Friday, December 31, 2010

Kind of "Blue"

For the last post of 2010, it may be appropriate to feel a little seasonably blue. Or...

Card #430 -- Vida Blue, Oakland A's

This is a great picture. Blue is delivering his pitch, the batter (a Minnesota Twin, it looks to be...Oliva or Carew, perhaps?) is waiting with his hands choked up on the bat. A rosin bag is seen laying on the mound, just below the batter's arm. The bag at second base is clearly seen, but for whatever reason, there are no other players in the photo. However, since this moment is just between the pitcher and batter, anybody else is pretty much irrelevant.

Vida Blue was a rarity: a hard-throwing lefty. Some players said he threw harder than anybody who wasn't named Nolan Ryan. His best pitch was a fastball that neared 100 MPH, and he made sure he used it. And when he entered the league, few hitters knew what to do with him. In 1970, he was called up to the parent club in September and pitched in just six games. Two of those were complete-game shutouts, one a ho-hitter and the other a one-hitter. In 1971, he was such a force on the mound that he ended up getting both the MVP and Cy Young awards with his 24-8 record and 1.82 ERA. He was the youngest A.L. MVP of the 20th century and one of a select few to win the MVP and Cy Young in the same year.

In 1972, he came back down to earth, posting a 6-10 record but still helping the A's to win the World Series. He won 20 games again for '73 and would remain an important part of the team's rotation throughout its dynasty years. However, he would get caught up with owner Charlie Finley's antics in trying to dismantle his team before free agency did it for him. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed two trades involving Blue (to the Yankees in '76 and the Reds in '77), saying they were "bad for baseball" because both involved a powerful pitcher being sent to powerhouse teams with little going to the A's in return.

Vida Blue was finally traded to the San Francisco Giants for 1978. After four years there and two with the Kansas City Royals, he had some public issues with drug problems. After the 1983 season, Blue was arrested for trying to purchase cocaine (and later testified in the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials). He was out of the game for 1984, but returned to spend the 1985-'86 seasons with the Giants before retiring.

Despite the negative news that dominated his later career, Vida Blue has been active since his retirement in charitable causes among inner-city kids and promoting baseball. With that, this blog bids farewell to the year 2010 and hopes for a very eventful 2011. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Richie Cunningham, I presume?

Today's post features a card from the "Boyhood Photos" subset that appeared in the 1973 Topps set:

Card #343 -- Bobby Murcer (Boyhood Photo)

Because nothing says "baseball player" or "Yankee star" quite like a 1950s elementary school photo.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Family Ties

With the holidays upon us, today's blog post focuses on family. Or, as this one goes, family members:

Card #43 -- Randy Moffitt -- San Francisco Giants

Beyond the background image of Candlestick Park and those very-70s sideburns, Randy Moffitt had quite a legacy to live up to, which is mentioned on the back of this card.

His sister is Billie Jean King, the tennis star. In 1973, she won the vaunted "Battle of the Sexes" against Bobby Riggs and also won Wimbledon for the fifth time. Among the best tennis players in the world at that point, that may have made for interesting discussion at family dinners:

"You know, Mom...I struck out Willie Stargell yesterday."

"Big deal. Your sister got to meet the Queen again. Pass the potatoes."

This was Moffitt's first Topps card. He had debuted with the Giants in 1972 and spent 10 seasons with the club as a dependable reliever, just as the "fireman" position was becoming more of a specialized thing in the game. He would go on to pitch for one season in Houston and another in Toronto before leaving the game after the '83 season.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Give Me "Money"

There was a little theme to this week's entries. Monday, Dave Cash appeared. On Wednesday, it was Bobby Bonds' turn, today...a little something that won't be turned down at Christmas:

Card #386 -- Don Money, Milwaukee Brewers

Evidently, "Money" doesn't buy a good airbrush artist.

There's no need to wonder why a player from the Milwaukee Brewers would be standing in Veterans' Stadium in Philadelphia when they weren't yet in the National League in 1973. Not when Don Money looks to be wearing a cartoon uniform.

Of course, Money had been with the Phillies through 1972 and was wearing that team's uniform when the picture was taken. When he was traded to Milwaukee in late October, the Topps people commissioned their airbrush artist to go to work. Though he had been with the Phillies since 1968, Money was signed by Pittsburgh but traded across the state in a deal for Hall of Famer Jim Bunning before getting to the parent club. He would go on to play eleven seasons with the Brewers and was named to the All-Star team four times for them.

He retired after the 1983 season and decided to try playing in Japan after seeing video of the Yomiuri Giants and being impressed by their crowds and clean facilities. However, he ended up signing with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, who weren't so beloved. He ripped up his contract after only a month and went home. Money later became a manager in the minor league system. Today, he's the skipper of the Nashville Sounds, the AAA affiliate of the Brewers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Get Down and Boogie!

Among the horizontal photos used in the 1973 Topps set, some are great, while others are questionable and downright silly. Look at this one:

Card #145 -- Bobby Bonds, San Francisco Giants

Bobby Bonds appears to be showing Willie Stargell a new dance step, but he's heading back to first to avoid a possible pickoff attempt. That was probably a common occurrence, since Bonds was known as a speedy runner. He's also known for his propensity to strike out at the plate. Interestingly, when he retired, Bonds was third among all players in career strikeouts. One of the two players ahead of him was Stargell (Reggie Jackson was the other one). 

It's still sad to see that neither of these players is still with us.

At the time, Bobby Bonds had been with the Giants since 1968. In his very first game, he hit a grand slam. In 1973, he set a record for leadoff home runs (since broken) and almost became the first player to get 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a single season, missing the mark by one homer. He was also named MVP of that year's All-Star game.

After 1974, he would be one of the most traveled players in baseball, spending the next seven seasons playing for seven different teams. After being traded to the Yankees, he bumped around on the Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Indians, Cardinal and Cubs. His stint with California was the only one that lasted longer than one year.

After he retired from the game, he became better known as the father of Barry Bonds.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Show Me the "Cash"

Baseball fans know that Johnny wasn't the only cool guy named Cash. There was also Norm Cash and this guy:

Card #397 -- Dave Cash, Pittsburgh Pirates

Not a lot to say about the photo, except that he looks like one mean MF with a bat. I also notice that his uniform number is printed on his wristband. 

Dave Cash was born in Utica, New York, which is actually a short distance from where I grew up. Well, close is a relative term in that part of the state, since everything is so spread out. It was about an hour's drive away...but if you wanted to get to my childhood home using the New York State Thruway, you got off at Utica and took a scenic drive where you saw more cows than you ever knew existed. Literally. My wife (who is from Long Island) took her first trip there when we were dating and was absolutely amused because she had never seen so many cows in her life. But then again, her idea of New York State was a lot different from mine, as she came from a part of the state where they give little thought to what lay beyond Yonkers.

But I digress (which I tend to do when the topic turns toward where I grew up)...

Dave Cash replaced Bill Mazeroski as the Pirates' second baseman. He was part of the team's 1971 World Series championship team, playing in all seven games. However, with Rennie Stennett making his way up to the team, Cash wasn't destined to be a regular player there. As a result, he was traded to the Phillies after the '73 season.

Cash enjoyed his best years in Philadelphia, making the All-Star team each of his three seasons there. However, he tested the free agent market in '76 and ended up with the Expos. Though his numbers declined there, he was still a threat with the bat and actually became harder to strike out. He would finish his career in San Diego in 1980.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Thinking Switch-Hitter

Here's a guy who played for a very long time, and at a position that was quite physically damaging:

Card #85 -- Ted Simmons, St. Louis Cardinals

Ted Simmons was one of the better-hitting catchers of his era, even if he was overshadowed by Johnny Bench for much of his career. He was well-renowned as a switch hitter and also known as one of the smartest men playing in the game.

In part due to his "smarts," Simmons was one of a small handful of players who began 1972 without a contract. After a short players' strike that delayed the opening of the season, a few decided to complete one season without being under contract to see if they could test the reserve clause. In Simmons' case, he became a valuable tool for the Cardinals and was eventually offered a deal before the season was through. He remained with the Cards until after the 1980 season, when disagreements with manager Whitey Herzog got him banished to Milwaukee.

