Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1992 Upper Deck #165

I recently received a request from reader Steve to feature this card, and I was happy to oblige. He noted that it's the rare card that pictures Cal doing the very thing that endeared him to his fans and brought him much of the credit that he received for "saving" baseball in the ugly aftermath of the 1994-95 players' strike: reaching out to fans, even when it meant sacrificing hours of his own time. I've written on a few occasions about the thrills I felt when I was able to spend just a few moments making small talk with the like of Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell as they signed my cards. But you might be surprised to learn that I've briefly met Cal Junior, and I fumbled the opportunity.

When I tell people that I spent Fall 2004 working in the Aberdeen IronBirds' front office, they often want to know if I was rubbing elbows with the Iron Man on a daily basis. I always tell them that Cal was - and still is - a ridiculously busy man; he's built a far-reaching business empire in his post-playing career, and he's not often seen at the stadium that bears his surname. Brother Billy is the near-daily presence, bringing attention to himself in his incorrigible manner. But I did share office space with #8 on one fateful October morning.

It was a Friday near Halloween, and the IronBirds staff was celebrating with a pot-luck breakfast: eggs, bagels, pancakes, Munchkins, you name it. It doesn't take much to make me happy, so this free and delicious bounty met my definition of a good morning. But just as we were all finishing our meal and dragging ourselves back to our cubicles and offices, he walked through the door unannounced, fresh from a meeting pertaining to the construction of the Little League baseball facility in the Ripken Stadium complex. The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of Cal. At a little over six feet tall, few people tower over me. I've always known that Ripken was 6'4", but it's something else entirely to see him up close. I also took notice of his steely gray eyes. It's fortunate for the rest of us that he chose to become a baseball player instead of a super-villain who uses the powers of hypnosis to make the people of the world bend to his will.

I was in a tough position. As the New Guy in the office, and someone who was around on a temporary basis, I assumed that I was the only one who had never met Cal. It seemed nervy and conspicuous of me to walk right up and introduce myself to the baseball legend in front of everyone. Asking him for an autograph when I was technically one of his employees would be totally out of the question. It had been much easier to approach Billy Ripken weeks earlier: he had been standing alone at that moment and while he had played in the major leagues for several years, his older brother was an absolute icon. So I stood off to the side in my khakis and my long-sleeved henley, trying not to gawk noticeably as the man who had been the face of the Orioles for two decades and who had redefined the position of shortstop sat a couple of feet away and partook in the most important meal of the day. While I certainly made an effort to soak it all in, the only clear memory I have is of Junior teasing Adam (one of the ticket sales representatives) for his personal take on the Mickey-Mouse-shaped pancake. Cal insisted with a laugh that the flapjack on his plate more closely resembled a bear's head.

I generally live my life with very few regrets. There have been plenty of times that I've taken a stab in the dark in various situations, precisely because I'd rather fall flat than hold back and wonder what could have been. But I've lived life as an Oriole fan for fifteen years now, and the one time I had a chance to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., I didn't even go out on a limb to say hello. As a result, all that I have is a half-baked anecdote about pancakes. I still wonder about that.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rick Bauer, 2002 Fleer Tradition #450

This Day in Orioles History: September 29, 2004

Orioles 7, Blue Jays 6 and Orioles 4, Blue Jays 0 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

The Orioles kept their hopes for a .500 finish alive by sweeping a doubleheader at home against the last-place Jays. In the first game, David Newhan's walkoff, bases-loaded single off of Justin Speier broke the tie with two outs in the ninth inning. The other offensive stars included Tim Raines, Jr. (2-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI) and Rafael Palmeiro, who hit the 550th and 551st home runs of his career and drove in three runs.

Bruce Chen, continuing a late audition for the team's 2005 starting rotation, struck out five and allowed three runs (two earned) in six solid innings, but was betrayed by his bullpen. Entrusted with a 6-3 lead, the combustible Jorge Julio served up a two-run homer to Carlos Delgado. HGH spokesman Jason Grimsley blew a save, surrendering a game-tying home run to Russ Adams in the eighth but setting the stage for the Birds' ninth-inning heroics. B. J. Ryan's perfect inning of work put him in position for the win.

In the nightcap, unpredictable righthander Rick Bauer collaborated with Buddy Groom, Grimsley, and Ryan to blank Toronto on just four hits. Bauer whiffed seven batters in his six innings of work and picked up his second win of 2004. Jay Gibbons' fifth-inning double (part of a 3-for-3 effort) drove in the game's only run until the O's broke out for three insurance runs in the eighth, highlighted by an RBI triple deep to center field by Newhan.

Ultimately, the Birds would finish the 2004 season six games under the break-even mark at 78-84. Somewhat pitifully, this put them just one game behind the 1998 team for the best performance in the past decade (1998-2008).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brady Anderson, 2000 Topps #103

This Day in Orioles History: September 28, 1997

Orioles 7, Brewers 6
at County Stadium

The Orioles wrapped up a wildly successful season with a win in a wild affair. Baltimore jumped out to a 6-1 fifth-inning lead, thanks to a home run by Jeffrey Hammonds and a pair of longballs and four RBI from the unlikeliest of sources: first baseman Jerome Walton, the former Cubs Rookie of the Year who was playing in just his twenty-sixth game of the year. But O's starter Jimmy Key, who seemed poised to scoop up his seventeenth win, hit the wall in the bottom of the fifth, surrendering a two-out grand slam to Jeromy Burnitz to bring the Brew Crew within a run. A double and a walk put the go-ahead run on base, but Key wriggled out of further trouble by inducing a flyout off the bat of ex-Oriole Jack Voigt.

Converted catcher Nerio Rodriguez failed to hold the one-run lead for Key, giving up a game-tying double to Mark Loretta in the sixth inning. The score remained knotted at six until the top of the eighth, when Brewers reliever Al Reyes loaded the bases. He was replaced by Mark Davis, who proceeded to hit Brady Anderson with a pitch, scoring Aaron Ledesma with the eventual winning run. The ageless Jesse Orosco, the fifth of seven O's pitchers on the day, picked up the win with two-thirds of a scoreless inning, and pear-shaped righty Terry Mathews notched his first save of the year with a nine-pitch effort in the ninth.

