Monday, May 30, 2011

#45 Damaso Garcia

Card thoughts: Here's something it's rare to see these days: flip down sunglasses. In a quick glance, the sunglasses look like some weird antennae sprouting above Garcia's ears. But a good shot nonetheless of Garcia anticipating a ground ball.

The player: In his prime, Damaso Garcia was one of the top second basemen in the American League. He could field, hit for average, and had above average speed. This was apparent almost immediately, as he came in 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1980 after hitting .278 and stealing 55 bases. From 1982-1985 he was remarkably consistent, scoring 70-80 runs and hitting .280-.310. He made the all-star team in 1984 and 1985. But after 1986 he was traded to the Braves and he was never a good player again. He was washed up at age 32.

Perhaps his sudden drop in production can be attributed to an undiscovered brain tumor. After Garcia retired, he started having double vision. The doctors found the tumor and told him he had six months to live. But Garcia beat the odds and he is living to this day.

Rear guard: Garcia got his first hit off of Tigers' pitcher Steve Baker; he got his second big league hit in that game as well. He also scored 3 of the Yankees' 4 runs.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

#44 Lance McCullers

Card thoughts: This card was another that kind of freaked me out as a kid. The angle of the shot looks like McCullers is a big, scary giant. It also makes him look fat (he only weighed 186 lbs on a 6'1" frame). This is McCullers' rookie card.

The player: McCullers was a product of the incredibly fruitful late 70s/early 80s Phillies farm system. He was traded to the Padres late in the 1984 season for outfielder Sixto Lezcano. Nicknamed "Baby Goose" in reference to the Padre closer of the time, Goose Gossage, he had several successful seasons as a reliever for the Padres, with ERAs consistently under 3. McCullers eventually took over the Padres closer role when Gossage was injured and saved 16 games in 1987 and 10 in 1988. In a head scratching move, the Yankees apparently were so impressed that they traded star first baseman Jack Clark to the Padres to get him. He was not successful in New York and eventually he moved on to the Tigers and Rangers before retiring in 1992.

Rear guard: McCullers first save was in relief of Mark Thurmond against the Reds. He pitched 2 2/3 innings and walked one and struck out one to finish a 2-0 shutout.

Ollie Brown was one of the early stars of the Padres. In their inaugural season he led the team in runs, hits, and batting average. So they made a good first choice, considering with the Giants he was never more than a part-time player.

Friday, May 27, 2011

#43 Dave Engle

Card thoughts: I love the catcher cards in this set. Engle looks like he's taking a trip to the mound. Note the old style catcher hat, with no rear brim. Kind of like what a man shot out of a rocket would wear.

The player: Engle started out as an outfielder. He was thought of highly enough as a minor leaguer that the Twins obtained him along with several other players for Hall of Famer Rod Carew. The Twins moved him to catcher two years into his major league career so he could get more playing time. He responded well in his first year catching, having a career year in 1983 with 6 HRs, 43 RBIs and a .305 average. Likely based on that year, he was named as an all-star in 1984, despite average numbers.

Topps should have put DH-C in the position circle on this card, as Engle only caught 17 games in 1985 while DHing 39 times. This split came about when he became unable to throw accurately back to the mound after breaking a pitcher's nose with a throw while catching batting practice. Engle instead would lob the ball, which once allowed Alfredo Griffin to steal second on his throw back to the pitcher. In his later career, Engle played first, outfield (his original major league position) and third but mostly he was the designated hitter or pinch hitter. He would play for the Tigers, Expos, and Brewers before retiring in 1989.

Engle's father was a high school teammate of Ted Williams and fellow former Twin Tom Brunansky is Engle's brother-in-law.

Rear guard: On my 8th birthday, Dave Engle pinch hit for catcher Tim Laudner and hit this solo shot in the 9th inning against the A's. Those 8 RBIs Glenn Adams drove in were 16% of his total that year. He never drove in more than 50 runs in a year.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

#42 Geoff Zahn

Card thoughts: This is one beat up card. And Zahn has one of the worst smiles I've ever seen, more like a leer. And lest you think this is an accident, like the photographer caught him in mid-smile, his 1984 card shows the same disturbing expression.

