Wednesday, May 30, 2012

R.A. Dickey

Sent: 2/21/12
Received: 5/29/12
Time: 98 Days
Address: c/o New York Mets Spring Training
Item Sent: 2010 Topps Twins Team Card, 2011 Topps Heritage
Item Received: 2011 Topps Heritage, signed in black Sharpie.

Who would have thought that "the one who got away" from the Twins might have been R.A. Dickey?  Since getting released by the Twins during the 2009 season, he has been the most dependable starter for the New York Mets.  He's been better than dependable, actually.  He has been outstanding.  Now in his third season for the Metropolitans, he's having an All-Star caliber year.  I'm thrilled to get this back, but am a bit disappointed that he didn't return the other card I sent.  Dickey never had a card as a member of the Twins.  The only card he appeared on in a Twins uniform is the 2010 Topps Twins team card, which pictures him in the background while Joe Mauer and Ron Gardenhire celebrate a Twins victory in the foreground.

Shane Robinson

Sent: 5/3/12
Received: 5/29/12
Time: 26 Days
Address: c/o St. Louis Cardinals
Item Sent: 2009 Topps Heritage
Item Received: 2009 Topps Heritage, signed in black Sharpie.

A former top prospect who has been plagued by injury over the last two seasons, Shane Robinson is finally healthy and is getting his first regular exposure to the major leagues.  While he's been a bit slow with the bat, he has played a sparkling center field while subbing for the injured Jon Jay and seems to have a nice role as a reserve outfielder and pinch-runner for the always solid Cardinals.

Bryn Smith

Sent: 5/11/12
Received: 5/26/12
Time: 15 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1985 Fleer, 1990 Score, 1991 Topps
Item Received: 1985 Fleer, 1990 Score, 1991 Topps.  All signed in blue Sharpie.

Bryn Smith was a crafty pitcher with great control and a greater beard.  He's one of the last guys who I remember being known for throwing a palmball as a changeup.  Not only are there great blue Sharpie signatures on these cards, but when I flipped the 1991 Topps card over I learned that he is "a huge fan of the rock band Rush and followed them on their 1984 tour."  And now that trivial knowledge is filed in my brain for eternity, probably replacing something insignificant like one of my credit card numbers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gary Matthews

Sent: 4/27/12
Received: 5/21/12
Time: 24 Days
Address: c/o Philadelphia Phillies
Item Sent: 1978 Topps, 1981 Topps Traded, 1985 Fleer
Item Received: 1978 Topps, 1985 Fleer.  Both signed in blue Sharpie.

"Sarge" was the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year while playing for the San Francisco Giants.  He was an All-Star in 1979 for the Atlanta Braves.  And his monster performance for the Phillies in the 1983 NLCS earned him the series MVP award.  But to me, he's a Cub.  He was a huge addition to the Cubbies lineup in 1984, and perhaps an even bigger addition to their clubhouse culture. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Paul Broten

Sent: 1/6/12
Received: 5/19/12
Time: 134 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1990-91 Score Traded, 1992-93 Ultra, 1993-94 Upper Deck, 1994-95 Upper Deck
Item Received: 1990-91 Score Traded, 1992-93 Ultra, 1993-94 Upper Deck, 1994-95 Upper Deck.  All signed in black Sharpie.

The youngest of the three Broten brothers, Paul followed in the footsteps of Neal and Aaron from Roseau High School to the University of Minnesota to the NHL.  He didn't put up the gaudy scoring totals of his older brothers, and his pro career didn't last quite as long, but he did find a niche as a high-energy battler for the early '90s New York Rangers teams.  Paul was also the only Broten who didn't get a chance to lace up the skates for the Minnesota North Stars.  He was a year too late as he joined Neal on the newly relocated Dallas Stars in the fall of 1993.

Ray Miller

Sent: 5/11/12
Received: 5/18/12
Time: 7 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1986 Topps, 1986 Twins Team Issue
Item Received: 1986 Topps, 1986 Twins Team Issue, Baltimore Orioles postcard.  All signed in black ballpoint.

Ray Miller has an interesting place in Twins history.  I'm not sure how many of today's Twins fans can name the man who was skipper before Tom Kelly, or can recall a time when the team went outside the organization to find a manager.  The Twins surprised a lot of people by contending late into the 1984 season and finishing the year at .500.  Hopes were high in 1985, but they struggled badly out of the gates.  Manager Billy Gardner was fired and Miller was brought in.  Miller had been one of the top pitching coaches in the game while with the Baltimore Orioles and he did reasonably well with the Twins over the rest of the 1985 season.  Great pitching coaches do not necessarily make great managers, though.  The Twins scuffled through another disappointing year in 1986.  Near the end of the season, Miller was fired after just over a year on the job.  Third base coach Kelly was promoted and a year later the Twins were celebrating their first World Series title.  Miller would spend several more years as a pitching coach for the Pirates and, later on, back with the Orioles.

In addition to signing my cards, Mr. Miller added an Orioles postcard.  On the back of that, he thanked me for my letter and for being a fan.

