8/4/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #116 Omar Infante, Braves
More Omar Infante Topps Cards: 2005 2007 2008 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
A July selection came within five card numbers of being the first TSR repeat random selection; this pick falls within three of our 3/1/15 selection (#119 Craig Counsell). Not sure how we'll treat a repeat selection yet. Guess we'll all find out together!
Omar Infante is the classic example of the lasting effect an early label can have on a good player—because of his versatility and early use as basically a jack-of-all-trades even when playing regularly, Infante still seems like a utilityman fill-in to me even after many years as a regular 2B (but fortunately, not to the five teams that have employed him—their opinion carries a tad more weight than mine.)
As a prospect, Infante played SS full-time, but was used all over the diamond upon being promoted to Detroit. In 2003—a famously disastrous season for the Tigers—Infante won the starting SS job, but was benched for a lack of hustle in June and demoted two weeks later. Still, he was called upon to fill the 2B void left by Fernando Vina's bad hamstring.
Infante showed no power in the minors, so when he exploded for 16 home runs that year, an epidemic of double-takes spread across boxscore porers nationwide. But the Venezuela native fell to .222 the next year, was benched again for a lack of hustle and spent the rest of his (first) Tigers stint primarily as a reserve/fill-in.
After the 2007 season, the Tigers acquired veteran OF Jacque Jones from the Cubs for the small price of Infante—the Cubs wanted to dump the salary of a guy who underperformed and was booed in his home park, and the Tigers needed OF depth.
Chicago quickly swapped Infante to Atlanta that same winter; here, the 26-year-old has just completed his first year as a Brave—unremarkable overall, but he did set a new career high in average (.293).
THIS CARD: You wonder why shinguard use isn't more widespread (new potential blog topic). Of course, guys that do use them manage to pelt every unprotected part of their lower leg with regularity.
You also wonder why more guys, especially in the steroid era but even still today with loads of inexperienced AL pitchers bunting now, don't break their fingers bunting (fortunately). Personally, I never really tried to learn to bunt effectively because your fingers are just...so...vulnerable.
Even skilled professional bunters could "square up", only to have a 93-mph sinker or cutter bear in on them at the last minute. Just ask Ryan Vogelsong. Or Collin Cowgill, who once hurt more than his fingers trying to bunt.
The "Braves" script with the black fill color looks like a regular Braves jersey that's faded after too many washes without ColorGuard.
(flip) Infante's new career-high average has been referenced. He played 10 or more games at 2B, SS, 3B and even exceeded 30 games in LF!
Through 8/5/2015, Infante's highest averages against—10 PA or more—are Vogelsong (.667, 10-for-15), and three guys tied at .625 (5-for-8). Against the now-retired Garland, Infante finished at .378 (17-for-45), never again faced Hernandez, and has fallen to .286 against Lee (10-for-35).
AFTER THIS CARD: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, salivating over Infante's versatility, named Infante to the 2010 All-Star team even though he wasn't a regular for his own team. Since then he's been a regular second baseman for the Marlins, the Tigers (again) and since 2014, the Royals—though he misses at least 15 games per year from injuries (not to mention a 2014 pitch to the face).
Now 33, Infante is not having a quality 2015 season; his OBP has fallen from an already-ugly .295 to .242 to date and he didn't hit his first home run until the last week of July.
Omar Infante has appeared in either Topps or Topps Update every year since 2005, except 2006.
CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, Atlanta Braves
Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, September 2015
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9/3/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2002 Topps #379 Steve Karsay, Yankees
More Steve Karsay Topps Cards: 1994 1995 1998 2000 2001 2003 2004
We transition from one early 00's Yankee reliever to another with Karsay, a talented starting pitcher whose anticipated rise to superstardom was thwarted by an uncooperative right arm. The big fella emerged after being acquired by Oakland from Toronto in the 1993 Rickey Henderson trade—while Rickey helped Toronto to a championship, the A's hoped a one-two punch of Karsay and fellow youngster Todd Van Poppel could one day deliver them a title as well.
In short, it didn't happen—off to a brilliant beginning to the 1994 season, bone spur removal followed by Tommy John surgery kept Karsay out of the majors for nearly three full years. Upon that 1997 return, Karsay was not the same, allowing seven or more runs five times and accumulating a 1.6 WHIP. The A's traded their onetime phenom to Cleveland after the season.
