Posts Tagged ‘topps’

h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: Benny Distefano

This Flip Side joins Greg Minton’s on the list of things my fiancé loves that I fear mightily.

I don’t understand how dancing can be leisurely. I mean, if I’m enjoying dancing, I’m not leisurely drinking. I’m sneaking away from the fiancé to get secret Tequila shots. At one point, I believe I asked the finance “why can’t we just grind like normal white people.”*

I guess to each his own.

Distefano must have needed a good leisure activity as his career wasn’t overly successful and certainly was up and down, if we’re talking about minors/majors. He played in the majors in 1984, 1986, 1988-89 and 1992. He finished with a .228/.296/.350.

He ended up playing first, right field, left field and catcher during his career. Not exactly prime no-hit utility player slots, but since he threw left-handed that kind of eliminated the majority of the infield. However, he did play catcher. And, according to this New York Times story, Distefano was the last left-handed throwing player to ever catch a game.

One other interesting aspect of Distefano’s career:  he broke up David Cone’s no-hit bid on April 28, 1992, ensuring the Mets still haven’t had a no-hitter. Man, I’ve been picking on the Mets a lot lately.

“*But I’m white…”

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: David Freese

So, I pulled this card out awhile ago and almost wrote about it a dozen times. Now, Joe Buck’s monstrous head and Tim McCarver’s repeated idiocy have rendered it pointless.

Yes, the decision was fated to benefit the Cardinals. As did Roy Halladay’s friendship with Chris Carpenter…or something like that.

Still, I can quibble with the whole “Rookie of the Year” candidate thing right? I mean he was as much a candidate as Ron Paul is for president in 2012.

Last I checked, the top NL rookies of the year were Buster Posey, Jason Heyward and Jaime Garcia.

Heck, among NL rookies, Freese’s 0.5 WAR was behind those above and Starlin Castro, Neil Walker, Ike Davis, Jose Tabata and Jonny Venters and tied with Gaby Sanchez.

Freese had a fine 2010, but appeared in just 70 games. His .296/.361/.765 foretold of future success if he could stay healthy. Good for him that a whole heaping lot of that success happened in the grandest stage of them all.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: Jeff Suppan

So Jeff Suppan was the Todd Van Poppel of the mid-90s? That was my initial reaction to the blurb on the back of the card.

However, that’s not really true.

As the card points out, Suppan had all the promise and pedigree of a highly touted young pitcher (he had more stuff than fluff which was the case with Van Poppel). And you can’t really fault those press clippings, as Suppan tore through the minors. In 1996, at AAA and just 21-years-old, Suppan had a 5.68 K:BB rate.

For whatever reason, though, his stuff at that time just couldn’t fool major league hitters. While he posted nearly a K per inning in the minors, he struggled to strike out more than five batters per nine with the Red Sox. After three unsuccessful seasons and 39 appearances (29 starts) with a 5.99 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and 1.83 K:BB rate, the Red Sox left him unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft* and the Diamondbacks pounced (that’s probably a poor onomatopoeia).

He pitched horribly for Arizona and they soon sold him to Kansas City. While his tenure with the Royals was unspectacular, he pitched over 200 innings during each of his four full years there (from 1999-2002), combining for a 4.79 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 1.60 K:BB rate. Dude just ate innings, pitching the seventh most during that span – just behind Livan Hernandez, Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson.

After 2002, he signed as a free agent with the Pirates, who quickly traded him and Brandon Lyon to the Red Sox for Mike Gonzalez, Freddy Sanchez and dollar dollar bills. Talk about a deal involving some average players who ended up making serious bank. It was a one-year deal, so Suppan found himself a free agent again in 2003.

That’s when he met the god that is Dave Duncan. From 2004-2006, he threw 572 innings for the Cardinals, posting a 3.95 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 1.67 K:BB rate. Sure it was mostly smoke and mirrors, but that’s some quality durability.

He also came through when it matted. He went 3-3 in the post-season for the Cardinals during that stretch and dominated the New York Mets in 2006. He threw 15 innings and allowed one earned run. He was the MVP of the NLCS that year and even took Steve Trachsel (a very similar pitcher) deep in game three.

After his splendid 2006 regular and post season, Suppan was treated to a four-year $42 million contract by the Brewers (good gosh, my golly, what a folly). He pitched wretchedly for the Brewers, prompting one fan to put Suppan up for sale on eBay.

