Back to Baker Street


I had a dentist’s appointment tonight, and when I went into the room to sit in the chair, I heard the familiar saxophone line of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. It’s as recognizable as any hook that’s ever been recorded, and I enjoyed hearing it again. But it also took me back to the last time I heard it, on a snowy day in early February of this year.

I had read that the new set of 2013 baseball cards was out, and since it was snowy and cold, I stopped at a place that sold them to remind myself of spring. And an observation I made led to a story that got published online and in print, and then it bounced all over cyberspace for 24 hours, and then it went away. But hearing the song reminded me of a connection that I initially made with Baker Street, and I wanted to share it here.

I made the point that baseball cards that refuse to acknowledge Pete Rose felt wrong to me. It seemed as if someone was trying to remove the saxophone solo from Baker Street. It wouldn’t be the same song that everyone recognizes the second they hear those notes. Baseball cards and Pete Rose went together for me back in 1978, and probably for thousands of other kids just like me.

So the Topps company decided to tell everyone that someone got 4,256 hits in his baseball career, but that someone must remain nameless. I thought it was dumb then, and I still think it’s dumb now. Pete Rose is as essential as the saxophone notes to Baker Street, as far as I’m concerned. And hearing that song will probably always remind me of this.


The baseball card time machine


Donruss was a company started by two brothers named—you guessed it—Don and Russ. More specifically, Donald and Russell Weiner from Memphis, Tennessee. They made trading cards in the 1960s for such TV shows as the Monkees, the Addams Family, and the Flying Nun. In the 1970s, they released trading card sets for both Elvis and KISS. And in the early 1980s, if you wanted to have The General Lee, Daisy Duke, and Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard on trading cards, Donruss was there to set you up.

But baseball was where the real action in trading cards was. Topps had that market cornered, as they signed baseball players to exclusive contracts while they were still in the minor leagues. In 1975, Philadelphia-based Fleer–a competitor of Topps and Donruss—sued Topps for the right to produce baseball cards of their own. After years of litigation between Topps and Fleer, the summer of 1980 was a watershed moment in the card collecting hobby. Topps’ monopoly on baseball card production was ended by court order, and Fleer was given the right to produce a baseball card set of their own.

Donruss was not directly involved with this litigation, but the language of the court’s decision also allowed them to get into the game. During the final half of the 1980 baseball season, Donruss scrambled to get enough images to produce a set in time for the 1981 season. The resulting set was panned by some for its poor quality, but the end result allowed Donruss to establish a toehold in the lucrative baseball card trade. And, more importantly, it gave us many enduring images from another era of Chicago baseball history. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to call this “the Chicago set” of baseball cards.

To get a sense of how this happened, it helps to remember Chicago’s standing as a two-team baseball town. Both the National and American Leagues came through town during the season, and the nature of baseball’s schedule allowed Donruss to photograph players on the visiting teams. Baseball’s scheduling was different in 1980 than it is today. Back then, every team—regardless of which division they played in—travelled to Chicago twice during the season. So the Seattle Mariners, who had already played in Chicago in the middle of May in 1980, returned to Chicago again in early September. Baseball’s scheduling today means that Seattle, and the other teams in the A.L’s Western (and Eastern) division, come to Chicago only once each year. If you missed the Mariners in Chicago back in early April of this year, you’ll just have to wait until 2014 to see them again in Chicago. But baseball’s scheduling certainly worked to Donruss’ advantage in the summer of 1980.

When the Mariners came to town, a player like Juan Beniquez could be posed for a photo, with Comiskey Park’s double-decked bleachers in the backdrop behind him. Fred Patek of the Angels and Rich Dauer of the Orioles also received this treatment when their teams passed through town. And when the Yankees came to town in the middle of July, Bucky Dent was photographed taking batting practice, and Oscar Gamble was posed outside of the batting cage.

The players were the photographer’s real interest, but Comiskey’s green seats, grandstand portals, and upper deck billboards successfully photobombed their way into the images, as well. If you remember the old ballpark, as I do, this is the closest you can come to going back there today. Standing at the marker where home plate once was, on the other side of 35th Street from the current ballpark, doesn’t do much to bring back the old park, what with all of the asphalt nearby.

The Donruss Company also captured some elements of Wrigley Field which no longer exist. For example, Randy Moffitt’s card shows what Wrigley’s scoreboard looked like before the video board was tacked on at the bottom. It also reveals that the red bars indicating the scores for the Chicago teams’ games have not always been located at the bottom, as they are today. Instead, these scores once appeared in the middle of the scoreboard. Having gone to games in Wrigley since 1987, I would have assumed the present location at the bottom of the scoreboard was where they’ve always been. But thanks to Donruss, I realize that this is not the case.

A shot of Moffitt’s teammate Gary LaVelle, also posed at Wrigley Field, reveals some more historical details. The rooftop bleachers on Waveland Avenue are gone, and a door in the outfield wall that is now covered by advertising was once painted red and left unadorned. The green ivy and red door somehow coexisted in the outfield back in 1980, but the empty red door is now long gone. San Diego’s Steve Mura also helped to demonstrate what a rooftop-less Sheffield Avenue looked like, and the card for the Giants’ Bob Knepper now shows us that the batter’s eye in center field was once just a green board of some kind. Let’s say that the restaurant now in that spot represents a huge visual improvement over what used to be there.

But maybe the most revealing card of all is the one for the Mets’ Mike Scott, shown above. As a September call-up in 1980, Scott pitched only six games for the Mets, but one of them was a start against the Cubs in Wrigley Field on September  23. Both the Cubs and Joe Torre’s Mets were out of contention, and school was back in session, so the lack of interest in an afternoon game is understandable. But as Scott is delivering a pitch–with a sparse crowd of 1,936 looking on in the background–it becomes clear just how empty Wrigley Field was in those days. It also looks as if once you bought a ticket, you could sit as close to the field as you wanted to. That’s quite a change from the Wrigley Field that I know.

I can understand why some baseball card purists look down at Donruss’ 1981 set. It was printed on a flimsy white card stock, and the yearly statistics that Topps and Fleer provided on their cards were missing from the Donruss edition. What’s more, Donruss didn’t have the distribution network that Topps and Fleer did. Retailers had to buy the cards in bulk and then collate them by hand. As a result, a kid in the hinterlands like me didn’t even know there was a Donruss baseball card set available back in 1981. But now that I live in Chicago and know about this set, I’m happy that Donruss had to lean on the city and its teams so heavily back then. It produced a visual time capsule that probably means little to anyone outside of Chicago and under the age of 30, but is absolutely priceless to someone like me.

A weird and wonderful baseball card


I have written about baseball cards on this blog from time to time, because they inspire me on occasion. But I’m not at all a believer in the idea that they have any actual monetary value. They’re fun to have, but they aren’t worth the cardboard or cardstock that they’re printed on, either.

Yesterday at an estate sale, which has been another recurring theme in this space, I came upon a metallic tin filled with old baseball cards. I didn’t even bother to go through it, knowing that whatever was in there, something of interest would be found. And was it ever.

