Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mostly Wantlist Hits

I will pre-emptively apologize for the bad scan.  I decided to try to cram all ten cards into one scan.  There is not much exciting here, mostly just base cards with a couple of minor parallels so I will not be spending a lot of time on it. 

First up is some Bowman Platinum cards and the one I want to highlight is David Price.  Price will probably go down as something of a free agent bust, since he was signed to a huge contract for an ace starting pitcher and never really performed anywhere close to that.  But I will prefer to remember him as the one who stepped up huge in the 2018 postseason, particularly the World Series.  I still think he should have been the World Series MVP, or at least co-MVP with Steve Pearce.  

Up next is an A&G mini of Carlton Fisk.  If I had to pick one Hall of Famer whose cards I enjoy getting more than anyone else, it may very well be Fisk.  It's sort of odd I know.  Ted Williams is the greatest Red Sox player of all time.  Carl Yastrzemski spent more time in Boston than anyone, a record unlikely to be broken.  Even Jim Rice was a Red Sox player his whole career.  But there is just something about Fisk that I cannot explain.  Maybe it is the fact that he was a catcher, and I have always liked catchers.

Then we have a few random cards.  I love the picture on the J.D. Martinez Gallery card and obviously the Andrew Benintendi photo is terrific.  I am not sure what happened to Benintendi, since the All Star break in 2018, he has not been the same player.  I am still waiting to see who Boston gets in that deal other than Franchy Cordero.  

That brings me to Dustin Pedroia and what a sad ending to his career.  A few years ago I thought he was a lock for the Hall of Fame as long as he had a few more seasons to compile some numbers.  That unfortunately did not happen and his career effectively ended in 2017.  His numbers still look decent, with a career line of .299/.365/.439 as a second-baseman, but his counting stats really do not come very close, with less than 2,000 hits.  Unfortunately he is probably another Nomar Garciaparra, a player with a very good peak, but not a long enough career to justify making it into Cooperstown.  That's a shame.  

Friday, April 23, 2021

2020 Topps Gallery Blaster Break

I still have no idea why it is SO hard to find any packs anywhere.  I have generally been able to find maybe one blaster of each new product before it is gone.  The Walmart shelves have been empty for weeks now.  I was lucky last Fall to grab one box of Topps Gallery.  Here are the Red Sox: 

Not a lot to show off, but the Xander Bogaerts card is an Artist Proof parallel, so there is that.  Pulling a parallel or insert of a Red Sox player is still fun for me, and for whatever reason, I just do not pull enough Bogaerts cards.  Adding on is a Chris Sale base card.  I like the horizontal shot here, but it would be better if it got the whole arm-span into the shot.  Sale has a unique delivery that is fun to watch, but likely also has an impact on the fact that he had to have Tommy John surgery last year.  He is still working his way back.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Mitch Moreland

Today I am showing off my first Mitch Moreland autograph card, acquired after Moreland had already been traded to the Padres (and he is with Oakland this season).  But Moreland was a favorite during his time in Boston, so I guess it is time to talk about him. 

Moreland spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Texas Rangers before signing a free agent contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2017 season.  He was signed primarily to work into a platoon with Hanley Ramirez, but Moreland's defense (he won a Gold Glove in 2016) pushed Ramirez into being a designated hitter.  Moreland was generally average at the plate that season, hitting .246/.326/.443 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs.  He obtained the nickname "Mitchy Two-Bags" as a result of his propensity for hitting doubles, he had 34 in 2017.  He was one of the few hitters to play well in the postseason ALDS loss to the Astros, hitting .385 with two doubles.  He also pitched an inning in 2017, allowing two hits with a strikeout, but no runs.

In 2018, Moreland missed some time due to injuries, but he was playing so well early on that he was named to his first All Star team as the reserve first-baseman.  He had three at-bats and made the most of it, gathering two base hits.  His 2018 season looked similar to his 2017 as he hit .245/.325/.433 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 68 RBIs.  He again hit well in the postseason, particularly in the ALDS against the Yankees (.333) and the ALCS against the Astros (.500).  He was not as impressive in the World Series against the Dodgers (.125), but he hit a HUGE three-run home run with the Red Sox down by four in the 7th inning of Game 4, setting the stage for a comeback victory that put the Red Sox on the path to winning the Series.

Moreland only played in 91 games in 2019, but he was having a big season from the power department.  He hit .252/.328/.507 with 19 home runs, 17 doubles and 58 RBIs.  He was having his best Major League season in 2020 before he was traded and was the best hitter on the team.  He was hitting .328/.430/.746 with eight home runs, 21 RBIs and four doubles.  Unfortunately, Boston was not going anywhere and Moreland was going to be a free agent.  The Red Sox sold high, sending him to San Diego for prospects Hudson Potts and Jeisson Rosario, both of whom are in Boston's Top 20 prospects.  Moreland struggled for San Diego and was mostly a bat off the bench.  He signed with Oakland prior to this season.

Moreland was kind of a cult fan favorite-type player in Boston.  He is someone that fans will remember and appreciate for years to come.  He was just generally a likable player and fun to watch.  I wish him luck in the future.  He will always be a Red Sox in my eyes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Topps Now: September 15 and September 20, 2020

There were not a lot of Topps Now cards for the Red Sox in 2020.  There was not much to cheer about.  But, late in the season, the Red Sox brought up pitching prospect Tanner Houck, and he was extremely impressive.  His first two starts led to Topps Now cards.

