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Random Baseball Card of the Day: 1970 AL Homerun Leaders July 15, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Well, maybe not so random. I remembered this card in my collection the other day when Aaron Judge won the All Star Break Homerun Derby. Judge made it look easy, and with his enormous 6 foot 7/280 pound frame looked like a man among boys. A guy that huge can generate a lot of power, and when you combine that with the physical and mental skills you need to hit major league pitching that Judge seems to have acquired between last year and now, well… you get the kind of monster stats he’s piling up.

But I thought back to Frank Howard, the big slugger for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the early ’60s before pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium lessened Howard’s sweet spots. They dealt him to the lowly Washington Senators in 1965 in a multiplayer deal that would net them Claude Osteen. Howard would continue to hit the hell out of the ball in Washington for years, always winding up in the running for home run titles. He’d get it in 1970 with an impressive 44 homers and 126 rbis, with a .962 OPS.

Yaz might be number 3 in homers on the card, but his offensive numbers that year were amazing. 40 homers, 102 rbis, lost the batting title by fractions to Alex Johnson, and led the league in on base, slugging and OPS with 1.044. How the hell did he lose MVP to Boog Powell that year? Did they need to pick someone from the Pennant Winner and eventual World Champion Orioles? SMH.

Harmon Killibrew smashed homeruns for the Twins his entire career. Back when this card came out, only Aaron and Mays had more lifetime as active players. He’d pass 500 homers lifetime the following year.

But both Killibrew and Yaz were baseball player sized. Both are 5 foot 11/180 or so pounds.  Guys like Howard were freakish, at 6 foot 7 and 230 pounds. You find guys that big much more in football and basketball than in baseball, the sport that welcomes guys like Freddie Patek (5 foor 5, 148 pounds) if they can play well.

Add 50 pounds of muscle to Howard and you get Aaron Judge. Ye Gods! I’m glad he’s on my team. It’s basically watching a behemoth the size of Rob Gronkowski with the baseball skills of Willie Mays.

Howard was the best slugger to ever play for a Washington team, even if that team is now in Texas. The current Washington team put a statue of him outside their stadium anyway, since he’s part of the city’s baseball history. And everyone still loves the guy since he’s so good natured.

The bigger they are, the nicer they are, as Bugs Bunny once said.

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Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1977 Big League Brothers, Rick & Paul Reuschel June 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’ve always liked the multi-player “special theme” cards Topps would do every so often. What I like the most about this one is how neither of these guys look like major league ball players. Without the names and the tell-tale 1977 design font and so forth, doesn’t this look like a polaroid from some company softball game?

“Here’s Rick and Paul, right before the BBQ and sack race…”

Paul Reuschel’s career with the Cubs only lasted a few years, but younger brother Rick had a pretty solid, if uneven, 19 year career in the majors. Rick had his best season the year this card came out, winning 20 games and finishing 3rd for the Cy Young.

The Cubs would trade Rick Reuschel to the Yankees in 1981, where he managed to play in the World Series, although without stellar numbers. He wound up back on the Cubs during their heartbreaking 1984 season, where they FINALLY reached the playoffs. For some reason, Reuschel was left off the playoff roster, and the Curse of the Goat went into action. The Cubs won the first 2 games of a best of five against the Padres, and then dropped 3 straight. They’d have to wait another 32 years for a World Series at Wrigley.

Reuschel got dealt to the Pirates and Giants after that, won a comeback player of the year award, wound up in another World Series in 1989 with the Giants, but they lost to the As and Reuschel finished his career sans World Series ring.

In today’s game, with the scientifically developed conditioning regimens, the constant spectre of PEDs floating around, and the overall athleticism of the majority of the players out there (regardless of height), seeing a pair of guys who look like these make the majors and in Rick’s case, have a long solid career as a reliable stopper fooling batters with speed changes and finesse…. well, it’s just something I’ll always love about baseball.

Football? You better be a big guy, made of iron to take all those hits.

Basketball? You gotta be tall, and also made of iron to take all those hits.

Hockey? You gotta be all those things, PLUS not care about getting all your teeth knocked out, PLUS be ready at any moment to get in a brawl.

But baseball? You can be an average schlub and play the sport….depending on your skills and how you use them.

