Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#79 Dave Schmidt

Card thoughts: Pity the poor middle reliever. I have absolutely no recollection of this player. Other than that, there's a lot a seriously off-kilter stuff going on with this card.

The player: Schmidt started out as a reliever and spot starter for the Rangers, getting 12 saves in 1984. After a trade to the White Sox for infielder Scott Fletcher (in 1986) and his subsequent release the next year, Schmidt hooked up with the Orioles and became a pretty good occasional starter and long reliever for some very bad teams. His best year was 1987 when he went 10-4 in 14 starts (out of 35 games) and had a 3.77 ERA. He was actually the Orioles opening day starter two years later, based on the fact he was the only starter with a winning record during a miserable 1988 campaign. Being number one didn't agree with him, however, and he had a high 5.69 ERA with 10 wins against 14 losses. He pitched a few more seasons after that with the Expos and Mariners before retiring. He has held various minor league pitching positions with the Orioles since 2005.

Rear guard: Schmidt came in the June 6, 1982 game in relief of Doc Medich who had allowed a single to White Sox batter Tom Paciorek and a walk to Harold Baines to start the inning. Schmidt promptly threw Carlton Fisk's attempted sacrifice bunt away down the first base line allowing both Paciorek and Baines to score and Fisk to go to third. Later in the inning Bill Almon hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Fisk. This gave the White Sox the lead; but when the Rangers came back in the 7th and 8th innings, Schmidt got quite the ignoble first major league win.

Pete Broberg was the first overall pick of the Washington Senators in 1971. He went directly to the majors, but did not record a shutout until the following season when the team had moved to Texas. Broberg was an incredibly wild major league pitcher and only had 6 career shutouts to go with a bloated 4.56 career ERA. He walked 5 in that shutout and struck out only 2 in front of a measly 5,000 fans.

Monday, August 29, 2011

#78 Bruce Benedict

Card thoughts: Much like future teammate Dion James, Benedict is searching for a pop-up. He looks more bemused and bored than shocked. I'm still in awe of how many mid 80s teams adopted the baby-blue road uniforms. Really ugly.

The player: Benedict's defense made him an all-star in 1981. He led the league in assists with 73 and caught stealing with 48 that year, following it up in 1982 with a league leading .993 fielding percentage. Benedict didn't hit much in his first few seasons as the Braves' regular catcher, clocking with averages of .225, .253, .264, and .248 from 1979 to 1982. He would have his greatest offensive year in the Braves' division winning year of 1983, hitting .296 while driving in and scoring 43 runs. He's interviewed at the 4:00 mark in this clip after the Braves clinched the division. (I really dig this celebration; there's kids and wives (or mistresses) in there, and even some weird chicken mascot is getting loaded . . . none of those wimpy goggles/tarp celebrations orchestrated nowadays). He was named to his second all-star team that season, although as in 1981 he did not appear in the game. He hit a career low of .223 the next year, as was relegated to backing up catching warhorses Rick Cerone, Ozzie Virgil, and Jody Davis for the rest of his 12-year career, all of which was spent with the Braves. His nickname was "Eggs," and the Fulton County Stadium crowd used the time-honored cheer "Bru-u-u-u-ce" to greet him when he came to the plate.

Benedict managed for the Atlanta Braves single-A teams and was a major league bench coach for the New York Mets from 1997-1999 after he stopped playing. He currently scouts for the St Louis Cardinals, referees NCAA Division I basketball games, and runs the Bruce Benedict Baseball Academy in the Atlanta suburbs.

Rear guard: Bruce Benedict came into his first games as part of a double switch, replacing Joe Nolan defensively, and pitcher Max Leon in the batting order, batting first. He also got his first major league hit that day off of Cardinals pitcher Tom Bruno NOT on 8-23-78 as indicated by Topps. Who worked in the Topps research department this year? This is the second error I've found.

Friday, August 26, 2011

#77 Charlie Leibrandt

Card thoughts: These in-action cards of pitchers are probably the best cards in this set, simply because the pitcher's motion is the most unique in the game, especially when seen from the side. Liebrant looks like he's about to throw a curve.

