Friday, December 4, 2009

1978 Topps Card #15, Hall of Famer Tony Perez!

Today’s card of the day is card #15 of Tony Perez, shown here with the Montreal Expos. Tony looks like he is on the verge of tears in this picture. Perhaps this is because after 16 years, 7 All Star Appearances and 4 National League Pennants with the Cincinnati Reds, the Reds traded him to the Montreal Expos. The Reds picked up an iffy starter (Woodie Fryman) and a decent middle reliever (Dale Murray), but they ended an era of greatness by shipping Perez away, especially to the Montreal Expos. The Spos fielded a decent team in ’77, Tony Perez played first and hit 19 homers and another HOFer, Gary Carter was the catcher and team leader in homers with 31. They also had Ellis Valentine (25 HR), Andre Dawson (19 HR), Larry Parrish (11 HR) and Del Unser (12 HR). It wasn’t a bad team, they finished below .500 and in 5th place in the NL, but it wasn’t because of a lack of offense. In 1977, his first year in Montreal, he batted .283, hit 19 homers and also drove in 91 runs. It was the 11th straight season that Perez drove in 90 or more runs, his best year coming in 1970 when he brought 129 runners home. This is a pretty awful picture for such a great player… I don’t like seeing anyone without a hat on a baseball card, but seeing Perez at 35 years of age, wearing a uniform other than the Reds makes me want to cry to. Fortunately for Tony his sentence in Montreal wasn’t too long. In 1980 he would be a free agent and sign on with the Boston Red Sox and have career resurgence at age 38 playing on a team with 4 future Hall of Fame sluggers and leading that team in homeruns, RBI and hits. Perez would continue on and play for the Phillies, and lead them to an NL pennant in '83, and then returned to the Reds again before retiring after the 1986 season at age 44 on the team that he began his career with. His career lasted a remarkable 23 seasons and over that career he belted 379 homeruns (60th All Time) and drove in 1,652 runs (27th All Time). He never led the league in any one offensive category, he was never an MVP award winner (except for the ’67 ALL STAR game), but he was a fantastic fielding first baseman, a team leader, a winner and one of the classiest people to play the game. He was also one of the most feared hitters of the 70s. He averaged 23 homeruns and 90 runs batted in for the decade. He was also intentionally walked 150 times (including twice his final season), which is good for 42nd in baseball history. This is particularly impressive because Perez always played on strong offensive ball clubs with a lot of depth in the lineup. The “Big Doggy” hit a grand slam in 1985 (at age 43) becoming the oldest player to accomplish that feat, the 1986 Topps card #205 documented that. His 3 years in Montreal were just a part of his storied career. It’s over now Tony, you’re in the Hall of Fame (Class of 2000) and you don’t have to play for the Expos again, wipe away your tears… Now, it is time for the…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Tony Perez, number 24.
Position: First base
Age-Now and Then: 67, he was 35.
Team’s 1977 Record: 75-87, 5th in NL West
Topps Rookie Card: 1965 Topps, card #581, with Kevin Collins and Dave Ricketts.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 23, last card was 1986 Topps #85 (with Eric Davis) - I always considered this a changing of the guard card.
Playball! Foul out.
1977 Stats Line: .283/19/91
Awards in 1977: Neither the Expos nor the Reds made the Playoffs in ’77.
Distinguishing Feature: Sad face.
Similar Modern Player: Carlos Pena.
What I said about this card then: Why so sad Tony?
What I think about this card now: Seriously, you are one of the best players in baseball history, quit your crying and put on a hat!
Back of the card memorable moment: There’s no room with his stats… He had 296 career homers at the start of the ’78 season.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Again, no room. He was born on 5-14-42 in Camaguey, Cuba.
The condition: Near mint.
Grooviness factor: It’s difficult to simultaneously cry and be groovy, but the baby-blue uniform with the red, white and blue M is pretty groovy…
Wow! Factor: Sparky Anderson called Perez the “heart and soul of the Big Red Machine”; I can’t believe that they would trade him. Is nothing sacred?
What’s weird about this card: Well first off there is no crying in baseball; second, seeing Perez in an Expos uniform is pure weird.
Career Accolades: Won two World Series with the Reds. 7-time All Star. Hall of Fame in 2000.
Best Season: In 1970 Perez batted .317 with 40 homers and 129 RBI, scoring 107 runs, posting a .589 slugging % and winning the NL Pennant.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Tony Perez won the Pacific Coast League MVP in 1964 while playing for the San Diego Padres. He batted .309 with 34 homers and 107 RBIs and earned a promotion to the Reds.
Where are they now?: Perez is currently a special assistant to the general manager of the Florida Marlins.
Well, after a long hiatus, the Nitty Gritty Train is moving right along again. Tony Perez is one of my all time favorite players, but this is one ugly card. On deck is card #16 of Yankees outfielder Roy White. 31 years LATER!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Card #14, Lerrin LaGrow!

