Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Robert Andino, 2010 Upper Deck #81

Do you remember back in December, when I pooh-poohed Robert Andino's chances of making the major league roster this season? Yeah, don't forget that I'm an idiot. Though most of the powers that be in the Baltimore organization were fed up with the young shortstop last year, Buck Showalter wanted to see what 'Dino could do with his own eyes. And after spending the entire 2010 season at AAA Norfolk, he hit .295 with a pair of home runs in a September callup. Despite the fact that Buck and others in the O's organization have a man-crush on the aging and offense-deficient Cesar Izturis, Andino joined Cesar on the Baltimore bench to open this season. When J. J. Hardy went down with an oblique injury, I assumed the worst - that Izturis would get the lion's share of playing time at short. But Robert heated up at the right time and seized command of a starting role with three straight multi-hit games. He has gone on to play significant roles in back-to-back wins to open the current road series in Chicago, going 3-for-4 with a walk in last night's 10-4 victory and adding a home run, a single, and two runs scored in tonight's 6-2 win. He is now hitting .348 in a 16-game sample size, and has rendered Izzy virtually irrelevant. I'm still eager to see Hardy return, but it's nice to know in the interim that the #9 spot in the batting order is not an automatic out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Luis Aparicio, 1966 Topps #90

Feliz cumpleanos a Luis Aparicio, who turns 77 today. "Little Looie" spent five years (1963-1967) in Baltimore after the White Sox traded him for a trio of young hitters and Hoyt Wilhelm. Already the reigning American League steals leader in each of his first seven years in the majors, the shortstop extended his streak to nine while wearing an Orioles uniform. In 1963, he swiped 40 bags in 46 attempts for an 87% success rate. The following year he stole a career-high 57 bases, and even swatted a personal-best 10 home runs. He added a pair of Gold Gloves and a couple of All-Star selections to his already-impressive resume. Luis even had three separate five-hit games in the 1966 season, including a 5-for-6 effort with three runs scored on June 2 as the O's erased a 5-2 deficit in topping the Angels 9-6. He was later a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 1984, along with Harmon Killebrew and Don Drysdale. Ex-White Sox double play partner Nellie Fox joined him posthumously in 1997.

Incidentally, the Orioles and White Sox start a four-game series tonight. May the best team* win!

*that wears orange

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rick Dempsey, 1983 Donruss #329

Tough loss for the O's tonight, but two out of three ain't bad. Going back to last night's 5-4 win, Rick Dempsey made his debut as a color analyst for NESN, the Red Sox regional TV network.

No, Dipper hasn't betrayed us. Regular NESN color man Jerry Remy was incapacitated with the flu, so Rick pinch-hit for the enemy. I almost wish that I could have listened. From what I read on Camden Chat from those with MLB.TV access, he was in rare form. When Luke Scott had the nerve to be pleased with himself for hitting a monster home run off of Josh Beckett, the Boston pitcher could be seen on camera demanding that the home plate umpire give him the f-ing ball. Dempsey suggested that Beckett was actually saying that he wanted "a fuzzy ball". Take a bow, Rick.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Willis Roberts, 2004 Topps #105

Last night I took advantage of a beautiful spring evening to witness the fourth win of Zach Britton's career, a relatively drama-free 4-1 victory over the hated Red Sox. The young lefty from Texas is now 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA after five starts, and has tied an Orioles rookie record for wins in April. In 2001, Willis Roberts got off to a 4-0 start, but the first of those W's came in relief. Of course, Zach is a highly touted prospect with a killer sinker, whereas Roberts was a 26-year-old minor league vet with a penchant for goofy post-strikeout theatrics.

I've made it to three O's games so far this season, and I'm relieved to have the first win out of the way. With Britton on the mound, I was cautiously optimistic going in, though I was wary of a scuffling Birds offense facing Clay Buchholz. Despite a shaky start to 2011, Buchholz has had past success against our guys, including a *grumble* no-hitter a few years back. The Orioles got to Buchholz early and often, but never did break the game open. A dozen hits and three walks added up to only four runs, but that's practically an explosion these days. Three sacrifice flies (two by Adam Jones and one by Mark Reynolds) and a Matt Wieters dribbler that struck the first base bag and kicked away for a single accounted for the Baltimore tallies.

Meanwhile, Zach was sharp early and tough in the middle innings. A Dustin Pedroia single in the fourth was the first hit the rookie allowed, and Boston's second baseman scored the only run of the night for the visitors after advancing on a groundout, a steal, and a Kevin Youkilis flyout. After Britton retired the first two batters in the fifth, he loaded the bases and had to face Beantown's powerful new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. He got ahead 1-2 and induced a grounder to second base. He then capped his evening by pitching around a couple of singles in the sixth.

The O's bullpen retired 9 of the last 10 batters of the game. Jim Johnson was just plain nasty, using 25 pitches to blow through the seventh and eighth innings. He allowed a leadoff double to Gonzalez in the eighth, but notched four strikeouts and turned it over to...Kevin Gregg. I didn't want the Birds to sign the begoggled closer in the first place, and a few early-season blowups further soured my opinion of him. But he barely broke a sweat last night, using 10 pitches to get a 1-2-3 save.

I haven't been to an O's-Red Sox game in years. With obnoxious Boston fans packing Camden Yards in recent years and having the nerve to smugly call our park "Fenway South", it just wasn't my idea of fun. There were more Red Sox rooters in attendance than I would have liked last night, but it was pretty tame  after all. The overall attendance was only 18,938, probably due to it being a weeknight game early in the season. Then again, maybe some of the bandwagoners jumped off as soon as Boston lost their first six games and haven't noticed the team's recent hot streak. It helped that the O's arms didn't give the invading fans much to cheer about, but on the few occasions that they did get frisky, those of us in black and orange shouted/booed them down. Even though I was surrounded by navy blue and red up in the upper box, the visitors in my section were well-behaved adult types and it never got ugly.

