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. 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.

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 Joe Randa
Topps Joe Randa

1/17/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2004 Topps #546 Joe Randa, Royals

More Joe Randa Topps Cards: 1995 1997 1998 2000 2001 2002 2003 2005 2005U 2006 

Joe Randa was a very good player, but I best remember him for his distinctive face—he had a built-in grin that could make an unfamiliar pitcher struggling with control believe that Randa was smirking at him. And as we know, baseball players can be a little sensitive sometimes. As far as I know, however, Randa's face never triggered any brawls at the big league level.

The bulk of Randa's 12-year career was spent with the Kansas City Royals. He batted .303 as a 1996 rookie, and KC rewarded him by trading him to the lowly Pirates. As their primary 3B, he helped them improve their 1997 record by six wins over 1996.

Randa spent '98 with Detroit before returning to the Royals via trade; more on that later. Over the next four seasons, Randa averaged over 150 games at 3B and showed pop that simply hadn't developed during his first Royals stint.

Here, the 34-year-old is fresh off a solid 2003 season for the resurgent Royals. He tied his then-career high with 16 HR and finished second on the Royals in 2B despite missing 31 games, most due to an oblique injury.

THIS CARD: Randa, down almost to the ground making what looks like a very difficult throw. Though not Gold-Glove caliber, he was a good defender at 3B, and only made 11 miscues in 2003.

Randa wore #16 during both his stints in Kansas City, though he began with #18. Other notable Royals to don #16: Bo Jackson and Billy Butler, that's all. Rookie IF Kelvin Gutierrez wore it for four games in 2020.

More from Randa's 2003 season: he homered five times in April, a month he went hitless just three times in 21 games. Randa also enjoyed a stretch of three three-hit games out of five in June, as well as a 16-game hit streak in August/September. Plus, in mid-September, he drove in nine runs over two games!

(flip) See that pic of Randa? That's how he looked all the time. In fact, he was nicknamed "Joker".

Remember Juan LeBron, the Royals prospect Topps confused with Carlos Beltran on their Draft Pick cards in 1995? LeBron is who KC gave up to acquire Randa from the Mets, who had acquired Randa one week prior from the Tigers (in a trade for P Willie Blair).

A .980 fielding percentage at third base? TOLD you Randa was a good third baseman, one who was exceptional in 2003. For his career, he fielded .962 as a 3B. (Note: I lacked the desire to scout KC's annual fielding stats to determine if Randa still holds that record, but I can tell you Mike Moustakas, who played more 3B than any other Royal post-Randa, didn't break it.)

Randa, of course, is listed as a 3B but earlier in his career, he got a fair amount of run at second base and even some at first base. In 2003 he played third base exclusively, save for a couple starts at DH.

AFTER THIS CARD: Randa re-upped with KC for 2004, but the entire team collapsed around him and his 2005 option was not picked up. He'd split 2005 with the Reds and Padres, setting a new career high with 17 homers and reaching his first postseason.

 

Pittsburgh brought Randa back for '06, but he only produced four homers and 28 RBI in 89 games, missing over a month with a stress fracture in his foot and losing his starting job to Freddy Sanchez. In November 2006, Randa retired one month shy of his 37th birthday.

Joe Randa debuted on a 1995 Topps shared On Deck card, then appeared annually 1997-2006, except 1999. He's also got a 2005 Updates & Highlights card.

CATEGORIES: 2004 Topps, Kansas City Royals

More January 2021 Topps Cards Of The Day

Topps Corey Knebel
Topps Corey Knebel

1/1/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2016 Topps Card Of The Day #517 Corey Knebel, Brewers

More Corey Knebel Topps Cards: 2017 2018 2019

Doesn't it seem like every...single...year, the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers are short on pitching? Righty pitching, lefty pitching, starting pitching, relief pitching—you name it, those two franchises rank high among those short on it.

It doesn't help when both those franchises have in their grasp a young future All-Star and let him get away for minimal value, such as Corey Knebel. That's right: the Tigers originally drafted and developed Knebel, but sacrificed him in a 2014 trade with Texas for Joakim Soria barely a year after drafting him. (Soria himself was shipped out of Detroit in a year's time.)

What a steal for Texas, right? Uh, no, not quite. That winter, Texas had its eyes on Milwaukee SP Yovani Gallardo, and gave up young Knebel to get him. Perhaps Texas viewed Knebel, who missed the last several weeks of 2014 with a UCL strain, as damaged goods?

