Saturday, April 21, 2018

Quick By My Standards

I have let some of the different set projects that I have posted in this space linger for a long time, either because I did not complete them quickly, or I just never updated the project to show my progress.  Back at the beginning of February, I made a post about putting together a set of the 1983 style cards in that are included in packs of this year's Topps base set.

I started with 8 of the 100 cards, last check in I was down to just 27 cards.  Last week that number was all the way down to 2 cards.  A few days ago in the mail I got a bubble mailer with......



the two cards that I was still missing.  I am crossing this card set off after just two and a half months.  Really pretty good considering that I did not open a box, or significant number of packs.  Almost all 92 cards that I was missing when I started were picked up in trades, or from buying small lots, no singles, off of EBay.

Yes, the set is finished, but I am also going to leave the door open to find more of these cards when Topps releases Series 2 at some point this summer.  There were some things that I really enjoyed about this project.  First, the 1983 sets were the first cards in my collection.  I started opening packs of cards at some point that summer.  I have always loved these cards.  Second, there were plenty of players that I enjoy collecting on the checklist.....


a few Cardinals, a few former Durham Bulls, and also a few players I saw while they were in college.  The Carlos Martinez card is probably my favorite Cardinal.   Also plenty of older players in the set too, which is my lone, small criticism of this set.  It would be nice if the cards of the retired players included on the checklist had a connection to the actual year of the card design.  Might have said this in another post.  My three favorite older cards in the set.....


probably have to be the three shown above since they were actually around and playing in 1983. 

All three were younger players at this point, but they still were pretty impactful that season.  Especially Ripken, considering the final play of the 1983 season was a soft line out to him, which ended the World Series.  


 There were plenty of good players who were active during the 1983 season, eager to see what Topps comes up with in the next batch of cards in Series 2.  I'd be excited to see a Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, or a Willie McGee.  Doubtful I will see a McGee, but a Gwynn in some brown, orange, and yellow Padres digs would be sweet.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

I Love The 1990 Cardinals Part 29 - Mark Whiten

The title of the post says that I am writing about Mark Whiten.  If you watched baseball during the 1990s, Mark Whiten's entire legacy is remembered by one game against the Reds in 1993.  He hit four home runs, drove in 12 runs, and earned the nickname "Hard Hittin Mark Whiten".  Let's just get this out of the way......


The Cardinals during the first half of the 1990s were able to bring two pretty good outfield prospects, in the persons of Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford, up from the Minors to replace the Vince Coleman and Willie McGee.  The pair were pretty exciting to watch and were branded as the future of the franchise.  



However, the team did not have a long-term third outfielder.  The team had Felix Jose for a few years, he was traded to the Cardinals from the A's for Willie McGee, but he was not a very consistent player.  Jose also had some unique antics, conversations with the Gatorade come to mind.  The Cardinals shipped Felix to the Royals prior to the 1993 in exchange for Gregg Jefferies, and then picked up Mark Whiten from Cleveland for Mark Clark.  

Whiten spent two seasons with the Cardinals.  If you look at his back of the baseball card stats from 1993 you could easily get the impression that the guy was a good hitter.  That season he hit 25 home runs, drove in 99 runs, stole 15 bases, and scored more than 80 runs.  Not bad numbers considering the early part of the 1990s were not the most talented Cardinals teams.  

In 1994, Whiten hit some more.  If you look at his splits though, month to month, he was rather streaky and inconsistent, which is sort of how I remember him.  Sure, he could get into one every once in awhile, but ask any Cardinals fan from the 1990s about him, and once they get past the four home run game they will probably tell you all about his defense.  More specifically, he limited base runners to one base at a time.  There were not a lot of first to third base runners on balls hit to right field the two years he was on the Cardinals.  

A pair of former Pirates coaches and a former Cardinals manager spent time raving about Mark Whiten's throwing arm back in a 1994 Los Angeles Times article about the former right fielder.  Two of them compared his arm to a certain strong armed outfielder.  

Pirates coach Rich Donnelly:

"We were in St. Petersburg in spring training, and he went into the corner for a ball and made a 300-foot throw, no hops, and nailed Carlos Garcia at third.  He eggs you on. He'll lope after a ball to see if he can get you to run, picks it up . . . and bam, you're dead."

Another Pirates coach in the mid 1990s, Tommy Sandt, said:

"If (Roberto) Clemente had a better arm than his, I'd like to have seen it. I mean, how good can you throw it?"


and former Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, who worked as a part-time coach with the Cardinals throughout the 1990s, agreed with Sandt's evaluation of Whiten's throwing arm:  

"As far as arm strength goes . . . it's a tough call between Clemente and Whiten."

Onto the baseball cards.  

