Friday, April 18, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #125 CARLTON FISK

FISK HAD A LOT OF GREAT CARDS.


BORN TO BE A CATCHER.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • No nonsense and deliberate, Carlton Fisk was as steady as your grandfather's gold pocket watch, even if he ran a little slow. Fisk was in control for 24 seasons behind the plate. He retired in 1993 as the all-time leader in games caught and most home runs (351). You messed with Fisk at your own peril, just ask #141 Deion Sanders. You also tempted fate by pitching to him with the game on the line, just ask the Reds. A 10-time All-Star, Fisk hit 376 homers -- 188 on the road and at home -- drove in 1,330 runs and slashed .269/.341/.457.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Oct. 21, 1975. Game 6 of the World Series. Twelve inning. Score 6-6. Red Sox trailing in the series 3-2. Pat Darcy on the mound. Fisk pulls a 1-0 pitch and hammers it off the foul pole in left for the winner while waving it fair for dramatics. That's a defining moment all right.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Fisk hit 26 homers, drove in 102 runs and slashed .315/.402/.521 in '77, playing 152 games.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Fisk was the first unanimous AL Rookie of the Year, batting .293 with 22 home runs in '72. Along with Joe Rudi, he also co-led the AL in triples with nine, the last catcher to do so.
  2. A knee injury suffered in a home plate collision in '74 put his career in jeopardy. He had reconstructive knee surgery and returned in the middle of the '75 season.
  3. In his 11 seasons as Red Sox catcher, Fisk averaged 14 homers, 52 RBI and was a seven-time All-Star. He was constantly trying to get more money from the tight-fisted front office.
  4. When the Red Sox mailed Fisk's new contract after the '80 season one day late, he was granted free agency and signed with the White Sox, where he would play his final 13 seasons. 
  5. On May 22, 1990, at Yankee Stadium, Fisk had to correct Sanders about how to play the game properly. Sanders popped out to the infield in the third inning and didn't bother to run it out. That's when Fisk popped off, telling him to run the ball out. Next time up in the fifth, Sanders told Fisk the days of slavery were over. "There's a right way and a wrong way to play this game, and you're playing it the wrong way,'' Fisk barked. "And the rest of us don't like it. Someday you're going to get this game shoved right down your throat!''

THE GAME 6 FISK HR BALL, SCUFFED BY THE FOUL POLE SCREEN,
BEFORE LANDING IN FOSTER'S GLOVE; UNFORTUNATELY, NOT MINE.


BUT THIS ONE IS.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #124 JAY BUHNER

KEN PHELPS FOR JAY BUHNER, ANYONE?


NOTHING SAYS THE '90s LIKE OAKLEY EYE WEAR.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Jay Buhner was yet another discarded Yankee farmhand who found success in another organization. Joining Willie McGee and #106 Fred McGriff on the railway out of the Bronx, Buhner was traded to the Mariners in 1988 and played Robin to Ken Griffey Jr.'s Batman in the middle of the order. Buhner appeared in 32 games for the Yankees and the other 1,440 with the Mariners, hitting 310 homers and driving in 965 with a slash line of .254/.359/.494 in 15 years. He was as beloved as Griffey, and maybe even more as many identified with his blue-collar approach to the game.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • With the score 2-2 in the 11th inning of Game 3 of the ALCS on Oct. 13, 1995, Buhner silenced the Jacobs Field crowd with a three-run blast off Eric Plunk, giving the Mariners a 5-2 victory over the Indians. However, the Indians would win the next three games to end underdog Seattle's magical postseason ride.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Buhner established career-highs in homers (44) and RBI (138) in '96, slashing .271/.369/.557. He was named an All-Star for the only time in his career and won his only Gold Glove as a right fielder.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. The Yankees acquired Buhner, Steve Kemp and Tim Foli and cash from the Pirates in exchange for Dale Berra and Alfonso Pulido in December '84.  
  2. George Steinbrenner couldn't leave well enough alone, sending Buhner to the Mariners in July '88 for Ken Phelps, whom the Boss saw as filling a power need with the AL East title there for the taking. Phelps hit 10 homers in 107 at-bats, but the Bombers finished 85-76, fifth in the East.
  3. Although a free-swinger who averaged 155 strikeouts a season, Buhner took his share of walks, twice drawing 100-plus.
  4. On June 23, 1993, he hit for the cycle against the Athletics, with his 14th-inning triple leading to the winning run.
  5. Hit four homers in the '95 postseason -- three in the ALCS -- and drove in eight runs. Overall, in 85 at-bats covering 26 playoff games, he hit .306 with eight homers and 12 RBI.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #123 WIL CORDERO

FELL SHORT OF BECOMING CAL JR. II.


