Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, August 2019

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Topps Luis Gonzalez
Topps Sammy Sosa

8/31/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2002 Topps #345 League Leaders (NL HR)

More 2002 Topps League Leader Cards: n/a

The Top Two NL home run hitters of 2000 again finished Top Two in 2001, albeit in reverse positions. Barry Bonds started 2001 hot and never really let up, smashing Mark McGwire's 1998 record of 70 homers in a season. Sammy Sosa was relatively quiet early, homering just seven times in April but averaging more than 11 in each following month.

There was no real doubt who'd finish atop the HR leaderboard in '01, and it wasn't Luis Gonzalez. But even though he finished a distant third, Gonzalez's breakout performance for Arizona turned almost as many heads as Bonds—but unlike Bonds and Sosa, Gonzalez's effort helped Arizona reach the postseason. (He, of course, later produced the World Series-winning single off Yankees CL Mariano Rivera.)

THIS CARD: This was Bonds's last year with the 'stache, if I'm not mistaken. Sosa performs his signature post-homer "hop". Gonzalez appears among the home run leaders for the first and only time ever.

This is our second 2002 Topps selection out of seven, not quite enough to put the set on hiatus.

(flip) Sosa hit 60+ homers in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and led the league in zero of those years. Meanwhile, in 2000 he hit "just" 50 and topped the league.

That is a poor choice for the upper text font.

Gonzalez never hit more than 31 jacks in any other season; he fell all the way to 28 in 148 games in 2002. This was Nevin's only placing among the league's Top 10 bombers. Bagwell placed among the NL's Top 10 for the fifth straight year. This was Helton's peak power season, the one that seemed to put him on the road to Cooperstown for a time.

Topps, when two dudes tie on a leaderboard, you don't list them 1,2,3,4,4,5, etc. You list them 1,2,3,4,4,6, etc.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Only obscene walk totals kept Bonds from leading the NL in homers again—he placed 2nd in both 2002 and 2003, and 4th in 2004. Despite Gonzalez's inability to maintain his 2001 production, he still walloped 354 lifetime bombs and is still the all-time Diamondback leader with 224 (but only because they traded Paul Goldschmidt and his 209).

 

In 2002, with "just" 49, Sosa again led the NL in roundtrippers. He finished 6th in an at-times trying 2003, marking his final Top 10 finish.

CATEGORIES: 2002 Topps, Subsets

 

More August 2019 Topps Cards Of The Day

 
Kemp_Matt_HRD_12ToppsUFront.jpg
Kemp_Matt_HRD_12ToppsUBack.jpg

8/1/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2012 Topps Update #262 Matt Kemp, Home Run Derby

More 2012 Topps Update Home Run Derby Cards: n/a

In every Update(s and Highlights) set ever produced, Topps has included cards of all eight participants of that summer's Home Run Derby. Obviously, these are usually All-Stars, and from the company's perspective, any logical way to give stars more cards must be put to use (and any illogical way...see "Classic Combos").

Here, the young veteran Matt Kemp participates in his second Home Run Derby. 2012 had been both kind (consecutive NL Player Of The Week awards to open the season) and cruel (two hamstring pulls; extended DL time) to Kemp in the first half, but the Derby afforded him the opportunity to kick off Half #2 with some positive momentum.

THIS CARD: I've come a long way from back when I detested Kemp—remember, he was once the Dodgers' best player and almost charged Tim Lincecum's mound during that time. But ever since LA traded him the first time, I've been more or less indifferent toward the dude.

The "C" does indeed stand for captain; since 2011, the reigning HRD champ is a default captain the next year, with the other league captained by its reigning HR champ.

Is this dude wearing a watch during the competition?

(flip) Kemp would have out-homered the rest of the NL again in 2012 had his body cooperated—remember,  he began the year on fire. Those 12 home runs were all hit in April.

Hmm, State Farm and Home Run Derby aren't copyrighted every single time...refreshing.

Kemp was not fully healthy at the time of the HRD—just healthy enough to participate. He sat out the All-Star Game.

AFTER THIS CARD: Kemp continued to mash his share of longballs through 2018, but did not participate in any more Derbies. Which, considering how bad he stunk up the 2012 Derby, makes plenty of sense. (What? You couldn't expect me to get through a Dodger's commentary without at least one cheap shot.)

