Topps Baseball Card Of The Day, September 2022
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A = Alternate Card B= Bonus Factory Set Card F = Factory Team Set G = Giveaway Set T = Traded Set U = Update Set
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9/29/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #635 Josh Johnson, Padres
More Josh Johnson Topps Cards: 2007 2008U 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2013A
The St. Louis Cardinals employ a very talented, still-young starting pitcher by the name of Jack Flaherty. Flaherty has put up some very impressive numbers during his career, and he's also been a 4th-place finisher in Cy Young Voting (2019). Through 2022, he's got a 3.41 career ERA and a 1.108 career WHIP.
He's a bit imposing and he competes. There's no reason why the other 29 MLB teams wouldn't give up a bundle to acquire him...
...except for the fact that over the past three seasons, Flaherty has appeared just 35 times (32 starts). He's handcuffed the opposition in most of those outings, but the guy simply cannot be counted on to avoid injuries at this point in his career.
A decade ago, Josh Johnson was Jack Flaherty. An immensely talented SP for the Florida/Miami Marlins, Johnson—try as he might—just COULD NOT stay healthy for more than a few months at a time. In Johnson's lone healthy season, 2009, he won 15 games and was an All-Star. The next year, he contended for the NL Cy Young Award despite missing a month.
Here, Johnson has reached the end of his MLB career, though he doesn't know it yet. San Diego inked him for 1Y/$8M in November 2013, even though Johnson was coming off a disastrous half-season with the Blue Jays.
THIS CARD: Without even checking, I can tell you this is an airbrushed image because Johnson never actually threw a pitch for the Padres. Per Getty Images, the original pic was shot 7/9/2013 at Cleveland's Progressive field; on that day, Johnson went seven innings, allowing two runs on three hits and striking out six...but took the 3-0 loss.
Big Johnson prepares to throw either his mid-90's heater with movement—he reached high-90's before his various injuries—his diving slider, his changeup (which flirted with 90 early on) or the curve he reintroduced in 2012.
More from Johnson's 2013 season: In late July, it was revealed that Johnson had pitched all year with a problematic knee, which partially explained his 6.08 ERA at that point in the season. Johnson also missed all of May with triceps inflammation, and did not pitch after 8/6 due to the dreaded forearm tightness. His '13 season was not ENTIRELY devoid of positives; Johnson threw 7.1 shutout innings against the Rockies 6/17, striking out a season-high 10.
(flip) Unfortunately, the Padres got nothing for their $8M. In Spring Training, Johnson hit the DL with that strained forearm and soon underwent UCL surgery.
To my surprise, 2009 was the only time Johnson placed among the NL's Top 10 strikeout leaders. Those 186 K in 2010 only ranked 12th.
More on that Rookie Fact: Johnson went 3-1, 1.96 across six starts in May 2006, and followed that up with a 3-1, 1.78 line across four June starts!
AFTER THIS CARD: As he recovered from his UCL surgery, Johnson re-signed with SD for 2015 at 1Y/$1M—only to A) develop a nerve issue in his neck, and B) require his third career UCL surgery in September 2015; he never threw a pitch for the Padres. San Francisco signed Johnson to a MiLB deal in November 2016, but Johnson instead retired at 33 a couple of months later.
Johnson still ranks third all-time in Marlins wins (56) innings (916.2) and starts (144); his 832 K ranks second behind Ricky Nolasco.
Josh Johnson appeared in 2007 and 2009-14 Topps, as well as 2008 Topps Update.
CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, San Diego Padres, Quirks
More September 2022 Topps Cards Of The Day
9/1/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2020 Topps #521 Felix Hernandez, Braves
More Felix Hernandez Topps Cards: 2004T 2005 2005U 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
From his 2005 MLB debut through 2016, the great Felix Hernandez was as excellent a pitcher as MLB could boast who was not named Kershaw or Scherzer. Statistically, his won-loss record might keep him from receiving the necessary votes for Cooperstown—a lot of old-school voters still value that stat.
But just know that in just about every other pitching category out there, King Felix was among the very best, year in and year out, for over a decade. He had flair. He had charisma. He was tough. And the man even threw a perfect game in 2012!
But what I respect most about Hernandez—which I didn't fully realize until his career was ending—was his love for Seattle. Even though the M's usually stunk during his tenure there, Hernandez gave the team his everything, reciprocated their admiration for him, never demanded a trade or anything like that. The emotion Hernandez showed when he vacated the Safeco Field mound for the last time in 2019 cannot be staged or faked, not even by Dustin Hoffman himself.
Here, Hernandez has joined the Braves in an attempt to revive his fading career. That attempt, however, was waylaid by matters beyond his (or anyone else's) control...
