Phil Garner – 1978 Topps

I’m a “complete set” kinda guy.  Not to the extent that I’d ever spend the time or money to complete a present-day “master set” though.  I’m perfectly happy with stopping at just the base set in most cases.

I say ” in most cases” because since Topps first released Gypsy Queen, I’ve always put the effort into completing the set through the SP’s.  I justify it by telling myself, “it’s just 50 more cards,” I guess.02181101

My latest project is the 1978 Topps set.  It has taken me a little bit longer than usual not for any other reason than Little Cam requires all hands on deck in most cases.  I’d say that I’ve got 3/4’s of the set complete but I still need to get what I have in pages so I can quickly fill in the blanks.  My wife thinks it ridiculous that I spend the time to put the cards in protective pages…only to complete the set, which is then neatly put in a box and stored away.

I’ve ended up with quite a few doubles and before I pass them along to a buddy of mine, I usually pull a few to send off with autograph requests.  In this case, Pittsburg Pirates 3rd baseman and former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner ended up on the mailing list and was happy to oblige my request.

As one of the more unique photos in the ’78 set, this photo was taken during the 1977 season and shows Garner admiring a fly ball.  Garner did hit a career high 17 dingers that year so I suppose he could be watching the ball leave the yard.  Standing in the background is manager Chuck Tanner and 2nd baseman Rennie Stennett.  If it were a home run, I’d hope Stennett’s reaction would be a bit more enthusiastic than what you see in the the photo.

The ’77 Pirates not only sported some of the sweetest uniforms of their time, but also finished 2nd in the National League East with a 96-66 record and five games back of the Philadelphia Phillies.   I love the home uniforms of the Pirates of the ’70’s.  Revolutionizing baseball uniforms forever, the Pirates were the first team to sport buttonless pullover jerseys.  They also decided to replace their belts with colorful elastic bands on their pants.  You can clearly see that in the photo above.  The Pirates were also the first to wear a cotton-nylon knit fabric uniform that was not only cooler and lighter than the woven flannel uniforms of the time, but also provided a more “stretchy” fit.  The “stretchy” duds were not particularly well received by the players or the media; generating comments such as “the new uniforms do not flatter fat men” and “these pants are like taking off a girdle.” Regardless, this look would be adopted by nearly every team for the next 20 years.

 

J.C. Martin

As the remnants of tropical storm Hermine were approaching the Hampton Roads area and leaving no doubt that we were going to have a very wet and windy Labor Day weekend, I had anticipated knocking off a handful of tasks from my “to-do list” while we hunkered down.   What I failed to consider was that almost all of those tasks required electricity.  An entire Saturday with no power slowed me down a little bit but I still managed to get most of my chores done for the weekend.  This blog post was the last on the checklist.

Before I get to my latest through-the-mail-autograph success, let me tell you about the time I took my father-in-law to one of our local AAA baseball games.  As the players were warming up, he looked at the first base line and asked me what the chalk line just outside of the first base line was.  I had always just known it as the “runner’s lane”.  I told him from what I had been told, as the runners ran to first base, they were supposed to run between the baseline and the outer line.  Per the official rule (Rule 6.05K actually); if a runner is within the runner’s lane and is struck by a thrown ball (usually by the catcher), he cannot be called out for interference.  As we watched, we saw that very few of the players adhered to the rule and who can blame them really.

02181101 (2)As a batter leaves the batter’s both, he usually runs directly to the bag which is in FAIR TERRITORY.  This makes the most sense as the runner’s lane is in FOUL TERRITORY.  Given the fact that the shortest distance from point “A” to point “B” is a straight line and using the runner’s lane would require the batter to veer off to the right side of the line, why would they use the runner’s lane?  I could see it for a left handed batter who leaves the box on that side of the base line anyways, but had a hard time catching a right-handed batter using the lane at all.

Anyways, we could sit here all night and look at scenarios where the runner either should, or should not be called out for being struck by a thrown ball but I’d rather chat about the Ron Lewis postcard that Mr. Martin was kind enough to sign for me.  After all, it was Mr. Martin that was involved in the play that resulted in the runner’s lane being added to all baseball fields.

After being an integral part of the Chicago White Sox (1959-1967), Martin was traded to the New York Mets in 1968 to serve as a backup catcher to Jerry Grote.  It was in the 1969 NLCS that Martin found himself pinch hitting in the 8th inning for Tom Seaver and driving in Al Weis and Ed Kranepool.  That five-run eighth inning helped the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves by a score of 9-5.  The Mets went on to sweep the Braves on their way to the World Series.