CATEGORIES: 2012 Topps Update, Home Run Derby

Easler_88ToppsFront.jpg
Easler_88ToppsBack.jpg

8/2/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #741 Mike Easler, Yankees

More Mike Easler Topps Cards: 1987

My generation best knows Easler as the personal hitting coach of fellow "Hit Man" Mo Vaughn, but coach wasn't a bad hitter in his own right. He had to sting the ball in the minors a long while before finally getting extended major league run—not until '80 did 30-year-old Easler get a shot at playing extensively, sharing time in the outfield with Lee Lacy for the defending champion Pirates.

Easler made the most of that shot, batting .338 with 21 HR in limited duty; he followed that up with an All-Star nod in 1981. But due in part to Pittsburgh's roster and his own defense, Easler maxed out at 475 AB with the Pirates, and was moved to Boston for the '84 season (they needed lefty hitting to replace the retired Carl Yastrzemski.)

Now able to DH full-time, Easler broke out with several career-highs while batting .313 in '84, but came down significantly in '85 and was traded to the Yankees after the season (yes, you read that right.)

Here, Easler has returned to New York following a brief stint in Philadelphia. The Yankees had dealt him over the winter to Philly for P Charles Hudson, but only because Easler demanded it—he'd been traded from Boston during a multi-year contract and had the right to do so.

THIS CARD: I'm trying to figure out when this pic might have been shot. Spring Training? Pregame? Probably right before/after batting practice.

This is Easler's final Topps card. I made fun of the red-and-yellow Yankee color scheme on a previous COTD.

Easler made it back to the Yankees via trade for a pair of no-names; as I mentioned New York never wanted to give him up. As Philly had done, New York—despite his then-high $700K salary—used Easler in a part-time role; he only started 73 times the whole year combined.

(flip) Game-winning RBI have been ridiculed on previous COTD, but I will tell you Easler walked off the Red Sox and former (Spring Training) teammate Calvin Schiraldi on 9/28/87—the homer broke a 7-7 tie in the B9. It was Easler's final home run in the bigs.

Rare for Topps at the time: Easler is listed solely as a DH even though he played far more in the outfield (45 games to 32). However, in Topps' defense, 80% of Easler's 1985-86 run came at DH.

I'd always wondered who the 1976 AA batting champion was! Thank you, Topps. (This year's set is riddled with old minor league highlights for some reason.)

AFTER THIS CARD: Nothing. After finishing '87 with the Yankees, 36-year-old Easler went unsigned—he spent his final two seasons in the Japan League. Easler returned to the States to begin a long coaching career in the major, minor and Independent leagues, most notably as the Red Sox hitting coach in the mid-1990's (he refused to coach replacement players and lost the gig in 1995) and most recently as a hitting coach for Tijuana in the Mexican League.

Mike Easler debuted on a shared Prospects card in 1978 Topps, then appeared annually 1980-88. He's also got 1984 and 1986 Traded cards.

CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, New York Yankees

 
Topps Nolan Ryan
Topps Nolan Ryan

8/4/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps Traded #106 Nolan Ryan, Rangers

More Nolan Ryan Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994

At age 42 when the 1989 season began, Ryan was already baseball's all-time K leader and a winner of 273 career games. He'd thrown five no-hitters, partly because of his willingness to knock dudes down—nobody wanted to dig in against the guy. The main knock on Ryan: his teams didn't win all that much—Ryan reached the '69 World Series as a spare part for the Miracle Mets, and never went back as a player. 
Even though you can't pin that on ONE guy, somehow critics managed to.

(Also, there was my own personal knock: Ryan's 1989 book, while informative, wasn't all that interesting.)

After stops in New York, Anaheim and Houston, the Ryan Express pulled into Arlington, Texas in December of 1988. It was a bit surprising the Astros allowed Ryan, arguably the greatest pitcher in their short history, to leave—Ryan wanted to stay—but the team maxed its contract offer at $1.3M, whereas the Rangers offered $2M for one year (including bonus, with an option that was exercised).

THIS CARD: A classic Nolan Ryan image: tall, stoic, focused. The only time you saw Ryan smile on the field was after he no-hit somebody. Maybe.

Ryan only wore Rangers #34 for three full seasons and parts of two others. Yet it's his most iconic look, and for years, #34 was Texas's lone retired number until Pudge Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre were recently honored.

This card still sells for a pretty penny online; at the time of its original release it was among the highest—if not the highest—sought veteran cards in the set.

(flip) Yes, Ryan is the all-time BB leader as well as K.

Alvin, Texas is located about 31 miles south of Houston.

