Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Jim Palmer, 1976 Topps #450

Happy Halloween! Jim Palmer's celebrating one of the greatest holidays of the year by breaking out his orange and black finery. I only regret that I don't have any cards featuring Boog Powell all duded up like the Great Pumpkin. You should really be watching scary movies and/or trick or treating right now, so I'll offer you some holiday greetings from my alter egos of Octobers past and then I'll be on my way. Be safe and leave the lights on! Happy Halloween from:

Killer Klown by you.

2004: Psycho Clown

Michael Stipe by you.

2006: Michael Stipe

Chet Clean by you.

Also 2006: Mr. Clean's Evil Brother, Chet

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jamie Moyer, 1996 Score #210

Congratulations to Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth, and the rest of the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. I'm glad that someone as classy as Jamie got a chance to win his first championship after a twenty-two year career that had been completely devoid of trips to the Fall Classic. After hearing how violently ill he was in the days and hours leading up to his rain-delayed starting assignment on Saturday night, it's all the more remarkable that he pitched as well as he did (6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K). If it weren't for a blown call at first base, his numbers would look even better, and he might have gotten the win that he truly deserved. Fox's Chris Myers spoke with Moyer amid the onfield postgame melee, and the 45-year-old lefty was as cool and collected as ever, showing off little more than a wry grin. He spoke of being on hand for the victory parade the last time the team won it all, in 1980 - he was 17 then.

Because I never tire of "How-old-is-he?" stats (though I think poor Jamie is growing weary of them), here's one I compiled myself. Eyeballing his pitcher-batter matchups, it appears that Moyer has pitched to four father-son combos: Buddy and David Bell, Bob and Bret (and Aaron) Boone, Jose Cruz Sr. and Jr., and Cecil and Prince Fielder. His career has also run parallel to eleven other father-son pairings, though he didn't actually face one or the other of each duo: Alan and Andy Ashby, Jesse and Josh Barfield, the Ken Griffeys, the Jerry Hairstons, the Gary Mathewses, Hal and Brian McRae, the Tony Penas, Tony (!) and Eduardo Perez, the Tim Raineses, Gary and Daryle Ward, and Mookie and Preston Wilson (Mookie is actually Preston's uncle and stepfather, believe it or not!). That's quite a legacy. Oh, he also pitched against Chris Speier; I didn't include the Speiers because son Justin is a reliever with just 17 career at-bats.

I wonder if Jamie can hang on until Trey Griffey is ready for the big leagues.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rocky Coppinger, 1997 Skybox Metal Universe #3

I'm not in a verbose mood tonight. My sister's very young cat, Count Rugen, had to be put to sleep today after being diagnosed with lymphoma. He was an energetic, affectionate animal, and he won over yours truly, though I have never ever been a cat person. I met him and said goodbye all within a couple of months. Life is unfair.

I desperately need to laugh, which is the reason Metal Universe exists. At least, that's my best guess. Why else would Skybox produce a set of cards with glossy player photos set against multi-colored etched foil backgrounds with ridiculous comic book effects? When I think of the reasons Rocky Coppinger's major league career was so brief, this is number one with a bullet: he had difficulty concentrating, as he was being stalked by a giant green spider. The grounds crew really should have done something about that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joe Carter, 1998 Pacific Aurora #11

So it's come to this; the World Series is on hiatus. Who would have guessed that baseball in the final week of October might not be ideal, weather-wise? Most Phillies fans are walking on eggshells. Even though they still have a three-to-one lead in the Series, and a tie game with three-and-a-half innings to go, a lot of folks are taking the bizarre circumstances of Monday night as some sort of ill omen. Undoubtedly, they've had twenty-eight years to think about failures and close calls, and they're not looking forward to another forty-eight hours to be left alone with their thoughts.

If Joe Carter isn't foremost in the minds of Phillies fans, then they've done an exceptional job of tuning out the numerous references to and clips of the ex-Blue Jays outfielder leaping joyously around the bases after hitting the three-run home run that turned a 6-5 Phillies lead into World Series Championship for Toronto. He became just the second player ever to end the Fall Classic with a walk-off homer, and annoyed the hell out of me.

It was my first postseason as a fan, and it had brought nothing but disappointment. In the NLCS, the Phillies beat the Braves, who I'd taken a liking to while watching their seemingly endless parade of games on TBS. In the ALCS, the hated division rival Blue Jays, with their arrogant manager Cito Gaston, toppled the White Sox (I was 11 years old; nothing was cooler than those black caps and Frank Thomas). I settled when it came time to crown a World Champion. I didn't have any personal feelings of animosity toward Philadelphia, and the filthy scrounginess of John Kruk and company was a decent consolation prize. I was so disappointed when the Jays broke open Game One and took the Series lead that I actually cried (not one of my prouder moments).

By the time Game Six rolled around, with Toronto on the verge of winning it all, I had thankfully found something else to do. I was at a classmate's Halloween party, and I have only a vague memory of the game being on television in the girl's kitchen. I think I saw that historic home run, but I honestly can't be sure. I've seen the footage so many times in the last fifteen years, it's probably colored my memories of that night.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bruce Chen, 2006 Topps Turkey Red Red #404

Before you ask, no I don't have a stutter. The brand is Turkey Red, and the parallel set has red borders, and I just can't think of an elegant way to get around that. Anyway, it's Monday, and it's a cold and rainy one where I am. So let's laugh a bit with journeyman soft-tosser Bruce Chen. Bruce was briefly a fan favorite in Baltimore, coming out of relative obscurity (the result of pitching in nine organizations in five seasons) to win 13 games and lead O's starters in ERA (3.83) in 2005. Capitalizing on his new status as a Big Man on Campus, Chen branched out to comedy in 2006. The Orioles' game entertainment staff, always looking for new bells and whistles to flash on the video board at Camden Yards, started running "Bruce Chen's Joke of the Day" between innings. Of course there was a kicker: the jokes were beyond corny. A sample:

"What do you do with a one-legged dog?

