Tag Archives: Atlanta Braves

I Was a Teenage Prospector: Ryan Klesko

Klesko Classic Best

1991 Classic Best

In 1990, I was absolutely obsessed with John Olerud. I had been interested in the guy since learning that he was a legit two-way threat, a batter who could also pitch well (I was enthralled with the Babe Ruth legend at the time). Around that time, I started hearing about recent draftee Ryan Klesko, another two-way threat, though it’s hard to believe these days. Let me tell you, though, that was all I needed to hear, and he was on my want list. Of course, I had some trouble finding Klesko cards, as he wasn’t in any of the major sets. Thankfully, the 1990 minor league sets took off, and next thing you know, I have a bunch of Klesko cards.

Of course, we know how his career turned out: okay, passable, but never a real superstar, which bummed me out. I was convinced that somehow he would be the next great thing. I’m sure the warning signs were there: lack of plate discipline, high strikeout-to-walk ratio, the whole deal, but then…well, it was just as much about the legend of the player as the reality. And Klesko was quite a legend for me in the summers of 90 and 91.

1 Comment

Filed under Atlanta Braves, I Was a Teenage Prospector

The 1989 Project Day 11 – Derek Lilliquist

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

The Braves picked Derek Lilliquist in the first round of the 1987 draft after he led the University of Georgia to the College World series in Spring of 1987 (in fact, he made his first start of the College World Series that year on my 11th birthday). He was designated to the Gulf Coast Braves, where he pitched 2 games with 13 scoreless innings before being bumped up to Single-A Durham. In 3 games there, he had a 2.88 ERA, a 2-1 record, and 29 Ks in 25 IP.

1989 Donruss the Rookies

The Braves bumped him past AA in 1988, straight to AAA Richmond. He went 10-12 there that year, with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Pretty good, but he probably could have stood to repeat AAA. Atlanta didn’t seem interested in that at all, however, and promoted Derek to the majors in 1989 at age 23.

By the way, as Derek is wearing a batting helmet here, he was pretty good with the bat; his career major league line would be .213/.220/.278 with two home runs, pretty good for a pitcher, especially given that he only had 108 at-bats.

1989 Fleer Update

Lilliquist did earn his spot on the team, though. He had a strong Spring while former #5 starter Charlie Puleo stank. And Derek wasn’t bad in 1989! He won his first outing on April 13th, going 7.1 innings while giving up 3 hits, allowing 1 run, and striking out 5. It was probably his best outing of the year. Derek’s biggest drawback that year was that right-handers hit him well. Incredibly well. To the tune of .308/.343/.439; bad news given the majority of hitters are right-handers. He also showed the kind of difficulties you’d expect of a 23-year-old who wasn’t used to pitching so many innings, losing strength and control as the year went on before getting a bump in September.

1989 Topps Traded

He ended 1989 with an 8-10 record, a 3.97 ERA, 79 K in 165.2 innings, and a 1.425 WHIP. Not great, but not bad. At age 23, it seemed he would improve and perhaps help with the amazing rotation that the Braves were already starting to gather.

Unfortunately, 1990 was no good for the young pitcher. He fell to 2-8 with a 6.28 ERA with the Braves before they demoted him to Richmond, then dealt him to the Padres for Mark Grant on 7/12/90. He picked up with the Padres when they moved him to the bullpen, going 3-3 with a 4.33 ERA, but he ended up spending most of 91 with the Padres’ AAA team in Las Vegas, going 4-6 with a 5.38 ERA down there. Was it overuse? Hard to say. He returned to the Padres for six games and completely sucked. The Padres waived him, and he landed with Cleveland, where he was a much better reliever for a few years.

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

All in all, I just have to wonder what happened to Derek. He definitely had promise. Was he rushed too much? I mean, of course he was rushed too much, but did it completely derail him and he wasn’t able to recover? Career he ended up 25-34 with a 4.13 ERA, 17 saves, and a 97 ERA+. All of those seem a lot better than his uneven years would indicate. Seriously, look it up. He may have averaged out to a not-so-bad pitcher, but…yeah.

I don’t have any real connection to Derek, but I do remember at the time I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be much of anything, compared to Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery. I can’t remember why – he was just as hyped, and there were lots of people who thought he was a future star. I do feel bad for the way his career went, though. I guess at least he made it and stuck around for eight seasons.


Leave a comment

Filed under The 1989 Project

The 1988 Project Phase 2 Day 20 – Atlanta Braves

Today we have Jose Alvarez, Ron Gant, Cesar Jimenez, Russ Nixon, Paul Runge, and John Smoltz.

