Saturday, December 08, 2012

#461 Braves Rookie Stars: Clay Carroll and Phil Niekro

#461 Braves Rookie Stars: Clay Carroll and Phil Niekro
Yikes. A three-month hiatus in the midst of posting the last few cards of the set is bad form on my part. But some of you have hung around for the five years it took to complete this project, and I appreciate your patience and persistence. As a reminder, this card and those that come after (whenever that might be!) were sent along by Max, who is a happenin' sort of dude. Thanks again! It's worth noting that this is Clay Carroll's rookie card, but it's Phil Niekro's second Topps card. He appeared with Phil Roof on a 1964 Rookie Stars card, the first of many cards for ol' Knucksie...

Fun facts about Clay Carroll:

-A native of Clanton, AL, Clay signed with the Braves in 1961, when he was 19 years old.

-He impressed as a rookie reliever in September 1964, allowing only 4 runs in 20.1 innings (1.77 ERA). He earned his first career save with four scoreless frames against the Cubs on September 20.

-1966 was Clay's first full big league season, and he led the majors with 73 games pitched. He posted an 8-7 record with a 2.37 ERA and 11 saves.

-Following a June 1968 trade to the Reds, Carroll became the go-to guy in the Cincinnati bullpen. He would make 486 appearances for the team over the next 8 seasons, with a cumulative 2.73 ERA (129 ERA+), a 71-43 record, and 119 saves.

-He hit the only home run of his big league career on May 30, 1969. It was a tiebreaking shot off of Bob Gibson in the top of the tenth inning, sealing a 4-3 Reds win!
-Clay saved some of his best pitching for the postseason, starring for the Reds in 1970, 1972, 1973, and 1975. In a losing effort in the 1970 World Series, he allowed only five hits and two walks (one intentional) in nine scoreless innings of relief against the Orioles. The righty struck out 11 batters while appearing in all but one game of the series, and his 3.2 shutout innings in Game 4 earned him the lone Cincy win in the Fall Classic.

-"The Hawk" was an All-Star in both 1971 and 1972. In the latter season, he had a 2.25 ERA and set a National League record with 37 saves to earn Fireman of the Year honors. No Senior Circuit pitcher surpassed that total until Bruce Sutter blew past him with 45 saves in 1984.

-Carroll also pitched for the White Sox, Cardinals, and Pirates, and retired after the 1978 season. In parts of 15 seasons, he had a record of 96-73 with a 2.94 ERA and 143 saves.

-He was inducted into the Reds' team Hall of Fame in 1980.

-Sadly, Carroll lost his wife Frances and their 11-year-old son Bret in 1985 when Frances' son (Clay's stepson) Frederick Nowitzke pulled out a gun and opened fire on the family. Frederick also shot Clay in the head, but the ex-pitcher survived. Nowitzke is currently serving a life sentence in Miami-Dade County, FL for first-degree murder.

Fun facts about Phil Niekro:

-He was born in Blaine, OH and signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 after completing high school.

-Phil's big league debut didn't come until 1964, his age-25 season. This was due in part to military service.

-His younger brother Joe was another prominent knuckleball pitcher, and accumulated 221 wins for the Astros and a half-dozen other teams from 1967 through 1988. The Niekros pitched together for the Braves (1973-1974) and Yankees (1985), and the duo holds a major league record for wins by a pair of brothers with 538 in total.

-Among the elder Niekro's accomplishments were three 20-win seasons, a league-leading 1.87 ERA as a swingman in 1967, four years of league-leading complete game totals, and a league-best 262 strikeouts in 1977. He also won five Gold Gloves and was a five-time All-Star.

-Phil no-hit the Padres on August 5, 1973 in a 9-0 laugher. He was able to pitch around three walks and two Atlanta errors.

-Despite spending the majority of his career with subpar Braves teams, Niekro reached the 300-win plateau by virtue of his longevity, remaining active past his 48th birthday! Late in his career he twirled for the Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays before a final encore in Atlanta in 1987. In his astounding 24-year career, he won 318 games and lost 274, completed 245, and had a 3.35 ERA.

