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.

March Card Show Pickups

One night I was checking out some of the other collector blogs and as a few of the guys were showing off their card show finds, I realized how long it had been since I had been to a card show myself. After a quick google search, I saw that there was a card show in my area that was only a few weeks away. I shot my buddy Matt from Passion for Cards a text and he said he would meet me out there.

I didn’t really have any major cards on my wish list but I knew that he has been working on his 1963 Topps set. You can check out his pickups from the show HERE. Go ahead and subscribe to his channel as well. He never lets me down in showcasing his sweet collection. It’s a MONSTER too!

The show was at a local bingo hall and featured about 25 dealer tables. Lots of vintage cards and autographed memorabilia were mixed in with the usual dime-boxes, quarter boxes, and buck-boxes. I only had a few hours so I pulled a chair out of the corner and posted up at one of the dealer’s dime-box tables. Picked up about 300 cards in total. Here are a few of my favorites.

I recently started a player collection of Rickey Henderson. These cards will help fill some gaps. You can check out a post I did on Rickey a few months ago HERE. In 1995, Topps featured Rickey in their Bazooka set. He hit .300 that year with 9 home runs and 32 stolen bases. I was happy to find the 2001 Topps Traded as it features Rickey in his Padres uniform and books for $12. Not bad for a dime. Lastly, Rickey showed up in 72 games for Boston in 2002. Leaf featured his on the base paths in their relatively uninteresting base set.

I found myself pulling more and more of the Topps Archives out of the boxes. I’ve always thought that Topps Archives was one of the more creative sets out there. Each year, the 300 card set is broken up into three different designs from the past. I’ve always liked the 1991 Topps design and anytime I can find someone from the Mets is always a bonus. Mookie looks great on the 1984 Topps design again as well. Topps really outdid themselves with the photo choice of Xander Bogaerts. This one will go into my “personal favorites” binder.

I’ve already completed my 2014 Topps Gyspsy Queen set but I wanted to add this Johnny Bench to my catcher’s collection. Same goes for the 2000 Fleer Greats card. Despite never being a set that caught my eye, I grabbed it for a dime. Allen & Ginter is a great set for signatures and some years the design strikes my eye, 2012 wasn’t really one of them but Bench looks good on this one.

I decided I would start a mini-collection of cards with the ivy-covered outfield wall in the background. I was able to add three good ones out of the dime-box. The Fleer Ultra Ray Lankford is much more vibrant in person. He is a widely underrated player given that he played most of his career in a lackluster Cardinals era. He came in at the tail end of the Willie McGee/Ozzie Smith era and was traded to San Diego just before the Pujols/Molina era. Even still, his 38 career WAR as a Cardinal is 13 more than McGee, and just 3 behind Lou Brock. Andrew Cashner’s Topps Chrome rookie card features him warming up at Wrigley. Today he can be found at Camden Yards in an Orioles uniform. Predicted to be the worst team in baseball this year, they are off to a hot start with a new GM, new manager and virtually a new 25 man roster. Leaf captured a likely force out at second for Ryne Sandberg’s base card. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

As a nine year old little league player, I volunteered to play catcher at one of the team’s first practices. Mainly because I thought wearing the equipment was cool and because Gary Carter was a catcher. The other reason was because if I didn’t do it, we probably wouldn’t have had a catcher. Our main pitcher threw harder than anyone in the league. I learned to catch the ball at all costs because if I didn’t, it was going to hurt – bad. I love cards of catchers. I love to see the changes in the protective gear and the mitts over the decades.

Three more for the Adrian Beltre player collection. Those 2018 Archives on the 1991 design get me every time. Beltre is one of the greatest third baseman of our generation. With Beltre, you have the big traditional numbers: 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, 1,707 runs batted in. You have the awards: five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, four top-10 Most Valuable Player Award finishes. And you even have an outrageous advanced statistic: 95.7 career wins above replacement, which trailed only Albert Pujols among active players when Beltre retired last year. He also hates to have his head touched. I love to watch YouTube clips of teammates trying to catch him off guard and touch his head.

The Virginia Beach/Norfolk area has been a hotbed for Major League baseball talent and I try to collect the local guys. Ryan Zimmerman graduated from the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the first round of the 2005 draft and has played for the entirety of his 15 year career. If he can stay healthy, Ryan may close out his career with 300+ home runs. I picked these up for .30 cents and realized that I had picked up the middle SP card not only once, not twice, but THREE times. Not the first time that’s happened. Ryan’s parents still live here in the Virginia Beach area and his mother used to come into my restaurant pretty frequently. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. You can learn more about the disease and help the cause through Ryan’s “ZiMS Foundation.”

