42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 2)

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*

2002 – 2003 – 2004

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 – 2006 – 2007

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. 

2008 – 2009 – 2010

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 – 2012 – 2013

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.

2014 – 2015 – 2016

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.

2017 – 2018 – 2019

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.

2020

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!

10 things that some of you may like…but I don’t

A few weeks ago I saw some of you posting about things that “you like but other’s don’t.” Dime Box Nick had some great thoughts and so did the fine folks over at Sport Card Collectors (Ummm…he has a card with ECTOPLASM in it! *adds to my want list*)

This kind of post is right up my alley because when it comes to my collection, it’s well… pretty unorthodox. I don’t tend to like a lot of the things that others do…and judging from the stats on this blog, the opposite applies as well. I think that’s what makes it so hard for me to get into “trading” with other collectors online. I just have a hard time finding collectors who “get me.” I can’t blame you. Half of the time, I don’t even “get me.” With the exception of set completion attempts, I’m kind of a free bird when it comes to what I acquire.

After reading some of your posts, I believe a few of you went the other way with it and posted about things that “10 things that OTHERS like… but YOU don’t.”  I find that direction a bit easier to write about.

I will however, change the title just bit more. Let’s face it, I have no idea if YOU as the reader like any of the things listed below. You may like them and you may not. Let’s just call it “Things that SOME of you may like…but I don’t.

#10 – Super high end product

No matter how beautiful the cards, exclusive the signatures, or how rare and “close to the game” the relics are; I just can’t stomach an almost $1,500 price tag for 8 cards. I’ve never been a gambler so I’ve never enjoyed the “chase.” I’ve also seen far too many anti-climactic breaks of product like this at my local card shop or local card shows to even give product like this a second look.

#9 – Digital Cards

What in the .jpeg is this world coming to?!

Beckett.com features an article on digital cards where they say, “There’s a whole new type of collector out there with more than a million users and 75 million sports cards that you simply won’t find in the best of hobby shops or in any retail store aisle — unless you’re on a smartphone.”

Some are saying that digital cards are the wave of the future, much like streaming music has started to replace consumer purchases of music CD’s.

I’m a very savvy guy. I fully embrace the innovation and evolution of brands and concepts…but this, is seriously never going to be something that I “get.” If you are a digital card collector, I’d love to hear why you enjoy it. Leave a comment.

#8 – Relic Cards “Not From Any Specific Game or Event”

Can we all just agree the “relics” have run their course? When they hit the hobby in the 90’s I thought it was a fantastic “innovation.” Within a decade, the concept was bastardized 100 times over. Along the way the manufacturer “guarantee” claimed less and less. I have Gary Carter relics from the late 90’s that clearly state “You have just received a bat relic from a bat used in an official Major League game by Gary Carter!” Today, there is absolutely no telling what you have. Most “guarantees” state: “The relic contained in this card is not from any specific game, event, or season.” The following Babe Ruth relic could have been shaved off of a wooden train set for all we know. Yet, it’s currently selling on Ebay for $164. The “guarantee” SHOULD say: “We guarantee that Babe Ruth nor anyone he knew has ever had anything to do with this piece of wood.”

#7 – Corporate naming rights

Admittedly, I have a somewhat weak argument here but nothing gives me that “nostalgic ballgame feel” like saying “Guaranteed Rate Field.” I can give “Coors Field” as pass and would probably give “Citizen’s Bank Park” a pass if they omitted the “Bank” in the name. “Tiger Stadium” was sold off and replaced with “Comerica Park.” As iconic baseball field names such as “Yankee Stadium”, “Dodger Stadium”, “Fenway”, and “Oriole Park at Camden Yards” continue to tie us to baseball’s wonderful history, they a quickly being outnumbered by baseball spaces such as “PNC Park”, “Minute Maid Field”, “Target Field”, “Globe Life Field.” I absolutely hate them all and one thing is for certain, when the corporation’s contract is up, the name will be replaced with something equally as preposterous.

#6 – The MLB Draft

Bless MLB’s little heart. They work so hard to hype something so boring and in the case of probably 7 out of 10 drafts, completely useless. 40 rounds of drafting teenagers. The MLB draft will never be an “event” worth watching to me and while I don’t watch the NFL or NBA draft, I can see why others would. Those players are drafted and can make an immediate impact. In the case of baseball, most draftees will toil for years in the minors and never see a major league batter’s box.

#5 – Instant Replay

Get rid of it. It sucks.

We need to stop trying to “perfect” the human officiation of the game. We are humans. We make mistakes. Sometimes a team benefits from that and sometimes they don’t. With instant replay, the “rules” are too ambiguous, teams have far too long after the play to challenge the call, it takes too long, and frankly; it cuts down on the ass-chewings that managers and umpires could be giving each other. Having to stop the game after an exciting play to allow the umpires to go watch the replay and phone New York brings the excitement of the game to a screeching halt almost as bad as stopping the dancing at the wedding so the bridesmaid can ramble through a drunken toast to the bride. If ANYTHING, umpires need standardized (re)training of the strike zone. I’m sick of seeing 5 umpires have 5 different strike zones.

#4 – Plain Clothes Player Cards

Okay so two of these cards DO feature players in jerseys…but, they have plain clothes on underneath. I detest the Rivera card so bad that I have given 3 copies away for free, while others clamored for the Ohtani, I turned my nose up to it, and has their ever been a worse example of a baseball card than Manny Machado’s Topps NOW card?

I will however make an exception in some cases. Like this one.

#3 – Sloppy autographs

Let’s move past the soap-box answer of “beggars can’t be choosers.” I’m not talking about those signatures that end up sloppy because the player was walking to the team bus or maybe that blue sharpie signature ended up with a smudge on it. I’m talking about those autographs that clearly show that the player simply doesn’t care to take the time to produce a good product — and yes, their autograph is a product of their personal “brand.” In most cases today, they are sitting at a table and signing the cards/stickers for the manufacturer. It is evident that penmanship is not taught in schools (or at home) anymore. Because of that, current players tend to have signatures that I have no desire in owning — regardless of how popular/good the player is or what the value is. Trout, Freeman, Harper all have lackluster signatures that I don’t want.

There is an anecdote out there about Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew signing autographs at Twins Fest one year. He was joined at the table by Mike Cuddyer and Tori Hunter who were both rookies at the time. Killebrew who has one of the most beautiful signatures in the game, saw the two players slapping quick signatures on cards, photos, and balls to keep the line flowing quickly. He stopped them both and remarked that these people are here to meet their role models and will be proudly displaying these autographs for years to come. The worst thing they could do was to give the fans something that they put no effort into. The two players remembered that and actually produce some very nice signatures.

Someone needs to have that conversation with Harper. If you make a commitment to sign for someone, make it a good one. If you don’t have it in you that day, just don’t sign.

#2 – Signature Stickers

I’ll rail on signatures a bit more. I have no use for signature stickers. Would you ever stick a sticker on a baseball card? No you would not.

Upper Deck had no problem with Stan “The Man” Musial signing stickers up until his last breath. You can see the result of that greedy move here. I’m sure Musial consented to signing these stickers but to me; it is still in bad taste. These cards just hurt my heart when I see them.

#1 – Fantasy Baseball

I love baseball. I really do. But, I don’t LOVE baseball enough to track third-string shortstops and analyze the DL every second of every day. I’ve played fantasy baseball a few times and I never do well despite taking the time to doing my homework and evaluating the projections. I hate the projections. Using past performance of a player along with the upcoming schedule to predict an outcome is 50/50 common sense and guess work. I might be able to be a professional “projector.” After all, I’m a real good guesser AND I have some common sense. The last time I listened to a fantasy projection, I started Mike Leake against the White Sox and he got shelled for eight runs on 12 hits. Didn’t help that DeGrom got injured too. I can’t say that I enjoyed it or that it was fun. If I could, I’d leave fantasy baseball one star on yelp. “Do not recommend.”

7 Day Trading Card Challenge (3 Weeks Later)

I ran across a pretty cool card “challenge” a few weeks ago from Hall of Fame blogger “Cardpocalypse.”  I knew I wanted to participate and I even have “7 Day Trading Card Challenge” written on my work “task list” which tells you that I have no shame mixing work and pleasure – shhhh, don’t tell my boss.  Now that I think about it, I doubt he would mind.  He fully endorses ANYTHING that helps his employees stay sane and focused – even if it means breaking from work for a bit to “reset.” That to me, is cool.

