Monday, January 27, 2014

McBride, Son of Gamble

“Mr. McBride, I played with Oscar Gamble. I knew Oscar Gamble.  Oscar Gamble was a friend of mine. Mr. McBride, you're no Oscar Gamble.”

That said, Bake McBride was still a pretty decent ballplayer. It is true, though, that neither his stats nor his hair were quite in the same league as Gamble’s. 

As for the stats, Bake was up for 11 years, finishing with a .299 average and 183 stolen bases. Honors and awards include Rookie of the Year, an All Star berth, and garnering MVP votes in two different years.

As for the hair, well, let’s take a gander …

Okay, that’s not too bad (though the eyebrows ... and the sideburns ...).

1975. That rookie year really was something – .309 average, 30 steals, scoring the winning run in a 25-inning game (from first on a botched pickoff throw!)

So, what’s with the striped hat?

1977. Hard to believe those things were popular. They were supposed to remind people of the 100-year anniversary of baseball. All they really remind me of, though, is the excesses of the 1970s ... especially when teamed with an afro.

Still within the realm of possibility.

1978. Bake was traded to the Phils, with Steve Waterbury, for Rick Bosetti, Dane Iorg, and Tom Underwood. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of Dane before. Haven’t a clue who the other guys are though.


1979. This is the first year Bake’s not sporting a big smile. City of Brotherly Love gettin’ to you, man?

Now we’re talkin’.

1980. By the way, I like the little quotes around “Bake” on the signature here. It’s a great nickname, isn’t it? Sure does beat his given name – Arnold.
Ooh, little ear muffs!  Well, actually, big ear muffs.  

1981. It’s a Fleer, but I just had to include it. Crazy hair and dopey expression (actually, is Bake a little baked?) make this one a Gamble-worthy classic.

Still rockin’ it.

1982. And isn’t good to see Bake smiling again?

Hey, nice sneer!

1983. Yup, Bake finished out his career with the Indians. He retired to his native St. Louis, where he keeps a pretty low profile.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oscar Gamble: World's Largest Afro

Somebody had to do it. Somebody had to be remembered solely for the size of their hair. It was the ‘70s, mind you.

There was a lot more to Oscar Gamble than a big ‘fro however. Signed out of Alabama by legendary Buck O’Neill, Oscar made his debut at age 19. He then went on to play 16 more years in the bigs, amassing 4,500-some at bats and 200 homers. 

Not terribly gifted with the glove, Gamble notched a third of his at bats as a DH. Not terribly good at hitting lefties, he spent most of his career platooning.

Indeed, everything started out quite normal.

1970.  Not everyone realizes that Oscar came up with the Phils. He would go on to play with the Indians, Yankees (twice), White Sox (twice), Rangers, and Padres as well.

Much better, but still a ways to go.

1974. This was after Gamble’s first year with the Indians. He hit 20 homers in less than 400 at bats for them.

Wow, that was quick.

1975. Oscar got the most at bats of his career this year – 485. 

You’d never know it from this card, but Oscar combined his crazy hair with a pretty crazy batting stance. He liked to crouch way over, with his back almost parallel with the ground. He said he could see the ball better that way. That probably doesn’t look real good on a card though.

Worst baseball card ever?  It gets my vote.

1976. If it isn’t obvious that this is a phony from the awful air-brushed logo and pinstripes, do consider the Yankees’ policy about hair back in those days. Yup, Mr. Steinbrenner provided Oscar with an all-expenses-paid trip to the barber before he was even allowed in the clubhouse.

Musta just come from the stylist or sumthin.

1978. We’re skipping over Oscar’s year with the Chisox (he never got a chance to pose for a card for them). It was a pretty darn good year though. He hit .297, with 31 homers and 86 RBIs, and even got some MVP votes. And all that with only 408 at bats.

That’s more like it.

1979. Interestingly, Oscar played only one year with the Padres, though they’ve got him on two cards. After Topps took this picture, the Pads shipped him off to Texas, where he played less than a year.

Still da man!  After all these years.

1980. Back with the Yankees.  Looks like they may have loosened up their hair policy. Or maybe they stretched it a little – just for Oscar.

Gamble actually fit in quite well in New York. Like Reggie Jackson, he was not known for his shyness. In fact, his quote “When I'm at bat, I'm in scoring position” sounds positively Jacksonian to me. 

Not quite 1976, but as close were gonna get at this late date.

1981. Another famous quote of Gamble’s is, “They don't think it be like it is, but it do.” You can get it on a t-shirt here and here.

I dunno.  I think Oscar needs to shake it up a little.

1982. Gamble made quite a splash in the post-season. Over three different series, he batted .381 with two homers, five RBIs, and five runs.

Wait a minute – who is this guy?

