Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jack Cust, 2004 Topps Total Silver #326

It must be an off-day if Jack Cust is the best I can muster. At age 33, the Three True Outcomes slugger is back in the minors, plying his trade for the Yankees' AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club. He's still doing unmistakably Jack Cust-type things. There's the batting line of .281/.429/.494 with 9 homers and 29 RBI. Through 47 games, he's walked 41 times and struck out 64. So if Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez pulls a hamstring, ol' Jack the Hack could be swinging from the heels in the Bronx. I'd make light of that situation, but Miguel Tejada, Joel Pineiro, J.C. Romero, and Lew Ford are all lurking at Norfolk in the O's organization.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1998 Fleer Sports Illustrated #105

Thirty years ago today, Earl Weaver wrote Cal Ripken, Jr.'s name into the Orioles starting lineup at third base. He batted eighth, one spot ahead of starting shortstop Lenn Sakata, who is being mentioned on consecutive days for the first time ever in the history of this blog. The next time an O's manager filled out a lineup card without Cal's name on it, it was September 30, 1998 and the skipper was Weaver's ex-pitching coach Ray Miller; Earl had been retired for a dozen years.

It was a Sunday afternoon game in Baltimore, and the sixth-place Orioles were hosting the last-place Blue Jays. So clearly it wasn't the sort of game you would expect to be noteworthy. Rookie Jim Gott was making his fourth career start for the visitors, facing living legend Jim Palmer. The Birds' righthander took the mound for his 482nd career start, but it was not one to remember fondly. The Jays pieced together two first-inning runs on three hits, but the veteran kept them at bay for the rest of the game. In the ninth, Toronto loaded the bases with one out. Palmer got Alfredo Griffin to hit a grounder to Sakata, but the shortstop booted the potential inning-ending double play and a run scored. Damaso Garcia followed with a two-run single to chase 'Cakes from the game. Tippy Martinez retired the next two batters, but another run scored to put the game out of reach at 6-0. Only four of the six runs charged to Palmer were earned, but you're not going to win too many games while allowing nine hits and five walks.

Of course, the silence of the O's bats probably made the Jays' offensive totals moot. Gott held the Baltimore offense to one hit in six-plus innings, a Rick Dempsey single in the fifth. He was effectively wild, mixing four walks with six strikeouts and fanning the side in the second inning. Roy Lee Jackson earned the type of save that you don't see in 2012, delivering three perfect innings in relief to secure Gott's first big league win. The Birds' rookie third baseman went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk and recorded two putouts and one assist. He finished the day with a season batting line of .235/.263/.379, 3 home runs, 20 RBI, and a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 5-to-19. But Weaver stuck by the 21-year-old, and he figured things out and captured the American League Rookie of the Year award with final season stats of .264/.317/.475, 28 home runs, and 93 RBI. There was also a midseason move to shortstop that seemed to work out pretty well.

A really neat postscript to this game: When Cal Ripken, Jr. caught and passed Lou Gehrig in September of 1995 by playing in his 2,130th and 2,131st consecutive games, Jim Gott had already pitched his final career game. He was under contract with the Pirates but on the disabled list, and he made an appearance in Baltimore to present the game ball from May 30, 1982 to Cal. That's a pretty selfless act, considering the personal significance that the game (and the ball) must have had to Gott.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lenn Sakata, 1983 Topps #319

It's been a rough week and change for the Orioles. They've lost seven of nine, including their first four-game losing streak of the season (still ongoing). The hitters are scuffling, the starting pitchers are inconsistent, and the bullpen isn't untouchable any more. The O's are still clinging to a first-place tie in the East, but all five teams in the division are within five games of one another. There's little margin for error.

What the Birds need now is a good luck charm. Who better than the 3'7" pride of Honolulu, Lenn Sakata? If this heroic utility infielder with his bouncy tufts of black hair and his colossal shop-teacher glasses can't raise the spirits of the nicked-up Orioles, then I am all out of ideas. (Note: I may be all out of ideas. We'll know soon enough.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Matt Nokes, 1995 Pinnacle #417

Here's another need fulfilled, and all that I had to do was put it on my most-wanted list, the list of nine you see on the left side of this page. (Note to self: Update most-wanted list. Maybe tomorrow.) Thanks as always to Ed, who spends almost as much time working on my collection as I do.

As far as I know, this is the only card depicting former Tigers and Yankees catcher Matt Nokes in an Orioles uniform. There's a good reason for that. After the 1994 season, the O's parted ways with backup catcher Jeff Tackett. Perhaps looking for more offense off of the bench, the team inked Nokes to a modest free-agent deal. The 31-year-old was a few years removed from his days as a regular, but had just batted .291 and slugged .595 in 28 games in New York the previous season. So it looked like he still had the power stroke that allowed him to hit 32 home runs as a rookie back in 1987. Sadly, it seemed as though Matt had left his offensive talents behind during the players' strike. He had just 6 hits in 49 at-bats as Chris Hoiles' caddy, putting up a paltry batting line of .122/.185/.265 with a pair of home runs. The Orioles released him in mid-June, and he was so frustrated by his brief experience in Baltimore that he bashed manager Phil Regan and his coaching staff on the way out the door. I still remember him telling reporters that he felt as though he'd been "paroled", and claiming that the decision-makers couldn't even settle on which hat the team would wear from day to day (this was when the team first introduced the orange-billed cap and the ill-fated gray cap with black bill). Naturally it came across as sour grapes, since the source was an aging player who had failed to hit his weight. Certainly that was the impression left on this adolescent fan.

It took Nokes a full month to catch on with another team, but the Rockies gave him a look in July. A thumb injury limited him to 10 games in Colorado, and he didn't do much more than he had in Charm City: 2-for-11 with a walk. That proved to be the end of his major league career, but oddly enough Matt resurfaced in independent ball with the St. Paul Saints in the late 1990s, slugging 24 home runs in 141 games over a couple seasons. He also played for the Schaumburg Flyers and the Joliet Jackhammers in 2001 and 2002 before hanging up his spikes once and for all. Presumably the clubs of the Northern League weren't paralyzed by sartorial dilemmas like the 1995 Orioles were.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brady Anderson, 1997 Pinnacle Xpress #38

Watch out, tiny Brady Anderson on the right! There's a much bigger Brady Anderson on the left side of the card. He's headed straight for you, and he looks pissed off. I'm not sure that your tiny (albeit proportional to your body) bat will be enough to defend you.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Adam Jones, 2008 Topps Chrome #194

Time really does fly. This is the fifth year that I've been plunking away on this blog, and it is also Adam Jones' fifth season with the Orioles. Now it looks like we'll both be sticking around for a while longer. News broke today that the O's have finalized a 6-year, $85.5 million contract extension with Adam that will keep him in Baltimore through 2018. It may seem as though the team is buying high, as the 26-year-old is playing well above his career averages with a .310/.353/.594 line entering today's game. He also has 14 home runs and 31 RBI through 46 games. But at an average of $14.25 million per year, it's a relatively fair deal for player and team. Besides, they're paying for what should be Jones' prime years. I'm just glad that one of the Birds' top players and most vocal leaders is interested in making Baltimore his home.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Paul Richards, 1961 Topps #131

