Jim Kaat 1978 Topps and Ichiro Suzuki 2017 Topps – Sully Baseball Cards of the Day for August 10, 2017

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I admit, this is going to be an unusual entry of the Card of the Day. I suppose this will be less biographical and more philosophical.

On the left I have a card for Jim Kaat in 1978. That was the first year I collected baseball cards. Jim Kaat was already a grizzled veteran at the time and he would keep playing into the 1980’s, winning a World Series ring with the 1982 Cardinals. After that, he became one of the best color commentators on TV. Many believe he should have been elected to the Hall of Fame. I would not have a problem with that.

On the right is a card from this year. Ichiro is on it. Notice how he is just “Ichiro” not Ichiro Suzuki. He got 3 hits in last night’s Marlins loss to the Nationals. That gives him 3,064 hits in America and 4342 hits combined between America and Japan.

There is no doubt he is going to the Hall of Fame. I wish a team like the Dodgers or Nats would pick him up for a playoff run. I’d like to see him get a World Series ring.

I got the Ichiro card for this year and I flipped it over.

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OK. They have his stats and some advanced metrics. OPS and WAR have made it to the back of the Topps Card. So has some pretty heady quotes like “Equipment has heart, human heart, inside it.” That is almost a haiku.

But here was my problem. While they show his last 4 years and the grand total of his 16 years in the bigs, it doesn’t tell the whole story of his career. Hell, glancing at the back of the card, you’d think he had split his career evenly with the Yankees and the Marlins.

There is no mention of his 12 seasons in Seattle, let alone his Rookie of the Year and MVP season of 2001.

Compare the back of that card with the back of Jim Kaat’s card.

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EVERY year is included. It doesn’t matter how cramped it gets on the card. It started in 1959 and went all the way to 1977. You can read his whole career including the Senators.

The SENATORS! That seemed like ages before my baseball knowledge began. And to give you an idea of how much his career stretched back, he played for the Senators that became the Twins, NOT the later version who became the Rangers.

He started playing when there was no baseball in Minnesota and only one team, the Yankees, played in New York. The Giants and Dodgers leaving was fresh in everyone’s mind in New York. The Mets did not exist yet.

When he finished playing, the Expos, Padres, Mariners and Blue Jays were all established franchises.

A baseball card was there to tell the entire story of a player’s career, or at least their entire major league history. No matter how many years a player goes on, it will be reflected on the back of their card.

When I started collecting, there were many veterans with long histories on the backs of their cards. Carl Yastrzemski, Phil Niekro, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Gaylord Perry, Willie McCovey, Manny Mota and Lou Brock all come to mind.

And the card told their whole story.

I loved that about cards.

But I realize I am being a little bit of Old Man Sully here. “In myyyyyyyyy day, things were different.”

When I collected cards, many times they were how fans like me learned who was who and what their stats were. And of course all the information was a year behind.

Cards do not fulfill that need now. Lord knows I don’t turn to baseball cards to learn someone’s stats! I go to Baseball-reference.com, the single greatest website in the history of the planet Earth. We get stats nearly in real time. I get frustrated when I have to wait until morning for every single active player to have their stats updated.

So I guess the notion of baseball cards being portable biographies is kind of an obsolete notion.

What the hell is their purpose now? I suppose they exist for aging baseball fans like me to have a sense of nostalgia.

Maybe they won’t have any purpose soon.

Oh Crap. I have a hell of a lot of baseball cards.

Joaquin Benoit 2016 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 24, 2017

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Let me get this out of the way. I hate camouflage uniforms.

I’ve been saying I hate camouflage uniforms for a while. It has nothing to do with a lack of respect for the military. In fact it is BECAUSE of my respect of the military that makes me dislike camouflage uniforms.

Serving our country is more than wearing a costume. And having a ballplayer wear a REALLY ugly uniform to me isn’t a tribute. It is just an eye sore.

Done millions to Wounded Warriors. Give tickets away to these heroes. Hell, I can’t stop crying every time I see one of those ads where the kid of a soldier throws out the first pitch without knowing their father or mother is behind the plate wearing a catchers mask and then the kid hugs them.

I am crying typing that.

But these uniforms are awful. I would rather they are dressed in big American flags than this.

However, I will make the exception with the Padres. I didn’t always have that stance. In 2010, I singled out the Padres and wanted them to throw out the camo unis. Points of view can evolve. I’ve seen the Reds, Mets, Pirates and other teams wear the camo and MAN it looks awful.

Because the Padres have such a connection with the military that I will give them a pass. That is my compromise. If there HAS to be camos, the Padres get to do it. Everyone else, donate. OK?

Now on to Joaquin Benoit.

Unlike most players in this series, Benoit is still an active player. As of this writing he is a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher. But because he is a veteran reliever for a last place team, it is safe to predict he will be sent packing to some contending team.

