Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sid Fernandez, 1994 Fleer Flair #253

Sid Fernandez was one of the best-known baseball players to come from Hawaii, the 50th state to join the United States of America. That's why he chose to wear #50 on his back throughout his career. Those are the kind of nuggets of uniform-number minutiae that I share on my NumerOlogy website, which chronicles the men behind the numbers in Oriole history. I've just given the site an update for the first time in nearly a year, because I am equal parts technologically impaired and prone to procrastination.

As I've mentioned, I found out last May that some unscrupulous person had hacked my site to redirect to malware sites. However, I was in the process of renovating and moving into my house, and I wasn't sure how to fix things. So I put it off...and put it off some more...and suddenly another baseball season was upon me. So I finally did what I should have done months ago and emailed the troubleshooting folks at my webhost. They responded the same day with a solution that was embarrassingly simple. One file in particular had been corrupted, and I needed only to reload it and set it to read-only. Done and done. I also logged the last season's worth of uniform number comings and goings. Now the 2011 season can truly start, and I feel like a proper dope.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brian Roberts, 2005 Bowman Heritage #21

Tonight I had a fantasy draft for a league that I slapped together yesterday, in true procrastinator fashion. I know that one of the immutable laws of our society is that No One Cares About Your Fantasy Team, so I won't give you a blow-by-blow. I'll just let you know that the only Oriole on my squad (a.k.a. Melvin Muammar) is Brian Roberts. In and of itself, this isn't news; this is about the fourth or fifth season that I've had the O's second baseman on my team. But this time, I didn't pick him up until the 19th round. After several seasons as a productive fantasy player who was guaranteed to rack up steals, runs, and doubles, Roberts is a backup plan for Dan Uggla. Even though he's my favorite player, I couldn't justify selecting him before the final stages of our draft - not at age 33, not after he missed more than 100 games last year and sat out several spring training games with a stiff neck and back spasms this month. I still don't want to bet against him, so I took a flyer. It's up to Brian to prove me wrong.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jim Palmer, 2008 Upper Deck Masterpieces #8

Today is Cy Young's 144th birthday...well, not really. He died in 1955, after all. Still, to commemorate the day of his birth, here's a fetching portrait of the first American League pitcher to win the Cy Young Award three times.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Steve Finley, 1989 Score Rookies & Traded #95T

I love the angle of this photograph. Steve Finley, not exactly known for his power hitting early in his career, is following through on a swing. He's deep in concentration, watching the flight of the ball he's just struck. Is it a shallow pop? A warning track fly? A drive into the gap? Or even - dare we dream it - a home run?

Well, there's no way to be sure exactly what the result of this play was, but I am going to be a bit of a wet blanket. Steve hit just two home runs in his rookie season of 1989, and both came on the road. So no, this one didn't clear the fence at Memorial Stadium. There's always next year.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jeff Conine, 2002 Topps Opening Day #140

Just a friendly reminder: this is the last Sunday until November with no baseball games that matter. The Orioles open their season on Friday night in Tampa. We're almost there.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Donell Nixon, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #331

It's high time for another "Who in the hell?" Oriole. Donell Nixon is the younger, less successful, and less-skeletal-looking brother of speedy outfielder Otis Nixon. Donell (whose first name is actually Robert - Donell is his middle name) was a tenth-round pick of the Mariners in the 1980 draft. Much like his big brother, he was blazingly fast. In 1982 he stole 88 bases in 122 games at Class A Wausau and AA Lynn. The following year he swiped an unreal 144 bags in 135 games at Bakersfield in the Class A California League. The minor league record was set that same year by Vince Coleman, who stole one more base than Nixon. The following year, Donell added 102 stolen bases to his resume at AA Chattanooga. However, his progress was interrupted by a compound fracture in his left leg that cost him all of 1985 and much of the 1986 season.

The 25-year-old outfielder was finally healthy in 1987, and made Seattle's Opening Day roster. He showed good plate discipline, with 7 strikeouts and 10 walks in 55 plate appearances, but couldn't buy a hit. He was optioned to AAA Calgary at the beginning of May with a .130 average and a single run batted in. Undaunted, he hit over .300 in the minors and earned another brief callup in late July, followed  by a third look in September. He performed better in his second and third stints, batting .314 to boost his overall major league average to .250 with 3 homers and 12 RBI. He also stole 21 bases in 46 games.

Donell started the 1988 season at Calgary but joined the Giants' big league roster after a midseason trade. In two seasons as a part-timer in San Francisco, he batted .291 with a home run, 12 RBI, and a less-than-impressive 21-for-32 mark in steals. The Giants released him in April 1990, and the Orioles signed him a week later. Sadly, he had ditched his jheri curls by that time. He spent the whole season at AAA Rochester, save for a two-week cup of coffee with the O's in June. He played eight games with Baltimore, starting six. He was 5-for-20 (.250) with a pair of doubles and a pair of RBI. He also swiped five bases without being caught. His final major league game came on July 1, 1990. True to his reputation, he entered a game against the Twins as a pinch runner for Craig Worthington and stole second base before being stranded.

At the end of the year, Nixon opted for free agency rather than stay on in the minors. He signed with the Indians, and played in the minors with them for three years before hanging up his spikes in 1993.

