Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 2010 Upper Deck #543

I'm running this as a pre-scheduled post because I am at Oriole Park at Camden Yards today. No, I haven't lost my mind...I know the O's are still in Kansas City. OPACY apparently hosts weddings on occasion, which was previously unbeknownst to me. One such wedding is taking place this morning, and my girlfriend (as a family friend of the groom) and me (as the date of a family friend of the groom) will be there. Given the distressing lack of magic on Eutaw Street in 2010 (the Birds are a league-worst 18-33 at home), I wish the happy couple all the luck in the world. They might need it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Billy Loes, 1957 Topps #244

Unfortunately, Vintage Friday is doubling as an obituary again this week. I learned a few days ago that former Dodgers and Orioles pitcher Billy Loes passed away on July 15 at age 80 in Tucson, AZ. No cause of death was given, but his widow Irene confirmed that he had been suffering from diabetes for years.

Loes had a reputation as a character. Before his Dodgers faced the Yankees in the 1952 World Series, reporters asked him to predict the outcome. He supposedly picked the Yankees to win in six games, but later claimed that he was misquoted: he had actually said that New York would beat Brooklyn in seven games (which they did). He was also quoted as saying that he wouldn't ever want to win 20 games in a season, because management would always expect him to repeat the effort afterward. Whether he said it or not, his personal best was only 14 wins in a single season.

Billy had his greatest successes as a Dodger, most notably his rookie campaign in 1952. At age 22, he went 13-8 with a 2.69 ERA and four shutouts for the National League Champs. If he hadn't come out of the bullpen for 18 of his 39 appearances, he might have gotten a few more wins. The following year he started and won Game Four of the World Series, holding the Yanks to three runs and striking out eight in eight innings. In May of 1956 he was picked up by the Orioles, and would spend time both starting and relieving for them through the 1959 season. 1957 was his best year in an O's uniform; he was second on the club in wins (12-7) and posted a 3.24 ERA while tying for the team lead with three shutouts (including a three-hitter against the A's). He also saved four games and made his only All-Star team. In 1959, he led the Birds with 14 saves; no other Oriole had more than four.

Loes was traded to the Giants in the deal that brought Jackie Brandt to Charm City and finished his career in San Francisco in 1961. In 11 seasons he was 80-63 with 32 saves and a 3.89 ERA.

Happy trails, Billy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Miguel Tejada, 2010 Topps Allen and Ginter #8

Two ships pass in the night. Welcome to Baltimore, Buck Showalter. May you have a better time of it than your last five predecessors...six, if you count Juan Samuel, which I don't. You're a brave soul if you're willing to jump right into this hot mess with the team 40 games under .500. You're certainly a bigger man than that self-important weenie Bobby Valentine.

So long again, Miguel Tejada. I will miss your entertaining handshakes and gestures and the ability to reference "Miggi and Wiggy", but I won't miss your infuriating insistence upon swinging at the first pitch over and over again, especially now that your bat has slowed down enough to ensure a healthy dose of ground ball outs. Best of luck in the National League West pennant race. I'm sure you remember pennant races, right? You used to be in them back in Oakland, way back in the early 2000s.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ben McDonald, 1994 Collector's Choice Silver Signature #

On June 17, 1994, the O's were hosting the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards. A jam-packed crowd of 47,475 fans saw the home team paste the Twins by a 9-2 score. Ben McDonald went the distance to pick up his tenth win of the season. Leo Gomez and Chris Sabo each had three hits and two RBI, and Mark McLemore and Rafael Palmeiro both drove in a pair of runs as well. The victory brought the Birds to within two games of the first-place Yankees, who were managed by Buck Showalter...the same Buck Showalter who now looks poised to become the Orioles' next manager, if Andy MacPhail ever gets around to hiring him.

Last night, while waiting for the 7:00 PM slate of baseball games to start, I surfed the OnDemand channel and found a few episodes of ESPN's excellent "30 for 30" documentary series. I decided to watch "June 17, 1994", directed by Brett Morgen. Using nothing more than audio and video clips from the fateful day in question, along with background music, Morgen tells the story of the day that the Los Angeles Police Department chased murder suspect and NFL Hall of Famer O. J. Simpson across Southern California before ultimately convincing him to surrender.

The film underscores the surreality of the situation by interspersing it with telecasts of other prominent sporting events that took place on that Friday: an aging Arnold Palmer's last-ever round of golf at the U. S. Open, the New York Rangers' Stanley Cup victory parade through downtown Manhattan, Game Five of the NBA Finals between the Knicks and the Rockets, and eventual American League Cy Young winner David Cone and the Royals hosting young superstar Ken Griffey, Jr. and the Mariners. As the day goes on, many of the broadcasters of these other events offer opinions and updates on the O. J. manhunt, often expressing disbelief and confusion in their voices. Bob Costas, covering the NBA game for NBC, seems beside himself over having to cover something as trifling as a basketball game while one of the most famous and (previously) beloved athletes in the country is fleeing from a warrant for double-murder and threatening to take his own life.

It was haunting to watch this all again 16 years later. I had nearly forgotten what a circus the whole thing had been...how inconceivable it was that anybody in the public eye - and this man in particular - could have possibly committed such a violent crime. Particularly uncomfortable is the press conference in which his friend Robert Kardashian (who today is much less of a household name than each of his entitled, fame-chasing daughters) recites what seems to be a suicide note that Simpson left behind when he went on the lam. Also chilling are audio clips of phone conversations between police and the frantic, distraught Simpson, who is in his ex-teammate Al Cowlings' white Ford Bronco with a gun that he continually threatens to turn on himself.