In game 4 of that series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, with the Mets leading two games to one, Martin was involved in the play that changed the baseball diamond forever.  With the game tied 1–1 in the bottom of the 10th and pinch-runner Rod Gaspar on second base, Martin squared a bunt back to the pitcher’s mound.  Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert scooped up the ball and threw to first base.  The ball struck Martin on the left wrist and caromed towards the dugout.  The errant throw allowed Gaspar to score the winning run.  02181101 (3)

Replays later showed that Martin was running inside the baseline and because of this, could have been called out for inference.   Stating that Martin did not intentionally interfere with the play, the umpires stood by their call.  Martin was awarded first-base, Gaspar scored, and the Mets would later go on to defeat the Orioles in that World Series,

It was this play that resulted in the running lane that extends from halfway down the first-base line to the bag to be added to all major league fields.

I’m excited to add these two Martin signatures to my collection and am always happy to learn interesting facts about players of the past.

 

 

Jim Landis

01101101I was really excited to get this picture of Jim Landis in the mail today.  I had been looking for a good photo of this two-time All Star and five-time Gold Glove winner.  This photo from Baseball Monthly turned up on Ebay so I jumped on it.  I love the sepia-tone color of the image and the framing of the shot.  Mr. Landis was nice enough to sign it with a nice inscription to Cameron.  It reads:

“Cameron – Keep your eye on the ball!  Your friend – Jim Landis”

Landis played for six teams in his 11 year career and is considered one of the best defensive center fielders in major league history.  He was the first American League baseball player to win 4 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and one of his proudest achievements is the fact that he averaged only 1 error per season in his career.  Landis batted .247 with 93 home runs and 467 RBIs during his career. He played in the 1959 World Series and was voted by fans to Chicago’s 27-player “Team of the Century” in 2000.

An interesting bit of information I found on him in this outstanding interview, Landis was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1952. He spent two years in the minors before being called to military service in 1954 and was stationed in Alaska where in addition to his regularly assigned duties, his other “job” was to pick up volcanic rocks from the baseball fields.  Alaska has a lot of volcanoes and apparently they spew rocks out into the sky which then fall onto the baseball fields.

This piece will be a cherished addition to Cameron’s collection.  Mr. Landis has always been not only a generous through-the-mail signer for his fans, but very involved in the lives of those around him.  He is a true gentleman, U.S. Serviceman, and exemplary sportsman.

The pitiful pickoff of Frenchy

The other day, while sorting through my collection; I came across two pieces that actually fit into a pretty funny story that I once read.  I’ve always loved the lighter side of the game and this story certainly fits that bill.

s-l1600On August 14, 1935 as the Brooklyn Dodgers were hosting the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds, colorful Dodger outfielder Frenchy Bordagaray landed himself on second base.  Brooklyn Manager Casey Stengel, who was coaching first base, called time-out and walked over to Frenchy.

“Now looka-here Frenchy,” said Stengel.  “I want you to stand on this here bag until you see the batter actually hit the ball in play.  I mean stand right on it.  Don’t take a lead, don’t even move away from it six inches. Do you understand what I’m saying to you Frenchy?”

“Why certainly,” Frenchy replied.

The explicit instruction was necessary as Frenchy had a penchant for getting picked off of second base.

Moments later, Cub pitcher Larry French spun around and tossed a pickoff throw to second base.  The shortstop, Billy Jurges snatched the throw and tagged Frenchy for the out.01221201 (2)

On his way back to the dugout, Frenchy was approached by a very irritated Stengel.
“Whatsa matter with you?  Weren’t you standing on the bag like I told ya?  How could you get picked off?” Stengel inquired.

With a shrug, Frenchy simply said, “I haven’t the slightest idea!  I did just as you told me.  I stood right there on the bag, not even moving six inches off of it!  I just stood there tapping my foot on the bag waiting for the hitter to bang one.”

“I see,” said Stengel.  “Then how did Billy manage to put you out?” he asked.

Throwing his hands up in frustration, Frenchy said, “Beats me Boss, he must have tagged me out in between taps!”

