Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 Topps Derek Jeter

I'm not really surprised that Derek Jeter was a league leader last year. What I was a little taken aback by was that he has been a league leader so few times in his Hall of Fame career. But I guess if your strong categories are At Bats and Hits, its tough to be in the same league as Ichiro for the past 10+ years.

As you can see by the back of the card, this isn't the first time Jeter has been a league leader in hits but it has been a while. And it is the first time he led in At Bats, although a quick glance at his Baseball-Reference page shows he has been in the top 6 ten times in his career and is currently second for career At Bats among active players. The active leader is Omar Vizquel but without a team as of now, Jeter should surpass him this year. Teammate Alex Rodriguez is a pretty distant 889 At Bats behind in third place. Though Jeter is 35 At Bats behind Vizquel, he is 427 Hits ahead of him on the career Hits list, good for tops among active players and 11th All-Time.

Of all the Career Chase notes I've seen on the backs of Topps cards this year, Jeter breaking Pete Rose's all-time Hits record seems the most doable. He'll need to play another 5-6 at the same rate he's played the past 5-6 to do that though and who knows how his body will react as he gets closer to age 40.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

1989 Topps Dennis Eckersley

For most players from this time, more often than not, their 1989 Topps card is the one I most associate with a player. And Dennis Eckersley's card is no exception. At this point, he'd made a pretty decent run with is career.
He was a two-time All-Star, finished in the top 7 for the Cy Young award twice and was a 20-game winner with the Red Sox. According to his Baseball-Reference profile, Eck had led the league in other ratio categories but his 1988 Saves total of 45 was the first of the categories normally recognized by a Topps baseball card.
Are these first ballot Hall of Fame stats?!?

It was one shy of Dave Righetti's fairly recent MLB record of 46 and as recently as 1982, John Hiller had held the record for 10 years with 38. Granted, just a few years after Eck's 45, Bobby Thigpen would obliterate it with 57, but at the time it was huge, especially for a converted starter. The times, they were a'changing.

Looking into my crystal ball, I see that Eckersley would only lead the league once more in Saves, although he would be in the top 5 six other times. He certainly passes the Hall of Fame sniff test. But after looking closer at his stats, aside from playing on a couple of better teams earning him a few World Series appearances, I'm not sure how he got in before Lee Smith.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2012 Opening Day Jose Valverde

Jose Valverde as a league leader wasn't so much as a surprise to me as the fact that he did it three times with three different team.  
As you can see, Valverde led the National League in Saves in 2007 with 47 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. After being traded to the Astros in the offseason, he followed up with a National League leading 44 Saves in 2008. After two lackluster seasons, Valverde returned to dominance in the American League with 49 Saves and pitching in 75 Games.
And now, he has gone from league leader in multiple categories to free agent with no team near the end of Spring Training. I'm sure he'll find a team soon but it'll tough to forget his epic postseason meltdown from last year.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1989 Topps Chuck Crim

My first post a couple of weeks ago featured Tim Burke of the Expos, who lead the league in Games (for a pitcher) with 78.
Fast forward a couple of years and we have Chuck Crim. In 1988, he led the American League with 70 Games. Remember when the Brewers were in the American League? This total actually tied for third for the Major League lead but was 2 Games more than American League runner-up Bobby Thigpen.
Crim's Games total is the lowest amount to earn the American League lead (aside from the strike shortened 1981 season) since John Hiller of the Detroit Tigers had 65 in 1973. And again, aside from strike shortened seasons in 1994-1995, it has not been undercut since then.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em...

I won't make a habit of posting on the weekends but I thought I'd share my most recent pack buying/busting experience.

I was talking cards with Matt from over at Once a Cub at work on Friday and we decided to go check for some Opening Day on our lunch break. Normally, I am a pretty frugal collector and don't buy blasters. I like to open the occasional pack but would much rather pay for just cards I want.

We are both interested in completing the set, and at half the price of any other blaster, we each picked up two figuring we could swap our dupes. Well, that was the plan on the way to Wal-Mart. We ran out of time on our lunch break and didn't get a chance to open anything up.

