Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tom Underwood, 1984 O-Pee-Chee #293

In case you ever wondered about some of the differences between Topps and O-Pee-Chee back when OPC was simply Topps' Canadian brand, I just happen to have both versions of Tom Underwood's 1984 card. As you can see above, Tom is pictured with the Athletics but labeled as an Oriole on his O-Pee-Chee card. There is also the helpful "Now with Orioles" notation floating on top of his groin. It makes him seem like a snack food that's been repackaged by Madison Avenue. "It's Tom Underwood by Nabisco! Now with Orioles! Mmm, taste that orange and black!"

Taking a gander at the 1984 Topps version of Underwood's card, you'll see essentially the same card, but with the Topps logo, the Athletics coloring and wordmark, and a squeaky-clean text-free groin. Tom was something of a latecomer, signing with the O's in February of 1984. His Topps cards were printed and shipped by then, but it wasn't too late to assign him to the Birds for the North of the Border cards. So I guess there was some tradeoff for those Canadian kids who waited patiently for their brand-new cards.
Tom Underwood by you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rene Gonzales, 1990 Donruss #401

You probably know by know that one of my quirky preoccupations as an Orioles fan is uniform numbers. For this reason, I have a special appreciation for utility infielder Rene Gonzales. "Gonzo" had worn #19 in the mid-Eighties with the Expos, but his favorite number was 8. When he got to Baltimore, a certain Ripken was entrenched in that number, so Rene doubled it. I believe he was the first player to wear #88 with any regularity, and was certainly the first Oriole to wear any number in the eighties in the regular season. He kept it for his entire stint in Charm City (1987-1990), and wore it at his future destinations of Toronto, California, Cleveland, and Texas. He played two games with the Rockies in 1997 and the spoilsports handed him #28.

Gonzo's legacy was continued by rookie first baseman Paul Carey, who debuted with the Birds in May 1993. His rationale was that #8 had proven pretty lucky for Cal Ripken, so hopefully #88 would be "twice as lucky for me". He played only 18 games in 1993, his first and only year in the majors, so I'm not sure how lucky the crazy eights turned out to be.

The third and final Oriole (to date) to wear #88 was a greater headline-grabber than his predecessors. Surly, hulking outfielder Albert Belle signed with the O's prior to the 1999 season for a bank-breaking five years and $65 million. He had worn #8 since 1990 with the Indians and White Sox, but even his 321 home runs did not trump the Iron Man. So it was that Albert too doubled his favored digit. The mercurial slugger certainly earned his keep in his first season in orange and black, bashing 36 doubles and 37 home runs, driving in 117 runs, and walking 101 times to boot. But things went downhill in a hurry. In 2000, Belle's production dropped notably (though he still lead a weak club in 2B, HR, and RBI) and he abruptly retired at age 33 with a degenerative hip condition.

As soon as Cal Ripken, Jr. hung up his spikes in October 2001, the Orioles retired his #8. Since then, Javy Lopez has been the most likely incoming Oriole to go double-eight. But he blew it by switching from #8 to #18 when he relocated to our fine city. Bo-ring. Will there be more #88s in Baltimore's future? Time will tell.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Fred Holdsworth, 1977 Topps #466

Is it my imagination, or does reliever Fred Holdsworth look a little queasy in this photo? I blame it on his surroundings. After all, the entirety of Oakland-Alameda County Stadium appears to be a little crooked. Did the world suddenly tilt about fifteen degrees to our left, Fred's right? If so, why exactly are the Athletics still taking batting practice unabated, as though nothing is awry? Something serious is going on here; even the scoreboard has blacked out. Maybe this is one of those earthquakes that are all the rage in California, particularly in the Bay Area. "What if they want to whisk me away in an ambulance for further examination?" the O's righthander wonders. "Did I remember to wear clean underwear today? Wait a minute...am I even wearing underwear at all? These west coast road trips always throw me out of whack. Why won't he just snap the photo already?"

Or, you know, maybe the photographer just hadn't had his V8 yet that day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Glenn Davis, 1991 Studio #1

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here's your turkey. Gobble gobble.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Troy Patton, 2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History #119

Some baseball cards are more presumptuous than others. How can you assess Troy Patton's place in the history of the sport when he has twelve and two-thirds innings of major league experience? Or is Upper Deck implying that Troy's career has already been relegated to the history books? I certainly hope it's not the latter. It's easy to forget in this short-attention-span era, but this young lefty was the centerpiece of the Miguel Tejada trade, the guy that Astros fans really hated to see leave. He was one of the top prospects in their organization, a pitcher who projected to a mid-rotation starter (which would practically make him a #2 for the pitching-starved O's).

That was before he showed up in Spring Training with a sore shoulder and learned that he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum. He was done for the year, and many pessimists throughout Birdland wrote him off for good. But sports medicine is making remarkable strides each year, and Patton has already begun throwing again, with every expectation to "crank it up" in just a few weeks' time in preparation for the 2009 season. It's a little soon to talk history when it comes to Troy Patton, whether it be good or bad. My fingers are crossed, though.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Randy Milligan, 1991 Fleer Ultra #20

This Thursday, Randy "Moose" Milligan will be celebrating not only Thanksgiving, but also his 47th birthday. It stands to reason that he has a lot to give thanks for. It's important to have perspective in what has become a very trying time for increasing numbers of people. More than ever before, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There are more poor, as well. The United States, and the world at large, are in the midst of the largest economic recession in the past few decades. Jobs are disappearing, homes are facing foreclosure.

Looking at things from this vantage point, I've been very fortunate. I have a stable job that pays well, and a roof over my head. I can afford to feed and clothe myself, with enough left over for diversion like these cards. I spend a lot of time throughout the year complaining about my long commute to work, or shouting at the television when the Orioles blow a game. But if these are my most pressing concerns on a day-to-day basis, I'm doing alright.

