Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Pat Dobson, 1973 Topps #34

Poor Pat Dobson. He pitched for the Orioles for two seasons, and had three Topps cards as an Oriole...and they were all highly unflattering. Since the O's traded for Dobson in December of 1970, he had a hastily airbrushed cap in his 1971 card. They also chose a portrait photo of Pat caught in mid-blink, for some unfathomable reason. In 1972, Topps rewarded Dobson for his 20-win season with a card featuring him in his actual orange, black, and gray Orioles uniform...as well as a dopey, open-mouthed gape. The Birds swapped the veteran pitcher to the Braves in the Earl Williams deal in November of 1972, which was too late for Topps to work their photo-doctoring magic on his first series card for the following year. This is the most appealing of Dobson's three cards from his tenure in Charm City, which is damning it with faint praise. He's not making an odd face, but he still looks disgruntled and rumpled. I'm also like 99% sure that this photo is not airbrushed, but the "Baltimore" script on his road jersey still looks off somehow, like it was hand-drawn. It's probably just some wrinkles and folds in the fabric that are making it sit in a certain way. Nonetheless, I'm left wondering who it was at Topps that had it in for ol' Pat Dobson.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rene Gonzales, 1988 Donruss #582

September 25, 1987 was not a great day for the Orioles. Playing out the string on their worst season since 1955 (at least until the following year!), they were pummeled at home by the Yankees, 8-4. It was the 90th loss of the year for the O's, with a young Jose Mesa getting throttled for six runs on three hits and five walks in less than two innings. Don Mattingly's grand slam was the catalyst, and rookie lefty Al Leiter earned the win with ten strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings (along with four runs on eight hits and five walks of his own). One of the few bright spots for Baltimore was the performance of Rene Gonzales, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI triple and a pair of runs scored.

And yet, that day wasn't all that bad in the big picture. Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride was released in theaters, and although it wasn't a box office success, it's become a beloved classic in subsequent years. It happens to be my wife Janet's favorite movie, and it's near the top of my list as well. In that spirit, five years ago today I bought an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins and had the phrase "As You Wish" written on top in icing. I brought it home and put it on ice in a cooler in the tiny back yard of my rowhouse, along with a 750 mL bottle of Dogfish Head's Positive Contact beer. That evening, I set up a couple of camp chairs and our fire pit, and surprised Janet with a cozy bonfire when she came back from babysitting a friend's daughter (a diversion that I had conveniently helped arrange). She was thrilled enough with the fire, but the emerald claddagh engagement ring that I pulled from my pocket seemed to go over pretty well, too.

I'm still pretty pleased that everything went according to plan that night. (In hindsight, my proposal has also given us an excellent excuse to indulge in ice cream cake and craft beer every year at this time.) Even though the ensuing years have brought their share of stresses, fears, and chaos, the scales are still tipped significantly by loads of laughter, joy, and adventure. Happy May Day, everyone.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ken Singleton, 1981 Fleer Star Stickers #103

To close out a mostly forgettable April in Birdland, here's a belated mail day! Late last week, I got an envelope from Max, who'd found a few more cards that he'd meant to include in the larger stack he sent earlier this month. It included several 2018 Topps Opening Day O's (one of them being my first Chance Sisco card), four 1981 Fleer Star Stickers, and an all-gold Brooks Robinson card that some cursory searching tells me is probably from a 1996-2003 Danbury Mint set. Now that's an impressive oddball!

Ken Singleton, by the by, has announced that he will be retiring from broadcasting after the 2018 season. Singy has been calling Yankees games on the YES Network for 22 years now, to the chagrin of Orioles fans. However, in my limited experience with YES telecasts, Ken at least brings a bit of class and sanity to the proceedings. In that sense, the 70-year-old former All-Star will be missed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Kevin Gausman, 2014 Topps Heritage #377

My nascent Camden Yards win streak may have been cut short at three with last night's 2-1 heartbreaker, but that doesn't mean that there weren't any memorable moments. On a personal level, my sister and I won the team's seat upgrade promotion. Since the paid attendance was a cozy 10,614, and the actual number of butts in seats was significantly less for a Monday evening game in April, I encouraged Liz to text our seat location to the promotional number. I figured the odds were in our favor, at least moreso than they've ever been before. So wouldn't you know that when I returned from a third-inning beer run, she was in possession of two tickets for Section 37? I'm quite fond of our usual vantage point in Section 340, but it was nice to be a bit closer to the action. Plus, it's always a cheap thrill to see yourself on the scoreboard. Here's a crummy picture of our upgraded view, courtesy of my iPhone.
As you can see, we were right below the press box, in the last row before you reach the box seats. That meant that we had an excellent view of Kevin Gausman's historical seventh inning. Gausman was a hard-luck loser last night, allowing two runs on four hits in eight innings, with seven strikeouts against just one walk. Yonder Alonso's second-inning homer held up for the Indians, since the O's flaccid bats couldn't produce anything beyond Chance Sisco's second-inning RBI single.

Anyhow, I was pleased to see Gausman mow down Alonso, Yan Gomes, and Bradley Zimmer in order in the top of the seventh. It was all the more impressive because he struck out the side. But I didn't realize until I read the recap this morning that he disposed of all three Cleveland batters on three pitches apiece. It's come to be known as an "immaculate inning", and despite the increasing frequency of strikeouts in today's MLB, it's still pretty rare. There have been 90 such innings on record, making it a less common occurrence than a cycle or a no-hitter. 85 different pitchers have had a three-K, nine-pitch inning, including a record high of eight last season. (Sandy Koufax had three of them.) Kevin is the first pitcher to throw an immaculate inning in 2018, and the first Oriole to do so since B. J. Ryan blew away Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Richie Sexson on September 5, 1999. I guess there's just something about the Indians.

