Sunday, February 20, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1971

Now that camp is in session, the anticipation of Opening Day has hit the next level. I've been sick for a number of days and haven't been able to get back to the flashbacks from past Opening Days- so I resume with 1971...

Monday, April 5, 1971. Riverfront Stadium- Cincinnati, Ohio

With ace Phil Niekro on the mound, the Braves got off to an early 4-0 lead as they batted around the lineup in the second inning against Reds' starter Gary Nolan. The Reds would put a run up on the scoreboard in the fourth, and then tie the game in the sixth on a double by Frank Duffy. Atlanta would come back with one in the eighth and two in the ninth for the 7-4 win. Amazingly, despite committing six errors, the Reds' only allowed two unearned runs.

Player of the Game- Felix Millan
Millan, the slick fielding second-baseman for Atlanta, was once called "the closest thing to a perfect ball player as I have ever seen" by manager Lum Harris. On this day, Millan was perfect at the plate: going 4-4, with a walk, 2 runs scored, and an RBI. "The Cat" drove home the first Braves score in the second inning with a single. Later, with the score tied 4-4, he led off the top of the eighth with a triple, and then would score what would prove to be the winning run on Reds' third baseman Woody Woodward's throwing error while trying to throw out Clete Boyer.

Pitcher of the Game- Cecil Upshaw
After missing all of the 1970 season, Upshaw entered the game in the bottom of the sixth after Niekro failed to get an out. Knucksie had given up a two run homer to Tony Perez, followed by a single to Johnny Bench.
A wild-pitch and two outs later, Frank Duffy doubled off of Upshaw to bring in Bench-who was the tying run (a run which was charged to Niekro). Upshaw would not allow any other runs, however, over the course of the next three innings as he picked up the 'W'.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1969

As we are coming upon the beginning of the baseball season, I thought it would be fun to look back at Opening Day for each season since 1966- the Braves' first one in Atlanta. If you're like me, you would like to see Opening Day made into a national holiday. Federal employees get their umpteen days each year for holidays that a lot of us do not get off; all I'm asking for is one special day per calendar year!

After having come off of a .500 season in 1968, the '69 Braves team may not have been picked to finish at the top of their division- but the team found a resurgence in the power department that was so lacking in '68. Leading the way was, of course, Henry Aaron-whose home run totals would match (for the forth time in his career) his uniform number. Another key to the Braves turn around was first baseman Orlando Cepeda, whom the Braves acquired in March from the Cardinals for Joe Torre, as well as a healthy Rico Carty (who missed all of '68) and Clete Boyer (he only had 273 at bats the previous season). Everything fell into place for the Braves in '69, and the team went on to win the West in the newly realigned National League.

Monday April 7, 1968 Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Atlanta, Ga.
Having chased Giants starter Juan Marichal out of the game in the sixth inning, the Braves took a 3-1 lead into the top of the seventh. That lead wouldn't hold, however, as manager Lum Harris decided to sent starter Pat Jarvis back out to the mound in the top of the seventh. Jarvis had thrown a great game to that point (allowing only 2 hits), so perhaps it's easy to second guess Harris. The decision could have cost the Braves the game as Jarvis gave up two hits to the first two batters for the Giants-one of them scoring. Harris then made the call to the pen, and Cecil Upshaw managed to blow the lead by allowing two more hits, a sacrifice, a walk, and a sac
fly before picking off Willie Mays to end the inning. By then, though, the damage had been done, and the Braves found themselves down 4-3. The Giants would maintain their one-run lead until the bottom of the ninth, when Mike Lum (after Sonny Jackson's run-tying triple) would hit a one-out single to win the game for the Braves.

Player of the Game- Sonny Jackson
Jackson, the light-hitting shortstop, drove in two runs on the
day. His first RBI came on a fielder's choice in the second to tie the game at 1. His only hit on the night, the triple, brought home Clete Boyer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at four, and put him in place to score the winning run.

Pitcher of the Game- George Stone

Stone, who would start twenty games for the Braves in 1969, fared much better than his cousin (Cecil Upshaw) this night. While pitching the top of the ninth for the Braves, Stone would allow only only hit while striking out two (including Willie Mays) and getting Bobby Bonds out on a flyout to end the Giants inning. In doing so, Stone picked up the first of his thirteen wins on the season.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1968

As we are coming upon the beginning of the baseball season, I thought it would be fun to look back at Opening Day for each season since 1966- the Braves' first season in Atlanta. If you're like me, you would like to see Opening Day made into a national holiday. Federal employees get their umpteen days each year for holidays that a lot of us don't get off; all I'm asking for is one special day per calendar year!