The Orioles are 28-17. I've been rolling that number around in my mind for two days, because some joker scheduled a 12:35 PM game for Wednesday followed by an off-day on Thursday, so I've had plenty of time to think. The O's landed upon their first day of rest in three weeks on a slight down note, dropping two of three to the Red Sox following a series-ending loss to the Nationals. But just as I'm doing my best not to plot out playoff scenarios and trade targets for the pennant race, I'm also trying not to panic every time the Birds hit a little speed bump. The simple fact is that my favorite team, the one that hasn't broken even over a full season for half of my lifetime, has cleared the first quarter of 2012 as the leader in the American League East. The great collapse of 2005 has added an extra undercurrent of pessimism to the conversation, but that was totally different. That team was patched together with veterans nearing their expiration dates (Rafael Palmeiro, Javy Lopez, Sammy Sosa, B.J. Surhoff) and bad pitchers getting by on smoke and mirrors (Sidney Ponson, Daniel Cabrera, Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen...and if you don't think I'm being fair to Chen, recall that he fell off the face of the earth from 2006-2010). It's also easy to overestimate the impact of a manager on a baseball team, but I'll take Buck Showalter over the Mazzilli-Perlozzo tag team any day, thanks. Besides, that team was 29-16 after 45 games, not 28-17. So you see, it's apples and oranges.

Anyway, I did a little hunting to find out whether the Orioles had ever won exactly 28 out of their first 45 games before, and how they fared for the duration of those seasons. On four previous occasions, the Birds were right where they are today. The results at season's end for those four clubs were a mixed bag, but there are reasons for hope.

The most recent 28-17 O's team was the 1986 edition, but that was only good enough for third place, 1.5 games behind the Red Sox. This one isn't that encouraging, as they ultimately finished last in the A.L. East at 73-89; it was their first losing season since an injury-plagued 1967 campaign. Earl Weaver retired at year's end for the second and final time. The farm system had dried up after Cal Ripken's ascent to stardom, and the Orioles were plugging too many holes with older free agents like Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn. The pitching staff was on the wrong side of mediocre, with Mike Boddicker, Scott McGregor, and Mike Flanagan all having disappointing years and Dennis Martinez finally earning a ticket out of town. The '86 team kept their heads above water into mid-August; a 12-2 rout of the Indians on August 14 boosted them to third place at 62-53, 5.5 games behind Boston and 1.5 back of the Yankees. The next day they lost and headed into a tailspin that saw them finish up with an 11-36 record in the season's final month and a half. Let's not dwell on this one.

In 1981, the "Oriole Way" was still getting the job done. Two years removed from their last World Series appearance and two years away from the next, this 28-17 club was up a game and a half on the Brewers. They had some ups and downs and found themselves two games out of first place on June 11, when the players went on strike and stayed away for two months. Ultimately, play resumed in August with a split-season format that put a wrench in the Birds' postseason hopes. The Yankees went to the "Division Series" (a best-of-five format that predated the wild card by 14 years) as first-half champions, and the Brewers took the second half East crown with a 31-22 record. Post-strike, the O's were 28-23, two games behind Milwaukee and a half game back of Boston and Detroit. The Brewers had the best overall record at 62-47, but the Orioles were only a game worse at 59-46. If the top two finishers in aggregate were allowed into the playoffs, it would've been Baltimore duking it out with the Brew Crew. Stupid labor relations.

You'll like this one: the Orioles were also 28-17 in 1966, one game off the pace of the front-running Indians. After enduring a losing May (14-16), the O's turned on the afterburners with a 25-8 June and a 19-10 July. They breezed to 97 wins and captured the American League pennant before shutting down the Dodgers for Charm City's first-ever World Series triumph. From July 17 to the end of the regular season, the Birds' first-place margin was never less than 8 games.

The first of Baltimore's 28-17 teams was Paul Richards' 1960 group, and they most closely parallel the 2012 edition. The O's had yet to post a winning record in their first six seasons after moving from St. Louis; when you include the misadventures of the Browns, the franchise hadn't been a contender since the end of World War II. Paul Richards had come aboard as manager in 1955 and had stockpiled younger talents and veteran role players, but the Birds didn't get over the hump until 1960. They spent 51 total days in first place, though a mid-September four-game series sweep by the Yankees swung the pennant to New York. Still, Baltimore finished in second place at 89-65. First baseman Jim Gentile, rescued from the deep Dodgers farm system, led the offense with a .903 OPS and 98 RBI, foreshadowing his monster effort in 1961. 22-year-old shortstop Ronnie Hansen won the Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of his team-leading 22 home runs. Brooks Robinson batted .294 and drove in 88 runs, and I'm going to guess that he was pretty spiffy at third base as well. A half-dozen pitchers started at least 18 games each, and only 35-year-old Hal Brown was above the age of 22. None of those aforementioned starters posted an ERA higher than 3.74. Though those 1960 Orioles didn't finish the job, they made it clear that they wouldn't be doormats any longer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Armando Benitez, 1998 Topps Finest #267

Armando Benitez will be 40 in November, and he's not ready to hang up his spikes yet. The former Orioles closer just signed with the independent Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks, seeking to reboot his career. Benitez spent parts of 15 seasons in the big leagues, but hasn't been around since an eight-game stint with the Blue Jays in 2008. He hasn't actually performed well since 2006, when he had a 3.51 ERA and 17 saves for the Giants. But who are we to tell him to give it a rest? My only advice for the hitters of the Atlantic League is this: if Armando gives up a home run and you're the next man up, get ready to duck. Um, no pun intended.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1997 Donruss Studio #51

You know, baseball players in the 1990s had to put up with a lot of photo shoots featuring a lot of tedious, extraneous crap. Can you imagine having the chutzpah to ask Cal Ripken, Jr., baseball's Iron Man, all-time leading home run hitter among shortstops, and future Hall of Famer, "Hey, can you hold this baseball like it's an apple?". Anonymous photographer, you're just lucky that Cal isn't the violent type, or you'd be digesting that baseball.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Brian Roberts, 2004 Upper Deck Vintage #115

Well, this was unexpected. Today Brian Roberts told reporters that he is ready to begin a rehab assignment in the minor leagues, and will be reporting to the AA Bowie Baysox tomorrow. There have been indications that he's been making steady progress in his recovery from concussion symptoms over the past few months. Gradually Brian has been resuming tasks that he once took for granted: traveling with the team on road trips, sitting in the dugout amidst the bright lights and loud noises of a full baseball game, hitting off of tees, fielding ground balls, hitting against live pitching, sliding on the basepaths. The fact remains that he has not played in an actual game in 53 full weeks. At age 34, he's bound to be rusty after such a long layoff, and there's always the unfortunate potential for a setback. But Roberts is already closer to returning than I ever thought he would be. The first quarter of the 2012 season has been full of pleasant surprises for O's fans. If Brian Roberts makes a positive contribution to this year's team, it might be time to reach for that sugary orange drink.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Melvin Mora, 2005 Donruss Diamond Kings #34

I hope no one missed me too terribly this weekend. If you live in Maryland, the fact that the skies were bluer than the one painted behind Melvin Mora should have comforted you in my absence. I absolutely would have posted on Saturday, but the wireless signal in West Hall (my dormitory for the weekend) was abysmal. Anyhow, here are a few items of interest to me from the past few days. Your mileage may vary, but it's my blog, and occasionally I'll veer off into my personal life so that I don't go mad from all of the baseball talk.

