Decidedly non-SABRmetric MLB Observations

The 90-game mark is usually where I feel contented enough to start making assessments of the MLB season. The true halfway point (81 games) is a tad bit premature (and it’s pre-All Star Game, symbolically), so I tack on another week and assess. Without further adieu, here’s a relative stream-of-consciousness view at the non-SABR leaderboard (thank you, MLB.com).
Offense
National League
Top half of batting average leaders look normal, then
Yunel Escobar .337?!??
Nori Aoki
Joe Panik
DJ LeMahieu
Gerardo Parra
Matt Duffy (!!!)
Jhonny Peralta (!!!!!!!!)
AJ Pollock
also: only 12 guys over .300. That’s nuts.
Interesting to note the BOTTOM six hitters in the league, in reverse order (qualifiers):
Ian Desmond
Jimmy Rollins
Billy Hamilton
Ryan Howard
Joc Pedersen
Pedro Alvarez
This group would form a good fantasy team core pre-season.
I mean, I should have admitted this previously but I guess Todd Frazier’s power is legit? Has 26 doubles to go with those 25 bombs.
Nolan Arenado is a literal superstar in the making, if he’s not already.
Said it before will say it again – Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in the game. We know about the Triple Crown chase but 16 steals. . .wow!
Anthony Rizzo just chugging along again, while still really good ballplayer at only 25 and the veteran of that squad – .294 with 16 bombs.
Glad to see Ryan Braun’s power is still somewhat real – 16 dingers.
Has to be said: Bryce Harper is putting up a really nice year. Realllly nice.
Joey Votto ‘quietly’ putting up a votto year .289 16 dingers
Andrew Mccutchen is going to end up with Mccutchen numbers despite his ‘slow’ start.
Ready for a shock? 6/7/8 in OBP (and also in your batting order jk): Posey Aoko Panik.
Kris Bryant, good work kid.
Oh, I guess the Stanton beaning didn’t affect him much.
Freddie Freeman’s numbers may be ‘off’ by his standards, but 10th in the league in OPS in that lineup is a testament to his hitting ability.
Also gotta love posey 31 k’s only! 311 abs, 85 games. Again, Aoki and Panik clocking in top 5 in ‘least k’s’ of all qualified players.
 Nick Markakis .289 avg, .726 ops. not bad. ZERO dingers. z-e-r-o. wow
Billy Hamilton 45 steals is one thing – 6 CS is very impressive. By comparison – noted thief Dee Gordon has 33 swipes and 12 cs.
Charlie Blackmon is third – 24 bags!!!
Even with the swirling trade talk, Justin Upton might drop a 30-30 on you this year – 15/17 right now
American League
JD Martinez – man that guy is just donging his way through baseball now =,
Oldies Albert Pujols & Mark Teixeira 26 and 23 wow.
Legit boppers over in this league, though:
Mike Trout
Josh Donaldson
Nelson Cruz
My man Brian Dozier just going all Jeff Kent on people
Manny Machado
Jose Bautista
Chris Davis
Hanley Ramirez
A-Rod
Edwin Encarnacion
and of course Luis Valbuena, funny guy, mocking the non-SABR people (sure he’s only hitting .207 but look at his OPS!)
Is Miguel Cabrera a nut or what, .350 again you kidding me? in this era?
Jason Kipnis man that guy is legitimately good I guess?
I did NOT think Lorenzo Cain could match last year but he’s surpassed it .321 18 steals 3 cs
I kept hearing Julio Iglesias Iglesias Iglesias, mostly because Jim Bowden LOVES him but kid is solid – .321 , huh?
