Monday, October 29, 2012

Baseball card stories from Steve Sparks

Steve Sparks pitched nine seasons in the major leagues for five teams. His best season was 2001, when he went 14-9 with a 3.65 ERA for the Tigers, leading the American League with eight complete games. Now an account executive at Flagstone Lending in Houston and the pregame and postgame TV analyst for the Houston Astros, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

" I have a deep fondness of baseball cards that lure me to the time I truly fell in love with the sport.  I had a morning newspaper route from 3rd grade until I went to college.  A very large portion of the money I earned went to the dime store.  Topps was the only company for years that produced cards, and that was perfect.  The packs were inexpensive, and it was easy to keep track with all the cards with their checklists.  I even got a box of cards for my birthday on multiple occasions.  At least twice a year, I would empty all my cards throughout my room to re-categorize.  I would often get lost on one card for thirty minutes memorizing his stats.
  You can imagine it was a big thrill for me when I actually saw my first Major League card.  It was the winter after my rookie year and I was on the Brewers winter caravan throughout the state of Wisconsin, promoting our team.  My wife always used to kid me about sticking out my tongue when I was concentrating to which I vehemently denied, but sure enough, my first baseball card proved her right.  I laughed for that reason when a fan showed me that card, but I felt a tremendous burst of pride to be included with all those great players I collected my entire life.
  One of my favorite cards is the one where I’m stretching before a game and waving with a goofy grin on my face.  That kind of epitomizes my personality and my career!  The other card I enjoyed was an insert to Cracker Jack.  There was only a few players selected for that issue, and I was somehow included.  I’ve only seen it a couple of times. 
   I’m currently in the mortgage business.  My job has provided enough flexibility to stay in the game, though.  For the past six seasons, I have worked as the TV analyst for the pregame and postgame shows of the Houston Astros.  I can’t imagine a time where baseball will not be a part of my life, and it started with those cards."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Glenn Wilson on baseball cards

Outfielder Glenn Wilson played ten seasons in the major leagues for Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Houston. His best season was 1985, when he hit .275 with 14 HR and 102 RBI for the Phillies, earning an all-star appearance. Now the owner of Glenn Wilson Baseball in Houston, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"I really have never collected cards. When I was a kid my brother collected them but I thought they would make for a cool sound in my bicycle spokes. I do not have a favorite card of myself but have several I do not like. I think card collecting is a good hobby and see where it could be fun trying to get them autographed. There is one funny story I have about cards and autographs. In Philadelphia 1984 I remember Mike Schmidt signing all of Pete Rose cards and pictures since Pete had been released and signed by Montreal. The funny part was you could not tell the difference. Mike's Pete Rose signature looked just as if Pete had signed it."
Thanks! Here is a card of him from my collection, from 1985 Fleer.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Brian Stavisky on baseball cards

Outfielder Brian Stavisky played in the A's, Angels and Phillies organizations from 2002 to 2010, hitting .305 with 77 HR and 423 RBI in 773 games. Now a Financial Advisor Associate at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"The one story/memory that comes to mind with my Topps/Bowman baseball cards is how cool it was to hear about people from my small hometown, Port Allegany, PA, buying packs at local stores and finding my cards in them.  I thought it was really cool to have a card deal with Topps/Bowman in 2005, where I signed several thousand for distribution in regular packs throughout the country.  Sometimes people I knew opened packs to find my cards mixed in with the cards of major league all-stars and future hall of famers.  It was pretty awesome for both myself and my hometown community.
This is my favorite card of myself, although some of the other ones look pretty cool, too:
I no longer collect baseball cards, but I did for several years growing up.  From around ages 8 to 17 I collected cards every chance I could.  I haven't looked at my collection in a while, but as I get older it will be a fun thing to look back on.  Also, most of my friends growing up collected cards, too, and we would often take the cards we had and create lineups for backyard wiffleball games and homerun derbies.  Those were some great times!"

Thanks! I don't have that card, but here is one I do have from 2005 Topps Heritage.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Some Yankee cards from Cards on Cards

Got some cool Yankee cards from Madding of Cards on Cards. He's a Cardinal fan whose second favorite team is the Yankees; I'm a Yankee fan whose second favorite team is the Cardinals. We both had lousy LCS's - having experienced both kinds, I'd rather my team get swept then blow a 3-1 lead.

The cards include my first card of Ichiro Suzuki as a Yankee. It always looks weird when they omit his last name on a card, and doubly weird when the card design has a particular place for the last name.
Here are some other cool cards of the type of player the Yankees need to get back to - the kind that can shorten their swing and/or take a walk instead of swinging from their heels no matter the situation/count/pitcher.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Baseball card story from Anthony Manahan

Infielder Anthony Manahan played in the Mariners and Phillies organizations from 1990 to 1996, hitting .276 in 600 minor league games. Now an insurance professional in Arizona, he kindly shared with me this baseball card story.

"I have a fresh card story. I was with an old teammate last week named Rich Amaral. Rich told me that I am actually pictured on the back of one of his cards as him.  I need to find that card."

Thanks! Here is the card, from 1996 Collector's Choice.

Here is the front - as you can see, Amaral and Manahan don't look too similar.

Finally, here is an actual card of Manahan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Baseball card story from Greg Hunter

Infielder Greg Hunter played in the Mariners and Twins organizations from 1990 to 1995. In 284 games he hit six home runs and stole 29 bases. Now a scout for the Mariners, he kindly shared with me this baseball card story.

"Best story would have to be the fact that I ended up in the 1991 Classic Best set after hitting .213 with 1 HR and 13 RBI's for the Bellingham M's of the Northwest League the previous year. I have no idea how I ended up in that set. That card gets sent to me occasionally for signature. I am now a pro scout with the Seattle Mariners but started working in the front office in 1996. The year we took Jose Cruz Jr. in the first round (1997 I believe), I was showing Jose Cruz Jr's family around our spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona. Most notably Jose Cruz Sr who had a wonderful 19 year career in the Major Leagues.  As we are walking between the Minor League fields a fan comes running up to us to ask if he can get a signed card.  Jose Cruz reaches out to take the card from the guy, but the autograph seeker turns to me and says oh sorry I was looking to get Mr. Hunter's signature and hands me the Classic Best 1991 card to sign. That unknowing fan definitely missed out on an opportunity but gave me instant credibility with Jose Sr.

The 1991 Classic Best is the favorite of mine as I still get an occasional request for signature. I collected cards but was never an avid collector so I do not have any favorites of others that come to mind."


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Player Profile: Brian Barber

I have 20 cards of Brian Barber. This one is from 1994 Classic.

Playing career: Brian Barber pitched for the Cardinals in 1995 and 1996, and the Royals in 1998 and 1999. In 26 games, he was 5-8 with a 6.77 ERA.

Where he is now: A scout for the Yankees.

My memories: Only know him from his card.

Google Autocomplete results: He is third when you type Brian Barb, between Brian Barbour Twitter, referring to an account covering UNC athletics, and Bryan Barber Film Director, director of the movie Idlewild. When you google Brian Barber the first entry is not the ballplayer but a graphic designer.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Bret Barberie.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Player Profile: Dan Barbara

I have one card of Dan Barbara, from 1989 Star.

Playing career: Catcher Dan Barbara played in the Mariners organization from 1988 to 1990. In 197 games he hit .249 with 0 HR and 55 RBI.

My memories: Only know him from his card.

Where he is now: Anyone know where Dan Barbara is now?

Google Autocomplete results: He is sixth when you type Dan Barbar, between Dan Barber Ted Talk, an interview with a chef, and Dan Barber WSJ, a Wall Street Journal article about a chef. When you google Dan Barbara there are no entries for the former Mariner minor leaguer, though there is one for a former replacement player with the Phillies. 

Coming up next: The next profile will be Brian Barber.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Player Profile: Rod Barajas

I have nine cards of Rod Barajas. This one is from 2010 Topps Update Gold.

Playing career: Rod Barajas has been a semi-regular catcher for the past fourteen seasons, compiling between 300-430 at bats in eight of the last nine seasons. In five of those seasons he has hit at least 15 home runs.

Where he is now: This season he played in 104 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .206 with 11 HR and 31 RBI.

My memories: He’s one of those backup catchers whose name you always hear but I don’t have any specific memories.

Google Autocomplete results: He is second when you type Rod B, between Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, and Rod Burks, a porn star. Another prominent Rod Barajas is Director of Sales at Lead Audit.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Dan Barbara.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Player Profile: Travis Baptist

I have four cards of Travis Baptist. This one is from 1993 Fleer Excel League Leaders.

Playing career: Travis Baptist pitched in thirteen games for the 1998 Twins, going 0-1 with a 5.67 ERA.

Where he is now: A pharmacist at a Walgreens in Jacksonville.

My memories: Only know him from his card.

Google Autocomplete results: Travis Baptist Baseball is sixth when you type Travis Bap, after Travis Baptist School, a school in a church in Corpus Christ, TX. When you google Travis Baptist, the ballplayer is the second result, after the church.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Rod Barajas.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's over

Wow, six runs in four games. One run in the entire series that did not come off of a homer. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera slugged the ball like it was his wife and Delmon Young slugged it like it was a Jew. Maybe next year the Yankees should sign some alcoholics and thugs? And Girardi really has to change this awful managerial philosophy:
Anyway, is is time to finally put away the notion that the Yankees are one of baseball's elite teams? They have won one pennant in the last nine years. That is as many as the Colorado Rockies or Houston Astros. Teams that have won more:
Cardinals -3
Phillies - 2
Rangers - 2
Red Sox - 2
Tigers - 2
The Giants might join this list later this week. Otherwise, the Cardinals will win their fourth pennant in the last nine years. If they do, then they have to be considered the team of the 21st century so far. The Cardinals have been my favorite National League team since the '80s, so I'll definitely be rooting for a 2nd-Wild-Card world champ!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Baseball card story from Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson pitched ten years of professional baseball and reached the major leagues on three separate occasions – 8 games for the 1987 Rangers, 4 games for the 1990 Expos, and 6 games for the 1995 Royals. Now a Senior Territory Manager for Lifecell in Oregon, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

"I don't collect cards and never really got into the memorabilia craze. I can only say that my Fleer card with the Expos jogs a nice memory each time I see it.  It was taken at Wrigley the day I was called up from Indianapolis.  The day before, the Expo bullpen was decimated so I got the call to fill in as the only live arm in the pen that day.  Kevin Gross started the game and gave up 6 runs in 5 innings of work and I entered the game with bases loaded, nobody out in the 6th to face Andre Dawson.  It had been a few years since I'd pitched in the big leagues and while that moment was not the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself to the big leagues, I stood behind the mound that night before my first pitch and was so calm and relaxed. I remember specifically knowing that it would be a life long memory.

In spite of the fact that my 1-2 sinker was hit just under the glove of Tim Wallach for a double to left, clearing the bases, I finished the game, pitching well the rest of the way.  Which in the end led to further opportunities with the Expos down the road.

My career fell short of my personal goals overall but I have a few pearls that I can hang onto."


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Almost done...

That the Yankees are setting a franchise worst for postseason batting average (.200 going into tonight's game) should be no surprise - I predicted this before the playoffs even started. This team of wild swingers has no ability for situational hitting. In trying to think of a silver lining, I realized this: Mariano Rivera's injury did not hurt the Yankees in October, as many people thought back in May. (Of course, now that I write this, the Yankees will take a lead into the ninth and Soriano will blow the save.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Player Profile: Floyd Bannister

I have 44 cards of Floyd Bannister. This one is from 1983 Topps.

Playing career: Floyd Bannister was the #1 pick in the 1976 draft, and made it to the majors the next season with Houston. After two seasons in Houston he was traded to the Mariners for Craig Reynolds. In 1982 Bannister led the American League in strikeouts. The following season he signed with the White Sox as a free agent and helped lead them to the playoffs, going 16-10 with a 3.35 ERA. As the White Sox descended into mediocrity so did his won-loss records, though his other numbers stayed decent.

My memories: I remember him on the bad White Sox teams of the mid-80s, and didn’t realize that he was actually a very good pitcher, just had the bad luck to pitch for bad teams.

Interesting facts: Bannister put up insane numbers in his senior year of high school, going 15-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 112 innings, striking out 196 and walking 17.

Where he is now: He manages Loft 19, the photography studio owned by his son, former major leaguer Brian Bannister.

Google Autocomplete results: He is fifth when you type Floyd Ba, between Floyd Banner Gangster, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd, and Floyd Bailey, a US Navy veteran who died in August. There do not appear to be any other prominent Floyd Bannisters.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Travis Baptist.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jeter and Meatballs

In the 1980s, the Yankees only had one good pitcher, Dave Righetti, and their pitching staff was known as Righetti and Meatballs. Now, they have one good hitter - Derek Jeter - and he's not playing again this year. (I'm not counting Raul Ibanez, who isn't going to get a hittable pitch from a righty again.) The best thing for the Yankees at this point might just be to get shut out again tomorrow and Wednesday, to really emphasize what kind of housecleaning is in order. The hitting coach, Kevin Long, has go to go, the Yankees have to let Swisher walk, see if they can get anything of value for Curtis Granderson, and put Joe Girardi on notice that things have got to change. A good team doesn't get shut out for 20 of 21 innings by a team's #3 and #4 starters and their shaky bullpen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How low can you go?

