper left corner, the red nameplate...it's all great. Bosley is also standing almost straight up after his swing, which is pretty rare. Plus, you have a few Mets in the dugout watching the action. Anyone know who those guys guys are?

I'm not too keen that Bosley's left foot is cut off, or that it's clear he popped out, but hey, you can't have everything.

Bosley wasn't a great hitter, and was exclusively a part-timer during his career. He had almost zero pop, something that doesn't happen much anymore for an outfielder, so let's move on. The fact at the bottom of the card reads, "Thad has recorded a gospel contemporary album 'Pick Up The Pieces.' He enjoys writing poetry." Why do I bring this up? Well, I searched the iTunes store for "Thad Bosley" and found one track. I listened, and, well, let's just say Thad was just as good a hitter as he was a lyricist. In the 30-second clip (I refuse to pay for the whole song), you can hear:

Where are the answers?
Who really knows?
It can't be religion
Because no one agrees
And it's not in the movies
Or late night TV

Deep stuff, Thad.

#57 - Scott Nielsen

'87 Topps is back! For good this time. And what better way to revive the dormant blog with...a really boring card. It's too bad the shadows didn't completely overwhelm Nielsen's face (instead of just mostly), because then we might have been spared the sight of his terrible teeth. But aside from that, I like the cap logo right next to that other "Yankees" logo Topps decided to use. I always hated that stupid top hat in that illustration.

Scott had an unremarkable career. He pitched parts of 4 seasons, sometimes as a starter, never very successfully. He did give up a large % of his homers to Red Sox and former Red Sox, which makes sense considering he played the bulk of his short career for the Yanks. Of the 26 homers he gave up, here are the one-time Sox:

Bill Buckner
Tom Brunanski
Jose Canseco
Dave Henderson
Gary Gaetti
Rob Deer

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#56 - Brewers Leaders

First of all, sorry for the lack of updates. But with a trip to Wrigley, an engagement, and a 30th birthday under my belt and I'm ready to start posting again. And what better way to resume than with a dreamlike leaders card.

Let's see who have here chattin' it up during this mound conference. First, Charlie Moore, who split the signal-calling duties with Rick Cerone that year for the Brew Crew. At the mound looking distraught, it's a tougher call. I'm not too familiar with '80s Brewers faces, but the number is either 42, 43 or 47. Of course, all three of those numbers were taken that year by hurlers, so I'm going to guess it's #47 Jamie Cocanower. With his face in the shadow it's tough to tell, but that's my guess.

I'm guessing that's Bamberger (one of my favorite names ever) chatting up Cocanower. But who's the other guy? It's either a 3B, SS or 2B, but it looks like he's wearing glasses, so it can't be Molitor. He's white, so it can't be Riles. Did Gantner wear glasses? I know he wore shades sometimes. Anyone know? I could be batting .250 on this card for all I know.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#55 - Tim Wallach

Hey, stripes that don't bother me! I like the red and blue up the side. They have a way of emphasizing motion as they turn and twist the player's movement. Plus, the stripes coordinate with pretty much everything else on the card. Wallach looks like he went to right with this swing.

Wallach is the first good player we've seen in awhile in this set. He was an OK offensive player, made 5 all star teams, won 3 gold gloves as a 3B, received MVP votes 3 times...that's an excellent career. He didn't walk enough, struck out too much and didn't hit for a very high average, but he was an important part of a bunch of decent Expos teams.

Monday, May 4, 2009

#54 - Bill Dawley

Kinda dorky posed shot here. But we do get a little peak at those goofy Chisox pants numbers they had in the '80s and those equally goofy warmup shirts that look like they were made from the tarp they roll out during rain delays. Do you think Bill's nickname was "Dilly"? I hope so.

As I've mentioned before, many relievers have great starts to their careers before batters figure them out. Dawley was no exception. He was fantastic his first two seasons, compiling a 120 ERA+ and 0.916 WHIP in nearly 80 innnings as a rookie, and followed that up with a whopping 171 ERA + and 1.194 WHIP in 98 innings his second year. Things went downhill from there and he was out of the league before he was 32.

Looking him up, I saw Dawley was drafted in the 7th round in the 1976 draft. I figured, he had a couple good years, so he might have been the most successful player drafted in that round. Uh, nope. Also drafted in the 7th round in '76: Two HOFers and an MVP. Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and Willie McGee. So much for that guess.

Friday, April 24, 2009

#53 - Ruppert Jones

Bland photo. Except for the fact that the catcher looks like he was cut out and pasted on, there's nothing much to say.

