Todd Van Poppel 1994 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 28, 2017

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As baseball gathers in Cooperstown this weekend to honor the all time greats of the game, consider how difficult it is to predict who will become great and who will fade into obscurity.

A case in point of someone who was projected to have greatness in baseball and fell far short was Todd Van Poppel. One can argue that the projection of his greatness led directly to his downfall.

As a high school phenom in Texas, Van Poppel caught the attention of Sports Illustrated who profiled him as the next great Texas flame thrower. The concept of Texas flame throwers were in vogue in the late 1980’s. Roger Clemens was dominating with the Red Sox and Nolan Ryan had a renaissance with the Rangers. (Truth be told, Ryan was also great with the Astros all those years but I digress.)

Van Poppel was the most coveted amateur player in America but seemed committed to attend the University of Texas.

The Atlanta Braves, slowly building what would become an all time great team, had the first pick overall in 1990. Van Poppel was the clear cut first choice but they did not want to waste the pick if Van Poppel wouldn’t sign, which he indicated he wouldn’t.

The Braves compromised and signed Chipper Jones.

Meanwhile the defending World Champion Oakland A’s had piled up a bunch of draft picks after letting Dave Parker, Storm Davis, Matt Young and others leave via free agency.

They were the best team in baseball, the reigning champs and had 4 of the first 36 picks in the draft. They could defend the title AND rebuild at the same time. It also meant they could take a risk.

With the 14th pick, the defending champs selected Van Poppel, thinking they had nothing to lose.

His agent Scott Boras shot for the moon with the A’s, knowing that if it didn’t work, Todd would just head off to Austin to pitch for UT.

The A’s, thinking they had stumbled into the next Roger Clemens, offered him a $500,000 signing bonus and a $1.2 million major league contract. The deal was worked out and the A’s drafted 3 other college pitchers to lay down the foundation of the next great pitching staff.

None of the pitchers panned out.

By signing Van Poppel to a major league contract out of high school, it prevented the A’s from having multiple minor league options. They NEEDED to promote Van Poppel sooner rather than later. Now if he was like Dwight Gooden and was big league ready by age 19, that would be one thing.

Van Poppel wasn’t ready. And yet at age 21, the A’s had little choice but to put him on the big league roster. He had all the pressure and none of the minor league experience. In 1993, he was on the Oakland staff but it was clear he did not belong.

His ERA’s on the big league level were unsightly. 5.04 in 1993, 6.09 in 1994.

The fact that the 4.88 ERA he posted in 1995 seemed like an improvement says a lot.

Enough was enough in 1996. He needed to go back to the minors at age 24 and re establish his abilities. But in order to do that, he needed to be put on Waivers because of the big league contract. The Tigers selected him and the Van Poppel hopes were over in Oakland.

He never did establish himself as a major league pitcher. Between 1998 and 2004, he bounced around the majors, posting a few decent seasons as a middle reliever for the Cubs in 2000 and 2001. He seemed like a grizzled veteran by then and yet he had not reached his 30th birthday in those years.

After a stint with the Reds in 2004 and a try out with the Mets in 2005, he retired, evidently not bitter and happy he played 10 plus years in the majors.

Was he an overrated prospect or did the Major League contract derail his career? Would he have been an ace had he developed in the minors properly or went to University of Texas?

We will never know. What we DO know is a lot of people thought it was unfair that the World Champion A’s could improve with a can’t miss pitcher like Van Poppel while a team like the Braves that NEEDED to improve got stuck with a mediocre prospect like Chipper Jones.

And yet Chipper Jones is going to the Hall of Fame.

As I said, greatness is hard to predict.

Mike Torrez 1979 Hostess Card – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 27, 2017

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Mike Torrez hates to wear a hat.

He MUST! I am not just basing that statement on this card cut out from the bottom of a Twinkies box in 1979.

Take a look at this card cut out from a Twinkies box in 1977.

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Same thing.

Not convincing enough for you?

Why not take a look at his Topps card from 1977.

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Or his Topps Card from 1979.

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Or how about how he looked just MOMENTS after clinching the 1977 World Series.

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He threw the last pitch, caught the final out and BOOM! Hat is off.

Why is that?

I have two theories. One is the times he DID wear a cap in a picture, they were often HORRIBLY airbrushed.

Check out his A’s cap turned into a Yankees cap in this Burger King Card from 1977.70085-7Fr.jpg

And later when he WAS wearing a Yankees cap, it transformed into a pseudo Boston lid.mike-torrez-78-0011.jpg

His jumping from the Yankees to the Red Sox via free agency was initially a huge coup for Boston. Torrez, who had a long and solid if not spectacular career with St. Louis, Montreal, Baltimore and Oakland, had been a rock steady addition to the Yankees in 1977.

He worked out of the bullpen in the clinching Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS, setting up the Yankees dramatic come from behind victory. Then in the World Series pitched a pair of complete game victories, including catching the final pop up to seal the Yankees’ first title since 1962.

He came along to the Red Sox and gave them a typical Torrez year. Lots of innings, solid pitching and a bunch of wins were on the menu. He was tapped to face his former team in the one game playoff for the AL East and had a shutout going into the 7th.

Then up came Bucky Dent. And there are still loons in Boston who think Torrez was a double agent, still feeling loyalty to his former Yankee teammates and served it up on purpose.

