Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chris Hoiles, 1997 Stadium Club #330

Well, it was nice while it lasted. From Thursday through Sunday, the Orioles crafted their longest winning streak yet this season, a whopping four games. It was especially encouraging to see the offensively-challenged O's rally from deficits of 3-0, 6-0, 5-0, and 3-0 again to put those contests in the win column. But during last night’s back-to-reality, 4-2 loss against Oakland, MLB.com beat reporter Britt Ghiroli quoted a disturbing statistic. So far in 2010, the Orioles are 0-46 when trailing after eight innings. No matter what the margin, they’ve been unable to overcome it. Among the many things that O’s fans have been denied this season, they’ve yet to be treated to the exquisite relief and euphoria of a probable defeat turned on its head into a sudden victory.

Few ninth-inning comebacks in recent Birds history have been as dramatic as the one delivered by Chris Hoiles on May 17, 1996. It was a Friday night game vs. the Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and it had been a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair, as was the M.O. for the '96 O's. The home team bombarded Seattle starter Bob Wolcott, with 11 of 18 batters reaching base against him. Young Orioles starter Jimmy Haynes survived five shaky innings of his own (8 H, 3 BB), but left with a 7-2 lead. The first man in from the 'pen was Arthur Rhodes, who did not retire any of the four batters he faced. All of them came around to score, with a little help by way of throwing errors by Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff. Roger McDowell stopped the bleeding, but it was a whole new game at 7-6.

The Birds got some breathing room via a Rafael Palmeiro two-run home run in the home half of the seventh, making it 9-6. When Seattle threatened again in the eighth, Davey Johnson started playing bullpen roulette and busted. McDowell left with a run in, two on, and one out. Jesse Orosco retired the only batter he faced (Luis Sojo), leaving one more out to be collected by Alan Mills. Mills got that out, but first he walked pinch hitter Brian Hunter to load the bases and allowed an Alex Rodriguez grand slam to un-load them. 11-9 Mariners.

Cal Ripken, Jr. halved the deficit with a solo homer off of Mike Jackson, but Mills continued his Gasoline Man act in the ninth, with a two-run shot by Jay Buhner giving the M's and closer Norm Charlton a 13-10 cushion heading into the bottom of the ninth. That's when things really got wild.

Alomar led off with a walk, but Charlton got Palmeiro to strike out. A Bobby Bonilla double brought the tying run to the plate, but pinch hitter Billy Ripken (stop laughing) fouled out to first base and the Orioles were down to their last out. Cal picked up his little brother by coaxing a walk to load the bases, which placed the burden squarely on the shoulders of Chris Hoiles. The tension built as the veteran catcher worked the count full. Now the Birds were down to their last strike...the pitch was delivered by Charlton...


What Hoiles did on that night is one of the rarest of baseball feats, the "ultimate grand slam": a walkoff bases-loaded homer that allows the home team to win by a single run. Only 22 other players in major league history have done it, but Chris was the only one to pull it off with two outs and a full count, causing some to dub his clout the "Ultimate Ultimate Grand Slam". Not a bad feather to put in your cap.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eddie Murray, 1985 Fleer Limited Edition #23

If Eddie Murray looks a bit disgruntled on this card, it's probably because he can't get any respect. "Steady Eddie" may have been the best player to never win a Most Valuable Player award, which isn't to say that he didn't come agonizingly close. The slugging first baseman had six top-five finishes in MVP balloting, including a string of five straight from 1981-1985. In back-to-back years he was the runner-up, first to Milwaukee's Robin Yount in 1982 and then to his Orioles teammate Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1983. In the latter case, the total points favored Cal 322-290.

This actually pertains to my latest Sporcle quiz, which I hope will have a little more wide-ranging appeal than the Maryland-born home run hitter quiz. This time, I'm asking you to name the second bananas on baseball's annual MVP ballot from 1980-2009. Enjoy it, offer any suggestions you may have, and tell your friends!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Jamie Moyer, 1994 Donruss #547

We're all about baseball history here at Orioles Card "O" the Day, especially as it pertains to the delightfully elderly Jamie Moyer. Last night, the only active major leaguer born during the Kennedy administration won his ninth game of the season and the 267th of his endless career. He's 36th all-time in total victories, and his next 'W' will tie him with Jim Palmer. After that, he's only two wins away from former O's teammate Mike Mussina. But in Sunday night's game, Jamie unseated another pitching great with Birdland ties for a dubious honor. He surrendered a two-run homer to Vernon Wells - the 506th home run allowed in his career. Of course, when you hang around for 24 years and pitch to contact, you're bound to get hammered a few times. I wandered over to Jamie's Home Run Log on Baseball-Reference and dug up some real great trivia on Moyer's roundtrippers:

-He allowed his first two home runs on June 23, 1986...24 years and five days ago. The first was hit by Juan Samuel, currently the interim manager of the Orioles. The second was hit by Mike Schmidt, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.

-322 different batters have victimized Jamie, including six current Hall of Famers (Schmidt, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, and Cal Ripken, Jr.). At a glance, as many as 15 others could be enshrined in Cooperstown when the smoke from the Steroid Era clears.

-Manny Ramirez is Moyer's most frequent flier with 10 home runs. Rounding out the Top Five are Carlos Delgado (8), Bernie Williams (7), and Eric Chavez, Alex Rodriguez, and Frank Thomas (6 each).