Today, Ryan ranks fourth in Astro IP, seventh in SHO, sixth in W—fourth at this card's release—and of course first in K.

AFTER THIS CARD: As is well known, in '89 Ryan reached 5,000 career K when he punched out Rickey Henderson—my favorite player—on August 23. Overall, Ryan lived up to his salary and then some for his first three years in Texas; he made the '89 All-Star team, no-hit the A's in 1990 and no-hit the Blue Jays in 1991. Though his team was going nowhere (unless you count the new ballpark set to open in '94), it seemed like Ryan might dominate forever.

Finally, in '92, injuries began to impact the now-45-year-old, who won just five of 27 starts. Still, Texas picked up Ryan's option for 1993, which Ryan soon stated would be his last in MLB. That September, Ryan tore his UCL, finally bringing his 27-season big league run to completion...but not before he famously taught White Sox 3B Robin Ventura who not to mess with.

You may recall Ryan returning to the mound in and firing an 80-something-MPH ceremonial first pitch at the age of 63 in 2010 (he was president and CEO of the Rangers 2008-13). He's worked as an Astros special assistant since 2014.

Nolan Ryan appeared annually in Topps 1968-1994, along with this Traded card.

CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps Traded, Texas Rangers

 
Topps Wei-Yin Chen
Topps Wei-Yin Chen

8/7/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2018 Topps #MM-3 Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins

More Wei-Yin Chen Topps Cards: 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2019

An eight-year veteran of the Nippon (Japan) League, Chen hooked up with the Baltimore Orioles for 2012, at the price of 3Y/$11.34M (plus a team option). He promptly became the team's most reliable starter, leading the 93-win O's in every pitching category. Once again in 2014, he paced the club with 16 victories and turned in a quality 2015 season as well—Chen played no small role in Baltimore's return to respectability in the early-mid '10s.

The native of Taiwan parlayed his Orioles success into a 5Y/$80M deal with the...Miami Marlins??? Yes, you read that right—remember, they still had Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez and friends in 2016 and looked to contend. But Chen's debut season in Miami was marred by an elbow sprain; he was never really right that year.
Here, Chen is coming off a 2017 season essentially wiped out by a partial UCL tear. He didn't pitch from early May to early September, and his Marlins finished with a disappointing 77 wins.

THIS CARD: Chen's long absence cost him a card in the 2018 Topps base/Update set—he was a forgotten man in '17. Fortunately, Topps has produced exclusive Factory Team Sets in recent years, many of which include men excluded from the base/Update sets. Chen was one of those men in 2018 (as were his Marlin teammates Adam Conley, Magneuris Sierra and Junichi Tazawa.)

Such otherwise-unavailable cards have been added to the COTD rotation, although I'm still on the hunt for many of them..

Chen works at Citi Field; he pitched there once in 2017, starting and beating Zach Wheeler on April 7.

The #16 on Chen's jersey, of course, is in memory of late rotation mate Fernandez.

(flip) Remember, Skillz: it's Wei-YIN, not the Wei-LIN I always seem to want to call him.

In that would-be no-hitter, Chen still picked up the 5-0 win, but Seattle's Mitch Haniger doubled off closer Kyle Barraclough with one out in the 9th.

Chen is one of the few success stories treating a UCL tear without surgery, although given his drop in effectiveness since the injury, one wonders if he should have been worked on.

AFTER THIS CARD: Chen missed the first few weeks of the 2018 season, but returned to make 26 up-and-down starts (4.79 ERA; 9.27 on the road). The 34-year-old was used exclusively in relief by the 2019 Fish; he struggled mightily in his groundbreaking role as baseball's first $20M middle reliever.

If you include this exclusive Factory Team set card, Wei-Yin Chen has appeared annually in Topps since 2012.

CATEGORIES: 2018 Topps Team Sets, Miami Marlins

 
Sprague_88ToppsFront.jpg
Topps Ed Sprague

8/9/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps Traded #113 Ed Sprague, Team USA

More Ed Sprague Topps Cards: 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999T 2000

Today, the Blue Jays have three homegrown sons of ex-major leaguers on their roster (Vlad Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette) and why not? The franchise has a history of second-generation big leaguers coming through their system and making an impact on the field—remember Todd Stottlemyre and Ed Sprague, Jr. helping them to consecutive championships back in the 1990's?

