Of Life, Death and Dave Ricketts

I began collecting cards in 1968, which was the year Topps featured the 33-card, game insert set.  Our “Founding Father,” Mark Armour, detailed this wonderful set in a past post.  My older brother and I played the game using our regular issue cards to represent the lineup.  We would position the cards in the proper positions on defense and have the card of the batter next to the catcher.  If the player registered a hit when the game card was turned over, his card was moved to the correct base.  Of course, this movement damaged the cards, which is why I have replaced most of them over the years.

For my brother’s 30th birthday in 1987, I had a photo mat cut to represent the nine positions.  I had the frame shop insert the Cardinals’ starting line up using 1968 cards. This set up was like the card arrangement we used as kids. I even included manager Red Schoendienst, as if he were in the dugout directing his charges.

In side note, my brother could never get Tim McCarver in a pack, and Lou Brock was in the seventh series-which never made it to our small town.  Thus, his lineup always featured Dave Ricketts at catcher and Bobby Tolan in left field.

My brother was a lifelong Cardinals fan, probably the result of my family hailing from Missouri.  Of course, St. Louis beat Boston in the World Series in ’67 and won the NL pennant in ’68, losing to the Tigers in the fall classic.  The card collection represented two of my brother’s favorite Cardinals teams.

68 Celebrate

Honestly, I have always been disappointed in the appearance of the framed cards.  There is too much green space and the shortstop would have looked better not angled.  In any event, my brother liked and appreciated the gift.  Over the years, he added a team picture and the World Series celebration cards by taping them to the glass in hard sleeves.  (Pilot sighting! Joe Schultz’s bald head and smiling face is clearly visible on the “Cardinals Celebrate!” card.)

Picture 1

After my brother’s death in 2015, I inherited his vast memorabilia collection-including the framed ’68 Cardinals cards. Unfortunately, the glass broke during shipping, but the rest remained intact.  Since I have a curator’s soul and a hoarder’s mindset, I was compelled to fill in the unused green space.  Using mostly the original cards from ’68 and ’69, I added most the players who appeared on the ’67 World Championship team.  A $0.79 Larry Jaster card was the only one I had to acquire.

Picture 2

Also, note that the two Cardinals from the game insert are included as well.  Orlando Cepeda is from the deck we used to play the game, back in the day.

Picture 3

Since I have maxed out the available wall space in my memorabilia room, I do not have a place for this piece. It sits in the card closet and serves as a frequent reminder of my brother.  We didn’t connect on many levels, but we could always find common ground with sports, memorabilia and most importantly, cards.

Segui’s Sequel or Ranew’s Renewal

The 2006 SABR convention in Seattle featured Jim Bouton as part of a lively Seattle Pilots panel.  Jim told a story about meeting his old Pilots teammate, Tommy Davis, years after the infamous ’69 season.  Jim revealed that Tommy looked at him, shook his head and said, “what a bunch of mutts.” 

This is an apt description of the expansion teams prior to the free agency era.  The new clubs were an assortment of veterans past their prime, players with marginal skills or unproven rookies. I have identified eight players who had the misfortune of playing on two different first-year expansion teams.  Here are their “cardboard” stories.6

The first man to experience this dubious “double play” was pitcher Hal Woodeshick.  The new Washington Senators acquired Hal from the old Senators (Minnesota Twins) in the expansion draft prior to the ’61 campaign. His tenure in DC was short lived, as the Senators sold him to the Tigers during the ’61 season. Subsequently, “Suitcase Hal” was sold to the new Colt .45’s in the winter of ’61. All this coming and going must have induced a sense of paranoia in Hal, as these two photos clearly document.6

Any Seattle baseball fan worth his or her salt knows that Diego Segui pitched for both the Pilots and Mariners.  Diego was the most effective hurler for the ill-fated ‘69 Pilots and the opening day starter for the Mariners.  The eight-year gap between Seattle appearances saw the erosion of Segui’s skills.  He posted an 0-7 record and was released at the conclusion of the season.

