Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Gig

I have joined forces with the good people at True Blue LA, a wonderful Dodger blog on the SB Nation network. That doesn't mean the end of this blog however! I still plan on reminiscing through 1987 Donruss cards quite often. My Dodger-related content will be over on True Blue LA, but that will be the only change.

With the holiday season upon us, my posting might be sparse over the next two weeks, but I'll sneak a post or two in when I have the time. Best wishes to all of you, and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Also, thanks to the the great people at 78 Topps, GCRL, and Night Owl Cards, with whom I have traded cards over the last week or so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I don't have kids (did I just hear a collective sigh of relief from the readers?), but you can be sure if I did I would try to steer them toward throwing left-handed. My ultimate goal is to gravy train off my kids, and there aren't many trains gravier than those of a major league pitcher.

When have left-handed pitchers not been in demand in baseball? It seems since the dawn of time managers and general managers everywhere have searched the world far and wide to find the next southpaw. After all, what's not to like about a species that turned feared slugger Ryan Howard into a very tame .224/.294/.451 hitter in 2008?

Left-handers are on my mind today, because it has been reported that the biggest lefty of them all, CC Sabathia, has signed the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history. That's $161 million over 7 years for Mr. Sabathia, a contract that must be shocking to the players in the 1987 Donruss set, especially these lefties featured here.

I chose these cards because I like how each is at roughly the same spot in their windup, about to unleash their left-handed fury upon the batter.

Ricky Horton - #234

Horton was solid out of the bullpen for the Cardinals. He is one of only seven Cardinals to have a 100 ERA+ or higher in each of his first four seasons. Horton gets an all-time pass from me since he was a member of the 1988 Dodgers, even if it was only for a month. He did throw 4.1 scoreless innings in the playoffs against the Mets, but never appeared in the 1988 World Series.

Charlie Leibrandt - #220

Leibrandt is probably best remembered for giving up the "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett" to end Game 6 of the 1991 World Series (also known for Jack Buck's memorable "We'll see you tomorrow night" call), but he was actually a pretty solid pitcher for a long time. His 76 wins with Kansas City ranks 8th in Royals history.

Floyd Bannister - #211

Bannister, the father of current Royals' pitcher Brian (36th on the all-time Royals win list, by the way), was the #1 pick in the 1976 MLB draft (side note: will the MLB draft ever be as big as the NFL or NBA draft? Probably not, since nobody watches college or high school baseball and thus doesn't know many of the players drafted). Bannister struck out a fair amount of hitters in his day, and he ended up posting five seasons with a 120 ERA+, but he was also prone to the long ball. For the 5 seasons covered on the back of this card (1982-1986), Bannister gave up the 4th most HR in baseball (tied with Louisiana Lightning himself, Ron Guidry).

On to the count...

The Set: 17 of 660 (2.6%)

HOF: 4 (none)

Former Dodgers: 2 (none)

Future Dodgers: 5 (+1 with Horton)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Maddux The Great

One of the greatest pitchers of any generation officially hung up his spikes today, as Greg Maddux retired from baseball. It's hard to believe that anyone with the mustache displayed on this card would end up among the all-time leaders various categories, but it's true:

Starts: 740 (4th all-time, behind only Cy Young, and two other men featured later in this set review)

Innings: 5,008.1 (13th)

Wins: 355 (8th; no one alive has more)

Strikeouts: 3,371 (10th)

The numbers are simply mind-boggling. Starting in the year after this set was introduced, Maddux started a 17-year strike of winning 15 games or more. He won 4 Cy Young Awards, and probably could have won more. He led the league in adjusted ERA+ 5 times, and finished 2nd three other times. Only Lefty Grove had more 150 ERA+ seasons than the 9 by Maddux. Unbelievable.

Maddux helped the Dodgers as a late-season acquisition in two of the final three years of his wonderful career. In 2006, Maddux played a much more pivotal role than 2008 (he was relegated to bullpen duty in the playoffs this year), going 6-3 with a 136 ERA+ down the stretch. His Dodger career was highlighted by two amazing games:

1) In his first start as a Dodger, Maddux took the ball in the rain in Cincinnati, and pitched beautifully for 6 innings, allowing no hits. He actually walked 3, a shocking figure for the control expert. A long rain delay ended Maddux's night, but it was a great "welcome to the club" moment. This was game 6 of an 11-game winning streak for the club, which started a 17-1 stretch for the Dodgers.

