Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, November 2016
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11/4/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1995 Topps #624 Brian McRae, Royals
More Brian McRae Topps Cards: 1990T 1991 1992 1993 1994 1996 1997 1998 1999
Most people equate the words "Bo Jackson Injury" with the unfortunate hip dislocation/fracture he suffered on the gridiron in 1991...understandable. But not Brian McRae, his former teammate on the Royals. You see, when Jackson's unsuccessful pursuit of a Deion Sanders (Yankees) drive led to a dislocated shoulder in July 1990, McRae—though he wasn't exactly tearing up the minors at the time—was summoned to the bigs after three years in AA.
With Jackson and longtime CF Willie Wilson both gone by Opening Day 1991, McRae became KC's center fielder and held the job through 1994. The former #17 overall pick (1985) took some offensive and baserunning lumps early on, but KC stuck with him. Not hurting matters: as of mid-1991 his father Hal, a Royals star during their glory years, managed the team.
In 1993, the junior McRae overcame a trying 1992 to rank fourth in the AL in at-bats and triples; he also led KC in hits and total bases! Here, McRae has just closed his fifth (and ultimately final) season with the Royals—boosted by a 400% salary jump, he'd been on his way to a breakout 1994 season until falling into a two-month offensive freefall that, as it turned out, only the strike could stop.
THIS CARD: Some say McRae was born with that beard. I'd be inclined to believe them...can't remember ever seeing him without at least a couple of days' growth during his career.
McRae was the first Royal to wear #56 during the regular season. Star closer Greg Holland was the most recent Royal to wear it. In the intervening 16 years...an All-Star collection of no-names, the best known being John Thomson. (McRae would wear #56 for his entire 10-year career.)
(flip) Hal played for KC 1973-1987, and with the Reds for (parts of) four seasons before that. Like his son, Hal McRae never changed uniform numbers in his 19-year career.
I don't know of any subsequent teams to draft the son of one of its active players—Torii Hunter Jr. is probably the closest; the Angels chose him in '16 four years after employing his papa—and five minutes of investigating was enough.
McRae finished 1994 at .273; he was at .326 entering play June 11, but only hit .217 for the final two months of the season.
AFTER THIS CARD: McRae was traded to the Cubs for two nobodies in April 1995; he enjoyed two good years there and earned a 3Y/$11M extension prior to 1997. But when Mets leadoff wiz Lance Johnson became available, Chicago gave up the slumping McRae to complete a six-man blockbuster trade in August 1997.
Used all over the lineup, McRae put up some surprising numbers in 1998 (36 doubles, 21 HR, 79 RBI). Despite that, he and manager Bobby Valentine weren't so tight—the veteran CF and his $3.75M salary went to the Rockies via trade for Darryl Hamilton in July 1999.
Nine days later, McRae was traded again—this time to Toronto, who needed a replacement for the demoted Jose Cruz, Jr. But by then, apparently "even I could beat him in the 100-yard dash" wrote David Wells years later. "Gimpy-kneed" McRae had little impact as a Jay.
He had knee surgery after the season and tried to win a job with the 2000 Cardinals but his bid—and major league career—ended at 31 with his late March release. McRae worked in sports television during and after his career, did MLB.com Radio for several years, and currently coaches in something called the West Coast League.
Brian McRae appeared in Topps annually 1991-1999. Oddly, he was never depicted at-bat until his very last card (he was also shown batting in 1995 Traded, however.)
CATEGORIES: 1995 Topps, Kansas City Royals
11/7/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #335 Andy Hawkins, Yankees
More Andy Hawkins Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1991
Hawkins was the fifth overall pick in 1978 by San Diego, and within seven years was an 18-game winner for them. It didn't come easy for the big righty, who just the season before was exiled to the bullpen by an exasperated Dick Williams, a famously hard-nosed skipper who'd had his fill of Hawkins' timidness on the mound.
