Everyone Was Rooting For Him, Until…

…he was a Met.

Billy was a great story when he first broke into the big leagues. And that rather much erased the memory of the first Billy Taylor to make the bigs – the infamous “Bollicky Bill” Taylor of the old American Association. Taylor ‘led’ a group of misfits, drunkards, ne’er-do-wells and social degenerates disguised as baseball players called the Pittsburgh Alleghenys  in 1883. They fought and drank their way to seventh place in that season, and it just wasn’t good for business. However, with talent levels straining to fill two, sometimes three, leagues, “Bollicky Bill” was sporadically employed until 1887.

This Billy was a second round January 1980 draftee by Texas. He played in the GCL, Asheville, Wausau, Burlington, Salem, Tulsa (3+ seasons over 4 years), Oklahoma City (2 1/2 seasons), Las Vegas, Durham, Greenville and Richmond before finally earning a shot in 1993 as a Rule V player with Toronto.

The story was always the same for Taylor – he had great stuff but was wild until he became a full-time reliever in Las Vegas in 1989. From 1991 to 1993, he was lights out in the Atlanta chain, but the Braves never called him up. Finally, he signed with Oakland and earned a big-league shot in 1994 at age 32. On April 5, Opening Day, he faced the Milwaukee Brewers and retired the side in order in the 7th – fanning Kevin Seitzer and Greg Vaughn and getting Turner Ward to fly out.

He had a decent year in low leverage situations, then sat out 1995 with an injury. He came back in 1996 and established himself as the closer for the A’s. He wasn’t lights out, but he wasn’t horrible and kept the job until mid-way through 1999.

The A’s were on the margins of the race, and knew that other clubs over-valued closers. The Mets were in the race big-time and needed to solidify the back end of the pen after John Franco was hurt. Even though they had four decent starters and four other good relievers in Benitez, Mahomes, Cook and Wendell, the Mets made a move for Taylor before the waiver deadline of August 1.

They send a washed-up Greg McMichael and a young, injury-prone pitcher to the A’s for the old ‘proven’ veteran.

That injury-prone youngster? Jason Isringhausen.

Oops.

Anyway, Taylor had pitched in over 800 professional baseball games. He’s heard boos before, sure. But he’d never been in a real pennant race in the bigs, and in New York to boot. Wags no doubt though the lanky, genial southern country boy couldn’t handle the Big Apple. But I think he was just done.

The A’s made off like bandits, because Taylor was a bit wobbly in July (four blown saves and a 7.50 ERA). The wobble became a full blown teeter soon. After three scoreless appearances, he botched two games against the Dodgers at Shea, then after three more scoreless games on the road he was totally creamed in his next home appearance against the Cards. From then on, he was simply a mop-up man, and rather useless to the Mets.

Taylor then hung on for two more seasons, pitching a few games in the bigs for the Rays and Pirates before calling it quits.

For many years, Taylor was a feel-good story – but as soon as he entered the lion’s den in New York no one cared about his perseverance in making the bigs. He was just fresh press fodder for the media.

It’s sad, but in a pennant race, performance matters.

 

Run, Bubba, Run! There’s Free KFC And Pie At Home Plate!

Wow, Spring Cleaning is nearly finished. The last of the original packages go out today and then the grab bags will be assembled soon. Thanks to everyone, and I mean everyone, who participated. More to follow!

In 1971, the Trammell’s of the Knoxville, TN area had a son, and named it Thomas. Needing a middle name, they chose…

Bubba.

And a short-lived folk hero was born!

After making the bigs with Detroit in 1997 (after smashing 33 home runs in AA and AAA combined in 1996 and 28 more in 1997 in Toledo), the Devil Rays took Bubba in the expansion draft. Well, the Tigers thought they were stocked in the outfield with Higginson, Nieves and Hunter with Hamelin at DH.

Yeah, right…

So Bubba goes to the Bay of Tampa and finds himself…blocked…

In 1998 he dutifuly goes to Durham and whaps 16 homers in 56 games. Then gets called up and hits . 286 with 12 dingers in 59 games and an OPS+ of 130.

In 1999, he’s SENT DOWN AGAIN after his performance in the bigs and no doubt was pouting a bit, but he came up and then whacked it around the park again – hitting .290 with 14 homers in 82 games and an OPS+ of 125.

Sure, Bubba was rather ham-fisted in the field, but for an expansion team, you’re going to have to outscore the other team anyway, so why not just let Trammell play in a corner, hit 30 homers and drive in runs?

Well, the Devil Rays wanted these guys to play instead:

Mike Kelly

Quinton McCracken

Dave Martinez

Paul Sorrento

Randy Winn

Rich Butler

Terrell Lowery

Um…what?

Bubba basically forced his way into a full-time spot in 2000. Well, at least a majority of a platoon spot. The Rays at that time were fooling around with Gerald Williams and Jose Guillen as well. Then, in July, the Mets needed some bench help for their run to the World Series and dangled a couple of shiny coins in front of the Devil Rays.

So Bubba went to the Big Apple and the Devil Rays got…

Jason Tyner and Paul Wilson.

A man whose arm was held together with solder and scotch tape and an outfielder who had ONE career home run in over 1,450 career plate appearances.

The Devil Rays wanted speed and defense – I guess so they could run as fast as they could to the buffet table after getting pasted 8-2 every night.

Bubba plays his role as righty masher off the bench, including a huge 2-RBI pinch single off of Andy Pettitte in Game One.

The Padres are smart, and convert a middle reliever into an everyday player, sending Donne Wall to the Mets for Bubba. He has one good year and one fair year over there at Jack Murphy and the Yanks decide in Spring Training of 2003 to deal Rondell White to the Padres for him.

You Yankee fans probably know the rest. Trammell struggles to start the season and then begs off the rest of the season because of depression. There were howls of derision, as I recall. But you know, both his mother and sister had cancer and he was going through a divorce. I’d have some issues then as well.

Bubba makes a few comeback attempts (2004 and 2007) but is no longer on the scene. Too bad. He could have been a true folk hero in Tampa Bay if, you know, the management and front office knew what the hell they were doing.

Which is why that every day I see the standings and see the Rays over .500, I wonder if I’ve inhaled peyote or something. The long standing stain of prior incompetence still lingers, even after Joe Maddon and company have succeeded.

I LOVE THIS BAT!

First an update – there are some teams left and some sets. The grab bags will be shipped after I send the sets.

I can tell you that the person who gets the Giants will have a 2011 Gypsy Queen Pablo Sandoval auto that I just pulled today from a blaster at Target!

I can tell you that the person who gets the Indians will have a Cliff Lee autograph from his Donruss rookie set circa 2002.

I can tell you that if you are trying to collect the 2011 Topps Series 1 and Opening Day I have a bunch of cards that can help.

I can tell you that if you ever thought about trying for 2009 Upper Deck (a nice looking set) I can really help!

Sign up today! Email me at smedindy@gmail.com

Derrek Lee is holding this bat like I hold my new girlfriend – close and tight – with love.

Lee’s career seems to be winding down. He’s not hitting, has no power and just seems a shell of himself. He’s 35, and while I hate to say that it could be terminal, his decline from 2009 to 2010 was pretty stark.

But this was Lee at the beginning of his career. I had totally forgotten he was a Padres prospect (the mind – it fades – and also there was Travis Lee that rose up at about that time so I mixed them up in my head for a while) and totally forgot he was the main bounty for the Padres renting Kevin Brown. Good trade, Florida! He established himself as a regular in 2000 and was a big cog in the Marlins 2003 Champions.

When the Cubs gave up on Hee Seop Choi (who really got a raw deal from every MLB club) they sent him to Florida for Lee. While Choi got short changed, Lee was everything the Cubs desired and more.

I wonder if Derrek used the bad he was loving in the photo above in 2005? The numbers he put up would have been a shoo-in MVP in many years, but in 2005 Andruw Jones and Albert Pujols outclassed everyone. But Lee had 50 doubles, 46 home runs, 120 runs scored, 105 RBI, 15 steals and the best OPS in the league.