Take him out for a drag."

"Why did the bicycle keep falling over?

Because it was too tired."

Yuk yuk yuk. Of course, the only thing less funny than Chen's zingers was his pitching. In 2006, he fell out of the tree to the tune of zero wins, seven losses, and a 6.93 ERA. The Birds mercifully removed him from the rotation, and soon his standup act disappeared. But you can't blame a guy for trying.

Okay, one more for the road:

"What do you call a bear with no teeth?

A gummy bear."

Feel free to post your own favorite cheesy gags in the comments.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tim Hulett, 1993 Topps Gold #327

If you've been wondering what would become of the Hulett family name in the annals of Major League Baseball (and really, why wouldn't you be?), wonder no more. Tim Hulett, Jr., a.k.a. "Tug", made his big league debut in 2008 for the Seattle Mariners. The 2004 14th-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers didn't turn many heads with his .224 average in 49 at-bats, but he did hit his first career home run off of Cleveland's Anthony Reyes on August 30, sparking a 4-3 win for Seattle.

It really is great to see positive things happening for the Huletts. Tim was a valuable utility player for the O's for six years, and is currently managing in the Rangers organization. His Spokane Indians just won the Northwest League crown in his second year at the helm. Many Baltimore fans remember him as a quiet, classy guy who had to overcome personal tragedy in 1992, when his son (and Tug's younger brother) Sam was struck by a car and killed. Sam was only six years old. Though he never had a chance to follow his brother and father into the family business, or even to blaze his own trail, I'm sure he would be proud to see what his loved ones have acheived.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Adam Loewen, 2008 Upper Deck #426

Today was Homecoming at my high school, the first such event I'd attended in four years. Despite the fact that I stood in soaking rain and persistent winds for three hours, it was good to be back. The football team won 26-8, with the lone opposition touchdown coming in garbage time. I got to reconnect with some old friends, exchange pleasantries with other familiar faces, and take advantage of cheap beer and free food at the post-game alumni reception. Sometimes you can go home again.

Adam Loewen is going home again. In the above picture, he's wearing an Orioles hat but a Futures Game World team uniform. The photo is a few years old, and features Adam representing his native Canada in a minor league All-Star Game. I mentioned back in July that the 24-year-old was bringing an end to his injury-riddled career as a pitcher, attempting to retrain himself as an outfielder/first baseman. The problem was that he had insisted on signing a guaranteed major league contract when the O's drafted him; in order to continue his apprenticeship as a hitter in 2009, Adam would have to be put on waivers, pass through unclaimed, and then receive his release from the Orioles. There seemed to be a mutual agreement that the team would re-sign him at that point to a minor league deal. Just such a thing happened over the past few days...except that after being released, Loewen signed with the Blue Jays.

I'm somewhat baffled by the vitriol that a number of fans have shown in the wake of Adam's departure. Sure, he left the Birds holding the bag. But his future is extremely uncertain right now, and if he's going to take such a shot in the dark in order to continue his career in professional baseball, it makes sense that he would want to have some level of comfort, some chance to be close to home. Everyone agrees that there's very little chance that he'll be the next Rick Ankiel, a failed pitcher who climbs his way back and becomes a major-league caliber hitter. So what's the big deal? Now he's given us a way out. This isn't anything close to Rafael Palmeiro or Mike Mussina skipping town for the big bucks. It's just a young man at a crossroads hoping against hope that he'll get a chance to represent his homeland on the biggest stage of them all.

I hope that Adam Loewen's homecoming is a happy one. Either way, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Gene Brabender, 1968 Topps #163

As Halloween is but a week away, who better to help us count down than "Lurch"? Gene Brabender was an imposing dude, which you might not guess from a simple head shot. The righty from Wisconsin towered over most of his peers at 6'6", 225 pounds. Gene's notoriety comes from his status as a member of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, the legendarily inept team immortalized by Jim Bouton in his controversial book Ball Four. 'Bender won a team-high 13 games for the doomed expansion team after three years as an effective swingman for the O's. Of course that's not what most people remember about him. Per Bouton:

"We were talking about what we ought to call Brabender when he gets here. He looks rather like Lurch of the 'Addams Family', so we thought we might call him that, or Monster, or Animal, which is what they called him in Baltimore last year. Then Larry Haney told us how Brabender used to take those thick metal spikes that are used to hold the bases down and bend them in his bare hands. 'In that case,' said Gary Bell, 'we better call him Sir.'

Elsewhere comes the following anecdote:

"Pagliaroni says that one of the great things about Gene Brabender as a pitcher is that he's big enough to intimidate hitters with his size. 'He looks like if you got a hit off him,' Pag said, 'he'd crush your spleen.'"

Quotes like this make me wonder if Gene, who passed away in 1996, ever had trick-or-treaters stop by his home in Madison. If he gave out candy, I wonder whether he dressed up in costume. Even if he didn't, I bet those kids thought twice about knocking on his door.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rafael Palmeiro, 1994 Upper Deck Fun Pack #154

I just received this card as part of my haul from Tribe Cards' "Trick or Treat" giveaway. It's a fairly appropriate representation from the small box; while there were considerably more "tricks" than "treats", I had a blast flipping through one of the most random assortments of trading cards that I've ever seen. Of the seven Orioles cards, there was only one that I already had, and one of the new ones was a very cool die-cut and serial-numbered Cal Junior. As David had recently sent me an awesome assortment of O's per my participation in his Scratchoff tournament, I was surprised to see that he had any left to send me this time!

