Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Chops #1 Brandon Beachy

2013 Chops #1 Brandon Beachy

With a 2.00 ERA and a WHIP of 0.963, Brandon Beachy was one of the NL's best pitchers prior to his season-ending injury in mid-June of last year. From all reports, he's due to begin throwing off the mound soon, and was hoping for a return in June- although it may be closer to the All-Star break before he sees action in Atlanta. Upon his return, the Braves will have a nice problem: too many starters. That depends, of course, on whether or not top prospect Julio Teheran can regain his pre-2012 form and become the dominating ace that so many within the organization saw.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

1964 Topps #35 Eddie Mathews

Well, we're less than a week away now from the release of one of my favorite annual sets: Topps Heritage. After last year's declaration that I will no longer be collecting complete sets, I am finding myself fighting the urge to pick up a box or two just for the pure joy of breaking. I suppose I can get my fix by watching you-tube...

Anyway, since we are getting ready for the release of the tribute to the 1964 set, it's time to go back through the 1964 Topps Braves- beginning with Hall of Fame third-baseman Eddie Mathews.

1964 Topps #35 Eddie Mathews

As the 1963 major league season came to a close, it did so with the end of the career of one of the game's greats- Stan Musial, who at the time of his retirement was the active leader for career home runs (475 total). With Musial no longer active, Eddie Mathews, with 422 home runs, began the '64 season as the active leader (Mickey Mantle was close behind at 419).

 Mathews would see career-lows (up until that point) in many offensive categories during the 1964 season: plate appearances, hits, homers, average, and slugging. With only 23 home runs during the season, Mathews saw his place on the active leaders list drop to third by season's end: with Mantle the leader at 454- one more than the Say Hey Kid.

Breaking Down Mathews' 1964 Homers:
9 home runs from 7th inning on
2 tied the score
7 gave Milwaukee the lead

His only career home run out of the lead-off spot came at Chicago on August 1, 1964 against Larry Jackson of the Cubs. Mathews led off the game with what is his fourteenth jack of the season.

Did You Know?
On the final day of the 1964 regular season, Braves manager Bobby Bragan assigned Mathews as the team's manager, while he (Bragan) watched the games from the stands. Despite pitcher Bob Sadowski throwing a shutout through eight innings, Mathews replaced the starter with aging vet Warren Spahn. The forty-three year old lefty gave up one-hit, while striking out two Pirates to earn the save in his final appearance in a Braves uniform.

Other Mathews collectibles from 1964 Topps:

Topps Stand-Up

1964 Topps Photo Tattoo

1964 Topps Coin #33 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gimme Your Glove!

Custom 2005 UD Sweet Spots Classic Art Johnson
In William J. Craig's A History of the Boston Braves, the author recounts meeting with former Braves pitcher Art Johnson after a reunion put on by the Boston Braves Historical Association. Johnson, who pitched for Boston from 1940-1942, recalled his first game with the team. "In my first game as a Brave, Casey [Stengel] sent me out to the bullpen. About the fourth inning a line drive hits Lefty Joe Sullivan- I thought it hit him on the knee. So he calls a time out, and Casey runs out to the mound. They were holding a conference on the mound, and all of a sudden, Casey starts waving to the bullpen. I came running out to the mound, and I'm thinking 'Wow, my first Major League game.' So I say, 'Mr. Stengel, I'll do my best to get you out of this inning.' Casey then says, 'Hell, kid, I don't want you to pitch. Lefty Joe Sullivan broke the web in his glove with that line drive, and he wants to use your glove.'"

Friday, February 22, 2013

Food-Issue Friday: 1993 Yoo-Hoo Willie Stargell

"One time I was in the office [of Yoo-Hoo] and the phone rang when no one else was around. I always answer a ringing phone, so I did. The woman who was calling asked if Yoo-Hoo was hyphenated. I said, 'No ma'am, it's not even carbonated.'"~ from Yogi Berra's 1989 autobiography.

Read more about Yogi and Yoo-Hoo here.

1993 Yoo-Hoo Baseball Legends Willie Stargell
Braves Alumni Notes:

    First base coach, hitting coach for Braves 1986-1988 (majors), and later served in multiple other roles: as a minor league roving instructor, special assistant to player personnel director Chuck LaMar 1989-1996.

