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Card of the Week: 1990 Score #84 Tony Phillips

Posted by Andy on August 11, 2011


I promised a post about Tony Phillips, and I'll get to his career in a moment. Bear with me as I speak first about this 1990 Score card.

Score started off very strongly in 1988 with their debut set and they kept the same general format in 1989 and 1990. There is so much to like about this card. First off, the dual photo works so very well, especially for a guy like Phillips. He was a muscular badass in the days before most hitters were muscular badasses (i.e. the Steroids Era) and the picture on the front captures that. But he was also a fun-loving guy with an infectious smile and the photo on the back captures that. A card like this does so much more to tell the story of a player than any single-photo card could ever do.

Like the earlier years, Score chose some strong solid-color borders, and their decision to match the Athletics' team colors by painting their cards in green and yellow was a great one. There is exceptional color unity on this card, thanks too due to the photo location of Comiskey Park, where the yellow rails in the background blend right in as part of the color scheme.

The card back is great too, with compact stats and a useful biography. Pretty much the only criticism I can make of this card is true for all cards from this era, which is that some key stats are missing from the back, and it really shows for a player like Phillips, whose primary value was in his on-base percentage. The card, however, doesn't show OBP or even his walks total (which, again, was standard for all companies in the 1980s.) The text on the card does mention Phillips' excellent defensive flexibility, however.

Now on to Phillips the player:

He had a very long career, playing from 1982 (age 23) to 1999 (age 40). He finished with an OPS+ of 109, which while certainly good, doesn't tell the whole story of how good he was. The big problem with Phillips (and his reputation) is that he became a different player halfway through his career, just as all of baseball was changing.

In 1986, Phillips walked 76 times over 532 plate appearances in 118 games. But he batted only .256, so his OBP was "only" .367. He also displayed very little power and slugged just .345. Through 1990, his slugging remained quite low. In 1991, at age 32, though, Phillips transformed. He posted 79 walks but pushed his HR total over 10 for the first time. He also had a then career-high 28 doubles, and a then career-best .284 batting average. Those factors combined to give him both a high OBP of .371 and a high SLG of .438, good for a 122 OPS+.

At this point, Phillips' career could have gone two ways. He could have started swinging for the fences all the time, or he could have used his improved power to work more walks and get on base even more. The latter is what happened, as in 1992 he went over 100 walks for the first time, and in 1993 he led the league in walks with 132. By 1993 his OBP was a whopping .443 in 151 games, good for an OPS+ of 130 (wow!). The problem? In 1993, everybody else was hitting homers and little Tony Phillips, who managed just 7 that year, was invisible to most fans. Think about that--a guy putting up a 130 OPS+ with just 7 homers, right at the start of the Steroids Era.

Phillips' continued to walk a lot, averaging more than 100 walks and a .400 OBP over the next 4 seasons (through 1997.) By then, though, he was 38 years old and close to retirement (from MLB as a player, at least.) He finished out with a couple of solid years bouncing from club to club in 1998 and 1999.

But what might have been if Phillips' had developed his batting approach earlier in his career?

From 1982 to 1990, Phillips had a 96 career OPS+. From 1991 to 1999, his OPS+ was 117. Keep in mind that these numbers correct for the league-wide offensive explosion that started in 1993, and that Phillips' good OPS+ then is particularly good given that he was not among those players swatting 30-40 HR per season.

I haven't even talked about his defense yet. Phillips had a positive dWAR most seasons of his career (save a few in the beginning and a few in the end) and finished with a career dWAR of 4.1. This is truly remarkable given that he played all over the field. And when I say all over the field, I mean all over the field. That's 777 games at second base, 566 games in left field, 428 games at third base, 294 games at shortstop, 169 games in right field, 97 games in center field, and 5 games at first base. He had another 97 games as DH. The guy played everywhere except pitcher and catcher, and he played them all well. He wasn't a utility guy, and he wasn't a guy who was a good hitter who the manager was trying to hide somewhere on the field just to get him in the game. He was an excellent defender who could play any position, and he was very good at the plate (at least in the second half of his career.)

Starting in 1991, Phillips' was intelligently made into a leadoff hitter just about exclusively. For a guy who walked so much and got such a high OBP, that was the right move.

