Thursday, September 29, 2011

1977 Topps #2 (1976) Home Run Leaders

Here's a little trivia for you: There has been one slugger since 1989 who has led both the American League and the National League in home runs during a given season, and whose home runs numbers in each of those respective years are the fewest for a yearly leader in that same time period? (Sorry, I hope I didn't give you a headache with that! Sentence construction nightmare.) I'll give the answer at the end of the post...

For many of the younger fans/collectors out there, it may seem hard to imagine a major league season passing by where the league leader for home runs hit fewer than 40 in a single season. Coming out of the PED era, perhaps a leader boasting only 37-39 home runs will be more common place-who knows? I can tell you that the last time we had a season where both league leaders had fewer than 40 homers for the year was in 1982. Prior to '82, there was a 'power shortage' in 1981 (which was shortened due to the players strike), as well as in 1976-where the leaders were Graig Nettles and Mike Schmidt, who hit 32 and 38, respectively.

Everybody knows about Mike Schmidt: his leading the N.L. in home runs 8 different seasons, the 10 Gold Gloves, and the 3 MVPs, but Nettles seems to be a relatively unknown to much of the younger generation. While Graig was known primarily as one of the best defensive basemen in his playing days (and how did he not win more than 2 gold gloves?!), he also happens to own the A.L. record for most career home runs by a third baseman (with 333). I bet that will surprise most folks-it did me! In fact, this card features not only the leader for most American League home runs by a third baseman, but the N.L. career leader as well.

The answer to the trivia question: Fred "The Crime Dog" McGriff, who, while playing with Toronto in 1989, led the A.L. in bombs (w/ 36). Then, in 1992-as a member of the Padres-Crime Dog hit 35 to lead the National League.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Braves Country, Revised

Well, after another a** kicking tonight (along with a Cardinals come-from -behind slaughtering of the Astros), my confidence level has hit an all-time low-which is really saying something, as I by nature am a very pessimistic person. So, Braves Country finds itself tied with the Cardinals for the Wild Card, with one game remaining. Time to break out the "Braves Country" Billboard-revised.

I would like to be a "cup half-full" type of guy, but there's a hole in the bottom of my glass.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Old Milwaukee: 1958 Topps #283 Ray Shearer

Collectors often complain of the inclusion of career minor-leaguers in sets; players who take up a spot on the checklist, while that utility player or relief pitcher who has had five years of major league service is left out. And while we see that in today's card market, it's not just a recent issue-as evidenced in today's subject: Ray Shearer.

Shearer spent the 1957 and 1958 seasons at AAA Wichita, where he went from hitting .316 to .283- not to mention a sharp decline in HR and RBI production. Not a very good thing when you're 29 years old. So, why did he have a card in the '58 set? Well, his 1957 numbers were good (but remember, he was 28 at the time), and he did hit .500 with a .667 OBP for the big league club during their championship season. Granted, he only had two official at-bats (three plate appearances). His only hit came in the last game of the '57 season, in his final major league at-bat. By 1959, Ray had moved on to the Red's organization before playing for the Yankees, Indians, and Red Sox organizations as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Topps Chrome Auto Craig Kimbrel

What appeared to be a season in which our post-season failures of the past would all but be erased is now turning into a disaster. The situation in the ATL is looking more bleak with each passing game, and I guess that I am actually looking forward to the postseason awards for N.L. ROY tells the whole story.

There's no doubt in my mind that the ROY award will go to today's subject- Craig Kimbrel. As you probably know, Kimbrel has set the record for most saves in a season by a rookie, with 46. I would throw in the "and counting" part, but the cynic in me says he won't have an opportunity for another one. The ending of this season is one save that Kimbrel won't be able to pull off. So anyways, I have forgone the experience of opening up Topps Chrome packs/boxes in lieu of trying to pick up the autographed Braves cards from the set-which is the only reason I would even bother with this product. As I was on eBay recently, I then was faced with the decision: do I bid and try to get it low, or do I just set a limit on what I'm willing to spend on a BIN? Well, I chose the latter, and when I saw this card for $20, I was on it faster than one of Craig's heaters. As much as I would like to get autographed baseballs for my collection, I've become skeptical on much of what people are trying to sell, and have decided Topps might be the way to go. What about you- have you found any dealers that you feel comfortable purchasing autographed balls from?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beachy and the Beach Boys

Kokomo, Indiana's own Brandon Beachy has had a meteoric rise to the majors. Signed as an undrafted free-agent in 2008, Beachy (who had primarily played the infield in college) spent most of the first 2 years of his professional career as a relief pitcher. From 2008, where he appeared in six games at short season Danville, through 2010, Brandon started only 21 of the 76 games he had appeared in. So far in 2011, the rookie has been a solid member of the Atlanta rotation, having gone 7-2, with a 3.58 ERA, while setting the modern Braves franchise record for strikeouts by a rookie (160 and counting). Tomorrow, the kid from Kokomo will be seeking to pitch the Braves one game closer to locking up the Wild Card, as he starts at Washington.

