Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rick Helling, 2003 Topps #597

"Innings eater". Are there two dirtier words in all of baseball? Hey, it's great that you can throw a guy like Rick Helling or Steve Trachsel out there every fifth day for seven innings to give up four or five runs. But isn't it a little sad that this guy's defined role is "Hey, try not to suck too much, I want to give the bullpen some rest tonight"? Rick Helling sure thinks so. Look at the weary expression of resignation on his face. For good measure, Topps has included that same face from a slightly different angle in the inset photo. Rick hadn't even had a chance to toss up a career-worst 5.71 ERA in 24 starts for the O's yet, and he already had an impending sense of dread.

Buck up, Rick! It gets better! When the Orioles finally release you in August, you'll latch on to the Marlins' bullpen, allow one run in sixteen and one-third innings, and win a World Series for your troubles! (Of course, you'll pitch like crap in the postseason, but all's well that ends well, right?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rich Dauer, 1985 Fleer #173

It's nice to see Rich Dauer smiling. On most of my other cards of the longtime O's second baseman, he either looks forlorn or he's grimacing with exertion. But here we see Rich taking time out from a Spring Training or early season warmup to flash the photographer his warmest smile. In another year, he'll play in his last major league game. But for now, life is good. He's still playing every day, sandwiched between Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. in the Oriole infield. As you can see from the patch on his left sleeve, he's suiting up for the defending World Champions. The windbreaker under his jersey indicates that Rich Dauer is a fashion plate.

You can't keep #25 down. Rich has logged several years as a minor league manager and major league coach with the Indians, Brewers, and Royals. He's currently the minor-league infield coordinator for the Colorado Rockies. If you ask him very nicely, maybe he'll put on the windbreaker for old time's sake.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ben McDonald, 1992 Upper Deck #163

Here we see Ben McDonald wearing the vintage threads of the 1966 Orioles, the city's first modern baseball champion. The 1991 team would have been commemorating the 25th anniversary of the club's rousing four-game World Series sweep of the Koufax and Drysdale Dodgers.

It's good to see Ben multitasking, signing autographs while consenting to an interview with an unseen reporter. It even seems like he's skillfully ignoring the overly needy shouts of the kid behind him in the too-large cap. The best thing about this photo is seeing both the pitcher (and the Orioles as a whole) getting the concept of a throwback uniform right. More recently, it seems like every player that takes the field wearing a design from bygone days is draped in yards of baggy fabric, which may be acceptable as a tribute to the early 1900's, but couldn't be more wrong when flashing back to the polyester knit era. Unfortunately, we can't see Ben's lower body, but based on other cards in the set, I have reason to believe he may have even gotten the leg wear correct.

This year marks another 25th anniversary. It has been a full quarter-century since the Orioles last won the World Series, an event that I was much too young to experience. The team has already announced plans for Turn Back the Clock nights, fan giveaways, and appearances by former players. The 1983 Orioles were a great team full of talented players, and there's nothing wrong with celebrating your past.

I just wish we had something to celebrate in the present, or at least the near future.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Boog Powell, 1991 Kellogg's #13

Here's a card that's fit for Thorzul's Mmmmmmmm...cards series. It was one of the many treasures that I rescued from my grandmother's ubiquitous boxes of Corn Flakes during my childhood. If the card looks a little funky, that's because it was made by Sportflics, the progenitors of the Moving Card. With a flick of the wrist, it switches from a head shot of the Booger to an action shot of #26 at the bat. It's campy and wonderful.

During the Orioles' first home stand of 2007, my aunt had box seats to an Orioles-Royals game, so close to home plate that you could smell the pine tar. She got sick and had to miss the game, so my father and I agreed to accompany my teenage cousin. I took a train from D.C. to Baltimore right after work and met the two of them at the ballpark. Since the train didn't pull in until 7:00, they had already made their way into the stadium and my Dad met me at the gate to hand over my ticket. As we made our way down to our seats, my Dad told me that he had just run into Boog Powell en route to the gate. This isn't a rare occurrence at Oriole Park, since Boog makes frequent appearances at his eponymous (and renowned) barbecue pit. But Dad had lucked out and happened upon him in a spare moment, without a crowd around. My father was positively beaming as he told me about the encounter. He simply approached Boog and politely asked if he could shake his hand, and Powell obliged.

It's funny; I've just never thought much about my father having idols. But in that moment I felt his enthusiasm and satisfaction. He's spent his entire life in Baltimore, and was fortunate enough to grow up rooting for the greats. Boog. Frank. Brooks. Palmer. Earl. He probably experienced his fair share of Powell's 303 home runs in an O's uniform, listening to Chuck Thompson on WBAL or even catching the odd Game of the Week or World Series contest on TV. If he was really lucky, he might have even seen a few of those moon shots in person over on 33rd Street. To a kid like my Dad, short and sometimes lost in the shuffle of his four older brothers (and one younger-yikes!), and more gifted artistically than athletically, Boog must have been larger than life. Even now, the 6'4" ex-first baseman must tower over my 5'8" father. All I know about him as a person is that he made my Dad's day with a simple word and a handshake. Thirty years after retirement, he's still portraying the hero.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Erik Bedard, 2005 Topps #593

This may be my last chance to talk about Erik Bedard while he's still an Oriole. Sure, the trade rumors have been swirling all winter with nothing doing yet. But given Andy MacPhail's stated January 31 deadline, and the discrepancy between his side of the story and Bedard's...I just have a hunch that this is getting done.

To baseball fans around the country, Bedard is known as a rising star. He set the Orioles' single-season record in strikeouts with 221 last year, in just 182 innings. He received Cy Young consideration despite the fact that he missed all of September with an oblique injury and played for a crummy team. Plus, you know, he's left-handed, which sets general managers' hearts a-flutter.

However, many Baltimore fans think of Erik as a surly wiseass. He's known for his frosty relationship with reporters. On the days that he doesn't bolt from the clubhouse before the media even arrives, he'll often respond to queries with curt, one-word responses. Sometimes he'll flat-out tell a reporter that his question is stupid. I'm of two minds about this. There's a part of me that wonders who cares about how "nice" a guy is as long as he gets results on the field. On the other hand, I do think Bedard goes a little far sometimes. He's got to realize that as a top-shelf major league pitcher, he's a public figure and people are going to *gasp* pay attention to what he does and says.

Some fans whispered that Bedard was soft last year, that a muscle strain in his ribcage was a poor excuse for shutting himself down while his team struggled to find healthy arms. That's a dangerous road to walk, because most athletes work through pain that you or I couldn't imagine. Only Bedard can really know how much pain he's in, when it comes right down to it.

