Saturday, April 30, 2011

#24 Len Barker

Card fact: This was Len Barker's last Topps card.

Card thoughts: If you look closely, two mysterious codgers are blending into the white seats over Barker's shoulder in an otherwise empty spring training stadium. I love these cards with the foreground bright and the background dark. It makes the player look positively spectral. In this picture Barker looks like a really, really mad ghost. The "angry" style mustache doesn't help.

The player: Len Barker was a promising young pitcher who by the time this picture was taken had flamed out--by age 30.  Between 1980 and 1982, Barker was one of the top pitchers in the American League, winning 19 games in 1980; 15 more in 1982; and leading the league in sytrikeouts in 1980 and '81. However, Barker always had a relatively high ERA for someone who won so many games, perhaps due to his wildness (he also led the league in wild pitches in 1980). Which makes it even more remarkable that on May 15, 1981 Barker pitched the 10th perfect game in major league history against the Blue Jays in front of about 7,000 chilly Indians fans (game time temperature: 49 degrees). For such a wild pitchers, its remarkable that no Blue Jay even got to three balls in the count: perhaps they wanted to get the game over quickly in such unpleasant conditions.

Barker began to tail off in 1983 with a high ERA of 5.11 when the Braves traded three prospects to get him for the stretch drive of the their division winning season. This was in the era where the Braves made a lot of terrible trades, and two of the prospects they sent were Brett Butler and Brook Jacoby, both of whom became very good players for the Indians. The Braves mistake was compounded when they signed Barker to a long-term contract after the season. But battling arm troubles, Barker would only win 9 more games for the Braves in the next two years, and was released after the season shown on this card.

After his baseball career ended, Barker started a home remodeling and construction company in Cleveland. He's still a bit of a legend there.

Rear guard: No mention of the perfect game? I know Topps is wedded to these "firsts" but c'mon! For what it's worth, Barker's first win was a shutout on the last day of the season in 1976 against the White Sox. The opposing pitcher? Legendary reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage who was used as a full-time starter for that year only.

Friday, April 29, 2011

#23 Manny Lee

Card fact: This is Manny Lee's rookie card.

Card thoughts: This candid was obviously taken during spring training (note the cinder block dugout). If this is supposed to show the personality of Mr. Lee, we can only assume he was a bit dull. This Blue Jay uniform is one my favorites from this year.

The player: Lee was a Rule 5 draft for this year, which means the Blue Jays drafted him out of the minors (from the Astros who had obtained him at the end of the previous season from the Mets for Ray Knight) and he had to stay on the major league roster all year or be offered back to his original team. Unusually, Lee was drafted out of the low-A South Atlantic League where his stats were pretty good, but without much power (only 18 out of his 114 hits were for extra bases). He stayed on the club the whole year and was hidden on the bench as late-inning defensive replacement, subbing for error prone infielders Tony Fernandez and Damaso Garcia. He played in 64 games, yet had only 40 at bats!

He would go back to the minors the following year, but eventually became the Jays starting second baseman and shortstop during the franchise's glory years in the late 80s and early 90s. He always was a superb fielder at both positions, but ended up only batting .255 for his career. He also holds the record for most strikeouts without a homer (107).

Rear guard: Lee's first major league hit was against Cleveland Indians pitcher Rick Behenna, who had a 7.78 ERA that year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#22 Duane Walker

Card fact: This was Duane Walker's last card and first in a Rangers uniform.

Card thoughts: Nice candid of Walker in his natural position, on the bench waiting to pinch hit. There sure is a lot of blue in this picture. And the veins on Walker's on pale hands really stand out for because of it

The player:  Walker was one of those fifth outfielders who pinch hit a lot but never started much in the majors. He started out in the minors as a shortstop and flashed some speed and hit for a decent average, but it never translated to the majors where he only hit .229 in a 5-year career. He did have a good year off the bench in 1984 when had 10 HRs, slugged .528, and hit .292 in 195 at bats. On the year shown on this card, he was shipped to the Rangers in a mid-season deal with pitcher Jeff Russell  for Buddy Bell, who was near the end of his career. Bell would have a couple more good years with the Reds, while Walker would be released at the end of the season and Russell would struggle as a starter for the Rangers for several years until they made him a closer.

After baseball, Walker was a salesman representing many masonry companies. He was the regional sales manager for the Nawkaw Corporation, which sells masonry stains, until 2010.

