Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Doug Jones, 1996 Donruss Top of the Order

Wow. There are so many mistakes contained within this one card, I almost don't know where to begin. First of all, the card itself. What the heck is this? In the mid-Nineties, collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering were gaining a foothold and wooing collectors (and their dollars) away from baseball cards, which had entered a phase of bloated excess. Naturally, Donruss' response was to release yet another product onto the market in the form of a collectible baseball card game. They had also created a football game, Red Zone. I owned starter kits for both games, but quickly lost any interest in figuring out how to play either of them. They featured big laminated wheels with any number of confusing outcomes.

I believe that you chose your "team" based on the attributes listed at the bottom of the card. The actual plays would be chosen from the rest of the deck, however. If you were batting, you'd select a swing (green box at top right)from the cards in your hand; if you were pitching, it would be a pitch (red box at top left). You'd match the pitch and the swing to a result on the wheel, and I assume the red, yellow, and green bars on the left side of the card played some part as well and I have no idea what that may have been. If you're wondering how successful this product was, well...let's just say that there are no 1997 Top of the Order cards.

Almost as disastrous as this card game was the Orioles' brilliant decision to update the uniform in 1995. The new script on the jerseys was a minor change, and the swap of home and road colors was a positive development (the black lettering stood out more on the home whites than it had on the road grays, while the orange lettering was a good look with either uniform). The new alternate caps with orange bills added more color and were a nice nod to team history. So what was so bad, then?

The gray cap. Oh, that gray cap.

It was ugly, it was unnecessary, and though it was intended as a road cap, the team apparently played fast and loose with those rules. Veteran catcher Matt Nokes, who did nothing to help his own cause by batting .122 in limited action, fired back at the team after his release in mid-June. He said he felt as though he were "out on parole", and criticized the leadership of rookie manager Phil Regan by saying that the team didn't know which color cap they were going to wear from day to day, much less who would be playing. The O's received scorn from outside of the organization as well. I can recall one ESPN anchor joking that it appeared as if everyone on the team had shaved their heads. Thankfully, the Orioles abandoned the gray monstrosities altogether by 1997.

Walrus-mustached veteran reliever Doug Jones seemed to be a fitting choice for an entry about foul-ups in Baltimore in 1995. Coming off of a good season in Philadelphia (27 saves, 2.17 ERA), the 38-year-old Jones signed with the Orioles and became their closer, replacing the departed Lee Smith...with poor results. He saved 22 games, but allowed 1.52 baserunners per inning. His earned run average was a lofty 5.01 - when he blew up, he did so in spectacular fashion. The low point of his season was an August 1 game against Toronto. After blowing an early 4-run advantage, the O's had battled back gamely and handed Doug a 10-6 lead in the ninth inning. He faced six batters, allowing five hits and a walk and retiring NO ONE. After Domingo Cedeno's three-run home run put the Blue Jays ahead 12-10, Jones was pulled from the game and serenaded by a chorus of boos from the Camden Yards faithful. Acting with true class and grace, the pitcher flipped the bird to the crowd and disappeared into the dugout.

At least he wasn't wearing the gray cap that day.

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