-Batters have knocked the ball out of 42 different ballparks against Jamie. Contrary to popular belief, he never pitched at Shibe Park or Forbes Field.

-Once he got to 400 homers allowed, he apparently couldn't wait to give up #500. David Ortiz hit the big 4-0-0 off of Moyer in a Red Sox-Mariners tilt in 2006; it was the first of five home runs Boston hit against the lefty that day. Alex Gonzalez, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis, and Manny Ramirez rounded out the quintet.

-He's given up only one inside-the-park home run. It was hit by Kansas City's Kevin Seitzer on May 13, 1989.

-Likewise, Jamie has surrendered just one walk-off home run. It came on June 24, 2004. The Mariners and Rangers had been tied at seven when Moyer was called upon to make an emergency relief appearance in the 15th inning. He held Texas scoreless for three innings before Hank Blalock singled to open the bottom of the 18th. Two pitches later, Alfonso Soriano ended the game with a round-tripper.

-He has given up home runs to the father-son combos of Cecil and Prince Fielder and Tony Pena Sr. and Jr.

-Last year, Jamie was taken deep by Dan Murphy of the Mets. Murphy was born on April 1, 1985. Moyer was drafted by the Cubs in June 1984, ten months earlier.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ntema Ndungidi, 1998 Bowman #151

Your wish is my command, dear readers. So when a longtime follower like William requests a card of Ntema Ndungidi, I jump at the chance to actually show off this card. Sure, there's a chance that William was just being a smartass. Or maybe he saw this card in his own collection and thought he had a funny name; seriously, how many of those letters are silent? Perhaps he knew that Ntema was the first African-born player in professional baseball, having been born in the former Zaire (now the Congo), and thought it would be a neat tie-in to the World Cup. There's even a chance that William knew that the O's actually used a first-round "sandwich pick" (36th overall) to draft a guy who hadn't even played high school baseball and wouldn't end up making it beyond AA Bowie in six seasons in the organization. When you look at a decision like that, you can't help but feel a little more optimistic about more recent personnel choices in Birdland.

Any way you slice it, Ntema Ndungidi is a conversation starter.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nick Markakis, 2008 Topps Co-Signers #11

With a team as young as the Orioles, one of the (many) problems has been the lack of a player to serve as a leader both on and off the field. The O's need someone to lead by example and to make others accountable when they're not giving an honest effort. If recent events have been any indicator, it looks like Nick Markakis is ready to step into that role.

Last week, the club's star right fielder allowed his frustration to boil over in an interview with the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. He openly questioned the offensive approach of the team without calling attention to specific players, noting that the swing-away philosophy wasn't working and that the successful teams in the division like the Yankees and Red Sox have patient, lengthy at-bats that wear down pitchers and allow them to wait for the right pitch to hit. For a player with a public image of being quiet and unassuming to speak out like that, he has to be frustrated with the status quo. I'm sure it got the attention of his peers.

Then two days ago, Nick requested a one-on-one meeting with owner Peter Angelos to discuss the direction of the Orioles. They ended up talking for three hours over lunch, with Markakis expressing the need for the young players on the team to have the support of a handful of productive, proven veterans. He also explicitly stated his desire to assume a leadership role on the team. However, actions speak louder than words. For all of the gripes about Angelos' meddlesome reputation as an owner, he has been notably hands-off with the players themselves. It's believed that the summit with Markakis was his first one-on-one meeting with a player since he and Melvin Mora discussed a contract extension four years ago. For a player to take the initiative to ask for such a forum with Peter is no small feat.

Not for nothing, but the Birds are 2-0 since the Markakis-Angelos pow-wow. They've come back from a three-run deficit and a six-run deficit, and scored 18 total runs after struggling most nights to push across three or four. I'm just saying.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Baltimore Orioles, 1971 Topps #1

Tomorrow, many of the men pictured on this card will reunite at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their 1970 World Championship season. Gates open at 2:30 PM for an alumni press conference featuring Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, and Earl Weaver. Concurrent with the press conference will be autograph sessions on the lower concourse. Scheduled to sign are Fred Beene, Don Buford, Andy Etchebarren, Bobby Floyd, Bobby Grich, Dick Hall, Dave Leonhard, Tom Phoebus, Merv Rettenmund, Pete Richert, and Eddie Watt. There will be a memorabilia sale before and during the game and a pregame ceremony on the field at 3:30. The current O’s will wear 1970 throwback uniforms, as will their opponents, the Nationals (they’ll be dressing up as the old Senators, not the Expos). By my count, that’s 16 former players and the manager, and that doesn’t even include current hitting coach Terry Crowley. Unfortunately, 11 of the 32 men who suited up for the Birds that year have passed away. The organization has done well to gather the bulk of those who remain, though.

I fear that we may never see a team like this one again. To put it another way, those of us born in the 1970s and later just plain may not see it. Not to belabor the point, but at the 72-game mark the 1970 O’s were 46-26. The current team has twice as many losses and would be trailing them by a full 26 games. From 1969 through 1971, the Birds put together the most dominant three-year regular season run by any baseball team, winning 318 games and losing only 164 (a winning percentage of 67%). They never trailed in the standings after June 4 in any of those three seasons, and finished each year with at least a 12-game cushion on the runner-up. They swept all three American League Championship Series. Of course, the black mark on their record is the fact that they won “only” one World Series in that stretch, getting shocked by the Mets in 1969 and being outlasted by Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, and the Pirates in 1971.

