I can’t explain this

One of the things that I do with my spare time is I collect baseball cards. It’s not like it was for me when I was ten years old, though. The cards themselves aren’t worth a dime, and never will be, so I don’t do it for the money. More than anything else, I do it to remind myself of the kid I once was. I loved baseball when I was seven years old, and I still love it now that I’m a lot older than that.

But there’s another reason I do it, too. These little rectangles, with pictures on the front and numbers on the back,  can lend themselves to some very interesting stories. Examples are here and here and here, if you’re interested. But nothing could top the one that I’m going to tell here. I’ll be as succinct as I can, but this one’s just weird.

I sometimes made what are called “bulk trades” with people who, like me, are looking for anything and everything related to their favorite team. Recently, a Cleveland Indians fan offered to make such a trade with anyone who was interested, and I took him up on it. The cards he sent to me arrived last week and–like the 10-year-old that I can still be, under the right conditions–I sorted through the pile of 60-70 cards, looking for any that I didn’t already have. And  two of the ones in that category are shown above.

I first started following baseball in 1975, so any baseball card from before that year, and I have a handful of them, doesn’t interest me very much. But the two cards above are an exception to this.

The card on the right is for a pitcher named Dick Ellsworth. He pitched for the Cubs in the 1960s, before I was ever born, and he apparently made the all-star team one year. It turns out that he was an All-star in 1964, so this must have been his 1965 card.

I went to Baseball-Reference.com to find out more about Dick Ellsworth. I learned that 1964 was his watershed year with the Cubs, and that he was traded to Philadelphia after the 1966 season, in which he lost 22 games. That’s a lot of games to lose, and a trade was probably what he needed to get his career back on track.

After a year in Philly, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1968. Since I was born in that year, and during the baseball season, to boot, I decided to see if this Dick Ellsworth pitched on my birthday. Starting pitchers like Ellsworth pitched every fourth or fifth day back then, so it was a longshot, but what the hell.

It turned out that former Cubs pitcher Dick Ellsworth did indeed pitch on June 14, 1968. The day that I was born. The first of only two partial days that I’ll ever have in my life. What are the chances of that?

I pulled up the box score from that game, and started to look for some interesting item to pull out. Luis Tiant was pitching for Cleveland that night, and even though he was having a dominant year in 1968, he surrendered two home runs to Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, who is now the announcer for the Chicago White Sox. Harrelson added a third home run late in the game to clinch it, so it was probably one of the best games that he ever had in the big leagues.

The Indians were the home team that night, and they had little to cheer about. On of the bright spots was a home run by Jose Cardenal, which was a rare thing for him. He hit a homer in just over 1% of his plate appearances that year (he hit 7 homers in 629 plate appearances, if you must know). The Jose Cardenal card from 1973 appears above, because it was also included in the Cubs cards that I got in the trade.

So help me wrap my mind around this one. A stranger who I’ve never met and lives hundreds of miles away goes into his baseball cards and pulls out 60-70 cards to put in a box and send to me. The odds that he pulls two players–one who had been traded away from the Cubs, and another who would one day be traded to the Cubs–who would one day face each other in an American League game on the very date of my birth are more than long enough. But the odds that the future Cubs player that I had heard of would also hit a home run off of the former Cubs player that I hadn’t heard of make it an almost impossible proposition.

I sent off the cards that I was trading for these two Cubs cards (and a few dozen more), and I hope they will arrive soon. But it was a great trade for me, in the sense that I found this story and got to tell it in this space. I can’t ask for anything better than that.

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