The big name here, of course, is Smoltz. He was a freshly-minted Brave at this point, having been acquired late in the 1987 season. He made his debut July 23rd against the Mets and got a win. So though he would have a rocky 88, his debut actually was a preview of his excellent career.

Ron Gant was the bigger name in 1988, though, and he would have been a good choice for a player feature. He put up an impressive rookie season in 88, getting right to the cusp of a 20-20 season (19-19). His OBP was pretty good given his batting average, too.

The rest of these folks are pretty much non-entities. Jose Alvarez had been out of the majors since 82 at this point. Cesar Jimenez never made the majors; in fact, he was still in A ball at this point so his inclusion is baffling. Paul Runge was at the end of his career. Russ Nixon…well, Bobby Cox?


Filed under The 1988 Project

Weekend Pickups

I mentioned in several posts this weekend that I busted some Topps Value Boxes…four, to be exact, as I was looking to get the entire Chrome set that comes exclusively in the set and was lacking only the Ruth at the end of the day. This was the also the first time I’d gotten Topps Million Card giveaway redemptions, so I was giddy about those.

Here’s some of what I scored in the boxes:

Didn’t get to scan the Ruth card yet, but yes, I have the entire set now. And I’m very pleased with it. I’m a complete refractor whore, so I knew these were a must-have, especially with a National involved.

I also got a “hot box”, comparatively. The following all came from one box, the one with the Strasburg:

These copper cards are kind of cool, but the edges chip VERY easily, so they’re going to be incredibly condition sensitive as time goes on. But yeah, that was a pretty great box.

My other copper was a Paul Maholm:

I also got a big handful of Turkey Red, always welcome:

All in all, I give the Value Boxes an A+. I feel like I got more than $15 worth of material in those boxes, and the chrome cards are a nice addition. I’ll eventually cover my Million Card Giveaway stuff, but I’m in the process of trying to convert what I got to Senators, Expos, and Nationals. I have, however, already requested delivery on this card:

1968 Topps

That card began its life as a Jose Vidal 1969, then was transformed into a Denny Lemaster 1967 and ended up here. I’m always happy with a new 68 card! Thanks for these, Topps.

Leave a comment

Filed under Autographs, Game-Used, Washington Senators, Wax Breaks

Box Break: 2002 UD Authentics

I haven’t disguised my love for this set, that’s for sure, and yet I’ve always found the boxes tantalizingly out of reach, either too expensive or difficult to find, so when I found a box going for an obscenely cheap amount on Ebay, I bid and sat on that auction. Yesterday the box finally arrived.

Stated odds, as you can see, are 1 in every 16 packs. The box is obviously meant to echo the 1989 box design, as everything in this set is a loving homage to that original set. Including the setup when you open the box:

As you can see, they’ve used that same paper material that UD used in their 1989 issue:

The whole thing gave me nostalgia goosebumps, down to the authentic (heh) feel of opening the first pack.

Now, as to the actual content of the box. Well, first, I should note that I was supposed to get two reverse-negatives card in this box, but I only got one, this Jason Johnson:

And that’s A-okay by me. The reverse negative gimmick is easily the crappiest, most annoying thing about this set, as I’d have preferred to get the base Johnson, which I still don’t have. Sigh. Oh, I’m also okay with it because I not only beat the odds for relics on this box, I pulverized them. 1 in 16 packs, right? 18 packs in the box, so maybe, tops, I could have gotten two if I was extremely lucky. Yeah, I got four, including a reverse-negative game-used card and a gold reverse-negative game-used card. I didn’t even know the latter existed. My first ever hot box!

Very, very cool stuff. I love it. Oh, I also got two inserts: their version of the Baseball Heroes, numbered to 1989

And a 1989 Flashback Mark Grace, numbered to 4225 (though that Cubs picture is more recent than 1989, he didn’t have that facial hair until the 90s).

I also got a mess of base cards that I needed; only two doubles in the whole box, and a small stack of cards that I already had. Look for those cards to wind up in some trades in the near future.

I’m still quite a bit short of the set, so I may pick up another box when I have some money. Overall, I give the box an A for the presentation, the hits, and the collation. Totally worth the money and exceeded my expectations. Oh, and all these cards save the base cards/reverse negative are available.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2002 UD Authentics, Wax Breaks

Finds From The National Part 8: The Throwbacks

As always, I’m a sucker for old-school style revivals, and I came across some that I had never seen before during The National.