Here, Knebel has wrapped a 2015 season spent mostly in Milwaukee. He finished second on the team in K/9 (10.4), and on 8/3 vs. San Diego, he struck out the side on 11 pitches.

THIS CARD: Just so you're aware, it's pronounced Kuh-NAY-bul, though it looks like KNEE-bul.

I'm confounded: that is a #2 on Knebel's jersey, not the #46 he wore his entire Brewers career, according to Baseballreference.com. But looking up this pic on GettyImages, the original clearly shows the "4" in "46". Why on Earth Topps doctored the uniform number is anybody's guess...but they obviously did.

Via Getty, we were able to identify the date/time of this card's front image: 8/26/15 in Cleveland, Knebel fires to 1B in the 7th, but fails to retire batter Jerry Sands as teammate Elian Herrera looks on.

(flip) Knebel spent the first six weeks of 2015 at AAA Colorado Springs, was promoted to Milwaukee, pitched well...but was still demoted back to AAA in early July for (publicly) unknown reasons. He returned to the bigs days later when SP Matt Garza hit the DL, and stayed this time.

We mentioned Knebel's two pre-Milwaukee trades. Soria did mostly well for Detroit and Gallardo was solid for Texas, but both were essentially rentals.

Detroit gave up on a #1 pick rather quickly, wouldn't you say? Knebel was taken 39th overall in 2013, the final pick of the first round.

AFTER THIS CARD: Knebel sat the first two months of 2016 (oblique) and never really hit stride, but he rebounded in '17 with a 39-save campaign after taking over 9th-inning duties from Neftali Feliz in May. Knebel made the All-Star team and whiffed 126 batters in 76 innings! It seemed the Brewers would be set at closer for years to come.

But fate wouldn't allow it. In 2018, Knebel—now earning $3.5M—lost a month to a bad hamstring, struggled upon returning, and was even demoted back to AAA for a time. The 27-year-old got it together and gave Milwaukee 16 scoreless outings in September!

Sadly, Knebel was relegated to spectator in 2019 (UCL surgery). He returned to the majors in July 2020, posting a 6.08 ERA in 15 games; Milwaukee traded him to the Dodgers in December 2020.

Corey Knebel has appeared in 2016-19 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 2016 Topps, Milwaukee Brewers

Topps Checklist
Topps Checklist

1/2/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #823 Checklist

More 1993 Topps Checklists: n/a

With the addition of two new franchises for 1993, Topps' usual 792-card checklist swelled to 825 in 1993 to accommodate the Rockies and Marlins (and an army of their prospects, the overwhelming majority of whom never did anything in MLB). As a lover of deep, inclusive sets, obviously I loved it. But not enough to actually collect the set at the time.

To this day, I'm not sure why I didn't actively collect 1993 Topps IN the year 1993. I know at the time 13-year-old me was saving up allowance for a copy of Street Fighter II, but even after obtaining that game, I recall having little interest in card collecting that year.

Obviously, I did eventually acquire the set, built through packs, donated commons, and finally, individually-purchased commons. Unlike 1990-92 Topps, I do not remember any of the building at all. I only know that it happened because there's a set of 1993 Topps sitting on my shelf.

1993 Topps: The Amnesia Set.

THIS CARD: That is a player silhouette you see in the background; I'm not sure I ever paid it attention before.

The duos from #401 to #411 are All-Star cards; the other duos are expansion team prospects.

#426 Nigel Wilson, the ultimate expansion team bust.

Who'd have guessed this would be Willie McGee's next-to-last Topps card despite playing through 1999...

(flip) As alluded to, I didn't collect this set when it was released, and I couldn't tell you when I finally started or finished. Yet, I obviously felt the need to fill the checklists out as I went! No memory of doing that, either...wow. 

Sadly, eight people on this list have passed on (Tony Fernandez, Dave Henderson, Johnny Oates, Sparky Anderson, Don Baylor, Jim Fregosi, Scott Sanderson, Frank Castillo)

There's little chance you've heard of Ryan Luzinski or Jimmy Baron. Both were failed 1992 draft picks, the former being the son of ex-MLB slugger Greg Luzinski

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CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, League Leaders

Martin_Al_99ToppsFront.jpg
Martin_Al_99ToppsBack.jpg

1/4/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1999 Topps #287 Al Martin, Pirates

More Al Martin Topps Cards: 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 2000 2001 2002 2003T

As far as filling big shoes goes, few, if any, faced a bigger challenge in the 1990's than Pirates OF Al Martin. After incumbent LF Barry Bonds, to the surprise of no one, left thrifty Pittsburgh behind for San Francisco (and their megabucks) after the 1992 season, Martin took over as the new Pirates LF.

