Monday, October 20, 2014

Hartland, Hartford, and Corey Hart

A hart is a deer or, more specifically, it is an old alternative word for a male deer or stag. As a result, it gets incorporated into place names frequently. For instance, both Hartland and Hartford are small cities near where I grew up in Wisconsin and both in the Greater Milwaukee Metropolitan area. 

Those place names have a lot to do with the fact that the State of Wisconsin has a ridiculous number of deer. I mean, even after the very popular deer-hunting season there, the state boasted 1.2 million deer in 2010 -- and that was down slightly from the population peaks in about 1998 and again in 2007. 

Surprisingly, for a team in an area so filled with deer and with Hart being a fairly common last name, Corey Hart is the only player in the 46 seasons of the Brewers/Pilots franchise to be named "Hart."

My mentioning Hart on this blog usually is accompanied by a comment about his 6'6" height, his awkward looks, and the fact that he is from Kentucky.  The fact is that, when Hart was healthy, he had the ability to be one of the best players in the major leagues. He was an All-Star twice, hit 31 HR in 2010, had two 20/20 seasons in 2007 and 2008, and usually he got on base at a decent clip -- .334 OBP in his 3800 plate appearances in Milwaukee.  

After the 2010 season, he signed a 3-year, $36 million contract extension, and it looked like a pretty good deal for the Brewers...until it wasn't. He was scheduled to play first base for the Brewers in 2013. His knees robbed him of that opportunity. After undergoing surgery in January for a torn meniscus and other damage in the knee -- including microfracture surgery -- he was slated to return no earlier than May. That turned into June. 

Then, on rehab for the right knee problem, he hurt his left knee. He then underwent microfracture surgery on that knee, resulting in him collecting $12 million to miss the entire of the season. 

The Brewers still wanted to keep him after the 2013 season, and they made him an offer of $4 million plus $2.5 million in incentives to return for 2014. Instead, the Mariners made him an offer of 50% more base salary -- $6 million -- plus an additional $7 million in incentives. Some of Hart's comments on the way out of town, specifically that guys like Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Jonathan Lucroy did not reach out to him to make him feel wanted, left a bad taste in a lot of Brewers' fans' mouths. 

Despite a little bit of hard feelings, Hart said in spring training this year that he still would like to return to Milwaukee eventually. After 13 years in the organization, it makes some sense. After his injury-plagued year in 2014, however, perhaps he would take a contingent $2 million, 1-year contract to come back now. 

Or, maybe, the Brewers have moved on. 

With his tenure in the organization and his abilities when healthy, he was a shoo-in for me to include him as a player collection. My card show gave me an opportunity to fill in some gaps in my collection cheaply -- after all, I paid a quarter for this post!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Man in the (Nickel) Box

My pre-programmed posts from before my trip to Chicago have run out, but the cards I picked up at the beginning of the month at my local card show have at least a few more posts in them. I pre-wrote enough posts last week to carry me through watching the Georgia v. Arkansas game yesterday, and that was a good idea. After that game, I could not have typed up anything coherent. 

I mean, gin and tonic and Arkansas turnovers conspired to make me into a very happy Georgia fan. But they don't make for a very good typist.

Now, back to the card show.

As I mentioned when I was talking about Ben Sheets, one of the guys whose tables I visit a fair amount -- a guy named Ryan -- had nickel boxes at the show. I like visiting Ryan's table because Ryan is an Auburn fan (as is my wife) so a visit to his table is always accompanied by a college football discussion. Thanks to my wife being an Auburn fan, I don't troll him or hate him as a lot of Georgia fans might do.

So, at the show last time, we talked about the ass-kicking that Auburn laid on LSU the previous day -- a 41-7 annihilation that made clear both that Auburn is a very good football team and that LSU had some work to do.  

While we talked, I flipped through cards that could be best described as "grungy." That's not because the cards are in bad shape, but rather because the cards are all from the time from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s. With those cards being my focus, I tied music to it and, voila! -- I get the title of my post from Alice in Chains.

Who were the men in this box?

Let's start with Jeff Cirillo. I hadn't finished cataloguing my Cirillo cards before I went to the show, but I knew generally what I needed. Thankfully, I didn't get too many duplicates out of the deal. But, here are a few that I did pick up.

With names like "Victory," "Revolution," and "Black Diamond," it was a weird time in baseball cards. Weird to me, at least, especially in retrospect.  That said, I like the design on the Upper Deck Victory card and I would like it more if the inset photo was different than blowing up his main photo.  And, while that card says he is on the Rockies, I'm including it with my Cirillo collection since it does picture him as a member of the Brewers. 

