Saturday, December 31, 2011

#137 Charlie Moore

Card thoughts: Another exciting catcher shot. Too bad they couldn't have had more exciting action shots of other positions. I'm guessing that the Topps photographers were stationed in the dugout for the batting shots, which made it easy to get these also.

The player: Moore had an interesting career. He started out in 1973 with the Brewers as a backup catcher/outfielder. He didn't really hit that well in this role, but he was given the starting catching job anyway from 1977-1980. His hitting improved every year, and he hit .300 in 1979 and .291 in 1980. His fielding was inconsistent, however. He led the league in passed balls in 1977, but he did average about 35% caught stealing in those years. In 1980 he even hit for the cycle.

However, Moore's future playing time at catcher was limited once the Brewers acquired Ted Simmons in 1981. The team liked his bat enough to move him to right field full time in 1982. He sported a strong arm in his new position and hit decently enough for the position, but not as well as he did as a catcher. Moore also tore the cover off the ball in the division and world series that year, hitting .462 and .346, respectively. But his best season as an outfielder might have come in 1983 when he had a career high 150 hits and 49 runs batted in while hitting .284. But Moore was once again relegated to a backup role when the Brewers wanted to try a young #76 Dion James in the position. He would again switch positions, this time back to an everyday catcher for the 1985 season, an unusual switch for a player over 30 years old. He ended up playing 14 seasons with the Brewers and ended his career in 1987 with the Blue Jays. He currently works as a sales representative in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Rear guard: Moore's .232 average in 1985 was his lowest since 1978. Playing the outfield certainly strengthened Moore's arm for his move back to catcher: He was 4th in both assists and caught stealing, despite only catching 102 games.

Friday, December 30, 2011

#136 Mike Hargrove

Card thoughts: This was Hargrove's last Topps card as a player. It must have been taken at the same batting practice session as the #59 Andre Thornton card. I'm guessing this was at the Angels' stadium. I remember this card vividly for some reason--probably because I had lots of doubles.

The player:  Nicknamed the human rain delay for his fussiness in the batter's box (see it here), Hargrove was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1974 and an all star the following season. With the Rangers, Hargrove was a good RBI man, with a little bit of power. But he was not the prototypical first baseman. For one thing, his biggest asset was his patience at the plate. He walked over 100 times four different seasons and led the league in 1976 and 1978. The Rangers, needing salary relief, traded him to the Padres in 1979. He said the league change was good, as he would "have come in with a crowbar, a stick of dynamite, and a shotgun and eaten first base" if he had to try to beat his former team. No word if that happened when he was traded within two and half months to the American League Indians after hitting a woeful .192 with the Padres.

Despite his loyalty to Texas, Hargrove is probably best known as an Indian. He hit over .300 twice with the Tribe, and continued to get on base via the walk at quite a clip. He even led the league in on-base percentage with a .424 average in 1981. Eventually, Hargrove's walking ability couldn't make up for the lack of run production that is usually associated with the power position of first base. He made way as a starting first baseman for youngster Pat Tabler the year shown on this card, leading to his retirement.

Hargrove became even more of a legend in Cleveland after retirement as he guided the Indians 5 straight division crowns and 2 pennants from 1995-1999. He left the  team for the Orioles after the final year of that run, where he managed the team to 4 fourth place finishes. He went on to Seattle in 2005, where he had another two 4th place finishes, before quitting mid season in 2007, despite being in the middle of a eight game winning streak. He stated he had lost the passion for the game. Hargrove currently is a special assistant with the Indians.

Rear guard: Not often do you see a player play over 100 games almost every season in his career (the 94 doesn't count in 1981 as that season was shortened by a strike.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#135 Joe Niekro

Card thoughts: Topps really had to scramble for this shot at Tigers Stadium. Niekro was picked up in mid-September from the Astros and only started 3 games for the Yankees. Luckily for Topps, one of those games was at Tiger Stadium on September 19. He lost that game to Frank Tanana (his brother Phil lost the day before).

The player: Niekro broke in with the Cubs in the late 60s, and was one of a bevy of promising young pitchers they had in that time period. He won 10 games his rookie year and 14 the next. But the Cubs had an overflow of starting pitching talent at that time, so he was traded to the expansion Padres in 1969 for reliever Dick Selma. Niekro was terrible with the Padres, losing 17 games and he didn't win more than 6 games from 1970-1976 as he bounced from team to team and back and forth from the majors to the minors. It was in one of these minor league stints that he began to throw the knuckleball that his dad had taught him (and his hall-of-fame brother Phil). Due to the fact that Niekro was previously a power pitcher, he always threw a hard knuckler and could set the pitch up with the fastball or slider.

The pitch changed Niekro's career trajectory and with the Astros in the late 70s he became a big winner. At age 34, he had his first 20 win season, leading the league win 21 wins and 5 shutouts, and making his only all-star game appearance. He won over 20 the next season, 1980, also. He was Houston's top pitcher until the season shown on this card (he was almost 40 years old). He would pitch until 1989 with the Yankees and Twins. Those of my generation will best remember Joe pitching in the 1987 playoffs, and throwing an emery board "accidentally" to the ground when an umpire came to check him for scuffing the ball. Every one had a good laugh at his ridiculous attempt at evasion.

Niekro died of a brain aneurysm in 2006. His daughter has established a foundation to research brain aneurysms. The cool thing is their annual gala is called the Knuckle Ball.

Rear guard: Wow, it is really hard to see that miniscule 3 games Niekro pitched with the Yankees. I wonder if they printed up a Astros card.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

#134 Carney Lansford

Card thoughts: A perfectly symmetrical photo of Lansford on deck. Looks like a submission in a photography class.

