Sunday, February 28, 2010

#504 Jerry Grote

#504 Jerry Grote
Here we see young Houston catcher Jerry Grote auditioning for the role of Dick Tracy villain Flattop.

Fun facts about Jerry Grote:

-Born in San Antonio, TX, he attended nearby Trinity University for a year before signing with the Colt .45s in 1962.

-Debuted with Houston at the end of the 1963 season and shared in the catching job the following year, but hit only .182 and spent all of 1964 in the minors before being traded to the Mets.

-In New York, Grote gained a reputation as one of the finest defensive catchers in the game. Lou Brock claimed that he was the toughest backstop to steal against.

-Was a two-time All-Star for the Mets (1968 and 1974), though his best season with the bat may have been 1975, when he hit .295 with 39 RBI in 386 at-bats.

-Caught every inning of the postseason for New York in 1969. In the World Series, Grote's pitching staff held the Orioles to a .146 average in five games to shockingly win it all. He was also the only catcher that the Mets used in the 1973 postseason, when they upset the Reds in the NLCS before succumbing to Oakland in a seven-game World Series.

-According to the excellent Mets by the Numbers site, he wore #15 longer than any other player in team history: nearly twelve seasons.

-Late in his career, Jerry was traded to the Dodgers and played sparingly as a backup (1977-1978).

-Was coaxed out of retirement by the Royals in 1981, as they were in a pinch for catchers. Hit .304 for them in 22 games, then played a few games with the Dodgers at the end of the year before calling it quits for good. In parts of 16 seasons he hit .252 with 39 homers and 404 RBI.

-Managed in the minors for Detroit's A-level Lakeland and AA Birmingham clubs in 1985. Also laced up his spikes again in 1989 for the Senior Professional Baseball Association's St. Lucie Legends.

-Has been inducted into the Texas Baseball, Mets, and and San Antonio Sports Halls of Fame. After walking away from baseball, he raised prized Texas longhorns on his ranch near Austin, TX.
#504 Jerry Grote (back)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#500 Eddie Mathews

#500 Eddie Mathews
Just in time for spring training, we have a Hall of Famer standing in front of palm trees! But what's this "Ed" Mathews business, anyhow? They got it right on the back of the card. Weird stuff.

Fun facts about Eddie Mathews:

-Hailing from Texarkana, TX, Eddie played high school ball in Santa Barbara, CA before signing with the Boston Braves in 1949.

-Debuted with the Braves in 1952, hitting 25 home runs at age 20. Over his career, he would be the only player to represent all three of the franchise's home cities (Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta).

-Led the National League with 47 home runs in his sophomore season, the first of nine straight years in which he topped 30 longballs. He also had "slash" stats of .302 AVG/.406 OBP/.627 SLG, and was runner-up to Roy Campanella in MVP voting. (He would add another second-place MVP finish in 1959.) His All-Star selection marked the first of nine years in which he'd receive the honor.

-Was the first athlete on the front cover of Sports Illustrated in 1954. In the accompanying article, the great Ty Cobb remarked, "I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them."

-Much more than a slugger, Mathews was known for his ability and willingness to take a walk (topping 90 BB nine times) and to slap the ball to the left side of the infield to confound the exaggerated defensive shift that teams employed against him. He was also a capable fielder at third base.

-Though his performances were not extraordinary in the Braves' 1957 and 1958 World Series appearances against the Yankees, he did hit a walkoff two-run homer in Milwaukee's Game 4 win in 1957 and made the final putout in their Game 7 triumph that year.

-Though he was overshadowed by teammate Hank Aaron for much of his career, the duo worked well together, hitting 863 home runs (Aaron 442 and Mathews 421) during their time together (1954-1966) to break a record set by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

-Eddie finished his career with the Astros and Tigers, going out on top with a World Series-winning Detroit team in 1968. He hit .271 in 17 seasons with a .376 on-base percentage, 354 doubles, 512 home runs (he was the seventh player ever to top 500), and 1,453 RBI.

-Mathews returned to Atlanta to manage the Braves from 1972-1974. His record was 149-161, and the club finished fifth in his only full season at the helm. However, he was in the dugout when Aaron hit his 715th career homer to pass Ruth.

