Friday, December 19, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: PAGING Nos. 163-171

HENKE, SMOLTZ AND HOUGH MADE LIFE TOUGH ON HITTERS.


HALL OF FAMERS

  • None, but No. 166 John Smoltz is on the ballot for the first time in January and figures to come close and get in eventually.

FINEST OF THE NINE

  • Smoltz, like Hall of Famer and No. 100 Dennis Eckersley, was a dynamic force as a starter and closer. He's the only pitcher to have 200-plus victories and 150-plus saves.

FINEST MOMENT

  • Nothing better than getting a little payback, and No. 165 Mo Vaughn got his against the Indians in Game 1 of the '98 ALDS. After being held hitless by the Indians in the '95 division series, Vaughn slammed a three-run homer in his first at-bat in the first inning and ended up driving in seven runs. The Red Sox cruised 11-3.

DESIGNED TO THE NINES

  • Have a hard time putting my finger on it, but the No. 164 Tom Henke card manages to stand out. Maybe it's his whole "Terminator'' persona coming out in a subtle way.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #171 DARREN DAULTON

RULED THE PHILLIES' CLUBHOUSE.


COMING OFF HIS BREAKOUT SEASON IN '92.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • The Macho Row Phillies of the 1990s had a lot of gruff personalities, but the player they snapped to attention for was Darren Daulton, who despite his looks was a down-and-dirty gamer. The oft-injured catcher with the stereotypical bad knees was regarded as their leader and a big reason why they broke the Braves' stranglehold of the NL in '93. In 14 seasons, Daulton hit 137 homers, drove in 588 and slashed .245/.357/.427.  

DEFINING MOMENT

  • In the wild Game 4 of the '93 World Series on Oct. 20, Daulton came to bat in the bottom of the fifth with the score 7-7. Facing the Blue Jays' Al Leiter, he crushed a 1-1 pitch deep into the right-field stands. It was the beginning of a five-run outburst that seemingly put the Phillies in control of the game. But this one was a long way from over as the Blue Jays would end up winning 15-14.

DEFINING SEASON

  • After never hitting more than 12 homers and being an afterthought with the bat, Daulton emerged as a force in '92. He hit 27 homers, drove in an NL-leading 109 and slashed .270/.385/.524. He won the Silver Slugger Award and also stole a career-high 11 bases.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Taken in the 25th round of the '80 draft.
  2. Followed up his breakout in '92 with another All-Star season in '93, slashing .257/.392/.482 while clubbing 24 homers with 105 RBI.
  3. He was off to the best start of his career the next season, but knee problems ended his season after 69 games after batting .300 with 15 homers and 56 RBI.
  4. Traded to the Marlins for a minor-leaguer in July '97. Florida went on to win the World Series with Daulton coming off the bench to play first and pinch-hit. He retired after the season.
  5. On July 31, 2013, Daulton had two cancerous brain tumors removed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #170 PAUL O'NEILL

AS HARD-NOSED AS THEY CAME.


THE GUTS OF THE LAST YANKEE DYNASTY.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Paul O'Neill played with the fire of a wide-eyed linebacker that endeared him to hometown fans and sparked Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to proclaim him ''a warrior.'' You just didn't want to be around O'Neill when he made an out or grounded into a double play, lest you get bonked with a bouncing helmet or soaked by an overturned cooler. His passion for 17 seasons was the glue binding five World Series championship teams. The five-time All-Star won the 1994 AL batting crown, hit 281 homers, drove in 1,269 runs, slashed .288/.363/.470 and destroyed an untold amount of equipment.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • O'Neill, who announced he would retire at the end of the '01 season, was playing his final game at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 1 in Game 5 of the World Series. The hometown fans who cherished his go-for-the-throat personality sent him out in style. Standing in right field in the top of the ninth, the Stadium erupted with chants of his name that continued until the inning ended and O'Neill ran off the field in tears. Trailing the Diamondbacks 2-0, the Yankees fed off the emotion and tied the game before winning in the 12th.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Before the '94 strike in early August, O'Neill was amid his finest season. He was slashing a career-high .359/.460/.603. In 368 at-bats, he hit 21 homers with 83 RBI.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Born in Columbus, Ohio, O'Neill was a fourth-round pick of the Reds in '81.
  2. His temper provided a humorous blooper-reel classic with the Reds on July 5, 1989, when he tried to field #177 Lenny Dykstra's hit. With Steve Jeltz preparing to round third in the bottom of the 10th inning, O'Neill bobbled the grounder and couldn't get a handle on the ball. He then gave up and angrily kicked at it with his left foot, sending it on a line to first baseman Todd Benzinger in time to hold Jeltz at third.
  3. O'Neill was part of the underdog Reds team that won the '90 World Series in a sweep of the defending champion Athletics.
  4. The Yankees shrewdly acquired O'Neill in November '92 for #120 Roberto Kelly.
  5. Upon his arrival in the Bronx for the '93 season, O'Neill took #98 Don Mattingly's No. 3 spot in the batting order, where he hit until he retired, four World Series rings later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #169 CHARLIE HOUGH