1985. Oscar’s last card (with Topps at least). After hanging up his spikes, Oscar became an agent. He’s still very active as a Yankee alum. He’s also quite bald. I understand, though, that he’s still more than happy to sign that ‘76 card.

Coco Crisp. 2011. The dream continues. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Layered Look

I believe that’s what they called it.  It was the male equivalent of the “feathered look” – you know, the one that Farrah Fawcett had. It’s what my hair looked like back in 1975, I know that much.

Suffice it to say, some ‘do’s just don’t go with a baseball cap. Here, let me show you what I mean.

Despite the classic name, Dick Pole was a pretty forgettable major leaguer. Over six years, he finished with a 25-37 record and a 5.05 ERA. In his one post-season appearance, he gave up a run without ever getting an out, for an ERA of ∞.

After retirement, Dick put in a number of years as a pitching coach. Greg Maddux cites him as a major influence, and shares this great story:

"I remember when Dick Pole told me one day, ‘Why don’t you stop trying to strike guys out? Just try to get them out, and you’ll probably strike out just as many guys, if not more. He was right. I’ve always tried with two strikes just to make a pitch and get the guy out. You get a lot of strikeouts just on accident."

Hans Brinker plays baseball?

Tom “Hans” Veryzer was up for 12 years, finishing just short of 1000 games and 3000 at bats. A good field / no hit type, he managed only 14 dingers and nine steals (to go with 23 caught stealings!). ranks him with the likes of Felix Fermin, Frank Duffy, and Johnnie LeMaster. 

The guy at Cardboard Gods goes so far as to call him “a measuring stick of inconsequentiality.” That said, he then goes on – after many sentences of rather purple prose – to conclude that, “To say Tom Veryzer is inconsequential is to say that this life is inconsequential.”  Well, huh!

Yes, that is indeed Jack Morris. As endearing as that teenage mug is, though, that’s not really why we’re here. Let your eyes wander a little north, to Tim Jones. Look at the hair! Dude should be out surfing!

Tim’s another middle infielder with a weak bat. Unlike Tom, though, Tim wasn’t able to translate his limited abilities into anything more than six years in the bigs and less than 500 at bats. His totals include a .233 average and one homer (one!), albeit a fairly respectable 15 steals.

He’s from my wife’s hometown of Sumter, SC. Heck, they were born in the same year, and may have even attended Alice Drive Elementary School together. Tim is one of only six graduates from The Citadel, South Carolina’s rather unique military school (vide Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline). 
I hate to break it to you, but the cheesy little mustache doesn’t really help any, Bill.

Bill Bonham’s career truly combined the highs and the lows. On the plus side, he was only the 14th player in MLB history to strike out four players in an inning. On the other side, he once led the NL in losses with 22. He was in the College World Series with UCLA. He also led the NL in earned runs. Overall, he was up for ten years, finishing with a 75-83 record and a 4.01 ERA. 

The guy at Cardboard Gods – again – manages somehow to get 1,500 words out of this card. I’d say about 10% of that is devoted to Bill. The rest discusses his marijuana use (the guy’s, not Bill’s), the TV show Weeds, several movie reviews, a sleepover at his friend Mike’s house from back in 1977, his mother-in-law …

So, how come this guy’s published a book and I haven’t (the guy at Cardboard Gods, not Bill Bonham)???

And Len …

Leonard Harold Barker III, better known as “Lenny,” had an overall career remarkably similar to Bill Bonham’s. Barker was up for 11 years, finishing 74-76 with a 4.34 ERA. 

Barker had more highlights than lowlights however, including:

  • Throwing a perfect game
  • Leading the AL in strikeouts twice
  • Winning 19 games
  • Throwing two shutout innings in an All Star game 

He’s currently the baseball coach at Notre Dame. That’s Notre Dame College, by the way. You know, in Euclid, OH? The Fighting Falcons?

It’s like a combination of Hans Brinker and a member of the Dalton Gang. 

Toby Harrah was up for an incredible 17 years, 2100-plus games, and 7400-some at bats. He was both a decent hitter and fielder, and was known in particular for a great on-base percentage. He was also a four-time All Star.

The author (front row, third from the left), Pancake Kitchen Fighting Flapjacks, Monroeville, PA, 1973.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hair Today

I’ve actually managed to get a couple of posts in already about hair. Of course, back then it was all a slight variation on the crew cut. In the 1970s, however, the palette began to broaden quite considerably. Here, let me show ya …


It’s the ‘70s, Fred.  Isn’t it a little late for a crew cut?

Poor Fred Talbot. He was up for eight years, but finished with a 38-56 record and 4.12 ERA. Over those eight years, he never had a winning record, once finishing 1-9 with the Yankees. 

