Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jim Palmer, 2005 Donruss Classics Team Colors #TC-19

I just realized that I never told you guys about the outcome of my commercial audition for MASN. I didn't get picked, because I was too good-looking. Well, that's not what the rejection email said, but I chose to read between the lines. On the bright side, instead of spending a day stuck in some stuffy studio taping the ad, I got to stay at home and recover from the previous day's flight home from San Diego. As my new Nintendo Wii arrived in the mail that day, the timing was pretty fortuitious.

One of the lucky few who did get chosen for the ad campaign was fellow Camden Chatter "jobe", who I had the pleasure of meeting at the auditions. If the commercials pop up online, I'll link to his spot later! I might not be joining Jim Palmer as a popular television pitchman, but I will gladly settle for a little vicarious living in that regard.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Mike Fornieles, 1957 Topps #116

Okay, tonight's card has to stand on its own merit. I am running out the door, and picked this one without much forethought. I do love the orange stirrups with black and white stripes, though. By the way, it's pronounced For-nee-AY-less, if I recall correctly. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brian Roberts, 2009 Topps #273

All I wanted was a few packs of 2009 baseball cards. I never expected my simple curiosity over the newest bunch of cardboard rectangles to turn into a frustrating odyssey, but as early February gave way to the middle of the month, my repeated trips to the nearest Wal-Mart and Target kept coming up empty. As if to add insult to injury, there were barely any baseball cards of any sort at Wal-Mart. The disorganized, haphazard end cap was chock full of football and basketball cards (who cares, right?), including a few blasters of 2007-08 Topps basketball! I wasn't about to hold my nose and settle for a few packs of Timeline or Stadium Club. Target was even more disappointing. There was a greater selection of 2008 baseball cards (Documentary, Heritage High Series, Topps Updates and Highlights, etc.), but they were inartfully stuffed into a cramped aisle at the end of the checkouts designed to make a collector feel like a second-class citizen. There was even a shopping cart full of unsorted merchandise obstructing my path. Maybe I wasn't meant to collect this year's offerings.

I decided to give up the hunt for a few days when I flew to San Diego to visit my friends Jill and Tristan. But on Saturday of that weekend, Jill mentioned her desire to go to Target to pick up ingredients for Rice Krispies Treats. Well, I know an opportunity when I see one. Ultimately, we ended up at Wal-Mart instead, and I made a beeline to you-know-where. Lo and behold, there was a feeder box of 2009 Topps packs with A*Rod's purple-lipped mug all over it. I plucked out four packs and went merrily on my way, realizing with a little bemusement that I had to travel cross-country to find 2009 cards. Even as I pored over my first 48 cards of the new year, delighting in the much-improved design and photography (compared to 2008 Topps), I wasn't sated. Four packs, and no Orioles. I'd have to try again when I got home.

In the ensuing week, I first returned to my nearest Wal-Mart...still the same picked-over hodgepodge as before. I made a mental note to stop wasting the effort on that particular megastore. But surely Target would have fresh stock by February 21, right?

Wrongo. The same muddle of 2008 products, the same cramped aisle. I was so annoyed that I bought a blaster of WWE Heritage IV. That's right, I blew $10 on wrestling cards. I was at my wits' end.

So this past Tuesday, I had a dentist's appointment in Columbia and made the most out of the long drive by having dinner with my former roommate Mikey. Since there was a Target near the restaurant, I took another shot. What I found was simply breathtaking, and made me long for the days when I still lived in the suburbs nearby. The aisle was actually wide enough for more than one person to stand in, and the cards were neatly organized and plentiful. As for 2009 Topps? Oh, it was there, in all its forms. Jumbo packs, blasters, even the new 55-card "cereal boxes". So I decided that variety was the spice of life and grabbed two jumbos and a cereal box.

When we got back to Mikey's apartment I ripped open my haul, starting with the cereal box. There were some great cards, including an exclusive Mickey Mantle chrome card, but still no Orioles! I was starting to suspect a conspiracy, especially since I'd already pulled approximately 27 Yankee cards. So I turned to the first 36-card jumbo pack with a little anxiety. After ripping the top half, I was 121 cards into 2009 Topps with not a single card to represent my favorite team! Finally, in the bottom half of that pack, I was face-to-face with Brian Roberts, my favorite current Oriole. Whew! It's certainly got to be a better omen than the first Baltimore player I pulled from 2008 Topps: Ramon Hernandez.

FYI, backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz was waiting for me in the second jumbo pack. I'm certainly happy to have those two cards, but 2-for-175 is a troubling ratio.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mike Johnson, 1997 Fleer #532

You might have heard that the official World Baseball Classic rosters were released yesterday. I scanned them with mild interest this morning, looking for familiar players who have fallen off of the Major League Baseball radar (the biggest name among these being former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams). I was also curious to see which former Orioles will be representing their home countries, or the countries of their ancestors in some cases.

There are four current Orioles who will play in the WBC next month. Default ace Jeremy Guthrie will pitch for Team USA, while the left side of the O's starting infield (shortstop Cesar Izturis and third baseman Melvin Mora) will wear the maroon and gold of Venezuela. Lastly, minor league infielder Mike Costanzo joins Team Italy.

Some of the ex-Oriole participants are familiar and expected names, while others may give you pause:

-Former closer B.J. Ryan will be in the American bullpen, and on the other end of the spectrum is Australian lefty Damian Moss, 1/3 of the disappointing return in 2003's Sidney Ponson trade.

-Fifth outfielder type Adam Stern will once again be catching flies for our maple-leaf-loving friends to the North. He'll be teaming with pitcher Mike Johnson (more on him in a moment).

-A foursome of one-time Birds join forces for the Dominican Republic: reliever Julio Manon, ageless catcher Alberto Castillo, shortstop/person of interest Miguel Tejada, and outfielder Jose Bautista.

-Trios are all the rage in Mexico: currently unsigned pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, infielder Jerry Hairston (whose heritage was a surprise to me), and forgettable two-time O's outfielder Karim Garcia.

