Monday, February 28, 2011

Minor League Monday - Dominic Pierce, 1989 ProCards.

So Spring Training exhibition games have started. That's good. Duke Snider passed away yesterday. That's bad. Condolences to Snider's family and fans.

On today's minor league card we see Dominic Pierce on card number 1001 of the 1989 ProCards set. 1989 would be Pierce's second year of pro ball. After being selected by the Rangers in the 7th round of the 1988 draft he played Rookie League ball that season with Butte. He started the 1989 season with the GCL Rangers in Rookie ball but moved up to Single A after 36 games.

After the promotion Dominic would play in 41 games for the Gastonia Rangers. He would post a .258 batting average and a .357 on-base percentage in 114 plate appearances. Both of those numbers were an improvement over his Rookie Level numbers of the same year.

Dominic played the majority of his games at third base but did appear at second in one game. In 47 chances at third he made six errors for a fielding percentage of .872. Pretty ugly but he still had time to improve. After all, he was only 20 years old and just at Single A ball.

Either Pierce didn't see it that way or something else happened. 1989 would be his last season in pro ball. After just two years and at age 20 he was done.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Senators Saturday - R.C. Stevens, 1961.

R.C. Stevens appears a little less than thrilled here on card number 526 of the 1961 Topps set. Perhaps he had reason to be.

The Senators acquired R.C. from the Pirates in the same trade that netted them Harry Bright and Bennie Daniels in December of 1960. After Dale Long won the starting first baseman's job, Stevens was relegated to a backup role. He even spent part of the season at Triple A.

R.C. was obviously struggling. In 69 plate appearances he managed to hit just .129 with a .217 on-base percentage. If that wasn't rough enough he struck out over twice as often as he walked - 15 as compared to 7 times.

In spite of his bat issues Stevens played in 140.1 innings in the field over 25 games. He started just 14 of those games though. In 167 chances he never made an error for a perfect fielding percentage.

It appeared that R.C.'s defense needed no work but that his bat would be his downfall. (Kind of brings Chris Davis to mind.) After 1961 he never played in the Majors again in spite of two more seasons in the minors.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random Ranger auto - Kevin Gross.

With baseball season getting ever closer I am trying to save the autos and game-used cards of current Rangers players for future posts. Not that I have a lot of them to save. Seems like most of that segment of my collection is made up of former players and managers.

One such former player is Kevin Gross who played for Texas in 1995 and 1996. I sent Kevin this 1995 Topps card on March 6th of 2010. The turnaround was super fast as the signed card showed up in my mailbox on March 17th. That kind of speed is not always the norm and is much appreciated when encountered.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring Training odds and ends.

Looks like C.J. Wilson will be the Opening Day starter for the Rangers against the Red Sox. Wilson, seen here on card number 501 of the 2010 Upper Deck set, seems pretty excited about the assignment. About the only other option would have been Colby Lewis.

David Murphy is missing from camp. Gone back to Texas he has. Went back for the birth of his third child this morning. T.R. Sullivan says the kiddo's name is Cole and that everyone is ok. Murphy is expected back in camp in a couple of days.

Michael Young is also gone from camp. No, he wasn't traded for some pitching. He had to run home to attend to some family matters.

Matt Bush is scheduled to start an intra-squad game tomorrow. He's in camp on a minor league contract and seems to be doing better health-wise than Brandon Webb who is still not throwing off a mound.

Elvis Andrus now holds the Rangers record for most plate appearances without a home run. Ron Washington thinks that's just fine and that Elvis' defense and speed on the base paths are more than enough compensation. Some disagree. Not sure how they would have handled Ozzie Smith if he had been on the team.

Sunday the Rangers kick off their Spring Training games. They play the Royals at 1305 in Surprise. One step closer to Opening Day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

1974 Topps - Alex Johnson.

Alex Johnson was in his second season with the Rangers in 1974. He would play in 114 games with 81 being in left field and 32 at DH. Not quite sure where the last game went, perhaps a pinch-hitting appearance.

On defense Alex put in 669.1 innings in the field and posted a .956 fielding percentage, well below the league average .975. He committed eight errors in 182 chances. Interestingly, he also took part in two double plays.

At the plate Johnson would bat .287 in 486 plate appearances. His on-base percentage was .338. Both of those numbers were slight improvements over the previous season. Alex would hit just 4 home runs and 14 doubles but he still managed to knock in 41 runs. He also stole 20 bases while getting caught nine times. His strikeout to walk ratio wasn't that good with 59 K's to just 28 free passes.