Life is pretty unorthodox right now which I know you all can understand.  I have a list of things that I’ve been meaning to get to but it either seems that other things get bumped up on the priority list or time simply slips away.  Then there are the evenings where I have the time…but not the energy.  I guess the added stress of navigating the world live in can take a toll.

First it was the coronavirus…then social unrest due to the unfortunate event in Minneapolis…and now apparently, anti-fascist groups can just move right in and decide they now own 6 blocks of public city space.  And, whatever happened with the murder hornets?!  They promised us MURDER HORNETS!!!

SO anyways – you can imagine how excited I was to find out that one of my favorite bloggers added me to his blogroll.  I read his blog several times a week and consider it a “Hall of Fame” baseball card blog.  Thanks Night Owl Cards!  I’m seriously “fan-girling” over here!

He posted up his card challenge selections tonight – all at once.  Which honestly is more my style too.  I’d rather knock it all out at once.  After all, it’s been on my “to do” list since the end of March.    

Ok so let’s get to it. 

Favorite Card Acquired During Quarantine

About three weeks into this government imposed house arrest, uhhh…I mean, “quarantine even though I’m not sick” a good friend of mine called me and said, “So how is the quarantine going? You’re in heaven aren’t you!” Of course, she was making light of the fact that despite what some may thing, I’m a pretty introverted homebody. I have no problem staying home – I just take issue with the government mandating that I do pretty much anything that I don’t want to do. So anyways, best card that I’ve acquired over the past few months? Gotta be this Gary Carter art card. I’m not a huge collector of art cards but I do collect Gary Carter and I have always loved Carter’s 1977 Topps card. When I was about 10 years old, my Uncle Tom bought me this card at a card show.

Card from Current Year with a Unique Photo

While there are certainly more EXCITING photos out there, I don’t think I have ever seen a card committed to featuring someone such as Nolan Ryan taking a lead off of first base.

Favorite Football Card in Your Collection

I’m a baseball guy through and through so I would say that 98% of my collection is focused on baseball cards. I do have many of the key rookies from 1980 through the late 90’s though. One of my favorites is the 1986 Topps Jerry Rice. It’s a classic card and I will never forget how I got it. In 4th grade, a kid in my class asked if I wanted to buy a binder of cards. He showed me the binder and it was the complete 1986 Topps football set. He said he wanted $10 for it. The next day, he had $10 and I had the cards. My favorite card in my collection is far from the most valuable though. DJ Dozier was a local two sport superstar from my area. After being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1983, he would turn down the offer to play baseball and go on to be a Heisman finalist at Penn State and then drafted by the Vikings. He also decided he wanted to play professional baseball. In 1990, the Mets signed him as an undrafted free agent. For a few years he played AAA ball here in Norfolk for the Tides so it was quite a big deal to see him in person. Dozier was a two sport player before Deion made it a big deal.

Favorite Basketball Card in Your Collection

Not a lot of basketball cards to pick from if you were to thumb through my collection. I do have an absurd amount of Jordans and some of them are spectacular as you would imagine. This John Havlicek is probably my favorite though. In the early 2000’s, I was the Food & Beverage Director at a private golf and yacht club here in Virginia Beach and we did a ton of weddings. One summer my team had the privilege of hosting the wedding and reception of John’s son. John was there and was an absolute pleasure to be around. Scott Van Pelt was there too. He was the best man and gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard at a wedding.

Favorite ‘other’ Sport Card in Your Collection

I have an old college roommate that would fight you to the death if you said that wrestling wasn’t a “sport” so I feel comfortable enough featuring this sweet WWF card of the Ultimate Warrior. I was never a fan of the “sport” as a kid which was rare given that it was the 80’s. I did however appreciate the “characters” of the sport. My brother was a big “Hulkamaniac.”

Favorite Non Sport Card in Your Collection

I mean, One-Eyed Willie is only ONE of the MANY great characters in this Spielberg classic but if I had to choose from my very few non-sport cards, it would go to this guy. He gave an eye for it after all. The Goonies is one of my all-time favorite movies as well.

Best Hobby Trend to Emerge This Year

I’m admittedly one of the most unenthusiastic collectors out there. Especially when it comes to new “trends.” A lot of bloggers have said that the Topps Project 2020 is the most exciting trend of the year. Personally, it’s not for me. Like, at ALL. I think the biggest trend that I have seen this year has been the proliferation of collectors showcasing their collections and box breaks on social media. Of course, this is a result of so many card shops being shut down and folks being inside with little else to do. I’ve found myself reading more blogs and following more collectors on Instagram. While I don’t partake in Facebook, I’m sure more and more collectors are connecting on Facebook as well. I think this is good for the hobby.

Well this was fun! Many thanks to Cardpocalypse for putting this challenge together! Have a great week.

42 years of the BEST Mets cards (Part 1)

Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes browsing through the posts in this blog would have no doubt that I am a Met’s fan.

How I came to be a Met’s fan is likely attributed to where I am grew up and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with New York.

I grew up in the Tidewater area, which for anyone outside of the “Tidewater” area means nothing.  Another local name for the Tidewater area is “Hampton Roads”, which to anyone not from the area ALSO means nothing.

The Tidewater/Hampton Roads area is what we locals collectively call the areas of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and depending on which local you ask; the Virginia/North Carolina border areas.  Local travel and tourism organizations have been debating for years about whether the state should replace the term “Hampton Roads” with something more descriptive and meaningful to where we live.  If you live in Ohio and you tell your family that you’re taking them to “Hampton Roads” for a week of fun probably doesn’t generate very much excitement.  It has been suggested that we rename the area “Coastal Virginia” to reflect our most popular attraction, waterfront views, seafood, and ocean breezes.   

But I digress.

My connection to the New York Mets lies in Norfolk, Virginia.  The longtime home of their AAA minor league affiliate, the Norfolk Tides.  From 1969 to 2006, the Tides would serve as the Mets’ minor league affiliate and call Metropolitan Park or, as the locals called it, simply “Met Park.”  In 1992, the Tidewater Tides would move out of Metropolitan Park into their new home Harbor Park and would change their name to the Norfolk Tides. 

Metropolitan Park – Norfolk, Virginia

From the mid 80’s through today, I have attended many games at both stadiums and have seen many future major leaguers come through the area.  Getting to see former Tides in their Met’s uniforms on TV was a thrill.  I have great childhood memories of attending games at “Met Park” and getting autographs of future stars like Darryl Strawberry, Gregg Jefferies, Clint Hurdle, and Ron Darling.

Here is a list of the Mets cards that I consider the “best” of each Topps flagship set.  These are not necessarily the best player each year, but rather, the card that I like the best.  In some cases, the card may not be that impressive.  There will be some cards that you look at and wonder why it was chosen. It is simply the best of the other bad ones. 

Let’s begin in 1978. One for each year that I’ve been alive – three up, three down.

Leading off the countdown is Jerry Koosman and he comes out on top two years in row with my favorite cards of the 1978 and 1979 sets.  At first glance, one would think that Topps recycled the same photos.  They are slightly different though.  Koosman would have a terrible 1978 as did the rest of the team.  The ’78 Met’s had the worst record in the National League, with a 66-96 mark, coming in 24 games behind first-place Philadelphia.  The Mets would be in rebuilding mode for a few more years with no clue what they were trying to rebuild.  Despite being pictured in his Met’s uniform on his 1979 Topps card, Koosman never played a single game for them.  He had already been traded to Minnesota where he would have a resurgence and go on to win 20 games.  Ed Kranepool has the top card in 1980 and is another featured player that never wore the Mets uniform that year.  He would retire at the end of 1979.  His last at-bat of the season resulted in his 225th career double and would secure one of the many team records he would hold for years to come.  In 1980, he and several other potential investors made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Mets.  I like this card as it features him in the on-deck circle and that’s not something that you see very often.

Topps pretty much summed up John Pacella on his 1981 card.  You can see him unleashing a fastball with such fury that his cap has fallen off.  The Mets’ play-by-play guys would make a big deal about Pacella’s cap falling off and how it was a result of how hard he threw.  The fact of the matter was that it was really his poor mechanics.  On the back of the card, Topps would make mention of impressive or interesting things about the player. For John Pacella, the only interesting thing they could come up with was “John has a unique habit of losing his cap each pitch.” 1981 would be another dismal year for the Mets as they finished 5th in their division.  Mookie Wilson takes the top spot in 1982 which also happens to be one of my favorite Topps designs.  We see a great shot of the Mets center fielder following through on what may have been one of his five home runs that season.  Yes, the Mets were terrible in 1982 and finished in last place. 

