Monday, August 30, 2010

In Praise of the Backstop

1969 was almost a magical year for the Chicago Cubs faithful. Had it not been for the Miracle Mets, the Cubbies were poised to make the postseason for the first time since World War Two ended. Sadly, the Wrigley bleacher bums were denied and had to wait another 15 years to see a postseason game at their stadium.

The '69 Cubs had three Hall of Fame players (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins) and another who just might join them in Cooperstown (Ron Santo). However, the man considered the team's leader is a guy who'll never enter the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket:

Card #21 -- Randy Hundley, Chicago Cubs

It's been said that the catcher is perhaps the most important person on the baseball field. Since he's calling the pitches, he controls the flow of the game. As the person who decides whether to have his ace throw a heater or try to get a batter to hit a weak grounder to force a double play, he's always thinking. Hundley was known among players as a capable defensive backstop who knew how to use his pitchers. As the late 1960s wore on, Hundley was an iron man behind the plate, catching at least 150 games each year from 1967-'69.

However, in 1970 he was injured in a home-plate collision with St. Louis's Carl Taylor. He was never the same. Injuries to his knees would keep bothering him for the rest of his career. In 1972, he would catch two no-hitters (by Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas), but 1973 would his last season with the Cubs before being traded to Minnesota. After a year with the Twins and another with the Padres, Hundley returned to Chicago for two more years but didn't get into a lot of games.

After retiring, Hundley began one of the first baseball "fantasy camps" that allowed fans to get a chance to suit up and play alongside professional players. His son Todd was also a major leaguer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Cactus Jack"

Here's a picture of a guy at the peak of his career:

Card #89 -- Jack Billingham, Cincinnati Reds

Although the photo was likely taken as a quick sidelines shot, with the image it appears Billingham is about to take the field, with a great crowd behind him. Never mind that he's in a road uniform, he has the look of determination on his face and appears to be ready for whatever the other team tries to do with their bats.

1973 would be a great year for Jack Billingham. He won 19 games, led the league with 7 shutouts, was named an All-Star for the only time in his career and was the ace of a team that would finish with the best record in the majors. He also posted career-best strikeout and ERA totals that year.

In 1974, Billingham would toss the pitch that Hank Aaron sent into the seats for the home run that tied him with Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Fortunately for him, fans forgot all about that pitch four days later, when Al Downing threw the pitch that broke the record. He would go on to help the Reds win back-to-back titles in 1975 and '76. He pitched in Cincinnati through 1977, went to Detroit and then finished his career with the Red Sox in 1980.

This was one of several Topps cards that mentioned that Billingham was a cousin of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Postseason Play at the Plate

Among the subsets in the 1973 Topps set is a 10-card series chronicling the '72 postseason. Each World Series contest had its own card, but the A.L. and N.L. league championship series each was relegated to its own card (and in those pre-realignment days, there were no divisional championship fact, in '72 baseball purists were still grumbling that the league championship series was "watering down" the postseason). The NLCS card was shown here last June. Here's the card representing the ALCS:

Card #201 -- A.L. Championship Series

In this picture, George Hendrick is scoring against Tiger catcher Bill Freehan. Unlike the winning run in the NLCS as shown on that card, this picture was taken in the 4th inning and there was still a long road before the game was over.

At the end of the '72 season, the A's won the American League West handily, but in the East there was a race to the end for the division crown. As the dust settled, the Detroit Tigers edged out the Boston Red Sox by half a game to win the crown. As the series began, the A's were heavily favored; they had the stars and the better record. At the core, these Tigers were different from the club that won the '68 World Series, but anything was possible with skipper Billy Martin.

The series started in Oakland and the A's won both contests there. Once the series moved to Detroit, the Tigers grabbed two games to tie the series and set up a winner-take-all fifth game on Thurday, October 12. The Tigers drew first blood in their half of the first when Dick McAuliffe capitalized on a passed ball and then scored on a groundout. The A's would tie the game in the second inning, when Reggie Jackson stole home. While Jackson scored, he tore his hamstring and ended his season. In the 4th, Jackson's replacement George Hendrick would score the run shown above to put the A's ahead. The two teams would battle for another five innings before it was over.

It would be the first time the A's would play in a World Series since 1931, when they were still playing in Philadelphia. For all the talk in '72 about the Pittsburgh Steelers finally won the first NFL playoff game in their 40-year history that year, this should give a little perspective: the last time the A's had been in a World Series, there was no NFL team in Pittsburgh.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cards Can Trigger Memories...

