Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RBI (36) This butcher sure has some skills...

But not in the deli, Angel pitching coach Mike Butcher has his skills working with guys on the mound. Though I've learned that apparently Mike has some skills in the kitchen as last year he put out some pretty seriously tasty chili at an Angels charity cook off. It may help that he's had some professional help in the form of  his cooking assistant/sister-in-law who is a trained chef.

When it comes to pitching Mike needs no assistance as he's got a fairly extensive background in it and especially in Angel baseball. Mike's about as homegrown as they come considering his 4 seasons in the Majors were all spent with the halos as a reliever. In 115 games Butcher posted a 4.47 ERA with 96 Strikeouts, good enough for a 11-4 record with 9 Saves.

From 2000-2005 Butcher served as a pitching coach or consultant within the Angels minor league system before he was called up to the big show to join former Angel bench coach Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay for the 2006 season. Since the 2007 season he's come back home at the "Big A" as Mike Scioscia's pitching coach. Angel starters are thriving under his tutelage as they consistently are among league leaders in Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts. Fans have seen the consistent emergence of front line starters and homegrown relievers with Butcher in the system with Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, and Tyler Chatwood being among the prominent names coming from the system.

Having Butcher as pitching coach is definitely something Angel players have acknowledged as a pleasant benefit of being in the organization. Ace Jered Weaver went so far as to acknowledging Butcher as positive reason for staying in his recent press conference announcing his extension. As an Angel fan, I'd hate to see Butcher developing the arms of the prospects emerging from the Texans, Rays, or Braves.

Mike was nice enough to go the extra step to sign these cards for me before a game at Angel Stadium. I asked him to sign them on the way to watch a Dan Haren bullpen session, but he had to get going and told me he'd get me on the way out. Unfortunately the session went on a little longer than normal and I got distracted by batting practice and wandered away from the bullpen area. Luckily when rookie Tyler Chatwood was warming up for the game Butcher had a free minute and came over when I called out to him. He told me "There you are. I was looking for you earlier," when I passed him my pair of cards.

Butcher has a really legible signature and I was pretty happy to see him take his time signing the cards. It's not too often I see anyone handing him a card, normally it's an Angel hat or ticket so I was happy to get these Mike Butcher autographed cards. I was especially happy about the cards, since I've had the Upper Deck 1994 card since I was 6 as a souvenir team set from an Angel game. The 1993 Topps card I was able to get through the Diamond Giveaway and there is a sweet little golden emblem marking the inaugural season of the Rockies embedded into the card.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big League Moment (1) Scott Downs

Well readers I thought it was about time for me to start adding a new feature to my blog. Many of you actually check in on the blog fairly frequently and I truly do appreciate your readership. After all my hours spent hunting around Angel Stadium I've had a few run-ins with current and past players that don't always make it into the blog post or have an autograph to showcase in the normal RBI format. Rather than let those moments go to waste I've decided to add the "Big League Moment" where I'll post up my interactions with the guys from the big leagues.

This inaugural post includes someone I've actually had trouble getting an autograph from, mainly because I don't have any cards for him. It seems every time I run into Scott Downs when he's signing I've already wrinkled or had my ticket signed, don't have a clean baseball, or haven't been able to get ahold of a card yet. This natural frustration led me to finally take advantage of hanging out before the game and asking him a few questions on his way into the stadium.

(Me standing along the fence and calling out) "Hey Scott, can I ask you a few quick questions?"

(Mr. Downs turning to face me and take a few steps closer) "Sure."

"What's your favorite city to play in as a visitor?"

Without missing a beat Scott responded "Boston." This is actually a fairly surprising response to get from Mr. Downs, and I'm actually fairly certain it has more to do with how nice the city of Boston is, than actual baseball performance. Lifetime Downs has only appeared in 14 games in Fenway where batters hit .317 off him with a 4.70 ERA to go with that high average. Considering he spent 6 seasons with the Blue Jays those are actually surprising for him to have that few appearances and those kind of numbers.

"Who's the toughest guy for you to get out?"

This response was also immediate and the numbers do support Downs answer, "Hideki Matsui. I have no idea why but for some reason I can't get that guy out." In 24 at-bats, Matsui has had 12 hits including 2 Doubles and a Homer.  Matsui has only struck out 4 times while driving in 7 runs. He's tied for most plate appearances against Downs with Robinson Cano at 27 and just ahead of Bobby Abreu's 26. Both are top caliber professional hitters in the same if not higher tier as Matsui, but against Downs only hit .231 and .261 respectively. Seeing as Matsui is a lefty I'm as stumped as Downs as to why he is so successful against the southpaw reliever.

Having responded to my pair of questions Downs turned to go into the clubhouse when I tossed out my final question, "Can I get a ball inside?"