The player: Liebrandt was a good pitcher for some very good Royals and Braves teams in the late 80s and early 90s, but never got much recognition. The season shown on this card was Liebrandt's first big season. He won 17 games for the world champion Royals. In what became a habit for Liebrandt (it had happened the year before in the ALCS as well), Liebrandt pitched a great game until the late innings when either he, or a reliever, blew the game. In this case, he led 2-0 in the ninth, ended up giving up 4 runs to the Cardinals after he tired. After 1986, Liebrandt won 14, 16, and 13 games for the Royals in subsequent years. But at age 32, he had a sub .500 record, winning only 5 games against 13 losses with a career high 5.14 ERA. Thinking he was washed up, the Royals traded him to the Braves for a song (actually, first baseman Gerald Perry).

With the Braves, his career revived and he won 15 games for them in 1991 and 1992. But Bobby Cox misused him twice in the World Series, putting him in as a reliever in a extra inning, tie game. He lost both of these games. Liebrandt ended almost a third of his seasons in the post-season, accomplishing a 1-7 record, despite a 3.77 ERA.

Rear guard: 1982 was John Wathan's only year as the Royals starting catcher. He was generally a reserve first baseman/outfielder/designated hitter for the team. His 36 steals are actually a single season record for a catcher in the 20th century; hall of famer Buck Ewing holds the all-time mark with 53 for the New York Giants in 1888.

Liebrandt's first major league win was a 5-hit shutout against the Braves, outdueling future hall of famer Phil Niekro for a 5-0 victory.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#76 Dion James

Card thoughts: What in the world is James looking at? A bird in flight (more on that later)? A person threatening to jump from the upper deck? A lazy "fowl" pop up down the left field line?

The player: A former #1 draft pick, James had a great season for a rookie in 1984, winning the Brewers centerfield job and batting .295. The next year, the year represented by this card, he twice dislocated his shoulder and only got into 18 games, hitting a poor .224. The injury set his career back, and he spent all of the next year in the minors before the Brewers gave up on him. He was traded to the Braves for another disappointing former #1 draft pick Brad Komminsk. James flourished in 1987, having his best season, leading the league in fielding percentage, and hitting 10 home runs with 61 driven in while batting .312. He also killed a bird in flight with one of his 37 doubles. He still hit well with the Braves the following two seasons, but his defense regressed and he was traded to the Indians for yet another former #1 pick, Oddibe McDowell. He became a backup first baseman/outfielder for the Indians, hitting .290 with the club over 1 1/2 seasons. Injury struck again, however, and he had to have ulnar nerve surgery which kept him out the entire 1991 campaign. After four seasons with the Yankees where he got one more chance to start in 1993 (hitting .332), he retired with a career average of .288.

Rear guard: The Brewers lost James' 4-hit game to the Red Sox, 11 to 3. He got all 4 hits off of Oil Can Boyd, who pitched a complete game despite giving up 11 hits and 2 walks.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

#75 Jose DeLeon

Card thoughts: Like a bee, buzzing in a beautiful meadow on a summer day.

The player: DeLeon had two seasons, including the one represented by this card, where he lost 19 games. Yet his career winning percentage was .420 and he had respectable ERA of 3.76. His worst season was definitely 1985 when won only 2 games while losing 19; his other 19 loss season in 1990 while with the Cardinals he managed to win 7 games. DeLeon was more a victim of being on lousy teams that gave him poor run support rather than being a bad pitcher. His repertoire included a forkball and a rising fastball which led to a lot of strikeouts. He also tended to have high walk totals, but gave up few hits. Only he and Kerry Wood have less than 200 wins with more than 1500 career strikeouts.

In one of the Pirates' better trades, they traded DeLeon to the White Sox for future star Bobby Bonilla. He pitched well with the White Sox, but had his best years with the Cardinals between 1988 and 1992. He struck out over 200 in 1988 and 1989 with the Cardinals, leading the league in the latter year with 201. He later played for the Phillies, Expos and the White Sox (again). He had his only 2 postseason appearances with the White Sox, pitching 4.2 innings in 1993 giving up only 1 run.

