Cardboard Typos and Gripe-o’s—Part 2

For nearly 30 years, editing has brought home my bacon. It wasn’t my desired profession; I fell into it like an open manhole—and I’m still trying to climb my way out. The grammatical, punctuational, and syntactic boo-boos I fix have been mostly in the medical and pharmaceutical fields, but they’ve been pretty easy to spot in my spare time as well—which means, to a degree, on the backs, and sometimes fronts, of baseball cards.

Years ago, I began jotting down factual errors and spelling typos (punctuation issues and lack of hyphenation are so rampant that chronicling them would be a never-ending and pointless task). I do not keep abreast of baseball card commentary as vigilantly as I once did, so at least one of the following errors has been posted elsewhere, which means that others—maybe many—in this simple and hardly comprehensive multi-part list might also have been documented in that long interim.

Here, Part 2 continues this absolutely uncomprehensive, and extremely random, list of baseball card errors (see Part 1 here).

  • 1911 T201 Mecca Double Folder Lefty Leifield (backed with Mike Simon): Unlike other pitchers in the set, the stats for this talented Pirates southpaw feature batting and fielding records—Lefty’s pitching ledger for the previous season has been mysteriously replaced by his work with the glove. Yet it’s not even Lefty’s statistics. Card-mate and battery mate Mike Simon—whose statistics are completely absent under his own name—appears at first glance to have his statistics erroneously replacing Leifield’s field work (note the inclusion of passed balls). However, the lack of quality control on Mecca’s part is even more out of control than this: Beyond problematic typesetting, the statistics listed are wildly incongruent with Simon’s (as well as all other NL catchers’) performance in 1910—none more so than his alleged .536 fielding percentage—a number that couldn’t keep a catcher on a sandlot field. Just as egregious is his 64 passed balls. In actuality, Simon was not charged with either a single error or passed ball during the previous season. Who knows how these numbers were conjured—the lowest fielding percentage registered by any catcher in the majors in 1910 was .875, and after the rule changes of the 1890s, no catcher had let more than 27 balls past him since the turn of the century. If some supercentenarian is still manning the phones at Mecca Cigarettes, somebody should call to get the lowdown—pronto.
  • 1912 T207 Germany Schaefer: It’s common knowledge that Jim Delahanty’s T207 contains multiple misspellings of his surname (“Delehanty”) on the back (though the front is correct), but that spelling miscue also appears on the back of Germany Schaefer’s T207 (the two were swapped for each other, along with Red Killefer, in 1909, accounting for the mutual mentions). Schaefer’s bio also contains a more personal blunder, stating that, “Since arriving at the Capital he has played first, second, short and third….” However, the utilitarian Schaefer never took the field as a shortstop after his days in Detroit. As a macabre aside, Schaefer, a renowned baseball prankster, died of tuberculosis in the same New York village where Christy Mathewson succumbed to the disease six years later. (It may have even been the same sanatorium; I’m not certain.)
  • 1954 Topps Vern Law (#235): Vern’s “Year” line denotes that he spent the previous season “IN MILITARY SERVICE,” yet “IN” is missing the “I.” I’m not familiar with an Idaho accent, but perhaps Topps was writing in Vern’s native vernacular. (I’ve largely avoided minor points in these lists, but to spotlight Topps’ sloppiness, in the right-hand cartoon mentioning Bing Crosby, “Pirate’s” is incorrectly singular possessive; it doesn’t need an apostrophe at all, but if one is used, it should follow the “s” to be plural possessive. Misuse of the apostrophe is one of the most pervasive marks of ignorance found in print.)
  • 1933 Goudey Tony Lazzeri (#31): Goudey took “Poosh ‘Em Up”’s games played in 1932 and pooshed ‘em down, stating that he played 141 games—Lazzeri actually suited up for 142 games in 1932. Perhaps unfairly, his bio begins that “coming to the bat in his first world series with bases filled, struck out.” This is a necessarily incomplete, almost Twitter-like, reference to Lazzeri’s inning-ending whiff at the hands of Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, of course. To be fair, it was actually the fourth time in the Series that Lazzeri came to the plate with the bases full. Twice, he delivered important sacrifice flies, including the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 10th in Game 5—without which the Series might never have gone to a seventh game and given baseball that gilded moment.  
  • 1933 Goudey Burleigh Grimes (#64): Burleigh’s bio declares that he “[b]roke into baseball in 1913 with Ottumwa in the Central Association.” With apologies to Radar O’Reilly, who was born right about the time that this card hit the shelves in his native Ottumwa, Burleigh was no rookie in 1913, having pitched in 9 games for the Class D Eau Claire Commissioners of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1912. Had Radar been old enough to watch Ol’ Stubblebeard on the mound, he might have remarked, “Uh-oh, spitters!”
  • 1933 Goudey Earl Averill (#194): More inaccuracy than error—and much like Lefty Gomez’s cards mentioned in Part 1—virtually all of Earl Averill’s cards denote his birth year as 1903, whereas all official sources, including his headstone, report it as 1902.
  • 1949 Bowman Bob Lemon (#238): Bob was anything but a lemon as a pitcher, seven times reaching the 20-win circle and earning a place in the Hall of Fame; however, his cards are a strange and recurring saga of geographical ineptitude on the part of multiple manufacturers. Beginning with his rookie card, Bowman misspelled his birthplace of San Bernardino, California, as “San Bernadino.” (Incorporated in 1869, the city’s spelling had been officially established for 80 years by the time Bowman inked Lemon to a contract.) For most of Bowman’s existence, it repeated this error. One might attribute this to the same biographical information being used rotely over the next 6 years—except that Bowman got the spelling correct in 1951 and 1952, then inexplicably reverted to the original error for the remainder of its run. So, defying any semblance of logic, Bowman printed “Bernadino” in 1949 and 1950, changed correctly to “Bernardino” in 1951 and 1952, and then went back to its mistake in 1953, 1954, and 1955. If that weren’t bizarre enough, all three of Lemon’s Red Man Tobacco cards (1953-’55) also misspelled his birthplace as “Bernadino.” (I don’t know if Red Man, which had long been only a tobacco company, made some kind of deal with Bowman for its baseball information when deciding to issue its own cards—some of their bios read similarly in places—but blame would still fall on Red Man Tobacco for not at least proofreading its product.) In contrast, none of Topps’ cards that list a birthplace erred on this spelling, and Lemon’s 1954 Red Heart and Dan-Dee cards also are correct.
  • 1960 Leaf Jim Coates (#35): A double-dip for Jim. “Binghampton” is a misspelling. Hold the “p,” Leaf. A bigger blooper is that Leaf was under the impression that Coates had never pitched in the majors before 1959—his “Past Year” totals are identical to his “Lifetime” totals. However, Jim appeared in 2 games for the Pinstripes way back in 1956, making the majority of those lifetime statistics incorrect.
  • 1960 Leaf Al Spangler (#38): Al’s home is listed as “Maple Glenn, Pa.” Leaf apparently turned over a new leaf and gave Spangler’s home an extra “n”—the town is spelled Maple Glen. To my knowledge, it never went by “Glenn.”

Rife with typos, Topps’ 1964 Giants subset contains more than its share. Among them:

  • 1964 Topps Giants Orlando Cepeda (#55): Cepeda is denoted as having laced 38 triples as a rookie in 1958. This is diamond hogwash. Did Topps think third-base coach Herman Franks waved a red cape every time Cepeda rounded first so that the Baby Bull came raging uncontrollably into third? Owen Wilson’s 36 triples in 1912 has never been bested, and, in fact, no player has legged out more than 26 ever since. Cepeda, of course, ripped 38 doubles, not 38 triples.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Billy Williams (#52): Topps really shortchanged Billy by stating that he clubbed “20 two-baggers” for the Ponca City Cubs in 1957. The sweet-swinging Williams swatted twice that many in pacing the Sooner State League in doubles.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Carl Yastrzemski (#48): In the right-hand column, Carl was cited to have “wrecked havoc” on opposing pitchers. This is a malaprop—the term is, of course, “wreaked havoc.” At least Topps spelled his surname correctly.
  • 1964 Topps Giants Harmon Killebrew (#38): Deceptive text, even if inadvertent, is a no-no to an editor, so I’m calling out Topps for Killer’s headline, KILLEBREW WINS 2ND HOMER CROWN. As evidenced early in his bio, “For the second consecutive season, the Minnesota Twins’ slugger was the American League home run champion.” This is certainly accurate, Harmon having claimed the crown in 1962 and ’63. However, the headline implies very strongly that these were his only two homer titles to that point—yet Killebrew had also topped the AL in 1959, meaning, of course, that he’d nabbed his third homer crown in 1963, not his second. If I didn’t call this out, I’d be negligent in my long-time occupation as an editor.

If the 1964 Topps Giants subset is something of an editor’s treasure trove, the 1960 and 1961 Fleer sets are a gold rush. Some of the most problematic assemblages of cards out there, they have often caused me to wonder if the company headquartered in my hometown ever employed a fact checker or proofreader. Many’s the time I fantasized about going back in time to be hired as Fleer’s text editor. With a primo job like that, how could a young Ann-Margret not date me?

  • 1960 Fleer Christy Mathewson (#2): Fleer failed to list that Christy also pitched for Cincinnati. Some may say “Big deal—he pitched only 1 game for the Reds.” Well, it was a big deal. That final game—a victory—ultimately allowed Mathewson to tie Grover Cleveland Alexander for most victories by a National League pitcher (even though his true victory total wasn’t discovered until many years after his death). Fleer rectified this oversight—sort of—in its 1961 set, stating that he pitched all of his games “except one” for New York, without specifying that other team. However, Fleer did picture Matty in a Cincinnati uniform—although neither is this definitely, because Christy was better known in red as Cincinnati’s manager for several seasons, which Fleer references.
  • 1960 Fleer Joe Medwick (#22): Fleer anointed Medwick with an RBI total of 1949—which, at that time, would have put Ducky fourth on the all-time list, a handful ahead of Ty Cobb. Now, Medwick was an excellent run producer and, in fact, stands as one of the few National Leaguers to top the Senior Circuit in RBI for 3 consecutive seasons, but the actual total of runs he drove across the plate was a far less robust 1383. Remarkably, Fleer repeated this huge blunder on Joe’s 1961 card (#61).
  • 1961 Fleer Rogers Hornsby (#43): The Rajah’s home run total is incorrectly listed as 302 (he hit 301); his triples total is also inaccurate: 168, though he actually hit 169. His hit total is correct, so I wonder, if among all of the other revisions to old-timers’ statistics, one of Hornsby’s round-trippers was downgraded to a three-base hit. (301 was, as long as I can recall, his established home run total, as can be seen on his 1976 Topps All-Time All-Star card—which is almost certainly from where I first learned the total.)
  • 1961 Fleer Ty Cobb (#14): One of the biggest statistical oversights I’ve seen occurs in Cobb’s bio, as Fleer denotes Ty as having led the AL six times in hitting. As any moderately informed baseball fan knows, Cobb snared an incredible 11 batting crowns (or 12, depending on which source you consult—the Hall of Fame still claims the latter). Regardless of which you consider the true count, Cobb’s run of double-digit batting crowns was, even then, long regarded as one of the most amazing feats in sports annals—and an inexcusable gaffe by Fleer, especially considering that his 1960 Fleer card denotes Cobb as capturing 12 batting titles.

