Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, February 2022
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2/27/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #482 Interleague Preview
More Interleague 1998 Topps Cards: n/a
Kids, once upon a time, the American League only played against the American League during the regular season. Same with the National League. The only competition between the two leagues took place during preseason or postseason. If you wanted to see, for example, Mike Schmidt face Jack Morris, you had to hope they'd meet in the All-Star Game or the World Series.
That all changed in 1997 with the introduction of interleague play. While there was some shortsightedness at play (Twins vs. Brewers in 1998 classified as interleague play...LOL), overall the move was welcomed by most. Over the years, IL has grown from a wacky novelty into an everyday necessity with 15 teams in each league.
Topps made sure to document the historic change with not one, but two small subsets devoted to interleague play in its 1998 set.
THIS CARD: This card unofficially previews the 1998 Rockies' early June clash with the Rangers. Texas took two of three from Colorado, losing the finale on a walk-off single by Dante Bichette.
Walker, the reigning league MVP, batted just once in the series (elbow), striking out as a pinch-hitter. Gonzalez went 4-for-13 with two homers at Coors Field.
(flip) Gonzalez's best performance against Colorado in 1997: homering and driving home five runs against them on 6/17, powering a 10-8 Texas win.
Walker's best performance against Texas in 1997: Walker singled and scored during a four-run Rockies walk-off rally on 6/18. That was part of a 3-for-5 day.
AFTER THIS CARD: Both Gonzalez and Walker ended their major league careers in 2005. Gonzalez finished up as a .311, 20, 83 hitter in 99 interleague contests. For his part, Walker's final interleague line read .346, 27, 82 in 98 games. The moral of the story: ALL pitchers exhaled when those two gentlemen stepped away from MLB.
All-time, the Rockies and Rangers have faced off 48 times, with each club winning 24 times. This is according to a semi-reliable website called mcubed.net which under normal circumstances I would not rely on. But none of my usual sources had the data readily available.
CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, Subsets
More February 2022 Topps Cards Of The Day
2/1/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #242 Tim Wakefield, Red Sox
More Ryan Ludwick Topps Cards: 1993 1994 1995T 1996 1997 1999 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 2011
Infielder-turned-knuckleball-pitcher Tim Wakefield burst onto the scene in 1992, going 8-1, 2.15 in 13 starts for the NL East Champion Pirates. Exactly one year later, he couldn't get anybody out, and he spent the entire 1994 season flirting with a 6.00 ERA at AAA Buffalo.
With nothing to lose, Boston inked the 28-year-old to a MiLB deal in April 1995 and watched him go 16-8, 2.95 for their AL East Champion 1995 squad. He followed that up with 14 more wins in an up-and-down 1996; here, Wakefield has closed Season #3 baffling AL—and a few NL—hitters for the Red Sox. It was another rollercoaster-type season for Wakefield, but he ended the year having won six of his final seven decisions with a 2.16 September ERA.
THIS CARD: I believe we're seeing Wakefield make a throw to a base, rare for any card company but especially rare for Topps. Through the years most of "Wake's" front images were of him unleashing the knuckler, but in 1998-99 Topps we see him playing a little D!
I've explained the Jackie Robinson patch on previous 1998 Topps COTD's.
One thing about Wakefield: he always looked the same. Throughout his eternity wearing the Red Sox uniform, his facial hair may have varied slightly, but otherwise, he made Bill Simmons' Robert Parish All-Star roster—no hair changes, no weight gain or loss, no new tats, no discernible aging.
More from Wakefield's 1997 season: he made nine starts of eight or more innings, which I guarantee is more than double what the entire Boston staff did in 2021. On 6/5, Wakefield lasted 8.2 innings in a win at Milwaukee. He was pulled after 169 pitches. No, that is not a typo. No, I didn't read that wrong. Yes, he made his next start five days later.
(flip) Wakefield was indeed drafted #8 by the 1988 Pirates—as a 1B. But he couldn't hit his weight and by 1990, he was on the mound full-time.
Those 15 losses in 1997 tied Milwaukee's Cal Eldred and Chicago's James Baldwin for the AL lead. Wakefield wasn't pitching in tough luck; only two of his losses classified as "quality starts".
Once again, I typed before reading the blurb. It's a safe bet, even without checking, that nobody's thrown more than 172 pitches since. These days, even half that many is pushing it in many cases.
