Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, February 2022

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Topps Larry Walker
Topps Juan Gonzalez

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

Topps Tim Wakefield
Topps Tim Wakefield

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

 
Topps Ryan Ludwick
Topps Ryan Ludwick

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

 
Topps Rob Murphy
Topps Rob Murphy

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

 
Topps Jeff Innis
Topps Jeff Innis

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

 
Topps Jose Uribe
Topps Jose Uribe

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

 
Topps Mike Gardiner
Topps Mike Gardiner

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.

End rant.

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

 
Topps Koji Uehara
Topps Koji Uehara

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

 
Topps Alex Ochoa
Topps Alex Ochoa

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

 
Topps Josh Girdley
Topps Josh Girdley

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

 
Topps Shane Mack
Topps Shane Mack

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 plant roots in LF. He homered a career-high 18 times for the World Champion 1991 Twins, and batted .300+ in four of those five Minnesota campaigns (all except .276 in 1993). Mack's .564 SLG in 1994 ranked 7th in the AL!

After that 1994 season, Mack took his game to Japan for two seasons, returning to MLB in 1997 with Boston. Oakland seemingly signed Mack for 1998, but just days into the season they swapped him to KC for C Mike MacFarlane. With the Royals, Mack suffered a protruding disc of his cervical vertebrae that more or less ended his career; his comeback attempt with the 1999 Padres fizzled out in Spring Training.

Shane Mack debuted in 1985 Topps as an Olympian, came back for the 1988 set, then closed his Topps career with appearances in the 1991-95 sets. Most of the major companies produced a card of Mack with Boston, but Topps did not. (Mack also shows up in 1987 and 1990 Traded.)

CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Minnesota Twins

 
Topps Jeremy Giambi
Topps Jeremy Giambi

2/12/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #641 Jeremy Giambi, Athletics

More Jeremy Giambi Topps Cards: 1999 2002 2002T 2003

One thing I've noticed about professional athletes: not a single one of them is perfect. They all goof in some way at one time or another. 

And while 99% of those goofs are forgotten soon enough—when was the last time YOU thought about Jason Michaels bobbling a fly ball short of the warning track over the fence for a home run?—a small percentage occur in such a way, or at such a time, that they can't be forgotten.

Jeremy Giambi's mistake in the 2001 ALDS Game 3 is one such example. You've seen the replay 100 times—Yankees lead Giambi's A's 1-0 but Giambi is motoring home with the potential tying run following Terrence Long's double in the B7th. The relay is botched, but Yankee SS Derek Jeter races 100 feet and flips the ball home to retire Giambi, who chooses not to slide.

Oakland, up 2-0 in the series, never does score that night. They then drop the next two games and are eliminated from the postseason by New York. A load of fingers point at Giambi.

Hefty paychecks notwithstanding, I'm so glad I didn't (couldn't) play pro sports.

THIS CARD: This is not a random selection; we're presenting this card in memory of Giambi, who committed suicide 2/9/2022 in California. I went with his 2001 Topps card because selecting his 2002 Topps card, which represented a season that ended so lamentably for Giambi, seemed improper (even though 2001 was his best overall statistical season).

I don't recall Giambi being this...narrow. He wasn't the mass that his big bro Jason was, but I surely thought he was larger than he appears here.

Among Oakland Athletics, notable #7's include SS Walt Weiss, IF Scott Brosius and SS Bobby Crosby. Most recently, coach Mark Kotsay wore the number; my guess is he will continue to do so as the manager for 2022.

(flip) Giambi was acquired from the Royals in exchange for P Brett Laxton, who appeared six times for Kansas City before disappearing from MLB.

Can YOU imagine Jason Giambi the Little Leaguer? Riding up on his motorcycle, ripping six or seven home runs, then leaving in the 6th because he's gotta grab some razors before the store closes? Wild times.

Jeremy Giambi defeated Baltimore with a walk-off single versus Mike Timlin in the 10th inning, 6/19/2000. He then walked off the Diamondbacks with a 10th-inning single off Greg Swindell, 7/8/2000.

AFTER THIS CARD: As alluded to, Giambi enjoyed a solid 2001 (save for "The Flip") for Oakland, starting 103 games at OF/DH and batting .283 with 12 homers. The next year, Giambi became both Oakland's regular LF and baseball's least conventional leadoff man, at least until being traded to the Phillies (in exchange for 1B/OF John Mabry) in late May.

