Thursday, April 14, 2016

Oriole #1010- Hyun Soo Kim-or the Debut that Almost Wasn't

For those of you who follow the Orioles, which I assume is the vast majority of people who visit my little site, then you are familiar with the saga of Hyun Soo Kim' time with the Orioles during this past Spring Training.

The O's signed Kim to a 2 year, $7 million dollar deal back in December 2015. He had played in the Korean Baseball Organization (Korea's version of MLB) for the past decade or so, and he was a star in the league, who hit for power and average and got on base consistently. At the time that he signed, it was widely assumed that he would be the Orioles left fielder in 2016, due at least in part to the lack of organizational outfield depth.

But once Spring Training started, the emergence of Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard and his sensational success quickly eclipsed Kim, who had a polar opposite spring training experience from Joey. Whether it was a culture shock, language barrier, or the adjustment to a new league, Kim struggled from the start. He began the spring 0-23 and finished Grapefruit League action with a paltry .178 average with no extra base hits and a single walk. In fact, it seemed like most of his hits didn't even leave the infield and he was regularly over-matched by average major league fastballs.

Kim's contract stated that he needed to give his approval to be optioned to the minor leagues (a poorly thought out stipulation by the Orioles), and he refused, insisting that his contract be honored. It was a bad situation all around, because he clearly would have benefited by getting regular at bats at AAA, but it's hard to blame him too much since his contract gave him the control to decide and it was always his dream to play in the Major Leagues. I can honestly see both sides of the story.

Due to Hyun Soo's insistence about staying on the Major League roster, he ran down the orange carpet with the rest of the team on Opening Day, but was the only Orioles player to receive any boo's (again in my opinion only partially deserved).

It took him until the fifth game of the season to make his Orioles and MLB debut, when he started in left field against the Rays in the final game of the Orioles first homestand. He went 2-3 with two infield singles in his debut, and appeared in his second game last night against the Red Sox in Boston, where he was 0-4 but did walk twice. Only time will tell how this is going to work out, but right now, he is firmly entrenched on the bench as the team's fifth outfielder.

Finally, I'd be remiss to not mention my autograph experience with Hyun Soo since this is an autograph blog. I flat out had no success with him in Spring. In fact, I don't even know if he ever looked at me or the other fans I was with. At one point, I was with a group of about eight people, including 2-3 attractive Korean girls who were only waiting for him and had signs for him to boot. He was in the car with his translator and blew right past the group of us, with a small wave of his hand and his eyes never leaving his phone. So I'm not a fan of his not because of his contract situation and how he ended up on the 25 man roster, but instead because of how I saw him treat his fans in Sarasota. Bad form Hyun Soo.

As was the case with my Pedro Alvarez autograph, my autographing friend Alan once again was able to help me out. For whatever reason, Hyun Soo seemed to gladly sign for Alan, who got his autograph at least three times while I continued to strike out. So thanks to my dad's Old Man Card, and Alan's help, this autograph will always be in my collection.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Oriole # 1009- Vance Worley

After the initial rush of four Orioles debuts over the first two games of the season, it took a few more games for the last two new guys on the roster to make their debut on the field. Vance Worley and Hyun Soo Kim both debuted simultaneously in the field this past Sunday, April 10th, in the Orioles fifth game of the season. So I had to go back to my positional tie-breaker system to determine that Worley being the pitcher (position 1) slotted ahead of Kim who started in left field (7), so that officially locked Vance in as the 1009th player in Orioles history.

(Sorry for the crappy scans of these two cards, but my scanner started playing hardball with me)

The Vanimal (his nickname since his college days for his hardcore workouts) was the only one of the six new Orioles to debut in 2016 who was a member of the team and attended Orioles Fanfest back in December. So, thanks to my dad's Old Man Orioles custom cards, I had been prepared for his Orioles debut for about five months by the time it actually came around. I wasn't actually sure that he was going to break camp with the team, as it came down to the final day of Spring Training before it was officially announced that he heading to Baltimore. 

