The Archives 2009

October 11, 2009

The Prospect Who Is Not A Prospect

Received another team set shipment from Neil Hoppenworth on Monday, yay!

While Hoppenworth usually sends just the base sets, or maybe the easiest parallels, every now and then he'll send along a jersey or an autograph. He charges me Beckett High less my ten percent discount, so it's definitely not the best way to collect these cards, but it's always a nice surprise when I find something extra in one of Hoppenworth's boxes. It might be the one time my collecting experience can approximate the thrill of the boxbreaker's pull, so I always drop these cards into my collection gladlly, without worrying too much that I overpaid.

So understand I'm not really bitching about Hoppenworth when I bring up the 2009 Bowman Prospects Auto # BPA-NG that was included in my shipment Monday. And again, I'm always happy to slide an autographed card into my collection. I've got at least 323 of the things, why get picky now?

But isn't it stretching things just a little bit to include Gorneault in a set that you would expect--given the name and all--to include only prospects? Looks like Gorneault has actually had something of a distinguished minor league career, looks like he's shown some power, and some onbase skill, but I mean, the back of the very same card we're talking about says that Gorneault came to the Astros organization as a minor league free agent.

Now, don't get me wrong. Astroland in some ways is a site that celebrates exactly the same kind of player as Nick Gorneault. In the larger scheme of things, there are damn few people who play baseball as well as Nick Gorneault does.

But come on. If Gorneault's former team voluntarily allowed him to walk, then he can't very well be a prospect, can he?

And so--to get this diatribe moving on a tack often taken by collectors elsewhere on the internet--if Gorneault's not a prospect, then why is his card valued by Beckett as if he were?

Taking a look at the 11-card set, I see another player included by the name of Brad Hand. He's a pitcher in the Marlins system, most recently for the Greensboro Grasshoppers. I've certainly never heard of him before, and his numbers look OK, if not earth-shattering. But there is one thing that this Hand character has that Nick Gorneault does not, and that's time to improve. Hand is 19 years old, so if Bowman wants to include him in a Prospects set, the worst thing I could possibly say, even if I hated the guy, is that while he might not be a prospect right now, he still could become one later on.

That's sort of the opposite of the thing we could say about Gorneault, who WAS a prospect, let's say about 2004, but isn't one anymore.

Yet, even though we've pretty much established that Brad Hand and Nick Gorneault are complete opposites in terms of prospecthood, somehow Beckett has their cards listed at the same book value of $12.00.

Meanwhile, The last Gorneault auto to sell on ebay went for 99 cents.

At any rate, just so I'm clear: Although I have some little issue with its very existence, now that it's here, I don't have a problem with putting this card into my books. I don't even have a problem with Neil Hoppenworth charging me Beckett High less 10 for it. But I *do* have a problem with Beckett's having determined their high value for this card as being $12.00. It's more like 4.00.

And of course, I have no problem with Gorneault himself. Though I question his presence in any prospect set, I'm all over any card which shows him in his natural habitat.

The other thing that stuck out about the shipment Monday, was the Goodwin Champions sets, not only the base 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 cards, but also the mini parallels. Truth be known, I am a sucker for this tobacco card revival, mostly because of the 1-15/32 x 2-11/16 minis. I'm actively going after the Allen & Ginter minis in their different parallel stylings and even bought a box of the 15-card sheets to store them more properly.

And now I've got the Champions minis to collect, too! Pretty excited about that, as you can see. Check out the Pence, I can also recommend the Oswalt for those inclined to chase it down.

October 11, 2009

Mills A Former Farmhand, Too

Not sure I'd realized this, or, in fact, if anyone had.

New manager Brad "Sarge" Mills had actually played 160 games in the Astros organization. He was acquired from the Expos on July 4, 1984 for Scott Loucks, and assigned to Tucson, where he played some second and some third and some outfield. He hit .220 in what remained of '84, and .237 in 1985. They even gave him a baseball card.

Mills' second year with the Toros was his second-to-last as a player. In 1986, he hit .302 in only 18 games with the AAA Cubs. He was managing in the Appy League the following year.

September 22, 2009

Chicken Kicked From the Coop

Adios, Coop.

