Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jack Voigt, 1994 Score #580

This has not been an ideal blogging week, but for the most part it's because I've been "good" busy. There was no post here last night because I left the house at 6:40 AM and came home at midnight. In between, I picked my sister up from work and we spent the evening in downtown Baltimore to celebrate her birthday...which was actually last month, but I did give her the concert tickets on the actual day. Anyway, we had dinner at the California Tortilla across the street from Oriole Park, and then wandered down to Rams Head Live in the Inner Harbor for the Jack's Mannequin show. I'd never been to Rams Head, but it's a great little venue. There's a small stage on the ground level, and two levels of balconies, and of course, a handful of bars situated around the premises. Liz and I promptly staked out a table on the middle level, because a) there were bunches of teen-aged girls all over the stage floor, and that's not really our scene and 2) we're weary twentysomethings who worked all day and just wanted to sit down. Them's the facts.

The opening act was Erin McCarley, a talented singer/songwriter who confided in us that she was still stretching out her legs after a seven-hour bus trip from Syracuse. That made me feel a bit better about my commute. I wasn't familiar with her music, but apparently her song "Love, Save the Empty" is currently on VH1's Top 20 Music Countdown. She also did a pretty strong cover of the Suzanne Vega hit "Tom's Diner", although she sardonically noted that that would probably be the song from her set that most of us would want to have, and it was the only one not on her album.

Next was Matt Nathanson, whose music you might have heard on Scrubs and elsewhere. He's absolutely hilarious live. Among other things, he told us that he hailed from San Francisco - "the Baltimore of California", read racy passages from a romance novel, ranted about 24-7 cable news being "the worst thing that ever happened to the country" because of around-the-clock coverage of some bad bootleg of an awful John Mayer song (he's not a fan), and broke into impromptu covers of Enrique Iglesias' "Escape" and Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl". Oh, and he played some nifty music as well.

Finally, after a half-hour wait (it was nearly 10 PM and us old fogies were getting antsy), Jack's Mannequin took the stage. They're one of my sister's favorite groups, and lead singer Andrew McMahon has been affiliated with about a half-dozen other groups that she likes, so this gift was a pretty safe bet. I like all four of their songs that I've heard, so naturally they only played one of them ("Kill the Messenger") during the set. But the rest of their songs were great, even if I didn't get that extra thrill from hearing something familiar. One of the most entertaining things for me was just watching the other people on the balcony, most of them much bigger fans than I. There were the young frat-guy types who were singing along to every song and practically climbing the railing (and each other) in in their euphoria. Or the middle-aged woman who spent the entire concert dancing like she was alone in her living room. I was in awe of the young female bartender who had to squeeze by her every couple minutes - and managed to do it without once making physical contact. I also took notice as my sister clapped delightedly during the introductions of several featured songs. She's not the climb the railing type, you know. The evening even had a great closing note for me - the last song of the encore was "La La Lie", another of the few songs I already knew.

Oh, I almost forgot! Making small talk between songs, McMahon mentioned that he and the band had spent a few days soaking in the full Baltimore experience (he didn't mention whether that included Tuesday's water main break a few streets over). He and the rest of Jack's Mannequin were in attendance at Tuesday night's Orioles-Angels game. The mere mention of it elicited a loud cheer from the crowd, and he quipped that we "must not be fans, since they lost". Of course, it would be hard to root for the O's if you weren't prepared for losses, but that's neither here nor there. McMahon mocked some of his fellow musicians for sitting in the ritzy seats while he and a few bandmates sat "with the crowd", for the more authentic feel. As a result, he ended up appearing on the JumboTron, which he described as a legitimate thrill.

I bet you didn't think I'd be able to tie the Orioles into this half-cocked concert review, huh?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Walter Young, 2006 Topps Opening Day #146

I'm burning the midnight oil for this post, because my new workout regimen took priority. After weeks of dithering, I finally bought Nintendo's Wii Fit over the weekend. After all, I'm 26 and I haven't gotten regular exercise since I stopped running track in high school nearly a decade ago. I'm going to start paying attention to the warning signs...like tweaking a muscle in my back when I bend down to pick up one of the cats. It's a slippery slope, and I'd like to whip myself into better shape before I end up looking like ol' Walter Young there. Because I'm some sort of glutton for punishment, I do occasionally write at other locales on the Web, and it just so happens that I gabbed at further length about my first impressions of Wii Fit over at Crunchable. Check it out while I collapse into bed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rodrigo Lopez, 2003 Upper Deck Game Face #16

Multiple-choice snappy remarks.

a) If this is Rodrigo Lopez's game face, I would recommend returning it to the store and exchanging it for a new one.

b) Is this photo indicative of the rest of the "Game Face" set? I never even heard of such a set, and judging from this card, there's a good reason for that.

c) Is that game face...or "game face"? *winks suggestively*

d) Rejected name for this set: 2003 Upper Deck Dropped A Frozen Ham On My Foot Face.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mike Mussina, 1999 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #96G

Last night, my dad and I took our second April trip to Camden Yards. Although we didn't root the Birds to victory over the Rangers, the game had a much more exciting finish than I ever would have expected. Mark Hendrickson did his best impression of a batting practice pitcher, allowing four home runs, including a leadoff shot in each of the first three innings and two longballs to Oriole Killer Ian Kinsler. He gave way to long reliever Brian Bass in the fifth inning with a runner on third, one out, and a 6-1 deficit. All that Bass did was twirl three and two-thirds scoreless innings. He walked one, allowed one hit, and struck out four. He defended his position like a pro, picking a runner off of first and snagging two consecutive comebackers and completing the throws to first for the putout. (When you've been treated to the antics of Daniel Cabrera and company in recent years, you learn to appreciate pitchers who field their position.)

The O's looked lethargic on offense all night, with Ty Wigginton seeming to provide all of the fireworks. Off to a slow start this year, he showed signs of life with an RBI single and a solo home run, the latter of which I sort of called. As he stepped to the plate, I saw that he was homerless on the year and told my father that he was due, "not that it would do us much good". Moments later, he deposited a Scott Feldman pitch into the Texas bullpen. Then again, I also called a Luke Scott two-run homer to right that ended up as a routine fly ball to left, so I'm not getting too full of myself.