David Wright is another local baseball star that I collect. I always said that I would never collect unlicensed brand cards like Donruss but these Wrights look so good that I had to pick them up. Wright was not on the Captain of the Mets but played 1,585 games across 14 seasons, with 1,777 hits and a .296 batting average. Spinal stenosis took him off of the field for the last two years but he remained firmly at the helm of the team from the dugout.

There is another show in a few weeks. We are getting a new driveway installed soon so the Wife has me on a budget. It’s a good thing I still have $59 in cash left over from this show.

$20 in Junk Wax

It was a simple task really. I was supposed to go to the store and come home with some milk.

As I pulled the car back into the driveway, I realized that I had forgotten the milk. Instead, the trip to Target had yielded me this:

$19.99 will get you this

The box boasted the “World’s Greatest Card Chase”. I may even pull a “Diamond Pack” which would gain me an entry to win the “The Big Find” which according to the box would be a framed autograph and photo of Hall of Famer Cy Young.

I couldn’t have cared less about winning that card.

I just wanted the 14 packs of worthless junk wax inside the box.

It’s no wonder I forgot all about the milk right?

Inside the box was a good variety of packs. Mostly from the 90’s, a few 80’s, some Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Score and Fleer and just as I suspected, no Cy Young autograph which was fine by me. I’m always looking for cards to either mail off with an autograph request or add to my mini collections. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite pulls from each pack.

(1991 Leaf) – Possibly one of the most forgettable sets of the early 90’s. You can get the entire 1991 Leaf set for about $6 these days. Leaf spotlighted the 1991 rookie crop through a 26 card “Gold” set. Bagwell, Mussina, Van Poppel, and Klesko were among those featured. This pack awarded me with one Gold Rookie – Scott Leius – but it was the card of Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes that will end up in my “Wrigley Ivy Covered Wall” mini collection. Here you can see him warming up in front of the lush ivy covered wall of Wrigley Field.

(1990 Fleer) – Another snoozer of a set from the early 90’s and also, the same cards that I see the most of at garage sales and thrift stores. Not being particularly thrilled to open this pack, I was happy to pull this Mattingly. I’ve decided to start a player collection for him and I’ve always liked cards that feature players at the old Comisky Park. You can always tell it’s Comisky from the bright yellow aisle railings in the stands.

(1987 Donruss) – It had been 32 years since these cards had seen the light of day. A testament to the sheer number of cards produced around that time I guess. I’ve heard stories of entire warehouses full of master cases of cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s. The result of dealers and collectors hoarding them with hopes of one day flipping them into boat loads of cash. Today, they sit there collecting dust with no one showing them any interest. My pack was so absolutely unremarkable that this Joe Cowley was the only one that sparked my interest. Cowley is known for the no-hitter he threw when playing for the Chicago White Sox. It would be the last game he would win in his career. Cowley now works in sales for a text message marketing company. A few years ago, my company had partnered with his company and his business card was passed along to me. I immediately recognized the name but figured it was another Joe Cowley. I ended up giving him a call one day and asked if he was the same guy. He was! Sadly, he wanted to talk business more than baseball. Of course my agenda was the opposite. Adam over at Cardboard Gods also has a cool story about Joe. Click here to give it a read.

(1989 Donruss) – Despite not pulling a Griffey Jr., Sheffield, or Johnson rookie card, I was pretty happy to pull this Rickey Henderson for my player collection. I have been meaning to upgrade the one I already had. I remember being in 6th grade when this set came out. A few of my buddies and I agreed that the design was an improvement from the 1988 Donruss set. Not only was the design much better but Donruss also increased the weight of the card stock which was nice. I particularly enjoyed the Baseball’s Best subset that came out later in the year. The Griffey Jr card is much more beautiful than his regular issue Rated Rookie. Donruss also made sure to feature an additional Rickey card as he was traded to Oakland mid-season.

(1988 Fleer) – Some people will tell you that Fleer had a print run in 1988 that was far less than its competitors but I would disagree. These cards are not only everywhere, but as ugly as they come. This pack was quite unremarkable with the exception of this Andre Dawson. Here you can see the future Hall of Famer watching a fly ball take off at Wrigley Field.

