I’ve always thought of baseball cards as simply a piece of cardboard with a photo, stats, and a brief player bio until now. While I was flipping through my 1990’s A’s binder this 1991 Upper Deck Mike Gallego card caught my eye. Of course I noticed the clean border design, and the crisp action photo on the front. The photo features Gallego in the midst of getting his knees taken out trying to turn a double play. Fortunately, Gallego avoids the Angels runner and is captured mid-air after releasing the ball. When I turned the card over I found something interesting. There were stats, and another crisp photo that is easily one of the best baseball photos I’ve ever seen. The photo featured Gallego as a runner (in a nice looking California Gold colored uniform) successfully taking out the Brewer’s infielder’s knees causing him to land on his head. What is the big deal you ask? The photo on the back is the exact opposite of the photo on the front! Without words this card tells a fantastic story through photos. Who needs a player bio with this kind of storytelling?
Despite being produced in the junk wax era it is apparent that a lot of thought went into the production of this card. In today’s world of relics, autographs, numbered cards, and exclusivities (MLB – Topps, NHL – Upper Deck, Panini – NFL in 2016) cards feel cheap in comparison.
In between meetings at work last week I checked my phone to see I had 21 new texts (my wife even emailed me), all of which alerted me to the Cespedes/Lester trade and wanted my reaction. As a Bay-area transplant in NYC, my allegiance to the A’s is well-known. I had a million thoughts at once, including the content of the meeting that just finished – how to teach kids to be better active listeners (for those who don’t know, I am a school teacher by day). I was shocked and confused – the A’s are on a great run and Cespedes has been instrumental in their success. Why would they trade him?
In the time before my next meeting, I began to understand what the A’s were trying to do. They obviously wanted to strengthen their pitching if they were going to get through the Tigers and possibly win the World Series. I knew they weren’t going to send any more prospects away or else their farm system would become depleted. So, the only thing left to give up would be a big bat: Cespedes. I understand what Billy Beane was thinking, but I don’t have to like it. Cespedes was a fan favorite and was an integral part of the A’s playoff runs in the past two years. He is also a bonafide star that put the A’s on the map again by winning the Home Run Derby in consecutive years and helped improve (pathetic) home attendance since he joined the team. According to an article on Athletics Nation Cespedes has a 2.3 WAR on the year, and Sam Fuld (who the A’s reacquired from the Twins) also has a 2.3 WAR on the year. Huh? This didn’t make sense – how can Cespedes have similar numbers to that guy nobody knows? Then I realize that being a star and a recognizable name skewed Cespedes’ average numbers. However, despite this statistic it still doesn’t measure heart, or the chemistry Cespedes had with the A’s. A team chemistry that shouldn’t have been messed with. Sure, the A’s got Jonny Gomes back (also a fan favorite), and has been a proven leader in the locker room, but can he fill the Cespedes void? Only time will tell. I realize that it’s rare for a player to remain on one team for their career (especially if they’re playing for A’s), but I’m still left with an empty feeling. Maybe a World Series run will help?
The card I chose to feature today is a 2013 Topps Museum Collection Primary Pieces Quad Relic. It features two legends and two future legends, and it’s hands down my favorite Cespedes card.
The A’s signed Dan Straily in 2009, and he instantly became one of my favorite players in their organization. I remember reading he was from a small town in Oregon, and never had any training on proper pitching mechanics until after his first year in college, which I always found impressive. Straily was a promising young prospect, and came through the A’s farm system rather quickly. Before his call up on August 2, 2012 he was leading both the minor and major leagues in strikeouts (175). Straily made his MLB debut on August 3, 2012 against the Toronto Blue Jays and didn’t disappoint. He earned a no decision giving up an earned run on five hits, and striking out five. It’s no wonder that when I got back into card collecting in 2012 these were the first two autographed cards I acquired. A 2012 Panini Signature Series auto relic, and a 2012 Panini National Treasures auto.
Straily pitched well for the A’s for the rest of the 2012 regular season and into the playoffs. He was huge asset to the club in 2013, compiling a 10-8 record with a 3.96 ERA , 124 strikeouts. However in 2014, Straily struggled from the start of the season. Eventually he was optioned to AAA where he was dealt to the Cubs in the Samardzija/Hammel deal. The trade was bittersweet for me. The A’s were gaining a couple of great pitchers (okay, maybe one great pitcher), and they were giving up one of my favorite players in the organization. On the bright side, I’m excited for Straily to get a fresh start with a different organization. In the next couple of years I believe the Cubs will be contenders, and I hope Straily is able to part of that. So far, it’s not looking so good. He’s currently sporting an 0-3 record with a 5.85 era, but he does have 15 strikeouts in his last two games. No matter what happens he will always be one of my favorite players to play in the organization. I wish him the very best with the Cubs.
I was recently given this 1959 Topps John “Zeke” Bella card by a friend. Zeke who? I had no clue who he was either. I found out that he played roughly two years in the majors from 1957 to 1959. He was originally a Yankee (signed in 1951), but the Korean War took him away from baseball for four years. Upon his return he signed with the Yankees again and was called up in 1957. In his two years with the team he didn’t see much playing time (11 plate appearances) with Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, and Hank Bauer starting in front of him. Bella didn’t play in 1958, but in1959 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics where he had 92 plate appearances. According this baseball card Bella was a speedster on the bases. It’s too bad he didn’t get more opportunities to play. He wound up with one home run and nine rbi’s in his short lived career. In his obituary it was said that his greatest joy was playing for the Yankees. While I’m not a Yankee fan it was nice hearing how happy he was while playing this game, and I’m proud he was able to wear an Athletics uniform.