Monday, February 28, 2011

"Killer" On the Rampage

Harmon Killebrew turned 37 in 1973. Though his body was showing signs that he was getting older, he was still a force at the plate. This picture shows him ready to take a big swing:

Card #170 -- Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins

There aren't a lot of people in those stands.

Sadly, Killebrew's age was catching up with him by 1973. After being a powerful machine for the Seantors and Twins since 1959, he was beginning to get injured more often and his playing time was reduced. After the 1974 season, he was given an option: become a batting coach for the Twins, manage in the minors or accept a release. He took the last option and signed with the Royals.

When he retired in 1975, Killebrew placed fifth all-time among home run hitters. Despite that, it still took him four tries to get into the Hall of Fame. So much for the myth that 500 homers was ever an "automatic" way to get in.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Armed...But Not Neccesarily Dangerous

Sometimes, it's possible to possess a dangerous weapon and still not pose much of a threat:

Card #120 -- Joe Coleman, Detroit Tigers

This photo of Joe Coleman shows him holding a bat. That may look odd for an American League pitcher, but when it was taken in 1972, it was the last year before the league adopted the DH rule. And from the looks of Coleman's facial expression, the rule couldn't come a minute too soon. After all, he hit .106 for his career.

Joe Coleman was the son of another Joe Coleman, who pitched in the American League between 1942-'55 (minus three seasons for military service in World War Two). His son is Casey Coleman, who came up with the Cubs in 2010. That makes the Colemans the fourth three-generation baseball family after the Boones, the Hairstons and the Bells, but it was the first one where all three generations were pitchers.

In 1972, Coleman had a memorable moment in the playoffs. In the ALCS, he set a record in Game 3 when he struck out 14 in a 3-0 shutout. He never got the chance to pitch again, though, after the Tigers lost to the A's. In 1973, he had a tremendous season, winning 23 games and striking out more than 200 for the third year in a row. In fact, Coleman led the league in Ks per 9 innings every year from 1969-'75.

Unfortunately, he struck out a lot when he was holding the bat, too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Say it's Your Birthday...

One of the neat things about baseball is the way that even minor trivial issues can be brought up. For instance, there's this guy:

Card #105 -- Carlos May, Chicago White Sox

Carlos May was born on May 17, 1948. He also wore uniform #17. That meant the back of his uniform would read "MAY 17"...his birthday. According to Wikipedia -- so take it for what it's worth -- he's the only major league ballplayer who has ever worn his own date of birth on his back.

Carlos May was also the brother of major leaguer Lee May. He came up in 1968 and was named Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News in 1969 (but Lou Piniella got the league's award). Moving over to first in 1971, May became a full-time outfielder for the White Sox again in 1972 when Dick Allen came over to the White Sox. 1973 was probably his finest season, where he reached career highs with 20 home runs and 96 RBIs.

In 1976, he was traded to the Yankees and managed to play in his only postseason. However in '77 he was dealt to the Angels. The next year, he went to Japan and played there for four seasons before calling it quits in '81.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Another "Hidden Ball" Trick

A while back, I showed Jim Hunter's 1973 Topps card on this blog. "Catfish" is shown throwing a baseball but not letting go of it. Today, another Hall of Fame pitcher gets tricky with the ball.

Card #10 -- Don Sutton, Los Angeles Dodgers.

Neat Spring Training shot, with all those palm trees in the background.

The follow-through is done. In fact, Sutton appears to be posing exactly the way the silhouette below him shows. He even shows off the two fingers he uses to throw his pitch with. However, the ball is still in his glove. Perhaps he's using more than one ball; perhaps he's playing that game where the catcher pops his hand in the mitt and then tells the batter, "you mean you didn't see that one?"

Don Sutton's story is a real rags-to-riches tale. He was born in a small Alabama town to sharecroppers and literally lived in a tar-paper shack. When he was born, his parents were still in their teens. That background taught him the value of hard work, which is what he did when he took the mound. Sutton was never the most dominating pitcher on his staff -- he only won 20 once, in '76 -- but consistently plugged away for 23 years and ended up winning 324 games, striking out 3,574 and notching 58 shutouts. He eventually entered the Hall of Fame in 1998.

He also holds the dubious distinction of having the most at-bats for a player who never managed to hit a home run. And that's taking into account that he spent 1982-'87 in the American League.

The back of the card mentions the Sutton worked as a radio DJ in the off-season. That was likely a good training ground for his next career as a broadcaster. He's been doing that since 1989, as a radio announcer and color commentator on TV.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Thousand-Yard Stare

Is it me, or does this guy look like he just spotted his mother-in-law in the upper deck?

Card #586 -- Bill Sudakis, New York Mets

Though a late-series card, Sudakis wasn't even with the Mets in 1973. He was traded to the Texas Rangers before the season began, so he could serve as their designated hitter. The back of the card says Sudakis has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, the DH position was well-suited for him. Even though he had his best offensive season in '73, his knees were a liability and he ended up getting sold to the Yankees during the postseason. He split 1975 between the Angels and Indians and failed to get out of the Royals' farm system in 1976.

