Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#157 Ron Hassey

Card thoughts: Always the most exciting part of the game: The foul pop to the right side. I will mention that I believe there are more home in-action shots of the Yankees than any other team. That’s what happens when you play in the biggest media market in the country (also, that’s where the Topps headquarters is).

The player: Ron Hassey was an unusual backup catcher, in that he was valued more for his offense than defense. He began his career with the Indians in 1978, and became their starting catcher in 1980, a role he would have until 1984 when he demoted all the way to third-string. Hassey had some good years as a starter, including hitting .318 with 8 home runs and 64 RBIs in 1980. He also caught #24 Len Barker’s perfect game in 1982; Hassey would also catch Dennis Martinez’ perfect game in 1991 when he with the Expos, making him the only catcher in history to catch 2 perfect games. He was eventually sent to the Cubs in June of 1984 along with Rick Sutcliffe for Joe Carter and Mel Hall. Hassey hit .333 in extremely limited duty as the Cubs won the division.

Hassey was on a move again in the off season, as the Cubs decided they liked Steve Lake’s defense better. He went to the Yankees with #94 Rich Bordi in the trade that brought Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot to the Cubs. Catching knuckleballer Phil Neikro that year, Hassey led the league in passed balls with 15, despite only playing in 92 games. He did hit a career high 12 home runs, not surprising due to the close left field fence in old Yankee Stadium, and an impressive slugging percentage over .500. Hassey moved on to the White Sox in 1986 and 1987 (hitting .353 in 150 at bats in 1986) and then to the Oakland A’s from 1988-1990. With the A’s, he won 3 pennants and a World Series in 1989 (although he didn’t play in that series). Hassey hit .323 in those playoff series and was the starting catcher in the 1988 World Series.

Hassey finished his career with the Expos in 1991. Since then, Hassey has coached in the majors with the Rockies, Mariners, and Cardinals. He currently manages the Marlins AAA club.

Rear guard: It's appropriate Hassey's first multi-home run game came in his biggest power year. Both were solo shots that led off an inning in a 10-0 blowout against the Orioles. One came off the guy he would later catch a perfect game for, Dennis Martinez. Here, Martinez couldn't even finish the 2nd inning. The other was off Ken Dixon.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#156 White Sox Leaders

Card thoughts: Never have had an opinion on the White Sox either way. To me, they were always the bland team on the other side of town. Although I really thought old Comiskey was cool. The year shown on this card was a fairly good one of the White Sox, as they were in the pennant race all year, finishing 6 games back of the Royals, in third place.

The player: Richard Dotson went 97-95 with the White Sox with a 4.02 ERA over 10 seasons. I guess Topps counts the debuts of players as the day they were added to the roster, as Doton did not pitch on September 1, 1979. Harold Baines and Britt Burns joined the Sox in 1980 and were with the team the second longest at this point.

Rear guard: The twin poles the Sox offense revolved around in those days were Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk. Both put up hall of fame type numbers over their careers, but only Fisk has made it in so far. Baines was in the league top ten in batting average (8th), hits (5th), and runs batted in (4th). Walker was tied with George Brett for 5th in doubles, and Fisk's 37 home runs were just 3 behind league leader Darrell Evans.

Seaver, at age 40, was the most durable pitcher, and he led the team in ERA . This would be his last good season. The aforementioned Britt Burns was the best overall pitcher for the White Sox: His 18 wins were 3rd in the league, and he was 2nd in shutouts. No one would remember Bob James as particularly good closer, but he managed to save 32 games, good for 2nd in the league.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

#155 Bob Grich

Card thoughts: Grich is one of those few players who often smiled on their cards (see here, here, and here). There's a tendency for players to use their game face when photographed. Also, it's unusual that Topps would not call him Bobby Grich, like everyone did when he played. My theory as they took the name off the Orioles media guide way back before anyone knew of him, and that was the name they stuck with over the years.

The player: Bobby Grich was an underrated player who was one of the best second baseman, both defensively and offensively, in the 1970s. A first round pick of the Orioles, despite good numbers in the minors (he won the MVP award at two levels), Grich was blocked by Davey Johnson and Mark Belanger in the majors. After playing only a handful of games in 1970 and 1971, he made the all-star team as a reserve shortstop in his rookie year, hitting 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. The next year, Davey Johnson was traded, and Grich was entrenched as the Orioles starting second baseman until 1976. Grich would win a gold glove every year for the rest of his Orioles career, and made the all star team again in 1974 and 1976. He won these gold gloves, despite often being in the top ten in errors; Grich was unmatched when it came to turning the double play and his range. But, in an anomaly, Grich managed to have a record .995 fielding percentage in 1973 (he would break this record in 1984).

