Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ivan Rodriguez: The Early Years

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez just retired as one of the most decorated catchers in MLB history. Pudge was just a 165-pounder, according to this 1991 Classic Best card showing IRod as a Tulsa Driller. It's a pleasant card, showing an earnest catcher lifting his mask to the heavens. He spent 21 years in the Bigs with the Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, Nationals, Marlins and Astros. Great defense. Great arm. 2,844 hits. 311 home runs. 1,332 runs and 1,354 runs scored. First ballot HoFer in five years.

Ozzie Guillen: Before the Mouth Roared

They're so cute when they're young, arent't they? And consider that Ozzie already had five years in the Bigs and a few years in the minors by the time he was photographed for this 1990 Fleer card. Most baseball fans know Ozzie as persona non-grata in Little Havana in Miami, but he actually played 16 years accumulating 1,764 hits, including 275 doubles, for the White Sox, Orioles, Braves and former Devil Rays. After he was publicly lashed for his Castro quips in Time Magazine, the Marlins manager will likely stay away from geo-political commentary. For a while, anyway.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Marvin Miller: This Man Deserved His Own Baseball Card

If there was a guy who deserved to have his own baseball card it was Marvin Miller. Let's see. What's the best way to describe Mr. Miller's role in baseball lore? Well, the back of Marv's 1991 Big League Cards card states, "One of Marvin's favorite activities was negotiating the baseball owners out of their stuffed shirts." And that, my friends, pretty much sums up Marvelous Marv's place in history. As the players union chief from 1966-1982, Miller negotiated labor deals that increased a player's annual average salary from $19,000 to $241,000. Oh, by the way, he also ushered in the era of free agency. Hard to believe, Marv's nickname is "Lefty," the back of his card said, noting his hobbies are "rational discussion" and "fighting injustice."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Josh Hamilton: When His Arms Were a Blank Canvas

ESPN's national game tonight is the Rangers-Rays tilt, and the strongest link between the two clubs is this fella -- Josh Hamilton. Curious about what Hamilton's arms looked like before they became ink murals? Check out this 2002 Upper Deck card of Hamilton, picked by Tampa Bay as the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft. 2001 was a tough year for Hamilton, who suffered injuries and drug/alcohol addiction before the Rays ultimately let him loose. The Cubs, picking for the Reds, plucked Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft and Hamilton appeared in the Bigs for the first time in 2007 with the Reds. The Reds traded Hamilton to the Rangers and the rest is history. He led the AL in RBI with 130 in 2008, led the AL in hitting with a .359 average in 2010 and was the league's MVP in 2010, too. But it all began with the Rays and those unadorned arms seen in this card when he played for the Orlando Rays in 2001.

Barry Bonds: The True Mr. Irrelevant

Check out this 1994 Pinnacle card and it's pretty obvious that Stevie Wonder would do a helluva job playing Barry Bonds in a Bonds bio movie. Forget about Bonds' steroid use and lies. The ultimate punishment is the fact that nobody talks about Barry Bonds' 762 home runs. Everyone knows Aaron's 755 and Ruth's 714, yet Bonds' 762 has been tainted not so much unjust but irrelevant. That lack of respect and relevance is the biggest punishment of all for Bonds. But at least he made the crazybaseballcards blog!

Alejandro Pena: Doing Tricks With Baseballs

It seemed like the card companies had a lot of fun photographing pitchers doing tricks with baseballs in the past 20 years. Remember the David Cone split-fingered baseball card on this blog? Here we have Alejandro Pena in a 1993 Topps Stadium Club card balancing a baseball on his middle finger, kind of the equivalent of hoops players spinning a basketball on their pointer finger. Pena had a very respectable 15-year career, finishing with a 56-52 record with a 3.11 ERA, including a National League-leading 2.48 in 1984. He played for the Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, Marlins and I suppose is doing baseball-balancing acts in retirement.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Moises Alou: Nice Stats, Plus A Tango With Bartman

Baseball is an amazing sport because despite the marathon nature of a season and the thousands of at bats accumulated by a player, he can be remembered for a snapshot moment. Moises Alou compiled sterling numbers during his 17-year career: 332 home runs, 1,287 RBI, 2,134 hits, 421 doubles and a lifetime .303 batting average.

