Monday, December 28, 2015

616th Place - Keith Miller

Card #382

If you looked up "scrappy utility infielder" in a baseball dictionary, this might be the picture you see.

Miller, a Michigan native, was a second round pick by the New York Yankees in 1984.  He eventually had that contract voided and signed with the Mets organization for the 1985 season.  That sentence serves as foreshadowing for two paragraphs from now...

Miller progressed through the New York minor league system until he reached Tidewater in 1987.  Despite not having particularly strong stats there, he was called up to the big club in June and hit, in part time action, like he was shot out of a cannon.  His batting average was .373 and his slugging percentage an eye-popping .491.  He also added eight stolen bases in just 25 games.

He regressed to the backup mean in his next couple of years riding the pine for New York.  His best seasons came in 1991 for the Mets and 1992 for the Royals, when he was getting more regular playing time and hitting in the .280's with a .350 OBP.  A series of injuries, though, would have him out of baseball a couple of seasons later.

What direction did Miller go in his post-playing days?  He became a sports agent.  As he explained in a Daily News article from a few years back, he realized not having an agent when he was drafted led to the Yankees taking advantage of him in the signing process.  He enjoys representing players in the sport he loves.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

617th Place - Bob Sebra

Card #93

This is a nice shot of Sebra delivering the ball to home plate.  The right hand extending in front of the "Expos" name is a nice touch too.  The home uniform and bright sun make it a dead giveaway that we're looking at a spring training game.  I'm dying to know who that is standing behind second base.  Vance Law?  Casey Candaele?

Sebra, who the Expos got from the Rangers in exchange for Pete Incaviglia, started 27 games for Montreal in 1987 and struck out 156 batters, but he wasn't particularly effective.  He was out of the big leagues by 1990, but in a humorous twist of fate, he is still an "outlaw."  Sebra's last pitch hit Tracy Jones and caused a benches-clearing brawl. Sebra was tagged with a five game suspension but never made it back to the big leagues to serve it.  If you're going down, you might as well go down swinging!

Sebra's son heard the siren call of baseball as well.  After a college career at Jacksonville State, he played this past season in the Angels' minor league system.  If you would like to follow him on Twitter, you can request it here...

Monday, December 21, 2015

618th Place - Darrel Akerfelds

Card #82

This is a sharp looking card, I like how the rainbow effect of the stadium seats plays over Akerfeld's shoulders.

Akerfelds was a Colorado kid, born in Denver and playing his high school ball with Columbine.  He even played some football at Arkansas.  He was originally drafted in the ninth round of the 1980 draft, but declined and eventually went seventh overall in the 1983 draft, picked by the Mariners.  He went to Oakland with Bill Caudill in a trade for Bob Kearney and David Beard and then came to Cleveland for Tony Bernazard.

If you look on the back of his card you can see he replicated the same ERA in two consecutive seasons.  Unfortunately, it was a 6.75.  Akerfelds bounced around the big leagues for five seasons, having his best success out of the bullpen for Philadelphia in 1990.  In fact, he didn't play in the majors the year this card was printed.

He was more successful after his playing days, serving as the long time bullpen coach for the San Diego Padres until his tragic death from pancreatic cancer in 2012.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

619th Place - Moose Haas

Card #606

When you're a card company that includes 792 cards in your complete set, sometimes your standards for inclusion are a bit low.  I mean no disrespect to Moose Haas, who was a fine pitcher for a number of years.  But in 1987 he only pitched in nine games, and those were the last nine games of his career.  I'm just a little surprised they bothered to document that farewell performance.

Moose was only 31 when he pitched his last game, but had already logged time over twelve different seasons.  He was part of the 1982 Milwaukee World Series team and led the league in win percentage in 1983, going 13-3 over 25 starts.

If you check out Haas' left sleeve, you'll notice a patch for the 1987 All Star game, which took place in Oakland that year.  Moose's last game of his career was in June of that year, so he didn't manage to stick around long enough to see or play in it.  It's neat to know Topps wasn't using an older photograph of him, though.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

620th Place - Nelson Liriano

Card #205

My best friend in junior high, which was the level of school I was attending when this baseball card set came out, was born in Canada.  We were living in Texas on an Air Force base.  His parents were from India.  He had a myriad of national allegiances, but he was especially proud of his Canadian roots and his ball cap of choice was the same Blue Jays hat Liriano here is wearing.  I remember he would always sing the Canadian national anthem when we would catch a game at old Arlington Stadium, or whenever the Jays were on TV.  It was fairly obnoxious, but I admired his dedication.

He and I were addicted to the old NES game, Baseball Stars.  I would always create a team of Orioles, and he would load up on Blue Jays.  Liriano was surely one of the random Toronto players he digitized for our battles.  We also played a lot of Earl Weaver Baseball on his home computer.  That game was AWESOME.  We once designed a stadium where the outfield walls looked like the Batman symbol.