-Speaking of free agents, our old pal Sidney Ponson will squeeze into an XXL jersey for the Netherlands, and will reunite with former teammate Gene Kingsale, an outfielder.

-Pitcher Bruce Chen rides again for Panama!

-It's mildly surprising that Puerto Rico has no Baltimore flavor. I guess Javy Lopez really is retired.

-A couple true Birdland favorites will join Melvin and Cesar on Team Venezuela: 2007 garbage heap hurler Victor Zambrano and sluggish catcher Ramon Hernandez.

You've got to agree, that's quite a list, featuring plenty of guys that you haven't thought about for years (assuming you're mentally sound). Mike Johnson might be the biggest wild card in the bunch, both in terms of his Orioles footprint - 0-1, 7.94 ERA in 14 games as a Rule 5 rookie in 1997 before being traded to the Expos in midyear - and his career in general. Mike is now 33 and has not pitched in the major leagues since tossing 11 and 1/3 innings with Montreal in 2001. He last played minor league ball in 2004 for the Expos' AAA club in Edmonton. These are things to keep in mind before you put your money on Canada in your WBC office pool.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rick Dempsey, 1983 Topps #138

I've only sent two cards through the mail to be autographed by former players, but I've already learned that the results can be varied and unpredictable. I sent both cards, a Mike Boddicker and a Rick Dempsey, in March 2008. I received my signed Mike Boddicker card four weeks later, tucked neatly into the plastic toploader that I'd sent with it. I just received the Rick Dempsey card you see above, nearly a year after sending my request. It came back in the self-addressed stamped envelope I provided, but with no toploader. There's one more thing...

It's not the card I sent.

I mailed off a copy of the Dipper's 1981 Fleer card, a lovely one indeed. Fortunately, it wasn't my only copy, because there's no telling what has become of it. I'm happy to have gotten a response at all; after eleven months, I'd resigned myself to an ignored or lost autograph request. So where did this card come from?

It's most likely that Rick (or a family member) opened a pile of mail and there were other cards in the batch that got mixed together. Of course, I like my mother's explanation better; she suggested that he knocked over a soda, drenching my card and ruining it, and went scrambling for a replacement. If that's the case, I hope he realized that he might be able to make some money on eBay auctioning off a Rick Dempsey 1981 Fleer card with authentic Coke stains.

Thanks for the card, Rick, wherever you found it!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bobby Bonilla, 1996 Topps #329

Eventually I'll stop piggybacking off of Brian at 30-Year-Old Cardboard, but his birthday posts are excellent reminders and inspiration on slow days. Much as my offhand reference to Mike Cuellar's age (71) made reader Bob feel a bit old last week, it startled me to learn that Bobby Bo was turning 46 today. I remember Bonilla as the ultimate midseason pickup, a guy whose excellent half-season in Baltimore in 1995 (.333, 10 HR, 46 RBI) seemed to go to waste on Phil Regan's muddled sub-.500 team. Given a full season to bat in the midst of Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken in 1996, the slugger turned in a .287-28-116 stat line for a team that finished three wins short of the World Series. From what I've heard, he was a good teammate as an Oriole, and I remember him and Palmeiro calling a team meeting after Tony LaRussa and the A's got a little too comfortable throwing chin music at the Birds.Link
Happy Birthday, Bobby. You were one heck of a hitter...but not much of a pitcher!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Russ Ortiz, 2006 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH16

If you're not an Orioles fan, or if you're an O's fan and you're smart enough to repress bad memories, you probably don't even remember Russ Ortiz's 40-plus hideous innings in Baltimore. Even though Leo Mazzone couldn't strike gold twice with Russ, the righty did win one Major Award during his stay in Birdland. He was the recipient of the Eleventh Annual Kerry's Pinata Award, a glorious booby prize of which I have just been made aware.

The Pinata Award is sponsored by the Birds in the Belfry fan site, and has been awarded each year since 1996 to the worst eligible Oriole pitcher. The award was born when the aforementioned Kerry tried to assess the performance of young Jimmy Haynes for a postseason yearbook. The genius result was a statement that Haynes had done a wonderful imitation of a pinata: "people holding sticks were beating the hell out of him". If you go to the site, you can see the entire cringe-inducing roll call from 1996 to present. I won't spoil the 2008 winner.

So how bad was Mr. Ortiz in 2006? Despite tossing just those forty-point-three innings, he was judged to be more putrid than Bruce Chen (0-7, 6.93 ERA, 1.75 WHIP in 98.7 IP). Indeed, Russ was that much worse. He gave up 38 earned runs in those 40.3 innings, a sparkling 8.48 ERA. He gave up FIFTEEN home runs, one every 12.7 at-bats. He allowed nearly two baserunners per inning, and one batter out of 2.4 reached base. He brought a little bit of terror and pain to every one of the 20 games in which he pitched.

So yeah, that dude is the gold standard for crumminess. Maybe some day the Pinata award will go to someone who is merely below average. In the meantime, I'd settle for a year when there wasn't so much stiff competition for it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jim Traber, 1989 Upper Deck #294

With my 418th post to this blog, I have decided to answer the impassioned cries and pleas from my long-suffering readers. I am finally giving the people what they want: Big Jim Traber. I should probably feel some sort of solidarity with the beefy ex-first baseman, considering that we both used to reside in the ultra-suburban confines of Columbia, Maryland. But he's not a guy that I give much thought, unless his name randomly pops up in the news.

What's that, you say? Jim Traber was in the news this week? How 'bout that! Talkers magazine, which is apparently a radio trade publication, named its Top 250 talk show hosts recently. Why 250? I suppose it makes sense to those in "the biz". Jim Traber is currently the host of "The Locker Room", a radio program in Oklahoma City. The fine folks at Talkers selected Traber's show as one of those listed between 101 and 250 (in no particular order). Of course, I have no idea what the criteria could have been, since obnoxious goatee-clad yakker Jim Rome (#29) was the highest-ranked sports talker and Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic also cracked the top 50. Then again, Anita Marks was nowhere to be found, so they got a few things right.

