Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, September 2017
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9/6/17 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #408 Kevin Millar, Orioles
More Kevin Millar Topps Cards: 2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2008 2009
First of all, we apologize for the long period between new COTD selections...I've been very busy and when not busy...very tired as a result of the busy. Don't have kids unless you're prepared to lose sleep, TSR audience...there's almost no chance of avoiding it.
Second of all, for those of you who don't go back that far with MLB...there have been no typos; this write-up is not about current Blue Jay Kevin Pillar.
Now that that's been said, back to 2007 Topps #408.
This selection gives us an opening to discuss the fallout from the 1994-95 baseball strike as it affected the baseball card industry. You're already aware of what it did to production—Topps and Score's set sizes went way down, and Score/Pinnacle never recovered, going belly-up three years later.
But even if Score had survived, you'd have never pulled a Kevin Millar—pronounced Mill-arr, not Miller—card from their packs. Or from Upper Deck, Fleer or Donruss. There would have never been a Brendan Donnelly pull. Or Kerry Ligtenberg. Ditto for Damian Miller, Matt Herges, and Benny Agbayani, to name a few MLB veterans of the 2000's.
Because Millar, and the other players I just listed, were replacement players during that strike, and were never allowed into the MLBPA as a result (although Millar's case was special and he was not ostracized as many of his brethren were.)
All card companies of the day besides Topps handled their licensing through the MLBPA—meaning no ex-replacement player could appear in their sets. Fortunately, Topps signs players individually, meaning they're the only major company to ever produce big-league Kevin Millar cards during his career (although he's been featured in Panini and Donruss post-career).
We now present you one of those cards, one which represents his first year with Baltimore after three unforgettable, history-making years in Boston. Millar didn't have the greatest '05 and thus only cost the Orioles $2.1M plus incentives, but he went on to finish a close 2nd on the team in OBP while averaging an RBI every 6.7 AB—which projects to just under 100 over a full season!
THIS CARD: Millar's last name looks just fine. His first name looks like part of a fish.
Millar wore #15 from 2002 on, except the first part of '09 when he had to wait for Alex Rios to be cut before reclaiming it.
Millar stands 6'1", but always seemed shorter to me. High socks make Hunter Pence seem taller and skinnier. They make Millar seem shorter and fatter.
Back on 8/1/16, we picked the very card sitting next to this one in my album: 2007 Topps #113 Nick Markakis.
(flip) Note Millar's 132 games played in '06—he wasn't used full-time as an Oriole until Sam Perlozzo's 2007 firing.
Millar was undrafted out of Lamar University (CA); he's easily the best of the 11 big leaguers produced by that school (for reference, Jerald Clark is runner-up.)
Now that my hair is starting to gray, Millar's quote could be used to describe me verbatim.
I was momentarily impressed with young Millar's .557 SLG. in 2001...until remembering Barry Bonds' league-leading figure was .306 higher that year. Even in this homer-happy 2017 year, Millar would still rank T9th in the NL. But in '01...not even close to the top 10.
AFTER THIS CARD: Millar re-upped with Baltimore on one-year deals for 2007 and 2008. Averaging 143 games in that span, his power increased annually but his average decreased as he reached his upper-30's. The L.A. native inked a MiLB deal with Toronto for 2009—he made the team as a part-timer behind Lyle Overbay, starting 63 times at 1B/DH...and even twice at 3B after a seven-year absence!
That would be it for the now-37-year-old as a major leaguer, though he did get in six games with the 2010 St. Paul Saints (Ind.) and one memorable AB with the 2017 St. Paul Saints!
Today, you can see Millar partnered with Chris Rose on MLB Network's Intentional Talk; he's been there since 2011. It's not my kind of show, but never base your opinions on what I like because I ain't normal.
Kevin Millar appeared annually in Topps 2001-08 (except an inexplicable 2002 exclusion; the guy hit .314/20/85 in 2001 for Christ sake, who cares if it was for Florida), and again one last time as a Blue Jay in 2009 Updates and Highlights.
9/8/17 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1987 Topps #43 Gene Michael, Cubs
More Gene Michael Topps Cards: n/a
Even now, 30 years later, typing "Cubs" after Gene Michael's name does not come naturally. I've read a number of books about the tumultuous early-Steinbrenner era Yankees, an era during which Michael was highly visible as coach, manager and general manager.
