Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, which really should be a day where we stop and remember the sacrifices often called upon some of our fellow citizens in the name of preserving our way of life. Though I don't use this blog as a forum for political stuff, I am a veteran (U.S. Army, 1990-'92) and have a very strong feeling that anybody who willingly spends part of his or her life handing a blank check to the U.S. Government for any amount up to and including their life should be given their due.

So today's card shows a player who not only served his country during wartime but carried a physical reminder of that service with him:

Card #322 -- Garry Maddox, San Francisco Giants

This is Garry Maddox's first appearance on a Topps baseball card. However, before he ever wore a major league baseball uniform, he wore an olive-colored uniform for the U.S. Army for 1970-'71 and was sent to Vietnam. While over there, he was exposed to chemicals which made his face sensitive. As a result, he wore a beard to protect his face. While the photo on the card shows that he was shaving some around 1972, Maddox soon grew a full beard and keeps it to this day.

Like many former soldiers who brought their wartime experiences back home, Maddox went back to the job he was doing before his draft number came up. From 1972-'75 he roamed centerfield for the Giants until he was dealt to Philadelphia. With the Phillies, Maddox became a tremendous asset. He won the first of his eight Gold Glove awards that year and helped the team as it rose from its two-decade slump to become a solid contender in the late 1970s. In 1980, he helped win the pennant with both his bat (a 10th-inning single that scored the winning run of the deciding game against the Astros) and his glove (by catching the final out of the NLCS). He would retire in 1986 after five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 Series title. He's still active around Philadelphia.

While doing some research, I discovered Maddox was named to the 1972 Topps All-Star Rookie team, but was one of four players whose trophy was left off the card.

So, this Memorial Day, remember those around you who've spent time in uniform. While it's a day where we generally remember those who never made it back home, there's no problem with showing appreciation to those who did.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The "Iron Horse" Rides Again!

 Despite having many current players to choose from, Topps also added some retired Hall of Famers as an "All-Time Leaders" subset.

Card #472 - Lou Gehrig, All Time Leader

Look at that number for a moment. 23 Grand Slams. Twenty-three. Say what you want about the fact that Cal Ripken needed 56 years to break Gehrig's consecutive games mark, but the fact that nobody's been able to eclipse his grand slam record despite the fact that so many more balls seem to be traveling out of the ballpark nowadays is amazing. While it's possible to say his mark was helped by his years in the famed Murderer's Row and the fact opposing pitchers often had little choice but to pitch to him, 71 years holding an all-time standard is tremendous. Among active players, Manny Ramirez has 21 and Alex Rodriguez 18, so the mark may be within reach.

Among the All-time marks celebrated in the 1973 Topps set, many have fallen in the years since. While some may remain unbreakable due to changes in the game (Cy Young's total victories, Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average) it's interesting to see one still around that many have likely assumed had long since fallen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"King Kong," the Big Swinger

How big was Dave Kingman? Nicknamed "King Kong" and standing 6' 6", it's a given he was a big man...but look at the picture on his 1973 Topps card and you can't help but wonder just how big:

Card #23 - Dave Kingman, San Franciso Giants

For a man who was well-known for swinging a big bat, the one in this picture certainly looks really small in his hands. Perhaps it's merely an optical illusion.

Kingman had started out as a pitcher but converted to a position player during his college years at USC. 1973 saw Kingman take the mound for the Giants twice, finishing both games. 1977 saw Kingman play in all four divisons in Major League Baseball. His home run totals actually improved as he got older; in four of his final five seasons, he hit at least 30 round-trippers. However, he was also striking out an awful lot. Pitchers were obviously taking their chances with him but he had become a one-weapon player.

Though Kingman has his Cooperstown fan club, he was never considered a serious contender for the Hall of Fame. In fact, he became the first-ever player with more than 400 lifetime homers to be denied induction.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Look! Up in the Sky! Is it a Bird?

Sometimes an action shot shows a lot more than it really needs to.

Card #307 - Boots Day, Montreal Expos

Looks like Boots is caught in a rundown between two Giants. The catcher appears to be Dave Rader and the infielder is Giant second sacker Tito Fuentes. But Fuentes flipping Day off? It certainly looks like it.

