Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Playing With My Dodgers: Wilson Alvarez

Has any pitcher's arrival in the big leagues been quite as odd as that of Wilson Alvarez? The Venezuelan native debuted for the Texas Rangers as a nineteen year old in 1989, the first player born in the 1970s to reach the majors. Given a July start in Texas against the Blue Jays, Alvarez failed to retire a batter. Junior Felix singled. Tony Fernandez homered. Kelly Gruber homered. George Bell walked. Fred McGriff walked. And Wilson Alvarez walked off the mound, not to return to the majors for two years.

When he did return, on August 11, 1991, he was pitching in Baltimore for the White Sox. This time he struck out the side in order in the first inning (Mike Devereaux, Juan Bell and Cal Ripken), and would go on to pitch a no-hitter.

Alvarez would have a fine career, going 102-92 with a an ERA+ of 112 in fourteen big league seasons. But that career would be interrupted by injury woes that would see him miss two entire seasons. After proving himself healthy with Tampa Bay in 2002, he would go on to sign three consecutive one-year free-agent contracts with the Dodgers from 2003-2005, serving as a dependable swing man. His velocity diminished, Alvarez reinvented himself as a control artist, posting the best walk rates of his career, by far, while in Dodger Blue.

1995 Topps Stadium Club Virtual Reality Wilson Alvarez CHW #68

The funny thing about Wilson Alvarez's time with the Dodgers is that I can find no baseball card, or mention of the existence of any card, featuring the lefty during his three-year tenure in Chavez Ravine. And I'm not just talking about major releases. He doesn't even show up in the Keebler Cookies sets given away at the stadium. It's as though, once he arrived in Southern California, he feared his soul would be stripped from his body if were to appear in uniform on a 2.5" x 3.5" piece of cardboard. Realistically, it was probably one of those licencing issues that sometimes plagues collectors. Either way, bad timing for Dodger fans. In the absence of a Dodgers card for Alvarez, this Getting a Grip beauty from Stadium Club serves as a fine alternative for the PWMD set. If there is a card out there somewhere featuring Alvarez in a Dodger uniform, please let me know.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I may not be much of a blogger, but I haven't been slacking as a collector. I made some solid progress on the sorting front before X-Mas (I'm into the prolific Ms now), I've kept feeding the habit, and I've kept on mini-collecting. I scanned a few of the better Getting a Grip cards during sorting to throw into the collection, along with the recent excellent trade package hits from Nick of Dime Boxes and John of Johnny's Trading Spot. The mini-collections pages are up to date now. But I'll share some of the better Grip samples from my sorting progress here. Lots o' cool pictures, and (for me) relatively few words. Let's play...

2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee Roy Halliday #460
2004 Topps Ted Lilly TOR #617
2007 Topps Andy Pettitte NYY #32

Here we have three great pitchers who are big-league pitchers no more. At least that's what they say. It's the second time that Pettitte's said so.

1983 Renata Galasso T206 Reprints Barney Pelty SLB
1998 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Christy Mathewson First Class NYG #503

Into the wayback machine we go. We all know about Matty, but how about a little love for "The Yiddish Curver," Barney Pelty?

2001 Upper Deck Legends of New York Hoyt Wilhelm NYG #35
1991 Topps Archives Hoyt Wilhelm NYG #312

Hoyt Wilhelm and his Hall-of-Fame knuckleball grip is the undisputed king of the collection at this point. I really love those Legends of New York cards. That fuzzy logo is fun to touch. I'd love to grab the set at some point (despite the Giants cards), but I'm sure it's expensive.

1993 Topps Charlie Hough FLA #520
1994 Topps Charlie Hough FLA #625

Here's another master of the flutterball, Rough Tough Charlie Hough, like any good knuckler still pitching at a time when he could probably finagle a senior citizens discount on his post-game dinner.

1990 Mother's Cookies Ryan 5000K Nolan Ryan TEX #1
1995 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Reid Ryan Future Foundation TEX #45

Keeping the Grip in the family. Unfortunately, Reid was no "future foundation." In fact, after going 0-10 with a 9.34 ERA and 2.29 WHIP (ouch!) in A-ball in '95, he would have no future at all as a pitcher. But his future (the present) did find him filling the role of Houston Astros president.

2008 Topps Stadium Club Nick Adenhart LAA #103

Nick Adenhart, of course, had his future taken away from him by a drunk driver. This is (oddly, and unfortunately) my only card of his, so far. But it's a beaut.

1994 Topps Bryan Harvey FLA #20
1979 Topps Tom House SEA #31
2009 Topps Update Sean O'Sullivan LAA #UH23
2001 Topps Mike Hampton COL #708
2002 Topps Todd Jones COL #552

And there's just a mess of great Topps Grips over the past several years. Did Hampton really throw a pitch with that grip? That's Randy Tomlin's "Vulcan change" grip, isn't it?

1998 Fleer Ultra Ramon Martinez LAD #382
2011 Topps Allen & Ginter Mini Chad Billingsley LAD #124

Of course, we've gotta get some Dodgers in here. Ramon Martinez offers us a different angle for a grip card, while Chad Billingsley obliges by rubbing up the baseball.