  • 1961 Fleer Grover Cleveland Alexander (#2): Fleer goofs again, misspelling “immortal” in the opening line of Alex’s bio (and fails to include a period as well).
  • 1961 Fleer George Sisler (#78): George’s bio is almost cruelly ironic in its boast that he “played in six World Series.” Sisler, of course, is renowned among the game’s greats who never played in the Fall Classic. (George worked for Brooklyn and Pittsburgh as a scout and batting instructor in later years, but this certainly does not equate with playing in a World Series, and his attachment to pennant-winning teams in either of these capacities fell far short of six anyway.) How could such a false statement be written—and, worse, approved? Perhaps more than any other card in Fleer’s 1960 and ’61 sets, this colossal blunder indicates a shameful lack of commitment to its product and the consumer.

  • 1975 TCMA Red Russell: Typos among “quasi-professional” sets such as TCMA are plentiful. One example is from TCMA’s 1975 issue spotlighting the 1919 White Sox squad. Breaking in with the Southsiders in 1913, Russell crafted one of the best—and most overlooked—rookie seasons by a pitcher, winning 22 games for the 5th-place Sox. By 1919, his arm was gone, facing just 2 batters all season, in a June loss to Boston, which ended his pitching career at a fine 80-59 mark. Soon after this final appearance, Russell went to the Double-A Minneapolis Millers and reinvented himself as an outfielder. He returned to the majors in 1922 and put in a pair of partial seasons for the Pirates, thwacking 21 home runs in 511 at-bats. TCMA’s goof lay in labeling him “Red” Russell. Born in postbellum Mississippi and raised in Texas, he was well known as “Reb” Russell for his obvious Southern heritage. Even so, mild kudos to TCMA for including in the set the member who played least on the roster during the season (there are a few White Sox who played more than Russell yet were not included).
  • 1954 Red Heart Stan Musial: Stan’s bio claims that he has played in “9 All Star games as a Cardinal outfielder.” Through the end of the 1953 campaign, Musial had played in 10 All-Star Games. Yet even if this statement is taken literally—that is, counting his participation only as an outfielder, regardless of how silly it would be for Red Heart to ignore his other appearances in the Midsummer Classic—Musial had, to that time, participated once as a first baseman and once as a pinch-hitter, so the count strictly as an outfielder was 8—which still did not jibe with Red Heart’s claim. It’s also interesting to note that Red Heart, as late as 1954, referred to the Fall Classic as the “World’s Series”—an antiquated spelling that had essentially died out by the 1930s.

And just for good measure, I’m throwing in several hockey card errors:

  • 1957-58 Topps Jean Guy Gendron (#52): Between this entry and the following one, you will see that Gendron appears to have been the target of a systematic process of sloppiness and inconsistency, the likes of which the sports card industry has never seen. In the English bio of this, Gendron’s rookie card, Topps heretically refers to the Montreal club as the “Canadians.” Frankly, Topps should consider itself lucky that Montreal fans didn’t fly into a bleu, blanc, et rage, bus down to Brooklyn, and burn the plant to the ground. Despite being Gendron’s official rookie card, this also establishes a long and winding road of instability concerning his first name. Gendron’s first name appears to officially have been spelled with a hyphen, “Jean-Guy,” as evidenced by several official sources as well as the back of his true rookie card, the 1952 Juniors Blue Tint. Yet from 1957 to 1963, Topps always denoted him simply as Guy Gendron (although, as you can see, the reverse of his rookie card is “Jean G.” Gendron). He then became “Jean Guy” on his 1968 card (shown for a different reason in the following entry), was amended to “Jean-Guy” in 1969, then was stripped of the hyphen in 1970 and 1971, and enjoyed a restored hyphen for his final card, in 1972. (Gendron’s 1970 Dad’s Cookies card and 1970 Esso stamp also feature the hyphen.)

  • 1968 OPC Jean Guy Gendron (#185): The statistical record claims that Gendron was “Not in N.H.L.” during the 1967-68 season. Although the long-time NHL veteran had been dispatched to the AHL’s Quebec Aces in 1964 and remained there for 4 seasons, Gendron did suit up for 1 game with the phledgling Philadelphia Flyers—even picking up an assist—during his final year with Quebec. (Gendron would go on to play 4 seasons with the Orange and Black, becoming one of the team’s best forwards in its early years.) Furthermore, though not an outright error, Gendron’s bio begins that he, Andre Lacroix, and Simon Nolet “are counted heavily on this year by Coach Courtney.” This is a strange reference to Philadelphia’s inaugural head coach, Keith Allen, whose given name was Courtney. I’m inclined to believe that OPC mistook “Courtney” as his surname, because it’s difficult to believe that OPC was on an overly casual first-name basis with the little-known skipper of a barely established expansion club.

  • 1979 OPC J. Bob Kelly (#306): This is likely well known to all except the young’uns. Rather obviously—at least it should be—the player depicted is not J. Bob Kelly—better known in rinks as “Battleship” Kelly—but long-time Broad Street Bully, Bob “the Hound” Kelly. (The pictured Bob Kelly has his own OPC and Topps cards that year; J. Bob Kelly has no Topps counterpart.) As an aside (though not an error itself), OPC denotes that Kelly was “Now with Oilers”; however, Kelly’s last skate in the NHL occurred during the previous season’s quarterfinals as the New York Islanders swept Kelly’s Chicago Black Hawks. Battleship did split 4 games between the Cincinnati Stingers and the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League during the 1979-80 season, but he never played for Edmonton, despite the Oilers drafting Kelly from Chicago in the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft.
  • 1969-70 Topps (#59) and OPC (#59) Carl Brewer: Perhaps it’s something of an honor to be incorrect in two countries, as both Topps and OPC were in listing Carl’s home of Muskegon, Michigan, which is misspelled as “Muskegan” on both cards.  
  • 1971-72 OPC (#156) and 1972-73 OPC (#100) Rogatien Vachon: Errors north of the border get a little more complex with this pair of Rogie Vachon cards. Each errantly refers to Vachon as “Roggie”—the first card twice in the bio and the latter card in the cartoon. OPC then wised up and never again made this misspelling (the reverse of Topps/OPC 1978-79 cards, which feature the player’s autograph, confirm the spelling in Vachon’s own hand, as if confirmation were needed). OPC dropped the puck a second time on his 1972-73 card, botching Vachon’s first name as “Ragatien.” (Topps got the spelling right but featured the same erroneous cartoon.) A former coworker who is a cousin of Vachon responded to my request for Rogie’s comments on this with, “Jesus, Randy, I’m busy. Leave me alone!”

An oddball addition to the Henry Aaron collection

I’ve shared pieces of my Aaron collection here before. It includes bobbleheads, magazines, milestone home run “I was there” certificates, postcards, and of course the obvious: baseball cards.

For the most part, the collection had felt complete (or at least done) over the last year or so given that the only items on my checklist are way out of my price range. A typical example is Aaron’s 1972 Topps Cloth Sticker test issue, a recent copy of which just sold for about $600.

Of course that was before I came across a Brewers Spring Training program from 1975.

In truth, I tend to limit my magazine/program collecting tends to what Mark Armour would call “primary subject” covers. With this particular program, taxonomy is a bit complicated in that Aaron is the only named player but his image is much smaller than that of the batter and catcher shown, to whom we’ll now turn our attention.

At first glance these two players appear to be generic ballplayers reminiscent of the generic athletes that donned our ubiquitous Pee Chee (not to be confused with O-Pee-Chee) folders in elementary school.

However, there was no question who served as the model for at least the catcher.

It would be fair to ask if the similarity here is simply coincidental or if the match is exact. For this it is useful to overlay the two images. Rather than use the Bowman card, which crops away portions of Campy I’ll use the original photo upon which the Bowman image was based.

Since I am not only an Aaron collector but a Campanella collector as well, this discovery promoted the program from mere curiosity to must have, particularly given the very reasonable $5 price tag involved.

Through no lack of attempts I was ultimately unable to determine who the program’s batter (“Bento”) might have been. The name and uniform number made me think of Johnny Bench, though the handedness was a problem.

Perusing Getty Images I found shots of Rose, Maris, Yaz, and others that were similar but never exact. Still, as they say on the “X Files,” I do suspect the truth is out there.

Barring a miracle find from one of our readers, the one person who does (probably) know is the artist, whose last name is clearly Broadway but whose first name is less evident (Lonn? Ronn? Tom?).

Leaving the mystery of the batter unsolved for the moment, we can at last turn our attention to the Home Run King.

A keen-eyed Twitter user had no trouble finding the source photograph for Aaron himself.

From there it’s easy to imagine the graphic designer (perhaps Mr. Broadway himself) cutting out a Brewers hat logo (or just a capital M) from another photograph and gluing it over the Braves logo. One source I can rule out is the 1974 Topps Brewers team set where the closest match would require reversing the image of Bobby Mitchell’s card 497.

Is the result rather amateur? Absolutely, but in fairness there may not have been any photographs of Aaron in a Brewers cap at the time the program went to press, right? Oh but wait, what’s this on page 6 of this very program?!

Aaron is also featured (but with no photo) in the brief 1975 season preview on page 4 of the program. As the writer notes–

The addition of the all-time home run king Hank Aaron fills the designated hitter spot of the Brewers, a spot that last year produced only 14 home runs, 62 runs batted in, and a .222 batting average.

Almost on cue, Aaron’s 1975 slash line was .234/12/60.

Were I to rank my Top 100 Henry Aaron collectibles, this Spring Training program would fall far below even the bottom of the list. At the same time, were I to rank them by their oddity or mystery it probably makes the top five. After all, even if you solve the riddle of Bento, I now challenge you to identify the players on page 16…

Page 19…

And most importantly…what the heck is going on with dad’s hair on page 5? All I’ve been able to figure out so far is that the artist went on to work for Fleer in 1989. 😊

ANSWERS TO PICTURE CHALLENGES

Congratulations to Don Sherman who was the first to identify the page 16 artwork as coming from the 1946 National League playoff between the Dodgers and Cardinals.

Umpire is Babe Pinelli, catcher is Bruce Edwards, and batter is Red Schoendienst.

Multiple readers correctly identified the two most prominent figures on page 19 as Yogi Berra and Don Larsen following the final out of Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. However, the jury is still out on which other players are “going for the gusto” in the image.

Vida Blue, 1971

It has often been said, in the sense that I have often said it, that there is nothing more enjoyable for a baseball fan than the emergence of a great young starting pitcher. Depending on how old you are, you might recall 1984 Dwight Gooden, or 1981 Fernando Valenzuela, or 1976 Mark Fidrych. It has become much less common of late, because young starters are generally not allowed to pitch a lot of innings.

