Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, May 2016
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5/10/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2000 Topps #450 Draft Picks Ben Christensen, Richard Stahl
More 2000 Topps Draft Pick Cards: #453
2000 Topps makes its second COTD appearance (#405 Albert Belle was the first back on 1/11/15) with two guys who combined to play zero major league games, although one of them became infamous for reasons detailed below.
Stahl was a 6'7" LHP drafted #18 overall by Baltimore—as a compensatory choice for the loss of free agent Eric Davis to the Cardinals—out of high school. He wasn't easy to hit, and he wound up with just 35 HRA in over 520 minor league innings. But Stahl's command left a lot to be desired—he was moved from starting to relieving and back, not reaching AA until his sixth professional season. (Not helping: his regular trips to the disabled list.)
Cubs prospect Christensen also threw hard—his sinker reached 94—and lost once in three college seasons (against 21 wins, not all as a starter). He might have gone higher than #26 overall, but under orders from a Wichita State coach, he infamously drilled a waiting hitter in the face for timing his warmup pitches months before the 1999 draft.
That hitter, Evansville's Anthony Molina, suffered serious injuries that ended any hope of a pro career—though Christensen was able to avoid jail time.
THIS CARD: Rookie card emblems on draft pick cards seem a little redundant, but remember, some undrafted amateurs received Topps cards in the past—Olympians, for example.
With his collar under the O's logo, Stahl appears to be wearing a medallion.
2000 Topps carried 15 draft pick duo cards; 19 of the 30 players never reached the majors.
Why do there have to be so many damn ways to spell Ben's last name? Remember the old Pirates/Giants reliever Jason Christiansen? Or the former A's outfielder Ryan Christenson? Not to mention fellow 1999 draftee Ryan Christianson? For Christenson's sake...
(flip) I'm going to assume Christensen's three straight 17-BB years are not a misprint. Topps mentions low-level Daytona and Eugene, but they omitted rookie league Arizona (though those stats are included).
11-0, 2.34? Not bad, Stahl. (We were unable to find his full high school statistical records.)
AFTER THIS CARD: Neither man made it to MLB; Christensen maxed out with parts of four consecutive years with AA West Tennessee; the Cubs cut him after the '03 season, and he finished up with a very brief run with AA San Antonio (Mariners) in 2004. Final line: 12-19, 4.64 in 74 games.
Stahl lasted a bit longer and did reach AAA in his final pro season of 2006. He closed at 27-39, 4.23 in 148 games—the final six in the Cincinnati Reds' system.
(It should be noted that Molina, Christensen's beaning victim, went to prison for sexual assault on a child back in 2014. Call his injury a bit of advance karma.)
CATEGORIES: 2000 Topps, Subsets
5/20/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps Update #49 Sammy Sosa, Rangers
More Sammy Sosa Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992 1992T 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
This is the final Topps appearance for one of the most captivating, fashionable stars the game has ever seen.
Sosa, as many baseball fans are aware, started out in 1989 as a raw, skinny 20-year-old Texas Ranger—and finished up in 2007 as an accomplished, bulky 38-year-old Texas Ranger. In between: 13 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, where Sosa enjoyed the most prolific four-year power stretch in league history.
Along with fellow Ranger prospect Wilson Alvarez, Sosa joined the White Sox in a trade for longtime star Harold Baines in mid-89. Though Sosa clearly had ability, he was slow to harness it, and the White Sox swapped him for veteran Cubs slugger George Bell after the '91 season.
As a Cub, Sosa appeared to reach his potential at last, averaging 34 homers, 100 RBI and 26 steals from 1993-97—and that includes three years shortened by strike or injury! Little did anyone know where his true ceiling lay, however.
66. 63. 50. 64. No, those weren't the Cub win totals from 1998-2001. Those numbers represented the respective HR tally for the newly bulked-up, neck-free Sosa over that period. Having added crowd-pleasing pomp and flair to his game, Sosa became a true sensation.
