Friday, January 23, 2015

Baseball Cards: A Love Story

I fell in love with baseball cards at the Scituate, MA town dump.

A little background …  When I was a boy, my family traveled to Scituate a couple of years running for summer vacation.  At that time, Scituate didn’t have trash pickup.  You had to take your trash to the town dump yourself.

Now, that dump was a fascinating place for a 10-year-old.  There were trails all over the place, winding around sandy hummocks.  And around each turn, there seemed to be something incredible – an old refrigerator, an antique chest, a broken-down engine.  I never wanted to leave.

What does this have to do with baseball cards?  Well, on one visit to the dump, I found that someone had gotten rid of a small collection of cards.  They were brand new and in perfect condition.  It was like finding buried treasure.  I was hooked.

A card from the dump *

The following Spring, my family moved – again.  I was a corporate brat, so this was something I was used to.  Still, I was in junior high school, so the move was a little harder than it had been before.  Interestingly, one of the things that helped break the ice was a shared interest in cards with some of the neighborhood nerds.

I remember, in particular, lusting after Stuart Karp’s collection.  In fact, Stuart’s collection really got me in high gear.  Somehow, I managed to collect all but a handful of the 1971 series merely by buying individual packs.  That’s a lot of duplicates.

One of Stuart's cards **

That was also a lot of bubble gum.  (Yup, that was back when packs had gum in them.)  So, not only did I have almost the complete collection, but I also had a mouthful of cavities.  I’ll never forget how my dentist always made sure I was buying those cards and keeping him in business.  You were such a wag, Dr. Leeson!

I had about 25 of these **

In addition to buying new packs and getting a mouth full of silver, I also started looking around for older cards.  Now, this was before the great card boom, so there really weren’t any shops around – and there certainly weren’t any websites.  What I mostly did was hang out at flea markets.  I used to get early 50s Hall of Famers in excellent condition for a buck or two.  Man, those were the days.

I knew back then he'd make it to the Hall **

Baseball cards lost their appeal, however, when I hit puberty and discovered sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.  Yup, I sold them all.  And, needless to say, I did that right before the card market really took off.  I got a couple of hundred for them even back then.  They’d literally be worth thousands today.

I pretty much completely lost interest in cards until, as a middle-aged dad, my youngest son started playing baseball.  One of his coaches liked to hand out cards after practices and games as little rewards.  Now, these weren’t ordinary cards.  The guy’s father-in-law happened to have owned a card wholesale business before he retired.  My kid actually got a ‘61 Koufax.  I kid you not.  Dad was hooked again.

Said Koufax *

So, my sons and I found a local shop and started patronizing it regularly.  I concentrated mostly on reliving my youth, buying minor stars or beat-up majors.  It all stayed in that low gear until I found the following book at a library sale:

This baby shows the front of every baseball card Topps ever made (up to 1990).   Let me repeat that.  It … shows … the … front … of … every … baseball … card … Topps … ever … made.  You can’t find that on the Internet.  The book weighs ten pounds and is two inches thick.  It costs $160 in mint condition.  I got my mint condition copy for $15.

Spending hours leafing through it, I found I was particularly drawn to some cards that I really hadn’t been drawn to before.  It just seemed like there were so many guys with eyes closed, goofy grins, really bad hair, unibrows, unbelievable names, and lots more.  I’d always been attracted to unintentional humor, and this was a very rich trove indeed.

But why the blog?  Other than becoming rich and famous and being asked to write books and appear on talk shows?  You know, I’m not sure.  I just thought it would be fun.

So, where to begin (sorry, but I'm limiting this only to the years I actually collected)?

* - author has this card
** - author had this card

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Behind Blue Eyes

I thought I was done with this blog, then I found this old post …

Maybe it was something in the film. There’s something about those pale blue eyes, though. Something scary. Something evil.  Here, let me show you what I mean …

Oh so subtle.

You’ve met Joe Niekro before, where I made fun of his dentition. There, I also shared some stats and also the great video of him and his emery board. Some things I didn’t mention:

  • He’s the father of major leaguer Lance Niekro
  • He hit only one homer in almost 1000 at bats – against his brother Phil!
  • It took him 20 years to make his first World Series appearance – a record
  • He’s in the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame
  • He could hypnotize people with his eyes

Starting to look a little alien like.

