Saturday, March 31, 2012

no. 33 - del unser

What a card: This is Del Unser's final card as a member of the Washington Senators. He is "disguised" as a Cleveland Indian -- his new team -- on his 1972 Topps card (we all know he was really wearing a Senators uniform in that photo).

Can ya dig it: If you're a set collector and just beginning to collect a certain set, perhaps you know the feeling of going to a card show, asking the dealer to see the set that you are collecting, and then just pulling random cards that you need based on how they strike your fancy. This is a card that I gravitated to immediately while at a card show and going through a 1971 Topps binder. I loved that red Senators helmet.

Right on: Unser's career began with three great cards, his 1969, 1970 and 1971 Topps cards. Perhaps one of the best card openings for a player ever.

You see this cat Unser is a bad mother: Unser tied a major league record by hitting a home run in three consecutive pinch-hit appearances while with the Phillies in 1979. He was immortalized for his feat on a 1980 Topps Highlights card.

Shut your mouth: Unser's third consecutive pinch home run came off of Rollie Fingers. In Unser's next pinch-hit appearance, he faced Fingers again. This time, Fingers struck out Unser on a breaking ball.

No one understands him but his woman: Unser's father is named Al, but they aren't related to the racing Unsers. That doesn't stop people from constantly asking the question, though. Unser's father played in the major leagues during the 1940s.

(A word about the back): It seems odd that someone who had "a fine throwing arm" would end up being known for his pinch-hitting ability later in his career and used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

no. 32 - jerry da vanon

Who is the man: Jerry DaVanon was no longer with the Cardinals when this set reached stores. He was traded to the Orioles at the end of November for pitcher Moe Drabowsky. However, Drabowsky is pictured later in this set as a Cardinal.

Can ya dig it: Over DaVanon's left shoulder there appears to be a hatless police officer loading a gun. Or that could be my imagination.

Right on: As you can see by the signature, DaVanon's real first name is Frank. His middle name is Gerald.

You see this cat DaVanon is a bad mother: DaVanon landed his first solo card despite getting into only 11 games in 1970 and hitting .111. He must have been a bad man to convince Topps to give him a card.

Shut your mouth: In the span of three months in 1975, DaVanon went from the Cardinals to the Tigers to the Indians to the Astros. DaVanon initiated his exit from the Tigers. After the Tigers purchased him from the Cardinals, they sent him a pay cut. DaVanon sent the Tigers a letter in return that said he wanted his release if that's all they thought of him. So the Tigers released him.

No one understand him but his woman: In late 1975, DaVanon was playing in the minors, never thinking of returning to the majors again. He had just landed a teaching job when the minor league manager told DaVanon that he was going to the majors. DaVanon, with a steady job waiting, said, "no, I don't want to go." The manager said, "You've got to go," and DaVanon said, "I don't want to." But DaVanon went. The school district worked it out so DaVanon could begin teaching in October. But then the Astros offered him a contract that guaranteed him a job for 1976 and he would get his pension. DaVanon resigned from this teaching job. The school district wasn't happy.

(A word about the back): Those could be the worst stats in the set. I'll have to keep a running tally.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

no. 31 - eddie kasko

Who is the man: Eddie Kasko was a former infielder who took his first major league managerial job in 1970, succeeding Dick Williams as the Red Sox's skipper. This is his first manager card. And this is the first manager card in the set.

Can ya dig it: Kasko has the honor of being on the first 1973 Topps card I ever saw. It was in my brother's collection.

Right on: I don't have a lot of pristine 1971s, and this card has a little chipping on the bottom, but it's in otherwise very nice shape. There is nothing more beautiful than a well-preserved 1971 Topps card.

You see this cat Kasko is a bad mother: A bad mother for wearing glasses his entire career! I originally thought it was only a "I'm the manager now, so I better put on some glasses and look authoritative" thing. But it turns out he wore glasses as a player, too.

Shut your mouth: Kasko was before my time, and I first came across him in a story by the great Roger Angell. He was writing about the 1972 pennant race in which the Tigers caught the Red Sox and won the A.L. East pennant. Kasko's response to a writer who had brought up some embarrassing Boston base-running play was the old classic line: "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candied nuts, we'd all have a hell of a Christmas." This phrase has been repeated in one form or another many times, but it was the first time I had ever heard it when I read Kasko saying it. I thought it was genius.

No one understand him but his woman: Kasko was a gentle, quiet sort who replaced the brash, confrontational Williams. The players loved Kasko, but the clique-ravaged Red Sox were also able to get away with just about anything under his watch, and he was eventually replaced by Darrell Johnson after the 1973 season. Both Williams and Johnson led the Red Sox to World Series, so Kasko is the underachieving link between the two.

(A word about the back): The World Series that Kasko participated in was the 1961 Series as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

no. 30 - phil niekro

Who is the man: Phil Niekro approached the 1971 season eager to return to his 1969 form. After pitching his first 20-win season in '69, he slumped to 12-18 in 1970. Then again, the Braves fell all the way to 5th in '70 after winning the first N.L. West title in 1969.

