Topps Baseball Card Of The Day

"Everyone has a plan...til they get punched in the mouth.'" -- Mike Tyson (the boxer, not the ex-baseball player)

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I own every Topps baseball set since 1985. For years I thought long and hard how I could put these cards "to use" aside from sitting in their binders until the end of time. The Card Of The Day was born.

I'd hoped to introduce a new card every single day but that quickly proved impossible under the weight of a regular job and fatherhood—now I'm aiming for 4-5 per week.

 

For years we only profiled Topps cards, but in November 2020 I decided to finally profile Score cards as well; click here to revisit that late, great company. Otherwise, please enjoy randomly-selected Topps cards from 1987-present (No 1985 and 1986 Topps in this feature—not only didn't I see a lot of those players, but I DID see blogs on both sets that would affect my writing.)

A = Alternate Card  B= Bonus Factory Set Card  F = Factory Team Set  G = Giveaway Set  T = Traded Set  U = Update Set

 

Click on images for larger views.

Topps Argenis Salazar
Topps Argenis Salazar

9/24/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #29 Argenis Salazar, Royals

More Argenis Salazar Topps Cards: 1987 1989

Here, Salazar has just completed his third season with the Royals. He took over yet again as the team's regular shortstop a week into the 1987 season, and for a time he looked like a new man offensively. But from mid-June into mid-July, Salazar went into a monumental slump at the plate that would have gotten most others with his resume demoted...if not released. Read on:

THIS CARD: We just profiled Salazar's 1987 Topps card 17 months ago, and now he's back for more. He will have one last chance to appear in COTD, thanks to his surprise appearance in 1989 Topps (TSR doesn't profile 1985 or 1986 Topps/Traded sets, the only others in which Salazar appeared).

Yo, Argenis—drop the bat, homie; you're halfway to first base. (It almost looks stuck to his hand, doesn't it?)

More from Salazar's 1987 season: as mentioned, he swung a more-than-just-adequate bat early in the season, batting .324 in his first 24 games! On 5/22, Salazar was at .276, which is like .324 for a lot of guys. But from 6/12 thru 7/19, Salazar managed 13 hits—12 singles and a double—in 99 at-bats, which amounts to a .131 average and a .141 slugging.

Then in July, just as Salazar began to string together a few hits again, he hit the DL with back spasms and missed nearly all of August. (At least he was smart enough to avoid this injury.)

(flip) "This Way To The Clubhouse" may be confusing since you don't see the Mets anywhere in Salazar's batting record. Well, the Expos lost him to the Cardinals in early 1985 (free agent compensation), then a couple of months later the Cardinals traded him to the Mets in exchange for IF Jose Oquendo. Salazar spent all of 1985 with the Mets AAA team, Tidewater, before his trade to Kansas City.

Anthony "Tony" Ferreira, KC's #2 pick in 1981, had a couple decent years as a starter in the Royals' system. He made two relief appearances for the 1985 Royals and though he pinged around pro baseball through 1990, Ferriera was never heard from in MLB again. He got a World Series ring, at least.

As you see in the stats, Salazar had never homered in over 500 MLB at-bats prior to 1987. He was finally able to connect against Baltimore's Jeff Ballard 5/14...then for good measure, he went yard again off Boston's Bruce Hurst 5/20!

AFTER THIS CARD: Salazar and SP Danny Jackson were traded to the Reds in exchange for P Ted Power and SS Kurt Stillwell in November 1987—but the Reds cut Salazar at the end of 1988 Spring Training. He landed with the Cubs days later and got all of 60 at-bats for them—his final 60 at-bats in the major leagues. Salazar last played professionally in 1991.

Click here to see how little ESPN's Jim Baker thought of Salazar's skillz.

Argenis "Angel" Salazar appeared in 1985 and 1987-89 Topps, as well as 1986 Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, Kansas City Royals

More September 2022 Topps Cards Of The Day

Topps Felix Hernandez
Topps Felix Hernandez

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

Topps Greg A. Harris
Topps Greg A. Harris

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

Topps Alejandro De Aza
Topps Alejandro De Aza

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

Topps Jesse Crain
Topps Jesse Crain

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

Topps Cody Ross
Topps Cody Ross

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

Topps Tanner Roark
Topps Tanner Roark

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...