With the victory, the Birds finished at 98-64, two games ahead of the wild-card Yankees. The Orioles had gone wire-to-wire, leading the American League East every day during the 1997 season. After dispatching the Griffey-ARod-Edgar-Big Unit Mariners in four games in the Division Series, the Baltimore Bats went cold against the Indians in a heartbreaking six-game ALCS defeat. Of course, the O's have not had so much as a winning record in the eleven seasons since.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Scott McGregor, 1986 Leaf #165

That's right, I'm on vacation again. Just a long weekend in Williamsburg; I'll be back on Tuesday! In the meantime, enjoy more of This Day in Orioles History.

This Day in Orioles History: September 27, 1986

Orioles 7, Brewers 0 at County Stadium

As the Orioles' first losing season in several years ground to a finish, veteran lefty Scott McGregor provided a brief respite by two-hitting the Brewers. After a leadoff bunt single by Paul Molitor, the O's pitcher retired the next twenty-four batters in order, a streak that ended with Rick Cerone's leadoff walk in the ninth inning. McGregor improved to 11-14 on the season, and tossed his twenty-second career shutout.

The O's provided their pitcher with a healthy margin of error before he even took the mound, chasing Milwaukee starter Juan Nieves with just one out in the top of the first inning. Six of the seven batters that he faced got base hits, with Eddie Murray's two-run double counting as the biggest blow. John Shelby provided more of a cushion with a two-run single in the third inning. Rookie outfielder Ken Gerhart chipped in with three hits and a pair of RBI himself.

Unfortunately, the Birds lost six of their final seven games after this big win in Milwaukee, perhaps hastening skipper Earl Weaver's decision to end his second managerial stint.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Johnny Pesky, 1955 Bowman #241

Of all of the cards that I feature on this blog, one of my favorite genres is the "cameo". Guys that even die-hard Oriole fans might take a look at and say, "Wait a minute...he was on the team?". You have your Reggie Jacksons, guys who spent a single year in Baltimore and moved on to greener ($$$) pastures. Then there are the Ozzie Guillens, players who drifted in at the end of their careers and were gone in the blink of an eye. Rarest of all are the vets who didn't ever take the field for the O's, and yet made their way onto a card clad in orange and black. So today's card even caught me off guard.

I received a small box in the mail from David, the expert on all matters concerning Tribe Cards. Contained within was my booty for participating in his Scratch Card Tournament, an autographed Ryan Minor card that I've just got to post here soon, as well as a varied and delightful assortment of other Orioles cards. But my jaw actually dropped when I pulled out this fifty-three-year-old beauty. Not only did it represent my first 1955 Bowman card of any sort, it featured one of the most beloved members of the Red Sox in a (hastily airbrushed) Orioles uniform.

Say what?

Having done plenty of research on Orioles history, I could tell you without even looking it up that Johnny Pesky never played Game One for the Birds. The card back mentions his most recent season, split between the Tigers and the Senators. Sure enough, Baseball Reference tells me that the infielder who had a piece of Fenway Park named in his honor signed with Baltimore as a free agent in December of 1954, only to be released three days into the 1955 season without having played in a game.

Wouldn't you know it? The day after this treasure arrived in the mail, word came down that the Red Sox are set to retire Johnny's uniform number (#6). It's a small world indeed. So thanks to David for helping me discover a previously hidden (to me at least) chapter in Orioles history!

P.S.: Now that I've done a quick search for 1955 Bowman, I see that there are some more gems out there, including fellow almost-Orioles Preacher Roe (Brooklyn Dodgers hero) and the excellently-named Matt Batts. I might have to take a trip to eBay soon!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mike Mussina, 1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars #6

Alright, it's high time I showed a little magnanimousness toward a Yankee. Mike Mussina, at the age of forty and in his eighteenth major league season, is doing some of his finest work. Without him, the Bronx Bombers would have been eliminated from playoff contention long before September. On Sunday, he will take the mound at Fenway Park with a chance to do something that he's never done before in his career: win his twentieth game.

And I'm rooting for him to do it.

It's taken eight years of bitterness to reach this catharsis; it certainly doesn't hurt that he's facing the just-as-odious Red Sox in this crucial start. Every once in a while, there's nothing wrong with holding on to a good old grudge: Jeffrey Maier, Bob Irsay, Joe Namath. But this one has run its course. Mike Mussina gave the Orioles and the Baltimore fans nine-plus great years, only to watch the team crumble around him due to the ham-fisted management of Peter Angelos and his cronies. So when his contract came up and the owner tried to get cute with him, he washed his hands of the situation. Sure, the Yankees paid him big bucks. Can you honestly say you would have turned down that money?

Even having watched Mussina in his prime, and keeping tabs on him in the years since his departure, it's easy to overlook how good he really is. Earlier this week, he won his 269th career game, surpassing Jim Palmer on the all-time list. Palmer himself recently championed "Moose" for the Hall of Fame, pointing out how much more impressive his accomplishments are when placed in the context of the offense-crazed era of the 1990s and 2000s: the steroids, the expansion-diluted pitching staffs, the smaller ballparks. It was refreshing to see Jim ignore all of the short-sighted hooey about Mike's lack of 20-win seasons, Cy Young Awards, and championships. If the greatest pitcher in Oriole history can put aside a sense of blind loyalty to the home team and sing the praises of Mike Mussina, I'm not one to argue.

You've got one more shot at the big two-oh, Moose. If this is the last game of your career, make it count.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chris Hoiles, 1994 Fleer Ultra All-Star #1

It might be somewhat unbecoming of me to kick the Yankees while they're down (sorry, Eric), but I'm still stinging from the weekend sweep in the Bronx and I need to find comfort where I can. As of last night, it's official: the New York Yankees will fail to make the playoffs for the first time in a non-strike season since 1993. To give you some idea of how long it's been, that was the final year of the traditional divison alignment: two seven-team divisions in each league. Roberto Alomar and the Toronto Blue Jays won the American League East en route to their second straight World Series title, and Frank Thomas' Chicago White Sox took the crown in the West. The Buck Showalter-managed Yankees shook off years of ineptitude to be runners-up, seven games behind the Jays. Just three games back of the Yankees were my Orioles, tied with a powerful Tigers team. The offensive standout of that Baltimore team was the man you see above, stalwart catcher Chris Hoiles (.310 AVG/.416 OBP/.585 SLG).