The player: Zahn didn't make it to majors until he was 27 and bounced about a bit until he found success. If you want to know the reason why the Cubs floundered in the 70s despite having some of the games brightest young stars, Zahn is part of the answer. In one their worst trades in the 70s (among many), the Cubs traded Burt Hooton early in the '75 season to the Dodgers for Zahn and Eddie Solomon. Hooton would win 18 games for the Dodgers the rest of that season and go on to be a mainstay in the Dodgers rotation for the next decade and Zahn would be released after winning two games for the Cubs. Of course, he would hook up with the Twins the next year and start a streak of having at least 10 wins a year until 1982.

Zahn was still a .500 pitcher who ate up a lot of innings (he led the league in runs given up in 1980 and 1981) when he had his greatest season in 1982 with the Angels. He won 18 games and helped the Angels reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, his success did not continue in the ALDS as he lost his only start, giving up 3 runs in 3 2/3 innings. He would have another good year in 1984, tying for the league lead with 5 shutouts while winning 13 games. But that was about it for Zahn. He only pitched in 7 games in the season shown on this card, before blowing out his shoulder and never pitching again.

Zahn is now a Christian motivational speaker. His Website is confusing amalgam of jock aphorisms and can- do-spirit. At least he's learned how to smile in his pictures.

Rear guard: Just at a glance, you can see how before 1977 Zahn didn't pitch much and then started getting consistent starts once he made it the American League.

Monday, May 23, 2011

#41 Brad Wellman

Card thoughts: If this was made into a poster, I'm sure 13 year old girls in '85 would be putting this up on their wall, right next to Michael J. Fox. This dreamy picture was shot at Shea stadium and Wellman looks unusually intense for someone waiting for a pitch that will never come.

The player: Wellman was a career utility infielder whose sister married pitcher Tom Candiotti. Drafted by the Royals, he was part of a blockbuster trade when he was traded to the Giants with Atlee Hammaker, Renie Martin, and former first round pick Craig Chamberlain for pitching great Vida Blue. His "best" season was probably 1984 when he had a career high 25 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. He once won $1,000 on a clubhouse dare to shave his head (ooh, what a rebel!).

After his playing career ended, he managed the Astros rookie league club from 1999 to 2000, winning the league championship his first year. His son is a professional hockey player.

Rear guard: Wellman's home run was a two-run shot off of Bill Gullickson and drove in third baseman Tom O'Malley. These would be the only runs the Giants would score in a 9-2 loss against the Expos.

Tom Sheehan took over for Bill Rigney. It would be his only managerial job in the big leagues, and he guided to Giants to a fifth place finish with a .479 winning percentage.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#40 Ken Griffey

Card fact: I question the appropriateness of Griffey being awarded the coveted card ending in 0. He hadn't really been a star at this point since 1980. But at any rate, lets update our card percentages:

Action: 40%
Head: 21%
Candid: 18%
Posed: 21%

Topps has done a good job so far in capturing the in-game excitement of the 1985 season.

Card thought: Nice use of the batting cage for background texture. Once again, a head shot taken at dusk during spring training.

The player: Griffey is probably known to most people as being the namesake father of recent retired star Ken Griffey, Jr. But Ken Griffey, Sr. was a star in his own right, albeit never a major one. Griffey had several great years as a member of the Big Red Machine, hitting over .300 6 times in his 9 year career with the Reds. His best years were 1976 and 1977 when he was an all-star and scored over 100 runs each year. In fact, he had the chance to win the batting title in 1976. In a controversial move Griffey, who was leading the race at the time, was benched on the last day of the season. This allowed Bill Madlock who was in the second place, to take the batting crown by having 4 hits on the last day. Griffey finished that season with a .338 average, one point behind Madlock.