Other than the handful of Orioles, the only other baseball-related items were a loosely wrapped pack of 1991 Donruss and a sheet of 1986 Topps Baseball Tattoos. I'd never opened a pack of the latter, so that was a treat. My sheet included two Orioles: outfielders Fred Lynn and Mike Young. I'm tempted to sport them on my pale biceps, but maybe I'll do a test run with some schmuck like Ed Nunez or Cecilio Guante.

The highlights among the non-baseball cards included Topps American Pie issues of Richard Nixon (Tricky Dick or Treat?) and Janis Joplin, a Donruss Americana II featuring Erik Estrada, some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards (from both the original TV series and the movie), an Impel Olympics Jim Thorpe, a couple ridiculous "Mega Metal" cards starring Iron Maiden, King Diamond, and pre-haircut Bon Jovi, some WWF and WCW cards (including an awesome Jesse "the Body" Ventura action shot), a pair of Garbage Pail Kids, a Yo! MTV Raps issue of Bell Biv Devoe that's totally going to my ex-roommate, and best of all, a CMA "Country Gold" of Billy Ray Cyrus in total Achy Breaky Mullet/Tank Top/Miley-Free mode.

In all seriousness, I don't know what the fate of these cards will be (Nixon and Ventura are 100% keepers, though). But three cheers to David, who has a weird sense of humor that I can totally identify with!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1988 Topps Glossy All-Stars #5

I just finished reading Babe, Robert Creamer's definitive biography of George Herman "Babe" Ruth, a.k.a. The Sultan of Swat. As I was reading about Ruth's childhood and adolescence in Baltimore, and his first couple of months as a pro ballplayer with the International League's Baltimore Orioles, I couldn't help but wonder how many baseball fans there are who don't even realize that the most iconic figure in baseball history was Charm City's own. Growing up in Baltimore, I couldn't help but know about it. Even before I became a fan, I recall visiting the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum with my Cub Scout troop.

I also remember an article from a local weekend paper, it would have been 1995. In celebration of the Babe's 100th birthday, the writer had compiled a starting lineup of the best major leaguers who were born in Maryland. It was an impressive group, particularly for a small state that went half a century without its own big league team. I've talked in the past about Baltimore's inferiority complex, and in the early years of my baseball fandom this story gave me a real sense of pride in my roots. In fact, I still remember the lineup. I'll provide the years played, birthplace, and some vital stats. An asterisk indicates a Hall of Famer:

C Babe Phelps (1931, 1933-1942; Odenton) .310 AVG, 3-time All-Star
*1B Jimmie Foxx (1925-1942, 1944-1945; Sudlersville) .325/.428/.609 AVG/OBP/SLG, 534 HR, 1922 RBI, 3-time MVP
*2B Judy Johnson (Negro Leagues 1918-1938; Snow Hill) Actually renowned as an excellent-fielding third baseman (the writer took a liberty with his position), hit .416 in 1929, discovered Josh Gibson ("The Black Babe Ruth")
*SS Cal Ripken, Jr. (1981-2001; Havre de Grace) 2,632 consecutive games played, 603 2B, 431 HR, 1,695 RBI, 3,184 H, 2-time MVP, 2 Gold Gloves
*3B Frank "Home Run" Baker (1908-1914, 1916-1919, 1921-1922; Trappe) .307 AVG, 987 RBI, 4 straight home run titles (1911-1914, pre-Babe Ruth)
*RF Babe Ruth (1914-1935; Baltimore) .342/.474/.690, 714 HR, 2,217 RBI, 1923 AL MVP (yep, only one!). As a pitcher: 94-46 W-L, 2.28 ERA
*CF Al Kaline (1953-1974, Baltimore) .297 AVG, 399 HR, 1,583 RBI, 3,007 H, 18-time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves
LF Bill "Swish" Nicholson (1936, 1939-1953; Chestertown) 2-time NL HR and RBI leader (1943-1944), 5-time All-Star
*P Lefty Grove (1925-1941, Lonaconing) 300-141 W-L, 55 SV, 3.06 ERA, 1931 AL MVP, 6-time All-Star, 2 pitching Triple Crowns (W, K, ERA), 7 straight strikeout titles (1925-1931)

That's one helluva starting nine. Seven Hall of Famers, and the slouch was a solid player who dominated wartime baseball. In the years since this piece ran, I'd say that Harold Baines (1980-2001; Easton) could probably supplant Swish, but we'll stick him in as DH, purists be damned: .289 AVG, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI, 6-time All-Star. That's not even getting into 1B Mark Teixeira (2003-present; Severna Park), who has 203 HR and 2 Gold Gloves to his name already. There's a strong bench with outfielders Brady Anderson, Brian Jordan, and Charlie "King Kong" Keller. The infield depth is a little more scarce, but Bill Ripken, Buck Herzog, and Cupid Childs all had solid careers.

The rest of the pitching staff would include mostly 19th-Century arms like Dave Foutz, Bobby Mathews, and Hall of Famer Vic Willis, but Steve Barber, Denny Neagle, and Eddie Rommel would be capable starters as well. I don't see a shutdown closer, but Jeff Nelson and Steve Farr would share late-inning duties on the rare occasion that the old-school guys didn't finish what they started. Of course, Babe Ruth could probably be coaxed into taking the ball every now and then if needed.

Who's the manager? Foutz and Herzog are the only team members to ever serve as skipper, and there's no all-time great head coach on the Maryland list, with all apologies to Sam Perlozzo. I'd say what the heck - one of the tragedies of the Babe's baseball life was that he never got the managing gig he so desperately wanted. It can't be that hard to call the shots for this epic club, so let's give the former Home Run King his shot as player-manager.

