1996 Cincinnati Reds season

30 11 2012

In 1996, MLB continued the new trend they’d started the year before by having an “Opening Night” of one game the Sunday night prior to all teams starting up.  This meant Cincinnati wasn’t the first game of the year any more.  They did get the first game of Opening Day in 1996 – but it ended shortly after it began.  Home plate umpire John McSherry tragically collapsed and died of a heart attack 7 pitches into the game.  Marge Schott offended the Umpires (and just about everyone else) by complaining that the game got cancelled.  She then tried to apologize by sending re-gifted flower to umpires at a future game – but none of the umpires were currently in attendance.

After running away with the Central division the year before, Schott had also fired manager Davey Johnson despite the fact he’d led the club to its most successful season since 1990.  Ostensibly, the reason for not renewing his contract was that Schott didn’t approve of Johnson living with his girlfriend (whom he married shortly thereafter).  Ray Knight was hired as Johnson’s replacement.

GM Jim Bowden found success with Ron Gant as a 1995 reclamation project – and then losing him to the evil empire of the NL Central (Cardinals).  He brought back three former 1990 World Series team members with the same thought – 2 of them with success.  Eric Davis came out of retirement after a year off and hit 26 home runs.  Joe Oliver also signed again, and he and Eddie Taubensee offered a solid platoon at catcher.  Chris Sabo didn’t pan out as well; in fact, he actually got suspended mid-season for using a corked bat.  Sabo maintained he used another player’s bat, and he was correct that his 1996 performance “was hardly an endorsement of the cork industry”.  Hal Morris, another 1990 holdover, was again a solid hitter at first base, batting .313.

Barry Larkin was again the team’s best player.  He followed up his 1995 MVP campaign with the best season of his career.  He became the first shortstop to have a 30-30 season (A-Rod and Jimmy Rollins have followed him since), with 33 HR, 36 SB, and 117 runs scored.  Unfortunately, Reggie Sanders did not have anything close to his 1995 all-star season.  Injuries limited him to just 81 games and a .251 average.

The Reds starting pitching was much worse as well.  Opening day starter and Cy Young runner-up Pete Schourek struggled to a 4-5 record before being shelved for injuries in July.  John Smiley, Dave Burba and Mark Portugal were decent, but not great.  Jeff Brantley was excellent as the team’s reliever – he posted a 2.41 ERA and saved an NL-leading 44 games.  He won the Rolaids Relief award that year.

The Reds started incredibly slow and were out of contention early.  As late as June 22nd, they were 9 games under .500 – so the 2nd half of the season was a race to .500 more than a race to the pennant.  They did have a good second half and staved off elimination until a loss to the NL Central Champion Cardinals on September 22nd put them 6.5 back with 6 to play.

Speaking of that series and of Larkin and Marge Schott – I found this photo.  This may be one of the weirder pictures I’ve ever seen.  Schott loved to impose her love of all things St. Bernard on others – though Ozzie seems perfectly OK with it here.  Barry was always classy – even though his early career was overshadowed by Smith, he had no problem paying tribute to the guy.  This was taken on September 20th, as Ozzie had announced his retirement.  Side note – those sleeveless pinstriped uniforms are my all-time favorite.

Larkin made his 8th All-Star team in 9 years, but he was the lone Cincinnati representative.  Despite being the best reliever in the NL, Brantley didn’t get the All-Star nod due to the team’s slow start – 28 of his 44 saves came after the All-Star break.

Team MVP: Barry Larkin (.298/33/89, 117 R, 36 SB, Gold Glove)

Best Pitcher: Jeff Brantley (1-2/2.41/76, 44 SV, Rolaids Relief Award)

Award Winners:

Larkin, Gold Glove & Silver Slugger

Brantley, Rolaids Relief


Larkin (starter)

1996 MLB playoffs

29 11 2012

I’m further breaking up my “what happened in baseball during that year” posts to create two more posts that I’ll do for each year.  This one was always the bottom part of my “year in review” post in the past – a summary of the playoffs.  I’m also going to break up the statistics posts – I’ll explain my reasoning when I do that post – but, in short, these posts are too long not to break up a bit more!

Division Series:

The ’96 playoffs started off with some controversy.  In the throes of the division / wild card race at the end of September, Roberto Alomar got into a heated argument over a call with umpire John Hirschbeck.  Alomar spit in the umpire’s face and was given a five-game suspension – to be served at the start of the next season.  A bunch of ugly back and forth came out afterward, but Alomar and Hirschbeck did patch things up before the start of the new year.  However, the fact that Alomar’s suspension was held off until the next season and not enforced in the next games was a source of controversy.

