Saturday, August 9, 2008

#601 Jack Lazorko

Why this card is awesome: Because he got his first major league save nearly 3 years before his first major league win! Even for guys who pitch exclusively in relief, that's got to be pretty rare.

Cool stat: Lazorko is one of just 28 pitchers since 1901 to pitch at least 60 innings in his first 3 seasons, getting at least 1 save and no wins.

Friday, August 8, 2008

#600 Mike Schmidt

Why this card is awesome: Because I hate this damn card. Schmidt is one of my most favorite players, and this card came after his last great year. Do they get a nice action shot of him batting? No. A great posed shot? No. They get a nonsense shot of him wearing his warmup jacket and fooling around with a bat. Bah.

Cool stat: I love Schmidt and could write about him all day. For one thing, his actual stats were 548 HR and 1595 RBI. But the Phillies were bad most years he was there, leading to neutralized totals of 593 HR and 1711 RBI. I assume that if he had 593 HR, he would have stayed active for the rest of 1989 and gotten to 600 career, which would have made him only the 4th guy to achieve it at that time.

Anyway, Phillies' management needs to get some credit for what happened in 1973. Since 1901, only 18 times has a player 23 years old or younger gotten 300 or more at-bats in a season and batted under .200. Look at that list: lots of recognizable names, but nobody else with a career anywhere close to Schmidt's. Bobby Byrne, Joe Dugan, Bill Wambsganss, and yes, even Spike Owen, went on to do some good things on the field. But none of those guys was even half the player Schmidt turned out to be.

Mike Schmidt was one of the finest ballplayers to ever step onto a diamond, and if you don't believe me, look at all the text in italics on the back of his card. (Or note that his HOF Monitor is 249.5, and a likely HOF is 100 or greater.)

Hall of Fame count: 38

#599 Calvin Schiraldi

Why this card is awesome: Because I assume Schiraldi is warming up on a bullpen mound here, given how far away the crowd is. Oh, and because he looks like a complete tool. And I don't mean tool as in "he's a 5-tool player."

Cool stat: For pitchers who finished with 300 to 600 career IP since 1901, Schiraldi had the 24th-best strikeout rate. But for all the guys ahead of him, only 8 had a higher career WHIP. (Scan the 3rd column of stats to see that.) That's why he never made it past 600 career IP.

#598 Lee Lacy

Why this card is awesome: Because the first "O" in "Orioles" is heavily obstructed, moreso than any other letter on any other card in the set, I think. Finishing up with the Orioles in 1987 at age 39, this was Lacy's last card.

Cool stat: Lacy had 42 career triples, with two coming in one game that his team won 10-0.

#597 Gene Garber

Why this card is awesome: Because of the great shot of Garber, looking like he's pitching softball. Also who's in the background..Seitzer I think?

Cool stat: Scanning Garber's stats, I noticed a weird thing. In 1974, he racked up 24 intentional walks in just 76 IP. That's the most IBBs in any season with 100 or fewer IP. Wait a second, upon further research, that's the most IBBs in any season since 1901 (regardless of IP!)

There must be some explanation for this...anybody?

Maybe Garber just liked issuing IBBs. After all, for career IBBs since 1901, he's 4th overall, with about the same number as Steve Carlton had, in more than 3,000 fewer innings. Kent Tekulve is #1 all time with even fewer innings than Garber.

Stretch run

Just like your favorite baseball team, this blog is entering the stretch run. We're just past 75% done with the set. When we reach Mr. Tudor (#792) I will be following on with a 1988 Tiffany Topps Traded set. While the traded set gets posted here, I'll also start up the 1978 Topps blog at a different URL (can you guess which?)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

#596 John Kruk

Why this card is awesome: Because just like Kevin McReynolds a little while back, Kruk is rockin' the weird combo of warmup jacket and batting helmet.