Splitting time between SD and the minors, Hawkins got into 36 games—29 starts—for the 1982-83 Padres before opening '84 in their rotation. How'd it go? Three-hit shutouts one start, unable to escape the first inning against a sub-.500 team in the very next (that did happen.)
While in the pen, Hawkins—never a power pitcher despite his size—picked up a cutter, and became a very valuable bullpen contributor in the NLCS. He also earned a win during the WS—to date, the only Padre ever with that distinction.
Following his breakout '85, Hawkins endured two off-years (shoulder tendinitis was a contributor, as was playing for a manager who wasn't crazy about him) before piling up 14 wins in his walk year of 1988. And walk he did—to the Yankees, who dangled $3.6M over three years to lure the 29-year-old.
Here, Hawkins has just wrapped a shaky debut year in the Bronx. The Yanks signed him to head the rotation—he was the only man to stay in it all season—but Hawkins was far too hittable (especially for lefties, who hit .323 off him) and co-led the league in earned runs allowed.
THIS CARD: This "action" shot, and I use that term loosely, breaks a three-year Topps streak of posed Hawkins headshots. Note: we can definitively state he is not delivering a pitch in this image.
Look closely; under Hawkins' right arm, you can make out a standing coach/runner in what appears to be the Angels home uniform, hence Anaheim Stadium as the locale.
(flip) Those are some very low K/BB ratios.
For the record, the Witt "brothers" Bobby and Mike were Hawkins' 1989 co-leaders in earned runs allowed.
As you can see, Hawkins' overall 1989 numbers aren't so impressive—only Doyle Alexander lost more AL games—but he made all 34 starts, completed five, and threw 208 innings. That's noteworthy on a staff where no other pitcher made over 20 starts or exceeded 120 innings.
All three of those July wins were complete games; in said wins, he allowed a single cumulative run...which was unearned.
AFTER THIS CARD: As tough as Hawkins' 1989 was, his 1990 was even worse and after a disastrous June start vs. Boston that cost Bucky Dent his managerial job, Hawkins was thisclose to joining him in the unemployment line—only Mike Witt's sudden injury spared him from Dent's fate.
Hawkins did have high points, which included: a July no-hitter at the White Sox and an 11.2-inning exertion vs. Minnesota—both of which he lost! (The no-no isn't recognized as such today since, as the visitor that day, Hawkins completed just eight innings.) But overall he finished just 5-12, 5.37 and did not pitch the final three weeks.
With his ERA nearing 10, New York let Hawkins go in early 1991; he hooked up with the A's, learned a forkball, and pitched better for a time (4-3, 3.98, 1.26 WHIP in first 11 starts), but was ultimately let go in August. A Spring 1992 comeback with Seattle went nowhere, and that was it for the 10-year veteran. He was bullpen coach for the Rangers 2009-15 and currently coaches for AAA Omaha (Royals).
Andy Hawkins appeared in Topps 1984-1991.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, New York Yankees
11/10/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2003 Topps #105 Greg Maddux, Braves
More Greg Maddux Topps Cards: 1987T 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Maddux was approaching 37 when this card was issued, but still near the top of his legendary game. For any youngsters reading this page: I watched most of Greg Maddux's career, especially the Atlanta portion when he reached superhuman levels as a professional pitcher, and I can tell you he was the least intimidating, least overpowering and least exciting feared mound assassin of his time—maybe of all-time.
Watching Maddux conquer the league year after year was not unlike watching the hulking jock get walloped by the scrawny egghead in Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night" video. (I was going to use a Matthew/Joe NewsRadio reference, but if you didn't see Maddux, you didn't see NewsRadio.)
Here, Maddux kicks off his 11th and final season with the Braves—minus his famous Big Three rotation mates, with Tom Glavine off to the Mets as a free agent and John Smoltz still relieving. He entered the year with 273 lifetime wins and was riding streaks of 15 straight 15+ win seasons, and 13 straight Gold Glove Awards (the latter streak would be snapped in '03 by Mike Hampton.)