It is now time for card #14 featuring big right-handed pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. I don’t know how to verify such things, but this is the only person named Lerrin that I can recall ever playing baseball… This card is one of those that I really need to upgrade; it’s creased down the middle and was probably traded back and forth many times before I finally ended up with it. LaGrow was 28 years old and in his 7th big league season in 1977. He had just come to the Chicago White Sox that spring in a pitcher for pitcher trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Sox got Lagrow and the Cards got Clay Carroll. Lagrow had spent the first 5 years of his big league career as a starter with the Detroit Tigers, but in ’77 he moved into the bullpen full-time and won the job as White Sox closer. This was arguably the best season he had in his 10 year career. He won 7 games coming out of the bullpen which was 1 less victory than the personal best he had set in 1974 when he won 8 for the Tigers. It took Lagrow 11 complete games to win 8, he lost 19 that year. When Bob Lemon decided to put him in the ‘pen full time and use him as their closer, it turned out to be a very wise decision. LaGrow had the finest season of his 10 year career in 1977, he was 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA in ’77; he appeared in 66 games, finishing 49 of them. He pitched 98 innings and earned 25 saves finishing in the top five in the AL in games, saves and games finished.
After the Sox LaGrow spent ’79 with the Dodgers and had a pretty good year (5-1, 3/41 ERA) and then signed with the Phillies in 1980. After going 0-2 in 25 appearances the Phillies cut him in July and that ended his 10 year career. He finished with a 34-55 record, a 4.11 ERA in 309 games-he completed 19 of those games and saved 54 of them (250th All Time). LaGrow runs a very successful real estate based business in his home state of Arizona and has had no association with baseball since his retirement in 1980. Now, let’s get into…

The Nitty Gritty
Full Name: Lerrin Harris LaGrow
Position: relief pitcher
Age-Now and Then: 61, was 28 in ’77.
Team’s 1977 Record: 90-72, 3rd in AL West
Topps Rookie Card: 1971 Topps, Card #39, with Gene Lamont.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 8
Playball! Triple
1977 Stats Line: 7-3 with 2.45 ERA. 25 saves.
Awards in 1977: The White Sox closer job
Distinguishing Feature: Ripped plastic sleeves.
Similar Modern Player: Bobby Jenks.
What I said about this card then: There are no kids in my class named Lerrin.
What I think about this card now: Man, I wish the Sox still held spring training in Sarasota AND how did this card get creased this badly?
Back of the card memorable moment: Was Tigers top right-handed reliever of 1973 campaign.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Lerrin ranked among the league’s top relievers last season. The condition is BAD. Soft corners and big crease down the middle. Definitely needs an upgrade!
Grooviness factor: What is groovier than his name, it rolls off the tongue-Lerrin LaGrow…I am pretty sure he is the only Lerrin to ever reach the big leagues that is GROOVY!
Wow! Factor: Was on the Phillies in 1980 but was given his release in July BEFORE they went on to win the World Series… He had 3 saves for the Phillies that year.
What’s weird about this card: Jerseys with collars are bizarre to me, so are the poses that photographers get players to strike.
Career Accolades: His 54 saves is 250th of All Time
Best Season: 1977 when he was 7-3 with 25 saves-3rd in the AL. Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: LaGrow’s most famous pitch during his career came in the playoffs in 1972. It wasn’t a big strikeout or the last out of an inning. It was game 2 of the ALCS, LaGrow was pitching for Detroit and they were facing Oakland. LL came on in the 6th inning in relief. He was the 4th Tigers pitcher of the night and they were down 5-0. In the 6th inning he retired the A’s 7-8-9 hitters in order, but when he started the 7th inning, chaos ensued. Bert Campaneris, the A’s leadoff batter and shortstop led off the 7th inning. Campaneris had a hit in each of his 3 prior at-bats and he had scored twice. The first pitch that LaGrow threw hit Bert Campaneris in the ankle. BC flung his bat at LaGrow on the mound. It was a pretty serious fling, but LL ducked and it went over his head. Of course this led to a benches clearing melee and (of course) Tigers manager Billy Martin flipped out and had to be restrained from going after Campaneris. LaGrow and Campaneris were both suspended from the remainder of the ALCS, Campaneris was replaced by Del Maxvill and the A’s went on to beat the Tigers in 5 games. Campaneris returned for the World Series, but his hot bat was cooled and he batted only .179, but he did win his 1st of 3 World Series rings. LaGrow would never return to the postseason, but he did remain a Tiger and became a starter for them in ’74 and ’75. I for one think it would have been interesting to see BC and LL go at it one on one. LaGrow was 6'5" and weighed about 220 giving him 75 pounds and 7 inches on the smaller shortstop. Campaneris may have been a lot smaller, but he was pissed and I think I would have put my money on Bert. I played in a charity softball game with BC about 10 years ago when he was around 60 years old. He played all 7 innings at shortstop and played the game like it was the World Series, they guy was INTENSE!
Where are they now? He sells real estate in Arizona.
That’s it for card #13. Funny names, collared jerseys and playoff stories oh my. On deck is (duh) card #15 of Tony Perez, then of the Montreal Expos. Thanks for reading, 31 years LATER!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Card Number 13, ART HOWE!

