Today’s Transactions…

The post today, concerning Steve Ontiveros, has been placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder stiffness.

“No, Harry! Don’t Lean Out So Far…”

Ah, Scott Servais. How did he make bank and become a regular for the Cubs?

Step 1. Be a backup catcher that shows power in the Astrodome.

Step 2. Be available in mid-season 1995 when the Cubs realize Rick Wilkins was a one-hit wonder. (OPS+ 150 to 83 in one season. Oops…)

Step 3. Hit like Rick Wilkins, 1993, right after you are traded. (OPS+ 144 and 12 home runs in 52 games)

Step 4. Profit

As a Cubs fan in recovery (just starting my Step 4 inventory, where I have revealed the roots of my resentment towards Jeff Blauser…) far be it from me to criticize the Cubs off the cuff.

No, there’s data involved.

Shock of the world, the Cubs and their fan base overrate the value of their players. How confident were they in Servais?

Well, here were the backups after he became a regular in 1996.

Tyler Houston, Brian Dorsett, Mike Hubbard, Sandy Martinez.

They really didn’t leave themselves much choice, did they. But of course, those 52 games in 1995 were the REAL Servais, much like 1993 was the REAL Wilkins.

Really, though, since Gabby Hartnett, the catching of the Cubs hasn’t been good at all.

Yes, Geovany Soto had a great 2010 and 2008, but there was 2009 where he was a replacement player (0.0 WAR). What will 2011 bring?

But the other regulars?

Michael Barrett – I told you about his defense (but still love the punch!)

Damian Miller

Joe Girardi

Benito Santiago

Servais

Wilkins

Girardi

Damon Berryhill

Jody Davis

Tim Blackwell (!!)

Barry Foote

Dave Rader

George Mitterwald

Steve Swisher

Randy Hundley (career ruined by Durocher, but he was overrated)

Chris Cannizzaro (regular in 1971, if you could call it that – Hundley got hurt and six catchers total started for the Cubs – none more than 61 games.)

Between Hundley and Hartnett, it was a train wreck. Players like Joe Garagiola, Hobie Landrith and Harry Chiti were regulars for a year. Clyde McCollugh had potential but was up and down and in the war. Dick Bertell hit .302 in 1962 in part-time duty but he was just a singles hitting catcher – and he stopped hitting singles.

Players like Miller, Berryhill, Davis and Girardi weren’t AWFUL. But they weren’t the paragon of catching greatness. Yet you’d think that talking to some Cubs fans, especially when they compared to the catcher they had NOW. (Man, if Servais was just Jody Davis…when they said that I about had an seizure.)

As for the picture on this card, I sought out when it was. I thought it would be easy to pinpoint, since it was at Wrigley and Servais was traded in late June.

Well, the first series Servais played as a Cub was at home against…St. Louis! There were two later games he played in at home against St. Louis but this looks like a late June shot thanks to the sun.

The first game’s box score shows that John Mabry playing first for the Cards. That ain’t Mabry.

The second game’s box score had Mabry play until the 8th at first when he was replaced by Darnell Coles in a double switch.

In game three and four, Mabry was the sole first baseman. So it should be relatively easy to find this play.

And it is.

Cubs down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Tom Henke on the mound. With one out, Servais hits a grounder between short and second that Tripp Cromer bobbles and allows Servais to reach on an error.

Scott Bullett up with one out. Henke deals the 0-1 pitch and Bullett POPS IT UP! You can just hear Harry. “Aw…geeez. What kind of swing was that….” And then he drooled over Stoney.

So there you go. Coles and Servais are immortalized on cardboard thanks to Scott Bullett’s ineptitude against Tom Henke.

 

Is He Still On The 60-Day DL?

Answer: No, he’s not Greg Hibbard.

This card, along with the Tony Womack card and other featured recently, will be available in Smed’s House Cleaning. Probably next week is when I start it up. Remember, pick a team, or take a chance and pick the doubles + non-baseball team cards, and get free cards (including relics or parallels or short prints for each team) for just a modest price of crap you already want to give up and a wee bit o’shipping. Of course, you may get some crap, too, but it’ll be DIFFERENT crap! Even the most controlling of team controllers can’t help but to open a grab bag assortment of cards for that ONE you may need.

Norm Charlton was a Nasty Boy, and later an ace reliever, but he’s best noted for his long stints on the DL followed by unlikely comebacks.

The Reds traded him to Seattle for Kevin Mitchell, and right on time, too. Though Mitchell was not that durable, Charlton broke down after 34 games. He was a free agent, and even though he would miss 1994 the Phillies signed him, and signed him for 1995.

