Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1994 Milk Oddball #105

I finally tallied up all of my Cal Ripken, Jr. cards tonight, and I have 102. Without checking, I can tell you that the Iron Man is far and away the most frequent subject of my collection. I could spend nearly three and one-half months featuring nothing but Cal cards in this blog. And yet, there's so much more out there. That's to be expected with somebody like #8, who was the face of the Oriole franchise for two full decades, and hasn't really been replaced in the years since his retirement. His pursuit and eventual overtaking of Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record made him one of the hottest names in the hobby in the mid-90's, and he endured into the 21st Century, when the card companies lost their fool minds and started printing dozens of slight variations of a player's card.

I've seen firsthand just how far away my own Cal Ripken, Jr. card collection is from complete; another collector I've met has narrowed his focus in recent years and now chases only the cards of the O's Hall of Fame shortstop. He has a basement that's adorned with scores of slabbed Ripken cards, and several binders and boxes full of just the Iron Man. (Yes, he is pursuing each and every variation of the nettlesome Topps Tek set!) This impressive collection is thousands strong, and even it is not terribly close to 100% completion.

No matter how piecemeal my own stash of Cal cards might seem, I'm proud that it includes the ridiculous oddball card I've featured today. I'm not sure who made it when, though the bio does feature his 1993 stat line and indicates that he's on track to break Gehrig's record in early 1995, barring serious (emphasis theirs, which amuses me a bit) injury or a prolonged players strike. And hey, what are the odds of something like that? Oops. Well, he had to wait a few months longer, but Cal made it after all. There are no trademarks or manufacturer names on front or back, and as you can see the image is poor (and off-center, which you may not be able to see). For all I know, one of Cal's embittered high school teammates in Aberdeen could have printed these up on a high-tech (for 1994) printer in his basement. But it's mine now, and it's just plain fun. I think so, anyway, and that's what matters.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ryan Kohlmeier, 2001 Topps Traded #T35

With less than twenty-four hours to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, it's looking less and less likely that the Orioles will trade their rags-to-riches closer, All-Star George Sherrill. "Flat Breezy" was a great story earlier this season, as the ex-independent leaguer and throw-in to the Erik Bedard trade was collecting nail-biting saves by the dozen and his teammates and fans alike were flipping up the bills of their hats in homage. But as the summer wears on, he's looked increasingly vulnerable and most of the fan base is itching to deal him away for the first offer.

While I certainly understand that Sherrill's value will likely never be higher, and that he's looking pretty rough right now, there are worse things than having a reliever who is tough on lefties, can keep his cool under pressure, and is under team control for several more years. Even though the Moneyball philosophy holds that closers are largely overrated and should be flipped for prospects, and that any slob can get three outs, even if they happen to be at the end of a game, the Orioles' trials and travails show that it's not always so cut-and-dried. Take Ryan Kohlmeier for example.

Late in the 2000 season, with the Birds going nowhere fast, they traded every veteran that wasn't nailed to the dugout bench. Among those dealt was veteran closer Mike Timlin. With nothing to lose, the O's handed the ninth inning over to an obscure rookie named Ryan Kohlmeier. The righty from Kansas set tongues wagging, saving 13 games in 14 tries and allowing just one home run in 26 and one-third innings. His 2.39 ERA was almost half as low as the league average. Surely, thought many, the Orioles have found their closer of the future! Sure, his 1.7 base runners per inning was a cause for concern, but that could be fixed.

Not so fast.

Whatever Ryan had during his initial go-round, he lost it in 2001. While allowing hits and walks at a similar rate (1.65), he also started serving up home runs like they were ice cream: 13 in 40 and two-thirds innings. As a result, his ERA ballooned to 7.30 and he quickly lost his closer post. The Birds waived him in November, and he spent three years at AAA with the White Sox before dropping out of organized baseball altogether. As quickly as he had burst onto the scene, Ryan Kohlmeier had disappeared back into the ether.

So George Sherrill may be finishing games in Baltimore for at least two more months, if not longer. I can think of worse things.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

John Lowenstein, 1985 Donruss #245

Brother Lo! You've been absent from this blog for far too long. The colorful stories about this flaky former outfielder are legion, and some of the longtime O's fans among my readership probably know more of them than I do. My favorite anecdote is recounted here, as John is stretchered off the field after taking a relay throw in the head as a base runner. Lo, who had just driven in the tying and go-ahead runs, was about to be carried into the dugout when he sat up straight and pumped his fists in the air, to the delight of the Memorial Stadium faithful!

With his over-the-top personality, it can be easy to overlook Lowenstein's skills as a hitter. He was the lefty half of Earl Weaver's brilliant left field platoon, paired with righty Gary Roenicke). In the near-miss season of 1982, the duo combined for 45 home runs and 140 RBI. John himself had a ridiculous 1.017 OPS that year, and went deep once per 13.4 at-bats!

According to the back of this card, the Birds purchased Lo on waivers from the Rangers in 1978 for $25,000. I'd say they got their money's worth. That little factoid would be my favorite thing about this card, were it not for John's #1 fan sitting in the first row on the front of the card. He's rocking the big round shades just like his favorite player.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Garrett Olson, 2007 Topps '52 Rookies #131

Sweet relief! Yesterday, the Orioles won for the first time in their last sixteen Sunday games, breaking a run at historic futility. Amazingly, the O's hadn't ended their weekend with a win since the first week of the season, when they topped Seattle on April 6. During the losing streak, they were outscored 83-43. The Birds' Sunday record now stands at 2-15; they're 47-40 from Monday through Saturday, which is enough to drive a fan crazy with "wouldas" and "shouldas".

As the Seventh-Day Skein slogged on through the summer, the players, coaches, and even the organization at large tried everything. The Orioles attempted to draw weary fans to the park on two consecutive Sundays by promising free tickets to any future game if the team won that day; instead, those who were enticed by the offers sat through losses fourteen and fifteen. Jay Payton suggested (with tongue planted firmly in cheek) that the team should resort to ritualistic animal sacrifices. Manager Dave Trembley flat out guaranteed a win on July 20 vs. the Tigers, and attempted to shake things up by having the O's wear their orange batting practice jerseys on that day. Instead, they were shut down by Justin Verlander. Yesterday, first baseman Kevin Millar gathered the team in the clubhouse before the game and performed some sort of mysterious ritual that was not divulged to the outside world. Whatever it was, it must have finally done the trick.