-I successfully completed the 5K Revolutionary Run on Saturday morning. Well...I completed it, anyway. I don't know about the "successfully" part. My time was 25 minutes, 34 seconds. During my brief cross country career in high school, my personal best in a 5K (3.1 miles) was 18:44. My personal worst was 23:34, in my first-ever race. But considering that I hadn't run a single race in more than a decade and that my "training" consisted of two-to-three mile jogs thrice weekly over the past month, I'll chalk it up as a little victory...even if my senior citizen ex-English professor left me in his dust. Dr. Gillin is a machine, folks.

-The Washington College drama alumni performance of "Thirty Plays in Sixty Minutes or Your Guineas Back" was a big success, and I had more fun than I had anticipated. A bunch of my talented compatriots wrote, directed, and performed in a series of short "plays" that were performed in a random order determined by audience request. I came aboard on a few days' notice to replace one of the actors, and it was a thrill performing in front of a capacity crowd in the new Tawes Theatre. I got reacquainted with some of my contemporary drama majors, and got to meet some others who were before and after my time, and I will definitely be on board with next year's Reunion show from the beginning. You can enjoy some context-free photos of Saturday's performance here, though I'll attempt to give some context to my role in things:
-Speaking of photos, I finally remembered to snap a picture of the statue of Bill Nicholson that stands on Cross Street In Chestertown. I'll send you off with a look at the statue and plaque.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Storm Davis, 1992 Stadium Club #728

There are good and bad things about baseball in 2012 as compared to 1992. On the "bad" side of the ledger, most players wear solid colored socks now instead of stirrups. However, you don't see hairstyles quite like Storm Davis' frizzed-out mullet any more either. Call it a push.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Vintage Fridays; Doug DeCinces, 1979 Hostess #54

By the time you read this, I will be in Chestertown for the annual reunion weekend at my alma mater, Washington College. I had to reach for an Orioles connection: Doug DeCinces is currently tied for 230th all-time with 237 career home runs. Two slots below him with 235 homers is Bill "Swish" Nicholson, a 4-time National League All-Star who spent most of his career with the Cubs and Phillies in the 1940s and 1950s. Bill was a Chestertown native and a three-sport athlete at Washington College. His 1952 Topps card, which mentions his collegiate background, is one of the crown jewels of my collection.

I took a different extracurricular path at WaC, opting for theatre over athletics. But I'll get to dabble in both this weekend. On Saturday night I'm pinch hitting for another actor in a series of short scenes that were written by fellow alumni. But the more daunting task for me comes on Saturday morning, when I'll be running in the Revolutionary Run 5K race. I ran cross country and track in high school, but my last race was way back in 1999. I've been "training" for several weeks, but even at 29 I'm a lot creakier than I once was. So wish me luck.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mike Mussina, 1997 Score Team Collection #8

We're not even a quarter of the way through the 2012 season, and I'm already running out of superlatives to describe the odds-defying success of the Orioles. With their 5-3 win over the Royals today, they claimed the best record in baseball at 25-14. Last year, the O's didn't get to 25 wins until June 3. In the disastrous 2010 campaign, their 25th win came on July 4, leaving them with a 25-56 record. Incidentally, I'd nearly blocked out just how putrid the Birds were two years ago. At least it brought Buck Showalter to town.

One of the many encouraging developments this spring has been the team's success on the road. The Orioles are now 13-5 away from Camden Yards, which is no small feat when you consider that they were 30-51 on the road in 2011. What's more, the win today was Baltimore's seventh consecutive road victory. That's the best streak for the O's since they rattled off 10 straight in late 1999. To illustrate how long ago that was, the tenth and final win in that '99 streak was a 1-0 squeaker in Boston on September 24. Mike Mussina struck out eight Red Sox hitters in six innings, and Scott Kamieniecki and Mike Timlin held the line in relief. Bret Saberhagen was saddled with a hard-luck loss due to Derrick May's RBI single in the fourth inning. (Derrick, son of former Oriole Dave May, finished his 10-year career with a 26-game stint in Baltimore.) The only participants in that game who are still active 13 years later are Jerry Hairston, Jr. and Derek Lowe.

Despite those late-season heroics for the 1999 Birds, the team finished in a distant fourth place at 78-84. A few months ago, most pragmatic O's fans would have considered 78 wins a stretch for this year's team. It's starting to look like we could have aimed higher.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kevin Hickey, 1990 Upper Deck #299

I've done more obituary posts than I care to count and it's always a struggle to find something meaningful to say. Kevin Hickey, who made the jump from the softball fields of Chicago to the mound at Comiskey Park, and was a key bullpen contributor for the 1989 Orioles after a five-year absence from the big leagues, is dead at age 56. He had spent the last decade back in his hometown, working as a batting practice pitcher for the White Sox. Kevin was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and on the eve of Chicago's season opener in Arlington, TX, he was found unresponsive in his hotel room. He reportedly slipped into a coma, and just passed away this morning.

Kevin's playing days were already over by the time I started paying attention to the Orioles, but in my near-annual viewing of the team's 1989 "Why Not?" highlights video, he came across as a free spirit who was responsible for helping to keep things loose in the midst of a surprise pennant race. He definitely chipped in on the field as well, turning in scoreless appearances 16 times in his first 18 tries that season and finishing the year with 7 holds, a pair of saves, a couple wins, and a 2.92 ERA. In parts of 6 seasons with the White Sox and O's, Hickey was 9-14 with 17 saves and a 3.91 ERA.

I don't enjoy eulogizing former Orioles, especially when they're relatively young like Kevin Hickey. But I do think it's important to take a moment to remember them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Xavier Avery, 2008 Playoff Contenders #50

Last night was not a good night to be an Orioles fan, as the team looked an awful lot like the losing squads of recent vintage in an 8-5 loss to the Yankees. There were blown leads, a short outing by a starting pitcher, erratic relief pitching, an offensive attack that stalled in the late innings, and embarrassingly inadequate defense. But enough sugar-coating.

