Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, May 2014
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5/1/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps Traded #67T Pat Kelly, Yankees
More Pat Kelly Topps Cards: 1992 1993 1994 1995 1998
Kelly, not to be confused with the short-lived Jays catcher or the late White Sox/Orioles outfielder of the 1970's, made his first Topps appearance in this set. Listed as a third baseman on this card, Kelly had spent his entire pro career (three years at that point) at second base, but gladly moved at the request of manager Stump Merrill upon his 1991 callup (on the strength of a .336 start at AAA.) He wound up leading the team in starts at the hot corner. It'd be the only third base he'd play in his MLB career!
THIS CARD: Nothing special about the front; if I had to wager I'd say it was a Spring Traning shot. No clue if Kelly was in camp that Spring or not but I just don't see the Yankees of 1991 wearing those jerseys during a game.
(flip) DiCarlo signed Kelly out of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, a school that has produced exactly two big leaguers in the past 40 years (ex-Cardinal John Mabry being the other.) In 1990 Kelly led Albany with those six triples and was fourth in the Eastern league with those 32 steals (teammate Bernie Williams was first with 39).
In that major league debut, Kelly started at 2B and went 0-for-3 with two K in a 3-1 Yankee loss at Cleveland.
AFTER THIS CARD: Pat Kelly spent the next four years as New York's primary—but never really hands-down regular—second baseman. However, he was troubled by a throwing shoulder that eventually needed surgery in 1996; he didn't debut until after the All-Star Break. By that time Mo Duncan was established at second base and Kelly did not participate in the postseason (though he still received a World Series ring).
This is Pat Kelly's debut Topps card; he appeared annually in the base set 1992-95, then one last time in 1998.
CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps Traded, New York Yankees
5/2/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2006 Topps #171 Jorge Cantu, Devil Rays
More Jorge Cantu Topps Cards: 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
This card represents the season Cantu emerged as a star for Tampa Bay Devil Rays, albeit a fleeting one. The big infielder ripped 28 home runs—at the time, Jose Canseco was the only Rays RHH to ever hit more in a season—with 117 RBI (only Carlos Pena has ever driven more in a season for Tampa; Cantu held this record for three years.)
The following spring, Cantu fouled a ball off his foot that sidelined him much of the first half, and hampered him when he did play—his percentages dropped dramatically, although he did draw seven more walks than in 2005 despite nearly 200 fewer plate appearances.
THIS CARD: Cantu is listed as a third baseman but actually played far more second base in '05, and exclusively in '06.
Though I like Tampa's current look, I liked and miss this one too—there's not enough green in MLB. Well, except for the fields. And the salaries.
(flip) Cantu's POB is listed as Mexico on this card yet multiple other sources note his POB as Texas...I may never know the truth. The "fact cartoon" references his then-TB-record 117 RBI. As you can see, his power numbers in the minors were generally nonexistant until a 22-homer breakout in 2004. Given the era, one can't help but wonder...(that was not an accusation, people.)
AFTER THIS CARD: Whether unfairly or not, Cantu became a symbol for spoiled, entitled athletes when he threatened to refuse a minor league demotion in the spring of 2007, declaring he was "not a minor league player" with exactly one good major league season under his belt. He ultimately did report, with cinders and ashes littering the bridge back to Tampa. Cantu did enjoy a resurrection in Miami, earning a roster spot in 2008 and starting nearly 300 games in 2008-09 for the Marlins (at both corner IF spots; Cantu wasn't much of a defender at second base.)
He broke a nine-decade-old MLB record by driving in a run in each of his first 10 games of 2010, but after that Cantu's career skidded to a halt. He last played for the 2011 Padres, one of five organizions Cantu bounced through from 2010-12—including the pennant-winning 2010 Rangers. He spent '13 playing in Mexico and '14 in Korea.
Jorge Cantu appeared annually in 2006-11 Topps.
5/6/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #149 Doug Dascenzo, Cubs
More Doug Dascenzo Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992 1993
This is Dascenzo's debut card with Topps; he appeared regularly down the stretch for the '88 Cubs. In his debut, he batted leadoff and went 3-for-5 with a bunt hit and double, plus two runs scored. In his next start two days later he singled thrice in four trips (although the Cubs were blown out 17-0 at home by the Reds.)