The card itself was printed as part of a collector’s set for the 100th anniversary of Babe Ruth’s birth in 1995. This would have been right on the edge of the Internet age, so I don’t know if anyone has ever commented on this card before. It wouldn’t surprise me either way, really, but it’s so unique that it does demand a few words on my part. I’m all about the unusual and the unique, after all.

I love this image of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig–teammates during the season– having some fun together in a realm entirely outside of baseball. If two big baseball stars went fishing together today, I wouldn’t care too much about that. But these are the greatest 1-2 hitters the game will ever see, and they’re hauling in fish together. That’s very cool to me,

And the color of the photograph is also something special. This has probably been colorized by somebody somewhere, because I don’t think that color film existed in 1927. But the idea that I have that life itself appeared in black and white back then is upended by this image. And I like having my assumptions–wrong though they may be–challenged like this.

Finally, I wonder who the guy lounging on the rail behind the Babe Ruth logo is. He seems like a kid or a teenager, and he must have felt like the luckiest kid on Earth to be spending time fishing with two of baseball’s legends. And he’s the only one who seems to be aware of the camera’s presence, which makes the image even more interesting to me. I think I would call this one “Baseball Immortals Catch Fish, while One Very Lucky Kid Smiles for the Camera.”

I think the tin filled with cards cost me a dollar at the estate sale. This one card alone made it worth that, from a storytelling perspective.

Me, quoted in the Times

Topps card

A number of years ago, I would travel for work on a regular basis. The usual destination was Seattle, and to take the edge off of that long flight I would treat myself to a copy of the New York Times. It would help me to pass the time, whether waiting in the terminal or up in the air. The Times writes stories nobody else would write, and uses words nobody else would use. That’s why they’re the one newspaper everyone knows about, whether you live in New York or New Delhi or anyplace in between.

So when I recently got a call from Stuart Miller, a writer for the Times, for a baseball card story he was working on, I gladly shared my thoughts with him. The nine year-old kid who once spent all of his allowance money on baseball cards was awestruck at the situation playing out for the middle-aged man I have become.

The story is here, and I’m referred to by my pen name of R.Lincoln Harris. Most importantly of all, the blog that I started almost two years ago is now cited in the Paper of Record. I hardly know where to begin with that.

I’m grateful to Stuart Miller for writing the story, to Josh Wilker for suggesting that he call me up, and to the Topps Company for giving me an entry into following baseball. It’s been a big part of my life over the years, and without baseball cards it wouldn’t have happened.

I hope that everyone reading this eventually does something their inner kid would be impressed with. I can assure you it’s amazing feeling.

The ivy’s the thing


I recently got a 2013 baseball card for David DeJesus in a trade through the mail with Brian at 30-Year-Cardboard. I saw the card (not shown here) and realized that Wrigley Field’s ivy is probably Exhibit A of what makes the park unique. It’s been the backdrop of hundreds of baseball cards over the years, and I’m sure that it will be on hundreds more. But it’s never been part of the action before, before this card appeared. Check it out if you have a chance.

Things I keep at my desk


I’m a baseball guy, and a storyteller, too. And old baseball cards are just right for me. So I keep a couple hundred at my desk at work. Some I’ve written about already, and for some others I may yet do that. But most will just sit in a stack, waiting for a moment when I sort through them, looking for something interesting. And when that happens, this blog will know about it.

Something I once enjoyed


By 1984, the year that this baseball card came out, I had moved away from my boyhood interest in baseball cards. I had moved away from baseball toward videogames in the early 80s, and by the middle of the decade I had shifted to drinking beer instead. Of course I was 21 and fully legal when I started. Nobody ever drinks when they aren’t of age, do they?

Anyway, the sight of a baseball player wearing a hat/umbrella made entirely of Budweiser logos would have once struck me as a very cool thing. And the eight and nine year olds pulling this card from of a pack of them might have received the same message. Do with that whatever you will.

I hope Jay Johnstone got a nice holiday card from Budweiser, at least.



The reason that I started acquiring baseball cards–three decades after first doing so as a child–is their price. Thanks to what is probably a very large glut of these things, I can walk into any Dollar Tree store, find a display near the front of the store, and buy either 20 or 30 of these things for a dollar. They aren’t worth 50 cents, collectively, so I have no delusions that I’m getting any added value. What I am getting, though, is many opportunities for telling a story, which makes them a tremendous bargain to me.

The baseball career of Arquimedez Pozo is much less interesting than his name. In the long history of baseball, I’m willing to bet that no player has ever carried the name Arquimedez before. It’s a variation on the name Archimedes, one of the Greek thinkers whose contributions to our world are almost beyond comprehension. In the realms of science and mathematics, his name will live forever, and with good reason.

But I’m not a math and science guy. Whatever part of the brain that makes people think in those terms was lost on me. I’m more of an intellectual wanderer, as the scattered nature of my blog suggests. But there is one story about him that I like and, but for the Arquimedez Pozo baseball card shown above, I never would have learned it. So here it is.

Archimedes was taking a bath one day, however that was done in his Greek village of Syracuse, when something occurred to him. He noticed that when he got into the water, some of it splashed out of the bathtub. Archimedes reasoned that the volume of his body was equal to the volume of the water that he wad splashed out. The water and his body could not occupy the same space, and so the water was displaced to make way for him to get into the bath.

When Archimedes realized what this meant, he shouted “Eureka!” and ran through the streets of Syracuse in the altogether, telling people what he had discovered. That word, Eureka, is associated with him today, thousands of years after he first said it. It means that  something great has been discovered, and I can’t think of a better legacy than that. The state motto of California, where gold was discovered in 1848, is “Eureka.” I can imagine whoever once found gold in California shouting out the same thing that Archimedes did.

Dozens of places in this country are named Eureka, presumably with the purpose of suggesting that something great and wonderful had been discovered in each of those places. One of these Eurekas, in Illinois, is the home of Eureka College, the alma mater of President Ronald Reagan. And if there’s a more fitting name for a college than Archimedes’ cry of discovery, you’re going to have to tell me what it is.

There were 29 other baseball cards grouped together with the one for Arquimedez Pozo, but none had the same sort of, well, Eureka! factor as his did. Googling him, and then his apparent namesake, led to a moment of great discovery for me. And that was the sign of a dollar well spent.

What if I told you…


I’ve lately learned about Internet memes, and the Morpheus one from The Matrix is one of the cooler ones out there. But I found a picture today, on the back of an old baseball card, that puts a baseball spin on it. Simply

  • put a Cleveland Indians cap on Morpheus’ head, and
  • add a smile to his face, and
  • change the reflection of Neo in his sunglasses to home plate on a baseball diamond,

and there you are. If ever I crop this and upload it, I’ll put notice of that in this space, But until then, enjoy what might be the coolest picture to ever grace a baseball card.

A gesture we all know


I was nine years old when the 1978 baseball season started. One of the things I would do sometimes was look around the house for loose coins. A dime here, a nickel there, maybe a quarter under the couch. It seems kind of silly now, but that was fun for me back then.

