Score Baseball Card Of The Day
"I have opinions of my own -- strong opinions -- but I don't always agree with them." -- President George W. Bush
SCORE Archive 2020: November/December
I own every Score card ever made (1988-98) and still lament their parent company, Pinnacle, going bankrupt during my senior year of high school.
Time has not diminished the detailed blurbs and awesome photography that was Score baseball, however. I've long done a Topps Card Of The Day feature on this site and have now decided to add Score to the mix on days a Topps card is not profiled. This company, defunct or not, deserves appreciation from collectors past and present—shoot, maybe a new generation of card enthusiasts will become enamored with Score as I did.
(We will not be presenting any Score Rookies & Traded cards; I never collected them because they were too different from the base sets.)
Click on images for larger views.
9/25/22 Score Baseball Card Of The Day: 1995 Score #516 Todd Jones, Astros
Todd Jones will probably go down as the most forgotten successful closer of the late 1990's/mid 2000's. He didn't have electric stuff, or a funky windup, or memorable entrance music. And he was moved around multiple times during his prime by teams who preferred guys with electric stuff, funky windups and memorable entrance music.
But somehow, the man who everyone wanted until they had him hung around long enough to save 319 games. You have to average 30 saves annually for 10 years to even reach 300, and very few dudes have managed to do that. The ONLY reason I knew Jones had 319 career saves was from researching where active closers Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen rank on the all-time saves list.
Here, however, Jones is just getting started in MLB. The second-year reliever served as a setup man for rookie Astros CL John Hudek for most of the 1994 season, although he converted five saves of his own over the course of the summer.
THIS CARD: That mustache alone probably accounted for 33% of the outs Jones recorded during his career. It only got thicker as his career wore on, and I don't care what anyone says—it's tougher hitting against someone who looks mean. Ask yourself, who would you rather face on the mound, Steve Austin or Steve Carell?
I'm pretty sure I don't own another baseball card with a mitt decorating the subject's head. At least this way Jones knows his cap won't blow off.
More from Jones's 1994 season: he often carried the workload of a long reliever, going two-plus innings 17 times and three-plus innings thrice! On 7/26 at Cincinnati, Jones went the final 3.1 innings for the win, striking out five and allowing only a harmless walk. And on 7/18 against the Cardinals, Jones earned the save by allowing one run across three innings in Houston's wild 15-12 victory.
(flip) You see Jones letting go of his low-to-mid-90's fastball, or either his curve or changeup—all of which were tough to hit when Jones was "on". At age 37, he was still reaching 95 as late as 2005, by which time Jones could also cut and sink the fastball.
Remember, while it was Hudek and Jones who accounted for most of Houston's saves in 1994, the club opened that season with Mitch Williams closing games. The Astros acquired (rescued) Williams from Philadelphia after Toronto's Joe Carter took him deep to end the 1993 World Series—but Williams was more or less terrible as an Astro and would never again be an effective MLB pitcher.
Don't let the .556 save percentage in 1994 fool you; three of Jones's four blown saves were not "true" save ops—he blew leads in games he probably was not going to be asked to finish, anyway. (At least, that's my semi-educated guess; with the way Terry Collins used Jones in '94, who really can know?)
AFTER THIS CARD: Jones earned 32 saves for the Astros while closing for parts of 1995 and 1996, then joined Detroit in a nine-player swap in December 1996. As a Tiger, Jones took off, saving 131 games 1997-2000—including a league-best 42 in an All-Star 2000 season! But in late June 2001, the Tigers demoted Jones from closing after he hit a couple of bumps; they then moved him to Minnesota near the Trade Deadline.
Over the next three seasons, Jones earned just three saves in 216 appearances while moving between the Rockies, Red Sox, Reds and Phillies. But in 2005, 37-year-old Jones re-emerged as a top stopper, saving 40 games with a 2.10 ERA for the Marlins! Detroit sought a reunion, and brought Jones back for 2Y/$11M in December 2005.