Naturally, I still remember where I was when the infamous Bronco chase took place. I was in the basement of my house with my friend Matt, who was sleeping over that night. He had brought his Super Nintendo and we were playing...something or other, I want to say Mario Paint. We turned the game off when we'd had our fill, and turned on the TV, probably to watch basketball. Instead, NBC News cut in with coverage of the ongoing pursuit of O. J. and A. C. by the LAPD. Unreal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vintage Tuesday: Jim Gentile, 1960 Topps #448

Vintage Tuesday, you ask, eyes agog? That's right...some rules are made to be broken. But don't worry; Vintage Fridays will continue this week and every week. This is a one-time thing. Onward...

It may have taken 50 years, but Jim Gentile has been vindicated.

You may remember 1961 as the year that "Diamond Jim" made a run at the American League's Most Valuable Player Award by finishing fifth in batting average (.302), third in on-base percentage (.423), third in slugging (.646), third in home runs (46), and second in runs batted in (141). All those gaudy numbers and nothing to show for it. It's a shame he couldn't have eked out just one more RBI to catch league leader and MVP winner Roger Maris, isn't it?

Hold the phone.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)'s Records Committee has discovered that an extra RBI was erroneously given to Maris on July 5. It has been determined that his total should have been 141, not 142, and therefore SABR, the Elias Sports Bureau, and the various online baseball encyclopedias are now acknowledging Gentile as the co-RBI leader of the American League for the 1961 season. You can read all about it on the Baseball Reference Blog.

Congratulations, Jim! It's not every day that a 76-year-old wins an RBI crown.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Luke Scott, 2009 Topps Heritage #190

Oh Luke Scott, how I enjoy your inexplicable hot streaks. I wish there were more to celebrate than briefly excellent performances from individual players, but the Orioles are 0-10 against the stinking Blue Jays, so I'm left with the very definition of small consolation.

Luke missed nearly three weeks of action this month after pulling a hamstring during a home run trot on June 30, and it looked like the resurgence that had boosted his average from .177 on May 4 to .274 at the time of his injury would be stalled. Instead, he came back from the layoff as locked-in as he had been before. The Oklahoma State product earned American League Player of the Week honors for his efforts over the past seven games: 13-for-27 (.481) with six runs scored, three doubles, four home runs, and eight RBI. His OPS was a tidy 1.537. You've really got to do something to get noticed when your club is thirty-odd games under .500 and loses five out of seven games during the week in question, and that stat line certainly qualifies.

Shockingly, the O's lost again tonight, 9-5, with a comeback from an 8-0 deficit falling short. Luke had one measly hit...a two-run homer that gave him six round-trippers in his last nine games played and a team-leading 17 overall. He's got a good shot at establishing a career high in home runs for the fifth straight season. Last year, he hit 25. Nine more to go; as we've seen, that's a couple good weeks for Luke.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

David Segui, 2002 Topps #137

Here's a sight that is all too familiar these days: empty seats at Camden Yards. Of course, it's not like you can blame anyone for deciding to spend their shrinking disposable income somewhere other than Eutaw Street, particularly when the heat index in Baltimore is climbing up to 110 degrees and the O's are stumbling through a crummy 2-8 homestand. The Birds are now a league-worst 18-32 at home. On the plus side, that's better than their atrocious 13-34 road record. Another silver lining to this endless free-fall is this: for those fans who do bother to show up for a game, they've pretty much got their pick of any seats in the park. At least that's what my boss tells me when we have one of our daily conversations about the sorry state of the Orioles.

Am I sounding like a broken record yet?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Brian Roberts, 2006 Upper Deck Future Stars #2

I was starting to worry that it wouldn't happen again in 2010, but last night Brian Roberts took the field for the Orioles. It was his first game in three and one-half months, as back and abdominal injuries kept him sidelined. There were multiple illnesses and setbacks during the recovery process, but he finally caught a few breaks and made it through a recent minor-league rehab stint without any complications. There's no question that the O's suffered in Brian's absence, as Julio Lugo, Corey Patterson, and Felix Pie failed to replicate his production and skills in the leadoff spot. There were also some defensive breakdowns at second base, especially when Scott Moore and Ty Wigginton were positioned there.

So what are the early returns? Well, he went hitless in four at-bats. But the Birds won 3-2, and even without getting on base, Roberts still showed his value by seeing as many pitches in his first at-bat as Pie had seen in his first three at-bats the previous night while batting leadoff. The hometown fans were appreciative of his skills, giving him a warm ovation after he grounded to second base. Welcome back, and try to stay in one piece this time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Tom Phoebus, 1968 Topps #97

On April 27, 1968, Baltimore native Tom Phoebus no-hit the Red Sox, picking up a 6-0 win in front of just 3,147 hometown fans. Since very few O's fans saw this historical game as it unfolded, it would be a nice treat if it were to show up on MASN's Orioles Classics series. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem likely.

The local sports cable channel has the potential for something both simple and great with Orioles Classics: just take tapes of memorable O's games of yesteryear and rebroadcast them, complete with a little pre-and-post-game exposition from Tom Davis and a former player. Nostalgia is always in fashion, especially with bedraggled Birds fans who don't have much to enjoy in the present. These games should pull higher ratings than the ESPNews simulcasts that eat up chunks of MASN airtime each day. Now that there are two MASN stations to account for simultaneously occurring O's and Nationals games, there's plenty of room for a little trip down memory lane.