Rear guard: Those two home runs were against Nolan Ryan. Eddie Stanky had done some previous managing in the 60s, but returned to his native Alabama to coach college. After replacing Frank Luchesi as Rangers manager (and winning his debut) he had second thoughts about leaving home and resigned after the game. He was replaced by coach Connie Ryan.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#21 George Bamberger

Card fact: Like a lot of managers, George Bamberger was a marginal player. He would have many more cards as a manager (and a coach, in the days they were shown on cards) than as a player.

Card thoughts: This picture was taken during spring training, as the manager is sitting on a folding chair outside the dugout. Kind of an odd shot, as Bamberger is looking sidelong at the camera.

The manager:  Bamberger gained fame by being Earl Weaver's pitching coach in the late 60s and early 70s when the Orioles had the best pitching staff in baseball. This was the second stint for Bamberger as the manager for the Brewers. During his first go-round, he had a 235-180 record from 1978-1980. In 1980, he had a heart attack during spring training and didn't join the team until June 6. However, he couldn't finish the season and coach Bob "Buck" Rodgers, who started the season managing the team also finished the season at the helm. He wasn't done, however, and after two dismal years with the Mets (1982-1983), he came back to manage the Brewers. Unfortunately, even though he had many of the same players as in his first stint (Cecil Cooper, Ben Ogilve, Jim Gantner, Pete Vukovich, Charlie Moore etc), those players were mostly in decline and on the year shown on this card the Brewers lost 90 games. The next year he was fired in September and replaced by Tom Trebelhorn.

Rear guard: Good coverage of cards from this team, with no glaring omissions. However, Chuck Porter was injured most of the year. Could have replaced him with pitcher Tim Leary (a rookie) or outfielder Doug Loman.

Monday, April 25, 2011

#20 Lou Whitaker

Card fact: It's time for an update to our tally: In the first 14 cards of this set, 6 are action cards, 6 are head shots, and 2 are posed. Lou Whitaker was considered one of the best 2nd baseman of his era, and was an all-star, gold glove, and silver slugger winner this year. Hence, the card ending in 0.

Card thought: Whitaker's in his home whites and the stadium is NOT Tiger Stadium (I believe that is astroturf). It's likely that this shot was taken in spring training where Whitaker is going for a line drive.

The player: Whitaker was part of the longest double play combo in baseball history. He and Alan Trammell were double play partners from 1978-1995. He won the Rookie of the Year in 1978, and was a five time all star. A superior defensive second baseman similar to Hall-of-Fame second basemen Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Joe Morgan (all of whom were his contemporaries), he also amassed over 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, and 1,000 RBIs. Many believe Whitaker will join these three in the Hall someday.

A few amusing stories about Whitaker: He forgot to pack his uniform for the all-star game for the year shown on this card. He used some replica uniforms for sale at the game, including a generic mesh hat and a blank white top, which he wrote his number "1" on the back in magic marker. Here's a picture. He also appeared on an episode of Magnum P.I. with double play partner Alan Trammell. Check out the unison beer drinking!

Rear guard: This was the prime of Whitaker's career. At the time the number of  runs, home runs, and RBIs this year were career highs; he would surpass all of these numbers in subsequent years. The inside-the-park home run was hit to center field at old Comiskey park and drove in Trammell and Ron LeFlore. The centerfielder for the White Sox, future Cub Thad Bosley, likely misplayed it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

#19 Rich Hebner

Card fact: This is Rich Hebner's last Topps card after having 17 previous ones.  In most of them he's smiling including on this card, when it looks like he's checking his bat for a crack. His first card was one of the few Topps "Rookie Stars" cards where both players had long, productive careers. The other player? Al Oliver.

Card thoughts: The first Cubs card in the set and I have no recollection of Hebner, even though I started avidly following the Cubs around this time. Maybe because of the fact that he only took the field in 22 out of the 85 games he played in 1985. The rest were pinch hitting appearances, most likely many were well past my 10-year-old bed time.

The player: Rich (generally known as "Richie" except by Topps) was a solid third baseman for several great Pirates teams of the 70s. Definitely in the lineup for his hitting (his career fielding percentage at third is a lowly .946), Hebner averaged around 15 HRs, 75 RBIs and .275 average during the decade when he was a regular (1969-1979). In his younger days, he was in the playoffs 7 times in 10 years with a career post-season average of  .270 in 30 games. He got a World Series ring with the Pirates in 1971, despite the fact that he batted .167 (of course, that was against Palmer, Cuellar, Dobson, and McNally). By the time he reached the Cubs, he was almost exclusively used as a pinch hitter. He batted once in the 1984 NLDS and didn't get a hit. Oh, and in his early years he was a grave digger in the off-season. Apparently his dad owned a cemetery!