Before all that uniform changing, Sudakis was signed by the Dodgers in 1964 and came up through that team's system.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blue-Bordered Bengals

When I decided to start writing this blog three times a week, I made an executive decision that may have been a little gutsy: I decided to go through with it despite missing some cards. That's not exactly true; I completed the base 1973 Topps set at the Chicago National in 2005 (Johnny Callison was the final card), but there were a handful of team checklist cards I still needed. I assumed I had time on my side, since three cards a week meant the blog would run for more than four years before I'd be finished.

A couple of weeks ago, this card arrived in the mail:

(No Number) -- Detroit Tigers Checklist Card

The fact that this card was still needed for my collection shouldn't surprise anybody. I find that when it comes to 1970s cards, the last several cards on my wantlist are invariably of players from the Tigers and Reds. And Dwight Evans. 

This card doesn't yet finish the set for me...I still need one more (the Milwaukee Brewers checklist card). Again, I have time on my side.

So far, none of the blue-bordered checklist cards featured in this blog have included a complete team lineup, so lets see what the Tigers have among their dozen players:

Norm Cash at first, Dick McAuliffe at second, Ed Brinkman at short and Aurelio Rodriguez at third. Bill Freehan is catching...and Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Ike Brown are in the outfield. After them, there's a rotation of Lolich, Fryman and Coleman, with John Hiller in a relief role.

That's about the most balance you can get out of a dozen players. And I'm still impressed how much better the penmanship generally was among the players then. Every name on the card is legible.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A "Valentine" to Red Sox Fans...

No, this isn't a Bobby Valentine card.

Instead, here's the featured card today:

Card #368 -- Bill Buckner, Los Angeles Dodgers

I have two reasons for posting this card today. First, it's been a little while since I've featured any Dodgers on this blog. Secondly, I'm reminding my readers who are Red Sox fans that this is almost the same position that Buckner was in when the team lost the '86 World Series.

That's not a fair statement. What I should have said was...when they failed to win the '86 Series. See, that was Game 6. They still could have come back and won Game 7 but they didn't. And as you can see, Buckner was preparing himself for that moment 14 years earlier (since this photo was obviously taken in Spring Training, probably in 1972).

Sorry. As a Yankee fan, I just couldn't resist. But, the pitchers and catchers report tomorrow and the chance to rewrite the baseball history books is coming around again.

It's a shame that the ball went through Buckner's glove that fateful October day. That one botched play wiped away the achievements of a twenty-year career, which included a 1980 batting crown, 2,700 hits and a reputation for being a tough batter to strike out. While Buckner wasn't exactly a Hall of Fame-caliber player, he was a solid one until his name became synonymous with a single play. However, when you consider that Buckner was once a member of the Chicago Cubs, it can be argued that he was under an unusually cruel curse that superseded anything "the Bambino" could have thrown at him.

Here's my own 1986 World Series story: I was in the ninth grade that year. When the Sox won the ALCS in dramatic fashion, I made a bet with one of my classmates, another Yankees fan named Danny. I figured the Mets were the team of destiny, while he hated the Mets with a passion. When I asked him how he could possibly root for the Red Sox as a self-respecting Yankees fan, he simply said, "I just hate the Mets that much more." So we bet $10 on the outcome.

The night of Game Six, I was watching the game and beginning to get worried as it went to extra innings and the Sox scored twice in the 10th inning. Then, as the Mets rallied, I remember watching Mookie Wilson hit that grounder up the first base line. I distinctly saw a ten-dollar bill wrapped around that ball as it headed toward Buckner.

And then it rolled through his legs. The Mets won! And they pulled another victory from a near defeat the next night. So, I went to school the day after the Series ended (Monday) and went to collect my money. However, Danny refused to acknowledge what happened and wouldn't pay up. The little bastard never did give me the money.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is This a Pitcher or an Accountant?

This guy doesn't look like a ballplayer. With his glasses and youthful appearance, he looks more like the kid who writes in the scorebook for a junior varsity team:

Card #649 -- Rick Folkers, St. Louis Cardinals

The palm tree and grandstand in the background show that this photo was taken in Spring Training, but Folkers spent most of '72 between two minor league clubs before getting called up to the parent club in September. His only previous big league experience before that was a short call-up by the Mets in 1970.

When this card was issued, he'd recently earned his first major league win. On September 30, 1972 he came in during the 14th inning of a 1-1 tie against the Cubs, got out of a jam and pitched two more innings to get the win. The last out came when he struck out Billy Williams.

