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Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, January 2023

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A = Alternate Card  •  B = Bonus Factory Set Card  •  F = Factory Team Set  •  G = Giveaway Set  •  I = Insert Card  •  T = Traded Set  •  U = Update Set

 

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Topps Jeff Juden
Topps Jeff Juden

1/31/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps #541 Jeff Juden, Astros

More Jeff Juden Topps Cards: 1990 1992 1993 1998

It's no secret that performance on a baseball field does NOT always equal popularity in the clubhouse—good stats don't necessarily mean good personality. There's a reason why SP Mark Redman, for example, had a new team every year. (I was supposed to link you to a clip of former 95.7 The Game host and Oakland A's beat writer Mychael Urban testifying to that, but at the moment I can't find it. When I do, this page will be updated.)

I have never quite had the "inside" access that Urban did, so my knowledge of MLB popularity contest losers is limited to what I've learned from other (reliable) sources. And of those many, MANY sources, I'm not sure anybody was as publicly unpopular among his peers than 1990's journeyman P Jeff Juden—especially earlier in his career.

Juden was a massive former #1 pick of the Astros in 1989; he reached MLB briefly as a 20-year-old in 1991 but was kept in MiLB for almost the entire 1992-93 seasons. Juden was given two "garbage time" outings for Houston toward the end of the '93 season.

THIS CARD: We're likely seeing Juden during a 1993 Spring Training outing. He performed well during the exhibition season but was still returned to AAA Tucson when camp broke...which he didn't take too well.

Juden has just unleashed either his mid-90's heat, his curve, his slider or his changeup. However, none of those secondary pitches stood out like his fastball, which he eventually learned to cut and sink. Juden was the rare 6'7" pitcher who attacked from a three-quarters angle.

SP Roy Oswalt was the best #44 for the first 60 years of the Houston Astros franchise, but DH—and 2022 World Series hero—Yordan Alvarez has a GREAT chance to have it retired in his honor someday. Juden had eight different uniform numbers during his eight major league seasons.

(flip) Juden wasn't just a #1 pick—he went 12th overall. While he didn't work out for Houston, or anybody else really, the Astros did nab RP Todd Jones at #27 overall (though most of Jones' success came after he left Houston).

I was not able to find out what AAA Colorado Springs (Indians) batter pegged Juden, but I CAN tell you that 1992 Sky Sox team had a knack for three-baggers—they had 74 as a team, including three players with 10-plus!

Those two 1993 Astros appearances consisted of: two scoreless innings against the visiting Giants 9/20, and three innings at Cincinnati (three earnies on three hits, including a Hal Morris solo homer) in the season finale 10/3.

AFTER THIS CARD: Juden went to the Phillies (with CL Doug Jones) in the famous December 1993 trade sending embattled CL Mitch Williams to Houston. Juden's 1994 stint with Philly was very rough, and though he improved in a 13-game showing in 1995—even cracking an oppo grand slam off the Dodgers' John Cummings for his ONLY big league hit—he was dealt to my Giants in October 1995.

Juden made few friends in San Francisco and was shipped out (to Monteal) in July 1996.  As a 1996 Expo, this happened. As a 1997 Expo, Juden enjoyed his best MLB success, going 11-5, 4.22 in 22 starts before being dealt to the AL Champion Indians at the Deadline.

 

The now-27-year-old split 1998 between the Brewers and Angels (8-14, 5.80 in 32/30 games/starts), starting at least one more dustup in April against OF Marvin Benard and the Giants (probably the seventh or eighth of his career; he was well known for throwing at hitters). Juden spent almost all of 1999 in the AAA Columbus rotation before the Yankees called him up for a pair of outings—his last in the majors. Juden's last pro action came with AAA Charlotte (White Sox) in 2001.

Jeff Juden appeared in 1990, 1992-94, and 1998 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps, Houston Astros

Juden

More January 2023 Topps Cards Of The Day

Topps Bengie Molina
Topps Bengie Molina

1/1/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2003 Topps #407 Bengie Molina, Angels

More Bengie Molina Topps Cards: 2001 2002 2004 2005 2006 2006U 2007 2008 2009 2010 2010U

Molina, who went from helping the Angels defeat my Giants in the 2002 World Series to serving as the Giants' default cleanup hitter six years later, was fresh off that championship when this card was released.

At first glance, Molina's 2002 campaign was nothing to brag about; he suffered a drop in all his "slash" categories and it took him almost 240 at-bats to hit his first homer. But Molina expertly handled the Angels' diverse pitching staff and walked away with his first of two consecutive Gold Gloves after the season.

THIS CARD: As this pic indicates, Molina's swing could get a tad long. But as his career progressed and that long swing began to regularly produce power, it wasn't the issue it probably was back in 2002.

I always got a chuckle out of Molina, the slowest man not just in baseball but possibly in all of pro sports, wearing #1 like some kind of swift center fielder. Before sticking with the Angels, Molina cycled through #38, #63 and #5 as well; he wore #11 with the 2010 Rangers because some Andrus kid already claimed #1 there.

More from Molina's 2002 season: his first three home runs either tied the game or put the Angels ahead, including his T8th, game-tying three-run shot off Texas reliever John Rocker 6/26 that set up an eventual win! For the second straight year, little bro Jose served as one of Bengie's backups behind the plate.

(flip) Molina would have played more than 122 games in 2002 if not for a partial left hamstring tear that sidelined him for the second half of July. (Don't ask ME why it wasn't longer.)

Wait...42.7%? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Molina actually gunned 45% of basestealers in 2002, and I'd be inclined to trust them over the sometimes-inaccurate Topps blurbs. Lifetime, Molina erased 31% of potential thieves, including 37% as an Angel.

More on Molina's defensive impact: in 2001, when he only played some of the time due to injury, the Angels averaged 4.57 runs allowed per game, allowed 109 steals, and won 75 games. In 2002, with Molina playing 75% of the time, those totals improved to 3.99, 78 and 99 (plus a championship) respectively!

AFTER THIS CARD: In 2003-05, after a pair of disappointing offensive years, Molina's bat returned to its 2000 form; he averaged .285, 13, 65 during that span and took home another Gold Glove in '03! A free agent after the '05 season, Molina settled for a 1Y/$5M deal from Toronto in February 2006—after a screwjob by the Mets—and batted .284 with 19 homers that year.

The 32-year-old landed with the Giants for 3Y/$16M in December '06; as mentioned, he became San Francisco's default cleanup hitter in 2008 and easily led the team in homers (16...how sad was that) and RBI (95). 

 

Thought to be gone after the 2009 season with megaprospect Buster Posey looming, the Giants surprised all by bringing Molina back on a 1Y/$4.5M deal in January 2010—not long after publicly dismissing that notion.

By that June, however, Posey was ready, and Molina was a Texas Ranger. The slowest man in the game managed to hit for the cycle with Texas—his last of six career triples—but couldn't push Texas past his old Giants teammates in the 2010 World Series.

 

Molina officially retired at 37 in early 2012, and went on to coach for the 2013 Cardinals and 2014 Rangers. (He also was a Spring "Special Instructor" with the 2016 Angels.) Molina is very active on Twitter, and much to my enjoyment, he's an occasional guest on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game—the man is as insightful and genial as they come, people.

 

Bengie Molina appeared annually in Topps 2001-10 and in 2006 Updates & Highlights; for you Rangers fans, he's also got a 2010 Topps Update card with Texas.

CATEGORIES: 2003 Topps, Anaheim Angels

Molina_Bengie
Topps Garrett Stubbs
Topps Garrett Stubbs

1/2/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2022 Topps Update #315 Garrett Stubbs, Phillies

More Garrett Stubbs Topps Cards: 2020 2021U 

Here, the former USC star has just joined the Phillies via November 2021 trade with Houston, where he was described by one respected publication as "the backup (catcher)'s backup". Stubbs won a roster spot with Philly out of 2022 Spring Training and while he was not about to reduce #1 catcher J.T. Realmuto to a platoon player, he posed a far greater offensive threat than his predecessor Andrew Knapp. 

THIS CARD: Stubbs indeed has bunting skillz; he did so for base hits five times during the 2022 season.

Stubbs is listed as a C, which he did almost exclusively in the minors. But in the majors, Stubbs has been used sporadically in LF, once in RF, and even four times on the mound! (All of those pitching appearances came in 2022, though none of them were exactly inspiring.)

According to Getty Images, this pic was shot 4/10/2022 against the visiting A's; in the B3rd, Stubbs executed a bunt single off Daulton Jefferies in his first at-bat of the year! But he was stranded, and Philadelphia eventually lost 4-1.

(flip) That Trade With Astros sent minor-league OF Logan Cerny south; at present, Cerny is so obscure that no one would have noticed if he never reported to his new team.

I'm still not used to Fresno being an affiliate of any team besides my Giants (1998-2014), but it's since been the AAA affiliate of the Astros—as you see in the stats—and Nationals. Upon learning Fresno would become a Class-A Rockies affiliate in 2022, I had an audible reaction that can't really be described—half-groan, half-burp is the best I can do.

Stubbs is not slow—I don't understand how he had just seven pro triples in seven pro seasons, with six of them coming in one season as you can see in the stats. (Note: Stubbs did triple once for the '22 Phillies, maintaining his annual rate.) Even Bengie Molina—our previous COTD subject who on a good day might be able to outrun a cardboard box—tripled nine times in his first six pro seasons.

AFTER THIS CARD: Stubbs spent all of 2022 with the Phillies, batting .264, 5, 16 in 46 games. (One of the five homers was a walk-off shot against the Marlins' Chasen Shreve; view it here and RIP Stubbs' bat and helmet.) In October, Stubbs found himself on a pennant winner for the second straight year, although he did not actually play in the World Series (which—despite Stubbs' intel—was won in six games by the Astros).

Garrett Stubbs has appeared in 2020 Topps and 2021-22 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2022 Topps Update, Philadelphia Phillies

Stubbs_Garrett
Topps Carlton Fisk
Topps Carlton Fisk

1/3/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #420 Carlton Fisk, White Sox

More Carlton Fisk Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1991 1992 1993

Once, as I watched some sort of MLB compilation show, a clip of ex-Giants C Bob Brenly was shown. When my child's mother saw it, she exclaimed "He's HELLA old! Is he a coach?!" Nope...Brenly was just a dude who—like so many from his era—looked 15 years older than he actually was.

Young Skillz felt the same way upon first laying eyes on longtime catching great Carlton Fisk of the White Sox. When I first immersed myself in MLB action back in 1990, Fisk was already 43 and looked it—catching will do that to ya. 

