Wednesday, September 30, 2015

no. 457 - willie smith

Who is the man: Willie Smith spent another season as mainly a pinch-hitter in 1970. He appeared in 87 games for the Cubs, but with just 167 at-bats.

Can ya dig it: Smith, who was traded to the Reds on Nov. 30, 1970, is wearing a Cubs jersey in this picture. Topps has cropped the image closely so all you notice is Smith's far-away brown eyes.

Right on: Second straight card featuring a player's final card.

You see that cat Smith is a bad mother: Smith hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning on Opening Day for the Cubs on April 8, 1969. The Phillies had tied the game in the top of the ninth when Don Money hit a three-run home run. Then the Phillies went ahead 6-5 in the top of the 11th on Money's run-scoring double. But Smith responded with the real money hit when he sent a Barry Lersch pitch over the right-center field fence with Randy Hundley on base to give the Cubs the victory.

Shut your mouth: Smith was the first of four Willies to reach the upper deck at old Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. The other three were Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey and Willie Mays.

No one understands him but his woman: Smith started his major league career as a pitcher, throwing for the Tigers in 1963 and the Angels in 1964. Angels manager Bill Rigney converted Smith to an outfielder because his bat was too good to leave out of the lineup. But Smith did pitch three more times in 1968 for the Indians and Cubs.

(A word about the back): Smith's page does not list his birth date for whatever reason. But his birthday -- Feb. 11, 1939 -- is on this card.

Monday, September 28, 2015

no. 456 - bob meyer

Who is the man: Bob Meyer had closed out his career when this card was issued. He pitched in just 10 games for the Brewers in 1970 and was released by Milwaukee in March of 1971.

Can ya dig it: For this set it appears that Topps just lined up all the Brewers in Yankee Stadium and took their pictures.

Right on: This is Meyer's final card.

You see that cat Meyer is a bad mother: Meyer led the minor leagues in wild pitches several times. Between 1960-63 his yearly wild pitch totals were 11, 18, 13 and 11.

Shut your mouth: Meyer pitched for three different teams in 1964, the Yankees, Angels and A's.

No one understands him but his woman: Meyer is often cited for pitching a one-hitter and losing. It came on Sept. 12, 1964 when he was pitching for the Kansas City A's. He gave up only a double to the Orioles, but that runner came around to score on a pair of sacrifices. Meanwhile, Orioles starter Frank Bertania also pitched a one-hitter, except he didn't allow any runs.

(A word about the back): I don't know if that Sept. 12, 1964 game remains tied for the AL record for fewest hits in a nine-inning game, but I do know why it isn't the major league record. During Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965 against the Cubs, Chicago starter Bob Hendley surrendered just one hit.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

no. 455 - don kessinger

Who is the man: Don Kessinger had completed his second straight Gold Glove season in 1970 when this card was coming out of packs.

Can ya dig it: I believe Don is facing the wrong way. The field is behind him.

Right on: I've always thought the player's number written inside the C of the Cubs logo was a little weird. Not as weird as those blue striped jammies that the Cubs wore in the '80s, but weird.

You see that cat Kessinger is a bad mother: Kessinger was widely regarded as one of the best fielding shortstops of the late '60s and early '70s. He's 15th all-time in career assists as a shortstop.

Shut your mouth: Kessinger, a player-manager for the White Sox for one year, retired as a player and a manager on Aug. 2, 1979, the same day that Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died in a plane crash.

No one understands him but his woman: While managing the White Sox, Kessinger used position player Wayne Nordhagen to pitch twice in one week. Nordhagen gave up two runs in two innings in his first start, but pitched a scoreless ninth in his second.

(A word about the back): Those 14 triples were a career-high for Kessinger. The Dodgers' Willie Davis led the league with 16.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

no. 454 - mike paul

Who is the man: Mike Paul endured a disappointing 1970 season, winning just two games, after showing promise in his first two years with the Indians.

Can ya dig it: This is one of the first 1971 action cards that I ever owned. That version was more beat up than this one.

Right on: They sure left a lot in the photo. You can barely see Paul's face. But the shot provides atmosphere. I like it.

You see that cat Paul is a bad mother: After Paul's major league career ended in 1974, he went to the Mexican League, where he played for seven years. He did quite well and was one of the more popular American players. In 1980, he went 20-5 for Juarez.

Shut your mouth: In comparing the Mexican game with the MLB game for a New York Times article, Paul said Mexican players weren't as strong and powerful as American players. "They're always bunting," he said. "They'll squeeze for a run in the first inning. They get the bat on the ball. It ticks you off as a pitcher, but that's their game."

