Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#8 Chuck Harrison "A Neck with Face and Eyes"

Ok, I mean to show as much respect to the players in this classic 1960's set but come on! He does look like a neck with face and eyes! That line comes from my all time favorie TV show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Most people are aware of the show (a guy and two puppet/robots, sitting in a movie theater making fun of really bad movies) and have no cluse what the show is called. That line comes from an episode featuring a made for TV movie called San Francisco International Airport starring Pernell Roberts (from Bonanza and Trapper John fame), Clu Gulager, Tab Hunter, and David Hartman who was the lucky recipient of the neck with eyes joke. If David Hartman were not smiling in the picture to the right of my words here, you would see what they meant. Anyway, if you are unfamiliar with the show or the TV series, I recommend watching them uninterrupted on hulu and check out the rifftrax series on their site.                                          
I know next to nothing about Chuck Harrison and I thought even less of his baseball card pictured here. Chuck Harrison had an extremely short career which spanned all of five seasons and because he was young, and played most of '66 Topps decided to make a card for him. His batting stats weren't that great but, as was often the case with these short timers, his fielding numbers were pretty good. Only 8 errors in 114 games in '66 is nothing to sneeze at. Sure others have done better but he was called up for a reason and that reason was likely to fill in for an injured starter. As the link, shows, he played briefly for the expansion Kansas City Royals and that was it.

The card looks pretty plain for the set and that is saying something considering the set is pretty low key to begin with. Harrison is pictured in just a head and shoulders shot looking well over the photographer. He is standing beneath expansive blue skies which leads me to only guess that the picture was taken at the Astros 1966 spring training. Another clue which leads me to this conclusion is the fact that many of the Astros players featured in the set have pictures taken during spring training. None of the pictures feature players taken in doors so no one was pictured in the eight wonder of the world, the Astrodome.
The team's name on the card front, with its powder purple coloring never made the card any better in my mind either. I still wonder what was Topps formula for deciding when to print the players name and position in white and yellow as opposed to just black. Look at the other cards as i posted them, you might be able to help answer this question for me.

As far as I know, Chuck Harrison has had two Topps cards made for him. This one and one from the '69 Topps set. I believe that players were compensated, $100 dollars for each time they were featured on a sports card. Just imagine what that figure is now......Chuck Harrison, today, with his solid playing and average hitting stats would guarantee him a stable spot on the Pirates in field with a salary of $1.2 million a year for as long as he remains healthy. The President of the United States still only makes one third of that per year. Incredible...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

#7 Don McMahon : AKA Steve McQueen

 The title explains how I felt about this card as a kid. You have to admit, the picture of the pitcher posing as though he is peering in for the sign from his catcher, resembles Steve McQueen.  Aside from that, I never thought much about this card and to be honest, I was never the biggest fan of Steve McQueen's acting.

I always felt that McQueen was McQueen in all of his movies instead of the character he was playing. The mark of a good actor is when you see his or her film, you cease to think of the person on the screen as an actor and solely see them as the character they are portraying. With this in mind, Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck and many more are lousy actors. Jack Nicholson, Alec Guinness and Anthony Hopkins are good actors. And that will end my lesson on how to determine the quality of an acting performance, but this aside I did love some of McQueen's movies especially "Bullit"

This is the first Red Sox card to appear in this '67 set and  unfortunately, McMahon is featured in those dreaded and vested Cleveland Indians jersey instead of the standard and unchanging Red Sox uniform. Some things just don't have to be changed and that is true with some uniforms. The Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs all have had the same uniforms form decades. 

The color scheme on the card is a little unusual too. The Red Sox logo is orange while the player name is white and the position is yellow and while these colors could overwhelm the card, the understated design of the '67 set makes it accessible to the eye. The head and shoulder shot is
standard as well as the fact that McMahon is pictured without a cap.  Around 1960, Topps came up with the bright idea to take pictures of players without hats just in case they end up being journeymen in the MLB. This saved them a good deal of bother for the '61 set which featured the recently relocated Minnesota Twins. You will find no Twin players in uniform in the '61 set and no Mets in uniform in the '62 set and so on.