For me, 1971 is the year, and Vida Blue is the pitcher.

The Athletics drafted Blue as a 17-year-old pitcher out of Mansfield, LA, and he sped through the minors to reach the big leagues in July 1969. After an uninspiring trial with Oakland, the 20-year-old set Triple-A ablaze in 1970, finishing 12-3, 2.17 with 164 strikeouts in 133 innings. He only pitched once a week because he had military obligations in Oakland every Sunday through Tuesday.

Back with the Athletics in September, Blue made six starts, which included a one-hitter and no-hitter. He was 21 years old, and obviously one of the best prospects in baseball.

1970 Topps #21

Topps had put Blue on a Rookies Stars card in their 1970 first series but even as a 9-year-old kid I would not have considered that a harbinger of success. After all, my team had put John Thibdeau on such a card a year earlier and I had not heard from him since. There was a big difference between being a Rookie Star and being a rookie star. There were no prospect blogs back then, so most fans just had to wait to see what happened next.

1969 Topps #189

Moreover, no one would have considered that 1970 Topps card to have been a real Vida Blue card. It was a Rookie Stars card–there was no Vida Blue card in 1970. Years later, someone (presumably just a bunch of dealers) invented the “rookie card” as a way to inflate prices for a player’s first card, and, oddly, decided that the all these multi-player cards would count. Sigh.

In 1971, the cardless Vida Blue was a bloody sensation, the biggest story in baseball. By late May, he was 10-1, including five shutouts, and the star of this breathtaking cover of Sports Illustrated.

Following baseball in 1971 meant that you followed Vida Blue. All his game stories were highlighted in my hometown newspaper 3000 miles from Oakland, and on the local nightly news. Vida Blue in 1971 was like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, like Roger Maris in 1961, a dominant daily sports story.

Vida Blue’s name was on everyone’s lips. (And what a name!) One day in May, as Oriole pitcher Dave McNally was headed to the ballpark for a start, his wife encouraged him by saying, “pretend you’re Vida Blue.” Thus inspired, McNally tossed a four-hitter to beat the Angels.

The fly in the ointment, at least for me, was that Vida Blue still did not have a baseball card. Every month or so Topps would release a checklist for the next series, and I would scour it to see if Vida Blue was coming up. The answer for the first series, and the second series, was no.

So why did America, this kid included, fall in love with Vida Blue? He did not have the goofy quirkiness of Fidrych or the lovable body and motion of Valenzuela, two pitchers who would have great breakout seasons in the years ahead.

Blue was simply beautiful. He was movie-star handsome, and he had a perfect motion, bringing to mind the wondrous delivery of Sandy Koufax.

(AP Photo)

He had one of the best names in baseball history. Team owner Charles O. Finley made a habit of foisting nicknames on his players–Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom–and he soon told Vida that he wanted him to be known as “True” Blue. Vida’s comeback: “Why don’t you just call yourself True O. Finley.” But honestly, how can you improve on “Vida Blue”?

Blue was a breath of fresh air–the media loved him, fans loved him. He was hard-working, shy, modest. (His role model, he informed us, was Brooks Robinson.) He ran out to the mound, and ran back to the dugout when the inning was over. He also ran to the batter’s box when it was his turn to hit.

He was on the CBS Evening News, with Roger Mudd and Heywood Hale Broun.

He was on The Dick Cavett Show. I dare you to watch this and not fall in love with the guy.

On June 25, Blue shut out the Royals to reach 16-2 with a 1.37 ERA. (I will wait while you reread the previous sentence.) The team had played just 70 games, putting Blue on a pace to finish 37-4. Denny McLain had won 31 games just three years earlier, and tracking Blue against McLain was another regular part of his coverage.

He was phenomenally popular around the league. His first start in Boston (May 28) resulted in the highest Fenway Park attendance (over 35,000) in three years, with thousands in the street unable to get in. His start in Washington on June 6 drew 40,246, compared with 6,221 the day before for Catfish Hunter. And on and on.

But still, no card in the third series. Or the fourth.

Blue was named to start the All-Star game in Tiger Stadium, facing off against Pirates star Dock Ellis. A week earlier Ellis had suggested that he would not get the start because baseball would no allow two “brothers” in these prominent roles. (Aside: it is hard to imagine a game in which Dock Ellis was not the “coolest” starting pitcher, but this one was at least a close call.)

1971 Topps #2

Blue and the AL won the game, though it is most famous for all the home run (including two surrendered by Vida to Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron).

After beating the Tigers on July 25, his record was 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA. (No really, that was his record.). He had a couple of memorable no-decisions in July, including an 11-inning, no-run, 17-strikeout effort that the A’s finally won 1-0 in 20 innings.

On August 17 President Nixon invited the A’s to the White House–there was no reason for this, Nixon just loved baseball players. He made a habit of having a specific greeting for everyone, making it clear that he knew who everyone was. When he got to Vida he said “You are the most underpaid player in baseball.” Nixon was not wrong–Blue’s salary was $14,500.

Blue’s quest for 30 wins slowed down, though he kept pitching well. He won #20 with a 5-hit shutout on August 7, but later in the month he dropped two consecutive 1-0 games to fall to 22-6 which ended any hope of 30 wins.

He did, however, make the cover of Police Gazette.

(Note: Blue is pictured on the lower left.)

Blue closed out his season at 24-8, 1.92, with 301 strikeouts, winning the Cy Young Award and MVP for a team that won its first division title.

Topps finally issued his 1971 card (#551) in the fifth series, meaning it probably got on store shelves in July, maybe August. I never got it, and I did not even lay my eyes on the card for a few years. It is beautiful, with Blue looking like he had the greatest life on earth. He probably did.

1971 #551

The first Blue card I ever saw was in 1972, when Topps issued his real card and an IN ACTION card in its second series.

The Blue story would never again be quite the feel-good tale it was in 1971, thanks in large part to his “owner”, Charlie Finley.

Despite his polite and shy disposition, Blue was a proud man who believed he deserved a lot more money. After his wonderful season Blue asked for $115,000, the going rate for top starters at the time. Finley offered $50,000 and never moved.

A lot of people write about Finley today like he was a colorful kook, and he was that, but he was also petty, cruel, and generally despised by everyone. He screamed at secretaries, managers, commissioners, players. Blue called him “Massa Charlie”, and I am in no position to doubt Blue’s intimations of racism, but Finley treated everyone badly. He would hand out gifts to players when he felt like it, but it was always on his terms. His most publicly disgraceful act — the shaming and firing of Mike Andrews in the middle of the 1973 World Series — was still ahead, but Finley treated people like crap every day.

Heading to 1972, Vida Blue was the biggest star in the game, and everyone was excited to see what he was going to do next.

But Blue was nowhere to be found–he held out all spring while Finley ridiculed his ungrateful pitcher in the press. With no leverage and no hope, Blue finally signed a few weeks into the season, for a small bonus and Finley’s original $50,000 offer. (When doling out credit for players later attaining limited free agency, from Curt Flood to Marvin Miller to Andy Messersmith, don’t forget about Finley, whose players became increasingly militant in the face of his abhorrent treatment.)

For those of us who fell in love with Vida in 1971, it is difficult to sufficiently convey how much Finley cost us, cost baseball. Blue had a fine career — 209 wins, six All-Star teams, three World Series titles — but the funny quips, the running, the joy, all seemed to be gone. Blue has repeatedly said that Finley took all the fun out of the game for him. When Finley got all his players to wear mustaches in 1972, another form of paternalism, Vida refused.

Years later, like many players of his generation, Blue got messed up with cocaine and likely cost himself a few more years.

I hope Vida lives forever and has much happiness, that he can look back fondly on a career filled with successes. But make no mistake: Vida Blue deserves a statue in Oakland for 1971 alone.

I’ll never forget it.

1971 Doug McWilliams Postcard

Topps in 1972, Part 4

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the fourth of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

And now for a swan dive into the spirit of the ’72 cards, with a look at some of the fun poses players struck for these things…and a quick peek at the backs…

All of the individual player cards are artificially staged shots of one sort or another. The sole exception  (aside from the “In Action” series) appears to be Norm Cash (#150), looking feisty during/after an actual at-bat (maybe a strikeout?), sporting his trademark no-batting-helmet and pine tar so far up the barrel of the bat that George Brett might be the only one to not take issue with it. Apparently, Norm skated.

One of the more popular player poses is the hokey, staged ‘action’ shot, most with a batter about to swing, or swinging, or swung and tending to look like he’s either, a) overacting, or b) barely even trying. How about the close-up stances of Johnny Bench (#433), Lee May (#480), Dave Cash (#125), and Cleo James (#117)? Despite campy nonchalance, these are glorious scenes with bright blue skies, framing players who almost have their game face on.

Check out Mr. Bob Oliver (#57) doing the splits in front of palm trees, looking skyward with hope, as if he’s expecting a baseball to drop miraculously into his outstretched mitt. I think there’s only one like this.

Many of the pitchers’ shots are even sillier and less convincing – get a load of Cecil Upshaw (#74) Jim Roland (#464), Lowell Palmer (#746), and a feeble-looking Jerry Reuss (#775) and…they all look like small town softball players posing at the team picnic.

Meanwhile, some pitchers already look old and worn enough to be managers (Ron Taylor (#234), Ron Perranoski (#367) and Steve Hamilton (#766)).

Come to think of it, most of the cards show spring training lollygaggers – lots of sluggers in easy poses with bats perched on their shoulders like props (Bill Freehan (#120), Ed Kranepool (#181), Johnny Briggs (#197), Boog Powell (#250) and Willie Stargell (#447)).

Most of the catchers look like they’re out playing catch with their kids (Ken Rudolph, (#271), Buck Martinez (#332), Jeff Torborg (#404)), though Ellie Hendricks (#508) is donning gear and appears to be tracking a phantom popup.

Pitchers are often captured at the top of a lazy delivery (Bobby Bolin (#266), Jose Pena (#322), and Don McMahon (#509)) or in a faux-stretch position, with their glove held at belly level (Sonny Siebert (#290), Ron Reed (#787)).

Worth mentioning of Ron Reed—he is the answer to at least three trivia questions besides “Who is featured on the last (highest-numbered) card of the 1972 Topps baseball series?”:

  • Who was the winning pitcher of the game in which when Henry Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run?
  • Name one of five pitchers in MLB history who compiled at least 100 wins, 100 saves, and 50 complete games (the other four are Ellis Kinder, Firpo Marberry, Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz).
  • Name one of the two players from the 1972 Topps baseball series who played in the NBA. (Reed played for the Detroit Pistons, 1965–67. The other player is Steve Hamilton (#766), who played for the Minneapolis Lakers from 1958–60).