Grich was part of the first free agent class and signed with the Angels in 1977 for a big sum of money, where he would remain for the rest of his career, making three more all star teams. His first couple seasons didn’t go so well. Grich made it into only 52 games the first year because of a back injury, and the next, his power seemingly had deserted him. But Grich would come back with a career year in 1978. He hit 30 home runs, drove 104, and hit .294. This was good enough for being in the top 10 in MVP voting. While he would never match these totals again, he might have had the strike shortened 1981 season been 162 games. As it is, he tied for the lead in home runs with 22 and led in slugging percentage with .543.

By the time this card was issued, Grich was fading. Although still a reliable fielder, he had lost a step, and his averages hovered in the .250 range. He retired in tears in the locker room after the Angels lost to the Red Sox in the playoffs the next year. Grich had played in the post season before, but never the World Series, and this was second time he’d only been a game away with the Angels and not made it. Grich had never hit well in the playoffs (lifetime average: .182), and this series was no exception. However, his two run home run in Game 5 put the Angels in the lead in what would have been the clinching game, had Dave Henderson not hit his home run.

In his retirement, Grich putters around the golf course and has worked in the front office for some indy ball teams.

Rear guard: Grich's grand slam came off Twins pitcher Jim Perry (brother of Gaylord). It drove in hall-of-famer Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, and Terry Crowley.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#154 Bert Roberge

Card thoughts: I was waiting for this card to appear. One of my favorites in the set. I mentioned before I was particularly enamored with the “glowing” Expos cards, like #131 Razor Shines. Roberge on this card is almost phosphorescent. The other thing is the name. I think I would pronounce it as “row-bear-gee,” but I still have no clue if that’s how it is pronounced. You just don’t see a lot of people of French-Canadian descent playing major league ball these days, although it’s appropriate it is an Expos card.

The player: Roberge was part of the first generation of players that, in the wake of Bruce Sutter’s success as a short reliever, were used in that role for their entire careers, even in the minors. Roberge even featured Sutter’s split finger fastball as his out pitch, which was good because his fastball wasn’t all that great. He initially showed a lot of promise when he came up with the Astros in 1979. He was a perfect 3-0 with a 1.69 in 26 relief appearances, although a warning flag was his 17 to 13 walk to strikeout ratio. The next year, Roberge was ineffective with a 5.92 ERA. After being down in the minors all of 1981, he reappeared in the majors in 1982, but found it hard to crack the Astros notoriously effective bullpen. Roberge only managed to get into 22 games that season. He had a reprieve when he was finally released by the Astros in 1983 and was signed by the White Sox. Roberge appeared in 21 games with them and sported a fine 3.76 ERA, the best since his rookie year.

The Expos liked what they saw and traded for him and the season shown on this card would be the only one he spent entirely in the majors. Perhaps it was being among his cultural ancestors, but Roberge pitched a career high 68 effective relief innings, with a 1.179 WHIP and 3.44 ERA. After an awful spring, Roberge started the 1986 season all the way down in A ball, where the Expos stored him instead of releasing him. When he came back to the majors in April, it was to make an exhibition start in the “Pearson Cup” came between the Expos and Blue Jays. He did eventually make it back for real, but the Expos’ handling of him clearly upset his confidence: He went 0-4 with a 6.28 ERA. And that was it.

As a child, Roberge worked in the family mung bean sprout wholesaling business with his father and brothers. Today, the Curran Company packages all sorts of vegetables and Roberge is one of the company partners. Some of you East Coast readers no doubt have eaten some of these products!

Rear guard: Roberge's first save came against the Expos in relief of #135 Joe Niekro. He retired all 4 batters he faced: Three were on flies to the outfield, and one was a line out, double play ball hit by #85 Tony Perez.

The Expos played at Jarry Park before moving into the domed Olympic Stadium in 1977. Gerald Hannahs only win that year (and last of his career) was the one at Olympic Stadium. He gave up 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings for the win. Hannahs only started 12 games over 4 seasons with the Expos and Dodgers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#153 Ricky Adams

Card thoughts: Adams only had one other card than this one, when he was with the Angels. I don't remember this player or card at all, but it's an excellent shot of Adams, playing shortstop, forcing a Padre at second. Not as dramatic as the #118 Jerry Royster card, but still nice. The game was likely on June 21st, a Friday afternoon game.

The player: Ricky Adams was a star high school infielder who was selected in the first round by the Astros in 1977. But he hit poorly in the minors and was released in 1980 to be picked up by the Angels. Adams began developing some power hitting skills once he got to AA, and was rewarded with a call up to the big club in 1982, where he hit .145 in 8 games. But the Angels infield was tough to crack at that time, with veterans Rod Carew, Doug DeCinces, Tim Foli, and Bobby Grich holding down the positions. Adams came back for the second half of the 1983 season, where he played all over the infield with career highs in games (53) and average (.250). He was out of the majors for a year, then resurfaced with the Giants in the season shown by this card. Adams once again played all over the place, mainly at third and short, but couldn’t hit his weight. This would be the last season he played major league ball.

