Saturday, April 20, 2013

22 - GENE BRABENDER - PITCHER for the ORIOLES and later literary folk hero

 We move from Dave Bristol to a pitcher who would later play for him with the Brewers, Gene Brabender. This picture of Brabender does not do him justice. This man could've played on the same defense with Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy calling him the "Fearsome Fifth." He was 6' 6" and weighed 225 lbs. Brabender had a short pro career which began in 1966 with the World Championship Orioles. He started out as a jack of all trades. Starting, closing, and filling in out of the bullpen. He did not see action in the series (only four pitchers did: Drabowsky, Palmer, McNally and Bunker) but he may have made the roster.

He continued to be a starter and reliever for the O's. Garnering few wins but 4 shutouts and 5 saves to his credit. The Piolts picked him in their expansion draft in '69 where he saw the most work in his career. He went 13-14 with a 4.36 ERA. Neither stat looks great but neither was that Pilots team. At least Brabender gave them a fighting chance.

Brabender continued with the franchise when the new owners moved in and took the Pilots out of Seattle and landed them in Wisconsin as the Milwaukee Brewers, Brabenders home state. Brabender struggled with the struggling team with a 6-15 record and a balooning ERA of 6.02. He bounced around in the Angels farm system in '71. Topps was even optimistic enough of his prospects to return by making a high number '71 Topps card. Unfortunately, he never returned to the majors after 1970.

Brabender, like all of the '69 Pilots team is mentioned extensively in Jim Bouton's famous (for fans) and infamous (for fellow players) book "Ball Four" The book is still considered a classic tell all book which broke the long held clubhouse rule which says "What you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here" He didn't and the players on the Pilots team who were able to laugh at themselves live beyond their playing careers for baseball fans everywhere thanks to Bouton's book.

Bouton later wrote that Brabender auditioned for the role of Gene Brabender for a TV sitcom based on "Ball Four" but the part of Brabender went to former Raider Ben Davidson.

As for this '67 Topps card, the Orioles were the reigning Champions when the card was designed. The picture is generic posing at Spring Training fair but the bright yellow lettering stands out well and it lets the collector now clearly that you ARE holding the card of a champion.

21 - Dave Bristol Manager of the Reds

I vividly remember looking at this card as a kid and thinking that this guy looks really really horribly old. The way he is smiling with all of the lines moving about his face, his eyes squinting and that lump of tobacco in his mouth (and on his teeth?) ; I just thought the guy looked ancient. Little did I know that this picture is of a 33 year old Dave Bristol, one of the youngest managers in the Majors and that I am sitting here now, a full two years older than the man I always thought looked hideously age-ed in this picture.

That sums up how I felt about this card when I was a boy. I equate my feelings for this card with how my father describes how he felt when he saw the 1952 Topps Gus Zernial card. He never understood why those balls were stupidly stuck to the bat and never cared to figure it out. He simply hated the card. Hated the balls on the bat, hated the player making the OK symbol I think he even hated his name Gus Zernial (it does rhyme with urinal).  I later explained to him why the six
balls were stuck to the bat (symbolize his hitting 6 home runs in a four game span) but this was fifty years too late for him to care not to hate the card. He ultimately gave me that card as a Christmas present when I was 10 because I always thought it looked neat. Still have the card (SEE BELOW).
Bristol had his hands full with the Reds: taking up the job during the '66 season. He kept the post up until becoming the Milwaukee Brewers first Manager in team history in 1970. There, he really had his hands full. Not only were the Brewers an expansion team, they were filled with orphans from the defunct Seattle Pilots team. It's hard to find a single notable name in the 1970 Brewers Yearbook. He went on to manage the Braves and Giants briefly, neither team was doing well before, furing and after Bristol's time with the team.  His best years were with the Reds which were comfortably above average in the latter half of the 60's. He also spent the whole of his professional playing career in the Reds farm system. Now that, I am older than Bristol is on this card, I wish to sincerely apologize to this man and to any kid who finds my face to be hideously, horribly old looking.

20 - Orlando Cepeda - 1967's MVP and a steal for the Cardinals

 Here is a player I did get familiar with as a kid because his card was listed as being above common value in Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, I had doubles of it and kept the double with my regular collection which I thumbed through regularly and because his stats on the back were incredible. Cepeda was an offensive powerhouse for the Giants. This is clear on the stats on the back. What is also clear is the fact that he lost almost a thw qhole 1965 season (turns out , due to a knee injury he had in '63). I'll link to his biography and just say the Giants gave him away for a good, not great starting pitcher. Ray Sadecki was a 20 game winner and the Giants probably thought they were getting a deal until Cepeda fully recovered from his knee injury and was the 1967 NL MVP for the World Champion St Louis Cardinals. Hindsight is always 20/20 and the Reds probably couldn't live down doing a similar trade when they gave up Frank Robinson who was the 1966 AL MVP for the World Champion Orioles.

I liked the Cardinal cards mostly because I knew a lot of the players from the team. Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver. These are common names for any baseball fan. This card also has an atypical photo of a player. Instead of posing or smiling, Cepeda looks annoyed at a distraction over his shoulder. There is a policeman next to him and it looks like someone is throwing something in the background. This picture actually has action in it! This wasn't normal in Topps cards of the era.