So what's not to love about Phillips? The only knock on him is that he didn't adopt his game sooner in his career. But even with his late start, he still ended up with a way better major-league career than most other players.

Underrated? You betcha.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2011 at 7:29 am and is filed under Card of the Week. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

69 Responses to “Card of the Week: 1990 Score #84 Tony Phillips”

  1. I remember looking over his stats when he came to the Mets near the very end of his career and being impressed by how similar he was offensively to Rickey Henderson (minus the extreme SB totals). Perhaps he learned a thing or two from his teammate.

  2. Come on people, you demanded this post. I want 50 comments at least or I'm never listening to anything you say ever again.

  3. OK, I'll sweeten the pot.
    One person today will be lucky enough to post the blog's 50,605 comment.
    Can you imagine the regret you'll feel knowing that it would have been you, if only you had written something about Tony Phillips.
    Get over your fears. Take action NOW!

  4. Nice to see Card of the week back.

    Card:
    The 90 Score set may have been the best of the year maybe battling 90 fleer (90 topps was pathetic; UD was a little plain, donruss was really hideous with the red borders and script text, plus all of the "error" cards was ridiculous)

    Phillips:
    "pesky switch-hitter" sums it up

  5. Ha, remember that Juan Gonzalez reverse-negative error rookie card in the 90 Donruss?

  6. I'm a Yankees fan and always was frustrated by Tony Phillips, as I felt like he usually gave the Yanks a lot of problems every year. Sure enough, I just checked his career splits and he really did hurt the Yanks:

    167 Games (154 Games Started)...so roughly a full season
    693 PA
    550 AB
    149 Hits
    20 Doubles
    3 Triples
    11 HR
    56 RBI
    15 SB
    6 CS
    123 BB
    97 K's
    101 Runs
    .271 BA
    .406 OBP

    That .406 OBP is the second-highest mark he has against any team in which he played against more than 33 times. There are 14 teams he played against between 96--171 times and the only team he had a better OBP against other than the Yankees was the A's (.425 OBP in 96 games; the Yanks are the only other team he surpassed. 400 OBP against in his career).

    So my memories of Tony Phillips as a kid and through young adulthood come out to be valid :)

  7. Dave, I watched a fair number of Yankee games in my earlier days too (as well as a number of other teams) and I had the same recollection of Phillips. Glad to see that the numbers actually bear out the sort of thing that usually ends up being a sampling or memory bias.

  8. @8 Andy - yup, totally agree. I was very curious when I went to click on his career splits, whether a sampling or memory bias would come up, so I was glad to see that didn't happen here.

    Though as a Yankees fan, actually maybe I'm not so glad, if you know what I mean...

  9. Also, #4, I wouldn't say that Card of the Week is "back". The name has been a joke for a while now since I haven't posted more than a few of these in the last year or so. It just seemed like a good opportunity to do it, especially since the image archive that we have access to (the one we use sometimes to post pictures for HOF polls, for example) didn't have any photos of Tony Phillips. That's why I decided to do a card review, too, so we could use a card image.

  10. In the 1990 Score set, there was a Bo Jackson card with the Nike photo on it. I remember that card was selling for $15 to $20 at one point.

    The Draft Picks set is fun to look at, especially when you see who the 7 clowns were that were drafted ahead of Frank Thomas. Two guys in Jeff Jackson and Paul Coleman never even got a sniff of the major leagues.

  11. Yeah Jeff Jackson was one in a line of big-time draft busts by the Phillies. I think that line was ended when they picked up Mike Lieberthal.

  12. Year Rnd OvPck RdPck Pos WAR G
    1992 1 13 13 Chad McConnell (minors) OF
    1991 1 10 10 Tyler Green (minors) RHP -0.7 71
    1990 1 3 3 Mike Lieberthal (minors) C 15.3 1212
    1989 1 4 4 Jeff Jackson (minors) OF
    1988 1 11 11 Pat Combs (minors) LHP 1.0 56
    1986 1 7 7 Brad Brink (minors) RHP -0.4 14
    1985 1 16 16 Trey McCall (minors) C
    1984 1 21 21 Pete Smith (minors) RHP 4.4 234
    1983 1 22 22 Ricky Jordan (minors) 1B 3.6 677
    1982 1 13 13 John Russell (minors) C -3.1 448
    1981 1 20 20 Johnny Abrego (minors) RHP -0.5 6
    1980 1 13 13 Henry Powell (minors) C
    1978 1 23 23 Rip Rollins (minors) 1B
    1977 1 22 22 Scott Munninghoff (minors) RHP 0.1 4
    1976 1 17 17 Jeff Kraus (minors) SS
    1975 1 12 12 Sammye Welborn (minors) RHP
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
    Generated 8/11/2011.
  13. Check out those #1 draft picks by the Phillies...just awful. Before Lieberthal, the only guys to do much of anything in the majors were Jordan and Smith, and Smith didn't even do it with the Phillies.