THIS CARD: Since in the end, Hernandez never threw a competitive pitch for Atlanta, this is obviously an airbrushed pic. Per Getty Images, the original image was shot 5/11/2019 as Hernandez's Mariners squared off against the host Red Sox; that day, King Felix was blasted for seven earned runs in 2.1 innings. Again, why would Topps use a pic from a performance like THAT?!
Whatever Hernandez is about to throw here, it ain't the fastball—even I can discern that despite my lack of grip-identifying skillz. In 2019 he featured his once-vaunted curve, as well as the slider, changeup and three types of fastballs (four-seam, sinker and cutter). Unfortunately, none of his fastballs came in at the high velo they once did.
More from Hernandez's 2019 season: the former ace opened the year as Seattle's fifth starter—both sides knew he didn't have much left, but there was almost no chance of the team simply casting King Felix aside.
Hernandez's best outing of the year came on 4/24 at San Diego, when he allowed one run on three hits in seven innings. But, as was their M.O. his entire career, the Mariners didn't support Hernandez offensively and he took the 1-0 loss. He didn't pitch from 5/11 until 8/24 (shoulder strain).
(flip) It is a crime that win tally only reached 169 total, with a one-time high of 19 in 2009 (Hernandez's Cy Young runner-up season; he'd claim the award in 2010 despite dropping to 13 W's). Seattle had five winning seasons during Hernandez's 15-year run there, none of them leading to postseason play.
Since there's no blurb, I'll tell you that those 419 games pitched for the Mariners are second-most in club history, behind RP Jeff Nelson's 432.
Those high innings totals during Hernandez's prime would have one believing Seattle ran his arm into the ground, but he only completed 25 games in his career—with a season-high of six in 2010. That stat used to be available on Topps cards, by the way.
AFTER THIS CARD: 2019 marked the final year of Hernandez's 5Y/$135.5M extension signed in 2013; with his performance and health in serious decline, the M's expectedly did not bring him back for 2020. Instead, Hernandez signed a minors deal with Atlanta in January 2020—but in July, he opted out of playing that year during to the COVID pandemic.
The 35-year-old then signed a minors deal with Baltimore for 2021, and reportedly had a good shot at making their rotation until an elbow injury flared up; he successfully requested his release when the Orioles chose to break camp without him. It's all but guaranteed Hernandez's career is over; now the 2½-year countdown to Cooperstown voting awaits.
"King" Felix Hernandez debuted in 2004 Topps Traded, then appeared annually in the base set 2005-20. He's also got a 2005 Updates & Highlights card as a Mariners Prospect.
CATEGORIES: 2020 Topps, Atlanta Braves, Quirks
9/2/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #369 Greg A. Harris, Rangers
More Greg A. Harris Topps Cards: 1987 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
It's not often that a journeyman major leaguer becomes known for a special feat at or near the end of his career...but that's exactly what happened to longtime major league swingman Greg Harris. In his second-to-last game in MLB—though nobody knew it at the time—then-Expo Harris pitched with both hands in the same game, something he'd sought to do for some time.
Harris was the trailblazer for future ambidextrous big leaguers such as Pat Venditte and...uh...that long list of other guys.
Okay, I don't mean to undermine Harris's feat—it was very cool at the time and even today, when you think about how hard pitching is even with one's dominant hand. Harris was more than just a gimmick, however—anytime you last 15 years in the majors, pitch in every role imaginable, and walk away with a sub-4.00 ERA just shy of your 40th birthday, you deserve commendation.
Here, Harris has just wrapped his seventh year in MLB and his third with the Rangers. After serving as their closer in 1986, Harris quickly lost that job in 1987 and by June, was a full-time starter. Though he wasn't much better starting games than he'd been finishing them in '87, Harris did at least chew up innings for a Texas staff with two gaping holes in its rotation.
THIS CARD: Harris's partially-obscured uniform number with Texas was #27, a number that was mostly worn by guys passing through Texas, or guys who you wouldn't know/recall even if I listed them. I will list Vladimir Guerrero, Sr., who wore #27 during his one Rangers season (2010).
Here, it looks like the veteran righty Harris is really bringing it, but Harris was not that hard of a thrower—he displayed good four-seam and two-seam fastballs as well as a changeup, but mostly relied on his sharp curve.
More from Harris's 1987 season: he blew his first three save ops in April and then worked middle/setup relief until early June, when the Rangers slid him into their rotation. Harris went 4-6, 4.83 in his 19 starts with a WHIP of 1.534; his best outing was probably his 8/11 victory at Milwaukee in which he allowed one run on seven hits in seven-plus innings.
(flip) Those 19 starts in 1987 could have been 21, but Harris missed a couple of starts in August due to elbow pain stemming from this activity. (No, not THAT activity!)
"The contract of Greg"? Odd wording. What, "Greg's contract" didn't take up enough space?
