Monday, October 31, 2011

#470 Yogi Berra

#470 Yogi Berra
Yogi! This is the second card from Randy, and Yogi's iconic mug and old-school catcher's gear does a great job distracting from the defacement inflicted on the card. I guess somebody wanted it known that Berra had quit playing by then.

Fun facts about Yogi Berra:

-Yogi was born Lawrence Peter Berra in St. Louis, MO. He signed with the Yankees in 1943 as a teenager, but spent the next two years serving in the Navy. He saw combat in North Africa, Italy, and France during World War II.

-He debuted with the Yankees on September 22, 1946, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI in a 4-3 win over the Athletics.

-Berra kicked off a string of 15 straight All-Star seasons in 1948, when he batted .305 with 24 doubles, 10 triples (!), 14 home runs, and 98 RBI.

-Yogi famously won three MVP awards (1951, 1954, 1955), and finished in fourth place or higher every year from 1950 through 1956.

-Under the tutelage of Yankee coach and Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, Berra became a strong defensive catcher. He threw out 47.3% of would-be base stealers for his career.

-Spending most of his career with the dynastic Yanks, Yogi played in an incredible 14 World Series, coming out on the winning end 10 times. Overall he batted .274/.359/.452 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in the Fall Classic, and caught Don Larsen's perfect game against the Dodgers in Game Five of the 1956 Series.

-He originally retired as a player following the 1963 season, and was named Yankee manager in place of Ralph Houk, who moved to the front office. Houk became convinced in midseason that Berra did not have control over his players, and fired him at season's end despite 99 wins and a narrow World Series loss to the Cardinals. He was picked up by the Mets as a player-coach, but played in just four games. He stayed on as a coach until the 1972 season, when he took over as manager after Gil Hodges' sudden death. Yogi managed the Mets for parts of four seasons, winning a surprise pennant with an 82-win club in 1973 and losing another squeaker World Series to the Athletics. He returned to the Yankees as a coach in 1976, and managed the team to a third-place finish in 1984. An antsy George Steinbrenner fired him just 16 games into the next season, and Yogi held a grudge for 15 years before a public apology from the Boss smoothed things over.

-In parts of 19 seasons, Berra batted .285 with 358 home runs and 1,430 RBI. In 1972, the Yankees retired the uniform number 8 that he and Bill Dickey each wore, and in 1988 the pair received bronze plaques in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park. Yogi was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972, his second year of eligibility.

-Yogi and his wife Carmen have been married since 1949. They have three sons. Dale Berra was an infielder for the Pirates, Yankees, and Astros from 1977 to 1987. Tim Berra was a kick returner for the 1974 Baltimore Colts.

-He is famous for his "Yogiisms", malapropisms such as "It ain't over 'til it's over" and "It's like deja vu all over again". His muddled turns of phrase are so notable that many others are falsely attributed to him. This has led him to say, "I didn't really say everything I said". My favorites are: "If people don't want to come to the ballpark how are you going to stop them?", and "Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours."
#470 Yogi Berra (back)

Friday, October 28, 2011

#160 Roberto Clemente

#160 Roberto Clemente
...No, I will not be referring to him as "Bob", you xenophobic Topps person, you. Much to my surprise, this was one of two cards that arrived unannounced last weekend from all-around swell guy Randy. Only a dirty dozen left to collect!

Fun facts about Roberto Clemente:

-Roberto was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico. At age 19, he signed with the Dodgers during the 1954 season.

-The Pirates claimed Clemente in the minor league draft and he made their big league roster in 1955. He hit just .255 in 124 games, but finished second on the team with 23 doubles and 11 triples, and improved his average to .311 in his sophomore season.

-Roberto was famous for his extremely powerful throws from right field. He led the National League in outfield assists five times, including a high total of 27 in 1961. For his career, his 266 assists rank 17th all-time. He also captured 12 straight Gold Glove Awards.
-Clemente was an All-Star in 12 different seasons as well, beginning in 1960. The following year he won the first of his four batting titles with a .351 average that was bolstered by his ability to reach out and hit pitches out of the strike zone.

