Sunday, January 31, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #3: The Other Duke

With all due respect to the late Duke Snider, I believe any player bearing that nickname should be positioned behind the plate. Because, you know, catchers are tough. You have to be to squat for 9-innings during the 120-130 games that you play over the course of a season, taking foul balls off your face mask, chest protector and wrists, or taking a bat to the head or the arms on a hitter's backswing. There are also the collisions at the plate. And do you think it would be easy wearing all that gear on a field when the temperatures soar well above 100 degrees? Unfortunately, neither Duke Sims' 1972 nor his 1973 Topps cards (where he looked tough) were numbered '3' Instead, we're stuck with one from 1967...

To be honest with you, I was not familiar with Duke Sims prior to Friday morning. I discovered this gem while eating breakfast and searching for candidates for card #3 in this countdown.

The name on the card may have caught my attention, but it was the 'Home' line and cartoon on the back of the card that cemented my decision. Being an Idaho native how could I not feature a guy who graduated from high school (Pocatello High School, class of '59) four hours from me and went to college 5 hours away? 

"Okay," you're saying, "so the guy is from Idaho [but born in Utah]- tell us something interesting." 

Well, Duke has the distinction of hitting the final home run at old (original) Yankee Stadium. The blast, coming in the seventh inning against his former team, the Detroit Tigers, was his first and only dinger for the Yankees, and afforded him the opportunity to be invited to many Old-Timers games. 

Thirty-five years after hitting that home run, Duke watched history unfold from his Las Vegas home as Jose Molina hit the final home run at the renovated Yankee Stadium. The event gave Sims a business idea: autograph signing appearances and baseball seminars of two catchers who will forever be linked together in Yankee trivia.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #4: Check!

4 Days 'til 2016 Topps hits the shelves

Many of us are dependent upon lists to help keep our lives organized and for the purposes of time management. We have our grocery lists, a list of what's for dinner during the course of the week, to-do-lists and lists of emergency numbers, just to name a few. I suppose there are people who continue to write these things down on paper but I'm guessing most folks now use their smartphones for such things. Log into the iTunes Store (or Google Play) and search for 'To Do Lists' under iPhone (iPad) apps and you will find more than enough to meet your needs.

I find myself using my phone for keeping notes of movies and music to check, but prefer pen and paper for other things (such as blog ideas). As far as my cardboard want lists, I used to prefer using pen and paper for those, as well, but it makes it hard to share with others (potential trade partners) who might have cards I need. So I've begun putting those lists in Google Docs. Plus it's much easier to have a phone in my pocket than carrying around a notebook at the card shows.

Thankfully, Topps still puts Checklists in their flagship product. It would be easy for them to just have it available on the website, but they must see that collectors still value such cards. I doubt anyone (other than maybe kids) actually puts pen to cardboard anymore, but most of us probably prefer referencing a checklist card to see which players they need than a website. At that point I then go online and enter in my want list. That being said, I still enjoy the initial pre-release checklist posted on sites such as Cardboard Connection. It provides a little sneak-peak at what we have to look forward to, much like the movie trailer. It's not quite as exciting as the day the new design is revealed or release day, but I still enjoy it.

My one complaint with the way Topps does their checklists in flagship is their combining checklist and season highlights into one card. The fonts seem to be a little smaller (or maybe it's just my eyesight getting worse?) and it forces them into having to make more checklist cards, since they aren't using front and back. Plus, the checklist on the back doesn't allow for any expounding upon the event being highlighted. Wouldn't it just make more sense to do it like they used to? I should tweet them about that.

Maybe I'll add that to my to-do list.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #5: On the Brink of Extinction

Eighty-three years have passed since President Franlkin D. Roosevelt said those now famous words during his presidential inauguration: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And yet, all these years later we are still in what seems to be a perpetual state of fear. Sixty years ago fear against the Soviets united us; fear today often divides us. We fear another stock market crash. Our fear of terrorists lead us to fear the orphan and widow seeking refuge from poverty, war, and assorted madmen. We fear the police; we fear the young black man; we fear the coming Zombie apocalypse. Sometimes we're accused of fearing a group of people because we don't agree with their lifestyle. And it's bad enough that politicians and the media feed our fears, but we also have physicists telling us that we are on the brink of extinction. Please, God, just let me live another five days until the new baseball cards are released!

