Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Frank Robinson, 2009 Topps Ring of Honor #RH28

At the risk of becoming the Willard Scott of the Orioles blog community, I have to wish a happy 74th birthday to Frank Robinson, who made such a profound impact on the O's and the city of Baltimore that it's hard to believe that he played here for only six years. When Robby arrived in Charm City in the winter of 1966, the O's were a team loaded with talent that had not been able to get over the top. In the previous six years, they had posted five winning seasons (including four years with at least 89 wins) but had yet to bring home a pennant. In Number 20's very first year in orange and black, he:

-Hit home runs in his first three games of the season.

-Hit the only home run to ever leave Memorial Stadium on the fly, and did it against Luis Tiant, who had strung together three straight shutouts to start the season.

-Strengthened team chemistry by presiding over a kangaroo court.

-Became the Orioles' first black superstar.

-Saved the day in Yankee Stadium, robbing Roy White of a game-winning three-run homer by leaping and falling into the bleachers for the final out. According to Frank, the always-classy fans in New York made at least four death threats on him in between games of that day's doubleheader.

-Won the American League Triple Crown, leading the loop in average (.316), home runs (49), and RBI (122), as well as runs (122), on-base percentage (.410), and slugging (.637).

-Became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues.

-Won the World Series MVP, hitting two home runs in the O's four-game sweep over the favored Dodgers. His solo shot off of Don Drysdale accounted for the only run in the Series-clinching fourth game.

So Happy Birthday, Frank, and thanks for 1966 and everything since.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dave Johnson, 1991 Upper Deck #299

Alright, time's running short tonight and I wore myself out throwing together the Jimmy Piersall post for my 1965 Topps blog, so we're doing a little show and tell here. This is the third of four autographs that I got at Oriole Park at Camden Yards two weeks ago. You should recognize Dave Johnson (even if the signature seems to read "J Jegs"), who got a lot of mileage out of his 21 career wins for his hometown team and has found a second career as a radio and TV analyst for the O's who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is also hoping to be part of the second-ever father-son duo to pitch for the Orioles (the John O'Donoghues came first), if his son Steven can continue to climb the organizational ladder. Thanks for the ink, Dave!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Harold Baines, 1995 Upper Deck SP #122

With Harold Baines joining the ranks of the Orioles Hall of Fame this evening, I thought I'd share a few facts that you may or may not know about the soft-spoken Eastern Shore native.

-Hit .532 as a senior at St. Michaels (MD) High School in 1977, and was named an All-American and selected as the first overall pick in the amateur draft by the White Sox.

-Slugged his first career home run on April 19, 1980 off of none other than Jim Palmer.

-Ended the longest game in major league history (eight hours and six minutes and 25 innings, spanning two evenings) by taking Milwaukee pitcher Chuck Porter deep on May 9, 1984.

-Had his number (3) retired by the White Sox while still an active player; they gave him the honor in 1989 after trading him to the Rangers. Harold returned to Chicago for two more stints as a player and one more as a coach, and each time the Sox "unretired" his number.

-Played for the Orioles in three separate stints (1993-1995, 1997-1999, 2000). Dick Williams and Elrod Hendricks are the only other three-time O's.

-Every January 9 in St. Michaels is designated as Harold Baines Day.

-His 1,628 runs batted in are the most of any player eligible for the Hall of Fame who has not been elected.

-The only full seasons in which he did not post an OPS+ of at least 100 (league average) were his rookie season of 1980 (86) and his final full season of 2000 (93).

-123 of his 384 home runs gave his team the lead.

Congratulations, Harold!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Moe Drabowsky, 1966 Topps #291

Speaking of notable Orioles from yesteryear that I have yet to feature on this blog, we have one of the favorites of the gals over at Dinged Corners. Undoubtedly you've heard some of the choicest stories about reliever Moe Drabowsky's legendary pranks, but there may be a few you've missed. There are some amusing recollections in John Eisenberg's team history From 33rd Street to Camden Yards, but I want to keep this somewhat brief, so I'll share some of them now and save the rest for later. It also goes without saying that you absolutely should track down a copy of this book; you won't be sorry. Without further ado:

DICK HALL (on the topic of the hot foot): "...After a while we said, 'Hey, no more players'. The poor sportswriters really paid for that. Guys would set 'em up, giving real serious, earnest answers while Moe was creeping up behind them with a match. By the time you felt it, it was too late."

BILLY HUNTER: "Moe would do things that other people would get punched in the nose for, and he'd get away with them."

: "Obviously, Moe's parents never let him have toys when he was little, so he had a lot of catching up to do. He sat around and dreamed up things. He'd tie string to dollar bills and leave them on the floor in the airport, then yank them away when people reached down to pick the bill up. He was basically insane."

