Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ramon Hernandez, 2007 Topps Turkey Red #112

This Day in Orioles History: June 30, 2007

Orioles 6, Angels 3 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Powered by a seventh inning three-run home run by catcher Ramon Hernandez, the O's take a Saturday night home game from the American League West-leading Angels. Starter Brian Burres improved to 4-2 by tossing a career-high seven and two-thirds innings, outlasting Halo pitcher Bartolo Colon. Veteran reliever Paul Shuey took over and went the rest of the way, earning his first major league save since 2002. Shuey had been retired due to a hip injury when the Birds gave him an invite to Spring Training a few months prior. Millar's two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead, but Hernandez's big blast two innings later off of former O's reliever Hector Carrasco put the team ahead to stay.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nate Snell, 1987 Topps #86

This Day in Orioles History: June 29, 1985

Orioles 16, Red Sox 4 at Fenway Park

Righthander Nate Snell picked up the third save of his career, and it was an easy one. Snell, who had made his major league debut the previous year at the age of thirty-one, pitched the last three innings in relief of winner Dennis Martinez. The Bird bats doubled their run total in an eight-run sixth inning in which they sent thirteen men to the plate. Lee Lacy and Floyd Rayford each drove in four runs as the O's broke a four-game losing streak.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jim Palmer, 1992 Confex Baseball Enquirer #36

Just in time for my family vacation (we leave tomorrow for a week "Down the Ocean"), I received a fun package of O's cards from David the Tribe Cards collector. The most entertaining one of the bunch is probably this card of Mr. James Alvin Palmer. Of course, you won't find his name anywhere on it. Confex, the company that produced these cards, did not have a license with either Major League Baseball or the Players Association, so they left the name plate blank and provided player-specific logos, like Jim's inexplicably pink pair of undies above. Each card back has a mock interview with the player depicted on the front. For giggles, let's take a peek at Palmer's Q n' A.

Q: You surprised us last year with your comeback attempt. Will you be making another one this season?

A: No. I've taken the uniform off for good. From now on I'll be putting all my efforts into the color commentary work and selling underwear.

Q: So while we'll continue seeing nearly all of you in the magazine ads, we won't see any more of you on the mound?

A: Not evenly
(sic) briefly.

Q: Thanks for your time. Nice shorts.

A: Thanks.

Okay, so it's not nearly wordy enough for "Cakes", it's got some bad puns, and the grammar is a little off. But the caricature is spot-on and pretty darn funny, if you ask me. Thanks for the surprise envelope, David!

Now for a little shop talk. I take a great amount of pride in the fact that I've only missed one day since I started this blog on January 1 (and I made up for it with an extra post the next day). Sure, I've gone a bit past midnight a couple of times, but they're still up before the day ends on the West Coast. ;) Anyway, with the magic of scheduled posting, I've scanned and written up a card for each day that I'll be away. I had to keep it short and quick, so the theme will be This Day In Orioles History. I hope you'll enjoy, and I'll be back with you next Sunday night!

P.S.: While I will be hitting up the beach, I plan to wear a less revealing swimsuit than Jim Palmer might. It's in the best interests of all parties.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Vic Roznovsky, 1969 Topps #368

In the late 1960s, backup catcher Vic Roznovsky was known to teammates and opponents alike as "Ladykiller". What was it that made him so irresistible to the fairer sex? Could it be his scandalously short long-sleeved undershirt that gave them a tantalizing glimpse of his supple wrists? Or was it his fashionably avant-garde choice to wear a single Oriole-orange batting glove? Maybe the cold sore on his lower lip let them know that he was a devil-may-care type who liked his love free and easy. Perhaps it was his long, wide nose - a truly epic proboscis that was evocative of another portion of the male anatomy. One thing is for sure, though: Vic Roznovsky made Wilt Chamberlain look like A.C. Green.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jason Johnson, 2002 Fleer Maximum #117

Twenty-seven year old righty Jason Johnson had a breakthrough year in 2001, improving his won-lost record from 1-10 to 10-12 and lowering his ERA by nearly three runs (7.02 to 4.09). In fact, he was the only pitcher on a wretched 63-98 O's team to reach double-digits in wins.

Of course, he maintains to this day that he would have been even better that season had his head not been Krazy Glued to his left shoulder. Still, the experience taught him one valuable life lesson: Never fall asleep next to Buddy Groom on an airplane.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kris Benson, 2007 Fleer #295

I can't really muster any enthusiasm about Kris Benson. For a year of mediocrity (a career-high 33 home runs allowed and a 4.82 that was bested by Steve Trachsel! the following year), the O's sacrificed John Maine, who last season won 15 games. For a sobering bit of perspective, no Baltimore pitcher has topped 15 wins since Mike Mussina in 1999. The price paid for Kris Benson is compounded by his more literal cost: a shade under $15 million for two years.

The lanky righthander only made it onto the field for the first year of his tenure in Baltimore. A torn rotator cuff has claimed the past year and a half on Kris' baseball career. He's currently under contract with the Phillies, and just made his first minor league rehab start on Saturday. For what it's worth, he got battered, allowing five runs while facing just thirteen batters for Single A Clearwater. As discouraging as the performance had to be, I'm sure he was relieved just to be back on the field. I can imagine that Kris would have to be tired of sitting on the sidelines, watching, performing workouts long on physical conditioning but short on actual baseball activity.

Of course it's also got to be exhausting being married to Anna Benson, who seems to have an opinion about everything. Jim Bouton reflected on baseball marriages in Ball Four, particularly on how the couples actually thrived on separation. It was a lot harder to get sick of a person when you were away from them for the better part of the spring and summer. Bouton's own first marriage died a slow and agonizing death when his playing career was over and he found himself casting about for something to fill the void of constant travel and competition.

I'm pretty exhausted myself, which made it hard to get warmed up to this writing exercise. After spending my weekend occupied physically and mentally with moving into my new apartment, I have fallen behind on my sleep. Coming home from the aforementioned Pearl Jam show at 12:30 Sunday night/Monday morning didn't help matters. I've always been a night owl, and I don't have the common sense to pull myself away from the computer and/or television to ensure that I get more than the bare minimum six hours' sleep before my long commute on weekday mornings. On each Monday and Tuesday night I didn't lay my head on the pillow too much before 1 AM, and at that point had difficulty drifting off. There are unusually chatter-y birds that sound as though they're right outside my window, and I've been struggling to figure out the perfect combination of sheets to ensure the right level of warmth. I'm running on empty and counting the days until the week ends and I can begin a much-needed vacation at the beach.

Two more days...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mike Bordick, 1997 Upper Deck #308

To continue my train of thought from last night, Mike Bordick was another sure-handed player, and had much more staying power than Craig Worthington. He parlayed a dependable, if unspectacular, glove and a mediocre bat into a fourteen-year, 1720-game career. He made it to the major leagues for good in the summer of 1991, the same period of time that Pearl Jam's wildly successful debut album Ten was released.