On September 9, 1974 New York purchased Johnson's contract from Texas. He would play in just 62 games for the Yankees before being released in September of 1975. The Tigers would sign him in January of 1976 but let him go in December of the same year. That would be the end of the line for Alex Johnson's 13 year career.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Minor League Monday - Everett Cunningham, 1989 ProCards.

Moving on in the 1989 ProCards Gastonia Rangers set we come to Everett Cunningham on card number 1000. Texas picked Cunningham up in the 4th round of the 1988 draft. He played Rookie League ball that year.

In 1989 Everett would appear in 27 games for Gastonia. He would start 20 of those games and throw a total of 139.1 innings on the season (a team best). Three of his starts went on to be complete games. His season win-loss record was 9-5 (third most wins on the team).

Cunningham posted a 2.52 ERA and a 1.112 WHIP while striking out 118 batters (second best on the team). He walked just 43.

Not a bad season for Everett Cunningham, even for Single A. Such a performance would merit a promotion to A+ ball the following season. If he could keep those numbers rolling he would keep climbing the rungs.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Senators Saturday - Joe McClain, 1961.

Joe McClain, shown here on card number 488 of the 1961 Topps set, was a minor league pick for Washington in 1960. By that point he had already been in the minors for six years. Interestingly, his first year of pro ball was in 1953. His second was in 1956.

Joe was already suspect when the Senators grabbed him. He had previously suffered an arm injury. I was unable to find a specific year the injury occurred but I suspect that it may have had something to do with the gap in his early minor league career.

Joe was a control specialist and actually posted a decent 3.86 ERA for the Senators in spite of his dismal 8-18 record. In his 33 appearances he started 29 games. Seven of those games were complete games and two were shutouts. The 212 innings McClain tossed tied him with Bennie Daniels for the most on the team and his 76 strikeouts were second best behind Daniels.

As a rookie on an expansion team Joe had a pretty good rookie season in 1961. He hadn't shown Cy Young level stuff but he did have flashes of brilliance. If he could stay healthy he could compete for a spot in the rotation in 1962. That was a big if. The injury he had suffered in the minors had taken around 5 mph off his pitches. Maintaining his pitch control and keeping the injury from flaring up would be his two big hurdles if he wanted to stay in the Majors.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reporting in.

So Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton, shown here on card number 54 of the 2009 Bowman Gold set, showed up in camp today. They join most of the rest of the team. Tomorrow is the official reporting deadline for position players. So far just a few players have not yet showed up.

Of course Michael Young isn't there yet. Julio Borbon and David Murphy aren't in camp yet either. Not sure why on Borbon. Murph is likely with his very pregnant wife.

Almost the whole team at Spring Training. Sunday is the first official team workout. Time to get things going. Even though it was a short off-season it seemed like a long winter. Boy am I glad to have baseball back.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who's gonna be on first?

So Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals didn't reach an agreement by the start of Spring Training. Since Albert doesn't want distractions during the season it is very likely that he will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Of course Pujols is likely to remain a Cardinal but he is looking for an obscene amount of money and that might stand in the way. Wonder who could be out there that might outbid the Redbirds?

According to an article by Anthony Castrovince at, one of the top teams coming hard will be the Yankees. No surprise there. Of course the Yankees have Mark Teixeira, shown here on his 2007 Fleer Ultra Hitting Machines card, at first base. Money Man's not bad with the bat but he is no Albert Pujols. The temptation could be there for the Yankees to try and squeeze both onto the roster - especially if the team misses the World Series again this year. Could be an interesting dance to watch.

Anyone care to venture a prediction as to where Pujols will end up for the 2012 season?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Training kicks off.

So Spring Training is finally here. For Rangers fans this is a unique experience as the team heads into camp as the defending American League Champions.

Of course there's lots of drama. How to replace Cliff Lee. Will Neftali Feliz move to the rotation? If so, who becomes the closer? Just exactly who will be in the starting rotation? Will Mitch Moreland hold down the first baseman's job? Will Tommy Hunter and Ian Kinsler make it through Spring Training without major injury issues?

Perhaps the biggest issue is if Michael Young, shown here on card number 204 of the 2004 Donruss set, will report to camp. He hasn't shown up yet but Ron Washington and Jon Daniels are expecting him to. Since the trade that Michael demanded hasn't materialized the club has little choice but to proceed as though Young will be arriving any minute and getting into the swing of things.

