Monday, November 30, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: Curtis Granderson in the Late 2010s


Two separate years, one of my favorite players gets traded late in the season and Topps just throws up their hands and shrugs.

The first one happened at the 2017 waiver deal deadline, which means there was no chance in hell of it getting into Update, as Topps was paving room for even more filler rather than actually depicting traded players. 

Curtis Granderson was having a down year on the last year of his 4-year Mets contract. In 111 games, Grandy was hitting .228 with 52 strikeouts and only 19 homers. So he was traded to the playoff-bound Dodgers, in exchange for mediocre bullpen piece Jacob Rhame.

In 36 games with the Dodgers, Grandy only hit .161 with 12 RBIs and 7 home runs. Yes, the power numbers were great, but his average was continuing to plummet. He did play some games during LA's postseason run, but only got 1 hit in 15 at-bats. 

2018 was an improvement for Granderson, as he had a fantastic start with the Blue Jays, including a 6-RBI game against Baltimore [that I was lucky enough to attend]. But, as the Jays weren't competing, he was dealt at the waiver deadline once again... an NL competitor. This time it was the Milwaukee Brewers, squeezing into the postseason at the last moment and winning some matches when no one expected to. And for 19 games, they had Curtis Granderson. Grandy continued his late-era middle of the road work, hitting .220 with 3 RBIs and 2 home runs. Again, Granderson's postseason output was limited, but he did have a crucial RBI double in the NLCS against the Dodgers. 

The rest is history- he has an easy year with Miami, continues to be well liked by most of the league, retires after the season and has another 5 years before sportswriters fight to the death over whether or not he's worthy of more than 5% of the HOF vote. 

Still, if Topps was better about catching waiver deals late in the season, we would have had cards like these years before, rather than waiting for me to throw them through a card generator that somehow hasn't updated for 2019 or 2020 so I can do some from those sets. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2017 Bartolo Colon

 I am 99% sure that this is the final Bartolo Colon-related entry in this series.

I post this on Thanksgiving night, mostly because if anyone in MLB history has benefitted from a good Thanksgiving meal, it is Bartolo Colon. Someone posted a meme today of a 'before thanksgiving dinner/after thanksgiving dinner' thing with rookie Colon and Rangers Colon, and...sure. Fine. It fits.

Bartolo Colon, who by the way is still listed as an active player, began to pedal downhill after his fantastic 2016 season, getting an ASG nod and 15 wins at 43. But now, at 44, he was finally...FINALLY...pitching like a 44 year old. And after a torrid start with the Braves [2-8, 8.14 ERA], Atlanta gave up him in favor, young pitchers.

But, not even three days later, the Minnesota Twins came calling. Not a last place Twins team, a playoff-bound Twins team, that...still needed starting pitching. So on July 7th, they signed Colon for the rest of the year, had him up for 15 games, and he improved on his disappointing start with a 5.18 ERA, 46 strikeouts and a 5-6 record. It was a return to legitimacy, in a sense, for the 44-year old. While it didn't give him a spot on their postseason roster [as their postseason stint was short-lived that year], he did get to experience some better games, and that eerie-as-hell eclipse game [documented in a famed ToppsNow card].

Then, he gets cut by the Rangers prior to 2018 opening day...then RE-SIGNED by the Rangers cause, hell, they need starters, and he gets a full season of work to finish his career. Not too bad.

As for why he didn't get the official 2017 Topps card in Minneapolis...2017 was the season where Topps' Update checklist cutoff began to get earlier and earlier. Pretty much every season since then with the exception of 2018, Topps has been forced to use a ridiculously early cutoff for Update, not only missing a lot of the big Update-able moments of the season, but forcing a lot of them into the following year's flagship, and screwing the next year's Update set over. 2017's probably suffered the most, as this deal happened in EARLY JULY and yet it didn't get an Update card. Which blows.

Now that the Topps template-maker is working for me, I could, in theory, prioritize the 2017 trade deadline deals if I wanted to, cause that entire trading season is one that was completely missed by Topps [with some exceptions, like Yu Darvish's short-printed Dodgers card]. 

Regardless, I hope you all have had, and are having, a happy Thanksgiving, and are safe and healthy. Maybe next year, like Bartolo Colon, you'll get a chance to do what you love again. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Justin Morneau Chronicles

Even for a guy who beat out Derek Jeter for an MVP, Justin Morneau still got the shaft from Topps once or twice towards the end of his career, hence this project.

The first one wasn't Topps' fault. Morneau was dealt by his beloved Twins to the Pirates on a waiver deal, in order to help the Pirates' playoff efforts. This deal happened on August 31st 2013, which means it was well past Topps' cutoff for Update, so...he wasn't included. And by the time Morneau's 2014 flagship card was released, he was already in his new uniform in Colorado.

Which leaves his Pirates tenure a mystery to most collectors. Truthfully, it was a very low-key 25 game stint with 20 hits, 4 RBIs and no home runs, despite a .259 average. Morneau was also the Bucs' starting first baseman in the playoffs, and had 7 hits, including 1 double, over two series'. Yes, his RBI totals were nonexistent, but he'd still retained his contact abilities away from Minneapolis, which was a good sign.

