Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #50

This is yet another photographic oddity from the 2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites set. I'm pretty sure that Andy had no idea how interesting these cards were when he packed them up and sent them my way! Unlike the Jim Palmer 1975-style card with the circa 1991 photo, this card matches up well: Topps has paired a 2000 card design with a photo from July 25, 1999. I can pinpoint the date because of the unusual uniform that Cal Junior is wearing. If you don't remember the Orioles wearing a black pullover with silver script text and especially short sleeves, it's because they haven't worn them yet.


One of the more poorly-executed ideas in the history of baseball promotions was Turn Ahead the Clock Day/Night, which was sponsored by Century 21. Unlike the regular Turn Back the Clock games, when teams commemorate past glories by wearing vintage uniforms from days gone by, The first Turn Ahead the Clock Day was the brainchild of the Seattle Mariners, who got the Kansas City Royals to play along for a 1998 game and had a lot of fun with it. Read more here. So when the Powers That Be got a hold of the idea and spread it out to twenty other teams the following year, it became much too much. Most of the designs were laughable eyesores, and to make matters worse, they seemed to conform to the same dumb template. The O's actually got off easily. Don't believe me? Check this out. Or this (Nice 'stache, Larry.) How about this? Maybe this? By now you're probably begging for mercy. But the piece de resistance came from the "Mercury" Mets. Sheesh.

After the way the game turned out, it's a wonder the Birds didn't ask to keep the "futuristic" unis in a fit of superstition. Powered by Cal's three hits, including a double and a home run, and a three-homer, six-RBI explosion from the temperamental Albert Belle, Baltimore won an eleven-inning thriller over the Angels, 8-7. It was the team's sixth straight win, as the Orioles overcame a horrendous start by Sidney Ponson (surprise!) with seven innings of one-hit relief. Belle's third homer tied the game with two outs in the ninth inning, and Cal gave the fans a thrill with a walkoff single two innings later.

That's all well and good, but an Orioles uniform without orange? No way.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jim Dwyer, 1986 Fleer #274

"Howdy, folks! This is your old pal, Jim 'Pigpen' Dwyer, comin' atcha from the not-too-distant past with a brief announcement! Like most good men and women, I'm enjoying a relaxing Labor Day Weekend...um, in the past. Right. Anyway, I'm doing some fishing, a little bit of reading, and of course, squeezing in a photo shoot for Franklin's new vulcanized rubber batting gloves. But I thought I would drop in to let you know that your good friend and blogger Kevin is still toiling in his new living space, unloading and meticulously arranging boxes full of the kind of mind-boggling garbage that takes twenty-six or so years to accumulate. He's been up since six this morning, and he's a bit too weary to talk about baseball cards at the moment. But tomorrow is a day of rest, Lord willin', and I'm sure he'd like nothing better than to pop back in during the day to do his thing. Thanks for your time, and for talking me out of that Broncos Super Bowl pick."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Ross Grimsley, 1978 Topps #691

It's another one of those especially exhausting days. I was up until 2:15 last night packing my car full of my possessions, in an attempt to make tomorrow's moving day as simple as possible. Binder after binder and long box after long box of baseball cards. Oh, and all of that other stuff that constitutes my daily life. Today I unloaded it all, and helped my father move the furniture that's already in the house up and down the stairs to make room for my furniture. (We only put one hole in the wall!) So it's another one of those days where I need the card to do the talking for me.

Thank goodness for Ross Grimsley.

This card represents pure joy. From the day that I first saw it on eBay, I knew that I must have it. I love the look of simple glee on Grimsley's face, augmented by his 70's-tastic chops, flavor saver mustache, and of course the bushy, flowing, curly...to call it an afro just doesn't do it justice. That thing is a full-out mane. It's glistening in the sunlight, or perhaps under the bright stadium lights. The top button is unbuttoned, the choker necklace on full display. I'd like to think that this photo was taken just after a Friday night game. The Orioles have won another one, but the night is balmy and still young. Ross Grimsley is feelin' fine, and ready to party.

Postscript: Only now do I notice that the team name running along the bottom left border runs almost parallel to the script on Ross's jersey. It's almost like a shadow. That's pretty cool, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nick Markakis, 2008 Upper Deck Goudey Graphs #GG-NM

Why do I collect baseball cards? It becomes increasingly hard to remember as prices spike and more adult concerns occupy my mind and my bank account. A lot of the simple joys of ripping open a pack of cards have been lost in the cynicism of the current state of the hobby. I can remember the thrills that I used to feel just by pulling a star player, or even a card that I needed to come a bit closer to a completed set. Heck, an insert that would be run-of-the-mill by today's standards (like a Collector's Choice Silver Signature of Cal Ripken, Jr.) was a major get to my adolescent self. When I got 11 1993 Topps BlackGold cards from one Winner card, it was like I had hit the lottery. Now, I occasionally get a quick smile from an especially goofy-looking picture, or a little rush of familiarity from an Orioles player, but there's nothing all that special about opening a pack of baseball cards.

As I've alluded to recently, the past few weeks have been a period of upheaval in my life. There was the unwelcome surprise of a malfunctioning car window, and the subsequent expenses. The following week, my roommate moved out on fairly short notice. I returned from vacation to spend last week in a half-empty apartment with no cable or Internet, wondering whether I could afford the next month's rent on my own while hoping that one of the handful of friends an acquaintances who'd expressed interest would be able to move in before October. The point became moot by midweek, when a dental checkup revealed the need for a crown and three fillings, at a cost which made my parents' offer to move me back home for the near future a borderline necessity.

That's right, I'm embracing the most tired new-media stereotype: the blogger that lives in his parents' basement.

Don't get me wrong: I get along very well with my family, which includes my younger sister (also living under that same roof). I'm grateful and relieved that I'll be saving a good deal of money by going home. But I can't help but feel a little self-conscious; it seems like a step backwards. After three-plus years of living on my own, and four years of on-campus living before that, I don't want to be perceived as dependent or lazy or immature. With all of these thoughts swirling in my head last Saturday, I found myself in Wal-Mart (or is it Walmart now?) seeking out my own brand of comfort food: baseball cards.

I've been seduced by the siren call of the premium retro cards as of late (Allen & Ginter and Goudey). I bought an Orioles Goudey team set from eBay last year, and recently got a pack of 2007 Goudey in a repack box; that's the total sum of these two product lines in my collection. My curiosity has been piqued as the blogs that I frequent devote their energies to this year's sets. I spent several minutes in Walmart carefully eyeing the blaster boxes before concluding that there was no A&G. So I grabbed some Goudey, superstitiously selecting the first box that had caught my eye (always go with your first instinct, right?). I knew the base set had some retired players scattered throughout, and maybe I'd get lucky and pluck an Eddie Murray or Jim Palmer card. I rolled my eyes as the box touted a cut signature of Abraham Lincoln, as well as randomly inserted buybacks of actual 1934 Goudey cards.

I delayed my gratification, waiting until Sunday to tear the shrink wrap off the small box. I reached in and pulled out the first pack; a quick tear of the wrapper showed the back of a Steve Carlton card. Not too shabby; he was one of the short prints. As is my habit, I flipped the pack over and started from the front. Ryan Zimmerman: like most of the Nationals, he fills me with indifference. John Lackey: pretty good pitcher, ugly guy, fairly plain. Eric Byrnes: mini card of a player who sucked as an Oriole (briefly) then resurrected his career in Arizona and annoyed the crap out of me on Fox telecasts. Nick Markakis: a brief pick-me-up. I was happy to get an Oriole, particularly the young guy that is expected to be a cornerstone of a long-awaited future winning team. As I took a closer look at the card, I noticed the blue ink that was somehow camouflaged by the orange script on his jersey. As I recounted on another blog, this was my genuine reaction:

"Holy crap, it's autographed!"

