Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the sixth of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning.
I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
This post details the remaining two themes of “other” cards, found in the final series of the 1972 catalogue…
The strangest theme overall occurs near the beginning of the sixth series—various awards (#621–626) all in that bright Cubs/Indians magenta/yellow color scheme, featuring a picture of the actual hardware on the front and a list of its winners or some forgettable facts on the back. Awards include the Commissioner’s Award (#621), Most Valuable Player (#622), Cy Young Award (#623), Minor League Player of the Year (#624), Rookie of the Year (#625), and Babe Ruth Award (#626).
Commissioner’s Award, anyone?
The Minor League Player of the Year card is interesting – it lists a few future stars—Louis Tiant in 1964 (still unclear on why he has no 1972 card—maybe he was back in his native Cuba on picture day?), Felix Millan (#540) in 1967, and Bobby Grich (#338) in 1971—plus plenty of obscure players who never made a lasting name for themselves. Guys like Al Cicotte (1960), Howie Koplitz (1961), Jesse Gonder (1962) and Tony Solaita (1968). It’s safe to say that my friend Billy and I didn’t cherish these cards, but they do pile on more interesting historical data that helps round out the lot.
The final theme shows up toward the end of the sixth series (#751–757). These are cards of prominent traded players that look like conventional player cards but lack the team name at the top and have “TRADED”, stamped diagonally in bold black font across the picture of the player in their new team’s uniform. On the reverse is a brief description of the player’s strengths and a Pollyannaish prediction for them and their new team. Understandably the trades worked out to varying degrees but all are worth recalling, the more impactful ones in some detail.
Denny McLain (#753) from the Texas Rangers to the Oakland Athletics for three-years-in-the-league pitcher Jim Panther and oddball pitcher Don Stanhouse. This trade was terrible for Oakland, though they didn’t give away a whole lot; McLain only won four more games in his career (one for the A’s and three more after he was traded to the Braves mid-season) and unexpectedly 1972 was his last year in the league. Sadly, his pitching arm was ruined by overuse and cortisone shots, which masked profound arm pain, egging him on to throw too many innings while winning Cy Young awards in 1968 (336 innings) and 1969 (325 innings). Records of 31–6 (1968) and 24-9 (1969) though—wow – all that abuse had to be worth it.
Meanwhile, Stanhouse had an erratic 10 year career which saw him earn one All-Star selection and the nickname “Fullpack” from his time with the Orioles. Apparently Stanhouse had a habit of walking players he didn’t want to face, leading to some tense late-game situations and “Fullpack” references Oriole manager Earl Weaver’s need to chain-smoke as he watched Stanhouse pitch. Later on Earl went so far as to call Stanhouse an “asshole” for ruining the manager’s health. Jeez, Earl – maybe true, but that’s a little harsh.
Jim Fregosi (#755) from the California Angels to the New York Mets for pitcher Don Rose, catcher Francisco Estrada, outfielder Leroy Stanton and 25-year-old Nolan Ryan has to be the worst trade ever for the Mets. Fregosi never regained the (six-time) All-Star form he’d had as an Angel, and he didn’t even reach 400 at-bats again in a season. After one and a half disappointing years with the Mets he was shipped off to Texas for parts of four seasons, then Pittsburgh for his final two, where he hardly played. He finally hung it up after the 1978 season.
Nowadays it’s unbelievable that Nolan Ryan was so undervalued that he was one of four guys traded for Fregosi, but he did have severe control problems back then. It barely matters who the three other players in the trade were, but for posterity Rose had a 1-4 career record in 45.2 innings over parts of three seasons, Estrada had just two at-bats in his entire career (going 1-2 with the Mets in 1971), and Stanton hung around for nine years to hit .244 for the Mets, Angels and Mariners. Meanwhile, the Angels got the Ryan Express just as he started to figure things out and solidify his legendary career. Though Ryan walked 962 more batters than any other pitcher in history he also recorded 839 more strikeouts than anyone and stayed with the Angels through 1979 to earn 138 of his 324 career victories while in Anaheim. Score this one 1–0, California.
Frank Robinson (#754) and Pete Richert (#649) from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Doyle Alexander (#579), Bob O’Brien (#198), Sergio Robles and Royle Stillman. At 36, Frank was pretty gassed by the time he went to Los Angeles and he never looked right in a West Coast uniform. His ’72 Dodgers finished tied for second with Houston in the NL West with an old rag-tag team that looked far different than the one that made the World Series two years later. Still, Frank hung on to hit 83 more home runs in his career, for the Dodgers (19), Angels (50) and Indians (14) and became the first ever Black manager in MLB when he signed on as player-manager for Cleveland in 1975. Richert had been effective for the Orioles (a two-time All-Star and 1970 World Series Champion) but washed out after brief stints in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Philadelphia and was done for good after the 1974 season.