In the top of the ninth, I got up to go to the bathroom and my father said that we might as well leave (it was 6-2 Rangers at that time). Trying to hold onto my diehard cred, I told him that we might as well hang in there. Of course, then I remembered who was due up in the bottom of the ninth:

Gregg ZAUN (0-2, BB, .110 AVG)
Lou Montanez (0-1, .091 AVG)
Cesar Izturis (1-for-3, .218 AVG)

So I told my pop that we probably should head for the exit after all. We were walking past the bullpen picnic area (just above and to the right of Mike Mussina in the above photo, gold-embossed though it may be) as ZAUN hit another weak grounder but reached second safely thanks to a poor Elvis Andrus throw. An enthusiastic crowd had already congregated in the picnic area, so we elbowed our way in to watch the potential rally amidst the masses. To our right, Jim Hunter and Rick Dempsey sat under the MASN canopy, waiting patiently to deliver the postgame report. Montanez (Birdland's favorite argument fodder) stepped to the plate, and the 27-year-old rookie dumped a single into right. Runners on the corners, and the buzz grew. Izturis hit a sinking liner to left field. I craned my neck, and at the last moment saw the ball elude the grasp of David Murphy. ZAUN scored, two runners were in scoring position, and the O's had turned over the lineup with nobody out! Brian Roberts hit a lazy fly ball to shallow right, and nobody advanced. Texas closer Frank Francisco was summoned to face Adam Jones. The young center fielder fought off a two-strike pitch into (guess where) right field, knocking in two runs. 6-5! Nick Markakis, already having extended his on-base streak to 26 straight games, represented the tying run. Those who remained from a surprising crowd of 41,000 were on their feet and roaring in anticipation. But there was to be no joy in Birdland...Nick the Stick struck out, and Aubrey Huff capped an 0-for-5 night with a fly out to left. So close, and yet so far.

In the end, it goes down as a loss. But that last half-inning will stay with me for a while.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dan Graham, 1982 Donruss #455

I just picked up another great book by ESPN's resident baseball stathead, Rob Neyer: Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups, which was published in 2002 and should be self-explanatory. He goes team-by-team and presents their all-time lineups: best lineup, second-best, best single season, best rookie season, best defense, worst defense, biggest busts, "used-to-be-great", and best nicknames. Because I was determined to be patient and didn't want to just skip ahead, I was relieved that the Baltimore Orioles came near the top in alphabetical order.

You can probably guess the all-time O's lineup. Rick Dempsey was at catcher, largely on the strength of his defense, and Bobby Grich stood at second between Eddie and Cal. (That's the only position that might change if Neyer drew up the lineup today. Brian Roberts still might not unseat the defensively superior Grich, but with his doubles power, speed, and on-base skills, it would be a tight race.) One of the eye-openers for me was the catcher for the All-Rookie team, Mr. Dan Graham.

Graham was before my time, as he was out of the majors by the time I was born. My family has never said a word about him, and he hasn't come up in any of the books that I've read about the Orioles. All I knew of him were the slightly goofy pictures on his handful of baseball cards, which have only come into my collection in the last year or two. It's to my detriment that I didn't have the curiosity to flip one of these cards over and read the back.

After going 0-for-4 with the Twins in his first two major league games in 1979, Dan was traded to the Birds for first baseman Tom Chism, a fellow 24-year-old rookie who went...0-for-3 in 1979. That's a funny sort of trade. Anyway, Graham got a fair amount of playing time in 1980 as Rick Dempsey's backup (285 plate appearances in 86 games), and really did play well. He hit .278 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI, placing him fourth on the team in longballs. It seemed that Earl Weaver had found another of his beloved platoons (the righty Dempsey hit .303 vs. LHP, while lefty Graham hit .293 vs. RHP). If nothing else, he had a little pop behind the plate when he wanted to give the Dipper a blow.

But the strike-shortened 1981 campaign was a disaster for Dan. He batted a paltry .176 and his production disappeared: a pair of home runs and eleven RBI in 142 at-bats. He had four errors and seven passed balls in 40 games behind the plate, so it's not like his defense was enough to keep him going. He spent all of 1982 in Rochester before packing his things and going home. Where have you gone, Dan Graham?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Chuck Estrada, 1960 Topps #126

Chuck Estrada is a name that gets lost in the shuffle of Orioles lore. Among his contemporary "Baby Birds", the big name was Milt Pappas, but Steve Barber and Jerry Walker also loomed large. By the time the O's were finally ready for prime time, Wally Bunker, Dave McNally, and Jim Palmer were the fresh faces and homegrown arms. But for a few years, Estrada seemed primed to go toe to toe with them all.

In 1960, the righthander from California was 22 years old and was thrust into the rotation as a rookie. He responded by tying Jim Perry for the American League lead in wins (18) and allowing fewer hits per nine innings (7.0) than any other junior circuit pitcher. He completed 12 games and notched a 3.58 ERA. Together with Walker, Pappas, Barber, and Jack Fisher, he gave manager Paul Richards five promising moundsmen - all 22 or younger. Estrada was the best, making the All-Star Team and being named The Sporting News' Pitcher of the Year. Despite these accolades, he was a distant second behind O's shortstop Ron Hansen for Rookie of the Year honors. Baltimore first baseman Jim Gentile was the only other A.L. player to receive a vote. (Is it any wonder they jumped from 74 to 89 wins that year?)

Chuck defended his H/9 crown in 1961, lowering the mark to 6.8. At 15-9, he had less wins but a slightly better win percentage. His 3.69 ERA represented only a handful of extra runs allowed over an entire season, pretty remarkable considering that his 132 walks led the league. But the cracks in the armor appeared the next year. At 3.83, he had his first below-average ERA. Of greater concern were his league-worst 17 losses, against just 9 wins. Of course, his run support was lousy: the Birds scored three or less runs for him in 20 of his 33 starts, and tallied an average of 3.38 runs per start. Sadly, it would be his last healthy season.

