Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mike Bordick, 1999 Upper Deck #45

You can't keep a good Bird away from the nest for long.

Eight years after he played his last game in an Orioles uniform, erstwhile shortstop Mike Bordick has returned to the organization. The 44-year-old was recently hired as minor league offensive coordinator, which may sound bizarre considering his .685 career OPS. However, his chief duty is being described as instructing on fundamentals - "small ball", as Bordick himself says. If you're a progressive-minded baseball fan like me, you may roll your eyes at the mention of that cliche phrase. However, if you watched even a handful of O's games last year, you know that Mike's expertise is sorely needed. If you're going to bunt and hit and run, you may as well ensure that your players have even the slightest bit of aptitude in those areas. He'll also be coaching 'em up on baserunning, which...I can't even talk about the way the Birds ran the bases (often directly into outs) in 2009, or I'll start getting the shakes. In short, I think that Mike Bordick is the right man for the right job, and I always liked him during his playing days. It'll be good to see him in orange and black again.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jamie Moyer, 1995 Fleer Flair #5

Jamie Moyer seems intent on returning for a 24th season in the major leagues in 2010 (which doesn't even count 1992, when he spent all year with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens). It's a remarkable thing to take the mound in four different decades; it takes talent and good health. Jamie's certainly got the former, but the latter is starting to present a real challenge.
It may not surprise you to hear that a 47-year-old athlete is starting to break down, but the sheer volume of the lefthander's medical woes is daunting. In September, he suffered a sports hernia, for which he underwent surgery on October 2. Five days later he returned to the hospital with a blood infection. After making some progress in recovery, he was hospitalized again on November 24 with recurring symptoms and had a second surgery three days later to eliminate a small collection of infected blood. Moyer has said that he is on the mend, but still has a peripherally inserted central catheter (yikes) and is taking medication.

But wait, there's more. In January, the 258-game winner is scheduled to have surgery on his right knee to repair a minor meniscus tear. Believe it or not, he claims that doctors have projected him for an on-time arrival to Spring Training in a month and a half.

The real kicker to this story is that Jamie had never undergone a single surgery in his lengthy career until these troubles began in October. When it rains, it really does pour.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ben McDonald, 1992 Upper Deck Hologram Insert #CP3

The honors just keep coming for Ben McDonald. The 6'7" ex-Oriole has already been inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame and had his jersey number retired by Louisiana State University. Over the weekend, he was also chosen as an inductee for the 2010 class of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Though he ranks 20th in major league history in career wins by a Lousianan, I have a hunch that the Baton Rouge native was chosen largely on the merits of his outstanding amateur career. Here are the highlights:

-All-state baseball and basketball player at Denham Springs High School

-Won a Gold medal with the 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team

-Was a forward on the 1986-1987 LSU Men's basketball squad that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament

-29-14, 3.24 ERA in his LSU career

-1989 Golden Spikes Award winner (most outstanding amateur player), National Player of the Year (as chosen by The Sporting News, Baseball America, and Collegiate Baseball): 14-4, 3.49 ERA, 202 strikeouts

-Led LSU to two College World Series and was a two-time All-American

-Set Southeastern Conference record with 202 strikeouts in 1989. Also set SEC records for innings pitched (152.1) and consecutive scoreless innings (44.2)

-Set LSU record with 373 career strikeouts

So when you put it that way, you can see why McDonald was a slam-dunk #1 overall pick for the O's in 1989. Sure, he never put it all together and stayed healthy in the majors, but that's life. Congrats, Ben!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nolan Reimold, 2008 Donruss Threads Diamond Kings #DK-2

I'm reasonably sure that this is the only Diamond King card to ever feature a player in a Bowie Baysox uniform. But then, Nolan Reimold is no stranger to historical baseball feats. The outfielder hit the ground running in his rookie season, bashing 15 home runs in 104 games for the O's. He hit his first career home run in his sixth game, which would have been impressive enough, but it was especially noteworthy because it came against the great Yankee closer Mariano Rivera. Though it had no bearing on the outcome of the game (Rivera was mopping up an 11-4 New York win), it represented a remarkable first. In his entire 15-year career, the wiry Panamanian fireman had not surrendered the first career homer for any opposing batter. Not bad for a rookie; I can't wait to see what Nolan does for an encore.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rodrigo Lopez, 2005 Donruss #113

Time for another quick round of "When Was This Card?", America's favorite baseball card guessing game. This is an easy one. As the photo was taken in 2004 (evidenced by the Orioles' 50th anniversary patch on Rodrigo Lopez's left sleeve), and assuming that the blurry first base coach in the background belongs to the Chicago White Sox, this had to be the afternoon of Thursday, May 13, 2004. It was the middle game of a three-game series at the new Comiskey Park, and the hastily rescheduled first half of a day-night doubleheader. The previous night's game had been rained out, and the O's made only the one visit to the Windy City that year.

This was an especially eventful game. Needing an emergency starter, the Birds recalled hard-throwing Daniel Cabrera from AA Bowie to make his big league debut. The tall youngster frustrated the White Sox for six innings, permitting only two singles and three walks and working in a streak of eleven straight batters retired. He was matched by Chicago's Jon Garland, who allowed a run on singles by Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora in the first inning but nothing else in his seven innings of work.

Rodrigo Lopez, pitching out of the bullpen despite a 15-win rookie campaign in 2003 2002, was up to the task of protecting a one-run lead. He stranded the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh and tacked on a 1-2-3 eighth to earn a hold. Jorge Julio stepped in for a breezy ninth-inning save to deliver the first win of Cabrera's career, 1-0.

This card offers it up for posterity. A shutout win by the slimmest of margins, delivered by a trio of pitchers that caused loads of frustration for O's fans.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Erik Bedard, 2007 Fleer Ultra #13

To all of my readers in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Greenland, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and of course Erik Bedard's homeland of Canada: may you have a peaceful a fulfilling Boxing Day. Now no one can ever accuse this blog of being provincial.

In related news, there is still a fair chance that this sore-armed, snarky prodigal son may return to Baltimore as a free agent signee for 2010. I like it, and think the potential reward outweighs the risk, especially with the starting rotation for next season looking more settled than it has in years. I also would enjoy the nasty little exclamation point it would put on the lopsided trade that sent Bedard to Seattle just two years ago. But it's unbecoming to gloat. I guess.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Charley Beamon, 1959 Topps #192

Happy 75th birthday to Charley Beamon, a high school teammate of Frank Robinson and one of the first black pitchers in Orioles history. I hope you don't get cheated out of birthday gifts by thrifty friends and relatives, Chuck.

I hope that you've all had as restful and enjoyable a Christmas as I have. For those non-Christians among my readership, I hope your Friday was just tops. After a leisurely morning of exchanging gifts with my folks, I got to sit down to an early dinner with the extended family (my sister and her husband, and my aunts, uncles, and cousin). Later in the evening, we did our Secret Santa gift exchange and watched the first half of the Chargers-Titans game. It was a festive and warm day, and best of all, I didn't have to leave home. Having heard my parents' horror stories about being dragged from family gathering to family gathering in their youth, I've always been grateful that I was allowed to remain stationary on this holiday - the better to play with my new toys.

