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.

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Scrap Iron

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Game One of the NLCS is airing on FS1- but I’m not watching. It’s Friday night, which in our house means movie night. At some point during the movie I sneak a peak at Twitter, to get an update on the game, and I see something about catcher’s interference. I then check my email and see something in my inbox from my work email address: Stinson, reads the subject line. It contains a few ideas for something I haven’t done in a few months: post something on the blog.

Taken with the 13th overall pick in the January phase of the 1966 amateur draft (and drafted ahead of Tom Seaver, who was taken 20th overall), Bob Stinson was assigned to rookie ball in Ogden, Utah to begin his professional career. It was there in the Pioneer League where he earned the nickname Scrap Iron after running into an outfield wall while pursuing a fly ball. The incident left him with a broken jaw, but it wouldn’t prevent him from playing. Released from the hospital the next day, Stinson arrived at the ballpark that night and went 3-4 with a home run and two doubles.

The steadfastness Bob exhibited in not being deterred by a broken jaw would later be a source of frustration for one of the worlds’s most well-known baseball card collectors, Keith Olbermann. The polarizing commentator, who wrote the player bios on the back of the 1976 SSPC cards, has been attempting to complete a set with each card signed by its subject. The only player he has not- cannot- get to sign is Stinson, who refuses to sign his cards from the unlicensed set. Bob’s not trying to be difficult, its just that he is a man of principles and doesn’t think that its right that the major league players association never received any money from the set.

My favorite card of Stinson comes from the 1980 Topps set. Appearing on card #583, Bob is shown in his catcher’s gear, glove tucked under his right arm while he’s holding his mask with his right hand. Also of note is a facsimile of the autograph so desired by Olbermann. As great as the front of the card is, it’s the back of the card that is particularly interesting. Like many Topps cards from the era, a cartoon is featured on the back of Bob’s card, with an interesting fact: in 1978, he set what at the time was the American League record for number of times reaching base in a season due to catcher interference, with 6. Not noted on the card is the fact that Stinson was also awarded first base due to CI twice in one game (something that only four other men in the past 50 years can boast). Had Bob been credited with an at-bat for the six times he was awarded first base (CI only counts as a plate appearance), his OBP would have been ten points higher than it was for the season.

Card Porn

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The name. The trident. A bad airbrush job. That look that penetrates the soul. The mustache. It’s a sexy card, no doubt.

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The recent release of 2018 Stadium Club baseball brought with it a lot of discussion on Twitter- some of which seemed to be centered on the question of why can’t every release feature the great kind of photo selections as those used in TSC. Topps has gotten lazy, the thinking goes. Collectors have gotten tired of action photos and want to spice things up with a little variety.

I get it. The photos found in flagship tend to get a little stale and Stadium Club photos tend to be… sexy. And collector’s love sexy.

But have products like Stadium Club become porn for the collector?

Experts almost universally agree that pornography affects (among many things) the way men view women, how it distorts our idea of beauty. We begin to set our standards so high that our expectations become unrealistic. We forget that that women on those pages are the product of (formerly, airbrushing) photoshop; enhanced for our pleasure.

Look, I like variety in the photos found on my cardboard but the last thing I want to see is Topps flagship to become Stadium Club. Would I like to see more variety? Absolutely. But traditionally the set has been more the evening newspaper than Playboy.

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I started an Instagram account a few months back, thinking I would use it to post content that wasn’t put up on the blog. So I started to follow some card-related accounts and soon discovered that Instagram is porn for collectors. It seemed like every account I was following was showing me their hits and made my modest little collection look rather boring.

It also made me realize I’m glad that Dick Pole pitched in the 70s and not today.

Lemmy Tell ya: He’s the Ace of Spades

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“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man, you win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me. The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say, I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is the ace of spades.” Motorhead’s Ace of Spades

Ten years before the U.S. Playing Card Company release its 1990 Major League All-Stars boxed set, Motörhead, one of the most influential rock bands to come out of England, released its fourth studio album. The record, titled Ace of Spades, featured a title track that would become the band’s signature tune. Using poker as a metaphor and a long list of cliches for the lyrics, the tune perfectly summarized frontman Lemmy Kilmister’s penchant for fast living.

Randy Johnson, the man they called the Big Unit, didn’t have that insatiable thirst for self-destruction (at least not to my knowledge), but while on the mound he did exude, note-for-note and beat-for-beat, the band’s music. Johnson was the perfect embodiment of Motorhead’s intensity, ferocity, anger, power and speed. If Lemmy’s pitch for life was marked by recklessness, Randy Johnson’s pitching was marked by wildness- or at least early on in his career.

Still a very raw talent when the Montreal Expos traded him to the Pacific Northwest, the 6’10” lefty wasn’t even the centerpiece of the May, 1989 trade that sent Mariners’ All-Star ace Mark Langston north of the border. While Johnson had the highest ceiling of the return, the two other prospects acquired, Brian Holman and Gene Harris, were considered the safer prospects. If Johnson hadn’t been so wild and erratic early in his career, perhaps the Expos would not have traded the lefty.