B.J. Surhoff made an appearance in the box as an "Electric Diamond" parallel from Upper Deck. Yet another of those mid-1990s parallels that sound a lot cooler than being a "Wal-Mart" parallel a la 2013 Topps. 

In this photo on the "Home Field Advantage" Electric Diamond parallel, it appears Greg Vaughn may hit a ball. Considering that this card photo was taken during spring training, I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage really applies.

Sometimes, it's hard to believe that these cards all came from the same decade. This Score Select card -- other than that Brewers home uniform on Bill Wegman -- could easily have come straight out of a Fleer boxed set from about 1986 rather being from 1993. It's a basic design for the photo, but it's a busy border. In other words, it's pretty much an early 1990s card in a nutshell.

Then, there's Jeromy Burnitz. It looks like you could use his jaw to break concrete, or to drive nails if you lose your nail gun and hammers.

And the less said about that star-studded Donruss 2001 card, the better. "Baseball in front of a green screen, FTW!"

My 1990s nickel-box closes with three Cal Eldred cards. In some respects, Cal Eldred was a 1990s poor man's version of Ben Sheets. But,Eldred never reached the heights that Sheets did. Whereas Sheets struck out hitters in bunches, Eldred was around league average in strikeouts.  Where Sheets barely walked anyone, Eldred struggled to get his BB/9 to stay under 4. 

Both, though, were top Brewers pitching draft picks out of college whose arms were put into a meat grinder before they reached their respective 30th birthdays -- Eldred, for instance, threw 258 innings in 1993 for a Phil Garner-managed team that finished 69-93 and dead last in the American League East a full 7 games behind 6th place Cleveland in celebration of the end of the old AL East from my childhood. 

And both could have been much more with a bit more care put into their early careers.

That's why I collect both of them -- because they were shining examples of those bad years when elbow tendons and shoulders were ground up and spit out in the interest of getting to 65 wins.

After all, these guys were the men in the box

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Between the (Card Show) Sheets

Normally, I would not post a ton of cards from one player unless that one player is one of my "priority" player collections. Sure, Robin Yount and Gary Carter and Paul Molitor get and deserve such special treatment here.

But Ben Sheets?

As I have claimed on my "Ben Sheets Collection" page, Sheets was often the only major-league quality starter employed by the Brewers during many seasons. The blog The Disciples of Uecker put it more bluntly, saying "From 2002 to 2007, Ben Sheets was the Milwaukee Brewers." 

I don't disagree.  I mean, take a look at these rotations:

2001: Jamey Wright, Jimmy Haynes, Ben Sheets Allen Levrault, Paul Rigdon (with Ruben Quevedo, Mac Suzuki, Will Cunnane, Jeff D'Amico, Mark Leiter, Rocky Coppinger, Kyle Peterson, and Nick Neugebauer all starting at least one game)

2002: Sheets, Glendon Rusch, Quevedo, Wright, Neugebauer (with Jose Cabrera, Nelson Figueroa, Ben Diggins, Wayne Franklin, Jimmy Osting, Everett Stull, Andrew Lorraine, and Dave Pember all starting one game or more)

2003: Sheets, Franklin, Matt Kinney, Rusch, Wes Obermueller (with Doug Davis, Quevedo, Todd Ritchie, Matt Ford, Luis Martinez, a 36-year-old Dave Burba, and David Manning all starting 2 games or more each)

You get the picture.

Sheets had seasons with insane K/BB ratios that went to waste in many respects. For example, at the age of 25 in 2004, Sheets walked 1.2 batters per nine innings while striking out 10 batters per nine for a K/BB ratio of 8.25. That led the National League.

Unfortunately, 2004 was the end of a three-year stretch where Sheets averaged 225 innings a season from 2002 to 2004.  Did I add that those seasons were the years in which Sheets was aged 23, 24, and 25?  Those innings were for the greater good of teams that went 56-106, 68-94, and 67-94 under Davey Lopes and Jerry Royster (that 56-106 season) and Ned Yost (those last two years).

If Sheets could have avoided some of those miles on his arm back in those terrible seasons, perhaps the now-36-year-old Sheets would still be pitching for Milwaukee. It's entirely plausible; after all, Kyle Lohse is less than three months younger than Sheets.

In the end, all those innings caught up with him. In 2010 at the age of 32, Sheets had Tommy John surgery and, just for kicks, threw in repairs to his flexor and pronator tendon. To make matters worse, the doctor had to use a hamstring tendon for the Tommy John surgery which caused pain in his legs too. He came back and started 9 games for the Atlanta Braves in 2012, but shoulder issues caused problems that time.

It is a sad case of what might have been. I always liked him as a pitcher, and he's a good Louisiana boy to boot.

Now, most of my card show treasure that I've shown so far were from dime or quarter boxes.  

Not these cards. They were all pulled out of nickel boxes.  Seriously.

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Some Gary Carter Love

With the Brewer-centrism I display here, it is easy for me from time to time to overlook my Gary Carter Collection. Gary Carter was really my first player collection. I tried to accumulate as many of his cards as I could during the 1980s, and y'all have already seen the Carter autographs I collected in that time.
At the recent card show that I attended, I came across a rich vein of Gary Carter cards wallowing in the dime boxes. I felt that I needed to save these from that fate and get them into my collection.
Starting in 1981:
This Fleer was one that I did not have as a kid and really don't ever remember seeing at any point in time. I was surprised that both it and its 1981 Topps compatriot (a condition upgrade) had such sharp corners for being in a dime box.

Remember in the 1980s how baseball wanted to try to measure "game winning RBI"? I'm not sure that we called wins in the final at-bat "walk-off" wins at that point, but I think that GWRBI was an attempt really to measure that particular phenomenon. It also might have been baseball's effort to prove Bill James wrong about "clutch" hitting.

In any case, what ended up being measured was more frequently a run-scoring single in the second inning rather than a dramatic, bottom-of-the-ninth grand slam that wins a game 4-3. But, since it gave Gary Carter another card, it can't be all bad, right?

I think all of us who remember Gary Carter think of him either as a Met or as an Expo. Yet, he played with the Giants for 92 games in 1990 and with the Dodgers for 101 games in 1991. 

I almost hate that they made baseball cards of him from those two years.

At least you can't tell he is a Dodger on this photo. In fact, this one would not be out of place in any good Panini set these days, except that Panini would remove the background, replace it with yellow or blue or silver shininess and make it so that the blue would not look like Dodger blue.  

At the end of his career in 1992, Carter returned to Montreal for an otherwise forgettable 95-game stint there.  Part of me thinks that he was hanging around and hoping that he could beat out Carlton Fisk in the race to pass Bob Boone as the catcher with the most career games at the position. It didn't happen. Fisk won the race, and Carter never caught Boone. 
At least Ivan Rodriguez passed Fisk.

After Carter retired (and especially after he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), the card companies started printing more cards of Carter in almost a willy-nilly fashion. Sometimes they are reprints of old cards. 

Other times, the companies took old photos from somewhere -- a newspaper clipping? -- and put it on the card in black and white. I mean, come on folks, we had color photography for the entirety of Gary Carter's career.

Then again, after seeing this card, forget I said that about color. It looks like Upper Deck employed the worst members of Ted Turner's movie colorization team to make this card a color card again. At $5, this was the most expensive card from my entire weekend at the card show. But it was worth it.

The other tack is for cards to look like they are 30 years old but, in reality, they are only 2 years old.

This is the last card I need to complete the 2012 Topps Archives set. However, I still need it for that set since I could only find one of the cards at the show. I am not sure I care.

Thanks again for reading and for a walk down dime-box and memory lane with Gary Carter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Monthly Card Show #3: The 1970s

Back in the mid-1990s, grunge was at its peak. Former Minuteman and Firehose bassist, songwriter, and vocalist Mike Watt released an album under the band name "Mike Watt and Friends" called Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. On that album, Watt had a lineup of friends that sounds like a who's who of 1990s grunge/alternative music -- guys like Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl (Nirvana and Foo Fighters), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), J Mascis (Dinosaur, Jr.), Cris & Curt Kirkwood (The Meat Puppets), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Evan Dando (The Lemonheads), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock from The Beastie Boys), and Frank Black (The Pixies) all contributed in some way.

One of my favorite songs on that album was one that got a lot of airplay in 1995. It was called "Against the 70s":

It wasn't lyrically impressive; half the song is Vedder and Watt singing, "The kids of today should defend themselves against the 70s."

Now that we're twenty years past when that song came out, though, I'm tired of defending myself against the 70s. Indeed, I'm embracing both the 1970s and today.  

But, for today's post, I'm embracing the 1970s. From Topps, at least.

1973 Topps

Rick Auerbach was actually a draftee by the Seattle Pilots.  I found that out when I was working on the post for him for the 1982 Topps blog. He lasted three seasons in Milwaukee -- though only 6 games in April of 1973 -- before the Brewers sent him to the Dodgers for Tim Johnson.  