 

Commemorative Baseball Card of the Day: T206 Willie Keeler portrait, circa 1910 June 19, 2017

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The way-bac machine is traveling to damn near the beginning of baseball cards for this entry.

Wee Willie Keeler. “Hit ’em where they ain’t!”

Today is the day Keeler’s 44 game hitting streak ended in 1897, the year Quentin Collins became a werewolf.

His record would stand until Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak in 1941. Pete Rose would tie him with a 44 game hitting streak in 1978. No one has come close since.

Granted, 1890s baseball was not modern baseball. A real deadball era, where Keeler’s skills in bunting and spray-hitting were valued over slugging, which really came in with Babe Ruth & using fresh baseballs throughout the game. Keeler’s record of consecutive 200 hit seasons wouldn’t be broken until Ichiro Suzuki passed him in 2009. In some ways, Ichiro’s hitting style was a throwback to Keeler’s days, with the spray hitting, bunting, sacrifice, etc.

The survival length of Keeler’s hitting records is amazing. And he’s also credited with basically inventing the hit and run strategy.

He’d unfortunately develop tuberculosis and die way, way too young at age 50 in 1923.

A relation, Edith Keeler, was allowed to die by Captain Kirk in order to restore the proper historic timeline, despite the heartbreak.

Okay, maybe not ALL of this post is accurate. But the baseball stuff certainly is.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: Kellogg’s 1972 All-Time 3D Greats – Babe Ruth May 30, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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I’m not sure how many boxes of Kellogg’s Danish Go-Rounds I snarfed down to get the all-time great 3D card in every box. But it must have been a lot.

Thanks, mom, for buying them! Never mind my teeth and the sugar high, I guess as long as it kept this then-little bastard full and happy, it meant keeping it on the weekly grocery list for Almacs!

And with my mouth stuffed with pastry, I couldn’t talk. Certainly a win for mom.

I’ve got a lot of the cards, but some of ’em might have come in trades for other 3D cards, or more likely, assorted traditional Topps cards.

I prized this one the most. I also agree with it.

They had greatest cards for every position – Greatest First Baseman (Gehrig, if you’re curious), Greatest Shortstop (Wagner), Greatest Right Hand Pitcher (Walter Johnson) along with some runners-up like George Sisler and Eddie Collins. The backs were manna for this baseball history geek – lifetime stats & a bio, along with some basic analysis justifying the ranking.

Before the internet, that kind of writing was hard to find!

You kids and your damn fancy interwebs, by cracky, get off my lawn….

Every now and then I look on ebay for cards to complete my set of these. They’re not too expensive, although I don’t get 1970s pre-high fructose corn syrup sugary breakfast pablum with ’em.

And which ones are out of date? Has anyone come along since 1972 to assume the BEST at any position? I’d certainly argue for Derek Jeter at shortstop. And I’d add a “Best Relief Pitcher Ever” card for Mariano Rivera. It’s the Yankee fan in me, I guess.

I vividly remember the endless arguments I’d have with my baseball card collecting friends back then over this card. Ruth? Greatest ever? C’MON! You gotta be kidding! EVERYONE knows Ted Williams was a better hitter and woulda put up numbers like Ruth if he hadn’t missed those years in military service! NO, WRONG! EVERYONE knows Mantle was better, since if he hadn’t blown out his knee stepping on that sprinkler in 1951 he’d’ve outdone the numbers AND WHAT ABOUT HANK AARON and….

No.

Just…. NO!

Ruth is the best ever.

His hitting stats are on par with the best hitters of the game. Is he the best hitter ever? Well, I’ll conceded that’s arguable… but NONE of those other hitters – Aaron, Mays, Williams, Griffey Jr., Bernie Carbo…

Okay, maybe not Bernie Carbo. But I always liked the guy.

Anyway, NONE of them could PITCH.

Ruth was one of the best pitchers in the American League for the Red Sox. He set records that held for 80 years or more. If he had continued pitching, he’d’ve been mentioned in the same comparison pieces as Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, instead of being compared to Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, and every other slugger IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING HISTORY OF THE GOD DAMN GAME.

AND he got more hookers than ALL OF THEM COMBINED!

GREATEST EVER!

CASE CLOSED!