Since I got the 4 home run game out of the way at the top of the post, mentioned it again somewhere under the first baseball card, I will visit the topic once more with the first of my favorite Whiten Cardinals cards.  


Whiten was on the Red Sox during the 1995 season, but Upper Deck gave him a Cardinals card in their Collectors Choice set.  If you weren't around for the 1990s, it was the company's inexpensive card brand, generally sold at retail stores.  Surprisingly, Whiten does not have a ton of cards that celebrate his four home run game against the Reds.  

The highlight type cards in this Collector's Choice set celebrated the big moments and achievements from the first half of the decade, which included Whiten's 4 home run game.  Did Topps ever make a highlight card for Whiten?  Can't remember every seeing one, but I know that as soon as I typed that and hit publish, I would probably be proven wrong.  

Next.  


There are dozens of non-descript Mark Whiten cards from the mid 1990s.  Many of them do little to distinguish themselves from the rest.  Whiten's one well known feat was not enough to push him into many of the nice premium products, but Topps did put him into the 1994 Finest set.  While he was not an All-Star, more like the third best outfielder on the team, he was still a better option for Topps than Todd Zeile or Luis Alicea.  

Not into the Christmas look either, but the green border actually looks good on this card with the red border, and the red on Whiten's Cardinals uniform.  

Last one.  


Finally a card with a picture of Mark Whiten playing defense.  The best part of this card is the fact that it not only shows Whiten making a nice catch in front of an outfield wall, but flip the card over to the back and.....


we've got some base runner who is about to get thrown out.  I specifically tried to find a card of Whiten playing in the field, it took awhile to find, should have just gone straight to the Upper Deck cards.  I knew I was going to find one there.  

I leave you some homework:

Repeat after me: Mark Whiten had a great arm.  One of the best ever.  

The next time some baseball fan mentions the fact that he hit four home runs in a game, cut them off, and start talking about him holding base runners to single bases.  

A song from 1995 on my IPod, it's not a Kurt Cobain cover, other way around....



Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Prospect and A Hall Of Famer

I recently had a chance to pick up a really nice looking card of Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes.  Two years ago he was one of the better pitching prospects in the game, but had an elbow injury and missed last season.  Reyes is going to miss the first month or two of the 2018 season, but he should be back at some point late in May, or early in June.  

Alex Reyes is one of those prospects that has tons and tons of baseball cards.  There were a lot of cards made of him last year, this year has been a little slower.  Card companies have moved on to other prospects, but their are still some nice cards of Reyes floating around.  I recently was able to pick up a really sharp looking Reyes card from a regular trading partner.  

A look at the card......

  

Five Star is a really high end product with some really nice features, but luckily the prospect cards in the set are really affordable.  This card from the 2017 edition has an excellent design.  I like the dark grey in the background combined with the bright color picture of Reyes, and the signature in silver pen.  I know that this card does not have the lowest serial number of the colored cards that are in Five Star, but in my opinion this is probably the best looking looking of those parallels.  

Nothing like an orange Cardinals card.  

Reyes was a tremendous talent before he injured his elbow.  Hopefully he can bounce back and regain his form from the end of the 2016 season when the Cardinals used him down the stretch.  


I also managed to pick up another Cardinals card while I was trading for the Reyes card.  Not quite who you would think of when I say Hall of Famer and Cardinal in the same sentence.  It was still an attractive, nice looking card, and it was a really affordable card.  


This is from the Postseason version of the Topps Archives Signature product.  I am not quite sure why Topps made a regular season and a Postseason version of this product last year.  Although, if you were going to pick a good moment in Dennis Eckersley's brief career as a Cardinal, the 1996 Postseason is a good place to look.  


Eck pitched in a total of 6 games that year in the NLDS and NLCS for a Cardinals team that came within a game of the World Series.  He totaled 7 innings in those 6 games, did not give up a run, and struck out 6 batters.  Easily his best moment, since the back of the baseball card stats for the regular season with the Cardinals were not up to the standards he set while he was pitching with the A's and others.  


Considering these cards come one to a box, which cost somewhere between $40 and $50, I was more than happy to find a Cardinals card from the set for a fraction of the cost.  The scratches on the scan are all on the case and the card is serial numbered, but the numbering is in a weird spot next to Eck's cleat on the right side of the card.  

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Legend Of Bud "Chuck" Norris

I do not care about Chuck Norris.  I do not care about Chuck Norris jokes.  I do not care about Chuck Norris movies.  I do not care about Chuck Norris anything.  I have never had much use for anything Chuck Norris outside of his brief cameo at the end of Dodgeball.


I guess the general consensus is that Chuck Norris is some sort of bad ass.....


which is why Cardinals fans gave the nickname "Chuck" to pitcher Bud Norris while he was pitching for the Houston Astros earlier in his career.  He was a bad ass, at least when he played against the Cardinals.  

