Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

I decided that New Year's Day was the perfect time to feature the first card of the 1973 Topps set. That was back in 2011, and today is the first day since the that I've had January 1 fall on a regular day when this blog runs an entry. So here it is:

Card #1 -- All-Time Home Run Leaders

This card was also the first of the All-Time Leaders subset, which appears later in the set.

None of the players shown here need much of an introduction. All are Hall of Fame Sluggers and at the time were the only players ever to hit 600 career home runs. Two of the players were still active and within grasping reach of the record. Willie Mays hit six homers and retired after the season, but Hank Aaron smacked 40 to finish with 713 round-trippers.

This was the first of four straight years where Aaron was featured on Topps' #1 card. He had also appeared as a league leader on the #1 card in 1963, so the run of #1 cards put him ahead of Ted Williams for the honor of the most appearances on a first card in the Topps set.

2014 will be the final year of this blog (assuming nothing bad happens to me which forces me to take an extended break). I still have quite a ways to go with the set, however, so so keep coming back to see what I've got planned. Oh, and by the way...once the cards run out, I'll have some more stuff to show. I'll also have a surprise ready as a way of saying "Thanks" for your readership. You'll have to see what that is, but I promise you'll like it.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Statistican

Not a lot of people can say they struck out Willie Mays on their 18th birthday. But this guy could:

Card #375 -- Larry Dierker, Houston Astros

In 1964, Larry Dierker made his debut the same day he turned 18. Taking the mound for what were then called the Houston Colt .45s, he struck out Willie Mays in the first inning. Staying with the team through their name change to the Astros, he remined in Houston through 1976. He was the Astros' fist 20-game winner in 1969 and tossed a no-hitter against the Expos in '76. He pitched one last season in St. Louis before retiring as a player.

Known to many as a smart baseball "numbers" guy, Dierker was a member of SABR and was known to crunch the numbers of the game. He worked as a broadcaster and was also a very successful manager, taking the Astros to the postseason four of the five years he led the club. In 1999, however, he suffered a Grand Mal seizure and missed 27 games while he was unergoing brain surgery to correct the problem.

Fired after the 2001 season, Dierker returned to brodcasting and has written several baseball-related columns and two books about the game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Six-Time Draftee

This guy was drafted five times during his USC collegiate career, and ended up signing with a different team:

Card #387 -- Jim Barr, San Francisco Giants

Jim Barr was a teammate of both Dave Kingman and Bill Lee when he was with Southern California, where he was part of the team that won the 1968 College World Series. He finally signed with San Francisco in 1970 and was playing with them in 1971. By 1972, he was a regular in the starting rotation.

During that 1972 season, he showed that he was a force on the mound by retiring 41 batters in a row (over two starts, but neither was a no hitter). From 1973 through '77, Barr won at least ten games for the Giants. After the '78 season, he signed with the Angels as a free agent and pitched with them until injuries cut short his 1980 season. He was signed to the White Sox for '81, but was unable to get out of the minors. For 1982, he returned to San Francisco and pitched with the Giants through the 1983 season.

After his playing days were over, Barr spent 16 years as the pitching coach at Sacramento State.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Foul" Ball?

I've seemed to neglect a lot of Hall of Famers on this blog lately. It's been six months since the last one was featured. Rest assured, there are plenty of them and I still have some big names left in the set including two rookie cards of Hall of Famers. But, let's toss out one of the more unflattering shots of the entire 1973 Topps set:

Card #380 -- Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds

From another angle, this might have been an excellent picture. Johnny Bench is making a catch of a foul ball. But...(maye that's not the word to use here) Bench's shot is taken from the worst possible angle, showing him from the back. It's been said that he sometimes refuses to sign this card because the photo is so ridiculous. Now, whether that's truth or simply a hobby legend depends on somebody taking this card to Bench at a card signing. And I'm not paying for him to scribble on this card.