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

Topps larry Walker
Topps Larry Walker

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?"

WALKER: "Yeah?"

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

Topps Jose DeLeon
Topps Jose DeLeon

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

Topps Dontrelle Willis
Topps Dontrelle Willis

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 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

Topps Prince Fielder
Topps Home Run Derby

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

Topps Howie Kendrick
Topps Howie Kendrick

9/13/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2020 Topps #655 Howie Kendrick, Nationals

More Howie Kendrick Topps Cards: 2006U 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2015U 2016U 2017 2017U 2018 2019 2021

Here, the veteran infielder (and sometimes outfielder) Kendrick is still basking in the glow of his magical 2019 postseason. After missing the final four-plus months of 2018 with an Achilles injury, 36-year-old Kendrick returned strong in '19 and enjoyed his most impactful season, hitting a career-best .344 while finishing second on the Nationals in SLG to Anthony Rendon's .598. That was followed by an absolutely epic October performance...

THIS CARD: Obviously, I don't like picking the same player twice in a relatively short period—we randomly selected Kendrick's 2017 Topps Update card just four months ago—but if it had to happen, at least the player chosen is one who knocked the favored Dodgers out of the postseason with one swing.

Kendrick sort of appears twice in 2020 Topps. Card #640, titled "Rev'd Up", features a checklist on the reverse with Kendrick and teammate Adam Eaton "revving up" in the dugout. Usually, it's the younger guys showing off their inner child like that, but when you're hitting .344 and on your way to a championship, you get to be as loose as desired.

Per Getty Images, we're seeing Kendrick immediately after his decisive homer vs. Houston in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series 10/30. The two-run shot against Houston RP Will Harris put the Nats up 3-2; they'd go on to win 6-2, bringing the franchise its first championship in 50 years of existence!

(flip) No blurb, so I'll supply one: the aforementioned WS homer capped off an amazing postseason for Kendrick, whose T10th grand slam off Dodgers RP Joe Kelly won the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS. Kendrick then went 5-for-15 with four doubles and four RBI vs. St. Louis in the NLCS—earning MVP honors!

Kendrick is listed as a 2B, but in 2019 he also started 45 games between 1B and 3B and seven more at DH.

That .344 average in 2019 would have led MLB if Kendrick had enough plate appearances to qualify.

That Trade With Phillies sent Kendrick and $ to Washington in exchange for prospect McKenzie Mills and international bonus slot money .

AFTER THIS CARD: Not a whole lot. Kendrick re-signed with Washington for the COVID-shortened 2020 season (1Y/$6.25M prorated), but he only got in 25 games before a hamstring injury ended his season in early September. That winter, 37-year-old Kendrick announced his playing days were over; in late 2021 he moved into a front-office role with the Phillies.

Howie Kendrick appeared annually in Topps 2007-21, except 2016. He's also got 2006, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Update cards.

CATEGORIES: 2020 Topps, Washington Nationals

Topps Brett Phillips
Topps Brett Phillips

9/14/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2018 Topps  Update #134 Brett Phillips, Royals

More Brett Phillips Topps Cards: 2017U 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

The exciting outfielder Brett Phillips was at one time a highly regarded prospect in the Brewers and Royals systems, and while he hasn't proven to be the player many scouts expected him to be, Phillips' major league contributions have not been insignificant.

Remember that crazy walk-off play in the 2020 World Series? The one where a comedy of Dodgers errors allowed Rays OF Randy Arozarena to score the winning run in the B9th of Game 4? It was Phillips who singled home the tying run off a hard cutter from prolific LA closer Kenley Jansen!

Here, however, Phillips has just completed his first American League rounds as a member of the Royals, who traded for him near the 2018 Deadline. Upon joining KC, Phillips started 25 of their next 31 games, mostly in CF with a little RF sprinkled in. 

THIS CARD: Per Getty Images, we're seeing Phillips in his first game with KC, on 7/29/2018 at Yankee Stadium. The kid is going up high to rob Yankee C Austin Romine of a homer in the B4th! (New York, however, still led 2-0 at the time of the "theft" and went on to a 6-3 victory.)