I don’t think Kellogg’s listed the hookers on the back of the card (or their stats), however. Despite the 3D, there just wasn’t enough room.

I’d like to think the immortal babe ate Danish Go-Rounds off naked hookers bodies. It’s the Yankee fan in me.

 

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1962 Wally Moon (No Cap) May 28, 2017

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I started this baseball card of the day exercise to keep me freshly writing on this blog. Hopefully it’ll rev me up enough to post some longer pieces on television, movies, and the like. And ultimately, it’ll get me into the ZONE to start working on a new book.

Although – BREAKING NEWS! – I plan on putting an older novel on Amazon fairly soon, once some additional work in completed on it. Watch this space for details!

Another benefit of the baseball card exercise is how it’s made me dig through my boxes and albums of all my cards. I’ve forgotten so much of what I actually have that opening the boxes and discovering some of the cards in my collection is like finding them for the first time at some yard sale or thrift store! I got that same little adrenaline rush, I guess.

I haven’t bought new cards for years. As much as I’m still a sports fan, it wouldn’t have the same vibe to it, I’d never sit around looking at all of them, and much like the complete sets I bought in the 1980s, they’d mostly just sit in their boxes. The older cards connect more to childhood memories, or much more often, my fascination with legendary players, stars and motifs of the past.

The motif I loved about this Wally Moon card from 1962 ought to be obvious – LOOK AT THAT DAMN UNIBROW!!!! IT’S AWESOME!!!

Moon was an all-star outfielder who won Rookie of the Year in ’54 with the Cardinals. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat. He’d get dealt to the Dodgers in 1959 after a weak season, but bounce back to some decent hitting in support of the bigger sluggers on the team. Mostly a defensive star, Moon earned a Gold Glove and would be an integral part of 3 Dodger championships in 1959, 1963 and 1965.

BUT THAT UNIBROW!!!!!

And as an added bonus, my exploration of my card collection opened my eyes to various quirks in the history of Topps. There were TWO versions of Moon’s card in 1962: mine, where he has no cap, and this other one where he’s wearing it. And it figures the cap version is the more valuable one. Ah well. At least you can still see the unibrow.

Moon played sports in a different era, all right. If you’re a major sports star in 2017 recognized for your unibrow, you trademark it like Anthony Davis of the Pelicans did.

Now THAT’S a yiddishe kopf!

Non-Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1964 Jim Bunning May 27, 2017

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Hall of famer Jim Bunning died today at age 85. Bunning pitched for the Tigers, Phillies, Dodgers and Pirates during his career, and compiled some impressive stats along the way. When he retired in 1971, his career strikeout total was 2nd only to Walter Johnson (both have been passed by numerous pitchers since).  He had a great curve ball and solid fastball and much like Greg Maddux, would fool batters mixing up pitches, speeds and locations.

He’d pitch a perfect game in 1964, and had thrown an additional no-hitter back in 1958, making him one of a very few pitchers who had pitched a no-no in both leagues. While he never led the league in stats, he’d always be up there in the top 3-5 pitchers, year in and year out from the late ’50s to the late ’60s.

The bridesmaid-never-a-bride motif carried over into the post-season, however. Bunning’s teams never made it, the 1964 Phillies being the most heartbreaking. The Phillies led the NL from opening day onwards in 1964, but collapsed spectacularly in the last 2 weeks of season. Up by 6 1/2 games with only 12 to go, they’d drop 10 straight games and lose out to the Cardinals. Manager Gene Mauch took the blame, mostly for overusing pitchers Bunning and Chris Short down the stretch and exhausting both of ’em. I still remember the 1976 All Star game, played in Philly, when Gene Mauch was announced as one of the NL coaches and the entire stadium erupted in the loudest boos I’d ever heard. The Phillies had only made the series twice in their entire history at that point, losing both times in 1915 and 1950. They wouldn’t win one until 1980.

Bunning retired from baseball and went into politics back in his homestate of Kentucky, first in local offices, then the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. His popularity within the state waned and he retired from politics, succeeded by current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has never thrown a no hitter.

While it might have been more fun to watch Bob Gibson or Bill Lee become a Senator and scare the shit out of opponents or simply confuse them, respectively, Bunning’s stellar baseball career clearly contributed to his popularity.