My surprise had been compounded because of the stealthy nature of the signature. Unlike most autographed inserts, the design of the card was identical to the base card. No blank space laid out for Nick to sign, no sticker, no front-of-card text announcing something special. I like it better that way. Talk about your lucky pulls! The only other autograph I've nabbed from a pack was Nyjer Morgan in 2008 Topps. That was decidedly less exciting because a) I'd bought a whole hobby box, and Topps seeds one auto card per box and b) Nyjer couldn't manage to stick on the PIRATES' major league roster. So essentially, the first at-random autograph I got was arguably the best player on my favorite team! I had a silly grin plastered on my face for the rest of the afternoon. I showed off the card to each member of my family, though their collective interest in rectangular cardboard is considerably less than my own.

So why do I collect baseball cards? At a time when I really needed a pick-me-up, I plucked a card that instantly becomes one of the most personally significant pieces of my collection. That will give me enough juice to keep buying, ripping, blogging, sorting, and trading for the next little while, until the next discovery.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jim Palmer, 2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #46

This card arrived a few weeks ago in a bundle from Andy, the mastermind behind the enjoyable and informative '88 Topps blog. If you're unfamiliar with All-Time Fan Favorites, it's a set that Topps released from 2003 to 2005, highlighting the best players in each team's history on designs from past Topps issues. These aren't reprints; they've just taken different photos from their archives and created new cards in an old style. The card backs feature the player's statistics only from those years that he spent with the featured team. It's a neat way to allow collectors to pull some vintage stars and vintage designs out of brand new packs.

Now, I mentioned that these cards use era-appropriate photos for the players. Mike Cuellar appears on a 1969 Topps-style card clean-shaven. Cal Ripken, Jr. has gray around his temples on his 2000-styled card. So when I took a closer look at this card, I did a double-take. As you may know, the design is taken from the colorful 1975 Topps issue. But you might notice that Jim Palmer is wearing a solid black cap, with the ornithologically-correct bird logo that didn't make an appearance until 1989. It might be harder to tell, but he's also wearing an orange practice jersey with the newer-style "Orioles" script (it's longer and thinner than the graphic used during Palmer's career). More apparent are the creases on Palmer's face; known for his dark good looks during his playing days, here he looks significantly older than he did on his actual 1975 Topps card. I think I'm onto something of interest here.

You might remember me writing about Jim Palmer's aborted comeback attempt during Spring Training in 1991, some seven years after his retirement (and months after his enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame). I am reasonably certain that the photograph on this card was taken during that very brief time in which the 45-year-old legend was in camp with the Orioles! I don't doubt that it was big enough news for Topps to dispatch a photographer to get some shots of him for their end-of-season Traded set (or maybe even their brand-new Stadium Club set!). With the then-ongoing boom of the baseball card market, few things would have created such a buzz as the first current-issue Jim Palmer card since 1984.

Now I'm still making something of an assumption here, but nonetheless this is one cool card that was worth the twelve years that the photo sat unused in Topps Central.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fernando Valenzuela, 1994 Fleer #22

Last weekend, I had the excellent fortune to attend an acoustic performance by Brian Vander Ark for the second straight year. Chances are good that you don't recognize the name. In another lifetime (1997 to be exact) Brian and The Verve Pipe had a #1 hit with "The Freshmen". I preferred their lesser hit, "Photograph", probably because it wasn't played to death on the radio and TV. At any rate, I hadn't given the group much thought since my high school days, except for the occasions when one of those two songs shuffled to the front of the line on my mp3 player. They apparently released a few more albums with much less fanfare, and drifted apart save for the occasional impromptu reunion concert. I owe my reintroduction to their music - and to Brian Vander Ark himself - to my friend Lauren.

To call Lauren a Verve Pipe devotee would be an understatement. She tells stories of following the band on tour as a teenager, and I don't doubt her for a second. Everything came to a head last summer, when she announced her intent to celebrate her birthday (and the birthday of her boyfriend Andy) by hosting a concert by Brian Vander Ark in the beautiful old home that the couple rents in Washington, DC. As it so happens, Brian's spent the past five or six years focusing on a solo career, free from the shackles of a corporate record label. As of this writing, he's released four solo albums and a few live bootlegs. Of course, Verve Pipe royalties only go so far, presumably. So to help cover his expenses, he takes bookings all around the country for a reasonable fee: he's played venues ranging from colleges and coffee houses to living rooms and back yards. I personally think this is incredibly cool, though some of my friends
assumed that such an enterprise was an act of desperation, a Spinal Tap-esque tour of denial.
The thing is, Brian Vander Ark is playing his music in the smallest of venues, and he seems to be loving every minute of it. He travels with no entourage, and mingles with the guests before and after his performance, introducing himself as simply "Brian". He allows his hosts to choose much of the set list, though he teased Lauren for her Verve Pipe-heavy preferences, insisting that he'd need help remembering the words ("Are you sure you don't want to hear 'The Freshmen'?"). He even invited Lauren to share the microphone for a song or two.
This year's show (again meant to celebrate Lauren's birthday) had a bit of a different vibe. A fellow Brian Vander Ark fan that she knew had already been planning to book him, so Lauren offered up her house for convenience's sake. This meant that there were several toddlers bouncing around the living room, a rare sight at this particular venue. When Brian entered unannounced, guitar case in hand, he remarked, "I'd forgotten how great this place is!". If the children were a distraction, he didn't let on. In fact, he laughed right along with us as a few of the kids bopped manically to his soulful, introspective music. He also obliged a young boy who insisted upon receiving a high-five at the conclusion of each song. Of course, it probably helps that he's now a father himself: he wrote the song "Evangeline" for his daughter.
Brian gets some laughs when he introduces the song "Colorful" by talking about his participation in the Mark Wahlberg film "Rock Star". "I had a mullet for four months, for about thirty seconds of screen time." Wahlberg sings "Colorful" to Jennifer Aniston in the film's climactic scene - or so it would seem. "I'm watching the movie, and he opens up his mouth, and my voice comes out," Vander Ark tells us. "It was a weird feeling...until I started getting the checks. They'll put my daughter through community college. 'The Freshmen', on the other hand..."
He closes the show by leading the motley crowd in a cover of "Here Comes the Sun", just as he did last year. It's a happy note to go out on. There might be a snide connotation to "One Hit Wonders", but don't forget that these musicians are capable of some really moving artistic expression. Just because it doesn't sell a million copies doesn't mean that it's not worth seeking out. Brian Vander Ark is a gifted storyteller with his guitar. But he's a devoted father and husband, and an easygoing and grateful person, too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pete Stanicek, 1989 Topps Toys 'R' Us Rookies #30

I don't want to grow up
I'm a Toys 'R' Us kid
So many toys at Toys 'R' Us
That I can play with
From bikes to trains
To video games
It's the biggest toy store there is
I don't want to grow up
'Cuz if I did
I wouldn't be a Toys 'R' Us kid

As a kid who grew up in the '80s and early '90s, Toys 'R' Us was a Mecca to me. I can't remember the last time I saw a commercial for a toy store on TV, but in those days they were ubiquitous. Kay Bee Toys and Lionel Kiddie City also had a decent share of the toy scene, but to my mind they were poor imitators. Toys 'R' Us was the biggest, the most awe-inspiring. They had Geoffrey the Giraffe. They took me by the hand and led me through all of my various toy crazes through the years, from Definitely Dinosaurs to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Germs to Dick Tracy to WWF action figures.

I've still got many of those childhood toys, as well as several newer toys. I am both a pack rat and a man who is very much in touch with his inner child. I stopped buying them in college, though some still trickle in as gifts from well-meaning friends. But every time I drive past those long white buildings with the bright, multi-colored letters (including that goofy backwards 'R'), I can't help but smile. Sometimes, when I've got time to kill, I'll even stop and look around. After all, I'm a Toys 'R' Us kid.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fernando Valenzuela, 1993 Fleer Flair #159

For me, one of the special benefits in becoming a baseball fan in 1993 was that I got to witness the comeback of Mexican sensation Fernando Valenzuela. Here was a guy who loved to play baseball, and his joy was contagious. As a pudgy rookie for the Dodgers in 1981, he set the world on fire with his masterful pitching, touching off "Fernandomania". Yet after a solid decade in which he won 141 games for Los Angeles, Valenzuela was unceremoniously released by both the Dodgers and the Angels (twice) during the 1991 season. Not ready to hang it up at the age of thirty-one, he recharged his batteries in the Mexican league and earned a shot with the Orioles.

