30 November 2010

1985 Chong Modesto A's #16 Steve Howard

    If there could possibly be a "white whale" of my Steve Howard collection, this would be it.  As mentioned in the post on the 1986 Chong Modesto card, singles in this set are extremely hard to find due to the presence of the Mark McGwire cards and the very low (relative to other contemporary sets) print run.  The 2006 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards puts the original print run at 500 sets with the six naming errors, 500 more corrected sets and another 700 set corrected run with slightly different cropping on the McGwire.  So out of a possible 1700 Steve Howards that should exist, I've seen only this one in the last 5 years.

    So, now The Total Steve Howard Experience is complete, here it is in technicolor (where available):

All I left out was the 1990 Topps Traded Tiffany since it doesn't exactly show up on a scan. Yeah, I included both the CMC Pre-Rookie and the CMC Tacoma Tigers cards and they look the same, but they had different backs (you just have to look at it from the other side of the screen).

Congratulations, Mr. Howard, for surviving 9 years of minor league baseball!

02 November 2010

Baseball of Winters Past

     Now that the Giants have wrapped up their season, while some get to go home, others just get to go back to work, albeit in warmer climes.  While Burrell and Rowland rest their creaky bones, and Renteria goes home to stare at his new trophy, coaches Hensley Meulens and Roberto Kelly will both have to pack their bags and board a plane to Venezuela to pick up their winter jobs, already in progress.  Meulens and Kelly both signed on as coaches of the Bravos de Margarita.  Last year, Meulens just barely had enough time to report to the team and put on his uniform before being hired away by the Giants and sent to Arizona to monitor the progress of their talents in the Arizona Fall League. 

     For a couple of years now, I've been attempting to reconstruct a complete record of Hensley Meulens playing days, to include his time in affiliated and independent minor league baseball, MLB, Nippon Professional Baseball, Liga Mexicana de Béisbol, the Korea Baseball Organization and even the winter leagues.  All of that has been rolled into a neat (if less than aesthetically pleasing) GoogleDocs spreadsheet:

Hensley Meulens (Mostly) Complete Professional Career Statistics

     At one point, according to the biographical page of his Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy website, Meulens held the distinction of being the only player to have played in all four of the Caribbean's winter leagues, Liga de Beisbol Dominicano, Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico, Liga Mexicana del Pacifico and Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional.  It's a real shame no one is making baseball cards for winter league teams anymore.  But while I may not be able to hold a card of Bam Bam in driving one over the fence in Estadio Gral Ángel Flores, I have been able to dig out most of his numbers from those seasons.

     During his playing days, Meulens spent his winters touring the Caribbean.  He spend the 1988-89 through 1991-92 seasons (and probably the 92-93 season) in the Dominican, playing for the Azucareros del Este.  This is the only stop that provided a baseball card, thanks to Lime Rock's one-off series of Dominican Winter Baseball from 1993.

     After returning from Japan (incidentally, with the Giants winning the World Series this year, Hensley Meulens joins what is likely a very small club to have championship rings in both the U.S. and Japan, having helped the Tokyo Yakult Swallows to a Nippon Series victory in 1995.  I'll have to see if I can construct that list), there was a brief stop for part of the 1997-98 season with the Pastora de Los Llanos in Venezuela.  Following the expiration of his contract with the Expos and pick up by the Diamondbacks (and subsequent trade to the White Sox), the 1998-99 winter season was spent in Puerto Rico, playing for the Cangrejeros de Santurce  (I've not found any stats for that season, yet).

     Getting no bites from the Majors after the 1999 winter, Meulens took a stab at independent baseball with the Newark Bears, and while having a decent year, he wasn't ready to hang it up.  The 1999-00 winter was spent in Mexico, splitting time between the Algodoneros de Guasave and the Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican Pacific League.  Mexico is where he would spend most of the remainder of his professional playing career (after a brief stab at Korea, where he hit a meager .196 in 14 games for the SK Wyverns...and in Korea, foreigners don't get a chance to adjust, they either perform, or they hit the road).

     The 2000-01 winter season proved to be the last for Meulens, splitting time, back in Mexico, between the Aguilas de Mexicali and the Tomateros de Culiacan.  After hanging up the cleats and throwing his towel in the coaching arena, Meulens went on to participate in two more winter leagues, in 2005 with the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League, and then in 2006 with the Honolulu Sharks of Hawaii Winter Baseball.

     That vest he's wearing has turned up on eBay a couple of times, but unfortunately for a lowly Hensley Meulens collector, #31 was also worn by Austin Jackson when he played for Honolulu, effectively doubling the sale price.