Friday, June 24, 2016

The Week in Red Sox Cards

I have fallen behind again.  It has been a long, rough week at work.  Boston has not been playing particularly well lately, but that does not really stop me from accumulating cards.  This week I have received a number of trade packages, I have also picked up a box of Topps Series 2, and even added some Jason Varitek cards to my collection:
This first scan mostly consists of some Panini needs.  What is interesting is that a couple of these lesser-known players actually made it back to the Majors recently.  Deven Marrero has been playing the infield a little but lately as Travis Shaw has been slumping and to get some rest for Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts.  Bryce Brentz was recalled for the first time since 2014 due to injuries to Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, and Chris Young.  Guess that Rusney Castillo assignment was a little short-sighted.
And some more stuff.  I got two of the Archives cards with the 1991 design, and they do not disappoint, particularly the Ted Williams which is actually a different photo.  And of course I really like the Xander Bogaerts Diamond King.  I have always enjoyed the Diamond Kings.  Bogaerts is a worthy choice.
And this closes out the first batch of trades with some nice parallels of lesser favorite players Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Tom Gordon, and an awesome insert of Jacoby Ellsbury.  I liked these Starting Points inserts.  A nice look back at the origins of some good players.
My Topps Series 2 blaster did not produce too many Red Sox.  Future Star cards of Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez, two players that have had more downs than ups recently.  Also this duo checklist card of David Ortiz and David Price.
And today's new cards includes a couple of wantlist hits, including top prospect Yoan Moncada, who could be knocking at the door of the Majors soon.  And then, four new Jason Varitek cards.  I was surprised I did not have any of these honestly.  I now have 888 Varitek cards.  Not bad at all.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

One Card Wonder Pt. 29: Ed Sprague

When we were growing up, my little brother was a Toronto Blue Jays fan.  He stopped paying attention before becoming a teenager, for reasons that I don't really know.  Maybe it was tough to be a Blue Jays fan in the mid to late 90's.  He went through a number of different favorite players: Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, and John Olerud, before being a Carlos Delgado fan.  One of his other favorites was third-baseman Ed Sprague.

Sprague had some decent years with the Blue Jays, in particular in 1996.  That year, he hit 36 home runs and drove in 101 runs.  But other than power, Sprague was simply not a very good hitter.  He was eventually traded to the Athletics in 1998, which was one of the last years that my brother followed the team.  At that point, Sprague started bouncing from team to team with varying levels of success.  He was an All Star with the Pirates in 1999 when he turned in a decent year.  In 2000, he started the year off with the Padres.  He also finished the year with the Padres, but he spent a brief amount of time in the middle of the season with the Red Sox.

In 2000, the Red Sox were coming off of two straight seasons of making the postseason, but they were having some difficulties, particularly with regard to pitching and third base.  Incumbent third-baseman John Valentin was dealing with nagging injuries that limited him to 10 games that season.  Top prospect Wilton Veras was proving to be a bust.  Even Sean Berry was given a one-game shot.  Finally, Manny Alexander was a utility player at best.  Boston attempted to fill their hole at third by acquiring Sprague from the Padres for shortstop prospect Cesar Saba and pitching prospect Dennis Tankersley.  Sprague was not the answer either.

Sprague spent less than two underwhelming months with the Red Sox, playing in just 33 games and hitting .216/.293/.306 with two home runs and nine RBIs.  It was a disappointment and did not help Boston with their problems.  Eventually, their problem was solved when Lou Merloni was brought back as he had the best season in his career.  So, Sprague was no longer necessary and he was released shortly thereafter.  Sprague returned to the Padres.

Luckily, neither of the players that Boston gave up in the Sprague deal did anything.  Saba never made it to the Majors, despite being a highly touted prospect.  Tankersley had brief stints in the Majors over three seasons, but never did much and finished with a 7.61 ERA and a 1-10 record.  However, getting to Merloni meant that Boston had to make some room on the 40 man roster and they were not quite ready to give up on Sprague, so they had to place a young infielder named David Eckstein on waivers.  And that is how Eckstein ended up with the Angels, a fairly big blunder.

Despite Spragues's short tenure in the middle of the season, Topps Heritage saw fit to include him as a short-printed card pictured with the Red Sox, even though he finished the season with San Diego.  I was shocked by this when I found it out, and I had to add Sprague's only Red Sox card to my collection.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Pile of 2016 Cards and Topps Now

A couple of trade packages came in the last two days, as well as two Topps Now cards.  Boston has been slipping a little bit of late, but hopefully they will get back on track.
I love the Topps Archives Xander Bogaerts card.  I have mentioned before how much I like the 1991 Topps subset.  The photography is excellent, and this Bogaerts card shows why.  If you look a little closer, the bat has actually broken, but has not completely separated yet.  I also really like the Diamond Kings cards, this Betts card has a decent action shot.
I love the fact that Panini has included Dom DiMaggio in the Diamond Kings set.  Panini has included a number of lesser-known players from eras gone by.  DiMaggio, of course, still holds the team's record for longest hitting streak, despite being challenged this year by Jackie Bradley Jr.