Whenever I made it to sixteen cents (a dime, a nickel, and a penny was the typical combination), I would walk to the Super-X store near my house to buy a pack of baseball cards. The walk was about ten minutes, and I knew the way by heart. The idea of letting my nine-year old leave the house unsupervised is preposterous, but the world was a different place back in the late 1970s. Anyone who lived through those days knows this to be true.

When I got to the store, I knew that the baseball cards would be in a box near the checkout. I would pick out the pack of cards I wanted, hand them to the cashier (it seemed like it was always the same gray-haired lady) and she would ring up the sale on the cash register.

After handing over the coins, I would then leave the store, open up my new purchase, and go through the cards as I chewed the stick of bubble gum that came in every pack. I could tell right away which cards I already had, and could therefore trade with my neighbor from across the street, and which ones I needed. That was how I thought of them, too. If I didn’t already have a card, I needed it.

The cards I was looking for were the best players in the game at the time: Pete Rose, George Brett, Rod Carew and, above all others, Reggie Jackson. Reggie was the hero of the 1977 World Series, which made his 1978 card just about the most important one you could have.

I don’t recall if I ever had a Glenn Burke baseball card. It’s very likely that I did, though, because his was the very definition of a “common” card. He was a big leaguer, yes, but he wasn’t a star player by any means. In fact, he was a guy I had never even heard of before. I would have gladly traded a Glenn Burke card, and ten others of similar players, to get a single Reggie Smith card. Reggie Smith was the top slugger on a team of sluggers. His card had value, in my mind.

I couldn’t know this in 1978, but Glenn Burke was a hugely influential player. In fact, his influence goes far beyond the game of baseball. It extends into all of sports, and even into society itself. If you live in America in 2012, you’ve been touched by Glenn Burke, in a way that you might not even know about. And for that reason, the middle-aged version of me was beyond thrilled to acquire his baseball card recently.

The full story of why the late Glenn Burke (he died in 1995) matters so much can be found here. On the last day of the 1977 season, Glenn Burke was waiting on deck when Dusty Baker hit a home run off of the Astros’ J.R. Richard. Baker rounded the bases, enjoying the historic moment for him and his teammates (it was the first time that one team had four players with 30 or more homers in the same season), when he crossed home plate and came upon his teammate, Burke, who had extended his arm above his head. Baker reached up, slapped Burke’s hand, and returned to the dugout. History had been made, but in a way that nobody in the park could have foreseen.

Burke and Baker had just pioneered the high five, at least on the playing field. I can’t say with any certainty that nobody had ever high-fived anyone else before that moment. I don’t even know if it was called a high-five just yet. But I do know that nobody has been able to identify an earlier occurrence of this action, which all of us now take for granted. It had to originate from somewhere, and this otherwise unremarkable player for the 1977 Dodgers appears to have been the source.

The high-five entered the sports mainstream, and the mainstream of society, in the early 1980s. And by now, there probably aren’t too many people who haven’t exchanged high-fives with someone. When the Chicago Bulls were winning their NBA titles in the 1990s, going out after the clinching victory and high-fiving everyone you saw was a common occurrence. It was the way to share a celebratory moment with a complete stranger, and probably will remain so for a long time to come.

Glenn Burke’s baseball career was cut short in 1979. He was suspected of being gay in a sport, and a culture, that couldn’t handle it. He was traded from the Dodgers to his hometown team, the Oakland A’s, and he played his last baseball game for them. How much of this was due to his sexuality might never be known. But three decades and more have passed by since then, and there hasn’t been an openly gay player in the major leagues since then. Baseball once led the way in terms of social integration, but it’s now very much behind the times when it comes to LGBT acceptance.

Glenn Burke’s standing as a ballplayer wouldn’t have impressed me as a nine-year old kid. But knowing what he did–both at home plate in 1977 and in his public acknowledgement of who he was after that–impresses me a great deal. To the extent that baseball cards can have any meaning at this stage in my life, this is one card I’m quite happy to have.


An inglorious ending

Dateline: June 7, 1968. One week before the author of this post was born. The country is reeling from the shocking assassination of New York Senator and potential Democratic presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy, who had died the day before.

By some strange and spectral coincidence, the Baltimore Orioles used their first pick in the amateur baseball draft that day on a high school kid named Kennedy. Junior Kennedy. And no, the Junior wasn’t an appendange to his family name, like mine is or Ken Griffey’s is or Sammy Davis’ was. This kid’s given name was Junior Ray Kennedy, and he was on his way–he hoped–to the major leagues.

He made it there at the end of the 1974 season. He had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds,  the Big Red Machine that was poised to dominate the majors for the next few seasons. But Kennedy, as a second baseman, had limited potential, as he was playing behind All-star and future Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan.

It was back to the minors for Junior Kennedy during the Reds’ glory days, and it wasn’t until 1978 that he made it back to the big leagues. And in 1980, after Morgan had left Cincinnati and signed with the Houston Astros, Junior Kennedy and Ron Oester were splitting second base duties for the Reds.  A dozen years after the Orioles had drafted him, Junior Kennedy had arrived, as much as he was ever going to.

But 1981 didn’t go so well for Kennedy. Ron Oester emerged as the Reds’ everyday second baseman, and Kennedy was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in time for the 1982 season. He shared playing time at second base with Bump Wills that season, and when Wills didn’t return to the Cubs after the 1982 season, things were looking up for Junior Kennedy.

But fate intervened, as it does so very often in life. The Cubs traded for third baseman Ron Cey, and to make room for this All-star the Cubs shifted their incumbent third baseman, a prospect named Ryne Sandberg, over to second base. Kennedy’s playing time soon dwindled to almost nothing, but one of his final appearances with the Cubs–and in the Major Leagues writ large–is interesting to me.

It was Sunday, July 10, 1983. Junior Kennedy hadn’t started a game in over a month, and he must have been thinking he couldn’t get out of Chicago fast enough. The Cubs were in San Francisco, playing a double-header against the Giants. Kennedy didn’t play the first game, but in the ninth inning of the second game, he was called upon to pinch hit for the pitcher. He had no way of knowing this would end up being his final plate appearance in organized baseball.

Kennedy saw a pitch he liked from Giants’ pitcher Atlee Hammaker, and ripped it into right field. That could have been the sort of thing he needed to get himself into the games more often. At least he got on base, like his manager had sent him into the game to do.

But the Giants’ right fielder, Jack Clark, had other ideas. The ball came to him so quickly that he fielded it cleanly and fired to first base, recording a 9-3 putout that denied Kennedy a base hit. Kennedy then had to return to the dugout, humiliated worse than if he had struck out or hit a pop-up. He had a hit, or was supposed to have a hit, but he didn’t have the speed necessary to make it to first base in time.

Junior Kennedy played, briefly, in two games the following week, and was then released by the Cubs soon after. He was unable to catch on with another team, and his professional baseball career ended, fifteen years after it had begun back in 1968.

