Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bruce Howard, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #205

Did you know that Bruce Howard...

-Is the only player in major league history whose hometown is Salisbury, MD?

-Is the father of former utility infielder David Howard (.229 career AVG), who the Royals protected in the 1992 Expansion Draft in lieu of slugger Jeff Conine?

-Was traded to the Orioles in a November 1967 deal that sent Luis Aparicio back to Chicago and brought leadoff hitter extraordinaire Don Buford to Charm City?

Well, now you know.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brandon Snyder, 2008 Tristar Projections #200

First base prospect Brandon Snyder just got the news last Friday that he's headed back to the minor leagues to start the 2010 season. The good news for the Orioles' 2005 #1 draft pick is that he might not be there long, if he can hit more like he did in the first half of 2009 at AA Bowie (1.018 OPS) as opposed to his underwhelming second-half numbers at AAA Norfolk (.671 OPS). He's still 23 years old, his defense at first base drew raves in spring training, and Garrett Atkins isn't expected to have a lengthy stay in Baltimore.

Of course Brandon is bound for Norfolk, but I'm traveling to Salisbury, where he played for the Shorebirds in 2006 and 2007. Tomorrow I'm taking my first overnight trip for my job. While it may not be as remote as New Mexico or as exotic as Puerto Rico (to name a few of the locales where my coworkers have traveled on business in recent months), it's still kind of a refreshing break from routine to kick back in a spacious hotel room for an evening. It's too early to catch a Shorebirds game, but I'll try to enjoy the sights and sounds of this Eastern Shore outpost anyhow.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ben McDonald, 1990 Donruss Baseball's Best #114

If you're near a television tonight and you're also in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network viewing area, you might want to check out the Orioles' exhibition game against the Yankees. Not because you'll enjoy the results (as I type, the Birds are down 4-1 in the fourth inning), but because MASN is rolling out their new "third analysts" all in one night. Eddie Murray joined Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer in the bottom of the third inning and sounded a bit nervous but in good spirits. He and Palmer told stories about hazing newer Hall of Fame inductees, and Eddie offered a bit of a scouting report on New York starter Javier Vazquez, who Murray coached against after his playing days ended. Ultimately, I think he'll be fine. His voice is silky smooth, and he's a stone-cold killer.

Mike Boddicker will drop into the booth in the sixth inning, and the other two newbies will be interviewed by roving reporter Amber Theoharis: Ben McDonald in the fourth and Brady Anderson in the seventh.

That's right. I'd previously repeated the speculation that Eddie, Boddicker, and Brady would be adding their two cents to select O's games this year, but McDonald was an utter surprise when he was announced last week. His Cajun drawl should liven up a few telecasts, and it's good to know that he's on good terms with the Birds fifteen years after he threw his last pitch for the team. I'm also glad that I have an excuse to post another one of his cards; I have no less than 80 of them in my collection.

Yes, 80. Eight-zero. Do you think the hobby spiraled out of control in the early 1990s?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1992 U.S. Playing Card Co. Aces

A helpful hint for companies who may be producing oddball baseball cards: yes, MLB licensing is all well and good. But if you wish to be taken seriously, it would be lovely if you proofread the cards a couple extra times. You know, just to make sure that you didn't misspell the name of the reigning American League MVP. That would be embarrassing and unprofessional, right? Right. I'm glad we had this little talk.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bob Chakales, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #

Continuing with yesterday's obituary theme, Bob Chakales is not exactly a household name in Baltimore, but he holds an interesting place in team history as the club's first would-be closer. Midway through the team's inaugural season in Baltimore, they acquired the 26-year-old righthander from the Indians for first baseman Vic Wertz. The O's lost 100 games that year, and Chakales was the nearest thing they had to a bullpen ace. He led them with 38 appearances (including six starts), 28 games finished (ranking fifth in the league), and…drumroll please…three saves. His 3.73 ERA also was one of the better marks for the Birds, despite a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.02. Interestingly enough, all three of his wins for Baltimore came in extra innings. That December, he was traded to the White Sox in a seven-player deal. Bob was out of the league by 1957; in seven seasons he was 15-25 with a 4.54 ERA and ten saves. He spent his post-baseball years building over fifty golf courses in the southern United States. Chakales died in his hometown of Richmond, VA on February 18 at age 82.

I'm holding the third departed Oriole pitcher for next Friday, because I want to run one of his vintage cards.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Frank Bertaina, 1965 Topps #396

When I pull up the home page of Baseball Reference, one of the features that always catches my eye is the In Memoriam, a short list on the right side of the page featuring some of the former players who have passed away most recently. There are currently no less than three ex-Oriole pitchers on the list, and I'd like to pay my respects.
Southpaw Frank Bertaina never really caught on in Charm City, but he made a mark at AAA Rochester, where he was 44-20 over parts of five seasons in the 1960s. In 1965, he led the International League in strikeouts with 188. He is a member of the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame. He also spent portions of five seasons with the Orioles, seeing action in just 32 games (4-6, 3.07 ERA). The Senators and Cardinals also employed Frank, who only won 19 games in all.

Still, his first major league win was one for the ages. On September 12, 1964, the lefty held Kansas City to a single hit, a fifth-inning leadoff double by Doc Edwards. He scattered five walks and struck out seven men to blank the A’s, 1-0. Incredibly, the Birds managed only one hit themselves, a John Orsino double in the bottom of the eighth. Bertaina bunted him to third and Jackie Brandt delivered the winning run with a sacrifice fly to make K.C.’s Bob Meyer a hard-luck loser. The Orioles actually set a record that day for the fewest official at-bats in a nine-inning game. Because they were home, they did not bat in the ninth. They had just one hit and one walk, and the walk was erased on a double play. Taking into account three sac bunts and the sac fly, the O’s were credited with only 19 at-bats!