1983 would prove to be no different in terms of division standings.  They would come in last place again, BUT 1983 was the beginning of the club’s turning point as it would be the last losing season for the next seven years.  Darryl Strawberry’s 1983 Topps Traded card is the best of the bunch.  I don’t own it but hope to someday.  He was a hometown favorite during his time here with the Tidewater Tides. Strawberry would win the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1983, and go on to make eight consecutive All Star Game appearances and win four World Series titles.

Keith Hernandez takes the top spot for 1984 and 1985.  In 1984 Hernandez would come over from St Louis in a trade for Rick Owneby and Neil Allen.  He would take over first base for the rest of the season and send the aging and strikeout prone Dave Kingman to the bench.  The addition of Hernandez and Strawberry along with George Foster and Rusty Staub both bouncing back with great seasons put the Mets on the path to being a winning club.  They would see a second-place finishes in 1984 and 1985.   The 1985 card of Hernandez resonates so much with me (I think) because it was featured on the top of the 1985 Topps wax boxes.  I remember seeing it every time I would reach for a pack at my local card shop.  As a kid, you always thought that the “best” cards were the ones featured on the boxes. Of course, you can’t call yourself a baseball fan if you’re not familiar with the Met’s magical year of 1986.  I’ve always been a fan of cards featuring catchers and plays at the plate so the top spot for 1986 goes to Ronn Reynolds.  Literally a guy who “couldn’t hit his weight” (career .188 batting average vs 200 lbs), he would be shipped off to Philadelphia at the close of the 1985 season as the newly acquired Gary Carter would take over duties behind the plate for many years to come. 

1987 was the toughest year for me to pick the “best” Met’s card from Topps.  There are several that are some of my all-time favorite cards…of any set for that matter.  You have two cards featuring gritty plays at the plate with Kevin Mitchell and Wally Backman.  Ron Darling is depicted driving off of the mound with his picture-perfect mechanics and newly acquired third baseman Howard Johnson also has a nice card.  The top Mets card for me in 1987 however, is none other than Gary Carter.  This card would make him my favorite player and the set in general would go on to become a favorite of many collectors that grew up in the 80’s.  1988’s top Met’s card goes to Carter again.  It’s a nicely framed action shot from Shea Stadium featuring Carter at the plate.  That year Topps produced 2-pocket folders that replicated their 1988 Topps baseball cards.  My Granny purchased a few for me.  One of which was Gary Carter.  This went right into my Trapper Keeper and I stared at everyday of sixth grade.  The Mets would find themselves back at the top of their division in 1988 only to lose to the LA Dodgers in the NLCS.  Darryl Strawberry takes the top spot for the 1989 Met’s set.  A prolific home run hitter for the Mets, Topps captures Strawberry at the plate and laser focused on the next pitch.  He would make the All-Star Team that year with 29 home runs and the Mets would finish in second place. Topps produced school folders in 1989 as well. They pop up on Ebay from time to time.

 Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have absolutely no use for the 1990 set.  I absolutely hate it and should mean something as it is coming from a collector who really looks for all the good things in a set before I look for the faults.  In this case, the design is terrible, the color scheme is terrible, and the photography is terrible.  It’s literally 791 cards of complete and utter junk.  I do like Howard Johnson’s card though which is why I didn’t say it was “792 cards of complete and utter junk.”  The Met’s weren’t “junk” that year either as they finished in second place, four games behind Pittsburgh.  1991, however marked the start of the toilet bowl spiral for the Mets.  With a weird mix of checked-out former stars from their ’86 World Series squad, free agents that were not really interested in being a part of “rebuilding phase” and prospects that probably had no business being on the big-league club anyways. It’s no wonder that they would finish 20.5 games out of first.  Darryl Strawberry pulls the best card of the Mets that year despite not actually playing for them.  The 1991 Topps design has always been a favorite of mine and other collectors and they gave Strawberry a great card as he closed out his career with New York.  Strawberry signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 1990, marking the end of his time in blue and orange and inking a lucrative five-year $22.25 million deal.  1992 would get even worse for the Mets despite the owners breaking out the checkbook and signing what they hoped would be major acquisitions that would curb the losing and make everyone stop wishing it was the mid-eighties again.  Despite the talent, the team was an absolute disaster and would go on to lose over 90 games.  Even Topps seemed to have little interest in the “Worst Team Money Could Buy” (according to Bob Klapisch’s book), as nearly every card is unremarkable.  They did feature an aging Hubie Brooks and former Tidewater Tide rounding third base.  He gets the top spot for 1991 but by the time that card hit collector’s hands, he was playing for the California Angels. 

The next three years all go to catchers.  The best thing about the 1993 team set is this Todd Hundley card and it’s not even that great. The photo looks to have captured the aftermath of a passed ball or errant throw from an infielder. I can’t think of any of situation where a catcher would end up like this. Sure, it’s a Mets card of a catcher and it even features the cool rookie cup, but it’s simply the best of an overall very mediocre collection of Mets.  While every Mets’ fan was hoping to forget the disaster that was the season of 1992, the Mets actually got worse in 1993; losing 100 games – the worst season since 1967.  1994’s players strike actually allowed the Mets to hang on to a third place finish in their division.  Charlie O’Brien gets the nod for 1994 and is featured on his Topps card getting ready for a play at the plate with Houston’s Steve Finley.  Coincidentally, it would be Todd Hundley that would replace O’Brien behind the plate.  O’Brien was traded to Atlanta in November of 1993 so he never saw action for the Mets in 1994.  1995 would be a nicer year for the Mets as they finished 2nd in the division.  Third-string backup catcher Kelly Stinnett gets the top card for that season.  Despite the terrible Topps design, he is featured nicely framed and following through at the plate. 

Due to an injury, Bill Pulsipher sat out the entire 1996 season.  It was a return to the Mets losing ways as they finished 4th in the division.  He does get the top card of the 1996 Mets set though.  I’ve always liked this card as it was his first Topps base card that showed him actually on the field playing.  He was a member of the Norfolk Tides for much of the 1995 season and then off and on through 2000.  I saw him play here locally many times.  Another former Norfolk Tide gets the top card of the 1997 Mets set.  This is the year I graduated from high school and Mets would roll to another mediocre 3rd place finish but this season was the start of a turnaround.  Infielder Butch Huskey can be seen on his 1997 Topps card signing autographs for fans at Shea Stadium.  This is something that he did often during his time here in the minor leagues.  The 1998 Mets season was a heart breaker.  They were one of the best Mets teams to come along in a decade and they played splendidly throughout the season.  However, any hope of making the playoffs was dashed as they squandered away the last five games of the season.  John Olerud gets the nod for the top card in the 1998 Topps set.  The design of this set is not particularly my favorite, but I do just love this card.  I love the bright uniform set against the dark background and the gold border works well.  We also get a great shot of Olerud fielding with his signature batting helmet on. 1998 would be the best year of Olerud’s career setting a franchise record for both batting average and on-base percentage, both of which still stand to this day.

I had to go with Mike Piazza for the top card of 1999.  It has a very “1987 Gary Carter” throwback feel to it.  1999 would be Piazza’s first full season with the Mets and he would help them break into the post season and reaching the NLCS before losing to Atlanta.  It would be manager Bobby Valentine’s first taste of the post season in his 30+ year career.  2000 would be another great year for the Mets as they reached the World Series for the first time in 15 years.  The Mets starting rotation featured five men who all finished with a record of .500 or better and while not unheard of, one must remember that this was the height of the steroid era.  Hitters were swatting more home runs further than they ever had before.  Shortstop Rey Ordonez gets the top card of the 2000 set.  Given Ordonez’ athleticism on the field, it’s kind of a boring card.  Nothing more than a routine tag-out of Ellis Burks at second.   He gets the top card of 2001 as well which tells you how bad the OTHER cards in the set are.  The card is unremarkable despite a remarkable year.  2001 was not only the year I graduated from college but also a turning point in American history.  On Tuesday September 11, a series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks became the deadliest on American soil in U.S. history.   As New York suffered horrific losses, baseball was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind and with that; Commissioner Bud Selig would cancel all games through the end of the week and announced that the season would resume on Saturday, September 17.  After three games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Mets would return home to a battered New York City to play the Atlanta Braves.  It would be the first baseball game in New York after the attacks and no one was sure how to approach this game.  It would be a Piazza 3 run home run in the eighth that would bring all 41,000 fans in Shea Stadium to their feet…together as one, momentarily forgetting the pain in their hearts.  The Mets would hold on to the lead for the win and baseball would find itself as an integral part of the healing process.