After this, Morneau signs with the Rockies for two years, has a great season in 2014 and a weaker one in 2015. 

Morneau remained unsigned over the course of the 2015 offseason, and it wouldn't be until June that someone would sign him...

 Yes, the former division rival Chicago White Sox, despite a solid choice at 1st base in Jose Abreu, would be without a good DH choice for 2016 thanks to the unceremonious walk-out of Adam LaRoche, so they bit on Morneau, and he was a decent DH option for 58 games in 2016. Morneau batted .261 with 25 RBIs and 6 home runs. Topps also declined to depict this, because...well, they don't like fun. This could have easily popped up in Update.

After this time in Chicago, Morneau retired following the 2016 season, and returned to Minneapolis as a legend. 

I don't know if Morneau has a HOF case, or if he's worthy of the story of baseball outside for a few Twins seasons in the late 2000s. But it's worth it to tell his story because even in two lesser known stints in unfamiliar teams he still hits for average and leaves with his head held high. That is something you don't always see these days.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2009 R.A. Dickey



Yeah. R.A. Dickey went through the wringer every year until 2010, until he found his stuff in Queens. You just get years where he's in some random city, like Milwaukee or Seattle, trying his best to stay hot but playing for crappy teams. 

2009, on the cusp of his Mets years, we find R.A. Dickey in Minneapolis. He's coming off a high-ERA, multi-purpose year in Seattle, so the Twins decide not to start him, and use him out of the bullpen. a choice. Considering that this was pre-Cy for Roy, I guess it made sense then, but in hindsight it looks like a waste.

Anyway, Dickey for the Twins went...marginally better than his Seattle run. In 35 games, Dickey held a 4.62 ERA with 42 strikeouts. 13 times he finished games for the Twins, without stepping on Joe Nathan's toes. The upside of this season is that it did give Dickey his highest WAR since his breakout season in 2003. It's not much, but it's a good prelude to his 2010 year, where the good year start coming for the knuckleballer. 

Again, if Topps...knew what was coming, they would have kept making Topps cards for Dickey in 2008 and 2009, but they just figured the story was over after 2005, which...again, hindsight is a powerful thing. But it does still give customizers like me chances to make our own versions. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2004 Fred McGriff


I am still firm in my belief that Fred McGriff should be a Hall of Famer. And if so, this would have been his final Topps card. Not that the Dodgers one we got in 2004 was bad, it was just outdated.

Fred McGriff's 2003 would have been a fine way to go out. After a year and a half doing well for the Cubs, McGriff signed with the Dodgers, ironically the same offseason Eric Karros signed with the Cubs. McGriff only played 86 games in 2003, hit .249 with 13 home runs. Not a great deal went on, and McGriff was let loose after the season ended.

But the longtime hard-hitter was picked up in 2004, by the team he had returned to greatness with, the Tampa Bay Rays. McGriff was the first superstar in Tampa, the first All-Star in Tampa, and was the flagship hero there until the 2001 trade to Chicago. So of course they'd welcome him back and give him a shot at making the team out of Spring Training. McGriff was 40, but he still wanted to play. 

The eventual MLB gig for McGriff in 2004 was a bit disappointing. In 27 games, the Crime Dog only hit .181 with 7 RBIs and the final two of his trademark home runs. McGriff was released midseason, retired, and that was the end of that. I do appreciate that his last games were played for the Rays, as it's a very poetic close to his career, but I just wish they'd have been a bit better.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2007 Mike Lieberthal

 From the mid-80s to the mid-2010s, the Philadelphia Phillies were insanely lucky in terms of catching options. They essentially had like 3 catchers from Darren Daulton taking over in 85 until Carlos Ruiz gave the position to Cameron Rupp. Yes, there was a brief drought between Dutch and Mike Lieberthal, but it was really just Benito Santiago sandwiched in between on a one-year deal. It was really just Daulton, Lieberthal and Ruiz for 30 years, and...then we have the rotating door of catchers in Philly we've come to expect. 

But despite being the least starry name of the three, Mike Lieberthal held the position of catcher for 10 seasons, bridging from the contending early 90s Phils teams until the beginnings of the Howard-Utley-Rollins teams, had four seasons above 2.0 WAR, two seasons above 20 home runs, two seasons above 150 hits and two seasons above .300. So...he was an okay perennial catcher, but he was OUR okay perennial catcher, and it was good to have him play for the Phils for a decade and some change. 

Ultimately, as Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste came to prominence late in 2006, the Phils decided not to re-sign Lieberthal, who was about to turn 35, and so he took a one-year deal with the Dodgers during the 2006 offseason. He knew that he'd be backing up Russell Martin, but Lieberthal just wanted to play another year, which is perfectly fine.

So, in a wild card Dodger year in 2007, Lieberthal saw action in 38 games, and hit .234 with 16 hits and 1 RBI. Not much to report, but he was still solid defensively. And then he's released in August and retires after the season.