I chose to write about Junior Kennedy because his number 15 matches my position on the list of top fan blogs for the first half of the 2012 baseball season. I’ve done this before with other players, but they’ve all been players that a baseball fan had some reason to have heard about before. But few have heard of Junior Kennedy, nearly thirty years after he played in his last major league season. But the sense of a sad ending is really what I am after here.

Back in September of last year, I applied for inclusion on MLB’s blog list. I indicated that I wrote about baseball, because I love the game and always have, but that other topics unrelated to baseball would also appear regularly on my blog. So I never was strictly about baseball here, even though there was a time during last year’s playoffs when nothing seemed to matter, other than baseball.

But the volume of my baseball writing has really taken a nose dive over the past month or so. It’s not fair for me anymore to take up one of the limited spots on MLB’s monthly list, when baseball has stopped being the main focus of my writing. I spun one more baseball card tale, as I have done many times before in this space, but I will soon be changing my blog to use a theme other than the prescribed MLB-related one. And as a result, I won’t appear on their monthly lists any more. And no, the recent addition of ads had nothing to do with this decision, either.

I really enjoyed the monthly ritual of finding out where I landed on the list, once it had been released, and then searching for a baseball story to tell relating to my position. But I won’t be doing it anymore after this. I love baseball, but I can’t say that my blog is as baseball-centered as someone going to the MLB website might expect it to be.

So now it’s off to other things, instead. The web address here won’t change, even though my creative focus already has. My thanks to Mark Newman for running a valuable place for baseball bloggers to meet. And all my best to the seamheads out there, whose passion for the game has always been a source of inspiration to me.

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 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.

It’s a nature shot and a baseball card

One of my favorite things in life is something unexpected. I wrote something for another blog a couple of years ago about going to an airport one day and being unexpectedly greeted by a live blues performance. It made the blues sound that much better, knowing that an airport baggage claim area is just about the last place you would ever expect to find it.

I feel the same way about the above baseball card. Reed Johnson has been an outfielder for the Cubs for several seasons now, including a period last year where the emptiness of the bleachers led to an abundance of birds in the outfield at Wrigley Field. The problem cleared up as the season went along, in part because the weather warmed up and bigger crowds started coming to the park, and in part because the team deployed loud noisemakers after the games to scare the birds off.

But whoever went out to Wrigley Field to take pictures of ballplayers last season captured this issue in the shot shown above. And whoever at the Topps Company got to decide which Reed Johnson image was going to grace his card this year chose what could be the most natural image I’ve ever seen on a baseball card. There are three birds, against the green ivy on the outfield wall, along with a ballplayer in blue, who seems to be oblivious to the company that he had as he tracked a flyball. It’s just a great shot, and my congratulations go out to the people who made it happen: the photographer, the photo editor, and the outfielder.

The Skip Shumaker rally squirrel card may have received all of the attention for this year’s baseball card set–never mind that Shumaker is hardly even in the shot–but I like this one better. But then again, I’m a Cubs fan. What would you expect me to say?

A card unlike any other

I was going through an stack of old baseball cards today, when something caught my eye. And I have to admit that it’s a fairly exciting find, too. But first a few words about the intended subject of this card, Jamie Moyer.

Moyer began his long professional career (24 seasons, and possibly still counting) with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1980s. He spent three years with the Cubs, and was traded to the Texas Rangers late in 1988. The Cubs gave up Moyer, first baseman Rafael Palmiero, and pitcher Drew Hall, in return for Mitch Williams (who would be a key part of the Cubs’ division winner the following season) and five other players. Moyer spent two seasons in Texas (1989 and 1990), and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent in early 1991. In fact, he may have already been a Cardinal by the time this 1991 Upper Deck card hit the market. And there’s also a tell-tale can of spit tobacco (Joe Garagiola’s preferred term) in his back pocket, which is something I’ve written about here and here.

But take a look to Moyer’s right. In the first row behind the Rangers’ dugout, with both feet up and resting his arms on his knees. Wearing a red cap on his head, and staring right into the camera. He seems to be more aware of the camera than Moyer is. I think that’s George W. Bush, the son of the sitting president (at the time the picture was taken), and part of the Texas Rangers’ ownership group.

Think back to the 2011 postseason for a moment. When George W. Bush sat next to Nolan Ryan, they were not in an owner’s box, but right behind the Rangers’ dugout. This was an extension of the way that he raised his personal visibility as a private citizen in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His path to public life began with the Texas Rangers, then went to the governor’s office in Texas, and then to the White House. Visibility was the key, and you don’t get that from sitting in a skybox. Sitting behind the home team’s dugout, on the other hand, is exactly the way to draw attention to yourself.

Sitting presidents appearing on baseball cards are certainly nothing new. Topps included a number of “Presidential First Pitch” cards as an insert to their 2011 Opening Day set, and my favorite one appears below. It must be the Cubs jacket.

But to have a future president appear on a baseball card? I’d be surprised if there are any others, besides this one that I found. It’s enough to take an ordinary baseball card and turn it into something unique. I didn’t say valuable, because I believe that those who would monetize these things are missing the point. These cards are meant to connect us to the game, not to provide investment opportunities.

Baseball cards went off the rails sometime in the 1980s, when they turned into a business proposition. That’s why there’s such a severe glut of them now, where a bag of 30 old baseball cards costs one dollar at a local dollar store. There must be millions of these things out there in circulation, and the value of them collectively is next to nothing. And that’s as it should be.

These things are fodder for stories  about baseball, at least for me, and that’s why I acquire them as I do. I find these stories, and put them on this blog when I have a few moments to write them down, but I have no illusions that they will ever be anything more than that. Nor do I want them to be.

Trading for PIDLs

If you’ve read any of these posts before, you know that I’m a long-time (though not life-long) Cubs fan. And one of the ways I manifest this is by collecting baseball cards from years gone by. It started when I was six or seven, and went away until I was in my thirties, and then it came back again. And unlike some other habits that I could have instead, this one’s never going to get anybody hurt or land me in jail. There are worse things I could do, right?

In the process of gathering up Cubs cards, on the internet or flea markets or wherever else they can be found, it’s inevitable that cards from other teams will be acquired, too. Some I have scanned and told stories about in this space, but most of them take up space until I can find someone who might want to trade for them, as I recently did with Julie at Thanks so much, Julie, and I hope you got some things from me that interest you.

As I was sorting through the stack of Cubs cards she sent me, feeling like a ten year-old kid again, it struck me how many of the Cubs players I don’t really like as players. The hazards of team trading are such that not every player will be of the Bobby Murcer/Bruce Sutter/Jose Cardenal variety. That is to say, players who wore the Cubs uniform, however briefly, back in the days of my youth.

The truth is that these players played so long ago that their cards are considered “vintage” by now. That’s another way of saying too old to be commonly seen in whatever trades I might be able to make. They can be had on eBay, typically, but paying money for these things isn’t the same as trading for them. There must be some psychological reason for this, but I don’t think I can explain it fully here. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.

The cards I received recently, four of which are shown above, mostly fell into a different category of player. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I fully expected this to happen. But I am labeleling the players above as Players I Don’t Like, or PIDLs for short (rhymes with “middles”).

