Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Boog Powell, 1973 Topps #325

Life is full of funny coincidences. Just last week, I was paging through my vintage Orioles binder and I came across this card. In my experience, there aren't many cards with such clear views of the batboy. I found myself wondering who he might be, especially since he also appeared on Don Baylor's card in the same position.

A few days later, my high school's alumni magazine arrived, and as I flipped through it I saw this Boog Powell card looking back at me. As luck would have it, the batboy was one Neil Cashen, 1972 graduate of Archbishop Curley High. Though he is the nephew of Frank Cashen (who was the team's general manager at the time), Neil's employment with the O's began in 1968 when he befriended clubhouse attendant Ernie Tyler's son. He spent four seasons as the visiting team batboy at Memorial Stadium before switching to the Birds' bench in 1972 and staying through 1974. His tenure coincided with five trips to the playoffs by the Orioles, three World Series appearances, and one world championship. He met baseball greats from Mickey Mantle to Roberto Clemente. He even performed odd jobs for the hometown players, including landscaping work for his idol Jim Palmer and a cross-country escort of Doug DeCinces' car from Baltimore to California. Not bad work if you can get it!

If you're curious, Neil spent 27 years climbing the ladder at PHH, a large fleet management company. He eventually attained the position of chief financial officer, and retired in 2007. He is now consulting and managing his personal investments, and also serves as chair of Curley's school board. That's all pretty impressive, but does it measure up to appearing on baseball cards as a teenager?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mike Fontenot, 2003 Bazooka #197

My collection of Orioles cards is getting pretty expansive, but it is nowhere near complete. I still accept blind trades for this reason, and also because I've been too lazy to compile a master checklist of all things Bawlmer. Just thinking about trying to catalogue every piece of cardboard from the last 57 years that has a little orange and black bird on it gives me the dizzies. So I thumb through the duplicates that my readers and cohorts are kind enough to send and get a simple little thrill whenever I see something unfamiliar. If it's a player who was previously unrepresented in my O's collection, well, that's an extra treat.

Last week, reader Ron sent a package that contained a goodly handful of new-to-me cards, including this little number. It's one of the select few cards featuring Mike Fontenot in a Birds uniform, and for good reason. Baltimore's first-round pick in 2001 climbed quickly through the organization, reaching AAA Ottawa in his third pro season. But the following February (2005, if you're keeping tabs), he was traded to the Cubs in the Sammy Sosa deal. He's been a regular in the Chicago infield since 2007, and seemed poised for stardom following a sophomore season in which he hit .305/.395/.514. However, his OPS plunged by 232 points last season. Time will tell whether the real Fontenot is the 2008 version, the 2009 version, or something in between.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Scott Erickson, 2000 Fleer Impact #85

Assuming that the Orioles are on the bullet train to nowhere this season, I hope they're at least going to throw us a few bones. A no-hitter would be nice. The Milacki-Flanagan-Williamson-Olson no-no against Oakland in 1991 was the last for the team, but an O's pitcher hasn't turned in a complete hitless game since Jim Palmer dominated the A's four decades ago. Then again, if Kevin Millwood couldn't get the job done yesterday, it's probably not going to happen.

Yesterday was April 27 (as you were probably aware). Throughout major league history there have been six no-hitters thrown on that date, one of them by Millwood himself back in 2003 with the Phillies. Coincidentally, he was one of three pitchers to toss an April 27 no-hitter who have ties to the Orioles. In 1968, Charm City native Tom Phoebus shut down the Red Sox in a 6-0 O's win. Scott Erickson performed the feat in 1994, one season before suiting up in orange and black.

Well, it could be worse. The Mets have famously never been on the right side of a no-hitter; Nolan Ryan tossed a record seven of them after New York traded him. The way this season has gone so far, I should probably just keep my fingers crossed that the Birds don't get zeroed by an opposing pitcher.

