30 January 2008

NPB Notes:::Yokohama BayStars

Founded: 1950 as the Taiyo Whales by the Taiyo Fishing Company. The Shochiku Robins were merged into the Whales in 1953 and the team played as the Taiyo Shochiku Robins for one season and the Yo-Sho Robins for one season before returning to the Taiyo Whales from '55 to '77. With the move to Yokohama Stadium in 1978, the name changed to the Yokohama Taiyo Whales until 1992, when the Taiyo company changed its name to Maruha Corp. and the Whales became the Yokohama BayStars.
Owner: Maruha Corp. (that's the mascot, Hossy, at right)
Home base: Yokohama Stadium, a few blocks from the waterfront in Yokohama. The stadium features a 16-foot outfield fence and somewhat small dimensions.

Titles: 2 Central League pennants, 2 Japan Series titles (1960, 1998)

The Pipeline's sentiments for Japanese teams are pretty much split three ways (I've never been a big one-team-and-one-team-only guy). Number 1 would be the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, because I have respect for any team in a city that survived an atomic bombing. Number 2 would be the Orix Buffaloes (more toward the former Kintetsu Buffaloes, the lovable losers of the Pacific League), and number 3 would be the Yokohama BayStars, the lovable losers of the Central League most often compared to the Chicago Cubs. The BayStars are another Tokyo-area team, and after a winning record in their first season as the Taiyo Whales in 1950, the franchise struggled with losing records throughout the rest of the 1950s. The main highlight of the team's first decade was three CL home run titles from 2B/3B/CF Noburo Aota, who came over from Yomiuri in 1953. Aota was a four-time all-star and was named to 2 Best Nines for Taiyo and won the HR titles in 1954, 1956 and 1957 for the Whales. He retired with 265 lifetime homers that was a NPB career record until 1963. The team's first pitching standout was righty submarine-style pitcher Noboru Akiyama, who debuted in 1956 and started his career with four straight 300-IP seasons and then logged 5 200-IP seasons in a row after that. According to the Japan Baseball Daily site's entry on Akiyama, his college head coach made him throw up to 1,000 pitches a day to help develop that "rubber arm". A back injury kept him from becoming a Yomiuri Giant and Taiyo got him instead. In 1956 Taiyo won 43 games. Akiyama got the win in 25 of them en route to the Rookie of the Year award. He also lost 25. Akiyama would win both games of a doubleheader five times in his career and is the only man in the two-league NPB era to throw shutouts on consecutive days. He was a 9-time all-star but was named to only 1 Best Nine for Taiyo. His list of titles reads like both sides of a coin. On one hand he won one ERA title (1960) and a K title (1957) along with 2 complete game titles, 3 IP and 4 appearances titles. On the other hand, he led the league in losses from 1956 to 1959 with more than 20 losses each season (thanks to a sub-par Taiyo offense) and led the league in HR allowed in each of those seasons. He retired with a career ERA of 2.60, career WHIP of 1.11 and OAV of .227 with 6 20-win seasons and 1,896 Ks under his belt for Taiyo. He was inducted into the NPB Hall of Fame in 2004. A good example of the Whales' first decade is lefty P Masatoshi Gondo, who won Rookie of the Year in 1953 with a 15-12 record and 2.77 ERA. Two years later he was 3-21, then in 1956 he went 0-13, then in 1957 he was 12-17. In that time frame he lost 28 consecutive decisions and the 13 straight in one season is a CL record. Still, he was a two-time all star for Taiyo and retired with a career WHIP of 1.23 and a 2.78 ERA.

New manager Osamu Mihara was brought in in 1960 and, for at least one season, the Whales' fortunes turned. Taiyo went 70-56-4 and won the CL pennant by 4 1/2 games over Yomiuri. Akiyama led the way with an MVP and Best Nine season of a 21-10 record, 1.75 ERA (good for CL ERA title), 1.05 WHIP and 183 Ks in 262 1/3 IP. The season began with him taking a fungo in the head in warmup on op
ening day, but he recovered after missing a few games and, in June, won both ends of a doubleheader against Yomiuri in 12 inning sayonara victories. Gondo chipped in a 12-5 mark with a 1.42 ERA in 158 IP. Taiyo all-star C Kiyoshi Doi must have been a hell of a defender because he put up paltry numbers at the plate despite making seven straight all-star teams for the Whales, including in '60 when he hit .212 with a .569 OPS. 1B Kazuhiko Kondo had a breakout season in the first of six .300 BA seasons with a .316 BA and .812 OPS and was named to the first of nine all-star teams and seven Best Nines as a Whale. On the other hand, 3B Takeshi Kuwata followed up a 31-homer Rookie of the Year season in 1959 by hitting .300 the only season of his career at .301 with an .869 OPS but only 16 HR en route to his second of six all-star apperances. Joining Akiyama and Gondo on the mound for Taiyo were all-star P Gentaro Shimada, who was 19-10 with 203 Ks, 14 CG, 8 shutouts (led CL) and a 2.29 ERA in 247 1/3 IP and threw a perfect game in August against Hanshin; and P Takashi Suzuki, who followed up a combined 27-34 record in 520 IP in '58 and '59 with a 5-11 mark and 2.91 ERA in 160 IP in the last of his three all-star apperances. Pitching propelled Taiyo in 1960 as the team posted a CL-best 2.33 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP along with a league-leading 836 K.

The Whales' well-earned CL victory put them in the Japan Series versus the Daimai Orions, who
had gone 82-48-3 en route to a 4-game win over Nankai for the PL pennant. Taiyo ended up sweeping the Orions, but it wasn't easy as each win came by only 1 run. Akiyama shut down Daimai in a 1-0 game 1 win as OF Hidenori Kanemitsu provided the winning margin with a solo homer. He had hit only 5 in a ho-hum regular season. Game 2 was a 3-2 Taiyo win with Shimada picking up the victory, but Game 3 had some dramatics as Gondo got the win in a 6-5 Taiyo triumph on a ninth-inning solo homer by rookie 2B Akihito Kondo, who had hit only .226 with 4 HR in the regular season. Rookie Kondo came through again in game 4 with the only RBI in a 1-0 Taiyo victory as Akiyama shut the Orions down again. The rookie was named series MVP despite hitting only .200 as his 2 RBI in the series came at just the right times. Kanemitsu and Kazuhiko Kondo stepped up to hit .400 in the series with Kanemitsu driving in 4 runs. OF Kiyoshi Watanabe also hit .364 in the series for the Whales. On the mound, Akiyama pitched in all 4 games and allowed 1 ER in 16 1/3 IP while Shimada allowed only 2 ER in 11 2/3 IP as the duo stymied the Daimai bats.