In that first major league win 5/25/1981, Harris started for the Mets against visiting Philadelphia and went 5.2 innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits. He walked three and struck out six.
AFTER THIS CARD: Harris posted a 2.36 ERA in 66 games for the 1988 Phillies; they waived him in August 1989 and he hooked up with Boston, where he remained through mid-1994. Harris started almost exclusively in 1990 and went 13-9 for the AL East Champion Red Sox, but by 1993 he was the AL leader in appearances with 80—all in relief.
The 38-year-old struggled badly in 1994 and was cut by both the Red Sox and Yankees that summer; undeterred, he won a job with the 1995 Expos and had a strong season (2.61 in 45 games, all out of the bullpen). In his penultimate game of '95—and in MLB, as it turned out—Harris went lefty vs. lefty against 1B Hal Morris and C Ed Taubensee of the Reds, walking the former but retiring the latter on a groundout!
Following his playing days, Harris worked in the Tampa Bay and Seattle systems for a few years before moving on to other ventures.
Greg A. Harris appeared annually in Topps 1982-94, except 1984. He's also got 1982 and 1985 Traded cards. (Despite his newsmaking feat, no one produced a card of Harris the Expo.)
CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, Texas Rangers
9/3/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2012 Topps #602 Alejandro De Aza, White Sox
More Alejandro De Aza Topps Cards: 2007 2009U 2013 2014 2015 2016U 2017
I was always impressed by De Aza—an unknown rookie with no MLB experience—winning Florida's starting CF job in Spring 2007 right from under a trio of more experienced candidates. Sadly, an April right ankle fracture killed any momentum De Aza had built up; he wound up missing most of 2007 as well as 2008 after a severe left ankle sprain at the end of Spring Training required surgery. Florida outrighted him to AAA New Orleans that October, then waived him after the 2009 campaign.
Here, De Aza has just closed out Year Two with the White Sox, who brought him onboard after the Marlins cut ties. After serving as a 2010 September call-up for Chicago, De Aza was recalled from AAA Charlotte in July 2011 as an alternative to the slumping CF Alex Rios as well as a fill-in for injured RF Carlos Quentin.
THIS CARD: Per Getty Images, this image depicts De Aza cracking a B5th single against Toronto SP Brandon Morrow 9/28/2011—Chicago 's season finale. Despite De Aza reaching base thrice and scoring once that day, the Sox fell to the Jays 3-2.
De Aza appears in COTD for the second time; we profiled his 2013 Topps card nearly eight years ago, in January 2015.
More from De Aza's 2011 season: his .329 average paced Chicago by far; only 1B Paul Konerko (.300) was even remotely close. On 8/3 against the Yankees, De Aza went 4-for-4 with a run scored—although New York still demolished Chicago 18-7. And on 8/16 against the Indians, De Aza went 3-for-7 with a pair of triples plus two RBI in Chicago's 8-7, 14-inning walk-off victory.
(flip) The first of those four 2011 home runs—De Aza's first in MLB—was hit against none other than SP Max Scherzer of the Tigers! Granted, Scherzer wasn't quite the dominant force he'd soon become, but he's still somebody you brag about to your grandkids.
Expanding on De Aza's games played for the 2011 White Sox: he got in 54 of the team's final 59 contests, including 41 starts mostly in CF/RF but also two in LF. De Aza also pinch-hit four times, supplying a double and a walk.
That leadoff showcase occurred 9/21, the day after he played all 18 innings of a doubleheader!
AFTER THIS CARD: As the blurb alluded to, De Aza did indeed become the Sox' leadoff man in 2012, batting .281 with nine jacks and 26 SB. One year later, he hit .264, 17, 62 with 20 steals and seemed to be on his way.
But once Chicago acquired the younger and cheaper Adam Eaton in December 2013, De Aza became expendable; he was finally dealt to first-place Baltimore in August 2014. From there De Aza settled into the role of journeyman fourth outfielder, suiting up for three teams in 2015 alone (Orioles, Red Sox, Giants) before batting .205 in 130 games for the 2016 Mets.
After being cut by Oakland in 2017 Spring Training, De Aza joined the Nats but hit just .194 in 28 games. He was then unable to win a job with the 2018 Nationals or the 2019 Twins, and at last check (May 2022) De Aza was taking his hacks in the Independent League.
Alejandro De Aza appeared in 2007, 2012-15 and 2017 Topps, as well as 2009 and 2016 Topps Update.
CATEGORIES: 2012 Topps, Chicago White Sox
9/4/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #447 Jesse Crain, Twins
More Jesse Crain Topps Cards: 2004T 2006 2014
Here, we catch up with the longtime Twins reliever Crain on the heels of his initial major league go-round. Called up to Minnesota from AAA Rochester in early August after the Twins traded away 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, Crain boosted the bullpen so effectively that he never went back down to the minors (well, not physically; he was technically sent down 8/29 to make room for OF Jason Kubel, but he never left the team due to rosters expanding 9/1). In fact, he threw nine consecutive hitless innings in early September!