The division series again had predetermined seeding for the 3 division champions.  Because of this, the Yankees didn’t get home field against Texas – despite having a better record.  They also lost the opening game in the Bronx after giving up a 3-run homer to MVP Juan Gonzalez.  “Juan Gone” hit 2 more dingers in game 2 – but Derek Jeter gave an early glimpse into the playoff magic that would become his trademark.  The Yankees scored in 5 different innings, with Jeter coming all the way home from 2nd base after Dean Palmer made an error on a bunt by Charlie Hayes for a “walk-off error” in the 12th inning.

Gonzalez hit another homer in game 3 in Arlington, but the Yankees scored two runs in the top of the 9th to win the game 3-2.  Incredibly, Gonzalez hit another home run in game 4 – his 5th in the series, but the Yankees again thwarted the Rangers behind two shots from Bernie Williams to take the series, 3 games to 1.

Baltimore faced off against Cleveland – the best team in baseball and the defending AL champs.  Bobby Bonilla’s grand slam led to a route in game 1, and Alomar had a key RBI to give the Orioles a 2-0 series lead.  Homers by Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle kept the Indians alive for another game – but Alomar provided a game-winning homer in the 12th inning of game 4 to send the Orioles to the ALCS.

In the National League – the predetermined seeding ended up working out the same way the records did.  Atlanta again swept their way into the NLCS behind their talented trio – behind Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine the team gave up only 5 runs in the 3 games.  The Cardinals had a sweep of their own – beating out the Padres in 3 close games, all saved by new closer Dennis Eckersley.

Championship Series:

The NLCS was a hotly contested matchup that went to the 7-game limit.  Starting in Atlanta, Smoltz was excellent in game 1 and led the Braves to a 1-game lead.  Maddux gave up 3 early runs in game 2, but settled down until the 7th inning.  At that point, a Chipper Jones error eventually led to 5 unearned runs off of Maddux, capped by a 2-out grand slam to Gary Gaetti.  Ron Gant managed 2 home runs off Tom Glavine in the next game, and Eckersley got his 4th save of the postseason – the Cardinals had actually made it through the Braves vaunted trifecta of starters with a 2-1 lead!  The next game, a triple off the bat of Dmitri Young – who hadn’t even had enough time to qualify as a rookie yet – and a homer by Brian Jordan led the Cardinals to a win over Denny Neagle.  The defending World Champions were on the brink of elimination.

After scoring just 10 runs in the first 4 games, Atlanta’s offense woke up in game 5 – scoring two touchdowns worth of runs.  Smoltz won his 3rd game of the postseason, as he and the bullpen combined to shut out the Cardinals, 14-0, to send the series back to Atlanta.  Maddux was dominant in game 6, and the Braves evened the series to force a deciding game 7.  Glavine shut the door on the Cardinals in a blowout even more impressive than game 5.  In addition to throwing 7 innings of shutout ball, Glavine had a 3-run triple that blew the doors open in a 6-run first inning.

The Yankees-Orioles series started off in Yankee Stadium with one of the more controversial calls in Series history.  With the O’s on top 4-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Derek Jeter hit an opposite field fly ball toward the right field wall.  12-year old Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall in attempt to catch the ball, which  bounced off his glove over the wall to tie the game.  Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco argued vehemently that it should have been fan interference, and replays showed he was probably right.  Three innings later, Bernie Williams hit a walk-off home run off closer Randy Myers to give the Yankees the first game of the series.

The Yankees scored twice in the first inning of game 2, but David Wells settled down and Baltimore battled back to tie the series behind a Rafael Palmeiro home run.  It was Baltimore’s turn to take a 2-0 first inning lead in the next game, and they still had a 2-1 lead going into the 8th inning.  It was all Yankees from there on out, though.  Ace Mike Mussina gave up 4 runs, capped off by a Cecil Fielder smash to knock him out of the game.  The Yankees won 8-4 in game 4 behind 2 homers from Darryl Strawberry, and a 6-run 3rd inning behind homers from Strawberry, Fielder and Jim Leyritz put the Yankees back in the World Series for the first time since 1981.

World Series:

To end their longest championship drought since Babe Ruth played in Boston, the Yankees needed to overthrow the defending champion Braves.  The Braves boasted the best starting pitching in baseball – but the Yankees had the best bullpen behind closer John Wetteland and phenom setup man – young Mariano Rivera.