Jones gave the Tigers 75 more saves 2006-07 and inked a 1Y/$7M deal for 2008, but lost his job to young Fernando Rodney that July as he battled a frayed rotator cuff. Jones retired that October as Detroit's all-time saves leader (235) and at present, he still ranks 18th all-time in MLB appearances (982) and 22nd in saves (319).
Todd Jones appeared in 1994-95 Score.
More September 2022 Score Cards Of The Day
9/5/22 Score Baseball Card Of The Day: 1996 Score #452 Tim Laker, Expos
As a Golden State Warriors fan, I generally hate any and all Lakers...except for former Expo catcher Tim Laker. I got nothing against this guy.
A 1988 #6 pick with speed and a strong arm, Laker displayed a suspect bat until a semi-breakout 1992 season during which he homered 15 times for AA Harrisburg. That earned him a promotion directly to Montreal without laying over in AAA.
Laker struggled to hit major-league pitching and erased just two of 15 basestealers during his '92 Expos stint, but when the club opened 1993 with three catchers, Laker not only made the team—he started behind the plate on Opening Day! But by mid-April, the 23-year-old was at AAA Ottawa (much to his chagrin). Other than June, the entirety of which he spent with the Expos, Laker only got in 14 major league games the rest of the 1993 season.
Here, Laker—who was left in Ottawa for all of 1994—has just completed a 1995 season spent entirely with Montreal...albeit usually as a backup. He hit his first three MLB home runs in '95 and continued to improve throwing out thieves (from 17% in 1992-93 to 25% in '95).
THIS CARD: I doubt I have another card from any brand depicting a catcher chillin' during a break in warmups. And it's always cool to see a catcher without his mask on, a baseball card rarity unless the catcher is batting.
In most cases, backup catchers went by the wayside in 1996 Score; that company—as well as the entire baseball card industry—faced some challenges in the wake of the baseball strike, leading to a cutback in production. But Laker, as a highly-regarded prospect who still carried tons of upside in 1995-96, was able to escape the chopping block.
More from Laker's 1995 season: he opened the year backing up Darrin Fletcher, working his way into a near-platoon during the middle months until Fletcher forced his way back into regular duty with a hot-hitting August. Laker ended up starting just two of Montreal's final 19 games, but as a PH 9/26, he singled home the game-winning run against tough Marlins CL Robb Nen in the T9th!
(flip) Laker's arm earned rave reviews from just about every publication around during his Expos days. Somehow it didn't translate to results when it came to erasing basestealers; I'm assuming few of Montreal's pitchers were adept at holding runners well enough to help Laker out.
Check out those numbers for 1994 Ottawa—the same Laker who failed to hit a major league home run in 132 AB 1992-93 erupted for 12 on the farm in 1994. So at least we know any struggles relating to his fast ascencion to MLB didn't permanently ruin his swing.
Laker's shown defensively TWICE on this card, and shown without his mask each time! Without looking, I can estimate owning about zero other such cards.
The other game Laker won for Montreal with a late, clutch hit? Facing Steve Mintz of my Giants 6/11, Laker tripled home two runs in the T13th, breaking an 8-8 tie and sending Montreal to victory! The 1995 Expos were 66-78 overall but 12-2 when Laker had at least one RBI!
AFTER THIS CARD: Laker missed the 1996 season after UCL surgery; Montreal waived him in March 1997 and he landed with the Orioles, kicking off what would become a nine-year stretch of call-ups, DFA's, outrights, waiver claims, minor league deals and one trade.
Most of Laker's MLB run going forward came as a Cleveland Indian in 2001, 2003-04 and 2006; he got in 115 total games for Cleveland and hit .228 with seven bombs. Laker probably would have been a 2002 Indian as well, if not for this.
Laker also suited up for the 1997 Orioles (seven games), the 1998 and 2005 Devil Rays (four games) as well as the 1998-99 Pirates (20 games). His pro playing career ended in 2006; one year later he was named in the Mitchell Report along with loads of others.
