Joe Strain 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 8, 2017

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Some kids when they are growing up hang out with the jocks and hope to become a professional athlete. Other kids when they grow up mock the jocks and want to be in a band.

Then you have the Joe Strains of the world who get to do both.

A native of Colorado, Strain signed as an undrafted free agent in 1976 with the Giants. Surprisingly, the kid that nobody wanted was a good hitter with solid speed. He batted. 333 in rookie ball and played 136 in Class A, he batted .338, posted an OPS of .872 and stole 42 bases.

Was being overlooked the source of attitude for Strain? Did it put a chip on his shoulder? In 1978 he was hitting well in AAA and by 1979, he was in the majors playing for the Giants.

There, according to the blog “Sons of Johnny LeMaster“, he teamed up with fellow recent call ups John Tamargo and Greg Johnston to form a punk rock band called Giants Prospects.

Granted, they didn’t seem to put that much effort into the name of their band, but they did indeed perform. In fact Joe Strain was the lead vocals.

Now how do you get to be a major league baseball player AND the lead singer in a band. That is almost Buckaroo Bonzai level crazy.

Strain started 65 games for the 1979 Giants. He reached base 3 times in his second game. He also hit a go ahead homer off of Rudy May in the 9th inning in a July 10th game against Montreal.

But in 1980, Rennie Stennett joined the team and was the every day second baseman. Strain was reduced to a bench role, but managed to hit .286 as a part time player.

After the 1980 season wrapped up, Strain was sent with Phil Nastu packing to the Cubs for Jerry Martin, Jesus Figueroa and Mike Turgeon. The band in San Francisco was broken up.

Things did not work out in Chicago and 1981 was his final big league season.

Strain became a minor league manager and a big league scout after his playing days and actually contributed to the Giants winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. One of the players he scouted was Sergio Romo, who was dancing on the mound when San Francisco defeated Detroit for the 2012 title.

No word if he ever requested his entrance music to be one of the songs performed by “The Giants Prospects.”

And if anyone out there has one of Joe Strain’s recordings, please send it along to info@sullybaseball.com

Roberto Kelly 1989 Fleer – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for August 29, 2017

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Roberto Kelly had horrible timing to win championships as a player for one organization. He made up for it with amazing timing to win World Series rings with a different one.

Kelly signed with the Yankees out of Panama when he was 17 years old. He played his first games in the Gulf Coast League in 1982 and did not hit much. The Yankee team was in a state of flux in the 1980’s. They had too many bloated veteran contracts and too few stars brewing in their farm system. And what players they DID develop, they sent packing for more bloated veterans.

Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, Jose Uribe, Doug Drabek and Jose Rijo were just some of the young players they Yankees sent packing.

By 1986, Kelly looked like he might become that rarest of players. He was a prospect in the Yankees system who they appeared to be keeping. He showed that he could hit and steal bases between Double A and Triple A. By 1987, he made his first appearances in the Bronx.

By 1989, he was starting every day, wound up batting .302 with 35 stolen bases and was solid defensively in center field. After the Yankees traded away Rickey Henderson, it was clear that they were handing the outfield over to their young home grown star.

In 1992, he was 27 years old and representing the Yankees in the All Star Game. There wasn’t much to cheer for in the Bronx between 1989 and 1992. But Kelly represented a certain amount of restraint for the Yankees. They didn’t send him packing for a has been. The Yankees didn’t come close to the playoffs in any of those years, but Kelly was not the problem.

The popular Kelly looked to be a big part of a Yankee resurgence, whenever that would be.

After the 1992 season, the Yankees finally traded Kelly. It was a shocking trade, especially since the player they got for him didn’t seem to be a good fit. Reds outfielder Paul O’Neill was not good enough to fill Kelly’s role with the team.

Kelly went to Cincinnati and played a season as “Bobby Kelly.” He had a terrific season with the Reds, being named to the All Star Game. But Paul O’Neill became a fixture in New York and a beloved Yankee. The Yankees soared and by 1995 became October regulars.

Injuries cut Kelly’s wonderful 1993 season short. In the strike shortened 1994 year, he found himself traded to the Braves for Deion Sanders.

1995 was a strange year for Kelly. Before the season began, he was traded from the Braves to the Expos for Marquis Grissom. He was only in Montreal for a month and a half before he was sent packing to the Dodgers.

He batted .278 but his OPS was only .685 with the two teams. The Dodgers managed to win the NL West title and Kelly saw his first action in postseason play. He posted a .354 average for the Dodgers against his former team, the Reds. But LA was swept and Kelly’s season was over.

The season ended with the Braves, the team he started the year with, winning the World Series. Marquis Grissom, the player he was dealt for, caught the final out.

The next year the Braves would lose to the Yankees in the World Series while Kelly toiled in Minnesota.

He played in the post season in 1997, 1998 and 1999 but his teams (the Mariners and Rangers) never made it out of the Division Series.

In 1998 and 1999, he saw his club eliminated by Paul O’Neill and the Yankees.

In 2000 he rejoined the Yankees but he only played in 10 games. The Yankees would win the World Series without him.

After his 14 season career ended, his coaching career began. Kelly worked his way through the San Francisco Giants system. He became the manager for the Augusta GreenJackets before joining Bruce Bochy’s coaching staff. He was a Giants coach for nine seasons, at first base and third base.

While in San Francisco, he was on a staff with former Yankees Dave Righetti and Hensley Meulens. Under Bochy’s watch, the Giants stunned the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS and went on to win the World Series. They would sweep the Tigers in 2012 and go from the road team in the Wild Card all the way to winning the World Series in 2014.

He remained on the San Francisco coaching staff through the 2016 post season, winning three World Series rings along the way.

Roberto Kelly missed out on the great Yankee rebuild. Maybe HE would have been a member of the hallowed “Core” for Joe Torre’s Yankees. Maybe if the Braves didn’t deal him, he would have been part of the 1995 title.

We may never know. But he made up for it with his great timing in the coaches world and San Francisco.

Roberto Kelly got his rings. It may not have been the expected route to take to all of those titles, but in the end it worked out.

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.