Despite the popular conception that Paul Richards babied his young pitchers (Milt Pappas in particular), the stats tell a different story. In Estrada's case, he threw over 200 innings in his first three seasons, all before the age of 25. That's a total of 644 frames. Elbow injuries cropped up in 1963, and from that season until his retirement in 1967 he racked up only 120.1 innings. His earned run average climbed each year, from 4.60 to 9.41, and his career was over at 29.

So the next time you hear about how much more durable pitchers were in the good ol' days, just remember that there were still plenty of casualties.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pete Incaviglia, 1997 Donruss Team Sets #45

For whatever reason, a lot of former Orioles popped up in my blog reading today. The best part is that I finally have an excuse to post the only card I own that depicts "Inky" in black and orange. Around the horn:

-Former Mets and Phillies star/human train wreck Lenny Dykstra, who fashions himself a financial guru, is pretty much a fraud and a bad person, as laid out in this Mike Fish article. Among his indiscretions, he inserted a bunch of fishy provisions into an already agreed-upon sale of one of his car wash/retail centers...provisions such as a five-year contract for Pete Incaviglia to serve as the general manager of the business. Friends in low places and all of that.

-Mercurial ex-O's (and Mets, and Marlins, and Mariners, and Yankees, and Giants, and Blue Jays) reliever Armando Benitez signed with the (drumroll please) Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. The 36-year-old will be following in the footsteps of one-time Bears Ozzie and Jose Canseco, Jose Lima, and Rickey Henderson. Will his career trajectory bring him back to the major leagues? As lousy as pitching seems to be on average, I certainly wouldn't bet against it.

-Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, still working in baseball after more than a half-century, was named a special assistant to the commissioner. Essentially, he will serve as an advisor to everyone's favorite used car salesman. I'd like to imagine that every time Bud Selig runs one of his bright ideas by ol' #20, Robby will just stare him down in a menacing fashion until he goes back to the drawing board. Seriously...if you looked like this, would you dare cross one of the fiercest competitors of all time?

It was a surprisingly fun day, capped off by this mini-run of Birds in the news. Adam Eaton inexplicably taking a shutout into the eighth inning and the imminent goodness of a Friday never hurts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Arthur Rhodes, 1991 Leaf Gold Rookies #BC6

That's right, 1991. Oh, to be athletic and left-handed. Arthur Rhodes was a member of the 1993 Orioles team on which I cut my baseball-fan teeth, and has outlasted all of his teammates from that squad, save for 46-year-old Jamie Moyer, who also happens to be...a southpaw pitcher. Rhodes is still plugging as a 39-year-old reliever with the Reds, and has pitched six scoreless innings so far in 2009. One of his current teammates, outfielder Jay Bruce, was one year old when the O's drafted Arthur in 1988.

But my favorite tidbit about Rhodes' longevity is that he's the last remaining active player who played a home game in Memorial Stadium. He pitched three games on 33rd Street with little success (6.14 ERA), but he pitched there all the same. Whenever he retires, another piece of Baltimore's baseball history will be relegated to the dusty past. Thankfully, that day might not come for a long time, especially if he picked up any pointers from ageless lefty teammates like Moyer, Randy Johnson (still going at 45!), and Jesse Orosco (who retired at 46).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

John Maine and Val Majewski, 2005 Topps #327

As I mentioned last night, last year's Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year made his major league debut tonight against the White Sox. He gave up three runs (one earned) in five and two-thirds innings, striking out four, and left with a one-run lead. It was a promising beginning, and a more auspicious first try than that of John Maine. I considered a last-minute effort to attend tonight's game, but the overcast skies scared me away. If only I'd stayed away from Maine's debut.

It was July 23, 2004, and my college roommate Mikey and his girlfriend Julianne had gotten four tickets to the O's-Twins game from her father's work. I honestly don't remember much about the game. It was one of those goofy floppy hat giveaway nights, and it doesn't get much goofier than orange, black, and white camouflage with an adjustable neck string. As you can see, I turned it into a rally hat.

Not that the rally-ization of the eyesore headwear did any good. 23-year-old John Maine set the Twins down in order in the first inning, but came undone in the second. The first four runners reached in a three-run frame for Minnesota, highlighted by a two-run single from Corey Koskie. The rookie pitched out of a bit of trouble in the third but allowed four hits (including a Jacque Jones leadoff home run) in the fourth before giving way to John Parrish. His final line: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 WP. As he left the mound trailing by a 4-1 score, I probably yelled some none-too-charitable things at him. Probably something about not letting the door hit him in the butt on the way back to AAA Ottowa. It was a steamy summer night, the team was already eight games under .500, and I was young (okay, 22) and immature.

The O's couldn't dig themselves out of the hole that their brand-new starter had dug, managing just a two-run spurt in the seventh before a ninth-inning, two-run homer off of Buddy Groom gave Corey Koskie a four-RBI night. As the night wore on, Mikey and I amused ourselves by cheering for the Twins' batboy, who frequently sprinted to and from the visitor's dugout on our side of the field. Your final: Twins 7, Orioles 3. John Maine did indeed return to Ottowa, his spot start a flop. He wouldn't get a chance to improve upon his 0-1 record and 9.82 major league ERA until 2005, when he was marginally better (2-3, 6.30 in 10 games) but still nothing to write home about. Then it was off to the Mets with Jorge Julio in exchange for Kris Benson. He's gone 31-23 in three seasons since, with better-than-league-average ERAs in each campaign. His peripherals have been declining in each of those three years, but he's still carved out a better career than his shaky initial trip to the mound would have indicated.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Juan Bell, 1989 Classic Travel Purple #170

Juan Bell represents a dark moment in Orioles history, as he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Eddie Murray to Los Angeles after twelve memorable seasons in Baltimore. The first of many pretenders to Cal Ripken's throne, George Bell's little brother hit .167 in 113 games as an Oriole and was an ex-Bird by 1992. I'm talking about him tonight to remind myself (and any other O's fans out there) that things have been worse than they are now, in the wreckage of a brutal week of baseball:

-Since they claimed first place with two straight wins in Texas to improve to 6-2, the team has lost five straight.

