Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ron Kittle, 1991 Topps #324

If there's a silver lining to be found in our current housebound circumstances, it's the opportunity to spend more time with the immediate family. Janet and I both telework during the day, so thankfully Finn is pretty self-sufficient when it comes to playing. Still, he does get antsy, especially when he has to wait until 3:30 or later to go outside. So in an attempt to give him a new experience, I gave him a pack of baseball cards to open a couple of weeks ago. It was 1991 Topps, because 1) he's not old enough to take good care of them yet and b) it's important to manage expectations.

I was hoping he'd pull at least one Oriole from the pack, but nada. Not even Ron Kittle, with his .498 OPS and his "What did I just step in?" facial expression. He did get a couple of guys who played for the O's at other points in their careers: Phil Bradley, who had just been traded from Baltimore to the White Sox for Kittle in the previous season, and future Hall of Famer and 1994's All-Star closer, Lee Smith. Finn also pulled a couple cards of journeyman pitchers with all-time fun names: Paul Assenmacher and Joe Klink. I don't think he's caught the collecting bug just yet, but that's probably just as well. There's enough of his stuff spread all over the floors of our house right now.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Jonathan Villar, 2019 Topps #88

Tonight's late-night entry is blessedly just about baseball and card collecting. What a concept!

Because I didn't post to this blog at all last year, this is the first 2019 card I've featured here. It was also the first Oriole that I pulled from a pack of cards. I wasn't crazy about last year's Topps design; the gray block text for player surnames were pretty dull, and the decision to put the last name above the first name drives me bonkers. To the limited extent that I still buy new cards, I prioritize the Topps Heritage set over the flagship set. God, I really am middle-aged now, huh?

Anyway, a few words on Jonathan Villar. His entire tenure as an Oriole came and went between updates to the blog. He was the only major leaguer acquired in the July 2018 deadline deal that sent a fellow Jonathan (Schoop) to Milwaukee. Even if neither of the two prospects that the Brewers shipped out along with Villar pan out, the O's still won that trade. Schoop, of course, had a forgettable three months in Milwaukee, posting a mere .577 OPS with four homers in 46 regular-season games and going 0-for-8 in the postseason. He was non-tendered the following winter, and Brewers GM David Stearns went so far as to admit that the swap was a "bad deal".

Villar, on the other hand, provided a needed spark to a pretty sparse O's roster. He stole 21 bases in 24 attempts in August and September, and followed up by reaching career highs in runs scored (111), home runs (24), and RBI (73) in 2019. He also led the Birds with 40 steals in 49 tries and hit for the cycle on my birthday - in a 9-6 loss to the Yankees, alas.

Although baseball is a business, I'll admit that I was bent out of shape when the Orioles chose to non-tender "Villi" in December to save a few million dollars. They ultimately traded him to the Marlins for a minor league pitcher. I'm sure the front office is taking a calculated risk that he won't repeat his strong 2019 performance, but I don't see why they couldn't have kept one of their few big league-caliber players for one more season. Then again, we still don't know if anybody is playing anywhere this year.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Vintage Fridays: Jim Palmer, 1975 Topps #335

As I alluded to yesterday, the combination of weeks or possibly months quarantined at home with no new baseball to watch is our new and unwelcome reality in 2020. I'm interested in hearing how others are coping. I find myself watching old games on MLB.TV and YouTube. Yesterday, I watched parts of a handful of games from MLB's "Opening Day at Home" promotion - the second half of the Brewers' 10-inning walkoff win over the Rockies in Game One of the 2018 NLDS, the first few innings of an Angels-Yankees tilt from May of 2018 (can't go wrong with Trout and Ohtani), and as I finished my blog post last night, I used the first few innings of Game Two of the 2014 ALDS (the Delmon Young game) as my soundtrack. I would've gladly watched even more archived baseball yesterday, but I was trying to keep my three-year-old son placated while I worked from home, so we switched over to "Bluey". Earlier this week, I found a 1976 ABC Monday Night Baseball game between the Orioles and the Royals on YouTube in its entirety...even commercials. I was only able to get a few innings into that one before Finn requested cartoons, but it's on my to-do list.

In case you haven't seen it, I will also share a minute-long video that the Orioles released yesterday, narrated by Jim Palmer himself. I found myself welling up as I watched it; the sweeping shots of an empty Oriole Park inter-cut with clips of both Baltimore fans and players celebrating throughout the years, while the Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster who has spent all 55 years of his adult life linked to this team and city delivered a message of hopeful longing. There will be baseball again, when all is said and done. We will gather and raise our voices.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Trey Mancini, 2018 Topps Opening Day #18

Oh, don't look so shocked.

It took several things to bring me back to this blog after an unscheduled hiatus of nearly two years: a new scanner, the prospect of a spring without baseball, and of course, being confined in my own home for two weeks and counting.

Let me back up a bit. I'm perfectly healthy, as are my wife and son. Maryland has been doing its part to flatten the curve of COVID-19, and Janet and I are both fortunate enough to have jobs that can accommodate for full telework in the case of a friendly neighborhood pandemic.

