Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paul Blair, 2004 Fleer Greats #41

Welcome back to the blog! Sorry to leave you dangling for the past week, but everybody's routines are interrupted during the holidays, hopefully more to the good than the bad. I had an exhausting but enjoyable trip to Charlotte with the wife and our dog to celebrate Christmas with my in-laws. Now, in the final entry for 2013, I'd like to wish the happiest of New Years to you readers and to those you hold dear. May it bring peace and joy and prosperity to us all.

Before we turn the page on 2013, let's take a moment to remember the members of the Oriole family who left us over the past 365 days, including Paul Blair, the eight-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder and two-time All-Star who passed away at age 69 last Thursday after collapsing at a Pikesville bowling alley. Blair had called Baltimore his home since spending 13 of his 17 big league seasons in an O's uniform. Some other recently departed:

-Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver, 82, heart attack on January 19.

-Catcher and first baseman Earl Williams, 64, acute myeloid leukemia on January 28.

-Pitcher and Mount St. Joseph's grad Lou Sleater, 86, lung disease on March 25.

-Catcher Gus Triandos, 82, died in his sleep on March 28.

-Pitcher Bob Turley, 82, liver cancer on March 30.

-Infielder Grady Hatton, 90, natural causes on April 11.

-Outfielder Drungo LaRue Hazewood, 53, ampullary cancer on July 28.

-Pitcher Jack Harshman, 86, unknown causes on August 17.

-Pitcher Babe Birrer, 84 or 85 (sources vary), unknown causes on November 19.

-Pitcher George Werley, 75, unknown causes on November 21.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Rafael Palmeiro, 2004 Upper Deck Power Up #22

It's Christmas Eve, so I'll pass along a quick link and get back to my family. If you've got some free time over the weekend, read Oriole fan Tom Scocca's essay about Rafael Palmeiro and his slim Hall of Fame chances. It's been eight years since Raffy flunked his steroid test and disappeared from baseball in a near-instant. I still haven't come any closer to making sense of the entire situation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jeff Ballard, 1990 Leaf #118

The benefits of this pitching delivery are twofold: 1) By hiding the ball, Jeff Ballard created deception and left the batter guessing as to his pitching grip; and 2) if his left ankle ever started itching in the middle of his windup, he could surreptitiously scratch it without balking.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Luke Scott, 2008 Topps Orioles Team Set #BAL13

Okay, it was a rough week on the Orioles' Hot Stove. Brian Roberts jumped ship for the Yankees, heartthrob/lefty-killer Danny Valencia was traded to the Royals for David Lough (pronounced "low", as in low walk totals and low power numbers), and a promising free-agent deal with closer Grant Balfour was scotched due to an apparent red flag on his physical, leading to Balfour loudly trashing the O's in protest. But the Birds still had a better week than their former left fielder/designated hitter Luke Scott, who settled for a one-year contract with the SK Wyverns, a South Korean ballclub. His contract was $250,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus, which still puts him well below the MLB minimum. If a 35-year-old, injury-prone gun nut with a reputation for running his mouth can't get a good deal in this free agent market, what chance does any player have?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vintage Fridays: Clay Dalrymple, 1969 Topps #151

Oh, the undeniable cruelty of the capless zoomed portrait of the balding gentleman ballplayer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John Stephens, 2002 Upper Deck 40 Man #220

After several days of haggling, the Orioles have their new closer. Yesterday the team agreed to a two-year, $14 million contract with Grant Balfour, a righthanded soon-to-be 36-year-old who spent the last three seasons in the Oakland bullpen. I think he'll be a capable replacement for Jim Johnson. While he's five and a half years older than Johnson, and a bit more homer-prone, he's also cheaper (Jim's arbitration-eligible and expected to fetch more than $10 million for 2014) and much more of a strikeout pitcher. It's always good to have guys with swing-and-miss stuff; while Johnson's sinker can produce ground balls, bad things can happen when those grounders find holes. We saw that last year.