Unfortunately for Taiyo, the good times didn't last long. They ended up in the cellar in 1961 with
only 50 wins as the pitching was as poor relative to the league as it had been good in 1960. Kuwata did earn the CL RBI title in that season at 94. The Whales rebounded in '62 to finish 71-59-4 but ended up 4 games back of Hanshin despite the improved showing. After another drop near the bottom in '63, the roller coaster continued as the Whales posted the franchise-best win total of 80 victories in 1964 but lost out by a game to Hanshin. The Whales led at the all-star break but couldn't hold the league lead, and Taiyo wouldn't see a 70-win season again until the late '90s. As the Giants dominated the CL through the 1960s and 1970s, the Whales made little noise. Kazuhiko Kondo continued to rack up all-star appearances; in 1966, a new standout was found in Taiyo in 3B Makoto Matsubara, who would be an 11-time all-star in a long Taiyo career in which he hit over .300 only twice but clubbed 331 homers (including two 3-homer games), helped set a Japan record when the Whales turned 146 double plays in 1972, set a CL record with 45 doubles in 1978, and hit 405 doubles in his career for 8th all time in Japan; C Isao Itoh was a five-time all-star despite not much output at the plate; and the new Whales pitching stud came along in the form of P Masaji Hiramatsu. Hiramatsu spent his entire career with the Whales and broke out in 1969 with a 14-12 record and 2.56 ERA in 245 2/3 IP. He followed that with a Sawamura season in 1970 of a 25-19 mark (leading CL in wins), a 1.95 ERA and sub-1 WHIP with 23 complete games and 6 shutouts in 332 2/3 IP. The eight-time all-star followed that Best Nine season with another one in '71 at 17-13 (again leading league in wins) with a 2.23 ERA in 279 IP. He never again won 20 games in a season but finished with a 1.20 WHIP, 3.31 ERA, 2,045 Ks and 201 wins. He won his only ERA title in 1979 at 2.39. The team's first sustained successful Western import was 2B John Sipin, who came over in 1972 and played six seasons in Taiyo. Sipin hit over .300 three times as a Whale and averaged nearly 28 homers a year with a peak of 34 in 1975. He was a four-time all-star for Taiyo and was named to 2 Best Nines while winning 2 Gold Gloves in Japan. He later moved on to Yomiuri to finish his career in NPB but ended up with 218 career HR in 9 seasons while becoming notorious late in his career for starting a couple on-field brawls. SS Daisuke Yamashita joined Taiyo in 1974 and would make his bones with his glove with only pedestrian output at the plate. Yamashita won 8 Gold Gloves for the Whales from '76 to '83 and was named to one Best Nine in 1981 when he hit .278 with 31 doubles (led CL) and 16 HR en route to a .790 OPS. He was a four-time all-star and had a stretch of 302 chances without an error from 1977 to '78. OF Masayuki Nakatsuka also made a name for himself with Taiyo in the '70s with four all-star appearances despite unspectacular offensive performance.

In 1978 the Whales said sayonara to Kawasaki Stadium and moved into the new Yokohama Stadium. The team responded with its first winning season since third-place finishes in 1970 and '71. After another winning season in '79, the Whales then went 16 seasons before finishing above the .500 mark. Puerto Rican I
F Felix Millan came over to play for Taiyo in 1978 and, in 1979, became the first non-Japanese player to win a CL batting title with a .346 mark for his only Best Nine in three seasons in Japan. Accolades for other Whales occurred here and there. P Osamu Nomura went 17-11 in 1978 to capture the wins title. P Kazuhiko Endo was the franchise's next mound standout with a career WHIP of 1.19 and ERA of 3.49 over 15 years for the Whales. Endo went 18-9 with a 2.87 ERA and 17 CG in 238 1/3 IP for his only Sawamura and Best Nine in 1983 and followed that up by leading the CL in wins and losses in '84 with a 17-17 mark. Endo was a five-time all-star, led the league in complete games 4 times and in Ks 3 times. OF Keiji Nagasaki earned his only Best Nine and all-star nod in 1982 with a batting title at .351 as he added a .911 OPS, 11 HR and 21 doubles in a career year. His 8 triples in 1978 tied a club record. C Hisaaki Fukushima played seven seasons for Taiyo before becoming even a semi-regular and responded with three all-star appearances. P Akio Saito also stood out as Rookie of the Year in 1977 (with a 4.40 ERA and 8-9 record in 141 1/3 IP) as he started a long career that ended in the team's first season as the BayStars. He led the league in Ks and CG in 1978, and losses in '80 and '81, but bounced back to claim the CL ERA title in 1982 at 2.07. His career had an Eckersley/Smoltz curve to it as he was the first righty with 100 wins and 100 saves in NPB history. The six-time all-star finished with more than 1,300 Ks, a career ERA of 3.52 and career WHIP of 1.29. He won three save titles and two Fireman of the Year awards. Switch-hitting 2B/SS Yutaka Takagi emerged in the mid-80s as he hit over .300 eight times as a Whale. He set a CL record in 1987 with a .997 fielding percentage at 2B but didn't win the Gold Glove that year as it went instead to Hiroshima's Kozo Shoda. Takagi did win one in 1983. He was also a three-time triples champ, an eight-time all-star, was chosen for 3 Best Nines and set the club record in combined BB and HBP with 757 in his career. He finished with a .297 career BA and .789 career OPS. Another Puerto Rican made an impact for the Whales in the late 1980s as OF Carlos Ponce spent five years with Taiyo and, while making one all-star appearance, led the league with 159 hits in 1987, 33 doubles in '89, 7 triples in '89, 33 HR in '88, topped the league in RBI in both '87 and '88, slugged .656 in '87 and was named to 2 Best Nines. He hit over .300 twice and both times was over .320. Ponce faded quickly in 1990 while teammate and Michigander 1B Jim Paciorek led the league in hitting at .326. Paciorek played 4 seasons for Taiyo and hit over .300 each year with slugging percentages over .500 in three of the seasons. He led the league in hits twice as a Whale and also earned 2 of his 3 Best Nine nods for Taiyo. Virginian Larry Sheets made his one year in Japan count for Taiyo in 1992 as he hit .308 with a .915 OPS, 32 2B, 26 HR and 100 RBI to win the league RBI title and earn a Best Nine selection. The next semi-standout at pitcher for the Whales was lefty Hiroki Nomura, who was named to three all-star teams and posted his best season in 1993 when he went 17-6 (led CL in wins) with a 2.51 ERA in 179 1/3 IP in the team's first year as the BayStars. He was also 15-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 182 1/3 IP in 1991. P Koki Morita polished off a comeback from brain surgery in 1988 to lead the league in ERA for Taiyo at 2.05 in 1992 and went on to post ERAs of 2.48 in 72 2/3 IP in '94 and 1.97 in 73 IP in '95. He was a two-time all-star for the franchise.