Billy Burns always shocks me, mostly because his game and name sound black but he’s white – but I guess he’s good too, huh? .304 and a handful of walk-offs (incidentally, did you know Dennis Eckersley coined the phrase, walk-off?)
Xander Bogaerts finally matching expectations with .309 and 44 RBI.
Brett Gardner surprising non-yankee fans everywhere – in my mind is a super dark dark dark horse for mvp.
AL only 11 batters over .300!
Mr. Dustin Pedroia again just playing baseball and being solid.
Mike Moustakas at .301!!! For sure ‘most improved’ which of course baseball doesn’t have.
Alcides Escobar at .296, which makes this escobar season with all the escobar success stories
Jose Altuve has 26 bags – but no triples.
And speaking of triples, Kevin Kiermaier has 9, which proves my theory that triples, you need some speed but more heart & hustle.
Chris Carter with a paltry 115 k’s, joining a list of FIVE hitters over 100 through 90 games in the AL only. (I neglected to mention the NL ‘only’ has three – led by Joc Pedersen’s gleaming 112.)
A-rod 9th in ops, that’s awesome
Pujols 38 k’s in 332 abs that’s pretty nice – whats crazy is only 29 bases on balls.
Ian Desmond, specifically, has a .248 obp. Just worsting Rollins .262
Mike Zunino, however, has them both “beat” with a .219. In 260 ABs he sports a .158 batting average. & 104 k’s. How are you still in the bigs, kid?
Pitching
National League
Gerrit Cole is having just an outstanding season, wow. 13 wins 2.30 ERA.
SEVEN pitchers have a sub-1.00 whip: Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Jacob DeGrom, Jason Hammel, Johny Cueto, Mr. Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta
I mean, Greinke’s numbers aren’t even real, right? 1.30 era? Max Scherzer’s whip is lower, but along with a certain ‘other’ Dodger, this may be reminiscent of the Maddux/Pedro/Randy era? Maybe?
I’d like to point out the other Dodger,  Clayton Kershaw, has 174 k’s. In 131 innings.
Fransisco Liriano is flying under the radar with his 1.03 whip and .192 batting average against.
Padres pitching is deceptively woeful: Ian Kennedy and James sShields have given up the 4th and 5th highest amount of bombs in the league, and Andrew Cashner has a 4.10 era. Meanwhile, “Iron Mike” Tyson Ross is ‘leading the league’ with 57 bases on balls in 117 innings. here’s that entire season that greg maddux walked 20.
Matt Garza’s done, right? 1.55 whip, 5.55 era?
The Cardinals are wowing everybody with their record, but are they doing it at the expense of their bullpen? three of the top four in appearances are cardinals, and rosenthal has already appeared in 42 as well.
American League
I still can’t believe Dallas Keuchel. He doesnt seem special to me, but his numbers say otherwise.
Sonny Gray – Ace.
Chris Sale – Ace. How does anybody hit this guy?
Chris Archer – very close, but not quite.
King Felix – of course.
Wei-Yin Chen is EIGHTH in the league in whip (1.09), directly ahead of Corey Kluber and David Price.
Sale, incidentally – 163 k’s in 125 innings
Archer 153 in 128. Maybe that ‘not quite’ should be amended?
Nate Eovaldi? probably not in this conversation. The league is hitting .308 (!!!) against him; that’s Mike Piazza’s career batting average.
I mean I guess I must mention Chris Young, .202 baa and 1.04 whip.
Phil Hughes is back. yeah that one. 23 dingers allowed in 19 starts.
Also, there’s one ‘perfect’ closer this year (minimum 20 opps). Can you guess who? Yep, K-Rod. 21 of 21.