Was he Bonds? In short, no. But Martin proved to be a solid big league outfielder, one who actually led the 1993 Bucs in home runs by far (which was more of a reflection of their unimpressive lineup, but still) and was co-leading the 1994 squad in homers before succumbing to wrist surgery. Martin bounced back with a decent, if unspectacular, 1995 season, then found a new gear in 1996.

That year, Martin missed just seven games, batted .300 with 18 home runs, and stole 38 bases (5th in the NL); Pittsburgh extended him for two years while dumping salary elsewhere. Martin was on pace to bypass those fine numbers in '97, but a hand injury helped limit him to 113 games. Here, the 30-year-old has endured a rough 1998 season—manager Gene Lamont platooned Martin in LF, prompting an unfulfilled trade request and an unpretty stat line.

THIS CARD: I used to enjoy Martin's swing. It was quick, and if there's such a thing as an imposing follow-through, he had one.

Martin does his thing at Chicago's Wrigley Field. In 1998, Martin played three games at Wrigley (7/3-5), and despite going 6-for-13 personally, his team lost all three.

More from Martin's 1998 season: I'm not sure why exactly Lamont chose to platoon Martin. It'd make sense if the other half of said platoon was, say, Jeff King. But it was Manny flippin' Martinez taking away Martin's at-bats! Plus, Martin had hit over .300 against lefties in '97...playing for Lamont.

(flip) As you see, Martin played only 125 games in 1998, and none after 8/30. Despite extensive research, I wasn't able to find out why he did not play in September of that year; I've ordered additional research material in hopes of solving this 22-year-old mystery, and will update when it arrives. (Update: a pulled ribcage muscle sidelined Martin. Thank you, The Scouting Notebook 1999.)

Other notable Pirates to wear #28: Steve Blass and Bill Robinson (going way back), plus Paul Maholm 2006-11. Today it belongs to 3B coach Joey Cora.

Yes, Martin was originally a Braves product. He was in their system for seven seasons, climbing the ladder rather slowly before finally being let go after the 1991 season—Martin was not about to crack that Atlanta outfield.

AFTER THIS CARD: An early 1999 trade to Arizona fell through (much to his dismay), so Martin remained in Pittsburgh. Perhaps due to improved vision, he had an excellent year (.277, 24, 63) and finally had his trade request granted after that '99 season (Padres).

Off to a fine first half with San Diego despite major off-field issues, Martin was acquired by Seattle in July 2000. He'd be a member of their 2001 116-win squad, but not a productive one—Martin spent 2002 out of baseball after failing to make the Cardinals roster. He resurfaced with the 2003 Rays, but slugged .357 in 100 games and faded from MLB for good.

Al Martin appeared in Topps 1993-2002, with a final appearance in 2003 Traded.

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CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, League Leaders

Topps Aaron Rowand
Topps Aaron Rowand

1/5/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2009 Topps #485 Aaron Rowand, Giants

More Aaron Rowand Topps Cards: 2000T 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2010 2011

Aaron Rowand joined the Giants during a down period for the franchise. He, of course, came up with the Chicago White Sox and helped them to the 2005 World Series title. So appreciative were the Sox that they dealt him to the Phillies for Jim Thome that winter.

Rowand spent two years with the Phillies, making one of the memorable catches of the decade vs. the Mets' Xavier Nady in '06 and enjoying an All-Star year in '07. The Giants, looking to move in a new direction after 15 years of Barry Bonds, signed Rowand to a 5Y/$60M deal in December 2007.

Here, Rowand has completed that first year in San Francisco. He entered June hitting .340, but after a four-hit game vs. the Dodgers 8/10—good job—Rowand could only manage a .226 average for the rest of the season.

THIS CARD: Rowand seems to be trotting in, possibly about to tap gloves with a teammate. When I think of Rowand the Giants outfielder, first that comes to mind is the incredible 9th-inning catch he made in 2009 to preserve Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter. Say what you will about his offense, but Rowand made some incredible plays in the outfield during his SF stint.