But I feel like I've seen all of the games that Orioles Classics has to offer. If you watch much MASN, you can recite them along with me: various games from the 1966, 1970, and 1983 World Series and the 1996 and 1997 ALDS, the first home win in 1988, the 1991 farewell to Memorial Stadium, the 1992 opener at Camden Yards, Eddie Murray's 500th home run game in 1996, and Cal Ripken, Jr.'s 2,130 and 2,131 games and his 2001 farewell. I also seem to recall spotting the 1998 game that ended his streak, and a wild walkoff win against the Angels in 1989. So that's probably a dozen to sixteen games to represent more than 56 years of baseball history. What gives?

It doesn't seem likely that there would be a broadcast rights issue, since the Orioles have an ownership stake in MASN...that's a pretty big trump card. Besides, they still partner with WJZ-13 to televise a handful of games each year, so they should have access to several years worth of game footage in that case. I guess you never know.

Anyway, as long as I'm spitballing, here a few other games I would like to see on Orioles Classics: the birth of "Oriole Magic", featuring Doug DeCinces' walkoff homer against Detroit; the Tippy Martinez three-pickoff inning against Toronto in 1983; Chris Hoiles' Ultimate Grand Slam in 1998; the "Birdland Day" ten-run comeback against Boston last year...I could go on for quite a while. What's your wish list for Orioles Classics?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cal Ripken, Jr. and Billy Ripken, 1992 Upper Deck #82

Cal and Billy Ripken each made their major league debuts in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, out on 33rd Street. Both were on the field for the final MLB game ever played there. A few weeks ago, Charm City's most famous brothers broke ground on the site where that stadium once stood. They were on hand to announce that a new park was being built there - a miniature replica of Memorial Stadium intended to be the first of several nationwide Youth Development Parks for underprivileged children. It's part of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation's Swing for the Future initiative. There were several other local dignitaries on hand, including Brooks Robinson and Artie Donovan. I'm thrilled to hear that Memorial Stadium is coming back in some capacity. It was always bittersweet to drive past that spot in the years since the ballpark was demolished. There will be baseball on 33rd Street once again.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jeff Manto, 1996 Fleer Ultra #8

I wanted to talk about that incredible roller coaster of a game that the Orioles won last night, but of course they had to cock it all up by dropping a one-run game this afternoon on the strength of another crummy starting pitching performance, a bases-loaded walk by their best reliever, and more buffoonish baserunning. On the other hand, they probably won't win 60 games all year, so I'd better take what I can get.

I had to be at the theater last night at 7:30 for an 8:30 performance, so I followed the game through text notifications from ESPN's ScoreCenter iPhone app...when I wasn't onstage, of course! I also read backstage via Deadspin about the bizarre pickoff play in which Jake Arrieta's throw struck Carl Crawford flush in the groin, causing him to crumple to the ground and be tagged out by Ty Wigginton. It was an omen for an unusual night of baseball. After the early thrill of back-to-back-to-back home runs by Luke Scott, Wiggy, and Adam Jones, I felt a familiar sense of disappointment and resignation when the Rays scored seven unanswered runs in the middle innings to take an 8-4 lead. By the time the play had ended and we moved down the street for a beer, Luke's RBI single and Miguel Tejada's two-run double had brought the O's back to within a run in the seventh. Still, I confidently told my friend and costar Mikey that my team was just tantalizing me, and that the overtaxed bullpen would cough up a few insurance runs to make it moot. As if on cue, an alert soon popped up on my phone telling of Reid Brignac's solo homer to make it 9-7 Tampa Bay. Still, I was in for a surprise.

As I enjoyed a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (yes, I chose this draught primarily based its overblown name, but it was tasty), I got another message: Miggi had doubled in a couple more runs in the ninth, and we were all tied up. Twitter informed me that the Orioles had the winning run on second base with no outs, and left him stranded. Extra innings for the bedraggled remnants of the Baltimore crowd. I was starting to get a sneaking sense that the O's might win the bloody game. One of the weirdest things about this season has been their penchant for improbable comebacks. They might barely win at all, but when they do, they make the most of it.

I was driving the monotonous path of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway when I heard the six-note chime of the SportsCenter tone yet again. My hopes sank; in his third inning of work, de-facto closer Alfredo Simon had given up a 12th-inning run on a walk, throwing error, and single. 10-9 Rays. I didn't get any more texts for a while, so I finally tuned in to 105.7 to find out if the game was still going on. It was, but Koji Uehara was in with a runner on first. For some reason I assumed that Tampa Bay was still batting in the 12th, and that the pitching change had been the reason that things were still going without any further scoring. I switched back to my Arcade Fire CD and waited for the final score to pop up on my phone.

Several more minutes passed with no news, so I turned the game back on in time to hear former Oriole Lance Cormier surrender a four-pitch walk to Cesar Izturis...which is NOT easy to do, as he's topped 30 free passes once in his career and sports a .299 lifetime on-base percentage. Play-by-play man Fred Manfra insisted that the winning run was now on base, and I assumed he was making one of his standard gaffes. Surely Cesar was merely the tying run. But Manfra insisted upon it, and finally mentioned that it was the 13th. Somehow I'd missed the notification of Scott Moore's game-tying sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 12th. Now Felix Pie was up, and he quickly bunted Izturis to second. Given the team's usual futility in hitting with runners on base, as well as my Earl Weaveresque loathing of giving away outs, my hopes were dimming. The fact that Julio Lugo (who had pinch run for Tejada in the ninth) was the next batter wasn't encouraging, either. But in the next breath, the game was over! Lugo served Cormier's first pitch into right field for a walkoff single. After 4:38 of baseball, it took six pitches total to end it all. Orioles 11, Rays 10. Hallelujah.