Let it never be said that you and I don't know the ins and outs of Donell Nixon's baseball career.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Boog Powell, 1970 Topps #200

Two Boogs for the price of one this week! This is a fantastic photo, and I'd never seen it up until a few weeks ago. While Ed and I were driving to a card show, I flipped through his 1985 copy of Topps Baseball Cards: A Complete Picture Collection. It was then that I came across this classic. I was surprised that I didn't have it already, since I owned all but four Orioles cards from the 1970 set. Sure enough, Ed tracked down a copy of it at the show and I was able to mark it off my checklist.

As the heading indicates, this action took place in Game Two of the first-ever American League Championship Series, on Sunday, October 5, 1969 in Baltimore. The 109-win Eastern Division Champion Orioles had squeaked by the 97-win Western Champ Twins in twelve innings in Game One, 4-3. The second game was a tense pitchers' duel between the Orioles' Dave McNally and Minnesota's Dave Boswell. The O's squandered an early opportunity, failing to score after loading the bases with nobody out in the second inning. The bottom third of the O's order went 1-2-3, popout, shallow fly to left, strikeout. The following inning, Frank Robinson popped out with runners on the corners. But there were no other serious threats by either team, and the game moved to extra innings with no score.

In the top of the tenth, McNally struck out the side to give him 11 K's on the day. Boswell showed no signs of fatigue either, setting the Birds down in order in the home half. On to the eleventh, and both starters hung in. McNally retired the first two batters before issuing back-to-back walks to Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, but manager Earl Weaver stuck with the 20-game winner and he rewarded him by coaxing Bob Allison to line out to Don Buford. Boswell was not so lucky. Boog Powell led off with a walk, and Brooks Robinson bunted him to second base. Davey Johnson was intentionally walked to get to Mark Belanger, who popped out for the second out. Twins manager Billy Martin flinched, calling lefty fireman Ron Perranoski in from the bullpen to face Elrod Hendricks. The chess game continued with Weaver sending righthanded batter Curt Motton in to pinch hit. Motton delivered a single to right, and Boog rumbled home ahead of Tony Oliva's throw. As you can see above, Minny catcher George Mitterwald made a futile lunge as the burly Baltimore first baseman scored the only run of the game to give the O's a walkoff win in a crisp 3 hours, 17 minutes. The Birds would close out the three-game sweep with an 11-2 romp the following day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boog Powell, 2002 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic #84

My younger sister's 26th birthday is today, which makes me...older than that. I've still got 16 months until the Big Three-Oh, however, so there's no sense in crying about it. Since March 24 is a day practically devoid of Birdland Births, I'll commemorate this special day with the greatest #26 to ever wear the orange and black. Incidentally, one of the many specialty menu items that will be introduced at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in a few weeks will be a double-sized Boog's BBQ sandwich, so there's one more reason to get excited about the 2011 season.

Elizabeth is my only sibling, and I'm grateful that we've stayed close into our adulthood. We always laugh when we're together, and we've even found common ground in sports, which I never would have imagined. She's a hometown loyalist all the way, which makes sense when you consider the popularity and recent successes of the Ravens and Capitals (the latter being the closest thing to an area hockey team that she has). But to root for the Orioles, who haven't fielded a winner since she was 12 and haven't won a World Series in her lifetime, takes true dedication and stubbornness. I can tell you that she has both in spades. So happy birthday, sis. May the O's give you more of a reward for your fandom this year.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2003 Topps Chrome #148

Like any good action shot, the photo on this card inspired me to track down the game in which it was snapped. Assuming it dates back to 2002, this was an easy one. The runner sliding into second base is Mike Sweeney...trust me, it's clearer in person. The Royals played a single four-game series in Baltimore that year, and Sweeney appeared - and reached base - in each game. Jerry Hairston did not play in the opener, but started at second base in the other three. Only once was there a play at second involving Kansas City's DH.

Our game is Saturday, May 4, 2002. The O's put it out of reach early with a five-run second inning against Royals starter Jeff Suppan. Tony Batista got things started with a solo home run, and Melvin Mora added a three-run shot. An inning later, Marty Cordova also clubbed a three-run homer. Meanwhile, rookie Rodrigo Lopez cruised for the Birds. It was 9-0 in the top of the sixth when Sweeney reached on a one-out single. The next batter was Carlos Beltran, who grounded a 1-0 pitch to shortstop Mike Bordick, who tossed it to Hairston to force Sweeney at second. Jerry fired the relay to first to complete the double play and end the inning. In all, Lopez threw seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and improving to 4-0. The final score was 10-0, and the Orioles reached .500 for the season (15-15). The next day they would complete a four-game sweep of K.C.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

David Newhan, 2006 Topps #74

I just read an article about David Newhan's comeback attempt and I'm not sure that I can add anything to it. I'll just say that I'm stunned to learn that the former Oriole narrowly avoided paralysis and death in a surfing accident 18 months ago. I'm not sure why that wasn't bigger news, but I'm glad that he escaped a more serious injury and that he's made a full recovery. He seems to have the right attitude about life and whatever might become of the final act of his playing career. Seriously, go read the article I linked above. It's remarkable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Manny Alexander, 1993 Score #234

1993 was a long time ago, as this card illustrates. Back then, Score was still in the baseball card business, and Manny Alexander was both a rookie and a prospect. In the proceeding 18 years, Score (as well as Donruss, Fleer, Leaf, Pacific, and Upper Deck) lost their license to make cards featuring MLB players and logos. Alexander stumbled out of the gate, fizzled out, and muddled through 593 major leagues. He played 593 major league games, the last of them coming in 2006, and finished with a batting line of .231/.282/.324.