-Roberto was named National League MVP in 1966, when he batted .317 and reached career highs of 29 home runs, 119 RBI, and 105 runs scored.

-Though he hit well in his first World Series (.310 AVG, 3 RBI in 1960), the star outfielder was nothing less than a force of nature in the 1971 Fall Classic. He batted .414 (12-for-29) and slugged .759 to help the Pirates outlast the Orioles in 7 games. He captured Series MVP honors, and homered in each of the last two games.

-Despite his increasing stature in the United States, Clemente returned to his homeland nearly every winter during his career to play (and later manage) in the winter league. He felt he owed it to the Puerto Ricans, who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to see him play.

-In December 1972, he organized a humanitarian effort to assist the people of Managua, Nicaragua, who were victims of a devastating earthquake shortly before Christmas. On New Year's Eve, a cargo plane carrying Clemente and four other men experienced technical problems and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone aboard. Roberto was 38 years old.

-His final career totals included a .317 average, 440 doubles, 240 home runs, 1,305 RBI, and exactly 3,000 hits in 18 seasons.

-An exception to the customary five-year waiting period was made, and Clemente posthumously became the first Latin American player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. The Pirates retired his #21 that same year, and Major League Baseball repurposed a recently-created honor as the Roberto Clemente Award. It is given annually to a player who stands out both on the field and in the community. The most recent winner was DH David Ortiz of the Red Sox; the full list is viewable here.
#160 Roberto Clemente (back)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#533 Mets Rookie Stars: Dan Napoleon, Ron Swoboda, Jim Bethke, and Tug McGraw

#533 Mets Rookies: Dan Napoleon, Ron Swoboda, Jim Bethke, and Tug McGraw
Back again! I would've popped in a bit sooner, but this quad-rookie card required four times as much work as a regular card, and I'm lazy. Why lie? The good news is that there are a couple more cards to post in the coming days, and each of them features just one player. Anyhow, this one comes from Max, who emerged from wherever he'd been hiding to let me know that he'd found a duplicate in his collection (in lovely condition, no less!). He sent it off with the usual varied stack of Orioles cards, and in gratitude I sent back all of my 2011 Allen and Ginter Mets. Hey, it's what the man asked for. So let's do this thing.

Fun facts about Dan Napoleon:

-Danny was born in Claysburg, PA, in the central region of the state. He attended Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ before signing with the Mets in 1964.

-In his first pro season he set the Class A New York-Penn League on fire, batting .351 and slugging .639 with 36 home runs for Auburn.

-The talent-bereft Mets put Napoleon on their Opening Day roster in 1965. He delivered a pinch single off of Houston's Hal Woodeshick in his debut on April 14.

-Ten days later, the 23-year-old had what would prove to be the biggest hit of his career. Batting for Roy McMillan in the top of the ninth in San Francisco, he faced reliever Bob Shaw with the bases loaded, two out, and the Mets trailing by two runs. His bases-clearing triple was the game-winning blow.

-Spending most of his rookie year as a pinch hitter, Danny struggled. He had 14 hits in 97 at-bats (.144) with only 2 extra-base hits and 7 RBI.

-He was demoted to AAA Jacksonville for the 1966 season, returning to New York in September. He fared little better in his second try at the big leagues, totaling 7 hits in 33 tries (.212) with a pair of doubles, a lone walk, and 10 strikeouts.

-On April Fool's Day, 1967, Napoleon was traded to the Cardinals in a five-player deal. He didn't know it at the time, but he'd already played his last major league game.

-His abbreviated big league totals included a batting line of .162/.225/.200, 7 RBI, and 7 runs scored.

-Danny played in the St. Louis organization through the 1971 season, bowing out after a three-year stint in the AA Texas League with Arkansas.