It didn’t start out well for the Yankees.  Though rain pushed the game back a day, Atlanta maintained their torrid pace from the last 3 games of the NLCS.  Not even a rookie yet, 19-year old Andruw Jones became the youngest player to hit a World Series home run in the 2nd inning.  He followed that up with another shot in the 6-run 3rd, and Cy Young winner Smoltz dominated the Bronx Bombers to win his 4th game of the postseason (and 28th of 1996).  Maddux pitched 8 scoreless innings, and all of a sudden the defending champs were heading home with a 2 game lead.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, game 2 is the last World Series game they’ve won.  Glavine and Yankee starter David Cone dueled to a 2-1 game through 7 innings, before a Bernie Williams homer of Greg McMichael gave a cushion that Wetteland wouldn’t relinquish in the 9th.  I’ve always felt this game gets overlooked a bit in the history of baseball – if Cone wasn’t so outstanding, the Braves end up with an insurmountable 3-0 lead and who knows what happens to that Yankee dynasty if they don’t win the ’96 Series.

Atlanta bounced back early in game 4, taking a 5-0 lead and knocking Kenny Rogers out in the 3rd inning.  They tacked another run on in the 5th.  Denny Neagle was on a roll, but a couple of field miscues knocked him out of the game in the 6th inning and got the Yankees to within 6-3.  Manager Bobby Cox brought in closer Mark Wohlers in the 8th inning, but he wasn’t up to the task, giving up a dramatic 3-run homer to Jim Leyritz that tied the game.  The Yankees completed the comeback when Wade Boggs worked a “pinch walk” off of Steve Avery in the top of the 10th and a mistake by Ryan Klesko netted the Yankees another run and an 8-6 victory.

Smoltz was tasked with switching momentum back to Atlanta in game 5, and he was up to that task.  Unfortunately for him, so was 21-game winner Andy Pettitte.  The Braves’ hitters and fielder failed them.  The only run of this contest was an unearned one that scored due to a mixup between outfielders Marquis Grissom and Jermaine Dye.  This was the last game played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Greg Maddux stood between New York and clinching the title at home.  And though Maddux was good, he was undone by a poor 3rd inning.  After a leadoff double and a ground out got Paul O’Neill to 3rd base, Grissom misjudged a fly ball and Joe Girardi ended up with an RBI triple.  Derek Jeter singled home Girardi, and after he stole second, Bernie Williams singled Jeter home.  The Yankees couldn’t muster any more runs off of Jeter, but that was all they needed.  After his starter gave up just one run through 5+ innings, Joe Torre pulled Jimmy Key and handed the game to his bullpen.  Rivera pitched scoreless 7th and 8th innings, and Torre brought in Wetteland to close the series.  The Braves managed a run and got the tying runner to 2nd base, but Wetteland got Mark Lemke to pop out and give the Yankees their first title in 18 years.  Wetteland won the Series MVP award after becoming the first pitcher to save all 4 wins.

1996 baseball season in review

28 11 2012

Highlights and Events:

The 1996 looked promising as the first full season for MLB since 1993.  The season started off, however, with tragedy as home plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died in the first game of the year at Cincinnati.  Marge Schott famously offended the Umpire’s union (and just about everyone else) by complaining that the game got cancelled.  After running away with the division the year before, Schott had fired manager Davey Johnson.  Call it karma, but the Reds – who seemingly had an even better team than the year before – finished .500 on the year.

One of the game’s favorite stars also didn’t start the season off where he expected.  Kirby Puckett was wrapping up an excellent spring training and appeared ready for a stellar 13th season when he woke up unable to see out of right eye.  He was diagnosed with glaucoma, and, sadly, was forced to retire early from the game in July.

Another future Hall-of-Famer also had his career end due to health reasons.  Tommy LaSorda had a mild heart attack in June that forced him to retire from the game just short of 1,600 wins.  One of LaSorda’s player came back from a health scare – Brett Butler missed 4 months out of the season for surgery from throat cancer, but returned on September 6th.

Ownership in St. Louis changed hands, as Anheuser-Busch sold the Cardinals to a group led by investor Bill De Witt, Jr.

Back to the field, a couple of neat things happened in the middle of May against the Mariners.  First, Dwight Gooden, suspended for the entire 1995 season for continued cocaine use, bounced back to no-hit the M’s at Yankee Stadium on May 14th.  3 days later, Chris Hoiles did something that’s never been done before or since in MLB history.  Down 3 runs with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th and the bases loaded in Baltimore, Hoiles worked a 3-2 count before hitting a walk-off home run – this is the only time this has ever happened in MLB history.

Al Leiter (3 days before Gooden) and Hideo Nomo also threw no-hitters in 1996.  Nomo’s was in Coors Field of all places!

