Topps Baseball Card Of The Day

"We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.'" -- Ben Franklin

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I own every Topps baseball set since 1987, and every Score baseball card ever made. 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 2-3 per week.

 

I initially planned to include Score cards here, but decided they would over-saturate the 1990's and make it tougher to pull modern players—we don't want to be TOO nostalgic. So please enjoy randomly-selected Topps cards from 1987-present.

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

 

Click on images for larger views.

Topps Russell Martin
Topps Russell Martin

5/30/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2013 Topps Update #203 Russell Martin, Pirates

More Russell Martin Topps Cards: 2005U 2006U 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2011U 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2019U

I want to like (or at least, not dislike) Russell Martin, I really do. He doesn't seem like a bad guy, and other than having a mini fit when Eugenio Velez upended him at home plate back in 2009, or that year he wore his mother's initial on his jersey and left me beyond confused as to who the other Martin on the Dodgers was...he hasn't actually done anything to warrant my disdain.

Except play—and play well—for the Dodgers for so long.

I'm a devoted Giants fan, and as a devoted Giants fan, certain players will always be Dodgers to me, regardless. Matt Kemp is one. Yasiel Puig is another. And of course, Russell Martin. I could never bring myself to root for them and I could certainly never welcome them to the Orange And Black. Passionate fans on either side of the rivalry will understand; others might not.

Here, Martin has just made his third major league stop, signing with the Pirates as a free agent in November 2012.

THIS CARD: Martin leaps out from behind the plate to gun an enemy runner, likely one trying to advance on a WP since Martin's mask is already off. Statistically, Martin was impeccable for the 2013 Pirates, fielding .998 and erasing 40% of opposing basestealers. He picked off three runners and was charged with just four passed balls.

There's just not enough here for me to identify the road ballpark. (Sometimes, when stumped, I can turn to Getty Images for help, but not this time.)

I'm not sure what looks stranger: Russell Martin in anything except Dodger blue, or Russell Martin without any facial hair.

(flip) The Bucs, off a very disappointing 2012 season, signed Martin for 2Y/$17M. He replaced Rod Barajas, who threw out exactly six of 99 opposing basestealers in 2012. Not a misprint.

As my eyes age, more than ever these days I'm appreciating Topps sets with lines separating statistical seasons.

Those two walk-off homers? One went down 6/10/12, in the 9th vs. Jon Rauch of the Mets; the other on 9/21/12 in the 10th off Sean Doolittle of the Athletics. Both broke ties.

Finally, a Career Chase stat that's not ridiculously out of reach! Today, 37-year-old Martin has 1,579 games caught, so he isn't catching Pudge, but at least the thought of it wasn't comical at the time.

AFTER THIS CARD: Martin did indeed help get Pittsburgh over the hump; after 20 losing seasons they made the playoffs in each of Martin's two years as a Pirate (and another afterward). But when Toronto dangled 5Y/$82M in front of him, he (understandably) headed north of the border for 2015.

Just as with the Pirates, Martin helped Toronto end a 22-year playoff drought in '15, belting a career-high 23 home runs. But by 2017, a year he battled shoulder and oblique injuries, his average fell to .221 and continued to plummet in '18, costing him playing time.

Finally, with a year left on his deal, the Blue Jays traded Martin back to the Dodgers in '19. This time around, Martin played part-time with Austin Barnes and Will Smith in the picture. But he made the most of his lone 2019 postseason run (2-for-4, HR, four RBI in Game 3 of the NLDS).

Russell Martin appeared annually in Topps 2007-19. He's also got 2005, 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2019 Update cards.

CATEGORIES: 2013 Topps, Pittsburgh Pirates

More May 2020 Topps Cards Of The Day

Topps Steve Shields
Topps Steve Shields

5/2/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #484 Steve Shields, Yankees

More Steve Shields Topps Cards: 1987T 1988  

This will be brief.

Shields was one of those guys who never had solid MLB footing. He threw well enough to get jobs, but not to hold them for very long. Sometimes, other forces were at play, such as when his face intercepted Kirby Puckett's liner in 1987 and sidelined him for a month. Or it would be a roster crunch. Or this. Or that.

It took Shields over eight years following his draft selection to reach MLB; the '85 Braves used him in a swing role, then stashed him back in the minors for most of '86 (ultimately trading him in September). Shields then won a job with the '87 Mariners, then BOOM! Puckett's liner, followed by extended AAA time.

Here, Shields has just spent most of the 1988 season with the Yankees (there were, of course, two AAA Columbus stints). Working in long relief, Shields closed the year with seven scoreless appearances out of nine.

THIS CARD: The front image gives me zero to work with. At least Shields was included in the set at all. (Surprisingly, he has two other Topps cards.)

(flip) Phil Niekro was, of course, a Hall-Of-Fame knuckleballer mostly for the Braves. Shields just missed being Niekro's teammate on the 1987 Atlanta squad.

Shields started zero games for the '88 Yankees, even though a New York Times article focused on him starting in an upcoming doubleheader. Obviously Billy Martin changed his mind.

Gadsden, Alabama is located about an hour's drive northeast of Birmingham.

AFTER THIS CARD: Across May/June 1989, Shields threw 17.1 innings for the Twins, allowing 28 hits and 18 runs. Predictably, they cut ties, and Shields' pro career ended at 30. 

Steve Shields debuted in 1987 Topps Traded, then appeared in the 1988-89 base sets.

CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, New York Yankees

Topps Joe Smith
Topps Joe Smith

5/3/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2012 Topps Update #17 Joe Smith, Indians

More Joe Smith Topps Cards: 2007 2013U 2014U 2015U 2016 2017U

Smith doesn't throw particularly hard. But as a sidearmer, apparently he doesn't have to, because for over a decade he's been one of the more reliable middle relief arms in the game, even trusted as a regular closer on a playoff team at one point.

