Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jason Heyward 2011 Topps Red Diamond

So, Opening Day 2011 is over- the weather was threatening in our nation's capital, but the game was played, and the beloved Braves won 2-0. For the second year in a row, Mr. Jason Heyward homered in his first at bat of the season. Today's blast went out on a line, giving the Bravo's their 2-0 lead. In doing so, Heyward became only the second player to hit home runs in his first at bat on consecutive Opening Days in his first two seasons. The other, you ask? Kazuo Matsui of the Mets. He did it in 2004 and 2005.

Another 2011 Topps Insert-this one the 'Red Diamond' card from the Series I packs found at Target. Another bargain price on this one-I paid $1.99 delivered for it. And like the Stadium Lights insert set, I really like the front of the card, while the backs leave much to be desired. The "diamond" motif in this year's Topps works really well-obviously they're celebrating 60 years, but it's just fitting-what with baseball being played on a diamond. It wouldn't/won't work as well with football. The write up for the "Diamond Gem" is a good idea, considering the theme of the insert-but that's where the praise ends. Hopefully, the series 2 insert backs will have a little more thought and creativity put into them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Topps Opening Day Stadium Lights- The JHey Kid

When I first saw the sell sheet for this years Topps Opening Day set, I wasn't exactly blown away by the preview of the Stadium Lights Joe Mauer card. Never the less, when I had the opportunity to pick up the Jason Heyward card on eBay for $1.25 shipped, I jumped on it-and am actually glad I did. Everything about the front design works-from the "Stadium Lights" looking like it's done in lights, to the slick design along the bottom of the card-this is one of Topps better looking inserts of late, imo. While I like the "night facts" found on the back of the card, I do wish they would have done something different with the background behind it. Did you know that Heyward hit exactly the same at night as he did during the day last year (.277)? He also hit 11 of his 18 home runs at night, as well as collect 65% of his total bases under the lights.

Overall, this is a great, inexpensive card of the Braves second year star who I am predicting will "light it up" this season.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review- Big Hair and Plastic Grass:

In late January I started a new blog on another host. Frustrations with this current one led me to experiment with Word Press. I haven't fully committed to a change, but I have posted a few entries over the past two months-one of which I am reprinting here.

What defines a decade? Is it the events that take place? Maybe it’s the ideas that shape the culture, or the people and leaders who are a part of the narrative. Some might even include in this list fashion and art, innovation, and/or fads. I would say yes to all of the above- and author Dan Epstein uses a similar paradigm in writing his witty look at pop-culture and Major League Baseball in the ’70s.

Perhaps no other decade (save the 50′s, with racial integration having taken place) has seen as big of a cosmic shift in the game of, as well as the culture of, Major League Baseball as did the 1970s. And it’s no surprise, really, as the game is often just a microcosm of the culture. ‘Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s’ is a fun look at a time in the history of the game where we saw changes in the playing surface, stadium architecture, uniform design, and how the counter-culture crept in- challenging the conservative establishment as players no longer represented the clean-cut image that the league had worked so hard to promote. But the biggest changes to take place in the 70′s, and ones that still affects the game today, was the abolishment of the reserve clause in 1975, resulting in free-agency being established, as well as the first work stoppage in professional sports (the 1972 season lost the first 13 days of the regular season due to the players strike). These changes, on and off the field, are woven into Epstein’s tale of a decade dominated by teams such as the A’s, Reds, and Yankees, and individuals who dominated the headlines, such as Bowie Kuhn, Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Dock Ellis, and Hank Aaron.

Epstein uses each chapter to focus on a particular year from the decade. And while the hardcore baseball fan may not learn anything new (especially those of us who are over forty), it is a fun stroll down memory lane.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1982

The 1982 Braves began the season by rolling off 13 straight wins-a major league record since tied by the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers. The streak began with an Opening Night victory against the San Diego Padres, a team which the previous season finished at the bottom of the NL West in both halves (remember, the 1981 season was cut short by the strike, and thus a first-half and second-half division winner was announced). The Braves first loss on the season would come against the Reds on April 22, as they lost 2-1.