I also had a great time because I had lots of good company. As has become tradition, my sister rode down to the stadium with me. Our younger cousin Brittany (who was six the last time the Orioles had a winning season) met us there, as did my high school classmate and fellow O's diehard Matt and my former roommate and well-behaved Yankee fan (they do exist) Mike. Heck, we were enjoying ourselves so much that we barely noticed that Buchholz was taking coffee breaks in between each and every bloody pitch.

By the time I got around to writing this post, the Orioles made it two in a row. Dare we hope for a sweep of those dastardly Sawx?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chris Hoiles, 1993 Fleer #168

Come one, come all for Play At the Plate Detective. Today's suspect is a prime action shot of Chris Hoiles awaiting a throw home whilst Seattle Mariner (and future Oriole) second baseman Harold Reynolds slides into the plate, presumably safe. I am a big fan of the batting helmet frozen in midair from now until the end of time. On with the hunt:

According to his 1992 Game Log, Reynolds appeared in five Seattle at Baltimore contests that season. If we narrow it down to games in which he scored a run, we're left with three. Next, we need to find out if Hoiles was the Orioles catcher in all three. Nope! Jeff Tackett wore the tools of ignorance on May 3 in an 8-6 O's win. So we're left with either August 18 or the first game of an August 20 doubleheader. The photo depicts a day game, but Baseball-Reference doesn't have start times for these games. So we'll have to check the descriptions of the plays that drove in Reynolds in both games. They're both sacrifice flies, so that doesn't help. However, you'll notice that Hoiles is facing the right side of the field while anticipating the throw.


On August 18, Reynolds led off the seventh inning with a double and advanced to third on a bunt single by Omar Vizquel (who is STILL ACTIVE in 2011!). Edgar Martinez drove a Ben McDonald pitch deep to left-center field, where Brady Anderson snared it and threw plateward. Cal Ripken, Jr. cut the ball off and redirected it to brother Billy at second base, where Vizquel was caught trying to advance. An exciting play, but not our play. The O's lost that one 8-3, so no biggie.

The August 20 game is the one we want. It's a Thursday afternoon battle, and the Birds need a win after four straight losses have put them four back of the first-place Blue Jays. Rick Sutcliffe faces Brian Fisher, a 30-year-old journeyman who entered the 1992 season with 22 major league innings pitched over the previous three seasons. But on this day, Fisher appears to get the best of Sut, pitching into the seventh and limiting the home team to one measly Chito Martinez single and pitching around three walks. Sutcliffe walks a tightrope, allowing eight Seattle hits and four walks in seven and two-thirds innings. The only run he allows is on a third-inning sacrifice fly to right by Edgar Martinez that followed back-to-back singles by Harold Reynolds and Omar Vizquel. This is of course the play captured above. The M's strand an astounding 13 runners, squandering opportunities in each and every inning.

The O's are surely pressing by the bottom of the eighth inning, when Tim Hulett leads off with a single off of reliever Russ Swan. Mark McLemore gives up one of the six outs the Orioles have left by bunting Hulett to second base, and Brady Anderson strikes out. Fortunately, a by-the-book pitching change by the Mariners backfires, as righty batter Mike Devereaux greets righty reliever Jeff Nelson with a fly ball that eludes right fielder Jay Buhner for a game-tying triple. Less fortunately, Cal Ripken, Jr. strands Devo at third by striking out. In the ninth inning, each club wastes a bases-loaded opportunity. Storm Davis turns a 1-2-3 double play off the bat of Tino Martinez to end the visitors' half, and Nelson walks three Birds before a McLemore grounder allows him to escape. It's free baseball for the capacity crowd in Baltimore.

Davis has an easier time with the Seattle bats in the 10th, allowing a leadoff single to Buhner before retiring three in a row, the last two on strikes. Mike Schooler takes the mound for the Mariners and brings the drama to a swift conclusion. Brady Anderson pokes Schooler's third pitch down the right field line for a triple, and two pitches later Devereaux plays the hero again by driving the ball deep to left field for a game-winning sac fly. The Orioles win 2-1 in 10 innings. Storm Davis, who stranded an inherited runner and tossed 2.1 scoreless innings, gets the W, and I get 1,000 words out of one picture. Well, 698 words. But who's counting?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ray Murray, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #322

This is Ray Murray, known to teammates and opponents as "Deacon", a man as kind and gentle as that 1,000-watt smile makes him look. He finished his six-year big league career as a backup catcher with the Orioles in their inaugural 1954 season. And in a rare start 57 years ago to the day, he got himself ejected and got his money's worth.

It was the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against the White Sox in old Comiskey Park. The O's were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth, trying to salvage a split after dropping the first contest by that same score. Howie Fox was on the mound, and Murray was behind the plate. Ed Hurley was the balls-and-strikes ump, and he and the veteran catcher had a history. Hurley had ejected the Deacon from a game in New York when Ray suggested that the umpire had bet money on the Yankees. Murray admitted later that he heckled his nemesis throughout the day's first game from his spot on the bench, setting the stage for a confrontation. White Sox catcher Sherm Lollar led off the ninth with a walk, and Freddie Marsh ran for him. The pitcher and pinch hitter Cass Michaels fought to a full count, and Marsh broke for second on the 3-2 pitch. According to Murray, the ball came in right down the middle of the plate and he fired it to second, only to realize that Hurley had called it ball four. Realizing the futility of arguing with the man in blue, Ray calmly removed his mask and chest protector and laid them on home plate. He then dropped to his knees, opened his arms wide, looked upward, and beseeched the Lord to "help this poor S.O.B. I got two good eyes. Give him one of mine!".

There's no happy ending, of course. Murray was tossed out, replaced by regular starter Clint Courtney (who had caught all eight innings of the opener, with the game ending with the Sox ahead after the top of the ninth). Howie Fox walked the bases loaded, shortstop Billy Hunter threw away a grounder to score Marsh with the tying run, and Ferris Fain hit a walkoff single to give Chicago a 4-3 win and a doubleheader sweep. But Ray Murray put on a show.