Manny Alexander didn't stick it out for 18 years, but my car did. It was a 1993 Toyota Camry, and its previous two owners were both friends of the family. I bought it nearly five years ago, and it ran like clockwork in all seasons, but its body gave out. The antenna broke off, as did the driver's door handle. The plastic casing for the parking brake dry-rotted. The interior smelled of oil. A few months ago, another car sideswiped me on the beltway and dented the entire driver's side panel. So after more than 185,000 miles, I decided to retire that trusty old car.

On Saturday, I bought myself a new Prius. It's comfortable, functional, modern, and much more environmentally friendly. I plan to hold on to it for a while...probably not for 18 years, but who knows?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Earl Weaver, 2003 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classic #26

Earl Weaver spent the weekend hanging out in Orioles camp down in Sarasota. He also spent time talking with the coaching staff, which just goes to show you that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Yesterday he spoke with Buck Showalter and Co. for half an hour, covering such topics as player development and umpires. In true Earl fashion, he let a flew words slip that the delicate souls at the Baltimore Sun couldn't repeat. He also joked around with the coaches he knew, including batting instructor and former Weaver pinch hitter deluxe Terry Crowley and current O's bench coach and ex-Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph. He praised Buck and the impact that he's already had on the team, and insisted that he checks the newspaper every morning during the season to see if the Birds won.   Earl even gave out a few autographs to Oriole pitchers Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken, who were excited to meet the 80-year-old Hall of Famer. For my part, I'm glad to know that not only does Earl still keep Baltimore and its team close to his heart, but that there are at least a few players who know their history.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mike Bordick, 2001 Fleer Showcase #51

The heartiest of congratulations and felicitations to Mike Bordick, who was voted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in results that were announced today. In August, he and team trainer Richie Bancells will be inducted in a ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Bordick played six seasons with the O's from 1997-2002, except for a couple months late in 2000 after he was traded to the Mets. That deal brought Melvin Mora to Baltimore, making it the only productive move of that year's summer fire sale. But the shortstop's value to the Birds went farther than that.

In 1996, Cal Ripken, Jr. had balked when Davey Johnson flirted with moving him from short to third base. As much as anything, his recalcitrance had a lot to do with the player who would be replacing him. That year, the only other shortstops on the roster were utility player Jeff Huson and failed prospect Manny Alexander. But when the Orioles signed Mike Bordick away from Oakland as a free agent, Cal recognized his new teammate's talents as a shortstop and finally moved off of the position that he had manned for 15 memorable seasons.

Bordick was known as a defensive-first shortstop, and he certainly lived up to his billing. He led the American League in total zone runs in 1997 and 2002, and ranked in the top three in 1998 and 1999. He led in assists in 1998 and 1999, led in range factor in 2002, and led in fielding percentage in 1999 and 2002. In 2002, the 36-year-old committed a single error in 570 chances for a sterling .998 fielding percentage. He set single-season fielding records at his position for fewest errors, highest fielding percentage, consecutive errorless games (110) and consecutive errorless chances (543). Of course, he was at least competent with the bat. He slugged over .400 three times with the O's, and had a career year in 2000: .297/.350/.481 in 100 games before the Mets trade, with 22 doubles, 16 home runs, and 59 RBI. That summer he made his only All-Star team.

As mentioned previously, Bordy is back in the Baltimore organization as a minor league instructor, and is one of several ex-players in camp at the Sarasota facility. So everything is comin' up Bordick.

Vintage Fridays: Harry Brecheen, Lum Harris, Eddie Robinson, 1960 Topps #455

Let's just pretend I got this card scanned and posted before midnight, okay? It can be our little secret. This is one of my favorite vintage O's purchases of recent weeks. You really don't see enough coaches' cards these days. Back in the 1950s, Topps used to give individual coaches their own cards, with amusing results. Here, you see the cardboard powers that be marginalizing the entire staff to a single card in 1960. But at least they're still a presence, which is more than most coaches can say in the modern card era.

This trio represents manager Paul Richards' brain trust. At bottom left is Harry "the Cat" Brecheen, so nicknamed for his dextrous fielding of bunts during his pitching days. The southpaw won 133 games for the Cardinals and the Browns in parts of 12 seasons with a 2.92 career ERA. He retired in 1953 and soon caught on as Baltimore's pitching coach, spending more than a decade advising younger hurlers such as Milt Pappas, Steve Barber, Billy O'Dell, and Jerry Walker.

To Harry's right is Chalmer Luman "Lum" Harris, 1940's Athletics and Senators pitcher. He was not Brecheen's equal on the mound, walking more batters than he struck out overall and leading the American League with 21 losses in 1943.  He had made Paul Richards' acquaintance during the pair's minor league playing days, and they had a close working relationship for the next thirty-plus years. Harris was on Richards' staff for the latter's seven seasons with the O's, often coaching third base. When the skipper resigned in late 1961 to take the general manager's job for the expansion Houston Colt .45s, Lum managed the Birds on an interim basis. The following season, he was hired as a coach in Houston. Richards later gave him managerial posts with the Colts (now known as the Astros) and Braves.

Lastly we have Eddie Robinson, a former power-hitting first baseman and four-time All-Star who played with 7 teams in 13 seasons, chiefly the White Sox. His career wrapped up with a four-game cameo for the 1957 Orioles. He then went straight to the team's coaching staff, and was briefly promoted to a player  development system before Richards also poached him to Houston and later Atlanta. He worked as a farm system director and eventually replaced his ex-boss as Braves general manager. Eddie did a turn as Rangers' GM as well.

