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.

Junk Wax Treasures – 1987 Fleer Award Winners

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

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

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

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

1986 NL Cy Young Award Winner – Mike Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Topps Series 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Tinker & Dick Egan

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

Egan (2)

Cincinnati second baseman Dick Egan

Egan challenged Tinker to a fight.

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

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

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

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

Tinker

Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker

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

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

Evers

Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers

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

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

The two didn’t speak again until 1937.

But back to the ball field in Cincinnati.

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

Not so for Egan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Doerr

1223
Today Mr. Doerr turns 99 years old.  Playing his entire 14 year career with the Boston Red Sox (1937-1951), Doerr was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.  As of February 26, 2017, he is the oldest living former major league player and the last living person to have played in the 1930’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01081201

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

other in a fishing boat.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Frankie Frisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pitiful pickoff of Frenchy

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

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

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

“Why certainly,” Frenchy replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The “Say Hey Kid” comes to Norfolk

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

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

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

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

MET PARKMET PARK LAST DAYS

 

 

 

Gary “The Kid” Carter

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

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

She clearly doesn’t “get it”.

 

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

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

Bob Friend – Practice Makes Perfect…

My son Cameron just turned 1 last week and what a crazy year it has been!  It’s been fun watching his personality start to develop as he grows into a little person.  I’ve always been a “planner” so I’ve certainly got my eyes on the future for him.  We’ve set up his savings
01081202account already, the college fund is up and running, and I’m debating on whether or not I should just go ahead and start now teaching him to hit from both sides of the plate.  Being a switch hitter may generate more baseball-scholarship dollars one day.  All jokes aside (not really) and without even knowing whether or not he will ever like baseball, I decided to start a little project for him.

I started writing baseball players letters back when I was 9 years old.  My first “success” was a postcard from Johnny Bench with his signature printed on it.  I still have it and even though it’s not a real signature, it’s still one of my favorite pieces.

After looking at a stack of 8×10 photos of baseball players, I decided to mail a few off to some retired players.  My note explained that I planned on giving the photo to my son one day.  I asked the player to personalize the photo and make a short inscription.  Mr Friend was happy to oblige and personalized this photo of him at Shea Stadium in 1966.  He wrote:  “To Cameron – Practice Makes Perfect – NLAS ’56, ’58, ’60 – Good Luck”.  The return is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to give it to Cam one day.   Mr Friend is a great through-the-mail signer.  This request took 5 days to get back to me.

Bob Friend is nicknamed “The Warrior” as he averaged 39 starts per season between ’56 through ’60.  1955 was unique in that Friend posted a 14-9 record for the Pittsburg Pirates and led the National League in ERA with 2.83.  He was the first ever pitcher to do so for a dead-last team.

Being credited with wins in the ’55 and ’56 All Star Games, Friend shares the record for most All Star Games won.  His ’55 start saw him strike out Mantle, Berra, and Williams.

It was an unfortunate turn of events in the ’60 World Series where the Yankees got the best of him in both of his starts as well as a save opportunity.  Game 7 saw Friend being called in from the bullpen to preserve a 9-7 lead in the ninth.  Friend gave up singles to Bobby Richardson and Dale Long when manager Danny Murtaugh replaced him with Harvey Haddix.  Haddix then proceeded to give up a single to Mantle, scoring Richardson and advancing Long.  A grounder by Berra scored Long tying the game 9-9.

Of course, the ending of this game is well-known and regarded by some as “the greatest game ever played.”  It was Bill Mazeroski who faced Ralph Terry in the top of the 10th with the score tied.  It was a 1-2 fastball that Maz sent sailing over the wall in left, crowning the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Champions.  The Series of 1960 would go down as Mantle’s “biggest disappointment in his career.”

One of the most durable pitchers of his time, Friend averaged 232 innings pitched and 13 victories for 15 years.  Had those numbers not been for some of the worst teams in baseball, Friend would likely be in the Hall of Fame.