Chances are that most of us are soon to get swept up in the runaway consumerism of the Christmas season, and Thanksgiving comes with its own focus on conspicuous consumption. I'm going to follow the lead of baseball blog Walkoff Walk and urge you to make a donation to your local food bank. Every dollar helps provide meals for families less fortunate than yours or mine. You can find a list with links to a food bank in each Major League Baseball city here. If you wish to donate elsewhere, you can probably find it on the Google. Thanks for humoring my philanthropic side.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tim Raines, Jr., 1999 Bowman Foil #363

Man, these foil cards sure do scan like crap. Anyone have any special tricks they can recommend?

Anyway, this card reminds me of a lost period in my Orioles fandom. For my first few years of college, I had very little to do with the Birds. I was preoccupied with plays, classes, girls, living away from home for the first time...lots of stuff. Let's face it, the O's were in the early dark stages of their decline, still cluelessly banking on aging veterans. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Brady Anderson were at the end of the line, and Mike Mussina was bound for Yankee Stadium. There wasn't much to miss.

So it was that Tim Raines, Sr. and his son played side-by-side in the Orioles outfield, and I didn't even know about it.

Let's acknowledge this for what it was: a desperate grab at publicity by a terrible team (63-98). The younger Raines was by no means comparable to Ken Griffey, Jr., the only other man in major league history to team with his father. But still, the elder Raines was a true legend and absolutely should be elected to the Hall of Fame in the next few years. It would have been cool to have seen him play in Baltimore, even if it was at the end of his career and just for a few games (four, to be exact). At age 41, "Rock" didn't embarrass himself. He was 3-for-11 (.273) with a home run and five RBI for the Birds.

That's one of the great things about baseball. 162 games might be a long and sometimes monotonous commitment to make, but you never know what might unfold before your eyes...or what you might miss if you tune out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lance Cormier, 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH199

Even though I lost my taste for Topps' 2008 offerings after one too many cheap gimmicks (I'm just about done beating that dead horse, I promise), I am one of the maligned few who still appreciate the Updates and Highlights addendum to the base product. I appreciate it for the very same reason that most collectors probably roll their eyes and pass it by: the little guy.

We all know that stars and rookies are what sells. All of the smaller, more premium sets (Allen and Ginter, Goudey, Baseball Heroes) have no room for relievers and backup catchers and fourth outfielders, and these days, neither do the base products. Topps is down from the 1980s and 1990s standard of 792 cards to a more Donruss or Fleer-like 660. If you're a team collector as I have become, you see plenty of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, but little else.

Updates and Highlights is a 330-card supplement, taking the place of the old Traded sets. In addition to the handful of significant stars (Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia) and rookies (Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria) who warrant fresh cards, there's ample room for players number 20-25 on the roster, the role players who normally fall through the cracks. We all root for the underdogs, don't we? Personally, I'd like to see every player who suits up for the O's get his own card, and this is as close as we're going to get these days.

Lance Cormier pitched for his third team in five seasons in 2008. His lot in life is the unglamorous middle reliever, largely called upon to hold the fort and consume innings when the starting pitcher is knocked out of the box early. This happens in Baltimore more often than I would care to say. Lance was a pleasant surprise on the whole this year, particularly when you look at his career stats beforehand (14-18, 1.73 WHIP, 5.98 ERA). He went 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA and his first career save, a four-inning, one-hit gem against the Nationals. He was at his best in the first half, posting an ERA of 3.00 before injuries decimated the O's bullpen and put a greater burden on him in July and August.

It seems like every year, almost every spot on the Birds' pitching staff is up for grabs. Lance Cormier is certainly not assured one of those spots, and it's very possible that he won't get another card as an Oriole. But he's got this one, anyway.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Brad Komminsk, 1990 Topps Traded #53T

Outfielder Brad Komminsk's Orioles career lasted 46 whole games in 1990. But it was a play he made - or failed to make - the previous year that became his legacy in Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium.

On September 5, 1989, the surprising young Orioles were fighting for their lives, down a game in the A.L. East to the resurgent Blue Jays. The Cleveland Indians were in town for a three game series; the O's had taken the first game 5-4 on a walk-off home run by Tim Hulett in the ninth inning. On a Tuesday night, Cal Ripken, Jr. stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning and crushed a John Farrell offering deep to left-center field. Brad Komminsk raced back to the wall, leapt into the air, grabbed the top of the fence with his left hand for support, reached out with his glove and...

Disappeared from view.

It became apparent that Komminsk had made a spectacular catch, and even held onto the ball after landing on the other side of the fence. (Memorial Stadium was a multipurpose stadium, so there were no seats in center field. There was some turf back there, and what looked like the tarp roll, which Brad was fortunate not to land upon.) With no clear view of the vanishing outfielder, Cal continued to run the bases. Since Komminsk could not get back on his feet and return himself - and the ball - to the field of play in a timely manner, Junior was awarded the home run. It was a significant hit, his 20th longball of the year. It allowed him to pass Ernie Banks and set a record with eight consecutive 20-homer seasons as a shortstop. It was also a valuable run in a game eventually won by the Birds, 3-1. Incidentally, Cal would account for the other two runs as well, hitting an RBI double and scoring on a Larry Sheets double.

I think Brad's teammate, left fielder Joe Carter, summed up the whole sequence of events rather well. In the aftermath, a camera caught him walking back to his post and shaking his head. You could read his lips as he simply said "wow".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Earl Weaver, 1978 Topps #211

If you enjoy reading my blog (and I hope you do, otherwise why torment yourself?), I certainly hope that you've clicked the links to your left, which will take you to other baseball card blogs that I enjoy for a variety of reasons: good, insightful writing, quick wit, beautiful visuals, and unique subject matter are all at the top of my list. In case you're not the type to just click around blindly, I can give you that extra prod to visit one of the newest links on my blogroll: 78 Topps Cards. It's the newest project from the bright and prolific Andy, who recently finished his first foray into set blogging, 88 Topps.