Baseball also had some first-time venues in 1996.  The Oakland A’s actually opened the season in Las Vegas – construction to support the Raiders move back to Oakland went over and Oakland played their first 6 games at Cashman Field (they went 2-4).  A planned neutral site affair occurred in August, when the Padres hosted the Mets for a 3-game series at Estadio Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico.  Fernando Valenzuela was, fittingly, the winning pitcher in the first game ever outside of the U.S. or Canada.

The Olympics brought the annual amateur diversion from the game – and the United States team had more potential than any previous Olympic year.  Unfortunately, the U.S. couldn’t get past Japan in the semifinals – despite clobbering them in the round robin play.  Thus they didn’t get the chance to face off against Cuba, who beat Japan 13-9 in the finals behind 3 home runs from Cuban great Omar Linares.  The U.S. did beat Nicaragua, 10-3, in the bronze medal game.

There were a bunch of milestones reached in 1996.

  • Eddie Murray became the 15th (wow, how times have changed) player to hit 500 home runs.  He hit the milestone home run at home at Camden Yards off Tiger pitcher Felipe Lira.  Murray was the 3rd player to join both the 3,000 Hit and 500 HR clubs.
  • After returning to his hometown Minnesota Twins, Paul Molitor joined Murray in the 3,000 Hit club.  He is the only player whose 3,000th hit was a triple.  He is also the only player to lead the league in hits the year he got his 3,000th hit – though Pete Rose led the National League in a season after collecting his entry to club 3,000.
  • On a magical night on September 18th, Roger Clemens, nearing the end of his tenure with the Red Sox, tied his own record of 20 strikeouts in a 9-inning game.  Clemens gave up 5 hits and never let a runner past 2nd base in the 4-0 shutout of Detroit at Tiger Stadium.  The Rocket actually struck out 19 batters through 8 innings, and looked to have a shot at breaking the record, but he “gave up” 2 fly ball outs and a single to start the 9th.  He then got Travis Fryman to strike out to end the game and tie the record.
  • Barry Bonds stole his 40th base at the end of the season to join Jose Canseco as the second player with 40 homers and 40 steals in a season.  A-Rod and Alfonso Soriano have since joined them.
  • Brady Anderson hit his 50th home run of the year, becoming the first player with (separate) seasons of 50 homers and 50 stolen bases.  Bonds has since joined him.
  • Mark McGwire also passed the 50 home run barrier – in only 130 games.  He led the majors with 52.

The season saw a continuation of the offensive explosion that had been building for a couple of years.  American League runs per game peaked at 5.39 (up from 5.06 the year before and 4.29 as recently as 1989) – this was the 3rd most in league history and the most since the 1930’s.  The National League had a similar, if not quite as exaggerated, increase.  Fifteen players had 3-homer games – which at the time tied the all-time record for a season.

Ken Griffey Jr. was one of those players – he hit 49 home runs and knocked in 140 runners on the year.  One of his more common RBI’s was a young Alex Rodriguez – in A-Rod’s first full year, he led the league with 141 runs scored, 54 doubles and a .358 batting average.  Jay Buhner pounded 44 HR and 138 RBI, while Edgar Martinez added 26 homers and a .327 average.  The Mariners had the best offense in baseball – scoring over 6 runs a game, or just under 1,000 on the season (993).

This wasn’t enough, though – staff ace Randy Johnson missed most of the season to a back injury and the Mariners were beat out by the Texas Rangers for the division title.  Juan Gonzalez beat out Griffey for the MVP award by slugging 47 homers and 144 RBI.  Texas had a lineup that was nearly as good as Seattle – but had a better starting staff, boasting 5 starters with double digit wins.

The Indians followed up their AL title with the best record in baseball for the 2nd straight year.  Albert Belle followed up the only 50-homer, 50-double season in history with one nearly as good.  He had 48 homers and 148 RBI.  Jim Thome (38/116) and Manny Ramirez (33/112) solidified themselves as stars, and Kenny Lofton (210 H, 75 SB) was again a force at the leadoff position.

The Yankees made the postseason again, as well – this time, though, they won the division.  George Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after he led the Yankees to their first playoff appearance in 14 years in 1995 – but suffered a disappointing walk-off playoff exit in the Division Series.  Steinbrenner hired Joe Torre, who’d won the 1971 NL MVP and had been fired from 3 managerial jobs – the same 3 teams he’d suited up for as a player (Mets, Braves and Cardinals).  Torre had seen some success as a manager; he’d taken the Braves to a Division title in 1983 and posted winning seasons in his 3 full seasons in St. Louis until being fired in the middle of 1995 for a poor record.  But he was somewhat of a controversial hire and certainly didn’t have the name that he does now.

