Posts Tagged ‘1986’

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: Jimmy Piersall/Jesse Orosco

oroscoback oroscofrontAs I’m wont to do, I (shockingly) complained about the 1986 set and lack of usable info on the back of cards. Well, with Schoolboy Rowe in tow, I guess it wasn’t all bad, especially with this little nugget from Jesse Orosco’s card (his flip side, here).

Piersall was a slick fielder by all accounts. From 1953-1961 he finished no worse than 10th in Defensive WAR, and the 10th place finish was the only time he placed outside the top five. Defense was clearly where Piersall provided value, as a .272/.332/.386 slash line is nothing overly special.

In addition, he didn’t hit for power (just 104 HRs, however his 100th HR was incredibly memorable) or run particularly well (115 steals in 172 attempts).

But, boy, could he field. I mean, heck, he posted a .990 fielding percentage (tied for 13th all time with the likes of Robin Yount, Bernie Williams, and others). He didn’t post such a good fielding percentage by having poor range either. Quite simply, in 1956, he got to more balls than most players do in a career. In that magnificent year, he recorded 455 put outs. That ties him with Gorman Thomas for the 41st most in a season all time. That would be his finest year at the plate as well (.293/.350/.449) and he lead the league in doubles. He earned his second and final all-star appearances and finished 14th in MVP voting.

Unfortunately, I thought this Flip Side would be more light-hearted than it turned out to be. After researching Piersall, it turns out that circling the bases backwards was not an attempt at clowning but an example of his bi-polar disorder – one that was highly publicized in the book/movie Fear Strikes Out. In my research, I also found that he circled the bases running backwards – but in the correct order – to celebrate his 100th home run – a homer he hit off Phillies pitcher Dallas Green.

Perhaps it is fitting, given Piersall’s condition, that I started this Flip Side off looking to be jovial and have ended it on a relatively sad note.

Or, conversely, in the man’s own words (and during one at bat he did wear a Beatles wig and play air guitar), “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?”

Had he never circled the bases backwards, I certainly wouldn’t have learned much about him. But at least he went nuts in a funny way…

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h2h Corner ~ Check You Out On the Flip Side: Jesse Orosco

orosco backorosco front realInstead of the standard title, this epic could have been called “Ode on an Oroscan Urn.”

At the baseline, this card gives us even more evidence of Orosco’s love of the art of pitching. At one point, Orosco had to play semi-pro ball in Canada to make his dream come true. Semi-pro ball in the states was so devoid of luxury that one can only imagine the standard of living for semi-pro players north of the boarder. It is likely they lived in huts on frozen lakes and bathed in holes cut in the ground (what, that’s not the intent of the holes?).

Orosco was originally drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1978 draft. However, in December, he’d be sent to the Mets in exchange for Jerry Koosman. He’d have his longest tenure with the Mets, win a World Series and appear in 372 games with a 2.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 2.11 K:BB ratio. He was worth 12.2 wins above a replacement player in his eight seasons in New York.

Unfortunately, one year after winning the World Series, he would be part of a massive trade that included Bob Welch, Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell, Kevin Tapani and several others. At the end of the dealings, Orosco would be a Dodger. The year was 1988 and Orosco would be part of another World Series champion.

His time in Los Angeles would be only one-year and start his sojourn through both leagues. Ultimately, he’d pitch 12 years in the AL and 13 in the NL for nine different teams. He retired in 2003 with the Minnesota Twins, the very team that drafted him 25 years before.

In between draft and retirement, Orosco amassed the most career games by a pitcher in MLB history – 1,252, a bit more than one-time teammate John Franco. Franco and Orosco are also one-two when it comes to games by a left-handed pitcher. While Franco has the most saves ever by a lefty, Orosco has the 12th most in MLB history — 144 – just behind Willie Hernandez. Orosco is also tied for 26th all time for the most seasons with a win. He has 20 seasons with a win – the same as David Wells, Mike Morgan, Goose Gossage, Tom Glavine, Tom Seaver, and Warren Spahn.

Orosco finished with a 3.16 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 76.6% strand rate, .276 BABip, and a 2.03 K:BB rate. More notably, he possess the 26th highest K/9 rate in MLB history — just below Mariano Rivera. He also has the 310th most Ks in MLB History.