    Career vs. the Braves .292/.373/.590, 55 HR, 164 RBI

    I typically don't mind logo and team names being airbrushed over on non-licensed cards. A solid-color, or plain white, uni doesn't look that bad in such cases. One with pinstripes, however, looks completely ridiculous. Today's featured card would have been much better had they used one of Pittsburgh's other uniforms.

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    2013 Chops Series 1 Checklist

    I'm no golfer. In fact, I could probably count the number of times I've golfed using my hands and feet. Scratch that- hands.

    And while I'm not a fan of the game, I will- for this time only- borrow a term from the game: mulligan.

    As in do-over.

    Or, second-chance.

    A few months ago I began working on the design for the 2013 Chops Braves base team set, and even made the first few cards of the series. However, I soon grew discontent. My creation was beginning to look like something Pro Set would have made, had they made baseball cards 'back in the day.' I decided that would not do, so I went back to the drawing board.

    I'm much happier with the finished product. The most difficult choice to make with this was simply which color to use as a border. After trying an assortment of colors, I settled on this one which matches (I believe) the 2001 Topps set. That set contained the Ichiro and Pujols rookies- and it's one which I think years from now we will look back on and use the 'I' word (iconic). The borders help to set it apart from anything else they've done, and that was the intent on my original.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    One Score and Zero Years Ago: The 1993 Donruss 1 Braves

    1993 Donruss Series 1
     The Good: Large photos on both front and back, making them the focal point. Clean design. Good player selection. Decent insert sets.

    The Bad: Overproduction (duh!); too much gloss.

    The Ugly: Many photos seem to be not as sharp as one would like; too much red tint.

    Braves in Series I:
    #2 Kent Merker, 26 Steve Avery, 52 Mark Davis, 78 Damon Berryhill, 102 Vinny Castilla, 130 John Smoltz, 134 Jeff Blauser, 158 Deion Sanders, 184 Francisco Cabrera, 210 Ron Gant, 234 Terry Pendleton, 254 Checklist (Berryhill), 262 Otis Nixon, 266 Pat Gomez, 290 Brian Hunter, 316 Mark Lemke, 320 Melvin Nieves (Rated Rookie)

    My Collectin' Vinny:
    I don't have an exact time frame for the release of Donruss I, but it did include shortstop Vinny Castilla as a Brave. Castilla had been taken by the Rockies with the 39th overall pick in the 1992 Expansion Draft, held November 17th in New York City. This leads me to believe that it was released not too long after (or even before?) the draft. Either that, or it was just an oversight on Donruss' part. Vinny did have a card in Series 2 which reflected his new team.

    ...20 Years Later
    Chops Custom Tim Hudson

    The 'Must Add to Collection' Card:
    1993 Donruss Previews #1... sans the slab, of course.

    Long Ball Leaders
    #5 David Justice

    Team MVPs (Series 1 & 2 Jumbos)
    #7 Terry Pendleton

    Spirit of the Game (Series 1 & 2 Foil and Jumbos)
    #2 Play at the Plate- David Justice

    Elite Dominator (#/5000; Created to move leftover boxes on a home shopping network)
    #2 Fred McGriff, 3 Greg Maddux, 4 Ron Gant, 5 David Justice, 14 Tom Glavine

    Masters of the Game (Walmart foil packs only; 3.5" x 5")
    #12 David Justice, 16 Deion Sanders

    Sunday, February 17, 2013

    Player's Ink: Dan Uggla

    2012 Topps Five Star auto Dan Uggla

    Signature At-Bat: See the ball, hit the ball- and swing hard, in case you hit it. Toe-tapper with a bat wiggle; quick through the zone, with top-half finish.

    While I don't keep close tabs on which players sign copiously and those who don't, I've never noticed a lot of Dan Uggla signatures on the secondary market. A perusal of eBay a few minutes ago revealed 132 autographed Uggla items; certainly not rare, but neither is it found in abundance like so many of today's players.

    I recently picked this beauty up on eBay for $16 delivered. Many collectors might think it's a waste of money, given Uggla's struggles during his first two season in Atlanta. However, I believe that the second baseman is going to turn it around this season. At least he will have plenty of protection in the line-up; unless, of course, he hits eighth.