I'd like to think that Auerbach began his love of bowling in Milwaukee too.

As an aside, I'm not sure what shenanigans were going on between the Brewers and the Dodgers. In 1973, Baseball Reference has the Brewers trading him to LA in April, buying his contract back at the beginning of September, then selling him back to the Dodgers at the end of October. That is a weird transaction line.

1974 Topps

Dave May played six seasons over two stints with the Brewers. He was an All-Star in 1973 when he hit 25 HR, drove in 93 runs, hit .303/.352/.473, and led the American League in Total Bases with 295. He then was traded after the 1974 season to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for the final two seasons of Hank Aaron's playing career.

1975 Topps

Del Crandall was fired one game before the end of the 1975 season. It didn't go well -- a 68-94 record, a fifth place finish thanks to the completely inept Detroit Tigers (57-102), and a team pitching staff that was dead last in the American League in ERA, Runs Allowed, Earned Runs Allowed, and Strikeouts and 11th in walks issued.  

On the plus side, George Scott had an incredible year at age 31 (36 HR, 109 RBI, .285/.341/.515).  Harvey Kuenn got his first managerial win in the one game he got to manage.  And, the team other than the 41-year-old DH Hank Aaron was very young -- fourth-youngest in batters even with Hank and the youngest average age for a pitching staff in the American League.

1976 Topps

George Scott has some of the best sideburns pictured on a baseball card. Too bad the photographer either was 3-feet-tall or thought it best to get an easily changeable photo for the inevitable point when the Brewers would trade Scott for two dimes to a quarter.

Believe it or not, Bob Sheldon was around 24 years old when that photo of him was taken. Sheldon was passed in the organizational reckoning by the end of the 1975 season and he would not appear in the majors in 1976. The Brewers had the spoils from trading Rick Auerbach -- Tim Johnson -- playing second mostly. That didn't work out well so Don Money got moved there for 1977. Sheldon no longer played professionally after 1977.

Eduardo Rodriguez came up with the Brewers in 1973 as a 21-year-old. He was a swing-man out of the bullpen. In 1973, 1976, and 1977 with Milwaukee, Rodriguez tallied at least one complete game and at least one save. He was what he was -- a fungible rubber arm who could eat a few innings here and ther while never being a star in any way. 

The Best Card Ever

I know nearly everyone knows about the Kurt Bevacqua Bubble Gum Blowing Champ card from the 1976 Topps set. If you don't know about it, it's time you were introduced to the master bubble-blower, Kurt Bevacqua.

What I especially appreciate about this card is not just the photo. As an aside, I'm not quite sure why this photo was in black and white. I mean, Bazooka is a Topps product, so couldn't they have sprung for a color photo of the championship?

More impressive to me is the fact that the card outlines some Byzantine rip-off version of the March Madness bracket that was employed to reach a champion.

This needs to be done again. It needs to be its own baseball card set this time, however complete with about three cards for each player during the competition. I mean, I would pay good money to see a card from that Johnny Oates/Gary Carter bubble-off (and let's be clear -- it can't be called a "blow-off").  

The fact that this competition included four future Hall of Famers (George Brett, Bert Blyleven, Johnny Bench, and Gary Carter) also lends credence to the fact that professional athletes will compete in anything. Heck, let's add as many other sports stars as want to compete. We'll call it the Goodwin Championship. Upper Deck can release the card set because no one has to dress in anything other than sponsor gear. 

Who's in?

Cards for the Player Collections

1.  Don Money

It looks like the beginning of Don Money's dodgy mustache that he wore from time to time is appearing on his upper lip here. This card was the most recent addition to the Don Money collection linked above.

2.  Gorman Thomas

On the other hand, compared to his scruffy, overgrown look that he sported through the 1980s, Gorman looks entirely clean cut here.  Skinny too. As a side note, he's pictured here wearing the number 44. He had to give that number up after the 1974 season so that Hank Aaron could wear his number.  Thomas was then assigned the number 3 for 1975 and 1976.

When he came back up with the team after Harry Dalton repurchased his contract from the Texas Rangers in the offseason after the 1977 season, Gorman was assigned his trademark number 20. When Gorman was traded in 1983, Don Sutton grabbed 20 immediately. These days, that number is worn by Jonathan Lucroy.

I bought all of these cards from the proprietor of my local show, Frank Moiger. Frank has a great selection of commons from the 1950s through the early 1980s, so if any of you have a want list from those years, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!