He was eventually released, but scooped up by the Cardinals. He posted a 3.84 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 1.32 K:BB rate for the Cardinals in 70.1 IPs during 2010. That would be his last season in the majors.

While I was able to mention Suppan in the same breath as Maddux in this piece, he never lived up to those press clippings. However, the $58 million he earned in his playing time, the NLCS MVP, 2006 World Champion and 12.8 WAR suggest he was a far better player than Van Poppel ever was (TVP was worth -2.1 WAR during his career).

*Man, there were four total All-stars in that draft (although possibly a Hall of Famer in Bobby Abreu). One All-star, Damian Miller, I vaguely remember as a subpar catcher. While I was annoyed Esteban Yan was gone from the Orioles, it didn’t hurt as much as Aaron Ledesma being scooped up in the final round. I was 15 when he played for the Orioles – I had no clue he was 26 at the time as I had never heard of him. That year was magical for the Orioles (at least for awhile) and I remember an 11-3 loss to the Tigers pretty well. Jimmy Key continued his second half swoon and Esteban Yan compounded the damage, but a scrappy infielder went 2-4, raising his average to .345. Ledesma hit .352 that year for the Orioles but didn’t make a postseason appearance. The following year he hit .324 for Tampa Bay, then would be out of baseball two years later. The only two HRs he ever hit were for the Orioles and he finished with a .296/.338/.365 line. His dWAR seems average, so I’m surprised his bat never stuck. Maybe he just wasn’t that good…like Luis Mercedes.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: David West/Frank Viola


And I thought the grammar on the back of the Topps cards were bad. Man, Upper Deck, which was so hot in 1990, really flubbed this one. There are so many missing words in this that it’s ridiculous. How hard would it be to write: “West was key part of 5 pitcher deal to the Mets for Frank Viola. He was drafted #4 by Mets in June ’83.” And, by #4 they mean a fourth rounder, not that he was the fourth overall pick.

So he wasn’t as big of a bust as you would surmise. He did spend 10 seasons in the majors, finishing with a 4.66 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 1.41 K:BB rate in 569.1 innings. He had one decent year for the Twins, in 1991, when he started 12 games and finished with a 4.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He really helped the Twins get to the World Series that year, as he threw 5.2 innings in relief in the ALCS without allowing a run. Of course, his World Series was terrible, as he finished with an ERA of infinity (he allowed four runs without recording an out).

Two years later, he had arguably his best season (2.92 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 1.71 K:BB) for the Phillies. Thanks to Mitch Williams, his utter relief failures are not as heavily remembered. In the NLCS, he allowed five runs/four earned in 2.2 innings and in the World Series, he allowed three earned runs in just one inning of work. He made well over $2.5 million in his career, tasted victory and defeat and even played in Japan. Still, he was by no means the key part of the Frank Viola trade (at least in hindsight).

In addition to West, the New York Mets sent Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummon and Kevin Tapani to the Twins.

Adding in those elements makes this not a particularly astute move by the Mets (but what else is new). While West was worth -0.3 WAR for the Twins, Aguilera was worth 16.1 WAR, Drummon was worth 0.7 WAR and Tapani was worth 17.5 WAR. At the time of the deal, Aguilera (who has an awesome beard) was 27 and owned a career 3.58 ERA and 1.29 WHIP for the Mets over 473 innings. Aguilera was especially valuable in 1991, posting a 2.35 ERA with 42 saves and a 1.07 WHIP – heck he even received some MVP votes. He also threw 8.1 innings in the play-offs, earning five saves and allowing just one earned run.

Tapani also turned in a banner season in 1991: 34 starts, 244 innings, a 2.99 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 3.38 K:BB rate. He finished seventh in the CY Young voting, but you could make the argument that he deserved to be top four, at least. Tapani didn’t fare so well in the 1991 ALCS, getting shellacked by the Toronto Blue Jays. But he redeemed himself in the World Series: he started two games, pitched 12 innings and went 1-1.

That’s a blueprint for building a championship there. The Twins gave up one decent starting pitcher who was near 30 for a bunch of younger cheaper pieces.

So what about Viola? At the time of the deal, Viola was 29 and would be worth 9.6 WAR for the Mets. He was effectively done after 1993, just four years after the deal.