This was one of the priorities for me to make in this series because...I got into the hobby in 2007, I heard Mike Lieberthal was signed by the Dodgers, and I was waiting to see Topps card evidence of that and...never did. As the 2007 set is still very important to me, as it's the first one I truly collected, I needed to do this one pretty far in. It's a very niche tribute, but it's still Mike Lieberthal's last season, and what would have been his last Topps card. So...I think that's reason enough.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2005 Al Leiter


I put Al Leiter into the David Cone category of being good for a long period of time and just not being elite enough for the Hall of Fame. Leiter was a fantastic pitcher for an 11-year period, but he's probably not a Hall of Famer. You can agree, though, that like Cone, he had a hell of a career.

First of all, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Al Leiter was a local Jersey resident, and that my dad saw him pitch in high school because he was one of those 'state talents' that you kind of had to witness play before he got big. Sure enough, the Yankees draft him out of high school, he's pitching for them in 88 and he's off to the races.

The big issue with Leiter is that from 1989 to 1992, his stats are nonexistent due to either injury issues, lack of control, and just general majors inefficiency. So the Yankees, and later the Blue Jays after they trade Jesse Barfield for him, don't really know what to do with him.

However, in 1993, Al Leiter shows up. Starts as a reliever, builds into a starter and wins a World Series in 1993, then becomes a fantastic starter that the Marlins sign to a multi-year deal in 1996, he's the ace of that team and wins another World Series in 97, then once the Marlins clean house in 97 he's traded to the Mets for...AJ Burnett surprisingly, and becomes the ace in Queens, gets to ANOTHER World Series in 2000, has strong numbers til the contract runs out in 2004.

So, 2005, the year that Topps missed a step, Leiter signs with the Florida Marlins, the team where he achieved his greatest successes, in the offseason. Topps doesn't depict this in Series 1, because they use a Mets photo assuming he stays with the Mets. Leiter, after several seasons of prime, high-strikeout material...pitches like a 39-year-old for the fish. In 17 games, he has a 6.64 ERA, a 3-7 record and 52 strikeouts. In a rotation with Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis and A.J. Burnett, the very guy he was traded for, Leiter sticks out like a sore thumb. 

In July, he's sent to the Yankees on a conditional deal, so his career essentially has gone full circle. In 16 games, Leiter improves to a 5.49 ERA, 45 strikeouts and 4 wins, plus a postseason victory. Topps rewards this with a card in Updates and Highlights. Yet the Marlins games go unrepresented in flagship. 

Even if it was one of his weakest moments, Al Leiter's return to Miami should have been a part of a Topps set in 2005. It's a kind of return mission, like David Cone's return to New York or Roger Clemens' return to the Bronx, that deserves depiction. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2005 Juan Gonzalez

 Juan Gone at Twilight, Part Two

Juan Gonzalez has 2 more MVPs than you. I think he wants you all to know that.

I've spoken briefly about the tumultuous career of Juan Gone on here, mostly in detailing how the hell he ended up at Spring Training camp for the Cardinals in 2008, but not enough has been dedicated to his career post-Rangers. Cause that's all Topps seems to want to document nowadays in their throwback sets. 

Okay. So Juan Gonzalez' last season with the Rangers is 1999, and it's another normal season for Juan Gone. .326 average, 39 homers, 128 RBIs, lots of good stuff. This is his age-29 year as well, so the fact that he accomplished both MVPs and the home run titles before the age of 30 is awesome, as most MVPs these days wait til after 30 apparently...

2000, Gonzalez, in the last year of his contract, is traded to Detroit along with Gregg Zaun in exchange for an impressive basket of prospects [Francisco Cordero, Gabe Kapler, Frank Catalanotto] and Justin Thompson. It is an injury shortened year, as Gonzalez only plays in 115 games...while still hitting .289 with 22 homers, because hey, after all, he's still on a lot of steroids at this point. They don't exactly wear off overnight. 

And that explains his epic, ASG-qualifying comeback in 2001 for the Cleveland Indians. .325, 35 home runs and 140 RBIs is another classic, career-caliber year for the veteran outfielder, and it would sadly be the last of its kind. On a pair of one-year deals in Texas, Gonzalez' numbers and playing time would decrease substantially, ironically losing playing time to people he was traded for like Catalanotto and Kapler. He'd have 32 homers in those two seasons in Arlington combined. Then, in 33 games with Kansas City in 2004 he'd muster 6 more.

To Topps, this is the end of Juan Gone's story as a player. A 2004 Topps card, and nothing. However, Juan Gonzalez did try one more major league stint before his two year hiatus and attempt in St. Louis, and it was back to the team that had given him comeback numbers before...the Cleveland Indians.

Gonzalez only played one game in Cleveland, and he only had one at bat...and it was not a successful one. But it still the footnote on his powerful career, even if it is a weak one. Juan Gonzalez still played for the Indians in 2005, and it would have been cool to see a Topps card of it, despite the inefficiency of the stint in itself. 