With Taiyo's name change to Maruha Corp. in 1993, the 40-year association with the Whales name also was left behind as the team became the Yokohama BayStars. According to the BayStars' Wikipedia page, new restrictions on the actual whaling industry helped pressure the change. The new name didn't do much for the team's on-field performance as former Whale Akihito Kondo came back to manage the team 33 years after being named MVP of the team's lone Japan Series appearance and win.
The BayStars went 57-73 in 1993 and followed that up with a 61-69 cellar-dwelling season in 1994. A new and probably the most widely known (because of his MLB stint) face of the franchise appeared in the 1990s as RP Kazuhiro Sasaki debuted. He picked up 2 saves in an otherwise unremarkable rookie season in 1990 but then racked up at least 10 saves in every year of the '90s thereafter. His worst ERA over the remainder of the decade was 3.24. He appeared in a league leading 58 games in 1991 and earned his first Fireman of the Year award with 21 saves and a 2.46 ERA in 1992. As Yokohama appeared to turn the corner in 1995, Sasaki continued to pitch very well. In Kondo's third season as manager in 1995, the team had a winning record for the first time since 1979 at 66-64 and finished fourth in the CL. Sasaki nailed down 32 saves with a 7-2 record and 1.75 ERA in 47 games and 56 2/3 IP for his first saves title and second Fireman of the Year Award. Nobody other than Sasaki would lead the league in saves or win a CL Fireman award until 1999 when Sasaki had elbow surgery and pitched in only 23 games. He also became the first 500 million yen player over this time, which roughly equates to $4.5 million. The BayStars replaced Kondo in 1996 and the team dropped back to 20 games below .500 but recovered in 1997 to go 72-63 for second place in the CL. A group of players keyed the resurgence. Pitcher-turned-outfielder Hitoshi Hatayama earned three all-star selections in the mid-90s for Yokohama; American import OF Glenn Braggs earned two all-star picks in four years with the BayStars including 35 homers and 91 RBI in 1994 and a career OPS of .941 in Japan -- he earned a Best Nine selection in '94 as well; and American 2B Bobby Rose spent 8 years with Yokohama and built a reputation as one of the best foreign players in league history. Rose hit .325 with a league-leading 33 2B and 94 RBI in his debut season in 1993 for the first of 6 Best Nines. His numbers slipped in '94 but he earned the first of four all-star selections with a .315 BA and 32 doubles, 22 HR and 97 RBI in '95. 1994 would be the only season he drove in less than 90 runs in Japan. In '96 he led the league with 6 triples and set a CL record with 12 sac flies. Rose followed that with a CL-leading .444 OBP and third Best Nine selction in 1997. SS Takuro Ishii debuted in 1989 and became a position player at short in 1992. Over the next 16 years and counting he has racked up 9 150-hit seasons, been named to six all-star teams, received 5 Best Nine selections, and picked up 4 Gold Gloves. He also holds the team records for hits, triples, and steals. OF Takanori Suzuki hit the scene for good in 1993 and racked up the first of two batting titles and Best Nines in 1997 by hitting .335 with 21 HR and 83 RBI. That season kickstarted a stretch of three straight .300 BA seasons and six overall .300 seasons for Suzuki. P Takashi Saito would also make his name known for Yokohama after debuting in 1992. He racked up steady 3-point ERAs every year until missing 1997 with elbow surgery.

Pitching coach Hiroshi Gondo moved up to manager for the 1998 season and the pieces came together. Sasaki won his 4th straight saves title and Fireman of the Year Award along with his only Best Nine and MVP to help lead the BayStars to a 79-56-1 record and 4 game CL title win over the Chunichi Dragons. The reliever followed a 0.90 ERA in 1997 with an even more miniscule 0.64 ERA and sub-1 WHIP in 51 games and 56 IP as he went 1-1 with 45 saves to set a Japan record in saves for a season. Rose earned his only Gold Glove and fourth Best Nine selection in 1998 as he hit .325 with a .939 OPS, 29 2B, 19 HR and 96 RBI; Suzuki won his second straight batting title and Best Nine pick at .337 with a .920 OPS, 92 RS, 30 2B, 16 HR and 87 RBI; Ishii (pictured at right) won his fourth (and last...so far) Gold Glove while hitting .314 with an .820 OPS, 103 RS (led CL), 174 hits (led CL), 34 2B and 39 SB (led CL) in his second Best Nine season; 36-year-old 1B Norihiro Komada, who had come over from Yomiuri in 1994, won his 9th Gold Glove and sixth straight overall with his sixth all-star selection as he hit .281 with a .690 OPS, 25 2B and 81 RBI; and C Motonobu Tanishige won his first Gold Glove and only Best Nine selection by hitting .254 with a .745 OPS, 23 2B and 14 HR. 3B Tatsuya Shindo also picked up a Gold Glove to make it 5 BayStars picking up fielding hardware. Saito returned from surgery in 1998 and went 13-5 with 1 save and a 2.94 ERA in 143 2/3 IP to help feed Sasaki save opportunities. P Takeo Kawamura also stepped up after posting a 3.32 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in his rookie season in 1997. He threw a 1-hitter on opening day 1998 and went on to go 8-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 146 1/3 IP in the first of his two all-star seasons. Six years after his CL wins title, Nomura proved still effective in going 13-8 with a 3.34 ERA in 177 2/3 IP. Up and coming P Daisuke Miura had a 3.35 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with a breakout 10-3 record in 142 1/3 IP in 1997 and followed with a 12-7 record, 3.18 ERA, and 1.25 WHIP in 158 2/3 IP in '98.

In the Pacific League, Seibu had outlasted Nippon Ham to earn a berth in the Japan Series to face Yokohama. The BayStars would find the going a little rougher than their Whale ancestors had faced in 1960 but the end result would be the same. The home BayStars won game 1, 9-4, on their home field as Nomura picked up the win and Sasaki closed out the game. They also won game 2 at home, 4-0, as Saito picked up the shutout win. The series shifted to Seibu Dome for game 3 and the Lions responded with a 7-2 win
with Miura taking the loss and BayStar pitchers walking 11 for a Japan Series record. Game 4 saw the Lions knot the series at 2 games each with a 4-2 win as Nomura got touched for the loss. The BayStars cranked up the offense for a 17-5 win in game 5 as Saito got the win and Yokohama set a series record with 20 base hits. Komada had a 3-run double in the win. Game 6 back in Yokohama was scoreless going into the 8th inning before Komada hit a 2-run double. Sasaki came in to save the game for P Hideyuki Awano in the 9th and allowed a run before getting the final out to lock down the BayStars' series win. Takanori Suzuki was named co-MVP for hitting .480 with a homer and 8 RBI in the series. Ishii and OF Takahiro Saeki hit .364 each as Saeki drove in 4 runs. Komada hit .280 with 7 RBI and Rose hit only .190 but did have 5 RBI. Saito also earned co-MVP honors with 2 ER allowed in 16 IP for a 1.13 ERA and 0.81 WHIP while going 2-0. Nomura had a rougher go with a 6.17 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 11 2/3 IP but did go 1-1. Kawamura was the only other BayStar with more than 5 IP as he pitched a scoreless 7 1/3 innings in the series.