After his star years with the Reds, Griffey became a good regular outfielder for the Yankees and Braves, and part-time outfielder with the Reds. He ended his career with the Mariners in 1991 where he got to play with his son for a couple of seasons. In fact, the Griffeys hit back-to-back home runs in 1990. His lifetime average was a not-too-shabby .296 and he had over 2,000 lifetime hits.

After his playing career, Griffey was a longtime hitting coach with the Mariners, Rockies, and Reds. He currently manages the Reds A-ball team at Bakersfield.

Rear guard: You can see Griffey's age started to catch up to him in 1982 as he started to play in less and less games.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

#39 Dave Rucker

Card thoughts: Nice PJ's Rucker! Seriously, this is a great illustration Rucker's pitching motion, as the photo has caught him in the middle of throwing a fastball to the plate. Perhaps in his dreams.

The player: Rucker was a career middle reliever who took his time getting to the majors. He was stuck at AAA Evansville for all or part of five seasons before being called up to the Tigers. He was traded to the Cardinals for Pitcher Doug Bair where he had his best seasons, with ERAs under 3 in 1983 and 1984. However, his control was bad, as he walked almost as many as he struck out. This should have been a warning sign for the Phillies. Instead, they traded Bill Campbell and Ivan DeJesus to get him. He was pretty bad for the Phillies and he was let go in 1987 to sign a minor league contract with the Rangers. He didn't make it to the majors again until 1988 and after 31 games that season with the Pirates his career was over.

Rear guard: Rucker's first win was in the second half of a doubleheader against the Rangers. He got the win because Tigers reliever Dave Gumpert blew the lead in the 7th. He pitched the ninth and typically walked one and struck out none.

Fergy Malone actually played with the Philadelphia in the first season of the National Association, the proto-pro league that predated the National League. He was 31 as a "rookie" catcher in 1876 when the Phillies were called the Athletics. He hit .220 and had an incredible 31 errors and 25 passed balls in 20 games. But they didn't wear gloves in those days, so perhaps that isn't surprising.

Friday, May 20, 2011

#38 Glenn Hoffman

Card thoughts: I was horrified by this card as a kid. Hoffman looks like he's witnessing a terrible car crash. Maybe I was misperceiving this look. Perhaps he's just bored. Either way, a most unpleasant headshot.

The player: Hoffmann was your good field, no hit shortstop, so common in the 80s before the era of Alex Rodriguez. Hoffman was a particularly poor hitter, hitting only 23 homeruns and driving in only 210 runs in his 9 year career, despite being a regular shortstop for nearly half of it. His best year was 1983 when as the Red Sox regular shortstop he had 41 RBIs and had a .260 average to go along with a .340 slugging percentage. Despite this, he lost his job to Jackie Gutierrez and would never be more than a part-time player again. Hoffman would play for the Red Sox another year and a half after the year shown on this card until he was traded to the Dodgers for a minor leaguer who never made it to the majors. He ended his career with the Angels in 1989.

Hoffman then embarked on a long and successful career as a coach. He had various jobs in Dodgers minor league system, including manager, until he was called up from the AAA club in 1998 to take over for Bill Russell. He guided the Dodgers to a third place finish (with a 47-41 record under him). He then became a third base coach for the team and he's been one ever since, joining the rival Padres 2006.

You may have heard of Hoffman's little brother. His name is Trevor. Yeah, this guy.

Rear guard: After the Father/Son series in the 1984 set, I guess Topps caught the family bug because there sure is a lot of brother trivia going on in the "Talkin' Baseball" box. Milt Gaston was the second leading pitcher on a last place Red Sox team going 12-19 with a 3.73 ERA. Alex Gaston was the third-string catcher and hit just .224 in 55 games. Alex was never more than a marginal player, but Milt had a long career, winning 97 games in 11 seasons. However, he lost over 164 games as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

#37 Mark Thurmond

Card thoughts: Looking at this card brings up an emotion of faint loathing. It could be the smirk on this guy's face. It could be the fact that I hated all Padres not named Tony Gwynn after they beat the Cubs in 1984. Anyway, pretty boring head shot of Thurmond, looking like he's hanging out in a clearing out in the woods.