EDIT: I just clicked over to Twitter and saw that O's farmhand Chris Tillman pitched a no-hitter for AAA Norfolk tonight. How about that?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alfredo Simon, 2009 Topps Heritage #126

It only took three weeks for the Orioles to put together back-to-back wins for the first time in 2010. Naturally when it happened, they did it against the Red Sox and Yankees...not that it came easily. Both games featured two-run rallies by the opponent in their final at-bat, with the final out being a bang-bang play with the tying and winning runs on base. Each game also figured a member of the motley Baltimore bullpen earning his first career save. Sunday's fireman was sidearmer Cla "the Claw" Meredith, who had never saved a game in five-plus seasons. Tonight the door was slammed by flame-throwing lefty Alfredo Simon, who was 24 hours removed from AAA Norfolk, a year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, and two years removed from the Mexican league. Not only had he never had a major league save (he was originally signed by the Phillies and didn't debut in the majors until September 2008 with the O's), he hadn't saved a game anywhere since 2005 at AA Norwich. All he had to do was strike out Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, overcome a rare error by Gold Glover Cesar Izturis, and induce Alex Rodriguez to ground out and strand two runners.

4-16? Better than 2-16. We'll leave it at that.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Darnell McDonald, 2000 Bowman #388

One of the best things about being a baseball fan is the unexpected emergence of a nondescript minor league callup as a short-term hero. While Darnell McDonald never emerged as a star commensurate with his first-round draft status, he's now providing a surprising boost to the shorthanded Red Sox. In his season debut last Tuesday, all he did was provide a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning and a walkoff single in the ninth. He homered again the next day, and is batting .353 in the early going. At age 31, he's making the most of what could be his last opportunity.

Similarly, Rhyne Hughes is the toast of Baltimore right now. An eighth-round draft pick of the Rays in 2004, he stalled out in the Tampa Bay system before the O's picked him up late last year for a song. (That song was "Even Gregg Zaun is better than Dioner Navarro".) He could have been a third wheel around these parts, with top prospect Brandon Snyder and fellow 2009 acquisition Michael Aubrey both playing his primary position of first base. Then the Birds went out and got Garrett Atkins for some unholy reason.

But Hughes made the most of his situation, hitting .316 with three homers in spring training and shifting to the outfield at AAA Norfolk to start the year. So it was that he was in the right place at the right time last weekend. While he was tearing up International League pitching to the tune of a .353 average with three homers and 11 RBI, Atkins was predictably scuffling, culminating in an awful night at the office on Friday (0-4 with a double play and SEVEN runners stranded) that left him with a .543 OPS. The Orioles wasted no time in contacting Rhyne that same evening to tell him that he was headed for the major leagues for the first time. He excitedly told his brother, who broke the news on Facebook.

Two games later, all the Mississippi native has done is turn in back-to-back multi-hit games, reaching base in half of his ten trips to the plate. Saturday night he singled on the first pitch he saw from John Lackey to drive in a run. Sunday afternoon he doubled and scored Baltimore's first run, and much later his bases-loaded single gave the O's a tenth-inning lead en route to their third win in 19 tries in 2010. Oh, and did I mention that he's Not Atkins?

Look, I know that Rhyne Hughes isn't going to get on base at a .500 clip or bat .400 for his career, or for the season, or even for a month. He might not even stick around all year. Word travels fast in the major leagues, and teams and pitchers will find the holes in his swing. He'll stumble, and he might not ever get back up. But even if he never gets another hit in an Orioles uniform, some part of me will remember his time in the sun.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eddie Murray, 1987 Fleer Limited Edition #31

More and more, I have friends and family asking me what on Earth I find to talk about in this blog when the Orioles are playing so dreadfully. I don't know what to tell them. It's not fun talking about the current team when they're finding each and every way they can to lose. I don't feel like writing about much of anything. I can reach back into history and remember better times, or just talk about the card I've scanned on its own merits. Maybe I'll talk about my own life, but it hasn't been all that exciting lately.

Today I'm throwing in the towel, so to speak. Eddie Murray is going to stare down the pitcher, tighten his grip on the bat, and reach through time and space to will the O's to a late tiebreaking run and a rare-as-an-eclipse win in Fenway Park. If he doesn't, at least I have a distraction. I'm taking a mini-road trip to Easton to see one of my favorite musicians, folk artist Richard Shindell.

I have to keep telling myself that some day my favorite team won't spur me to flee the county.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jay Tibbs, 1990 Fleer #192

You see that big ugly old green wall behind Jay Tibbs? Right about now I'd like to burn it to the ground and then write my name in the ashes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Don Hood, 1974 Topps #436

Few people realize that the Orioles allowed famed actor Burt Reynolds to suit up and travel with the team for portions of the 1973 and 1974 seasons. He was a big sports fan, having briefly played college football at Florida State University, and he was eager to dodge gambling debts and a series of paternity suits. He assumed the fictitious name "Don Hood", and even pitched now and then in mop-up duty. Ultimately, he left the O's to star in the film The Longest Yard. It was just as well, as team executives were tiring of his nightly attempts to drink Earl Weaver under the table.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roberto Alomar, 2002 Topps Gold Label Awards Ceremony #ACR-RA

Disclaimer: This Roberto Alomar card, as busy and golden and full of wood as it is, will not be mentioned further in this post. I just needed a game-used Topps card to pull it all together.