Of trivial interest: Balfour was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. That makes him one of just 28 Aussies to play in the major leagues, and he'll be the third to suit up for the O's. Naturally the Birds will hope for much better results from him than they got from the others, a pair of fellow pitchers. John Stephens was a soft-tosser who couldn't replicate his minor-league success in a 12-game audition in Baltimore (2-5, 6.09 ERA in 2002). Damian Moss had a strong rookie season with the 2002 Braves before being dealt twice in eight months: in December 2002 he was sent to San Francisco in a package for Russ Ortiz, and the following July the Giants swapped him and a couple other young arms to the Orioles for the great (as in immense) Sidney Ponson. Moss lost five of his six decisions with the O's, walking 29 while striking out only 22, and putting up a 6.22 ERA and 1.8 WHIP. He moved on to Tampa Bay in 2004, was even worse in his five games there, and that was that. It's always so cheerful when we get to bring up the recent past on this blog, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Brian Roberts, 2007 Bowman Heritage #11

It would be disingenuous of me to say that I'm heartbroken over the news that Brian Roberts has signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Yankees. But I am certainly bummed out. I'd already made peace with the high probability that the veteran second baseman and the Orioles would be parting ways; I think both sides are in need of a clean break and a fresh start. The O's needed to stop penciling him in at second base, knowing that another knock on the head or muscle pull would once again leave them casting their lot with a minor league free agent or major league washout at the keystone position. Roberts could do without the weight of the unfulfilled expectations from the four-year, $40 million contract extension that just lapsed. But...it just HAD to be the Yankees, didn't it? The guys in pinstripes still know how to twist the knife.

Brian Roberts has been my favorite Oriole for the past decade, but his roots in the Baltimore organization go even deeper. He was drafted by the team in 1999, which seems like ages ago: Ray Miller was the manager, Frank Wren the general manager, and Will Clark the starting first baseman. Within two years, the undersized infielder was in the major leagues, playing alongside graying Birds greats Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson. He spent his peak seasons (2004-2009) toiling in relative obscurity for bad, overmatched clubs. During said peak, he averaged .290/.365/.438 (111 OPS+) with 101 runs scored, 46 doubles, 12 homers, 62 RBI, and 35 steals per season. Roberts was a two-time All-Star who had a good case for two more. Through his entire pro baseball career, from the 1999 Delmarva Shorebirds (featuring Tim Raines, Jr. and Ntema Ndungidi!) on through to the 2011 Orioles (featuring Chris Jakubauskas and the ghost of Vlad Guerrero!), he never played for a team that broke even, much less entertained hopes of postseason play...unless you count the 2003 Ottawa Lynx, for whom he played 44 early-season games before joining the O's for good. And when Baltimore finally became reacquainted with winning baseball and meaningful October games in that magical 2012 season, Brian wasn't around to enjoy it. His myriad injuries limited him to 17 substandard games in midseason. He was reduced to spectator and cheerleader for Baltimore's thrilling six-game postseason run, a spectre in a black stocking cap perched on the dugout bench.

After all of that, Roberts finally got healthy enough to cobble together an ersatz farewell tour in the last half of the 2013 season. He wasn't up to his former high standards of play, but after three and a half years of commiserating with my favorite player's disabled list torment, it was a thrill and a relief to watch and take note of every nimble catch and pivot in the field. The dozen doubles and eight home runs he hit in his 77-game swan song may as well have been 70 and 50. I even appreciated the lengthy at-bats that might have ended in outs, but worked the opponent's pitch count in a way that so many of Roberts' younger and more robust teammates couldn't seem to master. It was apparent for much of 2013 that the Orioles were not leading the same charmed existence of 2012, and yet they clung to their playoff hopes deep into September before the door slammed shut on them. Brian Roberts would still not get to taste the champagne.

So after all of these years, all of the hits and stolen bases and runs and defensive stops, and the frustration of all of the injuries, and the heartening comeback...after all of the charitable efforts that Brian undertook in the community...after witnessing his rise and fall at the highest level of his sport, and his development into a devoted husband and father...I don't begrudge Brian Roberts any successes he might have in 2014, and I will still root for him on a personal level. But the possibility of seeing his struggles culminate in postseason success in the Bronx is too much for me to contemplate.

Thank you for everything, Brian. Do good, and be well, and know that you made a difference here in numerous ways.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wilson Betemit, 2012 Topps Blue #538

Wilson Betemit: He came, he hit pretty okay, he fielded terribly, he got hurt, he got hurt again, he left.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, 2012 Bowman Top Picks #TP-BG

Here's a doozy of a card that Max just sent my way (note to self: get your butt to the post office this week!), with a pair of reminders that the Orioles still have hopes for a competitive future despite their timidity in free agency. Both Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman have already had their first tastes of the major leagues, and with the proper sacrifices to the baseball gods, there should be better times ahead. As long as the O's don't wind up earning too many more top-five draft picks in the coming years, I'll be happy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Miguel Tejada, 2004 Fleer Classic Clippings #54

