Sunday, July 31, 2011

#65 Dan Driessen

Card thoughts: There's some seriously weird color separation going on here. The grass looks radioactive. The sky is an unnatural shade of deep blue, considering how dark the field is. Likely taken the same time as the Ron Roenicke card earlier in this set.

The player: Dan Driessen started out as the regular third baseman for the Big Red Machine teams in the mid 70s. While his on base percentage and average were high, he lacked the power generally sought in a corner infielder and he was a terrible fielder. He was reduced to a utility role in the 1975 and 1976 seasons when Pete Rose was switched to third. He returned to a starting role in 1977, filling some big shoes after star first baseman Tony Perez was traded to the Expos before the season. Driessen responded by having a career year, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 91 while stealing 31 bases and hitting .300. He would go on to have several more solid years for the Reds, driving in about 70 runs a year and fielding his position admirably, leading the league in fielding percentage in 1978, 1982, and 1983. However, his batting average struggled to get above .260, though he still got on base a lot, leading the league with 93 walks and 6 hit by pitch in 1980. When his power numbers began declining in the early 80s, Driessen was traded (like Perez before him) to the Expos for pitcher Andy McGaffigan in the middle of the 1984 season. Another midseason trade during the year represented by this card brought him to the Giants where he shored up first base, which had been split between ineffectual David Green and Scot Thompson. He would play sporadically in 1986 and 1987 with the Astros, Giants and the Cardinals before retiring at age 37.

Dan Driessen was the first designated hitter in National League history, filling that role in the 1976 World Series when it was used for the first time in post season play. He is the uncle of former first baseman and Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry.

Rear guard: There's an error on the back of this card. It does not show Driessen's league lead in walks in 1980. As a kid, this is what I looked for to determine "good" players. So all these years, I just thought Driessen was some boring common(er). For shame Topps! Scrub or not, Driessen had several milestones in 1982. His grand slam came off the Cardinals' Jim Kaat, who was pitching in relief of Andy Rincon. Driessen also drove in another run off of Kaat with a triple.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#64 Floyd Bannister

Card thoughts: I really hate these cards with the players wearing jackets. Makes them look like they are wearing pajamas or something. The photographer caught Bannister in a weird light. If you look closer, you'd swear he was wearing a silly putty mask.

The player: I remember thinking Floyd Bannister was a pretty good pitcher. And he was for the White Sox in this era, having 16 win seasons for them in 1983 and 1987. Unfortunately, due to playing for bad teams (see the Mariners in 1982, when he led the league in strikeouts yet had a 12-13 record), Floyd Bannister for most his career was quite mediocre. The Astros sure expected more. He was drafted as the first pick in the country (as shown by this Topps card) and burned through the minors. But the Astros gave up on him after two seasons, sending him to the Mariners for Craig Reynolds, who was a decent enough shortstop but not really a good exchange for a former #1 draft pick. Bannister struggled to post a plus .500 record with the Mariners, but was starting to show promise by 1982. He decided to sign with a better club the next season and was a huge part of the White Sox making the playoffs that year. He lost his only ALCS start, however, giving up 4 runs in 6 innings against the Orioles. After 1988, he drifted from the Royals, to Japan, to the Angels, and finally ended his career with the Rangers in 1992.

His son Brian Bannister played for the Royals and Mets in the early part of this century. Both father and son played with ageless wonder Julio Franco. Here's a nice article detailing Bannister's post baseball life.

Rear guard: Lots of room for Bannister's accomplishments on the back. Bannister's debut came in relief, when he gave up two runs to the Giants, taking the loss. He would get his first win 10 days later, pitching a complete game against the Pirates, giving up 3 runs, 3 walks, and 11 hits while striking out 9. Hardly a dominant performance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

#63 Ron Roenicke

Card thoughts: All that's missing is the soccer ball and team trophy

The player: Roenicke played 8 seasons in the majors, mainly as a pinch hitter/defensive replacement in the late innings. He never lived up to the promise of being the first round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1977. With a .238 career average, he was a better defender than hitter.

Roenicke is in his first year managing the Brewers, after "graduating" from the managerial school of Mike Scioscia, regarded as one of the best managers in the American League. He replaced Joe Maddon, current Rays manager, as the Angels bench coach in 2006.