After waiting until May 18 to record his first win in orange and black, Fernando bounced back. He tossed two shutouts, a rain-shortened eight-inning two-hitter against the Indians and a six-hit gem vs. the eventual World Champion Blue Jays. The latter effort sparked a personal four-game win streak. He finished the season 8-10 with a 4.94 ERA that was inflated by a rough stretch from mid-August to season's end. Perhaps noting that Fernando had worn down late in the year, no one signed him for 1994 and he returned to Mexico, performing well enough to earn a spot with the Phillies in July. He stuck around after the players' strike, having a couple of good years in San Diego (including a 13-8, 3.62 line in 1996). A rocky 1997 proved to be his final campaign in the majors, but the thirty-six year-old went back to Mexico once more and played professionally for another decade, even becoming teammates with son Fernando Junior in 2006!

I love the fact that Fernando Valenzuela pitched for seventeen years in the major leagues and roughly a dozen more in his native country. It seems fair to say that you don't play professionally for almost thirty years unless you truly enjoy it. Most people in Fernando's position would find it a bitter pill to swallow, to go from a millionaire with one of the most prominent franchises in pro sports to having to earn your way back from the bottom up on multiple occasions. I'm going somewhere with this, but I want to give the second half of the story its own focus. Look for that on Tuesday.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Larry Bigbie, 2005 Donruss Team Heroes #45

This card is somewhat ironic in hindsight. Given Larry Bigbie's disappointing early flameout, and his later implication as a performance-enhancing drug user in the Mitchell Report, it's safe to say that he was far from heroic. I don't point this out as a way of blaming or attacking Larry Bigbie. If anything, I'm empathizing with the outfielder who was briefly one of my favorite O's. I don't consider myself a hero, and one of the biggest reasons for this was on display at last night's game.

I have a terrible, irrational temper, and it's always at its worst when I'm watching sporting events and have some sort of rooting interest. It's embarrassing to me, but it's pretty clear that it's even more embarrassing to those closest to me. In the most recent example, I joined my younger sister, my future brother-in-law, and a friend of theirs for the opening game of a weekend series between the Orioles and the Yankees. I've actually never been to a game at Camden Yards when the hated pinstripers were in town, and just the thought of their obnoxious, front-running fans taking over our home ballpark fills me with anger and disgust. I knew it would be a long night even under the best of circumstances, and with erratic rookie Radhames Liz taking the mound for the Orioles, we weren't looking at the best of circumstances.

Fortunately, as we climbed the stairs to our student-discount tickets in Section 362, the loud, overbearing voices that wafted down to us were from an enthusiastic (if uncouth) group of young Oriole fans. It warmed my heart to hear their chants of "Yankees Suck" and "F*** the Yankees", and although I was too polite to join in on the latter, I did clap along to the rhythm. To be sure, there was still a disturbing amount of cheers when pro-Yankee events unfolded, but we weren't going down without a fight.

Early on, the fight almost got physical, as some O's fans a few rows in front of us stood and engaged in a shouting match with a particularly annoying young man in a Robinson Cano tee and one of those stupid fashion caps with a black Yankees logo on a black hat. These hats are utterly ridiculous, because a) what's the point of odd-colored team merchandise? Black isn't in the New York color scheme, and b) black on black means you can't even see the logo. Dumb. Anyway, both parties were admonished by our usher, but that just encouraged the Yank-lovin' bozo. He was in my line of sight all night, and I smoldered as he stood and applauded demonstrably for each and every hit by the visitors. He would turn and mug to the rest of us. He was the embodiment of everything that is hateable in a Yankee fan.

It was a tense, back-and-forth game, which managed to keep things relatively in control until the Baltimore bullpen collapsed in the eighth and ninth innings, handing New York a five-run lead with Mariano Rivera already in the game and the bottom portion of the O's lineup due up. Now the invaders became truly insufferable, serenading the disgusted majority of hometown fans who headed for the exits with chants of "Beat the traffic!" and "Let's go Yankees!". It takes some brave people to make themselves heard when the outcome is safely in hand. Unsurprisingly, our friend in the navy #24 shirt was a ringleader, hopping up and down so animatedly that you would have had assumed he was on hand for a World Series-clinching game, not an August matchup of an underachieving $200-million-dollar Frankenstein and a beleaguered last-place club with a patchwork rotation and bullpen.

Simply put, I lost my mind. Already physically sore from sitting in a tense and rigid position all night, and going hoarse from cheering and jeering, I tore into my new enemy, knowing it was futile. He didn't care that his team was in a distant third place, because we were worse. (I'm not sure how you can celebrate beating someone you're expected to beat, but there you go.) I was aware that by reacting to his showboating, I had taken the bait and given him the perverse satisfaction that he had sought. My sister cringed and rolled her eyes as I cursed, spat, and made obscene gestures, bringing myself down to this punk's level. Eventually, I exhausted myself and became resigned to the disturbing reality of the game. We (myself, my sister, and a few kindred souls in the row below us) derived a passive-aggressive entertainment from sitting back and mocking the overzealous display of The Jerk, because he obviously was overcompensating for some other sort of personal shortcoming. In hindsight, this is the approach I should have taken from the beginning, acknowledging the absurdity of the situation. But no matter how I try to reason with myself before and after the fact, I always seem to give in to my baser instincts when the going gets tough. I detach myself from reality in the heat of the moment and become someone I'm not proud of.

I'm no hero. Talking about your shortcomings is one thing. But doing something about it is another matter. I'll try to let you know how things change in the future.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Hoyt Wilhelm, 1960 Topps #395

A week ago Thursday, I was driving down the mountain with my father to catch a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees vs. Lehigh Valley IronPigs game at PNC Field (the former Lackawanna County Stadium, a name I will always prefer). We were nearing the end of our weeklong vacation, and I was a bit surprised when Dad asked me a question.

"Did you want to go to Cooperstown tomorrow?"

I had made an offhand comment to my mother earlier in the week that I hadn't been to the Baseball Hall of Fame since our family trip in the summer of 1995. I suppose it had come to mind because our cottage in Northeastern Pennsylvania is about two and a half hours south of Cooperstown, which is generally as close as I get to the apocryphal birthplace of baseball. I wasn't exactly asking to go, but it might have been a subconscious request. So I told Dad that I'd like to go, and the next morning we set off on a thoroughly monotonous drive up I-81 to I-88, the latter of which we stayed on for 60 mind-numbing miles before exiting onto Route 28. The one landmark that stuck in my mind was the signboard outside of a small church near our destination: "GOD IS THE POTTER, NOT HARRY". It referenced a passage from the book of Isaiah, which I'd assume is the one about mankind being roughly akin to a lump of clay. I wonder if there are books or websites that the ministers and their staffs pull these semi-clever marquees from.

One of the major impressions that Dad and I both drew from our second visit to baseball mecca was just how little the exhibits had changed since our initial trip thirteen years ago. Sure, there was some new stuff, like an excellent art gallery that could probably be expanded, and a great statue of Buck O'Neill near the entrance. But for the most part, the three-story building on Main Street is as timeless as the National Pastime itself. I did make it a point to photograph nearly every piece of Orioles memorabilia that I came across, and as such I got a few snapshots related to the wily, mean-looking gunfighter pictured above, reliable knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm. His bronze plaque in the Hall of Fame members' gallery was a no-brainer, even though he's pictured with a New York Giants cap.
As you can see above, it makes particular mention of his no-hitter against the Mickey Mantle-led Yankees on September 20, 1958. I of course took a special joy in being reminded of one of the greatest feats in the decades of battle between my favorite team and the Evil Empire from New York. This no-hitter was referenced in a few other places, including a display of White Sox items from the mid-20th century that had a Wilhelm jersey from his Pale Hose days. There was also the brightly-colored display commemorating all complete-game no-hitters since 1936 (I assume that's because the Hall was founded that year and started collecting memorabilia) with a game ball from each separate performance. In the picture below, Hoyt is wedged between former Dodgers headhunter Sal "The Barber" Maglie and former Braves star Lew Burdette.

