Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Again with the baseball cards

Major League Baseball probably needs to return sometime soon, because here comes another post about baseball cards.

I feel like it's August, 1994 all over again. Baseball went on strike that summer, never to return, and I just had my baseball cards to get me through the days. Well, the cards and Kristine Frangipane, who let me kiss her on the cheek a couple times.

8th grade me was fighting the ladies off on a daily basis.

Anyway, we start with a Cal Ripkin Jr. card. Who is Cal Ripkin Jr.? According to Sports Educational/Newton Photos, he was a Short Stop for the Baltimore Orioles.

The back of the card has Ripki(e)n's statistics starting in 1986, even though he broke into the big leagues in 1981 and had his first full season in '82. And there's a place for TOTALS, but no totals exist.

Not very educational, light on the sports, Sports Educational.

Next, we have an absolutely horrifying Mike Piazza card.

Moving on.

Albert Belle was a crazy person, no doubt about that. But I'm not sure the casual fan remembers that before he was ever Albert Belle, Crazy Person he was Joey Belle, Crazy Person. Thankfully, we have that evidence documented on early-90s cards.

Look at Mark Parent taking out Craig Biggio at second to break up the double play!

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

MLB withdrawal: a guest post

The following is a guest post by WH, who holds the dual distinction of A. being at Yankee Stadium for game 4 of the 2001 World Series and nearly passing away during Tino Martinez's game-tying, ninth-inning home run, and B. starting and maintaining a game-long, stadium-wide "Let's Go Yankees" chant during a road game at Turner Field in Atlanta in 2009. 

We call this piece Fever Dreams About Mike Tauchman.

Day four without Major League Baseball and I've already gone through a wide range of emotions. I almost cried on Thursday (March 26) when I realized that I would not be watching opening day games; Friday, I was blaming the global pandemic for letting the Astros off the hook for their cheating scandal. By Saturday I was spending an hour showing my newborn son Youtube clips of sweet swinging lefties from my youth. 

Which brings us to Monday, March 30.

I woke up this morning so confused, but it seemed so real. I had a dream I was sitting in the outfield bleachers at the Stadium watching my beloved Yankees playing in a game (opponent not important). For some ungodly reason, Mike Tauchman was in center field and I was heckling him for his terrible batting average, (he was hitting .080 before all spring training games were cancelled) and the fact that he is stealing playing time from my favorite current Yankee, Clint Frazier. 

As the game is progressing he hears my heckling but has yet to respond to my lunacy. Then the inevitable happens: Tauchman misplays a ball in center and I let him have it. Still no response on his part. The next half inning he comes to the plate with runners on first and second and rips a double down the line scoring both runners. We take the lead. This is still not enough to earn my admiration. I am still yelling nonsense at Tauchman. His next at bat, he crushes a home run to right. So now he's 2-for-3 with 3 RBIs.

As he's tossing warmup throws before the next half-inning, he looks up at me and says "that one was for you." I retaliate with "I'm never going to stop heckling you!", and he looks me dead in the eyes and says "Please don't, I thrive on it."

Sure, Dream Mike Tauchman finally came through, but its been just four days without baseball and already my own brain is turning on me. I am terrified to see how far this will go, but who knows, in a few weeks I will probably have some weird nightmare where me, Nick Swisher and Don Mattingly are in some kind of crazy Tiger King-type of polygamous relationship.

Strap in folks, its going be a long, wild, horrifying ride without MLB for the foreseeable future.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Why Do I Have A Kris Bryant Ball?

The easy answer to every question in this series is that I had season tickets to the New Orleans Baby Cakes during their unremarkable three year run after a massive marketing makeover. And man, I had some sweet seats too, front row next to the visitor dugout. The Baby Cakes and the Zephyrs before them were the Triple A affiliate of the Florami Marlins and they didn't pump a lot of top prospects through Triple A. Now the team is off to Witchita and the Marlins are loaded with minor league talent. I'm only bitter this |               | much-ish. We'll get more into how bitter I am during the Isan Diaz post.

Anyway, before I had season tickets, seats were super cheap anyway and you could just hang out by the dugout before games to get autographs. The Iowa Cubs had come through the season before this ball was signed in 2014. Bryant was super friendly and signed a bunch of stuff then. This ball was signed on April 16, 2015. I wish I would have had him put the date on it.

Rumors would have it that Kris Bryant would finally be called up around that time due to the Cubs *allegedly* manipulating his service time. So Kris comes down the line signing away toward the dugout. I ask him if he's getting called up tomorrow. His response was "you guys know as much as I do." He hit one into the parking lot that night. He also got called up.

This is my "Kris Bryant lied to my face" autographed baseball.

