Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Rudy May, 1978 Topps #262

Great things about this card:

-Nothing to do with the card per se, but Rudy May's nickname was "The Dude". I wonder if he's ever seen The Big Lebowski.

-In looking through my vintage Topps cards, the company started using in-game action photos in the early 1970s. However, you still seemed to see more action shots with position players than pitchers. Even now, how often do you see this particular shot, with a pitcher preparing to field a hot comebacker? The dirt on the pitchers' mound that has just been kicked up by Rudy's left foot is the cherry on top.

-Rudy's inimitable sense of fashion. The glasses. The fat sideburns. The high, skinny, Frank Robinson stirrups. The black Adidas (?), with orange stripes. A masterpiece.

-The first baseman is visible in the background. I can't quite tell whether it's Eddie Murray or Lee May, but I'm sure one of you will know.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ramon Hernandez, 2006 Fleer #251

Although Ramon Hernandez is identified as an Oriole on this card, he is pictured in a Padres uniform. (As Steve may have noticed, he's attempting to tag out White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik.) I chose this card today as my way of telling you that I'm heading out of town for the weekend. In four hours, I'll be flying out of BWI-Marshall Airport en route to Atlanta. For the fourth time in my life, I'll see no more of Georgia than the inside of its busiest airport. Some day I'll actually check out the rest of Atlanta! From there, I'll catch a connecting flight across the Southern United States to San Diego to visit my good friends Jill and Tristan. I'm really looking forward to escaping the terrible humidity of Baltimore for a few days, and as luck has it, I'll be able to check out Petco Park for a game or two of the Padres' weekend series against the Brewers. The only major league ballparks I've seen are Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards in Baltimore, RFK Stadium and Nationals Park in Washington, D. C., and the former SkyDome in Toronto (though that was for WrestleMania, not a baseball game). I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I get home.

As usual, I'm not leaving you completely in the lurch. I've picked out a few of the most aesthetically interesting cards in my collection and they'll be posted each day while I'm away. I'll be back on Tuesday. Enjoy the transition from July into August, everyone!

Jim Palmer, 2005 Upper Deck Legendary Cuts #39

Pardon tonight/tomorrow morning's much overdue post, but I waited out the 45-minute rain delay at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in order to witness heralded pitching prospect Chris Tillman's major league debut. If I were to grade the kid, he would get an incomplete. He allowed three home runs, but they were all solo shots. He was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning after surpassing 90 pitches on a hot, muggy night, but he walked only one batter. He couldn't hold an early 2-0 lead, but the rain delay and the damp field conditions certainly contributed to his struggles. Tillman didn't embarrass himself, and on this night relievers Matt Albers and Jim Johnson picked him up while waiting for the struggling Baltimore bats to wake up (thanks, Royals bullpen!).

So, Chris Tillman isn't our 21st-century Jim Palmer just yet. But we can wait.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Melvin Mora, 2001 Topps Chrome #174

July 28 is a big day in the life of Melvin Mora. On this date in 2000 (yes, nine years ago), he arrived in Baltimore with three long-forgotten players (Mike Kinkade, anyone?) in the trade that sent shortstop Mike Bordick to the Mets. In those days, even the most pie-in-the-sky fans probably wouldn't have guessed that the 28-year-old shortstop with a .726 OPS in less than 200 career games would still be here at the end of the decade, and that he would have transformed himself into a two-time All-Star third baseman. He's 10th in team history in hits, 7th in doubles, an 9th in home runs and RBI. You might say that he was one ray of light in a dreadful series of trades that summer.

Because life is full of odd coincidences, Melvin and wife Gisele welcomed their quintuplets into the world exactly one year after he joined the O's: July 28, 2001. Things were a bit touch-and-go at first, but all five children - Genesis, Rebekah, Jada, Christian, and Matthew - are all happy and healthy on this, their eighth birthday.

Of course, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that Melmo's career is just buzzing along with no signs of trouble. He's having a miserable year, having missed a chunk of time with a hamstring injury and producing only three home runs and 27 RBI when healthy. His current .668 OPS is his worst since his abbreviated rookie season with the Mets. With the Orioles holding an option to renew his contract for 2010 for $8 million or to buy it out for $1 million, it's highly likely that this is his farewell tour in Baltimore. I admire Melvin for professing that he wants to stay here and finish his career second in team history in games played at third base (which he should achieve by the end of the year), his suggestion that he wants to play for four more years seems like wishful thinking. But no matter what the near future holds, it's been a good run for him in Charm City.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brian Roberts, 2005 Donruss #105

At times I feel like this blog is in danger of switching to an all-Brian Roberts format. But I can't help it if card companies have been churning out dozens of his cards every year, thereby tempting me to spend even more time talking about my favorite player. I'm a victim, here.

I don't actually have anything to say specifically about Brian tonight, but there was just too much going on in this picture for me to pass it by. You've got our second baseman in his 1975 throwback uniform, rocking the high stirrups. I'm the kind of guy that prefers the old-school high socks, and it bothers me that the few players who still wear high socks only wear solid colors instead of stirrups with white sanitaries. At least when the O's turn back the clock, Brian does it right.

I also enjoy the sideways glance on Roberts' face. I'm imagining that the two young ladies seated in the first row behind the Baltimore dugout are shouting marriage proposals to him, causing him to turn to the umpire and say, "Did you hear that?".

