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(Truly) Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1989 Fleer Rick Sutcliffe October 13, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1980s, Baseball, Baseball Cards, Books.
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The true randomness comes from where this card turned up – face up, next to my car as I got out in a Trader Joe’s parking lot.

For a moment, I wondered how it got there. Did someone drop it out of their car after visiting some yardsales? Did the wind, or magical cardboard messenger birds or some other mysterious force of nature carry it to that spot after lifting it out of someone’s collection put to the trash curb by mom?

It’s funny how I find interesting things in grocery store parking lots. Some years back, I headed back to my car and discovered a brand new pair of Ray-Bans sitting next to it.

On another occasion, I found a near-mint copy of the paperback photonovel of “The City On The Edge of Forever” from Star Trek after nearly running it over when I pulled into the space.

And yet another time, I found a brand new Ferrari that someone left behind. I hung around for a little while to see if they’d return to get it, but then I gave up, hotwired it, and drove it home. Finders keepers!

Today, the magical forces of fate brought me to Rick Sutcliffe. I guess if I really did believe in synchronicities like my alter-ego in Cut To Wagstaff, I’d have found some sort of significant thing about Sutcliffe in 1989 that would have determined my actions for the rest of the day & I would have found myself on some sort of off-the-wall mysterious adventure. But my life really doesn’t work that way. I put the cheap wine & TJ’s knock-off cereals into my car, drove home, played with the cat, and watched the Yankees tragedy unfold.

Sutcliffe certainly had an up and down career. There’s really no other way to describe a guy who wins the comeback player of the year award TWICE, once in each league, after winning Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young. Sutcliffe has been a mainstay at ESPN for the past several years, as well as MLB network.

I’m still not sure why a 23 year old card, beat up pretty badly, should be waiting for me while I ran some weekend errands. I had even made a small detour to a yardsale earlier – and it was being run by a couple of toy collectors cleaning out their stash. They had some old board games and tons of Barbies and Hot Wheels, all e-bay priced which made it nearly a total waste of time – I was saved by finding this compendium cookbook of chicken recipes for only a dollar.

But no baseball cards. I guess you have to troll Trader Joe’s parking lot for that, although the other day I coughed up serious thrift store bucks (meaning more than singles) to get the 40th Anniversary Topps Baseball Card picture book.  Granted, having the actual cards is always better, but the book has been fun to browse through, and I can even see all the ones that got away.

Not-So-Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1978 Ron Guidry September 13, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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In witnessing what’s looking more and more like the Great Yankee Collapse of September 2012 (The Mayans predicted it, right?), I keep thinking back to 1978, the great long march comeback from 14 1/2 games behind in July, the Red Sox implosion of August, and the amazing reliability of Ron Guidry that season to go out and win game after game.

Guidry’s career season of 1978 remains phenomenal. 25 wins, 3 losses. A great number of those wins came after Yankee losses. A lot of them ended Yankee losing streaks. He won 13 games in a row before losing one in July.

The guy was virtually unbeatable. I don’t think any pitcher has dominated the league as much since Guidry’s ’78 season, something that evoked the way Bob Gibson totally shut down his opposition in 1968, even forcing a rule change about pitcher’s mound height.

I got to see part of it in person when he 2-hit shutout the Red Sox about this time in ’78, after the Yankees had caught them and moved ahead in the standings.  Got to sit a few rows right behind the dugout on the first base line, thanks to my friend’s Providence cop dad gonnections for primo tickets in the middle of a pennant race. The Sox battled back throughout September, forcing the legendary playoff game that led up to that fateful Bucky Dent-enforces-the-bambino’s-curse at-bat. You know the rest.

They never would have been there without Guidry. My favorite player from that late ’70s Yankee team. They gave him the Cy Young, but not the MVP he deserved. Jim Rice got that, sorta like when Scorcese finally won his Oscar but for the wrong movie.

And where is that kind of performance on the 2012 Yankees? Well, it’s either left on base during any number of failed non-rallies inbetween make-or-break home runs, or it’s on what’s been a large revolving door of a disabled list all season, one that’s catching up with them down the homestretch where they’ll be battling the Rays and the (WTF?) Orioles for a playoff berth. And even if they make the post-season, their season-long inability to win games without hitting a ton of homeruns will, I think, be the killer.

There’s no stopper on the mound. No go-to victory guy. Kuroda and Sabathia have both tried as the workhorses, but it’s falling short. I have a strong feeling that my October will be mostly football this year.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1972 Sparky Lyle August 16, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Ah, the final card of Sparky on the Red Sox leapt out at me just now as I took a random tour of the early ’70s shoebox assortment.

