Saturday, August 31, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 45: A Look at Topps Living Set

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 45: 14-2 over the Kansas City Royals

2019 Topps Living Set John Means (print run 2477)

The latest Baltimore Orioles entry into Topps grand experiment picked up the win Friday night in Kansas City. After falling behind early due to a Jorge Solar home run Means sat back and watched his offense take over. By the time he exited the game after seven innings of work he had a nifty 10-2 lead. The O's added four more over the next two innings to finish off one of their more lopsided wins of the season.

It's Mean's second win in a row and the second game in a row that he's worked seven innings. It appears that he has put aside whatever was troubling him on the mound after the All Star Break. He becomes the eighth Orioles in franchise history to win ten games as a rookie and the second Oriole rookie to be featured in Topps open-ended Living Set series.

For those not familiar with the concept, last season Topps decided to start an online-only set that would feature every player to ever suit up for a major league team. The cards are released three at a time every week. Once the week is up they no longer make any more of the cards, which results in fairly limited print runs. The weekly release usually features a current veteran player, a rookie, and a retired player. So far, over the two years, seven Orioles have been featured over all. They are, in order and with their print runs:

Manny Machado (6516)
Joey Rickard (5791)
Cal Ripken, Jr. (6423)
Trey Mancini (3490)
Cedric Mullins (3190)
Jim Palmer (3252)
John Means (2477)

Two rookies, three current veterans, and two retired players is a pretty even mix and leaves plenty of more options for future releases. Having seven players already featured puts the O's pretty much in the middle of the pack when it comes to team representation.

One of the little quirks of the series is that Topps plans on releasing only one card of each player. So, for instance, Nick Markakis has a card as an Atlanta Brave. That means Topps will not release a version of him in an Orioles uniform. The one exception is if a current player is traded. That's how Manny Machado ended up in an Orioles uniform and a Dodgers uniform.

Now that's it's almost two years in, I'm torn on the set. I really like the idea of a never ending set that will continue long after I'm dead. I'm also intrigued by the fact that at some point in 2034 Topps is going to have to release an Orioles Rocky Coppinger card.

Overall it appears that interest is leveling out from collectors. It seems the average print run is between 2,500 and 3,000 this season when last year it was closer to 3,500-4,000. Even the peak cards aren't peaking quite as high. Last year Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto were the big rookies and they sold 46,809 and 28,572 respectively. This year Vlad, Jr. peaked out at 27,749 and Fernando Tatis only sold 10,099.

Don't feel too bad for Topps. Even if everyone who bought a Means card, one of the lowest print runs they've had, spent the bare minimum ($4.99 as part of the three card bundle at $14.99, if you buy them one at a time they're $7.99) they still raked in about $12,000 just for that card. Even with some of the profit skimmed out due to free shipping, they're still making money.  So much so they expanded the idea to Star Wars and Champions League cards.

Initially I was buying the three card bundle with the hopes of selling off the two non-Oriole cards and at least breaking even. That hasn't exactly been the way it's worked out. The non-star cards aren't really moving that well in the secondary market, at least at higher prices. I'm at the point where I'm ready to post them at .99 cents in auction and take whatever comes.

Now I just pick up one Oriole card when they're released and ignore the others. I may pick up a couple of Adley cards once they come out in 2022 (he may be the one Orioles to crack the 10,000 mark if he continues to progress), and probably two Eddie Murray cards when they're released, but other than that I'll keep trudging along. And yes I will be personally offended if they release Murray in a Dodgers or Indians uniform.

I imagine there are some people out there trying to collect the entire set (currently up to 231 cards) but that is a rather expensive endeavor. I imagine that the bulk of the buyers are team collectors like myself that are just buying when their favorite team has a player represented. That's boosted by the flippers and prospectors that swoop in when a big name rookie is featured.

It'll be interesting how the set moves forward (will Topps start printing variations to drum up business) or will they keep trucking along? Who will be featured in their 00 cards (300, 400, 500, etc)? So far Babe Ruth was 100 (14,976) and Mike Trout was 200 (22,017).

What are your thoughts on Topps Living Set? Do you collect?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 44: Ahead of the pace already

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 44: 2-0 over the Washington Nationals

2001 Cal Ripken, Jr. Topps Noteworthy

Whelp. That didn't take long. Less than 10 hours after I published the road map to success, the Orioles threw it out of whack.  They did it in the best possible way, by shutting down, and shutting out the Washington Nationals, 2-0 on Tuesday night.