The player: Thurmond had a long apprenticeship in the minors for someone with his talent (he won over 10 games for the Padres AA club Amarillo twice, and also repeated AAA after winning 12 games in Hawaii in 1982). This may have been because Thurmond was your prototypical soft-tossing lefty and he was not a strikeout pitcher. He only averaged 3.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his career. However, he walked few batters as well, only 2.8 per 9. Thurmond had a career year in 1984 going 14-8 with a stellar 2.97 ERA to help the Padres reach the World Series. He was horrendous in both the playoffs and World Series, losing 3 games and having an ERA over 9.

This card would be the last showing Thurmond as a Padre. After a horrible start to the 1986 season (6.50 ERA in 15 starts), he was done as a Padre and as a regular starter. He was traded mid-season to the Tigers for Dave LaPoint and pitched really well out of the bullpen for Detroit with a 1.92 ERA. The next year he wasn't as effective, and only got into 1/3 of an inning in the ALCS. He was traded in 1988 to the Orioles for Ray Knight, who was discussed earlier on this blog. He finished his career with the Giants in 1990.

He currently works as the VP of the insurance agency started by his father. If you live in the Houston area, give 'em call!

Rear guard: Rafael Robles came from the Dominican shortstop factory of San Pedro de Macoris. The poor guy only hit .100 that year and was only in the lineup for 6 games. In the first Padre game ever, he led off and reached on an error by second baseman and former ESPN blowhard Joe Morgan. He later stole second. And that was the highlight of his year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

#36 Tigers Leaders

Card thoughts: This is the second subset of the 1986 Topps set. As a kid, these were useful cards, as you could figure out some of the better players on some of the more obscure teams. Otherwise, how else would I know which Seattle Mariner to trade for? As for the design, I really don't dig the ghostly halo around these players.

The player: In a wise move, Topps chose the longest serving player on each team to appear on the front of these cards. In this case, Lance Parrish barely beat out Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, and Lou Whitaker, who all got called up in September of 1977 but got into games later than Parrish. I miss the era when players stayed with their teams longer. Those are four of the greatest Detroit Tigers in the last 50 years and they had played together for 9 years at this point. You wouldn't see that today.

Rear guard: On the offensive side, Lou Whitaker (discussed earlier on this blog) and Kirk Gibson predominate. I always thought of Gibson as more of home run hitter, but Darrell Evans led the team (and league) in homers that year . . . at 40 years old. Gibby instead led the team in steals. On the pitching side, it's all Jack Morris with the relief leads going to Willie Hernandez.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

#35 Jeff Reardon

Card thoughts: Another glow-in-the-dark Expo, with Reardon twisting his body strangely. And I really don't like the look of that green, corrugated "Berlin Wall" out there in the outfield. Just a spooky card.

The player: Reardon was just coming into his own as one of the major league's best closers when this picture wasa taken. The Expos stole him in a trade from the Mets for a washed up Ellis Valentine. He would lead the league in saves with 41 for the year shown on this card, and then save over 30 games 6 more times. Like a lot of top relievers, Reardon never stayed  long in one place. After the Expos he would pitch for the Twins, leading them to their 1987 World Series. Here he is finishing the final game of ALCS leading up to the World Series. He saved one game in the series and didn't give up a run in the Twins series victory. He would later pitch for the Mets, Red Sox, Braves, Yankees, and Reds and became the all-time saves leader in 1992 while with the Red Sox with 341 saves, breaking Rollie Fingers' record. Reardon's record would be short lived as well: Lee Smith broke it 1993. He still ranks as the 7th all-time saves leader with 367. He was also a 4-time all-star--although he never appeared in a game.

