Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jeff Conine, 2002 Upper Deck Piece of History #17

This is the first year since 1986 that Jeff Conine hasn't been playing professional baseball on some level. "Niner" was the kind of guy that was always in demand; he played for each of his primary three teams in the major leagues (Kansas City, Florida, and Baltimore) on two separate occasions. Three times in his final five seasons he was traded after the July 31 waiver deadline as teams were looking for a dependable, experienced player to fill in the blanks during the stretch run. He's probably best known as one of the original Florida Marlins; he played all 162 games in their inaugural season, won the 1995 All-Star Game MVP as the sole Florida representative, and is the only player to have been on both World Series-winning teams in Fish history. When Jeff announced his retirement at the end of last season, the Marlins signed him to a one-day contract so that he wouldn't have to call it quits as a Met. After all, he'd only played 21 games in orange and blue and they didn't turn out all that well.

But Conine is keeping busy. He recently announced that he is training for the Ironman World Championship Triathlon, which will take place in October in Hawaii. The soon-to-be forty-two-year-old has already competed in several biathlons and recently completed his first half-triathlon, finishing 1,375th out of 1,929 competitors. A full triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride (roughly the distance from Baltimore to Philadelphia - two of Conine's six MLB teams), and a 26.2 mile marathon run. As someone who ran cross country in high school and never exceeded ten miles at once, I can't fathom the strength and endurance required to complete a triathlon. Just remember Jeff Conine the next time a football fan tells you that baseball players are subpar athletes.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Hal Brown, 1962 Topps #488

Check out the wary look on Hal "Skinny" Brown's face there. He's eyeballing someone to his right, probably some callow rookie who's making faces at him and trying to get him to crack up in front of the camera. Hal's been doing his thing in the big leagues for eleven years; he's thirty-six now. "I'm getting too old for this s#!%."

Hal Brown just got better with age, though. In the three seasons prior to the issue of this card (1959-1961), he ranked in the top ten in the American League in walks and hits per inning pitched. He'd also placed in the top six in earned run average for 1960 and 1961. He was a rock of veteran strength on a team full of fresh-faced young hurlers like Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Jack Fisher, and Chuck Estrada. But as you can tell from Hal's expression in this photo, he probably wanted to wring their necks now and then.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dan Ford, 1984 Donruss #367

A series of open-ended questions about this card:

1. Why did Donruss choose a picture of what was undoubtedly one of Dan Ford's weakest, most uncertain swings of the bat?

2. Check out the biceps on that guy. Who knew that Disco Dan had such massive guns?

3. Why did they call him "Disco Dan", anyway?

4. How did he get trapped in an impressionist painting?

5. Why are the team name and player name in two different shades of yellow?

6. As nifty as those aviator glasses look, didn't Dan realize that Rec Specs were the way to go?

7. Aren't you glad that no one wears those crummy elastic waistband pants any more?

8. Doesn't it look like Ford's trying to pulverize the Donruss logo with his bat?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dan Boone, 1991 Score #715

There's something I really admire about baseball players who take advantage of every opportunity to play the game, no matter how far removed it might be from the major leagues. To me, it speaks of an unquenchable love for the game. Besides, you never know where it might lead. Jim Bouton famously returned to the semi-pro diamonds a few years after the backlash from Ball Four helped to blackball him from the bigs. As a knuckleballer, he knew that he still had enough in the tank to pitch at the highest level, and got none other than maverick White Sox owner Bill Veeck to give him a shot to work his way up from the minors. He didn't get very far, but decided to push on for one more year with another club. That would be Ted Turner's 1978 Atlanta Braves; at the age of thirty-nine he won eleven games at Savannah before getting the callup. Eight years after throwing his last pitch in the major leagues, he held his own, even picking up a three-hit, six-inning win over the Giants.

Dan Boone, who is actually a seventh-generation descendant of the famous frontiersman of the same name, was similarly irrepressible. He was drafted by the Angels in 1976, but didn't sniff the big leagues until 1981. Then a 27-year-old rookie with the Padres, he made the most of his opportunity, crafting a nifty 2.84 ERA. He allowed just two home runs in 63 and one-third innings of relief. Boone struggled the following season as both a Padre and an Astro, appearing in only twenty games with a 4.71 ERA. He wouldn't make a major league roster in 1983 or 1984, and when the Brewers released him during the latter year, he found himself OOB: out of baseball.

There's not much information out there concerning the next five years of Dan's life, but he resurfaced in pro ball in 1989. That was the inaugural year of the ill-fated Senior Professional Baseball League, a winter league for thirty-to-fiftysomethings in Florida. The thirty-five-year-old Boone returned wielding a veteran pitcher's best friend, the knuckleball. He went 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA, at which point the Orioles came calling. He spent much of 1990 at Rochester, ranking seventh in the league in ERA and pitching a no-hitter. According to the back of this card, Boone said that he "had to fight back the tears the last three innings". In mid-September, he accomplished the improbable, following Bouton's lead by returning to an MLB mound after an eight-year absence. He fared pretty well, yielding three runs in nine and two-thirds innings.

Perhaps realistic about his chances of sticking around (even with a team as mediocre as the early 1990s O's), Dan Boone returned to the Senior League that winter. He was even better than he'd been in his first go-round, racking up five wins in six decisions with a scant 1.85 ERA. Unfortunately, the league folded in midseason with Boone leading the circuit in wins.

You won't be surprised to hear that Dan's story doesn't end there. According to this site, he also pitched in the San Diego iteration of the Men's Senior Baseball League, an organized amateur league, between 1989 and 2002. That would have made him forty-eight when he finally hung up his spikes. But in between, he took one more last gasp shot at the big time. You might remember the gruesome spectacle of Spring Training 1995, when the owners attempted to force the striking players' hands by opening camp with replacement players, a motley collection of minor leaguers and retired fringe players. With nothing to lose, there was Dan Boone, pitching in a Padres uniform at forty-one years of age. Of course, the strike was settled and Boone was one of the many fill-ins who was sent packing. But Dan Boone was a guy who made the most out of every opportunity in his career, to say the least.