I have a vivid memory of John Kruk during the 1993 NLCS against the Braves, when he played for the Phillies. In Game 1 of that series (in which the Braves were favored but the Phillies eventually won,) Kim Batiste came in as a defensive substitution for Dave Hollins at 3B in the ninth inning, at the same time that Mitch Williams came in to try to save a tie game. Thanks to a Williams walk and a Batiste error, the Braves tied the game and it went to extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, Kruk had one of the biggest hits of his career, doubling off Greg McMichael. Batiste, who was offensively challenged in comparison to Hollins, was then forced to bat for himself after Kruk. He delivered a single, and Kruk scored the winning run. What I remember so vividly is this, though: watching Kruk (who wasn't the fastest runner) round third base and try to score, the TV camera caught him taking at least 3 chews of whatever was in his mouth (I assume tobacco) as he was rounding the base, running home. If you're too young to remember John Kruk, that story tells you everything you need to know about the guy. Very rough around the edges but a damn fine ballplayer.

Cool stat: Not very often does a first baseman score 100+ runs but drive in 95 or fewer. But the Krukster did it in that magical year of 1993. It's been done only 3 times since, including by Kevin Youkilis and Nick Johnson in 2006.

#595 Frank White

Why this card is awesome: Because, Frank, which is it...#20 or #8? Under the cap is says #20 (which was White's number) but the knob of the bat appears to say #8. That's interesting because in 1987, the Royals didn't have a player who wore #8. But in 1988, Mike Macfarlane did. I guess this photo was taken then? Probably not. It appears that Macfarlane started with #28 in 1987 but he probably switched to #8 at some point.

Cool stat: Sure, White is in the 2000 hit club, but he's got the lowest OBP of all the members. I wrote something about Frank White recently for an A Pack a Day post that I'll repeat here: White was very overrated by Kansas City fans, and underrated by everybody else. He's a totally forgotten guy in history, except in K.C. where he's remembered as a great player, which he wasn't. He was a decent, steady middle infielder at a time when those guys weren't supposed to give much offense.

#594 Bobby Valentine

Why this card is awesome: Because, OMG, there's someone masturbating right behind him! I mean, I know it's a perfectly natural and normal thing to do and all, but right behind your manager in a public place? Valentine might want to hang a towel over the back of his uniform.

Cool stat: As a player, Valentine hit 12 homers, including 2 off HOF pitchers (Phil Niekro and Catfish Hunter.)

#593 Bob Tewksbury

Why this card is awesome: Because that is an incredibly unflattering photo of Tewksbury's teeth. He looks like Richard Kiel.

Cool stat: Tewksbury was a pretty good pitcher, better than his numbers indicate (actual W-L record of 110-102, .519, neutralized to 109-95, .534.) But if you know the Tewk, you know that his big thing was simply incredible control. Going back to 1901, among all pitchers with at least 1000 IP, Tewksbury incredibly makes the top 10 for fewest BB/9IP.

#592 Dale Sveum

Why this card is awesome: Because Sveum is clearly looking at the famous hole in his bat. Don't know what I am referring to? Read all about it.

Cool stat: Sveum had one of the worst seasons, in terms of walks, with at least 120 strikeouts.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

#591 Doug Drabek

Why this card is awesome: Because behind Drabek we've got a middle infielder in the background, and behind that guy we've got some random dude carrying a white bag across the outfield. Makes perfect sense.

Interestingly, that infielder is probably 2B Johnny Ray, who was with the Pirates for most of 1987 before getting traded to the Angels. On Ray's own card from this set, he's wearing his Angels uniform (clearly not airbrushed) making him the only example I can think of for a player appearing in the base 1988 Topps set in two different team uniforms.

Cool stat: Drabek is another guy like Tom Browning and Bob Forsch who was pretty damn average but is remembered better due to a couple of specific good performances. Firstly, Drabek won 22 games while losing only 6 in 1990 and won a Cy Young. That was, by far, his best year in the majors. Also, he pitched very well for the Pirates in the postseason, despite the Pirates losing all 3 LCS series he appeared in. In the 1992 NLCS, he started 3 games and lost all 3 even though he gave up only 7 runs in those 3 games.