The Yankees had a balanced team that they’d augmented through free agent pickups and players built from the farm system.  Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter – who won the Rookie of the Year award – were budding young stars.  Paul O’Neill was again the team leader, and Wade Boggs had his last All-Star season.  Tino Martinez, Joe Girardi and Mariano Duncan were all starters that were signed in the ’95/’96 offseason.  Ruben Sierra, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines and Cecil Fielder were all recent veteran acquisitions who gave the lineup a fearsome look against righties and lefties.  Any Pettitte nearly took home the Cy Young, leading a staff that featured Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Key, Gooden and David Cone.  After signing Roberto Alomar and getting the benefit of Anderson’s “strange” 50-homer output, Baltimore finished 3 games behind the Bronx Bombers and captured the Wild Card.

Like the Indians in the AL, the Braves successfully defended the best record in the National League.  This year, it was the third member of the Braves starting rotation who had the standout season.  John Smoltz went 24-8 and wrestled away the NL Cy Young from 4-time defending winner Greg Maddux.  As Tom Glavine had won it in 1991 – this trio of teammates had won the award in 6 straight seasons!  In reality, Glavine and Maddux were just as good as Smoltz – all three had an ERA under 3, but Maddux and Glavine had a bunch of no-decisions in quality starts.

The Padres won the West behind Tony Gwynn’s 7th batting title and an MVP season from Ken Caminiti – though in my mind, Barry Bonds or Mike Piazza clearly deserved the award.  The Dodgers were one game behind them after stellar seasons from their army of Rookie of the Year winners.  When Todd Hollandsworth took home the award, it gave the Dodgers the last 5 winners of the Jackie Robinson award – 1996 stats below.

  • 1996 ROY – Hollandsworth (.291/12/59)
  • 1995 ROY – Hideo Nomo (16-11/3.19)
  • 1994 ROY – Raul Mondesi (.297/24/88)
  • 1993 ROY – Mike Piazza (.336/36/105)
  • 1992 ROY Eric Karros (.260/34/111)

The Pads and Dodgers beat out the Rockies in the team’s 2nd year in Coors Field.  But balls were still flying out in Denver!  Colorado scored a run more per game than any other NL team (5.93).  Unfortunately – they didn’t have a pitcher with an ERA under 4.90; games at Coors averaged 15 runs between both teams!  The Rockies did post some impressive individual totals, though.  After leading the league in batting a few years earlier, Andres Galarraga finished off the career triple crown by leading in homers (47) and RBI (150).  With Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla hitting 40 homers as well, the Rockies became the 2nd team with 3 players with 40+ home runs (Atlanta, 1973) – a feat they’d match the next season.

The final playoff spot came from the Cardinals, who snagged Ron Gant (30 HR) from my Reds in the offseason.  Andy Benes was one of the better pitchers outside of Atlanta, winning 18 games to help them to 88 wins.

Best player in baseball was still an easy pick.  Barry Bonds wasn’t the NL MVP, and while Caminiti was deserving, Bonds and Jeff Bagwell were certainly was in the argument.  Bonds was still far ahead of any other player at this point.  Griffey, Bagwell, Biggio, and Frank Thomas all were in the discussion behind him.

Like Bonds, Greg Maddux didn’t take home the hardware, but even though he didn’t defend his 4th straight Cy Young award, he had a season worthy of consideration for the award.  He was still so far ahead of the pack as the best pitcher in baseball that it’s not even worth discussing someone else.

Read tomorrow for the postseason recap…

1996 Topps ’90 Reds Cards

26 11 2012

After we were down to just 12 members of the 25 members of the ’90 World Series team (24 players and Lou Piniella) in the 1995, we went even lower in 1996 – 8 players and 1 subset card.

There were 2 players back in the set after being left out of the ’95 set:

  • Joe Oliver had been injured and only played a half-dozen games in 1994, but started most of the season for Milwaukee in 1995 and thus got a card in this set.
  • After Norm Charlton signed with the Phillies in 1994 and needed Tommy John surgery soon thereafter, Charlton was traded back to the Mariners at the end of 1995.  He became their closer and was a big part of the team’s 1995 playoff run.

Piniella was manager of that Mariners team – but Topps didn’t have manager cards for the third straight year.  He’d be back in Topps sets in the future, though.  Eric Davis would also get back in the game after he didn’t have cards in ’95 or ’96 – but not for another year.