As a final note, you have to love the audacity of Score to slap a "Rookie Prospect" tag on a card for a player who pitched in fifty-seven major league games prior to 1990. I'm pretty sure your rookie eligibility doesn't grow back after a certain amount of time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dave Gallagher, 1991 Fleer #471

Here we see Dave Gallagher managing not to squint in the face of an onslaught of blinding yellow borders. He's smiling for the camera during pre-game warm-ups in a stadium I can't quite pinpoint; I believe it's Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Dave's orange, black, and white batting glove reads "S-M M". Is that the size of the glove? It seems a bit inexact. It could be the initials of the manufacturer, but I don't know. I seem to be falling short of providing you any vital information on the finer details of this card photo.

Failing that, I'll look at the card back. Let no one say that Dave Gallagher never paid his dues in the minor leagues. He'd played over six hundred minor league games in five years before getting a peek at the big time with the Indians as a 26-year-old in 1987. He spent much of that time in less than ideal climates, to say the least. Just check this line out: 1982 was split between Chattanooga and Waterloo (Tennessee and Iowa, not bad), 1983 was Buffalo, and then he spent three whole seasons at Maine (1984-1986). Besides his fifteen games in Cleveland in '87, he spent a dozen games back at Buffalo before being traded to the Mariners, who assigned him to Calgary, which just happens to be in Canada. Perhaps sick of being shuttled around, Dave chose his own destiny by signing with the White Sox as a free agent that offseason. At the beginning of 1988, he found himself...in Vancouver. Brrr. The ChiSox recalled him in May, and he hit like a man possessed (.303 in 101 games). Do you think he was tired of being exiled up North?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kevin Brown, 1995 Fleer Update #U-4

Just trying to read the various sizes and fonts of type in crisscrossing directions is enough to make you feel nauseous. I can empathize, because I spent my morning and afternoon fighting nerves at my best friend Boothe's wedding. I was surprised that I felt unsettled, since all that I had to do was:

1. Get Boothe to the wedding.

2. Pull the rings out of my jacket pocket.

3. Give a toast.

But I haven't been in a wedding since I was eight years old, and both the bride and the groom are close friends of mine, so I got really caught up in the special nature of the day. I was also getting a small sense of how exhausting the preparations must have been; I spent all day Saturday cleaning my apartment for that evening's bachelor party. We went out for steak dinner, and came back home for a night reminiscent of our college days (beer, Grand Theft Auto, card games, and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - not exactly the height of debauchery, but to each his own). We finally wound down around 3 AM.

I had Sunday afternoon to recuperate before I drove to a hotel in Annapolis for the rehearsal dinner. That kicked off twenty-four hours of introductions to a cascade of close relatives, distant relatives, and family friends. We were stuffed silly at dinner, and I was ready to call it a night. (Boothe's parents were kind enough to put he and I up in a room in the hotel.) But as we were getting our bags from the car, the men of his family invited us to have a few drinks. As his father, uncle, and cousins shared their advice on marriage and family anecdotes I nursed a couple of beers. By the time we finally parted ways at 10:30 PM, we'd been socializing (and eating and drinking) for five hours and I was beyond full. Boothe and I watched a wrestling DVD for the next two hours, though he faded in and out of consciousness.

I had a fitful sleep, as I often do in hotels. I'm a creature of habit, and the combination of the layers of stiff sheets, the intermittent whirring of the air conditioner, and Boothe's snoring conspired with my sense of anticipation to keep me awake.

Fortunately, the actual wedding went off without a hiccup. Both groom and best man managed to suit up in our tuxedos without making a mess, and we were at the venue with plenty of time to spare (objective #1 accomplished). I didn't leave the rings at the hotel (objective #2), though I did lose a pair of socks along the way. And finally, with many of our college friends (and even a few professors!) listening on, I gave a brief and light-hearted toast that was received pretty well. So that's a perfect three-for-three on my best man duties, and that's without taking into account the bachelor party.

But most importantly, two of the kindest and most giving people that I know pledged their love and commitment to each other on a beautiful May afternoon, and I'm thrilled that they included me in their plans.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Delino DeShields, 2001 Fleer Ultra #189

There's a lot to see in this action shot from 2000, a season in which Delaware native Delino DeShields put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career (career-highs: .296 AVG, 86 RBI, 43 2B). He's leaping over Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, who barrels into second base trying to break up the double play. Delino has just fired off the relay throw to first, and his pinkie and index fingers are extended as if he's giving the O's first baseman a heavy metal salute. Meanwhile, the exceptionally blurry right fielder jogs in place, attempting to look busy.

But the most amazing thing about this scene is that DeShields is going about his business on the field with a cool and calm demeanor even as the grim spectre of a giant Esskay hot dog lurks in the background. The frankfurter bides its time, moving a little closer and then closer still, its glacial movements imperceptible to the human eye. Soon, it will make its play and attempt to devour Delino whole. That, my friends, is why I eat hot dogs. It's all about the food chain; you have to eat them before they eat you. Kind of like those old Fruit Sharks gummi snacks.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dickie Noles, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #333

Another quickie entry today, as I've spent all afternoon getting ready to host my friend Boothe's bachelor party tonight. Such is the chief responsibility of the best man, other than that whole "don't lose the rings" thing. This should be a pretty tame party by most standards, a steak-dinner-and-beer (and cards and video games) affair. Nevertheless, here's Dickie Noles, who was one of the lousiest and most short-lived members of the disastrous 1988 Orioles (0-2, 24.30 ERA in 3 and 1/3 innings) and has with a name that just sounds dirty.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Paul Blair, 1974 Topps #92

This card comes from the days when Topps still printed a player's full name (first, middle, last) on the card back. In my childhood, this was the domain of Donruss. In the days before Baseball Reference, these cards provided an endless source of amusement. One of my favorite embarrassing middle names belonged to Mr. William Nuschler Clark. "Will the Thrill", indeed. I also remember the Ripken boys, Calvin Edwin and William Oliver. To see their uncommon middle names, you'd have to imagine that Mama Vi was a fan of Charles Dickens. Then there's the occasional error that would slip through Donruss' quality control. Bruce Lee Hurst is a pretty cool name, reminiscent of the kung fu film legend. But in 1991, his card back read Bruce "Vee" Hurst. That's just silly.

