Friday, October 29, 2010

A Rolls "Reuss"

Here's a guy who was still a workhorse when I was watching baseball in the 1980s:

Card #446 -- Jerry Reuss, Houston Astros

Of course, by the time I was getting into baseball during the 1980s, Jerry Reuss was part of the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation. Since I lived outside of the territory of any major league team (I was living in northern New York), I was at the mercy of whatever the TV stations I tuned in could get. Since NBC's Game of the Week was one of my ways to see baseball games, and NBC loved showing the Dodgers, I watched Reuss pitch a lot of games.

Thanks to Vin Scully on those weekend games, I learned the proper way to pronounce Reuss: sounds like "Royce." I had been rhyming it with "Moose" before that. While I realize he pitched with guys like Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, Steve Howe and Orel Hershiser, he was but one of the many tools in Tommy Lasorda's arsenal (and I'm not using the word "tool" as a pejorative at all here), he showed up on the mound in enough games during my childhood to make me think he was the ace of their staff then.

In 1973, Jerry Reuss was in his second of two seasons with the Astros. He had been traded to the team before the '72 season from the Cardinals. He started a league-best -- and personal best -- 40 games that year and won 16 games. After that, he spent six years in Pittsburgh and nine with the Dodgers (where he threw a no-hitter in 1980) before finishing his career with a number of teams in the late 80s. He finished his career back in Pittsburgh in 1990. To give a perspective on how long he played, he is one of only a few pitchers to win 200 career games depite never getting 20 in a single season. He came very close some seasons, though.

From what I understand, Reuss is currently an amateur photographer and checks out the blogs frequently and even has stories about the pictures on his cards. So it may be nice that I left out the fact that he was 0-7 in the League Championship Series over his career. That way, he'll feel free to share wgat was going on during the game where this photo was taken. All I can tell is that he's wearing an Astros road jersey and the fans are just starting to make their way into the seats.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series Action

The 2010 World Series is set to begin tonight, with the Texas Rangers making their first ever appearance there in the 50 years of the franchise's existence. However, they are going up against the San Francisco Giants, team that last won the Word Series in 1954, when they were still playing at the Polo Grounds in New York...and the Texas Rangers weren't yet the Washington Senators, as there was a different team of Senators in D.C. (now the Minnesota Twins). Confused? Don't be.

So, today's card features a scene from the 1972 World Series:

Card #208 -- 1972 World Series, Game 6

Game Six of the '72 Series was played at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium on October 21 (remember the days when the Series didn't go into November?). As the game started, the Reds were down 3 games to 2 and facing elimination by the Oakland A's.

It would be a scoreless contest into the fourth inning. Then, Johnny Bench took a Vida Blue pitch deep into left for a home run. This photo shows Bench coming home after that big hit, as teammates Bobby Tolan and Denis Menke (and the Reds fans behind him) celebrate. Third Base coach Alex Grammas is also seen in the shot.

The A's would tie the score in the next inning, but the Reds responded with a run in the fifth, another in the sixth, and five in the seventh. The 8-1 victory would set up another chance for the Reds to play for the title the next night in front of their home crowd.

(Edited to add...alert reader Don points out that this photo was actually taken when Bench scored again in the seventh inning, and that Tolan and Menke are actually signaling him not to slide into home. Looking at the lineup, Tolan was hitting ahead of Bench and scored on that same play in the seventh. He wouldn't have been at the plate after Bench's solo homer in the fourth. Having this play happen in a later inning better explains the expressions of Gene Tenace at the plate and the A's in the dugout; the game had pretty much slipped past them at this point. Thanks for the correction!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hot Corner, Hot Mustard

Here's a nice action shot from the 1973 Topps set:

Card #133 - Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres

San Diego third baseman Dave Roberts is getting ready to grab a pop fly. Getting himself into position, he's keeping his eye on the ball and moving in for the kill. But that's not exactly what focuses the eye on the picture.