(1990 Upper Deck) – I love this card of Andy Allanson and it will go right into my catcher mini-collection. The 1990 Upper Deck set has a few fun cards to chase. The 10 card set of Reggie Jackson was popular and we all used to purchase packs with the hopes of pulling a signed and numbered Reggie card. I think this may have been the start of the modern day “chase card”. There are also a few error cards to look for. The Nolan Ryan high number card #734 can be found both with and without the “300th Win” flag on it. Ben McDonald’s rookie card #54 was printed with either the Oriole’s logo or the Star Rookie logo on the front.

(1991 Topps) – Another “Donny Ballgame” upgrade for the player collection. Topps really outdid themselves with their 1991 set as they celebrated 40 years in the baseball card business. The 1991 set features a few of my all-time favorite cards. These include Benito Santiago, Wade Boggs, Walt Weiss, and Rickey Henderson.

(1990 Score) – I’ve always liked Score baseball cards. I particularly liked their effort to include a thoughtful paragraph or two about the player on the back of most cards. The full color photo on the back was also a nice touch. This particular set’s popularity was driven by card #697 which featured a horizontal black and white photo of a shirtless Bo Jackson sporting shoulder pads and holding a baseball bat. At the time, he was a phenom on both the football and baseball fields and was starring in his own Nike commercials. He was the man. There was no Bo Jackson in this pack but I did pull this Bob Geren for my catcher mini-collection.

(1989 Topps) – The fact that this Chili Davis card is the “best” card in this pack should tell you something about the other cards. I have actually always liked the design of the 1989 Topps set. I don’t always like designs where the team name is featured without the logo but in this case it seems to work okay. Davis was a three time All Star with 350 home runs in his 19 year career. He also won three World Series. This year he will work with the New York Mets as their hitting coach. The nickname “Chili” came from a particularly bad haircut he received from his father. His classmates asked him if his dad had put a “chili bowl” on his head before he trimmed his hair.

(1991 Leaf) – Another unimaginative design for collectors to suffer through. We can be thankful for this great action shot of young future star Gary Sheffield recording a force out on Oakland’s Carney Lansford. This photo appears to be from the May 12, 1989 game between Milwaukee and Oakland. Lansford lead off the bottom of the 6th with a base hit. As Walt Weiss poked a ground ball into right field, Lansford made his way to third base. A strong throw from right fielder Rob Deer gave Sheffield just enough time to tag the bag and avoid the slide. This card will go into my double play mini-collection. (Yes, I know it’s not a double play – the shot is just too good to pass up.)

Three cards for the “Catchers mini-collection”.

(1990 Score) – The 1990 Score pack provided not only the Bob Geren above but also this card featuring Gary Carter at Shea Stadium waiting on a throw home. Score had already gone to print with Carter in his Met’s uniform for this set. He was actually a San Francisco Giant in 1990. In November of 1989 the Mets released Carter batting only .183 in fifty games.

(2018 Topps Opening Day) – Topps put together a nice Opening Day card of Salvy Perez. He would go on to be elected to his sixth All Star game last year and has won Gold Gloves in the last five seasons. This year, the Royals will not have their beloved catcher behind the dish as he will be out with Tommy John surgery for the year.

(1988 Score) – I’m always happy to pull an Ed Hearn card. He was a crowd favorite here in Norfolk when he played for the Tidewater Tides in the mid 80’s. He would not be with the Met’s during their championship season. Barry Lyons beat him out for the backup catcher job in 1986. He was then traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1987 for pitcher David Cone. A shoulder injury sidelined Hearn after only nine games into the 87 season. He would spend the next six years trying to make his way back to a major league team before he decided to hang it up. Hearn is remembered most for his personal health battles after his baseball career. In 1992 Hearn was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. Hearn immediately underwent a kidney transplant and was required to take several types of medication on a daily basis. Due to the debilitating effects of the disease, and mood swings caused by the medication, Hearn almost committed suicide, but was able to fight his way past it through faith and a chance request for him to give a motivational seminar. He has also been treated for skin cancer twice, undergone two more kidney transplants, and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Despite all of the challenges and taking more than fifty types of medication on a daily basis, Hearn travels the country as a motivational speaker.

(1992 Babe Ruth Collection) – Kind of a cool set with 162 cards highlighting the life and times of Babe Ruth. I’ve seen a million of these cards over the years but was never compelled to give them a second look or attempt to complete the set. There is one listed on Ebay today for $3 with free shipping. This particular card caught my attention due to the horizontal photo of what appears to be a spring training game in Florida. After some digging, I learned that this photo was taken in St. Petersburg Florida during an exhibition game and features Babe sending one over the fence against the Boston Braves. The back features a great story by pitcher Wes Ferrell. He said that pitching against Ruth was like “looking into a lion’s jaw.” He would go on to say:

“Hell man, you’re pitching to a legend! You were nothing out there when Ruth came up. You would look around and all of your infielders were way back and your outfields have all but left town. Here you are, 60 feet away from him. You also get great encouragement from your infielders. The first baseman will tell you to pitch him outside while your third baseman will tell you to pitch him inside. After all, they didn’t want Babe to knock their legs out from under them. I used to say ‘take it easy guys, I’m closer to him than you are and I’m not worryin” — I actually was though.”

