Junk Wax Treasures – 1987 Fleer Award Winners

Collectors either love or hate the infamous “junk era” of baseball cards. The late 80’s saw the emergence of price guide publications like Beckett and Tuff Stuff valuing cards well above the cost of a single pack. Collectors realized that they could spend .50 on a pack of 1987 Topps and possibly pull a Jose Canseco rookie worth $5. What a deal! The New York Times even published a very eloquent article suggesting that baseball cards were now a wise choice for those hoping to diversify their investment portfolios! With that, people starting buying and hoarding cards with the hopes that they would be able to send their kids to college or retire in 20 years. After all, investment experts from the New York Times SAID that cards had increased in value approximately 32% every year since 1978! To keep up with demand, from 1987 to 1994, card companies turned their printing presses up to “ludicrous speed”. With that, we saw baseball cards flood the market from every angle. Not only were companies of the day like Topps, Donruss, and Fleer producing boxed complete sets, wax boxes, cello boxes and vending boxes, they were producing proprietary sets for retailers. Stores like Woolworth’s, 7-11, Revco, K-Mart, Walgreen’s, Ben Franklin and Toys-R- Us all wanted their own baseball card action. The hobby was now turned into a powerhouse and stayed that way until 1994 when the Major League Baseball Players Association decided that the team owners desire to institute a salary cap wasn’t in the players best interest. The players walked off the fields. With negotiations going nowhere fast, the owners locked the players out on August 12th. There would be no World Series that year. It would not be until April 2, 1995 that the players returned to the field but the damage had already been done. No players meant no cards. No games meant no fans. After the longest strike in Major League baseball history, the baseball card bubble was on the verge of bursting.

As everyone knows, anytime you have more supply than demand, prices will fall. Great news for me. I can pick up cool sets like this 1987 Fleer Awards Winner set for a couple of bucks. The bad news for me? The set will ALWAYS be a couple of bucks. I don’t care.

I had this set as a kid but had lost it somewhere along the way. I can only assume that at some point in 1987 a family member and I were in a 7-11 where these sets were distributed and I asked them to buy it for me. Fortunately, I picked this one up on Ebay for about $3.

The set features 44 player cards and 6 logo sticker cards. I lucked out and received 2 Mets logo cards in this one. The idea behind the set is that it features players who were awarded some type of award. Just not necessarily in 1986 which leaves me wondering how they came to settle on some of the players included. Anyways, let’s take a look at a few.

1986 NL Cy Young Award Winner – Mike Scott

Mike Scott went on to a successful career with Houston after the Mets traded him in 1983. Up until then, he had bounced up and down between the New York Mets and the their AAA minor league team the Tidewater Tides. They played here in Norfolk, VA and he is featured on a mural right outside of the upper level press boxes at the stadium. He was also one of my first “through the mail” autograph returns. He signed a pretty beat up version of his 1988 Donruss MVP card in blue sharpie. It looked a lot better than his mug-shot featured above.

Despite playing a prominent post season role in 1985 for the St Louis Cardinals, Todd Worrell still qualified as a “rookie” in 1986. He would go on to save 36 games in 1986 and be awarded “Rookie of the Year”. Brett Saberhagen is featured in this set despite winning his Cy Young Award in 1985. In 1986 he posted a 4.12 ERA and went 7-12. He was still considered a “star” so I’m sure Fleer did not want to leave him out. Card companies loved future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and included him in any set they could throughout the 80’s. 1986 was the year Schmidt led the league in home runs and RBI’s. He would also go on to win his 3rd and final National League MVP award.

I’ll just put it out there. I have no idea what the “Sports Writers Fielding Award” is. When you look at all of the players featured in this set as “Sports Writers Fielding Award” winners, it coincides with the listing of Gold Glove winners from the previous year. Why not just list it as such? I’ve always liked Don Mattingly. I especially like this card featuring him at Comisky Park. You can always tell it’s Comisky when you see the yellow guard rails in the stands. He had a hell of a career with the New York Yankees. Despite the many accolades, he doesn’t have a World Series title and saw his fair share of injuries. His shot at the Hall of Fame has come and gone. He was simply a player that was REAL good but for too short period of time.

Ray Knight was a solid choice for this Award Winners set as he won the 1986 World Series MVP. It was Knight that crossed home plate after the infamous Bill Buckner error at first. The Mets would win Game 6 and Knight would hit the tie breaking home run in Game 7 as the Mets went on to become world champions.

Fleer was two years late with Ozzie Guillen’s “Rookie of the Year” card. He won that award in 1985. As strange as it is that they would include this card in this set, it has always been one of my favorites. I love the colors, the stadium in the background and the classic “Sox” logo featured on his jacket.

Through his 17 year career, Cecil Cooper was a solid player. A five-time All Star, Cooper batted .300 or more from 1977 to 1983. 1980 was his best season as he finished right behind George Brett in American League batting average. Brett finished with a .390 average and Cooper finished 2nd with .352. He also led the league in RBI’s with 122. He would notch his 2,000th hit in 1986 and close out his career in 1988 with 2,192 hits.

Future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is featured taking a swing at Wrigley Field. 1986 was only one of his nine Gold Glove seasons. Sandberg made his major league debut in 1981 with the Philadelphia Phillies as a shortstop that could also play 2nd and 3rd. He only appeared in 13 games and managed one hit in six at bats – ironically, a base hit at Wrigley Field with a bat borrowed by starting shortstop Larry Bowa. The Phillies would go on to trade Larry Bowa to the Chicago Cubs and Cubs demanded the rookie Sandberg as a 3rd baseman. The Phillies agreed as they did not have a need for him. 3rd base was occupied by Mike Schmidt and their current 2nd baseman Manny Trillo was performing well. In return for Sandberg and Bowa, the Phillies would get shortstop Ivan DeJesus. The trade worked out well for Chicago as they would see the post season in 1984 for the first time in 39 years.

There wasn’t a card company out that didn’t insist on featuring Jose Canseco in their 1987 sets. Canseco was everywhere. I remember my uncle taking me to a card show around that time and seeing Canseco rookie cards in the display cases with price tags of $200+. The 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie was the card to have and there were tons of them. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why these guys were shelling out $200 for the one card when they could spend that money on a few wax boxes and maybe pull multiples. I’ve never been good at math but even as a ten year, I knew that didn’t add up. Card shows in the late 80’s and well into the 90’s were a gluttonous experience. Cards and big money were flowing everywhere. I was a cheap date for my uncle. After an hour of searching, we walked out with only a handful of cards – a crisp 1977 Gary Carter, a 1985 Donruss Gary Carter, a 1987 TCMA Tidewater Tides team set, and a 1988 Donruss Gregg Jefferies. I think we spent $20.

Another milestone card features future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. He would reach 3,000 strikeouts in 1986 largely due in part to a magnificent curve ball that he could throw over the plate anytime in any count. He would go on to win a World Series with the Twins in 1987 as they defeated the St Louis Cardinals in 7 games.

Marty Barrett was known as an excellent 2nd baseman and a great contact hitter. He would set a major league record in the 1986 with 24 hits in 14 post season games and was awarded the MVP of the ALCS. He would p1rove to be a tough out against the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series as he hit .433 during the series. Barrett was also a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox team that set 13 baseball records over the span of a 32 inning game against the Rochester Red Wings.