Rear guard: I believe that is "a" game Topps. Every one knows Willie McCovey: hall-of-famer, good Samaritan. Dick Dietz? In 1970 he would hit 22 home runs, drive in 107 runs and have .941 OPS at age 28. He would hit 23 home runs the rest of his career, which only lasted three more years.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#62 Bob Boone

Card thoughts:  Bob Boone looks surprisingly youthful for a guy who has already caught over 1500 games. There were a lot of pictures taken in this blue stadium. I'm guessing it's Tiger Stadium due to the heavily shadowed lower deck.

The player: Bob Boone, like Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench before him, was one of those catchers who was insanely durable over a long period of time. Most starting catchers, if they're lucky, will catch about 100-120 games a year. Boone regularly caught more than 130 games a year. And he was no slouch at the plate either.  He was a four-time all-star who regularly hit over .270 in his prime. He also was a great fielding catcher, winning the gold glove 7 times, including 4 straight years from 1986 to 1989. He caught over 120 games when he was 41! His 2,225 games caught all time broke Gary Carter's record, and was subsequently broken by Carlton Fisk. Current catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez currently holds the record.

He is also part of a baseball family. His father Ray Boone played in the 40s and 50s, and sons Aaron and Bret had good careers of their own in the 90s. Bob managed a bit for the Royals and the Reds, but never had a club have a better than .500 record.

Rear guard: Boone only caught less than 100 games once during a full, non strike shortened season.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#61 Karl Best

Card thoughts: Such an odd follow through. Best looks like he's putting a hex on the batter. Not as odd as this horrendous mug shot though.

The player: Best is an unfortunate name for an athlete. If he's anything but the best, the name kind of sticks in your craw. And Best was far from the best. A local boy, Best spent several mediocre years in the minors before somehow making it to the majors for a cup of coffee in 1983 and 1984. The year shown on this card was his "best." He had a wonderful 1.95 ERA in 32+ relief innings, striking out 32 while only walking 8. He pitched another 35 innings for the Mariners the following year, before finishing his career with the Twins in 1988. Best was twice traded to teams he never played a game for: the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants.

Rear guard: Best got his first major league win by getting Texas outfielder Billy Sample to fly out to left in the 9th inning with the team losing 3-2. The Mariners would win the game in their half of the 9th on Danny Tartabull's single.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

#60 Dwight Evans

Card thoughts: The Boston Red Sox were my "backup" team as a kid, as they bore many similarities to the Cubs in terms of their historic futility (at the time). Of course, this charming franchise now is about is insufferable as the Yankees due to the endless fluffing of the team by ESPN, it's legions of obnoxious, arrogant "superfans," and that stupid Sweet Caroline song. But they were my American League heroes at the time, and I was especially upset when they lost the World Series to the hated Mets in '86. I was excited to get Red Sox cards in this set, and this is one of them, probably due to the fact that this picture could have been taken in 1960.

I consider the Evans 'stache one of the most famous mustaches of '85. Second only to Keith Hernandez among position players. Evans has the perfect facial features to pull off a mustache. Take note, hipsters of today with your wispy, middle school mustaches. This is how it's done properly!

The player: Dwight "Dewey" Evans was one of my favorite players on the Sox, probably because of his steady, no nonsense play and amazing arm in right field. Evans was originally in the lineup for his glove. He won eight gold gloves, playing Fenway's tough right field. He made a famous play in the 1975 world series where he robbed Joe Morgan of a double and doubled off Ken Griffey Sr, saving the series (for a time) for the Red Sox. Just watch this incredible play. He always hit decently, consistently hitting about 10-15 home runs and driving in 60 or so runs throughout the 70s. It really wasn't until the 80s, however, that Evans became a force at the plate. He led the league in home runs with 22 in 1981 (the strike shortened season) and after that never hit less than 20 home runs in the 1980s. He scored over 100 runs in 1982 (122) and 1984 (a league leading 121), and drove in over 100 in 1984. His better numbers in his 30s can be attributed to having a greater understanding of the strike zone. He led the league in walks in 1981 and during the season shown on this card.

Evans ended up playing the second most games ever for the Red Sox, just behind Yastrzemski. Statistically, he compares favorably to hall-of-famers Al Kaline, Tony Perez, and Billy Williams, although I would say that Evans is just a notch below a hall-of-famers, due to his good, not great, offensive numbers in the early and mid-70s. Evans' charity is neurofibromatosis, a disease where the body forms numerous small tumors just below the skin, which can compact the nerves in the body. Both of Evans children have the disease.