No one understands him but his woman: When Paul pitched in relief for the Rangers in 1973, manager Whitey Herzog called Paul and fellow reliever Lloyd Allen "the arson squad."

(A word about the back): The bio mentions the Metropolitan League and the University of Arizona, but obviously, Arizona didn't play in the Metropolitan League. The first part of the bio is referring to Paul's time with Cerritos College, a junior college in California, which played in the Metropolitan League in the 1960s.

Friday, September 18, 2015

no. 453 - terry crowley

Who is the man: Terry Crowley was coming off his rookie year when this card was issued. He played in 83 games and batted .257 in 1970.

Can ya dig it: This card is commonly found miscut left-to-right. Mine's no different.

Right on: First solo card! (He's on the 1970 rookie stars card with Fred Beene).

You see that cat Crowley is a bad mother: Crowley finished his career ranked in the top 10 all-time in career pinch-hits.

Shut your mouth: Crowley wasn't very happy being known as an excellent pinch-hitter during his career. He felt he deserved to start. Manager Earl Weaver's response was: "Terry's got an awful lot of value as a pinch-hitter. You can't be too good at your job and that's his job." Of course that's more diplomatic than his response on the famed "Manager's Corner" when he said about Crowley, "If this c---sucker would mind his own business and let me manage the f---ing team, we'd be a lot better off."

No one understand him but his woman: The Orioles wanted Crowley to play winter ball after the 1970 season, but Crowley had three young kids at the time, so he decided to stay home and be a dad. He batted .174 in 1971.

(A word about the back): He did appear in the World Series. He grounded out in the ninth inning of Game 4. That was it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

no. 452 - john boccabella

Who is the man: John Boccabella enjoyed his most successful season at the plate to date in 1970, hitting .269 in 145 at-bats for the Expos. The career .219 batter wasn't known for his offense.

Can ya dig it: Look at that clear blue sky.

Right on: Do you want to know why I love baseball so much? John Boccabella and Biff Pocoroba were each major league catchers.

You see that cat Boccabella is a bad mother: The final victory of Warren Spahn's career in 1965 also included surrendering two home runs to John Boccabella.

Shut your mouth: Ron Santo called Boccabella "the most modest person I have ever met."

No one understands him but his woman: Boccabella began his career as an outfielder and first baseman in the Cubs organization. For a period, he was looked on as the successor to Ernie Banks at first base. In fact, briefly in spring training manager Leo Durocher gave the first base job to Boccabella over Banks. But it didn't last long because Boccabella didn't hit.

(A word about the back): The disparity between Boccabella's 1970 batting average and his "life" batting average reminds me of how mysterious these '71 cards were to a young collector who had never heard of these players before. How could someone who hit .269 in his most recent year be hitting .217 lifetime? It was a mystery because Topps wouldn't tell you.

Monday, September 14, 2015

no. 451 - joe keough

Who is the man: Joe Keough posted his career-high in batting average in 1970, finishing at .322, but his season ended prematurely when he broke his leg sliding into home against the Angels at the end of June. The injury helped shorten his career.

Can ya dig it: Keough has a baby face but he was a stud athlete. He was highly recruited and an outstanding quarterback who once tried to play football and baseball for Arizona State (it didn't work out). 

Right on: This is the third of just four baseball cards of Keough, and his cards are pretty good, particularly the glorious bat rack debut in 1969.

You see that cat Keough is a bad mother: Keough hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, a pinch-hit shot off the Yankees' Lindy McDaniel in 1968. Keough also supplied the first game-winning hit in Kansas City Royals history, a pinch-hit single in the 12th inning against the Twins in the Royals' first game.

Shut your mouth: Keough came up in the A's organization and knew all of the future Swingin' A's players, like Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando, from his college days. When he was selected by the Royals in the expansion draft, Keough admitted to being disappointed. He said his first reaction was "Why me?"

No one understands him but his woman: Keough's mother, Eleanor, raised three pro ball players. Joe's older brother, Marty, was an outfielder for several teams, including the Red Sox, Reds and Senators. Another brother, Tom, played briefly in the Red Sox minor league organization. (Marty's son is former A's starting pitcher Matt Keough, who later become famous -- again-- through reality television).

(A word about the back): There you see the .322 batting average. He was sixth in the American League in the category when he broke his leg.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

no. 450 - bob gibson

Who is the man: Bob Gibson won his second Cy Young Award in 1970 after winning 23 games and striking out a career-high 274 batters. It was his last great season (although '72 was pretty good, too).

Can ya dig it: One of those weirdly cool action shots from '71 Topps. Gibson is just beginning his wind-up, not something you see a lot on cards. I like it.