Both blogs are similar, in that they take a card-by-card, in-depth look into a couple of the more colorful sets produced by the once-venerable Topps (okay, so I'm still a little bitter about the company's recent missteps). Having tweaked his format, Andy is bringing lots of great new ideas to the plate for 78 Topps, which just launched proper last week. There are running counters of all of the Hall-of-Famers, deceased players and managers, first-or-second-genrations guys, All-Stars, and award winners featured in the set, as well as fun facts and an aesthetic appraisal of the cards. You can vote on your favorite cards, and you'll even have a shot to win several giveaways!
So give 78 Topps Cards a look. The set itself is a thing of beauty, full of minimalist card design (all of the hot pink and bright green borders aside), memorable players of yesteryear, and 1970s fashion. In the meantime, I'm going to get a jump on Andy and take a look at one of the cooler concepts of 1978 Topps, the manager cards. This is the only year that I can recall Topps using a "then and now" format for its treatment of the skippers, showing a small black and white inset photo from their playing days. You get Joe Torre as a slightly uglier, powerful catcher with the Braves. Sparky Anderson as a slightly alien-looking, weak-hitting Phillies infielder. And a true rarity, Earl Weaver as a career minor league infielder who idolized Cardinals shortstop Mary Marion and who looks something like a fire hydrant. But flipping the card over will provide the real treat, and I'm kicking myself for not scanning the back. (Maybe I'll add that in later, note to self.)

On the card back, Topps provides Earl's full minor league batting record! He was a 5'7", 180-pound scrapper who played parts of thirteen seasons (1948-1960) in the bus leagues before seeing the writing on the wall and hanging up his glove and bat for good at age 30. He wasn't a bad hitter per se, averaging .267 and topping out at .288 in 1957. But those numbers weren't opening anyone's eyes at the big league level. But if you dig deeper, there are some fascinating numbers in his stat line.

First of all, a nineteen-year-old Weaver hit .282 and drove in 101 runs in 1949 for the St. Joseph, MO Cardinals of the C-level Western Association. But he had just two home runs - I'd say he earned all those RBI! Also, Earl began managing in the minors in 1956, but continued playing in some capacity through 1960 (when he had 30 at-bats in 28 games for the creatively-named Fox Cities Foxes, the B-level club for the Orioles). Finally, in 1965, the 35-year-old manager appeared in one game for his AA Elmira Pioneers: he did not bat and was ostensibly a late defensive substitute.

As you can see, Earl had quite a long and circuitous path to the major leagues. By the time the Orioles added him to Hank Bauer's coaching staff in 1968, he had played in 1427 minor-league games and managed in 1,538 contests - some of those overlapping! It must have made his four American League Championships, one World Series title, and 1996 Hall of Fame induction all the sweeter.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chito Martinez, 1992 Bowman #19

You may notice that I have tinkered with my widgets, which is the sort of thing that can get you arrested in some states. I had added a slideshow of the O's cards that I'd previously posted to the left side of the blog, but I wasn't thrilled that it stopped at a certain point (about 100 cards in, I think) and returned to the beginning. I thought it might get repetitive. So for now, I've replaced it with the Song O' the Day. In the days before these cards became my blogging focus, I had a LiveJournal that I updated regularly. I tagged every post with a song, usually whatever I was listening to at the time or a tune that I just couldn't get out of my head. Very occasionally, it would be tangentially related to whatever I was writing.

I love music, especially when it comes to sharing it with my friends and family. So I thought a music widget would be a fun diversion for everyone. When applicable, I will provide a YouTube video link. Plus, now you, my readers, can find out how awesome my taste in music is. DISCLAIMER: the proprietor of this blog does not, in fact, have awesome taste in music. Any posting of cool songs and/or artists herein is either coincidental or the result of recommendations by said blogger's much hipper friends and/or family.

With the legalese out of the way, tonight's song is "Orange Sky" by Alexi Murdoch. Based on this song choice, I have scanned and posted early 90s outfielder Chito Martinez, who is wearing a batting practice jersey that happens to be...orange. Plus, he's Chito, which is like Chee-tos, which are of course orange. And delicious.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mike Mussina, 1994 Topps Stadium Club #488

This is my favorite Mike Mussina card, notable for its inexplicable and ridiculous composition. I guess Mike Mussina's got a cool, icy demeanor, but come on. What's with the three tiny ice picks near his right shoulder? The heavy-duty gloves and tongs next to his butt? Even in the midst of this goofy photo shoot, Moose plays it straight, ever the consummate professional.

I've been saving this card for a special occasion, and the news of Mike Mussina's retirement will do nicely.

Just when my animosity toward the O's greatest ex-pat started to thaw, he turned and headed home. Although he just won 20 games for the first time in his 18-year career, I expected him to retire. Actually, it's because of that great season that I anticipated this decision. Mike Mussina is a smart man, one of the brightest to play the game. Having reached 270 career wins, the temptation to hang on for 300 was surely great. But one of his finest performances came just a year after his worst - an injury-marred 11-10, 5.15 campaign. Moose was savvy enough to know that the chances for another 2007 were probably greater than the chances for another 2008. He left on his own terms, secure in his legacy. He won more games than Jim Palmer and Bob Gibson, struck out more batters than Warren Spahn or Don Drysdale. There was no need to tempt fate and risk serious injury and spend another year away from his family. Mike Mussina had the best conclusion to his career that a player can hope for, short of a World Series ring.

