Monday, December 20, 2010

Topps all-time top 60 card No. 6, Doc Gooden and the 'Streak of Shame'

Dwight Gooden is blessed to have numerous outstanding Topps cards, but there are two that are particularly special, for different reasons.

First is the 1986 base set card, with a photo from the 1985 season when Gooden compiled what can only be described as one of the best pitching performances ever by a Met, going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games and eight shutouts.

This was Gooden when he was all magic and potential, focused and raring back.

But I’m favoring a 1992 Stadium Club card, and Doc isn’t even pitching. He’s rounding third base, about the score the Mets’ eighth run. It’s the bottom of the third, 3:02 p.m. and sweltering hot.

The time and the score are evident from the photo, but I know first-hand about the heat. Will and I were there, watching that game from the Shea press box.

The Mets eventually won that game 9-4, beating the Dodgers and former 1986 Mets heroes Darryl Strawberry and Bob Ojeda.

It would be the last time I’d see the Mets win in person for 17 years, a streak of shame that lasted until an incredible afternoon at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati in 2008.

For a long time, that Stadium Club was more than a great, non-traditional action shot. With my press pass, it was a reminder of an incredible day at Shea – and the last time I thought I’d see the team win a game.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A great injustice on display with the No. 7 Topps card of all time

It’s a remarkable rookie card to be sure.

One of the two players is in the discussion as the second-best Mets pitcher. The other guy was traded for an accordion player.

And check this out. Between the two pitchers on this card, there are 546 wins, 8,270 strikeouts, seven no-hitters – and not a single Cy Young Award. How is that even possible?

One of them joins Tom Seaver with a beautiful plaque in the Hall of Fame -- the one in Queens. The other is in Cooperstown with Tom, but he’s wearing the wrong cap.

In all seriousness, the gulf between Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan isn’t that great. Ryan’s career winning percentage is .526, Koosman’s is .515, and pitched for some far worse teams, I might add. Ryan’s ERA is 3.19, Koosman’s is 3.36.

Koosman got just four votes when he was on the Hall ballot in 1991, and Ryan somehow got 98.79 percent of the ballots in his first year, and even swiped what was rightfully Tom Seaver’s slot on the All-Century Team.

Let’s look at the post-season. Koosman is 4-0, including two wins in the World Series, even taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Ryan is 2-2, and his only World Series appearance is 2.3 innings of Agee-aided relief.

One more cool Koosman fact: He was discovered by the son of a Shea Stadium usher who caught Koosman when he pitched in the Army at Fort Bliss Texas, he had written to his dad about Koosman. The Mets offered Koosman a contract after his discharge.

So, yeah, Jerry Koosman’s rookie card is pretty special, the seventh-best Topps card of all time. Nolan Ryan is on it, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Topps top 60 countdown at No. 8, Bobby Bonilla before things went bad

It wasn't entirely his fault.

OK, the card-playing in the clubhouse with Rickey during Game Six was horrible. In fact, all of 1999 was horrible.

But I'm talking about Bobby Bonilla's first go-around with the Mets. which ran from 1992 to part of 1995. The Mets put him into a role -- as "the Man" on a high-profile team -- that Bonilla just wasn't suited for.

The Mets, of course, have a history a doing this type of thing, chasing the biggest free-agent of the off-season because the player is, in fact, the biggest free agent of the off-season, appeasing the media beast that will never give its approval no matter what the team does.

Fresh off Bonilla's success with the Pirates, where he was surrounded by Barry Bonds and other stars, the Mets threw at him a 5-year, $29 million deal and anointed him the star on which the team would build upon.

He certainly wasn't terrible. Bonilla hit 34 homers in 1993, and hit .290 the following season. But those just aren't the numbers required to be a mega-star in New York. Fans were disappointed and Bobby Bo became Bobby Boo, which was just blood in the water for Met-hating Yankee hacks like Bob Klapisch, who egged Bonilla into a much-publicized confrontation. Bonilla told Klap he could "show him the Bronx," and I don't think he meant an afternoon at the Cloisters and the Bronx Zoo. As if a Yankee hack like Klap didn't know the Bronx.

Cast out of the New York spotlight, Bonilla actually mounted a resurrection in Baltimore in 1996 and with the Marlins the next season, earning a World Series ring.
He was traded to the Dodgers in the fire sale of 1998, part of the mega-package that included Gary Sheffield and brought Mike Piazza to the Fish for a five-game layover before his ascension to the Mets.

