Category: Sports, Los Angeles

2018 World Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Red Sox

As I sat down to do my analysis, I really thought I was going to see more of a discrepancy between these two teams. The Red Sox won 108 games; the Dodgers needed an extra game to get to 92, in a supposed ‘weaker’ division, and in the ‘junior varsity’ National League. The Red Sox cruised through the season, having won more than 67% of their games up to this point; the Dodgers were nine games out of first place on May 8th, and 10 games under .500 on May 19th. In addition to the extra win necessary to get into the Division Series, they were taken to seven games by a good, but not great, Milwaukee Brewers team. The Red Sox, on the other hand, dismantled the Houston Astros, last year’s World Champions, by taking the final three games of the series in the Astros’ home park. So through that lens, the Red Sox should be a huge favorite. It says here, however, that these two teams are VERY evenly matched – and whoever wins this series better be packing some scary costumes because they will need the full seven games to hoist the trophy on Halloween night in 2018.

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Let’s start with the ManagersAlex Cora and Dave Roberts.
Cora, 43 years old, and Roberts, 46, are part of the player-friendly, analytics-driven, bullpen-heavy wave of managers that are extensions of an influential front office. Riding under the guidance of veteran bench coaches – in the case of Cora, Ron Roenicke; for Roberts, it’s Bob Geren – they provide a heavy dose of reaffirmation, high fives, and support that tend to endear themselves to players. Neither manager is hesitant to rely on bullpen arms, and both are avid utilizers of their bench. Though the payrolls are extensive, each manager has a deft touch and capability of getting maximum production from both minimum and maximum talent. Roberts was questioned thoroughly in 2018 by Dodger fans, but his resume reads extremely accomplished: Manager of the Year as a ‘rookie,’ followed by back-to-back World Series appearances. Cora replaced the 93-win John Farrell, and improved on that first place total by 15 games.
AdvantageEVEN. Roberts has the in-game World Series experience, but that did not go perfectly and some key decisions (Yu Darvish) were rightfully second-guessed. Cora, remember, was bench coach for AJ Hinch during the Astros World Series run last year. 
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Starting Rotation:
Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello
Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill
This is another fun one. Sale is one of the two most feared pitchers in baseball, a Randy Johnson 2.0 that is all knees, elbows, and wicked sliders that follow high-90’s heat. Kershaw, known for a decade as The Best Pitcher on the Planet, is considered more of a lower-tier Ace now, though he is (once again) pitching for his legacy. He is also the Modern Era record holder for lowest career ERA, so that looms significantly. Price and Ryu are not superficially similar, but their playoff versions are counterpoints. Price is a Cy Young pitcher that, until his Game 5 ALCS gem vs. the Astros, was the Worst Postseason Pitcher of All-Time. Ryu, who was exempted from military service due to his performance in a Gold Medal game in the Summer Olympics, is the definition of a big game pitcher – or he was, until the Game 6 implosion in the NLCS against the Brewers. Eovaldi and Buehler are, perhaps, the most exciting of this bunch as each is a young fireballer set on building off of a foundational year. Eovaldi has shown flashes of being unhittable, and Buehler reminds of Justin Verlander. Pretty heady stuff on that matchup. Then you have the two Ricks. Well, Rick & Rich. Each is crafty, took a while to get their career in order, and performed well enough to merit accolades; for Porcello, that was a Cy Young; for Hill, it was a nice contract. Each is very hittable and will have a short leash.
Advantage: Dodgers. This would be even were it not for Sale’s subpar health over the last two months of the season, culminating in a belly button infection during the ALCS. Though not quite mirror images, these rotations are very similar 1-4.
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Closer:
Craig Kimbrel 
Kenley Jansen
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Simply put, these are the two best closers in baseball over the last half decade. Kimbrel has saved 91% of his career opportunities; Jansen clocks in at 90%. Jansen’s career ERA is 2.20. Kimbrel’s is a microscopic 1.91. Kimbrel’s K/BB ratio is a hefty 4.23. Kenley’s is an unthinkable 5.76. What about WHIP, you ask? Kimbrel’s is 0.92; Kenley 0.88. So yeah, good luck against either of these fellas. The difference will be their recent body of work. Kenley struggled (by his standards) to a workmanlike 3.01 ERA in 2018, whereas Kimbrel’s was a career-high 2.74. Kenley, however, has been back at his best lately, cranking his cutter up to 96 mph in the final game of the NLCS, and he has yet to be scored upon in his six playoff appearances. Kimbrel, however, sits at an unsightly 7.71 ERA, with scare after scare versus both the Yankees and Astros. That said, he has yet to blow a save in the playoffs so once again, the
Advantage: is EVEN. Both of these guys are too good, and will likely close any ballgame once the ball is in their hands.
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Bullpen:
Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman 
Pedro Baez, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander/Alex Wood 
Both of these bullpens were maligned heading into the postseason. The Dodgers did not have a ‘bridge’ to Kenley Jansen, as they had recently moved Maeda out of the rotation to become the presumptive eighth-inning pitcher. . .except when Roberts would use his matchups. That meant, any one of Flora, Ferguson, Baez, Madson would, at any time, be brought in to face whoever the numbers dictated. But a funny thing happened after Pedro Baez was sent down to the minor leagues; he came back as one of the most effective relievers in Major League Baseball, allowing only one earned run over his last 24 appearances. This gave the Dodgers a bonafide set-up man, and a reliable power arm to complement the one-off approach Roberts generally uses. The Red Sox counter with a duo to fill the role, as Barnes and Brasier have each outpunched their regular season statistics, allowing only one run in a combined 13 1/3 innings. Kelly and Hembree have been equally reliable, with a 1.69 and 0.00 ERA as well. Not to be outdone, Floro, Ferguson, and Madson have only allowed one earned run in 14 combined innings. The difference here is that the matchups favor Roberts; he simply has more left-handers in the ‘pen, and in games that will be this close, the bullpen gates will be swinging open wildly, and Roberts will use that to his advantage.
Advantage: Dodgers – they figured out the roles at the right time and their depth and matchups prove will key in this series. 