Still, he had a fantastic career. He gave up the 3,000th hit to Rod Carew in 1985. When it was all said and done, Viola started 420 games, the 27th most in baseball history by a southpaw. He won 176 games of those games, the 43rd most by a lefty. Of course he also lost 150 games, tied for the 34th most by a southpaw (with Hal Newhouser and Ken Hotlzman). Viola finished with 1,844 Ks, the 26th most all-time by a lefty. Not bad.

I always love looking at these types of deals – it seems that giving tons of young cheap talent for near-30s “stars” comes back to bite the team giving the young talent more often than not. Still, you have to give the Twins credit for dealing Viola who had just helped them win a World Series two years before.

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h2h Corner ~ Check You out on the Flip Side: Bob Montgomery

Montgomery had a long tenure in professional baseball. He was signed as an 18-year-old and started at the D level (which is akin to Rookie ball in today’s nomenclature) in 1962 for Olean of the New York-Pennsylvania League. He played remarkably well, hitting .273/.426/.380 and found himself in A ball for Waterloo the following year.

He made stops in Seattle, Winston Salem, Pittsfield, Toronto and Louisville over the next eight years, amassing 3,061 minor league plate appearances and a .276/.323/.406 line – not bad for a catcher in the 1960s.

He was called up to the Boston Red Sox in 1970 and never looked back. Still, the Sox had a fella by the name of Carlton Fisk, so Monty didn’t see a whole lot of playing time. He didn’t see a whole lot of green either, as he apparently sold Red Sox tickets in the winter months. What does that even entail? Did he go from sandlot tosandlot hawking seats for mid-summer Orioles tilts? More than likely he went to businesses and the like, but it’d be pretty cool to buy tickets to a game from an actual player. I would certainly pay more for that experience. It takes players putting butts in the seats to a whole new level!

Any who, Montgomery played for Boston from 1970 – 1979 and got in a total of 387 games, that’s just 38.7 a year. He finished with a .258/.296/.372 line – totally serviceable for a back-up catcher in the 1970s. Oddly enough, he hung them up after one of his most successful campaigns:  he hit .349/.374/.419 in 1979 in 92 plate appearances.

That said, as this card accurately points out, Monty, who was known as “The Hammer,” made his presence known on June 6, 1973 by slamming two homers in one game. Those homers directly contributed to his best year in the bigs: .320/.353/.563 and 1.5 WAR. He amassed just 1.9 WAR for his career.

Still you can’t take those sideburns away from him – he could get some mean shooting stars in there! You also can’t take away that June 6 game. He hit both homers off Doug Bird (who went 4.2 IPs in relief of Ken Wright). The Hammer’s second home run came in the bottom of the 10th to give Bill Lee the complete game victory. Baseball use to be crazy.

Lastly, someday, somewhere, Montgomery will be the answer to a trivia question as he was the last Major League player to bat without a helmet. Maybe that’s why he retired – the game had passed him by. Craig MacTavish anyone?

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h2h Corner ~ Check You Out on the Flip Side: Hoyt Wilhelm (via Candy Maldonado)

Before the summer of 1991, when I was just 9, I thought I knew everything about baseball – and, if not everything about baseball, everything about the Baltimore Orioles. I grew up going to games with my family. I also tagged along with my father and some of his college friends, one of which played “fantasy baseball.” This particular friend was astounded at my ability to recall statistics, trades, etc.

What changed that summer? I rode in a car driven by my father to Cooperstown, New York. We had an old Volkswagen Rabbit (I think) without A/C. I had purchased Pocket Full of Kryptonite (holy crap what a video) before the trip and we listened to it on repeat the entire way – my father must have hated the Spin Doctors.

Anyway, the whole city is amazing, baseball card stores, memorabilia abounds – and that doesn’t include the awesome history-rich spectacle that is the Hall of Fame. On this trip, I opened a 1989 Upper Deck pack and received a Ken Griffey, Jr. card. Magic.

Getting to actually go into the Hall was a special thrill. I got my picture taken in-between the plaques of Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. Then we wandered around and I saw Hoyt Wilhelm. I had no freaking clue who Hoyt Wilhelm was. I had never studied my Candy Maldonado cards apparently (probably because I hated Maldonado even though I sort of liked the Blue Jays teams from the early 90s…Maldonado always seemed to make errors and lollygag. But, I’ve already written about Maldonado so there’s no reason to dwell).