I was annoyed when I first read Bedard's comments in the Baltimore Sun on Friday. It's hard to hear a pitcher who's had half of the teams in baseball drooling over him, a guy who's in line for a major pay day, complain of being "unwanted". But more and more, I'm taking what I know about him and coming to the conclusion that he's playing a game with the media for old time's sake. I just don't see how he could call the Miguel Tejada trade a surprise with a straight face. He also claims that the team hasn't showed interest in signing him to an extension, when his agent admits that the team floated the idea of a contract extension.

I'm sure there's some part of Erik Bedard that has enjoyed his time in Baltimore and will miss his teammates and coaches. But he's going to a better place, and I think he's protesting a bit too much to actually be serious in his remarks. We'll have to wait and see who has the last laugh.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Roberto Alomar, 1998 Collector's Choice #310

I became a baseball fan in 1993, and the Toronto Blue Jays were my sworn enemies. It was a simpler time. They were the defending World Champions, and were well on their way to a second straight World Series win. To add insult to injury, Jays manager Cito Gaston didn't let Mike Mussina pitch in the All Star Game in front of the home crowd at Camden Yards. What a bastard, huh? So yeah, with no first-hand experience of the dastardly doings of those damned Yankees, I blamed Canada. So to speak. I even remember crying - crying! - when Toronto bested the Phillies in Game One of the 1993 World Series.

The mini-dynasty of the Blue Jays rapidly came to an end. At the time of the 1994 players strike, they were way out of it. With our northern neighbors no longer a threat, I paid them little mind. Then something strange happened.

They all started coming to Baltimore.

In the winter of 1995-1996, the Orioles overhauled management, bringing in former second baseman Davey Johnson to manage the team. They also hired Pat Gillick as general manager, putting the architect of those great Blue Jays teams in charge of personnel decisions. His first big splash was the free agent signing of second baseman Roberto Alomar, one of the best all-around players in the league. He paid immediate dividends, taking a position that had long been a weakness (particularly offensively) for the Birds and made it a strength. In his first year in Charm City, he established career highs in every major offensive category and was a major part of the first O's team to make the playoffs since 1983. In his short stay in Baltimore, he went to three straight All-Star Games and won two Gold Gloves. No matter what you thought of him as a person (and most people didn't think much), he was a hell of a player.

Of course, most of the other ex-Jays didn't pan out nearly so well for the Orioles. Looking at the rosters of the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays, ten players ended up wearing orange and black later on in their careers: Alomar (1996-1998), Joe Carter (1998), Greg Myers (2000-2001), Jimmy Key (1997-1998), Juan Guzman (1998-1999), David Wells (1996), Pat Hentgen (2001-2003), Mike Timlin (1999-2000), Mark Eichhorn (1994), and Doug Linton (1999). Other than Alomar, the only ones that met expectations were Key, who had one great year before injuries hastened the end of his career, and Eichhorn. Wells and Timlin did have great careers after leaving Baltimore, which was oh-so-considerate of them. The lesson is simple, though: if these guys were all still great, the Jays would have dominated the rest of the Nineties.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Ellie Hendricks, 1975 Topps #609

I'm cutting Movie Week a day short. The only other Oriole I could find was Butch Davis in Bull Durham. He's not exactly "vintage", and I haven't seen the movie (one of my secret shames), so here we are.

I'm not sure when "Ellie" Hendricks became "Elrod". From the beginning of my fanhood, I knew him only as Elrod Hendricks, the perpetual bullpen coach of my hometown team. Heck, the Orioles were his hometown team too, in a manner of speaking. He spent thirty-eight years in the major leagues as a coach and player, and only one of those years was not spent (at least partially) in an O's uniform. For twenty-eight years, he served as the team's bullpen coach.

Twenty-eight years. Can you imagine? I've been at the same job for nearly three years, and the thought of it makes me anxious. I feel like I'm stagnating here, benumbing myself to the near two-hour commute each way. There's no potential for upward mobility, and yet I remain.

But for nearly three decades, Elrod showed up to work every day with a smile and a laugh. There are generations of children in Baltimore with stories about the time he signed a ball for them in the bullpen, or showed up at their community center dressed as Santa Claus. For a man who was born in the Virgin Islands and spent his first ten years in baseball bouncing from Nebraska to Winnipeg to Mexico to Texas to Seattle...Baltimore became something permanent and meaningful. It became his home, and so did that bullpen, first in Memorial Stadium and then Camden Yards. I suppose he didn't really think of what he did as work, when it came right down to it.

When Elrod died suddenly of a heart attack two winters ago, there was an outpouring of grief and affection from O's fans everywhere. Many insisted that the team retire his uniform number. The team didn't go that far, but they did memorialize him with a "44" sleeve patch for the 2006 season. You might wonder why anyone would ever want to retire the number of a bullpen coach. If you'd ever been around him, you'd understand. Number 44 will always be synonymous with Elrod Hendricks, and his name will always be synonymous with the Orioles.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Reggie Jackson, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles

That's right, I bet you'd forgotten that Reggie was an Oriole for one solitary year (1976: 27 HR, 91 RBI, 28 SB). He made about as many friends in Charm City as he did anywhere else, which is to say not many at all. Holding out for the first month of the season won't put you in people's good graces.

Yet for all the stories of Reggie's famous prickly personality, he has shown an occasional ability to laugh at himself. First came his legendary performance in 1988's The Naked Gun, which is almost certainly the best movie I've discussed this week. Jackson (a California Angel at the time of filming) was essentially playing himself, with one catch: he'd been hypnotized and ordered to kill Queen Elizabeth II. I can't even think about one of the greatest home-run hitters of all time walking like a zombie and chanting, "I must...kill...the Queen..." without laughing.

I also enjoyed Reggie's cameo in BASEketball, the much-maligned sports comedy by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Trey's character Joe "Coop" Cooper was lucky enough as a child to grab the third home run ball that Reggie hit in Game Six of the 1977 World Series, and it's his most cherished piece of memorabilia. After Baseketball explodes in popularity, none other than Mr. October himself shows up in the locker room to meet and greet Coop. He starts reminiscing about his great feats in Game Six, and mentions casually that he retrieved the first two home run balls, but that the third was grabbed by "some little shit", causing Coop to visibly flinch. On his way out of the locker room, Reggie calls back to Coop, who blurts out, "I don't have your f@#%ing ball, okay?!". A confused Jackson simply wishes him good luck in the game and walks out.