The overall numbers for Norris against the Cardinals have come down a bit over the years since he left the Astros and spent time with an array of other teams, but here is a sampling.  In 2009, his rookie year, he pitched one game against the Cardinals and two hit them over seven innings.  


In 2010, Bud "Chuck" went 3-1 against the Cardinals.  It seemed to continue on for awhile, but eventually he left the Astros and started wandering around to a bunch of different teams.  I had actually completely lost track of him until he ended up on the Angels last year.  I watch for Albert Pujols at times.

I was surprised to see Bud "Chuck" Norris closing out games for the Halos.  Even more surprised to see that he was actually good at closing games.  


Even more surprised when the Cardinals signed him this offseason to close games.  

 

So, I guess that Bud Norris being a Cardinal means that I need some sort of cool baseball cards of him for my collection. I flipped through some boxes of cards and found a few Bud Norris cards, but nothing that was really special....



Meh.  

I was actually half way expecting there to be zero cool Bud Norris cards.  Just a bunch of base cards from Topps products from the past decades.  This is 95% true, but there are a few exceptions.  I was able to find one of those recently......




Should have guessed that he would have a Bowman autograph.  This card is from the 2008.  I generally like these Bowman autographs, but this one is a little bit shaky for a few reasons.  

First, the yellowing on the bottom is not just from the scan.  It's actually on the copy of the card that I own.  I have never seen this sort of yellowing on a Bowman Chrome card.  I went back and looked at some of my 2008 Bowman cards, cannot find another card with the yellowing at the bottom.  


I thought that the yellowing might be from being in a smoker's house, I do not smoke myself, but a previous owner might have done so.  The card really does not smell smoky though.  My second problem with this card is a design feature.  


That cheesy Certified Autograph Issue graphic in the background.  I get why it's there, but there are many places that Topps could have placed that on this card besides smack dab in the middle of the picture.  Should be off on the side somewhere.  

The card is slightly imperfect, but I am guessing that Bud Norris will likely only be on the Cardinals for a year.  In the long run, I will probably remember him best for his Bud "Chuck" Norris performances against the Cardinals from earlier in his career.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Project Durham Bulls #33 - Casey Gillaspie


2016-2017 Durham Bulls 


Background- 
Gillaspie was selected by the Rays in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of Wichita State.  While in college, he excelled as a hitter in several wood bat summer leagues, as well as having a great junior season with the Shockers.  Gillaspie reached Triple A with the Bulls in the middle of the 2016 season after starting the season with Montgomery in the Southern League.  In 85 games with the Rays Double A team he hit .270/.387/.454 with 11 home runs and 21 doubles earning him a promotion up to the Bulls.  Gillaspie continued to hit well during the second half of 2016 in Durham.  He had 22 extra base hits with a .307/389/.520 slash line in just 47 games in Triple A.  Gillaspie returned to the Bulls in 2017, but struggled at the plate, as his average sunk below .230 and his on base dipped below .300.  The Rays traded Casey Gillaspie at the end of July for White Sox relief pitcher Dan Jennings.  The White Sox stuck him with their Triple A team in Charlotte, where he has remained since the trade.  

Card- 
Gillaspie first appeared in the 2014 Bowman Draft set, but did not sign anything in the set.  This 2015 Bowman Chrome card was his first licensed autograph card.  There are a bunch of Leaf products from 2014 with Gillaspie autographs, but they have the logos airbrushed off of the card.  A couple of the Leaf cards have cool patch pieces or inscriptions, but outside of that there is little to make them desirable cards.  Considering that the card market has not yet adjusted to the fact that Gillaspie seems like a AAAA player, many of his autographed cards still sell for upwards of $10, I went with this Bowman Chrome card simply based on the fact that it was the nicest card I could find for less than $5.  He actually has some sweet Panini cards which have him in his college Wichita State uniform, but those are in the group of cards that are north of $10.   


Saturday, April 7, 2018

How Do High School Kids Have Baseball Cards?

A few years back I started collecting USA Baseball autographs.  The first set of exclusive USA Baseball products that I added to my collection were in the 2004 Upper Deck USA Baseball product.  The cards featured professional players who had played with the USA Baseball program at some point, either on a college team, or an Olympic team.  The boxes and packs were cheap, the autographs were a little bit cheaper than some of the products with the same players.  I have a big stack of these cards and enjoyed finding these cards many years ago....


Since 2004, I have been surprised at the places that baseball cards of amateur players have gone.  For example, I started following the USA Baseball College Team shortly after the 2004 Upper Deck set came out, and I had moved to North Carolina, and was surprised to see some of these players start to show up in baseball card products with autographs.  