TSR features Rowand for the second time in COTD; we selected his 2003 Topps card back in November 2019.

Yes, Rowand did wear #33 with the Giants as the arm bands indicate. Among Giants, John Burkett and Benny Santiago are really the only notable #33's of my time, though Chili Davis, Brian Wilson and Rich Aurilia—best remembered as #28, #38 and #35 respectively—all briefly had the number.

(flip) Fearless is the word. Referencing the 2006 catch, Rowand hit that wall in Philadelphia not at all concerned with the seven hours of surgery he'd soon undergo for his injuries.

Also, when Rowand left Philadelphia, they replaced him with Shane Victorino and won the 2008 World Series. Rowand's Giants won the 2010 World Series. Everybody emerged victorious!

At retirement, Rowand's best career OPS against was still Wakefield, though it dropped from 2.096 to 1.809. Mike Maroth moved into second place, with Benoit falling to third.

AFTER THIS CARD: In 2009, Rowand made the aforementioned history-saving catch, but was ordinary offensively, nothing like the 2007 All-Star he'd been. By mid-2010, Giants manager Bruce Bochy saw enough, moving him to the bench (salary and all) in favor of Andres Torres.

 

Other than during Torres' surgery recovery, Rowand never did play regularly for SF again. He struggled through five months of the 2011 season before being let go with a month to play—it was a shocker here in the SF Bay Area. Rowand unsuccessfully auditioned for the 2012 Marlins, and his career ended at 34.

Aaron Rowand debuted as a prospect in 2000 Topps Traded, then appeared in Topps annually from 2002-11.

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CATEGORIES: 2009 Topps, San Francisco Giants

Topps Gio Gonzalez
Topps Gio Gonzalez

1/7/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2012 Topps #519 Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

More Gio Gonzalez Topps Cards: 2009 2010 2011 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2020

Highly-touted Gio Gonzalez was one of those guys who was so talented and carried so much potential that not once, not twice, but three times he was sent packing before he threw a major league pitch! Now THAT'S a special player—he's so good that his teams obviously don't feel worthy of having him!

Sarcasm aside, Gonzalez, a #1 pick by the 2004 White Sox, was indeed sent to the Phillies as a PTBNL in the Jim Thome trade of December 2005. One year later, Gonzalez became a White Sock again by way of the Freddy Garcia trade. Then, in January 2008, Chicago dealt the kid away again, this time to the A's for Nick Swisher.

Gonzalez finally unpacked his bags in Oakland, and after a couple years shuffling between there and AAA, he went 15-9, 3.23 for them as a 24-year-old in 2010 and backed it up with an All-Star 2011 campaign. Here, Gonzalez is a new Washington National for 2012; the Nats acquired him from the A's, who weren't about to give young Gio the hefty arbitration raise he was due.

THIS CARD: Modern-day Gonzalez has sported a goatee for so long, he's hard to recognize without one, at least to these eyes.

Gonzalez in his familiar #47, the only number he's worn in his 13 MLB seasons. To my surprise, after seven years in Washington, Gonzalez's old digits were quickly issued to Howie Kendrick, who went on to 2019 NLCS MVP honors while helping the Nats to a championship. The debate between the top #47 in team history would be a spirited one, I'd imagine.

More from Gonzalez's 2011 season: though he was average at best for me in MLB '11: The Show when I played half-a-season as Oakland, Gonzalez was simply filthy for the live-action Athletics. He led Oakland in wins, ERA and K, made the AL All-Star team and emerged victorious in seven of his final eight starts!

(flip) The washed-out stinker occurred on 5/12/11 at Texas; Gonzalez surrendered seven runs in the third, including the first grand slam of young Mitch Moreland's career...but none of it counted. Gonzalez jokingly told the San Jose Mercury News he owed Moreland an apology and a check.

That next outing was a 14-0 destruction of the Angels; Gonzalez allowed exactly one hit over those seven innings.

 

Yes, Gonzalez led the AL in walks in 2011, but his 197 K ranked 9th (4th among lefties).

 

AFTER THIS CARD: Within weeks of acquiring him, the Nationals quickly signed Gonzalez to a 5Y/$42M deal (with team options for 2017-18 that were both picked up). He responded by finishing 3rd in 2012 Cy Young voting (21 wins) and 6th in 2017 voting. In all, he'd go 86-65, 3.62 across nearly seven seasons in Washington, though he received no-decisions in all six of his postseason starts for the club.