With the help of that special ’72 artwork each card stands up on its own merit, whether it’s relative unknown Ron Klimkowski (#363, smiling deliriously, like he’s just happy to be having his picture taken) or Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda (#195, warily eyeing the camera, like he’s seen it all before).

I have to sheepishly admit that I’d never even heard of most of the players in the series…and it gets me every time when slowly cycling through the binders, happening upon players and swearing it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them. Sorry guys! Last time it was an early stretch of the sixth series: Luis Melendez (#606), Frank Duffy (#607), Joe Decker (#612) and Ted Uhlaender (#614). Who the hell are these scrubs? Well, they’re four of only 22,564-and-counting men who’ve ever made it to the Major Leagues. They’re better than all the guys who never made it. There’s something enchanting about having every player’s card close at hand so we can take measure of what the league looked like at the time. There they all were in 1972, each of them poised to take their best shot at greatness.

On the backs of each player’s card are factoid cartoons with spare, silly drawings of a prototype ballplayer, dropping esoteric bits of trivia via a quiz format, like, “Q: How much must a baseball weigh? A: Between 5 and 5.25 oz.”, “Q: What was Connie Mack’s real name? A: Cornelius McGillicuddy”, and “What was the original name of the spitball? A: The “cuspidor curve””. That, along with the player’s height, weight, birthdate, batting/fielding handedness (L/R), and hometown, all sit atop a detailed list of career statistics, including the minor leagues, no matter how long they spent there.

Somehow even those dry data are interesting and personal. You find that Ollie Brown (#551), Tito Fuentes (#427) and many others played “Midwest” minor league ball in Decatur, Illinois where both of my parents were born and grew up. Many Pacific Coast League and Northwest League players did time in towns I now find familiar, like Portland Oregon; Aberdeen, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Wenatchee, and Yakima, Washington; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

One card (Walt Alston, #749) even has my little boyhood hometown (Oxford, Ohio) printed on it, though Walt actually lived next door to my friend, Sam Stewart, over in Darrtown, a tiny “census designated place” of about 500 people, five miles east of Oxford (population about 15,000 back then). Sam was one of the better ball players I knew growing up and he always liked to tease/torture us with his funny made-up lyrics to the 1981 Terry Cashman song – “Talkin’ baseball…Stew and Campanella…”…


Part of an ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Cardboard Famous

A reply to a recent SABR Baseball Cards social media post led me to think about the baseball players more famous for their baseball cards than for any of their on or off the field exploits. Here are ten who I believe fit the bill.

BILLY RIPKEN

Ripken lasted twelve years in the big leagues as an infielder, including an all-star caliber season in 1990. Today he is a frequent co-host on MLB Network. His brother is baseball’s ultimate Iron Man and one of the greatest shortstops in history. And still, say the name Billy Ripken and card collectors think only of one thing: his 1989 Fleer F*ck Face card.

BUMP WILLS

His career on the diamond lasted only half as long as Billy Ripken’s but he spent six years as the regular second baseman for the Rangers and Cubs, topping 30 steals four times while batting a respectable .266. Like Ripken, baseball also ran in his family. Of course any kid who collected baseball cards in 1979 will know him best for this seemingly impossible cardboard trickery.

BRANDON PUFFER AND JUNG BONG

Puffer played four years in the big leagues, appearing in 85 games for the Astros, Padres, and Giants. Jung Bong played one fewer season, appearing in 48 games for the Braves and Reds. The two pitchers combined for a WAR of -1.2. Though never teammates, the duo shared Future Stars cardboard in the 2003 Topps set on card #331, known to collectors (and chronicled by David Roth) as the “Bong Puffer card.”

OSCAR GAMBLE

Legitimately one of the best hitters of his time, scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neil, and the man behind the classic line, “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do,” Oscar Gamble would be remembered fondly even if he had no baseball cards at all. Fortunately that’s a hypothetical we need not ponder long when this pure cardboard gold is right in front of us.

SHERRY MAGEE AND JOE DOYLE

Magee built a borderline Hall of Fame career from 1904-1919 that included more than 2000 hits, four RBI titles, and 59.4 WAR. Even with those credentials I suspect many readers can only hazard a guess whether his name is pronounced Maggie, McGee, or Madgee.

Doyle, on the other hand, had a completely undistinguished career, seeing limited action on the mound over five seasons at roughly replacement level.

Whatever their on-field exploits, each of these players will forever be cardboard legends, with their error cards comprising half of the T206 set’s “Big Four.”

BENNY BENGOUGH AND ANDY PAKFO

Bengough was a career backup catcher who compiled 0.3 WAR over his ten seasons in the big leagues. When the 1933 Goudey set came out, he was already out of baseball.

Pafko, on the other hand, was a four-time all-star who batted .285 over 13 seasons with a career OPS+ of 117. His 1952 season (.287/19/85) was uncannily similar to his lifetime per 162 slash line of .285/19/85, and his midseason move from the Cubs to the Dodgers the prior year was one of the season’s biggest trades.

While neither player would top any list of all-time greats, each player topped many stacks of baseball cards, thanks to being numbered one in the 1933 Goudey and 1952 Topps sets respectively. Until the Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr., rookie card came along in 1989, I suspect these two players were the Hobby’s most famous set starters. Certainly both cards, in reasonable shape, carried a premium comparable to lesser Hall of Famers due to rubber banding, spills, and the myriad other ways stack toppers suffered disproportionate damage in collections prior to the advent of plastic sheets.

HONUS WAGNER

I’ll end the article with what may be my most contentious selection. Without a doubt, Wagner is a top shelf baseball immortal, considered by many to be the greatest shortstop of all-time if not the single greatest player of the Deadball Era. (In both cases, Pop Lloyd deserves consideration as well.) To an audience well versed in baseball history, therefore, Wagner is most famous for his tremendous playing career, even if most fans still pronounce his name wrong.

Yet whatever his accomplishments on the diamond, I suspect the Flying Dutchman is best known today, whether in the collecting world or the general public, for a single, transcendently pricey cardboard rectangle, our Hobby’s Mona Lisa.

Who else would you nominate for this elite club where ERR trumps WAR and even backup catchers can be number one? Sound off in the Comments!

Topps in 1972, Part 3

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the third of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning. This post takes a detailed look at the design of the 1972 cards, with a brief comparison to other Topps schemes of the era (1970-75).

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

If memory serves, it seemed like with a little help from the “Dick, Jane, and Spot” books I learned to read by studying Baltimore Orioles box scores at my grandparents’ house, and in those days they got both morning and evening editions of the Decatur Herald & Review – woohoo! Right away I was finding baseball books for kids and taking in old numbers like candy. Ruth’s 714 home runs, Cy Young’s 511 wins, Walter Johnson’s 3508 (now 3509) strikeouts, Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, Ty Cobb’s career batting average of .367 (now .366), etc…all of those and many more are iconic, seared in there early. Who knows why they were appealing – they just were.

Then you start looking into things like Tris Speaker being the all-time leader in doubles (with 792) and Ted Williams being the last person to hit over .400; turns out he could have sat down for the final two games of the 1941 season (a double-header) to protect the number, but he played both games, went 6-for-8 and ended up hitting .406. Important stuff, right? Yep – because then it’s interesting when players like George Brett, Tony Gwynn, and John Olerud make a run at that .400 barrier.

As fascinating as the facts and figures are, they’re just numbers – entry-level and rudimentary. But baseball is famous for being a true statistician’s game, which ultimately led to Sabermetrics and a deeper analysis of the game by comprehensively crunching and evaluating the numbers ad nauseam, looking for a winning formula. And that’s all fine, but it gets us too far away from the feeling of the game…and the feelings those cards stir up…they’re not easy to describe…but let’s try…so, back to those cards…

There’s so much color and data to take in from the ’72 set – it’s any lifelong baseball fan, art aficionado and/or number-addled stat geek’s happy daydream fully realized. The palette of the series is otherworldly compared to every other Topps year and the design almost reminds of classic Art Deco, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters or pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. If there was a singular influence, likely it was not as antiquated or highfalutin as these, but closer temporally and geographically to the Brooklyn-based Topps Company (like Lichtenstein and Warhol). Namely, this David Edward Byrd poster from the musical “Follies”, which debuted on Broadway, April 4, 1971. The font is a match and the stars on either end are uncanny too.

Whatever the inspiration, the series is defined by the look of the individual player cards which feature their team name bursting off the heading in black 3-D block lettering. The bold team name is highlighted with two colors that complement the main color of the card and is bookended with two small stars that share those complementary colors. Fancy fancy.

Here’s a prime example – the card of Dick Williams (#137), who managed his Oakland Athletics to a World Series win in 1972.

Oddly, the main color of a card often has nothing to do with the team’s actual uniform colors. Example: The Dodger cards are orange, with yellow and white highlights—no trademark Dodger blue anywhere. The Reds are green; the Cardinals and Orioles are blue, the Cubs and Indians are purple, and the Mets and A’s are both red. Still, it all works somehow.

There are 12 distinct color schemes, all bright primary and secondary colors (hues of yellow, blue, red, green, purple, and orange), and well-conceived for the most part. With 24 teams in 1972, Topps assigned each design to both a National League team and an American League team.

Each scheme has three colors, with a principal color for the body of the card, a second color (generally) making up most of the accent coloring of the team’s name in the 3D font, and a tertiary color for the remainder of the 3D accent coloring and the piping that frames the picture and text. All of that within an outermost border of white, with player names at the bottom, in capitalized black font on a small white placard. A simple, elegant design.

Collectors have called the 1972 cards “tombstones” for their unique border and it’s true—the colored portion is shaped like an old-time tombstone. They definitely have a groovy, psychedelic feel, even though the Summer of Love was five years past. Somehow they always made me think of paper trophies. They differ from other years in that the position of the player is not indicated on the front, removing some clutter and borders, and there are no sprawling player signatures either.

The result is so clean and perfect that some of them almost transcend baseball to look more like iconic artistic works than mere sports cards. Think of Andy Warhol’s silkscreened visions of athletes like Pele, Muhammad Ali and Tom Seaver. That’s an overstatement, but some of these look as fresh as any pop art there ever was.

Here are some nice examples including my personal favorite, Horatio Pina (#654), with blue sky and cotton ball clouds in his background. I swear all these look like artful, timeless portraits worthy of a silkscreen or framed oil painting. Really.

For fun here are all 12 color schemes, ranked from my most to least favorite, listing in order the NL team, AL team, first color (most prevalent), second color (majority of team name), and third color (piping). [Note: team allegiances may have influenced rankings somewhat!]