Interestingly enough, he started the season as the team's fifth starter, but it's possible that Tyler Wilson will move into that role in the future, but only time will tell. Vance hadn't pitched in something like ten days before making his start, so it would make sense if he was a little bit rusty. He pitched reasonably well, and gave up just two earned runs over 4.2 innings, while he struck out five Rays. If he had been able to get one more out, he would have been in line for the win, but the wheels had started to come off. All told, it was a solid performance for his debut, especially after the long layover. 

In addition to getting Vance's autograph at Fanfest, he was one of the better signers I came across during my Spring Training trip too. I came across him with just one other fan nearby and he signed these cards for me, as well as the OMC at the top of the post. Prior to Vance's signing for us, the other autograph seeker saw my Twins card and mentioned that Vance likely wouldn't sign it. I had never heard anything about this, so I put the Twins card on the bottom, and figured it didn't hurt to ask.

Which leads to one of my funnier autograph stories in recent memory. Before signing the card, he thoroughly crossed out both the Twins lettering and logo. I wasn't sure he was going to still sign the card, but he did. And I didn't get the whole story behind this, but suffice it to say that he clearly doesn't have good memories about his time in Minnesota.

Thanks for signing for me Vance and welcome to the club!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Oriole # 1008- Yovani Gallardo

This past off-season saw the Orioles embroiled in a few strange controversies, which I wish I could say was surprising, but for those of us who have followed the team over the years, some of these odd occurrences seem all too common in Baltimore. It was originally reported that the Orioles and Yovani had agreed to a three year deal, but then the O's, who seem to have the most rigorous physical process in baseball, had some concerns about what they saw in the physical. The purported deal languished, and it seemed like both sides might go their separate ways, before the pact was restructured and they agreed to a contract of two years with an option for a third. Shortly after this time, it was announced that the Orioles had signed Dexter Fowler to a three year deal before he showed up at the Cubs Spring Training facility to announce that he had signed a one year deal with them. Such is life in Birdland. 

At least the team ended up with one of the two free agents, and Yovani Gallardo made his Orioles debut as the starting pitcher in the team's second game of the season to officially cement his place as the 1008th player to appear in a game for the Orioles. He pitched five innings in his debut against the Twins, gave up just a single run, and earned the win for his efforts. His second game against the Red Sox in Boston didn't go as well, as he again pitched five innings, but this time game up five earned runs, but was bailed out by the O's bats to earn a no decision.

Who knows what this season will bring, and I wasn't totally on board about giving up one of the team's first round picks to sign him, but there is no doubt that the Orioles needed starting pitching help, and Yovani has been a consistent MLB starter for almost a decade.

Yovani was drafted by the Brewers in the second round of the 2004 draft and he pitched for the Brewers from 2007-14 with a 89-64 record. (The O's picked Wade Townsend who never signed in the first round, and lost their second rounder to the A's in return for signing Miguel Tejada to a free agent deal). The Brewers traded him to the Rangers prior to the 2015 season and he went 13-11 in his lone season in Texas. One of the main selling points for Yovani is the fact that he has made at least 30 starts each season since 2009, a consistency that has been lacking for many of the Orioles starters during that time.

Yovani signed these cards for me on my trip to Spring Training this past March. He had only signed with the team a few days before we left, so it was a quick turnaround for my dad to make these cards, but not surprisingly, he came through! And I only saw Yovani sign the one time that I got him, so I'm happy that it worked out that he signed for me!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Oriole #1007- Pedro Alvarez

As I've mentioned while writing my last two debut posts highlighting Joey Rickard and Mark Trumbo, any time there are multiple debuts in the same game, I use fielding position numbers (1-9) as a tiebreaker. And although Pedro also made his Orioles debut on Opening Day, he served as the designated hitter in that game, so is the last of the three players to have officially made his debut in the O's first game of 2016. 