In August 2018, the Nationals dealt Gonzalez to Milwaukee—while they were playing Milwaukee—and he went 3-0, 2.13 in five starts for the Crew, helping them back to the postseason (where he was used basically as an opener). Gonzalez lost two months of 2019 to a dead arm, but did throw well when healthy (3.50 ERA in 19 games).

 

The 35-year-old returned to the White Sox as a swingman for the abbreviated 2020 season; he's currently a free agent.

Gio Gonzalez appeared annually in Topps 2009-20, except 2019.

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CATEGORIES: 2012 Topps, Washington Nationals

Topps Johan Santana
Topps Johan Santana

1/8/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2007 Topps #80 Johan Santana, Twins

More Johan Santana Topps Cards: 2003 2004 2005 2006 2008 2008U 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 

Johan Santana, acquired by Minnesota (via Florida) in the Rule V Draft, was used primarily as a reliever during his first two seasons (2000-01), receiving a handful of starts each year. Then from June-August 2002 Santana excelled as a regular starter...only to be bumped back to the bullpen in September (when Eric Milton returned from the DL).

Santana finally joined the Minnesota rotation to stay in July 2003; one year later he was a 20-game winner and recipient of the AL Cy Young award. The 26-year-old followed that effort up with a third-place Cy finish in '05, leading the league in K for the second straight year.

Here, Santana is the reigning AL pitching Triple Crown winner. He picked up his second Cy Young award in 2006 as well, but lost his lone postseason start despite a very strong performance.

THIS CARD: I can't say for certain, but I'm fairly sure the road ballpark is Rogers Centre, where Santana made his first start of 2006.

The #34 on Santana's sleeve is in memory of Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett. The Twins legend died in March 2006.

We commented on Johan's exquisite signature on his previous COTD (2008 Topps Update, June 2015). Topps used different signatures each year, surprisingly.

(flip) Santana's 19 wins in '06 tied him with New York's Chien-Ming Wang for the AL lead. He tied with four others for the league lead in starts.

"Johan is game's preeminent pitcher" sounds borrowed from a 1980's Topps blurb. By the way, 1966 was Koufax's final season.

How did Santana lead the majors in innings with just one complete game in the year 2006? That's certainly doable these days, but rare back then.

For all Santana's greatness, he never got the "00 or "50" Topps card number that was often, if not typically, reserved for superstars. #80 here is probably the closest he came. Somehow Santana received card #115 in two different sets, and #116 in another set.

 

AFTER THIS CARD: After the 2007 season, Minnesota, not about to dish out zillions to keep pending free agent Santana, traded their ace to the Mets in exchange for four youngsters (including Carlos Gomez and Philip Humber). New York quickly extended their newest star for 6Y/$137.5M.
Though wins often eluded him, Santana mowed through the NL as he had the AL, finishing third in 2008 NL Cy Young voting and making the 2009 All-Star team (his fourth selection).

In September 2010, however, Santana tore the anterior capsule in his left shoulder, undergoing surgery that kept him out until 2012. The 33-year-old made 21 starts that year (including the only no-hitter in Mets history), but needed the surgery re-done in April 2013. Santana attempted a comeback with the 2014 Orioles, but tore his Achilles in Spring Training. A MiLB deal with Toronto for '15 led nowhere, and Santana's career closed at 36.

Though he did not come close to making the Baseball Hall of Fame, Santana was enshrined in the Twins Hall of Fame in 2018.

Johan Santana appeared annually in Topps 2003-13, with a 2008 Update card as well.

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CATEGORIES: 2007 Topps, Minnesota Twins

Checklist275_97ToppsFront.jpg
Checklist275_97ToppsBack.jpg

1/10/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1997 Topps #275 Checklist

More 1997 Topps Checklists: n/a

As baseball and baseball-related industries continued to recover from the disastrous 1994-95 strike. Topps gradually increased the sizes of their checklists beginning with 1997 Topps, a 55-card increase from the 1996 set.

These particular checklists shouldn't really count as checklists, because there's no box to actually check this year. It's a list without the check! As you can see, I didn't bother writing my own checks on it or anything, instead creating my own checklist on old fashioned paper.

THIS CARD: This is the first of four checklists in '97 Topps. Series 1 came in at 275 cards, giving me hope of at least a 550-card set, but Series 2 measured at only 220 cards, for 495 in total.