    Friday, February 15, 2013

    Food-Issue Friday: 1993 Hostess Brett Butler

    "In my eight seasons as a professional ballplayer, I’ve had several coaches teach me the art of bunting. None of them mentioned anyone other than Brett Butler. They’ve told me when he stepped into the batter’s box, the whole stadium knew he was bunting (including the other team’s corner infielders) and he still would lay one down safely. I mean, half of his baseball cards are of him bunting!”~ Sam Fuld, Tampa Bay Ray outfielder

    1993 Hostess #29 Brett Butler
    Braves Alumni Notes:
      MLB Record holder for bunt hits in career- 226
      MLB Record holder for bunt hits in season- 42 (1992)
      Nearly 25% of his hits in 1992 were via the bunt.

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    The 2013 Topps 1 Braves: The '72 Minis

    #TM-7 Craig Kimbrel, #TM-8 Dan Uggla

    I can't decide if Topps deliberately chose two of the shorter Braves to represent the team in this miniature set, or if it's just some kind of coincidence. If Series II contains Kris Medlen and Jose Constanza, then we will know something's up.

    The real question, however, is whether or not the company should have produced a set of minis styled after the '72 set. From what I've been able to discern from the collecting community is a resounding NO!

    I personally don't have a strong opinion one way or another. I've never been real fond of the '72 set; I guess I was born about four or five years too late. And regarding 'minis'-  the ones I collect are the kind found in Allen and Ginter (I'll refrain from calling them the true minis- oops, did I just say that?).

    Truth be told: I guess I'd rather see this than another exclusive, online-only miniature set for the 2013 set like Topps produced last year.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Braves 2013 Topps I The Greats

    I'll preface my thoughts on The Greats by saying:

    I really don't want to be one of those guys.You know the type: they only complain and criticize, never complimenting a product for that which is praiseworthy. They're the ones blessed with unparalleled ingenuity, while those who actually work for the card companies would be better off taking their talents to McDonalds.
    Despite the fact that this insert set looks like one of Topps' higher-end products, I really do like it.

    When my order arrived I was shocked at how thick the cards actually were. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise, given the thicker card stock used for the manu-patches. Had this set been on a normal card stock, I don't think it would have had the 'wow' factor. I may have just been another insert on cheap, flimsy material.

    As far as the design, yes, it does like like some hybrid Tier-One/5-Star/Museum higher end product. Regardless, this is still uniquely different, and I particularly like how Topps has incorporated the stadium columns, ribbons, and pennants on top. Definitely a classic look, and it gives the budget-minded collector a chance to pick up some beautiful cards of their favorite player and/or team for relatively cheap. And that's a good thing for this collector!

       Great: eminent; distinguished; illustrious; superior
    As far as the Braves checklist, when you're talking about a set called "The Greats", you can't expect it to contain Bob Horner, Jason Heyward, or David Justice. Good players, but not great. And so, of course, we have Hank Aaron and John Smoltz- two former Brave greats who have become a staple in the Topps library. I guess that means now that Chipper is retired, he, too will become tired. Or shall I say, his card. It is nice to see Glavine added to the mix. I wonder if Series 2 will have Maddux? Would you be willing to bet that Spahn, yet another overused Brave, will be included? And why all of a sudden no more Eddie Mathews?

     That the manufacturer can produce a flagship brand that appeals to collectors on every spectrum of the hobby only reinforces the importance of this product within the collecting community.

    Monday, February 11, 2013

    2013 Chops Spring Training Custom

    "The beginning of spring training each year has always been a moment of hope, a reassurance that the landscape of snow and gray skies and barren trees will soon pass, and the world will again be green."~ Charles Fountain, from his book "Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training"

    I'm sure for most of you, today (or whatever day your team's pitchers and catchers report) couldn't have come soon enough. And while I'm always anxious for the beginning of the baseball season, this year is one I've been longing for more so than usual, or so it seems. For the better part of the first three+ weeks of the new year, the highest temperature we had was something like 24 degrees- but it was mostly in the low-to-mid teens. For southwest Idaho, that's below normal. Considering what's taking place in the northeast, I guess I really shouldn't complain.

