Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, April 2016
A = Alternate Card F = Factory Team Set G = Giveaway Set T = Traded Set U = Update Set
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4/5/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2013 Topps #236 Joe Nathan, Rangers
They say never trust a guy with two first names, but for most of the past 12 years, there were few men you'd trust more than Joe Nathan to protect a late-inning lead. Drafted #6 out of New York's Stony Brook University by the Giants in '95, Nathan entered pro ball as a mediocre shortstop and was so against converting to pitching he returned to Stony Brook for a year.
(In case you're wondering, the most accomplished big leaguer out of Stony Brook behind Nathan: current Marlins starter Tom Koehler. He of a career 26-35, 4.10 record as of this writing. There's a reason you haven't heard of it.)
To the dismay of thousands of batters since, Nathan came back to the diamond—this time as a fireballing SP. In 1999, with veteran SP Mark Gardner ailing, young Nathan began his MLB career with back-to-back gems in Gardner's stead, and seemed to be on his way. Unfortunately—we'll save the details for future Nathan COTD selections—the big guy wasn't able to secure a permanent hold on a Giants roster spot until 2003.
Career-ending surgery to CL Robb Nen could have devastated the Giants' relief corps that year, but Nathan re-emerged as one of the NL's toughest setup men. The team rewarded him with...a trade to Minnesota, which proved to be among the worst in Giants franchise history—Nathan transcended into perennial All-Star closer, while the man he was swapped for was dispatched by SF after one forgettable year (catcher A.J. Pierzynski).
Here, Nathan has just wrapped up his first of two seasons with the Texas Rangers, who—after twice failing to record the final out needed for a 2011 championship—signed the 38-year-old as a free agent that off-season.
THIS CARD: Nathan just looks off in anything but Twins pinstripes. And that includes the Giants uniforms he spent his first four MLB seasons in.
No, that is not a bungee cord around Joe's neck, though I can't say what it is. (Knowing today's athlete, it probably measures blood flow rate or something.) Either a two-seam fastball or curve is on the way—Nathan's hook was dynamo for a long time; not so much anymore.
(flip)Tommy John surgery did in Nathan's 2010 season, breaking a six-year streak of excellence that might have locked up a future Cooperstown induction for the veteran closer had it not been interrupted—he was really good as a Twin.
When you put your opinions on sports (or anything else) in print, you must be man enough to admit when you're wrong—everyone is sometimes. I was grossly wrong when I promised Texas would regret giving the aging, post-surgery Nathan 2Y/$14M.
After watching their investment convert 80-of-86 save ops with a sub-1 WHIP while making two All-Star teams, the Rangers only regretted not having Nathan one month sooner.
Topps discontinued the Games Started stat around decade's turn, so let us be the ones to inform you Nathan went 12-4 in 2003 without making a single start. Even though his Giants won 100 games, Nathan outwon every other pitcher on the staff except ace Jason Schmidt (17).
AFTER THIS CARD: Nathan was insanely good in his walk year of 2013 (1.39 ERA, 0.9 WHIP, two HRA) for the 91-win Rangers, allowing two runs after July 23. The Tigers then signed the 40-year-old for two years, but Year One was shaky (6.37 ERA through June, though he halved that afterward) and Year Two ended after one appearance—Nathan received a second Tommy John surgery in April 2015.
Though Detroit—and everyone else—passed on Nathan in the 2015-16 winter (despite much reported interest), as of this writing he has not retired and isn't planning to.
Joe Nathan has appeared in Topps annually since 2000, except 2003 (he'd spent the preceding two seasons almost exclusively in AAA).
CATEGORIES: 2013 Topps, Texas Rangers
4/17/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps #649 Joba Chamberlain, Yankees
More Joba Chamberlain Topps Cards: 2007U 2008 2009 2010 2013U 2014U
Hard to believe it's been nearly nine years since Joba (pronounced Jaw-buh, not Joe-buh, for anyone who spent 2007 under a rock) entered MLB. The hulking Yankee reliever made a name for himself quickly—partially for allowing one ER in 24 IP to go with 34 K down the stretch, partially for his amped-up, irksome celebrations following many of those punchouts.