But the snapshot of Alou in my mind was his mini-tantrum following the infamous Bartman ball during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS between Alou's Cubbies and the Marlins. You recall Alou reached into the stands for a foul ball but came up empty because of ol' Bartman. After the game I thought to myself, what if Alou told the pitchfork-carrying masses not to blame Bartman, perhaps that guy with the earphones would have been able to lead a more normal life.

Nah, I don't think Alou rolls that way. He rolls with a towel on his head in this 1996 Donruss card.

Lowell Palmer: Created The Tom Cruise Sunglass Look

Lowell, dude, what is up with the shades in your 1970 Topps card? And, if you're going to be in the Bigs, what is up with a first name like, "Lowell?" Didn't someone in the minors give you a nickname like "Blue Jupiter" Palmer or "Salmon" Palmer. I checked your stats. Five years in the Majors, a 5-18 career record and a 5.67 career ERA. OK Lowell, now I understand why you wanted to wear dark sunglasses as to not be recognized (though showing up in a Phillies uni for your Topps card kinda gave you away.)

Craig Counsell: Will The Real Craig Counsell Please Stand Up

You're a lucky guy, Craig Counsell. The 2002 Topps set included not one but two Craig Counsells. OK, the Counsell on the left is actually a guy by the name of  Greg Colbrunn and the real Counsell is the guy on the right. I suppose it might be easy to mix them up because not only are the first two letters of their last names the same, both completed rather lengthy tenures in the Majors given their skill set. Counsell, the scrappy utility infielder who scored the winning run for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, batted a career .255 during a 16-year career that included stops with the Rockies, Marlins, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Brewers. Colbrunn, also a utility guy who played first base, played 13 years in the Bigs, batting a career .289. His best year was with the Marlins in 1995, when hit cracked 23 homers and drove in 89. Like Counsell, Colbrunn played for the Marlins, Rockies and Diamondbacks. He also sported the unis of the Expos, Twins, Braves and Mariners. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rich Allen: One Photo Was Good Enough For Two Cards

Hmm, something look fishy here? The 1970 Topps card of former slugger Rich Allen as a Cardinal has an uncanny similarity to the 1972 Topps card of Rich Allen as a White Sox player. I always enjoyed watching Rich Allen or Dick Allen or Richie Alen or whatever name he chose to use. He swung a stunningly-heavy bat and smacked 351 home runs during a 15-year career. As a 22-year-old with the Phillies in 1964, he led the National League in runs scored with 125. And he led the American League in home runs in 1972 and '74. He played for the Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, White Sox and A's -- but I just thought a slugger of Allen's caliber deserved a fresh photo for his 1972 Topps card.

Carlos Delgado: He Swings A Mighty Super Soaker

Carlos Delgado belted 473 home runs during a 17-year career, but I spent half a night trying to find this beauty of a baseball card. It was victory when I found this 1998 Pinnacle card of Delgado in a shoe box stuffed in my closet. He played most of his career with the Blue Jays, ending it with the Marlins and Mets. But I'll always remember Carlos for deploying this super-soaker during the 1997 season with the Blue Jays.

Mike Kekich/Fritz Peterson: Not Crazy Baseball Cards, Just A Crazy Wife Swap

OK, these 1970 Topps baseball cards don't look crazy. But the wife swap between these two wacky Yankees lefthanders in 1972 sure was. Peterson made out better in The Trade, because he eventually married Kekich's wife, while Kekich eventually broke up with Peterson's wife. Kekich also suffered worse on the field, too, playing nine years in the Bigs with a 39-51 record, while Peterson notched a 20-win season for the Yanks in 1970 and finished 133-131 over a 11-year career. I understand Red Sox fans Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are planning a movie, "The Trade," based on the Kekich-Peterson wife swap, so I guess the New York-Boston rivalry even extends to the world of cinema.