2015 MLB Predictions

Let me start by saying I don’t think any team wins 95 games in all of MLB. Very competitive and not so much parity as a lack of dominance. The game doesn’t lend itself to one team – or a handful of teams – asserting themselves, so you’re going to have the upper tier, and everybody else is going to battle. A good brand of baseball, if you will.

AL East – good or bad, and this year trends more to the latter, this is a fun/competitive division. I am loathe to pick the Orioles because, cmon, but they might STILL be the best team here despite losing Markakis and Cruz. Sheesh. I love the Yankees but there are sooooooo many question marks. The Red Sox pitching is underwhelming though their offense is thunderous. The Blue Jays probably have the best team, the loss of Stroman hurts, but they’re incapable of playing any extended periods of good ball under Anthopolous (sp). 87 winsOrioles (uuggghh).
 
AL Central – Tigers are the easy pick, but probably wrong with both Sanchez and Verlander iffy. Also later Max. The Indians are all chic and fun and honestly a good team and I like Francona a ton, but no. The Twins are going to be the team next year, but not yet. The Royals, maligned as they are, are my pick – and I think they win it going away. 91 wins. I think that top to bottom, it’s a team. Kind of reminds me of the 80’s Dodgers. People thought Lasorda was a dunski but a helluva players’ manager and ended up being HoF. That’s Yost?
AL West – going to be some fun baseball played in this time zone, so post-Felix bedtime I may have to binge. The Astros and Rangers are out of the conversation, the A’s should be but they’re still the A’s so I’ll give them a soft letdown by saying ‘not this time,’ thus leaving the Angels (sigh) and the Mariners (yay but no). I love the M’s, they just feel too bandwagoned too soon. I’d be happy to be wrong on that one, but for now Angels win the division with an AL best 94 wins.
WC – Indians, Mariners. I don’t love the White Sox. I love Sale, Quintana is a creep that can roll, and Abreu is the real deal. They’ll be in the mix, but fall just short.
NL East – It’s so hard to not pick the Nationals here. So I won’t. They will win this division with an MLB-leading 95 wins, and somehow feel like a slight disappointment despite Bryce Harper’s 37 homeruns. The Mets would be a fun pick, the Marlins will be competitive, but the Braves and Phillies are the worst two teams in baseball.
NL Central – I’ve always hated the style of baseball that comes out of this division, and that means especially the Cardinals. And the Reds. And the Pirates. But seriously, emphatically, the Cardinals. And those jerks are going to win the division again with a tooth-and-nail 89 wins, as the Pirates and upstart Brewers combine to form a .500 ball trio in games played against each other. Some would say it’s a intra-division bloodbath, but most of those people won’t live in Chicago because the improved Cubs will win 81 games, but never really be a serious division contender.
NL West – Does this Kimbrel trade put the Padres over the top? I’m not as high on the Dodgers as I ‘should’ be, but that lineup is stout. We know the Dbacks and Rockies are out of it, but 1-8, the Dodgers have the best bats in the West. But what about the Padres pitching? Ross, Cashner, Kennedy, Shields, Despaigne, wowzers. Good stuff. But still, the Dodgers win it with a robust92 win season. Also, the Giants have a nice staff, will make an annoying run, will win 88 games, and steal the last WC slot.
WC – PadresGiants. I just don’t like the Pirates rotation, I don’t think the Brewers have quite enough, and the Marlins are a win and a Jose Fernandez full season away.
Indians win Wild Card, face the Angels.
Angels vs Indians – Angels
Royals vs. Orioles – Royals
Angels over Royals
Giants win the Wild Card, face the Nats.
Nats vs. Giants – Nationals
Dodgers vs, sigh, Cardinals – Dodgers
Winner of this series likely wins the WS. VERY difficult decision, personally and objectively. Had to sleep on this one. Finally, I was thinking about this during my morning “commute” to Sherman Oaks:. How can you beat the Nationals? Fister is the number four Gonzalez is their number five? My man Bryce who I’ve been hyping shamelessly this entire off-season? I really don’t see how a team beats them, unfortunately. Luckily baseball comes down to magic, mojo, and moments of greatness. You can’t rely on these things, but they occur. Keeping in mind I do not love this Dodgers team – I think this is more a reflection of the league itself, not in subpar fashion but the lack of a dominant team. The Rizzo Curse is real, and as much as I don’t want to be a Homer, Simpson, I have to pick the Dodgers.

Dodgers Winter Meetings 2014: This Is What I Think

I have no isolated insight, no secret sources, no magic metrics on the Dodgers flurry of activity under the Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi/Josh Byrnes regime. What I do have is an objective fan’s outlook about both the Chavez Ravine management team and the club that will perform there this coming summer (and autumn).

I first want to address Matt Kemp, as he is the largest name involved in these transactions. For me, I’ve enjoyed his talent but have not consistently praised him as some (many) have. With effortless speed & power, we saw what Kemp could do – nearly a 40/40 season in ’11 when he finished second in MVP to Ryan Braun (Granada Hills HS). We saw the precociousness after the ferociousness, literally moping upon his move to left field. He was disinterested at times, downtrodden at others, and along with Andre Ethier, formed a really needy core.

Especially for really good players. Both of these guys needed to play, but they also needed to be loved. Ethier was nearly despised by some fans, though that chapter will be closed come January or February, when Friedman engineers that deal. In fact, I think both Ethier and Crawford are going to be moved prior to the first pitch of 2015, with management taking a wrecking ball to The Team That Ned Built. But I digress. . .We know Kemp is an undeniable talent, and in fact – I think he will play well in San Diego. The relaxed environ, the spacious field for him to gallop in Center and Right, the Man status; this will all play well to his soul, and he’ll perform. Plus, .280/25/90 on the Padres is performing, so good for him.

And good for the Dodgers. I don’t think the overhaul is so much due to lack of capable ballplayers on Colletti’s roster; I think the entire club ethos needed to change.

Letting Hanley walk, and I LOVED Hanley, was a must. He was the most exciting hitter I’d seen at Dodger Stadium since another Ramirez (99 on his jersey), and has a laserbeam line drive ability (I’m talking absolute screamers, check out his 2013 homer in San Diego, coincidentally) that I’d only seen previously with Gary Sheffield. But he had to go. He needs to have the option to DH, and the Dodgers needed to look for a real shortstop. That bat is irreplaceable, but he commanded too many years; 120 games played would soon be his highwater mark, and the Dodgers don’t need that albatross.