Pedro didn't officially sign with the Orioles until the day after I came back home from Sarasota, but I actually saw him at the Orioles complex on the last day of my trip; presumably he was there to take his physical. So that makes sense given that the Orioles physical/signing process generally seems to take something like 2-3 days to complete. They are certainly known for their "thorough" process, just ask Grant Balfour or Yovani Gallardo.

Thankfully, I've made a connection with a few fellow Orioles autograph collectors in Sarasota, and Alan was kind enough to help me out with Pedro (and Hyun Soo Kim), neither of whom signed for me on my trip (more about Kim in his post that will be up in a few days). Some of you might remember Alan for his winning a contest and being included in the Topps Heritage Minors set a couple years back. I've heard that Pedro isn't the best signer, so I was extremely happy that Alan was able to not only get my Old Man Card signed, but also personalized for me!

Pedro was the Pirates first round draft pick in the 2008 draft (the Orioles selected Brian Matusz two picks later), and he had a bit of an up and down career during his six seasons in Pittsburgh. He struggled defensively at third and later first base, and while he did make the 2013 All-Star team and hit 131 homeruns, including 30+ two times, he also struck out 813 times and struggled to hit for average.

Between being a Scott Boras client, and some salary demands, it was not too surprising to see that he was still unsigned in early March. After the Orioles deal for Dexter Fowler fell apart, they turned their attention to Pedro and signed him to a one year $5.75 million deal.

He has struggled a bit for the Orioles so far, and has just one hit over fifteen at-bats in five games. He has walked three times and only struck our four times, so it could be worse. But I'm hoping that his power potential shows up sometime soon.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Oriole #1006- Mark Trumbo

As I mentioned in yesterday's post about Joey Rickard's debut, three players made their Orioles debut on Opening Day 2016. Again, my tie-breaker system involves using the numbered fielding positions to order the debuts, and Rickard's debut in left field (7), came just ahead of Trumbo's debut in right field (9). So Joey is Oriole #1005, and Mark becomes Oriole #1006. 

Mark's Orioles debut was quite memorable, as he went 4-5 with 4 singles as well as a stolen base. He becomes just the fourth Oriole to record four hits in his Baltimore debut following Sam Horn, Ronny Paulino, and Chris Parmelee. But honestly, the stolen base might be more noteworthy for him considering he only had 20 previous steals over 690 MLB games. 

The Orioles acquired Mark (and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser) in a trade with the Mariners this past December in exchange for local Baltimore product and hometown favorite, Steve Clevenger. Even though Steve was a great guy and easy to root for, I honestly thought it was a great transaction since the Orioles were relatively deep at catcher, and thin in the outfield. Trumbo has some legitimate power as well and has hit over 30 HR twice in his six MLB seasons.

He has bounced around a bit, and was originally drafted by the Angels, before being traded to the Diamondbacks, and later the Mariners. He came in second in the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Jeremy Hellickson, and was an All-Star for the Halos in 2012.

Mark signed both of these Old Man Cards for me during my Spring Training trip. I saw him sign multiple times over the course of the trip and was lucky to have gotten his autograph twice as he was mobbed by fans both times I got his autograph. I actually mentioned that I had his first Orioles card, and he specifically picked it out of the crowd and signed it for me. He took a minute to look it over and I asked him what he thought and he said it was a nice card. He asked if I made it and I was happy to give the credit to my dad for his help.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Oriole # 1005- Joey Rickard

I wrote about him last week and I'm already writing about him again, the 2016 Orioles rookie sensation, Joey Rickard.

He was the Orioles' 2015 Rule 5 pick from the Tampa Bay Rays farm system where he spent the 2015 season with the AA Montgomery Biscuits. For the O's, over 63 Spring Training at bats in 28 games, he hit a robust .397 with 6 doubles, a triple, a home run, and five stolen bases, typically batting in the lead-off spot. The Orioles love keeping their Rule 5 picks anyway but that kind of performance would have led to his making the team regardless of the situation. 