According to Wikipedia, Liriano broke up two no-hitters in the span of six days back in 1989, one of which was being pitched by Nolan Ryan.  That's crazy.  Ryan must have been spitting mad to lose it to a scrawny slap hitter like Nelson Liriano...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

621st Place - Billy Bean

Card #267

No, this isn't that Billy Beane.

And chances are, you aren't familiar with his brief career in the big leagues, which was spent mostly as a strong Triple A player who could never quite adjust to big league pitching.

No, you've most likely heard of Bean due to his public reveal in 1999 as being gay, which at the time made him the only living current or former professional baseball player to identify as such.  You can head to his website to find out more about that experience, which includes an autobiography you can purchase.

In 2014 Major League Baseball named Bean the first ever "Ambassador of Inclusion."

I think this is a good looking card.  The Tigers fared well in the 1988 design, and batting cage shots in old Tiger Stadium are always good for a few bonus points.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

622nd Place - Todd Benzinger

Card #96

Happy Thanksgiving, blog readers!

Todd Benzinger took a seven year trip through the minor leagues to make his rookie debut for the Red Sox in 1987. I remember thinking as a kid that he was going to be the next Will Clark/Mark Grace type player.  He never reached that level of fame, but he certainly had some memorable impact during his career.

Benzinger provided magical moments during Boston's playoff turnaround in the 1988 season.  And of course this year marked the 25th anniversary of the Cincinnati Reds World Series sweep of the Oakland Athletics in 1990.  Benzinger, playing first base, caught the last out of the game and received the bobblehead treatment during the 2015 season.  I'll let you decide if the resemblance is accurate or not.

During his post playing days Todd has coached girls high school basketball as well as managing in the minors.  It was during that stint he met his new wife, which you can read all about on the newlyweds' registration site.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

623rd Place - Frank DiPino

Card #211

I've come to the realization that the cards I'm posting now aren't terrible.  Somewhere in the last couple of dozen posts I've moved from "active dislike" to "this ain't bad, all things considered..."  This Frank DiPino card certainly qualifies under the latter opinion.  Frank has a nice smile, and there's something endearing about the cinder block wall he's standing in front of.  It helps the red, white, and blue design pop even more.

One thing I noticed on this card is the lowercase "i" in DiPino's last name.  It makes for a funky look when your chosen font is in all-caps.

DiPino had a good career in the bigs, with cups of coffee in 1981 and 1982 before sticking for good with the Astros in 1983 and even finishing sixth in rookie of the year voting.  He became a journeyman lefty out of the bullpen, usually with some success.  His last year in the majors was 1993.

You can find him these days in his native Syracuse, teaching at the Perfect Practice baseball facility.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

624th Place - Stan Jefferson

Card #223

If we are to believe Jefferson's Wikipedia page, his life is full of unexpected plot twists, taking him from prospect to villain, and then to hero.

Jefferson was a first round pick of the New York Mets, twentieth overall, in the 1983 draft.  The 1983 draft is one of the weaker draft classes in MLB history with the exception of one particular player:  Roger Clemens.  And when did Clemens get drafted by the Red Sox?  19th.  I wonder if the Mets had Jefferson rated above or below Clemens on their board...

Jefferson came to the Padres in the big trade of December, 1986, along with Kevin Mitchel and Kevin Brown, for Kevin McReynolds (that's a lot of Kevins).  This particular piece of cardboard, which is a fine looking card, came after Jefferson's best season.  1987 was the only year he played regularly, and he used his speed to his advantage with seven triples and 34 stolen bases.  He bounced around after that, finally ending his time in the big leagues in 1991.  That is, until he became a scab player for the New York Mets during the 1995 player's strike.

He redeemed himself from this sin when he joined the New York City Police Department in 1997.  As fate would have it, he was one of the responding officers during the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.  That experience has left him physically and emotionally scarred.

Stan Jefferson is certainly a hero, just not the baseball variation we might have expected in 1988...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

625th Place - Drew Hall

Card #262

Drew Hall was the third overall pick in the 1984 draft.  Do you know who the Cubs picked up in the second round? Greg Maddux.  Things always look clearer in the rear view mirror.  Do you know who the Cubs could have drafted instead, who also threw the ball left-handed? Tom Glavine.  Or Al Leiter.  Or even Terry Mulholland or Norm Charlton.  Seven picks after Hall the Oakland Athletics grabbed Mark McGwire.  Let's all close our eyes and imagine McGwire hitting home runs onto Wayland Ave a few hundred times...

I mean no disrespect to Drew Hall or the Cubs, of course. At 6'4" and 200 lbs, Hall was a big lefty out of Morehead State and played for Team USA on the famous 1984 Olympics squad.  I'm sure he looked promising.  And every draft is a crap shoot to some degree.  It's strange to me that baseball, after all of these decades, still has the most unpredictable success with drafts in all of professional sports.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

626th Place - Bill Wegman

Card #538

Trick or treat
Smell my feet
Wegman's not known
For his heat.

