Tagged: a quarter-century after the cardboard

A Quarter Century After the Cardboard, Volume 6

This is the sixth — and final — edition of this Brobdingnagian blog series! 

For the previous five installments, click HERE and HERE and HERE, and HERE, and, oh, also: HERE. Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and, please, comment freely on this one as well! (Your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, why some random blogger is devoting so much time to this, etc). Let’s go, one last time:

25 years ago last month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein? These are the immortal images of mortal men, and shall never be forgotten.

With the exception of the indefatigable Jamie Moyer (born during the Kennedy administration), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This is finally, mercifully, the last in a series of blog posts that attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

Volume 6: Players Now Coaching In An NL West Organization

Card #197 Mark Bailey

Then: Catcher, Houston Astros

Bailey burst onto the big league scene in 1984 at the age of 22, appearing in 108 games for the Astros. He received even more playing time in ’85, hitting .265 and getting on base at a laudatory .389 clip. But that was the beginning of a long, slow end. Bailey played 100 games (total) over the next three seasons, and from that point forward his big league career was limited to very brief stints with the Giants in 1990 and 1992.  His final at-bat in the Majors came on August 4, 1992, when he struck out looking against current Visalia Rawhide pitching coach Doug Drabek (card #297, see below)

Bailey: on the left

Now: Hitting coach, Tri-City ValleyCats

Upon wrapping up his long and winding playing career, Bailey returned to the employ of the Astros. After a couple of Minor League coaching stints, he wound up coaching in Houston from 2002-09. But in 2010 he returned to the Minors, working with the Double-A Hooks of Corpus Christi before moving on to his current Tri-Cities (NY) location.

Card #233 Russ Morman

The wristbands make the man

Then: First baseman, Chicago White Sox

Rookie card alert! The above slice of thin-cut cardboard came into existence due to the fact that Morman had played 49 games in 1986 (hitting .252). This wasn’t enough to get him on a job on the 1987 squad, however, as he spent that campaign Triple-A Hawaii. In fact, those 49 games in 1986 were a Major League high, but nonetheless Morman logged time with the Sox in 1988-89 and  Royals in 1990-91. After two more years played exclusively in the Minors, he re-surfaced with the Marlins in 1994 and went on to play (sparingly) all the way through the club’s 1997 World Championship season.

Now: Hitting coach, Fresno Grizzlies

That dimly-lit fellow on the far right is good ol’ indefatigable Russ, whose seemingly never-ending baseball journey has taken him to Fresno. Prior to that he worked with the Flying Squirrels of Richmond, perhaps the most ridiculously-named team for whom he’s ever had to wear a uniform. But who really does know?

Card #292 Franklin Stubbs

Then: First baseman/Outfielder Los Angeles Dodgers

An extremely small percentage of the American populace has managed to enjoy two seasons of 2o+ home runs in the Major Leagues, but count Franklin Stubbs among this distinguished minority. He accomplished the feat in 1986 with the Dodgers and, again, in 1990 with the Astros. ’91 and ’92 were spent in Milwaukee, and Stubbs then played ’93 in the Minors and ’94 in the Mexico before landing on the roster of the 1995 Tigers. He appeared in 62 games for this Motor City franchise, and that was to be the end of the line.

Now: Hitting coach, Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A affiliate, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Stubbs transitioned to coaching shortly after his playing career ended, starting out within the Atlanta Braves system. But in 2010 he returned to the same Dodgers organization that drafted him (in the first round) back in ’82. He spent that season in Inland Empire before moving on to his current situation in Chattanooga. Sometimes fans ask him to sign their tickets, as his signature on a ducat immediately transforms them into “Stubbs.”

Card #297 Doug Drabek

Then: Right-handed pitcher, New York Yankees

Rookie card alert! This particular slab was issued after Drabek went 7-8 over 27 appearances with the ’86 Yanks, but that was to be the extent of his time in pinstripes. Drabek was traded to Pittsburgh after the season, and it was in the Steel City that he really made a name for himself. He anchored the Bucs’ rotation from 1987-’92, highlighted by a Cy Young-winning campaign in 1990 (22-6, 2.76 ERA), and went from there to the Astros, White Sox, and Orioles. Drabek totaled 155 wins in all, but oddly enough his only All-Star appearance came as a member of the 1994 Houston Astros.

Now: Pitching coach, Visalia Rawhide (Class A Advanced affiliate, Arizona Diamondbacks)

Struggling Rawhide hurlers know that a dose of Drabek is good for what Visalia. 2012 marks his second season with the club, and thus far the team has resisted the temptation to produce a “Teach Me How To, Dougie” parody video. Prior to arriving in Visalia, Drabek plied his trade in Yakima with a Bears club that tried its best to disassociate itself from the bad news so endemic to franchises operating under such a moniker.

Card #540 Terry Kennedy

Then: Catcher, San Diego Padres

To be sure, Kennedy was one of the better catchers of the 1980s. A four-time All-Star, he had solid power (double-digit home run totals from 1982-87) and twice drove in over 95 runs in a season. And, on a personal level, I recall thinking that he looked quite a bit like Popeye. (A Google search for “Terry Kennedy Popeye” turns up nothing relevant, however, so I must be alone in this.)

Now: Manager, Tucson Padres

Kennedy’s managerial career dates all the way back to 1993, and it has since encompassed stops at nearly all levels of play as well as the independent leagues (including, most improbably, a San Diego Surf Dawgs club that featured 46-year-old Rickey Henderson on the roster). But since 2009 Kennedy has been on the payroll ledgers of the same San Diego organization that employed him from 1981-86. 2012 marks his second campaign with the Tucson Padres, which is also the second season in which that particular Pacific Coast League entity has been in operation. Therefore, it stands to reason that Kennedy has managed the club in each and every moment of its short existence.

Card #579 Rick Burleson

Then:Infielder/Designated Hitter, California Angels

Burleson hails from Lynwood, the same California town that later spawned none other than Weird Al Yankovic. Burleson is eight years older than Mr. Yankovic, however, and was already on the downside of his career by the time the master parodist  released his eponymous debut in 1983. But Burleson was a force to be reckoned with before injuries took their toll, appearing in 114 games as a Red Sox rookie in 1974 and then playing on a near-daily basis in each of the next seven seasons. But he only played 51 total games between 1982-84, then spent the entire 1985 campaign on the disabled list. The above baseball card was to be his last – Burleson signed with the Orioles as a free agent in 1987, but was released during the All-Star break and never appeared in the Majors again.

Now: Hitting coach, Reno Aces (Triple-A affiliate, Arizona Diamondbacks)

I’m not sure if anyone actually calls Burleson “Reno Rick,” but it sure is a cool-sounding nickname. And he’s earned it, too, as Burleson is the only hitting coach that Reno batsmen have ever known. He and manager Brett Butler (see below) have been with the club since its inaugural 2009 campaign, but prior to landing in the Biggest Little City Burleson meticulously pieced together a lengthy coaching and managerial resume that dates back to the early days of the G.H.W. Bush administration.

Card #675 Ed Romero

Then: Infielder, Boston Red Sox

It could be argued that Ed Romero was the Luis Aguayo of the American League — i.e. a good field, little hit reserve infielder whose career neatly encompassed the decade of the 1980s. When the above card was produced, Ed was coming off of his second (and final) 100-game campaign. He accumulated 233 at-bats for the Sox, hitting an anemic .210 but, as the card shows, ably moving to his left whenever the situation called for it.