A little more banter at work led to Matt automatically claiming any Cubs I pulled and me claiming his Nats. I upped the ante a little further and asked if he wanted to play pack wars, winner gets the whole blaster. Neither of us had done anything like this before.

We didn't have a Beckett or anything to declare a book value winner so we decided to make the pack winner measured by something concrete. Highest base card number won the pack. Most pack winners claimed the other's whole blaster box.

As you may be able to ascertain by the lack of photos in this post, I didn't win. Either box. I didn't keep track of the finals scores but I believe I lost the first box 7-4 and the second box 6-5. The second box was especially close as one pack I lost was initially a tie when we both pulled the same high card. But his next highest card was higher than mine. That box could have gone either way.

Oh well. Twenty bucks down the drain. It was kind of fun though. I probably wouldn't have done it with a regular $20 blaster. And I don't know that I'll do a winner take all again but I would be open to a pack vs. pack showdown. At least then I could have walked away with a couple of packs.

Rather than waste any more money, I'm going to head on over to eBay and just buy the complete set.

Anybody else have other ways they play pack wars?

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Sorry, I've missed a few days. I haven't given up, I've just run out of scanned cards. I have a decent sized stack to get me through another month or two, just have to find time to scan them in! I should be back to some regularly scheduled post by next week.

Thanks for your patience!


Monday, March 18, 2013

2012 Opening Day Jhoulys Chacin

If you had asked me before this post what it would take to lead a league in Walks, I would have said 100 easily. Maybe 125? When I saw the red 87 on the back of this Jhoulys Chacin card under the Walks column, I was quite surprised.
Turns out, I had a pretty good reason to be. That few amount of Walks hasn't led a league since the strike-shortened 1995 season when Ramon Martinez of the Dodgers led the National League with 82. Which incidentally, wasn't even in the top 10 of Major League leaders. Yep, in 1995 at least ten American League pitchers had mre Walks than Martinez's National League leading 82.
I only found one non-strike-shortened season where the league leader had fewer than Chacin's 87 Walks. In 1992, David Cone of the Mets had 82 Walks and led the National League. In 1981 (a strike season), Jack Morris led the American League with 78 Walks. No other American League leader has thrown fewer than Chacin's 87.
I think I knew this somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain but it still makes me do a doubletake. Nolan Ryan is not only the All-Time Strikeouts leader but also the All-Time Walks leader with 2,795. He led his league multiple times in Walks and twice crossed the two hundred Walk threshold.
I guess what I'm least surprised about is that Chacin pitches for the Rockies and led the league. I would think pitchers in Colorado have to do some extra special pitching to avoid giving up the long ball. And with all that painting of the corners, you're going to have quite a few that miss too. Thus its no surprise either that former teammate Ubaldo Jimenez was in the top 10 in Walks in each season he was with Colorado.
Or maybe I just made up that justification and there's correlation but no causation. But it makes sense to me...

Friday, March 15, 2013

2001 Topps Greg Maddux

Ok, so maybe Greg Maddux doesn't strike you as a "surprsing" league leader. But when I saw all the red italics and diamonds on the back of the card, I was a bit awestruck.
Its not just the "perfect attendance" categories as I like to call them where you pile up stats just because you're healthy enough to go every five days. Sure, he was piling up the Games Started, which led to a lot of Innings Pitched. But only once (as of the back of this card, didn't look to later seasons) did he lead the league in Runs. Of course, that was a season with the Cubs...
And he never led in Earned Runs or Walks. In fact, while he was raking in the Innings Pitched, he was Completing Games, throwing Shutouts and leading the league in ERA! In his fifteenth season, he tied for the league lead with 3 Shutouts.
This guy was in his mid-30's and still dominating the league. He was in the top 5 in the National League in WHIP, Wins, Complete Games, Games Started, Innings Pitched and all kinds of ratios that show how few Walks he issued.
The blurb on the back mentions that "Greg's 180 wins is the majors' most over the last decade." Really? Nobody else managed to average 18 wins a season for the past 10 years? *Sarcasm*
Guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer. I think the only thing that keeps him from being a unanimous decision is his lack of World Series rings because he has enough individual hardware to start his own museum.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2011 Opening Day Felix Hernandez

Pitching categories are a crazy thing. When I was younger, wins and strikeouts were used to determine a pitchers worth. The more, the better. They still do but other categories like ERA and WAR and WHIP have a little bit more say. Today's card is a good example of  that.