But this game wasn't just a rarity because the O's actually won (it was their 30th victory of the year; by comparison, the Rays picked up their 30th W two months ago). The back-to-back-to-back homers in the second inning were really something special. The last time the Birds hit three consecutive home runs in an inning was fifteen years ago: September 5, 1995. If the date sounds familiar, it's because that was also the night that Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,130th consecutive game. The victim was Angels starter Brian Anderson, who must have been having flashbacks as he called the game from the visitor's broadcast booth last night. The sluggers that night were Brady Anderson, Mark Smith, and Mr. Jeff "Super" Manto. Takes you back, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Armando Benitez, 1996 Fleer Ultra Gold Medallion #302

Since I've already posted three 1990s cards in a row, I might as well keep the trend going. This one is a gilded doozy of an insert card, as was the M.O. for Fleer in those days. When I was a fresh-faced youth, inserts were special because you were lucky to pull even one of them out of several packs of cards. They were the best (or at least the hottest) players, and the designs were unlike anything you'd see in another set, or at least in the base set into which they were inserted. An insert was almost certainly going to be much more valuable than a base card, a near-guarantee of dollars rather than cents. Now you can even find one-per-box autographs and relics in dollar bins. Inserts are a bloated mess.

I don't know about you, but I could absolutely do without inserts and I kind of wish that they'd never reared their ugly heads. Occasionally, there's a nifty concept or an eye-catching design that tickles my fancy, but most are just noise. I've started looking down on inserts as a nuisance. As the dwindling number of dedicated set collectors will tell you, every insert that clogs a pack of Topps is one less base card that you're getting for your money. I bought a hobby box of 2010 Series 1 and figured I had a decent shot at completing the 330-card series. 36 packs x 10 cards per pack = 360 cards, right? Ha. Each pack contained multiple ho-hum inserts. Turkey Red? Been there. Toppstown? Who cares? History of the Game AND Tales of the Game? Was it necessary to do both? By the time I put my partially-completed set in binder pages, I was about 60 cards short of completion and was left staring in frustration at a stack of worthless inserts. Bah.

I'm absolutely not buying any more packs of Series 1. I suppose that I'd better put together a want list and start seeking out trades...and maybe next year I'll be smart enough to remind myself that trying to complete sets - at least through pack-and-box-consumerism - is a sucker's game.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Randy Myers, 1996 Skybox Emotion XL #7

Before I was undone by my own poor sense of time management last night, I was going to talk about the Cincinnati Reds. No, I haven’t suffered a concussion…at least not that I can remember. I’ve spent most of my precious free time over the past week taking advantage of a free cable preview of MLB Extra Innings, which affords me a look at teams other than the Orioles, Nationals, Yankees and Red Sox. One of the weekend matchups that intrigued me was the Rockies-Reds series at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Both are teams with a lower national profile who are in the thick of the pennant race. As of today, the Reds are a half-game out of first in the National League Central, and the Rockies are four games back of the surprising Padres in the West. But as I watched Friday’s game I was struck by the number of cameos by one-time Orioles.

The Reds were inducting the newest members of the team’s Hall of Fame, and one of the honorees was third baseman Chris Sabo. The begoggled, crew-cut Sabo had been Rookie of the Year in 1988 and was a vital cog in Cincy’s last World Series champ to date, the 1990 squad that swept the defending champion Athletics. The Orioles signed him prior to the 1994 season, expecting him to replace the disappointing Leo Gomez at the hot corner. But “Spuds” struggled with injuries and balked at being shuffled into the corner outfield and designated hitter positions when Gomez had a bounce-back year. He played 68 forgettable games in Baltimore, posting a career-low (at the time) 96 OPS+ and signing with the White Sox the following year. Anyhow, one of the Fox Sports Reds’ reporters interviewed Sabo during the game. He seemed like a pleasant enough, humble guy, insisting that he didn’t think he’d accomplished enough in his career to deserve the honor, but that he was appreciative of the fan support.

TV announcers Thom Brennaman and Jeff Brantley were joined in the booth for a few innings by former bullpen-mates Randy Myers and Norm Charlton, who narrowly missed one another in Charm City (Myers was the closer for the last two O’s playoff teams in 1996-1997, and Charlton spent a miserable half-season in orange and black in 1998). In a former life, they partnered with current Nationals “analyst” and full-time buffoon Rob Dibble to form the three-headed monster known as the “Nasty Boys” . The trio shut down many a lineup in the late innings during the Reds’ march to and through the postseason in 1990, and they were there to throw out the first pitch(es) on Friday as part of the club’s 20th anniversary celebration. Myers, true to form, was decked out in camouflage whereas Charlton went with more of a casual look. Both seemed comfortable on the mic, reminiscing about their glory days and talking about their current involvement in charities and other pursuits. Footage was shown of their pregame ceremonial pitches; whereas Charlton went with the customary lob, Myers fired a point-blank fastball to his catcher, looking for all the world like he could still close games at age 47. Hey, if Moyer is still pitching, you never know. It’s not like Matt Albers and Alfredo Simon couldn’t use the competition…

Speaking of ageless lefties, conversation in the booth turned to Arthur Rhodes, who was one of four current Reds presented with plaques before the game to commemorate their selections to the All-Star Game. At age 40, it was the reliever’s first trip to the Midsummer Classic in his 19th season. Myers recalled the two years he spent in Baltimore as Rhodes’ teammate, when Davey Johnson boosted the (then) young southpaw’s career by recasting him as a tough middle reliever. Myers noted that on most nights, the combination of Rhodes, Jesse Orosco, Armando Benitez (yeah, I know), and Myers could stifle the opponent beyond the fifth inning. Later on, Rhodes protected a one-run lead in the eighth inning by escaping from a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam, striking out the final two hitters of the inning. Meanwhile, something called Frank Mata pitched in 15 games for the Birds this year before being demoted today. Look upon these works and despair.

