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Thursday, May 29, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: A Rookie in Turmoil

I thought I would combine my tribute to 1976 Topps with the current headlines concerning the Mets. Willie Randolph, current Mets manager, first showed up in the big leagues in 1975 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He looks pretty much the same except I think he may have stolen Jerry Royster's little mustache:
Randolph only had 61 ABs that year and was traded to the Yankees along with Ken Brett and Dock Ellis for Doc Medich. Doc was called Doc because of his last name. Dock, on the other hand, was named that by his parents. Maybe they dreamed of having a boat and somewhere to put it.

Willie was immediately good for the Yankees. He was an All-Star his first two years and received MVP votes in his third. He was a 6-time All-Star and played for 18 years, his last with the Mets. He won 1 World Series in 4 chances as a player.

Roy Staiger, the Met, played 3 years in the bigs before being traded for Sergio Ferrer. Those 2 players were identically terrible.

Dave McKay currently coaches first base for the St. Louis Cardinals. He also co wrote a weight training book with Jose Canseco. Somehow I don't think that should go on the resume. His playing career is not mentioned for obvious reasons.

Besides Randolph, Jerry Royster is the star of the bunch. He was never an All-Star, rarely above average, but played a respectable 16 years in the Majors. Why did he last so long? He had speed and his career path after playing shows he knows baseball. He has managed on every level and currently manages the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization. Royster is the first foreigner to manage in the league's history.

That brings us back to Randolph. His Mets have arguably been as successful as the Bobby Valentine era Mets. But the post season has either been a disaster (7-game lose as heavy favorite to St.Louis in '06) or nonexistent (historic collapse in '07) The '08 squad is playing .500 baseball. Can Willie keep his job? Probably not. In this day and age of big market baseball, you have to win or be fired. It isn't necessarily fair but that is the way that it is. I don't think it is Willie's fault that pitching has been questionable at best the last few years. He didn't sign Delgado to a huge deal but he is enamored with Damion Easley. He does make decisions on a daily basis. He does control the climate of the clubhouse to some degree.

Two good weeks of baseball could put them right back in the hunt. Santana is great and a ever-withering Pedro is on the horizon. Reyes is hot and Wright could be one of the best. Who knows what could happen. Right now my pick for the East is between the Phillies and Braves.

Next Up: Bats - choking up and cheating?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

76 Topps Tribute: AL ERA Leaders

The 1975 AL ERA leaders were Cakes, Catfish, and Eck. (I can refer to Jim Palmer as Cakes...can't I?):

3 Hall of Famers on 1 leaders card. I believe this is the only one that can make that claim in the set. (Why not ERA Leaders to avoid the awkward LDRS abbreviation?)

Palmer won the Cy Young award. He won the award 3 out of 4 years from '73 to '76. He notched 20+ wins 8 times. He was good!

Hunter won his Cy Young the previous year when he won 25 games. He won 20+ five years in a row. He also has 5 rings, 2 more than Palmer. He was good!

Eckersley was the rookie. He did not win the ROY because the Sox had two pretty good rookies in Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. (Both have 1975 RCs - Stale Gum may be looking for these soon) Eck won 20 once, saved 50+ once, and won duel MVP and Cy Young awards in 1992. He was good!

Reader "Mr. Schwartz" requested some Stats on the Back so here you go:

Cool! Every AL ERA Leader back to 1901. Lefty Grove lead the league 9 times. Newhouser led 2 years in a row. That would not happen again until Guidry in '78 and '79. Then some guys named Roger and Pedro took over for a few years.

If I had to pick one, I would go with Palmer. He was dominate for a lot of years. And maybe he could score the team some free briefs.

Next Up: A 1975 Rookie who is now on the managerial HOTSEAT!

Monday, May 26, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Cubs Hats

The last time I spoke of these 2 Cubbies, they were neckless and on a team card. I used to always have an official fitted baseball hat. I had a great Mets hat that vanished after leaving it at a batting cage while on vacation at Boardwalk and Baseball in Florida. I never owned another one after that. Check out these two official hats:

Mike Garman was not a Cub in 1975. He was Cardinal. St.Louis traded him and a player to be named to the Cubs for Don Kessinger. The trade came after the season so Topps ordered their staff of artist to "fix" this one. They gave him a blue warm-up jacket and a teeny, tiny Cubs hat. Was the hat so tiny before or was there even a hat there at all?