Of course, some skillful pitching by Garrett Olson didn't hurt either. The green southpaw slammed the door on a miserable four-start stretch in which his ERA had risen by nearly a run and a half. He allowed only two runs to an Angels lineup that had battered the Orioles for seventeen runs in the first two games of their series, and more importantly, he allowed the bullpen to sit easy until the seventh inning. Olson has an impressive minor league resume, and had shown flashes of that talent during the early portion of this season, winning five of his first six decisions before seeming to hit the wall. One of his problems is a reluctance to challenge hitters, pitching around opposing bats. It's hard to imagine that the sneering, bad-ass mamma jamma pictured above would ever be tentative. Just looking at this card gives me confidence in Garrett Olson. Maybe he needs to give it a look before each start, as a reminder that he's the baddest young lefty in the majors, straight from the mean streets of Fresno. He'll take what he wants, and there's no one that's going to stop him.

Heck, maybe he looked at this card yesterday afternoon. Whatever it takes.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jay Gibbons, 2003 Donruss #85

Because of my bizarre compulsion to follow the Jay Gibbons Story to the bitter end, I feel obligated to report that the former Orioles outfielder/designated hitter/first baseman/unfortunate-looking fellow is a Long Island Duck no longer. After hitting .280 with 5 home runs and 19 RBI in 27 games in the independent Atlantic League, Jay signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers last week. He's expected to spend a few weeks working out the kinks in AA Huntsville before being bumped up to AAA Nashville. After that...who knows? But Gibbons has gotten that second chance that he so desperately wanted, and I'm interested to see what he does with it. The Brewers are in the fight of their life with the Cubs and Cardinals at the top of the National League Central, which would seem to limit Jay's chances at cracking the big league lineup in 2008. But he's back in affiliated baseball, and I certainly don't wish him any ill will. Look at that card up there...how can you hold a grudge against a man who wears his socks high?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

B. J. Ryan, 2005 Topps #625

I hate to post and run, but I'm a very busy man today. First, I have the final performance of my play - which is going very well, thanks for asking. We've had good crowds for all four shows, and with 45 (of a maximum 60) tickets presold as of Friday, we're practically guaranteed our second sellout today! In the meantime, I have to straighten up my apartment; I'm hosting a cast party after the show and it's doubling as an early birthday party for yours truly. So...places to go, people to see.

Few Oriole pitchers have been as busy as B. J. Ryan was during his six-plus seasons in orange and black. Among all O's pitchers, he ranks fifth in total games pitched, with 404. The only reliever that tops him is Tippy Martinez, with 499. Until 2007, when Dave Trembley and Sam Perlozzo rode their only reliable bullpen arms (Jamie Walker - 81 games, Chad Bradford - 78 games) straight into the ground, B. J. was also tied with Tippy for the most appearances in a single season with 76 - but Ryan did it twice, in consecutive years (2003 and 2004). I suppose it was inevitable that the imposing lefty would break down, as he pitched only five times for the Blue Jays in 2007 before having Tommy John surgery to repair torn elbow ligaments in his pitching arm. But he seems to be back at full strength in 2008, having already racked up several saves at the expense of his former team. I'm really, truly happy for him. Nope, no sarcasm whatsoever in that statement. None. Excuse me...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Stu Miller, 1966 Topps #265

Stu Miller might be one of the most underrated pitchers in Orioles history, an exceptional relief ace whose career ended just as his role started to become more crucial and publicized. He was selected as Camden Chat's 19th-Greatest Oriole of All Time, and for good reason. The fact that he was 35 years old when he arrived in Baltimore in 1963, and yet made such a mark on the franchise, is telling of his sustained level of excellence. Using a deliberate windup and an array of offspeed and breaking pitches, Miller racked up 100 saves in five seasons in Charm City, not to mention 38 wins, all in relief. 14 of those wins came in 1965, almost certainly his finest season: 14-7 with career-highs of 24 saves (second in the A.L.), and a 1.89 ERA. His 0.997 WHIP was pretty nifty, too. His efforts were rewarded with a seventh-place finish in MVP voting that year.

Forty years after his retirement, Stu is still all over the team's career leader board (minimum 500 innings pitched). He ranks first in ERA (2.37), fourth in WHIP (1.12), first in hits per nine innings pitched (6.9), third in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (7.75 - behind Erik Bedard and Arthur Rhodes, incidentally), third in saves (100 - behind Gregg Olson and Tippy Martinez), sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.44), and second in adjusted ERA+ (145, where 100 is league average). Not bad work for an old man, eh?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Calvin Pickering, 1998 Fleer Tradition Update #U65

In his most recent post at Cardboard Gods, the talented Josh Wilker discussed classic nicknames. As far as I know, super-sized first baseman Calvin Pickering was never honored with a nickname. Being 6'5" and graciously listed at 275 pounds, I think he deserves a moniker. He probably would have made a good "Bonecrusher", but he didn't stick around long enough to make it happen. But believe it or not, I myself once answered to "Bonecrusher".

Let me set the stage. It was near the end of my freshman year of high school, and I measured in at 6'0" or so and all of 145 pounds, with a nondescript mop of hair. Very imposing, you know. One day, we were playing softball in phys. ed. This being high school gym class, the lesson plans were generally mapped out by the changing of the seasons: track and field and football in the fall, gymnastics, wrestling (ugh), and basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring. I hadn't yet found my true calling as a catcher, so I was stationed in right field. Most of the time I just played deep and hoped the predominantly right-handed batters would pull the ball to left, as far away from me as humanly possible. We played on the JV baseball team's practice field. My school was located near the housing projects on the outskirts of Baltimore city, and our facilities at that time were not precisely state-of-the art. The field (particularly the outfield) was littered with rocks and probably other types of debris that I was better off not knowing about.

The second baseman on my team was Tony, a diminutive soccer player. When I say "diminutive", I'm talking five-foot-two, maybe 100 pounds with his pockets full of change. Tony and I didn't hang with the same crowd; I was an eccentric, brainy kid who only ran track and field because it required the least motor skills. The soccer players were the royalty of my school, perennially ranked and swimming in girls. Even though Tony had been on the freshman-sophomore team rather than JV or varsity, he was fairly popular if my memory is correct. He'd probably be moved up to JV at the beginning of the following year.

I'd already had one unfortunate incident with Tony in phys. ed. a few months prior. We were paired up to practice wrestling holds, and I was attempting to escape his waistlock. Being the flailing, uncoordinated sort of fellow that I was (and still am), I soon wriggled free, just to turn and see Tony doubled over on the mat, clutching his groin. I'd inadvertently kicked him down low in my frenzied attempt for daylight. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage done.

Which brings us back to the softball game. From my roost in right field, I watched as the opposing batter lofted a shallow fly ball...toward the right side of the infield. Oh, crap! I made a mad dash into the path of the ball, doing my best to keep my eyes fixed on it. At the last moment I lunged...colliding with Tony, who had drifted back the few feet that would have been necessary for him to actually make a much more feasible attempt at nabbing the ball. I'd noticed Tony in the final moments of my sprint and tried to slide, hoping to cushion the impact and maybe avoid him altogether. I seem to recall running smack into him and maybe even rolling over the top. Needless to say, the ball rolled past us, and I think it was retrieved by the center fielder. A bit sore, very grassy, and pretty embarrassed, I hoisted myself upright and took a few steps. That's when I noticed Tony in a familiar, prone position on the edge of the grass...howling in pain.