-Phil is responsible for several notable "lasts", including: the last active member of the Milwaukee Braves, the last active player born in the 1930s, the last pitcher to both win and lose 20 games in the same season, the last pitcher to start 41 up through 44 games in a year, and the last pitcher to throw 305 up through 342 innings in a single season.

-He managed Atlanta's AAA Richmond team in 1991, and later helmed the Colorado Silver Bullets, an all-female traveling baseball team. The Bullets played exhibitions against men's semi-pro clubs.

-Phil was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, and his #35 has been retired by the Braves.

-There are several memorable quotes about Niekro's dancing knuckleball, but my favorite might come from former outfielder Rick Monday, who said, "It actually giggles at you as it goes by."
#461 Braves Rookie Stars: Clay Carroll and Phil Niekro (back)

Friday, September 07, 2012

#350 Mickey Mantle

#350 Mickey Mantle
Well, what have we here? The Final Four in my nearly five-year set collecting journey all came from Max of the Starting Nine blog. That shouldn't come as a surprise, since Max has been one of the most prolific contributors to my cause. In return for this beautiful card of the Mick (as well as three 1965 Rookie Stars cards to be revealed later), I sent off some assorted Mets, football Giants, and Saints ephemera and a couple of Rookie Trophy cards: Willie McCovey's 1960 Topps #316 and Billy Williams' 1962 Topps #288. There will be more goodies headed Max's way as soon as I get my lollygagging rear in gear and finish organizing my collection. Thanks a bunch as always!

Fun facts about Mickey Mantle:

-Mantle was born in Spavinaw, OK. His father, Elvin Charles "Mutt" Mantle, was a lead miner whose own baseball dreams were impressed upon the strong young boy. He was named after Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane, the elder Mantle's favorite player.

-After signing with the Yankees as a teenager in 1949, Mickey tore through the minor leagues, batting .357 and slugging .585 in parts of three seasons. His 1951 rookie season was uneven, featuring a midsummer demotion to AAA Kansas City, but he still finished with major league marks of .267/.349/.443 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 96 games. Not bad for a 19-year-old.

-The Mick started the first two games of the 1951 World Series as a rookie, but suffered a catastrophic knee injury as he pulled up to avoid colliding with Joe DiMaggio in the outfield and his cleats caught on a drainage cover. Despite a probable torn ACL in his right knee, Mantle took over as the starting center fielder in 1952, playing 142 regular-season games and batting .311/.394/.530 with 37 doubles (ultimately his career high), 23 homers, and 87 RBI. He led the American league with a .924 OPS, garnered the first of 16 All-Star selections, and OPS'd 1.061 in a World Series triumph over the Dodgers. He hit the first couple postseason home runs of his career, and later retired with a Series-record 18 round-trippers.

-In 1956, Mickey reached the stratusphere, capturing the American League Triple Crown (.353 AVG, 52 HR, 130 RBI) and the first of three AL Most Valuable Player awards. He achieved career highs in RBI, runs scored (132), slugging percentage (.705), and total bases (376). His adjusted OPS+ of 210 led the league, which should almost go without saying.

-Mantle successfully defended his MVP plaque in 1957, although his counting stats were held down by virtue of an increase in walks (from 112 to 146) and a decrease in overall plate appearances (from 653 to 623). The powerful and swift center fielder still topped the Yanks with 34 homers and 94 RBI and had high-water marks in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.512!), and OPS+ (221!). Ted Williams (.388/.526/.711, 38 HR, 87 RBI) had superior numbers, but his poor defensive reputation combined with a prickly personality and the also-ran status of his Red Sox conspired to leave the Splendid Splinter a close runner-up for the league's top individual prize.

