Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Puff"'s Younger Brother

The last entry to this blog featured Graig Nettles, who enjoyed a long career in the majors. His brother's career wasn't quite as long or successful:

Card #358 -- Jim Nettles, Minnesota Twins

Though Nettles is shown as a Twin here, he didn't play for them at all in 1973. Instead, he spent the season in the minors. After the season, he was traded to Detroit. After that, he was all over the place, from the majors to Japan to Mexico and back.

After spending 1970-'72 in Minnesota, he never strung together two straight seasons with any club. He came up with Detroit in '74 and failed to make the team in Cleveland during Spring Training the next year. He didn't get back in the big leagues again until 1979, when he played 11 games for the Royals. Finally, there was one game with Oakland in '81 when he came in as a defensive replacement in the ninth but didn't get to the plate.

After retiring as a player, Nettles managed in the minor leagues from 1983-'96. At one of those stops (A-level Madison in 1986), he even came up to the plate for one last time. He failed to get a hit and went back to the dugout.

Monday, March 28, 2011


"When I was a kid, I wanted play baseball and join the circus. With the Yankees, I've been able to do both."

Card #498 -- Graig Nettles, New York Yankees

Graig Nettles was a big cog in the Yankees' late 1970s dynasty. 1973 was his first season with the club, which means he arrived just in time for the beginning of the Steinbrenner Era. Nettles got a great deal of mileage from his time with the Yankees, not only for his on-field performance at the "keystone" position but for his off-kilter quotes in the locker room like the one quoted above.

That said, there's a major problem with the photo above. It's an obvious airbrush job, one that is badly done. The helmet and stirrup socks may match, but they're not the same blue color the Yanks use on their uniforms. But more than that, the interlocking "NY" logo only appears on the team's white, pinstriped home uniforms, not the road grays. Given the fact that Topps was based in the same city as the Yankees were, one would think that little mistake would have been caught.

Though not Hall of Fame-caliber, Nettles was one of the best third basemen of his era. With Cleveland, he set the all-time major league single-season record for assists at the position in 1971. He still holds second place all-time in that stat (behind Brooks Robinson). Though a right-handed thrower, he batted from the left side and was a long-ball threat with Yankee Stadium's short right field fence. He led the American league in home runs in 1976...with 32, one of the lowest league-leading totals of the "live ball" era. Most importantly, he was a big help to the teams that won four pennants and two World Series between 1976 and '81. Though he was known for colorful comments in the locker room -- many of which were sharply-worded barbs at his team's owner -- when he and Peter Golenbock wrote a book titles Balls that chronicled the failed '83 season, he was quickly traded away.

Despite his banishment to San Diego, he responded by helping the Padres get to the World Series for the first time ever. He spent three years in the city of his boyhood before finishing up with a season in Atlanta and one more in Montreal. When he finally retired, he was 43 years old. Despite the increased number of long balls since his retirement, Nettles still owns the American League record for most homers by a third baseman.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Here's the player who scored the final run in the history of the Washington Senators before the franchise moved to Texas:

Card #111 -- Dave Nelson, Texas Rangers

This picture has been roundly criticized, since having two opposing players more prominent than the person named on the card is not usually a good thing. However, it helps determine when the play took place.

First of all, the picture was obviously taken in 1972 (since there were no Rangers in '71) at Oakland. Dave Hamilton is pitching. There were three players who wore uniform number 11 in 1972. However, Dwain Anderson and Marty Martinez can be ruled out since the second baseman lacks sufficient melanin in his skin to be either of those players. That leaves Ted Kubiak, who actually began the season as a teammate of Nelson in Texas. Kubiak played against the Rangers at home six times in 1972.

That brings us to July 30, 1972. It was the second game of a doubleheader between the two teams and only 10 days after Kubiak was traded (which explains why he was looking down...he was probably asking Nelson how he was doing without being obvious about it). Nelson led off and went 3-for-5 in the game, and this picture was taken during one of two hits. In both cases, he managed to steal second base afterward. In the first, he lined a single to center and then stole second before scoring on a Ted Ford double. In the seventh, Nelson lined a single to left, scoring the go-ahead run. He then stole second, and scored on an Elliott Maddox triple. That hit by Maddox ended Hamilton's night. The Rangers ended up winning both ends of the doubleheader.

