Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, June 2014

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6/3/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps Update #50 Jason Smith, Diamondbacks

 

More Jason Smith Topps Cards: N/A

 

The method used to select Card Of The Day is absolutely randomized, yet 1990 and 2007 Topps keep "landing". We promise to skip those two sets for each of the next eight posts to restore some balance.

 

On to Smith: when his name came up for selection, I could not remember what team(s) he'd been with in 2006-07 in order to extract his card for scanning purposes. I searched the Rays...nope...the Rockies...nope...finally, I hit paydirt with 'Zona. Smith began as an 18-year-old shortstop in the Cubs system, where he was usually good for 20-40 errors per year—not a misprint. (I know you cannot solely measure a player's defensive prowess by his error tally; even still, those are astronomical totals.)

 

Only after moving on to the Tampa and Detroit systems did Smith begin to branch out around the diamond; he'd never have a set position for the rest of his pro career. Smith joined Tampa as a player-to-be-named-later in the Fred McGriff trade and from then on, generally served as the 26th man in a 25-man roster league—called up in the event of an injury or transaction, up for a while, shipped back out.

 

Smith never played a full season in the majors, topping out at 69 games in 2007 (ironically, he still had enough minors time to wallop a career-high 20 home runs that year.)

 

 

THIS CARD: This was Smith's only Topps Base/Update card, though he did appear in Topps Total once. He is depicted as a Diamondback despite playing exactly two games for the Snakes before moving on to Kansas City in May (sandwiched around a burst appendix.) How that could occur in a Topps Update set is mystifying.

 

Furthermore, he played third in neither of his Diamondback games, and only on five other occasions between the majors and minors throughout 2007 (spanning a total of 84 games.) The story of Smith's baseball life—not worthy of a permanent roster spot, and apparently not worthy of an accurate, up-to-date Topps card either.

 

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Not much. Smith was done in 2009, finishing his MLB career with 17 homers and 60 RBI in 576 official at-bats over parts of nine seasons. If his career total of releases and designations for assignment doesn't match or exceed his homer total, I'd be shocked.

 

 

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps Update, Arizona Diamondbacks

 

6/6/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #729 Don Zimmer (manager), Cubs

 

More Don Zimmer (Managerial) Topps Cards: 1989 1990 1991

 

 

After 66 years in pro baseball as a player, coach, manager and advisor, the man affectionately known as "Zim" and/or "Popeye" succumbed to illness on June 4, 2014. In his memory, we've broken with the usual selection process in order to give a nod to the incomparable Don Zimmer. 

 

Rather than mimic every other outlet and repeat his lengthy pro baseball resume, I've decided to post a few excerpts from a book I happened to be reading at the time of Zimmer's passing, Richard Bradley's The Greatest Game: the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Playoff of '78. Zimmer was beloved by many but not all—especially select Red Sox pitchers he had the "privilege" of managing. In addition to his hard skull, however, the guy had legendary thick skin and refused to let unhappy players or a lynch mob media run him out of Boston:

 

In response to a Fergie Jenkins mini-rant—"I got shoved (demoted) into the bullpen by a fat, ugly bald man who doesn't know anything about pitching"—Zimmer responded: "He's right on three counts: I'm fat, ugly and bald."

 

Defending his unpopular decision to play the ailing Butch Hobson in 1978: "For the last six weeks, the kid has played rotten, but he's played when others wouldn't play. I want the good fans of New England to know what this young man is going through to play baseball for this team. He's playing in terrific pain...I can't bench Butch Hobson. Not after what Butch Hobson has given the team this season."

 

A brief summary of what Zimmer endured as manager of the Boston Red Sox (taken from pages 51-54):Don Zimmer was not his sport's most articulate representative, or its deepest thinker, but he knew baseball...he had a particular dislike for a group of players known for their carousing, a band of Red Sox rebels known as the Buffalo Head Gang. They called themselves that because of their shared opposition to Zimmer, who they called "Buffalo Head," which was not intended as a compliment...their politics made Zimmer uncomfortable. He thought their irreverent attitude hurt the team and he couldn't help but take their criticisms personally. "X-rays of Zimmer's head show nothing," Bill Lee once said, a mean remark absent of context expecially callous given Zimmer's history of (head) injury.