Goodness, it has been about a month since I have posted the card of the day over. Its been nice for Don Aase as he had a nice long run as the card of the day (3 weeks is a very long day), but now it is time to move on (finally!) and catch up with card #lucky 13 of Houston Astros infielder Art Howe. Take away the ridiculous rocket ship, Popsicle costume that they wore in Houston back then and there isn’t too much grooviness going on with this card. Sure he has sideburns, but they aren’t out of control-there’s no afro, no wild sun glasses, no hippies dancing in the background, just a gritty infielder wearing a shirt that he might possibly have borrowed from Rainbow Brite. Howe was signed by the Pirates out of the University of Wyoming in 1971 and he spent parts of 5 seasons in their minor league system compiling a .304 batting average. Before the ’76 began he was sent over to the Astros as the player to be named later in the deal that had sent Tommy Helms to the Pirates. Helms and Howe were very similar players, but Howe was 29 and Helms was 35 and on his way out. Howe split the ’76 season between the big leagues and AAA (where he hit .355 in 74 games) and was up to stay in 1977. The Astros were an even .500 team (81-81) and Art Howe became their everyday second baseman, but also played shortstop and 3rd base on occasion. In ’77 he hit .264 with 8 homers and 58 runs batted in. His total of 58 RBI would be his best over his 11 year career. He would spend 7 seasons in Houston’s infield, playing all 4 positions, but mainly 2nd and 3rd base. The Astros made the playoffs twice during his tenure, in 1980 and 1981. Both times they were eliminated in the ALCS. Howe didn’t have a very successful go in the playoffs-his career postseason batting average is .188 over 32 at-bats. He did hit a home run in the 1981 NLCS off of Burt Hooton in game 3. It would be Houston’s only run as they lost to the Dodgers 6-1 in that game. They lost the playoff in 5 games. That year (1981) Howe appeared on MVP ballots and came in 18th place for the award. He finished ahead of Tim Raines (.304/74 steals) somehow. Art Howe batted .296 with 3 homers and 36 RBI that year. He became a free agent and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984 and played in 89 games at all 4 infield positions for them. He was released the following year after playing in just 4 games. Over his 11 year big league career Howe batted .260 with 682 hits, 39 homers and 266 RBI. After his retirement as a player Art Howe got into coaching in 1985 as the batting coach for the Texas Rangers. He held that post until 1988 and eventually became the manager of his former team, the Houston Astros from 1989-1993. His best season was his first when the Astros went 86-76 for a third place finish. They would also finish 3rd in his final season in Houston. After the Astros he managed the Oakland As from 1996-2002. The A’s made the playoffs in each of his last 3 seasons, but never made it past the ALCS. He would also manage the New York Mets in 2003 and 2004, but he failed to post a winning record. Now, onto…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Art Howe/18
Position:Second Base/Infielder
Age-Now and Then:62/31
Team’s 1977 Record: 81-81
Topps Rookie Card: This is it. 1978 Topps card #13.
Number of Topps Base Cards: 8
Playball! Groundout
1977 Stats Line: .264/8/58
Awards in 1977: Starting 2nd baseman job
Distinguishing Feature: His skippy sideburns.
Similar Modern Player: Jerry Hairston Jr.
What I said about this card then: Who wants it?
What I think about this card now: Your reading it…
Back of the card memorable moment: He hit a single in his first major league at-bat vs. the Braves on 6-10-1974.
Back of the card “fun fact”: In his first 71 at-bats at Charleston .1974, he had 17 extra base hits and a .451 average.
The condition: Near mint.
Grooviness factor: Calling that jersey anything other than groovy would be insulting.
Wow! Factor: There are actually a couple of fans in the stands in the background…
What’s weird about this card: That this is his rookie card. Topps normally issued one right after the cup of coffee.
Career Accolades: 11 years in the majors, a homerun in the playoffs. Won 1,129 games as a manager.
Best Season: 1978, .293/7/55
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Was the manager at the dawn of the Astros Killer Bs era.
Where are they now?: ??? He was the Texas Rangers bench coach through the 2008 season…
Okay, that wasn’t so bad. Glad that is out of the way, now we can move onto card #14 of Lerrin Lagrow! 31 years, LATER!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Nitty Gritty on Card #12 of Don Aase!