The best moments in a dismal, rainy evening came courtesy of rookie Xavier Avery. The 22-year-old outfielder was playing in his second career game, having been plucked from AAA Norfolk to replace the ailing Nolan Reimold and Endy Chavez. Avery batted leadoff and was instrumental in a pair of rallies that resulted in all five O's runs in the game. In the first inning, he doubled against Ivan Nova for his first career hit and scored on J. J. Hardy's single up the middle. After Robert Andino started off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, the newest Oriole tied the game with a triple down the right field line for his first career RBI. Hardy drove him in again, this time with a two-run homer. That gave the Birds a 5-3 lead and it was all downhill from there.

Avery was Baltimore's second-round draft pick in 2008 out of Cedar Grove High School in Georgia. He is the third player selected by the O's in that draft to reach the majors, following first-round pick Brian Matusz and fourth-rounder Kyle Hudson. Speed has always been Xavier's calling card, as he stole 125 bases in 483 minor league games. However, his lack of power and plate discipline (minor league batting line of .266/.328/.363 with 477 strikeouts) seemed to pigeonhole him as a fourth outfielder at best. But "X" got off to a good start at Norfolk this year, batting .273/.373/.469 with 20 walks and 29 strikeouts in 33 games. At his young age, it's possible that he's made some legitimate improvements to his approach as a hitter, and if so, he could be the rare homegrown position player who contributes to the Orioles' big league club. That remains to be seen, but in the meantime I just wanted to show you that I actually had a Xavier Avery card. It's always good to see some kind of end result for a guy featured on a minor league or draft-pick card.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ken Gerhart, 1988 Topps Toys 'R' Us Rookies #11

I feel bad for Ken Gerhart, because he is entrenched in a foggy netherworld of my Orioles fandom. Ken roamed the outfield from 1986 through 1988, meaning that I was 6 years old when he played his last game for the team. I was sitting here trying to find something to write about today, and I realized that I couldn't tell you what the difference is between him and Pete Stanicek. Sure, if I thought about it for a minute, I could tell you that Pete played second base and went to college at Stanford, but that's probably a lucky guess because his last name starts with "Stan". See? This was supposed to be about Ken Gerhart, and I'm rambling about Pete Stanicek. I had to search my archives to see if I'd featured a Gerhart card, and I found one post from 2010 that doesn't even mention him in the body. It's just me wondering what to do with all of my extra "junk wax", a dismissive term that lumps Gerhart in with all of his late 1980s brethern.

So, Ken Gerhart. He played college ball at Middle Tennessee State and was a fifth-round pick of the Orioles in 1982. He hit lots of home runs in the minor leagues, including 31 at Class A Hagerstown in 1983. He also posted a .384 on-base percentage that year, and a .407 mark in 68 games at AA Charlotte in 1985. He got a September call-up to Baltimore in 1986 and hit .232/.267/.304 with a single home run, hit off of Teddy Higuera in a 3-1 O's win. At age 25, he won the team's starting left field job in the spring of 1987 and hit .297 with 3 HR and 8 RBI in April. But his performance tailed off in each successive month, and an errant Doug Jones pitch in an August 12 game against Cleveland broke his wrist and ended his season. His final stats were .243/.286/.440 with 14 homers and 34 RBI. He returned as a regular in 1988, but his personal performance was just as disastrous as the team's overall play: in 103 games he batted .195/.256/.344 with 9 home runs and 23 RBI in 291 plate appearances. He never played in the majors again, spending 1989 in the minors with the Giants and appearing in a handful of games with the Indians' AAA Colorado Springs club in 1990. His final major league batting stats: .221/.271/.384, 24 HR, 64 RBI.

If anyone quizzes me on Ken Gerhart now, I'll be able to muddle my way through it. Of course, if anyone is quizzing me about Ken Gerhart, I might have bigger problems.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Miguel Tejada, 2004 Topps Finest #55

I took my time in addressing Miguel Tejada's return to the Orioles organization, as I was holding out hope that it was some sort of mad fever dream. There was also a lot of conflicting information being bandied about, and it was tough to pin down the details. Anyhow, this is my understanding of the situation:

The O's are allowing Tejada to work out at their Sarasota complex for a week or two, and assuming he doesn't crumble into dust, he'll officially be brought aboard on a minor-league deal. Dan Duquette seems to have reached an agreement with Miggi due to some misguided belief that he could provide an upgrade at third base. I don't agree, obviously. He did some great things in Baltimore, but he'll be 38 on May 25 and his talents seemed to have been just about exhausted last season when he hit .239/.270/.326 with the Giants and was released in early September. That's an awful 69 OPS+ in the National League. I don't remember being dazzled by his defense at the hot corner back when he came back to the Birds in 2010, either. So what gives?

This is a big wait-and-see. He hasn't played so much as an actual minor league game, so he's not close to the big league roster yet. It looks like Bill Hall and/or Steve Tolleson are getting their turn on the Wheel O' Third Base, and I suppose one of them could perform well enough to pull Duquette's finger away from the panic button. But this has the makings of one of the more bizarre personnel moves that I've seen in recent years.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Adam Jones, 2010 Bowman 1992 Throwbacks #BT70

Well, I'm 3-0 so far this season. My sister and cousin talked me into going to the Orioles' series opener against the Rays last night; admittedly it did not take much convincing. The first-ever Orioles-Rays first-place battle in May is a pretty good attraction, and as it turned out the fantastic weather put it over the top. It was 71 degrees, clear, with no humidity and a light breeze. It was Student Night, so my cousin used her college ID to get us cheap seats. Of course, once we were perched in the left field upper reserve, surrounded by loud, painted, and sometimes-inebriated kids ten years my junior, I realized why it had been so long since I'd been to a Friday night game. I'm already in training to be a cranky old man.

The game itself looked like it was going to get ugly. The O's promoted Dana Eveland from AAA Norfolk to make a spot start in place of Jason Hammel, and it would be an understatement to say that he was erratic. He put the Birds in a 3-1 hole, but relied on good fortune and damage control to limit Tampa Bay's scoring. The Rays loaded the bases to open the second inning, but a run-scoring double-play grounder by Sean Rodriguez and a flyout to left field by Jose Molina blunted the rally. Eveland stranded a pair of runners in the third, but faced another crisis in the fourth. In this case a walk and back-to-back singles packed the sacks with one out, and Rays shortstop Elliot Johnson drove a 2-1 offering to deep right field. Nick Markakis got a glove on it, but couldn't make the catch. Matt Joyce scored and Rodriguez broke for home as Markakis rifled a throw to Robert Andino, and the second baseman whirled and fired to Matt Wieters, who was blocking the plate as usual. Wieters made a perfect catch just as the runner leveled him with a forearm to the neck. Matt fell backward, sat in the dirt, and did his new trademark move. He flashed his glove at Rodriguez, showing him the ball, and turned and showed it to the ump. One run in, one runner out. The Orioles' star catcher strolled out to the mound to have a word with his pitcher and to catch his breath. As he returned to the plate, he was rewarded with a standing ovation. Buck Showalter and trainer Richie Bancells came out to check on Wieters, but he was unharmed save for a few scratches. Eveland intentionally walked Ben Zobrist to get a lefty-lefty matchup with Carlos Pena, but plunked Pena in the back with his first pitch to force in another run. Fortunately, B. J. Upton hit a short fly ball to Markakis and Tampa Bay doubled their left-on-base total to six.