As you can guess I, never really analyzed this players stats before but they do look impressive for a career reliever.  He began his major league career pitching for the World Series Championship Milwaukee Braves in '57. He led the NL in saves (15) and games finished (49) in '59. He went on to pitch for the Colt 45's(or Astros), Indians, Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers and finally with the Giants. Not many of baseball journeymen find a home to call theirs late in their career but McMahon found one with the Giants. He finished his final five seasons in San Francisco still pitching his heart out well into his 40's. For more details into his stats, Please check my source.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

#6 Dick Simpson : The Journeyman

To be honest, I never thought much of this card because I never thought much of any of the Indians and Reds baseball cards. Look at the uniforms! I grew up feeling queasy
when seeing the Houston Astros orange and yellow nightmare of a jersey but at the very least and if nothing else, they didn't have a vest! another strike against this card is it follows a card featuring one of the greatest Yankees pitchers of all time in Whitey Ford and that makes a little known utility outfielder for the Reds seem smaller than he really is, but come on! He was a professional baseball player not a career minor leaguer who never made it out of the bush league!

Dick Simpson was a journeyman who played for seven different teams over the course of his seven years in the majors. His career batting average was not anything to write home about, just .207 and over the course of seven seasons, he managed only 107 hits. I do not know the man, or his family but I imagine if there were any player around who remembers every home run he ever hit in the majors, Dick Simpson would be him. He only hit 15 in his career. I imagine Jose Oquendo and Tom Lawless would remember their home runs too. Lawless hit two in his eight seasons and Oquendo hit just 14 in his 12 years in the big leagues.

Since Simpson was not the greatest hitter he must have been near perfect in the outfield and he was. In 211 games, he committed only 8 errors and managed 6 assists.

As I said, the uniforms of the Reds and Indians just look rotten to me. I don't know if it was an Ohio thing or what but vests in baseball just do not seem right in that state or anywhere else, but you be the judge.  The red pinstriped hat and vest wasn't helping much either. The team name with its yellowish green lettering matches the color of the Spring training ball field behind Simpson. This is yet another Spring training photo because you see a small outfield wall which is likely covered with advertisements for local hardware and liquor stores.

Some of my all time favorite cards show the majestic stadiums in the background. Almost all of the stadiums in these old cards are long gone, in fact only two and half are still standing. Fenway, Wrigley and half of Tigers Stadium (Detroit.....if you are going to tear the damn thing down, just do it and don't leave it half destroyed like the rest of your city).

The card back says Simpson was part of the Frank Robinson deal that sent the slugger to the Orioles but I decided to make note of that tidbit at the end of this entry. I can't stand it when lesser known players are best known because of someone else's successes. Examples Ed Hearn was part of the David Cone to Mets trade. Stu Miller is only known for giving up Mantle's 500th home run. Al Downing (who had a tremendious career too) gave up the Aaron's 715th home run and on and on. These were baseball players, not people on the wrong side of history. They deserve the respect of anyone who never made it that far in any profession and who have never tried.

Friday, October 29, 2010

#5 Whitey Ford : Lefties Unite!

   This Whitey Ford card was the first star card of the set and the first star card I owned because there was a double of it and I, being a kid, was allowed to handle the doubles and not just stare at them in the card album. I always hated having cards in albums.  Seeing them in there made the cards less interesting than a dull article about men's tennis in the Sporting News, well maybe not that bad...
    The value of research and blogging just crashed home with me because I always assumed that Topps printed this card by mistake. True, they did print an error on the card (see if you can spot it on the card back. Here is a hint, he fought in Korea and returned to the majors in 1953)but I thought Ford's career was over in '66. Thanks to this blog and my research, I learned that Ford played in '67 and while he didn't do much, hitters still couldn't figure out how to hit his pitches.
     Ford won only 2 games in his final 7 starts in '67 and one of those was a shutout. His ERA was a career best 1.64. he gave up only 8 earned runs in his final 44 innings. Few could ever do much against "The Charman of the Board" and I think Frank Sinatra was even flattered to be associated with Whitey Ford through that nickname.
    I never pitched but I always had a strong affinity to my lefthanded brothers and sisters. We are a group of people who are outnumbered 10 to 1 and are born facing those odds. In baseball, being a lefty is definitely NOT a handicap. On the contrary, it is an advantage.  When I played little league, few pitchers could ever find the plate when they saw someone standing on the side of the plate they were not used to. Even the right handed catcher couldn't return the ball back to the pitcher without smacking me in the helmet with the ball which did happen on one embarrassing occasion (was that embarrassing for me? or for the catcher?). Most of my little league career involved walks and to a lesser degree strikeouts. 
     Now that I am older, and have read a little more about baseball and baseball players, I understand this card better.
Jim Bouton wrote in his book Ball Four that Whitey Ford made it a point in Spring Training to always practice without his cap so that his face would get a good tan. He does look like he got a good tan and this picture was obviously taken during spring training; Ford is wearing his home pinstripes and the picture is not taken in Yankee Stadium. I am guessing that Ford is posing as though he just threw a two seamed fastball but that is only a guess. I only know of Ford for his deadly curveball.
The Yankees cards in this set, along with the Mets cards were the most striking cards to me because of the way the words looked on the front. The red letters literally jump out at you and that is also true with the Mets which is written in purple. I am sorry to say, that Ford's printed autograph on the front is likely as close to a real autograph I am ever to get from the man.
Throughout my youth, I met and got autographs from many ballplayers in card shows but I never had a chance to meet Whitey Ford because he didn't live in the Tri-State area. Ford continues to live and play golf regularly down in Florida.
Even though Ford was one of the big three partiers on the Yankees with Mantle and Martin (they were all best friends) I never thought of him as being that way. In interviews, he seems humble even a little shy about the attention he receives from his playing days. But perceptions can be wrong because Ford did once say that if he never played baseball, his ideal profession would have been a bartender.