 

Playoff teams eluded Smith throughout his early seasons. As a rookie, he toiled for the 2007 Mets who famously collapsed down the stretch. After the '08 season, he went to Cleveland in a three-team deal (Seattle); Smith racked up 161 appearances in his first three Tribe seasons, posting a 2.01 ERA in 2011. But the team, who'd reached the ALCS in '07, fell out of contention for several years.

Here, Smith is in the middle of his fourth year with now-lowly Cleveland. He was one of the bright spots, however, as he posted a 1.42 ERA in his first 11 appearances and allowed just two home runs the entire first half.

THIS CARD: Here is a perfect view of Smith's full sidearm motion. As you might imagine, he's tough on righty hitters.

This card marks Smith's first appearance in either Topps or Topps Update since his 2007 Topps rookie card. He's only appeared in two base sets, but has FIVE Update cards.

My ballpark guess: Comerica, where Smith worked on 6/6/12. Assuming this is a 2012 photo, of course.

(flip) Nope, no misprint—those 82 games in 2008 only ranked third in the NL, behing Mets teammate Pedro Feliciano and Atlanta's Will Ohman.

Other members of the Cleveland Bullpen Mafia included (closer) Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp and Vinnie Pestano. Only Smith and Sipp remain active.

Smith finished 2012 with seven wins (and four losses). His 4th win came courtesy of Carlos Santana's 11th-inning walk-off single.

AFTER THIS CARD: In the winter of 2013-14, Smith entered free agency for the first time and got a 3Y/$15.75M deal to join the Angels, for whom he closed for part of the 2014 season until CL Huston Street was acquired. Including that year, Smith began a streak of five postseasons in six years.

That included the World Champion 2016 Cubs, who traded for Smith that August (but didn't use him in October). Smith returned to now-excellent Cleveland to finish 2017, and spent the 2018-19 seasons with Houston (missing much of '19 with a torn Achilles). Smith pitched in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, being charged with the final two Nationals runs.

 

Through 2019, he's the active leader in appearances with 782, and is 50-29, 2.98 with 30 saves lifetime.

Joe Smith has appeared in 2007 and 2016 Topps base, as well as 2012-15 and 2017 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2012 Topps Update, Cleveland Indians

Topps Jeff Tam
Topps Jeff Tam

5/4/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2001 Topps #297 Jeff Tam, Athletics

More Jeff Tam Topps Cards: n/a

Jeff Tam is a small footnote in baseball history. In 1999, as a New York Met, he allowed the home run that made Mark McGwire the first man to whack 50+ dingers in four consecutive seasons.

Tam didn't have solid major league footing yet; he had to battle for just about every opportunity he got—even college, when he was a walk-on at Florida State. In the low minors, Tam once recorded a 34-save, 1.47 ERA season, but it took him several years to even sniff MLB in 1998.

And at the end of that year, he had surgery to remove elbow bone chips...another setback.

Here, after being released by the Indians and Mets (again), Tam has completed his first season with the up-and-coming 2000 Athletics. Winning a job in Spring Training, Tam paced the team in appearances and bullpen ERA. 

THIS CARD: Tam represents our third straight COTD middle reliever. We see him likely gearing up to throw his "super-sinker", as described by bullpen mate Jason Isringhausen. He was primarily a sinker-slider guy, but every blue moon Tam might fire off a changeup.

#29 has been shared by notable ex-A's including SP Curt Young in the 1980's, DH Geronimo Berroa in the 1990's, and later on, CL Keith Foulke in 2003.

I'm always puzzled when teams abandon alternate jerseys they've experienced success in. Oakland introduced this look in 2000, went to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, then junked it. True, they've gone to the playoffs a bunch of times since, but you understand my point—if somebody bought a new suit and promptly snagged a girlfriend with it, he wouldn't throw it away.

(flip) Note those 85.2 relief IP in 2000; that had to rank pretty high in the AL. The 72 appearances in 2000 ranked 7th in the AL.

We discussed Tam's average stuff, but that sinker could be nasty when on.

To be fair, the Mets teams who cut Tam had a lot of relief depth and would reach the playoffs the years following each of his releases. Letting Tam go actually did him a favor, in a way—Oakland valued and needed him more.

AFTER THIS CARD: Shaking off an awful start, 31-year-old Tam enjoyed another fine year in 2001, but leveled off in '02 and was let go by Oakland. He made 44 appearances with the '03 Blue Jays before being outrighted to AAA Syracuse and eventually released.

Tam hoped to continue his career with the '04 Rockies, but tore the meniscus in his left knee and never returned to MLB. His pro career ended in the Independent League in 2008.

Jeff Tam appeared in 2001 Topps; you can also find him in a couple of Topps Total sets.

CATEGORIES: 2001 Topps, Oakland Athletics

Topps Vladimir Guerrero Sr.
Topps Vladimir Guerrero Sr.

5/6/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Topps #433 Vladimir Guerrero Sr., Expos

More Vladimir Guerrero Sr. Topps Cards: 1996 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2011U

Much as Vlad Guerrero Jr. is all the rage today—among not just card collectors, but seemingly all of baseball—Vlad Guerrero Sr. was all the rage 24 years ago. Not sure there's ever been a hotter father/son prospect duo in league history, unless Ken Griffey Sr. was hotter than I'm aware of (he was a prospect about 10 years before my birth).