 Red Sox postseason bullpen stats:

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Dodgers postseason bullpen stats:

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Catching:
Christian Vasquez, Sandy Leon 
Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
This position is essentially a black hole of offense for both teams. Christian Vasquez gets the bulk of playing time for the Red Sox, but is hitting .227 in the postseason, an improvement on his regular season .207. Leon is a good defensive catcher but has yet to collect a hit in the playoffs. On the Dodgers’ side, Grandal, for the second consecutive season, lost his starting job to Austin Barnes in October, and has played himself into contention for Worst Player in MLB Postseason History, after his glove inexplicably turned to cement in the NLCS. Barnes has a great approach and is a good defensive catcher, but has not been able to capture his 2017 hitting prowess, and is hitting .111 in the playoffs in 2018.
Advantage: Red Sox. The weakest position also happens to be one of the most important, and though nobody stands out here amongst the four players, it might be an unsung hero from this grouping that changes the complexion of the series. Though not impressive by any means, the Sox have the better backstops here.
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Lineup:
Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, Christian Vasquez, Jackie Bradley Jr. 
Chris Taylor, David Freese, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Brian Dozier, Kiké Hernandez, Austin Barnes
These lineups are subject to change based on handedness of the opposing pitcher as well as the whims, intuition, and analysis of their respective team’s front offices. This is my projection, however, for Game 1 lineups and both are fierce. Though the Dodgers sport only a .691 OPS as a group in their 11 games, the designated hitter plays directly into their hands, as their depth is significant and will play well in the American League ballpark. The Dodgers feature nine players that hit 20 or more home runs during the regular season, and finished with the sixth most home runs all-time in a single season, 235. The Red Sox counter with eight players with ten or more home runs, and come in with a .745 collective OPS in the postseason, and are averaging a little more than six runs per game. The Dodgers are, if anything, too reliant on the long ball and have only averaged four runs in their 11 playoff games in 2018. The Green Monster will be inviting to the homer-happy, as the 310′ distance is shorter than most high school fields. The right field line is only 302′, so do not expect the Dodgers to shorten their swings; they rarely do. The top half of the Red Sox lineup is filled with not just good hitters but professional hitters, as Betts is expected to be the American League MVP, only because Martinez did not complete his run at the Triple Crown; otherwise he would have won the award. The back half of their lineup is not as deep as the Dodgers’, though they are not strikeout-happy either, averaging only seven per game as a team. The Dodgers average ten per game; a typical byproduct of swinging for the fences
Advantage: Red Sox because – how do you pitch to these first four guys?
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Bench:
Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt, Leon
Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Grandal
Some great depth here on both sides. As the Dodgers are expected to go with one additional bullpen arm, they’ll likely have one less bat, though all three of these players will likely start against right-handers. The Red Sox are no stranger to matchups either, as they have started Moreland, Devers, and Holt against right-handers as well. Moreland and Holt have a 1.101 and 1.145 OPS in the postseason, and Devers sits at .909. Muncy was at .973 for the regular season, but is at .736 in the postseason – along with 18 K’s in 33 at-bats. Pederson comes off of a 2017 World Series with three home runs, but is at a .741 OPS thus far in October 2018.
Advantage: Even. Though the numbers in these particular instances seem to favor the Red Sox, this is only a snapshot of the bigger picture. Roberts’ willingness – and the Dodgers’ ability – to mix and match positionally give them a unique advantage on the field, if not on the stat sheet. Bellinger, Muncy, Taylor, Hernandez, Barnes, and Freese are all proficient at multiple positions and can be used accordingly. Keep this in mind for the inevitable extra inning contest(s) that will arise in this Series. 