1990 Topps Jack Morris DET #555
1995 Topps Darryl Kile COL #228

Speaking of Grips variations, here's non-Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris with a warm-up Grip, and another ill-fated hurler, Darryl Kile, Rubbing one up.

2004 Topps Kevin Milwood PHI #11
2008 Upper Deck Jake Westbrook CLE #122

A couple of rosin bags make an appearance with Millwood and Westbrook (sounds like a country music duo...). This doubles the rosin bags in the collection. They're proving more elusive than I'd expected.

1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice J.R. Phillips SFG #714
1990 ProCards Tim Leiper London Tigers #1281

I've actually added a couple of new categories to Getting a Grip. This collection did not previously allow for non-pitchers to gain entry. But if you're going to pose with such an obvious pitcher's grip, there's just no keeping you out.

1985 Fleer Al Holland PHI #254
1992 Fleer Dennis Martinez Record Setters MON #683

Finally, we have a couple of great examples of what I'm calling Achievement Grips, pitchers proudly showing their balls (that could probably be worded better...) in recognition of some noteworthy performance.

There's new stuff in all four of the mini-collections, so check 'em out. Thanks for playing.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tandem Random Fandom: Part II

In this final look at the contents of an eagerly anticipated trade package from Nick of Dime Boxes fame, we see the many ways in which the best blogger in the biz managed to exceed all expectations.

I don't often throw out hints in the comments section of posts suggesting a new home (mine) for a card shown by a blogger. Considering the success stories recently outlined by the Night Owl, I should probably make an effort to get over that misguided attempt at politeness. And, in fact, I did. This was the result:

2012 Topps Update Matt Harvey NYM #US23

It was the first card I saw when I opened the package, and it was accompanied by a note labeling it as a last-minute addition to be enjoyed. Your wish is my command, Nick. I enjoyed, enjoy, and will enjoy. Speaking of which...

2013 Topps Adam Greenberg MIA #253
1995 Topps Traded Jim Abbott CHW #75T

I can't help but enjoy the very first hits from my "Playground Necessities" want list! I don't have a lot of Topps flagship base set needs from about the dawn of the Reagan era, but these were a couple of them. Thanks to Nick, I can now say they "were" needs, rather than "are." The beauty of this pair is that we're looking at a couple of the best feel-good stories in baseball. In fact, the Greenberg card was Nick's favorite of 2013 for that reason. I was happy to be able to hook Nick up with a couple of versions of my own personal favorite (stay tuned for an upcoming post) in my return package.

2001 Upper Deck Origins of the Game Satchel Paige Kansas City Monarchs #56

The highlight for me of Nick's last trade package was another Satchel Paige card. Two trade packages, two cards of Ol' Satch. I'd say Nick's started himself a tradition here. Can't wait until the only options left are vintage... (Just kidding, Nick.) (Not really.)

1998 Fleer Tradition Orel Hershiser CLE #243

Nick also enjoys collecting cards of my favorite player of all time (until Kershaw brings a championship to LA, that is). Nick's enjoyment comes from the Bulldog's less-intimidating side. Hershiser was my first player collection because of his magical '88 season, in which he became a baseball hero to me. Nick collects what he calls "Nerdy Hershisers," the many cards in which the Bulldog looks more like a librarian. It's all good. Incidentally, I have a couple of mini-collections that I haven't told anyone about, mainly because I have a hard enough time keeping up with this blogging thing, as it is. But this cards makes its way into one of those.

2006 Upper Deck Future Stars World Future Stars Nan Wang China #WBC-2
2009 Topps WBC Stars Fu-Te Ni Chinese Taipei #BCS9

Nick also knows that I like WBC cards. I have the 2006 Upper Deck and 2009 Topps WBC box sets. But I have very few cards from the various insert sets that have been produced after each of the three tournaments. Nick sent me four that I can check off the list, including one of my favorite baseball names of recent years: Fu-Te Ni. I love that 2009 Topps subset, with the giant colorful logo. I'm not sure I have any of the others, since I bought the factory set in '09 (hint, hint).

2010 Topps Chrome Prince Fielder MIL #1

The primary way in which our tastes in cards overlaps is that both Nick and I enjoy cards that are a little out of the ordinary, for one reason or another. One form that can take is great photography, featuring shots that you don't see on lot of cards. This Prince Fielder knocking down the bowling pins homerun celebration from 2010 Topps certainly qualifies. And it looks great in the Chrome version because the gold color matches really well with the Brewers' barley-sprig beer-brewin' color scheme.

1991 Leaf Studio Black & Decker (Bud Black/Steve Decker) SFG #260
1999 Just Minors John Elway Oneonta Yankees #81

The other way in which the Power of the Random makes itself felt in the card world is with unusual content. Fleer went with "Black & Blue" back in '84, when the current Padres manager was a teammate of Vida Blue. The Donruss/Leaf people went in another direction when opportunity would again strike. Meanwhile, the Elway card is timely since I recently learned that the Super bowl is coming up (which, to me, just means baseball season is getting close!). Apparently the Broncos are going to be in the Super Bowl. Considering that John Elway is the most recent player that I know to play for the Broncos, there's some nice synchronicity there. Here's hoping that this is already one of the 1,366 (and counting) unique John Elway cards in the collection of John of Johnny's Trading Spot, 'cuz I dig this one too much to let it go.