I saw Tanner Houck throw a no-hitter against the Cuban National Team a few summers ago.  He has spent the last few years pitching for the University of Missouri.  You know, as an amateur, non-paid student athlete.  Yet, he's had dozens of baseball cards made over the years.  I know that the players likely do not get paid, and that's what makes it an okay thing to do, but still I am just surprised.  

Which brings me to the high school kids with baseball cards.  I enjoy following the college baseball scene here in North Carolina and I am always appreciative of the fact that I get to see a fair number of Major League players before I see them for a second time as Minor Leaguers, or when they eventually reach a Major League team.  

I first found the whole high school card thing a few years back with NC State pitcher Tommy DeJuneas.  He was a nice college pitcher, got drafted by the Cleveland Indians, but also had a baseball card as a high school in the Leaf Perfect Game set.  


The first time I saw these cards a few years back I had to sort of do a double take.  College cards, I kind of see it for players in the USA Baseball program.  High School kids?  I know they are really good high school kids, but still we are talking about high school kids.  

So, here we are in 2018, and my alma mater NC State is having a great year on the baseball diamond.  They are ranked in the top 10 in every major poll and have a ton of talent on the roster.  So, I am out here trying to find baseball cards of college kids from back when they were in high school.  One of my favorite current Wolfpack players, and leading home run hitters in the NCAA, is Brett Kinneman.  He's not super high on draft lists like Clemson's Seth Beer, but he's got some serious pop in his bat.  

 

So, I checked Ebay, and sure enough, Brett Kinneman is a high school kid with a baseball card.  




Pride of West York High School in York, Pennsylvania.  Something still feels really weird about buying cards of players who are not being paid, and who were 17-18 at the time that their cards were produced.  Weird enough, I have actually found a few other NC State players with cards in these Perfect Game sets, as well as a few different Duke and UNC players too.  While I would prefer to own a nice Minor League, or Major League card of these players, they are not at that level yet.  Further, these Perfect Game cards are also fairly cheap.  









Friday, April 6, 2018

When Prospects Become Utility Players....

I had made a run on some Daniel Robertson cards a few years back in anticipation of his arrival with the Durham Bulls.  The A's traded the middle infielder to the Rays for Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist.  At the time, Robertson had just completed A Ball in the A's organization and was considered a top 100 prospect across the board by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus.  While he was in A Ball Robertson hit .310/.402/.471 with 15 home runs, 37 doubles, and drove in 60 runs.  Sounds worthy of some notoriety, especially given that he was just 20 at the time.

I went out and started putting together a little collection of Robertson cards.  He had several in various different Bowman products while he was in Oakland.  My two favorite Robertson cards at that time were his 2015 Bowman Inception card.....



because I really like looks of this set.  I am not sure about that face he is making on the card, but it's still a well designed set with nice card stock.  I also own a copy of his Bowman Chrome rookie card....


which is not quite as nice to look at as the Inception card, but these always seem like good cards to hang on to when you are doing a little prospecting.  

Three years later Robertson has spent a season with the Durham Bulls in 2016 and played most of the 2017 season in Tampa on the Rays roster.  He's been through all of those hoops players jump through when they get to the Majors...first game, first hit, first home run...




and all of this time I have been fairly quiet about Robertson baseball cards.  They are out there, it's not like he's disappeared from sets.  It's more about the fact that Robertson has gone from being a Top 100 prospect who was traded for a player like Ben Zobrist, to a player who is on the Rays roster just because he is versatile.  

Daniel Robertson is a utility player.  His .200 batting average and 5 career home runs suggest that this is likely going to be his role as long as he is employed as a Major League baseball player.  That's not always a bad thing, every team needs these types of players and they can be fun players to collect.  

I have several utility types that have been favorite players to collect at different points of my times.  Since I am a Cardinals fan who grew up in the 1980s/1990s you should probably be able to guess my original utility player without reading any further, because every 1980s Cardinals fan loves Jose Oquendo..... 


who was dubbed "The Secret Weapon" by former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.  If you watched the Cardinals in the late 1980s, you knew Jose Oquendo was showing up at some point, you just did not always know where and when he was getting into the game.  He had some big moments for the team too, like his Game 7 home run against the Giants in the 1987 National League Championship Series.....




was the probably the most memorable.  Topps made a complete set of Oquendo cards in their Archives set a few years back with him playing each of the nine different positions.  Some of the pictures do not really fit, the card above is a first base card even though he's either playing short or second, but it was still a really nice collection of cards to assemble.  

Jose had some nice years, but he was truly a light hitting infielder.  Still a fun player to collect and very popular with Cardinals fans.  

As far as the Durham Bulls go, I do have a pretty good collection of Ben Zobrist cards, but I think he is in a different category of "utility" player then the other players I am using in this post.  He does play all over the place, but when you're making multiple All-Star teams and winning taking home World Series MVP Awards, you are probably your own category of utility player.  