The back of this particular card lends an air of mystery to the defensively gifted center fielder lovingly known as "Motormouth". His name reads, "Paul L D Blair". No name, just initials. But are they even initials? You'll notice that there are no periods after "L" or "D". Quick trips to Baseball Reference and Wikipedia have his name in the same format, with no explanation as to why it is so. The Internet is not infallible, so I've consulted my bookshelf: one encyclopedia reads "Paul L. D. Blair", but Total Baseball is sans periods.

None of this brings me closer to an answer. Is this a Harry S Truman situation, in which his parents couldn't agree on a middle name and compromised with the enigma of a letter or two? Or did he have some embarrassing Nuschler-esque monikers that he worked hard to bury at the onset of his baseball career? Inquiring minds want to know.

In the meantime, we can attach our own interpretations to Paul L D Blair. Might I suggest "Long Drive"? He was never much of a power hitter, though his solo home run clinched the Orioles' first World Series over the Dodgers in 1966. How about "Lord of Defense"? It's a little haughty, but if Michael Flatley gets to lord over something, then surely an eight-time Gold Glover should be able to flaunt it. Perhaps "Leather Dazzler"? Nope, that sounds more like an exotic dancer or a soap opera character. I'll open this one up to the rest of you.

What DOES the L D in Paul L D Blair signify?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Eddie Murray, 1982 Topps #390

I can't believe I've featured almost 150 cards on this blog and it took me this long to get to Eddie Murray. Considering the well-documented truth that #33 is just plain badass, I actually fear for my safety should the Hall of Famer ever learn that I turned my focus to the likes of Rocky Coppinger and Jack Voigt before I gave him his due. Eddie could disassemble my vital organs with nothing more than a five-second stare. So this will be our little secret.

I'm not sure why I haven't had anything to say about Murray before now. Even the fact that I chose him today has mostly to do with a sense of "Holy crap, I still haven't done Eddie". It might have something to do with my late blooming as an O's fan. By the time I started rooting for the black and orange, he was two teams and five years removed from Baltimore, wearing Mets pinstripes. Sure, he'd return to Charm City during the 1996 pennant chase in time for his 500th home run, but I never got to see Eddie Murray in his prime, as the driving force of the Birds' offense and one of the most feared hitters in the league.

Just looking at this card gives me a sense of the Eddie Murray of old, though. Lean, athletic build, intense stare, and of course the awe-inspiring afro/blade sideburns/mustache combo. He's striding forward, bat starting to uncoil, prepared to blast the ball into the stratosphere. It looks like he's wearing road grays, but you can bet that back in Baltimore, the fans are tuned into WBAL listening for the crack of the bat. They jump out of their chairs, pump their fists in their cars, and their voices join as one...


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mike Mussina, 1991 Upper Deck #65

This card depicts Mike Mussina a lifetime ago, as a 21-year-old pitcher for the Single-A Hagerstown Suns in his first season of professional baseball. Even though he'd just been drafted 20th overall in the 1990 draft, the weight of the Orioles' expectations didn't seem to be weighing too heavily on him. He looks like a pretty cool customer. Indeed, he would make his major league debut just one year later, completing two of his twelve starts with an impressive 2.87 ERA for the O's.

That young, confident "Moose" was nowhere to be found last night, as the now-39-year-old Yankee had an absolute meltdown. He looked a lot like the Mike Mussina who left Baltimore after the 2000 season, the ace pitcher who was suddenly getting roughed up for 5, 6, 7 runs once every few weeks and sullenly and subtly placing the blame on others. He had a rocky start to the game against his former team, but when Luke Scott hit a grounder at Derek Jeter with two on and two out, it looked like he'd escape with only one run allowed. But with Robinson Cano slow to cover second base, Jeter lost his focus and threw high to Jason Giambi at first. Mussina lost his focus after that error, allowing six more runs. The killing blow was an 0-2, bases-clearing double by rookie Adam Jones. Mike was pulled without getting that third out, tying a career mark for his shortest appearance. The O's went on to win 12-2, a game that I enjoyed right through the last out.

I thought recently that I had finally overcome my bitterness toward Mussina for bailing on the Birds and joining the Dark Side for George Steinbrenner's big bucks. After all, he moved a little closer to his Pennsylvania home, he was apparently sweet-talked by the very popular Joe Torre, and the Orioles were backsliding both on the field and in their front office dealings. But his implosion last night instilled a great sense of schadenfreude within me, and I realized something: as long as #35 is wearing those pinstripes, I'll always root against him. He's the enemy, pure and simple.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tom Niedenfuer, 1988 Score #261

This one is a quickie. Last summer I was flipping through an Orioles game-day program from 1989 (with an artist's conception of Camden Yards on the front) and found an advertisement that was just too funny. See for yourself:

Um, I'll take their word for it. How many Orioles do you think could actually spell Niedenfuer? It's tricky, with the i before e and u before e as well. I bet the Rolaids folks wished that Doug Sisk had led the Birds in saves in 1988.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Josh Towers, 2002 Upper Deck #141

For some reason, I've been in a reflective mood for the past few days, and I've been thinking about high school. While I was sitting at my desk at work today, I unearthed some memories of a girl named Dawn, someone I hadn't thought about in years. We knew each other through youth group, and though we were never much more than acquaintances, she was always very friendly towards me. Dawn was a petite brunette with a big smile and a bubbly personality, and she was very affectionate. She just knew how to perk up your mood.

