Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, March 2015
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3/1/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #119 Craig Counsell, Brewers
More Craig Counsell Topps Cards: 1998 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2010 2011
Around the turn of the century, two underdog expansion teams snatched World Series victory from the jaws of defeat—the 1997 Marlins and the 2001 Diamondbacks.
Counsell was a key contributor to both squads' title rallies; he scored the winning run in Game 7 of the '97 Classic and was hit by a pitch just ahead of Luis Gonzalez' winning single in Game 7 of the '01 Classic! He also was named the 2001 NLCS MVP. batting .381 in Arizona's five-game triumph over Atlanta.
Drafted in 1992 by Colorado, Counsell amassed all of two plate appearances with the Rox before joining Florida in 1997—starting 47 games for them at second base. The next year, Counsell started 101 games at 2B for what was left of the Marlins before his jaw was destroyed by a C.J. Nitkowski fastball in early August.
From then on, Counsell's career ping-ponged between Arizona and Milwaukee—he attended high school in the latter city and was part of the infamous Richie Sexson six-for-practically-one trade in December 2003. He'd vacillate between starting and role-playing, always topping 100 games and generally batting between 200-500 times (with the notable exception of 2005, when Counsell racked up 670 PA.)
Here, the veteran infielder has completed Year Two of Stint Two with the Brewers. Not expected to start much with an infield of Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall, Counsell wound up platooning at third with the struggling Hall for a period and later helping at second as Weeks dealt with knee problems.
THIS CARD: You can somewhat discern Counsell's unusual batting stance in this image—earlier in his career, Counsell stood tall with the bat raised as if it were an ax about to drop. Here, while Counsell's arms are still more vertical than most, he's more compact than he once was.
Just as he wore #4 through both Arizona stints, Counsell wore #30 through both Milwaukee stints.
(flip) No blurb, no red italics, not much to talk about besides A) for $1M I would not have remembered that Counsell played for the Dodgers, and B) Counsell did indeed finish his career .450 versus Pedro (9-for-20) but "slipped" to .438 versus Lohse (14-for-34).
AFTER THIS CARD: More of the same, although Counsell suffered a then-record 0-for-45 streak in 2011. He announced his retirement after that season and has since continued with the Brewers as a special assistant to the GM and, later, broadcaster.
Craig Counsell debuted in 1998 Topps, was omitted for three sets, then returned in '02 and appeared in all but two sets thru 2011. I swore he had a 1993 Topps Prospect card, but apparently my swears are worthless.
CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, Milwaukee Brewers
3/5/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps #331 Jeff McKnight, Mets
More Jeff McKnight Topps Cards: 1991
TSR eschews the usual random selection process in memory of McKnight, a little-known 1990's utility player who passed away from leukemia in early March 2015.
McKnight, son of Jim McKnight who played 63 games with the Cubs in the early 1960s, didn't do much in the majors. He did last parts of six seasons on some mostly wretched teams (the final five combined for a .435 win percentage), but in only one did McKnight stay "up" all year (1993). He was among the last of a dying breed—guys who played wearing eyeglasses.
THIS CARD: 1994 Topps was an easy choice here, as it represented McKnight's lone full season in the bigs. That swoosh under the "Mets" on his uniform looks so OFF. And one of his arms is way lighter than the other; it almost looks like he's batting with a cast on.
McKnight is listed as a 3B-2B, but actually played more games at SS (23) than any other position in '93 (if you don't count pinch-hitter.)
(flip) Jeff of all trades—clever. Just imagine if he got traded a lot.
Including the Independent Leagues, McKnight added 354 more MiLB games to his resume, retiring with an even 1,000.
In case you're wondering, the (SPEC) by McKnight's draft data refers to his secondary phase draft status—no clue what the EC represents. From '65 to '86, MLB drafted in January as well as June (and briefly August). McKnight was one of four January 1983 picks to reach the majors—and was the most successful of that quartet, if you can believe that.
Of those 105 games in '93, McKnight started only 25, pinch-hitting in 64 and subbing on D in the remainder.
AFTER THIS CARD: Little. McKnight's career ended when the 1994 strike began; he played what turned out to be his final game the day before. He spent two seasons out of pro ball before playing his final 54 games in 1997-98, in the Independent Leagues.
Jeff McKnight only appeared in 1991 and 1994 Topps base sets, but was also featured in 1991 Topps' Major League Debut set—identical in front appearance to the base set.
CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps, New York Mets, Now Deceased
3/10/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps Update #166 Jon Garland, Padres
More Jon Garland Topps Cards: 1998 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Garland (who also has a 2010 Topps base card, #96) makes his last appearance in Topps to date. He joined the Padres on a one-year deal on the heels of Spring Training 2010 after splitting '09 between the D'Backs and Dodgers.
A former #10 overall pick by the Cubs in 1997, the crosstown White Sox stole him in a deal for reliever Matt Karchner one year later. Karchner posted a 1.6 WHIP and no saves in 58 Cubs games, while Garland spent most of eight years as a mainstay in the White Sox rotation, twice winning 18 games and contributing to a World Series championship in 2005—not fully avenging the Sammy Sosa/George Bell fleecing, but a step in the right direction.
Tall and lean, Garland wasn't a flamethrower—his career high in K was 115—instead achieving success by inducing grounders with a 90-mph sinker. In 2005 (his contract year) Garland exploded for 18 wins and what wound up his lone All-Star berth—setting several career bests along the way. He was rewarded with a 3Y/$29M extension and though he won 18 more games in '06, he wasn't as effective in doing so.
A winter 2007 trade to the Angels kicked off a junket throughout the southwestern United States for Garland; San Diego would be stop #4 on the trip.
THIS CARD: Garland doesn't look right in this uniform. I honestly would have believed this to be Kevin Correia.
He keeps his index finger in the glove! Don't know how common/uncommon this is for pitchers—never paid attention—but will track in 2015.
(flip) I remember Garland's emergence as a 21-year-old. Turn your back for two seconds and you've got a 31-year-old veteran with 11 seasons for four teams. That 53-inning homerless stretch was an achievement for a guy who averaged nearly 30 HRA annually from 2003-06.
From June on, Garland went 8-10, 4.13 with 15 homers allowed (finishing 14-12, 3.50 for the 90-win Padres).
AFTER THIS CARD: Not much. Garland made nine painful starts for the 2011 Dodgers before undergoing shoulder surgery. Doubtful he'd pass his physical, Garland backed out of a potential deal with Cleveland for '12, finally returning to MLB with the 2013 Rockies. The big righty began surprisingly well, but gradually pitched himself into a mid-season release. Now 35, He has yet to return to the majors.
Jon Garland debuted in 1998 Topps as a draft pick, then appeared annually from 2002-10. His quality, 33-start season with the Padres did not result in a 2011 Topps base card. In fact, he wasn't even featured in the Update set despite swapping uniforms again! Hmmm...
CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps Update, San Diego Padres
3/14/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #347 Jason Bartlett, Rays
More Jason Bartlett Topps Cards: 2006 2007 2008 2010 2011 2012
I spent way more time than I should have trying to identify Jason Bartlett's nationality; he was one of those guys who could have been anything. Eventually he revealed himself to be part-Filipino, and I was able to move on with my life.
Bartlett—like me, from the S.F. Bay Area—started out as a shortstop for the Twins, who acquired the 2001 #13 pick from the Padres in exchange for outtfielder Brian Buchanan, who'd recently been displaced in Minnesota. After recovering from a broken wrist, Bartlett hit .331 for AAA Rochester, and won the Twins SS job in 2005 (replacing Christian Guzman, who'd signed with the brand-new Nationals.)
Unfortunately, the now-25-year-old struggled and was sent down (batting .331 for Rochester over the next 2½ months), not getting another full-time starting shot until mid-2006. Bartlett held that job thru 2007, then was included in a deal to Tampa for Delmon Young.
Here, Bartlett is wrapping a 2008 season in which he personally battled various injuries, yet contributed to the first-ever pennant in Rays history. He even received an MVP vote!
THIS CARD: A mystery player has just been retired (given the number of new/renovated ballparks around this time, an exhaustive search to identify the locale proved inconclusive).
At first, based on Bartlett's head position relative to his hands, I thought this was a line-out, but most infielders wouldn't secure a lineout with two hands.
It is also possible he's just received a high lead throw and is about to drop that left foot on second base. A little re-positioning of his right foot or the name box, and Bartlett would appear to be ascending on the slanted graphic. Missed opportunity!
(flip) Gaudy 2008 numbers and impressive achievements, but being the best SS in Rays history circa 2008 wasn't saying much.
Using Topps' criteria, Bartlett's best BAA wound up being Jae Seo and Brian Burres (both 6-for-10, .600). He fell to "just" .467 against Washburn (7-for-15).
AFTER THIS CARD: Bartlett enjoyed an All-Star 2009 season, setting a Rays record for average (.320) by a qualifier and watching his salary jump to $4M for '10. Following that year he was traded to the Padres, but was cut in August 2012 as he dealt with a knee injury.