Either way, Dave Nelson has just stolen second and is safe. In all, he stole 51 bases in 1972, good enough for second place in the American League. He was also caught stealing 17 times that year, which was the most in the league. In 1973, he played in his only All-Star game. Although the card shows him as a third baseman, he switched to second base that season.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Man Called "Boomer"

Something really isn't right about this card:

Card #263 -- George Scott, Milwaukee Brewers

This has been mentioned in a number of blogs already, but I'll bring it up again. The players look superimposed against a background shot. The colors don't match, the stands don't look like they're angled correctly on the field and the fans don't appear to be looking at the action on the card. Bert Campaneris is sliding back to first on a pickoff attempt, while the crowd is looking toward third?

It's a case of having everything else on the card distract from the action shot.

1972 was George Scott's first year with Milwaukee after six seasons with the Red Sox. He was a fine first baseman, collecting eight Gold Gloves during his 14-season career. While with the Brewers, he manged to lead the league in RBIs and tie for the Home Run mark with Reggie Jackson in 1975. He also began wearing a necklace -- shown on later cards -- that he often said was made out of the teeth of second basemen. Later in his career, he wore a batting helmet in the field after having objects thrown at him during a road game.

He also nicknamed his glove "Black Beauty."

George Scott was one of a kind. Today, by the way, is his 67th birthday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fenway Proud

A great way to endear yourself to the Fenway faithful is to stay with the Red Sox for your entire career. It may not seem like a common occurrence now, but the truth is, it's never been that way. For every Yaz, Teddy Ballgame (let's forget he managed elsewhere) and Jim Rice, there are plenty of guys like Boggs and Clemens, who went over to the Dark Side to get their Rings. Even Dewey Evans and Freddy Lynn went elsewhere before they were done. And Carlton Fisk, though I suspect BoSox fans don't fault him for moving over to those "other" Sox after the treatment he got from Management.

Then there's this guy:

Card #365 -- Rico Petrocelli, Boston Red Sox

Rico Petrocelli played 1,553 major league games between 1963 and 1976. Every one of those was in a Red Sox uniform. During the "Impossible Dream" '67 World Series, he crushed two important home runs for the team. When Luis Aparicio came to the Sox in 1971, Petrocelli moved over to third even though he'd been among the league's best shortstops. In 1975, hit hit .308 in another World Series. To the fans, he was special.

And I'm a Yankee fan saying this.

Despite my own team affiliation, I'm a fan of baseball. Guys like Rico Petrocelli...and Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski, they're a part of the game's rich history. Even guys whose careers were changed by tragedy (like Harry Agganis and Tony Conigliaro) have their stories. But guys who play their hearts out in front of the home fans will always be welcome at their ballparks, and the fans at Fenway were damned lucky to have such players on the field. They knew that, too.

But those players were just as lucky to have those fans.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Padres' First Star Player

This man had a career day in 1972, the same year this picture was taken:

Card #340 -- Nate Colbert, San Diego Padres

On August 1, he hit five home runs in a doubleheader, tying a major league record. He also managed to drive in 13 runs. That broke a mark set by Stan Musial in 1954 (when he became the other player who hit 5 home runs in a twinbill). In an interesting bit of synergy, Colbert -- a St. Louis native -- was supposedly in the stands to watch Musial play those games.

Though he came up with Houston in 1966 and again in '68, Colbert became known when he joined the Padres for their inaugural season. Playing in San Diego through 1974, he was often the one bright spot in a lineup so bad that one day team owner Ray Kroc apologized to the fans over the public address system for their ineptitude. From 1968-1976, Colbert played on nine consecutive last-place teams.