But that makes the 1970 club all the more memorable. There were seven All-Stars (Frank, Brooks, Palmer, Boog, Cuellar, Davey Johnson, and McNally). Boog Powell (.297/.412/.549, 35 HR, 114 RBI) was the AL MVP, finally nabbing the award after two previous top-three finishes in balloting. In a sign of things to come, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar were all 20-game winners, with the latter pair tying Minnesota’s Jim Perry with a league-leading 24. Brooks, Paul Blair, and Davey were Gold Glove winners. And of course the World Series became the Brooks Robinson Show, as #5 robbed the Cincinnati Reds time and time again with jaw-dropping plays at third base and hit .429 (9-for-21) with two doubles, two homers, and six RBI in the five-game set.

So if you’re in the neighborhood this weekend, drop on in at Eutaw Street and toast one of the greatest teams in the history of our fine city.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Miguel Tejada, 2006 Upper Deck First Pitch Goin' Deep #GD-25

So here's the deal. There's not a whole hell of a lot to celebrate about this wretched season. If Miguel Tejada has four hits in one night, thereby quadrupling his RBI total from the first 23 days of June, and also breaks a 201-at-bat homerless drought, you'd better believe I'm going to commemorate it.

The Orioles have 20 wins. It only took them 72 games, and it came three weeks after the Indians became the second-to-last team to win their 20th. Hip...hip...hooray.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arthur Rhodes, 1997 Topps #53

The last time Baltimore had a winner on the diamond, Arthur Rhodes was a 27-year-old reliever having a career year. It was 1997, and the lefty was already in his seventh season with the Orioles. The first five had been marked mostly by setbacks and disappointment, as he failed to take hold of a spot in the starting rotation despite multiple opportunities and a world of talent. But Davey Johnson took over in 1996 and shifted Arthur to the bullpen, a move that worked like a charm. After a solid season in which he “vultured” nine wins with a 4.08 ERA, he followed up with a 10-3 record and a 3.02 ERA in ’97. He did it all in a career-high 95.1 innings, striking out 102 batters and posting a 1.06 WHIP.

Now it’s 2010. The O’s have been skidding for nearly a decade and a half, but Rhodes is still pitching. Moreover, he’s pitching some of the best baseball of his life at age 40. Now a late-inning lefty specialist for the Cincinnati Reds, his seventh team, Arthur has appeared in 34 games for a total of 31 innings. He has struck out 29 batters, walked only 10, and given up 15 hits – that’s a 0.81 WHIP. Do you know how many earned runs he’s allowed?


That’s a 0.29 ERA, folks. The crazy thing is that that single earnie was an eighth-inning pinch-hit home run by Colorado’s Jeff Baker, and it was enough to break a 3-3 tie and saddle Rhodes with a loss.

Anyway, it’s been 11 years since Arthur Rhodes left Charm City, and he doesn’t seem ready to stop. I would say that we could still use him, but he’s a one-inning guy at most. That leaves another eight innings to worry about.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Randy Milligan, 1991 Studio #7

It's a big day for animalistic baseball transactions, as the Orioles traded a (Ross) Wolf to the Athletics for a (Jake) Fox. At first blush, it's a swap of 27-year-old minor league vets, but I appreciate the fact that corner infielder/outfielder/emergency catcher Fox joined the major league club right away, ostensibly putting one more nail in the coffin of punchless Garrett Atkins.

"Moose" Milligan could not be reached for comment. Neither could Walt "Moose" Dropo, Mike Mussina, Howie Fox, Chico Salmon, Bob "Rabbit" Saverine, Marlin Stuart, Dizzy Trout, Gregg "Otter" Olson, Mike Parrott, John "Horse" Orsino, Terry "the Crow" Crowley...well, you get the idea.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2007 Upper Deck Road to the Hall #CRTG17

I'm sure you were worried when I didn't post yesterday, but I did in fact have a safe and uneventful flight home from San Diego. It's just that I didn't get my Internet set up at the new house until today (being Tuesday), and I had miscalculated the number of cards I needed to scan last week. So this is your Monday post! Tuesday is forthcoming.

It was a pleasant and restful long weekend in Coronado with my good friends Jill and Tristan and their menagerie (two cats and a dog). No difficulties on the flight in or the flight back, so it seems like a nonstop flight is the way to go. My first experience with Southwest Airlines was a positive one. There was copious good food and drink, including a cookout with J and T's local friends. I took a few lengthy walks, taking advantage of the fantastic weather (70s and sunny and not a bit of humidity - I miss it already!) and the proximity to the beach. I think that about covers it all...

Oh, right, there was a baseball game.

Tristan was able to get some unbelievable seats for Sunday's Orioles-Padres tilt at Petco Park. Like second row behind the home dugout unbelievable. I couldn't resist the urge to root on my team all the way across the continent, so I dressed as conspicuously as possible with my Angry Bird cap and construction-vest-orange Matt Wieters tee. I did not hear a single taunt or jeer from the home fans. Maybe that was because there's no natural rivalry there, or maybe the people of Southern California are just more genteel. Or maybe they took pity on the fan of a team that has as many road wins in 2010 as Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Who's to say?