  • San Francisco Giants/New York Yankees – yellow, orange, red
  • St. Louis Cardinals/Baltimore Orioles – dark blue, yellow, light blue
  • Cincinnati Reds/Chicago White Sox – light green, blue, yellow
  • Los Angeles Dodgers/Detroit Tigers – orange, white, yellow
  • Montreal Expos/Boston Red Sox – green, orange, yellow
  • Chicago Cubs/Cleveland Indians – purple, green, yellow
  • Houston Astros/Texas Rangers – yellow, orange, blue
  • Pittsburgh Pirates/Minnesota Twins – light blue, dark blue, orange
  • New York Mets/Oakland A’s – red, yellow, orange
  • Atlanta Braves/Kansas City Royals – red, green, yellow
  • Philadelphia Phillies/California Angels – orange, green, blue
  • San Diego Padres/Milwaukee Brewers – dark blue, orange, light green

The ’72 set is defined by organization, with every player on a team sharing the exact same color scheme while the aforementioned 1975 cards have schemes assigned randomly, so that most players on the same team have a different look. This seems a little chaotic and purposeless, but maybe that was 1975 in a nutshell?

Before we get to those unruly ’75 cards, let’s rewind to 1970 to remind ourselves why the 1972 lot stood out so much from all the other Topps cards that came out between 1970-75 (let alone all the cards that came before 1970 and after 1975).

1970: Those gloomy gray borders and cards almost devoid of color. Earl Weaver, who managed the O’s to a World Series win in 1970, would probably be the first to say that he was no Flower Child, and here is proof. Earl looks more like 1960 than 1970.

1971: Similar to 1970, but much better – the black is bolder than the gray, there are showy signatures, and more color in the larger font. For me, Dock Ellis epitomizes the early 1970’s – the bold fashion statements, politics, fearlessness, and renegade demeanor. Plus, for a while he was a hell of a pitcher. If you don’t know why I picked his card to represent this pseudo-psychedelic year (and even if you do) please watch this

Again, 1972: Bill “Spaceman”Lee. Perfectly normal, right? Actually they are, for the most part – the (red-brown) backs saw a return to listing career stats and the pictures are mostly standard (more on that later) – it’s just the team name that’s gone crazy compared to other years.

1973: After the anomaly of 1972 there was a return to drab normalcy, but at least Topps didn’t exactly go backwards. Here’s a good one – one of my favorite pitchers ever (see the silhouette in the bottom right corner? that’s how we know he’s a pitcher!), with one of the most entertaining wind-ups of all time – borderline Hall of Fame prospect Luis Tiant, mugging like a Vaudevillian:

1974: There was some improvement with those banners at the top and bottom and the colored border piping. The cards are still mostly black and white and a little tame, but they almost have a classy look. Here’s another favorite – another borderline Hall of Fame candidate – Dave Parker in his rookie year, with sideburn.

Then came the 1975 set…which more or less amounts to a flaccid reprise of psychedelia. Though I’ve grown to appreciate the ’75 cards for the players they represent and the funky mid-decade style that’s on full display (Oscar Gamble, anyone?), the design feels lazy and simplistic, with one solid color on the top half border of the card, a second solid color on the bottom half, and a third color for the team’s blocky faux-3D name at the top. Overall they lack detail but at least got back to player signatures…and the little baseball with the player’s position is a nice try too.

The worst thing about them has to be the choice of color schemes, with some just damn ghastly compared to the 1972 lot: purple paired with pink and yellow lettering, salmon and teal with red letters, and poop brown with burnt orange and red font—ick. They look cartoonish and haphazard, with off-cuts aplenty. Mid-70s apathy.

And even with all that said…they do have a nice high gloss…and they’re more fun than what came out in 1973 and 1974…some pizazz after two years of relative stodginess.

Check out these gems found happily in my recovered collection—rookie cards of Hall of Famers Gary Carter, Robin Yount, and George Brett.

 Maybe they aren’t so bad after all? The jury’s still out!


This is part of my ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Topps in 1972, Part 2

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the second of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. Click here to start the series from the beginning. This post describes a serendipitous reunion with card-collecting, the 1972 set in particular.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

I was seven years old when the Topps Company issued their baseball cards for the 1972 season, pushed on us eager kids in their trademark wax packs, each with a chalky pink stick of gum sharp enough to cut the roof of your mouth. That was the year I began collecting cards and somehow they drew me in right from the first pack. My friends Billy, Ricky, and I would buy them uptown at Corso’s, a dusty little old family-run store with worn wooden floors where they sold all kinds of penny candy, soft drinks, and other sundries we didn’t care much about. I’d root those cards out when visiting my grandparents too and remember being darn disappointed after buying a couple laggard packs of ’71’s there when all I wanted were the ’72’s. It was love at first sight, instant infatuation.

A year or two later we were calling those 1972 cards “the colorful year” because they stood out so much compared to the stone-gray lot of 1970, the black beauties of 1971, and all the other staid black and white cards I collected through 1977. Sure, there were the ’75’s (one-off, incongruously colored, tacky-looking things…more on them later), but these babies were strikingly original and visually magical. To me, they still are.

Looking back they clearly smack of the early 1970s, a time that felt like an epilogue to the previous decade…the hangover from a years-long bender of excess, experimentation, social upheaval, violence, and weirdness. I only caught five full years of the 1960s and always felt like I’d missed out on something important. Maybe all kids feel like that? A feeling fed by always hanging around older people—my sisters, their friends and other neighborhood kids who were years older. Our neighbor Big Jim Miller was a good ten years older than me and when he played those new Three Dog Night records in 1969 he seemed to really be on to something. Our world was expanding and anything seemed possible so in retrospect these cards came along at the perfect time.

Today they look like the entire team of Topps designers and photographers (and a few of the players) stayed high on blotter acid and pure cocaine for weeks, jangling along feverishly until the whole 787 card series was finished. They were, and are, that vividly rendered. Of course, Billy and I didn’t think of any of that back then—we just thought they were cool looking and liked the way they made a neat, motor-like sound when we clothes-pinned them onto our bike frame and they hit the wheel spokes just right. Especially all the ones we had of Claude Osteen, “In-Action.” Apparently we didn’t have much respect for Luis Aparicio either.

Like many boys my age I collected cards and played baseball as much as possible, every day, and began playing organized ball around 1971 or 1972, first Tee-ball, and then Little League. Back when baseball was still America’s Pastime. Sports-wise baseball was the first love and some of my fondest boyhood memories are of Dad hitting fungoes to Billy and me in our back yard. I still want to play catch and work on my curve and knuckle balls. Like most ball-playing boys of that age and era I liked to get together to trade cards with my friends Billy, Jeff, Jimmy, and Ricky. We didn’t know much about what we were doing, but it was fun to try to get cards we hadn’t seen by offloading ones we were sick of or had way too many of—players like Horace Clark, Johnny Jeter, Ron Klimkowski, Joe Gibbon, Ike Brown, and Don Hahn. For some reason those guys seemed to be in every other pack.

That went well until one day when Little Ricky came over to my house and somehow made off with three of my most prized 1972 cards—a Frank Robinson, a Hank Aaron, and a Willie Mays. The 1973 Roberto Clemente card disappeared too…all of them apparently lifted while Little Ricky was left to his own devices down in our family room for a few minutes while I went upstairs to use the bathroom.

I still remember the panicky feeling after finding them missing once Ricky left. That sickly tingling nervous feeling in the belly. Even worse, what else could be missing? These were just the obvious ones…they weren’t kept straight with a list, I just categorized them and pored over them…and went with what my young head could remember. There were well over 1000 cards in my collection by the mid-1970s and I always wondered how many others he’d taken. Willie Stargell? Catfish Hunter? Tom Seaver? I did go over to his house one last time and got a peek at the ’73 Clemente to absolutely convince myself he’d done it—it had a telltale look—little ‘bubbles’—a uniquely poor print. Sure enough. Worst of all was seeing an erstwhile friend just sitting there, smiling like a toad. But at age nine or so I apparently didn’t have the emotional tools to confront Little Ricky, so I just cried a bunch and wrote him off passively rather than going deeper and challenging all four feet of him on the thievery.

That event left me so sour that I don’t think I ever traded cards again. It was devastating to my naive sense of permanence, and dope-slap shocking because the practice of stealing just wasn’t relatable. From then on Ricky couldn’t be trusted—he wasn’t allowed in our house, and we drifted apart. The episode chafed at me so much that eventually I didn’t even look at my cards anymore, not as an older boy or as a young man because it was sickening—all I could think of was that Little Bastard Ricky and those long-lost cards. Pathetic, but that awful feeling wouldn’t leave my gut so I put the little drama aside, went off to live a life, and didn’t think about the cards that remained there in my boyhood closet. Sure, I knew they were there the whole time; I just didn’t miss, want, or need them.

But on February 7th, 2019, all of those rotten memories permanently faded into the ether. What’s so special about that date? Well, ironically, that’s the day that Frank Robinson died. When the news came in I sat there shocked and saddened for a minute, then eagerly read his obituary and other articles, trying to hold on to the man and immortal player I’d admired for so long. I hadn’t considered him in years but it was still oddly devastating that he was gone so soon…so abruptly. It wasn’t right. But somehow as I sat there feeling old and lost, a thought slowly began to take hold… the realization that I had to have and hold his 1972 card…and there on eBay were hundreds of them, all bright blue and yellow, showing that smiling swing I hadn’t seen in decades. Then I realized how easy it would be to get the 1972 Aaron and Mays cards too, so those were found and bought. Phew. Next up? The ’73 Clemente card, of course.

Here it should be mentioned that aside from being way too materialistic, the reason I was so depressed when the cards first went missing was because they were just gone, with no way to reasonably replace them. Sure—I should have gone over to Rick’s, slugged him, and demanded them back, but at the time a bold potentially ugly confrontation wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Buying a slew of new packs might have worked too, but they weren’t affordable…so instead I opted for self-pity and distractions. Fast forward and nowadays we can find just about anything with a few keystrokes, for better or worse. Probably for worse – no personal interaction – but in this case eBay was my best new friend. Just knowing those cards were on the way to my house somehow left me feeling refreshed.

Not that I had dwelled on it in years but somehow my psyche felt lighter, healthier. After decades, The Ricky Caper suddenly didn’t matter…I’d finally gotten past it and was looking forward rather than backward—at least regarding that old kid card chase. But cards are colored paper…ornaments on a shelf…while Life is flesh and bones, work, friends and kinship…risk-taking and globetrotting. Big Ideas. It had to be worth trying this mindset with everything; be in the moment, don’t dwell on the past, least of all the episodes that dredge up those paralyzing, negative memories. That outlook was worth embracing.

After a while I almost wanted to go find Rick so we could talk about the old days, though we hadn’t seen each other since high school. It just didn’t matter anymore. Sounds silly as hell now that it ever did matter. It’s hard to believe that a few baseball cards could make such a difference, but for some reason an obscure yet critical internal valve had opened up and started functioning again. And after all those years, Mr. Robinson had been the catalyst.

Frank was special for so many reasons, they’re tough to track and list completely, but here are a few:

  • Still the only player ever to win the MVP in both leagues.
  • Triple Crown winner in 1966 (albeit with the lowest Triple Crown batting average (.316) in MLB history).
  • Two-time World Series Champion (1966 and 1970) and MVP of the 1966 Series.
  • Retired fourth on the list of all-time home run hitters with 586.
  • First Black manager in the majors when hired as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975.