Ruppert Jones is our second guy in the last few cards who played in Japan. (Mel Hall did, too.) Jones was a decent player and even made two all-star teams. He had some power (24 homers in '77), some speed (33 SB in '79) and was a full-time center fielder for a few years. He was pretty inconsistent from year to year, at least in terms of batting average, which is probably why he couldn't stick with a team for long (6 teams in 12 seasons).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

#52 - Keith Atherton

Quick, hold your tongue and say, "Keith Atherton." Sounds like "Keiss Asserton" doesn't it? Keith must have known that joke. With a 'stache like that, you gotta have a good sense of humor, right? Plus, what is going on with that cap? He's wearing that thing like a stovepipe hat. Maybe that's John Wilkes Booth in the background about to jump up and yell, "Thic themper tyrannis!"
Atherton was quite a middling middle reliever throughout his 7-season career. He had a great rookie season (as many relievers do) but then hitters figured him out and he settled into years of mediocrity, finishing with a 101 ERA+. He did contribute to the '87 World Series season for the Twins, but was pretty much a nonfactor in the postseason. He pitched the 9th in a 10-1 blowout victory in game one and then gave up 1 run in only a third of an inning in a 4-2 loss in game, getting called for a balk in the process.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#51 - Mel Hall

Not much to say about this card. Boring, and slightly peculiar shot, nothing interesting going on in the background. Even Mel's name is boring. That said, Hall is one of those *somewhat* obscure players I'll never forget, mostly because he is inextricably tied to a period of Yankee futility. (He played for the Bombers from '89-'92, a time when they never finished better than 4th in the AL East.) He's a perfect example of what was wrong with those Yankee teams. He was paid like a star but the only place he produced like one was in his own head.

Plus, he was a colossal idiot. I've heard/read a bunch of stories similar to those chronicling his torture of Bernie Williams, who, by most accounts is a pretty decent guy. And let's not even mention the allegations of sexual assault.

I'm not trying to associate his assholedness solely with the Yankees, he did play for the Cubs and Indians (and the Giants for bit after he came back from Japan), but I remember him mostly as a Yankee.

Monday, April 20, 2009

#50 - Dave Smith

There's not much visually separating Dave Smith from a BP pitcher chosen to throw in the Home Run Derby here. Grey hair, protruding gut, toneless arms...

However, Dave Smith was actually a damn fine reliever. He started out is career with a bang, coming out of the pen to throw 102 innings and finish with an ERA of 1.93. Somehow that earned him only a 5th place finish in the NL ROY voting, losing out to Steve Howe (druggie), Bill Gullickson (so-so career), Lonnie Smith (druggie) and Ron Oester (I have nothing to say about Ron Oester). Smith averaged around 60-75 innings per year and finished his career with a 2.67 ERA (129 ERA+). All in all, he was a very valuable reliever for some competitive Astros teams.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

#49 - Terry Harper

Geez, I thought Willie McGee was the only guy who constantly looked like he was undergoing a rectal exam. Harper looks pained here. And check out the guy in the dugout, bottom right. He's either wearing a very large hat or has some crazy hair. Or both.

I don't have much recollection of Harper, for good reason. He played all but 31 games of his 8-season career with not-so-good Braves teams, and he was a regular only once, getting nearly 500 ABs in '85. That year he was right around the league average, hitting .264 with 17 homers and 74 RBI for a 100 OPS+. Problem was, he didn't walk enough, struck out too much and didn't have the power you want in a corner outfielder. Which is why he didn't play much.

Friday, April 3, 2009

#48 - Wally Backman

OK, at some point over the last few years I lost Wally Backman. I don't know how, I know I had him, but for now at least, he's missing. So I had to find a photo of the card and post it here. I'm pretty pissed that I lost it, which is one reason I held off so long in posting this (the other reason being that I spent a lot of time looking for the card), but here we go.

Aside from the fact that Wally looks like he's about to me smashed on the shoulder by someone who looks whiter than Tony Pena (anyone?), this is a great action shot. I love all the dirt kicked up by Backman's slide, the look on his face and the eyeblack. Very nice.

Wally Backman fit the profile of your classic 1980's utility infielder. Solid D, no bat. His best season came for the '86 Mets when he hit .320 in 387 ABs, playing a big part in their World Series season. Over the course of his career, he absolutely destroyed Rick Mahler. In 49 ABs, he hit .510 off him!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

#47 - Dennis Powell

This is a weird card. First, Dennis looks like he knows some secret that he's afraid we might figure out. And I'm guessing it's the identity of the guy behind him. Check out that stirrupped foot behind his back. If you look quickly, it almost makes it look like Powell is wearing one of those wireless mic battery pack things that talk show guests wear. That's also a strange edifice in the background. It almost looks like a travel trailer that's halfway underground. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about Dodgertown has an idea what that is.

