Sunday, February 10, 2019

#31 - Jose Tabata

What’s that Turtle doin’? Mmmmmm. So thirsty. Anyone got a nice cold Duff within reach? I am still fine with seeing advertising on a baseball card. It actually appears on such a minority of cards, that it makes you appreciate the vast majority of cards and the usual view they give one of the game - without seeing all the ads all the time.

On this card, Jose Tabata is streaking to his left to catch a fly ball. You don't much need an official Position on the front to guess his spot on an MLB roster, though there was certainly plenty of room for such in the Sea Turtle design.

Like many cards in the set, seeing the baseball player from head to toe comes at the price of not seeing one of his extremities. But I like this, quite a bit, especially amongst all the all-torso all-the-time all over this set. Not seeing Jose's right fore-arm greatly helps supply the illusion of rapid movement on this card. As does the fact that only the tip of one of his shoes is currently touching the ground.

This card also illustrates how when intensely concentrating on Fielding, as with Pitching and Hitting, baseball players are not really in control of their facial expressions.

+Bonus points for the photo actually capturing the laces on the plummeting fly ball - just like on that big logo back there. I think I need to make a run to the store right here...

Uniform Hero? Technically, yes, in that Jose Tabata wore #31 for the Pittsburgh Pirates for his entire time with them, though it can't quite be seen in the image on this card.

But I think something else is going on with this checklist spot, because the #s below 50 are definitely still allowing Topps to assemble some powerhouse player combinations in this checklist, as we will continue to see for several more card #s to come. So although this card pretty much represents Tabata at the peak of his career after just one year of a new six year extension deal signed with Pittsburgh in 2011, his overall résumé doesn't quite fit with the superstars all around him on the checklist.

As we are about to see in this set and on this blog, uniform #s in the 30s will soon be dominated by elite starting pitching. And a well-known 2012 starter wore #31 - Jon Lester - but he was just coming off the only bad season in his career, really.

However there is one other very intriguing possibility for what might have been in this star studded checklist sequence. An ultra-famous, first ballot Hall of Famer wore #31 for 2.5 seasons in his career, beginning just after the 2012 trade deadline. That particular All-Timer has only one name: Ichiro.

He wore #51 for the entirety of his career, but when he was traded to New York, a problem arose - the Yankees were already reserving #51 from any use, to honor Bernie Williams. They would retire #51 in the 2015 season.

So Ichiro wore #31 in New York and he would have fit in perfectly right here on this checklist, on a baseball card binder page that will likely already hold 3 Hall of Famers, some day.

Alas, this was not to be, as there could be no Topps Baseball cards issued for Ichiro in 2013 due to an expired contract between the two. Ichiro would not return to Topps products until halfway through 2015.

Thus my hunch for why Jose Tabata occupies this Heroic checklist spot is the simple result of Topps scrambling to cover for another plan falling through. This also becomes a very ironic checklist/binder page position when one sees the completion of this page, some 6 posts in to the future of this blog.

Where’d the egg hatch? Tabata hails from Venezuela and was actually recruited and signed by the Yankees in 2004, when he was theoretically just 16 years old. Questions about the veracity of his age swirl through pretty much all journalism covering Tabata. In 2008, New York traded him to Pittsburgh in a 4-for-2 swap of players that all played in the Majors, but without enough note to make anyone (including your trusty Sea Turtle chronicler) really want to evaluate that particular trade much.

How about the migrations? Jose would debut in Pittsburgh in 2010 with a quite good Rookie season and follow that with a 2011 season successful enough for the mid-market Pirates to make a fateful contract extension offer afterwards.

2012, however, would reveal a steady erosion in all of his statistical results, arrested for only the year of this particular card before more decline in 2014. The slipping # that catches my eye the most is an ever dwindling ability to draw a Walk; and with no real power in his hitting game, either, Pittsburgh was soon in a difficult spot as far as offering him any playing time, particularly with their otherwise excellent starting Outfield at the time, and with many more good OF prospects in the pipeline.

It all came to an end in a "bad contract swap" to L.A. (who always seem to me as particularly adept at helping out other clubs in a way that each can escape from albatross situations) in 2015, where he would never appear in an MLB game.

Jose Tabata does have a permanent baseball footnote for his career however, one that would never be seen on a baseball card. On June 20, 2015 in Washington D.C., Jose Tabata stepped into the batter's box as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs. On the mound Max Scherzer was attempting to complete what could have been the 24th Perfect Game in MLB history. On the 9th pitch of the At Bat, it appeared that Tabata dipped his elbow pad into the path of the pitch, sending him to First Base. Scherzer went on to complete the No Hitter, but Jose Tabata's notoriety was cemented in to baseball history forever.

Although his fate in Pittsburgh was likely already sealed at that point, he would subsequently appear in just four more games.

Don’t flip over real Turtles.
I can say here that it is not easy to write about Jose Tabata, and this card back was created well before his permanent "moment."

At least these types of card backs do keep you up-to-date on the sometimes changing set of minor league affiliates for each MLB club.

Can the Turtle Catch the Rabbit?

CAREER CHASE: With 43 stolen bases, Tabata is 1,363 away from Rickey Henderson's all-time record of 1,406.

Jose stole 19 bases in his 2010 Rookie season, but like most every other stat in his career, this was a peak of production.

Tabata finished his career with only 4 more Steals, despite appearing in no less than 213 more Games _after_ Topps calculated that stat comparison. That gives him a career total of 47 stolen bases, and one stolen game.

Subspecies? This is the most singular Sea Turtle baseball card yet, with no other Jose Tabata checklist or variation appearances.

Bling That Shell This could well be another one of the Blue Sparkle cards that helped germinate this project in the summer of 2013. With the colorful variety going on behind Tabata, it was another easy choice:

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