April 6, 1982, Jack Murphy Stadium- San Diego, California
If you enjoy watching a game with a lot of offense, then this wasn't a game for you. Instead, both teams would have a difficult time getting a hit-they combined for a total of just 6 hits. Atlanta did, however, managed to get eight walks off of Padre starter Juan Eichelberger. Surprisingly, Eichelberger didn't allow more runs, as the Braves ended up leaving 10 runners on base for the evening. One walk, however, would haunt the Padres. With one out in a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth, Brett Butler drew a walk and then scored on Glenn Hubbard's double to left. A passed ball and another walk would give the Braves runners on first and third, but they would fail to score again in the fifth. It didn't matter, however, as Butler's run would be all they would need on the night.

Player of the Game- Glenn Hubbard
Hubbard, who prior to the 2011 season had spent the last twelve seasons as the Braves first base coach, was known primarily for his defense in his playing days. This night, however, Hubbard would be the hero with his bat-with the fifth inning double that drove in the only run of the game. Hubbard would go on to hit 25 doubles and drive in 59 RBI in 1982 (both career highs to that point), as well as lead the National League in sacrifice hits that year.
Pitcher of the Game- Rick Mahler
After giving up a two-out single to Luis Salazar in the bottom of the second, Mahler would go on to pitch a masterpiece-allowing only one other hit on the night. That hit wouldn't come until the bottom of the ninth, when Rupert Jones doubled with two outs. Thankfully, Jones would be left in scoring position as Sixto Lezcano followed up by striking out to end the game. The Lezcano K would be the seventh on the night for Mahler, who also surrendered three walks (one being intentional). The win for Rick was the first of nine on the 1982 season and was the first of five complete games (2 shutouts) he had thrown that year.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Topps Counterparts: 1962/2011 #76

Ah- another baseball season is upon us, and Topps has issued another Heritage set. That means it's time to begin another round of Topps Counterparts. The first featured cards in this year's counterparts are found on card #76 in their respective sets.

1962 Topps #76 Howie Bedell
The 1962 Topps set featured a rookie by the name of Howie Bedell, who the previous season gave Milwaukee at least some small hope that he would become a productive big leaguer-despite the fact that he was 25 and had spent the last five years in the minors. That '61 season saw Bedell hit in an American Association record 43 straight games while coming .001 points of winning the batting title (as a side note, I'm currently reading the new book, 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports by Kostya Kennedy-it's highly recommended!). In the March 1962 issue of Baseball Digest, in which Bedell shared the cover with Sam McDowell, Dave Giusti ,and Jim Fergosi , the following scouting report on Bedell was given: "Speed, hustle and desire are his big assets. Little power, though improving as a hitter." Those assets (at least the hustle and desire) worked for Pete Rose-unfortunately for Bedell, they didn't work for him. Howie ended up with 150 plate appearances for the Braves in 1962, hitting a meager .196 with 2 RBI and 1 double and two triples. The '62 season was the only time that Bedell had any big league experience with the Braves. He would return to the majors once more, in 1968 with the Phillies-recording only 1 hit in 7 at bats in 9 games.

2011 Topps Heritage #76 Freddie Freeman
Coming into the 2011 season, the Braves had declared that rookie Freddie Freeman would be the team's first baseman to start the season. Freeman, however, approached Spring Training as if he were playing to win the job, and you've got to respect a kid who has been given a job and doesn't take it for granted. After a hot start this spring, Freeman has cooled off of late-after today's game he is hitting .238 with 2 home runs. The reports on him in the field is that he will be a very good defender, and he has impressed with the glove for the most part this spring- although he has had a couple of plays where he didn't field it cleanly where he should have. My guesstimate is that by the end of the season, Freeman will be hitting around .260-.265, with 13 HR while driving in about 60 runs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1980

Well, I am way behind on the Opening Day Flashbacks. With Opening Day 2011 just a little over a week away,there's no way I'll be able to post on each Braves opening game since 1966. So instead of wading through the remaining years of the '70s-where the Braves didn't put much out on the field- I'll pick up with the year 1980.
For the first time since 1974, the 1980 Braves finished above .500 (81-80)-thanks in part to the slugging combo of Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. The 1980 season would see the two arrive at star status as each hit over 30 homers and drove in 80+ runs. Newly acquired 1B Chris Chambliss (acquired from the Blue Jays on Dec. 5, 1979) would give the Braves a power hitting lefty and more veteran leadership for Bobby Cox's team.