LOADS OF POTENTIAL IN '93.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Wil Cordero was a top-rated prospect in the deep Expos farm system that was spitting out starters in the early 1990s who would comprise their unofficial '94 NL East championship club. While Cordero became serviceable shortstop in the majors, he didn't develop into the second coming of Cal Ripken Jr. many envisioned. He played 14 years, hit 122 home runs and had a .273/.330/.428 slash line.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Facing the first-place Braves on June 28, 1994, at Olympic Stadium, the Expos trailed 7-6 in the ninth. After Larry Walker singled in the  tying run off Steve Bedrosian and sending Moises Alou to third with no outs, Cordero singled to left on a 3-2 pitch to give Montreal an 8-7 victory, cutting Atlanta's lead in the division to a half game. The Expos would seize the lead for good on July 22 and go to win the division, pennant and World Series. The players' strike halted the season on Aug. 11, with Montreal cruising at 74-40 and leading Atlanta by six games, so we'll never know how good the Expos were.

DEFINING SEASON

  • In '94, Cordero hit 15 home runs, drove in 63 runs, stole 16 bases and slashed .294/.363/.489. He was awarded the Silver Slugger and made the NL All-Star team for the only time in his career.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Signed as an amateur free agent at age 16 by the Expos out of Mayaguez, P.R.
  2. Made his major-league debut at age 20 in '92, playing in 45 games and hitting .302.
  3. Cordero played four years for the Expos before being traded to the Red Sox in January '96.
  4. Hit a career-high 18 home runs for the Sox in '97, but they released him after accusations that he beat his wife.
  5. He would go on to play for four other organizations and returned to Montreal for '02-'03 and play a final season in '05 with Washington, which was the new home of the Expos.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #122 EDDIE MURRAY

PLAYED 2 YEARS IN N.Y., HITTING 43 HRs.



THE ORIOLES WERE IDIOTS FOR TRADING THIS GUY.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • If you're putting together a list of the best switch-hitters in baseball history, Eddie Murray has to be in the top three. Actually, with 504 homers, 1,917 RBI and a slash line of .287/.359/.476, Murray was one of the best hitters, period. He was an eight-time All-Star but never voted league MVP despite finishing in the top five six times. For 21 years, Murray lived up to his "Steady Eddie'' nickname with production and by playing nearly every day.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Murray had a Roy Hobbs moment in the deciding Game 5 of the 1983 World Series against the Phillies on Oct. 16. After homering in the second inning, he clubbed another in the fourth off Charlie Hudson that smashed off the Veterans Stadium right-field scoreboard, right above the "M'' in "Murray.'' The Orioles went on to win 5-0, claiming their third World Series title.

DEFINING SEASON

  • It's difficult to pick out one superior Murray season, but how about '84, when he posted his highest WAR at 7.1? He led baseball in walks with 107, had a .306/.410/.509 slash line, hit 29 homers and drove in 110 runs. He finished fourth for AL MVP and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Named '77 AL Rookie of the Year, hitting 27 homers, driving in 88 and batting .283.
  2. In his 12-year Orioles career, Murray averaged 152 games a season, 28 homers, 99 RBI and a .295/.371/.500 slash line.
  3. With the "Oriole Way'' moniker becoming more of a punchline than a badge of honor in the mid-'80s, Murray emerged as a target of owner Edward Bennett Williams and fans, especially in '86 when a pulled hamstring put him on the DL. Williams blamed Murray's lack of conditioning, the fans began to boo and the pieces were in place for an awful trade.
  4. Sure enough, the Orioles dumped Murray on Dec. 4, 1988, giving him to the Dodgers for Juan Bell, Brian Holton and Ken Howell. No, really, Juan Bell, Brian Holton and Ken Howell for Eddie Freakin' Murray!! It was a horrible trade then and an abomination now.
  5. All was forgotten when the Birds re-acquired Murray in a trade in '96; on Sept. 6, he hit his 500th home run in Camden Yards. Well, not totally forgotten. Murray deserved to be a lifelong Oriole and that still sticks in most Bird fans' craws, including mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #121 GREGG OLSON

A CLOSER WITH AN OFF-THE-HOOK CURVE.


OLSON WAS AN O'S SAVIOR.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Most dominating closers use the fastball as their primary weapon. Gregg Olson rode a devastating curveball to ninth-inning success. The Orioles' first-round pick in 1988 rose quickly from the minors to become stopper during their "Why Not'' '89 season when they won 87 games and finished second in the AL East. After winning AL Rookie of the Year and averaging 27 saves in his first five full seasons, a torn elbow ligament in '93 ended his Orioles career. He enjoyed a comeback season with the Diamondbacks in '98, saving 30 games, but his best days were behind him in Baltimore. He finished his 14-year career with 217 saves and a 79-percent save percentage. 

