Pages

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.  



Monday, March 19, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 26 - Eric Davis

Eric Davis should be on baseball cards in a Reds uniform.  I'd also accept him as an Oriole, but I really always place him with the Reds.  When I was growing up he was a dynamic player, a great combination of speed and power.   The Cardinals and Reds were in different divisions at that point, and their games were not nearly as tense as they have been in recent years.    

Davis had some pretty insane stats early in his career.  My favorite being his 27 home runs and 80 stolen bases in 1986.  The next year in 1987 he hit 37 home runs and had 50 steals.  I loved the run the Reds made through the playoffs in 1990 too.  Not a huge Barry Bonds/Pirates fan, not a huge A's fan at that point either. 

The Nasty Boys were the lesser of several evils.  Plus, they were diluted by actual likable players on the Reds like Eric Davis, Chris Sabo and his goggles, Barry Larkin, and Paul O'Neill.  


I had Eric Davis rookie cards.  His 1985 Fleer was my favorite.  




In my opinions, this photo is much better than the one on his Topps rookie card.  The red border around the card helps too. Very clean design, nice card.   

A rundown of the baseball happenings of Eric Davis between 1991 and 1998 with some pictures and a video....

He was injured much of the 1991 season and was eventually traded to the Dodgers.  Plenty of people were excited that he got traded to his hometown Dodgers, but he did little with the team who traded him again to the Tigers.  After hitting .183 with the Tigers in 1994, Davis missed the entire 1995 season.  He returned to the Reds in 1996 and things started to look up again after he stayed healthy for a full season and hit like the Eric Davis from the 1980s.  

Davis left the Reds after 1996 for the Orioles.  His 1997 season started out well, but he was diagnosed with colon cancer in May of that season.  He only appeared in 42 games, but returned for the playoffs and helped the Orioles get to the American League Championship Series against Cleveland.  

Major League Baseball presented him with the 1997 Roberto Clemente Award before Game 4 of the 1997 World Series.  It was 35 degrees when this game started, so there is no picture of Davis with the Roberto Clemente Award on the field.....


but I assure you he has it somewhere in his house......


right next to the Gold Gloves.  


In 1998, Davis hit .327/.388/.582 with 28 home runs and 89 RBIs.  



A remarkable comeback.  

The Cardinals bought in, but there was not much left in the tank.  I am not going to use the word "bust" on a guy who had colon cancer, beat it, and returned to play professional sports.  He still showed up in games, played hard, but he just was not the same guy who was an All-Star caliber player for the Reds and Orioles.  

The Cardinals had actually signed both Eric Davis and Shawon Dunston to help out with some of the younger players on the team during the 1999 season.  The team had J.D. Drew, Fernando Tatis, Placido Polanco, and Edgar Renteria.  Good talent, but at that time all of those players were under 25.  


At the end of the 1999 season, Davis had a .257/.359/.403 slash line with 5 home runs, 9 doubles, and 30 RBIs.  He managed to play in just 58 games.  The next season, in 2000, was much better for him.  Davis was still a bench player at that point, but he did help the team win the National League Central hitting .303/.389/.429 with 6 home runs and 14 doubles off the bench.  

Davis does have a few Cardinals baseball cards.  The first few were of the mismatched logo variety, not really a good look.  This Pacific Aurora is terrible......


I used to always say that I would rather have a card with mismatched logos, uniform of one team with card logos of another team, but this is a really unattractive looking card.  I understand that the Pacific Aurora set was a one time thing, no second series, so if they wanted to include Eric Davis in the set this was what they had to do.  I guess they could have airbrushed.....




The back is slightly better since the photo is black and white and it does not have an odd background color like the front of the card.  Never really liked the stat lines on some of these late 1990s/early 2000s Pacific baseball cards.  

Pacific eventually got it right later on in the summer.  




Much better picture on the Paramount card.  Aurora was a spring release, Paramount was a summer release.  This photo is from Spring Training.  The Cardinals in the late 1990s wore blue helmets on the road, note the grey pants, but during the spring the team wore red helmets.  The Cardinals also have never worn red jerseys in regular season games.  Ever.  Clearly a batting practice jersey.  

The Spring Training photos are a common theme with the Eric Davis Cardinals cards.




Leaning towards this being a Spring Training picture too on his 1999 Bowman card.  I actually have another post coming up on this card at some point in the next week or two.  Always surprised when I run across an Eric Davis card in a Cardinals uniform, even more surprising when it is in a newer product.  