I probably don't have to recap Bench's career, as he was one of the biggest stars of his day. He played his entire 17-year career in Cincinnati and led the Reds to back-to-back titles in 1975 and '76. He was a perennial All-Star, getting picked from 1968-'80 and again in 1983, and won every Gold Glove Award from 1968-'77. He was the National League's Most Valuable Player twice, in 1970 and '72. After his career was over, his number 5 was retired by the Reds.

As a rookie, he immediately showed who was the boss. Pitcher Jim Maloney kept shaking him off when he was signaling for a breaking ball because he wanted to throw a fastball. When Bench yelled, "your fastball's lost its pop!", Maloney let out a stream of expletives at the rookie. To prove his point, Bench took off his glove and caught the fastball barehanded. Maloney eventually trusted him enough to throw a no-hitter under his tutelage in 1969.

In my own youth, he was the leader of The Baseball Bunch, where he instructed the kids on the team about baseball fundamentals (along with dozens of his fellow players) and kept the San Diego Chicken in line. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

If It's Tuesday, I Must Be in Oakland...

Since the last two players featured this week were in airbrushed threads, let's just close the week out with one more:

Card #222 -- Rob Gardner, Oakland A's

Ironically, Rob Gardner didn't stay with the A's very long. His contract was purchased in May by the Brewers. It was another in a long line of transactions for the southpaw -- he played with six teams in eight seasons -- and Milwaukee ended up sending him back to the A's that July. He never played in the majors again after that, though.

 Rob Garner came up with the Mets in 1965. From there, his itinerary gets a little bit fuzzy. After the Mets, he was with the Indians, the Cubs, the Yankees, the A's, the Yankees again, the A's again and the Brewers. Add to those tours of duty the trips down to the minors and you have one well-traveled player. He stuck it out in the minors through 1975 before he retired.

One thing that pops up in the long list of transactions is the fact that he was traded twice for different Alou brothers. The two times he was dealt to the A's, he was traded for Felipe and Matty Alou.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Un Hombre Se Llama "Huevo"

For the second entry in a row, Topps had some work to offer its airbrush artist:

Card #381 -- Vicente Romo, San Diego Padres

Vicente Romo was just beginning with the Padres in 1973, after a trade brought him from the White Sox. He came up to the majors in 1968, where he pitched a single inning before being returned to the Cleveland Indians, the team that had originally signed him in 1964. He also pitched for the Red Sox from 1969-'70. A reliever, he stayed in San Diego through 1974 and then went back to Mexico, his native country.

In Mexico, Romo was an unparalleled star. During his U.S. career, he would sometimes go home and pitch, before giving another try in the North. During the 1960s and 70s, he was one of the most feared pitchers in the LMP. He pitched a perfect game in 1967 and amassed a record 182 wins and the all-time lowest ERA in the league. His nickname "Huevo" (meaning "egg") came from the zeros that were racked up on the scoreboard when he pitched.

He did make it back to the majors, pitching for the Dodgers again in 1982. He then returned again to Mexico, where he played into his 40s. He was inducted into that country's Hall of Fame equivalent in 1992 and is still considered one of the legends of the sport there.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Man Called "Fly Rod"

This guy's cap is an obvious airbrush job:

Card #74 -- Billy Champion, Milwaukee Brewers

Until 1972, Billy Champion had spen his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he debuted in 1969. The Phillies weren't a great team at the time, and Champion's overall record with the team was 12-31 during the four seasons he spent with the team. When he was traded to the Brewers, it may have seemed like a lateral move, but he was able to have a couple of quality seasons there. In four years there, he actually had a winning record with the team.

Champion was largely employed as a "swing man," alternating from the starting rotation to a mop-up role in relief. Not a really efficient strikeout artist, he managed one really good season in 1974, going 11-4 on a staff that was fairly mediocre.

Champion became a scout for the Cubs after his retirement, and a pitching coach after that.