Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

B.J. Surhoff, 2000 Topps Stadium Club #61

The 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it's both a Who's Who of 1990s and early 2000s MLB and a stark reminder of how old we're all getting. Former Expos and Giants pitcher Kirk Rueter is eligible this year; I remember him going 8-0 for Montreal as a rookie in 1993. Bobby Higginson debuted with the Tigers in 1995, for the love of Jeff!

There is no shortage of ex-Orioles on the ballot, either. Holdovers Roberto Alomar, Harold Baines, Tim Raines, and Lee Smith are joined by first-timers Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson, Rafael Palmeiro, and B.J. Surhoff. That's eight guys who wore the orange and black out of a total of 33 eligible players. It figures to be a brutally competitive vote, as Alomar and longtime bridesmaid Bert Blyleven both fell just short of enshrinement last year and are early favorites for 2011. The biggest name to join the field is Jeff Bagwell, who put up a .297/.408/.540 slash line - or 449 home runs and 1529 RBI if you prefer counting stats.

There are some returning ballot members who are have gotten bafflingly anemic vote totals thus far, including Raines, Smith, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez. With Mark McGwire meeting up with new candidates like Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez, the morality play about steroid use will take center stage once more. I'm fatigued by the whole thing, and it's my opinion that there's no way we'll ever know for sure that any player from the past two decades was clean, so every player should be judged on their career performance. The "steroid era" will just be another label some day, much like the pre-integration era or the dead-ball era. Under this criteria, McGwire and Palmeiro are Hall of Famers, but not Juan Gone.

Let the debate begin...or continue. We won't know who is in and who is out (and who's dropped from the ballot altogether) until January 5.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mark Belanger, 1981 Donruss #472

Since I kvetched about the placement of the 1971 Orioles' starting rotation in a recent installment of MLB Network's "Prime 9" series, it would be unsporting if I failed to mention last week's countdown of the top nine double play combos in baseball history. In a list that featured such dazzling shortstop-second base duos as Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar, and Dave Concepcion and Joe Morgan, the #1 pair was none other than Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich.

Although Grich did not take over for Davey Johnson at second base until 1973, and joined the Angels as a free agent after the 1976 season, he and Belanger made their four-year partnership count. They each won all four Gold Glove Awards given at their respective positions in that span, providing support up the middle for a club that won back-to-back American League East titles in 1973 and 1974 and averaged 91.5 wins from 1973-1976. With backup from Bobby and "the Blade", the O's pitching staffs finished first, second, first, and fourth in the A.L. in team ERA, and Jim Palmer won all three of his career Cy Young Awards. (He struggled with injuries in 1974; Mike Cuellar finished sixth in voting that year despite 22 wins as Catfish Hunter topped a competitive field.)

If you ever wonder how important a defensively skilled double play combination can be, look at the Brian Roberts-less Orioles from the first two-thirds of last year. How many innings were extended because the Birds couldn't turn two? The same problem occurred in 2008, when Roberts was healthy but Miguel Tejada was gone. Miggi's replacements were found wanting, to say the least. We might never have a Belanger-Grich combo again, but I'd settle for competence.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brooks Robinson, 2005 Upper Deck All-Star Classics #80

Of all the photos of Brooks Robinson that have appeared on baseball cards, this one may be my favorite. Judging by the Major League Baseball logo patch on his left sleeve, this shot would have been taken in 1969 when MLB commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first professional baseball team. So here you have the greatest defensive third baseman of all time, in the prime of his career, poised to pounce on a ground ball. It looks like he's standing in foul territory down the third base line at Memorial Stadium. From the scoreboard on the outfield fence, it would seem that the Yankees were in town, unless the photo was taken during the World Series against the Mets. The only thing that would make this picture better would be if Brooks were placing Tommie Agee in a chokehold.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jeff Conine, 2003 Upper Deck #317

In retrospect, "Jazzercise With Jeff" was one of the truly underappreciated physical fitness DVDs of the mid-2000s. However, it was probably a bit of a reach for Jeff Conine to dub himself "DJ Jazzercisey Jeff".

