Tag Archives: Baltimore Orioles

I Was a Teenage Prospector: Ben McDonald

McDonald UD

1990 Upper Deck

Ahhh, Ben McDonald. In 1990, there was a rookie battle afoot: the forces of John Olerud (me, mostly) versus the forces of Ben McDonald (everyone else). It was tough for me to appreciate what the guy was capable of when everyone in town was treating him like the second coming. I thought Olerud was a much more solid prospect: good swing, strong college pitcher, great fielder…oh, and he played in those awesome late 80s/early 90s Blue Jays uniforms. What wasn’t to love? He rapidly became my favorite player while others went down the McDonald path, fueled by the 1990 Upper Deck error.

We know how their careers turned out: Olerud had a much more solid path, while McDonald got injured and flamed out somewhat early in his career. But every time someone mentions McDonald or I see one of his cards, I’m that 13-year old kid again, standing in the backyard catching flak for my choice of player. Still, that didn’t stop me from eventually seeing what was there and at least pursuing one of his autographs as a sort of badge of honor. Today, for me, McDonald is one of those “could have been” stories that intrigue me. What if his body had held up? He posted pretty good ERA+s from 1993 onward, cursed by playing for some lousy teams. I don’t know. It’s an interesting quandary.

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The 1989 Project Day 3 – Gregg Olson

Today we look at the promised 1989 AL Rookie of the Year, Gregg Olson. This is going to be a fun entry, as I have quite a connection to the Otter; even if I never met the guy, he meant a lot to me.

1989 Donruss Baseball's Best

You see, I was a die-hard Orioles fan in 1989, and Gregg was something of a second coming for young Orioles fans at the time (a role Ben McDonald would go on to fill in 1990). I was even privileged enough to see him pitch in person on July 31st, 1990, when he closed the game out against the Blue Jays. It was my first major league game, and Olson’s appearance must have been electrifying, as I don’t remember much about that game other than Olson’s performance and taunting Glenallen Hill about his then-recent spider dream incident. We got his attention, too! But the most vivid memory was that 9th inning, when the entire stadium was on its feet to the last strike. What a performance, and I can point to it at as a moment when I really started to love baseball.

1989 Donruss The Rookies

The Otter spent his college days at Auburn, where he pitched in relief. In 1988, the year the Ori0les took him with their first pick, he struck out 113 in 72 innings, leading his team. Like most college relievers, he didn’t spend much time in the minors, toiling in only 16 games between Hagerstown and Charlotte before debuting at the Kingdome on September 2nd, 1988. He struck out two and walked one, but the Orioles weren’t quite ready put him in the closer role.

1989 Score Rookie and Traded

He started off hot early in 1989 (3 victories and 2 saves in his first 11 appearances), and became entrenched at the back of the bullpen. Of course, this was as Tony LaRussa was only just defining modern closer usage, so Gregg had plenty of outings that stretched past one inning; in fact, he had three games with at least three innings, and eleven two-inning affairs. That’s pretty amazing when you compare it to today’s usage patterns. He even had a couple of four strikeout outings with that sick curveball (you know, the one that would eventually shred his arm). Did you know he surrendered one home run the entire year? Stunning. The guy was unstoppable.

1989 Topps Traded

I first became aware of Gregg when I pulled his rookie card from a 1989 Topps pack on a frigid winter night in the alleyway circled right here:

The white building on the left of the photo is, in fact, the store where I bought that pack. Though it was yellow at the time, it’s still standing all these years later; I even visited it a few weeks ago. It has a different name and a new coat of paint, but it’s essentially the same (minus the packs).

1989 Upper Deck High Numbers

The Olson Topps was my first experience with a draft pick card, and as a budding prospector, I thought it possibly the greatest thing ever. Two thoughts sprang to mind: one, were there other draft picks in the set? (There were.) Two, how on Earth could I get this signed? The very idea was like visiting Mars to a kid in a small country town three hours from the closest team, but I wanted it. I tried to get him to sign it at the games I attended over the years, but I never had any luck. I did manage to score a signed version in 2003, appeasing that inner child.