If you have any doubts about my roster construction, or you're just curious, all of the 277 Maryland-born players in MLB history are here. The Baseball Reference index of players by birthplace is here.

Now that's what I call fantasy baseball!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Anthony Telford, 1991 Topps Stadium Club #330

When Topps set tongues a-waggin' with their first foray into "premium" cards, everyone assumed that they had established Stadium Club as a response to the challenge presented by Upper Deck. Sure, these full-bleed photos, with their vibrant colors and Kodak-whatsit technology, might have been a return volley to Upper Deck's beautiful full-color, front-and-back photos and holographic stamps and so forth. But if you ask me, the true purpose of the inaugural issue of Topps Stadium Club was to finally produce a card worthy of the finely-detailed chest hair of Anthony Charles Telford. Heck, that's practically neck hair. I think this can be considered an error card, in fact. The blue name bar should read, "Anthony Telford's Chest Hair".

Monday, October 20, 2008

Melvin Mora, 2004 Upper Deck #78

Just a few days ago, I spoke of the Orioles' roots as the St. Louis Browns (1902-1953). I was mildly surprised to come across this card, featuring a photo of Melvin Mora from a 2003 turn-back-the-clock game. I recall plenty of games in which the Birds honored their own great teams of the past, or their minor league predecessors, or even the great Negro League teams of Baltimore (I haven't posted any of those yet, as it happens). But I don't remember the O's ever doing so much to call attention to the fact that they were a transplanted team. But lo and behold, a quick web search turned up evidence of an interleague game in June 2003 that turned into a battle of St. Louis. The host Cardinals and visitor Orioles each wore throwback uniforms to commemorate the first regular-season meeting between the two teams that used to share Sportsman's Park. Baltimore was even referred to as "St. Louis" on the scoreboard and over the PA. Go figure.

One classic uniform that the Birds have never donned is that of the 1901 Baltimore Orioles, one of the original American League clubs. Sure, they might have packed their bags and moved to New York, but they had John McGraw, Roger Bresnahan, and Joe McGinnity, all great names in baseball lore. Besides, check out these sharp road threads!

The ball's in your court, Orioles.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hayden Penn, 2005 Donruss Throwback Threads #261

If I were you, I wouldn't board a plane with Hayden Penn in the near future. He's become the man of misfortune in the Orioles' organization over the past few seasons. In the span of three years, he's gone from a top pitching prospect to an afterthought, with some odd detours along the way:

-In May 2006, Penn was called up to make his first start of the season. He had to be scratched with appendicitis, and took several months to recover.

-In Spring Training 2007, Hayden twisted an ankle carrying boxes at the team hotel, which set him back about a week. He was later removed from a scheduled start against the Marlins for disciplinary reasons. He had driven from the team's Fort Lauderdale facility to the Marlins' Jupiter locale without his equipment bag, having erroneously assumed that someone else would load it on the team bus. The round trip to retrieve his personal effects did not put him in the team's good graces. He missed half of the season after having bone chips removed from his elbow.

-The O's considered recalling Penn from AAA Norfolk on a few occasions in 2008, and each time he came up with another injury. In August, shoulder stiffness was the culprit. With all of the ups and downs, his minor league performance was subpar: 6-7, 4.79 ERA.

With all of the drama surrounding Hayden Penn since 2006, it's easy to forget that he just turned 24. His best baseball could still be ahead of him, but no one's counting on that. Maybe that's just what he needs.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rick Dempsey, 1984 Fleer #6

In all of the grind and tedium of the work week, I completely missed the importance of Thursday, October 16. Two days ago, most Oriole fans marked the 25th anniversary of Scott McGregor's five-hit shutout of the Phillies, which clinched Baltimore's third World Series Championship. I can't help but lament the fact that I was much too young to be aware of that great team's achievements, much less to appreciate them at the time. But that doesn't mean that I can't celebrate them now.

Latter-day O's fans might only know Rick Dempsey as the goofy, slightly muddled broadcaster who has a talent for putting his foot in his mouth. But two-and-a-half decades ago, he was the hardscrabble backstop for the Orioles, a talented defensive player whose offensive contributions weren't much to write home about. He played an important role on the team, but he certainly wouldn't be high on your list of potential World Series MVPs. On a team with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Eddie Murray, who finished 1-2 in regular-season MVP voting, who would pay much attention to a 34-year-old catcher with a .231 average and 22 extra-base hits?

No one could have predicted that Dempsey's pitchers would completely shut down the Phillies (1.60 ERA in five games), or that Rick himself would hit a powerful .385, with all five of his hits going for extra bases. His solo home run, double, and two runs scored in the deciding game gave McGregor plenty of breathing room. So it was that the Dipper got the Pontiac Trans Am, dinner at the White House, and a Sports Illustrated cover.

As a final note, the Angels batter pictured above is former O's second baseman Bobby Grich. He was one of the team's first losses in the free agent era, and he never made it to the World Series with the Halos. Do you think he ever had second thoughts about leaving Birdland?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Duane Pillette, 1954 Topps #107

Today's card is all about beginnings and firsts. It's the first 1954 Topps card in my collection. 1954 Topps was the first modern Major League Baseball card set (along with 1954 Bowman) to feature the Baltimore Orioles. The team had just moved east from St. Louis, bringing Charm City back into the American League for the first time since 1903, when the city's charter A.L. franchise was moved to New York. That's right, the Yankees were once the Orioles. Ugh. Anyway, the St. Louis club was the first pro sports team named the Browns to relocate to Baltimore from Middle America, but they wouldn't be the last.