NOTE: The anecdotal details are taken from Nash and Zullo's "The Baseball Hall of Shame 4". You can read the full story here. I was delighted to find that the story checked out with the box score.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Joe Nolan, 1985 Fleer #185

Happy Easter! I'm too busy stuffing my gob with chocolate and jelly beans, so check out Baltimore Sun writer Mike Klingaman's profile of former Oriole backup catcher Joe Nolan. It sounds like Joe (now 59 years old and living in Melville, MO with his wife of 42 years) is loving life.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alex Ochoa, 1994 Bowman's Best #52

I'm surprised that I've never featured former Orioles prospect Alex Ochoa on this blog, considering that I've written 1,207 entries before today. Maybe I withheld all 12 of my Ochoa cards out of pity for Mets fans like Max. Of course, Max hasn't made himself heard around these parts lately, so maybe I'm giving him a friendly push. Who's to say?

A decade and a half ago, Alex Ochoa's resume as a minor leaguer was just as gaudy as this shiny Bowman's Best card, without all of the cognitive dissonance of those marble patterns clashing with gold bars and blue ripples. He was the ever-coveted five-tool prospect, breaking out as a 21-year-old at high-A Frederick in 1993 with a .276 average, 47 extra-base hits (including 13 home runs), 90 RBI, and 34 steals. He was a little stronger overall at AA Bowie in 1994, boosting his average to .301 with 14 homers, 82 RBI, and 28 steals for the Baysox. He debuted on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list in 1993 at #89, and jumped to #42 a year later. He was ranked #35 entering the 1995 season, and was holding his own in his first try at AAA through the first half of the year when the O's actually sold high on him. On July 28, Ochoa and Damon Buford were dealt to the Mets for powerful third baseman-outfielder Bobby Bonilla.

New York was eager to reap the benefits of Ochoa's acquisition, and promoted him to the majors in September. He debuted with a pinch single off of Steve Avery of the Braves and scored later in that inning. The early returns were encouraging, as Alex batted .297 in an 11-game trial in Queens. He spent about half a season with the Mets in 1996, again hitting for average (.294), although his power was manifested more in doubles (19) than home runs (4). His base stealing prowess was also missing in action, as he went only 4-for-7 in theft attempts. He would slump to .244 with a .349 slugging percentage in 1997, and the Mets traded him to the Twins that offseason for fourth-oufielder-type Rich Becker.

Ochoa was a decent player who lasted for eight major league seasons, but he never put down roots. He played for six different clubs, also spending time with the Reds, Rockies, Brewers, and Angels. His career average was .279, his OPS+ a slightly below-average 96. His best year was 2000, when he batted .316 with a .586 slugging percentage (137 OPS+) in 244 at-bats with Cincinnati. He scored 50 runs, drove in 58, and totaled 21 doubles and 13 home runs in half the at-bats of a regular starter.

So really, the Ochoa-Bonilla trade wasn't a huge win or loss for either team. Bobby Bo hit the snot out of the ball for a year and a half in Baltimore before signing a big free agent deal with the Marlins. Ochoa had a good season and a not-so-good season for the Mets. It's certainly not as sore a subject with New York fans as the Mike Bordick-for-Melvin Mora-etc. deal of mid-2000. Right, Max?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Dave Philley, 1956 Topps #222

Earlier this week, my booty from the Topps Million Card Giveaway finally arrived, some six weeks and change after I ordered them for shipping. Of course, I waited until the very last day to place my order, so there's another lesson about procrastination.The important thing is that the cards all arrived in reasonably good condition. I'll do a full show and tell a little later. This Dave Philley card was the oldest of my new additions, acquired in a trade with Ryan of recently-relaunched Phillies blog The Fightins. He said that he didn't care what he got in return, as long as it went to a good home. I took him at his word and offered a 1988 Topps Indians Team Leaders card...yes, seriously.

But that was just on the Topps website. I had been holding onto a Chase Utley relic card that I pulled from a pack of 2010 Topps last year, and when Ryan and I met up in Philly back in February I completed the trade by giving him the Utley card. I think we're both happy with the exchange. This is a pretty well-kept card considering that it's 55 years old - a bit off-center, some mild surface wear, light creases in the top and bottom right corners that are only really visible on the back, and the entirely understandable fuzzy corners. Now I have Dave Philley's first Orioles card, featuring the smooth swing that allowed him to put together 28 multi-hit games in half a season after the O's acquired him from the Indians in July 1955. If I had any criticism of this card, it would be the backdrop of (I assume) Yankee Stadium. Considering that this is more of a portrait than a photo, it would've been nice if they had taken a little creative license and depicted Dave in Memorial Stadium. Eh, what can you do?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

John Stefero, 1987 Donruss #541

Tonight was pretty much a wash. I picked up my sister from work, we grabbed a bite to eat, and fought through the Beltway traffic to get downtown for the Orioles game. Some Oriole alumni were signing autographs on the concourse beforehand, but we didn't get through the gates until close to 6:30, and they'd already closed off the line. So I'll have to catch Joe Orsulak, Nate Snell, and John Stefero some other time.

We had great seats in the right field bleachers, and it was a fine evening, clear and not too chilly. Jeremy Guthrie turned in his usual quality start, allowing only two runs in seven innings and battling his way through a few jams. But, as per usual, Guts was deprived of run support. Twins starter Scott Baker continued his dominance over the O's with seven shutout innings, running his career record against the Birds to 6-0. Mike Gonzalez further endeared himself to Baltimore fans by serving up a solo home run to Michael Cuddyer in the eighth inning to make it 3-0. The bright spot came in the bottom of that inning, when Vladimir Guerrero scraped out an infield single to score Brian Roberts with the lone run for the home team. However, the Orioles went quietly in the ninth, with Matt Wieters' two-out single prolonging the hope before Robert Andino struck out to end the game. So the Birds settled for a split, and I'm even more anxious for a win when I return to Camden Yards next Tuesday for the series opener against the Red Sox.