One deal that went nearly unnoticed is the acquisition of Joel Peralta. A professional; unspectacular and easily overlooked, Peralta is more a signal than anything – the bullpen is not a place to invest outside the organization. You can make prudent acquisitions, guys that will calm the ship, eat innings & understand their roles, but as evidenced by the Royals, Giants and Cardinals, you need to build your bullpen from within. Develop guys as starters in the minor leagues and let them hit their preordained innings mark through a variety of roles. But honing in on the pen – especially during formative years – is the most productive way to build pitchers and a safety net.

The Cardinals, in my mind, pioneered this with Adam Wainwright (he was their closer during the ’06 pennant run), converted Rosenthal to perma-pen status, but have brought up the youngsters this way. It’s smart, and it needs to be stated – the bullpen is for guys that aren’t good enough to be starters; they are inherently worse than the guy they’re replacing. Or at least that’s how it was, and why so many bullpens implode. But if you use it as a platform for your best arms, you’re making the bullpen a strength. It makes a ton of sense, and that, along with LaRussa’s inning specialization, will make the biggest impact on the makeup of ballclubs in the last half century.

In short, the Dodgers simply had too many old, crappy arms on the books (Wilson, League, Perez), which weren’t allowing the maligned Scott Elbert, the injured Chris Withrow, and the overlooked Paco Rodriguez to slide into natural roles that could have enhanced the team. I think that Peralta and Friedman acquisition Juan Nicasio will provide a stopgap for the pen while they’ll look to build in 2016 and beyond from the inside, which was luckily left fruitful by Logan White.

And speaking of stopgaps – Jimmy Rollins. What a dude. At least in the 00’s. He still seems like a good guy, a leader type, but is older than the guy the Dodgers let walk. Now, we’re talking a different iteration of player, as Rollins game is/was predicated on quickness & speed with a burst of pop instead of all brawn with a flash of speed. Rollins has been slightly above average for the past four years, yet is remarkably consistent. In today’s game, you don’t need your shortstop to light up the scoreboard, and Rollins’ .260, 14 hr, 55 RB, 29 steals will suffice until Corey Seager snatches the position.Seager, Julio Urias, Joc Pederson. That’s the future right there and Friedman, et al, understand that. The ability to make so many maneuvers (10 trades in 25 days at one point) and upgrade without dealing the three kids is a major coup for this team. I really think the underlying statement that was made is the following:

we have a huge budget and aren’t afraid to use it, but we realize that the future is built on the backs of SABR-minded individuals that also understand that baseball is, and always will be, based on the eyeball test. 

Which brings me to Dee Gordon. Talk about a likable ballplayer; always smiling, always improving, a genuine good person on and off the field. Dodger fans loved his improvement this year, after teetering on the precipice of being a 4A player. “He was an All-Star,” they’d say. Shoot, I said it too. He was exciting. Sixty four stolen bases this year! But the dude couldn’t hit, and I worry that he’d end up being a .262 guy with no pop, and – well, there’s a reason Pat Listach didn’t have a long career. I wish him well in Miami, but most of all I thank him for turning into Andrew Heaney (who’s going to be damn good, ps, and really made me crack up on Twitter), who was flipped for Howie Kendrick.I’ve always likened Howie Kendrick to Kirby Puckett, my favorite player growing up. Free swinging, joyous dudes that came out of junior colleges to light up the big leagues with their smiles & their sticks. Kendrick, of course, isn’t the hitter Puckett was but he can swing it. Especially for a second baseman – and in my mind, the jump offensively from Gordon to Kendrick offsets the perceived drop from Ramirez to Rollins on the other side of the second base bag. Kendrick has a decent glove, and with only one year left on his contract leaves the Dodgers with options heading into 2016, the first real year of the new regime.

Lastly, the Dodgers aren’t done. I don’t know if that means David Price, Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann, James Shields or all of the above (just kidding, I think?). I do think that Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw are untouchable, and Adrian Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen & AJ Ellis aren’t going anywhere.

Anything else is up for discussion.

andrew-friedman-mlb-los-angeles-dodgers-press-conference-590x900

photo via fansided/lasportshub

Twitter Love

Some people are lukewarm about Twitter (or just plain cold) and others are ambivalent. For me, it’s always been an outstanding resource for information consumption. And I love it. This is how I get the most out of Twitter:

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my profile is now down to 1,300+ sources that I follow.

ideally, the number should be around 1,000.