For the Phillies, Giambi served mostly as a PH or as an interleague DH; he posted a robust .974 OPS in 82 games, but was dealt to the Red Sox for then-prospect P Josh Hancock in December 2002. Giambi missed time with shoulder tendinitis and hit .197 in 50 games for Boston in 2003, and despite MiLB deals with the Dodgers and White Sox, he never played in MLB again. 

Giambi, who later admitted to steroid use, finished his MLB career with a .263 average and 52 home runs in 510 games.

Jeremy Giambi appeared as a prospect in 1999 Topps, then received regular commons in the 2001-03 Topps sets. He's also got a 2002 Traded card as a new Phillie.

CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, Oakland Athletics

 
Topps Rod Barajas
Topps Rod Barajas

2/13/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2008 Topps #652 Rod Barajas, Blue Jays

More Rod Barajas Topps Cards: 1997 2001 2002 2005 2006 2007 2008U 2009 2010 2010U 2011 2012

Barajas, one of the earliest Diamondbacks (he was signed as an undrafted free agent two years before Arizona started play), got brief looks with the 1999-2000 major league team, then got in 51 games for the 2001 World Champions. In 2002, he battled fellow youngster Chad Moeller for playing time behind starting C Damian Miller, then the pair split catching duties in '03 with Miller off to the Cubs.

Barajas didn't supply a ton of offense, but he did erase 38% of enemy basestealers 2002-03!

 

Interestingly, the Diamondbacks moved on from both catchers after the 2003 season; Moeller was dealt to Milwaukee while Barajas signed a MiLB deal with the Rangers—one which reunited him with original D'Backs manager Buck Showalter. Expected to back up Gerald Laird in 2004, Barajas ended up the regular C after Laird injured his thumb, exploded for 21 HR and 60 RBI in 2005, and was re-signed for 2006 at $3.2M.

Here, Barajas has just joined the Toronto Blue Jays—a move that once appeared unthinkable; see below—following an unremarkable 2007 season with the Phillies.

THIS CARD: If you think you've seen this image elsewhere, check 2008 Topps Updates & Highlights. Barajas was issued a card in that set as well despite remaining a Blue Jay, and his front image was this one, only zoomed-out. Topps did not have a good oversight team in the late 2000's. 

That's a quality signature, especially for a veteran catcher whose fingers are supposed to be mangled. Rod R. is short for Rodrigo Richard.

Barajas had originally signed with Toronto as a free agent in December 2006—or so everyone thought. Weeks later, he backed out of the deal claiming he never approved of it, terminated his agents (including the well-known Gregg Clifton) and signed with Philly for 1Y/$2.5M (about half of Toronto's offer). The Jays obviously were not thrilled, but didn't hold grudges.

(flip) If you're curious why Barajas' playing time dipped to 97 games in 2006, it is because he missed most of September with back spasms.

If you're curious why Barajas was relegated to backup duty in Philadelphia after a run of success in Texas, it is because A) Carlos Ruiz existed, and unlike Laird in 2004, Ruiz stayed healthy. Barajas also lost most of August with a groin injury.

I can't imagine the circumstances which led to that 2002 stolen base; Barajas was Bengie Molina-level slow. The infielder taking the throw (from Rockies C Gary Bennett) must have botched it somehow.

AFTER THIS CARD: Barajas, once again, received regular run with the 2008-09 Jays, batting .237, 30, 120 combined (and even swiping another base in 2009!) He split 2010 with the Mets and Dodgers, opening the year as one of the hottest sluggers around (nine home runs through five weeks, including a pair off Jonathan Sanchez of my Giants 5/7, the bastard).

From there, Barajas took over for Russell Martin as the Dodgers #1 catcher in 2011, though he missed three weeks with an ankle sprain. Following a .206, 11, 31 campaign for the 2012 Pirates, Barajas went to camp with the 2013 Diamondbacks but didn't make the team, ending his pro career at 37.

Barajas has since worked a variety of roles in the San Diego organization, including interim manager for the Padres following Andy Green's firing in late September 2019 (Barajas went 1-7, but the lone win was a walk-off homer by IF Seth Mejias-Brean against Yoan Lopez of Arizona).

Rod Barajas debuted in 1997 Topps on a shared Diamondbacks Prospects card, returned in the 2001-02 sets, then appeared annually in 2005-12 Topps. He's also got 2008 and 2010 Update cards; Topps was able to represent Barajas with all seven of his MLB squads. Good work, even if it took painfully obvious airbrushing to showcase him with the Phillies in 2007 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2008 Topps, Toronto Blue Jays, Quirks

 
Topps Randy Johnson
Topps Randy Johnson

2/14/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #560 Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks

More Randy Johnson Topps Cards: 1989 1989T 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2008 2009 2009U 2010

Happy Valentine's Day! 