While I usually talk about the picture when I share my cards here, this time I'll share a memory. Here is the very first Topps card of Lynn McGlothen:

Card #114 -- Lynn McGlothen, Boston Red Sox

When I was a young collector, McGlothen was on one of the very first cards from 1973 I ever owned. I was still an infant in '73 and never began collecting cards until 1978. While trading with friends with older brothers, the oldest cards available in trades were from 1975, so I had to wait until I found a card dealer before I could get anything from 1973. That day finally arrived in the Summer of 1984. Searching through a commons box, I ended up getting several 1970s cards, including a '70 Cesar Tovar (then my oldest card), two '71s and a half dozen '73s. Lynn McGlothen was among the '73s.

A short time later, I noticed in the sports section of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times that McGlothin had died in a trailer home fire. Even at nearly 12 years old, it seemed hard to realize the smiling man in this picture was gone. For some reason, I went to the local library and did some research and discovered that other players on my cards were also dead. I knew about Thurman Munson but found out that Lyman Bostock, Don Wilson and Francisco Barrios had died as well.  McGlothen's death not only helped me understand a little more about how dying was a natural part of life, it also helped me see that players will be forever alive for those who collect their cards. It's a good lesson for a young person.

At the time this picture was taken, McGlothen was still trying to make the majors. After short stints in Boston from 1972-'73, he was traded to the Cardinals and had three solid seasons before shoulder problems derailed his career. He hung on with several teams through 1982 before he was released for the last time. Less than two years after that, he was gone for good. He was 34 years old.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tony the Tiger

The cap may be airbrushed, but it was hard to resist the chance to use that title.

Card #29 -- Tony Taylor, Detroit Tigers

I'm trying to figure out why the cap is airbrushed, though. It appears Taylor is wearing a Tigers jersey, as he was dealt to the team from Philadelphia during the 1971 season. If the picture originally had Taylor wearing a Phillies jersey, the airbrush artist did a great job of it. One problem, though: in 1972 and '73, the Tigers definitely used an orange-colored D in Old English style on their caps, but only in road games, where the jerseys were grey. The white jersey shown on Taylor would have been accompanied by a white-colored letter D.

After coming up with the Cubs in 1958, Taylor was the Phillies' regular second sacker from 1960-'71 and was a fan favorite there. He was a threat with his glove and on the basepaths. He stole home six times, which ranks second among all Phillies players. 1973 would be Taylor's final season in Detroit. During the offseason, he swent back to Philly as a free agent and spent three more seasons there as a utility player. When he retired in 1976, he was the oldest player still active. He played more than a thousand games at second, still the all-time Phillie record.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Solid Vs. Natural

The title doesn't refer to different types of hitters, but certain cards of team coaches. In the 1973 Topps baseball set, several manager cards can be found with two variations. Here's one, featuring Twins skipper Frank Quilici:

Card #49 -- Frank Quilici, Minnesota Twins Manager

Before explaining the differences, I must mention that I'm not actively seeking out a 1973 master set, Nor do I intend to build one. I merely had both versions as I was putting together my set and decided to keep them. As I show the cards, I'll feature any other manager variations as well.

While this card is a little more faded than the one above, you can see the differences behind the coaches' photos:
As you can see, one card has the natural background shown behind the coaches, while the other has them set against a solid-colored background. I'm guessing the bottom card was released first and "corrected" once it was understood how busy the smaller, sepia-tinted coaches' photos looked. That's merely my opinion, however.

1973 was the first full season as Twins manager for Quilici. Nicknamed "Guido," he was a utility infielder for five seasons between 1965-'70 with the team and played for them during the '65 World Series. Promoted to manager at the age of 33, he would lead the team through 1975.

Vern Morgan only saw limited major league action with the Cubs in 1954-'55 but had a long association with the Minnesota Twins' organization, beginning with the team even when they were still playing as the Washington Senators. After managing in the minors for eight seasons, Morgan was promoted to the parent team's coaching staff in 1969. Sadly, he was afflicted with kidney trouble; he passed away in 1975 after having complications from a kidney transplant.

Bob "Buck" Rodgers is one of many ex-major league catchers-turned-coaches and managers. After spending much of the 1960s with the L.A./California Angels, he became a Twins coach in 1970. He would later serve as manager for the Brewers, Expos and Angels.