Rear guard: 1983 was a good start for DeLeon's career. He finished 7th in Rookie of the Year voting, and pitched a one hitter. Unfortunately, as an indicator of DeLeon's future hard luck career he lost that game. The Pirates only had 3 hits off of Mets pitcher Mike Torrez (in 11 innings!)  to support him, and after 9 innings the score was tied 0-0. Reliever Manny Sarmiento gave up a RBI grounder to George Foster to lose the game.

Friday, August 19, 2011

#74 Rance Mulliniks

Card thoughts: Big mistake by Topps on this card. Mulliniks didn't play one game at shortstop in '85. He was the Jays regular third baseman, though. I had a big problem with this guy as a kid. The name just bothered me; it never sounded right in my head. Rance as in rancid? And Mulliniks sounds like something Eskimos wear on their feet (mukluks?). I can't believe this guy isn't Canadian. Apparently, Rance wasn't as bothered as me-- he looks absolutely bored in this picture, although he's really rockin' the 'stache (and still does!). He would also be right at home on this show.

The player: Mulliniks came up with the Angels and also played with the Royals, but he'll always be known as a Blue Jay. Mulliniks split the Blue Jays regular third baseman gig from 1982 to 1987 with Garth Iorg and, later, Kelly Gruber. He barely ever played against lefthanders, but raked righties. He hit over .300 several times and had a great on-base percentage (.400 for his career). but had more of a shortstop's power numbers (his original position) than a corner infielder. He was remarkably consistent over his career with the Blue Jays, hitting about 10 home runs, driving in 45 runs, and getting about 100 hits a year. He retired with Blue Jays record for fielding percentage at third base with a .975 and pinch hits with 59.

He was popular as a player with the Blue Jays fans, which likely led to his becoming an analyst for Blue Jays television broadcasts after his playing days were over. He was fired from that role before this season.

Rear guard: Here's that first Topps card: an unhappy looking Mulliniks, sans mustache. He looks older in 1978 than he does in 1986. His first home run was off of Oakland A's pitcher Rick Langford and drove in third baseman Dave Chalk. He went 3 for 3 that day. I'll have to keep a lookout for any other citations of "first homerun for (current club)." Perhaps Topps was aware of Mulliniks popularity with Blue Jay fans in adding this "first."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#73 Randy O'Neal

Card thoughts: I love how these Tiger action shots are actually taken at Tiger Stadium. There never seems to be anyone in the stands though. O'Neal looks like a small guy here, probably because of his crouching, deceptive delivery, but he was actually 6'2"

The player: O'Neal spent his career as an insurance policy for several different clubs. He swung between starting and long relief with the Tigers, Braves, Giants, Phillies, and Cardinals, spending time in the minors at least part of all of these seasons. He generally had a sub-.500 record and an ERA north of 4. He could be wild. He was 5th in the National League with 10 wild pitches in 1987, despite only pitching 66 innings. The season shown on this card was perhaps his best season, as he sported a career low 3.24 ERA. He wouldn't get his ERA below 4 again until his last season with the Giants when he sported a 3.83 mark in 47 innings. IN 7 seasons, he ended with a 17-19 record. He does have a black mark with some players, however, as he crossed the picket line during spring training when the players struck in 1995. For that, he was kicked out of the union and will get no pension.

O'Neal currently coaches baseball and teaches high school at Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida.

Rear guard: No, it's not this Onslow. Eddie Onslow only played 64 major league games, and he spread that out between the ages of 19, 20, 25, and 34. He did play 20 years in the minors, however, mostly with Toronto and Providence in the International League where he rarely hit under .300.

Monday, August 15, 2011

#72 Shawon Dunston

Card thoughts: There's something odd about this picture, which is Dunston's rookie card. Maybe it's the white uniform against the white seats on a cloudy Arizona day that makes Dunston's face and the red circle on the Cubs logo really stand out.