The player: Lansford could always hit. There was no single way to pitch him, and he could drive almost any pitch he got. At third, he made up for poor range by being quick. The one thing that held Lansford back was injuries. When healthy, he played nearly every day. But for several years he struggled to appear in over 120 games.

Lansford was immediately recognized as a future star when he broke in with the Angels in 1978. He finished third in the rookie of the year voting on the strength of a .294 average. He was even better the next year, scoring 114 runs (5th in the league) while hitting 19 home runs and driving in 79. Despite another solid season for the Halos in 1980, they shipped him to Boston the next year for Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson. The cozier confines of Fenway helped him hit over .300 the first time, leading the league with a .336 average . . . although the season was shortened by the strike. He would go on to hit over .300 the next three years. Despite being a valuable young hitter, he was traded again, this time to the A's for Tony Armas. He would remain with the A's for the rest of his career, which ended in 1992. With the A's. Lansford made the all-star team for the first time in 1988. He also played in three straight World Series, hitting .438 on the 1989 team. Lansford's career average was .290, and he had over 2,000 hits, but it was his fate was to be the complementary, not the super, star on the teams he played on.

After his career was over, Lansford coached for his former manager Tony LaRussa with the A's and Cardinals, as well as the Giants and Blue Jays. He's currently the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies. He also appeared in a cameo in the movie Angels in the Outfield. He appears at the 4:45 mark as Kenny "Hit or Die" Kesey, who looks pretty mean with his fake scar.

Rear guard: Here's Lansford's first Topps card. You can see by the highlights, Lansford could really explode in a game and become a one man wrecking crew. Of his 5 hits, 4 were singles off of Dennis Leonard who gave up 15 hits that day; his final hit off of #50 Dan Quisenberry drove in Jim Rice. Despite getting 17 hits that day, the Red Sox managed to lose to the Royals, 5-4.

Monday, December 19, 2011

#133 Andy McGaffigan

Card thoughts: There's something about this card that makes me slightly seasick. Perhaps it's the puke green "grass" behind McGaffigan. Or the awkward follow through that looks like he's in heavy seas, about to fall over.

The player: With McGaffigan, it took a long time to consistently stick in the majors. Despite being in only his fifth year in the majors by the time this shot was taken, he had played with 4 teams. McGaffigan featured a slider, changeup, and two kinds of fastballs, one that ran in, and one that sunk. He first got a good look after the team that drafted him, the Yankees, traded him to the Giants for pitcher Doyle Alexander. He got into 43 games that year (16 starts), but wasn't too impressive. After a couple more trades, McGaffigan ended up with the Reds, who tried to make him a starter to limited effect. He finally became a good pitcher the second time he played in Montreal. He consistently had his ERA under 3, as the Expos wisely had him pitch mostly in relief. McGaffigan's best season was in 1986, when he went 10-5 and pitched a career high 142 1/3 innings. He pitched well in Montreal until 1989, before going back to the Giants for a second time. He finished his career with the Royals in 1991. Despite being unwanted by a lot of teams, McGaffigan ended up with a stellar 3.38 ERA over 11 seasons. He also was one of the worst hitting pitchers of his day, sporting a career .048 batting average. There's a great interview here, where McGaffigan somewhat surprisingly states that he liked playing in the Midwest the best in his career.

After retiring, McGaffigan put on golf tournaments for a few years before becoming a financial adviser.

Rear guard: McGaffigan got the win by pitching to one Dodger batter in the 7th inning, Pedro Guerrero, who grounded out to first.

I really don't get Topps obsession with catching/pitching brother duos in their "Talkin Baseball" feature. In 1878, Will White started (and completed) 52 games, winning 30 and losing 21. He won over 40 games three times in his 10-year career (pitchers' arms fell off at age 30 in the 19th century).

I don't understand why Deacon White isn't in the hall of fame. He was the best catcher of his day, a day when catchers caught barehanded and had no protection. White still managed to play 20 years (although he did switch to the outfield and third base when in his 30s) and collect over 2,000 hits. When he retired, only Cap Anson had more RBIs. He also played for one of the first ever professional clubs, the Cleveland Forest Citys in 1868. White hit .314 in 1878 while catching his brother, but hit his were not very productive as he only drove in 29.

#132 Checklist

Not posting about this. Too dull. Plus, I've misplaced all my checklists.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#131 Razor Shines

Card thoughts: I was so excited to get this card. Why? Because this player has the baddest name ever. And he's glowing in the picture! The first of the glowing Expos. This is Shines only regular season Topps card. And he didn't play one game at third in the majors that year.

The player: Despite the awesome name, Shines career was anything but. Drafted in 1978, his career stalled out in AAA in 1983. As a catcher, he was blocked by Gary Carter, so he learned to play first. After brief tastes of the majors in 1983 (3 games) and 1984 (12 games), Shines was handed the opening day first base starter role in the season shown on this card. But Shines hit only .120 in 54 at bats, causing the Expos to look to another youngster to fill the role, the "Big Cat" Andres Galarraga. Although he hit poorly as well, he had a lot more promise than Shines. He went back down the Indianapolis Indians where he played for the next 7 seasons, (with a brief exile to Buffalo in 1990), becoming a local cult hero. They even had a "Razor Shines Day" when he was back in town as the manager of the White Sox AAA club.

After his playing days were over, like the baseball lifer he is, Shines began managing and coaching in the minors. He coached in majors with both the White Sox (2007) and the Mets (2009-2010).

Rear guard: Shines major league career had so little promise, Topps didn't bother with the career firsts on this one. You can see at this point that Shines has a penchant for repeating levels in the minors (already 5 seasons at AAA), not a good sign for a prospect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#130 Alan Trammell

Card thoughts: Apparently #121 Nelson Simmons wasn't so alone. Looks like Trammell was right there with him (and looks similarly miserable).