Joey was one of three Orioles making his debut for the team on Opening Day, but his was additionally special because it was his MLB debut as well. I use the 1-9 numbered fielding positions on the baseball field as a debut tie-breaker, so Joey, who started in left field (7), narrowly edged out Mark Trumbo in right field (9). and Pedro Alvarez (DH) for the first debut of the 2016 season.  I read somewhere online that according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Joey was the first player to start an Opening Day game for the Orioles in the same year as being selected as a Rule 5 pick.

Rickard wasted no time making noise in the regular season, and singled in his first at-bat, and then doubled in his second AB. Unfortunately, a cycle was not in the works, but going 2-4 with a run scored on your Opening Day MLB debut is flat-out amazing. Joey is living the dream right now.

So, you might have noticed that the only three pictures in this post are three copies on my dad's Old Man Cards. Joey was a great signer for me during my Spring Training trip, but the only issue is how few cards exist of him. As far as I can tell, outside of custom cards like my dad's, he is pictured on just three cards, all minor league issues from his time in the Rays' farm system; he is included in the 2013 Bowling Green Hot Rods, 2014 Montgomery Biscuits, and 2015 Charlotte Stone Crabs sets. And none of those cards are particularly easy to come by, so thanks as always to my dad for making these great cards!

Good luck with your career, Joey! I hope it continues as well as it started!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Doubting the Existence of a few Orioles Crown Autographs

Orioles autograph collectors are lucky that the Crown Gasoline card set was issued in 1991 to commemorate the final season that the team played in Memorial Stadium. The set included every single player who appeared in even a single game for the team from their introduction in Baltimore in 1954 through the early '91 season. In many cases, the Crown card is the only baseball card made of those players, and certainly the only Orioles card that exists for quite a few others.

The set can also be a bit of a curse to someone like me, who would be happy to have any autograph of many of these players if not for the Crown set picturing them as Orioles. As I can attest, it is much easier to find any random signature of a player as opposed to trying to find a specific card that is signed. Which leads me to this post.

As I said, the Crown set came out in 1991, so any player that passed away before that time and is included in the set obviously never signed their card; 32 former Orioles players died before the set came out so there are no signed Crowns of those guys. Another five died during 1991, and as the set was available for sale in four parts (May 18, June 29, August 11, & September 16) most of those five passed away before they feasibly could've signed their Crown cards.

Finally getting to the main point of this post, the list of Orioles autographs I have been chasing after is at a scant 15 players I have been trying to track down upgrades for; and of those 15, 8 are only pictured as Orioles on their crown cards, John Anderson, Stan Jefferson, Ed Lopat, Chuck Oertel, Carl Powis, Joe Taylor, Valmy Thomas, and Marv Throneberry. Of that group, Stan Jefferson is still alive, so I can hold out hope that one day he will sign his Crown card, or I will come across a signed copy. Of the others, I have seen signed copies of Taylor's Crown, and have been told of other collectors who have Lopat & Thomas in their collections.

Which leaves us with John Anderson, Chuck Oertel, Carl Powis, & Marv Throneberry. I recently came across the story of an older gentleman who has collected autographs of this set since it came out in 1991. And he doesn't have any of those four signed Crowns, among a few others. Which leads me to believe that those signed Crowns might simply not exist. And if that's the case, I'm going to remove them from my need list. 

If anyone out there owns, or has ever seen a signed Crown card of any of those four, please let me know, because I am at the point where I am seriously doubting their existence. Anderson and Powis largely fell off the map after their playing careers ended, and their autographs seem to be extremely limited. I don't know much about Oertel's post playing career, but his autographs are also quite limited. Throneberry was a Miller Lite spokesman after his career, but passed away in 1994 after battling cancer, so it's possible that he was too ill to sign once the set came out. 

Again, if anyone knows if these signed cards do in fact exist, please let me know. Because after almost a decade of trying to track them down, I think they might just not be out there.