Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 4

One of baseball’s enduring little mysteries arose the day I opened a pack of Topps in 1979 and pulled out a Rick Honeycutt: “Is Rick Honeycutt the son of Korean War veteran, Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, U.S. Army Reserve?” I mused. It was, after all, just the sort of question an 11-year-old experiencing a sugar high from an alarmingly excessive amount of Topps bubble gum would ask himself on a warm spring day. The immediate and obvious answer, thanks to the spelling of the surname, is no. However, such variation in relations is not unheard of, nor are baseball cards free from error, so I decided to delve deeper once I got some free time—which I’d hoped would arrive before the summer of ’79’s conclusion but, unfortunately, didn’t present itself until last Tuesday.

As is well known—or should be, considering the Korean War is little taught in schools, sadly contributing to its lamentable sobriquet, “the Forgotten War”—the armistice declaring a permanent ceasefire (officially known as the Korean Armistice Agreement) was signed 27 July 1953. Although many American troops remained in South Korea until 1954 due to this fragile peace, Capt. Hunnicutt, a surgeon stationed at the 4077th MASH at the time of the ceasefire, was, like many officers, rapidly returned to the United States. (Being an officer, he almost certainly traveled by aircraft. Remember: in the waning days of the conflict, Capt. Hunnicutt got as far as Guam before his erroneous orders to rotate home were rescinded and he was sent back to the 4077th—all in a time frame possible only by air travel.) This means that Hunnicutt would have arrived home in Mill Valley, California, within the first days of August—to the great delight of his wife, Peg, and his young daughter, Erin. (Even had he been shipped home by sea, Hunnicutt still would have walked in his front door before the end of August.)

Rick Honeycutt was born 29 June 1954, in Chattanooga, Tennessee—which means that he was conceived in late September 1953. Baby booms are commonplace in the first weeks and months after wartime, as overjoyed and undersexed servicemen return to their wives or sweethearts. So, Rick Honeycutt’s conception falls right when we’d expect it to occur.

But why would Rick Honeycutt be born in Chattanooga if B.J. and Peg were living just north of San Francisco? One possible reason could be that, sometime in 1954, B.J. decided to honor his parting promise to Swamp-mate, Capt. B.F. Pierce, that they’d see each other back in the States, so he and Peg set out for the East Coast—surely with a stopover in Quapaw, Oklahoma, through which the major highway of the day, Route 66, conveniently passes, to visit Peg’s parents. Yet because this predated construction of the Interstate Highway System, travel by car was significantly slower than by standards of the late 1950s, causing the pregnant Peg Hunnicutt to unanticipatedly give birth to Rick in Chattanooga, either on the way to, or returning from, their easterly destination.

But that is a scenario fraught with geographic variables, and I believe the case to be much more along the lines of B.J. Hunnicutt attending a medical convention at Chattanooga State Community College—possibly traveling there on the yellow 1932 NSU 501 TS motorcycle on which he departed the 4077th (B.J. easily could have bribed an airman to stow it on the cargo plane taking him home). While at the convention, he had a fling with a local woman—a precedent had been set between the supposedly true-blue Hunnicutt and an on-the-rebound 4077th nurse, 1LT Carrie Donovan—and this latter affair produced a son, whose mother, either out of shame or ignorance of spelling, named the boy Rick Honeycutt. If this is the case, then it’s entirely possible that B.J. never knew of the existence of Rick.

As if additional evidence were needed, the 6’1” Rick Honeycutt apparently inherited the 6’3” B.J. Hunnicutt’s height and lean frame. (His 1979 Topps card also displays an extremely high crown to his cap, indicating that Rick likewise inherited his father’s abnormally spacious forehead.)

Honeycutt attended high school in nearby Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, so, at some point, his mother up and left Rick’s birthplace, taking her son from the disapproving eyes of Chattanoogans and across the state line, where her sordid past might not be the talk of the town.

After returning to Tennessee for his collegiate years, where Rick developed into a crackerjack first baseman and pitcher, Honeycutt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching well in AA ball, he became the “player to be named later” in an earlier trade with the expansion Mariners, making his major league debut for Seattle in August 1977. This must have pleased Capt. Hunnicutt, a keen baseball fan who, during his time in Korea, had predicted big things from a little-known rookie named Mays, helped fabricate a radio broadcast of a Yankees-Indians game, and whooped it up to Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Rick’s years in Seattle, however, proved no better than the stalemate in Korea, as poor teams kept him on the losing end despite an ERA near league average. His frustration piqued during a start in Kansas City on September 30, 1980, as Honeycutt resorted to taping a thumbtack to the middle finger of his glove hand in an effort to covertly cut the baseball. But his ploy was spotted in the bottom of the third inning—as was the gash on his forehead after absent-mindedly wiping his face with his glove hand—resulting in immediate ejection from the game. Honeycutt quickly incurred a ten-game suspension and a $250 fine for his transgression.

Such unscrupulousness lends support to the theory that Rick was a product of an extramarital affair, because Dr. Hunnicutt would not have been around to imbue Rick with the strong moral foundation that would keep him from, ironically enough, doctoring a baseball.  

Whether the thumbtack incident hastened Honeycutt’s end in Seattle is debatable, but an 11-player swap just 10½ weeks later deputized him as a Texas Ranger, where, except for a disastrous 1982, his fortune improved.

Soon after the 30th anniversary of the armistice that brought Capt. Hunnicutt back to the United States, Texas packed off Rick to the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite Honeycutt owning the lowest ERA in the league (which would hold up after the trade, giving Rick the American League crown at season’s end despite now wearing a National League uniform).