Can ya dig it: Photos of a young Phil Niekro are both strange and cool. I'm so used to the grizzled Knucksie.

Right on: Always dug the old pinstripe Braves uniforms.

You see this cat Niekro is a bad mother: Niekro is part of the winningest brother combination in MLB history, a 300-game winner, and a member of the Hall of Fame. But he might be "baddest" for winning 20 games and losing 20 games in the same season in 1979. You talk about stats that never may be achieved again. It's that one.

Shut your mouth: Richie Hebner said hitting Niekro was "like eating soup with a fork." Bobby Murcer said hitting Niekro was "like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks." Ballplayers must have been hungry back then.

No one understands him but his woman: Niekro was manager of the all-female Colorado Silver Bullets baseball team in 1994, which was a novelty for both baseball fans and for him as well -- not sure what it was like being a veteran baseball player managing all women.

(A word about the back): Time to discuss the word "LIFE" on the back of each player's card in '71. From the beginning, I thought that was a dramatic, slightly alarming way to sum up a career. "Career" might have been better. "Life" sounds like a prison sentence.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

no. 29 - don buford

Who is the man: Don Buford was entering his second-to-last season with the defending World Champion Baltimore Orioles as this card hit store packs. He led the league with 99 runs scored in 1970, the third straight year he had scored exactly 99 runs.

Can ya dig it: Buford's slightly concerned expression is alleviated by the fun cartoon Oriole on his cap and the way Topps bunched Buford's signature in the corner.

Right on: Buford achieved several notables in his career. He was the first Oriole to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game. He was the first player to lead off a World Series game with a home run, doing so against Tom Seaver in the 1969 Series.

You see this cat Buford is a bad mother: Buford holds the record for lowest rate of grounding into double plays. He grounded into just 34 double plays in his 10-year career, averaging one every 138 at-bats.

Shut your mouth: Burford suddenly struggled with Baltimore in 1972. The Orioles sold him to the Fukuoka Lions in Japan. He made it work for him though, as he was labeled "The Greatest Leadoff Man in the World" by the Japanese media and he played there until 1976.

No one understand him but his woman: I'm sure he muttered that once or twice while in Japan.

(A word about the back): Buford looks a lot younger on the back of the card than the front.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

no. 28 - ron klimkowski

Who is the man: Ron Klimkowski had just come off the most prolific season of his four-year major league career, pitching in 45 games (42 in relief) for the 1970 Yankees.

Can ya dig it: Good for Ron, spelling out his entire last name in his signature. You never see that with today's ballplayers.

Right on: Klimkowski was traded to the A's on April 5, 1971, so this card was likely out of date by the time most kids were opening packs.

You see this cat Klimkowski is a bad mother: Klimkowski retired the first batter he ever faced in the majors -- Al Kaline.

Shut your mouth: Klimkowski's career was cut short by a knee injury in the spring of 1972. He was released by the A's shortly afterward.

No one understands him but his woman: Looking at the photo on this card, you'd never know that Klimkowski was known for his outsized, gregarious personality -- he sold Cadillacs after his baseball career. He looks kind of grim here.

(A word about the back): A reference to the "Bosox." You don't see that anymore. Klimkowski was the player to be named in the trade that sent Elston Howard to the Red Sox in August of 1967.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

no. 27 - pirates rookie stars

Who is the man: Fred Cambria and Gene Clines -- also known as the C+C Baseball Factory (not really) -- each enjoyed their first taste of major league baseball in 1970. Clines spent most of 1970 with Double A Waterbury, Conn. Cambria won 12 games for Triple A Columbus.

Can ya dig it: This drastically off-center card was an early acquisition in my quest to complete the 1971 set. I got it back in my teenage years. The faded right side of the card almost makes it look like I colored in the rest of the black border with magic marker. But I would never do that.

Right on: Clines would win a World Series ring in his second year in the major leagues, with the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates.

You see these rookies are bad mothers: Once again, rookies are not bad-ass. Ever.

Shut your mouth: Clines was a batting coach for the Giants between 1995-2002 and wore a microphone for Fox during the 2002 World Series. When Barry Bonds hit a home run in the World Series, Clines exclaimed, "Oh My God!"

No one understands him but his woman: Cambria suffered an arm injury in 1971 and never pitched in the majors beyond 1970. He would appear on another rookie stars card in the 1972 Topps set, but never received his own card.

(A word about the back): I see that Cambria lived in a town called Cambria Heights. I once knew a person in college whose last name was the same name as the town in which he was born. His family was quite wealthy. I suppose that's to be expected when they name the town after you.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

no. 26 - bert blyleven

Who is the man: Bert Blyleven appears on his first baseball card after pitching in 27 games in 1970.

Can ya dig it: Judging by where Blyleven is looking, he just air-mailed a pitch into reserved seating.

Right on: Rookie card, baby! Rookie card!

You see this cat Blyleven is a bad mother: Ol' Bert, a color commentator for the Twins, famously said the "f" word on the air twice during a broadcast in 2006. Blyleven said he didn't know they were live when he cursed, but he was suspended anyway.

Shut your mouth: Two years before Blyleven was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was especially discouraged by the results. When the Associated Press asked for a response to a 12th straight year of not getting elected, he texted: "I really have nothing to say. I am actually tired of defending my career numbers whether I should be in or not! Have a great day." Personally, I think that's a lot of words for texting. I never have the patience to text more than 10 words.

No one understands him but his woman: Blyleven, who was born in the Netherlands and moved to North America at the age of 2, always had trouble with his first name. For years he thought his first name was Rikaalbert. But it also appeared as Ricalbert and Ribalbert. When he got married to his wife, Patricia, in 1971, he noticed on his birth certificate that it was actually Rik Aalbert.

(A word about the back): You can see by the write-up that Blyleven didn't waste any time in the minors. He pitched 13 games in rookie ball in 1969, then eight games in Triple A in 1970 before being called up for good. He pitched through 1992, but did appear in the minors again, after missing all of 1991 with an injury. He got back into shape by pitching in the minors in '92 before going 8-7 in 25 games for the Angels in his final season.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

no. 25 - clarence gaston

Who is the man: Clarence Gaston earns a card number ending in "5" thanks to the best season of his major league career. Gaston was a breakout star for the second-year Padres in 1970, hitting .318 -- good for sixth in the league -- and making the All-Star Game.

Can ya dig it: Gaston's signature says "Clarence," and that is what he was referred to on his baseball cards during his playing career, but when he became a manager, he suddenly became "Cito" on his cards. It was a matter of others catching up, because Gaston was known as "Cito" from the time he was a kid. He preferred "Cito," and that's all he's called today.

Right on: Gaston had the privilege of being Hank Aaron's roommate during his career. He credits Aaron for teaching him "how to be a man." I think anyone could benefit from being Aaron's roommate.

You see this cat Gaston is a bad mother: The story goes that Gaston received the nickname "Cito" because he resembled a Mexican wrestler by that name. I think being named after a Mexican wrestler is pretty bad ass.

Shut your mouth: There is a Twitter account called Fake Clarence Gaston. I suppose you know you've made it if someone makes a parody Twitter account in your name.

No one understands him but his woman: During the early 1990s when the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series with Gaston as manager, Gaston was praised by his players for pulling the team together with his steady, reserved style. But when he returned to manager the Blue Jays for three years from 2008-10, he was at the center of a near mutiny by players who complained about Gaston's lack of communication.

(A word about the back): "Clarence virtually rewrote the Padres' record book last season." The two-year-old record book? All right, I'll amuse you and say "wow!"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

no. 24 - rich hand

Who is the man: Rich Hand had just completed his first year in the major leagues in 1970, pitching in more games -- 35 -- then he ever did in his career.

Can ya dig it: This is the first solo card of a player wearing glasses in the set. Chuck Brinkman appears with glasses on a two-player rookie stars card at no. 13.

Right on: Rookie card, baby!

You see this cat Hand is a bad mother: Hand started 25 games in his rookie year. Then, when he wasn't starting, he'd pitch in relief of Indians ace Sam McDowell who was trying to win 20 games in 1970. It eventually led to elbow trouble for Hand, but it probably seemed pretty bad-ass at the time.

Shut your mouth: When Hand was with the Rangers and had Ted Williams as a manager, Williams would sit down on the bench next to Hand and say, "I hate pitchers." Hand responded by saying, "Ted, I've heard that all year, and I've never met a manager I liked."

No one understands him but his woman: Hand quit his baseball career after just four major league seasons. He was sick of being in pain and medical advances hadn't arrived yet that could extend his career.

(A word about the back): Hand looks drugged in his photo.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

no. 23 - oscar gamble

Who is the man: The man is Oscar Gamble, perhaps the most blogged-about major league baseball player in the history of time. He had just completed his second MLB season when this card hit store shelves. In fact, his last act of the 1970 season was driving in the winning run in the final game in Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. He did it all without an Afro.

Can ya dig it: One of the terrific action shots in '71 Topps. We take photos like this for granted today. But it was really something to dig in '71.

Right on: This is Gamble's first solo card. He appeared on a three-player rookie card in the 1970 set.

You see this cat Gamble is a bad mother: The following oft-repeated quote of Gamble's is proof enough of his badness: "People don't think it be like it is, but it do."

Shut your mouth: Cubs manager Leo Durocher compared Gamble to Willie Mays when Gamble was just coming up in the majors with Chicago as a 19-year-old. Durocher, who managed Mays, said Gamble had a lot of the same skills that a young Mays did. Of course, Gamble had a good career, but it wasn't Mays-like. For one thing, his fielding was mediocre, at best.

No one understands him but his woman: Gamble was forced to cut his gigantic Afro when he was acquired by the Yankees from the Indians, thanks to George Steinbrenner's hair policy. Gamble didn't even get a uniform until he trimmed his hair, and there was a car waiting for him to take him to the barber.

(A word about the back): "Philadelphia Phils" could have been extended to "Philadelphia Phillies." There's enough room. I notice stuff like that.