Rear guard: As a kid, I was always excited to get cards like this, where the player had played so long you could barely read the stats. With veteran salaries sky high, you don't find many players nowadays who are willing to play nearly half of their careers as a bench player after being a regular for some time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#18 Brent Gaff

Card fact: This would be Brent Gaff's last card. And he didn't even play this year! I wonder why Topps gave him a card, seeing as he was on the DL all year and he wasn't a star player who's absence would have been noticed. There must have been a Met who actually played this year that deserved a card, but got bumped by no-show Gaff.

Card thoughts: I really like the colors on this card. The blue spring training uniform really gels with the baby blue cloudless sky and the blurry green wall in the background.

The player:  Brent Gaff was one of your generic middle relievers. A pretty good starter in the minors, he had a decent 3.63 ERA as reliever in 1984. Unfortunately, in 1985 he blew out his rotator cuff and never pitched in the majors again. After one game with the Mets AAA club and a comeback attempt with the Milwaukee Brewers, he was through.

Rear guard: Gaff's major league debut was a 7 2/3 inning start against the Giants, where he gave up 3 runs (none earned) struck out 6 and walked only 3.

Rod Kanehl was a utility player for the first year expansion Mets. His grand slam drove in shortstop Elio Chacon, centerfielder Joe Christopher, and leftfielder Jim Hickman and was against the Cardinals.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

#17 Mike Stenhouse

Card fact: Third mustache in a row! And this was the only year Mike Stenhouse DH'd . . . although if Topps used a "PH" position circle that would have been more appropriate here. He appeared on the 1984 Father/Son card with his father Dave Stenhouse.

Card thoughts: Good photo as it shows Stenhouse's "position" clearly: Stretching out before a pinch hitting appearance.

The player:  Mike Stenhouse was a smart guy: He rejected several sub-par draft offers to go to college and it was a good choice. He was an all-American at Harvard and was finally drafted at #1 by the Expos in the days when two drafts were held a year--he was drafted in the January draft of 1980. He lit up the minors, with a high on base percentage, decent average, and some power. He won the AAA MVP award in 1983, leading the league in average, slugging percentage, and on base percentage while hitting 25 home runs and driving in 93. However, this success never translated to the majors where his career average was below .200. The year shown on this card would be his only full year in the majors.

After his playing days, he spent one year as an Expos broadcaster.

Rear guard: I always loved the name Zoilo and that guy was a hitting machine. Stenhouse's first hit was a double off of the Cardinals' Bob Forsch in the second game of a double header. He played first in that game.

Monday, April 18, 2011

#16 Rick Schu

Card fact: 2 action shots in a row. And the 4th mustache (out of 10 players!). I wonder if the 40% mustache ratio will hold up.

Card thoughts: I really loathe these powder blue "pajama" uniforms of the 80s Phillies. Since when has blue been a Phillie color? I'm guessing Schu is checking his swing here, as that would be a very awkward hitting stance, seeing as how he's out on his front foot.

The player: Rick Schu had the unenviable task of replacing Mike Schmidt at third when the hall-of-famer wanted to save his knees by moving to first. However, the move actually hurt Schmidt's knees more, so the experiment only lasted the year shown by this card. Schu was then reduced to a utility role, and eventually drifted to a number of teams, including the Orioles, the Expos, and the Tigers. His utility as a major league bench player was hampered by the fact that he really only could play third base well.

In 1994, Schu, frustrated that the Phillies weren't giving him another shot after a couple of good seasons at their AAA farm club, played for a couple of years with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. After returning to the States, he played a few more pro seasons before retiring and becoming a hitting coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks (where he succeeded #8 in this set Dwayne Murphy!). He is now a roving hitting instructor in the Nationals minor league system.

Rear guard:  Schu's first game winning RBI on June 16, 1985 was a double off of Pirate pitcher Rick Rueschel, bringing home winning pitcher Charlie Hudson who had earlier singled.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

#15 Eddie Whitson

Card fact: This is only the second real "in-action" shot of the set (the first was Pete Rose). Bob Kearney's card was more of an "in-game" shot, as he wasn't really doing anything in the photo.

Card thoughts: This is a great shot of a pitcher at full extension, right about to deliver the ball. By the grip, he looks like he's delivering a curve ball. And seeing how he was treated by the Yankees fans (and this shot was taken at Yankee Stadium) that look on his face is most likely anger, rather than determination.

