Monday, May 28, 2012
Matt Nokes, 1995 Pinnacle #417
As far as I know, this is the only card depicting former Tigers and Yankees catcher Matt Nokes in an Orioles uniform. There's a good reason for that. After the 1994 season, the O's parted ways with backup catcher Jeff Tackett. Perhaps looking for more offense off of the bench, the team inked Nokes to a modest free-agent deal. The 31-year-old was a few years removed from his days as a regular, but had just batted .291 and slugged .595 in 28 games in New York the previous season. So it looked like he still had the power stroke that allowed him to hit 32 home runs as a rookie back in 1987. Sadly, it seemed as though Matt had left his offensive talents behind during the players' strike. He had just 6 hits in 49 at-bats as Chris Hoiles' caddy, putting up a paltry batting line of .122/.185/.265 with a pair of home runs. The Orioles released him in mid-June, and he was so frustrated by his brief experience in Baltimore that he bashed manager Phil Regan and his coaching staff on the way out the door. I still remember him telling reporters that he felt as though he'd been "paroled", and claiming that the decision-makers couldn't even settle on which hat the team would wear from day to day (this was when the team first introduced the orange-billed cap and the ill-fated gray cap with black bill). Naturally it came across as sour grapes, since the source was an aging player who had failed to hit his weight. Certainly that was the impression left on this adolescent fan.
It took Nokes a full month to catch on with another team, but the Rockies gave him a look in July. A thumb injury limited him to 10 games in Colorado, and he didn't do much more than he had in Charm City: 2-for-11 with a walk. That proved to be the end of his major league career, but oddly enough Matt resurfaced in independent ball with the St. Paul Saints in the late 1990s, slugging 24 home runs in 141 games over a couple seasons. He also played for the Schaumburg Flyers and the Joliet Jackhammers in 2001 and 2002 before hanging up his spikes once and for all. Presumably the clubs of the Northern League weren't paralyzed by sartorial dilemmas like the 1995 Orioles were.