Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Zilla, Tots, and Sarge

I completed a Facebook trade a few days ago.  I swapped out a card that someone was looking for, always a good feeling to help, and I picked up a few cards for my trouble.  I ended up with a former Durham Bull, a Cardinal, and an autograph from a nice set from the early 2000s.

First up.



I have not added any of these Topps Fire cards yet this year, but I liked this Snell "Zilla" autograph.  Yes, it's a sticker.  Yes, it's a retail card.  Still a solid card.  Although, I miss when these were metal cards that Topps sold directly to collectors.




I have not picked up too many Bader "Tots" cards yet.  I know that Topps has put him into a lot of different products this year, many of them as an autograph signer.  I am pretty sure that this might be my first of the year.  Since the Cardinals have changed managers, Bader has become a regular player, and seems like someone who is going to stick around for awhile.  




I did not actually trade for this card, but my trade partner included this in their package.  Not an expensive card or anything, but I really like the Archives sets.  The 2001 set was one of the better versions of the product.  Most of Matthews career was before my time, but he was a decent outfielder for the Cubs by the time I started watching baseball.

Very generous throw in.

Monday, September 17, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 46 - Tom Henke

You could argue that Tom Henke's 1995 season was the best performance by a Cardinals pitcher during the entire 1990s decade.  It was Anheuser Busch's last year owning the team, and to their credit, they actually tried to improve the team.  During the offseason they brought in Ken Hill and Danny Jackson, the two pitchers finished first and second in the National League in wins in 1994, along with St. Louis native Scott Cooper to help anchor the lineup.  

Henke was at the end of his career and wanted to play one more season.  The Jefferson City, Missouri native ended signing with the Cardinals so he could be close to home.  His signing would work out well for the Cardinals.  Danny Jackson, Ken Hill, and Scott Cooper would all be disastrous signings of varying degrees.  

Before signing with the Cardinals, Henke was best known as the closer for the Blue Jays from the 1980s through the early 1990s.  He helped the Blue Jays win the 1992 World Series against the Braves.  


Henke also played for the Rangers.  Briefly at the beginning of his career before he was claimed by the Blue Jays, and after the 1992 season when he left the Blue Jays as a free agent.  He had only 15 saves in 1994, due to time spent on the disabled list, but had 40 during the 1993 season.  

First, Henke picked up an important milestone in his career while playing his final season with the Cardinals.  He became the 7th player to reach 300 saves, there are 20 something now, and finished 1995 in 5th place all-time.  



I like that Bobby Cox is sitting in the dugout smiling at him at the end of video.  Cox managed the Blue Jays when Henke first joined the team in the mid 1980s.  No doubt he saw a few of the 300 plus saves.  

Henke finished 1995 with 36 saves, a 1.82 ERA, and was awarded the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.  Pretty hard to do on a team that finished 20 games under .500.  After achieving one of his best seasons as Major Leaguer, Henke still decided to retire at the end of 1995.  He told Post Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel, "I've always admired guys who have gone out at the top of their game.  Sometimes you have to look at what's the most important thing in life.  I'd like to see my kids grow up"  

Let's get to some cards.  All of Henke's cards as a Cardinal are either from 1995 or 1996.  I am going to go my my favorite five cards.  




I love this card.  The head shot with the stadium in the background could be it's own card design, but this is not actually a consistent theme in the 1995 Pinnacle set.  I am not taking time to flip through the entire set, but a quick glance around COMC led me to believe that this is the only card designed like this in the set.  Very nice card.  




I like this 1996 Fleer card showing Henke with the weird arm angle.  Henke was the prototypical back end reliever who is really tall, threw really hard, and tried to blow a lot of batters away with really hard fastballs.  What Henke good though was that he had elements of finesse.  He dropped down side arm and had some nasty breaking pitches including a forkball.  



There are not a lot of Tom Henke cards from sets with nice finishes.  He played for some great Blue Jays teams, but I am not sure that you can really say that there was much that was really high end from that era.  He is in the 1993 Finest set.  This 1995 Flair card is one of his nicer Cardinals cards.  I like the headshot combined with the action shot in the background.  Gives a little different picture of Henke pitching from the Fleer card above. 




