Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, May 2015
A = Alternate Card F = Factory Team Set G = Giveaway Set T = Traded Set U = Update Set
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5/2/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #517 Roberto Alomar, Padres
Following Randy Myers, we have a second straight star Padre from the early 90's. (They never played together in San Diego but did team up in Baltimore in 1996-97.)
As the son of an ex-major league star (Sandy Alomar, Sr.), Robby certainly had the genes to succeed—and succeed did he. The younger Alomar was a California League (A) batting champion at age 18, and placed third in the Texas League (AA) in hits, doubles and steals a year later. After about an hour in AAA, Alomar hit the majors in 1988 and never looked back.
Here, the switch-hitting infield acrobat is still just a 21-year-old pup—but one already with 329 career major-league hits in his pocket.
THIS CARD: Let the record show Roberto Alomar played for the Padrs in 1989-90.
Alomar doesn't look 21 in this pic. His teammate and older brother Sandy Jr. appears considerably younger. These were the days when young players rarely sported much facial hair—Robby's mustache strayed a bit from the norm for sophomores. These days, guys enjoy a little MLB success and quit grooming from the neck up for months at a time.
San Diego's hot dog/mustard color scheme of the early 80's is a long-running punchline...but I actually liked it. It was distinctive, if nothing else. The hold-the-mustard look Alomar sports here works too, IMHO. Obviously, not enough Padre fans embraced it, since it lasted only six years. Maybe its 2015 reboot will have more lasting power.
(flip) Alomar was a free-agent signing in 1985 at 17, but I thought as a Puerto Rican he was draft-eligible, since PR is a US territory? Research explains...that is true, but one must also be a high-school grad to enter the draft. I'm concluding Alomar was not.
Good blurb fact, even if it lacks context.
As mentioned, Alomar was third in the Texas League with his 171 hits in 1987. Gregg Jefferies' 187 ranked second, but the immortal LaVel Freeman topped everybody with 208—part of a .395, 24-homer, .627-slugging season. (Freeman played two MLB games in '89 and was out of pro ball after '90. Sports are cutthroat!)
AFTER THIS CARD: Alomar played 15 more MLB seasons; he was an annual All-Star and Gold Glover into the 00's, broke countless batters' hearts with his spectacular defense, and helped the Blue Jays to two World Series championships (1992-93).
Spitting on an umpire in late 1996 marred Alomar's Baltimore stint; still, he was a vital contributor to winning teams there and later in Cleveland (where he was once again teamed with big bro Sandy Jr.)
Alomar began to slow upon returning to the NL in 2002; he plugged along for a few more ho-hum years until retiring from the Devil Rays during Spring Training 2005. Since he needed under 300 hits for 3,000 career, I'd hoped Alomar's retirement was only temporary, and that breaking away from then-woeful Tampa Bay would revitalize him. But it wasn't—he was indeed done at 37.
In 2011—even as high drama and legal issues dogged his personal life—Alomar was deservedly enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Roberto Alomar debuted in 1988 Topps Traded, then appeared in every Topps set through 2005—his final card as a Devil Ray. Alomar also appears in 1991 and 2003 Topps Traded.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, San Diego Padres
5/10/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps #300 Roy Halladay, Phillies
More Roy Halladay Topps Cards: 1998 1999 2000 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014
Coincidentally, Halladay celebrates his 38th birthday on May 14. He's conceivably young enough to still be pitching in the majors, but repeated physical setbacks prompted him to end his Hall-of-Fame career at 36 rather than cling on.
The 21-year-old Jays prospect entered the majors with a bang, coming within an out of no-hitting the Tigers in his 2nd MLB start! As has been well-publicized, his rise to superstardom came with a huge bump in the year 2000—he put up historically bad numbers that left his future in doubt.
Halladay was sent away, deconstructed, and reconstructed as one of the top pitchers in the game over the next decade-plus.
"Doc" won 41 games for Toronto in 2002-03, securing the '03 AL Cy Young award in the process (22-7, 3.25). From 2005-09 he won 81 more games—and perhaps more impressively for the era, completed 34 of them! Still, Toronto never rose above third place in his 12 seasons there, and a trade seemed mutually beneficial for both sides—Halladay wanted a ring, and Toronto needed talent in multiple areas.
Here, Halladay has just wrapped his debut Phillies season. It was his best, as he won his second Cy Young, fired a perfect game in May and spun a no-hitter in the playoffs!
THIS CARD: Halladay brought his pivot leg closer to his body than most, and that coupled with his 6'6" height to make his windup appear funky when it really wasn't. Can't really tell what pitch is coming. Neither could batters most of the time.