The back of this card features a box score from June 19, 2003, when Miguel Tejada had his first-ever five-hit game in a 9-2 Oakland win over the Rangers. What struck me was the fact that four of the nine players in the Athletics' starting lineup played for the Orioles at one time or another. Besides Miggi, the A's also started Eric Byrnes, Ramon Hernandez, and Chris Singleton. The quartet combined for 10 hits in 19 at-bats with six runs scored and five batted in. The Rangers had Rafael Palmeiro in their lineup as the sole player with Baltimore connections, and his lone single in four at-bats was a poor match for the Oakland onslaught.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Vintage Fridays: Jim Hutto, 1975 SSPC #385

This is Jim Hutto, Jim Hutto's scraggly hair, Jim Hutto's comparatively well-trimmed mustache, and Jim Hutto's wayward tuft of chest hair.

If you require more information, there's this: Hutto was a rookie with the 1970 Phillies, appearing in 57 games and seeing time at first base, catcher, and the outfield corners. He was a zero with the bat: .185/.222/.304 in 101 plate appearances. Philadelphia traded him to the Orioles that offseason along with Grant Jackson, and he spent five of his last six pro seasons with the Rochester Red Wings. In 1975, he was a September call-up and went 0-for-5 with the O's in four games. That was his only major league experience save for that 1970 season. Jim Hutto's legacy as an Oriole is complete, though: he was the last player to wear #33 before Eddie Murray claimed it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cal Ripken, Jr. and Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2001 Fleer Platinum RC #472

Jerry Hairston retired this week, hanging up his spikes after a 16-year run in the major leagues. He never achieved the stardom that disingenuous prospect cards like this one insinuated by propping him up alongside Cal Ripken. But for a smallish (5'10"), injury-prone 11th-round pick out of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 1,442 regular-season games and another 17 postseason contests is a pretty decent legacy. He even got to team up briefly with his younger brother Scott in San Diego; the Hairstons were the third (of four to date) three-generation big league families. Hairston spent the first seven seasons of his MLB career in Baltimore, and I've always remembered him fondly despite the three strikes against his favor:

1. He delayed Brian Roberts' entrenchment in the O's everyday lineup.

2. He was part of the trade package that brought Sammy Sosa to Baltimore in 2005.

3. He won his World Series ring with the dag-blasted Yankees in 2009.

Jerry immediately landed on his feet, accepting a TV job with the Dodgers' broadcast team. Best of luck to him in his transition off of the diamond.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Carl Nichols, 1988 Donruss #477

Carl Nichols is not going to listen to another word of your trifling nonsense. He doesn't have time to stand here and pretend that the gibberish coming out of your mouth has any purpose. Just keep on walking.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Terry Kennedy, 1989 Score #123

This is quite a well-composed photo. Your eye is drawn to Terry Kennedy as he shields his eyes from the sun with his glove and peers upward to track the ball. In his right hand he holds his catcher's mask, which will make an excellent emergency catching apparatus if the glove fails.

Of course, TK's face is completely cloaked in shadow, and nobody bothered to crop out the umpire's disembodied arm and hand...come to think of it, this card is pretty cruddy. Well, what can ya do?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mike Mussina, 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes #234

Yesterday was Mike Mussina's 45th birthday, and he probably didn't spend it wondering whether he'd be selected for the Hall of Fame. However, he is on the ballot for the first time this year, and we'll find out next month whether he made the cut. I will say that he probably has a better chance than former O's teammate Armando Benitez, whose very name makes fans in Baltimore and New York twitch.

Speaking of making the cut, I can tell you that Panini's continued insistence on removing all accent colors from player uniforms on their cards is an idea that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Moose looks like he's pitching for the White Sox, not the Orioles. Are they so paranoid as to think that Topps and/or MLB would sic their armies of high-priced lawyers upon them if they dared to include orange on their Orioles (excuse me, "Baltimore") cards? Why not just go the extra mile and Photoshop Mike into a completely blank, white uniform? I realize that the lack of an MLB license puts Panini in a bind, but there has got to be a better, more creative way to do things.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Brady Anderson, 1997 Upper Deck Long Distance Connection #LD2

If you live on the East Coast, I hope you had the good sense not to travel long distances today. We got at least six inches of snow here in Baltimore, with more "wintry mix" on the way. I have my fingers crossed for a snow day tomorrow, but at the same time I'm not holding my breath. Anyhow, it's always nice to see a little white stuff, and it inspired my wife to do some holiday baking. No complaints from where I sit.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kyle Hudson, 2012 Topps #218