At least I got to see Jim Thome's 591st career home run. If someone had to take Guthrie deep, I'm almost glad it was him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eddie Murray, 1987 Classic #51

While making my daily visit to the JoeBlog, I learned something new about Eddie Murray, who is indeed the gift that keeps on giving the whole year 'round. In his most recent post, Joe Posnanski illustrated the wonders of the 162-game regular season by examining some of the more outstanding statistics through the first one-tenth of the 2011 campaign. Every year, a handful of hitters really catch fire for the first few weeks, and because they were starting from zero we goggle at their .459 (Matt Kemp) or .429 (Joey Votto) batting averages and wonder if they can keep it up and follow Ted Williams into the record books. Jumping off of that point, Joe wondered whether hitting .500 over the first 16 games of any given season would be attainable for a less-than-great hitter. He ran the numbers and found that only seven guys have ever done it; six are in the Hall of Fame, and the seventh is former Tiger Bob "Fats" Fothergill, who hit .325 with a 115 OPS+ from 1922-1933.

One of the six Hall of Famers was our own Eddie Murray...at least according to Joe. My lying eyes and Eddie's 1982 Game Log say that #33 was actually batting .468 at the 16-game mark, which is still pretty damned spectacular. He was at .509 after 14 games, though. But back to the 16-game stat line:

.468 AVG/.507 OBP/.855 SLG/1.362 OPS, 29 H/62 AB, 9 R, 7 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 5 BB, 6 K.

You read that correctly - 13 extra-base hits in 16 games. He had eight multi-hit games, which included an 11-for-17 string in games two through five. He went 5-for-5 in the nightcap of an April 17 doubleheader at Chicago, but all five were singles and the O's lost 10-6.

That brings me to the most remarkable thing about Eddie's early 1982 tear. Through those first 16 games, the Orioles went 5-11 while their cleanup hitter was feasting on the opposition. They were dead last in the A.L. East. How did that happen? A look at the box score of Game 16 (a 5-1 win vs. Oakland) shows that only Murray, Al Bumbry (.290), and Rich Dauer (.327) were batting higher than .235. The worst offender was rookie third baseman Cal Ripken, Jr., whose .340 OPS (.120 AVG/.120 OBP/.220 SLG) was significantly lower than Eddie's batting average. Junior would bottom out at .117/.131/.217 on May 1 before putting it all together with a .326 average for the rest of that month en route to his Rookie of the Year selection. But in April, the Birds had to weather a nine-game losing streak in which they were outscored by a total of 49-29.

Of course you know the rest of the story. Earl Weaver's teams famously heated up along with the weather, and the final club of his first managerial tenure was equal to the task. They ripped off winning records in every subsequent month, peaking with a stretch of 17 wins in 18 games from August 20-September 7. They did not spend a single day after April 10 in first place - not until a win over front-running Milwaukee in the season's penultimate game pushed them into a tie with the Brewers, setting up a winner-take-all contest in Game 162. That, however, would seem to be a blog entry for another day...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Erik Bedard, 2007 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Sweet Swatch #SW-EB

I haven't done a whole lot of trading lately, but I did acquire this fine relic in a quick and easy transaction with Thorzul recently. Milwaukee's most profane card blogger had mentioned that he was interested in Clubhouse Collection relics from one of his favorite modern sets, 2007 Topps Heritage. I happened to have Chris Carpenter's jersey swatch card from that set, so I made an offer. I'm more than happy with my end of the bargain, as this is my first mutilated bit of jersey from one of the most talented and fragile pitchers in recent Oriole lore.

Bedard (BUH-DARD) is still gritting it out up in Seattle, where he has totaled 33 starts in three-plus seasons since Andy MacPhail traded him for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, and Tony Butler. He missed the entire 2010 season, and has given up 16 runs (13 earned) in 13.2 innings while losing all three starts this April. The really ugly stat: a league-leading six home runs allowed. I'm not sure how long it will take for Erik to get fed up and call it a career, but a morbid part of me wonders if the card companies will someday push the envelope by including bits of elbow and shoulder ligament in relic cards. Heck, they've already moved up to locks of hair from dead people.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Koji Uehara, 2011 Topps #164

Don't worry, I haven't lifted my 2011 Topps Embargo. I picked up some Orioles singles from the hobby shop for team collection purposes. I'm still missing Brian Matusz and Brandon Snyder from Series 1, but all in due time. Meanwhile, this Koji Uehara card is the best of the bunch. It's great to see #19 celebrating (presumably) another set'em up, knock'em down save with a thoroughly American fist pump. I'd give anything to see Koji closing games this season instead of the fundamentally shaky Kevin Gregg. Of course at this point, just seeing the O's with a lead would be an improvement.

Speaking of Uehara, he finally proved human yesterday by issuing a pair of walks. The free passes were his first since July 19, 2010, a streak of 36 appearances in which he struck out 46 batters. It was the third-longest streak since 1954, trailing only Dennis Eckersley (41, 1989-1990) and John Smoltz (38, 2003-2004). Tonight or tomorrow would be a good time to start another streak!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vic Rodriguez, 1985 Donruss #535

Since my Saturday appeal to the baseball gods by way of Mark Williamson's fiery red mustache went unheeded, I must up the ante: Vic Rodriguez and his mighty mustache-caterpillar eyebrows combo will hopefully appease those capricious gods who possess the power to end the Orioles' seven-game losing streak.

Vic Rodriguez had an unusual career. The Orioles signed him in 1977, before his 16th birthday. He hit for average almost everywhere he went, and finally debuted in the majors as a September callup in 1984, his eighth pro season. In each of his first three games with the O's, he appeared only to pinch run (twice for Ken Singleton, once for Rick Dempsey). On September 18, he replaced Rich Dauer at second base in the midst of a blowout and got a pair of at-bats, singling in the second for his first hit. Two days later he got his first start and pounded the Red Sox with two doubles and a single in five at-bats. He scored twice and drove in a run in the 15-1 laugher over Boston. In 11 games as a rookie, he hit .412 (7-for-17) with 3 doubles and a pair of RBI.