Contrary to what this card might lead you to believe, Brecheen, Harris, and Robinson were not in fact floating disembodied heads. At least I don't think they were.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pat Hentgen, 2001 Topps #582

I could think of no better way to wish you all a happy St. Patrick's Day than by presenting this greenish card of Patrick George Hentgen. Heck, he was even born in Ireland!

Actually, Pat was born in Detroit. I don't know why I lied like that. Hopefully when you wake up tomorrow you won't remember this conversation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Luis Hernandez, 2007 Topps '52 Rookies Chrome Refractor #TCRC3

Hey, O's fans, I know Monday's post was a downer, so let's have fun at someone else's expense tonight. Remember Luis Hernandez? You know, the guy who teased us in 2007 by filling in for an injured Miguel Tejada and hitting a relatively empty .290 in 30 games and flashing a slick glove at shortstop? Yeah, that guy.

You probably also remember the Birds trading Tejada to the Astros the following winter for five younger players, most notably Luke Scott. With the upper levels of the farm system devoid of middle infielders, Luis Luis was named the starter at short and performed...closer to his minor league track record. That is to say, not at all. Notwithstanding an April 6 walk-off single that sent Birdland into hysterics, his batting line was an Izturisian .241/.295/.253 in 91 trips to the plate. He also looked much shakier in the field, and the Orioles had seen enough by Memorial Day. He was shipped back to Norfolk, never to return. The Birds finished the year with a rotating horrorshow that included Juan Castro, Alex Cintron, Freddie Bynum, and Brandon Fahey. Eider Torres chipped in for 18 innings, and Melvin Mora and Oscar Salazar had single-inning cameos because why the hell not? The O's were so desperate to plug that hole at shortstop that they went out and signed the aforementioned Cesar Izturis (career OPS+ of 64, career AVG/OBP/SLG of .256/.296/.323). Now Izzy won't go away. Thanks a bunch, Luis.

Anycrap, Luis has drifted from place to place in pro ball since 2002. In nine minor league seasons, he has a rousing line of .255/.302/.331. In parts of four big league seasons (he spent time with the Royals in 2009 and the Mets last year), he's an even grodier .245/.286/.298. He's in camp with the Mets again this year, and there's been a shakeup at the top. Sandy Alderson, who mentored current A's GM Billy Beane, is calling the shots personnel-wise. He hired former Astros and Angels manager Terry Collins to replace deposed skipper Jerry Manuel. In spite of the club's reputation as big spenders, and Alderson's record as a keen judge of talent, second base for the Mets looks as ugly as shortstop did for the Orioles in 2008. Daniel Murphy, the aging and costly Luis Castillo, Rule V pickup Brad Emaus, and former O's infielder Justin Turner are the usual suspects. But there is a dark horse emerging, according to Collins. And that player is...

Luis Hernandez.

Seriously: "Let's not forget we have one guy who can absolutely play there," Collins said recently. "And that's Luis Hernandez."

Sure, if you go on to read the article, the impression is that the manager actually has very little say and could very well have been throwing mud at the wall to see if it would stick. But the idea that he would even entertain the notion...let's just say that I'm glad those words didn't have to come from Buck Showalter's mouth.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mike Hart, 1988 Topps #69

Tonight's entry is all about questions. First: who the devil is Mike Hart? This vaguely sweaty mustache-sportin' guy was a 13th round draft pick of the Mariners in 1979 out of the University of Wisconsin. He had a sleepy but competent minor league career, even putting up a few on base percentages in the low .400s. He finally debuted with the Twins in 1984, getting a 13-game cup of coffee at age 26 and collecting 5 singles in 29 at-bats (.172 AVG). The Orioles traded for him in 1986 and he spent the lion's share of his two years in the organization at AAA Rochester. But with a creaky major league roster showing its age in 1987, Mike got the call in mid-August and started 24 games in center field. His batting average was even worse the second time around (.158), but he did show a minimum of power; half of his 12 hits went for extra bases. On August 31, his fifth-inning home run off of Mike Morgan gave the O's a 2-1 lead in a game they won 4-3 over Seattle. Anyhow, Baltimore released Hart in October and that was it for his career. According to Baseball Reference's Bullpen Wiki, he's coached in high school and college back in Wisconsin in the years since. There's your Mike Hart tutorial.

Now I hope you can answer a few questions for me. I was one of those slackers who waited until the 11th hour to order the cards that I wanted shipped from Topps as part of their 2010 Million Card Giveaway. Specifically, I put in my order on February 28, one day before the cutoff. Two-plus weeks later, my cards ain't on my doorstep. I recall other bloggers reporting that they'd received their MCG cards in quick and painless fashion. So:

1) Did anyone else order cards from Topps in the last few days of the Million Card Giveaway?

b) If so, have you received your shipment yet?