Unlike in '61 when the Whales mounted little defense of their Japan Series title, the BayStars had a good 1999 season in posting a 71-64 record for third place in the CL. Sasaki suffered a nerve injury that needed elbow surgery but was still named an all-star for the seventh time with 19 saves and a 1.93 ERA in 23 1/3 IP. Rose had a monster year by hitting .369 (batting title) with a 1.094 OPS, 93 RS, 192 hits (led CL, set new CL record), 34 2B (ditto), 37 HR and 153 RBI (led CL) in 134 games. He was the first player in Japan history to have 100 RBI by the all-star break and got those
RBIs in 81 games as the fastest ever to that mark. He had 10 RBIs in one game in the season and also became the only player in Japan history to hit for the cycle three times in a career. He was an all-star for the third time and earned his fifth Best Nine pick. Ishii hit .292 with a .775 OPS, 108 RS, 157 hits, 24 2B and 39 SB (led CL) with his 4th all-star selection and his third straight Best Nine. Suzuki also was solid offensively with a .328 BA, .897 OPS, 110 RS, 178 hits, 31 2B, 17 HR and 92 RBI. Tanishige also had another all-star year by hitting .295 with 23 2B and 11 HR. Kawamura was 17-6 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 183 IP in his second and last all-star season, Saito was 14-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 184 2/3 IP in his third all-star season, and RP Naoya Shimada earned an all-star selection. In 2000 the BayStars continued their winning ways but their record continued to slip. Sasaki was among the first of the 1998 team to leave when he signed with the Seattle Mariners for the 2000 season. Rose rounded out his Japanese career in 2000 with a .332 BA, .957 OPS, 168 hits (led CL), 31 2B, 21 HR and 97 RBI and the last of his Best Nine and all-star picks. Komada also quit after hitting .258 in 2000 and racking up his 10th Gold Glove in 1999.

In 2001, the BayStars' record stabilized before the bottom dropped out in 2002. Former SS Daisuke Yamashita managed unsuccessfully for a couple years and after Kazuhiko Ushijima took over in 2005, Yokohama has hovered around the .500 mark a couple times in recent years but the BayStars haven't contended
. Takuro Ishii continues to play as he hit .302 in 2000 and led the league in hits and doubles in 2001 and earned the last of his five Best Nines that year. He picked up his 2,000th hit in 2006 and played his 2,000th game in 2007. Takanori Suzuki is also still active for Yokohama but hasn't played more than 100 games since 2003. He batted .311 with 30 2B and 19 HR that season after hitting .315 in 2001 and earning his last all-star pick. Tanishige earned 5 all-star selections as a BayStar but hit free agency after the 2001 season and signed with Chunichi, where he is still playing. Saito put up a 5.52 ERA in 2000 and, with Sasaki in Seattle, took over the Yokohama closer's role in 2001. He amassed 27 saves with a 1.67 ERA in '01 and 20 saves with a 2.45 ERA in 2002. The BayStars brought in American Eddie Gaillard in 2003 and he took over the closer's role with 22 saves as Saito moved back into the rotation. Saito was 6-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 103 1/3 IP in 2003 then bottomed out with a 7.71 ERA in '04 before coming back with a 3.82 ERA in '05. He earned a ticket to the U.S. when he signed to close for the Dodgers, which he has done successfully for the last couple seasons. Sasaki returned to Japan in 2004 after asking the Mariners for an early release from his contract to deal with marital problems. He rejoined Yokohama and notched 19 saves in '04 before retiring after the 2005 season with a career WHIP of 1.01 and ERA of 2.38. Kawamura endured a rough stretch from 2000 to 2003 but moved to the pen in 2004 and responded with 3.07 and 2.31 ERAs in '04 and '05. He recorded 3 saves in 2006 and was 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA out of the pen for the BayStars in 2007. Miura (right) has continued his climb among the league's pitchers as he was 11-6 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 164 2/3 IP in 2000 and then put up a 3.23 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 119 2/3 IP in 2002. After 2 years of ERAs over 4, he came back in a big way in 2005 with an ERA title at 2.52 while going 12-9 with a 1.02 WHIP, .215 OAV and 10 CG in 214 2/3 IP. The last 2 seasons he has posted ERAs of 3.45 and 3.06 with WHIPs in the 1.2 range. Yokohama brought over American 1B Tyrone Woods in 2003 and he earned back-to-back HR titles for the BayStars with 40 and 45 in the '03 and '04 seasons. His 87 RBI in '03 was also good for a CL title. He was an all-star in 2003 and earned a Best Nine selection in '04 before heading to Chunichi in 2005. The BayStars also found another good player in switch-hitting OF Tatsuhiko Kinjo, who earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2000 with a batting title at .346 to become the first true rookie to win a batting title in Japan. He endured a .170 season in 2002 after setting a Yokohama record with 43 sacrifices in 2001. In 2003 he returned with the first of 3 straight .300 seasons and displayed new found power with a combined 41 homers over those seasons. He had 191 hits with 30 doubles and 87 RBI in 2005 and also picked up his first Gold Glove. His production has dropped slightly the last 2 years but the three-time all-star has picked up his 1,000 hit already, as well as a second Gold Glove in 2007. The BayStars traded for IF Hitoshi Taneda in 2001 and the odd-batting-stanced infielder (pictured at right) produced with 2 .300 seasons for Yokohama. The BayStars drafted 3B Shuichi Murata in 2002 and he debuted with power and Ks in 2003. He clubbed 25 homers with 111 Ks in 2003, added 15 HR with only 84 Ks in 2004, hit 32 2B and 24 HR with 124 Ks in 2005, hit 30 2B and 34 HR with 114 RBI and 153 K in 2006, and hit 30 2B and 36 HR with 101 RBI and 117 K in 2007. He has put together an .834 career OPS thus far. C Ryoji Aikawa became the starter in 2005 and finished 8th in the CL in batting in 2007 at .302. The BayStars picked up 2B Toshihisa Nishi from Yomiuri after the 2006 season and Nishi rebounded from a .185 BA in '06 to hit .270 with 27 2B and 10 HR in 2007. OF Hitoshi Tamura joined the Yokohama outfield full time in 2004 and hit .305 with 40 HR and 100 RBI that season before hitting .304 with 31 HR and 26 doubles in 2005. He played only 39 games in 2006 before playing in 2007 with Softbank. 1B/OF Yuki Yoshimura broke into the lineup in 2006 with a .311 BA, .909 OPS, 24 2B and 26 HR and followed it up in '07 with a .274 BA, 21 2B, 24 HR and 85 RBI.