Those two 1997 shutouts? 7/18 at Cleveland, and 7/29 vs. Seattle.
AFTER THIS CARD: 144 more wins and 22 saves over 14 more seasons with the Red Sox, who moved Wakefield in and out of the rotation several times as their needs warranted. He did serve up that unforgettable walk-off gopher ball to Aaron Boone of the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, but after the Sox won it all in 2004 and 2007, nobody cared. Even Bill Buckner was forgiven, remember?
Wakefield's stats were rarely exceptional, but he still ran up 16-17 wins three more times after 1997. He even closed part-time in 1999 (15 saves) and finished his Boston run having chewed up over 3,000 innings with the Red Sox alone. Oh, and Wakefield made the 2009 AL All-Star team in spite of questions about his merit.
You may have heard of Wakefield's unusual contractual situation for much of the 00's; Boston held what amounted to a perpetual $4M team option on the veteran and annually exercised it until finally giving him an incentive-heavy 2Y/$5M deal in November 2009. He retired in February 2012, age 45.
Tim Wakefield appeared in Topps 1993-94, 1996-99, 2001-08, and 2010-11 (like Ryan Dempster, he was omitted from 2009 Topps and Topps Update despite being a healthy full-time starter in '08. But unlike Dempster, Wakefield didn't get a Factory Team card.). He's also got a 1995 Topps Traded card as a new Red Sock.
CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, Boston Red Sox
2/2/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps #333 Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals
More Ryan Ludwick Topps Cards: 2004 2008U 2009 2010U 2011 2011U 2012U 2013 2014
Not to be confused with Eric Ludwick, who got a few sips of MLB coffee in the late 1990's. We're talking about Eric's bro Ryan.
Ryan Ludwick, for one glorious year (2008), was among the top sluggers in the game. Though he never reached those heights again, he was still a fairly productive hitter for a few seasons. Originally an Oakland draft pick, Ludwick bounced through that organization and three others before getting extended run with the 2007 Cardinals. One year later, he was the NL's 4th-leading home run hitter and a NL All-Star.
Here, Ludwick has completed his third season (2009) in St. Louis. As the team's primary—but not quite full-time—RF, Ludwick began the year on fire but in the end, his numbers were down substantially from '08. Still, he was second on the Cardinals in homers and RBI (to Albert Pujols). Ludwick missed two weeks in May with a hamstring injury suffered while diving for a fly ball.
THIS CARD: As we said, Ludwick spent 2009 as St. Louis's primary RF, starting 120 games there. He also received one start apiece in CF and LF, and if I'm correct about this image being from his LF start, this is Ludwick on 9/27 at Colorado making his lone putout of the game (a Seth Smith flyout in the B3rd).
Defensively in 2009, Ludwick—at least statistically; I obviously didn't watch every game he played—was about average in terms of range, but he recorded nine assists versus just one error (that didn't hurt his team too badly).
More from Ludwick's 2009 season: after going over 80 at-bats without a homer, he exploded for two bombs and five RBI 9/4 at Pittsburgh—part of a 5-for-5 effort! Ludwick also thrived at Wrigley Field, driving in nine runs across a four-game series there in July and seven more across a three-game series in April!
(flip) Ludwick finished his career at .306 with the bags full, including a pair of grannies (one of which was hit 6/19/2009 at Kansas City).
Blasphemy! There is only one recognized Cardinals #47 and it's John Mabry. I'm talking to YOU, Ryan Ludwick, Joaquin Andujar and Lee Smith!!!
As you see in the stats, Ludwick made the rounds before sticking with the Cardinals. Oakland sent him to Texas along with Carlos Pena in a 2002 trade discussed in the Moneyball! book. Texas dealt Ludwick to the Indians for Shane Spencer in mid-2003. And the Indians simply let him walk to Detroit after the '05 season; the Tigers never called him up and the Cardinals pounced in December 2006. (While all this was happening, Ludwick put up three separate 26+ homer seasons in MiLB.)
AFTER THIS CARD: Despite his promise, Ludwick was far from done moving. Off to a solid start to 2010, San Diego traded for him that July in (FAILED! HAHA!) hopes of nailing down the NL West. Exactly one year later, Ludwick was sold to the Pirates, but his 2011 numbers didn't jump off the page for either club.
