Mall Rats

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I called my daughter in to my office the other night, hoping it would be a surprise. Someone had tweeted a link to the Stranger Things Season 3 trailer and because she hadn’t mentioned it yet, I thought the video would be a source of excitement (it was). To call it a trailer is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose. The near-70 second clip was nothing more than a teaser that included the titles of each of the eight upcoming episodes, which are set in the Summer of 1985.


I was 15- going on 16- back in the summer of ’85 and while we didn’t hang out at the Karcher Mall much (certainly not enough to be called ‘mall rats’), my friends and I would usually make a weekly run to Musicland. Once we were finished browsing the aisle for tapes we would mosey on over to B. Dalton bookstore and check out the latest music rags: Rolling Stone, Circus, Hit Parader.

During one particular trip to the mall that summer we made our usual stops and strolled past the sports card shop. I wasn’t collecting at that point in my life (I had bought a couple of packs in 1984 and wouldn’t get back in to the hobby until 1991), but if I had been, I would have probably been scrambling to get Dale Murphy and Alvin Davis cards (and stickers!). Anyway, right as we were in front of the card shop, a female security guard passed us. My friend, Marc, couldn’t help himself. *makes a pig-like snorting sound*

The “mall cop” wasn’t going to be subjected to such treatment from a group of young smartasses. “Get out- right now!” she yelled, “and if I see you around here again I’ll arrest you for trespassing.” We were on our way out anyway, so we nodded and let her have her glory.


Unlike her old man, my daughter is respectful and far more mature than I was as a teen. I wish we shared an interest in sports and even in collecting sports cards. I did get her some of the Allen and Ginter mini Man’s Best Friend cards a few years ago. Perhaps Topps’ Stranger Things release would be something we could break together. From what I’ve seen online, it reminds me of the oddball stuff from the 80s. Yes, even a little reminiscent of the stickers Topps put out during the summer of 1985.

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Stats

I seem to be in a funk. Ideas for blog posts come and I start the research, start the drafts- but then… I get stuck in the mire. So, instead of grounding into the shift, I think I’ll go oppo.


The Winter Meetings are taking place and, like most fans, I’ve been following my team, hoping some nice complimentary players are added to this rebuild that is taking place. Heading into 2019, my only expectations are 90+ losses.

One player I don’t expect to see traded is Kyle Seager. Unless he’s attached to Mitch Haniger in a deal (ala Robinson Cano), Kyle and his meager slash line isn’t going anywhere. It’s been quite the fall for the likable Seager, who’s two years removed from a career year, where he finished 12th in the MVP voting. Kyle’s precipitous fall can be attributed to The Shift.

According to to the 2019 Bill James Handbook, Seager faced the monster more than any other player last season and had the second-lowest average (.188). For the season, 70.4 percent of Kyle’s plate appearances came against a loaded right-side of the infield, costing him 19 hits (second in the league to Kole Calhoun’s 21). Understandably, Seager has lost patience at the plate and has begun to swing more often, registering the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career in 2018. On grounders and short line-drives, he hit only .188. Two common suggestions to beat the shift, “go oppo” and “hit it over the shift” weren’t a part of Kyle’s plan at the plate: balls hit in play to the left side of the infield were the lowest of his career and he had the second fewest fly balls hit in his career. At this point, I don’t know if Seager will ever be a productive hitter again.


As a collector, I’ve been evaluating some different numbers with an eye towards 2019. These stats have to do with my run of Topps baseball sets. I’m currently working on a run of flagship sets dating back to 1976- my first year of buying packs. One of my new year’s resolutions is to finish off some of the sets and put big dents into the want lists of others.