It's fitting that we're presenting Randy Johnson on this particular day, because the man had a ton of HEART out there on the mound. Recently, his 300th career win (vs. Washington in 2009) was replayed on MLB Network—remember Johnson, age 45, sprawling on the grass to corral Anderson Hernandez's dribbler in that game? I'm 42 and I'm not sure I'd sprawl on the grass like that to corral a $2M paycheck.

Here, The Big Unit has just returned to the team with whom he enjoyed his greatest success—the Arizona Diamondbacks—following a couple of arduous campaigns with the Yankees. Though no longer a threat to challenge for the NL Cy Young Award, which he won in Arizona 1999-2002, Johnson gave the new-look 2007 Snakes the strikeout pitcher they lacked until re-injuring his troublesome back in late June.

THIS CARD: Good, legible signature. The "K" is not Johnson's actual middle initial; you can figure out what it represents. (Johnson's middle name is David.)

The Diamondbacks received a totally new look for 2007; it appears Topps chose to recycle an old image of Johnson rather than airbrush him in the new garb. This is a Series 2 card and some D'Backs were presented in their new uniforms, but apparently Johnson (a January 2007 trade acquisition) missed the photo shoot.

More from Johnson's 2006 season: he won 17 of his 33 starts, but despite a 1.239 WHIP, his ERA reached an even 5.00 and I'm not sure how. He allowed 28 homers, true, but only three came with two-plus men on base. And there's only so many RBI groundouts one guy can allow...odd. On 8/14 vs. the Angels, Johnson struck out his 4,500th career batter—only the third to ever do so behind Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.

(flip) Hard to buy, but Johnson did eventually win over 300 games lifetime while only leading his league in wins once. At first glance of this reverse, I thought Topps might have had one of their bold/italic slip-ups, but nope.

Of those 172 K in 2006, none came in his six-inning start at Baltimore 8/4. My guess is Johnson had exactly three career starts of 5+ innings with zero K. Upon research...I was right! The Big Unit was held without a K in six innings vs. Oakland 5/15/2005 and in 5.2 innings vs. Colorado 5/6/2009, Thanks, Stathead!!!

Of those 17 wins in 2006, six came in a seven-start stretch from 8/9 to 9/11. Both of his CG in 2006 were eight-inning losses (one to the Angels in April, one to the Mariners in August). 

AFTER THIS CARD: Johnson recovered from his 2007 back surgery and turned in a rollercoaster season for the 2008 Diamondbacks (11-10, 3.91, streaks of five straight wins AND losses during the year). He joined my Giants on a 1Y/$8M deal for 2009, won his 300th game 6/5, tore his rotator cuff while batting exactly one month later, but returned in September as a reliever. Johnson retired at 46 upon season's conclusion, winner of 303 career games. He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame inductee in 2015 and remains second all-time with 4,875 K.

Randy Johnson appeared annually in Topps 1989-2010, even receiving a sunset card in the 2010 set despite his pending retirement being pretty much a given. Johnson also shows up in 1989 Traded and 2009 Update.

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps, Arizona Diamondbacks

 
Topps Juan Pierre
Topps Juan Pierre

2/15/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #380 Juan Pierre, Marlins

More Juan Pierre Topps Cards: 2000T 2001 2002 2003 2003T 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2010U 2011 2012 2013

Juan Pierre was the ultimate throwback player, a speedster with nearly zero power at all who bunted on what seemed like a daily basis. If he were to debut in the year 2021 rather than 2001, doing what he did, it's doubtful the Ivy Leaguers currently pervading MLB front offices would have allowed him any real opportunity.

Originally a Rockie from 2000-02, that team dealt Pierre when it realized not even Coors Field could unlock power in his bat. He landed with the Florida Marlins and was the catalyst atop the lineup for their 2003 World Series championship team, stealing an MLB-high 65 bases and even earning more than a couple of NL MVP votes.

Here, Pierre has completed an even better 2004 season, at least personally. He led the NL in hits and though his stolen base percentage took a substantial hit, Pierre's .326 average ranked 6th in the NL and he committed just a pair of errors in CF (neither led to runs).

THIS CARD: Pierre doing what he did best—lighting a fire on the basepaths. He's checking behind him, meaning he might have just finished dropping a bunt down the 3B line. In 2004, Pierre bunted for 19 hits and 15 successful sacrifices.