Laker then took up managing/coaching; he's held too many roles at too many stops in MiLB and MLB for me to list here, but I will tell you he most recently served as the Mariners' hitting coach 2019-21.
Tim Laker appeared in 1996 Score.
9/10/22 Score Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Score #360 Jose Canseco, Athletics
It only took about 1,400 Card Of The Day selections, but the TSR Randomizer has FINALLY selected a Jose Canseco common! (We picked his 1991 Dream Team card in April 2022.)
Canseco, as colossal a star as could be during his prime (1988-92), became a punchline after leaving Oakland the first time, and a punching bag—literally and figuratively—once his MLB career drew to a close. Which is a tragedy, unless you're among the contingent who thinks Canseco was a fraud all along due to his admitted steroid use.
"Tragedy?" Well, in a baseball sense, because Canseco the Oakland Athletic was one of THE most fun players to watch of my entire 32-year MLB fandom—and I didn't even see much of him during his MVP season of 1988! Though he's mostly known for his prodigious home runs, the man could—and did—do a bit of everything as a young Athletic. Even defend!
If that weren't all, his, uh, interesting personal life gave him notoriety among non-sports fans as well. On and off the field, Canseco was a show, and you almost always got your money's worth when he performed.
Here, Canseco has just returned to Oakland via trade with the Red Sox, creating a Bash Brothers reunion! (For a time, anyway.)
THIS CARD: There's not many guys whose swings-and-misses could create excitement, but when Canseco took a big cut and came up empty, OOOHs and AAAHs would permeate the ballpark.
This is one of two Canseco commons available in 1997 Score; he appears in Series 1 with Boston and in Series 2 with Oakland—a consequence of the post-strike hiatus of Score Traded & Rookies sets. Prior to 1997, Score base sets had never featured players in their new uniforms for the upcoming season—although 1996 Score did feature players with their new team's logos/graphics.
More from Canseco's early 1997 season: though listed on this card exclusively as a DH, Oakland used Canseco quite a bit in RF and even LF in the first quarter of the '97 campaign. His first homer of the year, a two-run shot, came on 4/5 against the Yankees' Doc Gooden. And on 4/8, Canseco went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a homer and three RBI—not enough to prevent a 13-7 Oakland loss to Boston.
(flip) Canseco was limited to those 96 games in 1996 by an early hip injury, then back surgery later on.
Good GOD, do you SEE those 1996 slugging percentages at home and against lefties? I wish I had the time/energy to pore through the boxscores and study the frequency of lefties facing Canseco at Fenway Park as the '96 season wore on.
Officially, the Red Sox traded Canseco because he asked them to. But given his injury woes, they were probably okay with dumping (most of) his $4.5M salary, which was hefty at the time.
Note again that Canseco is listed only as a DH, yet in the defensive stat box he's a LF. WHICH ONE IS IT, SCORE????!!
AFTER THIS CARD: Through his first 72 games of 1997, Canseco homered 17 times with 52 RBI for an otherwise-wretched Oakland team. But Canseco then went cold and missed most of August with a back injury; he would end that '97 season on the DL. (Despite the official record, Canseco insists in his first book Juiced that he was not hurt and that Oakland sent him home to prevent his option for 1998—which was based on plate appearances—from triggering.)
Canseco joined Toronto in February 1998 on a 1Y/$2.1M deal; he went on to clobber 46 homers that year, nearly powering the Jays back into the postseason! Tampa Bay took notice and signed Canseco for 1Y/$2M plus incentives in December 1998; he got off to a RED-HOT start as a Devil Ray.
Back problems hindered the 36-year-old, however, and by mid-2000 he'd been acquired by the Yankees off waivers—which wouldn't have been a problem if the Yankees actually had a role for Canseco. But they didn't; he was only claimed to block other contenders from getting him.
After finishing 2000 at .252, 15, 49 in 98 combined games, Canseco settled for a MiLB deal with the Angels for 2001, but they cut him in March and he landed in the Independent League for a time. The White Sox came calling in June, however, and Canseco slammed what would be his final 16 MLB homers that year as a stand-in for the injured Frank Thomas.