Happy Halloween Topps fans - I'm a little annoyed my viewing of game four of the World Series tonight is going to be constantly interrupted by candy-crazy kids.  I'm even more annoyed that I'm interested in watching, as the Mets and especially this Royals team are of no interest to me. But they're playing some pretty good ball against each other, and I'm getting sucked in by it.  I will be rooting, though, for the combined batting average of both teams in this game to be at .278, my pick for Nightowl's generous contest.

Do you think Wegman ever dressed up as Dirty Harry for Halloween?  Maybe it's just me, but I think it looks like Clint Eastwood just put on a Milwaukee jersey and asked hitters if they felt lucky.  Well, do ya, punks?

Wegman spent all eleven of his seasons as a Brewer, starting over 200 games for them in that span.  Minus a two year span in 1991-92, he was never particularly good, but he was durable and present, which are skills in and of themselves.  Here's a link where he shares his Christian testimony.  Maybe that's appropriate for a night like this...

Friday, October 23, 2015

627th Place - John Christensen

Card #413

Christensen is a ballplayer who came oh-so-close to being a part of both teams from the 1986 World Series.  He spent time in the majors and minors for the Mets in 1985, and was then traded to the Red Sox that off season in the same deal that sent Calvin Schiraldi to Boston.  But Christensen spent all of 1986 in Pawtucket, stuck in AAA ball while Bean Town tried to erase their Babe Ruth curse. Alas, we know how that turned out...

He did find success in his college days, winning the World Series with Cal-State Fullerton in 1979 on a team that included future big leaguers Tim Wallach and Andre David.

I think this is a pretty good looking baseball card, it's only ranked so low due to the obscurity of the player featured. No offense meant towards Mr. Christensen...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

628th Place - Bill Dawley

Card #509

I've mentioned before that my other blog revolves around the board game Statis Pro Baseball and my attempt to replay the 1984 season.  I've played roughly 20% of the season so far, and one of the very best relievers has been Bill Dawley, who in the real 1984 had a filthy year coming out of the Houston Astros bullpen.  In that campaign he posted a 1.93 ERA in 98 innings, including eleven wins and five saves.  The year prior, 1983, Dawley made the All-Star team as a rookie, despite starting the year in the minor leagues.  He relieved Atlee Hammaker, who got shelled in the game.

Dawley would only play twelve more games between the 1988 and 89 seasons at the major league level before retiring.  If I'm not mistaken, you could talk to him about securing a mortgage these days.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

629th Place - Mark Ryal

Card #243

Ryal was born in the mighty metropolis of Henryetta, OK. He's spent a large portion of his post-playing days as a women's softball coach.  After a stint as an assistant coach at Auburn and South Alabama, he returned to his native Oklahoma and the OSU team.

Ryal the player was your classic AAA minor leaguer who struggled to stick in the majors.  He eventually ended up in Japan for a couple of years in the early 90's.  What's crazy is that his son, Rusty, has had almost the same kind of trajectory.  Rusty has the distinction of being the last major league hitter to take Randy Johnson deep.

Still, though, this is a sharp looking card.  The 3D effect of the bat in front of the team name is cool, and the Angels have one of the better color designs in the set.  If you'd like to connect with Mark on social media, try his LinkedIn account.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

630th Place - John Cangelosi

Card #506

John Cangelosi is getting loose in the on-deck circle in this shot, which is a nice change of pace from the typical baseball card poses.  It might just be my card, but the image is blurry.

Cangelosi had a long and interesting career, debuting with the White Sox and setting the rookie record for stolen bases in 1986 with 50.  Cangelosi's calling card for the rest of his career was his speed, though he would never approach 50 again.  He couldn't hit for power worth a lick but he had an excellent eye, ending his career with more walks than strikeouts and an impressive .370 OBP.

If you believe his Wikipedia page, he was the first batter Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson every faced in a big league game.  He's also the first position player to pitch in a game for the Florida Marlins.  Cangelosi has a World Series ring from the 1997 Marlins team.

What's he up to these days?  Glad you asked!  He runs a baseball clinic out of Bo Jackson's sports complex in Lockport, IL.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

631st Place - Ken Gerhart

Card #271

I'm awarding Gerhart a "product placement" label for his bat, which was produced by Worth.  They couldn't have been more pleased with how perfectly their name was shown on this card.  The image on the bat reminds me of the lightning strike found on Wonder Boy.  Do you think Gerhart used the Savoy Special after his Worth broke?