Not sure how I feel about this. There are some pretty significant changes to the 1989 design, and they’ve thrown some foil on it. It’s also a lot glossier than the original issue. So it’s not really true to the original, but the set still seems worth having. Just a note, this is the second A-Rod 1989 design card I have, each with a different team. Now they just need to make one in a Yankees uniform and I’ll complete the trifecta. Oh, and I got one other card of this set:

Now that’s a sweet card.

I also found some cards that I was blissfully ignorant of: chrome versions of old Bowman cards! I scooped up every copy I found, which wasn’t much. Anyone know more about these and how many there are?

I also picked up a few 2002 Donruss Originals for my set, short prints, but I haven’t gotten to scanning them and they’re already in the binder with the set. Oh, well. Their time will come on the site.

Okay, only one more entry to go! I thought this might end up taking the whole week, and it looks like it will. Stay tuned…

Leave a comment

Filed under 2010 National Convention

Speaking of Baseball Brawls…

Check out this brawl between the Braves and Padres from 1984. Great stuff!


Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events

The 1988 Project Day Twelve – Pete Smith and Kevin Coffman

Often lost in the praise of Tom Glavine is the fact that he was one of a trio of pitching prospects that the Braves thought would lead their staff back in the 80s, kind of a precursor to the ballyhooed Four Aces and Generation K and much like those groups of pitchers, this group also met with incredibly mixed success. I learned about this group via an uncle of mine who was an avid Sporting News subscriber. He also informed me of this kid Kent Mercker who would one day make something of himself. So, today we’re looking at the other two members of the group: Kevin Coffman and Pete Smith.

1988 Donruss Baseball's Best

Pete Smith was originally drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1984, and came to the Braves as a throw-in for the Ozzie Virgil trade in 1985. By 1987, he was considered a top prospect for the club, and was mentioned in the papers: “There are several new young pitchers opening some eyes here in camp. Lefty Tom Glavine, who played hockey in Massachusetts and was even drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, will head back to Triple-A Richmond. And the Braves are excited about Pete Smith, who was acquired in the Steve Bedrosian trade with Ozzie Virgil in December of 1985. Perhaps Glavine and Smith can give the Braves some hope for the future pitching staff.”

1988 Donruss The Rookies

Pete arrived in the majors on September 8, 1987, with an auspicious debut against the San Diego Padres. The LA Times had the story: “Smith retired the first 11 Padres he faced until John Kruk’s single in the fourth. Brave shortstop Jeff Blauser flagged it with a dive but could not complete the play. Smith got the next four batters before running into trouble in the sixth.” He went on to get the win in that game, and had a September that was about what you’d expect from a 21-year old pitching for the 1987 Atlanta Braves, ending with a 91 ERA+.

1988 Donruss The Rookies

So, where does Kevin Coffman fit into all of this? Kevin was an 11th round, homegrown Braves prospect who had seen some up-and-down success and saw the Braves in a September callup along with his fellow prospects. Control had always been an issue for the guy, but in 1987 it looked like he might be figuring it out, having brought his bb/12 down from 12.2 as an 18-year old in the Gulf Coast League to a still alarming 6.4 in 1987. He was seen as a power pitcher who had a great deal of trouble mastering his curveball, but the thought was that he would put it together eventually, especially after he went 14-9 in 1986. Oh, by the way, Glavine and Coffman were teammates in 1985 at Sumter. I only mention this because I was able to find this picture in Google Archives:

Hahaha, look at that thing. Coffman also debuted in September 1987, debuting three days before Smith, on September 5th. His first outing was nowhere near as good; he surrendered four runs on seven hits in three and two-thirds innings. He also walked three. Not a good omen, but he ended up with a 2-3 record, a 95 ERA+, and a 5.0 BB/9 ratio. It looked like he could still be something.

1988 Fleer Update

1988 would not be kind to the trio. From the Atlanta Constitution:

To be fair to Smith, he was a whole lot better than he appeared pitching for a pretty lousy squad. Yes, he went 7-15 with 8.4 h/9 and 4/0 bb/9, but he managed a 5.7 k/9 and a 100 ERA+. For a 22-year old in the big leagues, I’d be willing to cut the kid a break. That’s not too damned bad. I can see why he made all the 88 traded sets; it looked like he had a future ahead of him. Well, he kind of did, but not what people thought.

1988 Score Rookies and Traded

I found this snippet from the Atlanta Constitution article particularly ironic.