Always like the cards with Busch Stadium in the background.  I also like the full picture of Henke's uniform in this picture.  I am pretty sure that Henke and Eckersley, who replaced Henke as the team's closer, were the last two Cardinals players who wore the old style stirrups and socks, and did not wear their uniform baggy.  



Same shoes too.  

Last card.  



I love this card in the 1996 Topps set.  It is up there with the Pinnacle card at the top, more symbolic.  It was Henke's last Topps card, and I would like to think that someone at Topps made this card on purpose.  Kind of fitting to have a picture of Henke going through the line at the end of a game leaving the field as his last baseball card.  


Sunday, September 16, 2018

2018 International League All-Star Set Part 2

Part 1 of the set can be found here

Back half of the set has a little more star power than the first half. 



Good first pair of cards to start out the second half.  Meadows actually finished the year with the Durham Bulls.  He was traded to the Rays as a part of the Chris Archer deal.  Seems like he's at least a good everyday Major League player.  Not counting on him being in Durham next year, it was fun watching him for the last few weeks of the season.  

Mejia is one of the best catching prospects in the game.  Consensus top 20 prospect, with Baseball Prospectus ranking him in their top 5.  He started the year with the Clippers, but the Indians included him in the Brad Hand trade, so he is now with the Padres.  They have called him up to the Majors to finished out 2018.  






Riley is a top 100 prospect.  He spent the majority of 2018 in Triple A with Gwinnett, but he is just 21.  He is a really good defensive player, had a good year with the bat, but could probably use a little bit more polish.  Riley will be back in Triple A next year, at least to start the year, but he is not far away.  



Rainey had a good year with Louisville.  Definitely deserves a place in this set, not sure where he fits on a Major League roster.  He's probably a middle reliever.  Lots of swings and misses in the Minors, not sure if he can replicate that in the Majors.  



Victor Robles is a top 10 prospect no matter what prospecting website you are reading.  He just turned 21 this year, I know he had been up twice with the Nationals and not done much, but be patient.  He gets a lot of extra base hits, doubles and triples, that are going to find there way over fences in a few years as he continues to work and fill out.  

Stolen bases are good too.  Victor steals bases.  


Romero has been up for awhile with the Twins.  Seems like he is going to be an end of the rotation starter.  Pitches to contact, not a lot of strikeouts, but he seems to keep his team in the game.


Tanner Scott only pitched 10 games with Norfolk this year.  Not sure how he got into this set.  The 10 games were really good, he had an ERA of 0.75.  Tanner Scott is now a reliever on the Orioles.  The Orioles have over 100 loses and there are two weeks left in the season.  Tanner's ERA is almost 6.  It's probably not entirely his fault.  




Which brings us to Nick Senzel.  Early this summer I got to see Nick Senzel.  I sat in front of a Reds fan who told me he's the second coming of Scott Rolen for six or seven innings.  I like Nick Senzel, he is a good player, he's not Scott Rolen.  Senzel gets on base, plays good defense, and has some pop.  Less pop than Scott Rolen, less defense than Scott Rolen too.   



Stephens is a nice pitcher.  He's a college pitcher out of Rice, given the White Sox current slate of pitchers, I am not sure why he isn't up already.  Stephens is not a Top 100 prospect, not even sure the White Sox sites rank him in their Top 10.  He eats up innings, he gets some strikeouts, avoids big innings, and keeps his team in games.  I like him better than 50% of the pitchers currently on the White Sox.  


Sheffield is a pretty big prospect.  He's a top 100 guy, Yankees fans will probably tell you he's better than that.  Could be.  He's got good stuff and he misses bats.  At worst he is probably a solid Major League starter.  Hopefully that is good enough for Yankees fans. 


Two players I saw in college.  

D.J. Stewart has a crazy batting stance. 


One of my student's parents once blamed D.J. Stewart for messing up their batting stance.  I think it's a bad left handed version of Jeff Bagwell.  I have my doubts about D.J..  



Christin Stewart does not have a crazy batting stance.  He was one of the better power hitters in the International League this year and think he will be a good Major League player for the Tigers.  Really good plate discipline for a younger player with power.  He is a starting outfielder for a long time. 


