Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, June 2015
A = Alternate Card F = Factory Team Set G = Giveaway Set T = Traded Set U = Update Set
Click on images for larger views.
6/2/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2008 Topps Update #330 Johan Santana, Mets
More Johan Santana Topps Cards: 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Players like Johan Santana are the reason the Rule V Draft exists—who knows how many hidden gems buried in the minors would ever get a shot in the bigs without it?
Signed by the Astros at 16, Santana didn't exactly tear through the minors, although he did post good strikeout totals and kept the ball in the park. The young Venezuelan went unprotected in the 1999 Rule V Draft, and went to the Twins (by way of the Marlins). Following two-plus years as a Twins swingman under Tom Kelly, he went into the rotation during Ron Gardenhire's first season in charge.
How'd that work out? Two Cy Young awards, three All-Star selections, and universal recognition as one of the best hurlers in the game—if not the best.
Here, free-agent-to-be Santana is coming off a 15-13, 3.33, 235-K 2007 season; he stumbled to the finish line, leading to subpar stats (by his standards). Fully aware they could never afford him long-term, the Twins have just swapped Santana to the Mets as opposed to letting him walk for a draft pick. The trade went down days before pitchers and catchers reported to camp.
THIS CARD: We at last break the seal on 2008 Topps, a.k.a. "The Circus Set"—one of Topps least physically attractive of my time. 2014 Topps, newly added a few weeks ago, is now the only unrepresented set in COTD.
Santana also has a Twins card in Series 1 of the base set. For some reason, Topps didn't hold Santana over to Series 2 when everyone and their unborn child knew he was headed out of Minnesota. He could have received his Met card there freeing up a spot for somebody like, I don't know, Lee Gardner.
That is one clean FedEx pad signature. His base card matches.
(flip) Santana netted four prospects for Minnesota, including Phil Humber and Carlos Gomez (the others aren't worth mentioning). Only nine other American Leaguers won a pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, K) prior to Santana (and Justin Verlander since). All previous winners except Roger Clemens are in the Hall of Fame.
Other "name" pitchers to pack their bags that winter: Dan Haren, Jose Valverde, Dontrelle Willis and Erik Bedard. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine also moved, but both were near the end.
Card #330 is the final one of the Update set.
AFTER THIS CARD: Santana quickly signed a 6Y/$137 extension with New York. For the first three years, Santana excelled when healthy, but he missed the entire 2011 and 2013 seasons to the same surgery (torn anterior capsule in the shoulder) and was sidelined for much of 2012 as well with other injuries.
In between these setbacks, Santana fired the Mets first-ever no-hitter—amid controversy over an umpire's foul ball ruling and the number of pitches Johan was allowed to throw (134). Recently, Santana—unlike his manager—expressed no regrets over the heavy workload that day, in spite of his subsequent physical issues.
Baltimore and Toronto have both taken post-surgery fliers on him, but health continues to elude the now-36-year-old— nearly three full years have eclipsed since his last MLB appearance. Tragic—Santana seemed headed to Cooperstown before his body betrayed him.
Johan Santana appeared annually in Topps from 2003-13. He spent the entire 2013 season on the Mets DL and was not selected for 2014 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 2008 Topps Update, New York Mets
6/6/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps Update #274 Chris Withrow, Dodgers
More Chris Withrow Topps Cards: n/a
2014 Topps had been, as mentioned in our last COTD, our only unrepresented set. With Withrow's selection, all seals of all 28 of our sets have been broken.
Baseball has gotten a small, but impressive, sample size of this flamethrower. A 2007 first-rounder out of high school, Withrow was primarily a starter his first four pro seasons before being switched to the 'pen.
In 2013, the 24-year-old broke in the majors with an unimpressive partial inning vs. Arizona but since then, he's been mostly unhittable—in fact, his career BAA is .157 over 46 games. Command issues have been his only blemish.
Here, Withrow has opened the 2014 season with the Dodgers and, as alluded to in the blurb, done well in middle relief.
THIS CARD: Sorry, the only Dodgers #44 we recognize is Darryl Strawberry. Not out of any particular affection for Straw—it just takes me back to my fledgling baseball fandom when he joined the Dodgers and was expected to hit 128 homers per season. (Darryl fell a tad short.)
Speaking of Arizona...is that a Diamondback behind Chris?
There is a Blogger who covers the 2014 Topps set...a little too in depth for my tastes. He can write and he has humor, but if he were reviewing this card, he'd mention Withrow's glove brand, shoe brand (if visible) and mask manufacturer (if he were a catcher) and categorize them accordingly. He'd also go out of his way to identify what game this pic is from. That's all well and good...but I don't have the time or energy.