By 2002, 33-year-old Sosa's salary had grown to $15M, but his numbers, while still excellent, began to trend downward. After being caught using a corked bat in 2003, Sosa's popularity in Chicago—already slipping amid reports of an inflated ego and seemingly little interest in improving/maintaining his other baseball skillz—further dipped.
When he left the ballpark without permission during 2004's final game and lied about it, management cut ties with Sosa via trade with Baltimore.
Now 36, not much went well for Sosa in 2005 on or off the field; he only received minor-league offers for 2006—which he rejected. Here, after a year on the sidelines, the former superstar has accepted a similar offer with the familiar Texas Rangers for 2007.
THIS CARD: This can't be a STUN photo; no way would any sane man wear even a short-sleeved pullover in Arizona. Sosa is obviously warming up prior to a regular-season game someplace other than Texas. That red T is reminiscent of the 2003 Blue Jays logo, sans bird. Sosa's signature looks like a pair of glasses held together by string.
(flip) I've always been fascinated by Sosa leading the NL in 2000 and 2002 with respective totals of 50 and 49 homers, yet not leading the NL in any of his three 60+ homer seasons (thanks to Mark McGwire twice and Barry Bonds) during the same period.
Sosa added 112 K to that lifetime total in 2007; his 2,306 ranked second all-time when he retired (to Reggie Jackson—Adam Dunn and Jim Thome later passed him; Alex Rodriguez likely will by 2016's end.)
DH sure looks strange by Sosa's name, but indeed 85% of his 2007 run was in that role.
AFTER THIS CARD: Sosa did indeed win a job with the then-mediocre Rangers, and wound up leading the team with 21 HR; his 92 RBI trailed leader Michael Young by just two...and Sosa played 42 fewer games! (That has to be close to a final-season RBI record. but we couldn't confirm.) On 6/20, he joined the 600-HR club with a blast off Jason Marquis...SP for the Chicago Cubs, of all teams.
That would be it for "Slammin' Sammy", who finished with 609 lifetime jacks—at the time, only Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays had more; Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Thome have since dropped Sosa to #8 all-time.
Despite his gaudy stats, Sosa's maxed out at 12% in Hall of Fame voting due to PED suspicion, and hasn't made much post-retirement news other than this.
Sammy Sosa appeared annually in Topps or Topps Update 1990-2007, except 2006 when he was unsigned and thought to be retired. He was similarly omitted in 2008—no sunset card. (Sosa also appears in 1992 Traded.)
CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps Update, Texas Rangers
5/23/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1991 Topps #551 Bob Kipper, Pirates
More Bob Kipper Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1992
As stated on the COTD homepage introduction, the primary objective of this feature is to put my over 10,000 baseball cards "to use" in some way. A sub-objective: even I, who knows quite a lot about MLB, will learn something I'd otherwise have never known—or would have ever had a need/desire to know.
Bob Kipper is a classic example. I remembered him clearly from his Pirates days, but had no clue he began as an Angel...or was once a starter...or was cut before completing one season with the Twins.
Turns out Kipper was quite the prospect once upon a time—he was All-American in high school, drafted by the Angels #8 overall soon after, and California League (A) Pitcher Of The Year in 1984. By 1985, 20-year-old Kipper was in the bigs, but clearly in over his head and dispatched after two games—first to AAA, then to the Pirates in a six-player trade that sent vets George Hendrick, John Candelaria and Al Holland west.
Kipper immediately joined the Bucs rotation and remained there for most of 1986-87 (in one of those 1987 starts, Kipper impressively stood tall as a snarling Darryl Strawberry charged the mound). He was too reliant upon his fastball at times, however, and demoted to AAA both years.
Eventually, Kipper's skipper Jim Leyland shifted him to relief—it took, and Kipper averaged just under 50 RA over the next four seasons.
This card represents the third of those seasons—though he sat the first month with a shoulder strain and continued to struggle with the gopher ball, overall Kipper threw well for the 95-win Pirates.
THIS CARD: Photo obviously taken at a Spring Training facility. Kipper's face says "You gonna take the picture or what?"