I follow solely quality sources (who tend to tweet 1 – 5x daily)

3 bad tweets (meal, shoes, politics, tv shows) and you’re unfollowed

a 10-minute investment in Twitter (bathroom, line, in-laws’ house) provides me a good 1-2 hour in “backtweets”

I never feel the need to ‘catch up’ – it’s like radio. what’s on is on

I figured out my personal interests and placed an emphasis on:
  • Sports
  • Local News
  • Food
  • Dodgers
  • Journalism
  • Politics – left and right
  • Los Angeles
  • Food writing
  • Media Analysis
  • Breaking News
  • Spanish language
I follow VERY few celebrities – namely Bo Jackson, Magic Johnson, Brett Hundley, Kobe Bryant; L.A. oriented people that don’t send subpar tweets. Generally it’s a horrible idea to follow celebrities – or friends – because they waste both yours and their time with their tweets. This is the NUMBER ONE REASON WHY PEOPLE LEAVE TWITTER.
You will note redundancy on my timeline. it’s not annoying or discouraging; the nature of the beast is multiple people talking about the same thing.
That said, I’m pretty good at sourcing people that stay within their realm of expertise, which means you won’t see my athletes talking about Obama or my politicians talking about Clayton Kershaw.
Sometimes, though – in cases like the Emmys or the finale of a Netflix serial – everybody chimes in. Those are the days I just stay off Twitter.
 twitter
I’m on Twitter for INFORMATION, hoping to find a trove of legitimate and interesting linkouts or tidbits.
As I develop further interests or seasonality approaches
  • Fatherhood
  • UCLA football
  • Water Conservation

I add a few dozen sources and pare down based on quality.

Again, I’m a big proselytizer for Twitter because I find it the absolute BEST universal source for both quick-hit and long-form linkout news and information. I’m not a consumer of entertainment, but I am definitely a consumer of ongoings, especially when tailored to my personal interest.

 

on the current Dodgers announcing (not scully)

I think that Nomar Garciaparra is  as a first-year Dodgers color man on SportsNet LA. He was tentative and understated early in the season, but is evolving into an important element of the broadcast. Still a distant third in sheer volume of commentary, he takes cues from Charlie Steiner and is a capable banterer during typical on-air discussion. He also lends expertise as a contemporary (as opposed to an Old-Timer) of players, and is conscious of the viewer’s affinity for the Game, thus his ability to explain without condescending. Bravo.

Now about Orel Hershiser. I want to like Hershiser. In fact, I love and will forever cherish what Hershiser brings to my life as a Dodger fan. 1988. The Bulldog.
But listening to him in the analyst role for his team, he’s even more didactic than his days doing Little League World Series and later baseball for ESPN. He’s not only condescending, but he makes it clear that he’s teaching you while you’re just. . .trying. . .to watch the game. Orel is cerebral, this is a fact; he’s not intentionally condescending, which warrants tolerance points; but he’s a strain to listen to for nine innings over three cities when the Dodgers travel East without Vin Scully.
I’m aware of the Steiner debate and not willing to argue that right now; people despise him because he’s a bit loony or, like me, they love him because he’s Uncle Charlie – but he needs ONE additional voice in the both, not both of these former Dodgers. And unfortunately, Orel has to go.
 
Another point on Nomar: he’s the voice of this team and demographically, this city. He’s a local boy (Whittier/St. John Bosco HS) with an indelible franchise moment (game winner in the back-to-back-to-back-to-back game). He hosted Carne Asada Sunday at Dodger Stadium. His articulate, enunciated vernacular represents the stylings of an informed Angeleno. Pay attention while they’re on the road – he’s an unsung gem of broadcasting.
hershisergarciaparra

Ranking the Baseball Card Sets of the 1980’s

Special shout to @nightowlcards (http://nightowlcards.blogspot.com/) for indirectly inspiring this post.

Ranking the Baseball Card Sets of the 1980’s

Based 99% on aesthetics and 1% on arbitrary & subjective judgement, I present my descending order of ‘nicest’ baseball card sets of the 1980’s.

#32 – 1981 Donruss.  an absolute bush league attempt at a baseball card. Everything from the proto-dot matrix font to the generic stock border looks amateur. Extra points for stamping the year on the front of the card; as a kid I didn’t notice that and in retrospect it’s very cool.