The player: For the first six years of Trammell's 20 year career, he was one of the better American League shortstops in the field. He had above average range, a strong, accurate arm, and didn't make a lot of sloppy errors. Starting about 1983, Trammell began hitting the ball with more authority: He began to reach double digits in home runs and hit over .300 consistently. His first great season was the Tigers' World Series winning year of 1984. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting while hitting .314 and driving in 69 runs.  He also won his fourth gold glove and went to his second all-star game. Trammell also batted .364 in the ALCS and .450 in the World Series.His best year came in 1987 however when he hit .343  garnered over 200 hits and drove in and scored over 100 runs. All these were career highs. He came in second in the MVP voting. Trammell would remain a productive player for the next several years, but injuries began eating significantly into his playing time after 1990.

Trammell retired in 1996, after playing his entire 20 year career with the Tigers, including a record 19 with #20 Lou Whitaker as his double play partner. There are many who believe that Trammell should be in the hall of fame (he got 24% of the votes he needed in the latest election). When you compare his stats to hall of famers Rabbit Maranville, Luke Appling, and Marty Marion, he certainly tops these guys. But he is unfairly compared to the modern day slugging shortstops rather than his peers who, with the exception of Ozzie Smith (for fielding) and Cal Ripken (for hitting) few could touch. That being said, his statistics compare to Edgar Renteria (not hall of fame caliber) and Barry Larkin (debatable). A longer discussion of whether Trammell is hall-worthy can be found here.

After his retirement, Trammell coached, and then managed, some horrendous Tiger team. The team he helmed in 2003 is the worst AL team ever in terms of losses (119). The next two years weren't much better, as the Tigers lost 90 or more each year. After being fired by the Tigers in 2005, he eventually became the bench coach for the Cubs from 2007-2010. After being passed over for the manager job in 2011, he rejoined his old teammate and batting and hitting coach Kirk Gibson as the bench coach for the Diamondbacks.

Rear guard: I turned 7 the day Trammell hit his first home run of the 1982 season against the Twins' Brad Havens. That grand slam drove in Lance Parrish, Johnny Wockenfuss, and Lynn Jones and cut the Twins' lead, 5-0 at the time, to just one run.

Monday, December 12, 2011

#129 Jeff Dedmon

Card thoughts: Blue, blue everywhere. Shot in one of those cavernous, identical NL East stadia.

The player: The hardest player to write about is the middle reliever. Their careers are generally short, and there aren't many distinguishing features. Highly sought after as an amateur (he was drafted in the first round by three different teams), Dedmon played 6 years in the majors, all but one for the Braves. He threw hard, and also featured a knuckle curve. However, Dedmon tended to be wild, which limited his effectiveness. His best season was in 1986 when he went 6-6, pitched a career high 99 2/3 innings, and had a 2.98 ERA. After being traded to the Indians in 1987, Dedmon retired the next season.

Rear guard: Dedmon really earned that first save, logging 3 2/3 innings of shutout baseball in relief of Rick Camp. He walked one and struck out one Padre.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

#128 John Wathan

Card thoughts: My least favorite posed shots on Topps cards is the bat held unnaturally. It makes the player look threatening. I think Wathan's about to cream the photographer. This was his last Topps card as a player.

The player: Wathan was an opposite field singles hitter with tremendous speed. His profile is that of a middle infielder, but somehow he became the Royals regular catcher in 1982 and 1983 after Darrell Porter left. Wathan was a first round draft pick of the Royals in 1971 and he never played for another organization. With Porter catching nearly everyday, when Wathan came up in 1976, he ended up playing a lot of first base and outfield. The Royals liked his bat: He hit over .300 in part time roles in 1977, 1978, and 1980. In between those years, he had a horrible season in 1979 when he barely batted above .200. But he was dealing with his mother's murder at the hands of his deranged half-brother. Wathan's big break came in 1982 when he played in a career high 120 games at catcher. He hit .270 and set a record with the most steals by a catcher with 36. This record stands to this day. Wathan stole another 28 bases the following year, but his average dropped to .245.  He lost his starting job first to rookie Don Slaught and then veteran Jim Sundberg.

Wathan immediately became a Royals coach upon retirement in 1985. He coached for a year and then became manager of the Royals in the second half of 1987. He managed the Royals until 1991, but was not popular with teammates. They resented Wathan's high handed ways and no doubt there was a bit of friction because Wathan had been their teammate only a few years previous. He did manage the Royals to a .515 winning percentage. He would later manage the Angels in the middle of the 1992 season while regular manager Buck Rogers recovered from an accident. He currently works for the Royals organization.

Rear guard: Oh the dreaded gum stain! And there's even a piece of the pack still attached! I don't think I've seen Topps highlight a player's first double before, but since Wathan didn't get a lot of extra base hits, I guess it's important. His first double was off teammate George Brett's brother Ken, who pitched for the White Sox. It drove in Frank White.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#127 Jack Howell

Card thoughts: Howell looks like a lost gnome. Hey Jack. Like most other American Leaguers, you're in Tiger Stadium. This is his rookie card.

The player: Howell could do one thing well: hit home runs. He couldn't field at third, he struck out way too much to be a good RBI man, and he had no speed. But the hits he got were generally for extra bases. After two years backing up veteran Doug DeCinces, Howell became the Angels super sub in 1987 and then the Angels regular third baseman the next year. Through 1990, Howell played regularly. His best year was in 1988, when he had a career high 127 hits and 32 doubles, to go with 16 home runs and 63 RBIs. Howell's average kept on declining after that year, dropping to .228 and .210. After a trade to the Padres, he followed the man he supplanted at third, Doug DeCinces, to Japan. Howell's brand of power was a success with the Yakult Swallows. In 1991, he became the first foreigner to win the MVP award, having hit 38 home runs in only 113 games. Three more productive seasons followed.

