Steve Bedrosian 1994 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 20, 2017

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There is an amazing contradiction in baseball in terms of analysis.

Much of how we judge the greatness and worth of a player are based upon numbers. These numbers are not subjective. They are hard fast. They are a record of what the player did and how they played.

Art, music and movies can be subjective. I can love El Greco, Talking Heads and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Someone else can hate them. It is a matter of opinion and taste.

But there is no debating the back of a baseball card. Those are numbers. They are data.

Ahhhh. But there lies the contradiction. The numbers may not change, but the value we give one number over another is in a constant state of evolution.

Take Steve Bedrosian. He was a fine relief pitcher. He was an All Star. He threw the clinching pitch of the 1989 NLCS. He won a World Series ring with the 1991 Minnesota Twins. He pitched 14 seasons in the majors and became a millionaire along the way.

Nothing to complain about here. May we all have a career like Steve Bedrosian.

He won a Cy Young Award.

THAT is what I find bizarre. Juan Marichal never won a Cy Young Award. Curt Schilling never did. Neither did Bert Blyleven.

Neither did Nolan Ryan.

But Steve Bedrosian did. Now I have nothing against a relief pitcher winning the Cy Young. I know some people will never give one to someone who isn’t in the rotation. I am not hung up on that.

Nor am I going to throw a lot of fancy Sabermetrics at you to untangle. I was against Steve Bedrosian winning the 1987 Cy Young Award back in 1987.

The Methuen Massachusetts native found himself on the Phillies when they were in that post “winning titles” but pre “truly terrible” neutral zone of the mid to late 1980’s. They still had Mike Schmidt winning the MVP and lots of stars on the team, they just weren’t as good as the Mets or the Cardinals.

After being a part time closer in Atlanta, “Bedrock” had the job full time in Philadelphia when he arrived in 1986. He did a good job and kept the gig the next year. He stumbled badly out of the gate in 1987.

By April 18, he had blown 2 saves and his ERA was 11.05. He finished April with a 7.84 ERA and one single save. I don’t know what the odds were, but I am pretty positive he was a long shot to win the Cy Young at that point.

He had a solid May, allowing 2 earned runs over 17 1/3 innings and in June and July, he posted sub 2 ERAs in each month. He made 9 appearances in June and saved all 9.

Bedrosian was hardly dominant in August and September, with ERAs over 3.50 each month. He didn’t pitch badly, but he was hardly eye popping.

In the end he had a fine season for a closer. He saved 40 games while averaging more than 2 innings an appearance. He went 5-3, his ERA was 2.83 and he struck out 74 batters. He had a good year for a team that went nowhere.

Today, that would get you a pat on the back.

In 1987 it got him the f—ing Cy Young Award.

AGAIN! I have NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING against Steve Bedrosian. I hope he has the Cy Young Award placed in a proud spot in his home. But COME ON! Mariano Rivera never won a Cy Young with his game difference dominating performances. Neither did Goose Gossage. But Bedrosian had one for a nice season?

Cy Young voters salivated over the win totals in those days with a trend that I think reached its insane peak with Bartolo Colon winning his Cy Young and started turning with Felix Hernandez.

But saves were also given far too much weight as well. Granted, this was just before Tony LaRussa turned the save into a 3 batter and out situation, forever padding the save total for lucky schmoes who happened to be on the mound at the end of the game.

Even in 1987, this save fixation did not sit well with a 15 year old Sully. They may have not have been a Dwight Gooden or Mike Scott dominating the National League like they had in the past 2 years. But there were some fine performances… like by Dwight Gooden and Mike Scott!

Rick Sutcliffe had 18 wins for the Cubs and finished second in the voting. Rick Reuschel, who put up All Star numbers in Pittsburgh and helped the Giants win the Division, got one fewer first place vote than Bedrosian.

Sabermetricians would argue that LA’s 1-2 punch of Bob Welch and Orel Hershiser were actually the two best pitchers in the NL that year. But no doubt writers could not get past Hershiser’s 16-16 record. And Welch had just 3 points in the vote, had a 15-9 record which wasn’t very sexy.