-Mickey himself had three second-place MVP finishes, the most famous coming in 1961. Mantle and teammate Roger Maris spent the year racing to catch Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs, but the affable and favored Mick fell short and finished with a still-impressive stat line of .317/.448/.687, 54 HR, 128 RBI. The quiet, workmanlike Maris hit his 61st in the final game of the year, much to the consternation of many star-chasing fans of the game, and beat out his more famous teammate for MVP honors for a second straight year.

-Alcoholism and injuries caught up to Mantle in his thirties, as he missed an average of 41 games per season from 1962 through 1968. He was still a productive player when able to take the field, as evidenced by a .412 OBP and 165 OPS+ in those waning years.

-He retired after the 1968 season, his eighteenth in the major leagues. Overall, Mantle batted .298/.421/.557 with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBI.

-The Yankees retired Mantle's #7 in 1969 and presented him with a plaque, which now hangs in Monument Park inside Yankee Stadium. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1974, and was inducted alongside good friend/teammate/partner in crime Whitey Ford.

-Mantle had an uneasy personal and professional life after baseball, which included a divorce from his long-suffering wife Merlyn, financial troubles stemming from several poor business deals, a rocky relationship with his four sons (all of whom developed substance abuse problems as well), and even a temporary ban from baseball. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn punished both Mantle and his contemporary Willie Mays for accepting community relations jobs with resort/casinos in 1983, but their bans were lifted two years later by Kuhn's successor Peter Ueberroth. Mickey finally quit drinking in 1994 at the urging of his family, friends, and doctor, but the damage had already been done. While receiving a liver transplant in June 1995, he learned that he had inoperable liver cancer. It soon spread to the rest of his body, and he died at age 63 on August 13, 1995.
#350 Mickey Mantle (back)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

#581 NL Rookie Stars: Tony Perez, Kevin Collins, and Dave Ricketts

#581 NL Rookie Stars: Tony Perez, Kevin Collins, and Dave Ricketts
As you can see from the status of my set counter on the left side of the blog, I have completed this set, in a bit under five years! That means I've got some catching up to do. As has been the case on a few occasions, Ed tipped me off to a dealer selling this Tony Perez (and company) rookie card for a song...or ten songs, if you will. It's a very worthwhile investment, not just for Big Doggie's mischievous grin, but for the impenetrable thickness of Dave Ricketts' Coke-bottle glasses. Anyhow, let's push forward with this trio of mismatched National League rookies. After that, it's on with the Final Four of The Great 1965 Topps Project...huzzah!

Fun facts about Tony Perez:

-Tony was born in Ciego De Avila, Cuba. The Reds signed him prior to his 18th birthday in 1960.

-He debuted in late 1964, but did not become a full-time starter until 1967. That year Perez made the first of 7 All-Star Teams, hitting .290 with a team-best 26 home runs and 102 RBI as the regular third baseman. He hit the game-winning home run for the National League in the All-Star Game, a fifteenth-inning shot off of Catfish Hunter that helped wrap up the longest Midsummer Classic game ever.

-Tony had his best overall season in 1970, finishing third in MVP voting on the strength of career highs in nearly every offensive category: runs scored (107), homers (40), RBI (129), and AVG/OBP/SLG (.317/.401/.589). He slugged .750 in the Reds' three-game NLCS sweep of the Pirates, but had only one single in a five-game World Series loss to the Orioles.

-Though Perez's Cincinnati team of the 1970s was known as "The Big Red Machine", they had to wait until 1975 to get their first taste of championship glory. The slugger was instrumental in their thrilling seven-game World Series win over Boston, delivering a pair of homers and four RBI in a Game Five victory and his sixth-inning two-round homer keyed the Reds' Game Seven comeback from a three-run deficit.

-He had remarkable longevity, playing in the majors until age 44. He spent the last decade of his career with the Expos, Red Sox, and Phillies, and finally returned to the Reds in the mid-1980s as a part-timer.