Guerrero was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a (barely) 17-year-old in 1993, and by 1995 he was hitting .333 and slugging .543 in 110 games for A Albany. The long, lanky kid was ranked baseball's #9 (and Montreal's #1) prospect by Baseball America, a true can't-miss phenom.

Here, the youngster has played his first nine major league games. He didn't excel just yet, but he did crack his first MLB home run—an oppo line drive off a Mark Wohlers heater well outside in a sign of things to come. (Click the link, Vlad makes announcer Don Sutton sound way foolish.)

THIS CARD: Of Guerrero's nine MLB games in '96, eight were against Atlanta. This park is more than likely Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, RIP.

That could be F.P. Santangelo on deck; I think I see "lo" on the back of the jersey.

In these days, only the best of the best prospects—and Derrick Gibson—received regular common cards with such little MLB run. Guerrero appearing on his own common is a testament to the guy's stature as a superstar-in-waiting. The card is not worth much today—it's not his true rookie—but I imagine back in 1997 it was not cheap.

(flip) True to form, Guerrero drew no walks in 27 AB...but only K'd thrice. You had to work to walk or whiff this guy; he topped 80 K only twice in his career, and his career-high unintentional BB total was 52.

Guerrero prepares to throw it in; it appears any runners have wisely decided to drop anchor. Challenging Vlad's arm, especially during his Expos days, was not advised. 

Far and away, Guerrero was the only noteworthy Expo #27. Unless you count Andy McGaffigan. I do not count Andy McGaffigan.

We discussed the home run above. Malone was Montreal's 1994-95 GM, although he was hamstrung by their Spring 1995 fire sale. 

AFTER THIS CARD: Let's see: little plate discipline, nine 100-RBI seasons out of 10, damn near 40-40 2002 season, eight All-Star games, a base hit off a bounced pitch, some absolutely amazing throws from RF, free-agent deal with the Angels, 2004 MVP, poor defense in 2010 World Series with Texas, 12 straight .300 seasons, 449 career home runs, 2018 Hall Of Fame inductee, talented son.

Vladimir Guerrero Sr. appeared annually in Topps 1996-2011. He's also got a 2011 Topps Update card as a brand new Oriole. (Guerrero sort of appears in the 2012 Topps set, on a record-breaker/checklist card.)

CATEGORIES: 1997 Topps, Montreal Expos

Topps Kevin Slowey
Topps Kevin Slowey

5/8/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps Update #173 Kevin Slowey, Twins

More Kevin Slowey Topps Cards: 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2012U

Slowey, a 2005 #2 pick (73rd overall) of the Twins out of Winthrop University in South Carolina, didn't waste a lot of time getting to the major leagues. In 2006, split between A+ Fort Myers and AA New Britain, the 22-year-old went 8-5, 1.88 in 23 starts and opened 2007 at AAA Rochester.

Here, the Twins have purchased Slowey's contract and sent down RP Julio DePaula to make room for him. On 6/1/07, two days after his callup, Slowey made his MLB debut, which is discussed in the blurb.

THIS CARD: I'm guessing this is a Spring Training photo; Slowey did join the 2007 Twins in camp before being sent out.

The signature seems to read "Ken Sly".

The "Rookie Card" logo should not dwarf the subject's head. The current model is far and away superior.

Slowey gears up to throw his low-90's fastball, slow curve, slider or changeup. By all accounts (including mine) he didn't have the greatest stuff; I guess when your name is Slowey, you shouldn't be expected to have a blazing fastball.

(flip) In June, Slowey also beat the Braves and Tigers, sandwiching two ND's.

 

Conroe, Texas? Apparently, that's 40 miles north of Houston.

 

Check out that MiLB K/BB ratio in 2006 (6.86/1). Slowey's stuff may have been ordinary, but his control wasn't. In fact, sometimes he threw too many strikes.

AFTER THIS CARD: Slowey did experience a couple of semi-successful MLB years. From 2008-10 he went 35-20, 4.36 in 71 starts for the Twins (though he missed half of 2009 with a bone chip in his wrist from a September '08 comebacker). You may have heard about his near-brush with history in 2010.

But in 2011, the wheels completely came off on Slowey's career. He opened the year in the bullpen, but after two injuries and some complaint, he was demoted to AAA Rochester in May. Slowey returned to the majors in August, but lost each and every one of his eight starts. That December, he was traded to the Rockies.

A month later, the Rockies dealt Slowey to the Indians, whose roster he did not make out of Spring Training. Limited to eight MiLB starts that year due to more injuries (lat strain, ribcage stress fracture), Slowey next resurfaced in MLB with the 2013-14 Marlins, who used him as both a SP and RP before cutting him in June 2014. A minors deal with the '15 Phillies went nowhere, and 31-year-old Slowey retired to join the MLBPA as a special assistant to Tony Clark.

Kevin Slowey debuted in 2007 Topps Updates & Highlights, then appeared in Topps annually 2008-12. He also received a 2012 Update card as an Indian.

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps Update, Minnesota Twins

Topps Brad Hand
Topps Brad Hand

5/10/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2018 Topps Update #70 Brad Hand, All-Star

More Brad Hand All-Star Topps Cards: 2017 2019

Brad Hand's whole career, on shaky ground as of 2015, turned right around with the development of his now-excellent slider—the guy went from waivers in 2016 to Padres closer and the All-Star Game in 2017. 

Hand remained San Diego's stopper in the first half-plus of 2018, and did such a fine job that he was rewarded with a second consecutive appearance in the Midsummer Classic. (Not hurting his selection chances: the Padres had to have somebody in the game. Not taking away from Hand, just sayin'.)

THIS CARD: I don't know if I've ever seen that Padres cap before. And I don't know if I ever want to see it again. (While we're discussing Hand's attire...nice socks.)