In fact, in his '84 autobiography Reggie Jackson vividly recalls Michael as the man who directed him to the clubhouse after his infamous failed bunt of rebellion in mid-1978, as well as "a couple of run-ins" over Jackson's defense in 1981, by which time Michael had ascended from coach to manager (for five months, anyway).
"Stick" was associated with the Yanks long before that, however—he'd been a (very) light-hitting shortstop for parts of 10 major league seasons, the middle seven of those with the Yankees (he was also on Boston's roster for an 11th season but never played.)
Shortly after retiring as a player, he rejoined the Yankees and coached on their 1977-78 Championship teams, managed in AAA for '79, ascended to GM in '80, then ping-ponged between Yanks manager, exec and coach too many times for me to list. (Reggie also wrote about semi-derisively labeling him "Gene Michael Steinbrenner" since he seemed little more than an "invention" of George's.)
Here, Michael has completed a partial 1986 season as Cubs manager, having taken over for the fired Jim Frey in June—like Frey, Michael finished 10 games under .500, unable to overcome a team ERA 0.50 higher than the next-worst NL team (to be fair...they didn't have much D outside of Ryne Sandberg.)
THIS CARD: It's a special selection in memory of Michael, who recently died in Florida at age 79. This is the only Gene Michael Topps card in my collection; Michael stepped down in '87 with about a month left and thus lacks a 1988 card.
Before "officially" building this set a few years ago, I did have a collection of 1987 Topps cards—different people in my life would gift me with packs, or commons they no longer wanted/needed. I remember getting a ton of Gene Michael cards. And Ed "Neck" Lynch. And that awesome dirt cloud card of young Kevin Mitchell.
Michael never seemed to have any other facial expression, either in still or moving pictures. He was only 48 at this time but looked at least 10 years older...I guess all those years with Steinbrenner could do that to a man.
(flip) As you can see, I decided to use the checklist for its given purpose. Only three of these guys would still be Cubs by 1990 when I got into baseball (Sandberg, Dunston, Sutcliffe). Since the '86 Cubs stunk and the '89 Cubs went to the NLCS...that's not a bad thing.
Most of the deserving '86 Cubs were included in the set...only little-known reliever Jay Baller (who appeared in 36 games and saved five) was overlooked. Newbie Greg Maddux made five starts for this team and appears in the Traded set.
I'm always amused by terrible switch-hitters. Okay, so you can strike out proficiently from either side of the plate? Awesome, you're on the team! They're like a state-of-the-art TV that only receives 13 channels. What good is high-def 72 inches if all you can watch is Family Feud?
Kent, Ohio is just 40 miles SE of Cleveland and a short drive NE of Akron. It's home of the infamous Kent State University (which Michael attended). A woman did something very bad in Kent recently, you may have heard.
AFTER THIS CARD: As mentioned, Michael quit his managing job in a radio interview near the end of the '87 season; he and GM Dallas Green were not on the same page (makes you wonder how he got hired at all.) He eventually returned to the Yankees' GM post, serving there through 1995 before moving on to oversee New York's major league scouting department through 2002.
Michael continued to serve as a senior VP and special advisor to the team until the heart attack that claimed his life on September 7. For more on "Stick", click on our Read This section—or, if you're reading this before 9/20/17, scroll to the very top of this page and click the article there.
Besides his 1987 manager card, Gene Michael appeared in Topps as a player 1967-75 ('67 was a shared Rookies card). He sort of returned in '81 as Yankees manager on a Team Checklist Card—he is the only man named on the front and given an inset photo, but it's hard calling it his card when he's sharing it with two dozen others.
CATEGORIES: 1987 Topps, Chicago Cubs
9/11/17 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps #143 Omar Vizquel, Rangers
More Omar Vizquel Topps Cards: 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2011
Next year, there should be two longtime Cleveland Indian teammates voted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Should be. Yet, it wouldn't surprise me if January 10 came and went with neither Jim Thome or Omar Vizquel voted in. I've seen more than one article decrying Thome's qualifications as a HOFer—all he supposedly did was bash home runs.