  14. Here are their more recent #1s:

    Year Rnd OvPck RdPck Pos WAR G
    2004 1 21 21 Greg Golson (minors) OF -0.1 32
    2002 1 17 17 Cole Hamels (minors) LHP 22.0 179
    2001 1 4 4 Gavin Floyd (minors) RHP 10.2 136
    2000 1 15 15 Chase Utley (minors) 2B 42.0 1072
    1999 1 12 12 Brett Myers (minors) RHP 12.3 297
    1998 1 1 1 Pat Burrell (minors) 3B 18.7 1628
    1998 1s 42 42 *Eric Valent (minors) OF -0.1 205
    1997 1 2 2 J.D. Drew (minors) OF 46.6 1562
    1996 1 11 11 Adam Eaton (minors) RHP 3.5 237
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
    Generated 8/11/2011.

    (Some years are missing due to free-agent signings)

    That's a pretty nice streak there.

  15. I like the concept of the draft pick cards - getting to see who was drafted by teams, etc.

    Topps probably did the best job in those early draft pick years by showing only #1 picks. some of the sets showed some later rounds.

    What I REALLY HATED, however, was some of the pictures, like guys in their street clothes. Some of them wore tuxedoes...looked like prom pictures.

  16. Utility guys are my favorite players. Give me a team full of annoying little gnats to watch and I'd take that any day over a bunch of plodding 1B/DH types.

  17. @16.

    Your thinking of the 1992 Bowman set where most of the rookies were dressed in street clothes. Manny Ramirez wearing that ridiciulous green and white shirt.

  18. @18 JR - wow, I just looked that card up. It truly is hideous: http://shop.ebay.com/items/manny%20ramirez%20bowman%201992?_dmd=1&_sop=12

  19. Just reading your comments prompted me to reply. I too was a card collector in my teens in the early 90's and the draft picks were one of my faves simply because of the high school stats on the back. I grew up in Chicago and I remember all the hype about Jeff Jackson (Simeon h.s.) who turned into another bust. I still remember Mike Lieberthal's Topps draft pick highlight where he hit for the home run cycle in one game.

  20. Looking at the comment in the text on the card about Phillips' switch hitting, it seems like around 1989 things started to even out for him (he was much better against lefties than righties before then - at least by batting average). Maybe the learning process Andy discusses has something to do with him becoming a better hitter from the left side? For his career he ended up at .260 lefthanded and .279 righthanded.

  21. @19
    I used your link, Dave V, thanks. You'd hardly recognize Manny in that picture. When did the hair come in?

    Andy, the card is indeed beautiful, even in the image reproduced here.

    As with many of todays older members of the baseball community, I never thought to hang on to baseball cards as a kid which is the only time I was in possession of any. As a result I don't have a frame of reference to appreciate the fine technical detail of the Phillips' card.

    As kids in the early to mid '60's, we used to go and spend part of our allowance on baseball cards every week. A pack of five cards and a thin, reactangular piece of chewing gum was included for a nickel. I think there may have been a double-sized 10-cent pack as well but we usually bought the smaller one.

    The players, from both leagues, were packaged randomly along with the odd checklist card, all-star card, and team photo, as I recall. The chewing gum had a thin coating of icing sugar and was very brittle(cheap). Memory may be hazy, but the gum had no separate wrapper in those days and was just lying on top of the top card when you ripped open the package.

    The resut was that the new cards, for the first day or two, had the distinct smell of the cheap flavouring used in the gum.

    Your baseball cards were put into a stack that went in to your back pocket to be taken to school to be sat on, shuffled, taken out and looked at or shown to others. They would very quickly get dog-eared and would rapidly accumulate a layer of grime on the surface. The shine would disappear.Talk about mistreatment, but who knew? We were just kids.