At first, several of our classmates assumed he was joking, as did I. His writhing and wailing were so over-the-top, and Tony had a reputation as something of a kidder. But as the crowd around us got larger, and the seconds turned into minutes, Tony did not get up. Finally, a couple of the guys pulled him up, supporting his weight, and half-carried him to the nurse's office. The game was resumed.

The next time I saw Tony, he was on crutches, his leg immobilized. He - or from another perspective, I - had broken his knee. He would not be playing soccer for quite some time. What were the odds? It was obviously a freak accident; I would like to think that I apologized all the same, but I honestly don't remember. Unsurprisingly, I took a lot of ribbing from my classmates about my vicious attack on Tony. Word would spread quickly, and everyone was eager to elicit a reaction from our English teacher, Mr. Keller.

Mr. Keller was a former athlete himself, a collegiate lacrosse player who used intimidation and locker room humor to maintain order in classes full of obnoxious teenage boys. We all thought he was hilarious, and looked forward to the days when he would delve into tangential stories about his personal life (like his dream of installing stadium seating in his house, or the time he hid his brother's car keys as a measure of revenge). He insulted us routinely, referring to us en masse as crackheads and picking at more specific defects in individuals. In my case, he mocked my bizarre, mismatched tastes in clothing. In turn, I actively sought out greater sartorial offenses; that probably indicates that I was a bit starved for attention.

The next time my class met with Mr. Keller, it was late in the afternoon. The other section of freshman English had already been through Keller's classroom for the day, and one of my friends had undoubtedly told him of my softball exploits. But the teacher played his cards close to the vest, quickly getting us started on an in-class reading of Romeo and Juliet. He relished this assignment year after year, doling out the role of Juliet to only the most obnoxious of his pupils. I was never in danger of this indignity, at least. But in the middle of constructing his cast, Mr. Keller looked up and said, "I need a Benvolio." He turned to me dramatically, extending a pointed finger, and bellowed, "BOOOOONNNNEEEEECRRRRUUUUSSSHHHHEEEERRRR!"

So it was that I came to be called Bonecrusher. The nickname didn't really stick for long, but my friend Dillon threw it around for a few years after the fact. Once he even asked our Spanish teacher to translate it into that romantic tongue. Cruzador de Huesos. Has quite the ring to it, I'd say. As for Tony, he recovered, finally making it onto the JV soccer team in our junior year. I've seen him once or twice in the eight years since we graduated, courtesy of a shared friend. We continued to run in different circles.

But wherever Tony goes, I'm sure he cautions those that he meets to never cross the Bonecrusher.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joe Altobelli, 1984 Topps #21

Sometimes the best-laid plans go to pot. Tonight the Orioles are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1983 World Champs, and they're going all out. Upper-deck seats are selling for $5.50 - the same as they would have in Memorial Stadium. Both the O's and the visiting Blue Jays will be wearing vintage 1983 throwback uniforms. Best of all, several members of that championship team (most notably Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, and Jim Palmer) will be in attendance for a pregame press conference, on-field ceremonies, and to greet fans. Regrettably, I'm not going to be there for it.

I had an inkling last week that I would want to set aside this night to take a trip to the Yard. But there was a possibility that I would have rehearsal; our play resumes tomorrow, and some of the cast was concerned about getting rusty. But it wasn't until yesterday afternoon that I found out those plans were scrapped due to incompatible schedules. With barely twenty-four hours' notice, I sent out an email to some friends from high school, trying to drum up interest in the game. I got two maybes and two nos. But by this afternoon, it was three nos and I hadn't heard back from the remaining maybe. In the meantime, it had started to rain and I still had things to do before the rapidly-approaching weekend. You know, boring grown-up things like laundry, groceries, what have you. So I took a rain check, and I'll have to wait for another day to rub elbows with the heroes of yesteryear.

I'm not sure if Joe Altobelli will be on hand. I imagine that his time in Baltimore didn't work out the way that he'd hoped or expected, either. Given the unenviable task of replacing the retired Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, the former Giants skipper piloted the Birds to a World Series win (their first in thirteen years) in his first year on the job. However, the team got old in a hurry, as an emphasis on established free agents over farm system development hastened the Orioles' decline. With the team languishing in fourth place in 1985, Joe was fired just 55 games into the season and replaced by none other than Earl Weaver, making it seem as though Altobelli had never even been on the O's bench. So tonight, take just a moment to remember a man who made the most out of a difficult situation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Luke Scott, 2008 Upper Deck #419

Today I salute the reigning American League Player of the Week. It's astonishing how quickly and fervently the fans in Baltimore have embraced Luke Scott, and I'm sure it's a pleasant surprise for Luke himself. When he arrived during the winter, he was not exactly the centerpiece of the Miguel Tejada trade. The outfielder was known as a power hitter who was not complete enough to crack the Astros' everyday lineup, and as he neared the age of thirty, he wasn't a prospect in any sense. But sometimes all a guy needs is a fresh start and the faith of the higher-ups.

So far this year, Luke has been streaky, but the hot streaks have made his presence on the team more than worthwhile. He's within one home run of his career high, and is on pace to best his high-water marks in most other offensive categories. In the first four games after the All-Star Break, Scott earned the recognition of the league office by hitting .538 (7-for-13) with four runs scored, two doubles, three home runs, and six RBI. That's a pretty small sample size, but a 1.956 OPS is never something to sneeze at. The exclamation point came in Saturday night's come-from-behind thriller. The Birds had trailed 6-0 before they even came to bat but battled back to take a 9-7 lead, only to relinquish the advantage in the sixth inning. After Ramon Hernandez's leadoff homer in the ninth tied the score, Luke sent everyone home happy with a monstrous longball onto Eutaw Street beyond right field in the tenth inning. Giddy over his walkoff shot, Luke rounded third base and saw his jubilant teammates waiting to mob him at the plate. With a huge grin on his face, the left fielder doffed his helmet and rolled it home like a bowling ball. He then took a few halting steps and slid legs-first into the plate.

So we all know that "chicks dig the long ball", but that alone doesn't explain Luke's popularity. I'd say a large part of it is the simple fact that he's seemingly brought an end to the parade of horse crap that the Orioles trotted out to left field for the past few years: sagging veterans (Jays Payton and Gibbons, Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine, B.J. Surhoff), hastily converted infielders (Brandon Fahey, Eddie Rogers, Freddie Bynum, Fernando Tatis), and suspect prospects and 4-A types (Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie, Jeff Fiorentino, Luis Terrero, David Newhan)...and then there's Eric Byrnes, who deserves his own category of futility.