Remember how I listed those great pitchers who never won a Cy Young. Remember how I listed Nolan Ryan. Back in 1987, I said that Nolan Ryan should win the Cy Young.

A few other outlying writers unknowingly agreed with me. Ryan led the league with a 2.76 ERA. He also struck out 270 batters, tops in the league, over 211 2/3 innings.

I did not even realize he had the best ERA+, best FIP, best hits per 9 inning ratio, the nest strikeout per 9 inning ratio and best strikeout to walk ratio in the National League.

Traditional stats and advanced stats showed the Ryan Express had a great year. So why did he finish a distant 5th? He went 8-16 with a terrible Houston lineup.

In 16 of his starts, he got 2 runs or fewer of support. In those games he posted a 3.03 ETA, striking out 111 batters in 95 innings and posting a 1-13 record.

You read that right. In 13 of Nolan Ryan’s 16 losses, the Astros scored 2 runs or fewer. I knew back in 1987 he was robbed of a Cy Young. He never did win one.

Steve Bedrosian did because writers penalized Ryan for a lack of run support and were enamored with the save.

Today, Bedrosian doesn’t crack the top 10 in the Cy Young vote while Ryan, Welch and Hershiser would battle out for the award.

Numbers didn’t change. Just our value for them do.

But let’s end this on a positive note. Here is Steve Bedrosian after his trade to San Francisco clinching the 1989 pennant for the Giants.

German Gonzalez 1989 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 6, 2017

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In the late 1980’s, I began studying minor leagues and their stars. I began devouring Baseball America, trying to project who the next great star would be and the new beloved players.

And sometimes I would see a player light up the minor leagues with some dazzling numbers. And seeing I was in my teens and new at this, I assumed those great numbers would translate to success in the minors.

That brings us to German Gonzalez.

The Twins won the World Series in 1987 in kind of sort of a fluke. They were a great team at home and downright bad on the road. They won a mediocre AL West and despite having the lowest win total of any post season team, they had home field advantage in the ALCS and World Series.

They went 6-0 at home and 2-4 on the road. BAM! World Champs with a shockingly thin pitching staff.

But with Jeff Reardon, Juan Berenguer and that’s just about it in the pen, there was a player tearing it up in the minors.

Venezuelan right hander German Gonzalez was pitching well and saving games in Single A Kenosha. He got 19 saves in his 47 games, winning 8 as well. I was looking at that then. I put a lot of value on that.

If you had told me that the Twins would win another World Series in 1991 with a totally different pitching staff, I would assume that German Gonzalez would be the pitcher on the mound celebrating.

If my thoughts in 1987 were enthusiastic, 1988 all but clinched it.

As the A’s were dominating the West, German Gonzalez was a superstar budding in Double A Orlando.

He saved 31 of his 50 appearances with only one loss. His ERA was 1.02. He struck out 69 in 61 2/3 innings, He only walked only 8. Gonzalez was going to be automatic in Minnesota, once he got there.

Stardom was eminent when he skipped Triple A and went right to the majors on August 5, 1988.

In his first game, he pitched the ninth in Yankee Stadium. He retired Don Slaught before letting Gary Ward walk and Luis Aguayo single. But he settled down and got Ken Phelps and Randy Velarde out to lock down the game.

Granted, the final was 11-2, so it wasn’t exactly high pressure.

The majors looked like more of the same. He was not scored upon in his first 7 appearances. On September 10, 1988, he struck out Carlton Fisk in the 12th and earned his first big league save. There would certainly be many more.

The A’s clobbered Gonzalez with 6 runs in 1 2/3 innings on September 20th and that made his ERA shoot up from 0.96 to 3.54. It was artificially inflated. He was ready for the big time.

I remember thinking the 1989 Twins were ready to win the AL West. I thought their pitching depth was going to top Oakland and Gonzalez matching up with Jeff Reardon was no small part of my prediction.

Then 1989 happened. Gonzalez looked solid with a 1.69 ERA in April. But his numbers started to climb by May. He did not pitch badly, but he was not a difference maker either. He perfectly mirrored the Twins, who finished the season 81-81. Nothing bad, nothing great.

