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.

01011120 (4)

#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

01151101

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

01151102 (2)

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

1223
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

01081201

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.) 

highrock1

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. 

 

 

Ralph Branca

fullsizerender“Ralph Branca, beloved Dodger pitcher and the man who courageously stood up to racism with Jackie Robinson, dead at 90”.

At the age of 90 years old, Ralph Branca quietly passed away the day before Thanksgiving in his Rye Brook, New York nursing home yesterday.

I wish more headlines read like the one above.   Instead, the majority of them define him as the man who “gave up the ‘shot heard round the world’.

Born on January 6, 1926 in Mount Vernon, New York; Branca was the 15th of 17 children.  While attending New York University, Branca was their star pitcher in 1944 and would find himself making his major league debut that summer for  the Brooklyn Dodgers.

With the help of a blistering fastball and a curve ball that snapped like a flag in the wind, 1947 would be Branca’s breakout season as he went 21-12.  The next season he would compile a record of 14-9 and making it 3 winning seasons in a row, he would top out at 13 wins and only 5 losses in 1949.  Branca would make the National League All Star team all three years.

A post about Branca wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fastball he threw to Bobby Thompson on October 3, 1951 at 3:58 P.M..

01011104

Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hits a game-winning home run off of Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca in a playoff game at the Polo Grounds – October 3, 1951, New York (AP)

In the final game with the New York Giants to determine the National League championship, Bobby Thompson lifted a Branca fastball into the left-field bleachers with two men on base in the bottom of the 9th inning.  The shot off of Branca secured the National League pennant for the inter-borough rivals.

The “Shot Heard Round the World” is often cited as the most memorable home run in baseball history and sits alongside such baseball memories as Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, Larsen’s perfect game in a World Series and Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds.  Americans alive at the time and who possessed any vague interest, could recall with exacting detail where they were when they heard the news.

The same can be said for Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination.

Branca once said, “Nobody remembers that at 21, I won 21 games.  Nobody remembers that at 25, I had 75 wins.  All they remember is that homer.”

It would later be discovered that the New York Giants had been stealing signs from the Polo Grounds center-field bleachers during the entire 1951 season.

“He absolutely knew that fastball was coming”, Branca would go on to later say about his close friend Thompson.

Thompson denies he had the signs decoded. “Even if you know what’s coming, and I’m not saying I knew what was coming, you still have to hit the damned ball.” he would later say.

Branca enjoyed a 12 year career (1944-1956) and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1944-53, 1956), Detroit Tigers (1953-54), and New York Yankees (1954).  His career win-loss record was 88-68, ERA 3.79, and totaled 829 strikeouts.

branca-jackie-863e8314

Ralph and Jackie at the Brooklyn Dodgers office the day Jackie Robinson signed his contract.  February 12, 1948

Branca was also an early friend and champion of Jackie Robinson.  He was one of the few in the game to great Jackie as an equal from day one.

“Ralph was good to Jack,” Rachel Robinson once said, “when it wasn’t fashionable to be good to Jack.”  In 1944, as Robinson broke the color barrier, fellow members of the Dodgers signed a petition protesting Robinson joining the team, Branca courageously refused to sign.  In those early years on the road, Branca, unlike many of his teammates, regularly socialized with Jackie Robinson and proudly stood beside him when Robinson first took the field on opening day, April 15, 1947.

Branca grew up in a diverse Mount Vernon neighborhood and his immigrant parents taught him respect and acceptance from an early age. Growing up, Branca had black, Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighbors, friends, and teammates.  “Where I lived, on 9th Avenue in Mount Vernon, black families lived right next door to me. They came in my house, I went in theirs,” he says.

While many will choose to remember Branca as merely the losing half in possibly the most famous home run in baseball history, let us not also remember him as a man of unwavering integrity who stood tall in the face of racism.

Eddie Robinson

As we head into Game 6 of this year’s World Series, I knew the Cubs had more to add to this storybook season.  The top of the 4th inning has certainly proved that to be the case.

A home run by Bryant in the 1st and now a grand slam by Russell in the top of the 4th has put the Cubs up a cool 7 runs.  Because these two teams have never faced each other before in a World Series, the grand slam was the first hit in Cubs World Series history and the first given up by the Indians in their World Series history.  I’m sure most will say that putting Cleveland’s Tomlin on the mound with only 3 days rest was a mistake by the manager Francona.  Regardless, Francona hasn’t made any mistakes yet in this World Series and I think that Chicago knows they need to flip the switch in this game if they are going to stay alive and make history.