I, on the other hand, was just as awkward as I am today, if not more so. I probably looked a lot like Josh Towers, all skin and bones and long, gangly limbs and quirky fashion sense. Yet for some reason, Dawn started calling me "Hercules", or even "my Hercules". I honestly couldn't tell whether she was teasing me or if it was a genuine term of endearment. Not only did I take a lot of teasing in high school (though I endured much of it with good humor), but my intuition for those sort of things was still undeveloped. I've honed my radar in the subsequent decade (oh God, it really has been ten years), but at the time I was often willfully oblivious. Sure, I allowed my mind to wander when she sat in my lap at a friend's birthday party, but I figured that she was just being flirtatious, as she'd been before with mutual friends. She even tried to set me up with her younger sister once. Talk about mixed signals!

A year or two after I last saw Dawn, I heard that she had a child of her own; she was still a teenager at that time. I don't really know anything else about her whereabouts, but I'm grateful that I knew her. After all, today was another monotonous Monday in a cubicle in a windowless office, a day of paper cuts and the whining drone of the fax machine. But then I suddenly remembered a time when a goofy, skinny kid was someone's Hercules for no adequately explained reason, and I smiled to myself.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Billy Ripken, 1993 Donruss #59

Continued from Billy Ripken, 1989 Fleer #616

From day to day at the stadium, I mostly kept to myself. I can be shy in some environments, and I felt like something of an outsider, especially when my outgoing and engaging boss suddenly quit a few weeks into my internship. After an initial bit of uncertainty, I learned that I'd be kept around, seeing as how I'd already started preparing the multimedia reports that had to be presented to each of the IronBirds' sponsors. So I became a fly on the wall, privy to the daily wit and wisdom of Billy Ripken. Most of the time, he was overly concerned with the thermostat setting, like a stereotypical TV dad. "Who keeps turning up the HEAT?!"

I also got a big, bitter taste of Ripken politics. This was during the 2004 Presidential Election, and I was swept up in anti-Bush fervor. The loudest voices in the office were Republicans. On Election Day, I sat stewing in a quiet cocktail of annoyance and bemusement as Billy shuffled around singing, "Down, down down...Bighead's goin' down." You can probably guess who Bighead was.

The defining snapshot of my experiences with Billy Ripken occurred in the bathroom, of all places. I walked in, stepped up to the lone urinal, and suddenly heard a familiar voice from inside the adjacent stall.

"Hey, who's out there?"

"Um, it's Kevin."

"Huh. How 'bout that."

A pause. He continues.

"How's it smell out there, buddy?"

Another brief pause before I offer an answer.

"Uh, not too pleasant."

When it comes to one-liners, I'd like to think this is my trump card: Billy Ripken actually asked me if his crap stunk.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Billy Ripken, 1989 Fleer #616

Better late than never. I ended up spending much of the day Saturday with my family, but this story is worth the wait. As many of you have noticed, this is indeed one of the hastily-censored "black box" variations of the card that guaranteed Billy Ripken his own place in baseball history, apart from the shadow of his legendary older brother. I assure you that if I had the R-rated variant, it would be on display here. But I don't, so we'll have to make do.

When I tell people that I spent three months interning for the Aberdeen IronBirds, I'm sure it sounds a little more glamorous than it actually was. Although Cal Ripken, Jr. is the most famous face attached to the team, he was far too busy to be much of a presence around Ripken Stadium. I met him once in my time there, which is a story for another time. But his co-owner, one William Oliver Ripken, was a more frequent sight - and sound - around the office. Though we didn't interact very often, the few occasions when we did have left their impression with me.

My first big project as a marketing intern was to assist with a sponsors' batting practice. One of the big perks given to some of the team's more generous business partners was a day at the stadium for employees and folks from other businesses that they might want to schmooze a bit. On this day it was the folks from Advance Business Systems, whose trippy commercials should be familiar to locals. They'd start off with batting and fielding practice, and wrap up with lunch and an awards ceremony on the luxury suite level. I was a jack of all trades, setting up the locker room with the participants' custom-lettered jerseys and caps, not to mention the nameplates that I had printed, laminated, and cut. Then I chased around all of the participants, urging them to sign waivers (the Ripkens are no dummies). In the process of this task, I spotted the B.P. pitcher himself, took a deep breath, and approached him.

"Hi Mr. Ripken, I'm Kevin Brotzman, I'm interning for Shelly this Fall."

As he shook my hand, he bellowed in a raspy tone of mock-annoyance that would soon become very familiar to me.

"Jee-zus Christ, how many interns does Shelly have? It's like the freakin' Chinese Army around here!"

Indeed, I was aware that the marketing department was chock-full of interns during the baseball season. Now that school had started though, they were all gone. Having just graduated myself, I was the only intern to be found. Not that I'm sure what the Chinese had to do with anything. Is Red China especially known for a robust military internship program? Anyway, he probably asked me a question or two about my high school and college, and I went on my way. During B.P., I stood on the field in foul territory and watched the grownups at play. A few of them were pretty impressive. I seem to remember that one of the guests was a doctor in his thirties who had played college ball and had decent warning track power at the least.

After the field session had wrapped up, I sat in on the meeting of the minds: My boss Shelly, her boss Aaron (the assistant GM), and Billy Ripken. They were choosing "award winners" among the participants: Gold Glove, Best Hitter, and so forth. At one point I suggested a particular award, something with some clever wordplay that I've long since forgotten. Billy sized me up and offered his rebuttal:

"Take it easy, Chinese Army. You just got here."

It seemed that I had earned myself a nickname with the former second baseman. I'm relieved to say that it did not stick.

To be continued tomorrow...by which I mean later today.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Gene Woodling, 1958 Topps #398

A lot changes in fifty years. The year this card was made, the Boston Red Sox still had not integrated; Pumpsie Green would become their first black player in 1959. The Dodgers and Giants brought Major League Baseball to California. Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella was left paralyzed in a career-ending car accident. There were eight teams each in the American and National Leagues. The Yankees downed the (Milwaukee!) Braves in an exciting seven-game World Series. Believe it or not, Cal Ripken, Jr. hadn't even been born yet.