The day after that, he started both ends of a doubleheader and went 2-for-5 with two RBI in each one! That made the young outfielder a robust 10-for-his-first-19 in the big leagues.
Sadly, he only recorded six more hits in 56 at-bats the rest of the way, and he spent most of the Cubs' division-winning '89 season in the minors (topping 30 steals for the fifth straight year.)
THIS CARD: Dascenzo's card appears off-center in the images at left—that is my doing. I didn't feel like re-scanning. Sorry.
(flip) I dug and dug but was unable to unearth any evidence that the NYPL played an actual All-Star game until 2005, nor could I find any record of past All-Stars from 1985 or any other prior to 2005. What I can tell you: Dascenzo led that league with a .461 OBP and finished with 33 steals in 42 tries in '85—a deserving All-Star.
Note just how slight of build Dascenzo was. Up to this point he had 18 minor league homers and I'm betting at least two or three of them were inside-the-parkers. He only hit five in the majors spanning over 1200 plate appearances.
It really bugged me when Topps included the monthly scoreboard for a player who only played a month in the majors (or in some cases, didn't play at all in the majors) except in cases like Dascenzo, when that month represented his MLB debut month. Also, note the single line of copyright on the back—today's cards give you a whole paragraph of legal crap.
AFTER THIS CARD: Dascenzo played with the Cubs thru 1992, starting often in place of Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. (Check out the time he committed the sin of squeeze bunting on a vengeful Rob Dibble in 1991; email me if link becomes broken.)
He spent a season as a reserve outfielder for Texas, vanished for two years, then was briefly resurrected by the '96 Padres (the same team that resurrected Rob Deer from the baseball dead and was about to do so for Mike Sharperson as well before his untimely actual death.) He managed in the minors for several years and is the 3B coach of the Atlanta Braves today.
Doug Dascenzo appeared in 1989-1993 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Chicago Cubs
5/11/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps #136 Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
More Adam Wainwright Topps Cards: 2001 2007 2008 2009 2011 2012 2013 2014
Wainwright was coming off a season good enough to net him third-place in Cy voting (19-8, 2.33) and about to put up a 20-win encore in 2010 (beaten for the Cy that year by a deserving Roy Halladay). A highly-touted Braves prospect in the mid-00's, Atlanta sacrificed him in a trade for J.D. Drew after the 2003 season (no doubt a disappointment for the Georgia native.)
While Drew was productive for Atlanta, it was for one season; Wainwright made the majors to stay in '06 and has excelled for the Birds ever since (except for a 2011 season spent on the disabled list, during which his team still won the World Series.)
Wainwright initially served as a reliever for the Cardinals—you may recall his devastating full-count curve freezing the Mets' Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS—before joining the rotation in '07. Note that the 6'7" hurler can do it two ways; he averaged 16 hits a year from 2007-10 (including five homers during that stretch.)
THIS CARD: It appears the camera snapping this photo is mounted atop the catcher's helmet (remember that horrible "Catcher Cam" FOX experimented with years ago? Good riddance.) No idea what field he's at.
(flip) Wainwright's breakout 2009 campaign is explored; he and rotation mate Chris Carpenter began a two-year run of excellence (combined 72 wins) that sadly was cut far too short by injuries to both.
AFTER THIS CARD: Wainwright returned in 2012 and by 2013 was a Cy Young candidate once again. At 19-9, 2.94, he was a runner-up to to LA's Clayton Kershaw for the award (although it should be noted the lone first-place vote not for Kershaw went to Wainwright.)
As of this posting Wainwright is atop the NL leaderboard in wins. He is also among the few remaining 2000 first-round picks still in MLB, along with Chase Utley and #1 overall pick Adrian Gonzalez (Sean Burnett is rehabbing from surgery; Dustin McGowan was a supplemental pick that year.)
Adam Wainwright debuted as a draft pick in 2001 Topps, and has appeared annually in Topps since 2007 (2007 being an Update card).
CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals
5/14/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps #574 Willie McGee, Giants
More Willie McGee Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Willie McGee, one of the classiest individuals to ever grace an MLB diamond, inexplicably makes his final Topps Base/Traded appearance in the 1994 set, even though he played (and played often) through the 1999 season.
As alluded to, McGee—whose nephew Keegan was a high school classmate of mine and carries a solid resemblance—had been a star Cardinal for three pennant winners and one World Series champion (1982). A famous early 1990's publication described his game this way: "If your idea of excitement is a high chopper, Willie McGee is your man." Very true; he made an artform of beating balls high off the Busch Stadium II turf and reaching base before defenses could act.
McGee signed with his hometown Giants after the 1990 season; at 32, his All-Star days had passed but he played well for SF. In fact, McGee was hitting .342 into August 1993 before leveling off; he suffered a strained ribcage in Game 160 and missed the final two contests—including the "Salomon Torres Game" that eliminated San Francisco from playoff consideration. Throughout his Giants career, McGee received ovations whenever returning to St. Louis as a visiting player.
THIS CARD: McGee appears to be chillin' outfront the Gates Of Hell in this pic (and yet still needs a jacket.) In all seriousness I cannot identify or even speculate what the background for this card could possibly be. Topps is known to generate backgrounds from time to time, but not in such a way one can't tell it's generated.
(flip) McGee's three Gold Gloves were won in 1983, 1985 and 1986; he was a 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1988 NL All-Star. Note all the red italics in 1985, McGee's MVP year.
AFTER THIS CARD: McGee's 1994 season was cut short by a torn Achilles suffered in June. Once it healed—no pun intended—McGee spent a partial season with the '95 Red Sox before finishing his career with four more seasons in St. Louis (making it 13 in all) averaging about 125 games/300 at-bats per year.
No Cardinal has worn his #51 since McGee, though the team has ignored several movements to formally retire it. As further testimony to his popularity and the level of respect he garnered during his career, McGee earned 5% of the vote in his first year of Cooperstown eligibility despite relatively ordinary achievements and stats. Though dropped from the BBWAA ballots the following year, McGee was inducted into the new St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014.
Willie McGee appeared in every Topps set from 1983-94. He was excluded from the '95 base set and not even changing teams (Boston) could earn him a Traded card. As mentioned, McGee played semi-regularly four more years but his Topps days were over—at least in the Base/Traded sets; unsure if McGee was represented in any of their many other releases such as Finest or Stadium Club—even as competitors such as Upper Deck continued to feature him.
CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps, San Francisco Giants
5/17/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #401 Kevin Mitchell All-Star
More Kevin Mitchell Topps All-Star Cards: 1990 1991
Smack dab in the midst of an MVP season, Mitch makes his first career appearance in the Midsummer Classic on the strength of a .295, 31 HR, 81 RBI first half—at that point already blowing any of his full-season power totals out of the water (Mitchell's career high for RBI had been 80 the season before, and he'd maxed out at 22 homers in 1987.)
In the 1989 Classic, Mitchell actually batted four times, something unlikely to occur today barring extra innings. He smacked a first-inning RBI single off Dave Stewart, struck out in successive at-bats against Nolan Ryan and Greg Swindell, then singled to left off Jeff Russell as the trailing (5-2) NL attempted an 8th-inning rally. Speedster Vince Coleman pinch-ran for Mitchell; one run did score that inning but the AL ultimately held on for a 5-3 victory at the pre-renovation Anaheim Stadium.
(I was unable to uncover any voting data, or any details surrounding Mitchell's defensive performance.)
THIS CARD: On dozens of their 1990 cards, Topps overlapped card text with the player's image rather than crop it out as they do today. The result: Kevin Mitchell was an All-Tar for the Natio League.
(flip) Mitchell was among the top 10 in eight Topps categories in 1989. Again, he had 81 first-half RBI, if Mitchell's season ended at the Break he would have still placed 14th in the NL!
During the mentioned week—the season's second—the Giants went 5-2 versus the Dodgers and Braves behind Mitchell, who also batted .400 with five doubles. In fact, of his 10 hits that week, eight went for extra bases!