1976 Topps: 587/660– 88.9% complete

1977 Topps: 638/660– 96.7%

1978 Topps: 715/726– 98.5%

1979 Topps: 668/726– 92%

1980 Topps: 706/726– 97.2%

1981 Topps: complete

1981 Topps Traded: 129/132– 97.7%

1982 Topps: 789/792– 99.6T

1982 Topps Traded: 127/132– 96.2%

1983 Topps 785/792– 99.1%

1983 Topps Traded: 19/132– 14.4%

1984 Topps: 785/792– 99.1%

1984 Topps Traded: 39/132– 29.5%

1985 Topps: complete

1985 Topps Traded: 29/132– 22%

1986 Topps: complete

1986 Topps Traded: 126/132– 95.5%

1987 Topps: complete

1987 Topps Traded: 27/132– 20.5%

1988 Topps & Topps Traded: complete

1989 Topps & Topps Traded: complete

1991 Topps & Topps Traded: complete

1992 Topps & Topps Traded: complete

1993 Topps: complete

1993 Topps Traded: 131/132– 99.2%

1994 Topps: complete

1994 Topps Traded: 131/132– 99.2%

1995 Topps: 588/660– 89.1%

1995 Topps Traded: 164/165– 99.4%

1996 Topps: 439/440– 99.8%

1997 Topps: 492/495– 99.4%

1998 Topps: 502/503– 99.8%

1999 Topps: complete

1999 Topps Traded: 119/121– 98.3%

2000 Topps: complete

2000 Topps Update: 134/15– 99.3%

2001 Topps: complete

2001 Topps Update: 215/265– 81.1%

2002 Topps: complete

2002 Topps Update: 130/275– 47.3%

2003 Topps: complete

2003 Topps Update: 274/275– 99.6%

2004 Topps: 605/732– 82.7%

2004 Topps Update: complete

2005 Topps: 0% Need Entire Set

2005 Topps Update: 260/330– 78.8%

2006 Topps: complete

2006 Topps Update: complete

2007 Topps: 0%– Need Entire Set

2007 Topps Update: 0%- Need Entire Set

2008 Topps: complete

2008 Topps Update: 329/330– 99.7%

2009 Topps: 659/660– 99.8%

2009 Topps Update: complete

2010 Topps & Topps Update: complete

2011 Topps: complete

2011 Topps Update: 329/330– 99.7%

2012 Topps and Topps Update: complete

2013 Topps and Topps Update: complete

2014 Topps: complete

2014 Topps Update: 311/330– 94.2%

2015 Topps and Topps Update: complete

2016 Topps: complete

2016 Topps Update: 297/300– 99.4%

2017 and 2018 Topps and Topps Update: complete

 

New Era

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I bought the card on a Sunday night and little did I know what the next few days would have in store for a franchise that has been bogged down in futility for the better part of four decades. By the time the card arrived five days later, two separate news stories about the Mariners had been reported- one, hinting at the new era that is about to begin; another, suggesting that perhaps a new era in organizational structure is needed.

A week prior to my purchase, photos of the signage at Safeco Field being taken down began surfacing online. Less than a week later, Forbes reported that the naming rights to the home of the Mariners was going to T-Mobile, prompting responses about the team already having bad Servais. While neither party has confirmed the report, it’s only a matter of time until a new partnership (whoever it may be with) is announced. After twenty years, it will be tough to refer to the ballpark as anything other than Safeco.

On Monday- the day after purchasing the Cano New Era card- Dr. Lorena Martin, former Director of High Performance (another source of online laughter) for the team, dropped a bombshell on her Instagram account, alleging sexist and racist remarks from GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and Director of Player Development Andy McKay. The organization was quick to deny all accusations and within a couple of days released a statement announcing that an internal investigation was conducted and that all of the accused were cleared of any wrongdoing. Even if Major League Baseball- which is currently conducting its own investigation- clears the three accused, the whole incident leaves the organization with a black eye. And, I might add, leaves questions about Dipoto’s judgement. The GM had loudly sung the praises of Dr. Martin upon her hiring and she didn’t even last twelve months in to a three year contract. For all the questions that remain, one thing is clear: the team had given Dr. Martin a number of responsibilities and, with little internal support, basically set her up for failure.