As you can see, it's been a long time since I've had the chance to relax and enjoy the postseason without having to worry about the damned Yankees buying another ring. Of course, there are still those Boogeymen from Boston, to say nothing of the Dodgers and the detestable Manny Ramirez. But I'll take what I can get, you know? In the meantime, it doesn't matter that New York will win over 90 games, or that the Birds will finish miles behind them in last place. Today they are a third-place time, incapable of even sneaking in as a wild card. It serves them right for trying to rely on immature drunks like Sidney Ponson and insincere steroid abusers such as Jason Giambi. Take it to the golf course, boys.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pedro Beato, 2006 Bowman Heritage Prospects #BHP96

Ugh, it's another sick-day post. I've spent the afternoon and evening laying around the house in my pajamas, my head in a fog, trying to gulp down fluids. I feel faded somehow, as undefined as former 2nd round draft pick Pedro Beato's facial features on this badly-designed card. The untucked jersey on the left side is a nice touch, too. Off to bed...catch you fine folks tomorrow.

Mike Boddicker, Mark Corey, and Floyd Rayford, 1981 Topps #399

9/23/08: Somehow I had a brain cramp and didn't hit the "Publish Post" button last night. Forgive me.

Topps' Future Stars/Top Prospects/Rookies/etc. cards have always been a delicious exercise in guesswork. In 1982, the Reds' Future Stars were Scott Brown, Geoff Combe, and Paul Householder. Strike three, you're out. The 1980 Mets card featured Dan Norman, Jesse Orosco, and Mike Scott. Two outta three ain't bad. In this instance, they hit on one of the three up and coming Orioles youngsters. Mike Boddicker anchored the team's staff as they won their third World Series in 1983, and was an effective pitcher for a decade. But what of the others?

Floyd Rayford hung around into the late 1980s, and peaked with a .306 average and 18 home runs in 1985, so he at least had something of a career. Plus, as I've pointed out, he was an endless source of entertainment for my uncle. So even though "Honey Bear" is something less than a household name today, he was a better choice for Future Stardom than, say, 1987 selection Tim Pyznarski.

Mark Corey? Well, somebody at Topps just refused to give up on him. 1981 marked the third consecutive year that they had earmarked him as a Future Star. In 1979, he appeared in an Orioles Prospects triptych with John Flinn and Sammy Stewart. The following year, he joined Dave Ford and Wayne Krenchicki as the would-be O's greats. As you may have guessed, Mark never quite made it to the dizzying heights that Topps forecast for him. An 0-for-8 in 1981 slammed the lid shut on his career, leaving him with a career batting average of .211.

But he still had more of a career than 1995's Coming Attraction, Brian Sackinsky.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Alan Mills, 1993 Topps #137

Some of you, men and women much more level-headed and eloquent than me, have eulogized Yankee Stadium in words more measured and flowery than I can muster. I have only two words for the site of the Jeffrey Maier game and numerous other pinstriped horrors:

Good riddance.

I choose to remember one sterling image from Yankee Stadium, a glorious sight that materialized in the midst of a violent bench-clearing brawl between the home team and my own Orioles on May 18, 1998. Meathead closer Armando Benitez had proven how manly he was by surrendering a game-breaking three-run home run and immediately plunking Tino Martinez with a pitch. Not satisfied, he proceeded to drop his glove and gesture to the entire Yankee dugout, calling them out. Professional screwup Darryl Strawberry answered the challenge, sucker-punching the temperamental O's pitcher. Straw's momentum carried him into the dugout. But Alan Mills was ready for him, and jumped down into the dugout himself, decking the New York outfielder in one fluid motion. It was a symbolic gesture, a final salvo fired in a rivalry that would lose its luster in the ensuing decade. More than that, it was an obnoxious Yankee player and borderline criminal getting what he had coming to him.

Sure, there have been plenty of truly great Orioles moments in the Bronx, from Frank Robinson's game-saving catch that sent him sprawling into the bleachers to the 12-2 win this past May, punctuated by Mike Mussina's first-inning exit. But there are also plenty of demons to be exorcised when the lights go out for the final time this evening. There are few places that are tougher on visitors than Yankee Stadium with 46,000 overbearing New Yorkers in full throat. When the brand-new, taxpayer-subsidized, needlessly opulent edifice opens for business across the way next April, many of the more vociferous fans may be priced out.

It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch. Don't come back any time soon, Yankee Stadium.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vintage Fri- um...Vintage Saturdays: Boog Powell, 1965 Topps #560

Okay, I've never posted a vintage card except for Fridays, but this is a special occasion. This morning, I took a trip to Rosedale Federal. I don't usually spend my weekends hanging out at banks, but I'd gotten word from my eagle-eyed mother that Boog Powell, Tom Matte, and the Oriole Bird were schedule to appear from 11 am to 1 pm as part of an open house celebrating the organization's 100th anniversary. I was sure to arrive promptly at 11:00, and was relieved to see that the line was relatively short, stretching only to the door. The Bird was making his way down the line to mug for the crowd and sign autographs while we waited for our moments with the two retired athletes. I had him sign this hat, which I plan on raffling off this week on my website (details to come later). The mascot took one look at his own likeness on the hat, and kissed it several times while whistling appreciatively. (The Bird speaks only in a series of short whistles, but he's a very gifted communicator.)