I have always been intrigued by Diego’s ’77 card.  Why is he wearing a Red Sox batting helmet-since the AL used the DH and Diego was a relief pitcher?6

Merritt Ranew is another Pilot with a resume that included two first-year expansion team stints.  The ’62 Houston Colt ‘45’s drafted the young receiver from the Braves.  His ’62 rookie card is an airbrushed gem. Despite Topps’ assertion on the back that Merritt “can’t miss,” most of his career was spent in the minors.  Topps didn’t produce a card for him in ’69, his last season in the majors.  The ‘83 Renata Galasso Pilots retrospective set does include Merritt.  The back of the card states that Ranew was the only Pilot who played on two first year expansion clubs.  This is incorrect.6

Ranew had a teammate that played on both the ’62 Colt ‘45s and the Pilots: George Brunet.  The “flaky” lefthander was drafted from the Braves by Houston.  Topps didn’t produce a ’62 card for George, but he does have a ’63.  Brunet joined the Pilots in July after his release from the Angels. No Pilots card was ever produced.  Very few images exist of George as a Pilot.  Here is a custom card-using a poorly colorized publicity still-of the happy-go-lucky, “underwear-averse” journeyman. 6

The beloved and inept ’62 Mets picked up catcher Chris Cannizzaro from St. Louis in the expansion draft.  He shuttled between AAA and the majors for most of the ‘60s before resurfacing with he infant San Diego Padres in ’69, after a trade with Pittsburgh. Cannizzaro became the starting catcher and was Padres’ lone All-Star representative.  Topps issued a card of Chris on the Pirates in 69, thus ’70 is his first on the San Diego.6

Chris’ ’62 Mets teammate, Galen Cisco, found himself on the roster of the ‘newbie” Royals in ‘69.  Galen’s ’62 card has him on the Red Sox, since he was purchased by the Mets late in the season.  However, he does get a New York card in ’63.

Perhaps the best player of this unique group is Ron Fairly.  The steady-if not spectacular-Fairly was dealt by the Dodgers to Montreal for Maury Wills in June of ’69.  Expos’ fans had to wait until ’70 to collect his card on Montreal.  Ron continued a successful career in the ‘70s, eventually ending up in ’76 with the A’s.  In the off season, Fairly was traded to the Blue Jays, but not before Topps issued a ’77 card depicting him on Oakland.  With the ’77 expansion Blue Jays, Ron had an excellent season as the DH.  He served as Toronto’s first all-star selection and got a Blue Jays’ card in ‘78.  9

The only duel expansionist I can identify for the last wave of expansion in the ‘90s is Scott Aldred.  The lefty pitched in five games for the ’93 Rockies and made 48 appearances for the ’98 Devil Rays.  Apparently, Scott didn’t receive a ’98 or ’99 card.  So, this team generated photo serves as proof that he did toil in the “Trop.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a player who almost joined this group of vagabonds. Jeff Katz’s (@SplitSeason1981) old insurance man, Marv Staehle, was in spring training with the Pilots.  He was sent to AAA Vancouver and later traded to the Expos. Marv played in six games for Montreal in ’69.

20 years have past since the last expansion.  It is safe to say that this exclusive club will remain as is, until MLB once again expands at least twice within a ten-year span.

If you unearth another player who saw action for two first-year expansion clubs, let me know.  It is entirely possible I missed some unfortunate soul.

Miami Vices and Rocky Mountain Highs

Although most of you have been greatly relieved by the respite from the “first card for new teams” series, I am back to shatter your peace of mind.  This time, I am examining the first cards for the 1993 expansion Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

The birth of the two new National League franchises coincided with the era of explosive card production. (The editor doesn’t like the term “junk wax.) (Ed.: In this context, it would have been fine.)  I found 17 different sets-counting updates-containing first cards for the Marlins and Rockies.  It is entirely possible that I missed a set or two.  (Ed: Or ten.) So, if I failed to mention “Lower Deck’s Super-Extreme-Virtuoso-Uber-Isotope of Titanium” set produced by Goudey in an exclusive run of 500,000, I apologize.

 

Donruss and Fleer must have been the first card series issued, since their expansion teams’ cards have photos of the players with their previous clubs.  Sadly, no airbrushing of logos was employed to provide memorable images. Matt Harvey (FL) and Eric Young (CO) are the first cards for their respective new teams. Donruss’ “Diamond Kings” features painted portraits of David Nied (CO) and Nigel Wilson (FL) in their new liveries.

David Nied (CO) and Jack Armstrong (FL) are Fleer’s first offerings.  Nied is pictured on the Braves with a ribbon identifying him as having been “signed by Rockies.” This is considered a variation, since most of the cards have him exclusively on the Braves.  The first card with Rockies on the name plate is Andy Ashby. Jack Armstrong is the first Marlin.  Fleer “Final Edition” has Andy Ashby as the first card of a player in a Rockies’ uniform.  Likewise, Luis Acquino shows up first for Florida.

Probably as a result of a later production date, Bowman provides shots of players in their new uniforms in the base sets.  Rich Renteria (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) are the first Bowman issues.

