Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, November 2015
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11/2/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #232 Paul O'Neill, Yankees
More Paul O'Neill Topps Cards: 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1993T 1994 1995 1996 1997 1999 2000 2001 2002
Had he not landed with the Yankees for the final nine years of his career, Paul O'Neill's legacy would read something like "whiny, selfish, hot-tempered sourpuss who breaks equipment and kicks baseballs."
But O'Neill did land with the Yankees—contributing big plays on both sides of the ball when it counted during a Yankee renaissance that netted five pennants in six years. So when team owner George Steinbrenner defines him as a "warrior", his legacy must read such, as well.
Notice I said "as well", not "instead". Both can be—and in O'Neill's case, are—true.
A 1981 4th-rounder by the "hometown" Reds (O'Neill grew up and played high school ball in Columbus, about two hours away), none of his minor league numbers jumped off the page, but he was the American Association leader in 1985 hits—earning a call-up to Cincy.
Soon, O'Neill was playing for Pete Rose and sharing lineup space with Dave Parker, Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez in his second start—a slight step up from the American Association.
O'Neill didn't stick with Cincinnati for good until 1987; by 1990 he was starting for a World Series winner, helping the Reds get there by batting .471 in the NLCS against Pittsburgh. The following season O'Neill was a first-time All-Star, finishing with 28 homers and career-highs in many other categories. But rising salary and sinking production in 1992 prompted a trade to New York (for fellow OF Roberto Kelly).
Kelly lasted 1½ injury-plagued years with the Reds, while O'Neill emerged as a Yankee cornerstone over time. He claimed a batting title in 1994, batted .333 with three home runs in the 1995 ALCS vs. Seattle, made a game-saving catch during the 1996 World Series vs. Atlanta...and guest-starred on Seinfeld. Here, O'Neill has just wrapped his fourth season with the Yankees—an All-Star season that launched a four-year streak of 100+ RBI.
THIS CARD: If you look closely, O'Neill didn't get this one on the sweet spot. If you don't look closely, you mistake the bright hat in the crowd for the ball (as I did).
(flip) The referenced grand slam was served up by Cleveland starter Charles Nagy and helped David Wells to a CG win; it was part of a .421 ALDS for O'Neill in an eventual losing effort. Joe Pepitote took Gordie Richardson deep in Game 6 of the 1964 World Series vs. the Cardinals.
Since 1997, two other Yankees boast grand slams in October: Ricky Ledee (1999 ALCS) and Robinson Cano (2011 ALDS).
Those 102 walks in 1996 came from nowhere, didn't they? O'Neill never approached that figure again.
AFTER THIS CARD: The veteran RF played four more seasons in the majors, all with the Yankees and all resulting in pennants. He famously played Game 4 of the 1999 World Series shortly after his father's death—unlike Edinson Volquez this year, O'Neill was actually aware of it before taking the field—and, with his retirement looming, received a special personal chant from appreciative Yankee fans as he stood in RF during Game 5 of the 2001 World Series.
Post-retirement, O'Neill worked for the YES network and (eventually) received a plaque in Monument Park. He was featured annually in Topps 1988-2002, and in 1993 Topps Traded.
CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, New York Yankees
11/6/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps #65 Chris Sale, White Sox
More Chris Sale Topps Cards: 2012 2013 2014
If you were a fan of General Hospital in the mid-2000s, One Life To Live at decade's turn, and/or The Bold And The Beautiful today, find an up-close shot of Sale and prepare to double-take—actor Scott Clifton could be his separated-at-birth twin.
But Scott Clifton can't sling a baseball 97 MPH.
The rare player to debut in MLB during his draft year, Sale went to the White Sox #13 overall in 2010 shortly after winning 11, losing zero and being named Collegiate Player of the Year as a junior at Gulf Coast University.
First-place Chicago decided four games at A and seven more at AAA was seasoning enough; by August—two months after being drafted—Sale was slinging in Ozzie Guillen's bullpen.
THIS CARD: Collectors get a good view of the seemingly endless bevy of limbs that comprise Chris Sale. If he were ever to be lost and undiscovered for 200 years, paleantologists would salivate over finding his bones...for a while.
Those appear to be Oakland Athletics behind Sale in the dugout; he did make a 2010 appearance at Oakland, striking out Shawn Tolleson with two on for a September save.
Sale has worn #49 his entire six-year career, longer than any other White Sock. Besides him, only Rich Dotson wore it longer than three seasons.
(flip) Sale was picked #13 overall, behind the likes of fellow pitchers Barret Loux, Jameson Taillon, Deck McGuire and Karsten Whitson—none of whom have sniffed the bigs yet. (August 2016 update: Taillon has now made it with the Pirates.)