Note that Juan Gonzalez did attempt to make camp with the Red Sox in 2006, but...I haven't found any photographic proof to base a card off of. So we end the Juan Gone story here....hopefully.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

2020 MVPs: Unexpected But I Don't Hate This

 Okay. So I think I can learn to wrap my head around this.

Freddie Freeman and Jose Abreu are among the best 1st baseman playing right now, make a ton of All Star teams, have some excellent career stats, have been at it for about a decade. 

Abreu is 33, was about to walk away from the White Sox to possibly derail his career somewhere else but re-upped and had his second consecutive career year, leading the league in RBIs and hits, and sporting a .317 average, his highest since his ROY-winning year in 2014. Despite pressure from Jose Ramirez, I am very alright with Abreu winning MVP, solely because he's still one of the elite hitters in the game, has become a well-rounded hitter when everyone thought he'd become Mo Vaughn, and he's successfully made the jump from the Cuban leagues to the MLB without petering off after a few years. This MVP is the evidence of his career longevity and his evolution into a five-tool player. I'm happy to see it.

As for Freeman...yeah, I wrote a blog post earlier this year about why Freeman didn't deserve the MVP because it took Mookie Betts less time to get hot this year. Mookie Betts arguably petered off in September and wasn't THE hottest in October. Freddie Freeman may have taken til mid-August to get hot, but he could not be cooled down for the remainder of the season. Freeman led the league in runs and doubles this year, had a career-high .341 average, and had 7 RBIs,  2 homers and 12 hits this postseason. So I guess I understand the argument. Also, Freeman had an unstoppable online campaign for MVP that silenced all other competitors, even the equally-worthy Betts.

At the end of the day, in a pandemic-shortened season, the MVPs went not to two fluke stars who'll be gone in a year or so, but to two veterans who've been excellent for long periods of time and have finally been rewarded for their excellence. Freeman is likely on his way to a Hall of Fame induction if he keeps this up. Abreu less so, unless he stays this good for the next 5 years. 

Still...looking from a different perspective, these picks really work. They may not entirely sum-up 2020 [after all, Fernando Tatis wasn't even in the Top 3], but they do sum up baseball as it stands right now, which I'll take.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Cy Youngs: Of Course They Are

Yeah, there shouldn't be any shock here. I dunno, maybe Yu Darvish had a case but...these are the two best pitchers of the year. Well done. And a year and a half ago they were playing for the same team.

Bieber I think was obvious from like the beginning of August on, as his first few starts were lights-out, he has some pretty crazy strikeout stats, and he was dominant on a team where some things were beginning to show age. Bottom line is this was a year where by the end, only one member of the 2016 rotation was left, Cookie Carrasco, and it was Bieber's job to ring in a new era of Indians starting pitching, and he absolutely brought it. I hope he keeps it up.

Bauer's was a different story. Because it took him all of 2019's second half to acclimate to pitching in Cincinnati, a lot of people underestimated him going into this year. This was also a year where Bauer was still seen as an oddity in his emphasis on unusual conditioning tactics in order to perfect his arsenal. By the end, Bauer was the chief trash-talker in the MLB, and had the stats to back it up, with 2 shutouts, 100 strikeouts, and an ERA title thanks to his 1.83 final number. He also had a 12-strikeout postseason start that's gonna be forgotten because of how quickly his Reds were in and out of the playoffs.

But yeah, the writers got it right. Well done to everybody. 

Tomorrow's is going to be insanely tough to predict. In both cases, you have a candidate that I think SHOULD get the MVP, and a candidate that probably will due to bandwagoning. I have absolutely no clue what's about to happen in the AL, but I am thinking the NL isn't going to go the way I'd like. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2006 Phil Nevin

 One of the oddest things about the 2000s in baseball is that for a good couple years, Phil Nevin was a thing.

Yeah, remember him?

In a decade where some of the oddest former fringe players would be rewarded at 30, including Steve Finley, Luis Gonzalez, Richie Sexson and Jason Schmidt, Phil Nevin was the one that entered and left quicker than anyone could really register. Did he really just go from a backup infielder into the centerpiece of the post-Gwynn Padres? And where'd he go?

I first knew Phil Nevin from Backyard Baseball 2003. Maybe not the flashiest Padres rep, but he'd hit 108 home runs in 4 seasons with the Padres and despite a shortened 2002 campaign, was still the star of the team. He stayed semi-relevant for the rest of his tenure for the Padres, despite not really coming close to his 5.8 WAR 2001 season [his 2004 season, with a 3.1, wasn't bad though]. By 2005, his number was running out, and he was bopped between teams starting from the trade deadline.

2006, Nevin's final season, would be split between three teams, which means Topps, of course, could only do two of them. He began the season with the Rangers, Topps did that in flagship, where he hit .216 with 9 homers in 46 games. In May, he's traded to the Cubs for Jerry Hairston Jr. 

Nevin's Cubs numbers are the closest to his Padres ones. In 67 games he hit .274 with 12 home runs, 33 RBIs and his first positive WAR since leaving San Diego. It was a mild but exciting return to form for Nevin, and despite mainly backing up Derrek Lee in Chicago, he was doing his best to return to relevancy.