-When Tony did hang up his spikes in 1986, he had totaled 379 home runs, 1,652 RBI, and 505 doubles in parts of 23 seasons. He batted .279/.341/.463.

-After a long wait, Perez was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, joining former teammates such as Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench. That same year, the Reds retired his number 24 jersey.

-He was hired to manage the Reds in 1993, but was fired just 44 games into the season with the team struggling at 20-24. Eight years later, he was on the other side of the coin, replacing John Boles as the Marlins' interim manager when that club got off to a 22-26 start. Under Perez, the Fish finished in fourth place in the N.L. East at 54-60 (76-86 overall).

-His son Eduardo played for several big league teams from 1993 through 2006, manning all four corner infield and outfield positions and batting .247 with 79 home runs. Another son, Victor, briefly played minor league ball in the Reds organization.

-Tony currently serves as special assistant to the general manager of the Marlins.

Fun facts about Kevin Collins:

-A native of Springfield, MA, Kevin signed with the Mets out of high school in 1964 for a $25,000 bonus.

-After shoulder surgery spoiled his selection to the Opening Day roster, New York called up the 18-year-old in September 1965, making him the fourth-youngest player in the league that season. His first hit was a single off of the Pirates' Bob Friend on September 22.

-After cups of coffee in 1965 and 1967, Collins spent much of the 1968 season on the Mets' bench, batting .201 with 13 RBI in 154 at-bats.

-He made his first big-league home run count, delivering a tie-breaking three-run shot in the ninth inning of a 4-1 win in Houston on August 6, 1968.

-In June 1969, Kevin was one of four players sent to the Expos in exchange for Donn Clendenon. On July 17, he hit the first pinch homer in Montreal team history, a three-run bomb off of future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning.

-Collins finished his major league career with two seasons of pinch-hit duty in Detroit, batting a career-high .268 in 1971 (albeit in 41 at-bats).

-In parts of 6 seasons, Kevin batted .209 with 6 homers and 34 RBI.

-He spent another three years playing in the minors for the Tigers and Indians before retiring from baseball at age 27.

-Collins worked for two decades for Mexican Industries, an automotive supply company started by former Tigers pitcher Hank Aguirre.

-Kevin is now retired and living in Sand Point, MI with his wife Linda. He has two children and three grandchildren, according to an article by Jon Springer.

Fun facts about Dave Ricketts:

-Dave was born in Pottstown, PA, which was also the birthplace of Bobby Shantz and Buck Weaver.
-After attending Duquesne University, where he also played basketball, he signed with the Cardinals in 1957.

-His older brother Dick played in the NBA for three seasons and pitched for the Cardinals in 1959, going 1-6 with a 5.82 ERA.

-Dave missed the 1958 and 1959 seasons due to military service.

-At age 27, Ricketts made his big league debut, going 2-for-4 against the Cubs on September 25, 1963.

-After another brief look at the majors in 1965, Dave finally settled in as Tim McCarver's backup in 1967. Playing in a career-high 52 games, he batted .273 with his only career home run and 14 RBI.

-He appeared in back-to-back World Series for the Cards, going 0-for-3 in the team's 1967 triumph over Boston and stroking a pinch single in his only at-bat in the 1968 loss to the Tigers.

-Ricketts was traded to the Pirates prior to the 1970 season, his final year in the big leagues.

-In parts of 6 seasons, he batted .249 with a home run and 20 RBI.

-Dave coached for the Pirates and Cardinals for two decades. He died of renal cancer on July 13, 2008, a day after his 73rd birthday.
#581 NL Rookie Stars: Tony Perez, Kevin Collins, and Dave Ricketts (back)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

#2 NL Batting Leaders: Roberto Clemente, Rico Carty, and Hank Aaron

#2 NL Batting Leaders: Clemente, Carty, and Aaron
Whoops! I just realized that I never posted the most recent addition to my set, which is this fine card from Greg Mader. Greg sent it as part of a custom-made Opening Day pack, and indeed it was waiting for me at home on April 7 when I got back from watching my Orioles beat Greg's Twins. Thanks again, Greg!

