Friday, December 30, 2011

The "Other" Bernie Williams

All this week, I've been featuring players whose names are close to more recent (unrelated) members of the New York Yankees. Today, here's a guy whose name matches exactly: 

Card #557 -- Bernie Williams, San Francisco Giants

Bernie Williams spent parts of three seasons in San Francisco, but actually spent all of 1973 with the Giants' AAA affiliate in Phoenix. He would return in 1974 for 14 games with the Padres but was demoted back to the AA level by the end of that season.

In 1975, Williams went to Japan to play for the Hankyu Braves. He became a star there, playing through 1980 and contributing to a monumental team in 1978.

During his short time with San Diego, he shared the outfield with rookie Dave Winfield. Winfield just missed playing alongside the other Bernie Willaims, who made his major league debut the year after Winfield left the Yankees.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This is definitely an airbrushed photo:

Card #423 -- Johnny Jeter, Chicago White Sox

Johnny Jeter was traded to the White Sox after two years in San Diego. He had come up with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969 and had been sent to the minors for 1971 before being traded to the Padres. His tour with the White Sox lasted one year, before spending '74 with the Cleveland organization. After six games in the majors that year, his career was over.

His highlight was probably the game in 1972 where he slammed two of this 18 career home runs. However, since he played for San Diego that year, the Padres found a way to lose the game anyway.

In 1992, Jeter's son Shawn played 13 games with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Original "A-Rod"

This A. Rodriguez also played third base for the New York Yankees, but nobody ever thought to call him "A-Rod." The practice of shortening a player's name seems to be a modern phenomenon:

Card #218 -- Aurelio Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers

Aurelio Rodriguez was well-renowned for having one of the strongest throwing arms of any third baseman in the game. No less of a third baseman than George Brett praised him, saying that he would toy around and pound the ball in his glove...and still throw a batter out by 10 feet. He only won a single Gold Glove at his position, but the one he picked up in 1976 broke Brooks Robinson's streak of 15.

Baseball card collectors know him as the player whose picture on his 1969 Topps card was actually a batboy for the Angels. California was the first of seven major league teams Rodriguez played for over the course of a 17-year career, but he spent more time with the Tigers than any other.

And it was in Detroit that he met his doom. While visiting the city in 2000, he was a pedestrian that was in the wrong place when a freak car accident occurred. There have been three men named Aurelio to have played in the major leagues (the others were Aurelio Lopez and Aurelio Monteagudo), and all three were killed in car accidents at a relatively young age.

A member of the Mexican baseball Hall of Fame, his funeral was attended by thousands. Among the mourners was the country's president.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Man Called "Vuk"

Airbrushed into his new uniform, this player spent all of 1972 in the minor leagues:

Card #451 -- John Vukovich, Milwaukee Brewers

Despite a short trial with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970 and a longer one in '71, this would be John Vukovich's rookie card. This picture originally showed him wearing a Phillies uniform, but he was sent to Milwaukee before the 1973 season in the same deal that sent Don Money to the Brewers (and Money was airbrushed into an even more ridiculous-looking uniform on his card).

Getting traded to the Brewers was probably a good thing for Vukovich at the time, as Denny Doyle was the Phillies' regular second baseman. He spent two years in Milwaukee and then started 1975 as Cincinnati's third baseman. He was benched in favor of Pete Rose so George Foster could be given more playing time and then sent back to the minors. He would return to Philadelphia in 1976 and would stay with the organization for the rest of his career.

Though he was never an everyday player and rarely batted above .200, he was still quite popular with the team's blue-collar fans. Though he never played in the 1980 World Series, Vukovich was still a member of that World Championship team.

After retiring in 1981, Vukovich worked as a coach. Twice, he was named interim manager: he led the Cubs for one day in 1986 and split a doubleheader, and finished the last nine games of the '88 season for the Phillies. He was considered again for the Phils' skipper job in 2000, but the post went to his childhood friend and former teammate Larry Bowa.

In 2001, Vukovich was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought it for years, but lost that battle in 2007. After his passing, he was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame, the team wore his nickname on their uniforms and dedicated their 2007 season to his memory. That's high praise for somebody who was never a regular on the team.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Better Than Ken Hubbs?

In 1962, this player was selected to Topps' All-Star Rookie team as the second baseman, despite the fact that fellow second sacker Ken Hubbs actually won the Rookie of the Year award in the National League:

Card #293 -- Bernie Allen, New York Yankees

This Spring Training shot was the image on Bernie Allen's final card. Although he started 1973 with the Yankees, his contract was purchased by the Montreal Expos during the summer. He would finish his career there at the end of the year.

Allen signed with the Minnesota Twins after playing at Purdue University, where he also played quarterback on the football team. He replaced Billy Martin as the Twins' second baseman in 1962 and had an outstanding rookie season (as evidenced by his inclusion in the All-Star Rookie team). However, he would get sent back down to the minors for part of 1965. In 1967, he was traded to the Washington Senators. When that team moved to Texas in 1972, he was traded to the Yankees.

At New York, he was used as a pinch-hitter and picked up the slack for regular second baseman Horace Clarke and third baseman Graig Nettles. The card above shows him as a third baseman, but he split his time between second and third during his stay in The Bronx.

Monday, December 19, 2011


The title above this post isn't meant to say this player was a comedian; instead, it was his most effective pitch:

Card #126 -- Jim Brewer, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jim Brewer took advice from Warren Spahn, who encouraged him to develop the screwball as a unique pitch. He definitely made the most of it, gaining a repuration as one of the toughest pitchers in baseball against right-handed hitters. In fact, opposing managers would send up left-handed pinch-hitters (unusual for southpaw pitchers) because he was so rough on righties.

Brewer came up with the Cubs in 1960 and was traded to the Dodgers before the 1964 season. In a dozen seasons in Los Angeles, he settled into a role as one of the team's top relief specialists. He appeared in more games than any other Dodger pitcher except Don Sutton and Don Drysdale, saved 125 games for the club and appeared in three World Series. He would be traded to the Angels in 1975 and retired after the '76 season.

As a rookie with the Cubs, Brewer was involved in a nasty on-field incident involving Billy Martin, who was then playing for the Reds. After brushing back Martin with a pitch, Billy threw his bat toward the mound. Brewer picked up the bat and handed it to the approaching Martin, who simply cold-cocked him instead to taking the bat. The punch broke the cheekbone under Brewer's right eye and put him in the hospital for two months.

Jim Brewer passed away in 1987, after sustaining injuries in a car crash.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eating the Dirt

The eternal fourteen-year old inside my head really wants to make an inappropriate wisecrack about the picture on this card:

Card #236 -- Tito Fuentes, San Francisco Giants

The photo shows the aftermath of a play at second in Candlestick Park, where the Astro second baseman has just eaten dirt, the shortstop is running to back the play up and an outfielder stands at the ready. There appears to be a batter in the foreground, which means this was most likely a stolen base attempt. There really is no way to tell whether Tito Fuentes is safe or out, but looking at Fuentes's performance in 1972, he stole twice at home against the Astros, once on April 22nd and again on August 5th. It also showed that he wasn't caught stealing at all against the Astros that season, so he appears to have made it.

Tito Fuentes was an unabashed hot hog whose quotes were good for writers and whose headbands worn outside his cap made for great baseball card pictures. He was signed in 1962, one of the last players taken from Cuba before a trade embargo was put in place by the United States. He came up for the first time in 1965 and remained with the Giants through 1974. After a couple of years in San Diego and a one-year stint in Detroit, he came up for 13 games in 1978 in Oakland before retiring.