If you were to ask me what is the most endangered species in the game of baseball today, I would have to say the slick-fielding shortstop whose slash line over 12 years as a starter reads .226/.282/.302. Want to hear something even crazier? How about a big league shortstop hitting .203/.259/.279 with a 0.7 WAR and finishing 9th in MVP voting- even placing ahead of teammate Mickey Lolich, whose 7.2 WAR that same year (1972) netted him 10th place. We're talking Lonesome George territory here, folks. 


One look at the photo of Ed Brinkman on card #5 of the 1973 Topps set tells you all you need to know about how good his glove must have been. I don't know how similar this pose is to Ed's batting stance, but if it is an accurate representation, pitcher's must have pounded the inside part of the plate when he came to bat. Maybe it's just me, but Ed's stance looks so unnatural. Perhaps he'd look more natural on some island out in the Pacific. But on the diamond? No.

But seriously, there was only one contemporary of Brinkman's who even came close to matching his defensive skills, and that was the Orioles' Mark Belanger. Ed had excellent range to either side, was sure-handed and had a rocket for an arm. Not only did the shortstop place 9th in the 1972 MVP voting, but he would also win the only Gold Glove Award of his career that season.

Oddly enough, the man known for his slick glove would struggle after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 1975 season. Ed committed 6 errors in the 24 games he played for the Cards and was then traded to the Rangers on June 4. He would play only one game for Texas and was then sent to the Yankees eleven days later, where he would finish his career.

An interesting, but useless, piece of information: one of Brinkman's teammates with the 1975 Yankees team was cardboard icon Walt 'No Neck' Williams- who just passed away six days ago. Can you imagine getting the two players to stand next to one another for a photo shoot? What a contrast that would be!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #6: The Sixth of July

"In baseball there's no such thing as a small enemy."~ Fernando Valenzuela.

Acting on a tip about a young shortstop in a league down in Mexico, Dodger scout Mike Brito instead found himself in awe of a young 17-year old lefty with a good fastball and an above-average curve. A year later, Dodger team VP Al Campanis traveled south of the border to catch a glimpse of the kid and liked what he saw. 

Despite being offered more money by the Yankees for Fernando's contract, Puebla (Mexican League) team owner Jaime Avella kept true to a promise he had made earlier to Campanis, that the Dodgers would be given the first shot at the future NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner.

And on July 6, 1979, Fernando Valenzuela was sold to the Los Angeles Dodgers for $120,000- preventing the Evil Empire from adding even more star power to its roster and cementing the cultural phenomenon known as 'Fernandomania.'

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #7: Master and Mentor

In Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, author James S. Hirsch states that, while Babe Ruth may have been baseball's "most dominant player," Willie Mays was "its greatest master." Hirsch makes this assertion based upon Mays being a complete player who excelled at everything. I'm guessing some former Topps copywriter (or editor, or whoever was responsible) felt the same back in the day. We're 7 days away from the release of 2016 Topps baseball!

You would have to have a massive set of cojones to try to get away with picturing a black man with a white man in 2016 and have the word 'Master' written above them. And please excuse my implied profanity, but it would be an act truly deserving of a 'WTF.' But this card wasn't produced and distributed in 2016, but 56 years ago, when Jim Crowe laws were still enforced in much of the country and blacks were often denied the right to vote.

Now, I know what the reference is on the top of the card. After all, there has arguably been no other player as well-rounded at the game of baseball than Willie Howard Mays, Jr. Perhaps the inclusion of 'Master' was an oversight; or perhaps it's a case of indifference. Please excuse me if I'm being redundant, but I can't help but think how racially insensitive this card is and (I say this next part half tongue-in-cheek) am surprised Topps hasn't begun buying them up to rid themselves of the embarrassment.

Anyway, things weren't always as rosy between Mays and Rigney as they appear on the front of the '60 Topps card. Their relationship was a strained one early in Rigney's tenure as manager, but would improve over the years. However... the smiles wouldn't last long after this set hit the street as Rigney would be fired only 58 games into the season, with the Giants only 4 games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates. The team that had been the favorite to win the pennant heading into the 1960 season stumbled terribly, finishing in 5th place and 16 games out of first. Rigney's replacement, the unqualified Tom Sheehan, would get the ax following the season.

