Jim Bouton, 1939–2019

Jim Bouton died last Wednesday after a long battle with effects of a 2012 stroke. He was 80.

As you have likely read over the past week, Bouton meant a lot to a lot of people. I was one. Our paths crossed a few times, but his importance is always going to be about his book.

My first run-in with Jim Bouton was with his 1968 Topps card, pictured up top. I was seven that summer and my card collection was limited by my meager finances. But when the final series came out in August I must have had nickels bursting out of my pockets, because I ended up with dozens (says my memory) of this card (#562).

I had no interest in doubles even then (I would have gladly traded you my extra Henry Aaron if you had Dick Dietz), but, let’s be real, who was Jim Bouton anyway? I knew nothing of baseball prior to … maybe a year earlier? He was not in the Yankee box scores or in the Yankee games I was able to watch — because (I later learned) in June he had been demoted to the minor leagues (which might as well have been Mars). He was a minor leaguer?

Bouton had been a star a few years before, but whatever. I remember watching Eddie Mathews pinch hit in the 1968 World Series and being flabbergasted that the announcers claimed he used to be a good player. This guy?

So anyway, I suspect that one or two of the 1968 Bouton cards ended up in my bicycle spokes at some point. He would never appear on a Topps card again.

The next year Topps — who gave absolutely everyone a card — did not give one to Bouton, who in March was a non-roster invitee by the expansion Seattle Pilots.

Topps gave a card to Fred Newman, who had not pitched in the majors in 1968 and threw just six innings in 1967. He was a spring training invite for the Red Sox, and quickly released, but Topps gave him a Red Sox card anyway. He never pitched in the majors again.

Let me be clear: none of this is meant to criticize Topps. Card selection was a tricky business, with multiple series allowing for delaying identifying the last series or two until April. What I love about Topps cards in this era is that they tried to include everyone, even guys who (with the benefit of hindsight) seem like extreme long shots to play, so it looks wrong when someone is missing. Most of the 1969 set was printed before the Pilots even got to camp, and Topps made an educated guess that of the dozens of available options Bouton did not warrant a late series card. His brief demotion to Triple-A in April might have sealed the deal.

In 1969 Bouton pitched for the expansion Pilots and then the Astros. I watched a handful of Red Sox – Pilots games, and I am sure I saw Bouton a few times. But he was just a guy in the bullpen, the guy whose 1968 cards were spread all over my room. I gave him little thought.

Although Bouton pitched essentially the entire season in the majors in 1969, he again did not get a Topps card in 1970. This case seems particularly odd, and makes one wonder if he had an issue with Topps. He was a strong union guy, but the union had settled their Topps dispute in late 1968, which is why the 1970 set is so spectacular. A mystery, to me at least.

He pitched briefly (and mostly poorly) that year before again being exiled to the minors, but 1970 ended up being the most pivotal year of his life. His book — Ball Four — came out and caused quite a stir, and his cards would never be commons again. Forgive me, 1968 Bouton card — I didn’t mean it!

I was an early devotee of his book, reading it age 10 and then reading it continually thereafter. The baseball, the humor, the writing, the politics, the self-doubt — there is something on every page. But enough self-examination …

I didn’t really start buying older cards (cards issued prior to my collecting) until I was in high school and especially college. I picked up a few Bouton cards when I ran into them. And I kept up on all things Bouton — his other books, his occasionally magazine article, his comebacks in the minors (and briefly, the Braves). You can read all about it in other places, I am sure.

Early in my sophomore year, Bouton came to my college (Rensselear, in Troy NY) to speak. I had not packed Ball Four with me that year (I would never make that mistake again), but I did have a few of his cards in my dorm room. Bouton signed my 1964 card, and it remains the only baseball card I have ever asked anyone to sign. (I have received a few signed cards over the years from friends.)