And Bonilla came back, too, in a swap of bad contracts and players needing a scenery change, with the Mets booting Mel Rojas to the Dodgers.

Mets 2.0 was a disaster, with Bonilla becoming bummed about playing time, feuding with Bobby Valentine and, apparently, forming a card-playing malcontents club with Henderson.

Alas, Bonilla did get one really great baseball card. I love his 1993 card with the magnificent New York skyline rising in the background and Bobby flashing a confident smile.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Topps top 60 countown: Ed Kranepool, after all these years

No. 9, 1972 Ed Kranepool

Do you think that when Ed Kranepool was picked by the Mets in the 1962 amateur daft that he ever imagined he’d still be atop the team’s leader boards 31 years after retiring?

Sure playing 18 seasons with one team will do that. But if the New York media will go nuts just because Derek Jeter accumulates enough at-bats to pass a dead Yankee or two, well, we can celebrate our Steady Eddie.

Kranepool’s played 1,853 games in a Mets uniform – and only a Mets uniform. He’s got a 500-plus game lead on Bud Harrelson, and 800 games on David Wright, the closest active player.

He’s also atop the rankings for at-bats, plate appearances, hits, total bases, singles, times on base, and sacrifice flies. Wright only recently passed him on the doubles list.

Eddie’s also the leader in times grounded into double plays. But look, he did it 138 times. Mike Piazza is second with 132, and he played 10 fewer seasons for the team.
He wasn’t too bad with the glove, either, leading the league in fielding percentage in 1971 and 1975.

Kranepool was even a Met before Mr. Met came along – the mascot arrived in printed form in 1963, a year after Eddie.

With so man chances, Topps did well by Kranepool on numerous occasions. The 1980 farewell card is in the top 60, and the 1964 and 1970 cards are pretty sweet, too.

But my favorite is the 1972 card. It is, well, perfect. The design is legendary, of course. But the photo is magnificent. Eddie is leaning on the batting cage, bat resting shoulder, confident and friendly smile.

Likely shot in 1971 – though with Topps, you never know – we have a mid-career Eddie who remembers Casey and the Polo Grounds, was an All-Star in ’65, likely celebrated the arrival of Seaver and, despite being all of 24, was a veteran when the team won a World Series, even hitting a home run in Game 3.

It was, most definitely, good to be Ed Kranepool. And this card shows it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Countdown of top Topps cards continues with No. 10 and Mike Piazza

The top 10 cards in the top Topps cards of all time require special consideration, so we're going to address them one at a time, starting with:

No. 10, 2003 Mike Piazza

There are quite possibly more cards of Mike Piazza than there are of any other Met. And most of them are pretty bland.

That’s not Piazza’s fault. His Mets tenure happened to coincide with card companies pandering to investment types, and issued dozens of small sets filled with insert, or “chase,” cards that were supposedly would fund everyone’s retirement.

The sets were typically around 90 cards, though there could be two or three times that number of inserts. If limited to 90 cards, the companies included only two or three players from each team, usually the biggest stars and rookies.

Since all the attention was on the inserts, it seemed to me that the base cards were treated an afterthought, with just about any old photo slapped on there.

Since Piazza was the biggest name on the Mets, he was included in just about every set.

Not that he wasn’t worthy, of course. A debate over who is the team’s best non-pitcher would likely come down to Piazza and Darryl Strawberry. Straw didn’t seem to match his potential, but Piazza was everything we had hoped for when he arrived in 1998.

He certainly was the most feared by opponents, especially Roger Clemens, who sought to injure Piazza with both ball and broken bat.

Seems like most Piazza cards show him batting, but I think his 2003 card from the main Topps set is his best.

The design recalls the outstanding 1983 and 1984 sets with the small headshot in the corner and a large action photo. The blue border works perfect for the Mets’ colors, and the shot shows Mike out of the crouch and chasing a ball, with a look of determination.

I like the 2004 card, too, showing Piazza being mobbed at home plate after a big hit surrounded by teammates and coaches, seeking fist-bumps and high-fives. Don Baylor, a coach at the time, makes what is likely his only appearance on a regular-set Mets card.

Piazza caught the last pitch at Shea and the first pitch at Citi Field, and the Mets haven't issued his No. 31 since his departure. I'm speculating that means he'll be joining his batterymate on those two occasions among the retired numbers on the left field wall after he joins him in Cooperstown.