The ball is in Mike's hands now and the question is, what will he do? The team has tried to trade him but failed, due in part to the restrictive list of teams that he would go to. Now it's time to report for Spring Training and decisions have to be made. If he doesn't show he pretty much hands the Rangers an out. They can void his contract, save the $48 million they will owe him over the next three years, and remove a headache. He won't do that though, he'll come into camp sooner or later.

What is crucial is how he shows up. If he comes in professional and ready to work we may see bridges built and things smoothed over. After all, winning heals a lot of wounds. If Michael shows up sullen and resentful he could poison the rest of the team. Dealing with that will be a true test of Ron Washington's management skills. Hopefully the first scenario is the one that we see play out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

1974 Topps - Fergie Jenkins.

1974 was a banner year for Fergie Jenkins, shown here on card number 87 of the 1974 Topps set. After struggling in 1973 he was traded to Texas in October of that year. Some pundits thought his career was over.

Fergie surprised the doubters with a comeback year. He won 25 of his 41 starts to tie Catfish Hunter for the league best. He also led the league in complete games with 29 and came in second in shutouts with six. Five of his wins were against the defending champion Oakland A's.

In 328.1 innings pitched, Fergie's ERA was a decent 2.82 and his WHIP was 1.008. He struck out 225 batters while walking just 48. That gave him a league-leading strikeout to walk ratio of 5.

Jenkins came in second in the Cy Young voting and fifth in MVP voting. He won the Comeback Player of the Year award though. He was also recognized as a leader on the team. Other pitchers gravitated to him for advice and he helped to line up speakers for the Rangers Sunday chapel in the clubhouse. All in all it had been a great year. The move to Texas seemed to have revitalized Fergie's career. Both he and the team hoped the trend would continue into 1975.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Minor League Monday - Spencer Wilkinson, 1989 ProCards.

Ok, now that we are done with the 1987 ProCards set it is time to move on to the next minor league set in the binder. That would be the 1989 ProCards set for the Single A Gastonia Rangers. Spencer Wilkinson gets the set going on card number 999 if the set.

A few things about the card itself before we get on to Spencer. First, the orange border. Rather loud. Absolutely clashes with the Rangers' colors. Can't believe it made it into production. It does give the set a minor league feel though so that is good I suppose.

Next, take a look at the background. Most of the cards in this team set use the same background. Probably taken on photo day at the Single A ballpark. What I find interesting is the rise going up to the fence. I'll bet that made for some interesting plays.

The final thing that should be noted is Wilkinson's jersey. It isn't tucked in. Kind of odd. Even more odd is that there are a sizable number of his teammates who are pictured with their jerseys untucked. Not sure what the story is there.

Ok, on to Spencer Wilkinson in 1989. Spencer was the 16th selection in the 1987 draft and played that year in Rookie ball with Sarasota. In 1988 he pitched in 31 games for Gastonia. 15 of those appearances were starts. With the promotion he managed to lower his ERA from 5.91 to 4.86. Neither number is pretty but Wilkinson appeared to be making progress.

Records for minor league ball are sketchy at best and the lower the level the less information there is. That's why I'm not sure what happened in 1989. That season Spencer would make one appearance for the Gastonia Rangers. That appearance would be in relief and he would last one third of an inning. After walking 2 and giving up four hits for six runs Wilkinson's ERA stood at a monstrous 162.00. Those numbers speak of something gone terribly wrong - perhaps an injury. Whatever the case Spencer Wilkson would never pitch in professional ball again. At age 22 his career was over.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Senators Saturday - Marty Kutyna, 1961.

The Senators did not get Marty Kutyna, shown here on card number 546 of the 1961 Topps set, in the 1960 expansion draft. Instead Washington sent Haywood Sullivan and some cash to the Kansas City A's in trade for him.

The trade was fortunate for the Senators. In 1961 Kutyna was the workhorse of the bullpen. 46 of his 50 appearances that season were in relief and he tossed a total of 143 innings. Both of those numbers tops in the pen. The number of innings actually put Marty up with the starters. Marty also led the relief corps in strikeouts with 64. His 3.97 ERA and 1.364 WHIP weren't sparkling but they were good enough to be bullpen bests as well.

All in all Marty Kutyna hadn't had too bad of a season. He had pitched 81.1 innings more than he had for Kansas City in 1960. In the process he had seen his ERA move up just 0.03 points and had actually lowered his WHIP by 0.193. He was undoubtedly the ace of the bullpen in the Senators' inaugural season.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two more years of Josh.