: "Moe was fine when he was sober. When he started drinking, he did some crazy stuff. We had an off-day in spring training and Charlie Lau and I were going out on this big boat out in the water. Took a runabout out there. We were just getting on, and another runabout comes pulling up, and there's Moe standing bare-assed on the thing shooting at us with a target pistol. Once we got to land we spent an hour trying to get the gun away from him. I have no idea what that was about."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

B. J. Surhoff, 2000 Pacific Private Stock #17

If you haven't already, you should book Baseball-Reference's Blog and Stat of the Day. You can also follow along on Twitter, if you are so inclined. They posted a list yesterday that caught my eye. Vladimir Guerrero had just collected his 1,000th hit as an Angel, making him one of 13 players in baseball history to reach that mark for two different teams (of course, his first 1,215 hits were with the Expos). On this fairly exclusive list, there were two Orioles: Rafael Palmeiro (1,692 with the Rangers and 1,071 with the Birds) and B. J. Surhoff (1,064 hits with the Brewers and 1,072 with the O's). This is a fun bit of trivia that becomes even more interesting because the two were teammates in Baltimore from 1996-1998 and 2004-2005. Of course, you can also see that Surhoff finished his career with exactly one more hit in orange and black than Raffy. Palmeiro almost certainly would have overtaken B. J. if he hadn't wandered away from the team with a month left in the 2005 season. Why did he bail on the team, anyway? Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Luis Aparicio, 1981 TCMA Stars of the 1960s #358

I want to try something new and (hopefully) fun this evening. This will be the first installment of "Ask an Orioles fan". If you have any questions about Orioles history, the current team, O's cards, or anything else that you can imagine, leave me a comment. As soon as I get it, I'll write back and give you the best answer that I can. I'll start it off:

Q: Why on Earth did it take you twenty months of blogging about the Orioles to post a Luis Aparicio card?

A: I thought I already had gotten to Little Looie. I must have been thinking of Tim Stoddard. The similarities are uncanny.

So there you have it. Now fire away!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dave McNally, 2005 Upper Deck Classics #24

Most educated fans know that pitcher Andy Messersmith was the first free agent in baseball; after playing the 1975 season for the Dodgers without a contract, the righthander insisted that he was no longer bound by the reserve clause. Arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Andy and declared him a free agent, he subsequently signed with the Braves, and the rest was history. But I'd wager that there aren't nearly as many fans who realize that Dave McNally was a part of that landmark case as well.

In December of 1974, Orioles GM Frank Cashen made one of his craftier trades, sending a still-effective McNally, young outfielder Rich Coggins, and minor league pitcher Bill Kirkpatrick to the Expos for pitcher Mike Torrez and outfielder Ken Singleton. McNally soon injured his arm, started out 3-6 with a 5.24 ERA, and effectively retired that June at age 32. But the players' union asked him to add his name to the Messersmith grievance and he complied. Sensing the danger a little too late, Montreal president John McHale offered the ex-Oriole a new contract with a $25,000 signing bonus and a guarantee of another $125,000 if he made the club in 1976. It was more than Dave had made at any point in his career, but he unselfishly rejected the team's transparent overture for the greater good of the other players, present and future. As a result, McNally too was declared a free agent. However, he did not come back to baseball.

Much like Dave McNally, I am free. I just wrapped up my last day at a job that I held for four years and four months. It paid the bills and I wasn't treated poorly, but there was no opportunity for advancement and it paid just well enough that I was often complacent. Despite intermittent worries that I would never improve myself, I finally did find a new job...but it won't start for two more weeks. In the meantime, I answer to no man. I'm going to soak that up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1986 Fleer Star Stickers #99

I would be remiss if I didn't wish a happy 49th birthday to Hall of Fame shortstop/third baseman, hometown hero, and my one-time boss, Cal Ripken, Jr. It's kind of amazing that this photo was taken half a lifetime ago for #8. It's an excellent shot, what with Cal's good friend and fellow Cooperstown inductee Eddie Murray lurking in the on-deck circle.

In case you're curious, others born on this date include 1960's Houston bullpen ace Hal Woodeshick (77 years old), Angels all-time home run leader Tim Salmon (41), and the late Nick Adenhart (would be 23). Elsewhere in popular culture, today is a special day for Vince McMahon, Mike Huckabee, Steve Guttenberg, Reggie Miller, and Dave Chappelle. Quite a motley crew, to say the least.

I couldn't begin to guess how Junior might be celebrating his birthday, but I certainly hope that it involves ice cream cake, a moon bounce, and Billy Ripken dressed as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Armando Benitez, 1995 Pinnacle Artist's Proof #134

Geez, hard-throwing relief pitchers apparently have more staying power than Jason Voorhes. You may have exhaled earlier this summer when I mentioned that volatile ex-Orioles closer Armando Benitez was plying his trade with the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League, a safe distance away from affiliated pro baseball. But many former major leaguers have come to see this independent league as a springboard back to the big time, and you'll probably recognize a few other names on Newark's roster if you give it a look. For his part, Benitez led the club in saves with 16, allowed opponents to hit only .171 off of him, and struck out 43 batters in 34 and two-thirds innings. Remarkably, the big right-hander is still only 36 years old. Keeping all of this in mind, I suppose it was just a matter of time before somebody came calling.