Since Boots day is wearing an Expos road uniform, we know the picture was taken at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Thanks to, we know that Day only played in five games there in 1972. And on June 29, he was caught stealing in the seventh inning. Looks like Fuentes was letting him know  -- without having to worry about whether it needed to be in French, English or Tito's native Spanish -- that Boots Day is #1 on his list. And that he's out.

Lastly...check out the old batting cage in the background. That's the thing that looks like a cross between a kids' jungle gym and the front of a B52 bomber. I was watching the Billy Crystal-directed film 61* the other day. At the first part of the movie, the characters playing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper) were taking their shots at batting practice under a canopy that looked exactly like that one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Oh, Where Have You Gone, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

One of the neat things tried in the 1973 Topps set was the team manager cards. While managers normally had their own cards during the late 1960s and early '70s, for 1973 they were joined by their coaching staffs. While not entirely new (Topps had cards of team coaches in 1960), the coaching staff had never shared a card with the skipper on a Topps baseball card before.

Card #323, Billy Martin, Detroit Tigers

Here's a picture of Billy Martin standing in front of a batting cage. The player behind him is fuzzy but appears to be wearing a Yankee home uniform. This time Topps was smart enough to show Martin from the neck up after he slipped in a middle finger on his 1972 card.

Martin was one of the more volatile managers of his era. He drew from the same fire he used as a player to motivate his men. While his methods were often very successful, they were also divisive. He feuded with players, owners and fans. He was accused of wearing out young pitchers and dogging veterans he felt were "mailing it in." He took the Twins and Tigers to division titles. Later, he put the Texas Rangers in contention, brought the Oakland A's back from its late 70s decline and managed the Yankees five different times.

Of course, Billy Martin's coaching staff wouldn't be complete without his ever-present pitching coach Art Fowler. Charlie Silvera was one of his Yankee teammates in the 1950s, while Dick Tracewski had been a Tiger player until he retired in '69 and began a second career as a coach. All three of these coaches are still alive as of this writing.

But wait...something's not right. The coach with the missing name is Joe Schultz. He had played parts of nine seasons between 1939 and '48, mostly with the St. Louis Browns. Schultz came from a baseball family, with his father (also named Joe Schultz) playing from 1912-'25 and two cousins, Frank and Hans Lobert, also playing during the pre-World War One era. Schultz would be the first and only manager of the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and would succeed Billy Martin in August of '73 as Tigers skipper.

Sadly, Schultz died in 1996. And Martin was killed in a pickup truck accident on Christmas Day 1989. It's rumored that he was preparing for his sixth chance at managing the Yankees.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Series Heroics

Last time,I showed a card that was supposed to show Joe Rudi but ended up featuring Gene Tenace. This time, the card still shows the A's catcher but at least he gets credit:

Card #206 - '72 World Series, Game 4

This card is from the postseason subset that covers both leagues' Championship Series and the World Series. Right there in blue Helvetica font, the card mentions that Tenace hit a single in the fourth game of the World Series. However, it really doesn't cover the importance of that single. Fortunately, there's to fill in the details.

It was the bottom of the ninth. Reds are winning, 2-1. Gene Tenace comes to the plate with one out and pinch hitter Gonzalo Marquez had just gotten a single. As Tenace made his way to the plate, Sparky Anderson pulled Pedro Borbon for Clay Carroll. All Carroll needs is a ground out and the game is over. Instead of the hoped for groundball, Tenace lines the ball to left and gets aboard. Two more pinch hitters come through for the A's. Don Mincher replaces Dick Green and hits another single, scoring the runner from second, and is himself substituted for "Blue Moon" Odom to pinch-run, while Angel Mangual pinch-hits for pitcher Rollie Fingers and hits a ground ball. As Tenace steps on home, the A's have won the game in dramatic fashion and take the Series lead 3-1.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where's Waldo? The Joe Rudi Edition

In previous posts, I've mentioned how the horizontal format Topps used on some of its 1973 baseball cards has been both good and bad. And then there's stuff like this card:

Card #360 - "Joe Rudi," Oakland A's

Yes, I placed quotation marks around Joe Rudi's name.