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.

Rickey Henderson – “Rickey being Rickey”

This weekend I was finally able to get some downtime between work, a 3 year old and just life in general.  After finding myself on the couch with nothing to do, I took a look at our DVR and saw that I had recorded the ESPN “30 for 30” episode where they explored Deion Sander’s 1992 season where he not only played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and football for the Atlanta Falcons but actually played a game for each on the same day.  It was pretty good and there was a lot that I didn’t know about that particular part of his career.  I enjoyed watching Deion play football but his petulant arrogance and incessant mouth-running never really generated any admiration from me.

Ironically, I have always been a big fan of Rickey Henderson who is also a character of arrogance and big-talk.  I’m not sure why I have that double standard but I’ve always dismissed his antics as “Rickey just being Rickey”.  There are many “Rickey stories” out there and none of them are particularly flattering.  They are however, pretty entertaining.

Sunday I came across an article online where Rickey Henderson said he was hoping that Oakland’s top draft pick Kyler Murray would have chosen to come play baseball for the A’s instead of opting to play professional football.  He said that in 1986, he had gone to the LA Raider’s owner Al Davis and asked him if he could play football.  Davis agreed but the Oakland A’s put an end to that idea.  Seeing Rickey suit up for the Raiders would have been exciting to watch.

I’ve decided that in 2019, I’m going to focus on a few “player collections”. I’ve had a few going over the years such as Gary Carter, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.  I’ll add Rickey Henderson, Adrian Beltre, Don Mattingly, and Harrison Bader.   I also think I’m going to start a collection focused on great action shots of catchers, outfield catches, or maybe acrobatic double plays.  I’ll save those ideas for another post in the future.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rickey cards for your viewing pleasure.

1999 Topps Stadium Club – Of course I would pick one of Rickey’s Stadium Club cards to lead off.  I’m a sucker for the photography and Stadium Club is just loaded with exceptional photos.  This is my favorite of Rickey’s SC issues.  I can’t tell if he’s on his way to swiping second or third base but I’m nearly certain, he was called safe.   I love this card for so many reasons.  First off, it’s Rickey doing what ultimately defined his career, stealing bases.  I love the bright white, green, and gold uniform.  I love the mid-stride action shot and how he’s only player in sight.  The fact that this shot was taken during a sunny Oakland day game also helps. Rickey was a New York Met in 1999 so this shot was likely taken the year before when he was with the Oakland Athletics.  Ironically, Rickey hated playing day games.  Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, “We had a day game in Oakland, and Rickey struck out. He walked all the way through the dugout talking to himself, he always talked to himself. He was saying, ‘I don’t know who’s inside Rickey’s body, but he better get out because the guy in there doesn’t like day games, he only shows up on day games, so he better get out.'”  Candiotti said that the entire dugout was screaming in laughter.

1999 Topps Stadium Club

I love collecting the photo variations and short prints of past legends. Topps has done a nice job with doing this. Here are a few of my favorite Gypsy Queen Rickey cards as well as Rickey’s 2011 Topps Update “Legends Variation”.

2013, 2014, & 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen
2011 Topps Update (Legends)

1981 Fleer – As a kid in the 80’s, I knew Henderson only as a New York Yankee. I started collecting around 1986 and every Rickey card I had featured him in Yankee pinstripes. My grandparents lived next door to a family who had a kid that was a bit older than me and he had a shoe box full of mostly Fleer and Donruss cards from the early 80’s. I remember sorting through them one day and seeing these two cards of the 22 year old Henderson in his green Athletics uniform. I realized then that I would have known he was a former Athletic if I had ever bothered to read the stats on the back. From that point forward, I began looking at both sides of the cards. When you look at his 1981 season stats, you will see that Rickey lead the American League in runs scored (89), stolen bases (56), and hits (136). 89 runs scored and 56 stolen bases may not seem like a lot (he stole 100 bases in 1980) but 1981 was a strike-shortened season. This was also the year that the Athletics accounting department found their books off by about a million bucks. They actually had about 1 million MORE than they should have. They traced it back to Rickey’s million dollar bonus. Instead of cashing it, he framed it and hung it on his wall. Adding to the allure of this story, some sources state is was the Yankees who were missing the million bucks.