Rear guard: I got nothing, other than you don't see many baseball cards today that have a player playing that long for one team. Evans would play with the Red Sox until 1990, finishing his career with the Orioles in 1991.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#59 Andre Thornton

Card thoughts: With that jeri-curl and oversized glasses, Thornton looks like an old school sucka MC. I do not believe Thornton is wearing an Indians jersey under his windbreaker. The undershirt is light blue. And if you want to portray baseball players as unathletic, a good way to do it is to shoot them wearing a shapeless, baggy jacket in an empty stadium. Also, early Topps cards misnamed Thornton as "Andy."

The player: Andre "Thunder" Thornton is a perfect example of the "Moneyball" type of player who hit lots of home runs and walked a lot, who was undervalued in his time. He was also one of many great young players the Cubs had in 1970s that they traded away before their prime. But the Cubs weren't the only team who didn't see Thornton's talent. He went through two minor league organizations before his debut with the Cubs. After a fine 1975 season where he hit 18 home runs and slugged .516 (all while walking 88 times and only striking out 63), he slumped the next year and was traded to the Expos for a bag of beans (actually, washed Larry Bittner and Steve Renko). He continued hitting poorly with the Expos and was traded to the Indians for mediocre, soon to retire baseball pitcher Jackie Brown. Thornton then went on to have several great years with the Indians, interrupted only by a severe knee injury in 1980 which effectively ended his career as a regular first baseman. He hit 33 home runs and driving in 105 in 1978, and had a career year in 1982, hitting 32 home runs while driving in 116. He was an all-star in 1982 and 1984.

Personal tragedy struck Thornton in 1977 when his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident that he and his son were injured in. He used the accident as a life lesson and an affirmation of his Christian faith in the book Triumph Born of Tragedy. Thornton today is a management consultant an all-around gadabout in the Cleveland community, sitting on the boards of two colleges and the local zoo. He also is a pitchman for TotalGym.

Rear guard: Topps had an inconsistent way of indicating a player didn't play in the majors. Sometimes they indicated the player "Did Not Play," occasionally the year would be erased, and in this case they actually said why Thornton didn't play the 1980 season.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

#58 Bill Krueger

Card thoughts: Krueger should be happy. Not many American non-drafted players ever make the majors (although his record this season is nothing to smile about)

The player: Krueger is definitely a study in perseverance. A basketball player in college, he won 15 games with AA West Haven in 1983, prompting his call-up to the A's. He would go on to play for 13 seasons, mostly as an emergency or 5th starter for a whole host of teams: The A's, Dodgers, Brewers, Twins, Padres, Tigers, Mariners (twice) all needed Krueger at sometime or other. He could give a team a .500 record and an ERA just north of 4. He had a few good seasons, winning 10 games with the A's in 1984, and 11 for the Mariners 7 years later, but most teams were content to stash him at AAA, in case of an injury.

Krueger is currently a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. He also moonlights as a baseball analyst on Fox Sports Northwest. He is an advocate for autism research. Here he is discussing his child's autism.

Rear guard: The "Talkin' Baseball" blurb is a little disingenuous, as the A's had a long history as a franchise (since 1901!) before moving to Oakland. But Sal Bando was one of the first stars after the A's moved to Oakland in 1968. He was one of the "character" guys who led the A's World Series teams from 1972-1974.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

#57 Bill Doran

Card thoughts: Yeah, I'd be upset too if Topps had mistakenly issued my card number to a interim manager (see Bobby Wine). But I wouldn't look like a sullen little boy. 

The player: Doran was a standard issue, scrappy second baseman who mostly hit leadoff during his time with Astros. He was considered the best all-time Astros second baseman before being eclipsed by Craig Biggio, a player in a similar mode but with much more power and less defensive capability. Doran generally hit around .280 with little home-run power, although he did hit 14 in the season shown on this card and 16 another season. He also stole a lot of bases, but his success rate was generally only a little above 60% which is not great for a base stealer. He led the league in fielding percentage with .992 in 1987, although playing on Astroturf with its "true" hops probably helped him. While Doran is mostly known as an Astro, he was traded to the Reds at the end of the 1990 season to help them reach the playoffs. He had a couple more seasons as a regular second baseman as a Red before finishing his career as a part time player in 1993.