Sprague has loads of SF Bay Area ties; he currently works as the Oakland A's Coordinator of Instruction, he was born just east of Oakland in Castro Valley, CA, and he starred at Stanford University as an amateur. Here, the young third baseman has just been chosen to rep Team USA in the 1988 Olympics. Though baseball was only a "demonstration" sport, Sprague and his teammates all received medals upon placing first in the eight-team tourney.

THIS CARD: Sprague looks like he'd rather be anywhere than taking this photo.

Looking for variety in your Team USA subset images? Sorry, each and every last one is a posed headshot—the Games hadn't started when this set was released. (Still, they could have mixed in a guy holding a bat or tossing a ball, something. )

It was surprisingly difficult to dig up stats/highlights for the 1988 Olympics, but we can tell you Sprague was 2-for-11 with an RBI and three K...can't tell you any whens or hows or interesting details, unfortunately.

(flip) According to Stanford's own official website, there is no one Sprague could have tied with 40 or 41 home runs in the year 1988. (He's currently tied with Dave McCarty, who joined Stanford in '89, for sixth all-time.) Who's #1 all-time in 1988? Rick Lundblade (1982-85) with 42; Paul Carey (1987-90) has advanced the record to 56.

Ed Sprague, Sr. was a classic journeyman, called upon 198 times by the A's, Reds, Cardinals and Brewers. His best year was probably 1974, when he went 7-2, 2.39 in 20 games (10 starts). Lifetime, he was 17-23, 3.84, with nine saves.

That homer by Sprague sealed Stanford's second straight championship. They have yet to win another.

AFTER THIS CARD: Sprague reached Toronto in 1991 as a corner infielder, but was given extensive run in the minors as a catcher for '92. Still, Sprague returned to MLB later that year and hit perhaps the fourth-most famous* homer in Jays history in Game 2 of the World Series—his blast off Atlanta's Jeff Reardon gave Toronto a 5-4 lead that held up.

By '93, the catching experiment was over after 93 major-league innings; Sprague took over as Toronto's main man at 3B. For the next four years, he rarely sat and turned in a 36 HR, 101-RBI 1996 season.

But by the late 1990's, Toronto was no longer seriously contending, and Sprague was dealt to Oakland in late '98. He turned in an All-Star 1999 season with Pittsburgh, but couldn't hold a roster spot with anybody for long in the succeeding seasons. Sprague's career ended after being cut by Texas in Spring Training 2002; he'd spend 12 years coaching for the University of the Pacific (Stockton, CA) before landing his current A's gig.

After debuting in 1988 Topps Traded, Ed Sprague appeared annually in Topps 1992-2001; 1999 was also a Traded card.

*Joe Carter, Jose Bautista, Robby Alomar

CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps Traded, Team USA

 
Topps Carlos Beltran
Topps Carlos Beltran

8/12/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2002 Topps #201 Carlos Beltran, Royals

More Carlos Beltran Topps Cards: 1995 2000 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Few players needed a bounceback season in 2001 as much as young Carlos Beltran of the Royals did. After winning AL Rookie Of The Year honors in 1999, hopes and expectations ran high for Beltran in 2000—in short, they were not close to met, and the kid even found himself clashing with management in August after a knee injury.

2001 brought on new beginnings, and Beltran wound up leading the Royals in pretty much everything except doubles and home runs.

THIS CARD: We feature Beltran for the second time in COTD; his 2009 Topps card was profiled back in September of 2015.

#15 has been very kind to KC over the years. In addition to Beltran—who first wore #36 in KC—C Darrell Porter made three All-Star teams in four years wearing the number, C Mike MacFarlane sported it for a decade, and star 2B Whit Merrifield reps it today.

As we watch Beltran do his thing at some unidentifiable field, I'll tell you that in 2001 the kid ripped his first two career grand slams, enjoyed a 14-game hit streak, and ran his consecutive steal streak up to 33 straight before being nailed in August. Oh, and he had six RBI in the season finale.

(flip) More from Beltran the outfielder in 2001: 404 putouts (3rd among AL OF), six double plays and 14 outfield assists (tied for second in MLB).

Handsome as he may be, Beltran did well to never sport that mustachioed look again.

That last line of the blurb is a bit deceiving. Beltran's assist TOTAL was second-best in the junior loop (AKA American League), but in terms of personal rank, he actually tied for third overall behind Albert Belle (???) and Jermaine Dye, who both gunned 17 runners. Beltran did finish first among CF, however.