(flip) Kipper's numbers were skewed by an early-season fill-in start in which he allowed seven ER in 1.1 IP—even with that, his season WHIP was still 1.12! By the way, to me anyway, an activity doesn't really count as a "pastime" if you can literally do it anywhere at any time with little-to-no preparation. (I would have accepted "going to concerts".)
Does anyone else still use "SO" as a strikeout abbreviation? "K" seems more or less ubiquitous.
Doc Gooden and Shawon Dunston were the only two noteworthies selected ahead of Kipper. (Okay...I suppose you could include Spike Owen.)
AFTER THIS CARD: Kipper did not have a good first half of 1991 and was actually told mid-season that he would not be brought back for 1992—and he wasn't, though his numbers were exponentially better in the second half. Minnesota swooped in with a 1Y/$1M offer—an absolute windfall for a 1992 middle reliever!
Sadly, the defending World Series champions cut 28-year-old Kipper after a very rough pair of July outings. He got in a handful of games for AAA Norfolk (Mets) in 1994, and that was it for Kipper as a professional pitcher.
After coaching in the Independent leagues for a time, Kipper has worked in the Boston organization since 1999—twice serving as bullpen coach for the major league club (2002, 2015)
Bob Kipper appeared in Topps annually 1986-1992, all as a Pirate (1986 is a Traded card). As far as we can tell, no Angel cards of him exist. (1992 Stadium Club features him as a Twin.)
CATEGORIES: 1991 Topps, Pittsburgh Pirates
5/26/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps #420 Ryan Howard, Phillies
More Ryan Howard Topps Cards: 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014 2015
Usually, we like COTD selections of current newsmakers...but not this time, not when they're in the news for the wrong reasons. Other than maybe Marlon Byrd's PED suspension, I'm not sure there is a sadder MLB story right now than the benching of Ryan Howard.
This is Howard's second COTD selection, and since we covered his slow decline in depth back on 4/1/15 when we picked his 2013 Topps card, we won't rehash it in detail here. Just know that Howard is currently batting .159, and even MLB Network hosts can barely veil their derision whenever "Ryan Howard Strikes Out" during a game rundown. (I know you try, Sam Ryan, but not hard enough.)
Here, Howard is coming off his NLCS-ending K against San Francisco's Brian Wilson, and a slip in production from his amazing 2006-09 run of dominance. He's still among the league's best, however, and seemed poised to be for years to come. Seemed...
THIS CARD: Pre-diet Ryan Howard was an absolute force. He's not as big here as he once was, nor is he as svelte as he'd become. (Howard's listed on the reverse at 255 lbs; that would eventually drop to 240.)
The "Big Piece" opened 2010 with eight multi-hit games in his first 10, flirting with .300 for much of the summer before settling at .276. Unfortunately, though he batted .303 in nine playoff games, Howard was held without even one RBI.
Some of those position listings won't be visible over darker dirt. I can't begin to speculate what field this could be.
(flip) I'd bet my life that, in 66 years of Topps, the word "wormed" has never appeared on any other card. (For those of you unaware, the blurb refers to the longtime Phillies mascot.)
The closest we've come to selecting Alomar's card is #442 Dave West last August.
Those 199 K in 2007 were the MLB record...for 12 months, when Mark Reynolds upped it to 204.
AFTER THIS CARD: Howard was good enough in 2011 to earn an MVP vote, but ended those playoffs by tearing his Achilles. His days as a superstar were over as he fell under .230 for three of four years, and only his $25M annual contract kept him in Philadelphia as longtime mates Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were dispatched around him.
Now 36, Howard entered 2016—the final year of his mega-extension—with a job, but was told by new manager Pete Mackanin that he'd have to hit to keep it. He didn't (seven hits in all of May) and the plug was finally pulled on the 2006 MVP in early June.
Ryan Howard has appeared in Topps annually since 2005; 2005 was a shared Prospects card with fellow star-to-be Hamels.
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, Philadelphia Phillies