Now: Manager, Gulf Coast League Astros (Rookie-level affiliate, Houston Astros)

Romero’s first managerial gig dates all the way back to 1992, when he piloted that year’s incarnation of the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians. He has also enjoyed stints as “Minor League infield coordinator” with three different organizations, including the Astros franchise that currently keeps him on the payroll. 2011 was Romero’s first as a manager within the sweltering back lots of the Florida-based Gulf Coast League.

Card #723 Brett Butler

Then: Centerfielder, Cleveland Indians

Butler enjoyed a long and fruitful Major League career, possessing a pleasingly alliterative ballplayer name all the while. The skinny speedster made his debut with the Braves in 1981 and went on to play for the Indians, Giants, Mets and Dodgers before finishing his career in 1997. He led the league in triples four times (including 1994-95, at the ages of 37 and 38), at-bats twice, runs twice, hits once, and walks once. And, while Butler never led the league in steals, he did manage to pace the senior circuit in caught stealing on three occasions.

It is also worth noting that Butler missed nearly the entire 1996 campaign due to cancer treatments, but enjoyed a strong comeback season in 1997 at the age of 40.

Butler, ready to serve

Now: Manager, Reno Aces

Butler has been employed by the the Diamondbacks’ organization since 2005, coaching in the big leagues that year and then going on to manage Lancaster and Mobile before coming to Reno in the Aces’ inaugural season of 2009. 2012, then, marks his fourth season with the club. This is the longest stint he’s had on any one team since he suited up for the Dodgers from 1991-95.

Card #787 Alejandro Pena

Then: Right-handed starter/reliever, Los Angeles Dodgers

Would you believe that Alejandro Pena once won a National League ERA title? It’s true — in 1984 he pitched a career-high 199 1/3 innings over a career-high 28 starts, compiling a circuit-pacing ERA of 2.48. That was just about the end of Pena’s career as a starter, however — after an injury-riddled 1985 he transitioned to a relief role, and by the advent of the ’90s he was one of America’s pre-eminent peripatetic denizens of the bullpen. Pena spent 1990 with the Mets, and then went to the Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, Marlins, back to the Braves and then, finally, back to the Marlins.

Now: Pitching coach, Dominican Summer League Dodgers (Rookie-level affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers)

Despite devoting 10 days of my life to scouring micro-fiche of Dominican newspapers, I have been unable to ascertain how Pena spent his days after his playing career ended. Until 2010, that is, when the heretofore cold trail suddenly becomes sizzling. Pena worked as a pitching coach for the DSL Dodgers that season, did it again in 2011, and, presumably, will be back for more in 2012.

And that, as they say, is that! Thanks so much for sticking with me through this seemingly never-ending saga — I nearly bit off more than I could chew, but more than a month of meticulous mastication I’m happy to report that the end result was a successful swallow.

And with that, one of the worst sentences I have ever written, this series concludes.



A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 5

For the first installments of this series, click HERE and HERE and HERE, and HERE. Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and, please, comment freely on this one as well! (Your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, why some random blogger is devoting so much time to this, etc).

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein? Despite their age, they remain formidable:

With the exception of the indefatigable Jamie Moyer (quarante-neuf ans jeune!), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

Volume 5: Players Now Coaching In An NL Central Organization

Card #65 Tom Browning

Then: Left-handed starter, Cincinnati Reds

Browning appeared in 302 games over his 12-season Major League career (1984-95), 300 of which were with the Reds. From 1985-91 he was an absolute workhorse, leading the league in games started four times and topping 225 innings pitched in six of those seasons. Browning won 20 games as a 25-year-old in his rookie season of 1985, and in 1988 pitched a perfect game against the eventual World Champion Dodgers. Impressive feats, both.

Now: Pitching coach, Dayton Dragons (Class A Affiliate, Cincinnati Reds)

After some managerial gigs in the independent leagues, Browning returned to the Cincinnati organization in 2008. He spent two seasons in Billings (a job that allowed him to visit his Casper, WY hometown on road trips) and then two more in the sweltering backlots of the Arizona League.  2012 marks a significant upgrade for him, then — he’ll be working with young hurlers in Dayton, home to the perpetually sold-out Dragons.

Card #199 Mariano Duncan

Then: Shortstop/Second Baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers

As one who grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, I’ll always remember Duncan for his 1992-95 stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was a key member of the pennant-winning ’93 Phils, platooning at second base with Mickey Morandini and, most memorably, hitting a game-winning grand slam against Lee Smith on Mother’s Day. But before these exploits in the City of Brotherly love, Duncan was a Dodger. He made his debut in 1985 and received a lot of playing time (appearing in a career-high 142 games that season), but his lack of efficiency was so pronounced that by 1988 he was back in the Minors. He returned to LA in ’89, then went to Cincinnati, then the aforementioned City of Brotherly Love, then back to Cincinnati, then the Bronx, and, finally, Toronto. All told, he played in 1279 games over 12 seasons.

Now: Hitting coach, Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs)

Upon retiring, Duncan returned to the Dodgers organization that had originally drafted him. He worked his way up through the system and in 2006 returned to LA for a five-season run as the team’s first base coach. 2011 marked his first campaign with the Smokies (and within the Cubs organization), and he’ll return for more of the same in 2012.

Card #252 Dennis Martinez

Then: Right-handed starter, Montreal Expos

Martinez enjoyed a stellar 23-season career in the Majors, playing past his 43rd birthday en route to 245 wins and 3999 2/3 innings pitched. Yes — 3999 2/3, meaning he fell one out short of 4000 in his career. So let’s look at how his career ended: on September 27, 1998, Martinez was summoned by Braves manager Bobby Cox to pitch the seventh inning of a contest against the Mets (in relief of Greg Maddux). He retired the first batter he faced, but then surrendered back-to-back doubles and an infield single. The next batter was Mike Piazza, and Martinez struck him out looking.

Cox then summoned left-handed John Rocker to pitch to switch-hitter Brian McRae (presumably batting from the left-hand side). The move worked, as McRae struck out, but at what cost? Martinez never appeared in the Major Leagues again, and if he had been given the opportunity to finish the frame he very well could have retired with an even 4000 innings pitched.

But on the happier side of things, the above card marks the first featuring Martinez on the Expos (he had spent the previous decade in Baltimore). He pitched eight seasons with the club, and threw a perfect game on July 28th, 1991. As we learned in a previous post in this series, that perfect game was caught by current New Orleans Zephyrs manager Ron Hassey.

Martinez, on the left

Now: Pitching coach, Palm Beach Cardinals (Class A Advanced affiliate, St. Louis Cardinals)

Since 2007 Martinez has been in the employ of the St. Louis Cardinals, working for the GCL Cards (2007), Palm Beach (2008-09), and Springfield (2010) before returning to Palm Beach. He also holds the lofty title of “Minister of Sport” in his native Nicaragua, a position befitting his status as one of the country’s most successful and beloved athletes.

Card #356 Luis Aguayo

Then: Shortstop/Second base, Philadelphia Phillies

Perhaps no player’s career was as neatly encapsulated within the Reagan era as was Aguayo’s, as the Puerto Rican-born infielder played his first game in April of 1980 and last in September of 1989. He spent the majority of that time with the Phillies but was generally a reserve player, as his career high of 99 games (in 1988) would illustrate.

