Adrian Gonzalez 2008 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 18, 2017

IMG_1156All things being equal, Adrian Gonzalez should have been one of the biggest names in San Diego sports history.

As it is, he is having a fine career and it looks like his Dodgers might cruise to the World Series this year. Granted, he is injured right now and not expected to come back for another month and Cody Bellinger is hitting like a slugging superstar at first in his place. But chances are when Gonzalez gets healthy, he will go to first, Bellinger back to the outfield and the Dodgers will go deep into October.

But this card reminds us that he was a Padre. He was a great Padre. And while he has given the Dodgers 5 1/2 solid years, he was the MAN in San Diego for 5 and the team was a contender for 3 of those years.

Adrian was born in San Diego, which is perfect, and grew up in Tijuana Mexico and Bonita California. He lived in a baseball family. His dad played for the Mexican national team and his brother briefly played for the Padres.

While attending Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California, he became a standout baseball star and was projected to go in the first round of the 2000 draft. The Marlins had the number one overall pick and used it to select Gonzalez. It was, in retrospect, a solid first pick. Chase Utley and Adam Wainwright were also available. Of the first 14 picks, only Gonzalez and Rocco Baldelli had a career WAR above 1.

If you don’t remember Gonzalez playing for the Marlins, don’t be alarmed. He never played in the majors with them. He played 2000, 2001 and 2002, hitting well and moving his way up the system to Miami, or Florida, or whatever the team was caled then.

But a wrist injury dampened his status and in 2003, at the age of 21, Gonzalez was included in a package that brought Ugueth Urbina to Florida from Texas. Urbina helped the Marlins win the World Series that year and later was arrested for attempted murder, but I digress.

Now in the Texas system, Gonzalez regained his stroke at Triple A Oklahoma in 2004 and earned call ups to Texas in 2004 and 2005.

But the Rangers already had Mark Teixeira at first base and once again, the one time number one overall pick did not have a home. Then home came for him.

The Padres had Ryan Klesko at first base when they won the 2005 NL West with 82 wins. But an injury opened the door for Gonzalez, whom the Padres got in 5 player swap that included Adam Eaton and Termel Sledge among others.

A full time player, Gonzalez got in 156 games, homering 24 times in one of the toughest home run ballparks in the league, batting .304 and posting an OPS of .862. In late July, he was named player of the week. And down the stretch, he was magnificent, batting .365 with an OPS of .993 in September.

The Padres won their second straight division title and had home field advantage over the Cardinals, who stumbled into the post season. Gonzalez batted .357 in the Division Series but with no extra base hits, no runs batted in and the Cardinals upset them in 4.

But the next year, Gonzalez came out of the gate screaming, seeing his April 2007 OPS finish at .909. The Padres got involved in a tight NL West race with Arizona and Los Angeles, with Colorado lurking on the fringes.

Between May 20 and July 25, they were between a 1 1/2 games back or 1 1/2 games in front every single day except for one day they were 2 games up.

By August, the Padres fell behind Arizona by 5 games but sparked by Gonzalez and his .969 OPS in August, came roaring back. On September 3, the Padres were in first place by themselves.  Going into the final weekend, they were a game back of the Diamondbacks for the NL West and home field advantage throughout the NL post season. But after losing two games to Milwaukee, not only did they let the Diamondbacks clinch but they forced a one game playoff to the streaking Rockies for the Wild Card.

All people remember about that game is Trevor Hoffman letting up 3 runs in the bottom of the 13th to win it. Nobody remembers Gonzalez reached base 4 times, doubled and homered, driving in 4 runs himself. The Padres sat out the playoffs and those same Rockies won the pennant.

Gonzalez continued his All Star level output in 2008 and 2009 even as his team faltered.

In 2009, he hit an unheard of 40 homers while calling PetCo his home. He also led the league with 119 walks to boost his .958 OPS.

In 2010, the Padres got off to a 15-8 start and finished the month in first place. By June, both Gonzalez and the Padres were on a roll. Gonzalez had a 1.097 OPS for the month and San Diego expanded their NL West lead to 4 1/2 games. By late August, the Padres were up by 6 1/2 games, watching the Braves and Giants fight for the Wild Card while images of a PetCo World Series danced in their heads.

Then, out of nowhere, came a 10 game losing streak. The Padres were still in first place by themselves when the streak came to a close, but it allowed the Giants and Braves back in it.

As late as September 25th, the Padres were in first place alone. Then they lost 4 of 5 and went to San Francisco needing to sweep the Giants to tie for the West and for the Braves to lose to get a Wild Card.

They took 2 of 3 from the Giants but lost on the final day of the season. The Braves also lost and the Padres were on the outside looking in to the post season. The Giants won the World Series that year.