The first card covers Houck's debut in which he pitched five shutout innings and struck out seven batters.  He continued his shutout streak in his second game, covered by the second card.  The first card was actually a blue parallel.  I bought the regular card, but this was sent instead, which I am definitely not complaining about.

Tanner Houck started this season on the roster, but it was always the plan that he would spend some time in the minors.  Houck had not pitched above Double-A.  His call-up last season was more due to need than him being ready, though he definitely did not appear over-matched.  This season has been a bit rougher on him though.  He could use some seasoning and then possibly be ready to stay by the end of this season.  It would be nice for the Red Sox to develop some pitching.  Houck looks like a real possibility.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Season in Review: 2020

2020 was a mess for a lot of reasons.  Obviously with the COVID-19 pandemic, the season consisted of just 60 games and there were no fans in the stands.  Watching games was not as much fun without the energy of the crowds.  Of course the biggest issue was that prior to the season, the Red Sox traded superstar Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.  Without their biggest star of the last several seasons and missing both Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, due to health issues, and a managerial change due to Alex Cora being suspended for his pat in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, the team played poorly.  Ron Roenicke stepped in and did the best he could, but this was a rough roster. 

FIVE FAVORITE PLAYERS

XANDER BOGAERTS

Shortstop Bogaerts stepped in to Mookie Betts's shoes as the leader of the team in 2020.  He tied for the team lead in home runs (eleven), doubles (36) and led the team in stolen bases (eight).  Bogaerts hit .300/.364/.502 and had the highest OPS (.867) and OPS+ (131) on the team.  His defense was still somewhat suspect, but he is one of the best-hitting shortstops in the league.

RAFAEL DEVERS

Devers had another slow start to the 2020 season, something which has become somewhat normal for him, but he was blistering by the end of the season.  Devers tied for the team lead in home runs with Bogaerts (11) and tied for the team lead in doubles (16).  He led the team in RBIs (43) while hitting .263/.310/.483 with 61 hits and 32 runs scored.

CHRISTIAN VAZQUEZ

After a breakout 2019 season, there was some question whether the new power stroke the glove-first catcher showed would continue.  Turned out that it did  Vazquez had another excellent offensive season in 2020 as he continued to push himself into the conversation of best catcher in the league.  Vazquez hit .283/.344/.457 with 22 runs scored, 49 hits, nine doubles, seven home runs, 23 RBIs and four stolen bases.

JACKIE BRADLEY, JR.

JBJ had one of his best seasons in 2020, just in time to be eligible for free agency.  He finished second on the team in WAR as his offense caught up with his defense.  Bradley hit .283/.364/.450 with 32 runs scored, 54 hits, 11 doubles, seven home runs, 22 RBIs and five stolen bases.  Somehow he missed out on the Gold Glove despite many sparkling plays.  JBJ signed with the Brewers prior to the 2021 season.

NATHAN EOVALDI

With Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez out for the year, someone had to step up as the team's best starting pitcher.  That someone ended up being Eovaldi, who ended up leading the team in wins (4-2 record), ERA (3.72) and strikeouts (52).  He walked just seven batters in 48.1 innings pitched.  Eovaldi still had some injury concerns, but was easily the team's best pitcher.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

MATT BARNES

Barnes was a little inconsistent and a little too prone to the longball to be a top-flight closer, but he was the best Boston had.  In 24 games, he had a 1-3 record with a 4.30 ERA and saved nine games.  One thing he did very well though was strike batters out.  He punched out 31 batters in just 23 innings pitched, though he did walk 14.  

MITCH MORELAND

I know he did not stay with the team all year long, but Moreland was having a great season when he was traded to the Padres.  At the time of the trade, he was the team's leading hitter.  He had a line of .328/.430/.746 with 14 runs scored, 22 hits, four doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBIs.  The Red Sox received two decent prospects in the deal.

MICHAEL CHAVIS

The Ice Horse largely struggled in 2020, but he had his moments.  He split time between first base, second base, left field and designated hitter.  His versatility was his biggest asset to the team.  Chavis did have power, hitting five home runs with 19 RBIs, but he hit just .212/.259/.377 with 16 runs scored, 31 hits, five doubles, two triples and three stolen bases.

FAVORITE ACQUISITIONS

ALEX VERDUGO

It was likely not easy being the primary player acquired in return for Mookie Betts, but Verdugo did his best.  And his best ended up being the team's leading hitter.  Verdugo led the team in average, on-base percentage, runs scored (36), and tied for the lead in doubles (16).  He hit .308/.367/.478 with six home runs, 15 RBIs and four stolen bases while playing very good defense.  He led the league in assists.

MARTIN PEREZ

The crafty southpaw Perez came over as a free agent to help solidify the Red Sox rotation and turned into a very capable second starter.  The best part was that Perez seemed happy to be in Boston.  Perez led the team in games started (12) and innings pitched (62).  He had a few bad starts which led to a record of 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 28 walks.

FAVORITE MID-SEASON ACQUISITION

NICK PIVETTA


Not a lot of choices here.  I suppose I could have gone with Christian Arroyo, but he was not quite as impressive.  Pivetta was acquired in the Phillies trade for Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman, but was not the primary part of the deal.  He made two starts at the end of the season, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in ten innings pitched.  He notched 13 strikeouts while walking five.