At that point, Dana Eveland had thrown 71 pitches. Somehow he regrouped to post a pair of 12-pitch innings, pitching around a Luke Scott double in the fifth and a walk to Zobrist in the sixth. It may have been the ugliest so-called "quality start" in team history: in six innings, he allowed five hits, walked six, only struck out two, and hit two batters. One way or another, he handed things over to the strong O's bullpen with the game still in reach.

The Orioles haven't had the most efficient offense this year, but they've covered for their shortcomings by hitting for power. Adam Jones put the Birds on the board in the second inning with a leadoff home run to left field, already his tenth of the year. Last year, when he set a new career high with 25 homers, he didn't hit #10 until June 18. The O's didn't muster anything else against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson until the bottom of the sixth, when Nick Markakis hit a two-out, full-count solo home run to right-center. It was the sixth time Nick has gone deep, and he's also well ahead of his 2011 pace; he didn't leave the yard for the sixth time until June 25. It's a promising sign for the right fielder, who has seen his slugging percentage drop every year since 2008.

Still, I didn't have high hopes when Hellickson rebounded to retire the next three hitters he faced. But with two outs in the home half of the seventh, but Chris Davis lined a single up the middle to chase the starter. Nick Johnson, who went 0-for-April, greeted reliever Joel Peralta with a high fly ball to right field. Zobrist was tracking it back to the fence, but it sneaked into the second row of the bleachers for a go-ahead two-run shot. It capped a perfect day for the O's DH, who also singled, walked, and stole his second base of the season!

As difficult as things were for Dana Eveland, the Orioles' relievers made it look easy. Darren O'Day (credited with his third win), Pedro Strop, and Jim Johnson (earning his tenth save) each tossed a perfect inning, combining for only 19 total pitches-17 for strikes. Orioles 4, Rays 3. The Baltimore Orioles have sole possession in the American League East two weeks into May. I still don't know exactly what's going on, but I'm doing my best not to question it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Milt Pappas, 1958 Topps #457

This is Milt Pappas' rookie card, depicting the righty as a skinny 18-year-old "bonus baby". Some 55 years and 209 career wins later, he celebrates his 73rd birthday today. Your humble blogger offers a tip of the cap to Milt.

Fun fact: Milt got a start at second base against the Athletics on September 11, 1958...in a manner of speaking. Two of the Orioles' weaker-hitting regulars were second baseman Billy Gardner (.225/.271/.298) and center fielder Jim Busby (.237/.320/.330). With the O's playing on the road, manager Paul Richards optimized his offense by writing pitcher Jack Harshman into the lineup as the center fielder batting fifth. Pappas was penciled in at second base batting seventh. If their spots came up in the first inning, Richards could pinch-hit with his preferred bench bats. If not, the pitchers could be pulled, and none of the bench players would be burned needlessly. With two runners on base and two out in the first inning, Gene Woodling indeed pinch-hit for Harshman and flied out to left to end the inning. Busby and Gardner took the field in the bottom of the first, so Pappas was subbed out without his spot in the order coming up. It was all for naught, as the Birds lost 7-1.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nick Markakis, 2010 Bowman Platinum #88

Baseball is a pretty weird sport. The Orioles had five hits in the first game of today's doubleheader. They were all home runs, and the O's won 6-5. At the beginning of the game, each of the first three batters (Ryan Flaherty, J. J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis) hit home runs. It was the first time in American League history that a team opened a game with back-to-back-to-back home runs; it had only happened in the National League three times. The most recent team to perform the feat was the Brewers in 2007. Incidentally, Hardy was the second batter in that game as well. Rangers starter Colby Lewis proceeded to retire the next 18 Oriole batters in a row, striking out 12 of them. Then the bottom of the seventh started with an Adam Jones homer, a Matt Wieters walk, and a Wilson Betemit homer. It was just enough to support a great start by Wei-Yin Chen, who saved the Birds' bullpen with seven and two-thirds innings of two-run ball. Luis Ayala and Jim Johnson conspired on a three-run ninth inning to make things interesting, but the O's escaped with their first win against Texas in their last eight tries. Baseball, man.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Eddie Murray, 1986 Fleer Sluggers vs. Pitchers #25

I was not pleased with the Orioles' 10-3 thrashing at the hands of Josh Hamilton the Rangers last night, but if you're going to get blown out, you might as well make a little history. No player had hit four home runs in a single game in nearly a decade, and since 1900, only 14 have done it. Sure, if someone were going to go deep four times in an O's game, I'd rather it be one of our own players. But Josh Hamilton did something incredible last night, and I'm glad that the sparse crowd at Camden Yards saluted him for it.

Unfortunately, that's the second time the Birds have been on the wrong end of a four-homer game. The first was when Jerry Walker, Arnie Portocarrero, and Ernie Johnson combined to surrender four big flies to Rocky Colavito on June 10, 1959. But no Oriole batter has ever gone deep four times in one game. I got to wondering how many close calls they've had, so I swung by Baseball-Reference to investigate. The O's have had 18 games in which a player hit 3 home runs, most recently Nick Markakis' showcase game on August 22, 2006 against the Twins. The full list:

Boog Powell (1): August 10, 1963 - The first three-homer game in O's history ends in a 6-5 loss to the Senators, as all three of Boog's clouts were solo shots.

Boog Powell (2): June 27, 1964 - Boog provides all of the offense with another trio of solo homers in support of Milt Pappas as the Birds top Washington 3-1.

Boog Powell (3): August 15, 1966 - The last of the burly first baseman's three-homer games was his best, as he finally tossed in a two-run shot and added a single for good measure. Overall he was 4-for-5 with all four RBI in a 4-2 win at Boston. His WPA (Win Probability Added) was an astronomical .920!

Curt Blefary: June 6, 1967 - "Clank" had an interesting day, taking Pete Cimino of the Angels deep in his first at-bat before being put out each of his next three times up. Home runs number two (a two-run shot) and three (a grand slam) came in the final two innings, as the O's turned a 5-4 nail-biter into a 16-4 romp.

Paul Blair: April 29, 1970 - I definitely didn't see this one coming. Motormouth went 3-for-6 and drove in six in an 18-2 rout of the White Sox. Of course, I'd also forgotten that Blair had 134 career homers and a season high of 26 in 1969, so there was some pop in that bat.

Bobby Grich: June 18, 1974 - Orioles 10, Twins 1. Bobby had a chance for a fourth in the ninth inning, but Tom Burgmeier got him to ground out to third base to strand a pair of runners in scoring position.