After his baseball career, Reardon struggled with depression which began to severely effect him after his middle child overdosed in 2004. Overly medicated, Reardon bizarrely held up a jewelry store. An account of this incident is here. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Rear guard: Howie Reed would only win 6 games that season. In fact, he never won more than 7 games in any season. 1969 was the Expos first season.

Monday, May 16, 2011

#34 Ken Phelps

Card thoughts: Attendence was really down in baseball in 1985. Look at all those empty seats in centerfield! Also DH-1B was a very popular position in this era.

The player: Ken Phelps was a superstar hitter in the minors whose lack of defensive ability prevented him from making much of a major league impact. As a part time player he did show flashes of power including 24 HRs in 290 at bats in 1984. But he never could seem to find a home for long, playing with the Royals, Expos, Mariners, Yankees, A's, and Indians during his 11 year career. He was part of a memorable trade, when the Yankees sent a young Jay Buhner to the Mariners in exchange for Phelps. Buhner went on to become a star with Seattle while Phelps never batted above .250 with the Yankees. Here's Frank Costanza on Seinfeld ranting about this trade.

Ken Phelps spent a year as the color man for Arizona Diamondbacks broadcasts. He currently works as an analyst for Fox Sports  in Arizona and does PR work for Arizona Public Service, a utility company.

Rear guard: Julio Cruz is discussed at length about 20 cards ago. This statistic does not appear as one of Topps' "firsts" however.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

#33 Jeff Lahti

Card thoughts: A blah head shot of Jeff Lahti in spring training. Nice use of the bright foreground and dark background. Did Topps' spring training photographers only work at dusk?

The player: Lahti was originally drafted by the Reds and was traded to the Cards with a prospect for swing man Bob Shirley in 1982. A middle reliever for most of his career that relied on a fastball and slider, in the year shown on this card he had 19 saves as the right half of the right-left closer combination many managers used in those days. He also had an impressive 1.84. Unfortunately, in his two world series appearances with the Cardinals he was horrible, with a career 11.81 ERA. This would be his last full season, as in 1986 he blew out his shoulder and only pitched 4 more innings of pro ball before calling it a career.

Lahti returned to his native Oregon after his playing career and is presently an orchardist growing apples and pears. His daughter is supposedly dating a certain famous pro-athlete-philanderer. Type "Alyse Lahti Johnston" into any search engine if you are curious.

Rear guard: The Lowdermilk siblings won a combined 3 games for the Cardinals in 1911. Jeff Lahti's World Series debut was against the Brewers at the end of a 10-0 blowout in Game 1. He was terrible. He gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in only 1/3 of an inning.

Friday, May 13, 2011

#32 Steve Yeager

Card thoughts: Steve Yeager looks about 80 years old in this picture. That's what playing in the California sun for 14 years will get you. He's definitely going for the Tom Jones look here.

The player: Yeager was part of those great, deep Dodger teams in the 70s. Those teams were such an offensive juggernaut, a guy like Yeager with his .228 career average with the Dodgers ended up starting from 1974-1979. Although he was a poor hitter, he was an excellent defensive catcher. He led the league in caught stealing percentage with 46.7% in 1978 and 43.1% in 1982--this at a time when stolen bases were much more prevalent. His best season offensively was in 1977 when he hit 16 home runs, drove in 55 and hit .255 in 125 games. He would end his career a year after the one shown on this card with the lowly Seattle Mariners.

Off the field, Yeager was a bit of a playboy. The nephew of "American hero" Chuck Yeager, Steve was buddies with LA mayor Tom Bradley, so the mayor married him on the City Hall steps in 1982. Don't let the face like an old catcher's mitt fool you: He also posed for Playgirl (no link, this is a family site!). On a more serious note, teammate Bill Russell's bat shattered and hit him the neck, piercing his esophogus. He almost died. To protect his throat from future injury, he invented the throat guard all catchers wear today.