Benoit has already pitched for 15 plus seasons in the majors. The first seven seasons (plus a game in another year) he was with the Rangers. After 3 years of plus 5 ERAs as a starter, he was shifted to the bullpen and found some success. He would strikeout more than one an inning and in 2007 won 7 games with an ERA of 2.85.

He no longer started and seldom closed. He was a classic middle man during those years where the Rangers were good enough to have a winning record but not better than the A’s nor Angels for the Division Title.

After missing the 2009 season with a surgery, he landed with the 2010 Rays in time for them to win their second Division Title in 3 yeears. He posted a 1.34 ERA while striking out 75 in 60 1/3 innings. He won a game out of the bullpen in the Division Series but the Rays fell in the playoffs to his old team, the Rangers.

He joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and helped the Tigers win back to back Divisions and pitched in the 2012 World Series.

In 2013, Benoit was inserted into the closer role as Jose Valverde could no longer do the job. With bullpen issues derailing their 2012 World Series hopes, the Tigers needed a reliable anchor to the pen. Benoit was up for the task, saving 24 and seeing his ERA kept to a solid 2.01. He struck out 73 in 67 and saved 2 games in the Division Series including the clincher in Oakland.

Now armed with a reliable closer and their superstar lineup, the Tigers went into the 2013 ALCS against Boston with images of back to back pennants dancing in their heads.

In Game 1, Benoit looked to pitch his way into history. He was going to close out the 1-0 game which was a combined no hitter in the 9th. He did let up a hit but locked down the game and the save.

In Game 2, the Tigers ran up a 5-1 lead but the middle relief could not do their job. Benoit was pushed into service for a 4 out save, facing David Ortiz. And as we all remember, Ortiz hit his pitch into the bullpen, Torii Hunter flipped over, the cop jumped up and down and the Red Sox had tied the game with a grand slam.

Had the Tigers held onto that lead and went 2-0 into Detroit with Verlander rested and ready, chances are Detroit wins the pennant.

Instead Benoit was placed as another name in the Tigers bullpen woes narrative.

He pitched two solid years for the Padres in 2014 and 2015 before moving to the Mariners and Blue Jays in 2016. He wore camo in San Diego, which I will grind my teeth and be find with.

He is in Philadelphia now. By the time I publish this, who knows where he will be.

I hope he won’t wear camo again.

Ken Howell 1991 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 5, 2017

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This series of blog posts are about baseball cards. But sometimes we forget the men on these little pieces of cardboard are real people. They aren’t just a name attached to the numbers listed on the back.

I am guilty of trashing players and saying things like “they should just cut him” or “he stinks.” And more often or not I am not taking into account the real person who I am casually suggesting they send their life into chaos.

This card of Phillies pitcher Ken Howell subtly reminds us of that.

The Detroit native attended Tuskegee University and was a third round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1982. The right handed pitcher made the big league team as a reliever two years later as a set up man.

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda used him as a part time closer and long reliever in 1985. On April 24, he threw 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball against San Francisco, striking out 8 and earning the save. A week later on May 1, he threw 3 shutout innings to earn the win against the Cardinals. He saved 12 games that season, 5 in the month of July alone.

In the NLCS, he threw 2 perfect innings in Game 5, the one ultimately lost by Tom Niedenfuer with the Ozzie Smith “Go Crazy Folks” home run.

The Dodgers struggled in 1986, a year Howell led the Dodgers with 12 saves. In 1987 the Dodgers once again fell out of contention and Howell lost his closer job to Alejandro Pena and Matt Young.

Injuries wiped out nearly his entire 1988 season. He made one appearance in June and returned to the team for 3 relief appearances in September. He was left off the post season roster but earned his World Series ring.

When the season ended, he was sent packing to Baltimore in the trade that brought future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray to Los Angeles.

Actually I hope he never unpacked because 4 day later he was traded to the Phillies. His time in Baltimore was just 4 days in December.

Converted to a starter in Philadelphia, he pitched decently. Howell threw 204 innings and posted a 3.44 ERA, winning 12 for a non contending club. He even threw a complete game shutout against the eventual Division Champion Cubs.

Injuries cut his 1990 season short. It would be his last one in the majors. After a few comeback attempts in the minors and independent ball, he retired. Soon he became a coach, rising all the way up to the majors, being a part of Joe Torre and Don Mattingly’s staff with the Dodgers. He was a Dodger coach for the the 2013 and 2014 NL West titles.

But when I flipped over this Topps card, I saw something at the bottom that caught my eye.

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He and his wife were building a house in Michigan. Usually the fun fact at the bottom of the card has to do with their career. But here was a reminder that “Nope, this is a person, a man with a wife building a home.”

And real life has not always been kind to Ken Howell. Complications with his diabetes led to the amputation of a few of his toes. He has had multiple surgeries due to kidney failure, the last one causing him to step down from the Dodger coaching staff.

I hope they got that house built.