31 December 2009

"It was after 3. His blood sugar was low!"


     Grinning maniaclly out of his little box on this 2009 Emerald Nuts Giants card (brought to you by Topps, the Giants and the letter 'C'), one has to wonder if that was what the Giants management decided was the problem with Carney Lansford's hitting coachery in 2009. No, that opening dependent clause really doesn't go with the rest of the sentence. But I threw a comma in there. And that's OHHHH-kay!

     As everyone knows by now, Lansford was asked to leave the store, and Multilingual Mister Meulens was brought up from Fresno as his replacement. But that's not important, right now.

     Flanked by Flannery in the first box and Lansford on the left is one Roberto Conrado Kelly. Kelly is the Giant's first-base and baserunning coach. Before the '09 season, I caught this article on MLB.com:

Giants work on better baserunning

     Now, Kelly was one of my favorite Yankees when I was watching them during their miserable 1989-1992 doldrums. But after reading that article, and then watching the Giants scratch and scrape for wins this season with their casualty list of a roster, one can't help but wonder if Lansford was the only one they might have asked to clean out his desk. The Giants finished 10th in the NL in stolen bases. Their team leader, Randy Winn, had a whopping 16 steals. 16. Even now, as a Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson could still manage more than 16 steals.

Hideki Matsui Home Run Collection

To take a brief break from the March of Meulens, here's set I've started chasing after a couple of big deals with a collector in the Philippines, as well as some work on Yahoo! Auctions Japan. So far, I've managed to pick up 237 of these.

From his debut in NPB, NTV & Toho (and later Upper Deck for his MLB home runs with the Yankees) issued a card for every one of Hideki Matsui's home runs....as he hit them. So all of the photos are from the actual home run or game, not like Topps and Upper Deck (in the US) where they issue a set of 500 cards and employ like 5 different photos.

The cards are all about the size and shape of a phone card, with rounded corners, and I'm guessing a description of the situation of each home run. They're pretty much broken up into a set for each season he played, as the year is listed on the front, and the actual date of the home run on the back. Here's a not so random sampling:

 
 


Lots of bats flying through the air, lots of home plate congratulations, but I think my favorites are those where you can see the ball leaving Matsui's bat.

And somehting you might notice about the Giants' helmets that separate them from every other team I've ever seen is that they aren't glossy and shiny. They have a very cool matte-style finish that seems to make them almost glow on the card as if they were added later as a digital effect. You'll see it a lot more in some of the Tuffy Rhodes cards when I get to them. I think the Yankees should adopt that style of finish on their helmets for a year. it would have been awesome had they done it when Godzilla joined the team.

In 1997, the cards got an upgrade and they added color to the backs:



If you notice just above the photo, this was home run #2 of the 1997 season.

Starting with #100, every multiple of 50 was a special card. I don't have 100 or 150, but I do have 200 & 300:


 


Blogger/teacher/Marinerd Deanna Rubin paid a visit to the Hideki Matsui museum in Japan about 2 years ago, and the museum (run by the Matsui family) actually has what look like 8x10 versions of many of this set on display as a part of the museum. Have a look:

Deanna at the Hideki Matsui Museum

And while you're there, browse around Deanna's great site. She takes the absolute BEST photos during the hundreds of baseball games she attends each year.

27 December 2009

Hensley Meulens/Leonard Griffin - separated at birth?


     If I thought anyone was actually reading this, I might attempt to cover my player collections more evenly, but since Hensley Meulens has been the focal point of my efforts for the last few years, you'll just have to bear through it as best you can. My most recent pickup arrived the day after Christmas in the form of 6 1991 Topps cards of various Yankees commons. All 6 of which had the backs of 1991 Topps football cards. I knew there were a scattering of these type of card out there, as I've seen them mentioned in posts of various trading forums, but I never thought I'd run across one that actually intersected with any of my interests.

     I may have to force myself to do some extra research on these and see if I can figure out how many of these were actually produced. I should be able to either find the listing, or reconstruct the listing of which cards made up the 132 card sheet that these 6 came from, and then see if I can reconstruct the football sheet that these were mixed up with. From the backs, it looks like there were at least two sheets involved; sheets C & D. I've got a pile of old baseball card magazines lying around the house that I picked up for shipping on eBay, I'll dig through those and see if any contemporary references were made to these oddities. In any case, this made for a great oddball addition to my Meulens collection that I otherwise would never have thought to look for!

     In addition to the Meulens, the lot also contained Eric Plunk, Jeff Robinson, Pasqual Perez, Alan Mills and Dave Eiland (wow, that heartstopping 1990 Yankees pitching staff!). I also know there is a Chipper Jones with a football back, as there are two on eBay (one bidding starts at $1, the other you can BIN for a mere $400!). On a side note, Plunk in a Yankee uniform is interesting as he was originally drafted and signed by the Yankees in the 4th round of the 1981 draft. He was traded to the A's, in 1985, as part of the deal that sent Rickey Henderson to New York. Where it gets even more interesting is that he was AGAIN traded, in 1989, as part of a deal that sent Rickey Henderson BACK to Oakland!

19 December 2009

"Ah....new acquisitions!"


  

     In a single, wondrous mail-day, I have received a completely unknown (and apparently uncatalogued) 1994 Kansas City Royals Police SGA card of Dave Henderson (note the grin) and that last (as far as I can tell) American baseball card of Hensley Meulens, which comes from the 21-card 1989 Pacific Cards & Comics Rookies Superstars series.

     The Henderson I happened across on eBay when a seller posted the entire Royals team set individually. The Meulens, I had originally thought was another of those Broder Rookies sets with the cartoon on the reverse. That may explain why I've had such a hard time finding it. This set IS included in the 2003 Standard Catalog (12th Ed), but by the 2006 edition, all unlicensed sets had been removed. I'm still not entirely sure they sets are listed correctly, since no mention is made of the design on the reverse of the cards. 1989 would be Meulens biggest year for these bootleg cards; he had at least four unlicensed cards that year.

  

13 December 2009

Tuffy's Last Ride?



     Tuffy Rhodes, seen here in the most recent card I have of him (2008 BBM 1st Version), was granted free agency at the end of this season by the Orix Buffaloes. Despite putting up huge numbers this year while he was in the lineup, because he missed two months with a broken wrist, the Orix front office chose to ignore the fact that he was hurt and just pointed at the numbers as if he didn't perform up to expectations. But, considering how inept the Orix management has been in the last few years, and how much Tuffy was making (¥320M last year, which while it it looks to be a lot, is really only about $3.6M), they were just looking to make a major cut in their salary expenses and only offered him about half that.

     However, while Tuffy would have preferred to stay with Orix, he's willing to move on. He's just shy of 500 career home runs and 2,000 career hits in Japan, and would like to end is career with those nice big, round milestones. Hopefully another Pacific League team will be willing to pick him up for the next couple of seasons. Provided he doesn't get beaned in the hand again, he can still put up some monster numbers. If you extrapolate his numbers this year (22HR, 62RBI, .308 BA, which took something of a dive at the end, he was hitting closer to .350 when he got hurt, in 84 games) out to perhaps 130 games total (the NPB season is 144, but if a team isn't in the pennant race, the foreigners are usually cut loose for the last week or two of the season), he would have ended up with around 35 HR, and nearly 100 RBI. Also, his strike outs, which he is legendary for, were WAY down this year at the point he got hurt.

     The title of this post links to Wayne Graczyk's article at The Japan Times. It's too bad Wayne didn't go a little farther into Tuffy's 2009 season, as I'd really like to hear what Tuffy changed in his batting approach this year to turn in such great numbers.

     In other news, I did manage to snag the 1998 Takara Kintetsu Buffaloes set from Yahoo Auction Japan with the help of KuboTEN.com. I'll get the Tuffy card posted to my gallery when it arrives.

11 December 2009

A Young Hendu



     I can only think that the photographer had just asked young David a question, else he likely would have had a huge grin on his face for his very first baseball card. Over the course of his career, Mr. Henderson was one of the most consistently smiling players in baseball. The backs of his later cards read like a travelogue of the West Coast.

Born in either Dos Palos or Merced, California
Drafted by the Seattle Mariners
He played in Bellingham, Washington,
Stockton, California,
San Jose, California,
Spokane, Washington,
Seattle, Washington,
(brief, but memorable, stint in Boston)
San Francisco, California,
Oakland, California,
Modesto, California,
and Tacoma, Washington,
before ultimately rounding out his career in Kansas City.

     From the back of his card, he'd just spent the year knocking the cover off the ball at Single-A San Jose Missions in 1979 and would be promoted all the way to AAA Spokane for the 1980 season.

     Thanks to the vision and business acumen of the partnership of Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein, who would produce an assorted set of baseball picture cards as TCMA Ltd., we have this fine cardboard keepsake of the man who would known to the baseball world as "Hendu".

05 December 2009

Taste the Rainbow!



     Ok, so it's not a rainbow in the traditional sense of piles of meaningless, slightly different variations, but who would have thought such a set so far out of the collector's main stream would have three different variations?

     In 1991, Score issued a set of 10 supposedly up-and-coming prospects that were expected to make some sort of impact over the next few years, and they were given away at the 1991 All-Star Fanfest over the MLB All-Star weekend in Toronto, in a little sealed plastic wrapper like Post used in the 90s for cards issued in cereal boxes. They also came with a random 1991 Score World Series trivia card like were issued in every pack of Score. To save a little effort, they also gave out pretty much the exact same set at the 1991 12th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Anaheim, California. The only difference? That little line of text on the lower red stripe on the reverse of the cards. Incidentally, Score also produced a set of hockey cards, featuring some of the greats of the day, using almost the exact same design (the colors were slightly different).

     I'm guessing the last one was perhaps a proof or example printed up without the lower banner to show how the cards would look. I bet they were never intended to see circulation amongst the general public. While I've seen several of the Fanfest and National sets once I started to notice them, I've seen this particular variation blank variation listed once on CheckOutMyCards.com. Of course, that may simply be because no one ever posts scans of the backs of cards on eBay or Sportsbuy.

Here's the full checklist of the sets, in case anyone might be "super collecting" Ed Sprague:

Score Title Card (blank backed)
1. Ray Lankford
2. Steve Decker
3. Gary Scott
4. Hensley Meulens
5. Tim Naehring
6. Mark Whiten
7. Ed Sprague
8. Charles Nagy
9. Terry Shumpert
10. Chuck Knoblauch

     I almost have to think they were shooting for the 2nd or 3rd string of actual prospects....I mean, this is 1991, and no Todd Van Poppel? No Jeff Bagwell? I-Rod? Mo?

     Beckett doesn't acknowledge the existence of the National set, but SCD lists both sets together, mentioning the separate events. Neither mention the existence of the blank variation. I have no idea what the print run was, but I imagine loads of these sets didn't survive any farther than the trash cans by the exit doors at the events (especially after kids opened them and saw who was in it!). In 2006, SCD gave the set a whopping $2 book value. Beckett was a little kinder, but not by much. The Fanfest set is pretty easy to find on eBay, the National set slightly less so.

22 November 2009

David Mark Winfield's oddball "pre-rookie" card


     I won't bother with the usual rundown of drafting and what not.  Who doesn't already know Big Dave was drafted by four pro teams in three different sports, skipped the minors completely and led his team to the 1973 College World Series?  What everyone may not know is that he actually had a "card" released in his rookie year of 1973.

     Ok, so not actually a card, but from 1973-1977, Dean's Photo Service of San Diego produced a set of 5.5"x8.5" black & white photos of the Padres as stadium give-aways.  Much like my local minor league hockey team does, a small selection of photos were released at a time in tandem with a post-game signing session by the players & coaches in question.  These were very nice pieces, with great posed photos on the front and a surprisingly detailed player biography and complete career stats on the back of the later years.  I snagged this photo in one of the rare appearances of this set on eBay:

     At the time of release, Nate Colbert was the heavy hitter and star of the Padres.  Unfortunately for the team, after a good 1973 season, in 1974 he would injure his back and be out of baseball by 1976.  However, the timing couldn't have been better for the entry of the a young Winfield, who would be joined by Willie McCovey to replace Colbert's lost power.

     Annoyingly, I missed the set the first time I saw it and it went for just around $30.  Naturally Winfield is the only pricey part of the set.  Recently both the 1973 & 1974 sets popped up on eBay, but the BuyItNow was well over $100 for each, so I'll just have to be satisfied with catching a glimpse.

