Saturday, August 16, 2008

#618 Cecil Fielder

Why this card is awesome: Because of two things. Firstly, I love those houses in the background. Secondly, this was a forgotten card from the 1988 set. Fielder didn't play much in 1988 and then was sold to a Japanese team after the season. For all intents and purposes, he was gone from major league baseball (at least in North America.) After a year away in Japan, Fielder reappeared in MLB with the Tigers and swatted 51 homers. See below for more on this.

Fielder pronounces his first name as a rhyme with "vessel," hence the nickname "Cecil the Vessel." Most other players with the name Cecil, such as Cecil Cooper, pronounce it more like a rhyme with diesel.

Cool stat: Fans today don't necessarily appreciate just how monster Fielder's 1991 season was. If you look at 50-homer seasons by year, you first notice that it happens all the time these days, a total of 12 times in the 2000's. But look down at #24, that was Fielder's 51-homer season. Prior to that, it had been 13 years since anybody did it, going all the way back to George Foster's 1977. For a time there in the 1980s, it seemed like it might never happen again. And then Big Daddy busted on the scene and blew everybody away. (Incidentally, if you live under a rock, note that #2 on that list is Fielder's estranged son, Prince.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

#617 Oddibe McDowell

Why this card is awesome: Because McDowell was born and raised in Hollywood! (Hollywood, Florida, that is.)

For those who don't know, his first name is pronounced "OH-dib-ee."

Cool stat: Check out how many times McDowell was drafted. It was only the 6th time he was drafted that he signed, and that included two previous first-round shots with the Yankees and Twins.

#616 Jay Aldrich

Why this card is awesome: Because I wonder if this the only card in the set that spells out "New Jersey."

Cool stat: Aldrich had a short career and it's tough to find much of note, but he did once appear in 8 straight games without allowing an earned run.

#615 Jody Davis

Why this card is awesome: Because Davis was a very nice Rule V pickup for the Cubs, as noted on the back. He was a pretty darn good catcher for a number of years in the 1980s.

Cool stat: From 1983 to 1987, just 4 catchers had at least 100 homers. You'd probably never have guessed Davis except for the fact that I'm bringing this up on his card. The other three are pretty easy, and they include two HOFers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

#614 Herm Winningham

Why this card is awesome: Because of the reminder of the interesting trade on the back that sent Gary Carter to the Mets. I can't decide if it was a terrible trade for Montreal or not. Fitzgerald ended up as a decent backup catcher, and Brooks was a pretty good player who played most of the time. Winningham was fairly inconsequential, and Youmans was at time brilliant but never consistent. Still, Montreal had Carter for most of his best years, and the 4 guys they got back helped keep them competitive while they developed a great farm system.

I always thought that Herm's name sounded like he had just taken top prize in a county fair--with the Winning Ham, you know.

Cool stat: Back in 1990, Winningham had a 3-triple game. Such games are far rarer than 3-homer games. Since 1956, there have been just 13 games where a guy got 3 triples, whereas we've had 361 games where a guy got at least 3 homers.

#613 Bobby Thigpen

Why this card is awesome: Because Thigpen sure burned through the minors. Signed in 1985 and made it to the bigs by 1986!

Cool stat: Thigpen was the first pitcher ever to record 50+ saves in a season with an ERA+ of at least 200. He still holds the single-season record for saves, although it has been challenged a few times.

#612 Curt Ford

Why this card is awesome: Because Ford is rocking some nice bling around his neck, plus has some weird wrist bands.

Curt Ford always reminds me of Curt Flood.

Cool stat: Ford once had 10 total bases in a game, including 2 of his 7 career homers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#611 Tommy John

Why this card is awesome: Because if you're a true baseball fan, you should just love the back of this card...packed full of years and years of stats. Tommy John's name is best known due to the surgery associated with him, but he was a pretty darn good pitcher too.

Cool stat: For the 26 pitchers with 4000 IP since 1901, John has one of the very lowest strikeout rates, and the guys ahead of him all pitched in much earlier eras with much lower average strikeout rates.

#610 Keith Hernandez

Why this card is awesome: Because while it's cool to get such a nice shot of the prominent "C" on Hernandez's jersey, I can't get past the fact that he looks like Groucho Marx in this photo. Quite honestly, the first time I saw this card, I thought it was a joke.

Cool stat: Hernandez was a great defensive player and a pretty darn good offensive one too. For players with at least 2000 games played and 1000 walks, Hernandez had one of the lowest strikeout totals.

#609 Twins Leaders

Why this card is awesome: Because of that interesting building in the background. One of just a few examples in this set of a non-baseball building prominently featured on a card.

In case you don't know, that's Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek on the card, pretty much a Twins' fan dream for 1988, except for the omission of Kirby Puckett.

