Yankees @ Blue Jays, September 13, 1996... The MASK!!!

When I first saw 1997 Upper Deck, I fell in love with the set for one reason. Each player's card was dated, with a brief headline of what was going on in the picture. This was something that I'd always wanted on a card, and was disappointed that didn't become an Upper Deck standard. Either way, I ended up hand collecting the full set. Minus that one elusive card... (Where are you Glenallen Hill?) My set includes both series respective mail-in 30 card wrapper redemption sets. It could have become my all time favorite set if it weren't for the abundance of pointless subset cards, cutting back on a possible deeper pool of players.

But that's a subject for a different day. For now I only want to talk about one card in the 550 card set...

1997 Upper Deck - Charlie O'Brien

The photo of Mr. O'Brien commemorates the debut of the hockey goalie style catchers mask in Major League Baseball. "Sporting a revolutionary look at Skydome." The date on that photo is: 9-13-96.

I was at that game!

My attendance at the Skydome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, was thanks to taking part in a September 1996 Jay Buckley Baseball Tour. 

Toronto was a stop on an itinerary that included games in Chicago (both Cubs and White Sox), Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York (both Mets and Yankees), Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Detroit and a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

On Friday, September 13, 1996, our tour bus parked outside of Skydome. 

I'm not sure which lot... Probably the one in the R.

We arrived in Toronto late in the morning, after driving from just east of Ottawa, a few hours earlier. With the game set to start at 7:35pm local time, we were given our tickets and set free for local shopping, dining and attractions on our own in downtown Toronto. Before leaving the bus, our tour guides gave out suggestions for nearby places to go. Skydome not located far from where we were dropped off, it wouldn't be an issue getting back in time for the game.

After returning home from the east coast trip, I turned some of my notes into a roadtrip story (titled "Voyager Honkass part 2") for Wasted Quarter issue #27. Since my life was chaotic after the baseball tour, I didn't get to write this for several months. Mainly due to moving from Minnesota to Colorado, less than a month after the tour ended. I also used a typewriter to write most of the issue, since I was still getting settled in at the new apartment. Plus sometimes using a typewriter is just fun. And I quit worrying about fixing errors, it was too big a pain in the ass to re-type things that I hadn't screwed up. I'm not redoing a paragraph's worth of the work because the third to the last word has a finger slip...

This was back when I was putting the issues together by cutting up printed papers (in this case, lines of type), taping them down, then photocopying the pages, collating and stapling. Those days soon would give way to desktop layout and self publishing. Unfortunately, the baseball journal I printed in Wasted Quarter 27 was really terrible. I've long hated it. Even the 1995 version that I printed in Wasted Quarter issue #20, was much better than this.

I went on a Jay Buckley Baseball Tour in 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1996. Each of the individual games from these tours will all make great stories for this blog someday. Anything that once appeared in a Wasted Quarter, sorely needs a re-write with all the available images. Much better suited to this medium, than a black and white xerox copy!

This will be third story I written about these Buckley tours. The first involved a 1993 game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which included a side trip to the remains of League Park. That was the second story ever to appear on this blog, I was so excited to present it. I've also covered a 1995 visit to a soon-to-be closed for major renovations, Jarry Parc in Montreal. Before attending my first ever Expos HOME game, at Olympic Stadium later that night.

The Toronto chapter of the 1996 Baseball Tour story started off with some random thoughts about the traditional movie theater candy, Sno Caps. Not sure where that came from, or why I remembered that I needed to write about them while in Toronto. But that is how I started of the story of my Toronto baseball memories, in Wasted Quarter #27.

So you can kind of see the personal need to re-write this story...

However, In honor of re-writing this story, I picked up a box of Sno Caps at the Sdoof Buc after work the other night, just to eat while I wrote. Figured it would provide the brain fuel to forage through the toughest of writer's block.

I'll even eat them off my gob side, and not just pantomime the dispensing of Sno Caps.

One person gets that joke...

As his Upper Deck card mentioned, that night's Blue Jays game was notable for Charlie O'Brien's new catchers mask. There had been a slightly above average amount of interest in this game. Several news outlets picked up on the story well in advance of this actual game.

Before the 1996 season started, I read an article in USA Today's Baseball Weekly newspaper, which talked of Charlie O'Brien meeting with the leading manufacturer of protective masks worn by NHL Goaltenders. O'Brien hoped to help design a mask that would better protect a catcher's head from foul tips, and provide better peripheral vision than the common helmet and facemask combo, that had been a baseball standard for nearly a century. The story went on to describe the new concept helmet as one that could be painted to match the wearer's personality, much like what was trending in the National Hockey League.