Despite Sheehan's failures as a manager (and there were many), most of the blame for the team's troubles would be placed on its black players. And it had nothing to do with performance, but rather the number of Negroes on the team. The Sporting News brought the matter to light in an article in which its sources stated that the problem "most frequently mentioned as the cause of the Giants' downfall [was] too many Negro players." Sports Illustrated ran the same type of story, printing "there are several dozen players, coaches, managers, writers and executives who will tell you what is really wrong with the Giants: too many Negroes." At least the magazine rejected such lunacy (unlike the Sporting News), pointing out that it was a lack of leadership that doomed the team and that it was whites who bore that responsibility. "The best ballplayers on the club are Negroes, yet the Negroes, even if they chose to, could not lead because the whites would refuse to follow."

Thank God the cartoon at the bottom of the backside of the card didn't include some Jim Crowe cartoon character representing Mays. That would truly be an embarrassment.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #8: Watering Seedlings

I really wish I had an answer to the question that's been plaguing the cardboard industry for years- namely, How do we get kids interested in the hobby. Perhaps the answer lies in using examples from nature: planting, watering and harvesting. Let's do some gardening as we countdown to 2016 Topps...

I didn't buy much 2015 Topps baseball last year, so when I decided to get back into set building one of my first objectives was to grab a factory set from Target. The reason was simple: I had a coupon for $10 off any purchase over $45, a $25 debit card from when we signed up for Dish Network and then used our Red Card for the remaining balance- which saved me an additional 5%. (It also had to do with the fact that I didn't want to try to build it from scratch) I then planned on making my assets work for me even more; in this case, I planned on selling (or perhaps trading) the five rookie variations included in the factory set- one of which is the Kris Bryant variation.

My plans changed fairly quickly after the purchase, however.

 I was scrolling through my Twitter feed one night shortly thereafter, when I came upon a tweet by an acquaintance who is the Director of Athletic Communications at a local college and had spent a decade as the voice of the Boise Hawks (the second team that Kris Bryant played for during his 1st pro season). Mike had tweeted about the excitement his 8 year-old son had felt at seeing Kris Bryant on a box of trading cards. Knowing that I would see Mike in the near future, I decided to hold on to the card and give it to him to pass along to his son.

I didn't have to wait very long to break the news to Mike, as the very next day I received a call from him- he would be stopping by that morning to pick up some of the basketball programs that we had printed for the 'Yotes, and could I have them ready for him?

After saying our hello's, I explained to Mike that I had read his tweet and how I had got a kick out of it. I explained to him (more like a confession) that yes, I, a grown man, still collects baseball cards and that I had something for his son. Unfortunately, I didn't have the card with me, but told him that I would bring it to work and keep it in my desk until he came back by again. After shooting the breeze for a while, I got the feeling that his son (who had met Kris and had spent some time with him during his time in Boise) would be in seventh heaven.

Mike stopped back by a couple weeks later to pick up some more programs and I handed the above card to him. Heck, he seemed pretty excited- so there was no doubt the boy would be ecstatic. 

Then Friday of last week Mike dropped in and told me of the moment when his son discovered the card. There was a trembling from the excitement and a hint of tears of joy that the boy just couldn't conceal. And it brought a grin to my face as I thought I had discovered at least one way of getting kids excited about baseball cards once again. 

I didn't plant the seeds; no, there were already there. All I did was water them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #9: He Saved El Tiante's Career

I racked my brain (unsuccessfully) to remember if today's card had been one of the "Awesome Night Cards" featured on Night Owl Cards. Then a little birdie (or owl?) told me to go over to his blog and check under the tabs. Bingo- Number 17. At that time it was his favorite night card. I wonder if it still is? The comment section in the post also answered my (and Greg's) question of whether or not this was the first night card. We're still counting down to 2016 Topps...

We're all aware of 1968 being the 'Year of the Pitcher' and today's featured player was a member of one of the better pitcher staffs of not only that year, but, according to Bill James, of all time. The 1968 Cleveland Indians staff featured 'Sudden' Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert and Stan Williams- each of whom recorded double digits in Wins and sub-3.00 ERAs. Of the four, Williams had the least amount of innings pitched that year, coming just 5.2 innings from hitting the 200 IP plateau.