Ludwick then spent three seasons as a Cincinnati Red, only the first of which was productive (.275, 26, 80 at the cost of $2.5M). The Reds re-signed Ludwick for 2Y/$15M in December 2012, but on Opening Day 2013 he tore cartilage in his shoulder and was out until August. Ludwick opened 2014 as Cincy's LF, but lost that job after entering June with a .246 average and almost no pop.
Having finished '14 with a .244/.308/.375 slashline in 400 PA, Ludwick's $9M option for 2015 was declined; the 36-year-old signed a minors deal with Texas instead. But he didn't make their roster (or anyone else's) and officially retired in January 2016.
Ryan Ludwick appeared in 2004, 2009-11 and 2013-14 Topps. He's also got 2008 and 2010-12 Update cards; Topps covered him with everybody except the Rangers (you have to peruse Topps Total, or one of Donruss's special releases, for Ludwick The Ranger).
CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals
2/3/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #542 Rob Murphy, Red Sox
More Rob Murphy Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1989T 1990 1992
Rob Murphy was not your run-of-the-mill lefty specialist who was completely inept against righties. At times he closed for the Reds and Red Sox, and closers aren't usually brought in to face just one batter.
What you also need to know about Rob Murphy: he took the ball. From 1987-94, he averaged 68 appearances annually, and we're not just talking about a hitter or two per outing (at least not in the first half of that stretch).
Here, the veteran reliever has just put a bow on Year Two with the Boston Red Sox. His ERA and WHIP soared to unseen levels in 1990, but Murphy still closed out seven contests during the regular season and made the lone postseason appearance of his career (mopping up, but still).
THIS CARD: Bitter much? Boston wasted no time giving out Bruce Hurst's old #47 after nine seasons and 91 wins (including postseason). Since Murphy's run, the only real notable Sox players to wear #47 for an extended period were C Jason Varitek early in his career, and former star CL Rod Beck. It's been cycled through a BUNCH in the ensuing years.
Murphy is gripping either his slider, or his fastball which usually came in at 88-90 MPH but didn't always do so in 1990.
More from Murphy's 1990 season: uh...to be frank, there wasn't much good and Murphy would tell you that himself; at one point he got so frustrated he fired his glove into the Royals Stadium outfield upon receiving the hook (as told by The Scouting Report: 1991).
But I guess I can tell you that Murphy got off to a fair start to 1990 (3.86 ERA in April), turning in multiple three-plus inning outings and registering five holds. On 6/19 at Toronto, he struck out future All-Stars Fred McGriff and John Olerud to preserve Dana Kiecker's second MLB win.
(flip) Geez. 1991 Topps' anniversary logo was either virtually transparent or knocked you from your chair. I'm currently picking myself up off the floor.
The now-defunct Eastern League represented AA; Murphy pitched for Vermont (Reds) in 1984.
That Trade sent 1B Nick Esasky along with Murphy to Boston, while the Reds received 1B Todd Benzinger, P Jeff Sellers and a failed prospect. Since Benzinger helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series, they won the deal.
AFTER THIS CARD: Shortly before the 1991 season opener, the Red Sox shipped Murphy to the Mariners, for whom he recorded a more-familiar 3.00 ERA across 57 appearances that year. He then joined the Astros for 1992 (4.04 in 59 games) and the Cardinals for 1993-94 (4.46 in 123 games). The Yankees acquired 34-year-old Murphy prior to the 1994 strike; he got in three games and was not effective.
After a 1995 campaign split between the Dodgers and Marlins (10.95 ERA in 14 combined games), Murphy signed a MiLB deal with the Padres for 1996, but didn't make the club.
He ended his career as MLB's record holder for consecutive winless appearances (145 from 1989-92), but has since been surpassed by Jesse Orosco (151 from 1998-2002) and John Smoltz (153 from 2002-05; thank you Baseball-Reference Blog).
Rob Murphy appeared in Topps 1987-92, with a 1989 Traded card mixed in. For whatever reason, all the major companies except Fleer forgot about Murphy after 1992, even as he made 126 combined appearances for the Cardinals and Yankees 1993-94. (1993 Stadium Club, Donruss and Fleer all feature Murphy The Astro, while 1994 Fleer and something called "Team" Stadium Club features Murphy The Cardinal.)
CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Boston Red Sox
2/4/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps Traded #54 Jeff Innis, Mets
More Jeff Innis Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
With Dan Quisenberry out of the majors by May 1990, Jeff Innis was the first real sidearmer or submariner young Skillz was exposed to after attaching himself to MLB. It was fascinating because it was so frikkin' different from what everybody else did—and 10-year-olds are drawn to that which is different. At least I was. Sorry, John Olerud, for gawking at the helmet you wore to play defense. I understood why and everything, but nobody else did it so as a 10-year-old I HAD to gawk...right?
Here, Innis is still fairly new to MLB. After a short stint with the 1987 Mets, he's been recalled shortly into the 1988 season. Despite throwing well, Innis usually only entered games the Mets trailed (they went 1-11 in his 12 appearances) and was farmed out in June in favor of Rick Aguilera, who was returning (briefly) from the disabled list.
THIS CARD: This is not a random selection; we specially selected this card in memory of Innis, who passed away from cancer 1/30/2022 at age 59. Why this card? Because A) it is Innis's first Topps card, and B) it is the closest Innis looks to a "conventional" pitcher on any of his Topps cards and might throw some of you off. (He began throwing from the side in college.)
Innis wore that #40 his entire Mets career. A LOAD of Mets have worn it since, most notably big Bartolo Colon from 2014-16.
More from Innis's early 1988 season: he only allowed earned runs in two of 12 appearances, and on 6/4 he earned his first major league win with scoreless 12th and 13th innings against the Cubs.
(flip) It looks pretty clean here, but Innis went back and forth between Tidewater and New York a lot during the '87 season. In fact, this exchange from Sports Illustrated:
Innis was known also for his uncanny imitations of people around the team, including Frank Cashen, the team’s irascible general manager. One day near the dugout Cashen said to Innis, “Do you want to see my Jeff Innis imitation?”
Innis didn't miss a beat.
“I know the Innis imitation,” he said. “Just get on a plane and fly to Tidewater—about 10 times.”
Today, the Jackson record for saves belongs to...someone. With all of Jackson's rebrandings—they're now known as the Mississippi Braves—and the overall MiLB reclassifications in 2021, pulling up team records proved difficult and I'm not up for year-by-year digging at this particular moment.
You probably have heard of Terry Ryan, who went on to become GM of the Twins from 1995-2007 and again from 2012-16; he built some pretty good clubs whose major flaw was being hapless against the Yankees in the postseason. At last check Ryan was a special assistant for the Phillies.
AFTER THIS CARD: Innis would spend parts of seven seasons in the Mets' bullpen, although he was only off the Tidewater/New York shuttle for the last three. His best statistical year was 1991, when he recorded a 2.66 ERA and 1.051 WHIP in 69 games for the Mets.
Innis slid ever so slightly in 1993 and was not re-signed. He made 55 more MiLB appearances for the Twins, Padres and Phillies organizations 1994-95 before removing the uniform for good. Innis finished 10-20, 3.05 in 288 major league appearances...not too shabby at all for a sidearming #13 pick who MAYBE reached 85 MPH.
Here's a few words I've found on the Web in memory of Innis:
“Shocked to hear he passed. We were together at Fantasy Camp last October and he never let on he was sick. Just a fun guy to be around." - longtime Mets teammate Dwight "Doc" Gooden
“I was around him a lot at Fantasy Camp and he never once mentioned he was sick...we had a lot of laughs together. We talked about our different pitching styles." - former Mets reliever Turk Wendell, who broke Innis's 1992 team record for appearances (76) with 80 in 1999
Eerie fact from SI: the only other Mets pitcher besides Innis to appear for them 200+ times without appearing for another MLB team was Pedro Feliciano...who died suddenly in November 2021.
Jeff Innis debuted in 1988 Topps Traded, then appeared in the 1990-94 base sets.
CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps Traded, New York Mets, Now Deceased
2/5/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #472 Jose Uribe, Giants
More Jose Uribe Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1991 1992 1993
Sorry, Tom Hanks—I've cried plenty over the sport of baseball and I'm not really ashamed of it because the situations were warranted.
I boo-hooed when Ray Fosse died this past October. I all but lost it when Dee Gordon lost it after homering in memory of late teammate Jose Fernandez in 2016. And only the presence of others kept me from letting loose when my Giants were cruelly eliminated from the postseason by the loathed Dodgers in 2021.
But I've never actually cried at any of the 40 or so games I've attended in person.