Time for card #12 of pitcher Don Aase, the man at the forefront of the alphabetical order. I LOVED this card as a kid; it made me want to see Aase pitch. I figured if he looked this good on the card, he must have been one heck of a pitcher. I didn’t like the Red Sox at all as a child, I still don’t, but I sat through plenty of Red Sox games hoping to see this guy pitch as a 5-year-old. I think I watched a week’s worth of games and ended up learning a lot about the Sox. That was the first time I had really watched their epic outfield of Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, but I became fascinated with their infield of Rick Burleson and Jerry Remy more. I gave up the Sox watching experience after a week went by with no Don Aase. I think I forgot about his awesome card, too. It all came back to me when I got a copy of his ’82 Topps card, though, and I realized he had been traded to the Angels before that card had ever come out. Turns out he was traded for Jerry Remy. Remy would be an All Star for the Sox, but Aase led the Angels to their first Western Division Title in 1979. This card came out after Aase’s rookie season where he posted a 6-2 record in 13 games, all starts, for the Red Sox. It was his 3rd Topps card and probably the coolest. Aase had been exclusively a starting pitched from ’77 till 1981 when he switched to the bullpen. He served as the Angels closer for 3 years and saved 23 games over that period and then left California to sign a free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles where he joined their pen in ’85. He enjoyed one of the best years of his career; he had a 10-6 record with 14 saves in 88 innings of work. The following year he would become the Orioles full-time closer and would go to the All Star game. He finished the season with 34 saves (2nd in AL) in 66 games. After the 1988 season he moved to the NL and made stops with the Mets and the Dodgers before retiring at age 35 after the 1990 season. Over his 13 year career Aase had a 66-60 record with a 3.80 ERA and 82 saves (161st All Time) in over 1,100 innings of work. Now it’s time for…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Don Aase, number 45.
Position: Starting pitcher
Age-Now and Then: Was 22, Is 55.
Team’s 1977 Record: 97-64, 2nd in AL East
Topps Rookie Card: 1976 Topps, Card #597
Number of Topps Base Cards:14
Playball! Double
1977 Stats Line: 6-2/3.13 ERA.
Awards in 1977: A really cool card in ’78.
Distinguishing Feature: The double A in his name.
Similar Modern Player: Mark Hendricksen.
What I said about this card then: Wow! This guy looks like he must be a great pitcher!
What I think about this card now: It’s perfect. Not much funny to say, this is just good photography…
Back of the card memorable moment: His Major League debut was against the Brewers on 7-26-77 and he fanned 11 batters to win the game 4-3
Back of the card “fun fact”: Don won his first 3 decisions for the Sox in 1977.
The condition: MINT
Grooviness factor: The moustache, high stirrups, and crazy looking delivery.
Wow! Factor: That the Sox would trade a promising young starter for an infielder.
What’s weird about this card: He has the number 13 written on his stirrups. Career Accolades: All Star in ’86, earned save in the game. 161st All Time career in Saves. Was Orioles single season saves leader till Greg Olson saved 36 in 1990. Best Season: 1978- Was 11-8 with 6 complete games.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Traded for Jerry Remy after 1977 season. Is 4th among baseball players when listed All Time in alphabetical order.
Where are they now?: His son Kelby Aase plays college ball at Fullerton College. Where’s Don? I really don’t know…
I have to say that I blame Don Aase for making me waste time watching the Red Sox as a kid, but it’s probably not really his fault. It is the power of baseball cards. This card is awesome and I stared at it and it made me want to watch this guy play, that is the point, right? On deck is card #lucky 13, of Astros infielder Art Howe. Two things, real quick... I DO plan on posting 5 times a week from now on, but it would be nice to think people were reading, PLEASE consider adding this to your blog rolls! When it hits 25 followers, there will be a (simple) contest, along the lines of pick a number between 1 and 25 and there will be 1978 related prizes...Stay tuned. 31 years, LATER!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Card #11, Rick Manning...

I was doing my daily blog roll reading and I noticed that the Cardboard Junkie had posted a link to this here blog. I was immediately overcome with guilt because I haven’t posted here in six days and I figured I better get on it. Todays card of the day is Rick Manning, card #11. Manning, who as far as I know is of no relation to the football playing Mannings, was the Cleveland Indians star centerfielder. Manning came to pro ball in 1972 when he was drafted by the Indians in the 1st round, the 2nd pick overall, as a 17-year-old infielder. He signed immediately and began his career with the Class A Reno Silver Sox of the California League. He proved to be a horrible professional shortstop making 17 errors in his first 13 games. He made the switch to centerfield and the rest is history. He was in the big leagues by age 20 and had 12 assists from the outfield that year. He also batted .285 with 19 steals for the Indians as a rookie. He did not receive a single vote for ROY despite decent numbers, partly because of two other American League outfielders named Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. With Cleveland he was managed by a Hall of Fame outfielder named Frank Robinson. In a June of 1976 Baseball Digest article Robinson sang these praises of Manning: “He’s the most exciting ballplayer the Indians have had in many years, I think his potential is unlimited.” 1976 was probably his best year, the 21-year old centerfielder batted .292 with 6 homers, 43 RBI and 16 steals. He also won his first (and only) Gold Glove Award that year. From what I have heard from old time fans, had there been a Sportscenter in '76, Manning would have been the highlight reel... Back then it seemed like he would only get better, but he didn’t. He continued to play superb defense, but his bat never came around. He set a career high with 8 homers in ’82 and 52 RBI in 1980. He never batted higher than his .292 mark from ’76. in 1979 he did steal 30 bases. I think that Frank Robinson thought that he would become a player similar to Carl Crawford, but he ended up being more of a Coco Crisp. Even that comparison is a stretch-Crisp did hit .300, hit 15 homers and won a ring. Manning didn’t do any of these things. Exactly 11 years (to the day) after the Indians had drafted Manning, they sent him to Milwaukee on June 6, 1983, along with Rick Waits in exchange for Ernie Camacho, Jamie Easterly and Gorman Thomas. Manning would play for 5 seasons with the Brewers, never batting above .254 for them. I have read that somehow he was credited with developing the Cheese Head that Green Bay Packers fans still wear, so I guess it wasn’t a total bust. He retired after the 1987 season at 32 years old. Over his 13 year career he had 1349 hits and a .257 batting average. He is currently a broadcaster for the Cleveland Indians and has been for the past 18 years. Now, time for…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Rick Manning, Number 28
Position: Centerfield
Age-Now and Then: 22 then, 55 now
Team’s 1977 Record: 71-90, 5th Place American League East
Topps Rookie Card: 1976, card #275 Number of Topps Base Cards: 13
1977 Stats Line: .227/5/18
Awards in 1977: None
Distinguishing Feature: His eager stare and bushy mullet.
Similar Modern Player: Scott Podsednik
What I said about this card then: Nothing.
What I think about this card now: Still nothing. My indifference on this card is the reason I put off posting it for 6 days…
Back of the card memorable moment: Won his first Gold Glove in 1976, was one of the youngest to do so.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Has established himself as one of the top centerfielders in the game.
The condition: NR MT-Slight ding in upper left corner.
Grooviness factor: The side burns, mullet and the maroon pumas are pretty groovy…
Wow! Factor: The Indians kept this guy and traded Eck?
Whats weird about this card: The direction he is facing.
Career Accolades: 13 year playing career, had 168 steals.
Best Season: 1976, hit .292 and won Gold Glove.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Banged Dennis Eckersley’s wife, allegedly.
Where are they now?: Broadcasting games for the Cleveland Indians, has been doing it for 18 years now.
That’s it. I found it very tough to come up with anything about this card, hope I have better luck with card #12 of Don Aase. 31 years, LATER!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Card Number 10, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro!!!