Aside from that,w e have a decent look at the Dodgers logo on the cap, a nice shot of the Dodger "D" and good look at a new Rawlings glove.

I don't have any first-hand recollection of Powell, but looking at his stats, he was pretty crappy. He pitched 339 innings over an 8-year major league career for LA, Seattle and Milwaukee (as a reliever and spot starter) and finished with an ERA+ of 80. Blech.

However, he does share a pretty meaningless record. He accumulated 3 hits in his career, all doubles. That ties him for the MLB record for career hits totaling nothing but doubles with Earl Hersh and Verdo Elmore. Good for him.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

#46 - Danny Gladden

I never think of Gladden as a "Danny," always a "Dan." I also think of him as a Twin and looking like this. Whoever created that had a pretty funny idea. (It's supposed to be George Brett sprinting out of the dugout during the pine tar game.)

It's a pretty boring card so I'll get right to his career. After getting out to a blazing start as a rookie, hitting .351 over 342 ABs, Gladden settled into his role as a light-hitting, defensive-minded, stolen base threat. He never did much with the bat, but was a big part of the Twins' World Series wins in '87 and '91, scoring the winning run in game 7 against the Braves in '91.

Checking out his Wikipedia page, there's a good piece of trivia. Gladden was one of 7 Twins on the team for both World Series teams. Who can name the other 6? Without looking of course.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

#45 - Jim Presley

What in the world is going on here. Presley looks as if he's about to check his swing and/or jackknife out of the way of an inside pitch. But what is all that stuff getting kicked up at the bottom of the photo? It doesn't look like it can be the ball hitting the ground and stirring up dirt. Nor does it look like Presley's feet can have been the cause. So unless this was taken in Cleveland during the '08 ALDS, I have no explanation for it.

Primarily a third baseman, Jim Presley showed some good pop in his short career. He spent the bulk of his time for some awful Seattle teams (as you can see here) and was out of the league before he was 30. As I mentioned, he did have power (consecutive seasons of 28 and 27 homers) but he had hardly any plat discipline. As a full timer, he never amassed more than 44 walks or fewer than 100 Ks. I flipped down his B-R page to see if Russell Branyan appeared in his most similar batters list, but nope. Regardless, that's the guy to whom I'd liken him offensive ability.

Monday, March 23, 2009

#44 - Greg Harris

What is Greg looking at here? I hope it's a skywriting ad for mustache trimmers. That is a terrible, terrible 'stache, and a pretty boring photo to boot. Hey, I just used the expression, "to boot."

Greg Harris (not Greg W. Harris, mind you--hey, I just used the expression, "mind you") was a very useful reliever throughout his 15-year major league career. He spent most of the time coming out of the pen, but did make nearly 100 starts. I remember Greg best as the reliever for the Red Sox who led the league in appearances in 1993 (throwing 112 innings) and had that goofy ambidextrous glove. It seemed like we would see him in every game that year, and thanks to a team playing .500 ball, we almost did.

Throughout the latter part of his career, Greg repeatedly made it known that he wanted to pitch with both arms, alternating as dictated by the opposing hitter. He finally got a chance with the Expos in '95, and, according to Wikipedia:

"In the ninth inning, Harris retired Reggie Sanders pitching right-handed, then switched to his left hand for the next two hitters, Hal Morris and Ed Taubensee, who both batted lefty. Harris walked Morris but got Taubensee to ground out. He then went back to his right hand to retire Bret Boone to end the inning."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

#43 - Gene Michael

A surly looking manager card! Woo-hoo! I actually really dig this card for some reason. I love the classic Cubbies logo on the sleeve and the "C" on the cap right next to the printed logo in the upper left. And Gene's looks is just what I like to see on a manager. One thing that bothers me is the red in the name plate is really clashy with the red in Gene's uni. Other than that, nice manager card.