It has been said that once a player’s career is over and time fades, he is judged by his statistical record. This is not true of Bouton, who finished 62–63 (albeit with great seasons, World Series heroics, and historic comebacks mixed in) but who retained his fame and remained newsworthy until the very end of his life.

My point, and I have a point: collect his cards. They are fairly inexpensive for 50-year-old cards, and it’s Jim Bouton for heaven’s sake. If you collect cards from the 1960s, by all means you should look for Mays, Clemente, Aaron, Mantle, Koufax, just like everyone else, but save a few dollars for The Bulldog. (And Curt Flood.)

My collection is 100% about the history, and very few people are a more important part of the baseball story than James Alan Bouton. There will be never be another like him.

Number 400 on Your Checklist, Number One in Your Heart

Mickey Mantle was the quintessential “baby boomer” icon in post-war America.  His good looks, athleticism and strength personified the American concept of exceptionalism.  “The Mick” was the ultimate hero for the white American male, who controlled all the levers of power.  It is not a stretch to state that Don Drysdale was the pitcher who complemented the slugger.

 To commemorate the SABR Baseball Committee’s 400th blog post, members were tasked with coming up with a post that tied in the number 400.  In 1969, Topps assigned Drysdale card number 400 in the set. Many of you know that Topps gave superstar players the “hundred” numbers.  The card turned out to be Don’s last regular issue card.  This post celebrates our blog’s milestone by examining the Big D’s cardboard legacy.

Most of you remember that 1968 was a record-breaking year for Don-while 1969 had a tragic ending. 1968 saw him set the record for consecutive scoreless innings with 58-2/3 (since broken by Orel Hershiser with 59 in 1988).  Unfortunately, starting 35 or more games for nine straight seasons finally caught up to Drysdale.  Ongoing shoulder issues culminated with a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff.  After 12 starts in 1969, Don was forced to retire.

Standing 6’3’ and weighing 190, Don was a prime physical specimen and the epitome of the sun-splashed, California athlete.  Being handsome, well-spoken and playing in Los Angeles resulted in advertisement opportunities and TV appearances. People of a certain age remember the Big D as a guest on “The Donna Reed Show,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and the “Brady Bunch.” The alliteration of the double D’s in his name contributed his recognition in and out of baseball.

My favorite Drysdale card was issued in 1967.  The posed, follow through shot at Shea Stadium exudes confidence and command.  Don had mid-century America by the horns, and he knew it.

The early cards depict a young man still developing into a prime athlete.  Drysdale’s first Topps card in 1957 shows him with the Brooklyn “B” in the “Bums” last season in Ebbets Field.  The shift to LA in 1958 results in an airbrushed “LA” on the cap.  The Hires Root Beer card from that year makes him look rather cherubic.

1959 and 1960 are great, mostly due to the backdrop of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  The massive football stadium-turned ballpark is certainly distinctive.

 Drysdale shows up on specialty cards as well. In 1959, Don joins teammates Johnny Podres and Clem Labine on a cool, multi-player card captioned: “Hitters Foes.” Podres is back in 1963, but this time Drysdale’s fellow superstar teammate, Sandy Koufax, joins him on the card titled: “Dodgers Big Three.”  Additionally, Drysdale has 1960 and 1962 All-Star cards and is on numerous league leaders.

Fleer attempted to break the Topps monopoly in 1963.  Topps successfully sued to stop future production, but Fleer managed to put out at least a portion of its set.  Don plays in “both ends of a double dip,” showing up in both sets.

Topps chose Don to represent the Dodgers in the 1967 poster insert and the 1968 large posters, which were sold individually, one per pack.  Both are excellent photos and the designs are superb in their simplicity.

As one of baseball’s top stars, Don is featured in every Topps insert or test issue set.  He shows up on Bazooka boxes, Post Cereal, Salada coins and many other oddball sets.

Receiving a “hundred” number in a Topps series in 1960s was to be recognized as a true icon.  Don is a man certainly worthy of our 400th post.  I’ll leave you with a photo of my Drysdale shrine in my memorabilia room.