On the mound, the BayStars imported American RP Mark Kroon, who took over as closer for Sasaki in 2005 and notched 26 saves with a 2.70 ERA and .216 OAV in 53 1/3 IP. Kroon racked up another 27 saves with a .207 OAV, 3.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 48 IP in 2006 and then saved 31 games with a 2.76 ERA, .222 OAV and 1.18 WHIP in 42 1/3 IP in 2007. He was named an all-star all three years and was the first pitcher to be clocked at 100 mph in Japan. SP Hayato Terahara was brought into the fold in 2007 from Softbank and finished in the top 10 in the CL in ERA at 3.36 while going 12-12 with 163 Ks in 184 2/3 IP.

The BayStars have reportedly set a goal to be back in contention by 2009 but there is work to be done to bring Yokohama its next wave of good fortune.

29 January 2008

My top 5 card pulls

I've never had the magic touch when it comes to packs. I have had a hot streak or two when it comes to getting good cards, but I see the trade lists of some collectors and it's quickly very humbling. Of course, I'm probably dropping a fraction of the greenbacks they are, but still. Let's look at my top 5 pulls from packs I've opened:

1. 2005 Topps Cracker Jack Alex Rodriguez Secret Surprise Signatures mini autograph -- This one actually has a good story to go with it. Cracker Jack was one of those sets all the set collectors seemed to love to put together, it had about the right amount of parallels -- plus you knew you were getting something other than just base set cards in each pack because of the "pack within a pack" that held either a mini parallel or a game used or auto. The 2005 set also included some nice short print cards that were harder to get, so I bought a bunch of it. Most of what I bought was retail. In fact, I pulled better cards out of retail than I did out of a hobby box. About 4 days after getting nothing great out of that hobby box, I bought 4 packs of retail Cracker Jack at a convenience store on a weekday. I sat in my car and opened them and, I think in the third pack, this beauty of an on-card auto presented itself. I'm neither a Yankees fan (been a Red Sox fan since the mid-80s) nor an ARod fan, so my initial reaction leaned more toward "Oh man, I wonder how much this is gonna book" rather than "WOW, what a card to cap my collection." I was also just concerned about getting it home and into a screwdown holder without dinging it in any way. I do appreciate it when the athlete's signature is somewhat legible and not some of the scribble you see outta some guys. I wasn't disappointed when the Beckett pricing came out and I found the card is limited to 100 copies and booked $250-300. Now it's up to $350. I was hoping to turn it into some nice Roger Maris or Lou Gehrig or another high-end card or two via a trade, but the right deal hasn't come along yet. I just hope he can drive the book value higher. Or maybe I'll end up selling it. Who knows.

2. 2000 Press Pass Tom Brady autograph -- one of three good Brady cards I had at one point in 2000. I think I traded this one when it booked at $20 and Tom was just a backup 6th-rounder behind Drew Bledsoe. The one pictured isn't the one I had, as far as I know....just an example of the card. The other 2 good Brady's I had were a Pacific Paramount parallel of his rookie card #d out of 240 (I think) and, in the box of 2000 Upper Deck Encore football I received for joining the UD Collector's Club for one year, I pulled his Encore RC SGC graded at a 96. I traded all 3 before Brady hit it big, which is nauseating.

3. 2002-03 Topps Tim Duncan auto game-used all-star shooting shirt #d 1/25 -- I've actually pulled two Duncan game-used cards #d/25, but this one was autographed. This one came out of a jumbo pack of Topps bought at my favorite card shop -- Al's Sports Cards in Brookwood Plaza on 29th Street in Topeka, Kansas. I was killing time there on a Saturday morning a few years ago and bought some packs. This one was in the middle of the jumbo pack and came as a big surprise. I also pulled the Brady as well as the Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire RCs I mentioned in my last card post from packs bought from Al. It's hard to match the feeling of turning over that big pull like the ARod or this Duncan. I later traded this Duncan for a group of good cards, but I don't recall the specific deal at this point. Must have been OK, because I don't remember it.

4. 2001-02 Private Stock Mario Lemieux game-used 1987-88 Penguins jersey -- I was on a hockey kick in the spring of 2002 when I decided to buy a box of Private Stock from another card shop in Topeka that I don't think is open any longer. You had to like the promise of a jersey per pack that Pacific offered with the Private Stock product. I ended up getting a Vincent LeCavalier patch, a nice Paul Kariya jersey card and, in the best of the packs, this Super Mario yellow swatch from a jersey he wore in the 1987-88 campaign. At the time it booked around $150, if I remember right, as it was Mario and a short-print. I think it's dropped some since then. Still a cool card. I always liked how Pacific and Donruss, to some extent, would tell you when and where their jerseys came from. Donruss used to include a picture of the jersey on the back of the card, too. Still have the Mario to trade, too. As well as a few other jersey cards from that box.

5. 2001 Fleer Greats of the Game Vince Carter game-used UNC jersey, shorts and warmup triple -- this was in the full height of Vinsanity, coming off his dunk contest win and his Olympic dunk over France's Frederic Weis (video at left in video links). Fleer was inundating its products with VC everything. I bought a box of Fleer Greats of the Game from Dave and Adam's Card World in hopes of pulling the Pete Maravich or Larry Bird college game-used jersey cards. I ended up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Jerry West autos and this triple Vince Carter game-used card. It wasn't serial numbered but I later found it was limited to only 75 copies, so I can't say I was disappointed. It has since been sent on to another trader's collection. I ended up trading the aforementioned Kariya jersey as part of the deal for the Maravich jersey (another white whale I've gotten hold of) and also got the Bird Indiana State jersey in another deal, so in the end it worked out.

onorable mention:

26 January 2008

Royal legacy -- the new #30 -- the 2007 Royals (69-93)

Never got a chance to put a nice, neat bow on the Royals Legacy countdown, but it's the kind of thing I can continue from year to year, so why not? To refresh your memory, here's your original countdown:

1. 1985 Royals
2. 1980 Royals
3. 1977 Royals
4. 1976 Royals
5. 1978 Royals
6. 1984 Royals
7. 1981 Royals
8. 1975 Royals
9. 1982 Royals
10. 1989 Royals
11. 1979 Royals

12. 1973 Royals
13. 1971 Royals

14. 1994 Royals

15. 1988 Royals

16. 1987 Royals
17. 1993 Royals
18. 2003 Royals
19. 1991 Royals
20. 1972 Royals
21. 1995 Royals
22. 1974 Royals
23. 1983 Royals
24. 1990 Royals
25. 1986 Royals
26. 1992 Royals
27. 2000 Royals