If those two bits of information don’t signal a new era, the player turnover the past three weeks certainly does. Mike Zunino- gone. James Paxton- gone. Edwin Diaz- gone. And, amazingly, Robinson Cano- gone. While I’ve long questioned Jerry Dipoto’s competency as GM, there is no doubt that he pulled off the unthinkable and was able to move Cano. And for that, I salute him.

So yes, a new era has arrived in Seattle. And yet it isn’t really anything new- just one more in a long line of disappointment for Mariners fans.

Tension

The 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released this week, headed by newcomers Mariano Rivera and the late Roy Hallady. Included on that list, of course, for the 10th and final time, is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, Edgar Martinez. Having received 70.4% of the vote last year, Edgar is considered a cinch by many experts to obtain the 75% needed for election. But this is the Mariners we’re talking about (well, an iconic Mariners player and coach) and we all know that the organization is star-crossed. The whole thing has me a bit anxious.

It seems like I’ve seen a number of collectors comment online about the struggles they’re having with their collection- namely, what do I want to collect? This tension is something I’ve been struggling with for months, for a number of reasons. The continuous run of Topps flagship sets- dating back to 1976 (my first year of buying packs)- is a given. Mariners stadium giveaway team sets and Topps Retail team sets is a given. After that, my mind has changed like the weather.

Part of that internal struggle is due to there always being that one card I have an interest in, but comes from a set that I don’t care to collect. And being a set/team set collector, I find it hard not wanting to put together the rest of the team set. The answer to this dilemma, I believe, is to start an Exemplar Collection- 1 card from each set. So now those cards with unique photos, ones with a story behind them etc. will how have a home in my collection.


It never really dawned on me.

With the focus of this card being Mariners legend Edgar Martinez, I simply never took the time to really examine the rest of the composition. Now that I think of it, it’s almost as if Edgar is as oblivious to the situation as I was at first.

In an interview conducted with CBSSports radio in St. Louis following the 2015 season, Andy Van Slyke (who served as outfielder instructor and first-base coach, as well as the assistant hitting coach under Howard Johnson, until the latter was fired) went off on Robinson Cano, no holds barred.

Blaming the Mariners second baseman for the lack of the team’s success, as well as for the firing of GM Jack Zduriencik, manager Lloyd McClendon and his coaching staff, Van Slyke had a number of harsh words for Cano, whose 2015 was a down season (to be fair, he had suffered from a hernia and was not good the first 3 months of the season):

  • Despite hitting in front of Nelson Cruz, whom AVS called the “most dominating hitter” he had ever seen over a four-month period, Robbie “had probably the worst single year of an every day player that I’ve ever seen in 20 years at the big league level”
  • When the radio host commented how it couldn’t be due to a lack of effort, Van Slyke replied, “He [tries] sometimes”
  • Cano was so bad during 2015 he couldn’t “drive home Miss Daisy if he tried”
  • Robbie played “the worst defense I’ve ever seen at second base”

Van Slyke finished slaying Cano by saying, “Robinson Cano cost the GM his job. The hitting coach got fired because of Cano. And the manager and coaches got fired because of Cano. That’s how much impact he has on the organization. He was the worst player and it cost people their jobs in the process.”

When asked whether the organization forced McClendon to fire Howard Johnson, Van Slyke responded by saying that Edgar wanted to get back into baseball and that a number of teams showing interest in him as their hitting coach. And because the offense struggled for a year, upper management had no choice but to bring him in as hitting coach because he’s Edgar Martinez. He even went as far as saying that Martinez “will have a job in Seattle as long as he’s breathing air because he’s Edgar Martinez.”


Perhaps I’m just reading the tea leaves here, but considering everything Van Slyke said in the interview, I can’t help but see tension when look at this card. It’s almost as if Andy is looking past Edgar, gazing at Cano with a look of frustration.

Balk Four

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Last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Rams and the Chiefs was one for the ages. Unfortunately, I drifted in and out of sleep throughout the second half and I wasn’t able to enjoy the entirety of the record-breaking event. On the bright side, my naps came in really short bursts and I don’t think I missed any of the plays that ended in points being scored. For me to enjoy an NFL game that doesn’t involve the Seahawks is something worth noting, because it doesn’t happen very often.