Now, for my two favorite Eric Davis card in a Cardinals uniform.  



First up is a Fleer Premium from 1999.  I am not sure what is going on with the red and yellow hazy stuff that is lingering around Davis, but I like the rest of the card.  Good photo of Davis stretching out before a Spring Training game.  The background is blurry, but you can still clearly tell that it's a Dodgers players, maybe a ballboy.  

I was curious about his shoes since they have an 11 on them next to the Nike swoosh.  There were no Cardinals with the uniform number 11 in 1999, but there were three different members of the quad with that number from the previous year.  Fernando Tatis and Luis Ordaz wore the number later in the year, but Royce Clayton started the year with that number.  

Royce, your shoes.....




I'm guess that maybe Royce Clayton abandoned them when he was traded to the Rangers in the middle of the 1998 season.  Maybe there is some other story here too, I don't know, just speculating.  

Last card.  




This is a really cool card of Davis signing autographs in a sea of kids.  It's always nice to see a card of players interacting with fans.  No creepy adults shoving any of the kids out of the way.  Quality picture.  I really miss Upper Deck.  

Davis would end his career with the Giants in 2001.  He does some work with the Reds still and recently appeared in a video opening a pack of baseball cards.  Makes fun of Geronimo Pena and Joey Votto gets in the video at the end.  

Eric Davis opens 25-year-old baseball cards

Former 2-time MLB All-Star Eric Davis joins Mike Oz of Big League Stew to open a pack of 1992 Topps baseball cards.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I Like My $15 Card Better Than Your $700 Card

There are a lot of collectors who are enamored with the newest Angels pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani, or the Japanese Babe Ruth.  He was both a good hitter and pitcher in the Japan Pacific League the last few years.  His crossing over to Major League Baseball was one of the biggest stories during this offseason.  Anytime a noted names moves across the Pacific Ocean card collectors seem to take note with their wallets.

Exhibit A.




$700 plus for an autograph from the 2018 Topps Heritage set.  Seems like a lot for a player who has not taken a single regular season at-bat, or thrown a single regular season pitch.  Ohtani has thrown innings and taken at-bats during Spring Training.  They have not gone so well.  He is hitting .100 at the moment and has struck out almost one-third of the time.  Ohtani has also pitched a little more than 2 innings and given up 9 runs.

Not exactly the type of player who would have a large card budget in my collection.  Even if he were a Cardinals player, or made an appearance on the Durham Bulls, I would pass him by without a thought at the moment.

I felt like there were better uses of my money in the Topps Heritage set this year.  Namely, there is an autograph of Cardinals prospect Jack Flaherty.  It's a nice looking card, but more importantly there is a pretty good chance that Flaherty is going to be a pretty nice pitcher......




even if his first time around in the Majors could have been a little bit better.  

He has a nice looking card in Heritage too......




and for around $15 this seems to be a little bit more sound of an investment.  Flaherty does have an ERA of almost 5 in Spring Training, but he also has 20 strike outs in just 13 innings.   Swings and misses are always a good thing with pitching prospects.  I am guessing that Flaherty ends up in Memphis to start the season, but at some point he will end up on the Cardinals.  Just a hunch, but I am guessing my $15 card might end up being a little bit better than your $700 card.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Best Cardinal Without A Card

It has been painful to watch the Cardinals the past few years.  There is the obvious fact that they have been passed by the Cubs as the rulers of the National League Central, but in my opinion there has been far more wrong with the team beyond the improvement of the Cubs on-field performance.

The team has been incredibly sloppy and deeply flawed in many different ways...

Bad defense.  



Bad baserunning.  



Bad pitching.  



Not sure there is a video clip, or picture, that could sum up the poor quality of Matheny's poor in game strategy.  It's horrible.  After spending my life watching Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa there is no doubt that I have been spoiled by quality managers......




but even by mediocre manager standards Matheny is still bad.  

There have been plenty of Matheny cards that have been made since he took over the Cardinals managing gig in 2012, but I have posted none of them.  He is one St. Louis player/manager I can live without in my collection.  I have posted Tate Matheny cards.......




but I am not touching Mike.  He's got some cards in my collection, but only what I need to finish the sets that I have in closet.  There are not really any "cool" Matheny cards floating around in my baseball card room.  

