What’s all this?

It all started with a box of keepsakes my father kept on his closet shelf, far from the dirty hands of his only son. The box was full of magic, as far as I was concerned, and I spent many a day staring at it on that ledge, just out of my reach, hoping he would take it down again and show me the treasures it held within. What as in it, you might be asking? Well, I will tell you. It was full of wonder. Postcards and baseballs and other things from the baseball players he had loved to watch when he was a child. Pictures like the one of Ted Williams (above) or Stan Musial.

Scan 173 copy (1)

Or Red Schoendienst

Scan 176

After years of looking at my father’s collection, I got the idea to start my own. Initially this involved me trying to get Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to write me back. My campaign involved numerous yearly letters as well as Christmas Cards, but Yaz was never that interested in becoming my pen pal, so I chose to move on to others and there were certainly plenty of successes. However, one thing that stood out to me when I was a kid was that I could never really get the players to write back to me. Yeah, it was great to get back an autographed card, but what I was really looking for was a little bit extra. Maybe just a few words on a piece of paper, telling me about their careers and what it was like when they played, maybe an entire letter. Whatever the case, I decided I should try for more.

This led to the questionnaire. The idea is not to take up too much of anyone’s time. In fact, it should just take a couple minutes to answer the questions. But it was a ready-made form that would get a response in a way that simply asking questions in a letter did not. Over the years, the questions have changed a little, and there have been times when more than five were included, but for the most part the same core questions have always been asked and the many answers I have gotten back have been amazing.

Of course none of this was ever supposed to be released into the wild. I figured it was just a nice way for me to pass some time and continue the collection my father started in the early 1950’s. But, a job posting for a person to collect the oral histories of World War II veterans eventually convinced me otherwise. While they are certainly short, some more-so than others, these documents still are micro-histories of the men who played the game of baseball in their own words. These are not just the stories of the players we have come to know so much of. Yes, there will be all-stars here, but there will also be journeymen and guys who only ever got a cup of coffee in the majors. When I worked as a sports editor, I liked to say that no one sport ever held more importance in any paper I worked for than any of the other sports. This meant I paid as much attention to the local cross country runners as I did to the football team. That is the case here. All of the stories are equal and hopefully, equally enjoyable.

I have started the site off with a few entries, but will be adding more in the coming weeks and even more as I get more back in the mail. I hope to add oral history video in the future as we get out into the field and interview some of these men in person. I dream that one day we will have a completed questionnaire from every living person who played Major League Baseball. While I know this is not going to happen, for reasons of time and cooperation, it does not mean I cannot try – and have fun in the process. So, take a look around, and make sure to check back regularly for your daily dose of baseball history.

Swings and misses

1985 Topps

Chuck Porter pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1981-1985. In 54 games he went 13-13 with a 4.14 ERA. He won six games and had a 3.87 ERA in 1984, which was his best year in the majors.

1989 Donruss

The brother of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Billy Ripken spent 12 years in the majors, playing for the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. In 912 games he hit .247 with 20 home runs. His best year came in 1990 when he hit .291 for the Orioles.

1993 Upper Deck

An all-star in 2000, Mike Bordick enjoyed 14 seasons in the majors, hitting .260 with 91 home runs while playing for the Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays from 1990-2003. Bordick hit .285 with 20 home runs, 88 runs scored and 80 RBIs in 2000, which he split between Baltimore and the Mets. He played in three games of the 1990 World Series for Oakland, but did not get an at bat. He was back in the World Series in 2000 with New York and had one hit in eight at bats. Unfortunately for Bordick, his team lost both times he appeared in the Fall Classic. He is a member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.

Don Sutton is not signing at this time. Dave Hollins asked for $10 and returned our letter. Kevin Bass asked for $12 and returned our letter. Our letters sent to Bobby Brown, Bryan Harvey, Jamie Moyer, Fred Manrique and Mike Morgan were returned with bad addresses.

Gary Varsho

1989 Upper Deck

Varsho played for four teams during eight seasons in the majors. In 571 games he hit .244 with 10 home runs. He had his best year while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991. In 99 games he hit .273 with four home runs, nine stolen bases, 23 runs scored and 23 RBIs. All of those numbers were career highs. In addition to the Pirates, Varsho also played for the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies.

Varsho was a member of the Pirates’ team that faced off with the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series. He had only one at bat, but he made it count, pinch hitting for Lloyd McClendon and singling to start the ninth inning. The Pirates went on to win the game 13-4, but they ended up losing the series.

We featured Vance Law in July.

Varsho currently works as a scout for the Pirates.

Gary Varsho – career stats

Dennis Rasmussen

1985 Topps

Dennis Rasmussen pitched for 12 years in the majors, breaking in with the San Diego Padres in 1983 and finishing with the Kansas City Royals in 1995. In between, he posted six double-digit win seasons, including going 18-6 for the New York Yankees in 1986. He won 13 games the next year, which he split between New York and Cincinnati. He won 16 games in 1988, which again saw him traded midseason. This time he went from the Reds to the San Diego Padres. Rasmussen won 14 games in 20 starts and had a 2.55 ERA for the Padres that year. While it was not a complete season, it was the most impressive run of his career. He won 10 games for San Diego the next year and 11 in 1990. He lost 13 games, despite a decent 3.74 ERA, in 1991, which was his last as a full-time starter. He went on to pitch for the Chicago Cubs before joining the Royals for the final three years of his career. In 256 games, Rasmussen posted a 91-77 record with a 4.15 ERA.