After his playing career, Yeager managed a few independent league teams in California, and was a hitting coach for a couple of Dodger farm teams. He's currently in charge of the Dodgers Legends Bureau, which I guess is like a speaker's bureau for ex-baseball players? I don't know.

Rear guard: Oh, what changes arbitration has wrought. You don't see this too much in baseball anymore: A guy used to start with a team, remaining on for years afterward as a backup. Nowadays, old players are just too expensive to keep around, what with the automatic raises based on seniority, not performance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#30 Eddie Murray

Card fact: Eddie Murray appears on a card ending in 0. And he has a mustache. So lets tally up the totals shall we? In the last ten cards, 5 were in action, 4 were candid, and 1 posed shot. No dull head shots in this batch!

Card thoughts: An in-game shot. I believe that Murray is on first and is watching a play in the outfield.  But the expression on Murray's face is how I remember him, stern, but not menacing. Just determined.

The player: "Steady Eddie" was one of my favorite eighties players. I generally valued players with high run or RBI totals, and Murray never disappointed in these categories. Murray broke in with a bang, winning rookie of the year in 1977. In the next 10 years he was in the top 10 in MVP balloting 6 times, was an all-star 7 times, and won the gold glove 3 times. He also drove in 100+ runs in 1980 and from 1982-1985. He would have had 6 straight years of 100+ RBIs if not for the strike shortened 1981 season (he led the league in HRs and RBIs that year). These prime years of Eddie Murray's career coincided with the Orioles being a perennial contender in the American League East. He hit well in the division series, and in the World Series the Orioles won in 1983 he hit 2 HRs, drove in 3 and scored 3 runs.

After the year shown on this card Murray would drive in 100+ runs only one more time, in 1993 with the Mets. He was still a valuable player for several contending teams including the Dodgers from 1989-1991 (drove in at least 80 runs every year) and the Mets in 1992 and 1993 (90+ RBIs each year). He became a part-time player in his 40s with the Angels, Dodgers (again) and Orioles (again) ending his career in 1997 after 21 years in the majors. He became a coach with the Orioles, Indians, and Dodgers from 1998-2007 after his career was over.

Murray ended his career with 3,026 games played (6th all time) 3,255 hits (12th all time), 504 home runs (25th all time), 1,917 runs batted in (9th all time), and 5,397 total bases (9th all time). To show how clutch he was, he has the most career sacrifice flies EVER in baseball history with 128. He was elected to the hall of fame in 2003.

Rear guard: Topps must have had a lot of confidence in Murray's future career trajectory: They cite his "first" nine RBI game. Those nine RBIs came in a 17-3 blowout against the (then) California Angels. Murray hit 3 HRs in that game (one a grand slam off of Alan Fowlkes) and drove in Cal Ripken 3 times; Lee Lacy twice, Rick Dempsey once, and himself three times.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

#29 Tony Phillips

Card thoughts: I love the picture on this card. Phillips looks like he's just been caught getting out of the shower, or stealing a cookie. Instead, he's signing an autograph for a fan, likely in the stands to his right. I also like the fact that he's got everything a hitter needs in his arms: a ball, a bat, batting gloves, and a glove. Maybe he's signing all these things?

The player: Phillips started his career as a pretty good utility infielder who could play multiple positions well and hit for a decent average. After he was signed as a free agent by the Tigers in the winter of 1989, his career really took off and became one of the American League's best leadoff hitters, while still playing many different positions (he was a regular third baseman and outfielder but played many other positions as well). Phillips led the league in runs with 114 in 1992, walks with 132 in 1993 and 125 in 1996. Although never selected for the all-star team, Phillips scored over 90 runs for 5 straight years and over 90 walks 7 times including 6 years in a row. In two World Series with the A's, Phillips played second base and hit .235 with 1 home run, and 3 runs scored and driven in. He got a ring with the A's in 1989.