I've been a fan of Pearl Jam almost as long as I've been rooting for the Orioles - about fifteen years. In my childhood and early adolescence, my musical appreciation and knowledge was limited to The Beatles. The grunge-rock quintet from Seattle was the first band to puncture my cocoon, and I stuck with them long after most others abandoned the group. As their commercial success dwindled in the late '90s, I found myself still identifying with their music. During my senior year of high school, I even got one of their emblems tattooed on my back. I eventually tuned out to their increasingly sporadic new work (2000's Binaural was so discouraging to me that I didn't even bother with 2002's Riot Act), but I continued to give the rest of their library a regular listen and gave their last album (a self-titled effort in 2006) a chance; I was not disappointed.

Through all of my years of Pearl Jam fandom, I have never seen them in concert. I've heard several of their performances, and they struck me as an especially adept live band; they don't get cute and play around with the tempos and lyrics of their songs so as to render them indistinguishable, and their sound translates seamlessly from the studio to the stage. There are a few reasons I can think of for missing out on their act every time they've been in the Mid-Atlantic: poor timing, old-fashioned lack of initiative, and an inability to identify any friends who would be sufficiently interested in accompanying me. As I mentioned earlier, avid Pearl Jam fans aren't exactly legion, and the few that I've personally known were more acquaintances than friends. But when I actually bothered to open a mass mailing from Ticketmaster back in April and found out that tickets for Pearl Jam's June 22 concert at the Verizon Center were going on sale that very morning, I finally seized my opportunity. I wanted to get a decent seat, and the tickets were priced a little steep, so I pushed ahead without bothering to find a companion for the show.

This past Sunday I made my way into the concert venue and took my seat in the middle tier of the arena, situated near the back of the stage but with a decent side view of the band. As the opening act (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) warmed up a half-full and more or less indifferent crowd, I sat somewhat awkwardly at my perch. I'm not much of a concert-goer, and I was unfamiliar with the artists on stage and acutely aware of my lone-wolf status. At 8:45, the palpable buzz in the arena built to a roar as the featured attraction took the stage. I rose to my feet with the rest of the masses as Eddie Vedder stepped to the microphone and the band kicked things off with "Hard to Imagine". For the first few songs, I was restrained by my own self-consciousness. Should I sing along? Move around in time with the music, if I were so inclined? And the age-old dilemma: what the hell do I do with my hands? I tried just standing upright with my hands hanging to my sides; it still wasn't working for me. I clapped at the beginning and end of each song, and (somewhat) in time with the rhythm of the music in between. I even buried them in my pockets now and then, convincing myself that no one would pay me enough mind to judge.

An amazing string of some of my favorite songs early in the set helped to loosen me up and pull me into the moment. The hard rocker "Hail Hail" got me moving (and even singing) with less regard for how goony I might look. I'd waited over half my life to be in that place at that time, and I wasn't going to let the imagined opinions of complete strangers - who were half in the dark anyway - hold me back. Several times I became cognizant of the fact that a giddy sort of grin was plastered on my face, and why not? I made sure to soak up as many little details of the tableau as I could. I noticed the knowing grins that Eddie Vedder and guitarist Stone Gossard shot at each other. Bassist Jeff Ament seemed to be in his own world half of the time, but Stone would cross the stage to draw him out and they would play one-on-one. Matt Cameron didn't even seem to break a sweat behind the drum kit. But lead guitarist Mike McCready seemed to be the most in his element. He has a reputation as one of the greatest technicians of his generation, and he has the showmanship to complement it. He paced the stage ferociously, jumping up and down while his fingers flew across the strings and his feet manipulated the distortion pedals. He played to the entire crowd, pointing to specific sections of the crowd at various times to engage those not directly seated in the front. And of course, he showed off by lifting his guitar behind his head and playing blind on one occasion.

One of the most amusing idiosyncrasies of the show occurred as Pearl Jam played one of their biggest and oldest hits, Even Flow. During McCready's lengthy solo, Eddie Vedder wandered away to give the guitarist the spotlight. I watched as the lead singer stood near the keyboards and lit up a cigarette. He would repeat this act in the middle of a few other instrumental-heavy tunes, effectively saying, 'hey, you've got this covered. I need to take a load off for a bit.' In one instance he wandered around the back of the stage, dancing lazily, as if he were sharing a private laugh with a portion of the crowd.

I'd been pretty pleased with the song selection during the first set, as they touched on a good variety of old and new, the hits and the less-heralded. There were a few songs that I still wanted to hear, including my two favorites ("Black" and "Rearviewmirror"). But I had heard that Pearl Jam played lengthy shows, often doing multiple encores. When the band came back out just a few minutes after making an exit, I was cautiously optimistic. My hopes faded as they played an ecclectic mix of mostly newer and lower-key numbers. If I was relieved when the second-to-last selection of the encore was "Black", then I was downright euphoric moments later when I heard the opening bars of "Rearviewmirror". I actually screamed out like I was celebrating a strikeout by George Sherrill. They were going out on a high note, drawing out the bridge of the song before bringing it to an up-tempo, crashing conclusion. The Verizon Center, packed to the rafters, throbbed with cheers, screams, and applause for several more minutes.

To the delight of the throng, Eddie Vedder returned alone. He seemed overwhelmed by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd and suggested that Michael Jordan never got that kind of reaction when he made his comeback in that very building. (He might have had a point.) He played "No More", an anti-war song that he'd written last year, giving the rest of the guys a few minutes more to rest. When Stone, Jeff, Mike, and Matt joined him once more, Eddie informed the crowd in front that they should sit tight, as the band was going to play a song for the folks in the back. They then came around to the back of the stage and played "Last Kiss" for us. As their extended set approached a total running time of two and a half hours, I watched with bated breath as each song ended. The band would put down their instruments and take a few steps toward the stairs, only to hand off their equipment and pick up different instruments for the next song. It was like an extensive dream that might not ever end.