As we wrap up a heavy moment; let’s close out the blog for today – 1978 through 2001 which is 23 years of Mets’ cards and commentary. Stay tuned for Part 2 as we explore 2002 through 2020.

Local Card Show Pickups – March 2020

What a difference a week can make.

The last time things felt even remotely “normal” was one week ago. It was Wednesday night’s (March 11, 2020) news cycle where the news of a potential global pandemic began to ramp up. It was so unbelievable that I had to eventually turn it off. We were being strongly advised to distance ourselves from others and to stay inside our homes if we could do so. This put the weekend’s card show into question. My buddy Matt of Passion 4 Cards fame decided to sit this show out but I decided to drive up there anyways. The show was being held in the cafeteria of a local school and as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw as many cars as I usually do. The show was a go and I was relieved.

I spoke with a handful of vendors and they felt like the attendance was only slightly lower than usual. As I spent a few hours sorting through cards, I could overhear conversations going on around me. Some were concerned, some were not, a few talked as if they were licensed pathologists (they were not).

I was glad that I decided to go. Who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to attend a card show. I have the feeling that life has been forever changed for a lot of people including myself. I’m still processing it all. These will probably be the last cards I buy for a while until things stabilize.

So let’s take a look!

1995 Upper Deck Minors – Matt Brunson

I have a LOT of cards.

Most of which, I just have…because I have them.

Then I have some cards that I have…because I love them. These two cards fall into that category. They don’t feature big names but to me, they are as valued as a Mickey Mantle or a Ken Griffey Jr.

I have seen this Matt Brunson card floating around a few blogs over the years and knew that I needed it. Upper Deck used a beautiful photo and created a card that to me is iconic. Matt Brunson was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1st round (9th) of the 1993 MLB June Amateur Draft. He would never see a major league field but he can say that he has one of the most exciting baseball cards ever made. I also picked up Wonderful Terrific Monds’ card from the same set. The card is…well, wonderful and with a name like that, one should expect nothing less than. He is the son of former NFL defensive back Wonderful Monds and was drafted by the Braves in the 50th round of the 1993 amateur draft. Monds falls into the same category as Brunson. Neither of them would reach the big leagues. When asked about his teammate, outfielder Dwight Smith once said, “He’ll have pressure to be good all of his life, no matter what he does, whether it’s baseball or marriage or his job, whatever,″ Smith said.

“I’m just glad my name is only Dwight.″

1995 Upper Deck Minors – Wonderful Terrific Monds
1987 Fleer Mini’s

I found a vendor that had a dime-box set up especially for the show. As I pulled up a chair he said, “Keep an eye out, I packed this box up with some surprises.”

I like dime-boxes like that.

This box was loaded with low-grade vintage hall of famers from the 70’s and 80’s as well as a wide variety of oddballs. Some of which are relatively hard to find. I was able to pick up three 1987 Fleer mini’s of players that I collect as well as two Starting Lineup Talking Baseball cards of Gary Carter and Rickey Henderson.

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball was an electronic baseball game that Kenner put out in 1988. When you bought the game, you also received cards of the players featured in each game. I never had it but I remember seeing the commercials every Saturday morning. I did collect a few of the Starting Lineup figures. Gary Carter ended up being turned into Christmas tree ornament and we hang him up every year.

1988 Starting Lineup Talking Baseball
1994 Topps Stadium Club

I hated this set when it came out. I loved the full bleed photos but never understood the combo lettering of typewriter and label-maker font. That was the 1990’s though. These all came from a dime-box. I may have the complete set lying around somewhere but for a dime, I can’t pass up a great single. I have the feeling that I’ll have plenty of time over the next month to take an inventory of my collection.

1993 Donruss “Spirit of the Game” & 1993 Upper Deck “Iooss Collection”

Full bleed photos always catch my eye. I had to pick up these six insert cards. In 1993, Donruss featured the 20 card “Spirit of the Game” insert set in packs. Each card features an action shot of the play on the front of the card and then another capture from the same play on the back. Upper Deck teamed up with famed photographer Walter Iooss to produce a 26 card insert set. From 1968 through 1972, Iooss was an in-house photographer for Atlantic Records in New York, where his subjects included performers like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. In 1982 he would leave his position at Sports Illustrated to work exclusively for Fujifilm on a project in which he would document athletes working their way towards the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1997, Fleer would partner with Sports Illustrated to produce a 180 card set. This would be the first set in a three-year partnership between SI and Fleer. The set features photographs taken from the archives of Sports Illustrated magazine. Kevin Brown’s card is one of the better ones in the set. We also see Baltimore Oriole Brady Anderson giving it his best to pull in an obvious home run. I’m not sure which stadium this is but I know it’s not Camden Yards. It’s a great photo as he at the same spot on the outfield wall as the Oriole’s logo. Sandy Alomar Jr has so many great cards out there. Pinnacle did a nice job with this on for their 1994 set.

Let’s take a look at four horizontal cards that I picked up for a buck. Chris Taylor grew up right down the street from me here in Virginia Beach so naturally, I collect his cards. I love this base version of his 2019 Topps Big League card. When I saw this “artist rendition” version in a quarter box, I had to grab it. The next three were picked up for a quarter a piece as well. The 2016 Topps Mark Trumbo is one of the most beautiful cards in that set. Some collectors disliked the “white fog” that Topps used on the card design but I think in this case, it works great. The 2011 Topps set featured some stellar photos and the overhead shot of Henry Blanco is a prime example. I also love the perspective on Clayton Richard’s base card.

I also picked up three relic cards for $3 a piece. Relic cards aren’t really something that I collect anymore. It’s hard to know how legitimate the “relic” actually is these days. I picked these up because I collect the players. I do love the design of the Ryan Zimmerman 2018 Topps Museum Collection. The relic is described as “Game Used Memorabilia” on the front. The back of the card states that the memorabilia is “not from any specific game, season, or event.” That being said, I was happy to find it for $3.

There was a time when Gregg Jeffries was THE next baseball super star. At least that’s what collectors thought in 1987. He played AAA baseball here in Norfolk, Virginia in 1987 and 1988 for the Tidewater Tides. I saw him play quite a few times and he was always great to the fans. I picked up these three oddballs for a quarter. Note the differences in how his name was spelled. The same goes for the Mattingly’s below. All three for a quarter.

One of the last tables I stopped at had a small two-row box simply labeled “VINTAGE – 50% OFF”. I’ve seen deals like this before and even with the 50% off, the price is usually a bit more than I’m willing to spend. Today must have been my lucky day. None of the cards had price tags on them.

I pulled a few cards out and asked the dealer what the damage would be for all of them. He said $20. I gave him $25 because honestly, when you’re sitting there holding cards of Sandy Koufax and Ted Williams, you expect a higher price tag.

All in all, it was a pretty good show for me despite the global pandemic fears just starting to register with everyone. I would expect that I’ll have some more time to spend with my cards over the next month or two. Look for some new updates to this blog.

Stay safe out there folks!

Completed Set – 2009 Topps Gallery

This is one of those sets that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to complete. I had picked up some singles that I absolutely loved from some dime-boxes at my local card show and thought that I might like to collect the rest of the base set. As I got deeper into the set over the years, I realized that while the set had some real standout cards, the majority of the set was fairly boring in terms of compelling photography. Despite that, with only 100 base cards and 50 SP’s to the checklist, I continued to slowly forge ahead.

A few weeks ago I slid the final card into it’s sleeve which completed a near 20 year project. That final card? Greg Maddux.

I was fortunate enough to find this card in a quarter box at a local card show. The card is easily found online and it was on my list to pick up at some point. Fortunately, it was just sitting there in a stack of random Maddux cards. I like a lot of things about this card. For one, it’s a very unique shot of a Hall of Fame pitcher. Maddux was actually a very good hitter in his day. It’s also cool to see him attempting to break up a double play. Most pitchers wouldn’t bother subjecting themselves to such a slide given how risky it would be to injure themselves. I’m also a sucker for cards that frame the shot to show nothing but infield dirt. This one comes awfully close.

I’ll highlight a few of my personal favorites in the set.