THIS CARD: Pretty sure that's the batter's eye at Dodger Stadium. Maddux started there once in 2002, receiving no decision on 8/23.
To this day, watching "The Professor" deliver a baseball still arrests me—he was an artist out there, so fluid, compact and always landing in prime fielding position. (Note: if you think he's small here, he was even smaller when he broke in.)
(flip) Uncharacteristically, Maddux averaged less than six innings per start in 2002—he was pulled from eight starts after five innings having allowed one or fewer runs for reasons usually other than 6th-inning trouble. Plus, back pain knocked him out of his second start after one inning.
Tucked among gaudier numbers, it's easy to glance past Maddux's 202 IP in 1994. Pause and remind yourself that was a strike season that ended seven weeks early—Maddux made only 25 starts that year!
AFTER THIS CARD: Maddux lasted six more seasons and was effective (averaging just under 15 wins 2003-07) but no longer the dominant superstar he had been. After the 2003 season he returned to the Cubs as a free agent and won his 300th career game for them (against my Giants!) in August 2004.
To the end—which included separate deadline rentals by the Dodgers in 2006 and 2008 sandwiching a season-and-a-half with the Padres—Maddux took every one of his starts, never walked more than 37 batters in a season, and won every post-2003 Gold Glove. He retired after the 2008 season at 42, and deservedly entered the Hall of Fame along with Glavine in 2014.
Since then, he's worked as a Special Assistant for the Cubs, Rangers—Maddux is a Texas native—and Dodgers, respectively, and signed on as an assistant coach at Nevada-Las Vegas in 2016.
Greg Maddux annually appeared in Topps 1987-2009, with 1987 being a Traded card.
CATEGORIES: 2003 Topps, Atlanta Braves
11/13/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps Traded #76 Russ Nixon, Braves
More Russ Nixon Topps Cards: 1989 1990
Nixon, the former catcher for the Indians, Red Sox and Twins in the 1960's, was the manager of the Atlanta Braves when I got into baseball...albeit not for long. Still, his passing on November 8 merits a break from the standard Card Of The Day selection process.
Nixon the prospect could swing the bat; the dude was a career .348 hitter and .478 slugger in the minors, and hit .387 in 465 AB in 1954! But though he hit .301 as a MLB sophomore, he never enjoyed the same success in the majors, though lasting 12 MLB seasons is not a small accomplishment. (Nixon played 906 career games without a successful steal, out of seven attempts.)
Following a stint managing in the Reds' farm system, Nixon coached on the major league staff under Sparky Anderson and later, John McNamara. When the latter was fired in 1982, Nixon took over—faring no better. He lasted through 1983.
Here, Nixon has once again inherited a woeful team—the 1988 Braves, who let go of Chuck Tanner in May (six months after Tanner fired Nixon from a Braves coaching job.) Vowing to change the team's attitude, Nixon was not able to change the team's position in the standings—last.
THIS CARD: Nixon seems to be lost in thought, wondering how he got from coaching on The Big Red Machine to summoning Jim Morrison—an outfielder—to pitch three separate times in 1988. I'd reminisce, too, if I were stuck watching a 106-loss team.
(flip) The Red Sox were nice enough to enjoy their "Impossible Dream" in between Nixon's stints.
Roy Nixon was Russ's TWIN brother, and is still alive. He was a first baseman in the Indians system along with Russ, and enjoyed a superb 1954 of his own (.324, 91 RBI). Roy eventually worked security for the Reds for a time.
This is the first time I've seen college stats on anything but a Draft Pick card...nice. Note the 68-64, first-place finish in 1972.
Why did Topps Traded reverses have to be so damn brighter than their base set counterparts? I can barely read the vitals.
AFTER THIS CARD: Following a modest 1989 improvement, Nixon was replaced in early 1990 by his own GM Bobby Cox. Cox went on to a legendary 20-year run of success in Atlanta, while Nixon coached, managed, and rove-instructed throughout MiLB into the 2010's (with a brief stop to coach the 1992 Mariners.)