Of course, Lee gets healthy again, Nevin loses playing time, and at the end of August he's traded to the Twins. The spell wore off. Nevin only managed 1 more home run in 16 games in Minneapolis, batting a pathetic .190. He'd start one playoff game for the Twins, but not manage to get any hits at all. It would be his final MLB game. Because Update would print post-season, Nevin's stint in Minnesota would be depicted over his stint in Chicago. 

That Nevin would lose his 2001-era mojo was inevitable. That it would happen so quickly, and with enough attempts at staying hot, is the intriguing part. 

Oddity of his era. And without this card, Topps pretty much had his peak documented correctly.

Monday, November 9, 2020

2020 Rookies of the Year: One League Had it Easier Than The Other



Voting for a Rookie of the Year can sometimes be a crapshoot. It's odd enough that you're not voting for one rookie of the year, and it's separated by leagues, but sometimes the best overall rookie isn't in the conversation for some reason. You're really following the guidelines of pundits and booming voices, regardless of who actually deserves anything. A lot like Oscar voting. Was Green Book really the best movie of 2018? No. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie from this year was better than Green Book. But enough industry people say in booming voices 'this is how the votes are gonna go', and that's how they go, greenback distribution or no.

And that's what we're dealing with one of our rookies of the year in 2020.

Kyle Lewis is the one I don't have a problem with. I know that he completely trailed off in September, and that Luis Robert maybe would have been a more consistent choice for the award, but Kyle Lewis at his height this year was unstoppable, and was one of the sole forces keeping the Brewers in the conversation.

And that's the big factor for me, when I think about these awards. Does the presence of this one player make or break this team? Without Kyle Lewis, could the Mariners even have gotten as far as they did this year? Probably not. This kid is on the way to a nice career if he keeps his averages high. 

And then there is Devin Williams. Devin Williams is a great reliever, was fantastic in 2020, and his unhittable work was definitely a factor in the Brewers' 2020 season. However...take Devin Williams away, are the Brewers any better or worse? Not really. He is just a reliever, in a bullpen of people like Josh Hader, David Phelps and Eric Yardley. Williams was there for 22 games, 27 innings. He missed playing time in September due to an injury, and the Brewers fell off...but they were going to fall off anyway because they just weren't as good this year. Corbin Burnes made the Brewers look like they had a chance for a split second in September. Williams was just a really good reliever for the month of August. 

And I know what people are gonna say. 'Jordan, you make customs of relievers no one talks about, why not boast about a relief pitcher getting a major award?' Because Devin Williams never felt like 'the best rookie performance of the year' to me at all this year. I was getting ready for Jake Cronenworth to win it. Cronenworth was giving me David Ecsktein vibes, I liked how he fit right into the Tatis-Machado-Hosmer infield, and while he wasn't one of the biggest producers of this team [that was Tatis, another detail the writers got wrong in nominating players for awards this year], he still brought a lot of versatility to this Padres team. 

But like Williams, I don't know if Cronenworth is going to have a career of seasons like this, or if he'll become David Eckstein, the full novelty of him and all. Will Williams still have a career in 2030? Will he still be as consistent? As much as I love relievers, one of the reasons why Topps doesn't always include the correct relievers is that it's very rare for a reliever, or a closer, to be consistent for a long period of time without completely losing it for a season or two. Look at Craig Kimbrel, a ROY pick I thought was valid back in the day. Kimbrel has had two straight down years, and is looking into a role as a middle reliever instead of his usual 9th inning role. 

Will Devin Williams be this good for the rest of his career? Probably not. This is, of course, rewarding his 2020 season, not predicting whether or not he'll have a career after this, but...I feel like that needs to have a hand in this. Both Yordan Alvarez and Shohei Ohtani had miserable years in 2020, due to injuries and inefficiency. I wish more sportswriters would vote for this award with the guise of 'which of these players is going to be a superstar for the next several years?'

If I were given a vote for Rookie of the Year, I would have voted for Sixto Sanchez. Not Alec Bohm, for any of you who thought I was bitter about someone from one of my teams not getting it [that comes when one of the Joses wins AL MVP this week]. Sixto Sanchez, despite a slightly late come up, made the Marlins into a contender, and was one of the strongest pitchers in the NL East this year. He also was responsible for some decent postseason energy, and previewed what could be a prosperous career that the Phillies gave up for a catcher they're not even gonna try and re-sign. To me, Sixto Sanchez was the best rookie in the NL. But he only got one vote, so what the hell do I know?

Maybe the sportswriters know something I don't about Devin Williams. Maybe he has the career and Kyle Lewis flames out in 5 years. I just...thought I had this predicted, and I was off. That tends to happen. Maybe I'll warn up to ROY Devin Williams. 