Stan struggled the following season after the pitching mound had been lowered and the strike zone had been shrunk. Cleveland traded Williams and Tiant (who also struggled mightily that season) to Minnesota following the 1969 season and Stan bounced back strong as a reliever in 1970, helping lead the Twins to the division championship. His success in Minnesota would be short, however, as he saw his walks per 9-innings skyrocket to 5.1 and his strikeout/walk ratio drop to 1.07. The Twins would trade Stan to St. Louis on September 1, 1971 and he would finish the year having success in only 10 games for the Cards.

Williams then found himself unemployed, as he was released by St. Louis prior to the 1972 season. The Angels would sign the tall righty, but then released him about five weeks later. Two weeks later, Stan would be reunited with his dear friend Luis Tiant in Boston, where he would pitch in his final three major league games. Following his release from Boston in September of 1972, Stan Williams would retire and sit out a year before going back into the game as a manager for the BoSox AA club in Bristol, Connecticut.

One thing of interest: After the Twins released Tiant in March of 1971, Stan, convinced that El Tiante still had some milage left on his arm, reportedly called every major league team, hoping to convince them to get him a shot. Atlanta agreed to give him a 30-day contract, but then released him at the end of the thirty days. Boston swooped in, signing him two days later. 

And just think, had Williams not helped get Tiant a second chance, we may never have had an opportunity to watch Carmen Ronzonni imitating Luis Tiant's pitching motion. Thank you, Stan Williams.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #10: Which Do You Prefer?

Seattle fans must still be shaking their heads over the trade that sent Adam Jones and four other players to Baltimore for Erik Bedard. No disrespect to Bedard- he certainly wasn't a horrible pitcher for the M's, it's just that he couldn't stay on the field for them. After finishing in second place with 88 wins, management was convinced that he would be the ace they needed to put them over the top in the American League West. Instead, he pitched in 15 games in '08, 15 games in '09, missed all of 2010 and appeared in 16 games for them in '11 before being traded. During those four seasons, Seattle went 274-374. Meanwhile, #10 for Baltimore has appeared in 5 All-Star Games, won 4 Gold Gloves and 1 Silver Slugger. Given a choice between Jones and Bedard, I'm choosing the former. We're down to Ten days until 2016 Topps.

I seem to be one of the few collectors who actually likes variations. Not the colored parallels- I can't stand those. I'm talking photo variations. I've thought it out and the only explanation I can give is that I love stories and, as Rod Stewart once sang, every picture tells a story. Colored borders don't.

Nearly three years ago, during the week of February 20, 2013, Billboard announced that 'Ten', the landmark debut album from Seattle rock band Pearl Jam, had entered the 10 million-seller club. I've never been a big fan of the band- although I am a big fan of some of their stuff. I was one of the ten million album sells, having bought it back in '92. I had also bought the followup album, Vs. I currently own just one album of theirs (Rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits: 1991-2003) but if I were to go out and purchase another of their albums, I think it would be not Ten- but Ten Redux, which includes not only remixed versions of their classic debut album, but six other cuts not included in the original. Two of those tracks, Breath and a Scream and State of Love and Trust are two of my favorite songs of the band.

Breath and a Scream, which appears on Ten Redux as a demo, would later be re-recorded for the Singles soundtrack and then appear on Rearviewmirror.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #11: Young and Dumb

"I had a period in my life in the '90s where I was definitely young, dumb, and full of even more dumb."~ Scott Weiland

I have done a lot of dumb things in my life, but one of the most regrettable- most reprehensible- things among that long list happened at the expense of a friendship and a circle of friends.

It was 1992, I was twenty-three years old and was involved in a singles bowling league. One night after bowling, I went to the bar with my best friend's girlfriend and her best friend. When it came time to leave, the girls gave me a ride home and as we were approaching my duplex,  Kristen (the best friend) said she had just remembered she was supposed to give a friend a ride somewhere- could Kellie (my best friend's girlfriend) wait at my place for her to come back? Innocently enough, and like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I said "sure"- not thinking anything of it. We sat and talked and when it was time for her to leave, we went to give each other a friendly hug- which led to a kiss. It was the beginning of a relationship in which about half of our time together was spent in secret. Obviously, it was also the end of a relationship once my best friend's brother saw us together. I will never forget the first time Tony saw me after the discovery- the look he gave. It was more of hurt, of betrayal, than anger. I felt like Judas.