One of the more interesting aspects of the 1989 Project Orioles cards are the uniform variations. If memory serves correctly, the team used the old Orioles uniforms in Spring Training, then changed to the black-capped versions once the season began. This means that it’s extremely easy to tell which pictures were taken in Spring Training. Some of the uniforms also have an EBW patch. The patch was worn in memory of Edwin Bennett Williams, who owned the team from 1930 to his death in August of 1988. We’ll look at that later, though. For now, enjoy The Otter!

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The 1988 Project Phase 2 Day 23 – Baltimore Orioles

Time for the last entry. The Orioles had Jose Bautista (not that one), Mike Morgan, Carl Nichols, Joe Orsulak, Oswald Peraza, Frank Robinson, Doug Sisk, Pete Stanicek, and Mickey Tettleton.

Not exactly a stellar collection of players. At least Orsulak and Tettleton would be regulars for the team for years. Orsulak didn’t play in the majors in 87, but hit .288/.331/.422 for the terrible 88 O’s team. For that team, that wasn’t that bad. Tettleton was a huge surprise, hitting .261/.330/.424, something that his performance with the A’s never hinted at.

Morgan was also a big pickup, but he bombed badly in 88. striking out only 29 in 71 innings. Pretty much par for the course for that team. Bautista was supposed to be a big deal, but never quite lived up to the hype. He went 6-15 in 1988, which is kind of deceptive given the weakness of that team; he had a serviceable 4.30 ERA and 91 ERA+, but his walk, k, and HR rates all presaged what would happen to his career.

Pete Stanicek is one of those players that I remember Orioles fans carrying on about back in the day, but he never really did much, playing only in 87 and 88. In 88 he hit .230/.313/.310, and he was done with the majors at age 25.

And that does it for the 1988 Project. Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll start the 1989 project…


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2010 Topps Chrome Blaster Break

I was feeling a bit out of sorts last night. Not sure why, but I suspected that opening a blaster of cards might cheer me up a bit. And I knew I wanted to bust some Topps Chrome, especially after learning that the retail version was different than the hobby version (of which I am already in on a group break). So, after some cajoling of my dearly beloved, we went to Target, and I was able to score the next-to-last blaster of Chrome. And what a blaster it turned out to be.

The base cards, of course, are great as always. I’ve been a chrome junkie since I returned to the hobby in ’03, and these may be my favorites in that time. I didn’t care for the 10 base design, but something about it works in Chrome.


Of course I got a Zimmerman.


Of course, the big question for me was the refractors, as I collect them. Thankfully, the published odds on the box seem to be crap, because I got a refractor or some variation of it in every pack. Like this Adam Dunn refractor:

Out of the 8 packs, I got an equal amount of xfractors and refractors. That means xfractors are a lot easier to pull, which is a little disappointing, but it’s still nice to get them, and I dig the early 80s video game vibe to this year’s design:

So that leaves me with two other refractor-type pulls from the box. The first was this gorgeous purple Nick Johnson refractor. It’s numbered, but I can’t remember the numbering. Maybe 299?

The next one’s really cool. It’s a blue Topps 206 Dan Haren refractor. I think the odds on this one were like 1:420 packs. It’s numbered to 199.

But I saved my absolute favorite card of the blaster for last.

That’s right, the first Stephen Strasburg I’ve pulled and it’s an xfractor. SO happy with that one. Overall, I’m ecstatic with the blaster. I’m definitely hoping to pick up a hobby box or hell even a retail box, as they’re just as much fun.And to me, that’s what this is really all about.