Last pair.  

I like Sam Travis.  He hustles, plays hard, and puts up some decent numbers.  That's all I have got.  

Gleyber Torres is really good.  He will be on the Yankees for a very long time and will be a good player.  All-Star games, the whole nine yards.  



That's the set.  Hopefully you are not reading this five years after I posted it because I was horribly wrong about something I said here. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Secret Weapon 2.0

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Cardinals infielder Jose Oquendo was dubbed "The Secret Weapon" by former manager Whitey Herzog.  The Cardinals had an everyday player at every position when Oquendo first made the Cardinals in 1986.  Oquendo was not one of them, but he still managed to play almost every game.  Same with his first full time season in 1987.  He was showing up somewhere, just a question of what position, and when in the game.  

Jose had some big moments on the field too, which helped cement his legacy as more than just a highly versatile utility player.  Sort of a cult hero as a player with Cardinals fans.....




I believe he also once kicked Will Clark in the crotch because he slide into second base late.  

Topps made a set of Oquendo autographs within the Topps Archives set a few years back celebrating the fact that Whitey Herzog played him everywhere.  I do not have all 9 cards yet, but he has a card for every position.  



Truth be told, Oquendo stopped showing up all over the field after the 1988 season when the Cardinals traded Tommy Herr to the Twins.  The last five or six years of his career was spent primarily as a second baseman, or occasionally giving the Ozzie Smith a day off at shortstop.  

This year the Cardinals have a player on the roster who is playing a similar role as Oquendo during the late 80s.  So far this season, Yairo Munoz has played more than 20 games at four different positions.  He has appeared most often as a shortstop, but has also appeared frequently as a second baseman, third baseman, and outfielder.  

There are Cardinals fans that have dubbed him the Secret Weapon 2.0.  I like the nickname, although software references usually are lame.  

While his versatility is similar to Oquendo, he is a much better offensive player.  Munoz has just over 250 at bats on the season which has yielded 8 home runs, 16 doubles, a batting average that has been hovering around .290 all year, an on-base percentage over .350, and .790 OPS.  That OPS is third on the team behind Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez.  

I picked up one Munoz card way back in January after the Cardinals picked up Munoz in the Stephen Piscotty trade with Oakland.  




I have been waiting all year for some Munoz cards with the Cardinals.  He's generally been ignored by Topps, Panini, and Leaf.  Topps made one of those Topps Now cards of him and he also has a card in the Memphis Redbirds set.  That's been it until the last month.  He now has a Heritage High Numbers card and Panini made an autograph of him.  

I went for the autograph.  



It's based on the 1990s Donruss Crusade cards.  Not sure this card does that set justice, but I have seen much worse out of Panini, so I am going to live with what is likely a solid effort out of someone in their design department.  

Back of the card.  



I like that the picture on the back has the Wrigley field bricks as a backdrop.  Made me kind of wonder if the front of the card would have been better off without all of the Crusade monikers, they really did not come that close, and gone with some borderless card with the full photo.  Wrigley in the background of course.  

Maybe next time Panini.  




Friday, September 14, 2018

Simba

I have a pretty complete collection of autographs from great Cardinals players.  Musial, Pujols, Gibson, Brock, Enos Slaughter, I could go on.  There have been 37 players who have appeared for the Cardinals who have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I have an autograph of all the Cardinals Hall of Famers who appeared for the team after 1950.  

Musial and Pujols are easily my favorites.  



Pujols is not yet in the Hall, but that is just a formality.  He's easily a first ballot Hall of Famer and should probably ended up on almost every ballot cast the year he eligible.  I'd say all of them, but you know there is someone who will leave him off for whatever reason.   



Stan is Stan.  No explanation really needed.  

Some of the players on the official list that the Cardinals have on their website are fairly suspect as to their connection with the team.  Picking a recent example, they have Dennis Eckersley on the list.  I agree that Dennis Eckersley belongs in the Hall, but I do not really associate him with the Cardinals.  I still have his autograph.