Chicago pitcher Jake Arrieta has cruised through the Cleveland lineup for most of the night and seems to be locked in.  Arrieta played his triple-A ball here in Norfolk for the Tides, starting 46 games between 2009 and 2013.  Here is a pretty cool clip from our local news channel spotlighting Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta back in 2009.

s-l1600-1

They did a pretty cool spotlight on Eddie Robinson who is the last surviving member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians championship team.  Robinson played first base and knocked in the winning run in game 6 of that World Series as they went on to defeat the Boston Braves.

In an interview, a reporter referenced how much the game has changed since 1948 and asked Robinson if he ever thinks about how much stars like Bob Feller and Bob Lemon would have gotten paid today.

He calmly said, “No.  I only think about how much Eddie Robinson would have gotten paid today.”

picture-17Interestingly, Robinson was with the Indians on June 12, 1948 as they played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  Babe Ruth was on hand to help the Yankees celebrate the 25th anniversary of their stadium.

Dying of cancer and struggling to walk, Ruth put on his Yankee pinstripes one last time and slowly made his way up the dugout steps.  Seeing that Ruth was weak and struggling to support himself, Robinson handed him one of his bats to use as a crutch.  Ruth would die 2 months later.

That bat can be seen here in this photo.

Robinson later had Ruth sign the bat and held on to it for the next 40 years.  He called a memorabilia collector in the 1980’s and asked if he was interested in purchasing the bat. Having no idea what the value of the bat would be, Robinson threw an arbitrary number of $10,000 out there as the purchase price.  The collector quickly said, “I’ll have the money to you tomorrow.”

The bat has since gone on to sell at auction for over $100,000…twice.

You can purchase Robinson’s autobiography “Lucky Me: My 65 Years in Baseball” here.

In closing, the Cubs are currently leading 7-2 in the top of the 6th.

Johnny Klippstein

01011106-2After Cleveland’s big win last night in Game 1 of the World Series and a short post about Cleveland’s Hall of Fame player/manager Lou Boudreau, I thought I’d sit back, watch tonight’s Game 2 and post about a Chicago Cub.

Johnny Klippstein is not a name you hear very often but he pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 1950-1954.  Known as one of the “most liked guys in baseball” during his 18 year career, Klippstein pitched for 8 teams from 1950-1967 and posted a 101-118 record.  Nicknamed the “Wild Man of Borneo”, Klippstein was seen as a player with great potential who could turn in masterful performances from time to time.  It was often his lack of control that overshadowed his dominance on the mound.   Leading the league in hit-batters one year, he also claimed the single-season record for wild pitches twice.

In 1943, at the age of 15, Klippstein was visiting an uncle in Appleton, Wisconsin and decided to take advantage of a tryout camp being held locally by the St Louis Cardinals. After trying out, Klippstein was signed the following spring.  300 players tried out and out of all of them, Klippstein was the only to sign a contract.

After completing school in the spring of 1944, Klippstein reported to Allentown of the Class B Interstate League.  As one of the youngest players in the league, he won his first game but posted a 10.50 ERA.  After bouncing around the minors that season, Klippstein returned home to finish up his last year of high school.  Following the school year, he returned to baseball for the 1945 season and performed much better.  The Cardinals were finally starting to see the potential in Klippstein.

After missing the entire 1946 season due to being drafted into the Army, Klippstein returned to the Cardinal’s minor league season and struggled to regain his form.  After a disappointing season, the Cardinals lost Klippstein to the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1948 draft.  After excelling in the Dodgers minor league system through the 1949 season, the Dodgers ended up losing him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for $10,000 in cash.

Klippstein made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs but never blossomed with Chicago.  After the 1954 season, he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds where he developed further as a pitcher, learning the slider and working on his control.  It was in 1958 the

St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial

Klippstein facing Stan Musial as Cincinnati catcher Ed Bailey awaits the pitch.

Klippstein was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he reinvented himself as a relief specialist.  The following year, he would pitching over 50 games, the Dodgers would go on to win the National League Pennant and eventually defeat the White Sox.  1960 would be the season in which Klippstein would show his age and as the Dodgers became more concerned about his health and effectiveness, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians where he would go on to lead the league in saves with 14, post a respectable sub-3.00 ERA and was considered one of the most effective closers in all of baseball.