There's a lot of stuff going on in this picture. It appears Gene Tenace has just scored, perhaps after hitting a long shot. He's flanked by two of his teammates giving congratulations, while the opposing team's catcher looks toward the mound. To the left, an umpire stands by waiting to resume game play. Out of the five people shown in the photo before the seemingly sold-out crowd, none of them is actually Joe Rudi.

Tenace only hit five homers in ' if it actually was a deep shot it's pretty easy to determine which game the picture was taken, thanks to On June 25, 1972 the A's and Angels played a doubleheader at the Oakland Coloseum. In the second game, Tenace hit a home run during the second inning with Bill Voss and Sal Bando aboard. The three-run shot was the first score of the contest and would be all the A's needed as they ended up winning 6-0. Since the A's in the photo are wearing their home uniforms, the catcher appears to have a red bill on his cap (like the Angels), this may be the game. Voss is the guy to the left of Tenace and Marty Martinez -- who batted behind Tenace in the lineup that day -- is holding a bat. The catcher is Art Kusnyer and the ump would be Larry Barnett. None of the other players shown on the card besides Tenace would have his own 1973 Topps card.

Anyhow...back to the guy who was supposed to be on this card...

Not recognizing Rudi when it came time to pick the photo for his card is hard to understand. After all, he'd just come off a great season in 1972, helping lead his team to a World Championship and being second place to Dick Allen for that year's MVP award. He would remain with the A's through its dynasty but was involved in a bizarre deal in 1976. His contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox (along with that of teammate Rollie Fingers) but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn would veto the deal and return the players to the A's. Rudi would finally play for the Red Sox in 1981, after four seasons with the Angels and before returning to Oakland for a final season in '82.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Was He That Much of a "Dick"?

While Topps' decision to use more game-action shots was a great way to breathe some life into cards that had often become stale with closeup pictures (often without baseball caps) or generic poses that were obviously done so the photographer could get his shot quickly and let the player go back to his own job.

But sometimes you had to wonder what certain players did to deserve some of the shots that ended up on their cards in 1973. Take a look at this card of Dick Green:

Card #456 - Dick Green, Oakland A's

Is this the best picture Topps could find of Green to put on his baseball card? A blown play at second base? Really? It almost makes you wonder whether Green hit on the photographer's wife or tried to trip him as he was walking around the field.

In all seriousness, Green was known as a skilled fielder. His glove likely kept him on the team for a few years as his hitting declined. Despite an injury that kept him off the field for half of the '72 season, he returned as the regular A's second baseman for two more years before retiring. Those last seasons would earn him all three of his World Series rings and Green played every single game during all of those postseasons. That's going out with a bang.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oh, "Brother"...

Joe Niekro was more than just the little brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. He was a solid pitcher in his own right, winning 221 games over a 22-season career. The knuckleball-throwing brothers won a combined 539 games, making them the brother tandem with the most wins in major league history. From 2003-'07, his son Lance Niekro played for the San Francisco Giants.

Here's the younger Niekro brother posing for the Topps photographer:

Card 585 - Joe Niekro, Detroit Tigers

Yes, the word "Tigers" is missing from my card, along with a nice chunk of the paper. The team designation wasn't needed for long though, because Joe joined his brother in Atlanta that summer when the Braves picked him up on waivers. Not surprisingly, the image was taken in New York, Topps' home city. The picture is a nice shot of the old upper deck facade at Yankee Stadium before it was removed in the 1974-'75 renovation.

One of my favorite Joe Niekro facts: he hit the only home run of his big league career on May 29, 1976. The blast came off his brother.

Joe Niekro passed away on October 27, 2006. He was 61.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Play at the Plate

One of the quirks of the 1973 Topps set's layout is the way some cards are oriented horizontally to accommodate the action shots the company hoped would breathe some life into them. Considering the bland presentation of many 1960s Topps cards -- especially those with capless players who looked more like your Uncle George than a professional baseball player -- anything that would mix it up was welcome.

However, the horizontal cards didn't always show the best sides of players. Some had several extra people, a lot of butt shots and occasionally the person whose name on the card was shown so far away you had to guess which one it was. Some of the shots turned out to be nice. Here's one of the good ones:

Card #302 - Terry Crowley, Baltimore Orioles

Terry Crowley is heading home. Waiting on the relay is Yankee catcher Thurman Munson. The ball can be seen on the right side of the picture and Crowley is clearly ready for a collision. You know it's going to be close and can't help but wonder who won the battle. Fortunately, there are websites that can help answer that.