I do own Cardinals autographs of Eck, but if their Hall of Fame credentials were earned elsewhere then that is the card that I try to track down.  Eckersley was a Red Sox, Indian, and Athletic.  Same can be said of former Cardinals like Steve Carlton and Orlando Cepeda.  Also on the Cardinals official list, far more connection to the team than players like Eckersley.  In fact, I am not even sure that I own an autograph of Carlton in a Cardinals uniform, only the Phillies.  



At least John Smoltz is not on the list.  Yes, he was on the Cardinals for five minutes, or seven starts in 2009.    

I also try to find autographs of the Cardinals players I believe have an argument to be in the Hall of Fame.  Whether they ever make it or not is not my decision, but I also like to pick up their autographs too.  Recently Rolen and Edmonds have both appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot and failed to get in....



Rolen's career was shortened by injuries, he lost most of his power during the latter years of his career, but still deserves a lot more consideration than he's being given.  Then there is Jim Edmonds....



who is not even on the ballot anymore.  How did that even happen?  I think I have ranted about this on several different posts, so I will spare you a few minutes of your time.  

I like using the Jaffe JAWS scores on Baseball-Reference a lot to see how players compare to Hall of Famers.  Both Rolen and Edmonds are in the top 20 at their positions and have some similar numbers to the players that have been elected to Cooperstown.  

There are some older Cardinals who have similar Hall of Fame arguments as Edmonds and Rolen, the best of the group belonging to former catcher Ted Simmons.  "Simba", as he was known during his playing days, spent thirteen years playing for the Cardinals.  Mainly a player of the 1970s, he had a cup of coffee with the Cardinals in the late 1960s and was also on the team for a short time in the early 1980s.  Simmons is in the team's Hall of Fame and there is a strong argument that he belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  

His case in numbers is below.  Remember on the awards, that his career paralleled Johnny Bench.  Bench played on a winning team, Simmons did not.  Let all the Hall of Fame arguers, especially Cardinals and Reds fans, remember that Barry Larkin only won 3 Gold Gloves, still in the Hall, and he played 11 years of his career while Ozzie was active......

  • Simmons appeared in 8 All-Star games 
  • Won the National League Silver Slugger in 1980.  
  • Received MVP votes in 7 different seasons
  • His career WAR totals align with the average of the other 15 catchers already in the Hall of Fame. 
  • Simmons retired as the all-time hits leader amongst players at the position
  • He is second in RBIs as a catcher behind Yogi Berra
  • When he retired he was in the Top 10 for home runs
  • and Simmons is 6th in runs scored as a catcher 
He actually came pretty close to getting enough votes during last year's veterans committee meeting, or whatever they call that group of former players now.  

Now, it's not like I have been trying to ignore Simmons cards on my blog, but he's probably the only Cardinals player who is in the Hall, or has an argument to be in the Hall of Fame who has never really had their own post here.  He's been mentioned, had a few cards posted from time to time, but no post with Simmons as the main card.  

Until now.  Someone finally made a Ted Simmons autograph.  Well, one I like enough to own.  He did have an autograph in Panini's Golden Age set, but those cards looked terrible.  

This is a Ted Simmons card.....




This is from this year's Topps Archives set.  He actually has two certified autographs this year, the other is in a Panini product, it's not bad looking, but it is also not on a 1977 Topps designed card.  Definitely in the window of Simba's prime.  

I like the backs of the 1977 Topps cards, so you get to see that too.....




I love that there is a Walt Dropo cartoon on the back of the card.  Great baseball name and the cartoon is looks in line with something Topps would have put on the back of a baseball card in the 1970s.  Simmons actual 1977 card had a cartoon about Jimmy Reese.  

Overall, a really nice card and it checks off a big box for my Cardinals collection.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 45 - Andy Benes

I already covered Alan Benes, so I am out of Benes posts after this one.

The Cardinals signed Andy Benes as a free agent prior to the 1996 season.  He had ended the 1995 season with the Mariners, but had previous played seven seasons with the Padres after they selected him first overall in the 1988 MLB Draft.  Benes was decent with the Padres.  He threw hard, ate up a lot of innings, and got a decent number of strikeouts.  The Cardinals signed him for two years as a part of their team makeover, which included hiring Tony LaRussa, and trading for half of the Oakland A's.