In 1973, Fuentes set a record for the best season in history for fielding percentage at second base. He only made six errors in 160 games on his way to a .993 average. Interestingly, he was among the National League leaders in errors committed during 1971 and '72. Late in his career, he hit over .300 for the only time in his career during his one season in Detroit. Despite having a career season, the team had Lou Whitaker ready to play and let him go.

In 1981, he stepped into the broadcast booth when the Giants began their Spanish-language radio programming. He remains with the broadcast team today as an analyst and is just as popular today as when he was covering second in Candlestick.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking Needed Practice

It's ironic that Topps chose a picture of this guy taking his turn at batting practice:

Card #599 - Ed Crosby, St. Louis Cardinals

Ed Crosby was a prototypical good field/no hit infielder, amassing a .220 career batting average and failing to hit a single home run in his six seasons. After coming up to the Cardinals in 1970, he would split 1973 between St. Louis and Cincinnati before spending parts of three seasons in Cleveland. He remained in the minor leages until 1979 but wasn't able to get back to the majors after 1976.

Despite his anemic stats and short career, Crosby had a son who would win the Rookie of the Year Award in 2004. In fact, Bobby Crosby enjoyed a longer major league career than his father did. Another son, Blake, is in the Oakland A's organization.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rare Combination

A couple of weeks ago, I asked about the structure in the background, wondering if it was some type of hotel at the Mets' spring training facility. It turns out the structure is the old scoreboard at Shea Stadium. In any case, it's in the background of this card:

Card #290 -- Cesar Cedeno, Houston Astros

Cesar Cedeno was a player who possessed power, speed and defensive abilities that made a player like Willie Mays a star, as well as an eye for walks and a strong outfield arm. He was a four-time All-Star during the 1970s and won the Gold Glove at his position every year from 1972 through '76. In the pre-Rickey Henderson era, he stole more than 50 bases for six consecutive seasons. In fact, he was the second player after Lou Brock to hit 50 20 homers and steal 50 bases in a season (doing that for three straight years). In short, he was a solid player who racked up some impressive stats that made him dangerous to his opponents.

However, for much of his career he played half his games in the Astrodome, a notorious place that ate up stats like that. It would have been interesting to see him play for a more powerhouse club like (Pittsburgh or Cincinnati) during the era and see how far they might have gotten. As it turned out, Cedeno did end up on the Reds, but they were no longer the Big Red Machine by the time he arrived in 1982. Late in his career, he was traded to the Cardinals in 1985 and provided a large spark that helped propel them past the Mets that year and into the World Series.

After finishing his career in Los Angeles in 1986, he became a coach in the Winter Leagues in Venezuela and his native Dominican Republic.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chico...Don't Be Discouraged...

For those who didn't recognize the words in the title...they were the opening words to the TV show Chico and the Man, even though that didn't actually debut until 1974. "Chico" was the nickname of this guy:

Card #522 -- Leo Cardenas, California Angels

Leo "Chico" Cardenas was an infielder who spent sixteen seasons in the major leagues. He came up in 1960 with the Cincinnati Reds and remained with the team through 1968. He appeared in the '61 World Series against the Yankees and moved into the team's regular shortstop role by 1962. When Pete Rose came up in 1963, Cardenas was his double play partner. He would be traded to Minnesota and played for the Twins during the first two ALCS series. After the '71 season, he was traded to the Angels.

1972 was Cardenas's final year as an everyday player. His skills were beginning to wane due to his age, so he lasted that one season in California. By the time this card was included in wax packs, he was playing for the Cleveland Indians. 1973 was the first season where Cardenas played any position besides shortstop (we went to third in 10 games), and he would split time between the left side of the infield -- with a couple of DH appearances for the rest of his career. His final two seasons were spent in Texas, where he played for his ex-Twins skipper Billy Martin.

Cardenas is a native of Cuba, which provides the backdrop for an interesting story about him. While he was playing in Havana during the 1950s, Cardenas was on the field when several supporters of Fidel Castro became so excited they began firing their rifles in the air. Some of the bullets arced back onto the field and several players (including Cardenas) were injured by the gunfire. As the political climate in the country worsened, Havana's team was forced to play the rest of their schedule in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


At 80 years old, this guy is still active in major league baseball:

Card #12 -- Don Zimmer and Coaches, San Diego Padres

Don Zimmer began his baseball career in 1949 and was a member  of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. He was also a member of another legendary team (but for totally different reasons), the 1962 New York Mets. After retiring as a player, he immediately became a coach in the minor leagues. By 1971 he was coaching in Montreal and moved over to San Diego as the third-base coach in 1972. 11 games into the season, the Padres fired Preston Gomez and gave Zimmer his first big-league skipper job. He remained a manager, with the Red Sox, the Rangers and the Cubs and was a visible member of the New York Yankees' coaching staff between 1996 and 2003. Today, he works for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Red Sox fans aren't likely to rate him high on their list of favorite people. Not considering he was the skipper of the fateful '78 team, and not after he rushed the mound to confront Pedro Martinez in 2003. A pepperpot as a player, he definitely showed his emotion on the field. But I've been told by those who know him that he's about as down-to-earth in person as you'll ever expect anybody to be.

Zimmer was one of the managers whose card contained a variation in the 1973 Topps set.  The card above shows solid-colored background behind the coaches' heads, while the one below still has the natural backgrounds (tinted, but still natural):

Dave Garcia never made the major leagues as a player. He later went on to manage the Angels from 1977-'78 and the Indians from 1979-'82. He continued to coach and scout into his 80s and is still around to tell his stories.

Johnny Podres was a hero of the 1955 World Series and a teammate during Zimmer's two tours with the Dodgers. After finishing his career as one of the original Padres in 1969, he remained with the team as a pitching coach and would hold that capacity through 1996 with various teams. Sadly, Podres passed away in 2008.

Bob Skinner was a member of two other teams that beat the Yankees in the World Series (the 1960 Pirates and 1964 Cardinals). He had already served as manager of the Phillies in 1968-'69 and remained a coach into the 1980s. His son Joel followed in his shoes as a player and coach.

Finally, William "Whitey" Wietelmann was an infielder with the Boston Braves from 1939-'46 and the Pirates in 1947.  He was a long-time coach when the San Diego Padres was still the name of the PCL team and coached for 13 seasons in the majors. He passed away in 2002.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Another Sad Story From the 70s...

This pitcher tossed the first no-hitter on artificial grass, as well as the first inside a domed stadium:

Card #217 -- Don Wilson, Houston Astros

Don Wilson pitched two no-hitters during his career, one in 1967 and the other in '69. 20 of his 104 wins was a shutout, including the last game he pitched. He was a pitcher who could rack up strikeouts (averaging 6.6 per 9 innings) while not allowing a whole lot of hits and walks. He even managed to lay down a bunt double against the Phillies in 1971, which is a rare feat.

However, Don Wilson's death will probably overshadow what he did in his life. On January 5, 1975, he was found dead in his garage. His car was running and the garage was closed, so he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. His son was also in the car with him. A daughter and his wife were inside the house and had to be hospitalized. The death was ruled an accident, but that hasn't stopped fans from suggesting something else was afoot.

Ironically, the picture on this card seems to suggest an inner sadness, something that may not have been noticed until the sad news broke.

Friday, December 2, 2011

You Say it's Your Birthday...

There are two players who were born on December 2 that appear in the 1973 Topps set. One was Pedro Borbon, who was featured earlier. The other is this guy, who's painted into his new uniform (including a way-too-big hat logo and city name on his shirt) after being traded away from the Reds after the end of the 1972 season:

Card #428 -- Wayne Simpson, Kansas City Royals

Wayne Simpson turns 63 today. And why am I focusing on today's birthday boys? Well, if you're familiar with the Beatles song I quoted in the title of this post, the next line in the lyric applies to me.

