Saturday, August 30, 2008

#677 Eddie Milner

Why this card is awesome: Because check out that dumpy, slumped over guy sitting on a bucket of Gatorade at the end of the dugout. I guess he's sad because he's the equipment manager and there's crap strewn all over the floor.

Cool stat: Milner had a good batting eye. Over the last 50 years, for players with no more than 280 career strikeouts, he had one of the top walk totals. Other players on there we've talked about lately include Bruce Benedict, Randy Ready, Stan Musial, Mike LaValliere, and Marty Barrett.

Friday, August 29, 2008

#676 Ken Dixon

Why this card is awesome: Because there's a weird airbrushing on the left. There's a pitcher in the background but Topps but a blue block over everything. Weird. Why did they feel they need to do that?

This was Dixon's last card.

Cool stat: Dixon had a pretty short career, but not too short to avoid giving up 4 homers to Dave Winfield.

#675 Jim Rice

Why this card is awesome: Because in 1988, when I saw this card, I thought Rice looked like a dork. It's not a good photo, bottom line, and Rice deserved better. He goes down with Mike Schmidt as a star player who got robbed in this set.

Cool stat: Jim Rice was excellent, although not as good as Boston-area fans think. In my book, he's just slightly shy of deserving the Hall of Fame, although I think he will be voted in this coming year. His peak from 1977 to 1979 was incredible, though. He was #1 in homers and #1 in RBIs. Among guys who played at least 400 games, he had the 3rd-highest OPS, but he played in 481 games, more than the two guys ahead of him, and 200 PAs more than those guys too.

#674 Mike Fitzgerald

Why this card is awesome: Because I can't figure out which Expo that is in the background. It follows that it's the on-deck hitter, for starters, and it's clearly a white guy or fairly light-skinned Latino player. It looks like he's wearing #1, but the Expos didn't have a guy wearing #1 in 1987 or 1988. So then I looked at the lineups for the 1987 Expos. Interesting that early on, Fitzgerald batted 5th, but he slid later and later during the year until he was stuck in the 8-hole ahead of the pitcher. It's likely that this photo was taken earlier in 1987, though, and that means he batted mainly in front of Vance Law, who wore #2. Seems like that might be Law--there is perhaps a shade of eyeglasses on the guy, and otherwise the color and build is correct. Perhaps it's a pitcher, but those only pitchers with a #1 in their jersey are Floyd Youmans, who that clearly is not, and Randy St. Claire, who had only 6 AB in 1987 (and probably none of them came following Fitzgerald, although that's easy to check.)

Anybody else have any ideas?

This is also the final card in the trade mentioned on the back, having already posted the 4 other guys mentioned.

Cool stat: In 1986, Fitzgerald had one of the top seasons for a backup catcher. For catchers with no more than 250 PAs and an OPS+ over 120, he had one of the highest RBI totals.

#673 Tony Phillips

Why this card is awesome: Because Phillips is a pretty underrated player, mainly because he was much better in the second half of his career. From 1982 to 1991, he had an OPS+ just under 100, and an OBP under .360. From 1993 to 1999, his OPS+ was well over 100 and his OBP was something like .390. Superstar, no, but a quality hitter. Factor in that he could play both infield and outfield, and he was a pretty valuable player.

Steve at White Sox Cards recently wrote a little piece about Tony Phillps.

Cool stat: Phillips' increase in OBP can be seen in his career batting splits. A quick analysis suggests that his managers used him pretty well. Note that he had a career .386 OBP batting 1st, and a career .335 OBP batting 9th. If you click on "Batting 9th" you can get it year-by-year, and discover that most of those ABs came early in his career, when he wasn't as good at getting on base. Now click on "Batting 1st" and see that most of those ABs came in the second half of his career, when he was getting on base a lot more often.

#672 John Davis

Why this card is awesome: Because this is a very interesting rookie card. Davis had a nice 1987 season with the Royals, but that came after a quiet unimpressive minor-league career (see back of card below.) I guess Topps knew something not making him an all-star rookie, because 1987 was his only good year.

Cool stat: Check out this list of pitchers who had at least 40 IP and an ERA+ over 200 in their rookie season. (As always with, it misses guys who might have had a cup of coffee before their true rookie season, such as Jonathan Papelsmear Papelbon, who definitely should be on this list.) Davis was the only guy to do it over a 14-year period, although that probably has more to do with September call-ups than anything else. That list is a real mixed bag.