28. 1996 Royals
29. 1969 Royals
30. 1998 Royals
31. 1999 Royals
32. 1970 Royals

33. 1997 Royals
34. 2001 Royals

35. 2002 Royals
36. 2006 Royals

37. 2004 Royals
38. 2005 Royals

The 2000s haven't been kind to the franchise, as noted in posts 34-38. One solid (fluky) season in '03, a juggernaut offense in 2000 but still minimal returns in W-L thanks to a gas can pitching staff, and five horrendous years. Then there was 2007, which fell somewhere in the middle -- the team wasn't horrible but wasn't easy to enjoy very often, either. When the dust settled, the team had 93 losses (as recent years go, at least it wasn't 100!) and manager Buddy Bell resigned for family reasons (gotta give one more HOORAY!). And although the franchise had another paltry year to further push back those memories of a once proud winning tradition, and the AL Central was no longer a chump division, there were glimpses that...maybe...a ligh
t was at the end of the tunnel. But we have a new #30 on the countdown, bumping '98 down to #31. I like to think maybe the franchise has come full circle -- the '07 record is the same as the first Royals' season record in '69, and by 1975 the Royals were a force to be reckoned with. So by that rationale, in 2013, we're golden, baby! Wait....maybe I don't like to think the franchise has come full circle. Five more years is a long time to wait.

The '07 Royals were a pretty good definition of mediocre. By runs scored and runs allowed, they fin
ished 5 games lower than expected. They had a five game winning streak and two seven game losing streaks. They scored 17 runs three times in a game but also allowed 17, 16, 13 and 12 runs once each. They shut out opponents 6 times but got shut out 11 times. The friendly confines of the K were again not so friendly as the Royals went 35-46 at home and 34-47 on the road. There were the bright spots of two winning months in June and July but those were bookended by losing records in April-May and August-September, including three sub-.400 winning percentage months. There was no clear culprit, other than a sorry offense and some subpar starting pitching. The Royals again scraped the bottom of the American League in most offensive categories excepting triples (46, second in the AL) and hit batsmen (89, first in the AL). The team BA of .261 was 11th in the AL and was supplemented by a .322 OBP (13th) and .388 SLG (dead last at 14th). The team was low-middle-of-the-pack in Ks (6th most in the AL) and doubles (8th) but was 13th in runs scored, 11th in hits, last in homers, 13th in walks and 10th in SB. Not too hard to see how that all adds up to only 69 wins. Pitching, on the other hand, was better, but not good enough to take up the offense's slack. The 4.48 team ERA was 7th in the AL and the Royals were 7th in walks allowed and 8th in runs allowed but a lack of power pitching resulted in the team ranking 13th in Ks and 11th in hits allowed. The bullpen was exceptional, for the most part, but KC still only racked up 36 saves for 10th in the AL.

New GM Dayton Moore had used the last few months of 2006 to assess and begin making moves in the aftermath of the Allard Baird era, and some moves made in the fall and winter would pay dividends in 2007. 2006 token all-star pitcher Mark Redman was let go via free agency (yawn), a PTBNL was sent to the R
eds for C Jason LaRue (a big swing and a miss for Moore), inconsistent but heat-dealing RP Ambiorix Burgos was shipped to the Mets for SP Brian Bannister (a solid hit for Dayton), $11 million per for 5 years was given to free agent SP Gil Meche (looking good so far), RP Joakim Soria was snatched from the Pads in the rule 5 draft the day of Meche's signing (nice move), RP Octavio Dotel was signed (can't argue with it), reported possible problem child RP Andy Sisco got jettisoned to the White Sox for 1B/OF Ross Gload (flashes of goodness from Gload), RP David Riske was signed (another decent move), and minor league pitching prospect Erik Cordier was sent to Dayton's old haunts in Atlanta for new starting SS Tony Pena Jr. (an improvement from Angel Berroa, but can't say much more about it than that). During the season, Moore pretty much held pat until July. Absolute gas can RP Todd Wellemeyer was waived in May and another gas can got the pink slip when SP Scott Elarton was relieved of his Royal duties in July. At the deadline, with hopes of a Reggie Sanders deal dashed by injury to the aging OF, there were still hopes of perhaps a Dotel deal or an Emil Brown deal or a Grudzielanek deal, maybe even a Riske deal, but Dotel was the only one to leave KC as he was shipped to the Braves for 23-year-old yet-to-live-to-supposed-potential SP Kyle Davies, who continued his struggles down the stretch in Royal blue. With the #2 pick in the June entry draft, the Royals grabbed highly touted high school SS Mike Moustakas and got him signed at the deadline. Six pitchers would be part of the Royals' first 10 picks as Moore continued an apparent commitment to cultivating pitching talent.

As can be expected on a team with offensive numbers like the '07 Royals, there weren't a lot of standou
ts at the plate in KC. Rookie 1B/OF/DH Billy Butler made a splash in his debut by leading regulars and semi-regulars with a 105 OPS+ in 92 games -- he hit .292/.347/.794 (OPS) with 23 2B, 8 HR, 52 RBI, 55 K and 27 BB in 329 ABs. Bell failed to let him get his feet wet in the field as Butler only played 6 games in LF and 13 games at 1B. 2B Mark Grudzielanek followed up a solid Gold Glove 2006 by hitting right at a 100 OPS+ in 116 games at .302/.346/.772 with 32 2B but only 6 HR with 60 Ks and 23 BB. The only other Royal that was above average in OPS was the 39-year-old Sanders, who hit .315/.412/.905 but was limited to only 24 games because of injury. Other than that there wasn't much to crow about for KC. Rookie 3B Alex Gordon didn't exactly explode in his MLB debut but showed glimpses of his potential before finishing with the final line of .247/.314/.725, 36 2B, 15 HR, 60 RBI (tied for second on the team in both HR and ribbies), 137 K (!!!, 8th in team single-season history, probably not the record Gordon wanted to rank high in) and only 41 BB in 151 games and 543 AB. His first season closed out harshly as he took a grounder to the face in the waning days of the season to add injury to a lackluster performance overall. OF Mark Teahen failed to follow up on the promise of power shown in the 2006 season as he hit 31 doubles but only 7 HR while making the move from 3B to RF. He also struck out 127 times with only 55 BB and hit into 23 DPs (tied for sixth among Royals all time in a single season) while tying Gordon with 60 RBIs and hitting .285 with a .763 OPS. Gload proved capable at first with a .288 BA and .759 OPS to go with 22 2B in 102 games, and C John Buck got out to a hot start but faded -- he hit for an .872 OPS in the first half and an ugly, ugly .570 OPS in the second half -- to finish with a .222 BA and .737 OPS. He did lead the team with only 18 HR but K'd 92 times. OF David DeJesus had a ho-hum season with a .723 OPS, 101 RS (leading team), 29 2B and 23 HBP (a new single season team record) while Pena and Brown were less capable at the plate with OBPs in the high .200s range and OPS numbers of .640 and .647, respectively. Brown somehow led the team in RBIs with 62 and Pena's offensive value was mainly tied to his .267 BA and 25 doubles. Good bats off the bench were hard to come by as utility guy Esteban German had the high OPS of those guys with a .727 mark in 121 games. Mike Sweeney played out his waste of a big-dollar deal with a .719 OPS in 74 games, Ryan Shealy disappointed with a .221 BA and .594 OPS in 52 games, OF Joey Gathright earned some time with great play at AAA Omaha and posted a .307 BA and .713 OPS in 74 games, LaRue failed to hit his weight at .148 with a .512 OPS in 66 games, and ever-developing AAAA OF Shane Costa again failed to step up at KC by hitting .223 with a .558 OPS in 55 games. Midseason utility pickup Jason Smith was purely bench fodder with a .188 BA and .660 OPS in 40 games.