The game began Saturday April 18, 1981 at 8:25PM after a 30 minute delay due to problems with the stadium lights. The game went well into the night and into Easter morning. By 4AM the players were “delirious” from exhaustion. Rochester’s Dave Huppert had caught the first 31 innings before being replaced, and Jim Umbarger pitched 10 scoreless innings from the 23rd inning, striking out nine and giving up four hits. The president of the league, Harold Cooper, was finally reached on the phone by Pawtucket publicity manager Mike Tamburro sometime after 3AM. The horrified Cooper ordered that play stop at the end of the current inning. Finally at 4:07 AM, at the end of the 32nd inning and more than eight hours after it began, the game was stopped. There were only 19 fans left in the seats—not including David Cregg, who had fallen asleep – all of whom received season or lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. As the players went home to rest before returning at 11AM for an afternoon game that Sunday; they saw people going to Easter sunrise service. When Wade Boggs’ father complimented him for getting four hits in the game, the player admitted that he didn’t think he had a good game. After all, he had come up to bat 12 times.

We will close it out with this card of “The Kid”. The “Game Winning RBI” metric was designed to recognize players credited with the difference making run in a game. The award was meant to identify players that were good clutch hitters and could perform well when the game was on the line. The stat never proved particularly useful as the “game winning run” being tracked was quite random and there was no particular player that was really any better than another in driving in the winning run. The stat was quietly discontinued in 1990. I can’t even find the official stat where he is credited with leading the National League in GWRBI’s. Either way, this card sits nicely in my “Gary Carter binder” in the “oddball card” section. I’m not even sure what my grand total of Carter cards is. I just know it’s a lot.

2019 Topps Series 1

As we close in on the end of February, I have added the final missing card of the Topps 2019 Series 1 base set. When completing sets, it’s never a matter of speed for me really, but I’m pretty happy that I was able to collate the set in under 30 days. I need to give a big shout out to my buddy Matt who hooked me up with some doubles of my favorite cards to add to my mini-collections. He runs a YouTube blog called Passion 4 Cards. Give him a visit and subscribe to his channel!

I follow a few baseball card blogs and have read their opinions on the set. If you scroll to the bottom of the Cardboardconnection.com review, you can see about a dozen opinions from other collectors on everything from base card design, sub-sets, number of cards per pack or per box, typography, photography, card stock weight, player checklist, centering of photos, borders, no borders, half-borders, approval of Topps, hatred of Topps, and the list goes on and on.

“Randy” says that the “modern baseball card is dead” and that Topps should be dissolved as a company.

Probably time to stop hanging out on online baseball card blogs Randy.

What do I think? I don’t think it’s half as deep as some of these folks make it out to seem. Sometimes I like the new design and sometimes I don’t. I’ll still collect it but I’m not one to lose sleep over it. I like this particular design just fine. The blog Stadium Fantasium offers up a much more comprehensive review including his thoughts on the parallels and many different insert sets. It’s a great read. Check it out.

Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite cards from the 2019 Series 1 set.

*Disclaimer: No Trout and no Ohtani featured here – haven’t we already seen enough of those guys already?

Here we have two great shots. Didi appearing to slide back to first with the hopes of evading an opposing pitcher’s pick-off throw. On a handful of cards, Topps brought the player’s picture up and outside of the border which I love. 1988 Topps was the first year I noticed this cropping technique. Topps went back to it in 1990 and 1991 as well. It took me a while to track the actual game down but Cesar Hernandez’ card features him turning two and avoiding the slide of San Francisco’s Joe Panik during their June 3, 2018 day game at Citizen’s Bank Park. Jake Arrietta and the Phillies would go on to lose this game 6-1 with Arrietta providing the only run – a home run off of Dereck Rodriguez in the 3rd inning.

Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Manaea’s 2019 Topps card puts you seconds away from a fastball coming right down the pipe. After coming off of arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder this winter, Manaea is progressing ahead of schedule and says that he feels “100% better than he did last year.” That’s hard to believe considering he enjoyed a 12-9 record in 2018 with a 3.59 ERA and tossed a no-hitter against the future World Series champion Boston Red Sox. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do when he’s healthy. I’m always a fan of cards featuring exciting outfield catches. This particular one will go in the “mini-collection” of spectacular grabs. Chicago White Sox center fielder Adam Engel’s 2019 card will forever document his 8th inning, snag against the Cleveland Indians. This was one less home run for Yonder Alonso. He would have hit 24 last year. The Indians would go on to win this August 12th day game 9-7.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Kole Calhoun play. He’s had a nice five year career with the Angels, a Gold Glover and for the most part, a decent hitter. The first two months of his 2018 seasons were two of the absolute worst for him as he hit around .145 for the first 60 days of the season. After working in the minors on his swing, he bounced back and had a pretty good season. I love this shot of him flipping the bat with an open right hand after lifting the ball into the air.

I love this landscape shot of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras at Wrigley Field. He was an All Star in 2018 despite having a lackluster second half of the season. As his power faded during the last months of the 2018 season, it was no surprise – the guy was simply, tired. He had caught 1,200 innings; the most in the majors.

What’s not to like about this card. We have the split second before Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver makes contact while Anaheim Angels catcher Martin Maldonado looks on. Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman keeps a close eye on things. This appears to be a day game and given that Maldonado was traded to Houston in July, the only time he played a day game against the Twins would have been June 10. Garver knocked a double to deep right field in the fifth inning of this game and seeing that the pitch is on the outer half of the plate, this very well could have been that very play. Jake Cave would score Garver with a ground ball single to right in the next at bat.

I decided I was going to start a mini-collection of cards with Wrigley Field’s ivy-adorned wall in the background. Billy Hamilton’s card here fits the bill nicely. 2019 will see Hamilton in a Royals uniform and the Reds are considering filling their center field position with current right fielder Scott Schebler. Yasiel Puig will also likely see some playing time in center and the Reds are even toying with letting pitcher Michael Lorenzen split time between the outfield and closing games out on the mound.

Adding another one to my ivy wall/outfield grab mini collection is Albert Almora. He had a great 2018, hitting .300+ for most of the year. He has reportedly slimmed up over the winter and is in the best shape of his life. Nevertheless, he will still likely move around the outfield as manager Joe Maddon likes to move guys in and out of the game based on match ups.

Another mini-collection card here from Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario. Nick, who runs Dime Boxes baseball card blog started a min-collection of cards featuring players on nothing but infield dirt. I like the idea so I’ve started to notice cards that are absent of grass. This one shows Rosario celebrating his successful arrival at second base without a blade of grass in sight.

Another Rosario but this time its the photo variation. Topps did a nice job with this one. Looks like a beautiful day for a ball game.

Three more photo variations including a similar shot of Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo prepping his battle axe. Not my favorite card of local-boy Ryan Zimmerman but it will go in the PC. As a Mets fan, I was thrilled to pull this photo variation of 2018 Cy Young award winner Jacob DeGrom. The Mets were terrible last year but this guy was as good as it got.

I love this photo variation of Boston Red Sox super star Mookie Betts. He is coming off of a banner 2018 where he was not only a World Series champion, but American League MVP, an All Star, Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger Award winner. He was also the AL batting champion in 2018 and was a member of the 30-30 club. I’ve also read that he’s a professional bowler and bowled 300 in a game in the 2017 World Series of Bowling. I went bowling yesterday and didn’t crack 100. My 3 year old beat me but for the sake of transparency, he DID have the bumpers up.

We will close out with this SP photo variation of San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. Posey sported his patriotic catcher’s gear as the Giants visited the Colorado Rockies on July 4, 2018. The Rockies took this game 1-0 as Chris Ianetta homered of off of Andrew Suarez in the bottom of the 7th. Posey would go hitless in 4 at bats with 2 walks.