Howell played in Japan until 1995 until he returned the United States, fully intending to retire. Instead, he signed back with his old club, the Angels. He must have learned something in Japan, as he began routinely slugging better than .500 in a platoon role. Howell signed after the 1997 season with the Astros, but injuries prevented him from playing more than a handful of games his last two seasons. He is currently the minor league field coordinator with the Seattle Mariners.

Rear guard: Howell's home run provided the only run the Angels would get off the Yankees that day. It came off Joe Cowley.

Willie Montanez may have played in the majors at 18, but he didn't make it back until he was 22 in 1970. Here's his rookie card. He did end up playing a productive 14 seasons for 9 different teams. He was known as a good clutch hitter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#126 Mets Leaders

Card thoughts: In the old NL East, the team I hated most was not the Cardinals--it was the Mets. A team full of cocky jerks who were also a very good team. That hatred has dissipated with the new divisional format, and the fact that the Mets are no longer cocky, just a little pathetic. The Mets in the 1985 season showed a precursor to the dominance they would show in 1986. Most of the same players were in place, and they came in 2nd to the Cardinals, winning 98 games.

The player: Wilson was one of the few non-jerk Mets in this era, perhaps because he was one of the few Mets who remained from the lean years in the early 80s. Wilson's debut was September 2, 1980s, not September 1 like the back says. He went 0-4 as the leadoff hitter, but he drove in a run with a fielder's choice. Interestingly, it was Wally Backman. If Backman had been hitting farther up in the order, he would have been the dean of the Mets. Instead, Wilson beat him by about 10 minutes.

Rear guard: Wilson led the the team in triples despite playing in only 93 games. Carter led in the power categories, because Strawberry played only 111 games, battling hangovers, illness, injury, and general malaise. Gooden, of course, dominated the pitching stats--Gooden's 1985 season is considered one of the best all-time. His wins, complete games, innings pitched, strikeout, and ERA stats led the league. Orosco and McDowell provided a fine lefty-righty closing combo, in the days of dual closers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#125 Dave Lopes

Card thoughts: Interesting candid shot of Lopes polishing his sunglasses. A shocking pink tongue is semi-protruding from Lopes' mouth. And that 2B is "historic"; Lopes only played one game there in this season. He played almost all of his games in the outfield. The name, by the way, should be "Davey" not "Dave".

The player: Lopes is one of the greatest base stealers of all time. Although many players stole more bases career-wise than he did, only four others have a better base stealing percentage. Lopes once stole 36 bases in a row, which was a major league record until Vince Coleman broke it. In 1973, Lopes became the Dodgers regular second baseman and joined Bill Russell, Steve Garvey, and Ron Cey to become the infield that played the longest together. As the Dodgers leadoff hitter, he led the league in steals in 1975 (77) and 1976 (63), but didn't make the all-star team until 1978, when he began to develop some power: He hit 28 home runs from the leadoff spot in 1979. He was voted in as a starter for the all-star team from 1979-81. However, Lopes did not deserve the honor in 1981, when he hit only .206.

The long running infield was broken up after that season when Lopes was traded to the A's for a minor leaguer. Lopes started at second for the A's in 1982 and 1983 and he still wielded a good bat and had good wheels. Never more than average second baseman (although he did win a gold glove in 1978), his defense regressed to the point that he eventually couldn't play second effectively enough to be a starter and he was shifted to a utility role in 1984 before he was traded to the Cubs for the stretch run. He hit only .235 for the Cubs for that month, but the next season, at age 40, Lopes stole an incredible 47 bases in only 99 games. True to form, he was only caught 4 times. Those 47 steals were his most since 1977. He was traded to the Astros the next year (for #26 Frank DiPino), again for the stretch run, and retired in 1988.

Lopes embarked on a second career as a coach after his playing days were over. He's used his base stealing expertise to become a highly sought after first base coach, plying his trade with the Rangers, Orioles, Padres, Nationals, Phillies, and Dodgers. He also managed the Brewers, where he courted controversy by saying that Rickey Henderson should be beaned for stealing second with the Padres holding a big lead. He actually yelled that to Rickey while making a mound visit. You can read an account of the "unwritten rule" Henderson violated here. His bench coach, #118 Jerry Royster, replaced him.

Rear guard: Wow, 7 RBIs. I love how Topps says "first" as if he was going to ever have another day like that. His 7 RBIs came against the Blue Jays and drove in Carney Lansford, #48 Bill Almon (three times), Jeff Burroughs, and Wayne Gross. The RBIs came on a grand slam, a double, and a triple. He just missed hitting for the cycle.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

#124 Luis Sanchez

Card thoughts: This would be Sanchez' last Topps card. The weird thing about this card is that Sanchez apparently wrote his name in magic marker on the front of his jacket. That did get me wondering: How do players today know what jacket is theirs? I doubt they write their names on it. It just looks bad.

The player: Sanchez began in the Astros system and was traded to the Reds for Joaquin Andujar. He didn't make it to the majors with either of these teams and was released. He bounced around in non-affliated ball for the next few years battling arm problems. This included a stint with in his native Venezuela for the Caracas franchise of the ill-fated Inter-American League. Sanchez was rescued from obscurity in the Mexican League by the Angels. He made his debut in 1981 as a 27-year old rookie. Although he featured a live fastball, Sanchez was wildly inconsistent, due to tendency to get flustered on the mound. He tended to walk as many batters as he struck out, which made it strange that the Angels eventually made Sanchez their closer. His best year was in 1983 when he went 10-8 and had 7 saves. When Donnie Moore became the Angels closer in 1985, Sanchez' utility to the Angels was limited. He was traded to the Expos after the season shown on this card, and just as promptly sold to the Yomiura Giants in the Japanese league.