-Was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978, in his fifth year of eligibility, proving that baseball writers may have been even dumber back then than they are now. He died due to complications from pneumonia in 2001 at age 69.
#500 Eddie Mathews (back)

Monday, February 22, 2010

#485 Nellie Fox

#485 Nellie Fox
Just a week after posting Luis Aparicio, we come across his good friend and longtime double play partner! I love it when things work out that way.

Fun facts about Nellie Fox:

-A native of St. Thomas, PA, Nellie signed with the Philadelphia Athletics at age 17 in 1944.

-He broke in with the A's in 1947, but played only 98 games for them in three seasons before being traded to the White Sox.

-In 1951, his second year in Chicago, Fox broke out with a .313 average and 32 doubles to make the All-Star team for the first of 11 straight seasons (he would add another All-Star nod near the end of his career to make it a dozen).

-Nellie was notoriously difficult to strike out, never exceeding 18 whiffs in a season and totaling 216 for his career. To put that in perspective, Arizona's Mark Reynolds set a new single-season
record with 223 last year! Fox's average of one strikeout per 42.7 at bats in third-best in the modern era.

-Whitey Ford famously claimed to have struck out Fox only once, and claimed that it was because the umpire made a bad call. Actually, the second baseman whiffed five times in 177 recorded career matchups between the two. Another Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning, struck out Fox just once in 158 meetings!

-Proving his worth as a contact hitter, he led the American League in hits four times and also topped the loop in triples in 1960. He hit ten that year, one of four seasons in which he reached double-digits in three-baggers.

-Was well-regarded in his time, winning three Gold Gloves at second base and finishing in the top ten in MVP voting six times.

-Speaking of the MVP, Fox won the award in 1959, when he led the "Go-Go Sox" to the A. L. pennant with a .306 average and .380 on-base percentage. He also walloped a personal-best 34 doubles and was second on the club with 70 RBI despite hitting only two homers. He hit .375 with three doubles in the World Series, but Chicago fell to the Dodgers in six games.

-Joined the fledgling Houston team as a player-coach in 1964 and played his final game the season after that. In parts of 19 seasons he hit .288 with 2,663 hits, 355 doubles, 112 triples, 35 home runs, and 790 RBI. He continued to coach with the Astros through 1967 and was on the Rangers' coaching staff from 1968-1972.

-Nellie died prematurely, as skin cancer claimed him in December 1975, just weeks before his 48th birthday. The White Sox retired his #2, and he was posthumously enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
#485 Nellie Fox (back)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

#479 Ken Harrelson

#479 Ken Harrelson
That's right, it's a mighty young "Hawk"! One look at his beak, and you can see how Ken got his nickname.

Fun facts about Ken Harrelson:

-Ken was born in Woodruff, SC, and was a four-sport athlete in high school (baseball, basketball, football, and golf). He signed with the Athletics in 1959.

-He debuted with Kansas City in June of 1963, and singled off of 283-game winner Jim Kaat for his first career hit.

-Hit 23 homers in 1965, his first full season in the majors. Though he hit only .238, he walked 66 times to add to his value.

-Was traded to the Senators in mid-1966, but the A's brought him back a year later. His second stint with K.C. lasted only two-and-a-half months; he was released for calling owner Charlie Finley a "menace to baseball" after Finley fired manager Alvin Dark.

-The Red Sox picked up Harrelson for the stretch drive in 1967, but he struggled in the World Series, eking out a single hit in four games.

-The following year was Hawk's greatest, as he hit .275 and led Boston with 35 home runs. He also led the club and the league with 109 RBI. His efforts were good for a spot on the All-Star team and a third-place finish in MVP voting. He was also named A.L. Comeback Player of the Year.

-An early-season trade to the Indians in 1969 led Ken to consider retirement before commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened. He finished the year with 30 home runs, 27 of them with Cleveland to tie for the team lead. He also walked 99 times.

-A broken leg in 1970 shortened his career, as he retired midway through the following season to pursue a pro golf career. While he was still active in baseball, Harrelson often wore a golf glove while batting and is credited with popularizing the use of batting gloves. In parts of nine major league seasons he hit .239 with 131 home runs and 421 RBI.