Just to be a butt, I was prepared to ask something like "did those talent evaluators have a say in the selections of (insert bust first-round draft picks)". But for the most part, Williams' top choices over the past decade were decent; apparently not all teams go through a near-decade of first-round futility like my Giants did in the 1990's. My bad. (Look it up! From 1989-98, only Jason Grilli did anything of note in the majors—long, long, long after being cast aside by San Francisco.)
Alex Fernandez was the 1990 player in question; he was a teammate of Williams for about a year.
AFTER THIS CARD: Sale was a full-time reliever and part-time closer for the 2011 Sox. After that—not much, unless you count four All-Star selections, three Top-6 Cy Young finishes, a strikeout title, three Top-5 ERA finishes, three Top-5 WHIP finishes, direct involvement in multiple brawls and general standing as one of the best pitchers in the game since 2012 as "much".
(August 2016 update: more "not much" happened with Chris Sale.)
In Spring 2013, the team signed Sale to a club-friendly—if he maintains his performance—extension thru 2017 (with club options thru 2019). He gets $32.5M guaranteed and another $26M if the options are exercised.
Chris Sale has appeared annually in Topps since 2011.
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, Chicago White Sox
11/9/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #677 Eddie Milner, Giants
More Eddie Milner Topps Cards: 1987 1987T
TSR forgoes the standard random selection process in memory of the veteran outfielder Milner, who died November 2, 2015 at age 60 (cause not made public, to the best of our findings). 1988 Topps was the last set to feature Milner, best known for his years patrolling the outfield at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati during the period between the last gasps of the Big Red Machiners and the club's re-emergence under Lou Piniella.
Milner—cousin of the 1971-82 Mets/Pirates 1B-OF John Milner—averaged over 100 starts for the 1982-86 Reds, much of it as their center fielder. Milner was never an exceptional hitter, maxing out at .268 his rookie year and accumulating 42 home runs in parts of nine seasons (15 of them in 1986 alone). But he could draw a walk, finishing with more BB than K lifetime.
His game was defense and speed; Milner swiped 41 bags in 1983 and 35 more two years later, all the while running down everything hit his way in the outfield.
Here, Milner has just wrapped his lone season (1987) as a non-Red—one interrupted by his voluntary admission into a drug rehab clinic in April. Milner still racked up well over 200 PA in a part-time role that year, and participated in postseason play for the first and only time in his career.
THIS CARD: I usually like the non-action shot, but not this one—Milner's in profile, and you almost see more of the back than the front of his head. Which is detrimental to my case that young Milner resembled the love child of Eddie Murphy and Chauncey Billups—see his baseballreference.com page instead and form your opinion.
Along the right edge: is it part of someone's dugout wall, or is Milner leaning against a tree in the middle of a game? Wish I could ask him now.
Late 80's Topps so improves asthetically if the card colors matched the damn team colors—really? The San Francisco football team uses red and gold, not baseball! At least the company figured it out in the 90's.
(flip) Milner's was a case of a local kid making good, having been born and raised a couple of hours away in Columbus, Ohio.
Timber Mead? What a great name, and it is indeed his real name. Both he and Villa soon returned to the SF organization, but neither he (a mediocre SP) nor Villa (a mediocre RP) ever reached the majors.
AFTER THIS CARD: Rehab didn't help Milner kick his habit, and he was suspended for half of the 1988 season (by which time he was back in Cincy via free agency). He was cut later in the summer and never returned to the bigs. Click here for the unfortunate post-career fallout from Milner's drug use—you won't believe one of the jobs he wound up taking.
Eddie Milner appeared in Topps 1983-88, and in 1982 and 1987 Topps Traded.
CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, San Francisco Giants, Now Deceased
11/11/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #626 Tommy Hanson, Rangers
More Tommy Hanson Topps Cards: 2009U 2010 2011 2012 2013
Unfortunately, this is our second consecutive selection in memory of a late major leaguer; Hanson passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at age 29 on November 9, 2015 (cause yet to be fully determined). Six years ago, the 6'6" righty was the talk of baseball when he replaced Braves legend Tom Glavine on their roster—and proceeded to go undefeated in his first eight starts (personally winning five of them). He finished an impressive 11-4, 2.89 for Atlanta, earning a spot on Topps' All-Rookie team.
Only a #22 pick back in '05, Hanson's minor league dominance in 2008-09 pretty much forced the Braves' hand—in '09 alone, he boasted a 1.49 ERA after 11 starts for AAA Gwinnett (somehow only winning three of them). Coupled with a "devastating" slider/curve combo, Hanson's high-90s gas was no match for the International League.