As for Vizquel...even though he fielded better than anybody since Ozzie Smith, he could be punished by the BBWAA as well because he—like Smith—didn't bash enough home runs.
For all of you fortunate enough to watch Vizquel and Thome play, try to picture that—a Hall Of Fame minus those two, but with Rick Ferrell and Bobby Wallace.
Vizquel, of course, drew comparisons to Smith throughout his career; though he never became the icon Ozzie was, Omar was an amazing fielder who made the impossible plays possible, the difficult plays easy, and sometimes the easy plays too easy—I have a distinct memory of Vizquel once upsetting a slow runner by taking his sweet time to lob a routine throw to first, though I've been unable to unearth any link to support this. (I swear it was Prince Fielder; somebody prove me right or wrong.)
As alluded to, he was known as a light hitter, and by today's standards, he certainly was—after all, we're smack dab in the Correa/Didi/Seager/Lindor generation of shortstops. But Vizquel worked himself into becoming a contributor with the bat, and from 1992 to 2006 he hit .282 with an OBP of .349. True, his 69 homers over those 15 years don't look like much...but they're 69 more than you or I ever hit.
Here, 42-year-old Vizquel has completed his first and only year with the Texas Rangers. A reserve for the first time, the veteran received run at 2B and 3B as well as his customary SS—starting a total of 45 times and making zero errors all year! (Well, with Jose Mesa out of the league, Omar didn't have to fear for his life anymore...that'll up anybody's game.)
THIS CARD: I estimate Vizquel leaped over fire-breathing baserunners like this about 3,500 times in his career. Said Jays runner, going by the helmet, is a lefty hitter—out of the few lefty hitters employed by the '09 Jays, only Joe Inglett wore his socks high. Let's delve further...
This play had to take place in Game 2 of a 9/1 doubleheader—Vizquel did not play middle infield at home against Toronto any other time in 2009. Texas won that affair 5-2, and sure enough, Inglett was erased at 2B on a 4-6-3 DP early on with Omar as the 6. Told ya!
(flip) We'll give you a mini-blurb here, since the card lacks one—from 7/29 to 8/14 he made 12 starts, all but one at 2B, and ripped .347 over that stretch! (Ian Kinsler, a pretty good 2B himself, did get his job back.)
Vizquel signed with Texas for $1M on 1/26/09, according to BaseballReference. My guess is that's the day he actually passed the physical.
Omar was signed in 1984—this dude played professional baseball for 28 damn years! Also note his debut year in MLB; he would be the final player from the 1980's to retire from MLB, after the 2012 season.
Some unimportant coincidences: This is card #143. Our previous COTD was #43. Vizquel's 2011 Topps card was #243. Your lives are now complete.
AFTER THIS CARD: Vizquel won a job with the 2010 White Sox, wearing the un-retired #11 of Luis Aparicio and playing more than anyone expected—he was half of a platoon substitute for injured Mark Teahen (89 starts).
The 44-year-old returned to a more traditional reserve role for the '11 Sox and the '12 Blue Jays, where his career ended with a nice sendoff from the Toronto fans. Vizquel stepped away with a .272 average and 2,877 hits—plus the most games played at SS ever (2,709).
Following a year as Angels infield instructor, Vizquel was hired as first base coach for the Detroit Tigers under Brad Ausmus for 2014, though with the team entering rebuilding mode and Ausmus unlikely to return in '18...Vizquel's Detroit run may be nearing its end as well.
22-year-old Omar Vizquel debuted in 1989 Topps Traded, and appeared annually in Topps 1990-2011. He was excluded from the 2012 and 2013 base and Update sets, meaning no cards of him with Toronto exist that I'm aware of.
CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps, Texas Rangers
9/20/17 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Topps #484 Prospects Michael Coleman, Norm Hutchins and Derrick Gibson
More 1998 Topps Prospects Cards: n/a
Here, we examine our fourth Topps Prospects card, having previously reviewed two such 2001 cards and one from 1995. Each Prospects card we've examined carry one similar trait—you probably never heard of the dudes featured on them.
You have to understand, without a fully-established Internet to turn to, young Skillz depended upon Topps for information and trusted their word—if they took the time to put three dudes on a baseball card, they had to be good, right?