Don Baylor: July 2, 1975 - Here's an interesting one. Baylor left the yard in each of his first three at-bats, so he was sitting on three home runs after four innings. But he fouled out to third in the fifth inning, was plunked by Bob Reynolds following a Jim Northrup two-run homer in the seventh, and was walked by John Hiller in the ninth. Orioles 13, Tigers 5.

Eddie Murray: August 29, 1979 - Now we're back into the high-leverage stuff. Steady Eddie's first three-homer game accounted for all of the O's runs in a 7-4 win at Minnesota.

Eddie Murray (2): September 14, 1980 - Rats. The Birds didn't bother putting anyone on base ahead of him, and three solo shots added up to a 4-3 loss in 13 innings at Toronto.

Dan Ford: July 20, 1983 - Disco Danny! Nobody on base for his unlikely three-peat, but Sammy Stewart and Tim Stoddard were untouchable in relief of Mike Boddicker as the Orioles topped the Mariners 4-2. Ford singled and walked as well, giving him a perfect day.

Eddie Murray (3): August 26, 1985 - You knew he'd be back. Eddie goes 4-for-5 with a walk and NINE RBI in Baltimore's 17-3 laughter over the Angels.

Lee Lacy: June 8, 1986 - 52,021 packed Yankee Stadium on a Sunday to see Lacy and the O's outslug the Yanks 18-9. Lee went 4-for-6, adding a two-run single to give him six RBI in all. His second home run that day came off of rookie Doug Drabek.

Juan Beniquez: June 12, 1986 - Just four days after Lacy's power display, Beniquez also feasted on Yankee pitching thrice in a game. Three solo shots once again added up to a Birds loss, by a final of 7-5. Juan had only six home runs total in his lone season in Baltimore.

Randy Milligan: June 9, 1990 - Six RBI for the Moose in a 10-1 shellacking of the Yankees. Remind me again why the Orioles needed Glenn Davis?

Cal Ripken, Jr.: May 28, 1996 - It took the Iron Man 15 years to crack this list. He drove in eight runs in a 12-8 win at Seattle, and his seventh-inning grand slam off of Mike Jackson put the O's ahead for good. Believe it or not, he and brother Billy each went deep in the ninth inning of this one.

Roberto Alomar: April 26, 1997 - Robby went 4-for-4 with three home runs, a single, a sac fly, and six RBI as the Birds rolled over the Red Sox, 14-5. Random note: Rule 5 draft pick Mike Johnson earned his first career save with three shutout innings in relief of Jimmy Key.

Albert Belle: July 25, 1999 - I remember watching this one at my aunt and uncle's house. Albert homered, walked, and singled in three trips to the plate against Angels starter Chuck Finley. It was a seesaw game, with the Angels taking a 3-0 lead, the O's tying, and the Angels going up 7-3. Belle swung the momentum in the Orioles' favor with a three-run homer off of Mark Petkovsek, then finished the comeback with a two-out solo shot off of closer Troy Percival to send it to extra innings. There was one out in the 11th and a runner on first when Shigetoshi Hasegawa hit Belle with a 1-0 pitch. The mercurial outfielder originally refused to take his base, trying in vain to convince the umpire that he wasn't hit so that he could take his hacks. Ultimately, he went down to first base. A Will Clark walk loaded the bases with two out, and Cal Ripken, Jr. delivered the walkoff win with a single.

Nick Markakis: August 22, 2006 - This is a fun box score. The Orioles hit five solo home runs off of Carlos Silva in the first six innings; the others were hit by Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson. Future Oriole Willie Eyre finally solved Markakis in the sixth inning, coaxing a flyout to left field. The Birds topped the Twins, 6-3. It's also worth noting that Nick has only one two-homer game, and that also came against Minnesota, back in 2008.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mike Cuellar, 2004 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #42

Today would have been Mike Cuellar's 75th birthday. So in honor of the fourth-most-winningest pitcher in Orioles history, I went searching for a box score of interest. I found a doozy: Saturday afternoon, July 11, 1970. The Birds were riding high at 52-32, a full 5 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the American League East. Cuellar was matching up with Joe Niekro, but neither had his best stuff. The O's broke out on top in the second inning with an Elrod Hendricks two-run homer, but Paul Blair hit a shallow fly ball to strand the bases loaded. Three Detroit hits tied the score at 2-2 in the home half.

It was still tied two innings later when Mark Belanger hit a two-out single and Cuellar followed with a two-run home run of his own! It was part of a career-high three-hit day for the Cuban screwballer, and one of eight career longballs (including his grand slam in the 1970 ALCS). He wasn't exactly Don Newcombe with the bat, as his career slash line of .115/.128/.171, good for a -15 OPS+, illustrates. Anyway, Mike gave back a run in the bottom of the fourth, as Bill Freehan tripled and scored on a Don Wert sac fly. 4-3, O's.

Freehan struck again with a solo homer in the sixth to knot it back up at 4-4. But the Orioles picked their pitcher back up in the eighth with (what else?) a two-run shot. This time it was Terry Crowley going deep off of Daryl Patterson, who had replaced Niekro after the Detroit starter walked Brooks Robinson to lead off the inning. The Tigers fought back again in their half of the eighth, though. Cuellar got the hook after a leadoff single by Willie Horton, and reliever Eddie Watt allowed Horton to score via a single, sac bunt, and a Wert groundout. Earl Weaver then called on Pete Richert to save the day. He walked Jim Price, but struck out Ike Brown looking to strand the tying and go-ahead runs. He then earned his tenth save by retiring the top of the Tigers order 1-2-3 in the ninth. Cuellar earned his 11th win despite permitting five runs in seven innings. It was the rare day when Mike had a better day at the plate than he did at the mound.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chris Davis, 2012 Topps Orioles Team Set #BALT5

I want to write about the euphoria I felt at the conclusion of yesterday's 17-inning cavalcade of the bizarre, but I don't know if it will make any sense. If it comes across as disjointed, that's probably fitting; I turned the game on and off and on and off again throughout the afternoon and evening. I still kept tabs by watching MLB Network's whip-around coverage, figuring that they would show anything pertinent either live or on a slight delay. In the 15th, Ed called to ask if I was watching and I told him disgustedly that every time I switched over to MASN, it seemed like the Orioles were hitting into a double play. But I kept hoping, seemingly in vain, that this team that had blown a 5-0 lead and repeatedly come up empty against an army of Boston relievers, would scratch across a single run so that they could get out of town before their own excellent bullpen (add that to the list of things you never thought you'd hear) finally cracked or ran out of pitchers. A loss in such a marathon game would be disappointing, but wouldn't tarnish the team's first back-to-back series wins in New York and Boston since 1992. However, a win would bring their first three-game road sweep of the Red Sox since 1994, a return to first place in the American League East, and another reminder that the Orioles are no longer an easy 'W' on the schedule.