This trade more or less marked the end of an era for the Orioles, and though they didn’t get a whole lot out of Doyle Alexander (35 wins over the better part of five seasons) he did make an All-Star team later on (1988) and won 194 games during his career (never winning more than 17 games, but he did do that three times). On the other hand, has anyone heard from Bob O’Brien, Sergio Robles, or Royle Stillman lately? Between them they played in 63 major league games.
Jose Cardenal (#757) from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Chicago Cubs for Jim Colborn (#386), Brock Davis (#161) and Earl Stephenson (#61). This worked out well for the Cubs—they got six quality years from Cardenal (he batted over .300 twice), though he wasn’t exactly a game-changer for them. Davis and Stephenson were inconsequential and had a hard time staying in the majors; Colborn had a 10-year career, made an All-Star team in 1973 and threw a no-hitter in 1977.
Rick Wise (#756) from the Philadelphia Phillies to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Carlton (#751). This trade goes down as one of the most, if not the most, lopsided man-for-man trades in league history. Wise had a nice career, finishing with a 188-181 record and throwing a no-hitter in 1971, one walk shy of perfect game, while also hitting two home runs. He remains the only pitcher to do that (three others have had no-hitters while hitting one home run). It’s almost like he used up a disproportionate amount of good baseball karma in that one game.
All Carlton did was turn around and pitch 346.1 innings in 1972, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA and earning 46% of the Phillies’ victories that year. Then he went on to hurl into the 1988 season, eventually finishing with 329 wins (11th all-time), 4136 strikeouts (4th all-time), and four Cy Young awards. Not to mention 90 balks, number one all-time. Win some, lose some.
Joe Morgan (#752), Cesar Geronimo (#719), Jack Billingham (#542), Denis Menke (#586) and Ed Armbrister (#524) from the Houston Astros to the Cincinnati Reds for Lee May (#480), Tommy Helms (#204) and Jim Stewart (#747). This trade looked good on paper at the time – you just couldn’t foresee how unfairly it was going to turn out for Houston. Lee “Big Bopper” May was (rightly) thought to be the blue chip in the trade and remained productive during his three years with the Astros (though he led the majors with 145 strikeouts in 1972), plus he had five more quality years with Baltimore and ended up with a fine career. Helms had been Rookie of the Year (1966) and made two All-Star teams with the Reds, but never regained that form with the Astros; Jimmy Stewart (the baseball player, not the actor) hit right around the Mendoza line for two years and retired after the 1973 season.
Meanwhile, Armbrister was never effective for the Reds, used mainly as a pinch-hitter and runner from what I remember. Menke had been a two-time All-Star with the Astros but he didn’t do much for the Reds either, though he was the starting third baseman on their World Series team in 1972. What Cincinnati did get was three key cogs to the Big Red Machine that won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Geronimo didn’t have the biggest bat, but he was good in the clutch, had a great arm (a converted pitcher), and patrolled center field as well as anybody in the league, winning four straight Gold Gloves from 1974-77. Billingham was a solid starter and intrepid reliever in those World Series wins, with a 2-0 record, ERA of 0.36, and only one earned run over 25 and 1/3 innings. Jack had a nice sinker.
But the crown jewel of the trade ended up being Joe Morgan, who, after wearing out his welcome in Houston and being branded a “troublemaker,” blossomed into a Hall of Famer with the Reds, heading to eight straight All-Star games, winning five consecutive Gold Gloves (1973–1977) and back-to-back MVP awards in 1975-76. Looking back, the arm-flapping Morgan was my favorite player on those great teams —he was always hard-nosed, focused, and boy, didn’t he play like he was a foot taller than 5’ 7”? The bat he wielded seemed almost too big, but he always had it under control (1865 career walks vs. 1015 career strikeouts). More than anything, Joe was fun to watch.
The Little General was a giant presence on the field, in the clubhouse – everywhere – and years later even Pete Rose had to admit that Joe had the best baseball mind of anyone he ever knew. After retiring as a player Mr. Morgan transitioned seamlessly into broadcasting – he just had that entertaining enthusiasm and ingrained encyclopedic knowledge of baseball. I sure do miss “sittin’ dead-red,” listening to Joe comment on games like only he could. Dang it.
Rest in peace and power, Joe Leonard Morgan.
Part of an ode, fifty years on, to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.
Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Larry Biittner, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Gene Clines, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.
Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.
Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.
Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.