I don't think we'll hear from Moose much in his post-baseball life. But he'll pop up again in about five years. I believe deep down that he'll be wearing an Orioles cap on his bronze plaque, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mark Eichhorn, 1995 Score #532

Sidearm pitcher Mark Eichhorn (pronounced IKE-horn) is the only player in Orioles history to have a double-h anywhere in his name. I bet it's fun to pronounce it with a phlegmy hocking sound. This isn't an ideal photo of his unusual pitching motion, but if you look closely I think you can tell that something is different. He just looks like he's pushing the ball out of his hand, almost like a shot put. Mark's middle finger is also completely outside of his glove, and you can see two other knuckles and the lower halves of those fingers. A hard line drive back up the middle could easily break some digits on that left hand. To my knowledge, the mustachioed reliever was fortunate enough to avoid that fate throughout his career. Maybe his unconventional delivery left him in a position to stay clear of comebackers.

Who's your favorite pitcher with a funky throwing style? Is it a submarine guy like Todd Frohwirth, Chad Bradford, or Kent Tekulve? A sidearmer in the style Eichhorn or Jeff Nelson? An arms over the head, rock-back windup a la Paul Byrd, Fernando Valenzuela, or Hideo Nomo? Or something in between, like Dick Hall?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Brian Roberts, 2008 Topps Allen and Ginter #265

Stare deep into the Evil Glowing Left Eye of Brian Roberts and know ye despair. Last Monday's entry aside, there has never really been an Orioles card that's given me the willies. But this...this is just plain spooky. I seem to remember a big to-do a few years ago about Brob (pronounced "brahb" - none of this "bee-rob" nonsense)'s orange-and-red contact lenses, which helped block the sun but left him looking like a creature in a zombie flick. But I'm not even sure he still wears them - at least I haven't heard anything about them for a while. Why would the folks in Topps' art department just be calling attention to them now? And if that was their intent, why give him one normal-looking eye and one freak eye?

Frankly, I'd rather reflect on these sort of Brian Roberts mysteries than endure another winter of will-they-won't-they trade rumors. Back in February, I was already mentally preparing myself to say goodbye to one of the most popular Orioles of the past decade. Instead, Andy MacPhail never was able to pry a satisfactory bunch of players from the grip of the Cubs (or any other team), and Brian never joined Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard in the category of ex-Orioles. If the trade buzz was a distraction to him, he never showed it. He just took the field every day and turned in the second-best season of his career, hitting .296 and reaching base at a .378 clip, swiping 40 bases, and breaking his own team record with 51 doubles. Roberts further entrenched himself as one of the all-time O's: he is now eleventh in runs scored (619) and hits (1095), sixth in doubles (262), tied for eighth in triples (32), third in steals (226), and tenth in extra-base hits (335).

Amidst these big numbers and my own observations, I'm even less keen to part with our second baseman than I was last offseason. I still haven't heard of any potential returns that wow me, and the presumed top suitor (those same Cubs) have an even less impressive stockpile of prospects than they did before. The Tejada trade left the O's with a gaping hole at shortstop, and the waiver wire and Norfolk provided an assembly line of pretenders that were nothing short of ghastly. I shudder to think of an Oriole infield that's completely empty up the middle. As for concerns that Brian, who will be 31 on Opening Day 2009, faces an imminent decline, most baseball minds agree that players with his specific skills (i.e. a walk-heavy batting approach and good speed) age particularly well. From what I've heard, Birds brass are reluctant to trade him and will only actively pursue a swap if their efforts to extend his contract come up empty.

I'm fairly certain that Brian is not a faithful reader of this tiny blog, but on the off chance that he sees this, here's one vote for "stay". I really believe the Orioles are on the right path, and it will surely take a few more years, but I think he'll do our rebuilding efforts more good by staying put than he would in Chicago or St. Louis or Cleveland...ghoulish eye or no ghoulish eye.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Richie Lewis, 1993 Donruss #265

Ten Things You May Not Know About Richie Lewis:

1. His middle name is Todd. There was a pitcher in the MLB from 1997-2004 named Todd Ritchie - no relation.

2. Despite being listed on this card as 5'10", baseball-reference.com insists that he was actually 5'6", making him one of the shortest pitchers ever.

3. Pitched in the majors for parts of seven seasons despite being drafted in 1987 as a 44th-round pick by the Expos.

4. Made his debut on July 31, 1992 with the Orioles, in the second game of a doubleheader. Despite allowing five hits, six walks, and three runs and being knocked out in the fifth inning, Richie earned the win. (The O's scored four runs off of the Red Sox in a rain-shortened game.)

5. Had one of the lowest ERAs for the first-ever Florida Marlins team in 1993 (3.26). Was also the only pitcher with more than one decision to have a winning record (6-3) for the club, which finished 64-98.

6. His career was bookended by two-game stints in Baltimore in which he posted ERAs above 10 (10.80 in 1992, 15.43 in 1998).

7. Most hitters worry about having their timing disrupted by knuckleball pitchers. One of Richie's two career hits was a single against knuckleballer Tom Candiotti of the Dodgers.

8. Richie led the National League in wild pitches with ten in 1994.

9. Coached the pitchers of the A-ball Columbus (GA) Catfish in 2006. The team's manager was Travis Barbary, who may or may not be a pirate.

10. His Wikipedia entry is baffling in its declaration that "He spent seven professional seasons with Julio Mosquera, longer than any other teammate". That may well be true, but why would it be noteworthy?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

B. J. Surhoff, 2000 Pacific Revolution #23

*Sharp intake of breath*


Seriously, I didn't think this card could get any uglier, but it managed to scan even worse than it appears to the naked eye. If you held this thing in your hand, you'd see silver foil in the background with some random, barely discernible squiggles interwoven. The garish foreground squiggles are actually gold foil. You just can't have enough foil, right?

What was the purpose of Pacific as a card brand? I never collected it. Did anyone collect it? Why did they seemingly have dozens of sets each year, all with cheap-looking, gaudy designs? Paramount, Revolution, Omega, Aurora...it sounds like a bunch of off-brand autos.