Finally we have maligned manager Lee Mazzilli standing attentively at the dugout railing. His arms are very intensely folded on top of the rail and he is gazing fiercely out at his young hitter. He's recalling the advice that he gave Roberts before he stepped to the plate - "Get a hit" - and he hopes that this advice goes heeded. Only then will people realize what a tactical genius the Great Mazz is. That'll be pretty sweet.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bruce Chen, 2006 Topps #342

In 2005, Bruce Chen won 13 games for the Orioles with a better-than-league-average 3.83 ERA. In his previous seven seasons in the major league, his single-season high in victories had been seven. Now, he'd probably kill for just one.

Tomorrow night, Bruce makes his return to the city where he had his greatest success. He's riding a personal losing streak that has reached twelve games and spanned nearly four years. Since his last big league victory on October 2, 2005 (the final day of the season), the Panama native has gone 0-12 in 51 games with a 6.88 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. He did most of that damage in 2006, when O's manager Sam Perlozzo was sadistic enough to pitch him in 40 games. Most of those were in the bullpen following an 0-5, 7.71 performance in his first nine starts, or else there's no telling how many more L's would be sprinkled across his record. He surrendered an astounding 28 home runs in just 98.2 innings; if he had made it to the 197 innings he'd reached the previous year, he could have served up 56 homers!

Texas picked him up in 2007, but had the good sense to allow him to pitch only five times. While his ERA was an unsightly 7.20, at least he didn't pick up any losses. He appears to have been out of baseball last year. But of course, you can always count on the Kansas City Royals to prolong the misery. They picked up the journeyman for 2009, and he joined the big league club a month ago. He's proceeded to lose all five of his starts, with a scoreless inning of mop-up relief as the only respite from the "L" train. He's almost halfway to Anthony Young's MLB-record 27 straight losses as a pitcher.

Of course, if he's ever going to win a game, he may not get a better chance than tomorrow night's game (if you believe in jinxes and reverse jinxes, make of this what you will). Bruce faces off against the quickly-unraveling Rich Hill, whose 7.64 ERA and 1.825 WHIP are even worse than his opponent. You'd have to look long and hard to find a worse pitching matchup.

Strap in, kids. It's the Resistible Force vs. the Movable Object. Bring your gloves and you just might catch a souvenir!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Todd Frohwirth, 1993 Stadium Club #445

Given my previously-mentioned affinity for pitchers who throw at odd angles, I'm cautiously optimistic about the Orioles' recent acquisition of sidearmer Cla Meredith (even if they did have to part with Oscar Salazar to get him). He certainly helped ease his transition to a new team and fanbase by hitting a Yankee with a pitch right off the bat, and striking out Derek Jeter for the cherry on top.

When I first started rooting for the O's, Todd Frohwirth was the resident oddball hurler. He had a few effective years, baffling hitters with his submarine style. It's been said that throwing the ball underhanded is a more natural motion, putting less strain on the arm than the overhand method, but looking at the action shot above it seems hard to believe. There's nothing natural about that. But hey, Todd got 284 games out that right arm, to the tune of a 3.60 ERA (including marks of 1.87 in 1991 and 2.46 in 1992 with the Birds), so it worked for him. But it makes my back hurt just looking at him, you know?

Vintage Fridays: Dave McNally, 1971 Topps Super #18

As promised, here's a belated Vintage Fridays post. It could very well be subtitled, "What the heck is that?" Well, I'm going to tell you. It's a Topps Super featuring Dave McNally, one of a 63-card set. I have what I believe to be the complete O's team set, which also includes Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson. The cards are 5.25"x3.25", as opposed to the standard 2.5"x3.5" size. They're printed on an especially thick cardboard stock, giving them a sturdy feel. They're similar in substance to children's matching game cards or coasters, and were released each year from 1969-1971. I like them because they look and feel like they can take a beating, as opposed to your run-of-the-mill flimsy cards that'll ding a corner as soon as you drop them or brush them against the edge of a box.

As you can see above and below, the corners are rounded (giving them a further air of invincibility). The fronts feature a full-color photo, usually a three-quarters' length posed shot of the player, and a facsimile signature. They keep it really simple. The backs are styled after the 1971 Topps base cards, with a black and white headshot next to a brief bio that includes the dates for the player's pro and major league debuts. They are arranged horizontally, and have stat lines at the bottom for the 1970 season and the player's career to date. The background is a spring green.

I haven't really figured out the best way to store these cards, but I do enjoy their oddball nature and durability. I'll definitely be on the lookout for the 1969 and 1970 Super Orioles.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chris Hoiles, 1992 Topps Stadium Club #161

Then and there, in the commotion at home plate, Chris Hoiles made a terrible snap decision. He would have to reach over and gouge out the eyes of Luis Rivera. Nobody, and I mean nobody, insults the honor of Mama Hoiles. The fallout would be relatively minor. Rivera, he of the .624 career OPS, didn't really need those eyes anyway. The Red Sox could give the kid, Tim Naehring, an extended look in his place. Hoiles was suspended for five games by American League President Bobby Brown, but the MLBPA appealed on his behalf and the suspension was reduced to four games. Justice had been served, both on and off the field.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paul Carey, 1994 Topps #4

You know, the "future" is a funny thing. It's this nebulous concept, and it never quite turns out the way we think or hope or fear it will. In 1949, George Orwell wrote 1984, a dystopian novel set in the title year. Say what you will about the Ronald Reagan era, but things still aren't as bleak as Orwell suggested (though the past decade has brought some stunning breaches of civil liberties). In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick concurrently developed the novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey; by the time the new millennium rolled around, NASA seemed to be scaling back instead of charging forward. The Jetsons, premiering in 1962, was set 100 years into the future. We're almost halfway there, and we sure don't seem any closer to talking dogs and flying cars (though, to be fair, robotics and moving sidewalks are now a reality, if not a ubiquity).