GOT THE W IN MARLINS' INAUGURAL GAME.


HAD THAT DISTINCTIVE HIGH-ELBOW REACH BACK.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Charlie Hough was precisely a .500 pitcher, but that's not as ordinary as it sounds. He won 216 games, the most of any .500 hurler, and was the only pitcher to make 400-plus career starts and 400-plus relief appearances. Yes, in his 25 years in the game, from which he retired after the 1994 season at age 46, Hough was certainly a compiler of volume statistics. He also ranks in the top 100 all-time in wins, top 50 in strikeouts (2,362) and top 20 in wild pitches (179).

DEFINING MOMENT

  • On Aug. 12, 1970, Hough made his major-league debut for the Dodgers against the Pirates in an L.A. blowout. He was called on to face Al Oliver in the ninth inning with two on and two out in a mop-up appearance. He walked Oliver and up strode Willie Stargell with the bases loaded and score 11-4. Having just learned the knuckler in the '70 instructional league, Hough figured catcher Steve Yeager would call for it when the count reached full. Instead, Yeager put down one finger. Hough sneaked the fastball past the flailing Stargell. 

DEFINING SEASON

  • Hough is the last pitcher to make 40 starts in a season, occurring in '87 with the Rangers when he won a career-high 18 games and struck out a career-best 223 batters. He led the majors in innings pitched with 285.1 and finished with a 3.79 ERA and 118 ERA+.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Born in Hawaii and raised in Hialeah, Fla., Hough was an eighth-round pick in the '66 draft.
  2. Made 440 starts and 418 relief appearances.
  3. Broke in as a reliever for the Dodgers for good in '73 and spent the first 12 seasons in the pen before becoming a full-time starter with the Rangers in '82.
  4. After hurting his shoulder and being stuck in Double A, Hough began learning the knuckleball as a last resort to make the majors.
  5. He won 15-plus games six times. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #168 DELINO DeSHIELDS

EQUAL TO PEDRO MARTINEZ?


THE DODGERS THOUGHT SO IN '93.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • A top-of-the-order presence who averaged 35 steals during his 13-year career, Delino DeShields is known more for being part of one of the most lopsided trades in major-league history. The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1990 was traded to the Dodgers in November '93 for top prospect and future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. At the time, the trade seemed fair, what with DeShields averaging 45 steals, batting .277 and getting on base at a .367 clip. That filled a hole at second base for the Dodgers and gave them a needed injection of speed. However, DeShields faltered in Los Angeles, batting only .241 with a .326 on-base and averaging 38 steals in his three years. Overall, DeShields batted .268 with a .352 on-base percentage and stole 463 bases and was successful 76 percent of the time.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • DeShields put his speed to use on June 22, 1991, against the Reds. He reached base three times and stole three bases in the Expos' 7-4 victory.

DEFINING SEASON

  • After becoming a free agent and leaving the Dodgers to sign with the Cardinals, DeShields bounced back in '97. He led the majors in triples with 14, batted .295 with a .357 on-base percentage and stole a career-high 55 bags. 

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. DeShields finished behind #1 David Justice for NL Rookie of the Year in '90.
  2. While DeShields was struggling with the Dodgers, Martinez was establishing himself as one of the decade's best pitchers with the Expos, winning the first of three Cy Youngs in '97.
  3. From '90-'98, DeShields finished in the top 10 in the NL in steals.
  4. One of the first modern players I remember who wore their socks below the knee to honor the Negro League ballplayers.
  5. Son Delino DeShields Jr. played for the Astros' Double-A Corpus Christie farm team last season.