In the 2010 NLDS, after Giants P Tim Lincecum memorably shut down the Braves with 14 K in the opener, it was Hanson called upon to settle things down in Game 2—though he couldn't get out of the 4th inning, his teammates picked him up. They owed him one; Hanson won only twice after the 2010 break despite a 2.51 ERA in 16 starts! (That was Hanson's first and last playoff game.)
Though he won 34 more games for Atlanta 2010-12, Hanson's rookie year would prove to be his pinnacle. A bad shoulder disabled him twice in 2011 and surely affected him when he did pitch, ultimately a partial rotator cuff tear was discovered, shelving him for the '11 playoffs.
2012 began hopeful enough for Hanson—he came to camp with a new delivery, only to be soon concussed in a car wreck—foreshadowing the up-and-down season to come. By season's end, Atlanta had five decent starters not named Hanson, who was traded to the Angels for RP Jordan Walden that November.
LA got no return on their new $3.7M investment, half of whose season was spent deactivated, disabled or demoted to AAA. (The other half was spent racking up a 5.42 ERA/1.6 WHIP.)
Here, the now-27-year-old is off to Texas...for a few weeks, anyway.
THIS CARD: Somewhere, Bert Blyleven is smiling.
We chose Hanson's 2014 Topps card because A) that set is underrepresented and B) it is Hanson's final Topps card.
Hanson was only a Ranger during Spring Training 2014. Because of this, I've been motivated to create a new Card Categories section—players shown with teams they never played (a regular season game) for. Off-hand, I recall Manny Ramirez' A's card in 2012 Topps as well as Jose Canseco's Expos card from 2002 Topps. (Yes, that really exists.)
(flip) Hanson and his slider attended Riverside Community College.
Hanson was acquired by the Angels, not Rangers, via "Trade with Braves". Interesting (or not) coincidence: Hanson was 2005 overall draft pick #677—the same card number as our prior COTD selection.
AFTER THIS CARD: Hanson joined AAA Charlotte (White Sox) for 2014 after the Rangers cut him; no longer able to incinerate hitters, it was a rough go that ended with a long DL stint. San Francisco signed the veteran to AAA Sacramento in 2015, but he fared no better. Sadly, that would be it for Hanson in baseball...and in life.
Tommy Hanson appeared in 2009-14 Topps, with 2009 being an Update card.
CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, Texas Rangers, Now Deceased
11/21/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #359 Mike Stanley, Yankees
More Mike Stanley Topps Cards: 1987T 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1994 1995 1996 1997 2000 2001
TSR presents 1993 Topps #359 Mike Stanley to you here, but first I'd like to share a silly, if not outright dumb, childhood memory involving 1990 Topps #92 Mike Stanley.
If you frequent our Card Of The Day posts, you know 1990 Topps was the first set I collected (I received sporadic gifts of 1987-89 Topps in the ensuing years, but didn't go about actively building their sets until well into adulthood).
The following revelation will nauseate some die-hard collectors, but...as the set was built, I never used any protective pockets or sleeves until the set was near completion. I grouped commons by team...but did not sort by player name, card number, anything. They were arranged in order of acquisition from packs with teams separated via rubber bands.
Stanley, a Ranger at that time, was stashed right behind Julio Franco. Franco is shown with an ear-to-ear smile on his face, while Stanley is shown glancing off to the side, somewhat confused, as if someone called his name as the photo was shot—not uncommon for pre-gloss Topps.
When thumbing through the Rangers, 10-year-old me would imagine Stanley's card saying to Franco's card, "What are you smiling for, Franco?? We play on the Rangers!"
I know, I know. If it were possible for me to return the past minute of your life, I would.
Back to this card: after terrorizing the American Association (AAA) to the tune of .626 slugging and 13 homers in 46 games, Stanley was summoned to the Rangers and took over starting duties from Don Slaught in June 1987.
Unable to carry over his minor league excellence, Stanley spent the next four years sharing time with Geno Petralli—not showing much offensive promise at all. Someone who did show plenty of promise—teenage Pudge Rodriguez, who in 1991 emerged as a superstar-in-waiting.
And since Rodriguez happened to be a catcher—a rather talented catcher—off to the Yankees for Stanley after that season. Here, the now-29-year-old has completed his first of four-plus seasons in the Bronx.
THIS CARD: Good form, back to the field...that's how a catcher snags popups. The zero you see is half of the number 20. And though Jorge Posada was still five years away from making a major league imprint, it still borders on blasphemous to see another Yankee—especially a catcher—sporting those digits. (And that's coming from someone who's no Posada fan.)