In 1977 the Atlanta Braves were awful! They finished 6th place (last) in the National League West and owned the worst record in the NL. Phil Niekro was their Ace starter (16-20) and it is fitting that he would lead the league in losses in 1977. He would ultimately pace the NL in that ominous category for 4 straight years, losing 76 games over that span. Despite his penchant for losses, he was the Braves best and most reliable starter, generally accounting for more than a quarter of their wins for the season. Aside from winning percentage (Eddie Solomon was 6-6) he led the team’s starters in every pitching category, good and bad. 1977 was manager Dave Bristol’s final year at the helm for the Braves, in 1978 Bobby Cox would take over and eventually turn things around. Unfortunately he only stuck around until 1981 and didn’t turn things around on that first stint. He returned in 1990 (after Niekro was retired), and a ton of NL Pennants and a World Series win later, Cox is still the man with the plan in Atlanta. 1974 AL MVP Jeff Burroughs had a MVP type season with big Triple Crown numbers in his first year with the Braves in ’77 (.271/41/114) but there were few other bright spots for the last place squad. They were bad and they had been bad for a while. Aside from pacing the league in the bad categories-he was tops in losses, earned runs, hits, wild pitches and walks, he led the NL with a career high 262 strikeouts, 48 more than JR Richard in 2nd place. He finished 20 of his 43 starts to lead the league in both of those categories, and he was also first in innings pitched with 330. He did all of this at 38 years of age and he was just getting warmed up. In 1979, at 40, and under Bobby Cox the Braves still finished in last place, and Niekro accounted for nearly 1/3 of the teams 66 wins that year. Phil Niekro would lead the league in losses again, but also tie for the league in wins with his brother Joe who was 21-11 with a 3.00 ERA. The younger Niekro, Joe, would finish second in Cy Young voting that year behind reliever Bruce Sutter. This 1980 Topps card, #205, is one of my favorites because it shows the two brothers dominating their league in wins. I always found it astonishing that Phil Niekro was able to top the NL in both wins and losses in the same season, but when you pitch as much as Phil did, it’s possible. In 1979 he set personal career highs in starts (44), complete games (23) and innings with a whopping 342 and by the way, he was 40 years old! This kind of stuff was par for the course for this knuckleballer who would be dominant, steady, reliable and tireless over 3 separate decades. In 24 big league seasons he averaged 31 starts and 11 complete games each year and he pitched till he was 48 years old and more often than not was pitching for inferior teams. With everything he would accomplish over his long career, he never made it to the World Series and only saw the postseason twice, in ’69 and ’82. The fans did appreciate Niekro’s loyalty though; his number 35 is retired by the team. Sadly, Braves management wasn’t as loyal to him. After a total of 26 seasons with the Braves organization, beginning in the minors, through Milwaukee and onto Atlanta, he was released after the 1983 season. At 44 years of age Niekro would go 11-10 with a 3.08 ERA en route to a second place finish under Joe Torre. The prior season Niekro was 17-4 and the Braves won the west before losing to St. Louis in the ALCS.
Niekro wouldn’t be out of a job for long, he signed on with the New York Yankees and assumed the role as their staff ace at the ripe age of 45, he was the Yankees opening day starter. The Yanks would finish 3rd in the AL East and Niekro would lead the staff in starts, innings, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts. He made his 5th and final All Star appearance that year and finished the season with a 16-8 record and a 3.09 ERA. At 46 the Yankees finished just two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, but Ron Guidry had replaced Niekro as ace. He still managed a 16-12 record and he wasn’t done pitching either. He continued to hang on and made stops playing in Cleveland and Toronto before finishing his career where it began, on a last place Braves team. Niekro made one final start for the Braves in 1987 at 48 years old. He lasted just 3 innings and gave up 5 runs and finally decided to call it quits in the game of baseball. When I first got this card Niekro looked like an old man to me, he was much older than my Dad and he just didn’t look like a baseball player and I initially thought he was a coach. At this point he had pitched for 14 years and owned 178 career wins, but I had no idea that he had only just begun. He accomplished more after 40 than most pitchers do in their entire careers. He would become a running joke with my friends and me, about how long he would pitch and if the Braves would put a rocking chair in the dugout for him. Satchel Paige pitched far longer, but he did have the bullpen rocker and Niekro was the closest to Satchel that my generation would see. He did play for 10 years after this card was printed and he would win 140 more games. When he notched career win number 300 on October 6, 1985 (and I can remember watching on TV) he did so in a Yankees uniform against the Blue Jays and he hit that milestone in style. At 46 years old he went the distance and shut out the Jays to become not only the oldest player to throw a shutout, but the first member of the 300-win-club to join in that fashion. It would be the 45th shutout (29th All Time) of his career and barring his no-hitter in 1973, it was probably his most memorable. In his 24 seasons in the majors he never did make it to the World Series or win ROY or Cy Young or an MVP, but he did manage to lead the league in every single pitching category (good and bad) at one point or another in his storied career. He was a 5-time All Star and also won 5 Gold Gloves, but it almost stands out more that he had 19 seasons where he wasn’t an All Star. He was a nightmare to hit and Bobby Murcer spoke the greatest quote to describe his stuff when he said “Trying to hit him is like trying to eat Jell-O with chopsticks.” That said, it was his reliability and longevity that made him an Immortal. His success was as great as his futility, but for 24 seasons, he was always there to start a ballgame (30-plus times) each year. Now, onto….
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Phil Niekro #35
Position: Starting pitcher, Braves Ace
Age-Now and Then: Was 38, he is now 70 and finally stopped pitching…
Team’s 1977 Record: 61-101, 6th place in NL West
Topps Rookie Card: 1965 Topps, card #541 with Phil Roof Number of Topps Base Cards: 25
Playball! SINGLE
1977 Stats Line: 16-20 with a 4.03 ERA.
Awards in 1977: Led league in losses, but also in strikeouts, innings, starts and complete games.
Distinguishing Feature: His trench coat.
Similar Modern Player: Who else but Tim Wakefield…
What I said about this card then: Is this guy a coach?
What I think about this card now: Sweet! Hall of Famer!
Back of the card memorable moment: No room for one, too many stats! Back of the card “fun fact”: I’ll have to make one up; his nickname is “Knucksie” for reasons unknown, at 38 years young he isn’t thinking about retiring…
The condition: Ex-Mt, centered 60/40
Grooviness factor: The bushy hair, the long jacket, the “where am I” look all scream the 70s.
Wow! Factor: Would win 140 more games.
What’s weird about this card: The Marlboro man in the background?
Career Accolades: Hall of Fame in 1997. 318 wins (16th All Time) and 3,342 Ks-11th All Time.
Best Season: So many… Had a league leading 1.87 ERA in 1967. Was 20-13 with a 2.38 ERA in 1974.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Won his 300th game with a shutout at 46 years of age.
Where are they now? He was the manager for the Colorado Silver Bullets (now defunct) female baseball team.
Phil Niekro was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1997; he and his brother Joe are the winningest brother combo in baseball history. This card is the first of 33 different Hall of Famer cards in this set… Card #11, Rick Manning, your on deck! 31 years, LATER!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Doug DeCinces, The Nitty Gritty on Card Number 9...