In 1982, Ted Simmons had the pleasure of facing off against his old team in the World Series. The Brewers lost, but not due to a lack of effort on the part of Ted Simmons, who hit two home runs. He stayed with the Brewers until being traded the the Braves in '86. After three years as a utility player and pinch hitter, Simmons retired.

When he hung up his mask for good, Ted Simmons held several all-time records as a catcher including hits and doubles. He also held the National League's record for home runs by a switch-hitter. All of these marks have since been broken, but that doesn't diminish the role he played over a 21-year career at one of the hardest positions in the game.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Sad Passing

As time goes on, more of the players featured in the 1973 Topps set are going to pass away. It's a sad fact of life, but it's something that happens to every one of us. One player passed away on December 2nd:

Card #115 -- Ron Santo, Chicago Cubs

Time has been good to Ron Santo. Though not given a lot of attention for Hall of Fame balloting when he was initially eligible, his career has been given added attention over the years to have him considered one of those players who are definitely on the bubble. Such is the benefit of endearing yourself to the Wrigley faithful over the course of nearly 50 years.

While detractors say his career was far too short, Santo hid the fact that he was fighting type 1 diabetes during his playing days. In the 1960s, having a medical condition was seen in a much different light and methods of controlling glucose and insulin levels were rather primitive. Despite his health issues, he managed to become one of the premier 3rd basemen of the 1960s. Unfortunately, he played for a team that didn't get much opportunity for postseason glory, which hurt him.

1973 was Santo's last season with the Cubs as they slowly dismantled the team that almost won the division in 1969. He would be the first player to use the "5 and 10" rule given to players as part of the deal that stopped a player strike from '72 and allowed players who had spent 10 years in the majors (or 5 with their current team) to veto a proposed trade. The Cubs were planning on sending him to the Angels, but Santo didn't want to play on the West Coast. Instead, they sent him to the White Sox and let him remain in Chicago. After spending '74 on the Southside, Santo retired.

He would go on to become a broadcaster noted for his enthusiasm. While many announcers feel they need to put on a front and drop any slight traces of favoritism, Santo was unabashed in his loyalties to his former team. While he was known to cheer at the Cubs' highlights, he was just as quick to criticize their lowlights as well. This only endeared him to the fans.

So, will Ron Santo be elected to the Hall of Fame now that he won't be around to see his plaque? Time will tell. However, being a long-time broadcaster (and a definite booster) for one's previous team certainly helped Phil Rizzuto get inducted 38 years after he retired, so there's hope for Santo's fans.

(Update: Santo did get called to Cooperstown. It was announced on December 5, 2011 that he was elected into the Hall of Fame's 2012 class through its Veteran's Committee.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Post/Card #100 -- The Hammer!

In recognition of this blog's 100th post, today 1973 Topps Photography is pleased to present card #100 from the '73 set. As Topps was quite fond of reserving the cards numbered in multiples of 100 for the biggest stars of the game, there should be little surprise that card #100 is one of the biggest of all time:

Card #100 -- Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves

Of course, the man shown shagging a fly ball needs little introduction among baseball fans. Though I'll say it looks more like he's playing in the outfield than at first by looking at the glove, but the photo really doesn't give a definitive answer.

Since Hank is so well known to baseball fans, I'll skip the recap about his career and instead focus on his incredible season in 1973.  During the '72 season, he surpassed Willie Mays as baseball's second-best home run hitter. While Mays was definitely declining at the late stage of his career, Aaron may have surprised casual fans by getting so many homers. He never hit more than 45 in a season and wasn't known for booming shots like other home run hitters were. However, he was consistent; in 1973 -- at the age of 39 -- Hank notched another 40 home runs. At the end of the season, he had a total of 713, only one shy of the all-time record held by Babe Ruth. He hit the final homer with one game left but needed to wait until '74 to tie and then pass Ruth. That must have been one heck of an offseason, if only to let Hank get the chase over with.

Ruth, Aaron and Mays all share card #1 in the '73 Topps set, a card I'll get to eventually on this blog.

Aaron was one of three Braves who eclipsed the 40-homer mark in '73, along with Davey Johnson and Darrell Evans.

Hank would leave Atlanta after the '74 season, returning to Milwaukee to play a couple of years as a DH. He retired after '76 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1982.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Painful Play at the Plate Shot

This had to hurt:

Card #542 -- Pat Corrales, San Diego Padres

The runner, Fergie Jenkins, is out. You can see the ump getting ready to call it. Pat Corrales is still holding the ball in his right hand, with a look on his face that can only be described as sheer agony. It has been retorted that the look on his face is understandable because he had to wear that San Diego uniform in a public arena, the picture puts the play in context.

This may be one of my favorite photos in the entire 1973 Topps set because it tells quite a story.

The picture was taken during the bottom of the second inning of a game at Wrigley Field on June 14, 1972. A few months back, Play at the Plate Dude described the action in his blog, so here's a link to that post. This was Corrales's second game with the team, after being traded from the Reds on June 11th.

1973 would be Corrales's final year as a player after several years spent backing up Johnny Bench and others behind the plate. He would go on to manage the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians between 1978 and 1987.  He was the first major league skipper of Mexican ancestry, and he was also the first to be fired when his team was in first place. In 1983, the Phillies were in first but barely over .500, so the owners decided to make a change.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Man the Award Was Named After

After featuring a Hall of Fame pitcher last time around, here's another:

Card #477 -- Cy Young, All-Time Victory Leader

In today's game, a pitcher who gets 300 wins is considered to be among the greats. Here's a guy who won more than 500 of them. The list is rather top-heavy with players whose career began in the 1800s due to the different nature of the sport back then. Pitchers were often two or three-man rotations and were expected to stay in the game longer. There weren't things like set-up men, closers and pitch counts then. Pitchers didn't leave the game to rest. That was what they did after the game.

Of the Top 10 list on the back, the only player that may have been familiar to kids in 1973 was Warren Spahn. He was the only pitcher who had played since the 1920s. Since then, only three pitchers have managed to elbow their way onto the all-time Top 10 victories list: Steve Carlton, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. As far at the active player list, there's not much hope for another addition anytime soon:

Active Career Win Leaders (through 2010):

  1. Jamie Moyer (267)
  2. Andy Pettite (240)
  3. Tim Wakefield (193)
  4. Roy Halladay (169)
  5. Livan Hernandez (166)
Going back to Cy Young...modern fans remember him both for the 511 wins and the Award in his name that is handed out every year to the best pitcher in each league. However, it's interesting to point out that Young wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame the first year he appeared on the vote. That first year, both Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson received more votes than Young. He was eventually voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Man Called "Hoot"

At the time this card showed up in packs, this was the active career strikeout leader:

Card #190 -- Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals

Besides striking a lot of people out, Bob Gibson did other things. He threw 3 games in a World Series 3 different times. He did commentary for basketball games and played with the Harlem Globetrotters. He was a musician who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show with Series rival Denny McLain. He was also one of the pitchers that batters didn't like to face before Nolan Ryan came along.

As a kid, he was handed some cards that would have meant bad things to come for many others. His father died before he was born. He had issues with rickets and pneumonia as a child. However, he used his athleticism to get into Creighton University on a full scholarship. After that, he went pro in both baseball and basketball. After making the major leagues for good in 1959, he quickly became of of the most dominant pitchers of the 1960s outside of Sandy Koufax. In 1968, he was so dominant, the leagues adjusted the height of the mound to give batters more of an advantage. He struck out 35 in the '68 World Series, 17 of those in one game. In 1971, he threw a no-hitter against the Pirates. He also became the second person (after Walter Johnson) to strike out 3,000 batters. He wasn't bad with the bat, either. He was occasionally called on to pinch-hit and is only of only two pitchers since World War Two with a career average over.200.

He was also known for being gruff and abrasive, even with his teammates. Rookies were warned not to dig in against him, unless they wanted to get knocked down. When his close friend Bill White was traded to Philadelphia, he was hit in the arm the first time he faced Gibson.

After retiring in 1975, "Hoot" was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1981. His uniform number 45 was retired the same year.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Here's a player we've seen (perhaps a little too much of) in another card featured on this blog:

Card #151 -- Wes Parker, Los Angeles Dodgers

It almost seems like you see more of Parker on Steve Garvey's card.

