Monday, January 31, 2011

A "Pat" on the Back...

Mutton chop sideburns? Check. Wild 70s hairstyle? Check. Palm trees in the background? Check.

Card #34 -- Pat Dobson, Baltimore Orioles

I can't figure out whether Dobson is trying to look intense for his card, or if he's just annoyed to be dealing with the photographer. The cartoon on the back of this card is interesting. It says, "Pat suffered a broken toe in 1969." As if there are people who otherwise would have enjoyed it.

A member of the 1968 World Champion Tigers, Pat Dobson is perhaps best known to baseball fans as one of the four pitchers on the 1971 Baltimore Orioles staff to win 20 games. However, he followed those 20 wins up with an American League-leading 18 losses in '72 and the Orioles traded him to Atlanta after the season. He split the '73 season with the Braves and Yankees and won another 19 games in '74. Then another subpar year in '75 landed him in Cleveland, where Dobson finished his career in 1977.

At the time this card came out, Pat Dobson had a 61-61 lifetime record. He would add another 61 wins to that total before he finished. Sadly, he passed away in 2006 from leukemia.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Nice New Cap

Airbrushed or not? I think it's real, but the cap looks really nice either way:

Card #543 -- Alan Foster, California Angels

Foster appears to be wearing an Angels jersey -- you can see the top of the "G" on his jersey --so it's definitely not an old picture from his time with the Tribe in '71 or his '67-'70 stint in Dodger blue. The stats on the back do mention that he spent most of '72 at Salt Lake City, so this photo likely came from Spring Training as there's little chance Topps got his picture during the time he pitched his eight games in relief for the team in 1972.

As it turned out, 1972 would be Alan Foster's only year with the Halos. He was sold to the Cardinals just as the season was getting ready to begin. So despite being part of the final series that year, Topps didn't seem to be worried about getting an airbrush artist busy getting Foster into a St. Louis uniform. 1973 was his best year in the majors, seeing Foster moving to the starting rotation and getting his first winning record. He pitched for two years with them and finished up with the Padres between 1975-'76.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Catching" Up With the New Guys

All three of these guys would have more Topps cards. In fact, one of them would have his sons on their own Topps cards a generation later.

Card #613 -- 1973 Rookie Catchers

Bob Boone was a legacy. His father was Ray Boone, who had been an infielder with the Indians and Tigers, among others, between 1948 and '60. He played 19 seasons, mainly with the Phillies and the Angels. While not known for his batting, he was among the finest defensive catchers of his era. He was a key member of the Phillies' 1980 World Series champions and helped lead the Angels to two AL West titles in the 1980s. He would go on to manage, and also raised two major league sons: Aaron and Bret Boone.

Skip Jutze wasn't in the majors anywhere near as long as Boone was. After a short stint with the Cardinals in '72 (hence the airbrushed cap), he was able to start 78 games for the Astros in 1973. That would be his most productive year, though. He was a part-timer through '76 and played his final season as an original member of the Seattle Mariners in 1977.

Mike Ivie had already appeared on a Topps card in 1972 but hadn't yet shed the rookie label. In fact, he never played in the majors in 1972 or '73. He wasn't destined to make the majors as a catcher, so he switched to the infield and became a successful first baseman and third baseman beginning in 1974. He spent most of his career with the Padres and Giants, finishing with Detroit in '83.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wait, Who?!

It's okay if you look at this player and say, "Who?" You definitely won't be alone:

Card #366 -- Brock Davis, Milwaukee Brewers

Brock Davis was a member of the Houston Colt .45s in 1963. He didn't see much action with the team in short stints with that club that year, in '64 or '66 (when they had become the Astros). He saw a few at-bats with the Cubs in 1970 and finally saw some real major league action in 1971. He was traded to the Brewers before the '72 season and stayed with the parent club the entire season for the only time in his career. However, he was mainly a utility player that year and was back in the minors for good until 1975. So, this card showed up after his final major league game.

He only managed to hit a single home run in his major league career, which was in that first tryout in Houston back in 1963.

Davis appeared on four Topps cards. His first was in 1963 (he shared a Rookie Stars cards with Willie Stargell), followed by a semi-hi number in 1971 (another Rookie Stars card). He finally got a card to himself in 1972, and this '73 would be his final card.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A "Hand" to Count On

This photo is interesting if only because of what you don't see:

Card #398, Rich Hand, Texas Rangers

There's Rich Hand on the mound, Bert Campaneris at the plate...but the ball isn't in the picture. Either it's taken a wide arc or Campaneris simply didn't swing at it. While a shadow is seen that is likely the umpire, this is another picture that shows no other player on the field. I've mentioned before that I like that, since this moment is between the pitcher and batter. The photo would be better with a visible baseball in it, though.