Despite his success, the Indians made him available for the expansion draft and shipped him to the Washington Senators in exchange for $25,000.  The Senators flopped that year and so did Klippstein, posting a 6.78 ERA and leading the league with ten wild pitches. Klippstein was shipped back to the Cincinnati at the end of the season.  The next year he pitched much better but found himself being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training of 1963.  He would go on to have the best season of his career pitching in 49 games and posting an ERA of 1.93.  The Phillies would go on to finish in fourth place that season. 1964 saw Klippstein being marginalized and found himself buried in the bullpen and eventually waived.  The Minnesota Twins would pick him up and he would go on to develop a quick-pitch curve which helped him to become one of the most effective closers in the league and help the Twins clinch the pennant.  The Twins would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks in part to the magnificent pitching of Claude Osteen and Sandy Koufax.

1966 would see Klippstein on the hill just 26 times and found his 18 year career over.  He finished with a lifetime 4.24 ERA.  When asked about his “best season”, Klippstein often remarked that he never had one.

Despite wearing the uniform of 8 different teams in his career, Klippstein loved the Chicago Cubs and remained a die-hard Cubs fan for the rest of his life.   In 2003 while listening to the Cubs defeat the Marlins, he passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer.  I can only imagine how excited he is to now be looking down on his Cubs and his former Indians both sharing the spotlight in the 2o16 World Series.

Lou Boudreau

01211202-2This will be a quick little update here as I’m currently watching Game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

What a season it has been as we finally arrive here at Game 1 with the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians facing off.  It’s certainly great to see two teams with such dedicated…and patient fans.

Who am I rooting for?  I’m excited for both teams but at the end of the day, I think I’ll have to go with the Chicago Cubs.  Their fans have waited longer and I’m a huge fan of their catcher David Ross.  What a career he has had.  He is hanging up his cleats after this year and getting to put a World Series ring on his finger would be the perfect send off.

This past weekend I was looking through a collection of Perez-Steele Hall of Fame postcards that I have accumulated through the years and came across Mr. Lou Boudreau.  Ironically, he was the player/manager of the last Cleveland Indians team to win the World Series.  Boudreau managed the Tribe from 1942 to 1950 and lead the team to a World Series title in 1948.  As their shortstop that year, he also hit .355.  Seems fitting to write about him tonight.  I love his signature on this post card.  Simple and legible – something you don’t see in today’s players signatures.

A few interesting facts about Boudreau – 1941 against the New York Yankees, he was responsible for starting the double play that ended Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56 game hitting streak.

In 1942 during his rookie year as Cleveland’s player/manager, Boudreau is said to have not only blown his nose while suffering from a cold in the dugout, but also the game.  Not feeling well enough to play the field that day, he decided to sit in the dugout and send signals to his third base coach.  At the time, Cleveland’s sign for a double-steal was a towel to the face.

Boudreau seemed to have forgotten that sign as Cleveland runner Pat Seerey pulled up into second base.  Seerey’s nickname was “Fat Pat” and it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that ol’ Fat Pat wasn’t stealing any bases anytime soon.  First base was occupied by a Cleveland runner who was just as slow.

As you can probably imagine, Boudreau’s cold that day led him to reach for the nearest towel to blow his nose.  This set off a verrrrry slooooow domino effect of two very overweight base runners taking off from their bases and attempting to advance.

While the stadium stood in shock to watch the opposing infielders easily toss out both of Boudreau’s fat  base-runners for an inning-ending double play, Boudreau lept to his feet barking at the third base coach for putting on such a stupid play.  The third base coach was just as stunned as the fans, the 2 base runners, and the opposing team.  He told Boudreau that it was in fact HIM who had given the sign for such a stupid play and it was then that Boudreau realized that he had “blown it”.  The Indians went on to lose that game.

Boudreau is also widely credited with creating the “Boudreau Shift” with the

migratedhopes of stopping the dead-pull hitter Ted Williams.  In July of 1946 as Williams was coming off of a May where he had hit .427 and the Red Sox were coming into Cleveland for a double-header with a five-game winning streak.  In the first game, Williams smashed a grand slam in the third inning and followed that up with two more dingers. By the end of the first game, Williams had racked up four hits, four runs scored, and eight RBI’s.  The Red Sox went on to win the first game 11-10.  In his first at-bat of the second game, Williams would double and score.

Boudreau had to do something defensively drastic.  Moving nearly every defensive player to flood the right side of the field, Boudreau hoped that the carnage would stop.  In his next at bat, Williams grounded out to Boudreu who was while still playing shortstop was actually standing closer to the first baseman.  The Red Sox would go on to win the second game as well with a final score of 6-4.  Later, in his biography Player-Manager, Boudreau would go on to say that the idea of the shift was spontaneous and was probably out of desperation that day.  The infield shift has been already been covered pretty extensively online.  One of the best articles can be found here.

As I wrap up this piece, the Indians are leading in the 9th, 6-0.

I haven’t seen any infield shifts yet.