I follow a fantastic artist named Graig Kreindler on Instagram. He is an American painter and illustrator. He is best known for his oil paintings depicting vintage, historical baseball scenes. Many of you have probably already seen his work. For those of you that haven’t, I highly recommend checking him out. You can find his work here.
Today his Instagram post pointed out that on this day in 1905, Ty Cobb received a telegram from Joe Cunningham, his longtime friend from home. The telegram read: COME AT ONCE STOP VERY SORRY STOP YOUR FATHER DEAD IN A SHOOTING ACCIDENT STOP HURRY. It was Cobb’s mother that had pulled the trigger. She would later be acquitted of murder as she claimed that she thought her husband was an intruder in the house. He was to have been out of town that day but had returned early.
Cobb was only 18 years old in 1905 when he joined the Detroit Tigers. He was as rare as a buffalo head penny on that Detroit team. A true southerner on a team of primarily northern teammates, he was just a kid and had never been outside of the state of Georgia. With his father gone and now having to financially support his mother after a lengthy and expensive trial, Cobb would stop at nothing to prove himself as a valuable member of the Tigers. The pressure was on.
His ambition would not go over well with many of his teammates. Veterans typically did not take kindly to rookies and why should they, it was the rookies who were after their jobs. The hazing that Cobb would endure during the 1905 and 1906 seasons was especially brutal and he took it particularly badly, which prompted even worse treatment.
The ringleader of this hazing was star center fielder Matty McIntyre. McIntyre resented the young Cobb and the excitement surrounding the rookie. With Cobb in left field and McIntyre in center, McIntyre would call for fly balls hit between the two and then at the last-minute stop and let the ball fall in for a hit. He would chastise Cobb right there on the field in an attempt to make him look bad to the other players and fans. Detroit pitcher Ed Siever bought into it and after one such play, attacked Cobb in the team’s hotel, accusing him of having lost the game. Having none of it, Cobb knocked down Siever and kept punching him until teammates intervened.
In one game, Cobb and McIntyre were both convening on a ground ball hit into the gap. As they approached each other, they both stopped, locked eyes and stared each other down as the ball rolled all the way to the outfield wall.
While Cobb was on deck, he would often swing three bats to warm up. He felt that once he dropped the two extra bats and stepped in the box with his bat of choice, the lighter weight would give him better bat speed. The veterans thought that swinging three bats was a brash and unnecessary display. To put him in his place, they sawed several of Cobb’s home made ash bats in half.
Other hazing included hitting Cobb in the back of the head with wet newspaper wads, nailing Cobb’s cleats to the clubhouse floor, calling the end to batting practice before Cobb had a chance to hit, and locking him out of hotel washrooms. The more his teammates pressed, the more pissed Cobb got. Things eventually deteriorated to the point where Cobb slept with a pistol under his pillow.
It never got better between Cobb and McIntyre. McIntyre begged management to trade Cobb but they refused. Instead, management made their position clear as they would start trading away those players that could not get along with Cobb. After a poor 1909 season, McIntyre would find himself on the bench and soon, traded to the White Sox. He would play only one more year before returning home to Detroit and finding himself running a local pool hall.
Cobb would go on to play 16 seasons with the Tigers and subsequently, would have the best two seasons of his career in the first years after McIntyre left.
It’s hard to believe that we’re already seeing the start of August. This has been the fastest but longest year of my life…if that makes sense? While I am happy to see baseball return this year, I’ll be honest, I rather enjoyed watching the classic game reruns on MLB Network and ESPN. While I’ve watched quite a bit of the 2020 live games, I find myself wishing they were still playing reruns. I’m probably the only one that feels that way. My cable network does show a ton of Yankee games and I’ve realized how much I enjoy Alex Rodriguez as an announcer. Again, I’m probably one of the only ones that feels that way.
I wanted to circle back to an earlier post called “42 Years of the BEST Mets Cards.” The idea was simple. I would highlight each year of the Mets and choose the “best” Topps card from that year. When I say “best”, I don’t necessarily mean the most popular card or even the best player of each year. These are simply cards that when I look at the team set, they stick out to me. Given that I’m 42 years old, I thought that 42 would be a good number to work with. To keep the post from being too long, I broke it up into 2 parts. Let’s wrap up the remaining 19 of the 42 years.
Part 1 left off with Rey Ordonez’ 2001 Topps card and as I went back to check out what I wrote, I found a gasp…typo. Next time you catch one…let me know!
We will kick off Part 2 with 2002. 2002 also marks the beginning of three straight sub .500 Mets’ seasons. I remember those days. It was awful to be a Met’s fan. Can’t wait to write about these dumpster fires. *sigh*
Many sports writers considered the 2002 Mets to be like a bad traffic accident on an interstate highway – they were an awful sight to see, but for some reason, many just couldn’t turn away. With a payroll of $102 million, the 2002 Mets were expected to give the Atlanta Braves a run for their money. Instead, they would finish 5th in the NL East.