For the first two months of the 1996 season Benes was a bust.  He went 1-7 and was not making it deep into games.  Then just like John Tudor in 1985.....



Benes was unbeatable the last few months of the season, ending the year with a 18-10 mark.  Just to put to rest some of the comparisons between the two, a few numbers.....

-Tudor went 1-7 too, but ended up 21-8.  

-Benes had an ERA of 5.92 and a record of 1-7.  Not very good.  

-Tudor had an ERA of 3.74 and a record of 1-7.  He was always a pretty good pitcher.  

-Benes had 8 games where he pitched into the 8th inning or later after his 1-7 start 

-Tudor had 18 games where he pitched into the 8th inning or later after his 1-7 start 

-Benes lowered his ERA from 5.92 to 3.74 

-Tudor lowered his ERA from 3.74 to 1.93 

-Benes had 17 games after a 1-7 start where he gave up 2 runs or fewer.  

-Tudor had 20 games after a 1-7 start where he gave up 2 runs or fewer.  


Again, Benes had a good run the second half of the 1996 season, but still not the same as Tudor had in 1985.  Both pitchers did manage to get their teams into the Postseason.  Tudor got the Cardinals into the World Series against the Royals, the team lost in seven games, while Benes got the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series.  The Cardinals lost that to the Braves in seven games.  

Benes had some nice cards during his first season on the Cardinals.  My favorite card is his 1996 Leaf Signature autograph.  




There were a good deal of Cardinals in this set.  A few were a little odd, like Rick Honeycutt and Mike Gallego.  I thought of Benes as being more of an actual Cardinals player with a card in that product.  I am not going to be saying much about his second run with the team, which was in the early 2000s, but I think that it contributed to this being a card that I enjoyed having in my collection.  My favorite Cardinals card in the Leaf Signature set is still either Pagnozzi or Brian Jordan.  

Next. 



Alan Benes was a pretty big prospect for the Cardinals in the mid 1990s.  The team brought him up at the end of the 1995 season and stuck him into the rotation at the beginning of the 1996 season.  I am not sure how many dual cards there were of Andy and Alan, but this one is pretty nice.

Last one for 1996.



The Fleer set from 1996 is one of my favorite.  Not flashy, not expensive, or limited in anyway.  It's a really simple design with some really good pictures.  I like this picture of Benes.  It is a really good representation of what he was as a pitcher.  He was big, much more of a thrower than a pitcher, and there were always a ton of sliders. 

The 1997 season was not kind to the Cardinals, but Benes had one of the better years of his career.  In all, he went 10-7 on a really mediocre team and averaged almost a strikeout per inning.  At the end of the season, the Cardinals and Benes tried to work out a new contract, but missed the signing deadline which used to exist for players to return to their current team.  His contract was voided.

A newspaper snippet.....




Many Cardinals fans were upset that Bud Selig voided the contract in light of his team, the Brewers, moving into the National League Central with the Cardinals that offseason.  Benes ended up signing with the Diamondbacks.  Over his final season with the Cardinals, there were a few more nice Benes cards. 

Some of my favorites.....




His 1997 Topps, or Topps Chrome.  Same card, different finishing touches.  




His 1997 Upper Deck card.  Pretty intense look on his face, the Wrigley back drop helps, and every body a card where there is a pitcher hitting.  

Last 1997 card....



is a Flair Showcase.  A high end card is always nice.  I really like the color photo overlaid on top of the black and white photos on these cards.  Really nice look.  

Last card for the post comes from 1998.  He did have a few and most were really ordinary looking, but his 1998 Pacific Crown Royale card was a really good card.  Flying under the radar.......




Anytime you can find a piece of cardboard with a player in a throwback uniform of any kind, it is usually a really card.  This Benes card is no different.  The lines around his name sort of block out the socks, but they are the real baseball socks with stirrups.  Pacific made half of their Cardinals sets in 1998 from whatever game they wore these St. Louis Starts uniforms.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

2018 International League All-Star Set Part 1

A few new Minor League cards I picked up while attending a Durham Bulls playoff game yesterday against the Toledo Mud Hens.  The Bulls ended up winning the game 3-2 and advanced to the International League Championship where they will play Scranton, which is the Yankees Triple A team.