Rollie Fingers: Pre-'stache

A local free daily paper called the *tbt in the Tampa Bay area had an item on Rollie Fingers in today's sports section and it mentioned that Fingers grew his famous handlebar mustache to start the 1972 Oakland A's season because he was paid $300 by then-A's owner Charlie Finley to grow the upper-lip hair. "That's the only reason I grew it, 300 bucks out of Charlie." With that quote in mind, I just had to post a pre-'stache baseball card of Fingers. Here's Rollie in his Topps 1970 card. Besides sporting a helluva mustache, Fingers was also known as a pretty darn good reliever, earning a Hall of Fame induction in 1992 and piling up 341 saves during a 17-year career that ended after the 1985 season. After his Oakland days, Roland Glen Fingers pitched for the Padres and the Brewers.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bill Buckner: Even His Baseball Card Gives Him The Business

How cruel can you get? The guys who make baseball cards usually come up with somethng nice to say on the back of cards -- even unearthing some trivial stat from a player's high school days to make the player look good.

But check out the back of this 1988 Score card of Bill Buckner, one helluva player who gets the business from Score on his baseball card.

The dude racked up 2,715 hits, drove in 1,208 runs, belted nearly 500 doubles and scored 1,077 runs during a 22-year career but Score actually referred to the infamous ground ball that went through Bill's legs in the 1986 World Series Game 6.

"Bill, who was haunted in Boston by the grounder that went through his legs to lose Game 6 of the '86 World Series,  . . . "

Score, that's cold. Downright cold.

Roberto Alomar: Wore a Devil Rays Jersey Only For This Card

The Rays are a hot commodity these days but before the Rays made the playoffs in three of the past four years, the team that played in St. Petersburg, Fla. was a doormat. Back in 2005, Roberto Alomar was photographed by Topps for this baseball card but Alomar knew better.

He quit while he was ahead and never played a regular-season game for the team known as the Devil Rays back in 2005.

Alomar made the Hall of Fame last year and is considered one of the best second basemen of all time. He started with the Padres, was all-world with the Blue Jays, Orioles and Indians before he became a .260 hitter with the Mets. He played out his career with the White Sox and the Diamondbacks.

But that Devil Rays uniform on Alomar? It only made the face of this 2005 Topps card.

Jeff Brantley: Baseball as Crystal Ball

I have a special place in my heart for players who do weird stuff with baseballs for their cards. Some pitchers show you the split-fingered fastball grip in their cards and Jeff Brantley, in this 1996 Donruss card, is using the baseball as a crystal ball. Brantley played 14 years in the Bigs, highlighted by leading the National League in saves with 44 for the Reds in 1996 and being named as an All-Star in 1990 when he was with the Giants and had a glittery 1.56 ERA that season. he also played for the Cardinals, Phillies and Rangers by the time he called it quits in 2001. "The Cowboy" was a member of that famed Mississippi State team that included the likes of Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen and was a Baseball Tonight broadcaster with ESPN from 2002-06 before joining the Reds radio booth in 2007.

Jeffrey Hammonds: A Card Within A Card

It always a treat when a player shows you his baseball card in his own baseball card. Jeffrey Hammonds did just that in this 2003 Fleer Ultra. Hammonds was one of those average, forgettable outfielders who banged out 110 home runs during a 15-year career that included a 21-homer year for the Orioles in 1997 and a 20-homer year for the Rockies in 2000. By the tiome his career ended with the Nats in 2005, he was 34 years old and had played for the Orioles, Reds, Rockies, Twins, Giants and Nationals. He was your number six hitter in a line-up and for me he'll always be remembered as the guy who held his own baseball card with a blue Sharpie in the other hand.