Here's some breaking news for you: Roberto Clemente was pretty darned good. In 1964, he was in the midst of his fifth of 12 All-Star seasons, and he hit .339 to capture his second batting crown. In 1961, he topped the National League with a .351 average, and he defended his 1964 title by swatting .329 the next season. After plunging all the way to fifth in the league with a .317 mark in 1966, Clemente rebounded to top the loop with a career-high .357 average in 1967. In all, he was a top-ten finisher in 13 of his 18 seasons, including each of the last dozen years of his career.

Finishing a not-very-close second in '64 was Rico Carty, who batted .330 in a great rookie season to lead the Braves. That's no small feat, as Hank Aaron hit .328 and Joe Torre clocked in at .321 to give Milwaukee the 2-3-4 finishers in the N. L. batting race. In 1970, Rico blew everyone else out of the water in capturing his lone batting title, with his .366 average well ahead of Torre and Manny Sanguillen's .325 marks. Meanwhile, Hammerin' Hank was a two-time batting champ in his younger days, with first-place finishes in 1956 (.328) and 1959 (.355). Though he totaled 12 top-ten finishes in his illustrious career, there were no more batting titles on the horizon for Aaron.

A few items of interest from the extended leaderboard on the card back:

-Lou Brock sits in sixth place with a .315 average. In 52 games with the Cubs, he was at .251. After being traded to St. Louis, he caught fire and rang up a .348 figure in 103 games. Lou wasted no time in giving the Cubs a case of buyers' remorse!

-I bet Joe Christopher cherished this card, which shows him and his even .300 average ranked just above Willie Mays' .296.

-Get a load of the run of great players in the second column: Willie Stargell, Pete Rose, Bill Mazeroski, Vada Pinson, Nellie Fox, and Ernie Banks, all in a row.

-Poor Al Spangler had his name misspelled as "Spankler". As if putting his .245 average on a batting leaders card wasn't cruel enough.
#2 NL Batting Leaders: Clemente, Carty, and Aaron (back)

Monday, April 09, 2012

#550 Mel Stottlemyre

#550 Mel Stottlemyre
I'm a few weeks overdue with this post, but getting there is half the fun. Our old friend Bob, a.k.a. the Commish, sent me this lovely specimen of a high-numbered Mel Stottlemyre rookie card. If you've skimmed over my checklist lately, you know that this was the last single-player card that I needed...besides that Mantle guy. There's no turning back now!

Fun facts about Mel Stottlemyre:

-Mel was born in Hazleton, MO but attended high school and junior college in Washington state before signing with the Yankees in 1961.

-He led the International League with a 1.42 ERA for Richmond and was 13-3 when New York called him up to the majors in August 1964. The rookie helped the Yanks capture the American League pennant with a 9-3 record and a 2.06 ERA in 13 games down the stretch, solidifying his place in the bigs for good.

-On September 26, 1964, Stottlemyre tormented the Senators by tossing a 2-hitter and going 5-for-5 at the plate with a double and a pair of RBI.

-Mel started three games in the 1964 World Series, earning a complete game victory in Game Two, permitting just two runs (one earned) in a seven-inning no-decision in Game Five, and unfortunately taking the loss on two days' rest in the deciding Game Seven. It would be his only postseason exposure.

-In his sophomore season, he made the first of five All-Star teams, posted a 20-9 record with a 2.63 ERA, and led the league with 18 complete games.

-Despite the Yankees' slide into mediocrity in the late 1960s, Mel had back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1968 (21-12, 2.45 ERA) and 1969 (20-14, 2.82 ERA, league-leading 24 complete games).

-A torn rotator cuff in 1974 ended his career at age 32. In an 11-year career spent entirely in the Bronx, he was 164-139 with a 2.97 ERA and 152 complete games. He is seventh in team history in career wins.