-Though best known these days as a TV announcer, Hawk had a short and ill-advised run as the White Sox GM in 1985-1986. His legacy included the firing of manager Tony La Russa and assistant GM Dave Dombrowski, as well as the trading of prospect Bobby Bonilla. All three of course went on to greater success with other teams.

-Ken has gained attention (both positive and negative) as an outspoken, enthusiastic, and unabashedly partial TV announcer. He has worked with the Red Sox, Yankees, and White Sox, and has been with the Pale Hose for several stints totaling a few decades. He's quick with a catchphrase, including "he gone", "grab some bench", and "you can put it on the board, YES!".
#479 Ken Harrelson (back)

Friday, February 19, 2010


1982 Topps: 165 

275 285 294 300 301 302 305 306 312 314 316 326 337 338 339 340 342 344 349 367 368 372 373 394 395 399 400 401 411 420 431 432 438 444 447 465 472 474 477 478 480 481 490 494 500 503 505 506 524 538 540 551 574 586 587 588 593 595 596 598 599 601 602 603 604 606 607 608 610 618 619 620 621 622 623 626 627 628 629 630 631 632 633 636 640 642 643 647 652 655 657 658 659 660 661 662 663 664 665 666 667 670 671 672 673 676 677 678 680 681 682 683 687 688 689 691 693 694 695 697 699 700 701 702 706 708 710 711 713 715 717 719 720 721 722 724 725 728 729 731 732 733 740 741 742 745 749 750 751 752 755 756 758 762 765 775 777 778 780 786 787 789 790

#473 Orioles Rookie Stars: Paul Blair and Dave Johnson

#473 Orioles Rookie Stars: Paul Blair and Dave Johnson
Wow. I'm sure I've talked about how hit-or-miss these multi-rookie cards are, but this is almost certainly the best of the bunch. The Braves Rookie Stars card with Clay Carroll and Phil Niekro is the only challenger, I'd say. It's hard to beat six combined All-Star appearances and 11 Gold Gloves, though!

Fun facts about Paul Blair:

-A native of Cushing, OK, Paul attended high school in Los Angeles before signing with the Mets in 1962.

-The Orioles snatched him up via the (now defunct) first-year minor league draft, and he made his major league debut late in 1964 at age 20.

-Earned the O's starting center field job the following year, but really came on in 1966. That year he hit .277 in the regular season and his solo home run off of Claude Osteen delivered a 1-0 win for the Birds in the third game of the World Series. In the next game, he caught the final out to clinch Baltimore's first championship.

-Won the first of his eight Gold Gloves in 1967 and batted a career-high .293 and led the American League with 12 triples. He was a speedy and dazzling defender in center field who played especially shallow, often racing back to the wall to rob opposing hitters.

-Was an All-Star for the first time in 1969 (he would return to the Midsummer Classic in 1973), when he hit .285 and established personal bests in runs (102), doubles (32), home runs (26), and RBI (76), and stole 20 bases for the first time. He batted .400 and drove in six runs in the Orioles' three-game ALCS sweep of the Twins, but (like many of his teammates) his bat fell cold in the shocking five-game World Series loss to the Mets.

-Had a memorable hot streak in the 1970 World Series win over the Reds, batting .474 (9-for-19) in five games. For his career, he was a .288 hitter with the O's and Yankees in six Fall Classics (his teams won four and lost two).

-After his average dipped to .197 in 1976, Baltimore traded Paul to the Yankees. He pulled reserve duty in the Bronx for two years, memorably replacing Reggie Jackson in right field in mid-inning on June 18, 1977 when Jackson enraged manager Billy Martin with a supposed lack of effort on a Jim Rice double. Martin and Jackson came to blows in the dugout in a nationally televised game.

-After a poor season with the Reds in 1979, Blair retired and took a job with the Yankees as a minor league instructor, but returned to active duty in June for a dozen games, mostly as a defensive replacement. He finished his career with a .250 average in parts of 17 seasons, to go with 134 home runs, 620 RBI, and 171 steals.