Wilhelm, who pitched as a 48-year-old, had a career that spanned 21 seasons and 2,254 innings and he racked up a bunch of records on the way.

Wilhelm appeared in the fifth most games in history by a pitcher: 1,070, which trails only Dennis Eckersley, Mike Stanton, John Franco and Jesse Orosco – modern day relievers. He also owns the 30th best ERA (2.52) by a pitcher with at least 1,500 IPs. He owns the most career victories in relief: 124 – a record not likely to ever be broken. He also pitched the most innings in relief in MLB history: 1,871.

And that knuckleball was devastating, resulting in the eighth lowest opposing batting average – people hit just .216 off him – a mark better than Randy Johnson. Hell his knuckleball was so good, the Baltimore Orioles created a bigger mitt so catchers could handle it.

And, really, it wouldn’t be until he joined the Orioles that his career would take off. He spent eight seasons with the New York Giants, St. Louis, and Cleveland, until the Indians gave up on him and Baltimore claimed him off waivers. He pitched for parts of five years for the Orioles, amassing 14.7 wins above replacement player, a 2.42 ERA and 2.28 K:BB walk rate. Eventually he would be part of a trade that brought the Orioles Luis Apiricio.

Still, Wilhelm is probably most remembered for September 20, 1958 when he threw a no-hitter against the hated Yankees and Mr. Perfect, Don Larsen. The Yankees wouldn’t be no-hit for another 45 years.

Then, the following year, on August 6, 1959, Wilhelm almost pitched a no-hitter in relief. Entering the game at the start of the ninth inning, Wilhelm held the White Sox hitless for 8⅔ innings before finally surrendering a hit in the 17th.

Wilhelm also fought in Europe during World War II and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Purple Heart.

I’ve found my way to a number of Hoyt Wilhelm cards over the years (all pictured here). I realize he’s a borderline Hall of Famer, at best, but his career remains terribly fascinating to this day. I stumbled upon his life much the same way I stumbled onto this topic – just cruising through baseball history looking to soak up knowledge. Who knew something good could come from Candy Maldonado?

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h2h Corner ~ Check you out on the Flip Side: Tony Oliva/Cal McLish

This could be the most confusing card ever and it has nothing to do with grammar.

First, why is the trivia question about Cal McLish’s real name? He never played for the Twins. He finished up playing in 1965 (meaning his career and Oliva’s barely overlapped). He was a pitcher but they never even faced one another. In short, I can’t find a single thing he has in common with Oliva

Granted, the name Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish is pretty darn cool. He was obviously named for a president, a Caesar and a town in Oklahoma. What’s more, a guy with that many names actually had a nickname and it had nothing to do with any of his given names. He went by Bus or Buster according to his Baseball Reference page.

And, according to Wikipedia, his name was so long because his father was given the honor of naming him and he didn’t want to waste the opportunity. Sounds like a good strategy for never getting to name a child again.

I can’t really see anything, other than his name, that would make McLish an overly important or interesting player though. The only person on his similarity score I know is Bill Swift – although, through his 34th birthday, he was most similar to Mike Bielecki. He was purchased or traded six times, but the only notable player involved would be Billy Martin. He finished with 6.1 WAR with more than half coming in 1958, when he came in 14th in MVP balloting. He had a 4.01 career ERA and 1.29 K:BB ratio. In short, there was nothing special about him that would inspire his namesake to be on the back of Tony Oliva’s baseball card.

An additional confusing thing about the card is that I didn’t realize Tony Oliva went by Pedro or “(Lopez)”. Of course, he went by Tony (he signed the front card as such) and it is listed as his first name…not Pedro.

Oliva was, in fact, born Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique, according to Wikipedia. So I can understand where the Lopez came from. But where did Pedro come from? If you go to the Tony Oliva official website, there is an entire section on his real name. Apparently, when Oliva initially tried out for the Twins, he was 21 and they thought he was too old. So a friend told the club Tony was, in fact, his younger brother Pedro, who was only 18. The real Pedro did not come to the United States until 2002.

So, when you get down to it, both McLish and Oliva have quite distinguished and long names. I bet McLish hopes their careers were more similar, as Oliva was worth 42.4 WAR over his career. Oliva also lead the league in hits five times, won rookie of the year and finished second in MVP voting twice.

Maybe the trivia question should have been: what is Tony Oliva’s full name?

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