I'm glad to know that I witnessed a little bit of history...even if the significance escaped me at the time.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Buddy Peterson, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #359

There are 501 cards in the promotional "All-Time Orioles" set, which of course gave enterprising collectors a card of each and every player who donned orange and black from the team's arrival in 1954 through the beginning of the 1991 season. With this post, I've featured 83 of those cards on my blog. Maybe I'll hang it up for good if I ever get around to all of them.

Anyhow, I plucked this card out of obscurity today because Carl Francis "Buddy" Peterson was born on this date 93 years ago. I figured that I might as well try to fill in one of the gaps in my knowledge of the team's early history. A native of Portland, OR, Peterson was in his ninth professional season when the White Sox purchased his contract from the Pacific Coast League's San Diego Padres club in the summer of 1955. The 30-year-old batted .306 with a .374 on-base percentage in 154 games that year with the Friars, and got a taste of the big leagues with Chicago in September. He actually debuted against the Orioles, hitting a single off of Jim Wilson while batting for pitcher Sandy Consuegra in the eighth inning of an 8-2 O's win on September 14. That was the first half of a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium; he started the nightcap at shortstop and went 2-for-5 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored from the leadoff position to help the ChiSox earn a split. In all, Peterson appeared in six games with the Pale Hose, batting .286/.400/.333 with seven runs scored.

Despite this favorable introduction to the majors, Buddy spent all of 1956 with Chicago's AA affiliate in Memphis, hitting .279 with a slugging percentage of .393. The Orioles acquired him that offseason, and sent him back to his old stomping grounds in the PCL, where he batted .298/.368/.420 with a career-best 38 doubles for the Vancouver Mounties. Again, he got a late-season cameo in the bigs, but hit safely just three times and walked twice in 19 tries for a .176 average. He kicked around in the PCL for three more seasons afterward without making it back to MLB, and capped his playing career with three years in Japan, batting .272/.340/.462 with 58 homers and 186 RBI for the Nankai Hawks. So in summary, Buddy Peterson played pro baseball for 17 seasons and some 2,375 games, including 13 games at the sport's highest level.

Post-playing career, Buddy managed in the minors for the Mets, Royals, and Athletics, posting an overall record of 295-285 in six seasons. He also worked briefly as a scout for Kansas City and Oakland. Peterson died at age 81 in 2006 due to complications from a stroke.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Eddie Murray, 2002 Fleer Fall Classic #33

As you may remember, when the Orioles are playing especially poorly, I throw up the Eddie Signal. It's like the Bat Signal, but with sideburns and mustache in place of cape and cowl. Rarely in recent years have things looked so dire. 19 games into the season, the O's are 5-14, scraping the bottom of the barrel. They've been swept thrice in six series this year, and are staggering back to Baltimore tomorrow night on the heels of an 0-6 road trip to Boston (understandable) and Detroit (inexcusable). Chris Tillman is looking just as cooked as he was last year, Alex Cobb is not exactly in midseason form, and Mike Wright Jr. is exactly who we thought he was. Zach Britton, Mark Trumbo, Colby Rasmus, and Jonathan Schoop are hurt. Trey Mancini, Manny Machado, and Pedro Alvarez are the only guys who are hitting at all. The defense is uncharacteristically sloppy. To sum it up in one word, yuck.

The good news? Dylan Bundy pitches tomorrow, and he's been as good as the Birds could've hoped. After a road-heavy early slate, the Orioles will actually get to settle in for a ten-game homestand, which can't hurt. I have tickets to tomorrow night's game, and so far I've witnessed the team's only two home wins in 2018. Also, Fleer gave Eddie Murray card number 33 in this set, and I can't tell you how much that pleases me.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Pedro Alvarez, 2016 Topps #367

(Cheesy Photoshop alert!)

I hope you could forgive my pessimism as the Orioles staggered into Yankee Stadium last Thursday in the midst of a five-game losing streak. A four-game weekend series against the powerful New York lineup did not seem like the prescription for what ailed the Birds. So naturally, the O's took three of four from the pinstripers, including a pair of bizarre extra-inning contests:

-Thursday brought Andrew Cashner (6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) his first win as an Oriole, and the O's rallied for five seventh-inning runs. Adam Jones' two-run homer off of Masahiro Tanaka gave Baltimore a lead they wouldn't relinquish en route to a 5-2 final score.

-Friday's game stretched into the wee hours of Saturday morning, as it took 14 innings and nearly five and a half hours for the Birds to escape with a 7-3 victory. It looked like a Mychal Givens wild pitch would end it in the bottom of the eleventh, but Caleb Joseph chased down the ball and tossed it to former shortstop Givens, who slid into home plate just ahead of baserunner Didi Gregorius and tagged him out. After an umpire review, it was determined that Givens had not obstructed Didi's path to the dish. That set the stage (eventually) for Pedro Alvarez's grand slam to provide the winning margin.

-After dropping Saturday afternoon's game, the Orioles sealed the series win with a rousing comeback on Sunday. Mike Wright put the O's in a five-run hole in the first inning, but a pair of two-run homers by Anthony Santander (his first as a big leaguer) and Danny Valencia helped Baltimore briefly take the lead in the top of the seventh inning. The Yankees tied it up in the home half of that inning, and it remained a stalemate until the top of the twelfth. That's when Craig Gentry's two-out single through the left side of the infield plated Pedro Alvarez. 8-7, Orioles. The drama persisted in the Yankees' final ups, with Brad Brach walking two batters and mishandling a Brett Gardner bunt to create a bases-loaded, no-outs jam with sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton due to hit. Judge tapped a grounder back to the mound, with Brach, Caleb Joseph, and Tim Beckham collaborating on a deft 1-2-5 double play to wipe out the two lead runners. Then Brach earned the save by striking out Stanton swinging, the fifth K of the day for the 2017 MLB home run leader.

In recent years, the Orioles have made a habit out of proving their detractors wrong. If they want to keep it up in 2018, it is absolutely alright with me.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Mike Cuellar, 1975 Topps #410

2808 career innings in the major leagues. Four All-Star seasons. A World Series ring. A Cy Young Award. 185 career wins, including four seasons with at least 20 and seven with at least 15 W's. A lifetime ERA of 3.14 in the regular season, and 2.85 in a dozen postseason starts. Heck, he even holds an obscure record: most home runs hit by a player with a career on-base percentage below .130 (seven homers, .128 OBP).