After guessing that they would get swept by one of the hottest teams in the major leagues, the Orioles guaranteed at least a split of the season series by pitching one of their best games of the season. Aaron Brooks started things off by going six innings and striking out six Nationals. He lived on the outside corner, painting it like Monet painted fuzzy lily ponds. Brooks, who is fighting for a spot on next year's roster, has strung together two strong outings (1 run allowed and 10 strikeouts over 11 innings).

The bullpen continued its recent run of success by shutting Washington out over the last three innings, highlighted by Hunter Harvey striking out Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth inning with the bases loader. Harvey has yet to allow a run in his four innings of major league work this season. With a 99+ MPH fastball and a healthy arm (finally) he may be in line for a closer role next year.

Current closer Mychal Givens closed the game out for his 11 save of the season (it doesn't sound like a lot, but he's closed out 1/4 of all the Orioles victories so that's something).

They're down to needing three wins to match last year and sixteen to beat Vegas.  Good times!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 43: The Road to Victory (at least a victory in Vegas)

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 43: 8-3 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2002 Topps Chris Singleton

The Orioles smacked Jaleen Beeks around on Sunday en route to an 8-3 victory over the Rays. Anthony Santander became the second Oriole in two weeks to collect five hits in a game (Renato Nunez did it against the Yankees) and Dylan Bundy pitched an effective, if not overwhelming, five innings to pick up his sixth win of the season.

With the victory the Orioles moved within four wins of matching last year's total and within seventeen wins of covering the 59.5 wins over/under bet I placed earlier this year in Vegas. I did not put a lot of money on this bet, and I stand to win even less it seems, but still, cashing the ticket would be fun because it means that they outperformed what the sharps in Vegas thought they would.

They head into Washington with a 43-88 record. Not great, but light years ahead of where they were last year. With 31 games to go, they need to go 17-14 in order to get to that magic 60 win mark. There aren't many stretches this season where the Orioles have had an above average record, but in looking over the next month, there is, as the political pundits like to say, a path to victory.

The Washington Nationals (73-57 record, 8-2 in their last 10 games, season series tied 1-1)

One of the hottest teams in the league, the Nationals are 8-2 in the field and 1-0 in the courtroom. With their recent winning ways they've vaulted into a 4 game lead for the first wild card spot in the National League and have an outside chance of catching the Braves for the NL East title. The two teams split their previous series in Baltimore with the Nationals winning the first game 8-1 and the Orioles bouncing back to win 9-2 in the second matchup.

The O's will have to beat their two aces as Patrick Corbin goes in game one and Max Scherzer goes in game two. I don't like those odds.  Orioles get swept.

Prediction Record (0-2)

The Kansas City Royals (46-85, 3-7 in their last 10 games, O's lead season series 2-1)

Last week the Orioles righted their ship a bit by taking two of three against the Royals. It's hard to imagine, but just four years ago these two teams met in the ALCS. Depending on how the two clubs do prior to their match-up, the Orioles have a chance of leap frogging them in the standings. While it would hurt their chances for the first over all pick, they still should get a pretty quality player even if they're drafting third or fourth overall.

It's a three game series on Kansas City's turf, and Dylan Bundy will be starting their for the first time since his May 8th debacle last season that saw him surrender 7 earned runs on 4 home runs without recording an out. He would most definitely like to go back and extract a little revenge on them with a strong outing. I think the O's take two out of three.

Prediction Record (2-3)

The Tampa Bay Rays (76-56, 5-5 in their last 10 games, Rays lead season series 10-6)

Despite having a losing record against the Rays, the Orioles have been a bit of a thorn in their side. As one of the few teams left down the stretch with something to fight for, the Rays will need every win they can muster and if the O's can play spoiler (as they did this weekend) panic may set in down in the Sunshine State.

The good news for the Orioles is that the Rays may not be getting some of their arms back in time for the series. As of right now rookie sensation Tyler Glasnow is throwing bullpen sessions but isn't scheduled to return until the second week of September. Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell is also on the shelf until at least mid-September. Still, the Rays find ways to win and will take two out of three in this series.

Prediction Record (3-5)

The Texas Rangers (64-68, 4-6 in their last 10 games, Rangers lead season series 2-1)

When the two teams met back in early June, Texas was still well within the hunt or the wild card. Since then they've fallen off (12 games back as of publication) and unlikely to make a run with Boston and Oakland in front of them for the final spot in the playoffs. In that June series the two teams played three close games with the O's hanging on to win game one 12-11, then Texas winning game two 2-1 in twelve innings, and game three 4-3.