Yesterday, the Houston Astros did just that, signing Armando and placing him with the AAA Round Rock Express. I would imagine that he might be in the majors when rosters expand in September, at which point opposing batters in the National League will be digging in and hanging out over home plate at their own risk. Should he take to the mound for Houston, it would be his eighth team in a sixteen-year career. He's unlikely to take any save opportunities away from Jose Valverde, but the 300 save milestone is within reach; he's currently sitting at 289.

If you're a 'Stros fan and you're cringing at the thought of Benitez melting down for your home team, or an O's fan who's already reliving the horrors of American League Championship Series past, just remember that it could be worse: the playoff-hopeful Rockies already have Adam Eaton in their bullpen, and just signed Russ Ortiz this weekend. The National League really is something else.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brian Roberts, 2008 Upper Deck Xponential #X-BR

The events of the last week have conspired to make one thing perfectly clear: it's Brian Roberts' world, and we all just live in it.

On Sunday, he hosted his annual "Brian's Baseball Bash" at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Through ticket sales and the live and silent auctions, over $15,000 was raised to benefit the University of Maryland Hospital for Children.

Of course, Brian's actions on the field always seem to grab the bigger headlines, and with good reason as of late. He's currently in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak, and is batting .392 (20-for-51) with eight doubles, five home runs, and four steals without being caught once. He's gone deep three times and driven in seven runs in the past two games alone, seeming to put the O's onto his back and carry them to victory.

Roberts is having one of the most productive seasons of his career. His 14 home runs and 59 RBI are already second-best to his 2005 campaign, and his 46 doubles continue to lead the major leagues. He's easily on pace to surpass his own club record of 51 two-baggers, and if he does so he would become just the fourth player in major league history with three 50-double seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Tris Speaker (five times), Paul Waner, and Stan Musial. He should also eclipse 100 runs scored (with 91 at present) for the third straight year and fourth overall. As a little icing on the cake, his next stolen base will tie him with Al Bumbry for second-most total swipes in O's team history; Brady Anderson sits on top, another 55 steals away.

With the swift and powerful second baseman continuing to tear through major league and franchise record books, it's astounding to me that he's faced so much scrutiny from the armchair managers of Internet comment threads and radio call-in shows this year. He started 2009 red-hot, and as soon as he began to slump the nay-sayers were bellowing about his lack of focus, his laziness, and even the effects that his brand-new marriage may have had on him. Suddenly, #1 was a bad influence on the promising rookies and younger players on the team. He was somebody who wouldn't be able to contribute to a winning atmosphere. When the Birds lost Wednesday night's game by a score of 3-1, somebody on Camden Chat chose to focus on Brian's double play groundout with the bases loaded even though it was only his fourth GIDP of the year and an unfortunate exception to the best offensive night of any O's player (he doubled and hit a home run to provide their only run). As poorly as the Orioles have played in '09, I wonder what kind of drugs you have to be on to blame a guy with some of the most eye-popping numbers for that failure.

There's a part of me that wonders if Roberts has heard some of the outlandish criticisms that have been aimed at him, and whether it's fueling his fire. If that's the case, maybe you haters should just keep it up. He's more than capable of getting the last word, it would seem.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Billy O'Dell, 1959 Topps #250

Did you know that the foul lines in Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium used to be wooden slats painted white? Well, they were, and that proved crucial in a 2-1 win over the White Sox on May 19, 1959.

The game was a classic pitcher's duel, pitting Chicago's one-time 20-game winner Billy Pierce against 27-year-old Billy O'Dell, who was on his way to a second straight All-Star Game. Both clubs were off to a good start: the White Sox, who were 21-12, would eventually win the American League pennant, while the young O's were 19-14. Baltimore eventually faltered, but laid the foundation for a surprising 89-win season the following year.

In the bottom of the second inning, Pierce got the first two Oriole batters out before walking second baseman Billy Gardner (lots of Billys in this game!). That brought O'Dell to the plate. The pitcher wasn't much of a threat with the bat (.125 career average), but on this occasion he sliced the ball about 120 feet down the first-base line. It struck the wooden plank squarely and bounced all of the way over the head of Pale Hose right fielder Al "Fuzzy" Smith. By the time Smith chased the ball down and threw it in, Gardner and O'Dell had circled the bases. It was the strangest of home runs, the second (and last) round-tripper that O'Dell ever hit, and it won him the game. He allowed just one run in seven innings, and reliever Jerry Walker closed out the 2-1 victory.