The 1980s also, presumably, meant that B.J. now could follow Rick’s sojourn through the majors thanks to the newfangled gizmo known as cable television—a predilection that might have intrigued Peg and Rick’s half-sister, Erin, to see B.J. watching, or eagerly waiting for scores about, Rangers and Dodgers games rather than the hometown Giants.

Honeycutt experienced a homecoming of sorts when Los Angeles dealt him to the Oakland A’s in August 1987. Now just across San Francisco Bay from Mill Valley, Rick could reside close to his parents, or, if the scenario involving an illicit affair were, indeed, the cause of his birth, B.J. could clandestinely attend Athletics games and spend time with his son afterward—either of which made all the sweeter by Rick’s impending appearance in three consecutive World Series (including a championship against the Giants, though I have yet to discover a press photo of a champagne-soaked Rick celebrating with B.J.—perhaps Capt. Hunnicutt found San Francisco’s loss too dispiriting to celebrate and could not bring himself to join Rick in the clubhouse).

Some of this evidence might seem inconclusive, even far-fetched. However, what, for me, cements Rick Honeycutt’s lineage to Capt. Hunnicutt is the message he left the world after his final game, when Rick pitched an inning of mop-up for St. Louis at Shea Stadium in May 1997—a message in rosin bags that conclusively demonstrated Rick to be his father’s son…

Mr. Blue Jay

“Tony Fernandez,” opines the back of his 1988 Donruss Diamond Kings card, “is the AL’s answer to Ozzie Smith.” For a complex stew of reasons that statement played like music in the ears of Blue Jays fans. In brief, Canadians—some Canadians—this Canadian—feel the contradictory pull of a sense of superiority vis-à-vis the United States (mostly because we don’t risk insolvency if we break a leg, and we don’t tend to carry sidearms), and a crushing inferiority complex (because America is America, and we’re not). (Note that this didn’t apply to Expos fans, or at least not Francophone Expos fans, who constituted a unique presence, a “distinct society,” within Canadian culture; they weren’t really interested in Americans’ view of them one way or another.)

That lowkey but badgering sense of inferiority was the active ingredient in the fizzy feeling we’d get when Americans deigned to notice the Blue Jays. Comparing Tony Fernández to the Wizard of Oz was like saying that Toronto is bigger than Philadelphia: not immediately obvious to most people, even if evidence backs up the claim.

To love a ball team is to ingest its unique cocktail of announcers’ voices, sponsors’ jingles, silly promotions, subpar graphics, poor economic strategies, uninformed personnel moves, and bad uniforms—a boatload of decisions made by people qualified to do what they do only because they’re already doing it. Canadians reflexively assume our own provincialism, and while the Jays, beginning on a snowy afternoon in 1977, were by definition “big league,” we weren’t sure they looked the part to the outside observer. The team’s record in the early going was predictably awful. Exhibition Stadium was laughably rinky-dink, a pair of single-tiered embankments annoyingly offset from one another, bracketing the saddest expanse of artificial turf you ever saw. The park hosted both the American League and the Canadian Football League, but it was suited for neither. As for the uniforms, we loved them even while suspecting they looked goofy in a specifically Canadian way to anyone but us.

Tony Fernández’ ascension coincided with the Jays’ rise, but it was no coincidence. He was lanky and janky, hunched at the shoulders, calm of demeanor, a pair of flip-downs frequently protruding from his brow. An elite defender who was also a fantastic switch hitter, Fernández was among the first through the pipeline of talent out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, “The Cradle of Shortstops.” He inherited the starting job in Toronto from fellow Dominican Alfredo Griffin when the latter was traded with Dave Collins and an envelope full of cash to Oakland for bullpen righty Bill Caudill. Fernández became a fixture at short, hoovering up balls hit into the hole and flipping them to second, or heaving them parabolically with a submarine fling to first, an altogether unnatural motion that he made look cool, easy. Imitating that throwing style as a child almost certainly played a part in the clicking twinge I still feel in my right shoulder when I play catch with my kids.

He was so reliable—161 games played in ’85, and 163 in ’86—that it was fitting, when George Bell sank to his knees after recording the out that secured Toronto’s first AL East title in October, 1985, that Fernández was the first to reach him, trotting out from his post to high five the jubilant left fielder.

Heartbreakingly, Fernández was traded after the 1990 season, shipped to the Padres along with Fred McGriff for Joe Carter and Robbie Alomar, an exchange we had no way of recognizing at the time as the medicine necessary to bring a World Series title to Canada. Fernández wandered around the National League a bit after that, but in ’93 the Jays welcomed him back via midseason trade with the Mets, and he was instrumental in the push for a second straight pennant. Fernández started at shortstop in all six games of the Fall Classic, batting .326 with a series-high 9 RBI.

Then he was gone again, into his second great period of itinerance, to Cincinnati, to the Bronx, to Cleveland, before coming back again, to those middling end-of-century Blue Jays teams for whom third place seemed the natural state of things. He found himself in Japan in 2000, then Milwaukee to begin the 2001 season. When the Brewers released him that summer, there was really only one place it made sense for him to land.

In all he left Toronto three times before he departed baseball for good, but over time it came to seem that he’d always wind up back in a Blue Jays uniform. We never wanted to be rid of him; his departures were only nods to the churning, heartless marketplace of baseball. When he died in February 2020 at just 57 years of age I said, “Oh god, Tony Fernández died.” My son asked me who Tony Fernández was. “He’s Mr. Blue Jay,” I said, as though that explained everything, or anything, but that’s how I’ve long thought of him. He was a part of so many different eras of Blue Jays baseball—the rising team of the mid-’80s, the championship team in ’93, the largely characterless squads of the late-’90s, leading into the Buck Martinez-led team of 2001—that I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the name. I could have said that he was the Jays’ leader in games played, or that he collected more hits in a Toronto uniform than any other player, but I didn’t. I just said “He’s Mr. Blue Jay.”