Barely on the radar in 1998, the Indians converted Karsay to relief in '99—receiving a very positive return. He even closed 20 games for the 2000 squad! Here, the now-30-year-old New York native has signed with the defending A.L. champion Yankees—who paid him $22.25M for four years to set up Mo Rivera.
THIS CARD: In three of his four 2000-03 Topps cards, Karsay is depicted from the third base side, zoomed in mid-delivery, about to pivot and fire—this STUN shot is the lone exception. (Seriously, 2000 and 2001 virtually match. Topps, if you read this...I'll work cheap as a redundancy checker!)
(flip) 1995 is listed as DNP; 1996 isn't because Karsay did play...but only in the minors.
Karsay is listed here at 215, 30 pounds heavier than on his 1994 rookie card. I remember him being noticeably and significantly thicker in his second A's stint than in his first a decade earlier. (spoiler alert)
That April 2001 rise encompassed the entire month (10 personal games) and—according to BaseballReference.com—covered 48 batters! Karsay allowed four walks and 11 K along the way. (Naturally, his first May outing: 1 IP, 5 hits, 3 runs.)
I've long wondered Topps' selection process for draft picks—some first-rounders and even some lower-rounders made their way into sets, while other first-rounders such as Karsay were bypassed until reaching the majors. Certainly—in 1994-95 at least—the company regretted choosing the likes of Ronnie Walden over him.
AFTER THIS CARD: Karsay put together a good first year with the Yankees and even saved 12 games in place of a disabled Rivera, but sadly, that would be it for him as a productive and healthy major leaguer. He missed all of 2003 after rotator cuff surgery, and only appeared in 36 big league games 2004-06 after that.
The final nine came with Oakland, who rescued Karsay from AAA Buffalo (Indians) in May 2006 to provide much-needed relief depth. However, the veteran already had retirement on his mind, and stepped away a month later. Here is an interesting piece on Karsay's connection to the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
Steve Karsay appeared in 1994, 1995 and 1998 Topps as an Athletic, then made the 2000-04 sets as an Indian/Yankee.
CATEGORIES: 2002 Topps, New York Yankees
9/6/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps Update #58 David Weathers, Reds
More David Weathers Topps Cards: 1993 1994 1995 2003 2008
Not to be confused with the America's Got Talent contestant, this Dave Weathers was a big dude who took the ball just under 1,000 times in the major leagues, mostly as a relief pitcher. A 1988 #3 pick by Toronto, Weathers opened his pro career as a starter with annual double-digit win totals in the minors 1989-93 (except '92, much of which he spent sidelined).
Weathers moved on to Florida in the '92 Expansion Draft, and spent all of 1994 in the Marlin rotation...then his journey began. After helping the 1996 Yankees win the World Series—I couldn't have guessed his three-game participation at gunpoint—the Tennessee native hooked up with several clubs, most notably Milwaukee and the Mets, before landing in Cincinnati for 2005.
Here, Weathers has just completed his second of what would be 4½ years with the Reds. Having succeeded the cut Danny Graves as stopper in May 2005, he opened and closed 2006 in the role, with young Todd Coffey and newcomer Eddie Guardado handling duties in between.
THIS CARD: Yet another Yankee reliever from the Torre era...this makes three straight.
It's not fully evident in this pic, but Weathers hunched big-time in his delivery. Can't recall any others like it since. Weathers' signature resembles a seismograph.
Weathers' first three Topps cards referred to him as "Dave". He holds the "distinction" of appearing on a Topps base card, then a prospect card (1993 and 1994 Topps, respectively). Offhand, I can only put 1998-99 Topps Orlando Cabrera in that club.
(flip) Weathers exceeded 60 appearances each of his final 11 major league seasons, finishing with 964 (69 starts). Only 18 men have ever pitched in more games.
That 1988 draft also brought Ed Sprague Jr. and Woody Williams to the Blue Jays. Besides Weathers, exactly zero of their other 70 picks that year reached the majors with Toronto.