Pierre wore #9 for the majority of his career, even reclaiming it upon his 2013 return to the Marlins. Other notable #9 in Fish history include Terry Pendleton in 1995-96 and Dee Gordon in 2015-17; journeyman IF Deven Marrero wore it for 10 games in 2021.

More from Pierre's 2004 season: he closed the year on a 12-game hit streak, after hitting in 16 straight from mid-August to early-September. In fact, from 8/15 to season's end, Pierre batted .386! On 6/13 at Detroit, his four hits—including his 5th career homer and only career inside-the-parker, surprisingly—and four runs sank the Tigers. (Ex-Colorado teammate Craig Dingman gave up the HR.)

(flip) Sharing a name with a baseball star does not mean it's "almost literally" in someone's blood. Sharing an organ or even an in-law does.

I hope that one of Pierre's parents worked for the area's road maintenance operation. Because stealing pylons off highways is NOT legal...

See those seven career homers through five seasons? Pierre finished his 14-year career with 18, yet somehow managed to blast a leadoff jack against me in MLB 11: The Show. Off a lefty, no less!

In the Stat Box, Topps COULD HAVE told you that Pierre had 49 hits in September 2004 alone, rather than re-listing his 221 total hits that year.

AFTER THIS CARD: Pierre ran his consecutive-games streak up to 821 games (although a pinch-running appearance in '05 prevents MLB from recognizing it as a true streak) until the Dodgers sat him in 2008. He'd joined L.A. on a 5Y/$44M deal in November 2006, after spending the '06 season batting .292 with 58 steals for the Cubs, who had acquired him in via trade with Florida in December 2005.

Pierre became a part-timer with the 2008-09 Dodgers, but still stole 70 bases in 94 attempts. The 32-year-old was traded to the White Sox in December 2009 and returned to full-time duty, leading MLB with 68 SB in 2010. I'm not sure why, but his steals dipped to 27 in 2011 (perhaps he was given a red light; Pierre was caught 17 times that year.)

For 2012, Pierre signed a MiLB deal with the Phillies and ended up starting 98 times for them while batting .307 with 37 steals in 44 tries. Pierre's final MLB run came with the 2013 Marlins (1Y/$1.6M); he hit just .247 in 113 games, but ran his lifetime SB total up to 614, good for 18th all time and 10th among players whose careers began after 1960.

Next, Pierre spent some time as a MLB Network analyst, then was hired as Miami's minor league outfield coordinator in early 2019; at last check he was still in this role though I could not confirm 100%.

Juan Pierre appeared in 2001-13 Topps, as well as 2000 and 2003 Traded and 2010 Update.

CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Florida Marlins

 
Topps Calvin Jones
Topps Calvin Jones

2/16/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #664 Calvin Jones, Rockies

More Calvin Jones Topps Cards: n/a

Calvin Jones was a former #1 overall draft pick...technically. You see, from the Amateur Draft's 1965 inception up until 1986, MLB held two annual drafts—one in January and one in June (there was even an August draft for two years!). The best talent usually was selected in June, so Jones' status as the first selection in the January 1984 Draft doesn't carry the same prestige as it would have five months later.

Jones began his career as a starter and put up decent numbers in Class A, but he didn't advance to AAA until moving to the bullpen full-time six years later. Here, he's about to enter his 10th pro season as a member of the expansion Colorado Rockies, who chose him with the 52nd overall pick in the 1992 Expansion Draft.

THIS CARD: This is not a random selection; sadly, Jones passed away from cancer 2/12/2022, age 58. This is his only Topps base/Traded card, though he appears in other releases—see below.

I did not actively collect 1993 Topps during the year 1993. Or 1994. Or 1995. Or for another 20 years, in fact. But I still got my hands on others' scraps during that time. For eons, Jones was my lone Rockies card from 1993 Topps, so I remember his face better than some dudes who are destined for Cooperstown or already there.

More from Jones' 1992 season: he disappointed after impressing the Mariners in 1991, but he still saved Seattle's 'pen at times. Such as 5/26 when he threw 4.1 innings of relief against Baltimore despite allowing seven hits and five runs. Or his long relief against Minnesota 8/14; Jones gave up two runs in four innings and took the loss, but he calmed things down after Seattle SP Brian Fisher allowed six runs in two innings.

(flip) That first round of the 1984 January Draft was not a fruitful one. Jeff Blauser, a good but ordinary overall player, was by far the BEST player selected in that round. Only eight of 26 picks even reached MLB at all.