On what seems to be a slow day at Dodger Stadium -- check out all the empty bleacher seats -- Parker appears to be holding Greg Luzinski on first. Lee Lacy, a 1972 rookie,  is standing at his second base position (the Dodgers' more familiar second sacker Davey Lopes didn't play his first game until late in the '72 season). As for Wes Parker, 1972 would be his last year in the major leagues. He moved into the broadcast booth for the Cincinnati Reds for '73 and then played one season in Japan in '74.

While Parker's retirement ended a nine-year association with the team, it ushered in another important era. Since Steve Garvey moved over to first in place of Parker, he would soon team with shortstop Bill Russell, the aforementioned Lopes and Ron Cey to form what became baseball's longest-tenured infield combo.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Help Wanted: Proofreader

Today's card features a nice portrait of a solid hitter and power threat, standing in front of the unmistakable facade that once adorned the old Yankee Stadium:

Card #80 -- Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins

While Topps made sure it placed the right player picture on the card and did a decent job getting it centered and cropped, they forgot to check and see if the name "Minnesota" was spelled correctly.

Cuba-born Oliva (birth name Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernades Javique) had a great batting eye, speed on the bases, a strong throwing arm and could hit for power as well. Those are great attributes that helped get Olive elected to the All-Star team his first eight seasons. They also earned him a Rookie of the Year Award in 1964 and contributed to a World Series appearance (but not a ring) in 1965. He consistently hit .300 in an era where superior pitching often prevented that. However, knee problems would hamper Oliva's playing time in 1972.

When he returned from surgery in '73, he was no longer able to play in the outfield as an everyday player. Fortunately, the American League implemented the designated hitter role, so Oliva would spend the next four years in that role. His career numbers were impressive, but early injuries limited his time in the league and effectively squashed his chances at being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He's still a beloved player to Twins fans, though. The team retired his number in 1991 and made him a charter member of their own Hall of Fame in 2000.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Teammate to the Stars

Today's card features a former player I was privileged to speak with in a conference-call interview a few years ago:

Card #283 -- Ray Sadecki, New York Mets

During the interview, Sadecki mentioned two things about his career that few people realize:

  1. He didn't strike out a lot when he was batting.
  2. He was a teammate to a lot of Hall of Fame players.
I don't know about the striking out part (he did it 161 times in his career over 872 plate appearances, even though some years only had single-digit totals), but Sadecki was an above-average hitter for a pitcher. During the conversation, he mentioned the difference between  the National League and the American League (where he'd eventually go in 1676, after the DH had been implemented). By that time, hitters weren't even expected to take their turns in the batting cage, which was different from the way things were in the other league.

As for the teammates part, I went and did a quick, unscientific check over his 18-season career:

Cardinals (1960-'66, 1975):
  • Stan Muisal
  • Bob Gibson
  • Red Schoendienst
  • Lou Brock
  • Steve Carlton

Giants (1966-'69):
  • Willie Mays
  • Willie McCovey
  • Juan Marichal
  • Gaylord Perry

Mets (1970-74, 1977):
  • Tom Seaver
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Willie Mays (again)
  • Yogi Berra (manager)

Braves (1975):
  • Phil Niekro

Royals (1975-'76):
  • George Brett
  • Harmon Killebrew
  • Whitey Herzog (manager)

Brewers (1976):
  • Robin Yount
  • Hank Aaron

I may have missed one or two, but that's a lot. Joe Torre (who was with the Mets in '77) will likely be added to that list eventually. One person I didn't add was Orlando Cepeda; he was with the Giants in '66 but was traded to St. Louis for Sadecki so they were never teammates. He was also involved in a trade that brought Torre to the Mets. Being traded straight-up for a future Hall of Famer gives an indication of how valuable Sadecki was.

Shortly after being traded to San Francisco, Sadecki was involved in an unusual game. On July 3, 1966, he and Tony Cloninger each hit home runs off each other. It probably isn't the only time it's ever happened, but there can't be a lot of games that see two pitchers hitting homer off each other. Actually, Cloninger would hit two in that game, but the first was off starter Joe Gibbon. The Giants lost that game 17-3, but by the time Sadecki got in, it was already 12-2 in the 4th. 

Sadecki played in two World Series during his career, and both were on teams that won their pennants unexpectedly: the 1964 Cardinals and the "You Gotta Believe" '73 Mets. During the conversation I sat in on, he explained that both were surprises to the teams as well. The Phillies were so far ahead in '64 before their collapse, while the '73 Mets had been so far behind for much of the season before their surge.

Looking at this card, I don't see a guy posing for a photographer at a Spring Training facility. Instead, I see a guy that I was able to talk with over a two-hour phone conversation with some other friends, a guy who rubbed shoulders with Stan Musial and pitched to Mickey Mantle in a World Series. Someone who elaborated for a little while on my assertion that catchers are often the smartest players on the field. The personal interaction is one of the things that makes this card special.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Other "Sparky"

On Wednesday, I featured one legendary "Sparky." Today, it's only fitting to show another:

Card #394 -- Sparky Lyle, New York Yankees

Shown here standing in front of Yankee Stadium's famous facade, Albert "Sparky" Lyle was picked up by the Yankees before the 1972 season in one of the more famous one-side trades in history. The Yankees got a valuable piece of the puzzle that helped them win three pennants and two World Series, while the Red Sox picked up two players (Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero) who would be gone after the 1974 season. Lyle's presence in the bullpen of the BoSox' A.L. East rivals was certainly noted whenever the walked to the mound and beat them in ensuing years.

In the days where relief pitchers didn't put up the gaudy numbers they do today -- when they were sometimes expected to come in as early as the second or third inning if needed and pitch more than an inning or two -- Sparky was one of the best in baseball. He was the first American League southpaw to collect 100 saves, setting a league record with 35 in '72. He would go on to become the first relief pitcher to win the A.L. Cy Young Award in 1977; however, George Steinbrenner picked up Rich Gossage after the season, which limited his role in '78. He responded by writing one of baseball's great books, The Bronx Zoo, which chronicled the ups and downs of that '78 season: Ron Guidry's breakout season, Billy Martin's fall from grace, the amazing comeback and the day Bucky Dent was given a brand new middle name by fans of the Red Sox.

After that '78 season, Sparky was traded to the Rangers, which made Graig Nettles say he went "from Cy Young to sayonara." He would go on to the Phillies in 1980 (but too late to appear in the World Series that year) and finished his career with the Chicago White Sox in '83. When he retired, he was the all-time best left-handed reliever in baseball. Despite the bigger numbers put up by relief pitchers since 1990, Sparky still owns the A.L. mark for saves by a lefty.

Sparky Lyle is also remembered by teammates and fans for being a practical joker. One of his signature pranks was to sit naked on a birthday cake so the imprint of his buttocks was left in the icing. Beginning that unusual talent in Boston, his first "victim" was Ken Harrelson, who had been given a cake shaped like Fenway Park. Shortly after being traded, he quickly managed to make his "mark" there, on a cake that turned out to be delivered to manager Ralph Houk. Teammate Ron Swoboda eventually went to the disgusting extreme in a cake that was then sent to Lyle himself. Finally, Sparky said in The Bronx Zoo that he eventually gave it up because of the notoriety he gained, figuring somebody would stick sharp objects into cakes to hurt him.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

R.I.P. Sparky

Today's card features a Hall of Famer who recently passed away:

Card #296 -- Sparky Anderson & Coaches, Cincinnati Reds

Sparky passed away on November 4, only a day after it was reported that he was seriously ill.

Sparky's Hall of Fame career started out inauspiciously enough. He was given the starting second baseman's job for the 1959 Phillies. After hitting .218 with no home runs and only 34 RBI's in 152 games, he was sent back to the minors for good. He stopped playing in 1964 but stuck around as a manager. In 1970, he was named the new skipper of the Cincinnati Reds. While there were the expected naysayers who come out whenever an unknown person is given such a job, he quieted them down his first year by winning the National League pennant that year. More pennants followed in '72, '75 and '76, with the Reds also winning the World Series those last two years. That 1976 postseason was especially sweet, as the Reds won every game they played. When he was fired after the 1978 season, he was quickly hired by the Tigers. He won another World Series title in 1984, making him the first manager to win a World Series in both leagues. He retired after the 1995 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

It's worth noting that Sparky turned 39 in 1973. He looks much older than that in the picture.