 

I'd like to also reference Graig Nettles' autobiography, titled Balls, with Nettles describing a Zimmer run-in with a rookie umpire in 1983:

 

"(One night) the Chicago pitcher was balking, and our third base coach, Don Zimmer, complained about it and got thrown out of the game. He was yelling, "The guy is balking the same way (Dave) Righetti did last night!" (Yankee P Dave Righetti's alleged balk led to a Yankee loss the previous night.) The umpire said, "No, the batter wasn't in the batter's box." Zimmer said, "The guy last night wasn't (in) the box, either." The umpire, a rookie, turned to Zimmer and said, "Well, who in the hell are you to be telling me?" The guy had never heard of Zim! Zim, who's been in baseball since the early fifties, exploded. "Who in the hell am I? Get some time in the league and you'll find out who I am, you bush cocksucker!"

 

Lastly...most of the younger generation remembers Zimmer's, uh, confrontation with Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez in 2003 in which the angry Yankee bench coach charged at Martinez during a bench-clearing fracas, only to be thrown to the ground. While many chided and even threatened Martinez for daring to lay hand to a 72-year-old man—even one attempting to harm him—Zimmer saw the incident for what it was: self-defense, and said so in his book The Zen of Zim:

 

"What does (Martinez) have to apologize for? I was the guy who charged him and threw the punch. To the people who said Pedro beat up an old man I said, 'No, an old man was dumb enough to try and beat up on Pedro.'"

 

Baseball will indeed miss "Zim". Even if another fellow manages to last 66 years in pro baseball, there won't ever be another career quite like Don Zimmer's.

 

CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Chicago Cubs

 

6/15/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1995 Topps #364 Bob Welch, Athletics

 

More Bob Welch Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 

Sadly, we're again eschewing the regular COTD selection process in order to recognize the premier right-hander in baseball during my first year as a fan—Mr. Bob Welch, who died suddenly last week at the age of 57. I remember freaking when I thought Welch committed suicide two years ago—only to learn it was the musician of the same name.

Sadly, there would be no such relief this time. (No disrespect to the other Mr. Welch; Fleetwood Mac has been in my playlist forever, and his passing was no less tragic than his baseball namesake's.)

 

I was introduced to MLB in 1990, which happened to coincide with the single-highest win total by a pitcher (27) in over two decades. In the 24 years since Welch's brilliant stretch of victory, no pitcher has come within three of equaling the mark. Welch's other claim to fame: his K of Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series.

 

Too inexperienced with sports to understand the way performances can cycle, I was surprised to pull a 1991 Topps card of Welch and see that in comparison to his gaudy 1990 numbers, the rest of Welch's career seemed ordinary, at least statistically. Now, of course, I know that to be wholly untrue—Welch was durable, stingy with the home run ball, and at times ranked among the very best righties in the league. He would have been an ace on many other clubs, but not a Dodger team with Jerry Reuss, Fernando Valenzuela and later, Orel Hershiser.

 

Still, 211 career wins in any era deserves "props".

 

Once the price goes back down, check out Welch's book. It's apparently rare and not likely to be available at your local library.

 

 

THIS CARD: Especially in the past 15 years, it's no given for veterans such as Welch to receive a Topps card with full career stats—most stars who announce their retirement in advance or do not open the following year with a team haven't been represented (i.e. 2008 Barry Bonds/Craig Biggio, 2002 Cal Ripken, 2005 Edgar Martinez). Remember—in these days Topps still released Series 1 in the same year represented on the cards and probably hadn't yet settled on a drastically smaller Series 2 (from 396 cards down to 264 in the wake of the long strike.)

 

The result—a 1995 Topps Bob Welch card. Today's Topps is far more likely to allow a similar player to simply fade away (think 2013 Topps exclusion of Freddy Garcia) though not guaranteed (think 2013 Topps inclusion of Derek Lowe).

(flip) Welch "switched to the bullpen in '94" because he was 0-5, 9.53 after eight starts. In what would be the final start of his career on May 16 vs. Texas, he didn't make it out of the first inning (6 ER); Oakland took him off the hook by tying the game in the 9th—ultimately losing in the 10th. He did improve somewhat as a long reliever (3-1, 4.67). After surrendering eight homers in 34 IP as a starter, he allowed only two in 34 IP out of the pen (though one was a walk-off to Baltimore's Jeffrey Hammonds.) 

 

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Welch's most notable post-retirement gig was that of pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his lone season in that role, they went on to the championship, but Welch never again held any other official coaching role in MLB—though he did serve as a Spring Training guest instructor of sorts for Oakland. He passed away June 9, 2014 of a heart attack, days after baseball mourned the loss of Don Zimmer and days before it mourned the great Tony Gwynn.

 

CATEGORIES: 1995 Topps, Oakland Athletics, Now Deceased

 

6/19/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #1 Tony Gwynn, Padres

 

More Tony Gwynn Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1999 2000 2001 2002

 

To whatever higher power controls life and death: While I am grateful you have not taken any of my friends or family this past month, it would be much appreciated if you'd delay claiming another star major leaguer from my youth until at least the end of the season.