Prior to blogging, my interest had started to wain a bit by the time I had starting writing in this space, I did collect Sean Rodriguez cards.  He played for the Rays for a few years after being traded there from the Angels in exchange for Scott Kazmir.  The time with the Rays included a stop over or two in Durham.  

I even saw him hit the Bull, win steak, with a home run a few years ago..... 


Sean Rodriguez does not have a ton of cards for a current day player, which includes a very limited number of appearances as an autograph signer.  Not that they are expensive when you find them....




or anything that would make him difficult to collect.  

Which brings me back to Robertson.  For whatever reason, there are companies that are still making nice baseball cards of the former Durham Bulls middle infielder.  I guess I could look into collecting a Cardinals utility player, but it appears that there are not many Greg Garcia baseball cards....




and I really do not like him anyway.  He's like the second coming of Daniel Descalso, which is not a very lovable player, nor fun to collect.  I actually enjoy watching Daniel Robertson play for the Rays.....



and I am going to go ahead and pick up a few of his cards this year.  So far the past two months, I have added two of his cards and spent a grand total of $5.  $3 of the $5 was for shipping the cards.  

Here's what I picked up.



This card is actually from last year's Topps Update set.  It seems that I skipped over that product.  Not sure about all of the stuff that is going on around the border of the card, but since I bascially paid a dollar for this card I am just going to focus on the fact that it is autographed and has a picture of Daniel Robertson.  Sterile card design be damned.  



Again, I am focused on the autograph and the fact that Robertson is on the card.  I do not even know where to start with that Promising Pros script up at the top of the card.  Looks like some sort of 1980s television graphic.....


of some kind.  The word "Promising" makes me lean more game show.  

Anyway, more Robertson cards to come as the summer goes along regardless of whether he is hitting .220, or not.  So far, five games into the season, he's actually hitting .250 with 5 walks in 13 plate appearances.  Hopefully the rash of walks won't push his cards up too high.  




Sunday, April 1, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 28 - Mike Gallego

There are tons of players who made brief appearances with the Cardinals during the 1990s.  Several of the those players came over with Tony LaRussa from the A's when he took over the manager's position before the 1996 season.  When I look at the Cardinals rosters from 1996 and 1997 there are literally a dozen different players who could fit into that category.  I have covered a few of them in previous 1990s Cardinals posts, the most prominent of them being Dennis Eckersley.  


Others are a little less well known.  

This week's 1990s Cardinals is probably a little bit more well known by A's fans than by those in St. Louis.  Mike Gallego only played 78 games for the Cardinals over two seasons, but LaRussa used him frequently during the team's National League Championship Series run during 1996.  His career slash line for the Cardinals stands at just .199/.254/.220 with only 4 doubles.  No triples and no home runs.  

Prior to his time with the Cardinals he played for three of LaRussa's World Series teams in Oakland.  He appeared on the 1988, 1989, and 1990 World Series teams.  Gallego's best postseason performance took place in 1990 when the A's swept past the Red Sox and into the World Series. 


Gallego spent a few years with the Yankees before he rejoined the A's for one more season in 1995.  The Cardinals signed in January of 1996.  LaRussa loves his utility players and Gallego seemed to fit the bill for the Cardinals.

For a player who barely appeared for the Cardinals, the card manufacturers got the number of Gallego cards with the Cardinals just right.  There are three of them in a Cardinals uniform, but I only have two of them.  If you really want a good Gallego card consider one from earlier in his career.  While most of his early cards are after thoughts to other A's players like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, his 1989 Upper Deck card is somewhat legendary.....


Mainly because it is one of the cards with a reversed photo.  Gallego's photo reversal is more difficult to spot than some of the other ones in the set since you cannot see the writing on the front of his jersey, or his uniform number, but he is a left handed thrower on the card.  

On to his Cardinals cards.  Up first, is his first Cardinals card.  




This is a Spring Training photo with the red jersey on during a game.  This is a Leaf Signature card, which makes it somewhat cool, but it's also one of the cards from that set that you can find for $1.50 on Ebay or COMC.  Gallego has a nice signature, so there is that.  Really, if I had to make a Mike Gallego autograph I would put it in one of those Topps Archives sets and package it around some other 1990s A's players.  I'm sure someone in the Bay Area would love to have a certified autograph of him.  At least more than Cardinals fans love this autographed card of him.

Last Gallego card.  


The old Spanish-English Pacific sets.  This is from the 1997 Crown Collection set.  If I had taken a few seconds to scan the back of the card you would find it written in Spanish.  I like this card because it feels like Gallego is really short here.  He's listed at 5'8 on the back of his baseball card and on his profile over at Baseball Reference, but I am guessing that they might have measured him with his hat on while he was also wearing his cleats.  