The 1968 season's Opening Day took place on April 10 in St. Louis-against the defending World Series Champion Cardinals. Pat Jarvis took the mound for the Braves against Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. With two runners on in the top of the second, Felix Millan hit what should have been an out, but LF Lou Brock committed an error- which allowed Clete Boyer to score from third and gave the Braves a 1-0 lead. The score would remain at 1-0 until the bottom of the eighth, when Curtis Flood scored on a double to center by future Brave Orlando Cepeda (whom the Braves would trade Joe Torre for in the Spring of 1969). Starter Pat Jarvis would come back out for the Braves in the bottom of the ninth, and after recording an out, gave up a double to Dal Maxvill-who would then leave the game for pinch runner Dick Simpson. Ken Johnson replaced Jarvis, and then gave up a run scoring single to pinch-hitter Dave Ricketts, as the Braves lost 2-1.

Player of the Game-Dave Ricketts
Ricketts, a little-used catcher who had all of 213 at-bats during his 6 year major league career, made the most of his one at bat in this game.

The hit would be one of only three that Ricketts would collect that year, and the RBI his only one that season. Ricketts eventually joined the Cardinals coaching staff, where he spent fifteen seasons. During his long career, Dave won World Series rings in 1967 with the Cardinals as a back-up catcher, 1971 as a bullpen coach with the Pirates, and in 1982 as the Cardinals bullpen coach.

Pitcher of the Game-Bob Gibson
Losing to Gibson in 1968 was a common theme for N.L. teams, so there was no shame in this defeat. The win was the first of 22 that Gibson would collect in '68- which is the year that Bob would go on to win the N.L. MVP award, as well as the N.L. Cy Young award. His ERA of 1.12 in 1968 was also the record for the "live ball era", and his unbelievable 13 shutouts were just three short of the MLB record. On this night, Gibby would throw three-hit ball over the course of seven innings while allowing only one unearned run.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1967

As we are coming upon the beginning of the baseball season, I thought it would be fun to look back at Opening Day for each of the years dating back to 1966-the Braves' first season in Atlanta. If you're like me, you would like to see Opening Day made into a national holiday. Federal employees get their upteen days each year for holidays that a lot of us don't get; all I'm asking for is one special day per calendar year.

April 11, 1967- Houston Astrodome- Houston, Texas
There's nothing like drawing a crowd of 26,001 for Opening Day, and yet that is the announced attendance for the Braves 1967 opening day game in Houston. Those who did show up (and stuck around) witnessed a late-inning rally by the Astros, who beat the Braves 6-1.

Braves starter Denny Lemaster and future Oriole (and 20 game/CY Young winner) Mike Cuellar were locked in a pitchers dual for the first six innings this night. Through the first six innings, Atlanta was able to scrap out four hits to only one by the Astros. In the top of the seventh, new Braves third baseman Clete Boyer gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead with a solo home run. The lead didn't last long however, as the Braves bullpen blew up in the bottom of the seventh inning. After Lemaster walked the lead off hitter, manager Billy Hitchcock replaced the starter with Dick Kelly-who would give up a one out triple to former Braves legend Eddie Mathews. With the score now tied, Clay Carroll replaced Kelly and gave up three straight singles and left without recording an out. Down 3-1 now, Ramon Hernandez enters the game and pitched the final 1.2 innings, giving up another three hits as three more runs score-sealing the Braves fate with a 6-1 defeat.

Player of the Game-Eddie Mathews
Unfortunately for the Braves, Mathews was wearing the wrong uniform. The Braves legend and HOF third
baseman went 2-4 in his first game in a uniform other than a Braves one. As mentioned previously, the 500 HR member hit a triple to drive in the first Houston run, and also scored the go-ahead (winning) run for the Astros.

Pitcher of the Game-Mike Cuellar
For as good of a game as Lemaster pitched, it's too bad he
didn't get a victory for Atlanta.

This evening would belong to Cuellar, who pitched a complete game for the victory. In his nine innings, he allowed only 5 hits and 1 earned run, while striking out seven Braves.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Two packages were waiting for me when I got home today. It's been slow of late, mail wise, so this was a welcomed sight.

2010 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Chrome #BDPP60 Matt Lipka
The Braves top pick in the 2010 draft, Lipka was drafted as, and spent his first summer in pro ball as a shortstop-but his future might be in center field. What the Braves have in Lipka is a top of the order type of hitter, who was very good speed (he was a two-time all-state 4A wide receiver in high school), a quick bat with a line-drive stroke which may translate to average power, and a very good work ethic. Baseball America has Lipka, who will start the '11 season in Class A Rome, rated as the organization's second best position prospect, and number six overall for the Braves.