And I think I know why these players are PIDLs. More than anything else, they are all affiliated with the tenure of General Manager Jim Hendry, who was let go last July. In a sense, the sooner these players are off of the Cubs’ roster, the sooner this becomes Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s team, which has to be better than any of Jim Hendry’s teams were.

The process has already begun, at least with two of the four PIDLs above. Aramis Ramirez, who never appeared interested until it was contract time, or the postseason was safely out of reach, made his intention to seek a multi-year contract on the open market known. Farewell and thanks for not very much. And Kosuke Fukudome, who never lived up to the hype that followed the Cubs “winning” a bidding war for his services out of Japan, was traded away last season and looked better in the Indians’ uniform than he ever did in Cubs’ blue.

Ryan Dempster, who rubbed me the wrong way when he politicked for Mike Quade to be named the next manager after the 2010 season, still has one year left under contract. Dempster earned $1.35 million per win last season, while Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers won twice as many games as Dempster did, and earned $13 million less. But convince me I’m wrong about Dempster, if you want to.

And then there’s Alfonso Soriano. Where to begin? When Theo Epstein announced, in his introductory press conference with the Cubs, that the Cubs would be paying for future performance, rather than for past performance, he could have been speaking directly to Soriano. The Soriano who signed that eight year monstrosity of a contract hit 46 home runs and stole 41 bases the year before. And since then, the Cubs have gotten 54 steals from him–in five seasons. And he’ll still be around for three more years, unless the Cubs decide to swallow a healthy chunk of the $54 million he’s scheduled to be paid. The word earn doesn’t seem to fit in that previous sentence.

The process of expunging the team of Hendry’s PIDLs will take three years, at the most. I’m leaving minor leaguers and borderline major leaguers off this list, and Starlin Castro as well. But everyone else can’t go away soon enough for me. The Epstein braintrust will start bringing in new players any day now, and I’m looking forward to watching the team be remade before our eyes.

Mets from A to Z

One of the things that keeps me connected to baseball is collecting baseball cards. It started for me in the mid 1970s, went into hiatus in the early to mid 1980s, and laid dormant until the summer of 2001. A distribution of Topps cards reprints at a couple of games I went to at Wrigley Field that summer brought back old memories, and I began picking up a few cards here and there on Ebay and at flea markets over the next decade or so.

My team has always been the Chicago Cubs, but as a byproduct of acquiring Cubs cards over the years, I have stacks of cards from all of the other teams in the majors, as well. The tallest stack has usually been the New York Mets, and in my limited attempts at online trading, I haven’t found a Mets fan who wants to send me a pile of Cubs cards, in return for the Mets cards I have. So I wanted to sort through them and see what turned up.

I found that I was nearly able to find one player for each letter of the alphabet (the only exceptions being the letters I, Q, and X). I wanted to have some fun with this, and offer something for any Mets fans and/or card collectors who might read this, so here’s my plan:

For each letter of the alphabet (except for the three above), I selected ONE card for a Mets player with a last name beginning with that letter. If you want to send me a list of who those 23 players might be, and you get more letters right than anyone else who sends me a guess, I’ll send you the whole stack (that is, after I scan one or two and tell a story about them). Send your guesses  to me at before the end of the year, and I’ll announce the winner early in 2012. If you send me multiples from the same email address, I’m only going to look at the first one. So make it count the first time.

A couple of things to add here:

The oldest of the cards dates from 1981, and the most recent one dates from 2011. So it’s a span of three decades we’re talking about.

Just a last name is fine for each letter, but for the letter “H” I will need to get a first initial, too.

Some of the cards are for star players, but by no means is every one a star player.

In the extremely unlikely event of a tie, whoever gets the nearest letter to the front of the alphabet correct will win. In the event of a tie after that, the winner with the longest email address will win.

And if you’re a Mets fan who wants to send some Cubs cards my way, I’ll be happy to send the non-contest cards your way in a trade. Or if there’s another team you want instead, let me know what it is and we can work something out. But please know that the “book value” for these things is meaningless to me. These are little rectangles with pictures and words on them, and nothing more.

Thanks, and happy Mets-guessing!

A baseball card cliche

In addition to collecting cards of Cubs players, which inspire me to write from time to time, I also collect cards of players from other teams, if the picture on their card (front or back) can be identified as being taken in Wrigley Field. The card scans listed above are some of the cards in this category, and there are three general poses that I have identified:

Pose #1:  Pitcher coming to the plate, with an ivy backdrop (See Jones, Wetteland, and Sampen cards above) Let’s face it, some kids grow up wanting to become big league pitchers, and these are three men who were lucky enough to achive this goal. Don’t tell me these wouldn’t make a great photo opportunity for somebody at a fair or an amusement park. Look! It’s the body of a major league pitcher, with the face removed so that I can stick my head through it and have my picture taken. Then I can set it as my cell phone’s wallpaper, or make it my Facebook profile picture, or email it out to everyone I know and wait for their comments! Pretty cool, huh?

Pose #2:  Middle infielder turning a double play, and/ or runner sliding into second to break up a double play, with an ivy backdrop (See O’Brien, Ramirez, and Vizcaino cards above) The trouble with these is that it gets hard to tell which player the card is trying to show. Charlie O’Brien, for example, has Shawon Dunston over his left shoulder, and if you think Dunston doesn’t have multiple cards in this pose, well, I just haven’t shown themm to you yet. And the Harry Caray patch that Cubs players wore in 1998 makes a surprise appearance in the Vizcaino card.

Pose #3: Defensive player, with or without shades on, attempting to make a play on the ball, with an ivy backdrop (See Cairo, Dykstra, and Upton cards above) The Cairo and Upton cards, which appear in this year’s Topps sets, also suggest that UnderArmour is getting a little bit of extra bang for their product placement buck.

Perhaps I pay more attention to this because I’m a Cubs fan and collector, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary about seeing so many ivy-themed cards. Maybe other ballparks and stadia have similar backdrops that card manufacturers are drawn to more than others.

Please let me know some of the examples that you’re aware of, to further this discussion about the background optics that card manufacturers may or may not want when they choose player poses. There must be some common settings in other ballparks, as well.

Solving an old mystery

A friend of my wife’s has a young son who just began collecting baseball cards.  I brought a big box of cards, mostly doubles of Cubs cards I already had, along on a weekend outing last fall, and told him could take whatever he wanted to add to his collection. But he insisted on trading cards with me, which is how I would have done it when I was a kid. Most of his cards were from the 2011 Topps base set, and I paged through his binder full of cards, looking for something that caught my eye.

The binder was a tipoff to how card collecting has changed since I was a kid in the late 1970s. My cards were kept in a blue plastic box, with a flap that folded down to close it up. I’m not sure how I got it, but it somehow became the home of my baseball card collection.

These things didn’t have any monetary value back then, they were just fun to have. The All-Star cards were the ones I wanted most, like every kid did, because we all wanted to be Mike Schmidt or Jim Palmer or Reggie Jackson. There were lots of role players, and they all had cards too, but getting one of those cards was never any big deal. Superstars and utility infielders all shared space inside my blue box, though.