No, I didn't pay for insurance or delivery confirmation, and I went with USPS. I requested shipping on 22 cards total, so I was trying to keep it as cheapo as possible. I'll probably contact customer service if nothing turns up in the next few days, but I figured I'd give them the benefit of the doubt in the event that like-minded procrastinators like me slammed them at the end of February and they're dealing with a backlog. So keep me posted - no pun intended.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Scott Erickson, 1999 Bowman #26

Scott Erickson really did have some good moments in Baltimore. The Twins traded him to the O's for Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee, a.k.a. two bags of peanuts, in July 1995. Freed from the dank confines of the Homerdome, Scott went 9-4 down the stretch and dropped his earned run average by more than two full runs (5.95 in 87.2 IP w/MIN, 3.89 in 108.2 IP w/BAL). With Ben McDonald flaming out, the sinkerballer looked like a strong complement to Mike Mussina in the Oriole rotation. The following season his ERA jumped back up to 5.02, but 1996 was crazy everywhere, yo; the entire American League had a 4.99 mark and seven A.L. teams hit at least 200 home runs. Compare that to 2010, when the league average was 4.14 and only three teams topped 200 HR. In that environment, 222 innings of 5.02 ERA was perfectly acceptable. Erickson was really on his game in 1997, leading the A.L. East Champ Birds with a 16-7 record and turning in a 3.67 ERA, his lowest since 1992. Even in the general disappointment of 1998, the righty provided solid numbers: 16-13 with a 4.01 ERA and league-leading totals in innings pitched (251.1) and complete games (11). He slipped a little the next year but was still a mainstay (15-12, 4.81 ERA, 97 ERA+).

Then the bottom fell out. For the last four years of his Oriole career (2000-2003), Erickson totaled 44 starts and 253.1 innings. He missed the entirety of 2001 and 2003 with injuries, and was terrible on the occasions that he did make it to the mound in the other two seasons: 10-20, 6.39 ERA, 1.71 WHIP. After being a workhorse for the first decade of his big league career, his body seemed to betray him. It's sad, but that's often how I remember Scott Erickson: the broken-down veteran who couldn't get out of his own way.

With a couple of weeks left before Opening Day, I'm thinking about injuries more than I'd like. Four probable members of the 25-man roster have barely played an inning of exhibition baseball due to nagging issues. 35-year-old first baseman Derrek Lee had thumb surgery in the offseason and is still experiencing soreness in his wrist from the recent return to activity. 33-year-old second baseman Brian Roberts has been shut down twice with a stiff neck and (surprise!) back spasms. 35-year-old reliever Koji Uehara had some elbow pain and has been out of commission for more than a week. 33-year-old starter Justin Duchscherer is on the shelf for the second time already this spring due to discomfort in his surgically repaired hip. Are you sensing a pattern here?

It's a long season, and several important Orioles are starting it with aches and pains. Toss a little salt over your shoulder, cross your heart, and hope that these guys aren't on the Scott Erickson path.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mike Devereaux, 1991 Fleer #469

It's been a couple years since I posted Orioles-specific want lists for all of the Topps base sets on my other blog. I've done a pretty good job of maintaining them, but to date I still haven't expanded to cover other sets and brands. I really need to get on the ball. Last weekend I was picking through a box of cheapie 1980s-2000s Orioles and something compelled me to pick up this card, even though I've seen so much junk wax for my favorite team that my first assumption would be that there couldn't possibly be any O's that I lack from that era. But sure enough, I didn't have Mike Devereaux in Banana Land in my collection. What's more, there are still eight cards left for me to get from the dime-a-million 1991 Fleer set. Guess I'd better get crackin'.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

George Sherrill, 2009 Topps Ticket to Stardom #48

Have you ever seen a card set that provided a more egregious example of phoning it in? Just looking at this thing puts me to sleep. I'm glad that I found most of the team set in a dime box at a card show (all but the rookie cards of David Hernandez and Koji Uehara), because I'd hate to spend any more than the bare minimum of money and effort on this lazy effort by Topps. And to think that this is the kind of thing they were churning out back when they still had competition for the baseball card collector's dollar.

One positive: the back of the card mentions George Sherrill's tightrope act against the Cubs in an interleague game on June 24, 2008. The O's lead had been cut to 7-5 in the eighth inning when Dave Trembley summoned his closer with the tying runs on base and two outs. Sherrill retired pinch hitter Matt Murton on a fly ball to left to preserve the lead for the time being. The Birds were quickly retired in the top of the ninth, sending "Flat Breezy" back to the mound in a save situation. In an all-too-typical performance, the lefthander made his fans and teammates sweat it out.

Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot found holes in the infield with a pair of singles to bookend a five-pitch walk to Mark DeRosa. The bases were loaded with nobody out. I was sitting in my apartment exclaiming things that I wouldn't dare repeat. But apparently George had the Cubs right where he wanted them. Ronny Cedeno, pinch hitting for reliever Carlos Marmol, struck out swinging on three pitches. One down. Leadoff hitter Kosuke Fukudome took ball one and strike one before swinging through the next two offerings. Two down, and the tension in Wrigley Field was palpable. Eric Patterson (Corey's brother) was due up, but backup catcher Henry Blanco pinch hit. Strike one swinging. Strike two, called. Come on George, one more pitch! Ball one, just for a little bit more pressure. And...strike three, swinging! I would never have believed that anyone could put the winning runs on base and then strike out the side on 11 pitches to slam the door. In fact, the card back claims that Sherrill was only the sixth pitcher ever to perform that feat. Such was the maddening mystique of George Sherrill.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Bob Boyd, 1960 Leaf #13