But Fisk was nobody's coach, at least not in an official capacity. The man was still ballin' at a high level and ranked high among the league's top two-way receivers. He was on his way to the Hall of Fame, even if little worms like myself didn't fully yet appreciate what a player he was.

Here, Fisk is coming off a strong, if truncated, 1989 season, his 20th in MLB. The Sox legend started 85 times behind the plate, a total limited by an early April (re-)broken left hand which kept him out of action for nearly two months. Despite all the downtime, Fisk's 13 homers were only one behind OF Ivan Calderon for the team lead!

THIS CARD: Nothing says "Chicago White Sox" like aqua blue.

Fisk is looking as if he just witnessed teammate Steve Lyons pull his pants down at first base. But nope—that wouldn't happen for another year or so. 

More from Fisk's 1989 season: he entered the year needing 47 hits for 2,000 in his career and reached the milestone 7/17 with a single off Yankees SP Dave LaPoint. On 8/5, Fisk went 4-for-4 with four RBI in a 7-6 win over Detroit, and on 7/24 he threw out all three Mariners attempting to steal against him!

(flip) Good GOD, Fisk turned 75 last week.

That sum of 2,141 games played grew to 2,499, with 2.226 of them as a catcher. That stood as the big league record until another "Pudge", Ivan Rodriguez, broke it 6/17/2009. 

The unlucky battery who allowed 41-year-old Fisk's lone 1989 steal? Minnesota SP Shane Rawley and C Tim Laudner in the nightcap of a 6/3 doubleheader.

AFTER THIS CARD: Fisk remained healthy in 1990 and batted .285, 18, 65. He was a 1991 AL All-Star, his 11th career selection, but in 1992 Fisk missed two months with a foot injury and was not the same player when healthy. Former backup C Ron Karkovice was elevated to #1 status in 1993, but the Sox allowed Fisk to catch the 25 games he needed to pass Bob Boone for first in MLB history.

Days later, the 23-year vet—who was blasted by team owner Jerry Reinsdorf before the '93 season—was unceremoniously released, increasing the acrimony. As you might imagine, interest for a 45-year-old catcher wasn't exactly sky-high, and Fisk's playing career ended.

But by 1997, the White Sox were retiring Fisk's #72. In 2000, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his second year eligible, and Boston retired his #27. Fisk's 351 career homers as a C were the most ever until Mike Piazza's 396 pushed him down to second place.

Carlton Fisk appeared in 1972-1993 Topps, as well as 1981 Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, Chicago White Sox

Fisk
Topps Ben Revere
Topps Ben Revere

1/4/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2015 Topps Update #125 Ben Revere, Blue Jays

More Ben Revere Topps Cards: 2010 2011 2012 2012A 2013 2014 2015 2016 2016U 2017 2017U 2018

 

Speedy and athletic outfielder Ben Revere debuted in MLB as a September call-up for the 2010 Twins. By May 2011, he was playing every day in either LF or CF for Minnesota. In 2012, Revere batted .294 with 40 steals, but the 96-loss Twins dealt him to the Phillies after that season in exchange for RHP's Trevor May and Vance Worley.

While Revere lost just under half of 2013 due to an early quadriceps injury and a season-ending broken foot in early July, he bounced back in 2014 with 49 steals and 184 hits—tied for the NL's most! Here, the 27-year-old has just been acquired by the Blue Jays at the 2015 Trade Deadline—with expected LF Michael Saunders having experienced freak misfortune during Spring Training, Toronto had trotted out nine different starting left fielders in the first half of '15 and evidently wasn't sold on any of them down the stretch.

THIS CARD: Not much is happening here; we see Revere busting it out of the box. Just about EVERY one of his Topps base front images through the years is an exciting one—Revere is shown diving into bases, diving for balls, leaping at the wall, etc. If you weren't aware, you might think Revere was one of the game's top stars—not quite, though his athleticism wasn't matched by many.

According to Getty Images, this particular image was shot during Revere's first Toronto at-bat, 8/1/2015 against the Royals'Yordano Ventura. The result was a flyout; Revere finished 0-for-5 in the Jays' 7-6 loss to the eventual WS champs.

Revere sports #7, which had belonged to star SS Jose Reyes earlier in 2015 before this happened three days prior to Revere's acquisition.

(flip) Revere was acquired from Philly for two then-minor league pitchers; one of them, righty reliever Jimmy Cordero, worked 83 times for the Nats, Jays and White Sox 2018-20. He was good in 2019.

Revere tied ex-Twins outfield mate Denard Span for the 2014 NL lead in hits. That .306 average in '14 ranked fifth in the NL, while those 601 at-bats ranked 7th.

Perhaps Revere was the only active player with 20 steals in five straight seasons? Because I can name about 138 other dudes who did it in their career.

Contact-oriented is correct—when Revere's career ended, he'd homered seven times in eight MLB seasons. But he also only had 308 strikeouts.

AFTER THIS CARD: Shaking off a slow start with Toronto, Revere wound up at .319 with oft-spectacular defense down the stretch. But the Jays opted to deal him to Washington in January 2016, spelling the beginning of the end for the soon-to-be-28-year-old.

Revere battled a finger injury in '16, finished the year at .217, and was not re-signed. He ended up joining the Angels that December (1Y/$4M) and hit .275 with 21 steals in 2017. But MiLB deals with the Reds, Angels, Rangers and Blue Jays 2018-19 only led to his eventual releases, and Revere never played in MLB again (though he was briefly active in the 2021 Independent League after first serving as hitting coach).

Ben Revere appeared in 2010-18 Topps, as well as 2015-17 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2015 Topps Update, Toronto Blue Jays

Revere
Topps Ray Lankford
Topps Ray Lankford

1/6/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #588 Ray Lankford, Cardinals

More Ray Lankford Topps Cards: 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2002 

 

I won't lie to you and say I have GREAT baseball intuition—after all, I'm the guy who once thought Todd Linden was gonna do big things for the 00's Giants. But I do have some intuition after 30+ years following the game closely.

But back when I first started as an MLB fan at age 10, I didn't know ANYTHING. I didn't understand how guys who batted 500 times one year could suddenly find themselves as a backup (not understanding that 500 at-bats with a .225 average is NOT in high demand). I didn't understand the importance of changing speeds as a pitcher. I didn't know that "can't-miss" prospects often missed by a mile.

But one thing I DID know: Cardinals OF prospect Ray Lankford would be a star one day.

And while he was never "The Man" on the Cardinals, Lankford did put up numbers worthy of the "star" label more than once in his 14-year career. Here, he's coming off a 2000 season that was not among his finest, but he still placed third on the Birds in homers (Jim Edmonds 42, Mark McGwire 32).

THIS CARD: Lankford blasts away at an unidentified road ballpark. Away from Busch Stadium in 2000, Lankford hit just .208 with eight homers in 64 games compared to .300 at home. He'd always been a better home hitter, but it was never quite so pronounced as it was in Y2K. Perhaps all the new parks produced awful glare from the sun.

That's Lankford's familiar #16. He wore it his entire career except his brief second St. Louis stint, during which he deferred to OF Reggie Sanders and took #12. The most notable Cardinal to wear #16 besides Lankford might be 2B Kolten Wong from 2013-20.

More from Lankford's 2000 season: he entered the year needing 19 homers for 200 career, and  he reached the milestone 8/24 against Atlanta RP Stan Belinda. On 9/9, Lankford's solo homer off Milwaukee RP Juan Acevedo in the T9th stood up as the game-winner!

(flip) Of those 26 home runs in 2000, 21 were solo shots and four were two-run shots...odd for a non-leadoff man. Edmonds must have regularly cleared the bases ahead of Lankford. 

McGwire, you may recall, was limited by a knee injury to 89 games in 2000, but he still clobbered 32 homers in 236 at-bats. 

As you see in the stats, Lankford played 128 games in 2000; the low total wasn't due to health reasons. Rather, Lankford's anemic .135 average vs. LHP in '00 led manager Tony LaRussa to give some of his at-bats to righty-hitting UT Craig Paquette as the year wore on. Plus, Lankford struck out 38 more times in 30 fewer at-bats compared to 1999.

AFTER THIS CARD: Near the 2001 Trade Deadline, Lankford—batting .235 with a high K rate and losing playing time—left the Cardinals, prompting them to trade him to the Padres days later (in exchage for SP Woody Williams). He hit .288 in 40 games with San Diego to finish that year, but fell to .224 in a 2002 season interrupted by a June right hamstring injury.

San Diego bought Lankford out of his $7.5M option for 2003 (for $1M), and he wound up sitting out that season to continue healing his hamstring. In 2004, he won a job with the Cardinals out of Spring Training and wound up as their starting LF for the first half—until wrist issues in July impacted him and forced him to the DL.

While sidelined, St. Louis acquired future Hall-of-Fame OF Larry Walker, and Lankford wasn't seen much after that (though in October, he at least got to experience a World Series, which was won by the historic Red Sox).

Ray Lankford appeared in 1991-2002 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals

Lankford
Birtsas_89ToppsFront.jpg
Birtsas_89ToppsBack.jpg

1/7/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #103 Tim Birtsas, Reds

More Tim Birtsas Topps Cards: 1988 1990 1991 

 

Young Skillz, when first becoming a baseball afficianado as a 10-year-old in 1990, had trouble differentiating Tim Birtsas and Dodgers SP Tim Belcher. Of course, that's laughable today, but if ESPN's Booger McFarland can refer to 49ers WR Deebo Samuel as "Deebo Sanders" on the air, I'm allowed a slip or two.

Birtsas was a half-decent SP for the 1985 Athletics before spending practically all of 1986 back in the minors; he later re-emerged as a half-decent RP for the 1988-90 Reds. Here, Birtsas has just wrapped Year One in Cincinnati; called up in May, he strung together six straight scoreless outings that month, later gave the Reds a pair of solid spot starts, and never went back to AAA.

THIS CARD: We see Birtsas about to fire off either his 90-MPH fastball, his sweeping knuckle-curve, or his...well, I haven't found any visual or printed evidence he threw anything else. Birtsas, when pitching from the windup, would sway his hands behind him not unlike Paul Byrd.

I'm guessing this is a Spring Training image, because Birtsas' 1990 Topps front image is also taken from this angle and features him in his home uni—but with Riverfront Stadium clearly behind him. 