I haven’t been doing a lot of trading lately, but there was still plenty of good stuff in the mail for me yesterday.

As I prepared to leave for work in the morning, I spotted a box on the kitchen table that my father had brought in from the porch the night before. It had come from Topps, by way of Twitgift. During the previous week, I had started following the Last Baseball Card Company Standing on Twitter (@ToppsCards). Once per day, they post a link to a nifty autographed or game-used card giveaway. All you have to do to be eligible to win the card is to retweet the link. As luck would have it, my name was picked just a few days later! It was too late for me to win the Jim Palmer card that they’d recently dished out, but I did get a replica 1952 Topps card of Billy Martin with an authentic Yankee Stadium seat relic. It looks great, and I’m more than happy to have it in my collection…unless any Yankee fan wants to talk trade.
When I got home yesterday evening, there was a big manila envelope from the Baltimore Orioles waiting for me. I’d actually been expecting this package, as MASN’s Kristen Hudak had emailed myself and the other Blogger Day attendees to get our mailing addresses. But she never told us what would be sent. Don’t you love surprises? I tore open the envelope and pulled out a bright orange shirt with Baltimore in script on the front and Matt Wieters’ name and number 32 on the back. You'd better believe that one is going into my regular rotation.

Now if only the Orioles could deliver another win before May...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Melvin Mora, 2003 Donruss Elite #8

I am running on empty right about now. As go the Orioles, so I go. I'm capping a wholly unproductive night by picking a card at random from a stack and scanning it. Melvin Mora in front of a smudgy foil void is the pick. If you're wondering how Melvin is doing way out in Colorado, he's currently batting .273 (6-for-22) with a double, a triple, and two RBI. He's started one-third of the Rockies' games, which is probably as much as he could hope for at this stage of his career. Plus, he's not on a team that's about to be 2-14 heading into a 12-game stretch against the Red Sox and Yankees. That must be nice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rocky Coppinger, 1996 Leaf Preferred #120

Did you ever have one of those days where you're just restless? Today I just feel like a caged animal. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. The day seemed to crawl by, and I would have much rather been at the beach, or my family's lakeside cottage, or off with my friends somewhere. I had an urge to plunge headlong into something productive, like working on my new house. I had a dangerous notion to spend some money - baseball card binge, anyone? My mind was working a mile a minute, but not in any particular direction.

Naturally, the day just crawled by.

That's a one-off Tuesday in April for you. The weather is getting nice, but vacation season is still five or six weeks away. There aren't any holidays to offer a day's reprieve, and I can't get into my house this week because the floors are drying after being stained. I can't exactly lose myself in the Orioles - not when they're 2-12 and their current series in Seattle brings 10 PM start times - and the NFL Draft won't be filling the void until Thursday night.

Like Rocky Coppinger, I'm just waiting to be called into the game.

Monday, April 19, 2010

John Lowenstein, 1985 Fleer #180

If you take a look at baseball's record books, one thing you'll find is that the Orioles have cornered the market on Montana's greatest players. There have only been 21 players in major league history who have hailed from the Treasure State, and four of them have worn a Baltimore uniform.

John Lowenstein is far and away the leading home run hitter among Montanians (Montanites?) with 116. 1950s first baseman Ed Bouchee, with 61, is the only other native of Big Sky Country in double digits. Number three on the longball list is...

Pitcher Dave McNally. In addition to his nine homers, he is the blowout victory leader from Montana with 184 wins. In a distant second is fellow ex-Oriole Jeff Ballard, with 41. Both were born in Billings.

The other Baltimore-Montana connection is current hard-throwing reliever Kam Mickolio, who is in his third season with the Birds. He hasn't done much in the bigs just yet, but many think he has the stuff to be a closer in the future. If he wants something to shoot for, he needs only seven saves to surpass 1920s pitcher Johnny Couch as the leading fireman from his home state.