As with most goats in baseball history, it is a shame that Torrez’s career was defined by that one pitch. He pitched in 16 complete seasons at the big league level and parts of two others. ┬áHe was a 20 game winner, consistently threw over 200 innings, played along side several Hall of Famers and was one of the brightest stars in a classic World Series.

Torrez didn’t get the start for the tie breaker game because he sucked!

As for the hat thing, I have another theory, and one that I think is most accurate:

Torrez was a good looking dude. Seriously, look at this guy.

He’s a handsome guy with a GREAT head of hair. And how do you think he looks now?

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He still looks handsome in a distinguished way and with a great head of hair. Maybe he didn’t want to wear a cap because he loved his hair.

I do not blame him. It is a GREAT head of hair.

Now let’s remember the greatest moment of his career, the end of the 1977 World Series.

Andrew Miller 2009 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 26, 2017

IMG_1384Andrew Miller has pitched a little more than 11 seasons in the major leagues. It has been a very strange 11 years because of the fact that he seemed to be two different people.

One Andrew Miller was a bust prospect who not only was on the wrong end of one of the lopsided trades in baseball history but also was in one of the most vilified starting rotations in recent baseball history.

The other Andrew Miller is one of the most consistent relief pitchers in the game, a difference makers who played in 3 straight post seasons with three different teams and won an ALCS MVP along the way.

Harvey Dent would be envious of such a defined split.

The Gainesville Florida native pitched for UNC Tarheels. He was a stand out pitcher for them, winning Baseball America College Player of the Year. In the 2006 draft, the Royals had the top pick and decided to go with Luke Hochevar over Miller. The Tigers, who had the second pick, gobbled up Miller.

He raced through the Tigers farm system and actually pitched for the major league team months after he finished college. While he was eligible to play in the post season for the 2006 Tigers, he was left off of their playoff roster. The Tigers won the pennant that year.

In 2007, Miller went back and forth between the minors and Detroit and did not have much success at the big league level. Still considered to be an elite prospect.

After the Tigers disappointing 2007 campaign fell short of the playoffs, they sent Miller as well as 5 other players to the Marlins. In exchange, the Tigers got the nasty contract of Dontrelle Willis off of Florida’s books.

Oh yeah, they also got Miguel Cabrera.

They got a Hall of Famer. They got a guy whose number will be retired in Comerica Park. They got a guy would win the Triple Crown and a pair of MVPs.

Meanwhile Miller flopped as a starting pitcher for the Fish. His ERA in his first season was over 5.87. He could not stay in the rotation in 2009 as he was smacked around.  Tendonitis sent him to the DL. They tried him in the bullpen. How novel. But then would returned to the rotation.

After 2010, the Marlins gave up on Miller. He was dumped to the Red Sox for Dustin Richardson, non tendered and re-signed by Boston. The Miguel Cabrera trade was one of the biggest flops in Florida’s history and Miller was the face of that disaster.

In 2011, the big spending Red Sox had a disastrous finish to their season as the starting rotation imploded down the stretch and lost a playoff spot on the last day. In Miller’s 5 games for the Red Sox in September, including 2 starts, he posted an ERA of 11.70. That isn’t a typo. That’s an 11.

The rotation, known as the Fried Chicken and Beer Crew after their post game meals, let the team down and ultimately cost Terry Francona his job. Miller’s name was attached to that stink as well.

As the Red Sox had a horrific 2012, one bright spot emerged. Andrew Miller was assigned to the bullpen and actually did a decent job. The 28 year old might not be the ace the Tigers and Marlins envisioned, but he was a fine middle reliever.

The Red Sox would go on to win the 2013 World Series with Miller being a solid member of their bullpen in the first half of the season. But torn ligaments in his foot ended his season in July.

Returning from his injury, Miller pitched like never before. As a member of the 2014 Boston Red Sox, he struck out 69 in 42 1/3 innings, pitching to a 2.34 ERA. But with Boston out of contention, they sent him packing to the Orioles for prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.

Miller dominated with the O’s, with his 1.35 ERA in 23 relief appearances. The Orioles made it to the ALCS that year.

In the off season he signed with the Yankees, where he had another dominating season and notching a career high 36 saves for the Wild Card squad. Last season he was dealt to the Indians and was nearly unhittable against Boston, Cleveland and the Cubs before finally running out of gas in Game 7 of the World Series.

In 2017, he made his second All Star team and is looking to push the Indians to the title.

And the way that Terry Francona, his former manager in Boston, is using him in Cleveland is novel. He doesn’t need to get the save. As of this writing he has 5 Cleveland regular season saves and 1 post season save. Instead he is a weapon to use at any time.

He can come into the game in the 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th, give a few innings and shorten games. Gone is “The Tyranny of the Save” where the best relievers are used only in the 9th. Miller slams the door at any point.

Miller is a pioneering reliever in the same way that Dennis Eckersley blazed a trail in the 1980’s for the evolution of the closer.

The difference between Eck and Miller is of course Eck was a star in the rotation before he made the transition to the pen.

Miller was a flop as a starter. For the good sake of his legacy, the bad part of his career took place at the start. Now in the second half of his time on the mound, he is building his legend.