Friday, January 31, 2014

no. 257 - nelson briles

Who is the man: Nelson Briles was a Pirate in 1971, but a Cardinal one final time on this card. He was shipped to Pittsburgh, along with Vic Davalillo, for Matty Alou and George Brunet in January 1971.

Can ya dig it: Great photo. I love Briles chilling on the dugout step while his teammates (or coaches) casually stand behind him in the background.

Right on: Nice signature, too.

You see this cat Briles is a bad mother: Briles will always be known for his World Series performances. In fact, in his first season with the Pirates in 1971, he received the Game 5 start and staked Pittsburgh to a 3-2 series lead with a two-hit shutout of the Orioles.

Shut your mouth: I totally forgot about this, but USA Network used to air Thursday night major league baseball games in the early 1980s. Briles was a broadcaster on those games between 1981-83.

No one understands him but his woman: Briles is one of the few pitchers to give up a home run to another pitcher in the World Series. It happened in Game 2 of the 1968 World Series when the Tigers' Mickey Lolich hit the first homer of his pro career over the left field wall.

(A word about the back): Briles' numbers were way off in 1970 as he suffered several leg injuries during the season.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

no. 256 - tony gonzalez

Who is the man: Tony Gonzalez was an Atlanta Brave in this photo. He was purchased by the Angels in August 1970 and he would spend one year with them in 1971 before going to Japan to play in 1972.

Can ya dig it: I am just noticing the man in the right hand corner staring back at Gonzalez. It's kind of creepy.

Right on: This is Gonzalez's final card and it's kind of sad because it's such an airbrushed monstrosity. Look at that black blotch covering the Braves' "A" logo. It travels halfway around the cap like it's leaking.

You see this cat Gonzalez is a bad mother: Gonzalez was among the major leagues' top fielding outfielders early in his career with the Phillies and among the leaders in double plays turned by an outfielder.

Shut your mouth: During a time when minority players were growing more vocal, Gonzalez, who is Cuban, remained quiet and is not well remembered by those outside of Philadelphia despite a decade as a starter.

No one understands him but his woman: Gonzalez is credited as being the first major league player to wear a batting helmet with a pre-molded ear flap. It was designed for him because he was among the hit-by-pitch leaders each year.

(A word about the back): That "C.A." on his cap does not look right.

Friday, January 24, 2014

no. 255 - bob robertson

Who is the man: Bob Robertson enjoyed a breakout season in 1970, reaching career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (82), batting average, slugging and several other categories. He'd never be as productive as he was in 1970.

Can ya dig it: This is the first time that Robertson is featured on a card with a bat in his hand. Given his reputation as a hitter, he should have a bat in his hand on every card.

Right on: That's a pretty good batting stare there. Too bad the stands are empty.

You see this cat Robertson is a bad mother: Robertson hit four home runs in the 1971 NLCS, a record that has been only equaled (once by Steve Garvey and once by Jeffrey Leonard).

Shut your mouth: Legendary Pirates announcer Bob Prince called Robertson "the Mount Savage Strongboy."

No one understands him but his woman: Robertson still holds the record for most assists by a first baseman in a single game with eight. He did it against the Mets on June 21, 1971.

(A word about the back): OK, the sentence about his first home run measuring 440 feet is a nice little fact, but you don't spell "traveled" with two "Ls."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

no. 254 - cal koonce

Who is the man: Cal Koonce was purchased from the Mets by the Red Sox in June of 1970. He pitched for Boston until he was released in August of 1971.

Can ya dig it: Koonce is one of those "before I followed baseball" players who I associate with a team that was only a blip in the player's career. Koonce was mainly a Cub and a Met, but because I saw this card of him as a teenager, I thought he was mainly a Boston Red Sox player.

Right on: This is the final card of Koonce's career.

You see that cat Koonce is a bad mother: Koonce made a semi-decent splash for a really bad Cubs team his rookie year in 1962. He went 10-10 in 30 starts, which was pretty notable on a team that was 59-103.

Shut your mouth: Koonce admitted during his career that he used a doctored pitch. It was actually just sweat from his arm, but pitchers were so freaked out about getting caught using a spitball that they wouldn't even confess to using a little sweat. Koonce thought that was dumb so he admitted it.

No one understands him but his woman: Koonce pitched for the 1969 Miracle Mets, but struggled with a 4.99 ERA and was left off the postseason roster.

(A word about the back): Koonce did indeed win his final six decisions in 1969, with the last one coming on Aug. 24. But Topps doesn't mention that Sept. 1 performance against the Dodgers when he allowed five runs and 10 hits in five innings (starter Jerry Koosman got the loss).