While Jim is undoubtedly proud of his achievement, most sports fans will probably continue to know him best for this hilarious incident, which occurred in the early 1990s when he was a member of Japan's Kintetsu Buffaloes:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Dyar Miller, 1975 SSPC #379

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A in the case of Why Baseball Players Wear Caps: Mr. Dyar Miller. Is that a combover? His hair doesn't look particularly thin. Is he just in dire need of a haircut, a brush, a mirror, or all of the above?

I joke, but Dyar Miller is perseverance personified. The Phillies signed him as a catcher in 1968, but he quickly converted to the mound and showed quite a bit of talent. Still, he found it incredibly difficult to break through the glass ceiling that was the Oriole pitching staff. For instance, his 12-10 record with a 3.23 ERA (and 149 hits allowed in 170 innings) at AA Dallas-Fort Worth in 1970 earned him...another season at AA in 1971! Dyar was 29 years old and in the midst of his third straight season at AAA Rochester when the O's finally came calling for him in 1975. In 30 games as a rookie reliever, he went 6-3 with a team-leading 8 saves and a 2.72 ERA. He would go on to pitch seven seasons in the big leagues with a 3.23 career ERA.

Even though Dyar Miller didn't know the meaning of the word "manscaping", he also didn't know the meaning of the word "quit".

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rick Krivda, 1997 Collector's Choice #44

I'm a little chagrined that Patricia and Lucy featured this card before I did, but I hope it's worth seeing twice for those of you that read both of our blogs. To the best of my knowledge, Rick Krivda may be the only player to ever be photographed biting into a baseball bat...at least for trading card purposes. I wonder how it tastes? He seems to be chomping on a Louisville Slugger. Was this a deliberate choice? Does this brand taste richer, more full-bodied than a TPX? Or is it not a matter of taste - is he lashing out at the bat because of something that it did to him? Or is he taking out some unrelated frustration on the bat? Perhaps it's something much more serious. Maybe Rick is having a seizure and an unseen teammate has placed the bat in his mouth to keep him from swallowing his own tongue. After all, we can't see the hands that are holding the lumber.

So many questions, and so few answers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mike Cuellar, 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #136

On the list of promising sights as the first full week of Orioles Spring Training commences, 71-year-old Mike Cuellar in an O's uniform instructing the lefthanded pitchers of today and tomorrow is right up there. No matter how far the team has fallen in the past decade-plus, it still has a rich and successful history to draw upon. Not only is the screwball-tossing southpaw sharing his knowledge and expertise with younger generations, but he is serving as a living bridge between the model franchise of the 1970s and the club that is now taking baby steps toward being a potential superpower in the 2010s.

Though you might expect that Cuellar has more to offer to the younger pitchers in camp, guys like Brian Matusz and Rich Hill, today it was 37-year-old Jamie Walker that spent the most time picking the Cuban's brain. Walker is a true rarity: a professional baseball player who is a student of the game's history. When he signed with the Orioles as a free agent two years ago, he apparently devoured a few books about the team's past. He was effusive in his praise of Cuellar and his storied career, and acknowledged that pitchers like him "set the foundation" for Walker and his contemporaries. He also expressed awe for the amazing durability of pitchers from that era, who often exceeded 300 innings and completed upwards of 20 starts per season.

It's really a breath of fresh air when the oldest pitcher in a team's camp (who is also one of the highest-paid), says something like, "I don't know it all." I'm not sure whether Walker is healthy and able to rebound from his miserable 2008 season, but I like his chances that much better with a 185-game winner offering suggestions for his release point and grip.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Adam Jones, 2008 Upper Deck First Edition Update #309

I have safely returned from San Diego, birthplace of Mr. Adam Jones. It was a great vacation. The plane trip (Baltimore-to-Atlanta-to-San Diego) was uneventful, and the plane to California even had in-seat TVs, the better for me to kill four-plus hours watching ESPN and some NBC Thursday night comedy. Even though the weather was chilly by local standards, the sun was out for two of the three full days I was there; 60 degrees and sunny beats your run-of-the-mill February weather in Maryland. We ate outdoors at two restaurants, which is certainly not something you'd want to do back home!

The great thing about the entire weekend was that time passed slowly. I never felt rushed. We did just enough that I didn't feel like I was wasting time. While my friend Jill was at work on Friday, I got to hang out with her fiancee Tristan. We knew each other reasonably well, but it was good to get a bit closer. I went with him on some errands and got to explore Coronado, the quaint island below San Diego where they live. I walked along the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and saw the hotel where they filmed Some Like It Hot. Friday night, T made a delicious salmon dinner and we stayed in and watched Anchorman, since Jill inexplicably hadn't seen it.

Saturday afternoon was spent at the San Diego Zoo, where we walked ourselves ragged and gawked at lions, polar bears, hippos, and so forth. My favorites were the gorillas, who were very expressive. One of the young'uns was a real showoff, coming right up to the glass and gesturing wildly and wrestling with his sibling. That night, I had my first In-N-Out cheeseburger (very tasty) and finally got my first few packs of 2009 Topps at Wal-Mart (no Orioles, dangit).

Sunday was the chilly, overcast day, so we weren't motivated to do much. We did go out for a diner lunch (breakfast for lunch, oh yeah) and ice cream sundaes. Then we chilled out at home until that night, when we headed back into S.D. proper for an Andrew Bird concert. I wasn't familiar with him, but it was an entertaining and quirky show. He plays several instruments (violin, mandolin, glockenspiel, and guitar) and whistles. So that was my culture for the weekend.

The trip home wasn't as smooth, as windy, rainy conditions delayed my flight from San Diego to Cincinnati and left our plane sitting on the runway for over an hour. Luckily, the tailwinds allowed us to make good time, and I made it to Cincinnati just in time to board the connecting flight home to Baltimore. It was the first time I've ever touched down at BWI at night, and it was pretty cool to see my hometown in lights.