This set's borders, font and imagery resembled 2013 Topps too closely. It's a struggle sometimes to recall which one is which.
(flip) Withrow's 0.95 WHIP was 10th-best among NL rookies (30 IP). I'll just mention the top three: Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Julio Teheran. Pretty good company.
The May 17, 2014 tough outing: five runs on four hits and two walks. Before that, he'd allowed two earned runs in 18 games all season.
AFTER THIS CARD: Withrow made one more 2014 appearance before being demoted, then succumbing to Tommy John surgery a few weeks later. In May 2015, the still-mending reliever was packaged to Atlanta in the Juan Uribe/Eric Stults deal. Now 26, Withrow is tentatively estimated to return to the mound after the '15 All-Star break.
This is Chris Withrow's first and only Topps card to date.
CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps Update, Los Angeles Dodgers
6/10/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #528 Denny Martinez, Expos
More Denny Martinez Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1994T 1995 1996 1997
The story of Jose Dennis Martinez' days as a young starter with the Orioles is already known to most fans around during his time—durable, dependable winner for the better part of six seasons 1976-82, before long-running alcoholism began to admittedly affect his career.
Following a trying '83 season,his worst to that point (and ironically, a World Championship one for his team), Nicaragua's first-ever major leaguer entered rehab. He conquered his drinking, but did not approach the same level of effectiveness. In fact, Martinez' ERA climbed over 5.00 for three successive seasons as he battled a bad shoulder. He was shipped off to the Montreal Expos in 1986.
Eventually, following a free agency debacle that led to a stint in unaffiliated A ball, Martinez joined the Expos and returned to form in a big way—52 wins, 3.01 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and a whole lot of innings from 1987-90. Here, "El Presidente" is coming off the worst of those four seasons record-wise—but was still an All-Star for the first time at age 34 and unquestionably the Expos' ace.
THIS CARD: Many people comment favorably on the powder-blue Expos unis of yesteryear. (Well, everything Expos is yesteryear now.) I personally am indifferent at best—call me dull, but I'm a home whites/road greys kind of guy. Always have been.
As with Richie Hebner and Tommy Lasorda in the '80s and Benito Santiago in the early '90s, Topps stayed stubborn with a nickname nobody else used. Dennis Martinez was known as "Denny" on all 21 of his Topps base cards. Granted, I wasn't born when Martinez started out, but during my time I never heard anyone else refer to him as Denny.
(flip) That 1986 trade was for young Rene Gonzales, ultimately nothing more than a utilityman for Baltimore and, later, California who hit .239 lifetime. Though the trade pretty much had to be done—Martinez was showing the O's nothing by that time—Montreal came away the clear winner.
1981 was a strike year, which is how Martinez co-led for the league lead in wins with just 14 (along with Steve McCatty, Jack Morris and Pete Vuckovich).
Note his 10-11 in 1990 despite a 2.95 ERA; Martinez lost or had no decision in eight games where he went at least 7 IP with three or fewer runs. Still, he was chosen for the All-Star team—and not as an injury replacement or token Expo (Tim Wallach also was named).
AFTER THIS CARD: Martinez (with help of a good scoop by Larry Walker) threw a perfect game at the Dodgers in July 1991 and remained the Expos' top starter through 1993. He signed a 2Y/$9M deal with the upstart Indians, helping them to the 1995 World Series.
It finally came apart for the 42-year-old in 1997; signed to be Seattle's 5th starter, the veteran simply couldn't get anyone out, battered to the tune of a WHIP just under 2. He was cut after nine starts (six of which he allowed at least five runs) and soon retired.
Later that year, Martinez worked to strengthen his elbow and ultimately returned to MLB, winning a spot with the Braves (to whom he'd rejected a trade five years prior). Used as a reliever/spot starter, Martinez—now a grandfather—chewed up 90 innings for Atlanta and even threw a 12-hit shutout at Milwaukee a week after his 43rd birthday! He hung it up for good after that season, winner of 245 big league games over 23 seasons.
"Denny" Martinez appeared in every Topps set 1977-97 (the first being a shared prospect card). He's also in 1994 Traded as a new Cleveland Indian.
CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Montreal Expos
6/14/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #553 Andujar Cedeno, Astros
More Andujar Cedeno Topps Cards: 1991 1992 1994 1995 1996
Despite some obscenely high error totals in the minors, Cedeno was once the #2 overall MLB prospect as ranked by the reputable Baseball America, but his career petered out with little notable major league impact. A slender 6'1" shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, Cedeno hit 33 home runs over the 1989-90 minor league seasons—a load for his position in those days. He debuted in late 1990 with five K in eight AB, and opened 1991 in AAA.
Still only 21, Cedeno replaced the demoted Eric Yelding on Houston's roster in July '91, and held the starting job through season's conclusion. Here, Cedeno is fighting through an awful 1992 showing that saw him sent back to AAA for three months—he'd return with a bang, however. Read on:
THIS CARD: From 1991 Topps #528 to 1993 Topps #553...well, at least the actual players have no similarities.
The Astros have three middle infielders in 1993 Topps—Cedeno, Craig Biggio and Casey Candaele. All three are shown attempting to turn double plays...on the road...with runners bearing down on them. For this card, pre-PED Sammy Sosa of the Cubs is coming at his fellow Dominican. I could try to look up what game this image is from...but no.
(flip) Impressive: 56 RBI in 74 games during his Tucson recalibration, then he hits for the cycle the day he returns.
Early in that game, Cedeno tripled home a run and later boomed a solo, both against Rheal Cormier of St. Louis. But Topps fails to mention it took Cedeno 13 innings to complete his cycle, or that the Cardinals won 5-3 with two runs off Joe Boever in the 13th. But space is limited, of course.
The Dominican Summer League had only been founded two years before Cedeno's arrival; he also played Domincan winter balls for years, even after his MLB career ended.
AFTER THIS CARD: In 1993, the now-24-year-old enjoyed his best overall MLB performance, batting .283 in 149 games. Yet, after the '94 season, he was part of an infamous 11-player trade between the Astros and Padres that also sent star teammates Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley west.
Cedeno never found his stride and after a .212 1996 season split among three teams, no major league club sought his services. He died in a horrific auto wreck back home in the D.R. in 2000, only 31 years old.
Andujar Cedeno appeared in every Topps set 1991-96.
6/17/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #726 Phil Stephenson, Padres
More Phil Stephenson Topps Cards: 1990 1991
NCAA Baseball has been around for, well, a very long time. Barry Bonds played college baseball. So did Will Clark. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell did, too. Pat Burrell, Dave Winfield, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn—the list goes on and on.
So when one gazes upon the all-time—as in, the most ever—NCAA Division records for runs, hits, total bases, walks, even stolen bases and discovers Phil Stephenson's name there, one likely does a triple-take. Then reaches for one's eyeglasses. Then verifies the list has been updated in the past quarter-century.
Then one realizes it's no misprint, and that Stephenson—the same nondescript dude who didn't reach the bigs until 28 and batted .201 over 194 lifetime major league games—was one of the greatest college players of all-time. (If you don't count this faux pas.)
Stephenson put together several solid minor league seasons in the Oakland and Cubs systems, especially 1988 when he boomed 22 home runs and batted .293 for AAA Iowa (Cubs). But he was firmly blocked in Chicago by Leon Durham and later, Mark Grace. So off to San Diego he went.
Here, the Oklahoma native has just spent his first—and only—full season in the bigs, largely as a pinch-hitter/defensive sub for the 1990 Padres.
THIS CARD: Our second 1991 Topps selection out of the past three means hiatus time. Also, our Randomizer has a thing for those early-90s Padres. Stephenson is the third such pick of the past dozen or so.
This particular card was miscut, but we "corrected" it for your viewing pleasure.
Those are some good-sized forearms on Stephenson, as he waits patiently on deck in front of an unidentified backdrop. Dodger Stadium? No clue.
(flip) Stephenson finished with 11 triples that year, one behind Billy Bates for the American Association lead.
It's surprising, given his college resume, that Stephenson was only a 3rd-rounder.
Of those six career homers, five came in the second inning or sooner. Stephenson made the most of what few starts he got, at least from a slugging standpoint. Three of the six came vs. the Giants; five were solos.
AFTER THIS CARD: As 1990 wound down, Stephenson developed right knee trouble that was eventually diagnosed as avascular necrosis—basically, his knee was dying. With his 1991 washed out as a result and All-Star Fred McGriff entrenched at first base, Stephenson, now 32, was forced to win a '92 roster spot. Having learned to play some outfield, he did just that.
However, subsequent stints in the KC and STL systems never materialized into a return to the majors for Stephenson, who subsequently managed in the minors and coached community college baseball in Kansas.