Later in his career, Phillips had some off the field issues. While with the White Sox in 1996 he jumped into the stands after a fan at Milwaukee County Stadium and punched him after the fan yelled racial slurs at him. After the game, he went after the fan again, shoving him (both were arrested). Then the next year while with the Angels, he got caught smoking crack.

Rear guard: Another miscut card! Jim Hunter may be better known by his nickname "Catfish." He's now in the Hall of Fame. Tony Phillips' first home run was against the Seattle Mariners' Matt Young (who was Phillips' teammate on the 1989 World Series winning A's). He went 3 for 4 in that game and played shortstop.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

#28 Eric Davis

Card thoughts: I love this picture of Eric Davis, and I remember getting excited when I traded for this card. He looks like he's trotting around the bases before a spring training game, watching a home run. Note Davis' build. In the years before HGH and steroids were rampant in baseball, a build like this would get you 30+ home runs and 50+ steals.

The player: Eric Davis was one my favorite non-Cubs players growing up. He could do it all: catch, throw, hit for power, hit for average, steal bases. The turf so prevelant in the NL in that era really destroyed his body, limiting what should have been a hall-of-fame type career. The year shown on this card shows him just starting his career when the league was his oyster and he was bouncing between AAA Denver and the Reds. The following year he became the Reds regular  centerfielder and stole 80 bases, hit 27 homers, and scored 97 runs. He won gold gloves from 1987-1989 and was an all star in 1987 and 1989. He joined the 30-30 club (30+ HRs, 30+ steals) in 1987 and he hit for the cycle in 1989.

Despite being injury prone, Davis ended up playing 17 years in the majors, although his playing wasn't consistently good after 1990.  He did win the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1996 when he hit 26 HRs and drove in 83 runs for the Reds after being out for the year before because of various injuries. Eric Davis both lacerated his kidney while diving for a ball in the 1990 World Series (a play I vividly remember watching on TV and being horrified by) and was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 1997 season. He currently works in the Reds front office.

Rear guard: Eric Davis' first home run was off of the Phillies' veteran pitcher Jerry Koosman and drove in Reds pitcher Charlie Puleo. And boy, the back of this card shows how miscut it is. The first severely miscut card in the set.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

#27 Ray Knight

Card fact: I'm dropping the card fact. Too boring. However, I will continue updating the "stats" every 10 cards.

Card thoughts: I'm going to come right out and say it: I hated Ray Knight. In fact, I hated all the Mets in 1985. They were the biggest, cockiest jerks in baseball. Davey Johnson, their manager, was a jerk. They did a lot of cocaine. The New York Press lionized mediocrities like Knight and Mookie Wilson. They got in lots of frat boy style drunken melees. They beat the Cubs mercilessly. I think this card kind of sums up Ray Knight for me: A strange, smug smile on his face while his left hand give the "okay" symbol? What's with that? A weird, weird in action shot. Even now, when he pops up on ESPN broadcasts, I get a little angry.

The player: Knight was a good, but not great third baseman for the Reds and the Astros. His real fame came when he joined the great Mets teams in the mid-80s. Ray Knight became a hero during the 1986 World Series when he scored the winning run in Game 6 after Bill Buckner botched a play at first (I still remember forlornly watching Knight do that stupid jump--I was a Red Sox rooter in this series). Here's a video of that moment. He would end up as World Series MVP after hitting the tie-breaking home run in Game 7. In a strange twist of fate, in that same season Knight started a huge brawl in a Reds-Mets game when he sucker punched Eric Davis (coincidentally the next card in this set!). Here's the brawl.

Knight only played 2 1/2 seasons with the Mets. After the 1986 season, he would play one year each with the Orioles and the Tigers before retiring in 1988. Some speculated that the Mets irked Knight by driving a hard bargain after the 1986 season: He did not show at the anniversary celebration of their World Series victory in 2006. After his playing days, Knight was a long time coach with the Cincinatti Reds in various capacities (hitting, third base, and bench) before taking over as manager during the 1996 and 1997 seasons (replacing his former manager Davey Johnson!). He piloted the club to 81-81 record his first season, but the club was playing at a 43-56 pace the next year, when he was replaced by Jack McKeon in mid-season. He later would have another coaching go-round with the Reds in the early aughts.