Bartlett sat out 2013, made the '14 Twins as a utility infielder—and outfielder, where he'd never played before as a pro—only to retire three weeks in as yet another injury beset him. This left the 34-year-old with one of the most interesting statlines I've seen yet:
2014: 3 games, 3 runs, 0 hits, 0 BB, 3 at-bats, 3 K.
Jason Bartlett appeared in Topps annually from 2006-12.
CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, Tampa Bay Rays
3/18/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps #407 Bruce Ruffin, Rockies
More Bruce Ruffin Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1992T 1995 1997
If Ruffin's rookie season took place in, say, 2014 instead of 1986, he'd have been a dark horse NL Rookie Of The Year candidate; many of his stats resemble those of actual winner Jacob deGrom (although deGrom has superior talent, superior command, and pitched for a worse team.)
But it didn't, and Ruffin's 9-4, 2.46 performance taking over for the legendary Steve Carlton in the intensely tough city of Philadelphia was worth but a single vote in 1986.
Much of Ruffin's remaining Phillie career was a rollercoaster ride in inconsistency—when he wasn't firing eight (or nine) innings of shutout ball, he was failing to complete three innings in consecutive starts. He'd be demoted to the pen and the minors, but always find his way back to the rotation. When Ruffin closed 1989 with five quality starts out of six—two of which were against NL division winners—it seemed the 26-year-old had finally turned the corner.
But not quite. 1990-91 brought more inconsistency and demotions—both to the bullpen and to AAA—for Ruffin, making it clear he and the Phils needed to divorce. Sadly, Ruffin's fortunes didn't improve after a trade to Milwaukee; they actually worsened. By 1993, when he signed with the expansion Rockies, Ruffin's MLB career was on life support.
THIS CARD: Ruffin opened 1993 as a starter, but would vacillate between that role and the bullpen all year. Shocker.
The Rox have barely changed their unis since entering the league...and they never should. The colors, the font, the home pinstripes—they just work.
(flip) When Topps discontinued the "games started" statistic a few years ago, I lamented it largely because of pitchers like 1988 Ruffin—55 games is a common total for relievers, but 144 innings is not. Losing the GS stat doesn't matter for guys like Greg Maddux or Mariano Rivera—you know they're going to be in their roles so long as their lungs are pumping air.
For guys who alternate between the roles—such as Ruffin; Carlos Villanueva is a more contemporary example—some context is lost. At least for fans like me who still haven't warmed to sabermetrics.
Ruffin's nine-whiff outing—still a Rockies RP record—came at Houston; he pitched the final four innings of a 9-4 victory started by Armando Reynoso. Perhaps most impressive: the oft-erratic lefty didn't walk anyone!
Colorado's overall single-game K record is now held by Darryl Kile—who, coincidentally, started for Houston the day after Ruffin's record-setting outing (Kile sat down 14 Expos in 1998).
AFTER THIS CARD: Ruffin began closing in May '94 and performed well. Over the next two seasons, flamethrower Curt Leskanic and Ruffin flip-flopped in the role until elbow and back problems struck Ruffin down.
The 12-year vet attempted to continue his career on a minor-league deal in 1998, but failed. His son, Chance, pitched 24 MLB games 2011-13 before suddenly retiring at 25.
Bruce Ruffin appeared in Topps annually from 1987-97, with the exceptions of 1993 and 1996. (He does have a Topps card as a Brewer: 1992 Traded #95)
CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps, Colorado Rockies
3/22/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #21 Darin Erstad, Angels
More Darin Erstad Topps Cards: 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2006 2007U 2008 2008U 2009 2010
It's no secret we cannot measure a player's full value/worth by the back of his 2005 Topps baseball card, or any baseball card. Though they obviously help, stats alone do not determine a good baseball player. Stats don't tell you how hard a guy plays, what type of example he sets, his intensity level or his baseball IQ.
Now that the disclaimer is posted, I can admit to have never overrated any other player statistically than one Darin Charles Erstad.
Erstad, you may recall, was the #1 overall draft pick in 1995. He was in the bigs to stay one year later and put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers.
His memorable, record-breaking 2000 season preceded years of ordinary, with flashes of mediocrity sprinkled in. Turns out Erstad peaked statistically at 26—except in my mind, he'd been treating those Anaheim fans to one All-Star-caliber season after another. Perhaps his direct role in the conquest of my Giants in the '02 World Series skewed things.
In any event, reality took me aback upon discovering Erstad never topped 10 homers after 2001, batting .272 with a .373 SLG over his final six Anaheim seasons.
