Sunday, October 26, 2014

#30 Albert William Kaline, Mr Tiger

Al Kaline was a genuinely great player and Topps subtly acknowledge this with his card number.

During the 60's (and perhaps late 50's) Topps began posting the most notable players in the league that season in 5's and 10's and the most prominent players on 100's. You can see the pattern. The three base cards featuring hall of famers to this point are #5 Ford, #20 Cepeda and now #30 Kaline. # 10 Matty Alou, #15 Earl Battey and #25 Elston Howard each were prominent players as well. Topps, as far as I can recall kept this trend going well into the 1990's. It helps fans to remember the card numbers to chase and Kaline's was a card worth chasing for any baseball fan.

Kaline up to 1967 was on track to a similar career as Ernie Banks in terms of ever reaching a World Series. It's not like the Tigers were a bad team either. They won 101 games in '61 but they couldn't catch the Yankees who were still a powerhouse in the American League. The Tigers throughout much of the decade were battling the White Sox, Yankees and Twins for tops in the AL. This trend began to change for them in 1967 when they finished tied with the Twins who were both a game behind the Red Sox. Their fan's misery was far more short lived than either team when the Tigers turned around and won the last classic league pennant (playoffs started the following season) and stormed past the Cardinals for the World Title. Kaline rose to the post season challenge. Batting .379 in the series.

I was never a Tigers fan and frankly never liked his baseball card from this set but as I became more and more of a fan of the game, Kaline is on the list of players I wish I could have seen play.

He earned just over 3000 hits in his career which started in 1953 when he was only 18. In 1954, he batted .276 during his first full season in the majors. He wouldn't have that low a batting average again until 1969. That says all you need to about how great a hitter he was.

As I said. I wasn't much of a fan of this or any of the Tigers cards from this set. There is one Tigers card from this set which did cement itself in my memory but I'll save that for when it comes up.

Kaline is clearly pictured posing at a preseason facility. The size of the stands are the give away. Tigers Stadium was walled with double decker seats. Background in this picture shows what is probably a clubhouse behind a fence. This, possibly is the building in the back ground. Joker Marchant Stadium was the Tigers spring home starting in 1966. The colors match.

The picture itself looks real washed out in terms of color. Either there was a drought in Florida during some mid 60's spring or Topps needed to brighten the image somehow to cut down on the shadow over Kaline's face.

Final thing I didn't understand about Kaline's appearance on this card is how much he changed from his rookie card.  He looks slender and youthful on his rookie but he definitely does not look like the same person on his '67 card. He put on the weight which, judging from his power numbers and longevity in the league, was all muscle.

His '73 Topps card got a mention in an episode from the Simpons back when the show was new. Bart Simpson said he was looking for a Al Kaline card, "the one with his sideburns"

Friday, October 24, 2014

#29 Tommy McCraw, Member of the Chisox 'Hitless Wonders' club

Tom McCraw was one of several 60's era White Sox who couldn't live up to the defense they provided. McCraw managed to bat over .250 three times during his eight years with the White Sox. Must have been something in the water fountains in Comiskey Park which caused their regular position players to not put up the numbers on the board because McCraw's average jumped after his career with the Sox ended. The team batted around .245 throughout the 60's.

I can't prove this but I believe the poor hitting was the reason the astroturf was installed on the infield of Comiskey Park in 1969.

While the hitless wonders had their shortcomings, they were one of the winningest teams of the 60's. They won 94 games in '63, came up a single game short of winning the pennant in '64 with 98 wins, won '95 in '65. They were over '500 every season in the decade except for '68 and '69. The secret to their success was excellent pitching and defense. McCraw was an integral part of the team.

This isn't the first Sox card in the set so I'll try not to repeat myself. McCraw looks like he could have been suited up anywhere. From my child's eyes, I imagined this was taken in a park in New Brunswick. There's no sign of seats in the background, no light fixtures, just trees.

McCraw is wearing the classy White Sox uniform. It predates the navy blue on white duds in the later 60's and the garish red ones that came around after that.

I was never a fan of the cards with just head and shoulder shots of the players but the card still looks great with the lettering. Great choice for a picture as well. It goes well with the story of how McCraw broke into the majors. The smile convey's a satisfied sense of sucess. He did make it. and he stayed in the Majors for 12 seasons.

#28 Barry Latman of the Astros

 What makes the project a little difficult sometimes is commenting on cards from this set which I never thought much about in any way. In that sense, I'm learning about the cards and the players as I type.

This is one of the cards that I didn't think too much about when I got this set in '87. The main reason is the team Latman is associated with on the card. The Astros. A team named after the surface they played on in the Astrodome. Or were they named after the dome itself? Before the dome, they were the Guns or the Colt 45's to be exact. A name like that wouldn't exist in today's world but would the modern PC culture want to call them the Astros? Well, the space age isn't what it was in the 1960's and the Astrodome while it is considered a national relic, isn't garnering the wonder it once did. I mean we've already been to the moon since then. And it's Texas too, that's too far a distant drive on Route 1 from New Brunswick NJ. Too far for me to care much about the baseball teams on the other end.