This has been Useless Tidbits with Kevin B. Please drive safely.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ty Wigginton, 2010 Topps #111

You can't stop Ty Wigginton. You can only hope to contain him. This fire hydrant-shaped man is currently the Orioles' leading hitter with four home runs and 10 RBI, all of which have come in the past week. Today he sparked the Birds' second win of the season with a two-run double and a two-run homer. I find him to be one of the most entertaining and fascinating guys on the team, and not just because he has a ridiculous name and he's roly-poly. (Though it's worth noting that in the April issue of the "Orioles Magazine" game program, he lists "beef jerky" as one of his three essentials should he ever be stranded on an island.)

Wiggy also delivered his own son, Cannon, in the bedroom closet of his North Carolina home in December of 2006 when his wife Angela went into labor unexpectedly. A 911 operator walked him through it, and there were no complications. Ty even tied off the umbilical cord with a shoelace. He's like MacGyver, except that he can play every position on the baseball field to boot.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Larry Sheets, 1989 Donruss #333

The Orioles are terrible. It's still early, but it's getting later all the time. We've been through all of this before, but never in 12 seasons of losing have they been the absolute worst team in the major leagues...and of course, never have they had such a realistically optimistic outlook before the season started. We could go through the ugly numbers, but you know them. 1 win, 11 losses. Nine straight losses. 34 runs scored in 12 games (2.8 per game). Four key players on the disabled list. A team batting line of .227/.300/.384, as of yesterday. A cast of relievers that enter games with blowtorches in hand.

It's been a long time since the O's were at the absolute bottom of the big leagues - 22 years, in fact. That was the enchanted 1988 season that began with a record 21 consecutive losses and ended with Cal Ripken, Sr. and Eddie Murray no longer in Oriole uniforms. The offense was the dregs of the American League, finishing seventh in home runs, eighth in walks, and last or next-to-last in all else. The pitching was nearly as bad, with four starters losing a dozen games and none winning more than eight. The Birds lost 107 games and won only 54, finishing 34.5 games behind the East-leading Red Sox.

Larry Sheets was emblematic of the total collapse of baseball in Baltimore. Looking like a breakout star thanks to his 31 homers, 94 RBI, and .316 average in 1987, he was a completely different player the next year. He may have made a tactical mistake by shaving his trademark mustache; the above photo is likely from Spring Training, and I haven't seen other photos where he appears bare-lipped, but it seems like Larry was a modern-day Samson. His power was in that mustache, and shaving it even one time sapped him of his strength. It's as good (and entertaining) an explanation as any for his precipitous one-year decline to a .230 average, 10 homers, and 47 RBI. He was outslugged in 1988 by Rick Schu, for crap's sake.

I don't know if there's a lesson here for the 2010 Orioles. That 1988 team was full of aging veterans and mediocre youngsters, and represented rock bottom after a half-decade's decline. This team has much more talent, and did have much more hope.

Maybe they should all grow bad mustaches.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Vern Stephens, 1954 Topps #54

Of all of the cards that I own, this battered 56-year-old Vern Stephens may be the most badly worn of them all. Similarly, my girlfriend is in pretty rough shape right about now. She threw out her back earlier this week. Then today, her sister twisted her ankle. Meanwhile, their parents are stuck in France, grounded by an ash cloud from the volcanic eruption in Iceland. What are the odds?

Long story short, I have swooped down to Southern Maryland on little notice to lend a helping hand. Nothing is bringing ol' Vern back from the collector's hinterlands, but I can be of use in the latter situation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Jeff Conine, 2002 Fleer Platinum #148

Maybe it's just me, but I always thought that Jeff Conine looked like Jim Varney, a.k.a. Ernest P. Whorl. Do you see it?

Yeah, it's probably just me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mike Devereaux, 1993 Topps #741

You'll forgive me if I want to focus more on cards in and of themselves rather than turning the conversation to current on-the-field happenings. One of the most consistently enjoyable blogs that I read is Night Owl Cards, the domain of Dodger fan Greg. Yesterday he posted a photo essay exploring his affinity for horizontally-oriented photos on cards. I'm generally not a fan of them myself - flipping through a binder and seeing a number of cards facing to the side is kind of annoying and disorienting. But I'm willing to make exceptions if the photo justifies the format. This Mike Devereaux card is a good one, allowing the bat draped across Devo's shoulders to be fully seen without cropping. The use of lighting and contrast in what I assume is an indoor batting cage is just plain cool. I'm so accustomed to this card that it just wouldn't look right if it were vertical, personal biases be damned.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rick Sutcliffe, 1993 Fleer #552

Tonight, the Orioles attempted to desperately change their luck by wearing their bright orange batting practice jerseys during the game. They match the pumpkin-hued t-shirts with Matt Wieters' name and number on the back that were given out to the crowd, but they're notable for another reason. Setting aside throwback uniforms, I believe this is the first time that the O's have donned orange jerseys in a regular-season game since 1992. Now that I've watched an absolute gem by Brian Matusz go up in smoke, I'm wondering if we'll ever see them again.