(flip) Look at all those Texas seasons when Stanley couldn't provide enough O to even unseat Petralli (a career .360 slugger). Makes you wonder which current non-starting catcher is sitting on annual 20-homer potential. Josh Thole, make 2016 yours.
Stanley's slam came off no less than Randy Johnson, who wasn't quite Randy Johnson yet—in fact, the Big Unit walked nine and drilled two that day. That includes all three runners that scored in front of Stanley, who entered play hitting .197 in limited duty.
In spite of the six-run first—all unearned due to Harold Reynolds' error—Johnson went seven innings and 146 pitches deep. The "rally" (you have to use quotes when a rally is fueled by errors, walks and plunkings) picked up eventual winning pitcher Scott Kamieniecki, who'd given up a three-run homer in the top of the first.
AFTER THIS CARD: Though he made five times more money, incumbent Yankee starting catcher Matt Nokes was benched in favor of Stanley in May 1993; the latter responded with 26 home runs—two more than he hit in 1986-1992 combined and two more than Petralli hit in his entire 12-year-career. Stanley remained the Yankees #1 catcher through his All-Star 1995 season.
That winter, the Red Sox were somehow able to sign the free-agent, slugging, All-Star, healthy, 32-year-old Stanley...for 1Y/$2M.
From that grew a pairing with the Red Sox every season from 1996-2000—they did eventually get those dollars up—but only in '96 and '98 was that pairing exclusive, as Stanley also suited up for the Yankees (again) Blue Jays and Athletics during that period. (Had Theo Epstein been GM in those days, would the selective, high-OBP Stanley have been allowed to leave even once? We're guessing probably not.)
In fact, Stanley finished up with the upstart 2000 Athletics, but having been exclusively a DH/1B for three years by that time, never caught any of the "Big Three".
Mike Stanley debuted in 1987 Topps Traded, then appeared annually in Topps 1988-2001, except 1998-99 . His 1999 exclusion borders on criminal, as he smoked 29 home runs for Toronto and Boston that year and amassed just under 600 plate appearances. Every time I think I'm over the 1994 strike, something—usually Topps-related—brings the bitterness all back...
CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, New York Yankees
11/27/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #742 Mark Clear, Brewers
More Mark Clear Topps Cards: 1987 1989
In his first four MLB seasons, curveballing Clear went 11-5, 11-11, 8-3, and 14-9. At this point the unfamiliar fan says to himself, "Hmm. Clear was a fairly decent little starting pitcher, wasn't he?" And that fan would be dead wrong, because the tall righty did not start even one game in that period—all those decisions came in relief!
Clear was an All-Star rookie reliever for the upstart 1979 California Angels, who completed their two-year climb from nothing to reach the ALCS. One year after that ALCS, he was sacrificed to Boston in a trade for Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson.
Clear remained with the Red Sox for five roller-coaster seasons—he was an All-Star in 1982, only to post a 6.28 ERA/1.7 WHIP in 1983—closing part-time and battling wildness full-time.
Overhauling its 1985 bullpen—fixtures Rollie Fingers and Pete Ladd weren't brought back—Milwaukee traded for Clear that winter (but not without some hurdles). Here, the 31-year-old has just wrapped his second of three seasons with the Brewers.
THIS CARD: The angle makes Clear's right shin appear to have been blowed off.
Orange and purple for the Brewers...not even on 'shrooms, Topps.
(flip) The drop-off in Clear's numbers from 1986 can be attributed to health; he later revealed he pitched hurt throughout 1987-88. (Also affecting those '87 numbers: Clear made his first and only career start June 30, allowing five ER in 3.1 innings against Detroit.)
Ed Romero was a light-hitting infielder (and sometimes outfielder) who'd been with Milwaukee off-and-on since 1977. Romero remained with Boston into the 1989 season, and his major league career ended six weeks after Clear's did.
Philadelphia cut Clear 10 months after drafting him; largely as a starter he'd been 0-7, 8.65 in the Rookie League that summer, walking 43 and hitting 11 in just 51 innings. The Angels then signed him—good gamble.
AFTER THIS CARD: Clear re-signed with his original team for 1989, but soon underwent reconstructive surgery that kept him out all of 1989. Still, the Angels brought him back on a major-league deal for 1990—a month into that season, he was brought up from AAA, but cut after four games. A brief fling in the Cubs system wrapped Clear's pro career at 34.
Mark Clear appeared annually in Topps 1980-89.
CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, Milwaukee Brewers