As far as home field advantage goes, that's a little more interesting than just having a short right field porch, eh Yankees fans?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mike Flanagan, 1983 Donruss #105

From the "they don't make 'em like they used to" department: it was thirty years ago today (August 20, 1979) that Mike Flanagan tossed his league-leading fifth shutout, a 3-0 victory in which he held the Rangers to three hits and one walk and struck out seven. It came just five days after Flanny had tossed a 12-inning complete-game victory over the White Sox. In those dozen innings he surrendered five hits and a walk and whiffed 12 batters. The winning run scored with two outs in the bottom of the 12th when Eddie Murray STOLE HOME. What I would have given to see that! Mike was well on his way to the only Cy Young Award of his career (23-9, 3.08 ERA, 16 complete games) and Baltimore's fourth of the decade. Jim Palmer had the other three; when you add Mike Cuellar's award in 1969 and Steve Stone's in 1980, the Birds took home six plaques in a dozen years. Sadly, Stone's Cy was the last for the O's to date, and they haven't had five or more complete game shutouts as a team since 1995.

Five shutouts? Hell, five wins would put you in a tie for second-best on this year's team. Where have you gone, Mike Flanagan?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2009 Topps Commemorative Patch

I don't know how this keeps happening, but I'm very much running behind on my trading. I owe envelopes of varying sizes to a short list of very generous people, including Max. He was the sender of this card, featuring a manufactured patch bearing the logo of the 1983 All-Star Game in Chicago. Incidentally, Cal Ripken, Jr. won the A.L. MVP that year, but walked in his only at-bat in the Midsummer Classic. A quick check of my Gmail tells me that my backlog stretches back to the end of June, which is just inexcusable (intermittent vacations notwithstanding). So to you brave souls to whom I have promised to send cards in recent history, take heart. My social calendar is free and clear for the foreseeable future, and I will be getting my act together. Thanks for your great contributions to this blog, and for your patience.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jim Palmer, 1984 Ralston Purina #23

Because I occasionally do requests, this card is being posted at the strong urging of regular reader Bob, a.k.a. "Commish". He pointed out that the Jim Palmer jersey swatch card that I featured in June served to spark a five-game winning streak by the O's, and that the beleaguered Birds could use all the help they can get right now. I can't argue with that logic!

One of the great things about Palmer's cards is that an especially high percentage of them seem to feature him without a hat, as though the master pitcher were so preoccupied with his own matinee idol good looks that he wouldn't dare sully them by covering up his chestnut locks with that vulgar tri-colored cap with its leering cartoon bird. And who was going to tell him to get himself in full uniform? Who would dare? Some two-bit photographer from Topps? Ha. I think not.

So come on, Jim. Use all the Samson-like powers of your unruly coif to will the Orioles to victory.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aubrey Huff, 2009 Topps Allen and Ginter #349

The dominoes are still falling as Andy MacPhail's rebuilding plan steams ahead. Today, pending free agent Aubrey Huff is a Tiger, flipped for a 2008 draftee and hard-throwing reliever. While it would be easy to dwell upon the 32-year-old first baseman's disappointing performance this year (which did make it easier to part with him), I prefer to remember the highlights. August in Baltimore is depressing enough as it is. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after, when you think of the "Manhorse" and his two-plus seasons in Baltimore, you should see him:

-Becoming the third player in team history to hit for the cycle, and doing it in just seven innings.

-Driving in seven runs in a two-game span in Yankee Stadium in August 2007, including a game-clinching two-run homer off of Mariano Rivera.

-Switching his uniform number from #19 to #17 to honor ex-teammate Joe Kennedy, who died suddenly in November 2007. A classy and understated gesture.

-Wearing an outstanding shirt at the 2008 FanFest to make amends for his incendiary comments on the radio earlier in the offseason. (Image originally from Orioles Hangout)


-Hitting the game-winning home run off of Baltimore's favorite opposing reliever Eric O'Flaherty to finish off a four-game home sweep of the Mariners in April '08, causing delirium at Camden Chat.

-Silencing the early-season boos in 2008 by having a comeback season that included selections as the Orioles MVP and the American League Silver Slugger (designated hitter). (.304 AVG, .912 OPS, 48 2B, 32 HR, 108 RBI)

-Hitting a three-run homer off of overrated Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain and mocking Joba's trademark fist pump twice - as the ball cleared the fence, and again while crossing home plate.

-During the "player dating advice" video that ran between innings at some recent home games (described here), Aubrey just said, “Melting Pot” (a fondue restaurant for those who don't know). He then sat there staring at the camera with this weird grin on his face for like 30 seconds, just an uncomfortably long time. It was bizarrely entertaining, and it struck me as some sort of clubhouse inside joke that he threw out there to amuse himself and baffle the crowd.