April 9, 1980 Cincinnati, OH- Riverfront Stadium
The Braves 1980 season got off to a rough start, as the Braves fell to the Cincinnati Reds 9-0. After Reds' leadoff hitter Dave Collins grounded out to start off the bottom of the first, Braves starter Phil Niekro would give up four hits and two walks before another out was recorded. By the time the Reds' half inning was done, and all nine Reds had batted, Niekro and the Braves were already down 4-0. Dave Collins opened the bottom of the second off with a strikeout, but reached first base on the passed ball by Braves backstop Biff Pocoroba. The play would loom large, as the next two hitters would record outs-but instead of being out of the inning, Niekro would have to face clean-up hitter George Foster-who would deposit a Niekro pitch into the bleachers for a 6-0 Reds lead. Braves reliever Rick Camp would struggle in the third inning as well, giving up two runs (including an RBI single by Reds starter Frank Pastore) before settling down. Cincinnati would go on to score one more run (a seventh-inning sac fly by second baseman Junior Kennedy)-but the game was clearly out of reach by then.

Player of the Game-George Foster
Foster, the Reds slugging left-fielder, went 3-5 this night, with the home run, 4 RBI, 2 runs scored, and a double. While known primarily for his home run prowess (he was the only player in the 1970s to slug 50 or more in a season and finished his career with 348 homers), opening day would be the first of nine games during the 1980 season in which Foster had three or more hits (including a 5-5 game on April 21 against the Houston Astros).

Pitcher of the Game-Frank Pastore
Pastore, a second round draft pick by the Reds in the 1975 amateur draft, made his MLB debut just a year before pitching this complete game shutout. On
the evening, he allowed only three hits while striking out five. In fact, the Braves would not have another runner reach first base after Chambliss' forth-inning single. Pastore would have his best career as a pro in 1980, going 13-7 for the Reds, with a 3.27 ERA and 1.099 WHIP in 27 starts.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1974

Entering the 1974 season, Braves legend Henry Aaron was one home run short of tying Babe Ruth's record for career home runs. With Aaron standing on 713, and wanting him to break the record at home, Braves management decided they were going to sit Hammerin' Hank for the opening three-game series in Cincinnati. Bowie Kuhn, major league baseball commissioner at the time, objected to the decision and ordered Braves manager Eddie Mathews to play Aaron in two of the Braves three games in the Queen City.

April 4, 1974 Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
With a full-house of 52,124 people in attendance, the 1974 National League opener got off to a bang as two of the first three Braves hitters reached base off of Red's starter Jack Billingham. Then, with the count 3 and 1 and on his first swing of the season, Aaron tied the hallowed record-giving the Braves a 3-0 lead. Billingham, who endured a tornado in his town the night before the game, was no stranger to Aaron- having given up home runs number 528, 636, 641, and 709 to the soon-to-be Home Run King. The Braves took a 6-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning, when Phil Niekro would come into relieve starter Carl Morton after Morton walked lead off hitter Pete Rose. After Dan Driessen singled to right, Tony Perez hit a three-run homer-cutting Atlanta's lead to 6-5. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and still trailing 6-5, pinch-hitter George Foster singled to left to keep the Reds alive, and would then score the tying run when Pete Rose doubled to center. Rose would double again with two-outs, this time in the bottom of the eleventh, and would score the winning run from second on a wild pitch by losing pitcher Buzz Capra.

Player of the Game-Hank Aaron
With all due respect to Rose, who went 3-5 with 3 runs, 2 doubles, a walk,and an RBI- the man of the hour (and of the night) was Hammerin' Hank. Aaron, who homered on the next to last game of the 1973 season to put him one short of Ruth, had to endure an off-season as the recipient of hate-mail, death threats, and a fear of whether or not he would be alive by the time Opening Day 1974 arrived. Of course, four days later, during the Braves home opener, nearly 54,000 people would witness the record fall-as Aaron would homer off of Dodgers' starter Al Downing in the bottom of the fourth.