FAVORITE ROOKIES

PHILLIPS VALDEZ

Valdez had bounced around several organizations before finally making his Major League debut in 2019 with the Rangers.  He was decent, but had been placed on waivers prior to being picked up by Boston, who gave him a shot to win a bullpen job.  Valdez did not disappoint, pitching in 24 games with a 1-1 record, a 3.26 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 16 walks in 30.1 innings.  He was one of the more consistent bullpen arms on the team.

BOBBY DALBEC

After the trade of Mitch Moreland, the Red Sox needed a big bat in the lineup at first base.  Enter Dalbec.  Dalbec made an immediate impact, hitting a home run in his first Major League game.  He made it into 23 games, hitting eight home runs and having a line of .263/.359/.600.  He also had 13 runs scored, 21 hits, three doubles and 16 RBIs.

TANNER HOUCK

With a pitching motion that looked like a right-handed Chris Sale, and some electrifying stuff, Houck made a big impact when he made his Major League debut.  Houck started three games at the end of the season, throwing 17 innings.  He had a 3-0 record, striking out 21 and walking nine batters.  The former first-round pick was a big boost to the depleted rotation.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS

J.D. MARTINEZ

Martinez had a really rough season in 2020 after two great seasons as the Red Sox designated hitter.  Part of the issue was the inability to review his at-bats in-game as the sport cut down on video review.  Martinez hit just seven home runs with a line of .213/.291/.389.  He had 22 runs scored, 45 hits, 16 doubles and 27 RBI.

ANDREW BENINTENDI

In what turned out to be his final season in Boston, Benintendi started the season as the leadoff hitter, made it into 14 games, and then was injured and missed the rest of the year.  When he was healthy, he was bad.  Benintendi ended his final season in Boston hitting just .103/.314/.128 with four hits, four runs scored, one double, one RBI and one stolen base.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Vintage and More

This is a pretty random package with some odds and ends in it, but the last card is from 1961 Topps.  I keep meaning to get into more vintage stuff, but it is definitely harder to come by.   

The first six cards are all cards from my wantlist, most of whom have been stars in Boston.  Only two of these players are still on the team.  Xander Bogaerts leads all current Red Sox in cards in my collection, and it is not particularly close.  Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett were the 2007 postseason MVPs.  Carson Blair never played in the Majors for the Red Sox, but he did make it to the Athletics during the 2015 season.  He played in eleven games and hit his only Major League home runs.

That brings us to the vintage card from 1961 Topps.  Rip Repulski made his Major League debut for the Cardinals in 1953 and had some decent power.  He had his best season in 1955 when he hit .270/.333/.467 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs.  He made his only All Star team the next season, before bouncing around a bit, playing for the Phillies and Dodgers.  In 1960 he was traded to the Red Sox for Nelson Chittum where he played the rest of his career.  He played sparingly for Boston over the next two seasons.  Repulski hit .248/.291/.360 with three home runs and 21 RBIs over 88 games.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Diamond King Roundup: 1996

I am doing something a little different with this series. I have mentioned before that the Diamond Kings subset is one of my favorites of all time. The purpose of the subset is to highlight one player from each team who has made a big impact on the team. It is also true that sometimes the choices were a little suspect. I wanted to go through and look at the choices each year and determine which are the strangest choices. Then I will grade the picks in the context of the team, only. For this series, I only want to examine the years when there was one pick per team. In the mid 1990's, the set kind of went off the rails.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX - FRANK THOMAS


Thomas was still a force to be reckoned with in 1995, even though he dropped to eighth in the A.L. MVP vote.  He still led the league in walks (136), while hitting .308/.454/.606 with 40 home runs, 111 RBIs and 102 runs scored.  He was an All Star for the third season in a row.  Thomas also tied for the team lead in doubles (27) with Ray Durham.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  Thomas may have fallen behind some other players in the league, but he was still the best player on the White Sox.  Robin Ventura came in second on the team in WAR as he hit .295/.384/.498 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs.  The team's best pitcher was Alex Fernandez, who finished with a 12-8 record, a 3.80 ERA and 159 strikeouts to 65 walks in 203.2 innings pitched.

GRADE: A.  Thomas was still an elite talent and was easily the best player on the team in 1995.


BOSTON RED SOX - MO VAUGHN


After a couple of seasons of lead-up, Vaughn truly broke through in 1995.  The big first-baseman was named A.L. MVP in a rather controversial vote, but was also an All Star and won the Silver Slugger.  Vaughn tied for the league lead in RBIs (126), while hitting .300/.388/.575 with 39 home runs, 98 runs scored, 165 hits, 28 doubles and eleven stolen bases.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Well, he did win the MVP of the league, so it is kind of hard to fault the choice.  It was a controversial selection though and he did not even lead his own team in WAR.  The league WAR leader was Red Sox shortstop John Valentin.  Valentin hit .298/.399/.533 with 108 runs scored, 37 doubles, 27 home runs, 102 RBIs and 20 stolen bases while playing impressive defense.  Valentin also won a Silver Slugger.  Tim Wakefield re-emerged from obscurity to finish second on the team in WAR, finishing third in the Cy Young vote by going 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA, 119 strikeouts to 68 walks in 195.1 innings pitched.

GRADE: B+.  It is very hard to pick someone over the A.L. MVP, but this pick probably should have gone to John Valentin.