The following February, the Birds dealt Rodriguez to the Padres for third baseman Fritzie Connally. Vic soon became accustomed to AAA, spending time with affiliates of the Padres, Cardinals, Twins, Phillies,  Marlins, and Red Sox over the next 11 seasons. The only time he reappeared in the big leagues was July of 1989 - nearly 5 full seasons past his brief stint with the Orioles. He collected 5 hits in 11 at-bats with Minnesota (.455), including another couple of doubles. So despite the fact that he hit .295 over the course of 19 minor league seasons, Vic got just 17 games of major league experience. At least he made the most of it; there are very few people who can say that they had a .429 batting average and .697 slugging percentage as a big leaguer.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mark Williamson, 1988 Fleer #574

I summon Mark Williamson from the Orioles' bullpen to be the ultimate slump buster. Sure, the Birds have lost six in a row to tumble below .500, that familiar and unwelcome status quo. But when Williamson took the mound on April 29, 1988, the O's were 0-21 and playing for their second manager of the young season. He was making only the fourth start of his career that day in Chicago. Mark and all of his teammates took out their frustrations over their own record-setting futility on the White Sox. The Baltimore righthander held the home team to three hits in six shutout innings in the longest scoreless appearance of his career. The Oriole batters provided seven runs of support, with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Eddie Murray each hitting a home run. Ripken went 4-for-5 and also had a double and scored three runs. Dave Schmidt earned a less traditional save with three one-hit innings of relief. The Birds saddled White Sox rookie Jack McDowell with the second loss of his career and season and gained a half-game on idle division leader Cleveland. At day's end, the Orioles were 15.5 games out of first place with less than a month of the season having passed.

So in that context, busting up a little six-game skid should be a piece of cake.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Tim Stoddard, 1980 Topps #314

Earlier today, Andy at Baseball Reference wrote a blog post talking about pitchers who earned holds, saves, or wins without officially facing a batter. This happens when an inherited runner is picked off or otherwise caught stealing. Using a query he ran for the post, I found all of the Orioles pitchers who have recorded an out without having faced a batter. There are twelve instances of this, but seven came in Orioles losses, and those are less fun to discuss. Let's examine the rest, shall we?

-On September 4, 1978, Scott McGregor allowed three runs to the Red Sox before getting an out, thanks to a Jim Rice home run. But he buckled down and retired the next 23 batters in a row and 26 of 27. With the O's rallying for five runs of their own, it looked like Scottie was going to get an improable complete game victory. However, Earl Weaver gave him the hook when Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk produced back-to-back singles with two outs in the ninth. "Fullpack" Don Stanhouse came in to face Dwight Evans, who represented the go-ahead run. The erratic reliever earned a save without even making the hometown fans sweat much, picking off Fisk to close out an odd game.

-Two years later (September 21, 1980), the Birds hosted the Blue Jays in a pitchers' duel between Jim Clancy and Mike Flanagan. Eddie Murray and John Lowenstein accounted for the Oriole scoring with consecutive RBI singles in the third inning, and Toronto's lone run came via a John Mayberry home run in the fourth. Tippy Martinez replaced Flanny in the ninth and got two outs before Mayberry doubled. The wheels were turning, as Weaver summoned big righty Tim Stoddard to face the righthanded Bob Bailor. Jays skipper Bobby Mattick sent up Steve Braun to bat from the left side, and also replaced Mayberry with rookie pinch runner Lloyd Moseby. After all of that strategy, Rick Dempsey rendered everything moot by catching Moseby off of second base. Kiko Garcia tagged the runner out, and the O's won 2-1. Incidentally, Stoddard had another one-out, no-batter performance in 1981 against the Jays, but it came in a losing cause.

-Jumping ahead to 1997, Scott Erickson walked a tightrope in his May 21 home start against the Tigers. He allowed four hits and five walks in seven and two-thirds innings, but induced four double plays with his sinker. A two-run homer by Rafael Palmeiro gave him an early lead, but Detroit starter Justin Thompson kept the Birds off the board thereafter. So when Erickson gave up a single, a walk, and a pair of stolen bases in the eighth inning, Davey Johnson signaled for the ancient lefty Jesse Orosco to secure the third out. Brian Hunter took his lead off of third base and Damion Easley did likewise at first, but Orosco spun off of the rubber and picked Easley off of first to earn a hold. Randy Myers came on for the ninth and picked up the save: 2-0 final.

-April 28, 2001: The Orioles visit the Twins. This was during that bizarre "Chuck McElroy as a starter" era of Baltimore baseball. He held his own on this day, with a Tom Prince solo home run plating the only run against him. A fifth-inning two-run homer by Brook Fordyce gave Chuck a scant lead. Mike Hargrove pulled him with two outs in the sixth; Corey Koskie stood on first following a single. Rookie reliever Chad Paronto pitched to pinch hitter Jacque Jones, but Koskie took off for second and was thrown out by Fordyce. A piece-of-cake hold for Paronto. Buddy Groom held the fort in the seventh, and Mike Trombley earned the save with one run allowed over the final two innings (the O's tacked on three insurance runs in the ninth), fixing the final score at 5-2.

-Finally we come to the only no-batter win in Oriole history. It was May 1, 2003, and the Birds were playing a doubleheader in Detroit. Rodrigo Lopez was chased after retiring only three of the seven batters he faced, but Pat Hentgen bailed the team out with five and two-thirds innings of relief. When the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning with a two-out single by Omar Infante, Mike Hargrove called for B. J. Ryan. The southpaw caught Infante leaning too early and picked him off, with ex-Tiger Deivi Cruz applying the tag at second base. The O's immediately pieced together three runs of their own to take the lead, making Ryan the pitcher of record. Buddy Groom and Jorge Julio each provided a shutout inning to lock in the 5-2 win for Baltimore.