AFTER THIS CARD: Three-and-a-half more years in KC, a phenomenal 2004 postseason with Houston, a megadeal with the Mets, a horrific collision with Mike Cameron, a bit of team-hopping, and a 2017 World Series title back with Houston in his final season. With over 2,700 hits and 435 career homers, nine-time All-Star Beltran has his share of support for the Hall of Fame. We'll see.

Carlos Beltran's Topps debut was "his" 1995 Traded Draft Pick; he received a common every year from 2000-17. 2017 Topps Update has Beltran the renewed Astro; he did not receive a final "Career Stats" card in the 2018 set.

CATEGORIES: 2002 Topps, Kansas City Royals, $100M Men

 
Topps Kyle Tucker
Topps Kyle Tucker

8/16/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2019 Topps #60 Kyle Tucker, Astros

More Kyle Tucker Topps Cards: n/a

A couple of years ago, we profiled former Indians prospect Scott Morgan, a dude who put up some pretty impressive minor league numbers but never got a shot with Cleveland—they were just too deep in the positions Morgan played. Whether or not other factors were at play, IDK. But for whatever reasons, Morgan stayed buried in the minors for years, not rescued by another organization until he'd already long peaked.

2019 Kyle Tucker can relate. The #5 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Tucker has shown to be ready for an extended major-league look, but the Astros are well-stocked at his positions and aiming to win a World Series. A trade? HA! Houston is not about to give up a talent like him—they wouldn't/didn't part with him in the Zack freakin' Greinke trade of 2019.

So Tucker floats in limbo, a victim of his own success. Unlike Morgan, however, Tucker has received some major league run, which is where we catch up with him. The 21-year-old had something of a rough go in his 2018 introduction to MLB, but no one with two eyes and an ounce of sense has given up on the young outfielder.

THIS CARD: No kidding—2019 Topps had just been added to the Randomizer; this card was the very next one picked! I'm glad, though; we'd been kind of 80's-heavy lately. Can't forget about the current crop of ballers.

Tucker shows off one of his many skillz—hauling ass on the bases. There exists a 2019 Topps variant of this card; it's a horizontal image of Tucker chillaxin' in the dugout. I believe it can be found on Amazon.com.

While #3 has been passed around Astros players like a joint over the years, a young Astro in single digits is usually a good sign. Just ask Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Don't ask L.J. Hoes.

(flip) It's weird hearing a modern player compare anybody to Ted Williams, let alone a rook. Springer could be up on his history, though.

Since Topps didn't print Tucker's underwhelming MLB stats, we will: .141, 0 HR in 64 AB. But for God's sake the kid was, as Topps mentioned, barely out of HS.  (In 2019 Topps, many rookie cards do feature MLB stats, unlike past sets.)

In that 7/7 debut, Tucker produced a knock in four trips. Three days later, he scored thrice in a 6-5 Astros win.

AFTER THIS CARD: Already loaded with Springer in CF and Josh Reddick in RF, Houston brought in All-Star Michael Brantley to play LF in 2019, while masher Yordan Alvarez was promoted during the season to DH. This left Tucker in the minors, learning the 1B position in hopes of improving his own promotion odds. At this writing, he's in line to rejoin the Astros as a September callup.

Kyle Tucker has appeared in 2019 Topps; he's also got a 2019 Stadium Club card.

CATEGORIES: 2019 Topps, Houston Astros

 
Topps Glenallen Hill
Topps Glenallen Hill

8/18/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps Traded #55 Glenallen Hill, Indians

More Glenallen Hill Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995T 1996 1997 1998 2001

In terms of raw power, there weren't many dudes around in the 1990's with more than Glenallen Hill, who was a semi-star for the Giants, Cubs and others in the middle/latter part of the decade.

If you saw Hill play—hell, if you saw Hill stand perfectly still—you likely pictured the guy on the gridiron; he was just built like a fullback. As far as I could gather, however, Hill the amateur was not a multi-sport standout. On behalf of would-be tacklers nationwide...whew.

Toronto took Hill #9 in 1983; as a Kinston Blue Jay he was striking out 200 times a year before it was fashionable. Still, the offensive (and I emphasize offensive) talent was clear, and once Hill got his K's down and his average up, he was in Toronto (for a time).

25-year-old Hill got a longer look from Toronto in '90, that is, when he wasn't dreaming himself onto the disabled list. Here, the youngster has just endured his first trade—Toronto needed pitching, and pulled the trigger on a Tom Candiotti deal that sent Hill to Cleveland in June 1991.