He coached a few years with the Kansas City Royals and managed ten games at the end of the season for the Royals in 2006 going 4-6 in those games. He currently works as a minor league instructor for the Reds. 

Rear guard: I'm amused that Topps chooses to cite the first home run for a guy who usually hit singles and stole bases in his career. Why not cite his first steal? Anyhow, his first home run came against Pirates pitcher John Candelaria and drove in Tony Scott. Doran was only hitting .136 at the time.

Jose Sosa was a cousin of the Alou brothers . . . and he was also a relief pitcher who picked up a save in the game he hit his first, and only home run, in. It was a three run job, with Greg Gross and Cliff Johnson scoring. Sosa wound up hitting .333 in the 1975 season with 1 double and 2 runs scored out of 9 at bats.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

#56 Tom Niedenfuer

Card thoughts: Growing up, this guy looked like every dad in my neighborhood after he finished mowing the lawn. All that's missing is a can of Sterling beer.

The player: Niedenfuer was an excellent reliever for the Dodgers through the season portrayed on this card. With ERAs generally under 3, Neidenfuer worked with Steve Howe to make the early 80s Dodgers bullpen quite formidable. Thrust into the main closer role after Howe was suspended for drugs during the 1985 season, Tom had his best season with a 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio (102 strikeouts, 24 walks in 106.1 innings) and 19 saves. Unfortunately, in the NLCS that year Niedenfuer blew two winnable games for the Dodgers, once by giving up a game-winning home run in Game 5 to the punchless Ozzie Smith, and the crusher, a three-run blast by Jack Clark in Game 6. This seemed to effect his confidence, for in subsequent seasons his ERA was never below 3.50 and he saved less and less games. He ended his career as a journeyman middle-reliever, playing with the Orioles, Mariners, and Cardinals until 1990.

Niedenfuer is also an example of some of the side benefits of playing baseball, especially in LA. Nicknamed Buff for his big head, Niedenfuer's average looks were still enough to snag D-list starlet Judy Landers, Playboy cover model and stars of such films as Stewardess School , Dr. Alien, and Hellhole. She was also the dumb blond on several popular TV shows in 80s including Knight Rider, Vegas, and Love Boat.

Rear guard: Niedenfuer won his first game while pitching two innings of scoreless relief for Fernando Valenzuela against the Atlanta Braves. He struck out 1 and walked no one. Can anyone guess what paindrome Dick Nen makes?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

#55 Fred Lynn

Card thoughts: For he's a jolly good fellow . . . with his cap too low over his eyes. I do miss the old cartoony Orioles logo. Looks like it came off a sugar cereal box. This is Lynn's first card in an Oriole uniform.

The player: To say Fred Lynn arrived on the scene with a bang is an understatement. He won both Rookie of the Year and MVP in 1975, his first full season. He also got a gold-glove for his stellar defense in centerfield and the first of 9 straight all-star appearances. He ended up leading the league in runs, doubles in slugging percentage. He also drove in over 100 runs and batted .331, the first of 4 .300+ seasons. He would surpass that season in 1979, leading the league in batting, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 122, fininshing runner up to Don Baylor, Ken Singleton (!), and George Brett in MVP voting.

Boston really messed up in 1981 by not mailing Lynn a contract in time--technically making him a free agent if he wasn't traded (does this ruke still exist?). He requested a trade to the Angels, near where he grew up. The Red Sox made a terrible deal, getting a fading Joe Rudi, inconsistent (and bad for the Red Sox) Frank Tanana, and go-nowhere minor leaguer Jim Dorsey. They even threw in pitcher Steve Renko with Lynn! Although the cool, dry air of the West Coast nights diminished Lynn's batting numbers, he was remarkably consistent with the Angels (and starting in 1985 the Orioles) hitting 20-25 home runs a year and driving in about 60-80 runs a year throughout the 80s...great numbers for a centerfielder who also fielded his position well.

But although Lynn started his career with Pujols-like numbers, he only ended up with about 1,000 runs driven in and scored, 300+ home runs and a .283 lifetime average, summing up a good but no great career (Lynn offensively most resembles Carlos Lee of today's players.) In his post-baseball career, Lynn has supported animals and abused children in his charity work. If you need more Fred Lynn info, he's got a fan page.