-Stottlemyre spent three decades as a pitching coach for the Mariners, Mets, Astros, and Yankees. He oversaw the Bombers' staff while they were busy winning five World Series at the end of the 20th century.

-His sons Mel, Jr. (Royals, 1990) and Todd (Blue Jays, A's, Cardinals, Rangers, and Diamondbacks, 1988-2002) were also big league pitchers.

-Mel was diagnosed with multiple myeloma a few years back, but the disease is now in remission. He lives in Issaquah, WA.
#550 Mel Stottlemyre (back)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#510 Ernie Banks

#510 Ernie Banks
Back again so soon. Ed's dragging me to the finish line on this project, in this case spotting a pretty well-conditioned copy of this high-numbered Ernie Banks card at a hobby show for $20. It's the most I've paid yet, but I'd say it's worth the cost. Now the needs list is down to the Magnificent Seven!

Fun facts about Ernie Banks:

-Ernie was born in Dallas, TX and was signed by the Negro Leagues' Kansas City Monarchs in 1950. He had two stints with the club sandwiched around a tour in the Army, and signed with the Cubs in September 1953.

-The young shortstop jumped right to the major leagues, starting for Chicago in a September 17, 1953 loss to the Phillies. As the first black player in team history, he went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, and batted .314 with a pair of homers in 10 games.

-Banks was runner-up to Wally Moon in 1954's N.L. Rookie of the Year voting. He played all 154 games for the Cubs, batting .275 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI. Only Hank Sauer (103 RBI) drove in more runs for the club.

-He broke out in 1955 with the first of 11 All-Star seasons, a third-place MVP finish, and a batting line of .295/.345/.596 with 44 homers and 117 RBI.

-Ernie had his greatest seasons back-to-back, winning the National League MVP honors in 1958 and 1959. In the former year, he batted a career-high .313 and led the Senior Circuit with 47 home runs (a record for shortstops at the time), 129 RBI, and a .614 slugging percentage. 1959 brought a .304/.374/.596 slash line, 45 homers, and a league-best 143 RBI.

-He won his one and only Gold Glove in 1960. The following season, the Cubs began transitioning him to first base, the position he played almost exclusively for the next decade.

-Banks played his entire 19-year career at Wrigley Field, where he was known as "Mr. Cub" and beloved for his production, leadership, and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this also meant that he never got the opportunity to play in the postseason.

-He hit three home runs in one game four times in his career: August 4, 1955 (part of a 7-RBI outburst); September 14, 1957 (nightcap of a doubleheader - let's play two!); May 29, 1962 (4-for-5 with a double); and June 9, 1963 (two off of Sandy Koufax!).

-He retired in 1971 with a .274 average and an even .500 slugging percentage, as well as 512 home runs and 1,636 RBI. His total of 277 home runs as a shortstop was a record that stood for over two decades before being surpassed by Cal Ripken, Jr.

-Ernie was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1977, collecting 321 votes out of a possible 383 (83.8%). The 62 voters who didn't choose him should be given severe noogies. He's maintained a close relationship with the Cubs throughout the years, even spending a few years coaching at the end of his playing career. His #14 was retired in 1982, making him the first Cubbie to receive that honor, and in 2008 a statue in his likeness was dedicated outside of Wrigley Field.
#510 Ernie Banks (back)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

#134 World Series Game Three: Mantle's Clutch HR

#134 World Series Game 3: Mantle's Clutch HR
That's 590 down and 8 to go! I might not get my hands on the Mick's regular base card any time soon, but a gen-u-ine World Series action photo beats some humpty-dumpty posed shot any day, if you ask me. Here's another card that I've bought off of Ed for $10.

To set the stage: it's Saturday, October 10, 1964. 67,101 fans have packed into Yankee Stadium to see if the Yankees can take a 2-1 lead over the Cardinals in the World Series. 18-game winner Jim Bouton starts for the Yanks, opposed by veteran and fellow 18-game winner Curt Simmons of St. Louis. Simmons, making his first postseason start in his 17th big league season, runs into trouble in the second inning. Elston Howard singles, Joe Pepitone walks, and Clete Boyer plates the game's first run with a double. New York strands two runners in scoring position as Bouton flies out, and Simmons bears down and shuts them out for the next six innings.