The blank spot you see for card #7? This was the first year of Card #7's retirement in honor of the late Mickey Mantle. As we've discussed previously in COTD, this retirement lasted through the 2005 set. Card #7 was reserved for special Mantle cards in 2006-12 Topps, then retired again 2013-16. Since 2017, star Yankees of the present have been issued Card #7.

If you remember who Terrell Wade, Felipe Lira and Scott Stahoviak were, you are a true fan. Danny Tartabull makes his final Topps appearance. Kevin Elster returns after a five-set absence.

(flip) We also picked 1998 Topps #275 recently (December 2020), which was also a Checklist. And this is our second Checklist of January! I don't know why, I don't know how, but personally I've seen enough of them for a while.

If you remember who Ricky Otero, Chris Snopek and Mark Johnson were, you are a true fan. Randy Myers makes his final Topps appearance; he was criminally absent from 1998 Topps. Dwight Gooden returns after a two-set absence (with his real name rather than "Doc").

CATEGORIES: 1997 Topps, Checklists

Topps Tom Lasorda
Topps Tom Lasorda

1/11/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Topps #261 Tom Lasorda, Dodgers

More Tom Lasorda Topps Cards: 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993

One publication described him as "the world's greatest baseball salesman...a true baseball character." No less than Dusty Baker pays him serious credit: "He saved my career, actually, because (in 1977) he stuck his neck out for me...I went ahead and made the All-Dodger team all because (he) stuck his neck out for me.” Current Dodgers star Walker Buehler said he was "One of the most passionate and entertaining people I’ve been around in my life."

I'm talking about the great Tom, or Tommy, Lasorda, longtime manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who spent 70 years overall with the franchise in multiple capacities. You'd think, considering I've held the Dodgers in contempt for most of my life, that I'd detest Lasorda, somebody who was as devoted and committed to Dodger blue as anybody who's ever lived.

Just the opposite: I had tremendous respect for Lasorda because he made the game better. Nobody has been a bigger ambassador for baseball. Nobody has so openly displayed their love for baseball. Nobody has been a bigger star from the dugout. 

THIS CARD: We specially selected this card in memory of Lasorda, who died 1/7/21 from heart failure at age 93.

I've had this card for approaching three decades, and evidently didn't care much about it until re-discovering it last year. Ever since, it's been one of my faves—how many managers, in Lasorda's era or beyond, lead their team in workouts? Not many, and those that do certainly aren't in their 60's. Lasorda had several uncustomary card images during his Topps run.

Topps Gold was a parallel set released from 1992-94. Random Gold cards would be inserted in packs, which is how I built much of my 1992 Topps set.

You are seeing who I believe is Kevin Gross (back left) Orel Hershiser (#55) and Gary Carter (#12) alongside Lasorda; I can't identify the back middle or far right Dodgers.

(flip) There's two finishes in 1981 because of a seven-week baseball strike that split the season.

How was Lasorda 2-2 in 1976? Incumbent manager Walter Alston retired with four games left that season, leaving Lasorda (the 3B coach) in charge.

As you can see, Lasorda racked up six National League West (NLW) first-place finishes. His Dodgers won four pennants (1977, 1978, 1981 and 1988), beating the Yankees in the 1981 World Series and the Athletics in the 1988 World Series.

More from Lasorda's 1991 season: it was a tough one for him personally, as he lost his son Tom Jr. to AIDS in June.
On the field, even with new superstar Darryl Strawberry in town, LA got off to a sluggish start before picking it up in May. The first-place Dodgers led the NLW by six games on 7/28 but were eventually caught and passed by the Atlanta Braves (YES, they were in the NLW back then).

Lasorda's 1991 Dodgers played a whopping 20 extra-inning games, including seven in August alone! 

Dodger Stadium housed Lasorda's office, of course. Check it out here.

AFTER THIS CARD: Lasorda remained Dodgers manager until midway through the '96 season, when he was sent into retirement by a heart attack. The next year he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in 2000, he guided Team USA to a gold medal in the Sydney Olympics. We'll leave you with a few words of reaction to Lasorda's death, courtesy of USA Today, MLB.com and ESPN.com...

Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully: "There are two things about Tommy I will always remember. The first is his boundless enthusiasm. Tommy would get up in the morning full of beans and maintain that as long as he was with anybody else. The other was his determination." 