That aside, I’ll remember his time with the Orioles the most (1995-1999). He was a stabilizing player on the best Orioles teams of my lifetime. He’d be worth 5.3 WAR over those five seasons, during which he’d turn 42. If you think that wasn’t overwhelmingly valuable, the Orioles let Armando Benitez pitch 203.2 innings during that span. I hold no fondness in my heart for the years Benitez took off my life. After leaving the O’s Orosco pitched four more seasons in the Bigs.

Orosco, like Jamie Moyer, is truly a rarity that only the game of baseball can produce.

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For the history of this series, check out this article: Check You Out On the Flip Side: Howard Johnson.

h2h Corner ~ Check You Out On the Flip Side: Dave Henderson

dave henderson back dave henderson frontThis Flip Side is cheating a bit (as no one should be surprised that Henderson was an All-American athlete at any sport in high school) because there isn’t much strange on the back of the card. I’ll admit that upfront. I will also admit that I was tricked by the back of the card…which was why it was first selected.

If you look quickly, it looks like Henderson hit only one HR in the 1986 season. Of course he hit 14 for Seattle that season, and the year before and the year before that.

What would be so odd is that, somehow, Henderson only hit one round tripper in the regular season but would step to the plate in the American League Championship Series with the Red Sox one out away from elimination and stroke a 2-2 pitch from Donnie Moore over the fence to give the Red Sox the lead. The Sox went on to win that game and the next two to take the series 4-3 and then on to the World Series and the ball that went through Buckner’s leg.

If Henderson did not hit that HR, he could have been Buckner. People forget that earlier in game five, Henderson did his best prescient Jose Canseco impression by bouncing a Bobby Grich fly ball off his glove and over the fence. He also batted just .196 in the 36 games he played for the Sox in 1986. He wouldn’t fair much better the following year. The Sox traded him after he went .234/.313/.418 over 75 games. The player to be named they got was named Randy Kutcher. He, along with Curt Schilling, is one of two players born in Alaska to have played for the Sox (h/t to Sons of Sam Horn).

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For the history of this series, check out this article: Check You Out On the Flip Side: Howard Johnson.

h2h Corner ~ Check You Out On the Flip Side: Terry Harper

harper back harper front



As previously noted, mining the 1986 Topps set for interesting tidbits hasn’t been overly fruitful — at least I pulled a Ripken All-star card, Clemens, Eddie Murray and Mike Schmidt recently.

Anyway, the Terry Harper card above fits the “stringent” parameters that would allow for a Flip Side posting. I’m a huge baseball fan, in case you couldn’t tell, but I never knew Hammerin’ Hank Aaron had a brother – let alone one who made it to the majors. Heck the internet barely knows – if you search for “Tommie Aaron baseball ref”, Hank’s page comes up first.

Tommie was signed by the, then, Milwaukee Braves as a free agent in 1962. That was eight years and 298 HRs into hank’s career. Tommie would do some decent things in the minors — posting a .285/.333/.439 slash line and stealing 33 bases in 45 tries. The majors would be a (sort of) different story, as Tommie would not succeed (.229/.292/.327) and steal just nine bases in 17 tries.

For his career, Hank would steal 240 bases in 313 tries. He’d steal 28 bases in the 1968 season and never more than nine in a season during the rest of his career. Tommie would steal three bases in 1968 and never another for his career.

Regardless of HR or SB totals, you have to think that one of the greatest memories the brothers have is of September 24, 1968. With Tommie on first and Hank on third, the duo would execute a flawless double steal. Hank, after scoring and wiping the dirt and dust from his uniform, must have looked into the sun across the diamond to see Tommie knocking the dirt and dust from his uniform and smiling back. Outside of back-to-back HRs, a double steal by brothers would be pretty special.

As for Terry Harper? He was just as bad a hitter (.253/.321/.371) and base stealer (37/65) as Tommie. Both would also go 0-1 in their only post-season at bat and achieve a negative WAR for their careers. If only Terry had a brother like Hank…

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For the history of this series, check out this article: Check You Out On the Flip Side: Howard Johnson.

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