Before I could publish, Luke Scott hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie it back up. This team is exhausting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mike Flanagan, 1981 Kellogg's #60

Where was I? Oh right, Blogger Day. So yesterday at noon I made my way to the Home Plate Plaza at Camden Yards, where I met with Todd Webster of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and several fine folks who don't make a living writing about the Orioles. I spent much of the day hanging with Stacey, Bill, and Marianne from Camden Chat, but I also got to rub shoulders with Pete (aka the Wayward O), Heath of Dempsey's Army, and others. There were at least a dozen of us - pretty solid representation for a team that's fallen on such hard times.

After a brief stop off at the MASN club level suite and some handing out of O's swag (media guides and copies of Orioles Magazine), Todd took us to the broadcast booth to meet play-by-play man Gary Thorne and his partner for the weekend, ex-Oriole pitcher, coach, and executive Mike Flanagan. We asked them a few questions, and the session was punctuated nicely when Stacey showed Gary her "Please drink...responsibly" t-shirt. Fortunately, the golden-throated Thorne let out a big laugh, as he was tickled to know that some fans noticed the way he draws that phrase out when reading beer ads. He even joked that it would get longer as the season wore on. Here's a crooked picture of Gary and Mike, taken with my iPhone.We returned to the suite and tucked into the pregame spread (personally, I went with the crab cakes, some tortilla chips and pico de gallo, and a Corona). After a few minutes, the door swung open and in walked Andy MacPhail, the general manager who has fostered more legitimate optimism than Baltimore has seen in a decade. I had the honor of not just shaking his hand, but also asking him a question during a brief Q and A. I wanted to know if he'd considered signing any of the young O's to "team-friendly" extensions like the one Evan Longoria received from the Rays. He called it a good question (not that I'm one to toot my own horn...ahem), and bluntly stated that Tampa Bay has no money and has to act sooner in locking their players up. They gambled with Longoria by making that deal right after he debuted with them, and the numbers were so low (six years guaranteed at $17.5 million) because they'd bought out his pre-arbitration years. He said that his inclination was to extend players with about three years experience, as he did with Nick Markakis. That way you have some idea that a player has staying power, but you're also buying out some free agent years. Much of the Blogger Day itinerary was similar to last year's event, but the MacPhail appearance was one very pleasant surprise.It was only fitting that we also had an opportunity to talk shop with MASN's own Orioles bloggers, Steve Melewski and Roch Kubatko. Each stopped by the suite for a few innings, and I had a good one-on-one chat with Melewski, who did the Aberdeen IronBirds radio play-by-play the year that I interned for the club. He just suffered a heart attack a week ago, but fortunately it was a small one as far as they go and he says he's doing well. I don't have a picture of Roch or Steve, so here's the view from the suite. Just like last year, Rick Dempsey was there to watch the game and keep score in preparation for his role on MASN's postgame show. He seemed unaware that we would all be there that day, but handled our gawking, kind words, and photo requests with grace and friendliness. I posted the picture of the two of us yesterday, but here's a solo shot of Rick.Tippy Martinez also popped in briefly, and I took the opportunity to say hello and even mentioned that I'd met him way back in 1994 when he was the guest of honor at my Little League parade. I'm not sure what he thought of that, but at least I didn't mention the fact that his driver ran over the foot of one of my teammates.