One of the big righty's four 2010 shutouts was his perfect game at Florida May 29—he struck out 11 and threw 115 pitches. Four months later, he opened the NLDS with a no-hitter vs. Cincinnati—a walk to Jay Bruce foiled a repeat of perfection. Might I remind you, this was the first playoff game Halladay ever pitched?
(flip) Look at all the red italics, especially the shutouts column. Halladay might've been the last of a dying breed—just today, reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber of Cleveland was not allowed to even try to complete a game in which he struck out 18 Cardinals on a relatively-low 113 pitches.
Also, check out those comically low base-on-ball totals. It's like every batter he ever faced was Juan Pierre.
AFTER THIS CARD: Halladay backed up 2010 with a 19-win 2011, but after that he'd be beset by shoulder problems that sapped his velocity and effectiveness. He'd have rotator cuff surgery early in the '13 season—a season after which the eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner called it a career, unfortunately without the World Series ring he coveted.
Halladay finished 203-105, and a strong candidate for Cooperstown. He's got my vote, that's for sure—the guy was among the top three pitchers in baseball for a long time.
Roy Halladay appeared in every Topps set 1998-2014, except 2002 (even though he spent half of 2001 pitching and pitching well for the Blue Jays.) Yes, he got a a sunset 2014 card, surprisingly.
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, Philadelphia Phillies
5/14/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #369 Prospects
More 2001 Topps Prospects Cards: n/a
Back we go to the expansive 2001 Topps Prospects Crop. Here, we've got backstops—one (J.R. House) who lasted about 45 minutes in the majors, another (Ramon Castro) who lasted many years as a quality backup, and a hotshot (Ben Davis) who never lived up to the hype.
Both Castro and Davis were highly touted. But by 2001, both were over 500 minor league games—by comparison, Buster Posey notched 172 before landing in the bigs to stay—and their stars, though not extinguished, had dimmed somewhat. House, however, was coming into his own as a Pirates prodigy—check out his 2000 numbers at age 21 for Class A Hickory.
Castro seemed poised to continue the 90's trend of star catchers out of Puerto Rico (such as Pudge Rodriguez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Javy Lopez and Jorge Posada). He was traded by Houston to Florida for reliever Jay Powell in '98 and put up some of MiLB's best numbers in 2000-01 for AAA Calgary. At the time of this card, he'd hit .220 with four homers in 74 games with the Marlins.
Mark Christopher "Ben" Davis had already played 120 major league games; in '99 he'd opened up strong as San Diego's primary catcher entering summer. According to reports, success went to the rookie's head, as evidenced by a late '99 outright refusal to warm up a reliever. Though Davis apologized and expressed regret, he was never held in the same regard by the Padres.
THIS CARD: Maybe it's me, but Castro's image looks painted. And Davis looks plain disgusted. Plus, we have two players holding bats with no hands visible—thumbs down.
Davis is the rare player to be featured on a Topps Prospects card after receiving a Topps common base card in a previous set—he was #255 in 2000 Topps (with the All-Star Rookie cup, no less). Offhand, the only other guy I can think of with that distinction was Orlando Cabrera, who received a 1998 base card and shared a 1999 Prospects card.
(flip) .628 slugging in 2000 for Castro—impressive. One triple in over 2,000 minor league at-bats? Also impressive, but in a different way.
Castro was the #17 overall pick in 1994 by the Astros. Davis was #2 overall the following year by San Diego (behind Darin Erstad).
AFTER THIS CARD: House's gaudy 2000 stats wouldn't be his last in the minors, but a decade of success on the farms only translated to 32 major league games over five seasons. An ex-high school star quarterback, House left the diamond to play college football in 2005, only to return a year later. His only three MLB homers came in '07, when he played a career-high 19 games with Baltimore. Including two years in Independent ball, House racked up over 1,100 minor league games.
Castro enjoyed a long career mostly as a backup catcher with the Marlins, Mets and White Sox thru 2011. He earned a World Series ring with the '03 Fish—as well as a year's probation for sexual assault two months prior. In 2010, he caught Mark Buehrle's perfect game. Now 39, Castro has continued to play winter ball in Puerto Rico annually.
Davis was traded to Seattle after the '01 season to ease a catching logjam in San Diego. He backed up Dan Wilson for two years there, spent '04 with the White Sox, but failed to make another major league roster (even after converting to pitcher in the late 00's). Now 38, he is currently a Phillies broadcaster.
CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, Prospects
5/20/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #707 Gregg Jefferies, Mets
More Gregg Jefferies Topps Cards: 1989 1990 1991 1992T 1993 1993T 1994 1995 1995T 1996 1997 1998 1999 2001
High expectations awaited Jefferies when he landed in the Big Apple in 1987. He never met them, and left New York as one of the most unpopular players to don the orange and blue.
Drafted #20 overall out of San Mateo, California's Serra High—the same school attended by Barry Bonds and, later, Tom Brady—Jefferies raised the bar quite high when he won consecutive Minor League Player of the Year awards in 1986-87. In '86, playing at two levels, he drove home 111 runs, batted .353, and stole 57 bases for good measure; a year later he finished up with 20 bombs, a .598 SLG, and only 43 K in 510 at-bats.
(Proving just how seriously some writers don't take their award voting privileges, Jefferies came up for the final month of 1988 and notched a second-place Rookie of the Year vote. Yes, he played well and gave New York a huge NLCS boost, but...still. It's gotta be the same clown who wasted a Hall-of-Fame vote on him in 2006.)
Jefferies succeeded Wally Backman as Mets' keystoner for 1989. He didn't get over .200 to stay until mid-June, however, and reportedly irked veteran teammates with his emotional displays (and more) after making outs. Jefferies was retired by ex-Mets teammate Roger McDowell of Philly to end the Mets' final home game of '89...and touched off a brawl by charging McDowell in response to the latter's chirping as Jefferies ran to first.
In 1990, the 23-year-old speedster improved his numbers, but by 1991—represented on this card—Jefferies had become so unpopular in the clubhouse, he read an open letter on a radio show in an ill-fated attempt for civility. This would be his final Mets season.
THIS CARD: Many Topps cards make players appear larger or smaller than they really are. This one does neither—Jefferies looks as short and fast as he really was. Shouldn't he have dropped the bat by now? It looks like he's already starting down the line but the bat is in full grip. Yes, the criticism still comes 24 years later.
(flip) That four-hit game went down versus the Pirates; Jefferies doubled twice and singled twice, adding an RBI in a game won by Gary Carter via walkoff home run. (In 13 post-callup games to that point, that was Jefferies' fifth with at least three hits.)
The five RBI were at the Cardinals' expense—Jefferies logged a two-run HR off Ted Power and a three-runner off Bob Tewksbury.
Burlingame is one city north of San Mateo (location of Serra High) and a very short drive south of the San Francisco Airport. It was also the home of BALCO, the lab which helped bring the steroid use of Bonds, Jason Giambi and others to attention in 2003.
I embrace being in the minority of baseball passionists who liked Shea Stadium. Of course, I never actually went there.
AFTER THIS CARD: Jefferies lasted through 2000, but never found a permanent home or position. He was a second/third/second baseman with the Mets, a first baseman with the Cardinals, and an outfielder from then on with several teams (including the Phillies; McDowell was long gone by then). He did make the NL All-Star team with St. Louis in 1993-94—starting in '93 over the likes of Andres Galarraga, Will Clark, Jeff Bagwell and more.
In May 2000, 32-year-old Jefferies tore his hamstring...and never played again. He finished up with 348 lifetime K in over 6,000 plate appearances! Jefferies went on to run his own baseball academy as well as coach high school ball.
Gregg Jefferies appeared annually in Topps from 1989-2001, except 2000. He also appears in 1992, 1993 and 1995 Topps Traded.
CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, New York Mets
5/25/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #138 Jeff Nelson, Yankees
More Jeff Nelson Topps Cards: 1993 1994 1995 2002 2003 2004
2001 Topps twice in past three selections...hiatus time.
If you watched any postseason baseball 1995-2001, you're very familiar with the massive, sidearming Nelson—among the game's best setup men over that period. No relation to the umpire of the same name, this Nelson established himself with the Mariners of the early-90s. For the Refuse To Lose 1995 squad, he posted a 2.17 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11 K/9 ratio.
The upstart M's rewarded Nelson by...including him in a five-player trade to the very Yankees they'd just beaten in the playoffs. He spent the next half-decade helping New York win four World Series, setting up for John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera.
Nelson wasn't solely known for his pitching achievements...
During the infamous Yankee/Oriole brawl of 1998, Nelson and co-reliever Graeme Lloyd charged from the bullpen to crush O's reliever Armando Benitez (who'd just intentionally drilled Tino Martinez), re-igniting a brawl that had calmed,
In the even more infamous "Don Zimmer Game" of the 2003 playoffs, Nelson (and a teammate) tussled with a Sox security guard as he warmed up in the bullpen, and
Following his 2006 elbow surgery, Nelson attempted to sell his bone chips on EBay (who disallowed the sale).