1981 Fleer

1992 Donruss – This set has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. In 1992, Donruss celebrated Rickey’s greatest achievement. On May 1, 1991, he stole his 938th career base; in doing so, he succeeded Lou Brock as baseball’s career stolen base leader. Henderson would end the 1991 season with 994 stolen bases. 1992 saw the Athletics finish first in the American League West with a record of 96-66. Their offense was centered around Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. The bulk of the Athletics’ 1992 accolades, however, went to closer Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley led baseball with 51 saves over the course of the season; in the process, he posted a 7-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. Eckersley’s efforts netted him both the 1992 AL Cy Young Award and the 1992 AL MVP Award. The mighty A’s would eventually fall to Toronto in the ALCS. In 1993 Henderson would find himself in a Toronto uniform and eventually a World Series champion. His Donruss base card puts you about as close as you can get to his record breaking signature head first slide on May 1, 1991. Here he is swiping 3rd against the New York Yankees. Seconds later, he would be called SAFE and as such; the all-time base thief. Now that I look at it, if it had been up to me, I would have used the base card as the “Highlight” card. The lime green and white batting gloves he’s sporting in that photo were a must-have for many little players that year. They were made by Mizuno and featured white leather with a lime green padding on the top. Very flashy and very expensive at the time. I had a pair thanks to Mom and Dad.

1992 Donruss Highlights + 1992 Donruss

1987 Topps – The 1987 Topps set has always been a favorite of collectors. featuring the wood-grain borders and loaded with rookies and future Hall of Famers, there are about 25 cards in the set that have always been my favorites. The Henderson is one of them. I love the symmetrical cropping of the photo. Starting in the top left hand corner of the card, you can follow the Yankees logo right to his head, down his torso and all the way down to the bottom right hand corner of the card. Straight as an arrow. Kind of a weird thing to find appealing in a baseball card you’re probably thinking. Due to injuries and only playing in 95 games, 1987 was a below-average season for Henderson and drew public criticism from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was the only season from 1980 – 1991 that he did not lead the league in steals. Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals with 60 and tells a funny story about a phone call he received one night from Rickey:

1987 Topps

“The phone rings; ‘Henderson here.’ I say, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Rickey?’ (and I think he’s calling to congratulate me,) but he goes, ‘Sixty stolen bases? You ought to be ashamed. Rickey would have had 60 at the break.’ And then click, he hung up.”

1989 Topps & Traded – In 1989, the Yankees; uncertain whether Rickey Henderson was worth a new three-year contract and desperately in need of pitching, decided to send him back home to Oakland in exchange for pitchers Erik Plunk, Greg Caderet, and a speedy outfielder named Luis Polonia. Contractually, the Yankees needed Henderson’s approval prior to any trade and he said that Oakland was the only place he would go. Wasting no time after the mid-season trade, Henderson reasserted himself as one of the game’s greatest players, with a memorable half-season in which his 52 steals and 72 runs scored led the A’s into the postseason. The move back to Oakland proved to be a good one for Henderson as Oakland ended up in the World Series for the first time since 1974. Despite a devastating earthquake at the start of Game 3, the A’s would eventually go on to sweep the San Francisco Giants. Henderson hit .474 with an .895 slugging average (including two triples and a homer), while stealing three bases. Earlier that year on August 22, 1989, he became Nolan Ryan’s 5,000th strikeout victim, but Henderson took an odd delight in the occurrence, saying, “If you haven’t been struck out by Nolan Ryan, you’re nobody.”

1989 Topps Traded + 1989 Topps

1980 Topps (Rookie Card) – Rickey had no problem making a splash into major league baseball. At the age of 21, Rickey led the American League in stolen bases (100), was an All-Star, and helped lead the Athletics to a 2nd place finish. His rookie card is one of the most iconic cards in the hobby and it’s easy to see why. As kids, we all emulated his batting stance at one point or another. His signature fits nicely at the bottom of the card and even with a pen, you can tell Rickey was “flashy”. Check out his loopty-loop on the “y”. Ask any of his teammates how “flashy” Rickey is and they will likely tell you the same thing about his pre-game ritual. Since he broke into the league, before every game he plays, he stands completely naked in front of a full-sized mirror, points at himself and says “Rickey, you’re the best…” (over and over…)