Aguayo’s Baseball Reference wiki page features two quotes about him courtesy of Phillies announcer Richie “Whitey” Ashburn, and one of them is this gem:

“Aguayo’s running at first base. He doesn’t have great speed … what am I saying? He doesn’t have good speed, he doesn’t even have average speed. The man is slow.”

The man is slow

Now: Manager, Quad Cities River Bandits (Class A Affiliate, St. Louis Cardinals)

After his playing career ended, Aguayo transitioned quickly into the coaching ranks. His managerial career dates back to 1997, with the Red Sox, Reds, and, now, Cardinals organizations. 2012 marks his first campaign in the Quad Cities, making him the 33rd manager in franchise history. And, perhaps, the slowest.

Card #411 Darnell Coles

Then: Third Baseman, Detroit Tigers

Coles was the Seattle Mariners #1 draft pick in 1980 (sixth overall), and while he never attained the perennial All-Star status expected of one in such a position he nonetheless found a way to play baseball professionally for a long, long time. Coles made his MLB debut with Seattle in 1980, and went on to play in Detroit, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Seattle (again), Detroit (again), San Francisco, Cincinnati, Toronto, St. Louis, and Colorado (as well as two seasons in Japan) before finally hitting the end of the line in 1997.

He was at the height of his powers when this card was produced, however — in 1986 Coles set career highs in at-bats (587), runs (67), hits (142), doubles (30), home runs (20), RBIs (86), stolen bases (6), walks (45),  and strikeouts (84).  That’s a “Darn” good season (alternate line: a “Darnell” of a good season.”)

Now: Manager, Huntsville Stars (Double-A affiliate, Milwaukee Brewers)

The latest stop in Coles’ never-ending baseball journey is Huntsville, which represents his most prominent managing gig to date (he has also skippered teams in the New York-Penn and South Atlantic League). 2012 marks his third year with the Brewers’ organization, but first with the Stars (2010 and 2011 was spent in the position of “Minor League hitting coordinator).

Card #437 Ted Power

Then: Right-handed starter/reliever, Cincinnati Reds

Ted made his Major League debut with the 1981 Dodgers, but from 1983-87 it was Cincinnati that had the Power. He started 10 of the 56 games he appeared in in ’86, setting the stage for an ’87 campaign in the starting rotation (10-13, 4.50 ERA over 34 starts). After that he was a big league vagabond, spending ’88 with Kansas City and Detroit, ’89 with St. Louis, ’90 with Pittsburgh, ’91 back in Cincinnati, ’92-93 in Cleveland and, finally, ending ’93 in Seattle. Whew! Power spent his entire career in perpetual flirtation with the .500 mark, finishing at 68-69. He earned the win in the last ballgame he ever appeared in, tossing three scoreless innings on 9/30/1993.

Now: Pitching coach, Louisville Bats (Triple-A affiliate, Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds)

Power has, you know, “Powered” his way through the Reds’ Minor League system. He coached Rookie-level Billings and Class A Dayton before making his way to Triple-A Louisville in 2006. This coming season, therefore, will be his seventh with the club. But maybe the Reds will be compelled to call Power up to Cincinnati?

Card #577 Dann Bilardello

Then: Catcher, Montreal Expos

Bilardello, a one-time batterymate of fellow St. Louis Cardinal employee Dennis Martinez (see above), played professionally from 1978-94. The vast majority of his playing time was spent in the Minors, but he nonetheless found a way to appear in the Majors in eight seasons over a 10-year span (1983-87, 1990-92). The above card shows Dann the Mann just chomping at the bit, clearly eager to destroy any baseball hit in his direction. This was easier said than done, however – in 1986, his lone season in Montreal, Bilardello hit .179.

Perhaps he had chosen the wrong vocation — in 1993, Bilardello made two relief appearances for Triple-A Norfolk and allowed just one walk over two scoreless innings of work.

Now: Manager, Batavia Muckdogs (Class A Short-Season affiliate, St. Louis Cardinals)

In each of the last two seasons Bilardello has spent his summer as a Muckdog, working with just-drafted prospects in the short-season environs of the New York-Penn League. Thus far his record with the Muckdogs is a sparking 82-67, and in 2012 he’ll no doubt secure his 100th win with the club. This is apt to be one of the most significant milestones of the season, and worthy of a parade down Main Street.

Card #646 Mike Mason

Then: Left-handed starter, Texas Rangers

The human mind is a funny thing. I have forgotten many important facts in my life, but before searching for an image of this card I thought to myself “Mike Mason. That’s the guy who had the huge glove!” And then, lo and behold, there it was. I mean, look at it: you could probably fit two dozen baseballs in that thing. Or two human heads!

When the above card was produced, Mason was coming off of his third season as a (semi)-regular member of the Rangers’ rotation. In ’86, he had gone 7-3 with a 4.33 ERA over 27 appearances (20 starts), his first winning record in the Majors. Mason split the 1987 campaign between Texas and Chicago, and appeared in five games with the ’88 Twins. That was to be it for his MLB career, although he sporadically re-surfaced in the professional ranks up through 1996 (three games in an independent league).

Now: Pitching coach, Iowa Cubs (Triple-A affiliate, Chicago Cubs)

Mason has more than two decades of coaching experience, with his first work in this capacity preceding his final professional appearances on the mound. He’s tutored toe-slabbers in Appleton, Memphis, Springfield, Wichita, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (to name just a few locations), and 2012 marks his fifth campaign with the Iowa Cubs. No word on whether he remains an advocate of gargantuan gloves.

Card #711 Ken Griffey

Then: Outfielder/first baseman, Atlanta Braves

Before there was Ken Griffey Jr. there was  — believe it or not — Ken Griffey Sr. While not a (presumable) first-ballot Hall of Famer like his son, ol’ Ken still enjoyed a long and distinguished Major League career. He first made a name for himself as a key member of the legendary “Big Red Machine” teams of the mid-’70s, and went on to play for the Yankees, Braves, Reds (again), and, finally, the Mariners. This last destination was particularly meaningful — Griffey Jr. and Sr. were teammates, and on one occasion even hit back-to-back home runs! This was one of the final highlights of an 18-season career, one in which he totaled over 2100 hits en route to a lifetime average close to .300.

Now: Manager, Bakersfield Blaze (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds)

Griffey has coached in the bigs with Seattle, Colorado and Cincinnati, but when it comes to managing even a man of his stature has to pay his dues. So in 2011 off Griffey went to the less-than-idyllic confines of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Ballpark in order to helm the fiery collection of young men who play as “The Blaze.” He’ll return to this position in 2012, continuing his reign as one of the most distinguished figures in the California League.

Card #738 Jorge Orta

Then: Designated Hitter, Kansas City Royals

Orta’s rookie card was issued by Topps in 1973, in recognition of the 51 games he had played in 1972. 14 years later the company issued the above slice of cardboard, and it would turn out to be his last. In 1986 Orta had appeared in 106 games for the Royals, primarily as a DH. He hit a solid .277 and slugged .411, and the Royals re-signed him for the 1987 campaign. But not for long — Orta was released by the club that June, an ignominious ending to a respectable big league career that included 1619 hits accumulated with five different Major League clubs.