Reggie has appeared in a handful of other movies (Richie Rich, Summer of Sam, The Benchwarmers), but I haven't seen them and have no inclination to do so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mickey Tettleton, 1991 Topps #385

Today we have Baltimore's own version of the Mick: he of the towering home runs, the incredible walk totals, and the legendary love of Froot Loops. He was also, like Rafael Palmeiro, a part of the impressive guest cast of the film Little Big League. Mickey is one of the more villainous major leaguers in the movie; in Billy Heywood's first game as manager of the Twins, they drop a home game to the Tigers. Tettleton is playing catcher, and as he snags a pop foul in front of the home dugout for the last out, he looks over at Billy and sneers, saying something to the effect of, "Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid".

Though he was kind of a jerk on screen, I think this card best represents Mickey as most fans remember him. The powerful Oklahoman with a cheek stuffed full of chaw, grinning boyishly. By the time this 1991 Topps set rolled out, he was gone from Baltimore. The day after the O's infamously traded for Glenn Davis, they sent a catcher one year removed from a 26 home run performance (who had just walked 106 times in an otherwise down year offensively) to Detroit for Jeff M. Robinson and his 5.96 ERA. All Mickey did was hit 30-plus home runs in four of the next five years. The winter of 1990-1991 didn't exactly represent Roland Hemond's finest hour as a GM.

I want to take a moment to talk about some of the movies I've discussed this week. None of them could be considered classics in the conventional sense. There is no Field of Dreams, no Eight Men Out, no A League of Their Own in this crop. They're all goofy comedies, some intended for children. But I saw them all as an impressionable, baseball-mad adolescent, and they hold a sentimental value for me, much like the cards I've discussing each day. So whether they're good or just so-bad-that-they're-good, I just can't help but put the remote down when I find one of them playing on TV.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kevin Hickey, 1990 Fleer #178

Well, it only took me three weeks to post my first Kevin. There aren't that many to choose from; off the top of my head, there's Hickey, McGehee, Brown, and Millar. Of the four, Hickey's resume reads the most like a movie script.

Kevin Hickey was a twenty-one year old softball pitcher when he was encouraged by friends to attend an open tryout at Comiskey Park in his hometown of Chicago. The White Sox liked what they saw, and signed him to a contract in August 1977. Four years later, he was called up to the big leagues and pitched in 124 games over the next three seasons, notching 14 saves. He bounced around the minor leagues for six years before making the Orioles' Opening Day roster in 1989 and having the best year of his career (2.92 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) at age 33 for a team full of castoffs and unproven rookies that spent most of the season in first place, just one year after losing 107 games and spending the entire season in dead last.

By 1993, Kevin was out of baseball...or was he? With a brand-new stadium at Camden Yards, Baltimore was chosen as the site to film a sequel to the 1989 baseball comedy Major League. Sure, the stadium was given a cosmetic makeover to look more like Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, but there was at least one former Oriole involved in the proceedings. Kevin played Indians pitcher Schoup (no first name given), allowing him to suit up in a major league stadium one more time.

Not bad for a softball pitcher from the Windy City.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jeff Tackett, 1995 Stadium Club #168

Jeff Tackett, mid-1990s backup catcher du jour, was also the go-to guy for politically themed movies during that era. It may be a surprise to newer baseball fans, but Baltimore was once the place to be for the President of the United States on Opening Day. After the Senators left for Texas following the 1971 season, the Orioles were the closest team to the White House for over three decades. With that in mind, the movies Bob Roberts (1992) and Dave (1993) each depicted the Commander in Chief character throwing out the first pitch at Camden Yards to an O's catcher. As you may have guessed, none other than Jeff Tackett was up to the task on both occasions.

To be honest with you, I haven't seen either movie. I'm much more eager to talk about this glorious card, which I have titled, "Mullet of Fury". I bought pack after pack of 1995 Stadium Club, mostly for the beautiful photography, vibrant colors, and classy design (at least on the front). On this card, we see one of the marginalized role players of the team taking a quiet moment to strap on the tools of ignorance. He is stoic and proud, his carefully trimmed mullet glistening in the afternoon sun. Truly, Jeff Tackett defines "business in the front, party in the back"...and yet, somehow it seems to be "business in the front, slightly less business in the back".

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rafael Palmeiro, 2005 Upper Deck ESPN #11

Ugh. I've been putting off writing about Rafael Palmeiro and all of that "stuff", as Jason Giambi might say. I'm still not quite in the mood for it, so let's talk about his masterful performance in 1994's Little Big League.

For those unfamiliar with this fine film, it's the story of a twelve-year old boy whose grandfather's death leaves him as the owner of the Minnesota Twins. Following a blowup with the abrasive, Billy Martinesque manager, the boy installs himself as the team's skipper. Hilarity ensues, and the team - and little Billy - learn some valuable lessons.

Rafael Palmeiro is one of several major league players to portray himself in a cameo. The first baseman appears in a Rangers uniform, as he was still with the team at the time of filming. In his big scene, young Billy is feeling the strain of a Twins losing streak as well as some family tensions. When Palmeiro makes a putout on a bang-bang play at first, the pint-sized manager snaps and calls the umpire...well, we never do find out. Gotta keep that PG rating! But Raffy's reaction steals the scene. He looks on in shock, his eyes bugging out comically.

Sure, he wasn't going to win any Oscars for his performance. But he showed a hell of a lot more personality than say, Randy Johnson. Besides, there still might be room for #25 in Hollywood. It only takes one look at Sly Stallone to tell you all you need to know about film studio steroid policies.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tim Stoddard, 1983 Topps #217

When I started this blog, I had a notion in my mind that I would eventually do "theme weeks". Often I just pick a day's card as the mood strikes me, as long as I haven't used that player and/or year and brand of card recently. I'm all about variety. But in commenting on Tuesday's card, Steve from White Sox Cards pointed out that each player I'd chosen this week had played for one of the Chicago teams. Unbelievably, the players I'd had in mind for Wednesday and Thursday also had ties to the Windy City! From Saturday onward, I've had Dave Crouthers (who was traded to-but never played for-the Cubs), Phil Bradley (White Sox), Corey Patterson (Cubs), Jamie Moyer (Cubs), Mike Devereaux (White Sox), and Mike Morgan (Cubs). So for yesterday's card, I decided to go with the flow and choose another ex Chi-Sox player in Don Buford. Today I'm straddling two theme weeks by going with one more former Cubbie, Tim Stoddard.