Ralph Rowe never made the major leagues as a player in 15 seasons. His professional career -- like many of those in the 1940s -- was halted during World War Two as Rowe joined the service. Like Morgan, he had stayed on with the Senators/Twins after playing for their minor league clubs, he made Quilici's coahing staff and lasted until Quilici's dismissal in '75. Later, Rowe was the batting coach for the Baltimore Orioles, who helped him recieve a World Series ring in 1983. Rowe passed away in 1996.

Al Worthington pitched for five teams in his 14-year playing career and was a valuable asset to the Twin's '65 pennant-winning team. Later, he would become the head coach at Liberty University. Liberty's baseball field is named in his honor.

Monday, August 16, 2010


1970s style is often funny, even if the humor was purely unintentional. Perhaps things like bell bottoms, platform shoes, mood rings and polyester suits contribute to the 1970s' bad reputation fashion-wise, they bring back fond memories to some who lived through the decade. Another fashion staple that is often derided by critics involves hair, which is on display right here:

Card #71 - Johnny Briggs, Milwaukee Brewers

This card exhibits two examples of 1970s hair. Not only is Johnny Briggs sporting mutton chop sideburns, but you can see a small afro peeking out from under his seemingly new cap. While there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with long sideburns in pictures of gentlemen from the 1800s, they're sometimes considered tacky when they appear on 1970s-vintage photos. However, the use of one batting glove was a good decade before Michael Jackson made the look his own.

Johnny Briggs was a regular in left field for the Brewers in 1973, joining the club two years earlier after seven and a half seasons in Philadelphia. The Paterson, New Jersey native and Seton Hall alum was also a regular in Topps sets between 1964 and '76. That last year, he was out of the majors and playing in Japan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I've Got It!

Here's a rare, one-of-a-kind "traded" version of Tommie Agee's '73 Topps card:

Card #420 -- Tomie Agee, Houston Astros

That's Tommie off to the left side of the photo, preparing to catch a shallow fly ball. You see the umpire holding out his right hand, getting ready to call the batter out but waiting for the catch before making it official. But something isn't right here...Met shortstop Buddy Harrelson is clearly seen right in the middle of the action. Agee and his former teammates have all been airbrushed to look like Astros, a team that Harrelson never suited up with.

Tommie Agee is perhaps best remembered as one of the sparkplugs of the 1969 Amazin' Mets and a hero of that year's World Series. Two tremendous catches by Agee in the third game of the Series saved five runs and were big blows to the Orioles' chances. In 1971 and '72, Agee developed chronic knee problems that hampered his abilities on the field. As the card above originally indicated, he was dealt to the Astros before the '73 season. In August, he was traded to St. Louis (also indicated on this card) and finished his season with the Cardinals.

Although Agee's major league career ended in 1973, he was given two Topps cards in 1974: a regular card showing him in his Cardinals uniform and a card in the Traded set that reflected his trade to Los Angeles after the '73 season. That card was airbrushed, as Agee never played with the Dodgers. Agee died of a heart attack in January 2001; he would be inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame the following year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Battling Bengals

I've been a baseball fan for over 30 years and have observed that fans of certain teams have similarities. Yankee and Red Sox fans are perhaps the most noticeable, Cubs fans live with a century-old streak of bad luck. Among other teams, I've found that fans of the Cardinals and Tigers are perhaps the most loyal and underappreciated in the game. They are also some of the most knowledgeable fans I've encountered when it comes to baseball history and tradition.

That said, Tigers fans also tend to make it tough for me to complete baseball card sets. It seems that when I have a set wantlist that has dwindled to about 20-25 cards, an inordinate number of the commons I still need tend to be Tigers. It also means that I end up with cards like this one that exhibit a flaw:

Card #191 -- Detroit Tigers Team Card

The 1973 Tigers would finish with a winning record but finished third in the American League East (their division at the time). After winning the division in '72, it was considered a disappointing season. Manager Billy Martin was fired in August after making no secret of the fact he was ordering his pitchers to throw at opposing batters. Coach Joe Schulz (shown here sitting next to Martin) filled in as skipper for the rest of '73.

The team wouldn't be competitive in their division for nearly another decade, until they hired Sparky Anderson and developed a new generation of Tigers that became one of the better teams of the 1980s. And you can bet the Tiger faithful stayed with the team for all those years, through good times and bad.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Yankee Catcher...No, Not THAT One...