Canseco signed with Montreal for 2002, but didn't make the team out of Spring Training. Shortly into a stint with AAA Charlotte (White Sox), the soon-to-be-38-year-old announced his retirement.
Jose Canseco appeared annually in Score 1988-97.
9/15/22 Score Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Score #600 Darren Holmes, Brewers
Holmes would later enjoy a couple of good years as part-time closer for the Rockies, but here, he's fresh off his second consecutive season supplying middle relief for the Milwaukee Brewers. Holmes—who opened the '92 season in the minors—re-joined the Brewers bullpen in early May and was as effective as anybody else on the staff from that point on (his 1.087 WHIP was third-best on the team, minimum 30 IP). He even picked up six saves—more on those below.
THIS CARD: Hard-throwing Holmes preps to throw either his gas, his sharp slider or his best pitch, a big 12-6 curve. Holmes would also break off the occasional changeup at random times.
In Brewers history, #40 has been longest worn by current coach Jason Lane (2015-present), but its most notable wearer among players might be oft-injured middleman Chad Fox (1998-2002). In other words, #40 shouldn't evoke many grand memories among Brewers fans. Holmes wore the number for the majority of his MLB career.
More from Holmes' 1992 season: he was briefly returned to AAA Denver in late May, but returned by June and finished the year in Milwaukee. He was asked to close five games in the second half, including three in September as the Brewers (unsuccessfully) attempted to catch first-place Toronto in the AL East standings. Holmes allowed just one home run all season (to Baltimore's Glenn Davis 6/30)!
(flip) Score definitely wasn't tied to the traditions of its predecessors, assigning card #600 to an unproven middle reliever such as Holmes. (Although, even less-proven middle reliever Yorkis Perez wormed his way onto 1995 Topps #600 somehow.)
The first two Colorado selections were SP David Nied (Braves) and 3B Charlie Hayes (Yankees). Holmes was already well-acquainted with the Rockies' home park, Mile High Stadium, having shuttled multiple times between the Brewers and the AAA Denver Zephyrs 1991-92.
It was Doug Henry who led the '92 Brewers with 29 saves (in 33 chances).
Not shown in the stats: the two games Henry worked for Beloit (A) in 1991.
AFTER THIS CARD: Holmes was the newborn 1993 Rockies' primary closer, converting 25-of-29 save ops despite the elements affecting his curve. He struggled badly in 1994, returning to the minors for a time and ending the year on the DL (elbow). But Holmes picked up 14 saves for the 1995 Rox while Bruce Ruffin was out, then held his own as a setup man in 1996. The 1997 Rockies gave Holmes six scattered starts—of which he was fantastic in three and awful in three—among his 42 total appearances, then let him walk at season's end.
Signed to a 3Y/$4.65M deal (plus a 2001 option for $2.2M that wasn't exercised) in December 1997, Holmes earned a World Series ring with the 1998 Yankees, despite missing several weeks with back woes. After joining the 1999 D'Backs via March trade, Holmes posted a 3.70 ERA in 44 games, but then the wheels came off of his career. He racked up a 13.03 ERA in 18 games with four clubs (including Arizona twice) in 2000, then spent 2001 unsigned after back surgery.
Atlanta took a flier on the now-36-year-old Holmes for 2002, and he responded with a 1,81 ERA in 55 games that year! (He also missed time with this freak off-field injury.) He worked one more less-effective year out of the 2003 Braves bullpen before retiring.
Holmes has since served as bullpen coach for the Rockies (2015-19) and Orioles (2020-present).
Darren Holmes appeared annually in Score 1992-94.
9/20/22 Score Baseball Card Of The Day: 1998 Score #233 Jose Cruz Jr., Blue Jays
"Jose Cruz Jr. is the next great Mariners outfielder." "Jose Cruz Jr. is going to be a star." "Jose Cruz Jr. can do amazing things on the baseball diamond." "Jose Cruz Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. will carry the Seattle Mariners into the new millennium and beyond."