In those early years—of his career, but also of the franchise’s very existence—Tony Fernández bestowed on our quaint little team something invaluable, something that an ageing Rico Carty or a past-his-prime John Mayberry couldn’t give them, something a pre-NBA Danny Ainge couldn’t will into being: he gave them legitimacy. And as they were our team, that said something about us, too.

The Jays’ standing rose on through him and that ’85 crown (we don’t talk about the ALCS loss to KC), to Bell’s 1987 MVP award, and upward until the grand affirmation of two World Series trophies. But the statement on the back of Fernández’ 1988 Diamond Kings card announced something to the rest of the baseball world, and confirmed for us, that he—and so Toronto, and so all of Canada—was a part of the game, the real game, the big show, the Majors. It was a badge of glossy cardstock, a certificate of authenticity.

And lest you think the comparison with Ozzie Smith unfounded, I’ll just point out their identical career fielding percentages (.978), and Fernández’ superior offensive numbers (a .746 OPS to Smith’s .666, more doubles, triples, and homers, and a higher lifetime average). Tony didn’t do backflips, but you couldn’t watch him long without concluding that he was a wizard, too.

When I collected cards as a kid I loved them all, every single last one of them, but my real favorites were Blue Jays: Bell, Barfield, Moseby. Ernie Whitt and Dave Stieb. Willie Upshaw, who gave way to Fred McGriff at first. Fernández. On the faces of the Topps, O-Pee-Chee, Score, Donruss, and Upper Deck cards in my binders and boxes the entire baseball universe was flattened to two dimensions, arrayed like a map of the Milky Way, so that the whole true cosmography was evident. I spread them out on the floor and marveled at the sight: stars among stars, vast and awesome, their brilliance undimmed by familiarity.

Otis Nixon Wore Many Hats

Baseball formally required all batters to wear helmets in 1970. Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was the last player to bat in a Major League contest without a helmet in 1979. Then in 1983, it became mandatory for all professional players to use a helmet with at least one earflap, although anyone with Major League service time in 1982 or earlier could opt for a flapless helmet like Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Tim Raines, and several others. Raines would be the last player to use a flapless helmet.

1980 Topps #618 depicts helmetless Montgomery

On April 7, 1979 Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke was hit in the face by a pitch, causing a laceration that required 25 stitches to close. Roenicke returned to the lineup on April 15 at Milwaukee and went 3-3 using a helmet with a modified football facemask attached. Expos outfielder Ellis Valentine had his cheekbone fractured when he was hit by a pitch on May 30, 1980 at St. Louis. Valentine also returned to the lineup donning a similarly designed batting helmet equipped with a sawn-off football facemask. Folks who opened packs of Topps baseball cards in 1981 could find a pair of cards depicting each of these unique batting helmets.

1981 Topps Valentine #445, Roenicke #37

Although no such picture appeared on any cards issued during his playing career, it is generally accepted that the first player to experiment with protective face gear was Dave Parker. Parker sustained facial fractures in a collision at home plate with Mets catcher John Stearns on June 30, 1978. Upon his return to the lineup July 16, Parker experimented with a (downright terrifying) hockey goalie mask and other football facemask designs. Despite his injury, Parker would win the batting title (.334) and be named National League MVP in 1978.

Photo credit: Associate Press, 1978

Most recently, Giancarlo Stanton made news when he returned to the Marlins in 2015 using a helmet fitted with a custom facemask that cleverly incorporated a “G” into the protective design. Stanton had been hit in the face by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers on September 11, 2014 resulting in fractures that ended his season. No longer newsworthy, facial protection is now commonplace with an ever-increasing number of MLB players opting for jaw guards incorporated into their batting helmets.

On April 4, 1998 Twins outfielder Otis Nixon coaxed a first-inning walk but was soon forced out at second. During the play at the bag, Royals shortstop Félix Martínez kicked Nixon in the face. Nixon stayed in the game but later learned that he had sustained a fractured jaw. When Nixon returned to the lineup on April 9, he utilized a batting helmet fitted with a full football facemask to protect his jaw and with hopes he would not need to undergo a surgical repair. This unfortunate injury, however, offered Nixon the opportunity to don the widest variety of protective headgear ever depicted on baseball cards by a single player.

Otis Nixon was not eligible to use a flapless helmet because he first appeared in the Major Leagues in 1983; however, here he is while with Cleveland:

1987 Fleer #255

Nixon also used a single-flap helmet with the Expos:

1990 Donruss #456

As a switch-hitter, Nixon subsequently joined the double-flap helmet trend:

1992 Leaf #255

And with his appearance for Minnesota following the broken jaw incident, here is Nixon donning the helmet with protective face gear:

1999 Fleer Ultra #44

Unlike facial bones, Nixon’s sartorial record appears unbreakable.

Sources:

Retrosheet.org

Baseball-Reference.com

Bill Nowlin, “Bob Montgomery,” SABR Bio Project

Paul Lukas, “Giancarlo Stanton’s Mask Not a First,” http://www.ESPN.com, March 4, 2015, accessed April 5, 2021.

“Interference Rule Amended,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 2, 1970.

“Parker returns to lineup and Pirates win pair,” The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), July 17, 1978.

“Quick Kick,” Kansas City Star, April 5, 1998.

Mike Klingaman, “Catching Up With … former Oriole Gary Roenicke,” Baltimore Sun, July 7, 2009.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 3

Gen. George S. Patton believed fervently in reincarnation—a passion that served as an integral theme in the 1970 Academy Award–winning biopic about him. Often, Patton would declare to colleagues that he had participated in some renowned battle waged centuries before his birth.