Reuschel has on the earless batting helmet, ala John Olerud. Could batters wear the earless variety in 1975? Willie McGee used to wear a helmet with two ears. He was a switch hitter but all it did was accentuate his small, rat-like head. Rick was a terrible batter, regardless of his helmet of choice.

Rick was pretty solid for 19 seasons. He won 214 games. I remember him as a Giant in the late 90's. His nickname was "Big Daddy" because he was a large dude. Mike Garman had an unremarkable career. His tiny hat on this 1976 Topps card may be the highlight.

Next Up: AL ERA Leaders = HOFers

Saturday, May 24, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Glasses

I have worn glasses since I was two. I can't begin to count how many times they have been broken. I remember getting them busted playing Senior Babe Ruth League baseball. The infield was as hard as a rock and bad hops were more common than not. I caught one in the face and the glasses were done for. I have never had a pair of those sports goggles. I was like Kurt Rambis, when he wore his horn-rims on the court.

My glasses weren't cool but their coolness rates somewhere between Cookie's and Roy's:

Rojas had the sweet name but he had his granny's specs. Maybe he broke his good pair and these were his spare. You gotta hate wearing the spare on Picture Day!

Roy Howell, on the other hand, had it all: the chops, the chin dimple, and those amber shades. He could not be any cooler.

Rojas was a 5-time All-Star and received MVP votes in 3 different years despite being a below-average player for most of his career. His one All-Star hit was a 2-run home run. He managed the Angels for all of 1988 and the Marlins for 1 game in 1996. Cookie was suspended for 5 games while coaching the Mets when he shoved an umpire, arguing over a foul ball. I wonder if Rojas would be in favor of Instant Replay.

Roy Howell was not the fan-favorite that Cookie was, despite the cool glasses. He did make one All-Star team, represented a truly horrible Toronto Blue Jays team in 1978. They lost 102 games that year.

Next Up: More Cubs, this time they have necks but are wearing silly hats.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Will Ferrell???

We all know Will Ferrell is a supreme athlete. I haven't seen Semi-Pro but his skating ability in Blades of Glory and all his naked running in Talladega Nights and Old School serves as evidence enough for me. Where did his athletic prowess come from? I have a controversial possibility:


Not really but they could be related. Dobson had a pretty nice career, winning over 100 games and appearing in 1 All-Star game and 2 World Series (Detroit won it all in 1968). He passed away in 2006, 1 day after being diagnosed with Leukemia.

Next Up: Glasses, Cool and Not So Much

Friday, May 16, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Neckless Cubbies

The Cubs team cards throughout the 70's were never like the other team cards. Most teams dutifully stood in rows while the cameraman stood a mile away to get the shot. You could never tell who players were, unless their names were Prince Fielder or Randy Johnson. (Insert your vegetarian or beanpole joke here - i just wrote mine in case you missed it) The Cubbies bucked this trend by getting head shots, having the Topps artists paint off their necks, and sprinkling them in rows on the card. Needless to say, Cubs team cards rule:

The 1975 Cubs were lead by Bill Madlock and Rick Reuschel. They were coming off a few moderately good seasons in the early 70's and were entering into some lean years. They were bad until 1984 and then they were bad some more. Don Zimmer managed them to a division title in 1989 after which they returned to bad.

They have won the weak NL Central 2 years in a row and look good again this year. Now if Pinella would just let Marmol be the closer, my fantasy team would be in better shape.

I just noticed Bill and Rick on the left side of the bottom row. And Rick Monday is 3rd in the 3rd row. They all seem happy to be Neckless Cubs.

Next Up in the Tribute: Will Ferrell???

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: A Smile

Smiles are rare on older baseball cards because they were mostly taken of men who were trying to look cool while standing in silly poses. Rogelio knew better! Here's possibly the best smile in the whole 1976 Topps set (this one is obviously for my favorite collectors at Dinged Corners):

Ken Griffey was 25 when this picture was taken. I wonder what he had to smile about:
1. He knew he would win a World Series that year.
2. He knew he would win a second World Series the next year.
3. He was a part of the "The Big Red Machine".
4. He could get from home to first base in 3.5 seconds. (Info found on the back of the card. If only this blog had a name that would make me show you the back of this card.)
5. He had a 6-year old kid who would become one of the greats of the game.