Regardless, it's a very big deal that both ROYs were african-american. I like that a lot, and it almost justifies the questionable NL pick for me. More than almost. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Mike Hessman Chronicles

This is one of those insanely niche things I've always wanted to do if I had the proper way of going about it. Now that this SHB Topps series is doing well for me, I might as well go for it. 

Mike Hessman is a name that many MLB fans may not have heard of. Maybe if you're a Braves fan who knew a lot about prospecting in the 2000s, or just an all-around stats expert. But if you're a Toledo Mud Hens fan...oh boy, you know Mike Hessman. You probably love Mike Hessman. Mike Hessman is the closest thing we have to a real life Crash Davis, a guy who flourished in the minor leagues but could never get things going in the majors. 

In 2015, Hessman retired with 433 home runs in the minor league level, which is an all-time mark for minor leaguers. Mike Hessman hit more home runs in the minor leagues than Andres Galarraga did in the major leagues. Think about that.

Hessman's story was rewarded by Topps a few times during their Pro Debut sets, but never in flagship. And so I figured I should rectify that. 

Okay, so 2003, Hessman is called up to the Braves at 25, plays 16 games, hits .286. By this point, Hessman has already hit 136 home runs in the minors. He hits 2 in the majors 2003. 

In 2004, he gets a slightly longer major league stint, backing up Adam LaRoche at 1st. In 29 games, Hessman bats .130 with another 2 home runs. Clearly, something's not working at the major league level yet. Meanwhile, he hits .287 with 19 home runs in Richmond. 

In 2005, as he is 27 and has been with the Braves for the better part of a decade, he's granted free agency. So he signs the first of many minor league deals with the Detroit Tigers. At this point, Hessman sort of knows the drill, it seems. He gets a little play in Spring Training, kibitzes with Ivan Rodriguez and Dmitri Young, then spends the rest of the season in Toledo playing for one of the most well-attended minor league clubs in the union, and hitting more homers. He only hits .214 this season, but he notches 28 home runs. 

2006 is similar, he doesn't get to the majors at all but keeps getting lots of playing time in Toledo. .165 average, 24 homers, which is a down year, but at least he gets to play. 

2007 is probably the closest thing to a career year for Mike Hessman. First of all, he has his best year for Toledo, hitting .254 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. Then the Tigers need assistance at 1st, they call him up for 17 games and he hits 4 more homers covering for Sean Casey. This is his first major league play since 2004, and he does what he can to make the most of it. 

2008 is a similar year. Fantastic in Toledo, 34 home runs and 72 RBIs, which most 2008 Tigers would kill for, and a few games in the majors. This is one of Hessman's best MLB stints, as in 12 games he hits .296 with 5 home runs, making himself known as a decent backup first baseman. 

However, in 2008, the first baseman is not someone easy to back-up like Sean Casey. 2008 is the beginning of the Miguel Cabrera era in Detroit, meaning Hessman is going to get less and less major league playing time. 

In 2009, he's not going to get any, spending the entire season in Toledo despite once again having a decent time in Spring Training. This year for Hessman is slightly lower-key, with 23 home runs and 77 RBI for the Mud Hens. 

After this, the Tigers don't bring Hessman back for 2010, and Hessman hops around for a few years.

 The Mets are the first team to bite on Hessman, especially the season after losing their longtime first baseman, Carlos Delgado. So Hessman gets some playing time, though it's only 32 games. Hessman sadly only hits a measly .127, and only musters one final major league home run in his final MLB games. It's a sad way for him to go out, but thankfully, it's not the end of Hessman's baseball story.

After a mediocre season playing for the Orix Buffaloes in 2011, Hessman returns to minor league deals in America, playing yearlong stints in the AAA affiliates of the Astros and Reds, hitting 60 homers in those two seasons combined, before returning to the Toledo Mud Hens for his final two years, notching 34 home home runs in order to break the all-time minor league home run record in 2015. It's a huge moment for Hessman, for Toledo, and for the minors. 

So Mike Hessman may not have been a high priority for Topps all those years, but he was a high priority for me when I made this. One of the things I ask myself when I consider subjects for this set is 'are they important in even the most specific story of baseball?' That's why I'll include a botched draft pick that hung on for several years, or a former small-team closer who kept relieving games into his 30s. And that's why Hessman is here. You can't talk about minor league baseball in this era without talking about Hessman, and you can't tell Hessman's story without talking about his major league games. Even though a lot of these were spring training pictures that didn't amount to MLB seasons, they still warrant cards in my eyes, because Hessman's story is that unique, and that important, to this era of baseball.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2003 Kenny Lofton

Topps was very good about accurately documenting the career of Kenny Lofton, despite the number of detours and other destinations it took. We can safely say that Kenny Lofton has Topps cards as a member of the Braves, White Sox, Giants, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Rangers and Indians. 

And yet they still managed to miss one.

Here's how- After Kenny Lofton ends the 2002 season with the San Francisco Giants, Topps decides that, since Lofton played into the World Series and did fairly well, he should be featured in Series 1, rushed out to production as a member of the Giants in 2003 Topps. However, by March 2003, as the product is already in shelves, Kenny Lofton signs a one year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a deal that will hopefully bring some semblance of star power to a team that really only has Aramis Ramirez.