CLEVELAND INDIANS - MANNY RAMIREZ


In his second full season in the Majors, the Cleveland right-fielder hit made his first All Star game and won his first Silver Slugger, while receiving some MVP consideration.  Ramirez hit .308/.402/.558 with 85 runs scored, 26 doubles, 31 home runs and 107 RBIs.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  No.  As impressive as Ramirez's numbers were, Albert Belle surpassed every single one of them.  Belle had a huge season in 1995 as he finished second in the MVP vote, with many saying he should have won.  Belle hit .317/.401/.690 and led the league in slugging percentage, runs scored (121), doubles (52), home runs (50) and tied for the league lead with 126 RBIs.  Belle was an All Star and a Silver Slugger while becoming the first player in history to have 50 doubles and 50 home runs.  Jim Thome was second on the team in WAR as he hit .314/.438/.558 with 25 home runs and 73 RBIs.  Closer Jose Mesa was the runner-up in the Cy Young vote as he had a 3-0 record, 1.13 ERA, and a league-leading 46 saves.  

GRADE: C.  Ramirez was eighth on the team in WAR.  The Indians in 1995 were an incredibly deep team.  Ramirez was good, but there were several better choices, particularly the massive season by Albert Belle.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS - MARK MCGWIRE


After an injury-plagued season in 1994, McGwire came back in a big way.  He was named to his seventh All Star team and led the A's in home runs (39) and RBIs (90), while hitting .274/.441/.685, all while playing in just 104 games.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  McGwire missed a chunk of the season, but still led the team in WAR.  Another relic from the A's semi-dynasty days, Rickey Henderson, also had a big season.  Henderson hit .300/.407/.447 with nine home runs, 67 runs scored, 54 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.  Henderson was third on the team in WAR behind McGwire and Stan Javier.  Javier was a very good defensive player, and hit just .278/.353/.387 with eight home runs, 56 RBIs and a team-leading 36 stolen bases.

GRADE: A.  Despite the missed time, McGwire was the best choice for the A's.


TEXAS RANGERS - JUAN GONZALEZ


Gonzalez played in just 90 games for the Rangers in 1995 due to injuries.  Despite this, he finished second on the team in home runs (27) and RBIs (82).  He hit .295/.324/.594 while accumulating 57 runs scored, 104 hits and 20 doubles.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Definitely not.  Gonzalez was seventh on the team in WAR as a result of missing so much time and being the DH when he was in the lineup.  The team's WAR leader was Kenny Rogers, who was an All Star for the first time and finished with a record of 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA.  Rogers struck out 140 batters while walking 76 in 208 innings pitched.  Catcher Ivan Rodriguez was second in WAR as he hit .303/.327/.449 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs while winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.  The team leader in home runs was Mickey Tettleton (32) and RBIs was Will Clark (92).

GRADE: D.  Gonzalez missed a lot of time and did not really stand out that much when he was healthy.  Kenny Rogers had a big season out of nowhere and probably should have been the Diamond King, though I can see an argument for Ivan Rodriguez as well.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS - ROBERTO ALOMAR


In his last season north of the border, Alomar was named to his sixth All Star game and won his fifth Gold Glove.  The second-baseman hit .300/.354/.449 with 71 runs scored, 155 hits, 24 doubles, seven triples, 13 home runs and 66 RBIs.  He also stole 30 bases, while being caught just three times.  He led the team in hits, triples, stolen bases and batting average.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably?  Alomar was third on the team in WAR, but the first place player was David Cone, who was traded to the Yankees at the trading deadline.  Cone went 9-6 with a 3.38 ERA with 102 strikeouts and 41 walks in 130.1 innings pitched.  Second place went to Al Leiter, who had a record of 11-11 with a 3.64 ERA, 153 strikeouts and 108 walks in 183 innings pitched.  Toronto's home run and RBI leader was once again Joe Carter with 25 and 76, but he hit just .253/.300/.428.

GRADE: A.  Hard to fault Donruss for this choice.  Alomar still stood out on this weakening Toronto team.


CALIFORNIA ANGELS - TIM SALMON


Salmon is probably one of the best players to never be named an All Star, obviously of those that played when there were All Star games.  He had his best individual season in 1995, winning the only Silver Slugger Award of his career and finishing seventh in the MVP race.  Salmon hit .330/.429/.594 with 177 hits, 111 runs scored, 34 doubles, 34 home runs and 105 RBIs.  He led the team in the slash categories, hits, doubles and home runs.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Definitely.  Salmon was the best hitter on a very good, young Angels team and the WAR leader.  In second place was Jim Edmonds, who put up a slash line of .290/.352/.536 with 33 home runs and 107 RBIs, giving the team two great outfielders.  Third-baseman Tony Phillips was third with a line of .261/.394/.459 with 27 home runs and 61 RBIs.  J.T. Snow gave the Angels three 100-RBI men by hitting .289/.353/.465 with 23 home runs and 102 RBIs.

GRADE: A.  The Angels had a lot of great hitters in 1995, but Salmon stood out.


SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - BARRY BONDS


Had the Giants been a little better, Bonds might have had an argument for N.L. MVP.  All he did in 1995 was lead the league in walks (120), on-base percentage and OPS (1.009) while hitting .294/.431/.577 and turning in a 30/30 season (33/31).  He also scored 109 runs and drove in 104 while making the All Star team.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Definitely, though he was helped out that Matt Williams was injured for half the season.  Williams hit .336/.399/.647 with 23 home runs and 65 RBIs in only 76 games.  Mark Carreon had a weirdly good year, hitting .301/.343/.490 with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs.  Even Glenallen Hill hit 24 home runs and drove in 86.

GRADE: A.  Bonds was easily the best player on the team.  Matt Williams was great, but not on the field enough.


SAN DIEGO PADRES - TONY GWYNN


Gwynn won his sixth batting title in 1995, hitting .368/.404/.484.  He also led the Major Leagues in hits (197), while also accumulating 82 runs scored, 33 doubles, nine home runs, 90 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.  He finished ninth in the MVP vote and was an All Star and a Silver Slugger recipient.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  From a WAR standpoint, no.  Gwynn finished fifth on the team in WAR due to being rather poor defensively (-2.3 dWAR).  Andy Ashby with the team's WAR leader as he went 12-10 with a 2.94 ERA, striking out 150 batters and walking 62 in 192.2 innings pitched.  The position player with the highest WAR was third-baseman Ken Caminiti, who hit .302/.380/.513 with 26 home runs, 33 doubles, 94 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.  

GRADE: B+.  I mean, I get it.  Gwynn kept winning batting titles.  This particular honor should have probably gone to either Andy Ashby or Ken Caminiti though.


CINCINNATI REDS - REGGIE SANDERS


Sanders had the best season of his career in 1995 as he was named to the All Star team for the only time in his career and finished sixth in the N.L. MVP vote, the only time he received any consideration.  Sanders hit .306/.397/.579 with 28 home runs, 91 runs scored, 36 doubles, 99 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.  

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Surprisingly, yes.  I say "surprisingly" because the Reds had the N.L. MVP in 1995.  Shortstop Barry Larkin hit .319/.394/.492 with 98 runs scored, 29 doubles, 15 home runs, 66 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.  Larkin also won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards and was an All Star.   The team's best pitcher was Pete Schourek, who went 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA with 160 strikeouts and 45 walks in 190.1 innings pitched.  Ron Gant hit 29 home runs, drove in 88 runs and stole 23 bases.

GRADE: A.  Yes, it's weird that the N.L. MVP was not the Diamond King, but Sanders actually had the better year at the plate.


COLORADO ROCKIES - LARRY WALKER


The Rockies acquired Walker in a marquee free agent deal prior to the 1995 season, which would ultimately prove to be the move that led him to the Hall of Fame.  He finished seventh in the MVP race after hitting .306/.381/.607 with 31 doubles, 36 home runs, 101 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  The Rockies were loaded with power hitters in 1995, but Walker was the standout because he was the best all-around player.  The team also had Dante Bichette (.340/.364/.620, 40 home runs, 128 RBIs), Vinny Castilla (.309/.347/.564, 32 home runs, 90 RBIs) and Andres Galarraga (.280/.331/.511, 31 home runs, 106 RBIs).  Unfortunately, the Rockies had no pitching to back up the offensive fireworks.

GRADE: A.  Walker was the best player on the team, and his WAR output proved that.


MONTREAL EXPOS - PEDRO MARTINEZ


Still just 23 years old, Martinez was starting to develop into the Hall of Fame pitcher he would become at this point.  He led the Expos staff in most major pitching statistics.  Martinez had a record of 14-10 with a 3.51 ERA.  In 194.2 innings pitched, he notched 174 strikeouts while walking 66 batters.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  The Expos had a bad year in 1995, but Martinez was probably the brightest spot on the team.  He led the team in WAR.  In second place was Rondell White, who hit .295/.356/.464 with 13 home runs, 57 RBIs and 25 stolen bases.  Sean Berry was the OPS leader, hitting .318/.367/.529 with a team lead-tying 14 home runs and drove in 55 runs.

GRADE: A.  The Expos were not good coming off the best season in their history.  Martinez though was a rising star and the best player on the team.  Plus he was still young and developing.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES - JEFF KING


The Pirates were horrible in 1995 and very little in the way of quality players.  King, a former first overall draft pick, had the best season of his career to that point (he would have better seasons in the next couple years).  King led the Pirates hitters in home runs (18) and RBIs (87), while hitting .265/.342/.456.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  No.  King had a good year, and had the team's best power numbers, but he was third on the team in WAR.  Pitcher Denny Neagle was first, with a record of 13-8, which was impressive given the team's record.  He had an ERA of 3.43 and struck out 150 batters while walking 45 in 209.2 innings pitched.  Orlando Merced had the highest WAR among position players.  He hit .300/.365/.468, leading the team in all three slash categories.  He finished second to King in home runs (15) and RBIs (83), not far off from King.

GRADE: B.  King was not a bad choice, he just was not the right one.  This should have gone to Orlando Merced.


CHICAGO CUBS - MARK GRACE


First-baseman Grace had the best season of his career in 1995, finishing 13th in the MVP race while winning a Gold Glove and being named to the All Star team.  He led the league in doubles (51).  He hit .326/.395/.516 with 180 hits, 97 runs scored, 16 home runs and 92 RBIs.  He was the team's OPS leader.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  It is fairly close between Grace and Sammy Sosa, with Sosa nudging Grace in WAR and Grace having the better OPS.  So it is sort of a coin flip.  Sosa hit .268/.340/.500, but had 36 home runs, 119 RBIs and 34 stolen bases.  The team's best pitcher was Jaime Navarro, who had a record of 14-6 with a 3.28 ERA in 200.1 innings pitched.  Randy Myers had a good season as the closer with 38 saves and 59 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched.