Yanks and Cubs fans probably have better thoughts on this guy, but he certainly didn't have much success as a manager. Where he DID succeed, however, was as a GM for the Bombers in the late '80s and early '90s. Michael is a huge reason for New York's dominance at the end of the 20th century, putting a lot more emphasis on homegrown talent, including Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. You don't hear Gene Michael's name mentioned much as one the architects of those great Yankee teams (or at least I don't), but you should. He really reversed the the strategy they had in the '80s of bringing in washed up, high-priced "talent" to fill seats instead of win games. Personally, I wouldn't mind if they returned to that strategy so I could keep making fun of them, but that's just me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#42 - Gary Redus

A lot of dirt on the uni in this photo, which is perfectly appropriate for Redus. You also get a nice look at the name on the back of his jersey, while still seeing his face. Very cool. And as a bonus we get a nice shot of a catcher between Gary's legs. John Russell maybe? It doesn't look like Darren Daulton to me.

While the guy never had a season with 500+ ABs, he stole a ton of bases. From '83 to '87 he stole 48+ bases three times despite having only two seasons with over 400 ABs during that time.

#41 - Bo Diaz

This has got to be a spring training shot here. It looks like the line for a roller coaster in the background. Bo also looks a little pensive. I'm going to guess he's actually about to toss the ball back into his glove. Other than that, it's an OK photo. Lots of red, white and blue.

Diaz was not much of a hitter, but as so many catchers do, he built himself a pretty long career. His best season came in '82 when he hit .288 with 18 homers and 85 RBI in 525 ABs. Over his career as an offensive player, his big problem was selectivity. Over his 3537 PAs, he struck out 429 times and only walked 198.

The Venezuelan Diaz was a part of some pretty crazy stuff. In 1973, he caught a no hitter in the Venezuelan league thrown by Urbano Lugo. And in 1986, he caught another no-no for the same team, beating the same team they beat 13 years earlier, and this time the game was won by Urbano Lugo, Jr.!

And then in 1990, Diaz was killed while adjusting a satellite dish on his home. Pretty sad.

#40 - Dave Righetti

Not much to say about this card. We see Righetti's high leg kick here, which is kinda cool, but I'm partial to the pitcher shots where the guy is a little further into his delivery, showing some more physical intensity. Looks like Dave liked Pumas.

While pretty much everyone (myself included) remembers Righetti as a closer, he was actually a pretty solid starter for the Yanks at the beginning of his career. He made 15 starts in '81, edging such future stars as Shooty Babitt in the Rookie of the Year voting. In '83, he went 14-8, 3.44 with 169 Ks. Not too shabby. But the next year, NY converted Righetti into a closer and that's where he found a home. In '86 he set the single season save record with 46 and continued to be an effective, though not dominant closer into the early 90s.

Monday, March 2, 2009

#39 - Marty Barrett

This is an odd photo. How many times to see a second baseman throwing from second with his foot actually on the bag? Usually he's straddling the bag, but in this shot, Barrett has his foot squarely on the base. He also has a goofy look on his face that makes him look about 80 years old. I wonder if the guys ever got together after a day game to play basketball on the court in the background.

There's not much to say about Barrett's career, so I go with a story instead. When I was in college, Sean McDonough, former TV voice of the Sox and national voice of many CBS sporting events, was speaking for a sports psychology class I was taking. I remember very little of the speech, but I do recall his answer to a student who asked, "Did you ever say anything on air you regretted?" McDonough couldn't think of anything he said on air (which I find hard to believe), but he told the story of the time when Marty Barrett was nearing the end of his tenure with the Sox. Dealings between the team and player got a little nasty and Barrett had Jody Reed breathing down his neck, so the Sox had all the leverage.

Anyway, around that time, McDonough was an up and coming announcer, as some people were comparing him to Bob Costas, who was becoming a star play by play guy for NBC. McDonough had made some critical comments about Barrett recently, so one day when Barrett ran into McDonough in the hallway, Barrett said, "I hear all these people talking about you being the next Costas. That's bullshit. You're about as close to Costas as I am to Ryne Sandberg."

To which McDonough replied, "At least you know how far you are from Ryne Sandberg."

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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

#28 - Rick Dempsey

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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

#27 - Joe Cowley

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:

1985: 26 starts, 12-6, 3.96
1987: 27 starts, 11-11, 3.88

...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.

#26 - Greg Brock

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.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

#25 - Bert Blyleven

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!

#24 - Tony Walker

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.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

#23 - Lee Smith

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.

#22 - Doug DeCinces

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.

#21 - Mark Davis

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.

Monday, January 12, 2009

#20 - Gary Carter

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.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

#19 - Matt Young

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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

#18 - Dick Howser, Manager

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.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

#17 - Pete O'Brien

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.

Monday, January 5, 2009

#16 - Pat Clements

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.

#15 - Claudell Washington

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).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

#14 - Dave Stewart

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.