This picture is airbrushed, due to Simpson having been a member of the Cincinnati Reds until 1972. The hat logo is too large, as is the "Kansas City" emblem on his shirt (not to mention that a white shirt would have said "Royals" on it).

Simpson made his major league debut in 1970, pitching a compete two-hit shutout against the Dodgers. He was a key member of a rotation that won the pennant and was an All-Star. However, he tore his rotator cuff late in the season and missed the postseaon. He was able to come back from his injury but wasn't the same pitcher afterwards. He spent both '71 and '72 shuttling between Riverfront Stadium and the AAA affiliate in Indianapolis before he was traded to Kansas City in the Hal McRae deal.

Simpson continued to split time between the majors and minors in '73 and spent all of '74 in the minors. He would return to the majors in 7 games with the Phillies in 1975 and one last season in California in 1977 before being sent down for good and then finishing up in Mexico in 1979.

The 1970 Reds staff had three promising young pitchers: Simpson, Don Gullett and Joe Gary Nolan (See the comments for the correction -- Ed.). Interestingly, all three developed arm problems and were out of the game by the end of the decade.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bat Masters of '72

It's been a really long time since I last visited this subset:

Card #61 -- 1972 Batting Leaders

While the card shows two Hall of Fame players, they were actually the only Cooperstown-bound players who finished in the top 5 in either league among the leaders in batting average. Carew finished six points ahead of the Royals' Lou Piniella, while Williams outpaced the Braves' Ralph Garr by eight points.

For Carew, it was his second batting title after leading the American League in 1969. That said, he was just getting started, winning another five crowns between 1973 and '78. He would continue to consistently hit over .300 until 1983, when he was late into his thirties.

For Billy Williams, however, it was the only time he'd lead his league in the statistic. It was a great year for him, as he also led the senior circuit in slugging percentage, total bases and OPS (which wasn't recognized as a stat then).

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mop-Up Role...

With only the second baseman (who I'm assuming is Dick Green) in the background, here's another one of the many shots from the 1973 Topps set showing a pitcher's delivery:

Card #214 -- Dave Hamilton, Oakland A's

I'm also noticing how sparse the crowd is in the background.

This is Dave Hamilton's rookie card, as he came up to the A's during the 1972 season. His first game was a win on against the Rangers, as he started the second game of a doubleheader. In fact, he won the first four games he pitched, but struggled soon afterward. His record was 6-5 in August when he was moved to the bullpen. He struggled in the postseason, blowing a save in the ALCS and getting tagged for four runs in only two-thirds of an inning during one of his two Series appearances.

The A's would win the World Series each of Hamilton's first three years. However, he didn't appear in the postseason in either 1973 or '74. He would also be used wherever he was needed, be it in the rotation or in the bullpen. When he was traded to the White Sox in '75, he would be placed into the bullpen on a full-time basis. He saved 25 games for the team in three seasons. In 1978, Hamilton was sent to the Cardinals and the results were disastrous. He was limited to a role mopping up, appearing in 13 games that were all eventually lost. Finally, his contract was sold to the Pirates, who were led by his former manager Chuck Tanner. He redeemed himself in Pittsburgh, but was soon relegated to mop-up duty again by the end of the year.

In 1979, Hamilton returned to the A's as a free agent, but the team was a much different club that in his first stint. He also went back to his former role of switching between the rotation and the bullpen. His 3-4 record that year doesn't seem so bad when you take account of the fact that the A's lost 108 games. In 1980, he split time between the A's and their affiliate in Ogden, but when he was demoted further in 1981, he retired.

After retiring from baseball, Hamilton spent some time as a high school coach. Since the teaching profession isn't regarded to be a well-paying one, he also worked with a construction company.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Good Luck Charm

Although he moved around a lot in the middle of the decade, this guy was part of four division-winning teams in six seasons:

Card #161 -- Ted Martinez, New York Mets

And that doesn't count the fact that he wasn't even in the majors during one of those two seasons he wasn't on a team that made the postseason.

The fact that he's wearing a windbreaker under his jersey indicates this is a Spring Training photo, as does what appears to be a hotel in the background. The Mets trained in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1972 and that appears to be a home uniform. Perhaps a reader who remembered the old Al Lang Field will verify that.

Ted Martinez had a major league career that spanned the 1970s. His first season was 1970 when he first came up with the Mets and he finished in Los Angeles in 1979. In between, he split the '75 season between the Cardinals and A's and was in the Reds' minor league system in 1976. However, he was on the following division-winning teams:

  • 1973 New York Mets
  • 1975 Oakland A's
  • 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers
  • 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers
Had he made the majors during 1976, he'd have been with the Reds, who won the World Series that year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Les Expos

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States and today is one of the busier travel days of the year. As a result, I'll make this a short entry:

(No Number) -- Montreal Expos Checklist

At the time this card was printed, the Expos were still a relatively new expansion team, and 1973 was its fifth season in existence. The team name was chosen both as a nod to the 1967 Expo held in the city and the fact that it was the same in both French and English.

Once again, the twelve names on the front of the card do not give a complete lineup. Fairly is at first, Hunt at second and Foli lines up at short, but a third baseman is missing. The outfield consists of Day, Singleton and Woods. The pitching staff consists of Renko, Moore, Marshall, Morton, Torrez and Stoneman. No catcher is listed.

So far, this blog has featured six of the unnumbered blue-bordered checklist cards. Only one team has had a full lineup presented in its signatures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Touch of Blass...

Right about the time this card was printed, this pitcher's fortune suddenly changed:

Card #95 -- Steve Blass, Pittsburgh Pirates

In 1972, Steve Blass was an All-Star, going 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA, and was the runner-up for the Cy Young Award. He had been a steady performer for the Pirates since joining them in 1964 and won two World Series games in 1971.

In 1973, he suddenly lost his control. He would end up with a 3-9 record and his ERA ballooned to 9.85. Blass was sent down to the minors in 1974 and was out of the game in '75. Nobody has any explanation for what happened to him, but the term "Steve Blass disease" is still used whenever a promising pitcher's stuff suddenly and inexplicably drops off. Recent "diagnoses" include Dontrelle Willis and Rick Ankiel.

Blass joined the Pirates' broadcast crew in 1983 and is still providing color commetary on the radio.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Man Called "Bull"

Appropriately, the picture on this card shows Greg Luzinski taking a big swing:

Card #189 -- Greg Luzinski, Philadelphia Phillies

Luzinski would never be mistaken for a top-notch fielder. He was literally placed in left field to limit his defensive liability to the Phillies. Instead, he was placed in the lineup because of the fact that he always represented a brutal power threat. When the Phillies advanced to the NLCS every year from 1976-'78, he smacked a home run in every one of those series.

When the Phillies finally reached the World Series in 1980, Luzinski's season was the worst of his career. However, he still connected for the only home run of the NLCS to help get them to the Series. After that season, his contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox. Not only did that allow him to return to the city where he grew up, but the switch to the American League allowed him to move into a DH role and added four years to the end of his career. Though age had limited his physical abilities, he still showed his brute power: in '83, three of his home runs cleared the roof at Comiskey Park and he hit grand slams in back-to-back games in '84.

After retiring, Luzinski was a coach at several levels from high school to the majors. Today, he runs a barbecue inside Citizens' Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

All Seven Games

In 1973, this pitcher did something that has never been equaled before or since:

Card #274 -- Darold Knowles, Oakland A's

During the World Series, the A's and Mets went the distance, playing seven games. Darold Knowles took the mound in every one of those games, not allowing any earned runs and saving games 1 and 7. While a total of 6.1 innings over those seven games doesn't seem like much, it's still amazing to note that even with today's specialized pitchers that it hasn't happened again.