Anyway, that's the stuff that comes to mind. Did I miss your favorite Huff moments? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mickey Tettleton, 1991 Score #270

It's just another lazy Sunday, so I thought I'd show off another one of the autographs that I collected at Friday night's game. I actually had a method to my madness when it came to choosing the cards that I would have those four players sign. I wanted them to be cards that were visually interesting to me, but at the same time I didn't want to use cards that I'd already featured on this blog. That way I could share them with you without engendering a sense of deja vu.

Of course, most of Mickey Tettleton's Orioles cards show him at bat, since that was what he did best on a baseball field. But nothing tops a good action shot of a catcher in all of his gear. I like this card because of the sideways angle, with Mickey ripping off his mask and springing out in front of the plate in probable anticipation of a throw home. He might even be shouting instructions to the pitcher or an infielder. We can also see that the photo was taken at Fenway Park, as Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell stands idly by in the background. So really, you get an action shot and an inaction shot all in one picture.

Mickey's got a fairly distinctive and reasonably legible signature. It's dominated by the "M", the "Y" (which seems to have loops both on top and bottom, unless the top loop is a "K"), the first "T", and the "L". He was considerate enough to place his signature so as to not obscure either his own face or Greenwell's blurry face, and that's a nice sort of touch.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dave Schmidt, 1989 Donruss #13

Last night was a pretty good night for a baseball game. If I'm being completely honest, I only decided to go to Oriole Park because of the celebration for the 1989 "Why Not?" Orioles. But I got much more than I expected.

I was at the ballpark at 4:30, in plenty of time to buy the tickets and meet my friend Geoff at 5:00. We went across the street to Pickles Pub and caught up over a few beers, then made our way into the stadium and crossed the concourse to the Orioles Alumni booth, where 1989 team members Mike Devereaux, Dave Schmidt, Mickey Tettleton, and Dave Johnson were signing autographs. Naturally, I was well-prepared with a handful of cards from my collection, including artist Dick Perez's technicolor take on Schmidt, which you can see above. It was a fun moment, especially with the much-beloved "Why Not?" highlight video playing on the left-center field video board. "Devo" in particular looks like he could still be playing today. I made sure to mention to Johnson that we used to go to the same dentist in Middle River. He seemed bemused, responding, "Oh yeah?".

Geoff and I found our seats in the upper deck and watched the bittersweet conclusion to the 1989 video (stupid Blue Jays) and chowed down on some fine stadium fare, and settled in for the beginning of the game. We probably weren't optimistic to start with, and when the O's immediately fell in a 2-run hole thanks to some sloppy play, it looked even worse. The last thing they needed was an early deficit against Jered Weaver, who entered with a 12-3 record and a run of three straight games with ten-plus strikeouts.

So I guess you could say that I was completely caught off guard by a historic night by the Baltimore offense. Six runs in the first, seven more in the seventh, 16 total on 19 hits. They tied team records with nine doubles and a dozen extra-base hits. Brian Roberts had three of those doubles, boosting his major-league-leading total to 43. He has a good shot to break his own club record of 51 two-baggers in one season. Everyone in the lineup had at least one hit, and only Nolan Reimold didn't drive in at least one run. Did I leave anything out?

Oh yeah...the much-maligned Felix Pie, reduced over the past few months to sparing fourth outfielder status, started in left field to allow the sore-legged Nolan Reimold to DH and to give the flu-ridden Luke Scott a night of rest. After allowing a run to score on a wild throw in the first inning, Felix more than redeemed himself with a subsequent diving catch of a low liner as well as a four-hit evening. He became just the fourth player in Baltimore history to hit for the cycle, joining Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Aubrey Huff. He pumped his fist and pointed to the Oriole dugout after legging out a triple to clinch the cycle, took a curtain call between innings, and of course endured the customary shaving-cream pie to the face during his post-game interview. A pie for Pie, as many have noted.

All in all, an evening well spent.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Albie Pearson, 1960 Topps #241

I've featured some of the larger players in Orioles history, but never the smallest. Listed at 5'5" and 141 pounds, Albie Pearson (referred to as "little Albie" on this card back) was four inches shorter and thirty pounds lighter than Brian Roberts, who I tend to think of as a tiny sprite of a man as far as modern-day players go. He is a full foot shorter and 180 pounds lighter than Walter Young (the heaviest all-time Oriole), and sixteen inches shorter than current O's reliever and former NBA player Mark Hendrickson. But you get the point. In spite of his size, Albie was the 1958 Rookie of the Year with the Senators and played in the majors for nine seasons, hitting .270 with a .369 on-base percentage. So hats off to him.