The NFL's Colts were the toast of Baltimore and the country, putting pro football on the sporting map by winning a televised sudden-death championship game over the Giants that would be dubbed "The Greatest Game of All Time". Of course, fifty years later those Colts are in Indianapolis and the team with the most rabid fan base in Charm City is undoubtedly their replacement, the Ravens. Most people would say that this is a football town. My own gridiron-crazed uncle all but rolled his eyes at me last Sunday when he noticed that I was wearing an Orioles shirt. But having just come home from a very lively (and very unseasonably cold) Oriole Park at Camden Yards, basking in the glow of yet another comeback win, I believe that Baltimore has the will to be a baseball town once again.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Adam Loewen, 2007 Topps #78

Okay, this video has already been all over the blogosphere today but I just can't help myself. If you've somehow avoided it for this long, the following video began appearing on the scoreboard at Orioles games this week, and it delights me to no end. After initially cringing at the outdated and hokey "Orioles Magic" song, Kevin Millar and company have made it their own. Sure, they're laughing at it, but it's pretty cheesy. Let's face it, it's not the 1980s any more. Besides, they're showing a great sense of humor and team unity. Do you think Joe Girardi's funereal Yankees are playing the keyboards and spelling out the team name with their bodies any time soon?

Without further ado, here's my new favorite video. Look for #15 Kevin Millar on lead vocals, #46 Jeremy Guthrie on backing vocals (and the horn at the beginning), rookie #10 Adam Jones on drums, relievers #45 Dennis Sarfate and #52 George Sherrill on guitars, and of course the man above, currently injured pitcher #29 Adam Loewen rocking some Journeyesque keyboard skills.

It's days like today that I remember why I love this team.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Buddy Groom, 2002 Upper Deck 40 Man #206

You may ask yourself, what possesses a thirty-seven-year-old man to go by "Buddy"? When you think of that moniker, you may call to mind the '80s plush novelty My Buddy, or maybe even the Beverly Hillbillies antics of Buddy Ebsen or the rubber-faced comedy of Buddy Hackett. It's certainly a name that would leave a player open to ribbing in the frat-house culture of the baseball clubhouse. But consider the alternative...

The man pictured above was born Wedsel Gary Groom, Jr. It's one thing to live with the burden of such a hideous name; but to pass it on to your defenseless child?! That's pretty low. I wonder how well Buddy gets along with his folks. Wedsel is immediately evocative of two things: weasel, which is just a funny word and a pretty lowly member of the animal kingdom; and Edsel, the disastrous Ford car model of 1958 through 1960.

Yeah, I think I'd go with "Buddy" if I were Mister Groom.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dwight Evans, 1991 Topps Traded #37T

The Orioles win! As I was hustling down the length of Track 14 this afternoon to catch my Camden Line (that's Camden as in Camden Yards, of course) train, I saw The Interlopers in front of me, with "MATSUZAKA 18" jersey shirts and blue hats with red "B"s and cans of Bud Light to drink on the ride to the park. I was tired at the end of a long day's work, but I stood in the aisle of the train car, a crush of humanity on both sides of me, the air conditioning either not working or rendered ineffective by all of the body heat. I stood and stole resentful glances at these carpetbagging "Sawx" fans who were flocking to MY stadium to claim it as their own and to drown out the cheers of the lonely O's faithful. I thought about leaning in to a young boy in a 2004 World Champions tee and offering my prediction for the game: Orioles 4, Red Sox 3. But I thought better of it, not wanting to seem petty and small.

As it turns out, I was surprisingly close to the mark. The woeful Birds offense clobbered Josh Beckett, as he allowed the most hits of any Boston starter this year. Rookie reliever Jim Johnson continued his late-inning dominance and turned things over to George Sherrill, who shut the door. 5 to 4. Those Northern intruders left with a bad taste in their mouths.

I don't like to gloat, but life is about these little victories. I'll drive my point home with a Red Sox legend, a man who spent parts of three decades in Fenway Park but finished his career in orange and black. Eventually, Dewey saw the light and suited up for the good guys.

At least that's how I like to think it happened.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lee Smith, 1995 Stadium Club Members Only #42

Every morning from Monday through Friday, it seems that I'm forever hurrying. Climbing out of bed with a start, knowing that even a five-minute snooze will put me behind schedule. Jumping in the shower, scrubbing myself off quickly, not taking a moment to soak in the refreshing steam from the hot water. Shoveling spoonful after spoonful of cereal into my mouth so I can hustle out the door to my car. I drive to the train station on pins and needles, certain that today will be the day that I miss my train. Though one red light here or there has never made me late to my knowledge, I still groan in frustration as I see the light turn from green to yellow on the near horizon. I don't start my days with a particularly positive or peaceful outlook.

I think we could all take a cue from Lee Smith. The classic image of the former all-time major league leader in saves is one of leisure. The call would go out to the bullpen for the righty, and he would come sauntering out through the door in center field, jacket in hand. He wouldn't run, because the game wasn't going to resume without him. He wouldn't jog or even power-walk. He would just stroll out to the mound, barrel chest resting on top of long, powerful legs, completely in control of himself and his surroundings. It was as if he was saying, "Here I am. What have you got for me?".

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rick Dempsey, 1987 Donruss #294

As I drove home in the pouring rain this evening, peering through the drops that pelted my windshield and braking as my car hydroplaned through the puddles that gathered in the road, I thought of Rick Dempsey making the most out of his rainy days; while other players and coaches paced around the dugout or the clubhouse like caged animals, eager to resume the game that had been halted, the Dipper would put on a show for the stubborn fans who likewise waited for the skies to clear, running across the rain-slicked tarp before doing a full headfirst slide, a mammoth belly-flop, soaking up the pooling water and making exaggerated swimming motions with his arms and legs, delighting in being the center of attention.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mark Parent, 1992 Stadium Club #623

Alright, I feel like testing my own knowledge today, so I'm flying without a net. Let's see if I can pull Ten Fun Facts about former backup catcher Mark Parent from memory:

1. Former Orioles radio announcer Jon Miller used to talk about ex-hockey player Bernie Parent whenever Mark was in the game, even though the pronunciations were different (puh-RENT vs. PAIR-int).