Portraying the blustery general in that beloved biopic was, of course, George C. Scott. Few roles have so defined an actor as “Gen. Patton” did Scott—and have so defined a historical figure in the public consciousness (despite its inaccuracies). Scott’s steely-eyed, soldier-slapping performance earned him the Oscar for Best Actor (although he refused to accept it, due to his longstanding scorn for the craft of acting turned into a competition).

Six months after George C. Scott won, and left unclaimed, his Best Actor statuette at the 43rd Academy Awards, the Boston Red Sox consummated a ten-player trade with the Milwaukee Brewers that included first baseman George Scott. Not exactly the reincarnation of Gen. Patton, George Scott was something of a doppelgänger to the actor who so recently portrayed Patton. Known as “Boomer” because of his prodigious power, George Scott’s middle name also began with “C” (Charles). Stranger still, incoming to Boston was right-handed hurler, Marty Pattin. The trade included several other big-name players, among them Jim Lonborg and Tommy Harper, but the headlines in each town could have proclaimed GEORGE C. SCOTT SWAPPED FOR PATTIN. (Pattin, incidentally, began his career wth the California Angels, whose stadium in Anaheim sits about 30 miles from Gen. Patton’s birthplace of San Gabriel.)

Adding a touch of the ephemeral, George Scott’s birthday of March 23 comes one day after that of esteemed actor, Karl Malden, who, of course, portrayed Patton’s real-life colleague and onscreen foil, Gen. Omar Bradley. 

With such “cinematic pedigree,” George Scott would have been fully validated in choosing as walk-up music for his at-bats Patton’s trademark echoing of trumpet triplets.

And “Old Blood and Guts” certainly would have appreciated the brutish bravado of George Scott’s infamous necklace made of “second-basemen’s teeth,” not to mention that Scott’s penchant for donning a helmet in the field would have passed muster with the by-the-book general who demanded that his soldiers wear their helmet practically at all times.

George Scott enjoyed several of his best seasons while in Brewer blue, twice topping the American League in total bases and claiming the home run and RBI crowns in 1975. Similarly, Marty Pattin found instant success in Fenway Park, winning a career high 17 games in his first of two seasons with the Bosox, before Boston abruptly shipped him to Kansas City after the 1973 season. (Scott and Pattin briefly marshalled what remained of their diminishing talents for the 1979 Royals.)

Boomer eventually was reincarnated as a Red Sock, returning to Fenway in the deal that made Milwaukee famous to Cecil Cooper (and vice-versa). In Boston, Scott enjoyed his last big season, slamming 33 home runs and scoring 103 in 1977. He wasn’t able to help Boston shrug off New York in its epic collapse of 1978, hitting .163 once the calendar turned September and the erosion of Boston’s lead over the Bronx Bombers accelerated (although Scott did go 2-4 in the pennant-deciding finale and was twice stranded in scoring position when his run would have proved crucial).

In a bit of a final irony, Boomer moved south of the border when no suitors called on him during free agency, spending four seasons in the Mexican League. Somewhat conversely, Lieutenant Patton, on the way up in his military career, spent nearly a year in Mexico attempting to track down the revolutionary, Pancho Villa, not long before the United States’ entry into World War I would shape his destiny.

Sadly, George Scott lived only until age 69; George C. Scott died when he was 71; and Gen. George S. Patton, of course, succumbed at age 60, two weeks after an automobile accident.

All glory is fleeting…

Covering the Bases: 1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez (w/ guest Eric Davis)

To me the best baseball cards tell a story. One of those cards is Topps final offering for Tony Perez.

1986 Topps #85 Tony Perez

The story here is obvious, The featured player is Tony Perez one of the key members to the 1970s era Big Red Machine which won a pair of World Championships. He is greeted at the plate by teammate Eric Davis whose promising career is just beginning. Davis would go on to be a key member of the Reds next World Championship in 1990. The scene is a torch passing between the franchises two most recent championship squads.

Clearing the Bases

CTB is a feature where we take a deep dive into a single card. Since this Photo appears to be game footage one of the fun directions to go is “Guess the Game”.

Couple of easily discerned facts on this image. We need a game in the Perez/Davis crossover, Both players are wearing their road greys, and they appear to be celebrating a Perez Home Run.

Checking Baseball-Ref we find Tony Perez and Eric Davis were teammates for two seasons 1984-85. During that time Tony hit 8 of his 379 career Home Runs. However of those eight only TWO were hit on the road. May 21 1985 at Wrigley Field and October 6th 1985 at Dodger Stadium.

Checking the boxes of those two games is easy enough, May 21 was a Reds 5-2 victory over the Cubs. Perez Home Run was a solo shot off starter Ray Fotenot in the fourth inning. And the on-Deck Hitter was (…Drum Roll…) Eric Davis!

So we have a candidate, but we must check box #2

October 6 1985, Another W for the Reds 6-5 vs the Dodgers. In this game Tony Homered in the 3rd inning – also a solo shot. We check who is on-deck and find….. Nick Esasky! No Eric Davis. In Fact Davis was nowhere near the circle as he batted earlier that inning. Interestingly he had also homered – two batters in front of Perez.

There you have it, the game featured on Hall of Famer Tony Perez’s final card was a Reds 5-2 Win over the Cuibs at Wrigley Field in a game played on May 21 1985.

But Wait there’s more

The 1985 Reds season was chronicled by the prolific author Pete Rose who has “written” roughly a dozen autobiographies. “Countdown to Cobb” is Rose’s account of the season in which he broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record. In addition to being a player Rose was also the teams manager. On the field he played first base in a platoon with, You got it, today’s hero Tony Perez.