AFTER THIS CARD: Weathers closed for the new-look Reds of 2007, nailing 33 of 39 chances. Still, Cincy brought in star free agent Francisco Cordero in the offseason, kicking the disappointed incumbent back to setup. To clear space for young Jared Burton, 40-year-old Weathers was sold to the Brewers in August 2009; he made his final two dozen MLB appearances there.
Despite pitching in parts of 19 major league seasons, David Weathers—overlooked by pitching mostly middle/setup relief—only received six Topps cards: 1993-95, 2003, this 2007 Update and 2008.
CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps Update, Cincinnati Reds
9/13/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #47 Joaquin Andujar, Athletics
More Joaquin Andujar Topps Cards: 1987
TSR made it two-and-a-half months without a special COTD selection in memory of a late major leaguer—no small feat, given the high number (5) we presented in the first six months of 2015. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it to the offseason without an unexpected passing.
Any 1980's baseball fan remembers Andujar—if you're nicknamed "One Tough Dominican" as he was, you're likely difficult to forget. Andujar, with an excellent two-seamer and a slider he'd often sling from a near-submarine position, was the ace of the mid-80's Cardinals. He was also known as an intimidator and never shied away from ruffling feathers if it meant speaking his mind.
His career began with five years in Houston, during much of which he alternated between starting and relieving. Still, Andujar was a two-time All-Star there before joining St. Louis via trade. As a Cardinal, he won 15 games for the 1982 World Champions, then really took off in 1984 with consecutive 20-win seasons!
However, Andujar's 21-win 1985 closed very poorly, he suffered an unforgettable meltdown in that year's World Series and was eventually suspended for that as well as his role in the Pittsburgh drug scandal—not surprisingly, his career descended very quickly after that.
Here, 34-year-old Andujar has completed the second of two years with the Athletics, to whom he was traded for catcher Mike Heath after the '85 season.
THIS CARD: This was Andujar's final Topps card, hence its selection. He doesn't look all that "tough" in this image, but don't be fooled—there was nothing meek about this man, at least on the field. Andujar slightly resembles Gary Sheffield, IMO.
(flip) Was Andujar, who wore #47 practically all of his career, assigned the card #47 deliberately?
Forearm and hamstring Injuries limited the veteran in 1987—he made one appearance before May 25 and one after July 28.
Note how few guys Andujar, despite quality "stuff", struck out. Not a knock on him per se—it also illustrates how the game has changed since even 30 years ago.
AFTER THIS CARD: Not much. 34-year-old Andujar re-joined the Astros in 1988, starting and relieving just like old times. He signed with Montreal for 1989 but didn't make the team, ending his MLB career. He died in September 2015 from diabetes at 62.
Joaquin Andujar appeared in Topps annually from 1977-88.
9/16/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #550 Carlos Beltran, Mets
More Carlos Beltran Topps Cards: 1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
If you're the type who believes in "signs", Carlos Beltran's pro career began with a giant one flashing "WARNING"—Topps infamously plastered his image on future flameout Juan LeBron's 1995 Draft Pick card, and vice versa, never bothering to correct either.
Today, the only non-collectors who know Juan LeBron ever existed are those who stumble upon his name on page 25 of a Google search for LeBron James, while Carlos Beltran became a five-tool superstar and postseason hero.
Beltran made his name as the 1999 A.L. Rookie of the Year for Kansas City, where he enjoyed his first four of seven 20-20 seasons. Though he did not win a Gold Glove until landing in the higher visibility of New York, Beltran could play center field with anybody.
By 2004, Beltran was making $9M—deserved; the guy averaged 26 homers, 104 RBI and 36 steals 2001-03. But with free agency pending and a severely disappointing KC squad free-falling toward 104 losses, Beltran joined the Astros via trade and went superhuman that October.
From a financial standpoint, Beltran's heroics could not have been timed better—the Mets paid $119M over seven years to land the star outfielder back when those type of deals weren't handed out like breath mints. He did not impress at all in Year One as a Met, unless you count being able to walk away from a horrific skull-to-skull diving collision with RF Mike Cameron in August as impressive. (We do.)
Beltran returned to form and then some in 2006 (tarnished somewhat by his NLCS-ending called strikeout). Here, the now-31-year-old has just wrapped a three-year run (2006-08) averaging 34 homers, 113 RBI, .537 SLG and 22 steals. Oh, by the way—he nabbed Gold Gloves each year, just for kicks.