Former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia: "You have to know who to pat on the back, when to pat him on the back, when you have to kick them in the butt and when you have to stroke them a little bit. And Tommy had that gift, to know what players needed what."

Former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser: “(Lasorda) willed himself to live this long and to watch that (2020) world championship,”

Current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “(Lasorda) just let anyone know the importance of putting on this uniform and what it means to be part of this organization. And I think that this is something that has been real for decades and it's our job now going forward to make sure that his legacy continues to live on. It encompasses a lot to be a Dodger and no one exemplified that more than Tommy."

Thanks for giving the game personality, Mr. Lasorda.
RIP from TSR.

CATEGORIES: 1992 Topps, Los Angeles Dodgers

Topps Neal Heaton
Topps Neal Heaton

1/13/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Topps #197 Neal Heaton, Expos

More Neal Heaton Topps Cards: 1987T 1988 1990 1991 1992

Heaton was talented enough to be taken #1 overall by the Mets in the 1978 draft, but he opted to attend Miami instead; Heaton was an All-American there and taken in the second round by the 1981 Indians. By the next season, he was in the majors at 22.

Heaton had plenty of fine performances as an Indian 1983-85, but he didn't string enough of them together, losing 32 games 1984-85 and posting some unsettling BB/K ratios. Finally, in mid-1986, Cleveland cut bait, dealing Heaton to Minnesota. They, in turn, swapped Heaton to Montreal for CL Jeff Reardon in February 1987.

Here, Heaton is fresh off a disappointing 1988 campaign. After enjoying his finest overall season in 1987, the 27-year-old got off to an ugly start to '88 and was banished to the Expos bullpen.

THIS CARD: Heaton's high leg kick in action. Doesn't your hamstring hurt just looking at that?

For some reason, though Heaton had been around for seven seasons by this time, this was only his second appearance in a Topps base set. He was never featured in Topps during his Cleveland or Minnesota tenures, and you must turn to Donruss or Fleer for cards of Heaton the Indian.

In 1988, Heaton was primarily a fastball/slider guy; it's unlikely he's about to fire anything else in this image. In 1990, however, he added perhaps the strangest off-speed pitch I've ever run across...but it worked!

More from Heaton's 1988 season: battling a sprained ankle early, the veteran lefty was 2-5, 6.12 on 6/13, leading Montreal to shift him to long relief. In that role, Heaton allowed just one ER over his next eight games, making one final spot start on 8/21. He was effective, giving up two runs in five innings, but still took the (shutout) loss at Los Angeles.

(flip) As you can see, Heaton, despite having good velocity early in his career, didn't strike out many batters at all, largely because he had no off-speed pitch to upset anybody's timing. His K went up in '87 because of the NL pitchers who were now batting against him.

The ankle limited Heaton to the one game in April 1988. As mentioned, Heaton's September 1988 absence remains a mystery, though the LA Times reported he battled tendinitis in 1988 without saying exactly when. 

That trade also sent two prospects and C Jeff Reed to the Expos, with the Twins receiving Reardon and C Tom Nieto (both of whom helped them to a championship that year).

AFTER THIS CARD: Heaton was acquired by Pittsburgh near the end of Spring Training 1989; he started and ended that year in the Pirates rotation and registered a 3.05 ERA in 42 overall games. In '90, the 30-year-old got off to a 10-2, 2.89 start and made his first and only All-Star team! But Heaton's second half was unpretty, and he was shifted back to relief—remaining there for the entire 1991 season as well.

That winter, Pittsburgh swapped Heaton to the Royals in exchange for Kirk Gibson. He got in 31 games for KC and one for Milwaukee that year before making the 1993 Yankees as a non-roster invitee. 18 games later, Heaton was done in New York, and in MLB, finishing up 80-96, 4.37 over 12 major league seasons.

Neal Heaton debuted in 1987 Topps Traded as a new Expo, then appeared annually in the base set 1988-1992, with all his front images from the same angle and the final two virtually identical.

CATEGORIES: 1989 Topps, Montreal Expos

Topps Steve Olin
Topps Steve Olin

1/14/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 1993 Topps #167 Steve Olin, Indians

More Steve Olin Topps Cards: 1990 1991 1992

Here in COTD, we are going to focus on Olin's career and cards, not his premature passing. Here is a link to a 2013 piece covering the anniversary of said passing.

Unlike many submariners, Olin had been slingin' from down low ever since high school. It got him drafted by Cleveland in 1987, and to MLB two years later. He was tough on righties, but lefties chewed him up (.333) in 1989. 