-In five of their seven losses, the O's have given up ten or more runs.

-The offense has started to sputter, scoring a single run in each of the past two games.

-On Friday night, the team's best starting pitcher (Jeremy Guthrie) was handed a seven-run lead in the second inning. He'd given it back by the fifth inning, and the Birds lost 10-8.

-In the last week, the following players have suffered injuries: Melvin Mora and Adam Jones (hamstring strains), Alfredo Simon ("degenerative" elbow), and Ryan Freel (probable concussion). The mythical Matt Wieters also strained his hamstring in a game for AAA Norfolk this weekend. Though the Powers That Be are doing some serious damage control, he should still miss a handful of games.

-Adam Eaton (11.25 ERA) is still with the club. Though his days are likely numbered, there's no telling how long Felix Pie (.147/.216/.235) will take to convince the Orioles that he's not a major leaguer.

I'm trying to look on the bright side. Nothing is expected of the Birds in 2009. We're only 13 games into a 162-game season. Brad Bergesen (15-6, 3.22 at AA Bowie in 2008) makes his major league debut tomorrow against the White Sox, a sort of soft launch of the youth movement. Matt Wieters could literally be promoted at any time. The New Yankee Stadium, for all its opulence and phony grace notes, is no Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Nationals are still the true laughingstock of Major League Baseball.

When the waiting gets to be too much, there's always schadenfreude.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

John Mitchell, 1991 Topps #708

Only the most die-hard O's fans might remember John Mitchell, who pitched 24 games for the team in 1990 (6-6, 4.64 ERA). I've posted this card because he was born in 1965, the same year that Michael Francis "Mick" Foley came into this world. Whereas Mitchell's major league career ended after that 1990 season (and his pro career ended eight years later), Foley is still a somewhat active athlete, in a much different arena. Today, I'm taking a bus trip from Baltimore to Philadelphia to see the three-time WWF World Champion (and New York Times best-selling author) compete in a steel cage match at TNA's Lockdown pay-per-view event.

While most rational adults roll their eyes at professional wrestling, you'd be surprised at the physical toll that it takes on a person's body. Sure, the match outcomes are pre-determined and many of the moves are designed to look more painful than they actually are, but it's the cumulative effect of the matches that breaks down a performer's body. The canvas mat is not exactly a mattress, and falling on it fifteen times a night, for five or six nights a week, 52 weeks a year, adds up. Aside from that, accidents happen. These guys are much more than "phony actors", or any of the other derogatory phrases that are hurled their way.

It's amazing to me to think about the physical conditioning that it must take for a 43-year-old like Mick Foley to do his thing at a high level, and his opponent, Steve "Sting" Borden, is even older (having just turned fifty last month). I'm very excited, because Foley is one of my personal favorites and I've never seen him wrestle live. I'm appreciative of the opportunity, even while I fight the nagging doubts in the back of my head that somebody his age with four children at home should be risking his health. That's the daily dilemma of a wrestling fan.

Miguel Tejada, 2008 Upper Deck Game-Used Jersey #99-TE

Please accept this Miguel Tejada game-used jersey swatch as a mea culpa for the rare missed day on this blog. I was foolish enough to think that attending a friend's wedding with a 4:30 PM start time in Lancaster, PA would give me time to make it home and post before midnight. Instead, we closed down the reception at 10:00 and reconvened at a nearby hotel where several friends were staying overnight. My friend/designated driver Mikey and I finally took our leave at midnight, but it was well worth it for the rare opportunity to reconnect with old college friends. Consider this as "Saturday's" post, and rest assured that the regular Sunday entry will run later today.

Because I'm a bit strange about these things, I'm more interested in the background of the card than the plain black jersey square that is meant to be the focal point. A quick eBay search shows me that the background photo seems to be the same for all game-used jerseys in this set, which is par for the course. But a closer look allows me to identify the stadium in question as Cleveland's Jacobs Field...seriously, you can call it "Progressive Field" if you want, but that sort of makes my stomach turn. I can also see a player's image and name on the video board in left field. It's former outfielder Vince Coleman, and he's identified as being a Kansas City Royal. "Vincent Van Go" played with K.C. for just a season-plus, from 1994 through August of 1995. This means that Upper Deck used a photo from their archives that was nearly fifteen years old. Pretty curious, don't you think?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Vintage Fridays: George Zuverink, 1959 Topps #219

I'm running late to meet an old friend and kick-start a busy weekend, so I'll leave the floor open to discussion. Boy, don't those new "Baltimore" road jerseys look sharp? So far, we're 2-1 in them and leading Pink Hat Nation 8-5 in the fifth inning tonight. Fingers crossed, folks...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brady Anderson, 1993 Classic Dark Blue #T4

The photo on this Brady Anderson card is "full of fail", as the kids say. Take a look at the position of Brady's bat in relation to the ball. I've seen plenty of cards that depict players in less-than-ideal moments: a batter looking straight up in the air, to follow the flight of a pop-up, or a pitcher grimacing at a hanger that got away. But I'm not sure that I've ever seen a shot that blatantly shows the batter flailing at a pitch that's headed for the dirt.

I wonder how we'd feel if someone were selling trading cards with pictures of us screwing up. Here's Paul rear-ending a Honda Civic! I'll trade it for that shot of Amy spilling coffee on her keyboard! Has Brady Anderson ever seen this card? I wonder how he'd feel if someone asked him to sign it. I think he'd actually roll with it. I mean, the guy once got run over by a bus while rollerblading to the ballpark and played that night. We all swing at bad pitches now and then, and what does it matter in the grand scheme of things?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

George Sherrill, 2009 Topps Retro #18

April is the absolute worst time of the year in my office. The phones are ringing, my inbox is popping on a regular basis, and the fax machines don't ever stop churning out paperwork for me to process. It's always freezing cold in that place, but for a few weeks I find myself flushed and sweating as I jump from one task to another. Yesterday I sat at my desk, sarcastically grousing about this and that, my boss just laughed and said that it sounded like I needed a vacation. It's easy for her to say; she's heading to New Orleans next week. No such luck for me; the carrot on the string is a weekend filled with a friend's wedding and a bus trip to a wrestling pay-per-view (more on that later).