Vlad’s card is probably my 2nd favorite card in the set. Just a crisp shot of him rounding second or maybe first base. I love how the black outfield wall serves to really make the image pop. We’ve also got a nice shot of the Captain battling the sun as he tracks an infield fly. I had a pair of those flip-down sunglasses when I was a center fielder. They were more of a pain than anything else. I also like this shot of Javy Lopez adjusting his gear between innings. 1999 would come to a close as the Yankees swept the Braves in the World Series.

I love the way Topps framed this shot of Frank Thomas. The Hall of Famer was a consistent home run hitter for most of his career but 1999 was not his best season. As Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa launched baseballs out of major league ballparks at an astonishing pace, Thomas managed only 15 home runs in 1999. I love cards featuring players at Wrigley Field. This shot of Mark Grace showcases the brick wall that runs the perimeter of the field. The Cubs would finish dead last in their division in 1999. Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman was known for many things during his career: his leadership, his changeup, and his character. I love this shot featuring his picture perfect mechanics. Hoffman was an All Star in 1999 and put 40 saves in the books for San Diego as the Padres finished fourth in their division.

I always find Wade Boggs in a Tampa Bay Devil Ray uniform a strange sight. He will always be a member of the Red Sox to me. Here we see him watching Mike Heath try to frame an outside pitch. Given Boggs’ talent at the plate, one can pretty confidently assume that this pitch was a ball. Had it been a strike, it would have been in play already. I had picked up this great card of Sandy Alomar at a local card show a few months ago. I always look for great catcher cards to add to my “catcher collection”.

The one thing I remember about the 1999 baseball season was Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire continuing to rack up home runs. I’ve read countless articles, books and heard stories about the 1961 home run chase involving Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. At the time, the country was captivated with the race to break Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs. People were glued to their radios as they listened to see who would put another one out of the park. The morning ritual for many was to first grab the paper and check the box scores. It was a different time that’s for sure. Maris eventually broke the record, hitting his 61st home run on October 1, the season’s final day.

I was a sophomore in college in 1998 and I remember feeling the same excitement as baseball fans in 1961. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had captivated the sports world with their quest to beat the Babe. If the Cardinals or the Cubs happened to have a day game that I could catch, class was usually traded in for the game. At the time, cell phones were still heavy bricks with no internet so I couldn’t get updates every minute of every game like I can today. Instead of checking the box scores in the paper every morning, I had to endure the painful log-on sounds of dial up internet to see which of the two sluggers was leading the race. McGwire would end up beating Sammy with 70 home runs. Sosa ended the season with 66. That was a fun time.

I also wanted to include the second weirdest Ken Griffey Jr. card in my collection. Why would Topps give this photo the green light?

What’s the MOST weird Griffey Jr. card in my collection? Lookin’ at you 1998 Upper Deck…

I’ll close out this post with my favorite card from the set. Topps did a great job of framing Guillen with the lush ivy covering the outfield wall of Wrigley Field. This is easily one of my “Top 50 Favorite Cards”.

COMPLETED SET – 1994 Fleer Ultra

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. The holidays, a 4 year old, and work has kept me pretty busy over the past few months.

I attended a local card show last weekend and was able to pick up the last remaining cards of the 1994 Fleer Ultra set. I had actually decided to complete this set on a whim. A few years ago I picked a $5 retail box of cards from my local Walgreens. Inside the retail boxes is one pack and 100 loose singles. All of which are complete junk.

I love them though.

In this one particular box was Tom Glavine’s 1994 card. I loved the high quality card stock, the near full-bleed horizontal photo and the gold inlay fonts. Because of this card, I decided to knock out the whole set. Comprised of 2 series with 300 cards each, the Fleer Ultra brand had come a long way from it’s drab 1991 debut. I’ve checked online to see if there might be any interesting information regarding this set and came up empty. 1994 Fleer Ultra seems to be one of those sets that no one cares about. Not even the sports card database Cardboard Connection makes a mention of the set. That’s a shame.

1994 should have been one of the greatest baseball seasons of all time. Sadly, the collective greed of the owners and players resulted in a work stoppage that brought the dream season to an abrupt halt on August 11. Attendance was booming as fans packed brand new stadiums to see stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, and Barry Bonds. With the season canceled, it would be the first time since 1904 that players and fans would not be witness a World Series.

San Francisco Slugger Matt Williams was on pace to hit nearly 61 home runs. The Montreal Expos played most of the season with best record in baseball. Despite finishing with 74 wins/40 losses and a 6 game lead in the National League East, it would be the last year for baseball in Montreal. Tony Gwynn was on his way to baseball immortality, finishing just shy of .400. He ended his season with a .394 batting average, the highest of any player since Ted Williams in 1941. The strike would also bring to a close the careers of Bo Jackson and Goose Gossage. Neither of which even made any formal announcement. They simply went home.

The abbreviated 1994 season would see Dodger phenom Raul Mondesi and surprise Kansas City standout Bob “Hammer” Hamelin take home Rookie of the Year awards. Mondesi would finish 1994 with a .306 average, 133 hits, 16 home runs and 56 RBIs. Today, Mondesi is enjoying an eight year “stay-cation” in the Domican Republic prison system after being convicted of corruption and mishandling of public funds while serving as mayor of his hometown of San Cristobal. Hamelin would hit .282 with 24 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .987 OPS in 101 games. A mere five years later, while playing for the Toledo Mud Hens in 1999, Hamelin would find himself getting jammed on an inside fastball. After running out a weak infield grounder, Hamelin would walk back to the dugout, grab his glove and tell the manager he was quitting. “For tonight?” the manager said.

“No. For good.” Hamelin replied as he headed for the locker room to collect his things.

The 1994 Cy Young Award would go to Royal pitcher and five-time all star David Cone and Atlanta hurler and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Here are few of my favorite cards from the set. We have Manny Ramirez in his second year with the Indians. He would become a major league regular in 1994 and finish second in Rookie of the Year voting. We also see one of Bo Jackon’s last baseball cards. Finishing 1994 with 141 career home runs, the two sport superstar would quietly walk away from professional sports as the season came to an end. Once the most sought after prospects in baseball, the Atlanta Braves decided that they were going to pick Todd Van Poppel as their first round draft pick in 1990. After hearing that Van Poppel explicitly said he would not sign with Atlanta, they opted for future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones instead. Van Poppel’s career record was 40-52 and he never won more than seven games in a season. We also see a pretty cool shot of Padre second baseman Bip Roberts turning two. In 1994, Roberts recorded an MLB best 24-game hitting streak for the Padres. The strike-shortened season compromised his season as he was hitting .320 with over 20 steals yet again. He was also second in the NL in singles, and broke up Pedro Martínez’s extra inning perfect game in the 10th inning with a double.

Here are four more favorites from the set. Jim Abbott has always been one of my favorites. He was of course, able to overcome the adversity of only having one hand and become a phenomenal major league pitcher. I always appreciate cards that showcase his uniqueness. He would put his glove over his handless arm during windup and delivery and immediately upon releasing the ball would quickly slide it onto his pitching hand. He pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in 1993. We also see a nice horizontal shot of Indians first baseman Paul Konerko with a cameo of base-thief Rickey Henderson. If I were a betting man, I would bet that Henderson was safe. Fleer also chose a great shot of Giants shortstop Royce Clayton diving back to first. After retiring from baseball, Clayton would go on to play small roles in films “Moneyball” and “The Rookie”. We also have a great shot of Ranger first baseman Will Clark attempting to chase down a fly ball on a sunny day.

Fleer Ultra did a great job with the cards of Dennis Eckersley and Rickey Henderson. I always love to see the A’s white and green uniforms shining bright in the California sun. If you notice, it looks like Fleer had original intentions of making the Eckersley card a horizontal photo. They positioned the “Ultra” logo sideways despite the upright photo.

Houston’s Jeff Bagwell and Chicago’s Frank Thomas would both take MVP honors for 1994. As 1994 was Bagwell’s best year, no player was hurt more by the 1994 Major League Baseball strike than Bagwell. In just 110 games, he would hit .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI’s. Had the strike not shortened his season, he would likely have hit 57 or more home runs. The strike also cost slugger Frank Thomas a shot at topping Mickey Mantle on the career home run list. He finished his career in a three way tie at 18th with 521. Had the 1994 season allowed him to continue his home run pace, he would have finished with at least 20 more which would have pushed him up to 16th on the all time home run list.