-Paul kept busy after his playing days, serving as head coach at Fordham University (1983) and Coppin State (1998-2002) and coaching in the Astros organization. He also briefly played for the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989.

-Blair currently lives in Owings Mills, MD and still makes appearances at Orioles events. Though he suffered a heart attack last December, he recovered quickly and took part in a reunion of members of the 1970 World Champs at last month's Orioles FanFest.

Fun facts about Dave(y) Johnson:

-Davey was born in Orlando, FL, and briefly attended Texas A & M University before signing with the Orioles in 1962.

-He debuted with the O's in the 1965 season at age 22. Early the following season, they traded starting second baseman Jerry Adair to clear the way for Johnson.

-Was an All-Star for the first of four seasons in 1968, and won the first of three straight Gold Gloves the following year.

-Starred in the 1970 postseason, batting .364 with two homers in a three-game ALCS sweep of the Twins and adding a .313 mark with a .476 on-base percentage in the World Series victory over the Reds.

-His finest season in Baltimore came in 1971, when he hit .282 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI.

-After slumping badly in 1972, he was traded to the Braves to make way for the younger Bobby Grich. Davey's first season in Atlanta was remarkable, as he broke Rogers Hornsby's 50-year-old record for home runs by a second baseman, walloping 43 and joining Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans as the first trio of teammates to top 40 homers in a season. He was named Comeback Player of the Year in the N. L.

-Spent 1975 and 1976 in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, where he was chosen by revered manager Shigeo Nagashima as the first foreign player on the team in nearly a decade. For much of his time with the Giants, he battled injuries as well as his manager and teammates. Despite hitting 26 homers in 1976, winning a Gold Glove, and spurring a worst-to-first season for his club, he was essentially blackballed from the league after feuding with Nagashima and refusing a pay cut.

-Returned to the U.S. and played well in 1977 and 1978 in reserve duty for the Phillies and Cubs. Finished his playing career with a .261 average, 136 home runs, and 609 in parts of 13 seasons.

-Was a successful manager for the Mets (1984-1990), Reds (1993-1995), Orioles (1996-1997), and Dodgers (1999-2000), finishing first or second in 11 of his 12 full seasons. His greatest triumph came in 1986, as he led the Mets to a 108-54 record and a thrilling World Series win over the Red Sox. He often clashed with ownership, leading to his frequent departures from clubs.

-Since his major league managerial career ended, Davey has been active with USA Baseball, managing America's teams in the 2005 and 2007 Baseball World Cups (winning the crown in the latter by toppling Cuba), the 2008 Summer Olympics (bronze medal), and 2009 World Baseball Classic. He is currently a senior advisor for the Washington Nationals.
#473 Orioles Rookie Stars: Paul Blair and Dave Johnson (back)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#410 Luis Aparicio

#410 Luis Aparicio
In keeping with this week's trend of Class of 1984 Hall of Famers with solid nicknames, today brings "Little Looie". The half-obscured patch on his left sleeve was worn by the Orioles in 1964 to commemorate the sesquicentennial (that's 150th) anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, which was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 during the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry. Nothing like a little history lesson with your baseball card blog reading, huh?

Fun facts about Luis Aparicio:

-Luis was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and signed with the White Sox in 1954. His father Luis Sr. and his uncle Ernesto were well-known infielders in their home country.

-At age 22, he began the 1956 season as Chicago's starting shortstop and became the first foreign-born player to win the American League Rookie of the Year award. That year he hit .266 and led the league in steals with 21; it was the first of nine consecutive seasons that he would be the stolen base king.

-Was an All-Star in ten different seasons and also won nine Gold Gloves.

-In 1959, he sparked the "Go-Go Sox" with 56 steals in addition to his flashy defense, and finished second in MVP voting to his double play partner Nellie Fox. The two were good friends off the field, and Luis named his son after Nellie.

-Despite Aparicio's strong performance in the 1959 World Series (8-for-26 [.308]), Chicago was bested by the Dodgers in six games.

-Was traded to the Orioles in a six-player deal prior to the 1963 season. The swap involved another former Rookie of the Year (Ron Hansen) and a fellow future Hall of Famer (Hoyt Wilhelm).