Andres Galarraga (6) and Darryl Strawberry (5) owned Drabek as the leading HR hitters against him.

2003 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites #27 George Bell

Why this card is awesome: Because, oh I don't know. I'm not a huge Bell fan, but I remember going to a few games at Comiskey in May 1992 and I loved how the announcer used to say "George.......BELL" where the "Bell" was both louder and deeper in tone. You White Sox fans know what I'm talking about.

#590 George Bell

Why this card is awesome: Because of the oh-so-cool Michael Jackson one-gloved look. Did Bell actually bat that way?

Cool stat: In history, there have been 14 times that a player hit 40+ homers but didn't reach 40 walks in the same season. Bell's famous 1987 is on that list.

After Bell had 31 HR and 108 RBI in 1986 and followed that with 47 HR and 134 RBI in 1987, it must have been tempting for Topps to give him a better card number than #590, especially considering that he won the 1987 AL MVP. But I guess they knew something. Bell had a few pretty good years left but never came close to repeating the massive numbers from '87.

#589 Geno Petralli

Why this card is awesome: Because this card joins Wade Boggs in the ass-grabbing catchers category. And to do it to another catcher!

Cool stat: I can't think of much to say about Petralli. He had 31 game-ending PAs, and two of them were walk-off singles.

#588 Jeff Parrett

Why this card is awesome: Because two straight years of making the Expos and then going back to the minors should have told you something about where Parrett's career was heading. The most notable thing he achieved was getting traded for Dale Murphy.

Cool stat: My comment immediately above is a bit harsh. Parrett did finish with a 104 ERA+, but he never had a single seasonal ERA+ between 90 and 114, except for his first full year in 1987 when he posted a 100 even. Every other year, he either sucked or kicked ass. You never knew what you were getting.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to look this up on the Play Index to demonstrate how odd it was. So check out his main page yourself.

But I promised a cool stat for every card, so how about Parrett's career performance against Dale Murphy?

#587 Terry Puhl

Why this card is awesome: Because it's our second straight grizzly veteran card. Aso this is another card, like Don Slaught, where it's tough to tell what position he played or whether he was a hitter or a pitcher.

Cool stat: Puhl had 4 games with at least 7 total bases but the 'Stros lost 3 of those games. Not Terry's fault.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#586 Bob Forsch

Why this card is awesome: Because of the alarmingly teeny-tiny strikeout rate--just 1039 K's in 2550.1 innings. Wow. Amazing Forsch made it that many years in the first place.

Cool stat: Forsch was actually not that great of a pitcher despite sticking around for a long time. He had more seasons with a below-average ERA than above-average ERA and finished with a career ERA+ of 98. Not terrible, but not what you'd expect for a guy who played so many years. What saved Forsch's reputation was his W-L% of .553, as well as the no-hitter he threw. Looking since 1901 at pitchers with at least 2000 career IP and an ERA+ of 100 or less (meaning league average or worse,) Forsch makes the top 10 for W-L%. There are some good pitchers on this list, but mostly it's populated by guys who played on good teams but weren't fantastic pitchers: Dave Stewart (helped tremendously by being on the Athletics at their peak 1988-1990), Scott McGregor, John Burkett, and Bill Gullickson are all good examples.

The most telling stat? His actual W-L record was 168-136 (.553) but his neutralized record was 151-157 (.490), which sounds about right for a guy with a 98 ERA+. Also his 1977 record of 20-7 neutralizes to 13-11--whoa!

Ironically, Bob's brother Ken Forsch had basically the opposite career. He finished 114-113 (.502) but with an ERA+ of 106, a little above average. His neutralized record is 126-106 (.543.)