...All of this, and Topps couldn't manage to spell his name correctly on this card near the tail end of his career. It's C-U-E-L-L-A-R. No respect, I tell ya.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Chris Davis, 2015 Topps Archives #205

One week into the 2018 season, Chris Davis has gotten off to a start that is...to use the scientific term, hot garbage. He has two singles in 25 at-bats, has walked three times, and struck out six. That's an .080 batting average and a robust .258 OPS. He's now whiffed 1,208 times in 908 games as an Oriole, bringing him within 97 K's of the franchise record that it took Cal Ripken Jr. 3,001 games to set. I'm not saying that Chris Davis should get all of the blame for the team's ooooogly 1-5 start, but he sure isn't helping. But hey, he's got four more years on his contract after this season to make it up to us. No, I'm not screaming. It must have been you.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nick Markakis, 2008 Topps Heritage #170

Two disparate thoughts:

1. The Orioles' Opening Day win wasn't the only game on Thursday to end with a walkoff home run. Our old friend Nick Markakis, owner of 166 career homers and 2,056 base hits, clubbed the first game-ending round-tripper of his 13-year career. He really made it count, breaking a 5-5 tie with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run shot. (Incidentally, I might just mention the O's Opening Day victory in each and every blog post until they actually win another game...hurry up, guys.)

2. Last Saturday I visited the Baseball Card Outlet for the first time in a year. I'd love to drop in more often, but when I start rooting through their bargain vintage boxes, a dollar or two here or there adds up in a hurry. I pried myself away after picking up 30 late 1950s Topps cards, including a 20-count from the 1959 Topps set that I've been chipping away at for several years. Now I have 444 of the 572 cards in that set, a cool 77.6% completion rate. So I'm almost as close to finishing that 60-year-old set as I am to completing the 2008 Topps Heritage set that pays tribute to it. Of course, there are no Mickey Mantles and Willie Mayses lurking out there for the Heritage set...so it's mostly an uphill climb from here.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Caleb Joseph, 2015 Topps Orioles Team Set #BO-17

As I mentioned on Thursday, the Orioles are undefeated on Opening Day under Buck Showalter, with an 8-0 mark dating back to 2011. But it probably didn't hurt that they had their good luck charm in the ballpark this year.

Last year, I made it a point to bring my son Finn to Oriole Park as often as was practical; six games in all, a number to grow on. The O's won the first five of those games before dropping a 7-4 clunker to the Yankees at the beginning of their September slide. Janet and I were excited to bring Finn to his first Opening Day this year, and he seemed to be up for it, too. We decked him out in his "Future MVP" Orioles onesie and his trusty orange cap, and on the way from the parking lot into the stadium he kept exclaiming "Orioles!" as he spotted all of the other folks in their team colors. We entered through Gate C, which meant that Finn could romp around to his heart's delight in the Kids' Corner before we made our way up to our seats. (He was especially fond of the slide.)

I'm always glad to see familiar faces year after year at the ballpark, and that includes the usher who typically works our section. He keeps a stash of baseball cards on his person to hand out to kids at the game, and Finn got a 1991 Score Terry Leach and a 1989 Fleer Brian Holton. I must admit that he spindled, folded, and mutilated both of them, but he is only 20 months old. I'll wait a bit to teach him the finer points of baseball card care. As far as the pregame ceremonies go, Finn was especially taken by the fireworks that were shot off over the scoreboard, and the flyover by the Maryland Air National Guard. Me, I'm a sucker for Jim Hunter introducing the Birds' players and urging the crowd to welcome the new team members to Baltimore. It's even better when he welcomes the rookies to the major leagues.

I have to admit that Finn's disposition wasn't as sunny throughout the game as it usually is; since first pitch was at 3:05 PM, he missed his afternoon nap. But after an early-inning snack, he was in better spirits. Fortune smiled on us as the game marched on; the additional tickets we'd bought for Opening Day were in section 342, so Janet, Finn, and I were separated from my sister and father, who took our season ticket seats in 340. But if anyone had the two seats next to my sis and dad, they didn't show. So we were all reunited for the second half of the game, once we were reasonably sure that nobody would come around to displace us. That meant that we had an even better view for Caleb Joseph's clutch two-run triple, which broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. That huge hit was all the sweeter because it came off the bat of one of our favorite O's players (and probably our favorite person on the team). After all, Finn's middle name is Caleb, and incidentally, he learned to say "Caleb" before he could/would say "Finn".

Through the late innings of the game, our kiddo was visibly exhausted. His eyelids were drooping, and he chomped down on his blanket and nestled into Janet's arms.When Brad Brach gave up the lead in the top of the ninth, Finn finally gave up the ghost. He slumbered through extra innings, and didn't even stir when Adam Jones crushed Fernando Rodney's first fastball into the left field seats in the bottom of the eleventh and we joined the rest of the sellout crowd in uproarious cheers and shouts. Janet leapt to her feet, pulled Finn to her chest, and rhythmically thumped him on the back in lieu of applause...and still he didn't wake. But as soon as we were out on the concourse, making our way out of the park with the rest of the thrilled O's fans, he snapped back to life, chattering and squirming. It still counts as a win on his ledger, even if he needed a little power nap to survive.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Adam Jones, 2015 Topps Heart of the Order #HOR-20

There aren't many better ways to celebrate your 11th straight Opening Day start than by hitting a walkoff home run. That's just what Adam Jones did on Fernando Rodney's first pitch in the bottom of the 11th today, giving the Orioles a 3-2 win over the Twins. The longtime O's center fielder helped take the heat off of Brad Brach, who blew a save and a 2-0 lead by walking a pair and giving up a couple of singles in the ninth. Other standouts were right fielder Craig Gentry, who robbed Eddie Rosario of a home run; starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, who shut out Minnesota for seven innings on five hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts; and catcher Caleb Joseph, whose two-out, two-run triple gave the Birds their first lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. Also worth noting: this was Baltimore's eighth consecutive Opening Day win, all coming under Buck Showalter's guidance. Each of the past three openers have also been walkoff wins, because the Orioles never do things the easy way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Brian Roberts, 2009 Upper Deck A Piece of History #8