Meanwhile, fifteen years ago some foolhardy fellow at Topps pegged Paul "Ace" Carey, older brother of former Washington Capitals goalie Jim Carey, as a "Future Star". It was a reach even at the time, as he was already 25 and hadn't set the American League on fire in a brief 1993 trial in Baltimore (.213 with 1 extra-base hit in 47 at-bats). Indeed, he would not play another game in the majors. By 1996, he was in independent ball, and by 1998, he was back in the minors as a manager for the Rangers organization. So much for the future.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that we're in 2009. It seems hard to believe, but the first decade of the Third Millennium (and the 21st Century) is almost over. The 2000's were a big, round number that served as inspiration for sci-fi writers and dreamers of all stripes. Still, in 2009, I find myself at the mercy of poorly-timed subway cars at rush hour and terribly maintained MARC passenger trains that can't get between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore without breaking down and causing an hourlong backup. We are officially in the future, and we need to bloody well start acting like it. It's Two Thousand and Nine, and today it took me three hours and ten minutes to travel sixty miles from office to doorstep. Where are the flying cars? Where are the transporters? Get cracking, science guys!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mike McCormick, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #287

A little birdie told me that today was the 36th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 700th career home run. That got me to wondering: how many did he hit off of former Orioles pitchers? (Well, somebody has to wonder about these sorts of things.) Of course, he spent only the last two years of his great career in the American League, with the Brewers. So he only hit two home runs against the O's; #743 came against Dyar Miller, and #747 was clouted at the expense of Mike Cuellar. But against pitchers who took the mound for the Birds at some point in their careers, Hammerin' Hank had a few more tape measure shots. If I haven't missed anyone, Aaron belted 88 of his 755 homers against one-time O's. Take heart, though. Two Orioles (Don Ferrarese and Jim Palmer) held the Hammer homerless in 14 at-bats, the best performance by any former Baltimore hurlers. Here's Hank's victim list, filtered down to my Oriole-centric criteria:

Mike McCormick - 9
Robin Roberts - 9
Harvey Haddix - 7
Nelson Briles - 6
Jack Fisher - 6
Mike Cuellar - 5
Ken Holtzman - 4
Stu Miller - 4
Billy O'Dell - 4
Milt Pappas - 4
Pat Dobson - 3
Sam Jones - 3
Hal Brown - 2
John Buzhardt - 2
Grant Jackson - 2
Billy Loes - 2
Mike Torrez - 2
Doyle Alexander - 1
Moe Drabowsky - 1
Dick Drago - 1
Ross Grimsley - 1
Paul Hartzell - 1
Billy Hoeft - 1
Gordon Jones - 1
Don Larsen - 1
Dick Littlefield - 1
Bob Mabe - 1
Dyar Miller - 1
Orlando Pena -1
Eddie Watt - 1 (a grand slam in their only meeting!)
Hoyt Wilhelm - 1

Monday, July 20, 2009

Corey Patterson, 2006 Upper Deck SP Authentic #2

The Orioles are doing a lot of things right on an organizational level, and there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. Some of those reasons (Reimold, Wieters, Jones, Markakis, Bergesen) are already taking the field in the present. Others (Tillman, Matusz, Arrieta) will be here before you know it. But that doesn't mean that it's easy to watch the current team night in and night out, enduring ugly road trips like the 1-5 swing through Seattle and Oakland last month and infuriating games like July 1st's ninth-inning meltdown against Boston. But when the Birds make me despair, there's always the Nationals.

I can't really explain what draws me to our poor red-clad Beltway cousins, other than to chalk it up to sweet schadenfreude and a healthy appetite for a good trainwreck (I've wasted good hours watching cinematic horrors such as the Nic Cage Wicker Man remake and The Conqueror, starring John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Really.). But even the shameful joy of watching the pretenders to the region's baseball throne fall flat on their faces night after night just doesn't cover it. It's the manner in which they lose. You undoubtedly know that the Nats are in hot pursuit of the 1962 Mets and their record of 120 losses. They certainly deserve to go down in history, because they've got failure down to an art form. Consider:

-They've lost a game to a reliever who did not throw a single pitch.

-They were beaten in extra innings by the Orioles, thanks to a rally ignited by skilled hitter Danys Baez.

-The bullpen has combined for 8 wins and 30 losses, with just 14 saves. Their collective ERA is a putrid 5.61. Five of the 23 pitchers the team has used have earned run averages better than the league average, and two of those have pitched less than ten innings each.

-Their leading home run hitter, Adam Dunn, has gone deep 24 times. Washington has just 26 wins. No player has had more home runs than his team has had wins in a season.

-The Nats have peaked with a four-game win streak. Unfortunately, they've also had two five-game losing streaks, a six-gamer, and two seven-game skids.