He’d been traded before the start of the 1972 season to the New York Yankees, in one of the more lopsided trades in modern times. Topps clearly went to press with the first half of the ’72 set before spring training, so Lyle gets a Red Sox card for the ’72 season. The Sox got Danny Cater and eventually Mario Guerrero, and the Yanks got a premier closer who’d be a reliable lights-out from the bullpen a few years down the line, after Steinbrenner bought the team and then bought every player in sight and Lyle became a major star of the pennant winning teams of 1976 & 1977.

He also won the Cy Young in 1977, rare for a reliever. Other than Therman Munson and Roy White, he’s pretty much the only member of the 1972 Yankees to be around for those late ’70s World Series runs.

He slowed down after ’77, and Steinbrenner being Steinbrenner got nervous and overcompensated in ’78 by obtaining both Rich Gossage and Rawly Eastwick as potential closers. Gossage eventually got the job, and Lyle would be traded after the ’78 season to the Texas Rangers for mostly a bunch of journeymen, but included in the package for the Yankees was the then-minor league pitcher Dave Righetti, who’d eventually become the Yankee closer in the mid to late ’80s after a run as a starter. I still remember listening to him via radio broadcast  no-hit the Sox on July 4, 1983 at my Sox-fan-friend’s swimming pool. It was the first Yankee no hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956.

The ’72 Red Sox are often forgotten in the lore of the lovable-loser-Sox that existed prior to their karmic revenge of 2004. BoSox fans would lament Aaron Boone’s homer in 2003 that sank them, or Bucky Dent’s in ’78, or Bill Buckner’s error in ’86 (although I’d lay the blame squarely on manager John McNamara for blowing the ’86 series with a bunch of really stupid decisions, especially in Game 6), or Game 7 in 1975… but somehow, the 1972 disappointment gets lost in the shuffle.

In addition to the horrible Lyle trade, they also dealt Jim Lonborg & George Scott (and others) to Milwaukee for Tommy Harper & Marty Pattin (among others) and came out on the short end. And then a players’ strike shortened the season by its first week, prompting Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to wipe those games out, leaving an uneven schedule where teams didn’t all play the same number of games. So what happened? The Red Sox lost their division by 1/2 to the Tigers by playing in one less game.

I can still hear my dad’s voice in my head whenever I think about these kinds of things: “Those Red Sox STINK!

Maybe. But not as much as a birthday cake after Sparky Lyle got through with it. Talk about a weird fetish. As a fan of the game, I miss guys like Lyle who’d be dependable for clubhouse pranksterism, but I don’t think I’d want to be on the same team with a guy who insisted on sneaking into the cubhouse & sitting bare-assed on the birthday cakes prepared for other players, or who one one occasion whipped out his schvantz and ran it down a table of cold cuts. Want more? Read his memoir, The Bronx Zoo.

Maybe THAT’S what the Red Sox needed! It was only 1/2 game, fer Chrissakes!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1973 Wilbur Wood August 5, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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They don’t grow ’em like this guy anymore.

Wilbur Wood was a knuckleball throwing pitching machine who’d regularly lead the league in games started and innings pitched, back in an era when a lot of hard-throwing starters like Nolan Ryan and the like would throw 200 pitches in a game. This was MAN baseball, back in the days before this current era of push-button managing, of “7th inning specialist” relievers and pitch count limits of 100-110, even for workhorse ironmen like CC Sabathia.

We are in an age of WIMPS, PEOPLE!!!!

Wood’s knuckleball gave him the endurance, for certain. Nowadays when a 20 game winning pitcher is more and more of a rarity, Wood managed to win AND lose 20 games in the same season, the last AL pitcher to do so, and after fellow knuckler Phil Niekro went 21-20 in ’79 for the Braves, it’s never happened and will never happen again, most likely.

He’d regularly start more than 40 games a season – 49 in ’73, the year he went 24-20. He pitched 379 innings that year.

Last year, Justin Verlander topped the majors with 251.

Even modern day knucklers like RA Dickey or the recently retired Tim Wakefield fall short of Wood’s sheer production. Wood once started both games of a double header, something I also doubt we’ll ever see again. In a way, he was the last remnant of the way baseball had been played decades earlier, even back to the “smallball” era of the early 1900s. He had a seventeen year career in the majors which is actually short by knuckleballer standards. If his knee hadn’t been shattered by a Ron LeFlore line drive, he may have lasted longer like other knucklers.