Now this is a great example of why I love this set! The odd pose, the abundant lip fuzz and the odd shadows all come together on a card of the great young stars of this time. This is card #9 of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces. The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” sums up DeCinces’ early years with Baltimore pretty well. Coming up through the minors he was a middle infielder, primarily a shortstop, but he wasn’t going to displace Gold Glover Mark Belanger any time soon, so the transformation was made. He had a great arm-as a 19-year old, in his first season in the O’s organization, he made 1 start for Bluefield in 1970 and during spring training in 1974 Bill Hunter and Jim Frey approached him and said they thought he was the one to replace Brooks after his retirement. DeCinces didn’t play third base until his 4th season in the minors, but he took to the position quick and discovered some power that he hadn’t exhibited before. 1974 would be his final season in the minors, he would spend most of 1975 on the bench, but in late May of 1976, he took over as the Orioles starting third baseman, the heir to the throne. Come opening day in 1977 the Orioles infield would consist of Lee May at first, Billy Smith at second, Belanger at short and DeCinces manning the hot corner. As the full time starter he set new career highs in every offensive stat and batted .259, his career average. He also chipped in 19 homers and played an above average third base and the Orioles would remain in contention all year, finally finishing 2.5 games out of first place in the AL EAST. DD would remain the Orioles constant at the corner for the next 4 seasons and in 1978 he would lead the team in homers with 28 homers. In 1979 he hit one of the most memorable homers in team history. It was June 22, 1979 and the Orioles were down 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles had been riding a 6 game winning streak, but Detroit Tigers pitcher Dave Tobik had two outs in the ninth inning and one batter left to face. That batter was Doug DeCinces and he creamed a two-run homer to make the Orioles walk-off winners. From that special homerun, the term “Orioles Magic” was born, a term still used today, stemming from a game that O’s fans still reminisce about. The Orioles went on to win the AL Flag that year, but fell to the Pirates in a hard fought 7 game Series. In a bit of irony, the man who replaced Brooks Robinson would be replaced himself by a legend in the making. After a 13 homer year in 1981, the 31 year old DeCinces was sent to the Angels for Dan Ford to make room in the infield for Cal Ripken Jr. DeCinces went on to have a career year in California winning his lone Silver Slugger Award and making the playoffs, but he missed out on the World Series in 1983 with the Orioles. Now onto…