Frank may not have been able to top that first act, but he did hang around in the majors for seven years with a 3.84 ERA. He suffered a fatal heart attack on March 3, and was 65 at the time of his death.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Calvin Pickering, 1998 Bowman #208

Be careful what you wish for, William. If you request a Calvin Pickering card, even in jest, I am ready and willing to call your bluff. You can't put this enormous genie back in the bottle.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brad Bergesen, 2009 Topps Heritage #522

After all of the hand-wringing I did yesterday, it’s a welcome relief to have a ready-made subject. Today is my sister’s 25th birthday. If you check through the archives (or just click this link), you’ll see that two years ago I commemorated her special day by featuring a scan of Dick Kryhoski, an Oriole from the 1950s who was also born on March 24. Of the hundreds of players who have passed through Baltimore in the past 56 years, Dick is the only one born on this day. If you’re morbidly inclined, Hall of Fame infielder George Kell is the only Oriole to die on this date (passing away one year ago today, in fact).
If I wanted to stretch it, I could have run a George Sisler card today, since one of the greatest hitters of the 1920s plied his trade for the St. Louis Browns team that moved to Charm City in 1954. But this blog ain’t called “Orioles Franchise Card O’ the Day”.

So instead I went with pitcher Brad Bergesen, one of five potential members of this year’s young and hungry O’s squad who will also celebrate the big 2-5 at some point during 2010. The others: pitchers David Hernandez and Troy Patton, and outfielders Adam Jones and Felix Pie. Bergy was far and away the most pleasant surprise to emerge last season, a control pitcher whose lack of a blistering fastball had caused him to be overlooked in favor of flashier prospects like Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. When Brad followed up his 2008 Jim Palmer Award (given annually to the Orioles’ top minor league pitcher) with a great Spring Training, he bypassed those bigger names to become the first homegrown pitcher to get the callup in ’09. He responded by becoming the club’s most dependable starter and a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year, until a scary-looking line drive from Kansas City’s Billy Butler severely bruised his leg and cost him the last two months of the season. His final numbers were encouraging, though: 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. He was second on the team in wins and first in most of the “rate” stats. On a staff desperate for innings-eaters, he made it through at least the sixth in 15 of his 19 starts, and only once did he pitch less than five and two-thirds (his second-ever major league start, when Texas knocked him out after four). After an odd offseason that saw him tweak his shoulder during a Mid-Atlantic Sports Network commercial shoot, he has bounced back with three solid Spring Training starts to give O’s fans optimism that he will be able to pick up where he left off last July.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bobby Bonilla, 1996 Pinnacle #30

I often feel like I spend an unhealthy amount of time agonizing over the majority of the cards that I feature on this blog. At its best, Orioles Card “O” the Day should be organic, a process of me writing about whatever comes to mind and selecting and scanning a card that just feels right in that context. But I’ve been at this for more than two years, and I’ve used 811 different cards in that time. As the type-A elements of my personality bubble to the surface, I find myself needlessly limiting myself in the nightly search for a subject by rejecting entire categories out of hand. Maybe I’ve gone with position players for four consecutive days, and I fear some sort of cosmic imbalance if the pitchers go neglected for much longer. Or I’ve settled on a player and I rather like his 1994 Score card, but I check my tags and see that I’ve already used seven cards from that set and that’s entirely too many. Occasionally common sense wins out and I go with my first instinct, knowing that these little irregularities likely bother no one besides me and it’s already 10:30 at night and if I keep picking through eight boxes full of Orioles cards trying to find a pitcher that hasn’t been touched upon in 27 months of daily blogging from a card set that hasn’t gotten much love, I won’t be in bed until 12:30 AM…
So here’s my latest, best attempt to make a break with my own idiosyncrasies. I chose this Bobby Bonilla card because I always liked him when he was with the Orioles, and his facial expression in the photo made me laugh. I think it’s a fair bet that this is the only card in the hundred-plus year history of baseball cards to feature that particular contortion of muscles.

There…that wasn’t so bad, was it?(Of course, if anyone is particularly wrenched about the under-representation of 1993 Fleer or photos of players in orange jerseys or you need your Tim Stoddard fix, let me know in the comments and I’ll gladly make arrangements in a future post.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Johnny Oates, 1991 Topps Traded #85T

It’s not often that you get Hall of Fame news in late March…unless it’s the Orioles Hall of Fame. The 2010 inductees have a decidedly Uniformed Personnel theme, as former pitching coach and manager Ray Miller and one-time first base coach and manager Johnny Oates will receive the honors this summer. (Sure, Johnny began his playing career as a reserve catcher with the O’s in the early 1970s, but a .262 average with four home runs in 90 games doesn’t get you many votes.)

I think both men are fine additions to the orange and black shrine, especially given the lack of standout players left to be recognized; this year’s eligibles included Roberto Alomar (only an Oriole for three years), Mike Bordick (I guess it depends on how much you value defense), Jesse Orosco (probably a better candidate for the Guinness Book of World Records), and Rafael Palmeiro (the wounds are too fresh).

Of course Miller (a.k.a. “Rabbit”) was a native of Suitland, MD who never made it to the major leagues but still had a considerable impact on several pitching staffs. He finished his active career as a player-coach at AAA Rochester, where manager Joe Altobelli convinced him to wear both hats for a mere $1,000 raise. Soon the Baltimore organization hired him as a full-time coach, and within four years he was finally in the big leagues, where his pupils enjoyed measurable success. From 1978-1984, Miller coached five twenty-game winners (Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Steve Stone, and Mike Boddicker) and two Cy Young recipients (Flanagan and Stone). The O's also went to two World Series in that span, winning it all in 1983. He had a brief stint managing the Twins before spending a decade tutoring the Pirates pitching staff (including their three straight N.L. East-winning clubs from 1990-1992). He returned to Charm City as pitching coach for the 1997 A.L. East champion Orioles, but proved to be in the right place at the wrong time when Davey Johnson "resigned" that offseason. Miller seemed frustrated and overmatched as the skipper of some aging, underachieving O's clubs in 1998-1999. He returned for a third go-round as pitching coach in 2004-2005. The talent he had to work with paled in comparison to his previous tenures and he quickly retired for health reasons, but he did pull a rabbit out of his hat (pun intended? Perhaps) with Bruce Chen (13-10, 3.83 ERA in 2005).