Well, at least Ron LeFlore was portrayed by Geordi LaForge once.

Knucklers are unpredictable and usually erratic – when they get into a groove, they are unhittable (the way Dickey has pretty much been all season, although he’s using the knuckler differently than others – he’s mixing speeds with it, managing location, and as one opposing coach put it “he’s PITCHING with the damn thing!” If others learn to do this, we may see an aspect of the game transformed). A lot of knucklers can go through cold spells, however, and wind up throwing easily hit meatballs. Hence, the 24-20 record. They’re fun to watch.

I also think that if any major league team ever tries to break the gender barrier & have a woman player out there in an attempt to sell tickets, that woman will be an American league knuckleball pitcher. She won’t have to bat & upper body strength won’t be a factor. Maybe it’ll be this kid someday.

Or maybe, the way things are going with fewer and fewer innings, lower pitch counts and inning by inning specialist nonsense, we’ll eventually have entire baseball teams made up of Bea Arthur doing musicals as Darth Maude.

I need a beer. Bah.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1978 Lenny Randle July 28, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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  “Tag me again, but this time harder! I’ve been a very naughty baseball player…”

So what do you think? Is the ball even in the baseman’s glove, or is Lenny at a loss to remember that the safety word is “Tim McCarver?”

And to think I rummaged through a shoebox of ’78 Topps cards looking for the likes of Ron Guidry or Jim Rice or Steve Garvey… and this is the one that leapt out at me.

I always wonder about cards like this – did someone high up the ladder at Topps dislike the guy? Did he give the photographers a bad time? Or did Randle want his card to look like this? With Lenny Randle, that just might be the case.

I remember Randle very well – a journeyman player who often bounced between the minors & majors as he made his way across several teams.  He had an interesting personality, to say the least.

He punched out his manager, Frank Lucchesi, and broke his cheek. That got him a big ol’ suspension, but he returned to the game and went to another team.

I’ll always remember him for when Amos Otis bunted down the 3rd base line & Randle got down on all fours and actually blew the slow roller across the foul line.  The umpires got together & awarded Otis first base.

Then when a friend of mine was studying abroad in Italy, he wrote to me about the baseball they had there – and by then, 1983, Randle was playing in Italy, the first American player to do so. He clearly outclassed the Italian players and hit .477.

Ah yes, where are they now dep’t – as you may have guessed, Randle runs sports camps for kids. And according to his bio, he’s going for a masters in special ed for physical education.

Good for him! He’s EARNING that sexy pat on the ass after all these years.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Frank Taveras (1975) July 23, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Today was the day! I rearranged the boxes in my storage closet & dug out my original shoebox of cards to provide more material for this particular blog feature.

When I opened the lid, this card sat right on top of the various grouped-by-team assortments from the early ’60s to the late ’70s.

Tavares was known mostly as a base stealer, one of the guys along with Lou Brock and Davey Lopes that drove pitchers to distraction in the ’70s era of mostly power hitting. He led the NL with 70 steals one year, but slowed down as the ’70s went on and unfortunately was traded to the then lowly Mets early in ’79, which turned out to be a World Championship year for the Pirates.

But I love his expression on this card – he’s too cool for the room, all right – not just a ballplayer but the kind of man who reads Playboy, I suppose.

In fact, his projection of cool swagger on this card can’t help but remind of this other notable icon of the late 1970s:

Seriously – separated at birth?

Someone tell Les Nessman.

I dug deeper into the shoebox… I’d forgotten all the cards I have since they’ve been boxed up for so long. I also forgot about the phase I went through in the early ’90s when I added to the collection via some yardsale finds.

Anyone want a box of 200 Brady Andersons? Jeesh… what was I thinking?

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1974 Ron Hunt July 16, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Every time I’m watching a game and see someone get beaned, I inevitably think of this guy.

He topped the league in getting beaned in his last 7 seasons. No one else even came close to the number of times his guy crowded the plate & took one for the team.

Makes you wonder why he’s choking up on the bat in this shot – C’mon Ron! You’re not going to hit it with anything other than your face!

Some guys still get hit more than others (It always seemed to be Jeter & Youklis whenever the Yanks played the BoSox), usually in the tit-for-tat that occurs when a pitcher or manager feels dissed by someone’s home run trot or perceived gloating from a team during a big inning or more likely an overall rout where pitchers or managers don’t care about getting tossed from a game that’s already a lost cause.