Keeping my cards inside of a binder, with plastic sheets specifically designed to protect their condition, is something I wouldn’t have ever considered. Likewise, the idea of keeping cards all jumbled together, willy-nilly, inside of a plastic box wouldn’t occur to him, either. One storage system isn’t any better than the other, of course, but they do reflect differing views about these cards.

The card I found, which is shown above, isn’t an original 1977 card, but a reprint of that card for an “insert”  for the Topps base set. There were special cards (Father and Son Big Leaguers, Record Breakers from the previous season, etc.) when I was a kid, but these were all integrated into the larger set of cards. Somewhere along the way, some special cards were pulled out from the larger set, numbered differently from the base set, and are now thought to be more desireable than a base card of a player. Another new wrinkle since I was a kid.

The insert card I found was of Don Sutton, who was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in the 1970s. I saw Sutton pitch in a game in Busch Stadium when I was ten years old, but I never really knew what happened in that game. I remember that he left the game in the middle of an inning, without any explanation being offered to the fans, and that was it. The game just carried on, with another Dodger pitcher in his place. It just felt very weird at the time.

I wanted the Sutton card, though, and the trade was made. Trading baseball cards with a nine-year old felt a little strange, but many kids his age don’t seem to have an interest in baseball today, unless they’re playing a video game version of it.  So maybe I was just perpetuating the real thing, on some level.

I took the Sutton card home with me, and took to the internet for some research. It turns out that Sutton was ejected from the game for scuffing a baseball, and was suspended for ten games as a result. When Sutton threatened litigation against the League (this was back when the National and American Leagues were separate entities, unlike today), they backed off and Sutton was reinstated. The nickname “Black and Decker” followed him around throughout his career, as players assumed he had his toolbelt on whenever he took the mound.

I realized that this had happened in the pre-ESPN era, when the only way to get information like this was through reading a newspaper or perhaps Sports Illustrated. Sutton’s transgression was thus easier to bury than it would be today, and he was then able to have a Hall of Fame career without any real damage to his reputation, as least as far as I knew about.

In doing this research, I learned something else on the internet about Don Sutton that I didn’t know before. Sutton was apparently bothered by Steve Garvey’s All-American image, and made some comments to a newspaper along these lines. Garvey then confronted Sutton about it, and the two began wrestling around in the clubhouse. From a Cubs fan who hates what Steve Garvey did to us in the 1984 playoffs, I offer you a hearty bravo, Don Sutton.

Jose, can you see?

On the heels of last night’s scintillating baseball action, I received word that something I had written a few weeks ago for the website was chosen for their “Sportscard of the Week” award. It’s always an honor to win anything like this, but when it ties together baseball, the Cubs, writing, and some fond memories of the past, I just can’t think of anything better that doesn’t involve my family.

I’ll write more about Jose at a later date. He was a Cuban player who had a long career in the major leagues. But if something I heard once is right, there’s something really special about him when it comes to baseball. I’ll confirm it as I can.

Is he a ballplayer or a candy striper?

I got the card you see above in a trade with Josh Wilker of It’s really a great blog, and on some level he inspired me to start writing this blog. I enjoy baseball cards, because they connect me to both the game I love and to my long-gone youth, but I wouldn’t have considered them to be a source of inspiration until I read Josh’s blog. If you haven’t read it before, please check it out. You’ll end up in 1970s baseball card heaven, if that’s a destination you’re trying to find.

We completed a trade of sorts recently, where I gave him a few cards I had pulled out of a large box I bought at a flea market, followed up by a few more from a large set of Cubs cards I had received in the mail, and topped off (no pun intended) by a Dave Roberts card from the end of his playing career. Josh indicated that he needed Roberts’ steely resolve to help him through the tenuous final days of the Red Sox’ season. My earlier post about Dave Roberts is here, if you’re interested.

A couple of days ago, Josh brought me a few of the doubles he had in his collection. They were vintage Topps cards from the 1970s, when Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck and the other brands that came along later were hardly a thought in anybody’s mind. The only alternatives to Topps cards back then were Hostess boxes, Kellogg’s cereal, and any other sort of regional promo sets you could find. But I was glad to get them, and we spent a few minutes looking them over and pointing out some things. I didn’t know it right away, but one of the cards he gave me was hugely important, and my thoughts about that card are here. But the visuals of this card were also interesting to me.

By posting a scan of an old baseball card and then ruminating about it a bit, I feel like I’m setting myself up to be the Scott Stapp to Josh’s Eddie Vedder. But at the same time, a rhyme from the latest Beastie Boys release has motivated many of the posts that have already appeared here: “If you’ve got something on your mind, let it out.” So here we go, and Josh, if you were ever thinking about writing about Terry Forster, go right ahead. There’s probably much more to say about him after I’m finished.

I recently completed a baseball cards trade with Jeff at My Sports Obsession. I found his blog, and noticed he was a White Sox fan. I sent him an email, told him I appreciated his blog, and asked if he wanted to trade his Cubs cards for my Sox cards. He was fine with that, so before I packed up my Sox cards to send out to him, I sorted through the stack one last time. None of the players meant anything to me personally, but it was still fun to do.

What struck me were some of the crazy White Sox uniforms over the years. My favorite ones were the early 80s Greg Luzinski/Ron Kittle look, with the word “SOX” in rounded, space age-type lettering. I thought nothing could top that for being a distinctively bad look for a baseball team to wear for nine innings at a time. But then I found a look that was even more inexplicable on the Terry Forster card above.

The red hats were the first thing I noticed. The Sox logo itself is the one that they’ve since rebranded against a black background. But why the red? There is already another team called the Sox, and they even have “Red” in their team name. You can forgive me for finding it strange that a team named the White Sox would choose to wear red uniforms. Did they ever play against the Red Sox wearing those hats? It might have been a bit awkward if they did.

But to add to this confusion, the white uniform with red pinstripes just looks ridiculous. And the red sleeves underneath the jersey are the icing on this peppermint morass. I hope that this look was confined to baseball card poses, and never made it onto the actual field of play.

“Candy stripers” are volunteers–usually girls, but not always–who spend time in hospitals, in the hope of gaining some exposure to the medical industry. The practice began in the 1940s, and was once more common than it is today. Candy stripers got their name because of the distinctive red-and-white striped vests they wore while on duty. It looked like–you guessed it–a big candy cane.

Someone in the White Sox organization must have been in the hospital at some point, where a candy striper helped him out by reading the mail or delivering a telegram or whatever else it was that they did. That’s the only explanation I can think of for for why professional baseball players once suited up in the togs that Terry Forster is sporting here.

Thanks for coming along on this sweetly sentimental look at a baseball uniform we’ll hopefully never see again.

UPDATE: The White Sox did pull the candy-striping look out today, on a Sunday Throwback day on August 12, 2012. Robin Ventura and his team looked about the same as Terry Forster did. I’ll leave it at that.