The closest I ever came was in 2009, when the Giants held a reunion for their 1989 NL Champion team. By then, that team's SS Jose Uribe had been deceased for three years, but his cousin Juan Uribe (a member of the 2009 Giants) stood in Jose's place and embraced Jose's clearly-still-grieving family right there on the field.
I held it together. By a string.
Here, we catch up with Jose Uribe on the heels of that 1989 NL pennant. When Spring Training '89 commenced, Uribe's freedom was in jeopardy—as if things could get any worse for him personally than they were in 1988. But in the end Uribe started 146 games at SS for the Giants, supplying his usual exemplary defense while hitting just enough to satisfy (placate?) manager Roger Craig. Uribe doubled home a run in his penultimate AB of 1989 to reach an even 100 hits for the year.
THIS CARD: The story behind the image:
TOPPS PHOTOGRAPHER: "Jose, we want to snap a pic for next year's baseball card. Can you peer off into the distance as if you see someone you recognize from the 1970's but aren't quite sure?"
URIBE: "You got it."
So you don't wind up feeling foolish as 10-year-old me did: it is pronounced OOO-REE-BAY. Not Yuur-ibe. I can still hear the OOO-REEBAY chants from the Candlestick Park crowd at my first Giants game in June 1990 as if it were yesterday.
More from Uribe's 1989 season: his 436 assists were second among NL SS to Ozzie Smith's 483. In Game 3 of the NLCS against Chicago, his oppo RBI single capped a three-run B1st rally by SF, and in Game 4 Uribe doubled, induced an errant pickoff throw from SP Greg Maddux, advanced to third and soon scored the Giants' 4th run! Both contributions mattered in close wins by the Giants.
(flip) Interesting blurb. Uribe also made a pinch-hitting appearance on 6/30 (singling in place of RP Greg Minton and promptly returning to the bench), accounting for the 157th game you see in the stats.
That 1985 Trade sent Uribe, the recently-deceased OF David Green, SP Dave LaPoint and fringe 1B/OF Gary Rajsich from the Cardinals to the Giants in exchange for star OF/1B Jack Clark.
I knew the Yankees originally signed Uribe (then Jose Gonzalez) in 1977...but I didn't know they released the injured youngster five months later. Or that it took almost three years for Uribe/Gonzalez to return to pro baseball.
AFTER THIS CARD: In 1990, Uribe batted .248 and fielded .965 in his final season as the Giants' undisputed starter at SS. In 1991, with youngsters Mike Benjamin and Royce Clayton breathing down his neck, Uribe lost several weeks to two DL stints and finished at .221 in 90 games. Clayton took over as the #1 SS for much of 1992, with Uribe receiving all of 46 starts. The 34-year-old spent 1993 as an Astros reserve, ending his MLB career.
In December 2006, the nearly-48-year-old Uribe was killed in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic.
Jose Uribe debuted in 1985 Topps Traded, then appeared annually in the base set 1986-93.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, San Francisco Giants, Now Deceased
2/6/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #694 Mike Gardiner, Red Sox
More Mike Gardiner Topps Cards: 1993 1995
Mike Gardiner, 30 years after his MLB career ended, still frustrates me as a card collector.
And I'm not 100% sure why.
Maybe because literally nothing about him stood out as a baseball player. Ordinary size, ordinary stuff, ordinary stats—he basically filled space on every big league staff he was on. And I say that with respect because I'm fully aware I would have never even managed a foul ball against Mike Gardiner in his prime.
Maybe because Gardiner was always being reinvented. One year he's a Mariners prospect. The next year he's a Red Sox starter. The year after that he's a Red Sox swingman. Some time passes and he reemerges as a Tigers part-time closer.
Really giving it some thought, I think I was annoyed by all the attention Gardiner, a marginal prospect in my eyes, got from the Junk Wax Era releases. No matter who else was excluded, just about every set seemed to have room for Mike Gardiner even as his career depreciated.
THIS CARD: Gardiner seems to be gripping some type of off-speed pitch. He featured a curve and changeup, but leaned more on his slider and splitter (the latter of which I can almost guarantee is not pictured here).
In his home whites, Gardiner was 4-5, 4.30 for the 1991 Red Sox. That ERA jumped to 5.60 on the road,
More from Gardiner's 1991 season: in his Boston debut 5/31, he limited visiting Baltimore to two ER and six hits in seven innings. And on 6/15, he threw a career-high eight innings in a blowout win over the visiting Angels. I should also tell you Gardiner did not hit a single batter in 130 innings of work in 1991—interesting because years later, his pitching inside for Detroit upset the Red Sox.