But Luke also seems like a truly personable, nice guy. He's shown gratitude to the fans that shout "LUUUUUUKKKKEEEEE" whenever he comes to bat, strokes a hit, or even catches a routine fly ball (I've seen it myself), as well as those who pack the left field reserve section and cheer him on. He evens seems amused by the guy who shows up to home games dressed as Darth Vader (get it? Luke?). The two best-known non-baseball passions of Luke's life are Christianity and gun ownership. Many jaded fans roll their eyes whenever a professional athlete suggests that God is responsible for his success, wondering aloud if God wanted the other players to fail. It seems cliche, a crutch for simple-minded, conservative, or image-conscious men. But with Luke Scott, there is a genuine note to his declarations of faith. I don't get the impression that Jesus is a buzzword to him, an easy answer. Nor do I suspect that he's trying to convert the masses in one fell swoop. Regardless of his motivations, I like Luke Scott, and I hope he's found his place in the baseball world.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Joe Nolan, 1984 Fleer #15

I enjoyed approximately eight years of (presumably) good vision before things went south for me. I can't specifically remember having trouble seeing the blackboard in school for any length of time, but I do recall the moment that my parents suspected something was amiss. We were at the National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, participating in a Cub Scouts field trip. The rainforest exhibit was one of the few areas of the aquarium with windows, offering a view of downtown Charm City. My mother pointed out the Domino Sugars building, with its name lit up in neon. I, however, could not read the giant electric sign. You can see why there might have been cause for concern.

I was soon diagnosed as nearsighted and equipped with eyeglasses, a rare sight in my second grade class. The glasses themselves weren't so bad: a pair of moderately thick, round, dark tortoiseshell frames. I wore them for about three years, and never broke or even bent them. I was a reasonably responsible kid, I guess. At first I didn't mind my bespectacled status, but when I found out during my third grade year that I'd eventually have to get braces, I was a little more dejected. One afternoon I actually started crying in class, prompting my concerned teacher to pull me aside and ask me what was wrong. I told her between sobs that I didn't want to be a geek. (Of course, being the quiet, sensitive, brainy kid, I'm pretty sure my lot in life was already cast.)

During fifth grade, I got my second pair of glasses, with a slightly stronger prescription. If I was worried about being uncool, I didn't do myself any favors: as I was on a Beatles kick, I chose a pair of large round lenses in a gold frame, a la John Lennon. Before long, I was chafing to break free of my spectacle shackles. Puberty had hit me like a ton of bricks - long, oily hair, braces, and a sudden growth spurt that turned my body into a gangly jumble of limbs seemingly overnight - and I was eager to make any upgrades I could to my appearance to better impress the girls that had become much more interesting to me. Somehow it didn't occur to me to get a haircut or to shave the squirrelly wisps of adolescent mustache. Anyhow, I did start doffing my glasses at any opportunity at school, usually when we were doing classwork and didn't have to look at the chalk board.

As my last year of grade school wound down and high school loomed on the horizon, I knew it was time for a change. With the blessing of my parents, I traded my owlish glasses for a pair of soft contact lenses. Though learning to insert them was one of the most thoroughly frustrating experiences of my life, before long I'd learned to slip them in and out without the aid of a mirror. It's now been twelve years since my Four-Eyed days came to an end, and many of my current friends and acquaintances don't even realize that I have a vision problem. Due to an unfortunate oversight at the MVA, my drivers' license doesn't indicate that I should be wearing corrective lenses when I take the wheel. I do have glasses (thinner tortoiseshell frames with smaller elliptical lenses), but they've been around for a decade and are bent up and are worn as an absolute last resort. So I'm still a little vain - shoot me.

Though I became a baseball fan when I was still the awkard kid with big glasses, I never looked up to the Joe Nolans, Ron Kittles, and Chris Sabos in my card collection. I'm sure it would've helped if there was a four-eyed masher that was active during my childhood, but the Reggie Jacksons and Dick Allens of the world were already retired.

Do you have a favorite glasses-clad ballplayer, past or present?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Adam Loewen, 2006 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH167

It's a shame to have to close the door on a pitcher's career at the age of 24, but that's the story for Adam Loewen. I can't begin to imagine how someone - even a finely-conditioned athlete - recovers from two elbow fractures in a little over a year. I guess Adam can't fathom it either, because he's chosen to call it quits as a pitcher. Once the most highly touted pitching prospect in baseball, his final pitching stat line is 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP in 35 games. But there's still some hope, no matter how faint, for Loewen.

Undoubtedly encouraged by the example of Cardinals pitcher-turned-slugging outfielder Rick Ankiel, the young Canadian lefty has announced that he will attempt to re-imagine himself as an outfielder/first baseman. If his amateur track record and the endorsement of O's hitting coach Terry Crowley) are to be believed, Adam's got a fair shot at making it work. It would certainly make one hell of a feel-good story, and all of Baltimore will be rooting for him. After all, we've had a lot of practice when it comes to pulling for underdogs. It's a funny sort of thing to say about a former fourth-overall draft pick, but any future contribution that Adam Loewen might make to the Orioles has to be considered a bonus, a pleasant surprise.

It seems like a pipe dream right now, but it would be funny if, after years of chasing the Delgados and Konerkos and Teixeiras of the world, the answer to our need for a powerful first baseman came from a guy who we were once counting on to anchor our starting rotation. Never say never.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jeff Ballard, 1990 Topps K-mart Super Stars #27

Although the Orioles fell just short of the AL East title in 1989, Jeff Ballard had a season to remember at the tender age of twenty-five. He went 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA, placing sixth in Cy Young voting. Of course he won only thirteen more games in his career after that, checking out five years later after a lousy season in the Pirates bullpen. But if you asked Jeff Ballard today, he would probably still tell you that it was all worth it just for the chance to be recognized by retail giant K-mart as one of the premier players in the game. When the lords of the Blue Light Special have taken notice of your mound prowess, you truly have arrived.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vintage Fridays: George Kell, 1958 Topps #40

I only started collecting older cards (1950s-1970s) within the last year or so. Since I've gotten most of them from eBay and trades, I haven't picked up many Tiptons. You can find an excellent illustrated definition here, but in short a Tipton is a well-loved card. The George Kell you see above was sent to me gratis by reader Ed, and it may be the most beautiful example of a Tipton in my collection. Even without the inky embellishments, the card's shape is a little warped, the corners are neatly rounded, and the surface is fairly worn. There's a nice crease running at about shoulder level. But really, it's all about the ink.

I always wonder what the thought process is for the original card owner in a case such as this. "Sure, George Kell had a Hall of Fame career, largely with the Tigers. He got his start with the A's, and was an All-Star in both varieties of Sox. At the close of his career, he mentored a young third baseman who, like Kell himself, was from Arkansas. But darnit, he doesn't get nearly enough recognition for his managerial work at AAA Oklahoma City! Well, me and my pen (and possibly black crayon) have something to say about that!"