1968 Topps #518 7th Series Checklist
No, that isn't a young Jeff Francoeur, it's former third baseman Clete Boyer. I normally would not bother
picking up a checklist (unless I needed it for a set)-but the fact that it's a high numbered card with a Brave on it was the selling point.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Opening Day Flashbacks, 1966

As we are coming upon the beginning of the baseball season, I thought it would be fun to look back at Opening Day for each of the years dating back to 1966-the Braves' first season in Atlanta. If you're like me, you would like to see Opening Day made into a national holiday. Federal employees get their upteen days each year for holidays that alot of us don't get- all I'm asking for is one special day per calendar year!

April 12, 1966 Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium - Atlanta, GA
50,671 people were in attendance as the Braves opened the 1966 season at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This would be the first home
game for the recently transplanted Braves, who had moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta after the 1965 season. The starting pitchers for the game were Bob Veale for the Pirates, and Tony Cloninger for the Braves.

The game was scoreless until the bottom of the 5th, when Braves catcher Joe Torre gave the home town team a 1-0 lead with a solo homer. Cloninger held the Bucs scoreless until the top of the eighth, when Pirate catcher Jim Pagliaroni led off the inning with a solo home run of his own, tying the game at 1. The home run didn't phase Cloninger, who would continue shutting down the Pirates until the top of the thirteenth inning. Future Hall of Famer Willie Stargell gave the Pirates the lead in the top of the 13th with a two-run home run. Torre, who homered earlier, would try to bring the Braves back with another homer in the bottom of the thirteenth-but it was a little too late for the boys from the South, as they would lose to Don Schwall and the Pirates 3-2.

Player of the Game: Joe Torre (C) 2-4, 2 runs, 2 Home Runs, 2 RBI, 1 BB If Reggie Jackson is known as "Mr. October", Joe Torre made a case for himself to be known as "Mr. Opening Day." Not only did Joe homer twice on opening day in '66, but he also homered twice in the final Opening Day for the Milwaukee Braves-pulling off the similar feat on April 12, 1965.

Pitcher of the Game: Tony Cloninger

13 IP (!!!), 12 K, 3 BB, 3 Runs (3ER), 10 H
Although he didn't pick up the win, Cloninger gave it a valiant effort. And to us moderns, throwing a thirteen inning complete game is amazing- but his opening day performance probably wasn't even Tony's greatest game in 1966. On July 3rd, in a 17-3 road win vs. San Francisco, Tony hit not one but two grand slams-in the same game!!! On the day, Cloninger ended up going 3-5 with 9 RBI.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finis!!! The Joys of a Completed 1978 Topps Set

Yesterday I received yet another package from Dean's Cards, and with it I can close the books (well, the checklist) on the 1978 Topps set I was putting together. It came down to the final four, with the winner! Now I can officially begin either a '77, '79, or '80 set.

#480 Ron LeFlore
A great all-around player for the Tigers, LeFlore exploded in 1977
- hitting .325 (with an .838 OPS) with 100 runs, 212 Hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers, 57 RBI and 39 stolen bases. His story is one that many people may not be familiar with,
but the overview on this link is definitely worth a read.

#505 Felix Millan
A former second baseman for the Braves, Millan
had been traded to New York after the '72 season. For the next four seasons, Felix was the starter at second for the Mets before appearing in only 91 games in 1977. That season was the last in the Majors for Felix.

#557 Tony Solaita
This is a name that I wasn't familiar with, but according to the back of the card, Tony became the first player to hit 3 home runs in a game at Anaheim Stadium. He was also the first MLBer to come from Ameri
can Samoa-where he was shot and killed on February 10, 1990.

#562 Glenn Burke
Yet another interesting story, Burke had the distinction of being the first openly gay major leaguer-being outed to team mates and club officals while he was still an active player. During his four year big-league career, Burke was also credited as the guy who started the "high five", as he and Dusty Baker celebrated each others' home runs. After his career was over, Burke struggled with drug addiction, homelessness, arrests and jail time served, and eventually death from AIDS complications in 1995.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday Twofers--First 2011 Packs!

I took my daughter out for some ice cream and shopping tonight. During our trip to Target, I thought I would make a run down the card aisle to see if they had any of the 2011 Topps I baseball in stock. They did, and I bought. Now, one of my New Years Card Collection Resolutions was that I wasn't going to be spending much money on packs (or boxes)- instead, I would purchase hand collated sets. But this is the Topps base set we're talking about, and since I've been getting anxious for baseball season, I thought what the heck. I actually purchased a hand collated set this week for $25 delivered- so this will hold me over until it is broken down and shipped...