 

 

Jim “Catfish” Hunter

01241202Little Cameron woke up early this morning.  To give Mom a quiet house and a chance to sleep in today, we packed up a little bag of supplies and headed out to run some errands.  My parents live about 15 minutes away so we decided to bring “Sunny and Pappa-Daddy” Egg McMuffins for breakfast.  My birthday was last week so my Mom handed me a small gift bag with a gift and a page from last week’s Virginia Pilot.  The article was from the travel section and featured a quick story on the opening of the Jim Catfish Hunter museum in Hertford North Carolina.  Located in the Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce building, the exhibition takes up two rooms and features memorabilia from Hunter’s high school days through his major league baseball years with the Athletics and the Yankees.

At first glace, Jim Hunter may be seen as one of the more “colorful” baseball Hall of Famers.  The nickname “Catfish” gives that impression.  The nickname was actually given to him by the owner of the Oakland Athletics Charlie Finley.  When Jim Hunter signed his first professional baseball contract, Finley asked if he had a nickname.  “Jimmy” was Hunter’s response.

Seeing that “Jimmy” wouldn’t be giving Finley very many promotional opportunities, he fabricated a story on the spot – “You left home when you were 6 years old.  Your momma and daddy couldn’t find you.  When they did finally find you, you had landed two catfish and had a third on the line.  They have been calling you ‘Catfish’ ever since.”

After listening to this new story about himself, Hunter said, “Mr. Finley, no one has EVER called me ‘Catfish.'”

Finley simply said, “I just gave you $75,000.”

“Yes, sir.  My name is ‘Catfish,'” Hunter replied.

Hertford is just a few hours from me and makes for a nice day trip.  I’ll certainly be taking Cameron down there to check it out once he’s old enough to appreciate it.


The Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum
118 W Market St (In the Chamber building located in Historic Hertford)
Hertford, NC 27944
(252) 426-5647

 

 

The “Say Hey Kid” comes to Norfolk

01231201Growing up here in the Hampton Roads area, I have always been a fan of our local triple-A baseball team.  Up until 2007, the Tidewater Tides served as the AAA farm team for the New York Mets.  That partnership lasted 38 years.   Dropping the “Tidewater”, the team is now called the Norfolk Tides and is serving as the AAA farm team for the Baltimore Orioles.  As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I attended many games with my parents and grandparents.  I became a Mets fan solely because I could turn on the TV and tune in to the Mets game and see some of the same guys that I had once seen play here locally.  If you look back through the 38 year relationship between the Tides and the Mets, it’s amazing to see just how many players came through this area on their way to the big leagues.

I happened to also love press photos – don’t ask me why.  A few months ago I came across this pretty cool piece of Willie Mays playing an exhibition game against the Tidewater Tides on June 8, 1979 at the old Metropolitan Stadium.  Mays of course had been retired for 6 years at that point and was serving as a coach.  After being brought into town to help boost ticket sales, he was given 2 at bats and stroked a pair of singles to help the Mets to an 8-6 victory over the Tides.  The ’79 Mets team, led by Joe Torre was less than stellar.  Posting a 63-99 record, their efforts were good enough for a 6th place division finish.

In regards to Metropolitan Stadium (or “Met Park” as the locals used to call i
t); it was torn
down in 1991 to make way for a fancy-shmancy USAA Insurance building (my buddy works there).  The Tidewater Tides were moved south to the banks of the Elizabeth River where their new home would be called Harbor Park.  They dropped the “Tidewater” and are now known as just the “Norfolk Tides”. As a little-league player, I had actually attended a few baseball camps at Met Park.  It’s hard to believe I’ve stood in the same batter’s box as the great Willie Mays.

Below are two shots of Met Park.  The shot on the left looks to be from the ’60’s I would guess.  The shot on the right was taken in the winter of ’91 just before it was torn it down.

MET PARKMET PARK LAST DAYS

 

 

 

Gary “The Kid” Carter

01011101I’m finally getting around to another Gary Carter post.  Quite ironic as the original intent of this entire blog was to give me an online spot to showcase and discuss my Carter collection.  I’ve been collecting anything and everything pertaining to Gary Carter since I guess around 1987.  Needless to say, I have quite a collection.

My wife thinks its weird and I think she felt I crossed the line when I bought a polo shirt that Gary had worn at one of his charity golf tournaments.  She wants to know why I’m buying clothes worn by other men.

She clearly doesn’t “get it”.