As for Oates, I sincerely believe that Baltimore fans and management didn't know what they had with him until he was gone. Peter Angelos (who had inherited Johnny from the previous ownership) booted his skipper after only three-plus seasons, despite the fact that he had won 54% of his games in his three full seasons at the helm. When the players' strike brought the 1994 campaign to a halt, the Birds trailed Cleveland by only two and a half games in the wild card race. Oates had a reputation as one of the nicest men you would ever meet, and had a dry sense of humor to boot. In 1991, then-Royals outfielder Danny Tartabull hit .523 (23 for 44) with five home runs against the O's. As the Orioles prepared to host K.C. for one particular series that year, the manager was asked about his strategy for facing Tartabull:

“I’m going to find out what his room number is and call the hotel and say, ‘Cancel my wakeup call’. Then I’m going to call the cab companies and tell them not to have any taxis in front of the hotel; we’ll make him walk to the ball park. Then I’ll tell security not to let him in without an ID. Then I’ll tell Freddy (Tyler, the clubhouse man) to burn his uniform, and if he still makes it, I’ll walk him.”

After the O's and Johnny parted ways, he was hired in about a minute by the Rangers. In his six full seasons in Texas, he led the club to their only three playoff appearances...but won just a single postseason game in three division series against the Yankees. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor shortly after resigning from his post in 2001. Somewhat remarkably, he survived for three years when the prognosis only gave him twelve months. In that time, he was able to attend his daughter's wedding, his grandchild's birth, and his induction into the Rangers Hall of Fame. He was only 58 when he did succumb to the illness on Christmas Eve, 2004. But while he won't be on hand to be honored by the team that drafted him and gave him his first big league coaching and managing jobs, he'll certainly be there in spirit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chris Padget, 1987 TCMA International League All-Stars #31

Enjoy Chris Padget, a "Future Star" for whom the future never arrived. The stat line on the back shows a .257 average with seven homers and 29 RBI at Rochester (in 49 games). As it turned out, that was the first of four straight trips to Rochester for Chris before he finally put two and two together and hung up his spikes after the 1990 season.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cesar Izturis, 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #4

This weekend the process of preparing my new home to be suitable for living began in earnest, and I was ridiculously busy/ How busy? So busy that I'm filing Saturday's entry on Sunday night. So busy that I grabbed the first card I saw on top of my desk and scanned it, with no regard for how I could possibly tie Cesar Izturis into all of this. So busy that I'm not going to keep fishing for examples.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Jim Northrup, 1975 SSPC #399

Look at that picture of Jim Northrup for a moment. Stop giggling at the gray perm and just take it all in. It's less a picture than a portrait. So much gravitas. With the silvery hair (he was nicknamed "The Gray Fox", after all), the weary grimace, and the shadowy backdrop that seems to indicate twilight, the 35-year-old outfielder looks for all the world like someone who is ready to call it a day. This it what makes me truly appreciate the SSPC cards, a rogue set from the mid-1970s that was wholly unlike industry giant Topps. The full-color, close-cropped photos somehow exhibited more of a player's personality than Topps' awkward posed shots and often-blurry action pictures of the time. There was no brightly colored, boldly lettered design to distract the eye. The card backs featured the player's uniform number and a detailed biography not unlike the Score sets that came along more than a decade later.

The back of this card actually tells the reader that Northrup retired at the end of the 1974 season, and sums up his career with overall stats and a few highlights (including his grand slams in consecutive innings on June 24, 1968 and his .536 slugging percentage in that year's World Series). It's refreshing to see a solid and mostly unspectacular everyday player, one who topped out at 25 homers and 90 RBI and put up a 116 OPS+ over 12 seasons, get a little recognition for a job well done as he slips out of the active rolls of Major League ballplayers. It gives a real sense of the person beyond those rows of season-by-season numbers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sidney Ponson, 2005 Leaf #28

Oh, Sidney Ponson. Your 17th season in professional baseball promises to be the most pointless and perversely entertaining of them all. With spring training in full swing, you've finally latched on to another club. So which franchise was ensnared by your flabby, drunken, petulant siren song? It's probably not one of the six MLB clubs who have previously released you, of course. Let's see here...I just had it...ah yes!

The Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.

That would be the very same Long Island Ducks who recently employed Jay Gibbons, who is a superstar and a model citizen when compared to the likes of Sir Sidney. A man who has been at home on the mounds of Oriole Park and Yankee Stadium will toe the rubber at Citibank Park, with its robust capacity of 6,002. Somewhat hilariously, his manager will be the glad-handing, smarmy Gary Carter.

If you live in or near any of the Atlantic League outposts - York, Lancaster, Waldorf, Camden, Somerset, Newark, Bridgeport, and Long Island - get your popcorn at the ready. Aruba's Most Wanted is coming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tom O'Malley, 1987 Topps #154

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I went and found an O'Malley for you. Tom O'Malley was a star in the minor leagues, struggled in his various trials in the majors, and was an absolute masher in Japan. To my knowledge, he never played in Ireland.

