Friday, November 14, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: PAGING Nos. 154-162

SIERRA, PALMER AND FRANCO WERE TEAMMATES IN '91-'92.


HALL OF FAMERS

  • No. 162 Dave Winfield was inducted in 2001 on the first ballot with 84.5 percent of the vote.

FINEST OF THE NINE

  • Winfield was one of the game's finest athletes as evidenced by being drafted by four professional leagues. But he made his mark in baseball, becoming one of only seven players to reach 3,000 hits and 450 home runs.

FINEST MOMENT

  • No. 161 Julio Franco made old farts like me proud when he became the oldest player in major-league history to homer at age 48 on May 4, 2007. The fact he did it against No. 154 Randy Johnson made it even more memorable.

DESIGNED TO THE NINES

  • Winfield's card captures the intensity of player. As talented as he was, the man played with a grit-your-teeth fury few could match.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #162 DAVE WINFIELD

FEW TOOK A MORE VIOLENT HACK.


TO HAVE AN EIGHTH OF THIS GUY'S TALENT ...


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Many athletes who played in the majors could've starred in other sports. But Dave Winfield was the only one drafted by four professional leagues: MLB, the NFL, NBA and ABA. If the Nike promotional express existed in the early 1970s, Heaven Knows he would've played more than one sport. Fortunately for baseball fans, we got to watch a splendid 22-year career play out exclusively on the diamond. The 12-time All-Star had 3,110 hits, 465 homers, slashed .283/.353/.475 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Playing in his first World Series since his .045 showing with the Yankees in '81, Winfield again was struggling entering the 11th inning of Game 6 of the '92 Series with the Blue Jays on Oct. 24. A victory away from their first title, he came to the plate with two outs, two on and the score 2-2. Winfield lashed a double down the left-field line off Charlie Leibrandt. Both runners scored, and the Jays held on to win 4-3. "Mr. May'' was "Mr. October II'' for one day at least.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Winfield finished third in the NL MVP voting in '79, driving in a career-high 118 runs, hitting 34 homers and slashing .308/.395/.558. He also won the first of seven Gold Gloves and led the NL with a 166 OPS+.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Winfield was known more for pitching than hitting for the University of Minnesota and was the fourth overall selection by the Padres in '73.
  2. The Padres, desperate for offense, converted him to an outfielder immediately, and he made his major-league debut in June '73 without playing a day in the minors. Amazing.
  3. You could say Winfield's talents were in demand. He was drafted by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, the ABA's Utah Stars and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.
  4. Winfield was the first active athlete to create a charitable organization. The Winfield Foundation provides healthcare and other services for families in need.
  5. Became the game's highest paid player in '81 after signing a 10-year $23 million deal with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. The Winfield and Steinbrenner conglomerate turned sour after the '81 Series loss. A few years later, the Boss called Winfield "Mr. May'' for his failure in '81 and inability to get the Yankees back to the World Series.

Monday, November 10, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #161 JULIO FRANCO

LONGEVITY, THY NAME IS JULIO FRANCO.


DUDE CAN STILL HIT, EVEN AT 55.

DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • The Methuselah of Swat, Julio Franco made history by becoming the oldest regular position player in history at age 48 in 2007. Franco was the oldest to homer, pinch-homer, hit two in a game and park a grand slam. He played 23 seasons in the majors for eight teams, slashing .298/.365/.417, amassing 2,586 hits, clubbing 173 homers and driving in 1,194 runs. 

DEFINING MOMENT

  • On May 4, 2007, Franco homered off #154 Randy Johnson, reaching the pool at Chase Field in Arizona, to become he oldest player to go deep. He also stole a base, becoming the oldest to achieve that, a little more than three months from his 49th birthday. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • Franco won his only batting title in '91, hitting a career-high .341 with the Rangers. He also set a career-high in on-base percentage with .408 and reached 200 hits for the only time in his career.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Franco was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent way back in '78.
  2. Spent most of the '80s with the Indians after they acquired him in the six-player deal in '82 that included Von Hayes and Manny Trillo.
  3. Stole 30-plus bases four times in his career.
  4. Played professionally in five decades, beginning as a 19-year-old minor-leaguer.
  5. Joined the Fort Worth Cats of the independent United League in May as player-coach at 55. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #160 STEVE AVERY

THAT'S A PRETTY TERRIBLE CROP.