In 2009, Felix Hernandez tied for the American League lead with 19 Wins. Neither Hernandez, nor Justin Verlander or CC Sabathia (the other two 19 game winners) brought home the Cy Young Award that season. Instead, it went to 16-game winner Zack Greinke, who happened to lead the American League with a 2.19 ERA, 10.1 WAR and 1.073 WHIP.
But enough about Greinke because this post is about King Felix. He followed up his 2009 campaign with a less than stellar 13-12 record in 2010. But a closer look reveals he just didn't get enough team support. Hernandez lead the American League with 249.2 Innings Pitched, 6.8 WAR (for Pitchers) and a 2.27 ERA. He was also second with a 1.057 WHIP. So despite not even cracking the top 15 in Wins and barely maintaining a .500 record. Hernandez brought home to the 2010 Cy Young Award.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

1989 Topps Frank Viola

Last week, I featured a Twins pitcher who led the league in Losses in 1988 . Today's post is a teammate of Bert Blyleven's, Frank Viola. As rough a year as Blyleven had, Viola more than made up for it.
Despite leading the league in runs and eaned runs during previous seasons, Viola continued his 1987 World Series MVP ways by winning an Major League high 24 games in 1988, 3 more than American League runner-up Dave Stewart's total. This led to Viola winning the Cy Young award with 27 of the 28 first place votes.
I was particularly impressed by the 1988 Monthly Scoreboard chart on the back of the card. I didn't pay close attention to these types of things on cards when I was younger, but Viola won 6 games just in the month of May. Without looking, this probably comes down to a timing thing (starting on the 1st day of a month and getting an extra start at the end of the month) but it would surprise me for just about any pitcher to get 4 wins in a month, let alone average it over the course of the season like Viola did.
 Unfortunately, I looked up the record for most wins in a month and its some ridiculous turn-of-the-20th century numbers. I can see a reliever maybe lucking into 6-7 wins but Rube Waddell and Jack Coombs each won 10 (!) games in the American League in one month. And John Clarkson won an astonishing 15 games in June 1885. He only won 53 games that year, completing 68 of his 70 starts for the Chicago White Stockings...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2009 Topps Gil Meche

There isn't any other red on the back of this card so the league leader designation really stuck out as I was flipping through some cards. After coming over to the Royals from the Mariners, Gil Meche became a workhorse. He tied for the league lead in Games Started in 2007 and 2008, both years with 34. That's one of the benefits of being an Opening Day starter and being healthy all season.
In a four-way tie in 2008, I was a little surprised there wasn't a Cy Young award winner in the group. The other leaders included Mark Buerhle (White Sox), AJ Burnett (Blue Jays) and Mike Mussina (Yankees). A couple of All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, but no Cy Youngs. Apparently being the best pitcher of the year requires a little more than perfect attendance (or making all of your scheduled starts).
On the other hand, the National League had an 8-way tie for first, also with 34 Games Started but they had two Cy Young Award winners in Brandon Webb (2006, Arizona) and Johan Santana (2004 & 2006, Minnesota).
The blurb on the back of the card even references Meche's consistency. Unfortunately, his shoulder couldn't handle the extra workload and started only 23 games in 2009. After starting the 2010 season 0-4 in 9 starts Meche went onto the disabled list and had shoulder surgery. He returned in September but for only 13 innings in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.
Rather than have another shoulder surgery, Meche would announce his retirement during the offseason. All this despite a guaranteed contract that would entitle him to $12 million.