Knowles did a lot of traveling, playing with eight different clubs in his 16-year career. He was mainly a starting pitcher during his minor league years, but filled in wherever he was needed in his short stint with the Orioles in 1965. Going to Philadelphia the following year, he began building his reputation as a workhorse, appearing in 69 games and continued that role with the Senators from 1967-'71. He missed part of the 1968 and '69 seasons when his reserve unit was activated.

In 1971, Knowles was traded to Oakland and would be part of a team that went to the postseason every year he was there, including three straight World Series. The A's bullpen also had Rollie Fingers and Bob Locker, so his number of appearances took a hit. Despite appearing in all of the games in the '73 Series, they were his only World Series appearances with them; he missed the '72 postseason after sustaining a broken thumb and was sidelined in '74 after a poor season.

He was traded to the Cubs in 1975 and played with four different clubs in his final six seasons. The end of the line came in 1980, when he retired as a Cardinal and accepted an offer to coach in their minor league system. He still coaches today, as the pitching coach for the Dunedin Blue Jays in Florida.

Darold Knowles still holds a major league record: he picked off a base runner every 24 innings during his career.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Decade Ahead of His Time...

Ten years before Michael Jackson popularized the one-glove look, this guy shows he's way ahead of the fashion (wearing a pair of wristbands, another '80s fashion accessory):

Card #101 -- Ken Henderson, San Francisco Giants

At least he isn't also wearing this pants pulled halfway down his hip or turned his cap around. However, he's also not shown in the uniform he actually wore during the 1973 season.

Ken Henderson was a switch-hitter who was also a great defensive outfielder. However, the Giants had a surplus of outfielders in the late 1960s, with Willie Mays, the Alou brothers, Bobby Bonds, and occasionally Willie McCovey, which limited his playing time. As the 1970s began, there were more outfielders waiting to play: Dave Kingman, Garry Maddox and Gary Mathews. Since some of the competing players were better at the plate, the Giants traded Henderson away after the 1972 season was over. Realizing his value, the team was smart enough to trade him into the other league, sending him to the White Sox along with Steve Stone for Tom Bradley.

He spent three seasons in Comiskey Park, even playing in all 162 games in 1974. However, he moved around frequently after that, playing for five different teams from 1976-'80 as age took its natural effect on his physical shape.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Not On My Watch

Today is Veterans' Day. As a veteran myself (U.S. Army, early 1990s), I would like to express my gratitude to all who have taken years out of their lives and helped keep this country safer. Today's card features a player who never went overseas with the military but will be remembered for an act he did that made many assume he had:

Card #44 -- Rick Monday, Chicago Cubs

On April 25, 1976, Rick Monday was in the outfield at Dodger Stadium and watched a man and his young son sneak on to the field. They had doused an American flag with lighter fluid and were set to burn it as a protest. Before they could get the match lit, Monday ran over and grabbed the flag away from them. That incident has come to overshadow a career that was itself very good.

Like many players of the era, Monday was placed in a reserve unit to satisfy his military obligation and keep him available to play baseball at the same time. Monday served with the U.S Marines one weekend a month and for a two-week training session every year until he had satisfied his obligation. Though critics complained that the system was unfair to those who didn't have alternatives available to them and were forced to go to Vietnam, the owners did it to prevent losing prized prospects for a year or two and losing time having them on the field.

Rick Monday was a star at Arizona State University, before becoming the very first player claimed in the major league draft in 1965. He was chosen by the Kansas City A's and came up to the club in '66. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1971 season for Ken Holtzman and enjoyed five productive seasons at Wrigley before being traded to the Dodgers before the '77 season in the deal that sent Bill Buckner to Chicago. It's been said that the '76 flag incident caused the Dodgers to be interested in Monday, but it needs to be pointed out that Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda had tried to secure his services during his days as a scout in the early 1960s.

After missing out on Oakland's three straight World Series, Monday arrived in Los Angeles in time for the team to win pennants in 1977 and '78 and was instrumental in getting the team to the World Series again in 1981. During the NLCS, Monday connected for a home run off Steve Rogers that gave the Dodgers the edge they needed to win the final game. Monday finally won his World Series ring that year when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in six games.

Monday remained with the Dodgers until retiring in 1984. The next year, he began a broadcast career that continues today. Starting on a cable TV station doing pregame shows, he went to the Padres in 1989 and joined the Dodgers' crew in 1993, replacing the void left when Don Drysdale died suddenly. He still does color commentary for the team on their radio broadcasts.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Grim Lesson

Despite all the feats and awards this player would accumulate during a seventeen-year career in the major leagues, his personal issues overshadowed them:

Card #582 -- Darrell Porter, Milwaukee Brewers

In 1980, former player Don Newcombe visited the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse and posed ten questions to the team. A "yes" answer to three of the questions might indicate that the player was having issues with drug abuse; Darrell Porter answered yes to all ten. He soon checked into a rehab facility, becoming one of the first players in any sport to publicly affirm the problem. He became a born-again Christian and was active in outreach programs to help other players get a grip on their own problems, but he never was able to control the demons that plagued his own life. He died in 2002 and the coroner's report said he had ingested enough cocaine through recreational use to stop his heart.

However, the end of the story shouldn't lessen what he achieved in his baseball career. Porter first came up to the majors with the Brewers while still a teenager and was third in the voting for the 1973 Rookie of the Year award. An All-Star nod came in 1974 but his best years came after being traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1976. He caught Jim Colborn's no-hitter in 1977 and became one of six catchers in history to score 100 runs while driving in 100. The other five are all in the Hall of Fame.

After his personal issues surfaced, Porter's numbers declined, but he still had highlights: three World Series with one that brought him a ring and an MVP award, another no-hitter caught in 1983 (Bob Forsch's). He was also one of few players who wore glasses on-field; many of his contemporaries chose to use contacts instead. He would switch teams twice via free agency, going to the Cardinals before 1981 and to the Rangers after 1985. However, the best thing to sum up his career might have been the statement his former teammate George Brett made:

"He played every game like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

Coming from a noted competitor like Brett, that was no faint praise.

The card shown here is Porter's first solo card. In 1972, he was included on a multi-player rookie card but his picture was switched with Jerry Bell's.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"El Tiante"

Thanks to Bill "Spaceman" Lee's book The Wrong Stuff, I learned more about this guy that I really ever wanted to know. But I'll let you read the book, because I'm not going to rehash it:

Card #270 -- Luis Tiant, Boston Red Sox

Luis Tiant's father was a tremendous baseball player in Cuba and the Negro Leagues, and he followed in those big shoes from an early age. Starting in the Mexican League, he came up with the Indians in 1964 and quickly became a very respected pitcher, striking out almost a man every inning. In 1968, he went 21-9 with 264 strikeouts and an amazing 1.60 ERA. Had it not been for Denny McLain winning 31 games, he may have gotten more attention for his numbers.

That said, the teams pay attention to numbers, so when Tiant dropped to 9-20 in 1969 he was traded to Minnesota. He spent one season with the Twins and was released by the team in the Spring of '71. He would split that season between the Braves' minor league team in Richmond, the Red Sox' AAA affiliate in Indianapolis and with the Red Sox. Once he was able to stay with the Bosox, he responded by winning 15 games and notching a 1.91 ERA to lead the league. He would earn double-digit win totals for the rest of the 1970s and win 20 three times. He became one of the Sox' most valuable pitchers and helped them to a pennant in 1975.

After the Red Sox' collapse in 1978, Tiant was traded to the New York Yankees. He pitched well in 1979 but showed his age the next year. He pitched for the Pirates in '81 and went back to the Angels in '82.