THE BRAVES RODE HIM LIKE A RENTED MULE.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Before the signing of #85 Greg Maddux, Steve Avery was very much a part of the Braves' Big 3 rotation at age 22. After the Maddux acquisition in the winter of 1992, Avery had to be content to be part of a Big 4. And what a quartet it was: Maddux, #87 Tom Glavine, #166 John Smoltz and Avery, the third overall pick of the '88 draft who had his best season in '93. An argument could be made for that being the greatest rotation in major-league history. Avery, probably because of a heavy workload in those early years, was never the same after an injury late in the season, so the Big 4 was short-lived. He pitched 11 years, going 96-83 with a 4.19 ERA for four teams.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Avery entered his 31st start of the season on Sept. 12, 1993, with a 16-4 record and a 2.82 ERA. He strained a muscle under his armpit (now referred to as an "oblique'') and never recovered. He lasted only four innings, and as a result of changing his mechanics to compensate for the discomfort, he later developed shoulder problems. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • The '93 season would be Avery's only All-Star appearance. He finished 18-6 with a career-low 2.94 ERA. It was also his third consecutive 200-plus inning season. Then there were the 77.2 postseason innings. He would never top 174 innings again.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Avery pitched 766.1 innings in his first four seasons, which began as a 20-year-old, and won 50 games. He would win only 46 more games.
  2. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone gets a lot of credit for the success of the Braves' pitching staffs of the '90s, but should he and Manager Bobby Cox get some of the blame for Avery's workload?  
  3. Thoroughly dominated the Pirates in the '91 NLCS, making two starts and pitching 16.2 shutout innings with the Braves winning both games 1-0. He was named NLCS MVP.
  4. After suffering the oblique injury in '93, Avery's record was 44-50.
  5. Signed with the Red Sox in winter '97 and was the No. 2 starter behind Pedro Martinez for two seasons, compiling a 16-14 record.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #159 DEAN PALMER

RIGHT AT HOME WITH THE '90s RANGERS.


ALL OF NOTHING AT THE PLATE.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Dean Palmer was the perfect third baseman for the home-run-or-bust Rangers of the early 1990s. He swung a powerful stick at the plate and carried an iron glove in the field. Add 100-plus strikeouts a season, and you had the prototypical Ranger of that era. Palmer played 14 years for three teams, hit 275 homers, drove in 849 runs and slashed .251/.324/.472. 

DEFINING MOMENT

  • In the Rangers' first playoff game in franchise history on Oct. 1, 1996, Palmer helped make it memorable. After #116 Juan Gonzalez gave Texas a 3-1 lead over the Yankees with a homer in the fourth, Palmer followed with a two-run shot off #115 David Cone to extend the lead. The Rangers went on to win 6-2, but the Yankees would win the next three games.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Palmer established career highs in '96 in homers (38), batting average (.280), on-base percentage (.348) and slugging (.527) while driving in 107 runs.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. In '92, he was the first Ranger to homer in the first three games of a season. Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz later equaled the feat.
  2. Struck out at least 145 times in five seasons, including leading the majors with 154 in '92.
  3. Traded to the Royals in July '97 for Tom Goodwin and made his first All-Star team a year later, hitting 34 homers and driving in a career-high 119.
  4. His defensive WAR for his career was -8.8.
  5. Signed as a free agent with the Tigers for the '99 season and matched his career-high in homers with 38 and drove in 100 runs.