The most confounding thing is that George Kell never managed the 89ers...at least according to Baseball Reference, whom I tend to trust more than mysterious homemade cards. At various times, the team was managed by former Oriole coaches Lee Elia and Greg Biagini, and even by Kell's former 1956 O's teammate Grady Hatton...but I don't see George's name on that list. His various online biographies make no mention of managerial accomplishments either. Was this a simple flight of fancy by a bored Oklahoman? Could be. All that I know is that I'm the owner of quite probably the only baseball card in the world that depicts George Kell as an OKC 89er.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rodrigo Lopez, 2003 Donruss Elite #9

Right off the bat, I apologize for the above scan. This is one of those charming cards with an all-foil background, so naturally all that shows up are the fingerprints.

As baseball players are a superstitious breed, Rodrigo Lopez is one of the few Orioles of any note to wear #13. Steve Barber is still the best of the lot, of course. Although this happens to be my favorite number, I must admit to belonging to another group that is heavy on superstition: Theatre People. You might be familiar with some of the classics. Before a show, you never wish an actor good luck. You must say "break a leg", which is just morbid and perverse, but charming nonetheless. Any utterance of MacBeth, a traditionally cursed play, is verboten. When speaking of one of Willie Shakespeare's finest works, you are to refer to it only as "the Scottish play". (As an interesting aside, one of my drama professors once directed a production of the aforementioned play, and decided that he alone was suited for the lead role. On opening night, as he jumped off of a platform for his death scene, he landed awkwardly and suffered a collapsed lung. He made a full recovery, but was forced to watch from the sidelines as someone else took the reins for the remaining performances.)

There are less universal superstitions that pervade the stage world, as well. The theatre building at my college was known to be haunted. One of the ghosts was a young girl; to keep her happy, all senior thesis productions featured a toy duck (or ducks) somewhere on the set.

The theatre folk adage that's weighing heavily on my mind at present is the notion that it's a good omen to have a final dress rehearsal that runs less than smoothly. Supposedly this means that you're getting the last few hiccups out of your system before it really matters. If it were all the same to me, I'd feel much more confident heading into an actual performance knowing that I was already clicking on all cylinders. But I think that's part of the mythos; if you breeze through the final dress, you might let your guard down and foul up when you're least expecting it.

In an hour, I have my final dress rehearsal for "The Frustrations of Stoker Pratt", a hilarious new play written by my friend Liam. I would love for it to go smoothly, but I have absolute confidence that the finished product will be polished and entertaining no matter what. (This is more a belief than a superstition; "Theatre Magic" has helped every play I've been involved with to turn out well, no matter how rough the rehearsal process had been.) At any rate, if you're in the Washington, DC area over the next few weeks and want to support the arts and have a few laughs, check it out and ease my neurotic fear that no one will come to the show. Email me with any questions.

Time to go break some legs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Miguel Tejada, 2005 Donruss #111

So, who wants to play shortstop for the Orioles? While the position has been a revolving door of offensive and defensive futility for this year's team (five different players have started at short, led by Freddie Bynum's 32 games and sparkling .443 OPS), I watched Miguel Tejada shine on a very public stage last night in the All-Star Game. He played one of the greatest games of his career, singling twice, walking, wreaking havoc on the base paths, scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, and fielding his position with a flair and competence not seen for the past few years. But then, Miggie has always had a penchant for the dramatic at All-Star Games. His first two years in Baltimore (2004 and 2005), he won the Home Run Derby and the ASG Most Valuable Player award, respectively. So as I observed his success last night, I was torn between wanting him to do well and not wanting him to be the reason for a National League victory.

I still realize that it was for the best that the Birds and Tejada parted ways when they did. They avoided the headaches that came with his appearance in the Mitchell Report and the revelation that he was two years older than he had claimed to be. He was beyond frustrated with losing in Baltimore (aren't we all?), and it was affecting his personality. Besides, three of the five players we received in return for him have made big contributions to a team that has shown signs of life. But it's beyond painful watching the O's shuffle through a thin deck of below-replacement-value impostors at the position that Tejada vacated. My kingdom for an adequate, a mediocre shortstop!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Team Checklist), 1994 Score #317

This is an excellent aerial view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which in 1993 hosted my first All-Star Game as a fan, and possibly my favorite. I breathlessly watched all of that year's festivities on television with my Dad. I still remember the excitement of the Home Run Derby, which was much less of a bloated ordeal then compared to today's three-round, three-hour slog. Ken Griffey, Jr. was one of my favorite players at the time, the exciting young star with a million-watt smile. He became the first (and only, as of 2008) player to hit the B & O Warehouse on the fly, on his way to tying Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez with seven home runs. They would have two tiebreaker rounds before Juan Gone emerged victorious, 12-11.

The game itself was nothing short of thrilling for me. It was amazing to see all of the brightest stars, the biggest names in the game, playing in my home town. The Orioles' legendary shortstop, Cal Ripken, Jr., started. Though he went 0-for-3, the American League had no trouble dispatching their National League counterparts, 9-3. Kirby Puckett won the MVP award, hitting a home run and driving in two runs. I remember discussing the game over the phone with my mother, who was watching from a hotel room in Philadelphia; she was on a rare business trip.

Three moments in the game stood out to me, and still do after fifteen years. The first was the classic Randy Johnson-John Kruk confrontation, in which the Big Unit threw his patented fastball about six feet over Kruk's head, causing the first baseman to bail out, fan himself off, and strike out weakly. The second was AL catcher Ivan Rodriguez hitting a drive deep to left field that actually stuck between two sections of padding in the outfield fence; Barry Bonds stood helplessly, staring at the trapped ball. The final moment still lives in Baltimore sports infamy.

Aside from Cal, ace pitcher Mike Mussina was the only All-Star for the O's. Late in the game, Mussina still had not been used. The Baltimore fans rose to their feet and cheered as Moose began to throw in the bullpen, but those cheers turned to boos when AL manager Cito Gaston (of the then-rival Blue Jays) neglected to bring him into the game. Rumor has it that Mike was throwing of his own volition, to stay on schedule going into the second half of the season. However, that hasn't stopped many Charm City fans from holding a grudge against Cito and our neighbors to the north ever since.

I hope the Midsummer Classic returns to Baltimore sooner rather than later, especially since Bud Selig has been awarding the honor to Camden Yards knockoffs ever since.