I searched for photo evidence of his true height by comparing him to a larger Oakland Athletic player from the late 1980s, or the early 1990s.  My first thought was McGwire, but this picture does not really offer any help....


but he is clearly a lot shorter than McGwire.  My second thought was Canseco, although he's shorter than McGwire, he is still a large individual.  This is what I found.....


George Bush, Barbara Bush, Queen Elizabeth, Mike Gallego, Rick Honeycutt, and Jose Canseco all in front of an Orioles banner.  Why was this not a baseball card?  I feel like someone really missed a golden opportunity here.

That last photo is actually better than any of the Cardinals cards of Mike Gallego.  I am missing a card stadium giveaway of Gallego from 1996.  I have single cards from that set, but not the whole thing.  Not going out of my way to find it either.  

A Quick Check In On The 1983 Durham Bulls

I am having a pretty good time assembling the 1983 rehash inserts from this year's base Topps set.  I am working on the regular version of the 1983 cards, not the Chrome versions, nor the autographed versions.  However, I have decided that I am willing to take on a few of the other variants if it is a Cardinals card, or somehow connected to the Durham Bulls.  Just a few cards really fit into those two categories.  I recently found a few of the 1983 cards that have some connections to the Durham Bulls., still working on those Cardinals.  

The actual 1983 Durham Bulls finished almost 20 games below .500 and their star players were corner infielder Inocencio Guerrero and shortstop, and future Brave, Andres Thomas.


So, how do the former Durham Bulls on the 1983 Topps style cards of today compare to the star of the actual 1983 Durham Bulls?  Andres Thomas did have a six year Major League career, which is longer than any of the other players in this post, but he also had a career batting average of just .234.  He also had a negative WAR during that time.  The bar is not very high.....

First up....



This one hurts a little bit since Souza was one of those players that the Rays parted with this past offseason.  I was first introduced to Souza a few years back while he was a member of the Syracuse Chiefs.  He won the International League Player of the Year in 2014 and also made the All-Star team that summer, which took place in Durham.  



The picture is a little blurry, not one of my better efforts, but that is Souza as a Syracuse Chief.  He ended up back in Durham for a few days in 2015 on a rehab assignment.  Very good player, already better than Andres Thomas.  


Faria played for the Bulls in 2016 and 2017.  I actually got to see his Triple A debut back in July of 2016 against the Syracuse.  


Faria spent the second half of the 2017 season in Tampa, won 5 games, and struck out almost a batter an inning.  It's hard to compare a starting pitcher to a light hitting shortstop, but I am going to give Faria the nod over Andres Thomas.  

Last card, the best chance for Andres Thomas to claim superiority over a more recent Durham Bulls player.  I actually collect this player because of one catch he made in a game a few years back.  Lots of other baseball people like him because of his name.....


I went to a game a few years back on a Sunday afternoon.  The Bulls were playing the Gwinnett Braves.  The game went into extra innings and my son was eager for the contest to end since it was a run the bases day.  I am not sure how Boog did not break his hip.....



but it was a great catch.  I am not sure what sort of future Boog has in the Majors, but the A's are giving him playing time this year.  He seems like a fourth outfielder type, reminds me a little bit of Peter Bourjos, but that still probably means he is going to be better than Andres Thomas.  

I will do a little comparing to the 1983 Cardinals soon....

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Phamtastic

At the beginning of this year I had pledged to put together less sets in order to focus on current single cards of players and teams that I collect, or filling holes in sets from previous years.  There have been a few different sets put out so far this year, so here's how I have done....



I have a Topps Series 1 set put together mostly because one of the parents at the school I teach at bought me a bunch of packs.  It wasn't hard to put together, didn't really cost me much, and it did not take up a lot time.  I also got a good current year project off of this project......



with the 1983 Topps insert set.  I have a whole bunch of these cards and I am getting close to finishing off this set.  It's not been very expensive, but it has taken some time to track down the cards.  There are a lot of these 1983 rehashes that are being sold and traded in lots, they make for quite a few duplicates, but I am done to just a few cards.

The others.....

Donruss?  Absolutely not happening.  

Heritage?


 

Just a Jack Flaherty autograph.  Pretty nice card.

Which brings me to this week.  There are two different Topps products that have come out this week, with Gypsy Queen coming out at the beginning, and Tribute coming out today.  I have scoped out a few single cards from each of the products, but I am not touching the base cards from these two sets.  One of the first cards that I scoped out showed up in the mail earlier this afternoon.

I was happy that Topps got a Cardinals player outside of Luke Weaver, Matt Carpenter, and the other usual suspects to sign something....




that they put into packs of cards.