About Jones' 1992 Calgary stint: he opened the year with the Mariners, but was shipped out in early June with a 6.48 ERA and 7.36 BB/9. He returned exactly two months later, and lowered those figures to 4.76 and 6.43, respectively, remaining with the M's through season's end.

Besides Calgary, it wouldn't surprise me if exactly zero of those minor league stops still existed.

That lone start for Seattle in 1992 was a spot start at KC 6/5; Jones went five innings and allowed three hits and two runs while walking five. He took the loss.

AFTER THIS CARD: Jones never took the mound for Colorado, at least not during the season; he ended up with the Indians organization 1993-94, saving 22 games for AA Canton-Akron in '93 and 14 more for AAA Charlotte in '94. From there, he spent two more seasons in MiLB, then pitched in China, Mexico and the Independent League through 2002.

Later on, Jones worked as a scout for the Twins and Dodgers and was apparently factored in the latter's decision to draft and sign Clayton Kershaw. Despite my Giants fandom, I won't hold that against him.

Calvin Jones appeared in 1993 Topps. Want him as a Mariner? Check out 1991 Topps: Major League Debut. Jones also appears in 1992-93 Stadium Club as a Mariner and Rockie, respectively.

CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, Colorado Rockies

 
Topps Tyler Flowers
Topps Tyler Flowers

2/17/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2017 Topps #282 Tyler Flowers, Braves

More Tyler Flowers Topps Cards: 2010 2011 2013 2014 2015 2016 2016U 2018 2019 2020

Tyler Flowers, the longtime backup to ageless White Sox C A.J. Pierzynski who eventually did get regular run in Chicago, signed with the Braves in December 2015 for 2Y/$5.3M (plus a $4M club option for 2018 that was exercised) after the White Sox non-tendered him.

Year One in Atlanta was interrupted for a month by a fractured left hand suffered in early July—more on that below—but otherwise it was a fine year for the 30-year-old. Flowers slashed .270/.357/.420, all career-highs, and batted just a tick under .300 in 30 games following his August return from the DL.

THIS CARD: Of Flowers' 10 Topps base cards, eight depict him defensively. 2016 represented a weird year for Flowers as a receiver; on the one hand, he fielded .995 with only three errors in over 600 chances. On the other hand, 60 of 63 steal attempts against him were successful—that 5% CS rate is the lowest I can remember ever seeing from anybody. And Flowers couldn't blame the knuckleball of SP R.A. Dickey, who didn't join the Braves until 2017.

Flowers appears to be in pursuit of a wild pitch or passed ball here. According to GettyImages, this pic was shot in Flowers' season debut 4/8/2016 against the Cardinals (who won 7-4 that night).

More from Flowers' 2016 season: he left one game with two outs in the T9th due to (justifiably) protesting a ball call against Braves CL Arodys Vizcaino and getting ejected for—what we believe is—the second time in his career. Flowers had doubled thrice in that 6/30 game! Atlanta still won 8-5 over Miami.

(flip) That broken hand occurred the day after Flowers' ejection; Marlins CL A.J. Ramos plunked him. Still, Flowers remained in the lineup for a week until aggravating the injury and hitting the DL.

Flowers had two other lifetime four-hit games in MLB prior to 4/19/2016 against the Dodgers, but neither included three RBI.

"The best offensive season of Flowers' career" included a robust .348 average with RISP! 

Flowers' IG page remains active, though the majority of his recent images are of who I presume to be his children. There are multiple Twitter pages under the name "Tyler Flowers"; they're not tied to this Tyler Flowers at all.

AFTER THIS CARD: Flowers hit .281, 12, 49 in 99 games for the 2017 Braves, who exercised his 2018 option and then extended him for 2Y/$10M (exercised team option for 2020 included) in August 2018.  From 2016-20 Flowers started about half of Atlanta's games and showed more-than-just-decent pop. He also got that CS rate back up around 25-30%.

 

But as he aged, Flowers developed degenerative discs in his back, and opted to retire in May 2021—shortly after re-signing with the Braves on a MiLB deal. It might have cost him a World Series ring, but Flowers was more than pleased with his baseball career.

Tyler Flowers appeared in Topps annually 2010-20, except 2012. He's also got a (redundant) 2016 Update card with Atlanta.

CATEGORIES: 2017 Topps, Atlanta Braves

 
Topps Kyle Bird
Topps Kyle Bird

2/18/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2019 Topps Update #80 Kyle Bird, Rangers

More Kyle Bird Topps Cards: 2019UA

No known relation to Larry, Sue, or Greg.