     Oddly, neither Beckett nor the Standard Catalog list all of these sets, so it took some detective work to realize all these sets even existed.

15 November 2009

Bernardo Brito, minor league power house

  

     If there were such a thing recognized in the hobby as a "minor league rookie card", Bernardo Brito's would be in a 1981 TCMA card.  In a bizarre stroke of luck (for me, anyway), he had not one, but TWO 1981 TCMA cards, one with the Batavia Trojans, the short season A level affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, the other with the Waterloo Indians, the regular single A affiliate of Cleveland.  What's even more odd about that is while he did play with Batavia in 1981-1984, he didn't actually play a game with Waterloo until 1983!  So two years BEFORE he played with the team, he had a card with them.  I'll have to do some digging and see if anyone else had multiple TCMA cards in the same year with different teams.

  

     In any case, Bernardo didn't do much to impress that first year in Batavia, giving almost no indication of what was to come (unless it was in batting practice), hitting an anemic .207 in just 12 games that year.  I'll have to dig further into those stats as according to TheBaseballCube, he was't even drafted.  I'll have to see how this bemused-looking 17 year old ended up in the New York-Penn League in 1981, straight out of Santo Domingo.

     I picked these cards up in a lot of nearly 1000 minor league cards I bought on eBay a couple of years ago.  Managed to snag the whole lot for under $30!  I'll probably never see that happen again.

06 November 2009

1983 TCMA Idaho Falls Athletics #27 Steven Bernard Howard

   

      "Selected by Oakland Athletics in 8th Round (185th overall) of 1983 amateur entry draft" as they say.  Who actually remembered that the A's had a farm team in Idaho Falls?  And who could believe that as of 1983, TCMA was STILL using black & white photos on their cards?  Steve-o had an unimpressive beginning there at Idaho Falls, batting a whopping .222, whiffing 96 times in 203 at bats.  Steve was often considered the strongest power hitter in the Oakland farm system, and this was a system that included Jose Canseco.  However, over the course of his minor league career, he never managed to hit over .270 or more than 17 HR in a season.  But, alas, he played a couple of seasons in Huntsville, and that was enough to qualify him to one of my player collections.  I'm a sucker for minor league sluggers I've seen pop one over the plywood ads for local Mazda dealerships.

03 November 2009

Dann P. J. Howitt

     Dann Howitt, drafted out of Cal State Fullerton, by the Oakland A's 457th overall in the 18th round (by which time the team representatives had already had plenty to drink, not realizing there were so many eligible players still left) of the June 1986 draft.  No doubt overlooked earlier in the draft due to the extra 'n' in his name confusing the hand-crank computing machines in use by MLB in the mid-80s.

Perhaps it was the extra N that put that little extra pop in his bat.  Or maybe he was just a clone....

Anyway, here he is in his brief summer stint with the Medford A's on this 1986 Cramer card.

   

     Minor historical footnote here (if you look at the logo on the bottom right corner of the back) is that Cramer was in the transition to becoming Pacific Trading Cards who would, only a couple of years later, issue their silver-bordered Legends sets, followed later by some Spanish languange sets for both MLB & NFL, to ultimately become the complete mess of a company that would go out of business in the late 90s, issuing ridiculous quantities of parallel sets.

02 November 2009

Meulens named Giants hitting coach

     Here's hoping the Mighty Colossus of CuraƧao can tame the free swingers of San Francisco. Congratulations, Mr. Meulens!  Don't forget to bring the batting tee.

     While the Giants were mired among the lower levels of runs scored among MLB teams, with the help of Hensley Meulens, the Giants' AAA affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies (who boast one of the best on-field ground-crew performance groups around...all singing, all dancing, all infield dirt raking!) managed to snag a couple of the top 10 spots in batting average.  Meulens is also credited for turning around the season of Eugenio Velez, who greatly helped the Giants in their pennant chase as the season neared the end (too little, too late, I guess).

     Here he stands, like the mighty Colossus of Rhodes, Meulens holds down the fort in the first base coaching box during a Grizzlies home game on his 2009 MultiAd Sports card from the Grizzlie's team set.  Thanks to Dave Weber, Minor League Singles Master Extraordinaire for providing me with said card for a meager couple of bucks, so I didn't have to drop $17 on the whole team for this one card.

Winnie, Tuffy & the Dann


     I didn't really think I had anything to bother posting in a blog until today.  Since I've basically been blogging via my player collection posts on The Bench & SportsCardForum anyway, I've decided it's time to make it more cohesive and drag it all into one place.  No guarantees on timeliness, but I'm planning to make one post for every single card in my player collections.  So over the next 50 years, you can read my rantings, ravings and 'rithmetics about Dave Winfield, Matt Williams, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes, Dave Henderson, Bernardo Brito, Roberto Kelly, Dann Howitt and Steve Howard.

     Winfield has been my favorite player since about 1986, when I started collecting baseball cards.

     Matt Williams impressed me a lot over the course of the 1989 season, so after sending a few cards to him with a letter, begging for autographs (I'll get to that in its own post) I started hoarding cards of him.

     In 1988, I'd started collecting Roberto Kelly & Jay Buhner, hoping they'd someday be huge stars for the Yankees.  Naturally the Yankees promptly unloaded Buhner for some third string pitchers.  Kelly at least went on to be an All Star, and one of the very few bright spots of the early 1989-1992 stretch for the team.  I collected Buhner for a couple more years, but he didn't amount to much by 1991 (hey, who knew?), so I pretty much gave up on him in any serious capacity.

     Hensley Meulens was my only attempt at prospect speculation.  Naturally, it was only because he was a Yankee, not that my 7th grade mind had ever picked up a copy of Baseball America or knew anything whatsoever about who was doing what in the minors (outside of Huntsville, anyway).  But he was a Yankee, and no one else seemed to even notice him in the set.  As a result, by the end of 1990, I had about 40 copies of his 1989 Donruss card (all the other collectors at school just gave them to me, not even bothing to trade).  For some reason, I kept up with him for the next few years until I exited high school and eventually stopped collecting around 1994-96.

     Dave Henderson I collect because he always looked like he was having so much fun out there.  As I post his cards here, just see how many teeth he always showed!

     Bernardo Brito was one of those sad anomalies of the minor leagues.  Stuck in the farm systems of teams who had no need for an extra power-hitting outfielder; first for Cleveland who had Joe Carter, Mell Hall & Brett Butler ahead of him, along with Andre Thornton at DH and then Minnesota where he wasn't going to crack the lineup already containing Dan Gladden, Tom Brunansky, Shane Mack and that Kirby guy.  One would think he would have made a better DH than Carmelo Castillo or Gene Larkin, but one isn't being paid to think.

     Dann Howitt & Steve Howard.  Well, I got to watch them play in
Huntsville (Howitt even hit a home run in either end of a double header I went to) and while both were highly touted at some point, neither measured up to their respective hype.

     And Tuffy.  While chasing down Japanese cards of Brito & Meulens, it was inevitable that I'd run into Tuffy.  The more I read about him, the more I looked at his stats, the more I read of his "legend" from one opening day, the more interested I became.  From being a sort of Kenny Lofton Light to a sort of Japanese Ryan Howard somewhere between 1990-2000.  Now he's a power hitting legend with one or two seasons left in the tank in Orix.

There are those who would call me.....Tuffy?

     Karl Derrick Rhodes, an outfielder for Western Hills High School of Cincinnati, Ohio, was drafted in the 3rd round (#68 overall) of the 1986 June draft by the Houston Astros.  Swift on the bases, but not overwhelming of power.  Karl was chosen to help out with Houston's youth movement of the late 80s and early 90s.  The team had high hopes for Karl, along with the likes of Gerald Young, Eric Anthony, Cameron Drew, Ken Caminiti, Craig Biggio & Kenny Lofton.  Some would fulfill those hopes, others not so much.

     Here is Tuffy's first baseball card, from the 1987 ProCards Asheville Tourists set.  Skinny 18 year old kid, drafted for his speed more than anything else.  Those stats don't look too bad for someone straight out of high school.

  


     For whatever reason, despite Karl having been nicknamed "Tuffy" years before making it in pro baseball, it wasn't until his infamous 3-HR perfomance with the Cubs that he would be listed as "Tuffy Rhodes" on a baseball card. I guess "Tuffy" was just easier for the Japanese to pronounce than "Karl", as he's listed as Tuffy on all of his Japanese issue cards.