Monday, July 14, 2008

???, 1992 Confex Baseball Enquirer #42

I post this card tonight as an appeal for help. This is one of three "Baseball Enquirer" cards that I received from David at Indians Cards. Always. I know who the other two are supposed to be (Jim Palmer and Billy Ripken - I'll have to show you that one later), but this fella has me 100% stumped. The interview on the back is no help at all; it mentions the mystery man being a submarine pitcher and an Australian native. It then conflates these two facts into a lame joke about "Down Under", hyuk hyuk. The only submariner I remember pre-Chad Bradford was Todd Frohwirth, but the last time I checked Milwaukee wasn't the Outback. According to Baseball Reference, there weren't any Aussie pitchers in major league history prior to 1993 (former Yankee scum Graeme Lloyd was the first). I only found one checklist for this set online, and it doesn't identify the subject of card #42. So what gives? Is this actually supposed to be Frohwirth, and they just made up the Australian stuff out of whole cloth for the sake of a terrible pun? Or am I just having a mental block? The truth is out there. I hope.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kevin Millar, 2007 Topps Heritage #279

During a home stand last month, Orioles first baseman/Clubhouse Guy Kevin Millar suddenly appeared one night with a new bleached blond hair style. Even more curiously, as he strode to the plate for his first at-bat against the Astros, the PA system pumped out the funky cold rhythms of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby". Rumor has it that Millar had made a bet with former Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek over the NBA Finals. Varitek's Celtics won, and the events of that late June home game represented Millar's fulfillment of the wager. Big Kev has denied that this is the true story, but he sure didn't offer a better explanation, so I'm going with it.

Much like Kevin Millar, I know when I've been beaten. Last month, I made a bet with Thorzul, a Brewers fan and fellow card blogger. The O's were in Milwaukee for a three-game interleague series. Regrettably, the Birds grooved a few too many fat ones to Prince Fielder and lost the last two games of the set after picking up a nail-biting Friday night win. A few days ago, I made good on the wager and guest posted on Thorzul's blog with five of my favorite Brewers cards from my private stash. Give it a read; it was actually a lot of fun to write about a different team for a change...

As long as it's not the Yankees or Red Sox.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Juan Guzman, 1999 Fleer Tradition #403

Okay, here's a stupid question. What exactly constitutes "Tradition" in this offering? The card in question has a glossy finish and oodles of gold foil. It even has a modernized Fleer logo instead of the classic red five-point crown. The photography is sharp...heck, Juan Guzman's even wearing the contemporary O's uniform rather than a turn-back-the-clock ensemble. An Office Depot billboard is visible on the outfield fence, and there's nothing very classic or traditional about a nationwide office supplies retailer.

Guzman himself isn't even a longtime fan favorite that O's faithful would identify with; he spent most of his career with the rival Blue Jays. He started just thirty-two games in two partial seasons in Baltimore, before being flipped to the Reds in a 1999 deadline deal for B. J. Ryan. (A pretty damned good deal in hindsight, wouldn't you agree?)

In later years, Fleer would get a better grasp on the concept of "Tradition". Sure, some of the designs were kind of crummy, but at least they were more evocative of years gone by.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vintage Fridays; Wayne Garland, 1975 SSPC #376

Wayne Garland looks troubled. Maybe it's because he's stuck behind Jim Palmer, Mike Torrez, Mike Cuellar, Ross Grimsley, and even Doyle Alexander and he wonders if the Orioles will ever give him a good chance to crack the starting rotation. Or maybe it's just because the sun is setting behind him, and he dreads the uncertainty that nightfall brings.

Like Wayne Garland, I'm starting to feel troubled. The 2008 Orioles' first-half feel-good story is taking a familiar sharp left turn. Just when Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff, and company are churning out runs at an impressive rate, the pitching is falling apart. Three-fifths of the rotation can be counted on for no more than five innings, and the bullpen that was such an important part of the team's turnaround is in shambles. Matt Albers and Jamie Walker are injured, and Dennis Sarfate, Jim Johnson, and All-Star closer George Sherrill are suddenly surrendering even the largest of leads. To pile on, the defense is making crucial lapses that turn one-run innings into seven-run explosions. The Birds have lost five in a row to pretty mediocre competition, and now they head to a potential house of horrors in Boston for the final series before the All-Star Break. A ragtag bunch of rookies and unwanted veterans that was supposed to lose 100 games made it to the 88-game mark with a .500 record, but now they're two games below and the sun could be setting. Is it time to start trading off any veterans with sufficient value? Will this be the Baltimore swan song for Brian Roberts, Chad Bradford, and others?

I want to believe that anything is possible. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light, you Baltimore Orioles.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brian Roberts, 2007 Topps #502

Cross-posted from Camden Chat (originally posted there at 11 AM). Language may not be suitable for minors (mouse over to see the really naughty stuff), but hey, we've got to teach the children about "Animal House" eventually.

According to the latest tally from mlb.com one hour ago, Brian Roberts is still in FOURTH for the All-Star Final Vote, with balloting ending today at 5PM. Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria still leads Jermaine Dye of the White Sox, and they've apparently distanced themselves from (h)G(h)iambi, Brob, and that jackass from KC...

(puts on "COLLEGE" sweatshirt)

NOTHING IS OVER UNTIL WE DECIDE IT IS! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain't over now! 'Cuz when the going gets tough...

The tough get going! C'mon, who's with me? C'mon, let's go! AAAAAHHHHHH!!!

(runs out of CC alone, comes back to see everyone still sitting around morosely)

Hey! What's this lying around shit? What the fuck happened to the Birdland I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Kevin, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this. Longoria, he's a dead man! Dye, dead! Giambi...


Seriously, you guys. We're not gonna let some pissant rookie from that concrete retirement home down south take what rightfully belongs to the best damned smurf second baseman in the league, are we? We've got six hours and UNLIMITED VOTES to make a little more Orioles Magic happen.

Let's do it!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chris Hoiles, 1995 Bazooka #98

Today marks a major milestone in my development as a baseball fan, and specifically as an Orioles fan. On this date fifteen years ago, I attended my first game since taking an interest in baseball. It also happened to be the first time I set foot in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. My family had taken me to the occasional O's game in Memorial Stadium, but I hadn't yet caught baseball fever and my memories of those events were few and far between. But on July 9, 1993, just a month away from my eleventh birthday, I was experiencing the sights and the sounds of a day at the ballpark with a new appreciation for it all.

My uncle had four tickets for the Friday night game and couldn't use them, so he offered them to my father. The Birds would be hosting the AL West-leading Chicago White Sox, who would go on to win the division before bowing to the sinister Blue Jays in the ALCS. As we prepared to make the drive downtown, I can remember gathering up all of my baseball cards featuring players on both teams: into the stack went the Ripkens and the Raineses, the Bradys and the Big Hurts. After all, if the opportunity for autographs arose, I didn't want to be caught unprepared. In addition to my father and myself, my mother and grandmother also came along. It was the only time that I ever went to a baseball game with my grandmother, as it so happens.
We took our seats in the lower reserve, which afforded us a nice view of the entire diamond from the middle seating bowl as well as some slight relief from the triple-digit temperature at first pitch. I surely would have taken in all of the visual landmarks of the still-new structure, from the massive B & O Warehouse that loomed beyond the Eutaw Street flag court in right field to the modern video scoreboard in center field that was topped with a more traditional-looking clock adorned with an "ORIOLES" wordmark and flanked by twin oriole birds.