And what of those new toys? I did pretty well this year. My big gift was a Garmin GPS, so that I can meet my girlfriend for dinner in Annapolis without circling around the same few blocks aimlessly for half an hour...not to mention getting away from Camden Yards without winding up on the light rail tracks! I also scored season two of 30 Rock on DVD, A Hard Day's Night on CD, Bill Simmons' "Book of Basketball", and a few snazzy silk ties to wear to work (had to incorporate an old man gift in there somewhere). Oh, right, and the baseball card stuff. I received complete factory sets of 2000 Topps and 2005 Topps, as well as a $25 gift certificate to Dave and Adam's Card World. That should keep me busy for a while...

Now I'm wrapping up Christmas 2009 by watching the fine Yuletide film, A Muppet Christmas Carol. Good times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rafael Palmeiro, 1995 Fleer Flair Infield Power #6

What do you want for Christmas this year?

I still remember December of 1993, my first holiday season as a baseball fan. The Orioles had just come off of back-to-back seasons in which they were competitive in the American League East but had fallen short. With a solid nucleus that included catcher Chris Hoiles, shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., outfielder Brady Anderson, and young pitchers Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina, the team and the fans sensed that they were just a few players away from the postseason.

As the Hot Stove talk commenced, it became clear that Baltimore's primary target was a power-hitting first baseman. There happened to be two such free agents on the market. The first was none other than 29-year-old Will "the Thrill" Clark, whose pedigree included five All Star selections, a Gold Glove award, a .299 career batting average, and a .373 on-base percentage. That was the guy I wanted. I was still a baseball novice, and he was the big name.

The other guy was Rafael Palmeiro, Clark's teammate at Mississippi State University. He was a year younger and not as flashy as the Thrill: no cool nickname, no playoff experience, only two All-Star nods. But he was probably the better player at that time, having come off of a career year (.295-37 HR-105 RBI) and starting to look more durable. He'd played at least 152 games in each of the previous six years, whereas Clark played a few less games with each passing season (he'd missed 30 in 1993) and topped 20 home runs only once in his four most recent efforts.

It wasn't clear to me which player was most coveted by the O's, but I remember my frustration upon hearing that the Rangers had snagged Clark on November 22. Regardless of which first baseman the Birds preferred, Texas had done them a favor. Having just been displaced by his ex-teammate, Raffy signed with the Orioles three weeks later - December 12, to be exact. It was a five-year deal that eventually paid him $27.5 million - slightly more than Clark's own five-year deal.

As it turned out, Christmas had come a bit early in Baltimore. Though the first two years of Palmeiro's Birdland tenure were marred by the baseball strike and a bit of team-wide underachievement, he was a consistent force in the middle of the lineup (and in the field) for the O's. He was a leader on the clubs that made back-to-back ALCS appearances in 1996-1997, and he hit .292 with an average of 41 home runs and 122 RBI per 162 games during his first five years in orange and black. Moreover, he had quickly become one of my favorite players.

In the meantime, the Rangers got what they probably should have expected from Will Clark. He totaled 127 less games than Palmeiro between 1994 and 1998, and while his percentages were strong (.308 AVG, .395 OBP), he was clearly outslugged by Raffy (182 HR to 77). Texas reached the postseason twice but failed to advance past the Division Series both times.

So what happened when both players' contracts were up? Baltimore owner Peter Angelos failed to resign Palmeiro quickly, allowing the slugger to return to Texas on December 4 after careful deliberation. He was even more productive over the next five years than he had been in Charm City, bashing 214 home runs in Arlington. In need of a new first baseman, the O's turned to...an old first baseman. Signed on December 7, Will Clark lasted a year and a half in Baltimore, hitting .302 with a .404 on-base percentage but playing only 156 games due to injuries. He hit 19 homers and drove in 57 in the equivalent of a full season's work. The Orioles began to circle the drain.

But no worries. They brought back Raffy in 2004, and that turned out just fi...oh. Never mind.

I hope your upcoming Christmas is full of Palmeiro-in-1993 gifts, and not Clark-in-1998 or Palmeiro-in-2004 gifts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Scott Erickson, 1998 Score Platinum Team #11

I had a touch of writers' block tonight, so I started thumbing through my cards until I spotted something shiny. Not just shiny, but sparkly. I suppose that this is what it would look like if Scott Erickson ever toed the pitching rubber in a discotheque or a waterfall. I'm not sure that I needed to know what that would look like, but these were the kinds of questions answered by card companies in the 1990s. Until next time...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ken Singleton, 1981 Drake's #12

With the Orioles having added a starting pitcher, closer, and third baseman in recent weeks, the Hot Stove talk is turning to the broadcast booth. The nasally monotone of Buck Martinez has graced its final Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcast, as the Buckster has returned to the Toronto Blue Jays. MASN is reportedly considering several options in replacing him as color commentator for roughly half of the O's TV games, and many of the names should be familiar to Baltimore fans.

Ken Singleton would be at the top of my list, and rumor has it that he's talked with MASN about the possibility of leaving the Yankees and their YES network. It's a travesty that a former Oriole who was as successful and popular (and classy) as Singleton has been behind enemy lines for so many years.

Among the other ex-O's on the yak market, I think Dave Johnson would be a good choice. His high-pitched voice and thick Bawlmer accent don't make for a polished presentation, but he's proved to be knowledgeable and passionate on the pre-and-post game radio programs in recent years.

I've also heard fans clamor for a return by John Lowenstein, who called the team's games in the 1990s for Home Team Sports. I'm fine with that; my hazy memory tells me that he was goofy without being an irritant. Believe it or not, I think that Billy Ripken could hold his own as well. Mike Flanagan has already talked to network staff about continuing his seeming lifelong connection to the Birds; he was perfectly acceptable in his past go-rounds in the booth.

I'm not crazy about Rick Dempsey being upgraded from MASN's pre-and-post-gamers to in-game announcing, based on the fill-in work I've seen him do in recent seasons. I'm not sure how Brady Anderson entered the discussion; that seems like an ill fit. Brooks Robinson would be welcomed warmly, but it's a long shot at this time.

So, armchair programming directors, who's your choice to sit in alongside Gary Thorne in 2010?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2002 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classics #B-CR

Cal Ripken, Jr. is really stepping into his swing, and it looks like he's making solid contact. The barrel of the bat is meeting the sweet spot of the ball, most likely. They say that when a baseball player is locked in at the plate, the baseball looks as big as a beach ball as it soars toward home. I think this card offers up an amusing take on that notion, as a giant wooden orb closes in on Cal. Just as bat meets ball, Upper Deck has taken a ball-shaped piece of one of his bats and slapped it on the card.

Maybe this bat was actually used by Junior in the previous season: 2001, his swan song. His efforts brought a somewhat unsatisfying and uncharacteristic end to his career (.239 AVG, .276 OBP, .361 SLG), but I'd like to believe that this piece of lumber was used on one of the fleeting good days. Maybe on July 14, when he found the sweet spot twice and nearly beat the Braves single-handedly.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tony Batista, 2002 Fleer Maximum #180

Tonight on Bizarre Batting Stance Theatre: Tony Batista and the Corkscrew. It's amazing that he was able to hit as many home runs as he did (221 in his career) with one foot pointed at the pitcher, another at first base, and his torso and head somewhere in between. On the other hand, the .299 career on-base percentage makes a little more sense.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Brooks Robinson, 1968 Topps Game Cards #9

First of all, I've just posted yesterday's entry. I honestly did write the post yesterday evening, but did not post it right away as I was away from my scanner. By the time I got to my PC, I became sidetracked and never remembered to scan and post! It's been a long week, I think.