Rickey Henderson – “Rickey being Rickey”

This weekend I was finally able to get some downtime between work, a 3 year old and just life in general.  After finding myself on the couch with nothing to do, I took a look at our DVR and saw that I had recorded the ESPN “30 for 30” episode where they explored Deion Sander’s 1992 season where he not only played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and football for the Atlanta Falcons but actually played a game for each on the same day.  It was pretty good and there was a lot that I didn’t know about that particular part of his career.  I enjoyed watching Deion play football but his petulant arrogance and incessant mouth-running never really generated any admiration from me.

Ironically, I have always been a big fan of Rickey Henderson who is also a character of arrogance and big-talk.  I’m not sure why I have that double standard but I’ve always dismissed his antics as “Rickey just being Rickey”.  There are many “Rickey stories” out there and none of them are particularly flattering.  They are however, pretty entertaining.

Sunday I came across an article online where Rickey Henderson said he was hoping that Oakland’s top draft pick Kyler Murray would have chosen to come play baseball for the A’s instead of opting to play professional football.  He said that in 1986, he had gone to the LA Raider’s owner Al Davis and asked him if he could play football.  Davis agreed but the Oakland A’s put an end to that idea.  Seeing Rickey suit up for the Raiders would have been exciting to watch.

I’ve decided that in 2019, I’m going to focus on a few “player collections”. I’ve had a few going over the years such as Gary Carter, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.  I’ll add Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Don Mattingly, and Harrison Bader.   I also think I’m going to start a collection focused on great action shots of catchers, outfield catches, or maybe acrobatic double plays.  I’ll save those ideas for another post in the future.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rickey cards for your viewing pleasure.

1999 Topps Stadium Club – Of course I would pick one of Rickey’s Stadium Club cards to lead off.  I’m a sucker for the photography and Stadium Club is just loaded with exceptional photos.  This is my favorite of Rickey’s SC issues.  I can’t tell if he’s on his way to swiping second or third base but I’m nearly certain, he was called safe.   I love this card for so many reasons.  First off, it’s Rickey doing what ultimately defined his career, stealing bases.  I love the bright white, green, and gold uniform.  I love the mid-stride action shot and how he’s only player in sight.  The fact that this shot was taken during a sunny Oakland day game also helps. Rickey was a New York Met in 1999 so this shot was likely taken the year before when he was with the Oakland Athletics.  Ironically, Rickey hated playing day games.  Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, “We had a day game in Oakland, and Rickey struck out. He walked all the way through the dugout talking to himself, he always talked to himself. He was saying, ‘I don’t know who’s inside Rickey’s body, but he better get out because the guy in there doesn’t like day games, he only shows up on day games, so he better get out.'”  Candiotti said that the entire dugout was screaming in laughter.

1999 Topps Stadium Club

I love collecting the photo variations and short prints of past legends. Topps has done a nice job with doing this. Here are a few of my favorite Gypsy Queen Rickey cards as well as Rickey’s 2011 Topps Update “Legends Variation”.

2013, 2014, & 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
2011 Topps Update (Legends)

1981 Fleer – As a kid in the 80’s, I knew Henderson only as a New York Yankee. I started collecting around 1986 and every Rickey card I had featured him in Yankee pinstripes. My grandparents lived next door to a family who had a kid that was a bit older than me and he had a shoe box full of mostly Fleer and Donruss cards from the early 80’s. I remember sorting through them one day and seeing these two cards of the 22 year old Henderson in his green Athletics uniform. I realized then that I would have known he was a former Athletic if I had ever bothered to read the stats on the back. From that point forward, I began looking at both sides of the cards. When you look at his 1981 season stats, you will see that Rickey lead the American League in runs scored (89), stolen bases (56), and hits (136). 89 runs scored and 56 stolen bases may not seem like a lot (he stole 100 bases in 1980) but 1981 was a strike-shortened season. This was also the year that the Athletics accounting department found their books off by about a million bucks. They actually had about 1 million MORE than they should have. They traced it back to Rickey’s million dollar bonus. Instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on his wall. Adding to the allure of this story, some sources state is was the Yankees who were missing the million bucks.

1981 Fleer

1992 Donruss – This set has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1992, Donruss celebrated Rickey’s greatest achievement. On May 1, 1991, he stole his 938th career base; in doing so, he succeeded Lou Brock as baseball’s career stolen base leader. Henderson would end the 1991 season with 994 stolen bases. 1992 saw the Athletics finish first in the American League West with a record of 96-66. Their offense was centered around Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. The bulk of the Athletics’ 1992 accolades, however, went to closer Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley led baseball with 51 saves over the course of the season; in the process, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. Eckersley’s efforts netted him both the 1992 AL Cy Young Award and the 1992 AL MVP Award. The mighty A’s would eventually fall to Toronto in the ALCS. In 1993 Henderson would find himself in a Toronto uniform and eventually a World Series champion. His Donruss base card puts you about as close as you can get to his record breaking signature head first slide on May 1, 1991. Here he is swiping 3rd against the New York Yankees. Seconds later, he would be called SAFE and as such; the all-time base thief. Now that I look at it, if it had been up to me, I would have used the base card as the “Highlight” card. The lime green and white batting gloves he’s sporting in that photo were a must-have for many little players that year. They were made by Mizuno and featured white leather with a lime green padding on the top. Very flashy and very expensive at the time. I had a pair thanks to Mom and Dad.

1992 Donruss Highlights + 1992 Donruss

1987 Topps – The 1987 Topps set has always been a favorite of collectors. featuring the wood-grain borders and loaded with rookies and future Hall of Famers, there are about 25 cards in the set that have always been my favorites. The Henderson is one of them. I love the symmetrical cropping of the photo. Starting in the top left hand corner of the card, you can follow the Yankees logo right to his head, down his torso and all the way down to the bottom right hand corner of the card. Straight as an arrow. Kind of a weird thing to find appealing in a baseball card you’re probably thinking. Due to injuries and only playing in 95 games, 1987 was a below-average season for Henderson and drew public criticism from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was the only season from 1980 – 1991 that he did not lead the league in steals. Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals with 60 and tells a funny story about a phone call he received one night from Rickey:

1987 Topps

“The phone rings; ‘Henderson here.’ I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Rickey?’ (and I think he’s calling to congratulate me,) but he goes, ‘Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have had 60 at the break.’ And then click, he hung up.”

1989 Topps & Traded – In 1989, the Yankees; uncertain whether Rickey Henderson was worth a new three-year contract and desperately in need of pitching, decided to send him back home to Oakland in exchange for pitchers Erik Plunk, Greg Caderet, and a speedy outfielder named Luis Polonia. Contractually, the Yankees needed Henderson’s approval prior to any trade and he said that Oakland was the only place he would go. Wasting no time after the mid-season trade, Henderson reasserted himself as one of the game’s greatest players, with a memorable half-season in which his 52 steals and 72 runs scored led the A’s into the postseason. The move back to Oakland proved to be a good one for Henderson as Oakland ended up in the World Series for the first time since 1974. Despite a devastating earthquake at the start of Game 3, the A’s would eventually go on to sweep the San Francisco Giants. Henderson hit .474 with an .895 slugging average (including two triples and a homer), while stealing three bases. Earlier that year on August 22, 1989, he became Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim, but Henderson took an odd delight in the occurrence, saying, “If you haven’t been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you’re nobody.”