-They've lost in rain-shortened games that lasted five, six, and seven innings. They've lost extra-inning games that went ten, eleven, and twelve frames.

-Twice I've seen Washington lose close games due to dropped foul balls followed immediately by the victimized pitcher surrendering a crucial hit. (They've committed 88 errors in 91 games, leading to 54 unearned runs.)

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there (other than noting that just now, I turned on MASN2 just in time to see the awful Jeff Francoeur hit a massive home run off of anonymous Nats reliever Logan Kensing). I also feel a particular sense of ownership of this rudderless ship of a baseball team, since three ex-O's made their awful mark in D.C. in very short stints with the club:

-Corey Patterson has spent most of the year soaking up the sights and sounds of Syracuse, but during a five-game stint in the nation's capital he managed two hits in fifteen at-bats (.133) with six strikeouts and (shock of shocks) no walks. His OPS+ was -29.

-Clumsy shortstop Alex Cintron inexplicably was allowed to appear in 21 games, in which he went 2-for-26 (.077) with no extra-base hits. He "topped" Corey with a -39 OPS+.

-Daniel Cabrera...whooaaa boy. No wins, five losses, 48 hits in 40 innings (not to mention a 16-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio), a 5.85 ERA and 2.075 WHIP. Oh, and 10 wild pitches. He still leads the league in that category nearly two months after his release! Plus, he went 0-for-11 with two walks (how?) and nine strikeouts, leaving his career batting line at zero-for-25 with 23 K's.

-Utility player Willie Harris, who started his MLB career with nine games for the Birds in 2001, has actually been something of a bright spot, working a .362 on-base percentage in 69 games and going 9-for-10 in stolen bases while filling in at all three outfield spots as well as second and third base. But just the idea that Harris is one of the reliable bats should tell you something.

So, should the O's slip into another late-season malaise this year, just remember that it could be worse...much, much worse.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oscar Salazar, 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH311

One of the hazards of being a baseball fan is the ever-changing roster of your favorite team. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed, we're basically rooting for laundry. In a short amount of time, I really took a liking to Oscar Salazar, one of those journeymen whose labrynthine paths to the major leagues make baseball worth watching. Today, he was traded to the Padres for reliever Cla (pronounced "clay") Meredith. So I'll try to give him a proper sendoff by telling his story.

Like former O's teammates Melvin Mora and Cesar Izturis, Oscar was born in Venezuela. He signed with the Athletics as an amateur free agent in 1994, when he was just sixteen years old. He hit consistently well in their organization (including .300 with 13 homers in his first crack at AA), but they let him go to Detroit on waivers in January of 2002. He spent a grand total of a week and a half on the Tigers' major league roster, collecting four hits in 21 at-bats. Soon, teams were passing him around like currency; between April 2002 and June 2004, he went from the Tigers to the Mets to the Angels to the Royals to the Indians, never getting so much as a sniff at another big league promotion. When Cleveland released him after two months of a .221 average at AA Akron, it looked like the 26-year-old had reached a dead end. He spent all of 2005 playing for the Cancun Langosteros of the Mexican League, and I can't find any record of him playing pro ball anywhere the following year.

In 2007, the Birds took a flier on Salazar, and stashed him at AA Bowie. The veteran showed an impressive power stroke, hitting 39 doubles and 22 homers for the Baysox. It was enough to convince Baltimore to keep him around in 2008. Playing his first full season ever at AAA, Oscar crushed 42 doubles and batted .316. In June, he spent two weeks with the big league club, his first MLB action in six years. When rosters expanded in September, the floundering O's brought him back and his bat caught fire. In total, he hit .284 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI in only 81 at-bats. Still, the rebuilding Orioles didn't appear to have any room in their plans for a 31-year-old hitter with no natural defensive position.

So Salazar passed through waivers at the end of Spring Training this year and just kept on hitting. Fifty games into his season at Norfolk, the Venezuelan native was hitting .372 with 28 extra-base hits when Izturis' trip to the disabled list created another opportunity for his countryman. Oscar continued to rake, even with irregular playing time. As things stand today, he's batting .419 with a pair of longballs in 31 trips to the plate. He proved invaluable during a recent interleague road trip, delivering three crucial pinch hits in a four-game span. His pinch-hit, three-run homer on June 30 sparked the team's historic 10-run comeback against the Red Sox. For the first time in seemingly forever, Baltimore had a reliable bat on the bench (anyone remember the days of Alberto Castillo, Chris Gomez, and Freddie Bynum?).

But with several other corner infield/designated hitter types on the roster, Oscar knew that his days in orange and black were probably numbered. With Izturis coming off of the disabled list the Friday before the All-Star Break, Salazar was reportedly nervously ducking his head into Dave Trembley's office frequently throughout the day. When David Hernandez was optioned to the minors instead, the veteran slugger finally exhaled and brought his son into the manager's office to meet the boss. But it was a brief reprieve; with all of the shuffling of the pitching staff settling down, and no trades imminent for any regulars, the O's dealt the persistent Salazar to San Diego for a major league talent, rather than risk losing him to a waiver claim.

At this point in his career, Oscar Salazar seems suited for the National League. He certainly deserves an actual shot to stick on a major league roster. After all, he's waited fifteen years for it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ken Dixon, 1985 Topps Traded #31T

This is usually the purview of my 1965 Topps blog, but today I present 10 Fun Facts about Ken Dixon:

-According to the card back, "his wide variety of hobbies include writing, playing basketball and drums". That is a wide variety! I wonder what he wrote. Maybe it was a script for a stage revival
of "Maude".

