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.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Today's card features a player who's perhaps best known not for getting hits but for taking them:

Card #149 - Ron Hunt, Montreal Expos

Ron Hunt is shown here in a Spring Training shot, wearing a jacket under his Expos uniform and looking like he's standing in somebody's backyard.

In 1971, Ron Hunt was hit by pitches 50 times. That is still a record among all players after 1900. He also holds the record for being hit by pitches in one game (three). When he retired in 1974, he was the all-time leader in that category. Though that mark was eventually broken by Don Baylor and then Craig Biggio, the question remains: what was so bad about Hunt that made opponents throw at him?

In interviews, Hunt insisted he was never thrown at, at least not intentionally. However, his opponents complained that he was leaning into the pitches and that some of them were perfect strikes. I'm guessing Hunt figured whether a hit, a walk or a shot to the was all a way to get on base.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Alou Brother (Part 1)

There were three Alou brothers in the major leagues during the 1960s and '70s. All three appear in the 1973 Topps baseball set, and here's the first to appear on this blog so far:

Card #132 - Matty Alou, New York Yankees

Matty was the middle brother of the trio. The photo is obviously airbrushed: not only is he wearing a Yankees home uniform but obviously not at Yankee Stadium (seen on many other 1973 Topps cards), the interlocking "NY" logo on his chest is way too large and doesn't match the wrinkles on his uniform. The logo on the hat's also way too large.

Alou is shown airbrushed here because he had split the 1972 season between St. Louis and Oakland before being traded to the Yankees in the offesason. He would finish the '73 season with St. Louis again. In 1974, he would play for the Padres but released a couple of months into the season and finished his career with three seasons in Japan.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yesterday, When I Was Young

I featured a Jim Palmer card from the Boyhood Photos subset a little while back. In that post I mentioned how that photo from his youth didn't show him playing baseball, which seemed strange on a baseball card. There was one player shown in his boyhood uniform, though:

Card #342 - Sam McDowell, Boyhood Photo

Sam McDowell was the very first player I featured on this blog. He was winding down his major league career in '73, so the before/after pictures are quite a contrast.

The back of the card mentions that Sam began playing baseball as an outfielder, but was converted to pitcher once his arm power was discovered. That was a better deal than my own switch from outfielder to pitcher during my Little League days. However, in my case, I was brought in because I fielded fly balls as if they were live grenades.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Double Play Starter?

This is a great action shot.

Card #42 - Mike Andrews, Chicago White Sox

While sidestepping a sliding runner, Andrews is preparing to throw to first for a possible double play. However, the runner's number poses a question...who is that? Andrews is wearing a White Sox road jersey. With his opponent sporting pinstripes and a dark helmet, you'd think he was playing against the Yankees but there's a problem: the 1972 Yankees didn't have anybody who wore #33. Andrews was also on the Chisox in 1971, but the Yankees didn't have a player who wore #33 that year either. However, the Indians wore pinstripes on their home uniforms in '71, which would make the runner Rick Austin. Unfortunately, Austin never played against the White Sox at all in the '71 season. Besides, the runner's helmet looks more blue than the Indians' black hats of '71. Unless the photo was taken in a Spring Training game against the Yankees, I'm at a loss for identifying the runner.

Mike Andrews was probably best known as a member of the beloved 1967 Boston Red Sox team. '67 was Andrews's first full season and he would remain with Boston until 1970, when he and Luis Alvarado were forced to trade their Red Sox for White in exchange for Luis Aparicio. 1973 would be Andrews's final season. He was released by the White Sox midway through the year and signed with Oakland. During the '73 World Series he would be forced by owner Charlie Finley to sign an affidavit saying he was disabled after making two errors that contributed to the team's loss in Game 2. After pressure from his teammates, manager and the press, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn overturned the document and he was allowed to play Game 4. However, he grounded out as a pinch hitter and sat the rest of the Series. It would be his final major league appearance.

In 1984, Andrews became chairman of The Jimmy Fund, a charity that raises funds and awareness of children's cancer that is closely tied with the Red Sox players. He holds that position today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Aker's Aweigh...

Sorry for the bad pun in the title. It would have been perfect if the player was also a Navy veteran.

Here's a great picture, with the ivy-covered Wrigley Field walls as a backdrop:

Card #262 - Jack Aker, Chicago Cubs

Aker appears to be warming up for a possible trip to the mound (even if he's just posing for the Topps photographer). While it looks like the stadium's grounds crew was on strike that day, it's because of a little missing paper on my card. I do like the Cub logo patch on Aker's right sleeve, though.

Jack Aker was a closer in an era where they received little respect. He pitched in 495 games between 1964 and '74 but never started one. Instead, he was sent out late in the game, either to try and get the win at a stressful moment or to mop up when the starter had no gas left. In those days, closers' roles were appreciated by managers and fans who understood the finer points of the game, but casual fans (and baseball card collectors) were likely to see them as pitchers who couldn't last an entire game. It was a different time indeed.

Aker had come to the Cubs in 1972 after stints with the A's, the expansion Seattle Pilots and the New York Yankees. 1973 was probably his worst season statistically, so Aker split the '74 season between the Mets and Braves before managing in the minor leagues beginning in 1975. He later served as pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians.

In Jim Bouton's book Ball Four, Aker was mentioned as the Pilots' union representative due to his experience dealing with A's owner Charlie Finley during his days with that team. Bouton added that he was elected unanimously. The position didn't last long, as he was traded to the Yankees on May 20th of that year.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great Player...But a Great Broadcaster? You Decide

Perhaps better known to fans today from his job as a broadcaster for baseball games, but he was also a very good ballplayer.

