Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, February 2016
A = Alternate Card F = Factory Team Set G = Giveaway Set T = Traded Set U = Update Set
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2/8/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #288 Julio Teheran, Braves
More Julio Teheran Topps Cards: 2012 2013 2015
TSR apologizes for the lengthy COTD delay...sometimes dad duty can't be delayed.
Teheran (pronunced Tay-ron) is one of the better young righties in the game today, and the Braves (co) wins leader two years running. The young Colombian reached Atlanta in 2011, summoned to make a spot start against the Philadelphia Phillies—the same Phillies who'd reached the NLCS or beyond the preceding three seasons. No pressure, Julio.
Though the 20-year-old threw gamely, he wasn't ready to stick and wouldn't be until 2013.
This card represents that breakthrough season, one in which Teheran—who throws in the mid-90s with command and picks off a load of dudes—finished just one behind Kris Medlen for the team lead in wins (14) and gave Atlanta at least five innings in every last one of his 30 starts!
THIS CARD: Future Stars is back in 2014, even if most of them are "Current" Stars. Can't say I blame Topps—in the past, unprovens labeled by Topps as Future Stars often failed to become even Future Regulars or Future Key Reserves.
This uniform has been worn by Atlanta as a home alternate since 2012, paying homage to the 1966 team freshly transplanted from Milwaukee. The patch reads 1876—when the Boston Braves were founded—and replaces the "Screaming Warrior" originally featured, but long retired out of sensitivity to Native Americans.
(flip) I was going to mention Teheran's five scoreless starts of six or more innings above before spotting it in the blurb. For those of you not around 20 years ago, young Steve Avery was pretty damn good—not Kershaw/Bumgarner-level; more like Sale-level.
We could not dig up whose record Teheran broke—give us time—but we can tell you he led all 2013 rooks with a 3.78 K/BB ratio.
From now until the end of time, I will accidently confuse WHIP for ERA on modern Topps cards. Hard to adjust when you've been reading Topps card reverses a certain way for over 20 years.
AFTER THIS CARD: Though he was last seen being battered by the Dodgers in the '13 NLDS, Teheran was locked up for six years, $32M not long after this card was issued in early 2014—he is poised to take the ball when the Braves open SunTrust Park next year unless 2015 trade whispers materialize into an actual move.
Now financially set, Teheran turned in an even better 2014, making (but not playing for) the All-Star team! But he slipped in 2015, especially on the road—hence the aforementioned trade whispers, which the Braves haven't exactly refuted.
Julio Teheran has appeared in Topps annually since 2012.
CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, Atlanta Braves
2/13/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #221 Jim Bullinger, Expos
More Jim Bullinger Topps Cards: 1993 1995 1996
Jim Bullinger exemplifies why, regardless of goal, one should never give up on one's dreams. Entering 1990 he'd just completed a two-year run of batting .190 in almost 250 minor league games—and ended up in the Hall of Fame.
Granted, that was the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, but still.
Bullinger's weak bat prompted a conversion to pitching that landed him in the major leagues two years later—naturally, the lifetime .314 MiLB slugger homered in his first big league at-bat. The Cubs moved him into the rotation late in '92; he one-hit the Giants on 8/30 but lost his other six decisions and opened '93 in AAA.
But by '95, Bullinger was starting for Chicago full-time. In fact, until a late swoon, the 30-year-old's stats were among the NL's best (10-5, 3.16 thru August, but a 7.56 ERA and 1.99 WHIP afterward).
Opening '96 as the Cubs 4th starter, Bullinger threw eight scoreless innings at the Dodgers...then regressed, ultimately losing, re-gaining, and re-losing his rotation spot during the season. Bullinger finished 5-9, 7.40 in 20 starts but was exponentially better out of the bullpen (3.12, zero HRA in 26 innings).
Chicago gave up on the inconsistent righty after the season, and Montreal swooped in—potentially teaming Jim with his little brother Kirk, an Expo prospect (didn't happen).
THIS CARD: Bullinger wore #52 for all but the final two games of his MLB career. Outfielder Tony Scott was the first Expo to wear #52 (1973-75); Bullinger was one of nine pitchers to claim it afterward, but no Montreal position player ever did again.
If I'm correct, Bullinger's in mid-delivery at brand-new Turner Field. Despite two shutouts during the season, he carried a 5.68 ERA into mid-August and lost his rotation spot. This time, he wasn't any more effective in relief, at least not for a while.
All 1998 Topps baseball cards received parallel prints with the "Minted In Cooperstown" stamp. I built 75% of this set through packs; MIC editions popped up at random.
(flip) I alluded to the shutouts earlier. The home run was Bullinger's fourth and final in MLB; he smoked two in '96 along with the aforementioned '92 blast. The blown save: on 8/27 at St. Louis, Bullinger entered a 3-0 game in the 6th, gave up two, then allowed a David Bell tying homer leading off the 7th. The Cards eventually won 4-3.