Pitching was a slightly prettier picture as the $11 million dollar man Meche led the way with a 3.67 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 156 Ks and 62 BB in 34 starts and 216 IP, but he finished only 9-13. Bannister also stepped up mid-season to shine in his official rookie season at 12-9 (leading team in wins) with a 3.87 ERA and
1.21 WHIP but only 77 K and 44 BB in 27 starts and 165 IP. The bottom fell out of the rotation after that. Odalis Perez, Jorge de la Rosa, Davies, Elarton and young Billy Buckner all posted plus-5 ERAs, including a whopper 10.46 ERA from Elarton in 9 starts and 37 IP. Perez and de la Rosa were given 26 starts each to try and work out the kinks but neither showed more than an inning or two here and there of solid work. New Royals Riske, Soria and Dotel led a strong bullpen cadre as Riske posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 4 saves in 65 games and 69 2/3 IP, Soria led the team with 17 saves while putting up a 2.48 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 75 K and 19 BB in 62 games and 69 IP, and prior to his trade, Dotel posted a 3.91 ERA and 11 saves with 29 K in 24 games and 23 IP. Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta and Zack Greinke also were rock solid out of the pen with ERAs of 3.02, 3.80 and 3.69 in more than 250 combined IP. Gobble's 74 appearances was good for fourth all-time among Royals in a single season. Greinke in particular showed a proclivity for set-up work for Dotel and Soria. To a lesser extent, Leo Nunez, John Bale and Neal Musser also did all right out of the pen for KC.

An 8-18 mark in April had the Royals last in the AL Central entering May and an 11-17 mark in May didn't help as June dawned with the cellar-dwellers 14 1/2 games back. The successes of June and July coupled with struggles on the south side of Chicago helped KC climb out of last place for a few days here and there, and the thought of finishing out of last was still in the realm of possibility with the season winding down. It
was not to be, however, as the loss of 2 of 3 to the White Sox in late September dropped the Royals into last for good. The team's up and down play didn't seem to have too much effect on attendance as the Royals drew only 1.61 million fans to the K, which ranked them 13th in the AL.

Changes were still in the making for Dayton Moore and KC as renovations were slated for Kauffman S
tadium in the '07-08 offseason and the team would get a new manager after Buddy Bell resigned in late July. Moore ushered in a new era with the hire of Trey Hillman from Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters. The Texan enters Royals employ coming off two straight Japan Series appearances and a series win in 2006. Moore has continued to try and make the Royals a free-agent "player" again with the signing of OF Jose Guillen to man a corner OF spot. International efforts continue with the signing of RP Yasuhiko Yabuta. Buckner was also shipped off to bring in IF Alberto Callaspo from Arizona. The next nine months and onward will tell what direction the Royals are headed but, as of now, it looks to be on an upward slope.

2007 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Gil Meche and Brian Bannister. None of the offensive guys did enough, and Meche and Bannister provided the Royals some long-forgotten starting punch.

2007 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Todd Wellemeyer and Scott Elarton. Plus-10 ERAs. All I need to say. Even if it was only 21 games. If you're wondering which is which, that's Todd wiping his brow after a hard day of giving up wall rockets and that's Elarton the Mound Arsonist gnawing his jersey on the way to the showers after pouring some gas on a fire he started.

Your 2007 Royals.

25 January 2008

A new tangent....

Last year I whiled away the last, long couple months of the offseason with the Royals Legacy Countdown of all 38 teams in the history of the franchise. This year, I have to come up with some new ideas. One new tangent I thought I could go into with The Pipeline is a hobby I share with masses of people all over the world -- sports card collecting. There are some good blogs out there that deal with cards (Cardboard Junkie, Stale Gum and Wax Heaven, to name a short few), which are usually thought of as a kids' hobby, but in the day and age of premium $100-$400 packs of cards, I don't see many 10-year-olds swinging those purchases. But that's why Topps still puts out cards at $2 a pack and there are several 99-cent pack sets out there in circulation. You'd think a pre-teen or teenager with a summer job or lawnmower could pour some money into some of the middle-market product, and all it takes is one hit -- one nice pull -- to maybe get you to the point you can sell a card on eBay and either pocket the money or buy one of those high-end packs.

Anyway, my own road as a collector started as a kid when I found a box of my older brother's football cards. He had left the hobby behind and didn't care that his little brother took on his cards -- he's also the type to take care of things like cards, so most were in pretty good shape. He must have been really into it in 1973, because that's when almost all of them were from -- of course he didn't have any Ken Stablers, Franco Harrises or the good rookies from back in that year, but he did have some nice ones in there -- Len Dawson, 3 Dick Butkuses (right), Jack Tatum and Art Shell RCs (rookie card, if you have no idea what I'm referring to). My mom was good enough to indulge me in card pack purchases from time to time, so I had some (now well-worn) 1981 Topps through some 1985s. The best of that lot -- a 1984 Topps Dan Marino RC -- would later be stolen by a "buddy" who had promised a package of cards including a Fleer Darryl Strawberry rookie (back when Strawberry looked like a budding Hank Aaron and hadn't destroyed his career with white powder). Of course, I being a naive junior-high kid let him take them to never see the cards again - my first experience with some of the bad traders out there who get a thrill from scamming people out of cards. I continued to collect baseball, football and basketball cards, buying and reading Beckett magazine. My collecting picked up steam in 1989 when Pro Set (left) and Score football cards came out (I, of course, made the turn toward Pro Set when Score ended up being the waaaaaay better buy) and 1989-90 Hoops basketball cards came out with the David Robinson series 1 RC (which I eventually pulled and traded to get my Art Shell RC back from a buddy). As I moved into high school, however, and pack prices continued to escalate (I still remember the sticker shock of $1 a pack for 1989 Upper Deck baseball, although if you pulled a Ken Griffey Jr. RC that was a $1 very well spent), the urge to continue to talk my mom into pack buys, which was getting more difficult with each passing year, declined and I faded out of the hobby. I kept all my cards, but the boxes and three-ring binders were put away and not touched for about 8 years.