He was meaningful to me personally because he had led the Baltimore Orioles dynasty teams of the mid-1960s to early ’70s. My sisters were born in Baltimore (1960) so my parents got to see and tell me about some of those early greats like third baseman Brooks Robinson, whom my mom said caught “everything.” So, they were my team from the beginning, even though I was born in Ohio four years after my sisters. And they continued to be my team even after we moved to the Cincinnati area in 1969, when I began to watch and learn about those fledgling years of the Big Red Machine.

Later in 2019 I went home to visit my mom (still a die-hard, long-suffering Reds fan after over 50 years) and was finally ready to get those cards and take them back to the West Coast with me. They were taking up space in that closet and my mom and sisters wanted them out of there. There they were in the same large, lidded metal box they had been in since the 1970s, organized alphabetically by team, with each team’s name printed out neatly in my mom’s trademark perfect cursive writing. I don’t remember why, but apparently I’d asked Mom for help, maybe to give the collection a classier look. Ha-ha. Early telltale signs of a budding curator and amateur sports historian.

Funny aside about my sports-loving mom: to this day she will poke fun at me for the time I came to her when I was eight years old, talking excitedly about “the Clemente Brothers.” “Clemente Brothers? What are you talking about?” she said. “You know, Bob, Robert, and Roberto!” I said eagerly. She just laughed. To my credit, I do have a 1969 “Bob” Clemente card and had probably heard him called “Robert” at some point, but even an eight-year-old should have been able to figure out they were all the same person. So it goes…

The first thing I went through at Mom’s house were the football cards that were collected/inherited contemporaneously—“they’re not all that interesting” I thought, but they were a jumbled mess in their brown “pleather” sticker-covered box, so needed to be organized; leave the baseball cards for dessert. Unexpectedly, it was a wonderful warm-up to go through those old NFL cards—I had completely forgotten what was even in there, so it was like a treasure hunt. They’re all from the 1960s and 1970s, a mishmash of well-known and obscure players, time capsules from an era when players looked entirely different than they do today, mainly because of the outstanding hairdos of the time—long stringy hippy hair, greasy handlebar moustaches, mutton-chop sideburns, Afros, comb-overs, etc. Different also because the typical constitution of any player looks stronger, with features bolder and broader, even though they were considerably smaller than the behemoths of today. All those looks reflect that sentimental favorite decade right there in my formative youth, the 1970s.

Coincidentally or not, 1972 happened to be a watershed year for change in MLB. For one it was the last season of the full-time hitting pitcher; the designated, or as we called it in the backyard, the “all-time” hitter rule was instituted the following year and after that baseball, at least in the American League, was never the same again. It was the year of the first-ever player strike, resulting in the first 10 days of the season being missed and varying numbers of games missed by each team. It was also the year when the old-fashioned wool flannel uniforms began to be phased out, replaced by new lighter synthetic materials like nylon and rayon. And it was the first year of the Texas Rangers franchise, when the expansion Washington Senators moved to Arlington (the original Washington Senators had moved to Minneapolis in 1961 to become the Twins), removing baseball from Washington D.C. until the Expos, based in Montreal since 1969, moved to D.C. in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals.

Yet even while change was afoot the divisions were arranged archaically, with Cincinnati and Atlanta in the NL West (along with Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego), though both of those cities lie well east of Chicago (Cubs) and St. Louis, both in the NL East. Similarly, at the time the Brewers were still in the AL East and the White Sox in the AL West, though Milwaukee is slightly west of Chicago.

After getting back home, I slowly, reverently, started plowing through all the precious baseball cards I hadn’t seen in decades. Part of me didn’t even want to…what if I just keep putting it off so I’ll always have that thing to look forward to? Take a page out of Uncle Larry’s Theory of Delayed Gratification. Right. Of course, once I did dive in – what a treat! So many warm memories came flooding back.

The bulk of the collection covers 1970-1977, with the 1975 cards most plentiful, probably because I had more paper route money by then; after that, the numbers piddle out. And yet…almost immediately I was struck by the recognition that all I cared about were the ones from 1972. Even finding a 1966 Whitey Ford, a 1968 Hank Aaron, and Colt 45’s cards of Joe Morgan (1967) and Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn (1966), all of which I’d completely forgotten about, didn’t excite me the way the 1972’s did. And it was oddly disappointing to see so fewer of the ‘72’s than I remembered. So…even before making my way a third of the way through all that original collection, I put it on hold and went back to eBay… knowing that I had to have all 787 cards from the 1972 series. Out of nowhere my inner 8-year-old was back, elbowing the boring late middle-aged self aside, hungry for those colorful cards like they’d nourish me somehow. No joke.

And so began the fantastic journey of not only finding and acquiring all those cards, but studying them, poring over them, and researching all the players and their careers. I hadn’t planned on taking all of that on—it just happened. I was energized beyond recognition and dove in like it would make me rich. Ridiculous? Kind of. Weird? Probably. Obsessive? No question. Unexpected? Surely. Materialistic? Uh huh. But in the end, was the process entrancing, fulfilling, cathartic and just plain fun? Well, hell yes! Stoked by those happy feelings I gave away loads of the best doubles to friends who might appreciate them, with pithy quotes cartooning out of the players’ mouths. Trying my best to spread that cool kind 1972 vibe, it was invigorating and incredibly fun. Who would have ever thought this could happen after tamping down all that bad card juju forever? Whatever the reason, I was just looking forward to getting at more of the long-lost hobby…


This is the most personal part of my ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps – both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness here, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseballhall.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Topps in 1972, Part 1

Editor’s note: SABR Baseball Cards welcomes new member F. Scott Wilkinson with the first of his 10 articles on the 1972 Topps set, now approaching its 50th anniversary. This first installment focuses largely on the Hall of Famers and near Hall of Famers in the set.

I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler—not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal. No. That would be your average career sportswriter—and, more specifically, a full-time Baseball writer.

—Hunter S. Thompson

There was a fine crop of 51 Hall of Famers in the major leagues in 1972 (42 players and nine managers)—all the more impressive since through 2021 only 336 people have been elected to the Hall (including 266 MLB and Negro League players, 22 MLB managers, 38 pioneers/executives, and 10 umpires, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website).

For fun, here are all the 1972 Topps Baseball Hall of Fame players and managers, with card numbers, organized by team (from teams with most Hall of Famers to least):

St. Louis Cardinals: Red Schoendienst (#67, the prototype fine player/accomplished manager; inducted as a player in 1989), Bob Gibson (#130), Ted Simmons (#154), Lou Brock (#200), Steve Carlton (#420), Joe Torre (#500)

Chicago Cubs: Ernie Banks (#192, HoF player, on the ’72 team card as a first base coach), Ferguson Jenkins (#410), Billy Williams (#439), Ron Santo (#555), Leo Durocher (#576, manager)

Minnesota Twins: Harmon Killebrew (#51), Tony Oliva (#400), Bert Blyleven (#515, on his 14th ballot!), Rod Carew (#695), Jim Kaat (#709)

Oakland Athletics: Dick Williams (#137, manager), Rollie Fingers (#241), Jim Hunter (#330), Reggie Jackson (#435)

Atlanta Braves: Orlando Cepeda (#195), Henry Aaron (#299), Tony LaRussa (#451, a bench player in 1972 but inducted in 2014 for his 35 years as a manager for the White Sox, A’s and Cardinals), Phil Niekro (#620)

Baltimore Orioles: Frank Robinson (#100), Jim Palmer (#270), Earl Weaver (#323, manager), Brooks Robinson (#550)

San Francisco Giants: Willie Mays (#49), Willie McCovey (#280), Juan Marichal (#567)

Los Angeles Dodgers: Don Sutton (#530), Walter Alston (#749, manager), Hoyt Wilhelm (#777, elected on his 8th ballot!)

Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente (#309), Willie Stargell (#447), Bill Mazeroski (#760)

Boston Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski (#37), Carlton Fisk (#79), Luis Aparicio (#313)

Cincinnati Reds: Tony Perez (#80), Sparky Anderson (#358, manager), Johnny Bench (#433)

New York Mets: Tom Seaver (#445), Gil Hodges (#465, Finally! nearly 50 years after his premature death at 47 from a heart attack on April 2, 1972 during spring training. Note: Hall of Famer Yogi Berra ended up being the manager of the Mets in 1972, but had no card that year).

Houston Astros: Joe Morgan (#132)

Cleveland Indians: Gaylord Perry (#285)

Kansas City Royals: Bob Lemon (#449, manager, on his 12th ballot!). Note: Lemon was a manager in 1972 (ending up with a career 430–403 record) but entered the Hall of Fame on his credentials as one of the better pitchers of the late 1940s and 1950s, winning at least 20 games seven times. A converted position player, he had a career batting average of .232 and won World Series titles as both a player with the Indians in 1948 and the manager of the Yankees in 1978.

Texas Rangers: Ted Williams (#510, manager). Note: Williams was a manager in 1972 but obviously made the Hall as of the best hitters of all time, with a .344 career average and all-time record .482 career OBP; he was less accomplished as a manager, with a lifetime record of 273–364.

California Angels: Nolan Ryan (#595)

Detroit Tigers: Al Kaline (#600)

For historical context, the 1972 class of Hall of Famers included Yogi Berra, Josh Gibson, Lefty Gomez, Will Harridge, Sandy Koufax, Buck Leonard, Early Wynn, and Ross Youngs.

At first, I had 52 Hall of Famers on the list, but then realized that somehow, despite all of his accolades and gaudy statistics, Pete Rose (#559) did not belong there. Being a lifelong Reds fan, all I can say is that we loved Pete, but only because he was on our team—otherwise we would have hated him. But having recently re-watched Game 7 of the 1975 World Series (Reds over the Red Sox in seven immortal games) I can say that Pete was the consummate professional player and is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, even if it has to happen after he expires.

He was/is a wonder to watch, barely channeling that beastly energy, completely immersed in the game and looking like he was built to play baseball forever. Playing third base that year, allowing the Reds to put George Foster (#256) in left field and attain the true Big Red Machine powerhouse lineup, he’s in constant motion… popping his mitt, bending down to swipe the grass to better his hand grip, working the umpires and messing with base runners, chatting with a young Carlton Fisk and hectoring the home plate umpire when he’s up to bat, following every taken pitch into Fisk’s mitt with those eagle eyes and then staring down the ump. Damn! He never let up.

Pete would play wherever gave his team the best chance to win—he started his career in 1963 at second base, then went to the outfield before moving in to third and back and forth until eventually finishing his career at first base. For all his faults, and there were a ton, he epitomizes what it takes to play baseball the right way—full bore, with unbridled optimism. On that note, it’s interesting to learn how he got his well-deserved nickname “Charlie Hustle” (from his Wikipedia page):

During another spring training game against the New York Yankees, Whitey Ford gave him the derisive nickname “Charlie Hustle” after Rose sprinted to first base after drawing a walk. Despite (or perhaps because of) the manner in which Ford intended it, Rose adopted that nickname as a badge of honor. In Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, Ford’s teammate (and best friend) Mickey Mantle claimed that Ford gave Rose the nickname after Rose, playing in left field, made an effort to climb the fence to catch a Mantle home run that was about a hundred feet over his head, according to Mantle. According to Mantle, when he returned to the dugout, Ford said “Hey, Mick, did you see ole Charlie Hustle out there trying to catch that ball?”

