Sunday, March 31, 2013

760th Place - John McNamara

Card #414

It's my favorite day of spring - opening day in Major League Baseball!  And even though the first game will feature the Texas Rangers against a AAA team masquerading as a pro club (the thoroughly depleted Houston Astros), I'll watch the whole thing because I'm baseball starved and our collective thirst is about to be quenched.  The Baltimore Orioles are my favorite team, and for the first time in 15 years, I have reason to be optimistic at the start of the year!

Enough of that, though.  Let's bounce back to 1988 and John McNamara.  You have to love this facial expression.  Is he looking back across the sands of time, thinking about his criticized moves in the blown 1986 World Series?  Is he coming upon the realization his tenure as Red Sox skipper won't make it through the year?  Maybe he just caught a splinter on his backside, thanks to the old wooden bench he's sitting on?  It's probably a combination of those factors.  Manager cards are usually only loved by the hometown fans, but I don't think Boston will ever forgive him.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

761st Place - Ray Knight

Card #124

I just think this card looks like Ray Knight is trying really hard to poop.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

762nd Place - Ted Simmons

Card #791

Ted Simmons is one of the more criminally underrated players in baseball history, though that claim has been made so many times he's starting to feel overrated. 

This particular baseball card does not portray Simmons in a positive light.  It looks like he has swung and missed a pitch.  The cool, ear flap-less helmet is muted by his open mouth, wheezing in exasperation as his career is dangerously close to completion.  He's so twisted after this swing I'm positive he collapsed to the ground a second after the photograph was taken.  There's something alarmingly disproportional about his torso/belt area.  It just doesn't look right.

Simmons has his cool points, like swinging a bat without batting gloves and his random connection to Bob Seger, but I never thought Simmons looked right in a Braves uniform. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

763rd Place - Gene Mauch

Card #774

These team colors look almost regal for ol' Gene Mauch and the California Angels.  The clear blue sky in the background is accented nicely by the light blue interior border of the card.

Mauch is remembered not for his 26 years of big league managing experience so much as his record of coaching the most seasons without ever winning a pennant.  The New York Times featured a nice summary of his career when he passed in 2005.

This is another example of Topps being a day late and a dollar short, though.  Mauch didn't coach the Angels in 1988, Cookie Rojas did.  This is a smart looking card to bookend Mauch's career, but as a collector, there's not much excitement to it. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

764th Place - Kevin Mitchell

Card #497

An airbrush job this bad deserves a lower ranking, but Kevin Mitchell's mug almost redeems it.  His bad attitude is oozing all over the place.  The squint and disgusted look, the gold tooth, the cocked head - this card is a master thesis in intimidating head shots.

If you can believe Wikipedia, he got the gold tooth after breaking it eating a donut.  Mitchell is infamous for many reasons, though it's hard to tell which stories are true and which ones are more myth than fact. 

Judging by his face in this card, I tend to believe everything they say about Kevin Mitchell...

Friday, March 22, 2013

765th Place - Bill Gullickson

Card #711

This card confounds me.

It *should* be an airbrush.  Gullickson went to the Yankees from the Reds late in the 1987 season.  Topps has no track record in this set of getting the updated uniform in that situation.  But I've studied this card forwards and backwards and can't figure it out!

What do you think?  I'm going to post a poll.  Is that a legitimate Yankee uniform, or the best airbrush in Topps history?  Feel free to share your reasoning in the comments below...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

766th Place - Dave Henderson

Card #628

I swear it's just an uncanny coincidence that Dave Henderson is the next featured card after Donnie Moore.  Eerie, yes, but just a coincidence.

I always loved Dave "Hendu" Henderson during his playing days.  He had an infectious smile and tended to rise to the occasion in clutch situations.  One of my favorite memories of Henderson was from his time on the A's.  He was sharing the outfield with the more popular Henderson: Rickey.  Rickey had this showboating way of catching fly balls.  He would keep his glove down until the last possible second and then swat the ball out of the air, into his glove, right before it looked like it would fall on his head.  I remember watching a game on TV where Dave did the same thing, poking fun at Rickey and laughing the whole time.

So why do we have Henderson so low on this blog?  Airbrushing, that's why.  This is, however, our first airbrushed batting helmet.  Leave it to Topps to make Dave Henderson less charismatic.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

767th Place - Donnie Moore

Card #471

I still remember hearing the utterly disturbing news story of Donnie Moore's violent suicide, and I just don't know how to process that to this day.

Thank God his wife survived.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

768th Place - Storm Davis

Card #248

This is a pretty unassuming card, right?  Nice smile, harmless spring training background...

Wait a second.

Zero in on his collar there.

Is that a...?

...AIRBRUSH!!!

I have to admit, Topps almost fooled me on this one.  During the 1987 season Storm (has to be one of the ten best first names in baseball history) was traded from the Padres to the A's.  I don't think he looks right in any uniform except the Orioles, but that's just me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

769th Place - Tom Niedenfuer

Card #242

I've expressed before on my other blog the strained relationship my family has with Tom Niedenfuer.  I'll save you the time and assumed interest by summarizing it here.

My father was born in Brooklyn, NY, as was his father.  They are/were lifelong Dodger fans.  My father told me that his father claimed each generation of Dodger fan has a player who broke their hearts.  For my grandfather that was certainly Ralph Branca.

For my dad, it's Tom Niedenfuer.

My dad has always been a bit superstitious when it came to rooting for his Dodgers.  As a kid growing up in the 80's, I distinctly remember him avoiding the TV if the Dodgers were on.  He claimed he was bad luck, that every time he watched them live they would lose (I should note he was stuck at a dinner party and not watching with my brother and I when Kirk Gibson parked a Dennis Eckersley slider into the right field bleachers in game one of the 1988 World Series).