And fortunately Perez’s Home Run was significant enough to make Rose’s 1985 Diary.

It’s only three sentences in two short paragraphs but it gives us some background into the Home Run featured on Perez’s final card. Despite being in pursuit of the All-Time hit record, and being a Switch-Hitter Rose often sat himself versus Left Handed pitching.

Fortunately for Perez, Rose and the Reds starting Perez paid off and baseball fans who enjoy digging into the minutia of trading cards have another card with a story to collect.

This concludes this edition of Covering the Bases, thanks for humoring me while we played guess the game and took a deep dive into a single baseball card.

Sources Links

Baseball-Reference

Countdown to Cobb (Pete Rose/Hal Bodley)

Phungo Tony Perez HOF Index

Collecting Glenn Burke

I spent last weekend reading the new Andrew Maraniss book “Singled Out,” which tells the story of Dodgers/Athletics outfielder Glenn Burke (SABR bio forthcoming). Of course, Burke was much more than the player suggested by his stat line, as the book’s cover reminds us. He is of historical and cultural importance for two firsts, one of which has become ubiquitous in the sport and another that remains largely invisible.

I won’t use this space to retell Burke’s story, though I will offer that Andrew’s book does an excellent job adding detail and humanity to what many fans might know only at the level of a basic plotline. Rather, I’ll focus on collecting.

I’m probably like many of you in that the more I learn about a particular player the more I want to add some of their cards to my collection. (I’ve avoided Jane Leavy’s outstanding Babe Ruth book thus far for just this reason!) What then are the “must have” Glenn Burke cards and collectibles out there?

Owing to the brevity of Glenn’s MLB career, he has only two Topps cards from his playing days, one with the Dodgers and one with the A’s.

For some collectors, that right there would be the end of the line. Others might add Burke’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee card, whose front differs from the Topps issue only by the company logo featured on the baseball.

As a huge fan of all things Aronstein (even his kid!), I also consider the 1978 SSPC Glenn Burke a must-have. (Unlike the 1976 SSPC set, these cards were only found as “All Star Gallery” magazine inserts and appear a bit less plentiful.)

Andrew’s book devotes quite a bit of time to Glenn’s journey through the minors, including one heckuva brawl that broke out between Glenn’s Waterbury Dodgers and the Quebec Carnavals. What better way to memorialize the incident, in which Glenn played a starring role, than with Glenn’s 1975 TCMA “pre-rookie” card?

Counting the OPC, we’re now up to five cards in all, or just over half a plastic sheet. To expand our card collecting further, we’ll need to look at Burke’s post-career cardboard.

Thanks to the tour de force known as the 1990 Target Dodgers set (more than 1000 cards in all!), we can add this card to our Burke page.

While other collectors might add it to their lists, I’m neither compulsive nor completist enough to bother with Burke’s 2016 Topps “Buyback,” which is simply his 1979 Topps card stamped with a red 65th anniversary emblem.

Beyond these catalogued releases, Mike Noren included Burke in his 2020 Gummy Arts set. The card fills a gap in Burke’s Topps run by utilizing the 1977 flagship design and furthermore memorializes Burke’s place in “high five” history (though readers of Andrew’s book will recognize that its image is not the first Burke/Baker high five).

I, myself, have added to the world of Glenn Burke collectibles, sending my own “card art” to fellow Burke fans.

Perhaps we will even see one of the Topps Project70 artists produce a Glenn Burke card before set’s end. Definitely at least a few of the artists are pretty big Dodger fans.

Either way, the universe of Glenn Burke baseball cards remains extremely limited at present. On the other hand, why stop at cards? There were three other items I ran across in Andrew’s book that I believe are worthwhile items for Burke collectors.

The first is this Dodger yearbook from 1981, whose cover features a Baker/
Garvey high five in place of Burke/Baker but nonetheless speaks to the rapid spread and ascension of the high five across the sporting world, if not society at large.

Another collectible in magazine form is the October 1982 “Inside Sports” that featured Burke’s coming out story, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.”

A final Burke collectible is one I never would have known about if not for Andrew’s book. As a nine-year-old kid in 1961, Glenn sang backup on the Limeliters album “Through Children’s Eyes,” released by RCA Victor in 1962. I wouldn’t be my life, but I believe Burke is the first kid in the row second from the top.

At the moment, give or take autographs that could potentially adorn all but the most recent of these items and excluding truly unique items, I’ll call this the almost full set of Glenn Burke collectibles.

A final category I find intriguing and perhaps undervalued is ticket stubs, in which case the following items would likely be of greatest interest.

  • MLB debut – April 9, 1976 Dodgers at Giants
  • First high five (and first MLB HR) – October 2, 1977 Astros at Dodgers
  • Pride Night feat. ceremonial first pitch from brother Sydney Burke – June 17, 2015 Padres at A’s

It also wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers, A’s, or the Bobblehead Hall of Fame issue a Glenn Burke bobblehead one of these days. And in the meantime, there’s always Patrick’s Custom Painting, who fashioned this Starting Lineup figure for “Hall of Very Good” podcast co-host Lou Olsen and has applied his talents to bobbleheads as well.

Frank O’Rourke’s Inherent Dignity

I’m not a collector.

           I have a few cards, some that are worth slightly more than the cardboard they’re printed on, and many more that hold a good deal of sentimental value to me and nobody else. But in the context of the readers of this blog, I don’t merit the use of the term. I’ve never completed a set, never paid more than pocket money for a card, never gone to any remarkable lengths to acquire anything rare, or valuable, or particularly noteworthy. I still have all the cards I amassed as a kid, and I buy new hanger packs when I see them, and on the rare occasion that a wax pack drifts into my field of vision, I snap it up. I’ve made a habit of buying packs for my kids, and we make a little ceremony of opening them together. On Opening Day, or the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting, I sneak packs into their school lunches, and they come home and tell me what players they found inside.