The timing of the move makes, of course, no sense. There is nothing that Dave Clark could possibly do to change the fate of the 2009 Astros. And even if you, like me, have long since decided that Cooper was not well -suited to managing a big league ballclub, I think you'd still have to agree that the respectful way of handling this would have been after the season, in three short weeks.

The sunny side of this for Cooper, I guess, is that he gets to leave the Astros a winning manager. With his 171 - 170 record, and the Astros' terminal doldrums of late, there's little doubt in these quarters that if left to manage out the string, Cooper would have ended the season, and his tenure as Astros skipper, under .500.

He could have become the first manager since Art Howe to leave with a losing record. So I guess Cecil's departure was ignominous, but it could have been worse.

Nothing wrong with the admission that you made a hiring mistake. That's what I think this was, just as the axing of Terry Collins long ago, and perhaps, Jimy Williams more recently, had been. And in my mind this also further highlights my belief that Garner should never have been let go.

But whatever. Unless you're Dierker or Virdon, you don't last more than three years as an Astros manager. That's the way things are under McLane, and the way they were under McMullen, shit. Somebody somewhere is crying 'instability!' and let them, but the lesson you take from Garner's tenure is that a hire can make a difference.

The only thing is, Big Ed Wade didn't go down with Coop. And if the upstairs know-how that this year decreed Russ Ortiz or Mike Hampton were somehow viable options as a third starter doesn't get a whole lot smarter over the winter, whoever ends up piloting the ship in 2010 might not look that different from the way Cooper looks right now.

September 6, 2009

A Drive off the Bridge With Lidge

Well, thank goodness for Lidge!

The sad fact that the Astros have entered September without even a chance at the playoffs for the second time in three years mitigates the joy somewhat, but it sure was nice of Mr. Lidge to give the game back to the Astros Saturday night, don't you think?

I've never been anything but glad that he's gone. It's nothing personal, mind you--I wish him and his family all the good fortune in the world, and I'm sure he's a great guy and all.

But goddamn, I'm glad he doesn't pitch for Houston. Been glad, ever since he left. Even last year, when he was perfect in save opportunities, I was convinced that the deal with Philly was still the right one to have made. The way I put it then was by appleaing to the old "change of scenery" argument, that there was no way Lidge would have been 32 of 32 in save opps in '08 while pitching for the Astros.

Now. however, it's clear that the other foot has dropped. Lord knows, the Astros fans know how inconsistent Lidge has been. This year, Phillies fans are having to endure.

Better them than us is what I say.

Valverde at the top of his game is not as good as Lidge is at the top of his, but Papa Grande is so much more consistent. Slow and steady wins the race, damn right. Valverde can scatter his ten hits over ten appearances, but still close out all of them. Meanwhile, Lidge strikes out the side in order five times out of ten, but blows two or three.

As Matsui's line shot cleared the infield last night, Lidge reacked up his tenth blown save of the year. I decided to take a look, and it turns out only five managers this decade have trusted their closer so well and so misguidedly that the closer was able to get into double digits in blown saves.

Double Digit Blown Saves 2001 -
Year "Closer" Blown Saves
2006 Ambiorix Burgos 12
2006 Francisco Cordero 11
2006 Huston Street 11
2009 Brad Lidge* 10
2006 Jason Isringhausen 10
2003 Danys Baez 10
2003 Francisco Cordero 10

Of course, Charlie Manuel still has no plans to change anything, and the season has almost a full month to go, so Lidge just might end up taking them all down.

13 Blown Saves? I think its definitely possible. In fact, Eric Bruntlett may have to turn another one of those unassisted triple plays to keep it from happening.

August 14, 2009

Astros Lay an Egg

Well, looks like Torre and LaGenius won't have to worry about the competition from Coop in that Manager of the Year race, after all . . . .

In the make-or-break couple weeks since I last wrote, the Astros are 7- 14, and find themselves in fourth place, a game and a half behind the Brewers.

And trust me, the Brewers themselves have no shot.

In one of their more important stretches of the season, with road games against each of the legitimate Central Division contenders, the Astros laid a big, fat, egg.

Some of it was bad luck, no doubt. If Wandy doesn't leave his August 1 start vs. St. Louis, who knows? Maybe we take it to extras, and get to that vulnerable St. Louie pen. And thus win the series.