1980 Topps

1997 Topps Gallery – This 180 card set was released to hobby shops only and as I was heading off to college that year, I didn’t discover it until years later. Here we see Rickey in a Padres uniform. One can only assume he successfully nabbed second base from the New York Mets. That looks like second baseman Edgardo Alfonso in the picture. I believe this is Shea Stadium and after reviewing Alfonso’s 1996 game log, he played second base for the Mets against the Padres in the August 27-29 home stand. Looking at Henderson’s game logs, the only game he was in a situation to steal was the August 29th game. Paul Wilson would walk Rickey Henderson in the top of the 5th. With Tony Gwynn at the plate, Rickey swiped his 35th base of the season as catcher Todd Hundley’s throw comes in late. Gwynn would go on to poke a ground ball through the middle for a base hit, scoring Henderson. That same year, Rickey was caught speeding but not by an opposing catcher. It was actually a San Diego police officer. As he approached Henderson’s sports car, the driver’s side window slips down a few inches and a hand emerges with a $100 bill in it. The officer shook Rickey’s hand and sent him home (with his money) and a gentle warning.

One time, the Padres GM Kevin Towers was trying to contact Rickey at a nearby hotel. Not finding him checked in under his real name, Towers decided to think like Rickey and asked to be transferred to “Richard Pryor’s room”. Rickey picked up the phone.

1997 Topps Gallery

Completed Set – 2017 Topps

I’m a “set” guy.  I like choosing a set and hunting down each piece of the puzzle. Admittedly, I’ve lost interest in completing a few of the recent sets I’ve set out to complete.  The Heritage sets with their high-number cards are just too much of  a challenge for my taste.  I prefer sticking to base sets with the exception of the Topps Gypsy Queen sets which have just the right amount of short-prints and variations to keep me interested.

With each new flagship Topps release, I will hand-collate the base set.  It usually takes me all year but I always manage to get it done before the World Series hits.  This year, as I slid the last card of the Topps Series 2 set into it’s final page sleeve I decided that I should do a blog post featuring my favorite 10 cards in the set.

The problem was, I had more than 10 cards that I wanted to feature.  Topps has come a long way with their flagship sets and the photography.  At one point in time, premium photography and exciting shots seemed to be reserved for the Stadium Club sets.  The 2017 Topps design is awesome and I really enjoyed putting this set together.  Here we will look at my top 15 cards in Series 1 and 2.

Once this post is finished, the cards will be taken back out of their pages, tucked into their respective “row” of a monster-box, labeled and up on the shelf they will go to sit and wait for the day they get broken back out to see the light of day.

The ritual drives my wife crazy.  That’s her problem though.

Without further ado, let’s get to the cards and we will fittingly start with #1 in Series 1.

01011121 (4)#1 – Kris Bryant – The Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and National League Most Valuable Player graces Card No. 1 and joins a long list of great players who have been represented on the first Topps card of the year from Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams to Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter. I’ve always loved the horizontal cards and Bryant was actually chosen by baseballs to get the coveted #1 card in this year’s release.  The one-week online vote occurred in October of last year where fans chose from a list of 16 nominees on Topps.com. Topps started the Vote for Card No. 1 in 2016 when Angels outfielder Mike Trout earned the honor in the inaugural vote.

01011121 (5)#236 – Lucas Duda – As a Met’s fan, we can start here.  I love the throwback Mets uniform in this shot and the fact that it’s not even Lucas Duda on the card.  The first time I pulled this card, I stared at it and knew something was off.  The photo is actually of utility player Eric Campbell who is not even playing in Major League Baseball anymore as he signed with the Hanshin Tigers last year.  The corrected version of the card was released in factory sets and the New York Mets team sets only.  I’ll track the corrected one down on the Bay at some point.

01011121#140 – Jesse Hahn – Here we have a nice crisp shot of the A’s starter.  For some reason,
I feel like cards with daytime photos shot in California always seem to have a “brighter” feel to them.   Check out any older A’s, Dodgers or Angels cards and you’ll see what I mean.  In this particular photo, Topps captured Hahn using one of the warm-up mounds in foul territory at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  You can also see “Jacob Ellsbury” featured on the ticker tape scoreboard in the background.  This would likely date this photo as May 22, 2016 which was a day game against the New York Yankees.  The Bombers would go on to take that game 5-4 with Ellsbury using the 3rd inning to drop a Hahn fastball over the deep center-right field wall for a home run.