Sanchez died in 2005 at age 51 of a vascular brain disease.

Rear guard: Sanchez made his debut against the Mariners after starter Jesse Jefferson gave up 4 runs in 1 1/3 innings. Sanchez pitched well in 4 1/3 innings, surrendering only 1 unearned run.

Stan Cliburn only played in 1980 batting .179, but had a 15-year minor league career. Stu Cliburn has a card in this set and will be discussed there. They were actually battery mates for one year with Buffalo, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate in the Eastern League. They also simultaneously coached for a time in the Minnesota Twins organization. Must have been confusing for those minor leaguers!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

#123 Greg Walker

Card thoughts: What a beefcake shot! Some budding Schaumburg Sheila had this card in her hope chest. The uniforms in the mid-80s were so tight, they looked like unitards. I prefer the current baggy look. Way more old school. Yet another shot taken at Tiger Stadium, by the way.

The player: I was surprised when researching Walker how good he was. I always just thought of him as a mediocre hitter, but he had two great seasons. Maybe it was my anti-White Sox bias. Walker was a low average, high power player, your prototypical corner infielder. In an era when offense was at a premium, Walker drove in over 90 runs twice in his career, with a career high 94 driven in in 1987. His power came and went. Although he hit over 20 home runs three times in his career, he was just as likely to hit 'em out in the low double digits. He also showed good range at first. Unfortunately, Walker only managed to have four out of nine seasons where he played in over 100 games (the season shown on this card he played in a league-leading 163 games). Injuries, including a seizure he suffered before a game, shortened his career. Walker was later diagnosed with epilepsy and his career just sort of petered out from there. He retired at age 30 with the Orioles, all but 14 games played with the White Sox.

Walker currently is regarded as one of the better hitting coaches in the game. After serving for 8 years as the White Sox coach, he left the team when Ozzie Guillen was "traded" to the Marlins to become their manager. He will become the hitting coach for the Braves next season (2012).

Rear guard: Walker's 6-RBI explosion came off the A's. Four of the RBIs were generated by two two-run home runs.

Berger and Kreevich's home runs came in the 1st game of a doubleheader against Red Sox pitcher Johnny Marcum (Berger would later hit another). The pair combined to drive in 7 runs in the doubleheader. Berger didn't have much of year in '37 (or a career for that matter) but Mike Kreevich was having a career year. He led the league in triples with 16 and had a career high 12 home runs. Although he would never reach double digits again in homers, Kreevich was a productive centerfielder by the standards of the time for several more years with the White Sox, A's, Browns, and Senators.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#122 Pete Filson

Card thoughts: For some reason, I feel this picture was taken the same day as #17 Mike Stenhouse. It looks like pre-game warm-up tosses at Yankee Stadium. This would be Filson's last Topps card.

The player: Filson was a hotshot prospect in the Yankees system. In his first three minor league seasons he had ERAs of 1.67, 2.79, and 1.89. He had an amazing 17-3 record in 1981 with the Yankees AA and A clubs. But as the Yankees were wont to do in the 80s, they traded him away to the Twins in exchange for former star catcher Butch Wynegar and mediocre innings-eater Roger Erickson. While Filson didn't exactly shine for the Twins, they did get three decent years out of him as a long reliever and spot starter. His best season came in 1984, where he threw a career high 118 2/3 innings and went 6-5.

The year shown on this card would be Filson's last as a regular reliever. He pitched 18 innings for the Twins and White Sox in 1986; 22 for the Yankees in 1987; and 35 for the Royals in 1990. Interestingly, Filson is shown throwing a pitch that year in Ken Burns appendix to his baseball documentary "Extra Innings."

After his career ended, Filson was the pitching coach for the Newark Bears from 2003-2006. He current runs a baseball school in a hard to pronounce suburb of Philadelphia, near where he grew up.

Rear guard: Filson won his first game in relief of Jack O'Connor against the Angels. He went 2 1/3 innings, gave up only 1 hit, walked 2, and struck out 4.

Rick Renick may have hit a home run in his first at bat, but he hit only 20 over a five year career, all with the Twins. The home run came off the Tigers' Mickey Lolich in the 2nd inning. Renick didn't have a Topps card representing that year (would have been a '69 card), but here's Renick's card from 1968.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#121 Nelson Simmons

Card thoughts: Simmons looks lonely and cold, sitting by himself on the bench. Maybe he's sad because he realizes this will be his only Topps card. And the position should read "OF-DH," as he played the field more.

The player: Some ballplayers resemble submarines. They surface only a brief time in the majors, yet their career is long. Through perseverance, blind hope, a passion for the game, or just lack of anything better to do with their life, they continue toiling in obscurity in the minors. Simmons is that type of player. In a cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1984, the switch-hitting Simmons mashed the ball at a .433 clip. Impressed, the Tigers made him a reserve outfielder the next year, the one represented by the card. Here, he was less effective, hitting only .239, but showing good power with 1/3 of his 60 hits going for extra bases (11 doubles and 10 home runs). Two of the home runs came in a game against the Orioles where hit one from both sides of the plate (each off of a different Martinez!). Simmons surfaced again for his opponent that day in 1987 for 16 games.

But at age 24, that would be the last he would see of the majors. Instead, he played 7 more years of affiliated ball for various organizations, hitting just enough to make a AAA or AA squad. Simmons career as an organization man was followed by 4 years in the independent Western League. He finally ended his career at age 37 with Reynosa in the Mexican League, hitting a measly .217.