Friday, November 26, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Boog Powell, 1962 Topps #99

From the "Where the Hell Does the Time Go?" files, tonight is the 10-year reunion of my graduating class from Archbishop Curley High School. More to the point, it's a reunion event for several classes, in increments of five: 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. This academic year also marks the 50th anniversary of Curley High, the first high school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore established exclusively for the education of young men. (Translation: it's a stag-fest.) The school was founded in 1960, opened in 1961, and was dedicated in April 1962. How long ago was that? Back in those days, it seems that Boog Powell played left field, and some people still called him "John".

I skipped my five-year reunion, so this is my first chance to witness this spectacle first hand. Keep your fingers crossed that I might make it through the evening unscathed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Albert Belle, 1999 Topps Gallery #44

I hope that everyone reading this blog had a happy Thanksgiving spent with friends and/or family. Hopefully you got to eat all of your favorite foods, watch a ton of football (the games were better than they usually are, I'd say), and see Santa Clause roll in at the end of the Macy's parade.

I went up the road to my aunt and uncle's house in Harford County and stuffed myself with turkey, rolls, green beans with turkey bacon, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and apple pie a la mode. I made it back home in one piece, and now it's about time to slip into a food coma.

There are many things that I am thankful for this year, but at the moment I am extremely grateful that I have the day off from work tomorrow. Of course, I'm also thankful that I've never run afoul of Albert Belle!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

John Shelby, 1986 Donruss #643

After entirely too much hand-wringing by fans and media alike, the Orioles have finalized their 2011 coaching staff at last. For the first time in a dog's age, they've made a clean sweep; sorry, John Shelby. It's a novel idea, letting your manager choose his own coaching staff. As a result of these circumstances, there are no former O's players on the major league staff for the first time since the days of Earl Weaver. I'm okay with that. It would be nice to see a familiar face or two, but the top priority is getting competent men who know how to communicate their knowledge to the current players. By most accounts, that's just what Buck Showalter has at his disposal. As an added bonus, the Phillies took Juan "The Windmill" Samuel off of our hands!

I like being able to branch out from my O's collection to show you what else lurks in the boxes and binders in my house. Let's root through the non-Oriole portion of my collection and meet the coaches.
1994 Collector's Choice Wayne Kirby
The first base coach is Wayne Kirby, a former outfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 1983. He didn't make his big league debut until 1991 with the Indians, and didn't get to play a full season until 1993, when he was 29 years old. That 1993 season was his best, as he hit .269 with 6 home runs, 60 RBI and 17 steals for Cleveland. He last played for the Mets in 1998, and was a .252 hitter for his career. His brother is Terry Kirby, a former NFL running back who I remember from my previous life as a Miami Dolphins fan. Wayne will also work with the outfielders.
1987 Topps John Russell
The third base coach is John Russell, recently deposed manager of the Pirates. He had a 186-299 record in three years at the helm. He was also a backup catcher for the Phillies, Braves, and Rangers from 1984-1993 and caught Nolan Ryan's sixth no-hitter on June 11, 1990. John was a career .225 hitter, and he'll be working with the catchers.
1988 Topps Jim Presley
Ex-Mariner, Brave, and Padre third baseman Jim Presley will replace Terry Crowley as hitting instructor. He previously served under Buck Showalter as Arizona's hitting coach, and spent the past five seasons in the same capacity with the Marlins. As a player he peaked early, hitting 79 home runs in his first three full seasons with Seattle. He was an All-Star in 1986, when he drove in a career-high 107 runs. In eight seasons (1984-1991), he batted .247 with an off-putting .290 on-base percentage. But I suppose you don't have to be a good hitter in order to teach others how to hit. Jim also has a master's degree in educational leadership, for what that's worth.
1993 Upper Deck Willie Randolph
The most prominent member of Buck's staff may be bench coach Willie Randolph, who was fired by the Mets in 2008 despite having a 302-253 record as their manager in three-plus years. He spent several years on Buck and Joe Torre's Yankee staffs, and most recently served as bench coach for the Brewers. Of course he was also a dependable second baseman for six teams (most notably the Yankees) from 1975-1992, batting .276 with an impressive .373 on-base percentage for his career. Willie was a six-time All-Star and will instruct the team's infielders. Despite his significant New York ties, he has started out his Orioles career by saying the right things about his respect for the team's history and his dedication to Baltimore and its fans.