So that’s my plug for Pete. Surely, he’s no worse a person than Cap Anson and some others who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame but placing bets on your team while you are the manager is problematic, to say the least. Enough said.

Interestingly, in 1972 there were no future Hall of Famers on the Yankees, White Sox, Expos, Padres, Brewers or Phillies. Nowadays that seems a little off somehow—couldn’t the White Sox or Phillies have had one? (Sure—you can say that Steve Carlton’s “Traded” Philly card #751 counts). And the Yankees should have had at least two or three, right? Well, not really. Looking back fifty years later, it’s easy to believe—these teams were some of the worst at the time. Here’s how they finished in their respective divisions in ’72: (at the time all four divisions were composed of six teams): White Sox (2nd in AL West, a miracle, led by MVP Dick Allen), Yankees (4th in AL East), Expos (5th in NL East), Padres (6th in NL West), Brewers (6th in AL East) and Phillies (6th in NL East).

Seeing the Yankees on a bottom rung of the standings is unnatural, but manager Ralph Houk (#533) had lousy roster that year, saddled with players like Fritz Peterson (#573) and Mike Kekich (#138) who had been distracted since 1969 with their wife-swapping project. Leave it to a couple of left-handed pitchers.

These guys infamously went a step further and swapped their entire nuclear families in the spring of 1973, though the clubhouse drama ended later that year when Kekich was traded away to the Cleveland Indians. For anyone out there keeping score, the arrangement worked out astoundingly well for Peterson. He and the former Mrs. Kekich are still happily married today (as late as 2013 Peterson was quoted as saying “I could not be happier with anybody in the world. My girl and I go out and party every night. We’re still on the honeymoon and it has been a real blessing.”), while Kekich’s relationship with the former Mrs. Peterson fell apart almost immediately. Welcome to the early ’70s, folks.

It’s a miracle the Rangers had even one Hall of Famer (54-year-old Manager Ted Williams at that)—they finished 54–100 and 38½ games out of first in the AL West, with divided and disgruntled players (a worn-out Denny McClain (#210) among them), who turned on Williams, probably because of his exacting ways. Not difficult to imagine—how else could one possibly accumulate those career numbers and serve in two wars with honor?

Nowadays it’s a given that statistics have always been, and always will be a key part of baseball—volumes will always be written about those numbers and of course they’re critical to gaining entrance to the Hall. As such, it’s interesting that players are judged so objectively using those numbers, almost more by them than by their creative play and personal style.

All that said, one gets the feeling that we will not see another player or manager from the 1972 series elected to the Hall. The last were Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva who all got in on the Golden Days Era ballot in December, 2021. Unless voters go back and become newly enamored of these guys, it looks like 50 will be it:

  • Vada Pinson (#135) – 2757 hits, 1365 runs scored, 1169 RBI, 127 triples, 305 stolen bases, a 4-time All-Star
  • Darrell Evans (#171) – 2223 hits, 1344 runs scored, 1354 RBI, 414 home runs, a 2-time All-Star
  • Dick Allen (#240) – 1878 hits, 1099 runs scored, 1119 RBI, 351 home runs, .292 career batting average, Rookie of the Year (1964), a league MVP (1972) and 7-time All-Star
  • Tommy John (#264) – 288 career wins, 2245 strikeouts, 3.34 ERA, 2nd in Cy Young voting twice, a 4-time All-Star, named a career-extending arm surgery after him
  • Dave Concepcion (#267) – 2326 hits, 321 stolen bases, a 9-time All-Star and 5-time Gold Glove winner
  • Willie Davis (#390) – 2561 career hits, 1217 runs scored, 1053 RBI, 398 stolen bases, a 2-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner
  • Maury Wills (#437) – 2134 hits, .281 career average, 586 stolen bases, NL MVP (1962), a 7-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Thurman Munson (#441) – 1558 (clutch) hits, .292 career average, Rookie of the Year (1970), AL MVP (1976), a 7-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glove winner
  • Mickey Lolich (#450) – 217 career wins, 2832 career strikeouts (4th all-time for lefthanders), 3.44 ERA, 3-time All-Star, hero/MVP of the 1968 World Series with three complete-game wins
  • Pete Rose (#559) – career hits leader (4,256), second all-time doubles hitter (746), 135 triples, 2165 runs scored, 1314 RBI, career .303 batting average, 3-time batting champion, Rookie of the Year (1963), MVP (1973), a 17-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Al Oliver (#575) – 2743 hits, 1189 runs scored, 1326 RBI, 529 doubles, .303 career average, a 7-time All-Star who won a batting title (1982)
  • Lou Pinella (#580) – 1705 hits, .291 career average, Rookie of the Year (1969), All-Star (1972), World Series Champion as a both a player (Yankees, 1977–78) and manager (Reds, 1990), 3-time Manager of the Year (including Seattle Mariners’ record-tying 116 regular season wins in 2001), 16th most career managerial wins (1835–1713)
  • Graig Nettles (#590) – 2225 hits, 1193 runs scored, 1314 RBI, 390 home runs, a 6-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner
  • Steve Garvey (#686) – 2599 career hits, 1143 runs scored, 1308 RBI, .294 career batting average, league MVP (1974; top 10 in MVP voting five times), a 10-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glove winner; still holds the NL record for consecutive games played (1,207)
  • Dusty Baker (#764) – 1981 career hits, 242 home runs, a 2-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, 12th all-time in managerial wins (still active with a 1987-1734 record), a 3-time Manager of the Year

The spirited Hall-of Fame arguments can be all kinds of fun…depending on whom you’re talking to…

What about Dick Allen (#240), the 7-time all-star and league MVP, about whom no less an authority than Willie Mays said: “he hit a ball harder than any player I’ve ever seen.”

Or Al Oliver, also a 7-time All-Star who batted .300 or better 11 times and was in the top 10 in batting average nine times? He’s still ranked 58th in career hits and 43rd in career doubles, with more of those than Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams.

There’s NL ironman Steve Garvey (#686), a 10-time all-star, league MVP and four-time Gold Glove winner with 2599 career hits and six seasons with at least 200 hits. Isn’t that enough?

Thurman Munson was arguably the best catcher in the AL for most of the 1970’s and the best in all of baseball for a stretch in the mid-to-late ’70’s. And it’s not just me saying that – many of his peers, including Carlton Fisk, have agreed over the years. Rookie of the Year in 1970, AL MVP in 1976, World Series champion in 1977 and 1978…his case is a matter of longevity, not excellence.

Requirements for the enshrinement of managers are even more nebulous. Managers manage—they don’t play the games, so there is a bit of luck in what roster they have to put out there. Stellar managers may get stuck with a thin team while mediocre managers may be lucky enough to have so many star players that anyone could manage them to a Series win. Pennant and World Series wins seem to be the most crucial parameters, but do total wins matter? There seem to be some discrepancies, to say the least.

What about “Sweet” Lou Piniella—not in the Hall for managing, even though he has many more career wins than Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda (1599–1439, 2-time World Series champion, 2-time Manager of the Year), Dick Williams (1571–1451, 2-time World Series champion), Earl Weaver (1480–1060, World Series champion), and Whitey Herzog (1281–1125, World Series champion). Lou only won one pennant, but got his one World Series title, same as Herzog and Weaver.

By the same token Ralph Houk also has more wins than those four Hall of Famers (1619–1531) and he won three pennants and two World Series titles…but somehow, he has not been seriously considered. Just look at poor bemused Ralph—deep down this is a man who knows he’s going to get screwed by the Veterans Committee.

Also, does it matter how good a player the manager was? For the record Lou was a better player than Williams, Lasorda, and Weaver combined (and much better than Houk and Herzog too), which should count for something. Perspective: Williams had a 13-year journeyman career, a .260 hitter with 768 career hits; Lasorda was 0–4 during his three-year, 58-1/3 inning pitching experiment; Weaver made just AA ball as a slick-fielding/no-hit second baseman before he turned to coaching and then managing. Sure, all these guys won more pennants than Pinella, and Lasorda and Williams won more World Series titles (two vs. one), but still…

Now consider that Dusty Baker was at least as good a player as Pinella, with over 150 more managerial wins, but he has not even gotten a whiff of the Hall yet. The problem with Dusty is that he hasn’t won the big one yet. He’s lost a lot in the playoffs and is now 0–2 in the World Series after the Braves beat his Astros in 2021; he’s mishandled pitchers, blown all kinds of leads, and offended more than a few people with his old-school ways.

But he’s still active at 72, and has a contract to manage Houston in 2022, which should see him sneak into ninth place on the all-time wins list for managers, ahead of Bruce Bochy, Leo Durocher, and Walter Alston. So maybe he can get it done eventually—we’ll see. Confidentially, I was rooting for Dusty this fall, over every other story. And I’m still wistful for his six years with the Reds (2008–2013)…somehow he guided them to a 509–463 record and two divisional titles. Like Cincy was going to find someone better.

Not that anyone cares, but for the record I’m aghast that Messrs. Garvey and Pinella aren’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame already and that Baker, Houk and Oliver haven’t been considered more seriously. Bottom line: it’s always interesting to see where they draw that line between the greats and the near greats and how they evaluate that longevity and those degrees of dominance.

Maybe even more interesting are the discussions of the players who shouldn’t be in the Hall but are. How did Bert Blyleven make it in? He won 20 games in a season once, was never even a runner-up in the Cy Young Award voting and made just two all-star teams. Feh. Ron Santo? He had 2254 career hits and a .277 batting average…though he was a nine-time all-star and won five Gold Gloves. Bill Mazeroski? He had 2016 career hits and a career average of .260, though he was a 10-time all-star, won eight Gold Gloves and was the Game 7 hero of the 1960 World Series. Harmon Killebrew? He batted .256 for his career (and never hit .300 for a season), had just 2086 hits (including ‘only’ 290 doubles and 24 triples; his 573 homers got him in), and struck out 1699 times. Hmm.

Sure, I know—who am I, of all people, to disparage and critique any of these great pros? It’s true. But let’s face it—that’s what stats-obsessed baseball fanatics do for fun. The more you look into it, critics seem preoccupied with thinking that Phil Rizzuto (1588 career hits, .273 batting average), may not be worthy, nor Jim Bunning (a 224–184 career record and winner of 20 games only once, though he did win 19 games four times and had 2855 career strikeouts), nor Bruce Sutter (68–71 record, 300 saves, 2.83 ERA, won a Cy Young Award (1979)), or Rollie Fingers (#241, 114–118 record, 341 saves, 2.90 ERA, won both a Cy Young Award and MVP award in 1981). And let’s refrain from piling on poor Rube Marquard for his 201-177 record and 3.08 ERA, compiled during a career (1908-25) mostly within the dead ball era (1900-1919). It’s old news.