AFTER THIS CARD: Mitchell had several more solid—if injury-plagued—years, but only made one more All-Star appearance (1990). He never again approached his monster 1989 numbers; the closest he came to leading his league in a major stat was a (distant) second-place slugging finish in 1994.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, All-Stars
5/21/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #345 Jim Fregosi, Blue Jays
More Jim Fregosi Topps (Managerial) Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1992 1993
Fregosi, who passed away earlier in 2014, returns to Topps after an eight-year absence. A longtime MLB infielder most notably with the Angels, Fregosi went on to helm those Angels, along with the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays.
He was most successful with the 1993 Phillies, who lost the World Series to Toronto on the memorable Joe Carter walk-off home run. Six years later, Fregosi managed Toronto as well! (though only a couple of players remained from the squad that dispatched the '93 Phillies.
In the autobiography of former Blue Jay David Wells, Fregosi is praised for keeping a young Toronto ballclub in contention until the 2000 season's final days; Wells also chides Toronto management for canning Fregosi in spite of his achievements. The slugging Jays actually led the AL East by three games at the end of June and finished only 4.5 games out.
Fregosi never managed again, finishing his career 1028-1094 with the one pennant.
THIS CARD: Manager cards returned to Topps after an eight-year absence (the first year of which Fregosi made his only managerial trip to the postseason.) Fregosi's Toronto reign came smack dab in the "Red Jay" era, a six-year stint of transition for the once-proud franchise. Just look at the skipper's jacket to see what I mean—the Jays' unis during this stage didn't actually feature red Jays, but it felt like it.
Manager cards in the past carried checklists for his team, or (later) said manager's stats. Beginning in 2001, Topps included blurbs not unlike those on player cards.
(flip) Remember, Toronto "turned to Jim in Spring Training 1999" when it was discovered his predecessor, Tim Johnson, lied about military service to his players in an ill-advised attempt at motivation; he lost the team and was soon axed. Fregosi had been working in the Giants front office when approached by Toronto.
AFTER THIS CARD: As alluded to, this marked Fregosi's swan song as an MLB manager; he spent the rest of his life working for the Atlanta Braves in multiple capacities before suffering fatal strokes in early 2014.
CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, Toronto Blue Jays
5/25/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #682 Dann Bilardello, Pirates
More Dann Bilardello Topps Cards: 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987
I've heard of three Dann's in my life: Howitt, the onetime major leaguer; Florek, the Law & Order actor; Bilardello, another ex-major leaguer. Turns out Dann is short for...nothing; his birth name is indeed Dann. Here, the backstop appears on his final Topps card (his playing career ended in 1992). To this day I often confuse him with contemporary Benny Distefano, a 1989 teammate who also happened to be the last lefty to catch in the major leagues (but was not featured in this set despite 96 games played for the Bucs.)
Bilardello was the 7th overall pick in 1978 by the Dodgers; of the six men chosen ahead of him, only Scott Fletcher played more than 15 career MLB games (Marty Barrett was the only other first-rounder to do anything noteworthy in the bigs). Bilardello hit his first career jack as a Red in 1983 off ex-Red Tom Seaver. He was one of the very last Reds to don #11 before the great Barry Larkin immortalized it.
THIS CARD: Bilardello's image—almost identical to the pose on his previous Topps card (1987)—makes him appear 6'8" (he's actually 6'0").
(flip) That 1982 All-Star season came with San Antonio, a Dodgers affiliate; he also finished that year with 17 homers and a .285 average. He'd spent the first part of 1989 playing (poorly) with Buffalo, then went on the minors shuffle until rosters expanded.
AFTER THIS CARD: When Mike LaValliere and Don Slaught both battled aches and pains, Bilardello resurfaced with the '90 Bucs. Cups-of-coffee with San Diego in 1991-92 wrapped up his major league career; he spent 1993 in the minors and 1994 with the Northern (Independent) League. Bilardello went on to a solid managerial career at various minor league levels, winning the Pioneer (Rookie) League championship in 2002.