01011121 (6)#6 – Kevin Pillar –   Cards featuring plays at the plate are always popular with me.  I think the first play at the plate card I owned was the 1987 Topps Wally Backman.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.  Topps zeroed in on this July 7, 2016, sixth inning play at the plate as Detroit Tiger catcher James McCann tags out Toronto runner Kevin Pillar.  The Jays would go on to beat the Tigers 5-4 behind 3 RBI’s from Troy Tulowitzki.

01011121 (3)#133  -Jace Peterson – This is actually one of three really nice “double-dip” action shots in the set.  The Braves second-sacker has split most of the 2017 season between AAA Gwinnett.  A versatile player who can play all infield positions as well as the outfield, if he can perform at the plate, he will be a key player for Atlanta.

01011120 (7)#36 – Addison Russell – Probably one of the most notable cards of Series 1 due to the fact that this card (along with the Bryce Harper variation) were featured in most of Topps pre-release marketing.  Collectors were seemingly very familiar with it before the set was even released.  Despite that, it’s an awesome card.  The partial full-bleed design of the set works really well with this card.  I love the clarity of Russell and the base-runner against the blurred out background.  Very effective card that captures the moment.

01011120 (8)#443 – Dee Gordon – Here we have a great action shot featuring Gordon turning a graceful double-dip against the Phillies Cesar Hernandez.  This photo was from the September 18, 2016 game between the Marlins and Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park.   The Marlins would take this game from the Phils by a score of 5-4.  In addition to a slick-fielding lead off hitter, Gordon is known also as the son of former Royals and Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon.  I will always remember the emotional lead off home run he hit in his first at bat after the untimely passing of teammate Jose Fernandez.

01011121 (2)#251 – Justin Turner – As Justin Turner played here locally in 2009 & 2010 with the Norfolk Tides; I’ve followed Justin Turner’s career pretty closely over the years.  After being let go by the Mets in 2013 as just one of the many bone-headed moves by Met’s general manager Sandy Alderson (how does that guy still have a job?), Turner rebuilt his swing and overall approach at the plate and is currently an All-Star as well as one of the most feared hitters in the league.  Imagine a Met’s infield with Turner at third and Murphy at second.  I not only love the photography on his 2017 card, but I think it looks great in the sideways landscape format.  This photo is from the June 17, 2016 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers and features Turner celebrating his walk-off RBI single which won the game in the 10th inning.  He had also tied the game in the 8th with two run homer.

01011119#581 – Brock Holt – Another great landscape shot from Topps.  Featuring Brock Holt warming up between innings or before a game, you see a beautiful sky in the background as well as the telltale signs of the iconic Fenway Park.  I can actually imagine myself sitting in the front row at this game.

01011120 (6)#350 – David Ortiz – As Nick over at the Dime Box baseball card blog would call it, this is Ortiz “sunset card”.  Topps did a fine job of capturing Ortiz’ graceful swing launching of his last home runs into the bleachers at Fenway Park.  This photo was taken on July 26, 2016 in the third inning and happens to be a 3 run homer.  San Francisco Giants catcher   Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also featured in the photo.  An absolute first ballot Hall of Famer, Ortiz has been a fan-favorite for years and will go down as one of the most beloved Red Sox players.  I have to admit, I’m huge Ortiz fan and this card marks the end of a career that was thrilling to watch every step of the way.  I’m still on the hunt for a copy of his 2013 Topps SSP “Boston Strong” card.

01011120 (5)#508 Hanley Ramirez – Topps really outdid themselves with the Red Sox cards this year as their are so many great shots of them.  Here is another great landscape shot featuring Hanley Ramirez watching his 7th inning home run against the Blue Jays on October 2, 2016.  I love how the catcher and the umpire are both featured in this card as well.   Despite the efforts of Ramirez, Toronto would go on to win the game 2-1 and clinch the Wild Card spot.  Coincidentally, this game was also the last home game of Big Papi’s career.

01011120 (4)

#324 Ben Revere – Taking a break from the BoSox, let’s move over to the Washington Nationals and take a look at this great shot of speedy outfielder Ben Revere robbing Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman of a home run during the fourth inning of their August 19, 2016 match up.  You can watch a video clip of the grab HERE.  The Nats would go on to take this one from the Braves 7-6.  This grab was one of the few bright spots in Revere’s season and 2016 would be his only season with the Nationals.  He was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels this past December.

01011120 (2)#520 Andrelton Simmons – Topps took advantage of the flame throwing backdrop of Angels Stadium to capture Simmons celebrating a double.  Simmons was traded to Los Angeles from Atlanta last November so this is his first card in an Angels uniform.