THIS CARD: RIP Chief Wahoo. Hill also appears in the base set as a Blue Jay.

Hill's thoughts? "Hmmm...why is Sandy Alomar limping? Warm-ups haven't even started."

I watched a somewhat recent interview with Hill regarding his infamous nightmare; he basically looked like he looks here. The guy just doesn't seem to age, even though he's now a manager.
 

(flip) For those of you not in the mood for math, Hill tallied 279 TB for Syracuse of the International League in '89.

I wonder if Hill was the first 200-K man in Topps history...but not enough to research.

Yes, when Hill signed with the 1995 Giants, he was coming "home"—Santa Cruz is a couple hours south of San Francisco.

The Trade (with Toronto) sent Hill, Mark Whiten and Denis Boucher to Cleveland, with Candiotti and Turner Ward heading north.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: A lot of bouncing around, a lot of home runs, a lot of defensive snafus. Hill lasted in MLB through 2001, most notably for the Cubs and Giants. As a 2000 Cub, Hill smacked one of the longest HR ever caught on tape, and as a 1998 Cub he ripped a painful pinch-hit grand slam against my Giants as they tried to chase down the Wild Card.

Prior to that: three seasons playing regularly (when healthy) for the Giants, who originally signed Hill for $500K but got the offensive production of somebody making six times that. 

Here's what irks me: in his final three full seasons (1998-2000), Hill averaged .302, 22, 56 with .569 SLG for four teams. But only 2001 Topps had any space for him—not even the newly-restored Traded sets. The slugger's MLB run ended with his June 2001 release by the Angels; Hill missed time with an oblique injury and hit .136—not what Anaheim expected when they gave him Jose Canseco's roster spot.

Giants fans likely remember Hill's long run coaching first base for the Rockies before accepting their AAA manager's job for 2013. Shortly into his Rox stint, Hill was named in the Mitchell Report; he later admitted PED use after an initial denial. Glenallen Hill Jr. went to Arizona in the 4th round of the '19 MLB Draft, by the way.

Glenallen Hill appeared in Topps 1990-94, 1996-98, and 2001; he's also got 1991 and 1995 Traded cards. Hill finished four seasons as a Cub—all good—but only appears in Topps once as a Cub (1994).

CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps Traded, Cleveland Indians

 
Topps Gregor Blanco
Topps Gregor Blanco

8/21/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #352 Gregor Blanco, Braves

More Gregor Blanco Topps Cards: 2008 2010U 2011 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018

It wasn't exactly front page news when the Giants signed Gregor Blanco prior to the 2012 season. When free agent OF Bryce Harper was merely considering signing with San Francisco this past winter, more scrutiny was given to Harper's preferred toilet paper brand than was ever given to the Blanco acquisition.

Granted, Blanco isn't half the overall talent Harper is, and his numbers never wowed anyone. But when one thinks unsung contributors to the 2012 and 2014 Giants championship teams. one thinks Gregor Blanco first. (Let's not forget the great catch he made to preserve Matt Cain's eventual perfect game in 2012. Never forget.)

I could go on, but we'll save my reminiscing for when we pull a Blanco Giants card. Here, he's just completed his rookie season, playing semi-full time for the Atlanta Braves. Blanco won a job in Spring Training 2008, hit .371 in April, and ended up starting 113 times for Bobby Cox.

THIS CARD:  Blanco takes his lead at first base at Turner Field; 89 of his 108 hits were singles in 2008. 26 of those were infield hits, and 15 of those were bunts (per MLB.com).

But just because he's on first base doesn't mean he's staying there—Blanco led Atlanta with 13 swipes, though he was caught five times.

Blanco was actually included in 2008 Topps as a brand-new Brave, which is why you see no Rookie Card logo here.

(flip) The candidates in question were also unestablished youngsters, aside from veteran Joe Borchard. (They all came up to Atlanta at some point in 2008, however.) Blanco started 55 times in left, 54 times in center, and four times in right. Only Chipper Jones out-walked Blanco (90).

The league had not yet figured out it's toughest to retire Blanco right after Spring Training—even today, March/April are his best career OBP months (.352 lifetime as of 8/21/19).

That one 2008 home run? A solo shot off Milwaukee's Dave Bush on 5/27. Milwaukee came back to win, however.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: The Braves didn't have much more use for Blanco, playing him just 60 more times combined 2009-10 before trading him to KC in July '10 (that's the deal that brought Rick Ankiel, who roped a clutch homer to sink SF during that year's NLDS, to Atlanta.). 