This was not the only time Phillips' defense got people talking in 2018. Shortly after joining the Royals, the young OF fired a 100.2-MPH, one-hop seed to erase White Sox runner Leury Garcia at the plate!

More from Phillips' 2018 season: though he shined in the field, Phillips struggled with the bat after his trade from Milwaukee. As mentioned, he started frequently after the swap, but he only hit .205 with 39 K in 88 at-bats before being shaken up 9/4 in Cleveland. While attempting to track down Jose Ramirez's deep fly; Phillips crunched the RF wall, and though he stayed in that game, he was only seen for two innings—as an extra-inning pinch-runner/defensive sub—over the next 12 days.

(flip) It wasn't Phillips-for-Moustakas straight up; P Jorge Lopez accompanied Phillips on the flight to Kansas City.

In Phillips' KC debut 7/29, it was veteran Yankees SP J.A. Happ who plunked him near the right shoulder with a full-count fastball leading off the T3rd. Phillips was later forced out at 2B on a grounder by UT Rosell Herrera.

As we've alluded to in the past, 2017-18 Topps featured players' social media handles where applicable, but 2017-18 Topps Update did not, for whatever reasons. Phillips—a fun, colorful personality—can be found on both Twitter and Instagram under the handle @Brett_Phillips8. (For those of you who visit his Twitter profile, "Maverick" is Phillips' middle name.)

AFTER THIS CARD: Phillips spent most of 2019 with AAA Omaha, only receiving 79 PA with the Royals that year. In the final one, Phillips' line-drive sac fly made a winner of retiring manager Ned Yost in his final game (vs. Minnesota). In August 2020 Phillips moved on to the Rays via trade, setting him up for his October glory.

With his popularity rising, Phillips got in 118 games for the 2021 Rays, including 74 starts. He ripped three grand slams between 7/29 and 8/11, an inside-the-park homer 8/16 and a walk-off homer 9/17; overall Phillips batted .206 with 13 homers, 44 RBI and 14 steals that year. Even with Phillips' amusing trio of pitching performances for the 2022 Rays growing his legacy further, the club could no longer ignore his .147 average and sold him to the Orioles in August.

At present, Phillips—who the Orioles DFA'd and outrighted to AAA Norfolk 17 days after acquiring him—owns a lifetime .188 average with 28 homers in 354 MLB games.

Brett Phillips has appeared in 2018-22 Topps, as well as 2017-18 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2018 Topps Update, Kansas City Royals

Topps Prince Fielder
Topps Prince Fielder

9/16/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2014 Topps #550 Prince Fielder, Rangers

More Prince Fielder Topps Cards: 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2015 2016

Fielder, at one time, was on my "list". As if crunching a walk-off home run against my Giants in 2009 wasn't bad enough, the man (and his teammates) then performed a choreographed celebration at home plate—Fielder leaped onto the dish, the impact of which "caused" his teammates to all fall to the ground around him.

I was not happy with Prince for a time after that—or with Topps for commemorating the moment on his 2010 Topps card! But time, and an "errant" Barry Zito pitch, has eased my contempt.

Now I can appreciate Fielder for what he was: a damn good player, and a very durable one before his neck problems cropped up in 2014. In fact, blessed with better health in his 30's, and Fielder's slugging prowess just might have landed him in Cooperstown one day.

THIS CARD: We have featured Fielder in several different write-ups on this site: a Home Run Derby Topps card—presented earlier this month—a League Leaders Topps card, a Cecil Fielder Score card, and his retirement video. But this is the first time we've presented a Prince Fielder common on TSR. I was having a hard time believing it, since he's received so much TSR coverage, but it's true.

I hope you visitors appreciate the lengths I go to in order to bring you information that's unavailable anywhere else. Per Getty Images, we're seeing Fielder chugging after making contact 7/20/13 against the Royals—but because Fielder is airbrushed into his new Texas garb, and because Getty decided to photograph Fielder everywhere but on the toilet in 2013, it took LOTS of time to dig the original photo up. (BTW, Kansas City won 6-5 that day despite Fielder going 2-for-5.)