Friday, August 20, 2010

#4 San Francisco Giant Hal Lanier: My introduction to aging.

I cam across this card around the time I came around Lanier's 1987 Topps Baseball Card. The '67 card showed a young chisled face Lanier ready to play his heart out at second base for the San Francisco Giants. His '87 Topps card shows what can happen to a young chisled face second baseman who was ready to play his heart out for the San Francisco Giants.                                                                                                                                                                              By 1967, Lanier was already a four year mainstay on the Giants infield. He wasn't much of a hitter but, his career fielding  percentage of .971 looked more than respectable.  Lanier played in the Majors for 10 years. He was a career Giant before ending up with the Yankees as a back up utility infielder for the '72 and '73 Yankees.                            
I suppose injury ended Lanier's playing career in his early 30's and once that happened he must have become a regular coach in the minors for years. In '86 he debuted as a manager in the majors with the Houston Astros. In his debut season, he led the Astros to a 96 and 66 record and a trip to the NLCS where the title wave '86 Mets knocked them out of the season. Lanier's major league managerial career went downhill after '86. Mediocre records in ''87 and '88 led to the end of Lanier's managerial career in Houston and as of now, the 68 year old has not managed a game in the majors since.
As the subject heading hints, seeing this card and Lanier's 1987 Topps card was a bit of a shock to my young 9 year old brain. How can age change someone' appearance so much? What did Lanier live through over the course of those 20 years between cards? I know now that it was just life and living caused him to have deep lines of experience fossilize on his face. I searched online for a good image of the '87 card but all I could find were his '88 and '89 Topps cards.
I want to apologize to Hal Lanier for the '89 Topps card. I took the image from a fellow blogger site who playfully put a "Bust" Trophy on the card front. I couldn't tell you the context of the bust trophy because the blogger seemed to be in a world of whimsy while writing his blog.
Back to the 1967 Topps card. The card has a great picture and it is the first Giants card in the set. The Giants got the solid green lettering featured on the front. As usual, this card in the set features a clear blue sky with the lettering standing out well against it. Unlike "The Champs", and the Duke Sims card. The name and position is legible.

A final little side note about Hal Lanier. His father, Max Lanier played his final major league game with the St. Louis Browns on Hal's 11th birthday. July 4th, 1953.

Max Lanier enjoyed an excellent career as a pitcher for the Cardinals where he had a handful of double digit winning seasons. He winded down his career with the Giants then back to St. Louis with the Browns.

#3 Duke Sims The Cleveland Indians...My Blind Spot

Maybe it's an Ohio thing but I never got into any sports team coming out of the Buckeye State except for the pre Post Modell Cleveland Browns. That isn't to say i hate teams from Cleveland or Cincinnati. I found myself rooting for the Indians in '95, '97 and '07 after the Yankees were out of the post season. It didn't do them much good but then again, that city always seemed to need something more than just talented players to win.

Of course this lengthy intro has absolutely nothing to do with the card picture excepting for the fact that that I never heard of the player pictured and this card made no impact on me as a kid.

Duke Sims is a great name for a baseball catcher and judging from his blurb on the back and his stats, he was quite the fielder but failed to make an impact as a hitter in the Majors. Thanks to the trusty Baseball-Reference website (where I get all of my stats from), he never hit for average in the majors but did end up hitting for power for Cleveland in '69 and '70.