Alex Grammas is one of two ex-managers of the Pittsburgh Pirates on this card. After playing mainly as a reserve infielder between 1954-'63, he would become a long-time coach. He managed the Pirates in 1969 and the Milwaukee Brewers from 1976-'77. After Sparky Anderson moved to Detroit, Grammas would coach there as well.

Longtime baseball fans and card collectors need little introduction to Ted Kluszewski. "Big Klu" was a feared slugger with the Reds, Pirates, White Sox and Angels who also hit for a decent average. Unlike many longball hitters, Kluszewski wasn't an easy out; over his career, he walked more often than he struck out. In 1955, he became the last player to hit 40 home runs and strike out less than 40 times. He famously cut the sleeves off his Reds uniform because it constricted  his swing (his iconic 1957 Topps card shows this). After his playing days were over in 1961, he became a hitting coach. He remained with the Reds until 1986, when failing health forced his retirement. He passed away in 1988.

Pete Rose -- whose baseball mind was incredibly sharp even if his off-field life wasn't -- called George Scherger the "smartest baseball mind in the world." That's quite a compliment. Scherger never made the major leagues as a player, but managed Spark Anderson in the Brooklyn Dodgers' system during the 1950s. He stayed in Cincinnati after Anderson's dismissal and was a coach under Rose until 1986.

Larry Shepard never made the majors as a player, but was setting himself up for the future as a playing manager in the minors. The Pirates named him their manager in 1968. He joined the Reds as a pitching coach in 1970 and stayed there through Sparky's tenure. In 1979, he would spend one season as the Giants' pitching coach before retiring.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Heads Up!

Today's card shows a pop fly:

Card #525 -- Jim Fregosi, New York Mets

Jim Fregosi has popped a high foul here, and everybody is watching it: Fregosi, Johnny Bench, the umpire, the Mets in the dugout and the fans in Riverfront Stadium. In fact, about the only person not looking up is the guy in the silhouette.

1972 was supposed to be a good year for Jim Fregosi and the Mets. They thought enough of him to trade away their young fireballer Nolan Ryan to the Angels to get him. However, stubborn injuries limited his playing time and he would be playing in Texas before the 1973 season was over. Ryan, in the meantime, was setting an all-time strikeout record that year. Today, that Ryan/Fregosi trade is looked at as one of the Mets' biggest mistakes. (That said, nobody seems to remember that Ryan had a losing record in '71 or that he was increasingly unhappy in New York.)

Fregosi had been a star player in California during the 1960s. So, after playing out his career in Texas and Pittsburgh, he would become the manager of the Angels in 1978. Ironically, he would manage the same person the Mets traded to get him -- Ryan -- for his first two years. In 1979, he guided the Angels to the ALCS but lost to the Orioles. He would later manage the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays, winning the '93 pennant in Philadelphia.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mystery Solved!

Back in September, I featured this card of Mike Andrews and started a bunch of debate over who was sliding. In fact, that post is still the one with the most comments on this blog to date.

Today's card helps solve the puzzle:

Card #334 -- Freddie Patek, Kansas City Royals

Both cards show the same "rolled out turf" look on the field. This is undoubtedly the same place (and most likely the same game) as where Andrews was making the play in his card. Therefore, Mike Andrews and the White Sox would be playing against the Royals at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City (which -- oddly -- was a natural grass field). And Bob Oliver was the person sliding into second.

That leaves one other question: is the White Sox baserunner Tony Muser or Ed Spezio? Both wore #5 for the ChiSox in '72. The answer, as it turns, "I don't know." Since Bob Oliver was dealt to California early in '72, he never played in any game against the White Sox in a Royals uniform Royals that year. So, we go over to 1971. And there doesn't appear to be a single game where Oliver, Patek and Andrews played together. Going back to 1970 won't do any good, as Patek was still with the Pirates then. Therefore, this game was either an exhibition or perhaps one that was called on account of rain. Thos games are in the great stuff to be found at

Despite being an excellent fielder, Fred Patek was known as the shortest player in the league. While Patek understood that being the shortest player in the majors was better than being the shortest person in the minors, it still followed him around. When I was in elementary school during the late 1970s, I remember seeing his name as a trivia question due to his height. But, as a culture that admires when the little guys win (even as they cheer on the Goliaths), Patek was good at little things like bunting, running and fielding so the fans admired the way he carried himself on the field.

Even regular-sized guys might not really like the idea of someone like Frank Howard or Don Baylor sliding into second with their cleats pointed at them, trying to break up the double play.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A New Home on the Range

For the first time in franchise history,this team recently went to the World Series:

Card #7 -- Texas Rangers Team card

Since the picture had been taken in 1972, this would be the first team photo of the Texas Rangers, who had played as the Washington Senators in '71. Ted Williams is sitting in the center of the first row of bleachers, in what would be the final year he managed. That first Rangers team went 54-100, so Williams would be fired at the end of the season.

'73 wasn't much better. With another Hall of Famer (Whitey Herzog) taking over the manager's spot, the team continued performing poorly. On Spetember 7, the team was sitting on a 47-91 record and Herzog got the axe as well. With Billy Martin taking over, the Rangers finished 1973 with the worst record in baseball for the second straight year.

I many teams have ever fired TWO Hall of Famers as manager within a one-year period? Granted, Williams didn't make the Hall of Fame for his managerial duties and Herzog was just getting started, but the question still needs to be asked.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Impossible Made Possible, Take Two

My last post featured a Cubs pitcher who seemed to be playing against a Texas Ranger. Today is another take on the concept and it also involves the Cubs:

Card #555 -- Bill Hands, Minnesota Twins

This is actually a pretty decent airbrush job, one that nearly isn't as obvious as some of the others featured on this blog. However, the ivy wall behind him shows he's pitching in Wrigley Field. While Bob Locker's card in the other post featured an outfielder whose uniform was also airbrushed, an eagle eye on the outfielder behind Hands can pick out a distinct letter "C" on his cap.

The back of the card gives an explanation, saying that Hands had been traded to the Twins in the off-season. The Cubs sent him and Joe Decker in exchange for Dave LaRoche. As a Cub, Hands had been part of the rotation, winning 20 games in 1969 but seeing his numbers decline after that. He would split '74 with the Twins and Rangers, and play his last season with Texas in '75. He was traded to the Mets before the '76 season but never played for them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another "Impossible" Made Possible

Thanks to airbrushing, Topps could design cards that showed amazing feats...things that just couldn't happen. Like this card:

Card #645 -- Bob Locker, Chicago Cubs

Bob Locker appears to be wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform and is getting ready to deliver a pitch to...a Texas Ranger? In 1972, there was no interleague play. If you look closer, you'll see that the Cubs outfit has been painted on. The original uniform (including cap and stirrup socks) has also been painted white, its number removed, a "Cub" patch added to Locker's left sleeve...and look over toward that guy in the outfield. His uniform looks day-glo bright from being airbrushed, and the artist even painted a large "C" on his chest.

The back of the card mentions that Locker was a member of the A's in 1972 and had been traded during the offseason. He was traded in exchange for Bill North (featured here last June). Before the trade, Locker told A's owner charlie Finley that he wanted to come back to Oakland after one year in Chicago, which would allow him to keep his family from being uprooted. Despite a decent season relieving for the Cubs in 1973, Finley worked out an arrangement and got him back. This would lead to a Topps Traded card in '74; since he was returning to a team he'd already played for, it may be the only card in teh Traded set that year that wasn't airbrushed. However, surgery kept Locker from playing in '74. So, he would be traded back to the Cubs (this time, for Billy Williams) and played one final season in '75.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chief Noc-a-Homa's Posse

Many collectors know that the 1973 Topps baseball set was the company's last set issued in several series throughout the year. Along with the wax packs of cards from the final series that year, team checklists appeared, including this one:

(no number) -- Atlanta Braves Checklist

I'm struck by how neat and clear the penmanship is on the card. The two biggest names are the team's two Hall of Fame players: Henry Aaron and Philip Niekro. Also shown are Dave Johnson, Mike Lum, Dan Frisella, Ron Reed, Cecil Upshaw, Ralph Garr, Dusty Baker, Marty Perez, Darrell Evans and Gary Gentry. The starting lineup is short a catcher, though.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Try the "Veale"

Here's a pitcher who was one of the hardest-throwing hurlers of the 1960s:

Card #518 -- Bob Veale, Boston Red Sox

Bob Veale finished the 1972 season with Boston after eleven years in Pittsburgh. He still holds the Pirates' single-season strikeout record with the 276 he notched in 1965. He won the 1964 National League K title in dramatic fashion, beating out Bob Gibson on the final day of the season. While with the Pirates, he was part of a rotation that included (Bob) Moose, (John) Lamb and Veale.