Oh, and FYI - the gentleman in #24 who is standing behind Albie is pitcher Arnie Portocarrero, who was 6'3" and 196 pounds. Pearson was probably grateful that he was standing so deep in the background when this photo was taken.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1993 Upper Deck Fun Pack #32

Wow. Just...yeah. I don't have words for this card, so I give you the hilarious and sometimes baffling text from its backside:

"The Ripper, known for his titanic blasts from his powerful wooden spear and his heroic work with his glove, continues to rewrite the record books in his neverending quest to catch and conquer the elusive Iron Horse. The Ripper is usually on patrol in Baltimore's infield but spends about half of the year on the road in search of the slippery beast. Not one day has gone by in the past 10 seasons without The Ripper looking high and low for his final goal, the battle for eternity."

-Giving one of baseball's model citizens a nickname widely associated with a historical serial killer? Check.

-Casting the equally virtuous (and tragic) Lou Gehrig as a villain, and confusing your adjectives (since when is iron slippery)? Check.

-Suggest that Cal's "final goal" is a "battle? Wha? Um, check.

Those must have been some powerful drugs, Upper Deck folks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lonnie Smith, 1995 Score #75

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of an especially lousy day, both for baseball at large and for me as a fan. On August 12, 1994, the Major League Baseball Players Association officially went on strike, a move that led to the cancellation of the remainder of that season as well as the World Series. It was the first time since 1903, when the Fall Classic was still in its infancy, that there was no World Champion crowned in baseball. The work stoppage dragged on into 1995, leading to the replacement player fiasco (with 26 of 28 MLB owners opening camp with minor leaguers, retired players, and other hangers-on). Eventually, a resolution was reached, but not before 18 games were chopped off of the 1995 regular season schedule for each team.

Of course, baseball also took a beating in the court of public opinion. Many fans were slow to return the following year, and undoubtedly there were some who never did. For me personally, it was a punch to the gut; I was twelve years old and it was to be my first full season as a baseball fan. I had devoured the preview magazines, listened to Spring Training games on the radio, attended a handful of games in the early summer, pored over the box scores and weekly full-team statistics in the Baltimore Sun, watched all of the televised games I could find (not just the Orioles, but the various games of the week on ESPN and ABC and NBC, Braves games on TBS, and Mets games on WWOR), plugged all of the real-life player names into the rosters on Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball for the Super Nintendo...I had baseball fever something fierce. Then, just as the pennant races were heating up, it was all taken away from me. Poof.

As far as the impact on the Orioles, it manifested itself in different ways. Most notable was the temporary halt to Cal Ripken, Jr.'s pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record. He would finally reach 2,131 the following September, but he would have had his streak broken in 1995 had the replacement players been allowed to take the field on Opening Day. Ugh.

Mike Mussina was famously snakebitten for much of his career when it came to topping 20 wins in a single season, but he likely would have topped that total in his third full season had the final fifty games been played. As of August 12, he was second in the American League with 16 wins (against five losses) and fourth in ERA (3.06) and WHIP (1.16). It's also possible that the strike cost Mussina a better shot at 300 career wins. He retired with 270, but probably missed 13 to 15 starts in late 1994 and early 1995. If he wins half of those, maybe he's close enough at the end of 2008 to be convinced to come back and chase the milestone.

The team at large lost a chance at their first postseason in a decade. When play stopped, they were second in the reconfigured A.L. East with a 63-49 record, 6.5 games behind the rejuvenated Yankees. The Orioles won their final two games of the year, both against New York. Even more tantalizing, they stood 2.5 games behind the Indians for the first-ever Wild Card. The only other club in the American League within shouting distance was the Royals, who were a game and a half back of the O's. If Baltimore had indeed made it to the playoffs, it could have saved the job of manager Johnny Oates, who was fired by owner Peter Angelos during the winter. He went on to lead the Rangers to the postseason several times, whereas the Birds are now on their seventh manager since his departure.

Of course, some players never returned from the strike, including four Orioles: relievers Tom Bolton and Mark Williamson, mulleted backup catcher Jeff Tackett, and veteran outfielder/designated hitter Lonnie Smith. Smith, also known as "Skates", had the distinction of playing his final game of a 1,613-game career in the team's last game: August 10, 1994. He went 0-for-2 with a walk before Harold Baines pinch hit for him. What a way to go.

Baseball has its problems now, but at least they're still playing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mickey Weston, 1990 Topps MLB Debut #137

I can only imagine the relief that Mickey Weston felt when the Orioles called him up to make his major league debut twenty years ago. It was the eighth year of pro ball for the Mets' 12th-round draft pick from 1982. He was 28 years old in 1989, just a year older than I am now. Of course, relief is what I'm feeling now that I've just been offered - and accepted - a new job, after four years and four months in my current position. This is a fresh start for me: more security, higher pay, plenty of opportunity for advancement, and (gloriously) a shorter commute. I've given my notice, and in two weeks I will trade in my job in the publishing industry for a government post. I'm optimistic about the future. What do you say, Mickey?