Surprisingly, I declined to pick up any baseball cards while I was in Cooperstown. This was mostly because it was after 4:00 when we finished sightseeing and there was homemade lasagna waiting for us at the cottage. There wasn't really much time for shopping. I did take time to gawk at all of the baseball cards displayed at the Hall, of course, especially the old tobacco cards (which includes a copy of the famous Honus Wagner, labeled as "the Holy Grail" of card collecting). Heck, I even posed for my very own Cracker Jack card! I'm off to cheer on the Birds against those Yankee invaders, and I need to get a head start if I'm going to properly welcome Mike Mussina back to Baltimore. So I'll leave you with the next hot chase card in collecting circles.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Val Majewski, 2005 Bazooka #173

DISCLAIMER: In writing today's entry, I mean no ill will towards any blog readers with the following names: Walter, Wally, Val, Victoria, Vicky. No Walters, Wallys, Vals, Victorias, or Vickies were harmed in the writing of this piece.

I've always been curious about Val Majewski's name. Not his last name, though I believe it's pronounced My-ESS-kee. Nope, I'm talking about the "Val" portion of his name. In general, Val is not a very popular name for men; Majewski is the only Val in O's history. (In 1960, they briefly had a catcher named Valmy Thomas, for what it's worth.) A quick trip around the web tells me that the Birds' 2004 Minor League Player of the Year was born Walter Val Majewski. This briefly made me wonder why he would choose to go by Val, as I'm sure its seeming feminity left him open to teasing from children, simple-minded hecklers, and the like. But if you think about it, he didn't have a whole lot of options. "Walter" is a relic from another era, bringing to mind venerable newsmen and sour-faced character actors, but not exciting young baseballers. "Wally" sounds kind of silly, and again is a tad anachronistic. He could have used his initials, but "W.V." doesn't really roll off of the tongue, and maybe he had some sort of deep, dark grudge against the state of West Virginia. So, in an attempt to be his own man, he went with Val. That's my story, anyhow.

I actually have a friend from my college days who also goes by "Val", though her given name is Victoria. Again, this seems like an unconventional shortening, but she has her reasons. Apparently when she was younger her crueler classmates would call her "Sticky Vicky", which was of course fairly upsetting. I'm surprised that they didn't go for "Icky Vicky", but I have to admit that the word sticky conjures much more varied and grotesque interpretations. So Val it is, and I have to admit that it suits her well. She's really a fascinating person; she's studied in South Africa, traveled much of Europe, conquered horseback riding and mountain climbing, and found employ in both a Renaissance Fair(e?) and a touring theatrical group. Val has done all of these things before the age of twenty-five and pushes boldly ahead. With her enterprising attitude, blond hair, and imposing physical presence (if she's not 6' tall, she's pretty darned close), I've sometimes joked that Val is short for "Valkyrie".

I struggle to find a similar match between Val Majewski's name and his character, but then I don't really know as much about him. Though if you're wondering where he's gotten to, he (like Jay Gibbons) took a detour to the Atlantic League earlier this year. After a short stint as a Newark Bear, he grabbed a minor league deal with the Houston Astros. In 25 games at AAA Round Rock, he's hitting .275/.390/.536. Injuries played a major part in derailing his progress in the Orioles' organization, but at the age of 27 maybe he's still got some major league baseball left to play.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dennis Martinez, 1983 Fleer #64

It's been a while since I've actually focused on a card, rather than just talking about the player featured. In this case, I want to give credit where it's due. A little bit ago I mocked the primitive design and blurry, nondescript photography of Fleer's 1982 set. The improvement from that year to their next product was pretty remarkable. As you see above, the cards feature a ho-hum gray border, but it works for this set. The player names are in a nice clean font, and you can never go wrong with team logos. The card back is the first in over a decade to feature a second picture (a small headshot), and the vertical orientation allowed Fleer to squeeze in a lot of great stuff: full major AND minor league stats, and several biographical facts of interest.

But the biggest difference between 1982 and 1983 for fleer was the photography. In this set, it's much crisper, and the composition is fantastic. Many of the cards feature off-field shots of the players, but they are more candid than the stiff poses that Topps was known for. The result is really charming; the players seem more human and there's a lot of fun and playfulness to be found. I'd have to say that the compelling nature of the pictures is what makes the low-tech borders work. All of the collector's attention is focused on the featured player.

Of course it helps when the subject is as photogenic and exuberant as "El Presidente", Dennis Martinez. This card is classic Dennis, with his thick mop of jet-black hair, his ever-present mustache, and a big toothy grin. Even in many of his action shots, Dennis seems to be laughing. This card is augmented by the card that follows it in the set, #65. Tippy Martinez is pictured in front of the same backdrop as Dennis, the blue wall and the netting and all. He is also hatless, smiling, and tossing a ball. I can't help but imagine that Baltimore's two Martinezes were engaged in a light-hearted pregame catch, and the Fleer photographer was lucky enough to snap them in action.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1993 Upper Deck #36

I spent the past week at my family's cottage, far away from the Internet and cable television. On occasion this can be tedious, but fortunately our vacation this year coincided with the first week of the Summer Olympics. I've always had a tendency to watch almost any sport that's televised, but I was still surprised to find myself glued to the TV for gymnastics, volleyball, fencing, and even water polo. But one of the biggest thrills for me was watching the gripping events that unfolded all week long in the swimming pool.

Night after night, the million-dollar question was: can Michael Phelps make Olympic history by winning an astonishing eight Gold medals? I was skeptical at first, because so many freakish things could happen. But as Phelps earned his medals, one by one, my doubts were erased. Freakish things did happen - and they either didn't matter or actually benefited him. Phelps's goggles malfunctioned, filling with water during one race. As many have suggested, he essentially won the race blind. A boastful French 4X100M freestyle relay team held a significant lead going into the final lap, only for American anchor Jason Lezak to erase a huge deficit in the blink of an eye.

I marveled at Phelps' dominance; it all seemed easy, and automatic at times. By the time the most unusual and incredible finish occurred - Phelps' .01 second win over Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100M butterfly - I didn't even need to see the frame-by-frame photo finish. I was sure that he'd found a way to do it again. There were still some tense moments during the record-breaking final relay race; it wouldn't have taken much for an overeager teammate to jump the gun and thereby disqualify the whole U.S. crew. But in the end, Michael Phelps stood alone in the annals of the Olympics.

I've talked before about the fierce sense of hometown pride that Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, as we lovingly refer to ourselves) feel when our guys make good. This pride was assuredly at its greatest when Cal Ripken, Jr., Maryland-born and practically raised in the Orioles clubhouse, spent his entire record-breaking Hall-of-Fame career in the orange and black. But after a week spent cheering for Michael Phelps in a foreign land (Pennsylvania is plenty foreign, trust me), it was amazing to come back to Baltimore and see the way we celebrated another world-class athlete that hails from "Bawlmer". The highlight came from Ravens Stadium, just across the street from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The capacity crowd stuck around after a disappointing preseason loss to watch Phelps' final swim and to shout for joy. The swimmer seemed genuinely moved when NBC played footage of his hometown crowd filling the stadium of his favorite team and cheering for him.

Three cheers for Michael Phelps. Even though he seems much more enthusiastic about the Ravens than the Orioles, I won't hold that against him.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jamie Moyer, 1996 Donruss #69

Ten Reasons Why Jamie Moyer is Awesome:

1. He beat Steve Carlton in his major-league debut.

2. He won 34 games in his twenties, 130 in his thirties (including 20 for the first time at age 38!), and 77 so far in his forties.

3. Nicknamed former Oriole teammate Jack Voigt "Roy Hobbs" because the outfielder hit so well against him in the minor leagues.

4. Is a punctual through-the-mail autographer.

5. Is twenty-ninth all-time in career strikeouts, despite topping out at 158 for a single season.

6. Hasn't lost to the Washington Nationals franchise since 1991...when they were known as the Montreal Expos. (Sure, he was in the American League for most of his career, but it's still a fun stat.) In a similar vein, he went sixteen years between RBI and nineteen years between doubles as a hitter. He also set a record by going 20 years and 2 days between wins vs. the Braves.