He was sold to the Red Sox on September 2, 1972. Interestingly, Topps was able to get a picture of Veale in his new uniform in the short month he spent with his new team when they weren't always able to get updated photos for other players who had spent most of '72 on their new teams. The picture appears to be a late-season shot at Fenway Park, with Veale wearing a windbreaker under his home uniform (see below for the reason those were struck out). Veale would remain with the Red Sox as a reliever through 1974.

Veale was born on October 28, 1935. Which means he just turned 75!

(Edited to add: A couple of comments below brought up a couple of corrections to the original post. First, the picture appears to have been taken at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Secondly, even though he wears a white jersey, it says "Boston" across the front. The Red Sox used the city name on their road uniforms. Thanks for the corrections!)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Awesome Play at the Plate Shot

Here's a great "play at the plate" picture:

Card #574 -- Bob Didier, Atlanta Braves

Cleon Jones has slid into home with his left foot over Bob Didier's shoulder ("spikes up" they used to call that), Didier has applied a tag and is waiting for the umpire to make his call. The dust is still in the air, and Met catcher Jerry Grote can be seen in the background with his shin guards on, in case he needs to take his position.

Bob Didier only played 22 games in 1972, none of which were against the Mets. Since Cleon Jones is wearing home threads, we know the picture was taken at Shea Stadium. That takes us to a game on July 4, 1971. In the bottom of the fourth, Jones hit a single to center. He went to second base when the next batter (Ken Boswell) hit a slow grounder to Braves pitcher Phil Niekro, who threw to first for the forceout. Bob Aspromonte followed and lined a single to right. Jones ran home from second as Mike Lum fired the ball to Didier.

He was called out. The inning was over, so Grote (who had been standing in the on-deck circle) didn't need to remove his gear.

Bob Didier was a talented catcher who was good at catching the knuckleball. In Atlanta, that made him a favorite receiver for both Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm. However, injuries affected him after his superb rookie campaign in 1969 and he was finished with Atlanta after 1972. They traded him to Detroit during the '73 season. After 7 games with the Tigers in '73 and 6 with the Red Sox in '74, he was finished with his major league career.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Mauch" 2

Where to begin with this card? Let's start with the skipper:

Card #377 - Gene Mauch and Coaches

Gene Mauch was the original manager of the Montreal Expos, beginning in 1969. it was the second of four teams he managed over a 28-year span. He holds the record for the longest managerial career without winning a pennant. It wasn't because he had the chance, however. In 1964, his Phillies led the league by six and a half games with only 12 to go. They lost all but one of those final games, a collapse that still brings sadness to Philadelphia fans today. He also led the California Angels to within one game of the World Series not once but twice (1982 and 1986), with the '86 playoffs the real tragedy. Mauch's team was only one strike away from winning the pennant before Dave Henderson took Donnie Moore's pitch long. Gene Mauch retired due to poor health before the 1988 season and passed away in 2005.

Dave Bristol never played in the majors, but was familiar to fans and card collectors in the 1960s as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. When he took over that position, he was only 33 years old. He would be replaced by Sparky Anderson in 1969. He was then hired by the Seattle Pilots for 1970, only to be told six days before Opening Day that they were going to move to Milwaukee. He led the Brewers into 1972. Later, as the manager of the Atlanta Braves, Bristol would be replaced for one game as manager by team owner Ted Turner before Bowie Kuhn forced a reinstatement. He would also manage the Giants in 1979-'80.

Larry Doby was a star for the great Cleveland Indians teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s after several seasons in the Negro Leagues. While largely remembered as the first black-skinned player in the American League, he was an important cog in those Tribe teams that won the 1948 World Series and the '54 A.L. pennant. In an interesting coincidence, he would also become the second black manager when he took over the Chicago White Sox in 1978. He would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, and passed away in 2003.

Cal McLish was a pitcher who played for seven teams over 15 years. He is probably better known for his full name: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuscahoma McLish. He would be the pitching coach for the Expos from their inaugural season through 1975. McLish passed away this August.

Jerry Zimmerman was also one of the original Expos coaches. He served as their bullpen coach from 1969-'75 after a career playing mostly backup catcher for Cincinnati and Minnesota. He passed away in 1998.

Monday, November 1, 2010

California Dreamin'

Some parents place their kids' artwork on their refrigerators. Employees at Topps put them on baseball cards:

Card #570 -- Bill Singer, California Angels

Or at least that's what it seems like with some of the airbrush jobs they've featured over the years.

With the palm trees looming behind him, Bill Singer is obviously hanging around at a Spring Training facility (probably Vero Beach, the long-time preseason home of the Dodgers, Singer's team through the end of 1972). It's quite obvious that he wasn't wearing a California Angels outfit when the photo was snapped.

While with the Dodgers, Singer was a member of the team's rotation during the late 1960s. In 1969, he won 20 games; in 1970, he threw a no-hitter. Unfortunately,  he developed some injuries that limited his time on the mound.

After the 1972 season, the Dodgers sent him to their Anaheim neighbors along with Frank Robinson and Bobby Valentine to get Andy Messersmith. Singer earned 20 wins for the Halos in '73 and appeared in the All-Star game that season. However, injuries continued to affect him afterwards and he would travel to the Rangers, Twins and Blue Jays before hanging up the glove in 1978. In Toronto, he was part of history as the team's first-ever Opening Day pitcher. 

After retiring, Singer went on to coach and scout for various teams. He would show up in the news again in 2003, after making some insensitive remarks to Dodgers' assistant GM Kim Ng about his her Asian heritage. Singer was quick to use the "I was drunk" defense, but the Mets quickly tossed him to the curb when the story surfaced. Singer would soon work for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but in an interesting bit of irony given the reason he was canned by the Mets, the Washington Nationals would later give him a job coordinating their scouting efforts in Asia.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Rolls "Reuss"

Here's a guy who was still a workhorse when I was watching baseball in the 1980s:

Card #446 -- Jerry Reuss, Houston Astros

Of course, by the time I was getting into baseball during the 1980s, Jerry Reuss was part of the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation. Since I lived outside of the territory of any major league team (I was living in northern New York), I was at the mercy of whatever the TV stations I tuned in could get. Since NBC's Game of the Week was one of my ways to see baseball games, and NBC loved showing the Dodgers, I watched Reuss pitch a lot of games.

Thanks to Vin Scully on those weekend games, I learned the proper way to pronounce Reuss: sounds like "Royce." I had been rhyming it with "Moose" before that. While I realize he pitched with guys like Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, Steve Howe and Orel Hershiser, he was but one of the many tools in Tommy Lasorda's arsenal (and I'm not using the word "tool" as a pejorative at all here), he showed up on the mound in enough games during my childhood to make me think he was the ace of their staff then.

In 1973, Jerry Reuss was in his second of two seasons with the Astros. He had been traded to the team before the '72 season from the Cardinals. He started a league-best -- and personal best -- 40 games that year and won 16 games. After that, he spent six years in Pittsburgh and nine with the Dodgers (where he threw a no-hitter in 1980) before finishing his career with a number of teams in the late 80s. He finished his career back in Pittsburgh in 1990. To give a perspective on how long he played, he is one of only a few pitchers to win 200 career games depite never getting 20 in a single season. He came very close some seasons, though.