I certainly would have liked to have stayed longer, but it was a good weekend. As I said my goodbyes at the airport, I realized that the next time I see Jill and Tristan will be two months from now, at their wedding. Time marches along.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Luis Matos, 2003 Fleer Tradition Update #U68

My flight from San Diego (by way of a connection in Cincinnati) is scheduled to arrive at 9:33 this evening. Since timely air travel isn't always predictable, and in the best-case scenario I'd be back at home by 11:00 PM, I'm going with a failsafe post. And since this is a bit of a lazy entry, here's one of the laziest O's in recent memory. Happy President's Day to one and all!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Melvin Mora, 2005 Topps #337

As I've navigated the darkness of the last eleven years of Oriole futility, I find myself clutching at the little shreds of relevance, the symbols that Baltimore still has a place in Major League Baseball. Whether it's the rare series win against the Yankees or Red Sox, or George Sherrill coming up huge in the All-Star Game, I just want to know that my team is still a part of the national conversation. I always hope against hope that one of our players will win a major award, or even lead the league in a significant category.

For Melvin Mora to challenge for the American League batting title in 2004 was borderline surreal. Going into that year, he was a 32-year-old utility player. He'd hit .317 the year before, but injuries limited him to 96 games and the O's can't have been sure whether they were getting that Melvin Mora or the guy who had hit .233 two years previous. But they finally settled on a position for him, and their new third baseman caught fire. He was hitting .385 on June 1, and though he didn't maintain that pace, he was still in the running until Ichiro pulled away in August. Mora had to settle for second place, but at least he was beaten by the best. Besides, he established career highs in every major offensive category and won a Silver Slugger Award. Being chosen as the best hitter in the league at third base is a pretty good consolation prize, I'd say.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lee Smith, 1995 Topps #394

This card evokes a bittersweet memory for me, as Lee Smith was an All-Star in his only season in Baltimore. He was already 29-for-33 in save opportunities at the break, but he blew a save for the American League by allowing a game-tying two-run home run in the ninth inning to Fred McGriff. The National Leaguers went on to win in the tenth when Jason Bere yielded back-to-back hits with no outs. Bleah.

However, there are a lot of close, tight games represented in this card. 2,141 games pitched in a combined 39 major league seasons. 902 saves altogether. Lee stands third all-time with 478 games saved, and John Franco is fourth with his 424. Will Cooperstown come calling? Time will tell.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, 1968 Topps #530

Talk about a loaded card. The Robinsons combined to lead the Orioles to four World Series in six years, and two World Championships. They each won an MVP award in Baltimore, and combined to hit 447 home runs for Baltimore. They are, of course, both in the Hall of Fame, both wearing a smiling bird cap on their bronze plaques. On this card, they appear poised to burst from the visitor's dugout and charge the field, striking fear in the hearts of their fleeing enemies. They are the mighty Robinsons of Charm City.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jay Spurgeon, Lesli Brea, and Carlos Casimiro, 2001 Upper Deck Vintage #347

Just why were the Orioles so lousy at the turn of the century? Check out this bumper crop of Floating Head Rookies. If the fact that you've likely never heard of any of them doesn't convince you of their irrelevance, let's peek at the cumulative minor league stats on the back:

Spurgeon had gone 31-16 with a 3.51 ERA in 86 career games. That would make him the cream of this particular crop.

Brea was 16-29 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. In the MINOR LEAGUES.

And Mr. Casimiro, while he had a pretty great name, was a .242 hitter who averaged an RBI every 7.5 games.

Be still, my heart.

So as we receive reports on the progress of Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta this Spring, just remember that they might not all pan out, but the odds are certainly a lot better than they once were.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr. and Brady Anderson, 1993 Upper Deck #44

As you might imagine, there are tons of multi-player cards featuring Cal Ripken, Jr. Just in my collection, I have Cal sharing cards with Eddie Murray, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Lou Gehrig, Alan Trammell and Tony Fernandez, Jeff Blauser, Bobby Bonner and Jeff Schneider, Brady and Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar, Cal, Sr. and Billy, the entire 2000 Orioles starting lineup (I may just get to that one later this week)...the list goes on.

I've chosen this card as my favorite Cal combo. First of all, it's from the beautiful 1993 Upper Deck set, and is part of the great Teammates/Team Stars subset. Each team had a card featuring two to six of its stars, with some kind of theme and accompanying fun nickname and logo. While some cards featured flashes in the pan like Pat Listach or Geronimo Pena, the Orioles are represented by Cal and Brady, who were teammates and good friends for a whopping fourteen seasons (1988-2001), a rare feat in the big-spending free agency era. Brady spent practically his entire major league career in Baltimore, excepting 41 games in Boston as a rookie and an ill-fated 34 games in Cleveland in 2002. #9 played alongside #8 longer than any other Oriole: longer than Eddie Murray (1981-1988, 1996), even longer than Mike Mussina (1991-2000).

Cal's tireless work ethic rubbed off on the speedy outfielder, as Anderson attempted to play through setbacks ranging from broken ribs to appendicitis. He even famously played a game in the late 1990s after being hit by a bus while rollerblading to the stadium! I think it's pretty fitting that Brady and Cal both played their last game in Baltimore on October 6, 2001. It wasn't a storybook finish, with Anderson striking out to end a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox, leaving Cal waiting in the on-deck circle for a final at-bat that would never come.

But this card preserves them in happier times, both in the primes of their careers playing for a contending team in a revolutionary new ballpark. They're posed in front of the trademark of Camden Yards, the towering B & O Warehouse. Everything is as it should be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stacy Jones and Gregg Olson, 1992 Fleer #701

It's been a while since I did a theme week, and since I'm headed to San Diego on Thursday, this seemed like a good time for another. I sort of stumbled into it when I realized that I wanted to use multi-player cards for both Sunday and Monday, so now it's officially Combo Card Week.