Fielder is correctly listed as a 1B; he did not become a primary DH until the 2015 season.

(flip) Fielder was dealt by Detroit in November 2013 in exchange for 2B Ian Kinsler; apparently, the Tigers felt Fielder's slight dip in production in '13 was a sign of things to come, and jumped at the chance to offload the $168M left on his deal (minus $30M sent to Texas). Plus, 3B prospect Nick Castellanos was ready to play, meaning incumbent Miguel Cabrera would have to shift back to 1B.

In the stats, JUST FEAST YOUR EYES UPON THAT DURABILITY Fielder exhibited through his first eight full seasons—even with a build that could be best described as hefty. Back then, I didn't appreciate durable players like I do now, or I would have sang Fielder's praises regularly on this site. Even after that horrible celebration against my Giants.

More about that Rookie Fact: first of all, it should have been written "A Topps All-Star Rookie Selection...", not what you actually see. Second, Fielder's 28 homers in 2006 ranked first among MLB rookies, not just NL! He also tied for the MLB rookie lead with 157 games played, with Washington's Ryan Zimmerman.

AFTER THIS CARD: Fielder was limited to 42 games in 2014 by neck surgery that ended his season 5/16. He returned as a DH in 2015 and batted .305, 23, 98 in 158 games, earning an AL All-Star selection as well as the AL Comeback Player of the Year award!

 

Sadly, Fielder's neck issues flared up again in 2016, and he underwent a similar surgery to the one in '14—but this time, doctors would not medically clear him to return to baseball, and Fielder tearfully announced his career was over in August 2016 (though he couldn't officially retire without forfeiting the $$$ still left on his deal, which ran through 2020).

Though being relegated to spectator/cheerleader must have killed him, Fielder could be seen with his Rangers teammates during the 2016 postseason, helping in whatever non-playing capacities he could. 

Fielder—who finished with 316 homers, the exact same number his papa Cecil hit 1985-98—returned to Milwaukee to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to NLCS Game 2. Much to my surprise, he received less than 5% of the BBWAA vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022; I'd have pegged him for at least 10%.

Prince Fielder appeared annually in Topps 2006-16.

CATEGORIES: 2014 Topps, Texas Rangers

Topps Matthew LeCroy
Topps Matthew LeCroy

9/17/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2004 Topps #379 Matthew LeCroy, Twins

More Matt/Matthew LeCroy Topps Cards: 1999 2001 2001T 2005

Almost one year ago to the day, Matt LeCroy made his first COTD appearance (9/21/2021) by way of random selection of his 2001 Topps card. Now he's back, and while he's still wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform, his fortunes have changed dramatically—LeCroy went from fighting for playing time in 2000 to one of Minnesota's key power hitters in 2003!

LeCroy finished second on the '03 Twins in homers (behind only Torii Hunter's 26) and led the team in SLG by far (minimum 100 PA). He hit .367 with RISP and .298 against lefties in 2003, but like so many other Twins, went cold at the worst time (1-for-11 in the ALDS vs. the Yankees).

THIS CARD: We see LeCroy doing what he did not do best—running the bases. But card companies MUST have variety in each player's front images, otherwise you end up with this.

I wonder if I can narrow down the date of this game using the Twins at Rangers and Braves at Pirates as clues...(leaves to research)

In 2003, Minnesota played at Texas 7/8 thru 7/10, and 8/29 thru 8/31.

In 2003, Atlanta played at Pittsburgh 8/29-31.

The scoreboard appears to show Baltimore and Seattle playing as well, with #50—aka the great Jamie Moyer—going for Seattle.

That narrows things down...

Of those three Twins/Rangers games August 29-31, LeCroy reached base in two of them, 8/29 and 8/31. Moyer worked for Seattle on 8/31. There's your front image date, peeps.

(flip) Of those 107 games LeCroy played in 2003, he started 88 split between DH (56) C (20) and 1B (12). Minnesota, 90-72 overall, went 48-40 in LeCroy's starts.

As you see, 2004 Topps identifies LeCroy as "Matthew" except in the blurb, where he's "Matt". He was identified as "Matt" on all his other Topps cards, but media and books used the two names interchangeably. 