How did we get here?  The three managers before Matheny, there were short-term managers between Herzog and Torre and Torre and LaRussa, the Cardinals did things the right way.  The teams always did a great job of fielding....

Played good defense in the outfield....




on the infield.....



they ran the bases well....



and they had timely hitting.  Oh, and they ran the bases well after the timely hitting.  




Not to excuse Matheny, he's still a garbage manager, but the three previous managers had someone on their staff in common.  In fact, he started out with the Cardinals in the early 1940s before World War II as a player in their Minor League system, did some managing in the Minors with the Cardinals after his playing career flamed out before the Majors, and eventually settled into a role with the team as a roving instructor.  

The Cardinals organization referred to him as "The Professor"

In the late 1960s he worked with former Phillies infielder George "Sparky" Anderson as he transitioned over to managing Minor League teams for the Cardinals.  He apparently went on to be a pretty good manager.  He also ended up working with former A's utility infielder Tony LaRussa as a player during his final year with the New Orleans Pelicans, a Cardinals Minor League team at that time.  

George Kissell might be one of the most important members of the Cardinals organization that nobody knows much about outside of St. Louis.  He did work on the coaching staff of Red Schoendienst for a time in the 1970s and made it onto the bottom of a baseball card as a coach.....




Kissell did not ever get his own card though since he was only a coach.  You would think that with all of the gimmicky cards that Topps comes up with every year that we could get a card of coach that was with a team through seven World Series Championships.  How can he not get some sort of card?  That's more World Series winners than all the other Major League teams outside of the Yankees, A's, Giants, and Red Sox.  

We've had a card with George W. Bush photoshopped into the crowd and Mickey Mantle into the dugout....



we've even had a squirrel get a baseball card with Skip Schumaker's shoe.....




It's hard to believe that George Kissell is cardless.  

I was fortunate enough to spot something last week and I honestly thought that some other Cardinals collector would jump on it and push it to a place I was unwilling to go in terms of cost.  I was surprised in the end that nobody else touched it.  

An actual George Kissel card.  Not with Red Schoendienst, but all by himself.  




It's actually the photo proof card that Topps used to make the 1974 Red Schoendienst card at the top of the post.  It's not necessarily a baseball card in the traditional sense, but it's still something.  Considering their is not an actual stand alone George Kissell card this is as close as it gets for the moment.  

Maybe one day someone at one of the card companies will wake up and decide to give George Kissel a card.  Sadly, he passed away after a car accident in Tampa in 2008....




While it would be a little bit late for Kissell to enjoy his own card, I am certain that it would likely be a hit with Cardinals collectors.  I am sure that if Topps can make a card with Abe Lincoln and Ryan Dempster they can find a spot in a set for a coach like George Kissell.  







Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Project Durham Bulls #31 - Jason Schmidt


1993 Durham Bulls 


Background- 
Schmidt played for the 1993 Durham Bulls team, which was his third season in professional baseball after the Braves drafted him out of Kelso High School in Washington state.  He played the entire season with the Bulls, making 22 starts, in his second season in A Ball.  In 1992, he had spent a portion of the season with the Macon Braves in the South Atlantic League.  The Braves would would Schmidt up to Double A in 1994, and he made his Major League debut with the team during the first month of the 1995 season.  He was eventually traded to the Pirates in exchange for Denny Neagle.  Schmidt ended up spending six season on the Pirates in the mid to late 1990s, pitching for some pretty terrible teams.  Nothing spectacular in Pittsburgh, just a good solid starter who provided some good innings.  

The Giants traded for Schmidt in 2001.  Easily the best years of his career were in San Francisco.  He had a decent regular season in 2002, his first full season with the Giants, but pitched a great game in the second game of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals to help the team reach the World Series.  The Giants ended up losing that World Series to the Angels, but they won both games that Schmidt started during the Fall Classic.  Schmidt lost out on the 2003 Cy Young Award to Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne, but he won 18 games, won the National League ERA title, and also struck out more than 200 batters.  

Schmidt would stay with the Giants until the end of the 2006 season when he signed with the Dodgers.  He pitched a total of 10 games with the team over the length of the three year contract he signed with them, and managed to make $45 million doing it.  That's $4.5 million per start.  