No, not bad enough to go down quietly in a 4-0 defeat. You have to get everyone's hopes up by tying up the game in the ninth. But then you go right back to your anemic ways and lose in twelve innings. And, to top it off, your best player breaks his ankle. Well, this will all be over on Wednesday after they are swept.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

No rest for the wicked

Well, the Yankees got past Baltimore. In fact, all of the "Cinderella" teams (Orioles, A's, Nationals) turned into pumpkins as soon as they hit the Division Series. Let's see how the Yankees do against a legit playoff team - and on zero rest, to boot.

The Yankees could barely scratch out any runs against the Orioles, and even with A-Rod benched, will probably show a similar ineptitude against Detroit. Time for the pitching staff, starting with Andy Pettitte tonight, to show that their performance against Baltimore was for real, and not just a fluke.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Now no Yankees can hit

I may have been wrong with the volume of home runs Hughes would allow, but I was right about the importance. He gave up one little solo homer but that was enough to break the back of the Yankees' anemic offense.
CC Sabathia goes to the mound in a few hours knowing he has to pitch a shutout for the Yankees to even remotely have a chance to win this game.

Ahhh, they'll probably just lose 10-9, just to shake things up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

At least one Yankee can hit

So, after Raul Ibanez hit the game-tying home run in the ninth inning, the next eight Yankees made out - all too inevitable with this team in the clutch. So, as Ibanez steps into the batters box to lead off the twelfth, I tell my wife, "If Ibanez doesn't hit a home run here, the Yankees are dead." The words were barely out of my mouth when he hit a blast into the upper deck to win the game for the Yankees!
Unfortunately, Phil Hughes, who gives up a lot of home runs, is pitching tonight in Yankee Stadium, which is a home run ballpark, against an Oriole lineup that hits a ton of home runs. I would say the over/under on home runs by Baltimore tonight is seven. Mark Reynolds could hit three.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Another garage sale haul

For the second time in three weeks I went to a garage sale only because it was a few weeks away from my house. Again I walked away with a huge box of cards from the late 90s and early 00s. Cards from that area used to be pretty rare to see at garage sales, but I guess now people who were card-buying kids those days are now out of college, moving out of their parents houses and getting rid of them. Just to pick out one card, I'll highlight this awesome Rondell White card:

By the way there was a ton of 1995 Donruss (mostly series two) and lots of 1995 Ultra (including a bunch of Gold Medallion parallels), 2003 Donruss, 2000 Topps, 1999 Upper Deck MVP,  and 1999 Upper Deck Victory so I've got some cards in all of those sets to trade.

There was also a smattering of 1980s cards, including a surprising number of good ones, all of which are up for trade:

1985 Donruss Dwight Gooden (rookie card)
1986 Donruss Lenny Dykstra (rookie card)
1986 Donruss Tom Seaver
1990 Donruss Mark McGwire
1985 Fleer Tony Gwynn
1987 Fleer Wally Joyner (rookie card)
1990 Fleer David Justice (rookie card)
1979 Topps Jim "Catfish" Hunter
1984 Topps Wade Boggs
1986 Topps Len Dykstra (rookie card)
1987 Topps Rafael Palmeiro (rookie card)
1988 Topps Barry Bonds

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Typical Yankee Game

Boy, that was about as cookie-cutter a 2012 Yankee game as you could get last night. Score in the first inning and then basically get shut out the rest of the game - check. Waste numerous opportunities, outhitting the opponent but getting outscored - check. The usual suspects making outs in key spots (in this case, Swisher and A-Rod most egregiously) - check. Waste a good performance by the starter - check.
The worst part is, I knew this would happen, and yet I was still angry and disappointed when they lost. Clearly, I haven't resigned myself to their fate in my heart, even if I have in my head.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sweep averted

Well, I was wrong about the Yankees getting swept, which is good, though I'd feel better if the Yankees didn't always lose series where they won Game 1. (In five of their last six playoff series losses, the Yankees have won Game 1.) Buck Showalter certainly helped the Yankees, bringing in his closer in a non-save situation, which he promptly blew up. But most important is the pitching of CC Sabathia. With the Yankees' inconsistent offense, they'll go as far as their pitching can take them.
One last tidbit: The Yankees have never faced Baltimore in a division series before. Here are the Yankees records in division series, team by team:

vs. Twins - 4-0
vs. Oakland - 3-0
vs. Texas - 3-0
vs. Seattle - 0-1
vs. Angels - 0-2
vs. Indians - 0-2
vs. Tigers - 0-2

The Yankees feast against three teams, and famine against the rest. On which side will Baltimore end up?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Playoff preview

This is the seventeenth postseason appearance for the Yankees in the last eighteen years, and I have never been more pessimistic. The Yankees haven't been swept in a postseason series since 1980, but I think they have a really good chance to do that this year. All season, the Yankees have not been able to get a clutch hit with a man on base. The only way they score runs is if the pitcher makes a mistake and they hit it out. That doesn't happen nearly as often in the playoffs. The fact that they won 95 games says more about their competition then it does about their skill level. This is the worst Yankee team, talent-wise, since 1992.

My prediction: Granderson, Swisher and Teixeira go a combined 2-33, stranding 24 runners on base. The Yankees lose all three games by one or two runs. In Game 3, they are losing 6-1 in the bottom of the ninth, and lose 6-5 as ______ strikes out with runners on first and third to end the game.
The Yankees' only hope is that Showalter is as stupid in 2012 as he was in 1995, when he brought in Jack McDowell in relief in Game 5 on one days rest, when Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte were rested and available in the bullpen.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cards from Scott Crawford

Got some great cards in a trade with Scott Crawford. They were all from late-90s to early-00s Fleer. The scariest one was definitely Zombie Brooks Robinson.

The Yankees will be playing that scary Baltimore team in the playoffs. Let's hope the Yankees can avoid those zombie Orioles, while catching some of that World Series Fever from Bernie Williams.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Player Profile: Brian Bannister

I have three cards of Brian Bannister. This one is from 2007 Topps.

Playing career: A self-described “prototype #4 starter,” Brian Bannister had an excellent rookie season for the Royals in 2007, going 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA. Unfortunately, he followed that up with three seasons of sub-.500 records and high ERAs, and retired before the 2011 season.

Where he is now: He is an avid interest in photography, and owns Loft 19 Studios in Phoenix.

My memories: I remember him with the Mets; was surprised to see he only pitched six games for them. I thought he was there for a couple of seasons. I also remember how he was considered to be one of the smarter players in the game, one who paid attention to his own statistics.

Interesting facts: Son of former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister.

Google Autocomplete results: He is first when you type Brian Ban, ahead of Brian Banks NFL, referring to the football player. Another prominent Brian Bannister is an anesthesiologist in Syracuse, NY.

Coming up next: The next profile will be Floyd Bannister.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cards from Night Owl

Got a bunch of cards in a trade with Night Owl. I was just expected some hits to my Stadium Club want lists, and got a bunch of really nice looking cards from those sets.

However, he surprised me and sent a bunch of random Yankees too! Here are a couple of those that he sent me that really caught my eye:

Babe looks so awkward and uncomfortable. And who's that guy behind him? Thanks, Night Owl!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Luis Alicea on baseball cards

Luis Alicea played thirteen seasons in the major leagues, coming up with the Cardinals in 1988, and last playing with the Royals in 2002. Now the Director of Baseball Operations at the Elev|8 Sports Institute in Delray Beach, FL, he kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.
"I don't have any particular stories about any cards, but I always have a preference for the action cards. I like the cards that were taken during actual play, specially when I am jumping over a player as he is trying to break a double play. I like to collect cards, especially Roberto Clemente. I have several of him as well as other former MLB players. I am actually starting to look for some of my old cards, so I can give my younger son, he is 4 years old and the other day he was so happy when he got his first set of baseball cards not knowing that his father has cards of his own. When I showed him my cards, his faced lit up and he took them to school so he could show his school teachers."

Thanks! You can find his work address in the link above if you want to send him any cards you might have. I am going to.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Brian Barton on baseball cards

Outfielder Brian Barton has played professionally since 2005, reaching the major leagues with both the Cardinals and the Braves. This year he played for the Southern Maryland Blue Claws, hitting .311 with 7 HR, 58 RBI, and 23 SB. He founded the (XY)∞ Foundation (boys and girls times infinity) to expose inner city youth to travel, business ownership, public speaking and community action. He has recently written a motivational book called Mindset, and also has a blog where he discusses various political and intellectual topics. He kindly answered my questions about baseball cards.

- Do you have any stories about cards of yourself or of other players?
Well, a funny story is that when I was with the Cardinals there was a guy named Brian Barden on my team, so when I got my first rookie card I was like "Hey, this is not my signature." Turns out they switched my signature with Brian Barden's signature so all of my rookie cards that have replica signatures printed are not my signatures.
- Do you have a favorite card of yourself or of another player?
I definitely think my card with the Braves was my favorite, because even though I was there for one day it was a reminder of my return to the big leagues.

- Do you collect baseball cards?
I used to collect cards when I was younger so I have a collection of a few thousand baseball cards. 

Thanks! I don't have those cards, but here is one I do have from 2008 Stadium Club.