I've got a handful of Stoddard cards, and I enjoy them all. There's just something about a 6'7", 235-pound pitcher with a walrus mustache that is inherently entertaining. Believe it or not, Tim's a two-sport athlete...and the second sport is not football. He started for the 1974 NCAA Championship basketball team at North Carolina State University. To date, the only other major league baseball player to even appear in a Final Four has been speedy outfielder Kenny Lofton. So hats off to Tim Stoddard.

Two-sport athletes would probably make an interesting theme week, but that's not what I have in mind. You see, my favorite giant relief pitcher is also a movie star, having appeared in 1993's Rookie of the Year. Regrettably, I can't remember his character's name, and he's credited as simply "Dodgers pitcher". Stoddard, who also acted as a technical advisor on the set, was well-cast as a hulking, intimidating hurler. He sported the same penetrating stare that you see in the card above, but was ultimately goaded into distraction by his twelve-year-old counterpart, protagonist Henry Rowengartner (as played by Thomas Ian Nicholas of American Pie fame)...

Yes, Tim Stoddard has the dubious honor of being the subject of the taunt, "Pitcher's got a big butt, pitcher's got a big butt!"

I can't help but imagine that if any batter had tried that against Stoddard in his prime, he would've gotten a fastball in the ribs for his trouble.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Don Buford, 1971 Topps #29

I've only really focused on buying vintage cards since I started collecting again last summer. Prior to that, I owned one 1966 Brooks Robinson card and a handful of 1979 Topps. I was fortunate enough to have an uncle who collected cards feverishly for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s before losing interest altogether. Last summer, he realized that he wasn't going to do anything with his collection and generously gave everything to me. Scattered amongst the rows of 1986-1992 Topps and 1989-1992 Upper Deck were a few older items, including a single 1971 Topps card: Nelson Briles, of the Cardinals (a one-time Oriole, too). That was the first of what is now a couple dozen 1971 Topps in my collection.

I had to see these cards in person to appreciate their retro beauty. The thick black borders were revolutionary for their time, and something about that backdrop with the squared-off mod lettering reminded me of my father's old black alarm clock. He's a thrifty and loyal type of man, who doesn't throw anything out if it has an ounce of usefulness left. He received that clock from my grandfather as a high school graduation gift. It's rectangular and analog, with big white numbers on a black background that flip down as the minutes tick past. The "29" and "30" minute plates are sort of mixed up; apparently this stems from my early childhood, when somebody who may or may not have been me knocked over the clock accidentally.

As a child, the clock resided in my room for a couple of years. I was a bright kid by all accounts, but I also worried, all the time and about everything. Often I had trouble falling asleep at night, and the merciless clicking of those numbers just exacerbated things. I was all too aware of each and every minute that was passing without the peaceful repose of sleep. I can't be sure, but I think my Dad still has that clock.

Don Buford is a throwback, much like the card that bears his likeness, indeed much like the alarm clock. He's battle-tested and rough around the edges. When I interned with the minor-league Aberdeen IronBirds in 2004, Buf' was the manager and was known for having a prickly personality. But whatever else you can say about him, Don Buford got the job done without a lot of fanfare or recognition. He was the leadoff hitter of the Orioles during one of the greatest three-year runs for any team in baseball history, 1969-1971 (318-164, three straight AL pennants). With on-base percentages near or above .400, he set the table for the greats: Brooks, Frank, Boog. Hell, he even holds a major league record, grounding into just 34 double plays in 4,553 career at-bats, or one every 138 times to the plate. (By comparison, Jim Rice had 36 GIDP in 1984 alone!)

Look at Don Buford. He doesn't care what you think. He's gonna keep on tickin'.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mike Morgan, 1989 Donruss #164

Mike Morgan is the journeyman's journeyman. He set the major league record by suiting up for a cool dozen different teams in his 22-year career. His longest tenure was not quite three-and-a-half years, with the Cubs. Mike's resume looks like this:

Athletics (1978-1979, made his debut at age eighteen)

Yankees (1982)

Blue Jays (1983)

Mariners (1985-1987)

Orioles (1988)

Dodgers (1989-1991)

Cubs (1992-June 1995)

Cardinals (June 1995-August 1996)

Reds (September 1996-1997)

Twins (April-August 1998)

Cubs again (August-October 1998)

Rangers (1999)

Diamondbacks (2000-2002)

That's right; his last team didn't come into existence until 20 years after his career began. Mike was traded six times in his career in deals involving a total of eleven other players, including Fred McGriff, who would go on to hit 493 home runs in his career. He was also once traded along with Todd Zeile, another former Oriole who played on eleven teams himself.

These trivia bits are entertaining enough, but I had another reason for choosing Mike Morgan as today's card. You see, one of the most rewarding aspects of blogging and reading other card blogs has been trading. I've made trades with the guys behind White Sox Cards, Thorzul Will Rule, and Cardboard Junkie, and also received neat giveaways from the masterminds of Indians Baseball Cards. Always. and The Fleer Sticker Project. So as my first full year of card collecting since the mid-90's begins, I'm looking to make more trades.

You may have noticed the sidebar link to my other blog, The Great 1965 Topps Project. The short story is that I'm trying to complete as much of the 1965 Topps baseball set as I can through trades. I've posted lists of all of my duplicate cards that are available to trade. I've made a little bit of progress, but at the same time I want to use that site as a hub for trades of a larger variety. So if you don't have any 1965 Topps for trade, you can check out the top of the left sidebar to see what else I need and make me an offer! Right now I've got a few needs lists up, since I'm determined to finally complete my Topps base sets from 1986-1989 and 1993. I'll update it as time permits with other sets I need to complete. I also plan to put up lists for Orioles team sets, to make sure that this blog doesn't ever run out of subjects. (Don't panic, though: at present, I've got enough O's cards to last me a couple of years at least!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mike Devereaux, 1995 Topps #23

I just finished reading an excellent book - The Pitch that Killed, by Mike Sowell. It's about the fatal beaning of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, but it goes deeper, of course. There's a good amount of backstory given for both men, as well as a faithful narrative of the thrilling 1920 American League pennant race which was overshadowed by the tragic events of that one game. I'm admittedly a soft touch, but by the time the story progressed to Chapman's death and the aftermath of it, I found myself getting choked up.