 

One of my favorite pieces is this post card of Gary.  The painting was done in 1989 by Jeffrey Rubin and was featured in a book containing about 25 other baseball related post cards.  The book was released in 1990 and simply carries the title of “Baseball”.  I received the book as a gift from my parents for Christmas.  I’ve since lost most of the other cards in the book.  This one survived the past 26 framed and displayed proudly on a bookshelf.

Card collectors will instantly recognize the image as it is also featured on Gary’s 1989 Score baseball card.  I may be biased, but I think that card is one of the more iconic cards of that set.

THE Cincinnati Reds!? Yes, you failed to mention that…

01101205The other day I was going through some old Sports Illustrated issues and came across this issue from October of 1990.  I had sent this to Chris Sabo the year after the Red’s World Series sweep of the A’s.

Sabo was a hero to all little leaguers with bad vision because he made it cool to wear those goggles.  Before the plastic goggles, kids just had to wear their regular glasses. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, contact lenses weren’t really an affordable option for many of us.  I was fortunate enough to have vision that didn’t go south until high school so I didn’t have to deal with glasses or goggles.

Thinking back to this time period, I think it was the summer before 5th grade that I met a new kid in the neighborhood.  Probably 1989 or 1990 I’d say.  His name was Zach and we had a lot in common.  Naturally, we spent most of the summer fishing in the pond by our house, swimming in his pool, or playing catch.  Both of us were big baseball fans so one thing was for sure, whether we were fishing, swimming or playing – we were definitely TALKING about baseball.

We spent a lot of time tossing the ball around his front yard and while I played little league that summer, Zach had just moved to town so he never made it onto a team that year.  I remember one particular evening, Zach and I were playing catch and his step-dad pulled up in the driveway.  He gets out of the car, pops his trunk and pulls a well-worn catcher’s mitt out.  He motioned for the ball  and joined in.  After a few tosses, he gave Zach and I a few quick pointers on the fundamentals of throwing.  He was clearly a little bit more educated on baseball fundamentals than the average dad with a glove in his trunk.   I thought he would make a great little league coach one day.

We continued to toss the ball around as he shared a few stories about guys named Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose.  He tossed a few more and then headed in the house.  I asked Zach how his dad knew so much about those guys and this is the part that I will never forget for the rest of my life…

As Zach tossed the ball back to me and just as casual as one could say it, Zach says,

“Yeah, he was a catcher for the Reds.”

Wait.  What?!

Now we had been buds for all of 5 weeks, we talked about baseball every chance we had, and never ONCE had this come up.

Not one single time.

I felt betrayed.  I had never been so mad in my life.  That summer I had major-league royalty right under my nose the entire time and didn’t even know it.  How could this family factoid be something that he didn’t see the need in sharing?

For the life of me, I cannot remember Zach’s step-dad’s last name.  Over the years, whenever I think about it, I’ll run a few Google searches to see if I can find any pictures of the guy.  I remember seeing some pictures of him with the big-name Reds players.

Thinking back, it was never a team picture that he showed me.  Only single pictures of him with guys like Rose, Concepcion, or Perez.  He was in the full uniform and definitely on the field with those guys.  As I try to piece together those memories, I think he may have been a bullpen catcher  in the mid 70’s or something.   Crazy to think that he may have been part of that World Champion ’76 team.

Zach moved a few years later and we lost touch.  His old house is still there and I drive by it when I go see my parents.  Every time I see his front yard, I remember the day that kid told me that his dad was a professional baseball catcher like it was nothing.

 

 

TTM Success – Ryne Sandberg

01211203Good Sunday evening everyone!  I hope everyone had a great weekend.  The sun came out today which was a welcome sight as we’ve been in a relentless weather pattern here lately which has brought what seems like nothing but rain and clouds for the past few weeks.

Even a rainy day can be made better when a TTM return shows up.  Yesterday it was a great return from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Mr. Sandberg added a nice bold signature on my 2011 Topps Tier One and I think it looks great.  I’ve always liked his signature despite the illegibility of it.    It’s always seemed like a “curvy” signature to me and seems to combine both his first and last name.  Doesn’t hurt that the card is just absolutely beautiful as well.  Topps really hit a home-run with the design on these Tier One cards.

Despite breaking into professional baseball as a 3rd baseman in the Phillies organization, Ryne is widely considered one of, if not THE greatest second-bagger in the history of the game.  During his 11 year career, Sandberg earned 9 Gold Gloves (’83-’91), 7 Silver Sluggers (1984, 1985, 1988–1992), NL MVP (1984), and was nominated to the All Star Team 10 times (’84-’93).  Sandberg was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 with just over 76% of the votes.