The Nitty Gritty

Name/Number: Doug DeCinces #11
Position: 3rd Baseman
Team’s 1977 Record: 97-64 / .602 / 2.5 Games back.
Topps Rookie Card: 1975 Topps, Card #617 Number of Topps Base Cards: 15
Playball! Base on balls
1977 Stats Line: .259 / 19 homers / 69 RBI
Awards in 1977: The starting 3rd base job.
Distinguishing Feature: Giant ‘Stache in Orioles orange.
Similar Modern Player: Hank Blalock
What I said about this card then: What is he doing?
What I think about this card now: What an amazing ‘stache!
Back of the card memorable moment: Doug belted a 3-run homer against the Red Sox on September 18, 1977.
Back of the card “fun fact”: He became the Orioles starting 3rd baseman on May 17, 1976.
Best Season: 1982, Won Silver Slugger and AL West. Hit .301/30/97
The condition: Definitely near mint!
Grooviness factor: The giant stache matches his uniform and he seems to be scooping up his team’s name.
Wow! Factor: This guy replaced the most beloved Orioles player ever, then was replaced himself by another beloved Oriole, Cal Ripken Jr…
What’s weird about this card: The shadow monster….
Career Accolades: Is a member of the California Angels and Baltimore Orioles All-Time Teams. Inducted into Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 2006.
Where are they now?: Mr. DeCinces owns DeCinces Properties, a real estate development firm in Irvine, CA. Manages Strawberry Farms Golf Club, runs 8 restaurants and still builds and develops homes in Southern California.
Career Stats: .259 batting average, 237 Home Runs and 879 RBI.
Nitty Gritty Fun Facts: Was on the cover of Sports Illustrated on October 20, 1986. Had two 3-homer games within a week during August 1982. He hit double digit homers for 13 straight years. His teams made the playoffs in ’79, ’82 and 1986.
On deck is the first Hall of Famer to appear in the set, card #10… 31 years, LATER!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mike Sadek, Card #8, New Format Unveiled!!!

Greetings loyal reader! Excitement abounds as we are through with the record breaker cards and onto the first of 639 different single player cards! Leading off for the 1978 Topps set is card #8 of Mike Sadek. I would be willing to bet that, Little League included, Mr. Sadek never led off a game in his life, so this is a somewhat peculiar person for Topps to choose to open this set, but… Mike Sadek was the San Francisco Giants backup catcher in 1977, he batted and threw right handed and enjoyed his busiest and most productive season to date in 1977. He set career marks in games (61), at bats (126), hits (29), doubles (7), RBI (15) and even hit his first career home run. He batted .230 (not a career best) in his 4th year with the Giants. He would go on to play 8 seasons in the Majors, all with San Francisco and during that time he had 7 Topps regular issue cards. He was known as a defensive catcher who called a good game, but not for his offensive at all. In 1981, when the Giants gave him his release and he retired, he had more baseball cards (7) than home runs (5). He was a mainstay on some pretty bad Giants teams and on those teams, the starting catcher changed from Dave Radar to Marc Hill to Milt May, but Mike Sadek remained old reliable, on the bench and ready to pinch hit at all times! Now onto…
The Nitty Gritty
Name/Number: Mike Sadek #3
Position: Catcher (reserve)
Team’s 1977 Record: 75-87 / .463 / 23 games back
Topps Rookie Card: 1974 Topps, #577Number of Topps Base Cards: 7
Playball! Base on balls
1977 Stats Line: .230/1/15
Awards in 1977: A job
Distinguishing Feature: batting gloves
Similar Modern Player: Jose Molina
What I said about this card then: Who?
What I think about this card now: Why?

Back of the card memorable moment: Came off the bench on 09/07/1976 to deliver a pinch hit, sacrifice bunt to move the eventual winning run over.
Back of the card “fun fact”: Mike is an exceptional bunter.
The condition: Near mint. Perfectly centered, 3 sharp corners, 1 dinged a little.
Grooviness factor: Nothing. Mike had a reputation as being one of the worst and loudest dressers in baseball and there is nothing outwardly groovy about this card.
Wow! Factor: That he lasted so long in major league baseball.
Whats weird about this card: The empty seats…
Career Accolades: 5 home runs.
Where are they now?: Your guess is as good as mine.
Well, this is the new template. Will it get better? I hope so. Doug DeCinces is on deck, so look out! 31 years, LATER!

New Name, New Format, Totally Not A Drag Man...