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The 1988 Project Day 27 – Craig Worthington

1988 Donruss The Rookies

As an Orioles fan in the early 90s, Craig Worthington was frustrating as hell. We had been told this kid was a top prospect, and would deliver the goods, but as far as I could see, Leo Gomez was far and away a better hitter. This is my chance to go back and try to understand Craig. As it turns out, Craig was not quite as bad as I thought, but still pretty damned brutal. And he had a cast-iron skillet for a glove. Not only was my recollection of this correct, the numbers bear it out. Worthing started at A-level Bluefield in 1985,with an impressive .341/.394/.589 line. Look at that power! He did well in high-A Hagerstown in 86, then ran into some troubles at AAA in 87, hitting .258/.317/.355. I guess you could expect that when someone skips AA. I…wait…did the Orioles rush him? I believe they did. He made his major league debut on April 26, 1988 against the Twins and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. He hung around the club until May, when he got back sent down to AAA, and didn’t return until September. While he was down in AAA, he hit .244/.303/.419. Definitely looks like he was rushed to AAA, let alone the majors.

1988 Fleer Update

Worthington stuck in Baltimore in 1989, hitting .247/.334/.384 with 15 HR. Unfortunately, his fielding cost him 11 (!) points, and he ended up at a 1.9 WAR. Still pretty damn respectable for a 24-year old rookie and good for a 106 OPS+. He was better than I remembered, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, 1990 would not be so smooth. He only mustered a .226/.328/.322, 8 HR, 0.8 WAR line with a wretched .301 wOBA (weighted on-base average, see here for more information) as pitchers began to figure him out. 1991 saw the emergence of Leo Gomez and his 2.4 WAR (wow he was nowhere near as good as I thought), and Worthington spent most of his time on the pine. In the offseason, the O’s dealt him and Tom Martin to the Padres for Steve Martin and Jim Lewis. I recognize Lewis and Steve Martin from the deal; they were both washed-up prospects at this point. He was released out of Spring Training and picked up by the Indians. He played only nine games with the Indians. He played out the thread of his career with the Reds and the Rangers, never really making a dent with either. In fact, after 1991, he played in only 58 major league games before leaving the majors for good in 1996.

Here are shots of Worthington as a Red and a Ranger. Can’t believe I found these.

I don’t like either of these cards, honestly. If I had to choose, I’d go with the Donruss, because Craig looks like a smug asshole in the Fleer card. Ah, well. So long, Craig. We hardly knew ye.

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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.

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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.

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Trade Bait

I don’t think I’ve ever done a proper trade bait post, so let’s take a look at what I have available. Listening to any and all offers…

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Autographed: Jim Palmer

2003 Donruss Signature Series

Absolutely one of my favorite cards in my collection. I’m a Jim Palmer collector to begin with, and finding a card with a signature referencing the Cy Young Palmer won in my birth year was…yeah. I won this in an auction back in 2005, and had debated for quite some time during my last run on whether I would feature it on the blog. In the end, I had to go for it, and haven’t regretted it since. What a great card, even if it is a cut sticker.

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Finds From The National Part 9: Palmer Finale

Well, we’re finally there. I think it says a lot for the magnitude of the show that it took a week to cover everything I found, and there are still a lot more I could show off. And yet I managed to stay under $100! That’s what scouring dime and quarter boxes will get you.

1973 Topps

I had seen this card covered on 30-Year Old Cardboard, so I was excited to find a copy for myself. I’ve always found these sets a little odd and awkward, but still, seeing a star of 73 with this kind of card is fun, if nothing else.

1978 Topps

I like this card because the shot was clearly taken at the All-Star game. I was perplexed at first – why would Palmer be wearing his home whites at Yankee stadium? Then I thought about that All Star designation at the top and did a little googling. Sure enough, the 1977 All-Star game was at Yankee Stadium. Nice!

2005 Upper Deck Past Time Pennants

This is one of many latter-day Palmers I discovered. Here are the rest:

2005 Sweet Spot Classics

2010 Topps Tribute

And we end on a 2010 card. Fitting, I think. It was an amazingly fun show, and I’ll always feel these cards go in a special place in my collection. I really want to try to make it to Chicago next year, but we’ll see. Life can get in the way between now and then, as it loves to do.

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