Monday, January 20, 2014

no. 253 - bill sudakis

Who is the man: Bill Sudakis saw his playing time decrease from 132 games in 1969 to 94 in 1970. But his power production was almost the same, with matching 14 home run totals in both years.

Can ya dig it: It looks like Sudakis has his left hand wrapped for whatever reason.

Right on: The "3b-catcher" designation is "right on." Sudakis played 38 games at catcher in 1970 and 37 at third base.

You see this cat Sudakis is a bad mother: Arrested for cocaine possession after his playing career and known for a hotel brawl with teammate Rick Dempsey that led to the injury of peacemaker Bobby Murcer, I'd say Sudakis had his share of bad moments.

Shut your mouth: Sudakis was part of a group of Dodgers youngsters in 1969 termed the "Mod Squad" after the popular TV show at the time. The others in that group were Ted Sizemore, Billy Grabarkewicz and Bill Russell, and in '69 they helped the Dodgers to their best start since 1957. But by 1972, the only player left on the team was Russell.

No one understands him but his woman: The Dodgers moved Sudakis to catcher because they had a surplus of players at third. But knee problems plagued him and he had trouble throwing out base runners. The Mets claimed him off waivers.

(A word about the back): Sudakis' home run in his first big league game came in the eighth inning of a game against the Phillies on Sept. 3, 1968. It was one of three home runs hit that inning off the Phillies' Dick Hall (Sudakis and Ken Boyer hit theirs back-to-back), and the rally turned a 7-2 Phillies lead into a tie game. The Dodgers would end up winning 10-9.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

no. 252 - eddie leon

Who is the man: You're looking at your American League leader in sacrifice hits (a.k.a. bunts) for 1970. Eddie Leon had 23.

Can ya dig it: Leon appears to be fielding a grounder that's arriving from the general direction of the backstop. I've never seen that play in a major league game.

Right on: It's always cool when the American flag makes an appearance on a card.

You see that cat Leon is a bad mother: Leon was selected in the first or the second round of the major league amateur draft three times before he signed. He stiffed both the Twins and the Cubs before signing with the Indians.

Shut your mouth: Leon grew up in Tucson, Ariz., where the Indians played spring training games. His parents were big Indians fans. But Leon grew up a Yankee fan. It turns out he played for both teams.

No one understands him but his woman: The Indians moved Leon from shortstop to second base so they could keep him the lineup. But a back injury eventually cost him his starting job, and he spent the rest of his career playing behind infielders like Frank Duffy and Bucky Dent.

(A word about the back): I believe Topps is sending us a subliminal message in the photo. You probably can see the words "high life" over Leon's left shoulder.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

no. 251 - frank reberger

Who is the man: Frank Reberger was entering his second season with the Giants as kids were pulling this card out of packs in 1971. The reliever and sometimes starter was acquired from the Padres for three players in December, 1969.

Can ya dig it: Reberger has just three solo cards from his career and he looks semi-solemn in all of them.

Right on: Time to play "ball or no ball?" And as is often the case, I say "no ball."

You see this cat Reberger is a bad mother: Reberger didn't get drafted, but the Cubs signed him after a tryout. He was working as a rancher in Idaho (he majored in zoology) at the time. Being a rancher is difficult, bad-ass work.

Shut your mouth: Reberger got into coaching about eight years after his career ended. By the early '90s he was working with the Angels as the bullpen coach under pitching coach Marcel Lachemann. In a story in the L.A. Times, he said he had to keep quiet around Lachemann at first. "I was stepping lightly very early, feeling my way," he said. "Marcel isn't easy to get to know. He's very intense."

No one understands him but his woman: Reberger was hired as pitching coach by the Uni-President Lions, a professional team in Taiwan in 2008.

(A word about the back): Hey! There's a grin! I knew he had it in him.

Friday, January 10, 2014

no. 250 - johnny bench

Who is the man: Johnny Bench was coming off probably the most bananas season of his entire major league career when this card hit packs. He would never hit more home runs (45), drive in more runs (148), register a better OPS (.932) or accumulate more total bases (355) in a single season than in 1970. And he was named NL MVP.

Can ya dig it: Bench has a wistful, off-camera look to him. It's probably my least favorite Topps Bench card of the '70s.

Right on: The card is so off-center that it's corroding on the right side.

You see this cat Bench is a bad mother: He's widely considered the best catcher to ever play major league baseball. Can't be more bad than that.

