Monday, March 24, 2014

#404 Turn Back the Clock: 1966

Card thoughts: Terrible airbrush job on Robinson. Obviously a Reds uniform. For once, Topps picked the right player, though. Robinson was the last player to win the Triple Crown before Miguel Cabrera did it a couple of years ago (corrected in the comments: That would be Yaz).

Rear guard:

  • Phil Regan was a great reliever in the 60s. All of those 13 wins came in relief, and he would go 14-1 in 1966, and also lead the league in saves.
  • I've never heard of Larry Jaster, but strangely enough he only had 5 shutouts all year (which led the league), and all came against the Dodgers. He only won 35 games in his 7-year career, however.
  • Sonny Siebert sounds like the leader of a garage band. He was a reliable, if unspectacular, starter for the Indians and Red Sox. 1966 was his best season.
  • Sam McDowell, Siebert's teammate, was one of the early strikeout kings. Drinking did in his career.
  • We all know about Sandy Koufax. He blew is arm out at age 30. 1966 was his last season. Since Koufax announced his retirement before Topps issued the 1967 set, there is no base card for him.
  • Tony Cloninger is hit 5 home runs that season. As a pitcher, he was incredibly wild, leading the league in walks and wild pitches in 1966.
  • Art Shamsky has one awesome name. Out of his 54 hits in 1966, almost half were home runs.
  • Joe Adcock was a long time Braves first baseman who was playing his last season with the Angels when he hit those 3 dingers.
  • Vic Roznovsky is most notable for his wavy blond hair. He generally was the third-string catcher on the Cubs and Orioles.
  • Boog Powell was a longtime star first baseman for the Orioles. He was not a bench player normally, and hit 339 career home runs.
  • Don Lock looks like a Batman villain.
  • Richie Allen, also known as Dick, was known for his terrible temple, and unrealized potential. He had an incredible 1966 campaign, leading in slugging and OPS while hitting 40 home runs.
  • Sonny Jackson appeared on a rookie card with Joe Morgan. He was a leadoff hitter in '66, and all 3 of his home runs were inside the park.
  • Smoky Burgess is a famous pinch hitter who played for 18 seasons. He looks it on that card.
I'm tired, so no more facts!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

#403 Turn Back The Clock: 1971

Card thoughts: Willie Mays is looking OLD. Of course, he was nearing 40 when this picture was taken. I would have put one of the four Orioles pitchers who won 20 games that year (probably Jim Palmer) on the front.

Rear guard: Well, every year is the year of the Hall of Famer. I did not know Luis Aparicio played that long. As for the other feats, it is strange that it took until 1971 for the World Series to be played at night; and the Senators, which were an expansion team in 1960 after the original franchise moved to Minnesota, failed again in Washington. It was a rickety franchise, changing owners several times and generally mired in last place before they moved to Texas. In their last game, the fans rioted, storming the field and stealing a bunch of souvenirs. The game was forfeited to the Yankees.

Monday, March 17, 2014

#402 Turn Back the Clock: 1976

Card thoughts: I think Mark Fidrych was the story of this season, and it should be his picture on the front. While Seaver had his usual fine season, he only led the league in strikeouts and his WAR was his second lowest in his career by this point.

Rear guard: Every year is the year of records being broken, and these records aren’t that impressive. Nolan Ryan would go on to set much more impressive records, and, uh, the only other records are meaningless one by Jose Morales and Butch Metzger. As for the players mentioned here, Randy Jones was a one year wonder in winning the Cy Young Award and all three Rookies of the Year ended being complete bust.

What was I doing in 1976? Crapping in my diapers on Bruner Street.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#401 Turn Back the Clock: 1981

Card thoughts: Topps issued lots of Turn Back the Clock subsets in the late 80s and early 90s, possibly taking advantage of the fact they held some very historic copyrights. Topps always tried to compete with the other card sets on "tradition," hence these subsets.

As for the card: This card was never issued. Valenzuela's base card that year was a "Dodgers Rookies" card, that also included #146 Jack Perconte and Mike Scioscia. His traded card looks like this. This card is obviously from the same photo session, but why do this mock up instead of using the real card?