Nixon left for the big dugout in the sky on 11/8/16 in Las Vegas, aged 81. He appeared in Topps as a player annually 1958-69, plus as a manager 1983-84 and 1988-90 (1988 was this Traded card).
CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps Traded, Atlanta Braves
11/16/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #455 Pete O'Brien, Mariners
More Pete O'Brien Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993
O'Brien in the 1980's reminds me of Brandon Belt, 1B of my Giants since 2011. Belt tittilates us Giants fans with his talent year after year; we keep waiting for that 30-homer, 120-RBI season we know he's capable of. But he hasn't come close yet. At times, fans like myself wonder if we'd be better off with somebody else at first base, somebody who would play up to his own potential, inferior as it may be.
But then we realize that'd mean giving up on who we do have—a solid player who, despite his alleged underperforming, has made an All-Star team, played a direct role in two championships, and can carry the Giants when he's hot. Would you rather have a perfectly-functioning Accord, or a Corvette that only reaches 4th gear?
O'Brien wasn't quite the minor league phenom Belt was, but he was damn good. Taking over as Rangers 1B in 1983, O'Brien rarely sat out for the next six years and fielded his position as well as anybody not named Mattingly.
Though young O'Brien was no slouch at-bat and did have very good years at the plate (he topped the 1985 Rangers in HR and RBI), at no time was he a serious threat to make any All-Star teams, and his subpar 1988 prompted 5th-place Texas to attempt an upgrade. In: future All-Star 1B Rafael Palmeiro from the Cubs. Out: O'Brien, off to Cleveland via trade (for future All-Star 2B Julio Franco.)
The Indians couldn't have suspected that at 31, O'Brien had already peaked. Nor could the Seattle Mariners, who inked the veteran to a 4Y/$7.6M deal despite his two-year slump—which extended to three years after a tough 1990. Here, O'Brien has completed a 1991 bounce-back of sorts with his best offensive output in four years...which isn't saying much, but still.
THIS CARD: This seems to be O'Brien's first Topps card front with glasses. It also broke a streak of three consecutive Topps/O'Brien inaction shots.
O'Brien is at...Royals Stadium? Yankee Stadium? The dark caps of the dugout occupants gives me precious little to go on.
This O'Brien is no relation to the active Royals/Diamondbacks catcher Peter O'Brien.
(flip) O'Brien was limited to those 102 games in 1990 because of a May broken thumb, suffered diving for a liner (by the Angels' Johnny Ray, as best as I can research.) Don't blame the .224 average on the injury, either—O'Brien was at .174 when it happened.
More on O'Brien's homer: that game was the third in a strange stretch of six Mariners contests in which five lasted at least 11 innings. Jays lefty Bob MacDonald served up the big fly.
Unless you count a six-game dip by some Keith Smith dude, Walt Terrell is the only other pick from O'Brien's draft round to reach MLB.
AFTER THIS CARD: O'Brien was unable to continue trending up in 1992, falling to a .289 OBP and losing playing time to young, productive TIno Martinez. By 1993 Martinez was by-and-large THE guy at first base, and 35-year-old O'Brien was almost exclusively DH'ing before being released in July—shutting the lid on his 12-year career.
Pete O'Brien debuted in 1983 Topps Traded, then appeared annually in Topps 1984-1993.
CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, Seattle Mariners
11/19/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #669 Kip Yaughn, Marlins
More Kip Yaughn Topps Cards: n/a
This could well be the last time I acknowledge the existence of Mr. Yaughn in any way, ever. I'm sure he's a decent fellow—actually, no I'm not, but have no reason to believe otherwise—and at one time he possessed more baseball talent in his pinky finger than you, I and everyone we know combined.