Perhaps Orta’s most enduring legacy, however, is that he was the beneficiary of Dom Denkinger’s controversial call at first base in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. This largely disputed ruling wound up playing a key role in the Royals’ eventual seven-game victory over neighboring St. Louis.

But, also, let us not forget this: the back of his ’87 Topps card notes that “Jorge is in the Mexican League Hall of Fame.”

Now: Hitting Coach, Arizona League Reds

Orta’s coaching career dates back to 1997 with the once (and future) Quad City River Bandits. He’s also logged time in the New York Penn, Appalachian, Florida and Gulf Coast Leagues in addition to his current location in the sweltering backlots of the AZL.

83.3% of this extensive blog saga is now complete! Stay tuned next week for the remaining 16.7%! It will be worth your while, no matter how expensive you consider that particular commodity to be.

Also, if you know someone who would enjoy writing of this nature, please pass along the link. I have a craving for fresh eyeballs that isn’t close to being fulfilled.



A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 4

For the first installments of this series, click HERE and HERE and HERE. Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and  feel free to comment freely on this one as well! (Your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, etc). 

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein? They were, quite simply, destined for baseball immortality.

With the exception of aspiring Colorado Rockie Jamie Moyer, all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

Volume 4: Players Now Coaching In An NL East Organization

Card #48 Wally Backman

Then: Second baseman, New York Mets

Action shots are few and far between in the 1987 Topps set as a whole, but if anyone was going to be shown kicking up dirt it may as well have been Wally Backman. The diminutive (by baseball standards) infielder personified the gritty determination of the equally beloved and despised mid-80s Mets. ’87 would be his eighth season with the club, and he then went on to stints in Pittsburgh, Philly, and, finally, Seattle.

Now: Manager, Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets)

You could practically make a movie out of Backman’s managerial career. It starts off with four seasons (1997-2000) in the independent leagues, during which he was nearly killed by a spider bite. He recovered, of course, and broke into the affiliated ranks with Winston-Salem in 2001. This led to a rapid ascent up the ladder, culminating with the November 2004 hiring as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This was not to be, however, after it was quickly revealed that Backman had a criminal record and had filed for bankruptcy. The Diamondback, embarrassed, quickly fired Backman and he next surfaced as an independent league manager/reality TV star (note: NSFW).

And now? Now he’s back with the same Metropolitans organization that drafted him way back in 1977. Backman managed the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2010, Binghamton in 2011, and next year he’ll be leading the Triple-A Bisons of Buffalo. Could a big league job be next? If so, you know the NYC tabloids will go with: WALLY’S BACK, MAN!

Card #135 Mike Easler

Easler, coiled and ready to strike

Then: Outfielder/Designated Hitter, New York Yankees

Easler played 14 Major League seasons, but it certainly took him a while to find his footing: between 1973 and 1979 he only appeared in 112 games (total), but from 1980-87 he was a regular with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and (briefly) Philadelphia Phillies. When this card was produced Easler was coming off a solid 1986 campaign in the Bronx (.302-.362-.449), but 1987 was nonetheless his final campaign. All told, he accumulated 1078 hits and retired with an average of .293.

Now: Hitting coach, Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets)

Easler was known as “The Hit Man” during his career, so it’s fitting that his current occupation is teaching others how to be better “hit men.” 2012 marks his second campaign as the Bisons’ hitting coach, the most recent stop in a decades long coaching career that has included stints in the Florida State, Southern, and Pacific Coast Leagues as well as the independent Frontier and Atlantic. And in addition to all that, he spent 1992 as the Brewers hitting coach and 1993 with the Red Sox.

Card #310 Frank Viola

Then: Left-handed starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins

“Sweet Music” Viola played 15 seasons in the Majors, and from 1984-93 was one of the premier pitchers in Major League Baseball. He won the 1988 A.L. Cy Young after going 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA for the Twins, and logged another 20-win campaign as a member of the 1990 Mets. Viola was a workhorse, too — from 1984 through ’92 he never pitched less than 231 innings in a season!

Frank Viol' Blue Eyes

Now: Pitching coach, Brooklyn Cyclones (Class A Short-Season affiliate, New York Mets)

After some time spent coaching prep school and in collegiate leagues, Viola re-emerged with the Mets organization last season as pitching coaching for the short-season Cyclones. As a New York native who later pitched for St. John’s University, this was a homecoming of sorts for the now 51-year-old. And, as the picture above makes clear, Viola is still a proud proponent of upper lip hair. Some things never go out of style.

Card #408 John Mizerock

Then: Catcher, Houston Astros

Mizerock’s time in the Major Leagues was brief, as over four seasons (1983, ’85-86, ’89) he appeared in just 103 games. This card was produced after a 1986 campaign in which he set career-highs in games (44) and plate appearances (107), although he hit just .185. But — and this is a significant “but” — he walked 24 times and finished the season with an on-base percentage (.374) that was more than double his average! Mizerock spent the remainder of his career in the Atlanta organization, mostly with Triple-A Richmond.

Now: Hitting Coach, Clearwater Threshers (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies)

Mizerock has had a long and varied post-playing career, managing in the Northwest, Midwest, Carolina, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues as well as stints as the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen coach, third base coach, and even interim manager (for 13 games in 2002). 2011 marked his first season teaching swing science to Clearwater batsmen, and he’ll pick up where he left off in 2012.

Card #454 Luis Salazar

Then: Third baseman/shortstop/outfielder Chicago White Sox

Although the reasons why are lost to time (injury, most likely), Salazar only played four games for the White Sox during the 1986 season. But Topps, possessing a generous nature and genial disposition, included him in the 1987 set anyway. In the card, Salazar sports a perplexed look and is gazing into the distance. Perhaps he knew that his time with the White Sox was coming to a close? In April of 1987 he signed with the Padres (who he had played for from 1980-1984), and from there he went on Detroit, San Diego (again!) and Chicago’s North Side before hanging up his cleats following the 1992 campaign. All told, he had played in 1302 games over the course of 13 seasons.

Now: Manager, Lynchburg Hillcats (Class A Advanced affiliate, Atlanta Braves)

Salazar’s managerial career dates back to 1996, and he has logged time in all areas of the country and all levels of play. He became a national news story last March, however, after he was struck in the face by a foul ball in the dugout while coaching for the Atlanta Braves during Spring Training.  The impact was so severe that he ended up having his left eye removed, but less than a month later he resumed managerial duties for Lynchburg. He’ll be back in 2012, now possessing one of the most harrowing — yet ultimately triumphant — stories in all of professional sports.

Card #651 Benny Distefano

Then: First baseman, outfielder, pinch-hitter, Pittsburgh Pirates

First of all, let’s all wish Benny Distefano a very happy birthday – this past Monday (January 23) he turned 50 years young. But a quarter century ago he was only a quarter of a century old, and coming off a season in which he appeared in 31 games for the Pirates. This was par for the course for Distefano, who played in the Majors in 1984, 1986, 1988-89, and 1992. In between these sporadic stints in “The Show” he spent time in some exceedingly diverse Triple-A locales: Hawaii, Vancouver, Buffalo, and Tuscon among them.

And this is worth noting: On the back of this baseball card, it is noted that “Benny’s leisure activities include dancing.” For a humorous analysis of this, and much more, click HERE.