The trade was a gamble for 32 year-old Expos GM Dave Dombrowski, whose first three seasons as Montreal GM saw him make 23 trades involving 62 players. Sure, he was sending away talent, but the risk Dombrowski faced was acquiring a pitcher who was going to be a free-agent at the end of the ‘89 season- and Montreal was not exactly a popular destination for free-agents. But he really had no choice. The team was in fourth place and number 4 starter Pascual Perez started the season 0-7 after spending most of the spring in drug rehab.

“No free-agent will come here. Almost every no-trade provision includes Montreal. That puts us in a big competitive disadvantage.” Expos manager Buck Rodgers, in the July 31, 1989 issue of Sports Illustrated

Langston lived up to the Ace billing- accumulating a 4.9 WAR while going 12-9 in 24 games, with a 2.39 ERA. The lefty registered 6 complete games, 4 shutouts and 175 strikeouts in 176.2 innings. However, after sitting at 17 games over .500 on July 31st, the team would go into a tailspin and finish the season at 81-81 (they had also been at .500 at the time of the trade)- good for 4th in the NL East.

Dombroski’s gamble didn’t pay off in the long run, as Mark signed with the Angels in the offseason. The gamble did payoff for the Mariners, though. It took a few years, but Randy Johnson became the ace that the team lost when it traded Langston.

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A Brick in the Wall

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I wanted very badly to name this post Another Brick in the Wall, but to do so would be disingenuous; this is the only card of Brick Smith that I own. It also happens to be his only major league card and, thus, the only Brick in my “Wall of Mariners.”

Changing the format of the blog from featuring trades and purchases (Maildays!!) to anecdotal pieces about the players to have donned the Seattle uniform has been difficult with players like Smith. The former first baseman’s MLB career consisted of just 20 plate appearances over 2 seasons (’86, ’87) and there wasn’t anything of significance to report. So in cases like this, I rely on just plain dumb luck. And I’m feeling pretty lucky about now.

Knowing there wasn’t a lot out there about Smith, I resorted to checking out his Wikipedia page, where I came across this:

Could it be? An educational reference for something I so desperately wanted to tie in with the Pink Floyd classic! Is this some type of protest (one that falls short of a choir of school children singing, ‘we don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control”)?

The link referenced in the 7th grader’s attempt at… oh, how I wish I could say it was dark sarcasm… complaining about the difficulty of the class was, in fact, a dead link. However, I eventually found a Providence School and lo-and-behold, there was a reference to a Brick Smith, assistant baseball coach for 20+ years. No mentioning of him as a teacher.

Unfortunately, Brick’s card didn’t scan so well. But then it dawned on me that even this misfortunate event played into the whole Another Brick in the Wall theme. If you’ve ever seen The Wall, then you remember the scene featuring the protest song, and the faceless masks worn by the children…and this scan fits perfectly with that. It’s like a card of a faceless player.


Roger Waters drew lyrical inspiration from his experience in the Cambridge schools he attended as a youth and created Pink Floyd’s iconic Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2. Instead of inspiring kids, Waters found the educational system there to be oppressive. “The same who are susceptible to bullying from other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers,” the former Floyd leader is quoted as saying.

Arbitration

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Sometimes I wonder if I don’t need an arbiter to settle the disputes taking place inside this collector’s head.

Now before you implore me to see my doctor and get back on my meds, I want to assure you there’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing that a doctor can cure, anyway.

Like many in the hobby, I struggle to decide which (team) sets are worth adding to my collection. There are just too many products over the past 30 years to even think about trying to collect them all- and yet I have found myself investing time, money and space while trying to keep up with the Jones’ on way more sets than I should (most of which I don’t even like). But the time has come to draw a line in the sand and settle these disputes once and for all- and I’ve been able to resolve them without any outside help.

Jim Todd, on the other hand, needed a third party after not being able to come to an agreement with the Mariners on his salary following the 1978 season. Todd, coming off his third consecutive poor season, was offered $80,000 for the ’79 season- the same amount he played for in 1978. Convinced he was worth 100,000, he filed for arbitration but was put on waivers and then released before the hearing; Oakland then signed him as a free-agent three weeks after his release.

Jim was even worse in ’79, which turned out to be his worst- and last- season in the majors.

As bad as the Mariners looked during the whole process, they did offer up an excuse: the team was negotiating with the pitcher prior to the arrival of new team president and CEO Dan O’Brien. Once O’Brien arrived in mid-January, the team began to re-evaluate some of its players, according to then-GM Lou Gorman.

Casey at the Plate

I came across this Casey Kotchman card last week while re-organizing my collection and found something (finally!) that inspired me to pick up pen and paper my iPad and begin typing away. And the fact that Sunday marked the 130th anniversary of the first publication of the poem Casey at the Bat is purely coincidental. I wasn’t aware of the publishing date until it was mentioned during the Mariners broadcast Sunday afternoon.