There were 6 players gone from after having cards in the 1995 set:

  • Jack Armstrong was out of baseball after one last shot with Texas in 1994; so he was gone in the ’96 set.
  • Todd Benzinger played his last 9 games in 1995 for the Giants – he signed with the Yankees but never made it into a game.  He didn’t have any cards in 1996.
  • Mariano Duncan didn’t have a Topps card – I’m chalking this one up to the decrease down to 440 cards in the set.  Duncan actually played in over 80 games, and went back to Cincinnati to help out for their playoff run.  Duncan had a few more years left – he would be back in the 1997 set.
  • Though he had a couple of Fleer cards in 1996, Chris Sabo’s last Topps card came in 1995.  He played for the White Sox and Cardinals in 1995 before coming back to Cincy for his last season in 1996.
  • Billy Hatcher also played only a half-dozen games in a short stint with Texas in 1995.
  • Jeff Reed didn’t get a card in the ’96 set despite playing 66 games for the Giants.  He’d be back in the set a year later.

That’s a net loss of 4 guys, so we’re down to only 8 out of 25 in 1996 Topps, and the one subset card (Larkin in Star Power).

1996 – Jose Rijo, Danny Jackson, Randy Myers, Norm Charlton, Joe Oliver, Hal Morris, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, Barry Larkin (Star Power)

Larkin’s Star Power subset fell in the first series, so that netted him a Power Booster insert.  He and Paul O’Neill also got included in the Profiles insert set.  I don’t have either card yet to be able to scan.

1996 Topps Factory Set inserts

25 11 2012

Back to a couple of more 1996 Topps posts.  There are no parallel inserts in the 1996 Topps set (I’m not counting Team Topps or Topps Chrome – those are technically separate products) – so I don’t have a post for that from this year and I’m on to Factory Set specific cards.  Both hobby and retail factory sets from 1996 had the same 2 “factory set only” insert cards (the cereal box versions had neither).  Both of these cards are Mickey Mantle inserts.  The first one is a parallel card of the Mick’s “retired” card #7.  Similar to the “Case” Mantle inserts from series 2, this one is “factory sealed” with plastic around it – and that plastic has a gold foil stamp on the back that calls this “Last Day Production”.

The other card is a neat card that advertises Mantle’s charity – “Mickey’s Team” or the Mickey Mantle Foundation.  It’s a cool looking card.

I bought both of these cards on Check Out My Cards recently.

Saturdays Suds: Baseball & Beer #17 – Ommegang Hennepin

24 11 2012

Continuing with my posts on beers from the Ommegang Brewery.  The second one is Ommegang Hennepin.  I’m going to do these Saturday Suds posts every other week in the “offseason” – and most (maybe all) will be Ommegang beers.

Brewery:  Ommegang Brewery, Cooperstown, NY

(Now owned by the Duvel Belgian Brewery, though still operated out of Cooperstown)

Beer:  Ommegang Hennepin

Description:  Per the bottle – “Father Hennepin was the Belgian missionary who discovered Niagara Falls.  Our Hennepin is a rare Saison Farmhouse Ale – pale, hoppy, crisp and rustic like Tintin, Magritte, and Audrey Hepburn.  Hennepin is famous, but not for being Belgian!”

Saison beers are pale ales originally brewed seasonally in Belgium.  The beer is light in color and tastes (to me at least) somewhere between a lager and a wheat beer.  It’s got some spice to it, for sure – the word crisp above is a good one.

Medium:  A large bottle (1 pint, 9.4 oz).  The bottle comes in a cork.  These are sold in the beer/liquor store close to me, and this was the first one I picked up.  I’d tried it a long time ago when I went to Cooperstown. You can also buy the standard 12 ounce bottles.

How it’s related to baseball:  The brewery’s location is really the only link.  The Ommegang Brewery is a Belgian-style brewery that has been around for 25 years.  But the brewery is in Cooperstown – home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I went to Cooperstown with my dad in early September.  We didn’t stop at the brewery, but I’d had a couple of these beers when I went for Rickey Henderson’s induction.  The brewing tradition in Cooperstown actually goes back much further than the baseball tradition does – so I’ll feature a few more of these (and one other brewery) over the coming weeks!

1996 Topps Retro Inserts (Mantle)

23 11 2012

Topps went from 2 different pack-inserted sets in 1995 to a bunch more in 1996.  I’m covering these in two posts – I did all other inserts yesterday – because Topps started something they’d do over the next few years.  “The Mick” was the main theme for this year’s insert sets.  Topps issued various reprints of the full run of Mantle base cards from his career – including Bowman for the years when he didn’t have a Topps card – from 1951 through 1969.