Sadly, the accident - and given the facts, which are laid out without any tangible agenda on the part of Sowell, I do believe it was an accident - was a plot straight out of a movie. Two teams are embroiled in an unbelievably tight pennant race when one team's star pitcher (who is hated nearly league-wide for his antisocial behavior and his habit of brushing batters off of the plate) hits the other team's genial, popular star shortstop in the head with a pitch and fractures his skull. The shortstop dies at the hospital hours later, following surgery. To further the tragedy, Chapman and his wife were expecting their first child, and the player was planning to retire at the end of the season to more fully join his father-in-law's business. Even the ending is straight out of Hollywood; a raw young shortstop named Joe Sewell joins the Indians in September, dedicates his play to the memory of Chapman, and helps lead the team to the American League title - and ultimately to a World Series win over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

As I read the book, my mind drifted to the scariest thing I had ever seen as an Orioles fan. It was an early season day game in 1994, and the O's were home against Cleveland. The invaluable Baseball Reference tells me it was May 8, 1994 to be exact. We were winning 8-3 in the sixth inning when Mike Devereaux came to bat, and he was having a great game. He'd hit a solo homer and a triple, driving in four runs. He dug in to face rookie reliever Chad Ogea with the bases empty and two outs. Ogea's pitch hit Devo flush on the left cheek. All I can remember is the vivid image of the center fielder dropping to the dirt on all fours, blood suddenly pouring out of his mouth in a thin but steady stream.

I could have sworn he missed some games after that, but remarkably, my research shows that he simply spent a few hours in the hospital and was able to play a full game the following day against the Blue Jays once the swelling subsided. Devereaux singled and scored a run in a 4-1 win over Toronto. In hindsight, he was incredibly fortunate, and evidently fearless. The card I've chosen today shows that fearlessness manifesting itself in another way, as he goes head-over-heels to snag a sinking liner to center field in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The grass stain on his knee is a nice touch.

Postscript: Oddly enough, Ogea's errant toss was Devo's only HBP in 1994.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jamie Moyer, 1996 Fleer #16

It seems like a lifetime ago that Jamie Moyer was an Oriole. Although this card is from 1996, he pitched his last game in orange and black in 1995, signing with the Red Sox as a free agent in January of the following year. Jamie resurrected his career in Baltimore in 1993, winning twelve games with a then-career low ERA of 3.43 after spending more than a year in AAA. He hadn't won a game in the bigs since 1990, as injuries had derailed him and taken the zip off of his fastball. It's amazing that Moyer was able to reinvent himself and become one of the best pitchers in the game, getting by on control and brains. He had mixed results in his last two years with the O's, but has since posted double-digit wins in 11 of 12 seasons and looks like he will be back for more in 2008 at the tender age of 45.

Jamie Moyer happened to have his comeback season during the same year that I became a baseball fan. As a still-impressionable eleven-year-old, I soaked up everything I could get about that 1993 Orioles team. I consulted the team roster printed in the TV Guide of all places - just names and uniform numbers. With this roster, I played ball in my back yard, tossing a tennis ball in the air and taking mighty swings with a big plastic bat. As you might imagine, there weren't any other kids in the neighborhood who were close to my own age. As 1994 rolled around and my fanhood was reaching a fever pitch, the names and numbers of that 1993 team persisted in the newest baseball cards and preview magazines and almanacs, in the Ken Griffey, Jr. Super Nintendo game that was my most treasured birthday gift, and in the Strat-o-Matic game that I bought for myself but never really played that often. Of course, my budding fanaticism was cruelly undercut by a players' strike that wiped out the final two months of that 1994 season, cancelled the World Series, and delayed and shortened the 1995 season by a month. But that just made the 1993 team all the more special to me.

I could still rattle off stats from 1993, both good and bad. I remember Cal Junior's 24 home runs and 90 RBI, but I also remember Leo Gomez's .197 batting average. There was Gregg Olson's 1.60 ERA, and Rick Sutcliffe's astronomical 5.75.

There are three players still active from that team, fifteen years later. One is Arthur Rhodes, who missed all of 2007 with Tommy John surgery and has not caught on with a team for 2008. Another is Mike Mussina, who pitched just his second full season in 1993. He is now 39, and with 250 wins to his credit he will be fighting to maintain his spot in the Yankees' rotation this season. Then there's Jamie Moyer, who merely won 14 games for the National League East Champion Phillies in 2007, including the clincher on the last day of the regular season.

Not bad for an old guy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Corey Patterson, 2007 Topps Heritage #79

Corey Patterson is staring into an uncertain future. He can only make out bright lights and fuzzy shapes, so he squints to protect his eyes. Though this picture was most likely taken in 2006, it could very well have been taken today. Corey has been a free agent since season's end, and despite his relatively young age (28) and two okayish seasons in Baltimore following his rock-bottom 2005 performance with the Cubs, he is still on the market with a few weeks to go until Spring Training.

I don't feel too badly for Corey. His agent is the dreaded Scott Boras, so he'll get paid sooner or later. After all, his defense in center field is graceful and exciting at once, and he hits enough to keep his bat in the lineup. Although he's allergic to walks, he's cut his strikeout rates nearly in half from 2005-2007. Plus, he steals lots of bases, which is enticing to the non-Moneyball set.

Still, it has to be somewhat humbling to sit idly by and watch the other, more high-profile players at your position sign big contracts. First Torii Hunter, then Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones. Heck, the White Sox and Braves appear to be filling their vacancies in center field through trades (Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay). You or I would probably feel anxious if we went for three or four months without knowing where we'd be working in the upcoming year.

With the possibility of trading Brian Roberts or Erik Bedard for a package of younger players including a center fielder diminishing by the day, it looks more and more likely that Corey Patterson will call Camden Yards home for at least one more year. I think I'd be up for that. No matter what happens, I hope he finds what he's looking for.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Phil Bradley, 1990 Score #24

10 Fun facts about Phil Bradley:

1. He quarterbacked the University of Missouri football team from 1978-1981, leading the Tigers to three bowl games and being named Big Eight Conference Player of the Year three times. He also set a then-conference record with 6,459 yards of total offense.

2. Phil grew up as an Orioles fan; his father coached future O's outfielder Al Bumbry at Virginia Tech, and Bumbry became a family friend and a mentor to the younger Bradley.

3. On August 8, 1988, Bradley (then with the Phillies) played in the first ever night game at Wrigley Field. He hit the first ever nighttime home run at the Cubs' stadium, but the game was rained out and the homer was taken out of the record books.

4. Phil is currently a Special Assistant to the General Manager for the MLB Players Association.

5. He played high school ball at Macomb (IL) High. The school later dedicated their baseball field in his name.

6. After wearing #29 early in his career with Seattle and the Phillies, Bradley wore #16 in 1989 with the Orioles. The following year, he wore #1, a number most identified with...Al Bumbry.