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Perhaps unfairly, but as an O's fan repeatedly calling 1-800 "scorelines'' for updates during the '89 division chase that September, I can't forget Olson bouncing that curve in Toronto. Of course, the Birds wouldn't have gotten to Game 160 without Olson. On Sept. 29 with the Orioles leading 1-0 and trailing the Jays by a game in the final series of the season, Olson came on in the eighth with two outs to face Kelly Gruber with the tying run on third. The 58-foot wild pitch tied the game, and the Blue Jays scored the winner in the 11th. The magical run ended the next day with another loss. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • Olson followed up his Rookie of the Year season with an even better encore in '90. He was an All-Star for the only time in his career, saving a career-high and Orioles franchise-record 37 games, converting 88 percent of his chances.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Olson was the first reliever to win the AL Rookie of the Year, saving 27 games with a 1.69 ERA. 
  2. Finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting in '89, a testament to his value to the Birds.
  3. Only July 13, 1991, he combined with Bob Milacki (six innings), Mike Flanagan (one) and Mark Williamson (one) on a no-hitter against the Athletics. Olson struck out two batters in his 12-pitch exclamation point to the 2-0 no-no combo.
  4. After his elbow injury, Olson tried catching on with seven teams before landing the expansion Arizona closing job in '98.
  5. Inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in '08.

ORIOLES SPRING TRAINING 1990: OH, THE MEMORIES.

Friday, April 11, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #120 ROBERTO KELLY

ROBERTO HAD AN IDENTITY CRISIS IN '93.



FLAP-LESS BATTING HELMETS ROCK.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Scenery and Christian name changes initially breathed new life into Roberto Kelly's career, but in the end, his 14 years in the majors were mostly underwhelming. Kelly was a top Yankee prospect in the late 1980s before winning the center field job in '89. After failing to fulfill their expectations, the Yankees traded him to the Reds, where he changed his name to Bobby. In his first at-bat, he tripled and reeled off a 14-game hitting streak. The name stuck until he changed back to Roberto in November after an injury-plagued '93 season. Kelly hit 124 homers, stole 235 bases and had a slash line of .290/.337/.430.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • With the Mariners facing elimination in Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 4, 1997, Kelly helped extend their season against the Orioles. His double in the top of the third gave them a 1-0 lead, and Seattle would go on to win 4-2.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Kelly hit 20 homers and stole 32 bases in '91, the only time in his career that he attained the 20/20 level that many in the Yankee organization thought would become the norm.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Kelly was successful on 74 percent of his stolen-base attempts.
  2. Trading him to the Reds for #170 Paul O'Neill proved to be a masterstroke for the Yankees; O'Neill would be a centerpiece on the club's four World Series titles in five years.
  3. Kelly, meanwhile, separated his shoulder in June '93 and was lost for the season, and the Reds traded him in May '94 for #141 Deion Sanders.
  4. Kelly was traded three more times and was mostly a fourth outfielder the remainder of his career.
  5. An ability to hit lefties made him valuable off the bench; Kelly hit .344 off them from '95-'00.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #119 CRAIG BIGGIO

POSITIONED FOR GREATNESS.


VERY UNDERRATED.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • The only player to become an All-Star at catcher and second base, Craig Biggio defined versatile and team-first. He established himself as a top-caliber backstop in his first full season in 1989 by winning the Silver Slugger, but the team wanted to preserve the speed that was such a big part of his game after averaging 22 steals in his first three seasons. The move occurred in '92, and he promptly made the NL All-Star team for the second consecutive year. In his 20-year career, he would be moved to center field, left and back to second, all the while continuing to hit, finishing with 3,060 knocks. Add 291 homers, 414 steals and a career slash line of .281/.363/.433 and you'd figure he would've made the Hall of Fame but hasn't after being eligible the past two years.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • In his final season in '07, Biggio reached the 3,000-hit club on June 28 with a single off the Rockies' Aaron Cook. He was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, but the milestone was secured. It was the third of five hits in the extra-inning game, and he was the 27the player in the exclusive club and first Astro.

DEFINING SEASON

  • In '97, Biggio was fourth in the NL MVP voting, slashing .309/.415/.501, hitting 22 homers, driving in 81 and stealing 47 bases. He led the majors in runs scored with 146 and was hit 34 times, the third consecutive year leading in ouches.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Holds the modern-day record for being hit 285 times by pitches.
  2. Hit 50 lead-off homers, the most in the NL.
  3. The Astros' acquisition of Jeff Kent in '03 forced the move to center; midway through the next season, Biggio moved to left to accommodate the arrival of Carlos Beltran.
  4. On July 24, 2007, hours after announcing his intentions to retire after the season, Biggio hit a grand slam to break a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning, propelling the Astros past the Dodgers 7-4.
  5. In his first year on the Hall ballot in '13, Biggio garnered 68.2 percent of the vote, with 75 needed for election. In January, he fell two votes short. You would hope the third time's the charm.