#671 Tim Laudner

Why this card is awesome: Because it sure is impressive to have 16 HR and 43 RBI in 288 AB and still bat below .200. Wow.

Cool stat: Of Laudner's 77 career homers, 3 came off Floyd Bannister, and 2 were game-winning shots off Jim Winn, both coming in one of the Twins' magical years (1987 in this case.)

#670 Dan Plesac

Why this card is awesome: Because Plesac is one of the best relievers from the last 20 years and nobody knows it. He came in as a very effective closer for the Brewers in the last 1980s and pitched effectively through his final year with the Phillies at age 41 in 2003. Way to go, legendary scout Ray Poitevint!

Cool stat: Plesac had one of the best-ever final seasons for a 40+ year old pitcher with at least 30 IP.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

#669 Phillies Leaders

Why this card is awesome: Because the royal screwing of the Phillies continues. Almost all of the individual player cards are bad photos, and now here's one featuring Lance Parrish, who's at least a fairly good player, and somebody else.

Who is that somebody else, you ask? Well it's Mike Ryan, a one-time player for the Phillies who was a coach for them for most of the 1980s. Now don't get me wrong. I'm happy to see players from history on cards. But could they really not find a better photo? One at least where we can actually see these two guys, or maybe one featuring some of the better players on the Phillies team? Like Schmidt, or Juan Samuel, or Von Hayes, or Chris James, or Steve Bedrosian, or Kent Tekulve?

So, by the way, I was wrong when I said that I thought the Brewers Leaders card was the only one in the set to prominently feature a person who wasn't a current manager or player. This one does too.

Cool stat: Still, I'll take this opportunity to comment a bit on Mike Ryan. He finished under .200 for his career, but he hit well off a few HOF pitchers, including Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, and Tom Seaver.

#668 Walt Terrell

Why this card is awesome: Because here's trade that the Mets got the better of. After a few solid, but average, years with the Mets, they shipped him to Detroit for Howard Johnson, who was a pretty productive player for New York.

Cool stat: Terrell has one of the most recent seasons with double-digits complete games but a below-average ERA. Interestingly, Jack Morris did it 3 years in a row!

#667 Luis Quinones

Why this card is awesome: Because, boy oh boy, Quinones sure does not look very confident is this photo. If I had to guess, I'd say that in the last half-inning, he made a bad error that allowed 2 runs to score, and he's nervous about going out on to the field in the next half-inning.

True dat, his fielding stats, at least as far as errors and range factor, were quite poor in the major leagues.

Cool stat: In his last year in the big leagues, 1992, Quinones had a .200 BA but only a .167 OBP. How did he do that? Sacrifice flies count against OBP but not BA. He had 1 hit in 5 AB that year, but also 1 SF, giving him 1-for-6 when calculating OBP. Only 5 guys have ever had a seasonal BA as high as .200 and an OBP as low as .167. Quinones, and 4 pitchers.

#666 Mario Soto

Why this card is awesome: Because this is card #666 and it's a huge red guy. Must be Satan. No, it's just Mario Soto.

Cool stat: Soto was a fantastic pitcher who is hugely underrated. Instead of posting more about it here, I'm going to refer you to a piece I wrote here. He was one of the best starters in baseball from 1982 to 1985. It was injuries that kept him from having a long career. His neutralized career W-L% is 106-88, .546, as compared to the actual 100-92, .521.

#665 Turn Back the Clock - 1963

Why this card is awesome: Because, boy, with the TBTC cards, the Hall of Famers come fast and furious. I can't think of anything better in a 1988 set than having a reprint of a 25-year-old Stan Musial card. At the time I collected the 88 Topps set as a youngster, I had never even seen any cards old than a 1968 Tom Seaver that my friend Eric had.

Cool stat: For some reason, Musial often doesn't get mentioned among the very best greats of the game. Names that always seem to come ahead of him include Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Williams, DiMaggio, and others. But Stan the Man is top shelf along with those guys. He had a very long and productive career and had a period of peak performance from 1948 to 1954, when he led all of baseball in hitting. During that same period, he also led all of baseball in RBIs and runs scored. And doubles. And triples. And he struck out only 248 times over those 7 seasons.