So the Rangers signed Josh Hamilton, shown here on an Academy Sports and Outdoors playing card, to a two year deal yesterday. Josh will get about $12 million a year. Texas avoids a potentially messy arbitration hearing. Nice to see the team get Hamilton signed before the start of Spring Training. I really like Hamilton and think he is a huge part of the Rangers' recent success.

So, there's some folks out there who are complaining that the Rangers should have given Hamilton a longer-term deal. I have already read a few predictions of impending doom when the contract ends. Texas won't be able to sign Josh and will end up losing him to a team with deeper pockets.

To be fair, I have no idea if these are the same people who are bemoaning the large contract that Michael Young is under. In the same vein of fairness I can understand why the team might be a little leery of giving Josh a long term deal.

Right now the club is in the midst of an ugly spat with Michael Young. Young still has four years left on his contract and is making more than Hamilton. He is also the longest-tenured Ranger and was supposed to be with the team his entire career. For reasons that are not altogether clear right now, that plan is on hold. Nasty things are being said, a trade has been demanded, and the team leader is definitely not leading. At least not leading in the right direction. With that in mind there is something to be said for not locking the team in on any particular player.

The second hang-up to a long term deal might be more specific to Josh. In the past two seasons he has had some very real injury issues. He managed to put together a fantastic season in 2010 in spite of his time on the disabled list. In 2009 the story was a bit different. Couple that with Josh's past heavy drug usage and there is no telling what his health history might turn out to be. Hamilton admits in his book that he has no idea how his past will affect his health and how long his body will hold up. Texas may be a little concerned that they don't end up with a sizable portion of the payroll tied up on a rehab assignment or on the DL.

Having said all that, I am pumped about the signing. The team has Josh for two more years and hopefully can capitalize on his talent. I would have been just as pumped about a long term deal but I can understand why the team didn't want to go there. What both Hamilton and the Rangers need now is more success. Enough of that and the potential of a re-signing in two years becomes much more of a reality.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday. I realized I hadn't posted when I was shutting the computer down for the day. By then it was too late to come up with anything and I didn't want to wait to hit the sack.

Speaking of waiting, I present you with today's card. This 1975 Topps Bill Fahey card came back to me on the fourth of this month. Mr Fahey had graciously signed it and another card I had sent him.

What makes this return notable is that had sent out the cards to Mr. Fahey on the 13th of January. January, 2009 that is. Since sending out the card my youngest child was born and is now walking and starting to talk. Not sure if the 2+ year turn around is the longest in my TTM career but it has to be close. In spite of that I do appreciate the autograph.

So, what's the longest you have ever had to wait to get an autograph back through the mail?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Ok, I'll admit that I just found out about the most recent spat between Michael Young and the Rangers today. I've been mulling it over, reading what I can find, checking out others thoughts, and mulling it over again. I have a few comments of my own that I would like to make. They approach the matter from a couple of angles and might even make some sense.

1. The Rangers do seem to have pushed Michael around in the past. They asked him to move from short to second to come up to the Bigs. Then it was back to short when Soriano wouldn't move. Over to third when Andrus came up. Off to DH and super utility when Beltre was signed. I was concerned at one point that they might push him too far. Seems they might have.

2. The Rangers have the right to move Michael around. They are paying him $48 million over the next three years. I get paid literally a fraction of that and my boss moves my schedule around to best fit the needs of the company. Sometimes he asks, most of the time he tells. Hard to understand where Young is coming from here. See if Jackie Robinson or Yogi Berra have a shoulder to cry on. Gotta make it quick though since they are busy learning new positions.

3. Michael Young says that he doesn't want all of this out in the open. Gonna call it as I see it here and say horse-puckey. If he didn't want it out in the open he shouldn't have talked to the media or anyone else not directly involved. The only reason he did was to try to manipulate the situation. I've personally seen this done by others. Whining to third parties about your issues with your boss is childish and unprofessional. No excuse for it. None.

4. Speaking of unprofessional, what's the deal with the timing? Ten days before pitchers and catchers report? Talk about a bad time to try and make a trade. Throw in that Young has provided a list of teams that don't need him or can't afford him and things get real sticky. Want to be traded? Waive the partial no trade clause and let the team work with all the other teams. If you really want to move, agree to void your contract and play for whatever the new team can afford to pay you.

5. Speaking of trades, the team needs to make sure they get a good deal. No salary pickup, no dump for a third-rate prospect. You can't get a good deal for Mike, sit on him. Literally if you have to. He can always be traded later, even if he changes his mind.