I had my game program and magazine in hand and dutifully took score as the visitors immediately jumped on O's starter Ben McDonald. Tim Raines led off with a single and scored on a double by Joey Cora, who in turn scored two outs later on a Robin Ventura grounder. After Dan Pasqua walked and Bo Jackson singled, Lance Johnson singled to right to make it 3-0 Pale Hose. What happened next was crucial. Rotund backup catcher Mike "Spanky" LaValliere lined a single to left field, but Brady Anderson came up firing and gunned down Bo and his artificial hip at the plate to end a long first inning. Ben McDonald wouldn't give up another run on the night.

Chicago sent rookie Rodney Bolton to the mound, making just the sixth start of his big league career. After losing his first four games, he'd picked up his initial win five days earlier, holding these same Orioles to three hits in seven innings. Early on in this game, the O's still couldn't solve Bolton. Former ChiSox infielder Tim Hulett's third inning single was the only hit off of the rookie through five innings. Hulett came around to score on a Mike Devereaux sacrifice fly to make it 3-1 in favor of the away team, and it stayed that way until the home half of the sixth.

The inning started innocuously enough, with Mike Devereaux grounding out to Ozzie Guillen. Harold Baines was next, and he also put the ball on the ground. However, second baseman Joey Cora's error allowed Baines to reach base and opened the floodgates. Cal Ripken's single put the tying run on base for catcher Chris Hoiles, who was in the midst of a career year. Hoiles drove the second pitch he saw deep to left field and GONE! Just like that, the Orioles had a 4-3 lead, but they weren't finished. After the next batter (David Segui) singled, however, Rodney Bolton was finished. He was replaced by Jeff Schwarz, who struck out Brady Anderson before falling apart. He walked the next three hitters, including Mark McLemore with the bases loaded to force in Baltimore's fifth run. That was all she wrote for Schwarz, who gave way to Bobby Thigpen. The former closer offered little relief; singles by Devereaux and Baines brought home all three inherited runners. Cal Ripken grounded into a fielder's choice to finally end the inning after twelve batters. The Birds had exploded for seven runs on five hits, three walks, and an error, and led 8-3.

Not content to stop there, the boys in orange and black tacked on two more runs in the seventh on a David Segui home run off of Thigpen. With a 10-3 lead, they kept the good times rolling in the following inning off of Kirk McCaskill, the fourth Chicago pitcher of the day. Cal Ripken singled in Damon Buford, Brady Anderson doubled in two more runs, Tim Hulett had an RBI grounder, and Harold Reynolds (the only O's starter without a hit) lined out to left field for a sacrifice fly. The Birds batted around once more and held a ridiculous 15-3 lead.

Entrusted to protect the twelve-run lead was hard-throwing rookie Brad Pennington. He was not up to the task, loading the bases and surrendering a two-run single to Tim Raines before rebounding to strike out Joey Cora and Frank Thomas. Robin Ventura then served Brad's thirty-second pitch into right field to knock the deficit down to single digits, 15-6. Johnny Oates summoned submariner Todd Frohwirth to shut the door. The tall righty barely broke a sweat, throwing five pitches and inducing a fielder's choice grounder off the bat of Steve Sax to end the game at a less-than-tidy three hours and thirty-four minutes.

With a staggering offensive outburst that neared their season high (16 runs vs. Boston on June 11), the O's had moved within two and a half games of the front-running Blue Jays and made a winner of Ben McDonald, who had rebounded to allow just two hits after a rocky first inning. The real hero was Chris Hoiles, who was 3-3 with a home run, three runs batted in, a walk, and a hit by pitch. He reached base all five times at bat, and scored three runs.

Most importantly, the Orioles cemented their status as MY team.

(Sorry, Steve.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Gary Roenicke, 1983 Donruss #27

This card offers irrefutable proof that the modern-day Orioles are so much the poorer for their short-sighted grooming policy. I don't know about you, but I don't want to imagine a world without Gary Roenicke's untamed locks and madman fu manchu. Just think about how much more dull O's history would be without Ross Grimsley's glistening afro, or Dennis Martinez's mop, or (god forbid) Eddie Murray's majestic afro/chops/'stache combo.

Say it with me now...Beards for Birds! Beards for Birds! Beards for Birds!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Brian Roberts, 2005 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH148

Alright, it's been an up-and-down week for the O's in my absence. But All-Star rosters were announced yesterday, with flat-billed closer George Sherrill being chosen as the lone Oriole representative. Or is he? Second baseman Brian Roberts was one of five players selected by AL manager Terry Francona as a candidate for the final spot on the team. But he needs your help. Vote online (you can follow the handy widget in the sidebar of this blog), and you (yes, you!) could send Brob to Yankee Stadium along with all of those overrated Yankees and Red Sox! If you need more convincing, consider the following:
  • AL leader in extra-base hits (tied - 46)
  • AL leader in doubles (32)
  • AL leader in triples (7)
  • Fourth in AL in steals (24)
  • Top ten in AL in runs, hits, and total bases
  • .295 AVG, .373 OBP, .493 SLG
  • One of the saving graces of my fantasy baseball team for four years running
So what are you waiting for? Get clicking! It's about time I used this blog to shamelessly shill for one of my favorite players, after all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mike Paradis, 2000 Bowman's Best #143

I've returned from my week in Ocean City with a little cheesy wordplay for you. Yes, I chose this card because Mike's surname is so similar to "paradise". Plus, it's pretty darned shiny. Anyhow, I had a great time and I figured that I'd use this occasion to tell you How I Spent My Summer Vacation:

  • Not giving my job more than a moment's thought
  • Weaning myself from my usual dependence on the Internet (generally, less than an hour per day was spent surfing...sometimes much less, depending on the reliability of the wireless signal!)
  • Spending most of my cash on ice cream and related novelties
  • Sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun and cooling ocean breeze, and catching up on some reading (Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs)
  • Putting myself at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean, which was freezing cold - and yet refreshing
  • Talking myself into buying a new pair of sandals to replace the pair I've had since my freshman year of college
  • Playing a cutthroat series of Phase 10 card games with my aunt, uncle, and future brother-in-law
  • Introducing same aunt and uncle to Nintendo Wii Sports
  • Memorizing lines for a play (okay, so it wasn't all fun and games)
  • Celebrating the Fourth of July by watching fireworks from the beach
  • Sleeping until 10 each morning - a real treat compared to my regular 6:45 rise time
  • Buying a 1975 SSPC Orioles team set on eBay...a little variety for Vintage Fridays
  • Following the Orioles mostly via the text message score updates that my sister receives
  • Placing dead last in a round of miniature golf (on the bright side, I was only 21 over par)
  • Watching the sun set from Fager's Island
  • Enjoying a full week in the company of my immediate family
So it was a very good week for me, and I hope it was likewise for you.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mike Mussina, 1995 Studio Gold #29 of 50

This Day in Orioles History: July 5, 1999

Orioles 9, Yankees 1 at Yankee Stadium

No glimpse at a week in O's history would be complete without a drubbing of the loathed Yankees, would it? Despite striking out only one batter in five and one-third innings, Mike Mussina allowed just one run and got plenty of support in winning his tenth game of the season. He was also backed up by three and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief from the dream team of Doug Johns, Gabe Molina, and Rocky Coppinger.