More from Birtsas' 1988 season: on three separate occasions, he threw three shutout innings of long relief, including 8/14 when he picked up the win against Atlanta in relief of injured SP Jose Rijo (elbow tendinitis). In a 7/26 spot start at Atlanta, Birtsas allowed one run (via Dale Murphy homer) in five innings, but received no decision.

(flip) Though years apart, Birtsas attended the same school as his pal Kirk Gibson, the star Tigers outfielder who Birtsas badly beaned in 1985.

I thought "A's" wasn't spelled out as "Athletics" in the stats because the team wasn't officially known as the Athletics thanks to former owner Charles Finley. But then I realized Oakland players have "Athletics" spelled out on the front of the card, so...Topps was just trying to conserve ink, it seems.

Those four starts for the 1988 Reds? They were spread out; two went decently enough as we mentioned above. Let's just say the other two did not.

AFTER THIS CARD: Birtsas appeared 42 times for the 1989 Reds, posting a 3.75 ERA and hitting a homer against Mets SP Sid Fernandez 7/2! But in 1990, Birtsas racked up a 1.812 WHIP, returned to the minors for a time, and was not used in the postseason. Cincinnati released him in December 1990, and despite being an imposing, fairly young (30), cheap lefty, no one else came calling.

Tim Birtsas appeared in 1988-91 Topps; for some reason, despite being a full-time starter for the 1985 A's, Birtsas did not appear in 1986 Topps or even 1985 Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Cincinnati Reds

Birtsas
Topps Placido Polanco
Topps Placido Polanco

1/8/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #386 Placido Polanco, Tigers

More Placido Polanco Topps Cards: 2001 2002 2002T 2003 2004 2005 2005U 2006 2008 2009 2010 2010U 2011 2012 2013

 

Placido Polanco was a dude who just hit. A gamer who rarely struck out (or walked, for that matter), Polanco was the rare cat to obliterate the "utility guy" label as he established himself as one of the better—if not best—second basemen in baseball.

Makes me feel kinda bad that my two top Polanco memories are A) the nasty beaning he suffered at the hands of San Francisco's Santiago Casilla in 2013, and B) the time he, while on second base, tried to join a brawl between his Phillies and my Giants—only to be speared by Giants C Eli Whiteside before reaching his target.

Here, we catch up with Polanco on the heels of his first full season (2006) with the Detroit Tigers. For the seventh consecutive season, he batted .289 or better, although a separated left shoulder reduced him to spectator for much of the second half. The Tigers, who won 95 games overall in 2006, went just 14-21 without him.

THIS CARD: Good signature, legible, with no surprises. As I've mentioned on past 2007 Topps COTD, maybe 35-40% of the featured signatures could be described that way.

Polanco holding down the second base position, where he played exclusively during his five seasons in Detroit save for one start at 3B in 2005. Polanco, of course, used to man several positions as a Cardinal and Phillie; the latter even employed him in the outfield a few times!

More from Polanco's 2006 season: he was injured 8/15 when he fell after securing a B7th popup from Boston's Doug Mirabelli—of all people, Pudge Rodriguez was forced to replace him at 2B! Polanco had three hits and two RBI in his first game back 9/23. On 4/19 at Oakland, Polanco singled off Brad Halsey for his fourth hit of the day and 1,000th of his career—and since Detroit was up big, no one cared that he was gunned trying to stretch said single into a double.

(flip) Polanco had a bit of an axe to grind against Oakland after being beaned by SP Esteban Loaiza in the B1st on 7/23. He was back in action 7/25, thankfully.

Polanco enjoyed three multi-hit games in that four-game ALDS, then three more in Detroit's four-game ALCS sweep of Oakland! But baseball can be cruel and mysterious sometimes; Polanco was 0-for-17 in the Tigers' five-game World Series loss to St. Louis.

Usually, guys born in the D.R. are signed, not drafted, but Polanco moved to Miami as a teen, attending high school and college there. 

AFTER THIS CARD: Polanco, as mentioned, remained a Tiger thru 2009. He enjoyed a prolific 2007; the 31-year-old batted .341 with 200 hits, made his first All-Star team and won his first Gold Glove! Two years later, Polanco broke through with his first double-digit homer season and took home another Gold Glove. The Phillies brought him back with a 3Y/$18M deal in December 2009.

Despite his exemplary defense at 2B, Chase Utley was still around, so the Phillies moved Polanco to 3B, where he became only the second player to win Gold Gloves at multiple positions in 2011! (Former Angel Darin Erstad won as a 1B and OF). Polanco also made his second All-Star team that year, but in 2012 he missed most of the second half with back inflammation and hit just .257 in the 90 games he did play.

Polanco returned home to Miami for 2013 (1Y/$2.75M in December 2012) but he slashed a meager .260/.315/.302 and absorbed the aforementioned beaning that shelved him for two weeks. That challenging season would be Polanco's last in MLB, though he did not officially retire until 2016. Today he works in the Dodgers' front office, but I try not to hold that against him.

You wouldn't guess this, but Polanco finished up with 2,142 career hits; he holds MLB records for consecutive errorless games (186) and chances (911) at second base.

Placido Polanco appeared annually in Topps 2001-13; he also shows up in 2002 Topps Traded plus 2005 and 2010 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps, Detroit Tigers

Polanco_Placido
Topps Starlin Castro
Topps Starlin Castro

1/9/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #603 Starlin Castro, Cubs

More Starlin Castro Topps Cards: 2010U 2011 2012 2013 2015 2016 2016U 2017 2018 2018U  2019 2020 2020U 2021

 

Mr. Castro so enjoyed being a COTD subject back on 12/12/2022 that he's back, less than a month later. This time, however, we look back on Castro's time with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he spent his first six MLB seasons and made three NL All-Star teams.

Specifically, this card represents Castro's 2013 season, his fourth in MLB and undoubtedly his worst up to that point. While he continued to play almost every game and led the NL in at-bats for the third straight season, Castro's bat turned frigid in June (.167) and he never completely recovered, finishing at .245—a 52-point drop from his previous career average. Despite that, Castro still led Chicago in hits, 22 more than runner-up Anthony Rizzo.

THIS CARD: We're seeing Castro during his age-23 season, and he looks even younger than that in this pic. I'd bet $5 he's not clean-shaven by choice.

According to Getty Images, this pic was shot 7/9/2013 and depicts Castro cracking a B3rd home run off SP Joe Blanton of the Angels. That was but one of five homers the Cubs hit that day en route to a 7-2 victory.

More from Castro's 2013 season: it obviously wasn't a complete struggle, as evidenced by Castro's 14-game hit streak in April. Additionally, on 8/31, his B6th solo homer off Phillies RP Zach Miner broke a 3-3 tie and held up as the game-winner!

(flip) I'd heard of Glenn Beckert but knew little about him; turns out he spent nine seasons (1965-73) as the Cubs' 2B, won the 1968 Gold Glove, and made four NL All-Star teams! Beckert finished up with 73 games for the 1974-75 Padres; he passed away in April 2020 at 79. NOT a bad career!

Just to clarify, Castro was a first-time All-Star in 2011; he pinch-ran for starting SS Troy Tulowitzki (of Colorado) in the B5th and K'd in his lone at-bat against Seattle RP Brandon League two innings later.

Note Castro's 161 games played in 2013; the lone game he missed was a "mental rest day" given to him 6/25 (his sub, Cody Ransom, went 0-for-4 as the Cubs fell to the Brewers 9-3). Castro was also pulled early from an August game because of this.

AFTER THIS CARD: Castro signed a 7Y/$60M extension in August 2012 that took hold in 2014; he returned to his All-Star form that year, though he missed almost all of September with an ankle sprain. In 2015, however, Castro again slumped with the bat and was shifted to 2B in August to accomodate prospect Addison Russell. That December, Castro was swapped to the Yankees, for whom he belted a career-high 21 homers in 2016!

In 2017, Castro was limited to 112 games by two DL stints in June/July (both for a right hamstring strain) but slashed .300/.338/.454 when healthy and earned his fourth All-Star nod in eight major league seasons. He might have remained in New York for some time, but the Yankees sacrificed Castro in order to land megastar Giancarlo Stanton in a December '17 trade with Miami.​

Despite going from the revered Yankees to a hollowed-out Marlins squad that lost 203 games during Castro's 2018-19 tenure, he appeared to give his very best for Miami, missing only eight total games (all in 2018) while pacing the team in hits both years and homers in 2019. He even drew 48 walks in 2018, a career-high by far! 

 

In January 2020, Castro joined the Nats for 2Y/$12M, but was limited to 16 games that first year by a broken wrist suffered while diving for a ball in Baltimore. Castro was batting .283, 3, 38 in 87 games for the 2021 Nationals when MLB suspended him in mid-July. Washington cut him that September, and he's yet to resurface in MLB. 

 

Starlin Castro has appeared in 2011-21 Topps, as well as 2010, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, Chicago Cubs

Castro_Starlin
Topps Chili Davis
Topps Chili Davis

1/11/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #765 Chili Davis, Angels

More Chili Davis Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1988T 1989 1991 1991T 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

 

Probably because of his long stint with the 1980's Giants, I'd heard the name Chili Davis long before I knew exactly who he was. For all young Skillz knew, Chili was an actor or a mayor; dude could have even been a relative-by-marriage! But eventually I started finding Davis inside packs of 1990 Topps cards, solving the mystery.

Davis—to this day, the most recent homegrown Giants outfielder to make a National League All-Star team, which he did in frikkin' 1984 and 1986—was a unique player. Then or now, 6'3", switch-hitting center fielders who can wallop a baseball 425 feet at any given time are just not common. (Add in Davis's Jamaican heritage and you TRULY have a unicorn.)

Though he was a two-time All-Star for the Giants, Davis didn't consistently produce at an All-Star level, which he believed was due to windy Candlestick Park. So when the Angels offered the free agent a 1Y/$850K deal in December 1987, Davis just about knocked over all the office furniture scrambling to sign it.

Here, we catch up with Davis after a fine 1989 campaign for the Angels, who re-signed him to a 3Y/$4.1M deal that February and watched him wallop a career-high 22 homers.

THIS CARD: Among Angels, #24 has an interesting history. In addition to Davis's two Anaheim stints, OF Gary Pettis won one of his two Angel Gold Gloves wearing #24 (1986). Hall-of-Fame OF Rickey Henderson wore #24 during his brief Halos stint in 1997, and masher C.J. Cron wore it during most of his tenure as a young Angel. Additionally, free-agent bust Gary Matthews Jr. claimed #24 in the late 00's; now-retired C Kurt Suzuki had it from 2021-22.