He was used both as a starter and reliever during his career and went 11-6 for the Cardinals in his four years with them. It was the only one of his four teams where he had a winning record. He would go on to pitch for San Diego from 1975-'76 and for the Brewers in 1977. He was traded to Detroit before the 1978 season but never played for them.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another "Original"

Last time around, an original member of both Seattle franchises was featured. This time, here's an original New York Met:

Card #329 -- Ed Kranepool, New York Mets

A decade after the Mets began playing, Ed Kranepool was the last member of the '62 club still on the team. He was there through some real peaks (like the '69 World Series championship) and valleys (all those lousy teams before '69). He would remain with them through the end of the 1979 season.

There were some personal peaks and valleys during that ride as well. After coming up to the Mets late in 1962, he was largely relegated to the bench. When asked why, Casey Stengel famously said, "he's only seventeen and he runs like he's thirty." Splitting the next two seasons between the minor leagues and the parent club, he made the All-Star team in 1965. After winning his Series ring, he was demoted again to the minors in 1970. Though such an assignment might cause many veterans to consider retiring, he took it in stride and improved his hitting after returning again in 1971.

In 1973, he lost his starting job at first base to John Milner and largely played in the outfield or came off the bench that season. He played four games in the World Series but didn't start in any of them. For the rest of his career, he filled in where he was needed and provided the veteran presence for the team.

Two short things about Kranepool: in 1965, when Warren Spahn came over to the team, he surrendered his uniform number (21) for the veteran pitcher and took uniform #7, which he'd wear the rest of his career. Also, when owner Joan Payson died in 1975, Kranepool was the only Met player to be invited to her funeral.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Forking" Around in Seattle

This player holds the distinction of pitching the first games ever played by both of the Seattle major league franchises:

Card #383 -- Diego Segui, St. Louis Cardinals

Diego Segui had the meanest forkball in the majors. It was his signature pitch.

In 1969, he pitched the final three innings for the Seattle Pilots' opening game. In 1977, he started the Mariners' first game and was tagged with the loss. However, in 1973 there was no major league team in Seattle, so he's shown here with the Cardinals. The U.S. flag in the background is a nice touch, even if Segui was a native Cuban.

Before coming over to the Cardinals, Segui seemed to be the guy the A's couldn't seem to get rid of. He played for them from 1962-'65 when they were still in Kansas City. The Washington Senators bought him at the beginning of the 1966 season, only to trade him back halfway through the season. The Seattle Pilots drafted him for 1969 and traded him back to the A's before moving to Milwaukee. The A's traded him to the Cardinals in June of '72 (which was apparently enough time for Topps to get a proper photo of him). He remained with the Redbirds through '73, and was traded to the Red Sox.

After missing the three-year championship run the A's enjoyed, Segui managed to reach the World Series in 1975 and pitched the final inning of game 5. That would be his last time on the mound in a Red Sox uniform. He played the '76 season in the minors but was picked up by the Mariners for their inaugural season in '77. However, a 0-7 mark in 40 games with 2 saves ended the career of the 40-year old pitcher.

His son David Segui would go on to play in the majors from 1990-2004.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Please Pardon the Low Humor Here

When you're a collector who happens to be an adolescent boy (as opposed to just being an older one who's just that way mentally), guys whose names happen to be Peter, Dick or Rod are unintentionally hilarious. I probably show a lack of class by bringing this up, but it's a fact of growing up. And it's why the picture on this card would have made me laugh when I was 14:

Card #94 -- Dick Billings, Texas Rangers

Since there will always be a 14 year-old stuck inside my head, I have to say it. A card showing a guy who calls himself "Dick" really shouldn't also show a bulge in certain areas. In fact, it may just be wise to crop the photos so all that is shown is above the waist.

Now, on to the more serious part of this entry...

Dick Billings was a Detroit-born player who came over with the Texas Rangers when they moved down from Washington. Though shown here as a catcher, he was known to play several positions. With Washington from 1968-'71, he played in the outfield and at third base; in fact, he never caught a major league game until 1970. 1972 was his first year as the regual catcher, but in '73 he went back to playing all over the field. He did, however, catch a no-hitter by Jim Bibby that year. In 1974, he was bought by St. Louis and played a handful of games with them through 1975.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not THAT Chuck Taylor

The name "Chuck Taylor" may remind people of a pair of Converse basketball shoes. However, this guy wasn't the person they named the shoes after. As you can see, he looks really dejected about it:

Card #176 -- Chuck Taylor, Milwaukee Brewers

The airbrushing was necessary, as Chuck Taylor was quite traveled in 1972. He had been traded to the Mets before the season and spent most of the year at their AAA affiliate in Tidewater. He was eventually traded to Milwaukee late in the season, where he pitched 5 games. However, by the time this card began showing up in packs, Taylor had changed teams once Montreal.

1973 was a slow year, as Taylor only saw action in eight major league games. However, 1974 was the best season he became a dependable relief specialist for the Expos. He didn't keep up the same level in 1975 and finished his career the next season.