Hall of Fame count: 42

#664 Turn Back the Clock - 1968

Why this card is awesome: Because it's Big Bad Gibby. This is a great card for a great Hall of Famer.

Cool stat: Younger fans today don't realize just how awesome Gibson was in all facets of the game. Since 1901, just twice has a pitcher thrown 300+ innings and had an ERA+ of 250 or better. Gibson in 1968 and Walter Johnson in 1913. That's it. Think about how dominant a pitcher has to be to finish with an ERA so low over THREE HUNDRED innings.

Hall of Fame count: 41

#663 Turn Back the Clock - 1973

Why this card is awesome: Because while the Blomberg card is very cool, with a great shot of Yankee Stadium in the background, it would have been nice to see the 1973 card for one of the other players mentioned on the back, such as Hank Aaron or Reggie Jackson. Part of the reason may have been that the cards of both of those guys in 1973 were forgettable. Aaron was shown catching a fly ball, and Jackson was shown with his face in the shadows, contorted as he just started to make a throw.

Cool stat: Ron Blomberg was one of just 4 players to have an OPS+ above 140 every year from 1971 to 1974. Of course, he was not a full time player and didn't have a very long career.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

#662 Turn Back the Clock - 1978

Why this card is awesome: Because this is a harbinger of great things to come. As soon as we finish this 88 Topps set (plus the 88 Traded set) it's on to the 78 set, including the card featured on this Turn Back the Clock issue.

By the way, on that Rice card, where it says "DH-OF", that stands, quite rightly, for "Denied: Hall of Fame."

Cool stat: The back of the card mentions that Rice had 15 triples in a 40+ HR season in 1978. That's pretty rare. Only 17 times has a player had double-digit triples along with 40+ homers and Rice ranks up there with some pretty damn good company: Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Greenberg, Hornsby, Mays...

#661 Turn Back the Clock - 1983

Why this card is awesome: Because the Turn Back the Clock cards were absolutely brilliant, and I think were the forerunners of today's craze of printing cards using retro designs and/or reissuing of old classic cards. I did a little bit of research, but please correct me if anything here is wrong. It looks like Topps first included TBTC cards in the 1977 set, but these used old photos of players, as opposed to pictures of actual old Topps cards. The first time they used the above format (featuring old cards) was in 1986, in a set that featured Fernando Valenzuela (1981) , Tom Seaver (1976), Willie Mays (1971), Frank Robinson (1966) and Roger Maris (1961).

Anyway, as a kid who first collected in 1988, this 1983 Nolan Ryan card seemed very old, and the other TBTC cards (the next 4 cards on this blog) seemed absolutely ancient. It was a real treat to get to see such old cards. Furthermore, the first time I held an actual 1983 Topps Ryan in my hands, it felt very special after having seen it only as a sort of reprint.

By the way, I do recall trimming these TBTC cards down to cut out the original cards like minis.

Cool stat: 1983 was Nolan Ryan's career low year for wild pitches, among full seasons he pitched, with just 5. That didn't prevent him from becoming #1 all-time, though.

Hall of Fame count: 40

A bonus Nolan Ryan HOF card!

#660 Rick Reuschel

Why this card is awesome: Because, OMG, it's yet another airbrushed Giants card from this set. Reuschel came over from the Pirates late in the 1987 season. I'm a bit flabbergasted that Topps thought it was better/cheaper to pay someone to airbrush the photo than it was to send a photographer out to a game to get photos of guys who were new to the uniform (whether traded or rookies.)

Cool stat: The original Big Daddy (long before Cecil Fielder ever got called that) was a pretty good hitter in addition to being a very solid big-league pitcher. He's one of the most recent pitchers to amass at least 75 RBIs in his career. He's also one of the more recent pitchers to amass 200 IP in a season at age 40 or older.

I went to and put in "Big Daddy" in the search box. It also came up with Stan Williams, who I guess then is the REAL ORIGINAL Big Daddy, having the nickname even before Reuschel.

#659 Bobby Meacham

Why this card is awesome: Because if you're a Yankees fan (and I know that some of you are...) it's weird to see a Yankee who is NOT Jorge Posada displaying the uniform #20. I'm guessing that after Posada is done with it, no Yankee will wear #20 again.