I sort of miss Fleer, Donruss, and Score as baseball card brands. But Pacific? Get real.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Dave Pope, 1956 Topps #154

I love 1956 Topps. Other than the beautiful 1953 set, I can't think of any other base Topps set that looks like pure works of art. The horizontal card format works great with the action shot/foreground portrait combo. On this particular card, the "Davey" signature is a playful touch. Dave Pope, who made only three errors in his four-year career, is leaping for a fly ball against an endless gaping gray maw. It does occur to me that outfield fences used to be made of solid concrete with no padding, which: holy crap. If you don't think running into concrete full-tilt takes its toll, do some research about former Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Pete Reiser. Yet just over the top of this 10-to-12-foot behemoth wall, we see something not unlike a palm tree poking out. There's something better out there, and it's just out of reach.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Craig Lefferts, 1993 Topps #617

This is one of my favorite O's cards from 1993 Topps. You just don't see many photos of a player looking pensively toward the horizon as he lounges by the batting cage with a cup of Gatorade. Add the gym t-shirt (Gold's Gym perhaps?) peeking through Craig's mesh batting practice jersey, and the pants hiked up to a dangerously high level, and you've got a classic.

This was the first set that I ever collected, so it holds strong sentimental value for me. I remember buying those blue and red cellophane packs all through the summer and fall: on vacation at my family's cottage in Northeastern Pennsylvania, at the Revco drug store after school, even at the supermarket near my friend Steve's house. I'm glad that I actually had the chance to walk to the store to buy cards; I'm sure that's a lost art these days. The packs were 69 to 79 cents for 15 cards, one of which would be a Gold parallel card. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think those were the first one-per-pack parallels.

My parents even bought me a box of Series 2, probably for my birthday. I just didn't know how to react to a couple dozen packs of cards, all waiting to be opened by ME. When I pulled a BlackGold WINNER card from one of those packs, I flipped out. It entitled me to receive by mail 11 cards from the rare 44-card BlackGold insert set, including Frank Thomas! Largely on the strength of that box, I was able to complete the 429-card second series. But I never did get around to completing Series 1.

There was a hobby shop about ten minutes from my house, and I was a frequent customer. I purchased the 1993 Traded set at that shop as soon as it was available. I also shared my 1993 Topps want list with the owner, and he was able to find all but fifteen or so for me. Somehow, I just never put forth the effort to chase down those few elusive cards that would complete my first-ever set.

When I emerged in the baseball card blogosphere about a year ago, I put up some want lists on my 1965 Topps blog. Those tricky 1993 Topps started trickling in, and eventually I needed one more stinking card: #185, Jack Morris. Given my rooting interests at the time I was actively collecting this set, it's only fitting that the last holdout would be one of those villainous Blue Jays.

A few weeks ago, I received an awesome bubble mailer full of Orioles cards from dayf, the Cardboard Junkie. As I was thumbing through the Melvin Moras, Brian Robertses, Eddie Murrays, Brooks Robinsons, and many more, I came across a few cards from those nearly-forgotten want lists: a 2006 Topps Hideki Matsui, a few 1990 Topps, and...could it be? YES! Jack Morris' grinning puss!

It took fifteen years, but my first set is finally complete. Thanks, dayf. One of these days, I'll get off my lazy butt and put your package in the mail.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frank Robinson, 2003 Playoff Portraits #107

Oriole fans, your 36-year-wait is finally over. I already went on at length about the new and long-rumored "Baltimore" road jerseys when word first leaked out in June, so I will say only a few words. I think it's fantastic that the team included Boog Powell and Jim Palmer as a part of the fan rally/uniform unveiling this afternoon. There are plenty of other subtle changes, all of which suit me just fine: the tweaking of the bird on the cap, the Maryland flag encircled by "Baltimore Orioles"/"Orioles Baseball", the return of orange sleeve and pants piping, the orange brims on the helmets, the "swinging bird" logo returning to the jacket sleeve, and so forth. I'll let the pictures do the talking from this point forward.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Todd Williams, 2007 National #1231

What, you've never heard of this brand? Well, I have a confession to make. I've become addicted to an online card collecting game called Baseball Boss. It started innocuously enough, as someone from their marketing department started pinging me with emails a few months ago. At first I deleted them, but eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I gave their site a look. A month later, I'm still coming back.

First things first: it's free to play, but some items are available for purchase. I'm too cheap to part with my cash for an online game, but for as little as five bucks you could improve your team in a big way. Otherwise, your choice is to be patient and take some lumps.

When you sign up, you designate your favorite major league team. Then you receive a starter pack of about thirty assorted virtual player cards, though the largest portion of them are from your chosen team's 2007 roster. Chances are good that you'll have a mediocre squad - at least that was the case for me. (Maybe the O's were just that bad!) But I did have a legitimate star in Nick Markakis, and marginal ex-Birds like Todd Williams and Jay Gibbons were good for a laugh. Way-old-school players from 1907 are mixed in for a fun twist; I got some ancient St. Louis Browns, the predecessors of the Orioles. There might also be 1957 players in the starter pack, but they were added to the game universe after I signed up. Next you put together your team(s) - you can have up to three, with a minimum of one player per position and a full pitching staff.

Once you have a team, you can start challenging other owners, as well as computer-managed historical teams from 1907, 1957, and 2007. You can face each team a maximum of three times per day in 3, 4, or 5-game series. The games are simulated, and you win tickets based on the outcomes. You use tickets, as you might imagine, to get new cards. You can buy packs (or boxes or cases), or bid for specific cards at an auction page, or even trade with other owners. There is also league and division play, which offers chances for advancement and rewards.

There are some interesting aspects to this form of virtual card collecting. You can choose packs of 1907, 1957, or 2007 players, and all three groups cost the same amount of tickets. But there are two different brands. National, which is pictured above, is more affordable than Spire, the "premium" brand. But the National cards have higher salaries (there is a salary cap in division play), feature players of Tiers 1 to 5 only (the most rare and valuable are tiers 6 and 7, found only in Spire), and degrade at a quicker rate than Spire.