    It's that longing for the baseball season and the desire to escape the doldrums of winter which has caused me to resolve to make a trip to Florida one day and enjoy some Grapefruit League action. Heck, I'd even settle for the Cactus League-it's certainly closer to home. However, it wouldn't allow the joys of watching my team.

    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    2013 Topps I Braves: Chasing History Inserts

    Chipper Jones #CH-26
    July 20, 2012- Breaks George Brett's record for most career RBI by a third baseman.

    1st Career RBI: April 26, 1995 vs. San Francisco (2 RBI) Jones singled in his first at-bat of the first game of the '95 season.

    Final Career RBI: September 25, 2012 vs. Miami. With one on and one out in the bottom of the sixth, Jones  sacrifice fly to deep right field scores Jason Heyward from third- giving the Braves a 2-1 lead.

    Years with 100+ RBI: 9 (8 were consecutive)

    Most RBI in a season during his career: 111 (twice: 1997, 2000)

    Chipper also collected 47 RBI in 93 postseason games during his career.

    Hank Aaron #CH-35
    April 8, 1974- The Hammer breaks Babe Ruth's career record for home runs.

    First Career Home Run: April 23, 1954 vs. St. Louis In only his seventh career game, Hank deposits a Vic Raschi pitch into the bleachers for the first of 755 home runs.

    Final Home Run for Braves: October 2, 1974 vs. Cincinnati
    Aaron homers off of the Reds' Rawly Eastwick in the bottom of the  seventh for the final home run of his Braves career. It is his final at-bat in a Braves uniform.

    Final Career Home Run: July 20, 1976 vs. California's Dick Drago. Hank's final home run comes exactly thirty-six years to the date before Chipper Jones breaks George Brett's career RBI record for third baseman.

    Hank added six post-season homers to his resume, as well as thirty-one while in the minors for two seasons.

    Warren Spahn #CH-31
    September 29, 1962- In his final start of the season, Spahn beats the Pirates for his 18th win of the season, breaking Eddie Plank's career record of 326 wins by a lefty.

    First Career Win: July 14, 1946 vs. Pittsburgh. It's amazing to consider that Spahn didn't even pick up his first victory until after his twenty-fifth birthday.

    Final Win in Braves Uniform: July 9, 1964  Warren pitched five innings and gave up six earned runs, but still collects a 'W' against the Pirates for his final win as a Brave.

    Final Career Win: September 12, 1965. After beginning the '65 season with the Mets (for whom he collected 4 wins), Spahn was released on July 17 and signed by the Giants two days later. Pitching the second game of a September 12th doubleheader, Warren pitched a complete game to defeat the Cubs for his final career win (#363).

    Warren pitched in a total of eight World Series games (six of which were starts)- and collected four wins (1 in '48, 1 in '57, and 2 in '58)

    I'm pretty sure this record for career wins by a lefty will never be topped. With the five-man rotations today, pitchers just do not get the number of starts to accumulate this many victories. There's also more relief pitchers today, increasing the chances of a blown lead/save. 

    Other Braves players who are chasing history:
    Dan Uggla: Most Career Homers, Second Baseman- 351, Jeff Kent (377 career total). Uggla, who enters the 2013 season with 209 career home runs, will turn 33 in March- so the likelihood of him catching Kent is not very good.

    Craig Kimbrel: Most Career Saves- 608, Mariano Rivera. With only 89 career saves thus far, the odds of KKKimbrel catching Rivera seem unlikely. However, considering that Rivera didn't have any saves until after his twenty-sixth birthday, there's still a slim chance that Kimbrel could one day surpass the Yankee legend. He won't turn 25 until May 28th this year, so time is on his side.

