Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #99 Dave Hollins

Continuing the series of my top 100 favorite ballplayers of all-time. This is not a ranking of what I consider "the best" players in the history of baseball... this is simply my list of players I have admired at some point and contributed to my love of the game.

Things had started looking up for the 1990 Philadelphia Phillies. They were emerging from two truly awful last place finishes. The franchise, which had not had a winning season since 1986, was still recovering from the retirement of Mike Schmidt. The team started rebuilding by developing young arms and acquiring a couple of legitimate major league players. During the off-season Lenny Dykstra seemed to have magically transformed his body and turned into an all-star player.

One of the bright spots for the organization was a 24 year old rookie named Dave Hollins. It seemed like a natural fit for me... Phillies, third baseman, wearing #15. Add in the fact I was sitting in San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium on July 19th, 1991 when he hit a grand slam to beat the Padres 4-1. I actually got to meet Hollins during the offseason at an event in his hometown in Buffalo... I was hooked.

By 1992, Hollins had developed into the Phils regular third baseman, hitting 27HRs and driving in 93 runs. The next season everything came together for the club as they won the NL pennant and went to the World Series. Hollins made the All-Star team and was in the middle of it all -- punctuated when he launched a Greg Maddux sixth inning pitch deep into the night during Game 6 of the NLCS. That home run put the Phils up 4-1 and proved to be the difference in the pennant clincher.

Unfortunately, 1993 proved to be the high water mark for Hollins and the memorable "macho row" generation of Phillies players. He never again came close to that production level and was traded in July of 1995 to the Red Sox for Mark Whiten.

Interesting side note: Towards the end of his career, Hollins was traded for "a player to be named later" by the Mariners to the Twins in a playoff run deadline deal. That player ended up being David Ortiz.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #100 Gaylord Perry

You want to attempt a fun baseball related mental exercise ?

Sit down with a pen and blank piece of paper and without any aid, list your top 100 favorite baseball players of all time. I tried it recently and had a lot of entertainment thoughtfully shuffling through my memory bank looking for players I enjoyed. Of course, this exercise also germinated an idea for a new series of posts. There are roughly 95 days until the start of spring training, I hope to complete this undertaking before the start of the new season.

Lets get started...

On August 16th, 1920 Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman was struck in the temple by a ball thrown by the Yankees Carl Mays. He died on the spot. An investigation into his death showed contributing factors included the lack of protection for his head, a poorly illuminated ballpark, and a dirty and altered baseball.

A spitball moves atypically because of it has been altered by some foreign substance, typically saliva or petroleum jelly. After the 1920 season, partly in response to Chapman's death, the league owners voted to ban the "spitball" (although they did exempt and grandfather 16 pitchers).

Eighteen years later, the most famous spit-baller ever, a guy named Gaylord Perry was born. He claims he was taught the pitch in 1964, and he quickly developed a reputation for doctoring baseballs and throwing the illegal pitch. So paranoid were his baseball opponents, he was constantly monitored and inspected, often right on the pitching mound by umpires. The fact is - it wasn't until his 21st season in the majors (August 23, 1982) that he was actually ejected from a game for doctoring the ball.

As a kid, I used to love watching Perry pitch. He had a whole series of hat touches and gyrations designed to psyche out hitters. Apparently, it worked because he was a five time all star, won the Cy Young Award in both leagues, won 314 games and was inducted in the the Hall of Fame in 1991. My favorite memory of Perry is his 300th win in 1982 as a member of the Seattle Mariners.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Uniform Templates? Ready to download

I've recently had a couple of requests to share the photoshop uniform templates I've created for this site. I've directly shared individual files with readers in the past, but I have decided to sign up for a file sharing service and organize things well enough to gather into one post. Each one of these templates heavily utilizes layers and color overlays. Your successful results will require a basic working knowledge of photoshop. Enjoy. I'd love to see any designs you come up with.

DAHOF Hat template
I created this template last year from a 1962 Chicago Cubs program. Very simple to use. When several of these are combined, the results are pretty cool.

You can download it here.
DAHOF running template
This was the first "action" uniform template I have attempted. It is based on an actual picture I took of UCLA catcher Steve Rodriguez at the College World Series. The development and revision process for this template is documented here and continued here.

You can download the template here.
DAHOF defensive template
I quietly started working on this one a couple of months ago after gaining some more confidence from the running player experience. This template is based on a picture I shot this summer of Royals prospect Mike Moustakas.

You can download the template here.
DAHOF batter template
After completing the defensive template, I had visions of a three player concept design. I looked through hundreds of batter pictures before I selected an image of Josh Hamilton. I still have some work to do on this one, but it is usable in this current form.

You can download this template here.
DAHOF turn two
I've showed off this template a couple of times here and here. It too is based on some art shown on a 1979 Chicago Cubs scorecard. The design style is much more simplistic than the action templates above.

This template can be downloaded here.
DAHOF standing template
I banged this out last night after getting inspired by a non-action/more traditional model I found. Again, this one still has some work to be done like piping and pinstripe options.

Download this template here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mailbag: 1977 Wampum Hair-itage

A couple of weeks ago I got a nice email from a reader named Tom. I've said it before, but it is always nice to hear from people out there that enjoy this site and appreciate what I post here. I try to respond to each email within a reasonable period of time. Keep your ideas and suggestions coming.

For this post, here is the relevant portion of Tom's message:

... that "hair -tage" of Dick, I was wondering if you could do one of him like that with the A's hat and color. I would love to copy that onto a shirt and adorn it with #60 and "WAMPUM" on the back. I am currently trying to find an authentic or knock off of the green 1977 jersey and a white one too.

It took me a while to build up the confidence and concentration needed to take another stab at custom "hair-itage". Over the holiday weekend, I decided to take the plunge. My photoshop drawing skill have improved since my last attempts at this. I am not 100% satisfied yet, but this is a nice step forward.

Good luck with your t-shirt design and jersey hunt. I'd love to see pictures of either one if you get them in hand. In the meantime, let this be your inspiration.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Luis Tiant / Pirates

Yesterday was Luis Tiant's birthday. If you have not seen the recent documentary called The Lost Son of Havana, I would strongly recommend you do it. It is a very compelling story about the man they call "El Tiante".

Luis Tiant is the only child of Luis Tiant, Sr. and Isabel Vega. From 1926 through 1948, the senior Tiant was a great left-handed pitcher for the Negro League's New York Cubans during the summer and the Cuban professional league's Cienfuegos in the winter.

He made his big league debut as a Cleveland Indian in July of 1964. He won 21 games for the Indians in 1968, leading the American League with in ERA. His 1.60 ERA was the lowest in the American League since Walter Johnson's 1.49 mark during the dead-ball era in 1919. The next season he lost 20 games while fighting through injuries and was traded to the Twins.

He won his first six games with the 1970 Twins, and then broke his scapula, ending his season and what many believed his career. The Twins cut him during spring training of 1971. The Braves signed him to a minor league contract to play with their Triple-A team in Richmond, where he pitched well enough to catch the eye of the Boston Red Sox, who grabbed him in May. Despite struggling through the rest of 1971 with a 1-7 record and 4.88 ERA things were looking up for Luis.

In 1972 Tiant regained his old form with a 15-6 record and led the league with a 1.91 ERA. He would win 20 games in 1973 and 22 in 1974. However it was in 1975 he became one of the greatest and most beloved pitchers in Red Sox history.

Though hampered by back problems in 1975, he won 18 games for the AL Champions. He excelled in the postseason, beating the three time defending World Champion Oakland A's in a three-hit complete game. He followed that up when he opened the World Series shutting out the Reds 6-0. It was a special night because his father and mother were in the stands time watching him pitch in the US for the first time -- having been allowed to visit from Cuba under a special visa.

Tiant also won Game 4 (throwing 163 pitches in his second complete game of the series) and had a no-decision in the memorable Game 6, which ended with Carlton Fisk’s dramatic game-winning walk-off home run in the 12th inning.

Tiant went 21-12 in 1976, 12-8 in 1977, and 13-8 in 1978. At the end of the 1978 season, Tiant signed as a free agent with the Yankees where he compiled a 21-17 record over two seasons (1979-80)

After the 1980 season, the Yankees released him. He signed with Pittsburgh in 1981, but spent most of the season in Portland where he excelled for the Beavers (13-7, 3.82) including a no-hitter. He got called up, but struggled with the Pirates and was released at the end of the season. He finished up his major league career with six games for the 1982 Angels, with his final win coming against the Red Sox on August 17.

In the end, Tiant won more games in the major leagues than any other Cuban-born pitcher in the 20th Century, having 35 more than Dolf Luque and 44 more than Mike Cuellar. He was third among all Latin American natives, trailing Dennis Martinez (245) and Juan Marichal (243).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Birthday "Bull" Luzinski

Happy Birthday to Greg "Bull" Luzinski. He was a key member of the 1970's Phils championship teams and was one of the strongest players to ever put on a Phillies uniform.

In July of 1976, along with Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen, he formed one-third of the trio Baseball Digest called "Baseball's Most Potent Power Trio".

My cards: 2012 Gerrit Cole

What a nice way to start a long holiday weekend! A baseball photography colleague alerted me to this Cardboard Connection post from yesterday. The Gerrit Cole autograph card they are previewing is one of my images.

The actual picture was taken during one of the early games at the 2010 College World Series in Omaha. UCLA went all the way to the finals, but lost to South Carolina. I am very impressed with the quality of the photoshop airbrushing by the artists at Topps. Quite an improvement over what we have grown up with.

Monday, November 21, 2011

1975 Topps Redux: Hank Aaron

Recently, I've been working on some 1975 Topps Traded Project submissions. While doing the research,  I was reminded of the strange manner in which Topps handled the newly crowned HR King, Hank Aaron with this set.

Early in the 1974 season, Hank Aaron hit his 715th HR and broke baseball's all-time home run record as a member of the Atlanta Braves. He was the toast of baseball and the rest of the '74 season was simply a victory lap for baseball's latest super-hero. Not surprisingly, he was elected as a NL starter in the 1974 All Star Game in Pittsburgh.

I'm not sure any noticed -- but once the record was broken, Hank's power production dropped off considerably. When the season was done, he had delivered "only" 20 HRs and 69 RBIs, a big drop from previous seasons. It was clear that time was catching up to the future hall of famer.

In November, after the conclusion of the 1974 season the Braves traded the now 40-year-old slugger to the Milwaukee Brewers. It was a nice fit because the still very popular Aaron was returning to the city where is his big league career had started and Milwaukee was (at the time) an American League town, where the newly adopted designated hitter rule was being used. In exchange Atlanta got outfielder Dave May and a minor league pitcher. Becoming a full-time DH enabled Aaron to extend his career long enough to break Babe Ruth's career RBI mark (2,217) and play two more seasons before retiring at the end of the 1976 campaign.

The 1975 Topps set actually has two Hank Aaron cards. One is an awful looking airbrushed Brewers card the other shows him in a Braves uniform. This "HR record highlight" card carries the NL all-star designation, which makes no sense to me at all.  I decided to fix this error in judgement and give Hank Aaron a decent looking 1975 card with his correct team and a proper all star designation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Uniform Redux: Birmingham Black Barons

It has been some time since I have posted something connected to my Negro League Uniform Redux Project. Since July, I have been working on a couple of baseball uniform templates. Each of these player models was made from an image I made while shooting a college, minor league, or major league game.

I like this new template a lot better than the original one I started this project with. I think I may go back and revisit the previous teams using this home/away/alternate concept.

The Black Barons formed the cornerstone of professional Negro baseball in the South for more than 30 years. Arising from Birmingham's active industrial leagues, in 1920 the club became a charter franchise in the Negro South League. Through its long history the club was at various times associated with the Negro Southern League, Negro National League and Negro American League.
The team's heyday came in the 1940s when, as members of the Negro American League, the Black Barons fielded exceptionally strong teams featuring such stars as Piper Davis, Lester Lockett, Artie Wilson and Ed Steele.
In 1943, 1944, and 1947 these strong squads captured the league title. However, none of these pennants led to a Negro World Championship crown as the club fell to the powerful Homestead Grays in each series.
It would be strange for me to talk about the Birmingham Black Barons without mentioning Willie Mays:
Born May 6, 1931, Westfield, Ala., both Mays' father and grandfather had been baseball players. Willie, who batted and fielded right-handed, played semiprofessional baseball when he was 16 years old and joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro National League in 1948, playing only on Sunday during the school year.
The National League New York Giants paid the Barons for his contract when he graduated from Fairfield Industrial High School in 1950. After two seasons in the minor leagues, Mays went to the Giants in 1951.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Bucky Dent / Royals

Drafted twice (but never signed) by the St. Louis Cardinals, the White Sox drafted Bucky Dent in the first round (6th overall) out of Miami-Dade Junior College in the 1970 draft. After three years in the minors he was called up to Chicago midway through the 1973 season. His first career hit was an infield single off Fred Scherman at Tiger Stadium on June 13th, 1973 (his teammate Dick Allen went 3 for 3 that day).

In 1974 he replaced Eddie Leon as the starting shortstop for the White Sox and played well enough to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Mike Hargrove. In 1975 his star continued to rise as he was selected for the All-Star Game. in 1976 his batting average had declined and pending free agency -- the Sox traded him to the New York Yankees for Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, and Bob Polinsky prior to the start of the 1977 campaign.

He won World Series ring as the shortstop for the 1977 Bronx Zoo Yankees. The next season, on October 2, 1978 Bucky Dent entrenched himself into baseball history and earned the wrath of Red Sox fans forever. During the one-game AL East playoff in Boston, he hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning off Mike Torrez (his teammate from the '77 Yankees). The Yankees took the lead with his improbable HR (it was only his 5th of the season and 23rd of his career) and went on to win the game 5-4. He went on to win the 1978 World Series Most Valuable Player, hitting .417 with 7 RBI in a six-game win over Dodgers.

As a living Yankee legend, Dent was elected as the starting shortstop on the 1980 and 1981 All-Star teams. In 1982, in the midst of a hitting slump (he was batting .169) he was traded to the Rangers for Lee Mazzilli. He spent the remainder of 1982 and the 1983 season in Texas, where he led AL shortstops in fielding percentage.

The Rangers released him before the start of 1984 season. In June, he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees but he was released a month later. He signed with the Kansas City Royals in August and 11 games and 3 singles later, his big league career was over. His last hit (September 9th, 1984) was an RBI single off of the Mariners Mark Langston.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Updated uniform template - Oakland A's mono-gold

I had a request from an Oakland A's fan to use the mono-gold look. Here is what the template looks like after I changed the length and angle of the throwing arm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Boog Powell / Dodgers

Continuing my Boog Powell theme... Following an unproductive 1976 season in Cleveland, it looked the end of the road for the 35 year old former Baltimore All-Star. He was released by the Indians near the end of spring training in 1977.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and new manager Tommy Lasorda were preparing to battle and finally take down the Bid Red Machine in the NL West. On April 5th, two days before opening day they signed Powell (Yes, Opening Day used to be in April). With Steve Garvey entrenched at first base, Lasorda was counting on some left handed power and veteran leadership off the bench.

The Dodgers cruised, but Boog's contribution wasn't pretty. He appeared in 50 games before being released on August 30th. Garvey basically never took a day off and all but one of Boog's appearances was as a pinch hitter. His final at bat, facing the Pirates and future Hall of Famer Rich Gossage, Boog grounded out to second base in the 10th inning of an eventual 2-1 Dodgers win. When it was all said and done, he collected 10 singles in 41 official at bats. He was credited with 5 RBIs. Not one extra base hit. He was not on the roster when the Dodgers clinched the NL West three weeks later (September 20th), when they beat the Phillies in the NLCS, nor when they finally lost to Reggie Jackson and the Yankees in the World Series.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

1975 Topps Traded Project: Boog Powell

Before he became a BBQ legend, Boog Powell was a mainstay of the great Baltimore Oriole teams of the 1960's and 1970's. Along with Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank Robinson, he was a significant and powerful part of 2 Orioles World Series winners. He was 4-time All-Star won the American League's Most Valuable Player award in 1970.

However, Oriole manager Earl Weaver's use of the platoon system started making his at-bats disappear. In 1973 Powell only got 103 starts at first and in 1974 it was down to 94. Prior to the start of the 1975 season, the aging slugger was traded to Cleveland with Don Hood for Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer. Reunited with former teammate turned player/manager Frank Robinson, Boog got the chance to play every day. He responded well, hitting .297 with 129 hits and 27 home runs (his highest marks since 1970), plus fielding his position at a .997 clip.

Topps only produced an Orioles version of his 1975 card.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Parade of Ridiculousness: Prince Albert in South Florida

When I saw the Miami Marlins (how weird does that sound?) introduced their new uniform design and released this news on the same day.. I knew that I had my next Parade of Ridiculousness project.
MIAMI -- The Marlins spent the week entertaining high-profile free agents, showing them the sizzle of the club's new stadium while allowing them to soak in the South Florida sunshine.

Albert Pujols, the top free agent on the market, is the latest big name to see the new ballpark.

The slugger was in town on Friday, meeting with the Marlins while getting a tour of the 37,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark.
I chose the 1980 Topps design because José Alberto Pujols Alcántara was born in January of 1980 -- however, as with all Dominican Republic birth certificates, this is subject to change.

At this point, my only hope is if Albert decides to play for the Marlins, he has the good sense to allow ESPN to produce an hour long television "DECISION" special which concludes with him announcing:

 "This spring.... this is very tough... this spring, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Marlins... "

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day: Carlos May

Today is Veterans Day.

There are many great examples of famous baseball players serving in the Unites States Armed Forces. More than 500 Major League players served during World War II including some Hall of Famers like Ted Williams and Bob Feller.

San Diego Padres announcer Jerry Coleman postponed his baseball career to serve as a Marine Corps aviator. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II. After the war he joined the Yankees and was voted Rookie of the Year. In May 1953 his baseball career was disrupted again. He was recalled to service in the Korean War, where he earned a second Distinguished Flying Cross.

However, the one major league military vet I most remember vividly as a kid was former While Sox slugger Carlos May.

He was Lee May's little brother and was selected in the first round of the 1966 amateur draft. He spent most of his career with the Sox, where he played with Dick Allen for three seasons. He was selected for two American League All Star games (in 1969 he made the AL team and his brother Lee made the NL team). Traded for Ken Brett, he played in the 1976 World Sereis as a member of the New York Yankees. He also had a brief stint as a California Angel before heading to Japan, where he played for 4 seasons.

In August 1969, while training with his Marine Reserve unit Carlos blew off part of his thumb in a mortar accident. You can see his hand with the missing thumb portion on this August 1973 cover of Baseball Digest. The web site White Sox Interactive* posted an interview with Carlos May:

“I was with a mortar detail. The company was all supposed to fire a one round volley, there were six of us (mortars). Sometimes it’s hard to tell when they all go off, who fired. The spotters didn’t say anything and I was told to clean the piece. That’s was my job as a gunner. I had an iron rod with a swab on the end and I pushed it down into the barrel. Our mortar didn’t go off and I pushed the shell that was still in there, down to the contact point and it fired. What took part of my thumb off was the iron rod being blown back up. I couldn’t get my hand out of the way.”

In a strange baseball connected twist, it was a fellow major league ballplayer Bob Watson (he served in the same unit) that found the part of his thumb on the range. But it was to late to try to reattach it.

Amazingly, Carlos May quickly rehabbed and was able to return to the White Sox the next season. With the help of a custom made batting glove, he played in 150 games and was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year. He has to be the first and only player to make the "all rookie" team one season and be awarded the "comeback player" the next.

Rusty Staub is credited as the first player to wear batting gloves regularly, but the Expos images I have seen of him in 1969, he is bear handed. I'm not sure how to research this, but I am going to credit Carlos as the first player to wear a batting glove full time when he hit.

A couple of fun facts about Carlos May. On opening day 1971 (in the first inning of the second game of a scheduled doubleheader) he was called out after failing to touch home following a home run. Later that same year, he hit an inside the park grand slam (to left field) at Comiskey Park. And finally, born on May 17th Carlos wore number #17 for most of his career. He is the only player in major league history to wear his birthday on his jersey -- "May 17".

* You should read the whole interview, it is quite fascinating. Some great observations about the time he spent playing with Dick Allen -- including a quote from Carlos calling DA "the best player that I ever saw."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Matt Stairs Project

When Matt Stairs retired from baseball in August, I posted this in recognition of his contribution to the 2008 Phillies World Series win. As I was looking up his career stats for the post, I realized that he might have the longest display of uniform numbers of any player on All told Stairs played for 12 different teams -- 13 if want to separate the Expos franchise he debuted for from the Nationals that he finished with. According to the fine folks a, Stairs wore 19 different uniform/number combinations during his career.

Former players Mike Morgan, Ron Villone, Deacon McGuire each played for 12 different teams. Morgan's uni/number combo count finished at 17, Villone got 14, and McGuire retired in 1912, several years before a major league team even issued uniform numbers. The only active player that is even close to Stairs is Miguel Cairo, his 2011 season with the Reds put him up to 14.

I thought it might be fun to create a set of Matt Stairs cards - showing him with every major league team he played for. Rather than drive myself crazy attempting to create new templates for each year, I decided to simply go with a 1968 Topps design. Matt Stairs was born in 1968.

1992 - 1993: Montreal Expos
Stairs makes his big league debut on May 29th, 1992 with the Expos in Cincinnatti. Appropriately he enters his first game as a pinch hitter.
1995: Boston Red Sox
After spending some time in Japan, Stairs is purchased by the Red Sox. He spends all of 1994 in the minors and returns to the big leagues in June. Hits his first ML Home Run off of the Royals Tom 'Flash' Gordon on July 5th, 1995. He gets one AB in the Red Sox 1995 ALDS loss to the Indians.
1996 - 2000: Oakland A's
Signs as a Free Agent with the A's following the 1995 season. It is in Oakland that Stairs establishes himself as a real live professional hitter. It is also the first place he finds regular playing time and he produces 122 HRs & 385 RBIs over his 5 seasons wearing the green and gold.
2001: Chicago Cubs
Following the A's bitter 2001 ALDS loss to the Yankees, Stairs is traded to the Chicago Cubs for a minor league pitcher named Eric Ireland. He spends one season on Chicago's North Side, delivering 85 hits in 128 games.
2002: Milwaukee Brewers
Once again a Free Agent, Matt signs with the Brewers for the 2002 season. Nothing spectacular happened for him while suffering through 106 losses playing for a last place team.
2003: Pittsburgh Pirates
Another season, another team. Now 35 years old, Matt signs with the Pirates as a Free Agent in December 2002. He had the best batting average of his career, hitting .292 in 128 games playing as a first baseman and outfielder. He also tops the 20 HR mark for the 5th time in his career.
2004 - 2006: Kansas City Royals
Matt continues his tour of the Major Leagues when he signs as a free agent with the Royals. He practically puts down roots and stays in KC for two and a half seasons. On June 2nd, 2005 -- against the Yankees he leads off the bottom of the sixth inning and sends a Carl Pavano pitch deep into the night for his 200th career HR.
2006: Texas Rangers
In July of the 2006 season, for the first time in his career, Matt Stairs joins a new team in the middle of the season. The Royals made a deadline deal with Texas, who had hoped Stairs could provide some veteran leadership on their young club. He just played in 26 games and hit only .210 before getting waived in September.
2006: Detroit Tigers
Claimed off the waiver wire by Detroit, Stairs joins his 3rd team of the 2006 season. The Tigers grabbed him in hopes he could help them hold their division lead. He appears in 14 games and the Tigers lost their division lead on the final day of the season, but still clinched the Wild Card. Since he was acquired after August 31st deadline, he was unable to play for the Tigers during the playoffs or World Series.
2007 - 2008: Toronto Blue Jays
After the 2006 season, the 39 year old Stairs once again found himself on the market as a free agent. In December he signed with the Blue Jays, returning to his native Canada. During the season and a half he spent in Toronto he found regular playing time, delivering 21 HRs in 2007 with an impressive .921 OPS. Following his strong 2007 season the Jays gave him a 2 year deal, but it didn't work out as he was released in August.
2008 - 2009: Philadelphia Phillies
Looking to add depth to their bench, the Phillies picked up the suddenly available Stairs in late August of 2008. He appeared in 16 games as the Phils won the NL East. Playing in his first playoffs since 2001, Stairs created a lasting memory with his first career postseason home run in Game 4 of the NLCS. His monster blast allowed the Phillies to take the lead over the Dodgers and win the game. That season he won the only World Series ring of his 16-year career. He returned in 2009 as a hero. On April 12th he hit a game-winning home run against the Rockies. It was the last home run called by Harry Kalas.
2010: San Diego Padres
In January, Stairs agreed to a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres with an invite to spring training hoping to crack their 25-man roster. He made the club out of spring training as a left-handed bat off the bench. On August 21st, Stairs hit his 21st career home run as a pinch hitter, breaking a tie with Cliff Johnson and setting a new Major League record.
2011: Washington Nationals
In December, Stairs signed a non-guaranteed minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. He made the club in spring training and went north with the team. Mostly used as a pinch-hitter, with four appearances at first base, in 65 at-bats he had 10 hits and two RBIs. He was designated for assignment on July 27, 2011 and released on August 1st. Two days later he announced his retirement.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Willie Mays / Mets

I just finished reading the James Hirsch book about Willie Mays. If you like baseball biographies, I would highly recommend it.

One of the more interesting chapters of the book was the circumstances around his late career trade to the Mets and his return to New York.

It is quite ironic how it all played out: Even though he was the highest paid player in the league, Mays was always in financial trouble. At the time, the Giants franchise was losing money and Giants owner Horace Stoneham could not guarantee the expensive and aging Mays any income after he retired. Mets Manager Yogi Berra's had no interest in having Willie on the team and it was the sentimental Mets owner that forced him onto Yogi's roster and offered Mays a position as a coach when he retired.

This story is even more ironic given the current financial struggles of the present day New York Mets franchise and the apparent stable financial foundation of the current San Francisco Giants organization.

On May 14, 1972, in his Mets debut, Mays put New York ahead to stay with a fifth-inning home run against the Giants. Mays played a season and a half in a Mets uniform as the oldest position player in the league before retiring following the 1973 World Series.

One of many great and random facts about Willie Mays: He is the only Major League player in history to have hit a home run in every inning from the 1st through the 16th.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

1975 Topps Traded Project: The Gold Dust Twins

In 1975 the Boston Red Sox were blessed to have two incredible rookie outfielders arrive to their ball club at the same time. Jim Rice and Fred Lynn (affectionately known as the Gold Dust Twins) deliver two of the most impressive rookie campaigns in baseball history. They appeared on two different "shared" rookie cards (Rice here and Lynn here) in the 1975 Topps set. For this submission to the project, I created two cards for each player, one using a posed image and the other with an in-action image.

Jim Rice grew up in Anderson, South Carolina. A decorated three-sport athlete, he was drafted directly out of high school in the first round (15th overall pick) in the 1971 draft. He played himself into a highly prized prospect during his four years in the Red Sox minor league system, making his big league debut late in the 1974 season.

In 1975 he was in the majors to stay. Tony Conigliaro was attempting his final comeback and was the opening day designated hitter. TonyC's season fizzled quickly, and Rice had the DH job to himself within a few weeks. By July, he took over left field and held it the rest of the season. Jim hit .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs. The Red Sox won the East Division, but Rice did not play in either the League Championship Series or World Series because of a wrist injury sustained during the last week of the regular season when he was hit by a pitch.

Jim Rice spent his entire 16-year big league career in Boston, continuing the legacy of renowned Red Sox left fielders that included Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. One of the most feared right-handed hitters of his era, Rice clubbed at least 20 homers in 11 of his first 12 full seasons and led the American League in total bases four times, homers three times and RBI and slugging percentage twice each. The powerfully built eight-time All-Star amassed 2,452 hits, a .298 batting average, 382 home runs and 1,451 RBIs. Rice was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1978, when he collected 406 total bases -- the most in the AL in more than 40 years. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, his last year of eligibility.

Fred Lynn was born in Chicago, but his family moved to Southern California when he was an infant. A great natural athlete, he was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the third round of the 1970 baseball draft. He decided not to sign, and entered the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. Playing with future NFL star Lynn Swann he left the football team after one season to focus on baseball. Lynn played for the USC baseball team enjoying three years of amazing success. His teams went 54-13 in 1971, 50-13 in 1972 and 51-13 in 1973. They won the College World Series each season. He was an All-American in 1972 and 1973 and elected into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

He grew up a Giants fan, but Lynn anticipated the hometown Dodgers would select him with their first pick in the 1973 amateur draft. Instead the Dodgers drafted a catcher named Ted Farr (he played 5 seasons in the minors, never making it the the majors). They were hoping Lynn would still be available in the second round. The Red Sox picked one slot ahead of the Dodgers that year and drafted him in the second round (28th pick overall).

By 1975 he had played his way into the majors as Boston's center fielder. As good as Rice was his rookie season -- Lynn was even better. He ended up hitting .331 with 47 doubles, 21 home runs, 103 runs, and 105 RBIs. He became the first player to win the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year. He also brought home a Gold Glove for fielding excellence. He led the league in runs, doubles, slugging average, OPS and runs created per 27 outs. He finished second in runs created and in batting average and fifth in on-base average.

In the 1975 World Series, Lynn played in all seven games, batting .280 with a double and home run, and five runs batted in, tying for most on the team. The most memorable moment for him came on defense in the magical sixth game. In the top of the fifth inning, Lynn crashed into Fenway Park's then-unpadded wall in left center chasing a triple hit by Ken Griffey. Fenway was silent, but Lynn remained in the game. After the season, the Red Sox padded their outfield walls.

Although he didn't maintain the same level of performance after his magical rookie season, Lynn was still an excellent major leaguer. He won three more Gold Gloves and finished 4th in the 1979 MVP voting. He was traded by the Red Sox after the 1980 season to the California Angels, where he continued to shine. He was named the MVP of the 1982 ALCS (despite being on the losing team) and continued to make All Star teams. The highlight of his post-Boston career happened during the 1983 All Star game when he hit the only grand slam in All-Star history in Chicago's Comiskey Park. He was named the game MVP, marking the ninth and final time he was elected to the team. His four home runs in All-Star games is second only to Stan Musial.

After forgettable stops in Baltimore, Detroit, and San Diego -- Lynn retired after the 1990 season. His 306 career home runs place him behind only Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Dale Murphy, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Edmonds, and Andruw Jones among regular major league center fielders. In his two eligible season, he never received more than 6% of the votes needed to enter the Hall of Fame.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Snubbed once again

Last week the National Baseball Hall of Fame released the latest "Golden Era Ballot" calling out eight former players and two former team execs from 1947-’72 era to be considered at winter meetings on December 5th.

Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Ron Santo and Luis Tiant were the former players named while Buzzie Bavasi and Charlie Finley were included for their contributions as executives. Each candidate is now has a "second chance" and is eligible for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2012. Kaat, Minoso, Oliva and Tiant are the only nominees still living.

From this point, any of these candidates that receives 12 votes (75%) from the 16 member Golden Era Committee (members include Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, and DA's former White Sox GM Roland Hemond) will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I have no issues with any of the nominees listed above and under consideration. Each of them were wonderful players and strong executives. Reading through their very impressive resumes warms my heart and reminds me I fell in love with this game during a great era. My intent is not to argue against or prevent someone from appropriately getting recognized.

I only wish everyone involved in this "process" had the same intent.

My issue is there is one name conspicuously missing from this list. The name is Dick Allen. Despite being a seven time all star and one of the most dominant hitters in baseball during his 15-year career. Despite leading the league home runs twice, on-base percentage twice, slugging percentage three times, and OPS+ three times. Despite hitting 351 career home runs and driving in 1119 runs in an era notably dominated by pitching. Despite winning the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year Award and the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1972. Despite the fact he a career 156 OPS+ ranking him 19th all-time, ahead of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, and Mel Ott. The committee decided to leave him off the list of players that should be considered. Amazing.

If find it interesting, the nominating committee charge with determining the "golden ballot" choices is comprised of 11 veteran sportswriters. Sportswriters. This is the same pack of wolves that fanned the flames of racist hatred in Philly in the 1960s. This is the same group that ensnared Dick Allen in controversy after controversy during his playing years. This is the same group of folks that utterly failed to recognize him during his past Hall of Fame opportunities. During the 15 years on the "regular ballot" Dick Allen never received more than 18.9 percent in a given year. Shameful.

At this point, I think the only way that Dick Allen is ever going to get elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is if the voting process (from start to finish) falls into the hands of living Hall of Famers. It is only going to happen if he can judged and elected by the players he played with and against. Only then will his accomplishments on the field be more important than any myth, any reputation or any of the things written about him outside the lines.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Man Behind the Mask

My first crack at a 1979 Topps card with an explanation from Paul Lukas on
The year was 1978 and the player was Dave Parker of the Pirates, who would be named the league's MVP at the season's conclusion. But there was a slight detour on the way to that award, and it came in the form of a home plate collision with Mets catcher John Stearns on June 30. The play knocked Parker out of the lineup with a fractured jaw and cheekbone.

"He wanted to play again right away, so I knew I had to come up with something fast," recalls Tony Bartirome, who was the Pirates' trainer at the time. "If he'd had his way, he would have missed only four games."

Parker ultimately sat out a little over two weeks. But when he returned to action on July 16, something was different -- like, very different. That photo is from Parker's first game back, when he pinch hit in the 11th inning while wearing a hockey goalie's mask. He was intentionally walked, leading to a macabre spectacle on the bases. The "Friday the 13th" movies didn't yet exist in 1978, but Parker was already perfecting the art of masked menace. It marked the beginning of a bizarre chapter in uniform history, a summerlong series of creative headgear experiments that had opposing teams asking, "Who was that masked man?"