Late in the game, Todd took a few of us down to the TV production truck. It's amazing to see up close just how many people (17 in the truck alone) it takes to bring the game to your living room, and to see the focus and concentration that they have. There are ten different camera angles to choose from at any given moment.
In the end, the Birds wasted a very strong start by Kevin Millwood thanks to those ice-cold bats (Blue Jays 5, Orioles 2), but it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon spent in good company. Thanks to Todd Webster and to Kristen Hudak, and a lot of credit goes to the Orioles too. They didn't have to cooperate as much as they did, but they seem to recognize that some of their most dedicated fans are spending time and effort fostering discussion of the team on the Internet. A little goes a long way.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rick Dempsey, 1986 O-Pee-Chee #358

Today I was fortunate enough to attend the Second Annual Orioles Blogger Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It's past my bedtime, but I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. Until then, please enjoy this photo of yours truly with 1983 World Series MVP Rick Dempsey. Don't be fooled by the fact that I'm towering over him; he was sitting and I was standing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Charles Johnson, 1999 Upper Deck #316

Here's an excellent action shot of Charles Johnson tagging out a runner at the plate during the Orioles' 3-2 exhibition win against the Cuban National Team in Havana on March 28, 1999. It was an historic event, the first match-up between an American and a Cuban team in 40 years. The Birds prevailed in the 11th inning thanks to an RBI single from Harold Baines. Who knew that Upper Deck sent a photographer to Cuba for the occasion?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Brooks Robinson, 1960 Leaf #27

It's been a long time coming, but today the Orioles are finally home again. Brad Bergesen is on the mound in Camden Yards for the first time since last July, the beer is cold, the crab cakes are hot, and Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell are throwing out the first pitch(es). I won't be there myself, but I'm going to Sunday's game as a guest of MASN and the Orioles for the second annual Blogger Day. It's going to be a fine weekend.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kevin Millar, 2007 Topps #408

Last week, as major league teams finalized their 25-man rosters, one of the casualties was former Oriole Kevin Millar, who was beat out for a spot on the Cubs' bench by minor league journeyman (and ex-Baltimore farmhand) Andy Tracy. These things happen all the time in baseball, particularly when you're a doughy 38-year-old first baseman whose numbers have declined steadily for four years. But we don't often spend much time dwelling on the human element, on the fact that a guy like Millar is being confronted with his mortality and the end of a lifelong dream. Few players seem to enjoy themselves both on and off the field as much as Kevbo.

I guess it shouldn't have been surprising when he admitted that he broke down and cried while leaving the Cubs' spring training facility.

Millar said that he exited general manager Jim Hendry's office and spotted scout Gary Hughes, who signed him to his first professional contract with the independent St. Paul Saints in 1993. He shook Hughes' hand, embraced him, and cried like he hadn't in years. He acknowledged "the reality of, 'Wow, this could be it'".

It's unsurprising that Kev's already expressed a desire to remain in baseball in any capacity possible, be it front office or television or anything else. I've said since he parted ways with the O's at the end of 2008 that he would be a great guy to have around, if only you didn't have to worry about getting him on the field. I'd absolutely welcome him back with open arms as a coach. He's the sort of goober that could keep the team motivated and loose. Wherever he lands, I wish him all the best.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jorge Julio, 2003 Topps 205 #297

As I sit here, the Orioles have just bruised my heart for the second time this season, the second of a likely 85 or 90. It's early yet, but the offense is out of sync and the bullpen is holding its own until it matters most. Brian Roberts is 0-for-2010, which concerns me. But here's one silver lining: last night's meltdown notwithstanding, Mike Gonzalez is no Jorge Julio. Courage, Birdland.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 1992 Triple Play #263

Even though the Orioles are opening the 2010 season tonight in some bingo hall in Tampa, they will be packing the fans into this beautiful building on Eutaw Street in just a few more days. Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the first game ever played in Oriole Park at Camden Yards - April 6, 1992. Then, it was Orioles 2, Indians 0, with veteran offseason acquisition Rick Sutcliffe tossing the shutout. Currently the score is Orioles 2, Rays 0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, with veteran offseason acquisition Kevin Millwood blanking the home team thus far. Coincidence? Nah. Let's go O's!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Erik Bedard, 2007 Bowman Heritage #107

Since the Orioles (and their opponents, the Rays) are the only team that has to wait until Tuesday to start their season, I have the opportunity to wander into non-pertinent matters today. Translation: it’s time for show-and-tell. While the Erik Bedard retro-lookin' card I've chosen is pretty nifty, there's nothing quite like the real thing. Let's talk about old cards.

A quick pointer for any hobby shop owners (or even future hobby shop owners) who might happen upon this blog post: if you want your shop to be a must-stop destination for collectors, you’ve got to have a cheap vintage bin. This is one of the things that you can provide to set yourself apart from the Wal-marts and Targets of the world that deal only in current product and the eBays and Check Out My Cardses with their shipping charges and delayed gratification.