Rasmussen earned his first career win on May 23, 1984, at the Kingdome in Seattle. He was pitching for the Yankees, in his first start of the season, and threw eight innings of shutout baseball to lead New York to a 3-0 victory.

Dennis Rasmussen – career stats

1989 Topps

Dion James

1986 Topps

James spent 11 years in the majors, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. He broke in with the Brewers in 1983 for an 11-game cup of coffee. He was back the next season and played in 128 games while hitting .295 and swiping 10 bases, making him the team’s rookie of the year. James was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1987 and put together his best season, hitting .312 with 10 home runs and 80 runs scored. The Braves traded him to Cleveland for Oddibe McDowell in 1989. He spent two years with the Yankees, then played a season in Japan before returning to New York for two more years. James finished his career in 1996 with a .288 lifetime average and 32 home runs.

Dion James – career stats

1988 Donruss
1990 Upper Deck

Luis Alicea

1989 Topps

Alicea spent 13 years in the majors. He hit .260 with 47 home runs while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Anaheim Angels, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals between 1988-2002. Alicea primarily played second base and was a starter for most of his career. He had his best year while with Texas in 2000 when he hit a career-best .294 while also setting career highs in RBIs (63) and runs (85).

Alicea got his first big-league hit in his first big-league game on April 23, 1988, at Busch Stadium. He started at second base for the Cardinals and ripped a triple to right field off New York Met Roger McDowell in the bottom of the sixth inning. He came in to score on Curt Ford’s subsequent sacrifice fly. The Mets, however, won the game 12-9.

Alicea was the first base coach for the 2007 Red Sox team that won the World Series.

Luis Alicea – career stats

1993 Donruss

Swings and misses

1992 Donruss

The starting third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the early 1990’s, Jeff King spent 11 years in the big leagues and hit .256 with 154 home runs. He had his best year in 1996 when he hit .271 with 30 home runs, 111 RBIs and 91 runs scored for Pittsburgh. They traded him, along with Jay Bell, to the Kansas City Royals after the season. He hit 28 home runs for Kansas City in 1997 and 24 more in 1998. An injured back, however, eventually caught up to him and he retired in the middle of the 1999 season. King was the third player in MLB history to hit two home runs in the same inning twice. He did it on August 8, 1995, against the San Francisco Giants and again on April 30, 1996, against the Cincinnati Reds. The first two players to do it were Willie McCovey and Andre Dawson. Alex Rodriguez and Edwin Encarnacion have accomplished the feat since.

1992 Topps

An all star in 1995, Erik Hanson pitched for 11 seasons in the majors, going 89-84 with a 4.15 ERA for the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays from 1988-1998. Hanson won 18 games and had a 3.24 ERA for the Mariners in 1990, which was arguably his best season. He led the American League in losses with 17 while pitching for Seattle in 1992, then won 11 games for the team the next year. He went 15-5 for the Red Sox in 1995, which earned him his lone All-Star Game trip. Hanson won 13 games for Toronto in 1996, despite a 5.41 ERA.

Bryan Little

1984 Fleer

Little played for five seasons in the majors, hitting .245 with three home runs in 327 games. He broke in with the Montreal Expos in 1982 and stayed there until 1985 when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He split the 1986 season between the ChiSox and the New York Yankees. That would be the end of his time in the big leagues, although he continued to play in the minors through 1988. Little’s best season came while playing for the Expos in 1983. He hit .260 while setting career highs in runs (48) and RBIs (36) that season.

Little started at second base for the White Sox on August 4, 1985, at Yankee Stadium when Tom Seaver beat New York to earn his 300th career win. Little had a hit and drove in two runs in the game. Seaver pitched nine innings and allowed one run to lead Chicago to a 4-1 win.

Little is the brother of former manager Grady Little.

Bryan Little – career stats

1986 Topps

John Wehner

1992 Fleer

Wehner played for 11 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins from 1991-2001. In 461 games he hit .249 with four home runs. Wehner hit .308 in 52 games for the Pirates in 1995 but had his most productive season the following year when he hit .259 while setting career highs in RBIs (13) and runs scored (19).

Wehner was a member of the 1997 Marlins’ team that defeated the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. He appeared in one game of the National League Division Series, but did not play in the NLCS or the World Series.

On October 1, 2000, Wehner took Chicago Cub Jon Lieber deep in the fifth inning of their game at Three Rivers Stadium. It would be both the final home run hit at Three Rivers and also the final home run of Wehner’s career. He also made the final out of the game when he grounded out to third base in the bottom of the ninth.

Wehner went on to become a broadcaster, working on Pirates’ games for the Pirates’ radio network and also SportsNet Pittsburgh.

John Wehner – career stats

1993 Topps