This is one of my nifty finds from last weekend's Philly card show. 1960 Leaf is an overlooked set that consisted of 144 black-and-white portraits of players and coaches. A lot of people seem to think that the lack of color and the spartan design elements make it a boring, ugly set, with the contents looking more like mug shots than baseball cards. However, it's certainly distinctive. You so rarely see a black-and-white set that the monochrome look makes it stand out. These photos seem to have more definition than the offerings from Topps at the time. It's also nice to have something different to collect from an era in which Topps was the big game in town. I now have two of the nine Orioles cards from this set; I showed off the Brooks Robinson card last year. What do you think of 1960 Leaf?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Harold Baines, 1993 Fleer Ultra #492

Here's something you didn't see very often: Harold Baines wearing both a glove and an Orioles uniform. I'm guessing this was a photo from Harold's first spring training with the O's. The soft-spoken slugger appeared in 666 games for the Birds spanning seven seasons, and not once did he play the field. In fact, he had a single appearance in the outfield in the last nine years of his career. It came on June 10, 1997, during Baines' second tour of duty with the White Sox. The Yankees drubbed Chicago 12-1 that day, and for some strange reason manager Terry Bevington sent the sore-kneed designated hitter in to replace Lyle Mouton in right field in the seventh inning. Fortunately, nobody hit the ball in his direction in the final two innings.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Miguel Tejada, 2005 Fleer Patchworks #68

Hey, did you know that the long-rumored movie based on Michael Lewis' Moneyball is actually in post-production, slated for release later this year? It's gone through several script iterations and directors, but they really did film it. You've probably heard that Brad Pitt is playing Oakland Athletics' GM Billy Beane, and maybe you heard that Jonah Hill (of Superbad and Funny People) is playing a character based on Beane's former assistant Paul DePodesta. But there are some other familiar names appearing in the flick. Parks and Recreation actor Chris Pratt plays ex-A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg, and Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman takes on the role of manager Art Howe. Miguel Tejada is also being featured in the movie, and he'll be played by a man with over a decade of major league experience at shortstop...

Royce Clayton.
Yeah, not exactly an uncanny resemblance, but chalk it up to creative license. Clayton actually auditioned to get the part, and even developed a Latino accent. Director Bennett Miller actually requested in the middle of filming that the retired player drop the accent in order to perform more naturally. At any rate, he should at least look pretty natural in any on-field scenes, which is more than you could say about a lot of actors in baseball movies. See: Robbins, Tim.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chris Richard, 2002 Fleer Flair #90

Do you want to feel old? Of course you do, who doesn't? I know I love it whenever my sister points out how many gray hairs I have. Anyhow, try this on for size: Chris Richard retired last week.

Truth be told, I don't have many memories of Chris' two and a half seasons in Baltimore. They coincided with my first few years of college, probably the span of time when I was least attentive to the Orioles. But I stirred up a hornet's nest in September of 2009 when I made an offhand mention on this blog that the one-time Bird had a reputation as arrogant back in those days. I had no first-hand knowledge, I was just repeating what had been reported in the past by writers on the O's beat. No less than four people left comments on this post to disabuse me of that notion. As I conceded in response to one comment, there are two sides to every story and it was possible that the local media members had rushed to judgment on Chris based on a regrettable comment here or a bad day there.

I didn't give Chris Richard much more thought until I read a thoughtful article from the Independent Weekly of Durham, NC. Writer Adam Sobsey paints a picture of a player and a man much more like the one that my readers seemed to know. He disappeared from the major leagues after a serious shoulder injury in 2003 (save for a late-season stint with the Rays in 2009), but converted full-time to first base and kept plugging along for six full seasons of bus rides and AAA stadiums. The last four of those seasons were spent with Tampa Bay's Durham Bulls affiliate, and he became the face of the team. That's not usually what a pro baseball player (especially one with big league experience) aspires to, but Chris thrilled Bulls fans with a franchise-record 84 home runs from 2007-2010. Off the field, he always had time for an autograph or public appearance, or a quote for a reporter. But he's 36, and the Rays went younger and didn't ask him back for 2011. He plans to chip in on some Durham radio broadcasts and is opening a baseball academy nearby for kids ages 8-18. It sounds like he's moving on with his life and looking to share his talents with the community that has adopted him. Best of luck, Chris.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ben McDonald, 1995 Leaf #197

Finally, our long baby-faced nightmare is over. The Orioles have relaxed their pointless facial hair policy. Note that I said "relaxed", and not "abolished". Two of the team's prominent free-agent additions, Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, have been long-time goatee guys. Buck Showalter consulted with them and the rest of the club, took this into account, and both he and Andy MacPhail apparently got High Chief and Ruler Peter Angelos to agree that the players should be allowed to have "well-trimmed" beards. This is crucial because 1) the past 13 years have proven that there is no direct correlation between smooth cheeks and chins and winning ballgames and 2) everyone looks better with a beard. Plus, any Oriole who is desperate to change his appearance for whatever reason (superstition, boredom, etc.) won't feel compelled to grow an awful mustache.

In addition to Lee and Guerrero, early reports indicate that Luke Scott and Nick Markakis are reacting favorably to the new allowance. This is unsurprising, as both are known for their impressive offseason homages to Grizzly Adams. Sadly, the "well-trimmed" codicil probably precludes those two from going completely native. But something is better than nothing.