To enter this important stretch withoout your best hitter, and without your historically best starter was a batch of bad luck in itself, but you also need to recognize the breaks we got. Blum has been a monster to right field over the past several weeks, and in his starts at least has provided the Astros with power from the hot corner the way most teams draw it up in ST. Bud Norris is like that jumpstart you got from the crazy redneck when you were broke down in the middle of the bayous that time: help when you needed it most, from an unexpected source.

As we saw in his start vs. the Marlins, Bud probably isn't as good as his first two starts might have led the more gullible among us to believe.

But 3 - 0 is 3 - 0, and without Norris' work, the Astros over the last three weeks wouldn't have been just underwhelming: they would have been pathetic.

I went to all four of the games in the Marlins series, and except for that asshole on Thursday heckling Hunter Pence during the bottom of every inning, everything was great; I love seeing the team in person, even when, like, I don't actually expect them to win. Things like Pence's two bombs on Wednesday are literally a joy for me, no snark or sarcasm at all.

But there were some disappointing performances, and (getting back to the star of our show) some strange decisions from Coop. Oswalt's start Tuesday was going great until the fifth, when all of a sudden, Roy couldn't throw a strike to save his life. I don't know if Coop stayed with Roy too long, but he sure as hell didn't pull him too early. And then Fulchino comes in, and has more trouble getting it over the plate than Roy did. Byrdak pitched well, I suppose, but Valverde and Wright both had only the vaguest conception of where the zone was. The Astros walked eight that night, and were behind in the count a whole lot more than that. If Roy or anyone else besides Tim Byrdak throws strikes consistently, the Astros win that one.

Thursday was much worse, and it wasn't just that lame heckler with his pathetic redneck jokes either. Hampton was iffy the rest of the way after he got two quick outs in the top of the first, but at least he was somewhat respectable. But man, was he let down by the bullpen, and by bullpen, of course I mean Chris Sampson. I actually felt sorry for Sampson: he had nothing, the Marlins knew it, yet Coop wouldn't remove him. It felt to me as if Coop had an axe to grind with Chris. It also felt like the end of a career. Sampson was sparkling early on, but hasn't had much since his return from the DL. The Astros optioned Sampson to Round Rock on Friday, and what else could the team do after he gives up 6 runs in 2/3 of an inning? But if Coop pulls an ineffective reliever when he should, instead of making whatever point it was he was trying to make, maybe Chris' appearance doesn't define his season, and maybe the Astros play a close ballgame instead of a blowout.

Anyway, now the Astros are also-rans, three weeks after it looked like they might be the dark horse. And LaGenius can start making a place on his mantle for another one of them MOY awards. Coop, for his part, should be happy at this point he hasn't had to clean out his desk.

July 23, 2009

Here Comes the Junk

Tried to post this at Beckett's site, about the news that while MLB has given Topps an exclusive for next year, the MLBPA's blessing has given Upper Deck the right and, it seems, the determination, to make logoless, trademarkless cards:

I think all collectors should be discouraged. Back in the day, there was a name for cards where the logos and trademarks of major league baseball had been airbrushed out. They were called "junk."

You used to find them in boxes along with frozen pizzas or in bags of potato chips. It's kind of sad that now you can find them in a box of "baseball cards."

I think all of us team and player collectors have put a junk card into our colllections at one point or the other, but are any of us willing to pay a premium for them?

The revived Donruss Elite and Donruss Threads are a joke already, and now half the market will consist of these junk cards that don't even depict the sport the way it is. . . .

It's true that a one-company marketplace would have been a bad thing. But unless Upper Deck or MLB back down (and hard to imagine that either will do that, considering the $$$ involved), what we're gonna end up with is much, much worse.

I've bought some of the base Donruss Threads product, and have had some of it shipped to me in team sets, but the word to describe it is "cheesy." And it's not like DLP (now Panini) wouldn't have known how inferior their new product truly was: they know how great many of their cards were through 2005.

And Upper Deck knows what a true baseball card looks like, as well. They'll just choose to make something inferior, out of greed and spite. At least an old Jimmy Dean card had a little bit of fun to it, you know? Talk about baseball cards steeped in negatives: 2010 Upper Deck will not only be cheesy, it'll have bad vibes, too.