To learn all there is to know about Don Drysdale, I highly recommend Joseph Wancho’s BioProject entry.

Feed Your Head with Ted

For those of us whose minds tend to gravitate toward the obscure and trivial, baseball cards can serve as a stimulate for this brain disorder. For example, the magic mushroom that sent me falling down the rabbit hole recently was a 1961 Seattle Rainiers’ popcorn card of Ted Schreiber.

I’ve had the card for several years, but recently purchased an off grade 8×10 glossy of the same photo as appears on the card. Curious to know more about Mr. Schreiber, I sought out online information on the infielder.  Of course, it didn’t take the “men from to chessboard to tell me where to go.”

Since I couldn’t “go ask Alice,” The SABR Bioproject was my destination.  Bioproject is an invaluable resource.  The forgotten and obscure players are given the same scholarly treatment as the all-time greats.  Mr. Rory Costello’s biography of Schreiber is well written and provides some surprising information.  After reading it, I felt like I was “given the call” to tell you about Mr. Schreiber, aided by a look at his few, but wonderful, cards. By the way, Topps never issued a card for him.

Though no “Red Queen” ever tried to “off” Schreiber’s head, he did make “off” from his Brooklyn home in the late 1950’s destined for Queens-where he donned the “red” of the St.John’s Redmen.  Ted played basketball for legendary coach Joe Lapchick and baseball for long-time coach, Jack Kaiser. Since my son graduated from St. John’s, I’ve developed an interest in the school’s sports history. This connection heightened my interest in Schreiber’s story.

Mr. Costello’s biography provided a great piece of trivia.  Ted hit two home runs at Ebbets Field in 1959. Turns out, St. John’s played three home games there against Manhattan College.

Schrieber’s exploits on the diamond for the Redmen drew the attention of scout Frank “Bots” Nakola.  If your “mind is moving low” and this name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the Red Sox scout who signed Yaz, Rico Petrocelli and Chuck Schilling out of the New York area. After a workout at Fenway Park, Ted signed with Boston.

In 1961 and 1962, Ted played in Seattle-the Red Sox AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.  From 1954 to 1968, the Rainiers/Angels issued smallish, glossy cards in boxes of popcorn.  For reasons unknown, there are two variations of Schreiber cards in both 1961 and 1962. The 1961 “action” card misspelled Ted’s name.  If you want to know more about popcorn cards, here are links to my previous posts

During the off season, the Mets selected Schreiber in the Rule 5 draft. Since his route to Boston was blocked by second sacker, Chuck Schilling, this was a good break for Ted.  However, Ron Hunt won the starting job at second base for the Mets.  As a bench player Schreiber appeared in only 39 games, but he did take center stage in a piece of Mets history.

 On September 26, 1963, Ted pinch hit for his old St. John’s teammate, Larry Bearnath.  He promptly hit into a game ending double play, thus making the last out in the history of the Polo Grounds.  Though Topps never produced a card for Schreiber, there is a team issued photo from 1963.

Returning to the minors in 1964, Schreiber would never make back to the “show.”  His one year in the “bigs” secured a card in Larry Fritsch’s 1983 “One Year Wonders” set.  Also, Ted shows up in the 1966 Elder Postcards, 1976 SSPC set commemorating the ’63 Mets and in the 1971 “Wiz” Mets set.

Since “logic and proportion has fallen sloppy dead,” and you would rather hear “the White Knight talking backwards” than continue with me chasing rabbits, I will stop.  But remember what the Bobby “Doerr-mouse” said: “Feed your head” with Bioproject.

Jerry Morales: Fashion Pioneer?

Jerry Morales was—at least anecdotally—a slick-fielding outfielder known for his unorthodox habit of catching routine fly balls below his waist and out in front of him. He led PCL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1970 and 1971 and was a top defensive NL outfielder in 1975 and 1976 by standard metrics – including assists, range factor, double plays, and fielding percentage. Morales was also known for his sweet mustache, ranked here as the 12th best in Cubs history.