2) Only 10 days later, Maddux hooked up with soon-to-be-Dodger-albatross Jason Schmidt on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and the two were locked in an amazing pitching duel. Maddux pitched only 8 innings (in the latter stages of his career, Maddux seemed to know when he was physically done, and would take himself out even with low pitch counts), but what an 8 innings they were! Maddux, ever the efficient master, threw only 68 pitches (50 for strikes). After allowing two singles to the first 3 batters of the game, Maddux retired the final 22 batters he faced. The Dodgers would later win on a walk-off HR by then-rookie Russell Martin

Even when he wasn't a Dodger, I loved watching Maddux pitch. He was, simply, a master of his craft. Joe Posnanski, one of the finest sportswriters around, recently reminisced about his favorite Maddux game, and Posnanski found a way to make a pitch-by-pitch analysis of an 11-year old game exciting.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Maddux.

On to the count...

The Set: 14 of 660 (2.1%)

HOF: 4 (+1 with Maddux -- major foreshadowing here)

Former Dodgers: 2 (none)

Future Dodgers: 4 (+1 with Maddux)

Sunday, December 7, 2008


"Some people asked me did I think Rickey Henderson was a Hall of Famer. I told them, "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers"" -Bill James

There has never been a baseball player quite like Rickey Henderson. He is the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, only partially due to the ha
voc he wrought on the basepaths. He hit more HR leading off a game (81) than anyone in history. Nobody else has scored more runs than Henderson (2,295). Only Barry Bonds has more career walks. Rickey has more steals than anyone is history, with a shocking total (1406) 50% higher than the #2 man, Lou Brock. The 468 SB that separates Henderson and Brock is a career stolen base total reached by only 42 players in MLB history.

Look at this card. Rickey's
confidence is practically leaping through the cardboard. The Yankee logo blends nicely with the interlocking NY on Rickey's jersey. Rickey played with a number of teams, including ending his unique career with the 2003 Dodgers, but I always think of him an an Oakland Athletic. Yet here is Rickey after his 2nd year with the Yankees. It seems Rickey was destined to be on the big stage in the bright lights on New York City.

Rickey's first two years in The Big Apple couldn't have gone much better, at least for him. Thanks to the back of this card, #228 in the set, we note that the 146 runs scored by Rickey in 1985 were the most in MLB since Ted Williams scored 150 in 1949. What I like ab
out Rickey's first two Yankee years was that he unleashed the previously unheard of 20/80 season. Prior to Rickey's time as a Yankee, no player had ever combined 20 HR and 70 SB in one season. Rickey blew by that with ease, with back-to-back 24/80 and 28/87 seasons. To this day, only Rickey and Eric Davis have reached the 20/80 plateau. I miss those days.

Look at the back of Rickey's card, and you will see how Donruss denotes league le
aders. At the top right of the stat portion of every card, there is the note that an asterisk "Denotes Led League." I feel bad for normal, run-of-the-mill players who must wonder where their asterisks are. Anyway, outside of leading the league in SB for every season depicted on this card (Rickey would lead the league for each of the first 12 full seasons of his career, except for Harold Reynolds in 1987 when Rickey only played 95 games...but still stole 41 bags), the thing that jumped out at me was that Rickey led the league in both steals and walks in 1982 & 1983. I thought this was unique, and in fact it is: the only other player in MLB history to achieve this double duty was Max Carey in 1918 & 1922.

Here's the best thing about Rickey: even if he was a horrible baseball player, I would still love him, for a few reasons. First, he always talks in the third person. Rickey this,
Rickey that. I love it! Second, there are just too many legendary stories about him. Whether true or untrue, I don't care; I still love the stories. Here are my two favorites:

1) Rickey saved the first $1 million dollar check he received from the A's, and framed it on his wall. Later in the season, the club's accounting department noticed a rather large discrepancy in the books. So they called Rickey to see where the check was. Rather than framing a copy, he had kept the original check. He never cashed it!