Following the game, Trent Dilfer had one of his typical hot takes, calling the game an amazing fan experience and fun to watch, but bad ball. And of course, there was a lot of disagreement on Twitter. Whatever the case may be, I’m sure the NFL isn’t complaining the morning after. I haven’t seen any numbers but I would think the matchup alone drew a pretty big viewership and fans will certainly be talking about the game today.

One game that would have been neither good nor enjoyable to watch came on July 18, 1988, as the Mariners took on the Tigers. And it, too, was a record breaking (well, record-tying) game.

In an ugly 12-3 loss, Gene Walter, pitching in just his third game for the M’s, tied an American League record with 4 balks in a game. That would be hard enough to believe if it had been a starter who threw 6 innings (although at four balks, one questions if they would have made it to six innings), but Walter reached the mark while facing only 12 hitters over 2.1 innings. His teammates certainly didn’t help matters in the ugliness, committing 2 errors and allowing 5 stolen bases. And the fact that Walters finished the season with the team is indicative of how bad the Mariners were that season, when they finished 68-93 and finishing 7th in the A.L West.

Gene was featured in both the 1989 Topps and Upper Deck sets but did not pitch again in the majors after the 1988 season.

Community

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I entered what I refer to as the “lost years” of collecting in 2001- the same year that Hisashi Iwakuma began his first season in the Japanese Major Leagues. The twenty-year old righty debuted for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Pacific League and would go on to pitch for eleven seasons before making his Major League debut with the Mariners in 2012. By the time I returned to the hobby in 2009, Iwakuma was coming off a 21-win season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles while posting a sub-.200 ERA and adding league MVP to his accolades, of which also included All-Star and Olympian.

There were a number of things that contributed to that nickname- the lost years. For one, my wife had given birth to our daughter in April of 2001 and, with two younger sons and now a daughter, time and money were precious commodities that I could not afford to spend on trading cards. Plus, a month before the birth, I lost my best friend, who passed away from a massive heart attack. I had met Al at his card shop and we spent a lot of time talking cards, breaking boxes, going to card shows and card shops. Another close friend of mine, Don, who also had a shop, had moved a couple hours away two or so years before that, so I suddenly found myself without a close community of collectors who enjoyed the hobby as much as I did. My interest quickly in cards evaporated pretty quickly at this point.

In hindsight, my near decade-long self-imposed exile couldn’t have come at a better time. The number of products released during the 2000s are mind boggling and to be honest, I just don’t find that many of them attractive enough to buy. Perhaps the reason I’m not interested in much from that period is because there is no nostalgia tied to it.

My return to the hobby was also perfectly timed. By 2008 online communities were springing up- or had sprung up- all over the internet through blogs and message boards. The later explosion in social media with apps such as Twitter and Facebook would also play an important part in creating community among collectors.

“As denoted by the root and the suffix of the word (common-unity), a certain segment of the population is united by a familiar thread…As human beings, we need a sense of belonging, and that sense of belonging is what connects us to the many relationships we develop.” Riche C. Zamor, Executive Director, Professional Services Division Latin American Health Institute, Boston, MA. (Ikedacenter.org)

While you cannot tell from the picture, the Hisashi Iwakuma card featured in this post is a Heritage Mini (#/100) and came from a Twitter trade (I love saying that. Twitter trade! Twitter trade! Tongue Twister! Tongue. Twister.) with Shane from the Off the Wall Baseball Cards blog. Shane’s a good guy who collects Boston Red Sox, 80s oddballs and is also known for his Topps Binder Project, which features a lot of interesting themes. The Red Sox fan is just one example of many in the card collecting community who make collecting fun again. Whether through discussions, debates, or sharing photos of unique parts of their collection, Twitter has become one of my favorite places for my cardboard jonesing.