Monday, August 10, 2009

David Segui, 2002 Topps Heritage #254

Like many collectors, I'm a sucker for retro-designed cards, especially the Topps Heritage series. But as aesthetically pleasing as these cards are, they've still got nothing on the real thing. If you don't know what I mean, just sit tight for a little show and tell.

Last Friday, I was in Laurel, MD for my good friend (and former roommate) Mikey's wedding rehearsal. We had to meet at the church at 7:00 PM, and I didn't want to chance being late, so I came straight from work. As a result, I was 45 minutes early. As luck would have it, the church was a few blocks away from Sports Card Heroes, a hobby shop that I frequented when I used to take the train from Laurel to Washington D.C. for work. With the recent news of Topps' exclusive licensing deal with MLB fresh in my mind, I was feeling a little current-day card fatigue, so I made a beeline for the vintage baseball card display case. I noticed a small box of 1952 and 1953 Topps, so I asked the owner to let me have a look. Most of the cards were in well-used condition, and were reasonably affordable ($75 and below, if I recall correctly). The owner informed me that they were all 30% off of the marked price, which was music to my ears. I did a little crack math in my head, and nabbed the following four cards for about $12. Not too shabby!
George Zuverink
First up is George Zuverink, 1952 Topps #199. I only had one card from this famed set (Phillies outfielder and fellow Washington College product Bill "Swish" Nicholson), and this one is a great addition. I specifically chose it because George was a reliable reliever for the Orioles later in his career, posting a 3.07 ERA with the team and collecting 23 wins and 36 saves from 1955-1959. As the icing on top of the cake, this is his rookie card!
Here we have another future Oriole in Alfonso "Chico" Carrasquel, 1952 Topps #251. He was one of the first of a long line of All-Star shortstops from Venezuela, playing in four Midsummer Classics in total. He played his only season in Baltimore in 1959, batting .223 with 28 RBI in 114 games before calling it a career. Look at that odd signature - his letters seem to slant in the opposite direction!
I've always appreciated the artsy look of the portraits in the 1953 Topps set (which the 2002 Topps Heritage set was patterned after, of course), but I never did get around to adding some of them to my collection until now. They were worth the wait. First is #55, Maurice "Mickey" McDermott. He would peak in 1953, going 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA for Boston. Shane Diaz, who is collecting the 1953 set, has a good summary of McDermott's colorful career on his blog.
Finally, we come to the only man in this quartet that I didn't recognize, #185, Jim Pendleton. This is another rookie card, but Jim wasn't your average rookie. He was a World War II veteran who was signed by the Dodgers in 1949, but found himself stuck behind Pee Wee Reese in the shortstop pecking order. He would hit .299 with the Braves in 1953, only to lose his job the following year to a kid named Hank Aaron. He collected only 369 at-bats between 1954 and 1959, but re-emerged in 1962 as the elder statesman of the brand-new Houston Colt .45s. The 38-year-old hit .246 with a career-high 8 home runs and 46 RBI for the club that would become the Astros before riding off into the sunset.

I know you can get some good deals on vintage cards on eBay, but there's still something satisfying and tangible about buying them from a hobby shop now and again.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chris Hoiles, 1994 Fleer Flair #3

Earlier this week I heard the unwelcome news that Chris Hoiles had resigned as the manager of the York Revolution, a nearby team in the independent Atlantic League. He had been the only manager the team ever had, leading them through a rough inaugural season in 2007 and providing a steadying influence that allowed the club to earn a postseason berth the following year. But the Revs were struggling badly this season, 33-63 overall and just 9-17 in the second half. Overall, Chris won 162 games and lost 200 in his tenure. Hoiles claims that it was his own decision to step aside. Even if that's not the case, you have to respect him for being classy enough to take full responsibility. He says that he believes the team needs a fresh voice to motivate them, and he encouraged good friend and longtime Orioles bullpen catcher and batting practice pitcher Sam Snider to accept the position of interim manager.

It really is a shame that Hoiles couldn't stay on as the skipper. He'd moved his wife and three sons from Ohio to the York area earlier this summer, and now he says that he's unsure of his next move. I wish all the best to Chris and his family in this uncertain time.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

David Johnson, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #226

This card comes by request of William...although I'd been leaning this way anyway. Now I've hit the Dave Johnson trifecta in the past three days. I can safely say that the Orioles are the only MLB team to have three David Johnsons:

David Allen Johnson was a second baseman from 1965-1972.

David Charles Johnson was a righthanded pitcher from 1974-1975.

David Wayne Johnson was a righthanded pitcher from 1989-1991.