I just picked up this card in my most recent meet-up with Ed, a loyal reader and avid collector. I love it for several reasons. Fleer's Super Star Specials were always great for unconventional shots of your favorite team's players posing with guys from other teams. In this instance, they were able to find four players from the Orioles and White Sox who had all played at Auburn University. You've got one of the greatest athletes of the 1980s (of all time, really), the young star who would become the greatest hitter in Pale Hose history, a stud closer with a killer curveball, and some random righthanded rookie who pitched 11 innings. In a funny coincidence, Stacy Jones pitched only two more innings in his major league career...for the 1996 White Sox. It's somewhat fitting that the gradient border fades to white on Stacy's end of the card. There's also a great view of the new Comiskey Park behind the quartet, with the famous scoreboard on full display.

In case you're interested, this picture would have been taken during the weekend of August 2-4, 1991. The visiting O's won two out of three. Ben McDonald beat Alex Fernandez 3-0 in the opener, despite Chicago outhitting the Birds 8-5. Bob Milacki tossed seven strong innings to best Jack McDowell by a score of 6-3 in the middle game. But ancient knuckleballer Charlie Hough salvaged the finale, shutting out the Orioles and rookie Mike Mussina 1-0. Gregg Olson saved the two Baltimore wins, the Big Hurt went 5-for-10 with 2 HR and 4 RBI in the series, and Bo (who was still sidelined with his hip injury) and Stacy Jones did not play.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro, 2005 Upper Deck #264

Boy, how this card is loaded with subtext. "Team Leaders", indeed. I feel a rant forthcoming.

I'm just about ready to throw in the towel on this whole steroids mess. We'll never know for sure the names of every player that used, and even with the changes to Major League Baseball's testing policies, they're lagging far behind the chemists and dealers in the performance-enhancing drug race. There's just no point in finger-wagging and hand-wringing every time another user is outed, especially if you're going to hold up another player as a supposedly "clean" example. Given some of the names that have been uncovered in recent years (Paul Byrd, for instance), literally ANYONE could be using.

It's especially hypocritical to keep star players out of the Hall of Fame for steroids, considered the blind eye that the MLB hierarchy and the media turned to suddenly muscular physiques and cartoonish home run totals in the 1990s and early 2000s. In case you've forgotten, the reporter that spotted the Andro in Mark McGwire's locker was turned into a pariah for daring to sprinkle dirt on Big Mac's historic home run chase. The Hall of Fame is largely a joke anyway. Bowie Kuhn balks at the suggestion of enshrining Negro Leaguers into the Hall and tries to banish Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from baseball for daring to sully the name of baseball by appearing at casinos, and he gets rubber-stamped for enshrinement. Marvin Miller revolutionizes the game by helping overturn the unethical reserve clause that had given owners 100% of the leverage in player contracts, and he's left out in the cold.

It's human nature to cheat, to do anything you can to gain an advantage. It's been going on in baseball since the beginning. From the 1890s Orioles packing cement in front of home plate and teaching hitters to chop down on the ball to take advantage of their speed, to pitchers like Burleigh Grimes, Whitey Ford, and Gaylord Perry doctoring the ball to cause unpredictable movement, to the 1951 New York Giants stealing signals to aid their improbable comeback in the pennant race, that's the way it's always been. It's pretty funny that certain kinds of cheating are celebrated as part of the colorful tapestry of baseball, and other kinds are just plain wrong, isn't it?

With all that being said, it still takes an exceptional amount of arrogance and stupidity to scoldingly point your finger at a Congressional panel in a televised hearing and to declare that you have never done steroids, "PERIOD"...only to fail a test for one of the most widely known steroids just months later. No matter how many shades of gray there are in the performance-enhancing drug debate, and no matter how much my opinion might change from day to day, Rafael Palmeiro is going to be on my dog list for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

John Parrish and Fernando Lunar, 2001 Fleer Ultra #238

Last week, the Orioles announced that they'd resigned lefty John Parrish, who spent the first twelve years of his career in the Baltimore organization before being traded to Seattle in mid-2007 and splitting 2008 between Toronto and AAA Syracuse. If Parrish and Chris Gomez can break through the numbers game and earn spots on the Opening Day roster, they would join catcher Gregg ZAUN to form a trio of second-time Orioles. Because this is the goofy kind of trivia/minutiae that captivates me, I'm going to attempt to gather and post a comprehensive list below of players who had more than one stint in an O's uniform. In order to be eligible, they must have left the organization in between stays on Baltimore's major league roster. I'll attempt to put them in some sort of chronological order:

-Clint Courtney, C (1954, 1960, 1961): Courtney was traded to the A's in January 1961, and returned to the O's in April after just one game!

-Jim Brideweser, SS (1954, 1957)

-Don Larsen, P (1954, 1965): His eleven-year gap between Oriole stints is a team record.

-Dave Philley, OF (1955-56, 1960-61)

-Gene Woodling, OF (1955, 1958-60)

-Dick Williams, UT (1956-57, 1958, 1961-62): Clearly a favorite of Paul Richards.

-Jim Busby, OF (1957-58, 1960-61)

- Lenny Green, OF (1957-59, 1964)

-Fred Valentine, OF (1959 and 1963, 1968): Was in the Oriole organization from 1959-1963.

-Charley Lau, C (1961-63, 1964-67)

-Dick Hall, P (1961-66, 1969-71)

-Frank Bertaina, P (1964-67, 1969)

-Moe Drabowsky, P (1966-68, 1970)

-Curt Motton, OF (1967-71, 1973-74)

-Elrod Hendricks, C (1968-72, 1973-76, 1978-79): Elrod was essentially loaned to the Cubs for the 1972 pennant chase, and when he returned from the Yankees in 1978, he was essentially a coach who played in emergencies.