I love the irony here

Over the past decade or so, I have slowly waded back into a hobby that I thought had died out when I was 12: collecting baseball cards. I can even pinpoint the way that it started, but that’s a post for another day. I would hope that the 12-year old me would be more impressed that I have a house and a family, rather than a few thousand baseball cards. But I can’t really say that for certain.

In today’s mail I got a large box filled with baseball cards. When I was a kid, 10 cards and a stick of gum was enough to make me happy. But 800 cards without the crappy gum? I would have gone into a coma or something.

As always, it was fun to sort through these cards looking for Cubs players (the primary thing I collect), cards with pictures that were taken inside Wrigley Field (collection #2), and players that I either saw play when I was growing up or who come from my hometown (collection #3). I pulled out the new Cubs cards (about 12 in all) and went to add them to the wooden box where I keep my larger collection.

Since I prefer trading  stacks of cards for a team I don’t really care about (say, the Phillies) for similar-sized stacks of Cubs cards, I don’t really know what I’m getting until they arrive in the mail. And at least half of the time, the Cubs cards that I do get are duplicates (when I was a kid we called them “doubles,” regardless of how many multiples of a card we actually had), and that’s fine with me. Those all go into a separate box, which is now filled with Cubs players throughout the years. (And if there’s any players that you want cards for, let me know and I’ll see what I can find. Anything for my readers.)

Today’s cards were then filed away in the regular Cubs collection, with the duplicates set aside to go into the duplicates box. There were cards for players like Mike Bielecki, Mitch Williams, Corey Patterson, Aramis Ramirez, and Kosuke Fukudome. Most are ex-Cubs already, and I’m hopeful that they all will be former Cubs soon enough (i.e., just about two weeks from today).

After I got done filing the new cards away with the old ones, there were only two that were ready for the duplicates box. And they’re shown in the picture above. Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett, reunited at last on my often Cubs-related blog. Can you feel the love tonight?

The story about these two goes like this: It was 2007, and the Tribune was in the process of trying to sell the Cubs. Thinking that a championship team would inflate the sales price, the Cubs impulsively threw gobs of money at Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, and other veterans, and they hired Lou Piniella to manage the team. But things didn’t start out so well for Lou and his team. Going into June, the team was struggling. And then Barrett and Zambrano shook things up.

Zambrano was on the mound at Wrigley, and Barrett was catching. I don’t recall the date, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime in June. They didn’t see eye to eye about something, and so they got into a fist fight in the clubhouse. Legend has it that Carlos won the fight, but either way that won’t make for good team chemistry in the clubhouse. After Barrett was traded away to San Diego, the team suddenly caught fire. They won the division by two games, but got swept in the first round of the playoffs by Arizona.

In my mind, and probably in some others’ minds too, Barrett was the sacrificial lamb at the altar of a division title and (hopefully) better things in the years ahead. Sweet Lou was just getting started in Chicago, Ryan Theriot proclaimed “It’s gonna happen” and many Cubs fans–myself included–actually started to believe. And now, only four years later, all of the principals are gone, and Soriano can’t leave soon enough to suit my tastes.

I’ve sometimes seen collectible items where Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson will both sign (for the right price, of course) a picture of the grounder that Buckner missed in the 1986 World Series, or some other sports juxtapositions that I can’t think of right now. If you wanted to print out a copy of this post, and then try to have Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett both sign it, you’d probably have better luck going to bat against Jason Verlander this year.  Just don’t say I didn’t warn you first.

#MLB got it wrong

For last night’s 9/11 remembrance game in New York, which was broadcast by ESPN and was basically the capstone of the 10 year commemoration of the events of September 11, 2001, Major League baseball got wind of a plan by the players. The full story is here, but essentially the Mets’ players wanted to honor the first responders of the NYPD and others by wearing their logos, rather than the Mets logo, on their caps during the game last night.

It isn’t like MLB and ESPN weren’t going all out anyway, with the pregame ceremonies and everything else. The players wanted to get in on it, too. A small gesture, but important for the city they play in and align themselves with. A no-brainer, right?

Apparently not. The powers that be in Major League Baseball–which is headquartered in New York City, I might add–sent Joe Torre out to deliver the news that this gesture would not be allowed. Then, they took it one step further, according to Mets’ pitcher R.A. Dickey’s tweets, by confiscating the players’ hats. So, unlike the actions of Steve Trachsel, John Franco, and the other Mets players who defied a similar mandate in 2001, this time MLB decided to be proactive in heading off any dissent from the players.

When I saw this story in today’s news, I thought immediately of the Steve Trachsel card shown above. Trachsel was a Cub for many years, and played for the Mets during the 2001 season and several years thereafter. And that’s where it gets interesting. The card above appeared in a set of cards put out by Upper Deck in 2007. More than five years had gone by since Trachsel and his teammates had worn these caps–consequences be damned–and this action was still making its way into baseball card sets. The “FDNY” jumps right off the card, and the reason why he has it on is clear to everyone who remembers that day’s events.

When this card was released, in the Spring of 2007, Steve Trachsel was technically a free agent. He could have signed with the Mets again, but there was no guarantee that he would do so. In fact, Trachsel signed with the Baltimore Orioles, presumably after this card came out, and a second card with Trachsel in an Orioles uniform was released later that year. But it seems as if someone at Upper Deck, with probably lots of Steve Trachsel images to choose from, chose to use an image from five years earlier, either to commemorate Trachsel for defying MLB’s rule, or possibly to honor the first responders themselves.

And now, with the memories and the pain of 9/11 brought to the surface again, MLB cut its players off at the knees. It feels petty on their part, and I will suggest that any negative reaction they get from this will be richly deserved.

Tarzan’s rookie card

I have already written about Jim Hendry’s ouster here, and I am excited that a new course for the Cubs will be charted soon. There’s no way that Mike Quade can survive, since the new GM will want to put “his people” in place. Does Quade finish out the season? Probably, but I think he better enjoy the last few weeks of this season.

The crowd at Wrigley Field today was the biggest one since Opening Day of 1978. Part of it was the Cardinals being in town, part of it was the perfect weather we had in Chicago, but part of it also had to be a catharsis for fans who had gone away in disgust. Now that Hendry’s out, let’s celebrate by–what else?–going to Wrigley to see a game. Makes sense to me. This weekend will see more huge crowds if the weather holds up.

So what happens to the #DoubleTriple countdown? I was enjoying it, and learning about baseball history in the process, but I can’t continue to root against my team. The only reason I was doing so was to force the hand of the Ricketts family in sending Hendry out the door. Now that it’s been done, and the team has improved to the point of only needing seven more wins to avoid 100 losses, I’m going to end the countdown at this time. It’s time to focus on more uplifting topics, anyway.

I also found out today that I will be getting a 1976 rookie card for “Tarzan” Joe Wallis, thanks to the Diamond Topps giveaway. I first heard about Joe Wallis when I watched a short video of him on WGN back in 1976 or 1977. There was some sort of drum music playing as Wallis went back to catch a flyball at Wrigley Field. He then ran through the outfield door and out onto Sheffield Avenue, where he made the catch. It was staged, of course, but I remembered the name Tarzan Joe Wallis forevermore.