The first of LeCroy's pair of two-homer games was on 5/2 at Boston, aiding an 11-7 Twins win. The second was also against Boston, but this time the Red Sox pulled out a 6-5 victory in Minnesota 5/10.

AFTER THIS CARD: Even with regular C Joe Mauer out for most of 2004, LeCroy remained in his 2003 role, receiving most of his run at DH with occasional work behind the plate.

By 2005, however, LeCroy was essentially done catching; that year he hit 17 more homers as a part-time DH/1B for the Twins. He joined the Nationals on a 1Y/$850K deal for 2006, played little, made manager Frank Robinson cry, then was cut in late July, Washington re-signed LeCroy to a minors deal two weeks later—only to watch him go down with a season-ending wrist injury 8/14.

LeCroy took his final 20 major league at-bats for the Twins in September 2007 after over a year back in AAA. He enjoyed a strong (.326, 22, 83) 2008 season in the Independent League before retiring.

Since then, LeCroy has worked in the Nationals organization, mostly as a minors manager but also as Nats bullpen coach for two seasons under manager Matt Williams 2014-15.

Matt LeCroy appeared in 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2005 Topps, with a redundant 2001 appearance in Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 2004 Topps, Minnesota Twins

Topps Mike Easler
Topps Mike Easler

9/18/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1987 Topps #135 Mike Easler, Yankees

More Mike Easler Topps Cards: 1988

Here, the veteran outfielder Easler is coming off his first season with the New York Yankees, who traded for him near the end of 1986 Spring Training (more on that below). Easler, who played every day with the 1984-85 Red Sox, often sat against tough lefties as a 1986 Yankee; the strategy helped him bat over .300 for the third time in four seasons. 

THIS CARD: Easler's stance looks exaggerated here, that's because it was, at least in the middle/later years of his career (I have not watched any early Easler video). At times, when Easler took a pitch, his head ended up level with the catcher's head—not even Easler's old teammate Rickey Henderson got down that low.

We see Easler batting at Yankee Stadium; in 1986, he hit .288 at his home park, with six homers and 37 RBI in 70 games (Easler hit .315 with eight homers and 41 RBI on the road in '86). The only issue I have with the photo: Easler is shown in the EXACT same pose on his 1983 and 1984 Topps cards...albeit as a Pirate.

More from Easler's 1986 season: he ran off a 14-game hit streak in May, then ran off an 11-gamer in June! In fact, from June 16-23, Easler slashed .576/.632/.667 with five RBI in eight games. That made his 1-for-33 slump to end August all the more incomprehensible. On 5/26 vs. California, Easler went 3-for-3 with an IBB and a three-run homer...but the Yankees still lost.

(flip) 52 game-winning RBI would be a hearty amount if the stat was legit. (It was discontinued as an official stat in 1988, for those of you unaware.)

YES, the Red Sox and Yankees made a trade on 3/28/1986! It was a straight-up swap for DH Don Baylor, made because Baylor was displeased about platooning for the Yankees. In the 36 years since, the two rivals have made exactly three swaps and one sale; for some context, the Yankees and White Sox have made 17 trades since February 1986.

Again, you abbreviate Ohio as "O", Topps? No one else anywhere in the nation at any time has abbreviated Ohio as "O".

Check out those very gaudy numbers Easler put up for the 1980 Pirates. He was short of the required PA for batting title consideration, otherwise he's first in the NL and fourth in MLB.

AFTER THIS CARD: December 1986, the Yankees reluctantly traded Easler to the Phillies—only to reacquire him via trade in June 1987. Though the 36-year-old hit .282, he slugged a career-worst .372 and the Yankees released him after the season.

 

Easler spent the next two seasons in the Japan League, then he returned to the States and commenced a long coaching career in the major, minor and Independent leagues. His most notable gig was hitting coach for the Red Sox in the mid-1990's; so instrumental was Easler in star slugger Mo Vaughn's development that later on, the two worked together even when they weren't supposed to

Easler, however, refused to coach replacement players during the 1995 strike and was let go by Boston, but he picked up several other coaching (and one managing) jobs throughout pro baseball into the 2010's. Most recently, he worked as a hitting coach for Tijuana in the Mexican League during the late 2010's.