-Terry Crowley, OF-1B-DH (1969-73, 1976-82)

-Ross Grimsley, P (1974-77, 1982)

-Mike Flanagan, P (1975-87, 1991-92)

-Rick Dempsey, C (1976-86, 1992)

-Eddie Murray, 1B-DH (1977-88, 1996)

-Don Stanhouse, P (1978-79, 1982)

-John Flinn, P (1978-79, 1982)

-Floyd Rayford C-3B (1980 and 1982, 1984-87): Lucky Floyd! He was out of the O's organization for just one year...the 1983 championship season.

-Storm Davis, P (1982-86, 1992)

-Tito Landrum, OF (1983, 1988): The best of times...the worst of times.

-Billy Ripken, 2B (1987-92, 1996)

-Mike Devereaux, OF (1989-94, 1996)

-Mark Parent, C (1992-93, 1996): One of four second-time O's on the 1996 Wild-Card team. There were also three first-time Birds who would come back for another go-round.

-Alan Mills, P (1992-98, 2000-01)

-Richie Lewis, P (1992, 1998)

-Harold Baines, DH (1993-95, 1997-99, 2000): Had three stints each with the Orioles and the White Sox!

-Rafael Palmeiro, 1B (1994-98, 2004-05)

-B.J. Surhoff, OF-3B (1996-2000, 2003-05)

-Mike Bordick, SS (1997-2000, 2001-02): The O's traded Bordick at the deadline for a package including Melvin Mora, and then resigned the former as a free agent in the ensuing offseason. Not a bad deal!

-Sidney Ponson, P (1998-2003, 2004-05): Same as the Bordick deal, only they didn't get anything good in the trade and Ponson drank his way off the team upon his return. Awesome.

-Jeff Conine, 1B-DH-OF (1999-2003, 2006): Played twice each for the Orioles, Royals, and Marlins.

-Karim Garcia, OF (2000, 2004): Possibly the most useless two-time Oriole...0-for-16 in 2000, .212 with 11 RBI in 23 games in 2004.

-Howie Clark, OF-DH (2002, 2006)

-Luis Lopez, IF (2002, 2004)

-Steve Trachsel, P (2007, 2008): Urrrggghhh.

Whew. So that's an even forty, pending the re-arrivals of Parrish, Gomez, and ZAUN. I guess you can go home again.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bob Bonner, 1982 Donruss #610

Bob Bonner, in addition to owning an epic dirtstache and Hefty bag warmup jacket, was born in 1956. That's the same year that Bengies Drive-In Movie Theatre opened for business. Fifty-three years later it's still open, and is the last drive-in left standing in Maryland. A decade ago, it was also the place where I had my first summer job.

I found a listing in the classified ads of the newspaper - do they even still have those? - for a snack bar attendant. I dropped by for an interview, and was hired on the spot. I guess I could have taken that as an ominous sign, but that's hindsight. The first thing I had to do was shave my goatee; the boss believed that facial hair gave the appearance of uncleanliness. That was the least of his quirks. He was a small, shrill guy who liked to make his presence felt. Every evening before we opened, he would stroll into the snack bar area and bellow, "Where's my damn coffee?", and then start cackling. He was a pretty demanding guy, but he absolutely loved me. I imagine that it had something to do with the fact that I was quiet and reasonably competent.

Unfortunately, competence was a rare quality among my teenage peers at Bengie's. I remember one guy named Mike who was the absolute worst of the worst. One night, my supervisor pulled me aside and asked me to take over the popcorn machine because he didn't want Mike interacting with the customers. So between schmucks like that who were eventually fired and inexperienced kids who were ill-equipped to deal with the boss and quit, there was constant turnover. All of which meant that I was called upon to work a heavier schedule. Also, I was too much of a sucker to say no. So as many as five nights a week, you could find me at the drive-in from 7 PM to 1 AM. It sure didn't leave much time for a social life.

You might be thinking, "hey, at least you got to watch movies". Not so. No matter how slow things got at the snack bar, turning around and scoping out the flicks was verboten. It's just as well, because 1998 was a particularly lousy year for movies. During the two months I worked there, we showed such gems as The Avengers, Paulie (a movie about a freaking parrot), Small Soldiers, and Dr. Doolittle. Just having to overhear the irritating dialogue for that movie night after night ignited what has been to date a decade-long hate affair between myself and one Eddie Murphy. The best movie we had that summer was Saving Private Ryan. It was indeed a fine film, but I appreciated it primarily because it was so long that we couldn't run a double feature. I was home by 10:30 every night during its run. Bless you, Tom Hanks.

I hadn't really thought of a way to wrap this up, so I'll leave you an anecdote. One night I was working the cash register, and a guy came through and asked me if we served beer.


At a DRIVE-IN movie theatre.

If I were quicker on my feet, I would've told him that we did, but he'd missed last call.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Harvey Haddix, 1964 Topps #439

Last week, I was profiling one-and-done pitcher Dave Vineyard on my 1965 Topps blog. Despite turning in a respectable rookie season at age 23 (4.17 ERA, 50 K in 54 IP in 1964), he never pitched in the major leagues again, for Baltimore or for anyone else. There wasn't much information to be found on him, so I found myself wondering how his major league aspirations got tossed to the wayside. Arm troubles seemed to be a major culprit, but I also had a sense that a stronger O's pitching staff in 1965 could have accounted for his more immediate exclusion from the roster. After reader Mmayes chipped in with a similar comment, I decided to look up the Birds' 1965 pitching statistics. I had no idea how right I had been. Only two Oriole pitchers (Darold Knowles and Frank Bertaina) had higher ERAs in 1965 than Vineyard's serviceable 4.17 the year prior, and that pair combined to throw just 20 and two-thirds innings all year. Talk about a tough staff to crack. How tough? I'm glad you asked...

The 1965 Orioles had one of the most impressive combinations of young and veteran pitching talent ever assembled, leading the American League with a 2.98 ERA (beating runner-up Chicago by .01) and 15 shutouts. They allowed 120 home runs in 162 games, second only to the Angels. With an offense that hit a mere .238 and finished in the middle of the pack in most categories, it's plain to see that this team won 94 games on the strength of its collection of gifted arms.