There's the Ivy-covered Wrigley Field wall, the capacity crowd of Cub fans in the background and a golden trophy in the corner, but none of that seems to distract any attention from that Padres road uniform Roberts is wearing. Having a color that is part hot mustard, part 1970s-era household appliances. It's eye-catching for all the wrong reasons (something Fleer would later learn with its 1991 design).

There have been four baseball players named Dave (or David) Roberts. One was a first baseman in the 1960s and another was an outfielder between 1999 and 2008. The other two both appear in the 1973 Topps set; one was a pitcher and one a third baseman. The pitcher hasn't been featured in the blog yet, but the fact that both played and appeared in Topps sets through 1981 and even played for the Padres at different times has caused some confusion over the years.

This was the first appearance of Dave Roberts on a Topps card (the All-Star trophy wasn't always a dead giveaway). He was signed by San Diego out of the University of Oregon in 1972 and was immediately installed as the team's regular third baseman. There was no seasoning time in the minors for him, as he played his first game the same day he signed his contract. The position wasn't assured, though, as he would take several trips between the majors and minors beginning in 1973. The Padres eventually gave up on him in 1979, trading him to Texas. After a couple of years with the Rangers and one each with the Astros and Phillies, his career was over in 1982.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The "Supersub"

Here's a photo that is a little more than just a catcher politely posing for the camera in his signature crouch:

Card #592 -- John Boccabella, Montreal Expos

While John Boccabella waits for the cameraman to finish snapping a photo, you can see other stuff around him. The rest of his catcher's gear is laying on the grass behind him, some palm trees show that he was at Spring Training, and two people are talking behind the backstop: a player and a person (groundskeeper, security guard or somebody) wearing a khaki uniform.

Boccabella is called a catcher on this card, but played at several positions during his career. For many of his seasons with the Cubs (1963-'68) and Expos (1969-'73) he was used wherever he was needed, as a utility player. In fact, 1973 would be the only season in his career he appeared in over 100 games. He was the Expos' regular catcher that year, but it was the only time he was a regular anywhere.

That said, he's still fondly remembered by Expos fans. Beginning in the franchise's first year, the team's public address announcer at Jarry Park would say out his name phonetically: "John...Boc-ca-BELL-a!" Though used primarily as a substitute player, he became better remembered than some of the regulars.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swift Kick to the...

Here's an interesting picture:

Card #550 - Dave Johnson, Atlanta Braves

While the picture is probably showing Dave Johnson getting knocked over or jumping out of the way of the play at 2nd, he almost looks like he's kicking Yankee baserunner Felipe Alou squarely in the rear. There are an awful lot of people who don't blame him for doing that. It was unnecessary; you can see the umpire's fist to Johnson's right signaling the out.

However, something's wrong with the picture. The Braves hadn't played a game at Yankee Stadium since the 1958 World Series (and wouldn't again until another Series in 1996), so Johnson's photo has been altered. Johnson had spent his entire major league career through '72 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, which explains the opponent and venue. Topps simply took an action photo and painted his cap, shirt and stirrup socks, right down to filling in the number on his back and adding the feather to the sleeve. It's a better job than many of the airbrush jobs seen in the 1973 Topps set.

For Davey Johnson, 1973 would be a career season. He hit 43 home runs, one of three Braves (Darrell Evans and Hank Aaron were the others) to get at least 40 that year. 42 of those round-trippers came while he was playing second base, which set a major league record for the position. He would play three seasons in Atlanta, then move to Japan for a couple of years. In 1977, he came back with the Phillies and ended his playing career with the Cubs in 1978.

After a decent playing career, Johnson began a more successful second career as a manger. During the early 1980s, he won pennants at three different levels in the Mets' organization, which led to the team naming him as their skipper in 1984. He, in turn, would lead the team to a World Series win in 1986. Ironically, Johnson was the final Oriole batter in 1969 when the Mets won their only other title.

