Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stop and Look at These Numbers For a Moment

Here's a glimpse into a different era:

Card #62 -- 1972 Home Run Leaders

It seemed like only a few years ago this card was a wonder to behold. In the wake of an increased number of home runs, it seemed odd to see that somebody could actually lead a league with 37 or 40 of them. And this wasn't a "live ball" era drought...Graig Nettles managed to win the A.L. home run title in 1976 when he hit 32, without anything holding him back like a strike or adjustments to the pitcher's mound. In fact, nobody in the American League could get 40 dingers in any season from 1971-'78, even with the introduction of the designated hitter. That's a big difference from the gaudy home run totals we saw between 1987 and 2007 (when MLB stopped looking away from alleged steroid activities).

Thanks in part to their home run totals, both Bench and Allen were named league MVPs for 1972, which meant they would be joined together again on a 1975 Topps card (the link is to another blog covering one specific Topps Set...Night Owl's great '75 blog).

Monday, June 28, 2010

" A Little More to the Right..."

Despite using more action photos for its 1973 baseball card set, occasionally Topps would revert to its old form and show a posed shot. Here's one of them:

Card #18 -- Leroy Stanton, California Angels

While it's good to look like you're waiting for your pitcher to make his delivery, perhaps standing next to the dugout isn't exactly wise. After all, if the batter hits the ball to him, it's foul anyway, and if he runs to the right he may fall.

While that seems like a rookie mistake, Stanton had been in the majors since 1970. After a couple of years with the Mets, he was one of four players traded to California in exchange for Jim Fregosi. Since one of the other players given up was Nolan Ryan, it's remembered as one of the worst blunders the Mets have made (admittedly, a long list...but I digress). During his five seasons in the Angels outfield he made a name as a steady and dependable if not necessarily outstanding player. On July 10, 1973 he would launch three home runs against the Orioles. The third blast was a 10th inning score that would be the game-winning hit. Amazingly, those three homers in one day were more than what Stanton had accumulated up to that point (he ended the season with 8 round-trippers).

After being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 1976 Expansion Draft, Stanton would finish his career there in 1978. His last regular Topps card was among the ones I pulled from some of my first wax packs in 1979.

Friday, June 25, 2010

It Was So Big...(How Big Was it?)

Considering Match Game was one of the most popular game shows of 1973, might as well give it a tip of the hat in the title.

In a week of firsts, might as well continue the string. Monday, I showed my first blue-bordered checklist. The first active Yankees player appeared on Wednesday. Today, I show my first catcher:

Card #73 -- Ed Herrmann, Chicago White Sox

Just look at the size of the glove he's wearing. It looks huge. While obviously an optical illusion caused by the two-dimensional nature of photography and the angle of the camera, it still looks like the mitt is big enough to catch anything Wilbur Wood or Stan Bahnsen tossed his way and with enough padding to keep his hand from hurting when Rich Gossage was on the mound.

According to, Herrmann was among the league leaders at his position in 1973. He was among the Top 5 catchers in games played, putouts and assists. However, he also led the league in passed balls (so much for the size of his glove) and stolen bases against him.

Searching for information on Herrmann is a little complicated because there is an award-winning actor named Edward Herrmann. However, this Ed Herrmann was the grandson of Marty Herrmann, who pitched the final inning for the Brooklyn Robins on July 10, 1918, facing four batters and only allowing one walk.

Herrmann was sold to the New York Yankees in 1975 to DH and back up Thurman Munson. In return, the White Sox received cash and four players, none of whom ever made it past the minors. That season was followed up by stops in California, Houston and Montreal before he was released in 1978.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The End of an "Era"

Since beginning this blog, I've shown several cards and told quite a few stories, but it came to my attention that I have missed showing any Yankee players. That made me think...I mentioned Thurman Munson, but that was on Terry Crowley's card. Billy Martin's been here as well but as a Tigers manager. Lou Gehrig has been featured, but he was one of the All-Time Record Holders.

So, that's right, I haven't yet actually featured a current Yankee player from 1973. That changes today:

Card #198 - Horace Clarke, New York Yankees

While having an era of your team's history named after a player can be quite an honor, in Horace Clarke's case it's not very flattering. Starting at shortstop and then moving to second when Bobby Richardson retired, he was a regular player during a long stretch of time where the Yankees weren't quite the dynasty they had been for four decades. In fact, the pennants dried up after 1964, the year before Clarke played his first game in pinstripes. When the Yankees finally returned to the postseason in 1976, Horace Clarke had already left the team. Therefore, this 12-year "dark period" in Yankee history is sometimes called The Horace Clarke Era by fans.