So much for patience. Charlton went 2-5, 7.36 as the top lefty in the pen. That was just in 25 games, too. So he was excused. Meanwhile, Seattle, suffering with Bobby Ayala as their closer, snapped up Norm and he pitched lights out for the Mariners. In 47 2/3 innings, he only gave up 23 hits, 16 walks and whiffed 58. The tale of two seasons went like this: -0.9 WAR for Philly, 2.1 WAR for Seattle.

That led to another contract, and in 1996 he was just OK. 20 saves, 7 blown saves and 8 holds as Mike Jackson and Ayala also cleaned up the messes.

In 1997, Norm was making about $3 million. As a relief pitcher, he put up a total dog of a season. The Mariners ran him out there 71 times, and he rewarded them with a jetliner ERA (7.27, no doubt a big tribute to the hardworking folks at Boeing), a -2.4 WAR, 11 blown saves, and the return of Ayala as the closer. Still, the Mariners finished first in the West.

(Of course, to reward Lou Piniella’s confidence in Ayala, Bobby had a 1-10, 7.51, -2.1 WAR as the closer in 1998).

Charlton signed with Baltimore, and didn’t do so well and was released. But Atlanta picked him up late in the year and he pitched well. So Tampa Bay went and nabbed him for 1999. He pitched OK, but still wasn’t the Norm of old.

The inanity of the early Devil Rays is definitely illustrated in the signing of Charlton. Whilst the Marlins and Rockies built with younger players, and the Diamondbacks went for broke with valuable vets, the Devil Rays emulated the 1962 Mets in building with old, washed up vets.

A second year expansion team that has seven of their top 15 batters and six of its top 10 pitchers over 30? Disaster with a capital D. No, this wasn’t Charlton’s fault, but a 25-year old young lefty could have done what Charlton did.

Norm left Tampa and signed with Cincy again. He finally broke down, lasting just 2 games. Finally, he was done. He probably had been hurt somewhat over the past few seasons, but sucked it up and pitched.

But he wasn’t done. Nope. Back to Seattle. Back to Lou Piniella. And while he wasn’t a major contributor to the 2001 Mariners, he pitched well. And with that, he took leave of his career, going out without regret, or thankfully without injury.

With all of the arm ailments and setbacks, it would be easy for someone like Norm to just say, “Screw it, I’ll count my money.” But as much as we complain about baseball players being soft and counting their money, guys like Charlton, who made millions, still try to come back and play time after time. It’s the same reason Mike Hampton kept trying to come back. He HAD the money. He didn’t HAVE to pitch. He wanted to.

That says something.

 

Let’s Do A Tosh.0 Gone In Sixty Seconds

How many allegedly funny things can we say about this photo in sixty seconds.

Start the clock.

1. Man, I don’t know about you, but I’m never driving with Dykstra again.

2. Darren, I don’t give a rats ass about time travel and other crap like that. Just catch the ball when I throw it in, OK?

3. Dude, the bun was THIS BIG. You should see how much gunk was in that cheesesteak. I’ve had the squirts all day.

4. I gotta tell ya, Jim, I missed the cut-off man on purpose. Because I’m a dick and I like to see how high Stocker can jump.

5. Mimbs, quit letting them hit it off the wall. I got a headache.

6. Am I the only fabulous one here?

7. Now, when we get to Shea, and those bastards in the stands start yelling at me, you all got my back, right?

8. I got $20 million reasons to show up in left field. What you got Hollins?

9. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you score with the hot chick in the bleachers. That’s why I love the outfield!

10. With Schilling and Juden on this team, I’m not such a bad guy after all…

Steve Sparks – 1996 Topps

January 23, 2011

Knuckled Under By The ‘Master Of Sparks’

If you recognize the name Steve Sparks at all you know that:

A. He’s one of the few knuckleball pitchers post-Niekro.

B. He’s the idiot who dislocated his shoulder trying to rip a phone book in half after a spring training pep talk.

Now, where I grew up the phone book was a thin little thing. Even though it did have the listings for the entire county, as well as Clarks Hill and Stockwell, it wasn’t much to rip it in half.

Phone books are kind of passe now, but I’ve seen the Minneapolis West Suburban White Pages. You could kill a burglar with one fell swoop.

Sparks was a bit inconsistent, but in 2001 he was ‘the master’. Well, at least for a 66-96 Detroit team he was. He went 14-9 with a 3.65. That gave him a 2-year $7.5 million deal, and somehow as he signed that deal his magic fingertips lost their mojo.

Still, he’ll always be remembered for the phone book thing.

But what’s more idiotic – trying to rip a Phoenix-area phone book, or to see a pickup truck with a metal cage tied to the back of their truck whilst out in the sticks, and get INTO the cage and allow them to drive away. Yes, Billy Gibbons says that’s a true story in the song.

I say it’s 50-50. At least you could win a Darwin Award in the cage.

 

Best Season? At 37?

Back when I started reading Bill James, he had data that showed that batters peak at age 27. Pitchers, of course, aren’t so predictable, but the bell curve (not Jay, nor Albert, nor even Buddy or David – just a bell curve) shows that 27 is the year hitters peak.

Perhaps that has changed – the last data I saw was that it was still 27 but that was in the early 2000′s. With players playing longer, it may have moved up a tick.

No matter if it’s 27 or 28, it’s a long cry from 37. Yet Eisenreich’s best years as a major leaguer were right when this card was released.

In 1995, at age 36, his OPS+ was 121. His OPS+ was 122 in 1989 at age 30. Of course, you should know the story on why he wasn’t in the bigs during his age 27 year, and he really struggled in 1988 so his excellent 1989 is a story in itself.

In 1996, while kidlets were ripping the foil packs that contained this card, he compiled an OPS+ of 135, by far his best year.

Now, his WAR in 1989 was higher, because he became a platoon player for the Phils. However, one could say that his best offensive two year stretch were 1995 and 1996.

And with that, his sad beginning of his career is even sadder, since he coulda been a contender for stardom or more.

That Don’t Look Right, Vol. 1

Baseball is full of surprises.

Collecting cards after a long hiatus is full of surprises as well.

As in above…

Vince Coleman, Mariner?

While not as totally insane as Snooki, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, it’s still strange to see.

Kind of like Harmon Killebrew as a Royal, Franco Harris as a Seahawk, Michael Jordan as a Wizard, or Newt Gingrich as electable.

Coleman was one of my least favorite players for several reasons:

1. He was a Cardinal, and I was a Cubs fan. OK, he was a Cardinal that wasn’t on my APBA team. I had Ozzie and Tommy Herr, so they were OK by me.

2. He was overrated. Way overrated. Yes he stole bases but I was absorbing Bill James and knew the value of OBP. I also knew that even though he stole over 100 bases in 1986 while gathering 670 plate appearances, the fact that he didn’t score 100 runs was indictment enough about the true value of a ‘slappy’ that can’t get on base.

3. He was kind of a prick. Of course, that didn’t manifest itself until he was a Met, but it kind of scars his career – much like it does for Bonilla, Cone and Saberhagen.

4. He was fast, but was a minus fielder. Lonnie Smith had the rep, because he made it look comical, but Lonnie was a plus fielder for his career. Coleman was extremely bad in CF (-12 runs for his career).

Coleman was 33 when he was a Mariner. He came over in mid-season 1995 for Jim Converse. The man who spearheaded the Cardinals infamous running attack was traded for a pitcher who went 2-11, 7.21 for his career. And he was ‘only’ 33. But the M’s were in a race, and you do odd things in pennant races.

Just the year before, there was a semi-blockbuster when the Mets dumped Coleman onto the Royals for Kevin McReynolds. Now McReynolds was a productive player, but angered Mets fans for his attitude, or lack of noticeable effort, or something, I don’t know. Did he poison the water supply in Flushing? But the Mets were glad to have him back for his last hurrah if it meant dumping Coleman.

The wheezing Royals were withing striking distance of the AL Central when the strike hit in 1994 (64-51, 4 games back). But it was due to pitching more than anything. That team of creaky vets had three regulars (Lind, Coleman, Gagne) plus three top reserves (Dave Henderson, Shumpert, Mayne) under 80 OPS+. And somehow they were winning by batting Coleman lead-off 92 of the first 98 games. Brian McRae hit second for most of that time, so Hal allowed a .285 OBP hitter to start that offense, instead of a .359 OBP.

Vince did rebound a bit in 1995, but the Royals had a bundle of young OFs that were up-and-coming (Damon (yes, he’s that old), Tucker, Nunnally, Dye) and the Royals wisely cut bait and found a willing taker in a pennant race.

Thus, this card with the Mariners.

Strangely, it kind of worked for the Mariners. Left field was a total mess that year with 11 different starters out there including Doug Strange, Mike Blowers, Luis Sojo and Chris Widger. Griffey missed two months and was replaced, kinda, by Rich Amaral and Alex Diaz. But thanks to a absolute insane year from Edgar Martinez (1.107 OPS), great years from Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner, a healthy Griffey and Randy Johnson’s 18-2 effort, the M’s won the division in incredible fashion and then shocked the Yankees in five in the ALDS. They then won Game 1 of the ALCS (the Bob Wolcott game) before falling in six.

Coleman was pretty much a non-factor in the post-season and was given the ‘thanks, but…’ treatment by Seattle. He spent 1996 with the Reds at first, but was released after hitting .155. He made the Tigers out of Spring Training in 1997 but was out of a job by mid-April. The Cards signed him in 1998, planted him Memphis for a bit, but after 20 games and hitting .316 he was done.

I remember that Mariners team, and I remember rushing home from work to catch the one-game playoff. I do remember rooting for them to beat the Yanks and the Indians.

But I do not remember Vince Coleman playing for them.

And without this card, would anybody not living in Seattle in 1995?

Jimmy Haynes – 1996 Topps

January 13, 2011

Duck, Jimmy Haynes Is Pitching…

I am convinced that this simple country boy from LaGrange, GA had so much dirt on baseball executives that they were forced to shovel piles of cash at him, despite his performance.

He was a Top 100 prospect according to Baseball America, yet when he got to the bigs he couldn’t strike anyone out, he walked too many and he gave up too many hits. Other than that, he was effective.

In 1999, he stood on the mound for Oakland and Charlie Browned it to a 7-12, 6.34 slate. In the off-season, a three way between Oakland, Colorado and Milwaukee sent Haynes to the Brewers. For his effort the year before, Haynes was awarded a contract at $900,000. He went 12-13, 5.33 and they raised it to $2.1 million.

$2.1 million for a year where he walked more than he struck out, and he had only 13 quality starts in 33 attempts.

After a 8-17, 4.85 mark in 2001, he signed for $500,000 with the Reds. Of course, his 2001 was better on all levels than his 2000, but he got a huge pay cut.

Hungry, I suppose, he went 15-10, 4.12 for the Reds in 2002. Now, those Reds were 78-84 and finished third. But in looking at the team, they needed help in a lot of areas. But the locked up Haynes for two years at $2.5 million each.

A bargain? Maybe, but up until then Haynes was 61-74 with a 5.24 ERA in his career. And there was plenty of sample size. Why would anyone think he wouldn’t regress to his mean. But the Reds were optimistic, and they bet on Haynes.

How does Haynes reward you? By going 2-15 with a 6.75 ERA before he’s shut down by injuries, for good.

Jimmy must of had pictures of every GM in baseball in compromising positions with lithe houseboys and mountains of cocaine.

It’s A Tough Life For An Itinerant Journeyman Lefty

First, some biz to take care of. I received a Christmas Card in the mail from Emerald City Diamond Gems and in it contained the two cards I needed to complete my 2009 Topps Set! Wow, I’d never thought I’d be happy to see Manny Delcarmen or Alex Hinshaw, ever. Thanks, Larry! Your package of Mariners odd-balls will be coming soon.

Above you see Andrew “Don’t Call Me Quiche” Lorraine. He was a 4th round pick from Stanford by the Angels in 1993, and fast tracked his way to the bigs in 1994. He spent 1993 in short-season Boise and was bumped all the way up to AAA Vancouver in 1994. The Angels called him up in late July, out of desperation and lacking other options (Joe Magrane, John Dopson, Russ Springer, and John Farrell were in the 5th spot of the rotation before they went to Lorraine).

It didn’t work out so well – 0-2, 10.61 in four appearances (three starts). But, he’s a 21-year old lefty from the area. He’s pitched pretty well in AAA. The sky’s the limit, even with the strike.

The next year, the Angels were in contention and needed to plug a hole for a 5th starter (again). They reached into their past and got Jim Abbott from the White Sox. To get him and throw-in Tim Fortugno, the Angels paid a price: McKay Christensen, Bill Simas, John Snyder and Lorraine. All four were under 25, and Christensen was the 6th pick of the 1994 draft. Certainly, all four players were prospects in the eyes of baseball. At the time of the trade, Lorraine was 6-6, 3.96 in Vancouver. After the deal, Lorraine struggled in AAA Nashville but played OK in eight innings in the bigs.

But before he had a chance to look for some prime Chicago real estate, Lorraine was moved again in early 1996 to Oakland for Danny Tartabull. Now Tartabull wasn’t what he was before, but he had some value. Yet being traded twice so quickly had to damage Lorraine’s psyche and confidence a bit. “Am I wanted? Do I have what it takes?” Even for a Stanford man, that’s not easy to swallow.

Being traded must have affected Andrew, because he was all kinds of screwed up in 1996. The PCL is a hitter’s league, and Edmonton wasn’t exactly a pitching friendly environment, but his peripherals were bad as well.