    There was little sense of value or distinction between different player cards. When flicking them against a wall like a frisbee to try and win cards from another kid, I don't remember there was little sense of value or distinction between different player cards. A 1964 Frank Robinson was just as likely to be used as 1964 Jerry Lumpe!

    I can't even tell you who the maker of the cards was, some one more knowledge than me would have to provide that information, my purchases would have been in the 1962-67 range. I want to say Topps or Fleer, but maybe that was just the gum. But if I close my eyes, I can still smell the pungent, sweetish, distinctive odor of the brittle wafer of chewing gum.

    I can't ever recall having thought even once of hanging on to baseball cards as collector's items or of putting some away in protective casings.

    I'm sure my youth baseball card experiences are very common among people of my age, but I would appreciate anyone who could correct/confirm me on some the packaging details. Memory does grow hazy around the edges.

    (Hey, if I'd split this into three posts, Andy, we would have got you closer to 50. :-) )

  22. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    As a Cookie Rojas fan {big surprise...NOT!}, I of course compared Phillips to him, Tony Taylor, et. al. Phillips was no Honus Wagner, but he was inarguably a valuable asset wherever he played.

  23. Here's no. 24...

  24. ...no. 25...

  25. ...and no. 26.

  26. @22 - it was Topps that produced the cards. Fleer had one year (1963) in which they produced cards of active major leaguers. Fleer included a "cookie", though I believe it had such a low amount of sugar (to get around Topps' exclusive arrangement to sell cards with confectionary products) that it was rumored to taste like a dog biscuit.

    The gum was not individually wrapped, and eventually Topps stopped putting gum in the packs altogether (at some point I guess they finally admitted to themselves that people weren't buying the packs for the gum, but the cards) at some point in time in the 90s (maybe 1992?), though with certain "retro" themed releases they have included a piece of gum (individually wrapped).

    And the packs were 5 or 10 cents apiece during that time.

    http://belkcollegeofbusiness.uncc.edu/azillant/zillante_post_war_review_baseball_cards.pdf

    You may have been as likely to flip a Frank Robinson as a Jerry Lumpe (Frank Robinson is clutch, right :) , but would you have traded a Robinson straight up for a Lumpe? Probably not.

  27. @27
    Artie Z., thank you for the link and for the reassurances about memory. It is hard to believe you could get a Mickey Mantle back then, if you were lucky, for one cent!!

  28. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    I just had to check out Rip Rodney Rollins, the Phillies' first-round draft pick in 1978. He's the only player ever drafted with the first name "Rip." The draft database shows that he was drafted as a first baseman, yet he was immediately converted to pitcher, an experiment that lasted two unimpressive years. He then tried for two years to move up as a position player, missed a season, and spent his last two pro years (1983-84 at AA Reading) back on the mound.

    Rip Rollins is 19 years older than Jimmy Rollins. Rip was born in Texas, Jimmy in Oakland. Anyone happen to know whether they're related?

  29. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Righthander Orel Hershiser struck out Tony Phillips for the final out of the 1988 World Series. I think Tony LaRussa knew the cause was lost.

  30. Once in a while I will find an old pack of 1989 topps or something in one of the boxes in my attic. I would still eat that 20+ year old gum. it is dry as a bone but still has the same flavor. Talk about the sense of taste bringing back memories, it shoots me right back to the 1980's. Or maybe that is the diabetic coma.

    @22, You collected cards the way they were supposed to be collected. Kids should play with them and have fun. Anyone from the 60's/70's that have real high grade cards from their youth, probably had a lot of doubles and triples stored away...OR truly bought them for the gum and threw the cards in a box!

  31. As a Michigander, I wanted to point out that it was with the Tigers that Tony Phillips really transformed his career. Sparky played him all over the place, and he was a terrific player on some mediocre Tigers teams. Developed a nice stroke to take advantage of the right field upper deck at Tiger Stadium.

  32. Brent, that's a good point. I do recall that after he joined the Tigers, there were a lot of questions like--why didn't the A's get this production out of him? It really appears that in terms of batting, Phillips changed his game at the same time he changed teams. Maybe it's coincidence, or maybe it was Sparky or someone else with the Tigers who helped him do that.