After his career was over, Adams became a salesman for a cement company. Unfortunately, after a short battle with skin cancer, Adams died last October. His obituary can be found here and here is the site of the Ricky Lee Adams Foundation, which gives money to baseball related youth charities.

Rear guard: Adams only got 247 at bats in 3 years in the majors. Probably because he could only manage a career .215 average and a .291 slugging percentage. Still, you can see he hit well in the high minors.

Monday, January 23, 2012

#152 Mike Morgan

Card thoughts: I always found it odd when there was a shot of a player in a game situation, yet no other player is visible. And because of Morgan's positioning, he looks like he's leading off first, although the faint trace of the glove on his right hand indicates he's pitching. This was his first card as a Seattle Mariners, at the time his fourth team.

The player:  The first word you think about when you think Mike Morgan is perseverance. The man pitched 25 seasons, in four different decades, for a record 12 teams (shared with Octavio Dotel and Ron Villone . . . Matt Stairs holds the all time record for position players). The other word that would come to mind is: mediocrity. Morgan's first winning season was his 11th, he lost 10 games or more 12 times, and his career record is a miserable 141-186, a .431 winning percentage. Never has a man pitched so consistently poorly for so long.

But Morgan might have been cursed from the beginning. A first round draft pick for the A's in 1978, he went directly to the majors from high school. As you might expect, it did not go well. Although he featured four pitches (fastball, slider, change, curve), he couldn't locate any of them. After a 0-3 start and a ERA over 7, Morgan was sent to the minors where he should have been in the first place. Inexplicably, the A's didn't learn from their mistake and he was in the starting rotation again the next season. He went 2-10 with a 5.94 ERA and had an amazing 50 walks to 17 strikeouts. He was sent to the minors for two seasons, resurfacing with the Yankees in 1982. Forever after, Morgan became known as "The Nomad."

It was the Blue Jays in 1983, the Mariners from 1985 to 1987 (led the league in losses with 17 in 1986), and the Orioles in 1988. He had his greatest success with the Dodgers from 1989 to 1991. He led the league in shutouts in 1990, despite a 10-15 record. And he made the all star team for the only time in 1992 when he went 14-10 (his first winning season) with a 2.78 ERA. The next year he was even better, his first for the Cubs (1992 to 1995). He went 16-8 with a stellar 2.55 ERA. But this would be his peak, as he had only two more winning seasons the rest of his career. 

Battling injuries and wildness, Morgan was once again largely ineffective as a starter for the Cardinals (1995 to 1996), Reds (1996 to 1997), Twins (1998), Cubs again (1998), and Rangers (1999). Although he did manage a 13-10 record with the Rangers, his ERA was a stratospheric 6.24. It was that season where Morgan finally began to pitch regularly out of the bullpen, where he should have been put years ago. With the Diamondbacks (2000 to 2002), Morgan pitched decently enough out of the bullpen in a variety of roles. Especially noteworthy is the 3 games he pitched against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series without allowing a run.

If you like to kill animals, then Mike Morgan will take you hunting with his company World Champion Outfitters.

Rear guard: Wow, look at those awful ERAs. Morgan's first win did not come on June 29th; the A;s didn't even win that day, and Matt Keough took the loss. Instead, it came on July 29 (7-29-79) against the Mariners. Both he and #64 Floyd Bannister pitched complete games, but Morgan was just a bit better, giving up 1 run on 3 hits. But true to his early career pattern, he walked 4 but only struck out 1.

Steve Braun will be discussed at greater length when his card comes up later on this blog.  Braun always walked more than he struck out. Braun had no hits that day, but scored one run. This was his card from that season.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

#151 Dave Stapleton

Card thoughts: Stapleton played second base this season. He was formerly the starting first baseman for the Red Sox.

The player: Stapleton is most famous for what he didn't do. He wasn't called on by manager John McNamara to defensively replace Bill Buckner late in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, despite that being the only reason he was on the roster. The ball went through Buckner's legs and the rest is history.

Stapleton had some good credentials when he came up with the Red Sox in 1980. A high ball hitter who was good at situational hitting, he had won the International League MVP award the year before. Stapleton led the league in runs, hits, and doubles while hitting .306. He was called up to take over as the second baseman to replace an injured Jerry Remy, and he hit .321 with 45 runs batted in. Stapleton finished second to the even more forgettable Joe Charboneau in the Rookie of the Year voting. Despite his fine rookie season, Stapleton to was relegated to a utility role the next season, as his average began dropping; it would drop every year until he retired. With the departure of #85 Tony Perez, Stapleton was named the Red Sox starting first baseman. A great defender at this position, with especially good range, Stapleton hit .264 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs. His numbers were similar the following season, though of course his average dropped again.

This production wasn't enough for the Red Sox, so they got Bill Buckner from the Cubs. Stapleton was now relegated to a mere 30 or so games a year as a defensive replacement for Buckner and other infielders, down from the 150 or so games he played as a starter. The last year he played was in 1986, when he appeared in 39 games, but with only 42 at bats. His last batting average was a lowly .121.