Though Steve Barber led the way with just 15 wins, there was a good balance; six pitchers were double-digit winners. The only pitcher with more than five decisions to post a losing record was fifth (or sixth) starter Robin Roberts, who went 5-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 15 starts. If you're putting together a back-end of the rotation, a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer with something left in the tank is a pretty nice luxury! The superlatives go on. The five pitchers who had more starts than Roberts were all 27 years old or younger: Milt Pappas, Barber, Dave McNally, Wally Bunker, and John Miller. All had earned run averages between 2.60 and 3.38. The league average was 3.46. How about the bullpen?

Among Baltimore relievers, the conversation begins with closer Stu Miller, who had a jaw-dropping career year at age 37. The vet went 14-7 with 24 saves (second in the AL to Ron Kline), a 1.89 ERA, and a 0.997 WHIP. That's less than a runner per inning allowed. He was supported by fellow graybeards Dick "Turkey" Hall (an 11-game winner in relief), Don Larsen (the famous architect of the only perfect game in World Series history), and Harvey Haddix (who had famously thrown 12 perfect innings against the Braves in 1959, only to lose it all in the 13th). Serving an apprenticeship with the old guys in the bullpen was the only pitching staff regular to post a higher-than-league-average ERA (though at 3.72, he was no slouch): 19-year-old Jim Palmer. Palmer was less than half the age of fellow Oriole moundsman Haddix, and was two and one-half years old when Robin Roberts made his big league debut in 1948!

So yeah, if you're giving me my pick of all-time single-season pitching staffs, Hank Bauer's bunch might just give Earl Weaver's 1971 group a run for their money. While the latter boasted four 20-game winners, the bullpen wasn't as strong as the former. Then again, with a rotation like that, who needs relievers? For the sake of argument, let's start the weekend by opening up the floor. Who else is in the running for best pitching staff ever, from top to bottom?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Roberto Alomar, 1997 Upper Deck SPX #9

Brian at 30-Year Old Cardboard made me aware that today is Roberto Alomar's 41st birthday. Does anyone else sense that there's not as much Hall of Fame buzz around Robby as there should be? It just seems like his retirement in the spring of 2005 caused him to disappear from the radar. If you look at Alomar's resume, he should be a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame when he first appears on the ballot (next year, I believe). But considering the well-established schmuckery of many BBWAA voters, you just can't take these things for granted. So let's lay it on the line.

First, the superficial: 12 consecutive All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves at second base, 4 Silver Sluggers. He was also the 1992 ALCS MVP (.423, 2 HR, 4 RBI). Overall, he hit .313 in 58 postseason games with 33 RBI and 20 steals.

The more substantial stats: Over 17 seasons, Roberto hit .300 with a .371 on-base percentage. He scored 1,508 runs and amassed 2,724 hits (only 50 players have more). 504 doubles (44th all-time), 210 home runs, 1,134 RBI, and 474 steals (40th all-time).

Simply put, Roberto Alomar was the best second baseman of the 1990s. It seems like his career ended abruptly, as his production fell of at age 34 and he was retired by 36. I hope that the voters won't fixate on his sudden decline, his failure to reach 3,000 hits (which is just a more or less arbitrary round number), and his repellent personality. To varying degrees of severity, these are all things that will be considered, but I think his consistently high level of play for a dozen years should win out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brian Burres, 2007 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH330

The Great Northern Exodus of the 2008 Baltimore Orioles continues unabated. Adam Loewen and Brandon Fahey had already signed minor league deals with the Blue Jays, who also offered Kevin Millar a similar deal with a Spring Training invite. Now Toronto has claimed lefty Brian Burres off of waivers from the O's, who had to make room on the roster for Rich Hill. I'm not sure what the plan is for those crafty Canadians, but I thought I'd pay a bit of tribute to #56.

If you were to look at Brian Burres' stats in his 79 games with the Birds (2006-2008), you'd quickly recognize that he's a fringe player who won't be a great loss. 13 wins, 18 losses, a 5.88 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP. He's a soft tosser who doesn't have the pinpoint control and movement to get away with it. But that's not to say that B.B. didn't have some great moments in his Oriole career:

September 2006: Allowed two runs in his major league debut, but did not allow a run for the rest of the season (seven and two-thirds innings total).

April 2007: In six relief appearances, compiled a 1.35 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13 and 2/3 innings.

July 28, 2007: Defeated Roger Clemens and the Yankees with a four-hit, seven-strikeout, six-inning effort in an eventual 7-5 win. Rookie Cory Doyne gave up four runs in the ninth without recording an out before Jamie Walker slammed the door on the pinstripers.

September 14, 2007: Burres blanked Toronto over seven innings of eight-hit ball in a 6-2 O's win that brought his record to 6-5 before a three-game losing streak ended his season on a low note.

April 19, 2008: Brian combined with Jim Johnson to shut out the Yankees, 6-0. He scattered five hits and four walks in clinching a series win for the O's. Poor run support would cost him two other potential wins against the Bombers in 2008; he got no-decisions in 2-1 and 1-0 Baltimore losses.

April 26, 2008: Brian three-hit the host White Sox over eight innings, striking out four and walking none to pick up his third victory of the month, 5-1. The win kept the O's in first place.

So there you have it. One of the greatest things about baseball and its 162-game season is that there are ample opportunities for even Brian Burres and his sort to look like world-beaters now and again. Adios, you lanky Oregonian.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Marty Cordova, 2002 Topps Gold Label #148

As Andy MacPhail keeps making moves (in the past two days, he's acquired Rich Hill from the Cubs for a PTBNL and signed Ty "This Little Wiggy" Wigginton to a two-year deal), and I start to wonder if he's being paid by the transaction, I thought I'd post a reminder of why I've got so much faith in the current Oriole general manager. Simply put, he hasn't made any Marty Cordova deals. (As an aside, how about the cheesy Photoshopping on this card? Check out the way the wrinkles go right through his uniform number!)