Mike Easler debuted on a shared Prospects card in 1978 Topps, then appeared annually 1980-88. He's also got 1984 and 1986 Traded cards.

CATEGORIES: 1987 Topps, New York Yankees

Topps Darren Lewis
Topps Darren Lewis

9/19/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1999 Topps #157 Darren Lewis, Red Sox

More Darren Lewis Topps Cards: 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1997 2000 2001 2002 2002T

Originally an Oakland Athletic, Lewis went to the Giants in a very rare trade between the two clubs in December 1990. (How rare? The A's and Giants have made exactly one trade since, in 2020.)

As a Giant, Lewis was basically a poor man's Rajai Davis—he could play a mean center field, but was an adequate hitter at best. Still, the Giants stuck him in the leadoff spot for most of the 1992 season, and since the 1993 team won 103 games with Lewis atop the order, he was left there until being swapped to the Reds in mid-1995.

Lewis signed with the White Sox for 2Y/$2.8M in December 1995; he spent 1996 in a heavy-usage 4th-outfielder role but was essentially a PR/DR in 1997 until being traded to the Dodgers that August. 

Here, the 31-year-old has just wrapped the first of four seasons he'd spend with the Boston Red Sox, who gave him 151 starts between CF and RF in 1998. Lewis's eight homers were twice as many as he'd hit in any other season, and his 29 steals were more than double the total of any Red Sox teammate.

THIS CARD: "D-Lew", for a guy whose strength was not hitting, was depicted with the bat on far more Topps front images than he should have been—though it made sense here given his strong offensive showing in 1998. A huge part of Lewis's game was speed, but he was depicted running on only two Topps front images out of 11.

After omissions from the 1996 and 1998 Topps sets, Lewis returned to Topps for good in 1999. He was even featured in 2002 Topps Traded with a team he'd never play for (the Pirates)!

More from Lewis's 1998 season: he began hitting at or near the bottom of the lineup until being switched to his familiar leadoff role in mid-May. On 7/2 against the Expos, Lewis singled four times, stole a base and drove home three runs in a 15-0 drubbing. Then on 7/28, Lewis—with help from A's OF Ben Grieve—supplied a B6th, three-run, inside-the-park homer off Oakland's T.J. Mathews to aid an 8-4 win.

(flip) Lewis's 392-game errorless streak ran from 1990-94, and he broke Don Demeter's previous record of 266 straight errorless games 7/16/1993. His record streak has since been passed by former Orioles/Braves OF Nick Markakis, who ran it up to 398 in 2015. But I still recognize D-Lew as the true errorless king. He was a Giant, after all.

Berkeley and San Carlos, CA are pretty close to San Francisco; today, a beefier Lewis turns up at Oracle Park in S.F. to take in Giants baseball from time to time.

The Red Sox signed Lewis as a free agent in December 1997 for 1Y/$500K. He ended up being quite the 1998 bargain and was rewarded financially by Boston in November 1998 (3Y/$7M).

AFTER THIS CARD: In 1999, Lewis didn't see a lot of leadoff action, and his offensive numbers dipped. Lewis resumed his fourth-outfielder role in 2000, with star CF Carl Everett now in town (and feuding with Lewis at one point) but by 2001, he was a true reserve, batting .280 in just 164 at-bats. 

Lewis moved on to the Cubs in January 2002 for 1Y/$500K, but when they moved him to Pittsburgh at the deadline, he opted to retire rather than report (forcing the two teams to rework what had been a 1-for-1 swap). Lewis finished up with 247 swipes, a 1994 Gold Glove, a .994 fielding percentage and a .250 batting average in 1,354 MLB games.

Note: Darren Baker—Dusty's famous batboy son from the 2002 World Series and currently a Nationals prospect—was named after Lewis, who played for Baker in San Francisco 1993-95.

Darren Lewis appeared in 1991-95, 1997, and 1999-2002 Topps, as well as 2002 Topps Traded.