So there you go. Pitching is pretty easy when you don't have to get any batters out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tippy Martinez, 1981 Donruss #354

It always seemed like it would be hard to take an unflattering picture of Tippy Martinez, but here we stand. When you take a look at the cards that Donruss churned out in their inaugural 1981 set, it's hard to believe that they ever had a second set. The drab borders and Local-Eyewitness-News fonts don't seem like the kinds of things that would grab the imaginations of young collectors. The photos are washed-out, blurry, and/or yellowed as if they were taken by your nearsighted Aunt Melba with her Polaroid.

The Orioles are clinging to a shortening lead against the Yankees in the late innings. I wish they could turn the ball over to Tippy Martinez, who had 9 wins, 17 saves, and 66 appearances against New York in his career, his highest totals against any team. His 3.13 ERA vs. the Bronx Bombers was lower than his overall mark of 3.45. Having debuted in the major leagues with the Yankees, Tippy certainly wasn't intimidated by the guys in pinstripes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scott Erickson, 1997 Upper Deck #307

As I often do when I'm too lazy to think of a topic of my own, I'm going to spin off from Night Owl's blog. In a recent post, he declared his affinity for cards that depict pitchers batting. I second that motion; with the Orioles operating under the auspices of the designated hitter rule save for the occasional road interleague series, these oddball pictures are a rare treat for me. My absolute favorite is this Dennis Martinez card from 1982 Fleer, which is the even-rarer posed pitcher-as-batter. But seeing the hulking 6'4" Scott Erickson looking so ill at ease trying to lay down a bunt in a spring training game is almost as entertaining. That's some flat-footed stance he's got. The caption, "Practices his batting eye for interleague play in 1997", is notable for its awkwardness. If he was standing in a regular stance with the bat on his shoulder, I'd go along with the premise. But it doesn't quite match up.

I'm sure you're dying to know how Scott Erickson handled the bat in his career. He came to the plate 44 times in his career, which includes 17 plate appearances with the Mets and Dodgers at the tail end. He collected 4 hits in 35 at-bats, walked 4 times, and laid down 5 successful sacrifice bunts. That's an average of .114 with a .205 on-base percentage. He peaked with the O's in 2000, batting .400 (2-for-5) and collecting his only extra-base hit and RBI with a double off of Dave Coggin of the Phillies. So he was no Don Newcombe, but he wasn't Daniel Cabrera either.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oscar Salazar, 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #462

We're almost halfway through April, and I've held to my promise to not buy 2011 Topps products. But when I had to leave my house on a lazy Sunday just to drive to Walmart and pick up one dinky prescription, I couldn't help but wander over to the trading cards. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a 40% blaster box of 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee. I've been buying packs of this quirky, no-frills set for two years now, and I still hadn't completed even half of the 600-card base set, so I indulged a little.

I was pretty satisfied with the results. I got 44 base cards that I needed (finally pushing me over 300), as well as a few nifty inserts. I even got three Orioles that I didn't have yet: Felix Pie, a Melvin Mora Highlights and Milestones insert, and of course this sublime Oscar Salazar card. That's just a brazen assault of orange, threatening to engulf the queasy-looking journeyman. I'm reasonably sure that this photo was taken on Photo Day during spring training in 2008, back when Oscar was lowly roster filler with an offensive lineman's uniform number. I'm just delighted that he has a card in this set, since the only other card he had while with the O's was likely this one.

If you're curious, Salazar is not currently in the majors after hitting .237 in 85 games as a reserve for the Padres in 2010.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Joe Orsulak, 1993 Upper Deck #260

Reasons Why 1993 Upper Deck Is The Daddy Mack, Or Maybe Just The Most Visually Arresting Set Ever:

a) This card

2) Seriously, how great is that photo?

Even the neon gradient stripe with gold script writing gives just the right touch. It's unmistakably 1990s and yet it aged well. I certainly hope that Joe O caught the ball, but the great thing is that I can always play it out that way in my head.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Charlie Maxwell, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #283

Charlie Maxwell is one of three players in Orioles history who went by "Charlie". The others were 1950s pitcher Charlie Beamon and late 1990s backup catcher Charlie Greene. There's also Charley Lau, who spelled it a bit differently. In hindsight, manager Paul Richards missed the boat with Maxwell. The O's acquired him from the Red Sox in December 1954 after an eight-year run in the Boston organization. He'd put up strong numbers in the minors (.310, 131 HR total), but hadn't been able to break through in a few brief major league trials. The outfielder made the Opening Day roster but received only four pinch-hit appearances in a month (0-for-4) before the Orioles sold his contract to Detroit. In limited duty with the Tigers, he batted .266 for the remainder of 1955. The following season he finally put it all together, making the American League All-Star squad and ranking in the top ten in several categories, including average (.326), on-base percentage (.414), slugging (.534), runs scored (96), and home runs (28). He repeated as an All-Star in 1957 and remained a productive hitter for the Tigers and White Sox into his mid-30s. He peaked as a power hitter with 31 home runs and 95 RBI in 1959, both of which would have easily led all Orioles hitters that season.

So, why all the Charlie talk? After a couple years of being worn down by my sister and other cat-loving friends, I finally broke down and adopted a cat yesterday. His name is Charlie, and we found each other at the Maryland SPCA out on Falls Road in Hampden. He had turned up in somebody's yard down on Ostend Street near M&T Bank Stadium late last month. When nobody claimed him, he was taken to the shelter two Fridays ago. He's three years old and perfectly healthy, aside from an upper respiratory infection that has given him the sneezes. He also adapted to his new home very quickly, and seems kind of quiet and mild-mannered. Needless to say, he has been a great fit for a first-time pet owner such as myself. I had assumed that I would want to rename whichever cat I adopted, but once I met Charlie, his name just seemed to suit him somehow. He's been sitting here watching baseball with me for the past few hours, though I suspect he's not paying close attention.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jose Mesa, 1992 Topps #310