 

Topps’ base set and their premium issue, “Stadium Club,” produced inaugural cards of players in new uniforms as well.  Jamie McAndrew (FL) and Mark Thompson (CO) show up first in the base set while Benito Santiago (FL) and Butch Henry (CO) are first in the “snooty” set.

Nigel Wilson (FL) and David Nied (CO) are Upper Deck’s first cards for the infant clubs. Upper Deck also issued cards in the “SP” set.

In order to save your sanity, I will not delve into all the brands.  However, here is a non-exclusive list of other companies that issued Rockies and Marlins:  Pinnacle, Leaf, Score, O-Pee-Chee (base and Premier), Pacific (Spanish), Ultra and Triple Play.

If only first-round expansion picks David Nied and Nigel Wilson had become superstars, I would be rich beyond measure.  Alas, the 2000 cards I have of each now languish in storage.  Another sure bet investment gone wrong.

Erstwhile committee member, Nick Vossbrink, pointed out that both Upper Deck and Bowman produced rookie cards for minor league players Ryan Turner (CO) and Clemente Nunez (FL) in the ’92 sets.  Thus, my shoddy research is laid bare!

Charlie Chan(t) in Tucson

I collect team sets and vintage single cards from Pacific Coast League teams.  Of course, I have all the Mariners’ affiliate’s cards, but I also own numerous sets from a wide variety of teams out of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. My latest acquisition is a team issued ’75 Tucson Toros set- the AAA affiliate of the Oakland A’s.

The cards are not exactly attractive.  The grainy, black and white photos are filled with obscuring shadows.  The non-standard size and format were used by other PCL teams in the mid-70s.  I have similar sets for Tacoma, Spokane, Phoenix and Sacramento.

The photos are taken at venerable Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, which is the current home of Arizona State University’s baseball team.  Of course, the Indians held spring training there for decades.  In a personal aside, my wife and I “honeymooned” at spring training in ’91.  We saw the Mariners play at Hi Corbett, and Indians’ broadcaster, Herb Score, gave me an autograph.

Nelson

What makes the 1975 Tuscon set interesting—to me at least—are the familiar players.  Many are veterans trying to hang on and earn one last chance in the “bigs.” A good example is Roger Nelson, who was the Royals number one draft pick in the ’69 expansion draft.  He managed a couple of decent seasons with KC, but injuries short circuited his career.  He went on to be better known as “Weird” Al Yankovic (joke).

Grabarkewitz

Another “hanger on” was Billy “Eye Chart” Grabarkewitz.  The one-time, top Dodger prospect had an All-Star year in ’70 but never again had sustained success.  Tucson in ’75 is his swan song in pro ball.  Bill’s most important contribution to baseball history is little known.  It was his single in the 12th inning of the ’70 All-Star game that put Pete Rose in scoring position.  Jim Hickman’s single sent Rose home, ending in the famous collision with Ray Fosse.

Chant

If anything went missing in the clubhouse, the team turned to the resident catcher/detective: Charlie “Chant.”  His tendency to speak as if he were reading fortune cookie proclamations and dropping all his articles was a pain; however, Charlie always found the missing athletic supporter.

 

 

Rich McKinney is on the team as well.  His ‘73 Topps airbrushed photo is so bad that it is positively glorious.

 

 

Legendary Oakland A’s owner, Charlie Finley, was afflicted with “trader’s remorse.”  Often, Charlie would re-acquire a player he traded away.  Several of the Toros fall into this category.  Would-have-been ’70 Seattle Pilot, Lew Krausse, started with the KC A’s as a 18-year old phenom in ’61. Charlie was so enamored with Lew that he brought him back twice.  Actual Seattle Pilot, Skip Lockwood, started in the A’s organization as did Ramon Webster, before being traded to San Diego. Veteran reliever, Orlando Pena, spent several years with the KC A’s in the ‘60s.

Lemon

Chester “Chet” Lemon is the player in the set who would go on to have the best Major League career.  He would star for the White Sox and Tigers in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Aguirre

The Toros’ manager was veteran MLB pitcher Hank Aguirre.  Many of you may remember a recent post from fellow committee member Anthony Salazar, which featured Hank, who is his personal hero.

Pitts

Living up to his “gritty” name, Galen Pitts has a bandaged nose.  Perhaps he “duked it out” with a member of the Albuquerque Dukes.

Mazzone

We can pretty much assume that future Braves’ pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, nervously rocked on the bullpen bench before entering a game.

 

 

Wearing the familiar green and gold uniform colors of his namesake Ray, catcher Buzz Nitschke was frequently called upon to flatten half backs who broke through the Toros’ front line.