CATEGORIES: 1999 Topps, Boston Red Sox, Quirks

Topps Bob Boone
Topps Bob Boone

9/21/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1990 Topps #671 Bob Boone, Royals

More Bob Boone Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1989T 2001T 2002 2003

Bob Boone was perhaps the most dependable catcher of his time and somebody capable of making even the best basestealers appear foolish for testing him—I only caught the tail end of his playing career and even I knew, at age 10, not to run on Boone for any reason. 

In fact, if Boone and I were in the same building and a fire broke out, I still probably wouldn't run. Because Boone would throw me out and I'd have to make the long, embarrassing walk back inside the burning building.

Har, har, har.

Here, Boone is nearing the end of his distinguished playing career. He still had some game left in 1989, batting .274 and throwing out 42% of opposing basestealers in his first season as a Kansas City Royal and 18th in the majors.

THIS CARD: Boone wore #40 as a 1972 rookie, then claimed #8 for the rest of his playing career. When Boone returned to the Royals as manager 1995-97, he continued to sport #8, but switched to #9 as Reds manager 2001-03. Apparently, #8 was retired in Cincy for some Morgan guy.

For some reason I've always pictured Boone as some short guy with a blocky build. As you see here, that simply was not true, not even as Boone's 42nd birthday loomed during the 1989 season.

More from Boone's 1989 season: he started 127 games behind the plate—at age 41, mind you—pinch-hit in two others, and even pinch-ran once when backup C Mike MacFarlane, after being the fifth Royal hit by Rangers pitching, charged the mound and was tossed 9/3. On 4/7, Boone walked off the Red Sox with his fourth hit of the game (an oppo RBI single)!

(flip) Boone signed with the Royals for 1Y/$883,001 in November 1988 after seven seasons with the Angels; click here for an explanation of the $1.

Of those 2,224 games Boone played through 1989, 2,185 of them were as a catcher—a big league record that Boone ran up to 2,225 before retiring. Contemporary Carlton Fisk broke that record in 1993; Ivan Rodriguez is the current record holder with 2,427 from 1991-2011.

No blurb, so I'll patch one together: Boone won seven Gold Gloves (1978-79, 1982, 1986-89) and made four All-Star teams (1976, 1978-79, 1983). He finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1973.

AFTER THIS CARD: Boone returned to the Royals on a 1Y/$1.9M deal for 1990, and opened the year as their #1 catcher. But in mid-may he broke and dislocated his finger, leading to his first-ever DL stint in MLB. MacFarlane did well in Boone's stead, so well in fact that Boone only got in 18 games after his late July return—his final 18 games as a major league player.

As mentioned, Boone resurfaced as Royals manager in 1995; he was fired in July 1997 with a 181-206 record. The Reds hired Boone to manage in 2001, but fired him in July 2003 with a 190-238 record. More recently, Boone made news by stepping down from his longtime position as VP with the Washington Nationals in 2021 due to their vaccination policy.

You may have heard of Boone's sons, Bret and Aaron, or his papa Ray; the Boones, along with the Hairstons, the Bells, the Colemans and the Schofield/Werths, account for ⅕ of MLB's three-generation families.

Bob Boone appeared as a player in 1973-90 Topps, and as a manager in 2002-03 Topps. He's also got Traded cards for 1982 and 1989 as a player and 2001 as a manager.

CATEGORIES: 1990 Topps, Kansas City Royals

Topps Eric Munson
Topps Eric Munson

9/22/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2005 Topps #379 Eric Munson, Tigers

More Eric Munson Topps Cards: 2000 2001 2004

In the late 1990's, I read Reggie Jackson's first book, Reggie! Knowing little about Jackson's playing career, 19-year-old Skillz was unaware just how wild and crazy it was. I must have read that damn book 15 times—that's how fascinating it was. Especially the space devoted to 1970's Yankees C Thurman Munson.

As you may or may not know, Munson was the 1976 AL MVP and a perennial All-Star...until he accidentally killed himself in a 1979 plane crash. I immersed myself in so many articles and interviews about that damn crash—and Munson himself—in the ensuing years that I began to dream about it. Which was probably not healthy.