Unfortunately I don't have any cards for pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Rick Adair, neither of whom had any major league playing experience. Connor is a trusted associate of Showalter, having been his pitching coach in New York, Arizona, and Texas. Adair has spent the last 25 years as a minor league pitching instructor and occasional big league coach, most recently serving as Seattle's pitching coach.
2004 Topps Buck Showalter
And of course you all know this guy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rafael Palmeiro, 1999 Upper Deck Black Diamond #12

I was just trying to get home from work today, but an inattentive driver sideswiped me on I-695. Fortunately, I am unharmed and the driver's side of my car is dented and scratched but nothing worse. Still, I'm not in a mood to talk shop tonight. Enjoy the shininess.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LaTroy Hawkins, 2006 Upper Deck #533

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and former Oriole LaTroy Hawkins is helping scores of families in his hometown of Gary, IN to have a better holiday.

Yesterday Hawkins and his family (wife Anita, 9-year-old daughter Troi, and 18-year-old son Dakari) paid a visit to Embassies of Christ Ministries and donated and distributed 250 10-pound turkeys to needy parishioners and members of the community at large. The ex-Oriole and current Milwaukee Brewer now makes his home in Texas, but insisted that he is a Hoosier at heart and that he's appreciative for all that the city of Gary and its people have done for him. LaTroy also gave away 15 gift baskets via a drawing.

Since Thanksgiving is all about being grateful for the things that we have, it's also important to remember that there are millions of people who are less fortunate, especially in these trying economic times. If you have a bit of discretionary income to spare, please consider donating to a local non-profit like the Maryland Food Bank. A little goes a long way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Caleb Joseph, 2010 Bowman Prospects #BP55

If you don't know who Caleb Joseph is today, there's a chance that you will know him in a few years. The Orioles drafted the catcher out of Nashville's Lipscomb University in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. He flashed decent power with the Aberdeen IronBirds in his first pro experience that year, cracking 19 doubles and 8 homers in 63 games. He further progressed with the Frederick Keys in 2009, batting .284 with 12 home runs and 60 RBI in 103 games. Joseph entered the 2010 season as a top-twenty prospect in the O's farm system, but struggled a bit in his first look at AA Bowie. His average dipped to .235 and he slugged just .368, and he committed too many passed balls and errors.

Caleb should still enter the upcoming season on a high note, though. Baltimore sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he and several other Birds minor leaguers played for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Yesterday the Scorpions beat the Peoria Javelinas 3-2 to capture the AFL championship. Though he played only three innings in the final game, Joseph led his club (albeit in a small sample size) with a .390 batting average in 12 games.

One more thing: Caleb took this excellent headshot for mlb.com's Arizona Fall League site. So he's photogenic as well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cal Ripken, Jr., 2007 Upper Deck Goudey #244

This card is part of the "Heads Up" subset from Upper Deck's first Goudey retro issue. It borrows the design of a set originally released by the Goudey Gum Company in 1938 that featured stars like Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Bob Feller. If you can look at this card for at least two minutes without having nightmares, you are a stronger person than I am.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Bobby Grich, 1971 Topps #193

This is Bobby Grich's rookie card, as he debuted with the Orioles in 1970 three years after the Orioles drafted him and Don Baylor with their first two picks. Not a bad haul, huh? Grich was promoted in late June and appeared in 30 games, batting .211. As you can see here, not only did he make most of his appearances at shortstop (rather than second base, his customary position for the rest of his career), but he was also clean-shaven. When I think of Bobby Grich, I picture his trademark mustache, less a fashion statement than a way of life. He looks very much like an earnest, driven young player here, but you can sense that something is missing - something besides the ball that has yet to bounce into his outstretched glove. That upper-lip-warmer was just lying in wait, biding its time until Bobby was ready to harness its power and realize his destiny as a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jamie Moyer, 1995 Topps #318

Why hello there, Jamie Moyer! I hope you're having a happy 48th birthday today.