What's this about degrading? Yes, with repeated use, your cards can "degrade" from Mint, to Near Mint, to Excellent, and so on down to Poor. The more degraded the card, the worse the player performance. But don't fret - you can restore your card's condition at any time for a nominal amount of tickets (most cards cost just a ticket to fix). If only real cards worked that way!

As I mentioned, it can be slow going if you wish to keep the game free and you're the kind of honest person who doesn't cheat the system (for instance, by signing up under multiple email addresses and funneling your best cards to one account - this is technically legal, but of course it's frowned upon). I've been away for the game for days at a time when I'm particularly busy, and I've only accrued enough points and milestones to grab three or four new five-card packs. If you're looking to build a team quickly, auctions are a better bet. But I just love opening packs, and even the few I've "ripped" have given my primary team, the Chestertown Boh Chimps, a small boost. My best pull was a Tier 5 Brandon Webb, and I also got power-hitting 1950s Oriole outfielder Bob Nieman!

Okay, I've rambled enough. If this sounds like the kind of thing you'd go for, there are more helpful tips here. Sign up at your own risk - it is pretty darn addictive! Maybe we'll face off in a hotly contested series on the virtual ball field some day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hoot Evers, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #125

I've owned this card of 1950s part-time outfielder Walter "Hoot" Evers since childhood, and I've long thought it to be one of the ugliest in my collection. Just take a peek at those watery, squinty eyes. That slack-jawed leer. Those multiple chin folds, which approach - but do not surpass - the rubbery glory of Ed Lynch. The near-hairlessness of his entire head. My friends, this is one spooky-looking specimen. But it has nothing on the Undisputed King Ugly of my collection, card number 444 from the 1989 Topps set. The man, the myth, the gargoyle: Moose Stubing.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this card used to send my sister and I into hysterics. Now, sure, Moose ain't no Monet, but is he THAT ugly? Hmmm, he did the trick for us. Check out those milky, off-center eyes, the gapped, peg-like yellow teeth, the splotchy, sun-creased skin...not to mention the cheesy mesh-backed baseball cap. Anyway, at some point, probably between the ages of eight and eleven, I came across this piece of work, and shared it with my sister. Soon, it became a game of sorts. One of us would hide the card somewhere that the other was likely to find it. My sister might stash it in one of my books, or I'd secret it away in one of her clothing bins. Then, the unsuspecting victim would uncover it, and fling it away, screaming, "AAAAAAAUUUUUGHHHHH! MOOOOOOOOSE!" Yes, really. He was our Boogeyman. Still, we'd usually have a good laugh at the same time.

After checking Wikipedia, ol' Moose was apparently the only man to both play in the major leagues without getting a hit and manage in the major leagues without getting a win. So sadly, being ugly enough to frighten children isn't even the worst legacy that Moose Stubing has forged.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pete Harnisch, 1989 Donruss #44

Today's card makes me laugh every time I come across it. Some days, I think that this blog could work surprisingly well in an all-mustache format. If I were to do that, I would certainly have to categorize each mustache. Pete Harnisch's cookie duster there would be known as the "Rookie New Yorker", a.k.a. "My First Mustache". It also occurs to me that George Sherrill's "flat breezy" has absolutely nothing on Pete's cap, which is resting safely on top of his head, with several inches of daylight between cap and skull. While I love the old-school Rated Rookie logo, the photo says it all: ROOKIE COMING! PLEASE DO NOT HAZE.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kurt Ainsworth, 2004 Donruss #366

I guess it was a good indicator that Donruss was in trouble when they couldn't manage to find a photo of Kurt Ainsworth in an O's uniform. Then again, they didn't have a whole lot of opportunities.

The deadline deal that is referred to was a real howler. Sidney Ponson had finally rewarded the Birds for years of incredible patience, and had a career high 14 wins and a career-low 3.77 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Of course, it was his walk year and the team was, as per usual, lousy. So they shopped him to the highest bidder, which was apparently the San Francisco Giants. The return on the deal?

-26-year-old Aussie pitcher Damian Moss, who had won 12 games as a rookie with the Braves the previous year, but was struggling at 9-7, 4.70 with the Giants. His performance with the Orioles made his work in San Fran look inspired: 1-5, 6.22. Baltimore let him loose at the end of the year. Since a disastrous five games in Tampa Bay in 2004, he's been wandering AAA ballparks around the country.

-Ryan Hannaman, a 21-year-old lefty pitcher who threw hard, but couldn't stay healthy. He pitched ten games in two seasons at single-A Frederick before calling it a career.

-Ainsworth, a member of the gold-medal U.S. Olympic baseball team in 2000, had shown promise during a few cups of coffee with the Giants. He had struck out more than a batter per inning in his minor league career. But in ten games with the O's (2003-2004), he allowed more than a run per inning. His list of injuries with Baltimore is staggering: broken shoulder blade (how painful does that sound?), elbow inflammation, torn labrum and rotator cuff. That's all she wrote.

After a ho-hum second half with the Giants (3-6, 3.77) and a lousy performance in the NLDS (7 H, 4 ER in 5 IP), Sidney came back to the Birds, signing a 3-year, $22.5 million contract. He spent the next two years drinking, driving, punching judges, and getting lit up by opposing hitters before the team finally terminated his contract.

Talk about a lousy trade. Not only did the Orioles get nothing out of the players they received, they were also embarrassed and hurt by the guy they traded away! Unfortunately, I think Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie lost the receipt to that transaction. Ugh.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Joe Durham, 1958 Topps #96

Joe Durham was the first black position player in Orioles history, making his debut on September 10, 1954. He spoke to author Louis Berney of his experiences that year playing for the AA San Antonio Missions. There, as in Baltimore, he was the only black player to take the field on a regular basis, and as such he took a great amount of verbal abuse from racist white fans. Shreveport, Louisiana was the worst; there were whites-only bleachers near Joe's position in left field, and they would apparently pack the stands just to hurl insults at him. He claims that he did not feel threatened or especially angered by the hurtful language, as long as people didn't physically assault him. I cannot imagine having that kind of perspective and focus in the face of such bigoted behavior.