 

I tell you that to tell you this: when Tigers prospect Eric Munson emerged on the MLB scene in 2002, I naturally assumed he was one of Thurman's kids and pulled super-hard for him. Then I learned there was no relation—which I should have already known—and instantly stopped caring about anything the younger Munson did.
It was exactly like the Seinfeld episode when Estelle Costanza learned the woman who'd been advising her over the phone was not Chinese, and immediately dismissed all the (good) advice she'd been given.

So here, for the first time in 20 years, I'm giving more than passing thought to Eric Munson.

THIS CARD: We see Munson about to get some love from who I believe is teammate Craig Monroe. At first I thought this was Munson standing on third base after a triple, but then Monroe approaching him would make no sense—nor would Munson holding a bat. Now I realize what we're seeing is...

...Munson the on-deck hitter about to give some love to Monroe as he crosses home plate. I can't make out the visiting team in the background clearly enough to narrow down the date, but the important thing is I never published my initial theory where other people could see it.

More from Munson's 2004 season: from May on, his average never topped .239, but Munson had a couple notable performances. On 4/23 he achieved the rare feat of tallying more runs than at-bats by going 2-for-3 with two walks, a homer, four RBI and four runs in a 17-3 massacre of the visiting Indians. And on 6/26 his B9th, 457-foot homer walked off Brandon Villafuerte and the rest of the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks!

(flip) Why did Topps use the redundant home run total in the stat box, when they COULD HAVE shared any segment of Munson's June slashline with you (.291/.391/.600)?

Until scanning those stats, I'd long ago forgotten that Munson had been a semi-productive player for the Tigers 2003-04. Of those 109 games in 2004, 87 were starts—all at third base.

Four of the 19 homers Munson smoked in 2004 were the product of multi-homer games. He twice bombed the Royals 5/31 and the Red Sox 8/8.

Munson wasn't just a #1 pick—he was the third overall pick in the 1999 draft behind Josh Hamilton (Devil Rays) and Josh Beckett (Marlins). Not bad when you're considered the third-best amateur in the nation behind those two.

AFTER THIS CARD: Munson was non-tendered by Detroit after the 2004 season, spent Spring Training 2005 with the Twins, then signed with the Devil Rays in April 2005. Munson swatted 25 homers for AAA Durham that year, but was just 3-for-18 in 11 games with Tampa; that October they also divorced.

Next, Munson landed with the Astros for portions of the 2006-07 seasons; the overwhelming majority of his run came at catcher—where he'd played regularly as an amateur but only a handful of times as a pro. Munson spent 2008-10 in the Milwaukee, Oakland and San Diego organizations and got in 174 games—but only one of those came in The Show, with the 2009 Athletics. 

In 2011, 34-year-old Munson turned to collegiate coaching for a time; at present he's a hitting coach in the Pirates system.

Eric Munson appeared in 2000-01 and 2004-05 Topps. If you want an Astros Munson card, you'll have to turn to 2006 Upper Deck.

CATEGORIES: 2005 Topps, Detroit Tigers

Topps Mark Prior
Topps Mark Prior

9/23/22 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2004 Topps #50 Mark Prior, Cubs

More Mark Prior Topps Cards: 2002T 2003 2005 2006 2007

When young Skillz—me—first got into baseball and didn't know any better, I assumed most MLB coaches were just guys the manager knew and wanted on the staff for whatever reason. I mean, that's how my Little League coaches were picked, right?

Soon enough, I figured out that just about all coaches were, at the very least, ex-minor league players who transitioned once their playing careers ended. Most of them, however, had played in the major leagues, and a handful of them had even been stars once.

So to you young TSR visitors out there, whenever you catch sight of current Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior, don't be like me—understand that Prior isn't just some guy the manager (Dave Roberts) knows. About 20 years ago, he was a legitimate big league star, every bit as good as Alek Manoah of the Blue Jays or Kyle Wright of the Braves are today.

Here, Prior has just closed the book on his first full major league season. Pretty much nothing went wrong for him on the mound in 2003, as the young Cubs ace finished second in NL wins and K, and third in NL ERA and Cy Young voting!

THIS CARD: Prior seems to be at San Francisco's Oracle Park (then SBC Park). In 2003, he made one road appearance against the Giants, giving up one run in six innings but receiving no decision in an eventual 5-1 Cubs victory 5/1. Prior wal