From the left side in 1989, Davis hit .286, 14, 62 in 360 AB. He was .245, 8, 28 in 200 righty AB.

More from Davis's 1989 season: he was California's full-time LF after spending 1988 in CF and RF. As expected from someone who'd only played limited LF in his MLB career, Davis didn't exactly shine defensively, but he was not a disaster. On Opening Day 4/5, Davis walloped a three-run jack off Bobby Thigpen to ice a 6-2 win over the White Sox.

(flip) Of those 22 homers in 1989, seven were three-run shots.

Davis's first two-assist-from-CF inning: 8/12/1983, in the B2nd at Houston. The 23-year-old threw out Craig Reynolds at third and John Mizerock at home—but his Giants still lost 5-2. Thanks, baseball-reference!

As you see in the stats, Davis tripled once in 1989, a B9th, one-out oppo drive off Brewers RP Tony Fossas on 9/7. Davis then attempted to score on 2B Johnny Ray's grounder to third and was erased at the plate with the Angels down 7-1. Oh, well.

AFTER THIS CARD: 1990 saw Davis limited to 112 games by back issues; by season's end he was DHing more often than not, and in January 1991 he moved on to Minnesota on a two-year deal with several salary terms. Now a full-time DH, Davis earned MVP votes with a .277, 29, 93 performance that helped Minnesota to the World Series—which they won, aided by two more longballs off Chili's bat.

Davis fell to 12 homers in 138 games in 1992, then rejoined the Angels for 1Y/$1.75M (plus incentives) that December. He responded with 27 homers and 112 RBI in 1993, and not only did California exercise Davis's $2.4M option for 1994, but they extended him for 3Y/$11.4M in April 1995 (albeit after some contention). Davis averaged .306, 25, 88 from 1994-96.

Needing an arm, the Angels dealt Davis to the Royals for SP Mark Gubicza in October 1996; the now-36-year-old spent 1997 in KC, hit .279, 30, 90, then inked a 3Y/$9.8M deal with the Yankees that December. He missed most of the 1998 season following ankle surgery, however, and though he turned in a decent 1999 season, Davis was anemic in October. Once the Yankees released him that December, he decided 19 seasons, 2,380 hits and 350 homers in MLB was enough.

Since 2012, Davis has worked in MLB as a hitting coach. Oakland, Boston, the Cubs and the Mets (who fired him in May 2021) have employed him.

Charles "Chili" Davis appeared annually in Topps 1982-2000, except 1986 for some reason. He can also be found in 1982, 1988 and 1991 Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, California Angels

Davis_Chili
Topps Pittsburgh Pirates
Topps Pittsburgh Pirates

1/12/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2004 Topps #660 Pittsburgh Pirates Team Card

More Topps Pirates Team Cards: 2001 2003 2005 2006 2007 2010 2011 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

 

The 2002 Pirates finished 10.5 games better than the 100-loss, last-place 2001 squad, and hoped to make an equal jump in 2003 under manager Lloyd McClendon in spite of a coaching overhaul, and McClendon's lame-duck status entering the season.

To that effect, the Bucs brought in veteran outfielders Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders and Matt Stairs on one-year deals, hoping to boost an offense that, in 2002, was the NL's 15th-ranked run-scoring team. SP Jeff Suppan was also brought in on a one-year deal to boost the rotation.

Things looked promising very early, as the 2003 Pirates got off to 4-0 and 7-3 starts, but by July, the team was 10 games under .500 and management began to dump salary.

THIS CARD: Somewhere in this pic (or not) is 2B Pokey Reese, who was expected to be the Pirates' 2B in 2003 but suffered a season-ending thumb injury in mid-May.

Somewhere in this pic is Stairs, who slashed .292/.389/.561 with 20 homers—second-most on the team to Sanders—while collecting exactly $900K. Meanwhile, Reese made $2.5M for six weeks of (mediocre) action. Such is life.

Somewhere in this pic is Julian Tavarez, a regular starter in 2001-02 who joined the Pirates via minors deal in January 2003. Tavarez ended up as a (busy) full-time reliever in '03, and was elevated to closer for the final six weeks following the trade of Mike Williams! Tavarez finished with 11 saves and allowed one home run in 83.2 innings.

(flip) Giles was traded to San Diego 8/26/2003, with then-prospect Jason Bay going to Pittsburgh. Giles was the last of several veterans to be purged by the Bucs after the All-Star break—Lofton, 3B Aramis Ramirez, Suppan, Williams and RP Scott Sauerbeck were all sent packing for commiting the awful sin of having salaries.

Kendall had a better 2003 than I realized. That .325 average ranked sixth in the NL, as did his 191 hits. Still, he would have been traded if not for his huge contract.

Burnett, a 2000 #1 pick. wound up having a decent career as a reliever most notably for the Nationals. Van Benschoten, the eighth overall pick in 2001, posted a 9.20 ERA in 26 major league games (19 starts), all with the Pirates. Oh, well.

AFTER THIS CARD: It took the Pirates 10 more seasons—five of which they finished last—to finally snap their postseason drought, which had grown to 20 seasons by the time the 2013 Pirates won the NL Wild Card. That squad fell in the NLDS to St. Louis 3-2, but Pittsburgh rebounded with Wild Card berths in both 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, those berths coincided with the implementation of the Wild Card Game, and the Pirates were one-and-done both years (to the Giants and Cubs, respectively).

Since then, Pittsburgh has not finished higher than third (in 2016). After 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen was traded after the 2017 season, the Pirates re-entered full rebuild mode; though they managed to finish 82-79 in 2018, the team has played sub-.400 ball each of the past three seasons. Based on their current roster—which again includes McCutchen—that's unlikely to change in 2023. 

CATEGORIES: 2004 Topps, Pittsburgh Pirates

PiratesTeam
Topps Jackie Bradley
Topps Jackie Bradley

1/13/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2017 Topps #245 Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

More Jackie Bradley Jr. Topps Cards: 2013 2014 2014U 2015 2016 2018 2019 2020 2021 2021U 2022

 

Jackie Bradley is a trailblazer of sorts. Much like everyone in the NFL just HAD to include their name suffixes after Robert Griffin III entered the league, it was Bradley who popularized the suffix in MLB for everybody, not just those whose fathers/grandfathers were involved in pro sports and actually NEEDED the distinction.

And for years, I absolutely couldn't STAND it.

I still dislike the practice now, but not to the degree I did in the mid-to-late 2010's. That being said, I just about erupt when announcers include the suffix repeatedly in a short time "Bradley Jr. back to the wall, Bradley Jr. looking up, BRADLEY JR. WITH THE CATCH" * because the whole point of the suffix is to avoid confusion between fathers and sons. 

So unless the player's son or father is on the field, too, a la the Griffeys...DROP THE FRIKKIN' SUFFIX!

I pick some immaterial hills to die on, people. What can I say?

Here, Bradley has just wrapped a 2016 season during which he finally stayed healthy and productive enough to remain in Boston's lineup all season long. The result: 26 bombs, some spectacular center field defense, and his first All-Star berth!

THIS CARD: 2017 Topps usually saved the thin font for the longest names...even with the suffix, it seems like the normal font thickness would have worked here. But hey, maybe they tested it and found it too clunky or something.

Per Getty Images, this pic was shot 6/18/2016 and depicts Bradley's B4th at-bat against Seattle. He homered in that at-bat, and Boston went on to a 6-2 victory.

More from Bradley's 2016 season: he mostly batted ninth early on, then settled into the six-hole for a time, but from the All-Star break onward he was cycled through each of the bottom five spots in the order.

(flip) Respect to Bradley Sr., who sounds like a fine man, but I've already stated my opinion on unnecessary suffixes. Not that either of them care or SHOULD care, obviously.

Bradley played just 74 games for the 2015 Red Sox due to being on the (AAA) Pawtucket shuttle until 7/29. He finished that season as a starter, moving across all three outfield positions.

Bradley's Twitter handle is still active, and he posted as recently as December 2022. His profile also lists his identical Instagram handle, which for whatever reason doesn't appear on this card.

AFTER THIS CARD: Bradley, to date, has not been able to approach his All-Star level of 2016. His average dropped three straight seasons 2017-19, although he won a Gold Glove in Boston's World Championship 2018 season. 

Bradley had a solid (abbreviated) 2020 campaign, batting .283 with seven homers and a .364 OBP in 55 games. That led to a 2Y/$24M deal from Milwaukee (including $9.5M player option for 2022 that was exercised) during Spring Training 2021; Bradley went on to a nightmarish .163/.236/.261 performance that year and was dealt back to Boston for OF Hunter Renfroe in December 2021. 

The Boston/Bradley reunion didn't last long; he was cut in August after batting .210 in 91 games. Bradley soon landed with Toronto and hit .178 in 40 games there, although he did crack a surprising three-run homer off tough Philies lefty Brad Hand on 9/20. At present, Bradley remains a free agent.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has appeared annually in 2013-22 Topps. He's also got a (redundant) 2014 Topps Update card and a 2021 Topps Update card as a new Brewer.

* generic announcer; I've never heard Boston announcer Dave O'Brien unnecessarily add Bradley's suffix

CATEGORIES: 2017 Topps, Boston Red Sox

Bradley_Jackie
Topps Randy Kramer
Topps Randy Kramer

1/14/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #522 Randy Kramer, Pirates

More Randy Kramer Topps Cards: 1990

 

No connection to recent Pirates infielder Kevin Kramer.

1989-90 Topps were rife with guys who spent a few weeks of the previous season in MLB, got a Topps card that winter, then weren't heard from again. I'd wager each club had at least a couple of "few week" dudes.

One such dude was Randy Kramer, a nondescript swingman for the late '80's Pirates who managed to make it into both sets before fading into major league oblivion. In September 1988, Kramer debuted in MLB after parts of seven seasons—most of them statistically uninspiring—on the farms. 

THIS CARD: Most of the airbrushed cards from late-1980's Topps can at least pass for genuine, but not this one. This, uh, land does not look like anywhere a uniformed professional athlete would be—not even to watch somebody else play.

Imagine during a game, some pitcher comes to the set position with a grin like Kramer's on his face. If I'm the batter, I'm faking diarrhea and booking it.

More from Kramer's 1988 season: his MLB debut was 9/11; he delivered two shutout relief innings agains the Phillies. Three more RA followed, then on 10/1 Jim Leyland gave Kramer the start in Game #159 at the Cubs. Though Kramer struck out six in four innings, he also served up a three-run jack to 3B Vance Law, aiding a 9-7 Cubs win.

(flip) No, not THAT Rick Schroeder. Who was known as "Ricky" back then, anyway.