The stadium looks to be Shea in New York. You'll find most of the cards taken in large stadiums are either Shea or Yankee Stadium because Topps was (and still is) based in New York City.

I always considered this to be one of my more valuable cards because it was a double and it looked to be worth bragging about in the cafeteria in the fourth and fifth grades which I did.

Much of what there is to be said about Cepeda is on the Wikipedia page I linked to (I think you can trust the site when it comes to athletes). Cepeda was, during his peak part of a fiercesome Giants lineup which also had McCovey and Mays. The Giants were thin on pitching in those days but the team still made a mad dash for the World Championship in 1962 by winning the NL pennant but falling just short to the Yankees in seven games. That was the last World Series championship for the Yankees for the next 15 years and the last time the Giants would appear in a World Series for the next 27 and it would be an additional 21 seasons before they finally won a World Series in San Francisco. Trades like the Cepeda for Sadecki didn't help to shorten that time either.

Cepeda was never as good as he was with the Giants but he was still a great hitter who was the star slugger for the '67 Cards with 25 home runs and leading the league with 111 RBI's and had a .325 average. These numbers don't sound like much but this was before the pitching mounds were lowered because the offensive production numbers were plummeting around the league. 1967 and 1968 were the Majors new dead ball era.

Cepeda's average dropped off but his power numbers remained high as well as his games played and fielding percentage. He was staying healthy and getting the job done. He continued this with the Braves up until the injuries lurked back in '71 and '72. He had one more solid year in '73 before retiring in '74 at the age of 37.

Cepeda wasn't in the Hall when I was a kid and a major baseball fan but he did make it in via the Veterans Committee in 1999. I always knew his stats on the back of his '67 card were too awesome to ignore.

19 - Jim McGlothlin of the California Angels

Here is another card I didn't care much for when I was a kid, # 19 Jim McGlothlin of the California Angels. The Angels started out sharing Dodgers Stadium and being called the Los Angeles Angels. Somewhere along the line they got their own stadium and were called the California Angels. Then they were a a mouthful of words called The California Angels of Anaheim and now they are still a mouthful of words as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Even the redundancy of the name irritates me.

I've always lived in the Northeast corner of the US so I never thought much at all about teams like the Angels, Braves etc. A 9 year old kid living in New Jersey thumbing through this elaborate 1967  Topps set didn't take the time of glancing at the common cards and definitely not a player on the Angels, Braves etc... That all being said, this card made no impact on me. Again, the lettering matches the color of the grass. I can't even place where this photo was taken. Anyone can help me out on that???
As for Jim McGlothlin, this is his first Topps card where he appears on it solo. His '66 Topps rookie features him on one of those two player rookie stars cards. SEE RIGHT BELOW.

1967 was McGlothlin's greatest season. He led the league by throwing 6 shutouts and that with a record of ony 12-8. He had a solid 2.96 ERA. There was every reason to expect great things from him when you consider he was only 23 in 1967. He never was as good as he was on '67 but he remained a solid pitcher first with the Angels, for a time with the Reds and for a very brief time with the White Sox. He specialized as a starter though he did do some relieving in '68 earning 3 saves. I imagine injury hampered his productivity with the Reds in '71 and '72. I further imagine he had to retire from the game after the 1973 season
because he was suffering from leukemia. Topps made a 1974 card of him unaware that he would not return to the game. He succumbed to the disease in 1975. He was only 32 years old.

18 Gene Oliver of the Atlanta Braves + my explaination

 I am sitting here trying to think of the reason why I've been avoiding this blog and the answer is right here on the lright side of the page. I never liked this card. The picture matches the lettering close enough to make the front look generic and bland (compare this to other cards where the lettering jumps off the card because of the color). I never held the Atlanta Braves in a high regard. I like their history in Boston and Milwaukee but Atlanta? Lastly, the Gene Oliver is not a name I was ever familiar with. This is, in baseball card parlance is a common. The Braves had their semi stars (Felipe Alou) and stars (Hank Aaron) in this set and they stand out. This card doesn't.

The picture is clearly taken in Shea Stadium. You can tell this from the left field stands. Looking at it now, the stadium looks to be loosely modeled after Old old Yankee Stadium. THat stadium also had an open left field as oppose to it being fully encased with stands like old Tigers Stadium or the original  Comiskey Park.

As for Gene Oliver himself, he was a utility player Oliver bounced around five teams throughout the 60's. He also bounced around the playing field, filling in at 1st, left field or even catcher. His batting  average was never very good but he must have been a reliable fielder to last as long as he did.

Oliver's first card was in 1959 where Topps featured him as one of the Rookie Stars for the season. As was often the case with Topps cards in the 60's, the high numbers are the most valuable because they were produced during the season and after a lot of the hardcore collectors of the time (I imagine mostly kids) tired of the hobby and started enjoying the summer. Oliver is featured in the '61 and '62 Topps sets in their high numbers making them pretty valuable. This '67 card, on the other hand, is about $3 with free shipping on Ebay.