Yesterday afternoon, my girlfriend was doing chores around her apartment, so I busied myself by channel surfing through a slate of Sunday baseball games. Since the Rockies were leading the Reds by a slim 1-0 margin, I spent a great deal of time on their contest. At one point, a young boy of maybe eight or nine years apparently made a great snag on a ball that Cincinnati’s Laynce Nix fouled off into the seats to the third-base side of home plate. Another former 1990 Red and mid-90s Oriole, outfielder Eric Davis, was sitting in a box above the kid and gave him a standing ovation. One of the network’s cameras found the boy as an usher escorted him over to Davis’ box, where the ex-player chatted briefly to the young fan, high-fived him, and signed the ball that he had caught. It was a great moment that I would have missed out on if I hadn’t sought out a couple of teams beyond the usual suspects.

…But I’m still not ordering Extra Innings. Comcast gets enough of my paycheck as it is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chris Sabo, 1994 Score Rookies/Traded Gold Rush #RT17

I assure you that there is a story behind this card choice, but right now it is past my bedtime. Consider this a teaser, with more to follow tomorrow...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Brady Anderson, 1998 Pinnacle Inside #82

Brady Anderson has always been a California kind of guy, and it's not surprising that he tried his hand at acting with a guest appearance in 1997 on the goofy tween/teen sitcom version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. As you can see if you click that link, #9 was wise not to give up his day job.

Similarly, acting is something that I do for fun in my downtime. I'm currently taking to the stage for the first time in two years for Zero Hour Theatre, a community troupe that I had a hand in founding back in 2007 with some of my college friends. For the third straight year, we're taking part in the annual Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. The festival is a showcase of sorts for independent artists, and this July over 150 different shows are out there for the viewing. Our play is "7 Lessons on Suicide", a world premiere by our good friend (and award-winning playwright!) Steve Spotswood. Last night was our first of seven performances over the next week-plus, and things went pretty smoothly. At 4:30 today it's show #2, and if any of you are in the Baltimore or D.C. area and you're in the mood for some dark comedy (not to mention the sight of yours truly playing a short-tempered postal worker), we'd love to have you in the audience. All of the pertinent details are on our website, but I will tell you that tickets are $15 plus a one-time purchase of a $5 button that is good for discounts at local businesses and restaurants. The venue is the Goethe Institut, which is right down the street from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station (on the red/green/yellow lines). Be there, or I just might be tempted to post more TGIF videos!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Foster Castleman, 1958 Topps #416

Since the order of the week is obscure Fosters, here's the sublimely named Foster Ephraim Castleman. Sounds like he should be a member of British high society, or at the very least a Yale grad with a summer home in the Hamptons. The back of the card refers to him lovingly as "Foss", which is a bit adorable. But in reality, he was a humble Tennessee boy who served in the Navy and then had his major league career stunted by knee injuries. He was the Giants' starting third baseman for one year exactly, that being 1956. He tied for third on the team with 14 homers but hit just .226. He would've killed for that mark by 1958, his first season with the O's and his last as a big leaguer. In 98 games his average was a bone-chilling .170 and he mustered three homers and 14 RBI in 200 at-bats. By comparison, pitcher Jack Harshman hit .195 with six homers and 14 RBI in 86 trips to the plate!

But I don't want to bag on ol' Foss. Baseball-Reference allows me to look for the good in every situation. I can tell you that on August 30, 1958 he started at shortstop in Fenway Park, batting eighth for the Birds. His two-out, three-run home run in the top of the second gave the Orioles an early lead in a game they won 7-2. He also singled in the seventh and scored the sixth Baltimore run. It was one of just five multi-hit games for Castleman in an O's uniform, the most notable of which was a 4-for-7 outburst in a 15-inning win over those same Red Sox on July 3! He was a regular Sawx killer, hitting .286 (14-for-49) against them on the year with eight RBI in 17 games...that's over half of his run production. If only he could've been in some kind of Boston-and-Detroit (.273 in 12 games)-only platoon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Brooks Robinson, 1988 Pacific Legends #3

July 15 is a pretty eventful day in Orioles history. In 1993, Cal Ripken, Jr. homered off of Scott Erickson to break Ernie Banks' record for home runs by a shortstop. (Harold Reynolds also hit the first of his four homers as an Oriole, but who's counting?) Three years later, manager Davey Johnson moved Cal to third base after 2,216 straight games at short; it was a six-game trial balloon, and Junior wouldn't move to third for good until the following season. Five years ago today, Rafael Palmeiro doubled in Seattle for his 3,000th career hit. I don't really want to get into that.
Most notable of all, it's the fiftieth anniversary of Brooks Robinson hitting for the cycle. Facing White Sox star Billy Pierce, the young third baseman singled in the first, homered in the third to give the O's a 2-1 lead, singled again in the fifth, and doubled in the seventh. A solo homer by Chicago's Roy Sievers brought the Pale Hose within 3-2 in the eighth, but Brooks came to the plate in the ninth with Milt Pappas and Gene Woodling on base and two outs. Turk Lown had replaced Pierce, but it made no difference. Brooks served the ball into center field and motored all the way to third base with a triple, giving Pappas a three-run cushion and capping off his own 5-for-5 day with the first cycle by an Oriole. Pappas sealed the complete-game victory with a perfect bottom of the ninth. As for Brooksie, he had just one other five-hit game in his 23-year career, and it came ten years after this one. To date, only three other O's have hit for the cycle: the unlikely trio of Cal, Aubrey Huff, and Felix Pie.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kris Foster, 2003 Donruss Team Heroes #53

Did somebody say Kris Foster? Here's an Oriole so short-lived and obscure, even he probably doesn't know who he is. If you must know, this 6'1" righthander was drafted by the Expos out of Florida's Lehigh Acres High School in 1992. Over the next decade, he climbed through the minor leagues at a glacial pace in the Montreal and Los Angeles organizations. At the 2001 non-waiver trading deadline, the Dodgers sent him to the O's along with catcher Geronimo Gil for reliever Mike Trombley (blockbuster alert!). The Birds summoned the 26-year-old pitcher to the majors, and he debuted on August 3 with a scoreless inning of mopup relief in a 10-1 pasting from the Blue Jays. He pitched in seven games that season between trips to AAA Rochester, and managed to give up only three earned runs in ten innings in the majors despite a hefty 17 baserunners allowed. That was the sum total of his MLB experience.