Two weeks ago, the wizened lefty was pitching in the Dominican Republic and suffered an elbow injury. Once again demonstrating why he gets so much attention on this blog, he announced last weekend that he does not intend to retire, even if the results of his MRI indicate that Tommy John surgery might be needed. Rock on, Jamie.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dennis Sarfate, 2008 Topps Heritage #629

Another one bites the dust, as Dennis Sarfate chose to become a free agent after spending the entire 2010 season at AAA Norfolk. Earlier this week he signed with the Hiroshima Carp, which makes it seem as though he wanted to get as far away from Baltimore as possible.

Sarfate, who came to the Orioles from Houston as part of the Miguel Tejada trade, was yet another one of those guys who could throw the ball through the backstop but couldn't always control it. He burst out of the gate in 2008 with four scoreless appearances, earning a hold and two relief wins in a rare four-game sweep of the Mariners. He overcame the occasional hiccup and his earned run average was 3.18 as of July 5, but he had also walked 34 in his first 39.2 innings. Opposing teams caught up with him in the second half of the season, and he finished with a subpar 4.74 ERA. Still, his final numbers were hurt by a brutal four-game trial in the starting rotation (10.34 ERA - 18 ER in 15.2 IP), as the Birds' poor starting pitching depth forced Dennis into a role that he clearly didn't fit.

The righthander got off to an awful start in 2009, was injured in early May, and did not resurface in Charm City until September. He allowed a single run over his final nine appearances, but still wound up with a 5.09 ERA in 20 games. As previously mentioned, he was a member of the Norfolk Tides for all of this past season and showed signs of having figured things out. Serving as the closer for much of the year, he saved 20 games and struck out 72 batters in 56 innings with a 2.73 ERA. It had to be frustrating for the 29-year-old reliever to ride the buses while seat-fillers like Pedro Viola, Armando Gabino, and Frank Mata logged time in the O's bullpen. Hopefully he'll find a good fit in Japan, or maybe even rejuvenate his career as ex-Carp and current Ranger Colby Lewis did recently.

If I remember anything about Sarfate in the future, it will likely be his sense of humor. Early on in his Baltimore tenure, the reliever appeared prominently in Kevin Millar's goofy "Orioles Magic" video. During the 2009 season he did a few mildly amusing "Dennis the Menace" segments for MASN, needling members of the local media and teammates alike (the latter video also includes Brad Bergesen's disturbing impression of Napoleon Dynamite's brother Kip). Like they say, leave 'em laughing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jim Palmer, 2006 Upper Deck All-Time Legends #ATL-29

Because I'm such an important person*, I get PR emails from the MLB Network from time to time. Earlier this week, I received a press release touting the inclusion of the 1971 Orioles in tonight's new episode of the "Prime 9" program, which counts down top nines in various categories. This episode was focusing on the greatest starting rotations of all time, and was unsurprised by the inclusion of the '71 O's, who are still the only post-Dead-Ball Era club to boast four 20-game-winners. I was curious to see how they stacked up to the other heavyweights, so I tuned in at 8:30.

The Birds were ranked seventh, ahead of the 2001 Athletics and 1986 Mets but behind several Dead-Ball staffs (1927 Yankees, 1910 Athletics, 1906 Cubs), the 1997 Braves, the 1954 Indians, and...the 2005 White Sox? Yep, the most recent rotation to crack the list came in at number six, just ahead of the Birds, and stuck out like a sore thumb. In the interest of fairness, I checked out the Chicago players' stats and if you're going by ERA+ (which adjusts for park factors and league average), they bested the O's foursome. They all even topped 200 innings pitched, not something to be taken for granted in the current era. Naturally, the Baltimore pitchers blew them away in complete games by a total margin of 70-9, and outstripped them in wins (the Sox were led by Jon Garland at 18-10). The lower walks-per-nine marks belonged to the Pale Hose, but the Orioles were better in hits-per-nine rates. It's a close call, but this homer would give the Birds the nod.

Regardless of where they were placed, it was good to see some highlights of Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68 ERA), Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90), and Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08) making hitters look silly. Palmer, Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, and Paul Blair also provided sound bites for the piece. If you're interested in checking out the replay, it'll be on at 11:30.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brian Matusz, 2010 Topps Update Series #US-185

Brian Matusz finished tied for fifth in the voting for 2010's American League Rookie of the Year, which was won by Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who garnered attention with 40 saves, a 0.88 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. Three players were named on each ballot, and Matusz received three third-place votes. With a quick glimpse at his numbers, which included a 10-12 record and a 4.30 ERA, you might assume that he was lucky to receive even that small amount of consideration. But a closer look suggests that he should have been a more serious contender.