The player: Allow me the wax rhapsodically for a bit. When you're 10 or 11, you are an innocent baseball fan. You don't care about player salaries. You don't care exactly what a player's average is. You don't care that the team you follow never seems to win. You latch on to personalities, the way a player carries himself. You tend to have a bias towards exciting players--players that steal a base, players that run hard, players that make dramatic plays (even when those plays result in errors), regardless of the outcome in their stats at seasons end. For all of these reasons, Shawon Dunston was one of my favorite players growing up.

The Cubs rushed Dunston, a former #1 overall draft pick, to the majors despite the fact he had virtually no plate discipline in the minors. He was the opening day starter for the Cubs in 1985, but performed poorly and was sent down after a month or so, ceding the position to the veteran tandem of Chris Speier and Larry Bowa. He came back later in the year and hit better, claiming the Cubs starting shortstop job for the next eleven years (minus two years for injuries and a one year sabbatical in San Francisco). In those years, he teamed with Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace to give the Cubs their most solid infield since Banks-Kessinger-Beckert in the late 60s and early 70s. Dunston's had incredible range at short, and his arm, while strong, was erratic, leading to many balls thrown into the stands. This picture illustrates the amazing athleticism of Dunston turning a double play.

As a hitter, Dunston was notorious for his impatience. He never walked more than 30 times a year and often walked 15 times or less in over 500 at bats. He was a cult hero for Cubs fans, in part because of the Shawn-O-Meter, which updated Dunston's average after each at bat. In the pre-internet days, this was an invaluable resource for a young baseball fan. He even had the chicken sausage named after him at famed sausage emporium Hot Doug's (now the Steve Swisher). Despite his impatience, Dunston generally hit between .250 and .270 during his time with the Cubs with outstanding speed (stole more than 20 bases 4 times) and occasional power (over 10 home runs 5 times, including this grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Phillies). He was named to the all-star squad in 1988 and in 1990, when he got to play in front of his hometown fans. An integral part of the Cubs lineup, he was starting to really hit his hitting prime in 1992 when he injured his back. He barely played in 1992 and 1993 and would sign as a free agent with the Giants in 1996. He would come back to the Cubs for a swan song in 1997, but was traded at the end of the year to the Pirates. And thus began Dunston's vagabond days. No longer healthy enough to play shortstop full time and ever the team player, Dunston reinvented himself as a utility player for the remaining 5 years of his career, playing that role with the Indians, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Giants (twice). He actually ended up as a reserve outfielder by the end of his career, far away from his glory days at short.

Dunston's namesake son was drafted by the Cubs this year.

Rear guard: Ernaga would have only one more home run in 1957 (and his career) although he did hit .317 as a reserve outfielder/pinch hitter. It was hit off of future hall-of-famer Warren Spahn. He added a triple for good measure.

Friday, August 12, 2011

#71 Ken Schrom

Card thoughts: What's with all the powder blue uniforms in the 80s? Just a really unfortunate away uniform. The Twins are one of those teams that always seem to have an unfortunate color scheme. The red, dark blue, and light blue combo is pretty atrocious, even by their standards. I do really dig the old "T/C" logo though. Besides that, Schrom's right arm looks kind of scary in this picture. Like an alien's claw.

The player: Ken Schrom had a really strange career. He had two great years just after his first year with a new team: 1983 with the Twins and 1986 with the Indians. After posting ERAs over 5 in his first two seasons with the 'Jays, he was released and signed by the Twins. He proceeded to win 15 games, despite walking as many as he struck out (80). He then had two more mediocre seasons with the Twins, which prompted them to give up on him, trading him to the Indians for Roy Smith. He then goes 14-7 for the Tribe and represents them at the all-star game in 1986 (although he didn't pitch). The next year, he loses 13 games, has an ERA over 6, and retires at seasons end.

But he wouldn't be out of baseball for long. He became a front office executive in the Texas League for the El Paso Diablos for 15 years and he is currently the president of the Corpus Christi franchise, the AA affiliate for the Astros. Here he is talking about the team. He's pretty upbeat. But the team is currently last in their division and has lost 10 in a row.

Rear guard: Odd that Topps would cite Schrom's first save. It was his only career save at the time. His first win, however came in relief of Luis Leal against the White Sox. He pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up a run on 4 hits, the only run coming on a Jim Morrison home run.