I love coming across cards of barely-there ex-Orioles. When your collection reaches a certain size, you get burned out by the stacks of Cals and Bradys and Mooses and you find yourself hoping against hope for a hidden surprise, a guy that you don't even remember wearing the orange and black. It's like found money when I discover a Foster (in a set a full season after his first and last MLB games!), or skim over an online checklist to see that Matt Nokes snuck into the 1995 Pinnacle set in an O's uniform...still gotta get that one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Billy O'Dell, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #337

It's not likely that rotund Oriole infielder Ty Wigginton, who could make his All-Star debut tonight in his ninth major league season, will have a big impact on the outcome of the Midsummer Classic. Of course, you never know who will shine in this July showcase. Just ask Billy O'Dell.

Back on July 8, 1958, Baltimore had the honor of hosting the All-Star Game for the first time. It was the 25th annual game; no game was played in 1945 due to World War II. The O's were in their fifth season in the league but were still battling to get out of the second division (they would finish sixth out of eight American League clubs in 1958 at 74-79). But there was cause for optimism, as manager Paul Richards was working to rebuild the club with his shrewd eye for talent. Catcher Gus Triandos, acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Yankees, had been selected to start behind the plate. He had already hit 16 homers en route to a career-high 30 (still a record for Oriole catchers). It was the second of three straight All-Star years for Triandos, and the first of two starting nods. Making the roster as a reserve pitcher was a 25-year-old southpaw from South Carolina named Billy O'Dell.

O'Dell had been signed by the Birds in the early going, back in June of their inaugural 1954 season. They gave him a $12,500 signing bonus, making him their first "bonus baby". He debuted with the O's two weeks later and never played a game in the minor leagues. Military service halted his development early on, but 1958 would be his breakout year. Shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen, he was only 8-9 at the break, but had strong peripheral stats (3.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB). His luck turned around in the second half, allowing him to finish the year with a 14-11 record and eight saves.

A capacity crowd of 48,949 packed Memorial Stadium, and scores of fans watched at home on NBC. Vice-president Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch, and then it was time to play ball! It was a tight, brisk game from beginning to end. American League starter Bob Turley of the Yankees (a former Oriole) was shaky in the first inning, giving up two runs on singles by Willie Mays and Stan Musial, a hit-by-pitch to Ernie Banks, and a walk to Frank Thomas. A Hank Aaron sacrifice fly and a wild pitch accounted for the runs. Three of the first four A.L. batters reached in the bottom half of the inning against Warren Spahn, but a Jackie Jensen double play ball brought in the only run. The clubs traded runs in the second inning on singles by Bob Skinner for the Nationals and Nellie Fox for the Americans, and the score would stay put at 3-2 N.L. until the bottom of the fifth.

The A.L. loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, but a Jensen RBI grounder was all they got out of it. So the game was tied for the moment. Boston's Frank Malzone led off the next inning with a single, and Triandos (1-for-2 with a single) was due up. American League skipper Casey Stengel pinch hit for the hometown hero with his own player, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. The partisan crowd booed the Ol' Perfesser lustily. (Sound familiar?) An error by third baseman Frank Thomas (the fourth overall in the game) proved critical, as Gil McDougald singled home the go-ahead run. 4-3, A.L.

McDougald had pinch-hit for pitcher Early Wynn, so Stengel had to go to his bullpen. Perhaps trying to appease the Charm City fans, he called upon O'Dell. It may have been the smartest move he made all day, as Billy was flawless. He pitched three perfect innings, nine up and nine down, to earn the save with no margin for error. Five of the nine Nats that he retired were future Hall of Famers; he even struck out Bill Mazeroski and Ernie Banks. The American League won by a 4-3 score in two hours, 13 minutes. O'Dell was praised by Stengel, even though the Yankees didn't clinch home-field advantage in the World Series with the win or anything like that. Go figure.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Miguel Tejada, 2006 Upper Deck Player Highlights #PH-15

Tonight, Major League Baseball's All-Star Festivities get underway in earnest out in Anaheim with the 26th annual Home Run Derby. In its current state, this exhibition has become nightmarishly long and pretty grating on the senses, thanks in large part to ESPN's resident windbag Chris Berman. But occasionally a player heats up and puts on a real show - like Texas' Josh Hamilton in 2008 - and makes it all a little more worthwhile. I still remember watching 1993's Derby, back when it was only one round and ESPN still presented it on tape delay. It was a thrill watching Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey, Jr. battle it out, especially when Junior became the first (and still only) player to hit the B & O Warehouse at Camden Yards on the fly. So I'll be tuning in tonight for better or worse.
Of course, there are no Orioles in this year's longball contest; Adam Jones and Ty Wigginton are tied for the team lead with a ho-hum 14 homers apiece. But the O's do have a memorable history in past derbies:

-Cal Ripken, Jr. and Eddie Murray both participated in the inaugural contest back in 1985 in Minnesota's Metrodome. Cal finished last with a single clout, but Eddie tied with three other players for second place with a total of four. Cincinnati's Dave Parker took the crown with six.