Rear guard: Bill Regan was the Red Sox regular second baseman from 1926 to 1930. 1928 was his best year, but he wasn't much of a power hitter; his high was 7 that season, and he hit only 18 in his career. His home runs came off White Sox pitcher Sarge Connally. He added a double and had a single for a 4 for 5 day, with 3 RBIs.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

#150 Joaquin Andujar

Card thoughts: That's a pretty awkward follow through, but apparently Andujar was a good fielder at his position.

The player: Andujar was a mercurial, eccentric pitcher with a world of talent, but an inability to harnass it except for three exceptional seasons. He referred to himself as "one tough Dominican." As an Astro from 1976 to 1981, he was a .500 pitcher, sporting league average ERAs. Despite this, Andujar made all star appearances in 1977 and 1979, probably because he was the best of a bad lot--all star rules state that each team, no matter how bad, must have a representative. Once he came to the Cardinals, he became a top flight pitcher, yet his ERAs still hovered in the 3.50 range. Featuring a devastating fastball and curve, to go along with a slider, it all came together for Andujar in 1982 when he went 15-10 with a 2.47 ERA, good for 3rd in the league. He also started, and won, the deciding 7th game of the World Series, despite pitching in considerable pain. Andujar went seven innings, giving up 3 runs and 7 hits, while striking out only 1.

His 1983 season, however, was a disappointment. Andujar went 6-16 and had the highest ERA of his career at this point, although he still pitched over 200 innings. But the next season, he bounced back in a big way and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. Andujar was 4th in the Cy Young voting, compiling a league leading 20 wins (against 14 losses). He also led the league in shutouts with 4, and innings pitched with 261 1/3. Andujar won his only Gold Glove that year as well. Despite these gaudy numbers, his ERA was not great for the era a 3.34. His 20 wins were more of a function of out of 38 starts, he had a no decision in only 4 of them.

The season represented by this card (1985) would be a watershed year for Andujar, and here he is discussing his expectations at the 3:58 mark. He won 15 games in the first half of the season, with baseball people believing he had a chance to win 30. But the second half of the season, he went 6-9. Andujar's amazing first half led to him being selected to the all star game. But he refused to go, since he wasn't selected to start, a petulant action that unfortunately foreshadowed the rest of the season. More trouble came to Andujar as a result of the Pittsburgh drug trials. Former teammate Lonnie Smith testified that Andujar was a habitual cocaine user, and often scored for him when he was in St Louis. As a result, Andujar was initially suspended for the 1986 season, which was later reduced to community service.

Andujar was a mess in the playoffs that year, continuing his second-half woes. He went 0-1 in the NLCS with a 6.97 ERA. He was even worse in the World Series, losing his only start by giving up 4 runs in 4 innings in Game 3. He got into even worse trouble in Game 7. After being sent in for mop up duty as the Royals had built a commanding 9-0 lead, Andujar got ejected for charging home plate umpire Don Denkinger, who he felt blew a strike call to catcher Jim Sundberg. (As a side note, part of the beef was because Denkinger had infamously blown a call at first the night before, which the Cardinals felt cost them the series). For that action, Andujar was suspended for 10 games to start the next season.

Tiring of Andujar's antics, alarmed at his drop off in effectiveness in the second half of the 1985 season, and worried about the whole season suspension (still in effect at this point), the Cardinals did the unthinkable and traded a 21 game winner to the A's for catcher #148 Mike Heath (discussed on this blog a flew days ago) and pitcher Tim Conroy, both of whom did little for the Cardinals. Andujar's career also collapsed. He went 12-7 the first year for the A's as he battled injuries, but the next season he could only start 13 games and went 3-5 with a 6.08 ERA. All of the seasons averaging 8 innings a start had finally caught up to Andujar. After a year back with the Astros where he went 2-5 as a starter and reliever, Andujar attempted to make a comeback with the Expos in 1989, but he didn't make the club.

Andujar's most famous quote is "There is one word in America that says it all, and that word is, 'You never know."

Rear guard: Andujar's rookie card can be seen here. His first win was a complete game victory against the Reds when he outdueled Pat Zachary 2-1. He walked 5 while striking out only 1, but he only gave up 2 hits.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

#149 Brett Butler

Card thoughts: I love cards that show what a hitter does best. In his 17 years in the big leagues, Butler had 147 sacrifice hits and was considered one of the best bunters in the game.

The player: Brett Butler once summed up leading off this way: You can't eat a meal, unless someone sets the table. He's also a study in perseverance. In high school, Butler didn't even make varsity, and rode the bench. In college, he had to walk on at Arizona State, and even then, the coach didn't remember him when he made the big leagues. But Butler made it to the majors in 1981 with the Braves. In his early days, Butler had speed, but hit almost nothing but singles. He was a good center fielder, though, with good range, and a strong accurate arm, especially for someone with his small size. In 1983, he broke out in a big way, leading the National League in triples, scoring 84 runs, and stealing 39 bases.