He had a lot of reasons to smile so he did. The Griffeys got the chance to play with each other in Seattle in 1990. They hit back-to-back home runs on Sept 14 of that year. It's too bad Cecil and Prince can't even share a nice tofu salad together.

Next Up: Neckless Cubbies!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Stuff in Back Pockets

As the few of you know, I have trouble sticking with purely objective or even subjective analysis of baseball cards or the hobby as a whole. I enjoy the simple oddities of pictures on cards. Players used to put their batting gloves in their back pockets until too many fingers got broken. Then they started holding them to keep their hands closed while sliding head first. So what is that back pocket for if a player doesn't hold their can of snuff there?

Joe Niekro, brother of Phil (see last post), hid his contraband fingernail clippers back there in the 80's. But this post is about 1976 Topps. Here are 2 cards featuring Stuff in Back Pockets:

Billy Williams has his batting helmet on and is actually playing in a game. He has conveniently stored his regular ball-cap in his back pocket. Williams played DH for all but 7 games during the 1975 season. He hardly needed that cap!

That brings us to John Curtis and his back pocket! What is it? He is fake pitching while wearing his nylon, long-sleeve, collared shirt under his uni. That could be an extra jacket for that brisk St.Louis air. Or it could be a uniform matching umbrella. Either way he could have taken it out to make the fake pose more believable.

Billy Willams made the HOF in 1987 (Vets Committee) He was good for a lot of years. Jeff Bagwell compares favorably to Williams. I say Bagwell should be a Hall of Famer.

John Curtis was a journeyman pitcher in the mold of Bob Shirley or Shane Rawley. He did lead the AL with 4 shutouts in 1973. I have nothing else to say about Curtis but I would like to know what's in that pocket!

Next up: A Smile

Monday, May 12, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Posed Pitching

The 1976 Topps set is filled with goofy posed action shots. All these shots were taken with the players standing in foul territory in mostly empty stadiums. Wasn't it easier to take pictures during a game? Or was photography equipment not quite ready for stop-action? I guess all the action shots from the 70's were pretty grainy.

Here are 2 cards of pitchers posing:

Niekro is posing with the classic, hands-over-the-head, I'm-about-to-wind-up pose. There are probably 50 cards with this pose. (I didn't count but maybe I will one day) How many pitchers actually started their wind-up this way? Do any pitchers do this now? Aside from camera technology, I also wonder how good the deodorant was back in the day.

Moret at least realizes that he looks absurd. He could not help but laugh as he posed as if he had just pitched the ball. Check out that arthritic left hand!

Phil, with his fully grey head would pitch forever and ever. He never won a Cy Young and only pitched on 5 All-Star teams but his 300+ wins made him a sure thing HOFer. (With Maddux getting to 350, its fun to talk about what the new magic number will be for automatic induction.)

Rogelio, sweet name by the way, won 14 games in 1975 and was 47-27 for his career. (A much better percentage than Niekro, 318-274) Wikipedia tells an odd story about Moret being found in a catatonic state, holding a slipper. He only pitched in 6 more games after this.

Next up in the tribute: Stuff in back pockets!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

1976 Topps Tribute: Action

I built a set or two every year from 1985 to 1991. 1985 Donruss was my first. (I still have it, white edges and all) 1991 Fleer was my last. (That set was very yellow) I caught the bug again in college and decided to collect the set from my birth year, 1976. Ebay was fairly new to me and I bid like crazy. I bought lots of commons and singles of the big stars, like Brett and Eckersley. Last year I finally got the last 12 cards from a card show dealer. Its not in mint condition by any stretch but it is complete.

So here begins my tribute to this set starting with the action shots. These shots were few and far between in 1976. (I still remember the excitement of 1988 Score, all action all the time. That Tony Pena promo card was sweet!)

While head shots and posed action was the norm, these 2 cards stand out:

Dave Parker has either just hit a HR and is admiring his blast or he just swung and missed. Either way he looks incredibly cool. Parker finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1975, his first full season. (Joe Morgan won it with .327, 17 HR, 67 SB) If Jim Rice makes the Hall of Fame then so should Cobra.

Mickey Lolich probably had to get new pants after this one. Look at that back leg dragging the mound. Lolich was past his peak in 1975 but pitched well for a few more years. He was a beast in 1971. He pitched 376 inning!!!! and won 25 games. (He completed 29 games that year.) Vida Blue was arguably a little better but not by much.

Next Up: Posed Action Pitching