AFTER THIS CARD: Cast off at season's end, the 32-year-old joined Seattle for '98. In his second game he started versus a star-studded Yankee team coming under serious fire for daring to begin the season 1-4. Beginning with their 10-run, 12-hit, three-inning demolition of Jim Bullinger—which ended his major league career—that club went on to a 113-44 finish.
Bullinger continued pitching professionally through 2005—most of it as a SP in the Independent League—ending his career with a rough 10-game stint with AAA Charlotte (White Sox) at age 39.
In addition to this card, Jim Bullinger appeared in 1993 and 1995-96 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, Montreal Expos
2/16/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #532 Al Leiter, Mets
More Al Leiter Topps Cards: 1988 1989 1990 1991 1994 1995T 1997 1998 1999 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005
Let's time-travel back to the year 1991. Imagine being asked what current major league pitcher would, in nine years, throw 142 of the gutsiest pitches in a postseason start ever.
Chances are your guesses would come from a pool of veterans like Roger Clemens, David Cone, Greg Maddux, Chuck Finley, or possibly an up-and-comer like Randy Johnson, Kevin Appier, John Burkett, Andy Benes, Ramon Martinez or John Smoltz.
You would not pick the one-time prospect who'd pitched 11 pro games in the past two seasons recovering from multiple arm surgeries, and who, because of constant battles with blisters, couldn't be counted on for half that pitch total even before the operations.
Al Leiter (pronounced Lighter), of course, is the man in question. A Yankees #2 pick out of high school in 1984, by '88 he was in their rotation and pitching well despite routinely leaving starts early. In fact, one start lasted exactly one pitch when Oakland's Carney Lansford drilled him in the arm with a liner.
Despite Leiter's upside, the 1989 Yankees needed to replace (injured) Dave Winfield's power, and sacrificed him to acquire unhappy Blue Jays slugger Jesse Barfield in May. From that point through the end of the 1992 season, Leiter pitched in nine major league games total (though, contrary to popular belief, he was not injured that entire time—he spent most of 1990 and 1992 starting regularly in the minors.)
Still only 27, Leiter re-emerged in 1993, joined the Toronto rotation full-time in '94, then blossomed into one of the game's better—and at times, best—lefties over the next decade. Here, the 35-year-old is fresh off that memorable 2000 performance referenced above—albeit in a losing effort—which followed a 16-win, All-Star summer for the Mets lefty.
THIS CARD: The Mets discontinued the black alternates a few years ago. Good riddance—I don't like alternates period, but I especially dislike those unmatched to a team color.
Our second consecutive card with a special logo stamp; "Home Team Advantage" is a parallel set with exactly zero other differences besides the stamp. Allegedly, HTA was sold as its own set, but I bought the standard 2001 factory set with loads of HTAs randomly mixed in.
(flip) As you can see, Leiter walked a lot of dudes early in his career. He curbed his command issues for a time, but eventually they resurfaced.
The Clemente Award has been issued since 1971 (renamed from The Commissioner's Award beginning in 1973). As a Met, Leiter was not only fan-friendly, but aided many causes through his foundation.
As late as 2001, Topps' bio boxes didn't include "with _____" in reference to trades. For the record, Florida acquired three prospects from the Mets—one being future star A.J. Burnett.
AFTER THIS CARD: Leiter—whose brother Mark re-ignited his own stalled career with Al's help—pitched four more oft-hard luck years in New York, who spent much of that time in or near last place. At 39, he re-signed with the Marlins for 2005, but was cut halfway through after putting up an ERA nearing seven and a WHIP nearing two.
The Yankees brought Leiter back to finish the year; Leiter also went to Spring Training 2006 with the club (during which he appeared on All My Children as an interviewee of Susan Lucci's Erica Kane) but didn't make it, and retired at 40.
He's stayed in baseball as a MLB Network analyst and a Yankee broadcaster—this year he will also call games for the Marlins; don't ask me how that works. (That's three stints with both clubs for those of you keeping count...obviously Leiter makes friends wherever he goes.)
Al Leiter was featured in Topps 1988-91, excluded for two years, returned in 1994-95, was one of many puzzling exclusions in 1996, then made annual appearances 1997-2005.
(Note the 1995 card was from Traded, and the 1988 card was initially an error print of fellow prospect Steve George; a corrected version was later produced.)
CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, New York Mets
2/19/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #44 Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
More Matt Carpenter Topps Cards: 2013 2015
As infrequently as they've been selected in the past, I never dreamed 2014 Topps would ever go on hiatus. But that's exactly what must happen—two of our past four Randomized selections are from that set.