Even though he's been retired for nearly 30 years, Tiant still holds the all-time record for wins among Cuban-born players and ranks third among all Latin Americans behind Dennis Martinez and Juan Marichal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Better Than Rose?

They say that no matter how good you are at something, there will always be somebody better who will eventually come along. When this guy was a high school student in Cincinnati, he was seen as a better player than classmate Pete Rose:

Card #5 - Ed Brinkman, Detroit Tigers

To be fair, Rose wasn't a natural athlete and had to earn his right to be a great ballplayer; he came by the nickname "Charlie Hustle" honestly. As a result, Western Hills coach "Pappy" Nohr said that Rose was "a good ballplayer, but not a Brinkman." Scouts focused on Ed Brinkman's high average and the 15 games he won on the mound in his senior year. He signed with the Washington Senators after graduating and made the team in 1961. By 1963, he was a regular at shortstop.

After the 1970 season, Brinkman was traded to the Tigers in the Denny McLain deal and took up a right side of the infield (along with Aurelio Rodriguez) that was considered to be virtually unhittable. In the Tigers' division-winning year of '72, Brinkman was named "Tiger of the Year," and his fielding prowess won him a Gold Glove in 1973. His glove was exceptional enough to help people overlook a .224 lifetime batting average.

1974 would be his final season in Detroit, and he split '75 among three major league teams: St. Louis, Texas and the Yankees, where he rejoined former manager Billy Martin. After retiring, Brinkman became a coach in the minors and then an infield coach for the White Sox during the 1980s. He remained with the team in various capacities until retiring in 2000.

Sadly, Ed Brinkman passed away from lung cancer in 2008.

This card was featured last week in the excellent Number 5 Type Collection, but that didn't  play into my decision to feature it here now. But I'll put the link here because it's a great card-related blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Vet in the Background

It may not have been much of a venue compared to what Citizens Bank Park offers today, but the colorful seats in Veterans Stadium and high-rising Upper Deck area make for an interesting background on this card:

Card #619 -- Billy Wilson, Philadelphia Phillies

Veterans Stadium was still relatively new when this photo was taken. The Phillies moved in during the 1971 season and it watched the team build into a dominant National League force by the end of the decade, win a World Series in 1980 and host two more in 1983 and 1993. It was built to accomodate both baseball and football teams (a novel concept when it was built, but one that was seen as antiquated just a generation later), and also housed several professional soccer clubs and a USFL franchise.

I'm talking about the stadium in the background because there more to be read about it than there is about Billy Wilson. He was exclusively a reliever who pitched in 179 games from 1969-'73 and ended up with a 9-15 record. His minor league stats were much better, and that's what Wilson's Baseball-Reference Bullpen page focuses on. His Wikipedia page, on the other hand, has little more than the fact he was in major league baseball for a few years.

This would be Wilson's final Topps card. He passed away in 1993.

Monday, October 31, 2011


It's well-known that this guy is one of the more notable Hawaiian natives to play major league baseball, but it's not so well-known that he's the first American player whose ancestry was Japanese. He's also the only player of any nationality who ever pinch-hit for Hank Aaron:

Card #266 -- Mike Lum, Atlanta Braves

Mike Lum was born shortly after the end of World War II, by a mother who was Japanese and a father who was a serviceman. He ended up being adopted by a different family and becoming a star in both baseball and football as a high school player in Honolulu.

Lum played for the Braves on two different occasions. He came up with the team in 1967 and stayed with them through 1975. He rejoined thme in '79 as a free agent. He split those two tours of duty with the Reds and then finished up his major league career with the Cubs in 1981. The next year, he spent a season in Japan, the homeland of his ancestors.

After his retirement, he became a hitting instructor and a coach. He still holds the record for most lifetime homers for a player born in Hawaii, though Shane Victorino appears to be poised to break the mark next season.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Bahnsen Burner

This pitcher won the American League's Rookie of the Year Award in 1968 while pitching fo rthe New York Yankees:

Card #20 -- Stan Bahnsen, Chicago White Sox

Stan Bahnsen almost didn't make the club that year. He arrived late for spring training because of a commitment to the Army. However, the Yankees were a shadow of their former selves and needed his services. He would go 17-12 and lead the team in ERA. However, the rest of his Yankee days were disappointing. His best known moment after his superb rookie season was an on-field brawl where the Indians' Vada Pinson floored him with a single punch.

In 1971, Bahnsen would be traded to the White Sox, where he would become part of a short rotation. In 1972, manager Chuck Tanner decided to go with Wilbur Wood, Bahnsen and Tom Bradley. The White Sox finished above .500 for the first time in years. In 1973-'74, he went with a rotation of Wood and Bahnsen, with his other starters filling in for them to give them an occasional rest. That old-school approach backfired, especially in the days where few paid attention to pitch counts. In 1973, he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, only to have ex-teammate Walt Williams break it up with two outs.

In 1976, Bahnsen rejoined Tanner with the Oakland A's, then was traded to the Expos in 1977. He remained with them through 1981, with short stints in California and Philadelphia in 1982 before he retired.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


In 1973, this player was a year away from securing the starting third baseman position for the Twins:

Card #577 -- Eric Soderholm, Minnesota Twins 

This is Eric Soderholm's first appearance on a Topps card, but he'd been with the club ever since a late-season call-up in 1971. In 1973, his time was limited as he was sent back down to the minors for more seasoning. In 1974, he was back for good. Unfortunately, a knee injury sidelined him for the entire '76 season.

Despite being out for that entire season, Soderholm tested the free agent waters that year and quickly signed with the White Sox. He responded with a career year in '77, which saw him win the Comeback Player of the Year award. In that campaign, he clubbed 25 home runs, with 16 coming after the All-Star break. He continued with the "South Side Hitmen" through 1979, when he was traded to Texas. He was a part-timer in Texas as well as an occasional DH, a role he continued in 1980 with the Yankees.

Soderholm would sit out the 1981 season and failed to make the cut with the Cubs in a spring training tryout in '82. He worked as a private hitting instructor after his retirement, running baseball camps with his name on them. He also ran a business that resold tickets for sporting events and entertainment venues.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Great Caption

In celebration of the ongoing World Series, here's a card from the World Series subset of the 1973 Topps issue. It's one that actually has a great caption:

Card #203 -- 1972 World Series, Game 1

At Riverfront Satudium, Gene Tenace made major league history as the first player ever to hit home runs in his first two Series at-bats. Those two blasts scored three runs, which was enough to beat the Reds by a 3-2 score. Considering Reds pitcher Gary Nolan only allowed four hits (and the two relievers allowed none), Tenace made the difference at the plate for the A's.

The picture here shows Tenace celebrating after the first blast in the top of the second inning with George Hendrick, who also scored on the shot. Dick Green is getting ready for his appearance -- he would line out to third to end the inning -- and Johnny Bench waits to get back into position. The home plate umpire is Chris Pelekoudas, who appears to be trying to reset his device that counts balls and strikes. All this info can be found on Baseball-Reference.

The funny thing...Gene Tenace only managed 5 round-trippers all year and 20 in his four seasons up to that point. You can safely assume that his power display was a surprise to those watching. However, it would continue, as Tenace went on to get double-digit totals every year afterward until 1980.

Friday, October 21, 2011

One Not-So-Colorful Commentator

The World Series is going on now, and this man is doing the color commentary for his 22nd Fall Classic, a string that stretches back to 1985:

Card #269 -- Tim McCarver, St. Louis Cardinals

That said, Tim McCarver is one of those announcers that tends to grate on the nerves of some fans, much the same way as Howard Cosell did for Monday Night Football around 1973. Ironically, when he called his first World Series, McCarver was a last-minute replacement for Cosell. However, I'm not going to get too deep into his second career here, since he was still a player at this time.