Card- 
The Upper Deck Sweet Spot autographed cards have to be one of my favorite early 2000s baseball card lines.  You can spot these cards from a mile away, not really sure that the scans really do these cards enough justice.  The thick card stock and depth that the ball piece on the front creates is completely lost with the scan.  This Schmidt card is from the 2004 set, which looks a lot like the rest of the Sweet Spot sets from this time frame, minus that one year where all of the autographs faded off of the cards.  Pretty sure that 2007.

There are not many Jason Schmidt autographs out there.  Outside of this Sweet Spot card there is also a Leaf Signature, a 2007 Topps Trading Places insert card, and one of those oddball mid 1990s Signature rookie sets.  Easy decision, especially considering that none of the cards are really breaking the bank in terms of price.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 25 - Allen Watson

The Cardinals were in rebuilding mode in the early 1990s, and they had some early draft picks several years in a row.  Clearly the team missed out big a few times along the way.  In 1990, the team selected Donovan Osborne and Aaron Holbert in the first round ahead of players like Mike Mussina, Garrett Anderson, Ray Durham, Mike Hampton, and Troy Percival.


Love my Aaron Holbert cards, but I will save most of them for another day.  

The 1990 Cardinals were horrible.  The team went 70-92 and finished 6th in the National League East.  In the 28 years since the 1990 season, the Cardinals have finished in last place zero times.  Never happened.  The team has not even had a 90 loss season in the part 28 years.  Prior to the last place finish in 1990, the 1918 team was the last team to finish in last for the Cardinals.  That's 72 years in between last place finishes.  The Cardinals did manage two 90 loss season in the mid to late 1970s.  

Beyond the last place finish, the team also lost a ton of free agents, so they received several compensation picks.  In all, the Cardinals had seven of the first 100 picks in the draft.  

Their first pick, fourth overall, was spent on Dmitri Young.  He was considered the best high school bat in the draft.  While Dmitri never developed into the franchise player he was hyped to be after he was drafted, there is no shame in picking a player who spent more than a decade in the Majors as a productive player.  




Dmitri was easily the best player the Cardinals took in the 1991 draft by a wide margin.  The Cardinals owned four other draft picks in the first round of the draft and took Allen Watson, Brian Barber, Tom McKinnon, and Dan Cholowsky.  Outside of Young, the next most recognizable name from this draft came in the 6th Round when the team selected John Mabry out of West Chester University.  





The Cardinals also drafted John Frascatore in 1991, who was a useful reliever for a few years during the late 1990s for the Cardinals, as well as catcher Mike Difelice, Rigo Beltran, and Mike Busby.  

So back to Allen Watson.  He was drafted 21st overall behind Manny Ramirez and Cliff Floyd, and Shawn Green.  Watson pitched in the Minors during the summer of 1991 with the Cardinals High A and Low A teams.  He pitched a total of 11 games, ending the season with a 2.89 ERA, and more than a strikeout per inning.  



Watson had baseball cards the following year.  His most notable cards were in the Bowman, Topps, and Upper Deck Minor League sets.  Personally I kind of like his 1992 Score card.  I know the background is just filled in green, but it's a fairly clean card.  His Topps card has him wearing a New York Tech shirt, that looks like it probably has holes in the arm pits, and a Mets hat.  

Baseball American rated him as the 64th best prospect in baseball prior to the 1992 season, and the 9th best before the 1992 season.  Watson was in Triple A by the end of the 1992 season and was dominating the batters.  He was about a strikeout per inning pitcher, had an excellent ERA, and started winning games too.  Watson ended the 1992 season with 14 Ws in 30 starts.  

According to my ticket stubs and scorecards I actually attended Allen Watson's Major League debut against the Braves in July of 1993.  He went 6 innings, shut down the eventual National League Champion Braves, and got some help on offense with a Bernard Gilkey home run.  

Watson had sort of a weird 1993 season.....


He won his first 6 decisions and stood with a perfect 6-0 record in the middle of August.  It took some luck.  He won his third start against the Rockies in Coors Field even though he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings.  He was actually losing when the Cardinals lifted him for a pinch hitter in the 6th inning, but they hung an 8 spot on the Rockies during that frame.  Watson ended up losing his last seven decisions of the season, ending the year with a 6-7 record.  

The long losing streak culminated with a late August game against the Padres.  Watson gave up 8 runs in just two-thirds of an inning.  The Cardinals replaced him with Todd "Third Degree" Burns who gave up another 5 before the end of the inning, putting the Cardinals in a 13-0 hole.