(flip) No wonder Gardiner was so dominant in 1990: he was playing for Williamsport, meaning the competition was likely between 8-10 years old!!! Get Fay Vincent on the phone, visitors.
I see even in the minors, nobody could settle on a role for Gardiner. Danny Darwin was a 1991 teammate of his with Boston; it'd be interesting to know if they ever had a conversation about their perpetual versatility.
AAAAND after seeing the landmark that is Fenway, I'm suddenly feeling an overwhelming urge to bust out MLB: The Show. I could live with the Red Sox leaving Fenway for a new home one day...IF it matched Fenway's layout. If I ran baseball, it'd be the only ballpark allowed to have such unorthodox dimensions.
AFTER THIS CARD: Gardiner opened 1992 in Boston's rotation and was 3-3, 3.48 entering June before hitting a wall. He was moved to the bullpen, then to Pawtucket for a time, but finished the season back in the Red Sox starting rotation.
Gardiner went to the Expos in a trade for OF Ivan Calderon in December 1992; he gave Montreal some up-and-down long relief before being released in August 1993. Enter Detroit, for whom Gardiner performed 58.2 innings of mostly relief work in '94...and for whom he ranked second in '94 saves! (Yeah, that's misleading—he saved five games to Mike Henneman's eight. Just go with it.)
Unfortunately for Gardiner, he allowed runs (and sometimes many runs) in seven of the nine scattered appearances he made for the 1995 Tigers, and he could not escape AAA for the final three years of his pro career (split between the Mets, Yankees, Astros and Marlins organizations).
Mike Gardiner appeared in 1992, 1993 and 1995 Topps. He's also got a Topps: Major League Debut card as a Mariner.
CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, Boston Red Sox
2/7/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2015 Topps #371 Koji Uehara, Red Sox
More Koji Uehara Topps Cards: 2009 2010 2011 2011U 2012 2013 2014 2016 2017 2018
It's more-or-less fact that Kazuhiro Sasaki, late of the Mariners, is the best Japanese-born RP in MLB history. An argument can be made that Koki Uehara was the second-best, depending on how you value Shigetoshi Hasegawa's durability and Takashi Saito's short run of dominance.
Uehara's stuff wasn't as nasty as Sasaki's, he didn't have Saito's mound presence and unlike Hasegawa, who entered MLB at a much younger age, Uehara made annual visits to the disabled list. But from 2013-15, he saved 72 games with a 1.80 ERA—at the ages of 38-40! He was the 2013 ALCS MVP and recorded the final outs of that year's World Series against the Cardinals.
Here, though Boston failed to repeat as champs, Uehara has enjoyed a mostly-solid 2014 campaign. He was perfect through his first 15 save ops with a 0.57 ERA, but lost his job as closer in late August after a string of bad outings. After blowing another save 9/4, Uehara was used just thrice for the rest of the season.
THIS CARD: FOUR Red Sox pitchers in six ostensibly random selections this month???
Uehara gears back for what's probably his fastball, which hovered around 90 MPH during his Boston years. He also had a devastating splitter and the rare cutter.
From GettyImages: this pic was shot 8/6/2014 at St. Louis. Despite surrendering a pair of hits, Uehara earned his 23rd save that night, a 2-1 Red Sox win.
More from Uehara's 2014 season: he was 26-of-28 in save ops with a 1.27 ERA before hitting his late August skid. He faced one batter in the 2014 All-Star Game, striking out Cincinnati C Devin Mesoraco (remember him?) on four pitches to end the T6th. The AL won 5-3.
(flip) Speaking of Uehara's strike-throwing, on seven occasions during the 2014 season, Uehara threw one inning and struck out the side. No immaculates, however—all those innings took at least 13 pitches.
Those 12 appearances for Baltimore in '09 were all starts, but Uehara never started again during his MLB career. He'd been a fantastic starter for Yomiuri 1999-2006, winning 20 of 25 starts as a rookie!
As you see, Uehara signed as a free agent with Boston. The deal was worth 1Y/$4.25M, as Uehara was not expected to close. But newcomer Joel Hanrahan went down with what turned out to be a career-ending injury early on, and his replacement Andrew Bailey began to struggle before getting hurt as well in July. Enter Uehara.