Following a year in AAA, Blanco returned to MLB with the Giants in '12 and wound up their regular LF in that year's postseason (Melky Cabrera was ineligible due to PEDs). He began each of the next four seasons as their fourth outfielder but averaged 400 PA annually, as regular CF Angel Pagan required a lot of subbin' for. 

San Francisco let Blanco walk to Arizona for 2017, but after that season he walked right back to SF for one more go in 2018; he didn't get nearly as much run as in the past and was actually outrighted to AAA for a time. Presently, Blanco is with AAA Syracuse (Mets), batting .246 with 12 jacks at this writing.

Gregor Blanco has appeared in Topps or Topps Update annually 2008-18, except 2012. He does not have a Topps Diamondbacks card.

CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, Atlanta Braves

 
Topps John Flaherty
Topps John Flaherty

8/24/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Topps #412 John Flaherty, Padres

More John Flaherty Topps Cards: 1992T 1994 1995 1996 1998 1998A 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2003T

We remember Flaherty largely from his five years as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray; he was an original member and their primary catcher for much of his tenure. Flaherty—no connection to current Cardinals SP Jack Flaherty—started out in the Boston system, but after just 91 AB with the big league team, he was traded Detroit for fellow C Rich Rowland in what was supposed to be an offensive upgrade for Boston.

Rowland petered out of the league soon after, while Flaherty lasted another decade-plus.

Flaherty became Detroit's #1 receiver in '95, but moved him to San Diego in mid-1996—the Padres were fed up with C Brad Ausmus and SS Andujar Cedeno, who were in offensve freefall, and executed a trade. I'm having a tough time figuring out why Detroit made the deal, but in any event Flaherty quickly took over behind the plate in SD, which is where we catch up with him.

THIS CARD: Mask off, back to the plate—Flaherty uses perfect technique to haul in this popup. Topps would do well to include more front images like this, IMHO.

Flaherty appears in Topps for the fourth straight set. He got an excellent variety of card front images from Topps over the years, including two more of him retrieving popups.

For much of August, the Randomizer has been sending us back and forth between the 1980's and late 2010's; refreshing to get a selection from some other period.

(flip) Flaherty's slam wasn't just any old slam—it broke a 10-all tie with the Marlins in the 8th inning! The Padres went on to a 20-12 win. (Terry Mathews served up the blast.)

27 games over 37 days? Well, Flaherty's streak sandwiched the All-Star break, plus as a catcher, he likely sat a few times. Hit streaks are only terminated by games which the player has at least one hitless official at-bat.

Flaherty's streak now ranks third among catchers; in '97, Cleveland's Sandy Alomar Jr. hit in 30 straight.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: On 1997 Expansion Draft Night, the Padres swapped Flaherty to the Devil Rays, where he caught for the next five seasons (usually as the #1). But by 2002, young Toby Hall was on the scene, so Flaherty moved on to the Yankees via minors deal. He made the club and played his final three seasons as Jorge Posada's backup 2003-05.

But after batting just .165 in '05, 37-year-old Flaherty and the Yankees parted ways. He returned to Boston hoping to win a backup job, but ended up retiring during Spring Training '06. Flaherty has since returned to the Yankees as an analyst on their famed YES network broadcasts.

John Flaherty debuted in 1992 Topps Traded, then appeared annually in the base set 1994-2003. He dropped in one final time as a Yankee in 2003 Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1997 Topps, San Diego Padres

 
Topps German Duran
Topps German Duran

8/27/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2008 Topps Update #213 German Duran, Rangers

More German Duran Topps Cards: n/a

When you do a feature like Topps Card Of The Day, at times you're gonna be forced to report on dudes who absolutely nobody remembers, dudes who made exactly zero major league impact at all. Not everybody can be Derek Jeter and Ichiro—we knew that going in. But we promised to give everyone a fair shake, regardless of stature.

So strap in: we're about to dive headfirst into all things German Duran.

After a fine first full pro season (2006), Duran, Texas's #6 pick in 2005, busted out in 2007 (.300/.352/.525) playing second base for AA Frisco. Unsurprisingly, Duran was promoted to AAA Oklahoma for 2008, but it wasn't long before Rangers 3B Hank Blalock's back began aching—when OF Marlon Byrd went on the DL 4/17, up came Duran to fill Blalock's void.

THIS CARD: Young Duran slightly resembles a young Miguel Cabrera, does he not?