Dave Stewart: He Had a Helluva 4-Year Run

Dave Stewart had an amazing four-year run from 1987-1990 for the Oakland A's when he won 20, 21, 21 and 22 ganes for those powerful A's clubs that went to three straight World Serieses. No wonder he was in such a good mood back then, goofing around as a photographer for this 1991 Upper Deck card. He was at the pinnacle of his career, which would last only until 1995. Besides playing for the A's, Stewart had stints with the Dodgers, Rangers, Phillies and Blue Jays. But he will alwsys be remembered for those four straight 20-win years with those Bash Brothers A's clubs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ken Griffey: Superstar Who Hung Out With Bugs and Friends

Most fans thought Ken Griffey, Jr. would break Hank Aaron's home run record. Griffey did finish with 630 homers over the course of a superstar career. Griffey's middle name was "5 Tool" and he was the most naturally gifted player of his generation, which includes playing for the Mariners, Reds and White Sox. Besides his long-ball prowess and sprawling catches in center field, Griffey -- in my warped mind -- will also be remembered for these 1992 Upper Deck cards. He was a superstar at the height of his popularity and allowed himself to be pictured with the likes of Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam. Well played, junior,


Walt "No Neck" Williams: A Natural-born Nickname

Walt "No Neck" Williams has a nickname that is truly accurate. No hyperbole here. But don't get caught up with the No Neck monitor to the extent that you overlook his baseball accomplishments.

No Neck compiled a lifetime .270 average during a career that include a very ultra-short stint with the Houston Colt .45s, and longer stays with the White Sox, Indians and Yankees. He batted lead-off for the White Sox and batted. .304 for them in 1969.

My pal Larry Lebowitz is looking at this post and saying, "Yup, that dude truly had no neck."

Some nicknames just roll off the tongue when you see the baseball card. No Neck is one of those.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Omar Vizquel: The Slick-fielding Shortstop Who Enjoyed Taking Home Movies, Too

Omar Vizquel has played 23 seasons in the Majors and is bidding this spring training to play a 24th with the Blue Jays. He was the premier fielding shortstop in the Big Leagues during his prime and has piled p 2,841 hits -- the stuff that could lead to a Hall of Fame entry. He started with the Mariners, was most well-known for days with the Indians and also played for the Giants, Rangers and White Sox.

But I bet you didn't know that Omar loved taking home movies. Just look at his 1993 Upper Deck card.

Tyler Houston: A Catcher Who Enjoyed Showing The Splitter

Tyler Houston played for six teams from 1996 to 2003, donning the unis of the Braves, Cubs, Indians, Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies. He was the second overall selection in the 1989 MLB June draft and ended up playing 700 games, hitting 63 home runs and finishing with a .265 batting average.

In this 1991 Classic Games card showing catcher Houston, it seems like he's enjoying displaying the splitter pitch.

DeShawn Warren: Next Time, Ask For An Action Shot

DeShawn Warren was drafted by the Angels in the second round of the 1992 MLB amateur draft. Unfortunately, he never made the Bigs, never making it past Class A.

That's too bad, because he was was featured on the 1995 Upper Deck Angels Top Prospect card. Maybe it was the sunglasses?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Steve Lyons: Living Up To His Nickname, Psycho

On a Monday night at Tiger Stadium in 1990, Steve Lyons beat out a bunt by diving into first base, then proceeded to drop his baseball pants to clean dirt from shirttail. Stunts like that earned Steve the nickname "Psycho." He played for the Red Sox during three different stints, plus donned the uniform of the White Sox, Braves and Expos from 1985 to 1993.

Steve later became a broadcaster, but was fired from several gigs for his offensive ethnic and religious quips. He was given diversity training when broadcasting with the Dodgers.

In this 1989 Fleer card, Steve wears a batting glove next to his heart with the nickname Psycho scrawled near the wrist. Just in case you forgot.