Unfortunately, no, they didn't...at least not upon reaching the bigs. I estimate over the years, 75% of their featured Prospects and 85% of their Draft Picks didn't amount to much—if they even reached MLB. This particular card is no different, as the three men featured combined for 39 major league games.
Coleman was a 1994 18th-rounder who shot through the system, reaching the bigs as a 1997 September call-up with only 28 games of AAA experience.
Gibson, a 1993 13th-rounder built like the football recruit he once was, turned heads with a 32-homer 1995 season for Asheville (A, Rockies); Topps actually gave Gibson his own 1997 base card even though he'd just wrapped a disappointing '96 season and never made it to Colorado that year. That's extreme regard, especially in that Topps era.
The pro career of Hutchins, a speedy switch-hitter drafted #2 in 1994, ended without any major league call-ups. 1997 saw him set several offensive career-highs, but the Angels' outfield was pretty loaded back then (Anderson/Edmonds/Salmon/Erstad/Palmeiro).
THIS CARD: Not a fan of the curved text; it's tough to see and gives the appearance of being worn like sashes by the players.
Coleman looks bigger than he really was (5'11", 180) while Gibson doesn't look anywhere as big as he was (6'2", 228). Hutchins looks just right.
I won't tell you how long it took for me to identify the "patch" on Gibson's left sleeve as sunlight.
(flip) Gibson actually hit well over .400 after his AAA promotion...yet still wasn't called up.
Coleman—one of only three men from his draft round to reach MLB; the others flamed out even faster than he did—slugged .619 after his promotion to Pawtucket.
Norm, that is one hideous BB/K ratio. Even most Dominicans do better than that.
AFTER THIS CARD: Coleman, despite continuing to put up gaudy AAA numbers, was blocked by high-priced vets and Boston and only received separate cups of coffee in 1997 and 1999.
Demoted in Spring 2000 and not happy about it, Coleman's subsequent wrist injury limited him to 18 games that year—all for Pawtucket. He'd then be sent to Cincinnati (with recent COTD profilee Donnie Sadler) in a trade for Chris Stynes after the '00 season before joining the Yankees in a Spring '01 trade for washout prospect Drew Henson.
Coleman subbed for Bernie Williams during the latter's family-related absence and hit his lone MLB homer off Jose Mesa, but after five more years in the minors, Coleman was done.
Jim Edmonds was traded after the 1999 season...but Hutchins, apparently failing to impress new Angels manager Mike Scioscia, would not succeed him as once speculated.
The kid was swapped to Colorado for Edgard Clemente in late Spring 2000 (which led to the release of another disappointing prospect, Todd Greene), but never earned a callup from them or from talent-starved Tampa Bay, who signed him for 2001. Hutchins did last professionally all the way to 2012—the final decade spent in Independent ball.
After all the Topps love Gibson got in the mid-1990's, I was blown away to learn years later that he barely made a major league blip. In fact, when naming the top 200 Rockies by games played thru 2010 on Sporcle.com, I was floored to find Gibson didn't even reach 20 games in pinstripes! Out of options entering 2000, he was acquired by the Marlins off waivers that Spring—undoubtedly pleasing news for the Florida native.
But his numbers came way back down to earth and the Fish never called him up, nor did the other three organizations he'd later join. Gibson's pro career ended with a 2006 Independent League stint, at age 31.
Michael Coleman appeared in 1996 and 1998 Topps, both on Prospects cards. He also found his way into 2001 Traded as a Yankee.
Derrick Gibson appeared in 1996 and 1998 Topps as a Prospect, and as a regular common in 1997—for reasons we collectors can only guess—and 1999 Topps.
This is Norm Hutchins' lone Topps card, though he appears in at least two Bowman sets of that era.
CATEGORIES: 1998 Topps, Prospects
9/25/17 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2000 Topps #278 Darren Oliver, Rangers
More Darren Oliver Topps Cards: 1995 1997 1998 2001 2002 2007 2011U 2012U
Longtime baseball fans know what it's like to flip on the tube, hear the name of Player X announced, and think out loud..."What the hell? HE'S still in the league?" You sincerely thought the guy's career ended 10 years ago—he had been good once, but then gradually slipped until he slipped into a new career selling insurance or something similarly far-removed from the diamond. Or so you thought.