Freddie

To wrap it up, I present the mascot, “Freddy the Toro.”  He appears to be holding a wagon tongue ready to rid Hi Corbett Field of an obnoxious, drunken fan.

 

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Smoky Burgess

During a recent trip to Cooperstown, my son, Dylan, purchased a mystery grab-bag at a card shop. Amongst other cards, the bag contained 17 “well loved” ’65 Topps. Knowing I would enjoy the vintage cards, he gave me the lot.

I decided to see if I could take this random selection of players and discover any connections, no matter how dubious. Using information from the card backs, a little research and my vast knowledge of the “Grand Old Game” (joke), I set about to find the ties that bind.

Minnesota’s Sam Mele, Earl Battey and Dave Stigman have a special connection since all contributed to the club winning the American League pennant in ’65; the same year the cards were issued. By the way, the back of Mele’s card informs the reader that his real name is Sabbath.

Sam Mele connects directly with Smoky Burgess, since they were teammates on the ’55 Reds. Also, the “burley backstop” has catching for the White Sox in common with Earl Battey.

Donn Clendenon was Smoky’s teammate on the Pirates. Donn and Phil Regan were part of the inexplicable ’69 pennant race between the Cubs and Mets. On July 14, 1969, Phil struck out the pinch hitting Clendenon to end the game.

As fate would have it, Clendenon shares the distinction of being selected in the ’68 expansion draft with Bill McCool, who is bound with John Tsitouris and Jake Wood by dint of being together on the ’67 Reds.

Returning to Phil Regan, the “Vulture” has a tenuous connection to Phil Gagliano-in that both have very dated cartoons depicting stereotypical Indians on the card backs.

Moving onward, we find that Gagliano was a teammate with Gene Oliver on the ’63 Cardinals. After being dealt to the Braves, Gene became a teammate with Eddie Mathews. This ties Oliver to Fred Gladding, who was traded to the Astros for Eddie Mathews.

In addition, Gladding and Clendenon have a commonality in that both excelled in the Sally League. Fred tossed a no-hitter in ’58 and Donn led the circuit in home runs in ’60.

The “Impossible Dream” aficionados will instantly draw a connection between Phil Gagliano, Jose Santiago and Ray Washburn. All three played in the ’67 World Series.

Ray Washburn and Wes Stock are bound together by virtue of growing up and living in Washington State. I would be completely remiss if I failed to remind you that Wes Stock would have been the pitching coach for the ’70 Seattle Pilots. He was the pitching coach for the original Mariners in ’77. Ray Washburn is the uncle of the PE teacher at the school where I work.

We can use Wes Stock as a segue to Ken Retzer. The cartoons on the back of their cards tell us that both players were league leaders in the Northern League. Wes paced the loop in strikeouts, while Ken topped the fielding percentage chart.

Both guys can claim a tie to Chuck Hinton. Chuck and Stock played for the Vancouver Mounties-though not on the same team and with different organizations. Retzer and Hinton were both traded from the Senators after the ’64 season. Both men are pictured wearing Senators’ togs.

I will end the serpentine nonsense with the fact that Smoky Burgess and Donn Clendenon had great affinity for “law.” Smoky was a teammate and roommate on the Pirates with Vernon Law, while Donn became a lawyer.

Seals on the Homefront

All Cards

I recently purchased a 2017 San Francisco Seals set commemorating the players from the WWII era. The 73-card set was produced by the artist, Carl Aldana, who often used historical images of the PCL in his paintings.

Carl__Aldana_Seals_Stadium_3_1037_64

Aldana worked in Hollywood as a storyboard illustrator and in other art related capacities. He contributed to movies ranging from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to “Halloween 3.” In a sad note, Mr. Aldana passed away on February 8, 2019.

Lefty O

The most appealing part of the Seals set is that Aldana used the early ‘50s PCL “Mother’s Cookies” template. The cards have rounded corners and feature solid pastel background. Mr. Aldana colorized the black and white photos. The backs feature a check list with the cards arrange by background color.

Big Names

Many of the players do not fall into the “household names” category, but several players with major league pedigree are in the set. Of course, the legendary manager of the Seals, Lefty O’Doul has a card. Tony Lazzeri, who played for the Seals during the war is featured as well. Ferris Fain would go on to win two batting titles with the Philadelphia A’s. Larry Janson joined the NY Giants in ‘47 and won 23 games in ’51, helping the Giants win the pennant…the Giants win the pennant!