Kyle Bird beat long odds just to reach MLB. A former #35 pick of the Rays, he is the rare pitcher who reached the majors without ever being a full-time starter or closer in MiLB (zero starts and just 23 saves in six seasons in the minors).

Here, Bird's just been called up to the Rangers, who acquired him from Tampa Bay in a three-team trade involving Oakland (more on that below).

THIS CARD: Bird appears twice in 2019 Topps Update; he's also got a Rookie Combos card shared with fellow Rangers P Kyle Dowdy. Which means THIS card could and should have been occupied by somebody like RP Shawn Kelley, who made what may be his final 50 MLB appearances with the '19 Rangers.

We see Bird reaching back to throw either his low-90's fastball, two-seam sinker, slider or occasional changeup. As the image suggests, Bird was/is a bit of a slinger, but far from a true sidearmer.

More from Bird's early 2019 season: he opened the year with Texas and made five appearances before being optioned to AAA Nashville. On 4/10, Bird stepped in for CL Jose LeClerc and earned a two-out save at Arizona.

(flip) Only one other player from Bird's draft round has reached MLB; Tommy Doyle made three relief appearances for the 2020 Rockies.

AA Montgomery and AAA Durham are both Rays affiliates, just to be clear. 

That is still Bird's Twitter handle; he's relatively active and even somewhat funny and informative (I hadn't heard about ex-P Dick Bosman's self-blown perfect game before.)

Headlining that three-team swap was infielder Jurickson Profar (who went from Texas to Oakland). Also included was RP Emilio Pagan, a so-so middleman for the 2018 A's who became Tampa's primary closer in 2019, and four prospects.

AFTER THIS CARD: As 2019 progressed, Bird returned to the Rangers for one late May appearance, was again sent to Nashville, then got in six more games for Texas in July. His final MLB line: 7.82 ERA, 15 BB in 12.2 innings across 12 games.

 

Outrighted to Nashville in January 2020, Bird ended up not playing at all that year due to the pandemic. He packed up for Japan that winter, and made 42 appearances for Hiroshima in 2021.

Kyle Bird appeared (twice) in 2019 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2019 Topps Update, Texas Rangers

 
Topps Jared Walsh
Topps Jared Walsh

2/19/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2021 Topps #575 Jared Walsh, Angels

More Jared Walsh Topps Cards: 2019U 2020U 2022

In 30+ years of MLB fandom, I'd never fully invested in an All-Star Game like I did in 2021. For the first time in my life, really, I sat back and truly appreciated what I was watching. There, all on one field, was Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Trevor Story and Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman and Pete Alonso and Max Scherzer and Fernando Tatis Jr, just to name a few. 

And though veteran superstars such as Mookie Betts, Buster Posey, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Jacob deGrom were not present, loads of very talented up-and-comers were able to shine in their stead. Dudes like Chris Bassitt, Corbin Burnes, Cedric Mullins, Jesse Winker and Jared Walsh were all deserving first-time All-Stars in 2021, and Walsh's diving catch in LF to rob Kris Bryant (then of the Cubs) of an RBI hit in the B8th got everyone's attention.

Here, Walsh has just wrapped his first season spent entirely in MLB. Used situationally by the 2020 Angels, the big 1B outslugged every one of his teammates—even superstar OF Mike Trout by 43 points!

THIS CARD: We see Walsh homering against the Diamondbacks at Angels Stadium 9/16/2020 (thanks, Getty Images). Young players are supposed to perform better at home, but Walsh's home/away splits were nearly identical in 2020—right on down to his walks and strikeouts. 

#25 on an Angel will never NOT remind me of former 3B Troy Glaus, but the number's great Anaheim lineage doesn't end there. Don Baylor won the AL MVP while wearing #25. Tommy John wore it, though he was past his prime by then. Jim Abbott and Jim Edmonds wore it. After Glaus, however, the number has been passed around a bit. Walsh himself doesn't even wear it anymore (he switched to #20 in 2021).

More from Walsh's 2020 season: his grand slam off SP Kyle Gibson was the difference in an 8-5 win over Texas 9/21. And he enjoyed a 14-game hit streak in September which included six straight multi-hit affairs!

(flip) Of those nine home runs in 2020, six came in a seven-game span September 8-16.

Orem? Burlington? Inland Empire? Were the Angels trying to develop Walsh or hide him from his enemies?

To date, no one else from Walsh's draft round has reached MLB. Not even Mickey Morandini's kid or the guy whose first name is Mattingly.