This series should be a bit of a toss up, and it will be interesting to see how many young Orioles will be making their Camden Yards debut (it'll be the first home series after the minor league regular seasons wrap up). It doesn't sound like the O's are in a rush to bring up a lot of their prospects, even the ones that need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season. I fully expect them to give their pitching prospects a bit of a break before possibly sending them to the Arizona fall league or shutting them down for the season for good. There really isn't much positive that can be achieved by having them pitch in Baltimore at the end of this season.

O's take three of four in a home-run filled series. Nomar Mazara provides some excitement as he comes within 2 feet of hitting an Asher Wojciechowski pitch off of the warehouse.

Prediction Record (6-6)

The Los Angeles Dodgers (86-46, 5-5 in their last 10 games, first meeting of the series)

I'm not going to lie. If the Orioles score more than six runs in this series I'll be surprised. Dodgers, despite not having anything to play for should sweep the series.

Prediction Record (6-9)

The Detroit Tigers (39-89, 3-7 in their last 10 games, Detroit leads series 2-1)

The Orioles head back out on the road for a quick four games series against the only team with a worse record than they have. Most likely this will be a battle between two teams trying to avoid being the first team to lose 100 games in the season. Frustrated by a lack of power against the Dodgers the O's bats should have a better chance against the Tigers.

This is the stretch of games where the O's will make a run to beat the record. If all breaks according to my predictions they will still need 11 wins in their final sixteen games. They will get three of them here as they spray the ball all over the vast outfield of Comerica park. Trey Mancini hits four doubles in the series as he punishes the right-center gap.

Prediction Record (9-10)

The Toronto Blue Jays (53-80, 2-8 in their last 10 games, Baltimore leads series 7-6)

Toronto is the only team the Orioles face twice in their final month of the season and it should hopefully be preview of two teams on the rise over the next few years. With their call-ups this season the Jays are probably two years ahead of the Orioles in their rebuild and could provide a nice road map of the future. Their pitching is a bit shaky, but the offense is going to be a blast. Vlad Guerrero, Jr. may be the most exciting player to watch that's not named Mike Trout while Bo Bichette is an extra-base machine ( he has 40 hits on the season with 14 doubles and 8 home runs).

Still, the O's are playing with confidence and they take advantage of the Toronto pitching staff to take two of three.

Prediction Record (11-10)

The Seattle Mariners (56-76, 7-3 in their last 10 games, Seattle leads series 3-1)

It was a rough trip to Seattle earlier in the year that had the Orioles losing three out of four while giving up 32 runs in the four game series. Things will be a little better when they face off against their fellow cellar dwellers. The O's conclude the home portion of their schedule by taking three of four from the Mariners.

Prediction Record (14-11)

The Toronto Blue Jays (53-80, 2-8 in their last 10 games, Baltimore leads series 7-6)

The final road trip of the season starts in Toronto where the locals are more worried about Mitch Marner's lack of a contract than an early week three-game series with the Orioles. Still, Toronto takes two of three against the Birds.

Prediction Record (15-13)

The Boston Red Sox (70-62, 7-3 in their last 10 games, Boston leads series 10-5)

As well as the Orioles are (hypothetically) playing down the stretch, it's nothing compared to the Red Sox. They've finally found their groove and are making a mad dash for the playoffs having made up their six game deficit in the Wild Card race. With the Rays just barely clinging on and facing a frisky upstart in Toronto to end their season, the Red Sox are looking for a sweep.

Things go well in game one as Eduardo Rodriguez twirls a 7-inning gem against his former team and the Red Sox bats pound Aaron Brooks in his final start in an O's uniform. The 9-1 final coupled with a Rays loss to Toronto puts the Red Sox in a virtual tie for the second wild card spot.

Game two features a rejuvenated Chris Sale on the mound against Dylan Bundy. A pitcher's duel plays out with the O's finally taking the lead on Renato Nunez's 30th home run of the year. Hunter Harvey closes out the ninth and Baltimore wins 4-3. Tampa also loses so Boston heads into the final game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win.

In game 3 David Price is mowing down O's left and right. He racks up 12 strikeouts in the first six innings. However, Dillon Tate, making his first start of the year matches him with six strikeouts of his own. The game is tied 1-1 heading into the top of the ninth when Hanser Alberto doubles into the left field gap off of   Darwinzon Hernandez (Alberto finishes with a .417 average against lefties). D.J. Stewart then drives him in with a two-run shot off of old friend Andrew Cashner that hooks around Pesky's pole. Harvey strikes out three in the bottom of the ninth while in Toronto the Rays win on an inside the park home run by Eric Sogard. Tampa is in and the Red Sox are out.