-Spent five years with the O's, winning a World Championship with them in 1966. That season he hit .276 with 25 swipes and a career-high 25 doubles and finished ninth in MVP balloting.

-Returned to Chicago in another six-player trade in November 1967. Spent only three seasons with the Pale Hose the second time around but posted the two highest single-season batting averages of his career despite being in his mid-thirties (.280 in 1969 and .313 in 1970).

-Finished his career with three years in Boston, retiring in 1973 as a .262 hitter over his 18 seasons. He hit 394 doubles, 83 home runs, and 791 RBI, and stole 506 bases (20th-best in history when he retired, still 34th-best). Also held the following records (since broken) for a shortstop: most games played, assists, and double plays.

-Was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. The White Sox retired his #11 that year, though he gave permission for it to be "un-retired" in 2010 for fellow countryman Omar Vizquel, who broke his record for games played by a shortstop. Among other honors, he was inducted into the Venezuelan Hall of Fame in 2003, threw out the first pitch at the White Sox' first home World Series game in 2005, and had a statue in his likeness (alongside a statue of keystone partner Nellie Fox) unveiled at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field in 2006. Additionally, the best Venezuelan player in the major leagues has received the Luis Aparicio Award each year since 2004.
#410 Luis Aparicio (back)

Monday, February 15, 2010

#400 Harmon Killebrew

#400 Harmon Killebrew
THE KILLER! What a great card, and in such great shape. I know that of the 56 cards that I have yet to obtain from this set, there are some big names left to go, so I was surprised to consult my checklist and see that I have four of the five "Hero Number" cards - per Ben Henry, these are cards with nice round double-zero numbers, traditionally reserved by Topps for the biggest stars. The only one I'm missing is #200, Joe Torre.

Fun Facts about Harmon Killebrew:

-Born in Payette, ID, Harmon was a bonus baby signing for the original Senators in 1954.

-Per bonus baby rules, he went straight to the majors at age 18, but played sparingly for years; he did not exceed 100 at-bats in a season until his sixth year in the bigs.

-His first prolonged exposure to American League pitching was a success: in 1959, he led the league with 42 home runs, walked 90 times, and drove in 105 runs. It was the first of 11 seasons in which he was tabbed as an All-Star.

-During that season, Harmon bashed 15 homers in May. He hit one of those on May 29 in a 7-6 victory over the Red Sox with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in attendance, and autographed the ball and presented it to the Prez for his grandson David.

-In all, Killebrew topped the A.L. in homers six times and led in RBI thrice and walks four times. Despite striking out often, he only led the loop in whiffs once.

-In 1965, he batted .286 and got on base at a .444 clip in his only World Series. He homered against Dodgers starter Don Drysdale in Game 4, but drove in just one more run in the series as Los Angeles prevailed in seven games.

-Was the A. L. MVP in 1969, when he powered the Twins to a Western Division crown with league bests and career highs in home runs (49), RBI (140), walks (145), and on-base percentage (.427). The Orioles chose to pitch around him in the ALCS, walking him six times but holding him to one hit as they swept Minnesota in three games.

-Finished his career as the Royals' designated hitter in 1975. In a career that spanned 22 years, he hit .256 with an excellent .376 on-base percentage, 573 home runs (still tenth all-time), and 1,584 RBI.

-After calling it quits, he lent his voice to Twins' TV broadcasts from 1976-1978 and 1984-1988. The club retired his #3 in 1975, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

-He has long been rumored to have been the prototype for Major League Baseball's "batter silhouette" logo, which debuted in 1969.
#400 Harmon Killebrew (back)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

#389 Don Larsen

#389 Don Larsen
Well, what do you know? It's back-to-back World Series heroes, and they even experienced their shining moments in back-to-back years. I'm also in awe of Don Larsen's haircut, which you could set your watch to. At least that's what Abe Simpson told me.

Fun facts about Don Larsen:

-A native of Michigan City, IN, Don signed with the St. Louis Browns in 1947.

-Debuted with the Browns in 1953 at age 23. Despite completing seven of his 22 starts with a league-average 4.16 ERA, he went 7-12 for the woeful Brownies. The following year the club moved to Baltimore and his fortunes were even worse (3-21, 4.37 ERA).