Reaching 98 MPH on his fastball, the 22-year-old rookie helped the Yankees secure their 12th consecutive postseason berth in '07, only to understandably come unglued in Game 2 of the ALDS when swarmed by seasonal midges at Cleveland's Jacobs Field.
Protecting a 1-0 lead in the 8th, Chamberlain—who'd been near-invincible in the majors to this point—surrendered a walk, wild pitch, HBP, wild pitch and another walk. Cleveland tied and eventually won that game, and later the series—ending Joe Torre's storied Yankee career.
Chamberlain, mostly a starter in the minors, returned to the role in mid-2008 and threw very well; he spent all of 2009 in the Yankee rotation and was 8-2, 3.73 through August 6. But an innings limit shortened his leash very tightly in the closing weeks, skewing his final totals. Here, Chamberlain—after not making the rotation—is coming off a 2010 season spent exclusively in the bullpen.
THIS CARD: As you can see, Joba—whose given name is Justin—was/is a big boy. He evokes images of Hideki Irabu in this shot. And yet, his pants are too long.
In the first half of 2010, Chamberlain was Mariano Rivera's setup man, but manager Joe Girardi eventually went to "setup-by-committee" after Chamberlain slumped.
(flip) Al Jackson was a lefty starter best known with those awful Mets teams of the early/mid-1960's. In fact, he was a two-time 20-game loser in New York. Jackson's 1969 Topps card was his penultimate.
A current player idolizing a star from my youth makes me feel old. I mean, I remember when Jones himself was drafted. When a guy reaches MLB who grew up idolizing Kris Bryant, I might just cry.
Chamberlain was a first-round pick by way of the supplemental draft—the Yankees got a pick when Tom Gordon (Dee's dad) signed with the Phillies.
AFTER THIS CARD: Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-2011, and dislocated his ankle on a trampoline over that winter—he'd be sidelined until August 2012. After an up-and-down 2013, New York let him walk. Chamberlain has since thrown for the Tigers and Royals; now 30, he's with the Cleveland Indians as of April 2016.
Joba Chamberlain has appeared in either Topps or Topps Update annually 2007-14, except 2012. He was excluded from both 2015 releases, despite appearing in 69 games with Detroit in 2014—possibly because he was (by choice) unsigned until Spring Training 2015.
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, New York Yankees
4/24/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2013 Topps Update #212 Alfonso Soriano, Yankees
Someone born in 2016 will one day view Alfonso Soriano's career stats and wonder how he managed so little Hall-of-Fame consideration—after all, the guy hit over 400 home runs in 13½ full seasons. was 30-30 four times, 40-40 once, and a seven-time All-Star.
The best explanation I could give that person—you wouldn't build a team around Alfonso Soriano, nor would he be among the top guys of his era you'd want at the plate with the game on the line.
I'm not trying to knock "Fonzi"—he was a very talented player. I recall a game at AT&T Park about five years ago when Soriano took a low, outside fastball and simply torqued it over the notoriously challenging RF wall, which has proven near impossible for the average righty hitter...at night, no less. To this day, it is among the most impressive jacks I've seen hit there.
Offensively, Soriano was not unlike Bobby Bonds—both were power/speed guys who could bat first or fourth depending on where you felt their frequent strikeouts would least hurt you. Though he reached the World Series as a rookie (and was damn near the Series hero), Soriano, like Bonds, also played for a lot of bad teams, and when he did return to the postseason as a new 8Y/$136M Chicago Cub, he stunk...and stunk again the next October.
It was an interesting career, that much can't be denied. Here, 37-year-old Soriano has been traded back to his original team during Year 7 of his eight-year Cubs megadeal. The old/new Yankee did not disappoint.
THIS CARD: Assuming Soriano is high-fiving Derek Jeter following a home run—doubtful they'd celebrate a successful sacrifice bunt this way—we might be able to narrow down the date of this photo.
Let's also assume Jeter scored ahead of Soriano and was waiting for him at the plate. According to BaseballReference.com, Soriano homered twice with Jeter on base at Yankee Stadium in 2013: 7/28 vs. Tampa and 9/6 vs. Boston.