Why did I pick the 1964 card? Well, it’s the year of his perfect game, it’s the oldest card I have of him, and I miss when guys had that Johnny Unitas haircut. RIP, Jim.

CORRECTION: It is NOT the oldest card I have of him! Had a little brain itch when I said that, so I went through a couple of the boxes and, sure enough, I have the 1959. Yay for hazy memories of buying giant lots of old cards at yardsales twenty-plus years ago!

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1969 Dock Ellis May 25, 2017

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Ellis logged some impressive seasons for the Pirates in the early ’70s, spent a productive year with the Yankees in ’76, and then spiraled downwards as his drug problems overtook his abilities.

After overcoming a diagnosis of sickle-cell trait, Ellis would become part of the Clemente-Stargell Pirate team of the early ’70s that managed a World Championship and remained the premiere power in the NL east really until Philadelphia would take over that role in the late ’70s, save for the “We Are Family” 1979 Pirate last-gasp.

Ellis would only pitch when high on speed, mostly. He claimed he pitched his 1970 no-hitter while on LSD. He couldn’t feel the ball and could only read the catcher Jerry May’s signals via reflective tape on May’s fingers. He’d hallucinate that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire.

In other words, he enjoyed that game way more than anyone else.

He said the scariest experience he ever had pitching was pitching sober for a game in 1973.

Ellis was also an outspoken critic of the bad racial attitudes still hanging around baseball in the ’70s, fighting with managers and owners over various issues involving money & dignity. Once when missing a team bus with some teammates, he did not have his ID and got maced by a security guard when Ellis tried to prove who he was by shoving his World Series ring in the guard’s face.

He particularly hated the Reds, not only as rivals in the NL, but clearly on the level of “vendetta.” Once in a 1974 game, he’d bean or attempt to bean EVERY Reds batter in the first inning of the game, getting pulled by Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh after hitting the first 3 (Rose, Driessen, Morgan), walking the 4th (Perez), and throwing behind and at the head of the fifth (Bench).  Easy to see how much the game has changed in 40 years – now, the 2nd hit batter or the 1st thrown behind would get the umpire to throw you out of the game, even if it WAS Richard Nixon.

Eventually the Pirates got fed up with his attitude and insisted he be included in the trade with the Yankees where Doc Medich got swapped for Willie Randolph, a deal that would pay dividends for the Yankees for many years to come. Ellis would give them one great season in 1976, helping them to win their first pennant in a dozen years, though he’d lose to those hated Reds in the World Series.

After a fight with Steinbrenner (shocking, huh?), he’d get dealt to the A’s for Mike Torrez, bounce from them to the Rangers, fight with the Rangers’ manager over the no-alcohol policy, get dealt to the Mets and finally back to the Pirates before retiring in 1980.

He’d also finally sober up in 1980, giving up drugs and alcohol. Maybe giving up baseball was the key.

But points to Ellis. Much like the formerly self-destructive NFL QB Ryan Leaf, he’d turn things around and become an addiction counselor and work with minor league players to overcome their own substance problems. But the abuse he’d put himself through had caught up to him. He develop some serious liver problems, get heart problems waiting for the liver transplant, and die too early at age 63.

But at least he’d exorcised most of his demons by then.  He was anything but boring.

 

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1973 Carlton Fisk May 20, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Fisk was an all-star catcher for many seasons with the Red Sox, and will forever be a Boston fan favorite for his game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, back when such “we almost broke the curse!” moments still had meaning.

He’d push the then-Red Sox ownership for a higher salary, and GM Haywood Sullivan stupidly let him go as a free agent to the Chicago White Sox, where he’d spend the next dozen seasons or so remaining one of the best catchers in the league. Stats-wise, he’d have his best season in 1985 with the ChiSox when he hit 37 homers and knocked in 107. He’d also catch a Tom Seaver no-hitter.

Needless to say, Fisk had no problems getting into the Hall of Fame.

As much as he constantly feuded with my Yankees and was in the middle of home plate collisions that led to some legendary bench-clearing brawls in the late ’70s, I always liked Fish as a player. He had constant enthusiasm for the game and an intensity you could feel just watching.