Bouton is also on his game, allowing only six Cardinal hits in nine innings. He gives up a single unearned run in the fifth inning to tie the game, though. Tim McCarver leads off the frame with a single but moves up to second base as Mickey Mantle misplays it in right field. Dal Maxvill advances the runner to third with a groundout, and Simmons evens things up with a two-out single. This sets the stage for a tense ninth inning.

Still trying for the complete game, Bouton is betrayed by his defense once more in the top of the ninth. McCarver leads off again and reaches first base as shortstop Phil Linz boots a ground ball. Mike Shannon, who hit into a fielder's choice to leave the bases loaded in the sixth, bunts McCarver to second. Pinch hitter Carl Warwick walks, and Bob Skinner bats for Simmons and moves the lead runner to third with a flyout to deep center field. Curt Flood lines out, leaving St. Louis hoping for extra innings. But it's not to be. Reliever Barney Schultz surrenders the game-winning home run to Mantle, the first batter in the home half of the ninth. It is the 16th of an eventual 18 home runs hit by Mickey in World Series play, and the last of those to be hit in New York. It also proves to be the last home win for the Yanks in the Fall Classic until the first game of the 1977 Series.
#134 World Series Game 3: Mantle's Clutch HR (back)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

#579 Dick Smith

#579 Dick Smith
Another card that I bought off of Ed for low, low prices. Here's an uncomfortable question: if a locksmith is a lock maker and a blacksmith makes tools and other items from iron and steel, what is a Dick Smith? Forget I asked.

Fun facts about Dick Smith:

-Dick was born in Lebanon, OR and signed with the Dodgers out of high school in 1957.

-He spent six years in the minors with the Dodgers, establishing himself as a .250-ish hitter with some pop, before the Mets purchased his contract in October 1962.

-Made his big league debut as a pinch hitter on July 20, 1963, fouling out to first base against Dallas Green of the Phillies.

-Appeared in 20 games as a rookie for New York, batting .238 with a triple and 3 RBI.

-Dick spent the first half of the 1964 season with the Mets, carrying just a .223 average with no home runs and 3 RBI in 97 trips to the plate.

-He had a memorable game vs. the Cubs on May 26, 1964, batting leadoff and igniting the Met offense in a 19-1 rout: 5-for-6 with a double, a triple, a stolen base, three runs scored and two driven in.

-The Dodgers reacquired Smith in October 1964 for pitcher Larry Miller. He played 10 games for L.A. in 1965, going hitless in 6 at-bats. It was his last stint in the majors, but he kept playing in the minors through the 1968 season.

-In parts of 3 big league seasons, Dick batted .218 with no home runs and 7 RBI. He finished his 12-year minor league career with a .265 average and 120 homers.
#579 Dick Smith (back)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

#415 Curt Flood

#415 Curt Flood
Here's the second of the troika of cards I bought with Ed's assistance at the December Philly Card Show. I'm glad to finally have a vintage card of Curt Flood, whose struggles against Major League Baseball and the reserve clause helped bring a premature end to his career. His story is one of the most fascinating in all of baseball in the 20th century.

Fun facts about Curt Flood:

-Curt was born in Houston, TX, but attended high school in Oakland, CA before signing with Cincinnati in 1956.

-The teenaged outfielder was the Carolina League MVP for the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms in 1956. He batted .340, slugged .567, and totaled 29 home runs in his first season as a pro.

-Flood got September glimpses of the big leagues in 1956 and 1957. He had only four plate appearances total, but hit his first home run off of the Cubs' Moe Drabowsky on September 25, 1957.