But don't let that little fact sway your opinion of Clarke. Clarke wasn't at fault for an anemic Yankees team; the fact of the matter was that the New York Yankees were bought by CBS after they lost the 1964 World Series. Between its new corporate ownership, aging of the stars who'd been such great performers in the past, the arrival of the major league draft (instead of the individual contracts worked out before 1965) all mixed to compound the team's bad luck. 

While Horace Clarke wasn't necessarily gifted with a bat, he still managed to break up three no-hitter bid during the ninth inning in a four-week span in 1970. Despite being tagged as a fielder afraid to turn a double play in fear of being spiked (even though he was rarely knocked down on those plays), he was good enough to be a major league starter for several years. Roy White said he was the type of player who was always ready to take the field. The Yankees may have been underachievers during his tenure there, but it wasn't because of him. It's merely unfortunate that they weren't really competitive again until 1974, the same year Clarke was sold to San Diego.

Horace Clarke was also one of a handful of major leaguers coming from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Among all Virgin Islanders who've played in the majors, Clarke has played in more games than any other.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Seeing "Red"

Since 1956, Topps had been printing checklists. For their first two years, checklists were additional cards included as "extra" material in its wax packs. In 1958, they found their way onto the backs of team cards and became numbered cards inside the set by 1961. However, up to that point they had always been numerical lists of players, except for a short-lived alphabetical checklist during one series in 1958.

While the checklist cards were helpul for set collectors, what did you do if you happened to be a team collector? In 1973, Topps had a solution:

(No Number) - Cincinnati Reds Checklist

In its final series wax packs for 1973, these blue-bordered cards were inserted along with the other 660 cards of the set. While it is a reminder of the last year Topps released its sets in series (well, the last year they released series the way they did beginning in the 1950s), the checklist cards are a lot harder to find than the red-bordered checklists of 1974. Those were inserted into wax packs throughout the year.

Of the twelve player autographs shown on the front, it gets most of the Reds' 1973 starters (although Dave Concepcion is conspicuously missing). The reason I chose the Reds card to show here today has nothing to do with the star power. It's actually one of the few that I own without marks on the back:

The back shows a list of every player from the team who appeared in the '73 Topps set. From the list of players on the back, it shows not only the regular players but any players appearing on multiplayer rookie cards and the team manager as well. By 1975, Topps combined the team checklists and manager cards with team cards, placing a team checklist on the backs of team cards and mentioning the skipper.

One last thing you may not have even realized...see the asterisk at the bottom of the card? When printing pages were set up, Topps used asterisks to denote where on the sheet that particular card resided. Every 1973 (and 1974) team checklist is found with either one or two asterisks. Some collectors try to get each variation, but I'm happy with one.

Friday, June 18, 2010

North...But Look South!

I get it. When players get traded, Topps didn't always have a current photo to use on a player's card. In those instances, having an artist airbrush an old photo to reflect a new team makes logical sense: it's less expensive, more efficient and highly expedient. However, they sometimes forgot to do a thorough job.

Card #234, Bill North, Oakland A's

It's quite obvious that North's cap has been painted on, but could the artist have taken another few minutes and removed the rest of the "Chicago" from his chest? If the time was too tight, could the person who used the photo have just cropped that out?

North had been traded to the A's in November '72. Becoming the team's regular centerfielder that year, he oddly didn't play in that year's World Series. Known as a speedy runner, he would be among the league's leaders in stolen bases; however, he also was among the league's leaders in times caught stealing. He would remain with the A's until 1978 when he was traded to the Dodgers. One of the last people to wear Duke Snider's old number before it was retired, he played in one more World Series that year and finished out his career in San Francisco in 1981.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How the Pennant Was Won

One subset of the '73 Topps set spotlighted the 1972 postseason. Each LCS got a card and the World Series was given eight cards. For the NLCS card, Topps used a picture of the exact moment the pennant was won:

Card #202 - N.L. Playoffs

What a great picture of the pennant-clinching moment. George Foster is undeniably thrilled after crossing the plate, Pete Rose is the first to congratulate him and we see that Reds third base coach Alex Grammas ran the 90 feet to home plate with Foster. While the blue Helvetica type pretty much sums up Foster's significance it doesn't express just how dramatically the game was won.

The 1972 National League Championship Series went right down to the wire. In the fifth game (the Championship Series were still best-of-5 contests then), the Reds went to the bottom of the ninth down 3-2 to the defending World Series Champs from Pittsburgh. It was do-or-die time, and Johnny Bench led off the Reds' side of the inning by hitting a home run off Dave Giusti and tying the score at 3. Tony Perez followed that up with a single to center. Needing some extra speed on the basepaths, Sparky Anderson sent George Foster in as a pinch runner. Denis Menke notched another single, sending Foster to second. With a tie game and two baserunners on, Bob Moose was sent in to relieve Guisti. Next, Cesar Geronimo flied out to left, Foster tagged up and ran to third. After that, Darrell Chaney grounded to short and Foster was held at third. With Hal McRae coming up to pinch hit for pitcher Clay Carroll, Moose just needed to get him out to send the game into extra innings. Instead, he uncorked a wild pitch and Foster came in to score. A great comeback for the Reds and a huge crushing defeat for the Pirates.