1989 Topps Traded + 1989 Topps

1980 Topps (Rookie Card) – Rickey had no problem making a splash into major league baseball. At the age of 21, Rickey led the American League in stolen bases (100), was an All-Star, and helped lead the Athletics to a 2nd place finish. His rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby and it’s easy to see why. As kids, we all emulated his batting stance at one point or another. His signature fits nicely at the bottom of the card and even with a pen, you can tell Rickey was “flashy”. Check out his loopty-loop on the “y”. Ask any of his teammates how “flashy” Rickey is and they will likely tell you the same thing about his pre-game ritual. Since he broke into the league, before every game he plays, he stands completely naked in front of a full-sized mirror, points at himself and says “Rickey, you’re the best…” (over and over…)

1980 Topps

1997 Topps Gallery – This 180 card set was released to hobby shops only and as I was heading off to college that year, I didn’t discover it until years later. Here we see Rickey in a Padres uniform. One can only assume he successfully nabbed second base from the New York Mets. That looks like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso in the picture. I believe this is Shea Stadium and after reviewing Alfonso’s 1996 game log, he played second base for the Mets against the Padres in the August 27-29 home stand. Looking at Henderson’s game logs, the only game he was in a situation to steal was the August 29th game. Paul Wilson would walk Rickey Henderson in the top of the 5th. With Tony Gwynn at the plate, Rickey swiped his 35th base of the season as catcher Todd Hundley’s throw comes in late. Gwynn would go on to poke a ground ball through the middle for a base hit, scoring Henderson. That same year, Rickey was caught speeding but not by an opposing catcher. It was actually a San Diego police officer. As he approached Henderson’s sports car, the driver’s side window slips down a few inches and a hand emerges with a $100 bill in it. The officer shook Rickey’s hand and sent him home (with his money) and a gentle warning.

One time, the Padres GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. Not finding him checked in under his real name, Towers decided to think like Rickey and asked to be transferred to “Richard Pryor’s room”. Rickey picked up the phone.

1997 Topps Gallery

Joe Tinker & Dick Egan

In 1907, Second baseman Dick Egan of the Cincinnati Reds got real furious one sunny afternoon as Joe Tinker of the Chicago Cubs executed a vicious slide into second base.  Before the cloud of dust had even cleared, fans watched as the two men were back on their feet, shouting back and forth.

Egan (2)

Cincinnati second baseman Dick Egan

Egan challenged Tinker to a fight.

“You dirty blankety-blank!” screamed Egan, “As soon as we’re done beating your team’s ass here, I’m going to knock your blankety-blank head off!”

Covered in dirt and have already out-“blanked” Egan; Tinker picked his glove up off of the ground and accepted Egan’s challenge to meet again after the game.

Confrontation was no stranger to the Cubs shortstop. The dark-haired Tinker was known for his fiery temper both on and off of the field but in most cases, his mood would cool just as quickly as it flared and by the end of the game, Tinker would have forgotten all about whatever it was he mad about in the first place.

I say in most cases because that was NOT the case with his long time double play partner and Cub second baseman Johnny Evers.

Tinker

Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker

On September 13, 1905 in Bedford Indiana, the Chicago Cubs played an exhibition game against the local team.  That afternoon, 700 excited fans filled the wooden bleachers to not only see the major league team from Chicago but to also see Bob Wicker pitch for the Cubs.  Wicker was a home-grown local boy known to the town as the “Pride of Bedford”.  Those expecting a pleasant diversion in seeing the big league club showing off their big league skills were shocked when a fight broke out (before the first pitch was even thrown) between two of the Cubs, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers.   Fans watched as Tinker and Evers began shouting at each other, wrestled one another to the ground, and angrily exchanged punches until manager Frank Chance was able to pull them apart.

As it turned out, Evers had ridden off alone in a cab to the ball field from the team’s hotel, leaving Tinker and some other teammates behind.  Tinker later told reporters, “I was real mad about and as soon as I got to the park I went up to him and said, ‘who in

Evers

Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers

the hell are you that you’ve got to have a cab all to yourself?’  Well, one word led to another and before I knew it, we were at it and rolling around among the bats on the ball field.  After we were pulled apart, I said to Evers, ‘now listen you son of a bitch, if you and I talk to each other we’re only going to be fighting again.  So don’t talk to ME and I won’t talk to YOU.  You play your position and I’ll play mine and that’ll be that.’”

The pugnacious Evers responded: “That suits me just fine”, and walked back to the dugout.

The two didn’t speak again until 1937.

But back to the ball field in Cincinnati.

After the game had ended and the both teams were making their way back to their respective clubhouse, Tinker had forgotten all about the challenge he had accepted from that “blankety-blank” Egan.

Not so for Egan.

Never returning to his own clubhouse, Egan patiently waited for Tinker outside of the Cubs clubhouse.  After growing impatient Egan furiously barged into the Cubs dressing room searching everywhere for Tinker.

Tinker had simply showered, changed into his suit and had left as he always did after a game.

Not seeing him in the clubhouse, Egan began screaming at the other Cub players, “He’s yella! He’s run out on me!”

Hearing the commotion going on in the clubhouse, Cubs manager Frank Chance walked up to the Reds second baseman. “I’ve known Joe for a long time and Joe Tinker has never ran away from a fight in his life.  Let me get him for you”, he calmly said.

Chance walked out of the clubhouse and up onto the field to see the freshly showered and fully dressed Tinker walking just past second base as he was exiting the ball field. “Hey Joe!”, Chance yelled.  As Tinker turned around, he saw the bellicose Egan tearing up the dugout steps and across the infield with his fists clenched.

At that point, he remembered the challenge that he had accepted in the early innings of the game. Tinker calmly put down his briefcase, handed Chance his suit coat and in a moment, the battle was on inside of a circle of the Reds and Cubs players.

It lasted perhaps 4 minutes and witnesses said that few men have ever taken such a beating in so short a time as Egan did from Tinker.  When it was over, not so much as a strand of Tinker’s hair was out of place

An unbiased witness did say that after it was over and Egan was on the ground staring at the sky, Tinker did have to “straighten his necktie a little.”

Completed Set – 2017 Topps

I’m a “set” guy.  I like choosing a set and hunting down each piece of the puzzle. Admittedly, I’ve lost interest in completing a few of the recent sets I’ve set out to complete.  The Heritage sets with their high-number cards are just too much of  a challenge for my taste.  I prefer sticking to base sets with the exception of the Topps Gypsy Queen sets which have just the right amount of short-prints and variations to keep me interested.

With each new flagship Topps release, I will hand-collate the base set.  It usually takes me all year but I always manage to get it done before the World Series hits.  This year, as I slid the last card of the Topps Series 2 set into it’s final page sleeve I decided that I should do a blog post featuring my favorite 10 cards in the set.

The problem was, I had more than 10 cards that I wanted to feature.  Topps has come a long way with their flagship sets and the photography.  At one point in time, premium photography and exciting shots seemed to be reserved for the Stadium Club sets.  The 2017 Topps design is awesome and I really enjoyed putting this set together.  Here we will look at my top 15 cards in Series 1 and 2.

Once this post is finished, the cards will be taken back out of their pages, tucked into their respective “row” of a monster-box, labeled and up on the shelf they will go to sit and wait for the day they get broken back out to see the light of day.

The ritual drives my wife crazy.  That’s her problem though.

Without further ado, let’s get to the cards and we will fittingly start with #1 in Series 1.