Red Sox 2018 Postseason Batting:

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Dodgers 2018 Postseason Batting:
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Running/Defense:
The Dodgers have stolen 13 bags this postseason; the Red Sox have swiped five. Though the element of speed should not be a defining aspect of the World Series, look no further than Dave Roberts to understand what one well-swiped bag can do for a team. The Dodgers have the advantage here. Defensively, both teams play clean baseball and were each ranked in the top ten during the regular season.
Advantage: Dodgers, but slight.

 

And this wouldn’t be a preview if I did not mention the Stadiums, yet another element of similarity between these great organizations. Dodger Stadium was built in 1962, and is the consummate ballpark; a picturesque, symmetric field surrounded by palm trees and nestled in mountains, with nary a bad sightline in the park. Fenway Park, completed in 1912, is an urban stadium with nooks & crannies, columns that block vision, and standing room only attendance in areas. Along with its history, the charm is undeniable, as watching a game in these confines is both intimate and awe-inspiring.
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Prediction: This series will, as all postseasons do, come down to pitching. The Dodgers have more of it and they have better matchups. A fully healthy Chris Sale could turn this series for the Red Sox, but as it stands, the Dodgers have shown that they can hit anybody, even if they are capable of striking out incessantly in concurrence. Price may have solved his postseason woes, but he is is still a question mark heading into the highest stakes he has ever faced, and the fact remains that the Red Sox do not have a quality left-hander out of the pen, meaning Roberts can lean heavier on his right-handed lineup to provide the bulk of the offense. This bodes well for the Dodgers.
Dodgers in 7.
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My Vin Post

I’ve had nearly the entire calendar year to internalize the impact of Vin Scully’s retirement.

It’s different than when an athlete opts to end his playing career. Kobe Bryant & Derek Jeter received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar treatment with tours, gifts, roasts, etc.; others, such as Barry Bonds or Allen Iverson, are forced to abandon their ride into the sunset. Magic Johnson, Barry Sanders & Bo Jackson are examples of retirements that were shocking in their suddenness. Each fantastic playing career carries specific moments over a generation – or if the athlete was particularly transcendent, generations plural – and defines a city, an era, a specific way of playing the game; something that entrenched the athlete in the milieu to the extent that their retirement itself was notable.

But for many Dodger fans and Los Angeles natives – and for me, specifically – the career of Vin Scully is inextricably intertwined with Life in L.A.

There was Vin when I was doing my homework in Mrs. Saunders class in first grade. There was She Is Gone. . .In a Year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. There were the sombreros being thrown to the sky when old friend Pedro Guerrero made the last out (a GIDP) of Fernando’s no-hitter. There was Vin in Spring for Henry Rodriguez’ four-homerun game. Vin was there when I came home from my first JV game as a 14-year old sophomore. It was Vin, as my Dad would kick back on the floor with his Golden Retriever, Doc, the two of them laying with the screen door ajar, letting the dulcet tones of Vinny complement the perfect San Fernando Valley summer breeze.

Vinny introduced me to Mike Piazza. Hideo Nomo. Ramon and Pedro Martinez. Omar Daal. Ismael Valdes. Vinny was serenading me as Eric Gagné, the mediocre starting pitcher morphed into Eric “Game Over” Gagné, still the most dominating pitcher I’ve seen, asterisk or not. Vin was in love with the O-Dog. Vinny ushered in Mannywood. Yasiel Puig became The Wild Horse.