Gerhart looked like a promising hitter in 1988.  He was coming off a season where he knocked 14 home runs in just 284 at-bats.  He even added nine steals.  But '88 would be his last season in the pros.  He played 1989 in Triple A but he was hit by a pitch in his wrist the following year, and that was the end of his career.  When he walked down the street he just wanted people to look at him and say, "There goes Ken Gerhart, the best there ever was in this game."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

632nd Place - Alex Trevino

Card #512

Alex Trevino is the quintessential veteran, backup catcher. Unfortunately for Trevino, he was off the Dodgers and on to Houston when this card was printed, missing the L.A. World Series run.  The "29" on his bat nob is indeed his jersey number, though I'm sure those of you who struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies are dying on the inside that it's upside down in the picture.

Trevino has an awesome SABR Bio that reveals, among other things, he has the most career at-bats for the Mets without a home run.  It also mentions that, during his time with the Dodgers, he and Fernando Valenzuela became the first all-Mexican battery in Major League history.

Trevino has spent the past 18 years as the Spanish language broadcaster for the Houston Astros.

I'm going to go ahead and throw on a "brother" label too, because Alex's older brother by 12 years, Bobby Trevino, spent 17 games in the big leagues with the Angels back in 1968.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

633rd Place - Mike Diaz

Card #567

Mike Diaz is one of those guys who, when you look on the back of their card, you can't quite figure out why they couldn't stick in the majors.  Diaz always showed good power in the minors, and in limited at bats in both 1986 and '87 he reached double digits in homers.  But 1988 would be his last season.  In 1989 he would depart for Japan, where he had a couple of monster campaigns before fizzling out.

Diaz was known to be a bit of a character by his teammates.  In the minors he lied to his coaches that he had catching experience, and he also went by the nickname of "Rambo" due to his passing resemblance to the Stallone character.

Diaz could have killed 'em all, he could've killed you.  In the blogosphere you're the law, but on the diamond it's Diaz.  Don't push it!  Don't push it or Diaz will give you a war you won't believe.  Let it go.  Let it go!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

634th Place - Dwayne Henry

Card #178

I think I've mentioned this before, but I lived in Texas from sixth grade through eighth, back in the late eighties.  We were a couple of hours north of the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  The Rangers teams during those years have a special place in my heart, not because of their talent level, but because that was the era my baseball card interest really blossomed and I was fortunate enough to have parents who loved taking their two sons to ball games.  We weren't really Rangers fans, though.  In fact, my dad would usually pick games based on the visiting team.  "Hey, the Red Sox are in town, let's go see Bogss, Evans, and Rice..."

All that being said, there was something lovable about how bad the Rangers were.  Dwayne Henry's card symbolizes some of that.  When you look on the back of it, you see the stats: 4.94 career ERA, 46 strikeouts compared to 45's all so Rangers.  I love it.

Henry debuted in 1984 and last played in the majors in 1995.  He bounced around quite a bit, osculating between the bigs and the minors most of that time.  He put two nice seasons together in 1991 and 92, with the Astros and Reds respectively.

Henry came to be a professional baseball player out of Delaware, which isn't exactly the most renown state for baseball.  Here's kind of a sad story about Henry turning down an offer to play football for UNC when he signed his pro contract.  Sounds like Henry had some regrets about that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

635th Place - James Steels

Card #117

"James Steels" sounds like the perfect secret identity for a comic book hero.  A last name of "Steals" would have been even better since he twice swiped 35 bases in a season in the minor leagues.

I think this is a sharp looking card, but Steels didn't make a significant impact in the major leagues.  He played in parts of the 1987-89 seasons but would never again make it to the bigs.  His career .461OPS is a good indicator of why.

I couldn't find much on Steels on the interwebs...hmm, maybe he is a super hero!  Way to keep a low profile, Steels.  He was the Texas League player of the year in 1984.  I found a couple of mentions in some previous baseball books, but besides that, not much else.  But don't worry - when you need him most, when the world is in trouble, when the situation is dire...JAMES STEELS WILL BE THERE!!!

Monday, August 3, 2015

636th Place - Robbie Wine

Card #119

So, my first name is Rob.  As such, players with that same first name stick out in my mind - Ducey, Deer, Wilfong, etc.  Robbie Wine is particularly interesting to me, though, because that was my commonly used moniker from birth through the second grade.  In between the second and third grade we moved from Sheppard AFB near Wichita Falls, TX, to Puyallup, WA.  On the first day of class the teacher was going through roll call and asked, "Robert?"  I replied that I was here, and she asked if I went by Robert or a nickname of that.  I don't know why, but I said, "Rob."  I guess now that I was in a new city and a big-time third grader, I figured it was time to go with a more mature iteration.

The funny thing, though, is that my Grandma Bonnie never made the transition.  She called me "Robbie" until the day she died, which was in my late twenties.  I remember once being home on college vacation and we were doing an obligatory family call to her, and when I got on the phone she asked, "Do you have a girlfriend right now, Robbie?"  I kind of chuckled and said, "No Grandma, I'm kind of between girlfriends right now."  And then she replied, "That's OK, Robbie.  You know what I say - love 'em and leave 'em!"  Grandma Bonnie was kind of crazy.