Friday, November 7, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #158 RUBEN SIERRA

ADDED MUSCLE HURT MORE THAN IT HELPED.


FAILS THE EYE TEST WITH FLYING COLORS.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Ruben Sierra was the prototypical Latin American prospect emerging from the late 1980s: a lanky hacker possessing good power and speed with sky-is-the-limit talent. Then overnight this gifted switch-hitter with the pronounced leg kick became a muscle-bound behemoth who would wind up with a negative WAR in 10 of his 20 major-league seasons. Sierra bounced around with nine teams, some of which you probably never knew he wore their uniform (White Sox, Reds, Twins, anyone?). He hit 306 homers, drove in 1,322 runs and slashed .268/.315/.450.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • After being called up from the minors by the Rangers in June '86 as a 20-year-old, Sierra quickly established himself as a future star, especially on Sept. 13 against the Twins. He became the youngest player in major-league history to swat homers from both sides of the plate. He took Bert Blyleven deep from the left side and Bill Latham from the right in the 14-1 victory. #122 Eddie Murray previously was the youngest at age 21. Topps commemorated the achievement with an '86 Record Breaker card from the '87 set. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • Sierra finished runner-up to #192 Robin Yount for AL MVP in '89, leading the league in RBI (119), triples (14), slugging (.543) and total bases (344). He hit 29 homers and batted .306, the first of only two times he surpassed .300.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Made his major-league debut against the Royals and hit a three-run homer in his second at-bat off Charlie Leibrandt.
  2. Sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting in '86, hitting .264 with 16 homers and 55 RBI.
  3. Drove in 100-plus runs in three of his first six seasons with the Rangers.
  4. On Aug. 31, 1992, he was dealt, along with Bobby Witt and Jeff Russell, to the Athletics for #99 Jose Canseco, a trade that sent shock waves through the league.
  5. Earlier this year, former manager Bobby Valentine said in a radio interview that he suspected Sierra was using performance enhancing drugs when they were both with the Rangers. Holy crap! Stop the presses!

THE SKY WAS THE LIMIT IN '86.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #157 MIKE MUSSINA

A LOT BETTER THAN YOU MAY REMEMBER.


HIS NUMBERS ARE HOF WORTHY.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Like Ted Williams homering in his final at-bat, Mike Mussina went out on top. He pitched six shutout innings against the Red Sox, earning his 20th victory in what would be his final major-league start and game in 2008. In doing so, he became the oldest first-time 20-game winner at 39. When he announced his retirement that November, he also became the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax in '66 to bow out following a 20-win season. His 270 victories capped an 18-year career spent in the high-scoring AL East in which he won 64 percent of his starts, struck out 2,813 batters and posted a 123 ERA+. He makes a compelling case for enshrinement to Cooperstown.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • With the AL East champion Orioles, Mussina beat the Mariners and #154 Randy Johnson twice in the '97 ALDS, highlighted by the clinching victory on Oct. 5. He went seven innings, allowing a run on two hits with seven strikeouts in the 3-1 victory in Game 4. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • In his first full season in '92, Mussina announced his presence by going 18-5 with a 2.54 ERA. He pitched 241 innings and walked only 48 batters, leading the majors with a .783 winning percentage.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. After Mussina declined to sign with the Orioles out of high school in '87, the Birds finally got their man in '90 after taking him 20th overall out of Stanford.
  2. Three times Mussina flirted with perfect games, retiring the first 20-plus batters. The closest was with the Yankees on Sept. 2, 2001, against the Red Sox when he was one batter away before Carl Everett's bloop single. He got the next batter to finish with a 13-strikeout one-hitter.
  3. After winning 147 games with the Orioles as their ace, Mussina signed as a free agent with the Yankees, where he went 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA. His Yankee career ('01-'08) spanned the years in the '00s in between World Series titles.
  4. Established an AL record with 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 victories.
  5. In his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot in '14, Mussina received 20.3 percent of the vote, with 75 percent needed for induction.