At the time this card was designed, pitcher Duane "Dee" Pillette had yet to suit up for the O's - no one had. Topps was able to get a hold of the team's official logo, which is reminiscent of Heckle and Jeckle. But they had to do the best they could in approximating the new team's uniforms. For the headshot, Duane's cap has been colored in black with a reasonable facsimile of the scratchy-looking "realistic bird" that the club would wear in some capacity through the 1965 season. For the inset action pose, they decided that discretion was the better part of valor and just airbrushed out the Browns insignia on Duane's jersey and cap.

Pillette himself was involved in a couple significant "firsts" in baseball history. His father Herman, who won nineteen games for the Tigers the year Duane was born (1922), lost nineteen the following year to "lead" the American League. When Pillette the younger racked up fourteen defeats as a Brownie in 1951, he and his Pop became the first (and so far, only) father-son duo to lead their league in this dubious category. In brighter news, "Dee" was the first pitcher to win a game for the new Orioles, topping the host Tigers 3-2 in the Birds' second-ever game on Wednesday, April 14, 1954. Not a bad start, and certainly not a bad finish: the righty would wrap up the season as the Birds' first team leader in earned run average, at 3.12.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Charles Johnson, 2000 Fleer Focus #213

As I thumbed through a stack of recent additions to my Orioles collection, something in the background of this Charles Johnson card caught my eye. More to the point, someone caught my eye. If you look to the left of the catcher (your left, his right), you'll see a blurred figure in black pants, a white polo shirt, and a black O's cap. This gentleman is Ernie Tyler, a household name to most Birds fans. Tyler is the team's umpires' assistant, a role that he has filled since 1960. If you're counting, that's forty-nine years of dutiful service to the men in blue, and a heck of a lot of Baltimore history: thirty-two seasons in old Memorial Stadium and another seventeen in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The most remarkable part? He didn't miss a single home game until August of 2007. Charm City's other Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr., invited Ernie to be his guest at the former shortstop's Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown, New York. It was Tyler's first day off after 3,769 consecutive games; he outpaced Junior's record-setting streak by more than 1,100 games!

You might wonder just what it is that an umpires' assistant does. Before every game, Ernie does everything he can to make things easier for the least popular men in the ballpark. That includes setting out food for them, laundering their uniforms, and rubbing down the game balls with mud to break them in. But during game action, Tyler really shines. He's known for jogging out from the O's dugout several times per game to deliver a fresh batch of balls to the home plate umpire. He'll often spring forth to retrieve stray balls as well. What's more, he does all this at the age of 84! But then, Ernie doesn't do anything halfway. He has been married to his wife Juliane for 61 years, and they have eleven children. Two Tyler sons, Fred and Jimmy, serve as the clubhouse attendants at Oriole Park.

In a perfect world, Ernie would have his own card. But I'm sure he's happy just to be in the background, doing his thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Luis Matos, 2001 Fleer Futures #182

If I were to assign superlatives to every card in my collection (and really, why wouldn't I?), the above would be declared "most glittery". It might not be so apparent in the scan, but the gray-looking surface that comprises the right side of the card is actually a dense carpet of silver glitter. Did the prototype also involve macaroni? I simply cannot imagine who the target demographic for this set was. Maybe Fleer was attempting to reach out to young girls, but the ones that I know (all one of them) have much simpler, more mainstream collecting interests. The kids don't always need to be pandered too, Mister Card Company Bigwig. Sometimes less is more...especially when glitter enters into the equation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dennis Martinez, 1993 Pinnacle #291

First of all, I love this card because of the side-by-side comparison of Dennis Martinez at the beginning and near-end of his career (though he remarkably hung on for another five years after this). It's reminiscent of the Super Veteran subset from 1983 Topps, and it presents a microcosm of one of my card collecting interests: I like to collect each player on as many of his different teams as I can. Such a broad subject is a beautiful thing, as it allows me to keep seeking out tons of different cards, as well as ensuring that even the most seemingly drab packs have some sort of hidden value.

But I also posted this excellent card of "El Presidente" because I want to talk politics a bit. I've studiously avoided this topic on this blog because it's so divisive; I have my opinions and this isn't a place that I deem appropriate to discuss them. In that vein, I'm not going to advocate my causes and beliefs tonight. If you're curious, you can read a bit about them here. For now, I just want to encourage my readers to vote. Hopefully, you're already registered. If not, it may not be too late. The deadline in Maryland is today, as it is for Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and West Virginia. Tomorrow is do-or-die day in Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Friday is the cutoff date in Nebraska. Of course, some of these states have different deadlines for in-person registration; you can find out more here.

No matter what you believe and who you believe in, the greatest power that you possess in the United States is your right to vote. Don't take it for granted.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rick Krivda, 1994 Fleer Ultra #306

For want of anything profound or witty to say about Rick Krivda, I decide to Google his name and write about the most unusual result of the search. On page six of my hunt, I learned that the former O's lefty is a member of the McKeesport, PA chapter of the Polish National Alliance (Lodge #352). The webpage in question gave some insight into Krivda's post-organized baseball life. Apparently he's still living in the area - Perry Hall, MD, to be exact. He's instructed area youth at some Ripken Baseball camps and operates "Extra Innings", an indoor training center. Well, I couldn't go forward without finding the Extra Innings site, where I learned that one of Rick's fellow instructors is former first baseman Randy "Moose" Milligan!

It's a font of obscure knowledge, this Internet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jayson Werth, 1997 Bowman #433

A lot has changed for Jayson Werth in the last decade. Gone are the big round glasses for the Orioles' 1997 first-round pick. He's grown out his hair, both on his head and on his chin. He's made the transition from catcher to outfielder. He's hopped around four different organizations, and is now in his second season in Philadelphia. 2008 was the sixth season that the now-29-year-old has spent at least partially in the majors, but his 134 games were easily a career high, surpassing the 102 games that he took the field in 2005. It's safe to say that this has been Werth's finest all-around season, a campaign in which he accumulated 24 home runs and 20 steals. To top it off, his Phillies are two wins away from their first World Series appearance in fifteen years.