Cool stat: I don't know how to look this up, but I really wonder what the answer is. The 1987 Minnesota Twins were World Series champs despite having only two pitchers in the regular season get double-digit wins or pitch as many as 160 innings. I would be very surprised if there are any other examples of this. Of course, they won only 85 regular-season games, a paltry total for a championship team.

#608 Charlie Kerfeld

Why this card is awesome: Because there appears to be a couple getting married in the background. Seriously, what is up with that?

Gem Mint Ten just posted this same card and included a link to Kerfeld's famous post-game interview, which is worth a watch.

Cool stat: Kerfeld is on this list of almost complete-forgotten pitchers to finish with 200 to 250 career IP and at least 4 walks per 9 innings. Vaughn Eshelman, we hardly knew ye.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

#607 Mickey Hatcher

Why this card is awesome: Because, as promised, right after Gibby here is another 1988 World Series hero. This might be one of the most meaningful cards of 1988. Hatcher was a decent major leaguer who warmed the hearts of fans in Minnesota for several years. But he will always be remembered for a few huge moments in the sun in the 1988 post-season. He batted in some big runs in the NLCS against the Mets and then hit two big home runs in the World Series.

Hatcher hit only 1 HR in the entire 1988 regular season and then two in that year's World Series. Can anybody else think of someone to hit more HRs in the World Series than in the regular season? I bet it's been done a number of times by someone (perhaps a pitcher) who hit zero in the regular season. (A quick search just revealed Ken Holtzman in 1974 and Bob Gibson in 1967...but can we find any non-pitchers?)

Cool stat: 1984 was an utterly bizarre year for Hatcher. It's one of only 9 seasons since 1901 where a player got 620 PAs, batted over .300, but didn't score or drive in 70 runs. The reason, of course, is that his .302 batting average was incredibly soft, bolstered by only 37 walks and a .406 SLG, giving him an OPS of .748 and an OPS+ just 104.

#606 Moose Haas

Why this card is awesome: Because so soon after Bobby Valentine's card, here's another guy with his hand in an inappropriate place. Also I like all those cables in the background that have been painted blue so they'd blend in. Pretty effective--I bet you didn't notice them until I pointed them out!

Cool stat: Haas is among a rare group of pitchers who threw at least 190 innings in a major-league season at age 21 or younger. It's very interesting to note how many of those guys went on to have arm trouble and/or injury trouble in their careers. The list includes Alex Fernandez, Felix Hernandez, Bret Saberhagen, Britt Burns, Steve Avery, and some others. Haas himself was done by age 31, and this was his last card.

#605 Kirk Gibson

Why this card is awesome: Because Gibson looks incredibly bad-ass in this shot. Lean and muscular, the way power-hitters used to be built.

1988 turned out to be a very special year for Gibson. He was NL MVP, but that's not what anybody remembers. This is.

Stay tuned for another 1988 World Series hero coming up very shortly.

Gibson might be the only player ever to win a league MVP award without ever appearing in an all-star game, not counting of course those players who came before the existing of the all-star game.

Cool stat: Gibson and Darryl Strawberry tie for most seasons in the 80s with at least 24 HR but fewer than 100 RBI. It's kind of a weird thing--Gibby had an OPS+ of at least 130 in every one of those 5 seasons and even played 149 or more games 3 times, yet couldn't quite reach 100 RBI. One reason might be that his teams were not only good but pretty balanced, and the RBI were spread out more evenly among the players on each team.

Monday, August 11, 2008

#604 Chris Bando

Why this card is awesome: Because this is one of the very rare cards in the set featuring a player in another team's uniform on the card. See what I mean? There are two Brewers in the background on the left.

Chris Bando is the much younger brother of the more-successful major-league player Sal Bando.

Cool stat: Bando didn't hit much in his career except for 1984, but it was in 1982 that he had his only 4-hit game.

#603 Rob Murphy

Why this card is awesome: Because what exactly is that scary demon-looking thing behind Murphy, wearing a Reds uniform, starting directly at the back of his head? And what exactly is the demon doing with its hand?

Cool stat: Murphy's got one of 32 seasons since 1901 with at least 20 IP and an ERA under 1.00. At this writing, Brad Ziegler has a 0.00 ERA over the first 34 innings of his career, all coming in 2008.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

#602 Mike Aldrete

Why this card is awesome: Because following Chili Davis and Jeff Leonard, here's another photo of a Giant in the on-deck circle getting ready. I guess the photographer just kept snapping guys in that same spot all day.

Cool stat: 42 guys had at least 1 homer every year from 1986 to 1996. Aldrete doesn't make that list because he was in the minors with Cleveland for the entirety of the 1992 season. But he homered every other one of the years and yet still is way, way, at the bottom of the list of total homers for those 43 guys.