McCarver was returning to the Cardinals in 1973 after splitting 1972 between the Phillies and Expos. Since the picture on this card doesn't look like it's been airbrushed, I'm guessing that it's from his first stint with the team (1969 or earlier). It was during that first period with the Cardinals that McCarver befriended pitcher Steve Carlton. Over a period that included one stint in St. Louis and two in Philadelphia, he became Carlton's favored catcher. During his late career, McCarver would return to the Phillies in 1975 and mostly caught when Carlton was pitching. It was joked that when the two players died, they would be buried 60 feet, 6 inches apart from each other.

McCarver's career as a broadcaster began in 1980 doing both the local Phillies broadcasts and serving as a backup for NBC's Game of the Week. Aside from a short return to the Phillies for the last month of the 1980s season (making him a four-decade player), he's worked in the booth ever since his retirement.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blue-Bordered Redbirds

Most people who follow baseball -- even casually -- know that the New York Yankees have won more World Series than any other team. But, how many know the team in second place?

(No Number) St. Louis Cardinals Checklist Card

The St. Louis Cardinals have won ten World Series Titles, several of which came at the expense of the Bronx Bombers. Tonight, they begin taking another shot at adding to that total when they face off against the Texas Rangers.

Let's take a look at the twelve players picked to appear on this checklist card. Six of the signatures belong to pitchers -- Gibson, Cleveland, Santorini, Granger, Wise and Spinks -- and two are catchers (Simmons and McCarver). That leaves just four more players: two infielders (Torre at third and Sizemore at second) and two outfielders (Brock and Melendez). This may be the most lopsided lineup yet featured on this blog.

This is the fifth blue-bordered checklist card featured here, and the fourth that didn't show a full field-ready team on the front.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cool Hand Kooz

For many collectors, this player is best remembered for being the "other guy" on Nolan Ryan's rookie card:

Card #184 -- Jerry Koosman, New York Mets

However, Jerry Koosman was the pitching star for the Mets in the "Miracle" 1969 World Series, rather than Tom Seaver (who lost Game 1) or Ryan (who only pitched a single game). In fact, when the Mets won the final game of that Series, it was Koosman who took the mound and helped get out of an early 3-0 deficit with his pitching.

The funny thing is that Koosman was close to being cut from the Mets as a minor league player in 1966. He was kept on the payroll to pay back a loan the team sent him when his car broke down on the way to spring training. Fortunately for him (and for the Mets), he improved before the funds were repaid. In his first full year with the parent club, he won 19 games, struck out 178 and had a 2.08 ERA. Those marks set the franchise record for rookie pitchers set by Seaver the year before.

Not only was Koosman helpful in 1969, he would star in the 1973 postseason, with both of his wins getting the team within a victory from the championships. In 1976 he enjoyed what may have been his finest season, with 21 wins and 200 strikeouts, but the Mets began falling off and trading away their star players. Koosman was sent to Minnesota after the '78 season. He responded by winning 20 games for the Twins in 1979.

He went to the White Sox in 1981 and helped the team to a postseason appearance in '83, before two final years in a Phillies uniform.

An odd coincidence: when Koosman was traded to the Twins, the "player to be named later" was Jesse Orosco, which meant that the two people on the mound as the Mets won their only two World Series titles were traded for each other. He also was remembered in the 1980s TV show Growing Pains. Where the main family was the Seavers, the next door neighbors were the Koosmans. For a show set on Long Island, it's safe to say the creators of the show had at least one Mets fan among them.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Backup Backstop

In this shot taken at spring training, here's a player who didn't get to play in the majors at all in 1973:

Card #186 -- Bill Fahey, Texas Rangers

He looks like he's a little annoyed to stop what he's doing to pose for the photographer.

An advertisement from Fowlkes Chevrolet appears on the wall in the background. A Google search tells me that the dealership was located in Pompano Beach, Florida. And Pompano Beach is where the Senators and then the Rangers trained every spring from 1961 through '86.

Bill Fahey played the entire '73 season at Spokane before coming up to the parent team in 1974. He was a weak hitter who spent his entire major league career as a backup catcher. He was the understudy for Jim Sundberg in Texas, Gene Tenace for the Padres and Lance Parrish in Detroit. His career was a lot longer than many would have expected, with eleven campaigns in all.

After retiring in 1983, he managed in the Tigers' minor league system in 1984 before following Roger Craig to San Francisco the following year. He would remain on the Giants as a coach until 1991.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More "Catching" Up With the New Guys

It's been a longer time than I'd thought since there was a multi-player rookie card on this blog. The last one was in January! So, here's another one to make up for the wait:

Card #601 -- 1973 Rookie Catchers

This is the fifth rookie card featured in this blog, and the fourth that has at least one player who'd already appeared on a Topps card before 1973.

This was Sergio Robles's first of two Topps cards. Thanks to Earl Weaver's platoon system of Andy Etchebarren and Elrod Hendricks in Baltimore, he only managed  two short stints with the team in 1972 and '73. He showed up again with the Dodgers in '76, but was quickly sent back to the minors. In 1977, Robles went to the Mexican League for a decade before becoming a manager there.

George Pena is definitely airbrushed into his Indians uniform on this card. As it turned out, it would be as close as he would get to the majors. He never rose above AAA and this would be his only Topps card.

Rick Stelmaszaek was already on a card in 1970. He had already had a short trial with the Washington Senators in 1971. When the team moved to Texas the next year, he remained in the minors. His stint with them in 1973 was a short one, since he was traded to the California Angels before this card could be placed into wax packs. At three seasons, he is the player on this card who had the longest major league career. He's the current bullpen coach for the Twins, where he has coached under five managers in 31 seasons.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's a Major League Record Regardless...

This player has the lowest non-zero batting average in major league history:

Card #17 -- Fred Gladding, Houston Astros

As a relief pitcher, Fred Gladding wasn't always able to take a lot of walks to the plate, but his career avearge was .016 (1 for 63). He did get one distinction that was more positive, though: 1969 was the first year saves were counted as an official stat, and he led the National League that season with 29.

Gladding first made the majors in 1961, when he joined the Detroit Tigers. Through 1964, he was frequently on the bus between the Tigers and their top minor league club. He stayed in the Tigers' organization until after the 1967 season, where he was sent to Houston as the "player to be named later" as part of the trade for Eddie Mathews.

At the time this card was printed, Gladding was nearing the end of his career. In June of '73, he was sent to the Astros' AAA affiliate in Denver, where he would remain for the rest of the year. He was released after the season.

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Small Error From Perfection

This card appeared in the final series of cards during the 1973 Topps set. By the time this card showed up in backs, this guy was no longer pitching for the Texas Rangers:

 Card #640 -- Dick Bosman, Texas Rangers

The picture shows him after a delivery, but he does look like he's about to kick something.

On May 10, 1973, Dick Bosman was traded to the Cleveland Indians after spending his entire career with the Washington Senators and moving with them to Texas. While with the Tribe in 1974, he pitched a no-hitter that would have been a perfect game if it weren't for his own throwing error in the fourth inning. That little factoid is ironic, because Bosman was also a control pitcher noted for his highly competitive nature. The man who was known to say "if you don't hustle when I'm pitching, I'll kick your ass" to teammates had only himself to blame for the one blemish of the game.