Rear guard: Simmons was on fire in 1984. All three of his hits on September 19 were singles and he stole a base as well. His first home run was a pinch hit, 2-run shot off White Sox pitcher Gene Nelson. He drove in
Chet Lemon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#120 Steve Carlton

Card thoughts: Kind of an awkward follow through picture. Also, Carlton is over 40 in this picture, but looks like a much younger man. This would be the last of Carlton's 14 Phillie cards.

The player: Carlton is regarded as one of the best left-handed pitchers of all-time. Early in his career, he featured a devastating curve to go with a blazing fastball. But the pitch he was most known for was a wicked slider. Carlton, besides being one of the most durable pitchers in the modern era (16 straight seasons of over 200 innings pitched, not counting the 1981 strike season), is 11th all time in wins (329), 6th all time in games started, 4th all time in strikeouts, 9th in innings pitched. Although Carlton spent most of his career as a Phillie, he started out as a Cardinal. He had several good years for St Louis, with ERAs consistently under 3. He made the all star team in 1968, 1969, and 1971 (he would go the game 7 more times with the Phillies), but he was always in the shadow of Bob Gibson.

The Cardinals inexplicably traded Carlton after a 20 win season in 1971 to the Phillies for Rick Wise, one of the worst trades ever made. Essentially, both pitchers were holding out for $5,000 more than their respective teams were willing to pay, so the hold outs were swapped. The very next year Carlton had one of the most incredible seasons ever en route to his first (of 4) Cy Young awards. For the last place Phillies (who only won 59 games), Carlton won 27 games (you read that right . . . Carlton won 45% of the team's victories all by himself!), completed 30 games, struck out 310, and had a 1.97 ERA (all of these numbers led the league). But the pressure of being a superstar took its toll. Carlton owed much of his success to his focus and concentration, which he honed with regimen of martial arts (and a ritual where he stuck his hand in a giant tin of rice, attempting push his way to the bottom). The magic left him the next year and he led the league in losses the next year with 20, his ERA a full 2 runs higher. Part of the problem was that he didn't like throwing to #62 Bob Boone, so he requested that his personal catcher, Tim McCarver, be brought over from the Cardinals. McCarver ended up catching almost all of his starts from 1976-1979.

Carlton suffered through some more mediocre seasons in the mid-70s as the Phillies floundered, but in the late 70s and early 80s, the Phillies began to dominate. Carlton was the anchor of those staffs, winning over 20 in 1976, 1977, 1980, and 1982 (leading the league in the latter three years). His 300 innings in 1980 may be the last time a pitcher will ever pitch over 300 innings. At age 37 in 1982, Carlton had his last great year, winning his last Cy Young award. After that, all those innings caught up to him, and he would never win more than 15 games again. His last full season for the Phillies, represented by this card, he went 1-8. He was released mid-season in 1986 and became a vagabond, desperate to squeeze every last win from his aging arm. He pitched for the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Twins those final three years, his ERA often over 5.

Carlton went in as a first ballot hall-of famer in 1994, getting 95% of the vote.

Rear guard: The 1985 season was Carlton first since his rookie season where he didn't complete a game. He was injured a lot of this season.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

#119 Barry Bonnell

Card thoughts: That is one classic, basic straight-up closed batting stance.

The player: Bonnell came up in the Braves system and broke into the big leagues in 1977, hitting .300. With the Braves, and later the Blue Jays, Bonnell was a high average, streaky hitter with little power. He generally drove in only 40-50 runs a year. Bonnell's best season was in 1983 with the Blue Jays when he hit .318 and slugged .469, both career highs.  He was a good defensive outfielder who could play all three outfield positions and possessed an excellent, strong arm. In 1984, after coming to the Mariners, Bonnell developed Valley Fever. This ended up curtailing his career. He managed to get into 110 games in 1984 while playing through the illness, but he was only a part-time player for the last two years of his career.

Bonnell's life outside of baseball is pretty interesting. A devout Mormon who was derisively tagged with the nickname "Preacher". Bonnell is responsible for converting former Braves star Dale Murphy to the faith. He once admonished a group of kids from his church for holding up a banner that said "Give 'em Hell, Barry." After baseball, Bonnell was a Mormon bishop, an airline pilot, an importer, a salesman for home medical supplies, and blacksmith hobbyist. He is currently pursuing a writing career.

Rear guard:  Bonnell's inside the park home run was against his future team the Seattle Mariners. It was a ball that was off the left centerfield wall, and bounded quickly back to the infield on the springy Kingdome AstroTurf. Bonnell also scored the tying run that day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

#118 Jerry Royster

Card thoughts: An exciting shot with a dull background. Looks like it was taken during an afternoon game at Veterans Stadium. I think that may be Ozzie Virgil sliding into second.

The player: Royster came out of the deep Dodger farm system in the 70s, hitting .300 a couple of times for AAA Albuquerque. Once he got to the majors, Royster became a hitter who could drive the ball through the infield, or bloop it over an infielder's head but rarely drive the ball. He did show some good speed, however. Royster had a hard time breaking into the Dodgers' all-star infield and was traded to the Braves in 1976 along with Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, and Jimmy Wynn for Dusty Baker. Royster was given an opportunity to play regularly at third base that year, but he made 18 errors in 148 games. He never again played over 100 games at any position, as the Braves played him at second, third, and in the outfield.