"Alive" brought down the house, and I was sure that would be the swan song. But they broke into a cover of "All Along the Watchtower", and even brought a young boy named Jake (who I assume they'd met earlier in the day) onstage to play guitar for the song. After the song was over, Eddie did a roll call of the band, thanked everyone, and...insisted that before they called it a night, he had to turn things over to Mike. So the show closed with "Yellow Ledbetter", a song I surely would have sung along with if I had ever figured out exactly what in the Sam Hill the lyrics were. As the rest of Pearl Jam took their leave, Mike stood alone once more and blared out the Star Spangled Banner on his axe in an homage to fellow Seattlite Jimi Hendrix. All told, the show clocked in at two hours and forty-five minutes, and it would have been worth twice the price of the ticket. If you have any interest in Pearl Jam, I can't recommend them enough as a concert experience. For a couple hours, I didn't even worry too much about my hands.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Craig Worthington, 1989 Donruss The Rookies #25

I've been acting in plays for almost ten years. I enjoy having an audience to provide instantaneous feedback, and the ability to slip into different characters is a great escape from the relative mundaneness of everyday life. Plus, I've made some really great friends in theatre. I've always had a knack for memorizing and reciting lines, but the physical aspect of my craft has proven much more difficult. Above all else, I find myself struggling with the question of what the hell to do with my hands. I'm about 6'1" tall, and I have long, gangly limbs. One of the first rules of the dramatic arts is that you do not put your hands in your pockets. But I always feel like a dork when I just leave them hanging at my sides, so I usually spend the duration of the show crossing my arms across my chest or resting them on my hips. Apparently I also spend much of the time gesturing and flailing like I have some sort of palsy, as was brought to my attention by watching my friend Mike's short student film. Take a look if you're so inclined; I'm the straight-haired guy and the first character to appear.

Anyway, I don't mean to belabor the point. What I can tell you is that Craig Worthington is one player that never had trouble with his hands. As a rookie in 1988-1989, the third baseman earned a job alongside Cal Ripken, Jr. on the left side of the O's infield primarily on the strength of his defense. Overeager fans marveled at his diving stops and just-in-the-nick-of-time throws and uttered comparisons to the great Brooks Robinson. Craig held his own with the bat in his first full season, belting 15 home runs and driving home 70 runs for the second-place Birds. His combination of slick defense and above-average hitting helped him to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year voting (teammate Gregg Olson took the honors), though he won The Sporting News' version of the award.

Unfortunately, Worthington's bat couldn't keep pace with his glove, and he'd lost his hold on third base by 1991, pushed aside for the next hot rookie: Leo Gomez. (With names like these, it's not surprising that third base has been a revolving door in Baltimore for much of the three decades following Brooks Robinson's retirement.) Craig was out of organized baseball by the age of 31, a man with great hands but not much else to recommend him. I'd gladly borrow those hands from him for a show or two.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Scott Erickson, 1996 Stadium Club #51

Whoever was responsible for selecting Scott Erickson as one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" in 2000 obviously never saw this card. What strikes me about this photo (other than Scott's facial expression of extreme constipation) is the knotty mass around his right elbow. This is something I've seen before on cards featuring pitchers. It's just a grisly reminder that man wasn't meant to hurl a small object with the kind of force necessary to make it travel 85 to 100 miles an hour. Each year, countless pitchers learn this lesson the hard way; Scott Erickson was no exception. He was never the same after the 1999 season, with elbow injuries limiting him to 71 games over the final seven years of his career. His ERA never dipped below 5.55 during that time.

Of course, he still gets to come home to this every night, which is one heck of a consolation prize.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Harold Baines, 1994 Triple Play #152

You get a shortie today, since I am in the process of the Big Move. In turn, here's a guy that always seemed to be on the move. Hitting machine Harold Baines was traded six times, five of them in-season. He had three tours of duty with both the Orioles and the White Sox. Chicago famously retired his number after having traded him in July 1989, only to unretire it in 1996 when he re-signed with the team! Harold did all right for himself as a multiple time stretch-run hire, but you'll forgive me if I hope to be less itinerant than old Number 3. With a little luck, I'll be unpacked and settled in the next time I update this blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Steve Barber, 1965 Topps #113

Although Steve Barber was traded from the Angels to the Brewers in October of 1973, he was released the following March before ever appearing in a regular season game with the Brew Crew. Tonight the Orioles venture into Miller Park to fight for Steve's honor...or something. I suppose the current team has their own set of motivations, chief among them the continuation of a great stretch in which they've won five of their last six games and eleven of sixteen. But I've got something personal riding on this game.

Today I made a friendly wager with fellow card blogger, Milwaukee resident, and avid Brewers fan Bill (aka Thorzul). If the Orioles win at least two of the three games in the weekend series, Bill will make a guest appearance on this blog to talk about his five favorite O's cards. However, if Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and pals somehow manage to take the series, I will be reduced to talking up my choicest Brewer cards on his blog. I already have a few cards in mind, but I'm not too worried about having to type them up.

The tale of the tape shows the Orioles as clearly superior, with three World Series titles to Milwaukee's zero. Sure, they bested us in that thrilling down-to-the-wire pennant race in 1982, but I hear that Paul Molitor was on cocaine. So he probably had an unfair edge, with his drug of choice giving him a jolt of energy and plenty of extra awake time. I'm sure he used that time to study game tapes. Cheater.

Most importantly of all, the Orioles were the Brewers before the Brewers were the Brewers...do you follow? When the American League debuted in 1901, there was a Milwaukee franchise named the Brewers. They soon moved to St. Louis and became the Browns. Five decades later, the franchise located once more to Baltimore. Take that, you cheese-eating Favre-lovers!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jeff Robinson, 1991 Bowman #90

Whenever there's talk about the worst trades the Orioles have ever made, everyone focuses on the deal that sent Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, and Steve Finley to Houston for brittle first baseman Glenn Davis. But during that same offseason, the O's made another deal that was downright inexplicable. In January of 1991, they sent popular catcher Mickey Tettleton to the Tigers for the man you see above, righthander Jeff Robinson.

After kickstarting his career with 26 home runs, a Silver Slugger Award, and an All-Star selection in 1989, the Froot-Loops-loving backstop had slumped to .223 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 1990. This downturn in production, coupled with the imminent arrival of young Chris Hoiles, must have made Tettleton expendable in the eyes of Birds' brass. But they hadn't really thought things through. He was never a high-average hitter, but he was an on-base machine, taking walks by the ton. Despite the 35-point dip in batting average between his two seasons in Baltimore, Mickey's on-base percentage actually climbed from .369 to .376. Besides, even if the team was looking to create an opening at catcher, they could have given him time at first base and designated hitter, like the Tigers would do.

If Tettleton had an off-year in 1990, Jeff Robinson had a disaster of a year. He lucked his way into a winning record (10-9), but his ERA was an absurd 5.96. He walked more batters than he struck out, threw 16 wild pitches, and gave up 23 home runs. He had won 13 games and ranked sixth in the league in ERA in 1988, but that season was three years past at the time of the trade. What was GM Roland Hemond thinking? What was he expecting?

Hemond almost certainly didn't get what he expected out of Robinson, unless he actually wanted a 4-9 record, a 5.18 ERA, and 1.62 base runners allowed per inning pitched. Given that the O's released the pitcher less than a year after acquiring him, I'd say that Roland was a bit disappointed.

But what of Mickey Tettleton? He would play five full seasons with the Tigers and Rangers after the trade, walking at least 95 times each season and surpassing 30 home runs in all but the strike season on 1994. He won two more Silver Sluggers and played in another All-Star Game.