I jump in my car and drive to Vegas to cash my ticket.

(Final Prediction 17-14)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 42: A card, just a card today

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 42: 7-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2013 Topps Cut To The Chase Adam Jones

It's shiny and die-cut. Fantastic card.  Big win last night for the Birds as they slowed down the Rays quest for a Wild Card spot. Strong pitching from John Means and some key home runs. Sounds like a modern day win.

Six wins to go to beat last year's total and eighteen to cash the bet. It's still possible!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 41: A Trip to the Virtual Card Store

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 41: 8-1 over the Kansas City Royals

1955 Bowman Matt Batts

Hey how about a little winning streak? The Orioles pitching staff did it again, limiting the Royals to one run while the Baltimore bats banged out out three home runs and 12 hits. Speaking of bats how about a new oldest card in the collection?

A couple of months ago I turned a little eBay money into a COMC shopping spree. Shortly before leaving Pittsburgh my good buddy Link gave me one of the all time iconic cards in history - the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson. I don't even have to put an image here for you to picture the card do I? You already see the play at the plate, the dust, Munson making the tag with his mask off and hat on backwards, the big honking All-Star Rookie trophy in the corner and the iconic black border.

With that card in hand I made a somewhat languid decision to focus on picking up some more of the cards that everyone should have. Well, mostly cards that everyone should have. More like the cards that I think I should have in my collection. Instead of burning money on boxes, I decided to focus my eBay profits on certain cards. I even curated a Top Ten list of cards that I really want for my collection that I may post at some point.

So first up, a card every O's fan should have - a Matt Batts 1955 Bowman, right?  Ok, not so much. That came from the fact that I was looking for some cheap vintage cards and I happened to be reading The Summer of '49 by David Halberstam, a fantastic look at the pennant chase between Boston and New York in 1949. Batts was an ancillary character in the book as a  back-up catcher for the Red Sox that season.

When I was scrolling through COMC and his card popped up it seemed like an opportune time to pick it up. Now, you old timers might think, "I don't remember Batts playing for the Orioles" and you would be right. He never suited up for the Birds in their first season in Baltimore. Following the 1954 season Batts was part of a trade between the White Sox and the Orioles. However, just before the 1955 season started he was purchased from the Orioles by the Cleveland Indians. By that time Bowman had already had the cards printed and ready to go so he is forever to be captured as  Baltimore Oriole in the set.

However, that wasn't the iconic card that I had set my sights on that night while I was scrolling through. Neither is the next card featured, which is now my second oldest overall card in my collection.

1948 Fleer Billy Conn

I wanted an older boxing card and feeling slightly nostalgic for the recently departed Steel City I picked up a card of the the Pittsburgh Kid. A light-heavyweight champion from the 1930s, Conn will best be remembered for his two fights against Joe Louis. In June of 1941, Conn was by most accounts leading on the scorecards entering the 13th round when Louis managed to salvage the fight by knocking Conn out.

In the rematch, postponed five years by a little thing called World War II, Louis knocked him out again, this time in the eighth round. He finished his career with a 63-11-1 record in the ring and one draw outside of the ring as he foiled a robbery attempt - at the age of 72 years old.

The card I wanted to buy was a rookie card, but another rookie card intrigued me when I was still in the boxing section.

1991 Kayo Arturo Gatti

The Blood and Guts Warrior himself. Look at how young he looks in that photo (wow, is that an old person thing to say). This is Gatti six years before his Fight of the Year in 1997 with Gabriel Ruelas that put him on the boxing map, ten years before his big money fight with Oscar De La Hoya, and eleven years before the beginning of his way with Micky Ward that electrified boxing fans for a decade. This is Gatti before the swollen eyes, the broken hands and the blood, so much blood, a young fighter ready to make a name for himself.

Gatti's boxing style was straight forward. He never found a punch that he couldn't stop with either his hands or his face and he was always willing to dish out just as many blows as he took, even when he was outclassed in the ring. He always wore his fights on his face. In the 1990s and early 2000s there may not have been a more fun fighter to watch. Whenever he popped up on HBO, you knew it was worth while to hang around and watch the fight.