Okay, here's a question for you longtime Oriole fans. Was Jose Mesa really this ugly? By the time I became a fan, "Joe Table" was a Cleveland Indian, and thankfully he had dropped the Stoney Jackson look somewhere along the way. I also didn't remember him being quite so doughy, but maybe this photo is just taken at a bad angle. All I know is that I wouldn't exactly be filled with confidence if a guy took the mound for my team looking like that. He's a far cry from Al Hrabosky when it comes to projecting an intimidating figure.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Frank Robinson, 1971 Topps #640

Today marks the 36th anniversary of a momentous day in both baseball history and the life of Frank Robinson. On April 8, 1975, the future Hall of Famer became the first black manager in MLB history when his Indians opened their season at home against the Yankees. Jackie Robinson's widow Rachel threw out the ceremonial first pitch in front of a crowd of 56,715. Frank was still on the active roster as a player, so he penciled himself into the starting lineup as the designated hitter, batting second behind Oscar Gamble. The 39-year-old brought the Cleveland fans to their feet by taking Doc Medich deep in the first inning for his 575th career home run. It was also his eighth career Opening Day homer, a record. With one swing of the bat, the Tribe led 1-0.

In the following half-inning, the Yankees jumped on Indians starter Gaylord Perry for three runs on four hits, with Chris Chambliss' two-run double serving as the big blow. But the wily veteran clamped down and shut out the visitors over the final seven innings, and the Cleveland batters battled back with a big contribution from another prominent former Oriole. 33-year-old Boog Powell, acquired from the O's in a trade two months earlier, slugged a solo home run in the fourth inning (#304 of his career) to tie the game at 3-3. Two innings later, he drove in George Hendrick with a double to put the Indians on top 4-3. Boog eventually scored on a Jack Brohamer single to make it 5-3, and that would be the final. Frank Robinson began his managerial career with an exciting win.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sidney Ponson, 2002 Topps Heritage #237

I had the pleasure of being present for the Orioles' first loss of the season last night, as Justin Verlander mostly chewed up our hitters and spit them back out. Derrek Lee did hit his first home run in an O's uniform, so there was briefly something to cheer. No reason to panic after one lackluster game, although it felt kind of lousy to be sitting in an empty section of the upper deck when the team was riding a four-game winning streak and playing only their second home game of the year. I guess they've still got a little work to do to win back most of Charm City.

Even though Brad Bergesen took his lumps last night, and Chris Tillman was just as shaky tonight, the Oriole pitching staff is still light years away from the dark days of the last decade. This club is equipped with several young, affordable, talented young moundsmen, and national baseball writers and scouts agree. This isn't just Syd Thrift or Jim Duquette blowing smoke.

Earlier this week I came across a blog post by William Tasker of The Flagrant Fan that sought to list the Seven Worst Starting Pitchers Ever. Before I even read about the criteria (200 career starts, an ERA+ of 90 or less, an ERA of at least 4.90), I expected to see a few familiar names, but the results were still a bit startling. Four of the not-so-magnificent seven spent some time in Baltimore, with the notorious Sir Sidney Ponson weighing in at number seven with his 91-113 W-L record, 5.03 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and 90 ERA+. The other black and orange shlubs:

#6 was Jason Johnson, whose five years here felt like ten. He actually had a couple decent seasons in Baltimore, but when he was bad he was really bad. Take his 2000 season, when he went 1-10 with a 7.02 ERA. He hung around the majors for 11 years, chalking up a staggering 56-100 record with a 4.99 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 89 ERA+.

#3 was Adam Eaton, who employed a scorched-earth approach to his eight starts for the Orioles in 2009. He won two of them, which tells you all you need to know about the usefulness of wins as a statistic. The brutal details: 2-5, 8.56 ERA (that's 39 ER in 41 IP), 1.83 WHIP, 54 ERA+. By comparison, his overall stats of 71-68, 4.94 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 84 ERA+ look downright reasonable. Of course, he had the good fortune of pitching in San Diego for much of his career. Imagine the horror otherwise.

At #2 we have Jimmy Haynes, a once-touted prospect who the Birds had the good sense to deal when he still had some value. After tantalizing fans with a 2.25 ERA and a pair of wins in a four-game cup of coffee in September 1995, he was dreadful in 26 games in 1996. How dreadful? How about 122 hits and 58 walks in 89 innings (2.02 WHIP)? 82 earned runs in 89 innings (8.29 ERA, 60 ERA+)? The following June he was traded to the Athletics for DH Geronimo Berroa, who hit .260 with 10 home runs in half a season with the O's. Haynes stuck around for parts of 10 seasons, posting a 63-89 record (which includes a 15-10 mark with the 2002 Reds), 5.37 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, and 83 ERA+.

Woof. Let's keep those guys and all of their meatballing brethren in the rear view, hmm?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dan Ford, 1983 Topps #683

Yesterday was not only the Orioles' home opener, it was also the 28th anniversary of my first home opener...not that I was in attendance at Memorial Stadium that day. But there's a chance it was on the TV or radio at our old rowhome in Middlesex. It wasn't a pretty game by any definition. The O's lost to the Royals 7-2 in a sloppy game that featured two errors by each team. Kansas City hit three home runs (Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens, and George Brett); Baltimore hit into three double plays. Dan Ford, of all people, was the only member of the Birds with more than one hit. He went 2-for-4 with a double and scored both Oriole runs, but also muffed a fly ball to plate the first Royals run. Of course, the 1983 season ended on a much happier note, with the Orioles hoisting their third World Series trophy. I didn't know what was going on, but my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were all happy. Every one of them rooted for the O's; some day, I would too.

