29 August 2010

1987 ProCards Prince William Yankees #2254 Hensley Meulens

Bam Bam's 1st Card

     In 1987, Hensley Meulens gave the world its first real preview of what the Yankees hoped would be the power source of their new youth movement.  He tore into Carolina League pitching to the tune of a .300 batting average, 23 doubles, 103 runs batted in and 28 home runs, breaking the franchise record of 25, set by Lorenzo Bundy of the Alexandria Dukes.  That, despite spending the first 17 games of the season playing with Fort Lauderdale of the Florida State League.

     I managed to snag this cool 1987 team photo of the Prince William Yankees and am hoping to dig up all of the team photos featuring Mr. Meulens (that's him, front and center). It's interesting, in a hobby where people seem to buy and sell absolutely everything, there's a substantial shortage of minor league team photos available from 1988-2000. If anyone knows of any good sources (aside from eBay) for these, please let me know!

     Since posting this, I've now found the exact spot where this photo was taken.  At this link to Panaramio, you can see other photos of the spot at Tackett's Mill shopping center in Lake Ridge, Virginia:

     Through several changes in affiliation since the team's founding in 1978, the team has also progressed through several changes in name, from the Alexandria (the city) Dukes to the Alexandria Mariners, back to the Dukes, then to the Prince William (the county) Pirates, to the Yankees, to the Cannons, to the Potomac (the river) Cannons and since 2005, the Potomac Nationals.  On August 27th, Tyler Moore, of the Potomac Nationals, hit home run number 29 of the season, breaking Hensley Meulens' previous franchise single season record of 28, which had stood for 23 years.

Potomac's Moore is new home run king

22 August 2010

1986 Chong Modesto #10 Steve Howard

      As a blogger, or any other type of researcher, one has to love Google News Archive.  Especially if one has any interests in Modesto, California in the 1980s.  The Modesto Bee's archives are there for the scouring, making a wonderful history book of the Oakland Athletics minor league system at the time.  Being a fan of Dann Howitt and Steve Howard, this is especially fun for me, to uncover their not-so-glorious days in A-level ball.

      Fortunately, not every day was so bleak in a 1986 season that ended with Howard, one of Oakland's, if not most highly touted, certainly most repetitously touted power prospects.  On June 7th, Steve would show the world what he was capable of, blasting two home runs and drving in seven in a 14-7 blood-letting at Euless Park.  At the time, Howard was leading the league in both walks and strikeouts, but only batting .228.  In his defense, he did undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair pinched cartilage in July, but was back in the lineup by the 22nd of the month.  After returning, Howard warmed up, hitting .338 in August, as Modesto pushed toward the California League North Division playoffs.  The late season surge was enough to get the promising outfielder a promotion to Huntsville for 1987.

      It was my hope to be posting about the 1985 Chong Modesto A's card of Steve Howard, at this point, but that set poses an interesting challenge.  That set includes one "Mark McGwire".  When said "Mark McGwire" person starting knocking everything in sight out of the ballpark, that set shot through the roof, hitting well over $800.  To make matters more interesting, the set was initially released with an error, McGwire misspelled "McGuire", plus misspellings on five other cards in the set.  Naturally, when large numbers and big profits turn blue and brown eyes green with envy and greed, the less scrupulous start rolling their own.  According to Beckett, there were only 1700 total sets printed.  500 initial sets with the errors, 500 corrected sets (slightly off center) and finally 700 corrected and centered sets, the last reprinted from uncut sheets, rather than the original plates or negatives.  Unfortunately, since these were such low-tech productions, they were very easy to counterfeit.  And the counterfeiters let the presses roll.   And since the counterfeits were virtually indistinguishable, it is very likely that most if the PSA graded McGwire cards are fakes.  Both Sports Collector's Digest and Beckett discourage collectors from buying any 1985 Chong McGwire cards that don't come as part of complete sets.

      What all this means to the rest of us poor player collectors of semi-obscure minor leaguers is that we will likely never be able to complete our collections of those players in this set as the set is almost never found broken up. 1700 copies of that Steve Howard card out there, and in the last three years, I've not seen a single one of them.  Not even Dave Weber has singles from this set for sale.  I was really rather hoping that McGwires recent fall from grace would have helped put a dent in the price of the set, but unfortunately, all that remains on eBay are loads of forgeries of the McGwire and the occasional hugely overpriced complete sets.  If all of those McGwires were truely legitimate, it only stands to reason that there would be an abundance of singles from this set circulating in the hobby.  But there's not.

