Pack a year habit: 2013

According to common consensus, it takes three items to make a trend. This is now the third “Pack-a-Year Habit” column I’ve written, which I believe makes it an official trend. The concept behind this column, as you might remember, is to purchase a pack of baseball cards and use them as a jumping off point for some commentary on the players and cards themselves. On that note, let’s begin:

Dillon Gee: The back of Gee’s card notes that the Mets’ righty was “unhappy with the way his body reacted” to his first full Major League season and therefore took up Pilates in order to build core strength. This is an odd detail to put on the card because, in 2011, Gee threw more than 160 innings, but in 2012 failed to top 110 due to injury. In fairness, the injury was a blood clot in his pitching shoulder, so presumably unrelated to core strength.

Nonetheless, for a pitcher who spent significant time on the disabled list, it is an odd fact to include. As such, I’m inclined to believe they choose it as an excuse to run this quote from Gee, regarding the Pilates: “strapped into this weird machine… it should be easy, [but] it’s hard.” Even in context that’s pretty bizarre, but if you just read it without knowing more, it sounds like a line that got edited out of 50 Shades of Grey.

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Dillon Gee, core strength and all (US Presswire)

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Being that I like doing these columns early in the year, the cards I buy are what Topps dubs “Series 1.” Series 1 is Topps’ way of gentling breaking the news to weirdos like me that, because we demand our baseball cards rightthisveryinstant , certain players will be listed with their former teams. In this case, we have Dice-K listed a member of the Red Sox.

With Matsuzaka now reunited with Terry Francona in Cleveland and competing for the fifth starter’s job, the hype that accompanied his arrival in the United States seems very distant. In 2006 he had won Most Valuable Player of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, winning three games and furthering the reputation he had developed after multiple strikeout and ERA titles for the Seibu Lions—as well the Sawamura Award, the Japanese Cy Young Award.

In total, the Red Sox paid more than $100 million for Matsuzaka’s service, counting both the posting fee and a contract that was signed during a flight to Boston that was tracked (via online systems) by trans-Pacific media. Despite his much heralded reputation, the hurler was ultimately disappointing in Boston. On the back of this Topps card, the only statistic listed for which Matsuzaka ever led the league was walks (94, in 2008). Even his comment—which, like all Topps comments, is loathe to say anything bad about the player—can only note that he will be hoping to regain the form that allowed him to rank second in wins for the 2007-08 period.

Jake Arrieta: And speaking of the comments on the back of the card, Topps sometimes subscribes to the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” theory, such as on Bartolo Colon’s card, which discussed only his relative distance to Cy Young’s win record. (More on that momentarily.) In other cases, Topps follows my preferred technique, to wit, changing the subject.

That’s the tactic taken with Jake Arrieta, who, although just entering his age-27 season, has seen his ERA increase from a respectable rookie number of 4.66 in 2010 to a brutal 6.20 last year. With a career ERA figure of 5.33 and a lifetime record of 19-23, Topps wisely chose instead to discuss Arrieta’s love of mountain biking and note that he “often cycled nine miles from his residence to the ballpark in Spring Training.” I suppose that beats talking about his 7.55 ERA from May 8th forward in 2012.

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Dice-K, presented in his actual 2013 uniform (US Presswire)

Jason Heyward: Topps finds room on Heyward’s card to list the statistics from the 12 minor league games he played in 2007, but it sadly lacks any Arrieta-style trivia. (Though I did learn that the Braves’ Gulf Coast League affiliate is named the “GCL Braves,” which I would mock for being uncreative except all the teams in the Gulf Coast League are so named, which suggests a genuine lack of imagination down there.)

One thing Hayward’s card does have is a line noting that, with 59 home runs, he is 703 away from Barry Bonds’ record. All of the cards have this in some form or another. Occasionally, as in Hayward’s case, it is interesting for the well, maybe… sense of the thing. The chance that Heyward (not really a home run hitter anyway) comes within 250 home runs of Bonds is essentially nil, but I suppose it is at least possible, were the nature of the game to radically change.

On the other hand, it seems rather cruel to point out that Bartolo Colon, now 40 and not exactly prompting a lot of “best shape of his life!” stories in Spring Training, is at 171 wins—and 340 wins from reaching Cy Young’s mark. I suppose this was easier than actually writing a personalized comment for each player, but it seems like a better plan would have been to note that Colon, at 171 wins, was just 29 away from 200 overall or 15 away from entering the top 150 in pitching victories.

Devin Mesoraco: Part of the issue with Topps’ perpetual sunshine approach to comments is that for players like Mesoraco—who has CHASING THE DREAM printed on the front—I can’t tell if they are legitimate prospects, or merely future organizational filler getting their moment of baseball card glory. As it turns out, Mesoraco is the Reds’ catcher of the future (assuming all goes to plan) ranking as the number 14 prospect by Baseball America last season. Mesoraco struggled somewhat in 2012 with the Reds—batting just.212—but is still just 25 and has a real chance at a bright future.

Now, you’d never know this from the card, which is instead centered primarily on a joke based around how Mesoraco is from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In fact, I believe the card is more referencing the Groundhog Day movie, but since it lacks any kind of italics, the whole thing is a bit of mystery.

Of course, with all my complaining, I’ll be back in 2014 buying my pack-a-year, per usual.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Coast_League), the Gulf Coast League is a rookie league.  For all teams admission is free, there are no concessions, attendance is low, and the ownership is always the major league team.  There is no effort to make money so there is no incentive to get creative with the nicknames.

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