It wasn't this issue. I no longer have the one with the catcher's mask story. This issue serves as a stand in because it's Carlos Perez of the Expos, holding his wieners.

In all seriousness, I loved USA Today's Baseball Weekly. Back in the pre-internet days of the early to mid 1990's, BW was a great source for news on the top stories, coverage of non-local teams and the minor leagues. It was a must buy every Wednesday from the early 1990's through about 2005, when football overtook the deep baseball coverage. Which had become a shell of itself. But at that point, whatever I wanted to read was readily available online.

After first reading about O'Brien's mask development, before 1996 Spring Training started, I was updated on the story a few times throughout the 1996 season. When USA Today published their first story on it, the mask was being evaluated by the commissioner's office (Bud Selig). O'Brien had hoped for clearance to wear the mask before Opening Day 1996, but approval took longer.

In one update to the story, I was annoyed to read that one cause for delay was that Selig expressed concern the helmets would be decorated in loud and flashy colors. One of the initial conditions of the masks approval would be their restriction to team colors, and only official logos could be present on the surface.

King of fun... Bud Selig everybody!

In late August 1996, I'd read (again in USA Today Baseball Weekly) that O'Brien's new catcher's helmet had finally been approved, and he was free to begin wearing it in games. Instead of immediately showing off his new piece of baseball equipment, O'Brien held out. Saving the big reveal for a special occasion...

Like Friday the 13th!

This really should have warranted a much better write-up in Wasted Quarter...

Also in the Wasted Quarter story of this game, I had to cover my growing displeasure with one of my favorite bands. By 1996, They Might Be Giants were falling fast on my musical priority scale. What I wrote was stupid and I'm not going to put it up here, but it was in reference to the only piece of memorabilia in my collection that mentions Hootie and the Blowfish...

I'm kicking myself for only saving said ad from that day's Toronto Sun. Why did I deem this important, but not any of the write-ups about Charlie O'Brien's mask, from that day's Sun sports section. Which I read while sitting in my Skydome seat.

Very close to the field, down in the right field corner.

After reading the paper, I took a few pictures from my seat. Including this one of Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill and catcher Jim Leyritz, warming up down the right field line. On the right side of the photo, a young Derek Jeter walks towards the visitor's dugout.

Derek Jeter scored 2 runs on 2 hits, in tonight's game, while batting 9th in the order. Jeter was well on his way to the 1996 Rookie of the Year award, at this point in the season. He probably didn't bat 9th a whole lot after 1996.

The visiting New York Yankees starting lineup. 

With some field facing rooms of the Skydome Hotel above the scoreboard.

And your home Toronto Blue Jays starting lineup. 

At this point in Skydome history, the hotel guests weren't required to sign contracts saying they would not commit sexual acts with the drapes open, while the stadium is in use. My pictures are blurry, but I don't think anyone is doing anything debaucherous here tonight...

For whatever reason, I took some notes on the guy who threw the ceremonial first pitch, then no other notes at all during the game. And I haven't seen anyone without arms throw anything. (But I was once yelled at in a Buffalo Wild Wings, by a guy with no arms or legs!) Sadly, I also stopped taking pictures of the game. Which wasn't very eventful in itself.

With low end camera technology of 23 years ago, I couldn't just take hundreds of pictures at random like I do now. Couldn't afford the film or the developing... Sure don't miss the days of 35mm film...

But thanks to the majesty of Baseball Reference, I was able to relive a rather lackluster -yet historically significant- game, via it's box score! 

Former Expo and future Hall of Famer, Tim Raines, had 2 hits for the Yankees. With one of them being a double, for 2 RBI's. Since I didn't have a 1996 card of Raines as a New York Yankee to scan, I have to use this one from the White Sox. Their uniform could almost pass for a Yankee warm up jacket. And it's just a really nice looking card. Gotta love a good batting cage shot!

But here is Tim Raines in his Yankees gear during pre-game warm ups.

Juan Samuel played first base for the Blue Jays. Instead of second base, where I was used to seeing him play throughout his career with the Mets and Phillies. He was held hitless and had three strikeouts against New York. That kind of futility at the plate must have been caused by playing out of position.

All-time Blue Jays hero, Joe Carter, went 0 for 4.