7. Phil was the final strikeout victim in Roger Clemens' record-breaking 20-strikeout game in 1986.

8. Phil's son, Curt, was a chip off the old block as a two-sport athlete at Northern Iowa University. He played wide receiver for the Panthers' football team and second base and outfield for the baseball team. In 2007, he hit .265 with a .419 on-base percentage for the Dodgers' rookie-class team in the Gulf Coast League.

9. On April 13, 1985, Bradley hit an "Ultimate Grand Slam": a game-winning shot in the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by three runs. He hit the home run off of the Twins' Ron Davis.

10. Phil was head coach of the Westminster College Blue Jays from 1994-1996. The team won two conference tournaments during his tenure.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dave Crouthers, 2004 Topps #304

There are all sorts of different ways that I might react when I pull an Oriole out of a pack of baseball cards. Mostly, I get excited, because I feel like I never get a lot of cards of my hometown team. At the very least, if I pull someone notorious to O's fans, like David Segui or Sidney Ponson, I might laugh ironically. When I pulled this card in the summer of 2004, however, one thought crossed my mind:

"Who the hell is Dave Crouthers?"

Frankly, I'm still wondering. This is the problem with the hobby's love affair with rookie cards. Everyone is always trying to get a jump on the Next Big Thing, and eventually they just started tossing random low-level minor leaguers into base sets. I think it sucks that the fringe major leaguers - the underappreciated middle relievers and fifth outfielders of the world - get bumped out anymore. Now MLB has attempted to put a stop to that by declaring that a player cannot have a Rookie Card before they actually play in the bigs. But this is an inelegant solution: now rookie cards are defaced with a big garish ROOKIE CARD diamond and bat logo thing, and the card companies are still taking advantages of loopholes like prospect insert sets and draft pick sets and all sorts of other nonsense.

But whither Dave Crouthers?

Baseball Reference stops after the 2004 season, which he spent at AA Bowie, performing in a mediocre fashion (9-9, 5.01 ERA). In the offseason, he was traded to the Cubs with Jerry Hairston and Mike Fontenot for some guy named Sosa. Did Dave really call it quits? Did he get hurt?

I think we should put poor Dave Crouthers on a milk carton.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Arnie Portocarrero, 1960 Topps #254

What's in a name? Sure, many of the pitching greats in baseball history didn't have names that struck fear in their opponents. Christy. Walter. Cy. Hell, even Nolan Ryan's first name was "Lynn". But those names still had a certain ring to them. If you ever take a trip to Cooperstown, chances are good that you won't find any Arnies in among those bronze plaques.

Nope, Arnie is a name that I associate with slow children. But I have to admit that half the enjoyment that I derive from owning this card comes from the name, writ large in alternating yellow and white block letters: Arnie Portocarrero. It doesn't make you think of pitching mastery, but it rolls off the tongue and is good for a laugh.

But what does it mean? Well, first of all, it's Italian, I'm guessing; Arnie was born Arnold Mario Portocarrero in New York, NY. In Italian, "Porto" designates a person who lives near the harbor. As for "Carrero", the nearest name I could find was "Carrara", which is the famous "city of marble" in Tuscany, or perhaps another town near Padova that bears the same name. So, he's Arnold, from a town near the harbor in Italy. Not terribly exciting.

Then again, "Arnold" is German in origin, and means "Strong as an Eagle". That's more like it.

Besides, who am I to talk? My last name means "Bread maker".

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brad Pennington, 1993 Topps #797

Ah, Bad Brad. He arrived in Baltimore the same time that I became a fan, the summer of 1993. He may have been my first exposure to the phenomenon of a highly-touted rookie failing to meet expectations. I can't even remember much about him, except that he was big (6'5") and he threw hard. As it turns out, you need to do a little more than that to stick in the big leagues. Pennington's first taste of the majors was also his longest and his best. Considering that he allowed 59 base runners in 34 innings with a 6.55 ERA, that doesn't say very much for him. Overall, he appeared in 79 games over parts of five seasons for the Orioles, Reds, Red Sox, Angels, and Devil Rays. In 75 and two-thirds innings, he allowed 67 hits and 89 walks while striking out 83. His career ERA was 7.02. Sure, he could throw hard, but he clearly had no idea where the hell the ball was going.

The card itself is pretty ridiculous. Topps had been tabbing players as "Future Stars" since the early 1980's: big names such as Cal Ripken, Jr. and Bo Jackson had received this honor, as had several lesser players (Steve Searcy ring a bell?). All of a sudden, there were "Coming Attractions" in the 1993 set, with this silly searchlight-and-star-filled-sky backdrop. Coming Attractions proved to have an even shorter shelf life than Brad Pennington, while Future Stars made a hasty return and have been included in Topps base sets almost every year since.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Brady Anderson, 1993 Leaf #177

Here we see Brady Anderson, during his breakout season in the major leagues (21 home runs and 53 steals) dealing with anger, with disappointment, with failure. I'm guessing he has just struck out; from the looks of it the third strike was called and he does not agree with the home plate umpire. Of course, his complaints aren't going to get him very far. In the end, he's still out.

Yesterday, Brady struck out again, five years after calling it a career. In his first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he did not receive a single vote. This, of course, means that he will be dropped from the ballot in future votes.

Brady Anderson is not a Hall of Famer. He was an good player over his fifteen-year career, as his 109 OPS+ suggests (100 is league average). In his prime you could count on him for 15-20 home runs and 20-30 steals and steady outfield defense. He had one monster season in 1996 (hitting in front of Roberto Alomar, it might be noted): 37 doubles, 50 home runs, 110 RBI, 1.033 OPS, 156 OPS+ (if 100 is league average, 150 might be considered Hall of Fame; Frank Robinson topped that mark in thirteen different seasons). Although steroid accusations have hounded him for a decade, they remain only accusations. You'll forgive me for trying to presume that a major league player in the 1990's is innocent; after all, sometimes a fluke is just a fluke. Remember Davey Johnson's 43 home runs in 1973?

Brady Anderson will never have a plaque in Cooperstown. But in a world where some esteemed writer sees fit to dole out one of his ten votes to Todd Stottlemyre's 138 wins and 4.28 ERA, I'd say Brady at least deserves a courtesy vote. After all, that seems to be the way the game is played.