AFTER THIS CARD: Despite being limited to 43 games by hamstring (April) and wrist (August) injuries, Uehara saved 25 of 27 with a 2.23 ERA in 2015. The following season, the Red Sox were able to acquire superstar CL Craig Kimbrel from San Diego in exchange for what's amounted to be not all that much, and Uehara was pushed to a setup role (though he still registered seven saves).
In December 2016, the going-on-42-year-old signed with the defending champion Cubs for 1Y/$6M to set up for Wade Davis. He was mostly effective, but a strained neck contributed to a shaky August, and a knee infection coupled with back tightness ended his season 9/2. Uehara returned to Yomiuri for 2018-19 before finally retiring at 44.
Koji Uehara appeared annually in Topps 2009-18, as well as 2011 Topps Update.
CATEGORIES: 2015 Topps, Boston Red Sox
2/9/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Topps #298 Alex Ochoa, Mets
More Alex Ochoa Topps Cards: 1996 2001 2002
The mid-1990's Mets didn't just have Generation K coming up through its minor league pipeline—there were also a few position players creating intrigue: 3B Butch Huskey, OF Jay Payton, SS Rey Ordonez, and OF Alex Ochoa.
Ochoa, an outfielder acquired from Baltimore in the 1995 Bobby Bonilla trade, had the tools for MLB, but was never quite able to meet those early expectations. He still lasted parts of eight seasons in The Show, including one as a regular, and he picked up a World Series ring on his way out of the majors.
Here, Ochoa is coming off a 1996 season split between the Mets and AAA Norfolk. He batted an encouraging .294 with 19 doubles in 82 games for New York, and showed some impressive defensive skillz in RF in spite of a higher-than-ideal five errors. Also, there's the evening of July 3rd...more on that below.
THIS CARD: I can't see Ochoa's pose and not be reminded of one Sammy Sosa, who used to drop his bat and do a two-footed hop toward 1B when he believed he really put a charge in one.
Ochoa at Shea Stadium was no slouch in 1996 (.276 in 44 games), but offensively, he was far more successful away from home (.314/.345/.504 in 38 games). Five of Ochoa's seven assists, however, came in Flushing.
More from Ochoa's 1996 season: 25 games in, he was batting a hard .330 before leveling off a bit. He homered three times in July's first six games. And on 7/6, his three-run homer off Montreal's Kirk Rueter broke a 2-2 tie in the T5th and keyed an eventual 11-3 Mets win. Plus...
(flip)...the cycle Ochoa hit for on 7/3 as part of a 5-for-5 night at Philadelphia (you can still find it on YouTube, by the way). The kid singled, tripled, doubled, then finally completed the cycle with a go-ahead HR off RP Ken Ryan in the T8th! For good measure, Ochoa added an RBI double later on as New York defeated the Phillies 10-6.
I hope Baylor meant a better "active" arm. As much of a hose that Ochoa had, there's no way Baylor, who'd been in pro baseball since 1967, hadn't ever seen a better one. (By the way, Baylor was referring to 6/24, when Ochoa erased OF Dante Bichette at the plate to end the T4th—a big play, as the Mets won 2-1.)
No matter what era uniform, #22 on a Met instantly reminds me of Ray Knight racing home with the winning run in 1986 World Series Game #6. Ochoa wore #22 after Kevin McReynolds and before Al Leiter, two pretty notable Mets. Current Met Dominic Smith wore it until switching to #2 for 2020.
AFTER THIS CARD: Ochoa opened 1997 as the Mets' primary RF, but hovered around .220 for most of the year and lost playing time. That winter, he was traded to the Twins for fellow OF Rich Becker.
That was the first of six times Ochoa would be traded through July 2002. As a part-timer, he hit .300 or better for the 1999 Brewers and 2000 Reds; Cincinnati gave him their RF job in 2001, a job he held upon being traded to Colorado that July. In all, Ochoa slashed .276/.334/.403 with eight homers and 52 ribbies across 536 at-bats in 2001—below par for his position, even with great defense.
Ochoa's final year in MLB was 2002, split between the Brewers and Angels in a part-time role. The 30-year-old was a defensive replacement in almost every Angels postseason game that year as they stunned my Giants for their first (and to date, only) World Series championship. But hey, whatever.