6. Not sure calling Nolan Ryan a liar and manipulator is a very good career move. Should have thought that one over a bit. Might make a good beer commercial though - it's smooth even when you're not...

7. I was afraid that the Beltre signing might have this result. Young said he was fine with the whole deal but it seemed too good to be true. Hope the contract works out well now or Jon Daniels could be in really hot water in a year or two.

8. The whole thing is really sad. I thought Young just might stay with the team for his whole career. In this day and age that's rare and exciting. Unfortunately both sides got swelled heads after last season and got stupid. For the sake of the fans both should have their ears boxed soundly. I do tend to lean towards Michael being more of the problem than the management but things could have been handled better.

Well, that's about it. It's all too bad. I still think that the Rangers are better with Young than without him; if he can rediscover his maturity and professionalism. Young is definitely better off in Texas than anywhere else; a loyal fan base and a shot at another postseason can't be bad. I like Young and the kind of player that he is. I like Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan and the job they have done. There is always the possibility that cooler heads will prevail and this will all blow over. Just like it did in 1914 when much more important issues were at stake and the world was on the verge of war. Bummer.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Minor League Monday - Toby Harrah, 1987 ProCards.

The last card in the 1987 ProCards Oklahoma City Eighty-Niners team set features perhaps the most popular player in the set. Ironic that he isn't even a player at this point.

Toby Harrah was one of the most well-liked players in early Rangers history. He was also the last former Washington Senator to play in the Major Leagues. He retired as a player following the 1986 season.

In 1987 and 1988 Harrah would manage the Eighty-Niners. In 1992 he would turn in a stint as manager of the Texas Rangers before giving way to Bobby Valentine. Since then he has manged in the Mets system in 1995 and for the Rockies in 2000.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Senators Saturday - Johnny Klippstein, 1961.

Johnny Klippstein, shown here on card number 539 of the 1961 Topps set, was a traveling man in 1960. In April the Indians purchased him from the Dodgers for $25,000. In the purchasing vein, this was one of the last two cards that I needed to complete this team set and it came in this week. In December of 1960 the Senators selected Johnny in the expansion draft.

Klippstein would make 42 appearances for Washington in 1961. All but one of those trips to the mound would be in relief. In those 42 games he tossed 71.2 innings. That was the second lowest number of innings of any pitcher in the bullpen. That was probably due in part to his 6.78 ERA - the worst of any of the pitching regulars. Johnny also led the league in wild pitches with 10 on the season.

1961 had been a terrible disappointment for Klippstein. His ERA was up by 3.87 points from 1960 and he went from a league-leading 14 saves to none. The Senators must have been a little disappointed as well. A year and a day after they selected him in the expansion draft Washington sent Johnny and Marty Keough to Cincinnati for Bob Schmidt and Dave Stenhouse.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Random Rangers auto - Danny Darwin.

So right now everyone (except Bug) in the Spiff household is either down with or fighting some kind of headcold or flu or both. Makes one feel like Danny Darwin looks on this 1980 Topps card, like you have a giant name written across your face. Hopefully we are getting towards to end of this and I will be back with it tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kenner's konfusion.

You may remember that on a previous card of Ruben Sierra the player pictured was not Sierra at all. Pretty embarrassing for ProCards even if Ruben was still in the minors.

That mistake happened in 1986. In 1988 it happened again, this time on Sierra's Starting Lineup card. At the height of Ruben's popularity Kenner issued this card with his Starting Lineup figure. On the card we see Curtis Wilkerson starting out of the batter's box. I have no idea how the company managed to confuse the slugging young outfielder with the rather light-hitting middle infielder. It would be interesting to know exactly what happened.

As far as I can tell, this card is an uncorrected error.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1974 Topps - Toby Harrah.

By the time 1974 rolled around Toby Harrah, shown here on card number 511, was a fan favorite in Texas. He lived only a short drive from the stadium and often arrived for games on a motorcycle. Kind of fits with the sideburns he's sporting on this card.

The season started off great for Harrah. During Spring Training his wife gave birth to a boy - Toby. Dad would respond with a great season, especially at the plate. He would also play in every game that season for Texas.

With the bat Toby would post a .260 average and a .319 on-base percentage in 639 plate appearances. He would also raise his slugging percentage from .364 in 1973 to .417 in 1974. Suddenly he had power to the tune of 23 doubles and 21 home runs - both career highs to that point. He also knocked in 74 RBI.

Toby Harrah was a fan favorite before the 1974 season. During the season he became a fan favorite with power in his bat. This was definitely something the team would look to build on in the future.