7. At the age of 45, recently plowed into first-base ump Randy Marsh while rounding the bases. He had just legged out a bunt, and wound up at third base thanks to several Pirates miscues.

8. A recent article suggested that he could pitch until he's fifty. Moyer didn't shoot down the speculation, indicating only that he planned to pitch next year.

9. Has been involved in trades featuring three different players named Andrew.

10. He and his wife founded the Moyer Foundation, which assists at-risk children.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tony Batista, 2004 Topps Opening Day #107

I've come to realize that Tony Batista is one of my favorite goofy Orioles from the team's recent extended run of loserdom. It's a combination of factors, really. There's his ultra-thick caterpillar eyebrows, the bizarre straight-legged batting stance, the fact that he re-emerged with the Nationals in a #77 jersey, and of course the fact that even on his way out of Baltimore, he recommended the city to good friend and free agent Miguel Tejada as a great place to play.

I remember my excitement when the O's landed Tony on a midseason waiver claim from the Blue Jays in 2001. I'd managed him on my fantasy team the prior season, when he hit 41 home runs and drove in 114. I was seduced by those gaudy numbers, and convinced that he was a star player. And we'd gotten him for practically nothing! Cal Ripken, Jr. was in the midst of his farewell tour, and we'd found his replacement. Of course, I was blind to his flaws: a low batting average and a brutal strikeout-to-walk ratio (he averaged just 36 walks per season, and 98 strikeouts). Then there was his adventurous defense at the hot corner. Sure, he kept hitting home runs - nearly leading the dreadful Birds in just half a season in 2001 and topping the club for the two proceeding seasons. But he didn't hit enough of them to make up for his increasingly obvious shortcomings elsewhere, and after 2003 the Orioles decided to move the emerging Melvin Mora to third and wave goodbye to the incumbent Batista. But Tony was fun while he lasted.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eric DuBose, 2004 Topps Total #342

Okay, I'm back in town but I'm digging out from the backlog of the past week: 786 posts to read in my RSS feed, a stack of laundry to be done, and...oh, my roommate moved out two weeks earlier than expected, and I need to scramble to get my cable and Internet connected and find a new roommate sooner than immediately. So here's an embarrassing snapshot of recent O's history, courtesy of Alabama's favorite son, southpaw Eric DuBose.

The date was March 22, 2005. The place was Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Just months after Sidney Ponson's legal problems in his native Aruba (apparently they frown upon punching judges), DuBose, who was expected to contend for the fifth spot in the Oriole rotation, was pulled over and charged with Driving Under the Influence. He had apparently come close to sideswiping a car on the side of the road, swerved across the center line, and when pulled over, he reeked of alcohol and had watery eyes and slurred speech. But here's the kicker: when asked to recite the alphabet, he refused. His excuse? "I'm from Alabama. We have a different alphabet."

As an indicator of how pitching-starved the Birds have been in recent years, he pitched in fifteen games in 2005, and two more in 2006. But that was the end of the line for him in the major leagues. He never did explain the intricacies of the Alabamian alphabet.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Merv Rettenmund, 1971 Topps #393

This Day in Orioles History: August 15, 1970

Orioles 7, Athletics 1 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

I didn't realize until I started writing up these game summaries that most of these were away games. Oh well, I guess you're all getting a tour of the American League through the years.

Mike Cuellar went the distance, tossing an artful seven-hit, one-walk effort at a very solid Athletics squad. He struck out six in earning his seventeenth win of the 1970 campaign. The win allowed the Birds to maintain their eight-and-a-half game advantage over Ralph Houk's Yankees.

The lion's share of the Baltimore offense was supplied by Brooks Robinson, Andy Etchebarren, and Merv Rettenmund, who combined for eight of the team's twelve hits. "Etch" had three hits and drove in the first two O's runs, Brooksie homered, double, and scored three times, and Rettenmund hit safely three times, including a game-breaking three-run home run in the ninth.

I chose this game because I had a lot of fun with all of the familiar names in Oakland's half of the box score. The A's fielded three future big league managers that day: right fielder Felipe Alou (who had three of their seven hits), reliever Marcel Lachemann, and a weak-hitting utility player named Tony LaRussa (0-for-1 as a pinch hitter). For fans of Ball Four, there were no less than four ex-Seattle Pilots: Tommy Davis (a future Oriole), Don Mincher, Bob Locker, and losing pitcher Diego Segui (father of another future Bird, David Segui). As the cherry on top, Rettenmund's three-run blast was hit off of old Jim Bouton nemesis Dooley Womack. Dooley Womack!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aubrey Huff, 2007 Upper Deck Goudey #193

This Day in Orioles History: August 14, 2007

Orioles 12, Yankees 0 at Yankee Stadium

I just can't overlook a good thrashing of the Yankees, especially in the oh-so-hallowed House That Ruth Built. Aubrey Huff put the game away early, crushing a grand slam off of Jeff Karstens for four of his five RBI on the evening, and Daniel Cabrera continued his occasional dominance of the Bronx Bombers, working around two hits and six walks to combine with Paul Shuey and Rob Bell on a whitewash.

The Birds came out swinging against New York, totaling thirteen hits and six walks in the game. The big blow was Huff's homer, which buried the Yanks in a 5-0 hole in the third inning. But Yankee Killer Kevin Millar had a perfect night, going 3-for-3 with a home run, two walks, and an RBI and scoring four of the dozen Baltimore runs. Nick Markakis added two doubles and an RBI, Jay Payton drove in a pair, and Brian Roberts swiped his 35th and 36th bases on the year. The O's went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, a .417 average. They seemed to take a special joy in clobbering former teammate Jim "Bulldog" Brower, who offered a reminder of why he lasted just a month with the 2006 team: six runs (four earned) on five hits and a walk in two innings. He allowed each of the four batters that faced him in the sixth inning to reach base.

Of course, it wouldn't be an O's-Yankees game without some hit batters. After falling behind, the pinstripers plunked Miguel Tejada and Nick Markakis - the team's two best players - in separate innings. Baltimore did not retaliate. You stay classy, New York.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jeff Ballard, 1991 Bowman #98

This Day in Orioles History: August 13, 1988

Orioles 5, Brewers 0 at County Stadium

Young Jeff Ballard provided a rare glimpse of promise in a bleak 1988 season, tossing his first career shutout and holding the host Brewers to three hits. The southpaw from Stanford had a fascinating pitching line, walking seven batters and striking out just one in his nine innings. It took him 140 pitches (only 74 of which were strikes) to complete the game, but he was helped out by two double plays which were turned in by the law firm of Rene Gonzales, Billy Ripken, and Eddie Murray. Terry Kennedy also chipped in, gunning down Rob Deer at second base on a steal attempt.

The O's got RBIs from Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. to take a 2-0 lead after three innings. That would be all that Ballard needed, but outfielder Joe Orsulak wanted a piece of the action. His three-run home run off of Milwaukee's Bill Wegman boosted the Baltimore advantage to 5-0. In all, the Orioles mustered only six hits off of the three Brew Crew arms, but they made every hit count. This game is also notable as the fourteenth of Brady Anderson's tenure in orange and black. He would eventually total 1,759 games in fourteen seasons; only five Orioles have topped that mark. With the win, the Birds closed to within thirty games of first-place Detroit. Hey, I told you it was a rough year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ron Hansen, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All Time Orioles #177

This Day in Orioles History: August 12, 1960

Orioles 4, Red Sox 3 at Memorial Stadium

The young Orioles won a thriller at home, rebounding from a 3-0 seventh-inning deficit to stun the Red Sox. It was the seventh straight win for the Birds, who moved into a tie for first place in the American League with the vaunted Yankees. Baltimore was on the ropes early, as starting pitcher Steve Barber faced just six batters before leaving the game, possibly with an injury. Wes Stock turned in a decent emergency relief performance, but the O's bats were silent against Boston starter Billy Muffett until Ron Hansen sparked a rally with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Hansen doubled and scored on a Marv Breeding single. Catcher Clint Courtney followed up with a pinch double, but Jackie Brandt left the tying runs in scoring position, flying out to right field. The Orioles were running out of at-bats.