Now: Hitting coach, Savannah Sand Gnats

Dancin’ Distefano is two-steppin’ his way through America, with recent gigs including the GCL Tigers (2006), West Michigan Whitecaps (2007-08), Brooklyn Cyclones (2010) and now, Savannah. That Brooklyn stint must have been particularly meaningful to Benny — that’s where he’s from, after all, and it was in that borough that he first made a name for himself as a Cyclone of the dance floor.

Card #667 Ron Hassey

Then: Catcher, Chicago White Sox

In 1986 Hassey was part of a trade deadline deal, one that sent him from the Bronx to Chicago’s South Side. And once he arrived he came on like gangbusters, hitting a robust .353 over 49 games. Hassey returned to the ChiSox in 1987, then spent three years with the “Bash Brothers”-era Oakland A’s dynasty before wrapping things up in 1991 as a 38-year-old Montreal Expo. He caught Dennis Martinez’s perfect game that year, making him the only backstop in history to be behind the plate for two (he caught Len Barker’s while with the Indians in 1981).

Hassey, with his previous club the Jupiter Hammerheads

Now: Manager, New Orleans Zephyrs (Triple-A affiliate of the New Orleans Zephyrs)

Hassey has had a long and winding post-playing career, working as a scout, front office executive, Major League coach and Minor League manager. The 2012 campaign will be his first in New Orleans, no word yet on whether he’ll demand that nutria be served as part of the post-game clubhouse spread.

Card #680 Ryne Sandberg

Then: Second Baseman, Chicago Cubs

Now here’s a man who needs no introduction. Sandberg, one of the preeminent infielders of the late 20th-century, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of a distinguished 16-season Major League career (2386 hits, 282 home runs, 10 consecutive All-Star Game appearances, eight consecutive Gold Gloves and one MVP Award). When the above card was produced Sandberg was coming off a relatively lackluster season (.284-14-76), at least by his elevated standards.

Hall of Fame attire?

Now: Manager, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies)

After some time away from the game, Sandberg embarked on his Minor League career in 2007 and systematically worked his way through the Cubs system (Class A Peoria in 2007-08, Double-A Tennessee in 2009, Triple-A Iowa in 2010). In the eyes of many observers (that’s what people with eyes do — they observe), Sandberg was in line to be named the Cubs’ manager in 2011 after Lou Pinella departed during the 2010 campaign.

But it was not to be. Chicago went with Mike Quade, and Sandberg defected to the same organization that first drafted him in 1978 — the Philadelphia Phillies. 2012 will mark his second season at the helm of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, but he continues to be “in-the-mix” when it comes to big league managerial openings. His time will come — make no bones about it.

Four down, two to go! When I started this particular blog series, I had no idea what a monstrous undertaking it would be. But there’s no turning back now! To those who have stuck with it, I commend you.



A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 3

For the first installments of this series, click HERE and HERE.  Thanks for all the great feedback thus far, and feel free to comment freely on this one as well (your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, etc). 

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein? They have proven to themselves to have a Phil Niekro-esque endurance.

With the exception of the indomitable Jamie Moyer (who signed with the Rockies on January 18!), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

Volume 3: Players Now Coaching In An AL Central Organization

Card #176 Steve Buechele

Then: Third baseman/second baseman, Texas Rangers

Like a man drinking premium soda, Buechele had above-average pop. He was a steady presence in the Rangers line-up from his July ’85 debut through 1991 and then went on to the Pirates and Cubs before ending his career back in Arlington. The final game of Buechele’s career was July 29, 1995, when he went 0-for-4 against Tim Wakefield (who pitched a complete game as Boston cruised to a 7-1 victory).

Now: Manager, Frisco RoughRiders (Double-A affiliate, Texas Rangers)

Begging to differ

2012 marks Buechele’s third season at the helm in Frisco, and his fourth overall as a manager in the Rangers’ system (he spent 2009 in bucolic Bakersfield). His pitching coach is a man by the name of Jeff Andrews, not to be confused with this glorious baseball name.

Card #192 Cory Snyder

Then: Outfielder/Shortstop Cleveland Indians

As denoted by that impressive piece of gold-plated hardware in the lower right-hand corner, Snyder was named to Topps’ “All-Star Rookie Team.” He received this coveted honor after hitting 24 homers and driving in 69 runs over 103 games, numbers which set the stage for his career-high 33-homer season in ’87. Snyder ended up playing five seasons for the Indians, and then played for four teams over the next four years before reaching the end of the line in ’94.

(apropos of not-quite-nothing: I used to have a VHS baseball blooper video which included a segment on Snyder’s inability to hit Roger Clemens. And, indeed, Snyder struck out in his first nine at-bats against the Rocket)

Now: Hitting coach, Jackson Generals (Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners)

Snyder spent two seasons managing in the Golden Baseball League, in 2010 guiding the Hawaii-based Na Koa Ikaika Maui. 2011 was not only his first season in Jackson, it marked the first time he had held a coaching position anywhere in affiliated ball. He’s no longer an Outsnyder, in other words.

Card #249 Jim Pankovits

Then: Second Baseman/Outfielder, Houston Astros

When Pankovits made his Major League debut with the Astros on May 17, 1984, he was certainly no spring chicken. He was a man! By that point, the 28-year-old was in his ninth professional season and had already logged time with an abundance of Houston’s alliterative affiliates (Covington, Cocoa, Columbus, and Charleston, not to mention five seasons in the PCL with Tucson and Hawaii). But once he made it to the bigs, Pankovits found a way to stay. He spent 1984 through 1988 in a reserve role with the Astros, fully aware that in the Majors they were less likely to mess up his name.

What, me have dignity?

Now: Manager, Jackson Generals (Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners)

“Planouits” has been managing or coaching for over two decades, beginning with some truly awful New Britain squads in the early ’90s.  2011 was his first season in Jackson, and he has now accomplished the rare feat of managing a squad in all three Double-A circuits (Eastern, Southern, Texas).

Card #297 Don Schulze

Then: Right-handed starter, Cleveland Indians

Schulze was one of those on-the-fringe Major League starters, playing in 76 games for five teams over the course of six seasons. He never appeared in more than 20 games in a season, never cracked the 100-inning mark, and never compiled a winning record. Not surprisingly he logged a lot of time in the Triple-A ranks, suiting up within diverse locales such as Iowa, Maine, Tidewater, Buffalo, Toledo, Columbus, and Rochester.

Now: Pitching Coach, Midland RockHounds (Double-A affiliate, Oakland A’s)

Since 2006, Schulze has been methodically working his way through the A’s Minor League system. He coached in the Arizona League in 2006, Kane County in 2007-08, Stockton in 2009-10 and is now tutoring hurlers wearing the uniform of the Midland RockHounds.

Card #349 — Storm Davis

Then: Right-handed starter, Baltimore Orioles

Storm Davis is, unquestionably, in the top one-percentile when it comes to the topic of “awesome baseball names.” But how did he get this name? The back of Davis’ 1987 card provides the answer: “Storm’s nickname was derived from a character in a book his mother was reading while pregnant.” (Yes, just a nickname unfortunately. His given name is “George Earl”).

Anyhow, Storm was a Baltimore Oriole starter for five seasons (1982-86) before becoming something of a journeyman. He went on to play in San Diego, Oakland (twice), Kansas City, and Detroit, and even made a return to Baltimore for the 1992 campaign (by this time he was a reliever). Davis was a member of two World Championship teams — the ’83 Orioles and ’89 A’s (for whom he won a career-high 19 games).