In his 15-year Major League career, Morales amassed nearly 5000 plate appearances and displayed decent power, belting double-digit home runs in five seasons. Morales was an All-Star in 1977 with the Chicago Cubs and was hit by a Sparky Lyle pitch in his only All-Star plate appearance. He would end the regular season .290/.348/.447, with 11 home runs and 69 knocked in. Advanced metrics have not been kind to Morales as a defensive outfielder, however. According to Baseball-Reference, Morales was worth -0.7 WAR in his 1977 All-Star season and finished his career with a -2.0 WAR, including a lifetime dWAR of -12.4.

On the other hand, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was a perennial Gold Glove recipient, winning ten consecutive awards from 1990-99 with the Seattle Mariners. Although the second half of his career, mostly with Cincinnati, was marred by injuries and declining defensive value, Griffey finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime 2.2 dWAR, upstaged by his offensive prowess and a trophy case overstuffed with Gold Gloves. Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games and compiled a .440/.464/.640 slash line in 25 at-bats, with a home run and seven driven in.

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1995 Pinnacle #128

Junior was also known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, although his reason for doing so began of necessity, not style. “My dad had a ‘fro, and I didn’t, so I wore his hat and it always hit me in the face, so I just turned it around and it just stuck. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a tough guy or change the way that baseball is played. It was just that my dad wore a size 7 1/2, and I had a 6 1/4. It was just too big.” Griffey participated in 1993 Home Run Derby with his cap on backwards and concluded his 2016 Hall of Fame induction speech by donning his hat in that oh-so-familiar way.

So why all the fuss about Jerry Morales?  Well, as it turns out, he was the first non-catcher to ever appear on a Topps baseball card with his hat on backwards, years before Ken Griffey Jr. became associated with the style. On his 1981 Topps card, Morales is pictured hanging out at the batting cage with his New York Mets cap on backwards.

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1981 Topps #377

Sure, catchers were often depicted on cards with their caps on backwards, but mainly because they wore them that way under their masks.

The last catcher to be pictured on a card with his hat on backwards was Rick Dempsey in this 1991 Score edition.

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1991 Score #816

But Jerry Morales will always be a fashion pioneer.

Sources:

Moskau Memories

Jason Schwartz, one of the new co-chairs of our Committee, does a little game on our Facebook page. He takes little sections of four different cards and we’re supposed to guess who the player is.  Here’s a “Cardboard Detective” from May 15:

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Immediately I knew it was Paul Moskau. For reasons unknown, his 1978 Topps cards is indelibly burned in my brain. I’m not quite clear why Paul Moskau holds a secure place in my memory, but I have some theories.

Not that I didn’t have a keen eye on the Big Red Machine, but after Tom Seaver was traded to Cincinnati mid-1977, I was more attentive. Moskau was, as far as I recall, heralded as part of the new wave of Reds starters. He, along with Mike LaCoss, Bill Bonham, Mario Soto, and Frank Pastore were the pitching staff that would continue where Don Gullett, Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll left off.

Not sure why, at least where it comes to Moskau.  He had success in the low minors, but was clearly mediocre in AA. He didn’t get better in the big leagues.

Seaver was definitely the entry point, but I was hooked on these Reds pitchers. Moskau was my favorite, and I think a lot has to do with his 1978 card. It’s a solid picture, making him instantly known. I assume I saw him pitch, either at Shea Stadium or on TV, but, really, my knowledge of Paul Moskau’s look is through his cards. The cards, as they often did, came first.

Moskau floundered in the majors, his best ERA+ coming in the 1977 season, when he was slightly below average (98). He bottomed out at 57 with the Cubs in 1983 and was gone.