Anyone else notice the Beachy/Kokomo and "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys connection? I know, it's a horrible song; but weird, none-the-less.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All in the Family

Trivia Question: Who are the only brothers in MLB History to finish 1st and 2nd in a batting race? Is it two of the three DiMaggio brothers (Vince, Dom, and Joe)? Perhaps it's the Waner brothers (Paul & Lloyd), you say. Wrong, on both. Okay, so it's got to be Harry and Dixie Walker! Nope, wrong again. Give up? It's Matty and Felipe Alou, who are the focus of today's card.

1967 Topps #240 (1966) National League Batting Leaders/ Matty Alou, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty
Younger brother Matty beat out his older brother Felipe for the 1966 National League batting title. Matty, who was in his first season playing for the Pirates, won the crown by 15 points. Had it not been for his speed, he might not have had bragging rights over the Braves slugger. Diminutive in size, but the fastest and best hitter in the family, Matty finished the season with 20 bunt singles and 30 infield hits while Felipe led the league with 218 hits, 122 runs, and 355 total bases.

An interesting fact: Three years earlier, Matty, Felipe, and brother Jesus made major league history by becoming the only three brothers to ever start in the same outfield during a game, accomplishing that feat with the San Francisco Giants.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

1977 Topps #1 Batting Leaders

I turned eight years old during the summer of 1977- which also happened to be the summer that I really developed a love for card collecting. I had received a handful of packs during 1976, but I wouldn't say that I was a collector. But something different happened in 1977. I don't recall why it was at this time that I caught the fever, but I did. Trips to the store, primarily Buttrey's, or to the local drugstore usually meant a few packs of cards. A friendship was developed with a guy who collected, and so I had someone to trade with at recess. And so for the next eight years, I would not only get packs during those trips to the grocery store, but I would also save my allowance, birthday money, and some of my "treat money" (for an after-school snack)-all going towards my collecting jones. Looking back at the genesis of my interest in the hobby, I decided earlier this year to begin putting together a set of the 1977 Topps baseball- and so now I've decided to begin a feature on the blog that will look at this great set...

1977 Topps #1 "1976 Batting Leaders"
The first thing that stands out in this photo is that George Brett is posing as a right-handed hitter. Even stranger is the positioning of his hands as he holds the bat-yes, the left hand is on top. I don't know when this photo was taken (pre-77), but I was more likely at seven or younger to be holding a bat like that-not a future hall of famer! And since his hat reads KC (and not CK) and the patch on his arm is correct, it doesn't appear to be a reverse-negative (unless it was a great airbrush job). Could Mr. Brett have had a sense of humor?

There's a fascinating story behind Brett's 1976 batting title. He was involved in a very tight three-way race for the crown that came down to the last weekend, nay to the very last at-bat of the season. Brett (.328) and teammate Hal McRae (.333) were facing the Twins, whose Rod Carew was the four-time defending champ and was hitting .325. Entering the final game, Brett (.33073) and Carew (.32945) had seen their respective averages increase, while McRae's had dropped to .33078. In that final game, Carew went 2-4, giving him a final .331 batting average. Entering the bottom of the ninth, Brett stood at .332298, while McRae was at .332696. Both Kansas City hitters would get an at-bat in that ninth and final inning: Brett hitting an inside-the-park home run to finish at .333, while McRae-needing a hit to win the title- followed Brett by grounding out to finish at .332.

Bill Madlock won his first batting title in 1975, during his second full season in the majors. One year later, he won the second of his four NL batting titles. The fourth title would make Bill the first player to ever win multiple batting titles with two different teams. He was also one of only three right-handed hitters since 1960 to win the National League batting title more than once. The photo on this card is a good picture of Madlock's stance-body upright and hands in close, which allowed him to have a short, compact swing that resulted in him being a great contact-hitter (his highest number of strikeouts in a full season was only 53, coming in 513 at-bats). "Mad Dog" apparently was/is a collector, also. His collecting jones was with antiques, primarily clocks, classic cars, and art.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Braves' Summer of Love

If you've watched many of the Braves games this summer, you might have noticed a whole lot of love going on in the dugout. No- not the Led Zeppelin type; I'm talking about the Freddie Freeman type of love. As in hugs. Lots of hugs. David O'Brien at the AJC wrote a great piece a month ago about this hugging thing. You can find it here.

Hitting from the 3-Hole

Here's an interesting fact that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien tweeted today: "According to Elias, Chipper [Jones-duh!] has hit 3rd in more games (1779) than anyone since 1961 except Billy Williams (1898)."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Willie Mays Autos in 2012 Topps Products

As being reported on various card sites, HOFer Willie Mays has signed on with Topps to autograph cards that will be included in 2012 products. There's been no confirmation, however, that he only agreed to sign after learning that Henry Aaron was included in 2011 products (sarcasm).