Durham also claimed that in the 1950s, there wasn't the same kind of loud, blatant race-baiting in the major leagues as he had endured in the minors:

"The only thing in the major leagues was that in a lot of places, you couldn't stay with your teammates. That makes it kind of tough. People don't realize that baseball is a family game. On your off days, families would get together and have picnics and cookouts and whatnot. But being on a team where you have to stay across town, and you don't see your teammates until you go to the ballpark, it takes something out of you. You have to work extra hard, or that much harder, to try to be successful. In 1954, blacks couldn't stay at hotels with their teammates in cities like Washington, Chicago, and Baltimore."

Joe went on to discuss being the only black Oriole in 1954 (pitcher Jehosie Heard had already come and gone), and having to stay by himself at a hotel farther away from the stadium than that of his white teammates. He couldn't even share a cab with a white, but pitcher Don Larsen would pick him up in his new Oldsmobile outside of a casino on Pennsylvania Avenue before games, and drop him back off afterward.

The social climate described in this interview was a very real thing fifty-five years ago. This past week, the United States of America elected its first black President. By no means does this one historic occurrence solve the racial tensions and inequities that persist in our country, but it's an astounding bit of progress.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

John Lowenstein, 1982 Fleer #169

Fleer truly had the best John Lowenstein photos in the early Eighties. I'm happy to use this classic example to announce that I am now the proud sponsor of Brother Lo's baseball-reference.com page. For all of the invaluable statistical information and trivia that B-R has provided me over the past year of blogging and website building, the least I could do was send a cool Alexander Hamilton their way. At the same time, I get to show a little love for one of the most entertaining purveyors of Orioles Magic, as well as promoting my website. It's really a win-win situation.

If you'd like to sponsor a lonely Oriole, John Shelby, Lenn Sakata, Dave Trembley, and many others are still available at rock-bottom prices. Act now!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Erik Bedard", 2008 Topps Opening Day #24

One of the enjoyable quirks of card collecting is the error card. Not the contrived, sleazy fake error cards that Topps has used to sully their entire brand in recent years, but genuine "Whoops, I guess I shouldn't have had that liquid lunch" errors. You may remember the Frank Thomas No Name on Front rookie, or the John Smoltz card that actually features Tom Glavine. Believe it or not, Topps still has room for those old-school oversights in this overly gimmicky day and age.

I remember pulling the base set version of the card above from my hobby box of 2008 Topps. My first thought was that it was probably the last Orioles card of Erik Bedard that I would lay my hands on, as he'd been traded to Seattle two weeks earlier. But as I looked closer, everything was not as it seemed. First of all, there's the "5", indicating that the jersey number is fifty-something. Erik has worn #45 for much of his career. More to the point, this just doesn't look like Erik Bedard. So who could it be? Let's see...lefty pitcher, number in the fifties, stupid necklace thingy. Well, the necklace thingy was a dead end, as far as my Google search. But I was still able to find a match: bingo. Erik Bedard's last Topps base card as an Oriole features a photo of Brian Burres. The error was never corrected, so there's no scarce version of the card, and no one particularly cares.

Well, almost no one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Damon Buford, 1994 Pinnacle #423

This is a dead cool photo of a second-generation Oriole outfielder in the brand-new (at that time) ballpark, with the skyline of downtown Baltimore in the background. Of particular interest is the B & O Warehouse peeking out from behind the center field scoreboard. At 1,116 feet long, it's the longest building on the Eastern seaboard. Babe Ruth grew up right around the corner. The Warehouse now hosts the club's offices and serves as a target for left-handed batters, some 432 feet from home plate. Only one man has ever hit this landmark on the fly: Ken Griffey, Jr.

When "Junior" did the deed in the 1993 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, he was the most exciting young player in the game and the favorite of scores of baseball-crazed kids. I myself had a black outfielder's glove with his facsimile signature on the heel, treasured each and every one of his cards, and loved his ridiculously entertaining 1994 Super Nintendo game. He just had fun on the diamond, beaming his trademark smile and becoming one of the first players to wear his hat backwards during warmups. Ken could just do it all: hit for average and power, run the bases, and seemingly cover 90% of the outfield. I remember when he, and not Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, was the surest bet to hit 756 home runs.

Now Ken Griffey, Jr. is available, having had his option declined by the White Sox. The kid in me would still get a cheap thrill out of seeing Junior suit up in Orioles orange and black, even at age 39 (as of Opening Day 2009). But it's bittersweet to realize that the Birds have no interest in one of my childhood heroes, and even more so to realize that they're in the right. Griffey is severely limited on offense, defense, and on the basepaths, hitting .248 with 18 home runs and no stolen bases. It's just about the end of the line for one of the greatest players I've ever had the pleasure of watching.

The encouraging note here is that the O's don't have a great need for Griffey. In Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, they have two-thirds of the outfield set in stone for (hopefully) the next decade. Barring trade, Aubrey Huff is certain to DH. I don't think anyone expects him to replicate his monster 2008, when he was named Most Valuable Oriole (.304, 82 extra-base hits, 108 RBI), but even a lesser performance would probably top Junior right now. Left field is less secure, but Luke Scott provides good power and Nolan Reimold will have a legitimate shot at contributing as a rookie. The only other place Griffey can play is potentially first base, which is a question mark. I don't expect Kevin Millar back, and no one in the minors is ready. Maybe there will be a trade for a Billy Butler or the like. There are certainly cheaper, younger alternatives to the ex-Mariner great.