After that, we have two Topps Now Mookie Betts cards that were released on consecutive days.  On Day 1, Mookie became the first Red Sox leadoff batter to hit three home runs in a game.  The next day, he hit two more home runs, tying a record for five home runs in consecutive games.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Topps Now: May

Somehow this one beat two other Topps Now cards that were released before it.  Hopefully those other two will make it soon.  This card shows the two Players of the Month for May.  Jackie Bradley Jr. won it for the American League, mostly on the strength of his 29 game hitting streak and hit eight home runs for the month.  Daniel Murphy did some stuff too, but I don't pay as much attention to the National League.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A New Starting Lineup and a Carlos Quintana Oddball

It was kind of a weird day today.  I received two packages in the mail, both of which contained items for a couple of my favorite under-the-radar players from the teams from the late 1980's and early 1990's, when I became a fan.

Up first is this oddball Carlos Quintana:
This is a Pre-Production Sample of Quintana, who is the player on the right (Bob Zupcic is on the left).  This picture was not used in the regular Topps set, instead it was a more focused shot of Quintana catching a pop-up.  Something that is really strange about this card, that I cannot explain, is that I have a Pre-Production Sample, but the color scheme is the same as the regular Topps set.  This one has the orange triangle containing the player name.  I have no explanation for the difference, but I don't really care either.  This is a new Quintana card for my collection.  I have mentioned many times that Quintana was one of my favorite players early on, despite the fact that he was nowhere close to being a star.  

And then we have this:
I don't pick up as many Starting Lineups these days anymore, but I will make an exception for unusual players, and Jody Reed definitely qualifies.  This one was more of a regional release and was hard to find around here.  Adding to the appeal is the fact that this contains two cards.  Jody Reed was another underrated favorite player.  Reed was a steady defensive middle infielder who had some doubles power and was a prototypical #2 hitter.  He hit 40 doubles three seasons in a row, including tying for the league lead in 1990.  He was a pretty good player that played in the shadows of his more famous teammates.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Red Sox in Cooperstown Pt. 20: George Kell

GEORGE KELL
Years in Boston: 1952-1954 (.305/.383/.451, 18 home runs, 123 RBIs)
Best Year in Boston: 1953 (.307/.383/.483, 12 home runs, 73 RBIs)
Another player that spent just a brief amount of his Hall of Fame career in Boston was third-baseman George Kell.  Third base is an under-represented position in the Hall, but Kell is a borderline selection at best anyway.  He had his best seasons with the Tigers, a team itself that is somewhat under-represented, and was traded to Boston at the age of 29.  He was acquired during the season in 1952, along with Dizzy Trout and others for Red Sox fan favorites Johnny Pesky and Walt Dropo, plus a few other players.  Previously, Kell was mostly known to Red Sox fans for barely beating out Ted Williams for the batting title in 1949, costing him his third Triple Crown.

Kell was acquired after playing 39 games with the Tigers in 1952.  He made the All Star team that first season and he hit .319/.390/.453.  Kell was never really known for his power.  He hit seven home runs for the season, with six of them coming for Boston.

1953 was Kell's best season with the Red Sox and represented his career high in home runs, the only time he hit double digits.  Kell garnered some minor MVP consideration and made the All Star team again as he hit .307/.383/.483.  He hit 12 home runs and drove in 73 runs.  He also hit 41 doubles, the second most he hit in his career.  Always difficult to strike out, Kell was punched out just 22 times over the season, while he walked 52 times.

Kell started the 1954 season slowly, hitting just .258 with no home runs in 26 games before he was traded to the White Sox for Grady Hatton and some money.  Kell rebounded somewhat and ended up making the All Star team again.

George Kell is one of three Red Sox third-basemen in the Hall of Fame, and he is the most borderline of the three candidates.  Kell played parts of three seasons for the Red Sox, but only one full season.  That season was impressive enough and was one of his better seasons, but most of his productive seasons came with the Tigers.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

1991 Topps #731: Jeff Gray

In this series, I will look at my first team set: 1991 Topps. This was the set I started my baseball card collection with.
It is a little surprising that Jeff Gray's first Major League cards are in 1991 sets.  He appeared briefly for the Reds in 1988, pitching in five games and pitching fairly well.  Sets featured a lot of cards back then, so it is kind of odd that not one of them included Jeff Gray.

Gray kind of came out of nowhere in 1990.  He had returned to the minor leagues in 1989 and then was traded to the Phillies as the player to be named later in a July trade.  He was released by the Phillies before the season and Boston picked him up soon after.  Gray was called up to Boston in June when the Red Sox needed a little bit of help with their bullpen.  Gray quickly became the primary setup man and stepped in as closer in August when Jeff Reardon went down with an injury.  He was an impressive find, going 2-4 with a 4.44 ERA, striking out 50 while walking just 15 in just over 50 innings.  He also picked up nine saves and pitched twice in the postseason.

Unfortunately, just as Gray was establishing himself as one of the top setup men in the game in 1991, he suffered a stroke in July.  He was 2-3 at the time with a 2.34 ERA.  Gray spent the rest of the season and the 1992 season recovering and then attempted to return to the Majors, but was not able to do so.  The stroke ended a promising career.