July 23, 2009

Coop Gets It Done Somehow or the Other

Not that I wrote it here, but I was calling for Cecil Cooper's head a month and a half ago. Ten games under, can't get along with Oswalt, throws his players under the bus at the slightest opportunity. I remember driving to work one morning, hearing that Clint Hurdle and Cecil Cooper were gonna be fired that day. And by the time I'd gotten home, Hurdle had gotten the axe.

So you gotta figure Coop escaped by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin.

This close to the ziggy, skip.

But don't look now: the 'Stros just swept the Cards, and sit a game and a half back as the Cardinals face a series vs. the Phils. And we've got the ER Mets.

Things certainly have turned around. and pretty quickly, too.

Does Coop get the credit?

Well, I'm still not all that impressed by Cooper's game acumen. And his people skills pretty clearly suck.

But how can you NOT give Cecil some credit? I mean, if you're gonna fire Manny Acta, you gotta give Coop some credit.

Yes, Oswalt and Rodriguez have been the second half's most dominant duo. Lee and Berkman are pretty fearsome at the heart, at least they were before Berkman went on the DL for his calf). But Tejada, despite all his hits, has a terrible walk rate, is only sixth among NL shortstops in Isolated Power, and is, to be kind, a below-average fielder.

The team has no power at all from the third base position, no average or power from second base, a centerfielder who is regressing to his true level after a hot start, a right fielder who's OPSing .640 in the second half, a bbarely adequate bullpen, and of course, the star of our show, a back half of the rotation that ought to be at Toledo, or Oklahoma City.

And yet, we're a game and a half out. If the litmus test is to maximize your talent, Cooper is in like Flynn. There's still a long way to go, and if Matt Holliday is energized by this trade to the Cardinals that they say is gonna go down, the Astros still might be end up dead and buried.

But if the Astros win the Central, I don't see how anyone could keep from voting him NL Manager of the Year.

July 23, 2009


How about these autographs, picked up in two lots purchased over the past few weeks:

A Skybox Autographics of Billy Wagner, an '02 Bowman of Keith Ginter, a 2002 Topps of the same player, a sweet '02 Bowman of Roy Oz, an autograph from Topps Gallery for Berkman that I hadn't even known existed, an Orlando Miller from one of my favorite sets, '96 Leaf Signature, and it's the Gold version at that, a Topps 52 Matt Albers, and coolest of all, a pair of Berkmans from Fleer National Pastime, '04 and '05, the first numbered to 98, the second to 99.


April 3, 2009

Not Psyched

Lately, I've been receiving cards in the mail every day, a flurry of orders placed as I enter my collection into Beckett's website and I realize how much I'm missing.

But Spring Training's been going on, too, and I haven't been feeling that part of it so much. I attended a game vs. the Mets at St. Lucie early on, and that was good, I suppose, except we lost 13 - 1 on a cold and windy day about as miserable for watching baseball as you could have and still see the game played.

Fernando Nieve started that game, and Aaron Boone started off at third. They're both gone now. No big loss, but at least they were names with a bit of cachet. Brian Moehler is gonna be our number three starter. Jeff Keppinger is gonna be our third baseman, and someone named Jason Smith is gonna be coming off the bench. It's hard to come up with the right word for our projected roster, but I'm trying.

There, I've got it. "Unimposing" is what it is, at least on paper, and that makes it hard to get excited. As does the continuing presence of drug cheat Miguel Tejada.

I still love Berkman, I love Carlos Lee, I'm still a fan of Matsui, at least when he's not laid up. Roy Oz, though perhaps on the decline, BELONGS on the Astros. Hunter Pence may end up forging a career below the one some had giddily predicted, but he's hard not to like. I-Rod should be interesting at the least. And I'll be pulling for Wandy. But for right now, I don't give a shit one way or the other for Keppinger or Russ Ortiz or Jason Michaels or Jason Smith.

The similarly unimposing '08 Astros made things interesting down the stretch, and if not for Carlito's injury, who knows what might have happened? So there is always the possibility. Baseball season is like that, at least during the first couple months: bursting with possibility.

But I've been paying more attention to my card collection than to the games lately, and short of Tejada's deportation and a ten-game winning streak to open the season, I look for that to continue.

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