The player: Whitson was a fairly marginal pitcher who both relieved and started for several teams before a career year in 1984, when he won 14 games for the pennant winning Padres, including a particularly strong game preventing the Padres from getting swept in the NLDS, holding the Cubs to 1 run on 5 hits.

Unfortunately, this season was a blessing and a curse for Whitson. During the Yankees free-agent binge in the mid-80s, Whitson was one of their expensive bombs. He was signed to a five-year deal (with an option for six) for a then high salary of $4.4 million. New York fans hated him after he started 1-6 with his new team. They would send him death threats and verbally abuse him when he pitched at home--so much so, that he refused to let his wife come to home games. He also got in a fight with manager Billy Martin at a hotel bar (how many people have had THAT happen to them!). When Lou Pinella took over as manager the next year, he only pitched him in road games and eventually George Steinbrenner took mercy on him and shipped him back to the Padres. Even after he left the Yanks, they wouldn't let their hatred go. One threatened to blow his brains out if he pitched against the Mets at Shea Stadium and he had to be escorted to the park by the baseball commissioner's security guards.

Despite all this drama, Whitson ended his career with a winning record (126-123) and a decent ERA. He currently volunteers as a high school baseball coach in Dublin, Ohio.

Rear guard:  His first shutout was at Wrigley Field against future Giant Mike Krukow in front of a tiny crowd (for a Sunday) of 15,465. It was quite a game. It was Whitson's first win of the season, after losing his first five in a row. He gave up only 7 hits, walked no one, and even drove in Rennie Stennett with the second Giant run.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

#14 Julio Cruz

Card fact: Julio Cruz would have only one more Topps card after this one.

Card thoughts: Cruz has got a nice smile. Can't say the same for the White Sox uniforms. Red was a really bad choice for the warm up jersey.

The player: Cruz was one of the early stars for the Seattle Mariners, and was taken by them as the 52nd pick in the expansion draft from the California Angels. He was a singles hitter with blazing speed, and stole over 40 bases per year from 1978-1983. His all-time Mariners record of 290 steals was broken by Ichiro Suzuki in 2008. He was traded to the White Sox for fellow 2nd baseman Tony Bernazard and helped the Sox win the division that year. He currently broadcasts for the Mariners.

Rear guard: You can view that first Topps card here. Always a poor hitter, Cruz' average began a free fall after 1983, including this year when he only hit .197 (!) as the primary 2nd baseman for the White Sox. Inconceivably, he would start again the following (and his last year) when his average didn't improve by much and his career ended.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#13 Bob Kearney

Card fact: In 1983, Bob Kearney was a Topps all-star rookie, but he got no cup for it. This is his third Topps card.

Card thoughts: He really looks like my Uncle Tom. Come to think of it, he looks a little like a grown up Kearney from the Simpsons. This in-game shot has the mustachioed catcher looking down at the third base coach, probably hoping to get some hitting tips.

The player: Great fielder, bad hitter. Kearney arrived in Seattle, courtesy of a trade with the A's for then hot prospect Darrell Akerfelds and well traveled reliever Bill Caudill. He showed promise as a rookie, batting .255. But he really came into his own on defense in the following couple of years, leading in putouts and fielding percentage in 1984 and 85, respectively.

Rear guard: Interestingly, Larry Cox preceded Bob Kearney as the Mariners starting catcher by a couple of years. If you remember the Kingdome, you'll remember how cavernous that place was (hence conducive to triples by slow-footed catchers!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#12 Jose Uribe

Card fact: This is Jose Uribe's first Topps regular set card. He had a card in the traded series the year before.

Card thoughts: Uribe looks pretty confident for a rookie. There's a kind of nice, smiling easy grace to this picture. Like a yearbook photo.

The player: Jose Uribe, like his fellow rookies Ozzie Guillen and Steve Jeltz, was a tremendous fielder with not much hitting prowess (lifetime average: .241). In this era, teams were often willing to trade a hole in the lineup for steady defense from the "up the middle" guys (today--much less so). Speaking of trades, Uribe was part of a big one before this season, with the Cardinals getting slugger Jack Clark and the Giants getting starting pitcher Dave LaPoint, first baseman David Green, infielder Gary Rajsich (all of whom bombed with the Giants). Uribe  had a good 10 year career with the Giants--6 as the starting shortstop, including during their 1989 pennant winning season. He was very popular with the fans and won the coveted "Willie Mac" award in 1988 for his team spirit. The chant "OO-Ree-Bay" heard so often during the 2010 World Series for Juan Urine (Jose's nephew!) originated with Juan.