Mike Marshall

Sent: 5/1/12
Received: 5/18/12
Time: 17 Days
Address: c/o San Rafael Pacifics
Item Sent: 1982 Donruss, 1982 Topps, 1985 Fleer
Item Received: 1982 Donruss, 1982 Topps, 1985 Fleer.  All signed in black gel pen.

While the Dodgers were winning the 1981 World Series, their most-prized prospect was tearing up AAA pitching.  Mike Marshall had a historic year for Albuquerque that season, hitting .373 with 34 home runs, 137 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.  Without a job opening on the defending champs, he started 1982 in the minors and proceeded to hit .388 over 66 games.  He was soon in the big leagues for good.  The hulking right fielder showed flashes of superstar ability both on and off the field (he was an item with Belinda Carlisle), but he was never able to fully harness his raw power at the plate.  He only hit the 20 home run plateau three times in his 11 year career, peaking with 28.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Keith Moreland

Sent: 4/26/12
Received: 5/11/12
Time: 15 Days
Address: c/o Chicago Cubs
Item Sent: 1985 Fleer, 1987 Topps
Item Received: 1985 Fleer, 1987 Topps.  Both signed in blue Sharpie.

The Cubbies brought Keith Moreland over from Philadelphia in 1982 and it didn't take long for the converted catcher to establish himself as their regular right fielder.  The portly line-drive hitter became a fan favorite and averaged about 15 home runs a year as a fixture in the middle of the Cubs' lineup.  His finest year was 1985, when he hit .307 with 14 homers, a career high 106 RBI, and 12 stolen bases (a career high by far).  In 1987 the Cubs signed future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson to play right field and shifted Moreland to third base.  He responded with a career high 27 bombs (though, in fairness, a lot of ballplayers had career high home run totals in '87).  Unfortunately, he couldn't quite keep his homer total above his error total.  His 28 miscues at the league.  Moreland wasn't cut out for third and Dawson wasn't going anywhere coming off an MVP season, so the Cubbies traded Moreland to the Padres in the offseason.  His power disappeared in San Diego as he slugged a paltry .331 over 562 plate appearances.  He split the next year between Baltimore and Detroit and, just like that, his career was over.  The story has a happy ending, though.  Moreland returned to Wrigleyville last year as the Cubs radio analyst.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Richard Dotson

Sent: 5/1/12
Received: 5/11/12
Time: 10 Days
Address: c/o Charlotte Knights
Item Sent: 1985 Fleer, 1985 Topps, 1988 Topps
Item Received: 1985 Fleer, 1985 Topps, 1988 Topps.  All signed in blue Sharpie.

After a steady start to his big league career, Richard Dotson put it all together in his fourth season.  He went 22-7 for the 1983 White Sox, helping to lead them to the AL West title -- their first post-season appearance in 24 years.  He pitched similarly well in 1984, appearing in the All-Star Game and posting a 3.59 ERA, though his record fell to 14-15.  The back-to-back workhorse season of over 240 innings took a toll on his arm.  He missed most of 1985 and wasn't quite the same when he returned.  He's now the pitching coach for the White Sox AAA affiliate in Charlotte.

Jim Johnson

Sent: 3/21/12
Received: 5/10/12
Time: 50 Days
Address: c/o Washington Capitals
Item Sent: 1991-92 Pro Set, 1991-92 Score Canadian, 1991-92 Topps
Item Received: 1991-92 Pro Set, 1991-92 Score Canadian, 1991-92 Topps.  All signed in black Sharpie.

New Hope, Minnesota native Jim Johnson came home to the North Stars (along with fellow Minnesota-born blueliner Chris Dahlquist) in a trade with Pittsburgh during the 1990-91 season.  Of course those two teams would meet in the Stanley Cup Finals that year.  Johnson picked up 10 points in 44 games during the regular season for the North Stars, then played in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games during the Stars' Cinderalla run to the Finals.  He remained with the Stars through the move to Dallas.  Since retiring, he has made the rounds as an NHL assistant coach.  This year he was added to the Capitals staff during their mid-season coaching shakeup.  He helped reinvent the Caps from the high scoring juggernaut they had been in previous years into a more defensive, well-rounded team.  Interim head coach Dale Hunter decided not to stick around after this year's playoffs, leaving that status of the rest of the staff in limbo, but I feel like Johnson had a positive enough impact in D.C. to be retained for next year.

Don Robinson

Sent: 5/3/12
Received: 5/10/12
Time: 7 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1981 Topps, 1983 Topps, 1985 Fleer, 1992 Topps
Item Received: 1981 Topps, 1983 Topps, 1985 Fleer, 1992 Topps.  All signed in black Sharpie.

A burly righty who was nicknamed "Caveman" (for obvious physical reasons), Don Robinson was a valuable swingman for the Pirates and Giants throughout the '80s.  He began his career as a starter in Pittsburgh before injuries forced a move to the bullpen.  After some nice years in the Pirates pen, he reestablished himself as a dependable starter in San Francisco.  He was also a fantastic hitter, so I'm glad one of the cards I sent him depicted him with a bat in his hand.