THIS CARD: As you see, Crain wasn't much for deception. As a youngster, he could reach triple digits, but generally cruised along in the mid-90's and didn't rely heavily on blowing hitters away. He also featured a big curve and a tough slider; one publication credits him with a changeup as well, though that escapes my memory.
Among Twins, #28 has some good company. 3B Graig Nettles wore it as a 1968 rookie, relief ace Mike Marshall gained Cy Young votes wearing it in the late 1970's, and of course the Hall-of-Fame SP Bert Blyleven—for whom the number was retired in 2011—shined for 11 non-consecutive Minnesota seasons with #28 on his back. (Crain switched to #26 when he joined the White Sox in 2011.)
More from Crain's 2004 season: a closer at Rochester, Crain usually pitched the 7th or 8th innings for Minnesota and worked two or more innings in six of his 22 outings. On 9/1, Crain earned his first major league win with two perfect innings against the Rangers, and for good measure he didn't allow another hit until 9/17...SIX outings later!
(flip) Elizabethton is where Crain was "demoted to" on 8/29 to make roster space for Kubel. But, as mentioned, he never had to actually report and was active with the Twins once more on 9/1.
Crain's slider was certainly a good one, but to describe it as "blistering" is to put it on Brad Lidge's level. Which it was not. I'm not even sure Brad Lidge was on Brad Lidge's level; that's how great his slider was.
That shutout inning streak ran from 8/13 thru 9/15; Crain allowed just three hits and four walks in that span.
Crain is, as you see in the stats, one of select few to voyage through all five MiLB levels available in his day. "Rookie" level Elizabethton was followed by Low-A Quad City, High-A Fort Myers, AA New Britain and AAA Rochester. Today, MLB has whittled MiLB affiliates down to four levels per club; no more "Rookie" level.
AFTER THIS CARD: Crain never became the star many predicted he'd be, but he was an effective, durable reliever for nearly a decade in MLB. A Twins relief workhorse in 2005-06, Crain succumbed to season-ending rotator cuff surgery in May 2007 but re-emerged with a strong 2008 season. However, Crain struggled in 2009 to the point he was demoted back to Rochester for over a month.
Following an excellent bounce-back 2010 campaign, Crain signed with the White Sox for 3Y/13M in December 2010 and was very effective when healthy throughout his Sox tenure. In fact, in 2013 Crain ran off a streak of 29 straight scoreless outings and was named to the AL All-Star team! But injuries twice interrupted his 2012 and a shoulder strain disabled him in July 2013.
While sidelined, Crain was dealt to Tampa Bay—but he would never pitch for them. He underwent biceps surgery in October 2013, yet was able to land a 1Y/$3.25M from the Astros two months later. The favorite to close for Houston, Crain's return date from the surgery kept being pushed back...and pushed back...until the 2014 season ended without him taking the mound even once.
The White Sox brought Crain back on an MiLB deal for 2015, but he continued to have setbacks related to his operation and never did resume his career.
Jesse Crain debuted in 2004 Topps Traded, then appeared in the 2005, 2006 and 2014 base sets.
CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Minnesota Twins
9/6/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps #648 Cody Ross, Giants
More Cody Ross Topps Cards: 2001T 2008U 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014 2015
You might think, as a longtime Giants fan, that my favorite Cody Ross memory is his two-homer game off Phillies mega-ace Roy Halladay during the 2010 NLCS. And while that IS something I doubt I'll ever forget...you'd be wrong about it being my favorite memory.
In Game 6 of the 2010 World Series, when Edgar Renteria smoked the decisive three-run homer off Cliff Lee in the T7th, Ross was one of the men on base. I so vividly remember him leaping into the sky as he scored, overcome with jubilation and anticipation of the history he and his teammates were on the verge of making.
It was pretty special to me, and I still get chillz over that whole sequence of events.
Ross wasn't a Giant for long. Hell, he wasn't even a Giant on purpose. But nobody who loves Giants baseball will ever forget the role he played in bringing the Championship to San Francisco for the first time.
Let's look back...
THIS CARD: If any long-suffering Giants fans laid this card down, thanked it, and/or even kissed it upon acquisition, I cannot blame them. I personally didn't, but that's probably because 2011 Topps Series 2 didn't release until June 2011—by which time the championship euphoria had waned.
We see Ross ripping a one-out double off Texas's C.J. Wilson in the B2nd of 2010 WS Game 2 (10/28/2010). Even though Ross ended up stranded at 2B, the Giants went on to win 9-0.
There's nothing wrong with this front image, but I'd have preferred Ross's front image to be his arms-up slide home from later on in 2010 WS Game 2.