Well, Tom, maybe you should’ve spoken for yourself. While Glavine would indeed rebound in 1989, going 14-8 with a 99 ERA+ at age 23 and showing flashes of the brilliant pitcher he would eventually become, Smith nosedived. He went 5-14, again, not a big deal for someone pitching for those awful Braves teams, but his h/9 inched up to 9.1, his WHIP shot up to 1.415, and his ERA+ tumbled to 77. He looked lost, and he would never really recover from there.

1988 Topps Traded

Coffman, in the meantime, went from bad to worse. 1988 had not been kind to him. He only stayed in Atlanta for 18 games, starting 11, and went 2-6 with an abysmal 64 ERA+, 8.3 h/9, and a 7.3 bb/9. He threw 11 wild pitches in 18 games and hit 4 batters. Obviously having seen enough, Atlanta packaged him with Kevin Blankenship for Jody Davis in September 1988. He proceeded to stink up the joint in Chicago’s minor leagues, registering a 10.3 BB/9 in 1989. He didn’t return to the majors until 1990, when he posted an 11.29 ERA in 8 games for the Cubs. Apparently he had some of the same psychological problems John Smoltz did, taking a psychologist to the game when he pitched, but it didn’t work out so well for him. He was gone from the majors for good, hanging on in the minors until 1995.

1988 Topps Traded

Smith’s career lasted a bit longer. While he never lived up to the hype, he did hang on in the majors until 1998, making a respectable 11-year career. He finished with a 41-71 career record (he did pitch for some really bad teams) and an 86 ERA+. He had a career 4.9 WAR, pretty abysmal for an 11-year career. Most telling is the fact that he gave up 9.2 hits per 9 innings over his career. You just can’t sustain success like that.

But it’s an interesting journey, and there were a lot more pitchers from the Atlanta crop that we haven’t covered, like Tommy Greene, Derek Lilliquist, Steve Avery, and, of course, John Smoltz.  I suspect some of them will come up in future “projects”.


Filed under The 1988 Project

Finds and Sales

Welcome to a new weekly column! I’m really excited to do this, as I’m something of a part-time eBayer. I hit up thrift stores, yard sales, and pawn shops for suitable items to sell on eBay and supplement my income. I think I do okay at it (even if July has been a rough month). I come across some very…odd items. And some very unique items, like this plaque of Crosley Field that ended up going for a decent price:

Found it for 80 cents.

I only just considered the idea of covering some of my sports-related finds on the blog, but I think there are some potentially very cool ideas lurking out there; for instance, I found a Wayne Gretzky autographed Upper Deck card and a sealed 1986 Donruss Rookies set on the same trip, so why not cover them here, as well?

I sometimes also try to check and see if some items have been listed on eBay for less than they’re worth, and have come across a few real gems that I’ve flipped, such as this Sweet Spot card that I got for 1.50:

Really, is that a great foursome or what?

I was very tempted to hold on to this baby, but business demanded it go. Really though, one of these guys is a lock for the HOF, at least Halladay is a pretty likely at this point, and I think Wagner may eventually make it. Not bad at all.

So what else have I found? How about this:

Yes, that's a Roger Maris bear.

I have no idea WHY a Roger Maris bear exists, but it does, and I found it last weekend at a thrift store. I’m putting it up for sale this week (no links, I’m not eBay whoring here), and I’m very curious to see if anyone wants it. I kind of doubt it, but who knows? I think it’s kind of a neat little find.

Yeah, it’s a Beltran McFarlane miniature figure. I have absolutely no idea why the label is upside-down, but it ended up selling for a decent price. I’ve actually found Beltran to be a fairly common thrift store find, for some reason. Could it be that he fell from grace with Mets fans or something? No idea.

I shipped this one out today; it’s an Andrew McCutchen “canvas wrap”. They gave these out a Pirates game back in May, and this thrift store had about four or five sealed copies. I ended up busting it open to see if I could clean that black smudge off the canvas, but no dice. It still sold for a decent amount, but I’m sure a mint, unopened would go for more. Too bad none were in that condition.

This was another eBay find, possibly one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever come across. I paid $1.50 for it, and regrettably it ended up going for a dollar. How? I don’t understand how a card with some of the best players in baseball could go for so cheap. It was frustrating, and I haven’t really dipped into that well since, as I’d have preferred to just hold onto it for that.

Finally (for this week):

That’s a limited Cal Ripken lithograph print that was sold at Camden Yards. I recognized it, as I have a similar Miguel Tejada. Just shipped this out the other day to a happy buyer.

But wait, you ask – haven’t you found Nationals stuff, living in the DC area?

Oh my, yes, I have, I’ve just kept that for myself…and I’ll cover that in a different column.

Leave a comment

Filed under Finds and Sales