He retired from boxing in 2007. Two years later he was found dead in an apartment in Brazil under somewhat cloudy circumstances. Originally his wife was accused of murder, but the final cause of death was listed as suicide. To this day his cause of death is still intensely debated

Back to baseball. Having secured an old boxing card, an old baseball card and a rookie boxing card it's time to zero in on the card I wanted.  First a detour.  

1989 Topps Traded Ken Griffey, Jr.

A rookie card with Griffey Jr holding a bat on his left shoulder? It's the iconic pose for my generation's iconic superstar. Sadly, by the lack of a smile you know it's not the Upper Deck rookie.  Topps missed the boat with their flagship set, as Griffey didn't make the cut. They didn't waste anytime making sure he was in their late season add-on set, Topps Traded.  As you can see it's a bit off-center which just made it more affordable in my book.

While those are all great cards for my collection, they weren't the one I was looking for. It was, in fact, the other Griffy rookie that I had set out to buy. After 30 years of hemming and hawing about getting one, I finally pulled the trigger. 

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.

The card that launched an empire and survived the mass production era that was the late-1980s and 1990s. It introduced Upper Deck to the card collecting crowd and signaled the launch of the modern era of collecting. It isn't the most expensive rookie card of the era, Albert Puljos, Mike Trout and Derek Jeter dwarf him in comparison, but can you, the casual collector, picture any of those cards off the top of your head?

I don't have a high-grade copy, and I won't send it in. In fact, it doesn't even get a binder. It'll be slipped into a toploader and placed with Felix Jose and the rest of my 1989 Upper Deck cards, but that won't mean it's forgotten. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 40: Oh, what a relief

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 40: 4-1 over the Kansas City Royals

2019 Topps Stadium Club DJ Stewart

The Orioles headed into Tuesday night's game against the Royals on an eight-game losing streak and with only one win in their last fourteen games. Thanks to a Hanser Alberto home-run in the eighth inning and seven strong innings from Dylan Bundy, Baltimore snapped their losing ways with a 4-1 win over Kansas City.

Perhaps the most impressive streak that was snapped was the 25 games in a row the Orioles have given up three or more runs. Pitching was always going to be a problem for the team and that was before trading Andrew Cashner and seeing John Means hop on and off the injured list. The patchwork rotation has struggled to go deep in to games and the bullpen, from fatigue or lack of ability, hadn't been able to shut down their opponents. In several games the Orioles were close heading into the later innings, but the relievers failed to keep the other team off the scoreboard.

Tuesday's win was the complete opposite. Bundy turned in seven solid innings, scattering five hits (none of them left the park) and striking out seven. He turned it over to Hunter Harvey in the eighth and the rookie struck out two by mixing his 99 mph heater with a sharp breaking ball. The effort paid off when Alberto launched a 1-1 pitch into the Orioles bullpen. Mychal Givens worked an uneventful ninth to pick up his tenth save.

The previous two weeks were always going to be a tough stretch for the Orioles as they ran a gauntlet of arch rivals and playoff bound teams. While it would have been nice to pick up more than one win, it wasn't to be as they were thoroughly outclassed by the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. Following this series with the Royals things get tough again as they face the Rays, Nationals, Dodgers and Rangers.

Most likely their won't be many more wins in the immediate future and the chances of them getting to the magical 60-win mark is getting slimmer and slimmer by the day. While it would have been nice for them to outplay the oddsmakers, just playing better would be a victory as well.

Another positive would be seeing more players such as Stewart getting more playing time. After a tough stretch that saw him have more trips to the injured list (2) than hits (1), the young outfielder might be finding his hitting stroke. Following his 3-for-4 debut on May 28th he garnered just one hit in his next twenty-nine at-bats.

He missed the next thirty-one games with a badly sprained ankle. Following a rehab assignment he was recalled earlier this month and promptly missed the next eight games with a concussion after he misread a flyball and it hit him in the temple. In the last two games he has collected four hits in his last eight at-bats and played a solid rightfield.

With Anthony Santander patrolling centerfield or leftfield on a nightly basis, two-thirds of the outfield for next season could be in place. It will be interesting to see if Austin Hays or Cedric Mullins get a chance once their minor league seasons are over. The kids are coming soon.

Harvey has been impressive in his two outings so far this season. He has struck out four and not allowed a home run (you chuckle, but for an Orioles pitcher to go more than an inning this season without giving up a bomb isn't a joke). He's touched 100mph a few times and sat constantly at 98+.