After the Mets, Johnson managed the Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. He was generally successful at each stop, with only one losing season through 12 complete campaigns. However, his laid-back style in dealing with players and differences with his superiors didn't make a lot of friends in major league front offices. Eventually, they wanted to do with him as he appears to be doing on this card.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good

Card #460 -- Bill Freehan, Detroit Tigers

Great action photo. The runner is wearing pinstripes, which would mean Freehan is playing at Yankee Stadium and Celerino Sanchez is sliding. Freehan is lunging, with the ball in his hand for the tag, and the Bronx crowd is standing to see the result.

According to, this game took place on August 8, 1972. At the time, the Yankees were still in the A.L.East race, three games behind first-place Detroit. With a 4-game series between the two teams beginning that day, the Yankees had a chance to move closer to first. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Sanchez was hit by a Mickey Lolich pitch, sending him to first and moving Felipe Alou to second. Ron Swoboda followed and lined a single to left. Alou scored from second, tying the game 1-1. After Gene Michael flied to right for the second out, Fritz Peterson (remember, pitchers were still hitting in the American League in 1972) singled to left. Sanchez was ordered to round third and run home to take the lead.

Freehan got him. The inning was over, game still tied. The Yankees eventually won the game 4-2 and took three of the four games in the series.

Bill Freehan was a Detroit native who played with the Tigers for his entire career. One of the game's better catchers during the 1960s, he was a perennial All-Star and an important part of the 1968 World Champions. A quiet leader, he helped Denny McLain become the only pitcher since 1934 to get 30 wins. At the time of his retirement in 1976, he held the all-time record for fielding by a catcher. After hanging up the mask, he stayed with the Tigers and helped teach some of the finer points of catching to Lance Parrish. He returned to the University of Michigan as the school's head baseball coach between 1989-'95.

Sadly, Freehan's performance was overshadowed by Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk during the 1970s so his numbers were overlooked by the Hall of Fame voters. But he's still a beloved figure when it comes to fans of the Tigers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Like a Beacon

How bright was the shade of yellow used by the San Diego Padres during the early 1970s? This card shows an example:

Card #655 -- Clay Kirby, San Diego Padres

You may have to click the card to enlarge it, but the card has one other person in the picture. Gotta love the way the yellow hat on that outfielder can be seen from all the way out there. As for the picture, that is an interesting part of the pitching delivery to put on a card.

Clay Kirby was an original member of the Padres in 1969 (losing 20 games that year as the staff ace), but 1973 would be his last year with the club. From 1974-'75 he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds' rotation. The change to a team that actually provided him some run support helped him immediately. However, he wasn't used by the Reds in the '75 postseason despite a 10-6 record, and was sent to Montreal for '76. That would be his final season in the majors.

Kirby died of a heart attack in 1991. He was 43 years old.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Team in Transition

What a difference a few years makes. For instance, when this picture was taken in 1972, many saw the Kansas City Royals as little more than an expansion team:

Card #347 -- Kansas City Royals Team Card

To be fair, they only began playing in 1969. Many of the members from that original team (Lou Piniella, Fran Healy, Ed Kirkpatrick, Paul Schaal, Dick Drago, etc.) were still on the roster as the 1973 season began. Despite a 2nd place finish in 1971, they returned with another losing season in '72, so little was expected of the team from many fans. However, under new skipper Jack McKeon, they reached 2nd again in '73. More than that, their farm system was developing some new talent. By 1973, guys like George Brett and Frank White began showing up on scorecards. In 1975, Whitey Herzog took over the managerial job and built the Royals into an AL West powerhouse. They won three consecutive division titles from 1976-'78 but lost all those pennants to the Yankees. Undaunted, the team managed to stay in the race year after year. They made it to the World Series in 1980 and won it in '85. The Royals were perhaps the most consistently good team in baseball for that era.

The team's record since the early 1990s...not so memorable. However, they were a force from 1975-'89 and this picture shows the beginnings of that powerhouse.

Fun Franchise Fact: Three of the first six Royals managers were Hall of Famers (Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon and Whitey Herzog). They have had 15 additional managers since, none of whom were enshrined in Cooperstown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One of the Sad Stories of the 1970s

Below the airbrushed Atlanta Braves cap is a man whose story should have been a lesson to others:

Card #630 -- Denny McLain, Atlanta Braves

Despite being included in the final series of 1973 baseball cards, Denny McLain was out of baseball before the card was even printed.