Anyway, this was also a surprisingly eventful week for Orioles news. I'm going to try to kill a few birds with a single stone today and tackle the news bits that concern O's third basemen past and present. The conversation begins (and usually ends) with Brooks Robinson, who manned the hot corner for most of the first quarter-century of the team's existence, some 2,870 games. Though #5 still doesn't have a statue on the premises of Oriole Park at Camden Yards (only Charm City native Babe Ruth holds this honor), he'll soon have one just across the street. On the Russell Street median that sits between the ballpark and Pickles Pub, a 9-foot high bronze statue will depict the 16-time Gold Glove winner winding up to gun down a runner at first base. You can see a model of the statue accompanying this article. It was the brain child of Baltimore's Public Art Commission and will be sculpted by Maryland native Joseph Sheppard. The piece should be unveiled in time for the 2011 season. I can't wait to see it in its full glory.

Meanwhile, the man who played more games at third base as an Oriole than anyone other than Brooksie has officially been replaced, at least for the short term. With the signing of former Rockies infielder Garrett Atkins, free agent Melvin Mora's departure from the club seems much more tangible. While it's still relatively early in the Hot Stove season, I can't help but wonder just how difficult it is for Mora to sit and play the waiting game. There's been next to no buzz about him in the rumor mill; I heard one report linking him to Colorado and one comment left on a MASN blog in which the person claims to have run into Melvin and solicited the player's opinion/belief that he would return to the Mets. I wish him the best no matter where he goes, but based on what I saw with my own lying eyes in 2009, time is running short for him in MLB.

So, what of Garrett Atkins? As word spread this fall that the slugger would not be tendered a contract by the Rockies, I checked out his stats and cringed. Many are treating his dismal 2009 as an off year. Fair enough; he never has been as bad as he was in the just-concluded season. But in truth, his numbers have declined for each of the past three seasons following his breakout in 2006. I won't bother with the counting stats since he lost his starting job last year, but let's just go by OPS+, since it takes on-base plus slugging averages and adjusts them for ballpark and league averages (again, 100 is league-average):

2006: 136

2007: 113

2008: 96

2009: 66

Ugh. If you're curious, MelMo checked in at 79 last year and the equally hard-to-watch Ty Wigginton was at 87. But I want to be fair, and above all, I want to root for Atkins. So let's weigh the pros and the cons that are being presented elsewhere, along with anything I can cook up on my own.

PROS

-He's hit for power in the past (averaging 25 HR and 110 RBI from 2006-2008), so we know he's capable of it.

-He just turned 30 last week, so we're getting younger at the position and it's not likely that he's washed up so soon.

-He is a righthanded hitter, and boy howdy do we need those.

-He's good buddies with free agent prize Matt Holliday, so who knows? Maybe he's bait for a bigger fish.

-He won't block top prospect Josh Bell. He's only signed for one year plus a team option for 2011, and if Bell's ready this year Atkins could slide over to first base depending on who is or isn't getting the job done at that position.

-He's (sorta) cheap. You won't find many guys with proven 20-30 HR power for what we'll be paying Garrett ($4-5 million in 2010, depending on incentives).

-There's not much else out there on the market. Chone Figgins landed a big-years, big-cash deal from the Mariners and Adrian Beltre (who's no slam dunk himself) will not come easily. Everyone else is jammed together in the pack, so Atkins is as good as anyone.

CONS

-He was really bad last year and his performances from 2007-2009 could indicate a troubling trend. Some guys are finished at 30.

-He's got a reputation as a subpar defender. With so much young pitching, one of the best (and still cheapest) ways to improve is by tightening up the 'D'.

-It's hard to ignore those home/road splits. Say what you want about humidors, but he's proven to be a much better hitter in the thin air of Denver than he has elsewhere (120 OPS+ at home, 82 on the road).

-He'll be facing American League East pitching for a huge chunk of the season. Things ain't getting any easier.

-Small sample alert! Garrett has three singles in 23 career at-bats in Baltimore.

-Small sample alert II! In 15 career postseason games, he's hit .231 with one home run. Guy's a choker.

Okay, so a few "cons" were tongue-in-cheek. But I'm still on the fence at best when it comes to our new third sacker. We probably could have done worse, and even I am loath to believe that the dude is as awful as he played in '09. But we all know that the games aren't played on paper, so I'll have to reserve final judgment for next year. May Garrett Atkins prove worthy of Birdland...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sidney Ponson, 2004 Bowman Chrome #125

Before it even dawned on me that the decade was coming to a close, every website and blog started peppering me with "Best/Worst of the 2000s" retrospectives. No less an authority than ESPN gave an infamous Oriole a very great honor in their own look back at the past ten years.

ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick tabbed the one, the only, the soused, Sir Sidney Ponson as the Least Valuable Pitcher of the Decade. That's one hell of an honor, when you consider the 6.00 ERA posted in the 'aughts by Jose Lima. Crasnick also gives mention to the money for nothing crowd headlined by Mike Hampton, and of course fellow Birdland favorite Daniel Cabrera. I think D-Cab was disqualified because he is not technically a pitcher.

But it was the cavalcade of extracurricular disasters that pushed the husky Aruban over the top. We've been over this before, but no baseball player that I am aware of ever punched a judge. No, not even Billy Martin. The 10.3 hits per nine innings that he allowed over the course of the decade (including a staggering 265 in 215.2 innings in 2004) are just the icing on the crap cake. When you put it like that, it's hard to believe that the Orioles (twice), Giants, Cardinals, Yankees (twice), Twins, Rangers, and Royals all washed their hands of him, isn't it?

So congratulations, Sir Sidney. Give us the mailing address of the cardboard box where you're currently living, and we'll be sure to mail you your can of SPAM.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Brady Anderson, 1998 Topps Stars #105

After Monday's Roberto Alomar card that looked like spin art gone horribly wrong, I thought I might do a theme week of hideously designed 1990s cards. For whatever reason I decided against it; maybe I didn't want to limit myself to just seven days of ugly. Nevertheless I am going back to that well tonight.

We've got it all here: bad photo (does Brady Anderson really have four chins?), pointless set with bonus serial numbering on the back, hideous unreadable space-age font made even less legible by gold foil, and of course a background that features Jacobs Field (I'm guessing) melting into outer space its very self. Oh, and did I mention that Brady is glossy, while the rest of the card front has a canvas texture? Eccchhh.