Gonzalez was going into his final year of his deal in San Diego. The native of the city was a big part of making the Padres relevant in most of the seasons he played there. But his pricetag was going to be too high. Instead of signing him for life and keeping him in San Diego for the long haul, like with Tony Gwynn or Trevor Hoffman, they shipped him off to Boston.

Casey Kelly was supposed to be the big fish in that trade for San Diego. He did not amount to much. Anthony Rizzo was also in the deal, but he flourished in Chicago, not with the Padres.

Gonzalez’s time in Boston was marred by the fact that the team did a huge faceplant in September and they were eliminated at the end of the season. Gonzalez’s response of “I guess God did not want the Red Sox in the playoffs” did not go over well with the fans nor the media.

He was also on the lackluster 2012 Red Sox team that was bloated and filled with unlikable overpaid stars. Gonzalez became associated with the ill will fans had for those two teams. Statistically, he played well with the Red Sox, even leading the league with 213 hits in 2011.

Put his stats next to a fan favorite like Kevin Millar and you will be surprised.

But at the end of 2012, the Red Sox needed a reset and shipped off some of their priciest contracts to LA, including Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. The Red Sox didn’t get much in return except more money to spend and a reset that helped them win the 2013 World Series.

In LA, Gonzalez played on a team that was eliminated on the final weekend of the season. (Seeing a pattern here?)

Since then, he has been in the post season every year. He hit a homer in every single round he has played in as a Dodger. They have yet to make it past Game 6 of the NLCS with Clayton Kershaw losing that game in 2013 and 2016. But if they do win it all, Gonzalez will be remembered as a Dodger champion.

I can’t help but wish he did all of this with the Padres. Even just through 2015. There is something about playing 10 years with a team in the free agency era.

It isn’t like he has already won that title in LA or has an adoring fan base in Boston. It would have been nice to see him as a Padre for at least the bulk of his career.

It was the role he was born to play.

Shawn Abner 1990 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 18, 2017

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Shawn Abner is a character in a tale of high expectations and why they are almost impossible to predict in baseball.

He was born in Ohio but grew up in Pennsylvania. A baseball and football star, he was picked with the first overall pick on the 1984 draft by the Mets.

There was added excitement in this pick because of the sudden turn around for the Mets. They were so dreadful in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But in 1984, they were turning it around. Recent rookie stars like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden highlighted a young core.

And the team that contended and had images of a World Series title dancing in their head suddenly had the chance to insert another superstar.

The first round of the 1984 draft was an odd one. Lots of players with high expectations were picked and did not come threw in their big league career. Cubs pitcher Drew Hall and Reds pitcher Pat Pacillo didn’t contribute much.

6 first rounders never made it to the majors. The ones that did not not have much success on the field or on the mound.

Mark McGwire was in that draft. The A’s swiped him up with the 10th overall pick.

FYI, available in the second round? Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine. Picking one of them would have solved some issues later when the Mets and Braves became rivals. I digress.

The Mets picked Abner and he was solid in 1984 playing in Rookie Ball. In 1985, as the Mets evolved into a true pennant contender, Abner was putting up solid numbers in Single A Lynchburg. He moved up the ladder in 1986. While the parent Mets team, filled with young stars, went on to win the World Series, Abner hit for power and ran for speed in Double A Jackson. The World Champion Mets looked poised to bring the outfielder up in 1987.

The team post World Series looked to have a right handed hitting powerful outfielder in a part of the title defense.

Abner helped fill the role, but not in the way he wanted. The Padres and Mets put together a massive deal. Quiet and dull but effective hitter Kevin McReynolds joined the Mets. Stanley Jefferson, future MVP Kevin Mitchell and Abner were some of the players who went to California.

He would not be on the highest profile team in the land but would cut his teeth in San Diego. Now it was the young Padres squad who would harvest the bounty of the best player in the minors.

In September the future Padres star made his big league debut. In 1988, he was given a chance to start in the majors and he responded with a .181 average and not much power in 89 plate appearances.

In 1989, the results were not much better. He would put in 4 1/2 years with the Padres. There seemed to be some hope in 1990. He was still only 24, his average was a respectable .245 but would not walk nor hit for power. But in 1991, he got off to a horrid start, batting .165 in 125 trips to the plate.

The experiment was over and he was shipped off to the Angels. After a season wit the White Sox, he appeared to be a baseball vagabond. He injured himself in a motorcycle mishap with the 1993 Royals and never played again.

All bets were on Abner becoming a star. He had the skills and was being inserted into a system that was aiming for more titles.

Should the Mets have given Abner a chance? I mean the number one pick should be worth more than trade bait.