More from Ross's 2010 season: he got in 33 of San Francisco's final 37 games, starting 17 of them. But come October, Ross played every inning for the Giants, usually starting in RF and often shifting over to LF in the late innings. He wasn't just a postseason star; on 5/16 against the Mets, then-Marlin Ross went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI to aid a 10-8 Florida victory—his second four-hit game of the young season (4/7 at Mets).
(flip) As linked to above, the Giants only put in their waiver claim on Ross to hopefully prevent the first-place Padres from adding him. The Marlins, surprisingly, decided to let Ross go to SF, which sort of makes up for them knocking the Giants out of the 1997 and 2003 postseasons.
In addition to the two homers off Halladay in NLCS Game 1, Ross also went yard in NLCS Game 2, NLDS Game 4 against Atlanta, and WS Game 3 at Texas. Some around the SF Bay Area began to call him "Babe" Ross, which was a stretch, but the man was indeed hot.
Those three regular-season homers Ross hit for the 2010 Giants all came during a four-day stretch in late September—he cleared Chicago's Wrigley Field wall on 9/23, then went deep at Colorado's Coors Field 9/25 and 9/26!
As you see in the stats, Ross moved around a bit before landing with the Marlins. His original team, Detroit, traded him to the Dodgers (for someone you haven't heard of) in April 2004. Two years and three weeks later, the Dodgers traded him to the Reds for someone else you haven't heard of. One month later, Cincy sold Ross to the Marlins, who smartly gave him regular run a short time later.
AFTER THIS CARD: In 2011, Ross returned to the Giants for 1Y/$6.3M, but he slipped to .240 and missed both the beginning and the end of the season with respective calf and hamstring injuries. Ross signed with the Red Sox for 1Y/$3M in January 2012; Boston used him in a part-time role and he hit .267, 22, 81 in 130 games—easily one of the league's best bargains.
That December, Arizona signed Ross for 3Y/$27M (including $1M buyout), but saw him miss the final seven weeks of 2013 with a hip fracture; the ensuing surgery kept him out into 2014. That year, Ross fell to two homers in 83 games, missing over a month with a July calf injury. Though he finished '14 hot, the D'Backs decided to cut ties at the end of Spring Training 2015.
Ross then hooked up with Oakland, but went just 2-for-22 and was cut after less than a month—no one else took a flier, ending Ross's MLB career at 34. Since then, he's returned to the Giants as a special Spring instructor a couple of times, but has otherwise laid relatively low.
Cody Ross debuted as a Prospect in 2001 Topps Traded & Rookies, returned for 2008 Topps Updates & Highlights, then appeared in Topps annually 2009-15. (I could have sworn there was a 2007 Topps Cody Ross card in my album, but then I'd have faced a perjury charge.)
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, San Francisco Giants
9/7/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2015 Topps #30 Tanner Roark, Nationals
More Tanner Roark Topps Cards: 2014 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
In the mid-2010's, Tanner Roark was one of the winningest pitchers in the NL.
In the late-2010's, Tanner Roark didn't win a lot, but he ate up his share of innings and usually kept his teams in the game.
In the 2020's, Tanner Roark was a hot mess on the mound.
Holy Joey Hamilton...
Here, however, Roark is on top of the baseball world after an absolutely fabulous first full year in MLB. He made every turn in 2014, was one of five Washington starters with double-digit victories, and he finished just outside the NL's top 10 in ERA.
THIS CARD: "Future Stars" populated Topps for the second straight set in 2015, after a LONG absence during which the label went from commons to their own subset for a time—then disappeared entirely (save for some inserts, supposedly). Future Stars have graced every Topps set since, except 2017 Topps for some reason.
Per Getty Images, Roark is seen here pitching at Cincinnati 7/25/2014. That day, Roark went seven innings, allowing three hits and one walk while whiffing six in beating the Reds 4-1—his 10th victory of the season.
Roark wore #57 with Washington from 2014-18 after sporting #59 as a rookie. Other Nats to wear #57 include six-year Nationals swingman Jason Bergmann (2005-10) and RP Andres Machado (present).
(flip) While a lot did go right for the '14 Nats, more went right for the '14 Giants, who faced Washington in the 2014 NLDS. You may remember Roark—pitching relief by default—serving up a T18th solo home run to San Francisco 1B Brandon Belt that won Game 2 of that series...
I might be able to calculate which pitchers won more than Roark's 22 games between 8/7/2013 and the end of the 2014 season...(leaves to research)...
...nope, wasn't easily able to accrue those totals. We can safely say Clayton Kershaw was one of the pitchers, however.
Check out the numbers Roark put up for the 2014 Nationals, and note that he was probably only their third or fourth-best starter that year—Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and even Gio Gonzalez all had fine-to-excellent '14 campaigns.