Before the game I visited the team store and found the set, which I am going to share with you on this post, another later in the week with the second half of the set.  Also a copy of the 2018 Durham Bulls set.  I will post that at some point too.

The International League All-Star set is 28 cards, so this post will feature the first 14 cards.  There are two Bulls in this part of the set and another in the second half, but not wearing a Bulls uniform.  I have scanned the cards in pairs and have a little blurb about each scan.


First two cards in the set belong to Willy Adames and Anthony Alford.  Adames has been on the Bulls for awhile now, and the Rays have actually given him a lot of playing time in the Majors this year.  He has done fairly well.  You have heard a decent amount from this blog over the years about Adames, so let me give Alford a little love....


Alford has been a Top 100 prospect for the last few years.  He got some pop, he's got some speed, and he has done a good job of getting on-base.  Well, until this year, which was easily his worst since the Jays drafted him out of Ole Miss in 2012.  Almost one of those guys who got onto an All-Star team because he played well in other seasons.  A slash line of .240/.312/.344 hardly screams All-Star, but he is just 23 and the Jays have already had him up to the Majors twice.  



Bauers is the second Bulls player in this half of the set, plenty of other opportunities to write about him in other posts.  

Allard is a former first round draft pick who has moved through the Braves system fast.  He's just 20 and he's basically spent the entire season in Triple A.  He's pitched well too.  I think he sometimes does not get the recognition he deserves.  Allard is not big and is much more on the finesse side.  Still, a 20 year old with a sub 3 ERA at Triple A is pretty special.  




The Braves called him up and he pitched a few games in Atlanta.  They were rough, but I still like his chances at being a good player in the long run.  



Both of these players have spent a fair amount of time in the Majors this summer.  Bieber has started 16 games and has 9 wins.  Some of his stats are not that good, which is why wins are not always a great stat, but he probably has some sort of long term future as a Major League player.  

Beeks was traded to the Rays from the Red Sox for Nathan Evoldi.  He has not appeared with the Bulls, but has managed 4 wins in just 8 games.  His numbers are also a little shaky.  See previous comment about wins.  




Cozens is a big guy who swings for the fences.  He has played 15 games for the Phillies this year and has an .095 batting average with 15 strikeouts in just 21 at bats.  Going to have to refine that swing a bit.


Borucki has thirteen starts for the Blue Jays.  He was really good in some of his previous stops in the Minors, but has had a hard time missing bats in the upper Minors and in the Majors.


 Fedde has risen through the Minors quickly.  He seems like he's a high floor, low ceiling guy who was a pretty good college pitcher at UNLV.  He has played parts of two seasons with the Nationals and has a career ERA over 7.  In the Minors, he has been good, nothing dominate.




I do not know much about Enyel De Los Santos.  He was in the Padres system and came over to the Phillies this past offseason for Freddy Galvis.  De Los Santos has had a good year for Lehigh Valley, but that's about all I know here.


 Gonsalves has done very well for the Twins Minor League teams the past few years, but has not faired well in his brief time in the Majors.  He has been a Top 100 prospect the past two seasons, so there is probably some hope he will be a good player.  He's probably at least a mid rotation guy.

Kingham has been around for awhile now and is north of 25.  He has been up with the Pirates for most of this year and has not had the best numbers.  Not sure what becomes of him, likely bullpen or a 4A guy.


 Last pair for the first half of the set.


Let me give you one number for Kopech:  He struck out 170 batters this year in 126 innings.  The arm and stuff is incredible.  He needs to keep developing obvious, plus he is out next year with Tommy John.  I would be more worried if it was a shoulder injury.  


Lugo came over in the J.D. Martinez trade, spent most of this season in Triple A.  He walked 9 times in over 500 at bats.  Not sure what his future in the Majors is with that little patience at the plate.

Although he was batting as I was typing this post and drew a walk.  Go figure.




More International League All-Stars later in the week.....