Sims also looked to have had a Dunkin Donut sponsored Major League career enjoying many cups of coffee with the Dodgers, Tigers, Yankees and finally with the Rangers.

The card was pretty standard for the '67 set. The picture was taken at the Indians spring training facility on as clear as day as anyone has any right to live through.

The name and position, printed in black on the front is slightly obscured by the trees in the photo. Topps will fix this issue with later cards.

You will also see that all of the teams will be themed with the same color lettering. The Mets had a striking purple while the Indians here have powder blue lettering. It isn't the best looking card in the set but perhaps the designers at Topps back in the 60's didn't think much about Ohio either. They were based in the Big Apple.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

# 2 New York Met Jack Hamilton :The hapless '67 Mets

And the Mets were so very hapless back in '67. A 61 win 101 loss record will do that to you. Wes Westrum was their manager. The fan favorites were the sluggers Eddie Kranepool (who finished 4th on the team with 10 home runs), and Ron Swoboda (who finished 3rd on the team with only 13). The big name veterans on the team were recently acquired from the Dodgers Tommy Davis (he led the team with 16 homers) and Ken Boyer who at age 36, was winding down his memorable career.

The team was of course loaded with young talent which was no where near ready to mature. Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman, Jerry Grote, Tug McGraw and Tom Seaver all made appearances on the hapless '67 Mets team but they would make more than just appearances in the coming years.

Jack Hamilton did not make much of an impact with the Mets although he was the only player on the team with a perfect winning percentage in 1967 (he went 2-0 in his 17 relief appearances). He was used as a starter for 13 of his 56 appearances on the '66 Mets. He compiled a 6 and 13 record and an ERA just under 4.00. I will hold off on restating the stats you can read. Stats not listed on his '67 card were his 3 complete games and 1 shutout he threw for the '66 Mets. In his career, Hamilton had only 7 CGs and 2 SHOs so it would be safe to say that the season was a memorable one for this pitcher.

Before the '67 season was over, Hamilton ended up with the California Angels where he was used primarily as a starter. Between the Angels and Mets, Jack Hamilton finished the season with a solid 11 and 6 record and a 3.35 ERA. He ultimately finished his career in '69 with the Chicago White Sox.

The '67 Topps Mets cards were always striking to me. The purple block lettering  strikingly stood out on the card. This was the first single player card in the set so we can see for the first time the player's signature while being noticable was not overpowering the image on the front and the player's name, and position helped to balance out the top border with the bottom.

You will see the open and airy Shea Stadium making its first appearance on the '67 Topps set. Looking at that yellowish field and scoreboard in the background, you can almost hear the deafening jets flying overhead!

As a kid, I loved the way these Mets cards looked. I never liked the Mets but my 9 year old eyes liked their Yankee pinstripes , Brooklyn Dodger blue and New York Giant orange all meshing into the then new New York Met uniform. I used to love the way these cards looked.

I wish the present day Mets would just pick a uniform and stay with it! How will they ever find their identity? Perhaps that was always their problem and always will be. Citi Field, made to honor both Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds is a home run hitters nightmare for the Mets. They will never keep a big named slugger with dollar signs in his eyes after the way Jason Bay debuted in Citi Field.

#1 The Champs : Wooo Was Cincinnati Circa '66

I never felt much for the Reds and their fans but I feel for those who were their fans back in the mid 60's. Can you imagine your team giving up a guy who not only won the batting title immediately after leaving, but also helped carry that team to a World Series championship? Frank Robinson did both in '66 and here he is looking with a quiet confident smile out at the baseball diamond with Brooks Robinson and manager Hank Bauer.

Of course any baseball fan can say they saw trades they wish their team never made. Did you know the Yankees, during their dark years (post '81 and pre '96 when I was a devoted fan) had future 20 game winner (with the Pirates, traded for Rick Rhoden) Doug Drabek, All-Star (with the Cardinals) Bob Tewksbury, slugger (with the Mariners) Jay Buhner (traded for Ken Phelps....still hurts) and a man who should be in the Hall of Fame some day, Fred McGriff (he started in the Yankees farm system but was dropped before debuting with the Blue Jays, a team he helped lead to back to back world championships in '92 and '93) . Feel free to share your own painful recollections in the comments section. With the 80's to mid 90's era Yankees, I could start a whole new blog just on all of the mistakes The Boss George Steinbrenner made back then. I know I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, I will just say the name Howie Spira and leave it at that.