-After a five-year absence from the Derby, Ripken redeemed himself in 1991 in Toronto's Skydome. He blew away the competition with 12 moon shots, leaving the Reds' Paul O'Neill in a distant second with five. Cal also took the All-Star Game MVP honors the next night with a 2-for-3 performance with a home run and three RBI. He became the first player to win the Home Run Derby and the Midsummer Classic MVP, and went on to become the first American Leaguer to be MVP on a cellar-dwelling club.

-Out in San Diego the following year, Cal failed to defend his crown. His four home runs left him in a four-way tie for third, far behind Mark McGwire's winning total of 12.

-Despite breaking the Yankees' 1961 team record for home runs in a season, the 1996 Birds sent just one representative to the Derby in Philly. Brady Anderson's 30 HR at the Break were a stunning surprise, but he ran out of gas in this contest after advancing past the first round with five taters. He actually topped himself with six in round two, but was outpaced by McGwire's nine and eventual champion Barry Bonds' ten (17 total). Brady's total of 11 placed him third overall.

-Back for more in 1997, Anderson placed fifth with four homers and failed to advance to the second round in Cleveland. Yankee Tino Martinez went deep 16 times in three rounds to win.

-In the final season of his first stint in orange and black, Rafael Palmeiro finally gained entry to the Derby in 1998 in Denver. He was one of four players to crank out seven longballs in the first round. As Ken Griffey, Jr. led with eight, the last three second-round slots came down to tiebreakers and Raffy advanced. He hit only three more and placed fourth. Griffey won with 19 overall.

-In 1999 at Fenway Park, the O's were represented for a fourth straight year, this time by...B. J. Surhoff? I clearly had forgotten this, but the stats tell me that he had 20 homers at the time, which was only two less than his previous best for an entire season. But Surhoff wasn't a natural power hitter and it showed, as his two four-baggers tied him with three others for fifth. On the plus side, one of the two contestants to finish worse than Beej was Sammy Sosa, who hit a single homer. Griffey made it back-to-back-wins with another 16-spot.

-After a four-year drought, the Birds came back with a vengeance in 2004. Two of the team's offseason acquisitions, Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro, were entered in the Derby in Houston. Both advanced past the first round; Miggi tied hometown hero Lance Berkman for third place with seven jacks, and Raffy led the way with nine. Palmeiro slumped to third in the next round with a five-spot, but Tejada put on a show with a single-round record of 15 to advance to the finals against Berkman (who was no slouch himself with 10 second-rounders). Not only did Miggi emerge victorious by clearing the fence five more times to Berkman's four, he had the highest total to that point with 27 homers. He even hit the longest shot of the day, a 497-footer.

-Pittsburgh wasn't as hospitable to Tejada as Houston had been. In a return trip to the Derby in 2006, the shortstop tied with his old sparring partner Berkman for sixth place with three home runs and did not clear the first round. Ryan Howard's total of 23 won the day.

-Aaand that's all she wrote for now. Next year, when Matt Wieters gets tired of lulling the rest of baseball into a false sense of security, I'm sure he'll drop some jaws in Phoenix with the first ever 50-homer Derby performance.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jim Dwyer, 1985 Fleer #176

When you're hot, you're hot. Take the Orioles, who head into the All-Star Break having won their first road series of any kind since last September. By sweeping the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, they've also got their first four-game road sweep since 1995 and their first four-game sweep at Texas since 1976. Maybe July will be kinder to the O's than April, May, and June were.

July was a good month for Jim Dwyer - July 1983, to be specific. The veteran outfielder made his mark with the Orioles as a pinch hit specialist, but he actually started a dozen of the 15 games he played for the club that month. Manager Joe Altobelli was wise to use him more frequently, because he was scorching. In 48 trips to the plate, Jim had nine walks, 18 hits, eight doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 17 RBI. He scored 14 times and batted .474 with a .574 on-base percentage and a 1.053 slugging percentage! The Birds, who would go on to win the World Series that year, went 11-4 with Dwyer making appearances in July. At the time, he set a record for the best batting average in a single month in major league history. A few players have passed him since, but his otherworldly performance is still fifth-best all-time.

Today you can still see Jim in a professional baseball capacity down in Fort Myers, FL, where he has been the hitting coach for Minnesota's Class A affiliate (the Miracle) since 2006.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cesar Devarez, 1997 Fleer #5

Now nobody can say that I've never posted a card of Cesar Devarez. That's a load off.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Jim Palmer, 1973 Topps #341

I thought this card, featuring a young Jim Palmer taking a dip, was perfect for a leisurely summer day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2002 Topps Reserve #18

Wow, I'm pretty lousy at this whole blogging-on-vacation thing. I guess that's why I usually schedule posts during my absences.

When I was in San Diego last month, I saw both Jerry Hairston, Jr. and his younger brother Scott play for the Padres. I attended the game on Fathers' Day, and between innings various players appeared on the video board with pre-recorded messages for their dads. Jerry thanked his father for his support and for liking Jerry more than Scott. It was worth a laugh.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Melvin Mora, 2000 Upper Deck SP Authentic #172

Though I've always had an appreciation for the 19th-Century style and florid quirkiness of Topps' Allen and Ginter cards, I never have mustered up the nerve and the cash to jump headlong into an attempt at collecting the set. Instead, I buy a pack or a blaster now and again and wait for the Orioles to trickle in through trades. So I have a bunch of Melvin Mora A&Gs but little else.