Despite being one game behind the Chicago White Sox when the strike hit, the Cleveland Indians were having their best season since winning the pennant 40 years earlier. In addition to the performance of the team’s three future Hall of Famers, Jim Thome, Jack Morris, and Eddie Murray, Albert Belle was also having a standout season. Belle was hitting .357 and was only two points behind Paul O’Neill in the chase for the AL batting crown. He was leading the league in total bases, tied for the lead in extra-base hits, and among the top three in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, doubles, home runs, and RBI.

Wade Boggs is featured here crouched in position, ready to scoop up anything hit his way. The Yankees were finally playing great baseball in 1994 and were well on their way to the World Series if the winning continued. Boggs and Mattingly served as the elder statesmen of the young team and despite back injuries sapping Mattingly’s power, Boggs provided support with 11 home runs, the second highest total of his career to date.

Barry Larkin had a solid 1994 season and would win another Gold Glove. Here we see him turning two with a cameo from Barry Bonds.

The Dodgers were a disappointing 58-56 at the close of the 1994 season, but would be the only team in the four-team NL West with a winning mark. Fleer chose this photo of a play at the plate during a day game at Wrigley Field. We can’t say for sure if the runner was out or safe. The Cub’s player looks to be outfielder Derrick May. He wore Nike high top cleats around that time. 1994 would be Mike Piazza’s sophomore season and he would hit 24 home runs and knock in 92 RBI’s.

The set also features four future Hall of Famers from the Baltimore Orioles. With 63 wins, the Orioles would finish the 1994 season second in the AL east due to a last minute collapse resulting in the O’s losing 7 of their last 9 games.

The Orioles most recent Hall of Fame inductee is Mike Mussina. He pitched in 18 big-league seasons for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, winning a total of 270 games. He was also first American League pitcher to win 10 or more games in 17 consecutive seasons. He would retire in 2008 as a New York Yankee. After winning his last start of the 2008 season, he would retire making him the oldest player to win 20 games in a season for the first time in his career.

I’ll close out this blog post with this special insert of Greg Maddux. In 1994, Maddux posted an ERA of 1.56, the second lowest since Bob Gibson’s historic 1.12 in 1968. Along with a .222 batting average, Maddux also led the National League in wins (with 16) and innings pitched (202) in his third Cy Young-winning year. Maddux also finished 5th in National League Most Valuable Player voting in 1994.

Completed Set – 2010 Topps National Chicle

I picked up my first pack of National Chicle back in May of 2009.

It was August 30, 2019 that I treated myself to the final card needed to complete the 330 card base set.

This set took just over 10 years to complete – approximately 3,650 days.

I had decided to try and complete this set back in 2009 when I saw an advertisement for it in a Beckett magazine. I have always loved the pre-war era “art” cards and was excited that Topps was going to release a modern throwback release with the same theme.

National Chicle was first distributed in 1934 under the names Diamond Stars and Batter Up. This little known vintage set featured a wealth of eclectic, great looking cards and was produced until 1937.

For 2010, Topps commissioned a team of 12 sports artists to replicate the original 1930’s Chicle look.

275 of the cards on the preliminary checklist are broken up into:
205 active players
40 legendary players
25 rookie
players

The remaining 55 short-print cards are broken up into three subsets:
25 retired stars revisted (featured in present day uniforms)
10 vintage veterans (featured in throwback uniforms)
20 rookie renditions (2010 rookies on throwback card designs)

At the time of release, reception to the tail end of the set was luke warm at best as there was little to no explanation as to why the themes were chosen. I liked them as they are certainly thought provoking and quirky.

Most collectors prefer at least a heads up before the card companies go too far outside of the box.

For instance, why is White Sox rookie Tyler Flowers featured on the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas rookie card? I’ve seen a variation of this Flowers card with the “no name on front” error which is pretty cool.

The most likely reason is that Topps told the artists to have fun with the project.

Athletic’s rookie Matt Carson looks strikingly similar to a young Ricky Henderson on his 1979 Topps rookie card.

Artist Jeff Zachowski had Frank Robinson’s 1957 rookie in mind when he painted Red’s rookie Drew Stubbs.

The Babe posing in an Atlanta Braves jersey? Or is that Chipper Jones? Artist Paul Lempa points out that Babe Ruth did end his career with the Boston Braves. Now it makes more sense.

Giants rookie Buster Posey does his best 1952 Willie Mays impersonation thanks to artist Brian Kong.

I have always loved the Jimmie Foxx card in this set. I think I first saw it posted over at Nick’s “Dime Boxes” blog. (check it out if you haven’t already!) Pittsburg artist Chris Henderson painted him against a bold background and the action shot is just awesome. Although it didn’t win Boston a championship, Carlton Fisk’s iconic home run to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series remains one of the great moments in Major League Baseball history and is depicted here on his 2010 Chicle card.  We also see a nice throwback to Johnny Bench’s 1969 Topps card by artist Monty Sheldon. The only thing missing is the 1968 Rookie Cup.

Artist Monty Sheldon produced the John Maine and Curtis Granderson cards. I love the horizontal design and backdrops depicted. Kershaw shines in front of a strikingly red background and Evan Longoria looks right at home on artist Jeff Zachowski’s tropical depiction.

Easily one of my favorite cards in the set, artist Chris Felix puts a modern day “Scooter” against the shadows of Yankee Stadium as he plays “pepper” with a teammate. We also have a pretty good idea of what A-Rod would look like had he been a Bronx bomber in the early 1900’s.

Two more fine examples of Chicle honoring baseball legends in both their original uniforms and present day uniforms. Chicle “plays two” with Cub’s legend Ernie Banks by featuring him on two cards. Artist Mike Kupka presents “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks as a Cub in either 1970 or 1971. You can narrow down the jersey as there is no centennial patch on the sleeve. Jason Davies flips Banks into today’s modern uniform on his short-print version.

Honoring the team that drafted him, we see a fine depiction from Monty Sheldon of Ryne Sandberg in his Philadelphia Phillies uniform. In what is widely considered one of the worst trades in baseball history, in 1982 he would be traded to the Chicago Cubs along with the aging Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus. The rest is history as he would go on to play his way into the Hall of Fame. After retiring as a Cub in 1997, Sandberg would end up managing the Phillies to the worst record in baseball in 2015. He would resign on his own after his promise to return to “fundamental baseball” never materialized on the field.

Here we have four more dazzling horizontal cards of Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Warren Spahn, and Roy Campanella. Artist Monty Sheldon produced the Musial, Spahn, and Campanella while former Marvel comic artist Brian Kong took care of replicating the mighty Jackie Robinson taking a cut against the bold red background.

Lots of collectors wondered about the spider featured on Cy Young’s card. He played for the Cleveland Spiders in 1891. Fielding their first team in 1887, the Spiders never enjoyed a winning season. Young is largely credited with turning the club around with his signing in 1891. The Spiders had their first taste of success in 1892 when they finished 93–56 overall; winning the second half by three games over Boston with a 53–23 record. National Chicle also features Young in a modern day Indians’ uniform. The Mick is also featured on two cards. One in his traditional Yankee pinstripes and the other in his “retired stars revisited” version.

I’ll close this post out with three of my favorite players. Ken Griffey Jr. is featured on only one card in this set. The same goes for Jeter and my local-favorite David Wright.

This set was certainly a challenge. The short-prints were tough to find and regardless of the player on the card; often carried a premium price. Ten years is a long time to chase a set and I found myself abandoning all hope of completing it more than a few times. However, writing this post made me realize just how much I like this set.

The last card to finish the set? As a Met’s fan, it pains me to say that this guy was the one. There were about 4 years where this ONE card was missing. I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy. Chipper, you killed the Mets for all of those years. Makes complete sense that YOU would be the one that was needed to complete a 10 year quest to complete this set.

Congrats on the Hall of Fame induction. It is well deserved. If I had to choose a player to be the final card in a set; I would be more than happy to choose you.

The genius (and madness) of Gene Mauch

Gene Mauch always wanted to be a big league manager.

1944 – Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop – Gene Mauch

Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher was Mauch’s inspiration. As a rookie shortstop in 1944, Mauch only played in 5 games. The rest of the time Mauch rode the bench and intently observed Durocher’s every decision. He admired the manager’s ‘play to win’ style.

He would achieve recognition in the minor leagues as a fiery utility infielder but never made the grade in the major leagues. In all or part of nine seasons with six different teams, he never played more than 72 games in a season.

Mauch would hang it up as a player in 1957 and go on to become one of the most clever and arrogant managers in baseball history. Mauch is fifth all-time in games managed at 3,942 and ninth in wins with 1,902. But he also lost more games than he won. His 2,037 defeats are third all-time. However, he was often saddled with mediocre teams in the process of rebuilding or, as in Montreal, with an expansion team.

