Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Story of Little Tito and His Famous Headband

It’s a kid’s story.  Seriously, I’ve got a publisher all lined up, and an illustrator … Caldecott Medal – here we come!

Tito, before he discovered the magic power of the headband.

1966. Tito Fuentes comes in third in Rookie of the Year voting. Never much of a slugger, he also set a career record for homers … with nine big ones.

If indeed looking like an uncoordinated dork constitutes action.

1971. Tito is a steady regular with the Giants, actually getting 630 at bats for them this year. Amazingly, he gets only 18 walks. His OBP is under .300!

I’ve got to assume he’s wearing the hatband under the batting helmet – though it’s a little hard to tell at this distance.  Heck, I’m not even sure what team he plays on, or which guy he might actually be.

1972. Another steady season, but with a drop in at bats, to 572.

No, no, Tito. It goes under the hat.

1973. Tito gets 656 at bats! And that’s good enough for third in the NL that year.

I guess Tito’s just not sure enough of himself to commit to the brand just yet. But, is that a little star over the “i”? Hold that thought, ‘kay?

1974. Tito’s last year with the Giants. He gets a mere 390 at bats.

Wow, personalized too. Though, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it said “TITS.”

1975. Tito’s back to being a regular, getting 565 at bats for the Pads.

That’s right, under the cap.  Though you do realize that you don’t really need one of these in baseball, right?

1976. His last year with the Pads, though the steady regular does get 520 at bats.

The dude just never gives up, does he?

1977. Though he’s just a fill-in for the young Tony Phillips, Fuentes finishes his last year with 615 at bats and a .309 average (the only time he would break .300).

After Detroit, Tito would get 43 at bats with the Expos. He would then become the Giants’ Spanish-language broadcaster, a role he’s filled on and off for 30-some years. He remains a huge fan favorite.

And in case you haven’t figured out by now, Tito Fuentes was, indeed, quite the hot dog. In addition to the headband and the little star on his signature, he also:

  • Sported a gold tooth
  • Did a nifty bat flip when he came up to the plate
  • Wore rings on all eight fingers
  • Favored red suits with wide lapels
  • Wore up to a dozen gold chains under his jersey while on the field

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Many Moods of Larry Christenson

You may have heard of this particular meme before. It’s typically associated with some tough guy actor whose emotional range goes from tough to, well, tough. A quick search of Google Images shows me these guys in particular (primarily on T-shirts):
  • Chuck Norris
  • Batman
  • Steven Seagal
  • Darth Vader
  • Danny Trejo
  • He-Man
  • Mike Woodson
  • Godzilla

Oddly, I wasn’t able to find Larry Christenson out there on any of ‘em. I’m thinking, though, you could probably print several hundred thousand with Larry’s mug on ’em, sell ‘em all at whatever price you want, then retire and move to the Bahamas. Whattya think? Wanna go in on it with me?

Here he is! You’ll be seeing this look for the next six years.

1973. Larry’s first year. Unfortunately, he would only go 1-4, with an ERA north of 6.00. BTW, he’s the youngest player in the majors this year, at age 19.

Larry! It’s you again. No, no, just turn your head slightly. That’ll do. Great!

1974. Larry’s sophomore season is a little better, though he doesn’t get as much action. He goes 1-1 with an ERA in the 4’s.

So, guy, what’s with the jacket?

1975. Larry is one of the Phillies starters, and does pretty well. He goes 11-6, with an ERA in the 3’s.    

That’s more like it.

1977. Another good year. The ERA goes just over 4.00, but Larry finishes just one win short of being a 20-game winner. Larry also leads the league in something for the first time. Unfortunately, it’s errors committed by a pitcher.

My God, Larry! As if the jacket wasn’t crazy enough!

1978. Another decent year. Larry’s in double figures again, but finishes one game under .500. He does have the best ERA of his career, at 3.24. He also leads the league in fewest walks per nine innings, at 1.85.

Larry would pitch for five more years for the Phillies. He would never ascend those heights of the middle and late ‘70s again however.

Nor would we see quite that same deadpan pose again year after year after year. Instead, we’ve got a couple where Larry might arguably be deemed to be looking in for a signal (kinda hard to really tell for sure, though):

Or perhaps just looking a little confused:

Topps (and Fleer) also threw in a couple of action shots. In fact, there’s even one of those where Larry appears to be sporting a beard (gasp!):

Oh, and there’s also this monstrosity:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Danny Cater: Master of Disguise

He’s like Inspector Clouseau. Here, let me show you …


In one scene, he’s a wet-behind-the-ears rookie with a buzz cut and a dopey look.


In the next, he’s a high-hatted regular.

And here Danny has disguised himself as a Red Stocking.  He painted the B on the hat himself!

Would you take a look at those sideburns!

Wily veteran with pieces of fur glued onto his cheeks?

Gap-tooted Sparky Lyle wannabe?