Another favorite place of mine to visit is the Trading Card Database. Here, I’m able to not only inventory my collection, create wantlists, and take part in discussions on the message board- but, more importantly, I can contribute to the collecting community by uploading scans of cards that are not already on the website or by requesting and contributing checklists to sets that are not listed in the database.

Empty Calories

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The past couple of weeks have been busy for former Mariners who have entered the coaching ranks. Another one was in the news on Friday, as the Angels promoted minor league hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed to major league hitting coach…

In her younger years, our daughter had a tendency to request one thing from my wife before her weekly trip to the grocery store (or of me, should I make a trip to the market): Lunchables.

Unless you’re living in an alternate universe, you’re at least familiar with Lunchables, the prepackaged lunch containing processed meat and cheese, crackers, artificially flavored fruit drink and desert! It’s a convenience “food” loaded with saturated fat, sodium and sugar, conceived by marketing genius Bob Drane, who at the time was VP of new business strategy and development for Oscar Mayer.

It was hard to say no to our daughter because she was such a picky eater when she was younger (took after her old man). And when you have a picky eater and they find something they like, as a parent, you’re relieved and are susceptible to giving in to their wishes- no matter how unhealthy the food might be. In her mind, the lunch tray was a perfectly healthy lunch choice. But we knew better and would buy them only sparingly.

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If I had been collecting around that time (2004/2005-ish), I would have, without a doubt, been going to card shows, the Beckett Marketplace website and eBay to buy (or trade for) Jeremy Reed cards. Named the best pure hitter and base runner in the Mountain West Conference, where he played for Long Beach State, Reed had been drafted 59th overall in the 2002 draft by the Chicago White Sox, and reminded me a lot of one of my favorite players at the time, Mark Kotsay.

Baseball America would later go on to name Reed the top prospect in the Southern League (AA) following the 2003 campaign, a season in which he hit .409/.474/.591 in 242 at-bats along with 7 HR, a 29/19 BB/K ratio and 18 stolen bases. Fangraphs had him ranked as the #4 prospect in all of baseball following that season. Thus, when, on June 27, 2004, the Mariners traded Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis to the south side for Reed, Mike Morse and Miguel Olivo, Mariners fans had reason to be excited. That excitement only increased after a September call-up saw Reed hit .397/.470/.466 (with 7 walks vs 4 k’s) in 66 plate appearances. At this point, Jeremy Reed looked like a pretty healthy option for the franchise going in to the 2005 season.

But because this is the Mariners we’re talking about, any excitement the fans had about Jeremy Reed was extinguished following a rookie season in which he compiled a 2.0 WAR (Baseball Reference). A sophomore slump ensued, the result of JR forsaking the level swing that made him a line-drive hitter and, instead, employing an uppercut. As a result, Reed watched his strikeout totals rise; his walks, diminished. This new approach at the plate only intensified the struggles he already had against left-handed pitching, as he went 0-23 against southpaws during the 2006 season. And while Jeremy’s slugging percentage was up from the previous season, his OBP and OPS dropped significantly. Even his base running- a strength in college and the minors- was a mess (17 steals/ 15 caught stealing in his first three major league seasons). A broken thumb in July (mercifully) ended Reed’s sophomore season and, effectively, his career in Seattle.

With his long list of ingredients, I thought Jeremy would be a well-balanced player and, like so many others, I really thought he would help the Mariners eat Chicago’s lunch. Turns out the player we received in the trade contained nothing but empty calories.

Steal a Base

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Thanks to the amazing Mookie Betts, America didn’t have to wait long for Taco Bell’s Steal a Base, Steal a Taco promotion to be realized. Swiping second base off of Clayton Kershaw in the top of the first in Game 1 s(t)ealed the deal. Free Doritos Locos Tacos for all his American friends! I’m not of fan of their food, so I won’t be taking Taco Bell up on the offer- but I do commend the fast-food giant for hooking up with MLB for such a promotion. What’s even better, Topps has partnered with Taco Bell for a limited edition Steal a Base, Steal a Taco Topps Now trading card set. Great idea, but unless you’re in the Los Angeles or Boston area, you’ll have to buy the cards on the secondary market. Expect to pay a premium- at least at first.