I wish I could permanently hiatus the St. Louis Cardinals—regular visitors to COTD may be familiar with my contempt for that franchise dating back to decade's beginning. Gotta admit that despite routinely beating up on my Giants, Matt Carpenter—to date—escapes the vitriol directed at so many of his teammates. Why? Simply put, I like the way the guy plays. He's a tough out, and he always seems in control of every at-bat.
Seeing the repeat All-Star today, the uninformed can't grasp St. Louis depriving him of a roster spot until age 26. As a college junior, Carpenter found himself both overweight and injured (Tommy John surgery). That teamed to keep him undrafted until 2009's 13th round, by which time he was approaching 24.
A third baseman by trade, Carpenter sipped the bigs two years later, and won a roster spot out of Spring 2012. He got extensive run subbing for Lance Berkman at first base as well as in the outfield—where he'd never played as a pro before (at times it showed; all three of his OF errors led to runs in close games St. Louis eventually lost).
Here, the 28-year-old is coming off his first season as a major league starter, having beaten Daniel Descalso in camp for the second base job and taken over the leadoff spot. Carpenter's league-high run, hit and double totals, All-Star nod, MVP votes and one particularly memorable postseason at-bat validated Mike Matheny's decision.
THIS CARD: This is Carpenter's second Topps appearance, and he's depicted in a throwback Cardinals cream uni from the pre-expansion era. No, this wasn't Turn Back The Clock Day—the team added this as a regular alternate look for 2013 (specifically, Saturday home games).
The #9 sleeve patch is for Stan Musial, the Cardinals legend who passed away at 92 in early 2013.
I still can't immediately identify a 2014 Topps vs. a 2013 Topps without brief pause.
(flip) For more on Carpenter's work ethic, click here.
Finding out the other such three-category MLB leader proved far more difficult than expected, even with the World Wide Web's help. Ultimately, we're going with Pete Rose in 1976, even though his hit total only tied for the major league lead (with George Brett.)
I'm not totally certain that's who Topps was referencing, but since there's no reason not to identify Rose aside from Topps' recent refusal to so much as print the man's name on cards...it's a safe bet. No pun intended.
In 1954, 31-year-old rookie Joe Frazier notched 16 pinch-hits. Out of baseball by 1957, he went on to change ethnicities and become a pro boxer, taking on Muhammad Ali three times. Just kidding.
AFTER THIS CARD: Carpenter—who signed a 6Y/$52M extension in Spring 2014—switched back to 3B that year. Most of his numbers dipped—though not enough to keep him off the All-Star team. He exploded for 28 homers in 2015, leading the team by a lot and exceeding his entire three-year career total to that point!
Matt Carpenter has appeared in Topps annually since 2013.
CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals
2/22/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1996 Topps #199 Tony Phillips, Angels
More Tony Phillips Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1997
Just...wow. For the third time as many years, the baseball world says goodbye to a member of the 1989 World Champion Athletics long before ever expecting to. A fall claimed Bob Welch in 2014, a heart attack took Dave Henderson in 2015, and now Tony Phillips has also suffered a fatal heart attack at age 56. (Since my favorite baseball player ever, Rickey Henderson, was a member of that team, you'll understand if I'm more troubled by this pattern than the average person.)
You know how switch-hitting Ben Zobrist has largely been a full-time starter with no permanent position during his career? You do? Good. Well, take Zobrist, give him more edge, bat him leadoff and you have Tony Phillips, best known with the Athletics and Tigers in the 80's and 90's.
Though he got a lot of run with Oakland—even hitting for the cycle once—Phillips hit the D.L. often and didn't begin accumulating 500+ at-bats per year until joining Detroit as a free agent in 1990. Mostly batting leadoff, Phillips started at six defensive positions and scored 97 runs despite a .251 average (99 walks and Cecil Fielder helped with that.)
Phillips played and played well for Sparky Anderson in Detroit for five seasons, none of which the Tigers seriously contended, however. Here, Phillips has completed his first season with the Angels, who acquired him to boost their 1995 offense, rid themselves of moody Chad Curtis, and clear the contracts of both from their 1996 payroll. Yes, you read that correctly—California pulled an NBA and imported Phillips for his expiring contract.
THIS CARD: TSR forgoes the usual random selection process in memory of Phillips. Though 1996 Topps depicts him with neither of his closest-associated clubs, we chose this card because it is Phillips' only Topps base card with the Angels, and Phillips himself is now with the angels. Yes, I could barely keep from gagging while typing that. But there you go.
Also factoring in the choice: 1996 Topps is badly underrepresented in COTD; both picks to date have been special selections. I can state with confidence that 1996 Topps #199 would take approximately 400 years to randomly select.
There are several celebrity women I can identify by their legs, but not quite there yet with uniformed baseball players from 20 years ago. No interleague play yet in 1995, so that is either a Minnesota Twin, Chicago White Sock or New York Yankee sharing Phillips' card.