As if this week weren't miserable enough, the weather has been awful in the mid-Atlantic. Temperatures have dropped into the 40s, and it's been raining steadily for the last two days. I certainly didn't expect to be bundling up in my ragged winter coat, scarf, and earmuffs after Easter. At 6:30 last night, I got off of the train and walked into a spitting rain that was so light, it was almost pleasant. At least that's what I tried to tell myself, since I'd left my umbrella in the office. I spent the short walk to my car imagining that it was July, and that I was back in Ocean City, feeling the salty spray of the Atlantic Ocean on my face.

Last summer, my family had barely unpacked three carloads of cargo at the two-story apartment we were renting on the Boardwalk when I compulsively flicked on the Orioles-Nationals game. In the 12th inning, the O's were on the verge of breaking their bizarre Sunday losing streak. George Sherrill, brought in to protect a 2-1 lead, got two quick outs before walking Dmitri Young. No worries, as he got two strikes on Ronnie Belliard in the blink of an eye. After an incredibly borderline pitch was called a ball, disaster struck. The next offering from the flat-billed Baltimore lefty was absolutely blasted over the left field fence. Game over. In another week and a half, the Birds would slip under .500 and keep sliding for the rest of the summer. Back in the moment, I was irate, and desperately casting about for a place to direct my anger. The umpire blew it by not ringing up Belliard on the previous pitch. Sherrill blew it by tossing such a meatball pitch on a 1-2 count. Belliard was a dirty, showboating so-and-so for posing at home plate to watch the flight of the ball before breaking into his trot. My vacation was off to a tainted beginning.

Fortunately, even I don't take baseball seriously enough to let it ruin an entire week at the beach. I spent the rest of my time there watching very little of the Birds (my sister got text-message updates every time the score changed anyhow) and getting plenty of sun, rest and relaxation, and refreshment. But George Sherrill plugged along, and has retained his closer's role into 2009 in spite of himself. Watching his half-cocked tightrope act over the past two nights, I alternated between hissed curses and frantic pleas to get just one more out, for the love of all that is holy. In the end, he (and his harried outfielders) did just enough to pull out a couple more surprising early-season wins. I have to admit that tonight I would kill to watch him work his terrifying magic, if only because it would mean that the O's weren't losing 15-4...ugh.

Is it July yet?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gregg ZAUN, 1996 Score Select #170

With the Orioles deciding to do without Kevin Millar's boisterous clubhouse leadership (and 87 OPS+) in 2009, there was some question about who would keep the team loose. Unsurprisingly, the great and mighty ZAUN has taken some initiative. It was recently announced that the O's were reviving the kangaroo court, an old tradition that was originally brought to Baltimore by Frank Robinson. Naturally, the team's veteran catcher will be the judge.

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of kangaroo court, it's a mock trial system that takes place after games. A player will be charged with some offense great or small. Maybe Ryan Freel forgets how many outs there are in an inning, or Luke Scott breaks out a particularly ugly dance move in the dugout. (In a famous example, Frank fined Brooks Robinson for "showboating" in the 1970 World Series, when he won the MVP!) The accused pleads his case to the court, and then the judge (ZAUN) renders his judgment. The sentence is usually a small fine, which will go towards charity or dinner for the players...or both. It's a fun opportunity to promote team chemistry and keep everyone on their toes.

With "Baltimore" reappearing on the road jerseys last night, it's nice to see another piece of the good old days coming back to Birdland.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dave Johnson, 1990 Score Rising Stars #43

I may not be a talk radio star/baseball analyst like former O's pitcher Dave Johnson, but I think I did alright for my first try at it. Last Thursday, I was Dave Gilmore's guest on the brand-new Baltimore Sports Report podcast. Our 49-minute discussion was posted today, and if you're so inclined, you can give it a listen here. Just to give you an idea of how dangerous it is to give me a platform to talk baseball, Dave had originally given me an estimated duration of 20 minutes for the podcast! We covered a lot of ground and worked in a lot of plugs for my NumerOlogy website as well as this humble little blog, and topics included Opening Day, retired numbers, the Orioles Hall of Fame, "cursed" uniform numbers, and my wild guesses for the numbers that'll be worn by the next generation of Orioles. I tend to be critical of my own performance when listening to recordings of myself, but I didn't really cringe on the playback until I started talking about Baltimore's long baseball history near the end of the podcast; I must have said "you know" about a half-dozen times in 30 seconds. But hey, I was probably mentally fatigued by that point. Enjoy, and feel free to offer feedback!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gregg Olson, 1990 U.S. Playing Card Co. Major League All-Stars

Gregg Olson is the four of clubs in this set of playing cards. But today, horrendous Orioles fifth starter Adam Eaton was clubbed for four runs. (You see what I did there?) He lasted four innings, allowed ten baserunners, and threw 100 excruciating pitches.

I have been bracing myself for the worst ever since it became painfully obvious that the O's were breaking camp with the chronically brutal Eaton in their rotation, but that didn't make it any easier to watch him pitch and blunt the momentum of a surprisingly successful season-opening homestand. His presence on the mound was a white flag being waved toward the Tampa Bay dugout, and I understood how Phillies fans could have booed him earlier this week when he showed up at Citizens Bank Park to claim his 2008 World Championship ring.