2) On the 2000 Mariners (or perhaps it was the 1999 Mets), Rickey noticed his first baseman wore a helmet while playing in the field. He went up to the helmeted one, who happened to be John Olerud, and said, "you know, I used to play with a guy in Toronto who also wore his helmet in the field." Olerud simply smiled and told Rickey, "that was me."

Rickey was born on Christmas Day 1958. Perhaps there has been no better Christmas present ever given to the world than Rickey Henderson.

On to the count...

The Set: 13 of 660 (2.0%)

HOF: 3 (+1 with Rickey, even though it won't be official until January 7)

Former Dodgers: 2 (none)

Future Dodgers: 3 (+1 with Rickey)

Friday, December 5, 2008


This Saturday, the 5th-ranked USC Trojans will take on their crosstown rivals, the UCLA Bruins, at what will hopefully be the first of two straight games at the Rose Bowl. I didn't attend USC, but I grew up watching them. My brother and uncle both have graduate degrees from the school, so that adds to their appeal. I graduated from UCSD, but since my school has no D-1 sports, my fandom of USC continued.

I am very happy about the decision made by Pete Carroll, to wear cardinal jerseys on the road, meaning the rivalry will feature the reds versus the blues for the first time since 1982.

Since this is a rivalry game between the two schools, I figured this would be a good time to pit Trojans against the Bruins from the 1987 Donruss set.


Tom Seaver - #375: Tom Terrific, the 3-time Cy Young Award winner (he probably could have won a handful more too) and slam dunk Hall of Famer, is the jewel of this group. I don't know how close the Dodgers came to dealing Don Sutton straight up for Seaver in 1977, but I can't think of Seaver without thinking of what might have been in blue. Also, thanks to the back of his 1987 Donruss card, he was once traded straight up for current Dodger announcer and one-time pants-dropper Steve "Psycho" Lyons!

Mark McGwire - #46: Who knows if Big Mac will ever see the Hall of Fame (I personally would vote for him), but in this card he has the look of a man about to shatter the rookie record for HR.

Dave Kingman - #425: For a one-dimensional basher, Kingman sure hit a lot of bombs. He hit 35 HR in what would be his final MLB season in 1986. Ask Tommy Lasorda what he thought of Kingman (skip to about the 1:23 mark).

Fred Lynn - #108: Growing up, when I thought of Fred Lynn I always thought of his HR off of Atlee Hammaker in the 1983 All-Star game. Upon further review, he was a very good to great player. I go back and forth on this, but you could make a case he was the best of the 3 young outfielders that guided the 1975 Red Sox to the World Series. That had to be the best young OF of all time.


Tim Leary - #232: Leary will always have a special place in my heart for winning 17 games for the 1988 Dodgers, my favorite baseball team of all-time. He will be remembered for two memorable performances: 1) his 9th-inning, pinch single to beat the Giants in August 1988; and 2) his 3 innings of shutout relief in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, keeping the Dodgers in the game before...well, you know.

Ron Roenicke - #412: He got a ring with the 1981 Dodgers, and he had his best career game in 1986 against LA, getting 4 hits and a HR in a June game.

Pat Dodson - #44: Unlike his fellow "Rated Rookie" 1B McGwire, Dodson didn't do much in the majors.

1986 .417/.533/.833, 265 OPS+
Post-1986 .172/.282/.368, 73 OPS+, 3 HR

1986 .189/.259/.377, 77 OPS+
Post-1986 .263/.395/.590, 163 OPS+, 580 HR

Don Slaught - #136: Thanks to the thoroughness of the folks at Donruss (or Leaf, Inc.), we find out that Slaught was involved in a 4-team trade in January 1985 with Tim Leary. While Leary went from the Mets to the Brewers, Slaught was sent from the Royals to the Rangers.

Pat Clements - #390: Yet another sweet Pirates hat! Clements, a career reliever (only 2 of his 288 appearances were starts), ended up with a 17-11 career record (a nice .607 winning %), but was 0-6 as a Pirate. Maybe the hat didn't suit him.