Rich Hand was coming off his finest season in 1972. It was the only year he would see double-digit win totals and was the top ace of the staff. However, his 10 wins were matched with 14 losses. He had the second-highest strikeout total of the '72 Rangers with 108...but walked almost as many (103) as he whiffed. 1973 would be Hand's last in the majors. He was traded to the Angels that May (and appeared on a 1974 Topps card with them), but spent all of '74 in the minors before calling it a career.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That's a Lot of Bases to Step On

While baseball fans watched as Hank Aaron chased another, better-known record in '73, few may have noticed that he set a new all-time record in '72:

Card #473 -- Hank Aaron, All-Time Total Bases Leader

Late in the season, he surpassed Stan Musial's record of 6,134 total bases. He ended up retiring with 6,856 in all, and still holds the record today. The Top 10 list on the back has been assaulted by players like Carl Yastrzemski and George Brett, Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken and Pete Rose, with Barry Bonds finishing in 4th place. The card's #10 player was Honus Wagner, who now sits at #22 all-time.

The active leader is Alex Rodriguez, who now has 5,043 and would have to maintain his average yearly production for about another six years to break the mark. It's too early to say whether that will happen, but it's probably safe to say that this is a record that Aaron will likely own for quite a while. The next active player under the age of 35 on the all-time list is Albert Pujols, who has 3,580 total bases.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Man Called "Motormouth"

Like Mickey Rivers last week, I remember this guy more for his role with the Yankees in the late 1970s:

Card #528 -- Paul Blair, Baltimore Orioles

Of course, Paul Blair was a platoon player and late-innings replacement by that time, but his value to the Yankees at the time was larger than what his numbers may have shown. His nickname "Motormouth" came from his talkative nature, but when he was at his peak, his glove could do quite a bit of talking all by itself.

However, before helping the Yankees in their mini-dynasty years, he was a regular on a very good Orioles team that was in the postseason six times between 1966 and 1974. He possessed great speed, which allowed him to play shallow in the outfield and still get to balls that were hit deep. That skill earned him eight Gold Glove awards, including consecutive awards from 1969 and '75. During the 1973 season, he was elected to his second and last All-Star game.

Despite being an integral part of those powerhouse teams, Blair seemed to be footnotes in several great moments that involved others. In 1969, he would be the first batter to face Nolan Ryan in what turned out to be the only World Series game in his career...and hit a ball that was memorably caught by Tommie Agee. During his Yankee days, he was sent into the outfield during a game against the Red Sox in 1977 by Billy Martin, which then led to a televised confrontation in the dugout between Martin and the guy Blair replaced, Reggie Jackson.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Now THAT is Noticeable...

This card looks a little off.

While the condition may leave a lot to be desired, the picture on this card is a real eyesore:

Card #587 -- Rich McKinney, Oakland A's

Let's look past the fact that Rich McKinney looks a little bit like Owen Wilson here. This photo is such an obvious airbrush job, it refuses to let me flip through my 1973 binder without stopping to look at it again. The green color is wrong, and so is the perspective of the logo on his cap. Even a six-year old kid with crayons may have been able to do a better job here.

Rick McKinney had spent the '72 season with the Yankees after two with the White Sox. He was traded after the season as part of the deal that brought Matty Alou to the Bronx. He was used only sparingly in Oakland, spread out over several positions and at DH but never being more than a part-time player. After several trips to the minors and short trials with the club through 1977, McKinney was out of the game. He never managed to appear on another Topps card after 1973, nor did he get into any of the A's postseason series.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Playing the Field Since 1876

...and unable to win it all since 1908.

(My sincere apologies to the Wrigley Faithful.)

The National League began play in 1876 with eight teams. Over the years, the original teams moved around or went insolvent. Less than 100 years later, this was the only one of those teams still playing in its original city:

Card #464 -- Chicago Cubs Team Card

Their beginnings actually predated the National League. Just as that league was built from the ashes of the collapse of the National Association in 1875,  Chicago's franchise was founded by William Hulbert in 1871. They were on track to win the 1871 pennant when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the ballpark, incinerated all the team's possessions and kept them from playing again until 1874. So, the team was literally raised from the ashes itself.

In 1876, they were called the Chicago White Stockings. They won the very first pennant that year and were a dynasty in the early years of the game. They went through another dynasty era at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, after their 1908 team won the World Series...well, let's just say time has been frequently cruel to those who have rooted for the team since.

While many of those years have been marked by bad teams, there have been a few times where the team got close enough to win a title for their fans, only to lose in ways that have tested the tremendous size of those fans' hearts and stomachs. In 1969, they were a team of destiny...until another team decided to take that title for themselves. In 1984, a new generation of bleacher bums suffered through a tremendous season that ended in heartbreak (for them; fans of the Padres have much better memories). Then there was 2003.

As of right now, the Cubs still haven't even made it to the World Series since the end of World War Two. Their fans deserve to see them get there, however. While other fans of long-time drought teams like the White Sox and Red Sox celebrated their championship seasons, it went little noticed that the Cubs had been waiting even longer.