As you see in the stats, Kramer started extensively through the 1985 season while in the Rangers' system. As you also see in the stats...he wasn't exactly dominant.

That Trade, with the Rangers, sent RP Jeff Zaske back to Texas. Zaske had appeared in three games with the 1984 Pirates, but didn't return to MLB before or after the deal.

AFTER THIS CARD: Up for more than just a "few weeks" with the 1989 Bucs, Kramer posted a 3.96 ERA in 35 games (15 starts), even throwing a one-hitter at Cincinnati 5/16! A more confident Kramer got in 22 games with the 1990 Pirates before a late-season trade to the Cubs. 

Kramer worked exclusively in the minors in 1991 (for the Seattle and Atlanta organizations); a rough four-start trial with Seattle in June 1992 marked the end of Kramer's major league career, although he got MiLB run with the 1993 Florida and 1994 Montreal organizations.

Randy Kramer appeared in 1989-90 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kramer_Randy
Topps Tony Pena Jr.
Topps Tony Pena Jr.

1/16/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps Update #78 Tony Pena Jr., Royals

More Tony Pena Jr. Topps Cards: 2008 2009 

 

Not to be confused with Tony Pena, the former Diamondbacks/White Sox reliever from 2006-11.

Tony Pena Sr. was an All-Star catcher in the 80's and 90's who played in five postseasons and two World Series during his 18-season career. And anytime you have a big league catcher who was that good for that long, you want his genes passed on (though you'll stop short of actively breeding him like a horse).

Senior did his part, producing two sons who reached MLB. Francisco Pena lasted parts of five seasons as a big league catcher, and Tony Jr. was briefly the shortstop of the present for the Royals.

Pena, originally a Braves farmhand, joined the Royals organization during Spring Training 2007 and pretty much instantly became their #1 shortstop. He replaced fading incumbent Angel Berroa, less because of his abilities and more because of Berroa's inabilities, but still.

THIS CARD: Topps never referred to Pena as "Jr.", even though most broadcasts and publications did. Perhaps because Senior and Junior do not have the exact same first or middle names, so technically the younger Pena isn't a "Jr". But largely because of Senior, plus the aforementioned reliever of the same name, TSR will employ the suffix.

The signature looks like "Zany Penay", which sounds like a really fun wine to sample.

More from Pena's early 2007 season: he started at SS for the Royals on Opening Day and belted two triples—not sure if that's a MLB first, but I'd wager that no more than two other dudes have ever done that on Opening Day. Pena ran up a 11-game hitting streak from late May into early June, and enjoyed a four-hit, two-RBI game at Oakland 5/15.

(flip) That first major league homer, a pinch-hit solo job belted as a 2006 Brave, was allowed by Pittsburgh's Shawn Chacon 8/22.

That Trade sent RP Erik Cordier from KC to Atlanta; it was executed on Pena's 26th birthday—which also happened to be my 27th birthday.

Who did Bell succeed as Royals manager in May 2005? Tony Pena Sr., that's who. If Senior had lasted two more years, he would have joined Hal McRae as the only Royal to manage his son with the team (in this case, OF Brian McRae, 1991-94).

AFTER THIS CARD: Pena wound up starting 145 games for the 2007 Royals, batting .267 with two homers, five steals, 10—yes, TEN—walks and 23 errors. Pena retained the Royals' shortstop job entering 2008, but his sub-.160 average cost him that job in June and probably would have cost him his roster spot if not for IF Alberto Callaspo's legal issues and 2B Mark Grudzielanek's freak injury.

Pena was able to win a reserve job with the 2009 Royals, but managed to hit even worse than in '08 and missed time with a broken hand. KC finally pulled the plug that July, then surprisingly converted him to pitcher while at AAA Omaha. Pena the pitcher managed to last four more pro seasons with the Giants, Red Sox and White Sox organizations, working as a reliever and a starter and compiling a 19-27, 3.96 record across 161 games (38 starts). But he never made it back to MLB in any role.

Tony Pena Jr. debuted in 2007 Topps Update, then appeared in 2008-09 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps Update, Kansas City Royals

Pena_TonyJr
Topps Season Highlights
Topps Trevor Hoffman

1/17/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2006 Topps Update #175 Season Highlights, Trevor Hoffman

More 2006 Topps Season Highlight Cards: n/a

 

Beginning in 2006, the Season Highlights subset—which had been a regular Topps base set feature dating back to 1997—was transferred to the Updates & Highlights set and would cover highlights from the unfolding season, rather than the previous one.

This meant no set featured any Season Highlights from the year 2005, but it's not like anything noteworthy happened in MLB during the 2005 season.

(Well, except for Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez belting their 400th career homers, Rafael Palmeiro's 3,000th hit, the debut of the Washington Nationals, the premiere of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Andruw Jones socking 51 homers out of nowhere, Dmitri Young homering thrice on Opening Day, Jimmy Rollins' 36-game hit streak, and whatever else I've forgotten in the past 17.5 years.)

Here, the spotlight is shined on venerable Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who joined a very exclusive club in early June 2006.

THIS CARD: Hoffman slammed the door on his original team, the Marlins, that 6/9/2006 evening—though they made him work for it. Hoffman pitched around two hits, including an RBI double by 3B Wes Helms, to wrap up the 3-2 win.

With 450 saves, Hoffman joined a club that, in 2006, consisted of exactly one man: Lee Smith, who saved 478 games from 1980-1997.

This is one of 11 Season Highlight cards found in 2006 Topps Updates & Highlights. Back in these days, subsets were grouped together on checklists rather than scattered randomly as they are today, which allowed me to tally the SH cards in about six seconds.

(flip) Hoffman did soon pass Smith, on 9/24/2006. But by then, production of this set was probably over, so no corresponding SH card.

Hoffman finished 2006 with an NL-high 46 saves in 51 chances, which earned him a second-place finish in NL Cy Young Award voting (behind Arizona SP Brandon Webb). More importantly, Hoffman contributed to a second straight postseason berth for the Padres.

I dislike the header above Hoffman's accrued stats at the time of his milestone. First off, it's redundant because the date and opponent are already listed in and above the blurb. Second, it gives the appearance that Hoffman pitched 779 games, etc. on 6/9/2006 alone. Hopefully it's just a misprint...but I doubt it.

AFTER THIS CARD: Hoffman, who finished up in 2010 with 601 saves, reigned as MLB's all-time leader in that category for a tick under five years—legendary Yankee Mariano Rivera closed out his 602nd game 9/19/2011. Rivera advanced the record to 652 before retiring after the 2013 season, but Hoffman—a 2018 Hall-of-Fame inductee—resides comfortably in second place; the nearest active pitcher is pushing 35 and over 200 saves behind him.

CATEGORIES: 2006 Topps Update, Subsets

Highlights_Hoffman
Topps Ken Griffey Jr.
Topps Ken Griffey Jr.

1/18/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #440 Ken Griffey Jr., Reds

More Ken Griffey Jr. Topps Cards: 1989T 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2006 2007 2008 2008U 2009 2009U 2010

 

Griffey, the 1990's most idolized, imitated and iconic major leaguer, endured a litany of physical setbacks in the early 2000's that robbed him of his superstar status. Griffey missed one-third of 2001 (torn left hamstring), more than half of 2002 (torn right hamstring) and two-thirds of 2003 (dislocated right shoulder, right ankle surgery), but hoped to break the streak of misfortune in 2004.

That didn't happen. 34-year-old Griffey wound up on the shelf for half of 2004 (another torn right hamstring), although when he did play, he was productive enough to return to the All-Star Game after a three-season absence. Additionally, Griffey took Cardinals SP Matt Morris deep for career homer #500 on 6/20.

THIS CARD: While I appreciate variety in front images, Griffey should have never been depicted off the field in any season he missed extensive time—as he did in 2004.

That being said, it's good to see Junior smiling; he didn't seem to do nearly as much of that as a Cincinnati Red as he did in Seattle. Of course, he was smashing 50 homers a year for the contending Mariners as opposed to repeatedly injuring himself for the middling Reds.

More from Griffey's 2004 season: he sealed his (starting) All-Star nod by slugging .721 (not a misprint) from 5/6 thru 6/6, homering 14 times in 29 games! Unfortunately, he was hurt three days prior to the Classic and did not play; Houston OF Carlos Beltran replaced him in the lineup. Griffey returned for three games in early August before his right hamstring went from "partially" to "fully" torn.

(flip) No blurb, so we'll supply one: Griffey homered twice against the Brewers 6/6, marking the 50th multi-homer game of his career.

Check out Griffey's 1996 and 1998 RBI totals: imagine driving in over 140 runs and not even leading your league in that department.

Check out Griffey's 1993 stat line; I never knew he had a season with more walks than strikeouts. But there ya go! 

AFTER THIS CARD: While Griffey managed to avoid further catastrophic injuries for the rest of his career, he maxed out at 144 games in 2007, which also happened to be his next (and final) All-Star appearance. The former video game star put together a 35-homer season in 2005 and a 30-homer season in 2007, but (understandably and obviously) his days of .300, 45, 140-level production were well in the past.

Griffey—who switched positions (CF to RF) and uniform numbers (#30 to #3) for 2007—remained with the Reds until a Deadline swap to the White Sox in 2008. About six weeks prior on 6/9/2008, he took Florida's Mark Hendrickson deep for career homer #600! The 39-year-old rejoined the Mariners as a free agent in February 2009 (1Y/$2M plus bonuses).

Now primarily a DH, Griffey hit .214, 19, 57 for a 2009 Mariners team that jumped to 85 wins from 61 in 2008. Surprisingly, he was brought back for 2010 (1Y/$2.35M plus bonuses), but he had absolutely nothing left at that point (.184, 0 home runs in 33 games) and by late May, wasn't playing.

 

Unwilling to be a further distraction, Junior called it quits June 2 via statement—just one of many low points for the 2010 Mariners.—finishing up with 630 roundtrippers. We'll forever wonder how many more he'd have had he not lost well over three full seasons worth of games on the disabled list.

In January 2016, Griffey fell three votes short of becoming the Hall of Fame's first unanimous electee. 

 

Ken Griffey, Jr. debuted in 1989 Topps Traded, then appeared in Topps annually from 1990-2010. he also can be found in 2008-09 Topps Updates & Highlights.

CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Cincinnati Reds

GriffeyJr
Topps Ben Grieve
Topps Draft Picks

1/19/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps Traded #44 Ben Grieve, Draft Pick

More Ben Grieve Topps Cards: 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2004T 2005

 

Ben Grieve was one of the most-hyped prospects of the 1990's—batting .486 as a HS senior and slugging .640 as a 21-year-old minor leaguer will do that. Grieve's presence in the Oakland farm system was a source of hope for the then-lowly franchise as they trotted out the likes of Mike Oquist to start games and Mike Aldrete to bat cleanup (YES, that happened more than once during the mid-1990's.)

In fact, Grieve's status as future A's savior was not all unlike Buster Posey's status as future savior of my Giants upon his 2008 draft selection. 

While Posey—with the help of Tim Lincecum and a few others—was able to "save" the middling Giants, Grieve never advanced past a supporting role for the Athletics or any of the other clubs who later employed him. However, he still had a good MLB career, arguably better than that of any other Top-11 pick in the 1994 Draft.

THIS CARD: 1994 Topps Traded retroactively confused the heck out of me by featuring 1994 draftees using what ended up as the 1995 Topps Draft Pick design. When you recall that 1995 Topps Traded maintained that design as well, you realize that 1994 draftees have two separate Topps Draft Pick cards with the same design that Topps gave some 1995 draftees as well.

To channel my inner Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, that outcome—intentional or otherwise—should have led to a change in somebody's employment status.

And while I'm pontificating: WHY were the same Draft Picks included in both the '94 Traded and the '95 base sets? Totally pointless. At least the Traded set went on hiatus from 1996-98, putting the brakes on the redundancy.

(flip) Long before he was the Rangers general manager (1984-94), Tom Grieve was the 6th overall pick in the 1966 Draft by the Washington Senators, who later became the Texas Rangers. Grieve played outfield in MLB throughout the 1970s, also mostly for the Rangers. He was elected to the team's Hall of Fame in 2010.

The only player selected ahead of Grieve in the 1994 Draft was SP Paul Wilson (Mets). Despite much hype of his own, Wilson was never much more than an average MLB pitcher—and even then not for a very long time. It's never good when a #1 overall pick is best remembered for this.

Four other father/son duos have joined the Grieves as #1 picks; here's a rundown. Before you ask, no, Ken Griffey Sr. was a #29 pick (in 1969) and Bobby Bonds turned pro in 1964, a year before the Draft was instituted.

AFTER THIS CARD: Grieve debuted for Oakland in late 1997; he went on to make the 1998 AL All-Star team and win 1998 AL Rookie of the Year honors after batting .288, 18, 89. Despite defensive challenges, Grieve enjoyed two more very good years with the up-and-coming A's before joining Tampa Bay via trade in January 2001; for whatever reason he declined offensively with the 2001-03 D'Rays and never recovered.

Grieve lost most of 2003 to the DL (thumb infection, blood clot in his arm), and after a go with the 2004 Brewers and short stints with the 2004-05 Cubs—sandwiching a lengthy stint at AAA Iowa—Grieve's MLB career ended at age 29. 

Ben Grieve debuted in 1994 Topps Traded, then appeared in the 1995-2005 base sets. Grieve also shows up in 2004 Topps Traded & Rookies as a new Brewer.

CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps Traded, Draft Picks

GrieveDP
Topps Jon Lester
Topps Jon Lester

1/21/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps Update #142 Jon Lester, Athletics

More Jon Lester Topps Cards: 2006U 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2021U 2022

 

Back in July 2014, when the Red Sox decided to trade pending free agent SP Jon Lester rather than risk losing him in free agency that winter, just about every club within reasonable reach of a postseason berth took notice—it's not very often that affordable #1 starters with Lester's resume become available during the season.

So when Oakland, out of all those clubs, won the Lester sweepstakes 7/31, the baseball world—shoot, the sports world—collectively reeled, left agape in varying degrees of shock. The Billy Beane Athletics simply didn't do blockbuster trades, except this time they did.

Years later, and for me anyway, it's still hard to say if Oakland made the right move in trading for Lester—we can never know how they would have fared had they held on to OF Yoenis Cespedes and we can never know if Cespedes would have still suffered the myriad injuries he did after leaving Oakland. But it's still fun to debate...

THIS CARD: However the trade worked out, one thing cannot be denied—Lester managed to look both commanding and strange in his new Oakland garb. Though not so strange now that he's been with three other clubs since leaving the A's.

Per Getty Images, this pic was shot 8/2/2014, in the T1st of Lester's Athletics debut (which is detailed below).

More from Lester's mid-2014 season: he was 10-7, 2.52 and fresh off his third All-Star berth at the time of the trade. In Lester's first start for the A's 8/2, he scattered nine hits and three runs across 6.2 innings in beating the Royals—I even blogged about it. Five days later, Lester shut out the Twins on three hits! (Both were home starts, BTW.)

(flip) After being dominated by Lester on 5/3, it's no WONDER Oakland sought to acquire him! The lone hit he gave up that day was an oppo single by OF Craig Gentry leading off the T3rd. Lester whiffed former teammate OF Josh Reddick thrice that day, and though Oakland rallied for three in the T9th against relievers Chris Capuano and Koji Uehara, the Sox held on for the 6-3 win.

As mentioned, Cespedes went to Boston for Lester (and OF Jonny Gomes). In a Red Sox uniform, Cespedes was not the force he'd been for Oakland (slashline of .269/.296/.423 in 51 games to close 2014), and the Sox shipped him (and two others) to Detroit for SP Rick Porcello that December.

While Lester would help lead the 2016 Cubs to World Series glory and pitch effectively into the 2020's, Cespedes was essentially finished as a reliable big league contributor after 2016, done in by several injuries while with the Mets.

More on the Rookie Fact: 1993 Boston rookie SP Aaron Sele won his first six decisions on his way to 148 lifetime W's for six clubs.

AFTER THIS CARD: A 6Y/$155M deal brought Lester to the Cubs in December 2014, and after battling through a hard-luck 2015 campaign, he went 19-5, 2.44 and made the 2016 NL All-Star team! Lester went on to win a game in all three of the Cubs' postseason series that year, claiming the NLCS MVP award and eventually helping Chicago win the '16 World Series...it had been a while for them.

 

After an up-and-down 2017 during which he battled a lat injury, Lester excelled (in limited innings, like virtually every SP in today's game) in 2018, winning 18 games to tie for the NL lead. He slipped a bit in 2019 and was wildly inconsistent in 2020 (3-3, 5.16 in 12 starts despite allowing one run or fewer in six of them); Chicago opted not to re-sign the soon-to-be-37-year-old.

Lester split his final season between the Nationals and Cardinals; his final victory of 2021 proved to be the 200th and final victory of his career, as he retired in January 2022.

 

Jon Lester debuted in 2006 Topps Updates & Highlights, and appeared annually in the base set 2007-22 (yes, he got a Sunset card!). He can also be found in 2014 and 2021 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps Update, Oakland Athletics

Lester
Topps Tommy Milone
Topps Tommy Milone

1/22/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2017 Topps Update #85 Tommy Milone, Mets

More Tom/Tommy Milone Topps Cards: 2012 2012U 2013 2014 2015U 2016

 

Once upon a time, it seemed as if Tom aka "Tommy" Milone was on his way to a fine major league career. He had been a 13-game winner as a rookie and owned a 40-28, 3.98 line across his first four extended MLB seasons (2012-15) despite lacking overpowering stuff.

However, Milone slipped after that, and while he continues to receive big league opportunities to this day, he has not had solid MLB footing since that 2015 season—more on that below. Here, Milone has landed with the Mets after being waived by the Brewers in May 2017. Still just 30, he began his Mets tenure in the rotation until spraining his left knee sometime before, during or after his third outing.

THIS CARD: Milone is likely about to deliver either his mid-80's fastball or his changeup—his two primary pitches. He also has a curveball, an infrequent two-seamer (added in 2014) and a slider (added in 2016).

According to old reliable Getty Images, we're seeing Milone in his 5/10/2017 Mets debut; more on that below.

More from Milone's mid-2017 season: after a shaky six-game Milwaukee stint, Milone began his Mets career strong, turning in a five-inning, two-run start against the Giants 5/10—although San Francisco rallied against CL Jeurys Familia and beat New York 6-5. From there Milone struggled, especially on 5/21 when he coughed up eight runs (seven earned) to the Angels in 1.1 innings. He hit the DL the next day and wasn't seen again until late August.

(flip) Milone's Twitter account is active, though there's no new public posts since June 2021. As for his IG account, it was last updated publicly 11 weeks ago.

The Brewers acquired Milone on a 1Y/$1.25M (plus incentives) deal in December 2016, but he allowed 15 earned runs and 29 hits in 21 innings (6.43 ERA) and was waived in early May. 

Duda, the Mets' starting 1B since 2011, was traded to the Rays 7/27/2017 while Milone was still on the DL. At least he and Milone got to play three more games together. 

That RBI single by Milone was his first and only hit of '17 (in nine at-bats). He'd been a decent hitter prior to '17, with six hits—including a homer—in 27 career at-bats (.222). But he's gone 1-for-18 with nine K since then.

AFTER THIS CARD: Since leaving the Mets, Milone has made too many stops to be listed here. But what I can tell you is that he's gone 8-16, 5.42 in 50 games (20 starts) for six teams if you count his two Seattle stints separately. Milone is now less than a month from 36, and it appears that his pro career will continue in 2023 as he re-upped with the Mariners on a MiLB deal in December 2022. 

Tommy Milone has appeared in 2012-14 and 2016 Topps, as well as 2012, 2015 and 2017 Topps Update. (His 2012 Topps card identifies him as "Tom Milone".)

CATEGORIES: 2017 Topps Update, New York Mets

Milone
Topps Juan Gonzalez
Topps Juan Gonzalez

1/23/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #27 Juan Gonzalez, Rangers

More Juan Gonzalez Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2000T 2001 2001T 2002 2002T 2003 2004 2005

 

Imagine a player who:

  • Won two league home run titles.

  • Won two league MVP awards, and finished Top Five two other times.

  • Enjoyed five seasons with 40+ homers.

  • Enjoyed five seasons with 120+ RBI, including one with 157.

  • Hit (well) over .300 five times.

  • Slugged over .600 four times.

  • Finished his career with a .295 average, 434 homers and 1,404 RBI.

  • Did most of his damage for one team, which he led to its first-ever postseason berth.

  • Did most of his damage despite near-annual visits to the disabled list.

  • Had a good reputation throughout baseball.

Does that sound like a Hall-of-Fame player to you?