Monday, March 11, 2013

1990 Topps Kevin Mitchell

The recent success of the San Francisco Giants reminded me of their most impressive season from my childhood in 1989. They jumped from 4th place in the NL West in 1988 to 1st the following season in large part to today's subject, Kevin Mitchell.
Despite coming in third in the ROY voting in 1986, it was still a bit of a shock that his numbers took so big of a leap during the 1989 season. According to the back of his 1990 Topps card, Mitchell led the league in Home Runs (47), RBIs (125) and Slugging Percentage (.635).
According to his Baseball-Reference page, he also lead the league in OPS (1.023), OPS+ (192), Total Bases (345) and Intentional Walks (32). That last one isn't much of a surprise because if you're hitting as many home runs and driving in as many runs as Mitchell was that year, you're going to be walked a few times.
I find it a little odd that the blurb mentions that "two of Kevin's uncles played minor league baseball" on the back when Mitchell had just completed an MVP winning season. Or that he went 2-4 with a run and an RBI in his first All-Star game appearance. Or that he won the Silver Slugger award.

Friday, March 8, 2013

2010, 2011 & 2012 Topps Carl Pavano

While combing through some cards looking for league leaders, I came across this interesting trio of Carl Pavano cards.

The first time Pavano led the league was in 2009. He spent most of the season with Cleveland before being traded to Minnesota in August. He gave up a combined 113 Earned Runs to lead the American League, narrowly edging out Baltimore pitcher Mark Guthrie's 112. Braden Looper of St. Louis led the National League and tied Pavano for the Major League lead with 113.

Fast forward to 2010, a full season with a better team. Now all of a sudden, Pavano falls out of the top 10 for Earned Runs and manages to tie Cliff Lee for the league lead with 7 Complete Games. You don't throw 7 complete games by giving up a ton of runs so naturally, he tied for the league lead in Shutouts as well. He and Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden each threw 2 shutouts.

Fast forward another year, and Pavano seems to have fallen a little. This time, he's back in the top 10 for Earned Runs at #5 after breaking 100 again. However, now he's leading the league in Hits with 262, thirty two more than the second place finisher CC Sabathia and eighteen more than National League leader Ricky Nolasco.
Pavano missed most of 2012 with a strained shoulder and is currently a free agent. So if he finds a team to sign him and somehow gets a 2013 Topps card, it won't show him leading the league in anything from the most recent season.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

1989 Topps Willie Wilson

Aside from an inside the park home run, the triple has to be one of the most exciting hits in baseball. A combination of power, speed and maybe some lucky bouncing around in the corner provides one of baseball's rarest hits. Sometimes the league leader barely reaches double digits for the season as was the case in 1988.
The 1988 season was the last time Willie Wilson led the league in triples, although he had previously done it four other times.  He is currently tied for 56th on the all-time triples list. When he retired in 1994 with 147 triples, he had been the active career leader for the past seven years taking over for teammate George Brett. Maybe playing in Kauffman stadium was a triple hitter's paradise?
While I usually only talk about the most recent accomplishment, I though I'd point out that only one player has since topped Wilson's 1985 total of 21 triples. That was Curtis Granderson in 2007 with 23. Something tells me that Chief Wilson seaosn record of 36 and Sam Crawford's career record of 309 are pretty safe.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2010 Topps Miguel Tejada