-He became a regular starter for the Cardinals after a December 1957 trade, but didn't settle in at the plate until 1961, when his .322 average trailed only third baseman Ken Boyer (.329) for the team lead.

-The 1963 season saw Curt earn the first of seven consecutive Gold Glove awards for his sterling play in center field. He once went 223 straight games without an error, which included a mishap-free 1966 season.

-Flood was an All-Star for the first time in 1964, when he notched a .311 average and led the National League with 211 hits. He would return to the Midsummer Classic in 1966 and 1968.

-He played in all 21 World Series games for St. Louis in 1964, 1967, and 1968, struggling at the plate (.221/.287/.267 in 94 plate appearances) but nonetheless contributing to a pair of World Championship seasons and a close call in '68.

-Curt was nearly 32 when the Cardinals informed him that he'd been traded to the sad-sack Phillies after the conclusion of the 1969 campaign. He objected to the reserve clause, which owners had been using to bind a player to their team in perpetuity, or until the owners saw fit to release or trade the player. Flood insisted that he should have some power to decide where to play, and refused to go to Philadelphia. With the support of new players' union head Marvin Miller, the outfielder eventually took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, before losing in a 5-3 decision with one abstention. However, he paved the way for player free agency, which became a reality in 1976.

-After sitting out the entire 1970 season, he agreed to be traded to the Washington Senators. But some combination of age, rust, and the transition to the American League took a toll on Flood's performance. He retired after going 7-for-35 with no extra base hits for the Senators in 1971. He left behind a career average of .293 (especially impressive considering his career spanned the "second dead-ball era") with 85 home runs and 636 RBI.

-In his life outside baseball, Curt was dedicated to painting, owning small businesses, and international traveling. He worked for the Athletics as a broadcaster in 1978, and served as the commissioner of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in the late 1980s. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1995, and died in 1997 at age 59.
#415 Curt Flood (Back)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

#8 NL ERA Leaders: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale

#8 NL ERA Leaders: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale
I'm back from an end-of-2011 break with three more cards for the collection, which is nearly complete! 589 down, 9 to go; I can hardly believe it! Though I wasn't able to make it to December's incarnation of the Philly Card Show, Ed once again served as my eyes and ears and found a few of my dwindling needs. He knows how to find bargains, and this card featuring the Dodgers' pair of Hall of Fame hurlers is no exception.

It's certainly no surprise that Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax finished 1-2 in the National League in earned run average in 1964, especially considering that they made their home starts at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. The bigger shock is that Los Angeles finished in sixth place with 80 wins, but that can be chalked up to the club's humdrum offense. Koufax was in the midst of his incredible run of five straight ERA titles, clocking in with a career-low 1.74 (he then topped it with a 1.73 mark in his farewell 1966 season). However, arm woes brought an abrupt end to Sandy's standout year in mid-August; he finished 1964 with 223 innings pitched, nearly 100 less than teammate Drysdale. Don checked in with a 2.18 ERA in a league-leading 321.1 innings of work. He ran into some tough luck, accumulating an 18-16 record despite his mound mastery. The big righthander never did capture an ERA title, though he did grab three strikeout crowns earlier in his career and topped the senior circuit with 25 wins in 1962.

Upon flipping the card over, we see the same extended leaderboard as on the other league leader cards in this set. We've got the Phillies' Chris Short (2.20 ERA), Juan Marichal of the Giants (2.48), and another Phil in Jim Bunning (2.63) rounding out the top five. Because there were only ten teams in the National League, and most were working with four-man rotations, it's a pretty comprehensive list. Aging star Warren Spahn, bringing up the rear at 5.28, surely wishes it was less comprehensive! Topps also offered an interesting addendum, a list of the 13 best ERAs for pitchers who topped 75 innings but fell short of the 162 needed to qualify. As you can see, Pirates reliever Al McBean (1.90 ERA in 89.2 IP) is the only one who even comes close to Koufax's miniscule mark.
#8 NL ERA Leaders: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (back)