Hunt held the lifetime modern-era record (the top position is still held by Hughie Jennngs of the 1900s deadball era) for a number of years, until Don Baylor (always one to lean in to a pitch to keep a rally going) broke it, and then Baylor’s record got broken by Craig Biggio.  Hunt falls short of the single season record of 51 by only 1 – he got hit 50 times in 1971, playing in 152 games.

In 1969, he got hit THREE times in the same game.

This guy must have as many bruises on his body as Buster Keaton had by the 1930s.

And on top of that, Hunt was a decent journeyman infielder, playing with a number of different teams in the NL in the ’60s and ’70s. He made the all-star team twice and finished his career with decent stats.  Nowadays, he runs baseball camps for kids (bring your padding & body armor, I suppose.)

And on the flipside, we discover that Ron likes to go bowling. I assume when his team is behind in the late frames, he launches his body down the alley and picks up that 7-10 split with his face.

It’s for the team, you know.

A New Feature Here At Wagstaff Central: Random Thoughts On Baseball Cards July 12, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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After reading this news item in recent days, where some lucky bastard found a box filled with 1910 mint condition baseball cards in grandpa’s long forgotten attic stash, I started thinking about my own baseball card collection, boxed up & closeted for years now.

If you want to hear how lucky I am, you might have heard me screaming obscenities after today’s 7th race at Hollywood Park. So much for my Pick 6, Pick 4 AND Place Pick All. I’d done just fine before my pick went in the toilet. BAH.

Anyway, as a kid, I bought cards constantly, by the ten cent pack of course, throwing away the gum & then organizing them in an old shoebox. Eventually, I started ordering the complete sets of Topps cards via ads in the back of The Sporting News. I’d but older cards at flea markets when they’d turn up, but then the economy went bust in the late ’70s, and baby boomer-yuppie shitwheels decided to plunge their investment dollars into what was once a hobby only, turning it into a business. Money flooded in & inflation took off. Prices of old time stars shot up – both good and bad for yours truly. A lot of my cards were certainly worth a lot of money, but I’d never sell them. And now getting cards of past players I’d want to add to my collection meant spending real dough.

I was going off to college at this point. I still followed baseball, but for several years, I stopped buying cards altogether. For a while in the late ’80s, I bought more complete sets, although at that point, there were so many competing brands of cards besides Topps that it all got confusing. And when I realized I only boxed the damn things up and put ’em in a closet, it really wasn’t much fun.

Even now, after the bubble in the card market burst and a lot of the older cards are more affordable… there’s just something more fun in happening upon them, as opposed to finding one on ebay.

But what IS fun is looking through tall my old cards now and either reliving my childhood, or reliving the memories I have of some of these players or the era they played in. So, I’ll be posting pics of old cards I find in my collection that I have something to say about. It also gives me an excuse to organize all the crap piling up in the increasing Fibber McGee-ness of my closet.

So let’s get started with one of my favorite cards, ever:

Ah, yes, Oscar Gamble, in his bid to win the Larry Fine lookalike contest. You don’t see a lot of cap versus hair battles being fought by the post-Michael Jordan shaved head’s are cool generation. Guys with long hair like Manny Ramirez or Andrew McCutchen keep theirs under control under their caps pretty well. Oscar Gamble will forever be associated with the picture on his 1976 Topps Traded card (what other decade could have possibly produced this?)

Gamble was a good player though. When the Yanks picked him up from Cleveland, he became an important part of their 1976 pennant win. The Yanks had spent 12 years in the wilderness after probably the most amazing championship run in the history of sports, dominating the AL pretty much since the early 1920s without a major gap. Steinbrenner had begun to spend his money, and the team began to turn around.

The sad thing, though, was how the outfield kept rotating due to George’s checkbook – we went from Bobby Bonds to Gamble and eventually to Reggie, and that didn’t last for more than a few seasons. The more recent Jeter-Rivera era of competitive Yankee baseball might be as loaded with big-money signings, but it seems the stars hang around longer & there’s far less clubhouse drama.

There’s also less hair.

Gamble went to the White Sox the very next year, probably his best as a slugger, with career highs in both homers (31) and average (.297) – but he’d return to the Yankees from 1979-1984 as a platoon outfielder, and remained a decent off-the-bench slugger during what would become an even longer drought for Yankee fans.

Here’s what Oscar Gamble is up to now, never mind his hair. He sounds like a decent guy.

C’mon, Jeter…. grow that fro….