In 1975, he was traded to the A's, where he helped pitch the team to a postseason appearance. He would finish his career in the spring of '77 when the A's cut him before the season. He has served as a coach since then, currently working in the Tampa Bay Rays' organization.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Seen here posing in front of the old facade of Yankee Stadium, this catcher spent parts of 15 seasons in the major league with eight different clubs:

Card #598 -- Phil Roof, Minnesota Twins

He spent six of those years with the Twins, which was the longest stint of his career. By the time he came to Minnesota as part of a trade for Paul Ratliff in 1971, he had settled into a position as a backup catcher, a role he would serve until the end of his playing days.

He came up in 1961 and again in '64 for one-game trials with the Braves in Milwaukee, then split 1965 between the Angels and Indians before being traded to the A's. Beginning in Kansas City and moving with the team to Oakland, he would become a regular catcher from 1966-'69. He would carry the role of regular backstop back to Milwaukee when he played for the Brewers in their first season in 1970. 

He was with the Twins from 1971-'76 before heading to the White Sox and then finishing his career in Toronto during their inaugural season. Roof became a coach after his retirement and then a minor league manager until 2005.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Belated L'Shanah Tovah

 Last week was Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year. Later this week, Yom Kippur is celebrated. What better time to feature a player who was nicknamed "Superjew"?

I started collecting baseball cards in 1979. It wasn't until 1984 that I'd worked my way back to the 1973 Topps set, but this was one of the first cards from the set I ever owned:

Card #38 -- Mike Epstein, Oakland A's

Actually, it wasn't this card. I've updated that original, which had several creases on it and a water stain. It's a great picture, showing Mike Epstein waiting for the throw from the pitcher to hold Jim Spencer on first.

Born in the Bronx, raised in Los Angeles and an alum of Berkeley, Epstein came up with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. Since the O's already had Boog Powell handling the first base duties, they tried to convert Epstein to the outfield. It didn't work, and he was traded to the Senators in '67. The first time he faced his former team, he hit a grand slam against them. His finest season was probably 1969, under the tutelage of skipper Ted Williams. He was traded to the A's early in the 1971 season.

In 1972, he was a member of the World Series champions. During the last half of the season, he wore a black armband to remember the Israeli athletes slain during the '72 Munich Olympics. Teammates Ken Holtzman and Reggie Jackson also donned armbands that season. After the season, he would be traded to the Rangers.

Early in the '73 season, Epstein was traded to California, where he would wrap up his career in 1974.

While known for his power, Epstein was also good at getting on base despite his low batting average. He walked or was hit by pitches often enough to have an OBP more than 100 points higher than his career average.

Friday, September 30, 2011


The entire starting infield of the Baltimore Orioles was showcased in 1973, as Topps gave them all action shots on their cards. For Andy Etchebarren, however, the picture shows him taking a swing before a road game:

Card #618 -- Andy Ecthebarren, Baltimore Orioles

Andy Etchebarren was the last major leaguer ever to bat against Sandy Koufax. It was during the 1966 World Series, and he hit into a double play to end the inning. The Orioles swept that series, giving him the first of his two rings.

During Earl Weaver's tenure with the team, he and Elrod Hendricks teamed up in a platoon system that helped the O's staff become one of the most dominant in the majors. His influence helped four pitchers (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson) win 20 or more games in 1971, as well as helping his team capture five of the first six American League East divisional titles.

Unlike many who played his position, he was a catcher for every game he played as a major leaguer. His career batting average was low, but he was noted for his patience at the plate, having a much higher on-base percentage than a .235 career hitter would be expected to have.

The California Angels acquired Etchebarren before the 1975 season and he spent three years there and a short four-game stint with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978 before embarking on his next career. By the end of his time with the Angels, he was a player-coach, and continued coaching with the Brewers. He moved his way up the organization and eventually became a bench coach for the team under Tom Trebelhorn. He became a minor league manager in the 1990s and is still managing in the Independent League today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quite a Follow-Through

Only one set of brothers has ever thrown no-hitters in major league history. And they weren't named Niekro, Perry or Reuschel. One of those brothers is this guy:

Card #589 -- Ken Forsch, Houston Astros

Ken Forsch tossed his non-no in 1979, and brother Bob hurled two gems while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bob, however, hadn't made the majors in 1973 and was still two years from having his first baseball card.

For a horizontally-oriented image, this shot is well-positioned, with teh catcher and umpire cropped out. Instead, the photo shows only Forsch and the Giant he's facing. At this moment of the game, those are the only two players that matter.

Forsch pitched with the Astros between 1970 and 1980. He started in the rotation but was moved to the bullpen in 1974. He eventually returned to his spot as a starter in 1979, and thanked his team by tossing that no-hitter early in the season. It was his first start of '79 and the team's second game. He was traded to the California Angels for Dickie Thon in 1981 and remained there until 1984. After not pitching at all in '85, he returned the following year but was released seven weeks into the season. He signed with the Mariners but wasn't able to rise above their AAA ballclub.

Forsch became an executive after his retirement. He has been the assistant GM for the Angels since 1998.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another "WTH?!" Picture

Here's another one of the many "Who is that?!" pictures that appeared in the 1973 Topps baseball card set:

Card #45 -- Ellie Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

The picture shows the catcher getting ready to throw to second. It's not clear whether this is a steal attempt...the other Brewers player behind him indicates a pitcher (the visible "2" on his jersey indicates he's either Skip Lockwood or Bill Parsons) is backing him up at the plate, but the batter is still holding a bat in his hand. Since the umpire's backside takes up a full third of the card, he covers up any clues.

There's one thing for certain. The catcher shown isn't Rodriguez, it appears to be Paul Ratliff. If that's correct, it would be the only card Ratliff would have in the set, since he never had a Topps card since 1971 and played his final major league games the next year. But he's not the guy who we're discussing.

Ellie Rodriguez was one of few Puerto Rican-born catchers of his era. He played for five different teams between 1968 and '76, with the Brewers being his longest stay. He came up as a Yankee, was an original member of the Royals and later caught Nolan Ryan's fourth no-hitter with the Angels. His final season was spent with the Dodgers in 1976.

Ellie Rodriguez went into scouting after his retirement and still performs that task today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good Grief!

Actually, the title of the post ought to read "Good Greif!" On the other hand, it serves as a perfect saying for anybody who happened to be a pitcher for the Padres at that time:

Card #583 -- Bill Greif, San Diego Padres

Baseball has never really seen anything like San Diego's 1972-'73 uniforms. It's a color that isn't easily defined: some (like me) say it looks like hot mustard, others say it looks like something you need to clean out of a cloth baby's diaper. In any case, the Padres weren't a very good team then but were able to say they had a uniform that most resembled a 1970s household appliance.

Bill Greif managed to get the only double-digit wins total of his career in 1973. His ten wins represented a sixth of the Padres' win total that year, but the team's anemic run support helped saddle him with 17 losses as well. Greif never managed a winning season in his career; the closest he came was 1-1 in his rookie season (1971) with the Astros. He was San Diego's Opening day pitcher in '74 and demoted to the bullpen the next year.

Splitting 1976 between the Padres and the Cardinals, Greif sat out the '77 season after failing to make the Expos in Spring Training. In 1978, he signed with the Mets but wasn't able to get any higher than the team's AAA affiliate in Tidewater. That was probably a favor; the 1978 Mets were every bit as bad as the Padres of the early 1970s. That would prove to be his final season in professional baseball.

Fortunately, Greif was able to get some education in. He had attended college at the University of Texas before his major league playing days and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He went on later to pick up a master's degree as well and was involved in real estate after his career was over.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A.L. East Runner-Up

The team pictured here was the second-place team in the American League East, much like they've been for many years recently:

Card #596 -- Boston Red Sox Team Card

First place didn't go the Yankees, however, the Tigers took the division in '72. In '73 the Orioles took the division (as they had every other year since divisional play began) and the Bosox were once again slotted second. That was the end of the line for skipper Eddie Kasko after four years. Despite back-to-back second-place showings and a winning record every season, the Red Sox brass had little use for a manager who couldn't get the team back to the World Series like predecessor Dick Williams. Darrell Johnson took over (and he guided the team to another pennant in '75).