2011 Topps Jumbo Pack #1
#122 Bobby Jenks
#170 David DeJesus
#150 Miguel Cabrera
#209 Carlos Santana
#141 Checklist 2 of 5- Ubaldo Jimenez
#65 Chris Sale- RC
#158 Casey Blake
#279 Nick Swisher
#238 Pedro Ciriaco-RC (Platinum Diamond parallel)
CMGR-21 Lou Gehrig (1933 DeLong Reproduction Card)
KC-8 Ryan Braun (Kimball Champions)
DD-KA Ian Kinsler/Elvis Andrus (Diamond Duos)
T60-20 Manny Ramirez (Topps 60)
#60YOT-52 Cliff Lee (60 Years of Topps)
#232 Jamie Moyer
#16 Aramis Ramirez
#305 James Loney
#174 Roy Oswalt
#270 Ubaldo Jimezez
TT-5 Roy Halladay (Topps Town)
#199 Jimmy Rollins
#39 Ian Kennedy
#127 Chris Volstad
#72 Jair Jurrjens (FIRST BRAVE of 2011!!)
#43 Brendan Ryan
#57 Mark Trumbo (RC) going to Endued
#309 Chicago Cubs
#275 Clayton Kershaw
#172 Lyle Overbay
#163 Carlos Pena
#252 Michael Saunders
#59 Gabby Sanchez
#329 Brett Wallace
#315 David Ortiz
#306 AL League Leaders (Cabrera, Rodriguez, Bautista)

2011 Topps Jumbo Pack #2
#4 Jason Kubel
#294 Luke Scott
#116 Russell Branyan
#50 Alex Rodriguez
#52 Tampa Bay Rays
#83 Greg Halman (RC)
#132 Brian Duensing
#187 Milwaukee Brewers
#235 AL ERA League Leaders (Hernandez, Buchholz, Price)
#200 Ichiro
#CMGR-26 Ty Cobb (1932 US Caramel Reproduction)
#TT-35 David Price (Topps Town)
#325 Jason Werth
#313 Chris Coghlan
#269 Stephen Drew
#180 Paul Maholm
#13 Billy Wagner
#123 Mike Lowell
#280 Andrew Bailey
#42 Mariano Rivera
#259 Kyle Davies
#160 Josh Tomlin
#213 Brandon Snyder (RC)
#165 Jeremy Hellickson (RC)
#51 David Eckstein
#134 NL Batting Average League Leaders (Gonzalez, Votto, Infante)- Platinum Diamond Parallel
#KC-4 Johan Santana (Kimball Champions)
#DD-VG Joey Votto/Adrian Gonzalez (Diamond Duos)
#T60-6 Robinson Cano (Topps 60)
#60YOT-#33 Tony Gwynn (60 Years of Topps)
60YOTLC-10 Stan Musial (60 Years of Topps-Lost Cards)
#191 Jay Bruce
#217 Yunel Escobar
#154 Marlon Byrd
#267 Jose Contreras
#230 Aaron Cook

The cards in the base set are typical Topps: good, clean design and a variety of photos in both the portrait as well as the landscape view. The design actually reminds me of the 1994 Fleer set, which included the A-Rod rookie card. Rookie Card selection should once again be strong, as the first series includes Freddie Freeman, Kyle Drabeck, Desmond Jennings, Aroldis Chapman, and Jeremy Hellickson. One unique aspect to this years set is found on the back of the card. The right and left side includes a bar that runs vertically, and in the right bar there is information on the right side about a counterpart card from another season. For instance, on card #170 (David DeJesus), Topps tells us that " in the 1972 Topps set, card number 170 was Vida Blue." I don't recall Topps ever doing that previously, and I like how they are attempting to connect the 2011 cards to the history of the company. The one negative aspect of this feature is on cards featuring players from the Padres and Pirates. Topps uses team colors in this bar, and the cards featuring Pads and Bucs use yellow-making it difficult to read the white font used in the bar.
While I have always liked the base Topps sets, I have been less than thrilled with the inserts- especially in recent years. Many of the inserts in this years Series I are reminiscent of previous inserts (think of last years Cards Yo Mama and the Legendary Lineage cards- that's what you get with the 60 Years of Topps and Diamond Duos; the Kimball's Champions are nothing more than an Allen & Ginter mini with an action shot to go with the portrait.) And like last year, there are many variations, short prints, and manufactured patch cards. Unfortunately, Topps is also once again determined to rob the set collector of base cards for their set by including one Topps Town per pack. This is my biggest complaint with Topps- and after last years update set, I vowed I would not try to build any more sets because of that reason.
Because it's the first release of the baseball season, Topps will once again be a popular product with collectors. Set collectors such as myself would be wise to save their money and pick up a hand collated set on the cheap. Others look for the big hits, and there's the typical array of relics, short prints, variations, and autographed cards in Series One for those folks to chase. Perhaps it's time for Topps to cut back on the number of rehashed insert sets, and to include only the relics, short prints, and autographed inserts. Does anyone even collect the rest of the stuff anymore?