Talk about your buyer's remorse...or seller's remorse, for that matter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ben McDonald, 1995 Emotion #5

Well, I didn't make it to the ballpark in time to get a Wild Bill Hagy shirt last night (since the folks at the gate apparently didn't abide by the 15 and up age restriction), but the Orioles won a thrilling 6-5 game with two runs in the bottom of the eighth for their twentieth comeback victory of the year. That is, of course, the greater good, particularly since the team is now 2-0 in 2008 when I'm in attendance. I like to keep track of those little things, so with my birthday coming up in less than two months (yes, I'm counting), I took the time to put together a little project the other day. I was curious to see just how the O's have fared throughout history on August 5.

As it happens, there's something about my birthday that suits the Birds. From their first season in Baltimore (1954) through 2007, they've played 49 games, with 29 wins and 20 losses, a .592 winning percentage. They've done even better since I came into the world in 1982: 16-8, winning two out of every three contests, including five straight between 1992 and 1996. Big Ben McDonald won two of those himself, back-to-back complete games in 1993 and 1994, both against the Milwaukee Brewers (totals: 18 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 13 K, 0.50 ERA, 0.72 WHIP). The latter game was a one-hit masterpiece in hostile territory; Brew Crew pitcher and future Oriole Ricky Bones also went the distance, incidentally. 1993 and 1994 just happened to be my first two years as a baseball fan, and I appreciate his considerable efforts to ensure that my eleventh and twelfth birthdays were especially happy ones.

Believe it or not, there was an O's pitcher whose August 5 feats topped even Ben's heroics. Less surprisingly, it was Jim Palmer, who won all three of his decisions while allowing just one run in twenty-seven innings and striking out twenty-two. So he's the official August Fifth Oriole, but I'll go into much more detail at a later date.

I should also mention before I go that the Orioles are currently riding a four-game win streak on my birthday, and they'll go for a tie of the 8/5 record on Tuesday, August 5, 2008 in Anaheim. Can they do the improbable? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Doug DeCinces, 1982 Donruss #279

It's been almost thirty years since Doug DeCinces hit a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Orioles a dramatic comeback victory against the Detroit Tigers. That one round-tripper is widely credited as the catalyst for what became known as "Orioles Magic". But today is a day to celebrate the man who spent countless summer nights at Memorial Stadium leading the cheers that fueled that magic.

For the non-O's fans and the Birdland neophytes who might be reading, William "Wild Bill" Hagy was a cab driver from Baltimore, and in the 1970s and 1980s he was headquartered in Section 34 of the Orioles' former home on 33rd Street. He and his rambunctious fellow rooters became known as "The Roar from 34". Wild Bill was a sight to behold with his straw hat, big sunglasses, and bushy beard. His beer belly hung over his denim shorts, but he was remarkably limber as he led the crowd in a chant of "O-R-I-O-L-E-S!", contorting his body to spell out each letter. He became so popular that the team actually allowed him to perform his cheers on top of the home dugout. He even had a policy that further endeared him to the local masses - if he picked up anyone wearing a Yankees cap in his cab, he would ask them to remove the hat. Those who failed to comply had to look for another taxi!

Wild Bill Hagy passed away last August at the age of 68. To measure his influence and popularity among the Orioles fans and the team itself, look no further than the posthumous steps taken to honor and celebrate him. The first game at Camden Yards after his death was marked with a moment of silence. There have been memorial services and get-togethers attended by an impressive number of his family, friends, and fans. Earlier this season, a group of fans paid tribute to Wild Bill during a weekend series against the Yankees by donning straw hats and fake beards and leading cheers for the Birds. Tonight, to mark Hagy's birthday, the O's will be giving away orange "HAGY 34" Orioles t-shirts. Best of all, he will be the first recipient of the Wild Bill Hagy award, to be given each year to an exceptional O's fan. From my understanding, this award will be incorporated into the annual Orioles Hall of Fame ceremony in August.

For my part, I will be at the Yard tonight in full throat, proudly wearing "HAGY 34" on my back and tipping back a cold one for the caretaker of Orioles Magic. Happy Birthday, Wild Bill.

Image from baltimoresun.com

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lenn Sakata, 1982 Fleer #178

This card is amazingly awkward on so many levels. First is the design itself. Fleer was in their second year of competition with Topps after two decades of other pursuits. As you can see, they were still struggling to find their way. There's something to be said for the less-is-more approach to card art, but in this case the collector is almost lulled to sleep. And lest you think that the medium-zoomed, unfocused photo on this card is an unfortunate abberation, I can assure you that the other 1982 Fleers I have don't look much better; some even look worse. At least Lenn's face is only half in shadow.

So let's focus on the particulars of this card photo. First of all, it appears that the O's are holding open tryouts on a local rec league diamond, what with the hard, mottled infield dirt giving way to the less-than-verdant outfield grass, which is backed by a chain link fence, which sits directly in front of some lovely suburban foliage. Then there's Lenn's fielding technique. If he always threw across the diamond with his wrist crooked at such a weird angle and his left foot pointed inward while his right foot hovered in midair, it's no wonder that Earl Weaver took the plunge and moved young Cal Ripken, Jr. from third base to shortstop.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

John P. O'Donoghue, 1994 Stadium Club #86

The John O'Donoghues are the only father-son pitching duo in Orioles history. There have been four such pairs of position players: Bob and Terry Kennedy, Don and Damon Buford, Dave and Derrick May, and Tim Raines Sr. and Jr. You might remember the elder O'Donoghue (John Eugene) as the taciturn, enigmatic Seattle Pilots bullpen mate of Jim Bouton in the excellent book Ball Four. John's son (John Preston) stood tall on the mound at an impressive 6'6" (three inches taller than his pa), making him the tallest Delaware native to play in MLB. He was a teammate of righthander Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University, and for a brief time with the 1993 Orioles. John signed with the O's in 1990 as an undrafted free agent, making his eventual ascent to the majors quite commendable. Though he allowed plenty of baserunners in his 19 and two-thirds innings, he had a strong strikeout rate (16 total) and his 4.58 ERA was only slightly above the 4.47 league average. He failed to earn a win in his brief 11-game career, leaving him in the shadow of his father's total of 39 victories.

Like the second John O'Donoghue, I tend to tower over my own father. (I'm 6'1", he's 5'8" - let's hear it for recessive genetics!) But in all honesty, I still look up to him. Nearly twenty years after dropping out of college, my dad found himself at a sort of career crossroads and took a shot at a new line of work that was more in line with his interests: teaching art. He was able to get his foot in the door at my Catholic elementary school on the basis of his portfolio and an agreement that he would continue his own education. Over the next decade, he would teach two to three days a week while taking a few classes a semester...and working full time at a warehouse (nights and/or weekends) to better support our family.