Now: Pitching coach, Hickory Crawdads

photo: John M. Stetzler, Jr (stetzler.net)

Davis turned 50 last month (Storm of the half-century!), and as the above photo makes clear he’s got some serious salt and pepper facial hair style. The 2011 season marked his first as a coach in the world of professional baseball, and here’s hoping that there’ll be many more to come. (Rumor has it that he’s being pursued by Omaha).

Card #369 — Brian Dayett

A pull-hitter throughout his career, which led to the nickname "Dayett Don't Spray It" (note: not true).

Then: Outfielder, Chicago Cubs

Dayett was fortunate to have been included in the 1987 Topps set, as the season before he had appeared in just 24 games for the Cubs. He received what was by far the most playing time he’d ever enjoyed with the ’87 Cubs, however, appearing in 97 games in a pinch-hitting and reserve role. But that was the end of the line for Dayett’s Major League career — following the season, he made his way to Japan in order to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Now: Coach, Spokane Indians (Class A Short Season affiliate, Texas Rangers)

A quarter-century ago, Dayett and Tim Hulett (see below) were making their living playing Major League Baseball in Chicago. Now, the two work together on the coaching staff of the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians. Dayett has been with the club since 2009, and prior to Spokane he logged time in Hickory, Clinton, Lexington, Tri-City and Winston-Salem.

Card #501 — Craig Lefferts

Then: Left-handed reliever, San Diego Padres

As you probably recall, Topps cards of this era denoted league-leading stats by listing them in an italicized font. And while Craig Lefferts pitched in 696 games over 12 seasons, only once were one of his stats italicized. That stat would be the “games” column for the year 1986, when he pitched in 83 contests for the Padres (going 9-8 with a 3.09 ERA). But it wasn’t all downhill from there — Lefferts hung around the bigs through the 1994 season, even enjoying one season as a starter (going 14-12 over 32 starts split between San Diego and Baltimore).

(And, apropos of close-to-nothing, Baseball Reference notes that Lefferts is the last Major League pitcher to have hit a walk-off home run.)

Now: Pitching coach, Stockton Ports (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Oakland A’s)

Since 1999, Lefferts has served as a pitching coach for five different Minor League teams (including, in 1999, the now-defunct Medicine Hat Blue Jays). 2012 marks his second campaign with the Stockton Ports, and I highly suggest that sometime during the season the team stages a “Killer Tomatoes Strike Back” night in his honor.

Card #502 — Dick Schofield

Then: Shortstop, California Angels

Schofield, the son of MLB-er Dick Schofield (Senior, natch) and uncle of Jayson Werth, played for four teams over the course of his 14-season career. But it is the Angels with whom he made his mark, as he suited up for Anaheim from 1983-92 and again in 95-96. A career .230 hitter, Schofield was never much with the bat (the Steve Jeltz of the American League?) but he sure could pick ’em out there at the 6-hole.

Now: Hitting coach, Arizona League Angels (Rookie-level affiliate, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)

After a couple of coaching gigs in independent ball, Schofield broke back into the affiliated ranks in 2002 as manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks. In each of the last five seasons, he’s worked with raw Angels talent amidst the sweltering back lots of the Arizona League.

Card #566 Tim Hulett

Then: Third baseman/second baseman, Chicago White Sox

Hulett played in the Majors from 1983-87 and again from 1989-1995, appearing in 720 games overall. And a major chunk of those games (291) came over the course the 1985 and 1986 campaigns. ’86 was particularly memorable, with Hulett suiting up in the South Side of Chicago and bashing a career-high 17 homers while sporting his uniform number on his upper left thigh. His average (.231) and on-base percentage (.260) left something to be desired, but hopefully he didn’t Hulett that bother him.

Now: Manager, Spokane Indians (Class A Short-Season affiliate, Texas Rangers)

Hulett is the longest-tenured manager in Spokane Indians history, and 2012 marks his sixth season with the club. He led the short-season franchise to a championship in 2008, the same season in which his son, Tug, made his Major League debut as a member of the Seattle Mariners en route to being the first Tug in the bigs since McGraw.

Card #591 Spike Owen

Then: Shortstop, Boston Red Sox

The Mariners’ first round draft pick in 1982, Owen made his Major League debut with the club the following year. He was traded midway in the ’86 campaign to Boston (just in time to live in infamy), and later logged time with the Expos, Yankees, and Angels. While not the most fearsome hitter in the world (he retired with a .246 career mark, and never hit more than seven homers in a season), Owen nonetheless ranked second in the National League in intentional walks in 1989. Also during that season, he set a record for “consecutive errorless games at shortstop,” with 61.

Now: Coach, Round Rock Express (Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers)

Owen’s a Texas native who went on to play collegiately at the University of Texas, so it’s likely he feels right at home in his current position as coach for the Round Rock Express. He first coached with the club from 2002-05, and then returned in 2011. He serves as the right-hand man for manager Bobby Jones, although in his playing days he was a switch-hitter.

We’ve now reached the half-way point, and there’s no turning back now. Stay tuned next week for Volume 4: Players now coaching in NL East organizations.



A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 2

For the first installment of this series, click HERE. Thanks for all the great comments on that post, and feel free to comment freely on this one as well (your memories of ’87 Topps, the players involved, the Minor League teams involved, etc). 

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein? They were far more memorable than Steve Carlton’s stint as a member of the Chicago White Sox, that’s for sure.

With the exception of the indomitable Jamie Moyer (aiming for a 2012 comeback at the age of 49!), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

Volume 2: Players Now Coaching in an AL Central Organization

Card #21 — Mark Davis

Then: Left-handed reliever, San Francisco Giants

Probably the most eye-catching stat on the back of Davis’ 1987 Topps card was the fact that he led the league in earned runs allowed in 1984 (as part of a miserable 5-17, 5.34 campaign). But before the decade was out, he went on to win a National League Cy Young Award as a member of the Padres (he led the league with 44 saves). This was clearly the highlight of Davis’ career, but he pitched through the 1994 season and then made a short-lived comeback with the Brewers in ’97.

Now: Pitching coach, Arizona League Royals (Rookie-level affiliate, Kansas City Royals)

Davis, a professional coach for more than a decade,  is still listed as a member of the AZL Royals staff.  He’ll end up somewhere in the Royals system in 2012 (most likely a short-season club), teaching Kansas City prospects how to win Cy Young Awards while avoiding leading the league in earned runs allowed.

Card #61 — Bobby Thigpen

Then: Right-handed reliever, Chicago White Sox

This was Bobby Thigpen’s rookie card, as he debuted with the Sox in August of 1986 and went on to post a 1.77 ERA while accumulating seven saves over 20 appearances. This was a harbinger of things to come — in 1990, he recorded 57 saves to establish a new Major League record. Thigpen’s final appearance was with the 1994 Seattle Mariners, a stint that lasted all of 7 2/3 innings.

Now: Pitching coach, Birmingham Barons (Double-A affiliate, Chicago White Sox)

2012 will mark Thigpen’s debut as the Barons’ pitching coach (after three years with the Winston-Salem Dash), but he’s no stranger to Birmingham. Before getting his call-up to the White Sox, he spent the 1986 season within the Barons’ starting rotation (going 8-11 while toeing the mound at venerable Rickwood Field).