Nick Acocella of ESPN once said that Gene Mauch was either the smartest baseball man never to win a pennant or the most expert at pulling defeat out of victory’s jaws.

Despite only winning two pennants in 26 years of managing, many of Mauch’s players regard him as their most insightful manager.

1987 – California Angels manager – Gene Mauch

One of Mauch’s most insightful moments would come during a game between the Tigers and the Angels on May 12, 1987.

After a 3rd inning pitch in the dirt by Tiger’s pitcher Dan Petry, catcher Mike Heath reached out with his catcher’s mask and scooped the ball up.

It would have appeared that no one gave the seemingly harmless move a second thought.

Well, no one BUT Gene Mauch.

1987 Topps – Mike Heath & Dan Petry

After all, 35 years earlier he had memorized virtually every word of the baseball rule book.

As Heath returned the ball to Petry, Mauch came lumbering up the dugout steps and out onto the field.

“Well, are you going to make that call?” Mauch asked home plate umpire Durwood Merrill.

“What call?” Merrill asked.

“Rule 7.05. Paragraph D. Make the call Merrill!” Mauch responded.

Merrill clearly was either unaware of the rule or had forgotten it. “Oh THAT rule, Gene. Well go ahead and remind me of what in that hell that rule even is.” he said.

“Well, rule 7.05, paragraph D calls for an automatic two-base error whenever a player stops a ball with a piece of equipment other than his glove, be it a cap, a resin bag or in Heath’s case, his catcher’s mask!” Mauch explained in perfect detail.

Merill looked at Mauch in defeat. He knew he was right. “It must have slipped my mind,” he said as he motioned for Angel baserunners Mark McLemore and Brian Downing to advance 180 feet. Downing moved from first base to third, McLemore scored from second, and Mauch pulled into the RBI lead for major league managers in 1987.

Many would say it was a great moment in baseball managing.

Not if you’re interested in results.

Final score of that game: Tigers 15, Angels 2.

Mauch would come to be known for his many futile strokes of genius. Mauch was an exemplary manager and possessed a cunning baseball mind, despite what the statistics say. One has to wonder what achievement he would have seen had he not been saddled with mediocre teams.

This probably explains why Mauch is known just as much for his legendary temper tantrums as he is for his managerial skills.

1963 Topps

One of Mauch’s most celebrated outbursts happened on September 22, 1963 and involved, well, a lot of food.

After a 2-1 loss in Hoston on Joe Morgan’s first big league single, Mauch was the first to return to the clubhouse and he was mad as hell.

Local caterer Norm Gerdeman and his wife Evelyn were admiring a beautiful post-game buffet that they had just finished setting out for the visiting Phillies. The table was stocked with fresh fruit, cold cuts, crisp salads and Evelyn’s specialty – barbecue chicken and spareribs.

Still burned from the game, Mauch began pacing up and down the buffet with his hands on his hips. Every time he passed the buffet, he would reach over, grab a handful of food and sling it across the clubhouse as if he was gunning down a runner headed for home.

Every corner of the room soon found itself covered in watermelon, potato salad, coleslaw, roast beef, and ham.

Norm held his wife back as Mauch approached the barbecue chicken. All she could do was watch as Mauch began chucking her award-winning chicken all over the place.

With nothing else to throw, Mauch picked up a bowl of Evelyn’s special homemade barbecue sauce and sent it splashing into the open lockers of players Tony Gonzalez and Wes Covington.

With their street clothes now ruined, Mauch called the players to his office, apologized and gave them both $200 to buy new suits.

1970 Topps

The 1970 season gave Mauch another gut-wrenching loss and the Houston Astros clubhouse another Mauch temper tantrum involving food. Montreal coach Don Zimmer recalls, “When we came back into the clubhouse, there was a spread of eight big barrels of fried chicken. Now, when you lose a tough ballgame, you need to go to your locker and quietly stew over the loss to let everyone know you’re serious. Then you get up and go to the spread. That’s what I did that night and I was starving.”

Rusty Staub and another teammate did NOT follow that unwritten rule and upon entering the clubhouse, began filling their plates as if they hadn’t eaten in days.

Still steaming over the loss, Mauch quietly approached the players and said sarcastically, “Never mind the team losing the game. You boys take care of your stomachs.”

Then Mauch leaped up onto the table and started dumping the chicken all over the floor. He even jumped down and began stomping up and down on it.

The players were in utter disbelief. Zimmer, slowly walked out Mauch’s line of sight, reached up and grabbed the last two pieces of chicken from the table. “That’s how hungry I was!”, he said.

On May 7, 1969, in a game between Atlanta and the Expos, Mauch was enraged at a balk that was called against his rookie pitcher Mike Wegener allowing the tying run to score.

After losing his debate with the umpires, Mauch stormed over to the mound, kicked the rosin bag ten feet into the air, ran after it, and booted it another twenty feet. He then grabbed the ball from Wegener’s hand and drop kicked it high into the air.

The umpires having seen quite enough of this, ejected Mauch before that ball even hit the ground.

Mauch vs Umpires and then Mauch vs baseball.

There were many other outbursts in Mauch’s 3,942 game managerial career. Despite those outbursts, many said that Mauch was “one of the nicest guys in baseball.” It was almost as if he had a split personality.

The finest example of this was after a Philadelphia loss to the Reds on May 12, 1965. Mauch locked reporters out of the clubhouse, broke a window, ripped the phones out of the wall, upended all of the furniture, and finally jammed his fist through the door of a dressing room locker.

The reporters could do nothing but listen through the door. Once the door was finally opened back up, Mauch was gone, having left a trail of destruction in his wake.

The next night, after the Phillies defeated the Reds, Gene was all smiles. Warmly welcoming the same reporters into the Phillies clubhouse, Gene innocently asked them, “Hey, where were you guys last night?”

1968 Topps & 1966 Topps

1969 – Commies, the Mets and the Moon

Fifty years ago, today, all systems were ‘GO’ for Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins to become the first humans to walk on the moon.  Years of work by NASA engineers and astronauts had come down to this very moment. 

This past week, I’ve been staying up way too late watching documentaries on the 1969 moon landing.  The “Space Race” of the Cold War has always been an interest of mine.  As a kid, I would occasionally spend the night at my grandparent’s house.  On clear nights we would often look at star constellations and the moon and he would tell me about the moon landing and how brave the men were that traveled to it.  After all, if things went south — there was no coming back.  After all, as Gene Kranz famously said, “failure is not an option”. My Pop-Pop would usually put me to bed and while most kids were read children’s books before bed, we would often find ourselves staying up away too late reading books about the submariners of the NAVY, the Cold War, or sometimes, we would grab a globe and he would tell me stories about whichever country I picked.  He really had strong opinions of the Communist party and “treasonous spies”.  I think as a 6-year-old, I knew more about Alger Hiss than many people know in their entire life.  Looking back, as a kid I thought I would run into more “Commie’s” as an adult than I really have. (Just in case, I’m still always on the lookout.)

Tonight before you go to bed, take a look up at the moon and remember that 50 years ago today – we were there.

Foundations of Mission Control – Autographed by Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz

Looking back, the 1969 baseball season was a good one.  Not only was it celebrated as the 100th anniversary of professional baseball, honoring the first professional touring baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings; it was the New York Mets that would be the World Champions after being the laughingstocks of the league for the better part of the 60’s.  In 1961 people thought Kennedy was overreaching when he pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  Had he pledged that the New York Mets would win the World Series by the end of the decade though – people would have thought he was just plain crazy.  “Amazin’ly” by 1969, both missions would be accomplished. 

In addition to the Mets going from worst to first in 1969, the league also lowered the pitcher’s mound by 5 inches and tightened up the strike-zone with the intention of curbing the trend of low-scoring games that had plagued the league for the past six years.  The owners felt that pitching tyranny was ruining the game as spectators preferred 11-7 games and would grow tired of buying tickets to 1-0 games.  The move was not well received by Bob Gibson.  He said, “You can’t pitch a shutout anymore”.  Gibson was baseball’s best pitcher in 1968 with a 1.12 earned run average. That average more than doubled in 1969.

Baseball also expanded by adding teams in San Diego, Seattle, Kansas City and decided to make baseball an international sport by adding a team in Montreal.  1969 would become known as the first year of the “Divisional Era.”

1969 was also the debut of the iconic Major League Baseball logo.