Boog and Tom were sitting at the same table, so you could save time by getting autographs from each of them in turn. When I got to the front of the line, Matte was free for the moment, so I handed him my old Baltimore Colts pennant. He signed it, "Tom Matte, Baltimore Colts 41", with a blue Sharpie. We chatted a bit about the Ravens: He likes their chances vs. Cleveland tomorrow, but thinks the schedule will be tougher after that. Obviously, he says that injuries will be a big factor throughout the season. I talked about how impressed I was with the offensive playcalling in Week 1, and he agreed that new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was a good guy for the job. He also suggested that ex-coach Brian Billick "wouldn't know offense if it bit him..." before trailing off. At that point, Boog piped up, wondering aloud why more football teams don't run the ball behind an unbalanced offensive line. Matte agreed: "Christ, I ran behind an unbalanced line in high school and averaged 11 yards a carry!".

Now I had my audience with Boog. I produced the 1965 Topps card above, since I'm trying to complete the set and I thought it would be neat to have at least one autograph included. As he made it out to me, I picked his brain about the photo. I wanted to know if he'd ever actually worn #8 in the regular season. "Never," he replied. He suggested that they'd handed it to him for about two hours on the first day of Spring Training, so probably just long enough for the photo shoot. In my research for the NumerOlogy site, he'd also been connected to #30, but he insisted that he'd only worn #16 and #26. He had started in #16 in 1962 (since he played just 4 games in 1961, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt), but the following season outfielder Al Smith joined the team from the White Sox. As Boog related to me, Smith had worn #16 for most of his ten-year career, and "who was I to say he couldn't have it?". So it was that Powell switched to the #26 that became his trademark. "Of course if it happened today, he'd have to give me $100,000", he chuckled.

Ever the enterprising webmaster, I offered a quick plug for my site, which actually elicited a request for the hulking former first baseman. "If you're one of those 'web freaks' (a term that I've never heard, but I'll have to adopt as a badge of honor), maybe you can look something up. See who's hit the most home runs by a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium." Apparently, several Yankee fans have approached Boog suggesting that he himself holds this honor (presumably for visiting players), but he's never heard it repeated by the local media. So I assured him that if it were so, I would spread the word. But based on my crack research, he's tied with Reggie Jackson for second. They each hit 22 longballs as visitors in The House That Ruth Built. The leader, as near as I can tell? Rafael Palmeiro, who passed Boog and Reggie with a three-run shot off of Javier Vazquez in September 2004. His 23rd Yankee Stadium home run would be his last.

So: sorry, Boog. But there's no shame in being Number Two, especially when you still top lefty Yankee Killers like Carl Yastrzemski and Ken Griffey, Jr.

P.S.: For what it's worth, Powell's 41 home runs total against the Yankees were the most he hit against any opponent.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Nelson Briles, 1979 Topps #262

I'm often guilty of failing to really focus on the mundane details that lurk in the background of a baseball card photo. One of the things I admire about fellow bloggers like Josh Wilker and Andy
is their ability to latch on to those little things that you or I might gloss over due to a short attention span. They can zero in on a blurry spectator with an odd-looking outfit, or a junky old car parked behind an adjacent diamond at the Spring Training facility and riff on it for several paragraphs.

I didn't have any pre-existing ideas for today, so I flipped through my binder of vintage Topps looking for nothing more than variety. Often my selections for this blog are remarkably haphazard, and so was the case as I sat down last night. I just did two position players in a row...maybe I'll really mix it up and throw up a team card. Nah, none of these are doing it for me; I'll go with a pitcher. The past few Fridays I've gone with 1960's cards, so let's jump to the late 1970's. So it went, until I settled on a player I haven't featured in the previous 263 entries in this space, a fellow who happens to share a birthday with me. I still didn't have much to say about Nelson Briles; he's a guy who caused Baltimore fans more pain than anything. So I looked deeper.

This photo has an ethereal quality to it, even if it's just the power of suggestion talking. ("Nellie" died suddenly in 2005 after suffering a heart attack while golfing.) You may have to click on the image to study it in greater size and detail, but there's something that's a bit off about the coloring. The hue of Briles' face seems to vacillate between reds and yellows, as if he's being viewed through a prism of light. Then there's the background. The deep blue tint of the outfield wall complements the airy blue of the sky, giving the impression of mountains that reach back to the horizon. Nelson Briles isn't in a run-of-the-mill baseball park; he's one with the land. He's somewhere beyond you and me, and he's staring into eternity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ryan Adams, 2007 Bowman Heritage Prospects #BHP93

Before we get started, let's get the cheap joke out of the way: no, not that Ryan Adams.

Anyway, I pulled this card out of a pack of Bowman Heritage last winter and thought: Who in the name of purple elephants are you? When I found the answer, I was less than enthused. At the time he was a 20-year-old second baseman who had hit .236 in the New York-Penn League. This year he made some progress, though. With the A-level Delmarva Shorebirds, he hit .308 with 11 home runs and 57 RBI. Of course, there's still two sides to this coin. Ryan's defensive prowess is...bowling-shoe ugly, to borrow a phrase. 46 errors in 96 games. That's almost one for every two games. Perhaps sensing that his future might not be at second base, the Shorebirds gave him some trials at shortstop and third base. How did that work out? 1 error in 1 game at third, and 5 errors in 7 games at short. So the grisly total is 52 miscues in 104 games. He broke a decades-old South Atlantic League record held by Juan Samuel (who is now the Orioles' third base coach). Those are the kinds of numbers you'd expect over a hundred years ago, when gloves were the size and shape of today's batting gloves. You probably also won't be surprised to hear that Delmarva led the league in errors with 202.

Ryan Adams may yet have a future in Baltimore. But first, he should probably sleep with his glove under his pillow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nick Markakis, 2008 Upper Deck Spectrum #11

One of the drawbacks of being a sports fan in this day and age is the notion of star players as corporate entities. With so many millions of dollars at stake, most of our favorite athletes are very careful to present a bland, polished image so as to remain optimally marketable. Think of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and the rest of the U.S. Olympic Men's Basketball team remaining mum on China's human rights abuses. Try to recall an interview or sound bite with Derek Jeter in which he said something - anything - memorable and uncliched. (Derek Jeter isn't one of my favorite athletes, but you get the point.) That's one of the reasons that sports blogs, many of them having an irreverent, tabloid nature, have become so wildly popular. They expose the human side of these larger-than-life, seemingly distant and untouchable men and women.