-The Yankees acquired Larsen in a giant 17-player trade and he paid real dividends, going 45-24 with a 3.50 ERA while switching between starting and relieving between 1955 and 1959.

-Of course the pinnacle of Don's career came in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, when he twirled a perfect game against the Dodgers. It gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in a Series they would win in seven games. He is still the only pitcher to ever toss a perfecto in the postseason, and he was named Series MVP.

-Overall, he had a 4-2 record with a 2.75 ERA in ten games spanning five World Series.

-Larsen was known as a carouser; manager Casey Stengel once said that the only thing he feared was sleep. Teammates dubbed the lanky pitcher "Gooney Bird".

-Bounced from team to team and pitched primarily in relief in the second half of his career. Logged time with the Athletics, White Sox, Giants, Astros, Orioles, and Cubs.

-Turned in two of the best years of his career at ages 34-35, going 4-9 with a 2.45 ERA in 1964 and 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 1965.

-When he retired during the 1967 season, his career record stood at 81-91 with a 3.78 ERA.

-He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra at Yankee Stadium on July 18, 1999. That day, he witnessed David Cone throw a perfect game. He was also inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
#389 Don Larsen (back)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#387 Johnny Podres

#387 Johnny Podres
With this card, we move from a parcel of cards from Max to...another parcel of cards from Max! This one is pretty star-studded; when a World Series hero is one of the lesser cards, you know you've got a special group. For about the 50th time, I offer my sincere thanks to Max.

Fun facts about Johnny Podres:

-Hailing from Witherbee, NY, Johnny signed with the Dodgers in 1951.

-Wasted no time in reaching the major leagues, putting up a 9-4 record as a rookie swingman in 1953. The 20-year-old even started Game Five in the World Series against the Yankees, but was knocked out in the third inning and took the loss.

-Became a household name during the 1955 World Series, going the distance in both of his starts and allowing just two earned runs to Yankee hitters. He twirled a Game 7 shutout to bring home Brooklyn's first world championship and was named Series MVP.

-Truly established himself in 1957 after missing the previous season for military service. That year, he led the National League with a 2.66 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and six shutouts despite a ho-hum 12-9 record.

-In a seven-year span from 1957-1963, Podres won at least a dozen games each year (peaking with an 18-5 mark in 1961) and was a three-time All-Star.

-Had a couple near-miss games, retiring the first 20 Phillies batters on July 2, 1962 before tiring in the seventh inning (he won 5-1) and pitching eight hitless innings against Houston on August 4, 1963 before Johnny Temple led off the ninth with a single (he won 4-0).

-Pitched for three World Series champion Dodger teams in all, also winning rings in 1959 and 1963 and picking up a win in each of those Fall Classics to run his career postseason record to 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA.

-Late in his career, he shifted back to a primary bullpen role with the Dodgers, Tigers, and (fittingly) Padres. Hung up his spikes in 1969, his fifteenth big league season. In all, he was 148-116 with a 3.68 ERA.

-Spent thirteen years as a pitching coach for the Padres, Red Sox, Twins, and Phillies. Curt Schilling credited Johnny with impacting his life both on and off the field.

-Podres settled in Glens Falls, NY after his baseball career ended. He died in early 2008 at age 75 after battling heart, leg, and kidney ailments.
#387 Johnny Podres (back)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

#554 Chico Ruiz

#554 Chico Ruiz
It's pretty rare to get an extreme closeup in this set in which the player is wearing a hat. I'm glad to see better detail on Chico's Reds hat, as we can see the red pinstripes that match those on his jersey. I'm also grateful that the camera angle isn't low enough to allow us to see up his nose.

Fun facts about Chico Ruiz:

-Born in Santo Domingo, Cuba, Ruiz signed with the Reds in 1958.

-He had a slow climb through the minors that included three and a half seasons at AAA before finally debuting with Cincinnati at age 25 in 1964. That year, he received a career-high 311 at-bats; he wouldn't top 250 at-bats in any other season.