Hand could be firing off one of his tough sliders. He's also got a low-mid 90's fastball and the rare changeup; in the past Hand featured a 12-6 curveball but it's been essentially retired.

As the logo reveals, the 2018 All-Star Game was held at Nationals Park (I've been there; it is a very fine park, by the way). The American League won 8-6.

(flip) The three hitters Hand retired: Yan Gomes (K in the 8th) Michael Brantley (GO in the 8th) and Jed Lowrie (PO in the 9th).

When Hand whiffed all four Giants on 4/14/18—the nerve—he became the first Padre to K every batter in a save of over one inning. 

It seems Hand is still active on Twitter and uses the same handle; his last post was 4/30/20. Where the "22" comes from I'm not sure; he opened the account before reaching MLB so it could be an old minor league uniform number.

AFTER THIS CARD: Two days after the Classic, Hand was dealt to Cleveland, initially to set up CL Cody Allen. But as 2018 wound down, Hand took over Allen's closing duties and remained in the role after Allen departed the team that winter.

In the first half of 2019, Hand posted a sub-1 WHIP and 23 saves—dial up another All-Star Game appearance. He pitched the 8th inning and allowed a two-run single to Pete Alonso of the Mets.

 

Brad Hand has received All-Star cards in 2017-19 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2018 Topps Update, All-Stars

Topps Kerry Robinson
Topps Kerry Robinson

5/12/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2003 Topps #161 Kerry Robinson, Cardinals

More Kerry Robinson Topps Cards: 2002

Speed, speed and more speed. That was Robinson's game; he had minimal power to speak of (though we'll touch on one of his rare home runs below). Robinson was originally a #34 pick of the Cardinals in 1995, but had to pass through four other organizations—with 11 games of MLB run—to get a look in St. Louis.

When Mark McGwire hit the DL in early 2001, Robinson came up...and never went back down that year. Here, he's completed his second year as a reserve, but oft-used, Cardinals outfielder. Robinson got in 124 games, much of that as wheels off the bench; he also pinch-hit and drove in an insurance run against Arizona in Game 3 of the 2002 NLDS.

THIS CARD: If this image looks familiar, Fleer used this exact photo on Robinson's 2003 card, just zoomed in a bit.

Robinson appears to be making the play in LF. He entered 50 games as a defensive replacement in 2002, and over the course of the season started 26 times across all three outfield spots for St. Louis.

Robinson wears #13 here, but after the Cardinals acquired Jeff Fassero in 2002, he switched to #0. Why? Because Fassero offered zero compensation for the #13. (from Robinson himself via Twitter). Currently, longtime Cardinal Matt Carpenter claims #13.AA

(flip) Odds beaten—as we referenced above, Robinson was a #34 pick who made it to his hometown Cardinals (eventually). Not a bad setup for a film!

According to Wikipedia and other sources, Robinson set a Hazelwood High record for goals scored.

As you can see in the stats, Robinson ran a lot, but he did not trot much. He would finish his career with three home runs in MLB and 16 in MiLB, and I imagine at least one of those MiLB homers didn't leave the park.

Robinson has four major league seasons on this card. By Topps' own established criteria, that means his minor league stats shouldn't be printed here.

AFTER THIS CARD: Robinson returned to the Cardinals in 2003, and hit one of the year's least-likely walk-off home runs, but posted an OBP of just .281. After falling behind in a competition for the St. Louis LF job the following Spring, Robinson was swapped to San Diego; he got in 80 games with the '04 Padres but spent most of the next two years in the minors (there was an 18-game dip with the '06 Royals).

Robinson signed a MiLB deal with the Red Sox in December '06, but was released from their AAA team in May 2007. That was it for Robinson as a pro.

 

Kerry Robinson appeared in 2002-03 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2003 Topps, St. Louis Cardinals

Topps Bradley Zimmer
Topps Bradley Zimmer

5/14/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2017 Topps Update #275 Bradley Zimmer, Indians

More Bradley Zimmer Topps Cards: 2018

It's nice to pluck a card from 2017 Topps, one of our least-selected sets here in Topps Card Of The Day. Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer makes his second appearance in COTD; we chose his 2018 Topps card back in November 2018.

Here, Zimmer's a major league noob, albeit one with a lot of athleticism and practically no fear.

THIS CARD: Plenty of empty seats; maybe it's the first inning.

Zimmer hustles down the line; he can really move once he gets that big body going.

This is technically Zimmer's Rookie Card, but he previously appeared in 2017 Topps Pro Debut as a Columbus Clipper. I would guess the Columbus card would be more valuable if Zimmer shot to stardom, but if that's true, what's the point of official Rookie Cards? I'm lost.

(flip) That homer was a solo shot off TB's Alex Colome late in a 7-4 Indians loss; Zimmer also notched an RBI double in that game.

"John" Tomlin should read Josh Tomlin. And Topps used that exact same quote on Zimmer's 2018 Topps card...the Company is usually sharp, but not on Bradley Zimmer blurbs.

Zimmer, who went 21st overall in the 2014 Draft, finished with 18 total steals in 19 chances in 2017. 

Checking his Twitter account, Zimmer has no original posts since 8/31/19, and only one retweet in 2020. His last IG post was 34 weeks ago. I imagine there was more activity during his surgery recovery.

AFTER THIS CARD: In late 2017, Zimmer was bruised up (and initially feared concussed) on a dive, and a week later had his finger stepped on by Orioles 1B Chris Davis while sliding into the bag. The latter setback prematurely ended what had been a solid rookie year.