Mike Piazza gets the best card award that year as we see him standing guard over home plate with cross-town rival Jorge Posada approaching. Piazza was coming off of an All-Star 2001 season where he became one of only eight major leaguers in baseball history to have 5 consecutive seasons hitting better than .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. 2002 was also Piazza’s ninth straight 30+ home run season. He would be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal team performance.
Hoping for something different in 2003, the Mets would fire Bobby Valentine at the close of 2002 and bring in Art Howe from Oakland. They would get nothing different. 2003 would be another last place finish for the disastrous Mets and in 2004, the Mets would only manage a fourth-place finish. Scrappy utility player Joe McEwing gets the best card award for 2003 and 2004. A fan favorite in New York during his time there, he was also David Wright’s first mentor. Topps chose two similar shots of McEwing for his ’03 and ’04 cards. The only difference really being that one features him at Wrigley and the other features him at Turner Field. I’ve never cared for the 2004 design that Topps chose. The silver foil lettering is tough to read at first glance, but I actually just realized tonight that they used the actual photo and incorporated it into the border design in the bottom left hand corner. Look at that little guy down there!
2005 would see Willie Randolph leading the ball club and they would improve by going 83-79 and finishing 3rd in the NL East. He would become the first African American manager of a MLB team in New York. Matt Lindstrom gets the top card in the 2005 Topps set despite spending the entire year with the AA Binghamton Mets. Topps chose a sharp “batter’s eye view” shot of Lindstrom that was likely taken at a practice or Spring Training game. If I had to guess, I would say that this is a curveball. As unremarkable as this card is should tell you a little something about how unremarkable the OTHER Mets cards were in the 2005 Topps set. The 2006 best Topps card goes to none other than The Captain David Wright. As a local guy that grew up right around the corner from me, I’ve always been a Wright fan. He would make the first of seven All Star game appearances in 2006 and finish the year with 26 home runs. While the Topps design that year was a bit busy for me, this is a great shot of Wright in the batter’s box during a home game. Wright would help propel the Mets into first place that year but they would eventually fall to the Cardinals in the NLCS. 2007 would see another successful year for the Mets despite not seeing the post season. The top card goes to the speedy Jose Reyes as he is pictured sliding headfirst into third. He would steal 78 bases that year as well. In June of 2006, he would lead off seven consecutive games with a hit, a feat only his manager Willie Randolph had ever accomplished.
After three good years at the helm of the Mets, Randolph’s fourth season would begin with a slow start, poor play in the field and at the plate, and a record barely above .500, the Mets would replace Willie Randolph with bench coach Jerry Manuel. The Mets would finish with 89 wins in 2008 and once again miss the playoffs. It would be their final season at Shea Stadium and their last winning season until 2015. Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Johan Santana has the best card that year. Another down the barrel shot of him on the mound, Santana would be coming off of an All Star 2007 season with Minnesota and would finish 2008 with a a 16-7 record and a 2.56% ERA. As a birthday present, my wife took me to New York to see the Mets play the Astros on August 22. Santana would get his 13th win of the season. 2009 would not be kind to the Mets as they finished 4th in their division and sent 20 players to the disabled list throughout the year. At the beginning of the season, many Mets fans were excited to experience Mets baseball in their brand new Citi Field. The $600 million stadium provided not only a beautiful atmosphere, but also an opportunity to move on from the collapses of the previous two seasons. Three time All Star Luis Castillo would be the starting second baseman for most of the year, while he gets the top card of 2009 for this great shot of him sliding headfirst into second, he would go down in infamy for refusing to participate in a charity event at Walter Reed Medical Center where the Mets visited wounded military personnel. He would say that he didn’t want to be “horrified at the sight of US soldiers without any arms or legs.” Mets management and the fans were not impressed and let him know it anytime he stepped out onto the field. To be fair, he wasn’t the only one who skipped out on the event. Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez also stated that they had “other commitments” which didn’t sit well with team management. It would be more of the same in 2010 for the Mets as they hobbled to another disappointing fourth place finish. They would be an embarrassment both on and off the field and rightfully earned the nickname the “New York Mess.” All Star David Wright comes out on top with the best card of the year. I’ll be honest, I had a hard time between the Wright card and Jose Reyes. Both had great cards that year but this shot of Wright leaping for a line drive is just awesome.