1969 Statistical Leaders
American & National League MVP’s

The New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles faced each other in the World Series. Having won the N.L. East Division with a league-best 100–62 record, and sweeping the N.L. West Division Champion Atlanta Braves in three games in the first National League Championship Series, the “Miracle Mets” became the first expansion team to win a pennant. They faced the A.L. East Division Champion Orioles, holders of the best record in baseball (109–53), who swept the A.L. West Division Champion Minnesota Twins in three games in the first American League Championship Series. The upstart Mets upset the heavily favored Orioles and won the World Series title in five games.

1969 World Series MVP – Brooks Robinson

John “Blue Moon” Odom – Simply dominant in the first half of the 1969 season, going 14-3 with a 2.41 ERA heading into the All-Star break. He also showed himself to be one of the league’s better hitting pitchers as he went 3-for-3 with a home run and six runs batted in against the Seattle Pilots on May 4. He was named to his second consecutive All Star team, but was tagged for five runs (four earned) in just a third of an inning as the National League cruised to a 9-3 victory. His numbers tailed off considerably following the All-Star break, as he went 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA in the second half of the season.

Steve Carlton – September 15, 1969, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Cardinals hurler Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets batters to establish a new major league record. Unfortunately the 24 year old lefty surrendered a pair of two-run homers to New York outfielder Ron Swoboda that proved to be all the Mets needed as they went onto win 4-3. Mets batter Amos Otis was unfortunate enough to be the 19th strikeout victim to Carlton. As he returned to the Mets dugout, his teammates cheered “let’s hear it for Otis!”, grabbed his bat and told him they were going to ‘send it to Cooperstown.’

Bill Mazeroski – Regarded as one of the greatest defensive second basemen of all time. Mazeroski passed Frankie Frisch’s career total for assists with his 6,027th at Wrigley Field in Chicago on April 14, 1969. Statistically, however, 1969 was a subpar season for him both defensively and offensively. He played in only 67 games.

Hank Aaron – On July 31, 1969, Aaron hit his 537th home run, passing Mickey Mantle’s total – this moved Aaron into third place on the career home run list, after Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. At the end of the 1969 season, Aaron again finished third in the MVP voting.

Pete Rose – Rose had his best offensive season in 1969, when he set a career-high in batting (.348) and tied his career-best 16 homers. As the Reds’ leadoff man, he was the team’s catalyst, rapping 218 hits, walking 88 times and pacing the league in runs with 120. He hit 33 doubles and 11 triples, drove in 82 runs, slugged .512 (by far the highest mark of his long career), and had a .432 OBP (also a career best). Rose and Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente were tied for the batting title going into the final game; Rose bunted for a base hit in his last at-bat of the season to beat out Clemente (.345).

Bob Gibson – Aside from the rule changes set to take effect in 1969, cultural and monetary influences increasingly began impacting baseball, as evidenced by nine players from the Cardinals 1968 roster who hadn’t reported by the first week of spring training due to the status of their contracts. On February 4, 1969, Gibson appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and said the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) had suggested players consider striking before the upcoming season began. However, Gibson himself had no immediate contract worries, as the $125,000 salary Gibson requested for 1969 was agreed to by team owner Gussie Busch and the Cardinals, setting a new franchise record for the highest single-season salary.

Despite the significant rule changes, Gibson’s status as one of the league’s best pitchers was not immediately affected. In 1969 he went 20–13 with a 2.18 ERA, 4 shutouts and 28 complete games. On May 12, 1969, Gibson struck out three batters on nine pitches in the seventh inning of a 6–2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gibson became the ninth National League pitcher and the 15th pitcher in Major League history to throw an “immaculate inning”. After pitching into the tenth inning of the July 4 game against the Cubs, Gibson was removed from a game without finishing an inning for the first time in more than 60 consecutive starts, a streak spanning two years. After participating in the 1969 All-Star Game (his seventh selection), Gibson set another mark on August 16 when he became the third pitcher in Major League history to reach the 200-strikeout plateau in seven different seasons.

Johnny Bench – After winning Rookie of the Year in 1968, Bench would knock 26 dingers in ’69 as the Reds secured a 3rd place finish. One of the highlights of Bench’s 1969 season would happen during Spring Training. The manager of the Washington Senators was passing through the Red’s locker room and left Bench star-struck. Bench asked him for an autograph and as he walked back to his locker he looked down at the ball. “To Johnny-a sure Hall of Famer” it read. The manager was none other than Ted Williams.

Rich Nye – In the first season after the National League was split into two divisions, the Chicago Cubs finished with a record of 92–70, 8 games behind the New York Mets in the newly established National League East. Caustic 64-year-old Leo Durocher was the Cubs manager. The ill-fated season saw the Cubs in first place for 155 days, until mid-September when they lost 17 out of 25 games. After being used sparingly and finishing with a 3-5 record, 1969 would be Nye’s last year with the Cubs. When asked about the relationship with Durocher, Nye said, “People have asked me why I didn’t push harder with Leo in 1969. I’d won 13 games as a starter in 1967. My arm was healthy. I was young. Why didn’t I go to Leo and tell him I could try to give the team 200 innings? The answer is Leo himself. Leo was unapproachable. He had his tough guy image to maintain, and you just didn’t question him. And part of it had to do with me as well. It wasn’t in my nature to go to a manager that way.” Nye may have enjoyed baseball but he never really needed it. Not only did he go on to be a prominent doctor, he also used his civil engineering degree to help build the Sears Tower in Chicago and then moved into the medical field. Nye’s affinity with birds and exotic animals led to his establishing the Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital with colleagues Susan Brown and Scott MacDonald; Nye regularly treats ferrets, snakes, rabbits and parrots–anything but cats and dogs.

Jerry Koosman – Koosman was the pitching star of the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. After Seaver was defeated in Game One, Koosman, leading 1-0, held the Orioles hitless until Paul Blair singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning, eventually scoring on Brooks Robinson’s only hit in 19 Series’ at-bats. The Mets regained the lead in the top of the ninth; Koosman got two outs in the bottom of the frame, then walked the next two batters. He was relieved by Ron Taylor, who induced Robinson to ground out to end the game.

With the Series shifting from Memorial Stadium to Shea Stadium for the next three games, the Mets won Games Three and Four, and Koosman took the mound for Game Five. He fell behind 3-0 in the third inning after giving up home runs to his mound opponent, Dave McNally, and Frank Robinson. The Mets, however, cut into the Oriole lead on Donn Clendenon’s two-run home run in the sixth, then tied the game in the seventh on a homer by Al Weis, who had hit only six career homers at that point—none of which had been in a home game. The Mets scored two runs in the eighth to take the lead, and after walking Frank Robinson to lead off the ninth, Koosman retired the next three hitters to end the game and complete the Mets’ improbable World Series win.

Tom Seaver – In the 1969 National League Championship Series, Seaver outlasted Atlanta’s Phil Niekro in the first game a 9–5 victory. Seaver was also the starter for Game One of the 1969 World Series, but lost a 4–1 decision to the Baltimore Orioles’ Mike Cuellar. Seaver then pitched a 10-inning complete game for a 2–1 win in Game Four. The “Miracle Mets” won the series. At year’s end, Seaver was presented with the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award. Seaver would also win the 1969 National League Cy Young Award.

1969 Topps Roberto Clemente (Once owned by Hall of Famer Gary Carter)

Roberto Clemente – Leading the league in triples in 1969, Clemente was also a National League All Star. The Pirates would go on to finish third in the National League East. While the Pirates 1969 season was fairly uneventful, Clemente is involved in a rumor only recently confirmed by fellow player Dave Concepcion. After a night game in San Diego, roommate Willie Stargell had sent Clemente out to pick up some fried chicken for dinner. En route back to the hotel, Clemente was kidnapped at gunpoint by four men in a car. The kidnappers drove him into the hills to rob and presumably kill him. With a pistol shoved in his mouth, Clemente told the men who he was and pleaded for them to spare him his life. Finally realizing who he was, they threw him back in the car, drove him back to his hotel, and handed him back his wallet (with the $250 in it) and World Series ring. Visibly shaken, Clemente headed to the front door of the hotel lobby and heard the car get thrown into reverse and pull back up to the sidewalk. The window slowly rolled down and one of the guys reached out and handed Clemente the bag of fried chicken that he was originally carrying. As he walked into his hotel room, Stargell grabbed the chicken and asked what had taken him so long. Clemente never spoke of the incident until years later.