When it became apparent that designated hitter Chris Davis, who to that point in the game was 0-for-7 with five strikeouts and a double-play grounder, would take the mound in the bottom of the 16th, I flipped back to MASN and set down the remote. There's always a special delight in the absurd when a position player is called upon to pitch, and it's an especially rare treat in Baltimore. Only five other non-pitchers had toed the rubber in team history, and the last of those was Manny Alexander in 1996. Manny was predictably horrible, but that game had already been lost. Were the O's throwing in the towel by trotting out Davis? Not quite, as it happened.

Davis, who did some pitching in high school and also dabbled in it at junior college, looked like a natural...other than his frequently changing arm slot. He sat around 90 mph with his fastball in the 16th inning, and struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia by getting him to chase a wicked changeup. Rookie Will Middlebrooks (who hours earlier had tied the game with a fifth-inning grand slam over the Green Monster) put a charge into one, but Adam Jones tracked it down in center field for out number two. It looked like Chris' big league pitching debut would feature a 1-2-3 inning, but Wilson Betemit muffed a Marlon Byrd grounder to give the Sox a second chance. When Mike Aviles followed with a ringing double to left-center field, I was certain that Chris Davis would unjustly be hung with a loss. But Adam Jones fired off a strong throw to cutoff man J. J. Hardy, and Hardy's relay throw beat Byrd to the plate. The runner collided with Matt Wieters, who hung on and casually showed the ball to Byrd and the umpire with a sly grin. There would be a 17th inning.

Not wanting to be left out, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine called upon a position player of his own to pitch the 17th: outfielder Darnell McDonald, who was of course the Orioles' first-round draft pick in 1997. McDonald had pinch run for designated hitter David Ortiz in the eighth inning, meaning that both teams forfeited their DH without making a substitution. McDonald actually pitched an inning for Boston last season, giving up a pair of runs on two walks and a hit in one inning. Let's just say that he's not nearly the pitcher that Chris Davis is. Topping out at 83 mph, Darnell walked Wilson Betemit to lead off. With Hardy (4-for-7 with two homers at that point) at bat, Betemit inexplicably tried to steal second base and was out by a mile. Hardy doubled to left, Markakis walked on four pitches, and then Adam Jones launched a batting practice-caliber fastball over the Monster. It started to sink in: Chris Davis was in line for the win. First he grounded out to second base, leaving him at 0-for-8 on the day.

Davis flirted with disaster in his second inning of work, as he couldn't field a line drive comebacker from Ryan Sweeney and walked Dustin Pedroia on five pitches. That brought powerful first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the plate as the potential tying run with nobody out. Incredibly, Chris struck out Gonzalez on three pitches, saddling Boston's cleanup hitter with an 0-for-8 of his own. Now he faced his counterpart, Darnell McDonald. Capping his rough inning, Darnell grounded the second pitch he saw to Hardy, who started the game-ending double play. That's five straight wins for the Orioles, and we just won't mention what happened with the Rangers tonight.

So, to sum up: Chris Davis pitched two scoreless innings to become:

1. The first position player to earn a win in an American League game since Rocky Colavito in 1968.
2. The first position player to start at another position and earn a win since Babe Ruth in 1925.
3. The first pitcher to earn a win while going 0-for-8 at bat since Rube Waddell in 1905.

Sometimes baseball is just too much fun.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ken Singleton, 1982 Topps #290

I started this blog four and a half years ago as an outlet for all of the babbling that I might do about 1) my rediscovered joy for collecting baseball cards, 2) my memories, opinions, and hastily-assembled research about the Orioles, and 3) anything else that might come to mind. One of the unexpected and pleasant results of writing about my O's collection has been the feedback I've received from collectors and Birds fans of all types. I've even had the opportunity to meet a few of you, and it's always a rewarding experience.

Yesterday, I got to spend some time with Mike Siegert, who collected cards with his son Josh for years. They completed a number of sets from the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1982 Topps set that marked the year of Josh's birth (and mine as well, incidentally). But their proudest achievement was compiling all of the Orioles team sets from Topps' base sets dating back to 1954. I'm also going to go out on a limb and assume that Josh was a better athlete than me in his school days; he spent three years pitching for the baseball team at St. Mary's College in Maryland.

Josh was a passenger in his friend Jonathan's car in the early morning hours of March 12, 2003. The car struck a utility pole near the St. Mary's campus and both driver and passenger were unfortunately pronounced dead at the scene. Mike, a high school teacher in Howard County, and his wife Maryanne chose to honor their son's memory and celebrate his life by establishing the Joshua L. Siegert Memorial Scholarship for Future Educators. The scholarship is awarded annually to benefit students enrolled in the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at St. Mary's who qualify based on academic merit and financial need. If you wish to make a contribution, you can donate to the Joshua L. Siegert Memorial Scholarship Fund, Office of Development, St. Mary's College of Maryland, 18952 E. Fisher Road, St. Mary's City, MD 20686-3001.

Mike has held onto the binders and boxes containing thousands of Mike's baseball cards for nine years, but he wrote to me a few weeks back to offer me the Babe Ruth card from the Maryland Lottery set that I'm collecting, and told me that he and his wife were looking to pare down the collection. Mike didn't have it in him to sell the cards on eBay or to take them around to flea markets. He wanted to offer the cards to me, if I would be interested in taking them. I was humbled by the offer and told him so, but I also assured him that I would appreciate the cards and put them to good use if that was what he really wanted. We made arrangements for a pickup at Mike's house yesterday afternoon.

There's always a sense of apprehension when meeting a complete stranger, but Mike (wearing his orange T-Shirt Thursday Matt Wieters/Nick Markakis Gold Glove tee) made me feel welcomed right away. He greeted me warmly and showed me the stacked boxes piled in the living room and dining room, giving me a final chance to back out. But I wouldn't have left him hanging unless he was trying to unload a couple cases of 1989 Topps or something. We talked excitedly about Orioles players and teams past and present (back-to-back series wins in New York and Boston!), I rambled a bit about my collecting history and interests, and Mike let me know a bit more about Josh. He also showed off the relatively few cards he'd be keeping, the 1982 Topps base and traded sets and the full Topps Orioles collection. We filled the back seat and trunk of my car, and visited a little longer before I noticed that it was 1:00 PM and I was due to meet my friend Mikey for lunch. As Mike S. remarked, we probably could have spent the rest of the afternoon conversing about baseball. It's always energizing to meet someone with whom you share those common interests.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Mike for reading and enjoying the blog and for generously sharing such a significant portion of his son Josh's legacy with me. I'm sure we'll run into one another at Camden Yards soon. In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to get organized and see what awaits me.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Bob Bailor, 1975 SSPC #386

This card serves as a reminder that I have only scratched the surface of the history of the Orioles. Every SSPC card features a close-up photo of the player with no text on the front. As I paged through my team set in its vintage O's binder, I could identify most players by sight. Grant Jackson, Mike Torrez, Dave Duncan, Elrod Hendricks, Brooks Robinson, Don Baylor. Most, but not all. This wild-eyed young man with tufted shocks of hair protruding from his cap was unfamiliar. I had to flip the card over to read that it was Bob Bailor. Oh, Bob Bailor! I know about him. Well, let's see. He was taken by the Blue Jays in the expansion draft, and...um.

