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.

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 – 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

other in a fishing boat.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Frankie Frisch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!”