Last week marked the anniversary of the 1979 plane crash that killed Yankee catcher Thurman Munson. My other blog ran a tribute last Monday that's worth reading if you missed it. Rather than showing off Munson's card, I'm featuring another Yankee backstop today.

Catcher is a physically demanding position, so most teams have three of them on the roster. When Munson needed the day off, Gerry Moses was his primary backup in '73:

Card #431 -- Gerry Moses, New York Yankees

Gerry (both Wikipedia and refer to him as "Jerry" even though Topps didn't spell it that way until '75) Moses was beginning the year as a new Yankee, so the picture here shows him with another team. He spent '72 with Cleveland but since they wore red caps in '72 it's likely the picture was from his 65-'70 tenure with the Boston Red Sox. His '71 team was California but the picture can't be from that year, as it appears an Angel is crossing the plate.

Despite the bemused look on his face as an opponent scores on him, the back of Moses's card mentions that he was a "fine defensive catcher," which is a polite way of saying he wasn't much of a hitter. Despite having a good glove, it seems he wasn't able to stick with any club for long. The 1973 Yankees were the fourth team in as many years to feature him on their roster, but Moses would spend '74 with Detroit and split '75 between the Padres and White Sox before being released.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Best of Intentions

Among the 1972 Topps All-Star Rookie Team, there is one Hall of Famer (Carlton Fisk) and several hot prospects who played major league baseball into the 1980s. And then there was this guy:

Card #241 -- Dwain Anderson, St. Louis Cardinals

Of the entire All-Star Rookie team, all of the honorees would play at least until 1980 except one. Dwain Anderson never lived up to his early promise and was out of the majors by 1974. In fact, he would set a dubious record in 1973: he would go the most at-bats (144) for any position player after the end of the dead ball era without getting an extra-base hit.

Anderson is shown here as a member of the Cardinals, but began the '72 season with Oakland before being traded to St. Louis. For all the prestige of being on the All-Star Rookie team, Anderson would be traded twice in 1973: during the season, he was traded to San Diego and then to Cleveland in the postseason. He would appear in two games for the Tribe before returning to the minors for good.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Keeping Track, Part 2

Out of 660 cards in the 1973 Topps baseball card set, five were included to let collectors know which players are on each card.Here is the second of those cards:

Card # 264 -- Checklist 2

Presented 132 at a time, checklist cards let those collecting a complete set know what they were missing. The boxes between each name and number allowed collectors to keep track of their sets-in-progress. As a result, many checklist cards were marked up, which means fewer copies remain in higher grade when compared to regular 1973 Topps cards.

This one looks great...I featured another checklist card in an earlier post, and this card survived the years a lot better than that one did.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Odd Choice for a Picture

After years of boring, predictable pictures, Topps decided to use game-action photos on their baseball cards during the early 1970s. The change was good, since they allowed cards to show players doing their job. However, Topps did go through a learning curve regarding their photo choices.  Sometimes, the picture that actually shows up on the card can be interesting:

Card #213 -- Steve Garvey, Los Angeles Dodgers

In actuality, this card sows more of Wes Parker than it does of Steve Garvey. As Garvey is coming to the plate and scoring, Parker is reaching out to shake his hand before facing the pitcher. Unfortunately, Parker obscures Garvey and covers up part of his face. This picture could have been better at a different angle or a half-second later...but sometimes the man with the camera can only get so close to the action.

While we're on the subject of the picture, couldn't the umpire's arm and catcher's gear at the far left be cropped out?

Garvey spent eight years as one-fourth of the longest-lasting infield tandem in baseball history along with Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Davey Lopes. In 1974, he would win the National League MVP award. The next season, he started a streak of 1,207 consecutive games that was impressive until a youngster named Cal Ripken came along. As a photogenic player who lived in Los Angeles, Garvey would show up on TV and became one of the Dodgers' more popular players. He would spend his entire playing career in the National League West (and Southern California), playing his final five seasons with San Diego.

Lastly, Garvey carefully crafted an image as "Mr. Clean" and harbored political aspirations, only to have them fall apart after details of his personal life were made public. As somebody who came of age while Garvey's playing career was winding down, I didn't see the problem with those allegations: after all, a person who is tagged as a serial adulterer and illegitimate father is only doing what politicians routinely do to taxpayers.