The placement of the dash, comma and quotation marks are all proper, but they still caused me confusion trying to read Maddon's quote. I would have written it as Stage Three point: 'I belong here...'

AFTER THIS CARD: As we mentioned, Walsh was a 2021 All-Star, taking over as Los Angeles's 1B after the great Albert Pujols was cut. Walsh finished 2021 with a .277 average, 29 homers and 98 RBI in 144 games, many of them as the Angels' cleanup hitter. In 2022, the 28-year-old will finally go to big league camp not battling for a job.

Jared Walsh has appeared in 2019-20 Topps Update before "graduating" to the 2021-22 base sets.

CATEGORIES: 2021 Topps, Los Angeles Angels, All-Star Rookies

 
Topps Juan Berenguer
Topps Juan Berenguer

2/21/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #449 Juan Berenguer, Twins

More Juan Berenguer Topps Cards: 1987 1987T 1988 1989 1990 1992

Big Juan Berenguer was one of those guys who just took the ball, REGARDLESS. Need a closer? Gimme the ball. Need a long reliever? Gimme the ball. Need a couple of tough outs in the 7th inning? You came to the right guy. Shoot, he'd even start a few games if that's what was needed! Berenguer threw hard—though not always straight—and showed emotion on the mound before it was cool or accepted. 

The Panama native broke in with the 1978 Mets, but by 1984 he was on his fourth major league club. Berenguer is an easily-forgotten member of the 1984 World Champion Tigers, for whom he made 27 regular-season starts. 

Berenguer joined the Twins in 1987, kicking off the most stable period of his long career. The now-veteran got in 211 games 1987-90 for Tom Kelly, picking up World Series ring #2 in '87 (and somehow allowing this to happen). We catch up with Berenguer on the tail end of that run; he fired his customary 100+ relief innings for Kelly in 1990 and got better as the year went on, recording a 2.30 ERA with two homers allowed after 7/13.

THIS CARD: Not a bad front image at all, although his 1992 Topps front image is legendary—you'll never see a jollier baseball player.

Berenguer reaches back to fire either his mid-90's fastball, his slider, or the forkball he picked up from Giants manager Roger Craig halfway into his career. Berenguer had a standard changeup early on, but eventually junked it.

That's #40 mostly concealed by Berenguer's left arm. It's the rare number that might be best affiliated with a coach—Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson wore it 2002-14. So did star Twins OF Marty Cordova 1995-99.

(flip) Since there's no blurb, I'll create one: in 1990, Berenguer's eight wins tied Scott Erickson for second on the Twins, behind Kevin Tapani's 12. His 6.9 K/9 ranked second behind Rick Aguilera. 

This might be our first COTD with a split-stat league leader in any season. Those 13 losses in 1981 tied Luis Leal (Blue Jays) and Jerry Koosman (Twins/White Sox) for the AL lead.

About Berenguer's four RA in 1984: three came in July when he was briefly bumped from the rotation. The final one came on 8/8 when Tigers SP Glenn Abbott was KO'd in the first inning having allowed five unearned runs; Berenguer threw 5.1 strong innings in relief on just two days rest following a complete game! It was a different time, kids.

AFTER THIS CARD: Berenguer signed with Atlanta for 2Y/$2.1M—BIG dollars for a middle/long reliever—in January 1991. He took over as closer in May and went 17-for-18 in save ops before breaking his arm in an August accident at home. The 37-year-old returned to the Braves for 1992, but was not effective for them or the Royals, who traded for him in July (combined 5.42 ERA in 47 games). 

That was the end of Berenguer as a major leaguer, though he pitched five more seasons in the Mexican and Independent Leagues. His 67 career wins stood as the all-time MLB record by a Panamanian until Yankee great Mariano Rivera passed him in 2008.

Juan Berenguer debuted on a shared Prospects card in 1979 Topps, then appeared annually 1981-92(except 1983). He's also got 1986-87 Traded cards.

CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Minnesota Twins

 
Topps Hideki Matsui
Topps Hideki Matsui

2/22/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #110 Hideki Matsui, Yankees

More Hideki Matsui Topps Cards: 2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 2010U

After playing two seasons as my Giants in MLB 11: The Show, I decided to mix things up and play as the Oakland Athletics. Hideki Matsui was my cleanup hitter and the only consistent, reliable power source at my disposal, as it turned out. I lasted about 50 games before mounting losses led me to terminate the season before any property was damaged. Matsui clobbered 11 homers for me in that period, punishing righties and lefties alike...good job.