Like most of you, I'm trying to come to grips with a really anxious, frightening, unprecedented situation. Our daily lives as we know them have been upended. We don't know when we will be able to hug our friends, visit our parents and siblings, feel the simple sense of community that comes from a meal at a restaurant or a night at the theatre...or the ballpark.

So as we're all looking for an outlet for our worries and frustrations, it only makes sense that I've found mine in a familiar yet long overlooked place. At its best, this blog serves as a place for me to share anecdotes and memories of my loved ones, to live out the highs and lows of my decades-long fandom, and to get really wonky about my hobby. Whether you've somehow found me for the first time today, or you've been reading since the beginning (back when Dave Trembley was still the manager and the Adam Jones trade was still a month away), you've allowed me into your life in a small way. We may not have games to watch today, or tomorrow; there's not even a guarantee that there will be an MLB season at all 2020. But in this space, we can still celebrate baseball.

It's no accident that I've chosen Trey Mancini as the first featured card on this blog since things went pear-shaped for the O's back in 2018. The Orioles have of course fully committed to a prolonged rebuilding plan, and the slugging outfielder/first baseman from Florida has been one of the rare bright lights for the team in recent times. But coming off a strong 2019 season (.291/.364/.535, 35 HR, 97 RBI), Trey appeared in only five Grapefruit League games this year before undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. That's a scary thing for anyone to deal with, particularly a 28-year-old athlete at the top of his profession. There's still not a lot of news about diagnosis or long-term prognosis, so as with most things in our current climate, we wait and worry and hope and offer support.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Pat Dobson, 1973 Topps #34

Poor Pat Dobson. He pitched for the Orioles for two seasons, and had three Topps cards as an Oriole...and they were all highly unflattering. Since the O's traded for Dobson in December of 1970, he had a hastily airbrushed cap in his 1971 card. They also chose a portrait photo of Pat caught in mid-blink, for some unfathomable reason. In 1972, Topps rewarded Dobson for his 20-win season with a card featuring him in his actual orange, black, and gray Orioles uniform...as well as a dopey, open-mouthed gape. The Birds swapped the veteran pitcher to the Braves in the Earl Williams deal in November of 1972, which was too late for Topps to work their photo-doctoring magic on his first series card for the following year. This is the most appealing of Dobson's three cards from his tenure in Charm City, which is damning it with faint praise. He's not making an odd face, but he still looks disgruntled and rumpled. I'm also like 99% sure that this photo is not airbrushed, but the "Baltimore" script on his road jersey still looks off somehow, like it was hand-drawn. It's probably just some wrinkles and folds in the fabric that are making it sit in a certain way. Nonetheless, I'm left wondering who it was at Topps that had it in for ol' Pat Dobson.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rene Gonzales, 1988 Donruss #582

September 25, 1987 was not a great day for the Orioles. Playing out the string on their worst season since 1955 (at least until the following year!), they were pummeled at home by the Yankees, 8-4. It was the 90th loss of the year for the O's, with a young Jose Mesa getting throttled for six runs on three hits and five walks in less than two innings. Don Mattingly's grand slam was the catalyst, and rookie lefty Al Leiter earned the win with ten strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings (along with four runs on eight hits and five walks of his own). One of the few bright spots for Baltimore was the performance of Rene Gonzales, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI triple and a pair of runs scored.

And yet, that day wasn't all that bad in the big picture. Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride was released in theaters, and although it wasn't a box office success, it's become a beloved classic in subsequent years. It happens to be my wife Janet's favorite movie, and it's near the top of my list as well. In that spirit, five years ago today I bought an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins and had the phrase "As You Wish" written on top in icing. I brought it home and put it on ice in a cooler in the tiny back yard of my rowhouse, along with a 750 mL bottle of Dogfish Head's Positive Contact beer. That evening, I set up a couple of camp chairs and our fire pit, and surprised Janet with a cozy bonfire when she came back from babysitting a friend's daughter (a diversion that I had conveniently helped arrange). She was thrilled enough with the fire, but the emerald claddagh engagement ring that I pulled from my pocket seemed to go over pretty well, too.

I'm still pretty pleased that everything went according to plan that night. (In hindsight, my proposal has also given us an excellent excuse to indulge in ice cream cake and craft beer every year at this time.) Even though the ensuing years have brought their share of stresses, fears, and chaos, the scales are still tipped significantly by loads of laughter, joy, and adventure. Happy May Day, everyone.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ken Singleton, 1981 Fleer Star Stickers #103

To close out a mostly forgettable April in Birdland, here's a belated mail day! Late last week, I got an envelope from Max, who'd found a few more cards that he'd meant to include in the larger stack he sent earlier this month. It included several 2018 Topps Opening Day O's (one of them being my first Chance Sisco card), four 1981 Fleer Star Stickers, and an all-gold Brooks Robinson card that some cursory searching tells me is probably from a 1996-2003 Danbury Mint set. Now that's an impressive oddball!

Ken Singleton, by the by, has announced that he will be retiring from broadcasting after the 2018 season. Singy has been calling Yankees games on the YES Network for 22 years now, to the chagrin of Orioles fans. However, in my limited experience with YES telecasts, Ken at least brings a bit of class and sanity to the proceedings. In that sense, the 70-year-old former All-Star will be missed.