One. After a long, cold, impossibly tedious winter, there is one more sleep until baseball. We are 17 hours from Dylan Bundy's first pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and I'm celebrating with a card of my old favorite (and the newest member of the O's Hall of Fame) Brian Roberts. Sleep well, everybody!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Yovani Gallardo, 2017 Topps #308

If you needed another reminder that baseball is a merciless meat grinder of a game, consider poor Yovani Gallardo. A 2010 All-Star with the Brewers, the righty used smoke and mirrors to post a career-low 3.42 ERA (121 ERA+) in his 2015 American League debut with the Rangers. This, despite his K/9 cratering to 5.9 after sitting at 9.0 three seasons earlier. The O's snatched him up for the 2016 season, but perhaps they should've stuck to their guns after noticing some shoulder damage on their notoriously thorough physical exam. Instead, they just downgraded the guaranteed third year of Yovani's deal to an option year and pushed onward. Naturally, after averaging 32 starts with a 3.69 ERA in the previous seven seasons, Gallardo took the mound only 23 times in 2016, pitching to an unsightly 5.42 ERA. In 66.1 fewer innings than he'd thrown in 2015, he allowed one more earned run and seven fewer walks. But hey, his K/9 took a dead cat bounce back to 6.5, so...yay?

Perhaps realizing that Yovani Gallardo hadn't brought much more to Baltimore than an excuse for fans to pronounce his name in an exaggerated Bawlmerese accent, Dan Duquette cut bait that offseason, trading him to Seattle for outfielder Seth Smith. The veteran didn't fare any better in spacious Safeco Field in 2017, seeing his ERA climb higher to 5.72 and even getting demoted to the bullpen for a Mariners club that didn't have many attractive rotation options.

Looking for a fresh start, Gallardo returned to Milwaukee on a modest, partially guaranteed $2 million contract in December. Would a return to the National League and his original team spark a renaissance? Alas, no. In eight games this spring, Yo was touched up for ten runs (seven earned) on twelve hits and eight walks in 13.1 innings. He struck out 12, if you're curious. The Brewers released him yesterday, a couple weeks after telling him that he was out of contention for a starting gig. So there you go; Yovani Gallardo just turned 32 and he looks pretty well cooked.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Jim Gentile, 1963 Topps #260

How do you know that Jim Gentile was a beast of a man, intent on punishing baseballs with malice aforethought? Two bats. Not one, but two. Also, check out those short sleeves. He's halfway to a Kluszewski.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Zach Britton, 2016 Topps Archives #137

The Orioles' newest pitcher will need to find a new uniform number, because Zach Britton already has a strong claim to the #53 that Alex Cobb wore in Tampa.

That's right. A week after I groused on this blog about the Birds' apparent plan to play musical chairs with their fifth slot in the starting rotation, the team was sufficiently unimpressed by the prospects of Mike Wright Jr., Nestor Cortes, Gabriel Ynoa, and Miguel Castro that they promised four years and $57 million to Cobb. Somehow, some way, one of the best free agent pitchers on the market stayed unsigned until mid-March, and it was the O's who landed him.

In Alex Cobb, Baltimore gets a pitcher who lost all of 2015 and most of 2016 to Tommy John surgery. Post-surgery, he's struggled to use his split-finger changeup effectively, which had been his best pitch prior to injury. That helps explain his career-low 6.42 K/9 IP last year, and his dip to a 3.66 ERA (113 ERA+). Nevertheless, he also walked a career-low 2.2 batters per nine innings last year, and you probably don't need me to tell you that his BB/9 and ERA were better than any of the O's starters in 2017. The better news: if Cobb regains the feel for his split change, these were his combined numbers in 49 starts in 2013 and 2014: 21-12, 2.82 ERA (134 ERA+), 8.2 K/9 IP. As someone who's spent his whole career with the Rays, he's even used to pitching in the pressure cooker of the American League East. You can scale his performance down a bit with the switch from Tropicana Field to Camden Yards as his home ballpark, but the rotation will still look a hell of a lot better with him than without.

Welcome to Birdland, Alex. Thanks for making our starting pitching exponentially less terrible.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Earl Weaver, 2015 Leaf Heroes of Baseball #18

Boy, you'd never know that Leaf (or parent company Panini) had to scrub the Oriole Bird off of Earl Weaver's cap and the Orioles script off of his jersey, would you? What lack of MLB licensing? In all seriousness, I am quite fond of this card for a handful of reasons:

1. C'mon. It's the Earl of Baltimore, and he has an all-time great smirk.

2. The palm trees. The spring training aesthetic is charming, especially from the late 1960s/early 1970s. (Also, we're expecting MORE SNOW here in Maryland over the next couple of days. I better at least get some time off for it.)

3. Paul Blair is just straight-up photobombing over Earl's left shoulder. Also, his stirrups are on point.

4. Leaf just plain didn't bother editing out the logo on Blair's cap. I guess they figured that the image was small and blurry enough that nobody would care.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Vintage Fridays: "Rod" Hendricks, 1969 Topps #277

There are a few things that I love about this card. First things first, it's Elrod Hendricks' rookie card, and it's incredible to think that a man who spent 37 years in an Orioles uniform was ever a rookie. As fresh-faced and wide-eyed as the longtime O's catcher and coach looks here, he was 27 when he debuted in the majors. He'd been in pro ball since 1959, with minor league stints with the Braves, Cardinals, and Angels, and a swing through Mexico. But what's more, Hendricks is billed simply as "Rod". I've done my homework, and Topps was pretty indecisive when it came to his name. In 1970 and 1971, they went with "Elrod", which is probably the variation on his name that comes to mind for most Baltimore fans. In 1972, 1975, and 1976 (his only other Topps cards), they shortened it to "Ellie". Pick a lane, guys!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jonathan Schoop, 2015 Topps Chrome #32

Are you ready for Opening Day? (Two weeks to go!) Here in my humble home, we're doing our level best. Season tickets arrived on our doorstep on Tuesday; for the sixth consecutive season, my sister and I have two seats on a 29-game plan. That means we'll be at Oriole Park at Camden Yards when the O's face the Twins on March 29th. We bought two extra tickets for the opener, so that Janet and my dad can join us as well...and naturally, Finn will be there too, since he's still young enough that he won't need his own seat.