Though back problems forced him to retire at age 30 in 1976 and the fact that he played for three different teams in his last two seasons, he is still the Padres' all-time home run leader.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The (N.L. East) Champs

As the scoreboard above them says, here are the 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates:

Card #26 -- Pittsburgh Pirates Team Card

They were the N.L. East division leaders that year, after winning the '71 World Series. While such a picture would make their fans quite happy -- as opposed to now where the Pirate faithful would be happy with a season without 100 losses -- this card has a grim reminder of a very large loss. Sitting in the front row, the third player from the right is Roberto Clemente. It's one of two cards in the first series that remind fans about the fragile nature of our very existence.

Other notable players in the photo are Willie Stargell (center of the back row), wild man Dock Ellis ( also in the back row) and Bill Mazeroski (seated in the front row), who was playing his final season and appears in the '73 set on a card with manager Bill Virdon.

The loss of a leader like Clemente was sure to affect the Pirates, but they did their best to make him proud. The final team record in '73 showed a 80-82 finish, but the division race was a wild ride that season. While beginning the season in first place, they slipped to last place in June and were 11 games back before rallying to take the lead again in the second half. However, the New York Mets were able to catch them on September 20th and hold the lead. As amazing as the Pirates were in handling their adversity, the Mets did what was thought to be impossible.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Trippin' Out...

1972 was this player's first year with the Reds:

Card #52 -- Denis Menke, Cincinnati Reds

Denis Menke helped get the team to the World Series as the team's regular third baseman. He played every game in the postseason as well, hitting a homer in that Series. However, that dinger was one of only two hits he managed in 28 plate appearances. That's not to suggest he cost the Reds the Series; his glove was more valuable to the team and he didn't make any mistakes in the field.

Look at the crowd behind him in the photo. The spectators appear to be melting away, like a bad acid trip or a salute to Edvard Munch's The Scream. Several cards in the 1974 Topps set exhibit this type of effect (Jim Palmer, for instance), but not many in '73 did.

1973 would be Menke's final year with Cincy. He came up in 1962 when the Braves were still playing in Milwaukee. After moving with the team to Atlanta in '66, he was traded to Houston after the '67 season. Four years later, he was traded to Cincinnati in the deal that also brought Joe Morgan to the Big Red Machine. He would return to the Astros in 1974 and played his final game that July.

After retiring, he became a minor league skipper and a big league coach. Ironically, a guy who hit .250 over his career in the majors became a longtime hitting coach, taking another World Series trip with the Phillies in 1993 in that capacity. He eventually returned to the Reds as a bench coach from 1997-2000.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Alou Brother #2

Last September, I featured one of three Alou brothers who were playing baseball in 1973. Here's the second:

Card #650 -- Felipe Alou, New York Yankees

Felipe Alou was the father of future major leaguer Moises Alou. Baseball was in the family's bloodline; besides his brothers and son, cousin Jose Sosa and nephew Mel Rojas played in the major leagues.

Both Matty and Felipe Alou were member of the new York Yankees as 1973 began. They had been teammates before, playing as part of an all-brother outfield for the Giants in 1963. However, Felipe was waived late in the season and claimed by Montreal. In 1974, he began the season in Milwaukee but would be released again early in the season.

After his playing days were over, he returned to the Expos and became a minor league manager. He stayed with the organization for several years, even turning down an offer to manage in San Francisco in 1985 out of loyalty. In 1992, he would become the first Dominican-born player to manage in the majors when he was promoted to Montreal's field manager position. While there, he managed his son and became the most successful skipper in the club's history. In 1994, his team had the best record in baseball when the season was stopped by a strike. After being fired in 2001, he went on to manage a few more seasons with the Giants.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Swing, Batta Batta!

Sometimes a picture can tell quite a story. Sometimes, there's an altogether different story to tell. That may be quite cryptic to say, but here goes:

Card #642 -- Jose Laboy, Montreal Expos

The disappointed look on Laboy's face tells you that he missed the ball. However, it was a common expression for a guy who hit .233 for his career. I'd like to point out the way the Mets dugout shows up in the background. If this picture was taken in 1972, it would have been on July 30. It was the only game he played that year at Shea Stadium. In the game, he came up in the ninth as a pinch hitter and struck out to end the game. He then went back to the minors for a while.