I cannot begin to imagine how grueling this schedule was for him, particularly when I think of the last few years of it. By then, he was student teaching so that he could complete his certification, and had an increased load of homework. Most days he would wake around six in the morning, go teach (or student teach - he was doing both) in the morning and take a college class in the afternoon (or vice versa), work at the warehouse from 3-11 at night, come home, and do homework until 2 or 3 AM, at which point he'd sleep in the living room for a few hours until it was time to do it all again. On one occasion, the chair of the art department at Towson University (where my father was earning his degree) ran into Dad on campus, took one look at him, and ordered him to go home and sleep. It was only after he'd made it through the ordeal and received his diploma that my father admitted that he'd been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It must have taken a great amount of patience, strength, and faith for him to hang in there and see things through to the end. I don't know if I could do it now, in my mid-twenties, and he accomplished it in his mid-forties.

Happy Father's Day, folks. I hope you've had some time today to think about what it is that makes your own Dad remarkable.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Manny Alexander, 1996 Collector's Choice #53

Here's Manny Alexander tossing a throw to second base. Based on his limited record as a pitcher, he probably would have been better off lobbing the ball underhanded from the mound as well. Oddly enough, I still remember where I was the night that the Orioles were drubbed by the Rangers, 26-7. I was at a middle school dance, and I even remember hearing from someone that Brady Anderson had led off the game with a home run, one of the team-record 50 that he would hit in 1996. I might have even known that free agent bust-in-the-making Kent Mercker fell apart right away, giving the lead back in a five-run Texas first inning. It was much later that I heard the incredible details of the rest of the game.

Down 6-1 in the fourth, the Birds rallied for five runs to tie. Mercker and Jimmy Myers coughed up three more tallies in the fifth and the teams traded scores in the seventh. The O's took the field in the bottom of the eighth down 10-7...and the wheels came off.

Like many other disasters in late '90s Oriole lore, this one began with Mr. Armando Benitez. Single, steal, walk, wild pitch, walk. Bases loaded. Out goes Armando, in comes the venerable (really really old) Jesse Orosco for what must have been the worst performance of his life. Double, sacrifice fly, home run, three straight singles, walk, single, walk. Jesse allowed all three of Benitez's runners to score, along with five of his own. He, too, left with the bases loaded, handing an 18-7 deficit to the last man in the Baltimore bullpen: Manny Alexander. To convey the full wonder of the scrawny infielder's hurling prowess, I defer to the play-by-play:
J Gonzalez      Walk; Hamilton Scores; Valle to 3B; Buford to 2B
Craig Worthington pinch runs for Juan Gonzalez batting 4th
M Tettleton Walk; Valle Scores; Buford to 3B; Worthington to 2B
D Palmer Walk; Buford Scores; Worthington to 3B; Tettleton to 2B
Kurt Stillwell pinch runs for Dean Palmer batting 6th
R Greer Flyball: CF/Sacrifice Fly; Worthington Scores; Tettleton to 3B
M McLemore Walk; Stillwell to 2B
K Elster Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep LF); Tettleton Scores; Stillwell Scores; McLemore Scores
D Hamilton Groundout: 2B-1B
The totals for the half-inning: 16 runs on 8 hits and 8 walks. 97 pitches thrown by two pitchers and one middle infielder to 19 batters. You might notice a few familiar names in the excerpt above. As if Rangers manager (and former O's skipper) Johnny Oates was rubbing it in, the outburst featured four ex-O's: Mickey Tettleton, Mark McLemore, Damon Buford, and Craig Worthington. Craig Worthington! Manny Alexander's final career earned run average stands at 67.50.

But hey, at least he got two batters out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Don Stanhouse, 1980 Topps #517

Ahh, "Stan the Man Unusual". "Fullpack". What more appropriate subject could I find for the first Vintage Friday the 13th?

*Cue spooky music*

The idea of a late-inning reliever, or closer as they've come to be known, is to strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters. Think of Don Stanhouse's contemporaries, burly, sneering fireballers like Al Hrabosky ("The Mad Hungarian") or Goose Gossage. Then look at Don up there with his goofy perm and creepy-uncle mustache, to say nothing of his overstretched stirrups. The only people who feared Don Stanhouse were the hometown fans and manager Earl Weaver, who dubbed him "Fullpack" because that was how many cigarettes he smoked in the dugout while watching the pitcher land himself in another jam. My father's voice is still filled with disgust any time Don's name comes up in conversation. So George Sherrill likes to make things interesting with a leadoff walk from time to time? Pfft, that's nothing, says Dad. If you'd seen Don Stanhouse pitch...

Tonight the Orioles will turn back the clock to one of the all-time horrors in team history, as they welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates to Baltimore for the first time since the 1979 World Series. A season that was filled with so much joy and magic, that appeared headed to a storybook ending, was keelhauled by a marauding band of brigands in hideous yellow and black polyester, to the nightmarish soundtrack of blowing whistles and Sister Sledge. Earl Weaver, Doug DeCinces, and Scott McGregor will be on hand as the Birds put on their throwback threads and try to exorcise the demons.

It's easy to look back at the '79 Series and chalk it up to a big, team-wide choke. The O's were only the fourth team to ever blow a 3-1 lead in a seven-game World Series format, and the offense sputtered to the tune of two runs total in the final three games. But if not for Don Stanhouse, there may not have even been a Game Five. Brought in after Tippy Martinez allowed a single to Bill Robinson to lead off the ninth inning, ol' Fullpack was entrusted to preserve a 2-2 tie until such a time as the O's bats could conjure up some Orioles Magic. Rick Dempsey caught pinch runner Matt Alexander trying to steal, Bill Madlock flied out to Al Bumbry, and Stanhouse was one out away from taking care of business.

Instead, the wheels came off. Ed Ott singles. Phil Garner walks. Pinch hitter Manny Sanguillen singles to right, and the Pirates have the lead. They would win 3-2, their only win in the first four games. Stanhouse would bring his gasoline act to Pittsburgh, turning a 4-1 deficit in Game Five into a 7-1 mountain in the span of an inning with three hits, two (intentional) walks, and an errant pickoff attempt.

As a final grim curtain call, Don was the third of five O's pitchers used by a desperate Earl Weaver in the disastrous ninth inning of the deciding game. Tim Stoddard and Mike Flanagan had collaborated to turn a 2-1 deficit into 3-1, but with a runner on first base an one out, things seemed manageable. Nope. Stanhouse gave up a single to his first and only batter, Tim Foli, before Earl Weaver decided he'd seen enough of the righty for one lifetime. The Martinez brothers hit the next two batters, forcing in the fourth Pirates run, and the damage was done. The Pirates were World Champions.