1996 was the 20th Anniversary season of Blue Jays baseball. The last 7 seasons of which were played in the Skydome. The Blue Jays first home, Exhibition Stadium, was still standing in 1996. Our bus drove by it on our way into Toronto. Exhibition Stadium was permanently closed before 1996, and would be demolished three years later. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of it.

Cecil Fielder had an RBI and two walks, with one strikeout for the Yankees, in tonight's game. Fielder played at Exhibition Stadium for the first few years of his career, as a first baseman and Designated Hitter for the Blue Jays. After a season in Japan, he returned to Major League Baseball in 1990 and became one of the best power hitters in game.

After signing Fielder to a massive contract, Detroit traded him to the New York Yankees on July 31st, 1996. For fellow Junk Wax Era superstar, Ruben Sierra (and then top prospect, Matt Drews). As luck would have it, We'd be seeing Sierra the next night in Detroit, where the Orioles would be playing the Tigers at old Tiger Stadium.

That trade shocked me when it happened. Two fading icons of Junk Wax now traded for each other. While Sierra hung around until 2006 (including a brief career-ending stint with the Minnesota Twins), he was barely a shadow of his superstar self. Fielder played only parts of two more seasons before his injury rattled body gave out, and he left the game after the 1998 season.

Tino contributed a hit and a strikeout.

Bernie Williams and some other Yankees during pre-game warm-ups.

I poorly summarized my thoughts on the Skydome at the end of my Toronto story in Wasted Quarter 27. The main thing that bothered me about Skydome was how cramped the seating was, and all the McDonalds food booths around the concourse. The overall atmosphere of the place was very sterile. Like most dome baseball games. And after growing up a Twins fan, I saw far too much dome baseball.

I much preferred Montreal the night before... Yes, Olympic Stadium is still a dome, and an older one at that. And while still terrible for baseball, Olympic Stadium had a great deal of character. Skydome was baseball in a cement shopping mall. That's the message I was unable to convey in my terrible Wasted Quarter write up.

Charlie O'Brien, and his trend setting catcher's mask, scored Toronto's only run on his 16th double of the year. He also struck out once. Each time O'Brien went to the plate tonight, his scoreboard promotional picture was a different mask related image. Including this shot from the Jim Carrey movie I've long refused to watch.

Tomas Perez and Robert Perez both went 2 for 4, with Robert being responsible for driving O'Brien in for Toronto's only run. I didn't have cards for either Perez that I could find quickly enough for this story. I probably have at least one of both somewhere, just not from 1996.

Andy Pettitte got the win for the Yankees, pitching 7 2/3 innings, giving up 7 hits and the single earned run, on one walk, while striking out 6. The win made Pettitte 21-7 on the season.

John Wetteland pitched a scoreless bottom of the 9th, striking out two, for his 40th save of the 1996 season.

Former Seattle Mariner, Erik Hanson, pitched for Toronto. He lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing all 4 Yankee runs on 10 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 7. The loss moved Hanson's record to 12-17. And that's all sorts of not good...

The game lasted 2 hours, and 40 minutes, with an announced paid attendance of 31,227. More than I'd expected to come out and watch the drastically underperforming Blue Jays, on a Friday night in September. Guess word of Charlie O'Brien's mask drew a decent walk-up gate.

Unfortunately, we had to hit the highway immediately after the game. Our hotel overnighter was not going to be held in the Skydome (hotel rooms as seen at the top of this picture), but someplace just south of Toronto. The tour bus was headed back into the United States, for the next night's game at Tiger Stadium.

The rain in Toronto had been going fairly lightly all day while we there. Just as the game ended and we were walking back to the bus, torrential rains dropped on the city. Getting out of town was almost as difficult as leaving New York City was a few nights earlier.

But I got to witness history with tonight's Blue Jays game. And while a new helmet might seem kind of insignificant, but since I'd followed this story since before the season began, the fact that I got to attend the game where it debut, is pretty cool.

While never being considered a Blue Jays fan, I'm definitely not a Blue Jays hater. 

After all, this is still one of my favorite logos in baseball.

I used to torture my ex-girlfriend with that ridiculous "Okay Blue Jays" team song from the early 1980's, every chance I could.

And I was even happy when they won the 1992 and 1993 World Series. Not to mention my hopes that the Montreal Expos would have made it 3 World Series titles in 3 years for Canada.

But... Well, you know...


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