Shut your mouth: I wonder how many people come up to Bench in a given week and say "no runs, no drips, no errors" to him? I don't know if Krylon paid him enough to put up with that.

No one understands him but his woman: Bench has been married four times but his latest wife, Lauren, has been married to him longer than any of the others -- nine years. So maybe he's finally found a wife who understands him.

(A word about the back): A future Hall of Famer at 23!!! OK, it's Johnny Bench and he did make the Hall on the first ballot, but really the guy could've gotten run over by a truck at age 24.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

no. 249 - chico salmon

Who is the man: Ruthford "Chico" Salmon was entering his third season with the Orioles in 1971, utilized mostly as a pinch-hitter and infield sub.

Can ya dig it: Bat. Check. Ball. Check. Glove. Check. Salmon has everything he needs to do work.

Right on: Second straight dugout shot!

You see this cat Salmon is a bad mother: Aside from being petrified of ghosts and snakes, Salmon is most known for playing all over the field -- evidenced by the "infield" designation on his card. He played every position except for pitcher and catcher. In 1970, he played 33 games at short, 12 at second, 11 at third and two at first. But that was nothing compared with 1968 and 1969 when he added the outfield to those four positions.

Shut your mouth: Although a well-rounded fielder, he wasn't blessed with good hands. When asked what his best position was, Salmon said, "at-bat."

No one understands him but his woman: Salmon was nearly the first Panamanian native to make an All-Star squad in 1966 after a strong start, but Jim Fregosi and Rico Petrocelli were selected over him.

(A word about the back): Salmon's single in Game 2 of the 1970 World Series triggered a five-run rally in the fifth inning that gave the Orioles a 6-4 lead over the Reds. They'd wind up winning Game 2, 6-5. It was his only World Series at-bat.

Monday, January 6, 2014

no. 248 - hoyt wilhelm

Who is the man: Hoyt Wilhelm was a Cub for all of three games at the end of the 1970 season. He spent most of the season with the Braves, coming on in relief in 53 games and winning his first All-Star mention since the 1962 season.

Can ya dig it: This is a good job of getting Wilhelm in a Cubs uniform for the '71 set. He was picked up off of waivers by the Cubs on Sept. 21, 1970. In fact, it was too good of a job because Wilhelm was dealt back to the Braves in November of 1970, before the '71 set hit shelves.

Right on: I picked up this card at a card show at the community college near where I live. It kicked off my second attempt to collect the 1971 set, even though I wouldn't fully commit to a return to card collecting for a few more years.

You see this cat Wilhelm is a bad mother: A true pitching pioneer, Wilhelm paved a path for hundreds of relievers and a separate one for knuckleball pitchers. The Hall of Famer still holds the record for career wins as a reliever (124) and nearly pitched to his 50th birthday.

Shut your mouth: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said he would investigate the Cubs' acquisition of Wilhelm after the Braves reobtained the pitcher. A number of late September waiver moves were made that year in what was perceived as attempts by contending teams, like the Cubs, to bolster their team for what few games remained without giving anything up.

No one understands him but his woman: When Wilhelm died in 2002, it was discovered that he was born in 1922, not 1923. During his career, wherever he went, baseball fans would bring up how old he was. Little did they know that he was even older.

(A word about the back): Seeing "a future Hall of Famer" on the back of a card is a bit different. I would assume that the general feeling in 1970 was that Wilhelm was going to the Hall of Fame -- if Topps was willing to write that on a card. But Wilhelm didn't actually make the Hall until 1985.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

no. 247 - royals future stars

Who is the man: Both Jerry Cram and Paul Splittorff spent most of 1970 as members of the starting staff for Triple A Omaha. Splittorff did get into two games with the Royals in '70, throwing up a 7.27 ERA in 8-plus innings.

Can ya dig it: This card has the well-worn look of one of my first 1971 cards, obtained from the older brother of my friend. But I don't remember it coming in that trade nor have any memory of it.

Right on: I do not recognize Splittorff without his glasses.

You see these rookies are bad mothers: Stop it. Rookies on second-year major league franchises are not bad-ass.

Shut your mouth: Splittorff was an announcer for 24 years after his successful 15-year MLB career until his death in 2011.

No one understands him but his woman: This is the only Topps card of Cram, but he did get one solo card -- as a Met in the 1976 SSPC set.

(A word about the back): Splittorff's first year in pro ball was with the New York-Penn League's Corning Royals. I've been to Corning many times, not that this interests anyone.