2018 was by and large a lost year for Zimmer; he was up early with the Tribe and made multiple highlight-reel catches, but stayed cold at-bat and was eventually demoted. Mid-year, he underwent labrum surgery which sidelined him until late August 2019.

Zimmer got in 15 games with AAA Columbus, and slashed .372/.449/.698. But when Cleveland promoted him, all he could muster was an 0-for-13 with seven K. He was not going to make the 2020 Indians roster out of Spring Training, and his career is at something of a crossroads.

Bradley Zimmer appeared in 2017 Topps Update and 2018 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2017 Topps Update, Cleveland Indians

Topps Barry Larkin
Topps Barry Larkin

5/16/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1994 Topps #250 Barry Larkin, Reds

More Barry Larkin Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004

Save for those who lost seasons of their career to military service, there aren't many Hall-of-Famers

who left people wondering what could have been. Mickey Mantle was one; as great as his career was, many feel he could have achieved even more with healthier legs and better habits off-the-field. Sandy Koufax was another; he could have been a 300-game winner with a cooperative left arm. 

More recently, there was Barry Larkin, 19-year Reds SS and among the more all-round gifted players of his time. There wasn't anything he couldn't do on the diamond, offensively or defensively—except stay healthy. By the end of 1993, the year represented on this card, Larkin had already sat out close to 200 career games on the disabled list. That trend would only worsen with time.

But when he did play, he was a game-changer. Larkin made All-Star teams in each of his first four seasons as a regular (1988-91), then for good measure he won Silver Sluggers annually 1988-92. In early '92, Larkin was extended for 5Y/$25.6M, putting him among the game's highest paid.

Did I mention he was a hometown kid, too?

Here, Larkin is coming off what would have been a terrific 1993 season...had he not lost the final month-and-a-half to a torn thumb ligament. Larkin did join the 1,000-hit club before being hurt, and his .315 average, had he the required PA to qualify, would have ranked 9th in the NL.

THIS CARD: For some reason, Larkin's 1994 Topps card was misprinted; all other Cincinnati Reds featured the team name in an orangish/gold bar. Larkin's bar, as you see, isn't orangish/gold.

Larkin goes back on a popup or very high chopper; in 1993 he committed a surprising 16 errors in only 98 starts at SS. In '92, he only made 11 miscues in 140 starts.

Larkin's #11 is now retired in Cincinnati. He broke in wearing #15, but took over #11 when SS rival Kurt Stillwell was traded away.

(flip) Even if he wanted to, Larkin probably wouldn't be allowed to make that gesture anymore. 

Larkin, who was batting .319 with 48 RBI and 13 steals at the 1993 Break, also started the 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2000 All-Star Games.

I'm fascinated at Larkin nearly tripling his 1990 homer total in 150 less AB in 1991. And no, I do not believe juice was involved. (During that 1991 season, he hit five home runs in a two-game June stretch.)

AFTER THIS CARD: 1,295 more hits, the 1995 NL MVP Award, 30-30 in 1996, Gold Gloves in 1994-96, near-trade to the Mets in 2000 becomes $27M extension by the Reds, massive chunks of time missed with various injuries, early 2005 retirement, rumored 2005 un-retirement to join Nationals, Baseball Hall Of Fame in 2011, Baseball Tonight, son Shane in the NBA. That's the gist of it.

Barry Larkin appeared annually in Topps 1987-2004; he did not receive a sunset card.

CATEGORIES: 1994 Topps, Cincinnati Reds

Topps Ivan Rodriguez
Topps Ivan Rodriguez

5/18/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2008 Topps Update #312 Ivan Rodriguez, Yankees

More Ivan Rodriguez Topps Cards: 1991T 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Wait a second. Did you say Ivan Rodriguez...Yankees?

Yes, it really happened!

Pudge Rodriguez was, of course, the premier defensive catcher of his time (and just about any other time). He came up at 19 with the 1991 Rangers, became the #1 catcher, then went on to 10 straight All-Star games as his offense developed.

In 1996, Rodriguez enjoyed his finest season to date, obliterating his career highs in hits, doubles, HR and RBI. Coupled with an MVP campaign from teammate Juan Gonzalez, the Rangers found themselves playing October baseball for the first time in their 25-season existence. Texas backed that up with playoff appearances in 1998 and 1999; Rodriguez—signer of a 5Y/$42M extension in mid-1997—was named league MVP in the latter campaign after ripping .332, 35, 113 and even swiping 25 bags (which I'd long forgotten).

Rodriguez, who even as a catcher rarely sat during his prime, then endured three straight injury-marred seasons, though he continued to produce at an All-Star level when healthy. Still, Texas opted to let him go after the 2002 season, and he hooked up with the Florida Marlins for 1Y/$10M, memorably tagging out San Francisco's J.T. Snow to end the 2003 NLDS...boo.

After his Marlins won the '03 World Series, Rodriguez inked a 5Y/$50M deal (including option) from the Tigers that helped restore credibility to the downtrodden franchise; Pudge helped Detroit return to the World Series in 2006, but they fell to the Cardinals. While no longer an MVP threat, Rodriguez continued to post solid numbers as a Tiger while serving as a deterrent to opposing basestealers.

Here, in the final year of his Tigers deal, Rodriguez has been swapped to the Yankees; New York needed a catcher with incumbent Jorge Posada done in by shoulder surgery.

 

THIS CARD: This seems more like an around-the-horn throw than a game-action throw. If it is an action throw, most likely Rodriguez is firing to first base after an uncaught strike three.

This signature is a vast improvement upon Rodriguez's 2008 Topps base card signature, which looks like it was written mid-sneeze.