Phil Stephenson appeared in 1990, 1991 and 1993 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, San Diego Padres
6/21/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps Update #225 Josh Bell, Orioles
More Josh Bell Topps Cards: 2011 2012
Josh Bell of the Orioles, I keep having to tell myself. Not Juan Bell. That was 20 years ago.
For the final third of the 2010 season, Buck Showalter took over as manager (eventually guiding the long-mediocre franchise to a 34-23 finish). One of his first decisions: installing young Josh Bell as his third baseman following Miguel Tejada's trade to San Diego. Who wouldn't be enticed by a 6'3", 230-pound, switch-hitting 23-year-old with power?
Here, Bell has just begun his MLB initiation.
THIS CARD: Maybe it's just us, but Bell resembles Francisco Rodriguez somewhat. Also...that is a lot of ink for a rookie.
Bell's hat is not worn by any other Oriole in 2010 Topps. It seems to be their Stars And Stripes alternate cap, although the versions we uncovered didn't entirely match Bell's.
(flip) At first glance, the idea of Baltimore trading Tejada to make room for Bell seems outright laughable. In fact, I actually yelled at this card "Weren't there 24 million other reasons?" referring to Tejada's massive contract that still had two years to run.
Then I recalled Tejada actually returned to Baltimore for 2010 after said contract expired, and he was traded out of Baltimore a second time—this is where Bell entered the picture. My bad, Topps.
Topps' ongoing refusal to print full minor league stats on their rookie cards is equally puzzling and irritating. You see, it leads to questions such as "How was Josh Bell with two Double-A teams in one season?" We'll answer that for you—Bell had been a Dodgers prospect until being acquired in July 2009 in a trade for RP George Sherrill.
"The system" refers to...who, exactly? Not the O's system; he hadn't gotten there yet. In fact, Bell's Dodger beginnings aren't directly referenced at all in this blurb.
AFTER THIS CARD: Oddly, Bell had to leave more than one 2010 game due to cramping, and—aside from a breakout 3-for-4, two-homer, five-RBI performance at Texas—never held his footing for long.
Failing to make the '11 Orioles roster in the spring despite a substantial improvement in his conditioning, Bell spent most of the season at Norfolk (AAA). In May 2012 Arizona acquired him, declaring him the immediate starter at third.
One month (and 12 starts) later, he was banished to the minors again...and didn't return this time. Bell drifted thru three other MLB organizations before settling in the Mexican League for 2015.
Josh Bell appeared in 2010 Topps Update as well as 2011-12 Topps base.
CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps Update, Baltimore Orioles
6/25/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #66 Darryl Hamilton, Giants
TSR breaks from our standard randomized card selection process in memory of Hamilton, a 13-year major-league outfielder from 1988-2001 who was murdered by his baby mama on June 21, 2015, at the age of 50.
Hamilton was drafted and developed by the Milwaukee Brewers; he accelerated up their chain quickly, skipping AA entirely after batting .328 with 43 steals at Stockton (A) in 1987. Promoted to Milwaukee in 1988, the only impact Hamilton really made was on the leg of teammate Dale Sveum—which snapped as the two young Brewers pursued a popup in short left.
Following an AAA refresher in 1989, Hamilton returned to the Brewers in '90 and remained there through 1995. Early on, he started extensively at all three OF spots, but once Robin Yount retired, Hamilton became the primary center fielder. By 1995, his salary had grown to over $2M.
After 1995, Hamilton left Milwaukee unhappily, spent a year helping the Rangers to their first-ever playoff berth, then signed a 2Y/$4.5M deal with the Giants for 1997. Here, the Louisiana native is coming off the first year of that deal, a memorable one for San Francisco and one in which he became a footnote to baseball history.
THIS CARD: Hamilton's 1998 Topps card was chosen because A) '98 Topps has been under-represented in COTD, and B) it's the only Topps card with Hamilton as a Giant (my team of choice).
1998 Topps' name graphics aren't scanner-friendly to begin with—even less so when you're talking about gold over black/orange. Even with photo editing and re-scanning, the bottom of this card simply wouldn't display clearly. A more tech-savvy individual could probably bring it out...feel free to offer your services.
Pre-2010, narrowing down when a Topps image was shot is extremely difficult—but we were almost able to do just that. As you can see, Atlanta's Eddie Perez is catching at the new Turner Field. Hamilton played twice at Atlanta with Perez behind the plate in 1997—a pinch-hit AB on 5/30 and another on 6/2. He swung during both appearances, so that's as far as we can narrow. Still not bad.