Yeah, I've still got a lot to learn.

Bob Bailor was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Orioles in 1969, but he garnered some attention by hitting .340 with a .423 on-base percentage and 50 RBI in 68 games at low-A Aberdeen at age 19. The following year (1972), he led the Class A California League with 63 stolen bases, nearly double the 32 steals of runner-up Jerry Remy. Bailor also hit .290 that season for Lodi, though he mustered only 21 extra-base hits. That profile would hold as he climbed the ranks. Bob was a .288 hitter with a .359 slugging percentage in parts of 7 minor league seasons in the Baltimore organization.

With Brooksie, Mark Belanger, and Bobby Grich ensconced in the Oriole infield, Bailor received only a few cups of coffee with the Birds in 1975 and 1976, compiling a .231 average (3-for-13) in 14 games.   In his big league debut, he pinch hit for Tom Shopay in the bottom of the 13th inning with runners on first and second and one out. He drew a walk against the Yankee relief ace Sparky Lyle, loading the bases for Don Baylor (Baylor batting behind Bailor!). Baylor singled to deliver the walkoff win. On October 3, 1976, he got only the third start of his O's career. In what would be his final game with the club, he played all 15 innings of a 3-2 loss and went 2-for-6 with both hits coming off of Luis Tiant. One of those hits was a triple, the first extra-base hit of his career.

I did have one thing right: the Blue Jays chose Bob with their first pick (second overall) in the November 1976 expansion draft. He appeared in 122 games in 1977, dividing his time amongst shortstop, left field, and center field. He hit .310 with 5 home runs and 32 RBI and stole 15 bases. Incidentally, he would only hit 4 homers total in another 819 career games going forward. He was named Toronto's Player of the Year, and defended his title in 1978 despite a batting line of .264/.310/.338. That season, he did set career highs with 29 doubles, 7 triples, and 52 RBI. His offensive performance further dwindled in the proceeding two seasons, reducing him to a utility role. The Jays even used him as a relief pitcher in August of 1980. After two scoreless one-inning appearances, he failed to retire a batter against the Royals on August 16, yielding back-to-back doubles and a walk before Mike Barlow replaced him. Bailor was charged with two runs, and never pitched again; his career ERA was locked in at 7.71. On the bright side, he also played right field in that game and had three hits!

Bob spent the 1981-1983 seasons with the Mets, continuing in the utility role and batting .266 without walks or power but succeeding on 40 of his 46 steal attempts. In December 1983, he and reliever Carlos Diaz were dealt to the Dodgers for young lefty Sid Fernandez and minor league shortstop Ross Jones. The trade was a steal for the Mets, as Fernandez was a frontline starter for the next decade. Diaz and Bailor were both done by 1986. Still, Bob hung around for parts of 11 major league seasons, carrying a .264 average overall and striking out only 164 times in 2,937 at-bats. He also played at least 80 games at each of 6 different defensive positions (all three outfield spots, second base, shortstop, and third base).

Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Bailor.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bob Milacki, 1992 Pinnacle #339

Here's something you don't see on a baseball card very often: Bob Milacki is giving you the finger. You're just lucky that he doesn't know which finger to use. People must be kinder and gentler in his hometown of...let's see here...Trenton, NJ? Well, if you say so.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Brandon Snyder, 2011 Topps Allen and Ginter Mini #228

Congratulations and back-slaps to Brandon Snyder, who hit his first big league home run for the Rangers this afternoon. He never quite lived up to the expectations that the Orioles had when they chose him with the 13th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft, but simply by making it to the majors he's beaten the odds. The 25-year-old first baseman and corner infielder has largely been a late-inning sub for Texas; today marks his fourth start in 25 games for the team. But he's managed to stay sharp, batting .357 (5-for-14) with a couple of walks. And here's a neat tidbit that I somehow missed before Baseball Reference clued me in: Brandon's father Brian pitched briefly for the Mariners (6.37 ERA in 35.1 IP in 1985) and Athletics (2 ER in 0.2 IP in 1989). So Snyder the younger can already claim that he's the most successful ballplayer in the family, no matter what twists and turns his career takes in the future.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brian Matusz, 2011 Bowman International Foil #28

The Orioles knocked quite a few items off of their checklist tonight. With a 7-1 victory over the Yankees, they finally got their first win against their division rivals after coming up empty four times to start the season (including two extra-innings losses and last night's one-run defeat). It was the 1,000th win of Buck Showalter's managerial career, and it came against the team that gave him his start. Nick Johnson finally got his first hit as an Oriole and his first in the majors in nearly two years, and made it an RBI double to boot. Chris Davis continued his hot streak with a 3-4 game; he hit his fifth home run, his seventh double, and scored thrice. Oh, and for good measure, Brian Matusz snapped his personal 12-decision losing streak.

Matusz's poor and injury-marred 2011 season was one of the most discouraging things I've witnessed as an Orioles fan. The lefty had been the most polished of the Birds' young arsenal of pitchers, and he raised expectations by finishing 2010 with a 7-1 record and a 2.18 ERA over the final two months. He didn't show up in top shape last spring, however, and missed all of April and May with a strained intercostal muscle in his ribcage. When he finally showed up in June, he was missing velocity, control, and confidence. His earned run average got higher with each progressive start but one, with a midsummer demotion to Norfolk offering no answers. Brian finished 1-9 with an unsightly 10.69 ERA in 12 starts, a record-setting mark for futility with such a high workload. He showed signs of life this spring, but it was the same old story once the games counted. Losses in each of his first 3 appearances, with 11 walks, 11 strikeouts, and 15 runs (13 earned) in 14.2 innings. He looked better in his last start this past Thursday in Toronto, clearing six innings with four hits and a couple of walks allowed, but an ill-timed error by Johnson at first base cost him a chance at his first win. But even moral victories count for something, right?

Tonight was the first of Brian's 2012 starts that I watched, and he looked strong. After giving up a first-inning solo homer to Curtis Granderson, he kept the Yankees off the scoreboard and waited on the run support that had eluded him in his first four outings. He induced a lot of weak contact in the form of pop-ups, and didn't walk a batter until tiring in the seventh inning. Perhaps most importantly, he kept his composure after consecutive one-out singles by Derek Jeter and Granderson in the third inning. Matusz retired Alex Rodriguez on a comebacker to the mound and got Oriole killer Robinson Cano to pop out to right-center field. The young pitcher's final line: 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 6.1 IP, and best of all, a W. It's too early to make definitive judgments, but Brian's earned run average has gotten progressively lower in each of his 2012 starts, and it's now 4.67. Last year it jumped to 5.11 in his third start (June 12) and never recovered.

Everything looks a little better after a big win.