But somebody like Kip Yaughn should have never taken up space in a Topps set. He was a midlevel draft pick, was never a major leaguer, and was never even all that hot of a prospect. Yaughn only appeared in Topps because of his mediocrity—Baltimore thought so little of their young hurler that they exposed him in the 1992 Expansion Draft, where the Florida Marlins acquired him.
The card industry was never hotter than in the early 90's, and Topps went all-out to represent baseball's newest clubs—especially the prospects. But for every pimply-faced Trevor Hoffman, there are about five Gavin Baughs/Brian Griffiths/Kip Yaughns staring back at us set collectors today, however.
Yaughn, a #13 pick in 1990, was a decent minor league prospect; he'd struck out nearly one hitter per inning as an O's farmhand and won 11 games in 1991 for Frederick (A) despite a so-so 1.5 WHIP. Here, the shiny new Florida franchise has chosen him #24 overall in the X-Draft, to the joy of the Orioles (who feared losing fellow pitching prospect John O'Donoghue.)
THIS CARD: HOW does Yaughn make the ball levitate like that?
The photographer should have shifted him slightly to the left or right of the tree; it looks like he's wearing those branches.
Pretty sure this is our first horizontal front, vertical back combo.
(flip) Yaughn was 11-5 as an Arizona State sophomore. He was also instigator of a long, bloody brawl with USC that got so wild, umpires allowed a max of three members from either team in the dugout simultaneously for the rest of the game!
White scouted for Baltimore 1990-92 and later became the Dodgers' scouting director. Before all that, White was a reliever in the Mariners system 1984-86; he allowed just five homers in 199 career innings—whatever those Midwest/California League (A) parks were like, that's not bad.
Walnut Creek and Concord are both about 30 minutes east of San Francisco on a good-traffic day.
AFTER THIS CARD: The closest Yaughn ever came to reaching MLB was a lone (scoreless) start for AAA Edmonton in 1993. He stayed in the Marlins system through 1994 and wrapped his career with 12 games in the Independent League in 1995. As you might imagine, this was his only card from any of the major companies.
CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, Florida Marlins
11/23/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #276 Alfonso Soriano, Yankees
More Alfonso Soriano Topps Cards: 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2013U
The veteran Soriano graces our COTD presence for the second time. In May 2016, we chose his 2013 Topps Update card documenting his mid-2013 return to the Yankees. Here, we've randomly chosen his 2014 Topps base card, where Soriano is fresh off that torrid initial Yankees stint and embarking on his final four months in the major leagues.
THIS CARD: I have always had trouble differentiating 2013 and 2014 Topps, at least right away. When scouring my files for the proper card to display on the page, it took longer than it should have to distinguish Soriano's 2014 card from his 2013 Update card. I don't think this will ever change...they're just too damn similar.
All that crud at the bottom of the image is not on Soriano's card...it's just my scanner's (unwanted) stamp of approval.
(flip) The other rookie with 18 HR and 43 steals? The late Tommie Agee hit 22 HR with 44 SB for the White Sox in 1966. Agee held rookie status despite MLB stints in each of the previous four seasons—he still fell under the 45-day and 130-PA maximums.
That "Trade with Cubs" returned just a minor league pitcher (Corey Black, who hasn't reached MLB), but it's safe to say Chicago has no complaints with how things turned out in the immediate.
AFTER THIS CARD: 38-year-old Soriano was unable to carry over the previous season's hot finish into 2014—he entered the year displaced in LF by the off-season signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, and spent much of his time at DH and RF (though he still played plenty of LF.)
Whether it was all the shifting, age, both or other, Soriano wasn't the same—he hit .156 with no home runs after May 17; the Yankees cut Soriano less than a year after trading for him. He retired that winter.
Alfonso Soriano appeared annually in Topps 2000-14, with 2000 being a shared Prospects card.
11/27/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1999 Topps #19 Brad Radke, Twins
More Brad Radke Topps Cards: 1995T 1996 1997 1998 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
COTD presents the longtime Twins ace for the second time—his 2002 Topps card was featured back in November 2014. When this card was released, young Radke was a year removed from winning 20 games for the '97 Twins. Though he dropped off a cliff in the second half of 1998, he was still easily Minnesota's top starter overall and would be into the next century.