I'm doing this bit of navel gazing tonight after reading a great blog post by Matt Taylor of Roar from 34. Yesterday Matt watched the home opener in his living room with his newborn son and reflected on the lessons from the game that he would want to share with his child. As you might expect, these lessons are about being not only a good fan, but also a good person. I love the turn of phrase in his opening sentence: "Orioles baseball has been a conversation between generations in my family". The same is true for me, and I suspect it's the case for many of you. Let's keep the conversation going, whether the subject is Dan Ford or Brooks Robinson or Zach Britton.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Brian Roberts, 2008 Topps Triple Threads Emerald #8

As I drove home from work this afternoon, I listened to the latter half of the Orioles' 5-1 win on WBAL. By some unfortunate coincidence, I tuned in just seconds after Brian Roberts' second three-run home run of the season cleared the right-center field fence. But I did get to hear Koji Uehara breeze through a 1-2-3 ninth inning to make the team's fourth straight win official. In case you're wondering, the O's haven't been 4-0 since 1997, which happens to be the last time they won the American League East. Hell, it was the last time they had a winning record, period. I know, small sample sizes, long season, yadda yadda. As radio announcer Joe Angel said after the final out today, "Yeah, I know it's early, but this sure is a lot of fun.".

The Orioles got their fourth win of 2010 on April 27, some 20 games into the season. They were already 11 games out of first place. So I - we - can be excused for soaking it up now, for as long as it continues. 17 runs scored and 4 allowed. A healthy-looking Brian Roberts (knock wood) leading the American League in runs batted in. Camden Yards rocking and filled to capacity on an 80-degree day after a solid week of unseasonably cold temperatures. Earl Weaver ringing in the home portion of the schedule by tossing out the first pitch to Buck Showalter.

I could learn to enjoy this.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Nick Markakis, 2009 Upper Deck SPX #52

Sometimes it seems hard to believe, but Nick Markakis is in his sixth season with the Orioles. Despite a career average of .297 and an on-base percentage of .368, to say nothing of four straight years of 40-plus doubles, he has never been selected to an All-Star Game. He's also never won a Gold Glove, which is less surprising given the tendency to reward only center fielders with that honor. Of course, if he makes a few more plays like the game-winner he pulled off last night, it's going to be a lot harder to ignore him. If you somehow missed that play, or just want to relive it, go here and skip to 7:48. I love Gary Thorne's call.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jeremy Guthrie, 2007 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH142

Now that's the way to start the season. I drove downtown yesterday evening, parked right across the street from Oriole Park, and walked over to Pickles Pub to meet up with several moderators and members of Camden Chat. The bar was packed and most of the patrons were decked out in orange and black. I wore my game-used Lou Montanez spring training jersey, with an orange Buck Showalter tee underneath for good luck. The excitement was palpable, and watching the Red Sox blow a late lead to the Rangers on ESPN provided a proper kick-off to the festivities.

There were loud cheers and high-fives when the Orioles reached Rays ace David Price for four runs, two coming on a drive to the fence by Brian Roberts that Johnny Damon hilariously turned into a triple. There were bellows of "LUUUKKKKEEEE" with every fly ball that Luke Scott tentatively tracked down in left field. But best of all, there was Jeremy Guthrie pitching one of his finest games, holding Tampa Bay to three hits and a walk while striking out six in eight shutout innings. He retired 13 batters in a row at one point, and escaped his only true jam by picking B. J. Upton off of second base in the eighth (though he did benefit from the third base umpire failing to call J. J. Hardy for interference when he collided with Upton). Jim Johnson finished the game, buckling down after a Ben Zobrist home run to strike out a pair of batters and induce a Manny Ramirez ground out. The O's began their 2011 campaign with a win in a neat two hours and eight minutes, and they're only 99 wins away from the postseason.

Okay, my tongue might be planted firmly in cheek, but you never know.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Jim Palmer, 1974 Topps #40

A few days ago the Commish (Bob) asked if the Orioles had ever opened the season on a Friday. It certainly didn't seem like the usual practice to me, so I decided to do a little digging. It turns out that they've played six Opening Day games on Fridays, but none in my lifetime:

April 6, 1973: The Orioles beat the Brewers 10-0 in Baltimore. Dave McNally three-hit the Brew Crew while striking out only one! Don Baylor (4-4, 3 RBI) fell a single short of the cycle and Brooks Robinson homered twice and drove in four.

April 5, 1974: The O's topped the Tigers 3-2 in Baltimore. Jim Palmer pitched around 11 base runners and Grant Jackson struck out Jim Northrup with the bases loaded to earn the save. Baylor was the hero again, driving in the winning run in the top of the ninth with a single off of Mickey Lolich.

April 9, 1976: In a matchup of Hall of Fame pitchers, Palmer and the Birds squeaked past Fergie Jenkins and the Red Sox 1-0 in Memorial Stadium. A Bobby Grich single and a Fred Lynn throwing error allowed the only run to score. Dyar Miller retired Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Carlton Fisk in order in the ninth inning to record an impressive save.

April 7, 1978: The Orioles proved fallible in Friday openers, as they traveled to Milwaukee and got pounded 11-3. Mike Flanagan and Tim Stoddard were both hit hard, and errors by Lee May and Mark Belanger led to runs. It took a three-run gasp by the O's bats in the ninth to avoid a shutout. Eddie Murray homered.

April 6, 1979: What do you know? Palmer wins again, 5-3 over the visiting White Sox. This time he went the distance, with a two-run single by Rich Dauer lending a helping hand. The Birds clawed for their runs, as a Ken Singleton double provided the only extra-base hit.

April 10, 1981: Orioles 5, Royals 3. Reigning Cy Young Steve Stone picks up the W in what would be his final season, but allows eight hits (including two home runs) and two walks and has to be pulled after five innings. Sammy Stewart does the heavy lifting, tossing four innings of shutout relief for the save. Singleton and Rick Dempsey contribute solo home runs, and the host O's take the lead for good on consecutive bases-loaded walks by Murray and Doug DeCinces in the fifth inning.

So there you have it. The Birds are 5-1 in Friday openers, though they did lose their only previous Friday opener on the road. Jim Palmer notched three of his team-record five Opening Day wins in these situations. If you're worried about an April 1 game being a bad omen, I can tell you that the O's have had two games that counted on that date and both were blowout wins: 10-1 over the Royals in 1998 and 10-3 over the Yankees in the 2002 opener. Of course, the team finished both of those seasons with losing records, so the outlook is hazy for 2011. What say we just win tonight and worry about the meaning of it all later?