In the eighth, Gene Stephens walked and chased Muffett. Tom Borland got Gene Woodling on a shallow fly to second base before first baseman Jim Gentile greeted Borland properly with a game-tying two-run homer. Thanks to four innings of scoreless relief from Jerry Walker and Chuck Estrada, the Birds were primed for a walkoff win in the bottom of the ninth. Ted Williams, in his final season, had pinch-hit for Borland in the top of the ninth and was retired on a fly ball to center field. The new Boston pitcher was former Oriole Mike Fornieles, and he would face the ignitor Ron Hansen. The O's shortstop brought a quick end to the drama, belting the game-winning home run and sending 20,691 strong home from 33rd Street happy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Will Clark, 1999 Fleer Brilliants #115B

This Day in Orioles History: August 11, 1999

Orioles 4, Devil Rays 2 at Tropicana Field

Mike Mussina scattered nine hits over seven and two-thirds innings and struck out seven Devil Rays to win his fourteenth game of the season, as the troubled Orioles staved off their neighbors at the bottom of the A.L. East standings.
The Birds took an early lead on a third-inning single by the ageless Harold Baines; B. J. Surhoff scored the first run of the game. With Mussina having relatively little trouble on the mound, the offense gave him a bigger cushion in the top of the fifth. Surhoff and Albert Belle started off the inning with back-to-back home runs off of Tampa Bay starter and former Cuban defector Rolando Arrojo. Surhoff's roundtripper was his 22nd, tying a career high; he would finish with 28 home runs and 107 RBI (another career best).
After the Devil Rays loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs grounded into a fielder's choice to plate their first run. The O's would get that run back in the eighth on Brady Anderson's run-scoring double. The fourth Baltimore run proved helpful, as Mussina surrendered the Rays' second score on an RBI single by John Flaherty in the bottom of the inning. Fortunately, ancient lefty Jesse Orosco came out of the bullpen to strand Flaherty; the home team left a total of eight runners on base in the game. Closer Mike Timlin notched his fifteenth save, allowing a single and striking out one batter.
Will Clark was another misguided veteran signing in the late Nineties. He hit well when healthy, but those occasions were too few during his year-and-a-half in Charm City. In this game, they O's got a good effort from "The Thrill": three hits, including a double, in five trips to the plate. But he would play just one more game in 1999 before being shut down with another injury. On the bright side, he played well enough the following year to allow the Birds to trade him for Jose Leon! Oh...never mind, then.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eddie Murray, 1984 Topps #397

This Day in Orioles History: August 10, 1985

Orioles 9, Rangers 8 at Arlington Stadium

Eddie Murray provided the lumber in a wild Texas slugfest, pushing the struggling O's one game over .500 at 54-53. Baltimore charged out to a commanding lead, pushing seven runs across the plate in the third inning. Most of the damage came on three home runs: a leadoff solo shot by Floyd Rayford and a pair of two-run clouts by Lee Lacy and Murray. Back-to-back doubles by Fred Lynn and Gary Roenicke accounted for the sixth tally, and a Rick Dempsey single scored Roenicke. Thirteen batters stepped into the box in the frame, and all nine Birds starters reached base at least once. Dempsey had two of the team's eight hits in the inning (he would finish 4-for-5 on the day). If not for Lee Lacy striking out and leaving the bases loaded, they might still be batting!

After Texas closed within four runs at 7-3, run-scoring hits by Cal and Eddie nudged the advantage back to a half-dozen in the sixth. But Storm Davis hit the wall in the seventh, surrendering a three-run homer to Cliff Johnson and yielding to 32-year-old rookie Nate Snell. Snell himself would toss up a gopher ball to Duane Walker in the eighth, and the Rangers drew within one run. Mustachioed closer Don Aase shut the door on the home team in the ninth, putting the tying and winning runs on base before striking out Wayne Tolleson to put the game in the win column for the Orioles. Storm Davis got the "W" despite allowing six runs on ten hits in six and two-thirds innings. Just another day at the office.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Arthur Rhodes, 1997 Fleer Ultra #10

This Day in Orioles History: August 9, 1993

Orioles 4, Tigers 1 at Tiger Stadium

The red-hot Birds won their eighth in a row, closing within a half a game of the idle Blue Jays. Young lefty Arthur Rhodes stymied the powerful Tigers, taking a shutout into the ninth inning and whiffing eight hitters. No Detroit baserunner made it to third base against Rhodes, and their lone run scored after Alan Mills had relieved the starter.

Rhodes and Tigers veteran Mike Moore traded zeroes until the fifth inning, when journeyman catcher Mark Parent socked a two-run home run to put the O's on top. Brady Anderson followed with a triple and scored on a Mark McLemore sacrifice fly. Baltimore added an insurance run in the ninth when Skeeter Barnes threw wildly to first on a Parent grounder.

It's interesting to note that fifteen years later, two players from this game are still active: Arthur Rhodes was just traded from Seattle to the Marlins to add a veteran presence to their bullpen in the fight for the N.L. East. Shortstop Chris Gomez, who was a rookie with the Tigers in 1993 and eventually put in a few years as a reserve in Baltimore, is now a utility infielder for the Pirates. How time flies.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Paul Richards, 1961 Topps #566

I'm sorry to inform you that this is my last "live" post for a little while; I'm going on vacation for another week. Okay, let's be honest; I'm not that sorry. Just as I did in July, I've scheduled a series of "This Day in Orioles History" posts to publish each day while I'm away. So you'll be in good hands.

I'll be shoving off bright and early tomorrow morning with my parents and some friends of the family for our lakeside cottage in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The cottage, which was built by my grandfather and great-grandfather, is tucked away up in the Endless Mountains, and it's our destination for those times when we're looking to relax and do very little else. No reliable cell phone signal, no Internet, no cable television. I plan to do a lot of reading, a bit of writing...but the beauty of it is that I haven't had to do much planning. My Dad and I will be attending a Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees game on Thursday, which I will undoubtedly discuss with you when I return. (I much preferred things when they were the S-WB Red Barons, the Phillies' AAA team, but what can you do?)

I don't imagine that there was a lot of leisurely fun and relaxation to be had when the salty Paul Richards helmed the young Orioles. "The Wizard of Waxahachie" ran a tight ship, but he had the right mix of patience, technique, and ingenuity to lay the foundation for the team that would be one of baseball's best for two decades. I don't know how often Paul took vacations, but he certainly earned the right to kick his feet up once in a while.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chad Bradford, 2008 Upper Deck First Edition #145

Rebuilding means saying goodbye to veterans, even sentimental favorites. Chad Bradford was one of the Orioles I liked the most, even though he didn't make it through his second season in Baltimore. I've always enjoyed the unusual throwing motion of submarine pitchers, and Chad used that odd delivery to his advantage as one of the quietest, most effective relievers in baseball. He almost never gives up home runs (making the moon shot that Manny Ramirez hit off of him for his 500th career longball that much more remarkable) and doesn't walk a lot of guys. He doesn't get a lot of attention because he shrinks from the spotlight and middle relievers are by and large an anonymous bunch. Hopefully now that he's back in a pennant race, Chad will get his due - whether he likes it or not.

I'm sorry to see Chad Bradford go, but I'm glad that he'll get a chance to win some hardware. I'm even happier that he'll be doing so for the Tampa Bay Rays, who the O's should see as kindred spirits (as well as a blueprint for future success). Chad will still be fighting the good fight against the Yankees and Red Sox; as an Orioles fan, that's all I ask.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jeff Manto, 1996 Upper Deck #17

This is turning into a week for rookies of an advanced age. Last night, the Orioles turned to a guy who was roughly Plan G for the open spot in their threadbare starting rotation: Chris Waters. Waters was a 2000 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, a lefty whose career was sidetracked by injuries in 2004. He didn't even sniff Triple-A until 2007, and after a 5-0 start at AA Bowie this season, he had some pretty ugly overall numbers at AAA Norfolk (5.70 ERA). Yet this was the man chosen to start a road game against the team with the best record in the major leagues. It's bizarrely fitting that Waters, who turns 28 in two weeks, would debut with eight innings of one-hit ball, combining with George Sherrill for the Birds' first shutout since April. It was like the perfect storm: Chris turned in the best first start for an Oriole since Bob Milacki in 1988, and only six pitchers in the past 50 years have debuted with an eight-plus inning, one-hit performance.

