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.

Kent Tekulve -- Point To The Glove

Kent Tekulve was a submarining relief pitcher for the Pirates, Phillies and Reds, saved three games in the 1979 World Series for championship-winning Pirates and was a 1980 All-Star. He pitched in relief in 1,050 games.

And he was also one funny dude.

At spring training, he would allow fans to try on his 1979 World Series ring that he won with the Pirates.

And for baseball card photographers, he would point to his baseball glove.

He's currently a TV baseball analyst in Pittsburgh.