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#31 – 1983 Donruss.  aahhh, Donruss. Every time I see this set I think ‘printed at home.’ Again, just a continuation of the ’82s which were a continuation of the ’81s, and here we are. Didn’t really do much, and if the ’84s continued down this path, I’m positive Donruss would not have made it to ’85.
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#30 – 1982 Donruss. Donruss basically created a bolder version of the ’81s. Added a little flair with the bat, and came with some nice fonts. Still overall very generic.
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#29 – 1981 Fleer.  another freshman effort with very little frills. Generic font on the name, position and most appallingly, the team name. Very minimal, perhaps to prevent further embarrassment.
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#28 – 1981 Topps. the cap in the corner really makes the cards look generic, and is essentially the same design as Fleer. The card stock was thicker and the design was a tad bit more assertive but realistically 1981 was the worst overall year for cards, at least aesthetically, in the decade.
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#27 – 1988 Score. this is just hilarious. Score, through no fault of their own, debuted their collection during what was quite possibly the worst single season for rookie cards in modern history. Sure, there’s Glavine, and the Traded set was nice, but the multi-colored card backgrounds were just too bright, too distracting. Combine that with a mediocre run of players, and Score kind of established themselves as a good break when you’re done opening real packs.
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#26 – 1982 Fleer. again, a pretty poor effort from Fleer. They really approached this business ‘no-frills’ and it shows. I remember more than a handful of the cards being blurry.
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#25 – 1988 Donruss. This Jeffries card was the most sought-after common card I can remember. And the set is kind of ugly, to boot. It’s trying to do too much with the random pattern on the border, and the font gets lost in the shuffle, as does the logo (how is that possible). Also, some really lousy Diamond Kings in this issue (take that, Johnny Ray!).
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#24 – 1989 Score. the cards aren’t hideous, but they still feel like second class citizens. Kudos to Score for the unique layout, but it just seems too ‘new-fangled’ for the industry. Harumph.
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#23 – 1989 Donruss. Donruss goes fully off the rails again. I love the color purple, but not on my cards. This was tough to differentiate from the Classic board game sets that came out a few years early, but at least these could legally utilize team logos. Really, just an ‘updated’ version of what they were doing when their cards were generic computer printouts in the early decade.

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#22 – 1986 Donruss. Man, this Canseco card is awesome. Does any card from any era capture a singular persona with one photograph as this Canseco rookie? The design is pretty ‘futuristic’ with the dizzying horizontal lines backdropping a 100% horizontal/diagonal layout. A little trippy, but it was something new. Content of the set aside (this was a powerhouse at the time), it’s a set that did not age well.
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#21 – 1986 Fleer. basically ’85 Fleer but they balanced it out; the bubble is now at the bottom. A bit more optimistic than the ’85 set, but still fairly dour. Fleer’s photographers had either the best access or the best eye, because they captured the most candid of shots of any card company. This set is slightly nicer than average.
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#20 – 1988 Topps. probably the most baseball card-y of all baseball cards. They nailed everything from the moment it came out of the wax pack. Colorful yet unpredictably colored team names; a horizontally diagonal stripe; the strong, thick-lined border; a scripted font for the position. Through all that, managed to set the standard for the Truly Generic. It’s not a bad-looking set, it’s just that it comes off like a Ford – it’ll get you to where you need to go but there’s nothing special about it. At all.