In past years, the O's would jump at a fading titan like Griffey (Sammy Sosa, anyone?) just to make an empty splash. I'm relieved that they have a steady hand like GM Andy MacPhail to resist the temptation. Though it hurts to admit it, time doesn't stand still for anyone - not even a man with 611 career home runs.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Chris Britton, 2006 Upper Deck #905

Chris Britton by you.
Here we have the pride of Hollywood, Florida, relief pitcher Chris Britton. For the third straight Presidential Election, Chris' home state figures to be hotly contested. I already know that I'm going to spend waaaay too much time tomorrow reading, refreshing, and reacting to political news. With that in mind, I'm getting my "Get Out the Vote" post out of the way tonight. So once again, if you're a registered voter, I hope you take the time tomorrow to exercise your constitutional right and make your voice heard. It doesn't matter whether you're voting for this guy:

Or this guy:

Or even writing in this guy:


Speak now, or forever shut your trap.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Geronimo Gil, 2003 Upper Deck Victory

Yesterday Thorzul kicked off his second annual "Trade Me Anything" campaign. Since Guillermo Quiroz was the only Oriole he had available, I placed my claim quickly. I remarked to him that somebody had to look out for all of the poor-hitting backup catchers of the world. That got me thinking about the Birds' history of spotty receivers. Since stalwart Chris Hoiles retired, they've had a never-ending procession of them, including "Chief", Geronimo Gil.

Charles Johnson looked like a stable force when he arrived in 1999, hitting .251 with 16 home runs and throwing out 38% of would-be base stealers. He exploded the following year: .294 with 21 homers in the first half. But the team was awful, and they shipped him to Chicago with Harold Baines in a fire sale. In return they got Brook Fordyce and some minor leaguers. A .322 average and 9 home runs in 53 games made O's fans positively giddy, despite the fact that he was already 30 and hadn't established himself until the previous season. In 2001, Fordyce fell off the cliff (.209-5 HR-19 RBI). This gave the Chief an opening, and he hit .232 in his only season as the starter, though he did toss out 36% of baserunners. 2003 was another year of Brook and Geronimo, who combined to hit .261 with 47 runs driven in. That wasn't going to cut it.

Attempting to spend their way into contention in 2004, the O's lured Javy Lopez to Baltimore, straight off of a 43-homer effort that screamed "contract year". His .316 average gave the club a boost, but he fell off to 23 dingers and his defense was...well, let's just say that he was never known for his defense, and that was before he reached his mid-30's. Injuries limited him to 103 games and a .278 mark the next year, which convinced the Orioles to fork out another big contract for Ramon Hernandez. The ex-Padre shined in 2006 (.275-23-91, 43% CS) as Lopez sulked in a DH and occasional catcher. Of course, Ramon followed a familiar pattern and took a turn for the worse in 2007 and on into 2008: injuries, questions about conditioning and hustle, and lessened production at and behind the plate.

As for the bevy of backups, it's like a who's who of offensively-challenged journeymen and unheralded youngsters. I'll just let the names speak for themselves: Mike Figga, Lenny Webster, Tommy Davis, Greg Myers, Fernando Lunar, Willie Morales, Mike Kinkade, Izzy Molina, Raul Casanova, Robert Machado, Keith Osik, Ken Huckaby, Sal Fasano (who I love, and who hit an inexplicable 11 HR in 160 AB with us), Eli Whiteside, Raul Chavez, Chris Widger, Danny Ardoin, Paul Bako, Alberto Castillo, JR House, Gustavo Molina, Quiroz, and Omir Santos. Eeeeewwwwwww.

The bleeding should stop very soon. Matt Wieters was drafted and signed in 2007 amid great fanfare, a mature collegiate catcher with a reputation for hitting a ton. Orioles fans (yours truly included) checked the Internet daily for Wieters updates as he destroyed the competition in his first year of pro baseball. He swatted .345 with 15 home runs at the highest level of A-ball, and was a midseason All-Star in the Carolina League. Trying to show restraint, the organization waited until midsummer to promote Matt to AA Bowie. He was even better there, hitting .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBI. He led the Baysox' drive to the playoffs, and was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. The eye-popping totals: .355 with a 1.054 OPS, more walks than strikeouts (82/76), 27 home runs, 91 RBI. He also drew raves for his smart and athletic style behind the plate. He's drawn comparisons to Joe Mauer, fellow Georgia Tech alum Jason Varitek, and Mike Piazza.

The team is playing their cards close to the vest, but it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Wieters plays his way onto the team in Spring Training, much as AA-tested Nick Markakis did in 2006. The O's could play it cool and send Matt to AAA to start the season, but it would likely be in an attempt to delay his arbitration clock as Tampa Bay did this past season with Evan Longoria. If Ramon is still in Baltimore on Opening Day, and is still loafing after wild pitches and jogging to first base on weak ground balls, the shouts for Matt Wieters will be hard to ignore. Fans and scouts alike are penciling in the 22-year-old as the answer to Baltimore's decade-long search for a skilled and enduring catcher.

My fingers are crossed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Eddie Murray, 2002 Topps Prestige Fall Memories #FM-EM

I don't have anything especially pressing on my mind today, so it's a chance for a little bit of "Oooh, looky what I got". This card came to me in a trade from John in the U.K., and it's so awesome that I just have to count the ways:

1. It's super-shiny.
2. It's serial-numbered on the back (297/425).
3. It's EDDIE!
4. Not only is it EDDIE, it's old-school Eddie, with the cartoon bird and orange wristbands and his afro surging forth from underneath his helmet.
5. It's a bat relic, just the second O's bat relic in my collection (there's a Brady Anderson that you might see some day) and the first Hall-of-Famer.

Do you know what I'd like to see in a relic card? A close-up photo of the batter with the bat cut out, and the actual bat relic set in the card in place of the photo bat. Somehow I think it would be more exciting and palpable if the piece of wood wasn't in some abstract round or square shape. Do you have any suggestions for changes that could be made to relics?