 

There isn't anything I can say that hasn't already been said about the late Hall-of-Famer and eight-time NL batting champion. He began his career thin and fleet, he ended it hefty and injury-prone, but he could always hit and he seemed to make friends everywhere he went. Apparently the worst thing Gwynn ever did was chew tobacco. That's quite a compliment. I don't have any particular memories of Gwynn's playing days, though I'm willing to bet that as a Giants fan since 1990, I probably saw a good hundred of the longtime Padre's 3,141 lifetime hits.

 

I do recall the great Padres fire sale of 1993 in which any and all veterans with any value were purged—save for ace starter Andy Benes (who went two years later) and Gwynn, who ended up playing all 20 of his seasons in his hometown of San Diego. This was by choice—Gwynn famously turned down more lucrative offers to play elsewhere. Both his son Tony Jr. and brother Chris also suited up for the Friars at one time or the other. Thru June 23, the Gwynn family has played an aggregate 3,696 major league games, producing 3,787 base hits.

 

Another stat: In a June interview with 95.7 The Game (San Francisco), Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine relayed some information he'd been given—in over 300 at-bats vs. he and longtime teammates Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, Gwynn struck out thrice. 

 

Gwynn died of mouth cancer on June 16, only 54. In the wake of his passing, Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed and Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg have publically announced their intent to forgo "chew", which Gwynn firmly believed caused the cancer he'd been battling for years—meaning Gwynn is impacting others even after his death. I'll leave you with a few quotes about "Mr. Padre":

 

 

"He didn't just inspire his teammates to be their very best, he brought out that desire and drive in his opponents as well." - ex-major leaguer Rob Dibble

 

"The baseball world is going to miss one of the greats, and the world itself is going to miss one of the great men of mankind. He cared so much for other people. He had a work ethic unlike anybody else, and had a childlike demeanor of playing the game just because he loved it so much." - longtime teammate Tim Flannery

 

"No player carried himself with more class, dignity, and kindness." - former NL West rival Mike Piazza

 

"Gwynn was a dream to deal with, especially for a naive young reporter. I didn't realize it at the time, but in those handful of Padres games I covered that summer (1987) I was dealing with the most gracious and likable professional athlete in all of sports." - Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

By all accounts, Tony Gwynn was as great off the field as on—a true baseball icon. There won't be another quite like him.

 

 

THIS CARD: I chose to use a 1998 Topps Tony Gwynn because A) This is one of my favorite sets visually and it hadn't yet come up in the random selection process, and B) it represented the year of Gwynn's final batting title. He is in a lot better shape than I remember him being in the year 1997—I suppose in my mind Tony went from 175 to 275 pounds during the '94 strike. Hard to tell if this swing produced favorable results or not. I'm betting it did.

(flip) Gwynn appears ready to hurry in a throw. He wasn't a great defender early in his career—remember, the guy was all set to enter the NBA out of college—and worked very hard to become a good outfielder. Though he eventually won five Gold Gloves, by 1997 Bruce Bochy was pulling the 37-year-old late in games.

 

Reportedly, partial credit for the 1997 surge in Gwynn's long-ordinary prower numbers is due to the legendary Ted Williams—that year Teddy Ballgame urged Gwynn to turn on more inside pitches to keep pitchers honest. Gwynn obviously listened, as he obliterated his previous career highs in both home runs and RBI while still securing the batting title. Amazing.

 

(I also seem to recall a report of the Padres asking Gwynn to compensate for the injured Ken Caminiti's run production, but I cannot verify this today.)

 

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Gwynn is one of the rare 21st-century players to announce his retirement in advance, yet still receive a final base card from Topps featuring full career stats. He finished with 434 strikeouts in nearly 9,300 at-bats—Mark Reynolds struck out exactly 434 times from 2009-10 in less than 1,100 at-bats. Only once did Gwynn top 35 K in one season: 1988 (40).

He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee and enjoyed a long career (2002 until his passing) as the head baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater. Son Tony, Jr is with the Phillies as of June 2014.

 

CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, San Diego Padres, Now Deceased

 

6/25/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1995 Topps #293 Eddie Taubensee, Reds

 

More Eddie Taubensee Topps Cards: 1992 1992T 1993 1994 1997 1999 2000 2001 2001T 2002

 

Early in his career, Taubensee was involved in what proved to be a deal that shaped the 1990's—he and P Willie Blair were sent from Cleveland to Houston in exchange for infielder Dave Rohde and...outfield prospect Kenny Lofton. Lofton went on to become the premier basestealer of the decade, the sparkplug for a resurgent Indians franchise that would make the final five postseasons of the decade (though for one of them, Lofton was a Brave.)