Card #246 — Jim Dwyer

Then: Outfielder/First Baseman/Pinch Hitter, Baltimore Orioles

One of the most effective pinch-hitters of the ’70s and ’80s, Dwyer played 18 seasons in the Majors before finally retiring at the age of 40 in 1990. He never exceeded 300 at-bats in a season, and ranks 17th on the all-time pinch-hit list with 103. 1987 marked his seventh and final full season with the Orioles, during which he slugged a career-high 15 homers (while, improbably, only driving in 33 runs in the process. Is this the fewest RBIs ever in a season in which a player hit at least 15 home runs? Someone out there has the answer; could it be you?)

Rock Solid: Dwyer, circa now

Now: Hitting coach, Fort Myers Miracle (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)

Dwyer, who for reasons I’m unable to ascertain is nicknamed “Pig Pen,” wasted no time in transitioning to a coaching career. He coached for Triple-A Portland in 1991, and then managed for three seasons in the Midwest League before becoming the Twins’ Minor League hitting coordinator. Since 2006 he has taught the tools of the trade with the Fort Myers Miracle.

Card #247 Jeff Reed

Then: Catcher, Minnesota Twins

Reed made his Major League debut in 1984, but his first appearance on a Topps card was this pensive-looking number seen above. He ended up carving out a surprisingly long career, appearing with six teams over 17 seasons before finally hanging ’em up in 2000 at the age of 37. In his career he appeared in 1071 games as a catcher — good for 94th all time (but first in our hearts).

Now: The coaching staff of the Elizabethton Twins is nothing if not consistent. Ray Smith has managed or coached with the club since 1987, with Jim Shellenback serving as pitching coach for 16 seasons before retiring in 2011. And then there’s Reed, who has coached the club’s hitters since 2002 while dispensing invaluable catching advice to those for whom said advice is applicable.

Card #290 — Leon Durham

A Starting Lineup figurine come to life: Durham in '86

Then: First baseman, Chicago Cubs

Durham was a fixture of the Cubs’ starting line-up from 1981-87, and during this time he enjoyed five 20-home run seasons. He was an All-Star in ’82 and ’83, but his best season was ’84 (.279-23-96). Durham both began and ended his career with the Cardinals, however — making his first MLB appearance on May 27, 1980 and his last on Sept. 17, 1989.

Now: Hitting coach, Toledo Mud Hens (Triple-A affiliate, Detroit Tigers)

The back of Durham’s 1987 card notes that he is “affectionately” known as ‘The Bull.'” This is an obvious nickname so far as baseball monikers go (Bull Durham, get it?) and one that has stuck with him. These days “Bull” Durham works as a hitting coach for the Toledo Mud Hens, who play in the same league as the Durham Bulls. He has held this position since 2001, making him one of the longest-tenured coaches in the International League.

Card #298 — Larry Herndon

Then: Outfielder, Detroit Tigers

Herndon played 14 seasons at the Major League level, largely split between San Francisco and Detroit. 1987 was his penultimate campaign, during which he hit a stellar .324 over 89 ballgames. Throughout his career his output was steady, but never spectacular. 162-game averages: 11 home runs, 58 RBIs, 10 stolen bases.

Now: Hitting coach, Lakeland Flying Tigers (Class A Advanced affiliate, Detroit Tigers)

Having stolen 32 bases over seven seasons with Detroit, Herndon was hardly a “Flying Tiger.” Yet that is the uniform he wears these days, tutoring Tigers’ prospects at the Class A Advanced level. Herndon has worked in this capacity since 2005, a somewhat significant downgrade from his seven-year stint (’92-’98) coaching at the big league level in Detroit.

Card #626 – Joel Skinner

Then: Catcher, New York Yankees

Skinner, the son of Major Leaguer Bob Skinner, enjoyed a nine-year career as a big league catcher. 1986 represented a high water mark (at least in terms of playing time), as the then-25-year-old split the season between Chicago and New York en route to setting career highs in games (114), at-bats (336), hits (73), home runs (5), and RBIs (37). He last played in the Majors as a member of the 1991 Indians, and his final professional appearance was with the 1994 Charlotte Knights. Speaking of which…

Now: Manager, Charlotte Knights (Triple-A affiliate, Chicago White Sox)

Skinner has been managing in the pros since 1995, when he piloted the now-defunct Watertown Indians of the New York-Penn League. He went on to log quite a bit of time at the big league level, as interim manager of the 2002 Indians and, later, a coach. 2012 will be his first season in Charlotte, aside from that six-game stint as a player in 1994.

Card #696 — Gary Lucas

Then: Left-handed reliever, California Angels

Quick! Who led the National League in games pitched during the strike-truncated season of 1981? It was, of course, Mr. Gary Lucas, who appeared in 57 games as a member of the San Diego Padres. He was effective throughout that campaign (compiling a 2.00 ERA), and, moreover, was effective throughout his eight-season career. 1987 was Lucas’ final season; he went 1-5 with a 3.63 ERA over 48 appearances with the Angels.

Bid for this card on eBay!

Now: Pitching coach, Beloit Snappers (Class A affiliate, Minnesota Twins)

Lucas joined the coaching ranks in 1991 with the San Jose Giants, and has gone on to work in Clinton, Quad Cities, and New Britain. He’s helped to coax Beloit Snappers hurlers out of their shells since 2008, so that their pitches will have more bite.

Card #720 — Richard Dotson

Then: Right-handed starter, Chicago White Sox

A staple of the White Sox’s rotation throughout much of the ’80s, Dotson was coming off a season in which he led the American League with 17 losses (this coming three years after his 22-7 record in ’83). He finished his career as a member of the 1991 Kansas City Royals, an unfortunate eight-game stint that pushed his career mark below .500 (he went 0-4, to finish at 111-113).

Now: Pitching coach, Charlotte Knights (Triple-A affiliate, Chicago White Sox)

Skinner and Dotson were batterymates on those mid-80s Chi-town squads, and now they are re-united in Charlotte. But, unlike Skinner, Dotson isn’t a Charlotte newcomer. He’s served as the Knights pitching coach since 2007.

(personal aside: In the song “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit,” I used to think Rza’s verse contained the lyric “Causin’ more family feuds than Richard Dotson.”

Card #762 — Gary Ward

Then: Outfielder, Texas Rangers

A late bloomer by the standards of professional baseball, Gary Ward didn’t have his breakout season until age 28 as a member of the1982 Minnesota Twins (.289-28-91). His ’87 Topps card depicts him as a member of the Rangers, but on Christmas Eve of 1986 he signed with the Yankees as a free agent. He went on to play three seasons in the Bronx, before finishing his career as a member of the 1990 Detroit Tigers.

Now: Hitting coach, Winston-Salem Dash (Class A Advanced affiliate, Chicago White Sox)

Ward started his professional coaching career in 1998 with Port St. Lucie, and 2012 marks the first time since that stint that he’s worked at the Class A Advanced level. In between, gigs as Charlotte’s hitting coach have  sandwiched a big league job with the White Sox as well as an assistant position at the collegiate level. Gary’s son, Darryl, went on to play in the Majors as well, and Baseball Reference notes that Pete Incaviglia, Rickey Henderson, and Kevin Brown were teammates of both Wards.

Card #776 — Tom Brunansky

Then: Outfielder, Minnesota Twins

Brunansky was at the peak of his powers in 1987, a year in which he slugged 32 home runs as a member of the World Champion Minnesota Twins. This marked the seventh of eight consecutive seasons in which he hit 20 or more homers, and he retired in 1994 with an impressive 271.