Denny McLain's career certainly had its share of highs and lows. From 1965 through 1969, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 1968, he became the first person to win more than 30 games in one season since 1934 (to this day, nobody else has reached the milestone). For his effort that year, McLain won the MVP and Cy Young awards as well as a World Series ring. He followed that up with another successful year in '69 where he won another Cy Young. He was also an accomplished musician, recording two albums in the late 1960s and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, with Series opponent Bob Gibson joining him on guitar.

However, in 1970, his career fell apart. As he was riding high in the game, he was playing another game that was a lot more dangerous: he was gambling and allegedly associating with underworld crime figures. Anybody who's seen The Sopranos knows that those guys will use every bit of leverage they can to make their money and that having friends in the sporting world was a good thing. However, Major League Baseball has rules against that sort of behavior arising from the aftermath of the 1919 World Series and commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for much of the '70 season. He was went to Washington (arguably, like many other nefarious types who have trouble keeping their money...oops, this is no place for a political tangent), where he lost 22 games and tried to get Senators manager Ted Williams fired. He split the '72 season between Oakland and Atlanta. Despite this 1973 card shown above, the Braves released him during the preseason and he never pitched in the majors that year.

For a person who squandered a great chance to be one of the league's immortal players, it's somewhat ironic to note that the last batter he ever faced on a big league diamond was Pete Rose.

After his playing days were over, McLain continued his shady dealings and consorted with dubious friends, eventually ending up in prison by 1986 and again in 1996. For a man who was one of the best pitchers in the game, his fall from grace was steep and sudden. And senseless.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Here's a Guy We All Know

Today's entry features a guy who recently stepped down as manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers:

Card #450 - Joe Torre, St. Louis Cardinals

Torre looks like he's getting ready for a game at a neighborhood park. You can see his teammates getting warmed up in the back, and a building just beyond the outfield fence that looks a lot like one of those covered areas for picnics.

Torre's second career, it seems, has overshadowed his first. As a catcher first baseman and third baseman (as shown here), Torre was a nine-time All-Star and the National League MVP in 1971. It has been said that he was a good enough player to have an outside shot at making the Hall of Fame, but the road that began in 1977 would make that a moot argument. While being named the Mets' manager in 1977 while he was still an active player -- he retired 18 games later to focus on leading the team -- he went on to become the fifth-winningest manager in major league history. While detractors point out Torre's limited success with the Mets and Cardinals, it's worth noting that he brought the Braves to their first consecutive winning seasons after they moved to Atlanta, as well as winning two division titles in his first two years in Los Angeles. However, the discussion of Torre's leadership will center around his 12 years in charge of the Yankees.

Some argue that anybody could have led that team to success. However, Torre was able to do what thirteen other managers couldn't: build a sustained and successful franchise while dealing with George Steinbrenner's edicts and the New York press corps at the same time. For all the detractors, it's worth noting that the Yankees had been playing the free agent talent search for as long as Steinbrenner had owned the team and none of his predecessors could get the results Torre did.

Now that he's given up his position as the Dodgers' manager, he'll be rumored for nearly every new job opening that comes up for a while. Although there may be some more history to write before Torre's career is over, it's a safe bet he'll be on a bronze plaque in Cooperstown once he's eligible.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

75 Wins, Three Great Pitchers

This card tells three great stories from 1972:

Card #66 -- 1972 Victory Leaders

There are four leaders cards with pitching stats in the set, and Steve Carlton shows up on three of them (the other one was for the top relievers, so Carlton wasn't going to appear on that one anyway). But the fact that he shows up on all three cards as the National League's best pitcher really doesn't give the full story of how great his 1972 performance was.