-Ken was traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1987 for Mike Morgan, one of twenty-two transactions in Morgan's long career.

-He won his first career game on April 25, 1985, a complete-game, three-hit effort against the Indians.

-As a rookie, ranked in the top ten in the American League in fewest hits per nine innings (8.0, 7th) and most strikeouts per nine innings (6.0, 10th).

-He shares a birthday October 17) with former Baltimore Elite Giants and Dodgers infielder Jim "Junior" Gilliam and 19th-Century great Buck Ewing.

-Won a career-high 11 games (against 13 losses) in 1986, and improved to seventh in strikeouts per nine innings (7.56).

-Held Don Baylor to two singles in 19 career at-bats with six strikeouts.

-Struck out thirteen White Sox batters on July 11, 1986.

-Ken's the only player in major league history born in Monroe, VA.

-There is a Camden Chat member named KenDixonFanClub. Is he a member of the fan club? Is he the president? Is he the entire fan club? Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Hal Smith, 1956 Topps #62

In the terminology of baseball card collecting, one of the more egregious flaws is the crease. But to call this particular card "creased" would be to damn it with faint praise. The imperfections herein are more like fault lines, an indicator of ancient history. How did this 53-year-old piece of cardboard come to be so weathered? I have two theories.

-There were two Hal Smiths who were contemporaries. Harold Raymond Smith was a catcher for the Cardinals from 1956-1961. He was a two-time All-Star and hit a career-high 13 home runs in 1959. His career ended prematurely thanks to a heart condition, so he went into coaching (and was briefly activated in 1965, when he went 0-for-3 for the Pirates). Harold Wayne Smith, pictured above, was also a catcher. His career stretched from 1955-1964 for the Orioles, Athletics, Pirates, Colt .45s, and Reds. His single-season high in homers was also 13, in 1957. He was a better and more powerful hitter overall than his counterpart, but was never an All-Star. Perhaps a youngster who was a fan of St. Louis Smith traded a Yogi Berra for this card, only to realize later that it was the wrong guy. He then crumpled the card in anger before keeping it as a reminder to do his research in the future.

-Hal's moment of glory came in the 1960 World Series, and was almost instantly pushed to the back burner. In the eighth inning of Game Seven, his three-run home run gave Pittsburgh a 9-7 lead over the Yankees. But New York came back to tie it in the ninth, and Bill Mazeroski's game-winning shot in the bottom of that inning gave the Fall Classic to the Pirates and ensured Maz's place in baseball history. Maybe the poor kid who belonged to this card was a Yanks fan, and he took out his frustrations on it. His older brother, a Pirates fan, gladly salvaged the card for future tormenting purposes.

Sure, it's more likely that the card was used as a bookmark, or carried around in someone's wallet as a good luck charm, or stuck in the spokes of a bike. But if you ask me, the two scenarios I've laid out in this space are much more interesting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rich Hill, 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #410

Ask and ye shall receive. Just one week after lamenting my inability to pull any Orioles from a couple big packs of O-Pee-Chee, I came home to find a bubble mailer stuffed to the brim with O's cards from Patricia and Lucy, whose blog is always a breath of fresh air in the testosterone-addled baseball card blogosphere. There were oodles of goodies inside, including scads of Cal Ripken Juniors and a parcel of cards starring personal favorite Brian Roberts. There was a nifty autographed 2000 Bowman Keith Reed, and lo and behold: this O-Pee-Chee card, featuring the maddeningly scattershot lefty Rich Hill. Now that the pressure is off, maybe the next pack of these that I rip will be sprinkled with a few Birds.

It's just as well that P and L sent me this card, because I would imagine that it offends their general collecting sensibilities. The normally baby-faced southpaw looks dour and weary, and the overcast Fort Lauderdale skies behind him mirror his mood (or possibly have caused it). Rich is showing the photographer his curveball grip, but everything about him says, "Here's the blasted pitch that's caused me so much trouble." If you look closely, you'll also see Hill's name stitched on the side of his glove in blue, a wistful reminder that the Cubs organization that he served for seven years has suddenly and unceremoniously dumped him.

Four months or so after this dreary photo was snapped, Rich is at another sort of crossroads. He's got a winning record (4-2), and the O's have won a large majority of his starts (8-3). But those pretty numbers can be attributed to a robust offense and some remarkable comebacks. Hill was set to be skipped in the rotation just before the All-Star Break, but Jeremy Guthrie's illness bought him another shot. He held the Blue Jays to two runs in six-plus innings, but that lowered his ERA to a still-nasty 6.92. Two years ago, during his breakout season, the lefty struck out nearly three batters for every one he walked; now that number stands at 1.3 to 1. Top prospect Chris Tillman is mowing down the competition at AAA Norfolk, and is already knocking on the door. But don't tell Rich; you might put him in a bad mood.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joseph Mahoney, 2008 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP74

I've been in an absolute fog today. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that it's mid-week, and sleep deprivation is catching up with me. But it's also the only day of the entire calendar year without any major professional sports action in the United States. You could forgive me for going through withdrawal, but honestly, I'm enjoying the break. Without a nerve-wracking Orioles game to divert my attention, I've finally organized all of my O's baseball cards. I won't toss and turn in bed tonight thinking about missed opportunities in another loss. Just like the players themselves, I need to recharge my batteries - at least as much as possible, considering that I'm still going to work for the whole week.