First, consider the progress that Brian made as the season progressed. Like the team at large, the University of San Diego product got off to a poor start. When Buck Showalter arrived at the beginning of August, the lefty had a 3-11 record and a gruesome 5.46 ERA. Over the final two months of the season, Matusz rebounded and finished with a 7-1 mark and a 2.18 ERA. He will enter the 2011 season on a personal six-game win streak, and he failed to complete six innings in only one of his last 11 starts. If he had maintained that level of performance from April through September, he would have been a slam-dunk for Rookie of the Year.

Of course, you can't just throw out those first two-thirds of the year. But even taking Matusz's rocky beginnings into account, he stacks up pretty well. He led Orioles starters in strikeouts (143), and his total of 3.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was best among all vote-getting A.L. rookies. His stats were practically in a dead heat with the Rays' Wade Davis, the fourth-place finisher and the only other starter to receive votes (12-10, 4.07 ERA, 113 K).

Orioles fans are getting used to droughts, and Brian Matusz's fifth-place finish means that the Birds still haven't had a Rookie of the Year winner since Gregg Olson in 1989. I suppose we'll have to settle for the 2011 Cy Young Award.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adam Jones, 2009 Bowman #183

What do you do with your time away from work when you're a 25-year-old baseball player? If you're Adam Jones, you visit Europe. Jones joined teammates Rick VandenHurk and Jeremy Guthrie and ex-Oriole Brady Anderson on a tour of Belgium and VandenHurk's home country, the Netherlands. They aimed to conduct free instructional clinics for children and to further foster interest in the game on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The O's promising young outfielder extended his travels, and spent some time in Paris last week as well. On Twitter, he was offering to send postcards to his fans. Jones expressed his wonder that a majority of Europeans speak at least a small amount of English, and suggested that he would like to receive Rosetta Stone lessons in French for a Christmas gift. So that's a word to the wise if you happen to be Adam's Secret Santa...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Glenn Davis, 1992 Topps Kids #65

Topps made some interesting choices with the composition of this card, chiefly the suggestion that one of Glenn Davis' teammates would rather sleep off his hangover than watch the first baseman do his thing. The other players are also wearing blue and white uniforms, which seems odd, and I'm not sure that it's very safe for the batboy to be chilling up against the backstop either.

There's a tinge of foreshadowing here as well. After breaking his jaw in a bar fight in Virginia on June 7, Davis was on the shelf for a couple of months. On August 1, he was back with the team and hoping to be activated. The Orioles were hosting the Red Sox at Camden Yards, and Jeffrey Hammonds lined a foul ball into the home dugout in the fourth inning. The ball struck Davis in the jaw and knocked him unconscious, and he was taken to the University of Maryland hospital for testing. They gave him the all-clear, but he never played another game in the major leagues.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Baltimore Orioles, 1968 Topps #334

Sitting front and center in this team photo is Jay Mazzone. Jay was the Orioles bat boy from 1966-1971, meaning that he got to experience four World Series (including two championships) in his six years as a young employee for the O's. He usually assisted the visiting team, and worked Sandy Koufax's final game in the 1966 Series. The Birds even gave him a partial World Series share in his final season. He also had the opportunity to meet three presidents. But that's not the only thing that makes Jay remarkable.

A few nights ago I was watching a replay Game One of the 1970 World Series on MASN. It was the infamous Bernie Carbo game, in which Elrod Hendricks fielded a ball with his bare hand and tagged Carbo with his empty glove, and the confused umpire (who had been entangled with the players) called the Reds player out. The Birds won 4-3.

In the middle of the game, the camera settled upon Jay Mazzone and the play-by-play announcer pointed out that the teenager had lost both of his hands in an unfortunate accident when he was just a toddler. At the age of two, his snowsuit caught fire and amputation was necessary due to the severity of the burns. He was outfitted with prosthetic hooks, which he had learned to use deftly to handle objects - including bats and balls. I was surprised that I had never heard about him before, beyond passing mentions of his name. I checked the team cards in my collection, and none give a really clear view of Jay's appendages. The closest was the 1971 card, but I'd already used it last summer.