We took our seats just as the ceremonial first pitches were being thrown. As it was Father's Day, several dads of current San Diego players did the honors. This included Tony Gwynn, whose son and namesake is now the center fielder. It was a nice moment.

Also nice was the top of the first inning, as the O's loaded the bases against opposing starter Jon Garland. Knowing the team's penchant for stranding runners, I cheered extra-loud when Adam Jones beat out a two-out grounder to plate a single run. I only half-jokingly told my friends that it would be the only run they'd score all game. But Matt Wieters proved me wrong and did me proud by clearing the bases with a double to break his 0-for-16 skid and give rookie Jake Arrieta an early jump on the third win of his career.

I'd like to tell you more about the game, but I can't seem to recall what happened after that. I vaguely remember Arrieta getting bashed around for six runs and being pulled after only three innings, but I'm sure that was just a waking nightmare. I could have sworn that the Orioles had only two baserunners in the last seven innings, but that just can't be right.

The good thing about being on vacation is that I didn't need any excuse to drown my sorrows in some fine microbrews at the Yard House after the game. It's probably just as well that my next trip to San Diego probably won't coincide with a visit from the Birds.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Steve Finley, 1989 Upper Deck #742

In their ongoing efforts to break new ground in baseball card photography and presentation, I'm sure that Upper Deck thought they were capturing Steve Finley in a moment of intense contemplation as he prepared to bat. Instead, a half-deflated chewing gum bubble makes him look like nothing so much as a slack-jawed goon. Swing and a miss.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ken Singleton, 1984 Donruss #610

I think that Ken Singleton is one of the most underrated players of his era. He played for 15 seasons, and posted an OPS+ of less than 100 only twice: his rookie year (when he was right on the cusp with a 99 in 76 games), and his final season. Overall, his OPS+ was a very good 130. Ken had that valuable combination of on-base skills and power that made him a highly productive player: he had five seasons of 20-plus homers and another seven in double digits, as well as an impressive .388 on-base percentage. He routinely carried an on-base percentage that was more than 100 points above his batting average, walking 90-120 times with regularity. For his career, he walked slightly more than he struck out. But you don't often hear Singleton discussed as one of the best hitters of his day.

I recently pulled out one of his cards and looked at the stats on the back. I knew that Ken must have been underestimated even when active, since the Mets and the Expos both let him get away in the early years. But I was still amazed to see that in 1973, as a 26-year-old fourth-year player, the outfielder hit .302 with 23 homers, 103 RBI, and 123 walks (that's a .425 OBP!) for Montreal. Sure, his power dipped the following year (20 2B, 9 HR), but he still got on base at a .385 clip in a "down year". How could the Expos turn around and trade him entering his prime? And how could they also give up on a solid 27-year-old starter like Mike Torrez? What could be worth that? Surely not a past-his-prime Dave McNally and a struggling Rich Coggins. Our gain, I guess.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Lee May, 1980 Topps #490

During the 1965 season, Lee May was a 22-year-old first baseman at AAA San Diego, the Pacific Coast League affiliate of the Reds. He did everything he could to get noticed by the big league club, swatting 34 home runs and driving in 103 while batting .321. He also had 32 doubles, amassing a lofty .586 slugging percentage. These feats did earn him a five-game cup of coffee at the end of the year, but he received only seven at-bats (all as a pinch hitter) in the first month of the following season. He failed to get a hit in his limited opportunities and was sent back to the minors, this time to the less exotic locale of Buffalo. Lee was brought back in September and caught fire, hitting safely 25 times in 68 at-bats for the remainder of the season (.368). With that he was in the big leagues for good, hanging around until 1982 - long enough to hit 354 home runs. He topped 20 longballs in all 11 of the seasons in which he received at least 500 at-bats.

The story of Lee May seems like the kind of cautionary tale that Orioles fans should keep in mind during this flaming hellscape of a season. Many of us are panicking because the young players who were supposed to improve and flourish this season took a step backwards instead. Brian Matusz has been winless for two months now (not entirely his own fault), Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman have been dropped from the rotation for the time being, Matt Wieters is short on power and average, and Nolan Reimold is struggling to hit his weight at AAA Norfolk. Sure it's distressing that all of this has happened at once, and it underscores the point that there are many more Alex Ochoas in baseball's history than there are Lee Mays, but it's still early in the careers of these young men. It's getting later all the time, but there's nothing you or I can do. Let the chips fall where they will.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rich Dauer, 1982 Fleer #161

All things considered, this isn't a bad photo by 1982 Fleer standards. It's a fairly dynamic shot of Rich Dauer trying to turn the double play as Carlton Fisk barrels into him at second base, kicking up a plume of dirt. There's also some product placement for Coca-Cola, which I'm sure they didn't mind.

By the way, now that I'm officially on Pacific time for the weekend, this still qualifies as a Thursday blog entry - it's 10:40 here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aurelio Rodriguez, 1983 Topps Traded #97T

While researching an upcoming 1965 Topps Project post about ex-Athletics pitcher Aurelio Monteagudo, I was reminded of a chilling bit of trivia (previously mentioned on some of my favorite card blogs). There have been three players with the first name "Aurelio" in major league history, and all three have been killed in car accidents between the ages of 44 and 52.