From what I understand, Reuss is currently an amateur photographer and checks out the blogs frequently and even has stories about the pictures on his cards. So it may be nice that I left out the fact that he was 0-7 in the League Championship Series over his career. That way, he'll feel free to share wgat was going on during the game where this photo was taken. All I can tell is that he's wearing an Astros road jersey and the fans are just starting to make their way into the seats.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series Action

The 2010 World Series is set to begin tonight, with the Texas Rangers making their first ever appearance there in the 50 years of the franchise's existence. However, they are going up against the San Francisco Giants, team that last won the Word Series in 1954, when they were still playing at the Polo Grounds in New York...and the Texas Rangers weren't yet the Washington Senators, as there was a different team of Senators in D.C. (now the Minnesota Twins). Confused? Don't be.

So, today's card features a scene from the 1972 World Series:

Card #208 -- 1972 World Series, Game 6

Game Six of the '72 Series was played at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium on October 21 (remember the days when the Series didn't go into November?). As the game started, the Reds were down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination by the Oakland A's.

It would be a scoreless contest into the fourth inning. Then, Johnny Bench took a Vida Blue pitch deep into left for a home run. This photo shows Bench coming home after that big hit, as teammates Bobby Tolan and Denis Menke (and the Reds fans behind him) celebrate. Third Base coach Alex Grammas is also seen in the shot.

The A's would tie the score in the next inning, but the Reds responded with a run in the fifth, another in the sixth, and five in the seventh. The 8-1 victory would set up another chance for the Reds to play for the title the next night in front of their home crowd.

(Edited to add...alert reader Don points out that this photo was actually taken when Bench scored again in the seventh inning, and that Tolan and Menke are actually signaling him not to slide into home. Looking at the lineup, Tolan was hitting ahead of Bench and scored on that same play in the seventh. He wouldn't have been at the plate after Bench's solo homer in the fourth. Having this play happen in a later inning better explains the expressions of Gene Tenace at the plate and the A's in the dugout; the game had pretty much slipped past them at this point. Thanks for the correction!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hot Corner, Hot Mustard

Here's a nice action shot from the 1973 Topps set:

Card #133 - Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres

San Diego third baseman Dave Roberts is getting ready to grab a pop fly. Getting himself into position, he's keeping his eye on the ball and moving in for the kill. But that's not exactly what focuses the eye on the picture.

There's the Ivy-covered Wrigley Field wall, the capacity crowd of Cub fans in the background and a golden trophy in the corner, but none of that seems to distract any attention from that Padres road uniform Roberts is wearing. Having a color that is part hot mustard, part 1970s-era household appliances. It's eye-catching for all the wrong reasons (something Fleer would later learn with its 1991 design).

There have been four baseball players named Dave (or David) Roberts. One was a first baseman in the 1960s and another was an outfielder between 1999 and 2008. The other two both appear in the 1973 Topps set; one was a pitcher and one a third baseman. The pitcher hasn't been featured in the blog yet, but the fact that both played and appeared in Topps sets through 1981 and even played for the Padres at different times has caused some confusion over the years.

This was the first appearance of Dave Roberts on a Topps card (the All-Star trophy wasn't always a dead giveaway). He was signed by San Diego out of the University of Oregon in 1972 and was immediately installed as the team's regular third baseman. There was no seasoning time in the minors for him, as he played his first game the same day he signed his contract. The position wasn't assured, though, as he would take several trips between the majors and minors beginning in 1973. The Padres eventually gave up on him in 1979, trading him to Texas. After a couple of years with the Rangers and one each with the Astros and Phillies, his career was over in 1982.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The "Supersub"

Here's a photo that is a little more than just a catcher politely posing for the camera in his signature crouch:

Card #592 -- John Boccabella, Montreal Expos

While John Boccabella waits for the cameraman to finish snapping a photo, you can see other stuff around him. The rest of his catcher's gear is laying on the grass behind him, some palm trees show that he was at Spring Training, and two people are talking behind the backstop: a player and a person (groundskeeper, security guard or somebody) wearing a khaki uniform.

Boccabella is called a catcher on this card, but played at several positions during his career. For many of his seasons with the Cubs (1963-'68) and Expos (1969-'73) he was used wherever he was needed, as a utility player. In fact, 1973 would be the only season in his career he appeared in over 100 games. He was the Expos' regular catcher that year, but it was the only time he was a regular anywhere.

That said, he's still fondly remembered by Expos fans. Beginning in the franchise's first year, the team's public address announcer at Jarry Park would say out his name phonetically: "John...Boc-ca-BELL-a!" Though used primarily as a substitute player, he became better remembered than some of the regulars.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swift Kick to the...

Here's an interesting picture:

Card #550 - Dave Johnson, Atlanta Braves

While the picture is probably showing Dave Johnson getting knocked over or jumping out of the way of the play at 2nd, he almost looks like he's kicking Yankee baserunner Felipe Alou squarely in the rear. There are an awful lot of people who don't blame him for doing that. It was unnecessary; you can see the umpire's fist to Johnson's right signaling the out.

However, something's wrong with the picture. The Braves hadn't played a game at Yankee Stadium since the 1958 World Series (and wouldn't again until another Series in 1996), so Johnson's photo has been altered. Johnson had spent his entire major league career through '72 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, which explains the opponent and venue. Topps simply took an action photo and painted his cap, shirt and stirrup socks, right down to filling in the number on his back and adding the feather to the sleeve. It's a better job than many of the airbrush jobs seen in the 1973 Topps set.

For Davey Johnson, 1973 would be a career season. He hit 43 home runs, one of three Braves (Darrell Evans and Hank Aaron were the others) to get at least 40 that year. 42 of those round-trippers came while he was playing second base, which set a major league record for the position. He would play three seasons in Atlanta, then move to Japan for a couple of years. In 1977, he came back with the Phillies and ended his playing career with the Cubs in 1978.

After a decent playing career, Johnson began a more successful second career as a manger. During the early 1980s, he won pennants at three different levels in the Mets' organization, which led to the team naming him as their skipper in 1984. He, in turn, would lead the team to a World Series win in 1986. Ironically, Johnson was the final Oriole batter in 1969 when the Mets won their only other title.

After the Mets, Johnson managed the Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. He was generally successful at each stop, with only one losing season through 12 complete campaigns. However, his laid-back style in dealing with players and differences with his superiors didn't make a lot of friends in major league front offices. Eventually, they wanted to do with him as he appears to be doing on this card.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good

Card #460 -- Bill Freehan, Detroit Tigers

Great action photo. The runner is wearing pinstripes, which would mean Freehan is playing at Yankee Stadium and Celerino Sanchez is sliding. Freehan is lunging, with the ball in his hand for the tag, and the Bronx crowd is standing to see the result.

According to, this game took place on August 8, 1972. At the time, the Yankees were still in the A.L.East race, three games behind first-place Detroit. With a 4-game series between the two teams beginning that day, the Yankees had a chance to move closer to first. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Sanchez was hit by a Mickey Lolich pitch, sending him to first and moving Felipe Alou to second. Ron Swoboda followed and lined a single to left. Alou scored from second, tying the game 1-1. After Gene Michael flied to right for the second out, Fritz Peterson (remember, pitchers were still hitting in the American League in 1972) singled to left. Sanchez was ordered to round third and run home to take the lead.

Freehan got him. The inning was over, game still tied. The Yankees eventually won the game 4-2 and took three of the four games in the series.

Bill Freehan was a Detroit native who played with the Tigers for his entire career. One of the game's better catchers during the 1960s, he was a perennial All-Star and an important part of the 1968 World Champions. A quiet leader, he helped Denny McLain become the only pitcher since 1934 to get 30 wins. At the time of his retirement in 1976, he held the all-time record for fielding by a catcher. After hanging up the mask, he stayed with the Tigers and helped teach some of the finer points of catching to Lance Parrish. He returned to the University of Michigan as the school's head baseball coach between 1989-'95.

Sadly, Freehan's performance was overshadowed by Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk during the 1970s so his numbers were overlooked by the Hall of Fame voters. But he's still a beloved figure when it comes to fans of the Tigers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Like a Beacon

How bright was the shade of yellow used by the San Diego Padres during the early 1970s? This card shows an example:

Card #655 -- Clay Kirby, San Diego Padres

You may have to click the card to enlarge it, but the card has one other person in the picture. Gotta love the way the yellow hat on that outfielder can be seen from all the way out there. As for the picture, that is an interesting part of the pitching delivery to put on a card.