He was not a great fielder at any of these positions, but he was adequate. Royster was in the lineup for his speed and on-base ability and he actually scored over 100 runs and stole 35 bases in 1979 when he was given a chance to hit at the top of the order. But that year would be his last as a regular player. Although Royster continued to get into nearly 100 games a year, it was generally as a substitute. The year shown on this card was his first with the Padres. After one more year with the club, he would fill the utility role for the White Sox (55 games), Yankees (18 games), and Braves (68 games) before he ended his career in 1988. Royster ended up playing over 600 games at third, 400 games at second, and about 100 each at shortstop and in the outfield.

After his playing career was over, Royster coached and managed for a time in the minors. He coached for Davey Lopes on the Brewers in 1992, and took over the team after Lopes was fired. He had a disappointing 53-94 the rest of the season and was fired. Royster later became the first non-Korean to manage in the Korean League. In an amusing promotional spot, Royster seems excited to be managing the Lotte Giants. If anyone reading this speaks Korean, it would be nice to know what's going on here (oddly, Royster speaks no Korean, only English, in the ad).

Rear guard: Most players hit worse when they get to the West Coast; Royster managed to post a career high slugging percentage in his first year with San Diego.

Friday, November 18, 2011

#117 Bruce Kison

Card thoughts: This is Kison's last Topps card. I also have his rookie card where he is shown in the exact same pose. Other than that, this is one psychedelic card. The players behind Kison look like they're swimming in an unclean aquarium.

The player: Kison entered the league in 1971 and as a rookie he was already pitching some big games. In the NLCS and World Series that year, he didn't give up a run while pitching out of the bullpen, winning 1 game in each series. He didn't give up a postseason run until 1975.

During the regular season, Kison was used as a spot starter and long reliever. He had a reputation as a head hunter and was among the league leader in hit batters three times, despite rarely pitching over 200 innings. Kison pitched sidearm or three-quarters which added more pop to his pitches (and also fed that reputation: a ball pitched from three-quarters often rises). His best season came in 1976 when won 14 games against 9 losses. In 1979, Kison got another World Series ring with the Pirates. He was ineffective in his only World Series start that year, giving up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning in game 1, seemingly coming unglued after a Phil Garner error. The next year he signed with the Angels and injured his arm. He had some success with the Angels, winning 10 games in 1982 and another 11 in 1983, but he rarely pitched deep into games. The year represented by this card would be Kison's last.

Kison was the pitching coach for the Royals from 1992 to 1998 and the Orioles in 1999. He also served as a bullpen coach for the Orioles in 2007. He currently scouts for the team.

Rear guard: A 5-3 record with a 4.11 ERA is not a bad way to end a career.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#116 Brook Jacoby

Card thoughts: Either those pants are really high-waisted, or Jacoby's torso is really out of proportion to his legs. I remember this name I found hard to pronounce, due to its unfamiliar, upper-class origins. For years, I thought the guy's name was Jack-o-bee.

The player: Jacoby was stuck behind Bob Horner as a Brave. So the Braves made on of the worst trades in their history and sent he and future star Brett Butler to the Indians for washed-up pitcher #24 Len Barker. Jacoby immediately became the Indians' everyday third baseman, and remained so for the next seven years. The year shown by this card was his first good season, as he hit 20 home runs and drove in 87; in 1986 he made the all-star team and drove in another 80 runs; and in the homer-happy year of 1987, Jacoby managed to reach the top 10 in home runs with 32. Most of those were solo shots, however, as he drove in only 69. Jacoby continued to put up solid numbers in the following seasons, although his power numbers diminished after that '87 season. He made the all-star team once again in 1990, but after a prolonged slump stemming from an elbow injury in 1991, he was traded to the A's. After lasting only half of season in Oakland, Jacoby returned to the Indians as a backup infielder in 1992. An injury to young third baseman Jim Thome pressed him into regular service once again, but he produced a paltry 72 hits and .326 slugging percentage. That was his last year as a player.

Jacoby has been the Cincinnati Reds hitting coach for the last 5 years. Here's an overview of Jacoby as a hitting coach.

Rear guard: Here's Jacoby's first Topps card. I never counted traded cards as rookies, as they were released in limited quantities very late in the year. Jacoby's first hit was an RBI single off of Padres pitcher Fred Kuhaulua. It drove in #107 Rafael Ramirez.

Gary Alexander was a power hitter who struck out too much to be an everyday player. Both pinch home runs came against the Yankees.

Monday, November 14, 2011

#115 Jay Howell

Card thoughts: I always think of Howell as a Dodger. In this shot, I think of him as a young God in the flower of youth, emerging from the golden sun.

The player: Howell was a pitcher with tons of potential who didn't become great until teams stopped forcing him to be a starter. After an up and down minor league career for the Reds and Cubs, and Yankees, Howell finally became a reliable reliever for the latter team in 1984. This promptly got him included in the first of two blockbuster trades he was involved in where the Yankees got Rickey Henderson and the A's got a bunch of young players who went on to have good careers . . . but usually for someone else.

The West Coast agreed with Howell and he made the all-star team for the first of three times in the year represented by this card, saving a career high 29 games with a 2.85 ERA. Unfortunately, his ERA rose each of the two years after that, making him expendable. Thus, the second blockbuster trade he was involved with came to be. The Dodgers, Mets, and A's were involved and some of the other players who changed teams were Alfredo Griffin, Jesse Orosco, Kevin Tapani, Matt Young, and Bob Welch. This trade would put in place the players that led to World Series titles for both the Dodgers and A's in the next couple of years. Howell was a big part of the Dodgers '88 title. He had a 2.08 ERA during the regular season and saved 21 games. In the playoffs he was terrible, however, and was caught using pine tar to doctor the ball, leading to his suspension for two games in the NLCS.