Monteagudo was a second-generation big leaguer from Cuba who gained Venezuelan citizenship after Castro rose to power. He relied on a screwball and pitched mostly in relief in parts of seven seasons (1963-1967, 1970, 1973), but played practically year-round in various countries for two decades. He compiled a 3.37 ERA in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. In the Mexican League, he was tops in strikeouts in 1978 and tossed a no-hitter in 1979. In 1990, he was killed in a car accident in Mexico at age 46.

Aurelio Lopez was a hard-throwing reliever from Mexico who became known as "Senor Smoke" while with the Tigers. He won ten or more games thrice during his years in Motown, saved 85 games, was selected to one All-Star Game, and pitched to a 3.41 ERA. He was a major leaguer for 11 years (1974 and 1978-1987). In 1992, he was in a fatal accident in his native country in which his car overturned and he was ejected from the vehicle. It was September 22 - one day after his 44th birthday.

Aurelio Rodriguez, like Lopez, was a Mexican native who enjoyed his greatest success with the Tigers (both are also in the Salon de Fama, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame). His major league career spanned three decades (1967-1983). He became renowned for his strong throwing arm, winning a Gold Glove at third base in 1976 to break Brooks Robinson's 16-year stranglehold on the award. Aurelio also had a dubious honor among card collectors: his 1969 Topps rookie card does not feature his photo, but rather a portrait of Angels batboy Leonard Garcia. The third baseman came to Baltimore in the final season of his MLB career, largely as a bench player. He managed only eight hits in 67 at-bats and was released in August, at which point he finished his career with the White Sox. On September 23, 2000 (one day after the eighth anniversary of Lopez's death), Rodriguez was visiting Detroit. At 2:00 PM, he and an unidentified woman were walking on the city's Southwest side when a car jumped the curb and ran over him. The driver had already been ordered not to drive and had her license suspended due to a previous brain anuerysm. Aurelio had to be pulled out from underneath the car and was pronounced dead at Henry Ford Hospital. He was 52 years old. The motorist was charged with felony manslaughter but received probation.

Sorry to be such a downer, but it's a gloomy overcast day and this piqued a morbid part of my brain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Benny Ayala, 1981 Topps #101

Suddenly, Benny Ayala had the sneaking suspicion that he was being watched.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tim Stoddard, 1981 Donruss #475

Although I'm settled into my new house and it even looks like a domesticated human lives there, I still have some kinks to iron out. I didn't get the cable/Internet situation ironed out until today, and the install won't actually take place until next Tuesday. So I've been Macgyvering it for the last week or so, scanning a few cards at a time and saving them on a thumb drive until I can mooch off a loved one and upload to the 'net. This process is further deemed necessary by my travel itinerary this week, as I am flying out to San Diego on Thursday to spend a weekend with some friends. I will fly back in to BWI late next Monday evening. Do you know what that means?

Theme week!

I hereby dub the next eight days Eighties Week, featuring eight choice cards from the decade of my birth. We'll kick it off with a card that's quintessentially 1980s. Donruss and Fleer broke the baseball card monopoly previously held by Topps in 1981, but they still had some catching up to do. Their cards were riddled with typographical errors, the card stock was cheap, and many of the photos were blurry, off-center, bizarrely composed. I've heard the massive Tim Stoddard referred to as "Bigfoot", and the quality of this picture certainly is reminiscent of the grainy, dark shots that are often offered up as proof of the existence of his namesake. All you can see is his ample backside and the profile of his face, as though the photographer was eavesdropping on the pitcher. He seemed to be cloaked in late-afternoon shadows. Based on the dirt and the chalk line, he's probably warming up on a bullpen mound in foul territory. Unusual, but not pretty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Joe Orsulak, 1993 Score Select #234

Today is a lazy Sunday, making it an excellent occasion for a "just-for-the-hell-of-it" card. I chose this Joe Orsulak number for its somewhat unique photograph. I don't remember seeing many cards featuring an outfielder camped directly under a fly ball, waiting with glove outstretched to secure the out. This angle in particular is rare, directly at field level with the player. It's unsurprising that Joe O used both hands to nab this one. He was well-coached, I guess.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Eddie Murray, 1988 Topps UK #53

This card is from Topps' brief foray across the pond, an 88-card set released in the United Kingdom in 1988. The cards were smaller than the standard - 2 and 1/8 inches by 3 inches rather than 2 and 1/2 by 3 and 1/2. The backs feature explanations of basic baseball plays and terms. I assume that this product wasn't a rousing success, since I get a handful of these along with the rest of the 1980s junk wax every time I break down and buy a repack box. But it's an odd and interesting change of pace.

Today the United States and England met in a World Cup soccer match for the second time ever, the first being a shocking 1950 victory by the Americans. Today the two played to a tie, which was still something of an unpleasant surprise to the Britons. And now I've done my due diligence, and probably won't talk soccer here for quite a while.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Jesse Jefferson, 1974 Topps #509