The Cubs? I had no idea he was with Chicago, and with the Pirates the year before? No way. If you had asked me about Paul Moskau’s career, and there’s no reason why you would have, I would have bet that he was a lifelong Red. Why? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO CARDS OF HIM ON ANY OTHER TEAM! I read a lot of books and magazines about baseball back then, and watched a lot of games, but it was in the cards that I relied on where players played and how they appeared.

I’m glad I recently discovered this about Moskau. I still have a fond spot for him in my baseball memories. Here’s something I have, picked up in Cooperstown for a couple of bucks.

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Anna and the 1961 Yaz Card

1961 Yaz

I didn’t make Anna out for a baseball fan.  Not in a million years.  But, the more we talked about life and our lives, the more interesting she became.  Then she said she loved baseball.  Uh, what, as I did a double-take.

Turns out, she grew up near up not too far from Shea Stadium, and of course was a Mets fan.  She had been to tons of games early in her life and fondly recalled getting home from school one afternoon in October and her mother running out to tell her that the Mets had just beat the Baltimore Orioles to claim the 1969 World Series title.  It was the best moment of her baseball life, she said with a gleam in her eye.

She was never so beautiful as she was at that moment, telling me this story.  From then on, all we talked was baseball.  She was several years older than me, and married.  As a young and single guy, I was amused.  Still, we could talk about the Mets, and her favorite players, and growing up in the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica.

Despite all the interesting players filling the Mets rosters over the years, that included Seaver Koosman, Kranepool and Grote, Anna threw me a curveball when she said with emphasis that her all-time favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski.  Yeah, Yaz.  The Hall of Fame MVP, Triple Crown winner, 18-time All-Star, 7-time Gold Glove left fielder for the Boston Red Sox!  When I asked why him, she said that he was Polish (her ethnic background), and with a gush, she continued, “he was so handsome!”  Alright then, Yaz was her guy.  Cool!

I pondered our conversation that evening, and the day after, thinking about Yaz and the 1969 Mets, and the 1973 Mets, and the 1986 Mets.  I wanted to give Anna something special, something unique, something that I know she didn’t have.  Maybe a baseball card from my collection.  But, nothing would be as special as a 1961 Yaz card, the one with the rookie star, which I did not have.  As it so happened, there was a trading card shop several blocks from my house.  Armed with a binder of good stuff and the best of intentions, I ventured out into the night after work to do a little horse trading.

This was summer 1995, and the card guy wanted something like 30 bucks for that 1961 Topps #287 card.  It might have been $25.  Regardless, I didn’t have cash, and was prepared to haggle.  He looked through the pages of my binders with some mild interest, knowing that he had me over a barrel after I foolishly indicated the card was for a girl.  He would leaf through a couple of pages and stop, and continue turning pages, stopping again, and turning some more.  I had been in his shop on a number of occasions to peer with envy at the cards on the glass shelves, or sift through the commons in the boxes in neatly arranged stacks.  The glass shelf cards were always out of my price range, but it was harmless to covet.

Yaz_No Deal

I had an idea of what he might find interesting, and tried to steer him towards a few of my cards from the early to mid-1970s, hoping to entice him with my 1971 Steve Garvey rookie card (#341) or my 1973 Rod Carew (#330).  Heck, I thought my 1974 Reggie Jackson (#130) looked pretty good, too.  Unfortunately, he had those, and wasn’t interested.  He flipped through the pages one more time before settling on my 1974 Tom Seaver (#80), 1975 Dave Winfield (#61) AND my 1976 Johnny Bench (#300).  Really?  All three?  He went to his cabinet and pulled out that ’61 Yaz, and seemed to wave it in my face.  Taunting me.  Or least that’s what it felt like.  I looked at Tom and Dave and Johnny, wondering if they knew what I was about to do.