Four decades before Taco Bell first offered food for a stolen base, there was a different offer for stolen bases. A much sweeter offer.

It all started when he was in the California League with the Angles’ Class-A team in Salinas, where he would steal 68 bases during the 1976 season. A fan of the team discovered that young second baseman Julio Cruz had an affection for cheesecake and presented the prospect with one, each time he swiped a bag. A prodigious theft artist, Cruz received more than his fair share of the desert, but apparently he wasn’t very excited about sharing with double-play partner (and future Mariners teammate), Jim Anderson. Arguments ensued over division of the cake.

At some point during his rookie season, the Seattle Times referenced Julio’s love for cheesecake and a young woman by the name of Louise Kiss delivered one to the speedy second baseman. The next spring, Times columnist and The Sporting News contributor Hy Zimmerman wrote that a Seattle woman (probably Kiss*) offered Cruz one cheesecake for each stolen base. Recognizing that his goal of 50 stolen bases for the 1978 season was attainable, Cruz was determined to abstain from indulging himself in those sweet rewards. “No more cheesecake,” he confessed to Zimmerman. ” I want to hold my weight down.”

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If there is a piece of cardboard that better captures Julio’s game, I have yet to see it. His was built on speed and I love that Topps chose this photo for the rookie’s first major league card. The beautiful, blue road uniform only adds to the brilliance of card #687.

 

*Kiss had been mentioned by name in the 1977 Sporting News article-but not the one from 1978. A Google search revealed that the Seattle-area woman once owned a desert shop before going into the catering business.

Card Stock

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It’s a damn shame that team-issued sets are mostly a thing of the past. Not only were they a great resource for players who might have been overlooked by the major card manufacturers, but many also included the now-extinct coaches card(s). This injustice became more evident to me as I was taking stock of my all-time roster project and noticed I have exactly one card of today’s subject. And because that card is shared with the rest of the coaching staff, I decided to do something about it: I took an image of a team-issued card off the internet, found some card stock at work that I thought would do the job and boom- I now have a replica of West Stock’s 1979 Seattle Mariners Postcard. I would love to have an original (not only of Stock, but the rest of the cards issued during the team’s infancy) but they are difficult to find and can command premium prices.

The decision to leave a club that had dominated the ‘70s for an expansion team might have been a difficult one for most men- but not Wes Stock.

Stock, who had been the pitching coach for the Oakland Athletics since the 1973 season, had seen, as The Sporting News called it, an ‘exodus’ take place within the organization. This flight from the Bay area was substantial for a team coming off a 2nd-place finish during the 1976 season (2.5 games behind A.L. West winners, the Kansas City Royals): seven players left as free-agents during the offseason- and that doesn’t include Reggie Jackson or Ken Holtzman, both of whom were traded to Baltimore at the onset of the 1976 season. But it wasn’t the roster turnover the team was about to undergo that led to Stock leaving for less-than greener pastures. It was a chance to go back home.

In this case, “home” was the Pudget Sound area.

The opportunity to go home actually came eight years earlier, when Wes, then a roving minor league pitching instructor for the New York Mets, was offered the position of pitching coach for the second-year Seattle Pilots. The homecoming never materialized, however, as the Pilots were sold to Milwaukee used car salesman Bud Selig, who would move the team to the Midwest just days before the start of the 1970 season.

The move must have been a disappointment for Stock, who was initially hesitant in taking the Pilots job- and only did so after Whitey Herzog convinced him to accept the offer. Nevertheless, Wes stayed in Beertown for three seasons before moving on to the World Champion Oakland Athletics for the 1973 season. While in Oakland, Wes inherited a staff that included Jim Hunter, Vida Blue, the aforementioned Ken Hultzman, John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom and Rollie Fingers. The group was quite a contrast to the collection of ragtag has-beens, never-weres and victims of the numbers-game that Stock would assemble his first season in the Pacific Northwest.