The Orioles are going to be cautious with their young arms so it's unlikely too many more prospects will be joining Harvey in the bullpen. Coach Hyde has indicated it is his preference to finish the season with the rotation as it is currently constructed, so that would indicate that they're not willing to pile on the innings for some of their higher ranked prospects in the minors.

It will be a long final month of the season, but hopefully there will be some small bright spots along the way.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 39: The Champs

Baltimore Orioles Victory 39: 8-7 over the Houston Astros

1967 Topps The Champs

A few weeks ago, The Athletic's Grant Brisbee wrote about the 20 individual season's he'd like to jump in a time machine and go back and see. They ranged from Ty Cobb's 1911 season to Josh Gibson's 1936 season with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Despite not having Orioles, Brisbee's list was pretty good and worth the price of the subscription.

So in the 65 year history of the Orioles, which season would I go back to in my imaginary baseball time machine? Would it be Brady Anderson's 50 home run campaign in 1996 season? Or the 1989 Why Not season? Maybe it would be the last World Series team of 1983. Or the 1971 team that had four 20-game winners (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson).

Those are all decent choices, but I think there is one really, really good answer: Frank Robinson's 1966 Triple Crown season. After tasting a little success with back to back 90+ win seasons in 1964 and 1965 the Orioles put it all together in 1966 when they won 97 regular season games and then swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, holding the Dodgers to just 2 runs (both scored in the first game) in the entire series.

The key to it all was Frank Robinson. After a phenomenal 10 years to start his career in Cincinnati (63.9 WAR) the Orioles acquired him for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson on December 9th, 1965. That trio would put up a whopping 5.4 WAR for the Reds in a combined 7 seasons (Baldschun: .1, Pappas: 5.7, Simpson: -.4). Over six seasons for the Orioles Robinson posted a 32.3 WAR all by himself.

Was it the most lopsided trade in Major League history? Probably not, but it's in the running. His first season was by far his best with the Orioles, but the other five weren't too shabby either. With the exception of a wobbly 1968 season, Robinson was good for 25+ home runs, 80+ RBIs and a damn near .400 OBP. Pretty good for a guy that was considered "an old 30" at the time of the trade.

His debut in an Orioles uniform came on April 12th in a chilly Fenway Park. Hitting third, he came to bat in the first inning and was promptly hit with a pitch by Red Sox starter Earl Wilson. Standing on first base he watched as Brooks Robinson launched one over the fence to give the Orioles an extremely early 2-0 lead.  Not a bad way to get the season started.

In his second at-bat, the former Red singled and stole second. He was stranded at third when Davey Johnson grounded out to short. In the fifth, down by a run Robinson cranked the first of forty-nine home runs he would hit that season.  Through three at-bats as an Orioles he was 2-2 with two runs scored, a stolen base and a RBI.  Not a bad debut at all.

He wouldn't get another hit that day as it took thirteen innings for the Orioles to pick up their first win of the season, but he stayed hot through the month of April slashing .463/.585/.976 with 5 home runs and 10 RBI as Baltimore went 11-1 in that first month.

Both Robinson and the team stumbled a bit in May, but around the same time the AFL and NFL announced a merger in June things turned around in a hurry. The team went 44-18 in June and July turning a two-game deficit in the standings into a thirteen-game advantage by the time the Beatles released "Revolver" in the US,  Robinson had 21 home runs during that time span and drove in 55 runs as he made his assault on the triple crown. With Brooks hitting behind him and Boog Powell behind Brooks, pitchers had to deal with him and he made them pay on a consistent basis as he turned in arguably the greatest offensive season in Orioles history.

The beauty of going back to see Frank Robinson's 1966 season is that as an added bonus you get to see the platonic ideal of the Oriole Way - a fundamentally sound team that could hit, field and pitch. They were a top five team in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. While the pitching staff wasn't dominating they did strike folks out (3rd in K/9) and didn't give up many hits (4th in H/9). When a team did put a ball in play, chances are the defense made the play. Their defensive efficiency (which measures the balls put into play that are converted into outs) was fourth in the league and they were second (a mere percentage point behind the Phillies) with a .981 fielding percentage.

Brooks Robinson was in the prime of his career, 29-years-old, on his way to his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and seventh straight all-star game. Powell slugged 34 home runs and finished third in the MVP voting behind the Robinson boys. At second base was the rookie (and future Orioles manager) Davey Johnson while hall of famer Luis Aparicio was at short. Twenty-two year old Paul Blair was in center with Curt Blefary in left.