AFTER THIS CARD: Washington's already-deep rotation got even deeper when superstar Max Scherzer signed for 2015—which pushed Roark into middle relief until September, when he took the rotation spot of the injured SP Joe Ross. In 2016, Roark returned to full-time starting and delivered a 16-10, 2.83 performance!
A poor first half of 2017 contributed to Roark's 4.67 season ERA, though he still was credited with 13 wins; he followed that up with a 9-15, 4.34 line in 2018. Despite the unpretty stats, Roark's salary was growing, so the Nationals dealt him to Cincinnati in December 2018 and let them fork over his 1Y/$10M salary for 2019 (his walk year).
In '19, Roark went a combined 10-10, 4.35 for the Reds and A's, who acquired him at the Trade Deadline. He then inked a 2Y/$24M deal with Toronto in December 2019—but he never got it going as a Blue Jay (2-4, 6.75 in 14 games) and was cut in late April 2021. Atlanta soon signed Roark to an MiLB deal, but he never pitched for the Braves (despite a three-day June callup). Unsigned in 2022, the almost-36-year-old Roark's career may be over.
Tanner Roark appeared annually in Topps 2014-21. Be warned: his 2020 and 2021 Topps front images are virtually identical.
CATEGORIES: 2015 Topps, Washington Nationals
9/8/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #757 Larry Walker, Expos
More Larry Walker Topps Cards: 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1995T 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2004T 2005 2006
I can still recall a discussion had with my friends on Facebook around 2012. The topic: which currently retired, eligible-or-otherwise big league stars belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? We ran through the list of the usual candidates of the day such as Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, even John Smoltz.
But when I brought up the name of oft-injured superstar Larry Walker, I got mostly confusion. The "panel" just wasn't aware of how freakin' good Walker had been during his prime, healthy periods. The man was a beast, I explained. And if only he'd been able to stay on the field like most of his peers, he'd have put up at minimum Frank Thomas-type numbers.
(Spoiler alert: Walker did indeed reach Cooperstown in 2020, his final year of BBWAA eligibility.)
Here, however, Walker is just a rookie, one who made his MLB debut in August 1989 after proving himself to be fully recovered from a major knee injury the year before.
THIS CARD: We see Walker either before a regular-season game, or during an exhibition game. Even as a rookie, he looked like somebody capable of impacting Major League Baseball, which can't be said about a whole lotta dudes.
Here's the story behind the pic:
TOPPS PHOTOGRAPHER: "Mr. Walker?"
TP: "We want to take your photo for next year's Topps set. Even though you're obviously the on-deck hitter, can you sit down somewhere and stare off into the distance as if you aren't sure how you got to the ballpark?"
WALKER: "...I thought you'd never ask."
This card, I have to imagine, was probably highly coveted at the time of the set's release. Walker had been a huge prospect before his 1988 injury—not quite Ken Griffey Jr. level, but only a step or so below. Checking online, a mint 1990 Topps Larry Walker still sells for a pretty penny or two; I'd love to have an old 1990 Beckett price guide to determine its' original worth.
More from Walker's 1989 season: his 8/16 debut for the Expos was the first of seven straight starts he'd make—Walker batted .280 including a three-hit game against the Padres! He then settled into a PH/DR role for the season's duration, batting 1-for-22.
(flip) Bob Rogers is not to be confused with then-Expos manager Bob "Buck" Rodgers.
Walker, as you see, spent the 1988 season on the disabled list; he tore his ACL sliding into home plate while playing in the Mexican Pacific League (whatever that is/was). For SOME reason I thought Walker was supposed to open that year with Montreal...but I've been unable to verify that anywhere. No idea where I got that idea from.
I don't think I've ever seen Utica as a minor league stop on a baseball card...
Walker, as you see, is a native of Canada. He is MLB's all-time Canadian leader in hits, doubles, homers, RBI, steals and more—although longtime Reds 1B Joey Votto still has a chance to pass Walker in some of those categories before he's done.
AFTER THIS CARD: Well, there were those five additional years with the Expos, during which Walker made the 1992 NL All-Star team, won Gold Gloves in 1992-93, and gunned at least two runners at 1B from RF.
Then there were nine-and-a-half glorious years with the Rockies, who signed the 28-year-old for 4Y/$22M in April 1995 (with a $5M option for 1999 that Walker's playing time triggered). In Denver, Walker won the 1997 NL MVP award, won the 1997 NL home run crown (49), made four more All-Star teams, won five more Gold Gloves and won three batting titles in four years 1998-2001! The Rox extended Walker for 6Y/$75M in March 1999.
But by 2004, Walker's injuries were piling up and the Rockies were going nowhere in the standings; they swapped him to World Series-bound St. Louis in August 2004. Walker slugged .560 as a 2004 Cardinal and ended his career there after the 2005 season, just a bit shy of 39.