But the Braves needed a starting pitcher, and in one of their worst ever trades, they traded Butler, along with #116 Brook Jacoby for washed up #24 Len Barker. Butler scored over 90 runs all four seasons he spent with the Tribe, including 108 in 1984 and 106 in the season shown on this card. When you think of great mid-80s leadoff men in the American League, Butler has to be in the top 3, along with Rickey Henderson and #25 Willie Wilson (the player he most resembles). As Butler became more adept at getting bunt hits, infielders had to play farther in, allowing him to shoot the ball through the infield more easily, and it soon became rare that Butler didn't hit at least .280. His batting eye, which was not good when he came up, improved and he started walking over 90 times a year as well.

All that improvement paid off, when Butler signed a big free agent contract with the Giants after the 1987 season. Butler would have his greatest years in his second tour of the National League. He scored over 100 runs from 1988-1991, leading the league in 1988 and 1991. He also led in hits with 192 in 1990, and walks with 108 in 1991, which was perhaps his greatest season, his first with the Dodgers. Despite all the great seasons, Butler only made an all star team once in his career, in 1991. After that season, Butler had several more productive seasons with the Dodgers (with a brief 90 game sojourn with the Mets), until 1997. He also led the league in triples two more times with 9 (1994 and 1995).

Butler ended his career with a .290 average, over 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs scored, and 558 steals, good for 25th all time. He was also caught stealing 257 times, 3rd all time. Butler, a devout born again Christian, has a great interview where he sums up his career, in the context of his faith. After his playing days were over, Butler managed in the Mets and Diamondbacks minor league system, and coached in the big leagues for them in 2005. He's had some health problems, including a stroke in 2007. But Butler still manages in the minors, currently for Reno, the Diamondbacks AAA club.

Rear guard: Hey, I have Butler's first Topps card! One of the better future stars cards of that year, as both Butler and Bedrosian were stars at least some of their careers (but not for the Braves). Poor Larry Owen, however, had a .193 career average from 352 career at bats.

Hal Trosky was one of the greatest hitters in the 30s rabbit ball era. Those total bases were made up of 120 singles, 45 doubles, 9 triples, and 42 home runs. He also drove in a league leading 162 runs and hit .343. Sadly, after having 6 monster years, after age 27 he never drove in more than 90 runs or hit better than .300 again (although World War II took 2 seasons from him)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

#148 Mike Heath

Card thoughts: "See this bat? It's going upside your head if you take another picture of me in this ugly yellow windbreaker"

The player: Heath started his pro career as a shortstop, but was a catcher when he came up with the Yankees in 1978. After being traded to the A's (from the Rangers) for John Henry Johnson, Heath quickly became known as one of the better fielding catchers in the American League. He was quick on his feet behind the plate, called a great game, and threw out better than 40% of would be base stealers. As a young man, his temper was sometimes an issue. Despite being a great catcher, Heath was used frequently in the outfield, once his bat came around, to keep him in the lineup. Heath started hitting for power in 1984 and the season shown on this card, hitting 13 home runs each year. His average remained in the .240s, however.

In a surprising move, Heath was traded to the Cardinals for recent 21 game winner Joaquin Andujar after the 1985 season. He only lasted 65 games with the Cardinals before being sent to the Tigers, where he would spend the next 5 season. He was a back up catcher/outfielder the first three years, (including 1987 when he played every position but pitcher), until Matt Nokes flamed out. Heath then  took over as the regular catcher for the 1989 and 1990 seasons, hitting 10 homers the former year and averaging .263, his highest career average as a regular. Heath's final season came with the Braves in 1991.

Rear guard: Here's Heath's 1979 rookie card. Topps was cheap that year, and didn't want to spring for color photos on the prospect cards. Heath was traded with the player on his right to the Rangers organization for Dave Righetti. The player on his left, Brian Doyle, hit .161 in parts of four seasons with the Yankees and A's. He played with Heath on the 1981 A's.

Heath's 2 home runs came in his first game with the A's. He replaced starting catcher Jeff Newman after he was injured in the first inning. They came off Royals pitchers Al Hrabosky and Dennis Leonard.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#147 Larry Sheets

Card thoughts: I believe Sheets is laughing at a streaker, or some drunken fan who charged the field. Or he's amused by Earl Weaver arguing with the umpire. This is Sheets' rookie card, and it's a shame that Topps for an inexplicable reason stopped putting the all-star rookie trophy on the card, because this would have had one.