Despite bleeding Met’s blue and gold, growing up as a baseball fan in the ’80’s I could not help BUT be a Sandberg fan.  It didn’t hurt that I hung with a best-bud who’s family was from Chicago.  Needless to say, there were lots of Chicago Cubs (and Bears) posters and cards in his room and even more debates on who was better, Backman or Sandberg.

I don’t think I ever really had much of an argument.  Backman may have a WS ring (’86) but he’s far from a Hall of Famer.

 

Lou & George

01221201I’m a Mets fan through and through but I’ll tell you what, there’s just something about the Yankees that I love.  I guess I have always appreciated the deep rooted history dating back to 1901 when they actually played as the Baltimore Orioles (not the same Baltimore Orioles as today), the simplicity of the classic pinstripe uniforms and the long list of baseball legends that has worn them.  The 27 world championships doesn’t hurt either!

If you haven’t read Damned Yankees by Bill Madden and Moss Klein, I highly recommend it.  A self-described no-holds-barred account of life with “Boss” Steinbrenner, the book tells what it’s like — for better or for worse, to be under the Yankees circus-tent working for “the Boss.”  Featuring a collection of Yankee tales spanning between 1973 – 1989, the book is absolutely hilarious and features the usual cast of Yankee characters from that time frame – Munson, Gossage, Jackson, Guidry, Berra, Mattingly, Nettles, and of course Billy Martin.

To tie into my 1978 Topps Lou Piniella TTM signature above, let’s talk about Sweet Lou. First off, I thought I had a signature on something featuring him in his Yankees pinstripes. It would seem that all I have is the Royals card.  Maybe I’ll write to him and inquire on getting some Yankees items signed.

Okay, so back to the book.  Stories about Lou Piniella are scattered throughout.   There was the time The Boss fined Lou for showing up to the ’82 spring training overweight; also known as the “Great Piniella Weight War.”  The grand total taken from Piniella’s wallet was $8,000.  $7,000 for being 7 pounds over the 200 and another $1,000 for tossing a baseball to some kids in the bleachers after a game.  What made this story so funny was the fact that Steinbrenner let Lou know about the fine through the media.  This obviously did not sit well with Lou who had more than a few choice words for the writers to quickly get into their stories.

Then there was the 1988 season which saw Lou as the general manager of the Yankees.  While on the phone with the general manager of the Houston Astros (discussing a possible Winfield trade),  Lou was interrupted by Steinbrenner who had just burst into his office.  Steinbrenner, completely ignoring the fact that Lou was on the phone (working), frantically gestured for Lou to hang up and to come with him.  Lou, thinking that Steinbrenner had news of a better trade offer, quickly got off the phone with the Astro’s general manager. “Come with me,” he ordered Piniella.  They left the office, hurried through the front gates and began walking around the outside of the stadium.  As the Yankees were gearing up to play an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves, the ballpark was bustling with fans.

“Don’t let anyone recognize us,” Steinbrenner told Piniella as he shoved him behind a large bush.  How could people NOT recognize the general manager and the owner of the Yankees slinking around the ballpark with hundreds of baseball fans milling around the ballpark!

“Stay down! Don’t let anyone see you!” Steinbrenner loudly whispered.

“What the hell are we doing here George?” Piniella asked.

“I’m sick and tired of these free passes being given out!” Steinbrenner responded. “There are too many people getting free passes and I’m sick of it.  You’re going to put a stop to it right now.” he barked.

“I want you to hide here and count how many people come and get free passes and then find out who they are.” the Boss told him.

Piniella couldn’t believe it.  Here he was the general manager of the New York Yankees. A business executive who was supposed to be working out winning trades and at the very least watching his own team on the field.  Rather, instead the Boss wanted him to hide in some bushes like a child.

Needless to say, the complimentary pass-crisis took priority over the Winfield trade (that the Boss had been demanding for months by the way) and it’s no wonder that the Winfield trade never happened.

Not included in the book is a story about Piniella’s first introduction to Steinbrenner after he was brought over from the Kansas City Royals.  It’s worth reading and sportscaster Tim Lewis over at All Around Tim does a fine job sharing it. I’ll let you head over to his blog to enjoy it.