THIS CARD: Efforts like the one pictured helped Beltran secure those defensive accolades—assuming he caught the ball, of course. Jose Reyes is fast approaching but wisely avoids contact, lest a repeat of Beltran-Cameron 2005. This could be Miller Park. Or not. Again, apologies for the deluminated gold.
(flip) Very nice career numbers to this point, though the lack of red italics are surprising for a guy with four All-Star appearances, a 4th-place MVP vote and a ROY award to his credit through 2008.
Today, Beltran's top career OPS against is Jaret Wright; he reached in 17 of 25 PAs against Wright with three doubles, three home runs, three walks and a pair of plunkings.
AFTER THIS CARD: Though sidelined half of both 2009 and 2010, Beltran nearly completed his seven-year Mets deal, but was traded to the Giants in '11. He's since spent two years with the Cardinals and Yankees apiece, adding to numbers many believe are Hall-of-Fame worthy.
Carlos Beltran's Topps debut was "his" 1995 Traded Draft Pick; he's received a common every year since 2000.
9/21/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #570 Tony Gwynn, Padres
More Tony Gwynn Topps Cards: 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
The great Tony Gwynn, Sr. makes his second appearance in COTD (we specially selected his 1998 card back on June 19, 2014, shortly after his death). This card represents Gwynn's 1988 season—from 1983-89, when he won four batting titles in six years, Gwynn was probably closest to ordinary in '88.
He batted "only" .313, a 57-point dip from 1987 but still higher than any other National Leaguer. He was sidelined during Spring Training after left hand surgery, then injured his right hand in May falling between first and second bases in Pittsburgh—missing three weeks. He was hitting under .250 thru July 1.
But Gwynn turned it around, hitting .364 from that point on and fending off Rafael Palmiero for the batting title at .313—the NL's lowest leading average ever. (As told in Tales From The Padres Dugout, Gwynn credited his turnaround on beating a simple Bob Walk backdoor slider for an oppo single one night.)
THIS CARD: I just can't picture the great Tony Gwynn shopping for activator. But, there you have it.
Gwynn made no secret of his regular tobacco use, and it does appear he's got some chaw tucked away.
(flip) Note the July/August resurgence; those numbers equate to 246 regular season hits. Again, Gwynn was injured most of May 1988.
Why is his league-leading 1988 average not bold or italicized? This is the first such goof I've ever noticed in pre-1997 Topps. Will be on the lookout for more.
AFTER THIS CARD: Gwynn "rebounded" with a Gold-Glove, .336, 203-hit, 40-steal 1989 season for the 89-win Padres. From 1990-93, he continued to secure All-Star berths, but won no batting crowns and had trouble staying on the field (annually averaging 30 games missed).
But Gwynn ripped off four straight NL batting titles 1994-97—needing a little help in 1996—and any doubt concerning a potential future Cooperstown induction disappeared. 38-year-old Gwynn hit .500 in the 1998 World Series and recorded career hit #3,000 in 1999...then slowly faded away into a post-2001 retirement.
His son Tony Jr. has played nearly 700 MLB games since 2006, spending 2015 in the Nationals system.
Tony Gwynn appeared in Topps annually 1983-2002.
9/24/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #35 Benny Santiago, Padres
More Benny/Benito Santiago Topps Cards: 1987T 1988 1989 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
This has got to be the 6th or 7th early 90's Padre in recent months...what has got the Randomizer so obsessed? It can't be the sexy uniforms...
Catcher Benny Santiago was a unanimous choice for NL Rookie Of The Year in 1987—34-game hitting streaks and regularly throwing out base-stealers from your knees can do that. Though unpolished (22 errors and passed balls), Santiago carried obvious defensive talent to go with a strong bat; he'd be the Padres #1 catcher through 1992—making four All-Star teams, winning four Silver Sluggers and nabbing a trio of Gold Gloves along the way.
Here, 24-year-old Santiago has wrapped his first All-Star season; I wondered how even a C in the pre-steroid era could be voted to start with his weak first-half numbers (.236, five homers)...until checking out those of his fellow NL catchers. Plus, numbers don't mean everything, I must occasionally remind myself.