Tragically, Jose Uribe died in a late night car crash in his native Dominican Republic in 2006 at the age of 47.

Rear guard: The injury Uribe got after being drafted by the Yankees must have been pretty bad (did he also get homesick?), because he gave up the game for many years afterward. The game-winning RBI note is telling. Apparently, when Chris Berman was at his most obnoxious, he nicknamed Jose "Game-Winning RBI" for reasons unknown.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#11 Bob Ojeda

Card fact: The blurry player with #52 behind Ojeda is not a Red Sox player. Looks like a Yankee. Could it be Juan Espino?

Card thoughts: This is the first of many mustaches in this set (rare to see them on ball players anymore). It really does make you look older. Ojeda is only 28 in this picture and he looks about 40. This would be his last card in Red Sox uniform. He'd be traded to the Mets the next year for future Red Sox (and Cub) goat Calvin Schiraldi.

The player: Ojeda was a decent left hander for the Red Sox, but had his best year for a great (and loathed by my 11 year old self) 1986 Mets team, leading the league in winning percentage and winning 18 games. He was instrumental in the Mets World Series victory against his former team, winning a crucial Game 3 at Fenway. He was traded to the Dodgers for Hubie Brooks in 1990, and had one more good season with them, winning 12 games in 1991. He finished his career as a bit player with the Indians and Yankees.

Ojeda also was involved in some off-field incidents involving heavy drinking. He and Rick Aguilera, Tim Tuefel, and Ron Darling were arrested after brawling with security guards at a nightclub in Houston in 1986. More tragically, during spring training with the Indians in 1993 a drunken Tim Crews was piloting a boat with Ojeda and Steve Olin on board when the boat crashed into a pier. Only Ojeda survived, although he had severe head lacerations.

Rear guard: Look at those stats from 1984. A .500 record with a fairly high ERA, yet Ojeda tied for the league lead in shutouts. He must have given up lots of runs in his losses. Smokey Joe Wood was a great pitcher for the Red Sox, winning 34 games in 1912. He later became an outfielder. His son only pitched in 3 games for the Red Sox, losing 1.

Monday, April 4, 2011

#10 Tony Gwynn

Card fact:  Tony Gwynn earns the coveted Topps card ending in 0 on the strength of his .351 average the year before

Card thoughts: For one of the greatest pure hitters in my lifetime, kind of odd to see Gwynn in a pitcher's pose, getting ready to throw a forkball. And dig the jeri-curl!

The player: Gwynn was just getting started on what turned out to be a hall-of-fame career. As a hitter, he's very similar to Pete Rose: Lots of singles, high average, not much power, and rarely walked or struck out. He led the league in average 8 times (including an incredible .394 in the strike shortened 1994 campaign), in hits 7 times, and he won several gold gloves as well. A lead off hitter in his early career, in the late 90s he was asked to hit in the middle of the line up and drove in 119 runs (with only 17 hrs!) in 1997, his last great season. He never hit under .300 as a regular player in his career.

Gwynn is currently the baseball coach for San Diego State University (his alma mater). His brother Chris played outfield for the Dodgers and Royals, and his namesake son plays outfield with the Dodgers.

Rear guard: I'm sure lots of people though the .351 average in 1984 was an aberration. It wasn't. Gene Richards was an early star of the Padres, who didn't have a very long career. Those 6 hits came during his rookie year.

The tally: It's all even. One each of posed, action, head shot, and candid.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

#9 Roy Smith

Card fact: This Roy Smith's second Topps card. He'd be mostly in the minors the next few years and wouldn't have another card until 1990.

Card thoughts:  Roy Smith rarely looks happy on his baseball cards and this is no exception. Topps took a lot of these types of pictures in 1986, where the player glows against a darkened background (most dramatically on some Expos cards).

The player: Smith was a decent AAA-type starter that never saw much success in the majors. He originally showed a lot of potential though, and was traded to the Indians from the Phillies in 1982 with two other minor leaguers for John Denny. This was a steal for the Phillies, as Denny won the Cy Young Award the year after the trade. His best year was with Minnesota in 1989 when he went 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA.

After his playing days were over, he became a scout for the Pirates and Blue Jays.

Rear guard: Smith won his first major league start and apparently his only win in 1985 was a complete game win. And generally a "six strikeout" performance isn't something to get too excited about.