Aroldis Chapman is Jacked

Aroldis Chapman is best known for throwing baseballs very very fast. Over the last couple of seasons he has thrown baseballs less fast, but still heaves the spheroid at a ridiculous pace. He also just stands there and smiles at nothingness when Jose Altuve hits a premeditated dinger off of him to win the American League Pennant. But, rest assured, this season, you only make Aroldis Chapman look foolish at your own peril.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Baseball Watchlist Covered in Cheeto Dust

Thursday was supposed to be Opening Day, but it wasn’t, and that was heartbreaking. And then teams started airing past Opening Day games on TV, or streaming them on Twitter, so that was a nice little reprieve from the madness that has been no sports for the better part of a month. (Also, non-baseball related, I don’t know if other hockey teams are doing this, but the LA Kings social media team has been live streaming Kings games played on PS4 the last few days through a twitch account. Which is brilliant.)

But who wants to just sit there and watch a random Opening Day game where Mike Trout went 5-5 against the Yankees? I do. Or watch a replay of the Reds game where Jay Bruce homered the Reds into the playoffs? OK, me again. Or sit though a re-run of Clayton Kershaw’s 15 K no-hitter? Damnit. Again, I’m in. Obviously I’ll sit though any of these right now, and I imagine you would too, so here’s a few you should definitely watch.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A brief nonsense history of the Federal League

The Federal League was one of the few non-defunct leagues in baseball history and its goal was to find a way past Major League Baseball's reserve clause. It didn't follow the National Agreement of player payment, so the outlaw league, which lasted just two seasons (1914 and 1915) could pay huge salaries to players it tried to recruit from the two established major leagues.

Inaugural champion

The Indianapolis Hoosiers won the league's first championship, winning their final seven games to finish a game and a half ahead of the second-place Chicago Chi-Feds. In the season's final game, Katsy Keifer, making his only career appearance, tossed a complete game in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Terriers.

Keifer (photo aged 11,000 years)

Indianapolis' manager was Bill Phillips, who a year later would manage the FL's Newark Pepper.

Not Peppers, but Pepper.

Almost 100 years later, I managed to find the South Carolina Beach Pepper.


That Chicago team, managed by former Cubs' Hall of Famer Joe Tinker (who was also a part-time infielder) had a backup catcher named Bruno Block. That's a perfect name for a catcher. 

It was that century's Sal Fasano.

Bruno, who put together a .198/.274/.255 batting line, and his Chicago teammates weren't known for their offense, but rather an excellent pitching staff that led the FL in several categories. The Chi-Feds had a league-leading ERA of 2.44, anchored by Claude Hendrix, who led all pitchers in ERA, wins and complete games.

Dan Sherman was also a part of that staff, though Sherman started, lasted 1/3 of an inning & took the loss in his only appearance - a 5-4 Kansas City Packers victory on June 4. The two runs Sherman allowed were unearned and Block made three errors that day. I'd like to believe that began a feud between the two that lasted for decades.


- Fake 1914 newspaper headline

Millville's Second Finest

How did I begin writing about the Federal League besides a possible acid flashback? Millville High School, of course.

The former home of Angels' great Mike Trout was also where Pittsburgh Rebels infielder Steve Yerkes played his prep ball. In limited playing time for the Rebels, Yerkes put together a .338/.386/.493 slash line in '14, then hit .288/.337/.371 in '15.

The third-best player in Millville High history was Andy Lapihuska, who had a 7 ERA for the Phillies from 1942-43, and who in 1951 knocked over this wheelbarrow.

The second and last champion

The Chicago Whales not only hold the distinction of playing in Wrigley Field before it was Wrigley Field (it was called Weegham Park), but won the league title in 1915.

Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown was the anchor of an excellent Whales' staff (that also included Hendrix). Brown and the Whales actually finished in a virtual tie with the Terriers for the league title, but won the tie-breaker based on a doubleheader split with Pittsburgh on the final day of the season.

At the bottom of the league standings were the Baltimore Terrapins, who finished 47-107, thanks to a dreadful pitching staff that included Tommy Vereker.

Who is Tommy Vereker? Not sure.

The rest of the Federal League Question Marks

Baltimore actually went a respectable 9-13 against the Whales, which included a three-game home sweep in early-May. I think we'll all remember that series for Hack Simmons' tying, pinch-hit, three-run home run in the sixth in game three.

The Grovers

There were three Grovers in Federal League history, so let's talk briefly about each of them.

Grover Land - catcher, Brooklyn Tip-Tops 1914-15. At first I thought this sounded like a failed amusement park devoted to the Sesame Street character, but it actually sounds more like a place where you can bring the family, and for an affordable price just look at guys named Grover.

Grover Gilmore - outfielder, Kansas City '14-15. "Look kids, it's Grover Gilmore!", for example.

Grover Hartley - catcher, St. Louis '14-15. Went 3-for-5 with 2 RBIs in a 15-8 loss to Indianapolis on October 5, 1914.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Umpire not doing much of anything, still disliked by local fans

Despite having not umpired a game in several months, Wes Huntley hasn't been able to escape fan's criticism. Huntley, who was about to begin his eighth season as an umpire in various independent leagues in Georgia and Tennessee when the outbreak of the coronavirus cancelled sports worldwide, said he is still experiencing heckling and taunting in his everyday life.