-During his rookie season, he played a small yet crucial role in the famous 1964 pennant race. It was Chico's steal of home (with Frank Robinson at bat, no less) that provided the only run in a 1-0 win over the Phillies on September 21. It was the first of ten straight losses for the Phils, which cemented their epic collapse down the stretch.

-Hit his only two career home runs in his rookie year. The first was a two-run inside-the-park shot against the Astros on April 21, 1964.

-Was a versatile player, logging time at every defensive position except center field and pitcher during his career.

-Chico was the only player in major league history to pinch-hit for both Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.

-After six seasons in Cincinnati, he was traded with Alex Johnson to the Angels for three players, including Pedro Borbon, Sr.

-Chico made headlines with the Halos for the wrong reason, when he allegedly charged into the clubhouse in 1971 brandishing a gun and professing his hate for Johnson. Supposedly he threatened to kill the unpopular outfielder.

-Ruiz played his final game for the Angels in 1971, finishing his career with a .240 average, two home runs, and 69 RBI in parts of eight seasons.

-Chico was killed in a car accident at age 33. Early on the morning of February 9, 1972 (38 years ago today...eerie coincidence), he struck a sign pole in San Diego.

#554 Chico Ruiz (back)

Monday, February 08, 2010

#492 Gene Freese

#492 Gene Freese
I've wandered home after spending the weekend snowed in with my better half in Calvert County, so it's time to get back on the horse with this now-45-year-old card set. Next man up is Gene Freese, who to the best of my knowledge was never nicknamed "Mr. Freese". Batman? Anybody?

Fun facts about Gene Freese:

-Born in Wheeling, WV, Gene signed with the Pirates in 1953 as a nineteen-year-old.

-His older brother George Freese was a third baseman who briefly played for the Tigers, Pirates, and Cubs.

-Gene cracked the Pittsburgh starting lineup as a 21-year-old rookie in 1955, alternating between second base and third base and hitting .253 with 21 doubles, eight triples, and 14 homers.

-After a sophomore slump, he rebounded in 1957 with a career-high .283 average as a part-time starter at three positions (adding a few games in left field).

-Played for five teams in a four-year span (Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies, White Sox, Reds), and actually had a productive run in the midst of all of that movement. In 1959, he hit 23 homers for the Phillies, including consecutive pinch-hit longballs in April.

-Placed third in the American League with 32 doubles for the White Sox in 1960, and drove in 79 runs as the primary third baseman.

-Was a crucial cog for the pennant-winning Reds in 1961, reaching personal bests with 26 home runs and 87 RBI. The Yankees shut him down in the World Series, as he managed one double in the five-game series.

-A broken ankle in 1962 derailed his career, as return engagements with the Pirates and ChiSox were unproductive, and he finished his major league career with the Astros in 1966.

-After prolonging his career in AAA in 1967-1968, Gene called it quits. In his big league career, he hit .254 with 115 home runs and 432 RBI in parts of a dozen seasons.

-Freese returned to the minors to manage the Brewers' AA Shreveport team in 1973-1974, racking up a 129-147 record. Later, he owned the Third Base Inc. night club in nearby New Orleans.
#492 Gene Freese (back)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

#371 Frank Kreutzer

#371 Frank Kreutzer
Here's the nattily bespectacled Frank Kreutzer, who the Senators scouted while he was working at the local public library. Full disclosure: This cheap joke is not to be interpreted as a dig at librarians. Why, my own girlfriend is a librarian.

Fun facts about Frank Kreutzer:

-Frank called Buffalo, NY home. He attended Villanova University before signing with the Red Sox in 1961.

-The White Sox drafted him out of Boston's organization after his first pro season, and he made his major league debut in September 1962.

-Won his first career start on September 28, 1963, allowing one run on three hits in five innings. Chicago topped the Senators, 7-2.

-Earned his only career save on June 4, 1964, when he was perfect against the Indians for the final four innings of a 5-1 triumph.

-Split the 1964 season between the Pale Hose and the Senators. It was one of only two full seasons in the bigs for Frank, and his best overall. He was 5-7 with a 4.10 ERA as a swingman.

-Had a memorable day on July 2, 1965. Three-hit the Tigers for his only career shutout...and hit his only career home run - a two-run shot off of opposing starter Hank Aguirre!