Oddly enough, the Birds get a four-day All-Star week. Their second half begins on Friday in Chicago. In the meantime, I'll try to call it a night and think about something engaging for tomorrow's blog entry. Please enjoy this shiny card of Orioles minor leaguer Joe Mahoney, who has 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts for the single-A Delmarva Shorebirds this year, despite being 6'7" and 255 pounds! You have to love minor league baseball.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mike Mussina, 1994 Fleer All-Stars #18

I know it's been sixteen years (oh God, that can't be true), but old habits die hard...


Stupid Cito.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tony Batista, 2002 Upper Deck Authentics #43

If I asked you to name all of the Orioles' All-Stars in this decade, how long would it take you to come up with Tony Batista? It's true, though. He was the club's lone representative in that dreadful, bleak, post-Cal Ripken, Jr. 2002 season. He took over for Junior at third base (so much for Ryan Minor), and played in 94 of the club's 95 losses. I assumed he was a poor choice from a poor team, but he really wasn't that bad. Despite batting .247 on the year, he walked 50 times and clubbed 36 doubles and 31 home runs to bring his OPS+ up to an above-average 105. He also slumped in the second half: at the break, he was at .269 with 19 HR and 53 RBI. Still, they could've gone with surprising rookie pitcher Rodrigo Lopez (8-3, 3.07 ERA at the Break).

Hopefully Adam Jones will prove to be a more memorable All-Star than Tony was.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eli Whiteside, 2003 Topps Total #332

Baseball is a funny game. Friday night, Jonathan Sanchez made an emergency start for the Giants following a shoulder injury to the ancient Randy Johnson. Sanchez had previously been banished to the bullpen following a 2-8 start. With the youngster being tabbed for a home start against the lowly Padres, his father Sirgfredo came all the way from Puerto Rico to watch him pitch. So naturally Sanchez, winless since May 25 and without a single complete game in his career, no-hit San Diego. The only Padre baserunner came on a late error by third baseman Juan Uribe, and Sanchez whiffed eleven batters.

You might also consider the story of Eli Whiteside, a catcher drafted by the Orioles in 2001. He spent seven years in the Baltimore organization, becoming intimately acquainted with long bus rides and receiving only a dozen major league at-bats with the O's (all in 2005). Fast forward to 2009, which was shaping up as his fifth consecutive season at AAA before he was promoted to San Francisco on May 24. Eli had still played only sixteen games before Friday, when starter Bengie Molina's wife went into labor and he left the club to be with her. The 29-year-old backup not only called the pitches ("I was just putting down fingers", he said modestly), he contributed two hits and an RBI and scored a run.

Go figure.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Melvin Mora, 2007 Bowman Heritage Rainbow #113

You know, I've always said that if you're going to have a fifty-game home run drought, the only way to end it is by blasting a walk-off shot in the twelfth inning and sliding into a mob of jubilant teammates at home plate.
Okay, I've never said that. But it's a mighty fine reward for sweating through nearly four hours of back-and-forth baseball action. Thanks for the game winner, MelMo. With any luck, you'll be gearing up for another red-hot second half.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Earl Weaver, 1971 Topps #477

This week provided an interesting juxtaposition of past and present in regards to Orioles managers. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote an excellent profile of Hall of Fame skipper Earl Weaver, everyone's favorite irascible, chain-smoking imp. I can't recommend it to you strongly enough; it's always great to hear Earl praised as an ahead-of-his-time strategist. He studied statistical matchups, championed on-base percentage, and disdained the bunt decades before Moneyball was written by Michael Lewis. It's also good to know that #4 still hasn't lost his edge. Reading the transcript of his anguished reactions to an Adam Eaton start in Spring Training, I felt like someone was eavesdropping on my own heat-of-the-moment exclamations.

Every manager that has followed Weaver in Baltimore, from Joe Altobelli to Dave Trembley, has had an impossible act to follow. No matter who is helming the team, it seems like the fans are always complaining that the manager isn't fiery enough. He doesn't challenge the players. He doesn't snipe at reporters. Most of all, he doesn't battle the umpires. Dave Trembley in particular seems to be 180 degrees away from his diminutive predecessor; we're talking about a guy who seems nice enough but conducts press conferences in a low monotone and counts Diet Coke as his greatest vice. Yet on Tuesday evening, Trembley boiled over and unleashed a tirade that may have impressed Earl.

It started in the top of the first inning in Seattle, when Luke Scott drove a liner up the gap with two outs and the bases loaded. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis raced home, and Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez's relay throw struck the pitcher's mound and ricocheted into the camera well. With Nolan Reimold already around second base, the Orioles players and coaches waved him home. But home plate umpire Tom Hallion erroneously ruled that he had eased up going into second and sent him back to third base. That's when Dave erupted, and it was all caught on tape (jump to 2:28). He screamed from the dugout, charged the field, went nose-to-nose with Hallion, screamed some more, accused the ump of lying and failing to know the rules, cursed, and then politely offered Big Blue his cap. He was, of course, ejected.