Saturday afternoon I stopped in to the Baseball Card Outlet, which may just be the best hobby shop I’ve ever visited. It was my third time there, and I sought out the vintage bargain bins that I’d inexplicably overlooked in my previous trips. What I found was sheer joy. They have several different bins with progressive pricing tiers: 50 cents per card, a dollar per card, and two dollars per card. There may have been others, but I was focused on thrift. There’s even a bulk discount – the 50 cent cards are 25 for $10, the dollar cards are 25 for $20, and so forth. I started out rifling through the cheapest bin and selected a dozen cards before I decided to focus my efforts on the dollar cards. I limited myself to 25 of those so as to keep myself on a $30 budget, but I easily could have bought them out with a little less discipline. My total haul was 37 cards ranging from 1954 to 1964 (except for one 1972 Topps league leaders card), all for $27.50. Many would be considered “common” players, but you can’t beat the price considering the condition of the cards. Most are off-center, creased, and/or rounded on the corners, but they’re pretty decent for 50-to-60-year-old bits of cardboard. Yes, please.

I could easily bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my purchase, but instead I’ll go back to the 6-in-Thirty well and highlight a half-dozen of the new additions to my collection. Enjoy!
First we have Clint Courtney on the classic 1955 Bowman design, card number 34. Though he’s a member of the White Sox here, he has a special place in my heart as the first catcher in Orioles history. He’s also one of the all-time great characters of the game, the rare bespectacled backstop and a notorious fighter (hence his “Scrap Iron” nickname) and flake.
1955 Topps Monte Irvin #100. This is probably the most beat-up of the bunch, as the corners are practically non-existent. If that’s what it takes to get an ex-Negro Leaguer and a Hall of Famer for less than a buck, sign me up. This is also the first vintage New York Giant in my collection.
Speaking of former Negro Leaguers, here’s Dodger great Jim “Junior” Gilliam on his 1959 Topps card #306. I grabbed him because of his Baltimore ties; he was a three-time All-Star as a member of the Elite Giants and a member of their championship club in 1949. Other notable Elite Giants included his future Dodger teammates Roy Campanella and Joe Black. Junior was also a two-time National League All-Star and the 1953 Rookie of the Year.
This is immediately one of my favorite cards in my entire collection, a 1960 Topps Gus Bell #235. Sure, he’s the progenitor of the second-ever three-generation MLB family (which includes son Buddy Bell and grandson David Bell) and a star outfielder. But most importantly, look how happy he is! Gotta love the rarity of a candidly-photographed laugh on an old card.
One of my longtime sources of shame as a collector has been the lack of Don Mossi in my boxes and binders. He’s widely regarded as the ugliest player in baseball history, a man who makes Andy Etchebarren look like George Clooney. He was described in Ball Four as looking like a cab driving down the street with its doors open, and Bill James declared that he was “five-tool ugly”. I still need to supplement his 1961 Topps #14 with one of his other cards that actually shows his aesthetic gifts close-up. But this is a fine start.
Finally we have Roy McMillan’s 1963 Topps #156. Not much to say about this one. I already have Roy’s 1965 card depicting him as a Met, so this fills a need in the “one-player-multiple-teams” category. Other than that, I just dig his clear-framed glasses. Eat your heart out, Chris Sabo.

Well, I hope you got a kick out of seeing some moldy oldies. Every time I add cards like these to my collection, I realize that I’m having much more fun than I do when I buy the overpriced, gimmicky new stuff. Maybe if I put it down in writing enough times, I’ll be able to hammer the message home and resist those soon-forgotten impulse buys in Target.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Miguel Tejada, 2005 Topps Opening Day #51

Tonight I find myself in an imperfect situation. It's Opening Night! (That's good!) But the Orioles don't play until Tuesday. (That's bad.) Hey, there's a game on ESPN2! (That's good!) But it's the Yankees and Red Sox. (That's bad.) One of them will lose! (That's good!) The other will win. (That's bad.) At least I'll get to listen to Jon Miller! (That's good!) But he's still joined by Joe Morgan. (That's bad.)