Clay Kirby was an original member of the Padres in 1969 (losing 20 games that year as the staff ace), but 1973 would be his last year with the club. From 1974-'75 he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds' rotation. The change to a team that actually provided him some run support helped him immediately. However, he wasn't used by the Reds in the '75 postseason despite a 10-6 record, and was sent to Montreal for '76. That would be his final season in the majors.

Kirby died of a heart attack in 1991. He was 43 years old.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Team in Transition

What a difference a few years makes. For instance, when this picture was taken in 1972, many saw the Kansas City Royals as little more than an expansion team:

Card #347 -- Kansas City Royals Team Card

To be fair, they only began playing in 1969. Many of the members from that original team (Lou Piniella, Fran Healy, Ed Kirkpatrick, Paul Schaal, Dick Drago, etc.) were still on the roster as the 1973 season began. Despite a 2nd place finish in 1971, they returned with another losing season in '72, so little was expected of the team from many fans. However, under new skipper Jack McKeon, they reached 2nd again in '73. More than that, their farm system was developing some new talent. By 1973, guys like George Brett and Frank White began showing up on scorecards. In 1975, Whitey Herzog took over the managerial job and built the Royals into an AL West powerhouse. They won three consecutive division titles from 1976-'78 but lost all those pennants to the Yankees. Undaunted, the team managed to stay in the race year after year. They made it to the World Series in 1980 and won it in '85. The Royals were perhaps the most consistently good team in baseball for that era.

The team's record since the early 1990s...not so memorable. However, they were a force from 1975-'89 and this picture shows the beginnings of that powerhouse.

Fun Franchise Fact: Three of the first six Royals managers were Hall of Famers (Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon and Whitey Herzog). They have had 15 additional managers since, none of whom were enshrined in Cooperstown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One of the Sad Stories of the 1970s

Below the airbrushed Atlanta Braves cap is a man whose story should have been a lesson to others:

Card #630 -- Denny McLain, Atlanta Braves

Despite being included in the final series of 1973 baseball cards, Denny McLain was out of baseball before the card was even printed.

Denny McLain's career certainly had its share of highs and lows. From 1965 through 1969, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 1968, he became the first person to win more than 30 games in one season since 1934 (to this day, nobody else has reached the milestone). For his effort that year, McLain won the MVP and Cy Young awards as well as a World Series ring. He followed that up with another successful year in '69 where he won another Cy Young. He was also an accomplished musician, recording two albums in the late 1960s and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, with Series opponent Bob Gibson joining him on guitar.

However, in 1970, his career fell apart. As he was riding high in the game, he was playing another game that was a lot more dangerous: he was gambling and allegedly associating with underworld crime figures. Anybody who's seen The Sopranos knows that those guys will use every bit of leverage they can to make their money and that having friends in the sporting world was a good thing. However, Major League Baseball has rules against that sort of behavior arising from the aftermath of the 1919 World Series and commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for much of the '70 season. He was went to Washington (arguably, like many other nefarious types who have trouble keeping their money...oops, this is no place for a political tangent), where he lost 22 games and tried to get Senators manager Ted Williams fired. He split the '72 season between Oakland and Atlanta. Despite this 1973 card shown above, the Braves released him during the preseason and he never pitched in the majors that year.

For a person who squandered a great chance to be one of the league's immortal players, it's somewhat ironic to note that the last batter he ever faced on a big league diamond was Pete Rose.

After his playing days were over, McLain continued his shady dealings and consorted with dubious friends, eventually ending up in prison by 1986 and again in 1996. For a man who was one of the best pitchers in the game, his fall from grace was steep and sudden. And senseless.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Here's a Guy We All Know

Today's entry features a guy who recently stepped down as manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers:

Card #450 - Joe Torre, St. Louis Cardinals

Torre looks like he's getting ready for a game at a neighborhood park. You can see his teammates getting warmed up in the back, and a building just beyond the outfield fence that looks a lot like one of those covered areas for picnics.

Torre's second career, it seems, has overshadowed his first. As a catcher first baseman and third baseman (as shown here), Torre was a nine-time All-Star and the National League MVP in 1971. It has been said that he was a good enough player to have an outside shot at making the Hall of Fame, but the road that began in 1977 would make that a moot argument. While being named the Mets' manager in 1977 while he was still an active player -- he retired 18 games later to focus on leading the team -- he went on to become the fifth-winningest manager in major league history. While detractors point out Torre's limited success with the Mets and Cardinals, it's worth noting that he brought the Braves to their first consecutive winning seasons after they moved to Atlanta, as well as winning two division titles in his first two years in Los Angeles. However, the discussion of Torre's leadership will center around his 12 years in charge of the Yankees.

Some argue that anybody could have led that team to success. However, Torre was able to do what thirteen other managers couldn't: build a sustained and successful franchise while dealing with George Steinbrenner's edicts and the New York press corps at the same time. For all the detractors, it's worth noting that the Yankees had been playing the free agent talent search for as long as Steinbrenner had owned the team and none of his predecessors could get the results Torre did.

Now that he's given up his position as the Dodgers' manager, he'll be rumored for nearly every new job opening that comes up for a while. Although there may be some more history to write before Torre's career is over, it's a safe bet he'll be on a bronze plaque in Cooperstown once he's eligible.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

75 Wins, Three Great Pitchers

This card tells three great stories from 1972:

Card #66 -- 1972 Victory Leaders

There are four leaders cards with pitching stats in the set, and Steve Carlton shows up on three of them (the other one was for the top relievers, so Carlton wasn't going to appear on that one anyway). But the fact that he shows up on all three cards as the National League's best pitcher really doesn't give the full story of how great his 1972 performance was.

With more than 300 strikeouts and an ERA below 2.00, "Lefty" enjoyed a tremendous season by anybody's yardstick. Furthermore, the 27 wins shown above were nearly half of the 59 games Philadelphia won that season, so he was often forced to work in games where he received little run support. Even more amazingly, that record was despite the fact that Carlton suffered a streak from May to June where he lost five straight decisions. Following that streak with another, he notched 14 straight wins until his next loss in August. He was one of very few bright spots in a very dismal season for the Phillie faithful.

Similarly, Gaylord Perry enjoyed a surprising season in 1972. After ten years pitching for the San Francisco Giants and helping them to the playoffs in 1971, the team traded him to Cleveland in favor of "Sudden" Sam McDowell. Undaunted, Perry went on to win 24 games for his big brother's old team and won the Cy Young Award. He remained the team's top ace through 1975, winning 39 percent of all Cleveland wins during his time there. Sadly, the team couldn't pull itself out of the second division despite his best efforts.

For Wilbur Wood, 1972 was only his second season as a starting pitcher after several seasons in the bullpen. He made it count, winning at least 20 every year from 1971-'75. His signature pitch was the knuckleball -- which he learned from Hoyt Wilhelm -- and was one of the hardest pitchers to hit (or catch) against during the early 1970s. Although he would go on to win 24 again in '73, he lost 20 as well, which made his the last pitcher in the American League to both win and lose 20 games in a season.

(Thanks to Night Owl for the subtle but very accurate correction in italics above.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Big Mound of Dirt

Here's a photo that's been airbrushed but actually isn't too obvious.

Card #3 - Jim Lonborg, Philadelphia Phillies

It would be Jim Lonborg's second straight airbrushed card. In 1972, he appeared on card #255 with a painted-on Milwaukee Brewers cap. However, there was no need for Topps to call their airbrush artist to "fix" any more of Lonborg's cards; he would remain with the Phillies until retiring in 1979.

Looking behind the fabricated Phillies wonders what is behind him in the picture. Is that a sand dune? A municipal landfill? The Pyramids?

Despite spending several years in Philadelphia, Lonborg is best known for his seven-year stretch in Boston. His best year was 1967, where he helped the Red Sox win the pennant in the "Impossible Dream" season. He pitched the game that clinched the '67 pennant for the BoSox and won the Cy Young award for his effort. Even though he would go to other teams, the Fenway faithful never forgot him. That gratitude went both ways: after hanging up his glove, Lonborg would go to dental school and began practicing as a dentist. Though born in California and a graduate of Stanford University, he returned to Massachusetts for his second career.