Just watch him take a swing at Lou Piniella after Piniella barrels over him at the plate, leading to a free for all back in 1976. Jeez, those two teams absolutely HATED each other in the ’70s! And I vividly remember Sox fans NEVER forgiving the Yankees for this one since Bill Lee got hurt and wound up on the DL.

I also like this 1973 card of him since he looks like he’s staring down some schmuck who owes him money. Maybe it’s Heywood Sullivan. Or maybe it’s Lou Piniella. Who knows?

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1963 Vada Pinson May 19, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards, Uncategorized.
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Pinson played 18 years in the big leagues from 1958 to 1976, and for the first half of his career with the Reds, was one of the best hitters in the NL. The early 1960s pre-big-Red-machine version of the Reds was quite the team, with Pinson and Frank Robinson leading the bats. They’d only manage one pennant in 1961, and they’d lose to my Yankees in the Series in five games. I mean, come on, the 1961 Yankees? Who the hell could beat them?

Back in the NL, the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals were very tough competition. Even the Pirates and Phillies managed to get in on pennant races in the early 60s (though the Phillies would blow their chance spectacularly in 1964).

At a yardsale many years ago, I remember buying a box of assorted Topps cards from the late 1950s and early 1960s, all lovingly placed in plastic sleeves. Whoever sold them to me must have counted Vada Pinson, Willie Davis and Ted Kluszewski as their favorite players, since there were multiple cards from multiple years of all three of those guys. I don’t think I got some sort of incredible bargain on the cards, although I paid less than they’re worth.

I think what sold me was the welcome novelty of finding baseball cards at a yardsale that didn’t turn out to be early 1990s common junk from Donruss or Score. I STILL see shrinkwrapped boxes of those things turn up at thrift stores from time to time. Nobody wants them, they’re barely above worthless since they are so easy to find. Seeing them always reminds me of the heady days of baseball-cards-as-investment-commodity that pretty much ruined the hobby of collecting the damn things back in the late 80s-early 90s. Guilty Confession: I have a box of 300+ Brady Anderson rookie cards I think I paid five bucks for back then. Thirty years later and they’re worth less than that. I think they’re in the same box as my 1990 Classic Draft Picks set that card dealers pushed on the basis of Tod Van Poppel (THE NEXT NOLAN RYAN!!!!!!!) being in it. Despite the presence of Chipper Jones & Mike Mussina in that set, it’s STILL worth less than what I paid for it.

But I digress.

I like Pinson’s smile on his 1963 card. He looks like he’s having a real good time out there. Kinda like the good time I had collecting cards once upon a time when you got 10 in a pack for a dime and finding older cards of legendary stars only ran you a couple of bucks and did I mention that we also tied an onion to our belts, which was the fashion of the time?

Meh.

I hope Vada had a good time playing and later coaching in the 1970s and 1980s, because he died WAY too young at age 57 from stroke complications. RIP, slugger.

Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1979 Jim Sundberg May 18, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Sundberg was probably the top defensive catcher in baseball during the late ’70s. He won six Gold Gloves and made the All-Star team a few times. The only other catcher of the era I can think came close to him throwing out runners was Johnny Bench.

What’s interesting is how many seasons he barely managed to hit .200 while doing so. In his second season in the majors as full-time catcher for the Rangers, he finished the season batting .199!

Normally you’d send a guy down to the minors for hitting that poor, but not Sundberg. He was just too damn good in the field and at managing the pitching staff. In the pre-sabremetric days, I’m sure they figured the amount of runs he prevented defensively made up for the weak bat, and with the DH a relatively new addition to the league, they figured the trade-off was worth it.

He managed a few seasons with a respectable average, hitting over .250, into the .270s, but never over the magic .300. And his glove never failed him.

He spent most of his career with the Rangers, but got dealt to Milwaukee for one season, and then to the Royals, where he earned his World Series ring in 1985. After a brief stint with the Cubs, he finished his career back where he started in Texas.

Now? He’s a Vice President with the Rangers, working alongside Nolan Ryan. And he’s a motivational speaker. I’m sure going out there every day with that piss-poor batting average while still managing to be an all star is frequent among his topics.

I doubt with today’s stats-heavy number crunching and super-hot-take sports media that anyone similar would be given a chance out there. We shall not see his like again.