THIS CARD: About 90% sure this is Jacobs/Progressive Field. Radke only made one appearance there in 1998, and was roughed up for eight runs in five innings July 11—his team fell 12-2. Way to preserve the memory, Topps.
(flip) One—such as myself—may view Radke's overall 1998 numbers and assume he was Minnesota's token All-Star rep, but he was 9-6, 2.77 at the break (the Jacobs start was his first post-ASG; he was only 3-8, 6.27, .318 BAA after the break.)
Radke's repertoire included the typical fastball, curve, slider and changeup. In his prime, he could reach the low 90's, although shoulder damage lopped 10 MPH off his fastball by 2006.
Minnesota was indeed lowly 1995-98, finishing a combined 86 games under .500 and 103 games out of first place.
Eau Claire is just a tick over 90 miles east of Minneapolis.
AFTER THIS CARD: Without many dependable arms behind Radke, Minnesota didn't turn things around until 2001, when their young pitchers finally made strides. A year later, they returned to the postseason despite Radke missing 1/3 of the season with a groin injury.
Though no longer the Twins ace—teammate Johan Santana emerged in 2002 as the ace of the damn American League—Radke remained a workhorse for the Twins (over 200 IP in each year 2003-05) until pitching '06 with a torn labrum and fractured shoulder socket. He retired at season's end rather than rehab.
Brad Radke appeared in Topps annually 1995-2006; 1995 was a Traded card.
CATEGORIES: 1999 Topps, Minnesota Twins
11/30/16 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2016 Topps #556 Abraham Almonte, Indians
More Abraham Almonte Topps Cards: 2014
If you watched or read about the 2016 postseason, you are familiar with young Almonte.
We the fans received regular reminders of Cleveland's depleted outfield—Michael Brantley (injured) Marlon Byrd (suspended) and Almonte (ineligible; more on that below) were all absent from the Indians playoff run, their absences magnified when very light-hitting Michael Martinez was sent up to bat with the Indians' entire season on the line. He was expectedly retired for the final out of the 2016 World Series.
That at-bat would surely have gone to Almonte, a stocky switch-hitting Dominican native who, at certain viewpoints, evokes the image of a slimmer Pablo Sandoval. He was a Yankee farmhand for seven years before escaping to Seattle via trade in 2013. He opened 2014 as their center fielder, but played his way back to AAA (and to the San Diego Padres a few months later.)
Here, Almonte is entering his second season with Cleveland, who acquired him for Marc "Scrabble" Rzepczynski from San Diego in mid-2015.
(By the way, I just spelled Scrabble's last name from memory...take THAT!!!)
THIS CARD: Though he doesn't look it here, Almonte is listed at 5'9", 210 lbs. Yet he's a center fielder who routinely stole 30+ bases annually in the minors.
Almonte appears to be making the catch on top of a mountain.
The Indians may have demoted Wahoo to secondary logo two years ago, but Topps sure hasn't.
(flip) One triple in 330 AB with the Mariners and Padres, five in 178 AB with Cleveland—guess that's what happens when you breathe the same air as Michael Bourn for extended periods.
Almonte victimized Minnesota in both games, each one a blowout win for the Indians.
AFTER THIS CARD: After being traded three seasons in a row, Almonte seemed to have found a home in Cleveland until being removed from yet another roster—the 26-year-old tested positive for Boldenone in Spring Training, and was suspended 80 games. Though he played in 67 of the Indians' final 82 contests, the suspension rendered him ineligible for postseason play.
Today, Almonte is still on the Cleveland roster, though a 2017 spot is not guaranteed if Brantley is healthy.
Abraham Almonte has appeared in 2014 and 2016 Topps.
CATEGORIES: 2016 Topps, Cleveland Indians