Now: Hitting coach, Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A affiliate, Minnesota Twins)

Brunansky returned to the Twins organization in 2010, coaching in the Gulf Coast League. He was promoted to Double-A New Britain in 2011, and in 2012 will serve as the hitting coach for Triple-A Rochester. In his coaching career, Brunansky has thus far shown no inclination to return to his glory days as one of baseball’s most formidable mustachioed men.

This train’s just gonna keep on rollin’! Stay tuned next week for Volume 3: Players now coaching in AL West organizations.



A Quarter-Century After the Cardboard, Volume 1

25 years ago this month, Topps’ 1987 baseball card set was unleashed upon the world. I was eight years old at the time, and like many others of similar age and disposition I quickly became obsessed with this 792-card collection.

The cards were sold in iconic green wax packs, at a cost of 40 cents per:

And the cards contained therein were an aesthetic triumph. The team logo was featured in the upper left corner, while the player’s name (written in cartoonish font) took up the lower right portion. And bordering it all was a tasteful wood paneling, bringing to mind furnished basements and the questionably-designed exteriors of Reagan-era station wagons.

With the exception of the indomitable Jamie Moyer (aiming for a 2012 comeback at the age of 49!), all of the players contained in the set have long since retired. But many are still within the professional ranks, working as Minor League managers and coaches. This series of blog posts represents an attempt to bring the general public up to speed on who among the 792 are currently toiling within the vast world of Minor League Baseball.

VOLUME 1: Players Now Coaching in an AL East Organization

Card #113 Neil Allen

Vintage Duds

Then: Right-handed starter/long reliever, Chicago White Sox

Possessing some of the waviest hair of any ’80s moundsman, Allen pitched for the Mets (’79-’83) and the Cardinals (’83-’85) before ending up on the White Sox in ’86. He enjoyed a fine season that year, highlighted by a two-hit shutout against the Yankees on July 20 in which he did not record a single strikeout or walk (per Baseball Reference). But Allen hit rock bottom with the Sox in ’87 (0-8, 5.93), and his final hurrah was three games with Cleveland in 1989.

Now: Pitching coach, Durham Bulls (Triple-A affiliate of the the Tampa Bay Rays)

Allen coached in the Blue Jays and Yankee systems before being hired by Tampa Bay prior to the 2005 campaign. 2011 was his first season in Durham, where he oversaw the lightning ascent of uber-prospect Matt Moore. I was unable to locate a current photo, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that he has the waviest hair of any Triple-A pitching coach.

Card #175 — Bob Stanley

Then: Right-handed reliever, Boston Red Sox

Stanley was a remarkably durable reliever (and sometimes starter) for the Red Sox, and over the course of 13 seasons (’77-’89) he compiled a 115-97 record and 3.64 ERA. But, sadly, the defining moment of his career came during Game Six of the ’86 World Series. Stanley uncorked a wild pitch (past current Lowell Spinners hitting coach Rich Gedman) that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run, and Mookie Wilson soon followed with a ground ball through the legs of Bill Buckner. Stanley’s entire ’87 season was an epic hangover from this moment: 4-15, 5.01 ERA.

Now: Pitching coach, Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays)

Stanley broke into the coaching ranks in 1997, but 2011 was his first within the Blue Jays’ organization. He had been out of baseball the prior two seasons due to “personal issues.” We’ve all got ’em.

Card #237 — Jim Morrison (Manager, Charlotte Stone Crabs)

Photo: clawdigest.com

Then:Third baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates

Morrison, who probably never had to deal with inebriated fans yelling tired Doors references at him, was certainly a late bloomer. In 1986, at the age of 33, he set career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (88) while manning third base for the Pirates. But this late-career renaissance was short-lived, as after batting .188 in ’88 he was out of the game.

Now: Manager, Charlotte Stone Crabs (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)

After breaking in as a coach with the GCL Phillies in 2000, Morrison worked his way to the managerial ranks in 2005 and since 2009 has managed the Charlotte Stone Crabs. In fact, he is the only skipper that the fledgling franchise has ever known. It is not known whether he refers to his bench players as “reserve claws,” or if he only uses them in a pinch.

Card #289 — Bob Kipper (Pitching Coach, Portland Sea Dogs)

Then: Left-handed starter, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kipper turned 23 in 1987, a campaign in which he went 5-9 with a 5.94 ERA over 24 appearances with the Pirates (where he was a teammate of the aforementioned Jim Morrison). He spent the next four seasons with the Bucs, before finishing up his Major League career as a member of the 1992 Twins.

Now:Pitching coach, Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Although he never pitched for Boston during his career, Kipper has nonetheless become a coaching fixture within the Red Sox organization. He has logged time with Beantown-affiliated Augusta, Greenville, Lancaster, and Portland, and spent the 2002 season in Fenway as the Sox’s bullpen coach.

Card #464 — Butch Wynegar (Hitting Coach, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees)

Then: Catcher, New York Yankees

Wynegar burst on the scene in 1976, appearing in 146 games behind the plate for the Twins at the tender age of 20. He went on to spend 1982-86 with the Yankees before winding down his career with the Angels in 1987-88. Throughout his time in the bigs Wynegar showed tremendous plate discipline, accumulating 626 walks against just 428 strikeouts.

Now: Hitting coach, Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Wynegar has spent the better part of the last two decades in a managerial or coaching role, including a stint as the Brewers hitting coach in 2003. Since 2007 he has imparted his batting wisdom upon those  suiting up for the polysyllabic mouthful that is the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Card #708 — Scott McGregor

Then: Left-handed starter, Baltimore Orioles

McGregor spent 13 seasons with the Orioles, highlighted by a 20-win campaign in 1980 and an 18-7 mark with the 1983 World Championship club. But 1987 marked the end of the line for the veteran, as he went 2-7 with a 6.64 ERA over 26 appearances (his final game in the Major Leagues was April 27, 1988 — the 20th of 23 straight losses to start the Orioles’ wobegone season).

Now: Pitching coach, Aberdeen IronBirds (Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles)

The back of the 1987 card notes that McGregor is “active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Organization,” and it is noted on Wikipedia (and elsewhere) that he later became an ordained minister. But while not saving souls he’s nurturing Orioles pitching prospects — McGregor has spent the last four seasons as Aberdeen’s pitching coach, and has also logged time with Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie.

Card #740 Rich Gedman

Then:Catcher, Boston Red Sox

A native of Worcester, MA, Gedman went on to play for the Red Sox throughout the entire decade of the ’80s. His peak years were 1984-86, as these were the only seasons in which he played over 100 games, accumulated over 100 hits, and reached double digit figures in home runs. Ignominious as it may be, Gedman is forever etched in baseball lore. During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, he was behind the plate when current Las Vegas 51s pitching coach Bob Stanley (see above) uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in the 10th inning.

Now: Hitting coach, Lowell Spinners (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Gedman spent 2005-2010 managing his hometown Worcester Tornadoes, and in 2011 returned to the Red Sox organization as hitting coach for the Class A Advanced Lowell Spinners. His son, Matt, a third baseman, appeared in 23 games for that very same squad.


Clearly, this is going to take a while. Stay tuned next week for Volume 2: Players Now Coaching in AL Central Organizations!