The Bird bats enjoyed a rare pounding of traditional Oriole killer Andy Pettitte, who allowed four runs in six innings. But the fun really started when future Baltimore reliever (and performance enhancer abuser) Jason Grimsley came to the mound in relief of Pettitte. The O's crushed him for five more runs in just one and one-third innings, the damage coming via the home run. Cal Ripken, Jr. walloped a two-run shot in the seventh, and B. J. Surhoff turned the game into a true laugher with his 20th longball, a three-run clout in the eighth. The win allowed the Orioles to take two out of three from the first-place pinstripers in the Bronx, which ain't bad.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Al Bumbry, 1975 Topps #358

This Day in Orioles History: July 4, 1974

Orioles 10, Red Sox 6 at Fenway Park

The Orioles pounded out twelve hits off of Boston pitcher Luis Tiant to draw within one and a half games of the first-place Red Sox. Second baseman Bobby Grich provided the extra-base power with a home run, a triple, and three runs batted in. Boog Powell knocked in two runs, one on a third-inning triple! The hefty first baseman hit just eleven three-baggers in seventeen seasons. Another hitter who starred for the Birds on this Fourth of July was Al Bumbry, who had previously received a Bronze Star for his service as a platoon leader in Vietnam. On this day, "Bee" singled twice, stole two bases, scored twice, and drove in a run.

The winning pitcher was righty Jesse Jefferson, who allowed ten baserunners in five and one-third innings but was only scored upon twice. His performance seemed downright dominant next to reliever Bob Reynolds, who allowed four runs (three earned) on ten hits in three and one-third innings. At the end of the day, all that mattered was that the O's had swept the front-running Sawx in Boston.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mike Smith, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #428

This Day in Orioles History: July 3, 1989

Orioles 11, Tigers 4 at Memorial Stadium

The surprising young Orioles maintained a solid grip on first place in the American League East and salvaged a split of a four-game series with the Tigers. The Birds jumped all over Detroit starter (and former Oriole) Doyle Alexander, knocking him out of the box in the third inning with five early runs. They kept up the pressure throughout, scoring eleven runs on fifteen hits. The big blow was a three-run home run by Mickey Tettleton, but outfielder Phil Bradley also shone with three hits (including a double and a triple) and three runs batted in.

Of course, the O's had their own pitching problems early in the game. Brian Holton left in the fourth inning having allowed three runs and was relieved by rookie "Texas" Mike Smith. He got the moniker because there had been two righthanded pitchers named Michael Anthony Smith in Baltimore's spring camp. Coaches and teammates differentiated between the two based on their home states; the other Mike Smith was known as "Mississippi Mike". Texas Mike had made a disastrous big league debut three days prior to this game, getting racked for eight runs in just an inning and one-third against those same Tigers. Charged with protecting a 5-3 lead in his second appearance, Smith was like a different pitcher. He stranded two inherited runners on his way to four innings of two-hit relief. Texas Mike lowered his ERA from 54.00 to 13.50, but more importantly he earned his first major league victory (Holton did not last the five innings necessary to receive credit for the win).

At the end of the day, the Orioles stood on top of the AL East by a six and a half game margin. They would not relinquish control of the division until September, a remarkable turnaround for a team that had lost 107 games (including the first 21 games of the season) in 1988.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Daniel Cabrera, 2006 Topps #453

This Day in Orioles History: July 2, 2004

Orioles 7, Phillies 6 at Citizens Bank Park

The Orioles got some measure of revenge against the Phillies for their seventeen-inning loss the previous summer, topping the home team in a sixteen-inning marathon for their third straight win. It shouldn't have taken so long, as the Birds jumped out to a five-run lead in the first inning off of Phils starter Brett Myers. However, prospect-turned suspect Matt Riley gave those runs back quickly, lasting just two batters into the second inning. O's reliever John Parrish gave up the go-ahead run in the third inning, but the score held at 6-5 until the top of the seventh, when Miguel Tejada tied the game with a solo home run.

Both teams traded zeroes from the eighth through the fifteenth, though the Phillies left the bases loaded twice in extra frames and Miguel Tejada ended the top of the fourteenth by being thrown out at home by right fielder Bobby Abreu. Abreu was one of three batters to walk four times in the game; Rafael Palmeiro and Philly shortstop Jimmy Rollins were the others. In all, nine O's pitchers walked eighteen Phillies batters, but they also notched nineteen strikeouts. Tejada again played the hero in the decisive sixteenth inning, lining a single to center field to score David Newhan from second base. In the bottom of the inning, Baltimore turned to Daniel Cabrera, who made the only relief appearance to date in his now five-year career. Handed a one-run lead, the lanky Dominican allowed the tying and winning runs to reach base before inducing a foul pop off of the bat of Placido Polanco to save the first career win for Eddy Rodriguez. Eddy had scattered five walks and one hit in three scoreless innings of work to buy the Oriole bats enough time to scrape together a run.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Curtis Goodwin, 1995 Upper Deck #4

This Day in Orioles History: July 1, 1995

Orioles 6, Blue Jays 2 at SkyDome

Rookie outfielder Curtis Goodwin continued a torrid start to his major league career with a 3-for-5 performance in the O's win over the last-place Blue Jays. He hit his first home run, a two-run shot in the fifth inning off of Toronto starter Al Leiter, doubled, and drove in three runs total. A month into his stint with the Birds, the speedy outfielder was hitting .370. Though he would slump later and finish at .263, Curtis' future was bright enough that Baltimore was able to swap him to the Reds for veteran pitcher David Wells.

The Oriole attack on this day was top-heavy; the three hitters at the top of the lineup (Goodwin, Manny Alexander, and Rafael Palmeiro) accounted for nine of the team's ten hits (designated hitter Bret Barberie had the other).

On the mound, lefty Jamie Moyer excelled, evening his record at 3-3 by pitching into the eighth inning while allowing six hits and no walks and striking out four. He was economical, throwing just 83 pitches. Incidentally, Moyer is the only participant in this game who is still an active player some thirteen years later; he was 32 at the time and is now a 45-year-old veteran starter for the Phillies. Time flies, huh?