           But I haven’t done any of those things I identify as serious collector behavior. I’ve bought maybe a half-dozen cards on eBay, for example, and I haven’t attended a show since I was about fourteen years old. I’ll never own a Mantle, Ruth, Mays, Clemente, or Aaron.

           Baseball cards are, for me, not an investment, and not an abiding obsession, but something adjacent to baseball that I love for that proximity. They remind me of the game. Their look, and feel, and smell are memory triggers, and for that reason I treasure them.

           And yet, with all that said, I recently bought a 1934 Frank O’Rourke card. It’s No. 43 in the Canadian-printed World Wide Gum Co. series, which reused the 1933 Goudey design, updating the salient facts for 1934, and repeating the biographical info on the back in French. In keeping with my longstanding tightfisted ethos, I paid more in shipping than I did for the card itself. It’s ungraded, with soft, smushed corners where crisp, sharp edges should be. There are minor creases. This card is anything but pristine.

            Frank O’Rourke was a nobody. Well, that’s not quite fair. He’s in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, after all. Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1891, he was an infielder who eked out fourteen seasons of big-league ball for Boston’s NL club, the Robins, Senators, Red Sox, Tigers, and Browns. By the time his portrait was rendered for the ’33 Goudey set he’d seen his last major league action, hanging on with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers. The ’34 card that I now own dates to his single season with the Montreal Royals of the IL. He dropped down a few rungs to the Piedmont League in ’35, then held on for four seasons as a player-manager for the El Dorado (AR) Lions of the class ‘C’ Cotton States League. He later managed one more year in the Gulf Coast League, and in retirement he served as a scout for the Yankees.

            As a big-league player, O’Rourke managed a career bWAR of -2.0 and amassed a .254/.315/.333 slash line, and a .947 combined fielding percentage at third, short, and second (with a handful of games at first, and a couple patrolling the grass). As a minor-league manager he piled up a lifetime record of 551-580 across four levels of pro ball. Add all of that up and you get a slightly below-average baseball long-hauler, which is not to say there was nothing quietly heroic about Frank O’Rourke; longevity requires its own superpowers.

            But unlike some of its in-set brethren, selling this card wouldn’t allow me to pay off the mortgage, or retire to somewhere hot, sandy, and tax-free. Instead, my appreciation for this card is twofold: the first is purely and unapologetically aesthetic; the second is its implicit historical value.

            The Goudey cards are notoriously easy on the eyes, rendered with a stab at artistry that’s not generally present in modern cards. Holding a Goudey next to a 2021 Topps card makes for a stark contrast. The latter assaults with hyper-sharp photography and whizbang graphics that are intended, I can only guess, to suggest futurity, and motion, and, I don’t know, the internet? The Goudeys are Renaissance paintings on discrete panels of olive wood meant to be inlaid in elaborate polyptychs framing alters in out-of-the-way country churches, reverent celebrations of the beauty and purity of God’s favorite game. The backgrounds are solid fields of color—green in O’Rourke’s case, but elsewhere blue (as in Gehrig), yellow (Jimmie Foxx), red (Dazzy Vance). All the better to focus on the player. O’Rourke’s depicted from the chest up, like a Roman bust, in classic baseball togs: a white (or off-white) cap, logo-free, and a matching jersey with sun collar and orange-brown soutache piping. The pose is adapted from a photo of him in a St. Louis Browns uniform, from 1931 at the latest, that the Goudey (or World Wide Gum) people didn’t bother to retouch, though they were clear to indicate that he was, by 1934, a member of the Montreal Royals and thus in the habit of donning a blue-trimmed uniform.

            The portrait is so classically, absurdly, tragically handsome that if you hold it up to your ear it sings Protestant hymns interspersed with staticky ’30s radio calls of games won with moxie and heart. Even if you aren’t up to speed on his biography, the portrait makes clear that this is a baseball lifer, a man rolled in chalk and infield dirt and baked beneath a thousand midday suns.

            Since I first gazed on O’Rourke’s cardboard face I’ve gone looking for baseball card corollaries, but I came up short until I widened my scope, and then I found Piero della Francesca’s portrait of an Augustinian friar (possibly St. Leonard). Consider the similarities: the subtle intimations of age around the eyes and mouth, the weariness, and yet the slight bemusement, the wry off-center stare. Neither the friar nor Frank are too jaded to enjoy a good joke. Though separated by half a millennium, you get the sense they’d find some common ground. But beneath it all there’s something unmistakably ecclesiastical about both men’s depictions, the not-quite-visible result of a lifetime’s devotion to their respective callings. It’s behind the eyes, I think, or maybe just below the skin. Wherever it is, Piero managed to capture it, as did Elmer E. Crowell, the man responsible for O’Rourke’s likeness.

            The second half of my appreciation for this card has to do with its age: almost ninety years have passed since it was printed. I haven’t handled enough really old cards for the wonder of that to have diminished. Eighty-six years ago someone—a child, a nostalgic adult—bought a pack of gum and out tumbled this card.

            The US domestic GDP was in recovery after the New Deal slammed the brakes on negative growth and pumped cash into the economy. Hitler was chancellor of Germany, already in the process of consolidating his power and assuming the title of Führer. The first camps opened. The Prime Minister of Canada was RB Bennett, a safety match magnate who bungled the response to the Depression but had the foresight to establish the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In China, where my grandfather was a brakeman on a streetcar in Shanghai, tensions with Japan were ratcheting up in the wake of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the uneasy resolution to the “January 28th Incident.” The globe, inexorably, marched toward war.