    Saturday, February 9, 2013

    The Only 2013 Topps I Base Cards That Matter

    Base Cards:
    An interesting note about the Braves cards in Series One: seven of the eight base cards picture the player wearing the cream-colored alternative uniforms they wore for Saturday and Sunday home games last year. During those home games, Atlanta  had a record of 13-11
    One of the things I love about collecting cards is the historical setting it provides the fan/collector. The two cards above are a great example. Both the McCann and the Heyward cards were taken from the April 14th, 2012 game against the Brewers. To verify that, I found the McCann photo from the ESPN Boxscore/Photos for that game. The original photo, however, shows a Brewer in the background, face-planted into the turf. I don't know why Topps would have photoshopped him out of the picture. I also think that these two photos were taken from the same at bat- here's the story line (from

    McCann led off the bottom of the second with a walk- the only time he would reach base that evening. After Dan Uggla flied out to center, Jason Heyward then singled- which brought McCann sliding into third. McCann advanced and scored on a throwing error, while Heyward took third on the play- which I believe is what we're seeing in his card above. It's a safe assumption, as it was also the only time Heyward reached base that game. 

    It's a little tougher trying to place a date on the Mike Minor card. Mike pitched on a number of Saturday or Sunday home games, including the April 14th Brewers game, and there's nothing else that really gives it away. Could it be safe to assume that this is from the same game?

    Huddy possible game photos: May 25th vs. Nats; August 3rd vs. Astros; September 28th vs. Mets (the game where the team honored Chipper- although it's unlikely this is the game photo, as it would have been a little darker that night by first pitch)

    I wonder if they (whoever 'they' might be) have a stat for fielding percentage, or batting average, while wearing sunglasses. Probably- but I'm not about to look that one up.
    After being 'Everyday Jonny' during the 2011 season, Venters saw his workload cut by 29 and 1/3 innings (19 fewer appearances) last year. Good thing, too, or he'd be 'Jonny Burn-Out'.
    The website Fangraphs shows that stat guru Bill James projects Venters to have a 2013 season very similar to last years. Hopefully he's wrong; if not, it's a good thing Atlanta picked up Jordan Walden from the Angels.
    Coming off of a career-low 19 home runs, Dan Uggla needs to step it up this year. While the offense will be much more explosive this season, the Braves aren't paying Uggs all that money to walk (or strikeout). While he has not lived up to expectations thus far, there's no denying he gives 100% out on the field. In games that he did homer last year, the Braves had a record of 14-4. Of the fourteen victories, closer Craig Kimbrel recorded a save in eight of them. With the offense being more explosive this season, there may be fewer opportunites for Kimbrel to record a save. Bill James projects his save total to drop from 42 to 39 this season. As long as the Braves win and Kimbrel is effective while in, it doesn't really matter.

    Friday, February 8, 2013

    Faux Food-Issue Friday: 1974 Kelloggs Ivan Murrell

    Custom 1974 Kelloggs Ivan Murrell

    I can only imagine the disappointment a kid would have felt in 1974 had he sat down at the table with his favorite box of cereal, hoping to pull a Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, or Ron Santo- only to pull a...Ivan Murrell. It would have been the equivalent of getting a lump of coal in your stocking.

     And while Murrell's major league career, which came to an end after the 1974 season, didn't match those of the aforementioned superstars,  he did-after all- make it to the Show for 10 years.

    The Atlanta Years:
    Picked up off waivers by the Braves on April 1, 1974. It would be Murrell's final major league season. Ivan appeared in 73 games that season, splitting time between all three outfield positions and first base. He hit .248 that year, with 2 home runs and 12 RBI.

    Murrell Facts:

    • Member of two major league expansion teams: the Houston Colt .45s (1963) and San Diego Padres (1969)
    • Was one of two players to be hit by pitches during Doc Ellis' LSD-induced No-Hitter
    • Played another 10 years in the Mexican League after MLB career was over
    • Played in the short-lived Senior League
    • Was an amateur middle-weight boxer who had offers to turn pro
    • Was selected to play on Panama's soccer team in the 1963 Pan-American Games
    • Popular member of the communities he lived in; coaching high school and college players; involved in numerous charities
    • Scouted for Oakland A's
    • Died October 8, 2006

    Thursday, February 7, 2013

    Custom Cards: George Estock 2007 SP Legendary Cuts

    Custom 2007 SP Legendary Cuts: George Estock

    Signed by the Scranton Red Sox in 1943, George Estock's time with the team was short. Very short. In what would be his only game with the team, Estock picked up a win, despite giving up 8 hits and 6 walks in 6 innings. He was released shortly thereafter, and returned to playing semi-pro ball.
    Philadelphia signed the pitcher the following season and assigned him to the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Interstate League. His two seasons in Delaware were a success, as he finished with a combined record of 32-15. Nevertheless, George found himself moving on to the Pirates organization in 1946 before spending the next three seasons with the Austin Pioneers, an unaffiliated team in the Big State League. 