Here, Nelson has just wrapped his fifth Bronx season—a strong personal comeback year from two impacted by injuries.
THIS CARD: Nelson returns to Topps after a five-year absence—1996-2000 wasn't a good time to be a middle reliever, even a good one, if you wanted a Topps card. (He also received a Traded card this year recognizing his return to Seattle.)
Our previous card referenced guys looking bigger or smaller on their cards than in real life. Nelson doesn't look anywhere close to 6'8" in this pic. Never noticed the dark "band" on the jersey sleeve. Poring through other Yankee cards, all the home jerseys have it. The learning never stops with COTD.
Nelson's 2000 ERA did not reach 2.00 to stay until late July; he allowed only two homers all year. Even as the 2000 Yankees imploded around him during an infamous late-season blowout-riddled tailspin, Nelson remained mostly effective.
(flip) The 1984 22nd-rounder out of high school played eight full minor league seasons—much of which as a starting pitcher, if you can believe that—before debuting in MLB. 1B Martinez and RP Jim Mecir joined Nelson in the trade to NYY; youngsters Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis went the other way.
Nelson's hold was of a 10-6 lead; he retired four of five batters in the 7th/8th innings of NY's eventual 12-6 triumph. Andy Pettitte won, Pat Rapp lost.
AFTER THIS CARD: Nelson returned to Seattle for 2001 and was an All-Star for the 116-win M's. Over time, he received more opportunities to close, wrapping up 14 affairs from 2001-03 (one coming after his return to the Yankees; he'd only saved eight during his entire first Bronx go-round.)
For the ensuing three years, the aging hurler bounced around on minor league deals between the Rangers, Mariners again, and White Sox, but consistent health eluded him and he underwent career-ending nerve surgery on his elbow in 2006.
Months later, a 40-year-old Nelson signed one of those silly ceremonial one-day contracts to retire a Yankee.
Jeff Nelson appeared in 1993-95 Topps, was omitted for years, then returned for the 2001-04 sets.
CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, New York Yankees
5/30/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #377 Mike Smithson, Red Sox
More Mike Smithson Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1990
By the time I began following baseball, Mike Smithson was just about through, but he still made an impression on me because of his full name: Billy Mike Smithson. Not William Michael. His parents are among the top 10 people I'd interview just to learn the motivation behind his naming. Yes, that makes me lame. But I'm less lame for admitting it, right?
Smithson was no star, but he took the ball and churned out gobs of quality innings for the Rangers and Twins—just view the back of this card. Like our previous COTD selection Jeff Nelson, Smithson was/is 6'8"; he featured a sinker/slider/change repertoire and the ability to work both sides of the plate.
The "Pink Flamingo", as Boston batterymate Rick Cerone later dubbed him, was drafted by Boston in '76 but reached the majors with Texas in August 1982—losing to the great Jim Palmer in his debut. In 1984, the now-29-year-old Smithson joined Minnesota after a deal for Gary Ward and remained through the Twins' 1987 World Champion season (though he wasn't on the postseason roster).
Not re-signed by the Twins, Smithson finished his career by returning to the Red Sox family for 1988-89—their skipper was the other Joe Morgan, who'd managed Smithson as a prospect. Here, he's completed the first of those years, one in which he helped the Red Sox to an ALCS berth.
THIS CARD: This probably isn't a low-angle shot—remember, Smithson is 6'8". The photographer is probably fully upright.
Now, in 1989 Topps the graphics overlapped the image, not the other way around like in 1990 Topps. Should've stayed this way.
(flip) The Cape Cod League is a collegiate league that's been around since the 1800s, apparently. All I was able to unearth about the 1975 Orleans Cardinals is that they reached the "semis". Notable alumni include Jeff Conine, Frank Thomas, Todd Helton, Nomar Garciaparra, and the more contemporary Matt Wieters and Brett Cecil.
Smithson averaged 35 starts and 233 innings from 1983-86; he was the 1984 and 1985 league leader in starts. Not shown: he led the league with 15 hit batters in 1985, and was a top-five finisher six times in his seven full seasons! (It's clear why both Smithson's 1989 and 1990 Score cards state he "isn't afraid to pitch inside".)
AFTER THIS CARD: Not much. Smithson was used by Morgan as a jack-of-all-trades (hence the Pink Flamingo nickname) throughout 1988-89, pitching long and middle relief, closing when needed and filling rotation holes as well. He signed with California for 1990, but failed to make the team in part because of a bad hip. The hip needed replacing, and Smithson's career drew to a close at 34.
Mike Smithson appeared annually in Topps from 1983-90, with 1983 being a Traded card.
CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Boston Red Sox