The fabled Yankee-Red Sox rivalry was given a resurgence in 1972. Though it had its moments over the years (the Babe Ruth trade, the Williams/DiMaggio years), the two teams weren't usually both competitive at the same time in recent years. In 1972, the two teams were part of a tight four-team stretch run that inflamed the passions of both players and fans. At the same time, the Munson vs. Fisk dynamic began, Bill Lee was beginning to seem to enjoy beating up on the pinstripers and another trade (Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater) just added fuel to the fire.

The rivalry would need some time to build, however. It would take several more years, a late-season collapse and a well-placed Mike Torrez pitch that Buck Dent sent over the Green Monster to really get the rivalry heated up.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking For Mr. Wright?

Here's another Spring Training shot, with a glove just laying on the ground in the back. Otherwise, he's doing his best to look like the silhouette that appears below him:

Card #578 -- Ken Wright, Kansas City Royals

This would be Ken Wright's third and final appearance on a Topps card. He had joined the Royals in 1970 and served as both a spot starter and set-up reliever. In 1971 and '72, he split his time between the Royals and their AAA affiliate in Omaha.

In 1973, he would end up with his only winning record in the majors (6-5) but was traded with Lou Piniella to the Yankees after the season for Lindy McDaniel. Piniella stayed with the Yankees but Wright would not. He pitched in three games for the club in April and was traded again. This time, he went to Philadelphia but pitched in their minor league system. He never made the majors again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Long, Unfulfilled Wait

As a rookie, this pitcher threw three World Series games, all against Bob Gibson. He won one, lost one and earned a no-decision as the Yankees lost the 1964 Series to the Cardinals. At the time, the Yankees had been in more than half of the previous 40 years' worth of World Series. It was just a matter of time before they returned:

Card #519 -- Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees

It took them 12 years, but Mel Stottlemyre was already retired by then. He did his part to help get them back, with three 20-win seasons and five All-Star game selections, but a torn rotator cuff finished his career in 1974. He was one of the few bright spots on a sometimes dismal Yankee squad in the late 1960s.

The picture on this card shows him taking a warmup pitch in Yankee Staudium. However, he appears to be in the on-deck circle, as a bat can be seen behind his right leg. The Cleveland Indians are already on the field behind him.

After his playing career, he would go on to serve as a pitching coach. With the Mets from 1984-'93, he was there to help Dwight Gooden rattle off some great seasons on the mound and finally won his World Series ring in '86. He would return to the Yankees in 1996, where he would get four more rings that eluded him as a player.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New Skipper is a Familiar Face

In 1972, the Brewers gave their manager job to a man who was well-known to the fans in Milwaukee:

Card #646 -- Del Crandall and Coaches, Milwaukee Brewers

He also appeared on Topps cards as a player every year (except one) from 1952-'66.

Del Crandall was one of the most consistent catchers of the 1950s, beginning when the Braves were still playing in Boston. With Crandall calling the pitches, the Braves' staff (including Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl) was one of the best in the league. The team finished in first or second seven times between 1953 and '60, including two pennants and a World Series title. He also caught three no-hitters in that time period.

After retiring, Crandall turned to managing. His stint in Milwaukee lasted through 1975, and he piloted the Mariners in 1983-'84. Unfortunately, he was placed in charge of teams that had little spark and ended up with a losing career record.

Harvey Kuenn was also well-known to the previous generation of Topps collectors. He and Crandall had briefly teamed up in 1963 with the Giants, but Kuenn was one of the better hitters of the late 1950s, winning the batting title in 1959 and being respected as a batter who could hit well to any part of the field. He was named as the interim manager for the Braves when Crandall was fired in 1975, but he returned to the position in 1982 and led "Harvey's Wallbangers" to the World Series. He passed away in 1988.

Joe Nossek, on the other hand, was a relatively recent player. He had been active from 1964-'70, mainly with the Twins and A's. 1973 was his first year as a major league coach; he would spend 28 years in various dugouts and was known for his skill in picking up opposing teams' signals.

Bronx-born Bob Shaw was a pitcher for several teams between 1957 and '67, including stints with Detroit (where he teamed with Keunn) and the Braves (where Crandell caught him). He served as the pitching coach for the Brewers and was later a manager in the minor leagues. Cancer took Shaw in 2010.

Jim Walton's playing career was confined to the minor leagues, and was managing minor league teams while still in his 20s. He was a new addition to the Brewers' coaching staff in 1973, where he served as the first base coach. Since 1975, he has worked as a scout and a developer of players.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not the Presidential Candidate

One of the things I like about baseball and football cards from the early 1970s is the way many of them explain what players do in the offseason to support their families while the paychecks stop until the next season. Insurance agent, car salesman, was a glimpse into how many had to lead "blue collar" lives before the salaries climbed. This guy, however, was an engineer for GE's research and development for nuclear fuel elements:

Card #519 -- John Edwards, Houston Astros

Too bad the card here doesn't mention that. Instead, it talks about his fielding percentage the past few seasons. Frankly, the "nuclear scientist" thing would have been much more interesting. Apparently, it didn't pay well enough to lure him away from the diamond, but it's nice to have something to fall back on.

The picture is evidently a Spring Training shot, with Jack Hiatt taking his turn inside the batting cage.

Johnny Edwards (which is what his early cards called him) was a star catcher in Cincinnati. He was a rookie during the team's surprise 1961 season, where they propelled into the World Series. He was an All-Star player for three straight years (1963-65). He caught Jim Maloney's no-hitter, as well as another game where Maloney pitched 10 no-hit innings but the Reds lost due to a lack of run support. However, when Johnny Bench was drafted, there wasn't room for any other catchers named Johnny there. He was traded to the Cardinals before the '68 season.

In St. Louis, Edwards was relegated to backup for regular catcher Tim McCarver. He still managed to catch another no-hitter for Ray Washburn that season and made one more World Series appearance. After showing he could be an everyday catcher, the Astros made a trade for him when the '68 season was over. He played 151 games behind the plate in '69, a career high. He was a regular in Houston for four years. In 1973, he shared time with Skip Jutze and played his final season in '74.

Edwards was a solid but unspectacular hitter, but was perhaps one of the best defensive catchers of his day. The fact that he was forced aside due to Johnny Bench's arrival shouldn't detract from his skills.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kenny S.

At the time this card came out, this player was in the middle of a three-year stint in Montreal:

Card #232 -- Ken Singleton, Montreal Expos

Born in New York and a graduate of Hofstra University, Ken Singleton was drafted by the New York Mets and played with them from 1970 to '71. However, he would become a thorn in the side of the other New York team beginning in 1975 when he spent a decade with the Baltimore Orioles.

Singleton played his best baseball during his stint in Baltimore. He always got good OBP numbers, hit around the .300 level frequently and was often one of the top players in plate appearances. He hit 35 home runs as a switch hitter in 1979; at that time, only Mickey Mantle had reached that level in the American League. He was a key part of pennant-winning teams in 1979 and '83, winning the World Series in 1983.

Singleton began a transition from the outfield to DH in 1981, but continued to be a threat with the bat even as age took its toll on his glove. That season, he ran a streak of 10 consecutive hits, a record.

After his retirement in 1984, Singleton returned to the Expos as a broadcaster. He eventually went back to his native New York to handle color commentary and occasional play-by-play for the Yankees.