With that in mind, I had to chuckle when I read Jon Bois' first-hand account of Nick Markakis, who is the closest thing to a legitimate star that the Orioles currently have (Brian Roberts excepted). This blog post is a lot more harmless than the drunk photos and tirades that are reported on Deadspin and the like.

You see, Jon knew Nick when they were both Cub Scouts in suburban Georgia, back in the early-to-mid 1990s. It's actually kind of charming to imagine the lithe, unflappable outfielder with the sweet swing and the cannon arm as a Sega-loving motor-mouthed braggart of a ten-year-old. It might seem shocking that the young Markakis was such a handful, but I've read articles that hint at a much more irreverent personality than the guy that we fans get to see on the field. He shaved his hair into a mohawk in April, getting a rise from buttoned-down manager Dave Trembley. A Baltimore Sun article talked about Nick's inner child, complete with tales of his fascination with Heelies and photos of #21 balancing a chair on his chin and spinning a basketball on top of a pen.

I'm not saying that I want Nick Markakis to turn into Manny Ramirez 2.0. I just hope that he has fun on the diamond and in the community when the opportunity presents itself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

John P. O'Donoghue, 1994 Score #593

Okay, enough teasing. Last week, I got an email from the man pictured above. He'd found NumerOlogy and this blog, and wanted to tell me how much he'd enjoyed them. He hadn't been aware that he was the tallest pitcher from Delaware until he read it here, and joked, "Finally I came in first at something!". He also let me in on another tidbit he'd gleaned from SABR: he and his father were the only father-son duo to pitch in both the College World Series and the major leagues.

Of course, it's always a pleasant surprise to hear from a former Oriole player. In John's case, he was so gracious and seemed to have a sense of humor about himself, so I felt encouraged to ask him for an interview. He quickly agreed, and you can read the interview at NumerOlogy. His responses were more insightful and funny than I could have hoped for, and he's a former player who is truly appreciative of the fans. Thanks again, John!

Monday, September 15, 2008

John P. O'Donoghue, 1994 Pinnacle #253

What are the odds of two Pinnacle cards on back-to-back days? I don't have anything to say about this card at the moment. It's here as a sort of teaser. I'm in a cryptic mood. More John O'Donoghue content coming soon...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kent Mercker, 1996 Pinnacle #340

I like to think that I'm pretty on-the-ball when it comes to Major League Baseball and the guys who play it. So it's a bit humbling to admit that I was completely taken by surprise to read that Kent Mercker was considering retirement at the conclusion of the 2008 season. I was shocked to learn that he was still pitching.

A dozen years ago, the Orioles thought they'd scored a coup by prying the lefty away from Atlanta with free-agent dollars. He'd been a good fifth starter for the Braves, usually keeping his ERA in the threes and even tossing a no-hitter in 1994. By adding Mercker to rotation that already included Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, fellow newcomer David Wells, and any one of a crop of promising rookies (Jimmy Haynes, Rick Krivda, and Rocky Coppinger), the O's were convinced that they had the arms to take them deep into October.

Reality set in early and often as Kent had the most wretched first half of his career. He failed to surpass five innings in five of his first six starts. He allowed five or more runs in half of his twelve starts as an Oriole. The gruesome totals: 3-6, 7.76 ERA (nearly three runs above the league average), 1.86 WHIP, 12 HR in 58 innings. The fans of Baltimore breathed a sigh of relief on July 21, when the team cut their losses, dealing him to Cleveland for...Eddie Murray? I don't care if he was 40 years old, I certainly would've made that trade in a heartbeat.

Though Mercker managed to save face with the Indians in a bullpen role, it's still pretty remarkable that he got up off of the mat and pitched for upwards of another decade. He eventually reinvented himself as a solid reliever for a number of teams, and persevered despite losing two full seasons to injury. So if this is truly the end of the road for "Mercules", as his Baseball Reference page sponsor calls him, he's got a lot to be proud of.

Then again, he's also the guy that soured my father on free-agent pitchers from the National League. You win some, you lose some.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Harold Baines, 2005 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts Classic Careers #CC-HB

I picked this up at a card exhibition in the local mall this afternoon. I am a big Harold Baines fan, although it's safe to say that Steve is an even bigger fan. This card represents a true intersection of our collecting interests, in fact. As you can see, Harold is pictured in his Orioles uniform, circa 1993 or 1994. However, the text describes his leadership in Baltimore's 1997 AL East Championship run. The card represents a series of curious choices. While Baines was a dependable veteran presence in the O's lineup for much of the 1990s, he had spent much of the 1997 season with the White Sox. He was a late July pickup, and played only 44 games in Charm City (.291-4 HR-15 RBI). He did perform well in the postseason, batting .364 with a couple home runs. But if you're looking for leaders on that 1997 club, you'd probably turn to Rafael Palmeiro (38 HR, 110 RBI) or Roberto Alomar (.333 AVG) first.

Of course, the most curious thing about this card is the jersey swatch. It looks suspiciously like the black pinstripes on white of the South Side Sox, doesn't it? The card back confirms that it's a piece of a Harold Baines game-worn Chicago White Sox jersey. What gives? I'd like to think that Upper Deck had already printed up the Harold Baines Orioles cards, and when they went to their Relic Room they could only find his White Sox jersey. "He played for both teams in '97...it's close enough for government work", the exasperated, no-nonsense foreman said. "I'm gonna go get a beer. Who's with me?"

Friday, September 12, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Curt Motton, 1969 Topps #37

I recently told you about my trip to Cooperstown, but I neglected to mention something of interest regarding the Orioles.

Curt Motton is in the Hall of Fame.

I'm sure that sounds pretty crazy. After all, the guy was a career .213 hitter. Allow me to clarify by saying that his bat is in the Hall of Fame.

