Thursday, January 10, 2008

#16 Kirk McCaskill

Why this card is awesome: Because the "This Way to the Clubhouse" feature on the back reveals that current Tampa Bay Rays manager, Joe Maddon, was a scout with the Angels way back when. McCaskill's also sporting a nice set of pearly whites.

Cool stat: Fifteen pitchers since 1977 have lost 19 or more games in a season. (It's been done a total of 16 times, since Jose DeLeon did it twice.) McCaskill is one of those 15, but he's got the fourth best ERA+, at 96, and really did not pitch so poorly to deserve 19 losses.

#15 Chili Davis

Why this card is awesome:
Two words: THE GLARE.

Cool stat: Davis had 125 game-ending plate appearances. Of those, 10 were game-winning, including 9 hits (5 homers) and a bases-loaded walk. What I find interesting is that only 34 of the 115 PA's that ended a loss were strikeouts. That seems like a pretty low total to me, considering he was probably facing a lot of closers.

Oh and by the way, Chili Davis absolutely killed David Wells.

#14 Sparky Anderson

Why this card is awesome: Because Sparky Anderson is showing off a classic managerial pose, and looking crusty while doing it. Do you realize that, born in 1934, Anderson was only 53 when this photo was taken? He looks at least 65 to me.

Cool stat: Did you ever look at Anderson's major league batting record? He played one year with the Phillies in 1959, and didn't hit all that well (not to mention his poor SB%.) He did hit pretty nicely against Sandy Koufax: 2-for-8 with a double and three walks.

#13 Andres Thomas

Why this card is awesome: Because of the great action running shot, although it looks as if Thomas isn't really pumping his arms that much. Still, there are too many cards showing players batting or pitching, and not enough running or fielding.

Cool stat: Sit down for a minute. Since 1901, Thomas has the 4th lowest career OBP among players with at least 2000 at-bats. And two of the guys ahead of him played in the aughts.

#12 Bill Schroeder

Note: I have improved the quality of the card scans, and you'll see the better images starting after card #25.

Why this card is awesome: Because according to the back of the card, Schroeder lived at that time in Hales Corners, which is--I kid you not--a VILLAGE in Wisconsin.

Cool stat: Schroeder, who these days is a TV announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers, hit 61 career homers. However, 12 of them came in his six 2-HR games, and even with the benefit of his homers, his team still lost half of those games. (Mind you, 11 out of 12 of those HRs were solo shots, as you can surmise from the link.)

#11 Mike Young

Why this card is awesome: It's a great shot of Young, pensive as he leans against the batting cage, waiting for his turn to rake.

Cool stat: Young had one excellent year in 1985, with an OPS+ of 136. Had he appeared in more games, he might have topped 35 HR and 100 RBI, and perhaps had a different career. But anyway, of his 72 career HR, he hit 3 apiece off 3 different pitchers. He owned Bruce Hurst and Curt Young, posting a combined OPS over 1.500 in nearly 40 PAs. But while he also had 3 HR of Willie Hernandez, those were his only 3 hits in 16 ABs against Hernandez. If you follow that link and click on Willie's name to see the individual PAs, you can see that 5 of them ended the game: 4 strikeouts and 1 walk-off homer.

#10 Ryne Sandberg

Why this card is awesome: Because of some very subtle airbrushing. Take a look in the dugout behind Ryno's legs. There's a guy sitting there who looks like he's giving the photograph the finger, but his face is just kind of faded out.

Cool stat: Sandberg loved hitting at Wrigley. Check out his batting splits: He batted 31 points higher at home, and slugged 79 points higher at home. He had 164 HR and 607 RBI at home and 118 HR and 454 RBI on the road.

#9 Andy Hawkins

Why this card is awesome: It's easy to pick on Hawkins' appearance in this photo, but what really makes the card awesome is the very simplistic, under-grown spring training foliage in the background.

Cool stat: Hawkins was involved in a famous no-hitter-that-wasn't when his Yankees lost 4-0 to Chicago in a game in which he went the distance and gave up no hits. I wrote a post about this, and other such games, here at SOTD blog.