Robbie Wine is the son of former big leaguer Bobby Wine.  Robbie was a first round pick by the Astros, but after the 1987 season he would never make it back to the big leagues, making this card superfluous.  In his post-player career he did return to his home state of Pennsylvania (which is bizarrely shortened to "Penna." on the back of his card) to manage at Penn State for nine years before resigning in 2013.

I'll throw a "gratuitous product placement" tag on this card for the Franklin gloves.  Did Franklin have exclusive rights to batting gloves in 1988?  They seem to be the only brand I've seen in this set...

Friday, July 31, 2015

637th Place - Jim Traber

Card #544

Let's see here, Jim Traber...seems like an innocent enough card.  Let's just turn it over and look on the back...

...what the!?!?!

Traber didn't even play in the majors in 1987!  How did he get a card in the 1988 set?  He did smack 21 homers with a .481 slugging percentage in Rochester, but I'm kind of stunned they included him.

He had played for the Orioles for parts of 1984 and 1986, and did spend significant time with them again in 1988 and '89, but that would be it for his MLB experience.

These days you can find Traber talking sports on an Oklahoma radio station.  Traber was a two sport star at Oklahoma State, which is impressive.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

638th Place - Jose Uribe

Card #302

Ugh.  Wasn't really looking forward to writing this one up.  That's because Jose Uribe passed away in a tragic car accident in his native Dominican Republic in 2006.

Some infields really stick out in my mind, and the late 1980's Giants are one of them.  Uribe played shortstop of course, along with Will Clark at first, Robby Thompson at second, and Matt Williams at third.  That's a pretty solid group, and it's no wonder the Giants were so dominant during this time period.  This card was printed after Uribe's best offensive season.  Known mostly for his defense, his .767 OPS in 1987 was 150 points higher than his career average.  I'm assuming the juiced ball from that year probably helped.

It seems Uribe's former teammates were quite devastated to hear of his passing, especially his double play partner Thompson.  Uribe left behind 14 children, some of those from his first wife who passed away delivering their last child together.  Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

639th Place - Chuck Crim

Card #286

Here's something crazy - I'm posting this card on the same date as the player's birthday - happy 54th birthday Chuck Crim!

If I'm not mistaken this is Crim's rookie card.  He was coming off a solid debut for the Brewers, as he pitched in 53 games and tallied 12 saves along with a 3.67 ERA.  He got even better over the next two seasons, leading the American League in appearances both times and recording sub-3.00 ERA's.  In his fifth season in Milwaukee, though, he began to lose his effectiveness.  He hung on for a couple of more years with the Angels and pitched his last season for the Cubs in 1994.

Now you can find the Crim Reaper (not sure if that's his real nickname or one I just made up) serving as the bullpen coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Between retirement and his return to baseball, Crim spent time as a professional bass fisherman.  So for the record, Chuck Crim had a fine baseball career, did the fishing thing, and also went to college at the University of Hawaii.  I can't help but think Crim is living the ultimate life of leisure!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

640th Place - Jimy Williams

Card #314

Jimy!  Jimy?!  *waves hands frantically*  Man, I can't do anything to interrupt that stare...

It's been a few cards since our last manager entry.  If you're new to the blog, I have an unfair bias against manager cards because, let's face it, you're not usually excited to find one taking precious space in a pack you bought.

Williams managed over 12 different seasons in his career, and when this card was printed he was coming off his best campaign.  The 1987 Blue Jays finished 96-66 in a very competitive pennant race, but they ended up in second place behind the Tigers by just two games.

Jimy finished his managing career with over 900 wins and an impressive .535 win percentage.  But, like many before and after him, he was fired by all three of his employers in season.  With the Blue Jays, he was canned in 1989 after an atrocious 12-24 start.  Toronto would rebound under Cito Gastin and go on to win the AL East.  In Boston his ouster was rougher.  The 2001 Red Sox were twelve games above .500 but general manager Dan Duquette used a mini-slump to replace Williams with Joe Kerrigan.  Finally, in 2004, Williams got the boot while the Astros were languishing with a 44-44 record.

Williams held several assistant coaching positions afterwards, including being part of Charlie Manuel's staff in Philadelphia, but he's now retired.  Don't worry, though.  The next generation is taking over.  Both of his sons are now managing in the minor leagues, and Jimy seems quite proud of that.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

641st Place - Jeff Stone

Card #154

I've mentioned before that the 1985 Topps set was my first as a kid.  In those 792 cards was a rookie player named Jeff Stone.  When I turned his card to the back, my eyes bugged out!  Here was a guy who hit .362 with 27 stolen bases and six triples in just 51 games!  I was convinced he was the next big thing.  I wasn't the only one.