...Can I go now?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mike Cuellar, 2001 Topps American Pie #83

This morning, I rolled out of bed at 8:30 to take part in one of my family's Easter weekend traditions: a Saturday breakfast at IHOP with the extended family on my mother's side (our cabal at the back of the restaurant numbered 16 strong), followed by a visit to the cemetery to pay our respects to Boots and Shorty, my grandmother and grandfather, as well as my great aunt Bee. Boots and Bee were sisters, and they passed away in the summer of 2006 within days of one another. We all still miss them terribly, of course, but our memories and traditions keep them alive. Often we can even imagine what one of them would say in certain situations. I never even met my grandpa, who died of a heart attack 34 years ago - six years before I was born. All that I know is that he was a good-hearted man who cared deeply for his family. When I was growing up, Boots used to tell me often that Shorty would have loved me, would have enjoyed my company, would have been proud of me.

It's never easy to lose those who we've spent our lives with. Obviously I don't feel the losses of baseball players as acutely, but the Baltimore Orioles are still a family of sorts to me. I've spent close to two decades immersed in their tradition, their day-to-day activities, their people. At the end of the day, guys like Curt Motton and Chuck Estrada are still largely just names to me, but yesterday's news of Mike Cuellar's death truly resonated. It was only one day prior that I read the Orlando Sentinel article that alerted me to the fact that he was on his last legs, having been ravaged by illness in a particularly cruel two-month stretch. While the initial news prepared me for the worst, I still hoped a vain sort of hope that he would have a miracle recovery.

I never saw "Crazy Horse" pitch, but I knew from a young age that he was one of the giants of my favorite team's past. I knew the accolades and numbers: four 20-win seasons, the first Latino (and first Oriole) to win the Cy Young Award, seven straight years with 248 or more innings pitched, the grand slam in the 1970 ALCS, the clinching win in the 1970 World Series, fourth in franchise history in wins with 143. But by all accounts he was also a warm and selfless person, helpful and congenial to teammates and friends and peers. He struck up a friendship with manager Dave Trembley over the last few years, working his way back into the O's organization as a spring training instructor. He was ours, and we were his. But nothing can take that away. Miguel Angel Cuellar Santana will always be a Baltimore Oriole.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Billy Hoeft, 1962 Topps #134

Continued from last week, I'm paying tribute to another Oriole pitcher who has passed away in 2010. Billy Hoeft was only 20 years old when he debuted with the Tigers in 1952, and his learning curve was a bit steep. He went 18-36 with a 4.61 ERA in his first three seasons. However, he did show signs of greater things to come, completing 20 of his 62 starts and even leading the American League in strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 1.93 figure in 1954. The following season would prove to be his greatest, as he was an All-Star on the strength of a 16-7 record and a 2.99 ERA. He led Detroit pitchers in practically every statistical category, including 17 complete games, a 1.19 WHIP, and an A.L.-best seven shutouts. He won 20 games and completed 18 in 1956, but his ERA swelled to 4.06. Within three years he would be shifted to the bullpen, an indignity for a once-great starting pitcher in those days.

Billy spent three-plus years with the Orioles (1959-1962) and wasn't consistently effective, posting an ERA below 4.34 in just one of those seasons. But in that one season (1961) he excelled. Starting a dozen games and relieving in 23 others, he went 7-4 with three saves and a 2.02 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He posted the best earned run average on the Baltimore staff and allowed only seven homers in 138 innings in a year when balls were flying out of the park at a considerable rate. In a 14-game span from June 27 through August 23, he allowed three earned runs in 37.1 innings - an 0.72 ERA! - and went 3-0 with all three of his saves. Hoeft even one-hit the Senators on August 19; it was the final whitewash of his career.

After the Orioles traded Billy, he bounced around the National League for four more seasons before retiring at age 34. In 15 seasons he was 97-101 with a 3.94 ERA. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he sold printing equipment for over thirty years and succumbed to cancer on March 16 at age 77. He is survived by four children, four grandchildren, two siblings, and his widow Margie, whom he met in Lakeland, FL during Spring Training 54 years ago.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Billy Ripken, 1989 Fleer #616

WARNING: This post contains explicit language and graphic images. It is not for the easily offended or the innocent wee ones. Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children???

Well, you've been waiting long enough, and today is as good a day as any to unleash the infamous Billy Ripken Bat Knob Obscenity Card upon you. I've seen enough April Fool's jokes across the Internet today (some well-done, some less so) that I'm a little fatigued by the whole thing and I'm choosing to celebrate this day in another fashion. Big brother may have been a Hall of Famer and a record-holder, but he never cost any card company employees their jobs. Now that's a feather in the ol' cap if ever I heard of one. Without further ado, please enjoy your bit of filth.