Meanwhile, I will continue to sport my own beard, as I have for the past year and change. I really should update my profile photo on the sidebar.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Garrett Atkins, 2010 Topps 206 #68

You've been quite patient while I kept you in suspense about my Philly Card Show haul, so let's dive into it. Yesterday morning I met fellow Orioles diehard Ed at his house at 7:00 AM, and we proceeded up I-95 in his van en route to King of Prussia, PA. We made good time, and even with a quick pit stop for breakfast at Burger King we were at the convention center shortly after doors opened at 9:00 AM. This was my first experience with this particular show, and I was initially overwhelmed by the sheer size. Ed had told me that it would likely be the largest show I'd attend other than the National, and he wasn't kidding. But since we had planned to get some bang for our $8 admission fee by staying until 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, I didn't panic. Some highlights:

-My first purchases came from a box full of vintage cards priced at $1 each. I found a handful of 1960s Orioles cards that I needed, upgraded a couple of the uglier-looking cards in my 1965 Topps set, and even nabbed one of the universally beloved gems in the annals of cardboard lore: Don Mossi's 1966 Topps card, #74. This was the last card issued of "The Sphinx" during his career, and he went out on top.

-I made it only as far as the next table before rooting myself in place for at least an hour. A sign reading "8 Cards for $1.00" called out to me. At first glance, it seemed to consist mostly of 1980s junk wax, but a few mid-1970s cards were visible. I started rifling through a stack, and began building multiple eight-card piles in front of me. I started out intending to spend five dollars...then ten...then a dozen...fifteen...I wound up searching through the entire box and walking away with 136 cards - $17 worth! I bolstered my vintage collection, primarily the 1974 Topps set, and filled a few needs in my 1982 Topps set. I also walked away with a handful of 1981 Topps Traded, including a Fernando Valenzuela rookie card that was in great condition except for being slightly miscut (more border on top than bottom). Not bad for about 12 cents. Speaking of miscut, I also couldn't pass up this hilariously butchered 1973 Topps Sal Bando. That Orioles hat peeking up from the bottom comes from the top portion of Jim Palmer's card. Whoops!

-From another seller's dime box (sensing a pattern?), I grabbed a few bucks' worth of recent issues. This included a near-complete Orioles team set of the underwhelming 2009 Topps Ticket to Stardom, as well as several interesting subjects from 2009 Tristar Obak. By and large, U.S. President cards have been done to death, but I couldn't pass up this William Howard Taft card.

-One of the bazillions of sets that I've always intended to complete is 1994 Collector's Choice, the first of six sets released under that brand by Upper Deck. It's an underrated set with a simple design and some fun touches meant to appeal to kids. Oh, and it was a buck a pack. Considering that I wasn't yet 12 when it hit stores, it's no wonder it made an impression on me. I found a single Series One wax box being sold for $5, and didn't think twice about buying it. I'll be ripping some packs this week.

-At one booth, there were two small boxes full of 1975 Topps commons. I needed about 80 cards to complete my own set, so I negotiated a price of 25 cents per card with the dealer and got to work rifling through the boxes while fastidiously checking the want list on my iPhone. Two logical failings here: 1) I did not print out my want lists on paper, which would have made things a bit easier. I had brought a tote bag to transport my purchases, so portability was not an issue. 2) The boxes were located on the bottom rack of a display case. Rather than carry them to a higher shelf so that I could stand upright while looking, I remained in a painful crouch, shifting intermittently from one benumbed leg to the other. Anyway, I got 38 cards, mostly in great shape, and knocked off about half my needs all for under $10.

-I found more recent Orioles cards to add to my collection at a couple of quarter boxes, most notably a number of 2010 Topps 206 and National Chicle. Obviously I'll save these for a later date, but of course the 206 of O's failure Garrett Atkins pictured above was one of my gets. Such is the burden of the team collector.

-I met back up with Ed for a quick snack and a few minutes off our feet at 1:00, and we compared our finds. He told me about a dime box chock full of 1970s (and some late 1960s) commons, and I can neither confirm nor deny that I briefly blacked out. He kindly led me to this collector's Valhalla, and in short order I had accumulated a stack of 300 cards, a number of which were the 1972 Topps "Psychedelic Tombstones". I checked my wallet, saw that I had $33 in cash remaining, and made my purchase. Otherwise there's no telling how many cards I would have pillaged. I was especially delighted to come across the 1972 Topps card that features Billy Martin surreptitiously extending his middle finger to the photographer. Stay classy, Billy.

-There were former and current athletes signing autographs throughout the afternoon, most for a hefty fee. Each entrant to the show received a ticket for a free autograph from ex-Oriole pitcher and longtime MLB pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, but I passed since I didn't have one of his cards handy. Signers of note included hockey legend Gordie Howe, ex-Phillie and perpetual scumbag Lenny Dykstra, Hall of Fame slugger Orlando Cepeda, and the aged-yet-ageless southpaw Jamie Moyer.

-Our long day in the Philadelphia region concluded with a decidedly Baltimore flavor. A few miles away from the convention center was the recently-reopened Gino's, the hamburger joint owned by Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. While our Gino's Giants were being prepared, we had a good conversation with the restaurant's manager, who confirmed that there are plans to put a Gino's in the Baltimore area by the end of the summer. He also says that Marchetti is still active at age 84, stopping by the restaurant a few times a week and bowling regularly. By the way, the burgers are delicious.

So the day was a rousing success. I didn't spend more than a dollar on any one card, I filled a few set needs and some Orioles needs, and got a load of old cards for pennies. The company was pretty good, too. I'll leave you with a visual representation of my finds.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jim Palmer, 2010 Topps National Chicle #211

I've been up since 6:30 this morning. I spent four total hours on the road, and another seven on my feet rifling through dime and quarter boxes in a convention center. I spent all but 65 cents of the money that I brought with me to the Philadelphia Sports Card and Memorabilia Show. I'm exhausted, my back is sore, and I have several hundred baseball cards to organize.