A little over a year later, there was a knock at my door as I sat watching Sports Center. I remember feeling a little irrated because they were in the middle of the story of a boating accident that had killed Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews earlier that day. It was Tony, who came over to talk about things. I had written him an apology letter a year earlier, after discovering they were trying to work things out. I also told him to be careful- that if she had done it to him once, chances are she would do it again. This evening, he extended grace by saying he had forgiven me and that I was right- that it had happened again.

Rick Manning's career didn't turn out as many had expected following a successful rookie campaign and an even better sophomore season in 1976. He was never the same after injuring his back in a game at the Seattle Kingdome on June 4, 1977. Manning had sustained the injury while sliding head-first into second on an attempted steal. He finished the game and played in three more before the pain became so severe that he had difficulty even running. The centerfielder would wear a back brace for six weeks before later x-rays revealed a broken vertebra. Young Cleveland pitcher Dennis Eckersley ( Manning's best friend and roommate while on the road) invited him to stay at his home while rehabbing. Problem was that Eck was married at the time and, being a professional athlete, spent a lot of time on the road. It was during this time that Manning and Eck's wife (Denise) began an adulterous affair (the two eventually married). Apparently the team found out about it before the pitcher did and decided that one of the players had to go. Banking on a full recovery to his pre-injury level of performance (and let's face it, Rick wouldn't have much trade value at that point), Cleveland shipped Eckersley off to Boston on March 30, 1978- just days before the start of the regular season. We all know Eck's story- the successes and the failures, but what became of Manning? He never did attain that level of success again, although he did have a few decent years- with both Cleveland and Milwaukee. Following his retirement he became a color commentator for Cleveland Indians broadcasts.

And, he had been the recipient of grace, as well. In Dennis Eckersley's Hall of Fame induction speech, he acknowledged not only ex-wife Denise ("I thank you for the stability you gave me at that time; you grounded me and helped me get to the big leagues") but Manning, also- naming him as one of the good friends he made in Cleveland.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #12: His Card Inspired a Book

"It was from these brief texts in small print on the backs of pieces of cardboard that I learned not just the background of the players but the rules of the game, its history and traditions, and, best of all, its language and slang. A 'blue dart' was a line drive. A 'can of corn' was an easy pop fly. 'Chin music' was a pitch up and in." From Roy Peter Clark's "How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times"

Until yesterday, I had no idea who Roy Peter Clark is (although the name did sound familiar). But a google search of Don Zimmer introduced me to him through an entry that had caught my attention: "How Don Zimmer's baseball card inspired my book on..." Naturally, I just had to check into this. I mean, how often do you hear about a baseball card inspiring a book on...writing? And so I clicked on the link and read the article by Clark on how a 1994 Topps Archives of Zimmer inspired a book.

In the article, Clark states that he believes whoever designed the back of the cards for the 1954 Topps set would have had much success in the digital age. We are, as Clark puts it, in an age where "short writing is king." (think Twitter) He then goes on to describe how the backs of the cards are a perfect example of a multi-media platform: bio box, text block, data visualization, features and illustrations.
Even the dimensions of the card, he points out, are very similar to that of his mobile device (an iPhone- 3 or 4, perhaps).

Have you read Clark's book? Is there another author whose book on writing you would recommend to your blogging brethren?

"Just a few days ago I ran into Beau Zimmer, a young Florida journalist and grandson of Don Zimmer. 'Please extend to your grandparents my warmest wishes on their sixtieth wedding anniversary,' I said. 'I know they were married at home plate in Elmira, New York." "You must own his baseball card," said Beau. Again, from "How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times"

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #13: Every Phamily Has Its Jokester

There must be some kind of unwritten rule that every family has a jokester. Ours does, and his name is Levi. It's the Phamily Edition of the Countdown...

