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!