GRADE: A.  This could have gone either way between Grace and Sammy Sosa.  Sosa had some eye-popping numbers, but Grace had the better OPS.


ATLANTA BRAVES - GREG MADDUX


Maddux had an outstanding season in 1995, winning his fourth Cy Young Award in a row and finishing third in the MVP race.  He also won a Gold Glove.  Maddux led the league in wins and winning percentage (19-2 record), ERA (1.63), complete games (ten), shutouts (three) and innings pitched (209.2).  He struck out 181 batters while walking just 23.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Um, yeah.  Maddux might have been the best player in the game.  The Braves top three players by WAR were each starting pitchers.  Maddux was first, obviously.  Tom Glavine was second (16-7, 3.08 ERA, 127 strikeouts) and John Smoltz was third (12-7, 3.18 ERA, 193 strikeouts).  It is no wonder the Braves finally won it all in 1995.  Ryan Klesko was the team's best hitter (.310/.396/.608, 23 home runs, 70 RBIs).

GRADE: A.  This is probably the easiest choice here, not that the Braves did not have any other good players, but Maddux was at his best in 1995, and THAT is saying something.


NEW YORK YANKEES - DON MATTINGLY


In his final Major League season, Mattingly FINALLY appeared in the postseason for the first time.  The first-baseman hit .288/.341/.413 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs.  He notched 132 hits with 59 runs scored and 32 doubles.  To his credit, he did make the most of his first and only postseason appearance, hitting .417 in the ALDS loss to the Mariners.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Absolutely not.  This is definitely a career achievement pick as Mattingly turned in a -0.2 WAR season.  Yes, that's a negative WAR.  His OPS+ was 97, below-average.  Bernie Williams was the team's best player as he hit .307/.392/.487 with 18 home runs and 82 RBIs.  Wade Boggs returned to his Red Sox form, hitting .324/.412/.422.  Paul O'Neill had another great season, hitting .300/.387/.526 and led the team in home runs (22) and RBIs (96).

GRADE: F.  Like I said above, this is a career achievement Diamond King on a team that had much better options.  Mattingly was a below-average player by both WAR and OPS+.  His numbers simply did not stand out for a power-packed position like first base.  This should have gone to Bernie Williams.


PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES - GREGG JEFFERIES


Jefferies settled into a new team in 1995, joining the Phillies after two successful seasons with the Cardinals.  He split time between first base and left field, and continued to hit, batting .306/.349/.448.  He led the team in hits (147), runs scored (69) and tied for the team lead in home runs (11).  He drove in 56.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  He is maybe not a terrible choice for a team with very few good choices.  His numbers are not great, other than his average and he was ninth on the team in WAR since he was something like a butcher in the field.  Jim Eisenreich had the better hitting numbers, batting .316/.375/.464 with ten home runs and 55 RBIs.  The team's WAR leader was Ricky Bottalico, a reliever who was not even the closer.  Bottalico pitched in 62 games with a record of 5-3, a 2.46 ERA, 87 strikeouts and 42 walks in 87.2 innings pitched.  Heathcliff Slocumb had an All Star season as the closer, saving 32 games with a 2.89 ERA.  Mark Whiten came over halfway through the season and hit .269/.365/.481 and tied for the lead in home runs.

GRADE: B.  I don't know, it is tough to be too hard on this pick.  The Phillies really had no standout players in 1995.  I would have been tempted to go with Jim Eisenreich or Heathcliff Slocumb, but at least Jefferies was something of a high-profile player. 


DETROIT TIGERS - CHAD CURTIS


Curtis was acquired in a deal with the Angels prior to the 1995 season in which Tony Phillips was sent out West.  His first season in Detroit was fairly successful as he led the league in plate appearances (670), while hitting .268/.349/.435 with 96 runs scored, 157 hits, 29 doubles, 21 home runs, 67 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Meh.  Technically he was sixth in WAR, but nobody in Detroit had huge stats.  The team's WAR leader was David Wells, who had a great season, but only pitched in 18 games before being traded to the Reds.  He was 10-3 with a 3.04 ERA though.  In second place was Travis Fryman, who hit .275/.347/.409 with 15 home runs and 81 RBIs.  He was very good defensively though.  Curtis actually lost some WAR due to poor defense, he was miscast as a center-fielder.  Lou Whitaker had a great season, hitting .293/.372/.518 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs, but he only played in 84 games.  It was Whitaker's last season.

GRADE: B.  Like Jefferies, it is tough to be too hard on this pick.  Curtis was decent, and was probably the better offensive choice who actually played the whole season.  This could have easily been a Lou Whitaker Career Achievement Diamond King though and I doubt there would be any complaints.


NEW YORK METS - JASON ISRINGHAUSEN


In the mid 1990's there was a lot of hype around a trio of Mets pitching prospects, collectively known as Generation K.  Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher each made their Major League debuts in 1995, with Paul Wilson coming the next season.  Isringhausen made an impact right away, pitching in 14 games and going 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA, striking out 55 and walking 31 in 93 innings pitched.  He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably not, but he was a hyped prospect who actually made an impact.  Isringhausen was second on the team in WAR, and it was pretty close.  Jeff Kent narrowly edged him.  Kent hit .278/.327/.464 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs, good numbers for a second-baseman.  Rico Brogna was the Mets' primary power source though, hitting .289/.342/.485 with 22 home runs and 76 RBIs.

