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.