All things told, the 2000s may not have been a great decade, but at least cards like this didn't happen on their watch.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bob Milacki, 1989 Donruss The Rookies #22

I can't believe that we've got actually breaking news about Bob Milacki in 2009, but so it is. The former O's righthander is entering his tenth season as a minor league pitching coach, and he's just gotten a promotion. He'll be mentoring the staff of the AA Reading Phillies, a year after coaching for the South Atlantic League champion Lakewood Blue Claws. Prior to that, he'd been in the Pirates organization since 2001. If he plays his cards right, he could be wandering back to a major league mound in a few more years to impart wisdom like "keep the ball down" and "work quickly". Godspeed, Bob. Godspeed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Roberto Alomar, 1998 Skybox Thunder #77

Wow, there is a lot going on here, and I'm not just talking about the abominable Nestle-Crunch foil font, stacked logos, and background vortex of neon. It's hard to believe that Major League Baseball never filed an injunction against Fleer in the late 1990s, isn't it?

The various accessories that are adorning Roberto Alomar's uniform are actually of greater interest to me. We see two patches stacked on the left sleeve of his jersey: the Oriole bird perches atop a logo commemorating the 200th anniversary of the city of Baltimore. The O's actually wore a third patch in 1997, which you can't see in this photo: the 50th anniversary patch that was worn by all 28 teams in honor of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. That would have been on the right sleeve.

Additionally, Alomar's jersey number (12) is reproduced on his batting gloves and the tongues of his shoes. Fortunately, Fleer included a big red twelve in the bottom right corner of the card in case your eyesight isn't that sharp.

Finally, we've got an orange "24" next to the bird on his helmet. Of course that was the uniform number of outfielder Eric Davis, who spent much of the 1997 season battling colon cancer; he would make an incredible comeback during the stretch drive and postseason. It's my recollection that all of the Orioles wore those modified helmets that year, and some players also inscribed "24" on their caps. You can see Armando Benitez showing his support on this card.

It's interesting how one fairly routine picture can give you so many context clues about the era from which it came.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Koji Uehara, 2009 Topps T206 Autographs #FMA-2

One of the neat little perks of being a team collector and blogger is that you don't always have to go out chasing the shiny rare inserts. I haven't opened a single pack of T206 or done an eBay search for it, yet I'm in possession of this excellent framed mini autograph card of Koji Uehara, the first Japanese player in Orioles history. I like his signature. I can make out "Koji", and then it gets ridiculous. I can't imagine what that's supposed to be, because it's not English and I'm reasonably sure it's not Kanji. I hope I got that right.

Earlier this week, Larry (a.k.a. The Sewingmachineguy) emailed me to offer up this fine card for trade. He is a Tigers fan, and by a stroke of luck, one of the few non-Orioles relic cards that I have is of ex-Tigers prospect Cameron Maybin. So I sent Cameron and his little gray jersey swatch off to Michigan and reaped the benefits. Thanks, Larry!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Adam Jones, 2009 Topps Allen and Ginter #20

"No time for blogging, Dr. Jones! We've got a house to clean!"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Tippy Martinez, 1977 Topps #238

Earlier this week, there was a friendly debate on Camden Chat about which player was the best to wear #23 in Orioles history: catcher Chris Hoiles or reliever Tippy Martinez. It's a good question, and not necessarily one with any "right" answer; comparing a position player to a pitcher is an apples and oranges situation. Though Hoiles is one of my favorite Orioles, and was in his prime during my early years as a fan, I had to cast my vote for Tippy.

Many fans who were not around for the glory years may look at Tippy's modest save totals (115 for his career, single-season high of 21 in 1983) and yawn. I had a vague knowledge that the lefty had been a jack-of-all-trades out of the O's bullpen, so I pulled up the his game logs from 1979 - a very good year for both him and the Orioles. What I saw was just incredible.

Earl Weaver used Tippy every which way he could without starting him or inserting him as a pinch hitter. He was called upon in each and every inning possible, from the first through the eleventh. He was used to get one out, but would also be asked to throw an inning or two or three or four or...seven and two-thirds, as was the case in a no-hit, one-walk gem against Oakland on July 23. On that day, he bailed out a struggling Mike Flanagan in the second inning and stayed on for the rest of the game, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 7-4 win. Believe it or not, that was the second time Tippy had stifled Oakland in that manner in '79. On April 29, he replaced an ailing Jim Palmer four batters into the game and permitted only four A's baserunners in six and one-third innings. He struck out five batters before Tim Stoddard polished off a 13-1 victory with a couple shutout innings.

So did all of that shuffling around and stretching out have any negative effect on Tippy? Did his arm fall off, or did the lack of a defined role fluster him and cause him to lose his pitching mechanics? Not hardly. At year's end, Martinez had a 10-3 record with three saves, four holds and a 2.88 ERA. He allowed 59 hits and 31 walks in 78 innings, while striking out 61.

Sorry Chris, Tippy wins. He was a bullpen ace in the truest sense: he pitched when the team needed him the most.

By the way, Earl did start him once, in 1980...at designated hitter. Benny Ayala pinch-hit for him in the first inning. It was part of an ongoing strategy by Earl Weaver to create a favorable hitting matchup in the event that the opposing starter was knocked out of the game early, and it gave him a slight tactictal advantage; the other team couldn't prepare for the DH slot in the Baltimore lineup. Eventual Cy Young winner Steve Stone was "DH" in a dozen games. Tippy wasn't even with the team on the day in question, having flown to Colorado for his grandmother's funeral. Unsurprisingly, the American League soon amended the rules to require the starting DH to bat at least once before being removed. Read more about it here (scroll down to question #3).

Wow, this was more like two blog posts in one. Talk about versatility.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fred Lynn, 1986 Sportflics #150

This has got to be the best scan I've ever gotten of a Sportflics card. Usually portions of all three images are picked up, but this scan gives a pretty clear image of Fred Lynn in mid-swing. You can't really tell just how weird this card is.

Most Sportflics featured three images of one player, placed in juxtaposition with one another to create a moving image of the subject in action. But this one actually features static images of three separate players: Lynn, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Kingman. What's even more unusual is their loose rationale for grouping the three 1970s/1980s American League stars. They are apparently "Comeback Players". On the card back, there are stat lines from two consecutive years selected for each man. I would have at least expected that all three would have had their bounce-back efforts in the 1985 season, the most recent at the time of this card's release. But for Reggie, they went back a few years: 1981 (.758 OPS) to 1982 (.907). Same for Fred: 1981 (.639) to 1982 (.891). Kingman was at least only off by a year: 1983 (.648) to 1984 (.826).

As you can see, each member of the trio did improve markedly from one year to the next. But the text on the card curiously refers to the boost in Reggie's counting stats (HR and RBI) from 1981 to 1982, when a good deal of the increase can be attributed to the player strike that cut a chunk of games out of the 1981 season. I can see what Sportflics was shooting for here, but it's just odd. They should have stuck with single-player action sequences; I'm pretty sure they did so in subsequent years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chris Ray, 2009 Topps Gold #542


This photo of Chris Ray makes it look as if he's turning his back on us, preparing to make his exit. That's only appropriate, since he is now a Texas Ranger. Today, the Orioles made their first significant move of the offseason by trading Ray for veteran starting pitcher Kevin Millwood and $3 million (to defray the costs of his $12 million salary).