The Indians kept Olin around for most of 1990-91, though he was returned to the minors each season in an effort to hone a pitch (or pitches) that could retire those pesky lefties—they hit .300 off him in 1990 and .330 in 1991. Still, in the second half of '91, Cleveland gave Olin the ball in the 9th inning—at one point he saved 11 straight opportunities!

Here, Olin has completed his first, and only, full season as the Indians closer. He won or saved nearly 50% of their victories (37 of 76) and finished 8th in the AL with 29 saves (in 36 chances).

THIS CARD: Olin's first Topps card depicts him just hanging around, but his final three capture all stages of his submarine motion. Here is the beginning; if I had to foster a guess, I'd say a changeup is being gripped.

Olin wore #31 from 1990-92; he'd worn #50 as a 1989 rookie. Other notable Indians to wear #31 include Chuck Finley, Cliff Lee for the second half of his Indians run, and Danny Salazar; Josh Naylor had the number in 2020.

Unlike the Cardinals with Darryl Kile's #57, Olin's #31 was never taken out of circulation after his passing; in fact Dave Winfield took it over in 1995. 

Olin delivers at the old Mistake By The Lake (Jacobs/Progressive Field was still two seasons away). At home in 1992, Olin was not nearly as effective as on the road (4.37 ERA, 1.52 WHIP at home compared to 0.21 and 0.88 away). In fact, his 4.44 career ERA at Cleveland Stadium was his second-worst by far at any ballpark (Metrodome, 4.73).

(flip) The Appalachian League is low-A, where newly-signed June draft picks usually report.

Olin, despite his callup, still led the Pacific Coast League with 24 saves in 1989.

In Olin's MLB debut, he threw 2.2 scoreless innings against Boston in relief of Bud Black, allowing one hit and striking out Rick Cerone. Olin also retired future HOFers Jim Rice and Wade Boggs!

AFTER THIS CARD: Olin died 3/22/93, the day before I entered teenhood.

Steve Olin appeared in 1990-93 Topps.

CATEGORIES: 1993 Topps, Cleveland Indians, Now Deceased

Topps Marcus Semien
Topps Marcus Semien

1/16/21 Topps Baseball Card Of The Day: 2017 Topps #97 Marcus Semien, Athletics

More Marcus Semien Topps Cards: 2014 2015 2016 2018 2019 2020

During Billy Beane's tenure as an A's executive, not many of his key players make it to their first free agency without being traded away. Marcus Semien was one of the few, ultimately spending six seasons with the club.

Top prospect Semien came up with the Chicago White Sox, joining Oakland in a trade that sent SP Jeff Samardzija to Chicago in December 2014. The A's immediately made him their #1 shortstop in 2015, and he showed flashes of ability through some serious fielding difficulties.

Here, Semien has completed his second season in the green and gold. He played all but three games, dramatically sliced his error total, and finished second on the team (to Khris Davis) in home runs.

THIS CARD: By most accounts, including mine, Semien was a bad defender in 2015 but really improved in 2016. His errors dropped from 35 to 21 and he was generally more reliable.

Semien sports the gold A's alternate jersey originally introduced in 2011 but not used nearly as much these days as it was back then.

Using GettyImages, I was eventually able to pinpoint the date of this pic: 8/10/16 vs. Baltimore. Semien is forcing out Nolan Reimold (cropped out of photo) at second base in the 5th.

(flip) Twitter and Instagram accounts exist under Semien's name, but neither looks all that authentic.

The blurb should have included the word "ever" after the word shortstop.

The full Trade With White Sox sent Semien (six seasons with Oakland), C Josh Phegley (five seasons with Oakland) and SP Chris Bassitt (still with Oakland) to the A's. Samardzija lasted one disappointing year with the White Sox before joining my Giants as a free agent.

AFTER THIS CARD: Semien lost nearly three months of 2017 with a bad wrist injury that required surgery. He returned to play 159 games in a decent 2018 season, then erupted into an AL MVP candidate in 2019 (33 HR, 92 RBI, .522 SLG in 162 games), ultimately placing third.

With free agency looming after the season, Semien—now earning $13M—struggled badly in 2020 (.223) and remains unsigned as of this writing.

Marcus Semien has appeared in Topps.2014-20.

CATEGORIES: 2017 Topps, Oakland Athletics