This blog is obviously all about the great set produced by Topps Chewing Gum Inc. in the year of 1978. Here are some facts about the set that you should know before we get any farther along in our card a day journey to the ends of the earth and the set. After 5 years of issuing a 660 card set, Topps increased the number of cards to 726 in 1978. It was the most since the 787 card set of 1972. Unlike ’72, the ’78 set didn’t include “In Action” cards. This 726 card format would last for 4 years until they bumped it up to 792 cards in 1982. It was also the second consecutive year that Topps didn’t offer a regular traded set-this would return again in 1981. Of the 726 cards in the set, the first 7 are “Record Breakers”, cards 201-208 are duel player league leader cards and cards number 411-413 chronicle the playoffs. The set also includes 6 double sided checklist cards and cards #ed 701-711 were 4 player rookie cards that were separated by position. There are 4 rookie pitchers cards and two cards each for catchers and outfielders. All the other infield positions received one card each. This set has an incredible crop of stars and represents 33 different Hall of Fame players and managers. It also includes 26 manager cards with a current photo and a picture of the skipper as a player. There are 26 different team cards as well, most often with a team photo on the front and a complete checklist of cards depicted from that team on the back. These team cards are difficult to find properly cut and centered. Taking away these aforementioned cards, the set includes a total of 639 different single player cards, including the first ever Topps card of Eddie Murray and the final card of Lyman Bostock. This blog will show each and every one of the 726 cards of this amazing set in numerical order. The blog now has a new name and will follow a very strict, yet groovy format as we journey to the end of the set in 5 cards per week intervals. It will be a long and strange trip indeed. Aside from showing a new card every day (or so) there will be a number of special additional and reoccurring features that may or may not include: “Where were you in 1977?”, “Saturday Night Special ‘Staches”, “The Oscar Gamble Hair Watch”, “Jive Turkeys”, “1978 Season Rewind”, the “Sounds of ‘78”, “This Date in History”-a 1977 and ’78 version, “Wednesday Morning Upgraydez” and features on players with ties to this great and groovy year. You’ll have to trust me when I say that it will in fact be far out. We will, on rare occasion, showcase cards that aren’t from 1978, but have close ties and significance to that year. Just like on the Collective Troll, there will be contests. The first one will occur when this blog nabs its 50th follower and it will not be a drag, trust me… It won’t be corduroy, but the contests will have a 1978 feel and appeal to them. Hop on the “Nitty Gritty” card blog train and enjoy the ride! Mike Sadek is on deck… 31 years, LATER!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Card #7, REGGIE JACKSON Record Breaker!

Here we have it folks, card #7, Reggie Jackson Record Breaker. This is seventh and final record breaker card in the set. The record breaker cards all represent the stars of the day and 5 of those 7 players went on to enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This is one of only two (Pete Rose) record breaker cards that show an action shot. I have no idea where or when this photo was taken, but as a kid I was sure he was hitting his third homerun of the night off of Charlie Hough. As far as I can tell, this record still stands, which is pretty remarkable. With their late nineties run, it seems like all of the current World Series records are held by Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. With 40 trips to the World Series, I guess it is only fair that Yankees players own most of the records. To quote the back of the card- “Reggie sets series mark with 5 round trippers” it goes on to say “Reggie belts 3 in final game. Reggie Jackson set 5 World Series records and tied 3 others in 1977. His five homers were the most in one classic as were his 25 total bases and 10 runs. Reggie also set mark with 3 consecutive homers in one game and 4 in a row over 2 contests. Babe Ruth had twice hit 3 homers in World Series game, in 1926 and 1928.” Four homers had been hit in the Series 6 times prior by 5 different people. Duke Snider hit 4 homers in a Series twice (’52 and ’55) and Jackson’s teammate Gene Tenace did it in 1972. After Reggie, Barry Bonds had a 4-homer in 7 games performance in 2002. Jackson hit 5 in just 6 games. Jackson’s mark of 10 runs scored in one series has been tied, by Paul Molitor in 1993, but not broken. His 25 total bases has also been tied, by Willie Stargell in 1979, but not broken. His 5 homers in one series and 4 consecutive homers still stand as his records alone. As a kid, Reggie seemed larger than life. Whereas Pete Rose made me think that if I hustled, I could be a good player, Reggie seemed almost like a super hero. In 21-seasons in the big leagues he was an All Star 14 times, the American League MVP in 1973 and the World Series MVP in 1973 and 1977. He also paced the league in homers 4 times and hit 563 over his career, which is 13th All Time. He earned the nickname “Mr. October” with the Yankees, but he excelled in the Series everywhere he played. In five World Series contests he owned a .357 batting average with 10 homers and 24 RBI. His World Series batting average is nearly 100 percentage points higher than his career BA of .262. He won all 5 World Series that he played in and all were within the decade of the 70’s, meaning he won half of the Series of that decade. As a kid I got a sports calendar every year for Christmas, it included baseball, football, basketball and hockey players. Regardless of the year, Reggie was always the photo in October, which makes it fitting that his card is profiled before this month is up. This is pretty obvious, but after his career was done, his final stop was in Cooperstown, New York. He was elected in the Hall in his first year of eligibility in 1993 receiving 94% of the votes. Although I wasn’t a huge Reggie fan growing up, I did admire and respect him. Like I said, he just seemed larger than life and because of that, I never really collected him. I just didn’t think I was worthy to collect such an amazing, super hero like player, that doesn’t mean that dealers didn’t have to wipe the drool off of this 1969 Topps card every card show that I went to. I can remember having 4 dollars in my pocket and going up and “saying, hey, how much would you take for the Reggie rookie? Oh, okay, I’ll have to think about it…” Good times. I really love this hobby of ours! Next up, regular cards, woo hoo! One more time begging, PLEASE add this to your blog rolls if you are reading it! Happy Collecting and set building to all!