Knight is currently married to former pro-golfer Nancy Lopez (the rumored split in 2009 did not happen) and broadcasts games for the Washington Nationals.

Rear guard: Here's a look at that first Topps card. Not a great looking dude. That grand slam came against the Cardinals, driving in Ken Griffey Sr., Harry Spilman, and Rick Auerbach. Knight had 6 RBIs in this game.

Monday, May 2, 2011

#26 Frank DiPino

Card fact: This is Frank DiPino's third Topps card. It's also the second in-action card in a row.

Card thoughts: There's a lot of weirdness in this picture. There's the spring training dark rainbow uniform. Those futuristic shoes with the huge velcro clasps (remember when velcro was going to replace shoelaces?). The odd angle of DiPino as he delivers a pitch and he moves side-to-side (?).

The player: Frank DiPino came up with the Brewers, but he didn't last long. As part of a blockbuster deal at the end of 1982, he was traded along with future Astros star Kevin Bass for Don Sutton. As a rookie a couple of years year the trade, DiPino had his best year as the left half of the Astros closing team with 20 saves and a 2.65 ERA. He finished 6th in rookie-of-the-year voting that year. He only had one more year as a closer for Astros, but afterward became a decent middle-reliever Cubs, Cardinals, and Royals. He came to the Cubs for pinch hitter/runner Davey Lopes. If I remember DiPino at all as a Cub, I vaguely remember him coming into a game for Shawn Boskie or some other middling starter.

Rear guard: Jerry Grote went on to have a long, successful major league career. This appearance in the majors was the only one in Jay Dahl's career. He injured his back the next year and played the outfield in the minors. The following year, when he was 19 he died in car accident while pitching in the Western Carolinas League. Frank DiPino's win came as starter when he struck out 10 Padres in 5 innings to lead the Astros to 4-3 win.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

#25 Willie Wilson

Card fact: That is a bubble gum stain over the "Y" in Royals. And is this a posed shot or an action shot? Hard to say.

Card thoughts: Do ball players in the on deck circle take a knee anymore? Maybe he's waiting for a pitching change.

The player: In his time, Willie Wilson was considered one of the fastest players in the major leagues: Although he only led the league in steals once, he is 12th all time in stolen bases. More than a quarter of his career home runs were inside-the-park jobs and he led the league in triples 5 times including the year shown on this card, when his 21 triples were the most since 1949. He was also an excellent outfielder whose speed was wasted early in his career as a left fielder. His best year was 1980 when he won his only gold glove and finished 4th in the MVP voting while collecting a league-leading 230 hits, 133 runs, 15 triples, and 79 stolen bases in a then major league record 705 at bats. He later won a batting crown with a .332 average in 1982. He had some flaws in his game, however. His high at bat totals were a direct result of an astonishing lack of patience for leadoff hitter: He never walked more than 40 times in a season and he often struck out nearly 100 times in a season in an era where it was rare for a hitter to strike out that much.

Wilson played for 19 years, 15 of them with the Kansas City Royals. He later played for Oakland and for the Cubs. I remember when he came to the Cubs in 1993, I was excited. However, he was no longer the Willie Wilson of the 80s (he was 37!) and was brought in as a backup/tutor to opening day sensation Tuffy Rhodes. It was indicative of those drab early 90s Cubs teams that he eventually got the centerfield job by default. He would be released the following year on my 19th birthday.

Rear guard: Here's that first Topps card. Those 2 home runs came in a blowout against the Milwaukee Brewers. The first was against starter Mike Caldwell and was a conventional home run. The second was an inside-the-park home run against Bill Castro and broke an 11-11 tie to give the Royals a 14-11 lead.