We will never know for sure. Perhaps he would have flourished. Maybe the outfield of Abner, Dykstra and Strawberry would have been one of the best ever. Instead the man picked instead of Mark McGwire never got his toehold.

Ahh the burden of expectations.

Trevor Hoffman 2011 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for May 16, 2017

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I am going to compare Trevor Hoffman to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Seriously.

Follow me.

Look, Trevor Hoffman is going to be in the Hall of Fame. The 7 time All Star and one time All Time Saves leader got 74% of the Cooperstown vote last year. It was his second time on the ballot and there is no doubt that he will get the handful of votes to get over the hump.

And when that inevitably is announced next January, Trevor Hoffman will indeed be a Hall of Famer. He will always have that title. Hoffman will be at the ceremonies and get the standing ovations when he is introduced.

I will not protest, nor be angry. It isn’t as if he was a bad pitcher. I just wouldn’t have voted for him if I had the vote.

I would be one of the 26%. Now remember there is a HUGE gray area between “Hall of Famer” and “Worthless player who should be cut.” And anyone who got in clearly had a fine career that at least 3/4 of the contemporary voters felt was worthy of inclusion.

Now there are some Hall of Famers who I would not necessarily have voted for. Don Sutton comes to mind. As does Bill Mazeroski. Bruce Sutter does too. But they are all in the Hall of Fame. And while I don’t agree with the vote, I am not about to get my torch and pitchfork and storm Cooperstown.

I don’t think Trevor Hoffman belongs in the Hall of Fame. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was a reliever. I love that Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers and Rich Gossage are in and Mariano Rivera is not far behind.

But a reliever is a specialist and needs to be looked at differently than a starting pitcher. A Hall of Fame reliever needs to be the person who comes into the big game and shuts down the opposition. Sure Gossage and Rivera had a few post season meltdowns, but the also had their highlights.

Hoffman was the first pitcher to get to 600 saves. But he also did so when the role of the closer was reduced to 1 inning where they had to preserve a 3 run lead. A pitcher with an 18.00 ERA could, theoretically pile up the saves.

Hoffman often had solid seasons with ERAs in the low 2’s and the 1’s. Yes, he was an effective reliever.

He also had many many MANY high profile disaster losses. Let me put it this way. He played for the small market San Diego Padres for the bulk of his career, which means he was not guaranteed the post season chances of a Rivera or Eckersley who made many Octobers or the nomadic Fingers and Gossage.

In his 12 postseason games, he saved 4 games, blew 2 saves and lost a pair.

A small sample size to be sure but he came up small in some of the biggest moments in Padres history.

He lost the elimination game in the 1996 Division Series, blew a save in Game 1 of the 1998 NLCS and blew the save and lost the critical Game 3 of the 1998 World Series.

And those games do not include the blown save for a Wild Clinching game in 2007 and later a blown save in the one game 2007 playoff game. Twice in 5 days, the Padres handed the ball to Hoffman for a chance to make the playoffs. Both times he blew the lead.

Does that mean he was bad? Of course not. But if we are going to say he was one of the elite players, shouldn’t a specialist whose job it is to close out close games have a more reliable record in the big close games?

The pitcher he most resembles according to Baseball Reference is Lee Smith. He also had a wonderful career and briefly held the All Time Saves record.

What hurt HIS chances? The fact that in the few post seasons he did pitch in, he lost multiple times.

How is Hoffman different? I would argue that Billy Wagner had as impressive career as Hoffman and his vote total hasn’t cracked 11% yet.

But Hoffman will get in.

So what does this have to do with Gwyneth Paltrow?

She is an Academy Award winner. That title will follow her for all time. “Oscar Winner Gwyneth Paltrow joins the cast of…” this and that for all time.

She won for Shakespeare in Love which came out in 1998, the same year Hoffman served up Scott Brosius’ homer in the World Series.

Should she have won? I don’t think so. Cate Blanchett was much much better in Elizabeth. That is also the only time Paltrow has ever been nominated. So if they gave it to Blanchett that year, Paltrow would not have the title “Oscar Winner.”

Now the Academy has made it up to the brilliant Blanchett, who has won not one but two Oscars since then. But Paltrow still has her statue.

Do I think she deserves it?

No.

Would I have voted for her?

No.

Does it upset me?

Eh, no. She is obviously an actress with talent and has worked for a while. So I am not going to get mad. I just shrug and say “Well, I wouldn’t have voted for her but congrats to her.”

That’s the reaction I will have for Trevor Hoffman. He will be in Cooperstown. I will call him “Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman” and do so with no snark.

He earned it, even if I don’t agree with it.