When Niedenfuer gave up the improbable Ozzie Smith homer in 1985 (and later Jack Clark), that was it, he was dead to my Dad.  I'm not sure that's fair to Niedenfuer, who has a pretty good perspective about it all, but that's the fickle world of fandom. 

All that being said, I wasn't too thrilled when my favorite team, the Orioles, inherited my father's least favorite player of all time.  And he would probably contend that it's no coincidence Niedenfuer was on the roster when the O's started the season 0-21 in 1988.

As for the card itself, I don't think it's family prejudice alone that has Niedenfuer ranked so low.  This shot makes Niedenfuer look so emasculated I can hardly stand to look at it.  The silly grin and awkward body pose are terrible.  I do enjoy the fans lingering in the background, though. 

Bonus trivia:  Niedenfuer is married to Hollywood "actress" Judy Landers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

770th Place - Jose Nunez

Card #28

1988 was the first year I had any sort of disposable income dedicated to buying baseball cards.  As a result, I bought a ton of them.  Topps, Donruss, Score, Fleer - you name it, I spent my meager allowance on it.  I loved those cards, commons and stars alike.  I still have many of their images seared in my head.

When I was ranking this Topps set, I had absolutely no memory or recollection of Jose Nunez.

This card could be a complete fabrication, a mock-up of a fake player.  As near as I can tell, it's his only Topps card ever made.  Upper Deck caught him in a Cubs uniform for their 1991 set, but that doesn't ring any bells for me either. 

Jose Nunez, you are a blip on the radar of baseball's timeline.  But at least you're a blip!  And if Wikipedia is accurate, you provided Peter Gammons a pretty funny anecdote in spring training back in 1988.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

771st - Frank Lucchesi

"Lucchesi was here"
"So was Zim"
Card #564

We've got a manager card backfire.  Lucchesi was only the "interim" skipper when he finished out the 1987 season.  In 1988 the Cubs hired Don Zimmer to lead the club, meaning this manager card was practically useless. 

Don't feel too bad for Lucchesi, though.  He went on to have a great career in Hollywood.*  You probably remember him best as "Brooks" in The Shawshank Redemption.




*obviously I'm making all of this up.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

772nd Place - Vicente Palacios

Card #322

I think it's hard for ballplayers to pull off the "serious" look on a card, but Vicente here nails it.  He's looking past the camera, his brow is furrowed, and he's oozing confidence.  I love it.  The gold chain is a nice touch too.

But once again we have a botched airbrush job.  His hat is a dead giveaway.  The mystery, though, is why it's airbrushed at all.  Unlike previous airbrush disasters we've already seen on the blog, Palacios didn't come to the Pirates in a trade.  He was part of the Pittsburgh system the entire year.  He did spend most of his time in the minors in 1987, but this picture appears to be a spring training shot.  What hat was he wearing in the Pirates camp? 

Palacios bounced in and out of the majors for a number of seasons, making his final appearance in 2000.  That's some kind of determination.

Monday, March 4, 2013

773rd Place - Lee Elia

Card #254

Lee looks like a Brillo pad is escaping from his cap.

Elia is most famous, or infamous, for his rant against Chicago Cubs fans (NSFW language!) when he was managing...the Cubs.  The Wrigley faithful must have really been letting the home team have it that game.

The back of Elia's card reveals he was born in Philadelphia.  That had to be a dream job - to land the managing gig in your hometown.  Too bad he only lasted a couple of seasons.  The late 80's Phillies were terrible.

We haven't tackled this on the blog yet, but Topps sure got, uh, creative with the colors they picked for the card borders and name banner.  For Philadelphia they chose green with plum purple.  Seeing Elia's baby blue road jersey and the maroon hat creates quite the optical clash. 

Does anyone know what Elia's arm patch commemorates?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

774th Place - Pat Tabler

Card #230

The Indians aren't faring well in the early going of this blog, this is already their third featured card.

Pat Tabler was a decent big league hitter, and this card was printed coming off his career year in 1987.  He always hit for average, though he didn't have the power you'd expect from a DH/1B/corner outfielder type. 

I think the scan of this card somewhat diminished the "glaring" issue with this picture (see what I did there!).  The bright light shining off Tabler's face requires sunglasses just to look at it directly.  Is there an oncoming train?  Did the sun just go supernova?  Whatever the source of the flash is, it appears to be causing poor Pat a great deal of pain.  Or maybe that's the mullet.

We've also got the first gratuitous product placement of our countdown:  I see you there Coca-Cola cup!  I'd expect this from an Atlanta Brave, but not an Indian.  Why Coke cups anyway?  Are ballplayers really thirsting for carbonated beverages during a game?   

Friday, March 1, 2013

775th Place - Bob James

Card #232

Oh boy.

Models tend to know what their "good side" is, the angle a photographer can shoot to maximize their best features.

Body profile shots are not kind to Bob James.

This card almost reaches the "so bad it's good" level.  First you have his sweaty, shaggy hair and perspiration-drenched, scraggly beard.  Next you have Bob's waist band working overtime to keep things in check.  Where's the belt?  The elastic has inadvertently caused a reverse muffin top. 

James had an outstanding season in 1985 when he notched 110 innings as a closer for Chicago, striking out 88 and saving 32 games to the tune of a 2.13 ERA.  But he struggled in 1986 and 1987 and the White Sox released him before the 1988 season.  Nobody ever gave him another chance, and thus Topps unexpectedly printed his last card with this set.