Today, the bureaucrats at the commissioner's office handed down a two-game suspension to Trembley, reported because he continued to watch the game from the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. That's against the rules, and he ostensibly could have continued calling the shots from there. Whatever. Oh, and there was no acknowledgement of the blown call. Color me shocked.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that sometimes you've just gotta blow off some steam. Diamond Dave did just that, and got a mini-vacation out of it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Joe Orsulak, 1988 Score Rookie & Traded #41T

I spent a couple hours this evening opening a package from Andy of Traded Sets fame. A few weeks back, I was home sick from work when he posted a Photoshopped image: a mosaic-type composite image taken from several 1988 Topps cards. By scouring his old '88 Topps blog, I was able to identify all 24 cards that were used to compile the Frankencard within a couple of hours. Since I was the first person to get them all right, I won a prize that is simply staggering: the complete factory sets of 1989 Topps Major League Debut and 1988 Score Rookie & Traded (including the pictured glorious Joe Orsulak card, complete with Spring Training batboy in short-shorts), as well as a box stuffed with a few hundred 2008 and 2009 Topps and Upper Deck cards. Even the few doubles were a very welcome sight, the better to restock my trading pile.

The box that Andy set was assembled with great care. Each small box of cards was enveloped in bubble wrap and wound tight with packing tape, then those boxes were placed in a larger box full of packing peanuts. The larger box was also covered top, sides, and bottom with packing tape. Nothing was happening to those cards in transit. I've alluded to my profound lack of motor skills in the past. Let me just say that if I had thought to videotape the painstaking ordeal that I made out of opening the package, it would have been an instant hit on YouTube.

Now I need to sort, catalog, and store these cards, along with recent deliveries from Greg the Night Owl and readers Jeffrey, Matt, and Alan. Then there are the stacks of cards piled on my dresser, and computer desk, and in my den...

Feel free to grab me by the shoulders and shake vigorously. It probably won't do any good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

B. J. Ryan, 2002 Upper Deck 40 Man #213

A wise man once said, "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone". Or maybe it was '80s hair band Cinderella. No matter. Everywhere I looked today, I found examples of this adage:

-It seems like just yesterday that the Blue Jays had a stud closer, having lured 30-year-old lefty B. J. Ryan from the Orioles for a ridiculous $47 million. He was an All-Star in 2006, his first season in Toronto (1.37 ERA, 38 saves), but blew out his elbow the following year. He bounced back in 2008, but lost his ninth-inning job early this season and was just released today after putting up a 6.53 ERA in 25 games. So now the Jays have no B. J. and they still owe him the $15 million left on his contract. Sad for them.

-My week in Ocean City went way too fast, and today I was fully re-baptized in the horrendous waters of mass transit. My morning train ran into delays involving a broken down train ahead of it, and it took nearly two hours to get from here to D.C. In the early evening, a gas main broke north of Baltimore, and I had to get off of the train at Penn Station and take a bus to the park-and-ride, which added up to another hour of travel. If I ever take another job in Washington, I want someone to shoot me.

-As if I needed bad news, I learned that Andy's, my favorite bar in my college town, is closing forever in a week and a half. I'll talk more about this later. For now, I'm desperately hoping that I can make the drive down there on Saturday to pay my respects.

-Of course, in all of my exasperation, I finally got into my car at 7:15 tonight just in time to listen to Mariners closer David Aardsma try to slam the door on the O's. I groaned and griped as announcer Joe Angel described just how the Orioles found themselves losing 3-0: the major culprits were a scoreless seventh inning, when former Bird Garrett Olson escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam, and an Oscar Salazar throwing error that led to an unearned run in the eighth. But the O's just wouldn't give up, capitalizing on two Jose Lopez errors, a walk, and some timely hits to piece together a five-run, game-winning rally. The Mariners were three outs away from their second shutout in three games and a series win. So much for that. Instead, I had the pleasure of listening to Baltimore complete their fourth improbable comeback in the past few weeks!

So as far as today goes, let's call it a wash.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Zach Britton, 2007 Donruss Elite Extra Edition #50

Earlier this year, I threw my hat in the ring for Thorzul's group break, claiming any Orioles that he might pull from a big random mess o' cards purchased from eBay. All it cost me was $5, and I got a few nifty O's cards that I probably wouldn't have sniffed out on my own. The above card, featuring minor leaguer Zach Britton in an Aberdeen IronBirds uniform, is a nice example. (By the by, Zach's currently sporting a mighty fine 2.40 ERA with the Frederick Keys.)

Of course, I haven't had nearly as much luck when it comes to pulling Orioles from the few 2009 card sets that I've been collecting. I already talked about my trials and travails with 2009 Topps; I had thumbed through over 120 of them before finding my first hometown player. As it stands, I've got 204 of the 330 Series 1 cards and I pulled two whole O's (and received two others via trade). I fared a bit better with my first two jumbo packs of Series 2, receiving three Birds out of 72 cards. Still nothing to write home about, especially when one of the guys in orange and black was the long-gone Alex Cintron. Nice call, Topps.

More recently, Upper Deck's inaugural set under the O-Pee-Chee umbrella has grabbed my attention. Most of the other bloggers that I read have taken a shine to the simple, old-school design and gloriously thick and dull cardboard stock, so I grabbed a couple 24-card packs from Wal-mart yesterday evening to judge for myself. I too liked what I saw, particularly the inclusion of just two inserts total. This is a set that might actually be feasible to collect, perish the thought! But something was still amiss. You guessed it: no O's. I had to look at the ugly mugs of Mark Teixeira and Captain Cheeseburger Sabathia, but not a single one of my guys. Of course I didn't get any Rangers, Cubs, Cardinals, or Padres either, but who cares about those goofy teams?