I checked online to see if there was any more information about Mazzone, and found a few articles. The Baltimore Sun caught up with him in 2007, and found that he was living in Parkton (north of Baltimore) with his wife Bobbie. At age 54, he was working as a heavy equipment operator for R&F Construction Co. on Eutaw Street, within shouting distance of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The other article was a USA Today piece about kangaroo courts, and they had Jay share an amusing story about the O's brand of clubhouse justice. Frank Robinson presided over the team's mock court, and he got along well with the bat boy. However, Mazzone felt that many of the other players were overly sensitive to his disability and didn't know how to treat him. During one "trial", Robinson asked for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote to decide whether a fine should be levied on a teammate. Afterward, he announced that Jay would be fined for not voting. That broke the tension, and from then on the players treated him more inclusively. Jimmy Tyler even made Mazzone a big cardboard thumb so that he could participate in future votes!

(With this, my second blog entry about bat boys, I now believe that I hold an unofficial record in the baseball card blogosphere.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Al Bumbry, 1983 Donruss #383

On this Veteran's Day, I would like to remember and thank everyone who has served in the United States military to help make and keep this country great. That includes Al Bumbry, who earned a Bronze Star as a platoon leader in Vietnam. It also includes both of my grandfathers, my Uncle Phil, and my girlfriend's father. When it comes to baseball, we can get carried away using words like "hero", but we should never forget who the real heroes are.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pat Hentgen, 2004 MLB Showdown

It may be Christmas before the Orioles have their coaching staff finalized, but other teams are a bit more expeditious. For instance, the Blue Jays hired former Jays and O's pitcher Pat Hentgen as their new bullpen coach under first-year manager John Farrell. Even though Pat is back with a division rival, I'm happy for him. My only hope is that he's gone back to the sweet horseshoe mustache that he fashioned earlier in his career. After all, what is Major League Baseball, if not a repository for ridiculous facial hair?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rafael Palmeiro, 1996 Topps Laser #88

This afternoon I found out that Derek Jeter had won his fifth Gold Glove. I was annoyed at first, but I soon realized that it wasn't worth it. The coaches and managers obviously don't take their votes very seriously, and haven't for years. Rafael Palmeiro famously won a Gold Glove at first base in 1999, a season in which he played 28 whole games in the field. So if they don't care, why should I? I really don't feel like any Orioles deserved the honors this year, with the possible exception of Nick Markakis, but I'm used to him being overlooked. I also can't argue with the outfielders chosen in Nick's stead: first-time winners Franklin Gutierrez and Carl Crawford, and the evergreen Ichiro. So let Jeter have his baubles. The sun will rise again tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brian Roberts, 2006 Bowman Chrome #9

In 2005, Brian Roberts committed eight errors and had a .988 fielding percentage. There are two ways to look at this data: first, it's pretty impressive that he did so well while wearing his glove on top of his head and holding his sunglasses in his hands; secondly, imagine how much better he could have been if only he had swapped the sunglasses and the glove.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dave Schmidt, 1987 O-Pee-Chee #372

One curious thing about O-Pee-Chee is the way they denoted offseason player movement. Why the quotation marks around "Now with Orioles"? Are they being sarcastic? Is this a direct quote of a league or team source? Or is it Dave Schmidt himself who is smugly broadcasting the fact that he's ditched those 90-loss White Sox in favor of the...um...89-loss Orioles? Does he realize that Earl Weaver just retired again? And what is up with his hair? Is that a 1920s flapper wig, or did he dye his hair black during a brief and ill-advised goth phase? So many questions, so few answers.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eddie Murray, 2010 Topps Vintage Legends #VLC37

Earlier this week I bought a box of 2010 Topps Update Series so I would be able to rip some packs while I was on a work trip in Pittsburgh. I was pretty happy with my haul, as I got all of the Orioles base cards excepting Alfredo Simon. I also got some sharp-looking inserts of some retired players, including this superlative Eddie Murray card. The Vintage Legends insert set is kind of hit-or-miss for me; it features some of the greats of the game on anachronistic Topps designs of the past. In some cases, Topps whiffed in its efforts to recreate its own cards. I pulled a Willie McCovey card that goofed up the lettering and the coloring of 1988 Topps. But the ones that look good are quite cool, like Cy Young's 1977 replica.