The player: Sheets was a player with a world of talent, but it took some convincing for him to apply it. He spent his first three pro seasons in rookie ball, not because he didn't hit well enough to advance, but because he couldn't decide if he wanted to continue playing. He even retired for the '81 season, to go back to college. Sheets decided to come back and in 1983 he tied future Astros first baseman Glenn Davis for the Southern League lead in home runs. He was in the big leagues to stay by 1985, although unlike most young players, he hardly ever played in the field. Sheets hit 17 home runs and had a .442 slugging percentage as a rookie. He had a similar season in 1986, but in 1987, one of the years home runs overall jumped, he had a career year. Sheets hit 31 home runs, drove in 94, and had a .314 average (9th in the league) and a .563 slugging percentage (good for 6th). He even played as a regular in the outfield for the first time in his career. His batting average dropped a 100 points and his slugging percentage dropped 200 the next season, and he only hit 10 home runs. His home run total further dropped to 7 in 1989.

Sheets was sent to the Tigers in 1990 for well-traveled 4A infielder Mike Brumley. He had a normal year for him, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 52. Frustrated at not being replicate his one stellar season, Sheets tried his luck in Japan for a year, before returning to be signed by the Angels (then released before ever playing a game), the Brewers (where he drove in 98 with their AAA team), and finally the Mariners, where he managed get 17 at bats in 1993, hitting .118.

Sheets currently runs the Larry Sheets Players Family Amusement Center, where you are invited to make some memories by running around like maniac screaming your head off while playing mini glo golf, laser tag, or bumper cars.

Rear guard: Sheets was hitting .455 after his home run; he would end the season with .438 average. The homer came off Red Sox pitcher Rich Gale and drove in Jim Traber. Sheets played right field that day. Also, the "DID NOT PLAY" line was always mysterious. It never gave a reason. I always thought the player had been suspended, or had gotten in trouble with the law.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

#146 Jack Perconte

Card thoughts: There's lots of pictures taken in this set of players on cold, miserable days early in the season. This is one of them (and Perconte has one of the best mustaches yet!)

The player: Before ever reaching the majors, Perconte was part of a legendary team. The 1981 Albuquerque Dukes, the Dodgers AAA farm club, is considered the 9th best all time. Part of the reason is that the Dodgers had such a great farm system in the 70s and early 80s, that players were often stuck for several years in AAA, despite having great numbers. Perconte was one of them. He had hit well over .300 for three straight years at Albuquerque, scoring over 100 runs in two of them. Perconte finally got short chances in the majors in 1980 and 1981, but his inability to turn the double play really hurt him. The Dodgers eventually traded him to the Indians with future star Rick Sutcliffe for Jorge Orta, Larry White, and Jack Fimple. The Indians made Perconte their starting second baseman in early 1982, but his fielding woes and .237 average eventually sent him to the bench in favor of Larry Milbourne. No longer having a major league place for him, Perconte was traded to the Mariners with Gorman Thomas for fellow second baseman Tony Bernazard. He would have his best season in 1984. Choking up on the bat (something rarely seen by batters these days), allowed Perconte to skip lots of balls through the infield at the Kingdome. He had a career high 180 hits, hit .294, and scored 93 runs. He was also 7th in stolen bases with 29.

He also had the first of two bizarre "Little League" home runs off of Jack Morris and the Tigers. Both times he scored on balls hit no more than 30 feet. After bunts, Morris through the ball away down the left field line; then later in the play, the leftfielder threw the ball in the 3rd base dugout, allowing Perconte to score.

Perconte couldn't replicate his success in the season shown on this card, as his average dropped to .264, although his OPS was similar. He did make the top ten in steals again with 31. Perconte was released at the end of the season and signed by the White Sox for one last season, but he mostly played in the minors as insurance for the major league club.

Perconte is currently a sports motivational speaker/life coach who has written two books on how to raise an athlete. He has his own Website and I'd highly recommend checking his out his diary. The most interesting insights about baseball often come from the players who had little major league success.

Rear guard: Diego Segui was 39 and in his last season when that 10 strikeout feat was accomplished. Despite the 10 strikeouts, Segui gave up 5 runs and was beat by future hall of famer Fergie Jenkins. Segui had at one time led the league in ERA, but he had a sub .500 career record, and his final season he went 0-7 with a 5.69 ERA and 91 strikeouts, mostly as a reliever. Segui had a Mariners 1977 card, but no 1978 card, despite the Mariners having played no games in 1976. His son, David Segui, played for many years and many teams, mostly during the 1990s.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#145 Pedro Guerrero

Card thoughts: The classic sideline shot at spring training. At one time, about 80% position player cards looked like this. Also, Guerrero played a significant amount of time at third this season, so that should have been included in the position circle.

The player: There's a lot of things I miss about mid 80s style baseball. The steal. The lack of middle relievers. The excitement of the home run (a lot rarer back then). The complete game. What I don't miss: Teams making a video of a crappy team song. Yes, Guerrero starred in one of the worst of these, the "Baseball Boogie." That's him in the pink satin jacket.