Today's long-time-coming moment belonged to Lou Montanez, an outfielder recalled in the midst of a Triple Crown campaign at AA Bowie. He's taken Adam Jones' roster spot, a bittersweet development. (Jones broke a bone in his foot and his very fine season may be over.) Montanez, like Waters, was drafted eight years ago and has barely played at AAA, much less the majors. At 26 years old, it's now or never for Lou. Faced with trying to top Waters' first impression, the native of Puerto Rico clubbed a home run in his very first at bat this afternoon. He later singled and scored on a Nick Markakis longball. Montanez is the first position player in O's history to go deep in his first MLB at-bat. (Pitcher Buster Narum managed the feat in May of 1963.) The next Orioles rookie to join the team has one heck of an act to follow!

I followed the game discussion at Camden Chat, and with a minor-league veteran making the start, it's only right that the name of Jeff Manto was mentioned. The former third baseman logged so much time riding buses, the Indians' AAA Buffalo Bisons club actually retired his jersey number (#30). He was a multiple-time minor league MVP, but by the time he fell into a starting role with the 1995 Orioles, he was a 30-year-old with barely 200 big league at-bats to his name. He went on a brief home run tear, including tying a league record with roundtrippers in four consecutive at-bats. That summer, I made my first (and to date, only) trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and Manto's bat was on display. He ended the year with 17 home runs, more than half of his career total of 31. "Super Manto" came and went in just one year, but nearly fifteen years later, he hasn't been forgotten. I'd love to see Chris Waters and Lou Montanez prove that they're late bloomers, rather than flashes in the pan. They'll have a shot in the coming days and weeks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jim Palmer, 1983 Topps #491

Today marks the blog entry that's been 365 days in the making, except for the fact that I didn't start this blog until January 1. I suppose that would mean that it's been 218 days in the making, but perhaps I'm getting off-track. Anyway, as I subtly mentioned in a previous post, today is my twenty-sixth birthday. I would have posted a card of one of the Orioles who shares this fine day with me, but one (John Wasdin) didn't stick around long enough to earn an Orioles card, and the other (Nelson Briles) is better saved for a future Vintage Friday. If you're interested in a more comprehensive list of MLB players born on the fifth day of the eighth month (and why wouldn't you be?), click here.

Today's card not only perfectly encapsulates the passage of time, showing Jim Palmer at the ages of nineteen and thirty-six (the second photo actually having been taken in 1982, coincidentally the year of my birth), but it also showcases the greatest pitcher in Orioles history. He also happens to have pitched three times on August 5, and excelled in all three performances. I should note that as a baby, I had a tiny Orioles tee with Palmer's #22 on it; I've seen the picture, but I foolishly gave it to my sister to scan a year ago and it may be lost to the ages now.

Palmer's first 8/5 start came in 1970, a Wednesday night game at Memorial Stadium. He dispatched of the Red Sox in two hours, allowing four hits and walking two while striking out seven batters (including Carl Yastrzemski twice). The O's won 3-0 behind Palmer (16-7)'s masterful pitching and a three-hit performance by outfielder Merv Rettenmund. But the pitcher helped his own cause as well, reaching base on a sacrifice bunt that was thrown away by Boston pitcher Sonny Siebert in the second inning, and singling to left field in the fourth. The win was the fifth straight for the Birds, and allowed them to maintain a 9.5 game lead over the Yankees.

For an encore, Jim Palmer offered an eerily similar effort in 1975. This time it was a Tuesday night in Fenway, but again he shut out the Red Sox 3-0 in about two hours' time to improve his record to 16-7. The Sox would get the final laugh that year, making it to the World Series before falling to the Reds in an epic seven-game set, but for the night the second-place O's had closed within 7.5 games. Palmer permitted only three base runners all evening (two hits, one walk), and struck out eight Beantown batters. Bobby Grich and Brooks Robinson were responsible for the three O's runs, with each delivering an RBI single; Grich also lined a ball to shortstop Rick Burleson, who threw wildly to second base in an attempt to double off Al Bumbry; Bumbry would score the third and final run on that play. Former Tigers outfielder Jim Northrup contributed three hits to the Baltimore attack.

The Oriole ace's third and final gem in the series actually came on the very day I was born in 1982. It was a Thursday night tilt in Baltimore, first pitch arriving about two hours after I had. The third-place O's bested the A.L. West-leading Royals 5-1. Though Palmer (9-3) surrendered his first August 5th run, he once again went the distance, allowing three K.C. hits and one walk, and punching out seven opposing hitters. The sole blemish on his evening was a solo home run by George Brett, who would eventually join #22 in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Oriole offense was paced by Al Bumbry's leadoff home run and a three-run fourth inning off of Kansas City pitcher Vida Blue. Rick Dempsey walked with the bases loaded to force in a run, and Rich Dauer followed with a two-run single. Disco Dan Ford provided the exclamation point with an RBI single in the eighth inning.

While these three Jim Palmer masterpieces are each impressive on their own, when you tally them together the results are positively staggering. His pitching line on August 5 is as follows:

3 Games Started
3 Wins
3 Complete Games
2 Shutouts
27 Innings Pitched
9 Hits
4 Walks
22 Strikeouts
1 Earned Run
0.48 Walks + Hits Per Inning Pitched (That's one baserunner every two innings!)
0.33 Earned Run Average

For the record, these three games represented Jim's career wins number 55, 145, and 257.

As a reminder, the Orioles as a team are 29-20 on my birthday, which includes a 16-8 mark from 1982 through 2007. They'll try to tie a team best with their fifth consecutive August 5 win tonight in Anaheim. Starting pitcher Chris Waters makes his major league debut against Jon Garland. He's got some mighty large spikes to fill, but there's nothing wrong with a little blind faith now and then. I'll fill my evening with a celebratory dinner with my family, and meet you back here tomorrow.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2002 Bowman Heritage #112

As I sat at my computer a few nights ago, I idly flipped to the Nationals game on TV. I'll watch pretty much any major league baseball game, but the Nats bore me. They're largely background noise. On this day, however, D.C. played host to the Cincinnati Reds. The leadoff hitter for the Reds was former Oriole Jerry Hairston, Jr. The MASN broadcasters referenced Jerry's status as a third-generation player, which was never something that interested me much. But play-by-play man Bob Carpenter followed up by noting that the Hairstons represented the first third-generation family in MLB of African-American descent, which was not something that I'd ever given any thought. It's remarkable to consider that just sixty years ago, baseball was struggling to integrate. It also made me think about some of the opportunities that were missed along the way.

The current Baltimore Orioles, in their previous incarnation, were the St. Louis Browns, the perennial doormats of the American League. The Browns, to their credit, were the second A.L. team to integrate, following the Cleveland Indians. Of course, their first two black players (Hank Thompson and Willard Brown) were sent back to the Negro Leagues within a month, but a few years later unconventional owner Bill Veeck (as in "wreck") made a splash by signing the ageless Leroy "Satchel" Paige.

While with the Indians, Paige had been the first African-American pitcher in the junior circuit, as well as the first to pitch in the World Series. Veeck had taken a lot of grief from his fellow owners for signing the Negro League legend, who was believed to have been at least 42 years old at the time. But Satch paid immediate dividends, winning six of seven decisions and tossing two shutouts during the Tribe's 1948 pennant drive. As a Brown, Paige continued to pitch effectively in a predominately relief role, even as he entered his mid-forties. He won 12 games and saved 10 in 1952, and his 3.53 ERA in 1953 was well below league average. he saved 11 games for a team that won just 54, placing them dead last in the league.