However, I'm always on the hunt for freebies. I just entered a contest at Coolio Cards for a chance to win a hobby box of 2010 Allen and Ginter. Will I win? Probably not. But it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kevin Brown, 1995 Score Select #228

Nothing beats a dynamic action photo on a baseball card. Unfortunately, I'm not all that enthralled by Kevin Brown's turn at pitchers' fielding practice in spring training. Back to the drawing board, Score.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rene Gonzales, 1989 Donruss #377

Could the more seasoned Orioles fans out there help me
? I didn't get on the O's bus until 1993, so I wasn't around for the Rene Gonzales days. His first couple Donruss cards refer to him as "R.C." Did he ever actually go by that nickname? Or was Donruss going into business for themselves, a la Topps and "Bob" Clemente? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sam Horn, 1992 Pinnacle #221

Whoops! Somehow in all the July 4 hub-bub, I forgot to post a card. It probably had something to do with the fact that my girlfriend and I left my house at 2:30 AM to drive to the beach...something about beating the holiday traffic. We spent the morning and afternoon homeless in Ocean City, and then passed out cold after finally checking in at the hotel. We woke up in time for fireworks, and that about did it for the day.

As a belated Independence Day post, here's (Uncle) Sam Horn. It was really just a happy accident that one of the cards I pre-scanned for the week was this one. This morning I read about Night Owl's all-Sam team and decided to piggyback on his idea. So there you have it!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ramon Hernandez, 2007 Bowman Chrome X-Fractor #91

It may seem a little soon, but I'm leaving you all again. I'm leaving for Ocean City, MD in a few hours and I'll be there until next Sunday. In the ensuing eight days, I will post cards that were chosen with very little forethought. For instance, this X-Fractor of Ramon Hernandez. I don't really know what an X-Fractor is, I don't think I have any others like it, but it was in the middle of a stack on my desk and it sure does have a shiny checkerboard pattern. So soak up the X-Fractrosity, whilst I prepare to soak up some rays.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Howie Fox, 1954 Topps #246

Howie Fox pitched for nine years in the major leagues and sported a gruesome 43-72 won-lost record that included a league-leading 19 losses with the Reds in 1949. He did rebound the following year with an 11-8 mark, but that kind of thing doesn't grab headlines. At the end of his career, Howie had the rare distinction of playing for the AAA International League Baltimore Orioles in 1953 and the MLB's American League Baltimore Orioles the following season. He had won 15 games for the minor-league club, but posted just a single victory in 38 games (mostly in relief) with the big league Birds in 1954. His 3.67 ERA was the lowest among the few regularly-used relievers on the club, but it was not enough to guarantee the veteran a spot on the club a year later. Instead he was dispatched to AA San Antonio, the place where his life would end shortly after the end of that 1955 season.

Fox, weighing the career prospects of a 34-year-old pitcher who's been farmed out to the Texas League, opened a tavern in San Antonio. On October 9, 1955, three men entered his bar and began harassing the bartender. Howie intervened and was stabbed by one of the aggressors. The knife wound was fatal. I was sorry to learn about the tragic and premature ending to his life, but I am relieved that no other ex-Oriole has been murdered to date. Howie Fox is buried at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Springfield, Oregon. For information about his burial site and some photos (including a full-length portrait of him in his Orioles uniform), visit this site.

I recently found Howie's 1951 Bowman card in the two-dollar bin at my local hobby shop. Knowing only that he was an ex-Oriole who was killed in a bar fight (as Wikipedia so unfortunately phrased it), I was intrigued enough to make it one of three cards from the set that I bought that day. It didn't hurt that he was pictured in a Reds uniform, allowing me to add another player/team combo to one of my sub-collections. Now that I've gotten a clearer picture of just how he died, I'm very glad to have this card in my possession and to have the chance to share a bit of his story with you.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bob Alexander, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #7

On the extremely off chance that I have any readers in the Great White North, I would just like to wish you a Happy and Prosperous Canada Day. I haven't been across the border since I spent my Spring Break in Toronto during my sophomore year of college, way back in the heady days of March 2002. But I found the sights beautiful, the streets clean, the exchange rate favorable, the beer cold, and the hobos entertaining. I have no quarrel with you, Maple Leafers.

Bob Alexander was not the best Canadian-born player to suit up for the Orioles, but he was the first, way back in the team's second year in Baltimore. Though he made his big league debut that year, he was already a wizened professional vet in his 13th season. The Yankees originally signed the Vancouver native way back in 1942, when he was 19 years old. His minor league travels had taken him to 11 different locales, from Hagerstown to Montreal. The second-division Birds (they finished seventh out of eight American League clubs with 97 losses) carried Bob on their Opening Day roster, but only used him four times in relief before sending him back to the bus leagues in May. His first three appearances were mop-up jobs in which he allowed six runs in three and two-thirds innings, but he did go out on a high note.

On May 1, 1955 the O's and White Sox were in the first game of a doubleheader and went to extra innings tied at seven apiece. When Don Ferrarese, their fifth pitcher of the game, walked Nellie Fox to load the bases, manager Paul Richards called on Alexander to retire Minnie Minoso to send the game to the 11th frame. The 32-year-old rookie did his job, getting Minoso to foul out to first base, and was rewarded with his only major league win when Jim Pyburn pinch-hit for him and delivered a two-run single in the top of the following inning. Harry Byrd nailed down the save despite allowing a run-scoring double to Clint Courtney.

Bob made it back to the bigs two years later for one more cup of coffee with the Indians. He was hit hard again, giving up seven runs in as many innings and failing to retire a batter in what proved to be his MLB swan song. He continued to pitch in the minors through the 1960 season, finally hanging up his spikes after 18 seasons and 148 professional wins...one of which came in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. O Bob Alexander, we stand on guard for thee!