Nobody is doing more to gear up for the 2018 season than our near-21-month-old. Finn's vocabulary has been exploding lately, and some of his favorite new words and phrases are: baseball ("BEEBAW!"), Orioles (and "Oriole hat" - he always wants to wear one of his caps or our replica batting helmet), and "Let's go O's!". That last one comes out sounding like "oh-oh-O's!", but he'll get the hang of it. Any time he sees a piece of Birds memorabilia, he excitedly exclaims one or more of the above phrases. It doesn't even have to include the cartoon bird logo; as long as it's orange and black, he knows the deal. We've indoctrinated - I mean, taught - him right.

A few weeks ago, we even bought Finn his first player tee shirt. It features Jonathan Schoop's name and number six, and it fits him just right. Here he is wearing it in tandem with Janet's adjustable O's cap last weekend, when we met Janet's sister for dinner at Heavy Seas Ale House. He is ready for some beebaw.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Luis Garcia, 2002 Fleer Box Score #137

One of the benefits of rebooting this blog after a lengthy period of inactivity was reconnecting with some familiar folks. One of those folks is Max, a fellow lapsed blogger who has recently returned. He had a brick of about 35 Orioles cards earmarked for me, and once we touched base, he put it in the mail. The cards arrived with a note assuring me that it was a true random assortment, and much to my delight, that was definitely the case. There were shiny parallel cards from recent Topps sets, a few Cal Ripken minis, and even a pair of 2009 O-Pee-Chee cards I didn't have. I made a halfhearted attempt to collect that set at the time of its release, but I'm still only at 59% complete. So it was nice to tick off a few boxes on the ol' checklist without any effort on my part. But for sheer randomness, this card right here takes the cake.

Luis Garcia was a 19th-round draft pick of the White Sox in 1994 who spent four years in the minors and topped out at high-A. He then returned to his native Mexico and put up some eye-popping numbers for the Mexico City Tigres. Garcia batted .354/.399/.558 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 120 games in 2000. In 2001, he batted .332/.396/.582 with 19 homers and 82 RBI in 98 games. That prompted the Orioles to sign him, and he got a couple of cups of coffee with the big league club in 2002. He appeared in six games with the O's, all as a late-innings replacement. In three pinch-hit chances, he reached on an error, struck out, and singled. In 89 games that year for AAA Rochester, Luis did not distinguish himself. The 26-year-old batted only .242/.260/.330 with four home runs and 31 RBI. He went back to the Mexican League in 2003, and played there (and in winter ball) through 2011, though never matching the lofty stats of his first few seasons with the Tigres.

It's strange enough that Luis Garcia was featured on a card in this set, but it makes sense in light of the Orioles' lack of roster depth at that time. You could look at his numbers in Mexico from the previous two seasons, squint, and hope for the best. What's more inexplicable is that Fleer put out a set with serial-numbered base cards; the back of each card is given a number from one to 2,499. (This one is 1,776 of 2,499, for you fans of William Daniels and Howard Da Silva.) There was apparently a parallel "first edition" insert set, with only 100 serial-numbered copies of each card. I hope you can hear my eyes rolling. Anyhow, thanks, Max! Most of these random cards were new to me, and all are appreciated!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Jake Arrieta, 2012 Topps Heritage High Numbers #H588

Jake Arrieta is a wealthier man than he was last week. After waiting out an unusually slow and austere free agent market, the 2015 NL Cy Young signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies. While the 32-year-old had an impressive four and a half year stay in Chicago (68-31, 2.73 ERA, 147 ERA+), there is still cause for concern. Firstly, he's a pitcher; they're designed to break. More to the point, in the last two seasons his walks and home runs allowed have risen while his cutter has been less effective. Obviously, he was so absurdly unhittable in 2015 that the backslide of 2016-2017 still saw him pitch better than, say, any Orioles starter. (Grumble grumble groan.) But the pessimist in me was sure that if hell froze over and the O's and Jake agreed to reunite, he would've immediately fallen apart. So I'm perversely relieved that he's staying in the National League. We'll see how I feel in June when the Birds are back to shuffling the likes of Mike Wright, Jr. and Gabriel Ynoa in and out of the rotation.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

J. J. Hardy, 2016 Topps #233

One of the troubling realities of being a baseball fan is that you can form attachments to players, only to see them leave your favorite team. Guys get hurt, they decline, they're released or traded or just sign elsewhere as a free agent. It seemed like a foregone conclusion for a while that J. J. Hardy would not be an Oriole in 2018, but in some ways I'm just coming to terms with it nonetheless. Pedro Alvarez recently re-signed with the O's on a minor league deal, and was assigned jersey number two. As shown above, that was J. J.'s number for the past seven years. But he hadn't topped 115 games played since 2014, and hadn't been even league-average as a hitter since 2013. So at age 35, it's not really surprising that Hardy is no longer in Baltimore. In fact, he hasn't signed anywhere.