#8 Kevin Elster

Why this card is awesome: There's a lot to like about this card, including the fact that Topps used the same "Future Stars" logo as with the 1987 set, creating a nice tie-in between the sets. But the reason why this card is awesome is Elster's little baseball player necklace. It's AWESOME!

Cool stat: Elster didn't live up to his "Future Star" hype, due mainly to injuries. If I recall correctly, he had a long errorless streak at shortstop, and of course he put together one very nice year in 1996. But how about this game? He hit a grand slam off Manny Alexander, in Alexander's only career pitching appearance (since he was usually a shortstop himself.)

#7 Benny Santiago Record Breaker

Why this card is awesome: Because it calls him "Benny." In this day and age, players are tending to use more formal versions of their names, but 1988 is long ago enough that they still snuck "Benny" in there. Most of the rest of the cards in his career have him down as "Benito."

Cool stat: The 34-game streak ended up being quite a fluke. Looking at the longest hitting streaks of Santiago's career, his next longest streak was just 13 games.

#6 Nolan Ryan Record Breaker

Why this card is awesome: Because the back shows his real nickname, "Ryan's Express", not "The Ryan Express" as most of us remember it.

Cool stat: Updating his total of 200 strikeout seasons shows that Ryan is still in the lead. The top five are:
                   From  To   Ages Seasons

Nolan Ryan 1972 1991 25-44 15 Ind. Seasons

Randy Johnson 1991 2005 27-41 13 Ind. Seasons
Roger Clemens 1986 2004 23-41 12 Ind. Seasons
Tom Seaver 1968 1978 23-33 10 Ind. Seasons
Pedro Martinez 1996 2005 24-33 9 Ind. Seasons
Looks like he's going to hang on to that record for a long time unless Johnson can find a bit more youth.

#5 Niekro brothers Record Breaker

Why this card is awesome:
I'm thinking this has to be the card with the highest total age featuring two active players. In the 1987 season, Phil Niekro was 48 and Joe Niekro was 42. That's 90 years total, and I challenge anybody to find a higher total.

Cool stat: Since 1901, a pitcher at least 40 years old has posted 200+ innings in a season just 60 times. The Niekro brothers have 8 out of 60, with Phil leading all pitchers with 7 all by himself.

Deceased players and managers: 1

Joe Niekro is the first card we've come across in the 1988 Topps set featuring a player who is, as of now, deceased. I'm going to keep track of this as we go through the rest of the set, as a point of interest. I would like to stress that I'm not trying to be funny or make light of anybody's death. I just think it's an interesting thing to track.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

#4 Eddie Murray Record Breaker

Like the McGwire card #3, this one also had an error and a corrected version. The error version was missing the box explaining the record.

Why this card is awesome: Isn't it obvious? The stereo image of Murray batting from both sides is one of most iconic baseball cards of the 1980s.

Cool stat: Among switch-hitters, Murray has the most seasons in history with at least 20 HR. Chipper Jones is closing quickly, though.

#3 Mark McGwire Record Breaker

This is the error version of the card, due to that little white triangle near McGwire's left foot. Topps issued a corrected version where this was filled in red.

Why this card is awesome: Because it's one of the few cards from this set where the Topps logo doesn't appear close to one of the corners.

Cool stat: McGwire's 1987 ranks 4th all-time for most homers by a player in his first 3 years. Over on the PI, seasons are not discounted even if the player didn't quality as a rookie. (In other words, it counts 1987 as McGwire's second year even though he had just 53 at-bats in 1986.)

#2 Don Mattingly Record Beaker

Why this card is awesome: Because it's nice to get a bonus Mattingly card, but it's extra-nice to get a bonus shot of Rickey Henderson, a likely HOFer next year.

Cool stat: While Mattingly hit 6 grand slams in 1987 and had 222 total home runs in his career, he never had another grand slam in any other year, finishing with just those 6. Check out his home run log here and notice the breakdown of baserunners for each homer.

#1 Vince Coleman Record Breaker

Why this card is awesome: Because Vince Coleman looks like a chameleon. I don't know why Topps decided to make the Record Breaker backgrounds red in 1988, but Coleman virtually disappears on this card.

Cool stat: Since 1957, Coleman is #1 for most games out of the first 50 in a career with at least one stolen base. You can read all about it here and see that over those 50 games, Coleman stole 42 bases.