So, okay, fine, Topps can include a Pirates Lofton card in Update, that's fine. It's certainly a run that warrants a card- in 84 games he hits .277 with 94 hits and 26 RBIs, and a 1.7 WAR, which is higher than that of said marquee star Aramis Ramirez [1.4]. 

However, Kenny Lofton doesn't end the season on the Pirates, as he AND Ramirez are traded to the Cubs at the deadline in exchange for Jose Hernandez and some change. It's a very big move that shifts the balance of power in the NL Central, and gives the Cubs two HUGE pieces for a playoff run that will end in heartbreak in the 2003 NLCS. As Ramirez spends the remainder of the decade as a Cub, Lofton, who hits .327 with 20 RBIs and a 1.8 WAR in his 56 games, heads to New York after the season. It's a forgotten stint, but he sure did a lot in a small period of time as a Cub, and as a Pirate as well.

So, Lofton was already a Cub by the time 2003 Traded was being assembled, any evidence of Lofton's tenure in Pittsburgh was left for Upper Deck to document. Tragedy. But luckily I can throw this together for the sake of this ongoing series and complete the puzzle of Lofton's career on Topps cards, which is nice. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2004 Roberto Alomar


The last stretch of Roberto Alomar's career is...strange. 

Roberto Alomar's WAR total from 1988 until 2001 is 67.3. .3 more than his career total. Which means his WAR from 2002 until his retirement in 2004 was a negative total. 

Obviously his 2002-2003 Mets numbers, and their mediocrity, have been reported, but for whatever reason, Alomar was no longer the best 2nd baseman in baseball anymore starting in 2002, and just...had a ton more human material over his last 3 seasons. 

At the 2003 trade deadline, Alomar was a high-caliber trade chip for the White Sox to receive, and he was ALRIGHT in his first stint in Chicago, hitting .253 with 17 RBI, but it was a far cry from even his 2001 numbers. So Alomar signed a cheaper deal with Arizona, did what he could for them in 38 games [he hit over .300, though], and was once again traded midyear. This one was a little later than the Topps trade cutoff, but it was to the same team- the Chicago White Sox.

Alomar's final career numbers in the last half of 2004 are not indicative of his storied, Hall of Fame career. In 18 games with the Sox, he bat .180, with 11 hits, 8 RBIs, a home run, and a -0.8 WAR. Willie Harris remained the primary option at 2nd in this period, if you want an accurate idea of how far Alomar fell by this point.

The rest is card-blog folklore. He signs a minor league deal with the Rays, he doesn't make the team and retires, and Topps releases a card of him in 2005 Series 2 despite never playing a game with the Rays. I recently came into contact with this card, and it is now a crucial part of my HOF binder.

But despite the lack of...want for a 2004 Alomar Sox card from Topps, I made one anyway because it felt right. It may not have been the best way to send off a legend, but it certainly feels better than pretending it didn't exist.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Stephen Vogt Chronicles

I think you all know where I'm going with this, so stick with me.

 Stephen Vogt, one of the more fun catchers of the 2010s, appeared on a lot of Topps cards, especially at his peak in 2015 and 2016, when he made 2 ASG teams. He's also probably on a few now as a beloved NL West backup. But...more often than not, Topps, when it matters most, will Vogt.

Ironically, the first time they forgot was in 2012. Granted, Vogt didn't have a ton of appearances as a Ray, his rookie year, but he still was an early-season rookie with Tampa, made some April appearances, and was eligible for a 2012 Topps rookie card. But in 18 games, Vogt didn't get a single hit. Therefore, even if they had the entire season to make their mind up, when it came time to release Update in 2012, Topps...did not Vogt.

This would cost them.

It happened again the following year, after Vogt was purchased by the Athletics in the offseason. Suffice to say, Vogt had a few hits in 2013. In 47 games as backup catcher to Derek Norris, he hit .252 with 16 RBIs and 34 hits. Not bad at all. Plus, the A's in 2013 got to advance to the postseason, and Vogt got a crucial RBI for the A's in their losing series against Detroit. 

However, despite a growing fan following that would grow even further in 2014, Topps once again did not Vogt. Vogt had no Topps cards in 2013. His issues would start in 2014, and thankfully, Topps would be a lot more disciplined about Vogt-ing for the next few years.

In 2017, Stephen Vogt has a bad start in Oakland, fails to find the average, and after 54 games of batting .217, the A's release him. 

In July, he's picked up by a competitor.

Granted, not a SUCCESSFUL competitor, but the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers were doing their part to squeeze into the postseason, despite eventually being usurped for a Wild Card spot by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. And once they snagged Vogt out from free agency, Vogt's bat returned. In 45 games with the Brewers, he hit .254 with 8 homers and 20 RBIs. Yes, an injury keeps him away for a month, but he gives the Brewers stability at the backstop that they didn't have since Jonathan Lucroy. 