     Estock was eventually sold to the Boston Braves and sent to their AAA affiliate in Milwaukee, where he attracted the attention of the Braves front office after a successful 1950 minor league campaign. The Braves would purchase his contract and George would go on to spend the 1951 season in Boston, pitching in 36 games out of the bullpen.  His one and only major league start came on May 6th in the second game of a double header against the Pirates. While he pitched admirably that day, his opponent, Cliff Chambers, would pitch even better- tossing not only a 3-0 shutout, but a no-hitter.

    George's sole season in the majors saw him go 0-1 with 3 saves and a 4.33 ERA. Boston would return Estock back to Milwaukee for the 1952 season, where again he would spend most of his time in the 'pen. After the franchise relocated to Milwaukee in '53, the team moved its AA team to Toledo- where George would spend the 1953 season. His final season in the Braves organization, 1954, would prove to be a busy one: nine games in Jacksonville in the Sally league, twelve games in Atlanta of the Southern League, and five more games back at AAA Toledo. 

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013

    2013 Chops #11 Gerald Laird

    Laird's only National League season came in 2011 as a member of the St Louis Cardinals, when he went 4-22 with 1 double and 2 RBI against the Braves NL East division opponents. In two games at Turner Field, the catcher went 1-5 with an RBI triple.
    • Like his predecessor, David Ross, Gerald has been successful with pulling off the surprise bunt: he's 41-74 during his career (Ross is 21-37). 
    • Laird will be wearing #11 this year, the eighth different uniform number he has worn during his eleven years in the Bigs. Last year, Reed Johnson wore the number for Atlanta.

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Chops Legacy: Hank Aaron 79th Birthday/ HR #79

    Happy Birthday wishes go out to Henry Aaron, who turns 79 years old today.

    Hank's 79th career home run came off of the Giants' Stu Miller on June 4, 1957. With the Braves trialing 2-1 in the top of the third, and with rookie Bobby Malkmus on first base, Hank homered to deep left field off of Miller- giving the Braves a 3-2 lead. 

    Hank's homers off of Stu Miller (career): #2, 53, 79, 158

    Saturday, February 2, 2013

    Custom 1961 Topps Red Schoendienst

    Happy 90th Birthday to Cardinals, Giants, and Braves great Red Schoendienst.

    "When we traded for Red, that solidified our infield. He knew talent and would position different fielders accordingly. He was like a manager on the field."~ Andy Pafko

    "Leadership is hard to define. Without him [Schoendienst] we had a real deficiency at second base. If Red had stayed healthy, I really believe we would have run away from the pack in 1959. He made that much of a difference."~ Eddie Mathews, speaking about Red after the future Hall of Famer missed all but five games in 1959 due to tuberculosis. 

    2013 Chops Martin Prado

    Congratulations to Martin Prado, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension with Arizona on Thursday. I really hope that he does well for Arizona and can be the player for them that he was in Atlanta.

    I'm a little late to the game, but I'll share my views on the deal that sent Prado to the desert. As much as I love Martin's gritty determination, his leadership, and his ability to play multiple positions, I thought it was a deal that had to be done. After talks with his agent went nowhere, the Braves could see that they weren't going to be able to resign him for what they felt was a reasonable offer. And rather risk losing him to free-agency, the organization pulled off what I believe to be a coup. Three years of a player who hasn't even hit his prime is one thing, but one that player happens to be an impact-type of guy, it's really a no-brainer.

    People can say what they want about Justin Upton, but this is a guy who I don't believe would ever be able to please manager Kirk Gibson or GM Kevin Towers. He's just not their type of player. You know- a gritty player who displays an outward intensity. A grinder, some might call them. And Martin Prado is one of those guys.

    I haven't watched either Upton much. But what I have seen, they remind me of another player who used to patrol the outfield for the Braves: Andruw Jones. Like Jones, the Upton brothers are so naturally gifted that they often do things so easily that it looks like they're not putting forth any kind of effort.