A couple more points before I go: I love that the back of this card features Brady running in mid-stride and superimposed over the Baltimore Inner Harbor for no good reason. I love it even more because the wreath hung on the exterior of the National Aquarium indicates that the picture was taken at Christmastime, which couldn't be any farther removed from baseball season. I also love the cheesy rainbow foil Orioles logo in the top left corner; Leaf put it there just because they could. Nearly a decade removed from the 1990s baseball card zeitgeist, I sometimes look back on these designs with the same embarrassment that my parents feel when they reminisce about their bell bottoms and Beatle boots.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1987 Topps #784

With my eighth post, on the eighth day of the year, I had to go with #8. I believe this is the first Cal Ripken card that I owned, and until recently it was the oldest. The young star shortstop has his trademark stoic, steely gaze, fixed on some point off-camera in Spring Training 1986. He has no way of knowing that he is about to suffer through his first losing season in the major leagues. He is still just two and a half years removed from catching the final out of the World Series, a soft liner arcing off of the bat of Garry Maddox. It was the perfect capper to a great season, an MVP campaign for a second-year player. He jumped up and down in jubilation, rushing the mound to join unlikely series MVP Rick Dempsey and winning pitcher Scott McGregor. He would have to remember this moment, for sure, but he'd be back someday. Wouldn't he?

Cal Ripken, Jr. suited up for the Orioles for eighteen more seasons and 2656 games after 1983. The team wouldn't even experience another pennant race until 1989. By that time, his father had already realized his dream of managing the O's (with his two sons forming the double-play combo), only to have it all taken away just six games into his second season at the helm. Every teammate from that World Champion team would be gone by Opening Day of 1989, as well. (Though Eddie Murray would return near the end of his career in 1996.) There wouldn't be another postseason until 1996; Cal and company would fall two wins short of making it to the World Series. The next year was even better, and ultimately even more disappointing. A first-place finish for the first time since 1983, but another 4-2 ALCS loss.

The following year, the foundation started to crumble. With key players seeming to age overnight, and new manager Ray Miller possibly in over his head, the 1998 Orioles sat in fourth place on Sunday evening, September 20. That's when Cal Ripken, Jr. removed himself from the starting lineup for the first time since May 29, 1982. Over the next two seasons, the team would slip further down the path to the laughingstock they are today and Cal would struggle to play in half of the games on the schedule. To add further difficulty, he would lose his father to lung cancer in 1999. Cal's body was ready to call it a career, and so was he, after a farewell tour in 2001 that coincided with a 98-loss season.

If you or I traveled back to Miami in Spring of 1986 and told Cal Ripken, Jr. how the rest of his career would unfold, that the losing seasons would outnumber the winning ones nearly two-to-one, that he would spend his post-prime years hounded at every turn by media members and autograph seekers who looked to him to "save baseball", that he would outlast every teammate that he had ever known to that point in time, that he would see his father cast aside by the team he loved and would ultimately lose him too soon, do you think he would consider doing anything differently? That is, would he start counting the days to free agency, or think about taking a day off once in a while?

He probably would think about it. For all of the adoration from fans and peers alike, Cal Ripken, Jr. is not a saint. But he is stubborn as well.

I think he would still choose to stay the path.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Chris Hoiles, 1994 Stadium Club #451

Ah, "Tractor Mechanic". That's got to be one of the best nicknames ever given to a player by his teammates. You just have to take one look at Chris Hoiles, and it all makes sense. It doesn't require a convoluted two-part explanation, like "Pronk".

The world may never know what Chris Hoiles was saying to the home plate umpire at this particular moment, in the middle of a road game in 1993. Perhaps he was complaining about the lousy coffee at the hotel. Maybe he was asking him if he thought weather-stripping was a wise investment. Possibly he's asking him if he saw the series finale of "Cheers" the previous week. It could be that he's telling the ump the sad story of how his breakout 1992 season was interrupted when that dirty no-good cheater Tim Leary hit him in the wrist.

"Sure", says the ump. "I never get tired of hearing that one." He rolls his eyes and puts his mask back on.

I drive through York, Pennsylvania a couple times a year on my way to and from my family's summer cottage, and once or twice more to visit a friend who lives in Lancaster. Some day, I'll make a pit stop for a York Revolution game. Maybe I'll get the skipper's autograph on this card, and ask him what he was saying to the umpire.

He'll crinkle his brow, much like he did in this photo. He'll look at me like I'm some kind of weirdo.

"Heck, I don't know", he'll drawl in his aw-shucks, Ohioan dialect.

It's just as well. Whatever the truth might be, it's probably not as interesting as what I'd imagine.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Curt Schilling, 1991 Donruss #556

So we go from a really minimal, visually appealing card to a cluttered, completely fugly card. The good news is that I have enough of a variety in my collection that we won't be seeing any more 1991 Donruss for a long time. About the only good thing I can say about this card is that in the grand Donruss tradition, it lists the player's full name on the back. Curt's middle name, FYI, is Montague. Heh.

Many casual baseball fans probably aren't even aware that Curt Schilling pitched for the Orioles. They acquired him in a 1988 deadline deal; they sent veteran starting pitcher Mike Boddicker to the Red Sox for Schilling and a rookie outfielder named Brady Anderson. It was actually a pretty sharp trade by O's general manager Roland Hemond. Of course, this trade might look even better if Schilling had grown up a little sooner.

The brash young righthander was notoriously immature, and it may have been reflected in his early career trajectory. He didn't stick in the major leagues for a full season until 1992, four years after his first callup. Schilling's final numbers in Baltimore (1988-1990): 1-6, 4.54 ERA, 1.47 WHIP. Hindsight is 20/20, but you can bet that if the Orioles knew that the light bulb would come on for Curt, they would have thought twice about sending him to Houston in the Glenn Davis trade. In the end, it's just one more reason for Birds fans to be annoyed by Mr. Bloody Sock.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Chad Bradford, 2007 Upper Deck #557

So we go from something old to something new, with the relief pitcher that many baseball reporters lovingly refer to as "Brad Chadford". With that kind of cheesy humor, I think I might have missed my calling as a sports writer.

I love the look of these 2007 Upper Deck cards. The full-bleed photos with minimal elements of design are downright classy. This picture in particular is a beauty. I've always had a certain affinity for submarine-style throwers; when I first became a fan in 1993, Todd Frohwirth was coming out of the Orioles' bullpen. Bradford is the first submariner to pitch for Baltimore since Frohwirth, and here we see him in action. The card is oriented sideways to fully capture his unorthodox motion. According to Moneyball, Chad threw from a sidearm position in high school, but the farther he advanced in baseball, the lower his arm angle dropped. He didn't even realize consciously that it was happening, but it allowed him to adapt to a higher level of competition.