Rear guard: 1981 might be termed "The Year of the Strike." That year's strike, which occurred during the middle of the season (when offense is usually paramount), no doubt skewed the stats that year. Major League teams allowed an average of 4 runs per nine innings that year. In contract, the 2013 season, which was also considered a low offense season, 4.17 runs per 9 were allowed.

All the players mentioned on the back, with the exception of Keith Drumright and Jerry Remy, have cards in this set. Remy retired in 1984, and Drumright only had 141 career at bats (although he hit .291 in 1981).

What happened on this day in 1981 (now 33 years ago)?

  • I was singing "The Inventor Song" in Mrs. Wherli's kindergarten class.
  • The 1981 Kosovo protests began at the University of Pristina. The initial complaint was bad cafeteria food, but morphed into a nationalist protest (Kosovo was then part of Yugoslavia)
  • In baseball, Rube Foster and Johnny Mize were elected to the hall of fame
  • The top rated TV show was Dallas; the top song that week was I Love a Rainy Night by Eddie Rabbitt; and the top movie was The Funhouse, a horror movie directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) which I bet nobody remembers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

#400 Rod Carew

Number 400! The #280 Tim Raines  post has now become the most popular. In the 300-series of cards, #355 Lee Smith takes top billing.

Card thoughts: Goodbye, Rod Carew. This is your final Topps card. Fitting that he got the “00” suffix, as Carew was one of the greatest hitters of all time.

The player: Carew was nothing but consistent. A career .300 hitter, he was an all- star every season but this one, and hit over .300 for 15 straight seasons.  In addition, he served for several years in the offseason with the Marines.

Carew started out as a star, and really never let up. Named the Rookie of the Year in 1967, he was starting at second base in the all star game that year (he was voted starting second baseman on the team from 1967-1969 and from 1971-1975). Still a little raw, he would walk just 39 times while striking out 91, a lot for a slap hitting middle infielder. Despite this, he would hit .292.

Carew would win his first batting crown in 1969, hitting .332, although he still wasn’t walking much (just 37 walks in 504 plate appearances). Carew also began to run more, stealing home seven times, just short of Ty Cobb’s record. 1970 looked to be the season Carew’s career really took off. He was hitting .366 when he got injured after 51 games. But more importantly for Carew, he would meet his wife that season, a white Jewish woman from New York. When they were married, Carew received many death threats from fans against interracial (and inter-religious) marriage.

From 1972-1978, Carew would win batting titles every year but one, just missing out by .002 percentage points in 1976 to #300 George Brett. Every part of Carew’s game improved. He began to use his speed more (a career high 49 steals in 1976), and, installed in the middle of the order in 1975, he began to drive in lots of runs, despite hitting for little power. One thing that did decline was fielding at second. Carew was moved to first base in 1976.

The year that really cemented Carew’s reputation was 1977, when he flirted with .400 with much of the year, ending with a league leading .388 batting average. He would end up leading the league in runs (128), hits (239), triples (16), on base percentage (.449) and OPS (a whopping 1.019).

Just one year later, after winning yet another batting title (.333), the famously stingy Twins owner refused to meet Carew’s contract demands. But Gene Autry, the owner of the Angels, had his wallet wide open and he signed Carew to a big deal.

Now 33, Carew would continue to hit .300 consistently for the Angels, but age was taking a toll and he only played in over 140 games once. Still appearing as a starter in all-star games at first base (more on reputation than performance at this point), he had 2 hits in both the 1980 and 1983 games.

By 1985, Carew was nearly 40 years old, and the Angels had a future star in Wally Joyner sitting in the minors. Despite hitting .280 and playing in 127 games, the Angels released him, and unable to find another team (despite a fan petition to bring him back to the Twins as a DH), he retired.

An obvious first ballot hall of famer, Carew ranks up there with the all-time greats. All of his comps are Hall of Famers as well, but he compares most with Wade Boggs. In retirement, Carew has worked (of course) as a hitting coach for the Angels and the Brewers. After years of chewing tobacco, his mouth was pretty much completely ruined and he got cancer, so he had to spend lots of money on restorative dental work.

A long standing controversy (if you can call it that) is whether Carew had converted to Judaism. Although his children were raised Jewish, Carew never converted, despite the claims of some writers and, most famously, Adam Sandler, in his Hanukkah Song.

Rear guard: Those are Carew’s final numbers (if you can read them).