Pete Rose was in the on-deck circle and right there to congratulate Foster as he crossed the plate. If you look closely, you'll also see that the Riverfront Stadium faithful were also celebrating the win. Just above Rose and Grammas, there is a guy in a long-sleeved white shirt that looks to be leaping over the wall and onto the field. Wonder how soon it would be before he was introduced to the business end of a policeman's billy club.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Say...Hey What?!

How old was Willie Mays in 1973? From the looks of the card below, he was pretty ragged:

Card #305 - Willie Mays, New York Mets

While many of the big-name stars from my 1973 set are in sore need of upgrading, somehow this card does a fairly good job of showing that Mays had lost a few steps since his days as a speedy centerfielder. But that's okay, because age happens to all of us as surely as it did to the Say Hey Kid. Though sometimes cruel and unfair, it's a fact of life.

With this 1973 card, Willie Mays would be the final active player who'd been included in the 1952 Topps set. He wasn't the only player from that set found here by far: Billy Martin, Eddie Matthews, Ralph Houk, Warren Spahn, Whitey Lockman, Yogi Berra and others would appear on manager and coach cards, but with Hoyt Wilhelm's retirement Willie was the last player still filling a roster spot.

1973 would be Willie's final season. He would finish his major league career right where it started, in The Big Apple. While the uniform name and colors were different, he would wear the same "NY" logo he once sported at the Polo Grounds before the Giants decided to move West. He would go out on a high note, appearing in his fourth World Series. His plaque at Cooperstown already had a place and was made official in 1979 when he finally became eligible.

Despite the realities of advancing long as the film exists of Mays' catch of Vic Wertz's long shot in the 1954 Series and his pinpoint-accurate throw to home while spinning on one leg, he'll always be remembered as young and fast.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Leave it to Beaver!

In previous posts, I've shown some quickly done airbrush jobs that were likely rushed due to a trade and lack of a photo from the proper team.Sometimes the airbrushed additions come out looking like cartoons, like poor Steve Dunning here:

Card #53 - Steve Dunning, Cleveland Indians

An airbrushed cap, a minor league uniform top. Since Dunning split the '72 season between the Tribe and their AAA PCL affiliate Portland, all Topps evidently had available at press time was a picture of him pitching for the Beavers. While a trade or being called up from the minors would be a simple reason for airbrushing, Dunning had already appeared in Topps sets in both 1971 and '72 wearing an unaltered Indians uniform. How ironic is it that Topps -- known for recycling their photos from year to year in the 1960s -- couldn't just grab a previous year's photo for Dunning and save their artist for a different challenge?

(Edited to add: Thanks to a comment below by reader Ecloy, it appears that Dunning may actually be wearing a 1971 Tribe home uniform. In a page called Dressed to the Nines, Cleveland's home uniform used INDIANS in black letters in '71 but a blue cap. It appears Topps airbrushed the cap to resemble the new cap the team adopted in '72. Which sinks most of what I've said above.)

They never had a chance to get another picture of him with Cleveland, as Dunning was traded to Texas in May of '73. After spending the next several seasons with four major league clubs and several shuttles between the big leagues and the minors, Dunning wouldn't show up on a Topps baseball card again until 1978, where he was once again airbrushed. However, he never again pitched in the majors after '77.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Carrying a Spare Tire?

In 1973, Topps featured several subsets in its baseball card set. While most were carried over from other years, a subset showing players when they were kids was a new idea first used in the '72 set.

Card #341 - Jim Palmer, Childhood Photo

Here's a picture of Jim Palmer, sometime during the 1950s. While not yet wearing his BVDs, he is holding an inflatable floating ring while wading waist-deep in water. It appears Jimmy (not sure if he was called that as a kid, I'm just figuring) hasn't yet realized how swimming can help build the agility and flexibility needed by a young athlete.

Oh, and I'm wondering why Jimmy's Mom couldn't have just sent a nice picture of him in a baseball uniform. Little League, junior varsity, even holding a glove on the sandlot, anything baseball cards look a little weird when their subjects are doing something else.