01011121 (4)#1 – Kris Bryant – The Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and National League Most Valuable Player graces Card No. 1 and joins a long list of great players who have been represented on the first Topps card of the year from Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams to Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter. I’ve always loved the horizontal cards and Bryant was actually chosen by baseballs to get the coveted #1 card in this year’s release.  The one-week online vote occurred in October of last year where fans chose from a list of 16 nominees on Topps.com. Topps started the Vote for Card No. 1 in 2016 when Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned the honor in the inaugural vote.

01011121 (5)#236 – Lucas Duda – As a Met’s fan, we can start here.  I love the throwback Mets uniform in this shot and the fact that it’s not even Lucas Duda on the card.  The first time I pulled this card, I stared at it and knew something was off.  The photo is actually of utility player Eric Campbell who is not even playing in Major League Baseball anymore as he signed with the Hanshin Tigers last year.  The corrected version of the card was released in factory sets and the New York Mets team sets only.  I’ll track the corrected one down on the Bay at some point.

01011121#140 – Jesse Hahn – Here we have a nice crisp shot of the A’s starter.  For some reason,
I feel like cards with daytime photos shot in California always seem to have a “brighter” feel to them.   Check out any older A’s, Dodgers or Angels cards and you’ll see what I mean.  In this particular photo, Topps captured Hahn using one of the warm-up mounds in foul territory at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  You can also see “Jacob Ellsbury” featured on the ticker tape scoreboard in the background.  This would likely date this photo as May 22, 2016 which was a day game against the New York Yankees.  The Bombers would go on to take that game 5-4 with Ellsbury using the 3rd inning to drop a Hahn fastball over the deep center-right field wall for a home run.

01011121 (6)#6 – Kevin Pillar –   Cards featuring plays at the plate are always popular with me.  I think the first play at the plate card I owned was the 1987 Topps Wally Backman.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.  Topps zeroed in on this July 7, 2016, sixth inning play at the plate as Detroit Tiger catcher James McCann tags out Toronto runner Kevin Pillar.  The Jays would go on to beat the Tigers 5-4 behind 3 RBI’s from Troy Tulowitzki.

01011121 (3)#133  -Jace Peterson – This is actually one of three really nice “double-dip” action shots in the set.  The Braves second-sacker has split most of the 2017 season between AAA Gwinnett.  A versatile player who can play all infield positions as well as the outfield, if he can perform at the plate, he will be a key player for Atlanta.

01011120 (7)#36 – Addison Russell – Probably one of the most notable cards of Series 1 due to the fact that this card (along with the Bryce Harper variation) were featured in most of Topps pre-release marketing.  Collectors were seemingly very familiar with it before the set was even released.  Despite that, it’s an awesome card.  The partial full-bleed design of the set works really well with this card.  I love the clarity of Russell and the base-runner against the blurred out background.  Very effective card that captures the moment.

01011120 (8)#443 – Dee Gordon – Here we have a great action shot featuring Gordon turning a graceful double-dip against the Phillies Cesar Hernandez.  This photo was from the September 18, 2016 game between the Marlins and Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park.   The Marlins would take this game from the Phils by a score of 5-4.  In addition to a slick-fielding lead off hitter, Gordon is known also as the son of former Royals and Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon.  I will always remember the emotional lead off home run he hit in his first at bat after the untimely passing of teammate Jose Fernandez.

01011121 (2)#251 – Justin Turner – As Justin Turner played here locally in 2009 & 2010 with the Norfolk Tides; I’ve followed Justin Turner’s career pretty closely over the years.  After being let go by the Mets in 2013 as just one of the many bone-headed moves by Met’s general manager Sandy Alderson (how does that guy still have a job?), Turner rebuilt his swing and overall approach at the plate and is currently an All-Star as well as one of the most feared hitters in the league.  Imagine a Met’s infield with Turner at third and Murphy at second.  I not only love the photography on his 2017 card, but I think it looks great in the sideways landscape format.  This photo is from the June 17, 2016 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers and features Turner celebrating his walk-off RBI single which won the game in the 10th inning.  He had also tied the game in the 8th with two run homer.

01011119#581 – Brock Holt – Another great landscape shot from Topps.  Featuring Brock Holt warming up between innings or before a game, you see a beautiful sky in the background as well as the telltale signs of the iconic Fenway Park.  I can actually imagine myself sitting in the front row at this game.

01011120 (6)#350 – David Ortiz – As Nick over at the Dime Box baseball card blog would call it, this is Ortiz “sunset card”.  Topps did a fine job of capturing Ortiz’ graceful swing launching of his last home runs into the bleachers at Fenway Park.  This photo was taken on July 26, 2016 in the third inning and happens to be a 3 run homer.  San Francisco Giants catcher   Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also featured in the photo.  An absolute first ballot Hall of Famer, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite for years and will go down as one of the most beloved Red Sox players.  I have to admit, I’m huge Ortiz fan and this card marks the end of a career that was thrilling to watch every step of the way.  I’m still on the hunt for a copy of his 2013 Topps SSP “Boston Strong” card.

01011120 (5)#508 Hanley Ramirez – Topps really outdid themselves with the Red Sox cards this year as their are so many great shots of them.  Here is another great landscape shot featuring Hanley Ramirez watching his 7th inning home run against the Blue Jays on October 2, 2016.  I love how the catcher and the umpire are both featured in this card as well.   Despite the efforts of Ramirez, Toronto would go on to win the game 2-1 and clinch the Wild Card spot.  Coincidentally, this game was also the last home game of Big Papi’s career.

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#324 Ben Revere – Taking a break from the BoSox, let’s move over to the Washington Nationals and take a look at this great shot of speedy outfielder Ben Revere robbing Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman of a home run during the fourth inning of their August 19, 2016 match up.  You can watch a video clip of the grab HERE.  The Nats would go on to take this one from the Braves 7-6.  This grab was one of the few bright spots in Revere’s season and 2016 would be his only season with the Nationals.  He was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels this past December.

01011120 (2)#520 Andrelton Simmons – Topps took advantage of the flame throwing backdrop of Angels Stadium to capture Simmons celebrating a double.  Simmons was traded to Los Angeles from Atlanta last November so this is his first card in an Angels uniform.

01011119 (6)#669 Corey Kluber – If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to stare down the pipe of a Kluber fastball, this would probably be a pretty accurate example.  This photo was from the 2016 ALDS matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe would go on to take the game from the Jays 2-0.  2017 has seen Kluber be as good as any pitcher in the game could be and the Indians are currently leading their division by 8 games.  This year I put my Cy Young bets on Kluber or Chris Sale.

01011119 (5)#576 Russell Martin – Topps has made a concerted effort to feature key moments from the prior season and this card is exemplary of that effort.  Here we have a a close play at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the explosive 2016 ALDS between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.  After a lead off double by Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre hit into a fielder’s choice leading to Desmond being tagged out at the plate.  This was the second meeting between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the postseason, the first being the 2015 American League Division Series in which the Blue Jays defeated the Rangers after losing the first two games at home, which was marked by a controversy-laden deciding Game 5 defined by José Bautista’s bat flip.  It was also the first series between the two teams since May 15, a game which featured multiple bench clearing skirmishes and the infamous Rougned Odor punch of Bautista.

That’s it for the Top 15 cards of the 2017 Topps Series 1 & 2 set.  I’ve just completed a nice 1978 Topps set so I’ll likely get started on a Top 10 list of those cards as well.

Have a great Labor Day everyone.