How soon we forget...or at least, I do. Kyle Hudson was the Orioles' fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Illinois in 2008, and it's already looking like his September 2011 callup could represent the entirety of his big league career. Kyle appeared in 14 games for that cellar-dwelling Birds team, collecting four singles in 28 at-bats. He did score the winning run against the Tigers in the ninth inning on September 24 after pinch-running for Chris Davis. Davis had singled off of Daniel Schlereth, then Hudson advanced all the way to third on a wild pitch with Robert Andino at bat. Andino struck out, but Matt Angle bunted up the first base line to plate Hudson. Kevin Gregg allowed a two-out single to Magglio Ordonez in the bottom of the inning, because of course he did, but subsequently retired Delmon Young on a line drive to Adam Jones to earn his 22nd save, the last of his Orioles career. This was two years ago...that's practically a lifetime in baseball.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Vintage Fridays: Luis Aparicio, 1963 Topps #205

The White Sox had the nerve to trade Luis Aparicio to the Orioles in January of 1963. So Topps had to slap a drab hatless portrait of Looie on his card, but there was still the inset photo to worry about. Pity the poor baseball card company drone who had to draw an O's cap onto a tiny black-and-white photo of an All-Star shortstop. What I'm trying to say is that I can almost understand why Aparicio looks like the Great Gazoo in the inset photo.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

John Mitchell, 1991 Donruss #710

This evening, the wife and I are going south for dinner, drinks, and a movie with friends of mine from college. The movie? The Rifftrax Live simulcast (if you're too busy to click, think Mystery Science Theatre 3000) of the classic film "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians". This has inspired me to post a 1991 Donruss card for the first time in two years. One red and green abomination deserves another.

What's that, John? No, of course not! I would never call YOU an abomination! I was talking about the hideously busy yet somehow dull design of the card, you see. On a totally unrelated note, I have to go now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ken Singleton, 1985 Topps #755

Some of the biggest trades in Orioles history have gone down on December 4. Let's take a look at a Meatloaf Special's worth of these deals:

December 4, 1968: The Orioles trade John Mason and Curt Blefary to the Houston Astros for Mike Cuellar, Elijah Johnson, and Enzo Hernandez. We can cut to the chase here; Mason and Johnson never made the majors and the historically weak-hitting Hernandez was dealt to San Diego in the Pat Dobson swap before making his MLB debut, so this one comes down to the 1965 Rookie of the Year Blefary straight-up for Cuellar. Blefary, battling alcoholism, lasted four more seasons in the big leagues, only one of which was spent in Houston (.253/.347/.393, 109 OPS+, 1.6 bWAR, 12 HR, 67 RBI). The Cuban righty, meanwhile, lasted eight seasons in Baltimore, which was good enough for three American League pennants, one World Series title, one Cy Young Award, and a pair of All-Star appearances. His O's totals: 143 wins, 88 losses, a 3.18 ERA, 133 complete games, and a 109 ERA+. He accumulated a pitching bWAR (Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement) of 17.4 in that span. So this exchange was a clear win for the Birds.

December 4, 1974: The Orioles trade Bill Kirkpatrick, Rich Coggins, and Dave McNally to the Montreal Expos for Mike Torrez and Ken Singleton. Again, Kirkpatrick was a career minor leaguer, so out he goes. Coggins, who'd seen his OPS plunge from .831 as a rookie to .618 in his sophomore season, lasted all of 13 games north of the border before being sold to the Yankees. His career lasted a total of 103 games in two post-Oriole seasons. McNally was entering his age 32 season with a dozen years' worth of major league mileage on his left arm. He added a scant 77.1 innings to his ledger with the Expos, allowing 88 hits and going 3-6 with a 5.24 ERA (-0.5 bWAR) before retiring and serving as a test case in the Players' Association fight for free agency. The 28-year-old Torrez was a 20-game winner for the only time in his career in 1975, putting up a 3.06 ERA (115 ERA+, 3.5 bWAR) despite a league-leading total of 133 walks. He was flipped to Oakland on the eve of the 1976 season in the Reggie Jackson blockbuster. The December '74 trade would be a mismatch even without the inclusion of Ken Singleton; throw him in, and it becomes a laugher. Singleton, also 28 at the time, served the O's for the final decade of his career. He was a three-time All-Star as an Oriole, with a pair of top-three MVP finishes. He gave the club a career triple-slash line of .284/.388/.445 and an OPS+ of 135. His cumulative bWAR in Baltimore was an even 30, which takes into account a dreadful last act in 1984 (-1.9 bWAR). If you like the counting stats, Kenny slugged 182 homers and drove in 766 in orange and black. Well done, guys.