Pitcher of the Game-Clay Carroll
Clay Carroll, who began his career with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964,
pitched 1.2 shutout innings in picking up the victory. It would be the first of twelve wins on the season (versus only five losses) for the Reds reliever.
The following season would be his last in Cincinnati, who
would trade him to the White Sox following the 1975 season.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1973

Opening Day of 1973 saw a match-up of two teams that would go on to finish forth and fifth in the NL West that year. For those in attendance, they got one and a half games for the price of one as the Astros and Braves were locked in a 1-1 dual until Houston would win it in the thirteenth inning.

Starters Dave Roberts of the Astros and Gary Gentry of the Braves were shutting their opponents out until the bottom of the fifth, when Gentry helped his own cause by singling in 2B Davey Johnson for a 1-0 Braves lead. Jim Wynn, who would play for Atlanta during the 1976 season, homered off of Gentry to begin the sixth inning, but neither team would plate any more runs until the top of the thirteenth inning-when Astros super stud Cesar Cedeno doubled in the eventual winning run off of Cecil Upshaw.

Player of the Game- Cesar Cedeno
Cedeno, in the early part of his career, looked like he was heading to Cooperstown. As a 19 year-old rookie in 1970, he hit .310 in 90 games. Combining speed, power, and Gold-Glove defense in center, Cedeno became only the second player in history to hit 20+ homers and to steal 50+ bases in the same season (a feat he accomplished three straight seasons). He also ranks 25th on the all-time stolen base list with 550 career steals. This evening, Cedeno would go 3-6 with the game winning RBI. Cedeno would pull off his second straight 20/50 season in '73, but would eventually see his games played significantly decline due to injuries that were the result of his
all-out style of play.

Pitcher of the Game-Roric Harrison
Harrison, who was originally signed by the Astros at age 19, was in his first year with the Braves in '73 (he pitched in Baltimore during the 1972 season). Relieving starter Gary Gentry, Roric pitched five innings this night, allowing only three hits and no runs while striking out five Astros. Unfortunately, Cecil Upshaw followed Harrison and ended up losing the game for the Braves in the thirteenth.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mailbox Monday

If you were to take a look at my collection, you would quickly realize that it's made up almost exclusively of Topps cards. Every once in a while, however, something catches my eye that is from some other card manufacturer- and this week's Mailbox Monday features a few such cards.

2011 In the Game Heroes and Prospects- Randall Delgado autograph #A-RD2
Randall Delgado isn't nearly as hyped as uber-prospect Julio Teheran, but scouts love his makeup (he has shown in each of the past two seasons that he can make necessary adjustments to his game) and he has the stuff to be a starter in the top half of the rotation. He was recently listed as number 35 in Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects. With a bright future ahead of him, I wanted to pick up a Delgado auto to add to my collection of young guns in the Atlanta organization: I currently have Hansen, Minor, and now Randall (really wanting to add a Teheran and Vizcaino!) Thus, when I had the opportunity to pick this up for a few bucks, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I know-it's an on-sticker signature, but I really don't mind them.

1953 Johnston Cookies #2 John Antonelli, #6 Dave Cole, #11 Max Surkont, #12 Jim Wilson
These bad boys are from a set that I have long admired but never bothered to pursue. I was able to pick them up on the 'bay for $9.99 delivered, and perhaps some day I can try to work towards finishing this tough regional set.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Card Show Buys

While spring hasn't officially arrived, Spring Training is in full gear-meaning Opening Day's not far off. What better way to prepare for the upcoming season (and the baseball card season) than to attend the local Spring Card Show-which is exactly how I spent my Saturday morning.