 

Hank Aaron

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1974 Topps #1

It was 43 years ago today that Hank Aaron became baseball’s all-time home run king.   Aaron awoke that morning perched atop baseball’s most coveted leader board; tied with the larger than life and most legendary sports figure in the world, George Herman Ruth. The world had been watching and waiting for months as all ears and eyes became focused on the bat in Aaron’s hands.  It would be those hands and the flick of those wrists that would propel the game’s most talented yet unassuming men into immortality.   For years, Aaron had been chasing the record with his particular brand of quiet excellence. Often in the shadow of the flashier talents of the era – players like Mantle, Mays, and Robinson.

Pitcher Claude Osteen once said of Aaron, “You have a better chance of slapping a live rattlesnake across the face and getting away with it than you do trying to fool Hank Aaron.”

Aaron could often be seen sitting on the bench in the dugout staring at the opposing pitcher through the tiny hole in his ball cap.  This was his way of isolating his adversary and studying him.

He never saw a single one of his home runs clear the fence.  Instead, Aaron kept his head down and focused on touching first base.  Aaron once said, “watching the ball go over the fence isn’t going help.”   It was this insurmountable focus and drive that helped Aaron to endure the challenges of chasing Ruth.  Aaron told a reporter once, “I’m not sure who is chasing who these days.  All I ever hear about is Ruth, Ruth, Ruth.”  Aaron received a lot of fan mail as he made his way towards the top of the home run leader board – much of it racially motivated.  Aaron received death threats from those who didn’t think a black man should ever hold the record.  He was surrounded by security guards for much of the 1973 and ’74 seasons and on the road, he often booked several hotel rooms under his name as well as assumed names.  Aaron was even forced to take up temporary living quarters in Atlanta because he was not safe in his own home.

Number 715 came on April 8, 1974 during the Atlanta Braves home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The evening was unusually cold for early spring in Georgia.  It was a full-house at Atlanta Stadium with Los Angeles’ Al Downing on the mound; hoping to not become any part of history if he could help it.

It was the second inning when Aaron stepped into the batter’s box for the first time. Before walking to the on-deck circle, Aaron turned to Dusty Baker in the dugout and said, “Man, I’m going to go get this over with right now.”  The anticipation from the crowd at hand and the rest of the world was immense.  Downing dealt Aaron five pitches, none of which produced a swing, and walked Aaron.  Aaron would score that inning, breaking Willie May’s National League record for runs scored.

In the fourth inning, with Darrell Evans on first base, no outs and the Dodgers leading, 3-1, a high fastball left Downing’s pitching hand and as quickly as it was delivered, Aaron turned on it and deposited into the left-center field bullpen.  The time was 9:07 PM and coincidentally, that is also the EXACT time of this writing (weird!).

As Aaron rounded first base, the scoreboard flashed “715” in bright lights and the

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1983 ASA The Hank Aaron Story #6 – I sent this card to Mr. Aaron when I was 8 years old.  He was nice enough to sign it for me.  It was one of my first TTM autographs.

stadium erupted into pandemonium along with a series of fireworks exploding overhead. As Aaron circled the bases, two fans who had made their way past security guards and joined him briefly between second and third. When Aaron rounded third, the sight of his teammates waiting for him at the plate gave the world a rare glimpse of emotion from the stoic Aaron as his intense focus broke into a wide grin.  The glorious yet often painful journey was finally over.

Monte Irvin, who stood in for  baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (who was in Cleveland attending a meeting of the Wahoo Club), congratulated Aaron. When Irvin mentioned Kuhn, the crowd booed relentlessly, showing their scorn that he was the one person who had chosen to ignore the evening.

“I just thank God it’s all over,” said Aaron.  The incessant media interviews, near-constant scrutiny, death threats and hate mail could finally be moved aside.

Braves reliever Tom House, who caught No. 715 in the bullpen, raced to greet Aaron and present him the ball. The crowd roared for a full 10 minutes as Aaron was mobbed by teammates, relatives, friends and well-wishers.  Aaron recalled the moment like this:  “I don’t remember the noise or the two kids that I’m told ran the bases with me.  My teammates at home plate, I remember seeing them.  I remember my mother out there, and her hugging me.  That’s what I remember more than anything about the home run when I think back on it.  I don’t know where she came from, but she was there.”  

House likely had the best perspective on the scene:  “I’ve got a master’s degree in marketing, and I don’t supposed my professors would give me high marks for opportunism, with so much being offered for the ball.”  But I’m not at all sorry.  What made it worthwhile was what I saw when running in with the ball in my glove.  I ran so fast that my teammates joked that it was the fastest they had ever seen me run.  I just wanted to get rid of it and get it into Henry’s hands.  In the crowd at home plate, I found him looking over his mother’s shoulder, hugging her to him, and I suddenly saw what so many people have never been able to see in him – deep emotion…  It looked like he had tears hanging on his eyelids.  I could hardly believe it.  ‘Hammer, here it is,’ I said.  I put the ball in his hand and he said ‘Thanks kid.’ and touched me on the shoulder.  I kept staring at him and it was then that it was home to me what this home run meant, not only to him, but to all of us.”

After the ceremony, play resumed and Aaron played the entire game, which the Braves won, 7-4.

Dusty Baker shared his humorous take as he stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the sixth.  He noticed the crowd noise dying and the loud clanking of the gates in the bleachers.  He stepped out of the box, looked around and saw that nearly everyone was leaving!  “I realized then that they had just come to see Hank!  Not me, not the Braves, but Hank and his pursuit of Ruth.”

As Baker stepped in, the phone in the dugout rang.  It was for Hank.  President Nixon had called to congratulate him on his achievement.  Afterward, Aaron told hundreds of reporters, “The home run wouldn’t have really meant that much to me if we hadn’t won the game.”

Bobby Doerr

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Today Mr. Doerr turns 99 years old.  Playing his entire 14 year career with the Boston Red Sox (1937-1951), Doerr was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.  As of February 26, 2017, he is the oldest living former major league player and the last living person to have played in the 1930’s.

One of the most productive 2nd basemen of all time, he was a nine-time all star, batted over .300 three times and drove in more than 100 runs in six different seasons.  Defensively, Doerr capped his career with an incredible .980 fielding percentage.

Doerr served in the Army during World War II and missed the 1945 baseball season. He returned the next season, helping the Red Sox win the pennant. During the World Series against the Cardinals, Doerr batted .406 with one home run and three RBIs.

After his playing career, Doerr served as a scout for the Red Sox from 1957 to 1966 as well as a minor league hitting instructor.  Hired as the Red Sox first base coach in 1967, he would see the World Series one last time, eventually losing to the St Louis Cardinals.

The 1967 season also saw a turning point in the seven-year veteran Carl Yastrzemski’s career.  Working with Doerr that year on his hitting, he turned into a pull-hitter who belted over 44 home runs, won the Triple Crown and AL Most Valuable Player award that year.  Prior to 1967, Yastrzemski had never hit more than 20 homers in a season.

One of my favorite baseball books is Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship by David Halberstam.  The book details the lifelong friendship of four very different men who have transitioned from once great baseball icons to men dealing with the challenges of growing older.   Those men are Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Dominic DiMaggio.  As Ted Williams lay dying at his home in Florida, Pesky and DiMaggio begin a 1,300-mile road trip to visit Williams and say their last goodbyes.  Doerr, the fourth member of the group is unable to join them as he remained home in Oregon to care for his wife suffering from a recent stroke.