Rodriguez joined the Yankees on 7/31/08, going 1-for-3 in a home loss to the Angels.

(flip) That Trade With Tigers sent RP Kyle Farnsworth to Detroit, who could and probably should have extracted one more player from New York. I'm figuring the Tigers were content with being free of the last few mil owed Pudge.

Check out Rodriguez's 2000 numbers; if not for his thumb injury, Jason Giambi has another serious MVP Award challenger.

No blurb, so we'll supply one: among Rodriguez's early 2008 highlights was back-to-back three-hit games in June, and his 2,500th career hit at Boston on April 9. In the latter contest, Pudge also threw out both attempted basestealers.

AFTER THIS CARD: By 2009, Rodriguez was a long way from the teenager who broke into MLB in 1991. He split that '09 season between the Astros and those familiar Rangers, but hit just .249 in 121 games. He was a Washington National in his final two seasons (2010-11), but was plagued by an oblique injury in '11 and limited to backup duty upon healing.

Though multiple teams expressed interest in Rodriguez for 2012, he wound up retiring in April, owner of 2,844 hits, 311 HR and 13 Gold Gloves. Seemingly a sure bet for Cooperstown, Pudge had to contend with steroid allegations levied by Jose Canseco in his book. Ultimately, Rodriguez made it on his first try with 76% of the vote, and his son Dereck has pitched for the Giants since 2018.

Ivan Rodriguez debuted in 1991 Topps Traded, then appeared in the base set 1991-2011. He's also got commons in 2003 Topps Traded and 2008-10 Topps Update.

CATEGORIES: 2008 Topps Update, New York Yankees

Topps Gene Mauch
Topps Gene Mauch

5/20/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1988 Topps #774 Gene Mauch, Angels

More Gene Mauch Topps Cards: 1987

Longtime MLB manager Gene Mauch lost a lot of games. Coming up short, unfairly, became his legacy. But ask anyone involved in the game: Mauch was a better manager than his career record—there is a reason he received five separate opportunities to run big league teams.

After an undistinguished playing career in the 1940's-50's, Mauch began his pro managing career in 1958 (well, technically, that's not true; he'd been a player-manager for the 1953 Atlanta Crackers (AA). He reached the majors with the 1960 Phillies, and piloted one of the great collapses in MLB history; the division-leading 1964 Phils dropped 10 straight down the stretch and coughed up a sure pennant.

Stops with the expansion Expos and so-so 1970's Twins followed, but Mauch didn't experience any real success until joining the Angels in '81; his 1982 squad was favored to reach the World Series but fell one win short in the ALCS. Mauch took heat for his rotation managing that series, and stepped down afterward (temporarily).

Here, Mauch has completed the third season of his second Angels stint. On the heels of their 1986 division title—only Mauch's second ever—California hoped to at least contend, but a feeble offense quashed any postseason hopes as the team managed but 75 victories.

THIS CARD: In Reggie Jackson's book Reggie, he describes Mauch's eyes as "steely". Just based on this pic, I don't see it, but Reggie saw Mauch in person every day for three years (1982, 1985-86) so his word might mean a little more than mine.

On Mauch's 1987 Topps card, he looks like an entirely different human being. Kind of scary, in fact. I had to confirm it was the same dude.

More from Mauch's 1987 season: he was minus closer Donnie Moore (rib) for much of the year, and turned to 10-year minors vet Dewayne Buice and June acquisition Greg Minton to close—they held their own. But despite Wally World, Mauch—known for a small-ball style—had a very disappointing offense. Their .252 average was worst in MLB, and they were 12th in the AL in home runs (out of 14).

(flip) In case you wondered if I actually owned these cards, there's my scribble all over this one. Obviously at some point boxes stopped being checked, but I now own the full 1988 Topps set.

Most of the Angels who warranted inclusion in the set did make it, even Butch Wynegar, who only played 31 games all season. But OF Ruppert Jones, who played 85 games in his final season, didn't make the cut.

Salina, Kansas is located about 100 miles north of Wichita. Use I-135.

AFTER THIS CARD: Nothing. Mauch resigned due to health reasons in Spring Training 1988, and other than a brief run as the Royals' bench coach under his former catcher Bob Boone in the mid-1990's, didn't return to baseball. Mauch, whose 2,037 losses rank fourth all time, passed away of lung cancer in 2005, three months shy of 80.

Gene Mauch appeared in Topps as a player in 1957, and as as manager 1961-74, 1978, 1983, and 1986-88.

CATEGORIES: 1988 Topps, California Angels

Topps Eric Gagne
Topps Eric Gagne

5/22/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2006 Topps #75 Eric Gagne, Dodgers

More Eric Gagne Topps Cards: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2007U 2008 2009

For a memorable three-year stretch 2002-04, Eric Gagne (pronounced GONE-YAY) was the game's most invincible closer ever. Better than Rivera, better than Hoffman, better than them all. And for me to give a Dodger positive credit for anything—which physically pains me—you know it must be indisputable fact.

 

The Canada native was originally a starter in the minors; he earned his first MLB callup in '99 after going 12-4, 2.63 for AA San Antonio. Gagne impressed in five starts, but was very shaky in extended looks over the next two seasons. In an unconventional move, the Dodgers—blessed with starting pitching depth—converted Gagne to closer in Spring Training 2002.

Not just relief pitcher. CLOSER.

It worked out.

From 8/28/02 to 7/3/04, Gagne did not blow any of his 84 save ops. obliterating the major league record. He did so with a cocky, even arrogant style; as an opposing fan, you couldn't stand him, but you couldn't deny how damn good he was...I believe the term "love to hate" applies here. "WE'LL (the Giants) GET YOU NEXT TIME, GAGNE!" I vowed more than once during Gagne's heyday.