But Jayson is struggling. After a great showing in the Division Series (5-for-16, with all five hits going for extra bases), his bat has gone cold in the NLCS. He managed just one hit in his first eleven at-bats in three games, with four strikeouts. Of course, as I was typing this, he singled with two outs in the ninth inning to temporarily keep hope alive. However, the Phils went on to lose 7-2. Their comfortable series lead has been cut in half, and they'll need Werth, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and company firing on all cylinders in order to hold off Los Angeles. Personally, I'm "in the bag" for the Phillies, as they've gone even longer than the Birds without winning the World Series, and I can't stand Manny Ramirez and the inevitable sports-media overkill that would come with his return to the Fall Classic in a new uniform. (God forbid he should face off against the Red Sox in the Series!)

Go get 'em tomorrow, Jayson.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jorge Julio, 2003 Topps #538

For want of a night out, I spent a few hours this evening in the company of my sister and my future brother-in-law at the movies. It was my sister's choice, a fairly uninspired horror movie called Quarantine. While the film wasn't really any good, it certainly had some scares, particularly for someone as skittish as me. I was tense throughout, and eventually took to averting my eyes as much as I could, much as I did when I saw The Exorcist in the theatre during its re-release in my freshman year of college. That movie scarred me for quite a while; I can remember being legitimately relieved to have my roommate close by when the lights went out at night. I can't stay away from a good scare, often dipping into my sister's extensive personal library for a Stephen King novel or reading ghost stories online during slow times at work.

Speaking of things that go "bump" in the night, there have been few things more frightening to Oriole fans than the sight of ex-closer Jorge Julio lumbering in from the bullpen in the ninth inning of a tight game. Just seeing his picture, with that semi-blank look on his face, I'm certain that he's about to hang a slider to a Tampa Bay hitter. That's the kind of scare that I can do without.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Ken Singleton, 1976 Hostess #76

Nothing beats a good oddball card, especially if it's an extra treat stashed inside a box of delicious food. Back in the day, I loved getting the mini-packs of cards with my Post Raisin Bran. The fact that the company was too cheap to spring for an MLB license and had to airbrush out the logos and wordmarks on the caps and jerseys just added to the charm.

Last month I received this rather sparse, undersized Ken Singleton card in a trade with John, the only Englishman I know who collects baseball cards. I'd never seen it before, so I got to do some detective work online. The card back is white, with the five most recent years of batting statistics (1971-1975). There is a white card number inside a black circle and next to some small-font biographical information. Armed with the card number and likely issue year of 1976, a Yahoo! search hooked me up. It turns out that from 1975 through 1979, Hostess printed baseball cards on the bottoms of their snack cake boxes. This is from the 1976 set, which featured cards in panels of three. There were eight Orioles in the 150-card set; the others are Bobby Grich, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Lee May, Don Baylor, Mike Cuellar, and Mike Torrez. Brooks, Palmer, and Singleton were short printed.

In tracking down vintage O's, I've focused primarily on the yearly Topps issues. But sometimes these oddballs can be more affordable, and a fun trip off of the beaten path. I'll have to keep my eyes open for the Hostess cards, and others of their kind!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jeff Fiorentino, 2007 Upper Deck Artifacts #83

When Jeff Fiorentino made his major league debut in May 2005, he became one of the first Aberdeen IronBirds to reach the Big Show. Four years and some change after "Screech" (so nicknamed for his supposed resemblance to the Saved by the Bell character of the same name) kicked off his pro baseball career in Cal Ripken's hometown, I spent a rainy Friday afternoon driving through Aberdeen en route to my alma mater, Washington College.

It's a familiar trip, and I've never been one to chafe at long drives. As long as I've got my CDs loaded in the trunk, I like being alone with my thoughts. But it's been a few years since I drove the route from my parents' house to Chestertown, and I had to get reacquainted with the more tedious aspects of the journey. It can be summarized thusly: drive down Route 40 East for a little over an hour, and then turn right onto Route 213 and follow it for about forty-five minutes until you run into the college. That's it.

There is some great scenery along the way, including several rivers (the Susquehanna, Bohemia, Sassafras, and Chester, off the top of my head) and a canal. But without fail, my trips unfold the same way. About forty-five minutes in, I've made it past Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, and even Perryville, and I start thinking that I'm making great time. I'm almost to Elkton, and once I get there, Route 213 is within my sights! There's only one problem: Elkton is a vague concept, a black hole of sorts. A twilight zone.

Part of the problem is that Elkton is the biggest city in the area, so you start seeing businesses and other signs identifying themselves with it long before you reach Elkton proper. There are also a lot of traffic lights on Route 40, and after forty-five minutes I start getting antsy. So I get selective amnesia and assume that the second leg of my trip is imminent, omitting the unremarkable landmarks and locales of North East, Rising Sun, and so forth. Eventually, I have a brief moment of panic, thinking to myself, "I must have missed my turn somehow." The first year that I was out of college, and wishing I was still there, I made this drive about twice a month. I can say with confidence that I have never missed that turn. But the confluence of Harford and Cecil Counties disorients me in a way that no other stretch of road ever has.

I can't tell you what a relief it is when I finally come to the intersection of 40 and 213, marked by a Burger King. I'm exactly where I should be, without having to scramble for road maps or to make my own granola out of the paper products in my glove compartment. You haven't gotten the best of me yet, Elkton! I only hope that you never will.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Jose Mesa, 1992 Fleer #17

I am a man of many interests, tastes, and humors. I'm also probably misusing the word "humors". Let me go check...