On September 25, 1988, he allowed score 3 runs over 2 innings of mop up ball, boosting his ERA to 4.66.

Then that was it. His career was over. Gonzalez did not make the team in 1990 and never appeared in the majors again.

The great career projections resulted in a grand total of one major league save. The Twins would put together a terrific team in time for 1991. But Gonzalez was long gone by then.

So was my scouting career.

Greg Minton 1978 Topps and 1987 Topps Traded Series – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for August 25, 2017

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I will not do this often, but I feel like I need to do two cards today.

One card is one of the most famous and recognizable bad cards in history. The other is also wonderfully loopy and yet forgotten.

If these cards were Scorsese films then the first one is the one everyone knows. It would be GoodFellas or Raging Bull or The Departed or Taxi Driver.

The second card would be the ones known by the true fans, like Mean Streets, The King of Comedy or After Hours.

If these cards were Coen Brothers films, the first one would be Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men. The second one would be Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink or Inside Llewyn Davis.

I really don’t think I can be any clearer with my analogy.

The one on the left, the 1978 card, is a classic image of Topps airbrushing gone horrifically wrong. I remember seeing it as a 6 year old kid and thinking “What the fuck?”

I didn’t say that, because I was 6 and I wasn’t supposed to swear. But man I thought it.

Now I never saw Minton pitch or if I did I have no memory of him. I lived in New England. We didn’t see many Giants games in 1978. So here was a guy who basically looked like a painting. Even his glasses, his uniform and face looked fake.

Remember that I was accustomed to seeing poorly painted hats. It was the 1970’s. There were a lot of messed up stuff I thought was normal back then. But this was too far. In an era where KISS was being marketed to kids and leisure suits were prevalent, this picture of Moon Man Minton was over the line.

Even his God Damn Teeth looked fake!

But as the years go by, the card becomes even stranger. Usually a card is doctored like this because they were traded and they want to have the cap on the head to be up to date. However, Minton wasn’t traded. If the 1978 card is supposed to represent Greg Minton in 1977, then keep in mind he played 1977 as a San Francisco Giant.

OK, he was only in 2 games with the 1977 Giants, but it wasn’t like he was with another team.

And if nobody took a pic of him with the Giants in 1977, he also pitched for them in 1976 and 1975. So they had 3 years to take a snapshot of Moonman instead of, evidently, turning to Bob Ross to make this freaky painting.

Minton would pitch for the Giants over 13 different seasons and become an All Star reliever. In 1982, as the Giants made a surprising run for the NL West, he saved 30 while winning 10 and posting a 1.83 ERA over 123 innings, all in relief.

In 1987, the Giants released Minton. He wasn’t pitching badly but the front office had other plans. They worked because, after an overhaul of their pitching staff, the Giants won the NL West for the first time since 1971.

Minton found his way onto the Angels. And thus was born the Traded Series card of 1987. Now when players changed teams, Topps would include them in the Traded Series at the end of the season. These would be like an airlock between two seasons. While we crazy collectors waited for the next year’s cards to come out, we had these updates.

So clearly the card on the right was taken at the Giants spring training. And the artist needed to portray him as an Angel. So thankfully there was no need to paint his teeth.

But the Angels hat remained sloppy and other worldly. And he could not be seen wearing a button down jersey the way San Francisco wore them in 1987. The Angels had pullover uniforms. So the entire shirt needed to be repainted.

This created a different sort of bizarre image for Minton. Instead of the whole image looking phony, only the hat and uniform look surreal. In a way it is more jarring. At least with the 1978 image, EVERYTHING looks weird. The 1987 pic shows the contrast between airbrushing and a clear photograph in a more conflicting manner.

It is a fantastic bookend of Topps cards in Greg Minton’s life.

While the 1978 card was written about in places like Cardboard Gods, Baseball Card Bust,  Topps Baseball Card Fanatic and Number 5 Type Collection, the 1987 Traded Topps card should not be neglected.

It is the forgotten masterpiece of a celebrated artist.