Joe Hoerner was a pretty decent reliever who seems mostly forgotten today. Over a 14-year career, he finished 39-34, with 99 saves and a sparkling 2.99 ERA. He was an All Star in 1970. Joe did bounce around quite a bit, though, playing for seven different teams.

Some Hoernerian trivia:

  • He was given the last rights after collapsing on the mound during a minor league game
  • His first hit was a homer – off Fergie Jenkins, no less – the only homer he would ever hit
  • He was the starter in an all-rookie lineup for the Houston Colt .45s.
  • As the Cardinals celebrated their ‘67 World Series victory, he severed a tendon when a champagne bottle he was holding exploded
  • He's been in this blog before
  • He was a space alien

This guy is so gone.

Gerry Nyman was up for a couple of forgettable years with the White Sox and the Pads. Things started out pretty well, as Gerry went 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA in eight games his rookie year. After that, though, it was all downhill. I’m talking a 5.29 ERA the next year and a 15.19 ERA the year after that.

After hanging up his spikes, Gerry began a long career as a minor league pitching coach, advising such powerhouses as the Eugene Emeralds, Burlington Bees, and Idaho Falls Chukars. Gerry is also a skilled carpenter in his spare time, and can bore holes through wood with his eyes.

Bad sunburn?  Or has the mother ship landed in right field?

Tom Hilgendorf’s main claim to fame to may be getting hit on the head with a folding chair during the White Sox’s infamous disco demolition night. Despite a concussion, he went on to pitch the next night and earn a save.

Career-wise, Tom was up for six years, and managed to post a decent 19-14 record and 3.04 ERA. Some people like to think of him as the poor man’s Joe Hoerner.

Something just occurred to me …  You know, another alternative explanation here is that the photographer captured poor Tom right in the middle of witnessing a nuclear explosion. Don’t forget to duck and cover, Tom! Those things can cause a really bad sunburn.

Run for your lives!  The zombies have taken over.

In spite of being given a girl’s name, Gail Hopkins somehow managed to make it to the major leagues. In fact, Gail was up for seven years, finishing with over 1000 at bats and a .266 average. Unfortunately, he also hit only 25 homers – not something you’d want on your resume if you were a first baseman. Gail wrapped up his career overseas with the Nankai Hawks and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

After returning from Japan, Gail went on to earn a Masters in theology, a PhD in biology, and an MD. Holy crap! He’s an orthopedic surgeon, a professor, and on the board of a college. Man, I really shouldn’t be making fun of this guy, should I? Sheesh!

But would you believe there’s another major league Gail out there?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Incredible Floating Coach Heads

I thought I was finished with this blog (see last week), then I discovered these beauties. Not only did someone come up with the brilliant idea of showing a card with the grumpy old guys that make up a team’s coaching staff, but they also decided to cut out their heads and stick them on an incredibly ugly yellow-orange background. To top it all off, they separated the floating heads by off-skew lines that practically shout, “I am a hip and happening graphic designer in the year 1960.”

Needless to say, none of these ideas were ever used again. Enjoy!

Luke Appling was actually a Hall of Famer. Billy Hitchcock was a baseball lifer, playing for nine years, managing for three, and serving as coach, scout, and minor league president. Tom Ferrick was the pitching coach, and was in the bigs for nine years as well. Interestingly, for four years he both studied for the priesthood and played minor league ball at the same time.

Bob Lemon’s another Hall of Famer. Mel Harder was another good pitcher, but no Hall of Famer. Jo-Jo White was an African-American basketball player who starred for the Celtics in the ‘70s. Red Kress is the name of a salad green.

“Fat Freddie” Fitzsimmons was another decent major league pitcher, with a 19-year career and a sparkling 217-146 record. Walker Cooper was a pretty decent catcher, getting in the All Star game no less than eight times. Don Heffner was not the brother of Hugh.

You may actually know all four of these guys. Bill Dickey and Frank Crosetti were both lifetime Yankees, with Dickey making it to Cooperstown. Eddie Lopat played most of his career with the Yanks, and was the pitching coach. Ralph Houk would go on to skipper the Yankees, winning two Series for them. Overall, he would manage for 20 years and win over 1600 games.

Mickey Vernon was an excellent hitter, coached first, and has graced this blog before. Bill Burwell was the pitching coach, and won an incredible 239 minor league games. Sam Narron was another career minor leaguer and was the bullpen coach. He comes from quite the baseball family, with two nephews and one grandson making the bigs. Our final minor league veteran is Frank Oceak. He’s most famous for being the third base coach who celebrates with Mazeroski as Maz rounds third after hitting his Series-winning homer.