This was a big week for major league debuts by pitchers in the Baltimore-D.C. Metro area. On Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg took to the mound at Nationals Park amid hype that made the Matt Wieters craze look like Bingo Night at the old folks' home. The young righthander rose to the occasion, though, striking out an eye-popping 14 Pirates batters in seven innings to earn the win. Two days later, Jake Arrieta made his long-awaited first start for the Orioles. The third member of the "Big Three" (say it with me: Tillmanmatuszarrieta!) had the unenviable task of facing the powerful Yankees, but he acquitted himself well with a quality start (3 ER on 4 H, 6 IP, 6K), punctuated by a bases-loaded strikeout of Marcus Thames to end the sixth inning. But as auspicious as the introductions of Strasburg and Arrieta were to the big leagues, neither one managed to match the feat acheived by Jesse Jefferson nearly four decades ago.
It was June 23, 1973, and the Orioles had just promoted the 24-year-old Virginia native from AAA Rochester. He was tabbed to start the back end of a doubleheader at Fenway Park, which meant facing a Red Sox team that featured a 3-4-5 of Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, and Reggie Smith in their lineup. Jesse walked a tightrope early, relying on three double plays to keep Boston off of the scoreboard. He settled down as the game went along, and he and opposing starter Marty Pattin traded zeroes until the top of the seventh inning, when the O's broke through with a two-out single by Larry Brown to score Don Baylor. With no margin for error, Jefferson took a five-hit shutout into the ninth inning. The first two batters grounded out before Rico Petrocelli resuscitated the Fenway fans with a game-tying home run. Danny Cater flew out to center, and the game headed to extra innings tied at one apiece.

In a circumstance that would be unheard of today, both starters stayed in for the tenth inning. Pattin didn't last long, however; Paul Blair led off with a double and Earl Williams singled him home to restore Baltimore's one-run lead. Reliver Don Newhauser came on to retire the side, and Jefferson tried once more to secure the win in his first major league game. He had an easier go of it the second time around, pitching around a Luis Aparicio single to earn a 10-inning complete game. In total, he yielded seven hits, walked three, and struck out only one batter.

As you might imagine, it's a very rare occurrence for a starting pitcher to last past the ninth inning in his major league debut; Minnesota's Allan Anderson was the last such example back in 1986. It's even rarer to earn a complete game victory in extra frames in your initial game - Jefferson is the last pitcher to do it, and is in fact the only one to do so in the past sixty years.

Of course, Strasburg and Arrieta must hope for more sustained success than Jesse Jefferson enjoyed. Though his career lasted for nine seasons, he had a losing record by a wide margin (39-81, a .325 win percentage) and a lofty 4.81 ERA. But Jesse did manage to top his amazing debut not once, but twice. In 1978, he went all 12 innings for the Blue Jays in a 2-1 win over (who else?) the Red Sox, allowing seven hits and a walk. Two years later, he tossed an 11-inning shutout over Oakland, winning by a score of 1-0 while permitting four hits and four walks and whiffing 10 batters! If only he had been allowed to pitch more than nine innings each time out, he might never have lost.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Steve Bumbry, 2009 Grandstand IronBirds #11

Yesterday the Orioles selected Jeremy Shelby with their 38th round draft pick. Jeremy played center field at Grambling State University, and was apparently thrilled to have been chosed by the team that currently employs his father as first base coach. According to former O's center fielder and current coach John "T-Bone" Shelby, his son was "hollering and screaming" when he got the good news. It remains to be seen if the younger Shelby can overcome the long odds and join his dad in the annals of Major League Baseball players, but his .360 average and 21-for-24 stolen base total would suggest that he has some good tools at his disposal.

Of course, this is the second year in a row that the Birds have chosen a second-generation center fielder in the draft. Last year's 11th-rounder was Virginia Tech's Steve Bumbry, son of Al, a former Rookie of the Year and the man that T-Bone eventually replaced. I thought I would see how Steve is doing down on the farm, and the results are encouraging. After hitting just .234 (but with a .342 on-base percentage) in 42 games at Aberdeen last year, he moved up to the Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. In 54 games thus far, he has hit .296 with a .373 on-base percentage while playing at all three outfield positions (primarily center). He's hit 13 doubles and a team-leading five triples. "Little Bee" is still a long way from Baltimore, but he's on the right track.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Brian Roberts, 2006 Bazooka Stamps #20

Late last week, I'd deluded myself into thinking that Brian Roberts' return was just around the corner. He would be eligible to come off of the 60-day disabled list on June 9 (why, that's today!), and he had finally resumed baseball activities and put that cascade of bizarre injuries and illnesses behind him. Last Friday, he was even scheduled to play in his first extended spring training game.

Hold the phone.

Roberts was scratched, held out of the game after complaining of back pain. Team officials nearly gave themselves whiplash in jumping out ahead of the story to swear up and down that this undefined soreness had nothing to do with his herniated disk, oh no, no sir. The rest of the tale is all-too-familiar: his game appearance was put off once more, and once again, and another time. Finally he was shelved indefinitely again, and will undergo still more tests. Managerial placeholder Juan Samuel eloquently summed it up: the news is "not very good".

I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see Brian Roberts take the field in 2010. Boy, do I hope I'm wrong about that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Delino DeShields, 2000 Topps Finest #172

If you’re a baseball fan in your late twenties (as I am), the events of the past week may be aging you prematurely. Last Wednesday, Ken Griffey, Jr. stopped delaying the inevitable and announced his retirement. Yesterday, the Houston Astros used the eighth overall pick in the draft to select high school outfielder/second baseman Delino DeShields, Jr. The kid managed to get a leg up on his father and namesake, who the Expos drafted twelfth overall in 1987. Good for him. But I don’t know if I’m ready to wrap my head around the reality of watching a second generation of MLB players. Sure, I’ve seen father and son combos like the Raineses, the Fielders, and the Gwynns in my eighteen years of fandom. But by the time I had started following baseball, those dads were already veterans in the second halves of their careers.