Look, I understand that the Orioles are taking some body blows this year to preserve their promising young pitchers. Bring the kids along slowly, let them progress through the minors for greater long-term benefit. But that doesn't mean that you have to waste every fifth game on a guy with a career ERA+ of 86 (again, 100 is average). Take a chance on journeyman Chris Waters or David Pauley, both of whom are waiting at AAA Norfolk. Bring up the most developed of the young arms, Brad Bergesen, who outpitched most everyone in Fort Lauderdale. Completely do away with the fifth starter and bring the bullpen-by-committee approach to an entire ballgame. Place a call to Fernando Valenzuela and see if he's got one last comeback in him. Pretty much anything would be preferable to Adam Eaton. Unless Dave Trembley takes advantage of an upcoming off-day to skip Eaton's next turn, he'd be slated next to pitch in Fenway against the Red Sox. The mere thought makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Am I being reactionary? Sure. But I value the little bits of my sanity that the O's have not yet taken.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sam Horn, 1992 Leaf #219

Because the BaltimoreSun.com sports section has major kinks in their RSS feed, it took me a little while to discover their latest blog, "The Toy Department". It's a collaborative effort among a half-dozen or so Sun writers, some of whom have made previous attempts at blogging only to completely fade away in short order. Hopefully the group format will take some pressure off of them. Anyway, they've got several running features, and one I've taken an early interest in is "Catching Up With...". As you might have guessed, Mike Klingaman tracks down sports figures from Baltimore's past and gives a status update. Last week, he caught up with Sam Horn.

ESPN's Chris Berman (NOT one of my favorite people) used to say that all Cris Carter did was catch touchdowns. Well, for two seasons in Baltimore, all that Sam Horn did was hit home runs. In 1990, Horn went deep 14 times in 246 at-bats, a rate of one per 17.6 at-bats. Half of his hoemrs that year either tied the game or gave the O's the lead. The following year he set a career high with 23 longballs in just 317 at-bats, a ratio of one per 13.8 tries. Even with an abbreviated and disappointing 1992, his OPS+ as an Oriole was a strong 122. So, where is he now?

The 45-year-old Sam Horn is a goodwill ambassador for the Red Sox (ugh), his first team in the majors. He also has somewhat of a cult following; he is the namesake for the Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) message board, a meeting place for the most rabid of Boston fans. He used to broadcast games for the "Sawx" and at one time owned a sports complex in East Greenwich, R.I. Today, the father of three golfs and plays in charity baseball games.

The thing that really tickled me about the blog post was a quote from Sam that he "weigh(s) 285 and...still love(s) sweets". What caused him to share that information? It's especially funny if you imagine Klingaman asking him, "So, Sam, you were a pretty big guy, even back in your playing days. Are you fat as hell now? I bet you are. I can even hear you eating a Snickers on the other end of the phone. C'mon, pal. Fess up." But I digress. It's good to know that he's doing well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Boog Powell, 1969 Topps Deckle Edge #2

This is just one of several excellent vintage oddballs that I just received from Bob, who comments around these parts as "Commish". It's a Topps Deckle Edge, and the product name is self-explanatory. I scanned the card against a black CD jewel case so you could see the postage stamp-like edges. The black-and-white photo is a nice touch, as is the blue facsimile signature. It looks really authentic! The cards are smaller than a standard baseball card, measuring 2 and 1/4" X 3 and 1/4". They were inserted randomly in wax packs of 1969 Topps, and the full set consisted of 33 cards. The back is blank except for the card number and player name at the bottom.

This is an intriguing photo choice for Boog Powell. You'll notice that he looks especially young and trim, and there are uniform cues that suggest that the photo was taken much earlier than 1968. Boog would have worn the older-fashioned perched bird two-tone cap in 1961-1962, his first two years with the club. The smiling cartoon bird sleeve patch and zipper-front script "Baltimore" road jersey would have been consistent with those years as well. Of course, he also is wearing #16, which he wore in 1962 and surrendered to newly acquired veteran Al Smith the following year. At that point, Powell took up #26 and the rest is history.

I also took notice of the bunting on the wall behind him. Topps traditionally did a lot of their photography at Yankee Stadium back in the day, and in 1962 Boog and the Birds did indeed open their season in the Bronx. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts while batting third and playing left field; the O's lost 7-6 when Hal Brown gave up three straight hits (including a Mickey Mantle leadoff home run) to blow an eighth-inning lead.

Luckily, there would be better times against the Yankees. His 41 career home runs against the pinstripers were his highest total vs. any opponent, and he hit 22 of them at Yankee Stadium, making him one of the most prolific lefty visitors in the history of that ballpark.

Thanks, Bob! This card took me on a pretty interesting trip.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Steve Bechler, 2002 Donruss Originals #235

Terrible, depressing news today, as Angels rookie pitcher (and Silver Spring, MD native and Williamsport HS grad) Nick Adenhart was one of three people killed by a drunk driver, just hours after pitching six shutout innings in his fourth career game. He was 22, having been born in 1986.

The set design that was borrowed for today's card was, of course, 1986 Donruss. Steve Bechler is another young pitcher who died a sudden and needless death; his life was cut short when he suffered a fatal heat stroke during a Spring Training workout for the Orioles in 2003. A major factor in his death was a weight loss supplement containing ephedra, which has since been banned in the United States. He was 23 at the time of his death, and left behind a wife and an unborn child (daughter Hailie is now four years old).

Life is a fragile, unfair, concept. Death can be senseless, especially in the young. A close friend of mine was killed in a car accident on I-70 just weeks before she was to start college. It's been nearly a decade, and I still think about her each day. I still can't imagine the pain that Nick's parents, or Steve's parents or his widow, feel. It's important that we remember what matters. It's not that a baseball player died. It's that a young man - actually, two young men and a young woman - are gone because of a tragic incident that could have been avoided if another young man would have had the good sense to keep his car keys in his pocket.

I hope you take a moment today to remember and acknowledge the people in your life who really matter to you, and to give thanks that you still have them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tom Underwood, 1985 Topps #289

A gem of a fact tonight, courtesy of MASN's Jim "Not Catfish" Hunter: Koji Uehara is the second player in Orioles history to have a last name beginning with the letter U. The first was Tom Underwood, who teamed up with his mustache to win exactly one game with the Birds. Tonight, Koji tied him by allowing one run in five innings. Your glorious final: Orioles 7, Yankees 5.