Right on: I might have been more excited on the day that I got this card than any other in the '71 set. ... well, except for the one that completed the set anyway.

You see that cat Gibson is a bad mother: Damn straight. His whole career was bad-ass. You want me to cite just one moment? He threw at batters standing in the on-deck circle!

Shut your mouth: Gibson refused to talk to the opposition. Even during All-Star Games, when he played on the same team as his NL opponents, he would not talk to his all-star teammates.

No one understands him but his woman: Gibson had difficulty getting jobs in baseball after his career. He believed it was because of his reputation for being outspoken and hard to get along with.

(A word about the back): Nolan Ryan had 15 years of 200 or more strikeouts, far surpassing Gibson's record.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

no. 449 - brant alyea

Who is the man: Brant Alyea had completed his best season in the majors when this card arrived. He hit 16 home runs in just 94 games in 1970, his first year with the Twins, who acquired him from the Senators in March of that year.

Can ya dig it: Alyea is posing in Yankee Stadium. You can barely make out the Yankee logo on the scoreboard.

Right on: Alyea's full name is Garrabrant Ryerson Alyea. Good to see he at least got the "R" in the signature.

You see that cat Alyea is a bad mother: Alyea hit a three-run home run in his first major league plate appearance on Sept. 12, 1965.

Shut your mouth:  Alyea's son played pro ball in the minor leagues for the Blue Jays, Rangers and Mets organizations in the late 1980s. But Brant wasn't aware that his son, also named Brant, was in pro ball until his son had already been signed and had started playing in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Alyea's boss at a casino alerted him to the fact.

No one understands him but his woman: Alyea met a woman while playing winter ball in Nicaragua and fathered Brant Jr., not realizing he had a son until returning the country the following year. He then lost touch with his son due to the political turmoil in the country until Brant Jr.'s career was under way.

(A word about the back): Two 7-RBI games in one season is awesome. Aylea hit five home runs and drove in 23 runs in his first 53 games with the Twins in 1970. He made the cover of The Sporting News in May of that year.

Friday, September 4, 2015

no. 448 - dave roberts

Who is the man: Dave Roberts completed his first full major league season in 1970, splitting time as a starter and a reliever for the Padres. He was entering what was probably the best season of his career.

Can ya dig it: This looks merely like a profile version of Roberts' first solo card, likely from the same photo shoot.

Right on: I will bet all of my 1990 Donruss cards that there is no ball in that glove.

You see that cat Roberts is a bad mother: Roberts finished second in the National League in earned run average in 1971 at 2.10. But since he pitched for the awful Padres, he had a 14-17 won-loss record.

Shut your mouth: Roberts finished sixth in the Cy Young voting after the '71 season, but the Padres traded him that offseason to the Astros for pitcher Bill Greif, infielder Derrel Thomas and a forgotten reliever named Mark Schaeffer.

No one understands him but his woman: Roberts is the second of four Dave Roberts who have played major league baseball. All of them had decent-length careers and three of them played for the Padres.

(A word about the back): I understand the minor league stat review in this case, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

no. 447 - cesar geronimo

Who is the man: Cesar Geronimo spent much of the 1970 season with the Astros' minor league team in Columbus, Ga. But he did manage 37 at-bats (in 47 games) with Houston.

Can ya dig it: My goodness, that's an epic bunting pose. He looks like he's going to bunt the cameraman off his feet. If there's such a thing as a bad-ass bunting pose, this is it.

Right on: This is not only Geronimo's rookie card but his only Topps card as a Houston Astro. He was traded after the '71 season in the Reds' big steal of a deal that also brought Joe Morgan and Jack Billingham to Cincinnati.

You see that cat Geronimo is a bad mother: Well, other than the fact his last name is "Geronimo," he won four straight Gold Gloves for the Reds.

Shut your mouth: Geronimo's foul liner in the first game of the 1972 NLCS led to the ejection of Reds manager Sparky Anderson. With two out and a runner on first in the fourth inning, Geronimo drilled a shot that hit first base umpire Ken Burkhardt, who immediately signaled foul. Anderson ran out of the dugout and argued with Burkhardt, kicking dirt on the ump, and was ejected.

No one understands him but his woman: Geronimo's home run in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series chased starter Luis Tiant and gave the Reds a seemingly insurmountable lead of 6-3. But Bernie Carbo's three-run homer in the bottom of the inning tied the game and led to Carlton Fisk's famous game-winner in the 12th.

(A word about the back): I was surprised to see that Geronimo played in the Yankees' farm system. I never knew that.