Friday, December 12, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #167 DANNY TARTABULL

LEFT YOU WANTING MORE.


SAID HIS YANKEE YEARS WERE LIKE BEING IN JAIL.



DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • With the Winter Meetings just concluded, Danny Tartabull's Finest card is featured at the perfect time. He was part of one of baseball's most surprising trades during the annual Hot Stove swap meet on Dec. 10, 1986. A couple months after hitting 25 homers and finishing fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting for the Mariners, he was sent to the Royals for Scott Bankhead and Steve Shields. While Bankhead won an average of seven games a season in his five years in Seattle, Tartabull slugged an average of 25 homers in his five seasons in Kansas City. In his 14-year career with six teams, Tartabull hit 262 homers, drove in 925 and slashed .273/.378/.496.

FINEST MOMENT

  • On July 6, 1991, three days before playing in his first All-Star Game, Tartabull became the first Royal to homer three times in a game at Kauffman Stadium. He victimized #151 Bob Welch in of the Athletics in the second and sixth innings and Gene Nelson in the eighth. He finished 3-for-4 with four RBI. As the starting DH in the All-Star Game, he went 0-for-2.

FINEST SEASON

  • Tartabull put together a top-notch '91 season, hitting 31 homers and driving 100 runs. He hit a career-high .316 to go along with a .397 on-base percentage and led the majors in slugging with a .593 mark.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. Tartabull, the son of former major-leaguer Jose Tartabull, came to the Mariners in '83 as a free-agent compensation pick from the Reds.
  2. Hit 43 homers for Triple-A Calgary in '85, paving the way for his major-league breakout the following season.
  3. The '86 AL Rookie of the Year ballot was loaded with sluggers: #99 Jose Canseco (the winner), #59 Wally Joyner, Cory Snyder, #158 Ruben Sierra and Tartabull. They made up five of the first six places with Blue Jays pitcher Mark Eichhorn.
  4. Supposedly, Mariners manager Dick Williams, a known player hater, didn't care for Tartabull or his defense and was a driving force behind the trade to the Royals.
  5. While Tartabull never took home any awards nor won any championships in the majors, he can lay claim to this: Southern California's "Most Wanted'' deadbeat dad last year, according to the Los Angeles County Child Support Services. He's accused of failing to pay a little more than $276,000 in child support for two sons. Well done, Danny. Well done.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

1993 TOPPS FINEST: #166 JOHN SMOLTZ

WILL THE HALL CALL NEXT MONTH?


DID A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING.


DEFINING THE PLAYER

  • Right-hander John Smoltz did a little of everything during his 21-year career. He reached the 3,000-strikeout plateau, became the only pitcher to record 200 wins and 150 saves, won a Cy Young Award and made a successful recovery from Tommy John surgery after missing all of 2000. He also had a signature performance that ironically took place during a historic defeat. Add it up and he was one of the game's top hurlers on a staff for the ages. Smoltz, a career Brave and eight-time All-Star, finished 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA and 125 ERA+.

DEFINING MOMENT

  • Against most any other pitcher, Smoltz would've been good enough on Oct. 27, 1991, to pitch his team to a World Series championship. Unfortunately for him, he matched up against the Twins' Jack Morris in Game 7. Smoltz pitched 7.1 scoreless, striking out four and allowing six hits, good for a no-decision. He also got a no-decision in Game 4 and finished the Series with a 1.26 ERA over 14.1 innings.

DEFINING SEASON

  • Smoltz went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts to win the '96 NL Cy Young Award. He led the majors in wins and strikeouts and the NL in innings pitched with 253.2.

FIVE FINAL FACTS

  1. The Braves acquired Smoltz in '87 from the Tigers, who were battling for the AL East title and needed a major-league-ready arm. Doyle Alexander, whom the Tigers received, went 9-0 and helped Detroit win the division.
  2. After winning 157 games in Atlanta, Smoltz hurt his elbow in '99 and returned two years later to the bullpen to limit his innings.
  3. He saved 10 games in '01 and then led the majors with 55 the next season. He'd save 89 more games in the next two seasons before returning the rotation in '05.
  4. Against the Astros in Game 3 of the '97 ALDS, Smoltz tossed a complete-game three-hitter with 11 strikeouts as the Braves moved on to the NLCS.
  5. His 55 saves in his first full season as closer established an NL record.