This team photo features the 1972 team. They finished with their best record since 1969; however, this time they weren't in the heat of the race, finishing in second but 11 games behind Pittsburgh. They began the season with Leo Durocher as manager but fired him midseason. The team began to systematically dismantle the veterans from the '69 season and the '73 Cubs finished below .500, setting the standard for the club for the rest of the decade and into the next. The Cubs didn't have another winning season until 1984.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A "Quick" Post Today

As a young fan of the New York Yankees during the late 1970s, I definitely remember this guy:

Card #597 -- Mickey Rivers, California Angels

The photo here seems to be a little overexposed. It also looks like it was taken at the same session that produced his 1972 Topps card. The poles that rise to the left of his head support the halo at Anaheim Stadium that made for some really great '72 Topps cards like this one.

"Mick the Quick" had begun playing with the Angels in 1970 and was still a part-timer when this photo was taken. He finally became the team's starting center fielder in '74 and showed his speed by winning the league's stolen base crown the following year. After that, he was traded to the Yankees for the '76 season and responded with a career year. He would spend three full seasons in the Bronx, and each year ended with a World Series appearance. In 1979, he was traded to the Texas Rangers and remained with them until 1984. When he retired, Rivers had a respectable .295 career average.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It May Still Be Winter, But it's "May" in Our Hearts

Dressed up in his black warm-up jacket, Milt May looks like he's just a little intense here:

Card #529 -- Milt May, Pittsburgh Pirates

Or maybe he's just annoyed that the darned photographer is keeping him from taking pitches during Spring Training. What is noticeable, though, it May's name written onto the tongue of his shoe. It begs the question about whether some wiseguy ever asked him what he did with the cleats when June rolled around.

At the time, Milt May had been the backup catcher to Manny Sanguillen since entering the league in 1970. Sadly, tragedy struck the Pirates after the '72 season when Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash. As a result, Sanguillen was named to replace his old friend in right field and May was slated to become the regular catcher. Unfortunately, Sanguillen couldn't adapt as well to his new position and went back behind the plate. May was placed back in his backup role and would be traded to Houston after the '73 season. Since the Astros needed a starting catcher, May settled right in to the role. He only spent two years there, but was placed into the record books during his time there. While many know Bob Watson was credited with scoring the millionth run in baseball history, it was Milt May who drove him in by knocking a three-run homer. 

In 1976, May was traded to Detroit, where he would play through 1979. Further stints with the White Sox, Giants and Pirates (again) would follow before May retired in 1984. He later became a coach, hitting instructor and scout for several major league clubs.

May's father was former major league player Merrill May, who was one of three players nicknamed "Pinky" in the 1941 Play Ball set. That set's use of nicknames as part of the card was neat, but "Pinky" doesn't seem to be a manly name for an athlete, let alone three of them in a 72-card set.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If You Can't Say Anything Nice...

There's the old saying that if you can't say something nice about somebody, it's better to simply say nothing at all. So, when researching this guy:

Card # 559 -- Barry Lersch, Philadelphia Phillies

Wikipedia has two paragraphs on Barry Lersch. The longer one explains a game he pitched in the minors. Baseball-Reference shows that he was among the league leaders in losses, home runs allowed and walks per 9 innings. Yikes. 1973 was his last year with the '74, he would pitch one game for the Cardinals. After 1 and a third innings, three hits, five walks, six runs allowed and a 40.50 ERA, his baseball career was over.

I'm reminded of what Topps legend Sy Berger had to say about writing biographies of some players: "What am I supposed to say...This guy stinks?"

Fortunately, the picture gives me a little bit to run with. Taken at Candlestick Park, it shows Lersch delivering a shot to a Giants batter (Chris Speier?). The ball is shown over the batting helmet, which makes an interesting image over the reflected light. Judging from Lerch's record, I'm going to guess that this batter wasn't exactly quaking in his cleats, but it's a nice shot anyway.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Man Called "No Neck"

Walt Williams was known as "No Neck" because of his muscular frame and short (5' 6") stature. That's not as evident in this photo, which shows him turning his head:

Card #297 -- Walt Williams, Cleveland Indians

However, there's a problem, and it isn't Williams' fault at all. It's Topps': the "S" from his old White Sox jersey is still showing despite an airbrushed Tribe cap.

Walt Williams originally came up for a short trial with the Colt .45s in 1964. However, he was soon placed on waivers and claimed by the Cardinals. By the time he made it back to the majors in 1967, he had been traded to the White Sox, where he spent most of his career. After the '72 season (as shown on this card) he was traded to Cleveland but only stayed there for '73. Two more years followed with the Yankees and then another two in Japan before he called it a career.

Among baseball fans, he may be best known for his nickname. With card collectors, he is remembered for appearing as one of the few current players in Brendan Boyd & Fred Harris's The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubblegum Book. As for the caption under his 1969 Topps referred to his nickname.