Here, Gagne is coming off a washout 2005 season. Though he signed a 2Y/$19M extension before Spring Training, he dealt with a knee strain and elbow sprain before the regular season even started. Gagne returned in May, but underwent season-ending elbow surgery in June 2005.

THIS CARD: Gagne was a big fella with a big presence; he always stood out among his Dodger teammates. And trying to recognize him without the goggles? I might as well be looking at Greg Gagne.

Even today, another Dodger wearing #38 just seems off, though a few have done so. When Gagne returned to the Dodgers in Spring 2010, RP Ramon Troncoso, either out of respect or fear, willingly surrendered #38 back to Gagne.

More from Gagne's short 2005 season: he was pounded for two Atlanta homers in his season debut, then allowed just two ER over his next 13 games. He was also ejected from an April game and suspended for two others for arguing the strike zone from the dugout while on the DL.

(flip) Gagne's procedure? A tear in the graft from his first (1997) UCL surgery was repaired, and scar tissue removed. 100 of 100 pitchers prefer this operation over ligament transplants.

Those eight 2005 saves came in exactly eight 2005 opportunities. 

The White Sox originally drafted Gagne #30 in 1994, but he returned to Seminole Junior College. I imagine that last year veered off course since Gagne went entirely undrafted in '95.

Instead of that redundant Career ERA stat, Topps could have printed Gagne's career BAA of .213 (at the time).

63? Was that written in August 2003? I don't know what the cartoon is talking about.

AFTER THIS CARD: Gagne spent most of the '06 season on the sidelines as well (back surgery), and the Dodgers didn't re-sign him. For a while, Gagne made that decision look foolish, as he saved 16-of-17 games for the 2007 Rangers before being traded to the Red Sox that summer.

 

Though he struggled in a setup role for Boston, and though he'd just been named in the Mitchell Report as having received HGH during his Dodger days, Milwaukee inked Gagne to a 1Y/$10M deal in December 2007 to be their closer. By May, he'd been removed from the role after blowing five of 14 save ops; Gagne finished '08 with an unbelievable 5.44 ERA and 11 HR in just 46.1 IP.

Out of baseball in '09, Gagne attempted that 2010 comeback with the Dodgers, but ultimately retired at age 34. Such a thud of an end to the career of someone once SO dominant.

Eric Gagne appeared annually in Topps 2001-09; 2007 was an Updates & Highlights card with Boston. There exists a 2007 Topps Team Set card of Gagne the Ranger.

CATEGORIES: 2006 Topps, Los Angeles Dodgers

Topps David Murphy
Topps David Murphy

5/23/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2011 Topps #603 David Murphy, Rangers

More David Murphy Topps Cards: 2004 2005U 2007 2007U 2008 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014 2014U 2015 2015U 2016

"Lee pitches...Renteria hits a high drive, deep left-center field, David Murphy going back, HE'S ON THE WARNING TRACK, IT IS G---ONNNNE!!! Edgar Renteria has hit a three-run homer against Cliff Lee, and the Giants lead here in the World Series 3-0!!!"

- Giants announcer Dave Flemming, November 1, 2010

That is, and will forever be, my lasting memory of David Murphy.

Not that Murphy lacks his own accomplishments to be remembered for. He lasted parts of 11 major league seasons, most of that spent as a semi-regular. He belted over 100 home runs and recorded at least two walk-off hits I'm aware of. He played in three postseasons and two World Series. All in all, a lot of guys would give up a lot of things to have had David Murphy's career.

Here, Murphy has completed his third full major league season. Starting 105 times across all three outfield spots for (Rangers manager) Ron Washington in 2010, the 28-year-old shook off an icy start to finish at .291. He went 5-for-5 at Anaheim on September 20.

THIS CARD: Murphy receives the first of three consecutive defensive front images from Topps. The Company seemed fond of Murphy, who appeared in Topps base every year of his career (plus once as a prospect) and often received action-packed front images, especially during his Texas days.

I can't tell which field Murphy is playing here; he started 59 times in left, 40 in center, and six in right in 2010. He committed one error all season, and threw out nine runners despite his somewhat limited run.

Not shown here or on any of Murphy's Rangers Topps cards: his uniform number #7. I want to believe this was intentionally done by the Company as a silent protest over the Rangers allowing use of Pudge Rodriguez's famed number after he left the team. (#7 is now retired for Pudge in Texas.)

(flip) His name is David, not Davis.

Young Cardinal Ken Reitz shared that card with Terry Hughes of the Cubs and Bill McNulty of the Rangers. Reitz, a 1980 All-Star, had by far the best and longest career of the trio.

Murphy was acquired by the Rangers with two other youngsters from Boston in exchange for RP Eric Gagne, coincidentally our previous COTD subject.

When Topps feeds us obscure stats/feats like this, names are often omitted; here's an appreciated stray from the norm. These dual CI's occurred in 1936 for Geraghty, 1965 both times for Corrales, 1977 for Meyer, and 1979 for Stinson. No one has two CI's in one game since Murphy victimized—or was victimized by, depending on your POV—Mariners catcher Adam Moore.

AFTER THIS CARD: Murphy remained with Texas through 2013, getting extensive run at both corner OF spots. He served as the Rangers' primary, but not quite full-time, LF in 2012-13; Murphy plummeted from .304 in 2012 to .220 in 2013 and was not re-signed by Texas.

In stepped Cleveland, who signed Murphy for 2Y/$12M to be their platoon RF; click here to see him make a one-of-a-kind out on 8/5 of that year.