Monday, June 7, 2010

He "Brooks" No Aggression at Third

In some of my earlier posts, I've had a little fun with the odd choices Topps made when they decided which images to use in 1973. I will say this much, however, the choices used for the Oriole infielders were very good. While it's hard to think that there could be a bad picture of Brooks Robinson (well, except for the one used on his '58 Topps card) but this is a guy who deserved to have some more action in his shot:

Card #90 - Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles

Seriously...the photos taken for this set were only a couple of years removed from one of the most spectacular displays of defensive ability during the postseason. By winning the 1970 World Series MVP by merely breaking several Reds potential rallies with almost superhuman snags at third base, Robinson virtually assured himself of his place in Cooperstown (not that there was a lot of doubt about it, but that performance cinched it) even if he'd retired after that season. Fortunately for O's fans, he would stick around until 1977.

While the picture here isn't bad, Brooks Robinson really deserved to have a horizontal action shot showing him reaching out to stop a solid liner at third.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ring My "Bell"

As I'm going through the cards from Topps' 1973 baseball card set, I'm trying to make sure I  touch all the bases when it comes to the many different types of cards the company placed in its sets.

Another one of Topps' running traditions was the All-Star Rookie team. Every year since 1960, standout rookie players had a trophy placed on their cards. For 1973, the award underwent a major change. Since Buddy Bell was the first member of the team to appear in the set, he's a very good player to point out the change:

Card #31 - Buddy Bell, Cleveland Indians

From its inception in 1960, the graphic depiction of the trophy had a batter swinging on a top hat. Look at the one used on Thurman Munson's 1971 Topps card:

For 1973, the "award" was shown as a golden cup. Also, the year had been removed from the award, perhaps as a way of keeping the template "current" and not having to change the date every year. Here's a closer look at the one on Bell's card:

Perhaps the Topps braintrust had decided the old design had become stale, or perhaps the batter no longer fit since American League pitchers were no longer going to the plate. Since the old award was taller, perhaps it was changed to allow less of the player to be obscured, especially on horizontal cards.

In any case, the award would have another interesting development in '74...they were left out of the set entirely. Returning from '75-'78, the award was dropped again altogether. I didn't actually begin collecting baseball cards until 1979, so I never knew until a few years later about what I'd call "trophy cards." I felt cheated about that, as if some executive specifically singled me out. The eventual return of the subset in 1987 didn't ease that feeling one bit.

Interestingly, Buddy Bell was still an everyday player when those 1987 Topps cards came out. Beginning with Cleveland, he'd play in Texas (where he appeared on many cards during my formative collecting years), Houston and Cincinnati, where his own father had played during the 1950s and '60s. Not only was he the son of an ex-big leaguer, two of his own sons would go on to play in the majors too. Bell spent 16 years as a regular, and I always thought he was good by virtue of him running out on the field every day. He would also go on to manage three teams over nine different seasons, but only once finished with a winning record.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Appearances (Well, Kinda...)

Since 1962, Topps made cards of multiple players as a way of spotlighting new (and unproven) talent. For its first multiplayer "rookie" card (Rookie Parade, 1962), the cards were grouped together at the end of the set. After that, the rookies -- shown 2 to 4 players at a time -- would be disbursed throughout the set, usually grouped by team by occasionally by position. For 1973, Topps returned to the idea of having the cards run consecutively in their final series.

Card #606 - 1973 Rookie Outfielders

Calling these guys "Rookie Stars" wasn't always accurate. Of the trio, only Matthews was making his first appearance on a Topps card. Paciorek had been on a 1971 card, and Roque's first card was printed in '72. Those cards were also multiplayer "rookie" cards.

Two of the guys shown would play well into the 1980s. Mathews would be named the National League Rookie of the Year in '73 and would later be a sparkplug and fan favorite. Nicknamed "Sarge," he would be a tremendous veteran presence on the 1984 Chicago Cubs team hat made the postseason for the first time in nearly 40 years. He would later become a coach, a color analyst for the Phillies and father of a future major leaguer. Gary Matthews, Jr. is still active as of this writing, playing for the New York Mets.

1973 was Tom Paciorek's first significant season in the big leagues after some short tryouts the previous three seasons. Beginning as a fourth outfielder and utility player in L.A., he went on to become a platoon player in Atlanta and Seattle. Becoming an everyday player in the strike-shortened '81 season, he had a career year but -- Seattle being the way it was -- was promptly dealt to the White Sox. He would return to his platoon/utility role until he retired in '87.

As for Roque, he really wasn't a rookie after spending part of the 1970-'72 seasons with St. Louis, but was traded to Montreal (note the poorly airbrushed cap) for Tim McCarver. Despite playing almost regularly as the Expos' centerfielder at the start of the season, he played his final game on May 15, 1973. He was sent to the Expos' AAA club for the rest of the season and never again played organized ball.