A clear fan of these men, Halberstam does a great job of recounting historical details and first-hand accounts about the men’s playing days and characters – warts and all.

Williams and Doerr were unlikely of friends.  Williams, was clearly the better player of the two but what he possessed in athletic ability, he equaled in character flaws. Williams always admired Doerr as he represented all of things that Ted wished he was, and had – the balance, the faith, the family life and the ability to not get overwhelmed.  For all of Williams’ volatility and explosiveness, Doerr was always willing to serve as the silent and reticent leader of the Red Sox.

The two argued frequently over the best approach to hitting a baseball both during their playing days and well after.  Whether it was over a long-distance phone call to Ted in Florida from Doerr’s home in Oregon or sitting beside each

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8×10 Signed for me by Mr. Doerr in 2015

other in a fishing boat.

According to a 2006 New York Times article, Doerr said “Ted Williams is a .344 lifetime average hitter and I’m a .288 lifetime average hitter. You can imagine who won that hitting clinic debate.”

Williams argued the best swing was a 12-degree uppercut, to meet the ball perpendicularly as it came down from the pitcher’s mound.

Doerr countered that he liked his hands a little above the ball, not chopping down, but enough to impart topspin that helped a drive carry farther.

One thing the two did agree on was fishing. Doerr said, “Ted Williams used to say for every day you fished, it added a day to your life and I kind of think that maybe it could be that”.

Here’s to many more days fishing Mr. Doerr.  Happy birthday.

 

Frankie Frisch

02231101-2A few weeks ago I was able to pick up this 1934 Diamond Stars card of Frankie Frisch.   PSA graded this particular card a “2”, which is expected for an 83 year old card.  With 108 total cards in the set, the Diamond Stars set was produced from 1934 to 1936 by the National Chicle company. Each pack sold for a penny and features over 30 Hall of Famers.  Frisch is one of them and I’m certain this particular card was the subject of many “trades” between young baseball fans of the time.  I absolutely love the bright colors and art-deco themed backgrounds.  Many of the cards show the player “in action” on the field.  The Diamond Stars set was one of the first products to feature baseball cards packaged with gum (as opposed to cigarettes) and as many baseball fans did not own television sets in the 30’s, it was cards like these that gave them a handy visual as they listened to their favorite teams on their radios.  Given the fact that the set does not include the two biggest stars of the decade (Ruth and Gehrig), the set still remains pretty affordable given the other stars that are included.  I am not certain how many cards were featured in each pack and my 45-minute internet search turned up nothing.  If anyone knows the answer, I’d love to know.

Before entering baseball, the Bronx-born Frisch attended Fordham University where he played four sports and his speed earned him the nickname “The Fordham Flash.”  Leaving Fordham in 1919, Frisch signed with the New York Giants of the National League.  Playing for the Giants for the next six years, Frisch won a World Series with the team in both 1921 and 1922.  Leaving the Giants in 1926, Frisch joined the St. Louis Cardinals and became the driving force behind the “Gashouse Gang.”  He would go on to win two more World Series with the Cardinals.  The first in 1931 against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics  and then again in 1933 against the Detroit Tigers.  Frisch finished his playing career in 1937. His career statistics totaled a .316 batting average, still the highest ever for a switch hitter, with 2880 hits, 1532 runs, 105 home runs and 1244 RBI. He also stole 419 bases in his nineteen playing seasons. His hit total stood as the record for switch-hitters until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1977. Frisch also hit .300 for his career from each side of the plate; the only other switch-hitter with more than 5,000 at-bats with this distinction is Chipper Jones.  Other career highlights include:  3x All-Star (1933-’35), NL MVP (1931), 3x NL Stolen Base Leader (1921, ’27, ’31), National Baseball Hall of Fame (1947).

s-l500One of my favorite Frisch stats though, is that he is currently tied for 6th on the all-time managerial ejections list.  He is currently tied with Paul Richards with 81 total ejections.

Known for his fiery competitiveness as a player, his managerial career consisted of more than a handful of umpires landing square in the path of his verbal lashings.

No other umpire was Frisch’s target more than Hall of Fame ump Jocko Conlan.  It was a match made in baseball-heaven as Conlan was widely known as one of baseball’s feistiest umpires.

There are many documented stories of the jaw-jabbing Frisch and Conlan engaged in on the field but here is one of my favorites:

On August 19, 1941 during a rainy game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Frisch who was managing the pirates felt that the second game of the double header should be called on account of the weather.  The Dodgers had already taken the first game and as the Pirates were now trailing the Dodgers by a run in the third inning, Frisch shouted from the dugout, “All my players are going to get pneumonia because of you Jocko – you haven’t got the guts to call this game!”  

Conlan who was finding it harder and harder to ignore Frankie’s incessant heckling, turned to the dugout and yelled “Whatsa matter Frankie?  Haven’t you the guts enough to PLAY the game?”

After the drizzle continued into the next inning, Frisch grabbed a large umbrella to “further emphasize his point” and proceeded to carefully make the trek from the dugout to the pitcher’s mound as “not to slip on the wet grass.”  Watching Frisch approaching and wanting nothing less than to continue to argue with Frisch over the weather, Conlan stood there and let him march all the way out onto the field.  Frisch stopped right in front of Jocko, opened up his large umbrella and stood there staring at the three umpires.  As the fans and the press roared in laughter, Jocko took one look at that umbrella and gave Frankie the boot.  Norman-Rockwell.-Bottom-of-the-Sixth.-April-23-1949

Frisch simply turned back around and as he returned to the dugout muttered, “Can’t a guy have any fun anymore?”  

“Sure Frankie, have all the fun you want…just not at my expense!” Conlan yelled.  

The ejection would later serve as inspiration for Norman Rockwell’s baseball-themed piece
“Bottom of the Sixth.” 

Despite the frequent battles with Conlan, Frisch considered him a close friend. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Conlan from giving Frankie the old heave-ho more than any other manager of his day.

Bill Faul

01011112Despite his blazing fastball, Bill Faul only won 5 games for the 1963 Detroit Tigers.  That year they finished fifth in the American League.

Detroit Tigers manager Chuck Dressen once said: “You watch him for a while, watch how he acts, talk to him, spend some time with him, and you figure either he’s the dumbest guy in the world or the smartest one you’ve ever met.”

Throughout the season there were certainly other players on the team that reporters could have written about. Players such as future Hall of Famer’s Al Kaline and Jim Bunning and fan-favorite sluggers Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash who each hit over 20 home runs.

Yet, after the game it was always Faul’s locker that could be found surrounded by dozens of reporters just hoping he would say something worth publishing.

To say Faul was entertaining would be an understatement.

Baseball has always had it’s eccentrics but in the 1950’s and 60’s, it was widely considered to be a wise move for professional ballplayers to approach the game from a more conformist standpoint.  Faul was weird and this is likely why Faul was popular with reporters, (but probably not so much with his teammates.)

In the 1960’s Faul was what many considered a “flake”.  In 1985 Baseball Digest named Faul to their “All Time Flake Team”.

Of the many things Faul would be remembered for, he was extremely gullible and believed nearly anything that his teammates told him. In 1961, while playing for the University of Cincinnati, one of his teammates told him that as a part of a promotion for the fans the next night, he would have to parachute down onto the field before the game. Faul didn’t sleep a wink before that start because he was so afraid of heights.    He then went out to strike out 24 batters; a school record.

Another time, his teammates told him that an opposing batter was 8 for 8 in the game and batted .678 the year before.  He paced up and down the dugout in between innings and really worried about facing that batter.  He went out to strike him out 3 times in the game.