-He passed away in Trenton, NJ at age 61 in 2003.

Fun facts about Ron Swoboda:

-A Baltimore, MD native, Ron attended Sparrows Point High School and the University of Maryland before the Mets inked him to a deal in 1963.

-Though he didn't have the eye-popping totals of Danny Napoleon, Swoboda had a strong minor league debut in his own right, batting .271 with 17 homers and 72 RBI with AA Williamsport and AAA Buffalo.

-He was a few months shy of his 20th birthday when he earned a spot in the Mets outfield in the spring of 1965. Ron started hot, going 10-for-30 (.333) in April with 4 home runs and 9 RBI.

-Though Rookie of the Year voters were scared away by his .228 season average, Ron did lead his club with 19 home runs in just 135 games. His power, when combined with a fair ability to take a walk (.291 OBP) and the lower leaguewide offensive standard, gave him a decent 102 OPS+. His consolation prize was a slot on the Topps All-Star Rookie team.

-His best all-around year was 1967, when he batted .281/.340/.419 with 13 homers and 53 RBI. He nearly paced Mets regulars in on-base percentage, finishing a couple hundredths of a point behind Tommy Davis.

-Swoboda was a standout performer for the Amazin' Mets in the 1969 World Series, as he delivered 6 hits in 15 at-bats (.400) and delivered the game-winning hit with an eighth-inning double off of the Orioles' Eddie Watt in the Game Five clincher. He also tormented his hometown team with a game-saving diving catch of a Brooks Robinson liner in the ninth inning of Game Four. It was a pretty heady play for a guy whose teammates dubbed him "Rocky" for his lack of grace in the outfield.

-Ron spent the second half of his career as a part-timer for the Expos and Yankees, retiring after the 1973 season.

-In parts of 9 big league campaigns, he hit .242/.324/.379 with 73 home runs and 344 RBI.

-Ron has had a lengthy career in sportscasting, working in New York City and then New Orleans, where he currently calls TV games for the Marlins' AAA Zephyrs club.

-A quote from Swoboda: "I'm kidded, occasionally, by folks who wonder: 'How long are you going to keep living off of one catch?'. My answer: 'How long have I got left?'."

Fun facts about Jim Bethke:

-Jim was born in Falls City, NE, and signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1964.

-Despite some underwhelming minor league numbers and the fact that he was just 18, he was promoted to the majors at the start of the 1965 season. (Sensing a trend?) He was the youngest player in the league that year, and was 26 years younger than teammate Warren Spahn!

-He earned wins with scoreless relief appearances against the Astros on April 15 and the Braves on May 9. Despite walking four batters with only a single strikeout in a combined two and two-thirds innings in those games, he allowed just one hit.

-Bethke had a fine 2.86 ERA in 17 relief appearances in the first half of the year, but walked 12 men while striking out just 11. He spent July in the minors, and was not quite as lucky upon his return in August, finishing with a 2-0 record and a 4.28 ERA overall. He continued to walk more than he struck out, 22 and 19 standing as the final totals.

-Jim never made it back to the majors, plying his trade in the Mets and Royals farm systems up through the 1971 season. His pitching career ended at 24 years of age with minor league totals of 36-42 and a 3.36 ERA.

-He spent a short time with the Mets, but wore three different jersey numbers. According to the superb Mets by the Numbers, Bethke was given #41 in his season-opening stint with the club. When he returned in August, he took the #28 that had previously been worn by the since-demoted Carl Willey. Willey returned to New York in September and reclaimed his digits, and Jim switched to #36. So in less than a full season, one teenaged rookie wore the numbers later popularized by Tom Seaver, John Milner, and Jerry Koosman!

Fun facts about Tug McGraw:

-Born Frank Edwin McGraw in Martinez, CA, Tug signed with the Mets out of junior college in 1964. His older brother Hank, a catching prospect, leveraged the team into taking a flyer on the smaller pitcher.