By the time this card was printed, Stone's career was essentially over.  The root cause for his rapid decline appears to be his manager from 1985, John Felske.  When Stone got into a bit of slump, Felske couldn't help but start tinkering with his swing and filling his head with suggestions on how to improve.  According to former manager Paul Owens, Stone was not the type of player who could handle "thinking" about how to play the game - his talents were of the raw, reactionary type.  Stone became befuddled and confused and never really recovered.

His post-playing career was no easier.  For a time he served as a police officer, but quit after being fired at too many times.  He also suffered serious injuries when somebody ran a light and crashed into his car.  But his worst experience had to be when his wife stabbed him multiple times.  Sometimes life doesn't turn out like you think it would...

Monday, July 6, 2015

642nd Place - Bob Walk

Card #349

With all due respect to one of the best baseball card blogs on the interwebs, I've got Bob Walk coming in at 642nd place!

Bob Walk certainly has a distinctive place in Pirates history, but his MLB career started in 1980 with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Despite giving up six runs in seven innings, he earned a win in the World Series that year.

He was off to Atlanta the next season and after 1982 had trouble sticking in the majors until appearing in 44 games for Pittsburgh in 1986.  The year this card was printed, 1988, was probably his best.  He made his lone All-Star team while pitching a career-high 212 innings.  He also led the league in fewest home runs per innings pitched.

Walk cemented his place in Pittsburgh lore with his unexpected, complete game win in the infamous 1992 NLCS.  Sadly, he was warming up in the bullpen when Sid Bream scored the controversial final run of the series.

Walk has spent the past two decades as a beloved member of the Pirates broadcasting team.  Here's a fun link explaining how he walked away from the game and stepped immediately into the announcing booth.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

643rd Place - Dennis Powell

Card #453

In the long history of the Seattle Mariners uniform designs, I think this color scheme has always been best.  Maybe not the "S" on the hat and the "M" on the jersey, but the blue and gold have a nice, distinct style.  In fact, the 2015 alternate jerseys are very much a throwback to this look.  Hey, if the alternates look better than the regular uniform, make the switch already!

Powell had an unremarkable career in the big leagues, starting off with the Dodgers and then moving to the Mariners in a trade, according to the back of the card, that sent Matt Young to L.A.  As a kid who grew up in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the 1980's, I can't imagine anybody willingly trading for Matt Young.  Powell spent half a season in Milwaukee before finishing out his career back in Seattle.  He was done pitching in the big leagues before he turned 30.

Powell has some brutal personal history, though.  He lost all three of his older brothers in the span of a year in auto accidents near his hometown in Georgia.  These days it looks like you can find him in southern California, joining the Dodgers in community service outings or being the featured speaker at little league parks.  According to his bio on that last link, he is one of a small handful in MLB history to end his career with all of his hits being doubles.

Here's a clip of him sharing his testimony.  It looks like he's dedicated his post-playing career to helping others!

Friday, July 3, 2015

644th Place - Bob Stanley

Card #573

Normally a player of Bob Stanley's tenure and renown would rank higher in a countdown like this, but I find this side profile shot a bit weird.  Thoughts on where this picture was taken?  Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium?

This is somewhat random, but Bob Stanley is regarded as the best player ever born in Maine.  According to his SABR bio, though, he didn't really grow up there.

Bob's nickname, "The Steamer," was partially related to the vacuum company but also a jab because many of the Boston faithful thought he "sucked."  Despite holding a prominent place in Red Sox history, many fans have less than fond memories of Stanley.   Much of that is related to his role in the infamous 1986 World Series collapse.  It was his wild pitch that allowed the Mets to tie the score in game six before Mookie squeaked one under the legs of Bill Buckner.

Stanley doesn't get enough credit for the versatility he provided the Red Sox in all his years of service.  He would bounce from starter to long relief to closer during a season as well as throughout his career with Boston.  He notched a couple of All-Star games and places in the top ten in numerous team records.  Per the SABR article, Stanley seems to be appreciative of the Boston fan base and stayed in the area after retiring.  Does time heal all wounds, Boston fans?  I hope so.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

645th Place - Ken Howell

Card #149

For some reason I have strong memories about Ken Howell.  He started pitching the same year I started collecting baseball cards.  I was just as obsessed with learning about random bullpen guys as I was collecting all-stars.  Perhaps he left an impression on me because his hair and mustache reminded me of my favorite player, Eddie Murray?

Speaking of Eddie...Howell went to the Orioles after the 1988 season in the trade that brought Murray to the Dodgers.  He was then flipped to the Phillies for Phil Bradley.  Unfortunately for Howell, he missed out on most of the miracle season for the Dodgers in '88, and wasn't on their post season roster.

Howell had a pretty good year as a starter in 1989 for the Phillies, but injuries in 1990 insured he would never play in the majors again.  You can find Howell back on the Dodgers these days, though, as an assistant pitching coach.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

646th Place - Dave Meads

Card #199

I'm 99% sure it's just an optical illusion, but it looks like Dave Meads' right eyebrow extends past his face in this photograph.  There are some folks already out there who are critical of this facial feature, so I don't want to seem like I'm piling on.