This Eddie Murray card is an homage to 1963 Topps, and although it takes liberties with the original color scheme, it does so to great effect. The actual 1963s featured red, blue, green, orange, or yellow bars at the bottom and inset photo backgrounds of the same set of colors. The addition of black and a darker Oriole-colored orange makes this card pop. And of course, the only thing better than one badass photo of young Eddie is TWO badass photos of young Eddie. The card back displays his career batting line, the teams he played for, and a comparison of his 1983 statistics to the league's best players in the 1963 season. In this case, only Hank Aaron measured up to Murray's triple crown numbers of .306, 33 HR, 111 RBI (Hammerin' Hank went .319-44-130...he was pretty dang good).

Oh, and my big hit for the box was a relic card featuring a swatch of CC Sabathia's All-Star warmup jersey...so if there are any Yankee fans or fans of big fat guys who want to make an offer for it, I am all ears.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Vintage Fridays: Jim Hardin, 1969 Topps #610

According to the Baseball Reference Blog, only ten pitchers in major league history have ever hit a walkoff home run. One of them was Jim Hardin, who performed the feat in a wild game against the Royals on May 10, 1969.

The O's were hosting the first-year club from Kansas City on a Saturday night, and despite the fact that the home team was in first place place with a 20-11 record, they welcomed a paltry 6,843 fans through the Memorial Stadium turnstiles. Dave McNally, a 22-game winner the year prior, got the start for the Birds. He gave up a run under odd circumstances in the first inning. With Lou Piniella on first base and Jackie Hernandez on second, Joe Foy struck out for the second out. The runners were going on the pitch, and Elrod Hendricks' throw to second caught Piniella, but he stopped and initiated a rundown. Boog Powell missed the tag and threw home as Hernandez tried to score. Hendricks dropped the ball, and it was 1-0. However, Boog set things right in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer off of Mike Hedlund to give the Orioles the lead. An error by Royals right fielder Bob Oliver gave them a third run an inning later.

Back-to-back singles by Paul Blair and Frank Robinson chased Hedlund with no outs in the third, and reliever Dave Morehead allowed both runners to score with a wild pitch and a single by Powell. It was 5-1, and it looked like the Birds would coast even after K.C. got a single run back in the fourth. But the visitors' bullpen clamped down on the Oriole bats, and their hitters finally chased McNally in the seventh, scoring a pair of runs on four singles to draw within a run. After retiring the first batter in the top of the eighth, Baltimore reliever Eddie Watt gave up three straight hits to tie the game and deny McNally a win. Jim Hardin was called upon to put out the fire, and did just that with a little help from his defense. Pinch hitter Juan Rios lined out to Blair, who doubled Chuck Harrison off of second base to keep the game tied. The O's went down in order in the eighth, and Hardin kept the Royals off of the scoreboard in the ninth to set up the endgame.

A familiar face took the mound in the bottom of the ninth: Moe Drabowsky, who had been claimed by K.C. in the expansion draft after three years in Baltimore. He would return to the Orioles in 1970, but on this night Charm City was probably the last place he wanted to be. After retiring leadoff hitter Mark Belanger on a grounder to first, he faced Jim Hardin, who had hit .101 (12-for-119) over the first two years of his major league career. Jim clubbed his first career home run, earning himself a very memorable win!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scott Erickson, 2002 Topps Total #TTC4

This photo alarms me. I realize that Scott Erickson was with the Orioles for eight years, and that the last few seasons were particularly rough, being as full of injuries and losing baseball as they were. But I didn't remember Scott ever looking so weathered. For your edification, the veteran pitcher would have been 33 at the time of this photo, assuming it was taken in 2001. Compare the image above to this one:
The odd thing is that the People Magazine photo is from 2000, not that much earlier than the first picture. I'm just going to go out on a limb and say that a) the goatee is not a flattering look for Scott, and b) Topps doesn't spend much time using PhotoShop to pretty up their subjects.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jimmy Key, 1998 Collector's Choice #42