And then, finally:
"We (the Mariners) decided we needed Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric more than we needed Jose Cruz Jr.; best of luck to him in Toronto."
That's baseball for ya—you're the greatest thing ever, until somebody better (or at least better for your team) comes along.
In hindsight, of course, Seattle did not make a franchise-altering mistake by moving the highly-touted Cruz, who ended up being a good-but-nowhere-near-great player for over a decade in MLB. He was even a solid contributor for my Giants in 2003—except for one instance which we'll discuss below. Here, we've caught up with Cruz just as he's finished his rookie season of 1997; despite opening 1997 in AAA and being traded in July, the athletic outfielder was runner-up to Boston's Nomar Garciaparra for AL Rookie of the Year!
THIS CARD: Cruz trots in from the outfield, most likely after the end of an inning. Cruz played almost exclusively LF for both Seattle and Toronto in 1997, although he did make four scattered starts in CF for the latter as well.
If cash was the prize, I would not have guessed Cruz got the standard "Rookie" graphics on his 1998 Score card. Obviously he should have and there was no precedent against it; I obviously just didn't remember this card as well as I thought.
As regular COTD visitors have surely read me bitching about by now, I don't like using suffixes such as "Jr." for athletes unless the person they share their name with is also connected to pro sports or is otherwise nationally known.
In Cruz's case, his papa was a longtime major leaguer, mostly for the Cardinals and Astros 1970-88. Jose Cruz, Sr. was also an outfielder, one who hit .300 five times, banged out 2,251 hits and made a pair of All-Star teams!
(flip) Why did Score feel that we collectors didn't need to know which side of the plate rookies batted from? It's not like there wasn't space to include one more row. (For the record, Cruz switch-hit.)
Cruz wasn't just a first-round draft pick—he went third overall, behind 1B/OF Darin Erstad (Angels) and C Ben Davis (Padres). At Rice, Cruz hit .376, 43, 206 across three seasons, setting several records and earning multiple All-American honors (he's got some DEEP family ties to Rice, as well).
Cruz's uncle Hector was a major league utilityman 1973-82, and uncle Tommy got in seven MLB games in the 1970's.
AFTER THIS CARD: Cruz needed MiLB tune-ups in both 1998 and 1999, but he joined the 30-30 club in 2001 as part of back-to-back 30-homer seasons for the Jays 2000-01. But Cruz generally hovered in the .240's and struck out a bit more than Toronto would have preferred, so he was allowed to walk after the '02 season. And walk he did, all the way to San Francisco in January 2003.
On a 1Y/$2.8M deal with my Giants, Cruz held down RF and was the only Giant besides Barry Bonds to reach 20 homers in 2003—plus, he racked up a club-record 18 outfield assists! Sadly, Cruz—a 2003 NL Gold Glover—dropped a routine fly ball from Florida's Jeff Conine to open the B11th of NLDS Game 3. The floodgates opened, the Giants soon lost, and before long they were bounced from the Postseason. Cruz's $4M mutual option for 2004 was declined by the Giants.
Next, Cruz joined Tampa Bay on a 2Y/$6.5M deal in December 2003. He hit .242, 21, 78 as the D-Rays' starting RF, then was traded to Arizona in February 2005. He'd end up playing 115 games split between Arizona, Boston and the Dodgers that year—slashing .301/.391/.532 in 47 games for the latter and earning a new 1Y/$3.21M deal that November.
As a fourth outfielder for the '06 Dodgers, Cruz (predictably) didn't approach his '05 production and was cut in August. He resurfaced with the 2007 Padres, playing regularly in LF/RF for much of the first half before being cut in July; 60 PA with the 2008 Astros marked the end of Cruz's playing career at 34.
Cruz spent part of the early 2010's doing ESPN duty while also working for the MLBPA as an assistant for Spanish-speaking big leaguers. He opened 2021 as an assistant coach for the Detroit Tigers, and closed 2021 as the head baseball coach at his alma mater, Rice University!
Jose Cruz Jr. appeared in 1998 Score.