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.