The following season, the Browns moved to Baltimore without Bill Veeck...and without Satchel Paige.

As a devoted fan of the Orioles, I would have been proud to claim Satchel Paige as one of my own. He was still frustrating batters half his age at 46; why not at 47? I can't imagine that there was any sort of unspoken color line drawn by the new ownership. By my count the 1954 Birds had at least one black player: Joe Durham, who played 10 games in his debut season. Perhaps they thought trotting out a player as old and as unconventional as Satchel would give the team a carnival atmosphere and would make them a laughingstock. But with a barely-finished stadium and a team that wasn't terribly different from the one that had lost 100 games in St. Louis a year prior, any diversion caused by Satchel Paige would have been the least of their concerns. Hell, I would think that his pitching would more than make up for any perceived distraction.

Yet the O's owners wouldn't bite. Neither would anyone else, and Satchel Paige made only one more appearance as a major league pitcher. It was twelve years later, when the then-58-year-old righthander pitched three shutout innings on September 25, 1965 for Charlie O. Finley's Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox. He surrendered just one hit, a double by Carl Yastrzemski.

"Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." - Satchel Paige

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Doug Sisk, 1989 Score #264

It's not easy being a major league pitcher, particularly when you do something to raise the ire of the hometown fans. You and I make our fair share of mistakes every day, but we don't do it in front of tens of thousands of spectators, not to mention thousands or even millions more on television. And when we screw up, nobody is waiting to boo and jeer until they're hoarse. We're not going to get pelted with beer cups and peanut shells. The phone lines at the local talk radio station won't be burning up with impassioned calls for our dismissal. Most importantly, no one will mail us a fake prescription for cyanide, "to be taken daily".

Now, Doug Sisk was probably a frustrating pitcher to watch. A scan of his career record shows that the sinkerballer routinely walked more batters than he struck out. It's also possible that the supposed Mets fan in the anecdote wrote his clever missive in the midst of Sisk's brutal 1985 season. But even so, Doug couldn't have been bad enough to deserve death. The things that he did, he did very well: his sinker allowed him to keep the ball in the park, as he surrendered only 15 home runs in over 523 career innings. You'd almost certainly have to have a pretty thick skin to be a ballplayer. Even if 99.9% of the threats are empty, I know I would worry about the other 0.1%.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bobby Bonilla, 1997 Donruss Elite #45

Earlier this week, I was pleased to see the return of my friends Patricia and Lucy to the Enchanted Land of Baseball Card Blogging. It sounds like they had quite an eventful July, though there were unfortunately some unwelcome events thrown into the mix. I thought that I should welcome them back, and also encourage them to have a more peaceful and enjoyable August, by finally getting around to posting one of the players with the brightest smiles in my collection*, none other than Bobby Bonilla.

In one of life's great paradoxes, Bobby Bo had a well-earned reputation (particularly during his Mets years) as being one of baseball's biggest malcontents. I find it interesting that his dark side never seemed to bubble to the surface in Baltimore. Perhaps that's because he was only here for a year and a half, or maybe he was on his best behavior around Cal Junior. Perhaps the sweet aroma of Boog's BBQ drifting through Camden Yards put Bobby in a pleasant state of mind. (Incidentally, Bonilla wore Boog's old #26 as an Oriole.) Who knows? All that I know is that he hit the ever-loving snot out of the ball during his brief stay in Charm City, and for that I'll always have a positive opinion of the guy.

* = Patricia and Lucy collect cards with smiling players pictured. If you didn't know that already, you really should be reading their blog.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Grant Jackson, 1972 Topps #212

I actually started thinking about this blog entry around noon today. I took the day off from work, but it wasn't under the happiest of circumstances. Yesterday afternoon, I got into my car at the Metro station and powered down my driver's side window. It started making a grinding noise near the end, and I put it out of my mind until the A/C had cooled my car down and I tried - and failed - to get the window back up. So at 10:15 this morning, I drove the 20 minutes to the only mechanic I was familiar with in the area to get things straightened out. Considering that I'd just agreed to pay $100 just for the privilege of having my driver's door pulled apart and looked at, I was dreading the estimate. I also had a quandary; how to occupy the hours until my car was ready?

Fortunately I was in Columbia, practically the progenitor of suburban clutter. My first destination was somewhat practical, as I walked right down the street to the MVA Express. My drivers' license needed renewing, and I was running out of time. Surprisingly, the "Express" part of MVA Express was apt; I was in and out in under thirty minutes. As midday was approaching and the sun beat down upon me, I swung back to the Auto Services Park (yes, there truly is such a thing, and it's not as fun as it sounds) and saw that my car hadn't yet moved. So I popped into the convenience store and bought an iced tea, and drank it down as I crossed the expressway to do some shopping. My destination was Target, for some cheap baseball cards. Shocking, no?

This was when I started thinking about what an unusual day it was for me. I only started driving four-and-a-half years ago, but in that time I've become very dependent upon the notion of coming and going of my own free will. Here I was scrambling across high-traffic streets and wandering in and out of air-conditioned stores just to pass the time until I could go home again. It was kind of fun, in a bizarre way, doing something out of the ordinary. I thought about Grant Jackson, and how he often looked downright distressed on his cards: frowning at worst, grimacing at best. It seemed that his mind was a million miles away, worrying about not only what would happen if he didn't get the current batter out, but whether he'd remembered to mail the mortgage check, and what about that mole on his neck - was it getting bigger? What were the guys laughing about when he entered the clubhouse that morning? I decided that Grant Jackson probably just needed to take a good long walk to clear his head of all doubts, worries and fears.

My ambling path took me to Toys 'R Us, where I gawked at a fairly disappointing crop of baseball cards as well as some board games and WWE action figures. Next was Target, where I was annoyed to find the $1.59 markdown box full of packs of football, basketball, and hockey cards. I settled on a $4 package of 100 random cards, deciding that my purchase should be just as random as the rest of my day. As I made my way to the checkout lanes, I noticed a young man in a Sammy Sosa Orioles tee that I hope was some sort of ironic fashion statement. Next was Dick's Sporting Goods, where I didn't stay long. I couldn't believe they charged as much as $32 for some of their O's hats, and their staff was overly friendly. My final attempt to keep the clock moving was a quick sweep through Gamestop, where staff and customers alike were speaking of the upcoming Madden launch in excited yet reverential tones. So I gave up, found a nice seat in the shade of an umbrella outside of Starbucks, and called my sister. She was clearly bored out of her mind at work, and we had an entertaining conversation until my phone alerted me that I had another call. It was...the auto shop.

To start with, you should know that I often misunderstand or mis-hear things that people say to me, especially if they speak quickly and/or quietly. That being said, the connection seemed bad (no fault of my phone, which was five bars strong) and the mechanic half-mumbled a cost of $460. Ouch. He also said something about the regulator, one of those terms that grease monkeys make up to confuse the automotive-illiterate. Anyway, assuming my car was repaired, I told him I'd be there to get it in a few minutes. When I arrived, he told me I'd have to wait a few minutes for them to put the car back together, which seemed odd. When he pulled my car around and gave me the bill for $94.50, I knew something was wrong. He asked if I'd just be covering the window with plastic, so I voiced my confusion. I had intended for the car to be repaired, and they'd just put it back together as is. He insisted that he'd just given me the estimate, and that I'd told him I'd come get the car, indicating that I didn't want the work done. So here I was with my window still wide open (not ideal for security or weather), and he was telling me that I could bring it in on Monday, thereby wasting more of my time and gas and money (it would be another $100 in labor to open the panel back up, but he was oh-so-kindly offering to cut that fee in half). I paid my bill and headed home confused and angry.

So now I sit here with conflicting opinions. Part of me thinks that Grant Jackson was right to seem so troubled; the next irritating dilemma is always just around the corner. But by and large, that runs counter to the way I live my life. I'm often prone to quick bursts of anger and pervasive cynicism, but I generally let my sense of humor and a laissez-faire attitude win out. My vagabond's morning was just productive enough that I should feel like I got something out of this mixed-up day.

Maybe I'll just sleep on it tonight, and sort things out over the weekend.