2. One year, the Birds designed Parent for assignment at the end of Spring Training. He was so discouraged, he thought about refusing the assignment to AAA Rochester and becoming a free agent. However, former Cubs teammate Rick Sutcliffe convinced him to stick around, and he got the callup later in the season when the club was shorthanded behind the plate.

3. In addition to the O's, Mark also played for the Padres, Cubs, and Pirates, among others.

4. In 1996, Mark suited up for the Orioles for the first time since 1993. Other former Birds that returned to the team that year were outfielder Mike Devereaux (last seen in 1994) and second baseman Billy Ripken (last seen in 1992).

5. That 1996 club broke the 1961 Yankees' record for total home runs. On a team with heavy hitters such as Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla, and Cal Ripken, Jr., it was Mark Parent who hit the record-breaking homer.

6. Mark wore three different uniform numbers in orange and black: 6, 24, and 27.

7. Okay...I'm stuck. But you have to admit, six facts about a journeyman catcher who totaled 57 games in three seasons in Baltimore isn't bad. Just so no one feels cheated, here are some more facts about him:

8. He managed the independent Lancaster JetHawks in 2000.

9. Mark was 6'5", pretty darn tall for a catcher.

10. In 1995 (with the Pirates and Cubs), Mark hit 18 home runs in just 265 at-bats, a rate of one longball every 14.7 times at the plate.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Dick Hall, 1970 Topps #182

There's a lot to like about this card. I'll start with the design - though 1970's Topps set is often maligned for being drab and dull, its biggest crime is being the set that came just before the revolutionary black bordered 1971 cards. There's something understated and classy about these simple gray borders, and I like the script that the player name is rendered in; it's a font I don't recall seeing on any other cards, and it's somehow reminiscent of a 1950's diner.

I also love the players in the background, backs to the camera. I've come to enjoy the quirks of baseball card photography, particularly guys who make cameos on other player's cards. In this case, the humongous Gene "Lurch" Brabender (of Ball Four fame) stands to Hall's right, our left. On the other side of him is #9. A visit to my website will tell you that he is none other than outfielder Don Buford, the table-setter of the greatest Oriole teams.UPDATE 5/20: As reader Ed has pointed out, the player wearing #9 is more likely Russ Snyder, which would mean that Topps took a shortcut and recycled a photo from Dick's first stint in Baltimore (1961-1966). Russ Snyder wore #9 from 1961-1967.

The artful presentation of Dick Hall himself lends a certain charm to this photo, as the extreme closeup lends a sense of action to a posed shot. He is following through with his not-quite-sidearm, not-quite-three-quarters delivery, eyebrows arched in anticipation of the batter's reaction. To top it off, he's wearing that glorious "Baltimore" road jersey.

What adds to my enjoyment to this card is the fact that I've exchanged a few emails with Dick Hall. A week after I launched the NumerOlogy website, the Orioles Hall of Famer contacted me to complement me on my work. He was known for wearing #29 as an O, but was fairly sure that he'd worn another number when the team first acquired him from the Kansas City Athletics in 1961. He even went so far as to guess that it might have been 38, though he was uncertain. I went back to my sources and sure enough, baseballalmanac.com listed him as #29 and #38 in 1961. I'd previously discounted it because pitcher Dick Hyde was also #38, but it turned out that he joined the team after Hall, making it probable that there was a number switch when Hyde arrived. So the first correction to my research came straight from the source. To spin it another way, a friend assured me that I must be an authority if I had former players coming to me to find out which numbers they wore!

As a postscript, I've recently emailed Dick to ask if he'd consent to an interview to be posted on the homepage of NumerOlogy. If he agrees, I'll put up a link when it goes live.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Geronimo Berroa, 1998 Topps #363

A moment in my life as an Orioles fan:

Summer, 1997. I'm at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my Dad, sitting out in the bleachers. We have an up-close view of the misadventures of Geronimo Berroa, one of a laundry list of right field butchers in the recent history of the Birds. Others who come to mind are Jay Gibbons, Bobby Bonilla, even (briefly) Pete Incaviglia and Chris Sabo. Chris Sabo! During the game, a deep drive is hit into the right field corner. We stand to get a better look. Berroa races - as much as he was ever able to race - after the ball, disappearing; our view is obstructed by the out-of-town scoreboard that creates a sort of mini-Monster from the right field fence. Those of us in the bleachers share a tense moment of uncertainty before the roar of the rest of the crowd confirms the improbable. He caught it! We exhale. Dad goes into an impromptu comedy routine, clutching his chest like Redd Foxx and swaying on his feet. "Oh my God! I don't believe it! He caught the ball! It's a miracle!"

For some reason, that is my only memory of Geronimo Berroa in an Orioles uniform. It's also proof that cynicism is hereditary.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Davey Johnson, 2008 Topps 50th Anniversary All-Star Rookies #AR10

To start on a positive note, the fact that this year's Orioles team didn't hit a true rough patch until May is commendable. With that said, it's not a whole lot of fun watching any team lose, especially the way this West Coast road trip has gone. The pitching has more than held up its end of the bargain, with Brian Burres coming from near nowhere to serve as a dependable fifth starter, Daniel Cabrera putting together five straight quality starts for the first time in memory, and Garrett Olson making a strong return from Norfolk. We've finally got some guys who can throw the ball, but they're getting no support from a bare-bones offense. The Birds just got swept in excruciating fashion, losing two games in the tenth inning, and a third by just two runs. As the hitters continue to struggle, they start pushing and making stupid mistakes elsewhere - on the basepaths and in the field.