Hard to believe, but I was actually a Yankee fan as a kid. Now, this was back when they were absolutely awful. Yes, there actually was a gap between the old Yankees of Mantle and DiMaggio and Ruth and Gehrig, and the Yankees of the Steinbrenner era. I’m talking about guys like Bobby Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, Horace Clarke, Roy White … and Danny Cater.

For some reason, Cater was one of my favorites. Maybe it was the name. Maybe it was his 1971 action-shot card (see below). I’m not sure.

Cater actually wasn’t with the Yankees that long – just two years out of 12 total. Cater also wasn’t actually all that good either. He was a light-hitting first baseman (66 homers in 4,451 at bats) who could put the bat on the ball (he was especially hard to strike out), but had absolutely no speed whatsoever (he regularly finished in the top ten for GIDPs).

His main claim to fame seems to be getting traded for Sparky Lyle. Lyle would go on to spearhead the resurgent Yankees – winning a Cy Young Award, leading the league in saves twice, appearing on the All Star squad three times, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, curing cancer … Danny Cater? Not so much.

* - author has this card

Monday, November 10, 2014

Roberto! (Ho Hum)

My hero.  At the end of his career.  Though I do detect a certain – I don’t know – perhaps something of a cavalier attitude to the fine folks at Topps.

Follow through?

1968. Somehow or other, Roberto hits under .300, the first time he’s done so in ten years (it’s also the last time he will ever do that).

Swinging the bat?

1969. Roberto hits an incredible .345 and leads the league in triples.

Yeah, yeah, swing the bat.

1970. He ups last year’s average by seven points, finishing at .352.  

Yeah, yeah, toss the ball.  Sure, whatever.

1971. The World Series year. Roberto would hit an incredible .341 in the regular season, then a ridiculous .414 in the Series. Yours truly would see his second ever Pirates game during that Series, sit in right field, and watch Roberto do his wonders at the plate and in the field. I can’t even remember which game that was, but I’m pretty sure Roberto must have hit four homers and thrown out six guys at the plate. Well, whatever it was, it was enough for me to bond with him and the Bucs for life.

Letting the third strike go by qualifies as “action,” huh? 

Hoping that was a ball …

1972. It’s Roberto’s last year. Though he only gets 378 at bats, he still manages to hit .312. He also reaches 3,000 hits. In fact, he finishes his career with exactly 3,000.

Yup, this is his last year. He dies tragically in the offseason when an overloaded relief plane he organized for Nicaraguan earthquake victims goes down off Puerto Rico. 

I still remember where I was when I heard about it. I was living in Pittsburgh at the time, and it only seems fitting that I heard it from our parish priest at New Year’s Day mass. Yup, Roberto was that kind of icon in the Steel City.

Personally, Roberto is my all-time favorite. Such a classy guy. And, boy, could he play ball. In addition to the 3,000 hits; he also led the league in hitting four times; finished with a .317 average; and was a one-time MVP, 12-time Gold Glover, and 12-time All Star. 

Plus, he’s only the third player to ever have the waiting period for sainthood (i.e., election to the Hall) waived. Can you guess the others? Answers shown below. Just scroll down.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Pretty good company, huh?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Try Something Else, Mike

Really. You’re only going to be up in the bigs for a couple of years. Yes, yes, I know you play first base. Perhaps you also get up to bat occasionally. Or catch a pop fly, or a grounder. C’mon, give it a try. 

This has to be about the most lifeless pose I’ve ever seen in my life.

1969. Mike’s best year. He gets over 300 at bats, hits 12 homers, and bats .274.

Sorry, this is about as animated as Mike’s gonna get. And, yes, it is the pick-off pose all over again.

1970. The last year Mike gets over 100 at bats. And that’s to go with a .164 average and exactly zero dingers.

What I really like about these shots is not that Mike has the same pose in each one, but that he also has the same lifeless, couldn’t-be-bothered, am-I-done-now expression.

1972. The last year Mike will hit a homer (and actually gets just the one on the year).He’ll also hit .177.

Mike will play just one more year – but without any card to memorialize the fact. And that will involve two additional teams, 16 at bats, and one hit.


Ohmigod! Is that a smile? 

You just know he’s holding that glove out down there though, don’t you?

1968. I’m not sure what made the Royals think this guy was going to be a “rookie star.” For ’68, he was up for six games, and got one hit in 17 at bats.

Which, if you think about it, is strikingly similar to Mike's last year. Yup, we've pretty much come full circle here.

If you’re like me, you probably just can’t get enough of this guy. So, here’s some additional Fioriana you might enjoy:
  • Mike actually had four names – Michael Gary Joseph Fiore
  • His last name means “flower” in Italian
  • He hit the first homer in Royals history
  • Similar players include Frank Mountain, Gordon Goldsberry, and Bunny Brief
  • If you try to Google him, you’re much more likely to get hits to a speedboat driver who died in a crash this summer
  • If you try to Google “mike fiore baseball,” you’re much more likely to get hits to a college and Olympic star who played in the ‘80s (and never even made it to the majors)

* - author has this card