Monday, February 9, 2009

The First One To Go

The Dodgers, led by their much celebrated infield -- the one that had been together as a foursome for 8½ years -- were fresh off a World Series championship in 1981. The group had achieved much success together -- four pennants and one championship in an 8-year span. However, the team was getting older, especially the infield. Here were the ages heading into 1982 (baseball ages, meaning their age as of June 30):

1B Steve Garvey: 33 years old
2B Davey Lopes: 37
3B Ron Cey: 34
SS Bill Russell: 33

The writing was on the wall, with heralded minor leaguers waiting in the wings, that the infield would not be together much longer. Davey Lopes had struggled greatly in 1981. He was injured and missed over 50 games, almost half of the strike-shortened year. He only hit .206/.289/.285, a mere 66 OPS+ (although much better than 2008 Andruw Jones).

On February 8, Lopes was traded to Oakland for 19-year old middle infielder Lance Hudson. Hudson would never make the majors. Lopes was healthy again in 1982, and rebounded to hit .242/.304/.371, a 90 OPS+. Meanwhile, 22-year old Steve Sax hit .282/.335/.359, a 97 OPS+, easily winning Rookie of the Year honors, the fourth straight such award for the Dodgers.

Lopes would actually go on to be a productive player through 1987, his age 42 season. After he left the Dodgers, Lopes hit .265/.348/.410, a 111 OPS+. Although not an everyday player, Lopes hit slightly better in his post-Dodger career than during his time with LA (.262/.349/.380, 105 OPS+). He also stole 139 bases in six seasons, at a great 82.7% clip, including a record 47 bases as a 40+ year old in 1985.

What stands out from Lopes' 1987 Donruss card is his position. Lopes is remembered as a 2B, but he was converted from the outfield while in the minors with the Dodgers. Here are his games started by position after leaving the Dodgers:

2B: 250 games
3B: 40 games
LF: 63 games
CF: 31 games
RF: 47 games

After starting 16 games at 2B in 1984, he never started another game at 2B again. I do wish for his picture here Lopes would have been wearing one of the classic rainbow Astros uniforms, but this will have to do.

On to the count...

The Set: 18 of 660 (2.7%)

HOF: 4 (none)

Former Dodgers: 3 (+1)

Future Dodgers: 5

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.