Thanks to the magic of, it appears the picture was taken in a Yankees/Orioles game on June 29th, 1972. Since Munson is in pinstripes, it can be safely assumed the game was at Yankee Stadium. Crowley only played three games in New York that season and two of them ended without him reaching first. However, on June 29th he made three plate appearances, walking twice and scoring twice. If this info is correct, Crowley was likely safe at home on the play.

Terry Crowley was a pinch hitter utility player who took several positions, filling in wherever he was needed in the outfield or at first base. 1973 would be the last season in his first tour of duty with the Orioles. After playing in the 1975 World Series for the Reds and a half season in Atlanta, he was back with the O's in 1976 and played with the team through 1982.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Keeping Track...

Checklists are often one of the poor castoffs from the cards put out each year. Though technically a part of the set with their own card numbers, they're either used for their intended purpose -- keeping track of which cards the owner has from the set -- or often tossed away. They usually don't show players, they're often dull and nobody ever wants to trade them for anything decent. Look at this poor card, for instance:

Card #588 - Checklist 5

I'm guessing its original owner was doing a lot of trading. While some of the boxes have been marked, others have been erased, indicating that the card was no longer in that collector's possession. In my case, the marks were fortunate (I ended up getting a great deal on the card since it was damaged) but it shows some of the abuse checklist cards received at the hands of those who wanted nothing more than to mark them up.

Actually, I'd assume that a checklist with all the boxes filled in would be a sign that the collector was happy indeed, as he (or she) had finished the series. That's why this card seems to be so sad...the collector never completed it. Fear not, little and your other 659 buddies are all back together in my binder, and I'm not going to subject you to any more ink stains.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Playing in a Used Car Lot?

One of the charms of the 1973 Topps baseball set is the fact that so many cards are oriented horizontally to accommodate the action shots the company used that year. While many of the long shots showed too many people, sometimes they would show too much background. Take this card, for example:

Card #627 - Luis Alvarado, Chicago White Sox

From the way the dirt shows up at the bottom and little grass is seen, it almost appears a couple of guys are playing a pickup game on a municipal dirt lot or some clearing next to a parking lot. You can't help but love the way all those cards are American gas-guzzlers back in the days before the Oil Embargo and the coming energy crisis. This was Alvarado's fourth Topps card out of five and his second straight in the high-numbered series. He played parts of nine different seasons between 1968 and '77 for six different clubs. As a utility infielder, he was often called in to games to give the starter some rest. Sadly, Alvarado passed away in 2001 in his hometown of Lajas, Puerto Rico. He was 52.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lefty and El Tiante

With those nicknames, they could've been a couple of bandits on horseback in the Old West of 1872. However, they're the pitchers who won league ERA titles in 1972. What a difference one hundred years makes.

Today's featured card from the 1973 Topps set is from the subset of league leaders. Two of the better pitchers I remember from my youth are featured together:

Card #65 - 1972 ERA Leaders (Carlton, Tiant)

Steve Carlton had a phenomenal 1972 season. Going 27-10 is amazing, but winning 27 games for a last-place team that only won 59 all season is even more of a feat. As a way of understanding how overpowering he was that year, he led the National League in complete games (a lost art in today's game), strikeouts, innings pitched and ERA. Baseball-Reference shows he actually had a 1.97 ERA that year, so perhaps there was a revision to the record or Topps' calculator didn't carry a number over. Plus, he walked only 87 batters in his 346 and 1/3 innings that year, an average of about one every four innings. He certainly deserved his first Cy Young Award that year.

As for Luis Tiant, his season wasn't as huge as Carlton's, even though he had a better ERA. Splitting the season between the BoSox rotation and the bullpen, he was a big performer on a team that was in the pennant race to the end of the season (the Sox lost the division to the Tigers by only half a game). Throughout 1972, "El Tiante" was en fuego, ending up as the only Red Sox pitcher with an ERA below 3.00.

Most pitchers consider a sub-3.00 ERA to be an achievement, so the final tallies shown here are quite impressive. What's even more impressive is the fact that since 1972, there has never been a season where both league leaders have ended up with ERAs below 2.00.