Mike Benjamin: At Least He Enjoyed His Baseball Cards

When the cliche creators came up with "weak-hitting shortstop" they had Mike Benjamin in mind. Mike played 13 seasons in the Majors, mostly with the Giants from 1989 to 2002. He also played Phillies, Red Sox and Pirates. He's an assistant coach at Arizona State.

Mike finished with a lifetime .229 average, which is perhaps why he looked forward to his having fun in his baseball cards, such as his 1991 Upper Deck card where he appears to be signing a baseball from someone who is handing him a baseball from behind the protective net behind home plate and the 1992 Upper Deck card where he's wearing an all-time New York Giants uni complete with era baseball glove.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Brady Anderson: Before He Built Muscles

Brady Anderson broke in with the Red Sox in 1988, played for the Orioles and ended his career with the Indians in 2002.

Brady was known for his buff physique and hitting a remarkable 50 home runs with the Orioles in 1996.

When you consider Brady's scrawny look in this 1991 Donruss card, it's hard to believe he actually hit 50 homers five years later let alone lift the six bats pictured in the card. It was the Steroid Era, after all.

Mickey Hatcher: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Glove

"Fun-loving" should be Mickey Hatcher's middle name. He broke into the Bigs with the Dodgers in 1979 and ended his career also with the Dodgers in 1990, with a six-year stint with the Twins.

Mickey had an incredible World Series in 1988 when he filled in for an injured Kirk Gibson, helping the Dodgers win the 1988 title. He's currently the Angels batting coach.

Mickey's sense of humor is on display in this 1991 Upper Deck card, as the "Big Glove" enjoyed some serious exposure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Julio Franco -- Slow Dancing With His Bat

Julio Franco played a stunning number of seasons, starting with the Indians in 1982 and ending with the Braves in 2007 at the ripe old age of 49. He was a three-time All-Star and won the American League batting championship in 1991.

He had a peculiar batting stance, holding the bat behind his left ear. But that batting stance produced 2,586 hits in the Big Leagues, plus hundreds of other hits in professional leagues in Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

Julio loved his bat, as evidenced in this tender portrait in his 1991 Leaf Studio card.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kurt Bevacqua -- Bubble Gum Blowing Champ

Kurt Bevacqua was the definition of utility player, debuting with the Indians in 1971 and culminating his career in 1985 with the Padres while playing for a half-dozen clubs in all. In 1984 with the Padres, Bevacqua had a terrific World Series against the Tigers, though Detroit would win the championship.

But one title that Bevacqua did win was the 1975 Bubble Gum Blowing Championship, which was documented in this 1976 Topps card.

I love the back of the card, which shows the single-elimination chart. His lifetime average was a mere .236, but man could he blow a bubble.

Ed Kranepool -- The Diamond Was His Feast

Ed Kranepool played 18 seasons for the Mets from 1962 (when he appeared as a 17-year-old) to 1979 and was the Mets' representative to the All-Star Game in 1965. He played on the Miracle Mets World Series team of 1969 after enduring some of the worst teams in MLB history in the early 1960s.

This 1999 Fleer card captures the smile of The Krane, who sported the same happy look when I saw him speak at a Temple Beth El's Sunday men's breakfast in Spring Valley, NY a few years after his retirement.

Friday, March 9, 2012

David Ortiz -- Foreshadowing The Exhuberance

Before the Big Papi legend was born in Boston, David Ortiz was known as David Arias when signed by the Mariners in 1992 and wanted to be known as David Ortiz when he was traded to the Twins. He played for the Twins from 1997-02.

Ortiz signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in early 2003 and was a major reason why the Sox won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. Ortiz also hit 54 home runs in 2006 and has 378 homers entering this season.

The facial expression by Big Papi in this 1999 Upper Deck MVP card offers a glimpse at the colorful personality that would shine for the Red Sox in future years.

Rob Dibble -- OK, I'm A Nasty Boy

Rob Dibble went to a small college called Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., and went on to become a hard-throwing reliever for the Reds from 1988-1993 and then pitched for the White Sox, Blue Jays and Brewers in 1995.