Note: Perez played the final three of that four-game series after Jose Vizcaino fouled a ball off the hand of Braves starting catcher Javy Lopez. Perez went on to go 8-for-11 against San Francisco. Thanks a LOT, Jose.
(flip) A very stoic-looking Hamilton posing during...warmups? Spring? Either way, it balances out the side-angle front image showing zero of the player's face (unless you count the ear, which I don't.)
The blurb covers the baseball history referenced above. Said single came against Texas' Darren Oliver; Hamilton was the first batter of that game, which was won by the Giants 4-3 behind Mark Gardner (8 IP, 3 runs, 140 pitches. And no, Gardy wasn't taking one for the team.)
Today the AL record for errorless chances in a season is held by...someone. Repeated attempts to research seasonal chance statistics proved far tougher than we expected.
Hamilton still holds the AL record for consecutive errorless games and chances overall by an outfielder (229 and 541, respectively) but we cannot confirm if any other American League outfielder has exceeded his 389 errorless chances in a single season.
AFTER THIS CARD: Hamilton, to his surprise and disappointment, didn't complete Year Two in SF, being dealt to the Rockies for RBI man Ellis Burks in mid-1998. He spent the final 2½ seasons of his career with the Mets, helping them to consecutive playoff berths in 1999-2000.
In mid-2001, Hamilton asked for his release from the Mets, who weren't playing him. A minors deal with Colorado went nowhere, and Hamilton's career ended at 36. He spent most of his remaining years working for MLB in some capacity; at the time of his death he was an analyst for MLB Network.
Darryl Hamilton appeared annually in Topps from 1989-2001, with 1990 being a Traded card.
6/27/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Topps #222 Gary Gaetti, Cardinals
More Gary Gaetti Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1991T 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1998
You didn't think 1980's Minnesota Twins without thinking the doubly-alliterative combo of Greg Gagne and Gary Gaetti (pronounced Guy-ett-ee) holding down the left side of the infield. Though he wound up playing more seasons elsewhere, Gaetti is best remembered for his 10 Minnesota seasons—he won a World Series, made two All-Star teams, secured four Gold Gloves and bashed a whole lot of home runs with the Twins.
The 11th overall pick of the 1979 June draft, Gaetti's best individual years up north were 1986-87; he combined for 65 homers and 215 RBI over that period, even becoming the first man to homer in each of his first two postseason at-bats (1987).
From there, however, his numbers steadily declined—all the way to a .229 average in 1990 with only 16 home runs. The Twins tried to re-sign Gaetti, who was still only 32, but he chose for a fresh start with California.
The Angels gambled $11.4M over four years that Gaetti could resurrect his offense. It didn't happen, and in 1993 Gaetti was demoted to reserve before being cut altogether. However, he did rebound with the Royals and was signed by the Cardinals for one year, $2M after an excellent 1995 season that probably could have netted him more cash.
Here, Gaetti has just completed his first of what would be nearly three seasons with St. Louis—one in which his .274, 23, 80 output helped the new-look Cardinals snap a nine-year playoff drought.
THIS CARD: Check out the flapless helmet; I believe Gaetti was the last big leaguer allowed to use one.
Gaetti's best game of '96 was a 2-HR, 5-RBI explosion vs. the Mets June 14. He finished strong, with his .274 season-ending average its highest since being at .280 for one day in late April.
(flip) 6'0", 200? Huh. He always seeded at least 6'3", 230 to me.
How did Gaetti go from Illinois to North Carolina, I'd love to know. He played collegiate ball in Illinois, so he likely grew up there. As a prospect he played no closer than Tennessee and Florida...hmmm. (By the way, Gaetti's the rare major leaguer to never play in AAA.)
AFTER THIS CARD: Gaetti lasted three-plus additional major league seasons, hooking up with the Cubs in late 1998 when newly-acquired Fernando Tatis took his job with the Cardinals. His strong late-season with the Cubs (.320, 8 HR in only 128 AB) completely reversed itself in '99 (.204 in 113 games).
Now 41, he appeared to finally be done—but he tallied 11 more (hitless) at-bats with the 2000 Red Sox before finally sitting down. Gaetti retired with 360 home runs, and a 7.71 ERA over three late-career games.
Today, Gaetti manages Sugar Land of the Independent League. He appeared annually in Topps 1983-1998; they never issued him a Cubs card. (Gaetti is also in 1991 Traded).
CATEGORIES: 1997 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals