Manny Lee – 1994 Upper Deck

December 20, 2010

Yo Dawg…

…I heard you like phones so I put a phone in your phone so you can talk while you talk.

(Is the sign that a meme is officially over when wiseacre baseball card bloggers use it?)

Who is Manny Lee calling?

A. His agent – wondering how he can scam another team into signing him after his Texas contract is up? “I know I hit .220 with no power, walks or steals, but I look great in the uniform.”

B. The Franklin rep? “Dude, I’m wearing your shirt while some dude is taking my picture. It’ll be on a baseball card. Millions of kids will see it.”

C. Himself, in the year 2010. “Manny, I wanna warn ya. Your 1994 baseball card will have you talking on a cell phone that has an ANTENNA and is bigger than every phone you have now.”

D. His accountant? “Yeah, I got $1.9 million this season. What stocks should I buy? Put it all into GM, Worldcom and Enron.”

E. Two chicks?

 

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

I saw Pedro pitch in 2000 against Texas in Fenway Park. August 19, to be exact. My wife, some friends, and I got tickets in the right field bleachers, so we got to see him warm up.

The Rangers had no chance at all – none. Zero. Nada. Pedro was dealing that season. It was a 9-0 blowout as the BoSox feasted upon Matt Perisho and Darwin Cubillan. 89 pitches for Pedro – 66 strikes. He threw seven innings giving up just three hits and whiffing 10. When Bryce Florie came out in the 8th, I’d say 20,000 left the stands.

Texas really had no shot when you look at some of the guys in the lineup:

Scarborough Green led off. Ricky Ledee batted fifth and went 0-3 with three whiffs. Mike Lamb batted sixth. Pedro Valdes was the DH. BJ Waszgis was the catcher. You’re not going to beat Pedro when 5/9 of your lineup are those guys.

Some say his stuff was filthy, some say he was nasty. I think he was sinister.

 

Or I’m making stuff up to post this video of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Yes, that’s a banjo. And an electronic percussion gizmo.

 

Chicks Dig The Jug Ears! Amirite?

(It’s snowing today – heavily – 12 to 18 inches possibly with big winds. I’m staying inside. Be prepared for a lot of posts if / when I get bored.)

I thought Steven Upchurch’s ears were bad. Man, look at those on Rueter.

Kirk pitched for two teams in his career. He started in Montreal, and pitched well as a rookie before struggling before the 1994 strike. He then spent a lot of time in Ottawa in 1995 before having a good September for the Expos.

He started out OK in 1996, and then struggled. While he was in Ottawa the Expos moved Tim Scott and Rueter to the Giants for Mark Leiter. He was called up for good by San Francisco in late 1996 and from there became a mainstay of the Giants rotation until 2005.

Rueter was always an interesting pitcher. He was an excellent fielder, but never won a gold glove because of Greg Maddux. He went 105-80 as a Giant but his career ERA+ was 98.

Case in point, Kirk went 15-10 in 1999 but he had a 5.41 ERA. He had a great ERA (3.27) in his wins, but had a 10.50 ERA in 42 innings in his losses, and a 5.36 ERA in his no-decisions. There’s usually a gap, of course, but not THAT extreme. He did have one out and out ugly win, a 15-11 slugfest against the Mariners where the Giants beat up on Freddy Garcia and five relievers (Suzuki, Cloude, Zimmerman, Carmona and Rodriguez – not exactly the Nasty Boys). Ahead 11-6, with one out, Rueter gives up singles to Russ Davis and Tom Lampkin (both grounds for dismissal) and then watches as Jerry Spradlin gives up a 2-run double to A-Rod that plates them both.

He didn’t strike out anyone, in fact walked more than he struck out late in his career, but he still won games, mainly because his teammates scored 5.4 runs for him in every start. Slippin’ em each a $20 every game doesn’t hurt, does it?

The one knock against Kirk was that he didn’t last long in games. Only 48% of his starts were quality starts, and usually threw less than 100 pitches per start. In 336 games started, he completed just four. Even by today’s standards, that’s very low.

Really, all of the success metrics were against Kirk – low strikeout rate, low K/W ratio, high ERA. But he lasted in the league for over 10 seasons, and it was only when he totally fell off of a cliff in June and July of 2005 did the Giants pull the plug on him. He gave up a lot of crooked numbers that season and Felipe Alou and the Giants reluctantly let him go in August of that year.

Maybe there was magic in those ears?

Rickey! Rickey! Rickey!

Rickey’s just going to stand here and bask in the adulation!

Boy, They Were Packin’ ‘Em In At The Jack In 1993

Shots like this remind me of watching the Braves on TBS when it first came to my small town in Indiana in the late 70’s, and then in the mid-to-late 80’s as well.

At home games in Fulton County Stadium, when a right handed pitcher was throwing from the stretch (a not-rare happening), they would have a shot of the pitcher in the stretch and behind him were seas and seas of blue seats.

Empty, of course.

San Diego’s always been a tough draw for sports teams. A lot of people move to San Diego, they aren’t from there. Hell, that’s about the only place where there is no winter I would move. Why not? It’s idyllic, really. Every time I have been to San Diego for a conference, I’ve never really wanted to leave.

San Diego’s lost three basketball teams (Rockets, Clippers, Conquistadors / Sails), a WHA team (Mariners), and they’ve almost lost the Chargers (and still may) and the Padres (on many occasions).

They’ve never finished higher than 4th in the NL in attendance (now that would be a bit more difficult, but there were times where fans avoided Shea, Wrigley and other ‘hotbeds’).

And it could be argued that San Diego never really clamored for major league baseball. They were rushed into the NL after the AL decided to expand thanks to the Kansas City settlement in 1968, and for their first five years they never drew more than 644,000 fans in a season. Many of those fans, if I read right, were Marines stationed nearby who were ‘forced’ to go for ‘morale’. How can you have morale when watching Larry Stahl, Dave Campbell and company blunder their way through endless 7-1 losses?

When this picture was taken, San Diego was on its way to finishing last in the NL in attendance (again – that’s 8 times in just 42 seasons) and honored the 1973 Padres by finishing 61-101 (beating those Padres by one game).

Those Padres were managed by perennial nice guy / last place manager Jim Riggleman. The last places he’s accumulated have been earned by talent, not managerial issues, though.

These Padres should have been 72-90 according to their Pythagorean record. That would have pushed them to within a game of fifth place Cincinnati. Why the discrepancy?

Luck, basically. They played 52 one-run games, and only 33 5+ run games. For instance, the 1993 Astros had the same amount of one-run games and blowouts.

The Padres did deal away McGriff and Sheffield during the season, but they were already buried in the cellar by then.

They also had a horrid offense, especially after those two left. Tony Gwynn and Phil Plantier did great, and Phil Clark probably would have helped a lot of Riggleman would have played him regularly. But the rest of the team after the departure of Sheffield and McGriff were more than sub-par.

San Diego was the go-to team for transactions. Before the season Tony Fernandez went to the Mets for Wally Whitehurst. Derek Bell came from Toronto at the end of Spring Training for Darrin Jackson and Clark was a fortuitous waiver claim for Detroit.

But after a deal sending disappointing (at that time) reliever Jeremy Hernandez to Cleveland that didn’t help the club at all, the Padres just gave in and starting trading their chits in.

Tim Scott went to Montreal for Mr. Cianfrocco. Scott was a helpful reliever for Montreal. Cianfrocco is best noted for his name (which I love).

(I should write a bit about Archi – and here I will. He was a corner infielder who had a little pop but no other offensive plus, and he whiffed a lot without taking a walk. He was a minus defender as well and didn’t have much speed. But why do I love him? Well, he went to Purdue, about 25 miles to the north of where I grew up, and…c’mon the name people! It’s pronounced Ar-key See-un-frock-oh!)

Rich Rodriguez and Sheffield were sent to Florida for Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez, and some converted shortstop turned relief pitcher named Hoffman. Yeah, Trevor Hoffman. What happened to him?

McGriff went to Atlanta for “You’re Out Of Your Element” Donny Elliott and Mel Nieves. Whoops.

Greg “Not The Ambidextrous One” Harris and Bruce Hurst went to Colorado for Andy Ashby, Brad Ausmus and Doug Bochtler. That worked out a bit!

Basically, they blew up the team but set the stage for 1996 and 1998 success.

Yet the fans of San Diego decided that their summer nights were better spent elsewhere. Watching Kerry Taylor, Jeff Gardner and Billy Bean try to play baseball wasn’t high on their lists.

It should be noted that 1993 was also an expansion year for the NL. Yet the two expansion clubs finished ahead of two established clubs. The Rockies finished sixth in the West, and the Marlins were a notch ahead of the Mets, who did the Padres one better and honored the 1964 Mets by going 59-103 (not 53-109 like those old Mets, but at least the numbers were there).

The Ballad Of Todd Van Poppel

Well, it ain’t gonna write itself, is it? Though I don’t think Todd will ever get a song of his own, not like Dock Ellis, or Catfish Hunter, or even Van Lingle Mungo.

What we have with Todd is a story, mostly sad, but there’s a glimmer of redemption here.

He was a highly touted prospect in the 1990 draft. That was a very strong draft, but by all measures Van Poppel was the cream of the crop. Chipper Jones went #1, and Van Poppel only went #14, but by all measures that was a economy move by Atlanta.

The sad is this:

1. He signed a major league contract as a high school draftee, which meant that his option clock ticked right away and he had to be in the bigs full time in 1994. Scott Boras was his agent and he really put the screws on teams to meet his price. Sadly, while Boras maximized his client’s bonuses, more often than not he’s really put his charges behind the eight-ball when it comes to starting their major league career.

2. His mechanics were all kinds of messed up. In my observation, he was a stiff, mechanical pitcher that needed a lot of help in his delivery. That help could have happened with some serious instruction in the minors, but it didn’t happen because he was fast tracked right away.

3. While Oakland was on top when he was drafted, by the time his option clock was up the A’s had some serious issues with their staff. Tony LaRussa experimented with a full-blown pitching rotation in 1993, with platoons of pitchers going every three days and then three short relievers. He had no choice, he had to try something! That idea may have merit, but the 1993 A’s were not the team to start it.

What Van Poppel walked into in 1993 was a team whose staff was a mess. The LaRussa / Duncan magic dust wore off or didn’t work on those guys. Bobby Witt, Shawn Hillegas, Ron Darling, Storm Davis, and Kelly Downs would have been a great staff in 1988, not 1993. They were hanging on to their careers and didn’t have time to really mentor Van Poppel. The bullpen was no better – Eckersley was pretty bad that year, and Boever, Nunez, Honeycutt and Gossage weren’t that tremendous either.

The next year, the year Canadians everywhere collected this card, the pitching improved, but just so. A lot of the vets regressed further or were marginalized. Van Poppel had to stay in the bigs, though, and he was pretty bad. 7-10, 6.09 with more walks than strikeouts isn’t something that shouts future greatness. Looking at the back of his card, if you can see the stats, there wasn’t much optimism going into 1994.

But, he had to stay up in the bigs, because if he was sent down he’d have to pass through waivers and someone would claim him.

After the strike, there was some improvement in 1995. His ERA was high and he gave up a lot of home runs, but he improved his K/W ratio. He was much better as a reliever than a starter, and faded badly in September. Still, there was optimism.

Then came 1996.

He opened the year in the rotation. After six starts (one quality – barely) he was 0-3 with a 10.00 ERA. He then made 22 relief appearances with an ERA of 6.00 and an OPS against of .862. He had regressed.

Oakland tried to send him down. As Oakland feared, someone claimed him. The Tigers snagged him and put him into the rotation. This was one of a series of wretched Tigers squads, a 53-109 beauty that allowed 1,100 runs that year. The team ERA was 6.38. The ‘best’ starter was Omar Olivares, all 7-11, 4.89 of him.

Detroit had nothing to lose, except more ballgames and starts by dudes like AJ Sager, Clint Sodowsky, Greg Keagle, Greg Gohr or Tom Urbani.

And Van Poppel did his best to make Tigers fans forget about the Clint Sodowsky experience.

His first two starts were bad, but he won his third start, giving up three runs in six innings. His next start was his best, a five-hit shutout of the Royals.

“Hey,” said many, ” he may have finally gotten it.”

On his next start, he was knocked out in the fifth by Chicago.

The Yankees got him in the fourth in his next one (the Tigers knocked Dwight Gooden out – what a star-crossed matchup of pitchers…)

The Orioles knocked him out in the third in his next start.

The next start, against the Brewers, Van Poppel gave up 10 runs (six earned) in 1 2/3 innings. Jeromy Burnitz’ grand slam was the nail in that coffin.

Game 160 was next for the Tigers. Van Poppel took the mount again against the Brewers. No doubt that in his last start he felt like Charlie Brown on the mound – he was determined to not let that happen again.

AAAAAUUUUGGH!

It was a wet field, and only 8,606 in the stands to witness the end of Todd Van Poppel, pitching prospect and the beginning of Todd Van Poppel, journeyman reclamation prospect.

Fernando Vina leads off with a single to left. He then steals second.

Jeff Cirillo walks, but Van Poppel fans Dave Nillson.

John Jaha is up. Van Poppel, whose motion wasn’t good at holding runners on, sees Vina steal third. He walks Jaha to load up the bases.

Jose Valentin walks on four straight pitches.

Matt Mieske walks on a full count.

Buddy Bell walks out to the mount. Van Poppel leaves before his nemesis, Burnitz, can face him again with sacks packed.

Sager comes in and gives up a sac fly, then another runs scores for Detroit on a broken play (Valentin scored as Mieske got caught in a rundown trying to steal second).

In five starts after the shutout, he pitched 12 1/3 inning and had a 21.89 ERA, giving up seven home runs.

With the shutout, his ERA at Detroit was 11.39. Remember, that’s WITH a shutout.

His final tally for 1996 – 3-9, 9.06 in 99 1/3 innings.

It was obvious that Van Poppel was not a major league pitcher at that juncture. The odds were that he’d never be a major league caliber pitcher.

But give him credit – instead of taking his millions and running – or thinking that his talent was everything and blaming it on his coaches and teammates – he sucked it up and gave baseball another chance. Which meant, he had to go to the minors to prove himself, like 99.99% of all baseball players.

He signed with the Angels, who cut him in the spring. He signed with the Royals, who cut him from Omaha in June. He signed with the Rangers, and in 1998 he was back in the bigs. After four bad starts, he was traded to Pittsburgh with Warren Morris for Esteban Loaiza. He finished the year with the Pirates, and then pitched fairly well (for him) in AAA in 1999.

The Cubs signed him for the 2000 season, and wonders of wonders he put something together. Finally! At age 28 he had a good start for Iowa and then the Cubs called him up. And while he wasn’t put into high-leverage situations he didn’t give up any runs in his first ten appearances and wound up with two saves, seven holds, and a 3.75 ERA.

The next season, he started out OK but had an ERA killing appearance in Colorado. He ended April with a 9.82 ERA.

From May to the end of the season, 50 appearances covering 67 2/3 innings, his ERA was 1.73.

Now THAT’S the Todd Van Poppel they drafted – except he was a middle reliever.

I’d love to say that there was a happy ending, but not many baseball players have happy endings in their careers. He signed a contract with Texas, was so-so, was released midway through 2003 and snagged by the Reds. He lasted 1 1/2 seasons in Cincy, but ended it on a 4-6, 6.09 note in 2004.

By all accounts, Van Poppel was screwed by his first contract. Had he signed a normal minor league contract, and allowed to develop in places like Madison, Modesto and Huntsville on a normal basis, he may have been ready for duty by 1995 or 1996 and had a good career. But it wasn’t to be. And agents and others didn’t heed the warnings, as they still pushed for big bonuses, and turned down contracts that weren’t up to scratch. Matt Harrington, anyone?

But to his credit, he stuck with it, and tasted some big league success, which is more than many first round draft picks could say.

And really, he seemed like an OK guy, even during his struggles in Oakland…

 

Can You Tone That Teal Down Just A Skosh, I’m Blind Now. Thanks!

Before I got back into the game, I forgot just how TEAL those early Marlins uniforms were.

Magadan was a player whose skill sets on offense (average and patience) and his weaknesses (power and speed) made him a mis-matched type of player. He could have been a great middle infielder, but didn’t play there, and as a corner infielder he didn’t have the power. He was basically a rich man’s Jim Eppard.

While he had a long career, he didn’t make the mega bucks, and he really didn’t become a star. That’s what happens when your OPS falls 150 points after your best year. You try to survive.

Magadan had a transaction merry-go-round in 1993. He was an original Marlin, but was traded in late July to Seattle in exchange for Henry Cotto and Jeff Darwin. He spent a lot of time at first filling in for Tino Martinez. But a month after the season, he was shipped BACK to Florida for…Jeff Darwin.

I don’t know if the 1/2 year rental was a Florida favor to Dave’s cousin Lou Piniella, but the Mariners got rid of Cotto, who promptly had a decent 1/2 season for the Marlins and disappeared. Maybe Cotto stole Lou’s Cheese Whiz.

After another powerless season in Florida (8 extra-base hits in 254 plate appearances is deep in slappy territory), Magadan became a wandering corner infielder / pinch hitter. A vagabond, ready to fill in a lace some singles past the infield to start a rally when called upon, and also to play first and third competently enough so the manager doesn’t have to take a chance on the AAA guy.

“Yep, That’s A Baseball”

Ron could catch them. He didn’t hit them very often, but he definitely could catch them.

After a madcap week of traveling, and more to come:

Thanks to Night Owl, Rhubarb Runner, and Crinkly Wrappers for some good stuff I got on my return. I have some others who promised, and I have a few want lists to update and send out. I’ll do that after I return next week.

Until then:

“Andy Van Goin’ For The EB’s”

There were about 12 of us that played APBA in the 80’s when we were in high school and college. We drafted teams and played in a league that lasted until people scattered after college (Crawfordsville, IN was not a magnet for the newly college educated).

For those who don’t know, APBA is like Strat-O-Matic in that you roll dice, consult a players card and then look at some humongous charts to get the result. It was fairly accurate in hitting (the basic pitching game less so, since pitchers just had grades and starters grades were based on wins for the most part – the deluxe version had more pinpoint pitching tables).

One feature on some player cards – those who had some power but not ‘mashers’ were a second column. If you rolled a “0” on your player card (usually at an 11, 33 or 66), then you got to re-roll and use the result in the second column. Most all of those were doubles or home runs (or triples for the swift).

Mike ran the team (called the Boston Iron Brigade – great name) that had Van Slyke.Every game he played, if Van Slyke rolled a “o”, a call would cascade through the house that “Andy Van’s Goin’ For The EBs!”

To this day, there are some of us that when we see or hear of Mr. Van Slyke, that’s the first thing we think of.

As for this card, it’s a Venn Diagram example:

Upper Deck had some cards that featured wacky things.

Andy Van had a reputation of doing wacky things.

Andy Van on an Upper Deck card doing something wacky.

Hey, a math lesson!