That's subjective, but you can't argue said player would have an excellent case for Cooperstown—under ordinary circumstances. And there wasn't much ordinary about MLB's Steroid Era, which is when longtime Rangers masher Juan Gonzalez—the player we "imagined" above—flourished.

Later on, Gonzalez was named in connection with PEDs in both the 2005 book Juiced as well as the infamous 2007 Mitchell Report, leading to a stunning and decisive lack of support from the Hall of Fame voters.

That being said, however he achieved what he did, Gonzalez was one of the top hitters of the 1990's. Here, he's fresh off his first season as a MLB regular, starting 133 games for the 1991 Rangers after brief trials in 1989 and 1990. Gonzalez led the club in homers despite A) the presence of several other mashers, B) being just 21, and C) not debuting until 4/26, the team's 12th game.

THIS CARD: Here, we see "Igor" showcasing one of his less-acclaimed skillz—throwing. He had a strong arm, and later in his career after shifting to RF full-time, he averaged about 10 assists per year. 

Gonzalez appears to be making a play in left field, where he started 44 times in 1991. He also made 87 starts​ as one of the game's largest center fielders. Once upon a time, I capably handled center in my old softball league at 6'2", 300+ pounds, so why have I never viewed Gonzalez as capable of handling the position? I have issues.

More from Gonzalez's 1991 season: he missed the first few weeks recovering from torn cartilage in his right knee, but quickly made an impact for Texas by homering in his first game back 4/26! In fact, Gonzalez hit .303 in the first half before falling off to .233 after the Break. Among American Leaguers, only Oakland's Canseco (28) topped Gonzalez's 20 road homers in '91.

(flip) Weirdly, but likely unintentionally, Gonzalez received eight Topps cards with a double-digit card number during his 16-card run. And none of the eight were numbered 19 or 22, his uniform numbers—I have NO clue how Gonzalez ended up "in the front" of so many Topps sets.

Old Arlington Stadium, where Gonzalez hit .267, 7, 40 across 73 games in 1991...that's quite a home/road power disparity which there's no clear explanation for.

Gastonia? Forget the minor league team...does that location even still exist???

AFTER THIS CARD: Gonzalez was the AL home run champ in both 1992 and 1993, and he was  named AL MVP in both 1996 and 1998. Texas locked him up for 5Y/$30M in February 1994, a deal which grew to 7Y/$45M with two exercised club options for 1999 and 2000.

While all that was happening, however, Gonzalez was making regular trips to the disabled list; from 1993 through the end of his career, Igor only managed to reach 150+ games once, in 1998. He went a combined 3-for-23 in the 1998-99 postseason—doubly stunning considering how great he was during the 1996 postseason (five homers in 16 at-bats).

After the 1999 season—one in which 29-year-old Gonzalez batted .326, 39, 128 in 144 games—Texas shocked baseball by trading the pending free agent to Detroit in a nine-player blockbuster. 

Gonzalez did not enjoy his time with the Tigers, rejected a mega-extension during the season, had a down year statistically, then signed with Cleveland for 1Y/$10M in January 2001. He went on to bat .325, 35, 140 that year, his last season among baseball's elite.

Texas brought "Juan Gone" back for 2Y/$22M in January 2002, but he was limited to eight homers in 70 games that year by a twice-injured right thumb. He bounced back with a .294, 24, 70 showing in 2003, but missed practically the entire second half with a right calf injury. The Royals brought Gonzalez onboard in January 2004 (1Y/$4.5M), but he was a huge disappointment for that squad (.276, 5, 17, last played 5/22 due to a back strain).

On a MiLB deal, Gonzalez won a job with the 2005 Indians but didn't debut until 5/31 due to a right hamstring strain. In his first MLB at-bat in over a year, Gonzalez grounded to third, completely tore the hamstring, and was done for the season just like that. Other than a Spring audition with the 2008 Cardinals that was—you guessed it—interrupted by injury (abdominal strain), Gonzalez was done in MLB.

The Rangers elected Gonzalez to their Hall of Fame in 2013, but for whatever reason, he wouldn't participate and is now pretty much a forgotten man in MLB...sad.

Juan Gonzalez appeared annually in Topps 1990-2005.

CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, Texas Rangers

Gonzalez_Juan
Topps Larry Andersen
Topps Larry Andersen

1/24/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1987 Topps #503 Larry Andersen, Astros

More Larry Andersen Topps Cards: 1988 1989 1991 1992 

As someone who considers himself "smart" and a "thinker", it bothers me that until I opened the Baseball Book of Quotations, it never dawned on me that we park on driveways and drive on parkways—a quote supplied by a pitcher who was FULL of 'em, Larry Andersen.

Andersen is better known today for his work as a Phillies broadcaster, and for appearing in every "lopsided baseball trade" countdown produced in the past three decades. But he was a fine big league pitcher for 17 seasons, most of it as a middle reliever. Andersen initally started games as an Indians prospect in the early 1970's, but 698 of his 699 MLB appearances were out of the bullpen.

After some career instability from 1975-82, Andersen established himself as a reliable reliever with the 1983-84 Phillies. Released by Philadelphia in early 1986, Andersen joined the Astros and delivered 64.2 innings of superb long/middle relief. He allowed just two homers over those 64.2 innings!

THIS CARD: I freely admit that, when I first got my hands on 1987 Topps in the early 1990's, I mistook the Astrodome in the team logo for a knit cap. Why in the world the word "Astros" would wear a knit cap, who knows.

Andersen was never a real hard thrower; here, he's about to deliver his signature pitch, the slider—more on that here—his high-80's fastball, or possibly the curve or splitter he occasionally let loose. As the image suggests, Andersen came from a three-quarters angle.

More from Andersen's 1986 season: the Phillies let him go on 5/13 (four days after they cut future postseason legend Dave Stewart), and the Astros swooped in three days later. In 1986, Andersen worked two or more innings 18 times, with a season-high 4.1 frames at Philadelphia on 7/25. He allowed just one earned run across nine September/October appearances. 

(flip) In that 1982 start—the lone start of his MLB career—Andersen allowed four earned runs and nine hits across 4.2 innings to the Red Sox 5/19. His Mariners fell 6-5 in 12 innings.

Even if I were to try, there's just simply no way Larry Andersen's 1971 high school stats are available anywhere online. Hell, there's no guarantee the high school itself is even still around.

As you see, Andersen was born in Portland, Oregon. He had the unusual distinction of playing for the AAA Portland Beavers for three different organizations (1978 Indians, 1980 Pirates, 1983 Phillies). More on that oddity here.

AFTER THIS CARD: Andersen remained a top contributor in the Astros bullpen until 8/30/1990, when he was famously swapped to Boston for then-prospect Jeff Bagwell. Some like to call this trade "foolish" or worse,​ but I promise you—NOBODY expected Bagwell's future to include enshrinement in Cooperstown when the trade was made. It's the chance you take when you are trying to win now.

(And remember: the Red Sox still won three World Series titles before the Astros won one.)

In December 1990, Andersen joined San Diego on a 2Y/$4.4M deal, but both seasons were shortened by injury—most notably a herniated disc in his neck that sidelined him twice in 1991 even as Andersen racked up a career-high 13 saves. His final two seasons were spent back with the Phillies, whom he helped return to the World Series in 1993 with a 2.92 ERA in 64 games at age 40! Andersen's 29 games pitched in 1994 would be his last in MLB. 

Andersen coached in the Philadelphia system 1995-97 before becoming a (mostly) color commentator for the Phillies in 1998; he remains in that role today, albeit with a reduced workload. Click here for Andersen's comparisons of the 1983 and 1993 NL Champion Phillies.

Larry Andersen appeared in Topps sporadically: 1978, 1980, 1982-83, 1985-89 and 1991-92. He really deserved 1990 and 1994 Topps cards as well, but what can you do...

CATEGORIES: 1987 Topps, Houston Astros

Andersen
Topps Wade Miller
Topps Wade Miller

1/26/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #580 Wade Miller, Red Sox

More Wade Miller Topps Cards: 2002 2003 2004

Raise your hand if you ever knew Wade Miller played for anybody except the Astros.

Raise your hand if you remember who Wade Miller even is.

If your hand stayed down for the second qualification, that's too bad, because during the early 2000's, Miller was one of the better—if not best—young righties in the National League. A #20 pick (in 1996 by Houston) who made good, Miller reached the majors in 1999 at age 22 and was up to stay by mid-2000. 

Miller averaged 15 wins annually for the 2001-03 Astros, and wasn't far off that pace in 2004 when a late June shoulder strain ended his season. Here, Miller's just joined the defending World Champion Red Sox after Houston surprisingly non-tendered him.

 

THIS CARD: Miller in a classic STUN front image. He was but one of several STUN Red Sox in 2005 Topps—now that the Sox were champs, everybody wanted to head to Fenway Park. (Specifically, P John Halama, SP David Wells and OF Jay Payton were the new Boston additions receiving STUN front images along with Miller.)

Miller shows us his grip for...something; I can't be sure what because I've ALWAYS stunk at identifying any pitch except circle changeups. I CAN tell you that Miller, in his heyday, featured a 96-MPH four-seamer, a slightly slower two-seamer, a slider, curve and changeup.

More from Miller's early 2005 season: he entered the year not fully recovered from the aforementioned shoulder strain and did not debut until 5/8. Miller was mostly solid in his five starts that month, going 2-1, 4.85 with 20 K and 22 hits allowed in 26 innings. On 5/31, he beat the visiting Orioles with seven innings of one-run ball.

(flip) Instead of the redundant 3.87 career ERA—impressive as it may be considering all but the first of his home starts came at Minute Maid Park—Topps could have told you about Miller's lifetime win percentage of .598. At the time, that was the seventh-best in Astros history (50 decisions), 

Note Miller's annual K totals; it's a bit surprising that those totals weren't higher given his stuff and his usage. Granted, it was a different era 20 years ago, but Adam Dunn and Richie Sexson WERE big-league regulars by then. (Miller did punch out 14 Cubs at Wrigley Field on 5/30/2003, so he was certainly capable.)

Miller's dominant season-ending stretch lowered his 2004 ERA from 3.99 to 3.35. He went 2-1 in those four starts, even gutting out 120 pitches in beating the visiting Angels 6/20!

AFTER THIS CARD: Very early on, Miller was privy to high pitch counts, as Astros manager Larry Dierker was known for leaning heavily on his starters—Dierker himself was a workhorse during his long career as an Astros starter 1965-76. While no one can conclusively blame young Miller's workload for the injury issues in his late twenties...they certainly didn't help.