Even without the Tampa teal in the catcher's chest protector ruining the mystery, Soriano's smile offered a clue—the 3rd-inning, go-ahead bomb 7/28 was Soriano's first since returning to NY, far more likely to induce a grin than the latter (first inning of a scoreless game).
(flip) Hard to believe Soriano is 40 now. He's one of those guys who always seemed young, possibly because he was always wiry-thin and—at least in my recollection—clean-shaven.
Soriano had inched to within 350 homers of Bonds' record when he slumped and retired at 38...perhaps the pressure of the chase got to him. (GOD, Topps botched what was potentially a neat feature.)
True, a lot of his drives went over the wall rather than bounce and carom off of it, but how could somebody as fast as Soriano have 30 triples in parts of 14 seasons (finishing with 31 in parts of 16 seasons)? Let's just say he wasn't known for charging hard down the line every time, which could have cost him a few.
AFTER THIS CARD: As alluded to above, Soriano played very well for the '13 Yankees (.525 SLG, 17 HR in 58 games). In one four-game August stretch, he went 13-for-18 with five homers and 18 RBI...none of those are misprints.
But the veteran went out with a whimper, released by New York a year after his acquisition following a miserable first half of 2014 (.221 BA, .244 OBP). A few months later, he officially retired just shy of 39.
After debuting in 1999 Topps Traded, Alfonso Soriano appeared annually in Topps 2000-14; 2000 was a shared Prospects card. He also has a base card in 2013 Topps, which you probably already assumed.
CATEGORIES: 2013 Topps, New York Yankees
4/30/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #663 Turn Back The Clock, 1974
More 1989 Topps Turn Back The Clock Cards: 661 (1984) 662 (1979) 664 (1969) 665 (1964)
After three straight selections from this decade, we go all the way back to the 1980s...and by extension, the 1970s.
When I began collecting cards full-time in 1990, I was no fan of TBTC cards. The clocks were almost always turned back before my birth, and I had no appreciation for stars or achievements of yesteryear. As far as I was concerned, however good Hank Aaron supposedly was, he was no Kevin Mitchell. God, we're dumb when we're kids.
Selfishly, I hope present-day Topps never resumes TBTC. Realizing a trip down Memory Lane with a stop 25 years ago means 1991 would make me feel...so...old. (Has it really been over a quarter-century since "U Can't Touch This?" REALLY?)
TBTC takes us back 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 seasons ago; for the math-challenged, that means 1984, 1979, 1974, 1969 and 1964 in respect to 1989 Topps. This particular card represents 1974, a year best remembered for Aaron passing Babe Ruth for #1 on the career homer list—a spot he held for 33 more years.
As shown at left, a lot more went down after that.
THIS CARD: Topps, prominent card text should never be closer to upside-down than not...this card-within-a-card is rotated 140 degrees. The whole card should have been landscape-oriented, but Topps was two years away from such layouts.
This was Aaron's 21st and final season with the Braves. (Two more with the Brewers followed.)
(flip) Which 1974 bullet points shall we expand upon...okay, got it:
George Mitterwald was a catcher for the Twins/Cubs 1966-77 and the least accomplished of the three-homer quartet. Which isn't to say he was awful—the guy hit 76 more major league home runs than you or I did.
Orta, who later (as a Royal) became far for famous for being incorrectly called "safe" in the 1985 World Series, "only" managed two other five-hit games in his other 15 seasons—one of them being a six-hit contest in 1980!
Kaline doubled against Dave McNally in a loss at Baltimore; he retired at season's end with 3,007. Gibson whiffed Cesar Geronimo of visiting Cincinnati; Geronimo was also K #3K for Nolan Ryan six years later, believe it or not.
Brock's record fell to Rickey Henderson in 1982 (130). It's never been seriously challenged.
Aaron, of course, victimized veteran Dodgers starter Al Downing for homer #715. He finished with 755, the MLB record until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
AFTER THIS CARD: Covered above already for the mentioned individuals. Topps discontinued Turn Back The Clock after the 1990 set.
CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Subsets