Although Guerrero looks the fool in this video, there were few batters I feared more coming up against the Cubs. In one of the great steals in Dodger history, he was acquired while still in rookie ball for pitcher Bruce Ellingsen, who only pitched 16 innings for the Indians. He came up as a reserve outfielder for the Dodgers, but quickly made an impression on the team. In the 1981 World Series, he drove in 5 runs in the deciding game, sharing co-MVP honors with Ron Cey and #32 Steve Yeager. The following year, Guerrero became the first Dodger to hit over 30 home runs and steal more that 20 bases; he did it again 1983, while also driving in over 100 runs both years. That year he moved to third (his orginal position in the minors) to replace Ron Cey. His fielding was poor, with a league leading 30 errors, and a poor .932 fielding percentage.

Moving to third didn't affect his hitting; Guerrero still remained one of the best clutch hitters in the game. But he began to split time between third, first, and the outfield in order to not expose his defensive liabilities too much. Guerrero's best season may have been the one represented by this card. He led the league in on base percentage and slugging, while hitting 34 home runs and scoring 99. After being injured with a ruptured tendon (as a result of his penchant for poor sliding) for most of 1986, Guerrero had another impressive season in 1987.

The next season, in a midst of a pennant race, the Dodgers decided they needed a starter more than a slugger, so he was sent to the Cardinals for pitcher John Tudor. The Cardinals outfield was crowded, so Guerrero took over at first. In his first full season the Cardinals, Guerrero was quite impressive. With all the speed merchants hitting ahead of him, he drove in 117 runs with only 17 home runs. His league leading 42 doubles helped as well. Guerrero's  power numbers would drop slowly in his last two years as a regular player, but he still was a good RBI man. His fielding declined as well, as he led the league in errors every year as the regular Cardinal first baseman. He was a free agent after the 1992 season, when he only got 146 at bats as a result of a shoulder injury, but no one wanted him. Guerrero played for a bit for indy ball, but then gave up the game for good after one last try with the Angels AA club (he hit .302 there).

Guerrero had some trouble with the law after his playing days were over. A long time cocaine user, he was busted trying set up a drug deal. However, in a kind of sad turn of events, Guerrero beat the rap when it was proven he was not intelligent enough to understand what he was doing. His IQ was only 80 (below 80 is a sign of mental retardation), as he had dropped out of school at 12. He could not read or write, and his wife had to dole out an allowance to him so he wouldn't squander all his money.

Rear guard: (Note the gum stain.) It seemed like every Dominican player in those days came from San Pedro de Marcoris (especially shortstops). Apparently, many of the contract laborers on the sugar plantations came from the Eastern Carribean, and these workers played cricket. Since the estates were run by Americans, they taught their workers the game, and it spread like wildfire throughout the community.

Guerrero's first grand slam came against Padres pitcher Elias Sosa. It drove in Steve Sax, Bill Russell, and Dusty Baker.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

#144 Doug Sisk

Card thoughts: Nice batter's POV shot of Sisk. But a flaw in the card printing makes it look like another baseball is emerging from his left elbow.

The player: Sisk was the Mets' top reliever for a season and half. Then, midway through the 1984 season he got injured, and was never the same. Featuring a sharp biting sinker, pre-injury Sisk had ERAs of 2.24 and 2.09 while saving 11 and 15 games, respectively, in 1983 and 1984. After coming back for the season shown on this card, Sisk lost confidence in himself and consequently so did his manager. From the Mets' closer to a mop up man, Davey Johnson would rarely use him anymore with the game on the line, as he allowed 1.72 baserunners per nine innings. Always prone to the walk, Sisk began giving up more hits and finished with a career high 5.30 ERA. In the Mets 1986 run to the World Series, Sisk was a forgotten man on the field, booed mercilessly by Mets fans suddenly not accepting any failure on a near perfect team. In the playoffs, he managed to only pitch 1 2/3 innings. Off the field, Sisk made more of an impression as part of the "Scum Bunch" along with Jesse Orosco and Danny Heep who ruled the back of the Mets charter flights--and prided themselves on being the most crass and wasted players on a team full of hard drinkers.

Sisk never exited the Mets' doghouse and he was traded to the Orioles after the 1987 season for Blaine Beatty. Despite pitching 94 1/3 innings (the most since 1983) and sporting a 3.72 ERA, he was still walking twice as many batters as he struck out. The Orioles wouldn't trust him either and released him. After short stints for the Braves in 1990 and 1991, he retired. He currently works as a recreation coordinator.

Rear guard: It's not often Topps will cite a pitcher's first hit. Sisk pitched 5 innings of relief that day, and his hit was off of #33 Jeff Lahti. He would actually have 3 hits that season in 6 at bats, ending with a neat .500 batting average.

Lee Mazzilli was about the only respectable hitter the Mets had in the late 70s. His home runs were both solo shots and came in the first inning (off Tommy John, of the Dodgers) and the 7th inning (off Charlie Hough). Here's his card from that season.

Monday, January 9, 2012

#143 Dave Van Gorder

Card thoughts: This is a very odd card. First of all, Van Gorder is in the catching position during a game, but isn't wearing any catching gear. He's likely catching a ceremonial first pitch. Also, you can barely see his face, as the perspective of the shot makes his head look really tiny, and he's turned a bit away from the camera. This would be Van Gorder's last card.