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#19 -1987 Donruss. Donruss returns to Earth with a comic-inspired border that detracts from what would otherwise be a really clean design. Again, clean team logo and sharp use of black, but the player name/color coordination effort is a bit too much, as is the stripe-lined animation.
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#18 – 1985 Topps. The Disneyland of card sets. Happy, colorful, fun, everybody’s having a good time look at us!!! Clean look, and one of the first mass, mass, MASS produced sets that foreshadowed what would be the ultimate downfall of the hobby.
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#17 – 1989 Topps. Topps salvaged generic and gave it a twist. A wavey player name line enforced a script team name, and that’s it – yet somehow the card looks professional. Came out clean and understated and a good way to head into the 90’s.
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#16 – 1983 Topps.  I like this set more than I should, probably because of what it meant – the constant Gwynn & Boggs rookie card debate, as who is really the better hitter.  The inset picture is a really neat feature, but the overall design is a bit too line-y. Good cards, though, and fun to open.
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#15 – 1986 Topps. I had a ton of fun with this set, and opened about a half dozen boxes with my best friend Jared at his Mom’s house after the turn of the New Year. Seemed like a really accessible set with the huge letters on top and the dual border color, but is pretty bland in retrospect. Kudos for some humorous photos, though.
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#14 – 1984 Fleer. Fleer strikes again, yet with a completely different design. Bold stripes line the top and bottom, and the color team logo and sharp pictures ensure a strong set. The fact that their Update edition set the hobby on its ear didn’t hurt. Hall of Famers in a set-only limited print run? Yes, please!
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#13 – 1985 Donruss.  Oh Donruss, don’t hurt ’em! Black borders, so ahead of their time and sooooooo obnoxiously nicked, specked, ticked, and otherwise flawed, permanently putting the kibosh on any chances at keeping your Puckett rookie in PSA10 condition. Bold move with the team logos, but a great layout makes this an upper echelon design – except for the red ‘stairs’ on the border, which take it down to average.
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#12 – 1989 Fleer. again, Fleer takes a chance, this time with pinstripes. On grey, of all colors. But it works, yet again. It helped that there were some notable cards (ahem, Billy), but a well put together set that would rank higher if it had more elite players.
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#11 – 1989 Bowman. Really cheap cardboard. I mean, this set felt like those cereal box cards my dad handed down to me from the early 60’s. I think it was Kellogg’s or Post. Either way, I despised these cards at the time but probably didn’t ‘get’ what they were trying to do. Though the formula changed dramatically, when Bowman took over the 90’s with their elite design (backed by a very limited print run), it was backed by these, which are essentially recreations of the late 40’s and 50’s Bowman shortrun. Very understated, with solely the signature and Bowman logo, and some decent if not predictable photography. Clean, thin red line leads out to the border, inversely representing the baseball field.
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#10 – 1984 Topps. I loved this set more as I was younger, but it’s still a good look. A little dated, but definitely with the ‘retro is cool’ cachet. A strong focus on mustachioed players was a Topps hallmark, and the inset photo made sure to enable a pack run of 8, 9 or even 10 players in a row with ‘staches. Cool stuff, and probably everybody’s first Mattingly rookie.
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#9 – 1987 Topps. this actually is a beautiful set, only I’m desensitized because I’ve seen more 1987 Topps baseball cards than any other card set on the planet. I think I opened a box of ’87 Topps every year from 1986 (Christmas release) through 1999. Then when I ‘got back into’ pack ripping in the 2000s, I bought another five boxes. It’s so nice, just like the wood in your kitchen. And just as played out. But really, it is a good looking card if you take it for face value.
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#8 – 1988 Fleer. The total antithesis of their ’85 issue, as this one screams big happy balloons. It’s the first clean white backdrop we’ve seen in the decade, and the pops of blue and red are not only election/Olympics-friendly, but they add a good touch. Some first-rate photography and collaborative photos (Puckett and Matt Nokes?) make this a pleasant, higher-rated set.
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#7 – 1985 Fleer. Fleer strikes again. For me, this set captured the 1980’s better than any; it was foreboding, and the photos contained a bleakness that spoke volumes about the various controversies in the middle of the decade. The design itself is a bit top-heavy, but the unedited, sweaty pictures that are featured on several cards provided a window into the dark soul of the game.
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#6 – 1982 Topps.  the first really cool set in the 80’s. The cards look modern (for the era), with the Tron-esque track navigating the side and bottom of the card. The fonts are strong, and the added faux-signature was both a callback to classic Topps and always a fan favorite. Again, thick stock and some nice photography.
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#5 – 1987 Fleer. This set shouldn’t work. The blue is obnoxious (hey, at least they run a reverse downward gradient prior to smacking your them with a final horizontal bold streak) and the card is basic. But it’s awesome. I don’t know if this is the set that captured the spirit of the go-go 80’s, or was prescient toward the pastels and bright colors of the early 90’s, but it stands out. And it’s nice. The Bonds rookie is an iconic card and somehow, someway, the blue resonates without being dated.
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#4 – 1980 Topps. Pretty gorgeous, from the ribbon position/team design to the late 70’s cinematic color wash. The pictures were fairly low quality at times, but they did well capturing greatness – and one of the last true awesome rookie cards.

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#3 – 1983 Fleer. I looooooooooove this set. I didn’t at the time, and I even overlooked it during my pack-opening renaissance in the 00’s. Yet within the last half decade, I’ve come to appreciate the first colored border (beige, how striking) of the decade, and a legitimate team logo on the card. Fleer also stepped up their photography with some higher-quality portraits, and the colorwash they utilized makes the cards timeless. Very underrated set and one of my favorites.
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#2 – 1984 Donruss.  Saved the company, revolutionized the hobby. Was it the quadruple wave on the front? Was it the borderless photos? Was it the barrage of close-up portraits? Or was it simply Donnie Baseball, the right man at the right time in the right place for this card company to capitalize on being the first limited-print (due to perceived financial constraints) run in modern collecting history? All of the above, probably. Great set, great aesthetics and opening a pack today still gives me chills.
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#1 – 1989 Upper Deck. You knew it was coming. So did I. The Griffey rookie took the baton from Donnie Donruss and armed with outstanding photography (Walter Iooss), post-modernism (Gary Pettis), a legendary error card (Dale Murphy RevNeg) and a sweet crop of players, this set blew everybody out of the water. And foil wrappers. And a baseline running down the side of the card. And $1/pack charge. These were the first cards that made the hobby a real business of Now. Unfortunately, it also was the impetus for making it a real business of yesterday as well. ’89 Upper Deck, you were fine, you were fun, and you made the hobby and subsequently ruined the hobby. Thanks for the memories.