In recent years, Vin was not there for the playoffs; first because of organizational ineptitude in the 90’s and subsequent Fox era, but mostly because of the Business of Baseball, which precluded ‘local’ broadcasters from doing much of the TV postseason work. Also, Vin’s age (the voice is truly timeless; humans, even a Saint, are not) demanded that the rigors of a baseball travel schedule were simply too much and the road games were increasingly narrated by Rick Monday, Ross Porter, Steve Lyons. Or Charley Steiner. Eric Collins. Recently, L.A. legends Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra have seen more TV work as Vin only works home games and the occasional trip to San Francisco. And Joe Davis, The Man Who Has to Follow in Scully’s Shoes, does a great job – but he’ll forever live with the moniker he’s no Vin Scully. So there’s less Vin now than ever.

And that’s okay. I’ve become busier. We all have. My son, Felix, is nearly 3 years old. And besides, “baseball is too slow.” But maybe that’s a good thing? When I do get to hear Vin, which I did about 30 times this season, I’ve flashed back to those serene summer nights in Sepulveda. I’d get off of a three-way call on my parent’s landline, run out to do a cannonball in the pool, careen back in the house, grab some Cap’n Crunch and Get Back to This One. You could always Pull Up a Chair, but if you couldn’t, that was okay. Vinny was going to see you again tomorrow night.

I really began to appreciate Vin and think about the dreadful and imminent end of Scully’s magical run a few years ago. I wondered if I’d enjoy Dodger games, or the Dodgers, or honestly, baseball, as much when he was gone. I didn’t want to find out, but knew it would happen. And when Felix was born, I wanted him to be able to hear and recognize Vin’s warm voice and that musical cadence. We sit and listen to games – a few innings, in Felix’s case, and I’m always sure to emphasize Vin Scully. He’s not likely to remember these nascent memories, especially of some old broadcaster, but I’m glad that I did have these years to share, and pass down the tradition.

Vin Scully is the narrator of this City I Love. Vin Scully is not just the voice of Los Angeles, he is Los Angeles. He came west as the city was just finding it’s sea-legs, a post-Baby Boom bastion of suburbs and planned communities that required you to have a car. No, really – that was a novel concept in 1958, and it’s exactly why Vinny became Los Angeles. You were, and still are, in a car all the time, and Vinny was painting games nine months out of the year. Until he’s not. And then what? Life goes on. L.A. will be here, Vinny and my Dad will hopefully live well into retirement, and the Dodgers will continue drawing 3 million fans per year. Baseball will certainly move forward. So will I, so will Felix.

But it will be different, an impact unknown. There may be a void, there will definitely be a ripple in the fabric of my fanmanship. But I do know that Vin Scully’s retirement will be more poignant and powerful than any I’ve experienced in sports.

I sent a letter to Vin during the first Dodgers season after Felix was born. I didn’t expect nor receive a response, and was told that he actually receives more mail than anybody in the organization. Maybe he read it, likely he did not, but the copy is below and the sentiment still holds.

Because Vin Scully really enhanced my life. And proud Los Angeles native or not, I’ve never said that about any type of celebrity before. And I certainly haven’t said it about an athlete. I do have a sombrero, but I’m not going to throw it to the sky, Vin. I’m just hoping that I can enjoy and cherish your five remaining telecasts and maybe, just maybe, the Baseball Gods will reward you and the fans whom you’ve impacted with one more improbable October.

July 15, 2014

Mr. Scully –

I just want to reach out and thank you for your presence within the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles. I am a second generation Los Angeles native, and recently had a son (Felix) that will be the third Lovett male to be serenaded by your voice from April to October of each year. 

You are truly the voice that defines summer and provides the soundtrack to our great city. I am proud to be able to pass on the tradition of ‘listening to Vin’ to my son. 

In short, your legacy and influence is immeasurable and I cherish each of your broadcasts, and I appreciate your commitment to pulling up a chair and ‘getting back to this one’ in beautiful Chavez Ravine.

Enclosed is a picture of the three of us – my father, Stu; my son, Felix & me.

With admiration and appreciation,

 

Evan Lovett

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The Dave Roberts Era

So if there was any question, Dave Roberts not only has put his imprint on this organization but is making it clear that this is an era where on-field management is a conduit for the front office yet still can have a major and positive impact (as opposed to being a puppet).