As always – odds below are for hobby packs.

Mantle Reprints (19 cards, 1:9 series 1)

Series 1 has just one Mantle set – it’s a basic reprints of each of the 19 cards.  The cards are glossy, but other than that there are only small differences from the originals.  There is a “Mickey Mantle Commemorative” Gold foil stamp in the image of his ’52 Topps card on the front, and an extra line on the backing noting it’s card # out of 19.

Mantle Reprints Finest (19 cards, 1:18 series 2)

Mantle Reprints Finest Refractors (19 cards, 1:96 series 2)

In Series 2, Topps started going a little crazy with the Mantle-ness.  First up, there are “Finest” and “Finest Refractor” versions of the cards that come without the Gold Foil stamp but with the “protective cover” that Topps thought would be a good idea at the time.  I must admit, though – these cards are cool, and the refractors are beautiful.

Mantle Reprints Case (19 cards, 1 per series 2 case)

These cards came as case toppers.  They’re exactly like the Series 1 inserts, except they are encased in a plastic seal and have the words “Topps Factory Seal” on the back in Gold Foil.

Mantle Redemption (19 cards, 1:108 series 2)

These cards promoted a “contest” Topps was having.  There were 2,000 of each card printed, and each redemption card could be mailed in to get entered into a drawing to win an original Mantle card.  At least one of each card was given away.  76 total were given away – but only one of the 51 Bowman and 52 / 53 Topps cards.

1996 Topps inserts

22 11 2012

I’m going to do two posts about 1996 Topps inserts – tomorrow I’ll cover the various Mantle inserts, today I’ll cover all others.  As always, the insert odds reflect hobby packs.

Star Power and Draft Pick Power Boosters (25 cards, 1:36 in series 1)

Each of the first 26 base cards in series 1, except for the commemorative card #7 of Mantle, had a parallel “Power Booster” insert version.  Cards #1-12 were inserted into retail packs – these were the Star Power subset from the regular set.  Cards #13-26 were inserted into hobby packs – these were the Draft Pick subset.

It’s interesting that Topps only inserted these cards into series 1.  There were equivalent subsets in series 2 – at the start of the series, from cards 221-231 and 232-245.

Profiles (40 cards, 1:12)

This set was inserted into both series in all types of packs.  Each series has 10 cards from each league – for 40 total.  The series 2 cards look slightly different, with more of a “spectralight” effect on the background and the sides, while the first series has more of a “Chrome” effect.  For each of these cards, 1996 Topps spokesman Tony Gwynn and Kirby Puckett give their thoughts about the hitters from their respective league.

Mystery Finest (26 cards, 1:36 series 1)

Mystery Finest Refractors (26 cards, 1:216 series 1)

For the third straight year, Topps inserted cards with Finest technology into the base product.  This series 1 insert set had a twist, though.  As opposed to the (annoying) “protective sleeve” that gave you a “to peel or not to peel” conundrum – there was an opaque covering and there were 3 possible players that all had the same card back.  So to know if you got Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Raul Mondesi – you’d have to peel the front.

The cards were available in refractor versions.  I was lucky enough to pull a Nomo in my series 1 box.

Masters of the Game (20 cards, 1:18, series 1 – hobby only)

This hobby only insert highlights the best players in the game at the time.  These horizontal cards have a picture of the player on the front with a view of his home field in the background – with a bit of the spectralight effect on the background.  The back has particular accomplishments that I guess qualify this player as a “Master of the Game”.  I must say – there is a Chrome version (and refractor parallel) of these cards inserted into that product that seems to look a lot sharper from scans I’ve seen.

Wrecking Crew (15 cards, 1:18, series 2 – hobby only)

The series 2 “hobby only” insert highlights power hitters specifically.  The front shows the player with a gray background and a ball and chain “wrecking” a concrete wall down the side.  The back shows average season and career totals for AB, H, HR and RBI, plus a writeup about why the guy is such a good hitter.  There is again a Topps Chrome and refractor parallel in that product that I think is better looking than the Topps insert.

Classic Confrontations (15 cards, 1:1, series 1 – Wal-Mart retail only)

This series 1 insert was available only in specially marked Wal-Mart retail packs.  The front of the card shows the player and the words “Classic Confrontations” down the side.  The background is a darker, larger, close up of the same shot of the player.  The back shows how the player did against other stars of the game (i.e., how has Ken Griffey Jr. done against Dennis Eckersley or Roger Clemens).