(Still walking away Downs looked back) "Maybe during batting practice."

It was quick, and it was awesome. I really appreciated Scott taking a few minutes out of his day to talk to me, maybe even as much as I appreciate how lockdown he's been in the back end of the Angel bullpen.

If you readers enjoyed this Big League Moment post, please leave a comment or shoot me an email and when I have more to share I'll be sure to post them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RBI (35) A semi-embarrassing TTM response...

Well readers, sometimes the internet is a wonderful tool that teaches you lots of new things. Other times it leaves you hanging high and dry with incomplete information. Hopefully this blog is more of a complete source with interesting baseball tidbits, autographs, TTM information, in-person tips and stories. A few websites however led me down the wrong path with former pitcher Bud Daley.

Daley played for the Cleveland Indians from 1955-1957 and put up okay numbers while with them, but wasn't having too much success. In 50 games, including 11 starts, Daley only managed a 4.87 ERA with a 3-9 record. The Indians traded him to the Kansas City Athletics in 1958 and his career had a revival as a Kansas City starter.

Moving to the rotation allowed Daley to find a groove and he dropped his ERA a full point, putting up All-Star caliber numbers being selected to the 1959 and 1960 All-Star games. This was interestingly during the time period when there were actually 2 All Star games played in an effort to boost the player pension fund, with one game played in an NL park and the other in the AL. Daley may have been a two time All Star but attended 4 All Star games.

Having been moved to the bullpen in Kansas Daley was moved to the New York Yankees during the 1961 season. He finished 1961 as a Yankee starter and made two postseason appearances as a reliever and a starter during the World Series. He went on to be a member of the 1962 championship Yankees but as a reliever having been relegated to the bullpen besides a few spot starts for the rest of his career.

Daley's career after 10 seasons in the big leagues would leave be fairly accomplished as he'd hang up his hat a 2 time All-Star and 2 time World Series Champion. He had a 60-64 record and a 4.03 ERA with 549 Strikeouts. Of 248 games played, Daley started 116 going the distance for 36 Complete Games. Surprisingly despite his ratio of Complete Games in his starts only 3 of his Complete Games would be Shutouts.

Mr. Daley not only penned a nice signature on a1960 Topps Card I got through the Diamond Giveaway but he also took the time to answer a few questions. This is where my online research failed me and I got to a bit of a rocky start.

Were there any challenges to being a lefty kunckleballer?
Much to my chagrin Bud's response is short and to the point. There's not much else I can add or say about this besides the fact that I'm highly embarrassed and wanted to omit the response were it not for my journalistic integrity. Bud pointed out, "I was not a knuckleball pitcher"

How did it feel to have Berra, Mantle, and Maris behind you when you took the mound?
I'm going to guess my first question rubbed Bud the wrong way because his response wasn't a peak into hallowed memories of three Yankee legends. Instead Mr. Daley decided it was "Great"

What was your favorite part of being an All Star?
Seeing as this year we had 80 something All Stars, being named an All Star has lost a bit of it's allure. Considering the rosters weren't as enormous in '59 and '60 Bud seemed to appreciate being selected "Being from KC on a last place team"

Was either of your World Series Championships more meaningful?
Bud selected something that most people can agree is a great accomplishment and honor. Despite having started with the Kansas City Athletics he went to the New York Yankees and in "1961 being the winning pitcher in last game"

Of all your years in the Majors, was there ever one moment or memory that stuck with you throughout and after your career?
Recognizing the roots of his success and career revival I think Daley picked something pretty personal when he shared "KC All Star game" as his career's highlight memory forgoing the two Yankee rings.

After reading his responses I'm very glad I was able to get a Kansas City Athletics card since he seemed to cherish that time even more than his championships in New York. The signature is clean, tight, and in a great location for one of my favorite autographs.

Mr. Daley was kind enough sign the card and respond to my letter sent to his home address in 8 days.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

RBI (34) A familiar face...

Well I've already posted a few items signed by former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright, but Clyde's such a great guy I've gotten a few more autographs and had a conversation or two with him while at the stadium.

I think sometimes we Angel fans take having a former Major Leaguer like Clyde so easily available to us for granted, but I definitely appreciate him being so ready to sign for fans. I especially appreciate him taking the time to put inscriptions on anything you ask him to. It's nice having an old timer who has such an accomplished record really show he's in it for the fans. I've never tried getting Clyde TTM since he's around the stadium so often, but I suspect he'd be a great player for new collectors to start with. I'm sure he'd be happy to write down the no-hitter if asked for it with your request.