Nope, I'm good. Anyway, a couple of things that I always appreciate are good baseball nicknames and amusing Spanish-to-English translations. For these reasons, I'm sharing Jose Mesa, his ridiculously long legs, and the odd combination of metallic green gradients and ochre (not orange) block lettering. The literal translation of his name is "Joe Table". Seriously, that's pretty apt if you break down his career, particularly his early years as an Oriole. In parts of four seasons (1987, 1990-1992) in Baltimore, he went 13-24 with a 5.45 ERA. It's safe to say that "Joe" was setting the table for opposing hitters. Sure, he eventually switched to the bullpen in Cleveland and went on to pitch for two decades, accumulating 321 saves. But his 4.36 ERA and 1.47 WHIP would have been much too high for my blood pressure.

Others on the All-Translation Team would include Pedro Feliz (a.k.a. "Peter Happy") and Guillermo Mota ("Willie Speck"). Can you think of any others?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Eddie Murray, 1986 Topps Glossy Send-In #33

The first thing that comes to mind when looking at this card is that for someone who hit 504 home runs in his career, you would think that Eddie Murray would know which end of the bat he should hold. My second impression is that Eddie is smartly dressed for brisk weather. He's supplemented his black warmup jersey with a vinyl windbreaker and old-school orange wristbands. There will be no goose bumps on this powerful first baseman's forearms, no sir.

As the 2008 baseball season winds down to its final weeks, with no more than 21 games left (and possibly as few as 12 remaining), I begrudgingly welcome the Fall. On the one hand, there's lazy Sundays full of football, the mischievous joys of Halloween, and hunkering down indoors with warm clothes and blankets. But I bristle at pulling myself out of bed on chilled mornings, and with my long commute to and from work, I can also anticipate arriving home in the pitch black. I suppose the end of the baseball season would usually be seen as a downer as well, but I could honestly go for a breather at this point. After all, the Hot Stove Season is often when fan interest in the Orioles is at its highest point of the year. With much rebuilding left to do, this year should bear that out.

Bundle up, Eddie. Spring's a long way off.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Erik Bedard, 2008 Topps Moments and Milestones #95 (060/150)

The 2008 baseball season ended (mercifully) for the Baltimore Orioles eight days ago. As has often been the case for the O's of the 2000s, the team fought hard and surprised a lot of people in the first half, maintaining a record of 42-39 at the midpoint of their schedule. The rest of the slate also went according to script, as injuries and fatigue exposed a saddening lack of depth in pitching and the club sputtered to the finish in excess of 90 losses. The Birds could have used the Erik Bedard who set a team record with his 221 strikeouts in 2007, but he mustered only 72 K's in 81 innings this year, reverting to his injury-prone form. Believe it or not, that's good news for Baltimore.

For the first time in several years, the O's - and general manager Andy MacPhail in particular - had the good sense to sell high on a player. It's unfortunate that Bedard's hip and shoulder problems sidelined him, but these things happen in baseball, and Oriole fans know it better than anyone. But even if the inscrutable lefty from Canada had showed up in Seattle and matched or exceeded his career-best performance of last year, the guys in orange and black would have made out like bandits in their 5-for-1 swap:

-George Sherrill, a 29-year-old specialty reliever and ex-independent leaguer, became a cult hero with as the new closer, creating a fashion sensation with his flat-billed cap. He was the team's solitary All-Star, and saved the American League with three shutout innings in the Midsummer Classic. Though he was injured for much of the second half, he should contribute to the bullpen in 2009, even if he returns to a lefty specialist role. And he was almost an afterthought in the deal.

-Center fielder Adam Jones more than held his own in his first full major league campaign, hitting .270 with 37 extra-base hits and improving on defense as the season progressed. He and Nick Markakis give the Orioles two-thirds of an outfield that is primed to be one of baseball's best for quite a few years yet.

-20-year-old pitcher Chris Tillman shined at AA Bowie, going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 135 and two-thirds innings for the Eastern League Champion Baysox. Baseball scouts are suggesting that a few years' hindsight may show that Bedard for Tillman straight-up would have been a steal for the O's.

-6'9" reliever Kam Mickolio had an up-and-down year, scuffling at Bowie before excelling at AAA Norfolk and finally struggling in a September callup to the bigs. Still, he's fairly young (24) and allowed one run in his final six-and-one-third innings, spanning six appearances.

-Another 20-year-old pitcher named Tony Butler was fair-to-middlin' (3-4, 4.42 ERA) at A-level Delmarva before an elbow injury shut him down. But hey, to expect immediate dividends from all five men would have been greedy.

As someone who still bristles at the mention of Glenn Davis, it's refreshing to see my guys on the right side of a trade that looks so promising. Meanwhile, the Mariners were one of the few teams that finished below the Orioles in the win column, a big fall for a club that won 88 games in 2007. The general manager who surrendered two top prospects, an All-Star reliever, and two additional pitchers for a banged-up southpaw with a snarky attitude didn't last the season.