Like and miss that Angels logo—the "J.T. Snow Era" logo, as I call it.
(flip) Phillips had officially batted 211 times without going deep at the Red Sox home park prior to the 4th inning of that game. Thank you, Baseballreference.com, for allowing us to pinpoint that down to the at-bat.
That day, Phillips exploded for four hits, the two homers—both off Alejandro Pena—and four RBI in a 12-3 Angel rout. Interestingly, Pena wasn't even the losing pitcher; that distinction went to SP Brian Looney, who threw his final MLB pitch two days later.
Never knew Phillips was an Expo draft pick; he cycled through the Padres system for six months before joining the A's via trade in March 1981.
Topps gets the positions right—Phillips started 87 times at 3B and 47 more in the outfield in 1995.
AFTER THIS CARD: Phillips was indeed let go after the '95 season despite his role in California falling just short of a division title after years of mediocrity—they brought him back for the 1997 stretch run, but Phillips' off-field trouble spoiled the reunion.
By 1999, the Georgia native was 40—but playing regularly for the upstart Athletics again (for the paltry figure of $700K...that's how much he loved the game.) And he might still be playing had he not wrecked his left fibula breaking up a double play in Toronto in August—Phillips never played in the majors again.
But he was far from finished professionally, playing in Mexico in 2002 and in the Independent League as recently as 2015 when he was 56! And I don't mean cameos, either.
We'll leave you with a few words about Tony Phillips:
“He was a little red-ass, loud, major high-energy, perfect for that team...he could drive you nuts, but he was funny as hell. One of a kind.” — ex-teammate Dennis Eckersley
“He had so much energy, he was so feisty, full of piss and vinegar...nothing fazed him." — ex-manager Tony LaRussa
"He loved the game." — virtually everyone
Tony Phillips appeared in Topps annually 1983-97; 1983 was a Traded card. He should have been included in both 1998 and 2000, but being unsigned during both releases reduced that likelihood.
2/26/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #258 Mike Schooler, Mariners
More Mike Schooler Topps Cards: 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992
Maybe he wasn't leaping over walls to steal homers, or embarrassing foes with 100-mph gas, or showcasing arguably the finest righty swing of his time, or breaking hearts with one acrobatic sprawl after another.
But for a time, when discussing the early-90s Mariners trove of young talent, Mike Schooler could not be excluded—even if he lacked the upside of a Griffey, Johnson, Martinez or Vizquel.
Schooler, a 1985 #2 pick with low-90s heat and a good slider, was exclusively a starter through his first three pro seasons, and a decent one (at least statistically). In 1987-88 winter ball, Schooler switched to relief and was in the big leagues by the following June—closing, no less! The big righty became Seattle's all-time saves leader by 1990. (Granted, the franchise was only 14 seasons old and had had comparatively few leads to protect...but still.)
1991 proved humbling; a shoulder subluxation—in layman's terms, his arm almost literally fell off—left over from late 1990 plus a subsequent minors stint halved Schooler's season, but no one had given up on the 29-year-old entering 1992, the year represented on this card.
THIS CARD: I don't know Schooler's 1993 marital status, but if he was single and not using this card to pick up chicks, a potentially awesome icebreaker/pickup line was being wasted: "There's a BIG HITTER between my legs, baby!"
Entering late June 1992, Schooler was 13-for-16 in saves, and if you toss out an Opening Day massacre and another the following month—an aggregate nine runs in 1.1 IP—a 2.41 ERA accompanied it. Still, his stuff had diminished and he'd already been demoted from closing when disabled for over a month by a bicep strain. Schooler never saved another major league game again.
(flip) Schooler switched from uniform #40 to #29 in 1992...if it was for better luck, it didn't work. Those 98 saves still rank 3rd in M's history behind Kaz Sasaki (129) and J.J. Putz (101).
26 years of card collecting/MLB fandom and I'd never heard of A Wausau (Midwest League). Affiliated mostly with the Mets and Mariners, the team existed 1975-1990 before becoming the Kane County Cougars (several affiliations, currently with the Arizona Diamondbacks).
Although Schooler by far is the most accomplished of four future big leaguers on that 1986 pitching staff, one of his rotation mates was named Cork McCorkle, which is almost as cool as reaching the majors in my book.
The two-hitter was one of three minor league shutouts to Schooler's credit.
AFTER THIS CARD: Schooler, whether due to salary (his guess) or strictly baseball reasons, was cut by the Mariners shortly into Spring Training 1993. He hooked up with the Rangers, but following an extended minor league tune-up, Schooler allowed runs in 11 of 17 appearances and was released in September.
Though he got minor-league run in 1994-95, Schooler never returned to the majors.
Mike Schooler appeared in 1988 Topps Traded, then received base cards 1989-93.
CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, Seattle Mariners