That wasn't the story, though. "Coco" Laboy signed his first pro contract in 1959 but never managed to get past the minors until the leagues expanded in 1969. He became an original member of the Montreal Expos and had an excellent rookie campaign that season. After that, the opposing pitchers realized that not feeding him fastballs would neutralize him, and that dropped his average below .200. An injury in 1971 made matters worse. As it turned out, 1973 would be his final season in the majors. This card appeared in the high-numbered series late in the season, shortly before Laboy played his final game.

"Coco" Laboy was the cousin of Pepe Mangual (an Expos teammate) and Angel Mangual. After baseball, he returned home to Puerto Rico and took a job with the government. Before he retired, he was in charge of the athletic programs across the Commonwealth.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hoofing Around Third and Heading Home

A great action shot shows the Braves' backup catcher taking the extra base and heading home in a big hurry:

Card #452 -- Paul Casanova, Atlanta Braves

(Read the comments for an explanation of when this picture was most likely taken. Thanks ecloy.) 

Paul Casanova was a Cuban native who came up with the Senators in 1965 and remained with them until the team moved away from the D.C. area. The team didn't keep him during the move, however, as he was traded to Atlanta before they ever played their first game in Texas. Since Atlanta already had a capable catcher in Earl Williams, Casanova was relegated to a backup role. In 1973, he managed to catch Phil Niekro's no-hitter on August 5.

After a diminishing role with the team after Johnny Oates arrived, Paul Casanova was released by the Braves after '74 and never played in the majors again.

One interesting thing about Casanova was that he played all his 811 games behind the plate. That's an unusual stat, considering the number of catchers who also play at other positions to ease the strain on their knees, as well as the fact that he spent several years as a second-stringer and might have been compelled to fill in elsewhere.

Friday, March 4, 2011

No, His Middle Initial Wasn't "F"

John Kennedy from Boston. Just a decade before, that name brought images of a young President (actually, it still brings up that image today, thanks to the memories of Baby Boomers and nostalgia). However, this guy's middle name was Edward and -- while he did share the same May 29th birthday with JFK -- he was actually born in Chicago:

Card # 437 -- John Kennedy, Boston Red Sox

This John Kennedy didn't exactly make the Fenway faithful forget their Favorite Son. He played for the Red Sox from 1970 to '74 but was never a regular player. In fact, the back of the card mentions that his nickname is "Super Sub."

Before his Red Sox days, Kennedy was a member of the '69 Seattle Pilots and came up with the Senators in 1962. Yes, he was in D.C. at the same time the other John Kennedy was residing on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, he never became a full-time player there until 1964, when the name had a more somber connotation. He would move over to the Dodgers the next year.

While with Boston, he's been credited with giving teammate Bill Lee the nickname "Spaceman." During one of the Apollo missions, he supposedly told a writer that news about men going to the moon didn't really matter much, since the team already had their own "spaceman" right there in the clubhouse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bowled Over

Today's blog entry features the very first player ever drafted by the Cleveland Indians:

Card #226 -- Ray Fosse, Cleveland Indians

The first year of the draft was 1965, and the Tribe took Fosse in the first round. In 1972, he was credited by Gaylord Perry as a big help to his Cy Young award-winning season. He actually played the 1973 season in Oakland, after being traded a few days before Opening Day. He would go on to win two Series rings with the A's before returning to the Indians in '76, finishing the Mariners' inaugural season a year later and finishing with the Brewers in 1979.

Few references to Ray Fosse go by without mentioning the 1970 All-Star Game, when Pete Rose scored the winning run in the 12th inning by barreling over Fosse like a linebacker to beat the throw. Sure enough, the game is mentioned on the back of this card. However, the incident usually gets given the "he was a great prospect until..." treatment but he managed to stay in the game for much of the rest of the decade despite the incident.

While the Rose hit separated his shoulder, he managed to get injured later on by other means: an on-field brawl in '71, breaking up a fight between Reggie Jackson and Bill North in the A's clubhouse in '74, another home plate collision (with Jim Rice) in '75 and tripping in a hole during spring training in '78 that required season-ending reconstructive surgery. That may seem like a lot of injuries, but it's also evidence that Ray Fosse was definitely one tough hombre.