Other than a short comeback attempt with AAA Pawtucket (Red Sox) in 2007, Ochoa never played professionally in the States again. He spent 2003-08 playing in Japan, faring better with the bat than he ever did in MLB. From 2009-12 he worked various roles in the Boston organization, including 1B coach for his old Mets manager Bobby Valentine on the 2012 Red Sox (here's an interesting story rekindled by his hiring).
Alex Ochoa appeared in 1996-97 and 2001-02 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 1997 Topps, New York Mets
2/10/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1999 Topps Traded #67 Josh Girdley, Expos Prospect
More Josh Girdley Topps Cards: 2000 2001 2001T
This should be fairly brief. Though I've been wrong about that before.
As a 1997-2002 Expos #1 pick during the Jim Beattie era, Josh Girdley was destined to flop. (Except for Brad Wilkerson and a couple years of middle relief from T.J. Tucker, none of Montreal's 14 conventional or supplemental first-rounders from that era panned out.)
Girdley showed a bit of promise as a minor leaguer in 2000, but ultimately he washed out of pro baseball without advancing past Class A.
THIS CARD: This pose evokes memories of Tyler Anderson and his unique leg kick. No idea if Girdley had one since, as mentioned, he never escaped Class A.
No matter how many times I read Girdley's name, I have to consciously prevent myself from reading/typing it as "Gridley".
Topps included Girdley in FOUR releases without him even reaching AA, which has to be a record. ESPN said the kid "throws 92 mph with good control, and is polished for a prep pitcher", so as a youngster he clearly had positive attention from those you want it from.
(flip) I wonder if these days, if a HS pitcher whiffed 178 in 82 innings, rival parents wouldn't try to get him banned.
Justin Thompson, FYI, was a very good pitcher for the late 1990's Tigers whose arm gave out as soon as they lost him to Texas in the Juan Gonzalez megatrade.
Curious how Girdley K'd 29 in 10 innings if three other outs were recorded? His catcher must have failed to cleanly catch two third strikes. Either that or someone is spinning a fable to Topps.
AFTER THIS CARD: Girdley went 0-2, 3.32 across 11 innings-restricted Rookie League starts in 1999. After a 5-0, 2.95 showing across 14 starts for low-A Vermont in 2000, his stock rose. But by 2002, Girdley was plagued by injury and ineffectiveness; he underwent UCL surgery in 2003 and was not seen again in pro baseball after a nine-game comeback effort in high-A in 2004.
Josh Girdley appeared in 2000-01 Topps, as well as 1999 and 2001 Topps Traded & Rookies.
CATEGORIES: 1999 Topps Traded, Montreal Expos
2/11/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #672 Shane Mack, Twins
More Shane Mack Topps Cards: 1989 1990T 1992 1993 1994 1995
Mack, the left fielder for Minnesota during the first half of the 1990's, returns to COTD for the second time in 15 months. Here, we catch up with him in the wake of his first season with the Twins; Mack platooned in RF during the first half of 1990 but by July, he was playing virtually every day. Flirting with .400 entering June will do that.
THIS CARD: If you've checked out my Topps Set Reviews page, you know that this card is one of my all-time favorites. There's an element of drama to the pic, what with the wide-angle, Mack's overslide, the skid marks—it's an image you certainly weren't seeing from Topps prior to 1991.
As we mentioned on Mack's previous COTD back in November 2020, Topps liked to capture him in action. Four of Mack's five Topps base cards as a Twin depict him belly-sliding into a base, and while all are exciting, none measure up to this one.
More from Mack's 1990 season: he returned to the majors after elbow surgery relegated him to a handful of AAA games in 1989. Re-adjusting to MLB proved to be little challenge, as Mack entered June with a .392 average while slugging .588. It didn't end there—Mack began September on a 23-for-43 (.535) tear, shortly after switching positions with CF and Twins icon Kirby Puckett.
(flip) Of those 44 RBI in 1990, six came in a 9/3 doubleheader at Milwaukee (including five in the nightcap without the benefit of a home run).
Had he enough PA to qualify, Mack's .326 average in 1990 would have ranked behind only Royals legend George Brett in the American League.
By "Drafted", Topps means Mack was acquired from the Padres via the 1989 Rule V Draft. Today's Topps sets actually spell out said draft when applicable.
AFTER THIS CARD: Mack rotated all over the outfield during his five Twins seasons, except 1992 when he was able to p