Yaz_Traded

The 1974 Tom Seaver card was one of several Topps cards that year featuring the player in a landscape position.  The photo featured a great action shot of Tom Terrific pitching off the mound at Shea.  The ’75 Winfield card featured the third-year player at home in San Diego taking a few cuts, perhaps before the start of the game.  I always liked the Bench card from the 1976 collection.  He’s featured as a “NL ALL STAR” lettered within a star shape that also indicated his position.  The photo shows him standing in what appears to be moments after a close play at the plate because there’s still a cloud of dust enveloping him, as he stands with there in his catcher’s gear sans the mask.  I always liked those catchers’ cards.  Topps always seemed to do a good job at capturing the catcher working his tail off behind the plate.  Bench, in this card, seems to be ready to fight, ready to defend his plate.

I looked down again at those three cards and closed my eyes and made the deal.  The guy took my cards away and presented me with the ’61 Yaz tucked inside a hard plastic sleeve.  It wasn’t the best of deals, but it was the best that I could do.  I had hoped that someday I might get them back.  Right now, they were gone, and that was that.  But, now I had something special for someone special.  That thought lightened the short walk back to my apartment.

At lunch the next day, I surprised Anna with the card.  She was overjoyed.  She laughed and smiled, and held the card to her heart.  Suddenly, the trade didn’t seem so bad.  It was a great trade, in fact.  We talked about Yaz and the 1967 World Series, and the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox, and the fortunes of the Seattle Mariners, who were catching fire that summer.  I was pleased that Anna liked the card so much.

The next day, she presented me with a curious thing: a Cleveland Indians button with an attached talisman from the 1940s.  It was her grandfather’s, she said.  She wanted me to have it.  I never knew if she had any other baseball things, but I got the impression this object meant a great deal to her.  I took it from her with great care and appreciation, and promised to take good care of it.  For nearly 25 years, I’ve kept that Cleveland Indians button with attached talisman in a box in a little plastic bag.  Every so often I come across that thing and think of Anna and the 1961 Carl Yastrzemski card.

There is only one Willie Mays

Here is a card, like most cards, with a story to it. You might expect it’s a story about Willie Mays. In fact, it’s a story about everyone not Willie Mays.

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1959 Topps “Baseball Thrills” #464

At least a few of us remember the play like it was yesterday. The hitter has some power, but the centerfielder chooses to play him shallow. Even before bat meets ball, the fielder knows one of two things is about to happen: extra bases or the greatest catch of his life.

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1961 Nu-Card Scoops #427

He quickly turns and by the time the crack of the bat is heard he is in a dead sprint only stealing a quick glance back to ensure the ball’s trajectory matches the path in his head.

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1993 Upper Deck “Baseball Heroes” #47

Winning a race of man against ball is not an easy thing—the laws of physics might even suggest it’s impossible—but after what feels like he’s run a city block the fielder reaches up with his glove, still with his back to the plate, and somehow snatches the bullet of a baseball from the air. They say seeing is believing, but almost nobody watching even believes what they just witnessed. Of course, the play was not even over.

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1994 Upper Deck “All-Time Heroes” #17

Still in full stride, the fielder brings his glove arm down toward his body where in an event nearly as improbable as the grab itself his right knee hits his right elbow full force and pops the ball from glove to ground.

Snodgrass

I was 16 and had been planning, waiting, and training years for the perfect fly ball—playing everyone shallow to up the odds—and it finally came, for the last and only time of my life. My friend Robert and fate itself had gotten the better of me.

Some of our cards are just cards, but others are memories. This past week I finally picked up a card I’d always wanted. When I opened the envelope I was no longer in my office at my desk. I was at Palisades Park young, fast, free, and for a brief 6-7 seconds the great Willie Howard Mays, that instant before I learned for damn sure there could be only one.

with card

P.S. In a bit of cardboard clairvoyance, THREE of Willie’s 1954 baseball cards (Bowman, Red Man, Topps) referenced a web gem nearly identical to “The Catch!”

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P.P.S. Fans of the “Say Hey Kid” will also enjoy this set of posts from SABR President Mark Armour.