I hope you enjoyed yourself today, no matter what you did and what your heritage may be. I have a history of March 17 adventures; in 2002, I was in Toronto with three of my closest friends enjoying ringside seats at WrestleMania. Three years ago, I escaped an especially late Maryland ice storm, slipping away to Fort Lauderdale with my father to catch a few Orioles spring training games. Tonight wasn't nearly as grandiose as all of that, but it was a fun evening nonetheless. I did a pub crawl in downtown Annapolis with my girlfriend and a friend of ours, and still made it home early enough to collapse into bed at a reasonable hour. But before I wander off to sleep, I'd like to raise a figurative glass of green beer to all of you. Cheers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jeff Tackett, 1993 Stadium Club #186

There are a lot of things that I would do if I were independently wealthy and had all of the free time in the world. For one, I would play a lot more Strat-O-Matic baseball.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a fair chance that you know what I’m talking about. For the uninitiated, S-O-M is the most popular and enduring tabletop baseball game. Founded in 1961, the game is played using cards and dice. Each player in the major leagues has his own card featuring three numbered columns, each with 11 numbered results (walk, single, groundout, etc.). The outcomes are based on that player’s actual performance in the corresponding season; if you’re playing with cards from 1993, Chris Hoiles is going to have more hits on his card than Jeff Tackett. You roll a white die and two red dice to determine the outcome of the at-bat. The white die corresponds to the column (1-3 are on the batter card and 4-6 on the pitcher card), and the red dice correspond to the results in that column. Occasionally there will be two or more potential outcomes for that line: .i.e. HOME RUN 1-2/DOUBLE 3-20. That’s where the 20-sided die comes into play and plunges the game even further into geekdom. There are also at-bats that are dependent on the ability of the defensive players, and these (as well as stolen bases, hit-and-runs, bunts, etc.) are at the mercy of charts, and…I’m in too deep. I swear this isn’t as complicated as I’m making it sound, particularly if you play the basic version of the game rather than the advanced and super-advanced (!) versions.

To get back on track, let me tell you about how I discovered Strat-O-Matic. When I was a brand-new baseball fan back in the day (1993-1994), I used to see ads for the game in Baseball Digest, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how the game was played. One day we took a family shopping trip to the outlets in Perryville, MD and lo and behold, the Toy Liquidators had the full Strat-O-Matic game significantly marked down. It came in a box that may have been designed in the early-to-mid 1980s, judging from the full-color photos of players in polyester pullover jerseys with the team logos airbrushed out (that’s how unlicensed products did it back in the day, Upper Deck). I bought it without hesitation, and tore open the box in the back seat of the car on the ride home. I contented myself with separating the player cards from their perforated sheets, absorbing all of the names and numbers. Practically every player who took the field in an MLB game during the 1993 season was there; each team had a roster that ran 27 to 30 deep, and there were even two separate cards for each of a handful of players who changed clubs in midseason.

I played a handful of games solitaire-style, and had a good deal of fun determining batting orders and changing pitchers and inserting pinch hitters, and visualizing the simulated game that was unfolding with each roll of the dice. In my mind, there was something authentic and true about the way the game played when compared to the flashier, motor-skills-driven video games that threatened to replace it. But I never really attempted to play with the few friends I had (none of whom were as baseball-and-stats-mad as I was), and lost interest before long.

I still have my Strat-O-Matic game set, including the 1993 player cards and the 1995 player cards that I ordered by mail at a later date. A few years ago I brought the game out on a whim and decided to play out the entire 1993 season for all 28 teams...no, I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. Why do you ask? Anyhow, I got very gung-ho about it. Mocked up a scoresheet in Excel and began with Opening Day, using the schedules that were available on baseball-reference.com. I played out the games one-by-one, again managing both squads and keeping score. I actually made it through a couple days of the season (in a few weeks of real time) before getting sidetracked and letting the project fall by the wayside. I still have the box scores sitting on my hard drive, and I occasionally wonder how the season would have unfolded. Would the Blue Jays, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Braves again be the cream of the crop? Could the streaky Orioles stay in the pennant race with a little more consistency? Might Ken Griffey, Jr. or Frank Thomas make a run at 61 home runs? This inquiring mind still wants to know. I’ve even toyed with the idea of resuming the arrested season and posting game recaps to a new blog, complete with scans of era-appropriate cards of the noteworthy players. Of course, this is a pipe dream at present, as long as I have two blogs and a website to maintain. Then there’s the pesky demands of day-to-day life, what with a full-time job and several hours of sleep and family and friends all requiring considerable pieces of the 24-hour pie.

But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll carve out an hour or two a day for those paper stand-ins of my childhood heroes. Haven’t you always wanted to hear a lottery winner say that he intends to celebrate his fortune by quitting his job and playing tabletop baseball?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jimmy Haynes, 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado #186

Look out, action-style Jimmy Haynes! The Big Giant Head of Pointillist Jimmy Haynes has placed your left forearm in his mouth and is getting ready to devour it mercilessly! Aiiiiyyyeeeeeee!

If I could go back in time, I would give Pinnacle two pieces of advice. First, don't give your specialty sets names that require judicious use of spellchecker. Next, stay away from the horrifying monster heads.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Glenn Gulliver, 1983 Fleer #62

If they did Senior Superlatives at Eastern Michigan University, I have a good hunch that Glenn Gulliver would have been a shoo-in for "Most Likely to Be a Character in a Charles Dickens Novel". Pip pip!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ryan Freel, 2009 Topps #561

Last year, Ryan Freel played for four different organizations, mostly because he was brittle and terrible. The 33-year-old utility player became an Oriole in December 2008 via the Ramon Hernandez trade, but played in a grand total of nine games in five weeks. He had two singles in fifteen at-bats, missed time with a concussion as a result of an errant pickoff throw in Boston, and griped about a lack of playing time. So the O's traded him to the Cubs on May 8 for all-run, no-hit outfielder Joey Gathright. In Chicago, Freel had a whopping four hits (again, all singles) in 28 at-bats over two months before the Cubs dumped him on Kansas City, who seems to collect lousy old players. Ryan rewarded KC's faith with a .244 average (including two doubles!) in 18 games, but the Royals released him in August. It took two weeks for him to catch on with a fourth team, the Rangers. He played two games at AAA Oklahoma City and was released yet again. No one has signed him since, but he could probably use the rest after moving so much in 2009.