 

With Craig Biggio shifted to second base, Taubensee and Scott Servais formed a lefty/righty hitting platoon for two years before Cincinnati—the team that drafted Taubensee but lost in the Rule V draft—reacqured him early in the 1994 season. 

 

 

THIS CARD: Taubensee, like most catchers, wasn't known for his speed. Yet he's shown "tearing it" up the line. You have to mix it up a little, though.

 

(flip) As for the 17 homers he hit over 1993-1994...Taubensee only had one homer thru June 18 of the 1994 season, then cracked five in eight games, including two multi-homer affairs! 

On 6/19, he went yard off John Smoltz and Gregg Olson in a 12-4 blowout of Atlanta. 6/27 wasn't as joyous; the big catcher took former Astro teammates Darryl Kile and John Hudek deep—the latter a 9th-inning game-tying shot! However, Taubensee's 11th-inning passed ball set up Houston's walk-off win.

 

About the LLWS title: Topps is referring to the Senior League for 14-16-year-olds. Based out of Maine, it's not unlike Babe Ruth Leagues found in other parts of the nation. Taubensee's Almonte Springs (FL) club upended a Pingtung, Taiwan team which had won six of the prior 12 championships!

 

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Taubensee played six more years with the Reds, initially splitting catching duties with Benny Santiago and Joe Oliver—and being excluded from both 1996 and 1998 Topps along the way. He did eventually become the #1 catcher in Cincy, then back problems swept in.

He was signed by Cleveland to replace the departed Sandy Alomar Jr. for 2001 and in a way he did—by spending lengthy periods on the DL. (Yes, that was a cheap shot. But not a false shot.)  Degenerative disks in his back officially ended Taubensee's career in July, 2002.

Eddie Taubensee appeared in Topps 1992-94, 1997, 1999 and 2000-02. He's also got 1992 and 2001 Traded cards.

 

CATEGORIES: 1995 Topps, Cincinnati Reds

 

6/30/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2013 Topps #277 Brendan Ryan, Mariners

 

More Brendan Ryan Topps Cards: 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2014U

 

 

Ryan is a good player, at least afield, who will probably be completely forgotten within a year of his retirement (unless he pulls a Brock Holt by executing an out-of-this-world defensive play shown on SportsCenter/Quick Pitch 100,000 times.) He started out with the Cardinals and eventually settled in as their primary shortstop—his weak bat would keep him on the bench in stretches, however. By the winter of 2010-11, he was up for arbitration, and manager Tony LaRussa publicly stated that he would only return to the Cardinals as a utility player.

 

Seattle did trade for him soon thereafter (Ryan's St. Louis stint wound up perfectly coinciding with the period between the team's 2006 and 2011 championships). He did secure the starting SS role up north—moving incumbent Jack Wilson to 2B in the process—but lost most of the final two months with shoulder and neck injuries (the latter eventually requiring surgery.)

 

 

THIS CARD: Finally, a horizontal-image card. I hadn't even considered how these would be presented on the site...it seems we have our answer. The figure sliding behind Ryan I believe to be Angels SS Erick Aybar, but I'm not 100% certain.

(flip) Not mentioned about Ryan's Japan journey: Colin Cowgill of the A's destroyed him on a takeout slide at second in the 10th inning of the season opener. He struggled to his feet and eventually started a game-winning rally the next inning!

 

That would be one of few highlights of Ryan's 2012—he went thru 0-for-26 and 5-for-56 slumps, costing him his job and earning a bit of a scolding from manager Eric Wedge atypical of a slumping veteran player. (He also made the controversial final out of Phil Humber's perfect game and scored the only run in teammate Felix Hernandez' perfect game.) When all was said and done, Ryan owned the second-worst average in MLB among players with over 400 PA's, edging out Miami's John Buck by two points.

 

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Ryan managed to win his starting SS job back in 2013—only to lose it in the blink of an eye to Robert Andino (a career .232 hitter with 18 homers in 1300+ at-bats) and eventually, Brad Miller. He joined the Yankees in the closing weeks of '13 to fill in for a re-injured Derek Jeter; Ryan himself has missed much of 2014 on the DL. 

Brendan Ryan appeared annually in Topps or Topps Update 2008-13, returning in 2014 Topps Update.

 

CATEGORIES: 2013 Topps, Seattle Mariners