With the Mariners looking to build their foundation on team speed and young pitching, Stock knew the importance of bringing the younger arms along slowly. “The big danger in the early going is the tendency for the younger pitchers to throw too hard,” he said that first spring. Wes knew the temptation for the “greener ones,” as he called them, would be to try to impress he and assistant Mel Stottlemyer- and it was their responsibility to make sure that didn’t happen. An optimist, Stock believed the inexperienced staff only needed an opportunity to develop- even going so far as to invoke the name of a certain rookie sensation from the previous season. Had anyone heard of Mark Fidrych prior to the 1976 season, he asked rhetorically. “It is opportunity that makes stars,” the coach would wax philosophical.

After having time to assess the pitching staff once they reported to spring training, Wes was even more optimistic, being quick to point out how the Mariners pitchers were (physically) the biggest that he had ever seen. Three of the possible starters (Glenn Abbott, Frank MacCormack and Gary Wheeler) stood 6’3” or taller. He also couldn’t stop singing the praises of many of the arms in camp. Even Dodgers scout Charlie Metro came away impressed. “There are some very good arms in this camp,” the late MLB player and manager would tell The Sporting News.

Once the season began the pitching staff was very much like a ship at sea. There would be times when the waters raged, the wind- howling; and then, a calming. Injuries took their toll early in the schedule, as two of the most promising arms (Dick Pole- rib cage; Frank MacCormack- shoulder) spent time on the disabled list. Enrique Romo (their best reliever) pitched well, but was pitching through a hamstring injury. With a thin starting rotation, the bullpen started bearing a heavier load. The team was down to just one lefty- not ideal as they embarked on a trip to Yankee Stadium. By the time the starting rotation was getting healthy and starters were going deeper into the games, the pen began to unravel. The staff, which the organization thought would be a strength, did not live up to expectations. Nor would it in the coming years.

Lauded by many inside (and outside) the organization for having as talented a group of pitchers of any American League team, Seattle constantly found itself at or near the bottom of the league in just about every pitching category. And not just during its expansion season; it would plague the team throughout Stock’s tenure.

Wes’ final season as Seattle’s pitching coach came in 1981, the “Split-Season,” and would present yet more difficulties. The team entered the season with the second youngest rotation in baseball, with the average age of the five starters at just 24 years and 7 months old. As far as major-league experience, they were pretty green, as well, with an average of just 1 year, 111 days of service-time.

Working with the youngest staff he had ever coached, Stock called the experience “a challenge.” “You have to do a lot more teaching and you have to be patient with them. You tell them every time they do something wrong, but it is not because you are finding fault. You know they don’t have the experience and aren’t going to be perfect. But you push them to make them feel more confident. You do it because you want them to get better.”

That Maury Wills returned as manager in ’81, having taken over the job after the team fired Darrell Johnson on August 3, 1980, only exacerbated the situation. Though Wills would get canned in May, working under the inept manager became what Stock would refer to as a “chore.” The joy of the game would return under Wills’ replacement, Rene Lachemann.

Just over one month in to Lachemann’s captaincy, the player’s union staged the first mid-season strike in the history of major league baseball. While it would be one of the darkest periods in the history of the sport, the time off afforded Wes something he had not had much of previously: time to spend with his family. It also gave him a taste of the retirement from the game he would soon enjoy, however briefly. At the end of the season, the Washington native would announce his retirement.

“Everybody tells me I’ll never be able to walk away from [the game],” Stock told Tracy Ringolsby of his decision. “But I’m looking forward to the challenge.” With a job lined up in the construction business, Wes still spoke of his desire to remain connected to the game by attending games at the concrete mausoleum known as the Kingdom. And, should his new employer permit it, to work in some part-time capacity as a pitching instructor.