-He debuted with the Mets in 1965 (of course!), posting a 2-7 record as a swingman with a 3.32 ERA and a single save.

-Tug's only two wins as a rookie came in consecutive starts. On August 22, he scattered 7 hits and 5 walks in a complete-game 4-2 win over the Cardinals. He then earned New York's first-ever victory over Sandy Koufax on August 26, holding the Dodgers to a pair of runs in 7.2 innings. Koufax had come in with a 13-0 record in 14 starts against the Mets (the Dodgers won the 14th game after he had departed).

-McGraw was battered in shorter big-league stints in 1966 and 1967, and spent portions of those seasons and all of 1968 in the minors. During this time, he learned a screwball from veteran pitcher Ralph Terry. It would later become his signature pitch.

-He was resurgent in 1969, when Mets manager Gil Hodges made him a full-time reliever. He finished the year 9-3 with a 2.24 ERA and 12 saves, teaming with righty Ron Taylor (13 saves) to give New York bullpen threats from both sides of the mound. Tug allowed only 2 runs in his last 38 innings, an 0.47 mark. He did not appear in the World Series, as the dominant Mets starters carried the team to victory.

-The lefty got even better with more experience, posting identical ERA marks of 1.70 in 1971 and 1972. He went 11-4 in the former season and saved 27 games in the latter, a team record broken in 1984 by Jesse Orosco. He made the first of two All-Star teams in 1972, earning the win and notching four strikeouts in two innings.

-Tug coined the phrase "You gotta believe" in 1973, which became the rallying cry for a Mets team that turned around a miserable season and eked out the National League pennant with a mere 82-79 record. McGraw himself was a part of both the nosedive and the resurgence: he followed up an 0-4 record, 6.17 ERA, and 1.73 WHIP in the first half with a 5-2 mark, a 1.64 ERA, and a 0.99 WHIP post-All-Star Game. His lack of activity in the 1969 World Series contrasted mightily to the 13.2 innings he tossed in 5 outings in the 1973 Series, which Oakland eked out in the full 7 games. Tug struck out 14 batters and allowed 4 earned runs, all of which came in a 6-inning slog in Game 2. He wound up with the win in that contest, as the Mets capitalized on a pair of Mike Andrews errors to put up four runs in the twelfth inning.

-Sent to the Phillies in a six-player swap prior to the 1975 season, McGraw was revitalized after a surgical procedure that removed accumulated deposits from his shoulder. He stayed in Philadelphia for a decade, posting a 3.10 ERA and saving 94 games total. He pitched in five postseasons in a six-year span, including the Phils' first-ever World Championship in 1980. He allowed a single run and struck out 10 Royals in 7.2 innings over 4 games that October, winning Game 5 and saving Game 1 and the Game 6 clincher.

-Tug hung up his spikes following the 1984 season, finishing his career with a 96-92 record, 180 saves, and a 3.14 ERA in parts of 19 seasons. He was chosen for the Mets Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1999.

-One of his four children was Tim McGraw, the product of a fling he had while pitching in the minors in 1966. He denied paternity for several years, but the two eventually became close and Tug helped Tim launch a successful career as a country musician. Tug was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in March 2003 and given three weeks to live. He hung on for nine months, passing away at age 59 on January 5, 2004.
#533 Mets Rookies: Dan Napoleon, Ron Swoboda, Jim Bethke, and Tug McGraw (back)

Monday, October 03, 2011

#16 Astros Rookie Stars: Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson

#16 Astros Rookies: Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson
Back again! I've knocked another of the remaining big-ticket items off of the want list thanks to Ed's bargain hunting skills. This lightly used Joe Morgan rookie set me back one cool sawbuck. Not too shabby.

Fun facts about Joe Morgan:

-Joe was born in Bonham, TX. He was 19 when he signed with Houston in 1962.