I woke up a couple of weeks ago and began my normal morning routine as I prepared for work: shower, dress, make coffee, pour myself a bowl of breakfast cereal. Only this time, I noticed something odd as I was pouring my cereal: packs of baseball cards?!! Yes, it's true- my box of Rice Chex actually contained two packs of 2015 Topps Update baseball.

Now, before you run out to the store and begin putting every box of Chex you can find into your cart, let me explain. One of the Christmas presents I received from my youngest son was a box of Rice Chex. The top had been taped, so I naturally figured he had used an old cereal box to wrap a present in. Once I checked inside, though, I discovered what appeared to be an unopened package of Chex. Thinking 'that's odd', I thanked him and waited for the next present to come my way.

Getting back to that moment of discovery... as I sat there with a mouth full of cereal and trying to figure out how two packs of 2015 Topps Update found their way into my box of cereal, it dawned on me. I had failed, of course, to check the bottom of the package on Christmas morning. And then, another (more disturbing) thought popped into my head: who knows how many hands had touched those packs in the store- and now I'm eating the cereal that had been touching them? *Shrugs, continues eating cereal and goes on to open packs*

In all, there were 9 cards that were on my want list. 

Thanks again, Levi, for making your pop's day (he doesn't read this, but still...). For years I have wished for card companies to include cardboard in boxes of cereal and now my wish has come true.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #14: Trade with Remember the Astrodome

It's become pretty rare to see a Major League staff throw 10 complete games over the course of a single season. Even more rare? A pitcher who does that very same thing. But a pitcher that throws 10 shutouts in a season? Unheard of! There have been six pitchers since 1961 to have accomplished this feat- the last of them being John Tudor, who threw 10 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. We're two weeks away from the release of 2016 Topps, folks. 

Like the pitcher who throws a shutout, trades that are chock-full of needs- without any doubles or non-essential (i.e. unwanted) cards- are a rare thing. And to receive something you've never seen of your main guy- well, that's Sandy Kofax, Dean Chance, Juan Marichal, Bob Gipson, Jim Palmer, and John Tudor territory. This is the kind of trade package I received recently from Bru over at Remember the Astrodome. Well, not the kind received, but what I actually received in my first ever trade with the man.

Not only did Bru include cards from 1981, he also included enough 1984's to fill his beloved Astrodome. Well, maybe not quite- but you get the picture...

Thumbing through all these cards took me back to my childhood- I felt like I was fourteen again. I didn't open much stuff from 1984, but had opened plenty of the 1981 packs from not only Topps, but Donruss and Fleer as well.

What's this?!!! I have to admit, I don't claim to be an expert in Dale Murphy cards. But, it's not very often I see something and react the way I did when I set my eyes upon this beautiful thing.

At first I thought it was some promo for a Slurpee Disc, but turn the card over and I see it's from Sportflics. Hmm. Interesting. While not on your typical cardstock, it is thicker than a page from a magazine. It must have been inserted into Sportflics packs? Anyone?

Thanks for the trade, Bru- and how could we ever forget that glorious dome?! 

and who could ever forget this:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #15: Free Spirits, Lucky Charms and Rocks Wrapped in Wire

Why is it that players (and cards) from the '70s through the mid-'80s are much more interesting than those of today? Where have all the characters gone? And the ones that do exist today get lambasted by those who proclaim to play the game 'the right way.' Free spirits are not welcome. But then again, have they ever been? They are in today's Countdown to 2016 Topps...

How many of you collectors out there have a mini collection of Free Spirited players from the 70s? You probably have your Bill Lee (and don't we always have to start with the Spaceman), Doc Ellis, Mark Fidrych or Dick Allen collection- but have you considered Ross Grimsley?

Grimsley was originally drafted by the ultra-conservative Cincinnati Reds organization and was once asked if he ever felt constricted by team rules, he replied that he never had a problem following their rules, and he did- even when he didn't agree with the rules. He never had long hair or facial hair while in the Queen City. 

One of the stranger things during his career: supposedly receiving a lucky charm from a witch. Legend has it that once the superstitious Grimsley had received the charm, he immediately went on a four-game winning streak. He then lost the charm and lost his next two games. After receiving a replacement charm, he went on to more success before losing it again. He then realized he had lost the witch's phone number and thus could not get a replacement. Sparky Anderson found out about the charm and called Grimsley in to his office, telling him to forget the witch, forget the charm, and warned him about how others around the league would perceive him. But... in a 2011 interview, Grimsley gives a different story. When asked about it, the former pitcher said that the story had been embellished, that it was actually a rock wrapped in wire that a fan had sent to him. A reporter, according to Grimsley, had started the story about it being a charm from a witch.