I don't mean to gloat, but I thought that I should remind myself (and the Birdbrains who read me) that there's still reason for optimism in Charm City.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dave Schmidt, 1988 Donruss #371

As I was leafing through some of my 1980s cards tonight, looking for inspiration, I came across veteran swingman Dave Schmidt at the top point of his delivery, chest thrust out, calling full attention toward his belt. But as you might notice, there's no belt to be found, just a cartoonish tri-color striped elastic waistband with a button front. Of all of the aesthetic atrocities committed by baseball teams during the Polyester Era (the descendant of the Wool Era), this is the worst. There is something professional and elegant about baseball players clad in belts, but there's nothing of that to be found in the above photo. From 1971 to 1988, Oriole players and coaches toiled on the diamond and in the dugout and bullpen while giving the appearance of grown men in pajamas. If you ask me, it's not mere coincidence that the Birds nearly went from worst to first in 1989 after ditching the formless neapolitan stripes and returning to those stately black belts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vern Stephens, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #437

Whoops, no time to ramble on at length as I normally do here. Tonight is my sister's engagement party. The big day is just about a year away: Friday, October 23, 2009. For that reason, please enjoy third baseman Vern Stephens, one of the original 1954 Orioles. You see, he was born on October 23, 1920. Plus, he's got a festive sort of look on his face. That's good enough for me!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Orioles Celebrate - Sweep Twins in Three!, 1970 Topps #202

I need a reminder of the good times tonight, an era when October in Baltimore meant a trip down to 33rd Street to see the O's dominate the opposition. This card depicts a mob scene at home plate during the first-ever American League Championship Series, during which the 109-win Orioles squeaked out a couple of walk-off wins over the Western Division Champion Twins before cruising in the deciding Game Three.

The sharp-eyed Birdbrain could tell you that the players who are visible in the above photo are, from left to right, Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, Andy Etchebarren, and Davey Johnson. I'm not sure whether they're reveling in the glory of Game One or Game Two, but both were incredible. In the opener, the host Orioles trailed 3-2 before Boog Powell led off with a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth and Brooks Robinson singled, chasing Minnesota starter Jim Perry. A couple errors and a fielder's choice moved Brooks to third, but he was caught stealing home to end the inning! The game ground its way into the twelfth, where Baltimore's Dick Hall inherited a bases-loaded jam from Marcelino Lopez and retired the next two Twin batters to keep it knotted at 3-3. In the bottom of the inning, the Birds finally broke through against Ron Perranoski, who had been on the mound since the ninth. Mark Belanger singled, moved to third on two infield outs, and scored the winning run on a daring bunt single by Paul Blair. It was a rare example of small ball by the czar of the three-run homer, manager Earl Weaver.

Game Two was a breathtaking pitchers' duel. The Orioles' Dave McNally and the Twins' Dave Boswell, a pair of 20-game winners in the regular season, each allowed their share of baserunners: 3 hits and 5 walks for McNally, and 7 and 7 for Boswell. They both did their job in the runs column, however, trading zeroes into the eleventh inning. McNally, who had the stronger line of the two (particularly when you compare his 11 strikeouts to his opponent's 4 K's), stranded two Twinkie runners in the top of the frame. Boswell finally let up, walking Boog Powell and Davey Johnson (the latter intentionally) and turning things over to (who else?) Ron Perranoski. The reliever once again played the goat, yielding a two-out pinch single to Curt Motton to bring home Powell with the game's only run. Utterly demoralized, Minny would scratch across just 2 runs on 10 hits against Jim Palmer in the final game of the series. Baltimore had no such difficulty, with 11 runs to show for their 18 hits off of 7 Twin hurlers.

As you can see, the Orioles had a right to celebrate. I think things got a little gloomier in the World Series, but my computer seems to lock up when I try to research it, so we'll just stop here. ;)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jamie Moyer, 1994 Leaf #215

Apparently, there are just five ex-Orioles on the active rosters of the eight teams in the various League Division Series. That includes draftees Jayson Werth and Mike Fontenot, neither of whom played a single game in orange and black. However, it also includes Jamie Moyer, who just finished the winningest season ever by a 45-year-old pitcher. It speaks to the incredible dearth of starting pitching in Baltimore - but also to the remarkable longevity and talent of Moyer and ex-teammate Mike Mussina - that the 2008 Orioles would have been much better off if they had been able to call upon two-fifths of their 1993 rotation.

On Saturday evening, Jamie Moyer will take the mound in Milwaukee with a chance to send his Phillies to their first National League Championship Series since - wouldn't you know it - 1993. I know at least one blogger who will be hoping, praying, and cursing that it doesn't happen, but only time will tell.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Harold Reynolds, 1993 Score Select Rookies and Traded #14

This card depicts Harold Reynolds, in his lone year as an Oriole, preparing to tag Ozzie Guillen as he slides headfirst into second base at what was then known as New Comiskey Park. Some fifteen years later, both men were back in that same ballpark yesterday evening for the White Sox' thrilling 1-0 one-game playoff win over the Twins. Ozzie, of course, was managing the Pale Hose to victory. Harold, on the other hand, was back in the saddle as an announcer for TBS, who televised the game.

I tuned in to the game in the fifth inning, with the score still tied 0-0. We'd arrived home just a few hours earlier, having spent nearly four hours on the road from Virginia. I was looking to relax with some quality postseason baseball, and I perked up as soon as I heard Harold's high-pitched, friendly voice. I've missed the former second baseman since his sudden firing from ESPN two years ago. Though he was no slouch on the diamond, he's truly been in his element in the years since he hung up his spikes, talking baseball with confidence and a good-natured demeanor while the camera rolls. In addition to his work on Baseball Tonight, he became one of the faces of the Little League World Series every summer, interacting effortlessly with pint-sized pitchers and shortstops. He's always seemed genuinely affable, and it's just comforting to hear him on a telecast rather than some self-important bozo like Joe Morgan or a gibbering pile of nonsense like Tim McCarver.

I'm not going to sugarcoat things; there are a lot of unanswered questions about the messy divorce between ESPN and Reynolds. The company's official story spoke of sexual harassment, but something seemed awry. Many other ESPN personalities had received slaps on the wrist for much worse offenses than "a misinterpreted hug", as Harold deemed it. But given that he quickly moved to sue his former employer, and that they chose to quietly settle out-of-court with him, I tend to give the former second baseman the benefit of the doubt. When it comes right down to it, I'm glad to have Harold Reynolds back. In yet another Orioles-free postseason, it's good to have a familiar face (and voice) hanging around.