The first dealer that caught my eye was a guy from whom I had bought a nice stack of mid-late 50s cards at the Winter Show. Hoping he would have some different flavors to choose from this time, I wasn't disappointed as he had brought binders and boxes with 60s and early 70s. Fortunately, he's very fair in his pricing-which allowed me to pick up another nice group of Braves for very little. Highlights from this group include:
1957 Topps #127 Bob Buhl and #262 Bobby Thomson
Although badly centered, I couldn't pass up these two. They are, after all, from my favor
ite set of all time. Thomson, whose time in Milwaukee would end in mid-June of the 1957 season (when he was traded back to the Giants), had been a disappointment with the Braves, but would enjoy a resurrection in his career in 1958 with the Cubs.
Buhl enjoyed his greatest success while pitching for Milwaukee from 1953 to 1962, when he would be traded to the Cubs. A middle of the rotation starter, Buhl fit in nicely in the #3 slot in the rotation behind Spahn and Burdette, and contributed back-to-back 18 game wins in '56 and '57. I particularly like the final sentence on the back of this card: "Sometimes he has a streak of wildness that works to his advantage by preventing batters from 'digging in' against him." Gotta keep them honest!

1969 Topps #355 and 1970 Topps #160 Phil Niekro
You've gotta love "Knucksie"-he seemed to defy the natural course of aging and pitched until he was 48 years young. To top it all off, he threw the first no-hitter for the Atlanta Braves, coming on my birthday- August 5, 1973. According to the back of Phil's '70 card, he was a high school basketball teamate of John Havlicek.

1960 Topps #170 Del Crandall
Thankfully, I didn't have to pay extra for the two staples included on this card. Now I can honestly say that I've seen not just staple holes, but the actual thing, on a card!

1964 Topps #476 Rico Carty
Topps got it right by including the "Beeg Boy" in its '64 set. Carty, who once
described himself as the "world's greatest baseball player", finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1964- hitting .330 with 22 HR, 88 RBI, and a .942 OPS. What could be bigger than that? Perhaps the distance between he and
his teamates. Or, his pride. Obviously, the card is off-cut; but other than that, it's not bad- and for $1.50 that's okay by me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1972

The beginning of the 1972 season saw the first week and a half of the schedule wiped out due to the players strike-it was the first time in major league history that games would be cancelled due to a players strike. League officials decided that the games would not be made up, and as a result of the strike there was an uneven number of games that each team lost. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the uneven schedule resulted in the Detroit Tigers winning the AL east by 1/2 game.
For the Braves, the '72 season began on April 15th in San Diego against the Padres. Tied at two going into the bottom of the sixth, Atlanta starter Phil Niekro faced seven hitters in the inning and wouldn't escape, allowing four runs to score before being removed from the game with two outs in the sixth. Jim Nash and Steve Barber shut the Padres down for the final 2.1 innings, and the Braves scored one in the seventh and two in the eighth to make it close, only to come up short at the end of the game.

Player of the Game- Derrel Thomas
Thomas, the first overall pick in the January 1969 amateur draft, perhaps never lived up to the expectations of a number one pick, but he did have a 15 year MLB career. Known for his versatility and his speed, Thomas' 1972 season debut saw him go 3-4 with a run scored, an RBI, and a stolen base. It was Thomas who would play a key part in the Padres big sixth inning. After shortstop Enzo Hernandez doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Thomas moved him to third on a bunt single. Once on first, Thomas drew a throw to first from Niekro. First baseman Hank Aaron (who replaced Orlando Cepeda earlier) made an error on the play, however, and Hernandez would score. Thomas then stole second and would score two batters later on Jerry Morales' single to left.

Pitcher of the Game- Clay Kirby
Kirby lost 20 games as a rookie in 1969 and would spend eight season in the majors, compiling a 75-104 record (for a .419 winning %) along with a 3.84 ERA. For all the promise that Kirby showed at times, control problems would plague him his entire career. Four times he finished in the top 5 for both wild pitches and base on balls, and he had a career WHIP of 1.384 (which would have been much higher if not for his 1971 season). Kirby is perhaps best known as the pitcher who in 1970 had a no-hitter through eight, but was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the eighth and then saw a possible shared no-hitter lost in the ninth when reliever Jack Baldschun gave up a lead off single to Bud Harrelson.