But here, "Godzilla" is just finishing up his sixth season with the New York Yankees. It wasn't one to remember, as left knee inflammation sidelined him for 45 games between June-August 2008. The knee was eventually operated on, ending Matsui's season in mid-September with a career-low .424 SLG.

THIS CARD: Topps literally alternated Matsui's front images between batting and running on all six of his base cards. That's one way to prevent redundancy!

 

Somehow, even in a still pic, you can tell just how strong and quick Matsui was with a bat in his hands. He rarely was off-balance and he rarely chased truly bad pitches, at least during his Yankees days when he was but one of several slugging threats instead of a main cog.

More from Matsui's 2008 season: though his second half was injury-wrought, Matsui still made an impact when healthy. Such as when he ripped a game-winning grand slam on his 34th birthday 6/12 vs. Oakland, or his 17-game hit streak in April-May. On 5/13 at Tampa Bay, Matsui's T9th solo homer off CL Troy Percival tied the game at 1—although the Rays eventually won in 11 innings.

(flip) More history pertaining to that slam: per MLB.com, Matsui was the first Yankee whose game-winning grand slam on the road accounted for all their runs since C/DH Cliff Johnson in 1977. Awfully specific, but still cool!

Upon his 2012 retirement, Matsui's highest career OPS was against James Shields (1.542 in 26 PA). Bonderman had dropped to 5th on the list (1.224).

Of those 93 games Matsui played in 2008, 66 came as DH, more than twice his previous high of 32 in 2007. He was an exclusive DH for New York in 2009, but saw limited outfield play from 2010-12 with the Angels, A's and Rays.

AFTER THIS CARD: In 2009, Matsui hit .274, 28, 90 and played a direct role in the Yankees' return to World Series glory—he hit .615 with three homers against the Phillies in the Fall Classic!

Obviously paying attention, the Los Angeles Angels signed Matsui for 2010 ($6.5M); he batted .274, 21, 84 and then moved on to Oakland on a $4.25M deal for 2011. Age and the spacious Coliseum limited the 37-year-old to just 12 homers in 517 at-bats, and he began the 2012 season on the free-agent market.

In mid-April 2012, Matsui signed a MiLB deal with the Rays and was promoted at the end of May. But after batting .170 for AAA Durham and .147 for Tampa Bay, he was cut at the start of August. Matsui officially retired in 2013 on a one-day contract with the Yankees.

Hideki Matsui appeared in 2005-10 Topps; he's also got a 2010 Update card with the Angels but nothing from Topps with Oakland.

(Note: Matsui, despite being arguably MLB's best 2003 rookie, does not have a 2003 Topps Traded or 2004 Topps card, nor does he appear in any of their other 2004 releases like Stadium Club or Total. An example of the downside to Topps lacking an umbrella licensing agreement with the MLBPA—you can produce cards of ex-replacement players, but occasionally a Matsui will straight-up REJECT your overtures.)

CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, New York Yankees

 
Topps Deivy Grullon
Topps Deivy Grullon

2/23/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2020 Topps Update #157 Deivy Grullon, Phillies

More Deivy Grullon Topps Cards: n/a

Grullon spent nearly seven full seasons in the minors honing his craft before being called up to the 2019 Phillies in September. Though he'd showed an impressive bat—especially for a catcher—on the farms, it took the Phillies three weeks to get him in a big league game. I don't know Grullon personally, so I cannot testify whether or not he had an attitude that needed checking. If he didn't...sitting him like that seems a little rough.

THIS CARD: Nothing against Grullon, but I'm not sure why he's in this set—there was nothing to update for him in 2020, as he was at the Alternate Site all season until being waived at August's end. He'd only received nine MLB at-bats in 2019 and hadn't done anything special. Perhaps Topps just wanted to get Grullon, a solid prospect, in a set however they could.

 

Grullon is the first and only Phillie to date to wear #73 during the regular season.

This photo was snapped 9/28/2019 against Miami; Grullon started at C and doubled home a run in Philadelphia's 9-3 win. Thanks yet again, Getty Images.

(flip) Plaudits! There's that word again! Never heard/read it before 2019 Topps and now it appears on every fifth card. Or so it seems.

We referenced that hit above; it came against Miami SP Caleb Smith in the B3rd. Fellow rookie Adam Haseley scored on the play, giving the Phils a 6-0 advantage.

As for Grullon's arm, he threw out a career-best 37% of enemy basestealers in the minors in 2017. Lifetime, he stands at 28%, so there's room for improvement.