To my knowledge, there has never been any mentioning of the position that Mighty Casey manned while in the field. In my mind’s eye, I envision him as a power-hitting first-baseman. Part of my thinking comes from our English lexicon. “Possessing great and impressive power or strength,” is how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word, mighty. I guess it’s also inferred in the poem itself. The first and third stanzas tell us that the Mudville nine is down 4-2, with Cooney and Barrows registering the first two outs before two more hitters reach base. With two on in scoring position and the game-winning run coming to the plate, there is a confidence that the home team is going to win the game. A three-run dinger, perhaps? The next to last stanza describes Casey’s one and only swing in the AB. “And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.” You don’t use that kind of language to describe a ‘hoodoo’ or a ‘cake,’ folks.

Our Casey (for one forgettable season, anyway)- Casey Kotchman- was anything but mighty at the plate. No, our Casey was more like Flynn and Jimmy Blake, the two weak hitters who preceded the protagonist in Thayer’s comic ballad.

While Kotchman never possessed a great bat, his 2010 season for the Mariners was absolutely terrible. And considering that the team was coming off a 2009 season that featured a putrid offense and then let first baseman Russell Branyan (2.6 WAR for the ’09 team) walk- and then trading for Kotchman to be his replacement, was truly befuddling.

There was hope early in the season, as Kotch was hitting the ball with more authority than he typically did; more fly balls from his bat resulted in three homers in his first 49 plate appearances. It didn’t take long, however, before Casey regressed back to being a ground ball hitter.

By early June, the team recalled Mike Carp from Triple-A Tacoma, hoping to get more offense from the position. After the Carp experiment failed, the team acquired Russell Branyan, their first baseman from the 2009 team, from Cleveland. Casey’s days as a starter seemed to be over*.

Part of Casey’s 2010 offensive woes could be attributed to bad luck- he had just a .229 BABIP, after posting seasons of .305, .272, and .283 before being traded to Seattle. What’s more, his BABIP on line drives was only .507- over 200 points below league average. But his ground ball rate was higher than his career rate (which was already high) and for the season, Casey hit 200 ground balls, 98 fly balls and 63 line drives. His tendency to put the ball on the ground resulted in grounding into 15 double plays.

A few more swing and misses:

  • .616 OPS
  • 73 OPS+
  • -1.7 offensive WAR (that’s a minus 1.7)
  • -0.55 WPA
  • 69 wRC+

Unlike those fans in Mudville, Seattle fans didn’t (or at least *shouldn’t have*) have much expectations for Casey at the plate.

*This wasn’t necessarily true. Kotchman would go on to have a pretty decent 2011 season as Tampa’s first baseman

A Slam Short of the Homer Cycle

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Given that there have been so few 4 home-run games, the odds of hitting for the Home-Run Cycle in a game are pretty slim. In fact, it’s something that has never happened in a major league baseball game, making it perhaps the rarest feat in the game. (Can it be rare if it’s never happened?)

While Ken Griffey Jr. is not one of the 18 players to have homered four times in a game (his replacement, Mike Cameron is one of the 18), he did  hit a solo shot, two-run homer and three-run bomb on this day in 1996. The game took place at the Kingdome and came against the New York Yankees. The Kid would hit his only other three-homer game (all solo shots) the next year  (April 25, 1997) against Toronto.

 

 

1991 Country Hearth Bread Seattle Mariners

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Produced and sponsored by Country Hearth Bread and Langendorf Baking Company, the Country Hearth Bread Mariners team set is a gem from the junk era that suffers in some areas (many dark photos, due to poor indoor lighting; very thin card stock) and a strong checklist to go along with some solid photography on many of the other cards.

Cards in Set: 30 (29 numbered and 1 unnumbered header card), with a reported 20,000 sets produced.

Distribution:

  • Individually inserted into loaves of Country Hearth Bread
  • Stadium Give Away- August 17, 1991

Cards inserted into the loaves of bread had no protection, making them difficult to find in mint condition due to spots caused by moisture .

Cards given away at the Kingdome came 10 to a pack, making set completion difficult.

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Checklist:

  1. Jim Lefebvre
  2. Jeff Schaefer
  3. Harold Reynolds
  4. Greg Briley
  5. Scott Bradley
  6. David Valle
  7. Edgar Martinez
  8. Pete O’Brien
  9. Omar Vizquel
  10. Tino Martinez
  11. Scott Bankhead
  12. Bill Swift
  13. Jay Buhner
  14. Alvin Davis
  15. Ken Griffey Jr.
  16. Tracy Jones
  17. Brent Knackert
  18. Henry Cotto
  19. Ken Griffey Sr.
  20. Keith Comstock
  21. Brian Holman
  22. Russ Swan
  23. Mike Jackson
  24. Erik Hanson
  25. Mike Schooler
  26. Randy Johnson
  27. Rich DeLucia
  28. Ken Griffey Jr. /Ken Griffey Sr.
  29. Mariner Moose
  30. NNO- Team Header

 

Piecing it Together: