Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #53 Joe Rudi

As a kid, growing up and learning baseball during the '70s -- there was no bigger star than Joe Rudi.

He played sixteen years in the major leagues and was a key part of the Oakland A's dynasty of the early 1970's. In addition to his three World Series rings (1972-73-74), Joe was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. Overshadowed by larger-than-life characters like Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, his best season was probably 1972 when he hit .305 with 19 home runs (in a year when the American League as a whole hit only .239). He also led the league in hits and triples. In 1974, another good year for Rudi, he led the league in doubles, total bases, and extra base hits. He finished second in the AL MVP voting in 1972 and '74.

Almost everyone remembers him for his heroics in the 1972 World Series. In Game Two at Riverfront Stadium, his third-inning solo homer stood up as the margin of victory as Oakland won 2-1. He preserved that lead with one of the best catches in Series history. It was this leaping, ninth-inning catch of a Denis Menke drive against the wall that saved the game. The A's would win the series in seven games.

On June 15, 1975 Oakland, owner Charlie Finley decided to sell Rudi and Rollie Fingers for $1 million apiece to the Boston Red Sox, while peddling Vida Blue to the Yankees for a reported $1.5 million. He went to Boston and was issued a uniform, but never was permitted to play, as Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the transaction as not being in the best interests of baseball. (Rudi later played for Boston, in 1981.)

He became a free agent after the 1976 season and signed with the California Angels. He helped the Angels win the division in 1979, although his batting average went down each year from 1974 to 1981. He finished out his career playing for the 1981 Red Sox and returned to Oakland in 1982 for one last season.

Monday, January 30, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #54 Cole Hamels

In the summer of 2005, it looked like Cole Hamels was going to be yet another high school pitcher selected in the first round draft bust. After one season in the minors, he missed most of the 2004 season with an elbow problem and in 2005, he broke his pitching hand in a bar fight before the season began. Once his hand healed, he was shut down with a back injury.

Phillies fans (myself included) prepared ourselves for the worst. We had seen our share of mistakes in the first round including Tyler Green in 1991, Carlton Loewer in 1994, Dave Coggin in 1995, and most painfully JD Drew in 1997.

Fast forward to the 2008 post season. Cole Hamels has come back from those early career bumps and has established himself as a top flight pitcher in the National League.

NLDS Game 1: Brewers at Phillies - Cole Hamels pitched eight shutout innings of two-hit ball while striking out nine to give the Phillies their first playoff victory since Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. Phils go on to win the Series 3 games to 1.

NLCS Game 1: Dodgers at Phillies - Cole Hamels pitched seven innings, giving up single runs in the first and fourth innings, striking out 8 Dodgers. The Phils offense puts up three runs in the sixth inning for the 3-2 win.

NLCS Game 5: Phillies at Dodgers - Cole Hamels pitches seven innings of five hit, one run baseball leading his team to the NL pennant and the NLCS MVP trophy.

World Series Game 1: Phillies at Rays - Cole Halems once again delivers seven quality innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs. The Phillies score two in the first and the deciding run in the fourth inning to take the first game of the series.

World Series Game 5: Rays at Phillies - The game started on Monday night with Cole on the mound looking to become the first pitcher to gather 5 wins in a single post season. He pitched six innings before the terrible weather forced the game to be postponed in a 2-2 deadlock.

When Game 5 restarted two nights later, the Phillies scored immediately and closed out the series and their second world championship. Cole Hamels took home the World Series MVP.

Bobby Scales update

Just in case you were looking for some reason to care about the roster moves coming out of Mesa Arizona during spring training...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2003 Topps Dick Allen - White Sox

DA Legacy Card using the 2003 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #55 Willie Stargell

For me, Game 7 of the 1979 World Series was inconveniently played on a Wednesday night during the school year. The era of every World Series game played under the natural light of the sun had given way to the draw of prime-time. I got to watch a few innings on TV, but could not convince my parents that I should be allowed to break the routine of my sleep schedule. They didn't care it was the seventh game, I had to go to school in the morning. It really didn't matter, I had covertly been listening in the dark to ballgames on my transistor radio for years. Looking back, trading the ABC television crew of Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, and Don Drysdale for the CBS radio voices of Vin Scully and Sparky Anderson was a pretty fair exchange.

I was pulling for the funky black and gold clad Pirates, temporarily forgiving them for rudely supplanting my Phils as NL East Champions. After falling behind the Orioles 3 games to 1, Pittsburgh righted their ship and came storming back to force the deciding game. Appropriately they were behind 1-0 in the fifth inning when I finally stomped up the stairs to my room. Baltimore's #8 hitter Rich Dauer had homered in the bottom of the third and it looked like the O's starter Scott McGregor was going to make it stick.

By the time I settled under the covers and set the radio volume to a safe enough level to prevent detection the game had moved to the sixth inning. Bill Robinson collected a bad hop single with one out, I had that giddy feeling of anticipation knowing that Willie Stargell was coming to the plate. Pops had basically carried the Pirates the entire season. He had already singled and doubled in the game and was experiencing one of those hot streaks you can only dream about. On McGregor's first pitch, a low fastball, Willie turned on it... blasting it high into the cold Baltimore night. It landed in the Pirates bullpen behind right center field fence. Pirates lead 2-1. I smiled and quietly clapped my hands.

Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner stayed with middle man Grant Jackson for the 6th, 7th, and into the 8th before Kent Teckulve came in to close the door and fulfill the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates destiny as World Champs.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2004 Topps Dick Allen - White Sox

DA Legacy Card using the 2004 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #56 Carl Yastrzemski

From Yaz's Baseball Reference page:
Carl Yastrzemski was a Hall of Fame outfielder who played his entire career with the Boston Red Sox. An eighteen time All-Star, Yastrzemski is the last man to win a Triple Crown in Major League Baseball.

Yaz had one of the longest careers in major league history, appearing in 3308 games over twenty-three seasons. He shares the record for most years with the same team, tied with career Baltimore Oriole Brooks Robinson. He is second on the all-time list for games played, and third in at-bats. A top hitter who led the American League in numerous categories, including batting average three times and on-base percentage five times, he was also am excellent fielder, winning seven Gold Gloves. In two World Series appearances he hit a robust .352.

He won the 1967 American League Triple Crown; not only that, he was at his best down the stretch, when he carried the Red Sox to a miracle pennant in an epic four-team race that was not decided until the season's last day. He won the league's MVP Award that year. He is the last batter to win a Triple Crown, a feat that has since become much more difficult due to the greater number of regular players in each league as a result of expansion. However, many fans remember him just as much for leading the American League in 1968 with a .301 batting average. It was the bottom of the second dead-ball era, and he was the only player in the league who hit .300.

Originally a left-fielder - he replaced the great Ted Williams at the position when Williams retired after the 1960 season -, he was known for his ability to play Fenway Park's Green Monster and cut off opposite baserunners on the basepaths. He player more often at first base and DH in the latter part of his career. He had a highly distinctive batting stance that had him holding the bat vertically above shoulder height as the pitcher began his wind-up; it is jokingly said that he ruined thousands of New England boys' hitting prospects as they tried to imitate their hero's highly-unorthodox stance. It worked for him, though: he holds the record for most career hits without ever collecting 200 hits in a single season.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thanks for the memories Brad

Good luck in Washington!

DAHOF Top 100 -- #57 Brad Lidge

I swear I did not save this post to coincide with the day that Brad Lidge signed a contract to play with the Washington Nationals. It just happened this way. When I started thinking about and created my "Top 100" list in October... Brad Lidge landed on this spot. I had no idea it would fall on the exact day he officially departs the Phils.

First of all, let me state: I love Brad Lidge. I love that nasty slider he threw. I love him for being a perfect 48 for 48 in 2008. I love him for striking our Eric Hinske and closing out the 2008 World Series, giving me a moment that will never fade. I love him for being everything that Brett Meyers, Tom Gordon, and Billy Wagner were not. I love the pride and resiliency he displayed after Albert Pujols shocked the Astros in Game 5 of 2005 NLCS. I love him because he pitched with my Round Rock Express in 2001. I love him because he played college baseball north of the Mason/Dixon line and was still drafted in the first round.

I generally don't subscribe to the standard "you need to have a back of the bullpen stopper" mentality dominating baseball for the last 3 decades. I recognize that recording out number 25, 26, and 27 are typically the hardest outs to get. But I believe that the end of each game should require the manager to assess his team, the pitcher currently in the game, and the opponent before blindly calling on the same man to ALWAYS record those last three outs.

Outside of a very select few pitchers (cough, Mariano Rivera, cough...) the current gospel of the "closer" is a flawed concept. It narrows the mindset and options available to a manager, costing many teams many games in the standings. For one entire season, Brad Lidge proved me wrong. And I love it when I am wrong like that

Thursday, January 26, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #58 John Buck

Last year the Houston Astros lost 106 games, the largest number in the 50 year history of the franchise. Since 2006, the year after the Astros won their one and only National League pennant the club has a .460 winning percentage (447-524). It has been a truly awful period for Astros fans. In my opinion, the trigger signaling the rough tumble from the lofty heights of the 2005 World Series was actually squeezed a year earlier. June 24th, 2004 to be exact.

The Astros clubs of the mid-2000's were very competitive under the veteran leadership and production of Craig Biggio & Jeff Bagwell. By the middle of the 2004 season, boosted by the juiced pitching of Roger Clemens, the club thought it had a chance for a World Series and made a deadline deal bringing Royals outfielder Carlos Beltran to Houston for a catching prospect named John Buck. Beltran played well for the remaining 90 games, the Astros made the playoffs via the wild-card but lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Beltran bolted when he signed a big free agent contract with Mets. John Buck, the club's top prospect, after seven seasons of Astros minor league development was gone in exchange for 90 games of Carlos Beltran. He went on to be a solid major league catcher for the Royals, Blue Jays (where he made the 2010 All Star team), and is currently with the Marlins.

The trading of John Buck set the tone for the final years of the Drayton McLean era. From that point until he sold the team, the Astros no longer cared about the long term development of the franchise. They went from having the strongest minor league system in baseball to the worst of the worst. They stopped signing draft picks and any sense of player development was basically lost. Instead the fans were treated to the likes of Jason Jennings, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, Kaz Matsui, and Geoff Blum. While home-grown players like Brad Lidge, Willy Taveras, Morgan Ensberg, Chris Burke, Chad Qualls, Jason Lane, and Luke Scott were sent packing for short term or failed attempts to fill seats.

Quality minor league prospects like D.J. Houlton, Tim Redding, Ben Zobrist, Brooks Conrad, and Jason Hirsh were shed for basically nothing. Replaced in the system by roster filling vets like JR House, Joe McEwing, Cody Ransom, Matt Kata, Reggie Abercrombie, and Travis Driskill.

It all started with John Buck.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #59 Bobby Scales

In the early summer of 1999 Bobby Scales must have thought he had it made. He was the co-captain of the Michigan baseball team. His Wolverines had won another conference championship, they made it into the coveted NCAA tournament and Bobby was the MVP of the Big Ten tournament. To top it all off,  Scales was selected in 14th round of the MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. No one could argue, he was on his way.

When he reported to his first professional team in Idaho Falls, Bobby Scales must have thought the only thing he needed to do was what he had always play hard, get hits, and he would be in the majors in a few years. Except it didn't happen that way...

At first he moved through the Padres minor league system rapidly. By 2002 he had already made it to AAA; then he stopped getting promoted. He left the Padres for a shot to make that final step with the Phillies and the next season with the Red Sox. Both years, he stayed in AAA. He signed with the Cubs thinking this HAD to be his shot... And still he stayed in AAA. In total Bobby Scales spent 11 years and 3,303 minor-league at-bats before getting that call.

On May 5th, 2009 at Chicago's famed Wrigley Field, a 31 year old rookie named Bobby Scales was the starting second baseman for the Cubs. In the fifth inning he stroked an opposite-field single off reigning CyYoung winner Tim Lincecum. After the game he said "It was worth the wait... No matter what happens the rest of the way, they can't take it from me. I got it. I earned it. And I'm just fortunate to have it."

For the rest of 2009 must have been a blur as went back & forth from Iowa to Chicago. He played in 51 major league games for the Cubs collecting 30 hits, including 3 home runs. He spent 2010 down in AAA Iowa before getting a September call, seeing another 10 big league games.

In the spring of 2011, he was back to Iowa after losing out to Darwin Barney in spring training. Still playing hard. Still collecting those hits. Still looking for a real chance. Still hoping the game will love him as much as he loved it.

Last summer I got a chance to meet and laugh with Bobby Scales. A week later he got a call from Japan's Nippon-Ham Fighters, and he was gone. You can't blame the guy, he had earned the right to cash bigger paychecks and a deserved a little love.
“I’ve been in this game for a minute or two... It’s a big-boy business. If you can’t handle it, go do something else. That’s just what it is. If people pass you up, clearly they were doing better than you, or it just wasn’t a good fit, or something. You’ve got two choices- either sit in Triple-A and sulk, or roll up your sleeves and work harder and play better. I chose the latter."

“At the end of the day, all I can control is how I play and how I go about my business every day, and hopefully it’s good enough for somebody. Fortunately for me, it was good enough for the folks in Japan, and I’m ready to go over there and play.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #60 Dave Winfield


In his senior year in college, Dave Winfield was a wanted man.

In 1973, Winfield, a senior at the University of Minnesota, was selected in four drafts in three different professional sports. Just weeks after being selected as the fourth overall pick in the baseball draft by the San Diego Padres, Winfield was named Most Valuable Player of the College World Series...

...In contrast to today, when drafted players often hold out for astronomical guaranteed contacts or leverage their selection to end up with the team of their choice, Winfield was anxious to make his mark in the pro ranks. After little hassle, he inked a $15,000 deal with the Padres, and negotiated a $50,000 signing bonus, most of which he invested in the stock market. His contract called for him to go directly to the big league club in 1973.

Just weeks after ending his college career, Winfield was in uniform with the Padres, a team known more for their hamburger-chain owner Ray Kroc than for winning. That first season, manager Don Zimmer kept coaches away from Winfield’s swing (they wanted to alter his “hitch” that served as Winfield’s timing mechanism) and sheltered the rookie from tough pitchers.

“They were good at keeping me out against the Tom Seaver’s and Bob Gibson’s,” Winfield recalls. “I watched and listened, and tried to learn as much as I could.”

With competition for playing time fierce on the lowly Padres, and with teammates more concerned with their own jobs than helping along a rookie, Winfield often turned to opposing players for guidance, such as Billy Williams of the Cubs and Dick Allen of the Phillies.

Monday, January 23, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #61 George Scott

Like Dick Allen, George Scott wore a batting helmet when he took his defensive position. The only difference was "Boomer" wore his helmet to protect his noggin against opposing fans and Allen had to wear his to protect his head from "hometown" fans.

At 6'2" well over 200 pounds, George Scott was an intimidating sight, all the way down to the exotic tribal necklace he wore made of (as he described it) "the second baseman's teeth". If you don't believe me, ask Denny Martinez.

He hit over 20 home runs six times in his career and was a three-time AL All-Star, including getting the start at first during his rookie season (1966). In 1975 he had his best statistical season while playing alongside Hank Aaron, he tied Reggie Jackson for the American League HR crown with a career-high 36 while leading the league in RBIs with 109.

Atypical for someone with his size, George Scott was also first class defensive 1st baseman. Armed with his glove he named "black beauty" he won an amazing eight "Gold Glove" Awards during his 14 year career. In almost 2000 career American League games, only 40 times did he get penciled in as the Designated Hitter.

My most vivid memory of Scott comes from the 1977 All Star Game played at Yankee Stadium. Playing for the Red Sox, Boomer entered the game at 1B in the seventh inning, replacing starter Rod Carew. With the American League down 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth, he blasted a two run "tater" (as he used to call home runs) deep into left-center field off of Goose Gossage to pull the AL within striking distance.

DAHOF Top 100 -- #62 John Kruk

I read someone recently attempt to describe John Kruk as "Kenny Powers before Kenny Powers was Kenny Powers". If you have never watched the HBO Series EASTBOUND AND DOWN – you have to admit there is some similarities.

Think of John Kruk as the ying & yang of baseball athleticism. On one hand, Kruk was an excellent hitter with extraordinary hand/eye coordination and on the other his oversized waist is destined to add to the pile of evidence used characterize baseball players as not elite physically fit athletes. One thing I am relatively sure of, John Kruk was not a PED juicer... unless that juice was beer. Six pack abs or not, I so badly wanted his Phillies to win the 1993 World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. For me, he was the most loveable and most memorable characters on that forever famous team. The best way to sum up John Kruk is simply to use the quote most attributed to him “I’m not an athlete; I’m a baseball player.”

Short of winning the World Series, John Kruk actually got to live the baseball dream that most of us only get to fantasize about. Most importantly, he had fun and treated the game the way it should be treated, like a game. To most, he looked more like a fat beer league softball player than a major league all-star. True to his West Virginia roots, he proudly sported an eye-popping mullet and he may have only showered once a week. In 1991, he actually traded his uniform number (#28) to his new teammate (Mitch Williams) for $10 and two cases of beer. Williams later turned in #28 for the infamous #99. At the height of his fame, Kruk turned up as a guest on the David Letterman show and was more funny than any professional comedian.

The spring after that heart-breaking World Series loss, He referred to the goat of the series as “his hero” after Mitch Williams unleashed a wild pickoff throw that inadvertently broke Kruk’s protective cup, which necessitated a doctor’s exam, which led to an early diagnosis of testicular cancer. How many of you have ever been hit so hard in the crotch that it broke your cup – and called the guy that did it “a hero”?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #63 Roy Oswalt

It is going to be hard to watch Roy Oswalt pitch for someone else other than the Phillies in 2012. He is a great competitor and would be the "ace" on most staffs in the majors. The baseball world first became aware of Roy Oswalt when he pitched for the Houston Astros. Like most of the Houston Astros prospects developed over the last decade, I had an early preview to him courtesy of my local minor eager team, the Round Rock Express.

Oswalt began 2000 with the Class A Kissimmee Cobras of the Florida State League, going 4–3 with a 2.98 ERA before a player injury in AA got him called up. Oswalt was only expected to pitch one game and had been issued a round-trip ticket. He was supposed to be back in Florida in a couple of days.

His "one game" in AA was May 25th, 2000 against the hated San Antonio Missions. Instead of being intimidated, he became the intimidator as he struck out 15 batters and tossed a 5 hit complete game shutout. Legend has it that Express manager Jackie Moore tore up his ticket back to Florida, but it is more likely Nolan Ryan, owner of the Express (and Oswalt's idol) successfully lobbied to keep Oswalt on the roster. He stayed.

He would finish that magical season with an 11–4 record and an astounding 1.94 ERA. He notched 141 strikeouts over 19 games (18 starts). As a result of his success at Round Rock, Oswalt was selected to play on the United States baseball team that won the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics. He wasn't on the roster when the Express won the Texas League Championship, but he was a big part of that team.

2005 Topps Dick Allen - Phillies

DA Legacy Card using the 2005 Topps design

Friday, January 20, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #64 Cesar Cedeño

When it really gets down to it... Cesar Cedeño is at least half reason for my unhealthy dedication for those delicious 1970's Houston Astros tequila sunrise uniforms. He was a great player when I first started following baseball and his appearance (along with several of his teammates) in the 2nd Bad News Bears movie secured his spot in my Top 100.

When Leo Durocher took over as manager for the last 31 games of the 1972 season - he dubbed his 22 year old center fielder, as "the next Willie Mays." This was high praise considering that Leo managed and served as a father-figure for the "real Willie Mays" for many years. The truth is Cedeño never came close to reaching Leo's expectations, but considering no one other major league player has ever been able to match the incomparable Willie Mays, he was pretty darn good ballplayer.

He came up to the majors at age 19 and established himself as a big star early in his career, hitting over .310 in three of his first four years for the Astros.

Possessing the magic combo of power, speed, and good defense, Cesar became the second man in Major League history (after Lou Brock in 1967) to hit 20 home runs and steal 50 bases in one season. Cedeño accomplished the feat three years in a row (1972-1974), while playing home games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Astrodome. He also stole 50-plus bases the next three years (1975-1977), twice led the league in doubles (1971-1972) and collected 102 RBI in 1974. He also won five consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1972-1976), appeared in four All-Star Games (1972-1974, 1976).

2006 Topps Dick Allen - Phillies

DA Legacy Card using the 2006 Topps design

Thursday, January 19, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #65 Rich Gossage

In 2008 Rich Gossage was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He earned his place in Cooperstown by pioneering the role and persona of the modern day closer.

During his 22-year baseball career he pitched for nine different teams, begining his career with the White Sox, establishing his star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and San Diego Padres, and holding on with several other clubs including a season in Japan. When he retired he ranked third in major league history in career games pitched (1,002), third in wins in relief (115) and innings pitched in relief (1,556⅔); his 1,502 strikeouts place him second behind Hoyt Wilhelm among pitchers who primarily pitched in relief. Proving once again, baseball is a game of failure, Goose is also the career leader in blown saves (112).

During his Hall of Fame induction speech Goose Gossage said this:

In 1972, I had the privilege of playing with Dick Allen. I didn't know it at the time, but in retrospect, he was the greatest player I ever played with. That's quite a statement because I played with a lot of great ones. He taught me how to pitch from a hitter's perspective. He took me under his wing and we would talk for hours on end about pitching. It was amazing.

I will end my post about Goose Gossage right there.

2007 Topps Dick Allen - Athletics

DA Legacy Card using the 2007 Topps design

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

1978 Phillies - The All-Hair Outfield

Inspired by loyal reader Jim from Downingtown and in honor of the paperback availability date announcement from our friends at Big Hair and Plastic Grass, I decided to do some special "Big Hair" research and came up with what I consider to be the Biggest Hair'd Outfield to ever play on Plastic Grass.

This hairy dream team became possible following the 1977 season when the Phillies traded righthander Manny Seoane to the Cubs for Jose Cardenal. With Garry Maddox and Bake McBride already on the roster, this seemingly routine trade set the stage for the most funky outfield trio in baseball history.

Frankly, I was shocked when I discovered how long it took to happen. They were 155 games into the season before "The Three Afros" played in the same outfield at the same time.

On September 25th, 1978 the Phillies were in first place bearing down on their third straight NL East title. The Montreal Expos were in town. As typical, Garry Maddox started the game in center field and Jose Cardenal started for the 43rd time of the '78 season at first base. Buried the entire game by Expos started Dan Schatzeder, the Phillies scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Mike Garman to tie it up before Bake McBride got the call to pinch hit for pitcher Warren Brusstar. Unfortunately (or fortunately for this story) Bake got picked off of first and the home team did not score any more runs, sending the game into extra innings.

Bake McBride stayed in the game and went to right field in the 10th, but Jose Cardenal was still standing at first. In the bottom of the 11th innning, Phils Manager Danny Ozark sent Richie Hebner up to pinch hit for Lonnie Smith. Hebner fouled out to first and the Phils again failed to score, sending the game to the top of the 12th.

Faced with a defensive dilemma, Danny Ozark moved Cardenal from first to left field and inserted Hebner at first.

Pop the champagne! For the first time ever...three of the greatest afros in baseball history - Bake McBride (rf) and Garry Maddox (cf) and Jose Cardenal (lf) - were standing in the same outfield at the same time.

DAHOF Top 100 -- #66 Willy Taveras

Selected in the minor league Rule 5 draft by the Astros from the Indians, I first met Willy Taveras in 2004 when he was a member of the AA Round Rock Express. Wearing braces and smiling, he was a wild eyed 22 year old minor leaguer trying to hustle his way to the majors. In an era of juiced up power hitters, Willy was one of those players that built his game entirely on speed. Once he got on base, everyone in the ballpark knew was going to steal second and third -- but very few pitchers/catchers could stop him. Willy tore up the Texas League in 2004, putting together a great season hitting .335 and stealing 55 bases in 105 games. This performance was good enough to earn him a coveted September major league call-up. While his teammates were trying in vain to win the Texas League Championship, he struck out swinging in his first big league at bat against Reds righthander John Riedling.

The next season (2005) Willy won the Astros starting centerfielder job and was selected to the Topps all-rookie team when he led the National League in singles. He had 31 bunt hits and incredible number of infield hits (71). He was a key contributor as the Astros captured their first National League Pennant and made their first World Series appearance in franchise history.

Surprisingly, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies after the 2006 season in the ill-conceived deal that brought Jason Jennings to Houston. Good luck seemed to follow him, because he was also part of the 2007 National League Champion Rockies. He led the National League in steals in 2008 when he swiped 68.

My most vivid memory of Willy is from the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Surprisingly, he was one of the best offensive players for the ultra-talented Dominican Republic squad. He went 2 for 7 with six walks, leading the team in OBP. Sadly, Willy is most remembered for getting thrown out trying to steal third base in the 9th inning of the opening game of pool play, a shocking 3-2 loss to the Dutch national team. Many consider it the biggest upset in World Baseball Classic history. That loss set the stage for their elimination after a second loss to the Dutch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2008 Topps Dick Allen - Phillies

DA Legacy Card using the 2008 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #67 Lance Berkman

I first saw Lance Berkman play in 1998 as a member of the "AA" Jackson Generals. The ownership group headed by Nolan Ryan had recently purchase the Jackson, Mississippi minor league franchise with the announced intention of moving it to Central Texas.

I was part of a group of fans that signed up for a bus trip to San Antonio to watch the Generals play the Missions. It was my first Texas League game and about the only thing I remember was the deep left center field blast off the bat of the former Rice Owl.

The next decade was spent as a mainstay for the Houston Astros, initially as an outfielder and then he replaced Jeff Bagwell at first. During that time, Lance made six all star teams, he led the National League in RBIs (128) in 2002, set the all-time team record in RBIs (136) in 2006 and helped lead the club into three playoffs and the 2005 National League Pennant. During the 2010 season, Lance was dealt to the Yankees in a trade deadline salary dump by the Astros. He signed as a free-agent with the Cardinals and won his first World Series ring last fall.

Reading over Lance's stats while composing the post, it struck me that Berkman & Dick Allen are very close in Similarity Scores. If you are not familiar with this stat, Bill James introduced it in his book The Politics of Glory*. The concept is to create a method to compare one player to another, starting at 1000 points and subtracting points based on the statistical differences.

Lance Berkman & Dick Allen have a career similarity score of 919.

* Yes, this is the same book Bill James said Dick Allen "did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball". In my opinion, that statement was proven to be false here.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2009 Topps Dick Allen - Phillies

DA Legacy Card using the 2009 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #68 Bake McBride

On June 15th, 1977 the Phillies sent Tom Underwood, Dane Iorg, and Rick Bosetti to the St. Louis Cardinals for a minor leaguer named Steve Waterbury and Bake McBride. Waterbury never played a game for the Phillies, but Bake McBride immediately challenged Garry Maddox for the best afro on the club and became an solid player on a club already stacked with impact players.

With the Cardinals, he won the 1974 NL Rookie of the Year awa rdand made the 1976 All Star team. Following the 1976 he had knee surgery and was struggling in the first half of 1977. It couldn't have helped he played the majority of his games on the green concrete that called astroturf. Bake had never hit less than .300 in his first 5 major league seasons, at the time of the trade he was hitting a career low .262.

Even though the Phils also had some of the worst astroturf in history, the trade seemed to invigorate McBride. He hit .339 and stole 27 bases for the rest of the season while providing a significant contribution to the Phillies second straight NL East flag. McBride remained as the Phils regular right fielder for the next four seasons, helping the 1980 team deliver the franchise's first World Series championship.

My most vivid memory of Bake McBride comes from the Game 1 of the 1980 World Series. The Royals jumped to an early 4 run lead before the Phils came roaring back in the bottom of the third inning. In that inning, Bake McBride hit a 3 run homer to give the Phils a lead they never relinquished. It was the first World Series win since Game 1 of the 1915 Fall Classic.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2010 Topps Dick Allen - Cardinals

DA Legacy Card using the 2010 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #69 Oscar Salazar

One of the primary reasons I adore minor league baseball is the accessibility of the players. The "AA" Texas League is made up of 8 teams in 2 divisions playing 140 games each summer. The result of this configuration is each team plays a ton of games against their three divisional rivals each season.

In 2001 I was a Round Rock Express season ticket holder, attending an unnatural number of Texas League games. We watched many games pitting the Express against their rivals from Midland. Our seats were in the first row behind 1st base, right next to the visitors dugout. This allowed us to spend a lot time getting to know the players from the Rockhounds. Without question, one of the most friendly players I have ever met in minor league baseball was Oscar Salazar.

To anyone watching and paying attention, he was having a great time being a professional baseball player. Oscar always had a smile on his face. He was very happy to sign autographs for everyone that asked. He tossed every ball he could into the stands. To make it better, he had a great season in 2001, making both the Texas League and "AA" All Star teams.

My most vivid memory of Oscar happened that summer. It was a couple of seasons before the Dell Diamond expanded and the left field upper deck structure was added. At the time, the clubhouse was the only visible structure and was a frequent target of young AA home run hitters. Oscar Salazar was the first ballplayer I ever saw hit a home run OVER that club house. It was amazing. I can still see the ball disappearing into the dark Central Texas night.

Oscar has gone on to play in the majors for a couple of different teams, including most recently the Padres in 2010. I just checked the Venezuelan Winter League stats and was pleased to see he is still playing. He is currently leading the league in HRs and batting an impressive .359 for the Tiburones de La Guaira. He will always be one of my favorite players, not because of his talent, but because of his joyous attitude.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #70 Juan Samuel

On July 31st, 1984 I went to Wrigley Field with 6 of my friends to catch the Phillies and the Cubs. It was a Tuesday. We had all graduated from high school a couple of weeks earlier and felt like we were "men of the world" going to a ballgame with no supervision.

It was one of those magical summer days in Chicago. Perfect weather. The reigning NL Cy Young award winner, John Denny was on the mound for the Phillies facing journeyman Rich Bordi. At the time, the Cubs were only a half game out of first in the NL East... on the way to their first playoff appearance in 39 seasons.

Cubs third-baseman Ron Cey smashed a home run in the bottom of the second inning to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Garry Maddox led off the top of the third with a single to left, but was gunned down by Gary Matthews trying to stretch it into a double.

That was basically it. The Phillies were retired inning after inning by Bordi. The only base runner the Phils could muster was an eighth inning walk to Mike Schmidt. Going into the top of the ninth, with a seemingly insurmountable 1-0 lead, Rich Bordi quickly retired Tim Corcoran and then Sixto Lezcano. He was one out away from a 1 hit shutout. Cubs fans rose to their feet to cheer the final out by.... Juan Samuel.

Samuel, in his second year in the big leagues, had other plans. On the second pitch he smashed a Bordi fastball onto the batters eye tarp in center. Shut out, gone. Complete game, gone. Wrigley Field went silent, except of course, for me. I yelled and hooted, celebrating the last gasp game tying home run as only an 18 year old could. Loudly.

The game went into extra innings and was decided in the 12th when Juan Samuel singled to lead off the inning, stole second, moved to third on a Tim Stoddard wild pitch, and scored on a Von Hayes fly ball.

2011 Topps Dick Allen - Dodgers

DA Legacy Card using the 2011 Topps design

I've determined I am going to follow this pattern with this card design project:
  • Years that end in "0" will be Cardinals (DA played in St Louis in 1970)
  • Years that end in "1" will be Dodgers (DA played in Los Angeles in 1971)
  • Years ending in "2", "3", or "4" will be White Sox (DA played in Chicago from 1972-1974)
  • Years ending in "7" will be A's (DA spent 1977 in Oakland)
  • The remaining other years (5, 6, 8, & 9) will be Phillies.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #71 Jamie Moyer

I am going to need to pick up the pace with my Top 100 favorite players to complete the project before the season starts.

On April 21st, 2007 I had the opportunity to shoot the Phillies and Nationals at old RFK Stadium in DC. Much to my chagrin, 44 year old Jamie Moyer was the Phillies starting pitcher. I had hoped for the the chance to see Cole Hamels, but the early season pitching rotation was unpredictable because of the rainy weather. Instead, the baseball gods decided to teach me a lesson about the immeasurable value of a crafty lefty.

For the entire afternoon Moyer baffled the young and overly aggressive Nationals. I don't think he threw a pitch over 84 MPH the entire game, but he was in complete control and seemed to get more confident as the game rolled on. The 6th, 7th, and 8th innings looked like this: Flyball, walk, double play / ground out, pop out, strike out looking / ground out, ground out, strike out swinging. Through eight innings Moyer had a 4-0 lead and had given up only two hits.

The best part of the day came as Moyer was preparing to take his turn at the plate in the 4th inning. I was in the photographers well directly behind the on-deck circle. Nationals fans aren't particularly rough or obnoxious, but one fan was loudly sharing the fact Jamie Moyer has never hit a home run in 20 years in the majors, over and over. Without showing any anger or emotion, Moyer turned around, looked the man directly in the eye, smiled, and asked "How many do you have?". And then there was silence.

Moyer walked to the plate and stroked a single to centerfield.

Heading into the ninth, I was looking forward to cherishing an amazing complete game shutout by a truly professional pitcher...when the baseball gods decided to teach me another lesson about this game. In the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young smashed back-to-back doubles to ruin the shutout and knock Moyer out of the game. I was shocked. Phils closer Tom Gordon came in and eventually stopped the rally preserving the victory.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2012 Topps Dick Allen - White Sox

Inspired by the great work by Uncle John's Band on his Cards That Never Were blog showcasing his created Mickey Mantle card collection -- I am going to attempt a similar project with my guy.

The difficult part of this plan will be the process of creating a Topps baseball card template in photoshop for each year, starting with 2012 cards. The 2012 Topps Series 1 has not been released yet, but I designed this based on the image they have released of Ryan Braun. The upside to this daunting project is once the card templates are done, they can be shared and reused for multiple projects. Let me know if you want me to share a specific template.

DA Legacy Card using the 2012 Topps design

DAHOF Top 100 -- #72 Ken Griffey Junior

The Kid. Number One overall pick in the draft. AL MVP. 13 time All Star. All Star Game MVP. 3 times the Home Run Derby winner. 10 Gold Gloves. 7 Silver Slugger awards. League Home Run champ. 2 50 Home run seasons. League RBI champ. League Runs champ. Comeback Player of the Year. All Century Team.

Ken Griffey Jr was born to play baseball. He grew up inside the famed Big Red Machine and obviously learned something. He arrived with incredible expectations, and delivered. He basically saved the Seattle Mariners franchise and developed into one of the Top 3 players of this generation. In an era best remembered for fairy-tale numbers fueled by performance enhancing drugs, KGJ delivered eye-popping numbers without a hint of PED aid, establishing himself as a first ballot hall of famer.

Plenty of memories, but nothing sticks out more than 51 game span in 1990 & 1991 that he got to live out just about every kid's wildest baseball fantasy.... playing on a major league team with your Dad.

On August 29th, 1990, five days after being released by the Reds, Ken Griffey Senior signed a contract to play with the Seattle Mariners. A couple of days later, they were in the starting lineup at the same time, playing next to each other Junior in center & Senior in left. It was the first time in ML history a father & son played on the same team... and they both collected hits. Tim Raines & Tim Raines Junior would play together on the 2001 Baltimore Orioles.

However, even a Hollywood script writer could not top what happened on September 14th. The Mariners were in Anaheim, playing out the season against in the Angels. After walking leadoff hitter Harold Reynolds to start the game, Angels starter Kirk McCaskill hung a curve ball to KG Senior who promptly blasted it to left-center field over the head of leaping Devon White. KG Junior was on deck and greeted his father at home following his 151st career HR. Four pitches later, Junior lofted a low outside pitch over the wall about 6 pad panels to the left of where his Dad's home run went out. Back-to-Back-Father-and-Son home runs. It was the 36th HR of his young career. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton at the time and watched it live on TV, immediately recognizing it was something I would likely never see again.

Ken Griffey Senior would hit one more home run before retiring in May of 1991. Ken Griffey Junior would hit 594 more home runs before retiring in June of 2010.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #73 Oscar Gamble

Rest assured, Oscar would have likely secured a place in my Top 100 list for his legendary afro. But there is more to our relationship than just funky hair...

On September 17th, 1977 my Dad loaded me and my brothers into the car and drove the 90 minutes (or so) around Lake Michigan to Comiskey Park. Stuck in third place the magical "South Side Hitmen" I had followed on my transistor radio all summer had faded 11.5 games behind the Royals.

The cold harsh reality that the Sox were not going to the playoffs didn't enter mind mind as we scrambled through the damp Comiskey Park concourse to get a glimpse of the sun drenched field. I only got to go to one or two games a season and on this Saturday the California Angels were in town. As we settled into our seats in the right field upper deck, Sox starter Steve Renko gave up a run in the second inning when a strangely named rookie called Willie Mays Aikens shot a grounder to Jorge Orta on right side of the infield, scoring DH Don Baylor from third. Baylor led off the inning with a walk, stole second, and somehow failed to score on a Ken Landreaux double. The Angels extended their lead to 2-0 in the top of the 5th when Jerry Remy lofted a sacrifice fly to Chet Lemon in center field, scoring Thad Bosley. The next inning they put up a third run when Landreaux doubled in Baylor. 3-0 Angels. Sigh.

Things were not looking great for the Sox in the bottom of the 7th inning when Angels reliever Dyar Miller came in and coaxed Jim Essian and Ralph Garr into two quick outs. Then the righthanded Miller lost his control and walked both Chet Lemon and Jorge Orta. Things were getting interesting as Oscar Gamble strolled to the plate. Before you could blink, Oscar turned on one and blasted a game-knotting three run homer into Comiskey's famed upper deck. The ball landed a few rows in front and to the right of us. I had no chance at the ball, but it seemed that all hell broke loose anyway. As I gained my bearings, the scoreboard blasted it's legendary fireworks and Nancy Faust played "Hey Hey Goodbye" on the organ. I had goosebumps as I joined the rest of the Sox fans bellowing the now familiar lyrics. To the 11 year old version of me, it was like crack cocaine and I was hooked on my first inhale.

Preparing for this post, I didn't remember that Bobby Bonds had an RBI single in the top of the ninth (off Clay Carroll) to give the Angels the win. Nor did I recall Sox All Star Richie Zisk ended the game as a pinch hitter, popping out to second. The miracle of internet and baseball-reference gives my childhood baseball memories detail and context. Oscar's blast was his 30th home run, he would hit his career high 31st (and final 1977) HR the next day. In the end, the only thing I really remembered was the explosion of the crowd and fireworks and the singing. Magic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #74 Garry Maddox

I blogged about my deep affection for Garry Maddox on his birthday in September. Not much has changed for either of us since then, other than my sudden realization that his beard would make a superb HAIR-itage design.

From the great baseball blog HARDBALLTIMES:
After making his professional debut in the Giants farm system in 1968, Maddox spent the next two seasons in the Army. While stationed in Vietnam, Maddox was exposed to chemicals that damaged his skin, leaving it highly sensitive to the touch. It became so difficult for Maddox to shave that he grew and maintained a full beard, which became a trademark during his playing career.

The stint in Vietnam did little to affect Maddox’ baseball skills. He returned to the Giants system in 1971, putting up banner numbers for Class-A Fresno. He slugged .562, hit 30 home runs and stole 21 bases. That performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A Phoenix in 1972. By late April, Maddox graduated to San Francisco, where he became the starting center fielder.

Maddox remained a Candlestick Park fixture until 1975, when a glut of outfielders made him expendable. In a regrettable trade, the Giants dealt Maddox to the Phillies for first baseman Willie Montanez. Maddox blossomed in Philadelphia, where he established a reputation as an all-world defender for six postseason-qualifying teams. Winning Gold Gloves every season from 1975 to 1982, Maddox earned the deserving nickname, the “Secretary of Defense.” He became a vital contributor to the Phillies’ 1980 world championship team. Though he walked only 18 times, Maddox hit 11 home runs, stole 25 bases and turned in his usual high-grade performance in center field.

Maddox retired after a six-game stint in 1986; the following year, he moved up to the broadcast booth as a color man on Phillies telecasts. Highly successful in his post-playing days, Maddox has attended classes at Temple University, become a CEO at an office furniture company, served as a director of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, and earned a reputation as an acclaimed barbecue chef.