The Angels had a TV special where Clyde is interviewed and he made one of his regular jokes about being in a rotation with Nolan Ryan. I spotted Clyde sitting out having a soda by one of his two BBQ stands in the stadium the home stand after I saw the interview and walked over to him. I told him I saw the interview and thought it was funny and as he signed for he told me the second part of his Ryan jokes. They go as follows and are even better when you imagine them in Skeeter's Tennessee accent..."What no one ever realizes is that between me and Nolan Ryan we had 8 no-hitters...he had 7 and I had the other." The second part was equally as amusing, "Between me and Ryan we had 6,000 strike outs. He had 5,700 and I got the rest." 

When he was signing the bottom card I asked him to write the 100 Wins he finished his career with. Laughing Clyde started to sign the card and said "Yeah I'll write the 100 Wins, but only if I don't have to put the 111 Losses." Like I said, Clyde's a fun guy to have around and meet.

The Angel card is a 1972 Topps that I got at a card show, and the Brewers is a 1975 Topps I got through the Diamond Giveaway. Clyde signed these Topps cards on two separate occasions at Angel Stadium.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RBI (33) A star card...

Okay well maybe it's not really a card of a literal star, but there are a few stars involved. Angel rookie All Star closer Jordan Walden's 2011 rookie star to be precise. There's a new star in Southern California and Anaheim is on the way to becoming "Wally's World 2.0" where the speed limit is 100 MPH.

The Texas native was taken by the Angels in the 12th round of the 2006 draft and is proving to be a bargain steal for the halos. The young closer previously had been working through the Angels' minor league rotations until 2010 when he was converted into a reliever. It was a short jump from the minor league bullpen's into the Major League club's pen at the end of the 2010 season.

2010 was a good beginning for Walden when he flashed promise in 16 games, including his first career save, racking up 23 Strikeouts to post a 2.35 ERA in his appearances. In 2011 he was to be a key part of the bridge leading to Fernando Rodney in the 9th, but Rodney's early struggles led to Walden being the club's closer a week into the season.

It's been a strong season for Walden so far with some analysts even putting him in the Rookie of the Year conversation with Michael Pineada and teammate Mark Trumbo. It's been so strong a season Walden was Mariano Rivera's replacement in the 2011 All Star Game, marking his first of hopefully many appearances in the Mid-Summer Classic.

The Angel's 50th Anniversary has had many celebrations for the franchise's history, the fans, and individual player accomplishment's. This has been a year of celebrating and establishing new milestones for the players and franchise, and on July 21st Walden etched his name into the franchise record books. When he nailed down his 23rd Save against the Rangers at home Walden set the new franchise record for Saves by a rookie.

The 2011 season has seen Wally post a 3-3 record with 26 Saves, 49 Strikeouts, and a 2.74 ERA in 48 games. Batters have only been able to hit .217 against him, and those stats are even more impressive when the controversial call at the plate during the Dodger's series is taken away.
Jordan Walden autographed his 2011 Topps Heritage Rookie Card for me before the game he set the Angel's franchise record for rookie saves. Wally signed the card for me and as I was getting ready to put it away he was in need of a sharpie to sign for some younger fans. I passed him my sharpie back, and he was nice enough to put his number inscribe "ASG '11" on my card after he was finished signing for the kids. It was great to have him add that touch to remember his rookie year, and I really appreciated him taking the time to do that for me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

RBI (32) An interesting TTM combination...

At least that tends to be the way former pitcher Bob Milacki got things done throughout his career. Mr. Milacki has had some interesting highlights throughout his career and I'm sure he's having some of those moments still as he works for the Phillies Organization.

Milacki was taken in the 2nd round of the 1983 draft by the Orioles, and made his MLB debut in 1988 with Balitmore. It was with the Orioles he gained most of his career's shine by pitching in two memorable games. In his rookie year he led the American League with 36 games started and posted a 14-12 record with 3 Complete Games and 2 Shut Outs.

On April 23, 1989 Milacki posted a complete game shutout against the Minnesota Twins, but did so facing only the minimum 27 batters. He wasn't credited with a perfect game or no hitter as he gave up 3 hits and 2 walks, but he was able to escape trouble thanks to coaxing 4 key double plays. The game was not only his first Shut Out of the season, but was also his first win for the year.

Two years later while still an Oriole Milacki combined with Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson to no hit the Oakland A's. Milacki had put up six scoreless frames with no hits, but had issued out 3 walks prior to being pulled by manager Johnny Oates.

Baltimore would be the highlight of Milacki's career as he left at the end of the 1992 season for Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle, and a stint pitching in Japan. He would only make 22 starts in the 3 MLB seasons he played after leaving Baltimore, despite having 109 starts in his 5 years with the Orioles.  In 143 appearances, Milacki would post a 39-47 record with 8 Complete Games, 5 Shut Outs, 387 Strikeouts, and a 4.38 ERA.
Bob Milacki autographed this 1992 Score card mailed to him at the Double-A Reading Phillies facility. He responded to me after 54 Days.