Still, only one teammate out-homered Santiago, who also won a Gold Glove on the strength of gunning 41% of attempted base thieves.
THIS CARD: 10-year-old me would get inexplicable, lasting urges to catch whenever pulling a card with a catcher's mitt on it—Santiago's is no different. Of course, once I finally reached Little League and actually caught, those urges permanently petered out. Stupid curveballs...
Santiago must be loosening up before a game, given his field position and lack of any protective gear. "Padres" isn't obscured on this particular 1990 Topps card.
Beginning with the 1996 set, "Benny" became known in Topps as "Benito" for the rest of his career.
(flip) We already touched on everything in the blurb. Santiago's streak currently ties for 16th all-time; at 1987's end it tied for 13th. It began August 25 and ended October 2; he then took an oh-fer before going 2-for-2 on the season's final day. That's how you sway award voters.
AFTER THIS CARD: By 1992, Santiago—feeling underpaid—was no longer happy in San Diego. Although his salary doubled to $3.3M that year, he moved on to the expansion Marlins in the off-season, eventually suiting up for four other clubs by decade's end.
Speaking of ending, a bad (one-car) accident took him out for most of 1998 and threatened his career, but he re-emerged as a front-line catcher with the Giants 2001-03, even making another All-Star team.
One-year stints with KC and Pittsburgh wrapped Santiago's playing career; he was named in both the infamous BALCO scandal in 2003 as well as the Mitchell Report in 2007 as having received PED shipments.
Benny/Benito Santiago appeared in Topps 1987-97, was omitted 1998-2000—no Benito as a Blue Jay or Cub except in Stadium Club—then returned 2001-04 after resurrecting his career in San Francisco (1987 was a Traded card).
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, San Diego Padres
9/29/15 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2006 Topps #307 Walter Young, Orioles
More Walter Young Topps Cards: 2003
(For the purposes of the upcoming tongue-in-cheek paragraph, TSR will define the Virgin Islander Calvin Pickering as black. Thank you.)
Throughout my baseball fandom, the Baltimore Orioles seem to operate with two primary goals in mind: A) win the World Series, and B) employ a massive lefty black first baseman who never lives up to his alleged talent.
Sam Horn and Calvin Pickering took their turns in the 80's and 90's, respectively. In 2005, there was Young—at 320 pounds, the heaviest listed player in league history (although we fans can all name at least one star from the 1990s who should hold that distinction).
Young, a #31 pick by Pittsburgh out of high school, spent his first five pro seasons in the Pirates chain.
Acquired by Baltimore off waivers in late '03, 24-year-old Young ripped 33 home runs for AA Bowie (breaking Pickering's record) in 2004—the next season, he reached the majors for the only time. This card represents Young's month in the major leagues.
THIS CARD: That is a big person. Young could probably snap that bat in two like a pencil.
Three of Young's nine starts for the Orioles were multi-hit games; he went 10-for-33 (.303) in 14 games—hitting his lone home run off then-scrub R.A. Dickey of Texas.
(flip) Again, why hasn't Topps ever put MLB stats on their rookie cards...
Had they so chosen, Topps could have listed Young's 204 TB in 2005—14th in the International League—instead of the 81 RBI already printed in his frikkin' batting record. Urgh.
The toon: when you're mammoth like Young, recruitment is just a formality. If he decided he wanted to play at LSU, would you tell him he couldn't?
Never heard Baltimore referred to as Charm City before. The educational side of collecting.
Claimed "on" waivers?
AFTER THIS CARD: Basically nothing. Young was acquired by—and months later, waived by—San Diego the following January. He made stops in the Independent League through 2009, his pro career done before 30 with no other MLB run. Young roped 174 home runs in the minor leagues, including independent ball.
On 9/19/15, 35-year-old Young died of a heart attack—it hit home for me personally, being only a month younger than Young and even larger than he was not long ago. It isn't known if the onetime slugger grew even larger in retirement, or even if his weight contributed to the attack.
What is known: if I wasn't already on a long-term fitness plan, Young's passing would have kick-started one.
Walter Young appeared in both 2003 Topps and Topps Traded as a Pirates prospect; this 2006 card would be his last with the company.