So here comes Davey Johnson as a slumpbuster. He may not be a blow-up doll, but he was a valuable member of Baltimore's first-ever World Series Champs in his rookie season. He played in four Fall Classics in his seven full seasons here, and returned as a manager in 1996 to deliver the O's to the postseason for the first time since 1983. After a wire-to-wire American League East Championship run in 1997 ended in disappointment with an ALCS loss to Cleveland, the reigning Manager of the Year was forced out by owner Peter Angelos in a power struggle. The rest is history, a history checkered with losses.

Davey Johnson has always been a winner, both on the field and in the dugout. If he can't snap us out of this mini-skid, then I just don't know who can.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rocky Coppinger, 1997 Upper Deck #225

Sometimes it's refreshing and entertaining to get my mother's take on sports. For instance, she's often flabbergasted when an overweight pitcher takes the mound for the Orioles. I remember one occasion when malcontent reliever Steve Kline was laboring through a typically lousy outing. Her reaction was, "Well, maybe if he didn't have that big gut he'd pitch better!".

When you think about it, she might be on to something. There have been a few hefty hurlers who have had some measure of success in baseball, most notably Mickey Lolich and David Wells. But the handful of pitchers who have toed the rubber and tipped the scales in an O's uniform are a less than illustrious bunch: the aforementioned Kline, Terry Mathews, Sid Fernandez, the notorious Sidney Ponson, Wells himself (who had a career-high 14 losses in his lone season in Baltimore), and the gentleman above, one John Thomas Coppinger.

Rocky towered over most batters at 6'5" and a generously-listed 245 to 250 pounds. But the art of pitching is heavily dependent on mechanics and self-control, and once you get to the highest levels of baseball, a huge fastball just isn't enough to cut it. One of several "next big things" to fizzle out for the Birds in recent history, Rocky lasted just five years (82 games) in the bigs, giving up home runs (1.8 per nine innings) and walks (5.2 per nine innings) in healthy doses.

So if you're a budding pitching prospect, do yourself a favor and listen to Mom. Healthy portions, don't skimp on the training regimen, and maybe switch to light beer.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ken Singleton, 1983 Topps #85

The summer after I graduated high school, I spent a week in West Virginia with dozens of other Catholic youth group members from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It was known as the Appalachia Workcamp, and we spent the week serving as handymen (and handywomen) for the underprivileged citizens of Preston County, one of the poorest counties in the United States. It was also a great opportunity to meet and bond with new people within our own camp. I loved the whole experience so much that I was making the trip for the third consecutive year. Every night, we would meet after dinner for a prayer session, often involving a group activity.

On one particular night, we divided into our work groups. Each person had a piece of paper with their name on it, and these sheets were passed around the group. Everyone wrote a word or phrase describing the person whose name was on the sheet, and then there was a discussion about the word choices. I've still got mine, and I couldn't begin to remember how others saw me for the most part. I'm sure there were run-of-the-mill niceties like "good listener", or "great sense of humor". But one in particular has stuck with me ever since. Terry, one of the adults in our group, said that I was "quietly competent". She was so precise in her phrasing, and it was such a simple concept. But I really took it to heart. Ultimately, it's a great thing to say about someone. How often do we worry that we're making a wreck of things, that we're bumblers, that we're going to fail at a task? Just to hear that I was able, that I was handling my business, it was a wonderful thing.

Ken Singleton is the very definition of "quietly competent". When baseball fans discuss the greatest players of the 1970s, Kenny's name is rarely uttered. But he finished in the top ten of MVP balloting four times during the decade (twice in the top three), and what's more impressive, he ranked sixth among all hitters in OPS+ with a strong 139. He was at or above league average for all but the final year of his career. Though he had a great power stroke, topping out at 35 home runs in 1979, his true expertise was his ability to draw the walk. This has traditionally been one of the most underrated skills for a hitter, even though the basic point of batting is to reach base. Ken never led his league in walks, but placed second six times. That's a lot of bases on balls.

But Ken Singleton has continued to practice quiet competence since retirement. He has been a color commentator for Yankees games on the YES Network for the past twenty years, and most O's fans aren't even angry with him. Ken provides a rare touch of class amongst the yammering ninny cheerleaders with whom he normally shares the press box.

I almost made it through this entry without saying anything nasty...but come on, it's the Yankees.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jesse Orosco, 1996 Fleer Orioles #13

Last week, Julio Franco announced his retirement. He had been playing in Mexico this year, but played major league baseball through 2007, at which point he was (at least) forty-nine years old. Franco was an amazingly conditioned athlete, and made his major league debut a few months before I was born. He brings to mind Baltimore's own ageless wonder, lefty relief specialist Jesse Orosco.

Orosco was thirty-eight by the time he arrived in Charm City in 1995, and had already had a remarkable career that included World Series triumphs with the Mets (1986) and Dodgers (1988). He famously saved Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, jumping for joy as the final out was recorded. But there were plenty of pitches left in the southpaw's arm. He led the American League in appearances in his first season here, though those 65 games pitched would actually be his low-water mark as an Oriole. Orosco was the quintessential LOOGY (Lefthanded One Out GuY), throwing no more than 56 and two-thirds innings during those years. But he was damned good at what he did, striking out 241 batters in his 243 and one-thirds innings with a 3.37 ERA while wearing orange and black. Once again, he did this between the ages of thirty-eight and forty-two.

When he was really in a groove, there was nothing more enjoyable than watching Orosco shut down hitters that were young enough to be his children. You just got the sense that he could keep playing forever. In reality, he lost his effectiveness in 2003, bouncing from the Padres to the Yankees to the Twins, the team that had originally drafted him in 1978 and traded him the next year to the Mets for Jerry Koosman (!). Jesse finally called it quits at age forty-six, and he still holds the major league record for games pitched with 1252 (all but four in relief) in his twenty-four-year career. There are plenty of other fun facts to underscore the ridiculous persistence of the man once referred to by Alan Mills as "the Old Indian". On his Baseball Reference page, there are twenty-seven transactions listed. According to the endlessly entertaining Oracle of Baseball, you can jump from Babe Ruth to Orosco in three steps, largely thanks to Ed Kranepool, a teammate of Orosco's with the 1979 Mets.