  33. I once created one of those 'simulation baseball' teams with six Tony Phillipses (Phillipsi?) and two Yogi Berras.

  34. John Autin Says:

    I'll ante up:

    I've always wondered why Oakland let Phillips go as a (not very expensive) free agent after '89. I guess it was just cost-cutting. Even before his transformation with Detroit, it was already obvious that Phillips was a far more valuable utility man than Mike Gallego, whom the A's kept for a few more years.

  35. John Autin Says:

    I also think we may be somewhat overstating the extent to which Phillips truly transformed himself as an offensive player.

    Looking back to his minor-league career, he drew 98 walks at age 21 in AA, and 73 walks in 86 games at AAA (.432 OBP).

  36. JA, I can't really consider 1.5 minor-league seasons under who-knows-what park conditions and competitive strength against 7-ish seasons of sub-100 OPS+.

  37. John Autin Says:

    And I can't miss the opportunity to was nostalgic about the offensive style of the Phillips-era Tigers:

    -- In 1991, they were last in AL batting, but 1st in walks and HRs, and hit into the fewest DPs (40 less than the average team) ... so 2nd in runs.

    -- In '92, 11th in BA, 2nd in walks, 1st in HRs ... 1st in runs.

    -- In '93, their BA soared to 3rd, they were 1st by an enormous margin in walks (110 more than the #2 team), close 2nd in HRs, fewest GIDP ... 1st in runs.

  38. Great to see another "card of the indefinite period". Great also to see Tony Phillips get this well-deserved praise. I never collected Score products, but that is a nice-looking card. I have always preferred horizontal backs, though, to accommodate more stats.

    Neil L...I appreciate your recollections. I started in '68. It was all about the set, although I never completed one back then. Any card I didn't have was worth more to me than any double. After '76, I outgrew cards -- or so I thought then -- and sold what I had left, those without teeth marks (mine or the dog's) or staples. I'm pretty sure the price tag for the whole loot was $13.00. Years later, I missed the fun and started over.

  39. This is off-topic, but Andy wants at least 50 posts, so...

    Curtis Granderson just homered again.
    He has a shot at leading the league in both Triples and Homers.
    Only guys to ever do that - Mantle, Mays, and Jim Rice.

    He also has a shot to lead in RBI and RUNS.
    Nobody has ever done all four.

    And hey, has anyone noticed that Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles is a legitimate Triple Crown candidate?

  40. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    And I can't miss the opportunity to wax nostalgic about the offensive style of the Phillips-era Tigers

    Neither can I. The 1989 Tigers had been a 100-loss team with bad, old pitching and very little offensive punch, and I think Sparky Anderson was given the chance at that point to try some new things. The early-'90s Tigers were a Three True Outcomes team before anyone knew what that term meant. The pitching still wasn't very good, but the offense became very skilled at drawing walks, getting on base, hitting home runs, and amassing high strikeout totals. Tony Phillips fit in perfectly with Sparky's master plan, since he could get on base and provide fine defense at almost any position on the field.

    I've edited the Tigers' late-1989 to early-1992 transactions log to show how the team cleared out dead wood and acquired (among others) the players forming the heart of the lineup in those years — Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, Rob Deer, Tony Phillips, and Pete Incaviglia. Amazingly, these five players cost Detroit only one player, pitcher Jeff Robinson, who won four games for the team he was traded to and was out of baseball after 1992.

    *

    October and November 1989: Granted free agency to Keith Atherton, Randy Bockus, Jeff Datz, Brad Havens, Al Pedrique, Ramon Pena, Jim Walewander, Charles Hudson, Fred Lynn, Gary Pettis, and Frank Tanana. Released Frank Williams. (Tanana re-signed on Nov. 20, 1989.)

    December 1989: Released Willie Hernandez and Rick Schu. Signed Tony Phillips and Lloyd Moseby as free agents.

    January 1990: Traded Mike Brumley to the Baltimore Orioles for Larry Sheets. Signed Cecil Fielder, Ed Romero and Dan Petry as free agents. (Romero was released on 7/15/90.)

    April 8, 1990: Signed Mark Salas as a free agent.

    June 1990: Traded Matt Nokes to the New York Yankees for Lance McCullers. Signed Steve Lombardozzi and John Shelby as free agents. Traded Tracy Jones to the Seattle Mariners for Darnell Coles. (Lombardozzi and Coles were granted free agency after the season.)