It's a good thing that I've found trading partners all over the blogosphere, because I sure as heck don't have a nose for Orioles when I'm grabbing packs from the store.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Adam Jones, 2009 Topps Heritage #53

Congratulations to Adam Jones, who yesterday was selected by Rays manager Joe Maddon as the Orioles' sole representative in next week's All-Star Game. With the home team having been down in the dumps for a dozen years now, most of us are resigned to having just one of our O's on the 33-man American League roster. But this is no Cal Ripken, Jr. reputation pick, nor is it a Tony Batista "Gotta Pick Somebody" selection. Even after a rough June brought his numbers down to Earth a bit, Dr. Jones still looks like one of the breakout players of 2009. He's leading the Birds with a .308 batting average, and his 12 home runs are already three more than he hit all of last season. His center field defense continues to improve on a daily basis, as his five assists suggest.

But most encouraging of all, Adam is still a few weeks away from his 24th birthday. Things should only get better in the coming years. Also, if you're keeping count, the O's have now gotten two All-Star appearances out of last year's Erik Bedard trade; closer George Sherrill was the club's sole representative in 2008, and has actually had a better first half this season. A third player, Kam Mickolio, will get a chance to bolster the Baltimore bullpen following today's promotion from AAA Norfolk. Of course, there's still a large amount of buzz surrounding pitching prospect Chris Tillman, who has a 2.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings with the Tides and is rumored to be joining the big league club shortly. This isn't the first time I've talked about the Bedard Trade (which, as some have pointed out, has quickly become the Adam Jones Trade), and it certainly won't be the last time. I'll do anything to supplant the painful memories of Glenn Davis, after all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sammy Stewart, 1983 Fleer #74

I'm back from the beach, reluctantly. It was great to have a chance to spend seven straight days doing as little as possible, and the lack of an open wireless connection at the apartment we rented even forced me to take a vacation from the Internet. I'll be the first to admit that this was a good thing, on balance. Of course, it meant that last week's blog posts were even more minimal than I'd intended, since I left them to the last minute and had to post them during the week from my sister's iPhone with no accompanying text. Fortunately, my hopes that the seven great Eddie Murray cards that I chose would speak for themselves seemed to be well-founded. Thanks to everyone who added their own commentary in my absence! By the way, I did have a chance to double back and post the image that I'd intended to use for Wednesday's post, so go give it a look. Now that I'm back in Baltimore, you've all got my full attention for another three and a half weeks...then it's off to San Diego for another long weekend, and you'd better believe that I've already started that countdown!

When I finally checked my email this afternoon, I found the usual batch of reader comments from my recent posts, but there was also a new comment left on a much older post. This happens from time to time, and in this case I'm going to call your attention to it. Last Tuesday, an anonymous commenter identifying herself as Sammy Stewart's oldest sister Linda weighed in on my April 13, 2008 entry, which highlighted Stewart and his post-baseball struggles with drug abuse and his subsequent incarceration. Per Linda's comment:

"I am Sammy's oldest sister, Linda and I would like for all of you to know that Sammy is doing wonderful. He's been in prison for over 3 years now and we are trying to get that sentence reduced or even clemency for him. Sammy has changed back to the man he once was, all drugs out of his system for 3 years now, he will look you in the eye and he is interested in what you've got to say. I think God that I have my brother back. Sammy is a wonderful man, a big heart and a great sense of humor. He's never known a stranger. Drugs ruined my brothers life and one of the worst things about this is that I had to watch our parents suffer and worry about Sammy, they were heartbroken. They are both dead now but I know in my heart that they are helping Sammy through these years. I think 8 or 9 years for habitual felon is pretty drastic and with the way the NC prison system being overloaded and underbudget they are going to need to let some of these types of offenders out. It's costing the gov way to much money. My brother has been through several classes, has a culinary school certificate, he is singing solos at church and all in all he is making the best of his time. He's helping the other guys in there also. He gets along with everyone and everyone likes him. I have written a letter to the gov of NC hoping for clemency so any prayers would be greatly appreciated. I love my brother, I don't like some of the things he did but he's human and he does deserve another chance. I know that if he gets out of there he can be a productive part of our society. He loves to work with kids and that's one of his hopes, of course he still loves baseball so he would love to work with the teams in any capacity. Sammy never hurt anyone other than himself and of course the people that love him so I think his sentence was toooo long. I would be interested in talking to any about Sammy anytime. Good thoughts and prayers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Linda Banks"

Assuming that the commenter is who she claims to be (you never can be sure, but I'd like to think no one would exploit such a sensitive situation), I'd like to thank her for taking time out of her day to check in with a first-hand account, especially one that features such encouraging news. Everyone deserves a fresh start in life, and I continue to hope that Sammy makes the most out of the time that he has left in this world.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eddie Murray, 2002 Donruss Originals #11

Okay folks, no image tonight. Apparently i forgot to upload the scan, so i'll double back and fix it next week. Thanks for your patience!

UPDATE 7/5: Photo has been uploaded. That's what I get for doing a rush-job before I left town!