Cool stat: Meacham, currently the third-base coach for the modern-day Highlanders, had a pretty short career. He hit 8 homers, and 2 of them came off Ron Romanick.

#658 Tim Conroy

Why this card is awesome: Because here's another uncorrected error card, with Conroy's name in white instead of black like all the rest of the Cardinals.

This was Conroy's last card, as he finished up with the Cards in 1987. (In the majors, at least. You can see here that he played a couple more years in the minors.)

Cool stat: In the last 25 years, Conroy had one of the highest walk rates in a qualified season (that's 162 IP, which is what is required for the ERA title.) That list is populated by two kinds of pitchers: folks who started off kind of rough and then turned it around (Randy Johnson, Darryl Kile, Al Leiter, Brandon Webb, Wilson Alvarez) and guys who showed some promise but flamed out before ever making it (Matt Clement, Tony Saunders, Pat Rapp, etc.)

#657 Gary Redus

Why this card is awesome: Because, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: THE BLURRIEST PERSON EVER IN THE BACKGROUND OF A BASEBALL CARD.

Cool stat: Redus had one of the lowest batting averages for a player with at least 300 SB. He was only slightly better than his contemporary namesake, Gary Pettis.


I just wanted to say a quick thanks to all the readers out there, especially those who have posted comments. So far, this blog has been a lot of fun for me.

We're going to finish this month with about 7,000 visitors and 20,000 page views, our best month ever. That brings us to about 30,000 visitors and 100,000 page views in the last six months, and something like 50,000 visitors and 150,000 page views since the blog started in January. That's not too shabby!

#656 Lee Guetterman

Why this card is awesome: Because, wow, Topps was digging deep for those stats on the back. If they are mentioning somebody ranking tenth in something, it would be nice if it were something like all-time wins by a lefty, not in ERA in one season in some minor league.

Cool stat: Since 1901, just two pitchers have had two seasons with an ERA above 7 over at least 60 innings. Guetterman is one, and surprisingly Hideo Nomo is the other.

#655 Len Dykstra

Why this card is awesome: Because, hey look, it's another Expo in the background! And if you thought there was a big difference in Mark McGwire's appearance over the years, compare Nails above to this photo:

A bit thicker all around, eh?

The Phillies' trade for Dykstra was a great one. In addition to getting Lenny, the Phils also got Roger McDowell in exchange for Juan Samuel. Samuel stuck around for many more years but was never the same player, whereas Dykstra and McDowell (less so) did some great things for the Phillies.

Cool stat: Only two guys have ever had a season with 30 stolen bases, 120 walks, and 140 runs scored. Dykstra did it in the Phillies' magical year of 1993, but you probably can't guess who the other one was.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#654 Roger Craig

Why this card is awesome: Because when it was 1988, Craig was one of the most revered managers in baseball. Along with Sparky Anderson, Dick Williams, Chuck Tanner, and a couple of others, Craig was a guy who had seen and done it all. The next year, Craig finally took the Giants to the World Series, though they lost to Oakland in the famous earthquake-interrupted post-season.

Cool stat: Craig's record losing-streak as a pitcher is well known, but he wasn't actually a bad pitcher. Over 1962-1963, he had one of the top complete game totals in MLB.

#653 Jeff Sellers

Why this card is awesome: Because of the mention of scout Joe Stephenson on the back. Stephenson is a guy just about nobody has heard of, but he was a big-league player and a good scout for the Red Sox. (Don't judge by Sellers.)

Sellers was part of one of the more ill-fated trades we've seen in the last 30 or so years. The Red Sox shipped him along with Todd Benzinger to the Reds for Nick Esasky and Rob Murphy. Sellers was injured and never pitched again in the big leagues with the Reds or anybody else. Esasky had a fluke year for Boston and turned that into a huge free-agent contract with Atlanta, and then got vertigo and never played again. Murphy had one great year in Boston followed by a terrible year, and then left to be a wandering average pitcher for 5 more years and 6 more teams. Benzinger put up two bad years for the Reds (OPS+ of 89 and 70, which for a first baseman is dreadful) before puttering out with a few other teams.

Cool stat: This is kind of neat. Fifty different pitchers had at least 1 complete game every year from 1985 to 1988. This list is a who's who of the top #1 and #2 starters in baseball from that period. Except for Jeff Sellers, who had by far the least impressive major-league career out of the 50 guys.