This is another card that I received in my recent trade with Ryan, and it's probably my favorite photo of the lot. It's a playful Spring Training shot of Jimmy Key in an unfamiliar setting: on the base paths. He won't exactly be mistaken for Rickey Henderson, not while blowing a bubble and resting his hands firmly on his thighs. In case you're wondering, Jimmy batted only three times in his long career. All three plate appearances came in a June 13, 1997 interleague game in Atlanta. Given the unenviable task of taking his first career swings against Greg Maddux in the latter's prime, Key struck out twice. However, he also successfully executed a sacrifice bunt that aided a four-run uprising. He allowed a single run in 6.2 innings, and the Birds survived an Armando Benitez gasoline act to beat Maddux 4-3.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chris Ray, 2008 Topps Gold #172

So the San Francisco Giants are World Champions. Though Aubrey Huff was the only ex-Oriole to actually play in the World Series for the Giants, but there were three other former O's who made contributions to San Fran throughout the 2010 season and will ostensibly receive their rings. How did they do?

Aubrey Huff, as is his wont, followed an awful season with a great one. After batting a career-low .241 with a brutal 81 OPS+, he signed with the Giants for $3 million and proved to be a bargain. He hit .290 and led the club with a .385 on-base percentage, 100 runs scored, 26 home runs, and 86 RBI. He was second to Andres Torres with 35 doubles and 7 stolen bases (!) in 7 attempts. There was also some business about a lucky thong that I just don't have the strength to discuss. In the first postseason experience of his career he batted .268 with one home run and eight RBI in 15 games, which included a .294 mark (5-for-17) in the World Series. His two-run homer in Game Four put the Giants on top for good, and he was on the field when Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to end it all and touch off the celebration.

Eli Whiteside spent eight years paying dues in the minor leagues (the first seven with the Birds) before the Giants made him their number two catcher in 2009. In his current capacity as Buster Posey's backup, he's about as busy as the Maytag repairman. But he hit .238 in the 56 games he did play, with four home runs. Last night he was one of the first guys out of the dugout to jump on the pile in the infield.

Denny Bautista debuted with the O's in 2004, back when he was a highly promising young pitcher. He was lit up in two games, and then was traded to the Royals for Jason Grimsley, to the dismay and confusion of many fans. He's never followed through on that promise, and this year the Giants became his sixth big league team. Denny appeared in 31 games as a reliever from May through August and was perfectly acceptable, compiling a 3.74 ERA and striking out 44 in 33.2 innings before a demotion to AAA Fresno. He is currently a free agent.

Of course, there's also Chris Ray. As an Oriole, he peaked with 33 saves at age 24 in 2006, but never got back on track after Tommy John surgery ended his 2007 season. He was traded to the Rangers this past offseason for Kevin Millwood, and was famously traded in midseason for Bengie Molina (how many times over the past week did you hear about how Bengie would get a ring no matter which team won?). His ERA with the Giants was an underwhelming 4.13 in 28 games, but 6 of his 11 earned runs allowed came in two disastrous outings. He grabbed three wins, two holds, and a save in relief for San Francisco, but was left off of the postseason roster.

Kudos to all of these players. I can't wait until my World Series recap involves 25 players with ties to the Orioles, if you get my drift.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Adam Eaton, 2009 Topps Allen and Ginter #6

I told you recently that I had received my end of a trade from Ryan of O No! Not Another Orioles Blog. Upon checking Ryan's expertly organized want list against my big ol' box of O's doubles, I was left with a stack of nearly 140 cards to send back. Sensing an opportunity to knock off a few more of my own Birdland cardboard needs, I convinced Ryan to expand the trade. Today, we each received a package in the mail, the serendipitous sort of thing that doesn't happen often in my experience. In thumbing through the pile and considering in the back of my mind which card would accompany the trade post, only one card made me cackle with a perverse, evil delight. That would be this fine-looking card commemorating a hideous, dark time in Orioles history. 75 baserunners in 41 innings...an 8.56 ERA...eight wasted starts...and I'm laughing about it. Time truly does heal all wounds.

If you'd like to make a deal with Ryan, go check out his want list. All the cool kids are doing it.