But J. J. Hardy will be fondly remembered by O's fans. He contributed to three playoff teams, and was a Gold Glover at shortstop for three straight years (2012-2014), for what that's worth. For me, I'll remember that he scored the go-ahead run on Delmon Young's bases-clearing double in the second game of the 2014 AL Division Series, and I'll remember shouting along to Camden Yards PA announcer Ryan Wagner's distinctive call: "J! J! HARDY!" If his 13-year MLB career is truly over, J. J. should feel a real sense of pride. He totaled 188 home runs, with a 30-homer season in 2011. In addition to the aforementioned Gold Gloves, he was a two-time All-Star (2007 and 2013) and a 2013 Silver Slugger awardee. I hope he can find something else to keep him busy after baseball.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Darold Knowles, 1965 Topps #577

This is an interesting oddity when it comes to Orioles cards. Darold Knowles pitched only five games for the Orioles, all in 1965. He didn't fare so well, coughing up 15 runs in 14.2 innings, but he had a strong enough minor league record (56-33, 2.77 ERA) that Topps featured him on their multi-player rookie cards for three consecutive years: 1964, 1965, and 1966.

Despite his inauspicious debut, Knowles went on to have a 16-season career for eight teams, chiefly the Athletics and Senators. He was a workhouse reliever, averaging 54 games pitched from 1966 through 1979. Overall, he had a record of 66-74 with a 3.12 ERA and 143 saves. He had an impressively bizarre stat line with Washington in 1970: 2-14, 2.07 ERA, and a career-high 27 saves. (Somehow he managed to lead the 70-92 Sens in losses.) In 1973, he set a World Series record by appearing in all seven games for the A's, allowing one unearned run in six and a third innings and picking up two saves. No other pitcher matched that feat until Dodgers reliever Brandon Morrow went seven-for-seven in last year's Fall Classic.

Also worth mentioning: he's the only "Darold" in MLB history.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rodrigo Lopez, 2003 Topps Opening Day #104

22 days until Opening Day! We've almost made it, even though there's currently a couple inches of snow and ice out in my yard. It's been fifteen years since Baltimore was hit with a freak snowstorm during their season opener, with Rodrigo Lopez on the mound. Because I've been at this blogging thing for a while, you'd better believe I've written about that game before.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Sammy Stewart, 1981 Donruss #474

Sadly, the Orioles family lost another notable name over the weekend, as Sammy Stewart was found dead in Hendersonville, NC on Friday. He was 63 years old.

Stewart, a powerful 6'3" righthander, burst onto the scene on September 1, 1978. Tabbed to start against the White Sox in his big league debut, he set a rookie record that still stands by striking out seven consecutive batters from the second inning to the fourth. Though he was never able to gain a foothold in the deep Baltimore starting rotation, Sammy pitched effectively in a variety of roles during his seven full seasons with the team, posting a 51-45 record, 42 saves, and a 3.47 ERA (114 ERA+). Most notably, he led the American League with a 2.32 ERA during the strike-shortened 1981 season, when he logged 112.1 innings in 29 games despite making only three starts. In the 1979 and 1983 postseasons, he allowed no runs in 12 innings across six appearances. He even picked up a save in Game Three of the 1983 ALCS, yielding just one hit and one walk in four innings after relieving starter Mike Flanagan. Sammy was by all accounts a good and affable teammate, according to the memories that several prominent ex-Orioles shared in this obituary by the Baltimore Sun.

Sammy's career was short-lived after the O's traded him to Boston for the 1986 season. He spent one year with the Red Sox, followed by a partial season in Cleveland's bullpen. As I've mentioned on this blog before, his life away from the diamond was full of struggles. He lost two children to the effects of cystic fibrosis - son Colin passed away in 1991 at age 11, and daughter Alicia was 34 when she died in 2016. In between these two tragedies his life was derailed by drug addiction, leading to homelessness and an eventual six-year incarceration in his native North Carolina. Stewart was released in 2013, and seemed to have cleaned himself up and found peace. He remarried, and worked to build a better relationship with his daughter. And now, just a few years later, he's gone. I just hope he's truly found that peace that eluded him for so long.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Nelson Briles, 1978 Topps #717

This is the fifteenth card I've featured from the 1978 Topps set. Believe it or not, that's not the highest card count for any set on this blog. I've posted 19 Orioles from the 1972 Topps set...and of course, 82 from the 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles set. That's a pretty good reminder that I've been writing this blog for a shade over ten years, and even with the slowdown in recent years, I've still racked up 2,805 entries. It all stacks up.

Nellie Briles, as I've noted before, is one of two Orioles to share my August 5 birthday. (The other is John Wasdin, a journeyman reliever who pitched in 26 games for the O's in 2001.) Topps scrambled to paint Briles into Baltimore's orange and black threads for their 1978 set; he'd spent most of the 1977 season as a Texas Ranger, joining the Birds on September 19 and making a pair of relief appearances. Nelson's 14-year big league career came to an end in Charm City in 1978. He started eight games, relieved in eight others, and posted a 4-4 record with a 4.64 ERA. Despite those modest results, he had a long and accomplished career, totaling 129 wins, 112 losses, and a 3.44 ERA. He was also a talented singer, often performing in night clubs during the offseason and entertaining teammates over the summer months. How's that for a two-way player?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Aubrey Huff, 2009 Topps #45

I picked a card at random tonight, hoping for a little inspiration. Be careful what you ask for, right? Nowadays, when I think of Aubrey Huff, I think of his frequently incomprehensible Twitter feed. It's probably true that nobody should ever tweet, but that goes double for ol' Horseshit Huff.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1998 Donruss Elite #123

It's been a while since I've highlighted a butt-ugly 1990s Cal Ripken card, and it's the extremely foily Donruss Elite to the rescue! To be fair, this card doesn't scan well. In person, you can see a blue-to-purple gradient in the background, with a speckled effect that is reminiscent of stars in the night sky. But the overbearing Elite logo that takes up all of the space between Cal's legs is an eyesore, and the less said about the "GENERATIONS" wordmark running down the right side of the card, complete with unnecessary horizontal lines between each letter.

The writeup on the back of the card is no great shakes, either. And I quote:

"Cal might not have put up the best numbers of the 90s-although his stats speak for themselves-he has earned the title of Mr. Baseball of the decade."