GRADE: B+.  I can't argue too much with this selection, particularly given the hype and the performance, but Jeff Kent was maybe marginally better, and he actually played the full season.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS - B.J. SURHOFF


Surhoff, like Jeff King above, was a former first overall pick that took a long time before his career started to take off.  1995 was his first really good season as he played multiple positions and hit .320/.378/.492 with 13 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBIs. 

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably not quite.  John Jaha might have a slightly better case.  The two had the same WAR score, but Jaha had a higher OPS.  Jaha hit .313/.389/.579 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs, but Surhoff played in more games.  The Brewers had two pitchers with higher WAR, but neither had very impressive traditional stats.  Ricky Bones was 10-12 with a 4.63 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 83 walks in 200.1 innings pitched.  Steve Sparks was 9-11 with a 4.63 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 86 walks in 202 innings pitched.

GRADE: B+.  Not a lot of options in Milwaukee.  This could have gone either way between Surhoff and John Jaha and either would have been acceptable.


FLORIDA MARLINS - JEFF CONINE


Conine was the 1995 All Star Game MVP and received some minor league MVP consideration.  He hit .302/.379/.520 with 72 runs scored, 146 hits, 26 doubles and a team-leading 25 home runs and 105 RBIs.  It was Conine's best season.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably.  Conine was actually fifth on the team in WAR, but he was first in OPS, unless Gary Sheffield's injury-shortened season counts.  Sheffield hit .324/.467/.587, but played in just 64 games.  The Marlins' top player by WAR was Chris Hammond, who went 9-6 with a 3.80 ERA, 126 strikeouts and 47 walks in 161 innings.  Not much to write home about.  Quilvio Veras finished third in the Rookie of the Year vote, hitting .261/.384/.373 and led the league with 56 stolen bases.

GRADE: A.  There is an argument that they could have gone with Quilvio Veras, who had a good rookie season, but Conine was probably the big star on the team with Gary Sheffield being injured so much.


MINNESOTA TWINS - KIRBY PUCKETT


In a shocking turn of events, Puckett was in his final season in 1995 after suffering an eye injury.  Puckett retired while still productive, hitting .314/.379/.515 with 83 runs scored, 169 hits, 23 home runs, 99 RBIs and 39 doubles.  He was an All Star and received some minor MVP consideration.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably not.  I do not see any reference on the card about his retirement, so I am guessing that was not known at this time.  Chuck Knoblauch had the highest WAR on the team.  Knoblauch won a Silver Slugger and hit .333/.424/.487 with eleven home runs, 107 runs scored, 63 RBIs and 46 stolen bases.  Marty Cordova won the Rookie of the Year by hitting .277/.352/.486 with 24 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 84 RBIs.

GRADE: B.  This ended up being something of an unintentional Career Achievement Diamond King.  That being said, either Chuck Knoblauch or Marty Cordova probably should have been the Diamond King, with a minor edge going to Cordova, since he was the Rookie of the Year.


HOUSTON ASTROS - DEREK BELL


Bell was acquired in the massive trade the Astros swung with the Padres.  Unfortunately, receiving Ken Caminiti AND Steve Finley meant that the Padres got the better end of the deal.  Bell had a few good years in Houston though, and in 1995 he received some MVP votes for the only time in his career as he hit .334/.385/.442 with eight home runs, 86 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Not really, but he was decent.  Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were better choices.  Bagwell hit .290/.399/.496 with 21 home runs and 87 RBIs.  Biggio hit .302/.406/.483 with 22 home runs, 77 RBIs and 33 stolen bases.  The Astros' best pitcher was Shane Reynolds, who had a record of 10-11, with a 3.47 ERA, 175 strikeouts and 37 walks in 189.1 innings pitched.

GRADE: B.  Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio would have been better choices, but Bell was a decent enough selection.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS - WALLY JOYNER


In Joyner's last year with the Royals, he led Royals hitters in on-base percentage and was second in batting average.  Joyner hit .310/.394/.447.  He accumulated 69 runs scored, 144 hits, 28 doubles and was third on the team in home runs (12) and second in RBIs (83).

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  No, but he was not really a bad one.  The Royals did not have much going for them in 1995, but there were some clearly better selections out there starting with Kevin Appier, who again, somehow was never a Diamond King.  Appier was the team's WAR leader and made his first All Star team.  Appier went 15-10 with a 3.89 ERA, 185 strikeouts and 80 walks in 201.1 innings pitched.  Gary Gaetti had a rare, big power season for the Royals, leading the team with 35 home runs and 96 RBIs, while hitting .261/.329/.518.