I wasn't crazy about Millwood when I first heard that the O's wanted him, but I've talked myself into him pretty quickly. The price was right: as good as Ray once was, relief pitchers are pretty replaceable - particularly ones with a Tommy John surgery and a 7.27 ERA in 2009. $9 million is still pretty steep, but the O's payroll is pretty low otherwise. Besides, the Orioles always need pitching. Even with their parcel of talented young pitchers, they're not completely stocked. A guy who makes 30 starts every year like clockwork is a valuable commodity, and by all accounts he's a model citizen who is willing and able to talk pitching with his less experienced teammates. By recent O's standards, a 4.02 career ERA is like a Cy Young Award. And even though his ERA has been high for most of his time inLink Texas, Baltimore's ballpark is actually less hitter-friendly. I don't think he's a panacea, but he'll be a solid addition to the team.

Oh, and he's not Adam Eaton.

Anyway, so long Chris Ray. I wish you nothing but good luck and good health, even if you imploded any time you came within sniffing distance of pinstripes. Welcome to Charm City, Kevin Millwood. Even if you might only be here for a year or less, I hope I have ample reason to root for you. It's nice to have a Kevin on the team again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jeff Fiorentino, 2007 Fleer #323

Sayonara, Screech. As of today, Jeff Fiorentino is bound for the Land of the Rising Sun. The mop-headed scamp/serviceable fourth outfielder was signed by the Hiroshima Carp to a one-year contract for 40 million yen, plus performance-based incentives. He'll be a multiomillyenaire! Sure, the exchange rate might be a little bogus, but it sounds impressive and that's what counts. I'll always remember your red-hot debut in 2005, when you bashed five hits in your first seven at-bats. I'll also look back fondly on your return this past season, when you became the first player to wear #70 for the O's.

Well, that was a quick and breezy career retrospective. Konichiwa...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Larry Bigbie, 2004 Topps #453

Things that spring to mind when viewing this card:

-Who is that Seattle catcher? My guess is Dan Wilson. Backup Ben Davis only appeared in two night games at Camden Yards in 2003.

-Actually, it may be Pat Borders. The only day game that the Mariners played in Baltimore was September 7, and the ex-Jays backstop got the start. Wilson entered in the eighth inning, but was not behind the plate for a Larry Bigbie at-bat. The O's won 2-1, thanks to a combined five-hitter by Pat Hentgen and Jorge Julio (go figure).

-Bigbie totaled 31 home runs in his career and was rarely healthy. I hope he got a refund for those steroids he took.

-It was considerate of Topps to blur out the face of the little girl behind home plate. I'm sure the husky gentleman in the Cal Ripken, Jr. farewell tee with the bottle of Bud (who may be her father) also appreciates his anonymity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jay Tibbs, 1989 Upper Deck #655

Jay Tibbs holds an odd place of honor in Orioles lore. On May 2, 1988, he was recalled from Rochester and became the first O's pitcher to win a home game that season. This was, of course, the team that set an American pro sports record by starting the season 0-21 before eking out a win in Chicago. They then lost the last two games of that road trip to return to Baltimore with a 1-23 record. 50,402 ridiculously loyal fans packed Memorial Stadium to watch Tibbs and the Birds outlast the Rangers by a score of 9-4. Of course, the righthander went on to tie with Jose Bautista for the team lead with 15 losses. In my mind, Jay takes the booby prize as the worst starter on that team by the tale of the tape: 4-15, 5.39 ERA as opposed to Jose's 6-15, 4.30 line.

That 1988 team was back in the headlines last week, which is an unusual occurrence in December. They found their record for early-season futility being challenged by the NBA's New Jersey Nets, who set a new pro basketball mark by losing their first 18 contests before finally grabbing that first "W" last Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats. As the Nets got within spitting distance of the Orioles' dubious milestone, I was conflicted in my rooting interests. On one hand, any time your favorite team becomes a little less synonymous with failure, that's a good thing. But there's something about that "0-21" that is like a perverse badge of honor. If nothing else, it's a constant reminder that things should never be as bad in Birdland as they once were.

Still, when you compare the respective streaks, the Nets' 0-18 holds a bit more weight than our 0-21, what with the NBA season being half as long as MLB's schedule. That's to say nothing of last year's 0-16 Detroit Lions, who did not win a single NFL regular-season game. I suppose crumminess is all relative.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ryan Minor, 2000 Fleer Autographics #NNO

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date, so please enjoy this autographed card of former Orioles bust and current Delmarva Shorebirds hitting coach Ryan Minor with no commentary attached.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Curt Blefary, 1968 Topps #312

There's always something that calls out to us, attracting us, pulling us back home again.

Curt Blefary signed his first professional contract with the Yankees when he was still a teenager, back in 1962. Three years later, he was an Oriole and also the American League Rookie of the Year, a 22-home-run slugger with a .381 on-base percentage. The following year he and his Baltimore teammates were World Champions, the greatest thrill that a player can experience in his career. I suppose it was only natural that his career would seem like a letdown after such a fantastic start. After he slumped to .200 with a .301 OBP in 1968, the Birds traded him to Houston. He never recaptured the momentum of his early career, and was out of the league before age thirty.

But some part of Curt apparently remained back in Charm City. After his career ended, he continued what would be a lifelong struggle with alcoholism and developed pancreatitis, which claimed his life at age 57 in early 2001. Though he died in Florida, the ex-outfielder's final resting place is in Baltimore, on 33rd Street. Carrying out his final wish, his widow Lana scattered his ashes on home plate (provided by the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum) on the site of Memorial Stadium, which had already been demolished by that time.

Curt Blefary is home.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lee Smith, 1995 Score Hall of Gold #HG40

The birthday train keeps on a-rollin' with Shreveport, Louisiana's own Lee Arthur Smith. The barrel-chested fireman blows out 52 candles tomorrow, and it just so happens that he is on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Many members of the BBWAA are filling out their ballots right about now, and in a month's time we will know whether Lee Smith and/or former teammates Andre Dawson, Harold Baines, Barry Larkin, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Ray Lankford, Don Mattingly, David Segui, and Todd Zeile are bound for Cooperstown next summer. In case you're counting, Lee played alongside nine out of the 25 other players on the ballot. What can you say? The dude got around: eight teams in 18 years. I'm sure he'd like nothing more for his birthday than to get a belated gift in the form of a call from that little rural town in New York. For now, he'll just have to play the waiting game.

Since I know for a fact that some of you fine readers are as fond of The Simpsons as I am, I'll leave you with one of my favorite Homeric quotes:

"Aww, the waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sid Fernandez, 1995 Stadium Club #188

I'm sure I've been unfairly cruel to Sid Fernandez on the rare occasions that I've blogged about him, but I just can't resist low-hanging fruit. This may be the single funniest Orioles card that I own. "El Sid" looks more like a certain pixellated adventurous Italian plumber than he does a major league pitcher as he looms large over the dugout rail and the low-laying photographer. When I look at his cheesy smile and ample chins depicted in all of their full-bleed color glory, I almost forget about the sky-high ERA and the towering home runs he allowed. This glossy little rectangle makes me glad - for just a fleeting moment - that this pear-shaped Hawaiian was an Oriole.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mark Smith, 1994 Score Rookies/Traded #RT108

I've been watching Orioles games attentively for about 17 years now. In that time, I've seen plenty of exciting games: historical moments, improbable rallies, ninth-inning escapes, and walkoff wins. But for some reason, the earliest of those last-at-bat victories that I can remember happened in 1996 - three years after I began rooting for the Birds in earnest.