-Spent much of the four seasons from 1966-1969 pitching at AAA for the Senators, Braves, and Pirates, resurfacing for a disastrous nine-appearance stretch in Washington in late 1966 (0-5, 6.03 ERA) and two so-so innings in D.C. in 1969.

-In parts of six seasons in MLB, Frank was 8-18 with a 4.40 ERA.

-His eight wins rank fifth all-time among Villanova alumni. Turn-of-the-20th-Century righthander Red Donahue leads the way with 164...but you probably knew that already.

-Kreutzer allowed as many home runs (one) to pitcher Eddie Watt (three career HR) as he did to Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle (536 career HR). Baseball's an odd game.
#371 Frank Kreutzer (back)

Monday, February 01, 2010

#346 Bobby Bragan

#346 Bobby Bragan
This card gives one of the best looks at the Braves uniform in this entire set. Leaving aside any political correctness, I really think this is one of the more aesthetically pleasing designs in baseball, and I'm glad that Ted Turner came to his senses after fooling around with pinstripes and bright blues and lower-case letters and all of that nonsense in the 1970s.

Fun facts about Bobby Bragan:

-Bobby was born in Birmingham, AL in 1917, and was a weak-hitting shortstop and catcher (not a common combination!) for the Phillies and Dodgers from 1940-1944 and 1947-1948. He hit .240 with 15 home runs and 172 RBI.

-While playing for Brooklyn in 1947, the Southern native was one of several players who signed a position opposing the presence of their new teammate Jackie Robinson. However, Bragan quickly relented after getting to know Robinson and witnessing the hardships that the African-American star endured.

-Bobby was a protege of legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey, who gave him his first managerial job with the AA Fort Worth Cats in 1948 after removing him from the big league roster to make way for young Roy Campanella. The new skipper was an instant success, winning the league championship in his first try and posting a winning record in each of his five seasons. He liked Fort Worth so much that he made his home there, putting down roots that would span six decades.

-In 1953, he jumped to the Hollywood Stars, an unaffiliated club in the Pacific Coast League, and again won the league's crown in his first year there (106 wins, 74 losses). The following season, the Stars became a farm team for Rickey's Pittsburgh Pirates. After winning 192 games at the helm in 1954-1955, Bragan was hired to manage the big league club.

-He lasted only a year and a half in Pittsburgh, winning 102 games and losing 155 (.397) before being replaced in August 1957 by Danny Murtaugh. Bobby didn't wait long before catching on as the Indians manager the next year. This time, he was fired only 67 games into his first season with a 31-36 record and a fourth-place standing in the American League.

-Bragan returned to the Dodger organization (and the Pacific Coast League) in 1959 as the field boss for the Spokane Indians. There, he invigorated a struggling Maury Wills by instructing the speedy infielder to become a switch hitter.

-After coaching for the Dodgers and Astros in the early 1960s, Bobby received one more shot as a big league manager with the Braves in 1963. His teams posted winning records in each of his three full seasons, but finished no higher than fifth in the National League. Once again, he was dismissed in the middle of a season, bringing his major league managerial career to a close in 1966. His career record was 443-478, a winning percentage of .481.

-He continued his lengthy baseball career by moving into executive positions, including stints as the president of the Texas League (1969-1975) and of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (1975-1978), the latter being the governing body of the entire minor leagues. He held a front office job for the Rangers beginning in 1979, and represented the club well into his eighties. In 1991, he founded the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, a scholarship fund for teens with collegiate and career aspirations.

-The Fort Worth Cats retired his number 10 in 1994, and a decade later they allowed him to make baseball history. On August 16, 2005, Bobby managed the club for one night only. At 87 years, nine months, and 16 days of age, he broke Connie Mack's record as the oldest manager ever in professional baseball. Playing up to his reputation as an adversary of umpires, he got himself ejected from the game in the third inning! (As you may have guessed, he's also the oldest person to ever be tossed from a game.)

-Bragan, a member of the Alabama and Texas Sports Halls of Fame, suffered a fatal heart attack just a few days ago (January 21, 2010). He was 92.
#346 Bobby Bragan (back)