Ray Berres, a backup catcher for 11 years in the bigs, was the White Sox pitching coach for almost 20. He lived to be 99. Don Gutteridge, a 12-year major leaguer, would manage the Chisox for two years. He lived to be 96. Tony Cuccinello and Johnny Cooney lived to ages 87 and 86 respectively.

Wes Westrum’s been in this blog before, where we caught him as manager of the early Mets (poor guy). The wonderfully named Salty Parker spent one month in the bigs, 23 years in the minors, and 11 years as a major league coach. The equally wonderfully nicknamed “Barnacle Bill” Posedel was a major-league pitching coach for 18 years.

Wait a minute. Someone did use this idea again. Now, I just can’t decide if this was done in the spirit of serious nostalgia or simply as a joke.

I think it’s safe to say this one was a joke.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A '70s Miscellany - Real Action Shots

Okay, so last week’s “action shots” really weren’t. This week, however …

I was always so proud when my Little Leaguers used their “big guy” voices.

In addition to having one of the greatest nicknames of all time, John Wesley “Boog” Powell was also a pretty decent ballplayer. Over a 17-year career, he totaled 339 homers and 1187 RBIs. He was a one-time MVP and a four-time All Star as well. Boog’s kept busy in retirement, starring in Miller Lite commercials, operating a marina, and running a BBQ stand at Camden Yards.

I always had to tell my Little Leaguers to warm up perpendicular to the sun, not with it.  (Then I had to explain what “perpendicular” meant.)

A particular favorite of mine, Brooks can also be found here, here, and here.

Few know it, but the San Diego fans once boycotted the team for a whole home stand to protest those horrible uniforms

This card represents Fred Norman’s last year with the Pads – he would be traded to the Big Red Machine in the offseason. He would, thus, go from a team where he had records of 3-12 and 1-7 to one where he would compile records of 12-4, 12-6, and 12-7 … and there would actually be fans in the stands.

Rick liked to give himself a little hug when things weren’t going so well on the mound.

Rick Wise was once traded straight up for Steve Carlton, in pretty much the middle of their careers.
Rick Steve
Years played 18 24
Wins 188 329
K's 1647 4136
ERA 3.69 3.22
20-win seasons 0 6
Years leading league in wins 0 4
Years leading league in losses 1 2
Cy Young awards 0 4
All Star appearances 2 10
No hitters 1 0
Hall of Fame? No Yes

Aw … Give yourself a hug, Rick!

“Uh, you’re on my base.”

Dave Nelson was very fast. He once stole 51 bases despite hitting only .226. He also once stole second, third, and home in one inning. Life after baseball included coaching and announcing.

Great post here where the blogger and some commenters narrowed this shot down to the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader that took place on July 30, 1972. The glum-looking infielder is Ted Kubiak, by the way. (And the pitcher is Steve Hamilton, in case you haven’t already guessed that yourself.)

“Hey, get your hand off my butt!”

Lenny Randle was another speed burner. He was also a somewhat better hitter than Nelson, having batted over .300 twice. Interestingly, though, he also finished under the Mendoza line no less than three times in 12 years. (More Lenny right here.)

As far as I can tell, this is July 31, 1977. It’s the 3rd inning and Randle has just been picked off at 1st by pitcher Dave Wehrmeister and first baseman Gene Richards. The ball gets away, however, and Randle will end up at 3rd. Now, here’s how I figured it out:

  • It’s 1977 – Topps’ 1978 cards (of which this is one) were shot during the 1977 season
  • Mets are playing Pads at home – Pads wore dark shirts on the road
  • They played in NY only 6 times
  • Randle got in only 4 of those games
  • He didn’t get in base in one of those games
  • In only 1 of those 3 games did the Pads have an African-American Padre infielder
  • That crazy play took place in the 3rd

Just call me Sherlock … Sherlock Holmes.

Yes, this was done on purpose.

And it’s also a great way to wrap things up with this blog. Yeah, I do make fun of these guys and their cards. At the same time, though, I’m like Annie Savoy – a card carrying member of the church of baseball. They’re all all stars in my book (er, blog).

Oh, Billy Cowan? He was pretty much a nobody (click here for more, if you must), but at least he had a great sense of humor.