In his 17 major league seasons, Walker finished with 383 homers, 1,311 RBI, 2,160 hits and a .313 average. Just imagine those totals if he had those nearly 500 games he missed with injuries...
Larry Walker appeared annually in Topps 1990-2006, and also shows up in 1995 and 2004 Topps Traded.
CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, Montreal Expos
9/9/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #85 Jose DeLeon, Cardinals
More Jose DeLeon Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1988T 1989 1990 1991
Here, 31-year-old DeLeon is coming off his fourth season with the St. Louis Cardinals. There was nowhere but up to go for the veteran righty in 1991 after his 19-loss 1990 campaign, and he did indeed trim well over 1.5 runs off his 1990 ERA. But DeLeon still had great difficulty getting into the win column in 1991 despite ranking 6th in the NL in ERA.
THIS CARD: This front image is nearly identical to DeLeon's 1989 Topps front image...but aside from that, the company avoided redundancy during his nine-year Topps run.
A couple of slightly more notable dudes have since worn #48 in St. Louis: OF Harrison Bader from 2017 to 2022, and the man he was traded to the Yankees for, SP Jordan Montgomery. Swingman Brad Thompson wore #48 during the late '00's, but no other Cardinal of note has had the number for any length of time.
More from DeLeon's 1991 season: DeLeon only won five of 28 starts with his 2.71 ERA because he received the second-worst run support in MLB, barely behind California's Kirk McCaskill. In fact, he went 0-1 in five August starts despite a 2.17 ERA! One of DeLeon's five victories of the '91 season came on 7/22, when he went the distance against Houston and allowed just an unearned run.
(flip) As you see, DeLeon fell 4.1 innings short of averaging six per start in 1991. This is because he exited his final start 7/30 after just 0.2 innings—and despite an hour of digging, I could not uncover exactly why. Though I suspect it has to do with the strained shoulder that sidelined Deleon for part of August/September.
Not many guys post-WW2 who can "boast" two 19-loss seasons. However, DeLeon was a far better pitcher than his unsightly career record would indicate.
As you see in the stats, DeLeon's once-gaudy K totals were noticeably down in 1991. This is because he approached pitching a little differently than in the past, relying less on velocity and more on ground balls. THIS is how I know that.
No, the Jose Luis DeLeon is NOT the Jose De Leon who's made sporadic pitching appearances for the Dodgers, Rays and Reds in recent years.
AFTER THIS CARD: In August 1992, DeLeon was cut by St. Louis, and finished the year making three September starts for Philadelphia. DeLeon moved to full-time relief with the 1993-94 White Sox with fine results; his career ended with seven games with the '95 Expos.
Jose DeLeon appeared in Topps 1984-1992; he's also got a 1988 Traded card. As an excellent reliever for the 1994 White Sox, he should have also been included in the '95 Topps set but their entire 'pen except CL Roberto Hernandez was omitted that year.
CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals
9/11/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2004 Topps #400 Dontrelle Willis, Marlins
More Dontrelle Willis Topps Cards: 2003 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2012
During my 30+ years as an MLB fan, I can only recall one other rookie to generate as much or more widespread hysteria as Dontrelle Willis did in 2003. And Hideo Nomo really shouldn't have been classified as a rookie!
Simply put, the kid was amazing. The funky delivery was not only fun to mimic, but it made his arsenal of pitches that much tougher to put wood on. He had charisma and charm, yet was humble and grateful for his opportunity. He was a pitcher who could swing the bat—rare in MLB. Plus, Willis was a rising black star, which were growing increasingly rare in MLB as well.
When the 2003 season started, Willis was in AA (Carolina).
When the 2003 season ended, Willis was NL Rookie of the Year and a World Series champion.
How was your summer?
THIS CARD: Don't get it twisted—that wasn't the high point of Willis's trademark leg lift! Furthermore, Willis, during his windup, would all but face center field before contorting his left arm around and unleashing either his mid-90's gas, his sweeping slider, or his changeup. As with Nomo in 1995, you could drive by any sandlot in 2003 and spot a kid doing his best Willis imitation.
Other dudes who, as Topps All-Star Rookies, received trophies on their 2004 Topps card: Brandon Webb, Mark Teixeira, Rocco Baldelli, and six other dudes you either long forgot or never knew.
After Willis's departure from Florida, his #35 has been cycled through the likes of Doug Waechter...and Brian Flynn...and Chris Reed. Dudes even I have barely heard of even though I follow MLB with a microscope at times. I'm not saying #35 should be retired in Willis's honor, but I AM saying it deserved a little more respect than that!
At least its present wearer, reliever Richard Bleier, isn't a complete major league scrub.