Any questions?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vintage Fridays: Davey Johnson, 1969 Topps #203

I really dig these cards from the first few years of Davey Johnson's career. He never had matinee idol looks, to put it mildly, but there was some kind of burning intensity in his face. This card especially captures the wide-eyed look that seems equal parts fear and determination, along with the buck teeth protruding in a sort of snarl. He is awash in anticipation of whatever may come his way, and if it's a line drive or a bad-hop grounder, all the better. The unique looking-up camera angle adds to the intrigue, as Davey's outstretched right palm and impossibly large left-hand second baseman's glove seem to be reaching straight out of the card to grab you. Davey's ready; are you?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dave Johnson, 1991 Fleer Ultra #18

Two days ago I briefly mentioned that the Orioles had acquired Steven Johnson as one of the players in the George Sherrill trade. I wanted to touch back on that, because it really is a heartwarming story. Steven's father is Dave Johnson, the man pictured above. Dave was a hometown boy made good, an Overlea High and Baltimore City Community College grad who survived eight years in the minor leagues to eventually become one of the best starters on the Oriole staff in 1989-1990 (1991 was a different story, but oh well). Of course he stayed in the Baltimore area and raised his kids here, so Steven grew up rooting for the O's just like his father.

Just a few months ago, the Birds drafted Al Bumbry's son (also named Steven), and Dave mentioned on his radio show with Tom Davis that his own son was disappointed when the team didn't draft him in 2005. At the time, Dave encouraged him by telling him something along the lines of, "at least you know the Dodgers drafted you because they want you and think you're talented, instead of just doing me a favor". (I may have paraphrased that very awkwardly.) The younger Johnson has had a somewhat slow climb through the minors, but he's still very young (21) and has showed improvement in the last two years. In fact, Fangraphs just ranked him 14th out of the 35 prospects that were traded in July. He projects as a back-end starter or a reliever in the major leagues.

I wasn't around to hear it, but supposedly Dave was on the radio when he heard that his boy was joining the Baltimore organization. At that moment, he was overcome with emotion and choked up on air. It's the kind of human touch that makes me proud to be an Orioles fan.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nellie Briles, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #52

Happy 27th birthday to me! But I like to share the wealth, so I'll also be wishing happy birthday to several MLB players of past and present who had the good sense to be born on August 5:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

George Sherrill, 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #398

The Orioles had the nerve to wait until I was on a plane bound for Atlanta to trade George Sherrill to the Dodgers for a pair of minor leaguers. So you get to hear my thoughts about the dearly departed closer nearly a week after the deal happened.

For all of the moaning and groaning about how Sherrill made ninth innings a little too interesting, he really turned things around and was exceptional for most of this year. Of course, that (and his reasonable contract) made him valuable, and there's still plenty of rebuilding to do in Baltimore. The O's finally got a viable third-base prospect in Josh Bell, even if he's still a year or two away. Steven Johnson is a solid if unspectacular pitching prospect and a good story (he's the son of former pitcher and current broadcaster Dave Johnson). Andy MacPhail did the right thing by selling high; now we just have to hope that Jim Johnson can close games (and someone else can replace Jim in the eighth inning).

Not only are we bidding goodbye to the tenth pitcher in team history to amass 50 saves, but we've lost one of the great characters of the team. George almost instantly drew attention from fans due to the way he wore his hat; he was called "Flat Brim" or "Flat Breezy" by some, and former teammate Kevin Millar dubbed him the "Brim Reaper". He took part in the sublime "Orioles Magic" music video, and displayed his dry wit in the "making of" video that was included on the Orioles Magic DVD giveaway. When Millar pointed out that the closely-shorn Sherrill looked like Vin Diesel, George shot back, "Vin Diesel looks like me." When I was at Camden Yards last week to see Chris Tillman's debut, there was a video board feature in between innings that involved various players giving dating advice. Their tips ranged from the conventional (Adam Jones suggested dinner and a movie) to the sarcastic (Brian Roberts claimed that showing a woman your baseball card collection would win her over) to the hilarious (Sherrill deadpanned "Snowcones.").

Is my final memory of George Sherrill in an O's uniform really the mental image of him sharing snowcones with a lady friend? Sure, why not? Best of luck to you in L.A., Georgie.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Brady Anderson, 1994 Pinnacle #165

I'm back in Baltimore in one piece, though my ears still haven't popped from the plane. What better way to celebrate my return than with a card that shows all the creature comforts of Oriole Park at Camden Yards? Brady Anderson is going all out, leaping at the center field wall to rob a home run in front of the Baltimore bullpen. You can just make out the Giant Foods sign behind the two onlooking O's relievers (Mike Oquist in the foreground, and probably Alan Mills behind him). You can also see a bit of the classy ivy wall that serves as the batters' eye, a loving wink to Wrigley Field. I can look at this card and know that I'm home.

Of course, having checked the box scores every morning during my vacation, and listening to some of tonight's game on XM Radio on the plane ride home, I probably should have stayed away a bit longer for my own mental well-being.