However, since Topps' print deadline was earlier than usual in 2017, even the early July arrival of Vogt was still too late for Topps to include. For the third time, Topps was unable to Vogt. Yes, they included him in the 2018 set, but by that point Vogt was already too injured to play any of the 2018 season.

I'll add that Topps has also abstained from Vogt-ing in 2019, though they were wise enough to include Vogt in their 2020 set. However, their track record of not Vogt-ing is still disappointing, especially considering how much of a fringe favorite Vogt has become.

So...please don't do what Topps has done, and Vogt, if you haven't already. 

[This is...the cheesiest post I've had in a while, but it made too much sense not to do.]

Monday, November 2, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2001 David Cone


I have some relatives who are Mets fans. I'm not mentioning this so you can pray for them, it's for context.

A few years ago, and this is right before Mariano Rivera gets into the HOF, one in particular is going on a diatribe about how he doesn't think closing pitchers are valid Hall of Famers. I don't know why. He's a lifelong Jets fan as well, clearly something's gone wrong. 

But he gives me this pitch. He says 'how come David Cone, who could have been a lifelong reliever had the Mets not moved him to the rotation in 1987, doesn't have a Hall of Fame case, yet Mariano Rivera, who could have been a lifetime starter had he not been moved to the bullpen in 1996, does?'

Short answer- Mariano Rivera was more consistent. 

But it did get me thinking about David Cone's credentials. From 1988 to 1999, Cone is undeniably one of the best pitchers in baseball. This man has five World Series rings, all in an 8-year period, won 20 games twice, led the league in strikeouts twice, and pitched a perfect game with the Yankees. While any activity outside that 12-year radius is slightly more suspect, Cone in that period is as good as some of the Hall of Famers he pitched against. So...maybe his stats need another look. 

Topps was generally alright about his later career issues, and they gave Cone a Topps card in 2002, but...Cone didn't play in 2002. David Cone's 2002 Topps card was a reparation for not having a 2001 Topps card. So I made one.

David Cone signs a cheap one-year deal with Boston in 2001 after a disappointing 6+ ERA season with the Yankees. The Sox have Martinez, Lowe and Wakefield, so Cone will be backing up the platoon. And...he does so, admirably. In 25 games, he has a 4.31 ERA, a 9-7 record and 115 strikeouts. Not bad at all, even if it's his second consecutive year with an ERA higher than 4, both of which were anomalies for him. But he's strong enough, at 38, to get by. Which is nice.

Cone signs a minor league deal with the Mets in 2003, and that's something I couldn't find documentation for in photos, but his late-career stuff, while not indicative of his career-long control, was pretty cool, and it was nice to find something from him in Boston. 

So...with Veterans committees cooking up again over the next few years, maybe Cone's name will wind up back in the ring. Maybe he'll get a case enough to get in. I wouldn't be shocked. If Harold Baines can get in, maybe David Cone's time is coming soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Andres Galarraga Chronicles

After some impressive years in Montreal in the 80s, as well as some even more bombastic years in Colorado and Atlanta during the 90s, Andres Galarraga, affectionately known as El Grande Gato, had a bit of a tumultuous final few years. Not that he played poorly, he just...was everywhere. 

Galarraga played parts of two seasons with the Giants, made a well-documented return to Montreal in 2002, and sort of bopped around otherwise.

In a moment where Topps pictured him as either a Brave or a Giant in 2001, Galarraga snuck out to Arlington for the first half of the season. Despite being in a lineup with Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Alex Rodriguez, Galarraga's numbers were underwhelming, hitting .235 with 34 RBIs and 10 home runs in 72 games, a far cry from even his 2000 numbers with Atlanta. Midyear, Galarraga would be traded to San Francisco, and that bit would get the Topps card.

2002 and 2003 would be comparatively well documented, in SF and Montreal. For all intents and purposes, Galarraga's career ends in San Fran in 2003, and in Topps' eyes it does.

And yet it keeps going for a slight bit longer. Galarraga would sit most of the 2004 season out, thanks to not being approached for a deal in the spring, but in August he began talks with the Anaheim Angels, who were doing well enough with Vladimir Guerrero's first year on the team, but struggling otherwise. So they signed Galarraga to a deal, and for 7 games in September, El Grande Gato was back at it once again. He did pretty well, too, hitting .300 with 2 RBIs, including his final home run, leaving him at 399 as a career total.

And that could have been a humble, amusing way for Galarraga to go out. He was 43, his temples had fully greyed, he'd had a long, prosperous career with a batting title, 2 gold gloves and 2 silver sluggers...but he wanted to try for one more year. 


Galarraga signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets prior to the 2005 season, as an invitation to Spring Training. While he didn't make the team, he did get to have one last spring training experience as a player, and got to be a mentor figure, at 44, to young players like David Wright, Mike Pelfrey and Heath Bell. 

I know Topps never would have made a card for him in 2005 given this stint, but...they made one for Roberto Alomar, and he didn't last past camp with Tampa. 

Galarraga may not have been a Hall of Famer, but he was a fun player for a long period of time. So even the smallest bit to add to his legacy helps.