Rear guard: Here's Fred Lynn's rookie card, one of those multiple rookie cards Topps used to be so fond of (and I miss). Usually, these were top prospects that may or may not have played their first major league game by the time the card was issued. Of the other players sharing this card, Terry Whitfield was still playing in 1985 (his card will be reviewed later), but was mostly a marginal outfielder his entire career; Ed Armbister was a reserve outfielder until 1977; and Tom Poquette had a couple of good years with the Royals in the mid-70s. This is Lynn's 1976 card, one of the all-time no-brainer all-star rookie trophy holder.

Monday, July 4, 2011

#54 John Franco

Card thoughts: Wow. A really young John Franco, without the thick, trademark mustache that marked his Mets years. I believe that's a basket of balls in front him. He's either pitching batting practice, or most likely some doing kind of pitching drill in spring training.

The player: Franco may be the best left-handed reliever in the history of the game. 4th on the all-time saves list, he led the league in saves in 1988 (39), 1990 (33), and 1994 (30). He neither walked, nor struck out many people in his career. Never an overpowering reliever, he relied on a screwball to get batters to pound the ball into the ground. At this point in career, however, he was the lefty closing counterpart to right-hander Ted Power, and he had as many wins (12) as saves. A four-time all-star, Franco would be best known as a Met, the team who acquired him in 1991 for Randy Meyers, a mutual beneficial trade of closers. Franco would end up pitching 21 seasons, ending his career with the Houston Astros in 2005.

Rear guard: Art Shamsky, one of the coolest names in major league history, came into the game in the 7th inning as part of a double switch. He actually hit 3 home runs in the game while driving in 5. Despite these late game heroics, the Reds would lose the game in 13th inning. Shamsky only hit 68 home runs in his 8 year major league career.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

#53 Len Dykstra

Card thoughts: This Dykstra rookie card is a perfect epitome of "Nails" career, hustling, legs so fast his back foot is a blur, and bat in hand, looking like he's going to cream someone.

The player: I hated the mid 80s Mets. Hated them. Dykstra, and the other cocky, smug jerks who made up this team are a reason why. I still recall Dykstra when on the Phillies sliding into third and coughing up a huge, disgusting lump of chaw while adjusting his jock strap. That's the kind of disgusting guy he was.

Still, you can't deny Dykstra had talent. In his early Mets career, he was platooned with Mookie Wilson as an unusual leadoff hitter platoon. He usually stole about 30 bases a year, hit around .280 and scored about 75 runs. He was known for his aggressive outfield play and huge cheek full of chaw. Unfortunately, Dykstra was also a disruptive presence on the club causing the Mets to trade him to the Phillies midway through the 1989 season with Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel. Initially despondent after the trade, Dykstra would hit only .222 the rest of the season. But he would go on to have his greatest seasons with the Phillies, leading the league in hit with 192 and on base percentage with .410 in 1990, and having an MVP caliber year in 1993, leading the league in at bats, runs, hits, and walks that year, leading the Phillies to the World Series.

In between those great campaigns, Dykstra broke his collar bone twice, once while drunk driving with teammate Darren Daulton, and once while crashing into an outfield wall. More than likely, the 1993 season was aided by Dykstra's well documented steroid abuse at the time. His post baseball career has been quite colorful. Apparently, Dykstra was so arrogant he thought he was also some kind of financial wizard. He impressed that other financial carnival barker, Mad Money's Jim Cramer so much he had Dykstra write a column for him advising stock investments. Dykstra was also involved in several car wash businesses, a magazine called the Players Club geared towards rich athletes, a corporate jet charter company, and several other business ventures. He was also alleged to have engaged in credit card fraud, and had a habit of not paying his bills. Here's a fascinating account of Dykstra, the "mogul".

All this shadiness caught up to him, and Dykstra filed for bankruptcy a couple of years ago. However, he's still allegedly living by fraud, having stripped his foreclosed house of some assets, and recently he apparently stole three cars from a dealership in some kind of complicated financial chicanery. Oh, and his family hates him for allegedly defrauding them. Despite all the fame, I wouldn't want to be "Nails" right now.

Rear guard: Check out those numbers from Single-A Lynchburg. Insane! One of the greatest seasons in South Atlantic League history.

Casey Stengel managed the Mets their first 4 years of existence. However, that fact is wrong. Wes Westrum was managing the Mets on that date, having replaced Stengel midseason. Stengel was still the oldest Mets manager, however, but at 75 years, 31 days on August 30, 1965.