Much like Freel, I've just started moving and I won't be stopping soon. I spent eight hours this morning and afternoon helping my sister and her husband move from their old house into their new house. The torrential downpour and occasional gale-force winds made it a particularly pleasant experience. But I had my own motives, as I'll be making my new home in the rowhouse that they've just vacated. I only wish it were as simple as packing up everything that I own and schlepping it up the Beltway to my new digs. Next weekend I'll be occupied with cleaning the place from top to bottom and stripping the decades-old wallpaper. It'll probably be another week before I can get the walls freshly painted, and another week beyond that before I get somebody in to refurbish the hardwood floors. Then, and only then, will I be ready to move in and get settled. With all of this in mind, I certainly hope you'll bear with me if the entries on this blog aren't as verbose as usual in the coming month. For now, I think I'm gonna find somewhere to lay around.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Ray Moore, 1955 Topps #208

It occurs to me that I know absolutely nothing about Ray Moore, other than the fact that he looks downright adorable with that renegade lock of hair dangling down from under his cap. So it's time to play:

Ten Things I Didn't Know About Ray Moore:

-He was born in Meadows, MD, near Mt. Airy.

-His nicknames included "Farmer" and "Old Blue".

-Was a pretty good hitter for a pitcher, batting .271 in 1956 and clubbing six home runs in his career.

-Had three solid years as a starting pitcher for the Orioles, winning 33 and losing 30 with a 3.93 ERA from 1955-1957. However, he didn't exactly know where his fastball was going at times; his 112 walks led the American League in 1957.

-Was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and didn't make his major league debut until 1952, when he was 26. Didn't reach the majors to stay until 1955 with the O's, but had a good nine-year career from that point forward.

-Got a very tough no-decision on May 21, 1957. Ray gave up only one run, scattering eight hits and nine walks...in fifteen innings. He also struck out nine Tigers, and hit a third-inning home run off of his counterpart Jim Bunning to give the O's an early lead. After Jim Brideweser hit a one-out double in the bottom of the fifteenth, Wayne Causey pinch-hit for Moore and grounded out. The Birds stranded Brideweser in scoring position, and reliever Mike Fornieles blew the game by surrendering a run on two singles and a passed ball the very next inning. On the bright side, Ray did lower his ERA by 1.35 that day!

-In December 1957, Baltimore traded him to the White Sox in a seven-player deal. One of the players coming back to the Orioles in the swap was Hall of Famer Larry Doby. However, the O's sent Doby to Cleveland on the cusp of the 1958 season in another trade, and he never played a game in Charm City.

-Ray became a full-time reliever with the Senators/Twins from 1960-1963, and placed in the top seven in the A.L. in saves for three straight seasons with modest totals (by today's standards) of 13, 14, and 9.

-Was the first Orioles player to wear #29. Other notable 29s were reliever Dick Hall and outfielder Ken Singleton.

-He died in 1995 at age 68 and is buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland, MD.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Brooks Robinson, 2001 Upper Deck Hall of Famers #66

Jumping onto another blogging assignment in a belated fashion, I went searching through my Orioles cards looking for cards with interesting stuff going on in the background. This isn't quite it, but I like it a lot. While Brooks Robinson's base hit stroke is and should be the driving force in this photo, it's the background that gives it context. I am 90% sure that the catcher is Johnny Bench, which would place the action squarely in the midst of the 1970 World Series. So not only do you get two Hall of Famers on one card, but also a snapshot of the five games that defined Brooksie's career. This card also provides a camera angle rarely seen in cards, the center field shot that has become customary on television. So we see not only batter, catcher, and umpire, but also the television cameraman and a phalanx of nattily-dressed Baltimore fans of a certain age. Love the horn-rimmed glasses guy in the second row directly behind the plate. This is everything that a card should be...except for that nasty gold foil. Always with the foil.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Frank Robinson, 2010 Topps History of the Game #HOTG20

This is a pretty nifty insert that I pulled during my box break of 2010 Topps, with Frank Robinson showing off his 1966 American League MVP plaque. Of course, the caption makes it seems as though he won both the National League and American League MVPs that year, which would truly be remarkable. (He won the 1961 NL MVP with the Reds, and his 1966 award with the Orioles made him the first player to get that honor in both leagues.) But enough about the nice cards that I pulled...

Who wants to trade for some crappy cards?

Okay, so salesmanship was never my strong suit. Seriously, I’ve unlocked six cards in Topps’ Million Card Giveaway and my luck seems to have run dry. Besides the excellent 1958 George Crowe card that was the subject of last week’s show and tell, I did have one other vintage hit: a 1964 Don Blasingame. I already have Don’s 1965 card and I’m not crazy about the stripped-down 1964 design, so I decided to make a deal. I only need 56 cards to complete my 1965 Topps set, so I tossed out a few reasonable trade requests on the Giveaway website. The next day, I had a shiny Jim Bouton sitting where that blah Blasingame had been.

But the four cards I’ve redeemed since have been pretty lackluster. I already owned the first two, a 1993 Jack Clark and a 2008 Tadahito Iguchi. Last night’s prize, a 2001 Roberto Hernandez, was new to me but still underwhelming. Today, another blasted 1988 Topps - Tony Gwynn. I’ve tossed out some trade requests for these and the previously-unearthed 1988 Juan Samuel, trying to at least get something of interest to myself: one of the cards I need to finish my 1982 set, or a player I enjoy on an unfamiliar team (one offer I made was Iguchi for a 2003 Rickey Henderson Red Sox card). But so far, no bites. Still, you never know what someone else might want or need.