As I walked through the World Series exhibit, marveling at the ornate championship rings and trying to ignore the commemorative Red Sox video playing in the background, I noticed a display case with oodles of memorabilia. One of the items that caught my eye was the bat that Dave McNally, the great O's lefty, had used to hit a grand slam in Game Three of the 1970 World Series. This made him the first (and only, if I recall) pitcher in the history of the Fall Classic to club a bases-loaded home run. But when I took a closer look, the name engraved on the bat was "CURT MOTTON". It probably wouldn't make sense for pitchers to go to the trouble of carrying their own lumber, so it seems that Dave grabbed one of Motton's bats. Curt certainly wasn't using it; he did not appear in any games that postseason.

Go figure: a historic World Series home run was hit off of the bat of a guy who never even saw the field. Whatever it takes to get to Cooperstown, I guess.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brooks Robinson, 2003 Topps Gallery #16

Today marks the seventh anniversary of one of the biggest tragedies in the history of the United States, but it also marks another milestone that's closer to my comfort zone. Six years ago, legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas passed away at the age of sixty-nine. It was a profound loss for the residents of my home city, which had come to adopt the lanky Pittsburgh boy as one of their own. Really, I can't say it any better than Roch Kubatko did today:

"I hope people here appreciate how fortunate we've been to have Johnny U. and Brooks as our own, two guys cut from the same cloth - legends in their respective sports who never outgrew Baltimore, never became too big to sign an autograph, talk to fans, invite them to sit down for a beer and a few stories. They're neighbors and friends who just happen to be two of the greatest players at their positions."
Part of the mystique of the great old Colts and Orioles teams was the way that the players, even the stars, made themselves a part of the community. They lived in this city, rubbed elbows with the blue-collar workers, even opened restaurants, bars, and other businesses of their own. It truly is remarkable that a number of those guys are still here in Baltimore. In addition to Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer are still highly visible and accessible. Moreover, Boog and Jim are directly involved with the franchise. We're talking about three of the greatest players in club history, still out there on a regular basis decades after their playing days. There are other Orioles of yesteryear who either settled here (Dick Hall) or work with the team (Rick Dempsey), and they're a living part of the city's - and the O's - history.

If you're an Orioles fan, or even a baseball fan, I hope you get a chance to meet these guys in your lifetime.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Scott Erickson, 1999 Upper Deck #47

So, Scott Erickson is ready for a comeback.

Yes, seriously.

The 15-year veteran will be 41 by Opening Day 2009. He hasn't pitched since June 8, 2006. He missed the 2001 and 2003 seasons due to injury. He hasn't had an earned run average under 5.55 since 1999, when the Oriole outfield consisted of Brady Anderson, B. J. Surhoff, and Albert Belle. 1999 was also the last time he had a winning record.

Of course, nobody's going to be able to convince Scott that he's being foolish if he's made up his mind. Besides, compared to Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddux, he's still a young pup. In a year that has seen Carl Pavano and Mike Hampton return to the mound, who am I to say that a Scott Erickson comeback can't work? As starved as most teams are for pitching, someone should give him a Spring Training invite. I'll keep my ear to the ground on this one. It would make a good story, after all.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Brandon Fahey, 2007 Upper Deck #53

I'm not what you would call a Brandon Fahey fan. The guy is just the fringiest of fringe MLB players, a tiny white guy who's often overmatched both at the plate and in the field. Despite the fact that he's proven this time and again, he just keeps coming back on the Norfolk-to-Baltimore shuttle. He's like a bad dream, or a kernel of corn stuck between your back teeth, or maybe one of those irritating novelty candles that doesn't stay extinguished. Those damn things weren't funny in 1990, and they haven't gotten any funnier since. Brandon Fahey is one of those David Eckstein types who sticks around because he's so small and "gritty", and "scrappy", and "versatile", and lots of other code words for "untalented". Let's not even talk about his horrifying trial in left field. Eesh.

I'll give Brandon credit on one count, though; he might be a better ballplayer than his old man.

Bill Fahey was a backup catcher from 1971-1983, during which time he caddied for big names like Jim Sundberg, Gene Tenace, and Lance Parrish. His .241 career average was higher than Brandon's single-season best so far, but the younger Fahey has already surpassed his Dad's career highs in RBI (23 to 22), triples (2 to 1), and runs (36 to 18). He's matched his best mark in doubles (8). And in just three seasons, he's seen action in 174 games; Bill totaled 383 in eleven years. Brandon may have just two career home runs, both hit in his rookie season of 2006, but he makes 'em count: the first came off of Curt Schilling. If all of that isn't enough, the little guy has a hilariously maintained Wikipedia page, which proudly tells of his selection as AT&T Player of the Game on July 4, 2008.

So you see, there's hope yet for the Fahey bloodline. By 2120, Brian X. Fahey could be tearing up the Pan-American League (the third of the four major leagues) on the way to his second straight Triple Crown. Just you wait.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Arnie Portocarrero, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #366

I'm continually amazed by the wide variety of people that find, and comment on, this blog. I've come to rely on my small but loyal group of regulars, who provide encouragement and insight and let me know that I'm not just writing to keep myself occupied for a bit. But it's the random visitors that remind me of the improbable enormity of the Internet. Anyone can find anything if they know where to look.

Just today, I received a comment on my August 26th Fernando Valenzuela entry, which was actually all about my experiences at a couple of very small performances given by Brian Vander Ark. The comment came from Second Motion Records, who apparently just signed Brian and are re-releasing his three solo albums. They were complementary of my post, and of course they were plugging their artist, but I don't mind. After all, I'd done the same thing myself, so it was relevant.

Last Thursday's brief eulogy of Todd Cruz apparently elicited a comment from his godchild, who shared a few words about the impact that "Uncle Todd" had on their life.

Back in April, I wrote about Sammy Stewart and his tragic drug addiction and incarceration. One anonymous commenter apparently had personal knowledge of Sammy and his family, and indicated that the former pitcher was working hard to turn his life around and repair his strained relationships. I hope for his sake - and the sake of his family - that Stewart is in earnest.