01011119 (6)#669 Corey Kluber – If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like to stare down the pipe of a Kluber fastball, this would probably be a pretty accurate example.  This photo was from the 2016 ALDS matchup between the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe would go on to take the game from the Jays 2-0.  2017 has seen Kluber be as good as any pitcher in the game could be and the Indians are currently leading their division by 8 games.  This year I put my Cy Young bets on Kluber or Chris Sale.

01011119 (5)#576 Russell Martin – Topps has made a concerted effort to feature key moments from the prior season and this card is exemplary of that effort.  Here we have a a close play at the plate in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the explosive 2016 ALDS between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.  After a lead off double by Ian Desmond, Adrian Beltre hit into a fielder’s choice leading to Desmond being tagged out at the plate.  This was the second meeting between the Blue Jays and the Rangers in the postseason, the first being the 2015 American League Division Series in which the Blue Jays defeated the Rangers after losing the first two games at home, which was marked by a controversy-laden deciding Game 5 defined by José Bautista’s bat flip.  It was also the first series between the two teams since May 15, a game which featured multiple bench clearing skirmishes and the infamous Rougned Odor punch of Bautista.

That’s it for the Top 15 cards of the 2017 Topps Series 1 & 2 set.  I’ve just completed a nice 1978 Topps set so I’ll likely get started on a Top 10 list of those cards as well.

Have a great Labor Day everyone.

 

J.C. Martin

As the remnants of tropical storm Hermine were approaching the Hampton Roads area and leaving no doubt that we were going to have a very wet and windy Labor Day weekend, I had anticipated knocking off a handful of tasks from my “to-do list” while we hunkered down.   What I failed to consider was that almost all of those tasks required electricity.  An entire Saturday with no power slowed me down a little bit but I still managed to get most of my chores done for the weekend.  This blog post was the last on the checklist.

Before I get to my latest through-the-mail-autograph success, let me tell you about the time I took my father-in-law to one of our local AAA baseball games.  As the players were warming up, he looked at the first base line and asked me what the chalk line just outside of the first base line was.  I had always just known it as the “runner’s lane”.  I told him from what I had been told, as the runners ran to first base, they were supposed to run between the baseline and the outer line.  Per the official rule (Rule 6.05K actually); if a runner is within the runner’s lane and is struck by a thrown ball (usually by the catcher), he cannot be called out for interference.  As we watched, we saw that very few of the players adhered to the rule and who can blame them really.

02181101 (2)As a batter leaves the batter’s both, he usually runs directly to the bag which is in FAIR TERRITORY.  This makes the most sense as the runner’s lane is in FOUL TERRITORY.  Given the fact that the shortest distance from point “A” to point “B” is a straight line and using the runner’s lane would require the batter to veer off to the right side of the line, why would they use the runner’s lane?  I could see it for a left handed batter who leaves the box on that side of the base line anyways, but had a hard time catching a right-handed batter using the lane at all.

Anyways, we could sit here all night and look at scenarios where the runner either should, or should not be called out for being struck by a thrown ball but I’d rather chat about the Ron Lewis postcard that Mr. Martin was kind enough to sign for me.  After all, it was Mr. Martin that was involved in the play that resulted in the runner’s lane being added to all baseball fields.

After being an integral part of the Chicago White Sox (1959-1967), Martin was traded to the New York Mets in 1968 to serve as a backup catcher to Jerry Grote.  It was in the 1969 NLCS that Martin found himself pinch hitting in the 8th inning for Tom Seaver and driving in Al Weis and Ed Kranepool.  That five-run eighth inning helped the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves by a score of 9-5.  The Mets went on to sweep the Braves on their way to the World Series.

In game 4 of that series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, with the Mets leading two games to one, Martin was involved in the play that changed the baseball diamond forever.  With the game tied 1–1 in the bottom of the 10th and pinch-runner Rod Gaspar on second base, Martin squared a bunt back to the pitcher’s mound.  Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert scooped up the ball and threw to first base.  The ball struck Martin on the left wrist and caromed towards the dugout.  The errant throw allowed Gaspar to score the winning run.  02181101 (3)

Replays later showed that Martin was running inside the baseline and because of this, could have been called out for inference.   Stating that Martin did not intentionally interfere with the play, the umpires stood by their call.  Martin was awarded first-base, Gaspar scored, and the Mets would later go on to defeat the Orioles in that World Series,

It was this play that resulted in the running lane that extends from halfway down the first-base line to the bag to be added to all major league fields.

I’m excited to add these two Martin signatures to my collection and am always happy to learn interesting facts about players of the past.

 

 

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.