Dann Bilardello appears in 1983-87 Topps, plus this final 1990 appearance. (1983 was Traded)
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, Pittsburgh Pirates
5/28/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #156 Ryan Theriot, Cubs
More Ryan Theriot Topps Cards: 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012U 2013
Affectionately nicknamed "The Riot", Theriot (actually pronounced Tare-E-O) is a fledgling major leaguer at the time this card is issued—though that would soon change. Chicago employed the LSU star's services three separate occasions in 2006; he hit .328 and slugged .522! In that off-season Dusty Baker was fired as Cubs manager, and Theriot made Lou Piniella's Opening Day roster in '07.
Before long, he took the job of incumbent SS Cesar Izturis (who simply didn't hit, even by his low standards.) Izturis was eventually traded and replaced by Theriot, who went on to finish 12th in the NL with 28 steals.
THIS CARD: Is that Michael Barrett in the background (in catcher's gear?) Not sure; I don't remember Barrett with chin hair ever but this guy seems to have it. (Not saying Barrett never had it; I just don't remember. If you do, let me know.) When I first extracted this card for scan, a bug appeared to be resting on the right edge. Nope—just the opposing catcher's mitt.
Theriot's signature appears to read "Ryu Ulut."
(flip) Theriot switch-hit in the minors at the request of the organization and wasn't terrible, but by his account became a far better player upon returning exclusively to his natural right side.
As you can see, the infielder played in the majors before he played in AAA; Chicago rewarded his MVP perfornamce for AA West Tennessee with a September 2005 call-up.
AFTER THIS CARD: Theriot held the Cubs SS job for the next few years, often forming a double-play combo with former LSU teammate Mike Fontenot for the division-winning 2008 Cubs (who I thought would go all the way that year. Boy was I off.)
He spent a season each with the Cardinals and Giants (winning World Championships both years), took 2013 off when no one offered him a full-time job, then officially retired in early 2014.
Ryan Theriot appeared in Topps annually from 2007-13, with 2012 being an Update card.
CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps, Chicago Cubs
5/31/14 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #162 Todd Zeile, Cardinals
More Todd Zeile Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
If I'd known of the existance of 1987 Topps #429 Tim Pyznarski, the designation "Future Star" would have meant squat to me. But in 1990 I was blissfully oblivious to the notion that a baseball card could be wrong in any way, let alone a lofty prediction such as eventual stardom. So basically I thought Todd Zeile (and all other 1990 Topps Future Stars) would eventually blossom into the second coming of Ted Williams. Or at worst, Don Mattingly. Why else would Topps go through all the trouble of adding that big star and all those graphics to Zeile's nameplate?
Zeile, of course, turned out to be a very good player—even a borderline star. He topped 2,000 hits and 250 homers in his career, and saw action in four postseasons. He played three different positions regularly (though not always adroitly), and did so for just about every MLB team. Zeile even hit 31 homers once, and finished seventh in National League RBI once.
Do these facts collectively justify Zeile's selection as a "star"?
I say yes and no, but will save the specifics for another article (that I've only now been inspired to write.) No franchise would ever publicly declare their intent to build around Todd Zeile, even at his finest. He was usually the Ted McGinley of his roster—dependable, professional, able to carry things in short spurts but never, ever the guy to focus a season worth of storyline around. That's no knock on Zeile; I'd wager my home he didn't go up to a Topps rep and ask for his "Future Star" designation (though I could certainly see a current Cardinal by the name of Oscar Tavares doing so.)
THIS CARD: What the hell is sitting in the dugout behind Zeile? Not even Bruce Sutter on a weeklong bender could possibly be covered in that much facial hair.
(flip) Zeile's minor league numbers: very impressive, especially when you recall he came up as a catcher. His first MLB homer (and only one of 1989) came August 20 vs. Tim Leary in an eventual blowout win at Cincinnati.
Marty Keough is the father of ex-MLB pitcher Matt Keough and a less-famous big leaguer in his own right.
AFTER THIS CARD: Zeile, as mentioned, had a very good career for several teams, finally retiring after the 2004 season. His final Topps base/traded card came in '03, even though he played enough to warrant inclusions in both the '04 and '05 sets.
He was sixth in 1990 NL Rookie of the Year voting and even made two pitching appearances (one good, one not-so-good) over the years! Zeile's 253 homers are the most all-time by a "Z" player, though Ryan Zimmerman has a very good shot of passing him up in the coming years.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals, Future Stars