GRADE: C+.  Joyner was not a bad pick, he just was not the right one.  His average was mostly empty and his numbers did not stand out for a first-baseman.  Gary Gaetti or Kevin Appier would have been better selections, with Appier the one I would pick.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS - BRIAN JORDAN


After playing in the NFL for three seasons, Jordan turned his attention full-time to baseball in 1992.  1995 was his first full season and his breakthrough year.  Jordan hit .296/.339/.488 for the Cardinals and led the team in runs scored (83), hits (145) and triples (four).  He also had 22 home runs, 24 stolen bases and 81 RBIs.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  Jordan led the Cardinals in WAR and was the best all-around player on the team.  The Cardinals had an exciting young outfield that also included Ray Lankford (.277/.360/.513, 25 home runs, 82 RBIs, 24 stolen bases) and Bernard Gilkey (.298/.358/.490, 17 home runs, 69 RBIs, 12 stolen bases).  Together, they were the top three Cardinals in WAR in 1995.  Closer Tom Henke was fourth after turning in a 1.82 ERA and 36 saves.

GRADE: A.  Jordan was the best player on the team and turned in a breakout season.


SEATTLE MARINERS - EDGAR MARTINEZ


The Mariners made the postseason for the first time in their history in 1995 and Martinez was a big part of that.  The designated hitter finished third in the A.L. MVP vote by winning the batting title and leading the league in on-base percentage, OPS (1.107), runs scored (121) and doubles (52).  He hit .356/.479/.628 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  As good as he was, no.  The Mariners had the Cy Young winner, Randy Johnson, who was the team's WAR leader.  Johnson led the league in ERA (2.48) and strikeouts (294), walking 65 in 214.1 innings pitched.  He had a record of 18-2.  Martinez was second in WAR, followed by Tino Martinez (no relation).  He hit .293/.369/.551 with 31 home runs and 111 RBIs.  Jay Buhner was the team's big power hitter, knocking 40 home runs with 121 RBIs.

GRADE: B+.  Randy Johnson would have been the better selection, but Martinez had a great year.


LOS ANGELES DODGERS - HIDEO NOMO


Nomo was a high-profile rookie making his Major League debut for the Dodgers in 1995 after coming over from Japan.  Nomo was a sensation, winning the Rookie of the Year and starting the All Star Game while finishing fourth in the Cy Young vote.  Nomo led the league in strikeouts (236) and shutouts (three) while finishing with a record of 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 191.1 innings pitched.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Probably not, but he was not a bad choice.  Catcher Mike Piazza had a terrific season, hitting .346/.400/.606 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs.  Those are numbers from a CATCHER.  He led the league in OPS+ (172), yet finished just fourth in the MVP vote.  Raul Mondesi also had a big season as he hit .285/.328/.496 with 26 home runs, 88 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.  Eric Karros hit .298/.369/.535 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

GRADE: B+.  I certainly understand why Nomo was selected.  He was a rookie sensation, and nothing drives the hobby more than rookie sensations.  However, Mike Piazza would have been the better selection.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES - MIKE MUSSINA


Mussina finished fourth in the Cy Young vote in the American League, primarily as a result of leading the league in wins and shutouts (four).  He had a record of 19-9, with a 3.29 ERA.  In 221.2 innings pitched, he struck out 158 batters while walking 50.

WAS HE THE BEST CHOICE?  Yes.  The Orioles were a pretty mediocre team in 1995, but Mussina had a great season.  The Orioles' best hitter was Rafael Palmeiro, and he finished second in WAR to Mussina.  Palmeiro hit .310/.380/.583 with 89 runs scored, 172 hits, 30 doubles, 39 home runs and 104 RBIs.  Kevin Brown gave the O's two good pitchers as he had a record of 10-9 with a 3.60 ERA in 172.1 innings pitched.  Finally, Harold Baines had a very good season, hitting .299/.403/.540 with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs.

GRADE: A.  Mussina was the Orioles' best player in 1995, edging out Rafael Palmeiro.


RECAP

I did not cover every single card in this set.  There were two cards at the end of the set that were actually called "King of Kings", celebrating major individual milestones.  Those players were Cal Ripken Jr., who of course set the consecutive games record, and Eddie Murray who reached the 3,000 hit mark.  As far as the award winners go, Donruss missed the N.L. MVP, A.L. Cy Young winner and A.L. Rookie of the Year.  There are nine Hall of Famers present in the set, eleven if you count the "King of Kings" cards.  There are four players that have a reasonable possibility of making the Hall someday.

BEST PICK:  Greg Maddux.  Maddux was the Major League WAR leader as he had his best season in 1995.  Given how good he was, that is pretty amazing.  Runner-up probably goes to Barry Bonds who, somewhat quietly, had a terrific season and finished fourth in the Majors in WAR.

WORST PICK:  Don Mattingly.  Not all Career Achievement Diamond Kings are horrible picks, but this one was, particularly given the fact that the Yankees were a great team who made the postseason and had a lot of great players.  Runner-up is Juan Gonzalez, who was hurt for a big chunk of the season.

BIGGEST SNUB:  Albert Belle.  Belle had a historic season, becoming the first player to ever have 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season.  The runner-up is Randy Johnson.  Edgar Martinez had a great year, but Johnson won the Cy Young convincingly.  Special note to John Valentin.  

WEIRDEST PICK, HISTORICALLY:  Derek Bell.  Bell played eleven seasons in the Majors and had a career WAR of 13.1.  He never made an All Star team, only once received MVP votes (he finished 14th), and only led the league in a hitting category once, and that was sacrifice flies in 1998.  Runner-up was Chad Curtis, who played ten years in the Majors, led the league in plate appearances in 1995 and times caught-stealing in 1993.  He was also never an All Star and never received any award consideration.