Road Warriors (20 cards, 1:1, series 2 – Wal-Mart retail only)

This series 2 insert was available only in specially marked Wal-Mart retail packs.  The front of the card shows a full shot of the player with a paved road in the background and the player name in foil at the top.  The words “Road Warriors” is at the bottom.  The back shows the 5 best opposing parks for that player.  Interestingly, there is a Fleer insert set of the same name in 1996.

Trade with reader Hans

20 11 2012

I recently completed a few trades – and the first such trade was with Hans, a reader of the blog.  This came up because Hans was interested in the Prince Fielder manu-patch I pulled from a Topps Update retail box.  I sent him some current year Topps cards, a few Heritage cards and a bunch of Tigers cards from different sets.

Hans sent me 2 groupings of cards.  First, a bunch of 2012 Ginter – to get me a little closer to that set and some of the inserts.


He also sent me a bunch of current year Topps insert cards, helping me out with many of those inserts.


Those are just some of the highlights – this trade really helped me put a dent into some of those sets.  Thanks for the trade, Hans!

1996 Topps scans

19 11 2012

On to my longest post for the 1996 set – or at least the ones with the most pictures!  I like this set much more than the previous year’s version.  I think I’ve read some dislike for it is the inclusion of sepia-ish reproduction of the player’s face at the bottom.  I don’t find it too offensive – and, like the 1995 set, the good thing about the design is it leaves lots of room and keeps the focus on the picture.  I like the even borders much more than the perforated stuff from 1995, and the font of the player’s name is better, too.  My biggest gripe with this set isn’t the design – it’s the # of cards getting bumped down to 440!

First off, there’s another tribute card – actually, there’s two.  After Hank Aaron in 1994, and Babe Ruth the year before, Mickey Mantle was the overwhelming theme from this set after his passing away in late 1995.  Topps “retired” #7 in honor of the Mick – they’d never have another card #7 in the base set (actually, they’d later just put Mantle in that #7 slot).  Cal Ripken also got a deserving tribute card for passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record.

From there, I’ve got some of my standard card scans that I do for a lot of the different sets.  First, I’ll show off the first card from each series.  Topps had Tony Gwynn and Kirby Puckett as their promoters for this set – they were featured on the box fronts and pack fronts.  So, naturally, they led off each series with the Star Power subset of these 2 guys.

Next up is my standard post of my 2 favorite players – that’s Griffey (plus his subset) and Rickey.  As usual, these two guys have really good cards.

Another grouping I’ve  usually posted on occasion – the pitching trio from the Braves.  This is photos from the year they got that one World Series title.

Next up, I’ll show the lineup they stifled in the 1995 World Series.  It’s amazing this group never won a World Series title!

Next up – let’s go with some of the more interesting pictures.  I’ve noticed that Topps demands to have either some Brewers or Royals in a night-time pose with the Stadium in the background.  I do really like the Darryl Hamilton with the close up of his name on the bat.  It’s done better than the Nilsson one.

Here’s some of my favorite photos from the set.  The Grissom one may be my favorite – just from his facial expression, it looks like he didn’t end up safe on this one.  The shot of Nails and his dirty uni is great, and I just like the way the background for the Mondesi card.  Also, the Riverfront stadium wall in the background for the Blauser and Boone cards.

Here’s a few more I liked.  I’d like to think Grace is playing that game where you flip the ball onto the mound and see if it stays.

I love these, too.  This is a great photo of Big Daddy, who actually had a decent season in 1995.

Unlike the 1995 set, they didn’t have a ton of photography tricks, though they did have just this one that I noticed.  I wish they’d leave that to Upper Deck – who seems to do it a little better.

From there, here’s some of the prospects featured in this set.  Two of the biggest cards I actually don’t have yet – that would be Sean Casey’s rookie card in the Draft Pick subset, and the Andruw Jones / Vladimir Guerrero prospect card.  So those got featured below.

Next up are some of the guys further along in their career – the young stars who’d just started showing some promise.

Next up, we’ve got the game’s established best hitters.

I showed some hitters, so why not show off some pitchers, while I’m at it, too.

OK, from the guys above, here are some of the older players who’d been around for a while by now.  Though still productive, clearly they were starting to head closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.  Or at least, for the bottom 3 – that’s what we thought.  Considering this is around when McGwire admitted to taking steroids, it’s hard to not see it from this photo.

Last but not least – here’s full circle with the guys who really were near the end of their careers.  Sandberg got back into this set after coming out of retirement.  This would be the last Topps card for a lot of these guys – Mattingly retired the year before the Yankees won it all.  Puckett’s career was cut short by glaucoma.  Ozzie retired in 1996 and didn’t have a card in 1997.  Smith had a couple more seasons, but this was his last Topps card.