Of course, that ended up being a memorable season for other reasons, as the O's broke a major league record by smashing 257 home runs en route to the American League Wild Card (their first playoff appearance since 1983) and a postseason upset of the defending A.L. champion Indians. But on the date in question - Saturday, June 22, 1996 - the team hadn't quite put it into gear yet. They'd started the year 11-2, but had been playing sub-.500 ball since and sat three games behind the Yankees as they took the field. It was an afternoon game against the Royals, being televised on Fox. It seems inconceivable now that such a matchup would be nationally televised, but the mid-90s were a simpler time. I even recall that Baltimore was wearing its snappy new black alternate jerseys, which thankfully went over better than the previous year's gray cap horror. But I digress.

Anyway, I was watching the game by myself, enjoying the seeming endless summer before my freshman year of high school. Scott Erickson started for the Orioles and pitched a fine enough game, allowing three runs on eight hits and three walks. Those totals may look high, but errors by Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla led to a two-run first inning for K.C., and after David Howard's run-scoring fielder's choice in the second, Scotty kept the visitors off of the scoreboard for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately, the O's bats were downright anemic. Opposing starter Tim Belcher held them to two hits through eight innings (including a string of 12 straight batters retired) and took the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a 3-0 lead that seemed more than sufficient. Luis Polonia (inexplicably getting the start at DH) hit a grounder right back to Belcher, and there were undoubtedly many fans searching for the exits at Oriole Park.

That's when the fireworks started.

Roberto Alomar lined a double to center field, and Palmeiro atoned for his earlier mistake by crushing a two-run homer over the right-center field fence. Suddenly it was a one-run game and Belcher was history. In came closer Jeff Montgomery, he of the 304 career saves, to try to shut the door. With redemption being the theme of the inning, Bobby Bonilla greeted Montgomery with a game-tying home run. Now it was a whole new game, and all of the momentum was with the good guys. Looking rattled, the Royals pitcher walked Cal Ripken, Jr. before recovering to retire B. J. Surhoff on a deep fly ball to left field. With two outs and the winning run on first base, it was up to 26-year-old left fielder Mark Smith to avoid extra innings. Coming into the game, he had only 161 career plate appearances in 51 games...

Evidently Mark wasn't big on suspense. He launched the second pitch of the at-bat over the wall for a game-winning two-run homer and was mobbed at the plate! Orioles 5, Royals 3. Having relived it with the help of Retrosheet, I'd kind of like to find video of that whole inning.

As a postscript, that was the fifth home run of Smith's career. He would hit only 32 in his career, and never reached double digits in any season. That's baseball for you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Earl Weaver, 1989 Pacific Legends #179

Sometimes, Monday rolls around after a long and fulfilling holiday weekend and you wonder how you'll ever get back into the grind. It's dark, it's rainy, you're drawing a blank on Christmas gift ideas, and you know that you should squeeze in a workout but you just don't feel like it.

That's when you go back to basics and scan a simple, classy card with a photo of an uncomfortable-looking Earl Weaver kneeling in foul territory down the third base line in Memorial Stadium. It seems cruel to have Earl kneel - as if he isn't short enough already? Speaking of little things (sorry, Earl), if you click on the image to enlarge it, you might be able to make out "WEAVER" written on the flap of his cleat. I dig it. I also wonder if the skipper is reaching for a pack of smokes in that right hip pocket, but that's neither here nor there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1989 Topps K-Mart Dream Team #15

I'm a traditional kind of guy, in that I absolutely refuse to start celebrating (or even recognizing) the Christmas season until I see Santa Claus roll down the street at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. With retailers and other muckity-mucks doing their best to cram Christmas further and further into November, that means that I can get pretty grouchy during the weeks preceding turkey day. I probably have this mindset because of a fairly recent family custom. When my grandmother was alive, she had her own apartment on the bottom level of our house. She would host Thanksgiving dinner, and then the grandchildren (with an assist from the older folks) would decorate her artificial Christmas tree while we listened to holiday music. Anyway, the leftovers are in the fridge and I'm ready to ramp up to my favorite holiday.

I'm not the only one who's getting in the Christmas spirit. Yesterday, Cal Ripken, Jr. dropped in at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Festival of Trees fundraiser. The Orioles great read his favorite holiday story, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to a receptive audience. It's good to see Baltimore's most famous citizen still giving back to the community nearly a decade after ending his playing career. It's an excellent cause, by the way; the Institute serves children and adolescents who are suffering from disorders and injuries of the brain and spinal cord.

In case you're curious, I saw a brief video clip of Cal's foray into storytelling. I'm sorry to say that he didn't affect a scary voice for the Grinch. Perhaps he should have let Billy Ripken handle the Grinch dialogue.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Billy Owens, 1993 Classic Minor League #85

If you actually remember Billy Owens - or the Albany Polecats - you deserve a hearty pat on the back. Owens was a first baseman, drafted in the 3rd round of the 1992 draft by the O's. He had a strong frame (6'1", 210 lbs.), but never hit for much power, peaking with 17 home runs and 27 doubles. His best season was his second as a pro, the 1993 campaign depicted on this card. He spent much of the year at Albany, GA, in the class A South Atlantic ("Sally") League. That year, Owens hit .297 for the Polecats (yes, their mascot was a skunk) while reaching base at a .365 clip. Two years later, he drove in 91 runs in 122 games at AA Bowie, but couldn't transfer that success to AAA Rochester and wound up being cut loose from the Baltimore organization at age 25. He bounced around the Astros farm system for two more years before hanging up his spikes. Billy actually appears in the narrative of Michael Lewis' book Moneyball as one of Athletics GM Billy Beane's scouts. He seems to have a laid-back, slightly bemused attitude, going along to get along. It seems like the right approach to take with a boss as mercurial and competitive as Beane.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Ron Hansen, 1961 Topps #240

As you're looking at this nearly fifty-year-old card, the first thing that jumps out at you is likely the ornate trophy icon that stretches from Ron Hansen's hips to his wrists. Since 1959, Topps has selected an All-Star Rookie team. The awesome logo you see above appeared on cards for the honored young players from 1960-1972. In 1973, they switched to a simple gold cup commonly known as the "Rookie Cup"; this design appeared on cards that year and again from 1975-1978, and finally from 1987 on through to the current day. I've always enjoyed seeing that designation on a card; it's visually appealing and it feels a little special. When I got back into collecting in 2007, my first purchase was that year's Series 1 Topps Orioles team set. I was proud to see the Rookie Cup on Nick Markakis' card; it was like a form of validation that the promising young outfielder had truly arrived.

Topps picks the top rookie at each position (there's no DH but there is both a LHP and a RHP, and there are 3 OFs just like the Gold Gloves). Some choices are a slam dunk, like Hansen. He hit 22 home runs and drove in 86 as a shortstop, which was rarefied air in those days. Not only was he the American League's Rookie of the Year, but he finished fifth in MVP balloting. Other times, Topps had to select from a shallow pool. I did a double take when I saw the Rookie Cup on Geronimo Gil's 2003 card (2002 stats: .232 AVG, .277 OBP, 12 HR. 45 RBI), for instance.