Watson was still reviewed as an important part of the Cardinals future despite the losing streak at the end of the 1993 season.  My two favorite cards of Watson, beyond his Score Draft Pick card, were his 1994 and 1995 Topps cards.  Both featured the Cardinals pitcher in the old Busch Stadium.  The astroturf, the circular National League team logos on the outfield wall, and the arches at the top of the stadium.  Great card, doesn't really matter what player is on the card.

Next.



The 1995 Topps card shows less of old Busch Stadium, but I like the white Cardinals uniform against the blue wall in the background.  After the Cardinals switched Busch Stadium over to grass in 1996, the walls in the outfield were all painted green, beforehand the walls were whatever blue is behind Watson.  




Blue walls are shown below.

Watson's Cardinals career came to an end in December of 1995 when he was traded to the Giants for shortstop Royce Clayton.  Both were former first round draft picks who had been disappointments during their brief careers.  Clayton helped the 1996 Cardinals reach the National League Championship Series.  Watson pitched one season for the Giants before they traded him to the Angels for first baseman J.T. Snow.

Watson pitched a few more years for the Angels, Mariners, Mets, and Yankees before he played his last Major League game in 2000.  He did pitch for the Yankees in 1999, which was a World Series winning team, so Watson ended up with a ring at the end of his career.  Card-wise, there is one nice Allen Watson card that was made post-Cardinals.




He appeared in the 1996 Leaf Signature set as a member of the Giants.  There were not many Allen Watson cards after his time with the Giants.  A few Angels cards, a pair of Yankees cards, and that's it.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

These Might Be Good Cubans

Three and a half years ago I went to the deciding game of the International League Championship between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Durham Bulls.  The game was not only a chance to see a team win the Governor's Cup, it was also a chance to see heralded Red Sox prospect Rusney Castillo.  


Castillo had defected from Cuba and signed a 72 million dollar contract with the Red Sox.  I took it as a chance to see a Major League player in a Minor League stadium.  Always cool to see Major League talent up close in a smaller stadium.   

Since that last game of the 2014 playoffs, I have had the chance to watch Castillo play for the Paw Sox in 2015, 2016, and 2017.  He's halfway through his $72 million dollar contract and he's made $34 million dollars playing three season in Triple A.  Although, Castillo has played 99 games with the Red Sox, but 80 of those games were in 2015.  

While Castillo has not worked out, there have been plenty of other Cuban players who have been able to successfully make the jump to the Majors.  

Yoenis Cespedas, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Fernandez, the list could go on and on.  




I have recently picked up cards of two former Cuban players.  Hopefully they will be joining the list of successful players above. 

First up is a Blue Jays prospect.....



easier and the cheaper of the two prospects that I am featuring in this post.  Lourdes Gurriel is the younger brother of the Astros Yuli Gurriel.  He's turning 24 this season, and he's not past Double A, but there are a lot of people who think very highly of his future.  Baseball America has him rated as a Top 100 prospect.  Since his cards are fairly inexpensive, I paid more for this card in shipping off of Ebay than I actually did for the card, I am willing to risk it.  

I also like these Bowman TEK cards.  The Topps TEK cards are better, but these are not that far behind.  Besides picking up the autographed version of this card, I also landed a base card.  




Not any difference between the cards outside of the autograph.  

Little bit bigger prospect, more expensive card, and a guy who has not played outside of the Dominican Summer League.  He did hit really well there though.....




Luis Robert (pronounced row-bear) signed last year with the White Sox.  Panini has several cards of him out in a White Sox uniform.  Well, a White Sox uniform with the logos air brushed out, because it's Panini.  I am guessing that Topps will get a Robert card into some sort of Bowman product this year.  The autographed version of whatever card they give him will cost an arm and leg.  

This International Contenders card is a little goofy with Robert wearing some sort of aqua colored worksheet.  I believe that this picture is from one of his showcase workouts.....



The opinions of Robert are mixed.  I have seen some baseball people claim that he is the next coming of Bryce Harper, or Mickey Mantle.  I have also seen baseball people cite the fact that there have been far more Cuban position players who have not measured up to the amount of money spent up front to sign them, nor do they live up to the hype.  

The White Sox have two A ball teams in North Carolina, so perhaps there is a chance that I will be able to see him play at some point this summer.  Guessing he would be a fun player to see in person.  If not this summer, he will surely end up in Charlotte in a few years.  The Knights are in the same division as the Durham Bulls and they play frequently.