One of my earliest entries was a somewhat playful bit, wondering about the origins and implications of Arnie Portocarrero's name. I hadn't thought about it for months, but just a few weeks ago I was notified of a new comment. One of Arnie's children was doing a Google search for their father's name, and stumbled upon my blog. He or she corrected my crack genealogy: Portocarrero is Spanish, not Italian. They also offered assurance that Arnie was a great man, and not slow. The "slow children" remark I had made in that post was an offhand reference to Arnie, the mentally retarded character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Based on the tone of the resultant comment, I assume no offense was taken.

These comments I've highlighted are a reminder that this blog doesn't exist in a bubble. The players that I write about are real, live people with children, nieces and nephews, friends, and (of course) fans. I can't take it for granted that I can write whatever I want with no consequences. For the most part, I take pride in keeping my opinions civil and respectful. When I want to bring humor to a subject, I do my best to put the emphasis on the silly rather than the cruel. I don't think I've censored myself, but I'm going to try to make sure that someone really deserves my vitriol before I tear them down (see: Ponson, Sidney).

If you're reading this blog, whether you're a friend, family member, an Oriole player, or just a collector and/or fan like myself, I'm glad to have you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gregg Olson, 1989 Topps #161

UPDATE: It's been brought to my attention that Le'Ron went to Alabama, not Auburn. As someone who is friends with an Auburn graduate, I am aware that such a lapse is a cardinal sin on my part. The lesson, as always: no matter how sure you think you are, always look it up first. Oops.

From one McClain to another. Sure, the player pictured above is closer Gregg Olson, the newest inductee to the Orioles Hall of Fame. But I posted this card because it depicts "the Otter" in his Auburn Tigers uniform. Since the O's have the day off, I don't think they'll hold a grudge if I talk a little football. The Ravens opened the NFL season in style today, pounding the visiting Bengals 17-10 with a major contribution by another Auburn Tiger, young fullback Le'Ron McClain. After carrying the ball 16 times total in the 2007 season, the second-year pro had a career day, toting the pigskin 19 times for 86 yards to wear down the Cincinnati defense. He also showed good hands out of the backfield, grabbing two passes for 24 yards in support of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. He moves pretty well for a guy who tips the scales at 260 pounds. In case you're curious, Gregg Olson is listed at 206 pounds. At 6'4", Gregg stands four inches taller than Le'Ron.

While I certainly wish that Baltimore had two strong franchises to root for, it is nice to be able to celebrate a strong performance by one club. The Orioles' neighbors in purple and black will have to keep me distracted until the tenants of Camden Yards are ready to uphold their end of the bargain.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Scott McClain, 1996 Fleer Update #U3

A few days ago, I heard the name "Scott McClain" in the context of active ballplayers. I wondered if it could possibly be the same Scott McClain who was in the Orioles' organization in the mid-90's. It seemed near impossible that anyone would hang around the minor leagues for so long. I didn't give it much more thought. Wednesday night, I watched the end of the Yankees-Rays game on ESPN, and saw the results of the Giants-Rockies game scroll across the bottom of the screen. Someone named McClain had hit a home run. Sure enough, it's the same guy.

Scott McClain was drafted by the Orioles in the 22nd round of the 1990 draft. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, I'll list the O's starting rotation that year: Pete Harnisch, Dave Johnson, Bob Milacki, John Mitchell, and Ben McDonald made the lion's share of starts. Interestingly enough, a high school pitcher out of Deer Park, Texas named Andy Pettitte was taken just ten slots ahead of Scott in that draft. The young infielder had a slow but steady climb through the Baltimore farm system, finally reaching AAA Rochester at age 23 in 1995; he hit 21 total home runs that year. But after seven years, the Orioles traded him to the Mets in early 1997 along with Manny Alexander for Hector Ramirez, a pitcher who would never crack their roster.

In all, Scott would log three and one-half seasons at AAA before getting the call to the big leagues. It was 1998, and the 26-year-old spent much of the campaign tearing up the International League to the tune of 34 home runs and 109 RBI (tying for second in both categories). He struggled in two cups of coffee with the brand-new Devil Rays, going just 2-for-20. He did score his first career run on May 17 against the Orioles. But Scott wouldn't make it back to the bigs for another seven years. He spent four of those seasons (2001-2004) in Japan, hitting 71 home runs for the Seibu Lions. Despite averaging 30 home runs and over 100 RBI since his return to the States, McClain received only cursory glances at the major league level from the Cubs in 2005 and the Giants in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Now 36 and playing his nineteenth season of pro ball with his eight franchise, Scott McClain has gotten one more September callup. Wednesday night he launched a no-doubter to left field against the Rockies. After hitting 358 home runs as a professional, he'd finally hit his first in the majors. In one game, Scott established career highs in hits, runs, home runs, and RBI.

Congratulations, Scott. It's never too late to start fresh.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Vintage Fridays: Pete Burnside, 1963 Topps #19

I don't know who you think you're fooling, Pete Burnside. I don't care what that tiny black text says at the bottom of your card. You're no Oriole. Look at you! Your feature photo is in pinstripes, with the Washington Senators "W" on your hat. You've got some nerve, putting on a blank white jersey with piping down the center for your inset photo. You didn't even bother dropping the "W" hat for that shoot!

Look, you make a good argument, Pete. You spent all of 1962 in D.C., only to be sent to the O's in December. It was too late to try out that orange, black, and white uniform, so Topps went to press with what they had. But branding you as an Oriole, even if it was in name only, was a mighty futile gesture. You made it onto the field for six whole games for Baltimore, seven-plus innings total. You allowed thirteen baserunners, and were lucky to only surrender four runs. The Orioles released you in May, and before you could say "Boomerang", you were back in the "W". You fared even worse there, unfortunately, and 1963 was all she wrote for Pete Burnside.