I remember the Expos having some very good teams back in the day, but had forgot that the 1979 and 1980 teams had both Ross Grimsley and Bill Lee on their roster. Talk about a cast of characters.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #16: The Authoritarian

One of the best things about being an amateur writer on a blog such as this is that I don't have an editor or publisher breathing down my neck. Low readership? Not a problem (as much I try not to let it bug me, it still does at times). Incorrect grammar? Oh, well. Deadlines? The only deadline I have is posting 1 entry per day during the thirty days of Counting Down to 2016 Topps. We're half-way home, baby!

There is nothing special about today's card. In fact, the card front is rather bland. Gray border; black, airbrushed hat; stern disciplinarian, reflected by the gruff look on his face. The only thing that gives life to this thing is the red lettering. 

Being an Idahoan, my initial interest was in the fact that Metro coached in Idaho (Pioneer League) in two different cities: Twin Falls and then later in Idaho Falls. I'm sure none of my readers care about that though, so there's got to be something worth mentioning.

An article (titled "Tale of the Derailed Metro") in the  June 22, 1970 edition of Sports Illustrated spoke of the firing of the authoritarian Metro. Despite possessing many qualities as a major league manager, players grew tired of Charlie's act. Apparently his players didn't care for his demands for perfection, his lack of praise, the calisthenics he implemented into their pregame workouts or his ban on post-game cold cuts and pretzels. The thing that I found appalling, however, was the way that Metro released second baseman Jerry Adair, who missed much of spring training and the early parts of the regular season due to the illness of his 6-year old daughter Tammy, who eventually succumbed to cancer on April 9th.

The Royals gig was Metro's second as a big league manager- his first coming with the Cubs in 1962 as part of the 'College of Coaches' in which he, Elvin Tappe and Lou Klein took turns managing the club. Fired by the Royals after only 52 games (in which Kansas City's record stood at 19-33), Charlie's career record as a manager was a miserable 62-102. He eventually landed a job with the Tigers- and later the Dodgers- as a scout, as well as a stop in Oakland as a coach for the A's.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #17: The Bear

"I used to get mad on the mound and I'd stomp around like a bear in a berry patch. He (teammate and catcher Gabby Witucki) started calling me Bear." 

I'm too young to have remembered former Tiger and Astro pitcher Fred Gladding, whose final card during his playing career was in the 1973 Topps set- but from what I've read he was a pretty effective reliever over the course of his career. The '73 season also happened to be the final one of Fred's 13-year big league career.

Mr. Gladding got into coaching following his playing career and was the Tigers pitching coach from 1976-1978. Perhaps you've heard of one of his star pupils: Mark Fidrych? In all, Fred coached for twenty-two seasons.

A few interesting facts from his playing career:

Holds the Tigers team record for highest winning % in career (minimum 200 games pitched): .743

Led the NL in saves the first year it became an official stat (29 for Houston in 1968)

Lowest non-zero batting average (.016 / 1-63)

Player to be named later in the trade that sent Eddie Mathews from Houston to Detroit.

Sadly, Fred Gladding passed away last year (May 21, 2015) in Columbia, South Carolina. I did find one interview conducted with him back in 2012- which you can watch here:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Countdown to 2016 Topps #18: From One Lifetime Project to Another

I was really hoping that a couple of recent trades would provide me with some material to feature in the Countdown. Charlie from the awesome Lifetime Topps Project blog didn't disappoint. 

I contacted Charlie a few weeks ago about a card that I had pulled from a pack of 2015 Update- an All-Star Stitches card of Albert Pujols. Charlie had posted a want-list right around that time and it coincided nicely with the timing of me pulling the card. In exchange, he sent me a number of cards needed from my 'lifetime Topps' project, which I recently picked back up on (1977-current year).

Let's take a look at what Charlie sent...

He even threw in a few of the great Greg Maddux.

Thanks again for the trade, Charlie!