Uniforms  Shield Logos

The Aldana retro-cards provide a good look at the various uniforms worn by the Seals during the ‘30s and ‘40s. During the war years, the club wore a patriotic shield for a cap emblem and arm patch.

Groups

There are several group cards in the set, including a “wacky” pose by the “Pitching Prospects.”

Posed Action

The intensity is palpable in these posed action shots.

Minor League Uni

Mr. Aldana never attempted to “airbrush” logos if he couldn’t find a photo of the player in a Seals uniform. This results in some cards featuring players in MLB uniforms or on other minor league teams.

This “seals the deal” for now, but in a follow up post I will look at Aldana’s other PCL cards done in the Mother’s Cookies style. There are several ’57 Seals cards that will interest the Red Sox fans amongst us, since San Francisco was a Bosox affiliate.

 

Teddy Takes His Ballgame to Texas

1969 was the one and only “glory” year for the expansion Washington Senators. The owner, Bob Short, lured Ted Williams to the nation’s capital to manage the perennial cellar dwellers. An above .500 record in 1969 netted fourth place in the tough American League East Division. Unfortunately, ’70 and ’71 saw the “Nats” revert to their losing ways.

Despite playing in a modern park (RFK Stadium, renamed from DC Stadium that year) and having a large metropolitan fan base that responded with increased attendance during the ’69 campaign, the American League allowed Short to move the Senators to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for 1972 — after only 11 seasons in DC.

The new Texas Rangers settled in Arlington, which is approximately half-way between Dallas and Fort Worth. Turnpike Stadium was hastily expanded to provide a new home for the transplanted team and renamed Arlington Stadium. The change of scenery didn’t help, as the Rangers lost 101 games during their inaugural season.

The birth of the Rangers in ‘72 coincided with arguably the most “colorful” Topps set. The photos are framed in bright colors and feature groovy lettering and stars. However, Topps didn’t produce any cards of players wearing Rangers’ caps and uniforms. The now familiar array of “cap-less” headshots, airbrushing and upward tilted heads greeted the “wax pack rats” in the Metroplex.

72 Kubiak

In a previous post, I mentioned that Ted Kubiak’s card was in the first pack of cards I ever opened in ’68. Ted racked up another “first” by dint of being the first Ranger on cardboard. The “would-have-been” ’70 Seattle Pilot spent a couple of seasons in Milwaukee and St Louis before heading to the Lone Star State. This headshot was taken in spring training at the Brewers camp in Tempe, AZ.

Many of the Rangers cards feature “nostril” shots. The photographer kneels and shoots the photo of the player from below. This coupled with the upturned head results in a photo with the cap logo not visible. This technique was used for years, but the ’72 set was full of this style. It’s a good thing that Frank Howard and Toby Harrah cleaned out their nostrils prior to the photo session.

Airbrushed caps were mostly done in red to match the Senators color. However, a few of the cards have a brownish, burgundy hue, as former Seattle Pilot Don Mincher and Paul Lindblad demonstrate.

King

A truly classic airbrush job graces the card of Hal King, who came over from the Braves prior to the ’72 season. No attempt was made to differentiate between crown and bill, just one glorious glob of red paint.

Williams

One distinction this set hold is the last Topps solo card for Ted Williams as an active on field participant. He will be replaced as Rangers’ manager by Whitey Herzog in ’73.

McLain

Also, 22-game loser (in ‘71) Denny McLain has a Rangers card-though he never played for them. A washed up McLain was dealt to Oakland prior to spring training.

73 Team

In ’73, Topps makes an awesome choice for the first “real” Rangers’ card: the team picture. This photo is taken at Arlington Stadium with “Teddy Ballgame” clearly situated in the middle of the bottom (seated) row. The squad is decked out in their double knit, sans-belt uniforms.

Gogolewski

The first solo player depicted in a Rangers’ uniform is Bill Gogolewski. This ’72 spring training picture has him wearing a button-up jersey with belted pants. This is probably a repurposed Senators’ uniform. The Rangers will never wear this uniform type in a regular season game.

73 Nelson

There are several cool action-shot cards of the Rangers taking on the A’s in Oakland. This Dave Nelson card could have easily been one for Dave Hamilton or-ironically-Ted Kubiak (#11), who was traded by the Rangers to the A’s on July 20, 1972. By the way, there are several A’s action photo cards taken during a series in late July of ‘72.

Well, “y’all” survived another installment of a series that rivals the emptiness of the West Texas plains. Since the Mariners and Blue Jays have already been featured, the ‘90s expansion teams are comin’ out of the chute next. Yee Haw!!