Don Stanhouse's final Series line: 0 wins, 1 loss. 2 innings pitched, 3 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks (that's a 4.50 WHIP for you statheads) with no strikeouts. A 13.50 ERA.

Don Stanhouse did not return to the Orioles in 1980; the Dodgers foolishly signed him to a free-agent deal, only to release him twenty-five innings into his L.A. tenure. For some ungodly reason, the Birds brought Fullpack back for Earl Weaver's curtain call season in 1982. It proved to be Stanhouse's swan song as well (5.40 ERA in 26.2 innings).

Now that's what I call scary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bob Milacki, 1990 Leaf #402

Bob Milacki is best known for his excellent 1989 rookie season in Baltimore, when he won 14 games with a 3.74 ERA in a hefty 243 innings, allowing less than a hit per frame. But I'd like to have a little fun with ol' Bob. Even better than fun facts, we have Facetious Facts about Bob Milacki!

1. His name rhymes with "wacky", "Iraqi", and "fat backy".

2. From 2001-2008, he served as pitching coach for the Hickory Crawdads, Altoona Cruve, and Lynchburg Hillcats. Yes, really.

3. He made his ML debut on September 18. He also wore #18 for most of his career.

4. Bob pitched at Yavapai Community College - YCC. Say it out loud, and maybe Indians pitcher C. C. Sabathia will respond, "why what?".

5. An anagram for "Bob Milacki" is "Lick a bimbo".

6. He is the winningest Orioles pitcher named Bob, with 37 victories (1988-1992). 1970s reliever Bob Reynolds and original Oriole "Bullet Bob" Turley are tied for a distant second with 14.

7. I've always considered Milacki to be moon-faced. Why is it that we call someone with a round face "moon-faced"? Why not sun-faced?

8. Struck out ten Yankee batters in a shutout victory in his third career start. In 122 starts that followed, he had just one more 10-K game.

9. According to baseball-reference.com, one of the three players he is most comparable to is former O's teammate Jay Tibbs.

10. Bob notched his only career save in his last game as an Oriole, a 4-3, 13-inning affair in Cleveland. He threw just nine pitches in one inning of work, getting the final out when right fielder Luis Mercedes threw out Carlos Baerga, who was trying to stretch a single into a double. I love the Internet, by the way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jay Gibbons, 2005 Topps Total #364

You get two entries today, to make up for the one I missed yesterday. I got home late Tuesday evening to find that my cable was out. No cable = no Internet. Let's hope that it doesn't happen again any time soon.

It's not every day that you hear of a former major leaguer, particularly one with a 28-homer season under his belt, writing a letter to all of the teams basically begging for a chance to play. But that's precisely what happened yesterday, when ESPN published just such a letter from Jay Gibbons, sent to the other 29 teams in MLB last month. As you may have surmised, he didn't get very far; news broke today that he'll be signing with a team in either New York or New Jersey in the independent Atlantic League.

It can be difficult to feel much sympathy for Jay, particularly when the Orioles are still paying him $11.9 million through 2009. But even though he played sparsely (and poorly) over the past two years, and his inclusion in the Mitchell Report embarrassed O's fans, I can understand where he's coming from. The guy is only 31, and could conceivably have some good baseball left to play. You certainly can't say that his past use of performance enhancers is keeping teams away; Milwaukee signed Eric Gagne for $10 million in December after he was exposed as a user and had stunk out loud throughout the summer and fall. Considering some of the has-beens and never-weres that are yoyoing around AA and AAA at the moment, what exactly is keeping some team - any team - from taking a chance on Gibbons?

I haven't been the biggest Jay Gibbons fan over the past year, but he used to be one of my favorites. I'll be rooting for him to find his way back to the big time, because everyone deserves a second chance. In the meantime, I'll wait to see which Atlantic League team he joins. Maybe I'll make it to a game in Waldorf or York and watch him play one more time.

Steve Trachsel, 2007 Upper Deck #560

Friends, Baltimorons, Birdlanders, lend me your ears:
I come to bury Trachsel, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Trachsel. The noble Trembley
Hath told you Trachsel was an innings eater:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Trachsel answered it.
Here, under leave of Trembley and the rest --
For Trembley is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men --
Come I to speak in Trachsel’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Trembley says he was innings eater;
And Trembley is an honorable man.
He hath brought many earned runs home to the enemy,
Whose ransoms did the box scores fill:
Did this in Trachsel seem innings eater?
When that the O's fans had cried, Trachsel hath wept.
Innings eaters should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Trembley says he was an innings eater;
And Trembley is an honorable man.
You all did see that in the Rogers Centre
I thrice presented him a game to finish,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this innings eating?
Yet Trembley says he was an innings eater;
And, sure, he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Trembley spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason! Bear with me;
My heart is on the waiver wire there with Trachsel,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Lovingly borrowed from another source

Monday, June 9, 2008

Larry Sheets, 1989 Bowman #16

Here we see Larry Sheets modeling the utmost in menswear finery from the 1989 Dugout Collection. He's nattily attired in his black turtleneck with a pair of matching Oriole-orange stripes. Like all fashionable, hirsute studs of the Eighties, he's wearing it one size too small, the better to make his head appear enormous. After all, it takes a big head to hold a big brain, and the ladies will tell you that there's nothing sexier than an intelligent man, especially one who knows his way around the bases. Larry's smoldering expression, with eyes cast toward the distance, tells you that he might be dressed for the chills of spring, but he's got his sights set on those hot summer nights.

Order the Orioles Spring Training turtleneck, item DC-OSTT1819, for 29.95 + shipping and handling. No C.O.D.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mike Oquist, 1994 Pinnacle #224

Doesn't the term "Rookie Prospect" strike you as a little redundant? It reminds me of former O's TV play-by-play guy Michael Reghi, who used to call "home run bombs" when a hitter went deep. I think he grated on my nerves more than anyone else who's ever called Orioles games in my time as a fan, and that home run call was the greatest annoyance. Generally, we've had it pretty good, though. The glory days of Chuck Thompson or even Jon Miller might be long gone, but we could do much worse than the primary TV duo of Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer. They've developed a surprisingly good chemistry in just their second year together. It often sounds like they're having fun, and they're competent and sometimes informative. Sure, "Cakes" loves to hear himself talk, but at least he's not a willfully ignorant relic of the baseball Dark Ages like Joe Morgan or Tim McCarver. I don't listen to games on the radio very often (particularly since my antenna broke off last winter), but I've never had a quarrel with Joe Angel or Fred Manfra, or even the goofy-but-harmless Jim Hunter. Angel is forever in my good graces for a call he delivered at the end of a hard-fought victory over a certain team from New York in the summer of 2006. "Rodriguez grounds out, and...thaaaaaa YANKEES LOSE! THAAAAA YAAANKEEES LOOOOOSEEE!" He was, of course, mocking sycophantic Bronx Bombers announcer John Sterling. Any enemy of Sterling is a friend of mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Brady Anderson, 1999 Upper Deck UD Choice #59