Earlier this week, Topps announced their latest All-Star Rookie Team. Though the O's crop of budding young players had been shut out of the Rookie of the Year voting, they were represented on this team by outfielder Nolan Reimold, who hit .279 and led all A. L. rookies in home runs (15), on-base percentage (.365), and slugging percentage (.466). But the real news was the exclusion of much-heralded rookie catcher Matt Wieters, who was apparently passed over in favor of 28-year-old former Oriole and current Met receiver Omir Santos. Their stats (both played in 96 games):

Wieters: .288/.340/.412, 15 2B, 9 HR, 43 RBI
Santos: .260/.296/.391, 14 2B, 7 HR, 40 RBI

So what's the deal? Was Topps suffering from New York Bias? Were they committing blasphemy? Did they deem themselves unworthy of so much as uttering the name of the Great Wieters? Not quite. As near as I can tell, this bizarre selection was the result of good old fashioned baseball card company politics.

Last year, Razor (a smaller-time company that focuses on autographs and memorabilia and specializes in minor league and amateur players) trumpeted the signing of Wieters to an "exclusive" contract. Since Upper Deck has an agreement with the MLB Players' Association, however, they would have the right to produce cards of the catcher as soon as he was called up to the Orioles' big league roster (i.e., May 29, 2009). Topps' license is with the MLB itself, and not the players' association, so they're apparently shut out from the Wieters Derby until 365 days after his MLB debut; you won't see any Topps cards of the ex-Yellow Jacket until after Memorial Day 2010. I can barely make sense of the particulars here, but Razor basically wanted to boast that they would have Matt "first". Ugh.

So there you have it; Matt Wieters signed the deal with Razor ---> Topps can't feature him in their 2010 Series 1 ---> Topps chooses the path of least resistance and goes with a less-impressive catcher on their All-Star Rookie team. I'm sure Wieters will take solace in the MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, All-Star MVP, and World Series MVP trophies that he'll collect in 2010. No pressure, bud.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Keith Reed, 2000 Bowman #264


This year, I'm thankful for:

-Fantastic trading partners like the mother-daughter team that sent me the nifty autographed card featured here

-A rejuvenated Orioles farm system that is full of top-level talent far superior to Keith Reed (Sorry, Keith)

-A small but appreciative (and responsive) readership that motivates me to keep blogging on those lazy days

-A supportive, close-knit family that includes a great new brother-in-law

-A stable new job with a much shorter commute

-Friends, including the new ones I've made and the old ones I've reconnected with

-Good health for me and my loved ones. Don't ever want to take that for granted

-My first two trips to the West Coast. San Diego is raipdly becoming one of my favorite places. By the by, the O's visit the Padres next June...

-Buying my first home - I'm in a holding pattern right now, but it should be a reality later this winter if all goes well

That's what comes to mind at present, though I could probably think of other things if I sat here long enough. If you have anything of your own to add, leave a comment. Happy Thanksgiving...even if you're Canadian.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Radhames Liz, 2008 Topps Heritage #133

Today I became reacquainted with one of the finest rites of the Hot Stove Season: bidding a fond farewell to the flotsam and jetsam of the recent past. In plain language, Radhames Liz is San Diego's problem now.

Look, I wanted to like that lanky Dominican kid. He looks pleasant enough, and he's got a fantastic name. His first name has "rad" AND "ham" in it. The nickname possibilities were endless. At Camden Chat, he was known as "Totally Rad", a nod to the NES game. I preferred "Rad Radford", because I'll work in a pro wrestling reference whenever possible.

Of course pesky, ugly reality had to interject itself into the proceedings. The reality was that Radhames was, and as near as I can tell still is, more of a thrower than a pitcher. Over three seasons, he has tossed 110.1 innings and allowed a spooky 208 base runners (1.885 WHIP). 92 of those runners have scored on his watch, for a sparkling 7.50 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.08, which is decidedly not good. That giant "L" on his glove seems pretty fitting, yet his won-lost record in the majors is a so-so 6-8. When you factor in the club's overall record in his games, it's a more appropriate 10-18.

In recent years, any time the O's rid themselves of an overmatched pitcher there would be another one ready to hoist himself off of the junk heap to take his place. If you look at the 40-man roster and the likely pitching staff for AAA Norfolk, you'll still see a few candidates for that role in 2010. However, I really do believe that there are less of them now than there used to be. I have to believe that. Meanwhile, I'm actually a bit jealous of Rad Liz. After all, there are worse places to work than San Diego.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ben McDonald, 1990 Bazooka Shining Star #10

I cannot believe that Ben McDonald is celebrating his 42nd birthday. I remember this tall, lanky Cajun as the "can't-miss" prospect who was still trying to put it all together five years after being drafted first overall out of Lousiana State University. He really did seem to turn a corner in his first full season - 1992 - when he went 13-13 with a 4.24 ERA and led the Orioles with 158 strikeouts. When I started tuning into O's games the following year, Ben seemed to be coming into his own. His 13 wins were one off of the team lead, and he posted team bests in ERA (3.39), complete games (seven), strikeouts (171), and WHIP (1.23).

O's fans could be forgiven for their giddiness when he started the 1994 season by winning his first seven starts and pitching into the seventh inning in each of them, compiling a 3.08 ERA in the process. However, he cooled off and went 7-7 with a 4.56 ERA for the duration of the season, and his faint chances of winning 20 games were blunted by the players' strike that wiped out the final seven weeks of the season.

Sadly, McDonald lasted only three more seasons, throwing his final pitch in 1997 with the Brewers at age 29. Rotator cuff surgery the following February proved unsuccessful, and he returned home to Louisiana with 78 career wins. Before you shed any tears for Ben, just remember that he's one of the precious few to have the honor of wrestling Cal Ripken, Jr. in stadium clubhouses around the country. He even lived to tell of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scott McGregor, 1985 Fleer #183

After much debate, I would like to award the 1984 Orioles MVHH (Most Valuable Hair Helmet) to Scott McGregor. Actually, there was stiff competition, chiefly from fellow pitcher Tippy Martinez. Ultimately, the combover factor and mustache quotient pushed Scotty over the top. Besides, take a look at that icy death glare from #16. Would you want to tell him that he was once again the runner up? That is not a man who easily accepts bridesmaid status. So congratulations and kudos are in order.

Suddenly I have the urge to rewatch Anchorman...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cal Ripken, Sr., 1982 Donruss #579

In his day, Cal Ripken, Sr. was known to be a pretty serious soccer player. There's a strong tradition of soccer in the Baltimore area, particularly the indoor flavor of the game. Over the past three decades, the Blast (and the Spirit, as the club was known from 1992-1998) has been one of the premier teams of their various leagues. They've won ten division titles and six league championships, including five league crowns in the past seven years. I've never had an overwhelming interest in soccer, but I can generally talk myself into watching any sport and I thought that it couldn't hurt to support the one consistent winner in Charm City. With that in mind, I took a trip to the 1st Mariner Arena (known in previous lives as both the Baltimore Arena and the Baltimore Civic Center) last night to watch the Blast take on their longtime rivals, the Philadelphia KiXX. That may be the worst team name in all of professional sports.