What the hell? If Cal's stats really do speak for themselves, then why are you downplaying his performance right out of the gate? Also, the grammar is abysmal. There's a conjunction missing somewhere, i.e. "but he has earned the title...". And that aforementioned title. "Mr. Baseball of the decade"? That's not a thing. Come on, guys.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Bill Wight, 1956 Topps #286

This is another of the 1950s cards that I picked up from COMC's Amazon store last week. I keep chipping away at the 1956 set, picking up lesser names and creased-up cards here and there, because it's just a great-looking design. Here we see Bill Wight bathed in a halo of light, as the smaller Bill shows off his lefthanded pitching form...which looks oddly pigeon-toed. Anyhow, Bill Wight was a true journeyman, squeezing in stints with eight teams in a 12-year career: Yankees, White Sox, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians, Orioles, Reds, and Cardinals. His three-year stay in Chicago was the longest that he ever stayed with one club. It was also with the Pale Hose that Wight had his best season, when he went 15-13 with a 3.31 ERA and 14 complete games in 1949. But he also pitched quite well for the Indians and O's in 1955, with a 6-8 record that belied his 2.48 ERA. He started 14 games and relieved in 22 that year, with all of his starts coming after being traded to Baltimore in mid-July. His 154 ERA+ in 141.1 innings was a career best. Bill continued in a swingman role for the Birds in 1956 and 1957, with middling results. He hung up his spikes after the 1958 season, finishing with a 77-99 record, a 3.95 ERA, and eight saves. He completed 66 of his 198 career starts.

Wight had a notable second act in baseball, serving as a scout for Houston and Atlanta for 37 years total. He signed Joe Morgan, Dusty Baker, Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, and David Justice, among others. Bill died of a heart attack at age 85 in 2007, while vacationing with his wife of 60 years.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chris Smith, 2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premieres #56

I'll cut to the quick: Chris Smith never made it to the major leagues. In an era of top draft pick misfires for the Orioles, the stocky lefty from Cumberland University in Tennessee was one of the most glaring busts. The O's selected Smith with the seventh overall pick in 2001, pegging him as a pitcher despite his strong track record as an outfielder in college. He'd batted .375 with 14 homers and 66 RBI as a sophomore at Florida State, earning second-team All-American honors. He'd taken the mound sparingly, totaling 16.1 innings in two years at FSU. When Seminoles coach Mike Martin rebuffed his request to focus on pitching going forward, he jumped to Cumberland and struck out 115 batters in 84.1 innings. As a hitter, he posted a .414 average, 17 homers, and 67 RBI.

Those 84.1 innings that Chris pitched as a collegiate junior were more than he would total in the Orioles' organization. A left shoulder tear derailed his progress, and he had a cumulative 7.52 ERA in 24 games in the minors. The Birds cut their losses in 2005 after Smith allowed 25 runs in 26.1 innings of relief with the Delmarva Shorebirds. He finished the season - and his pro career - in the independent Atlantic League with the Long Island Ducks, putting up a much more reasonable 4.14 ERA in 25 appearances. The southpaw spent several years as the hitting and outfield coach at SUNY College at Old Westbury, though my Google-fu shows that he's no longer with the school. Meanwhile, the only real success story for Baltimore in the 2001 draft came in the form of fifth-round pick Jim Johnson, a right-handed pitcher from Union-Endicott High School in New York.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Chris Tillman, 2015 Panini Donruss #58

I'd say that the Orioles are getting the band back together, but technically Chris Tillman never left. All the same, I spent much of this offseason figuring that the righty's decade in the Baltimore organization had come to an end. Tilly's 2016 was as disastrous as it gets for an impending free agent. A lingering shoulder injury cost him the first month-plus of the season, and his return on May 7 doubled as his only win of the season. He went 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA, allowing 81 earned runs in 93 innings. Every number you can find was hideous: 24 homers allowed, 51 walks against just 63 strikeouts, 125 hits. Opposing hitters batted .324/.406/.575; essentially, Chris turned every opposing batter into Mike Trout.

But I'm in danger of belaboring the point. Tillman was a 16-game winner with a 3.77 ERA as recently as 2016, he won't turn 30 until April (which I was surprised to learn), and the O's are not exactly flush with strong starting pitching options, even after picking up Andrew Cashner last week. So I don't see the harm in giving Chris a guaranteed $3 million to see if he can return to good form and health in 2018. I won't necessarily be expecting anything like that, but I think it's better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Vintage Fridays: Bob Turley, 1954 Topps #85

Last week, I had some credit card rewards money that was burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to tick a few boxes on my vintage checklist. I went to the Check Out My Cards storefront on Amazon and came away with six 1950s Topps cards (three Orioles and three one-time O's) for $25 bucks, including shipping. The key pickup was this rookie card of "Bullet" Bob Turley, who started, completed, and won the first game in Memorial Stadium, a 3-1 victory over the White Sox on April 15, 1954. The 23-year-old scattered seven hits and five walks while whiffing nine Chicago batters. In his lone season as an Oriole, Turley was the club's de facto ace, leading the team with 14 wins (against 15 losses), 247.1 innings pitched, and 185 strikeouts (against 181 walks...yikes). He also completed 14 games and posted a 3.46 ERA. Bob finished strong, going 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA in his last seven starts of the season.