In the end, Miller was only able to give the '05 Red Sox 16 starts, only about nine of which could be considered "good". His season ended 8/8 (torn labrum), and he was not re-signed for 2006. The Cubs signed Miller to successive one-year contracts in January and November 2006; in between, the 30-year-old recuperated from his labrum surgery, eventually giving Chicago five fair-to-shaky starts in late '06.

 

Miller made three ineffective starts for the Cubs in April 2007, hit the DL—officially with back spasms; unofficially with a questionable shoulder—displayed poor velocity while rehabbing, and was released in August. Other than an unsuccessful Spring audition for the 2009 Blue Jays, Miller's pro career was over well before anyone anticipated.

Wade Miller appeared in 2002-05 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Boston Red Sox

Miller_Wade
Topps Matt Mantei
Topps Matt Mantei

1/27/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2003 Topps #532 Matt Mantei, Diamondbacks

More Matt Mantei Topps Cards: 1999T 2000 2001 2004

Excellent ninth-inning work from Mantei, the onetime Marlins middleman who was eventually elevated to closer, helped the 1999 D'Backs reach the postseason in their second year of play—much of that success at the expense of my (division rival) Giants, but hey, that's baseball.

The year 2000 was not as smooth for Arizona or Mantei; he was DL'd twice (biceps tendinitis in April, right shoulder weakness in May) and limited to just 17 saves in 20 chances. Still, he received a 4Y/$22M deal (including a player option for 2004 that was exercised) from the D'Backs in January 2001—only to lose almost that entire World Championship season to a torn UCL.

But here, the 29-year-old has battled his way back to the mound. Mantei's final 2002 numbers weren't all that spectacular, but 11 of his final 13 outings of the year were scoreless.

THIS CARD: Mantei is set to throw either his mid-90's heat (he could reach 100 as a youngster), or his sharp overhand curve, or maybe his less-impressive slider which he added in 1999.

Other notable #31's in Arizona history include: 2018 closer Brad Boxberger and P Ian Kennedy during both of his monumentally diversified D'Back stints (2010-13, 2022).

More from Mantei's 2002 season: sources say he probably would have debuted even sooner than he did (6/28) had the Snakes not faced a roster crunch early on. Used mostly as an eighth-inning man, Mantei did not allow a run across his first seven outings and on 8/21, he finished off a blowout home win over the Reds by striking out the side in order...albeit after allowing Austin Kearns' leadoff HR.

(flip) The 1997 stat column is missing because Mantei didn't play in MLB that year (rotator cuff surgery). Though he received a World Series ring from the Marlins, he doesn't exactly flaunt it.

As you see in the bio info, Mantei was a #25 pick by Seattle who beat the odds to flourish in MLB, albeit relatively briefly. He came to the Marlins via the 1994 Rule V Draft but didn't spend all of 1995 on the Marlins roster—a bad back delayed his debut and hastened his finale that year.

From 1995-2002, the only MLB pitchers with a better K/9 rate than Mantei (230 IP): Billy Wagner, Randy Johnson, Armando Benitez and John "7-Train" Rocker.

AFTER THIS CARD: Mostly healthy in 2003—he lost June to a shoulder sprain—Mantei re-claimed his closer's job in Spring Training and saved 29 games (in 32 chances) for Arizona! Sadly, his 2004  season was essentially a washout—he started horribly, was demoted from closing in May, then underwent season-ending surgery (bone spur in shoulder) in June.

That winter, Mantei joined the defending champion Red Sox (1Y/$750K), but less than a month into the 2005 season he badly sprained an ankle ligament backing up 3B on a double by Baltimore C Javy Lopez. Mantei initially pitched—and pitched well—through the pain, but his effectiveness waned over time; cue another season-ending operation for the frustrated vet.

 

Mantei attempted to come back with the 2006 and 2008 Tigers, both helmed by his old Marlins manager Jim Leyland, but fell short each time. Mantei finished up with 93 saves...and the equivalent of four seasons lost to 11 disabled list visits.

 

Matt Mantei debuted in 1999 Topps Traded, then appeared in the base set 2000-01 and 2003-05. 1999 Fleer and Pacific have Mantei as a Marlin; only 2005 Topps Total has him with Boston.

CATEGORIES: 2003 Topps, Arizona Diamondbacks

Mantei
Topps Bob Melvin
Topps Bob Melvin

1/28/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #249 Bob Melvin, Orioles

More Bob Melvin Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1992 2004 2005 2005U 2006 2007 2008 2009

Sometimes in life, people spend years as nothing more than casual acquaintances and then one day, a friendship—or even a relationship—develops. I know this firsthand; my longtime (now ex) partner and the mother of my child was acquainted with me for over six months before we ever exchanged anything more than greetings in passing.

Sometimes in card collecting, for whatever reason, we end up becoming huge fans of anonymous players whose autograph might be worth less than the pen used to sign it. That's something I have experience with as well—as a kid, I didn't think of Bob Melvin as anything other than some nomadic backup catcher.

But now, as an adult, I've grown to respect and applaud him more than just about anybody else in MLB. Melvin—the former A's and current Padres manager—is as quality of a sports personality as I've ever been exposed to. I'm not aware of any player, coach, reporter, etc. to speak unfavorably about Melvin (publicly, anyway), which is not the case for most of his Oakland predecessors.

Here, Melvin the player has closed the book on his sixth MLB season—second with the Orioles. Sharing time with the disappointing Mickey Tettleton, Melvin set or tied several career-highs in 1990 thanks to increased playing time thanks to Tettleton's slump. The O's rewarded Melvin with a 2Y/$1.55M deal that December—good dollars for a part-time catcher in 1990.

THIS CARD: I'm willing to bet I don't own any other baseball cards featuring somebody's chin on the knob of the bat. Maybe teammate Billy Ripken got to the bat and Melvin is just playing censor.

33 years later and Melvin doesn't look much different than he does in this image. I'm not sure if I'm complimenting or knocking him when I say that; I'm not trying to do either, just stating a fact.

More from Melvin's 1990 season: he started 70 times for Baltimore, including seven straight in July, and committed just one error all season! Oddly, injuries forced Melvin to enter two separate games in the first inning (5/25 and 9/23); he also produced a B10th, walk-off sacrifice fly against Milwaukee in the latter affair! *

(flip) Melvin never hit a "grannie" in the bigs; not sure about his lifetime MiLB total—even current minor league splits aren't easy to find unless you write Topps blurbs, evidently. (BTW, AA Birmingham, currently a White Sox affiliate, was a Tigers affiliate in 1982.)

Those 17 September/October hits came in 54 at-bats (.315); the offensively-challenged Melvin  even produced a pair of three-hit games in that period! 

Check out the numerous career-highs Melvin set (or tied) in 1990; except for average, he never really approached those figures again.

AFTER THIS CARD: Melvin shared time with young C Chris Hoiles in 1991, but with Hoiles ready for full-time work, Melvin was traded to the Royals in December 1991. He was little-used by the 1992 Royals (32 games), and the 97 games Melvin split between the Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox 1993-94 would be his last in MLB (though he was with the Yankees' AAA team, Columbus, in 1995).

Next, Melvin held various positions in the Brewers organization before serving as a bench coach for the Brewers, Tigers and D'Backs 1999-2002. Seattle hired him to manage in November 2002; there, Melvin won 93 games in 2003—only to be fired after losing 99 games in 2004. Melvin quickly took over Arizona and guided them to the 2007 postseason...but was canned in May 2009.

In June 2011, Melvin succeeded the fired Bob Geren as Athetics manager. Despite essentially renting his best players, Melvin secured six postseason berths in 10 full Oakland seasons, passing Tony LaRussa for the Oakland A's most managerial wins ever in June 2021.

Melvin accepted a three-year deal to manage San Diego in November 2021; in 2022 he led that high-priced squad to its deepest postseason run in 24 years despite missing 11 games (prostate surgery) and the season-long absence of its best all-round player, Fernando Tatis Jr.

Melvin is a three-time Manager of the Year award winner (2007 NL; 2012 and 2018 AL).

Bob Melvin appeared in 1986-92 Topps as a player, and in 2004-09 Topps plus 2005 Topps Updates & Highlights as a manager.

* Brewers SP Teddy Higuera went all 10 innings in defeat that day.

CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Baltimore Orioles

Melvin
Topps Allen Craig All-Star
Topps Allen Craig

1/29/23 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2013 Topps Update #221 Allen Craig, All-Star

More Allen Craig All-Star Topps Cards: n/a

In 2013, Cardinals outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig was a (deserving) NL All-Star.

A little over two years later, Craig had played his final major league game at 31. He was not done in by a serious injury or illness or scandal. He just simply lost the ability to hit major league pitching after being traded to the Red Sox in mid-2014.

But we're here today to reflect upon Craig the 2013 NL All-Star, not the confounding end to his big league career. 

THIS CARD: Typically, Topps uses images of All-Stars in their "festivities" uniform (from the day before the Classic) when said star doesn't make it into the actual game. But Craig did get some game action, pinch-hitting for DH Michael Cuddyer in the B8th. He saw six pitches, so there was opportunity for a game photo in his Cardinals garb.

Craig has been out of the game so long, after such a brief run as a star, that I had completely forgotten what he looked like. I DID remember his ethnicity, at least.

As the logo suggests, the 2013 All-Star Game was held at Citi Field, home of the Mets—it had been 49 years since a home of the Mets had hosted the ASG (Shea Stadum's debut season of 1964). Despite multiple modifications to the extreme pitcher's park in 2012, it was a low-scoring Midsummer Classic won by the AL 3-0.

(flip) That .489 average/RISP dropped to .454 by year's end, but obviously that's still extraordinary. Craig was first in MLB in that department, with Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (.443) the only other player remotely close to him. 

In that at-bat, Craig—with one down and the bases empty—faced the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. Craig lined out to LF Alex Gordon (Royals) on a 2-2 cutter that leaked out over the plate; it was a good at-bat overall.

Among NLers, only Cardinals teammate Yadier Molina (.341) owned a better first-half batting average than Craig, who finished the year in eighth place at .315.

AFTER THIS CARD: Not only did Craig never sniff another All-Star Game, but—as we alluded to above—he didn't last much longer in MLB, period. Dealt to Boston at the 2014 Deadline, Craig went 24-for-173 (.139) with two homers in 65 games with the 2014-15 Red Sox.

Though he toiled in the minors thru 2018, Craig never received another big league opportunity. He finally retired during Spring Training 2019.

Allen Craig received an All-Star card in 2013 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2013 Topps Update, All-Stars

CraigAS
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