    July 28, 1990: Signed Walt Terrell as a free agent.

    November and December 1990: Granted free agency to Ed Nunez, Dan Petry, Larry Sheets, John Shelby, Gary Ward, Mike Heath, Jack Morris, and Lance McCullers. (Shelby re-signed on 11/26/90, Petry on 12/19/90. Petry was traded to Atlanta on 6/25/91. Shelby was released on 8/13/91.) Signed Rob Deer and Bill Gullickson as free agents.

    January 1991: Traded Jeff Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Mickey Tettleton. Signed John Cerutti and Skeeter Barnes as free agents.

    March 1991: Traded Torey Lovullo to the New York Yankees for Mark Leiter. Traded Jim Baxter (minors) to the Kansas City Royals for Andy Allanson.

    April 7, 1991: Signed Pete Incaviglia as a free agent.

    November and December 1991: Granted free agency to Mark Salas, John Cerutti, Pete Incaviglia, Jerry Gleaton, Lloyd Moseby, Dave Bergman, Andy Allanson and Johnny Paredes. (Bergman re-signed on 12/10/91.) Signed William Brennan and Dan Gladden as free agents.

    January 1992: Signed Chad Kreuter and Eric King as free agents. Traded Randy Marshall (minors) and Paul Gibson to the New York Mets for Mark Carreon and Tony Castillo.

    *

    Adding to what John said in #38, the 1993 Tigers were one of only three PI Era teams to have seven different players with 400+ plate appearances and an OPS+ of 120 or higher: Cecil Fielder, Travis Fryman, Chad Kreuter, Tony Phillips, Mickey Tettleton, Alan Trammell, and Lou Whitaker. Sparky's Detroit teams improved by 20 games from 1989 to 1990, then hovered around .500 until his final season, 1995, when they dropped to 60-84 as team OBP nosedived from 3rd to 14th and team ERA lingered well over 5.00.

    Don't laugh at me for including Skeeter Barnes on the transactions list! Skeeter was Tony Phillips Jr. for Sparky on the 1991-93 Tigers, playing every position but pitcher and catcher. In his best offensive season, 1991, Barnes put up a 121 OPS+ in 75 games at (get this) LF-3B-RF-2B-CF-1B-DH. Phillips in 1991 put up a 122 OPS+ in 146 games at 3B-2B-LF-RF-SS-CF-DH.

  41. Great post at 41 except for fixing JA's typo.

  42. John Autin Says:

    @40, Voomo -- Two paths for Kemp to win the batting title:

    (1) If Reyes doesn't get at least 40 more PAs, he won't qualify and the title would be up for grabs. There are currently 6 guys between .321 and .318. Ah, but if Reyes just a few PAs short of qualifying and has a fairly big lead in BA, he could still win it by the back door.

    (2) Let's say Reyes does qualify and maintains his current .336 BA. In order for Kemp to get his BA past .336, assuming his current rate of ABs per game, he would need to hit over .380 the rest of the year. Which is certainly not unthinkable; but September has been his worst month, historically, with a career .264 BA.

  43. John Autin Says:

    Fir knot, Andee -- Ime bownd two maik eh fyoo mower tiepoes....

  44. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Great post at 41 except for fixing JA's typo.

    Uh-oh. Admin reindeer games. I think I'll go run a few PI searches till this blows over.

    (-;þ

  45. @43,
    That would be a shame if Reyes doesn't get 40 more PA's.
    Hate to see monster seasons get cut short by the ol' hammy.

  46. John Autin Says:

    Kahuna, Andy's just having fun, as am I.