On the 1980s TV sitcom Cheers, Ted Danson played Sam "Mayday" Malone, a fictional bartender who had once played for the Boston Red Sox. The bar had a game-action "picture" of Sam hanging on the wall, put the photo actually showed Lonborg. Sam's uniform number was #16, also the number Lonborg wore. However, in the show, the timeline had Sam pitching for the team from about 1972-'77, which would have been after Lonborg left.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Catcher Moving in for the Kill

While many of the action shots featured so far on this blog have been on horizontal cards, here's a vertical picture that fits the card well:

Card #233 - Ed Kirkpatrick, Kansas City Royals

Taking off his mask and looking for a pop fly, Kirkpatrick is ready to make a grab. Meanwhile, Johnny Briggs of the Brewers is running towards first, in the event the ball is lost in the sun. According to information on, this picture was taken on June 17, 1972. Kansas City was playing in Milwaukee County Stadium. Briggs led off the bottom of the 4th against Paul Splittorff and Kirkpatrick caught the ball.

Though shown as a catcher on this card, Kirkpatrick played several different positions on the field. Over the course of his career, he played every position except pitcher and shortstop. Kirkpatrick was the Royals' regular catcher in 1972, but would be moved to the outfield for '73 before being traded to Pittsburgh in the offseason. His final season was 1977, and was split between the Pirates, Rangers and Brewers. Despite largely being a utility player, he would appear on Topps cards each year through 1978.

Sadly, tragedy struck after his retirement. In 1981, Kirkpatrick was involved in a car crash that put him in a lengthy coma. He would eventually come out of it, but the accident left him paralyzed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Former Bane of My Collecting Existence

Although I have finished all the regular Topps sets from 1973 through the point in the 1990s when I stopped worrying about current sets, I found some minor bumps in the road while working towards those sets. As I headed into the home stretch on a wantlist (say, 20 or so cards left), I found that certain teams -- the Reds, Red Sox and Tigers -- were among the cards left and one player's name seemed to keep popping up for many of the years:

Card #614 - 1973 Rookie Outfielders

It's that guy in the center. Dwight Evans was more than just a good player who was a constant presence in the Red Sox' rightfield position. He was one of the last few players I needed for many Topps sets of the 1970s and early 1980s. He was a part of the team through 1990, enduring four tough postseasons (1975, '86, '88 and '90) and endearing himself to the Fenway faithful. In his final season in 1991, he looked absolutely different in a Baltimore Orioles uniform.

Similarly, Al Bumbry spent a long time with one team (Baltimore) and endured some heartbreaking postseasons as well: 1973 and '74, when the Orioles were stopped by the Oakland A's in the playoffs and 1979 when they were shut down by the "We Are Family" Pirates. However, Bumbry managed to get a Series Ring in 1983. In 1985, he went to the Padres as a free agent and -- like Evans -- looked totally out of place in the uniform.

Charlie Spikes is shown airbrushed into his Indians threads on this card. That's because he was a Yankee in 1972. He would be included in the deal that sent John Ellis to Cleveland and Graig Nettles to the Bronx (and both of those players would be airbrushed -- poorly -- in the 1973 set). He would roam the outfield on four different teams through 1980.

This is the third Rookie Stars card featured in this blog. It's also the first that actually featured three players who had never appeared on a Topps card before. It also features three players who would continue showing up on Topps cards into the next decade.

Oh yeah...and you probably won't be surprised to find out this card was one of the last I needed for the 1973 set.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Before There Was Interleague Play...

...there were Topps airbrush artists.

This may actually be one of the most interesting pictures used in the 1973 Topps baseball card set:

Card #372 - Oscar Gamble, Cleveland Indians

While the card says Gamble's playing for Cleveland, he's shown sliding into second against Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds. At that time, there was no interleague play, so the cross-state teams had no reason to be squaring off. The picture was taken when he was still a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, and that's pretty evident when you take a close look at Gamble's uniform (and the outfield wall of the old Veteran's Stadium, thanks Steve). Obviously, it was an airbrush job that had to be rushed.

Beyond that, the dust kicked up from Gamble's slide gives an illusion of a floating head (another infielder, probably knocked down during the play) in the scene.

Oscar Gamble is better known today as a Yankees player in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, but among card collectors he's best known as the man with the most famous Afro in baseball. In this picture, his hair is beginning to "grow" into its own, but later in the 1970s it was awesome (here's a blog that shows an example). His hairstyle overshadowed Gamble the player, who wasn't exactly the best fielder but possessed some power at the plate. This made him an ideal designated hitter, a role he was given often in his career. He also had a good batting eye, walking more times in his career than striking out.

He also got along well with the New York press, a group that is often a source of major frustration among players in the Big Apple. His flashy manner of dressing (and this was the 1970s, so you know it was over the top), gregarious attitude and overall demeanor made him a hit with the writers. He was once quoted as saying, "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."

Stop and say that sentence a couple of times. Few players since Yogi Berra have been able to say something that you have to stop and read again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The "Helms"man

Here's an interesting picture taken during Spring Training:

Card #495 - Tommy Helms, Houston Astros

Look past that gray Astros road uniform, which was one of the blandest in the majors. Look past those mutton chop sideburns running down his face. Look past the glove and ball laying on the ground but positioned in a way to invite unfortunate jokes at Helms's expense.

However, standing on the sidelines with a bat and a glove? Nice way to show you have no confidence in the guy at bat. That said, Helms was one of the hardest players in the game to strike out. In nearly 5,000 at-bats during a 14-year career, Helms struck out 301 times. As good as he was, the Reds still traded him to Houston as part of the deal that got them another second baseman, Joe Morgan.

Helms also replaced Pete Rose in two different ways. First, he was part of a position change the Cincinnati Reds made in 1967. Tony Perez was shifted to third base, while Holmes (the third baseman) was placed at second. He took the position from Rose, who went to the outfield. After Helms retired, he would join his old teammate when Rose became player/manager of the Reds in 1984. When baseball's all-time hit king was banned from the sport in 1989, it was Helms who took over at manager for the remainder of the season.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Now, Here's a Hitter!

This card is part of a subset in the 1973 Topps set featuring the all-time leaders in several batting and pitching categories. This is an amazing record, even today.

Card #475 - Ty Cobb, All-Time Batting Leader

The picture shows Ty Cobb late in his career, when he was a player/coach for the Philadelphia A's. Today, a .367 season average would be considered a feat -- it was last surpassed by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004 --  and Cobb managed to do that over a 24-year career. He hit over .400 three times, including one season (1922) when a .401 average wasn't good even enough to lead the league.

Take a look at the back of this card as well:

What's interesting is that there are some names here that aren't well known to even devout baseball fans today. Pete Browning and Dave Orr were 19th century players who aren't in the Hall of Fame due to short careers (though Browning still has an outside chance to squeak in someday). Two other names on the list aren't in the Hall of Fame either: Joe Jackson, whose exclusion was ordered due to his alleged part in the 1919 World Series fix, and Lefty O'Doul, who only played six full seasons.

There must have been some re-evaluation of the record books, as has a slightly different Top 10 list:

Ty Cobb - .3664
Rogers Hornsby - .3585
Joe Jackson - .3558
Lefty O'Doul - .3493
Ed Delahanty - .3458
Tris Speaker - .3447
Billy Hamilton - .3444
Ted Williams - .3444
Dan Brouthers - .3421
Babe Ruth - .3421

As far as the active career batting leader with at least 3,000 plate appearances, Albert Pujols is 29th with a .3323 average 

In the revised list, Orr has fallen to 11th, Browning to 13th and Keeler to 14th. That leaves Shoeless Joe and O'Doul as the only two non-Hall of Fame players on the list.

Since there haven't been any additions to the list (in fact, all the others were done playing in the majors before Williams even took his first big league swing) and the guys listed haven't had any at-bats since this card was printed to change their numbers, it must be assumed either that Topps was working with incomplete records or new information has developed that changed the numbers. For instance, it was later learned that Cobb had been given credit for two hits that were later disallowed, which explains why his average now shows as .366 instead of the .367 mark given on the card.