December 4, 1988: The Orioles trade Eddie Murray to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Juan Bell, Brian Holton, and Ken Howell. Welp, this is the one that did not go as planned. Howell, who had been a mediocre reliever in L.A., was quickly moved to the Phillies with pitcher Gordon Dillard in exchange for Phil Bradley. That was fine, as Bradley was worth 3.5 bWAR in a season and a half in Charm City. Holton gave the Birds 174.1 forgettable innings of relief and spot starts in two seasons (7-10, 4.18 ERA, 91 ERA+, -0.5 bWAR). Juan Bell did not make anyone forget the name of Cal Ripken, with a putrid line of .172/.201/.249 in the 1991 season, his lone full year on the O's roster. From there it was off to Philly, Milwaukee, Montreal, Boston, and eventually Taiwan. Murray, entering his age 33 season in 1989, outlasted all of the players for whom he had been traded. He wasn't the star he'd been in Baltimore, but he did produce steadily through the 1996 season and had great individual efforts in 1990 (.330/.414/.520, 159 OPS+) and 1995 (.323/.375/.516, 129 OPS+). He reached the 3,000-hit and 500-homer milestones in the last few years of his run, the latter coming in his 1996 pennant race return to the Orioles. It's not so much that the O's were wrong to trade Eddie when they did. They just got a whole pile of nothing in exchange for him.

Don't be sad...'cause two out of three ain't bad...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jim Johnson, 2013 Topps Allen and Ginter Mini Black #166

Just like that, the Baltimore bullpen is 50 saves and $10-11 million lighter. Jim Johnson, erstwhile closer and one of the senior Orioles (drafted in 2001, O's debut in 2006), has been traded to the Athletics for second baseman Jemile Weeks and the ever-cryptic Player to Be Named Later. You never like to see an established star leave, but it is encouraging to see the Birds sell a guy when his salary starts outstripping his value. There are better ways to spend money than on a "proven closer", since plenty of previously-anonymous pitchers have proven capable of racking up saves when given the chance. I'll never forget Dirty Jim's contributions to the suddenly-competitive Orioles of 2012, even if his hiccups in 2013 put a couple dings in the team's postseason hopes. He was also a valuable setup man from 2008 onward, and I'll root for him in Oakland as long as he's not facing our guys.

As for Weeks, he's not head and shoulders above the other candidates in the O's second base soup despite his lineage (younger brother of the Brewers' Rickie Weeks) and his pedigree as the twelfth overall pick in the 2008 draft. But he's got a penchant for walking, a rare commodity in Birdland, and he's two years removed from a rookie batting line of .303/.340/.421. It's worth a shot. Incidentally, I was in attendance for Jemile's big league debut on June 7, 2011. Now I'd like to see the Birds spend the money they've saved on a big-ticket player elsewhere. Something tells me that Santa Claus might be the best bet on that one.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Brad Komminsk, 1991 Score #259

1991 Score is not a set that has occupied my thoughts very often. I didn't collect it as a kid, and the sickly teal and purple borders couldn't hold a candle to the bolder shades of the brand's 1988 and 1990 issues. But black borders are usually a surefire crowd pleaser, and if this set had been all-black instead of just partially so, it might be better remembered today. All I know is that this black-bordered card, with 46-game Oriole Brad Komminsk fielding his post in left field in front of Fenway Park's hand-operated scoreboard, is a fine example of the medium. At least Score got things partially right in 1991.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Jim Poole, 1994 Fleer Ultra #8

Jim Poole had a couple really strong seasons as a lefty arm in the Baltimore bullpen. In 1991, he posted an ERA of 2.00 and a WHIP of 0.778 in 24 appearances (36 innings). Two years later, he was second on the team with 55 appearances and put up a 2.15 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 50.1 innings. The O's parted ways with Jim after an ugly 1994 campaign (6.64 ERA, 2.12 WHIP in 20.1 innings), and he traveled all over the league through the 2000 season, never performing as effectively as he had in Charm City. One of the things that struck me about Jim Poole was the near-maniacal grin that he seemed to have in the action shots on some of his card photos. I have to imagine that it was unnerving to be standing at bat, looking out to the mound, and seeing the pitcher leering back at you as he went into his windup.  It's hard enough facing down 90-plus mph heat.