It wasn't easy for the Japanese veteran, who threw 86 pitches and scattered five hits and a walk, but he frustrated the Yankee hitters when he had to, getting several pop-ups and lazy fly balls. Though there were only 22,856 fans at the stadium, the local fans still managed to shout down the visiting invaders, particularly when Mark Teixeira was at bat. He even got booed for cutting off a throw to home plate, which may have been a first in baseball. At one point in the game, play-by-play man Gary Thorne mentioned that 20 million Japanese people were expected to watch Uehara's major league debut, which really hit home. Millions of people from another country, people who wouldn't have known the Orioles from the Royals a few months ago, tuned in and watched them batter a very talented pitcher on a very powerful and internationally renowned team. It happened for the second day in a row. The Orioles announced themselves to Japan in grand fashion. Good stuff.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jim Traber, 1987 Fleer #482

Why do I watch just any old baseball game, as long as it's televised? It's a question that my family often asks. But you never know what you'll see or hear. Take for instance tonight's Cubs at Astros game on WGN, which has carried on into the tenth inning as I type. A few innings ago, the announcers were discussing the Astros' demonstrative closer, Jose Valverde. Former Arizona manager (and current WGN color man) Bob Brenly shared an amusing anecdote involving Jim Traber, who has called some games out in the Copper State. When Valverde was throwing smoke for the Diamondbacks, Traber got caught up in the excitement and coined a new nickname for the pitcher: Papa Grande. In his mind, he undoubtedly thought that if David Ortiz was Big Papi, Jose was the new big thing. Grande does sound cooler than Big, to be fair. But if you know your Spanish, you've already figured out that Papa Grande actually means "Big Potato". As far as nicknames go, that's pretty hilarious, and "Papa Grande" stuck with Valverde. I wonder how much pride Jim Traber takes in coining the moniker.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jeremy Guthrie, 2008 Upper Deck Goudey #20

For one day, everything was as it should be.

An Opening-Day record 48,607 fans packed Oriole Park at Camden Yards and kept it rocking all day long.

The rain stopped just in time to play ball.

Mark Teixeira was booed loudly and lustily every time his name was announced. He was booed in between every pitch of every one of his at-bats. He went 0-for-4 in his first game after signing a multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Yankees and holding a smarmy press conference in which he credited his wife with telling him to go to New York and claimed that he'd been a Yankee fan all of his life (something he never seemed to mention in multiple interviews proclaiming his interest in playing in his hometown of Baltimore...well, he was from Severna Park, but you know what I mean). He was cheered excitedly every time he failed to get a hit.

CC Sabathia, the other prize pig of the Yankee offseason spending orgy, was knocked out of the box in the fifth inning, having allowed eight hits and five walks...and having struck out none.

Jeremy Guthrie, the O's hard luck ace, finally got some run support, picking up a win after tossing six hard-fought innings.

Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, the homegrown cornerstones, celebrated their offseason contract extensions with a combined 5-for-8, 1 BB, 4 R, 2 RBI performance.

Adam Jones, the young center fielder who is being touted as a breakout candidate, reached base all five times, including two walks (a big development for someone who walked 23 times all of last year).

Jim Johnson, the surprise shutdown reliever of 2008, preserved the lead by stranding the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the eighth inning.

Cesar Izturis, the free agent who was brought in to stabilize the shortstop position, made two excellent plays in the field and helped the Birds put the game away with a surprise home run in the bottom of the eighth.

For once, the revitalized Baltimore fans were able to shout down the overbearing and entitled Yankee fans (most of whom were probably from New Jersey anyway).

As those fans filed out of the ballpark a little after 8:00 PM, there were overjoyed shouts of "First place!".

And I was there to be a part of it all.

(Sorry for the Bill Plaschke treatment, but I'm still processing a fantastic game. Orioles 10, Yankees 5. Awesome.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Jake Arrieta, 2008 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Gold #BDPP92

This card serves as a reminder that help is on the way, and soon. Chris Tillman (#22), Brian Matusz (#25), and Jake Arrieta (#67) are all ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list for 2009, and all three pitchers could be in Baltimore's major league plans in 2010. There's no sense in rushing such young talent. I try to remind myself of that every time I fret about the current state of the O's pitching staff, as was the case last night. I was sitting in Nationals Park watching five of the first six batters reach against Alfredo Simon, who is starting 2009 as our third starting pitcher. The Orioles were in a 4-0 hole thanks to a Josh Willingham grand slam, and I found myself explaining to a stranger behind me that the righthander was plucked from the Mexican leagues.

In all fairness, last night's game could have been much uglier. Simon buckled down after being taken deep, pitching another four and one-third innings before giving way to Jamie Walker. Although it was chilly, I had a good time. Some observations:

-There were several large, odd-shaped things wrapped in butcher paper inside the main gates. I assume they were statues and that they'll be unveiled for the home opener, but it still looked pretty sloppy.

-I let out a loud "O!" during the National Anthem, and heard a similar shout ripple through the stadium; for the non-local readers, it's a Baltimore tradition to punctuate the line, "O, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave..." with a war cry for the Orioles. It's even done at Ravens games and other various events. Some Phillistine Nats fan behind me muttered, "Pathetic". I assume he was talking about the home team.

-Speaking of which, I didn't truly appreciate how bereft of star power the Nationals are until I saw a guy wearing a Jason Bergmann jersey. But hey, who am I to judge a guy who spends over $100 on the jersey of a pitcher with a 10-19 record who didn't make this year's Opening Day roster?

-One of the beer vendors noticed my gray "Baltimore" road jersey and asked if the team were wearing them. I pointed out that they were wearing the black road BP jerseys, but that they still had "Baltimore" across the chests. He explained that he was working at Nats Park for the money, but that he "bleeds black and orange". You better believe he got a tip for that.