Card #230 -- Joe Morgan, Cincinnati Reds

The picture is obviously a Spring Training shot, as he looks to be posing on a neighborhood field. Seriously, he looks like he's taking a swing on the same field where I played my high school games.

(Edited to add: Reader Wrigley Wax says in the comments below this may have been taken at Shea Staium. While the shot has more trees and smaller buildings than what I remember seeing while visiting the Flushing, Queens area...I will admit that I was there much later than when the picture would have been taken. I'll allow that the neighborhood may have been more suburban in '72 than it was by the 1990s. In any case, Morgan's road uniform suggests he could be in any of the National League parks except Riverfront Stadium. Thanks for the info.)

In a Hall of Fame career, Morgan was one of the finest second basemen in major league history. When the Houston Astros traded him to the Reds after the 1971 season, his presence in the lineup made Cincinnati much more dangerous. With Morgan batting right behind Pete Rose, he presented a threat because of his power, speed and glove. Among his achievements: eight straight All-Star appearances as a Red, back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and '76 and back-to-back league MVP awards in those same years.

After going back to the Astros in 1980, Morgan continued to be productive as his career wound down. His leadership on and off the field with San Francisco in 1982 won him the Comeback Player of the Year award. He would reunite with Big Red Machine teammates Rose and Tony Perez on the 1983 Phillies and return to the World Series. Retiring after the '84 season (spent with the Oakland A's), Morgan went into the broadcast booth, where he remains today. Although he has now spent more seasons describing the action on the field than he did taking part in it, Morgan has become a polarizing figure among fans. There are fans who appreciate the insight a Hall of Fame player can bring to a game as nuanced as baseball, but there are also many who don't care for his analysis.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Beep, Beep!"

While the tilt of the field on the card may say "1970s substance abuse issue," the Atlanta Braves uniforms exemplified the times as well. From the shade of blue to the Indian feather on the sleeve to the red lower-case letter "a" on the cap, they were a product of their times...more colorful than the staid uniforms the team brought with them when they moved from Milwaukee, yet louder than the more conservative threads Ted Turner gave them as he began calling them "America's Team" on his TV station during the 1980s.

Card #15 -- Ralph Garr, Atlanta Braves

While it can be safely assumed that a man nicknamed "Road Runner" would be fast, Ralph Garr was also a good hitter during the early 1970s. From 1971-'75 he was among the top 10 hitters in the National League five times, winning the '74 batting title. He could hit to all fields as well, which made it hard for opponents to defend against him when he walked to the plate. His speed also helped him stretch hits; he led the league in triples during both 1974 and '75.

Then, after the 1975 season, Garr was traded to the White Sox. Although he still managed to hit .300 during his first two years there, his speed wasn't as evident. Fortunately, the American League was more of a hitter's league so he fit right in. As his abilities began to fade with age, Garr would end up in California at the end of the 1978 season. He remained with the Angels until 1980.

He retired with a lifetime .306 batting average. Not bad for a guy remembered for his speed on the bases, even if he never did win a stolen bases award during his career.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Look at the Vet

This is a nice shot of Tommy Hutton on thefield at Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia. The angle and perspective give the feel that he's larger than life, similar to the way the players are shown on 1933 Delong cards.

Card #271 -- Tom Hutton, Philadelphia Phillies

Tommy Hutton is better known today as a baseball announcer, but he played from 1967 through 1981 for four different teams. He had short stints with the Dodgers in 1967 and '69 but never had the chance to play regularly there and was traded to Philadelphia after the '71 season. During his Phillie days, he was renowned for his ability to hit well against the Mets' Tom Seaver. In 1977, he played for both Canadian teams, first as an original Blue Jay and then with the Expos, the team he would remain for the rest of his career. His broadcast career started when he retired.

One last thing...Hutton was named to the 1972 Topps All-Star Rookie team but was not given the trophy icon on his card. While this can be explained by the fact that Hutton had a "Rookie Stars" card in the 1967 Topps set, that's really not an adequate reason, considering Lou Piniella had been featured on three multi-player rookie cards between 1964 and '69 and still had a trophy on his own 1970 Topps card.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

If Looks Could Kill...

Sometimes you look at a picture and wonder what the person is thinking. Take this picture, for example:

Card #193 -- Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox

No need to wonder whether Carlton Fisk is putting on a fake smile or just being polite, he certainly looks irritated that somebody is pointing a camera his way.Either that, or the photographer was asking him why he couldn't be as genial as Johnny Bench.

Although there's an All-Star Rookie trophy on the card, this wasn't Fisk's first Topps card. He shared a Red Sox Rookies card in '72 with Mike Garman and Cecil Cooper. Fisk had actually come up in 1969 but was required to fulfill a military commitment and had to wait until 1972 to prove he belonged. He did a pretty good job of it, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. He became the Red Sox's regular catcher through 1980, solidifying his legend among the team's fans with an epic home run in the 1975 World Series. Winning the game in the 12 inning, the footage of Fisk willing the ball to stay fair as he watched it travel is still shown, making some fans almost forget that the Reds still won Game 7 the next night.

Although Fisk was a fan favorite for his drive and his gamesmanship, he was also a thorn in the side of Red Sox management when it came to salary issues, so the team allowed him to become a free agent in 1980. He ended up with the White Sox, where he spent another decade behind the plate. When he came to Chicago, his Red Sox uniform number (27) was taken, so he switched the digits around to 72 in commemoration of his rookie year and the birth of his son. He ended up having two different numbers retired by two different teams, one of only three players so honored.

Known as both "Pudge" and "Commander," Carlton Fisk was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He was a consummate professional throughout his career.