Relief pitchers in general used to get little respect. Hoyt Wilhelm (#777) was the first reliever to get elected, and deservedly so—he was winner of a MLB record 124 games in relief, with a 2.52 ERA and 1610 strikeouts over 2254.1 innings. Nowadays no one questions Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and (finally) Lee Smith’s credentials. Dennis Eckersley and Rich Gossage are solid.

Could John Franco ever get in with his 90–87 record, 424 saves (5th all-time) and 2.89 ERA? Maybe he should, especially when compared objectively with some of the guys mentioned here, but probably not. Maybe he wasn’t “dominant” enough. And honestly, despite Sutter’s relatively short (12 years) career and his never having started a major league game, he and Fingers probably did have enough to get in there.

You just wonder where that line is. Apparently, that line’s not only about the numbers, as important as they are—Sutter and Fingers had losing records. There’s also that certain je ne sais quoi, or quality that can’t exactly be described. Call it “the eye test”—you can’t define it, but you know when you see it. Like Sutter’s live split-fingered fastball, Steve Garvey’s sweet compact swing and Popeye forearms, and Lou Pinella arguing a call like world peace depended on it. Inexorably, times keep changing and along with them perspectives keep changing too. Maybe we’ll come around to some of these guys eventually.


Part of an ode to baseball and the early 1970s in general, and to the Topps Company and the special 1972 set specifically. Thanks for the memories, Topps—both the old ones and the new ones! Apologies for the pronounced wordiness here, but the 50th anniversary of the set warrants some indulgence.

Dedicated to my sports-loving mom, Caroline B. Wilkinson, who never threw my cards away, and to all the players from the 1972 Topps Series, especially those who passed during the writing of this article: Henry Aaron, Dick Allen, Ed Armbrister, Glenn Beckert, Larry Biittner, Hal Breeden, Lou Brock, Oscar Brown, Horace Clark, Billy Conigliaro, Chuck Dobson, Paul Doyle, Ed Farmer, Ray Fosse, Bill Freehan, Bob Gibson, Jim Grant, Grant Jackson, Bart Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Jay Johnstone, Al Kaline, Lew Krausse, Angel Mangual, Mike Marshall, Denis Menke, Lindy McDaniel, Roger Moret, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Bob Oliver, Don Pavletich, Ron Perranoski, Juan Pizzaro, J. R. Richard, Mike Ryan, Tom Seaver, Richie Scheinblum, Rennie Stennett, Bill Sudakis, Don Sutton, Tony Taylor, Dick Tidrow, Bill Virdon, Bob Watson, Stan Williams, and Jim Wynn.

Special thanks to Baseball-Almanac.com,  Baseball-Reference.com, Baseballhall.org, and Wikipedia.com for kindly compiling and sharing their vast treasure troves of data.

Extra special thanks to Jason Schwartz and Nick Vossbrink  for their timely encouragement and warm welcome into the SABR community.

Much Gratitude to Mr. Larry Pauley, who gave this project direction when there was none.

Check back soon for the next article in this series! 

View-Master Instructional Baseball

For a long time the 1953 Viewmaster set was the only Major League Baseball one I was aware of. Stay on Twitter long enough though and of course people will turn up more. I’ve recently discovered that Viewmaster made other sets in the 1970s and 1980s. Theres’s a 1970 which one is part of an instructional series and features the 1969 Mets. And there are a bunch of 1981 sets from various teams’* Spring Trainings.

*I’ve seen Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Twins, and Yankees on eBay.

I’m not a completionist and decided to skip the 1981 team-based sets (if a Giants set existed though I’d’ve absolutely behaved differently) but the 1970 Mets se intrigued me. This is partially because it’s older than I am but it also looked to be shot a Shea Stadium so there was potentially a lot more of interest to look at in it. When I found one for under $10 shipped my hand was forced.

I went ahead and made composite scans of the discs this time so you can see both the printing and the images. I didn’t receive the booklet but these don’t look like they were really that instructional either. Anyway, the most fun part of these is scanning and making wiggle gifs so let’s get to those right away.

Disc 1

Pitcher “looks in” for sign from catcher.

The catcher gives the sign to pitcher, Gary Gentry

Grips for fast ball (left) and curve ball (right)

Pitcher winds up for the pitch.

Leg lift helps pitcher bring body and arm forward.

Pitcher’s forward stride is key to good control.

Release of ball on follow-through is up to pitcher.

The first disc demonstrates pitching and features Gary Gentry. Pretty basic instructions but some of the images—such as the catcher giving the signs—were unexpected especially for what works in 3D. I like that this disc is basically a complete sequence of how to throw a pitch and I can totally see how it would have worked as an instructional item.

Between the matchups on the out-of-town scoreboard in and the San Diego on the game-day scoreboard this set appears to have been taken on April 21 or April 22. Both games started around 2:00 pm while the photos look to have been taken in the mid-morning with the sun getting high but still enough in the East to cast a distinct shadow.

Disc 2

Infielder’s stance enables him to field or block ball.

Shortstop takes ball hit on his left and…

…tags second to force out runner from first.

The throw to first must be fast to get double play.

Shortstop play: second baseman to shortstop double play.

Sacrifice bunt gets runner to next base.

Fielder bare-hands bunt for hurried throw.

The next disc features fielding with Bud Harrelson. Unlike Disc 1 this disc doesn’t show a single sequence and instead depicts three or four distinct plays. The photos however are a lot of fun because a bunch of them show the ball in motion and as a result, really really pop as 3D. I especially like the dust clouds that show that the balls were actually being hit to him.

I really really love the fifth image showing Harrelson taking the throw from the second baseman. While the photo quality is technically inferior to the 1953 photos* being able to capture action like this creates a very different 3D experience. The pair of bunting photos is similarly fantastic this way.

*Color is worse and the sharpness of the images is pretty bad too.

The lack of a crisp shadow in this set of photos indicates either a different session or that the weather got a lot worse after the Gentry photos were taken. Sadly no visible scoreboards to help us either.

Disc 3

Batter takes one of three stances—open, closed, or parallel.

Cleon Jones meets the pitch.

Fielder watches fly ball all the way into his glove.

Fielder catches line drive with glove straight up.

Outfielder throws ball to infielder.

Harrelson makes a base hit.

Cleon Jones makes a score.

Probably the least instructive of the discs since it doesn’t include any real sequences but also the most interesting of the three since it includes three images of actual in-game action, all of which work pretty well in 3D. The last image of Cleon Jones scoring is clearly from the April 21 game against the Padres and suggests that the Gary Gentry photos were likely taken the same day before the game.

Jones scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly but the Padres rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead. Harrelson did indeed single in this game so there’s a very good chance that his photos were also taken in this game. Where the Gentry photos were taken mid morning under a crisp sun, these are approaching twilight with the stadium lights on even though it’s only 4:30.

The photos  of Jones in the outfield have similar light to the Harrelson photos on disc 2 and the scoreboard there indicates that they were taken before a Pittsburgh game. The out of town scoreboard suggests April 16 as the most-likely date in this case.

It’s interesting to me that Viewmaster used generic shirts or jackets and plain caps for these photos yet was able to use images of actual in-game action which show the Mets trademarks. I’m not well-versed enough in intellectual property law to make a guess as to why this is though.

With the 1953 set, I turned my scans into actual cards and even sent some out TTM. I don’t see myself doing the same with these. Some of this is the photo quality just not being good enough. But there’s a larger issue in this case in how the images weren’t selected to be portraits. Still it’ll be nice to print something out to go with the discs in the binder. I just have to figure out what that might be.

Redecorating with Hostess Paneling

I ate more Hostess products than the average kid. I’m sure of it. Twinkies, CupCakes, Suzy-Q’s, Fruit Pies (which I told Karen, in our early years, was the perfect food, containing all the food groups), Snowballs (word to the wise – don’t put the whole thing in your mouth at once. Breathing becomes difficult), Chocodiles (chocolate covered Twinkies, of which my older cousin sang to the tune of “Never Smile at a Crocodile”). Chilled in the fridge was my preferred preparation. I didn’t eat Ding Dongs though. That’s what Yodels are for.

This was before they started putting cards on box backs in 1975. That year was amazing! A new set, rare in those times, and not that easy to build. Yes, I ate a lot of Hostess, but 50 boxes (150 cards) in one summer was too much even for me.

For some reason I cut those cards out. I knew better by then; I was already a serious collector. I can’t quite figure it out. A few years ago I realized I had almost half the set, 69 cards (or 23 boxes worth), and finished it up, with all variations except the Doug Rader spelled correctly one. It’s a bit pricey. Hand cuts are very forgiving, and the whole project was pretty cheap.

I was happy with that, my first complete Hostess set. I’d never seen them all in one place and it warmed my cockles. Now toasty, I set out to find the other sets, and stumbled upon two great deals; 1976 and 1977 hand cuts (nicer job than I did!) were now in hand, with lots of my original panels for doubles. I had wised up by  ’76 and left the cards intact.

Now, with two years left to clear the table, I searched for 1978 and 1979 hand cut sets, but first I checked my inventory. I must’ve been on a diet in 1978 because I only had 11 of 50 panels. Not so in 1979; I had 30 of 50!

While my leanings were toward building hand cut sets, I couldn’t bring myself to cut the cards after all these years. I’d kept them intact for so long it felt wrong. I had no choice (I did have a choice, but, so be it), I committed myself to panel sets, even though that would make it harder and more expensive.

There are various panels that I find acceptable:

I’m good with all of them, as long as the perforated lines are fully, or almost fully, visible. Some panels have marks/stains, some panels have some whitish scuffing. That all works for me, because that’s how they looked when my mother would drive me to the Hostess outlet nearest our house (I think it was Medford, Long Island). I’d get home with a bunch of boxes, dump all the cakes into a bowl, find room in the refrigerator, and cut out the panels. I wasn’t going to wait for box by box consumption to file the cards away.

I’m already down to needing only 6 panels for 1978 and 11 for 1979. (I’m not dedicated to getting the variations. 1979 has two – Carew, close up and far away, and Bailor, regular and reverse images). I’ve used my 1977 and 1978 doubles for trade, which has come in handy. I had an emotional twinge letting them go; they feel like a real part of my youth and early collection, but I had to get past that. They’re real assets, and there’s something nice about teenage me helping old me get some new cards.

There are two pricey items – 1978 Eddie Murray rookie, whose value should be lowered by the appearance of Gary Lavelle and Rennie Stennett, and the 1979 Ozzie Smith rookie, whose value is elevated by the appearance of Nolan Ryan and Willie Montanez, although I’m sure most of that is not from Willie.

Once I’m done, there’s a Hostess party to be had. CupCakes and Twinkies for all! I’m buying this round.