Larry Hisle was a star for the Twins in the 70s. He led the league in RBIs with 119 in 1977 before signing as a free agent with the Brewers where he had a similar year. A torn rotator cuff at age 32 ended his career as a regular player.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#70 Dave Winfield

Card thoughts: Just a classic shot of Winfield smacking one of his many hits at Yankee Stadium. Of course, it could have been a fly out.

The player: Winfield is one of those quiet hall-of-famers. When this photo was taken, he'd yet to have 2,000 hits and only had a .288 career average after playing for 13 years. Much like Dwight Evans ten cards before him, Winfield got better as a he got older. Unlike Dwight Evans, he played well into his 40s. A good rightfielder (and former #1 draft pick) for the Padres, he didn't really take a star turn until 1979 when he led the league in RBIs with 118 and hit a career high 34 home runs. Two years later, he was made the highest paid player in baseball by George Steinbrenner, hoping to propel the Yankees back to World Series victory. Unfortunately, Steinbrenner thought he was signing Winfield to a $16 million dollar contract, rather than a $23 million dollar contract. This led Steinbrenner to make Winfield a scapegoat for the Yankees failure in the 1981 playoffs. Despite "The Boss'" resentment, it didn't effect Winfield's play. He had over 100 RBIs every year from 1982 until 1986. He would be an all-star every year from 1977-1988 and win Gold Gloves 7 times in that span.

Steinbrenner still disliked Winfield, however, and kept trying to trade him or humiliate him publicly. After missing all of 1989 with a back injury, Winfield came back in 1990. However, Steinbrenner was caught paying a known Mafia man $40,000 to get dirt on Winfield, leading to the former's two year ban from baseball. Winfield was traded anyway to the Angels, where had a career resurgence and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. He had even a better year after signing with the Blue Jays a couple of years later. He hit 26 home runs and drove in 108 at age 40, finally getting a World Series ring with the club. The next year, with the Twins, he became one of 19 players (at the time) to get 3,000 hits. It was in the 9th inning off ace closer Dennis Eckersley and drove in Kirby Puckett from third base. It can be seen here.  He was a first ballot hall-of-famer in 2001, the same year his number 31 was retired by the Padres. One more notable thing about Winfield: He was traded to the Indians for a dinner at the end of his career.

Off the field, Winfield is well known for his charity work, and is one those all-around ambassadors for the game. He also has a nifty Website.

Rear guard: This card was at the end of the pack. Hence, the gum stains.

Monday, August 8, 2011

#69 Luis Aguayo

Card thoughts: A very dynamic photo of Aguayo in his Phillies pajamas. To say that Aguayo was not a dymaic hitter is an understatement--he hit only .236 in his career. The position circle is incorrect as well, as Aguayo played over 70% of his games at short this season (insurance for erratic rookie Steve Jeltz), and only 20% at second. I always wondered as a kid how Topps determined whether a player was a 1B-OF of an OF-1B. I'm still wondering.

The player: "Luis Aguayo is on deck. Aguayo hasn't exactly been reminding anybody of Rogers Hornsby lately." This quote by Phillies broadcaster Richie Ashburn sums up Agayo's career. In an era of more realistic salaries a guy like Aguayo who really only played third base well, could hang around for years on the same team, riding the bench, hitting the occasional home run and making the occasional dazzling play. Aguayo hit .240 in his 9 year Phillie career, and slugged a surprising 37 home runs (12 in 209 at bats in 1987). He also played for the Yankees (50 games in 1988) and the Indians (47 games in 1989).

Aguayo has been a minor league manager for some years now, with the Reds, Red Sox and now the Cardinals (he must dig the color red!). He hasn't been too successful. None of his teams has finished higher than 5th.

Rear guard: That Phillies player would be Davey Johnson, current manager of the Washington Nationals, then manager of the New York Mets.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

#67 Ed Lynch

Card thoughts: Ed Lynch pretty much still looked like this when he was GM for the Cubs. It's not that he looked youthful then, it's just that Lynch always looked like an old guy even when he was only 30 years old.