Today I begin the long and bittersweet process of moving out of the apartment in Columbia where I have spent the past three years of my life. It's always exciting to have a change of scenery, though, and I'll be moving in with another one of my friends. I just happen to be relocating to Silver Spring, twenty minutes down the road and the birthplace of Mr. Brady Anderson. Brady, of course, didn't stay long; he grew up in California and still lives there today. Another famous son of Silver Spring is angry comedian Lewis Black, one of my favorites. Lewis has said the following about my soon-to-be-home:

"Of course, there is no spring there, and I can assure you no one was mining for silver. Its only claim to fame is that it is the largest unincorporated city in America. In other words, we were too lazy to govern ourselves. Our town motto was 'I'd like to vote, but I don't feel like driving.' "

All kidding aside, as I type I am procrastinating. I can remember my college years, when I would have to bundle up everything of importance to me (electronics, books, clothing, various tchotchkes) twice a year and schlep it all from east Baltimore County to Chestertown, and then back again. Inevitably, I would wind up staring helplessly at piles of junk and wondering aloud, "Where did all of this crap come from?" I am a sentimentalist and a pack rat, without a doubt. But when I moved to Columbia, it was the first time I had to literally move everything that was mine in this world. It was such an incredible ordeal (there was a couch to extract from the basement, and I thought for sure that the effort would kill my poor father) that I was more than happy to stay put for a few years.

Today is the easy part; I'm boxing up nonessentials like books, warm clothing, CDs and DVDs, board games, and toys. Yes, toys. As someone who is firmly in touch with his inner child, I am in possession of several talking Simpsons figures and dioramas, not to mention a handful of WWE wrestling figures complete with a giant plastic Hell in the Cell cage structure. To be fair, the cage was a gift from friends. So I suppose I've put it off long enough. Wish me well, especially when the time comes to do the heavy lifting and maneuvering. I'm a fairly scrawny guy, after all; I am certainly no Brady Anderson.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Eddie Watt, 1973 Topps #362

When I look at this card, the first thing that jumps out at me is the beauty of the orange "Baltimore" script across the front of Eddie Watt's gray road jersey. For the past thirty-five years, images like this one served as little more than a pipe dream of what once was, and what might be again some time in the murky future.

But this week, news broke that the long and discontented wait of a vocal portion of the Orioles' fan base will soon be over. The team's front office has filed the necessary paperwork with Major League Baseball to return "Baltimore" to the team's road grays in 2009. Whenever an O's fan brings up the issue of the city name branding, the first question always seems to be, "Why is it such a big deal?". I don't know that there is any one answer, but there a few that come to mind.

First and foremost, it's a reminder of better times. The Birds wore away tops similar to the one above from 1956 through 1972, and during that time they rose from a bunch of second division also-rans to the powerhouses of the American League. In those threads, they went to four World Series, including three in a row, and won two of the three championships in club history.

It's also important to note that most of us who have called Charm City home at one time or another are fiercely proud and territorial. Baltimore doesn't have a great reputation, and you'll usually hear the same taunts thrown around. It's one of the STD capitals of the country, it's full of blue collar white trash, it's riddled with crime and drugs. I've got news for you: that describes most of the major urban areas of the U.S.A. Sometimes, we even rally around the very same aspects of our city that other people bash. After all, folks in "Bawlmer" speak a language all our own and that makes life more colorful. But Baltimore also has a lot of reasons to hold its head high. The revitalized Harborplace area, which includes the National Aquarium, is a great destination. We also have two beautiful, state-of-the-art stadiums downtown, and a rich history that dates back to the American Revolution. Plus, you know, we're not Philadelphia.

The thing that probably hits closest to home is insecurity. Baltimore has been one of the smallest markets in professional sports for decades, especially when you consider the fact that Boston and New York are the major divisional rivals. Local fans have had a chip on their shoulders since the beginning, often convinced that the accomplishments of their home teams are marginalized while the smallest triumphs of the Big Brother teams are glorified and blown out of proportion. When former O's owner Jerry Hoffberger decided to remove the city's name from the road grays in 1973, many felt that the city and team had lost a piece of their identity. It was a cynical business move, likely intended to appeal to a wider geographical base. (It's worth noting that the second incarnation of the Washington Senators had just picked up and moved to Texas, leaving the nation's capital and points south ripe for the picking.) A large majority of MLB teams identify themselves by city on their away togs, proudly informing the fans of the home opponent who they are and who they represent.

When Bob Irsay packed the Colts into the Mayflower moving vans in the cold, dark winter of 1984, bound for Indianapolis, the loyal supporters of the city's remaining big league team would always be looking over their shoulders. After all, the Birds were owned by a hotshot D.C. lawyer, and they played in the rapidly aging Memorial Stadium, with no plans in place for a new venue. Eventually Baltimore was blessed with the classy, functional Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the park that is still setting the pace for new baseball facilities league-wide. But Charm City was taken for an anguishing ride by the NFL during the Expansion Derby of 1993, having its hopes dashed when a franchise was inexplicably awarded to ho-hum Jacksonville. Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue rubbed salt in the wound by snidely suggesting that Baltimore use the money earmarked for a new football team to build a museum. Left with no alternative, the city accepted Art Modell and the former Cleveland Browns with open arms, and the rest is history.

This is all a long and complicated way of saying that we want "Baltimore" on the O's road jerseys because 1) that's where they play, and we want to make sure that everybody knows it, 2) that's the way it was when the Orioles ruled the roost, and 3) it just looks cool. By this time next year, it's a good bet that gray "Baltimore" tops will be selling like crazy all over Maryland.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jeffrey Hammonds, 1994 Upper Deck #210

Today the Orioles used the fourth overall pick in the first round of the MLB Draft to select Brian Matusz, a left-handed pitcher from the University of San Diego who just concluded a great junior season (12-2, 1.71 ERA). Though they're receiving praise from most corners of the baseball universe, and I like the pick myself, it's important that we don't get carried away here. We longtime O's fans have had our hearts broken before.

Jeffrey Hammonds was the first "can't miss" prospect that missed during my fanhood. In 1992, the Birds selected him fourth overall out of Stanford University, the same school that had given us that Mussina fellow a year earlier. Two picks after Hammonds' selection, the Yankees took some high school shortstop from Michigan, Derek something. But Hammonds was your classic five-tool player, someone who would contribute almost immediately. Plus, he had a great smile. See for yourself.