The player: Van Gorder was the first of many catchers the Reds tried in replacement of legend Johnny Bench. He had an average, but accurate, throwing arm and was good at blocking pitches. But like many catchers, the mental and physical demands of catching left little room to improve on his hitting. He had a 51 game trial in 1982 backing up Alex Trevino, but he hit only .185. It was back to the minors for the entire 1983 season, but he returned in 1984 for 32 games, only to hit .228. The year represented by this card was Van Gorder's best year. As part of an unusual three man catching platoon with Dann Billardello, and Alan Knicely (later, Bo Diaz), Van Gorder got into 73 games, but still was a poor hitter at .238. He also had a poor caught stealing percentage at 23%.

Despite this, Van Gorder sought arbitration, and won, doubling his salary for the 1986 season. Reds owner Marge Schott wasn't too pleased with this, and allegedly threatened to trade or sell Van Gorder if he pursued this path. It was all smoothed over for the 1986 season, but Van Gorder was demoted to the minors and was released at the end of the year anyway. The Orioles picked him up for his final season in 1987, but he spent most of the year in the minors, and went only 5 for 21 in the majors.

Rear guard: Van Gorder never really had a good minor league season either, save the 1981 season at Indianapolis. His four hit game came against the Giants. One hit was the only triple in his career and it scored #22 Duane Walker from second. After that 4 for 5 game, Van Gorder was hitting .318.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#142 Bob Jones

Card thoughts: Like #114 Mike Brown, Jones is sporting prescription sunglasses. This is a look you just don't see any more. Oh, probably because you look like a member of the Baseball Furies. Also, although Jones' first card was in 1977, he would only have three more cards in 1984, 1985, and 1986.

The player: Jones played nine seasons in the big leagues, but they weren't consecutive. He played from 1974-1977, then again in 1981, and finally from 1983-1986. His playing career was interrupted before he got to the majors, however. He was drafted by the military in 1969 and went to Vietnam for two years, which resulted in an injury that made him deaf in one ear. Jones didn't let this disability stop him, but the military service meant that it wasn't until seven years after he was drafted by the Senators (now Rangers) that he made the majors. Despite regularly hitting for power and average in the Pacific Coast League throughout the 70s, the only season where he played more than a handful of games in the majors was 1977, where he played in 78 games for the Angels, but only managed a .211 average for the Angels. Feeling blocked by the Angels, Jones was an early American player to play in Japan, playing 2 years for the Chunichi Dragons.

After returning to America, Jones resigned with his original organization . . . and continued to be stuck in the Pacific Coast League. Finally, Jones was brought back up to the majors for more than a cup of coffee at age 33, where he was mainly used as a backup of outfielder and pinch hitter. He hit .222, .259, .224, and .095 from 1983-1986 in that role before retiring.

After retirement, Jones has become the winningest manager in Rangers history---in the minors. He's amassed over 1,500 wins, and except for three years as Rangers coach, he's managed since 1988 in the system.

Rear guard: Jones looks like a young player, until you realize he had been drafted 18 years before this card was printed, and by a team that no longer existed in any kid's memory. Topps has the wrong date again, as Jones did not play September 16, 1975. His first home run, however, was off of Red Sox pitcher Rick Wise. It was a two run shot that drove in Bruce Bochte.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

#141 Chuck Cottier

Card thoughts: Cottier looks like a off-duty steel worker, ponying up to to his local dive bar. The second manager card of this set where the manager seems caught in mid-lecture.

The manager:  As a player, Cottier was a poor hitting, good fielding, middle infielder who played from 1959-1969 on the Braves, Tigers, Senators, and Angels. After a year off, he began his managing career in the Pirates and Angels minor league systems. Cottier finally made it to the majors (again) as a coach for the Mets from 1979 to 1981. He moved on to coach the Mariners, and then took over for Del Crandall after he was fired with 27 games left in the 1984 season. He led the team to 15-12 record as an interim manager, which was good enough to be hired full-time in 1985, the season shown on this card. In his only full season as a manager, he led a Mariners team with a good lineup but terrible pitching staff to a 6th place finish and a 74-88 record. In one memorable moment that season, Cottier became enraged at a check swing strike call, pushed #70 Dave Winfield off of first base, and hurled the bag into the outfield. He later threw an equipment bag and a bunch of bats onto the field.

Cottier was fired the following season after the Mariners got off to a slow 9-19 start. He later went on to coach for several seasons for the Cubs (which I kind of remember), and for the Orioles (1995) and Phillies (1997-2000).

Rear guard: On the hitting side, it is a shame they picked Darnell Coles rather than Danny Tartabull to represent a late season call-up . The omission on the pitching side is pitcher Salome Barojas, who pitched more innings than Mike Morgan, #61 Karl Best, and Brian Snyder.