2011 would be the 50th anniversary for the New York Mets. What a great time that would have been for them to do anything noteworthy. If only that that had been the case. To the surprise of no one, the Mets would finish fourth in their division and miss the post season for the fifth straight season as injuries and an inflated payroll plagued the team. As Mets ownership found itself wrapped up in the Bernie Madoff scandal, there was no money to sign any high priced free agents to help turn the team around. One bright spot that season would be Jose Reyes winning the batting title – the first in Mets history. Carlos Beltran gets the best card award for the season. While the aerial shot is fantastic, you can tell the photo was taken through the home plate netting. 2012 would be as you can probably guess by now, another disappointment. Despite Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the first in Mets history and R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young award; the Mets would finish fourth in their division and suffer the loss of Hall of Fame catcher and fan-favorite Gary Carter. He would die of brain cancer in February. On June 27 against the Chicago Cubs, the Mets would become the first major league team to hit a home run cycle. Daniel Murphy began with a two-run home run, his run in 352 at-bats, then in the fourth, then Ike Davis hit a three-run home run followed by Murphy’s solo home run off of Casey Coleman, who had replaced starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. In the sixth inning, Scott Hairston, who was typically a utility outfielder throughout the first half of the season, hit the cycle ending grand slam off of Coleman. The Mets won the game, 17–1. Murphy gets the top card of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season. He gets the top card in 2013 as Topps captured him making a flying throw. 2013 saw the Mets break their streak of five years worth of fourth place finishes. They would finish third.
Daniel Murphy continues his “best card” streak as he is my pick three years in a row. I’d like to imagine that he’s rounding the bases after a home run you can tell it was a home run because of the red background which means the Citi Field “home run apple” was in motion. The Home Run Apple was originally installed at Shea Stadium in 1980 as a way to improve the atmosphere at New York Mets games, and an apple was chosen as a play on New York City’s nickname of the “Big Apple.” The Mets continued the tradition at Citi Field and doubled the size of the apple. The Mets would tie for second place in 2014 only to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. 2015 was a stellar year for the Mets as they finally reached the World Series and the best card of the season goes to rookie Noah Syndergaard. Noah actually had two cards in the 2015 Update set but I prefer this horizontal card detailing his rookie debut over the vertical base card. I remember when these cards were first released – a buddy of mine loved them. I on the other hand hated them at the time. Today, after looking at the Tops designs before them, they aren’t that bad. The Mets made their fifth appearance in the World Series after sweeping the Cubs 4–0 in the NLCS that year and would go on to meet the Kansas City Royals. The Royals would win the World Series 4 games to 1. It would be the 2016 design that really grew on me as it ushered in the next three years of “full bleed design” for Topps. Some collectors hated the lack of borders and the “fogginess” of the 2016 cards. Admittedly with some of the cards, the fog is distracting bu in the case of this Neil Walker card, it fits perfectly. This card is beautiful. You can see him rounding the bases as the fans in the background cheer on. The Mets would play to a second place finish in the division and lose to the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card game. I remember watching Conor Gillaspie hit a go-ahead 3-run homer in the top of the 9th off of Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia, placing the Mets in a three-run deficit that would eventually cost them the game. That was a tough night to be a Met or a Mets fan.
As we head into the tail end of the post, we also see the Mets return to the tail end of their division in 2017 with a fourth place finish. They would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and equaled their worst record since 2009. Injuries to key players, poor performances from players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, and Robert Gsellman, and by controversy within the organization and around players led to manager Terry Collins announcing his retirement following the final game of the season. (As of this writing today (8/2/20), Cespedes continues to be a Grade-A “a-hole” as he apparently no showed for the game today and when questioned, said that he was “opting out” of the season. He’s “opted out” since he was signed by the Mets if you ask me.) Third baseman Matt Reynolds gets the best card of the 2017 set with this “Jeter-esque” throw from third base. Anyone who knows me should not be surprised that catcher Travis D’Arnaud would get the top card of the 2018 set. I love catcher cards and this is a great shot of him reaching into the stands attempting to snag a pop up foul. 2018 would be another fourth place finish for the Mets despite bringing in a new manager (Mickey Callaway) and getting off to a red hot 11-1 start to the season. They would be eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth time in ten seasons. The biggest storyline of the season for the Mets did not emerge until the final month of the season as David Wright battled back from spinal-stenosis for one final home game. He would retire that evening. The top card of 2019 goes to…Citi Field. There were a few really good player cards that year but one has to agree, this is just a magnificent card. The Mets would finish third in the division and would miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
With Amed Rosario’s sweet 2020 card, we will wrap up Part 2 of “42 Years of the Best Mets Cards.” I love the close up shot of Rosario going deep in the hole and coiling up to shoot a bullet to first. The pressure to perform is on Rosario this year after two pretty unimpressive seasons on the field and at the plate. Regardless of how his career ends up, this will remain my favorite card of the 2020 New York Mets set.
Well, I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of this post. Have a great week out there and stay safe!