With that in mind, I’m throwing it open to the readers of this blog. If you’re participating in the Million Card Giveaway and any of these four cards catches your fancy, make an offer on toppscards.com and there’s a good chance that I’ll say yes. The caveat is this: I already have complete sets from 1986-1991, 1993, 1995, 2000, 2005, and Series 1 2008. I had a lot of fun completing the Blasingame-Bouton trade and I’d like to wheel and deal some more! In case you didn’t already know, here are the eligible gentlemen:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Alejandro Freire, 2006 Fleer Ultra #182

Who is Alejandro Freire? Just another of those late-twenties, early-thirties minor league veterans who got to live out his major league dreams thanks to the lousiness of the recent-vintage Orioles. He was two weeks shy of his 31st birthday when he made his debut in August 2005, in the midst of the Rafael Palmeiro suspension and fallout. Freire had originally been signed by the Astros fifteen years earlier, and he played 1,222 minor league games in four organizations before the O's grabbed him in a pinch. Then he hit .246 in 25 games and that was all she wrote.

What's more, Freire was one of 22 players in Orioles history who was born in Venezuela. Of course, the two most notable were Luis Aparicio and Melvin Mora. I was surprised that there were so many one-time Birds that called this South American locale home. With Mora's departure in the offseason, shortstop Cesar Izturis is the only current Baltimore player who is also a proud Venezuelan.

This concludes the evening's social studies class. You are dismissed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mike Mussina, 1992 Fleer #20

With yesterday’s public service announcement taken care of, I’m going to double back and talk about the demise of my elementary school. St. Clare Elementary in Essex, MD was founded in 1956 by four Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy from Kells, Ireland. After fifty-five years spent providing quality education to generations of children, the school will close its doors this May. The decision was made by the Archdiocese of Baltimore primarily because enrollment had dwindled from nearly 300 students down to about 150. I’m sure I’ll never know the whole story, and it’s exhausting to play the blame game, so I just want to give St. Clare a more proper sendoff by sharing some of my vivid memories of the place and the people that served to lay the foundation of the person that I am today.

-My parents enrolled me in pre-kindergarten at St. Clare when I was four years old. Right away, I earned a reputation as a shy and sensitive boy who was intelligent but somewhat lacking in motor skills. I’ve been told that my pre-K teacher, Miss JoAnn, was astonished to learn on the first day that I already knew how to read…and nearly as surprised to learn that I wasn’t able to use scissors.

-Kindergarten brought its own challenges, as I struggled with my penmanship; having broken my (dominant) right arm that August didn’t help matters. I must have been unlucky that year, because I also busted open the back of my head in class one day. My desk was at the back of the classroom and I was leaning back on my chair to try to pull out my handwriting book, which was at the very bottom of the stack in the desk. I lost my balance and hit my head on a metal table right behind me and started bleeding everywhere. I remember sitting in the nurse’s office with the teacher’s aide and sobbing. She was doing her best to calm me down and told me that I was going to live and that I would grow up and get married some day. That strikes me as an odd sort of thing to say to a five-year-old, but it did stick with me and it probably provided a distraction. I think I dodged a bullet, because no stitches were needed and I was cleaned up and returned to class in time for a regularly scheduled lesson on dinosaurs, my first childhood passion.

-My father got his first teaching job at St. Clare, as the principal took a chance and hired an art teacher with no college degree and two decades of experience in retail and warehouse distribution. It took another ten years for him to earn his bachelor’s degree in art education, and he never would have done it without the support and accommodations that the administrators and fellow faculty members provided to him.

-As a middle schooler, it was sometimes embarrassing to have a parent working at my school, but I’d have to admit that it had its moments. One day my classmates decided right before art class that we would have a secret word of the day, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. At the beginning of the period, after much prompting, my dad finally uttered the secret word: “door”. We responded with a brief cacophony of screams, and then moved along as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

-My fifth grade teacher had a system for rewarding good behavior and academic achievements by which she would award us with fake money made from construction paper, in denominations from $1 to $500. At the end of the year, she auctioned off food, toys, and trinkets that we could purchase with our accrued riches. At the time, I was “dating” Stephanie, my first girlfriend. (This largely consisted of holding hands when possible, talking on the phone regularly, and hanging out at the parish’s spring carnival.) She was a tomboy, so I attempted to meet her halfway by exhibiting a heretofore unseen interest in sports. Anyway, getting back to the auction, my big haul was a modest stack of a few dozen 1992 Fleer cards that included Mike Mussina. I’d already been in possession of an assortment of 1980s Topps cards that had been given to me by family members, but as I remember it those gaudy greenish borders and big bold team-colored letters were my gateway to a collecting frenzy.

-In eighth grade, a classmate’s father suffered a fatal heart attack at his workplace. It was stunning, confusing, and most of all scary to the rest of us. Speaking for myself, I’d lost my grandfather a few years earlier, but I understood that he was an older man and that his time had come. The idea that a parent could be taken away from you…I still don’t like to think about it. The day that we found out about Amy’s dad, our teachers rose to the occasion. They put aside all of the planned classwork for the day and talked to us about what had happened. We were given time to walk around outside and talk to each other, time to cry, time to scream. We were allowed to play basketball and to do basically anything within reason for a much-needed distraction.

-One of the last things that St. Clare did for me as a student was to give me the acting bug. I was cast as the Grand Duke in the school’s Disneyesque musical production of Cinderella. It was a part that (mercifully) required no significant singing from me, and I suppose there was no one else who had more of a physical resemblance to the animated character. I remembered all of my lines and enjoyed the process enough that I gravitated toward the stage again in high school, and I’ve been involved in theatre in one capacity or another ever since.