            In the Bronx, Ruth was in his last season as a Yankee, and Gehrig, five years from retiring in the face of the rapid advance of his illness, was assuming outright leadership of the team. The Gashouse Gang took the Tigers in seven games in that fall’s Series. Detroit’s Mickey Cochrane was voted the AL’s best player, and in Commerce, Oklahoma, zinc miner Mutt Mantle’s kid, named for Cochrane, turned three years old.

            Frank O’Rourke was not directly connected to any of this as he toiled away in Montreal, and his card—a 2-3/8″ by 2-7/8″ piece of thick paper—has nothing whatsoever to do with those events. It was not present for any of them; it was not in all likelihood possessed or handled by any of the players in the aforementioned dramas. But it is for me touched by a temporal proximity, sprinkled with a residue which, though slight, constitutes enough of a reason for me to own it.

            If a Ruth Goudey—or a Sweet Caporal Wagner, or a ’52 Topps Mantle—is the seventh game of the World Series, then my Frank O’Rourke World Wide Gum is a non-consequential Thursday afternoon getaway game played before an announced crowd of twelve thousand. And while I love the screw-tightening intensity of a big game, what I treasure most about baseball is the sweet everydayness of it, the companionship of the radio announcer’s familiar voice for six months, the long, comforting trough of a regular season. And for all the superstars, the game’s lifeblood is its rank and file, guys like O’Rourke, doing the yeoman work of showing up every single day and taking his cuts, scooping up ground balls, and making throws across the diamond from whichever position he’s assigned.

            In that way, this O’Rourke card is perfectly emblematic both of Frank’s life and career, and most of ours. I won’t be in any literal or figurative Hall of Fame, and chances are neither will you. That’s okay. Something as beautiful as this Frank O’Rourke card exists to quietly and stubbornly insist that regardless of that, there’s still a hell of a lot of dignity inherent in our efforts, and the legacies thereof.

Editor’s note: Andrew’s newest book is now available for pre-order. If you can judge a book by it’s cover, this one will not disappoint!

Player Collection Spotlight – Brooks Robinson

I was in Little League back in 1985, playing third base. I had a game where I made a few diving stops to rob some base hits. After the third one, the umpire said he’s going to start calling me Brooks Robinson. I had no idea who he was, so I just thanked him and went about my day.

In the days and weeks that followed, I started to do some research. During the rain delays on Brewer telecasts they used to show old World Series highlights. I watched the 1970 highlights, from Robinson robbing Lee May in Game 1 to gobbling up a ground ball from Pat Corrales for the final out in Game 5. I was sold.

Robinson is another of the great defenders that I admire, along with Ozzie Smith, Pudge Rodriguez, and to some extent Jim Gantner. He was signed by the Orioles in 1955 and played for 23 seasons. He was an 18-time All-Star and racked up 16 Gold Gloves, more than any other position player. His defensive prowess is legendary and he earned the nickname of Human Vacuum Cleaner.

For those who have been following my posts, you know that I collect Topps Flagship, Traded, and Update sets. Starting in December, I have added Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Score to my player collections. This has added just one card for my Brooks Robinson set, his 1963 Fleer #4.

That is one of four cards that are missing from my collection. The others are his rookie card, 1957 Topps #328, and cards #600 and #531 from 1967 Topps. His rookie card is out of my price range and the two from 1967 have been hard to find. The Fleer card is a new target for me, so I do not know much about it yet.

There are a total of 39 Brooks Robinson cards that fit my collecting criteria, 38 Topps and 1 Fleer. I have 35 of them. My favorite among them is 1973 #90. It appears that the picture was snapped right after a pitch, as he is in the process of standing up after being set for the pitch.

My next favorite is 1976 #95. Surprisingly, it is the only other base card that has him with his glove on. (For non-base, also see his 1971 #331 World Series highlight card.) I also like the Oriole hat with the white front panel and orange brim.

My least favorite is 1958 Topps #307. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s an awesome card. I just don’t like the face he’s making.

So here is my Brooks Robinson collection. I’m hoping to get at least one of the missing ones this year. Maybe I’ll use the next stimulus check on that 1957 rookie card.

Jim Abbott and Rookie Cards

During one of the never-ending discussions about rookie cards and what constitutes them I had a realization that when I was a kid there were four different completely-defensible Topps Rookie Card possibilities for a player to have. Those four are:

  1. A team USA card which is part of Flagship or Traded and features the player before he turned pro.
  2. A Flagship #1 Draft Pick card that features him as a brand-new professional who has yet to play professionally.
  3. A Topps Traded card that marks his MLB debut.
  4. A post-debut Flagship Topps card that marks his first appearance as a MLB player in a flagship set.

It’s worth noting here that, both personally and as one of the editors of this blog, I encourage everyone to decide what counts for you and treat neither the RC badge nor any price guide’s ruling as gospel. I’ve encountered collectors who choose every different option here and have seen plenty of Twitter chops busting (or worse) when differing opinions encounter each other.

Anyway I looked at these options and immediately began wondering if there were any players who had all four types of Rookie Cards. It turns out that there’s not a huge checklist to pick from.

Team USA cards are only part of 1985 Topps, 1988 Traded, 1991 Traded, 1992 Traded, and 1993 Traded. The 1985 predate the #1 Draft cards and of the rest, not all those guys who made it were actually #1 Draft Picks. While I did not click through everyone’s name, I did check  the obvious choices. Much to my surprise the only name I found that had all four cards was Jim Abbott.