Early on, Jeffrey seemed to be all that was advertised. He was in Baltimore by midseason 1993, and was hitting .323 in early August, at which point he went on the DL with a herniated disk. But it would be the first of many injuries for the outfielder, who would surpass 100 games played in just one of his six seasons in orange and black. The Orioles finally gave up on Hammonds in 1998, swapping him for Cincinnati's own unrealized, injury-prone ex-prospect, third baseman Willie Greene. Jeffrey had one ridiculously good year in the rarified air of Colorado in 2000 but finally retired last year as a .272 career hitter, a journeyman who spent thirteen years tantalizing six teams with glimpses of what could have been, if the stars had only been aligned differently.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Randy Myers, 1997 Donruss #299

Randall K. Myers served a valuable purpose during the two years (1996-1997) that he served as the Orioles' closer. Sure, there were the 76 total saves and the trim 1.51 ERA in 1997. But I think he also taught us all a lasting lesson, one that endures some ten years after his retirement. That would be, "tread lightly around a man who keeps a grenade in his locker". To quote Jimmy Dugan, "That's good advice".

This is a great, if baffling, action shot of Randy doin' his thing. He's not throwing a pitch, unless he's debuting his new Exorcistball. That's also a pretty odd angle for a fielding play. It's most likely that the opposing batter ripped the ball right back up the box, and Myers is contorting his body in a vain attempt to either knock the ball down or avoid a spheroid bruise on his shin. Of course, I prefer to think that the home plate umpire is squeezing the strike zone on him, and Randy has finally snapped and pulled that trusty grenade from his back pocket. Here we see his follow-through, having heaved it in the general direction of the man in blue. He's bracing himself for the explosion, and wondering how many games he'll be suspended for making little pieces of Richie Garcia rain all over Camden Yards.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Floyd Rayford, 1986 Topps #623

I never like to write several downer entries in a row, so what better way to rebound from yesterday's rant than a cameo from Sugar Bear? Take a look at that lovable, roly-poly face and tell me whether you'd think to stick Floyd at the hot corner. I feel kind of sorry for him, as he spent parts of seven seasons in the majors, six of them with the Birds. In the middle of 1983, they traded Rayford to the Cardinals, eventually receiving Tito Landrum in return. Tito played an important role in the O's championship run, batting .310 in limited action and stroking the game-winning home run in the decisive fourth game of the ALCS. Meanwhile, the Orioles reacquired Floyd on the eve of the 1984 campaign. He was out of the organization just long enough to miss out on a World Series win.

My uncle loved to give Rayford a hard time. Several times he's told me about the days when he and a good friend would buy some cheap seats in old Memorial Stadium, toss back a couple of beers, and shout "FLOOOOYYYYYDDDD!" at the top of their lungs. On one occasion, they came to realize that Floyd wasn't even in the game that day. Of course, I have a feeling it wouldn't have mattered to them anyway. So for J.T., here's one more for the road...


Monday, June 2, 2008

Radhames Liz, 2008 Topps #78

Fair warning: Most of the blog posts I'm linking to in this entry feature adult language.
Tonight's card choice represents both a beginning and an end. Radhames Liz had his first taste of the big time last year, and he got a rough welcome from opposing hitters. But he's got great stuff, and he'll get a fresh start tomorrow when he faces the Twins in his first major league game of 2008. Hopefully he will follow in the footsteps of former Norfolk Tides teammates Jim "Bandsaw" Johnson and Garrett Olson and his MLB performance this year will be leaps and bounds better than his previous try.

This card is an end because the recent release of Topps Series 2 is the final straw in my attempts to build current sets. Here's a news flash for Topps, and for Upper Deck while I'm at it. I like baseball cards. I want an affordable piece of cardboard with a picture and words and numbers. I don't want scraps of cloth and shards of wood and strands of hair and autographs from long-dead players and freaking politicians. And I don't want to pay more for packs of cards for a slight chance to get all of those other things. Forget relic and autograph inserts; now you've made it impossible to complete base sets, with your falsely scarce error cards and variations and short printed cards of freaking star players.

I am a fairly conscientious person when it comes to my own expenses. Lately, I've been fretting as my grocery bills slowly climb, to say nothing of the near-sixty dollars now required to fill my gas tank. Guess what, Topps. I have to drive my car, to get to my job and rehearsals and so forth. I have to eat. I want to buy nice gifts for my friends and family as they celebrate birthdays and weddings and other holidays (and probably should, lest word get out that I'm a cheapskate). I don't have to spend $3 or $4 on a damn pack of eight cards because you thought it would be cute to toss in an "ultra-rare" card of Al Gore or a fake Japanese pitching phenom.

I'm done giving Topps my money. I hope they enjoy the soulless big-hit "collectors" that they're counting on to make bucks. I'm going back to eBay to build my Orioles team sets and my vintage collection. That I can do it for less money than building brand-new sets is telling.

Somehow I'll bravely soldier on without paying $85 blankety-blank dollars for a box of cards featuring a guaranteed autograph that turns out to be a 27-year-old rookie on a lousy team who has five major league hits this year.

Shove off, Topps. It's been real.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

B. J. Surhoff, 2005 Fleer Tradition #103

Reader William brought up an interesting topic in a comment to yesterday's Jeff Conine card: the music that players choose when they come up to bat or in from the bullpen. He remarked that Conine used to have Rush's "Tom Sawyer" play him to the plate, an excellent choice indeed. I always got a kick out of the unlikely players who chose gangsta rap songs. Brian Roberts' selection was the Notorious B.I.G's "Hypnotize" for several years, and Rafael Palmeiro used to prefer Tupac's "California Love". One player whose music always irritated me was Jay Gibbons (Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Can't Stop"). It's got a great riff at the beginning, but it sounds tantalizingly close to The Guess Who's classic "American Woman", which I would greatly prefer. It was such a tease. Among pitchers, songs have ranged from the awesome (Rodrigo Lopez went with Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine") to the creepy (Chris Ray's choice of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams") to the downright drowsy (short-lived sidearmer Steve Reed entered games to Coldplay's "Clocks").

But for my money, former third baseman/outfielder B. J. Surhoff had the best taste in music among recent Orioles players. I remember him strolling into the batters' box to the strains of Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing", but according to this page he also had a predilection for Pearl Jam's "Evenflow".

When I daydream about baseball, I think about the songs that I would most like to hear blaring over the PA at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to signal to the crowd that I was coming in to shut down a game or drive in the winning runs. As a pro wrestling fan, I understand the importance of the proper music. There's nothing more electrifying than the sound of a crowd coming unglued as their favorite athlete or performer pops into view - that Pavlovian response to the first few notes of their theme song. For a while, I was partial to Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure". It's my favorite Queen song, and I'd feel it was my duty to reclaim its basic beat from that cheap ripoff artist Vanilla Ice. If I were a closer or late inning reliever, it would be especially appropriate. But for the past few years, I've been obsessed with the Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)". That song just gets my blood pumping like no other; it makes me feel like I could run through a brick wall.

So, what's your favorite theme music for an actual baseball player? If you played, what would your choice be?