After complaining to the team trainer that his arm was sore, the trainer pulled Faul into the training room and told him to roll up his sleeve and put his arm under a table lamp for 15 minutes.  Faul did so and afterwards told the trainer, “Gee doc, you were right!  I feel like a new man!”

On one occasion, Faul fell asleep in his locker and had be awakened 30 minutes before the game.  This was his first major league start.

A popular topic for reporters to ask about was Faul’s fascination with hypnosis.  Not of other people though – but rather of himself.  It wasn’t something that he particularly liked to talk about for fear of being branded as a “kook”.  Faul said that hypnosis helped him relax and keep his curveball low.

In a 1963 exhibition game against the Kansas City Athletics, Faul pitched eight shutout innings and was even good enough to gather two hits for himself.  After the game, A’s owner Charlie Finley publicly protested against Faul’s novel strategy saying  that hitters facing an opposing pitcher who was in a “trance” was a “very dangerous hazard” and that his club “has a hard enough time getting hits off of pitchers that aren’t hypnotized!”

As the rumor spread through the league that Faul was pitching under a trance, he would sometimes walk off of the mound, take off his glove, stare at the opposing team and then violently wiggle his fingers from both hands in front of his face.  This would send the opposing team into a panic as hitters set foot in the batter’s box.

When not under self-hypnosis, Faul was widely considered to be a pretty easy going

Jack McKeon4/12/1972
Rosenblatt Stadium

Jack McKeon – 1969

teammate.  Oddly enough, there was one man that Faul absolutely despised.

Jack McKeon.

McKeon managed the Omaha Royals in 1969 where Faul was a starting pitcher.  McKeon already knew that Faul was a strange bird – for instance, he didn’t like to shower thinking that the water would wash away his body’s natural oils, he carried loaded weapons in his carry-on travel bags, and then of course, there was the whole “self-hypnosis” thing – McKeon really had no problem with the fireballing right hander.  Despite being beloved by nearly every player he ever managed, McKeon ended up on the bad side of Faul.

Faul loathed McKeon.

While McKeon knew he wasn’t exactly at the top of Faul’s list; he was shocked when he learned from his players just how much Faul hated him.  During one game where the Royals were batting and McKeon was coaching third base, the opposing team’s third baseman slapped a rough tag on the runner that McKeon objected to.  While voicing his displeasure to the third baseman, the third baseman handed it right back to McKeon.  Both team’s benches cleared within seconds.  As the opposing team swarmed around McKeon, Faul rushed over, knocked the opposing players out of the way, threw McKeon over his shoulder and carried him into the clubhouse.  After Faul slammed the clubhouse door shut, McKeon, who was out of breath and visibly shaken,  said to Faul, “Thank you Bill – you saved my life out there!”

Faul slowly walked up to Jack, stared him dead in the face and quietly said, “I already told you Jack, if anyone is going to kill you – it’s going to be me.”

Then, Faul quietly walked away.

And then there was the time Bill Faul bit the head off of a live parakeet…  I’ll save that for another post though.

Norfolk Tars

highrock3Recently I came across a few photos of High Rock Park which was located in Norfolk, VA right near the intersection of Church and 20th Street.  Home to Norfolk Tars who were a Piedmont League minor league affiliate to the New York Yankees, the 6,500 seat park was dedicated on July 15th, 1940 in front of a crowd of thousands.  The Norfolk Tars would go on to lose that inaugural game to the Richmond Colts in front of a sold out crowd.  The name of the park is often questioned in discussion as the location is neither “high” or “rocky”. The park was actually built on a location that is low and sandy.  The name “High Rock Park” was actually chosen by the High Rock Bottling Company which paid $1,000 per year for naming rights.

The left field fence butts up against the old Norfolk & Western Railroad tracks.  It is said that during an exhibition game, Babe Ruth hit the “longest home run in history” as the ball sailed over the fence and landed in a rolling coal car bound for West Virginia.  (It should be noted that several other cities have similar stories involving Ruth, home-runs, and coal cars.) 

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In 1944, the park sustained massive damage due to a fire and was rebuilt by local dentist and owner of the Tars, Dr. Eddie Myers.  Dr. Myers added 1,500 additional seats, changed the name to “Myers Field” and reopened the park which went on to host Norfolk Tar baseball games until 1955.

The Norfolk Tars played mediocre baseball in the 1940’s and never found themselves winning more than one pennant (1945), the Tars did serve as a starting point for a handful of baseball legends.  Notably, Yogi Berra, Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Bob Porterfield, Chuck Connors, Tom Gorman, and Clint Courtney.

The 1950’s provided better Norfolk Tar baseball and along with a general manager who promoted the team very aggressively, Myers Field was often sold out for home games.

One of his promotions was “swimsuit night” and he put an ad in the Virginia Pilot that the best looking girl would win $100.

01011111Norfolk Tar second baseman Tom Vinditelli would tell the story best.

“On the the night of the swimsuit contest, the fans kept coming and coming.  They all wanted to get a look at these girls in swimsuits and we must have had a crowd of over 10,000 people.  The only problem was that only one girl had signed up to be in the contest.  About an hour before the game, the general manager started to panic and kept saying, ‘What in the hell am I going to do?’  He fretted a little while longer and said, ‘We advertised a swimsuit contest, so we’re going to have a swimsuit contest!  I need some volunteers!’

He then hopped in his car, drove over to Sears and came back with a bunch of wigs, bras, ladies’ shorts and shoes in his hands.  While he was gone, his wife came down to the dugout and put all sorts of makeup on us.  He handed us these get-ups and we got dressed for the contest.

The one girl that actually did sign up for the contest was ‘Miss Norfolk’ and thank goodness for that01011111-2.
She was a knockout.  We let her go out onto the field first and when she came out in a leopard print bathing suit and high-heels, the crowd went nuts.  I was next in line and since I’m from Rhode
Island, the announcer announced me as ‘Miss Rhode Island.’  Jim Coates, our big 6’4″ who later played for the Yankees came out as ‘Miss Virginia.’  Bob Rack was ‘Miss Missouri’ and Moe Thacker was ‘Miss Illinois.’

We all looked funny as hell stumbling around in high-heels and bras but the funniest of all was my double-play partner Stan Rosenzweig.  Introduced as ‘Miss Brooklyn’, he was short and stocky with hair all over his body that made him look like a little bear out there.  He had stuffed two baseballs into his bra and on his way back to the dugout, he took them out, showed them to the crowd, and then put them back in.  He then called one of his buddies from the other team and told him to come out onto 01011112-2the field.  “Rosey” jumped into that guy’s arms, pulled one of the baseballs out of his bra and said to him, ‘Why don’t you come up and see me sometime big boy?’  

The fans all thought this was a riot and what we thought was going to be a flop of a night turned out to be a helluva time!”
Myers Field was torn down in 1955. I recently drove by the location (photo below) and sadly, nothing is left but an empty lot that has probably been a handful of other things in the past 60 years.

It is hard to believe that this is the same spot where a 17 year old Yogi Berra got his start.   Struggling defensively behind the plate, Berra went on to hit 7 home runs and knocked in 56 RBI’s in 1943, his lone season with the Tars before moving on to the New York Yankees, 18 All Star Games, 13 World Series rings, and eventually the Hall of Fame.img_6554

Note – the Tom Vinditelli story above can be found in Mike Shannon’s book: Tales from the Ballpark. 1999.