There are scores of other images and moments from my ten years at St. Clare that have been flooding back to me since I heard about its impending closure, but I’ve already topped 1,000 words and I have other things I’d like to do today. Until we meet again…

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Brian Roberts, 2008 Upper Deck SPX #10

Yesterday I promised a two-part post, but I've already gotten sidetracked...as is my wont. Over the weekend I learned that card collector's worst nightmare had come true for a fellow blogger. While I've never had any dealings with The Collective Troll, I've never heard anyone utter an angry word about him. I've checked out his blog from time to time, and his collection is far-reaching and incredible. He is a Tampa Bay Rays fan, but also collects several players and many vintage sets. Last week he was traveling with a shoebox full of many of his most cherished cards (including 43 1951 Bowman cards and several stars from the 1965 Topps set that is so dear to me), and in an unfortunate moment of haste, left the shoebox in the back of his car with the doors unlocked. When he returned to his car after work, the whole box and a few other personal effects were gone. If you can bear to read his full account, do so here.

If there's anything that continually amazes me about the motley amalgamation of collectors here on the Internet, it's the endless generosity. This is the sort of situation that calls for a good Samaritan or twenty, and several bloggers have already answered the call. I don't have many Rays cards to send, but the Troll recently started writing about his favorite non-Rays player, one Brian Roberts. Suffice to say, I've got plenty of extra cards of that guy that will be headed to the post office soon. If you've got any cardboard to spare, think about hooking up a guy who would certainly do the same for you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Andy Van Slyke, 1995 Upper Deck #368

Many things in life are fleeting in nature. Take Andy Van Slyke's Orioles career; he signed with the Birds prior to the 1995 season but played only 17 games with the club. The 34-year-old outfielder, who had been an All-Star just two seasons prior, battled injuries and hit .159 (10-for-63) with three home runs before being traded to the Phillies in mid-June. He played marginally better in Philly (.243 AVG/.684 OPS), but it would prove to be the last season of his career. Sometimes the end comes suddenly.

That looks to be the case for hobby giant Upper Deck, who burst onto the scene in 1989 with glossy cards with high-quality (and often inventive) photos both front and back. They changed baseball cards as we knew them, and after the downturn in the hobby at the turn of the century, only Topps and Upper Deck were left standing. But this past offseason, Major League Baseball dealt a crushing blow to the latter by signing an exclusive licensing deal with Topps. Everyone waited with great curiosity to see how Upper Deck (still holding a license with the Players' Association) would respond.

The answer was another tepid, forgettable card design in a series of them, and a half-hearted approach to the display of team logos and insignia. Many cards featured player's backs facing the camera, or profile shots that obscured a portion of the jersey and cap logos. Yet a significant number of cards blatantly showed head-on shots of logos. The end result was baffling. If Upper Deck was going to make some effort to hide those trademarked images, why not do it for every photo? If they wanted to lift a couple choice fingers in the direction of Topps and MLB by showing logos, again, why not do it 100% and go out with guns blazing? In the end, they still got sued and had to reach a hasty settlement that makes them look bad and costs them millions of dollars. The outlook is gloomy for the boys from Carlsbad, CA.

In going with the rule of threes, I intended to write about my former elementary school, St. Clare School in Essex, MD. This week the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that the PreK-8 Catholic school, the place where I made some very good friends and spent ten years of my life, will be closed at the end of the academic year. I'm furious, disappointed, and sad, but I'm still not ready to put it all into words. This entry will be a two-parter; check back tomorrow.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Jim Fuller, 1975 Topps #594

Until recently, Jim Fuller was one of those names that didn't really register with me. Then I saw a few mentions of his prodigious minor league power in Dave Pugh's book, and decided to give him a closer look.

Though he was born in Bethesda, Fuller played high school and college ball in the San Diego area. The Orioles chose him with their second round pick in the secondary phase of the draft in January 1970. He climbed steadily through the organization, winning Most Valuable Player honors in his league twice. In 1971, the 20-year-old picked up his first MVP when he hit .326/.431/.611 (that's a 1.042 OPS, folks) with 28 doubles, 33 home runs, and 110 RBI for the class A Florida State League's Miami Orioles. The following year he bashed 34 homers and drove in 107 runs between AA Asheville and AAA Rochester. Then in 1973, he took home the hardware as the International League's best player when he clubbed 25 doubles and 39 home runs for Rochester. At age 22, he also posted 108 RBI in his first full season with the Red Wings. He didn't hit much in a nine-game trial with the Orioles, but did open eyes with a two-homer effort against the Tigers on September 25.

Jim's utter lack of plate discipline, on the other hand, was troubling. While he piled up strikeouts in the minors (including a league-leading 197 at Rochester in 1973 that accounted for 38.3% of his plate appearances), he was able to draw walks and produce big hits against inexperienced young pitchers. That wasn't the case when he reached the majors, obviously, and Fuller never seemed to adjust. Spending most of the 1974 campaign in Baltimore, Fuller hit just .222 and struck out 68 times in 202 plate appearances while walking only eight times. When he did make contact he still hit the ball hard, evidenced by the fact that 18 of his 42 hits went for extra bases (11 2B and 7 HR). But Jim just couldn't get the job done with any consistency.

Spending the following two seasons back at Rochester, Fuller's performance declined. He missed a chunk of 1976 with a broken thumb and was released by the O's at the end of that year. He signed with Houston before the next season and didn't hit there, either (.160, 2 HR, 9 RBI in 100 AB). After a miserable start at AAA in 1978, he hung up his spikes. He was only 27 at the time.