There's so much about Chad Bradford's story to love, like the fact that his high school coach (who was also his Baptist minister) encouraged him to cuss while he practiced his pitching, to give him more of a competitive demeanor. Or the fact that his father suffered a paralyzing stroke just before Chad's second birthday, and defied the doctors' prognosis by ultimately surviving and regaining the ability to walk. But the best thing that I read about him was this poem that he wrote for a class assignment when he was eight:

If I were a A grown up
I would be a baseball player
And I would play for the Dodgers.
I hope to play for the Cardinals too.
I hope to play for the Oriole too
And for all the teams I would
Play shotestop.

Chad may not have gotten to play "shotestop", nor has he made it to the Cardinals or Dodgers. But he is an Oriole, and for that I salute him.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Mark Belanger, 1978 Topps #315

I'm introducing a new feature here, Vintage Fridays. I think we can all agree that Fridays should be a little more fun, a little more special. Although I'm starting to get into the swing of collecting pre-1986 cards, I still have gobs more cards from 1986-present than I do 1952-1986. This way I'll be able to focus on the older cards once a week without running through them too quickly.

We kick off Vintage Fridays with "The Blade", which might be the coolest nickname ever bestowed upon a career .228 hitter. Then again, 8 Gold Gloves would probably make you worthy of a decent moniker. In this picture, we see Mark poised on the brink, nearing the end of his days as an everyday ballplayer. He would win his last Gold Glove in 1978, and would bat an abysmal (even for him) .167 the following year. By 1982, with Earl Weaver contemplating a tall, powerful rookie third baseman named Ripken as the shortstop of the future, Belanger would be playing out the string in a Dodgers uniform. It seems an inglorious end for a man who played 1962 games as an Oriole, a total matching the year that he was signed by the Birds as an amateur free agent.

But as this photo was taken, Mark was still on his game and feeling unthreatened by the Kiko Garcias of the world. He was soaking in some rays with his jersey riding unbuttoned at the top, maybe thinking about his next cigarette. Possibly he knew the habit would be his undoing in the end, or maybe he didn't give it a second thought. After all, everyone has their vices, as the National Bohemian Beer sign sitting atop the scoreboard in the background might indicate.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Harold Baines, 1993 Studio #190

This is my favorite card of one of my favorite Orioles of all time. It would just figure that at some point not long after I pulled it out of the pack, my careless 11-year-old self would crease it so badly. In that way, the card itself is a lot like Harold. He is listed as a designated hitter/outfielder, but that's a bit of an overstatement of the truth. He never played a single game in the field for the O's, his knees having betrayed him badly. It has always amazed me that Harold played for roughly ten years in persistent pain with virtually no cartilage in his knees. He couldn't play the outfield, he couldn't run...but boy, could he hit. From 1993, when he first arrived in Baltimore at the age of 34, to 1999, when he was 40, his lowest batting average was .294, in the strike-shortened 1994 season. He was an All-Star at 40, posting a lofty .920 OPS with 25 home runs and 103 RBI in just 430 at-bats!

So yeah, I think this card has a lot in common with Harold Baines. It's taken a beating, but it's still going strong, with the classic orange "Orioles" script against the white jersey providing the backdrop for a rare Harold Baines grin. He was always a class act, a quiet sort who let his bat do the talking. The only times that I ever remember seeing his teeth during a game, he was usually grimacing. But as it turns out, he's got a very nice smile, even if it is a little buck-toothed. Maybe that's why he was so reserved on the field; he was self-conscious. If you ask me, someone with 921 career extra-base hits doesn't have anything to worry about. It's not likely that Cooperstown will come calling for #3, not with the stigma of the Designated Hitter and the skepticism with which most voters will view statistics from the last twenty years. But here's hoping that a lot of those voters at least give him a closer look.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mike Flanagan, 1986 Topps #365

Keeping with the "early memories" theme, this is the first Orioles card that I remember owning. I had a small assortment of 1980s Topps cards in my early childhood, though I didn't actively start collecting until I was ten. Those initial cards were probably given to me by my uncle, who was an avid collector at the time. Or maybe my father got them somewhere. I'll have to ask around.

Obviously the bold, colorful design of 1986 Topps would appeal to a child who was learning his colors and words. I even remember playing "Go Fish" with my mother. Instead of matching playing card numbers, you'd match team names. Simple enough. "Got any Cardinals?" "Go fish." It's reminiscent of a simpler time, when baseball cards were traded and handled lovingly, and *gasp* played with...instead of viewed as an investment or a piece of memorabilia to be locked away in a sterile casing. Still, I must admit that the notions of "flipping" cards, or of sticking them between the spokes of your bicycle for auditory pleasure are a little beyond even my comprehension.

I'm generally a sentimental person, but I'll admit that older isn't always better. Let's take a look at Flanny's picture up there. It's a decent action shot of the lefty in mid-windup, back to the camera. But what really leaps out at me is that thick, tri-color elastic waistband. That thing is just an eyesore, and is not exactly flattering to Mike's figure. So you can imagine how it looked on a teammate with a less athletic build, say Floyd Rayford for example. Say what you will about the follies of baseball in the 1990s, the labor strife and the taint of the Steroid Era...at least they came to their senses and started wearing belts and button-down shirts again, like grown men should.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Fred Lynn, 1988 Topps #707

New year, new blog. Why the heck not? I thought Freddie Lynn was a good place to start. My dad took me to my first baseball game at Memorial Stadium back in 1987, when I was five. I remember very little about the game, as I wouldn't become a baseball fan for several more years. The Orioles were hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. My father bribed me into sitting still by promising a trip to the concession stand in the fifth inning. So I sat transfixed, watching the big scoreboard in the outfield, waiting for the magical concept of the Fifth Inning. After all these years, only one actual play from the game stands out: A Milwaukee batter hit a deep drive to center field, and Fred Lynn made a spectacular play, leaving his feet and crashing into the fence to make the grab.

I didn't make it to the end of the game. As Dad and I walked back through one of the adjacent neighborhoods towards our car, we passed by another man who must have asked if we'd been at the game. "He got tired," my father explained.

I'm not the only one who got tired. Fred Lynn's best days were behind him when he arrived in Baltimore in 1985. He'd burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced youngster with the Red Sox in the mid-'70s, but a dozen years in the big leagues seem to have taken their toll by the time the photo was snapped in 1987. Something about his tousled hair, his creased face, and his five o' clock shadow, and his squinting, somewhat silly grin have always reminded me of Al Bundy, that dysfunctional everyman who made his TV debut in...1987. Go figure. Taking a closer look at the card as I write this entry, I notice for the first time that Fred's jersey is unbuttoned. He's a weary veteran who can't be bothered with the niceties of the baseball card photo shoot any more. He'll grin and bear it, but don't think he's shaving and putting on his full uniform just for you.