I'll share the card back, since it relays a story that's pretty amusing in hindsight. Turley was from Troy, Illinois, and that led him to sign with the St. Louis Browns rather than the Yankees, so that he could pitch close to home. But by the time he reached the major leagues for good, the Browns were bound for Baltimore and the East Coast! As we now know, the Birds sent him to the Yankees prior to the 1955 season, which probably left him feeling like a plaything of fate. In the end, things worked out pretty well for Bob in New York. Two All-Star selections, a Cy Young Award in 1958 (21-7, 2.97 ERA, 19 CG), and two World Series rings qualifies as "pretty well", I think.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Tito Francona, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #143

Some somber news this week, as 15-year MLB veteran John Patsy "Tito" Francona passed away at age 84. Most fans today probably know Tito best as the father of current Indians manager Terry Francona, who himself is affectionately known as "Tito". But the elder Francona made his name as a corner outfielder and first baseman for nine big league teams, most notably having a six-year stint with the Indians. In 1959 he batted an astounding .363/.414/.566 (171 OPS+) in 122 games for Cleveland, finishing fifth in AL MVP voting behind the Hall of Fame White Sox trio of Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, and Early Wynn, as well as Tito's teammate Rocky Colavito. The following year, Francona led the league with 36 doubles, and in 1961 he made his lone All-Star team while batting .301 and driving in a career-best 85 runs.

Tito actually started his major league career in Baltimore, serving as the team's primary right fielder in 1956. His batting line of .258/.334/.378 with nine homers and 57 RBI wasn't amazing, but fair enough for a 22-year-old novice. He only appeared in 97 games with the O's in 1957, slumping to a .233 average before being dealt to the White Sox in a seven-player trade that briefly made future Hall of Famer Larry Doby an Oriole. (Doby was swapped again to the Indians on the eve of the 1958 season in a five-player transaction.)

Farewell, Tito Francona. See you in a better place.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rafael Palmeiro, 2005 Bowman #23

Ah, spring training. Florida sunshine, Arizona warmth, and...100 or so unsigned veteran free agents still looking for jobs. That's not even counting Rafael Palmeiro, who has spent the winter insisting that he's primed for a comeback at age 53, some 13 years after his long and accomplished career ended unceremoniously in the aftermath a positive steroid test. As was the case back in 2005, when his drug suspension was announced shortly after he collected his 3,000th base hit and mere months after he famously pointed his finger at members of Congress in a hearing and denied ever using any illegal performance enhancers, his timing just couldn't be worse.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Rick Sutcliffe, 1993 Topps #274

My posting frequency on this blog may have left something to be desired over the past few years, but compared to the activity on my 1993 Topps blog, I've been downright prolific in this space. Before I finally got around to posting card #494 from the base set last weekend, I hadn't touched that blog since October 14...of 2015. In other words, the last time I updated my other blog, we hadn't moved into our current house, we didn't even know that we were going to be parents, and we were still a year away from asking WHY THE HELL BUCK DIDN'T USE ZACH BRITTON IN TORONTO AUUUUUGGGHHHH. But I had a lot of fun collecting that set when I was 11 years old, and in revisiting the blog last week, I remembered that I'd had a lot of fun retrospectively diving into the set on a card-by-card basis. For instance, in doing a little quick research for my post on this Rick Sutcliffe card, I learned that Sut held Barry Bonds homerless in 51 career meetings between the two. That's the most plate appearances that Bonds had against any pitcher without going deep. If you're interested in more tidbits like this, go ahead and check out my other recently-revived writing project. It's a breezy look at a bunch of cards that I can't believe were released 25 years ago.

Oh, and FYI...today's 1993 Topps blog post was number 500. (It's card #495 in the base set, but I've also done a couple of general announcement posts and the three Gold card parallels that replaced the Series One checklists. But I digress.)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Austin Hays, 2018 Topps #62

I'm sitting down at the end of a long day of dad duty, since my wife has been waylaid by a horrendous ear infection and sinus infection to boot. Thankfully, Finn was in good spirits all day, even when I took him out early in the evening to run errands. While we were picking up medicine at Target, I'm pretty sure my son pointed me towards the trading card aisle and instructed me to treat myself to a couple 36-card packs of 2018 Topps. He drives a hard bargain.

The kid must be good luck, because I pulled five O's cards in total: base cards of Mark Trumbo, Austin Hays, Jonathan Schoop, and Chris Tillman, and a Topps Salute insert of Hays. I'm not crazy about the design of this year's base set, and I'm not the first to note that the layout of Topps' flagship cards has been stagnant for the past decade or so. That said, this "Surf's Up" look is at the very least an improvement from last year's diagonally-lined monstrosity.

Meanwhile, Austin Hays was one of the brighter spots in what was largely a disappointing 2017 for the Orioles. The team's third-round pick in June 2016 had a meteoric rise through the minors. After putting up a batting line of .336/.386/.514 in his 38-game pro debut at Aberdeen two years ago, the product of Jacksonville University began the 2017 season at high-A Frederick. Halfway through the season he was promoted to AA Bowie, and had remarkably similar numbers on both levels:

Register Batting
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/11/2018.

Austin's 32 homers were the second-highest total in the minors last year, trailing only Houston's A.J. Reed, who bashed 34 round-trippers in the hitters' haven that is the AAA Pacific Coast League. The Birds called him up in September when rosters expanded, making him the first player from his draft year to reach the majors. He had some growing pains, batting .217 with two walks, three doubles, and a home run in 63 trips to the plate as an Oriole, but 20 games at age 22 aren't the be-all and end-all. It's no sure thing that Hays will start 2018 with the O's, but it certainly looks like he's on the right track.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Brady Anderson, 1995 Fleer Flair #1

Okay, I gave Blogger a week off to think about what it did to my pictures, and now that it seems to be behaving I'll post the rest of my photo diary of FanFest.

Naturally, Finn LOVED the special Chris Davis-riffic MTA bus.
 The Bird swapped caps with Finn.
 This was the only picture we got where Finn was actually facing forward.
 I snapped a candid shot of Brady Anderson at one of the autograph stations. I think he drinks stem cell smoothies for breakfast each day. Seriously, he is 54! That's Miguel Castro partially visible on Brady's right, and on the end (not pictured) was Roger McDowell.
 Here we were strolling down the Eutaw Street concourse en route to the clubhouse tour.
 "You, there! Hit a home run!"
 I'm sure Earl Weaver made that same face in the dugout all of the time.
 Love this picture.

 I can't believe how great the field looked in January. I could probably get a good night's sleep on that grass.
 Walking past the warehouse on the way back to the car. See you in March, Birds!