It's incredible to think that somebody who put up such eye-popping numbers at every stop in the minor leagues could hit the wall so suddenly, but baseball's an unforgiving profession. If you have a flaw in your game, it will catch up with you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jaret Wright, 2007 Topps Heritage #460

Tonight I'm going to talk more about 2010 Topps. So you may be wondering why I chose a card from the 2007 Heritage set, which borrows its design from 1958. I'll get to that in a moment.

Last night I planned to rip open just four packs of my hobby box, but none of those packs produced either of the two things that I was primarily looking for: an Oriole or a Million Card Giveaway code. So I tore into a fifth pack, and that did the trick. I nabbed Adam Jones (running the bases with tongue protruding Jordan-style) and a code card with Mickey Mantle on the front.

Before I tell you which card I unlocked with my code (oh, I'm all about suspense tonight), let me run down a few things I like and dislike about this year's flagship set. I've already voiced my approval for the base card design and photography, which is the most important thing. None of the inserts I've seen do much for me, though the "Cards Your Mom Threw Out" series has its good points. There's something lazy about reprints of past cards, but the first one I pulled was Robin Yount's 1975 Topps rookie card. I'm planning to complete the 1975 set, and given the dollar value of the Yount card, I'll be needing this reprint to stand in as a placeholder for some time. So that's decent, and if you were to collect the whole "Yo Momma" insert set (as other bloggers have dubbed it) you'd have a great visual representation of the history of Topps cards from the early 1950s to the present day. On the other hand, reprints of cards from the past ten years? Pointless. Whose mom threw out their prized 2003 Kevin Youkilis card, and would this hypothetical person be torturing themselves over the loss of such a fine piece of cardboard? Meanwhile, many of the reprints (primarily the recent ones) are poor in quality. The pictures look blurred and pixelated. Someone goofed. I also strongly dislike the hideous new Rookie Cup design, but night owl has tackled that issue better than I could have.

Okay, now that you've endured my griping, let's get to the fun stuff. I logged into toppscards.com last night and checked the sidebar with its list of ten recent unlocked cards. Unlike the first week, when there was a flood of 1980s cards, or last weekend, when 1970s cards were being spit out willy-nilly, last night's list featured a hodgepodge of decades. Great, I finally got around to buying this stuff, and they actually decided to randomize the distribution of giveaways. So I typed in my code, took a deep breath, clicked the "unlock" button, and the following card loaded...

George Crowe, 1958 Topps #12. So awesome. The team-colored specs. The commie-fearing "Redlegs" nickname. The mascot with pillbox cap, handlebar mustache, and demented grin. The forgotten player who hit 31 home runs in 1957 as an injury fill-in for Ted Kluszewski. Oh, and did I mention that this card is 52 years old? I could unlock 1987 Topps cards with the rest of my codes, and I'd still be happy. (Okay, maybe that's overstating it.)

Hmm, I didn't mention anything about Jaret Wright, did I? Some other time, perhaps.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jeremy Guthrie, 2009 Topps Black #194

Today there is baseball, and life is good. I checked my iPhone this afternoon, and saw starting lineups posted on my go-to blogs. I got in the car after work and heard Joe Angel recapping the lovely totals: 12 runs, 14 hits for the Orioles, 2 runs, 5 hits for the visiting Rays. Jeremy Guthrie started on the right foot with two scoreless innings, and seven frames of solid relief from six more pitchers who have a good shot to contribute in 2010. A win from would-be lefty specialist and clubhouse clown Will Ohman. Most exciting of all, six home runs, including two each from rookie corner infielders Rhyne Hughes and Josh Bell and a booming shot to center by young star right fielder Nick Markakis.

I got so pumped up by the renewed presence of baseball in my everyday life (exhibition baseball is still baseball, after all) that I took the long way home so I could stop by the hobby shop and buy myself a box of 2010 Topps...think of it as a housewarming gift, from me to me. 36 flawless new packs to rip open? Bliss. Anyway, I drove the rest of the way home listening to Scott Garceau and Mark Zinno and their callers on 105.7 FM talk about the O's...sure there was a bit of Terps-Duke discussion and a remark or two about the Ravens, but it was little more than window dressing. The Birds are back.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mark Belanger, 1981 Topps #641

Did you know that Mark Belanger was one of three Orioles who to serve in the National Guard during the April 1968 riots that erupted after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination? (Dave Leonhard and Pete Richert were the others.) Would you believe that Belanger stole home plate twice in his career...or that Brooks Robinson holds the team record with four thefts of home in his career?

I learned these fascinating facts and more by opening up Dave Pugh's "The Book of Baltimore Orioles Lists", a true labor of love from someone who was born in the same hospital as the Ripken boys and has lived in Baltimore almost as long as the Birds themselves. Dave recently came across this blog (and my NumerOlogy website) and sent me a very kind email. He also offered to send me a copy of his book, which I can't believe I hadn't come across sooner. The first edition was published in 1993, with a second edition following in 1999. My signed copy of the latter edition arrived in the mail today, and I'm pleased to add it to my bookshelf.

I'd like to offer my thanks to Dave for his compliments, his gift, and his fandom. It's always good to make the acquaintance of a like-minded fanatic.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Paul Blair, 1994 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes MLB 125th Anniversary #211

With baseball card companies routinely tapping into the nostalgia cash cow, we're inundated on a yearly basis by reprints of old cards, recycled versions of bygone card designs, and brand new cards featuring retired players. But rarely do you see a former player photographed in the here and now. In this case, the "here and now" is now 17 years past, but you get my drift. I am all about this candid snapshot of a 49-year-old Paul Blair partaking in an Old-Timers Game, and looking pretty fit doing it. I could do without the Upper Deck product placement, but that 1993-vintage Orioles uniform fits him like a glove. The photographer also caught him in mid-sentence, an appropriate pose for a man nicknamed "Motormouth".

At its heart this blog is about baseball players and baseball cards, and it's a simple message tonight. Two thumbs up for this card.