Removing Rich Hill yesterday during a perfect game, based on the fact that he was starting to have a little bit of “heat” on the blister finger (causing him to miss three of his last six scheduled starts), the move is objectively understandable. I would be extremely agitated if I was Rich Hill – or, frankly, any other Dodger – but the team won the ballgame and Roberts made the right move.

Roberts earnestly & honestly addressed his decision after the game (“I’m going to lose sleep” “I’ve never had a win feel like a loss”). He is clearly a team-oriented manager that understands what it’s like to be in those players’ cleats, and again, what he is done with such an undermanned, chronically injured, oddly constituted team this year has been nothing short of remarkable.

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Image: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Corey “The Kid” Seager

Corey Seager reminds me SO much of Clayton Kershaw in his approach, composure, poise, maturity, overall grasp of the game and awareness of his role & importance on the team. I’ve been reserving my enthusiasm for what seems like such an obvious superstar (and thus potential bust) but he really seems to understand the game and his role. And his approach is beautiful. Relaxed swing – he chokes up! – and literally goes oppo with ease, and power. His glove has surprised me as well, and damn – I’m genuinely excited for his future. Clayton has anywhere from three to fifteen (Randy, Nolan) years of dominance remaining, and Corey has about four years until he hits his prime – but he’ll be a superstar by next year. Could be really fun times at the Ravine for years to come.

Ethier, Donnie & The 2016 Dodgers

So regarding whether Andre Ethier was mad at the umpire, missed a bunt sign, or was just f-bombing an invisible entity, the Dodgers petered out of the playoffs following the in-game, public outburst. Apparently he’s been simmering since the beginning of his Dodger tenure Spring Training when he asked not to play Centerfield despite previous success in Center for the Dodgers. He’s very passive aggressive, and has notoriously bottled his feelings until a blowup at the manager or the front office, or simply in the press. He’s not quite a malcontent, but he’s on the border. 

Bottom line is, that was the most demonstrative I’ve seen him in the realm of the field, and to have that kind of blowout in an elimination game speaks to both Ethier’s (somewhat understandable) general unhappiness with his role as a Dodger, despite a great career (top 15 in HR, hames, hits career as a Dodger) in L.A., as well as the general frustration within the clubhouse regarding Mattingly’s lack of consistency and clear strategy.
I believe that Friedman is going to clean house as much as possible, building the team around Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig. I think the entire coaching staff is gone, Wallach finds a big league job somewhere, but 2016 begins with an out-of-house manager that changes the culture (Jason Giambi is a dream, but doubtful). It’s not like it was a horrible season. . .it was a stopgap season and they finished in line with (my) expectations, unfortunately.
It’s worth noting that I personally believed Puig needed to be jettisoned to end up more like Adrian Beltre than Raul Mondesi, but seeing a Puig-less lineup, even with Puig deservedly not starting, was painful. We’ve seen Puig’s talent and he needs to be supported & coddled to perform the way he can. It’s obviously not certain, but in my opinion, Puig is one of the top talents in baseball, so with him along with Kershaw and Seager, you have one of the best cores possible to compete with the Cubs & Mets for the next decade.
I also discussed something last night with my brother from another: those wacky ’25 cabs for 25 guys’ Red Sox winners were somewhat despicable, but the Dodgers seem more like ’25 iPhones for 25 guys.’ The difference is there was an emotion – passion? hatred? loathing? – amongst the Sox that made them hatable, but these Dodgers inspire. . . ambivalence.
Adrian Gonzalez is a great hitter, but he’s very dull. Joc Pedersen should be the awe-inspiring, young talent, but he’s shown only regression since June – and definitely doesn’t play with emotion. Jimmy Rollins & Chase Utley are awesome – but they’re old. So Seager, a promising young rookie, is easily to be excited about but these playoffs (I’m calling them his Kobe ’97 performance) dampen the expectations. Puig is a potential cornerstone, but would it shock anybody if he ended up like Mondesi? Or worse? Kenley Jansen is a great closer, but who gets excited about closers? Alex Guerrero? Jose Peraza? Who cares? Justin Turner turned into a gem, and could be the type of player that the Giants would LOVE, and the Dodgers just might look to improve upon, furthering the disparate chemistry issues. Really tough team to root for, and  I’m a die-hard.
I will say this, though: watching Kershaw is amazing. As my dad said via text during his final (301 K) start of the regular season:
“remember that you’re watching a Hall of Fame pitcher every time you see Kershaw pitch”
Either way, Go Dodgers in 2016. Should be a completely new team.

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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