Thus this pose on his 1997 card. Pensive, the Stanford alum ponders his future. Is he thinking in line with Sartre’s philosophy on a humanist bent where the idea of ‘class’ as an objective entity was wholly a fallacy? Or is he thinking that if can’t get his breaking pitch over and have command of his fastball then his life as a major league pitcher was wholly a fallacy?

Probably the latter.

His numbers improved at Edmonton in 1997. One thing that was striking was his lack of striking out opposing hitters. It was clear that he would have to have a good defense behind him and good control to succeed. But lefties are a commodity, because YOU HAVE TO HAVE A LEFTY! And Oakland, in the process of building their ‘Moneyball’ playoff teams, needed pitching. Nine pitchers started at least 10 games for Oakland that season, and 12 total. The staff had a 5.48 ERA, worst in the league. Lorraine only made six starts, from late August to early September and then was yanked out of the rotation even though his record was 3-1. His 7.30 ERA had something to do with that.

The pitchers who started games besides Lorraine that year for Oakland? Karsay, Prieto, Oquist, Telgheder, Rigby, Haynes, Wengert, Mohler, Ludwick, Wojciechowski and Willie Adams. Injury cases, closet cases, head cases all, sometimes all three in one!

Lord knows what Lorraine’s head was at. “If I can’t make THAT rotation, how long can I last?”

Not long, at least in Oakland. He was released at the end of the season. A lefty, not even 25, who made the majors a year after being drafted and was moved for two bona-fide big league names, banished from baseball.

Sure, he lasted on the market one whole day before Seattle signed him, but still…

There were two things that happened in 1998. Lorraine moved to the pen in AAA and it was determined by whoever determines it that he wasn’t a prospect, just another roster-filling AAAA player. Do baseball execs meet in a cabal somewhere and brand these players AAAA players? How hard is it to erase that ink on those documents?

Not to say Lorraine didn’t deserve some blame for his predicament. He was a soft-tossing lefty, who was too young to be a ‘crafty’ lefty – like Tony Fossas or Greg Cadaret.

His stats in AAA Tacoma were mediocre, but he did get back up to the bigs and pitched four September games for the Mariners, giving up just one run but walking four in 3 2/3 and whiffing…no one. Still, that was the only sniff of the bigs, and the Mariners staff had such dandy ERAs as put forth by Ken Cloude (6.37), Bill Swift (5.85), Paul Spoljaric (6.48), Bobby Ayala (7.29), Heathcliff Slocumb (5.32) and Bob Wells (6.10).

At the end of 1998, Lorraine had pitched 60 big league innings with an ERA of 7.05. Taken off of the 40-man roster, he was signed by the Cubs. By age 25, he was traded twice, released once and DFA’d once.

He was officially a journeyman.

He made it back to the bigs in 1999 when the Cubs’ staff had issues and went 2-5, 5.55. But that was promising enough for him to be on the 40-man roster going into 2000, and he made the opening day roster (and rotation)!  That promise was short-lived, and the Cubs just flat out released him in May when his ERA was 6.47. Cleveland snagged him, sent him to Buffalo and he resurfaced in the bigs for 9 1/3 innings as an emergency LOOGY in July. Then it was back to the bushes, and minor league free agent contracts.

Aside from one-late season stopover in Milwaukee in 2002, the rest of his baseball life was spent in places like Buffalo, Calgary, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Altoona, Ottawa, Tacoma, Charlotte and finally ending at Long Island in the Atlantic League in 2006. He still kept at it, as a note on his Bullpen page said he pitched in the Caribbean Series in 2008. But his time was short. In 2010, he was the pitching coach for the Pulaski Mariners in the Appalachian League. This season, he’s slated to wear the uniform of the Everett Aqua Sox. as he’s part of their coaching staff.

I hope he likes frogs:

Do you think his 1996 self would have ever thought he’d be an Aqua Sox?

And of course, because I can’t resist another Quiche Lorraine reference:

“Curses, Foiled Again!”

Alas, it seems that some nefarious ne’er do well has caught the Marquis De Sod (at least that’s what I called him when he was an Expo) when he was trying to pilfer second base.

What else could be the reason for the hangdog expression amidst the infield dust. It’s almost “Basestealers In The Mist”.

Grissom was a player who I thought was spectacular back in the day, and I was pretty sabremetricy. But now, I see I was fooled. He had some power and he was fast, but he didn’t get on base. But he was fast. And he wasn’t Omar Moreno-esque inept at getting on base. He just wasn’t good enough to be an elite leadoff man.

He’s still one of my favorites, even if his OPS+ was below 100 for all but four seasons, and even though he was out 2-6 on this play.

(Again, that’s just a guess…maybe he had bad sushi the night before.)

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