My cohorts for the night were my 18-year-old cousin Brittany, a diehard Blast fan, and her parents. It was remarkable that Brittany made it to the game, as she'd had a fairly major surgery on Wednesday to remove a shunt (essentially, a tube to funnel fluid away from her brain). She still wasn't feeling all that well, but her desire to cheer on the home team won out. That's dedication. We had great seats two rows from the field; my sister's company provides the special effects for the team's pregame ceremonies, so she gave us the hookup.

As for the game itself, it was fairly exciting. Indoor soccer is an undeniable Americanization of a sport that's more popular in almost every other part of the world. You take the original game and put it on a hard floor overlaid with carpet, cut the field size in half, encircle the field with hockey-style boards, increase the value of goals (2 or 3 points each, depending on your position on the field), and pump up the noise with rock and pop music and a PA announcer who bellows cheering instructions to the fans. God bless the U.S.A.

I was struck by the diminutive size of most of the players. Denison Cabral, Baltimore's leading offensive player, stands in at 5'4...at least four inches shorter than O's second baseman Brian Roberts, one of the smallest players in MLB. In all, eight of the 20 Blast players are 5'9" or less, including forward Giuliano Celenza, a former schoolmate of mine in high school. The tallest player on the field for most of the game was forward Machel Millwood, a lanky Jamaican who towered over the other players and seemed to the naked eye to be at least 6'5". In actually, he was only 6'2". When it comes to soccer, I guess size doesn't matter so much.

I've been to dozens of baseball games in my life and never caught a foul ball. Wouldn't you just know that at my first indoor soccer game, an errant kick would send a ball sailing over the boards, bouncing past the couple next to me, and straight into my hands? I'm proud to say that I fielded the ball cleanly (thereby likely saving my recuperating cousin from further injury), though I did have to toss it back onto the field to the waiting referee. The Major Indoor Soccer League is not made of money, you know.

After a slow start (2-2 at the end of the first quarter, which soon turned into a 6-4 Philly lead), the Blast turned on the jets and took an 11-6 lead into the half. The careful teamwork of the players on both sides was a sight to see, with eight to ten men maneuvering in very close quarters for much of the game. Many times, one player would seem to know what his teammate would do before it happened, and there's no question that there's a great amount of skill involved. There was even a Baltimore goal on a diving header, which was an amazing sight. It was still 11-6 when we left after the third quarter (trying to ensure that Brittany didn't overdo it), but the Blast put the game away for good in the endgame and emerged with a 19-8 laugher.

The season is only two games old, so there are still nine opportunities to catch a game at the arena. Tickets start at $16, and you can find more information at the team's website. After all, you've gotta find something to do with your time until pitchers and catchers report.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tito Landrum, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #254

Reasons the Internet is wonderful, part 731: The Sports Illustrated Vault. Yesterday, Stacey at Camden Chat linked to this glorious article by the great Frank Deford, detailing the Orioles' four-game romp over the White Sox in the 1983 ALCS. Of course it made mention of the highly unlikely series-clinching home run by the esteemed Tito Landrum, who had been on the team for less than two months and who would hit 13 home runs in his career. His blast broke a scoreless tie in the tenth inning and drove Chicago starter Britt Burns from the game; the O's would tack on two more runs before Tippy Martinez slammed the door shut in the bottom of the frame. Oh, and apropos of nothing, Deford mentions in passing that Tito used to be a male model.

*record scratch*

What?

Let's quote the relevant piece of text: "A onetime male model, Landrum got to bat 41 times for the Orioles, but he never started a game in right-field until the playoffs, when Dan Ford was hobbled by an injured right foot."

Yep, that's what I thought he said. But seriously, how could you just throw that out there and let it drop? Have any of you ever heard of that before? And how the hell was Tito a male model? As Stacey said, "I don't see it". Look, the Birds have a long and rich history of players moonlighting as beefcakes: Jim Palmer, Brady Anderson, Scott Erickson. But look at that photo. No harm meant, but on the list of most attractive O's, Landrum is several notches below the aforementioned guys, firmly entrenched in Joe Orsulak territory. To be fair, he's still not anywhere near Andy Etchebarren's cool, dank basement.

Look, I can pick on Tito all that I want. But at the end of the day, he played 39 regular-season games in an Orioles uniform and had one big hit to win a crucial postseason game. That's not a bad ratio.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Billy Smith, 1978 Topps #666

As of midnight this morning, the Major League Baseball free agent signing period has begun. The Orioles have a lot more money available than they have had in previous years, with some real albatross contracts coming off of the books. Even with all of the strides in player development in the past few years, there are a lot of holes left to fill (third base, first base, middle-of-the-order power hitter, veteran starter, several bullpen arms...I think that's all). Naturally, this is the worst-quality free agent market in years. In the end, I just hope the O's have a better Hot Stove season than they did when free agency first hit.

In the winter of 1976-1977, players finally earned the right to test the market for themselves, and the small-market Orioles (led by owner and local brewer Jerry Hoffberger) got hit hard. They lost pitcher Wayne Garland, who had broken through with a 20-7, 2.67 ERA season at age 25, to the Indians on a preposterous 10-year contract. Also gone was homegrown second baseman Bobby Grich, who took four Gold Gloves and three All-Star selections with him to the Angels. The biggest blow of all may have been brash slugger Reggie Jackson, who had cost the Birds budding star outfielder Don Baylor and two pitchers in a blockbuster trade less than a year earlier. Worst of all, Reggie had gone to the hated Yankees, who had recently toppled the Birds from their perch atop the American League East after more than a decade of futility.

As near as I can tell, the O's did not sign a free agent who would make their 1977 roster until February, when they reached an agreement with Billy Smith, a 23-year-old infielder with 72 games of big league experience. In 411 trips to the plate, he hit .215 with a .581 OPS as Grich's primary replacement. He would stay in Baltimore for two more seasons, and in a reduced role he was actually slightly above league average with the bat while playing solid defense. But all things being equal, I'm sure the Orioles would have rather kept his predecessor.

You almost get the sense that the home team wasn't prepared for the onset of free agency.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nick Markakis, 2009 Upper Deck Icons Lettermen #IL-NM

If there's any better time to get a package in the mail than on a rainy, miserable Thursday night, I can't imagine it. Tonight I got a little bubble-wrapped pick-me-up from Max, aka jacobmrley. The big prizes were a Pete Rose card for my 1965 Topps set (only 57 cards left to get!), and of course the fabulous Nick Markakis card you see above.

Now, that's not actually a piece of one of Nick's jerseys. It was manufactured by Upper Deck. This does not make it any less cool. They have separate cards for each letter of his first and last name, and the card back actually suggests that you collect all twelve. I'm not quite masochistic enough to chase down and buy that many essentially identical cards, so I'm perfectly happy with my "K" (for Kevin, you know).

Max also sent along several more essential additions to my O's collection, including my first Nolan Reimold and Chris Tillman cards, another handful of fierce Eddie Murrays, and a 1985 Fleer team set. Yes, please.