German Duran is his full name, so I have no clue why his signature begins with an "O".

This is not The Ballpark In Arlington; I'm fairly sure it's Surprise Stadium, the Rangers' Spring Training home.

(flip) We already covered the first half of the blurb. Hector Ortiz was actually Duran's hitting coach at Short-Season A Spokane; according to MLB.com he's never worked for Oklahoma. (Ortiz is currently the Texas 1B coach.)

Zacatecas is located about 246 miles southwest of Monterrey, Mexico. Which no, still isn't close to Mexico City.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Blalock's hamstring soon tore, and upon healing the Rangers shifted him to first base for a time—which meant extended run at 3B for Duran. But Duran didn't hit much, and shuttled between AAA and the majors until late July when (while with Oklahoma) he tore thumb ligaments and missed five weeks. Still, Texas brought him back to the bigs in September.

Little could Duran have known that would be his final MLB action. He failed to make the Rangers out of Spring Training 2009, then was released in June to make room for RP Willie Eyre on Texas's roster. Houston and Florida each signed Duran, but neither called him to the majors as he never came close to reaching his 2007 production levels. Duran's pro career ended in 2012 at age 27.

For the 2008 Rangers, Duran hit .231 in 60 games and 143 AB, but was 17-for-his-last-58 (.293) after a .188 open. He was used mostly at 3B and 2B, but also got run at SS and both COF spots. And now you know more than you ever thought you would about German Duran.

German Duran appeared in 2008 Topps Updates & Highlights.

CATEGORIES: 2008 Topps Update, Texas Rangers

 
Topps Adalberto Mondesi
Topps Adalberto Mondesi

8/29/19 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2016 Topps #395 Raul Mondesi, Royals

More Raul/Adalberto Mondesi Topps Cards: 2017F 2018F 2019

Few players' identities, if any, have been harder to track than that of Mr. Mondesi. Of course, we remember his father, Raul Mondesi of the Dodgers, Blue Jays and others. Then there was his older brother, also named Raul and also a pro baseball player for a time (though he never reached MLB).

Then this Raul reached pro ball using his middle name Adalberto. By the time he debuted in MLB, however, he'd gone back to Raul. Making matters worse, he was incorrectly referred to as Raul Jr. (said brother's suffix) by many outlets...including his own Twitter page. Finally—shortly after his dad went to the clink—young Mondesi opted to drop the "Raul" and go by Adalberto again.

Got all that?

Here, he's still Raul, and he's the first guy in modern MLB history to debut in the World Series! (Even though I'd long believed there were rules against dudes who weren't on a roster by 9/1 appearing in the postseason. I'm not sure if KC called Mondesi up previously and just didn't use him, and I'm unwilling to spend more time on the matter.)

THIS CARD: TSR profiles its second consecutive Rookie Card in Mondesi, a switch-hitter with defensive skillz, loads of speed and a penchant for whiffing WAY too much for a guy who's only displayed modest power to date.

This is a Series 2 card, so normally Topps might have gotten this Mondesi shot from the first half of 2016, especially since he only got one AB of exposure during the '15 WS (A Game 3 PH K vs. Noah Syndergaard of the Mets). But the kid didn't play in MLB until late July that year...World Series it is. Or Spring Training.

Mondesi has worn #27 his whole MLB career.

(flip) "Plaudits" will soon be featured in our Word Of The Day section, as I've never once heard or read it before skimming this blurb.

Mondesi, Sr. played 1993-2005, won the 1994 N.L. Rookie Of The Year and owned possibly the game's best outfield arm for years. He didn't have the best reputation, however, and his later years were marred by off-field problems.

I thought Northwest Arkansas was a college. Turns out it's Kansas City's AA team, formerly known as the Wichita Wranglers.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: After serving a 50-game PED suspension levied while in AAA, Mondesi got his first regular-season MLB run in 2016, starting 40 times at 2B for the Royals. He won the 2B job out of Spring Traing 2017, but was quickly sent out when overmatched at the plate.
By mid-2018, he was back, and playing regularly at SS for KC (moving incumbent Alcides Escobar to a utility role). Mondesi retained that job for 2019 and for a time led the majors in triples, but lost extended time with groin and shoulder injuries.

Though Raul/Adalberto Mondesi has only appeared in 2016 and 2019 Topps base, he's got Factory Team Set cards for both 2017-18.

CATEGORIES: 2016 Topps, Kansas City Royals