As for the player presented, Barry Latman's career in the Majors ended in Houston, and in 1967. From his stats, it looks as though he was a fill in pitcher, working both as a starter and out of the bullpen.  10 career shutouts and 16 career saves. An ERA, a shade under 4. for his career. He was also a member of the GoGo White Sox of '59. The team that brought the pennant to the city of Chicago for the first time in 24 years (and the last time for 46 years).

The design of the Astros cards from this set is as unimaginative as the Senators. You have the team lettering in purple. The color doesn't grab your attention and has nothing to do with the team's colors. Perhaps the Topps company, located in New York cared as little about Texas teams as I did.

Speaking of Topps' location, New York. The photo used of Latman was taken in Yankee Stadium. The spires in the distance give away the location's identity instantly (even with it out of focus in the background).

I sometimes wonder if the players asked why the bubble gum company wanted pictures of them without their hats on. "Do they know something I don't know?" might of crossed their minds. Here's why. Barry Latman, the Houston Astro pitcher is in an Indians uniform but maybe most people won't spot it, especially kids.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Update At World Series Time.

Doing the lovely hobby of cataloging this fine set for your aesthetic baseball pleasures and perhaps edification in the blog itself has taken a backseat to life. Losing the scanned images of my '67 Topps baseball set doesn't help things either.

I was using an ancient Dell laptop which wasn't compatible with the operational system upgrades which became necessary when XP ended. I went fishing on Ebay for an economical laptop replacement and found an HP (C700 I think) with Vista for $125. This was all last March before the support for XP officially ended. If you believe in serendipity an example of this would be the ancient Dell laptop's hard drive officially going belly up about a week after the new, used HP Compaq laptop arrived. I had long since wore out the keyboard on the Dell and was plugging in a portable USB keyboard. For some reason it was trying to find the software to automatically install for it to function even though I had been using it for years on the machine and then ZAP! Black screen.

No major loss losing the Dell, everything was moved over to the Compaq already and I went about getting used to Vista. The Ebay seller's refurbish job wasn't the best. Occasionally the screen would flicker wildly for no reason and require me to shut it off and turn back on. I was in a chat room/movie watching site called watch2gether when ZAP! The Compaq shut off. I turned it back on and found all the security certificates for all of the websites were lost. Nothing was accessible. I did what I could to get it up and running online and then I couldn't turn it on anymore. This time I did not back up my files. My faith in seller refurbished laptops on Ebay has remained permanently shattered. I now wonder if I didn't return the damaged goods, if it would have caught fire just for the kicks. Dreaded machines.

Already a long story, far too late to make it short. I ended up buying a HP2000 from a seller on EBay which looked to be an online pawn shop of sorts. So far so good, warranty, Windows 8.1 blah blah blah.

I've gotten interested in watching the MLB post season this year while I work at scanning the '67 and starting this where I left off. I can say the sport isn't the same as I remember when I watched it on a regular basis. It's not much different from 2004 when I did watch it religiously but it isn't the same as it was in the 80's when I was a kid. Pitchers then played with the speed of their pitches more. Now they all look like Roger Clemens clones. RA Dickey is the only knuckler that I know of and he is pushing 40 years old. 

About 40% of the league is bearded now too. I think of this as the player's way of thumbing their noses at us guys who have to be clean shaven to earn a living (I think this started with the goatees in the post strike era of the '90's too). Us normal guys need to look like we actually grew up when we became adults instead of trying to feel like a grown up by having beards that likely stink of seven levels of sweat by 11 pm every night. 

The beard could also be a great love tester. The players way of thinking might be " she into me or does she want me for the money?" "I got it, I'll look like a lumberjack and then I'll see what she does" and stylistic trend is set. 

The baseball has been ok. I find myself rooting for the teams with the coaches whose names I recognize the most. I was a huge Yankee fan before the '95 strike so I was rooting for Buck Showalter's Orioles and the San Francisco Giants (again) because Dave Righetti, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens and Roberto Kelly on their coaching staff. 
 Righetti was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. He is Italian American, like me, He is a southpaw like me and his '87 Topps record breaker card was in the first pack of baseball cards I ever got. The pack of cards was a gift I got for singing in the chorus up on stage for an hour (long night for a 9 year old).

Roberto Kelly was a fan favorite for us Yankee fans. I was dumbfounded when he was traded away for Paul O'Neill but it paid off for the Reds and the Yankees in the end
His Score rookie wasn't worth much but it was valuable to me back then.  Hensley Meulens always seemed like he might be a huge star in the majors but one thing or another seemed to hold him back. His career in the majors started out like Alfonso Soriano's. Alot of home runs in a few at bats but unlike Soriano, he never really made it in the big leagues. 
I had high hopes for the Dodgers, managed by another childhood favorite, Don Mattingly but no such luck. He was the hero of the Yankees growing up. Unlike recent Yankees, the Captain (when I was a kid), got no fanfare in his final season. His career ended in his first ever post season in a long career. He did what he could but the Yankees fell to the Mariners in the first ALDS in 1995. 
 Try as  I might, I never had much luck getting his 1987 Topps baseball card. Had the worst luck pulling it from the packs. I had such rotten luck that I ended up buying it separately. This wasn't uncommon. Pulling a Mickey Mantle I hear from a pack of 1960's Topps cards was much harder than pulling a Hal Reniff.