I don't think we've talked yet about the "3D" effect Topps was going for in the 1988 set.  This Meads card is a better demonstration of it than most of the previous entries.  The players are meant to exist between the name banner in the foreground and the team name in the background.  Meads' left hand obscures the "s" in "Astros" as a result.  27 years later this looks kind of cheesy, but back in 1988 this was some pretty advanced photo manipulation.

Dave Meads had a rough year in 1987, appearing in 45 games but posting an ugly 5.55 ERA.  He would see better success in 1988, but an arm injury in 1989 would essentially end his career.

Any guesses as to who the Astro is in the background?  Ken Caminiti?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

647th Place - Donnie Hill

Card #132

The other Donnie Baseball.

Talk about your quintessential mid-to-late eighties baseball look...Mr. Hill has it all.  Over-sized glasses, long hair, scruffy face, thin chain.  Donnie is ready to play!

Hill came to the White Sox from the A's, in a trade that sent Gene Nelson to Oakland.  Nelson would become a key member of the Oakland bullpen during their three straight World Series appearances.

According to Wikipedia, Donnie was a member of the Arizona State University team that won the college world series in 1981.  That same link claims Donnie is now a golf pro at Strawberry Farms Golf Course in Orange County. When you poke around the site you learn Doug DeCinces designed the course. Hill now goes by "Don," if you'd like to arrange a lesson with him.

Monday, June 15, 2015

648th Place - Mark Davidson

Card #19

Davidson's batting helmet reminds me of the good old days of Little League.  I don't know if this was your experience, but my coaches tended to carry our equipment in over-sized duffel bags, usually of the army green variety.  Each practice or game would start with the unceremonious dumping of the bag.  As the contents spilled, there were always five or six batting helmets that would hit the dusty ground and spin.  It's funny to think back at the variety of helmets it contained.  They always had two ear flaps, unlike Davidson's here.  One was guaranteed to be an "ear burner" - too tight to fit on your head and difficult to take off once it was on.  This was inevitably the hard hat you were wearing when a teammate thought it would be funny to try and steal it off your head.  On the opposite end of the spectrum was the "army helmet."  The padding to keep it secure on your head had long since disintegrated, giving it no chance of staying straight on your noggin or  protecting it if you got hit.  The only time you would get caught dead wearing it was if you were in the on-deck circle with the bases loaded and the batter was wearing the last good one.  My favorite player was Eddie Murray, and he tended to wear his ball cap underneath the helmet.  If it was good enough for Eddie, it was surely good enough for me.  I almost always had my hat on underneath.  I think my mom supported this approach too, because I'm fairly certain she lived in a constant fear of my brother and I catching lice from other kids.  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

649th Place - Steve Jeltz

Card #126

Two things jump out on the back of Steve Jeltz's baseball card.  First, he was born in Paris, France.  He's one of only a handful of French-born players in MLB history.  Second, he claimed his home as Lawrence, Kansas.  It makes a lot more sense when you learn he played ball at the University of Kansas.  Rock, chalk, jheri curl!  According to Facebook, he still lives and works near there.

Jeltz has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek, cult following.  MLB even did a feature on him recently.  Jeltz was an all glove, no stick shortstop during his tenure in the bigs.  Heading into 1988 he was carrying a lifetime slugging percentage of .268, which you just don't see in this day and age like you did back in the eighties.  Perhaps the ultimate testament to his skills, or lack thereof, is his appearance in the Urban Dictionary.

The card itself is fairly boring, with his Hefty bag warm-up jersey creating a blob of maroon over half the card.  It almost causes you to overlook the matching batting gloves.  He does rock that flap-less batting helmet, though.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

650th Place - Joe Hesketh

Card #371

I've always found faux pitching motion or hitting shots a bit goofy in baseball card pictures.  Even Joe Hesketh is smirking a bit about them.

Hesketh had a solid big league career.  As a rookie pitcher in 1985 he finished eighth in Rookie of the Year balloting.  But a disastrous year in 1986 move him out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen for Montreal.  He had a couple of good seasons in that role but eventually was released and ended up in Boston.  The Red Sox used him as a starter again, where he had mixed success.  He did lead the league in win-loss percentage in 1991, though, if you're into that kind of thing.

You can find some random things out on the web about Hesketh, including his nickname of "fungo."  I also tracked down this YouTube video, where Hesketh offers some pitching instruction.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

651st Place - Junior Ortiz

Card #274

As a kid I always thought Junior Ortiz was the ultimate backup catcher.  Solid defense, could hit for average...basically, he wasn't going to embarrass you back there.  I also remember thinking how unfair it was that teams with Tony Pena and Brian Harper could also be blessed with a second string catcher as talented as Ortiz.

After coming up through the Pirates' system he moonlighted with the Mets for a couple of seasons. But Pittsburgh got him back during the minor league draft at the end of 1984.