In 1993, Delino DeShields (Sr.) was a 24-year-old up-and-comer in his fourth season in the majors. That year, he hit .295 and stole 43 bases (his fourth straight year with 42 or more swipes) despite missing almost 40 games due to injury and illness. He had shown so much in his short career that the Dodgers traded an emerging Pedro Martinez that following offseason to acquire DeShields. That trade was a disaster for L.A., but the Orioles got one decent year (and one and a half subpar ones) out of the fleet second baseman at the tail end of his time in the majors. In 2000, his second season in Baltimore, he reached career highs with a .296 average, 43 doubles, 86 RBI, and an .813 OPS.

…And soon his son will be playing pro baseball. Ye gods. There’s not a Jeffrey Hammonds, Jr. somewhere, is there?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Calvin Pickering, 1999 Upper Deck MVP #28

Tonight the Orioles selected high school shortstop Manny Machado with the third overall pick in the first round of the Amateur Draft. He certainly didn't have to wait as long to find out his fate as Calvin Pickering did. In 1995, the O's made the beefy then-outfielder their 35th-round pick. He is the lowest Birds draft pick to actually play in the majors with the club. You hear about the occasional late-round selection that hits it big, like 62nd rounder Mike Piazza. But more often than not, players chosen beyond the 15th round don't make a contribution to the team that drafts them. Either they're lesser talents who were chosen largely as organizational filler, or they're high school players who are likely to go on to college.

In 1969, the Orioles drafted just such a high schooler with their 40th round pick. He was a tall, lanky right-handed pitcher from St. Paul, Minnesota. The youngster chose not to sign with Baltimore, electing to attend the University of Minnesota on a full athletic scholarship. As a Golden Gopher, he played both baseball and basketball. When he graduated, he was drafted by teams in four different professional leagues: the NFL's Vikings, the NBA's Hawks, the ABA's Utah Stars, and the San Diego Padres of MLB. His name was...Dave Winfield.

At least the Orioles got Don Hood and Dave Skaggs out of that 1969 draft...aw, crap.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Eddie Waitkus, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #470

"Baby, why did you do it?"

If you've read Bernard Malamud's novel "The Natural", or seen the movie that it spawned, you know the story of Eddie Waitkus. Early in his career he starred for the Cubs, hitting .297 over his first three seasons. He also earned one very big - and very unbalanced - fan. Ruth Ann Steinhagen was a 17-year-old girl when she first laid eyes on Waitkus in a game at Wrigley Field on April 27, 1947. Despite the fact that she never spoke a single word to the first baseman, she became obsessed with him. She spent as much time as possible at the ballpark, celebrated April 27 as their "anniversary", collected photos and articles featuring him, learned to speak Lithuanian, and listened to records made in 1936 (Waitkus wore #36).

When Eddie was traded to the Phillies before the 1949 season, Ruth Ann was beside herself. She decided to shoot him, explaining later that if she couldn't have him, no one else should either. In June of that year, the Phils came to Chicago for a series. After the June 14 game, Waitkus went out with some friends and returned to the Edgewater Beach Hotel around 12 AM. He had a stack of messages waiting from Ruth Ann, urging him to meet her in Room 1297A. The book "Field of Screams" by Richard Scheinin sets the scene:

"Waitkus went straight upstairs.

Steinhagen opened the door. Waitkus strode past, sat down, and said, "What's up?"

"I have a surprise for you," she answered.

She opened the closet door, took out the rifle, and ordered Waitkus out of the chair and toward a window.

"Baby, what's this all about?"

"For two years you've been bothering me," Steinhagen told him, and now you are going to die."

She pulled the trigger and the shot knocked Waitkus against the wall.

"Baby, why did you do that?" Waitkus asked. "Why did you do it?"

Ruth Ann actually called the front desk to tell them what had happened. Medics rushed the bloody ballplayer into surgery. He made a full recovery, and won Comeback Player of the Year in 1950 for hitting .284 for the NL champion Phillies after missing the second half of the previous season. He played for five more seasons and spent much of the last two with the Orioles, hitting .278 with very little power. His teenaged attacker spent three years in a mental hospital. Though Eddie always dreaded her return, she never contacted him again.

Suddenly I don't feel so guilty about those times that I've heckled players at the ballpark.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Terry Crowley, 1981 Fleer #190

Tonight I was going to start a dialogue about Terry Crowley's inexplicably long tenure as Orioles hitting coach, but I've spent all day moving into my new house and I'm quite pleased that I'm finally here and mostly settled. So I'm going to let it ride. You win again, Crow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Billy Hitchcock, 1962 Topps #121

Much like the newly deposed Dave Trembley, Billy Hitchcock was a good and kind man and a baseball lifer who was quickly cashiered when his Orioles club failed to live up to expectations. Hitchock had been a two-sport athlete at Auburn University, an All-American tailback who also played for the baseball team. He went on to play in the majors for nine years in the 1940s and 1950s as a light-hitting infielder. His big league career was interrupted by military service in World War II. After his retirement, he spent seven years coaching with the Tigers before opportunity came calling.