Bauer had a lot to smile about, he was the first manager in Major League history to have a perfect 1.000 winning percentage in the World Series. (Terry Francona and Ozzie Guillen have joined him with that percentage) As for Brooks Robinson, he is likely still the greatest all around 3rd baseman in the history of the game. Few players excelled as well and as long as he did in that position.

I always liked the group cards Topps put out and the '67 set is filled with them. I feel that these cards and the simple design of the standard issue helped make this set one of they most popular of the decade.

The yellow block letters stand out on the near the bottom border but unfortunately the names near the top border are almost completely lost in the background. Topps seemed to take this into consideration with the type of pictures they choose in the set, mostly spring training shots with a bright blue sky in the background. If this card has a criticism, it is the lost lettering near the top.

A running game I like to lay with cards generally is trying to guess where the pictures are taken. I will hazard to guess that this picture comes from Yankee Stadium. Topps was once based in New York (perhaps still is) and you will see many of their cards were taken either in Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium in this set. Throughout the years, you will recognize the stands and be able to determine just how many were taken in The Stadium. I am a Yankee fan so I will apologize now for the amount of references you will read about them and The Stadium.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Start at the beginning"

Spring 1987. I was a 9 year old boy helping my father and uncle clean out my grandmother's basement. She was leaving her house of over 25 years to go live with my uncle because the crime rate had sky rocketed there by the mid 80's. She lived in downtown Trenton NJ alone since my grandfather died of lung cancer in January 1985, a place not safe for an elderly woman to live on her own. Her home was a row house on St Paul Street with a driveway, modest backyard. I remember the steps up to the front door sloped a little because the cement wasn't flat when it was set. The house belonged originally to my grandfather's parents. It had a feeling of home even though I never lived there I still have that sense when I think about it now. 

While in the basement, my uncle handed a large box of old cards to my father. My uncle's first impulse was to throw the cards out but my father thought they would still be good to have around. He started going through the cards while I stood bored by the sudden inactivity. "Look at this? Ever heard of Mickey Mantle?" My father showed me his card.  I wasn't interested in baseball cards and my face probably showed that. I looked at the picture of Mantle on the front, smiling while sitting in a dugout.  I half expected to see Mickey Mouse after he said his name. In a way, that set began my off and on obsession with sports cards, a hobby which carried my imagination and dreams of when baseball was a game for the past 23 years and counting!

Through the images on the vintage cards I later collected I was able to see the stadiums in the background and dream of being in the old stands of Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Old Yankee Stadium (before the renovation).

I was able to see the quiet modest sports heroes who just went out on the field and played their hearts out, not for the money, but because of pride and for the love of the game. Because I never had the money to collect the big named stars, I focused on the minor stars and worked to collect as may cards of theirs as possible. My collection lacks the Mays', Mantles' and the Dukes but what it lacks in their cards, it is made up in the Gil Hodges' Ted Kluszewski's' and Bobby Thomson cards.

I quit collecting current cards in 1993. I stopped short of getting any Jeter or Arod rookies (I did buy a few '93 Upper Deck SP's but got a Russ Davis instead of Jeter....remember Russ Davis??) I spent a lot of years ignoring the hobby but that all changed because of Ebay in 2003. Literally all of the cards i dreamnt of owning were only a point, click, bid and paypal purchase away. That site has done more for the fledgling sports card hobby than perhaps even the grading revolution (and unlike the grading revolution, Ebay is saving the hobby instead of crippling it).

This intro is longer than it needs to be but, well, I am the boss and now for the point of all of this writing. I spent the better part of a month a few years ago scanning the fronts and backs of every 1967 Topps baseball card in my now completed set (the doubles helped financing the search for the missing cards, wish my father hadn't sold off those near mint condition high number cards back in '88. I can still see the cards Adcock, Ricketts and Estrada, disappearing behind the table. My father has always regretted selling those cards almost as much as his mother throwing out his collection of early 1950's cards when he was a boy. Who here cannot share this same story. Alas.....

You will see every card front and back as well as a little commentary about each card and who is featured on it underneath. I promise the commentary will not be so long winded as this introduction. Well, I won't be so long winded if I really do not feel a memorable twinge when I see a specific card. Anyways, enjoy.

BTW,I couldn't care less if any of you use these images of the '67 Topps cards. I went through the trouble to scan them so that I and others could enjoy them. So please, enjoy!