Rob was a two-time All-Star for the Reds and was a member of the 1990 Reds World Series champion team that featured him as a "Nasty Boy" in the bullpen.

Known for his fire and temper, Rob was a baseball analyst for ESPN and FOX and later was fired as the Nationals' TV broadcaster in 2010 for his comments regarding Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

This 1992 Leaf Studio card captures Rob's personality quite well, don't you think?

Roger Bailey -- A Mommy's Boy

There's not much to say about Roger Bailey except that the Florida State alum pitched in his first MLB game with the Rockies in April 1995 and appeared in his last MLB game with the Rockies in September 1997.

But Roger will always have a place in my baseball card humor heart with this 1995 Upper Deck top prospect card showing Roger aiming a device on the front and on the back showing a pic with a baseball with the timeless message, "Hi Mom Send $."

Alex Ochoa -- I'm A Balance Beam Expert

Starting in 1995, Alex Ochoa played for the Mets, Twins, Brewers, Reds, Rockies and Angels amd even enjoyed a stint in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons from 2003-06. Alex is the proud owner of a World Series ring with the Angels in 2002.

Three months ago, Alex was named by Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine as the Red Sox first base coach, so I can only assume Alex is instructing the likes of Josh Beckett, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia on spring training drills such as the one he is engaged with in this 1997 Upper Deck Collector's Choice card.

David Cone -- So You Want To Know How To Throw A Splitter

David Come is one of the most fascinating pitchers in modern times.

Cone was a five-time World Series champ and also was a five-time All-Star during his 17-year career, which lasted from 1986-2003. He won 20 games for the Mets in 1988 and 20 games for the Yankees in 1998, setting a MLB record for longest period between 20-game seasons. He also pitched a perfect game in 1999 and won the AL Cy Young in 1994.

He was 194-126 and pitched for the Royals, Mets, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox and went to become a TV baseball broadcaster in New York.

He's a bright guy and obviously wanted to show aspiring pitchers how to throw the splitter in this 2001 Fleer Platinum card.

Tim Flannery -- Hanging 10 With His Pal

The 1988 Fleer set includes some wonderful gems.

Like this beauty of scrappy infielder Tim Flannery, who played 11 seasons with the Padres and retired in 1989, He's currently the Giants' third base coach.

I love this card because not only Tim is hanging with his favorite surfboard, there's also a touch of a smirk in a pleasant smile to reveal the humor in this Fleer card.

Brett Butler -- "Order Me A Pizza, and Address Is Dodger Stadium"

Brett Butler (not the female comedian in "Grace Under Fire") was a fast centerfielder who batted leadoff for the Braves, Indians, Giants, Dodgers, Blue Jays and Mets while collecting 2,375 hits and scoring 1,359 runs over a 17-year career that ended in 1997.

You can figure out Brett's era from his pre-21st century phone technology in this 1997 Donruss card.

Sammy Stewart -- Here's To You, Babe

The 1988 Fleer set was spice with some funny cards that evoke a smile.

Like this one of Sammy Stewart, a former Orioles, Red Sox and Indians reliever.

Unfortunately, life after the Big Leagues has not been very kind to Sammy.

According to Wikipedia, "in October 2006, Stewart began serving an eight-year sentence in a North Carolina prison on a felony drug charge, having been convicted as an "habitual felon". He has been charged 46 times with more than 60 offenses since 1988, and has spent 25 months in prison over six separate stints.

Sad ending to a career highlighted by winning the ERA title in 1981 with the Orioles, being a member of the 1983 World Series-winning Orioles club and having a sense of humor to pose for the Fleer photographers in 1989.

Oscar Azocar -- Sleeping With The Bat

Oscar Azocar was pictured getting kind of snuggly with his favorite baseball bat, Freda.

In this 1993 Topps Stadium Club beauty, it's obvious Oscar and Freda have something very special.