I have two of his other cards already, but the rookie card is something I didn’t even know existed before today. Now that card collecting is a business–it definitely wasn’t when I was a kid–players don’t share their rookie cards with other players. And rookie cards are clearly labeled with an “RC” so that all collectors know that it’s valuable. I’m not a fan of the practice, since these things aren’t valuable to me in a monetary sense, but then again I don’t get to make decisions like this.

In the great scheme of things, none of the four players shown on this card amounted to very much in the majors. But at least they all made it to the majors, which is more than most people can say. And they will always be immortalized on little pieces of cardboard, for people like me to collect and write about for whoever else might be interested.

I’m reminded of the Peanuts special where Lucy declares that “Beethoven wasn’t so great.” When Schroeder challenges her on this, Lucy replies “He never got his picture on bubble gum cards, did he?” Tarzan Joe Wallis must have been great, since he did get his picture on bubble gum cards, and I will soon have at least three of them. That’s something worth writing (or reading) about, isn’t it?

He knew what moves to make

Not a baseball card blog. This is NOT a baseball card blog.

I’ve said that once before, and yet here is a baseball card. But it’s only there because it ties into a point that I want to make. Just bear with me for a few minutes.

Dick Williams died recently. His was a name I had either forgotten about, or never really known in the first place. His obituary was on the Sports page, and he was a baseball guy, so I started to give it a read. And I learned a few things, which is why anybody reads in the first place, right?

What I zeroed in on was the fact that he was the manager of the San Diego Padres in 1984, which is a seminal year for me. Every Cubs fan can tell you about 1984. It was the year that the Cubs won their division–for the first time ever– but then lost in the most heartbreaking way imaginable in the playoffs. Dick Williams and Craig Lefferts each had something to do with that.

There was only one round of the playoffs back then, and it was a best-of-five series. The Cubs won the first two games against the Padres in Chicago, and went out west needing to win just one of three games to get to their first World Series in many fans’ (like mine) lifetimes. I was absolutely giddy at the prospect, as much as any 16 year old could be.

The Cubs lost game 3 in San Diego, but no matter. There were still two more games to go. It’s in the bag, I told myself. And, after eight innings of Game 4, the Cubs were knocking on the door. They had tied the game with a pair of runs off of San Diego’s ace reliever, Goose Gossage. The Cubs had essentially knocked Gossage out, and only needed a run in the ninth to get to the World Series. It was theirs for the taking.

That’s when Dick Williams called on Craig Lefferts, whose card you see above. Lefferts had come up with the Cubs in 1983, and was on the team when the 1984 Topps baseball cards were released (that’s why he’s shown in a Cubs uniform). And then, just like that, he got traded to the Padres. This was Lefferts’ chance to show the Cubs what a mistake they had made in letting him go.

In real life, when somebody dumps you, or you get fired from a job, you are not likely to have a chance to redeem yourself directly against the person who rejected you. Life doesn’t work like that, but sports does. You let a pitcher go, and chances are, at some point, that pitcher can face his old team. And don’t think they don’t hold grudges about things like that, either. That’s only human nature.

So Lefferts came in to face his old teammates with his new team’s fate hanging in the balance. The Cubs went hard after him, too, loading the bases with two outs. But Lefferts got Ron Cey to ground out to end the inning, and Cey’s old Dodger teammate, the evil Steve Garvey, hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Padres. That fist pumping thing he did as he rounded the bases haunts me  to this day.

Not only did Lefferts get the job done, but he picked up the win, too. He must have felt as vindicated as could be after the game. But there was still a Game 5 to be played. And the Cubs were throwing the invincible (for that year, anyway) Rick Sutcliffe at the Padres. I still liked their chances.

The Cubs got out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning of Game 5, and the Cubs had their pitcher on base and the top of the order coming up. The World Series couldn’t have seemed any closer than that.

But it never did get any closer than that. Dick Williams came out to the mound and replaced the Padres’ starter, Eric Show. I’m certain that Show didn’t want to come out, that he wanted to keep plugging away and right the ship. Real competitors want to do that in every game, but this was the postseason, for crying out loud.  But teams have a manager for a reason, and Williams understood what his job was: Diagnose the problem and get it fixed. So Show came out, and the Padre bullpen took over much earlier than it wanted to.

The Padres got out of the inning without any further damage, and proceeded to shut down the Cubs in a way that Show could not. First Andy Hawkins, and then Dave Dravecky, and the bleeding had been stopped (thank goodness for Retrosheet, because so much of this has been blocked out of my memory for the past quarter century). And then, in the 6th inning, Williams turned to Craig Lefferts, again.

A day after shutting down the Cubs with the game on the line, Lefferts again got the job done, going 1-2-3 in the sixth and the seventh innings. And then, in the bottom of the 7th, the Padres come back and took the lead after Sutcliffe was gassed. Lefferts again got the win, because this time Goose Gossage shut the Cubs down in the 8th and the 9th innings. Lefferts was again vindicated against his old team, and Williams looked like a genius for going to his bullpen when he did. He laughed all the way to the World Series.

The Detroit Tigers were a fearsome bunch in 1984, and I have no illusions that they couldn’t have beaten the Cubs rather handily in the World Series. But I never did get to find out, because Dick Williams somehow knew what pitchers to turn to, and the ones that he did turn to, like Craig Lefferts, answered the call when they got it. And all these years later, I still don’t know what that must feel like. And I wonder if I ever will.

Garza deserved better than this

This is not a baseball card blog. Josh Wilker writes a baseball card blog, and a very fine one at that. So I’m not intentionally treading into his end of the swimming pool. I just think this is interesting, and this space only exists for that reason, anyway. So here goes:

The Topps trading card company is, for all intents and purposes, the only game in town for baseball cards. They know this, and are very good at putting out multiple variations of the same product. The two cards above are an example of this. On the left, Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs in the 2011 Cubs team set (I’m calling this the Fauxgarza because I like how it sounds). On the right, Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays, from the 2011 Opening Day set (I’m calling this the Realgarza from here on). Matt Garza was actually on the Cubs’ roster on opening day, but never mind about that.

The runner leading off of first base was the giveaway that the same picture was used for both cards. The umpire was too, but I had to cover him up on the Realgarza card to make them both fit side by side. But you can see him on the left of the Fauxgarza card.

What Topps did–with the help of a computer program, I’m sure–is turn the Realgarza’s light blue jersey and cap (on the right) into the Fauxgarza’s dark blue jersey and cap (on the left), add a Cubs “C” on both places, and then (you can’t see this in the picture unless you look really close) add some blue stripes to the Fauxgarza’s pants (because the Realgarza’s pants are solid white). And nobody will ever know the difference, right?

This is the equivalent of green screen technology in the movies. Yes, I know dinosaurs weren’t really in Jurassic Park, and that Forrest Gump didn’t really meet JFK. They play visual tricks on the viewer all the time, and I have no problem with that. But the last Indiana Jones movie was just ridiculous, because I knew it was all greenscreened. I guess you just have to draw the line somewhere, even if it is on Matt Garza’s pants.