"It's been tough. I was at the post office and a guy was remembering a call I had made in a game in 2016 and he said 'how much were they paying you?!' And I said 'I'm not exactly sure what my salary was in 2016.' He didn't like that," said Huntley, 45.

While having his 2005 Toyota Corolla serviced in early-March, Huntley asked about oil change prices and pointed at the menu.

"The mechanic yelled 'that was a ball!'" Huntley said. "I was confused, but I asked him if he could just tell me how much a premium oil change would be as compared to a regular oil change and he started booing. It's something every day."

It hasn't been all about baseball when it comes to the taunts of local residents. While interviewing Huntley for this story outside his Clarkston, GA home, local resident Claire Bancroft yelled "you call that walking a dog?! You stink!"

Even far from his two-bedroom home, Huntley can't escape the fans.

"I visited my optometrist yesterday morning, he's probably a half-hour, maybe 40 minutes from my house. A few people were outside the doctor's office, screaming things like 'get a pair of glasses!'. And I was like, 'that's what I'm doing,'" said Huntley.

Like all umpires, Huntley is looking forward to getting back to calling games, whenever that may be.

"There's only so many times I can dust off the home plate I installed in my living room, or call time while my dog rests on the sidewalk," Huntley said. "Plus, the other day while I was carrying several bags of groceries into my home my neighbor Ken, who is usually a pretty nice guy, kept telling me to ask for help. The season can't start soon enough."

I found some 1992 Topps cards, let's play a fake game

LIVING ROOM - Since its supposed to be opening day, we're going to see how the players on these 15 cards (18 total players) I found would fare in a fictional game with results that I make up as this post goes along.

We've got six pitchers out of the 15, so that's our staff. Our ace is clearly Charles Nagy, who ended up with a 4.51 ERA, 129 wins and three top-10 Cy Young finishes in a 14-year career, all but 12 1/3 innings of which came with the Indians. I'm comfortable giving the ball to Nagy to start our must-win-even-though-it's-opening-day-fake-game.

Nagy tires in the sixth and with a couple runners on and one out and clinging to a 4-3 lead (first baseman Eric Karros and outfielder Danny Tartabull both hit early two-run home runs) we need to get out of this jam. Do we go with Ken Dayley, who according to the back of his card attended the University of Portland, majoring in marketing AND enjoys listening to music? I think we have to. Dayley was a solid reliever after he went from the Braves to the Cardinals in 1984, and appeared on a pair of World Series-losing teams in St. Louis. Dayley gets the outs we need and we're off to the bottom of the sixth still up 4-3.

[Our lineup is pretty good, led by Karros and Tartabull. Dwight Evans, finishing up a great career and mullet with the Orioles, and Ken Griffey, finishing up a really good career with his son in Seattle makes a good 1-4.

After that, prospects Ryan Klesko, Rico Brogna and John Jaha, part of the same "top prospects, first basemen" card (with Dave Staton!)

Dave Staton fact that goes on and on and on: September 15, 1993 hit his first career home run, a pinch-hit solo shot off Kevin Gross in the third inning of the Padres' 5-4 loss to the Dodgers. Staton was hitting for Tim Worrell, another rookie who gave up five earned runs in just three innings and took the loss. The save in that game was collected by Tim's brother, Todd Worrell. Gross got the win for Los Angeles, while Kip Gross pitched two excellent innings to get to Worrell. Kevin and Kip are not related.

and Dave Hollins give us eight solid hitters. Terry Kennedy is our catcher because he's the only backstop of the 18, and after a spirited spring training battle, Jim Gantner and Al Newman end up platooning in the middle infield].

In the sixth, we tack on another run when Evans singles, moves to second on a sacrifice by Newman (who with his wife has two daugthers, Kimberly and Taylor) and scores on Klesko's single. Up 5-3, we let Dayley start the seventh, but I want to use everybody on opening day to see what kind of team we have. The remaining relievers are Heathcliff Slocumb, who we'll save for the ninth (98 career saves), Eric Plunk, Greg Hibbard and Bill Gullickson.

Unfortunately, my Plunk and Gullickson memories are as Yankees and they aren't good memories (though to be fair, Plunk was good for New York in 1990). So as punishment, those two give up the lead in the seventh and eighth, are released before the game ends and Hibbard has to get the final outs to keep the game tied at 5-5.

The eighth inning rally starts with a Karros double and ends with us up 6-5 after Jaha's sacrifice fly.

I like what I saw from Hibbard in the eighth, so we leave him in to get the first out of the ninth, then manager Bobby Delwood (who along with Hibbard also attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College) points a bony finger covered in teriyaki wing sauce towards the pen and we call on Slocumb to get the final two outs. The right-hander gets the job done and we hang on for the 6-5 victory, but more importantly, according to baseballreference, Slocumb's real name is Heath, but for some reason he went by Heathcliff. 

Seems like a good place to stop.