The player: Ed Lynch was good enough to be a starter on the more mediocre Mets teams in the early 80s.  Lynch had some good years with the Mets, winning 10 games in 1983, 9 games in 1984, and 10 in the year represented by this card. His main weapon on the mound was guile and control. He walked only 27 batters in 191 innings in 1985, but also struck out only 65. However, he was traded to the Cubs in 1986 when the Mets won the World Series, after tearing up his knee early in the season. After two so-so years for the Cubs, he retired.

After his playing days were over, he went to law school and used his education and playing experience to become general manager of the Chicago Cubs from 1994-2000, are rare position for a former player who had never managed. He was not a very good general manager because, with the exception of 1998, the Cubs had some really terrible seasons full of malaise in those years. Here he is talking about Harry Caray's death (at 5:35). He currently scouts for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rear guard: Lynch's first win was against the Cubs, beating Lynn McGlothen. He gave up 1 earned run and 2 strikeouts in 6 innings. Benny Ayala's career was limited due to poor fielding. He was mostly a designated hitter/pinch hitter for several good Orioles teams in the late 70s and early 80s.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

#67 Carmelo Martinez

Card thoughts: When I was a kid, we had to sell Caramello bars as a fundraiser. Carmelo Martinez always reminded me of that. RAK stands for Ray A Kroc, former owner of the Padres (and founder of McDonald's) who died in 1984. Which makes this picture suspicious, as it is supposed to depict Martinez during the 1985 season.

The player: The cousin of longtime Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, Carmelo Martinez was a top Cubs prospect that was seen as a legitimate home run threat early in career, although that power would wane in his late 20s. He made a great start with the Cubs, hitting a home run in his first at bat. The Padres got him as part of a three team trade, with the Cubs receiving solid fourth starter Scott Sanderson from the Expos. He went easy on his former team in the playoffs in 1984, hitting only .176. The next year, the one shown on this card, was Martinez' career year. He hit a career high 21 home runs and drove in 72. Despite this, he was relegated to a backup role the next year when future ESPN bloviator John Kruk was brought up. He regained his starting role again in 1987 and had a few more solid years as a Padre regular, before settling into a pinch-hitting/first baseman/outfielder role on several teams the last couple years of his career. He actually played for three teams in 1991, his final season.

After his playing career was over, Martinez spent 6 years as manager and 8 years as hitting coach with the Cubs rookie league team. He also managed the Peoria Chiefs for Ryne Sandberg when the latter was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was doing this duty when he touched off a vicious bench clearing brawl by arguing with the manager of the Dayton Dragons as seen here.

Rear guard: Martinez' first Topps card, his only card in a Cubs uniform, can be seen here. In addition to hitting a home run in his first at bat that year, he drove in 4 runs against the Braves; 3 came on a home run in the first inning that scored Leon Durham and Ron Cey, and the last came on a fielders choice that scored Durham again in the fifth inning.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

#66 Cardinals Leaders

Card thoughts: When I think of the '85 Cardinals, all I can remember is how much I hated the Cubs playing against them. It seemed like every time a Cardinal got a single, it would turn into a double (or triple!). These pennant winners were fast. And that was lucky, because they had hardly any home run power.

The player: This is a much more exciting picture of Bob Forsch than on his regular baseball card. Forsch played all but 1 1/2 seasons in his 16-year career with the Cardinals. Tommy Herr was the second longest tenured Cardinal with a career that started in 1979.

Rear guard: A look at the pennant-winning Cardinals' offensive statistics reveals a team with a profile from the late 1910s--lots of speed and singles, little power. Tommy Herr drove in 110 runs with only 8 home runs; Willie McGee's team leading 216 hits, 18 triples, and .353 led the league (and was good for an MVP award) and Vince Coleman's incredible 110 stolen bases was a rookie record and earned him the Rookie of the Year award.

The Cardinals also had a strong pitching staff with John Tudor, Joaquin Andujar, and Danny Cox each winning at least 18 games. Tudor came in second to Dwight Gooden in the Cy Young award voting. He would never have a year even close to the incredible year he had in 1985 again (his 10 shutouts led the league).