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MLB Favorites – My Lifetime

In a recent email thread with my two closest baseball guru friends, we sent missives back-and-forth noting our favorite baseball players in recent memory. More specifically, in our lifetimes – for this project, that spans the 80’s, 90’s, oughts and 10’s. I’m curious to see your favorites – here are MY players. Not the best, just my dogs by position:

Catcher: Mike Piazza. Never seen a catcher hit like that. Period. I hate to admit it, but Buster Posey COULD be on this list except for his extremely dry personality. Excellent player though. Ironically used to love Jason Kendall until he became the literal singles-est hitting player in baseball. Charles Johnson was a ton of fun but his zero bat grated on me when he was a Dodger. Great arm though. Also Benito Santiago was fun, both with the arm and late career at-bat.
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First Base: Don Mattingly. Gamer. Mustache that wasn’t wack. Awesome baseball cards. Looked great in a uniform. Sweet swing. Manager of my favorite team. Sold. Frank Thomas was just dope. Great, intimidating hitter. I liked Jeff Bagwell at the time, but less and less historically. Go figure. Fred McGriff was lean, dope follow-through, unassuming and just awesome. How do you not love watching Mark McGwire hit dingers, especially that 500+ blast off Randy of all people. Jesus. Mo VaughnCecil Fielder. Prince Fielder is on here too because he shows up every day, loves the game and hits boomers.
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Second Base: Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Jeff Kent.
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Third Base: there are sooooooo many ‘pretty good’ guys at this position; Wade Boggs, Matt Williams, Travis Fryman, Ken Caminiti, obviously Chipper Jones is a hall of famer, Jeff Cirillo nobody really excited here. Even UCLA-alum Troy Glaus was a masher but eh. Adrian Beltre is probably the only one that makes a list of ‘favorites.’
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Shortstop: you’d think this position would be fun. A-Rod pretty much ruined that. And Tejada. And even Nomar. But Derek Jeter is amazing and carries it himself; Barry Larkin is on here for his play but not his persona. Cal Ripken obviously belongs BUT he was fairly boring, sorry Cal. Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel were fun, but I’m not a defense-first kind of guy, especially in the era in which we grew up. Rafael Furcal was a LOAD of fun for me, so he’s probably #2 behind Jeter, and Hanley Ramirez is fast approaching. Another 30 bombs – and a title? – this year and he leapfrogs Derek.
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Outfield: Kirby Puckett in center, Barry Bonds in left, Rickey Henderson in right is my dream outfield. Probably my top three favorite players of my lifetime (?) as well. It’s really hard to leave Ken Griffey Jr. out of my starting lineup but otherwise I’d use Rickey as DH and bat him leadoff, move Kirby over to his late-career RF and we’d have the best/most exciting team I could dream of. Otherwise, Tony Gwynn is on the club. Bo JacksonManny Ramirez was SO exciting and dominant for a period that he’s my big bat. Vladimir Guerrero is on the team, really fun to watch in all facets. Ichiro Suzuki was so poetic/artistic at the bat (and arm!!!!), he’s in. Tim Raines makes the club for sure as well. Darryl Strawberry pre-coke, Eric Davis without a doubt (30/80 club!!!!) I also believe Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are good enough to warrant what may fairly be labeled ‘premature’ inclusion here.
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Starting Pitchers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux are guys I’d pay to watch pitch from now through eternity. In fact, I don’t think you can beat my club with those guys throwing every three days in my three man rotation (!!!!). Seriously though I have to include Nolan Ryan, Clayton Kershaw, Fernando, Hershiser, Kevin Brown, David Cone (who I like more post-retirement), David Wells (!!!), Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and pre-coke Doc Gooden. I really enjoy watching Adam Wainwright pitch but he kills the Dodgers so I’ll wait to include him formally, and though it might be premature, Jose Fernandez has some of the best ‘stuff’ I’ve seen since my three aces that I’m going to throw him in there.
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Closers: This list starts with Dennis Eckersley, continues to Eric Gagne and closes out appropriately with Mo Rivera.
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And of course, announcing any and all games would be the incomparable Vin Scully.
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