Andy Etchebarren backstopped a young rotation that had Jim Palmer (20), Wally Bunker (21), and Dave McNally (23). Steve Barber was the grizzled veteran at 28 years-old and he went 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA. Stu Miller was the closer and Eddie Fisher, Dick Hall,  Moe Drabowsky and Eddie Watt were also in the bullpen.

So, maybe the best squad the Orioles ever fielded? If it isn't this one, it's probably 1969, a team that maintained most of the same players but had Mark Belanger at short and Don Baylor in left.

Watching the Orioles in the American League in 1966 I would seen Mickey Mantle come to town with the Yankees, a team that finished last with the remaining vestiges of their championship teams. Minnesota, who finished second to the Orioles, were led by Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Mudcat Grant. Boston featured Carl Yastrzemski in his prime while Cleveland had Rocky Colavito mashing home runs and a young kid with a funky windup in the bullpen named Luis Tiant.

Then, in the World Series, I'd get to see a rotation that featured Sandy Kofax, Don Drysdale and a young Don Sutton. That trio was decent, but outpitched by an Orioles staff that threw 33 consecutive scoreless innings. I would have seen Kofax's final performance in a Dodgers uniform, Game 2, where he went six innings, gave up four runs (two earned) and lost to Jim Palmer who threw a four-hit shutout.

I'd  have seen day time baseball and no designated hitters (Palmer had one home run and Eddie Watt had two while Drabowsky hit .364). Chuck Thompson called the games on the radio for the Orioles while Vin Scully worked the mic for the Dodgers.

So yeah, that's the season I would pick if I had a very specialized time machine.  How about y'all? What season would you go back to?

Monday, August 5, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 38: Always look for the good things in a bad season

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 38: 6-5 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2012 Topps Nolan Reimold

Even at their absolute best this season, the Baltimore Orioles will most likely lose 100 games. Despite a post All-Star break record that is reasonably ok, they struggled so much over the first three months that history will not remember this season fondly, kind of like 2011.

Pictured above is Nolan Reimold. Back in 2011, when the photo for this card was taken, he was in his third season with the Orioles, a 27-year-old outfielder who had shown some promise with a strong rookie year in 2009, but one who had struggled with injuries since then. The Orioles were struggling through their sixth consecutive 90+ loss season.

On the last day of the season they were playing the Red Sox for the seventh time in their last ten games. Boston was fighting with the Tampa Bay Rays for a spot in the wild card, but the Os had been a thorn in their side going 4-2 in their previous six match-ups. However, with a win and a Rays loss, Boston would still slip into the playoffs.

Enter Game 162, the greatest night in MLB regular season history.  We've gone over that night in previous posts (I'm pretty sure we did, but don't feel like looking it up). To sum it up, Nolan Reimold doubled in Kyle Hudson to tie the score in the ninth and then scored on Robert Andino's soft line-drive to left to win the game. Evan Longoria homered in the 12th down in Tampa to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox were eliminated.

That was a good moment in an otherwise disappointing season.

Yesterday, the Orioles had another one. They were hosting about 4,000 scouts from Great Britain, because that's what you do when there is a big international scouting convention in your city. The young boys and girls were situated in the left field stands and for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, but most likely due to proximity, they adopted leftfielder Anthony Santander as their favorite player. They roared in approval at any catch he made, cheered him as he threw balls into the stands, bought his jersey, and even came up with a soccer-style chant for him.

Did it mean anything to the final score? No. Did it mean anything in the grand scheme of the season? No. Was it something spontaneous and fun that happened around a sporting even? Yes.  That's what can be good about sports. Even in a dismal season something can happen that makes everyone happy. Santander got a kick out of it. The Orioles enjoyed it  (endorsing the kids as the official charter members of the Anthony Santander International Fan Club) and the fans enjoyed it.

Things will quickly delve back into negativity I'm sure (especially with the stretch of tough competition the Orioles face over the next ten days), but at least that memory will remain, in fact it may end up as one of the top moments of the year for the team.

So when people ask me why I watch sports, or why I pay attention to a team that is more than 30 games out of first place, I'll just send them a clip of Santander's smile hearing his name chanted by thousands of strangers. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 37: A Ripken reproduction for ya

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 37: 6-4 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2001 Fleer Cal Ripken Jr Career Highlights Box Set - Card 52

See, you thought this was a normal 1993 Ultra Cal Ripken, Jr., didn't you?  Nope, it was part of a box set released in 2001 to commemorate Ripken's career. Along with cards depicting various highlights throughout his time with the Orioles, Fleer also created some reproductions of his earlier released cards.  The big difference, other than quality (let's not sugar coat it, this set looks like it was rushed through production) is the Ripken logo in the lower right corner.