I hope you didn't try out a post-baseball career as a Master of Disguise.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Todd Cruz, 1984 Topps #773

I really wish I wasn't writing this entry tonight, or ever for that matter. Former Orioles third baseman Todd Cruz, a member of the 1983 World Series Championship team, died on Tuesday. He had been swimming in the pool at his apartment complex in Arizona. The cause of death hasn't been announced, pending the coroner's examination. It's believed that he suffered a heart attack. Cruz was 52 - younger than both of my parents. It's never easy to hear about the premature passing of a player from your childhood, even if his career ended before you even knew what a baseball was. It troubled me in recent years to hear about the deaths of men like Dave McNally, Moe Drabowsky, and Mark Belanger, but these were guys who played before I was even born. There was more of a sense that they were from a bygone era. It was less shocking somehow. I don't know that I'm making any sense.

I find it hard to believe that two players from that 1983 team are deceased now, each meeting his end in sudden and tragic ways. Of course, I might have missed someone, but the other who comes to mind is Aurelio Rodriguez. He was released in August of 1983 and finished the season with the White Sox. He, like Cruz, was 52 when he was fatally struck by a car while walking through southwest Detroit in September of 2000. The driver had suffered a stroke and swerved onto the sidewalk.

My sympathies go out to Todd's family. He leaves behind two sons and a sister. I hope he's manning the hot corner in the Memorial Stadium of the great beyond, but I wish he didn't have to take that field so soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sammy Sosa, 2005 Fleer Platinum #91

This card arrived in the mail yesterday, part of a stack of Orioles traded to me by reader Adam. It's a great card, despite the massive failure that was Sammy Sosa's single injury-marred, malcontented season in Baltimore. I find Slammin' Sammy to be such a caricature of a human being that his insincere enthusiasm in that photo made me laugh the moment I saw it. In an unusual choice, the picture chosen was taken from the press conference at the B & O Warehouse that introduced the former Cubs slugger as the newest member of the O's: February 2, 2005. Although I retained enough optimism at the time to pencil Sosa in for 30-plus home runs, deep down I knew it was an eleventh-hour move of desperation by a front office that had failed to acquire an impact player in the offseason. Still, it's a snazzy-looking card, and all the more entertaining because the design makes Sosa appear artificial, as though he were cast in wax, or maybe stuffed with a cork center.

This card is a colorful, glossy reminder that I need to be a better trading partner. While my real-world distractions haven't kept me from regular blog updates, I've fallen way behind on my end of a handful of trades. When I finish posting this entry, I firmly resolve to make a beeline for my bedroom closet and to start rooting through boxes. Those who have been generous enough to send me some of the great cards that I've featured in recent weeks are also unfailingly patient, and they deserve to be rewarded. Another reason to get these trades finished once and for all is that I have some contest ideas in the works...I want to start with a clean slate.

Sammy says, "Talk is cheap! Hop to it!"

At least that's what he'd say if he hadn't "forgotten" how to speak English.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Aubrey Huff, 2008 Topps Heritage #406

As I continue to grasp at straws to find something positive to say about the Orioles as they stand today, I realize that I haven't given Aubrey Huff his due. In the picture above, the 6'4" designated hitter/first baseman is looking over his shoulder, and with good reason. In the first year of a contract that pays him $8 million annually, he'd underperformed in a major way. His 2007 stats included a career-low 15 home runs and a fairly pedestrian 72 RBI. To compound his troubles, Huff opened his big mouth on talk radio. (Word to the wise: there is precious little to be gained from an appearance on "Bubba the Love Sponge".) Aubrey's comments raised the ire of O's fans, particularly his claim that watching game film was a "waste of time". Oh, and he might have said that Baltimore was a "horsepoop city" for nightlife.*

Aubrey Huff had his work cut out for him in 2008, but he struck an early blow by wearing an "I *Heart* Baltimore" shirt for the team's FanFest event in late March. It was funny enough that I was willing to forgive him, but many fans weren't won over so easily. No worries, because Huff was locked in from Day One. A notoriously slow starter, he put up decent power numbers in April and May before truly catching fire in June (.337 AVG). He's gone from hot to ridiculous, putting up 16 of his 30 home runs and 52 of his 98 RBI in 54 July and August games. With a month left in the season, he has several career highs in his sights: home runs (four needed), RBI (nine), doubles (three), and runs (four). His .311 batting average is close to his personal best of .313, and his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are currently above his own high-water marks. Huff is currently leading the American League in extra-base hits and total bases, and has been named A. L. Player of the Week twice.

So yeah, he's pretty good, even though he's not young and defensively gifted like Nick Markakis or speedy and adorable like Brian Roberts. Kevin Millar pointed out half-jokingly that Huff was even being overlooked by the team's marketing department, as he hasn't been featured in a T-Shirt Tuesday giveaway or on the cover of the monthly Orioles Magazine game program.

Okay, I've talked myself into it. Aubrey Huff for Most Valuable Oriole of 2008. Jeremy Guthrie, who unfortunately has a tired arm, is a verrrry close second, though. Who's your pick?

* - Comment may be edited for content.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jimmy Haynes, 1996 Upper Deck SP #8

As September begins, the roster expands from 25 to as many as 40 players, giving teams a chance to rest regulars worn down by the 162-game marathon. More importantly, young players from the top levels of the farm system get a chance to show what they can do. This is of utmost importance to those teams who are far out of contention, as the Orioles regrettably find themselves once more in 2008. (Just like 1998 through 2007...sigh). Of course, none of the top prospects who have set O's fans' tongues a-wagging will be auditioning for the 2009 Birds over the next four weeks. Matt Wieters and Chris Tillman are not being rushed along. Brad Bergesen is probably being kept at AA Bowie for that team's playoff series. Nolan Reimold will be rested before reporting to the Arizona Fall League. So as this team completely falls apart at season's end once more, we're reminded that a true contender in Baltimore is still that much farther away.

Of course, sometimes an exciting September debut doesn't amount to much. In the final month of the 1995 season, righthander Jimmy Haynes seemed to put the American League on notice. He three-hit the Red Sox over seven innings in his debut, taking a tough-luck loss. Haynes earned his first career win five days later, striking out eleven Tigers in seven and two-thirds innings. In all, he was 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. But Jimmy fell hard in 1996, and never regained his footing in Birdland. He would rebound with double-digit wins for three separate teams in a ten-year career, but some part of him must have been looking to September 1995 at all times.