I have other Pham autographs, but he just has not been used in dozens of card products.  At least not yet.  The best part of getting a Pham autograph at this moment is that he's probably the best player on the Cardinals at the moment.....


Phamtastic.  

I might have another Cardinals card or two that I might track down from this set, and there are definitely a few Durham Bulls related cards on their way already.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Project Durham Bulls #32 - Jeff Niemann


2007, 2008, and 2011 Durham Bulls 


Background-
Niemann was a great college pitcher at Rice University in Houston.  His best season at Rice was in 2003 when he went 17-0 with a 1.56 ERA, he was consensus All-American.  The Owls ended that year by winning the College World Series.  There were actually three pitchers on that college team that ended up getting drafted high in the 2004 MLB Draft: Niemann, Philip Humber, and Wade Townsend.  

The right handed Houston native is probably best known for being one of the tallest Major League players in recent history standing at 6'9.  Niemann started his Rays career in 2005 with stops in Visalia and Montgomery.  He missed part of the 2006 season after having a shoulder operation during the offseason.  Niemann reached Durham in 2007 and 2008.  He had two solid seasons as a member of the Bulls before joining the Rays at the end of the 2008 season for a few starts.  Throughout Niemann's time in the Minors he was regarded as a good prospect making Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospects list every year between 2005 and 2008.  The following spring in 2009 the Rays made him apart of their rotation.  

Not exactly Cy Young, but he definitely had his moments.....


Niemann had double digit wins during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons.  He started out the 2012 season strong, but had his leg broken by a ball hit back through the middle of the field.  At the end of the 2012 season he had shoulder surgery, that was the end of his career.  Niemann was granted free agency at the end of the 2012 season, never signed with another team, and he never attempted a comeback of any type after recovering from his shoulder operation.  

Card-
The 1990s versions of Stadium Club were great.  The current reincarnation of Stadium Club has been pretty great too.  In between, there was another attempt by Topps at a Stadium Club product in 2008.  It did not go over very well.  The base cards were okay, nothing special.  The design was boring.  There were some Stadium Club like insert sets, but they were just boring rehashes too.  Even the autographs were kind of uninteresting.  Most importantly, it lacked the cool photography that is the signature feature of that set.  

Most of the autographs were of younger players, many of them flopped.  A few noteworthy names made it into the set, but not many.  As a Durham Bulls collector, I was first introduced to the autographs in this product when I found one of Evan Longoria.  Niemann's autograph was also a nice plus as a Bulls fan, and he was a good prospect at the time of this card's release.  I also like that this Niemann card was an on-card autograph.  There are plenty of sticker autographs in this product, some of them are a mess.  Imagine this Niemann card with a silver Topps autograph.  Terrible.  

Niemann has a ton of different autographed cards from both his playing years and time in the Minors as a prospect.  His cards started coming out in the mid 2000s, so there are a ton of sticker autographs mixed in there.  Still, there are a few nice Upper Deck and Topps products that are nice and come with on-card autographs.  I also considered getting a Sweet Spot autograph, but the Stadium Club ended up winning out in the end.  



Monday, March 26, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 27 - Alan Benes

The better of the two Benes brothers who pitched in the Majors.  Well, it was shaping up that way until his shoulder fell off.  His first full season in 1996 was fairly ho hum with 13 wins and an ERA of nearly 5.  Then there was 1997.  His record was only 9-9 through the beginning of July, with ERA of 2.89, and 3.5 WAR.  At the time he went on the disabled list, he never returned that season, his numbers were right in line with pitchers like Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling, and Tom Glavine.

Not the top tier with Maddux and Pedro during that 1997 season, but a very very good pitcher.  Mind you he was only 25 and his numbers had been trending up to this point in his career prior to the injury.  Could the first half of the 1997 season have been a complete fluke?  Sure, but I tend to think that he was headed that direction.  Not a stretch to say that the numbers put up by Alan Benes in 1997 were better than anything posted by Andy in his 14 years in the Majors.

The Cardinals drafted Alan Benes out of Creighton in the first round of the 1993 Draft.  He was a pretty highly regarded draft pick and immediately made his way through the Minor Leagues.

He had baseball cards almost right away too.  Like all mid 1990s prospects, he had a bunch of cards in Bowman products, but I actually liked his Upper Deck cards from that era better.  Benes was in both the 1994 and 1995 Upper Deck base sets.

He was in the 1994 set as a Top Prospect.


A lot of these cards were draft picks from 1993, it might have been all, did not do that much homework on the checklist.  When I think of these Upper Deck prospect cards, I always remember the Billy Wagner rookie.  He was taken a few picks in front of Benes in that draft.  The Benes card kind of sticks out because of the uniform.  I was never quite sure where the good people at Upper Deck took this photo, but that Cardinals uniform is straight out of the 1980s.