His 1988 Topps Traded USA card is a classic. I remember watching Team USA practice at Sunken Diamond in Stanford back before the Olympics and not believing the people who were talking about a one-handed pitcher. Did. Not. Compute.

When I got the 1988 Traded set that winter though, finding the Team USA cards inside was a fantastic surprise. The stars and stripes twist on the team name was a lot of fun and the entire set gave me my first sense of the addiction of prospecting. Plus they had even won the gold medal this time.

In 1989, the #1 Draft Picks cards were a similar breath of fresh air to me. Yes, both the USA and Draft Picks cards are ideas that can be found in 1985 Topps but the 1989 version is also a prospecting thing.* Seeing the college uniforms was fun but the real appeal was the sense of promise that this was the guy your team had decided to bet its future on.

*A couple years later I would realize that I should take these cards to Minor League games and try to get them signed.

That this subset was coincidental to Scott Boras sort of breaking Draft Pick signing bonuses also explains why it resonated so much with me. Draft Picks were big news. So not just the future of the club but also part of the big signing contract buzz as well.

Abbott ended up being one of those guys who stormed through the minors and made it to to the show super-fast. That his Traded “MLB debut” card* is the same season as his #1 Draft Pick card is impressive as hell. I like the fact that this would normally be an XRC but he already has two “Rookie” cards which pre-date it.

*I call this an MLB debut card because cards of rookies who debuted in MLB that year has always been half of what Traded is about. Topps did release its first official MLB debut set in 1989 as well. This is a confusing set since it’s listed as 1989 but uses the 1990 design. Also I’ve not come across any collectors who treat any of those cards as rookie cards whether they were release in the MLB Debut set or as part of Update. But yes Abbott has a card in that set as well.

It’s worth noting here that Abbott has cards from other late-season sets like Bowman, Fleer Update, Score Traded, and Upper Deck Extended. This suggests that the Topps Traded card has the most-logical claim as the definitive Topps Rookie Card since that’s where the manufacturer consensus is.

But for people like me who prefer the base flagship cards, Abbott’s 1990 Topps card, complete with Rookie Cup, is the old-school choice. A card you can pull from packs and on which, when you turn it over, you find a single line of Major League stats.

For a lot of players this is the best they could ever hope to get as their rookie card. For Abbott though it probably comes in a distant fourth when ranking which of his cards people consider to be his rookie card. It’s neither his first flagship card nor his first card as a Major League player. And it definitely wouldn’t qualify for the RC badge in today’s hobby.

Hollywood Stars Were in the Cards: Part 1

A decade of tumult, the 1930s saw the United States, and the world, in flux. Numerous European economies continued their struggle to survive in the wake of the Great War—a struggle that finally reached America’s shores in October 1929, as the Wall Street Crash heralded the Great Depression. The map of the world, itself, was in flux, as newly minted despots gobbled up sovereign states to add to their burgeoning empires, while their demagoguery inspired millions to visit the darkest depths of the human soul.

In short, there was little in the 1930s on which to depend. Even names were in flux.

Warren Ogden, a descendant of Ogdens who had crossed the Atlantic with William Penn and whose surname became the eponym of the Pennsylvania town in which Warren was born, pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators in the mid-1920s. (Warren’s older brother, Jack, also pitched in the majors, though his yo-yo career up and down from the bushes spanned 1918 to 1932.) Not much of an asset to Connie Mack, Warren was put on waivers in May 1924, eventually being picked up by Washington. His 9-5 record and excellent 2.58 ERA over the remainder of the season helped Washington clinch its first pennant. A surprise starter in Game 7 of the World Series, Ogden struck out leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom, walked Frankie Frisch, and then was pulled for southpaw George Mogridge, in a successful ploy by manager Bucky Harris to lure John McGraw into altering his batting order to the right-handed Ogden. (Washington won in the bottom of the 12th inning to claim its only World Series championship.) Ogden remained with the Senators through July 1926, his major league record set at 18-19.

But we’re talking about the tumultuous, undependable 1930s, aren’t we? So, why bring up Warren Ogden, whose major league career ended well before that decade arrived? Because Goudey, well known for including minor leaguers in its 1933 set, did just that: Card No. 174 shows Warren as a Montréal Royal. (Ditto for big-brother Jack [“John”] Ogden, whose major league career ended in 1932 but received a card as a Baltimore Oriole in 1933. On a weird side note, the only other vintage card on which either brother apparently appeared, the 1928 W461 Exhibit, is a card of John yet shows a several-year-old photo of Warren, in his Senators uniform.)

As you can see, Goudey parenthetically included Warren’s nickname, “Curley.” However, the common spelling of said nickname has always been “Curly.” In fact, his name is sans “e” in virtually all resources, including Baseball Reference, SABR, Baseball Almanac, and MLB.com.

One might be inclined to think this was a Goudey thing—after all, the company wasn’t spelled Goudy.

However, as stated above, such inconsistency seems to have been symptomatic of the chaotic 1930s, where it clearly plagued the Three Stooges as well.

Yet whereas Columbia Pictures seems to have permanently abandoned the “e” by late in the decade, the sheer paucity of vintage Warren Ogden cards allowed this oversight to go unaddressed until 1975—long after Warren Ogden’s death—when TCMA’s team set honoring the 1924-1925 Senators finally conformed the spelling of his nickname to standard.

Every baseball player thrills to seeing himself on a baseball card for the first time, so God only knows how many times over the years his 1933 Goudey caused Ogden to wipe his hands vertically across his face in Curly Howard–like exasperation or maniacally spin himself 360° while lying on the floor knowing that he’d likely take “Curley” to the grave.

Alas, like his more famous namesake, Curly Ogden was a victim of soycumstance.