      Instead, what you get is the 1986 edition, this time sponsored by Sequoia Supermarket, "The Biggest Little Supermarket in Town".  The "big" names is this set would be Felix Jose, Lance Blankenship and Kevin Tapani.

17 August 2010

1987 Chong Modesto #7 Dann Howitt

       Not eighteen months out of Cal State Fullerton, a veritable factory of professional ballplayers, Dann Howitt was coming off an impressive first season of pro ball.  In 1986, he'd hit .317 for the Medford A's, Oakland's short-season, low-A ball team in the Northwest League, and was all set to move on to bigger and better things.

       Unfortunately, that's not always how it plays out in baseball and Dann started the 1987 season getting just 6 hits in his first 50 at bats at Modesto.  It wasn't all bad, though, as Howitt did manage a walk-off double against the Palm Springs Angels on April 24th, as chronicled in the Modesto Bee.  That particular late-inning heroism wouldn't be a the start of a trend as he would finish the season in Mendoza territory, putting up a mighty .208, but managing an impressive 110 whiffs in only 336 at bats.  One bright spot, though was his right wing, named by Baseball America as most powerful of all California League outfielders.

       The above is from the prestigious "Pro Sportsworld" edition that Chong Enterprises issued for Modesto, not to be confused with the non-existent other editions the team had that year.  Pro Sportsworld, [formerly] located in Vintage Faire Mall (next to Sears!), was "the only place in Modesto that carries officially licensed gifts from every major sports team."

15 August 2010

1983 TCMA Greensboro Hornets #19 Roberto Kelly

      Signed by the Yankees, in 1982, as an undrafted amateur out of Panama, Roberto Kelly began his professional career in Bradenten, Florida, playing for the Gulf Coast League Yankees as an 18 year old shortstop.  Interestingly, Kelly played alongside just one other future Major Leaguer on that GCL team, a young first baseman by the name of Fred McGriff.  Probably because the rate of attrition is so high, no one ever really makes baseball cards of Gulf Coast Leaguers, so this is Roberto Kelly's very first baseball card.

      As is often mentioned by scouts and management, in the lowest levels of the minor league system, players (especially those from Latin America that often lack the background in organized baseball of their counterparts from the US) are being looked at more for their tools, skills and polish more than actual performance.  As evidenced by his stats on the back of the card, he didn't fare very well in 1982, but apparently showed enough promise to warrant a promotion to the short-season Oneonta Yankees of the New York/Penn League for the first half of 1983, where he was moved to the outfield, probably to take better advantage of his speed.   Finishing the year in Greensboro, of the South Atlantic League, Kelly showed improvement at every promotion.

    On a side note, 1983 was an interesting year for TCMA, as they printed cards on both the standard thin, white card stock they'd been using since the mid-1970s (seen in this earlier post on Steve Howard), as well as the thicker, Topps-style grey/brown card stock.  I'm not entirely sure whether or not that was the cause of the super grainy photos.

10 August 2010

1990 Columbus Clippers Hensley Meulens

Yet again, I miss something right in front of my face and Dave Weber is there to save the day.  In 1990, there were FOUR separate team sets for the New York Yankees AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers.

There was the Police/Cracker Jack team issued set (thank you Sailor Jack for your wise words of warning):

The team set issued by CMC (successor of the TCMA legacy), which is nearly identical to Meulens' card in the 1990 CMC Pre-Rookie set, only featuring a green back with team logo instead of inset mugshot (yes, that is a cat hair in the scan....what can you do?):

The yearly entry from ProCards:

And then there was the one I completely overlooked, another team issued set, this time distributed as a one-piece, perforated fold out, with team photo (similar to the Cleveland Indians Gatorade sets or Atlanta Braves Lykes sets):

The ProCards and foldout cards feature nearly identical photos that obviously come from the same shoot.  But they are slightly different, unlike all the rest of the ProCards issues that all recycled that same picture for his 1990 ProCards AAA and 1990 ProCards AAA All-Star cards.

Somehow I'd managed not to see this last set, despite the number of times I scoured the last Standard Catalog of Minor League Baseball Cards looking for more cards of Meulens, Brito, Howitt and Howard.  A las, in late July, Dave Weber updated his Minor League Singles (no, it's not a dating site for budding ball players) to mention that he'd acquired this particular set.  Sadly, he'd already disposed of the team photo before I contacted him, but not two days after inquiring, was the card waiting for me in my mailbox when I arrived home today.  Thanks, Dave!