The tally: 1 candid, 1 action, 1 head, 0 posed

Saturday, April 2, 2011

#8 Dwayne Murphy

Card fact: Murphy is nearing the end of his career at this point. I'm going start keeping a tally of photo types: Head shot, action shot, candid, or posed shot. So far, the tally is 1 action, 1 candid.

Card thoughts: This is one of the many cool candid shots in this set. I can't think of why Murphy would be looking back at the camera like this. Perhaps he's on deck?

The player: Dwayne Murphy was a great number 2 hitter, often hitting behind Rickey Henderson early in his career (hence the high RBI totals for a number 2 hitter). He hit a lot of homers, but not a lot of doubles and triples. Which is surprising, given the dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum and the fact that he had really good speed.

Other than as great protection for Rickey Henderson (who uncharacteristically gave him a lot of credit for his record breaking 130 steals in 1982), Murphy was known for his glove. He had won six consecutive gold gloves for his center field work including this season. His hat often fell off when making great catches. Probably should have gotten a better fitting hat!

In the last few years, Murphy has coached for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rear guard: Topps kind of got lazy on the facts. This is just a list of firsts and dates. Show some human interest! You can see by these stats that Murphy also walked a lot, also a good trait for a number 2 hitter. He never really hit for a high average though.

#7 The Pete Rose Years: 1983-1985

Card fact: This is the last card in this subset. I won't have to talk about Pete Rose for awhile!

Card thoughts: Pete Rose dreaming of Ty Cobb? Pretty cheesy, Topps. I wish I would have started collecting cards in earnest in 1985. I was always excited to be able to trade for these cards as a kid, even if they were a common.

The player: Rose was playing for the record at this point. He was demoted to pinch-hitter by the Phillies in 1983 when his age started to show and his batting average dipped. He was released by the Phillies and signed by the Expos where in a part of a season he hit poorly again. He was traded back to Cincinnati to break the hits record for Tom Lawless, a career backup utility player with 110 career hits (although we was a good leadoff hitter in the minors). The record hit came off Eric Show, whose own tragic story will be alluded to when his card comes up. Interesting note: With further research, apparently Ty Cobb had two less hits. So Rose really broke the record "unofficially" against Reggie Patterson of the Cubs.

Rear guard: Finally, a world series mention! Maybe because 1983 was such a terrible offensive year for Rose.

#6 The Pete Rose Years: 1979-1982

Card fact: This is the 2nd to last Pete Rose Years card (I'm sure getting sick of writing about Pete Rose!)

Card thoughts: The blue and purple Philly combo? Ugly! The 1981 Topps design is one my favorites. I loved the hats and the color combos on those cards. The 1982 card should be for NASCAR, not baseball, what with the rally stripe on the side.

The player: Although Rose was entering his twilight years, he was signed to fat free-agent contract in 1979: 4 years for $3.2 million. Since Mike Schmidt was at 3rd, Rose switched to 1st where he would play the rest of his career. He still led in doubles in 1980 and hits in 1981, and was a big part of the Phillies winning the world series in 1980.

Rear guard: Once again: No World Series mention by Topps. What gives?

#5 The Pete Rose Years: 1975-1978

Card fact: Card 4 of 6 of the Pete Rose Years.

Card thoughts: There's some nice candid shots on these cards. I'm guessing the 1976 card is Rose hanging around the batting cage. It almost looks like Rose is already a Philly in the 1978 card, where you can see the crappy haircut he would sport the rest of his career. My favorite card design of the bunch is the 1976 card.

The player: Rose was moving around the field a lot in these years. He moved to third when the Reds decided to give Ken Griffey Sr. his outfield job. At the plate, Rose was playing nearly every game in these years, hitting lots of doubles and scoring lots of runs as his fellow Reds like Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and George Foster were driving in 90-100 runs every year.

Rear guard: The records start to fall: Most hits by a switch hitter (1977) and tied for the longest NL hitting streak (1978). 

#4 The Pete Rose Years: 1971-1974

Card fact: The beginning of the wacky seventies. This is card 3 of 6 of the Pete Rose subset.

Card thoughts: Boy, when I aquired the 1971 Rose card I thought I was in heaven. I think the 1972 card is the worst of all Topps designs. They must have let the "company freak" design the card. Some really cool in action shots on the '73 and '74 cards. I think the 1971 card is the best of this bunch. Note: Rose is starting to get that "jellybean look" that he had his later career, with a bowl cut and the perpetual batting helmet.

The player: Rose was in his prime in these years, winning the MVP in 1973. So were the Reds.

Rear guard: Topps seems to value all-star appearances rather than post-season stats. Or perhaps Rose didn't too well in those games?