It could be that this card was made at some sort of photo shoot, or if they took it while he playing for a Minor League team that wore the old polyester Cardinals uniforms.  I found a Dmitri Young card from 1994 where he is playing for the St. Petersburg Cardinals.....


and wearing an old polyester style Cardinals uniform.  Young played for the Cardinals A Ball team in 1993, Benes played there in the early parts of 1994.  The Benes card is a high number, second series later release, so it would have given Upper Deck time to have taken the picture after the season started.  I would lean that direction for the picture.  

Benes was also in the 1995 Upper Deck set as a top prospect.  



They use pictures of him in the polyester uniform again, even though he was in Double A and Triple A during the first parts of the 1995 season.  He actually pitched a few games for the Cardinals towards the end of that season.  I hate recycled pictures, and the effort on this card seems really low when you take into account that his 1995 Upper Deck Minor League card had an updated photo of Benes playing for the Arkansas Travelers.  They would have been the Cardinals Double A team at that point.



I still like the blue background on the 1995 Upper Deck card.  I always prefer to see what is actually happening in the picture when it's an action shot, but this backdrop seems like a good Upper Deck card design element from the mid 1990s.  

Is this a game shot, or is he throwing in the bullpen?  You will never know.  

Before we get to the Major League cards of Benes, I would like to put up one more Minor League card of sorts.  Upper Deck had some Arizona Fall League cards in their Collectors Choice product in 1996.....


which had an Alan Benes card.  There are some other Arizona Fall League cards which have been floating around in more recent sets, but the Minor League players in that league now just wear their team's Major League uniform with a Fall League hat.  I like these mid 1990s cards when the Fall League teams had there own uniforms.  

Not sure when the unis switched over, but I am sure it was some cost saving move.

Benes did not have a ton of cards once he reached the Majors, mainly because he had a major shoulder injury towards the end of the 1997 season and was never quite the same pitcher after that year.  I have it narrowed it down to three or four cards.  

First up is my favorite card of Benes, which is 1997 Topps base card.



Speaking of recycled pictures, if you look up the other Alan Benes cards that Topps made in 1997 they are either this picture, or a photo that was taken from this moment in whatever game he is pitching in here.  Why do I like this picture?

I like the background of the picture.  It's a nice action shot too, but the Cardinals had spent the first half of the 1990s with an astroturf field and blue walls in Busch Stadium.


It's how Busch Stadium looked during my childhood through my years in high school.  After the Rams played a few games there during the fall of 1995, the playing surface was changed over to grass and the outfield walls were painted green.  


I have good memories of the blue walled, astroturfed field of the 1980s and early 1990s, but the green grass and green walls were a nicer place to watch baseball.  The 1997 baseball cards were the first year where you could find a plentiful number of Cardinals with the green fixings of Busch Stadium in the background.  I like that on this Benes card.

A few more classics from the mid 1990s....



The Emotion XL cards were always pretty cool cards.  Sometimes I could clearly see why the cards had a certain emotion printed on the side, other times not.  Alan Benes is excited?  He looked this way.....


almost every time that he threw......


a pitch.  

Good effort though and I still like these cards.  You cannot get them all right, but I am just excited that a smaller set from the mid 1990s had a Cardinals player in it outside of Ray Lankford, Ron Gant, or Dennis Eckersley.  Did not get many Alan Benes cards in these types of sets.  

Next.  


Another classic 1990s set.  Still trying to figure out what the Crusades have to do with baseball cards, but the design is really nice.  Sad story behind this card.  A few years ago this guy with basically everyone of these Crusade cards, all of the color variations, was dumping them all on Ebay.  I tried buying the Lankford red variation, a print run of just 25 cards, but the card ended at almost $200.  I lost, but I won this Alan Benes card.  

Last one.  


Alan Benes does have an autographed card in the 1997 Donruss Signature set.  It's not very hard to find and is also very affordable.  For whatever reason, Benes signed all of his cards across his picture rather than the space for the autograph that was provided at the bottom of the card.  There were not many players who missed the memo on where to sign these cards, but curiously three of them were on the Cardinals at some point during their career.  Benes from above.  

Edagr Renteria also signed his picture, as did Larry Walker.  


Benes did pitch after sitting out the 1998 season recovering from his shoulder injury.  Between 1999 and 2003 he only managed to pitch in roughly 60 games.  He was on the Cardinals until the 2001 season when he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs.  Benes would also pitch briefly with the Rangers and tried a comeback with the Cardinals in both 2004 and 2005.  Neither was successful.  
You can find an occasional Benes card from the later years of his career, but they are rather sparse,


although its nice that Topps made a few cards of a player who could have been great, minus the injuries, even though he did not ever live up to his potential.