Stock’s return to the game saw him in the broadcast booth for select games during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, providing color commentary alongside Rick Rizzs and Dave Niehaus for KSTW, the independent television station that broadcasted Mariners and Sonics games. Following his brief career in broadcasting, Wes returned to Oakland, where he would serve as pitching coach from 1984-1986. After the arrival of Tony LaRussa in 1986, Wes found himself back in the minor leagues for the next eight seasons, retiring from the game for good following the 1994 season.

Right in the Nuts

Scan 97

I saw a meme on Facebook recently that reminded me of the inscription a girl wrote in my senior-year high school yearbook. “Don’t forget me!” she implored. The only thing is, there wasn’t really anything to remember her by. My only recollection of her was that night some friends and I left a dance and she ended up catching a ride with us- and her having to sit on my lap due to the car being packed. Nothing happened, so there wasn’t *that* to remember her by. She was just a sophomore who happened to be a cheerleader. Hell, she wasn’t even a friend of any of the guys I was with that night. This was late 1986 or early 1987, only two years after The Breakfast Club’s release- so maybe that yearbook thing was a common inscription for her to use. Anyway, years later (many years, in fact), she requested my friendship on Facebook. Okay, that’s not so odd. What was odd, however, was that about a week later my mom asked me about this girl woman. Come to find out she requested friendship from my mother, who didn’t know her from Eve. I certainly won’t forget her now.

That request (don’t forget me) comes from an innate human desire to remember and to be remembered after we’ve passed on from this world. We memorialize those we love and respect (and sometimes do these things for ourselves) through slabs of granite or some other material. Headstones, statues, monuments recognizing those who perished in a terrorist attack- even little pieces of cardboard to remember our heroes.

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As a collector, I find myself drawn to the “all-time roster”-type of a collection, in which I try to have at least one card of every player to have worn my team’s uniform. While it’s easy to remember the Ken Griffey’s of the world, it’s far more difficult to remember the Chris Herrmann’s of the world. But preserve their name (and image) on cardboard and you have something to remember them by. Only don’t allow fire or flood near your collection.

Being a roster-project collector, I was torn on purchasing today’s card. After all, buying a Topps Now card will set you back, at the minimum, at least $5- give or take a few cents. And a common like Chris Herrmann is the last thing I want to spend five bucks on. It’s just that I don’t know if he’ll even be on the roster next year, let alone appear in the upcoming Topps Update set. Leaving nothing to chance, I hit the “buy it now” button on eBay.

I don’t regret it. The day I receive the card is also the day Topps releases its checklist for Update- and no, there is no Chris Herrmann card anywhere to be found. Score one for the all-time roster project.

Now is the perfect medium for the card of the common man. After all, it’s not just a face and a name I want; it helps to remember someone, by having something to remember them by. In this case, an event. So instead of having a flagship card of some guy who has two ‘r’s and two ‘n’s in his name, I now have a card of a guy who kicked the A’s right in the nuts. Not only did Chris’ pinch-hit homer beat Oakland (the team who overtook the Mariners for the final playoff spot), but it gave the Astros the division title. The A’s were left to a one-game play-in game (“wild card.” Playoffs, my ass) against New York and lost.

If only Topps had played it’s cards right, we might have had another worthwhile Now card of Herrmann…

In one single at-bat against Texas on August 7th, Chris tried his hardest to neuter everyone except the opponent.

With the count 1-2 in the top of the ninth, Herrmann smoked a foul ball that hit Cameron Maybin (who was in the on-deck circle) right in the nuts. Or hips. Or thigh. Where ever it hit, it was too close for comfort for the lanky outfielder, who could only smile (a pretty good indication that the liner didn’t strike him in the jewels). Then, on the very next pitch, Herrmann fouled off another pitch- this one bouncing off of home plate and hitting home plate umpire Adam Hamari not in the ball bag, but in the ballsack.

Apparently satisfied, Chris drove the next pitch to left field and pulled up to second base with what Grant Brisbane of SBNation called his “second two-bagger of the the at-bat.”

Now that’s truly a moment to remember.