Ortiz picked up a World Series ring as a member of the 1991 Minnesota Twins, even collecting a hit during the series.

This isn't a bad looking card, the batting cage in the background is a nice touch.  It looks like one of his teammates just put one over the fence if his far away gaze is to be trusted...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

652nd Place - Joel McKeon

Card #409

I kind of miss how the White Sox were constantly experimenting with their uniforms.  Joel is sporting one of those fashion statements:  the upper-thigh jersey number.  There's nothing like drawing your eye to a player's crotch like a big ol' #50 hanging out right next to it.  I'm surprised more teams don't explore new designs related to pants.  They're pretty much a standard color, maybe some piping.  Where's the flair???

McKeon was back in the minors when this card came out, never to again appear in a major league game.  He was a forkball pitcher who seemed to run into some bad luck, including a bout with hepatitis.  What might be most interesting about Joel, though, is his European baseball triumphs.  He ended up in Belgium of all places, where he pitched three years in a row without ever losing a game.  McKeon is also one of six pitchers Don Mattingly exploited when he set his grand slam record.  We'll see a tribute to that feat much later in this blog...

Monday, May 25, 2015

653rd Place - Joel Davis

Card #511

I was a shrimp as a kid.  Even though I was the oldest kid in my grade level (I was one of those late August birthdays that was on the cut line for what year you started kindergarten), I was always the shortest and lightest.  When I played little league I was a strong fielder, usually playing second base, though I couldn't hit a lick.  I remember the first glove I got that had a hole for your index finger, as Mr. Joel Davis is demonstrating to the right here.  I asked my dad what the hole was for.  He explained that when you're catching a hard hit or thrown ball, it can sting your finger being so close to the pocket, thus you put your finger outside of the glove.  This sounded pretty cool and mature to me.  The problem, though, was my hand was too stinking small.  My index finger wasn't long enough.  Furthermore, I was having trouble opening and closing my mitt.  I had zero hand strength.  My dad suggested I slide my index finger inside the same opening as my middle finger.  This worked great.  I had better control of my glove, but I was always sad I wasn't big/mature enough to use the index hole.  You, Mr. Joel Davis, are surely more manly than me.  That mustache isn't hurting either.

Despite being a first round pick by the White Sox, Davis didn't experience much success in the bigs.  He must have made hitters nervous, though, because he's 6'5 - I can't imagine what that looked like as he stepped toward home plate.  These days you can catch Joel coaching in Jacksonville, FL.

Friday, April 3, 2015

654th Place - Stan Clarke

Card #556

Holy Toledo!  Does this blog even still operate?  Yes, yes it does.  Just not at the frequency I would like it to.

Speaking of Toledo, the pride of Northwest Ohio, Stan Clarke, clocks in at 654th place.  Per the back of the card, Clarke was born and raised in Toledo, winning the city championship with his high school in 1976.  He even played at the University of Toledo!  And his favorite European city is Toledo, Spain!!  OK, I made that last one up.

Clarke never gained long term traction in the big leagues.  He debuted with the Blue Jays, the team that drafted him, in 1983.  He would appear again for the Blue Jays in both 1985 and 1986, but he was off to Seattle in 1987.  Despite being part of this 1988 set, Clarke didn't play back in the pros until 1989.  His final season was 1990, appearing in two games for the Cardinals.

Would you like to connect with Stan today?  You might find him guessed it, Toledo.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

655th Place - Mike Hart

Card #69

Mike Hart got into 34 games for the Orioles in 1987, which was enough for Topps to issue him a card.  Alas, they would be his last professional games in Major League Baseball.  The former Wisconsin Badger slugged well in the minors and knew how to take a walk, but he leveled out in Triple A.

He's not to be confused with this Mike Hart, who also got a cup of coffee in the bigs.  According to his Wikipedia page, he teaches at a middle school in Wisconsin, but that doesn't seem to be current information.

Where have you gone, Mike Hart?  

Friday, January 23, 2015

656th Place - Dan Schatzeder

Card #218

If you looked up "journeyman lefty" in the MLB dictionary, there's a good chance you would see Dan Schatzeder's face.  Though he had two stints with the Expos, which is the team I tend to think of when his name pops up, he played for a host of other teams...including the Twins. Minnesota picked him up in their world championship season of 1987.  I'm impressed Topps snapped a picture of him so late in the season.

The Twins gave up a couple of no-names to get him, but he might not have even been worth that.  Over 30 games he had an atrocious 6.39 E.R.A.  Despite that, he pitched in both the ALCS and World Series for Minnesota.  He was quite effective against the Tigers in the ALCS but got roughed up in the World Series.  He was still credited for one of the four wins that secured their championship, though.  Congrats Dan!  That's a feat only a relative few can claim in baseball history.

Schatzeder attended the same college my father did, the University of Denver.