With more than 300 strikeouts and an ERA below 2.00, "Lefty" enjoyed a tremendous season by anybody's yardstick. Furthermore, the 27 wins shown above were nearly half of the 59 games Philadelphia won that season, so he was often forced to work in games where he received little run support. Even more amazingly, that record was despite the fact that Carlton suffered a streak from May to June where he lost five straight decisions. Following that streak with another, he notched 14 straight wins until his next loss in August. He was one of very few bright spots in a very dismal season for the Phillie faithful.

Similarly, Gaylord Perry enjoyed a surprising season in 1972. After ten years pitching for the San Francisco Giants and helping them to the playoffs in 1971, the team traded him to Cleveland in favor of "Sudden" Sam McDowell. Undaunted, Perry went on to win 24 games for his big brother's old team and won the Cy Young Award. He remained the team's top ace through 1975, winning 39 percent of all Cleveland wins during his time there. Sadly, the team couldn't pull itself out of the second division despite his best efforts.

For Wilbur Wood, 1972 was only his second season as a starting pitcher after several seasons in the bullpen. He made it count, winning at least 20 every year from 1971-'75. His signature pitch was the knuckleball -- which he learned from Hoyt Wilhelm -- and was one of the hardest pitchers to hit (or catch) against during the early 1970s. Although he would go on to win 24 again in '73, he lost 20 as well, which made his the last pitcher in the American League to both win and lose 20 games in a season.

(Thanks to Night Owl for the subtle but very accurate correction in italics above.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Big Mound of Dirt

Here's a photo that's been airbrushed but actually isn't too obvious.

Card #3 - Jim Lonborg, Philadelphia Phillies

It would be Jim Lonborg's second straight airbrushed card. In 1972, he appeared on card #255 with a painted-on Milwaukee Brewers cap. However, there was no need for Topps to call their airbrush artist to "fix" any more of Lonborg's cards; he would remain with the Phillies until retiring in 1979.

Looking behind the fabricated Phillies wonders what is behind him in the picture. Is that a sand dune? A municipal landfill? The Pyramids?

Despite spending several years in Philadelphia, Lonborg is best known for his seven-year stretch in Boston. His best year was 1967, where he helped the Red Sox win the pennant in the "Impossible Dream" season. He pitched the game that clinched the '67 pennant for the BoSox and won the Cy Young award for his effort. Even though he would go to other teams, the Fenway faithful never forgot him. That gratitude went both ways: after hanging up his glove, Lonborg would go to dental school and began practicing as a dentist. Though born in California and a graduate of Stanford University, he returned to Massachusetts for his second career.

On the 1980s TV sitcom Cheers, Ted Danson played Sam "Mayday" Malone, a fictional bartender who had once played for the Boston Red Sox. The bar had a game-action "picture" of Sam hanging on the wall, put the photo actually showed Lonborg. Sam's uniform number was #16, also the number Lonborg wore. However, in the show, the timeline had Sam pitching for the team from about 1972-'77, which would have been after Lonborg left.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Catcher Moving in for the Kill

While many of the action shots featured so far on this blog have been on horizontal cards, here's a vertical picture that fits the card well:

Card #233 - Ed Kirkpatrick, Kansas City Royals

Taking off his mask and looking for a pop fly, Kirkpatrick is ready to make a grab. Meanwhile, Johnny Briggs of the Brewers is running towards first, in the event the ball is lost in the sun. According to information on, this picture was taken on June 17, 1972. Kansas City was playing in Milwaukee County Stadium. Briggs led off the bottom of the 4th against Paul Splittorff and Kirkpatrick caught the ball.

Though shown as a catcher on this card, Kirkpatrick played several different positions on the field. Over the course of his career, he played every position except pitcher and shortstop. Kirkpatrick was the Royals' regular catcher in 1972, but would be moved to the outfield for '73 before being traded to Pittsburgh in the offseason. His final season was 1977, and was split between the Pirates, Rangers and Brewers. Despite largely being a utility player, he would appear on Topps cards each year through 1978.

Sadly, tragedy struck after his retirement. In 1981, Kirkpatrick was involved in a car crash that put him in a lengthy coma. He would eventually come out of it, but the accident left him paralyzed.