#585 Ozzie Guillen

Why this card is awesome: Because of the bonus shot of Bob Boone, catching for the Angels. Now, here's a question for Steve. We can also see the White Sox' first base coach in that shot. Who would that have been in 1987? Maybe we can uptick the Hall of Fame counter!

If you've been living under a rock, Guillen is now the manager of the White Sox.

Cool stat: Guillen was a horrendous offensive player. How bad? For players amassing at least 7000 PA since 1980, he has the worst OBP. He's the only guy under .300 and he's worst by a good margin. And look who's number 2! Number 1 Mr. Overrated, Joe Carter.

#584 Steve Trout

Why this card is awesome: Because that's got to be the fuzziest guy I've ever seen in the background of a baseball card. He's too fuzzy to be an infielder or baserunner--he must be an outfielder or at least someone shagging flies in the outfield.

Cool stat: Since 1901, Trout makes the top 20 in WHIP for pitchers with at least 1500 IP. By top 20, I mean highest 20. As in, he sucked. It's actually fairly wacky that he managed a career ERA+ of 96 and finished just a few games under .500.

#583 Dave Valle

Why this card is awesome: Because of the mention of his "1st" major league Pinch-HR, as if they expected him to hit a lot more. Checking his splits on shows just how many pinch homers Valle had in his career: one.

Cool stat: Valle is the only catcher since 1901 (probably forever) to have 2 different seasons with no more than 350 AB, 50+ RBI, but an OPS+ of 90 or lower. He was a pretty bad hitter but knocked in a few in those 2 years.

#582 Mike Henneman

Why this card is awesome: Because of an unheralded rookie card from the 1988 Topps set. Henneman went largely unnoticed in his career but he was a very good closer for a number of years.

Cool stat: From 1987 to 1991, Henneman is way out in the lead for most wins by a pitcher who didn't start a single game. Looks like Henneman was used to finish out a lot of games that were non-save situations, and the Tigers came through to win when he was the pitcher of record. Not quite Mitch Williams vulture style.

Monday, August 4, 2008

#581 Tito Landrum

Why this card is awesome: Because I never noticed airbrushed cards until Ben Henry pointed it out, but holy crap, this card is totally airbrushed. He must have been in a Cardinals uniform when they took the photo.

Cool stat: Landrum was not a good offensive player. In his entire career, spanning more than 600 games, he had only 2 games in which he got on base more than 3 times.

#580 Mark McGwire

Why this card is awesome: Because of the laughable notion on the back that McGwire could play 3B. After he bulked up, I doubt he could even crouch enough to play there.

Cool stat: Sure McGwire's in the 500-HR club, but he's got the fewest RBI of all.

McGwire's not in the Hall of Fame yet, and my guess is he never makes it. He was a tremendously one-dimensional player and the andro and steroids stuff ain't gonna help.

Still, this is a great card.

#579 Mets Leaders

Why this card is awesome: Because of a ridiculous pair. Seems like Gary Carter is always flashing that million-dollar smile. And Kevin McReynolds looks pretty damned dorky. Does he realize that although he's got his bat and helmet, he should probably take off the warm-up jacket before stepping in the cage?

I also like how far back you can see into the stands.

Cool stat: The 1988 Mets won 100 games but were one of just 5 teams with 1 or none players with 400 AB and a .271 or better BA. Nice and balanced, I suppose.

Hall of Fame count: 37

Carter rung up #35 on the HOF counter, with Don Sutton coming in between. That's Black & Decker sandwiched between two Kids.

#578 Gary Gaetti

Why this card is awesome: Because Gaetti looks so confused. I assume he's looking at the third-base coach, trying to read the sign.

Cool stat: Gaetti had quite a 1998. For players 39 or older with fewer than 500 PAs in a season, Gaetti makes the top 10 for RBI. Some very nice company on that list. Interestingly, I think that was the best year Gaetti ever had.