-As far as beer goes, $7.50 for a 16-oz. bottle. Obscene. And Bud Light in the aluminum bottle on a chilly night? Not the best idea I ever had.

-I wonder if Luke Scott will get a haircut this week. He was rocking an impressive mullet last night.

-The Oriole bats are looking as strong as advertised. They had 16 hits, although they weren't strong in the clutch (11 left on base). Aubrey Huff's three-run homer was the only big blow in a 5-4 loss, and Nick Markakis was 3-for-3.

-Chris Ray was also sharp, pitching a scoreless two-thirds of an inning and keeping his cool as the Nationals kept fouling off pitch after pitch. Coming off of Tommy John elbow surgery, he did not allow a single earned run this spring.

-I may look upon the Nationals with a lot of scorn, but the racing Presidents are ridiculously entertaining.

-Gregg ZAUN's scoreboard mugshot is hilarious. Look for it if you're going to a game this year.

Enough talk of exhibition games. Tomorrow we PLAY BALL! It'll be my first Opening Day at the Yard, so keep your fingers crossed that the rain (and CC Sabathia's best stuff) stays away!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Alex Cintron, 2009 Topps Heritage #253

Believe it or not, the final game of the preseason takes place between the Orioles and the Nationals in Washington, D.C. This year's Spring Training was even more interminable than usual, thanks to the extra week or so that was tacked on to compensate for the World Baseball Classic. The O's had a 34-game exhibition slate, which doesn't include unofficial games against the Italian and Dominican WBC clubs. Then there were the intrasquad matchups that filled almost every open date on the schedule. I wouldn't be surprised if the players spend all day tomorrow in bed before Opening Day rolls around on Monday.

Alex Cintron is just one of several underwhelming ex-O's who landed in Nationals camp in 2009. Joining him were free-swinging outfielder Corey Patterson, wall-eyed failed shortstop Freddie Bynum, and of course the erratic Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera was the only member of that ex-pat quartet to go north with Washington, and he didn't exactly have a smooth go of it in the Grapefruit League. He posted a 6.39 ERA, which includes a loss to his former team last night (5 IP, 5 ER, 4 H, 4 BB, 1 WP, 1 HBP). Daniel also managed to hurt his neck a week ago while practicing bunting, which comes as no surprise to anyone who ever watched him "hit" in interleague games.

The Nationals current pitching staff might look a little less crummy than that of their beltway neighbors, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to root for them. At least the O's have a plan and a reason to hope.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Don Baylor, 1974 Topps #187

Things I like about this card:

-Don Baylor's bright blue batting glove. Did he ever wear it in a game? Where did he even get it?

-The wear and tear on the card's surface. This card could tell some tales, but it has just enough scratches and creases to give it character. Any more damage and it would almost lose something.
-The real original Yankee Stadium in the background. Most old Topps photos taken in Yankee Stadium were shot either on the left field or right field side, and you could see that white gatework facade that remained after the mid-1970s renovation. But here you can see the big classic scoreboard looming in center field.

-The barely-visible metal snaps on the front of Don's waistband. The best thing to happen to baseball in the 1990s was the return of belted pants.

-This isn't really related to the card per se, but it's been reported that Don Baylor cried when he learned that the Orioles had traded him to Oakland in the Reggie Jackson deal. In a day and age when players are largely seen as mercenaries, it's heartening to remember someone who was so appreciative of his teammates, coaches, and fans in Baltimore that he wept upon learning that he'd a) been traded for one of the biggest stars in the game and b) was headed to a team that had just won 98 games.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hayden Penn, 2005 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects #BDP27

Okay, I'm finished talking about Hayden Penn's bad luck. The dude had an engraved invitation to the Orioles starting rotation this year, which had looked like this in February:

1. Jeremy Guthrie
2. Koji Uehara (A 33-year-old Japanese pitcher who has battled injuries in recent years and worked mostly out of the bullpen)
3. ?
4. ?
5. ?

Hayden is of course out of options, so even if he had been just so-so in the Grapefruit League, chances were good that he would have at least snuck onto the Opening Day roster as a long reliever. Instead, the young righty put up this stat line:

0-3, 17 IP, 27 H, 6 BB, 10.05 ERA. Urgh.

In case you're wondering, that's about what it takes to get beat out by the likes of Mark Hendrickson, Adam Eaton (who seems like the early favorite to be my Most Despised Oriole of 2009), and Alfredo Simon. With the writing on the wall, GM Andy MacPhail was at least able to trade Penn to the Marlins for similarly out-of-options shortstop Robert Andino. Robert is the one-time Marlins shortstop of the future who has obviously been surpassed by Hanley Ramirez; a Mendoza-like batting average will do that to you. But he is a strong defender, and the O's woke up on Wednesday and realized that Cesar Izturis wasn't going to play 162 games this year. So Andino has some value, I suppose.

Thanks for making our starting rotation that much more gruesome, Hayden. Better luck in Florida.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sammy Sosa, 2005 Topps Cracker Jack #105

Since I didn't post early enough in the day to have an honest shot at making an April Fool of anyone, instead I give you Sammy Sosa. After all, he was baseball's cruel joke on the Baltimore Orioles and their fans. This card is something of a bad joke in itself. With Sammy being traded to the Birds in February, Topps put their finest Photoshoppers to work on an accurate facsimile of the Dominican slugger in his new uniform.

Then, Topps apparently found out that their finest Photoshoppers were on vacation that week, and passed the task along to some overmatched intern. That's the only explanation for this laughable picture. The bird logo on the helmet is too small. The "Fun Bird" sleeve patch was not worn after 2003 (sloppy research, guys). But the most glaring inconsistency is the rounded numerical font that has never been used by the O's, but just happened to be the Cubs' style.

I vacillate back and forth on the question of how to depict players who changed teams in the offseason. I always thought it was a cop-out to have a player pictured in his old team's uniform but identified as a member of the new team. But I'd certainly prefer that to a hack-job piece of faux art like this one.