1993 Topps Willie Wilson OAK #318
1981 Topps Bruce Bochte SEA #723

Mmmmmmm... Doughnuts! Nick knows mini-collections. He hooked me up with some nice Doughnuts, but he also knows that Getting a Grip is what really gets the endorphins flowing for me...

1992 Pinnacle Greg Maddux Grips CHC #608

A quick look at the Getting a Grip collection page shows that the only card I still needed from Pinnacle's awesome Grips subset was that of newly-minted Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux. Thanks to Nick, this beauty is a need no more. I'll be updating the mini-collections pages with Nick's contributions, as well as those from Johnny's Trading Spot, in the next few days. But let's take a look at a few more of Nick's Grips gifts before wrapping this up.

2013 Topps Allen & Ginter Matt Cain SFG #241
2003 Donruss Team Heroes Juan Pena OAK #368

Battle of the Bay Area Grips. Juan Pena pitched for twelve seasons in the minor leagues (including right here in Southern Oregon) and in Mexico, but he never made it to the Big Show. Matt Cain is a three-time All-Star with a perfect game on his resume. The life-long Giant has a 5-10 career record against the Dodgers. Juan Pena wins. (It was never really a contest.)

2004 Upper Deck Legends Timeless Teams Phil Niekro NYY #239
2008 Upper Deck Kerry Wood CHC #445

These are the best kind of Grip cards, where the pitcher really gets in your face with that baseball. And there's nothing better than a knuckler gip, especially coming from a 46 year old who won 16 games in pinstripes in '85 on his way to the Hall of Fame. Cubs legend Kerry Wood really goes out of his way to get that grip front and center on this spectacular '08 UD sample. (Interesting that Mark Prior also gets a great Grip card in that set).

But, speaking of going out of their way, Nick also sent me this:

1961 Topps Hoyt Wilhelm BAL #545

Holy Friggin' Moly!

Talk about a grand finale!

As you probably already know, Wilhelm is the subject of Nick's longest-tenured player collection, and this card had been a white whale of his until recently. Thanks to the generosity of the card bloggin' world, he managed to find himself in possession of a second copy of this tough-to-land high-number gem from the '61 Topps set. And in an unbelievable display of his own generosity, he paid that good fortune forward to me. It's a beautiful thing for many reasons:

1) It's obviously a true highlight for the Getting a Grip collection.

2) It's the second vintage Hoyt that Nick has contributed to the Grips collection, the first being the honorary header card.

3) Not that Nick was aware, but I have a decent burgeoning '61 Topps collection. Oddly, I'm pretty sure that I have more '61s than cards from any other year in that decade. Needless to say, this is a fabulous addition.

4) Wilhelm played for the Dodgers. That always gets bonus points.

Not that Nick needs any bonus points. If I'd never received a card from him, his blog would still be a must-read favorite of mine. Having him for a like-minded trade partner has probably been the biggest benefit of joining (in my own half-assed way) the blog community. I look forward to many years of trades and friendship with my brother in Randomocity. Thanks again, Nick.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tandem Random Fandom: Part I

Last time I teased a trade package from Nick, the master of the Dime Boxes. We share an infatuation with the Random. I usually pack in about 873% more words in each post than anyone in their right mind is interested in reading. In the spirit of the Random, let's throw a changeup. For the Dodgers portion of this trade post, I'll observe keyboard silence until the end of the pretty pictures. Keep in mind, this is just a sampling of the Blue Crew stew sent by Nick...

2001 Topps Jackie Robinson Memorable Moments BRO #783
1994 Ted Williams Card Co. Gil Hodges Swingin' for the Fences BRO #148

1970 Topps Manny Mota LAD #157
1973 Topps Don Sutton LAD #10

1980 Topps Johnny Oates LAD #228
1981 Topps Rick Monday LAD #726

2003 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classics Steve Garvey LAD #81
1981 Topps Drake's Big Hitters Steve Garvey LAD #11

1991 Leaf Studio Orel Hershiser LAD #183
1989 Fleer For the Record Kirk Gibson LAD #4

1991 Topps Stadium Club Ramon Martinez LAD #516
1992 Leaf Eric Davis LAD #430

2007 Upper Deck Masterpieces Mike Piazza LAD #40
2000 Upper Deck SP Top Prospects David Ross LAD #57

2009 Topps Heritage Jim Thome LAD #650

2012 Topps Chrome Matt Kemp LAD #120
2010 Topps 206 Matt Kemp LAD #89



2009 Upper Deck Season Biography Clayton Kershaw LAD #SB-49
2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee Clayton Kershaw LAD #141
2013 Bowman Clayton Kershaw LAD #91

Well, I almost made it through the pictures without intruding with words. Anyway, words can't really do justice to Nick's generosity. That said, I'll have plenty to say (as usual) next time, when I wrap up this look at his trade package. Not that it's obvious from what I've shown so far, but I've definitely saved the best for last...