In July 2015, the struggling Tribe traded Murphy to the Angels, for whom he played his final 48 MLB games. The 34-year-old signed MiLB deals with both Boston and Minnesota for 2016, but opted out of both for more family time, bringing an end to his playing career. But he embarked on a broadcasting career with AA Frisco (Rangers) in 2017.

Murphy's Indians manager Terry Francona referred to him as "one of the classiest guys we've ever had—and we've had a few."

David Murphy debuted in 2004 Topps as a First Year prospect, then appeared annually in the base set 2007-16. He also received Update cards in 2005, 2007, 2014 and 2015.

CATEGORIES: 2011 Topps, Texas Rangers

Topps Koyie Hill
Topps Koyie Hill

5/25/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2010 Topps Update #27 Koyie Hill, Cubs

More Koyie Hill Topps Cards: 2002T 2009U 2011U

Koyie Hill was designated for assignment, outrighted or simply let go many, many times, but still crafted a major league career that spanned 11 years. A lot more talented dudes have spent a lot less time in the bigs; Hill obviously A) loved the game, and B) carried the right attitude.

A third baseman in college, Hill converted to catcher in the pros, and reached MLB in '03 with the Dodgers. They swapped him to Arizona in the July 2004 Steve Finley trade; Hill got in just 13 games as a D-Back before a collision with Pittsburgh's Ty Wigginton fractured his ankle.

In October 2007, while a member of the Cubs, Hill badly mangled his throwing hand in a table saw accident that could have ended his career and impacted his whole life. But he recovered and made his majors comeback in September 2008.

Here, Hill is in the middle of his fourth season in Chicago. He played more than ever before in 2009, and entered 2010 as the clear backup catcher to Geovany Soto.

THIS CARD: Hill seems to be focused upon something interesting in the crowd, possibly a food vendor, possibly some dancing fool. For his sake, we hope no baseballs were in play at this time.

The #55 represents Hill's uniform number with the Cubs. As you might expect from a journeyman, his numbers changed at every stop.

Hill was excluded from the 2010 Topps base set, but Topps obviously found room for him here in the Update set as they'll often do for veteran players who haven't swapped teams.

(flip) Cubs C Jody Davis started a whopping 38 straight games behind the plate in 1986. Hill was pressed into action in '09 when Soto strained an oblique and missed a month.

Out of MLB in '06, Hill batted .143 in 20 games for AAA Columbus (Yankees).

Yes, in 2008 Hill struck out in 12 of 21 AB. Be reminded he was returning from a severed thumb and three nearly severed fingers.

AFTER THIS CARD: Hill remained a backup in Chicago through 2011, in spite of a meager offensive output (and also in spite of an embarrassing run-costing mistake in 2010). He then passed through the St. Louis and Cincinnati organizations in early 2012 before being re-acquired by the Cubs...for a month.

Then came a slew of minor league deals and releases; Hill only played 28 more major league games after 2012, split between the 2013 Marlins and 2014 Phillies.

Koyie Hill debuted as a Dodgers prospect in 2002 Topps Traded, then appeared in 2009-11 Topps Update. (Hill also shows up in 2006 Topps on a Combo card with Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, but that doesn't really count.)

CATEGORIES: 2010 Topps Update, Chicago Cubs

Topps Jarrod Washburn
Topps Jarrod Washburn

5/28/20 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #498 Jarrod Washburn, Mariners

More Jarrod Washburn Topps Cards: 1996 1997 1999 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2008 2009 2010

 

Washburn is best known from his days with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, for whom he pitched eight seasons. He was their co-ace, along with Ramon Ortiz, in their championship year of 2002; that season Washburn won 18 times—seven more than in any other season—with a career-best 3.15 ERA. 

A second-round pick in 1995 by the Angels, Washburn was in MLB by 1998, but between several injuries and minor league demotions, he didn't complete a full season in the bigs until 2001. Then came his breakout 2002, achieved despite distraction, and several more okay-to-good years in the Halo rotation.

Things were not always harmonious between Washburn and the Angels front office, however, and when he hit free agency after the '05 season, he was off to Seattle for 4Y/$37.5M. Here, the 31-year-old has completed Year One of that deal; it didn't quite go the way Washburn or the Mariners hoped.

THIS CARD: Whatever Washburn has just thrown, he seems pretty darn happy with it, wouldn't you say?

Good, quality signature, easily readable, one of the better ones we've featured from 2007 Topps so far.

Not fully visible is Washburn's uniform #56, which he wore his entire career until joining the Tigers in his final MLB months and switching to #53.

(flip) That's 11 years counting his three as an Angels prospect, of course.

In that 2006 debut, Washburn threw seven innings of two-run ball in a 6-4 Mariners home win. He made three other starts vs. his old team in '06, going 1-1 with a ND.

Sure, it was a tough 2006 season. But as the numbers show, Washburn at least avoided the DL, something he was unable to do in 2004 or 2005.

AFTER THIS CARD: Washburn battled to a 15-29 record over the 2007-08 seasons, bringing his overall Mariners ledger to 23-43. But in 2009 he added a splitter and cut two runs off his ERA...until being traded to Detroit at the deadline. As a Tiger, Washburn allowed 12 HR in just 43 IP and went unsigned after the season.

Despite interest from multiple teams, Washburn sat out 2010, and in fact never returned to MLB. (To my knowledge, he never officially retired.) He finished up 107-109, with a bright, shiny 2002 World Series ring at the expense of my Giants.

Jarrod Washburn debuted in 1996 Topps as a Draft Pick, then appeared in the 1997, 1999 and 2001-10 sets. He's also got 2006 and 2009 Update cards.

CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps, Seattle Mariners