It happened to me a couple of years ago with Zach Duke—he seemed just about done in MLB but, as a living, breathing left-hander, resurfaced as a standout reliever with Milwaukee. It happened eight years ago with former Royals washout Chad Durbin, reborn as a key Phillies reliever (I even missed him during the frikkin' World Series). And it definitely happened 10 years ago with longtime Rangers lefty, Darren Oliver.
Back in 1994, Oliver emerged as a middle reliever, but was eventually moved into the Texas rotation. After two years as a so-so starting pitcher, Oliver devolved into an awful starting pitcher in 1998 and was traded to the Cardinals. Over the next five years he'd change teams five more times, posting a 5.83 ERA and 1.6 WHIP, mostly as a starter.
It was around 2004 or so that I assumed Oliver was out of the league—and he was, but only for the final four months of the '05 season, as it turned out. So imagine my surprise upon learning, in 2008, he was back in MLB and had been since 2006, again relieving full-time and doing a damn good job for the L.A. Angels.
(In my defense, I was in a relationship in those days, didn't subscribe to any publications, and MLB Network wouldn't debut for another year.)
Here, Oliver has returned to the Rangers after an 18-month absence. Texas, impressed by 1999 Oliver's 0.3 WHIP reduction from 1998, signed him in January 2000 to add balance to a right-heavy rotation—lefties started only four games for the 1999 Rangers, winning one.
THIS CARD: The ultimate unnecessary STUN photo—Topps could have borrowed a 1998 Oliver action shot if it so chose, but the company doesn't dip past the previous season for images (except for some season-long injured players).
We don't see many dudes with just the 'stache anymore, although Daniel Mengden is one notable exception.
These were my favorite Rangers uniforms; I was pleased to see them brought back when Texas honored new Hall-of-Famer Pudge Rodriguez in August 2017. (And WHY did Houston wear their 1990's uniforms rather than the pinstriped 2000's version Pudge wore as an Astro? That will eternally bug me.)
We'll use this space to describe Oliver the pitcher a little bit: according to Rodriguez' autobiography, young Oliver reached 96-98. 1997 Score put his heater in the mid-90's. But after his 1995 rotator cuff surgery, Oliver was high-80's with the fastball and putting away dudes with the changeup; he also attacked with a hard curve. Later in his career, Oliver added a slider and (briefly) a cutter.
(flip) The injury mentioned in the blurb? A left shoulder strain that sidelined Oliver for a month. Strangely enough, he suffered it swinging, not pitching.
More on Oliver's batting: he was a career .221 hitter with one home run. The 20 hits from 1999 were most by a Cardinal since Bob Forsch's 23 in 1980. Lifetime, 38% of Oliver's basestealers were caught, although much of that resulted from teaming with Rodriguez.
That 1993 BB: A four-pitch pass issued to Oliver's first MLB batter. He was promptly pulled.
AFTER THIS CARD: Oliver's second Rangers stint was basically a disaster—he won 13 of 49 combined starts 2000-01, with a 6.60 ERA and 1.7 WHIP. Boston signed him for '02 and released him in June, but he made it through all of 2003 in Colorado's rotation. Following an '04 season split between Florida and Houston—neither stint remarkable—Oliver bounced through three organizations in 2005 before retiring in May.
Unfortunately for major league hitters, the now-36-year-old didn't stay on the sidelines long. He made the 2006 Mets as a longshot out of camp, returned to full-time relieving and helped them to the NLCS (how was I not aware of his six innings of shutout relief in Game 3?).
Oliver's "second" career was, for the most part, wildly successful, and good teams followed him around. The Angels made the postseason during all of his three years there, and after Texas signed him for the third time, they made two consecutive World Series! The veteran wrapped his career with a two-year stint with Toronto—the second of which nearly didn't happen because Oliver briefly forgot he's not in the NFL.
Darren Oliver appeared sporadically in Topps: 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007, plus 2011 and 2012 in the Update sets. Want him as a Cardinal? 1999 Stadium Club is your only option among the major companies. Want him as an Angel? Upper Deck hung on long enough to produce two Oliver Angel cards, but only a 2007 Heritage card exists for Topps.
CATEGORIES: 2000 Topps, Texas Rangers