Fast forward to 1999, when I'm fresh out of college and married with kids on the way. In a random stop i
n a bookstore during my lunch break, I ran across packs of football cards. On a whim, I bought a few packs of 1999 Upper Deck Victory (very low-end product, but a buck a pack with a rookie in each pack -- hard to beat that when you remember the days of buying packs of cards with all 5-cent base set cards inside). To make a long story short, I was hooked again. With the advent of autographs and game-used equipment cards, the thought of owning a Barry Sanders jersey card or a John Stallworth autograph (right) was too good to pass up. I was back into football and basketball collecting, dabbled in some hockey cards, and then a couple years later got fully back into baseball collecting again. It can be expensive, and it takes time to learn what the most worthy buys are (I can't believe how much Collector's Edge stuff and Collector's Choice junk I amassed), but it all pays off when you open a pack and see that game-used card or autograph or nice serial-numbered RC in your hand.

Another added facet of the hobby was the Internet, which of course hadn't been at my fingertips back in the '80s and early 1990s. I didn't have to go to my friend's house with my binders of good cards to trade, nor did I really have the time, and most of my trader friends from back in junior high had moved away, not that they collected anymore necessarily, either. I could go to Beckett's buy-sell-trade boards and take the chance at getting ripped off but
still make some trades. I also scouted the Beckett auctions and eBay and was able to buy some of those cards I always wanted as a kid or teenager but never was able to buy -- the Franco Harris (left) and Kenny Stabler RCs, the Lynn Swann RC. My pack buys also weren't dependent on my mom's income, either -- I made my own money to "blow" on cards. Much to my wife's dismay (somewhat, she's actually pretty good about it), the cards began to mount up. One five-row box of cards became two, then four. Now I've got more than 10 of those with another 8 two-row boxes and a couple four-row boxes. Experiences with the less-than-savory bad trader crowd on Beckett made me search for other pastures -- mainly those with some sort of eBay-style feedback system. A trickle of those sites has developed into a river nowadays. One key to my trading moves has been the creation of my own trading site, first on Geocities and now on Freewebs at Steel Curtain Card Trading. I started out collecting Steelers and 49ers as well as Red Sox and a handful of players in each sport. I've expanded that to sets, now, along with still collecting certain players. I also am into all-time team RCs, and I've polished off the '75 Steelers and '84 49ers on that front. Basically I've ensured that there's always gonna be something out there for me to collect.

Buying and trading habits come and go. I began buying more cards a couple years ago just because I got tired of waiting around for somebody to have one to trade. There are still those "white whale" cards (those hard to find, collection-making cards each collector has in mind) out there for me. Some lucky pulls have helped on that front. When Bowman Signature basketball came out a few years back for $30 a pack, I splurged (several times) and eventually pulled the Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire autographed jersey RCs. I turned the Yao Ming into one of my "white whales" -- a 1981 Topps Joe Montana RC (pictured in all its splendor at right). As a young trader I had a couple buddies with the Montana RC as a prized possession, so the day I was able to get my own, as a collector and as a Niners fan growing up, was a sweet day. I turned the Amare into graded SP Authentic RCs of Paul Pierce and Mike Bibby along with a couple other cards -- can't say that trade has turned out as well, but at the time I was pleased. I've faded out of basketball and hockey trading except for the occasional pack here and there, but still am strongly into baseball and football cards.

The next pull and the next deal are what keep me interested. The great pulls, the cheap finds and the good deals where you give away stuff you don't care about for cards you've wanted for a long time make the money layout worth it. The bad deals (I have some bad memories of the Tom Bradys I traded pre-2001) and the ripoffs are disheartening, for sure, but they don't outweigh the good times.

03 January 2008

Back from a holiday break

Back from a much needed holiday break....and the organization looks different to Royals fans. Let's do a rundown of some of the changes....

1. Trey Hillman hire. I like it, and it sounds like many others do too. The "want a winner" camp gets a guy who won 1 Japan Series title and got to another series in '07 with Nippon Ham. The "don't want a retread" camp gets a guy who is entering his first MLB managerial job. I have a good feeling about this guy. Hope it's not just the Buddy Bell reflux relief in me.

2. Shipping off P Dan Christensen to the Tigers. It was a minor move involving a AA pitcher, but he was a waste of a 40-man roster spot, and absolutely stunk last season. If he rebounds and turns into a good pitcher, it'll be in the Royals' division, but I think the chances of that happening are preeeeeeeeeeeety slim.

3. Signing RP Yasuhiko Yabuta. I think this was also a step in the right direction. The Royals need to get in the mix in the Japanese market and make themselves a player, rather than an observer. I would have liked to see them bring in OF Kosuke Fukudome, too, but that didn't happen.

4. Signed OF Jose Guillen. This is a risk-reward pickup. On one hand, Guillen could struggle in Kauffman and end up going Milton Bradley in the clubhouse, or play a month, get injured and pull a Juan Gonzalez. On the other hand, he could slug .500, hit 25 HR, drive in 100 runs and be the slugging corner OF the team needs. He's maybe not the optimum player for Dayton Moore to bring in, but we'll see how it pans out. I think it's a defendable move.

5. Selecting P Ray Liotta in the Rule 5 draft. I've kept track of Liotta in the White Sox minors for a few years now and liked this pickup a lot. He's rebounding from surgery, so a return to his prior form isn't guaranteed, but this a low-risk, high-upside move. I'd love to see him pitch well this year in Northwest Arkansas or Omaha.

6. Non-tendering OF Emil Brown. Hooray! He's taken enough Royal money.

7. Trade of P Billy Buckner for IF Alberto Callaspo. As the guy who named Buckner the #1 Royals prospect in August (a pick I still don't feel totally sure of), I was bummed to see Buckner go, especially for a guy with a history of (alleged) spousal abuse and possible anger management problems. But, Callaspo has put up great numbers at AAA for Arizona, and the team could use a replacement for Grudz for when he finally hangs 'em up or gets jettisoned. In the end, it made sense to bring in Callaspo, and Buckner wasn't such a sure thing he couldn't go elsewhere.

8. Signing RP Ron Mahay. I just hope he keeps up the good work out of the bullpen. This could be a waste of money if he reverts to 2005 (6.81 ERA) form.

9. Signing C Miguel Olivo. I don't see how he's much improvement from John Buck. Neither is gonna hit over .240, get on base consistently or slug consistently. Color me underwhelmed for this signing. BUT, he is better than Jason LaRue (hopefully).

10. Signing RH Chin-Hui Tsao to a minor-league deal. Another low-risk pickup that could have a reward if Tsao can continue to come back from surgery. He's worth taking a flyer on.

Hopefully I'll get checked in a little bit more frequently until ST and the 2008 season begins.