After the 1961 season, Baltimore hired Billy to fill the considerable shoes of Paul Richards, who had built the Orioles from a bottom-dweller to a promising young team in his seven-year tenure as manager and GM. But after winning 95 games under Richards and interim manager Lum Harris, the O's dipped to 77-85 in their first season under Hitchcock, falling from third place to seventh. He was given a second chance and the team improved to 86-76 and a fourth place finish in 1963, but it wasn't enough. The Birds fired their skipper and replaced him with Hank Bauer, who would guide the club to their first World Series title in his third year on the job.

Don't cry for Billy, who solidified his baseball legacy with a short stint at the helm of the Braves later in the decade as well as a successful ten-year run (1971-1980) as president of the Class AA Southern League. On his watch, the league's attendance increased nearly six-fold. He lived a long life, passing away in 2006 at age 89.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dave Trembley, 2009 Topps #407

So here we are on the cusp of the Orioles’ first managerial firing in the two-and-a-half year history of this blog. I don’t usually agree with change for the sake of change, and I certainly feel for Dave Trembley, who toiled in obscurity in the minors for decades before landing his dream job as a major league manager. He had an uphill climb, inheriting an absolute mess of a team. Even as the rebuilding process began, he was hamstrung by a lack of major league-ready depth and trades that removed the most productive veterans from the roster in exchange for prospects. The abomination that has been the 2010 season certainly can’t be put on him, either; Brian Roberts, Felix Pie, Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, and Jim Johnson amount to one-fifth of the Opening Day roster that has been waylaid by major injuries.

With all that said, there wasn’t much else to do. This team is awful to watch, as the hitters go quietly through the motions and put up a run or two a game and the bullpen implodes at the worst possible times and the defenders make careless and crushing mistakes and the talented starting pitchers have lapses in concentration and “off nights” and the base runners take themselves right out of innings…

You can’t get rid of all 25 of them, nor would I want to in most cases. So if anyone goes, it’s the man directly in charge. Dave has never endeared himself to this fan with his questionable personal tastes (Diet Coke and Notre Dame? Ugh!) and his droning, cliché-filled interviews. But he was a generally inoffensive manager whose greatest flaws – bullpen mismanagement and subpar batting order construction – were not uncommon. Of course, these are the primary strategic duties of a manager, so that doesn’t exactly reflect well upon him. And as the O’s spiraled out of control this year, his gaffes were more glaring. Brian Roberts’ absence left a gaping hole in the leadoff spot, but almost ANYONE would have been a better replacement than Julio Lugo. Same goes for Corey Patterson, who has reliably regressed to his usual level of performance. As far as the bullpen, Diamond Dave plays hot potato with his relievers, especially on those rare occasions when the team has a late lead. Overly obsessed with lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups, he increases the wear and tear on his relief arms and flirts with disaster. He often removes pitchers regardless of their effectiveness in order to “play by the book” and use his guys in their designated “roles”. It just stands to reason that if you use five or six pitchers in a game, the odds of one or more of those guys having a bad night are going to be pretty high. Witness last Wednesday’s eighth-inning meltdown against Oakland (in which he brought young Jason Berken in with two on and none out, allowed him to retire a single batter, and then removed him for the less-effective Mark Hendrickson because ‘you have to have the lefty’ and ‘he’s a veteran who has been in those situations’ – never mind the fact that the righty Berken has much better numbers against lefties this year and that the ‘situation’ was actually more favorable then than when Berken was called upon…but I ramble).

Ultimately, Trembley’s supposed selling points were an emphasis on fundamentals and a knack for working with developing young players. All of the up-and-coming players on this team have taken a big step backwards this year, and the team has consistently been plagued by mental and physical blunders in the four seasons with Dave at the reins. That’s pretty damning.

Look, I hate the fact that the O’s are about to appoint their 13th manager in the 28 years since Earl Weaver retired for the first time. Stability breeds success in baseball. But Dave Trembley wasn’t working out, and if nothing else, the new guy will provide a fresh voice and possibly a better approach. So who’s going to take over?


I need to lay down for a minute.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2007 Upper Deck Iron Men #IM32

On this day in 1941, Lou Gehrig lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the debilitating disease that soon came to bear his name. He was just shy of his 38th birthday when he died. 59 years later, there is still no cure for Lou Gehrig's disease. If you wish to help fight the good fight, you can make a donation to the ALS Association here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brian Sackinsky, 1995 Upper Deck Minors #134

It's been over three months since I went to settlement and officially became a homeowner, and I am finally moving into my very own house this coming Saturday. Naturally, with all that time to prepare, I'm still scrambling at the last minute. I have trim to paint, a basement to clean, oodles of personal effects to pack, friends to beg for help in moving, and a full-time job to squeeze in there somewhere. So what I'm saying is that lengthy, thoughtful blog entries from yours truly this week will be as rare as mentions of Brian Sackinsky, the Orioles' second-round draft pick in 1992.

It will be a long while before this guy makes it back onto the blog, so I'll throw him a bone. He had pitched at Stanford University, meaning that the O's went with Cardinal players with each of their first two picks that year (the first, of course, was phenom outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds). Unlike his teammate Hammonds, Sackinsky had a slow journey to the majors, receiving his callup to Baltimore in his fifth pro season. The righty made three mop-up relief appearances in April of 1996 and returned to the minors, where he would stay until his career quietly ended two years later. In his brief stay in Charm City, Brian did strike out that season's A.L. MVP, Juan Gonzalez. It might not be much, but 16 of the 29 other players drafted in the second round in 1992 never even made it to the big leagues, so there you go.