But I don't regret a bit of it, and since I'm sharing this Jim Palmer portrait, in which artist Brett Farr has lovingly rendered the Hall of Famer's chest hair, neither should you. Show and tell coming soon - cards, not chest hair.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Brooks Robinson, 1975 Kellogg's 3-D #18

Finally, we've come back around to the awesome side of weird. Later-career Brooks Robinson gazing out at you from a 1970s-themed future.

In the immediate future, I'll be attending a card show in Valley Forge. Why else would a self-respecting 28-year-old bachelor peel himself out of bed at 6:30 AM on a Saturday? Thankfully, I won't be the one driving. It's in everyone's best interests, particularly the other drivers on the road.

I know that a lot of collectors have an attack plan when they go to card shows. They come armed with want lists and priorities and a laser focus. Me? I'm not nearly that organized or attentive. There are cards everywhere, as far as the eye can see. I'll goggle over a display of beautiful tobacco cards that I could only afford if I were paid by the word for my blog entries. My thrifty urges will lead me to a 4,000-count box of dime cards and I'll get lost in it for an hour or two. A table full of marked-down fair-to-good 1953 Topps will reach out and grab me. I'm usually happy with my purchases at the end of the day, but they comprise a motley stack of cardboard. It's no wonder I haven't completed any sets in the last few years.

I am actually going to equip myself with want lists tomorrow, and I've given myself a firm spending limit to ensure that I don't have to sell my organs on the black market at the end of the month. I'll still probably veer far off track...but that's half the fun of collecting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Octavio Martinez, 2001 Topps Traded Chrome #T230

Today's weird card is different than the mangled horrors I've been showcasing the past few days. This is more weird in the "Who decided to include him?" sense. Octavio Martinez was the Orioles' 10th round draft pick in 1999 out of Bakersfield College, a junior college in Southern California. He hit a lofty .237 in his rookie league debut, though he did gun down 56% of attempted base stealers. In 2000, he hit .387 and slugged .591 in 181 at-bats in the rookie-level Appalachian League, and that was apparently enough for the 20-year-old to get his own card in the updated series of Topps' flagship product. As you may have guessed, this honor from the card company was a little hasty. His average plunged to .217 in his first extended action at Class A Frederick the following year. He would spend seven years total (1999-2005) in the Baltimore farm system, including just 41 total games at AAA. He had a similar lack of results in the Pittsburgh and Los Angeles organizations over the subsequent two seasons. In fact, Octavio never played more than 98 games in a season. He's been kicking around the independent leagues since 2008. In fact, he plied his trade with the Atlantic League's Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2009-2010. But he never did play for the Orioles.

This brings me to one of the guilty pleasures I've found in Spring Training: the very notion of the non-roster invite, the former big league star or starter or even fringe player who's clinging to that last shred of hope. You never know who's going to turn up, and it's a harmless nostalgia trip to see them suit up in an Orioles uniform for a few weeks.

This year, the O's "Oh Yeah, That Guy Squad" includes pitchers Ryan Drese (who won 14 games for Buck Showalter's Rangers in 2004 and last pitched in the majors in 2006) and Josh Rupe (only full MLB season was 2008 with Texas), catcher Michel Hernandez (short stints with the Yankees in 2003 and the Rays in 2008, 2009), infielder Nick Green (batted .273 in 95 games for the Braves in 2004, has hit .224 for 6 teams since), and 36-year-old outfielder Randy Winn (Tampa Bay's lone All-Star in 2002). The chances are slim for any of them to spend time on the 25-man roster in 2011, but someone should recognize that for a short while they were Orioles.

Delving further into the Nostalgia Cave, I remember former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman going to camp with the Birds in 1994. The 34-year-old had spent all of 1993 at the Yankees' AAA Columbus affiliate and was far removed from his back-to-back All-Star appearances in 1985 and 1986. The veteran collected only 4 hits in 25 spring at-bats, and chose to retire rather than back up Gregg Zaun at Rochester.

Three years later, Kelly Gruber came out retirement to put on the black and orange. He'd started at third base for the Blue Jays from 1987-1992, making two All-Star teams and having a career year in 1990 (.274, 36 2B, 31 HR, 118 RBI). But he hung up his spikes in 1993 when a degenerative disk condition in his neck limited him to 18 games with the Angels. He recovered from an 0-for-16 start to hit .256 in Grapefruit League play but was edged out for a utility job by Jeff Reboulet. The O's were sufficiently impressed with Gruber to assign him to AAA Rochester, and he saw time at first base, second base, and in the outfield. Injuries limited Kelly to 38 games. He hit only .250 with a .327 on-base percentage and .382 slugging, and retired for good.

Do you have any memories of other Spring Training invites who couldn't quite make it to Baltimore? I'm all ears...or eyes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rocky Coppinger, 1997 Skybox Metal Universe #3

After yesterday's horrifying Cal Ripken, Jr. caricature, Commish/Bob left a comment declaring that this must be Weird Card Week on this here blog. I consider myself to be the highly suggestible type, so I've taken the ball and run with it. What, I ask you, could be weirder than Rocky Coppinger delivering a pitch in front of a giant, malevolent, iridescent spider?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011