He was a major part of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. In that classic, teammate Merrit Ranew said of him, “Your head is square, you have hardly any nose at all, your eyes bulge out and you look like some kind of fish.”

Poor Fred was kind of the butt of the whole book. One of the great pranks played on him was a fake palimony letter. “You couldn’t have pulled a needle out of his ass with a tractor,” said teammate Ray Oyler. Fred later commented. “Some joke. Why didn’t you just send me a telegram telling me my kids had been burned to death?”

Read all about Fred and Ball Four right here.

The teeth and the goofy look just weren’t enough, were they Dave?  

Dave Baldwin is one interesting dude. The baseball part, though, wasn’t terribly engrossing. Six years, 6-11 record, 22 saves … 

It’s what Dave did after hanging up the spikes that I find fascinating. The dude has a masters in systems engineering and a PhD in genetics. He’s published articles in the Harvard Business Review and American Scientist. He’s published poetry in numerous journals and has also written a book, Snake Jazz. Finally, he’s an artist, one who’s got a work hanging at Cooperstown. What a guy! 

Really great SABR bio of him right here.

Tom’s hairpiece was actually a small poodle that he stuffed down the back of his jersey.

Tom Dettore came up with my beloved Buccos as a batter, but switched to the mound before making it to the bigs. An impressive 6’4”, he never quite translated that into Total Mound Dominance™. Over four years, he complied an 8-11 record and a 5.21 ERA.  A true baseball lifer, though, he has been coaching (in the minors) since the day he hung up his spikes.

How can hair even do that?

Craig Swan’s main claim to fame was leading the NL in ERA, in 1978. Overall, he was up for 12 years, finishing with a rather subpar 59-72 record (though playing with the Mets back then will definitely do that to you).

After hanging up his spikes, Craig got into Rolfing. He’s been doing it for over 20 years now, and owns his own company, Greenwich Rolfing, in Greenwich, CT. (Oh, in case you didn’t know – that’s a kind of massage.)

Many hair dryers had to die for “Bob” to get that look.

Bobby Grich! Man, what a blast from the past. Any O’s fan from the ‘70s remembers this guy. Hard to believe he’s 64 today.

I think all of us remember this dude’s ‘stache. But how about that hair? Pretty unbelievable, huh?

It’s a tough call …  The tanned male model on the left?  Or the corpse-like Chico Marx look-alike on the right?  Whaddya say, ladies?  

No need to say much about Hall of Famer and underwear model Jim Palmer. I may need to jog your memory on Randy Jones though. 

Jones was the first real star for the expansion Padres. He was their first league leader, in ERA in 1975. He was a 20-game winner that year and also the next. He also won the Cy that second year.

Unfortunately, Randy suffered an injury at the end of that big year, and was never the same again afterwards.

It’s Chico … by a hair!

These days, Randy Jones is involved in some coaching, some catering, and some TV starring. As for the catering, Jones operates a barbecue concession at Petco Park. “I suppose I’m the Boog Powell of the West,” he asserts modestly. Randy also has his own show on the Outdoor Channel. It’s one of them huntin’ and fishin’ shows, but with real live sports stars.

By the way, Randy’s nickname when he was playing was, not “Chico,” but “Junkman.” And that’s from his repertoire of slow, slower, and slowest sinkers.

He’s b-a-c-k …  

Poor “Bob” had to go into the Federal Witness Protection Program after this one.

Bobby Grich sure did rack up the awards. I’m talking six All Star appearances, five years of MVP votes, four Gold Gloves, and one Silver Slugger award. 

Oh, he also led the league in HRs, the first time a second baseman had done it since Rogers Hornsby. Yes, it was the strike-shortened ’81 season. And, yes, he was tied with three other guys. But still …

Pete Rose bowl cut … on a ginger … with a mustache … and an overbite.  It all makes poor Will look like a small, furry woodland creature of some sort.

This guy again, huh? We’ve already talked about his big glove and his rather lackluster follow-through. I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda getting sick of this dude.

The hair, the glasses, the turtleneck.  I wasn’t sure where to put this one, but I do know it’s one of the all-time classics.

Things didn’t start out so well for Brian Downing. Not only did he fail to make his college team, but he was also cut from his high school one. And when he finally did make it the majors, he tumbled into the dugout on a sliding catch in his first inning, sending himself to the 60-day DL.

Somehow or other, though, he ended up punching a major league clock for 20 years. Being a catcher certainly helped. Transforming himself one winter with some pretty extreme weight lifting helped too. 

It was actually quite the transformation. In his first four seasons, he averaged six HRs and 34 RBIs, while hitting only .251. The year after? Twenty-eight dingers, 84 RBIs, 109 runs, .281 average. 

Hmm …  Does the fact that the first suggested search in Google is “brain downing steroids” have anything to do with this?

* - author has this card