  47. Luis Gomez Says:

    Here's how my younger brother, a neighbor and I collected baseball cards during the middle 80's, in a border city in northern Mexico. First, we had to sweep some front yards to make some money, after we earn enough pesos we had to take a 20 min bus ride to the border, buy some dollars at the exchange shop, walk a few blocks to the international crrossing (imagine a 10-13 year old with a passport in their back pocket!), and then walk a few more blocks to the only part in town they sold baseball cards. I don't remember how much we paid for each pack (25 cents maybe?), but it was worth every penny, from uncovery a rookie Danny Tartabull to a Turn Back the Clock Bob Gibson. After our little round trip, in which, by the way we already opened the packs, ate the gum, and trade our doubles and even sometimes our singles (I still remember getting my first Ruben sierra in exchange for a Darryl Strawberry), we got home and draw a baseball field in the spot where our dad parked his car, using a chalk. Then we would put our team (using the cards, of course) in the field and use a pencil as a bat and a bunch of marbles as baseballs. We traded players, and sometimes retire them when the picture in the baseball card was no longer viewable. Sometimes we even draw (yes, draw) a player or change his name with a pen or the name on the team.
    I still have some of those cards, with no borders and no shine, and still ocassionally bought a new complete set, and I'm not one of those people that always says their times were better, but I can honestly say that I really enjoy those times and I really apreciate the innocence of that age when we bought them because we loved baseball and our heroes were hidden inside a pack.

  48. Amazing story, Luis. Thank you for sharing it.

    I had no idea that Mexican boys had interest in MLB.

  49. post #50

  50. I think some of these old stories prove how "Card of the Week" is a valuable part of this site. Thanks again.

    As of this point, this post is #50.

  51. Luis Gomez Says:

    Andy:

    We do. At least in my family. My dad used to tell us stories about how great were Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle and Hector Espino. While growing up, baseball was all for us, playing it with cards, playing in Little League, listening on the radio. During the 80's, each of Fernando's games were televised on national tv, so every fifth day or wathever we were glued to the tv.

    By the way, next week on LLWS in Williamsport, Mexico's team will be represented by a team from my hometown (Mexicali) for the third time in LLWS history.
    Now representing Mexico for the second time, and once (1985) representing western USA.

  52. Agreed; nice story Luis :)

    This may have been mentioned in a prior post at some point but in any case, those who are fans of baseball cards may enjoy the book Cardboard Gods. I recenly read it and it weaves baseball cards from the late 70s--early 80s into the overall life history of a mixed-up kid growing up during that time period. It's a quality read.

  53. Here's a cool fact about Tony Phillips...only 106 players in MLB history have gotten on base (without an error) more than he did. He stands at 3,384 times on base...just below Vada Pinson and right above Joe Cronin. Not too shabby.

  54. Luis, certainly I can understand interest in Mexican players, as many fans seem most interested in players from their own country. But you mentioned excitement about Ruben Sierra, for example, who is Puerto Rican.

    Incidentally, I think a lot of Americans tend to lump the Latino players together. So here's a partial list of some Mexican-born players who had success in MLB:

    Bobby Avila, Vinny Castilla, Erubiel Durazo, Aurelio Rodriguez, Jorge Orta, and Ruben Amaro (Senior....Junior is of course of Mexican heritage but was born in Philadelphia).

    Pitchers: Fernando Valenzuela, Esteban Loaiza, Ismael Valdez, Teddy Higuera, Rodrigo Lopez, Elmer Dessens, Oliver Perez, and Armando Reynoso. Plus Joakim Soria.

  55. I loved Cardboard Gods, but I suspect Dave actually meant Mint Condition, another great book that I previously reviewed here:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/8249

  56. Sorry, Dave clearly meant Cardboard Gods! But Mint Condition is great for the history of Topps, Bowman, Fleer, etc, from those early days.

  57. Andy, ~with reverence~ any blog that lets us post about our youth, whether it be Luis Gomez or anybody else is a guaranteed winner.

  58. Luis Gomez Says:

    Andy:
    We did followed mexican players, but we were also fans of all baseball players. Whether it was a household name like Tony Gwynn, Don Mattingly and Rickey Hendeson, or not so famous like Kelly Gruber, Shane Mack or Carmelo Martinez, we always tried to emulate them.
    Also, since we were kids, we had the pleasure of having a Winter League (it's actual name is Mexican Pacific League) team in town, where a lot of great players have worn the Mexicali uniform, for instance, Mike Piazza, Albert Belle, Fernando Valenzuela, John Kruk, among others.

  59. The Mets have never had a player win a batting title.I'd like to get that out of the way this year.A no hitter would be nice,but I'm not expecting one anytime soon.

  60. Saw that Phillips played for the Expos in the minors and wondered if he ever played on the same team as Tim Raines, but he did not. The Expos traded him (and cash) to the Padres for Willie Montanez, who was completely done as a player when the Expos got him. They turned Montanez into John Milner, who was also done as a player when the Expos got him. Think the Expos would like to go back and undo the Phillips for Montanez deal (if only to save the cash)?