As the O's slid further into irrelevance in the late 1990s and early aughts, they became increasingly desperate for a quick fix. Poor player development meant that no solutions were coming from within, and the team's culture of losing made Baltimore an unpopular destination among the brightest free agent stars. Former personnel chief Syd Thrift famously said that he was working with "Confederate money". So the Birds basically threw their money at any past-his-prime veteran who would take it. The names are legion. David Segui, Pat Hentgen, Will Clark...Marty Cordova.

You may remember Marty as the 1995 American League Rookie of the Year, when he hit .277 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI for the Twins. He was even better in his sophomore season, with a .309-16-111 line, plus 46 doubles. Next came four injury-marred seasons, followed by a slight resurgence in Cleveland in 2001 (.301-20-69). So naturally, the Orioles pulled out his stat sheet and focused on 1995-1996 and 2001, while ignoring that big ugly chunk in the middle. They signed the 32-year-old outfielder with a history of back problems to a three-year, $9.1 million contract. They got even less than you might expect. In 2002, he actually played 131 games, his highest total since 1996. But he was pretty average (.253-18-64) and they had to use him as designated hitter 56 times. He also ensured his legacy as a punchline by falling asleep in a tanning bed and missing a handful of games with the ensuing burns to his skin. Marty played a whopping nine games in the second year of his contract, as elbow injuries shut him down pretty decisively. He didn't even take the field during the final year of the deal, so the O's basically flushed that last $6.6 million down the toilet.

If you're wonder what brought Marty to mind six years after he played his final game, I just read this article, which mentions that he is the co-owner of Skeletal Metal, a jewelry company that just signed a deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship. His company sells an "Octagon" bracelet made from actual surgical steel, which is used in orthopaedic surgery to support broken bones. It's an oddly appropriate piece of merchandise, both for the UFC and for Mr. Cordova, wouldn't you say?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Adam Loewen, 2008 Upper Deck Documentary #1235 (BAL45)

I've always enjoyed the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray finds himself stuck reliving the same day over and over again, no matter what reckless or heroic or monotonous actions he takes. (As an aside, he also utters a great insult to a couple of annoying locals in Punxsutawney: "Morons, your bus is leaving!".) But while being stuck in a loop made for an entertaining movie, Upper Deck has taken a similar concept and turned it into a disappointing set of cards.

Upper Deck Documentary could have been something worthwhile. You all know how much I enjoy UD's crisp, detail-oriented photography, and how I've used it to pinpoint the game and moment that certain cards belong to. With Documentary, they undertook a massive set: one card per team per game for the entire 162-game 2008 season. My calculator tells me that the total is 4,860 cards. In theory, it's an excellent way to take a set of cards to the next level, to commemorate the most recent season and commit it to history. (At $2 a pack for 10 cards, it's also as much bang for your buck as you're gonna get these days.) So you would figure that each card would feature a photo taken during the corresponding game, right? Mmm, think again. Take a look at Thorzul's CC Sabathia scans and you'll see the same photo used for five different Documentary cards. So already, the set is repetitive and that much more bland. I suppose it would be pretty time-consuming to select nearly five thousand player photos for a card set, but it was Upper Deck's bright idea, not mine. But at least the player pictured is relevant to the featured game, right?


You'll notice that the card I've chosen highlights Adam Loewen. If you don't remember any command performances from the Canadian righty in 2008, you're pretty sharp (8.02 ERA in seven games). He wasn't even on the active roster on May 20, the date of this game. The O's starter and winning pitcher was Daniel Cabrera. The card back notes that Adam Jones cleared the bases with a double in Baltimore's seven-run first inning that chased Mike Mussina. So either one of those two players would have been a perfectly acceptable choice for this card. The whole set is full of crap like this, based on the four packs that I foolishly bought. One card has a bottom-front headline about A's catcher Rob Bowen...underneath a picture of Bobby Crosby. Another talks about Gavin Floyd shutting down the Orioles...and accompanies a photo of Jim Thome. This set is the very definition of sloppiness and laziness.

...Yet I would probably still be interested in completing the Orioles team set. Am I a masochist? Probably. But as I said, it's still an intriguing chronicle of a full season in club history. The card back, which box score, division standings (showing the O's a full 4.5 games ahead of the last-place Yankees!), and game summary nearly make up for the photographic failures. I probably watched more games (both in person and on TV) last year than I have in a long time, and reliving this game in particular warmed my black little heart. I was transported to that Tuesday night, when I stopped playing Nintendo Wii and flipped on MASN to find the Birds up 8-0 in Yankee Stadium in the SECOND INNING, with Mike Mussina already showering.

I wish these cards were a little less Groundhog Day in their visual approach, but there's something here. I'm sure as heckfire not going to buy another pack of this stuff, but if I see a stack of Orioles on eBay, I may have to give it a click.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Eddie Murray, 1987 Fleer Star Stickers #87

Every once in a while, we can all use a reminder that Eddie Murray was (and is) one bad mamma jamma. Fortunately, SC, the tireless purveyor of Camden Chat, has put together an entertaining fantasy tournament of sixteen teams from Orioles history. The games are simulated at WhatIfSports, and he recaps the results of each best-of-seven series back at CC. You can follow along here. It's a great time-waster/argument-starter, and it's a chance to reminisce about some of the best and worst teams that Baltimore has to offer. So far, Dave Trembley's 2008 team is putting up a surprising fight against Davey Johnson's wire-to-wire 1997 juggernaut. But the unequivocal superstar of the first round is Mr. Eddie Clarence Murray, 1983 vintage. His stat line in a four-game sweep of Sam Perlozzo's crummy 2006 squad: 13-for-20 (.650 AVG), 5 HR, 15 RBI. Once again, that's in FOUR GAMES. He's driving in nearly four runs per game. Beastly.