He got hurt in 2006 – rebounded somewhat – but then slipped in 2010 as part of a team-wide suck that made Lou Piniella think that retirement was a great option. The Braves rented Lee for a while, and he rebounded a bit. That glimmer of success led to his latest contract.

It’s still early, and Lee could rebound. But the odds are against another .300 season with 30+ home runs. But he had a great career no matter what the end, and he did it by respecting his tools.

Well, at least in this photo.

Relief Pitchers = Dime A Dozen

First off, thanks to Cards on Cards for a great plug on the Spring Cleaning. I tell you many of the teams left are “virgin” – so if you are a White Sox, Indians, Royals, Angels, A’s or Pirates collector or know someone who is, plenty of cards available.

I’m surprised that my old Braves, Giants, Tigers and Blue Jays partners haven’t stepped up. HINT! HINT! Swoop in and take ‘em when you can!

The Nats will get you any of my duplicate Expos (since I’m keeping the single non-set specific Expos).

Now…Mr. Naulty.

Or, Tony Fiore.

Or, Pat Neshek.

Or, Larry Casian.

Or….you get the point.

Every year, on almost every team, there’s a relief pitcher that has an unexpectedly good year. Usually, it’s a combo of pitching in lower-leverage situations, teams not having a scouting report, a trick pitch or delivery, luck, or ‘one of those baseball things’.

Naulty’s 1996 earned him this card. He had an ERA+ of 135 and 56 K’s in 57 innings. (So he had 35 walks; that ruins the narrative…picky picky…)

His WAR was only 0.9 though.

23 of his 49 appearances were ‘low leverage’.

He had four saves, just five holds and five blown saves and one appearance where he had a save situation but did not qualify for any of the above (usually facing a batter(s) in a save situation without recording an out or blowing the save – this he did.

Naulty also struggled with injuries throughout his career. His 1996 was truncated by an injury. That’s usually par for the course as well – these pitchers tend to have a lot of  minor league arm wear and exert themselves when they get to the bigs to ‘prove’ themselves.

Of course, after 1996 the Twins had high hopes for Naulty, but they faded soon. Well, with a bullpen full of the likes of Greg Hansell, Mike Milchin, Erik Bennett, Scott Klingenbeck, and ‘closer’ Dave Stevens, anyone with a pulse and an ERA under 4.00 would be a ‘relief’ as it were.

But next time an unknown relief pitcher has a good ERA, and you wonder “how the heck did that happen”, check into it. It’s probably just a small sample size mirage. And yes, one season can be a small sample size.

Announcing Smed’s Spring Cleaning!

Hey guys, gals, trolls and other denizens of the collecting planet! It’s time to announce Smed’s Spring Cleaning!

Go to this page for the idea behind it, and to see what teams / sets are left. The cost? Shipping and whatever cards are on my want list on the honor system!

And what better thing for the announcement of Spring Cleaning than to post a card representing a failed prospect from my former favorite team. Oh, Kevin Orie was supposed to make everyone forget that Gary Scott was mega-hyped and bombed, because Orie was the real deal! He had a .403 OBP in AA in 1996, and he had good instincts at third. He was going to hit and field and be a great 3B for the Cubs for years to come.

And by gosh, in his rookie year he did pretty well. An OPS+ of 102, a WAR of 2.1 and an OBP of .350. He didn’t have much power but he was just 24 and that could develop.

And then…THUD.

He hit .181 with a .533 OPS. He couldn’t hit a beach ball with a howitzer. The Cubs, patient as always, traded him to Florida at the end of July in 1998 for Felix Heredia. (Oh, my…)

Orie played better in Florida, hitting .263 with an OPS+ of 104. But the Marlins traded for Mike Lowell for 1999 and Orie was relegated to the bench, though he got some PT thanks to an injury. But he didn’t hit all that well (SLG under .400 and a low-ish OBP) and was expendable.

So Florida expended him. The Dodgers picked him up on a conditional deal but released him in Spring Training. He then began a transactional odyssey that rivals any AAAA player.

He only made one more trip back to the bigs, for the Cubs ironically enough, in late 2002. But starting in 2000, he signed with the Royals, Yankees, Phillies, Cubs, Indians, Astros, Brewers, Nationals and Astros again.

The taste of success, yanked away too quickly, was what Orie was chasing for almost 10 years.

“There’s One For The Scrap Heap!”

I am on a posting frenzy. There’s only one reason for this…

(Yeah, you have to go to Youtube to watch it – but you’ll get over it…)

The Blue Jays had prospects flying out their kiester in the 80’s. Many of them, of course, were duds, like Eddie Zosky (he’ll come up one day in here), Sil Campusano, Matt Stark (another catcher), Lou Thorton, Randy Knorr (yet another catcher), Webster Garrison, Jeff Hearron (still yet another catcher), Augie Schmidt, Brent Bowers, etc.

Myers was another semi-bust. Groomed to be in the catching picture with Pat Borders, Myers had one so-so year with Toronto as the semi-regular and then was traded early in 1992 with Rob Ducey (oh, yeah, another bust, forgot him above) for Mark Eichhorn.

Instead of jumping on the pile for the Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993 – he barely played for the Angels in 1992 (injury?) and then was the semi-regular for a bad 1993 Angels team. He got some playing time in a catching troika with Chris Turner and Jorge Fabregas (wow, memories…) and after 1995 signed with the Twins.

Since Myers batted lefty, he was always looked on favorably to any team that needed a platoon catcher. His main skill was batting average. He had a few homers in him, but didn’t walk much, ran like a catcher (he stole three bases in his career – all in 1993 – and was caught 12 times, and he only hit seven triples in his career), and didn’t field all that well. But he kept sticking around, thanks to being a left handed hitting catcher that could get jammed, as the card shows above.

(For the longest time I thought Myers was holding a croquet stick as well as his bat – my eyes are gettin’ old or my mind’s playing tricks on me.)

Late in 1997 Myers was traded to Atlanta after September 1 so the Braves could have some catching depth. Javy Lopez had been dinged up earlier in the year, and Myers and Tim Spehr were added to back up Lopez and Eddie Perez down the stretch.

Thus begins Myers’ career as a traveling backup catching show.

1998 – Signs with the Padres, backing up Carlos Hernandez. Starts Game 2 of the WS. Smacks a two-run blast in the NLCS in game 5, chasing Kerry Ligtenberg. Ligtenberg didn’t pitch again until 2000.

1999 – Backs up Hernandez again, but with the Padres rebuilding and Lopez injured the Braves trade for him. He plays in every WS game, but the Braves get swept.

2000 – Signs with the Orioles, backs up Charles Johnson and then Brook Fordyce when Johnson is traded.

2001 – Starts with the Orioles, backs up Fordyce but with Fernando Lunar waiting in the wings, he’s released though he’s hitting .270 with 4 home runs in 82 ABs. Well run franchise, those Orioles. Oakland snaps him up quickly but he slumps as he backs up Ramon Hernandez.

2002 – Backs up Ramon Hernandez again. His average is suffering but is getting some power into his arsenal as he swats six dingers in 170 ABs.

2003 – At age 37, he signs with his old friends in Toronto. And wonder of wonders, Myers sets a career high in G, AB, R, H, HR, RBI, BB, K (well…that was expected) and…um…GIDPs. I don’t know if that’s a record, but that must be very unusual for a 15-year vet to set all of those career highs. It’s a great season – Myers hits .307 with an over .500 SLG and an OPS+ of 125.  He splits time at catcher with Tom Wilson but DHs for 22 games.

Then, as soon as he peaked, he basically vanished. In 2004 and 2005 he barely played, as he got hurt in April 2004 and tried to come back but was DFA’d in 2005. And that was that.

He finished where he started, an incredibly long career for a player of his ability. That’s not a knock on Myers, it’s resilience.

Another amazing thing is that he only played catcher or DH in the majors. Sometimes, backup catchers have to play elsewhere in an emergency. Mike Redmond played three games at first and one at third. Javier Valentin also played some third and first. So did guys like Bill Plummer. But Myers was pure. Just a catcher.

It also teaches us all a lesson. If you have talent just a bit above the replacement level, either be a left-handed pitcher, or a catcher that bats left-handed. You may not be a star, but ten years at the major league level ain’t hay…

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