    Phillips played full seasons in 1983 and 1984, at SS and 2B. The Expos were using Doug Flynn, Chris Speier, Derrel Thomas, and Angel Salazar as their primary MI during this time. Phillips wasn't great, but he was putting OPS+ numbers in the high 80s and 90s as a young player and would have certainly helped those teams (Salazar had an OPS+ of 9 in 1984).

    One final note on Phillips: He was drafted out of the New Mexico Military Institute, in Roswell. I'm not sure what that means, but find it interesting.

  61. @57 Andy - yup, Cardboard Gods is the one I was referring to :) Mint Condition sounds pretty interesting and I may have to get that one (via the link you posted too).

    @61 Artie Z - wow, that mention of Angel Salazar's OPS+ of 9 in 1984 caught my eye. I just did a search and only 9 players in MLB history have had an OPS+ lower than 10 with as many as 180 PA's, Salazar included (of those 9, the infamous Bill Bergen is the only one to do it more than once, as he did it 3 times!).

    Also, two players have had an OPS+ even lower than 9 in recent years. Tony Pena the Royals SS had a whopping 7 OPS+ in 2008 (235 PA's). And Brandon Wood had an amazing 5 OPS+ last year (243 PA's).

  62. I lived in Michigan in 1991 when I was 9 - Tony Phillips' summer apartment was in our complex. He was a super cool dude, we have photos of him wrestling with me and my younger brother! One of my all-time favorite players.

  63. So I did a PI search for the highest WAR among guys (1933-2011) who never made an All-Star team. Expected Tim Salmon to top the list, or maybe Kirk Gibson. Guess who was #1?

    Yup. It was Tony Phillips. Guy truly was an underrated star at his peak.

  64. Andy -- To flesh out my point @36, consider Phillips's walk rates in terms of his spot in the batting order -- specifically, the difference between hitting 1st and hitting 9th:

    -- In the minors, where I presume he hit leadoff (based on his speed, switch-hitting and general batting line), his BB rate was an excellent 98 BB per 650 PAs in almost 2,000 PAs at AA-AAA.

    -- When he got to Oakland, that job was taken, and Phillips batted 9th for most of his first 3 seasons, with a walk rate near the league average (63 BB per 650 PAs).

    -- Rickey left in ’85, but Phillips was hurt most of that year. He did take over the leadoff spot in ’86 and had an rate of 93 BBs per 650 PAs, which helped him post a .367 OBP (AL avg. .333) and score 76 runs in 115 games there (a rate of 107 runs per 162 games, on a team that ranked 9th in AL scoring, with no player over 85 runs). Phillips was miles better than the other A’s who were tried at leadoff that year, including (god help us) 33 games of Alfredo Griffin.

    -- But in ’87, LaRussa (in his infinite wisdom) installed rookie Luis Polonia (.333 OBP) atop the order, with Phillips bouncing around. From 1987-89, Phillips got just 64 starts leading off, despite an excellent OBP when he did so.

    -- Phillips signed with Detroit in 1990, and pretty soon Sparky had an epiphany, put Phillips back where he belonged, and he averaged 104 walks over the next 5 years.

    I can't yet explain why the same hitter would have a much higher BB rate hitting 1st than hitting 9th, but it doesn't surprise me. Consider the walk rates hitting 9th and 1st for these guys chosen at random (per 650 PAs):
    -- Omar Vizquel, 49 / 61.
    -- Chone Figgins, 39 / 71.
    -- Coco Crisp, 38 / 50.

  65. chrismess13 Says:
  66. chrismess13 Says:

    He was involved in a bench clearing brawl. The police even came onto the field to restore order. Link in post #66 takes you to the story.

  67. [...] shot at leading the AL this year in both homers and triples. This was raised in the comments on a recent post. Thanks to reader Voomo Zanzibar who mentioned that Mickey Mantle (1955) , Willie Mays (also 1955), [...]

  68. Rocky Calhoun Says:

    Just another example of how Tony LaRussa knows how to waste/squander quality baseball players. Great post, I'm looking through the blog history and you have to take a look at the 1976 Topps Traded Oscar Gamble.