Howell continued pitching effectively for the Dodgers, with ERAs of 1.58, 2.18, 3.18, and 1.54 and double digits in saves over the next four years. After signing with the Braves in 1993 he had one more good year before ending his career with the Rangers at age 38. He coached baseball for California State-Northridge from 1998 to 2005.

Rear guard: Howell's first win came in the second game of a double header against the Pirates. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits. He also helped himself out by scoring a run and placing two sacrifice bunts.

Rick Monday was most famous for saving an American flag from being burned, but he was a solid outfielder for many teams during his 16 year career. Like Howell, he played for the A's, Dodgers, and Cubs. He only had 54 RBIs in the 1969 season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#114 Mike Brown

Card thoughts: Brown looks like a big bee.

The player: Brown was one of those players who tear up the minors, but never make a mark in the big leagues. After a tremendous season at Edmonton, the AAA affiliate of the Angels, where he hit 22 home runs, drove in 106, and hit .355, Brown was called up to the big club. After hitting .284 in limited duty in 1984, he hit a respectable .268 the next year, finding it hard to get regular playing time in the outfield.

The Pirates thought highly of him and he was traded to them in midseason as part of a blockbuster deal where the Pirates sent veterans John Candelaria, Al Holland, and George Hendrick for Bob Kipper and a bunch of young players who didn't pan out. Finally getting a chance play every day, Brown shone, sporting a .332 average and .512 slugging percentage as the regular rightfielder for the remainder of the '85 season. Given the rightfield job the following year, Brown stumbled badly, hitting only .218. This was unfortunate, as competition by Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, and Barry Bonds in the outfield meant that the Pirates no longer needed to be patient with an ex-prospect who had had one good major league season. Brown would see only 18 more games of major league action in 1988 for his original team, the Angels, before disappearing as an organization man into the minors.

Rear guard: Mike Brown's first home run came in the second inning off of the Tigers' Milt Wilcox. It drove in Bobby Grich. Those runs were lost in the shuffle of a 13-11 slugfest lost by the Angels.

Jake Stenzel played in the first lively ball era, when batting averages of .352 (which he hit in 1894) didn't even get you in the top 20. The league batting average that year was .309 and the Pirates hit .312, scoring almost 8 runs a game. The 1894 campaign was Stenzel's finest. He scored 150(!) runs in 132 games, hit 39 doubles, 20 triples, 13 home runs, and drove in 121.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#113 U.L. Washington

Card thoughts: One of the most awesome all time first names in baseball. Growing up, I used to rack my brain to figure out what U.L. stood for. The only clue I had was the U L logo that appeared on several electrical appliances, but surely his first name wasn't Underwriters Laboratories was it? Now I know. U. L. stands for nothing. That is his given birth name. The one other thing missing from this card is Washington's ubiquitous toothpick. He also barely played any shortstop this year--most of his games were at second.

The player: A star basketball player in high school, Washington had never played organized baseball before being convinced by his brother (an usher at Kaufman Stadium) to try out for the Royals Academy. The Academy was designed to transform raw athletic talent into baseball skills. Washington, along with longtime Royals second baseman Frank White, were the two best players to emerge from the academy. Made into a switch-hitter early in his career, Washington always hit far better from the right side, with more power, although from both sides of the plate he invariably hit balls into right field. His best power year, and best overall season, came in 1982 when he hit 10 home runs, drove in 62 and had a .286 batting average and .414 slugging percentage--all career highs. Washington exhibited blazing speed from both sides of the plate, stealing a career high 40 bases in 1983. And in those days with more turfed stadiums, Washington had the range and arm to play a deep shortstop, but he often made errors on balls other players couldn't get to: He had a league leading 36 errors in 1983.

With the emergence of Onix Conception, and with #99 Buddy Biancalana waiting in the wings, there was no room anymore on the Royals for U.L., and he was shipped to the Expos for two minor league pitchers. He would play only the year represented by this card for the Expos, before playing his two last seasons for the Pirates.

Rear guard: The two-homer game Washington had against the A's in 1979 were the only 2 homers he hit all season. He also drove in 6 runs. Just to show you how baseball has changed: There were only 2,300 people in the stands that night. And it was a Friday night!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#112 Bill Campbell

Card thoughts: For some reason, that aquamarine background really brings out the red in this card. Another spring training shot, as I don't think the Cardinals ever had a solid red road uniform.

The player: Bill Campbell's fastball only reached the upper 80s, but he had an excellent screwball, and his herky-jerky motion hid the ball well, helping him become one of the great short relievers in the 1970s. Here is demonstrating some of the pitches he threw. Campbell wasn't used like a short reliever of today. He would often pitch 2 or 3 innings to get a save. After a brief audition the previous year, he became the Twins closer in 1974. Pitching in 63 and 120 innings, he racked up 19 saves. The following year, he was less effective and only saved 4 games. 1976, however, Campbell would have one of the best ever seasons by a reliever. Pitching in a league leading 78 games, Campbell racked up a 17 wins (tied for most wins in relief in the American League) to go along with 20 saves. He also pitched an incredible 168 innings, a inning count a lot of regular starters have trouble reaching today. This breakout season led to the Red Sox making Campbell one the first big money free agents. He didn't disappoint in the first year of his contract, saving a league leading 31 games with an excellent 2.96 ERA. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caught up with him and he battled throughout the rest of his contract with injuries--which made him one of the first free agent busts as well. Finally healthy again with the Cubs, he was back to his inning-eating ways, leading the league again in appearance with 82 in 1983.

After 1983, Campbell became a drifter, appearing in single seasons with the Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers, and Expos.

Rear guard: Campbell blew the save against the Tigers but still got the win, pitching 3 innings in relief of Joe Decker who had given up 6 runs. Campbell gave up 1 run on a home run by Eddie Brinkman, while striking out and walking 1 batter.