It's always bittersweet to see a player that you've followed for most of his career call it quits, but I'm starting to see guys retire whom I remember as rookies, the Ryan Kleskos and Shawn Greens. I'm still hoping against hope that Mike Piazza has another season or two left in him.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Juan Bell, 1992 Score #646

SoI posted this entry about Juan Bell on Tuesday. A few nights later, I was looking through some cards that I still have to enter into my computer inventory and I found the card above. I'll repost the 1992 Donruss Juan Bell below, so you can look at them one on top of the other:

So the plot thickens. Was there a rogue photographer with Score who was secretly working for Donruss? Or vice versa? I never imagined that there could be double agents amidst the growing number of card companies that were vying for an ever-larger piece of the pie in the early 1990s. This makes me wish that I still had my cards organized alphabetically, rather than by year and brand, so that I'd be more readily able to spot cool trends like this. As always, if you have any more examples of things like this, let me know...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Wes Stock, 1963 Topps #438

Baseball is a sport notorious for its colorful and often cruel nicknames. The first deaf player in the big leagues was known as "Dummy" Hoy. Mordecai Brown, the great Cub pitcher, was known as "Three-Finger" due to a disfiguring farm accident from his childhood. I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but my favorite mean baseball moniker is that of former Giants and Dodgers pitcher Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons.

Take a good look at ol' Wes Stock up there. If you're like me, you'll be surprised to learn that neither Baseball Reference nor Wikipedia have a record of any nicknames for the former relief specialist. Not even, say, Dumbo, or Earflaps, or perhaps Gomer. I would have thought that his teammates and peers would at least make light of his offensive shortcomings. As a reliever, Wes only batted fifty-nine times in nine seasons. He had three hits, all of them coming in 1964 with the Kansas City Athletics. That's an .051 batting average, kids.

Okay, this has been a needlessly taunting post. In all seriousness, Wes Stock was a valuable and resilient pitcher for the Birds in the early 1960s. He spent one year in the minor leagues before losing the next two to military service, but joined the O's on his return in 1959. In 1962 he led the team in games pitched with 53. He sandwiched this feat between undefeated campaigns (5-0 and 7-0, respectively). For his career, Wes had a great 27-13 record. That's certainly 27 more wins than you or I have.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lee May, 1994 Upper Deck All Time Heroes #193

Let's celebrate May Day with the best of the three Mays who have suited up with the Birds. (The others are father and son duo Dave and Derrick May.) Of course, coming from Washington College, May 1st has a loaded meaning to me.

Back in 1968, when Lee was clouting 22 home runs in his second full season in the bigs with Cincinnati, former Washington College English professor Bennett Lamond decided to revive the British tradition of May Day by holding class on the campus green. He and his students read poetry and drank wine. Apparently, he struck a chord with those undergrads, because they returned to the green that evening, and I would wager a guess that more wine was involved. I'm not sure if there was more poetry. The event became something of a ritual, and it soon morphed into a two-night gathering at the flagpole. As the clock neared midnight and April 30 turned to May 1 - and again the following evening - college students anticipated the approach of summer and the end of classes by partaking liberally in alcoholic beverages and removing all of their clothes.

I've been surprised over the years by the sheer number of people that ask about May Day when they find out that I went to college in Chestertown. It turns out that other than being founded by George Washington, being located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and being home to the largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation, my little college is notorious for its annual nudity-fest. So let me try to answer the questions you and others might have about May Day.

First of all, it's not all that it's cracked up to be. The unfortunate thing about nudism is that for every person you can think of that you might like to see in the buff, there are probably ten others that you'd rather not get an eyeful of. Let me tell you; it's the latter that you remember. Excuse me while I shudder violently.

Meanwhile, the student body might have numbered 1,100 or so, but there weren't a whole lot of them who were free-wheeling (and soused) enough to eschew their mentionables and unmentionables. As the years went by, there was a larger contingent who contented themselves with standing on the periphery, fully clothed and ogling the romping nude masses. That's fairly creepy, but those that decided to take pictures really crossed the line.

However, one thing that helped keep the outlandish and playful aspect of May Day alive was the creative ways that some folks found to celebrate throughout the day. Naturally, clothes were required in classrooms, dining halls, and so forth. I can recall guys and girls wearing kimonos, bathrobes, and even yellow police tape to push the boundaries.

As for me, I did my best to avoid the eye of the desnudo hurricane until my senior year. The first of May was a Saturday, and as the evening wore on, I was in my suite sharing drinks with friends. The clock drew close to midnight, and the combination of liquid courage and the knowledge that it was now or never spurred me on. But I wasn't about to go it alone. One close friend (whose identity I will do my best to protect) agreed to be my partner in crime. We still had some modicum of modesty, so we decided to streak down to the flagpole incognito. My friend wore a gorilla mask, and I of course donned my Rey Mysterio, Jr. lucha mask. I can recall walking over to the campus green, still clothed, before quickly slipping out of my sandals, shorts, and shirt and handing them to my bemused girlfriend. I recall charging down "The Hill" behind my friend, who promptly lost his balance halfway down and rolled to the bottom. There was a certain rush of adrenaline that I felt, standing in the midst of several dozen people, no one wearing anything other than a smile. Someone I didn't even know playfully accused me of trying to hide, so I pulled up the wrestling mask and gave her a glimpse of my face. But really, there wasn't much to the whole thing. Shocking, I know. We milled about for a few minutes, had our fill, and climbed back up The Hill. I gathered my garments from my better half, put them on, and went home.

When I look back on that night of semi-reckless abandon, one thought crosses my mind:

I'm glad that I graduated before Facebook became popular.