(flip) Especially pre-2010, Topps card numbers ending in "00" were usually reserved for the sport's biggest names. Willis receiving that "honor" as a 2003 rookie speaks to the voluminous impact he made on MLB and its fans that year—I can't verbally express just how popular this man was, people.
Since Willis, three other Marlins have walked away with NL ROTY honors: SS Hanley Ramirez (2006) OF Chris Coghlan (2009) and SP Jose Fernandez (2013).
That 2002 Trade With Cubs sent Willis and two other prospects plus veteran SP/RP Julian Tavarez to Florida, with SP Matt Clement and CL Antonio Alfonseca heading to Chicago. Clement was okay for the Cubs, but Alfonseca wasn't, and since Willis helped the Fish outlast the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS en route to a championship, I'd say Florida won this trade.
AFTER THIS CARD: Willis enjoyed one more great year with the Marlins (2005; he went 22-10 and finished just behind Chris Carpenter of St. Louis for the NL Cy Young award), two okay years (2004 and 2006) and one trying year (2007, when he went 10-15, 5.17).
With his pay due to continue ascending in 2008, the Marlins packaged Willis and star 3B Miguel Cabrera in a December 2007 trade to Detroit, receiving six youngsters in return. * Two weeks later, the Tigers locked Willis up for 3Y/$29M.
In a bizarre turn of events, Willis completely lost his touch in Detroit, going 2-8, 6.86 there while battling injury, weight and anxiety issues—he'd appear just 24 times as a Tiger before being cut in 2010. landing briefly with Arizona afterward. He next turned up with the 2011 Reds, spending much of the second half in their starting rotation and even hitting the last of his nine MLB homers.
Unfortunately, none of the many MiLB contracts Willis signed over the next four years led to major league action, and he finally retired for good in 2015 (after briefly doing so in 2012). Today you can see/hear him providing commentary for Fox Sports, specifically MLB Whiparound.
Dontrelle Willis debuted in 2003 Topps on a shared Prospects card, then received standard commons annually through 2012 (except 2011).
* three of those youngsters were SP/RP Andrew Miller, RP Burke Badenhop and OF Cameron Maybin, who enjoyed decent-to-excellent major league careers
CATEGORIES: 2004 Topps, Florida Marlins
9/12/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps Update #6 Prince Fielder, Home Run Derby
More 2011 Topps Update Home Run Derby Cards: n/a
The Home Run Derby was invented with guys like Prince Fielder in mind—sometimes, as a fan, you just want to watch a bunch of large men use all their might to massacre baseballs. None of this bunting or "going the other way" or "taking some swing out" business; let's see some brute strength!
Fielder, of course, was not just some mindless one-dimensional brute at the plate; he could hit. His surgically-treated neck kept him from playing into his mid-to-late 30's, which is somewhat tragic, because he probably would have hit 500 homers and reached Cooperstown someday.
In his trips to the Derby, however, Fielder did hit about 500 home runs—or so it seemed. The big man entered the contest for the third time in 2011, and unlike many dudes, he was not worried that the competition could affect his swing as he geared up for free agency after the '11 season.
THIS CARD: Usually, I can turn to Getty Images for any Topps front images from 2011 on, but not this time. Though I cannot pinpoint which round this pic was taken, or the result of Fielder's swing, at least we know for sure it happened 7/11/2011!
2011 marked the first year captains were selected for the Derby; MLB does the selecting, though I'm not sure what specific criteria they use. As the previous two Derby champions, Fielder (NL) and Boston's David Ortiz (AL) were chosen to lead their respective leagues in 2011.
More from the Derby: Fielder ended Round 1 tied with Matt Holliday and Robby Cano (five homers apiece). He won the tiebreaker—more on that below—but bowed out in Round 2 with just four HR.
(flip) There is no one anywhere, outside of MLB and media personnel, who has ever referred to the Home Run Derby with its sponsor's name. After 2011, State Farm sponsored the HRD for one more year before giving way to Chevrolet, Gillette, and finally (in 2016) T-Mobile—who I have long had beef with and who still sponsors the event today.
What about those five straight homers? A five-swing tiebreaking face-off between Fielder, Holliday and Cano followed the end of Round 1, and Fielder cleared the wall with every one of his swings!
Fielder was indeed the 2009 Derby champ after not escaping the first round in 2007, his Derby debut. Oh, and that 474-foot homer was the longest anybody hit all night!
AFTER THIS CARD: Fielder participated in three more Derbies after 2011, all for the American League; he won in style in 2012 but took Round 1 defeats in both 2013 and 2015. Fielder last played MLB in 2016; click here for his emotional retirement announcement.
Prince Fielder received Home Run Derby cards in 2007, 2009, 2011-2013 and 2015 Topps Update, which I guarantee is a record.
CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps Update, Home Run Derby