Quincy Lewis

Sent: 3/15/12
Received: 5/9/12
Time: 55 Days
Address: c/o FOX Sports North
Item Sent: 1999-00 Press Pass, 1999-00 SP, 2000-01 Topps Heritage
Item Received: 1999-00 Press Pass, 1999-00 SP, 2000-01 Topps Heritage.  All signed in black Sharpie.

Quincy Lewis was the last great Gopher of the Clem Haskins era.  As a sophomore, he was a stud sixth man on the 1997 Gophers Final Four team.  Two years later, as a senior, he led the Big Ten in scoring.  He was a first round draft pick of the Utah Jazz but had trouble cracking their veteran lineup.  After three seasons in Utah, he came back to Minnesota to sign with the Timberwolves.  He suited up 14 times for the Wolves in 2003 before moving on to play profesionally in Europe and Asia for the rest of the decade.  "Q" returned to the Minnesota basketball scene last year as a studio analyst for FOX Sports North.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Orlando Cabrera

Sent: 8/30/10
Received: 5/7/12
Time: 616 Days
Address: c/o Cincinnati Reds
Item Sent: 2010 Topps
Item Received: 2010 Topps, signed in blue Sharpie.

New record!  At 616 days, the recently retired Orlando Cabrera is now my longest wait for a successful request.

Although his best years were behind him, he was energized by his late-season trade to the Twins in 2009.  In turn, he helped spark the improbable run toward that year's classic Game 163 and the AL Central title.

This request was sent to the Reds while he was helping to lead Cincy to their own division title that season.  He moved on to Cleveland and San Francisco last year, but somehow still had my request lying around when he caught up on his old mail.  Awesome return!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

George Flower

Sent: 4/17/12
Received: 5/7/12
Time: 20 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1986 ProCards West Palm Beach Expos
Item Received: 1986 ProCards West Palm Beach Expos, signed in black Sharpie.

Former Expos prospect George Flower is my latest example of how fulfilling this hobby can be when writing to old minor league ballplayers.

A few days after receiving my letter, Mr. Flower sent me an e-mail answering a bunch of my questions and relaying some great stories (such as Andre Dawson and Tim Raines giving a young Randy Johnson $100 to let himself be attacked by fire ants.  I had asked George if he had any idea back in A-ball that Johnson would become one of the great pitchers in baseball history.  He responded, "Most of us never thought he would make it.  For 2 years, I watched him walk 9 and strike the next 9 guys out." 

He also mentioned playing for Felipe Alou and with Larry Walker.  (Of Walker: "I realized I wasn't going to the show when I hit behind him in BP.") Shortly after the e-mail exchange, George Flower's 1986 ProCards card showed up in my mailbox, beautifully signed in black Sharpie.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jude Drouin

Sent: 1/13/12
Received: 5/4/12
Time: 112 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee, 1973-74 Topps, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee
Item Received: 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee, 1973-74 Topps, 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee.  All signed in black ballpoint.

The North Stars acquired Jude Drouin from Montreal prior to the 1970-71 season.  The young playmaker had no place in the Habs' crowded lineup and was deemed expendable.  In Minnesota, however, he instantly became one of the first stars in North Stars history.  He spent four and a half seasons in Bloomington, putting up 262 points during that time, and he is still a fan favorite among old time North Stars fans.

Richie Hebner

Sent: 4/25/12
Received: 5/4/12
Time: 9 Days
Address: Home
Item Sent: 1984 Topps, 1985 Fleer, 1985 Topps
Item Received: 1984 Topps, 1985 Fleer, 1985 Topps.  All signed in blue Sharpie.

A star third baseman throughout the '70s for the Pittsburgh Pirates (including the 1971 World Series championship team), Richie Hebner spent the last two seasons of his long career as a pinch-hitter and backup corner infielder for the 1984 and 1985 Chicago Cubs.  Of course, that's right in my wheelhouse.  Much of my love for baseball stemmed from watching those Cubs teams on WGN, so most of my memories of this Pirates great are instead as a grizzled veteran on the Cubbies.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Craig Simpson

Sent: 11/14/11
Received: 5/2/12
Time: 170 Days
Address: c/o CBC TV
Item Sent: 1987-88 Topps, 1990 Michigan State Collegiate Collection, 1990-91 Upper Deck, 1991-92 Score Canadian
Item Received: 1987-88 Topps, 1990 Michigan State Collegiate Collection, 1990-91 Upper Deck, 1991-92 Score Canadian.  All signed in black Sharpie.

The best years of Craig Simpson's career came in Edmonton.  He won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers (1988 and 1990) and truly appeared to be on his way toward becoming the Edmonton dynasty's next superstar.  He was a 50 goal scorer during his first season with the Oilers (actually he scored 43 with the Oilers after scoring 13 with the Penguins earlier in the year, giving him 56 total on the season).  His greatest hockey have have been played in the 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs, however.  He perfectly played the role of Mark Messier's sidekick, tallying 31 points in 22 playoff games as the Oilers captured the franchise's only post-Gretzky Cup.  After two injury plagued years in Buffalo, Simpson was forced into early retirement, prematurely ending a special career.  He's had a second career as a broadcaster and has been one of the signature voices of Hockey Night in Canada for many years.