Just about every source I've employed—including this card's reverse—praises, even reveres the former Nebraska punter for possessing the attributes mentioned in Paragraph #1 above, however. Any winning team needs guys like that, even if he won't win anybody many fantasy points. Here, Erstad has just wrapped his first season as a full-time first baseman, accommodating imported FA outfielders Jose Guillen and Vlad Guerrero.
THIS CARD: Ugh. How long before Erstad was wearing face pie? (Though he doesn't strike me as the type who'd appreciate that.) These days, Topps encourages the already-tired act by displaying pied players on their cards. Like forced hand slaps at the free-throw line, this appears to be an affectatious sports trend that just won't die.
The media people couldn't let Erstad even put his mitt down before bombarding him? Don't the Angels at least have a batboy to retrieve it?
Another famous college football player-turned-major leaguer who sported #17: Todd Helton (Tennessee).
(flip) Ordinary stats, below-average for his position. Erstad did claim a Gold Glove for his defensive work. Though listed as a combo 1B-OF, as he'd been for much of his career, Erstad was strictly a 1B in 2004.
A previous COTD dwelled on the inset stat boxes: why couldn't it feature a 2004 stat not already available in the batting record? Like Erstad's 94% SB percentage? Or .996 fielding percentage? Or .900 postseason SLG?
Manuel was a teammate of Gibson's at AAA Evansville (Tigers) in 1979; he would know a thing or two about the future NL MVP.
AFTER THIS CARD: Erstad's 4Y/$32M post-2002 extension ran out after '06, a season he was restricted to 40 games by bone spurs and ligament damage in his right ankle. With the Angels only offering a minor-league deal, Erstad moved on to the White Sox for 2007, then played his final two seasons as an Astro.
In his second Astros season (2009), Erstad was used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter/defensive sub under Cecil Cooper, starting only 18 times. He retired over the winter and eventually became the hitting coach, then head coach at his alma mater of Nebraska.
Darin Erstad was mysteriously excluded from 1997 Topps, even as literally every other card company (including Topps Stadium Club and Topps Finest!) found space for him. He then appeared in Topps annually from 1998-2010; 2007 was an Update card.
CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Los Angeles Angels
3/26/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2006 Topps #273 Cleveland Indians Team Card
More Cleveland Indians Team Topps Cards: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2007 2010 2011
Coming off an encouraging '04 season in which they improved by 12 games over '03, the Tribe made few off-season roster changes. Aaron Boone—fully recovered from his infamous hoops injury—entered the picture, as did SP Kevin Millwood and RP Arthur Rhodes. Cleveland had a decent shot at snapping Minnesota's three-year run of ALC titles—but they dug too deep a hole by starting 17-23, by which time they were already 12 games back.
Still, they closed to within 1.5 games with a week to go, and were three games back entering a three-game series at Chicago over the final weekend! But the Sox swept them away, capping a disappointing 1-6 finish that included two one-run losses to lowly Tampa and a painful walk-off loss at equally lowly Kansas City.
Nine Indians belted 16 homers or more, five eclipsed 20, and rookie Jhonny Peralta proved a competent replacement for longtime SS Omar Vizquel (who moved on to the Giants over the winter.) Grady Sizemore emerged, making incumbent CF Jody Gerut expendable; he was traded in July.
36-year-old CL Bob Wickman re-established himself following a tough '04; 26-year-old SP Cliff Lee became an 18-game winner after an incongruous '04. Millwood won the league ERA title (2.86) despite a 9-11 record.
THIS CARD: Topps is notorious for the "barricades" photoshopped over many front rows of team picture cards for legal reasons—certain personnel aren't legally allowed to be shown on cards. Some team pictures include such personnel and others don't. As you can see, the '05 Indians did.
Topps could have used some of that blank space for the blurb and used the back to identify the team members—it'd have been a tight squeeze, but possible. However, that would bring attention to the many excluded players from their set.
(flip) That league-leading team ERA was only 0.005 ahead of Chicago. Only the Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees, Angels and Red Sox won more games; only the White Sox won more road games.
Cleveland's nine-game win streak consisted of a trio of three-game interleague sweeps; the Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks all fell between June 9-19.
AFTER THIS CARD: The '06 Indians took a step back before falling one win short of the 2007 World Series. Many lean years followed and their young core disbanded one-by-one. Under Terry Francona, the Indians returned to postseason play in 2013, losing the Wild-Card game to Tampa. They finished 85-77 (3rd ALC) in '14.
CATEGORIES: 2006 Topps, Cleveland Indians