It's a nice little set to have if you are an Orioles or Ripken fan. Despite the "limited" production there are plenty out there to pick up. This was early 2000's limited so there are literally 50,000 regular sets that were made so it's pretty easy to pick up a complete set for less than $10.00.

Now that being said, according to there were also 2,632 glossy sets made that contained "six exclusive game used cards and one jumbo card". Those are going to set you back a little bit more (there is one listed on ebay right now for $24.00) and not pop up quite as often.

As for the Os.  They pick up win 37 in game 110.  That means I need them to go 23-29 over the last 52 to cash my bet. Of those 52 games, roughly half are against the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, and Rays.  So it's not going to be easy.  We're veering from the impossible to the highly unlikely on the "Will Justin cash a bet" scale, but at least it's moving in the right direction.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Orioles Victory Card 36: No action at the deadline

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 36: 8-5 over the San Diego Padres

1987 Topps Mike Boddicker

Yes, this is going to post late. How do I know? Because I'm watching the Orioles Thursday night game as I type this. Part of it is by design (wanted to wait till after the trade deadline), part of it is by circumstance (a friend was in town last night and we went to the Salt Lake Bees game) and part of it is because I was working on some hockey writing (check out Raw Charge tomorrow). Oh, and the typical laziness.

The MLB trade deadline went by on Wednesday and unlike last season the Orioles were not a serious player. In fact, they made all of one transaction. And it didn't even affect the major league roster. Dan Strailey was traded to the Phildelphia Phillies for everyone's favorite asset - cash.

So, Thursday's line-up is pretty much the same as Tuesday's. Trey Mancini is still there. Hanser Alberto is still there, snagging line-drives and flaring base hits into right field. Dylan Bundy will get a start this weekend and at some point we'll see Mychal Givens closing games out.

Mike Elias was undoubtedly on the phones trying to make some magic happen, but nothing materialized. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Chances are the returns just weren't worth making the deals so he passed. Making trades for the sake of making trades is a good way to screw up a rebuild.

For now, they are still Orioles. Will that stay true through the winter? Possibly not. One thing to consider, all of the main trade pieces that could have been moved this week are still under Orioles control for another season. Now they have another two months to boost their trade value.

The Orioles were 12-12 in the month of July and put together their best string of baseball out on the West Coast. If they keep playing like this, it will be because Jonathan Villar is still hitting and Dylan Bundy is getting his workman like 5-inning starts in.

A team may have been interested in Givens, after all not everyone throws 95+ and has a sharp breaking slider. Still, he's struggled to put it together this season and dealing him in July would have been selling him low. If he can harness his potential through August and September, the Orioles may be able to pry a decent prospect out of a competitor.

With the deadline behind them, the players should relax a little and hopefully that translates to about 24 more wins. They're already within striking distance of last year's total and while they have a rough stretch coming up soon, there are also some winnable games on their schedule.

Why is Mike Boddicker staring at you? Well, back in 1988 the Orioles were not very good (starting off 0-21 will knock you out of the race pretty quickly) and Boddicker was a veteran pitcher garnering some interest around the league. There was some speculation that the Orioles wanted to move him to the Yankees for a young right-handed slugger named Jay Buhner.

Instead they dealt the soft-tossing righty to Boston for another young outfield prospect, Brady Anderson, and a double-A pitcher by the name of Curt Schilling. Imagine a world where Brady stays with the Red Sox and Buhner is launching home runs in Baltimore instead of Seattle. Well, for one thing, we would never have had this:

Or this baseball card:

Or this poster:

So, yeah it worked out ok in the end. As for Boddicker, he went 7-3 down the stretch for the Red Sox in 1988 averaging almost 6 innings a start as Boston won the AL East by a game over the Detroit Tigers. Things did not go well in the playoffs as Boddicker started Game 3 of the ALCS and didn't make it out of the third inning as the Oakland A's touched him for three home runs. Mark McGwire, Carney Lansford and Ron Hassey went deep as the A's scored six runs against him on their way to a 10-6 victory. Oakland would sweep the Red Sox before getting eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Boddicker pitched two more seasons for the Red Sox before joining the Kansas City Royals as a free agent before the 1991 season. Brady Anderson had a pretty good career for the Orioles while Curt Schilling would be part of the Orioles most infamous trade - the 1991 deal for Glenn Davis.