I was away from baseball for most of Miguel Tejada's career so my first reaction to the back of this card was "Wow! I didn't know he was such an iron man in the games played department."
Six straight seasons playing in all of his teams games, while tying for the league lead in five of those seasons. How did he play all 162 games in 2003 and not even tie for the league lead? Some knucklehead on the Yankees (Hideki Matsui) played in 163 games that year. Here's an article that explains how that happened because it didn't involve a one game playoff like I thought. 
Tejada has the fifth longest games played streak with 1,152 consecutive games. It ended after he broke his wrist being hit by a pitch but not before he had one more at bat the next day. I don't follow the Orioles despite living just outside of DC on the Virginia side but I vaguely remember him being hurt. That's probably why I didn't associate him with such a long streak.
But the real point of this blog is to focus on his most current category where he led the league. As you can see by the card, Tejada led the National League in doubles in 2009 with 46. This was 4 behind his other league leading season of 50 back in 2005 with the Orioles and 10 behind the Major League leading 56 doubles by his former Orioles teammate Brian Roberts. Tejada finished in the top 10 in doubles two other times in his career and was consistently above thirty except for his first two (partial) seasons and an injury shortened season.
After his league leading season with the Astros in 2009, Tejada re-signed with the Orioles as a free agent for the start of the 2010 season. He was later traded to the Padres midseason, just in time for this photo to be taken for the Update series. (I doublechecked, this is a Getty photo, not a photoshop job.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

1989 Topps Bert Blyleven

Running a little late today guys, sorry!
The other day I mentioned I would lean towards the underdog when it came to League Leaders. I will broaden that slightly to say "unexpected" League Leaders.
Now you might be thinking, how does Bert Blyleven fit into that category? He's a Hall of Famer for Pete's sake! Well not all of the categories on the back of cards are necessarily ones you'd like to be proud to lead the league in.
Despite leading the league in previous seasons in categories such as Complete Games, Shutouts, Games Started, Innings Pitched and Strikeouts, Blyleven followed up the Twins 1987 World Series Championship with a bit of a stinker season in 1988. He not only led the American League in Losses with 17, but also gave up a league leading 125 Earned Runs.
So as a Hall of Famer you might have expected him to lead the league a few times, but anyone can have a bad season. You can't tell from the back of this card, but Blyleven did bounce back in 1989 for the California Angels by winning 17 games and leading the league with 5 shutouts.   
And for those that like pictures, here is a beard that stood the test of time. Aside from maybe the warmup coat, you wouldn't think that this photo scream 80's like so many others from that era do.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2012 Opening Day Craig Kimbrel

Following yesterday's post, today's card is another "rookie" who led the league with Craig Kimbrel. Why is rookie is quotation marks you ask?

In 2011, he tied for the National League lead in Saves and set an MLB record for most Saves by a rookie. Technically, by league rules, he was a still considered a rookie for the 2011 season.

However, in 2010, Kimbrel pitched 20.2 innings in 21 games for the Braves. On one hand, that doesn't sound like a whole lot but according to his Baseball-Reference page, Kimbrel pitched in 4 games in May, 4 games in June, 1 in August and 12 in September. Obviously I don't make the rules but in my opinion, that constitutes a season.

I understand the rules help September call-ups maintain eligibility and the 50 inning restriction would be tough to meet in that final month of the season. Theoretically, Kimbrel could have led the league in Saves with his less than one inning per appearance ratio and still be under the 50 inning count limit. Highly unlikely, but not impossible...

Enough on the negatives though because what Kimbrel did in 2011, was pretty amazing. When Kimbrel was born in 1988, 46 saves in a season was the Major League record, done by Dave Righetti in 1986. And Kimbrel did that as a rookie, tying Milwaukee closer John Axford for the National League lead and just 3 short of Major League leader, Detroit's Jose Valverde.

Kimbrel parlayed his record setting perfromance in the 2011 Naltional League Rookie of the Year Award as well as earning the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy on his card in 2012.

Rookie Saves Record:

1. Craig Kimbrel - 46 (2011)
2. Neftali Perez - 40 (2010)
3. Kazahiro Sasaki - 37 (2000)
4. Todd Worrell - 36 (1986)
5. Jonathan Papelbon - 35 (2006)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

1986 Topps Tim Burke

First off, thank you everyone for the tremendous welcome! I already have a few followers and gotten some encouraging feedback.
I'm still not sure where I'm going to take this blog so bear with me. I'm a numbers guy so the statistics on the backs have always intrigued me. My collection right now consists of a ton of late 1980s stuff and some from the past few years. The sets might seem a little monotonous at first but I'll try to switch things up as much as possible. Thanks for your patience. Also, I'm more than willing to listen to any feedback from you more experienced bloggers.
For the most part, I will feature Topps cards as that is where the phrase League Leader in Italics came from. But I have noticed that Donruss made league leader notations as well, at least for a little while so maybe I can switch things up a bit here and there. I'm also lean towards the underdog so I hope to feature some of the lesser known league leaders more prominently. No offense to the perennial leaders though.
Right out of the gate, I have a 1986 Topps card of Tim Burke.