Dave Schmidt - #182: Schmidt wasn't a bad pitcher. In fact, only seven pitchers in the 1980s had more 100 ERA+ seasons than the eight produced by Schmidt (in the first 8 seasons of his career).

If we look at this as a competition, USC easily takes the cake, quality over quantity. The four USC players above combined for 33 all-star appearances, 3 Cy Youngs, 1 MVP (and McGwire should have won over Sosa in 1998), and 1 HOF (perhaps one day a 2nd in McGwire). The six Bruins, however, combined for a big goose egg.

Back to football, my prediction for Saturday is that USC will win 41-3.

On to the count...

The Set: 12 of 660 (1.8%)

HOF: 2 (+1 with Seaver)

Former Dodgers: 2 (+1 with Roenicke)

Future Dodgers: 2 (+1 with Leary)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"The Infield"

I'm trying to collect every regular issue Topps card of "The Infield," the Dodger foursome of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey. You might recognize them from the great Garvey Cey Russell Lopes blog.

For my collection of these guys, even the non-Dodger cards are cool. As you can see, I don't need any 1980 Topps cards of this group. Here are the holes in my collection (all Topps, unless otherwise indicated):

Steve Garvey
1985 #450
1984 Donruss #63
1982 Fleer #5
1984 Fleer #300
1985 Fleer #32
1986 Fleer #321

Davey Lopes
1985 #12
1987 #445
1988 #226

Bill Russell
1972 #736
1975 #23
1983 #661

Ron Cey
1972 #761
1973 #615 (the one with Mike Schmidt, darn it)
1984 #357
1987 #767

If you have any of these, please email me at

UPDATE: I would have used pictures of 1987 Donruss cards -- that is the subject of this blog, after all -- but only Lopes and Garvey had cards in this set. Cey and Russell both had 1987 cards in the Topps and Fleer sets though.

This R.J. Reynolds Does Not Cause Cancer

How unfortunate is it that Robert James Reynolds shared a name with a prominent tobacco company? I always felt bad for him because of that. But you don't get to choose your names. Both of my parents died of cancer, each brought on by 30+ years of smoking, so perhaps I would be more likely to not go by the name R.J. Reynolds if it were my choice. I would certainly want to change my name, or at least go by Robert, Rob, or even Bobby, but then again who am I to tell R.J. what his name should be?

R.J. Reynolds' 1987 Donruss card, #65 in the set, is classic for a couple of reasons. First, look at the glorious majesty of that classic Pirates' hat! The renegade mentality in the refusal to wear normal caps is fitting for a team called the Pirates. I really should buy this hat. It doesn't get much better than that.

On the front of this card, as is the case with almost all 660 cards of this set (the first 27 cards -- Diamond Kings and the checklist -- are different), Donruss not only has the logo but also "87", as to not confuse its customers. Personally, I like this as a quirk, even though a savvy collector should be able to look at the card design and immediately deduce the year and brand. Maybe Donruss saw the competition in 1987 and decided it simply couldn't compete with wood paneling.

Even though there is a slight scowl on his face, Reynolds surely was happy to escape the bench in Los Angeles. 1986 marked a career high in many categories (plate appearances, runs, hits, doubles, HR, RBI, walks, slugging percentage, and OPS+) for Mr. Reynolds. He even started the year as the Pirates' regular leadoff hitter, and for the first two months of the season hit mostly first or second in the lineup, until the Pirates decided on some kid from ASU in the leadoff spot at the end of May.

Perhaps Reynolds isn't happy in his picture on the front of this card because he knows his best baseball moment was already behind him. On September 11, 1983, Reynolds delivered a squeeze bunt to cap a 4-run 9th inning rally to beat the Braves in a heated pennant race. This amazing game, perhaps the 2nd greatest regular season game in Dodger Stadium history, has been chronicled eloquently by Jon Weisman on the amazing Dodger Thoughts website on numerous occasions.

Reynolds came to Pittsburgh in September 1985, along with Cecil Espy and future pennant-winning run-scoring speedster Sid Bream, in a 3-for-1 trade for 3B Bill Madlock. Madlock, a 4-time batting champion, hit .360/.422/.447 down the stretch for the Dodgers, helping them win the NL West.

On to the count...

The Set: 2 of 660 (0.3%)

HOF: 1

Former Dodgers: 1 (+1 with Reynolds)

Future Dodgers: 1

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My Favorite

I recently re-entered the baseball card collecting game, after an absence of over 15 years. I have discovered some outstanding websites dedicated to the hobby, most notably the wonderful Cardboard Gods (featuring the mind-blowing prose of Josh Wilker). However, the purpose of this blog is to relive the joy of my youth.

Inspired by the card-by-card review of both the 1988 Topps and 1978 Topps blogs, I decided that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, I could not decide which set to review. That is, until I was going through some old photos and discovered a photo of Christmas 1986.

There I am, all of 11 years old, wearing some classic 1980s-style short shorts, opening what was without a doubt my most prized holiday gift, a box of 1987 Donruss cards. That, folks, is what we call a sign.

I do plan to review every single card of this set, all 660 of them. However, I don't want to fall into the formulaic trap of going in numerical order. Sometimes I will pick cards at random, sometimes I will pick cards based on newsworthy items or whatever happens to be spinning inside my head at the time.

For the initial card review, I had to choose my all-time favorite player: Eddie Clarence Murray, card #48. Back in 1987, Eddie wasn't yet my favorite player. It was probably Fernando Valenzuela or Pedro Guerrero, maybe even Orel Hershiser. Because, you see, I am a Dodger fan. I always appreciated Murray from afar, but didn't fully embrace his greatness until 1989 when he donned an LA cap.

The design of the 1987 Donruss card is a classic design, kind of a grown-up version of their previous six sets. There is simple design with an understated trim/background of baseballs. The front of this card is great, too, as it captures Murray in a smile. Murray wasn't exactly known, at least by reporters, as a joyous fellow, so it's always nice to see a smile, or at least a grin.

One thing I love about the back of the 1987 Donruss cards is that each player's contract status was displayed. Salary wasn't disclosed of course, but this was a wonderful piece of information anyway. Thanks to Sports Illustrated in April 1987, I learned that Murray was the highest paid player in MLB in 1987, at $2.46m. That April 20, 1987 issue was amazing, as the salary of every major leaguer was displayed. In the pre-internet era (we didn't have access to the outstanding Cot's Baseball Contracts for almost two decades).

Another staple of Donruss cards of the 1980s was only displaying the previous 5 years of stats, instead of the entire careers shown on Topps and Fleer. I'll talk about this in future posts, but I kind of liked this because the stats were more readable. I have never had vision problems, but some Topps cards required a magnifying glass. Anyway, in the 1982-1986 period covered on the back of this card, Murray had the 4th best OPS+ (151) in baseball, and was also 4th in HR (142) and 3rd in RBI (539).

Let's get a count going, that will appear on each post going forward:

The Set: 1 of 660 (0.2%)

HOF Count: 1

Former Dodgers: 0

Future Dodgers: 1

Monday, December 1, 2008

1977 Topps - Want List

In my attempt to complete every regular issue Topps set of my lifetime (1976-present), I am a mere 20 cards away from completing the 1977 set, modeled here by Dodger starter Burt Hooton.

Here are the cards I need. I am not concerned about the condition of the cards. To paraphrase Billy Beane, I'm not selling blue jeans here. Feel free to email me at to suggest any trades.

UPDATE: Thanks to the wonderful Garvey Cey Russell Lopes blog, I now only need 13 cards to complete this set!

UPDATE #2: Thanks to the Indiana Jon, I now only need 7 cards to complete this set!

2 - Nettles/Schmidt HR Leaders
4 - Lopes/North SB Leaders
51 - Alex Grammas
70 - Johnny Bench
146 - Dusty Baker
152 - Gaylord Perry
265 - Mark Fidrych
276 - AL Championship
277 - NL Championship
285 - Brooks Robinson
287 - Reds Team Card (Sparky Anderson)
319 - Rich Gossage
345 - Reggie Smith
359 - Willie Randolph
412 - Johnny Bench / World Series
450 - Pete Rose
488 - Rookie OF (Jack Clark)
490 - Rookie SS
491 - Rookie P (El Presidente)
518 - Cubs Team Card (Herman Franks)