-After cups of coffee with the Colt .45s in 1963 and 1964, he became the team's starting second baseman and finished second to the Dodgers' Jim Lefebvre in 1965 Rookie of the Year voting. Morgan showed a glimpse of his valuable skill set, leading the Astros with 100 runs scored, 12 triples, 97 walks (also tops in the N.L.), and a .373 on-base percentage. He batted .271 with 14 homers and 20 steals.

-Though he made the All-Star team in 1966 and again in 1970, Joe didn't truly flourish until he was dealt to the Reds in November 1971. He was the prime attraction for Cincinnati in an eight-player deal that sent slugger Lee May to Houston.

-Morgan was an All-Star in each of his first eight seasons with the Reds. In that span, he captured four on-base titles (peaking at .466 in 1975) and twice led the league in OPS and OPS+, with marks of 1.020 and 186 in 1976 as his career highs.

-As the ignitor of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine", Joe won back-to-back league MVP awards in 1975 and 1976. The latter was his best overall year, as he hit a personal-best 27 homers with 111 RBI. He also stole 60 bases (his fifth straight year of at least 58 SB) and led the N.L. with a .444 on-base percentage, .576 slugging, and the aforementioned OPS and adjusted OPS+. He put up a slash line of .333/.412/.733 in the four-game World Series sweep of the Yankees, hitting a home run off of Doyle Alexander in the opener.

-He was also considered a deft second baseman, reigining as the National League Gold Glover at the keystone from 1973 through 1977.

-Morgan played for five teams in the final six seasons of his career, going from the Reds back to the Astros and then to the Giants, Phillies, and Athletics. He played regularly through age 40, and his lowest on-base percentage in a full season was .347 in 1978. In his 1984 swan song, he still reached base at a .356 clip.

-Joe retired with a .271/.392/.427 batting line and a 132 OPS+ for his career. He totaled 449 doubles and 268 home runs, drove in 1,133 runs, and stole 689 bases. He is still ranked eleventh all-time in steals, and is the top home run hitter among Hall of Fame second basemen. He reached Cooperstown on his first ballot in 1990, and the Reds retired his number 8 in 1987.

-He has spent the last quarter-century broadcasting televised games for the Reds, Athletics, and Giants, as well as nationally for ABC, NBC, and most notably ESPN, where he and Jon Miller comprised the Sunday Night Baseball crew from 1990 through 2010. He has often been the target of criticism for his strident and misinformed opposition to advanced statistical analysis.

-Morgan is currently working in an advisory role with the Reds, and hosts a syndicated sports talk radio show on Sports USA.

Fun facts about Sonny Jackson:

-A Washington, DC native, Sonny signed with Houston as a teenager in 1963.

-After getting brief trials with the inexperienced Colts and Astros clubs of 1963-1965, he started at shortstop for the club in 1966. He batted .292 with 80 runs scored and a rookie-record 49 stolen bases, and finished second to Tommy Helms of the Reds in Rookie of the Year voting.

-Jackson's numbers plunged in his sophomore season (including a 106-point dip in OPS), and he found himself traded to Atlanta in the ensuing offseason.

-Sonny spent seven injury-riddled seasons with the Braves, topping out at .259/.347/.320 in 1970.

-He hung on in the minors from 1974 through 1976 before finally calling it a career.

-In parts of 12 big league seasons, Sonny batted .251 with 7 home runs and 162 RBI.

-Four of his seven career homers were of the inside-the-park variety, and all four of those were hit in the Astrodome.

-Fun with matchups! Sonny hit .400/.447/.571 in 39 career plate appearances vs. Milt Pappas, including one of those inside-the-park homers. However, he had a slash line of .145/.169/.188 in 74 meetings with Juan Marichal.

-He has been a coach and instructor in both the majors and minors since his retirement, working for the Braves, Giants, and Cubs.
#16 Astros Rookies: Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson (back)