#258 Tim Burke

Tim Burke was a rookie with the Montreal Expos in 1985 and led the National League in appearances for a pitcher with 78. He was actually second in the Major's behind American League leader, Dan Quisenberry, who had 84.
I have no idea how often it happens but I am pretty impressed with being a League Leader in a fairly major category while just a rookie. The brass in Montreal must have seen something in Burke because in previous minor league seasons he was a starter but only started two games in his Major League career
A quick look at his Baseball-Reference page shows this was the only time Burke was a league leader, although he did manage to score an All-Star appearance in 1989. He gave up two hits and struck out one over two scoreless innings.
This blog is mostly about the statistics on the backs, but here's the card front for those who prefer pretty pictures:


Saturday, March 2, 2013


When I was a kid in the 1980’s I collected a ton of cards. I probably had 2-3 dozen of those 800 count cardboard boxes until I eventually managed to convince my parents that I needed to have the monster boxes. What did they hold, 3200 cards or something like that? As long as they were organized and put away, my parents didn’t seem to mind the ever expanding collection.
As many of those as I had, I only had 3 binders that held cards. And not the fancy, real card binders either. Mine were the regular, repurposed, school sized binders where the last half inch or so of the plastic pages hung out of the right side when it closed. I had to be very careful not to jam them into the bookcase when I was finished with them or risk ruining the three cards on the outside edge of every page.
One binder, the largest, held cards from my favorite team. This binder was FULL. By the time I had slowed down my collecting, I was on the verge of having to break out a new binder for the collection. At any given time, this binder was sorted by brand, by year or by player. Needless to say, these cards aren’t/weren’t in the greatest condition as I was always rearranging them on a whim.
The second binder had what I call my “Beckett” cards. These were cards that were actually listed in Beckett Baseball Card magazine. For those of you who remember, commons weren’t listed individually in the magazine, so if Beckett had a price for it, it had to be worth something, right? This binder was essentially my showroom when making trades. If somebody had a card I wanted, I’d let them browse through this binder to find something "of worth" in return. Every new issue brought promotions and demotions to the binder. It wasn't particularly organized so I just filled empty slots as needed. It was pretty funny to go through this binder years later to see who was worth a quarter or more, compared to the nickel commons.
The third binder (and theme for this new blog) contained other cards of note. These players weren’t on my favorite team. They weren’t necessarily listed in Beckett (if they were, I wasn’t trading them unless I had duplicates). The common thread was that 99% of these cards all contained the phrase “League Leader in Italics, Tie on the back. These guys led the league in something, they must be good!
My buddy Matt from over at Once a Cub and I talk about baseball and card collecting quite a bit. Because of him, I’ve been lurking around the blogosphere for the last couple of months now and he’s finally convinced me to give my own blog a go. I don’t consider myself much of a writer so I’m not sure where this blog will go. I guess the plan for now is to show off some of these cards, one at a time, with a little commentary. I’m sure I have enough cards to post daily for years but we’ll see how much time I actually have!

The only rule I'll try to follow is the player must have led the league the year prior to when the card came out. So essentially, the italics would be in the latest seasonal statline, not from five seasons before.

I have a ton of blogs bookmarked and now that I have an account, I'll be officially following you guys.
Thanks for giving this blog a try! I'll work on making it "pretty" and getting a banner up and stuff too.
Ty Diamond (close enough to my real name that I thought the pseudonym/pun was worthy!)